Thursday, September 25, 2014

NHL.com's team-by-team season preview schedule


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'Tough guys' find offensive game at Kraft Hockeyville


SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- The enforcers left an impact on 2014 Kraft Hockeyville on Wednesday.


But instead of dropping the gloves, the likes of Brian McGrattan and B.J. Crombeen were using their hands to produce offense. Matt Kassian and Deryk Engelland joined McGrattan and Crombeen on the list of unlikely scorers in the Calgary Flames' 4-3 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes at Sylvan Lake Multiplex.


"I think everyone that plays in the roles that the four of us do, work a lot to be able to contribute in other ways," Crombeen said. "It's nice to be able to chip in on the offense, but I think all of us know what our main role is and obviously just trying to play hard and do the simple things and get the pucks to the net."


Kassian opened the scoring near the midway point of the first, when he corralled a rebound from Chris Summers and beat Flames goalie Joni Ortio.


After Joe Vitale doubled that lead, Engelland pulled the Flames within one with 54.2 seconds remaining in the opening period with a seeing-eye shot from the point that found its way past Coyotes goaltender Mike McKenna.


McGrattan tied the game 1:59 into the second period after converting a cross-crease tap-in from Markus Granlund.


"[Granlund] is probably one of our most skilled players in our whole organization," McGrattan said. "He can make a lot of plays with the puck. Once I saw him with the puck, I just went to the post and put my stick on the ice. The pass came right to me."


Crombeen restored Arizona's lead 67 seconds later after a shot from Summers skipped off the 6-foot-2, 209-pound forward and behind Ortio.


"Obviously a great play by the D-man," Crombeen said. "The puck was kind of battling in the corner and got it behind. I don't know who got it to the D-man, but I just tried to get position and get to the net. It went off my stick, off my shin pad and in. I'm just trying to go hard to the net and obviously a great play by the D-man there."


In all, the four contributed to more than half the goals scored in the game. Collectively, Crombeen, McGrattan, Engelland and Kassian have combined for 58 goals in 1,015 games. They've collected 222 fighting majors over the same span.


"Pretty wild, eh?" McGrattan said. "They probably thought it was going to go the other way."


Kraft Hockeyville wasn't necessarily a place to showcase what else they can do with their hands. But McGrattan found a way to entertain the crowded rink in the resort community of roughly 13,000.


"It's big for the people in the town here. They won it," said McGrattan, playing in his second Kraft Hockeyville event after skating in the inaugural game in Salmon River, Nova Scotia as a member of the Ottawa Senators in 2006. "There's a lot of excitement around the game and around the day. You get to see all the fans and all the kids. It was a pretty enjoyable morning. A lot of those kids don't get to see NHL players being from a small town. I don't know how many games they get to. Anything we can do to make their day.


"No matter where you came from, you started in either a small town or a small rink. It means a lot to come back and see all the fans come out and how passionate and excited they were to have a game here. I think it was a lot of fun for everyone and I think everyone enjoyed it."



Eichel aims to shrug off comparisons to fellow blue chipper McDavid


When two high-end prospects vie to be the top pick of a given draft, it’s basically inevitable that media types will compare and contrast them for the rest of their careers.


Even with that in mind, Jack Eichel (possible No. 2 pick) and Connor McDavid (expected first choice) almost beg to be compared before and after the 2015 NHL Draft takes place.


For one thing, they’re two of the best prospects to come along in some time, give or take a Nathan MacKinnon here or there. The juicier stuff is that their contrasting paths. Eichel (pictured to the left of McDavid in international competition) is an American-born talent who opted to take the NCAA route with Boston University. McDavid is your almost-typical Canadian wunderkind, drawing the usual Sidney Crosby comparisons when people tire of linking the Pittsburgh Penguins star with MacKinnon.


As natural as these comparisons may get, Eichel told the Canadian Press that he’ll do his best to ignore the comparisons.


“I just try to concentrate on what I can control and myself,” Eichel said. “There’s going to be comparisons wherever you go. I just try to focus on myself and making sure I’m doing the right things and trying to get better.”


This doesn’t mean Eichel is just going to shrink from the challenge, though.


“To be No. 1, obviously, it’s in anyone’s competitive nature to be No. 1,” Eichel said. “You dream about that your whole life. So if I sat here and told you that I didn’t want to be in the No. 1 pick, I think I’d be lying because I do. But I’m not going to lose sleep on it.”


Sounds like a wise strategy, even if it might be filed under “easier said than done.”



Flames' Raymond, Coyotes' Szwarz visit Sylvan Lake school


SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- Calgary Flames forward Mason Raymond grew up in nearby Cochrane, Alberta, so he knows what it's like to look up to members of the Flames as a kid.


Raymond was on the other end of that relationship Wednesday when he and Arizona Coyotes forward Jordan Szwarz were the guests of honor at Fox Run School. The school, which also welcomed students in the gymnasium from nearby Mother Teresa Catholic, welcomed the two players as part of the lead-up to the Kraft Hockeyville preseason game between Arizona and Calgary at the Sylvan Lake Multiplex.


The players arrived to a crescendo and screams and applause from the kids, which ranged from Grades 3-9 and filled the gymnasium to capacity. Raymond and Szwarz talked to the students about their careers and journey to being a hockey player before selected kids were able to ask them questions.


The questions ranged from how hockey impacts their lives to goals for the season, and included one for the 23-year-old Swzarz about his post-career plans, which he said there is hopefully a long time before he has to figure that out.


After the Q&A session, a representative from Kraft unfurled a large banner to celebrate Sylvan Lake's victory in the contest, and the two players signed it. The banner will hang at Fox Run School to commemorate the visit.


Before they left to prepare for the game, Raymond and Swzarz took part in a floor hockey accuracy contest, firing balls at a net fitted with a shooter tutor. After the two NHL players shot, several kids from both schools had their chance to best the pros.


Raymond and Swzarz, along with Calgary's mascot Harvey the Hound, signed autographs and took photos with students before departing.



