Written by OHG Vice-President, Dixon Ward
Every year, Sportsnet as well as a host of other participants, celebrate “Hockey Day in Canada”. Last week, this annual production set up shop in Yellowknife, NWT. As I hunkered in on Saturday to watch the festivities, I was amazed at how excited I was for the people of Yellowknife to showcase their city, culture, and passion for the game. The pure pride and joy that the local people exuded was simply awesome. Their love for the game is pure and Sportsnet did an unbelievable job of capturing the true essence of what this day is all about. No one can illustrate the historical significance of the game to a community such as Yellowknife better than Ron McLean. His command of history, storytelling genius, and heartfelt appreciation for the people is astounding. The entire production gave us all a glimpse into what living in the North is all about and the true sense of community that they all share, especially when it comes to hockey.
What I personally enjoyed the most from Hockey Day was the celebration of the outdoor game. The awesome rinks cut into the shimmering lakes brought back so many memories of playing outside as a kid. Growing up in Alberta, we were so fortunate to have outdoor ice for what seemed like 8 months a year. (probably not far off) This was where we learned about the game. This is where we learned to truly love the game. Playing with frozen fingers and frost bit toes against kids and adults of all ages, tying our skates in wooden sheds, cleaning the ice with a make-shift shovels, laughing, crying, and sometimes bleeding, we couldn’t wait to go back tomorrow. Watching Yellowknife enjoy the pond hockey as much as they do, really made me nostalgic about my childhood and all of the awesome experiences that this game gave me. Hats off to “Hockey Day in Canada” for capturing the true essence of the game and what it means to all of the people in this country.
A topic that came to the forefront this week was the discussion around whether to send NHL players to the Olympics in Beijing, China. The reason this debate reared its head this week is the fact that the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation agreed to address a multitude of issues that were deal breakers for the NHL and NHLPA. These issues revolved around insurance costs, travel costs, and promotional and licensing agreements. The willingness for these organizations to engage in the discussions has given a glimpse into the possibility of NHL players participating in the 2022 Olympics. The meeting itself was positive, although the NHL is still taking a cautious approach. “Valid reservations” is the term NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly used when asked to describe the very fluid situation. "We aren't there yet. In fact, we aren't even close to being there," Daly told The Associated Press. "At this point in time, we continue to believe that the negatives outweigh the positives." As negative as that comment reads, this could just be a negotiating ploy by the league and its owners. There has been some suggestions lately that the NHL is trying to tie Olympic participation into the new CBA negotiations with the players. Labour peace was assured for at least three more years this past September when an opt-out clause in the current deal wasn’t used. It is common knowledge that most players want to participate in the Olympics and the league is keenly aware of this fact.
Aside from the business discussions taking place, and the underlying labour ramifications there is even a larger debate going on regarding the willingness of NHL teams to support sending their players to China in the middle of the season. There are 2 trains of thought on this topic.
One of them is pretty straight forward. Sending your star players to play in the Olympics is a risky proposition for many owners who are concerned about injury and/or fatigue. This is a legitimate argument if you are looking at this from a business perspective. No owner wants to take the chance of losing their best player for the NHL playoff run. This could be catastrophic to an organization especially in the competitive NHL we see today. Before PyeongChang the NHL participated in five straight games, with the last one being in Sochi in 2014. Four NHL players sustained season-ending injuries in Russia: Then New York Islanders captain John Tavares, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, and Florida Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky. Garth Snow was the Islanders GM at the time and he used his captain’s injury as a prime example for why NHL players should not participate in the Olympics. Although for his part, Tavares had this to say about being lost for the year at the Olympics, “Well for me as a player I think it is important for us to play in the Olympics. I think you saw how much we loved representing our country especially at that level. But if you put ourselves in Garth Snow’s shoes and you can understand why teams are concerned about their players and injuries. Certainly I know he cares a lot about the Islanders organization and so do I, but I certainly love playing for my country and if I got the call again I would.”
