Written by Dixon Ward, Vice President
There is a lot of buzz these days about Seattle’s new NHL expansion team and what the team will be named. The Kraken, Totems, Emeralds, Sockeyes, Evergreens, Whales, Cougars, Eagles, and Firebirds are all on the list of names registered by the ownership group. I’m not sure I like any of them, but that is usually the case when a new team is announced. The name doesn’t take on any meaning until the team begins playing and identity is established. Whatever they decide, it’s an exciting time for the people of Seattle.
The team will begin play in the 2021-22 season and just last month they started the construction phase of their downtown rink located right by the historic Space Needle. A privately funded $930-million project that is very unique in that the roof was classified as a historical landmark by the city. So in order to get the work done the roof is suspended in the air, while all the digging and building takes place underneath the 44 million pound structure. On the hockey front, GM Ron Francis just recently brought in the scouting staff to Seattle to hold a mock expansion draft. Hats off to the hockey club for hiring Cammi Granato as one of their scouts. Bringing a woman onboard shows just how much this great game has grown over the years. All told the Seattle scouting staff has already watched hundreds of NHL and AHL games, a process scout Dave Hunter elaborated on in a recent interview, “Existing teams are looking for perhaps a specific player in a specific role. Whereas now we’re looking for players with skills and abilities and characteristics that we want. So as opposed to looking for a certain third line left winger…we’re looking for a player that can skate, be creative, and has good hockey sense.”
More important than the name, or the players picked to suit up on the opening night, it is what this new franchise will mean to the hockey community in the Pacific Northwest that matters most to those of us who are responsible for growing the game. The addition of an NHL team to a non-traditional market has proven to be a catalyst in building youth hockey programming in the area. We have seen this since the day Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. Although the Kings were already in existence, the addition of Gretzky to Southern California served as a re-birth and sparked a new generation of youth hockey in California. It also opened the door for the expansion into Anaheim and San Jose. It will be exciting to see the growth of new programming and a focus on grass-roots hockey in the area as the Seattle team gets up and running.
Recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs organized a “ Mentor’s Trip” for their team. This event allowed each player to bring their hockey or life mentor to a game in Toronto and a game in New York. What an awesome experience for these folks who have obviously had a huge impact on these players. You don’t get to the NHL level without a lot of support from your family, friends, coaches, trainers, and billets. Toronto captain John Tavares[CM1] told NHL.COM, “ A lot of people impact your life and help shape who you are as a player and a person.” Tavares brought his old minor hockey coach James Naylor from the Toronto Marlboros, a person he credits with instilling discipline, accountability and a competitive mentality to his game, “We still keep in touch and I think it speaks volumes about what he means to me and what he’s brought to my game.” Defenseman Tyson Barrie invited his grandfather along for the ride, who is a life long Leafs fan. Over the last 30 years Barrie credits his grandad with teaching him a lot more than just hockey, “My grandpa has always been somebody I look up to, He's great with kids, and between him and my Grandma, they do a lot of stuff in the community through the church. I try to take all his positives and put them into my life."
This trip was a different take on the traditional dads or moms trip that most NHL teams have established over the years. Legend has it that the Buffalo Sabres were the first ones to allow dads on the road. An old Hockey News article reported that the Sabres would let one or two fathers to tag along if they happened to be in the town where the team was playing. Over time this idea blossomed into allowing each player to have their father take part. Current Islanders coach Barry Trotz claims that the expansion Nashville Predators were the first hockey team to take all of the dads away to Buffalo. The way the story goes, the Preds knew they were going to struggle mightily in year one so they wanted to make their inaugural season memorable for the players who had to suffer through a lot of losses. GM Davie Poile approached Trotz and said: “What do you think about a dad's trip?” To which Trotz replied, “Absolutely, let’s included everybody.”
I remember having the opportunity to bring my dad on a trip that included traveling around western Canada to play the Flames, Oilers, and Canucks. It was so fun to see the excitement of the fathers as they had the opportunity to fly on the private charters, share pre-game meals and stay in the same hotel as the team. Some fathers, my dad leading the charge, also didn’t waste any time in taking over the card games and the storytelling. Now many years later, as the father of a college hockey player, I can appreciate how exciting these times are for parents and mentors alike. Having the opportunity to spend that great quality time sharing those experiences with your son is something these people will never forget.
How great is it to see Justin Williams return to the Carolina Hurricanes at the age of 38. In a time where we celebrate the young and talented stars in the game, recognizing the “old guys” in hockey is super important. Players like Justin Williams add so much to the sport that most people don’t recognize. They bring class, experience, leadership, and mentorship into the locker room every day. It is the veteran players that show the young players how to be professional. A three-time Stanley Cup Champion, All-Star and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Mr. Game 7 has been the glue of a young and somewhat inexperienced team that ended a 10-year playoff drought. Williams started this season on the sidelines, taking a much-needed break from playing in the NHL. Although deep down, he knew retirement wasn’t an option at this point, "I'm no dummy. I know that to be elite -- and play against the world's best -- you can't just come off the couch after not playing for six months. I missed hockey but I certainly wasn’t bored. Throughout these last few months, I just knew that maybe perhaps I wanted to come back. I still wasn't sure. But if I was going to come back, I knew I had to do something.”
