Category: North America (page 1 of 9)

New gig for John Parco as former Thunderbirds coach heads over to Italy

Sault Ste. Marie native John Parco is returning to Italy for a new gig with the Italian Hockey Federation

By Randy Russon – Sault This Week

A successful three season run at the helm of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has turned into a new challenge for high-end coach John Parco.

The soon-to-be-49-year-old Sault Ste. Marie product has signed a two-year contract with the Italian Ice Hockey Federation.

In his new role, Parco will be the director of hockey development for the Italian Federation.
Parco told Sault This Week that as director of hockey development for the IIHF, he will oversee all levels of the game from the under 20 national program down to four- and five-year-old kids.
He noted that part of his job relates to a pre-Olympic hockey project program.
“The 2026 Winter Olympics will be held in Milan, Italy and we want to make sure that we can put together a team that is at least competitive,” he explained.
“Overall, it is a big job with a lot of responsibility but I am up for the challenge,” relayed Parco, who is no stranger to Italy, having met his wife there and having played and coached overseas for more than two decades.

Parco, his wife, and their two kids have long maintained a residence in Italy, even while he was in the Sault and coaching the Thunderbirds.
On that note, as he prepares to head to Italy at the end of this month, Parco told Sault This Week he will retain a residence in Sault Ste. Marie, adding that he plans to return on occasion to remain involved in the Superior Sports Training gym that he owns.

Before going on to a decorated professional career as a player and coach overseas — mostly in Italy — Parco was a three-year scoring star as a center with the erstwhile Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, playing for coaches Larry Mavety and Danny Flynn.

Drafted by Belleville out of the Sault Major Hockey Association in the third round of the 1988 OHL priority selections draft, Parco produced 109 goals, 148 assists, 257 points over three regular season campaigns with the Bulls.

A National Hockey League draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Parco went on to a 19-year pro career, spending the majority of it as an A Division standout with HC Asiago in Italy.

As he was a team captain in the OHL with Belleville, he also wore the “C” on his jersey with HC Asiago. Parco also starred for Team Italy at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

After retiring as a player, Parco was the coach for HC Asiago for three seasons and led them to two championships. And having spent the past three seasons in his hometown as coach of the Thunderbirds, Parco led the local NOJHL team to three-year regular season record of 110-46-12.

He led the Thunderbirds to the NOJHL championship series in 2018-2019 before losing to the Hearst Lumberjacks in the seventh and deciding game of what was a thrilling, outstanding set.

Parco resigned his position with the Thunderbirds after the recent 2019-2020 season and has since been replaced by Denny Lambert as head coach.

Lambert, a former journeyman winger of many years in the NHL, also played for, and later coached, the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL.

How Team Canada trained to take on the Soviets in 1972

Hockey players met at Maple Leaf Gardens to get ready for Summit Series.

Source: CBC Archives

Players for hockey’s Team Canada gather at Maple Leaf Gardens in August 1972 ahead of a tournament against their Soviet opponents.


Hockey’s 1972 Summit Series was going to pit Canada against the Soviet Union. And after a summer off, it was time for the Canadian team to start training.

“Team Canada opened its training camp here at the Gardens today with a full squad,” said CBC reporter Terry McInnes on Aug. 14, 1972.

Some 16,000 spectators were expected at Maple Leaf Gardens when Toronto hosted a match in the eight-game contest. The Canada-Soviet competition, he said, had been billed as “the most exciting hockey series of all time.”

Thirty-five of the best players from the National Hockey League would be taking part. “To a man they have one thought in mind,” said McInnes. “To prove that the world’s best hockey team is Canadian.”

Stick handling

Player Tony Esposito hones a hockey stick ahead of the team’s departure for Moscow. “I don’t even know if they’ve got a rasp over there,” he said

Reporters had been invited to the Gardens that morning as training camp got underway, as the players engaged in “light skating, posing for photographers, and interviews.” 

They were captured in pairs wearing white long underwear and doing sit-ups, with player Stan Mikita sitting on a fellow athlete’s legs.