The second train of thought is a little more complex. Sending NHL players to the Olympics is the best way to showcase the game to the global market. Especially in China, where there is an untapped market for the NHL. We have seen what China can do for the NBA and showcasing the best players in the world, in one of the most powerful economies in the world, could be a game changer for the NHL. We have so many great young stars in today’s game, the opportunity to market them would be a win for everyone involved. Current New York Islanders NHLPA representative Anders Lee knows the value of the NHL heading to Beijing. "There's a lot of things that go into this, and there's a reason why China: It's a draw. It's a great thing for our game. That's why it's so important to both sides." In September of 2018, the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins followed in the footsteps of the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings and who played an exhibition series the year before in China for the growing number of Chinese hockey fans. The NHL's China strategy is to both target business opportunities that will grow the League's brand globally and to grow help the game at the request of the Chinese government, which is investing in winter sports development in advance of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. With the partnership already in place and we will just have to wait and see what comes of it for the Winter Games.
I am a big believer in sending our best to represent our game. The opportunity to represent your country at the Olympics is exciting to all players. The chance to win a gold medal, in my opinion, is worth the risk. Whatever side of this debate you are on, rest assured that it will be hot topic in the months to come.
This week we got to see Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild play in his 1000th NHL game. The reason I wanted to mention this was not necessarily to single out this accomplishment, which is quite remarkable for any player, but to recognize where he came from. The son of the late JP Parise, a former NHL player, Zach played his college hockey at the University of North Dakota. This happens to be the same school that I attended so I felt a shout out to Zach and UND was warranted. Parise, who played at UND from 2002-04, becomes the fourth player in program history to play in 1,000 regular season NHL games, joining James Patrick (1,280), Craig Ludwig (1,256) and Dave Christian (1,009). “Ask anybody that he’s played with throughout his whole career, the first word they’re going to say is competitiveness,” Wild goaltender Alex Stalock said of Parise. ““Without that competitiveness, I don’t think Zach gets to 1,000 games. He’s the same size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) as me and he makes his living in front of the net. You’re not going to do that without being competitive.” That drive is fueled by a passion for the game according to Eric Staal, “It’s fun to a team up with a guy like him. His hunger to compete is one of his biggest attributes. He always wants to be the best he can be, and that comes through a lot. Those are fun guys to be around because it pushes everyone to be better. It’s fun to see him hit a milestone like this because it is well deserved.”
The University of North Dakota has produced a large number of great players over the years, and Zach Parise is one of the best alongside Ed Belfour, TJ Oshie and Jonathan Toews. Coincidently Toews reached a milestone of his own this past weekend picking up his 800th NHL regular-season point. It happened to come in his hometown of Winnipeg. Toews is the first former UND player to hit 800 NHL regular-season points and Parise is just 20 points away from joining him in that club. Of course, to play 1000 games in the NHL is a very difficult feat to accomplish. It is not the sole product of talent, but dedication, perseverance, mental toughness, leadership and passion that allows a player to reach this milestone. UND has always stood for these values and instills them in every player that wears the green and white. “I didn’t really appreciate something like that when I was younger,” Parise told a Minnesota newspaper this week. “You’re kind of just playing the game. You start to look at it, though, and it’s not easy. You’ve got to be healthy and hang around for a long time, and as it’s gotten closer, seeing the other guys get there, I think I’ve started to appreciate it a lot more.”
Back injuries and knee problems have slowed you at times, although it is pretty obvious that there’s still a lot left in the tank. You have had quite a journey since lining up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in your first ever NHL game. On that night, October 5th, 2005, most eyes in the rink were focused on Sidney Crosby as he also made his NHL debut that evening. While you out did “Sid the Kid” on that occasion, picking up the game winning goal and an assist, it must have been an amazing experience facing that team of superstars. "My 'This is the NHL' moment was in warmups," Parise recalled recently when asked about his start in the NHL. "We were doing breakouts and Pittsburgh was doing breakouts too and I look back and I see Mario Lemieux. Playing against Mario in my first game, to me, that was the guy I watched growing up and one of the best all-time. I watched him and now I'm on the ice against him for the first game." Congratulations Zach, the UND family is proud of you and how you represent all of us.