Jordan Subban has ‘moved on’ after ‘unfortunate’ photo caption by Vancouver papers


Jordan Subban is taking the high road after the websites for both the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers published a photo caption identifying him as “the dark guy in the middle.”


“I heard about that,” said Subban, per The Province. “I had a chance to talk to a representative from the paper and it seemed like a pretty honest mistake. Am I worried about it? No. If people should be talking about something, it should be the way I played last night rather than that. Hopefully, it will just die down.


“It was just unfortunate. I don’t think there were any bad intentions. It is what it is and I’ve moved on and I’m sure everyone else will, too.”


Both newspapers offered apologies to Subban…


…but that didn’t stop the story from going viral.


Subban, the 19-year-old brother of Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, scored a goal in last night’s 4-2 Canucks win over San Jose at Rogers Arena.


Subban, a 2013 Vancouver draft pick, is flying home today to rejoin the OHL’s Belleville Bulls.



Flyers send ’14 first-rounder Sanheim back to junior


Travis Sanheim’s time with Philadelphia is over after just one game.


Sanheim, the club’s first-round pick (17th overall) at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, has been sent back to his junior team in WHL Calgary, according to the Courier-Post.


(Sanheim also tweeted the news himself.)


The 6-foot-3, 190-pound blueliner made his NHL preseason debut in Monday’s 5-4 split-squad win over Washington, logging just over 18 minutes of ice time. While he wasn’t expected to make the Flyers this season, some thought Sanheim may have warranted a lengthier stay at camp given his pedigree, a good showing at rookie camp and the fact Philly’s blueline is pretty thin with Kimmo Timonen out indefinitely (blood clots).


That said, the decision to send Sanheim down is consistent with Philly’s recent approach. Last year, the Flyers returned their other first-round defensman — Samuel Morin, taken 11th overall — to junior after he played one exhibition game.



Flames' Elson feels right at home in Hockeyville


SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- It's as close to home-ice advantage as Turner Elson could ask for.


The 22-year-old Calgary Flames prospect is vying for an opportunity to earn a roster spot out of training camp and will take another toward that goal when he gets into his first preseason game, against the Arizona Coyotes at the 2014 Kraft Hockeyville game here Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).


And that suits the former Red Deer Rebels captain just fine.


"It's an absolute hockey city," said Elson, who spent four seasons just 15 minutes up the road playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, and grew up less than a two-hour drive north in St. Albert. "Both Sylvan [Lake] and Red Deer, there are just hockey fans all over the place. It's going to be a big night. There's going to be a lot of loud fans for the Calgary Flames [Wednesday]. It's going to be great.


"You can tell the atmosphere here. They're waiting to see us play and the Coyotes. That's a big step for us. We’re going to have to make sure we're going to give the fans what they want."


Sylvan Lake beat out 15 other Canadian communities for the right to host the Flames and Coyotes at Hockeyville this year. Leading into the game, the community has enjoyed appearances by alums of each team and has been treated to youth and officials clinics as part of the four-day event.


The lakeside community also will receive a $100,000 grant for arena upgrades; that's especially important to the town after the roof collapsed on one of town's two rinks in January.


But the main attraction for Sylvan Lake citizens will come in the form of the game Wednesday.


Elson is pumped too as he looks to build momentum in Calgary's camp.


"I think I'm building every day, and building a foundation for myself and for them to notice me in different ways," said Elson, who had 72 goals and 151 points in 254 Western Hockey League games with the Rebels. "That's what I want to build. I think my confidence is more up this year and I'm playing with a little bit more of an edge. That's what I want to play with.


"You want to be a guy who knows how to play his role and knows how to go out there and do the things he has to do to make the team win and keep the coaches happy."


He's certainly caught the eye of coach Bob Hartley, who didn't hesitate to heap praise on Elson.


"I compare him to Mike Keane with more speed," said Hartley, who coached Keane for parts of two seasons (2001-03) with the Colorado Avalanche. "I think that he has the potential to become a Mike Keane. I coached [Keane] and I loved him and I look at this kid, he has grit. He's not the biggest guy but he plays much bigger than his size. Last year it was kind of an OK season for him. He's in great shape. He's moving well.


"I pull for this kid."


Opportunity may be knocking for Elson.


Mikael Backlund, Calgary's top center last season, is sidelined with an abdominal strain. While he is listed as day-to-day by the team, Backlund has yet to participate in a practice.


It could be the opening Elson needs to make his NHL debut in October.


"I don't wish anything bad for Backlund. I want him to get better," Elson said. "But that's a big opening and there's a lot of openings that can come out of a hard camp that you play well in. You never know. This team wants to build a foundation of hard workers and build a foundation of guys that want to win. That's what I want to be."



Coyotes' Gagner still remembered by fans in Alberta


SYLVAN LAKE, ALBERTA -- One of the quirks of this town being equidistant between two NHL franchises is it becomes a bit of a battleground for fan allegiances.


When the Calgary Flames arrived in Sylvan Lake for the morning skate Wednesday in advance of a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes as part of Kraft Hockeyville, there were plenty of Edmonton Oilers jerseys in the crowd.


Some of those Oilers fans were happy to see someone they have cheered for when the Coyotes arrived. Sam Gagner spent the past seven seasons with Edmonton before landing with the Coyotes after being traded twice in a span of hours, first to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then to Arizona.


"I saw a few Oilers jerseys but didn't see the backs of them," Gagner said when asked if he saw any of his jerseys in the crowd. "I got a few 'miss you's,' so it was nice to hear from Oilers fans but I'm excited about my next chapter."


Ganger is one of several Coyotes with ties to the area or to Alberta who will be in the lineup at the Sylvan Lake Multiplex. Another is goaltender Brendan Burke, who is slated to play in the third period against the Flames.


Burke was a sixth-round pick (No. 163) by the Coyotes in the 2013 NHL Draft. His father Sean played for the Coyotes and he grew up in the Phoenix area.


His family also has a cabin here in Sylvan Lake and he spent lots of time here in the summer.


"It was kind of a coincidence that the Coyotes are here playing in Kraft Hockeyville, so I'm really excited," Burke said. "I went to a couple hockey camps there and played there a little growing up. It is home for me and I'm really excited to be part of this.