Phil Esposito, at the time a player with the Boston Bruins, was customizing one of several hockey sticks he was planning to use for the set of games to be played in the Soviet Union.

As he honed the blade with woodworking tools, he discussed how the Canadian approach to conditioning was different from that taken in other countries.

‘Different training programs’

The players paired off to demonstrate their sit-up techniques for the assembled media

“They have different training programs,” Esposito said, mentioning a Swedish fellow player, Mats Lindh, whose regimen included swimming “15 miles a day.”

Canadians, by contrast, spent their summers drinking beer, swimming, and boating.    

McInnes asked about a story he’d heard that Soviet players were up at 6 a.m. to run around their hotel, while the Canadians were “just coming in at that time.”

“That’s their fault for getting up that early,” Esposito said, with a laugh. “I don’t like it, myself.”

Giving ‘100 per cent’

Player Phil Esposito acknowledged that hockey training in Europe and the Soviet Union differed from Canadian methods

Players Vic Hadfield and Ron Ellis, interviewed in practice jerseys on the ice, knew what was at stake.

“Not only are we playing for ourselves, but for Canada and the National Hockey League,” said Hadfield. “We’re going to give it 100 per cent.” 

McInnes asked about the absence of some of the game’s best players — Bobby Hull, Derek Sanderson, and Gerry Cheevers — who, as part of the World Hockey Association, were excluded from the Summit Series.

“Certainly we’d like to have them … but that’s up to the fellows that are running this,” said Hadfield.

According to the Globe and Mail, Hockey Canada had voted in July to limit the Canadian team to players from the NHL due to the “rapidly proliferating war” between the two leagues.

“Two weeks may not be enough time to get in real top shape,” said player Ron Ellis, who was a right winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Hall of Fame waits for Lowe, Wilson come to an end

By Sean Leahy – NBC Sports

The waits for were long for both Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson. But after receiving Wednesday phone calls from Lanny MacDonald, the two longtime NHL defensemen are Hall of Famers.

Lowe, eligible since 2001, and Wilson, eligible since 1996, were announced as part of the 2020 class along with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kim St. Pierre, and Ken Holland.

“It’s not only that you have to get 14 of 18 votes, but it’s also sometimes who you may be up against when you’re up that year,” said MacDonald, the Hall’s Chairman. “Sometimes, it’s timing. Regardless of if they go in like Marian and Jarome, it’s richly deserved.”

When Lowe saw MacDonald was calling, he figured it wasn’t say he didn’t get in.

“It’s all surreal for me,” he said.

Lowe is the seventh player from those great 1980s Oilers teams to make it to the Hall of Fame. After watching Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey get inducted, he never thought he would join that group.

“I’ve never seen myself as a Hall of Famer,” Lowe said. “For me, the Hall of Fame was Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier. Although I know there are players of my ilk in the Hall of Fame and it’s a place for everyone, I don’t want to say I was disappointed in the years I didn’t get selected, but I certainly understood you have to put up more points, win awards.

“My dream was always to win Stanley Cups and the Hall of Fame was something I never dreamed about.”

Lowe finished his NHL career with six Stanley Cup rings between the Oilers and Rangers. In 1,254 games he scored 84 times and recorded 431 points. Internationally, he represented Canada at the 1982 World Championship and the 1984 Canada Cup.

Wilson had the longer wait and since retiring has made an impact as Sharks general manager for nearly two decades. He’s going into the Hall of Fame in the player category, a day he didn’t think was coming.

“It was an unexpected call,” he said. 

Wilson played 16 NHL seasons, finishing with 237 goals and 827 points. He’s the Blackhawks all-time leader in goals and points by a defenseman and led the their blue liners in scoring for 10 seasons. His 0.81 points-per-game average is ninth all-time among defenseman who played at least 650 games.

Individually, Wilson was voted a 1981-82 First Team All-Star and won the Norris Trophy in 1982. He was also a finalist for the award four other times. Like Lowe, he was on Canada’s blue line for the 1984 Canada Cup.

“This game has been so good to me, and all the things I’ve been fortunate to do and the journey I’ve been on, it was very unexpected,” he said.

