Matt Calvert slashes an unsuspecting Tom Kuhnhackl at the end of the Blue Jackets 4-1 loss to the Pens. Calvert only received a 1-game suspension for the slash. Video courtesy of Sportsnet.
Roman Polak goes down with a gruesome looking lower-body injury in the 2nd period of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals. Video courtesy of Sportsnet.
Poor Michel Therrien. He got dumped on Valentine’s Day only to find out that his now ‘ex’ got back together with their ‘ex.’ The same ‘ex’ that he got dumped for 14 years ago. Tuesday, February 14th marked the end of the second Michel Therrien era in Montreal and thus began the second Claude Julien era in La Belle Province.
The firing of Michel Therrien is about 9 months overdue—the truth is, he should have been fired at the end of last season. Instead, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin went to the media to assure them that Michel Therrien wasn’t going anywhere. He attributed the Canadiens downward spiral last season to Carey Price going down with a right knee injury in November. Losing Price for most of the 2015-2016 season did factor into the Canadiens’ finishing near the bottom of the League, but so did Therrien’s average coaching skills.
After beginning his NHL coaching career with Montreal in 2000, Therrien’s second stint as an NHL head coach came in December of 2005 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His first half-season with the Penguins was poor, with Pittsburgh amassing a 14-29-8 record. The following season, however, Therrien coached the Penguins to one of the most successful single-season improvements in NHL history, finishing with a 47–24–11 record (105 points), a berth in the 2007 playoffs and a nomination for the Jack Adams Award. The following season, the Penguins would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals but eventually lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 6 games. The 2008-2009 season would not be so kind to Therrien. During this time, Crosby was plagued with minor injuries which kept him out of the line-up. After a hot start, the Penguins entered a considerable slide and as a result, Therrien was fired in February 2009.
Therrien would make his return as the Canadiens’ bench boss in June 2012. His first season back was a successful one. The Habs finished first in the Northeast Division after finishing last the year before. In the 2013-2014, he led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals where they eventually lost to the New York Rangers in 6 games. Marc Bergevin was liking what he saw out of Therrien’s second go with Montreal and rewarded him with a 4-year contract extension, making Therrien the highest-paid coach in the history of the Canadiens. Cut to the 2015-2016 season, the Habs shot out to a 19-4-3 record before losing Carey Price to injury and ending the season with a .500 record and failing to make the playoffs.
Montreal got out to a fast start again this season, going 13-1-1 in their first 15 games, placing them comfortably atop the Atlantic Division. However, the Canadiens have been among the worst teams in the League since the start of 2017 and though they’re still first in the Atlantic, the team has been flat out bad. Price has been substandard, Weber’s cooled off and Plekanec has been a shell of his former self. Are you sensing a pattern here? Michel Therrien is an average coach who looks great when his superstars are firing on all cylinders but has no idea what to do they aren’t. He’s not a player’s coach; that much has been obvious this season. He had issues with Subban’s ‘personality,’ the Carey Price stare down and then the GM and players only meeting that was held last week. The fact that some people have found Therrien’s firing and Claude Julien’s hiring surprising is strange to me.
Even casual hockey observers could see that Michel Therrien was a huge part of the problem in Montreal over the past 2+ seasons. As for Claude Julien, hiring him makes the most sense. He’s been the best NHL head coach over the last 10 years, he comes from the rival Bruins and—he speaks French. Realistically, what other options did Marc Bergevin have? Not Gerard Gallant. He has limited NHL head coaching experience and had already served as Therrien’s assistant coach from 2012-2014. Ken Hitchcock? He doesn’t speak French, is almost 70 and has already hinted at retiring this year. Who else does that leave? Jack Capuano, Kirk Muller? Both don’t speak French and one has limited head coaching experience.
Bergevin needed someone who checked all the boxes to take a team that is sitting in first place with tons of talent and get them back on track. Claude Julien is that guy. There’s no way of knowing if Julien can be the type of coach for Montreal that he was for Boston but at this point, he was Montreal’s best option.
Chalk one up for the little guys, or in this case, little guy. Mitch Marner stands 6’0 and weighs 170lbs soaking wet. He’s plays centre and was drafted 4th overall in 2015 by the Leafs. He was a dynamo in junior, plying his trade with the powerhouse London Knights for 3 years, racking up 301 points in 184 games. He was lauded for being an offensive star but pundits also deemed him to be too slight, not strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the NHL. It would take time “they” said for him to fill out, get stronger and round into a complete NHL player.