"It's the best of both worlds. Growing up in Phoenix, Phoenix was my home team. Coming here in the summers, I would skate here. It is playing for my home team and playing on home ice. It is definitely exciting. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."


Ganger spent part of his summers in Edmonton when he played for the Oilers. He said he never made it as far south as Sylvan Lake, but as a member of the Oilers he has spent time in small Alberta communities like this one during team functions.


"That was the great part about playing here is the passion people have for the game," Gagner said. "I think you see that at an event like this. Everyone is excited to be here and passionate about the hockey."



Kraft Hockeyville holds special place for participants


SYLVAN LAKE, Alberta -- This small resort town in the middle of Alberta is almost perfectly placed between Edmonton and Calgary, and several NHL players past and present have spent their summers here.


One of them is Calgary Flames forward Curtis Glencross, who has had a home on the lake and spent time skating at the Sylvan Lake Arena and the Multiplex next door. He'll see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd Wednesday when the Flames play the Arizona Coyotes in a preseason game as part of Kraft Hockeyville (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).


"I've got a place on the water here," Glencross said. "I haven't used it much the past couple summers but I let my parents move in this past spring. They're full-time residents now. It seems like it is better that way. I get to come and use it and don't have to do any yard work or stuff like that.


"It's going to be fun and exciting. It will be a small, close arena and there's going to be lots of kids here, lots of friends. It will definitely be great to play in a small barn and get back to the grassroots."


Sylvan Lake won the 2014 Kraft Hockeyville contest, defeating Kingston, Nova Scotia in the final round. A big part of what motivated the community to apply for the contest and then helped galvanize the town through the voting process was the collapse of the roof at the old arena in January.


The Coyotes and Flames will play in the Multiplex, but the remnants of the old arena remain in place next door. Part of the prize for winning the contest is $100,000 for arena improvements, which will go toward the construction of a new arena and community center.


"I was in shock," Flames defenseman Kris Russell said of his reaction to the news. "That is devastating for a small community like this. Small towns around Alberta are built around hockey rinks, so I'm sure it was a huge loss. The support for today has been huge in the community and in the surrounding areas. It is good to see them get this Kraft [Hockeyville]."


Russell grew up in Caroline, Alberta, which is about a 45-minute drive to the southwest from Sylvan Lake. He played in the collapsed arena as a kid.


Before the teams' morning skates, both teams signed autographs for a crowd of a few hundred fans who lined up outside Multiplex. Many were little kids; some arrived before 8 a.m.


"It's special," Russell said of interacting with the kids. "I had that with the Vandermeers (former NHL players Pete and Jim Vandermeer are from Caroline) growing up. I played in these same rinks that these guys are playing in now, so it is very special for me to come back. I was very excited to have the opportunity to play in this game."


Both teams brought several players who are Alberta natives or have connections to the province. The coaches for both pointed out this remains an important preseason game, especially for the players who are fighting for roster spots.


Still, the potential impact for the community from the game was not lost on them.


"A lot of us grew up in small towns like this where people are very passionate about the game," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "We tried to bring as many players that had some kind of connection with Alberta or Western Canada as we could to put in the game. I think it will have great meaning for them."


For players like Glencross and Coyotes goaltender Brendan Burke, who have spent time here in the summer, there will be time for memories before the game. They also are part of the future, with the game as a culmination of the celebration of hockey here that will resonate not only with the people who participated but also when area residents are skating in a new arena, possibly as soon as 2015.


"We used to skate in [the old arena] in the summer time quite a bit a few years back," Glencross said. "It was quite a bit smaller of an ice sheet. When we started skating with all of the pro guys and semi-pro guys, we had to go down to four skaters a side because it was a little too small to play 5-on-5 out there. They were in much need of a new arena.


"It is huge. They did a lot of work to represent the community in the contest. It is a great little community so they should be proud of themselves and we're looking forward to the game."


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All-American Prospects Game breeds competition


BUFFALO -- The last time two college freshmen were selected among the top five in the first round of the NHL Draft in their first year of draft eligibility occurred nine years ago when Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel went off the board.


Toews, in his first year at the University of North Dakota, went to the Chicago Blackhawks with the third pick. Kessel (University of Minnesota) was selected fifth by the Boston Bruins.



CCM/USA HOCKEY ALL-AMERICAN PROSPECTS GAME ROSTERS




Team Grier


GOALIES: Luke Opilka, USA U-18 (USHL); Ryan Bednard, Johnstown (NAHL)


DEFNSEMEN: Doug Blaisdell, Kitchener (OHL); Zachary Werenski, Michigan (BIG 10); Brandon Carlo, Tri-City (WHL); Christian Evers, USA U-18 (USHL); Tory Dello, Tri-City (USHL); Casey Fitzgerald, USA U-18 (USHL); Caleb Jones, USA U-18 (USHL)


FORWARDS: Jack Eichel, Boston University (H-EAST); Alec Baer, Vancouver (WHL); Jeremy Bracco, USA U-18 (USHL); Jack Roslovic, USA U-18 (USHL); Jordan Greenway, USA U-18 (USHL); Connor Moynihan, Halifax (QMJHL); Karch Bachman, Culver Academy (HIGH-IN); Kyle Connor, Youngstown (USHL); Ryan Smith, Green Bay (USHL); Brent Gates, Green Bay (USHL); Cameron Askew, Moncton (QMJHL); Taggart Corriveau, Westminster (HIGH-CT)


Team Olczyk


GOALIES: Mike Lackey, USA U-18 (USHL); Ryan Larkin, Michigan (NAHL)


DEFNSEMEN: Grant Gabriele, USA U-18 (USHL); Nick Boka, USA U-18 (USHL); Joseph Cecconi, Muskegon (USHL); Noah Hanifin, Boston College (H-EAST); Steven Ruggiero, USA U-18 (USHL); Jack McNeely, Lakeville North (HIGH-MN); Spenser Young, Dubuque (USHL)


FORWARDS: Paul Bittner, Portland (WHL); Brock Boeser, Waterloo (USHL); Christian Fischer, USA U-18 (USHL); ^Mike Floodstrand, USA U-18 (USHL); Erik Foley, Cedar Rapids (USHL); *Robby Jackson, Chicago (USHL); Tanner Laczynski, Chicago (USHL); Thomas Novak, Waterloo (USHL); Chase Pearson, Youngstown (USHL); Troy Terry, USA U-18 (USHL); Brendan Warren, USA U-18 (USHL); Colin White, USA U-18 ( USHL); Dennis Yan, Shawinigan (QMJHL)


*- injury replacement


^- injured and will not compete




The odds of it happening again on June 26 at the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., are pretty good, as center Jack Eichel (Boston University) and defenseman Noah Hanifin (Boston College) are set to play prominent roles for their respective institutions this season while in the crosshairs of every NHL scout.