“It’s worth the wait. That’s an understatement.”

The 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony is tentatively set to take place Monday, Nov. 16 in Toronto.

Long-time Calgary Flames captain named to the Hockey Hall of Fame

By  CTV News Calgary

Calgary Flames icon Jarome Iginla is the team’s latest player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The prestigious honour was announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iginla, who is widely regarded to be the greatest player to wear a Flames jersey, captained the team for nine of the 16 seasons he played in Calgary. He was honoured by the Flames last year when his number 12 was retired and raised to the rafters.

Iginla has been the recipient of many prominent NHL awards, including the Art Ross Trophy (most points), the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award (most goals) and the Lester B. Pearson Award (most outstanding player).

He has also received multiple humanitarian awards for his leadership. In the 2000 season, he announced he would be donating $1,000 to KidSport for each goal scored, which he upped to $2,000 in 2005. Those donations resulted in more than $700,000 being given to the charity.

He also established Calgary’s Jarome Iginla Hockey School in 2002, which donated proceeds to the Diabetes Research Association. He is also a member of the NHL Diversity program, which helps disadvantaged youth play hockey.

Iginla is also a legend of the international game. He won gold for Canada on the world stage many times, most memorably assisting Sidney Crosby’s ‘Golden Goal’ in overtime against the United States in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Other gold medals include the 1996 World Juniors, the 1997 World Championship, the 2004 World Cup as well as another Olympic gold medal from the 2002 Olympics.

Iginla was drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 draft, but was immediately traded to the Flames. Iginla’s NHL debut came in the 1996 playoffs with the Flames where he recorded his first NHL point, assisting a goal from Theoren Fleury and scored his first goal in the following game. His career spanned over three decades, playing 1,554 games and racking up 1,300 points. He currently holds the record for most games played, goals scored and points as a Calgary Flame.

Iginla was traded to Pittsburgh in 2013 at the trade deadline for a first round pick and two prospects. He spent the next few seasons with Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles before announcing his retirement in 2018.

This is the first year that Alberta-born Iginla was eligible for the induction into the HHOF.

Phil Esposito a hockey hero the world over

It didn’t matter the situation or the game, once Phil Esposito was on the ice, he wasn’t coming off any time soon.

By Kevin Paul Dupont – Boston Globe

Ex-Bruins great Phil Esposito, 78, has been a regular visitor to Russia in recent years, traveling there for speaking gigs and sometimes consulting with the Kontinental Hockey League, the country’s top pro league.

“I was supposed to go back over in March,” said Espo, reached at his home in Tampa, “but obviously . . . that got changed.”

Now, provided the world can achieve a post-pandemic norm, the prolific Esposito will head to Moscow in September at the behest, he said, of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Because I was awarded this highest award they can give a non-Russian civilian,” noted Esposito. “We’re going to do it now in September, and my buddy Rootin’ Tootin’ Putin is going to present it to me.”

The honor, which Esposito did not identify by name, is likely the Hero of the Russian Federation, given for service to Russia. It’s usually associated with a heroic feat of valor. Russian citizenship or acts performed specifically for Russia are not necessary to win the medal, which is a gold star suspended from a red, white, and blue ribbon.

“I go over there and actually skate with some of the old guys, and have some fun,” said Esposito. “I make a couple of speeches, sign some autographs, go to dinner . . . and they pay me for it. I love it.”

The “Hero” medal has been awarded more than 1,000 times, often to cosmonauts, and at least twice to athletes — including Alexander Karelin, the great Greco-Roman wrestler, and Larisa Lazutina, who won five medals, including three golds, in cross-country skiing at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano.

Putin, an ardent hockey devotee who still plays in pickup games, would have been only 19 years old in September 1972 when Esposito and his Team Canada brethren pulled into Moscow for the completion of the historic Summit Series between the nations.

Russia held a 2-1-1 series lead after the first four games in Canada and stood but 20 minutes from clinching the series when they carried a 5-3 lead into the third period of Game 8 (series deadlocked, 3-3-1).