Cut to 2016; Auston Matthews was all the rage. Matthews, the kid who grew up playing grassroots hockey in Arizona, who spurned conventional norms and went over to Europe to play professionally instead of going the college or major junior route. Matthews was going to be “the guy,” the one who the not-so-subtle tanking Leafs were going to scoop up first overall and tear up the league. It rang true, at least for 1 game. As if it was written in a script, Matthews had 4 goals in his NHL debut and immediately, sports media outlets everywhere were anointing him the “next one.”
No rookie in the history of the NHL has ever scored 4 goals in his NHL debut. The bar was set, this kid is must see TV. NBCSN suddenly began picking up the broadcast rights to Leafs games, something that would have been unimaginable a year ago. They were talking about him on the Dan Patrick Show; a daily, nationally broadcast sports radio show in the US that almost never talks about hockey. Do you know what comes with all the attention and spotlight? Pressure—lots of pressure. Auston Matthews is 19 years old, playing in one of the most overexposed sports markets in North America. Can you guess what happens to a 19 year old when an entire continent is focused on every move you make on the ice? That spotlight becomes brighter and brighter and that attention begins to sound louder and louder. The end result—a highly publicized scoring drought.
Did you already forget about Mitch Marner? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The entire league, and to some extent the Maple Leafs, had made Marner a bit of an afterthought coming into this season. He’ll score a few goals, put up some points but hey, no pressure kid, you didn’t score 4 in your debut, we don’t expect the world of you. Since scoring 0 points in his NHL debut, Marner has 16 points (7G, 9A) in 17 games. He’s 1 point behind veteran James Van Riemsdyk for the Leafs scoring lead—oh, he also has 3 GWG, leading the Leafs in that category. It must be a nice feeling for Marner, playing without that pesky pressure. If Marner suddenly hits a 5-game scoring drought, a few people would notice, maybe even ask him about it a couple of times but there still won’t be that pressure. He wasn’t drafted first overall, he wasn’t expected to be the entire solution instead of being only a part of it. Anything Mitch Marner accomplishes this season will be considered a success because the expectations for him weren’t sky-high.
This isn’t a slight on Marner, in fact, it’s the opposite. I remember being at Leafs training camp in the summer of 2015 and while most people were focusing on William Nylander, I paid particular attention to Marner. I remember one dry land drill that all the prospects had to perform over and over and over again. One stick was laid down horizontally in front of each player and they had to sweep a puck around that stick without switching their stance. It was a monotonous and boring drill but I remembered watching Marner and he was so focused and honed in on this task. Even when the other players would stop and have a look of slight apathy on their faces, Marner kept his head down and never broke focus. I got the sense at that moment that Mitch Marner would be a very effective NHL player sooner rather than later.
Two weeks ago, I talked about how it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Marner be in the Calder conversation come the New Year. So far, he’s continued to prove me right. I covered the Leafs vs Panthers game on November 17th; it was my first opportunity to watch Marner, Matthews and the rest of the rookies in person. Watching Marner play live further galvanized my opinion of him; of course, this little play helped. He was good in all zones, was rarely knocked off the puck and his back checking was on point. The next time you’re wondering why Marner is outplaying Matthews so far in this young season just remember: It’s easier to play to your potential when the weight of expectation isn’t squarely on your shoulders.
With the start of the 2016-17 NHL season just over 3 weeks away, we've combed through the schedule and found the 11 games you can't miss this upcoming season.
First overall draft picks always come with plenty of fanfare for their NHL debut but that gets magnified when the team that drafted you is the so-called 'Centre of the Hockey Universe.' October 12th marks the NHL debut for Auston Matthews and it comes against a division rival; all eyes in Canada will no doubt be glued to televisions for this one
October 15th will be an unofficial holiday in the city of Toronto as Matthews makes his long-awaited home debut when the big but, not-so-bad-anymore Bruins, pay a visit to the ACC. An upper deck ticket will cost you a cool $200 US and that will probably come with an obstructed view.
I know, you're probably thinking this list is the 11 LEAFS games you should watch but, we assure you, these games are on here for a reason. A very laid back, Finnish fellow by the name of Patrik Laine was picked #2 behind Matthews and October 19th marks the first time the top 2 picks of the 2016 Entry Draft will face each other. With the season being only a week old at this point, it won't really determine too much but these 2 guys will dig deep for big performances.