Eichel is considered the best American-born forward and Hanifin the top American-born defenseman in the 2015 draft. The two standouts, who last season were teammates for the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program, will be going head-to-head Thursday when the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game is held at First Niagara Center (7 p.m. ET, NHL Network).


Who has the edge?


"We mess around sometimes and skate together in the summer," Eichel said Wednesday during a press conference promoting the AAPG at First Niagara Center. "We're in a pro league together. He might be a little bitter, but my team is the three-time defending champ. We beat him in the semifinals three years in a row."


Eichel, who is expected to be one of the top two players selected in the draft, is certainly looking forward to the challenge. The AAPG will feature 42 of the top American-born prospects eligible for the 2015 draft who will compete before more than 200 NHL scouts in attendance.


"I think it's in anyone's competitive nature to think about the draft," Eichel said. "You live your whole life playing hockey and it's a dream to get selected in the NHL. So if you get the chance to be selected, it's a huge honor. If I sat here and told you that I didn't want to be the No. 1 pick I think I'd be lying, because I do, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it. There's been plenty of great NHL players that haven't been the No. 1 pick and have had good careers. It's in the back of my mind, but at the end of the day it's not the end-all, be-all."


Many believe either Eichel or Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters will be the No. 1 pick in June. Eichel said he isn't too concerned with the comparisons to McDavid.


"I just try to concentrate on what I can control and myself," Eichel said. "Connor's a good player, and he's playing in the OHL for the Erie Otters and I'm playing in Hockey East for Boston University. There's going to be comparisons wherever you go. I just try to focus on myself and make sure I'm doing the right things and trying to get better. That's about it."


Former NHL forward Mike Grier and NHL on NBC analyst Eddie Olczyk will coach the teams. Don Granato (Team Grier) and Nick Fohr (Team Olczyk) of the USNTDP will serve as assistant coaches. Eichel will play for Team Grier and Hanifin for Team Olczyk.


"I'm very excited to be part of this game; it's a huge deal, and obviously playing in Buffalo gets me super excited," Eichel said. "It's a rich hockey city with a lot of background. It's been an amazing time being part of USA Hockey. Every time you get a chance to represent them, it's a huge honor. I've had a lot of great people help me along the way, great parents and a lot of great coaches. I've been really fortunate playing youth hockey with a lot of great coaches."


In addition to Eichel and Hanifin, University of Michigan freshman defenseman Zachary Werenski will also be starring alongside Eichel for Team Grier.


There are currently nine players competing in the AAPG considered A-rated prospects on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for September: centers Eichel, Colin White (U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program, United States Hockey League), Kyle Connor (Youngstown Phantoms, USHL) and Thomas Novak (Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL), left wings Paul Bittner (Portland Winterhawks, Western Hockey League) and Jordan Greenway (USNTDP U-18, USHL), and defensemen Hanifin, Werenski and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City Americans, WHL).


The game will consist of three 20-minute periods and, if necessary, a five-minute overtime. If a winner still hasn't been determined, the game will enter a shootout.


There were five players from last year's All-American Prospects Game selected in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft: Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings, No. 15), Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets, No. 16), Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild, No. 18), Anthony DeAngelo (Tampa Bay Lightning, No. 19) and Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks, No. 20).


Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations, feels this year's American-born group of draft-eligible players is something special.


"I think this is the deepest pool [of American prospects] that we've ever had in the game from a rankings standpoint," Johannson said. "There's movement throughout the season, but I'm comfortable sitting up here saying there's potential for us to have five of the first 10 picks in the NHL Draft this year, and that would be groundbreaking for the USA.


"I know we'll have a great first and second round in the draft, but what the actual numbers will be I won't know until it starts. To be able to showcase all of them [in Buffalo] to celebrate USA Hockey not only says a lot for our development across the board, but also what the quality of this [All-American Prospects Game] will be on Thursday."


---



AUDIO: Alain Vigneault on Derek Stepan’s injury







Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.




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Game in Six Minutes – 23/09/2014


Founded in 2008, Maple Leafs Hotstove (MLHS) has grown to be the most visited unofficial team-focused hockey website online (Quantcast). Independently owned and operated, MLHS provides thorough and wide ranging content, varying from news, opinion and analysis, to pre-game and long-form game reviews, a weekly feature piece, the "Leafs Notebook", along with a Web TV show the "Maple Leaf Hangout".



Randy Carlyle Post Game – Leafs 4 vs. Flyers 0




Randy Carlyle – 23/09/2014

Randy Carlyle addresses the media following the Leafs 4-0 win against the Flyers in game two of preseason on Tuesday night.





Founded in 2008, Maple Leafs Hotstove (MLHS) has grown to be the most visited unofficial team-focused hockey website online (Quantcast). Independently owned and operated, MLHS provides thorough and wide ranging content, varying from news, opinion and analysis, to pre-game and long-form game reviews, a weekly feature piece, the "Leafs Notebook", along with a Web TV show the "Maple Leaf Hangout".




Better start, puck possession keys for Blue Jackets


NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.


The Columbus Blue Jackets feel they've turned the corner as a franchise following their second Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance in 13 seasons.


Even though the Blue Jackets were beaten in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round, the excitement generated in April, including winning twice in overtime, has resulted in season ticket sales surpassing 10,000 for the first time since 2009-10.