Esposito, then age 30 and the most dynamic goal scorer the NHL had ever seen (back-to-back seasons of 76 and 66 goals), put on a third-period tour de force that led Canada to a stunning 6-5 win.

Less than three minutes into the third, he connected for his seventh goal of the series. Some 10 minutes later, he set up Yvon Cournoyer for the 5-5 equalizer. And with only 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Paul Henderson knocked home a puck that Espo first landed on legendary netminder Vladislav Tretiak.

Shot. Rebound. Score. Take that, Mother Russia. Henderson forever will be remembered for the GWG, but Canada goes home a loser if not for Espo’s broad shoulders.

Tretiak, by the way, was the starting goalie when the Russians faced Team USA at the 1980 Games at Lake Placid. Russian bench boss Viktor Tikhonov, displeased with what he saw of Tretiak in the early going, pulled him in favor of Vladimir Myshkin, setting the stage for the Yanks’ historic win.

“All I can say is,” Esposito recalled decades later about Game 8 in Russia to NHL.com’s Dave Stubbs, “that when they called my name, I was there. And I wasn’t coming off.”

Esposito had a penchant for, shall we say, extending his shifts. In the Summit Series, his protracted flights of fancy took ice time away from a pair of other decent centers, Bobby Clarke and Jean Ratelle, both of whom, like Esposito, also went on to become enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. When Espo had the hot hand, he knew it. Generally, when he was on a roll, teammates were happy to have him keep throwing the dice.

Reminiscing over the phone about his Bruins days, Esposito recalled he often logged around 35 minutes a game, nearly twice the ice time current Boston coach Bruce Cassidy typically feeds top line members Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. Different game a half-century later. Much shorter shifts for everyone, fourth-liners and superstars alike.

Some of those 35:00 TOI, your faithful puck chronicler reminded Esposito, came because he often turned a deaf ear to calls from the bench to change up on the power play and stayed out there sometimes for the full two minutes.

“Well . . . hey . . . ,” said Esposito, crafting a faux innocence. ”I had great cardiovascular. I looked like [expletive] on the beach, but I had great cardiovascular. Big defensemen with those sticks, they had to go through 2 inches of fat to get to the muscle.”

Esposito was in Russia some eight years ago for the 40th celebration of the Summit Series. The adulation there for the proud son of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, was of nearly Putinesque levels.

“One time, my wife looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t know I was traveling with Brad Pitt,’ ” Esposito, then 70, was quoted in the Toronto Star. “Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed by the admiration, the adulation, whatever it is. It’s overwhelming. I’m 70 years old and, man, it’s wonderful to still be recognized and known. I think I’m more famous [in Russia] than I am [in Canada and the United States]. Does that make any sense?”

Maybe. If so, sounds like there oughta be a medal for it.

Ugarte optimistic for Mexico

Mexican captain Fernando Ugarte during the Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 2 Group L in Barcelona

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Mexico’s captain, Fernando Ugarte, is one of the great survivors of the sport in his country. He first appeared in the national jersey in the U20 championship in 2001 and he’s been a fixture on the senior team since making his debut in a Division II Qualification campaign the following season. Along the way, he’s taken part in three previous Olympic qualifying tournaments, wearing the ‘C’ in World Championship play since 2007.

So, after a tournament that saw the Mexicans suffer heavy losses not only against the Netherlands and Spain, but also lowly Chinese Taipei last December in the Olympic Qualification process, he’s well placed to take the longer view. In Barcelona he was one of just three players who featured in last season’s World Championship campaign. That made a tournament in which Mexico was seeded three out of four even tougher.

Among the absentees in Spain were Hector Majul and Carlos Gomez, the team’s leading forwards at last year’s home-ice World Championship Division IIB event. First-choice goalie Andres de la Garma was also unavailable. Ugarte, one of his country’s longest-serving players, found himself adopting a role as mentor as well as defenceman.

“Sometimes it’s like I’m a coach, but on the ice,” he smiled. “The thing is, I love the game. I came to this tournament because I love being a part of it, I love to give some feedback and help the younger players.”

Despite his country’s difficulties in Barcelona, Ugarte is optimistic about the future.