A rematch of last season's Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks pay a visit to the Pens October 20th and will no doubt be looking for a pound of flesh. The Sharks were ousted in 6 games thanks in large part to the play of Sidney Crosby and the stellar goaltending of unknown rookie, Matt Murray.
Yes, the Maple Leafs...again! We can't help it; they have the first overall pick who will probably be a stud NHLer, so they're going to be talked about ALOT in the coming weeks/months. November 1st, McDavid and company visit Toronto and we get to see the two most talked about first overall picks since Crosby and Ovechkin, go head-to-head. If the World Cup has been any indication so far, it'll be a treat to watch McDavid and Matthews battle on the ice. It will also be fun to see who's better at protecting a superstar, Matt Martin or Milan Lucic.
At first glance, this might look like just another game on a Friday night but when you look a little closer, you'll see it's a lot more than that. Both these teams are loaded with young, dynamic talent that are ready to break out and no longer be seen as the NHL's bottom feeders. Both these teams have superstar forwards (Max Domi/Connor McDavid), defensive stalwarts (Oliver Ekman-Larsson/Darnell Nurse) and grizzled veteran leadership (Shane Doan/Matt Hendricks). Oh, let's not forget Anthony Duclair and Jesse Puljujärvi. Both these teams also share the same weakness; unsettled goaltending, so the goals will come fast and furious.
Toronto's goaltending situation last year was tenuous, to say the least, and no one took the brunt of the fanbase's wrath more than Jonathan Bernier. Once seen as Toronto's answer to their goaltending woes, quickly became the team whipping boy. Bernier was traded to the Anaheim Ducks on July 8th, a move that came after the Leafs had acquired the Ducks much-maligned goaltender, Frederik Andersen. December 19th marks the first time the 2 teams square off against one another and the first opportunity for both netminders to stick it to their former teams.
The city of Montreal nearly burned to the ground on June 29th, 2016. This was the day that Marc Bergevin traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for perennial Norris Trophy contender, Shea Weber. This was by far the most divisive trade for the club since Patrick Roy was given away for a bag of pucks in 1995. January 3rd will be the first opportunity Subban has to light up his former team and the first time Shea Weber will be able to remind Predators fans what a defensively-responsible d-man looks like.
It's been a while since a New Jersey Devils game was must-see TV but when you make a trade for a team's hometown son, people are going to take notice. With a glut of young, talented wingers, Taylor Hall was deemed expendable by Oiler brass and traded to the Devils on June 29th in exchange for defenceman, Adam Larsson. No one was more shocked by the trade than Hall himself and he made it known that he felt wronged by the Oilers. It was a messy split with rumours of Hall having too big a personality in the dressing room and Oscar Klefbom doing his 'my-comments-were-misinterpreted' routine stating that Hall 'didn't play well against tough teams.' January 7th is the first meeting between the 2 teams and it's a safe bet that Taylor Hall will be amped up.
Everything that was stated above, plus this: January 12th will be the first and only time Taylor Hall will visit Rogers Place in the regular season. He'll no doubt get a warm welcome from fans and just might throw a few expletives in the direction of Oilers management.
Take Auston Matthews' ACC debut plus Taylor Hall's return to Alberta, multiply it by 750 and you'll have the return of P.K. Subban to the Bell Centre. Fans will have to wait for almost the entire NHL regular season but on March 2nd, the Prodigal Son returns to the place that made him (in)famous. Subban was and still is a beloved figure in Montreal and fans will still, without a doubt, be seething about Subban's departure; even more so if the Habs aren't in playoff contention come March. Look for Subban to put on a show and stick it to Bergevin and Co.
Around this time every year, NHL teams begin signing free agents to Professional Tryout Contracts (PTO) for the preseason. These players will report to training camp in the hopes of landing an NHL contract. Here's a little infographic I did showing the 15 free agents who are currently on PTO's with NHL teams.
It’s August 29th, which means hockey players are beginning to pack up their gear and head to NHL training camps. Summer is over, at least for these athletes, and that means it’s time to put all that off-season training on display. Included in the mix are plenty of NHL draft prospects who will have to compete against grizzled vets and young guns to prove they belong. Edmonton will have Jesse Puljujärvi, Winnipeg will have Patrik Laine, Montreal will have Mikhail Sergachev and the Toronto Maple Leafs will have Auston Matthews. The 4 names I just mentioned are highly-touted and highly-skilled but they’re still kids, unproven and untested at the NHL level. They’ll no doubt show flashes of brilliance but they’ll also experience their share of adversity and their teams and fanbases will cut them a break; well, all of them except Auston Matthews.