Defenseman Dalton Prout said the enthusiasm in Columbus is palpable.


"You see any fan that recognizes you or at a fan appearance the first thing they say is, 'Wow, playoffs,'" he said. "That's our mentality inside out too. Everybody who went through the playoffs the first time was, 'Wow.'"


The key for the Blue Jackets is to build on that momentum and qualify for the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. But even that will not be enough.


"Last year we made the playoffs," left wing Nick Foligno said. "Now it's trying to better your position in the playoffs and go further and win the Stanley Cup."


Here are three things the Blue Jackets have to do in order to achieve their goals:


1. A better start -- The past two seasons have meant climbs out of deep holes for the Blue Jackets. In the shortened 2012-13 season, they started 5-12-2 and even a 19-5-5 finish left them one point out of the playoffs.


Last season they were 5-10-0 through 15 games but managed to earn the first wild-card spot.


"It's not fun making it hard on yourselves the last two months of the year," left wing Matt Calvert said.


Right wing Mark Letestu thinks stability in the roster will help avoid another slow start.


"It nearly cost us the playoffs two years in a row," he said. "Thankfully we found a way last season to right the ship early enough to still get in.


"The continuity on the roster is going to help us when the puck drops. There's no really trying to feel your way into what you're going to play. Guys know their roles. Guys know where they fit."


2. Up the level of play -- The days of seemingly facing every opponent's backup goalie are over. Since Feb. 26, 2013, the Blue Jackets are 62-37-12, good for the eighth-most points in the NHL, and are no longer considered a pushover.


"We deserve some credit for being a good team and maybe they didn't take us seriously at first, but I'm sure it will be different this year," defenseman Jack Johnson said.


That means the Blue Jackets must be consistently better to match the effort and intensity of the other teams. It's not easily accomplished considering their youthfulness.


"There's four steps to the season: preseason, the start to the regular season, then it's after the All-Star Game and then it's the playoffs," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "Every time it jumps. Those [young] guys have gotten a taste and a feeling of that jump so they'll be ready."


3. Keep the puck -- General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets finally have developed enough talent to dictate play.


"I believe the best defense is having the puck," he said. "If you have the puck, the other team is not going to score very often. Whether it's our fourth line or our first line, we'll have the puck. We have guys that have skill that can protect the puck and hold onto the puck."



Blue Jackets' Bobrovsky: Team success comes first


NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.


Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky certainly has a special place for the Vezina Trophy he won in 2013. However, it's helping the Blue Jackets reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the second time in franchise history that resonates with him.


"Most important is team success," Bobrovsky said. "Of course it's really good to win the Vezina, to have the honor of being the best goalie in the NHL. It's a great feeling. But what makes you feel really good is team success. And that is an all-around feeling; everyone feels good, feels proud about the team success."


Bobrovsky was a big reason for the Blue Jackets' success last season. In 58 games he went 32-20-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average, a save percentage of .923 and five shutouts. The Blue Jackets finished as the first wild-card team in the Eastern Conference and drew the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.


Their previous playoff appearance, against the Detroit Red Wings in a Western Conference first-round series in 2009, ended in a four-game sweep. This time things went a bit differently.


In Game 2 against the Penguins, Bobrovsky made 39 saves in a 5-4 overtime win at Consol Energy Center for the franchise's first-ever playoff victory. Four days later at Nationwide Arena in Columbus for Game 4, it was another history-making moment as the Blue Jackets won a home playoff game for the first time, with Bobrovsky making 22 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory.


The Blue Jackets lost the next two games of the series, including the decisive Game 6 in Columbus when the Blue Jackets lost 4-3 after trailing 4-0 with 9:39 left in the third period. However that didn't sour any of the memories for Bobrovsky. He said the reaction from the fans after the Game 4 victory remains fresh all these months later.


"The city went crazy," he said. "I almost always am the last guy to go out of the locker room [after games], and I walked back home and I could still hear them cheering for us, still cheering. I was so shocked."


Bobrovsky had been through the playoffs before, starting three games and seeing action in three others as a rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011 postseason. But then he was a 23-year-old rookie in his first season in North America. He also spoke little to no English, and was one of three goaltenders to start in a seven-game first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres.


Older, wiser and better able to communicate now, Bobrovsky said he was able to appreciate his accomplishments more last season.



Sergei Bobrovsky



Goalie - CBJ


RECORD: 32-20-5

GAA: 2.38 | SVP: .923



"It's great you understand the people, you understand the culture," he said. "You can better understand the coaches too. You can tell something that you feel, you can tell something about you. That makes better relationships with coaches and the guys, all the people around you."

Bobrovsky doesn't need to say all that much for his teammates to see the kind of player he is. The Blue Jackets haven't had a captain since Rick Nash was traded to the New York Rangers in July 2012. Bobrovsky had arrived a few weeks earlier and bonded quickly with the remaining young core.


"We've grown up together and that's a really good thing," Bobrovsky said. "We know each other better, we keep pushing each other."


Bobrovsky said having a defined captain who can serve as a locker-room role model is the ideal, but in the absence of that person the players have taken to trying to energize each other. When asked if he was one of the bigger energizers on the roster, Bobrovsky tried to play coy; a team official, however, adamantly said Bobrovsky was.


"I try to work hard and get better," Bobrovsky said. "I've got some views on how to do that and I try to put in lots of effort to get there. It's tough for me to say that I'm a good example for the guys or not. I try to be better and help as much as I can this team to get better."


The definition of "better" has changed as the Blue Jackets have improved in two seasons with Bobrovsky in goal. Especially after last season, just contending for a playoff spot isn't enough. For Bobrovsky, higher expectations are fine with him.


"I think all the good teams, they set out their goals and try to reach them," he said. "… We need to be consistent in the season to keep our work ethic at a high level to fight and compete for each other. That makes our team better. And individually it makes each guy better."


---



Flyers relying on better start, defense stepping up


NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.