When I entered the league with the Vancouver Canucks, I had the pleasure to learn from some amazing veterans. Doug Lidster, Dave Babych, and Ryan Walter, just to name a few. They taught me what it meant to prepare every day, what it meant to be a professional and how important it was to be connected to the community. All of these guys are still my friends today and I am thankful to them for helping me become a better player, teammate, and person. Ryan is now an international leadership mentor/speaker and he has taken his hockey experience to his public speaking engagements. He was on the back nine of his hockey career in Vancouver and while his skills had errored somewhat, it was his character and leadership that kept him in the game until his mid 30’s. “I think there was a passion to take care of my teammates and play for them. I was also not afraid to speak up and at times that got me in trouble,” Walter has stated on numerous times. “That’s a quality. If you’ve got something on your mind and never say it is hard for people to know what you are passionate about. As leaders, you can’t be afraid to speak your mind and if you mess it up, you learn from that and then speak your mind again.” One of Ryan’s catchphrases is “I’ve got your back”, and he’s someone a lot of hockey players looked up to and admired over the years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have started the countdown to trade deadline day by making a move to address a couple of problem areas. The Leafs acquired netminder Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford from the LA Kings. Clifford has won a couple of Stanley Cups and he will add some much-needed grit and toughness in Toronto. “I mean, they didn’t bring me in to outpace Auston Matthews in goals. I know what I am. I know who I am,” Clifford said speaking for the first time since joining the Buds.“My five-year-old son Brody, his favourite player is Jake Muzzin, so he was ecstatic to get out here. He wanted to get on the first plane.” In Campbell, GM Kyle Dubas believes they are getting a reliable back up. The Michigan native has a record of 8-10 this year as Jonathan Quick’s backup with a save percentage of .900. The 28-year-old once played for Dubas in the OHL with Sault Ste. Marie. The move to get a quality goalie was imperative, now that Freddie Anderson is dealing with a head and neck injury. "At this stage we say day-to-day ... we don't really know." Said head coach Sheldon Keefe following the Leafs loss to the Panthers. "It's tough to lose him like that," Keefe said. "But these things happen, they've happened before for this team."
As I watched Anderson go down the other night with a concussion, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I was concerned for him and on the other hand, I was thankful that we, as a society, have come so far in the diagnosis and treatment of these types of injuries. It is amazing the sheer amount of information and resources that are available compared to even 15 years ago. We have all seen the devastating effects that sports-related brain injury has had on athletes if not identified and treated properly. There are too many heartbreaking stories and personal experiences for all of us that have played to not take this seriously. At the Okanagan hockey Academies, we have employed very stringent protocols pertaining to baseline testing, diagnosis, treatment, and return to play for all athletes in our program. At the pro level, last summer the NHL and NHLPA released a very informative video on concussions. It is a very educational 15-minute watch and I would suggest people should take a look. Here is a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAqLHEFE4m4 . Honesty is the number one thing when dealing with brain injuries. No one will think less of you if you take time off to heal. Remember that concussions are dynamic injuries. Some symptoms, like headaches, dizziness, sickness, show up right away while other symptoms may not appear for a few hours or days. It is a very difficult injury to track because things can change over time. So be open, be honest and please seek medical advice if you feel funny.
I certainly can recall the times that I “wasn’t right” after an on-ice incident. Walking into a locker room only to not remember where I sat in Tampa Bay, or being so confused that I didn’t realize that my collar bone was separated from my sternum in Ottawa, and not being subject to any protocols regarding diagnosis or return to play. These examples are not meant to alarm parents, but to emphasize how far we have come and how much safer the game is today. The rule changes are protecting our kids and the organizations around our country that have instituted strict policies regarding head injuries are very positive. Let’s hope Freddie Anderson gets well soon and helps lead the Maple Leafs towards a much-needed playoff run.
1. Alex Ovechkin - Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin joined the great Wayne Gretzky as the only NHL player to score 40 goals in 11 seasons, when he hit a hat-trick in the third period for the Washington Capitals in their 4-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. He moved ahead of Mark Messier for eighth all-time last week with two goals against the Ottawa Senators before Tuesday's natural hat trick got him within 10 goals of Mike Gartner's 708.
2. Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton became the 14th player in NHL history to accumulate 1,500 points, after the San Jose Sharks defeated the Calgary Flames 3-1 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. Thornton picked up a couple of assists to reach the milestone in 1,620 games. I had the opportunity to play with Joe in Boston. He was one of the best teammates that I ever had. I couldn’t be happier for him.
3. Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl claiming four assists to extend his current points streak to 11 games as the Edmonton Oilers thrashed the Calgary Flames 8-3 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday. Draisaitl is in red hot form at the moment with 22 points in his last 11 starts and leads the NHL scoring charts with 83 points made up of 29 goals and 54 assists.
OHA was amazing for the development of my hockey career; the skills you learn allow you to excel when you move on to the next level."