If it were any other team in any other market, the pressure on Matthews to not only be good but great, would be less. You might be thinking, “what about the Oilers and McDavid?” Well, the Oilers have had a succession of first overall picks in the last decade so really the only expectations Connor McDavid had to live up to were the ones he set for himself. In Toronto, it’s an entirely different beast. You have arguably one of the most arrogant franchises in hockey, who have been mired in mediocrity and mismanaged for the last 50 years, winning the first overall pick in the draft. When they selected Auston Matthews, they weren’t just selecting the top pick overall, they were selecting their entire future. Every move the Leafs have made over the past 2 years has been centred around Auston Matthews. Whether it was hiring Lou Lamoreillo and Mike Babcock to oversee hockey operations or running the tandem of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer out onto the ice last season, all of it was done with Auston Matthews in mind.
Matthews was a 57th overall pick by the Everett Silvertips of the WHL but opted to play with US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) where he broke Patrick Kane’s scoring record by 14 points. Rather than continue in US amateur hockey or play in the CHL, Matthews bucked the trend and chose to play professional hockey in the Swiss NLA in the year leading up to the draft. There were varying opinions about his choice to turn pro a year before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft; some thought he was merely chasing a paycheque while others thought he was seeking out tougher competition to play against. Either way, Matthews had a successful Swiss League campaign and that further wetted the appetites of Leafs’ brass. All of this leads me to the conclusion that Auston Matthews can’t fail, not in Toronto; a hockey city notorious for eating its own (i.e. Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf). Whether the fans, the media or Leafs management admit it or not, anything short of a 2016 Calder Trophy winning season from Matthews will be looked at as a failure.
5 FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVEN'T PANNED OUT: PART 2
In last week’s Part 1 of my draft picks story, we took a look at a couple of Vancouver Canucks first round draft picks that didn’t exactly set the hockey world on fire, as initially expected. This week, we’ll take a look at the rest of the 5 first round draft pick busts.
Brett Connolly—Drafted 6th Overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010
The product of Campbell River, BC, Connolly was a WHL star with the Prince George Cougars where he won the WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year in 2008-09. A highly regarded winger with power-forward potential, Connolly was taken 6th overall by the Lightning in 2010 and was looked at the be a potential line mate for Steven Stamkos. After his first NHL training camp, the Lightning sent Connolly back to junior with the intention of letting their young prospect continue to develop. He ended up being named captain of the Cougars and finished the season with 73 points in 59 games. Tampa was encouraged by Connolly’s results and the right winger made the Lightning roster out of training camp in 2011. His first pro season, however, didn’t yield the results the Lightning were hoping for as Connolly finished with 15 points in 68 games. The following season, Connolly was sent down the AHL Syracuse Crunch due to the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout that resulted in the first half of the season being lost. He fared well with Syracuse, scoring 57 points in 67 games on route to a Calder Cup Final appearance. Despite a strong 2013-2014 training camp, Connolly was once again assigned to the AHL, due in large part to the phenomenal play of then-rookies, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik.
After bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Tampa re-signed Connolly to a one-year, two-way contract at the start of the 2014 season, but injuries and inconsistent play led to him being traded to the Boston Bruins for 2 second round draft picks at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. His time with Boston was forgettable and the Bruins subsequently non-tendered the RFA, making him a free agent. Connolly signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on July 1st, 2016 but with established right wingers such as T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Jay Beagle ahead of Connolly on the depth chart, he’ll be hard-pressed to crack the opening day roster.
Brian Lee—Drafted 9th Overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2005
Brian Lee’s name won’t register with most people but I added him to this list because I remember watching him at the 2006 World Juniors (one of only a few high school players to play for Team USA at the WJC). He was a solid, stay-at-home type of defenseman who was a bear to play against. Lee’s pedigree began to build while playing in the USHL where he was chosen as Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as the number one player in Minnesota’s high school boys hockey in 2005. He was also named the Associated Press' Player of the Year for Minnesota prep boys hockey that year. This led to the Ottawa Senators selected Lee 9th overall at the 2005 Draft. Lee opted to attend the University of North Dakota after being drafted and spent two seasons playing for the college team where he amassed 51 points in 81 games. Lee made his professional hockey debut in the 2007-2008 NHL season and was subsequently assigned to the Binghampton Senators for further development, scoring 25 points in 55 games and was named to the AHL All-Star game that year. Lee continued to bounce between the NHL and AHL and when he once again failed to make the team out of training camp in the 2009-2010 NHL season, Lee’s agent expressed how his client was “shocked and surprised he wasn’t part of Ottawa’s top-six defensemen.”