“Some of our players here are part of a new generation,” he added. “Some are older, but it’s a first international tournament for a lot of players. There are good players but, especially when coming from U18 or U20 hockey, it’s an important step. It’s hard for them to know how these tournaments are until they play here.

“Hopefully in a few years we can get our country promoted. We’re well established in the Division IIB now, but we hope in a couple of years we will be able to fight for the gold medal with our emerging players.”

The challenge in Mexican hockey remains unchanged. In a tropical climate, in a country where football is king and baseball remains the closest pretender to the crown, it’s not easy for the game to garner much public attention. The player pool is close-knit, often relying on family connections to keep the flame burning.

“I started when I was 10 and Mexico got its first ice rink,” Ugarte said. “But my father used to play back in the 50s. I learned to skate with him, he introduced me to the sport. But in Mexico, nobody talks about hockey so it’s difficult to get support and sponsors.”

Without support, especially financial backing, trips to Europe and beyond for international tournaments can strain the resources of Mexico’s players. A recently established league boasts just four teams – colourful names like Ugarte’s own Teotihuacan Priests, the Mayan Astronomers and the Aztec Eagle Warriors speak of the country’s rich history – but could be a starting point for more.

“Right now it can be difficult to keep people coming back year after year,” Ugarte admitted. “Now we have this league, we’re starting to work with it. It’s still small but we want it to keep people in the game.”

WHL drops Game 6 but wins second shootout to capture series victory

By CIBC Canada Russia Series

It was as if a Hollywood producer wrote the script for the series-deciding Game 6 of the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series.

Requiring extra time for a record fourth time in event history, Team Russia would prevail in the initial shootout session after scoring in each of its first three attempts to even the six-game set at nine points a side and set up a series-deciding shootout in order to decide a winner.

It was then the opposite outcome in the second shootout as Team WHL found its offense, though the session was not without further dramatics as after surrendering two goals the Russians subbed in cold netminder Amir Miftakhov who came off the bench and turned aside three shots before Kelowna Rockets captain and Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick Nolan Foote sealed the victory for the CHL side.

The tally marked the third of the game for Foote, who claimed Player of the Game recognition, after he had lit the lamp with a two-goal effort in the middle frame as part of a special teams showcase that produced a trio of goals on the man advantage that ended with a final power play marker by Medicine Hat Tigers forward Ryan Chyzowski who completed a pretty tic-tac-toe passing sequence to help his side rally for three goals in 3:56.

“It was an intense game,” Foote said following the victory. “They came out hard in the second period, and those powerplays we had gave momentum to the team and guys were going. It was a hard-fought game and of course it went down to overtime and a shootout again, so it was fun.”

Not to be outdone, Russia scored a power play goal of its own after forward Zakhar Shablovskii cashed in from the doorstep after grabbing a feed from Vegas Golden Knights prospect Ivan Morozov to even the score with just over six minutes remaining in regulation and eventually send the game to extra time where the CHL claimed the winning side for the 13th time in event history.

A stuck Russian team & amateur talent jumpstart Aces hockey in Anchorage

By Patrick Enslow  – KTUU.com

As the Aces Alumni prepare to return to the ice this week we take a look back at the franchise’s humble beginnings and rise to prominence in the professional ranks in three-part series leading up to Friday and Saturday’s charity games.

The Russians

Aces hockey can be traced all the way back to the 1930s when a seniors men’s hockey team took the ice and played on an outdoor rink on Fireweed Lane. An Aces program from 1993-94 had a history of the team and said the team made their own ice, and hot-mopped between periods.

The spirit of that team would live on years later when former UAA hockey player Dennis Sorenson brought the team back.

“We needed something to do here locally, and we thought there would be a good draw for it,” said Sorenson.

After previous failed attempts to put together a senior men’s amateur team a unique set of circumstances brought hockey back in December of 1990.

A Russian team got stuck here because of weather,” said Sorenson. “I got a phone call from the rink one night that said can you get a group together to play this club?”