Craig Berube spent 17 seasons in the NHL as a player and seven seasons as an assistant coach. But when he got a promotion to coach of the Philadelphia Flyers three games into the 2013-14 season, he saw things in an entirely new way.


"It wasn't like I got surprised by anything, but from game in and game out it's the competitiveness of the League and how tight the League really is," Berube said. "There's just no room for error. You're playing all these teams on different nights here and there, how good these teams are and how well you have to play and how consistent you have to be to be a really good team."


Though he had 79 games to install his system and style of play, Berube said training camp would be big for him. He's hoping to lock in his game plan and improve some of the things that didn't work as well last season.


"I think from my standpoint … it's getting that system down to a T right away so when that puck drops Oct. 8 we're ready to go and we're not busy thinking about what we've got to do," Berube said before camp opened. "We know what we have to do, we have our skating legs and we're ready to really compete. That's really important for us as an organization."


Here are three things that will have to happen for the Flyers' season to be successful:


1. Have a better start -- Last season the Flyers lost their first three games and seven of their first eight. Though they were able to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their terrible start allowed them almost no margin for error.


Berube said he felt the team wasn't in optimal physical condition when last season began. That's why he spent this summer raising the bar on what would be acceptable when training camp opens.


"There was a real focus on the off-ice conditioning and what kind of shape you have to be in to be a Flyer and what we're looking for," he said before camp started. "That's a high standard. We really held it high this year. I think it's really important that they're coming into camp in great shape. And we're really working and competing and getting our guys to where they need to get to at the start of the season. That's very important."


2. The defense must step up -- The closest thing the Flyers have had to a No. 1 defenseman has been Kimmo Timonen, but the 39-year-old may never play again due to blood clots in his leg and lungs.


Timonen's loss hurts the Flyers on and off the ice, where he is counted on as an honest, dependable veteran voice.


Berube is confident the holdovers on defense will step up, and believes that Michael Del Zotto, signed Aug. 5, can be an important addition.


"I've seen this guy play real good hockey for the New York Rangers at one point," Berube said. "I think he's going to get back to that standard."


3. Consistent goaltending -- The 2013-14 season was Steve Mason's best since he won the Calder Trophy in 2009, and he was rewarded with a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension that starts this season. The Flyers are betting Mason, 26, will maintain that high level of play.


"I think it's maturity more than anything," Berube said. "Him and [goaltending coach] Jeff Reese really have a good relationship and they've made a few subtle changes in his game, some different things they're working on, and that's the biggest key for me. Mentally he feels good, he's played really well for us. I don't see that changing."


---



Giroux growing into captain's role with Flyers


NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.


Claude Giroux's play was a microcosm of the Philadelphia Flyers' 2013-14 season.


After 15 games, Giroux had no goals, seven assists and a minus-11 rating; the team was 4-10-1, last in the Metropolitan Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference.


From that point on, however, Giroux had 28 goals and 79 points in 67 games and was a Hart Trophy nominee, while the Flyers went 38-20-9 to finish third in the division.


However, their season ended with a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conferenc First Round. The effort exerted to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs left the Flyers unable to get past the first round.


"We need a good start so we're not climbing up the standings like we were last year," Giroux said. "That drained us a little bit. Every game was a have-to-win."


Part of a better start this season will come with continued maturation from Giroux. Entering his third season as captain, the 26-year-old admits he's still finding his way as a leader. Part of that growth comes from the adversity he and the Flyers faced last season.


"Just don't read into things too much," he said of what he took from 2013-14. "Go out there and play the game. It's a beautiful game; you have to go out there and enjoy it. If you start thinking about it too much or stressing about the little things, that's when you're not focusing on the game anymore, so just go out there and play the game."


Those who watched Giroux could tell the Flyers' struggles were wearing on him, especially early in the season.


"I think the biggest thing about [Giroux] is he puts a lot of pressure on himself and he's starting to realize he doesn't have to do everything by himself," teammate Wayne Simmonds said. "We have a close-knit group of guys and we do everything for each other. Now he's not putting as much pressure on himself. That's why after that slow start last year he put up the numbers he's always done. If he's a little more loose, the better he'll play."


Giroux understands better now the need for him to take a more relaxed approach to things.


"My composure needs a little work," he said. "But there's not a better way to be a leader on the ice than by example. You want to be able to talk a little bit and get the boys going. At the end of the day, you have to go out there and do your job."


Part of that job this season will be helping his teammates be in better shape for training camp. Flyers coach Craig Berube said subpar conditioning was one reason for the early struggles last season, and in conversations with players during the offseason the bar was raised for what fitness level would be acceptable when training camp started.


"The demand for us to be in better shape is there," Giroux said before camp opened. "We're professional athletes. If you're not in your best shape, you're not doing your job. Guys got the message."


Giroux sustained a lower-body injury on Sept. 19 during the Flyers' first on-ice workout. He'll miss two weeks and though he likely won't play in any preseason games, he's expected to be ready for the regular-season opener Oct. 8 against the Boston Bruins.


In or out of the lineup, Giroux will have the biggest role in the team's leadership group, but he'll have some new players assisting him. Scott Hartnell, who was an alternate captain last season, was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets; defenseman Kimmo Timonen, another alternate captain, is unlikely to play again while being treated for blood clots in his leg and lungs.


One player who could step into more of a leadership role is Simmonds, who set career-highs last season with 29 goals and 60 points, and was third in the NHL with 15 power-play goals.


"He's a great leader," Giroux said. "He goes out there and there's nobody that works harder than him on the ice. … I think he's loving the challenge. He's playing a lot of minutes on the ice. In the room he's one of our leaders now. He enjoys the role and everybody respects him on the team."


None are more respected than Giroux, however. He knows that as he goes, the team goes. So a quick return to health and continued maturation in his off-ice duties will be a boon toward accomplishing the Flyers' goal of playing deeper into the spring.


"We have something to prove," Giroux said. "You can see guys want it a little bit more. I don't know if it's just me, but it's obviously a good feeling."


---



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lehner unfazed after Anderson anointed Sens’ No. 1


Robin Lehner signed a three-year extension with Ottawa in July, only to watch the club give Craig Anderson an extension of equal length and anoint him the starter on day one of training camp.