With the relationship continuing to sour, the Senators traded Lee to the Tamp Bay Lightning at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Matt Gilroy. The following season, while playing for Tampa’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, Lee tore his ACL and was placed on Tampa’s long term injury reserve list. That all but spelled the end of Lee’s NHL career as the Lightning did not re-sign him at the end of his contract, prompting the then-27 year-old to announce his retirementfrom professional hockey. In 209 NHL games with Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, Lee scored 5 goals and 31 assists for a total of 36 points.
David Fischer—Drafted 20th Overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2006
It’s not uncommon for defensmen to take longer to become NHL ready but when you’re drafted 20th overall by an organization like the Montreal Canadiens, it’s expected that you’ll at least catch a sniff of NHL action. That’s not the case with Minneapolis native, David Fischer. This pick was a head-scratcher from the start considering in his draft year, Fischer put up a mere 5 points in 42 games with the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind, he was taken two spots ahead of Claude Giroux. Unlike the two previous picks mentioned in this article, Fischer didn’t have any injury issues that contributed to his lack of success at the pro level; for one reason or another, he just didn’t have the cliched ‘it’ factor necessary to make in impact in the NHL. Fischer stayed at the University of Minnesota until 2010 and never signed an entry-level deal with the Canadiens. This wasn’t a case of a college draft pick exercising his right to free agency a la Jimmy Vesey, rather the Canadiens acknowledging their swing-and-a-miss pick thus letting him walk away.
Fischer attended Canucks training camp at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season but was subsequently released. He signed with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL for a couple of seasons before going to Europe to play in the 2nd Bundesliga in Germany. This past April, Fischer signed a deal with EC KAC of the Austrian Hockey League (EBEL). Just think, Habs fans, you could have had Claude Giroux setting up Max Pacioretty instead of Phillip Danault.
5 FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVEN’T PANNED OUT, PART 1
With the 2016-2017 NHL season just around the corner, talk of this year’s first round draft picks is heating up. Most pundits are predicting big things for Matthews, Laine and Puljujärvi, 3 players taken in the top 10. High expectations for highly-touted draft picks isn’t uncommon; after all, there’s a reason these players were selected in the first round. They’ve had stellar junior or college careers and set themselves up for successful NHL careers. In nearly every draft, however, there are usually players who surprise and disappoint. Let’s take a look at 5 former first round draft picks that haven’t panned out.
Jordan Schroeder—Drafted 22nd Overall by Vancouver in 2013
Burnsville, MN native, Jordan Schroeder was a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. He spent two seasons with the Gophers and in 2009 he won the WCHA Rookie of the Year. The 25 year-old also suited up for the US in 3 World Junior Championships where he set records for most assists and points ever by an American. This pedigree followed him to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft where the Vancouver Canucks selected him 22nd overall and believed they were getting the big, scoring centre they needed to replace an aging Ryan Kesler. Schroeder’s tenure with the Canucks started off badly as he had shoulder surgery in the offseason then fractured his ankle in the first preseason game of the 2013-2014 campaign. He returned to the line-up in mid-October before fracturing the same ankle. At the time of the injury, he only managed to score 6 points in 25 games and after playing parts of two seasons with Vancouver, the team opted not to re-sign him, thus making him a free agent.