Prominent local Anchorage hockey coach Dempsey Anderson suggested Sorenson call his new team the Aces, as a throwback to the 1930s Anchorage Men’s team. The newly-formed team would skate to a 3-3 tie, and lose in overtime to the Russians.

“We were all ex-UAA, and myself UAF college players like some local high school players,” said Keith Street, a member of that 1990-91 team.

Following that game Sorenson decided to secure ice time, a schedule and voilà!: the Anchorage Aces were in business.

“I was running it off my American Express Card and my sporting goods store,” said Sorenson. “It was difficult, we were making due, and nobody was getting paid we were just having a good time, putting on a pretty good brand of hockey of former college players

Playing and coaching Sorenson quickly found out the business of sports is expensive, and he didn’t have the deep pockets to keep the team on the ice.

“The big turning point for me is the first ownership group for me that helped me get it going, as the player-coach it was difficult to have friends on the team, and tell them who’s going to play when,” said Sorenson.

With financial backing, the team headed to the amateur national championships. The Aces took down in-state rival the Fairbanks Gold Kings on their home ice to win the team’s first-ever national title.

Building on momentum from their early success the Aces would make a name for themselves in the world of senior amateur hockey slowly creating a fan base in Anchorage.

“It was tough dealing with UAA (hockey) at the time because UAA was good, UAA was winning games in the early 90s, they were having great crowds, and were trying to build on their success just a different type of hockey,” said Sorenson.

The local hockey team would get another chance to face off with international talent when the Arctic Challenge came to Alaska in September of 1993 leading up to the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

The pre-Olympic hockey tournament was made up of Teams USA, Russia and Canada. Along with some of the world’s best was Team Alaska, made up of many players from the Aces roster.

Building a resume against national and high-level senior amateur teams the Aces would soon eye a leap to the pro ranks in 1995.

“We were all young enough where we had that passion to play at higher level than a local men’s team,” said Street.

Aces get paid to play & transition to life on the road

In the fall of 1995, the Aces officially become a professional hockey franchise joining the West Coast Hockey League. Turning pro also meant the team would look a lot different than the senior men’s amateur team for which it was known from 1990-95.

“There was more on the line, guys getting traded, guys getting moved around, picked up, you kind of knew you had to perform or get traded,” said former Aces center Keith Street.

The former Univ. of Fairbanks standout, Street was one of a handful of players who would remain on the Aces as they made the transition to professional hockey.

“We had the two-week road trips,” said Street. “The longest one we had was 28-days that’s a long time to be away from your family, and it was tough for some of the local guys with jobs.”

Longtime Aces public address announcer Bob Lester recounts the ‘early days’ of Aces of hockey comparing it to the 1970’s hockey movie ‘Slap Shot’.

“It was great hockey,” said Lester. “College Hockey is a totally different animal, that’s fine, it’s not Aces hockey, and I think that’s what they (Aces) were able to market.”

Lester felt the quality of hockey – plus fighting and beer – fueled the early popularity of the team.

On the ice, the team was built around centers Keith Street and Dean Larson, from 1996-99 Street would register three straight 100-point seasons, and Larson would post similar stats records four 100 point seasons from 1996 to 2000.

Kelly Cups and the end of the Alaska Aces

From losing games to losing money, things were not looking good for the Aces in the early 2000s. Fresh off their worst season in franchise history in 2001-2002, it didn’t look promising for Anchorage’s professional hockey franchise.

In June of 2002 the team faced $2,000,000 in debt, and then owner Mike Cusack Junior put the team on eBay. The franchise would soon be saved by a seven-member group who bought the team in bankruptcy court.

“First season was really tough. We got in August, started playing in October,” said Aces owner and managing partner Terry Parks. “We didn’t have a coach, we didn’t have a team, and we didn’t have any employees. So it was a tough first year.”

2002-2003 would be considered a rebuilding season, and safe to say, times were changing from the team’s name, ownership to their head coach.

In any line of business, who you hire is key to success. Professional hockey was no different, and many consider the hiring of Davis Payne as a turning point for the franchise.

“Davis was the most prepared interview that I’ve ever done, and I’ve probably interviewed 500 people in my life,” said Parks. “By far the best-prepared and had a plan.”