If the Swedish netminder’s bothered by the turn of events, though, he certainly isn’t showing it.


“Yeah, [Anderson] is tabbed as the first goalie, but I also have a chance .. and this is what they’ve been pushing to me, it’s up to them to show it,” Lehner said, per the Ottawa Sun. “If I play good, and if I deserve to play a game or two, then I will play a game or two, That’s the message I’ve gotten.


“You never know, but that’s what has been said. I think we’re having good conversations, and me and Craig are on the same page, too.”


Lehner, 23, has shown flashes of quality play during his brief NHL career, most notably during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, when he went 5-3-4 with a 2.20 GAA and .936 save percentage, finishing 13th in Calder voting. While his numbers regressed last season (.913 save percentage, 3.06 GAA), Ottawa still felt it was worth securing his services through 2017 at $2.225 million per season, presumably to challenge Anderson for playing time.


But for this season? Who knows what’ll transpire.


Anderson turns 34 in May and has struggled with injuries over the last two year, missing extensive time with ankle and upper-body ailments. When healthy, he can turn in dominant performances — twice he’s finished fourth in Vezina voting — but he’s also struggled with consistency, often due to his health.



NHL, EPIX envision new level of all-access program


WASHINGTON -- Ross Greenburg has made a career out of taking hours of footage and turning it into award-winning television programming. His next challenge will be to reinvent what he already has done to make it new and compelling for a broader audience.


Greenburg, a 52-time Emmy Award winner formerly of HBO Sports who has partnered with the NHL on three previous all-access documentary series, will be the lead producer on the League's latest behind-the-scenes endeavor, this time with premium TV network EPIX.


EPIX and the NHL on Tuesday announced a partnership to produce and distribute a two-part, eight-episode, original all-access series debuting in December at Nationals Park, the home of the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.


EPIX is available in 54 million homes and on 450 digital devices, creating a greater opportunity for distribution than the NHL has had in any of its previous all-access endeavors. Sportsnet will air the series in Canada.


Part One of the series will premiere in December. It will take the viewer outside the lines with weekly episodes following the story arc of the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks as they prepare to play in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2015.


Part Two of the series will debut in February and will follow a similar path to the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings at Levi's Field in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2015.


In addition, EPIX and the NHL announced fans in the United States will be able to watch the series for free on any mobile device that carries EPIX as well as on NHL.com, the NHL app and the official websites and apps for the Capitals, Blackhawks, Sharks and Kings.


"One of the things that was really important in talking to [EPIX CEO and president] Mark Greenberg was the promise that we could let any NHL fan who wants to see it is going to have a chance to see it," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said. "He's going to open up every distribution platform they have and any fan is just going to have to go in and register, but they'll get all eight episodes of the series."


Greenburg has worked with the Capitals and Blackhawks in varying capacities, either on HBO's "24/7: Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" in 2011, or on "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other" last season. But he doesn't want to do what he's done before.


"We're going to have to take it to another level," he said. "It just isn't good enough to do what's been done in the past. We're going to be getting the access we've always gotten from these teams and these players and the coaches and management, but we're just going to have to look at each storyline, go a little deeper, bring out the drama in this great game on the ice and off the ice to tell our stories in a magical way."


EPIX has produced several sports documentaries, with the latest, the Greenburg-produced "Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football," scheduled to debut at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday. However, this collaboration with the NHL is the network's first foray into an all-access weekly series.


"If you think of the 'Forgotten Four' … you have the benefit of 60 years since this has happened," Greenberg said. "In this case we're going to be covering something that is happening that week and finding the storylines behind that, really going into what these athletes are feeling, understanding, the excitement. Our ability to turn that around and make that current in real time is really exciting."


Greenberg said a key to the original content will be EPIX's ability to feature the ancillary people around the players and coaches. He also said EPIX will provide extended content on its digital platforms following the airing of each episode in order to continue a storyline that might have been edited to fit into an hour-long television show.


"One of the parallels I talk about is movies," he said. "We're on the set of 'Iron Man,' which is one of the Paramount/Disney moves that we show. We go behind the scenes and we talk about the guy who created the arc reactor. How does it work? How does it happen in the movie? Maybe it's the guy in the food truck; what did you feed Robert Downey Jr.?


"We'll let the athletes talk, but we'll also go behind the scenes in a different way. We'll have a 60-minute show and a lot of added features. When we re-imagine it, it really gives fans more insight, more breadth of what goes on weeks before a great event."


---



Capitals get preview of what Classic will be like


WASHINGTON -- Clad in the Washington Capitals' vintage deep red jerseys for the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby emerged from the visitors' dugout at Nationals Park.


A sun-splashed, temperate day in Southeast Washington provided the players with a picturesque preview of what awaits them Jan. 1, 2015, against the Chicago Blackhawks.


Banners outlined where the rink would be constructed; new uniforms were unveiled; and tens of thousands of navy blue seats that will be filled with cheering fans.


One hundred days from puck drop felt like an eternity.


"That'll be a special feeling," Backstrom said, imagining that not-too-distant day. "As far as I know there hasn't been any event like this for hockey in Washington. We're all excited having it at home here and I'm sure the fans will be really excited, same as us players.


"If you look at it now, it's going to be awesome. That's all I can say."


It was one year ago that the Capitals announced they would serve as the host for the League's marquee outdoor event. It was the product of a tireless effort by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis that began from his living room on Jan. 1, 2008, when he said he fired sent an e-mail to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman while watching the inaugural NHL Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.


"There's two things you know about Ted," Bettman said Tuesday. "He's passionate and he's persistent."


Standing along the infield warning track, the Capitals recalled the grandeur of their participation in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.


They spoke of the pyrotechnics that engulfed them as they walked toward the ice and the fireworks that burst overhead.


And, of course, the most distinct memory.


“That we won,” Backstrom said.


Now they will have the opportunity to host the game, creating an experience they can share with their hometown fans.