Prior to the 2014-2015 season, Schroeder signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Minnesota Wild. With Schroeder playing for his hometown team and no longer behind Kesler and Sedin on the depth chart, it was expected that he would flourish and find his scoring touch. However, he bounced between the AHL and NHL and didn’t play more than 26 games in a season with the Wild. On July 19th, 2016, the Wild placed Schroeder on waivers prior to his salary arbitration hearing, a common strategy by teams. When he passed through the waiver wire unclaimed, he signed a one-year, two-way contract with Minnesota worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
Cody Hodgson—Drafted 10th Overall by Vancouver in 2008
Another Canucks first round draft pick, Hodgson garnered praise for his play with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. In 2009, he won the William Hanley Trophy (Most Sportsmanlike Player), the Red Tilson Trophy (OHL Player of the Year) and the CHL Player of the Year. He also won a gold meal with Canada at the World Junior Championships that year while leading the team in scoring. Hodgson appeared to have outgrown junior hockey and looked poised to excel at the NHL level. While training for the 2009-2010 season, he injured his back and a series of misdiagnosis and tension with then-head coach Alain Vigneault contributed to Hodgson being sent back to his junior team. Another injury soon followed, a broken toe, and the Toronto native’s budding career kept stalling. Finally, fully healthy in 2010, he challenged for a spot on the Canucks roster but was ultimately sent down to the AHL Manitoba Moose. It wasn’t until Ryan Kesler injured himself in the 2011-2012 season that Hodgson got a shot to play top 6 minutes in the NHL and he flourished, ranking 5th among rookie scoring by January 2012. When Kesler returned from injury, Hodgson was once again buried on the depth chart and Vigneault only played him 10-12 minutes on average per game.
At the deadline that season, then-GM Mike Gillis traded Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres, along with Alexander Sulzer in exchange for bruising forward Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani. The move was a considered a head-scratcher by most as Hodgson had shown signs of offensive prowess and it was speculated that Hodgson’s rocky relationship with Canucks brass led to his asking for a trade. Hodgson finished his first full NHL season with Sabres, registering 41 points in 83 games. Leaving Vancouver gave Hodgson a larger on-ice role, earning nearly five minutes more ice time per game and resulted in him signing a six-year, $25.5 million extension with the Sabres on September 11, 2013. The 2013-2014 season saw Hodgson put up a respectable 44 points in 72 games but the following season, Hodgson had the worst outing of his professional career, registering a mere 6 goals and 13 points in 78 games. On June 29, 2015, the Sabres, in the midst of a rebuild, placed Hodgson on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout. The following season, Hodgson signed a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators and made the opening day roster, being used mainly as a depth-centre. After posting 8 points in 39 games, Hodgson was placed on waivers by the Predators on January 13, 2016. Hodgson passed through waivers unclaimed and was subsequently assigned to AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. The 26 year-old Hodgson was not offered a new contract and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
We’ve all seen the footage of the 2014 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team playing a little ball hockey as part of their summer orientation camp. The reason the boys were in sneakers instead of skates was because Hockey Canada, and several NHL team owners, deemed it too risky to have the eventual gold medal winners skating around so far in advance of the Olympics. It was mainly a playful event aimed more so to get the group together and to go over some preliminary evaluations; not really to be taken seriously. What some people may not realize is just how seriously the sport of ball hockey is taken throughout the world and how it’s helped shape the careers of a lot of big name NHL players.
You don’t have to dig too far to find a link between ball hockey and the NHL, especially if you look up Alexandre Burrows. The Vancouver Canucks super-pest was an undrafted QMJHL player that toiled around in the ECHL before signing with Vancouver in 2005. Burrows has managed to carve out a pretty decent NHL career, putting up 264 points in 640 games while getting under the skin of his opponents. While most people associate Alexandre Burrows with biting other players’ fingers and stirring controversy with NHL officials, people in ball hockey circles see him a bit differently. Burrows had a prolific ball hockey career, one that saw him win two World Championships, be named the 2005 International Player of the Year by the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) as well as inductions in to the CBHA and ISBHF Halls of Fame. Ball hockey played such a huge role in Burrows’ life that he’s credited it as the reason he was so fit and disciplined when he entered the NHL. Here’s an excerpt from a November 2010 interview Burrows did for canucks.nhl.com: “It’s pretty similar to hockey and it helped me on the ice, that’s for sure. Not only with the skills, but cardio-wise, you can’t glide out there so you have to make sure you run and you can’t really cheat or otherwise you really get beat.”
It’s not just 3rd line agitators that have had ball hockey play a part in shaping their NHL careers. Joe Thornton, pre epic playoff beard, honed his skills in the London Ball Hockey Association prior to being selected 1st overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997. It’s safe to say Jumbo Joe has had a pretty stellar career thus far. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Braden Holtby cut his teeth in the Saskatchewan Ball Hockey League (SBHL) during the summers and a couple of Stanley Cup Winners named Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman also turned to ball hockey while preparing for their pro careers.
There are countless other professional hockey players that have played elite level ball hockey and there’s a new wave of talent in the pipeline. If players like Burrows, Thornton and Yzerman have taught us anything with respect to ball hockey, it’s that the sport deserves legitimacy and recognition for being a valuable tool in the development of high-calibre athletes.