This past week also showcased the Jersey retirement of Daniel and Henrik Sedin by the Vancouver Canucks. For Canuck fans, this was a no brainer, however, the Sedin’s were somewhat polarizing around the league during their careers. They were often criticized for their perceived lack of physicality, toughness, speed, demeanor, and sometimes just because they were twins with red hair. However, for those who had a chance to play with, and against Daniel and Henrik, they were something special. Former teammate Kevin Bieksa was money helping MC the event from ice level and while he roasted the twins more than a few times, he did it all because of how much he admires and respects the twins. “When I was asked to speak on their behalf, regardless of how you feel about it, you say yes, because it's just an honour to be a part of this night," Bieksa said. "I'd do anything for Danny and Hank. There’s Sedin culture to this organization and it’s been absorbed by guys like Edler, Tanev, Markstrom and our new captain Bo. I’ve already seen them pass it along to Petey and Quinn and Brock and they will pass it along to the next generation of players and in 20 years, there will still be a Sedin flavor to this organization and the Sedin culture in that dressing room. That will transcend any on-ice statistics that they have.
Speaking of those numbers, the twin’s stats are far and away the best in club history. Drafted second and third overall in 1999, the Sedins played 17 years in Vancouver before retiring in at the end of the 2018 campaign. Henrik finished his career as Vancouver's leader in games played, 830 assists and 1,070 points. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer in 2009-10, with 112 points. He also won the Hart Trophy as league MVP that season. Daniel leads the franchise with 393 goals and is second with 648 assists, 1,041 points. He won the Art Ross in 2010-11 with 104 points and the Ted Lindsay Award as the league MVP voted on by the players. Not only did the Sedins make their name on the ice but also a left a huge mark off it in the community. They donated $1.5 million to help build a new BC Children's Hospital and also established The Sedin Family Foundation which works to improve health, education and family wellness in B.C. “Retirement has been great,” Daniel pronounced with pride. “We left on our terms. We knew it was time to go. You still miss, like any other job, the camaraderie, you miss our teammates, the training staff, coaches you've had. You also realize what it takes to be at your best game in and game out. That takes a lot of hard work. When you can't put the work down anymore, I think it's time to leave.”
In my humble opinion, they played the game at an intellectual level rarely seen before. They played the game with mental and emotional toughness that was extraordinary. They handled criticism, verbal and physical abuse, mockery and ridicule, all the while producing more points than any tandem in Canucks history. They represented the Canucks and the city of Vancouver with more class and integrity than could possibly be expected, and motivated a generation of young hockey players in British Columbia. Team first players to the end, in typical Sedin fashion, during a week when all the focus was on the twins, Henrik tried to shine the spotlight on the current team in an effort to shift attention away from the guests of honour. “They have a lot of young stars,” he said. “I think they have been able to take this step. I think it might have taken longer if we had stayed. When two older guys are still around there is always the case of how much are they going to play, what role are they going to be. Now it's their team and they've done a great job this year.” Nice try Hank, the spotlight is reserved for you and your brother and not the 2019-20 Canucks. Congratulations to both you and Daniel. For a couple of young, rosy cheeked kids from Sweden, you have left an indelible impact on the Vancouver Canucks and the entire city of Vancouver.
1) St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks Medical Staff
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester needed to be revived with a defibrillator after suffering a cardiac event on the team's bench during its game Tuesday against. the Ducks. Bouwmeester "regained consciousness immediately" after the defibrillator was used. Moments earlier, Bouwmeester collapsed on the Blues' bench following a shift in the first period. It is great to see how trainers and medical staff jumped into action and saved his life. The NHL has had standards in place to deal with potential life threatening cardiac problems for several seasons. They include having a team physician within 50 feet of the bench. An orthopedic surgeon and two other doctors are also nearby. Defibrillators must also be in close range.
2) Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak completed his fourth hat trick of the season and surpassed 40 goals as the Boston Bruins beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens 4-1 Wednesday night. Pastrnak became the first Bruin to reach 40 goals in a season since Glen Murray scored 44 in 2002-03. He is the first Bruin to register four hat tricks in a season since Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr each did it in 1974-75.
3) Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy
Vasilevskiy is 18-0-2 in his last 20 starts helping the Lightning win 9 in a row. That stretch is the longest point streak for a goalie in Tampa Bay history. He has not lost in regulation since Dec. 14, when he made 29 saves in a 5-2 loss to the Capitals. He set a new franchise record winning his ninth straight home game in a 3-1 victory vs the Oilers. On Friday his record was 31-9-3, with a 2.41 goals-against average, and a .921 save-percentage.
Going to OHA was one of the greatest decisions I have made for my hockey career. OHA prepared me for the next level. Skating, strength, speed, conditioning. I wouldn't be the player and person that I am today if I hadn’t chosen OHA."