"It was unbelievable," Ovechkin said, complementing his new jersey with a pair of Nationals pants given to him in the clubhouse. “It’s a situation where you start understanding you really want to be in that position right now.


"For Ted and for the whole organization, and for us as well, we're waiting for this for years and we finally get it. I'm pretty sure he's happy and [we're] happy too."



Capitals excited to bring NHL Winter Classic to D.C.


WASHINGTON -- Simultaneous to the moment when the NHL first showed the sports world that a regular-season hockey game can be made into a major event in the United States, Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis raced to send an email to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that can only be characterized as a plea for his team and his city.


It was Jan. 1, 2008. The Buffalo Sabres were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in a blizzard at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Leonsis was at home watching the game with his family with zero expectations or ideas for what the NHL Winter Classic would eventually turn into.


"I said, 'This is the greatest thing I've ever seen and I want one of these for our fans,'" Leonsis said, detailing what he wrote in his email to Commissioner Bettman. "It just had this big-event, big-game vibe about it, and I loved every minute of it."


As he watched the game between the Sabres and Penguins, Leonsis was also going back and forth in text messages with Ted Lerner, the majority principal owner of baseball's Washington Nationals. They were in agreement that the event had to come to Washington D.C. soon.


Their pleas have paid off. Outdoor hockey is coming to the nation's capital.


The 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be played on Jan. 1, 2015, between the Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park, the 41,546-seat home of the Nationals situated along the Capitol Riverfront in the Navy Yard section of Washington.


"This is a special city that has a history and a lure and a persona that is reflective of being a nation's capital," Commissioner Bettman said. "This is a city that knows how to do special things and put on big events, so we're just happy to be here and be part of that scene."


It will be the second appearance in the NHL Winter Classic for both teams. The Capitals can become the first team to win two NHL Winter Classic games. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 under the lights and in the rain at Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2011.


The Blackhawks lost 6-4 to the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field on Jan. 1, 2009.


"The biggest part for us is that it's a home game," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "We know how special the fans here are and how much the fan base has grown in the last decade, and how passionate they are. I don't think a lot of people around the hockey world know that or appreciate that yet, and I think that it's great that this city is getting recognition for how passionate they are about hockey."


The first signs of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the NHL Winter Classic in D.C. were on display at Nationals Park during a press conference Tuesday. The event started almost exactly 100 days to the minute that the first puck is expected to be dropped on Jan. 1, 2015.


Cameras documented a stage that featured executives from all participants, including the NHL, the Capitals, Blackhawks, Bridgestone and premium TV network Epix.


Epix is partnering with the NHL on a two-part, eight-episode, all-access, behind-the-scenes series built around the NHL Winter Classic and the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks on Feb. 21, 2015 at Levi's Field in Santa Clara, Calif.


The NHL has partnered with HBO on three previous all-access series, but John Collins, the League's chief operating officer, said the big difference with Epix is in how wide-ranging the distribution will be for the new series.


Epix is available in 54 million homes and on 450 digital devices.


Epix has also guaranteed the NHL that the series will be available to any fan, with or without an Epix subscription. It will be streamed live for free on Epix.com, the Epix mobile and connected device apps, as well as on NHL.com, the NHL app, and the official websites and apps for the Capitals, Blackhawks, Sharks and Kings.


"The difference for our fans is it's going to be much more accessible," Collins said. "Basically, Epix has guaranteed us that any hockey fan who wants to see this series even if they don't have a subscription currently to Epix is going to be able to see that series."


The unveiling of Washington's NHL Winter Classic jersey created a stir during the press conference. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Holtby came on stage to model the vintage deep red jerseys. As they were posing for the cameras, a season ticket holder screamed out, "When can I buy one?"


The jersey has features from jerseys worn by the Capitals over the past five decades. The Capitals announced they will be available for sale to the public in mid-November, but they can be pre-ordered immediately on Shop.NHL.com.


The Blackhawks jerseys for the NHL Winter Classic will be unveiled at a later date.


"I didn't know exactly what it was going to be for colors or anything, so when I saw it the first time it was something I think we all wanted," Holtby said of the jersey. "It's something very classic, history, something that represents Washington and the history of the game very well."


Despite losing the NHL Winter Classic game at Wrigley Field in 2009, Blackhawks CEO and president John McDonagh said the event changed the course of the franchise. Chicago has won the Stanley Cup twice since hosting the event.


He said the Blackhawks were honored to be selected to compete in another NHL Winter Classic. They also hosted a NHL Stadium Series game at Soldier Field last season.


"[The 2009 NHL Winter Classic] galvanized our fan base and gave us an opportunity to play on a very, very big stage, and our franchise has not been the same since," McDonagh said. "There is a very unique mystique and aura if you will about playing outdoors on New Year's Day in front of an international audience."


Leonsis felt it watching from his couch on New Year's Day 2008, and again watching in person at Heinz Field three years later. He called it an unforgettable day for him, his family, his team and the 20,000 Capitals fans who made the trip to Pittsburgh to be a part of it.


"The game produces lifelong memories," he said.


The NHL, the Capitals and Blackhawks are certain more unforgettable moments will be created in 100 days. Maybe there will even be some snow.


"There is something magical about it, so I was pretty relentless about it with the League," Leonsis said. "I'm very grateful to the commissioner for doing the research and believing that we could support and be a worthy host for this great game."


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Avs send ’14 first-rounder Bleackley back to junior


Conner Bleackley’s time with the Colorado Avalanche is over after just one game.


Bleackley, the 23rd overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, was sent back to WHL Red Deer on Tuesday — the day after playing 10:53 in a split-squad loss to the Anaheim Ducks.


The 18-year-old wasn’t expected to make the Avs roster this year — in July, Red Deer coach Brent Sutter said Bleackley’s “not ready for NHL hockey” — but this is a pretty quick exit from training camp.


The guy taken one spot ahead of Bleackley in June, Kasperi Kapanen, is expected to get a long look while trying to crack the Penguins roster; the guy taken two spots after Bleackley, Nikita Scherbak, was named player of the game in Montreal’s intra-squad scrimmage on Monday and will play in tonight’s preseason opener against Boston.