When the team made the jump to the ECHL in 2003 they would change their name to the Alaska Aces, and their success on the ice would soon change as well.

“When Davis Payne came in things became much more businesslike and professional,” said public address announcer Bob Lester.

By 2004 the team had built a winning culture, and soon it would have Stanley Cup talent to match when they added East Anchorage’s Scotty Gomez during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout.

“They managed to keep it a pretty big secret, not a lot of people knew,” said Gomez Aces teammate Kimbi Daniels.

Not only did he help the Aces on the ice, but in the ticket sales department as well.

“I think it made a big difference in the philosophy of the team. I said it was the best recruiting I ever had,” said Parks. “I think Scotty was making about $4,500,000, and we paid him $500 a week.”

After the lockout Gomez would return to the NHL, but the best days were yet to come for the Glacier Blue as they won the Kelly Cup, ECHL’s version of the Stanley Cup, in 2006, 2011 and 2014.

But the end of the franchise was quickly approaching.

“I remember we were in the third round of the playoffs in 2014, and we weren’t selling out the games,” said Lester.

In February of 2017 the ownership group announced the franchise would fold for financial reasons.

The announcement took many by surprise, but Parks said it was declining ticket sales, the economy and keeping the players on the ice.

“What most people don’t understand the real risk with minor league hockey is not only do you have payroll and travel, but we also had workers comp, all the injuries, we had to take care of those financially,” said Parks.

Since 2017 many hockey fans have speculated when professional hockey will return to Anchorage.

Alaska Aces Facebook Page Here

OHL’s ‘Big Four’ draft stars shine against Russians on the big stage

By Ryan Kennedy – The Hockey News

The third game of the CHL-Russia series took place on Thursday in Kitchener, with the OHL taking up the sword for the QMJHL, which split its two games with the Russians. The OHL dominated a Russian lineup that didn’t have a lot of firepower outside of Vasili Podkolzin (VAN) and Ivan Morozov (VGK), but what was most intriguing about the 4-1 home victory is how the youngest players on the team fared.

Team OHL featured four 2002 birthdays on the night, all of whom look to be major players in the 2020 draft this summer: Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, Jamie Drysdale and Ryan O’Rourke (goalie Nico Daws, passed over in the last year’s draft, was also excellent). Drafted prospects such as Akil Thomas (LA), Ryan Merkley (SJ) and Connor McMichael (WSH) also had strong showings, but it was truly illuminating to see the 2020 ‘Big Four’ make major impacts in front of Canada’s world junior brain trust.

“The Russians are a big, heavy team,” said coach Dale Hunter. “And they held their own against big, strong guys that are older than them, so that’s a credit to them.”

Byfield is the best-known of the group, so let’s start with him. The Sudbury Wolves center is expected to go within the first two picks in the draft, at this point right behind Rimouski’s Alexis Lafreniere. Byfield earned player of the game honors for Team OHL in Kitchener on the strength of two primary assists and had no problem using his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame to get his way, particularly in the offensive zone.

“I tried battling down low in the corners, showing my strength and putting my stamp on the game,” Byfield said. “I’m just trying to show a lot of people that I can play with older guys and that I’m ready for the next step.”

What makes Byfield such an intriguing prospect is that he’s still on his way up. The offensive skills are impressive, but he can put more weight and muscle on his frame, giving the youngster an incredible ceiling. He also showed his versatility by switching from center to wing, something Hunter likes to see in a player (which makes sense given how many natural centers Team Canada traditionally has on its national teams).

Perfetti came into the season looking like a potential top-five pick thanks to a big performance at the summer Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, not to mention his 37-goal rookie campaign with the Saginaw Spirit last year. He popped in the game-winner in Kitchener and looked dangerous throughout. Though he doesn’t have the size of Byfield, Perfetti brings his own tantalizing package of skills, including his vision and an incredible shot.

On the blueline, Drysdale has been everything for the Erie Otters this year and his hallmark comes with his skating. Simply put, every NHL team can use a defenseman with the mobility of Drysdale and he looked very good against the Russians. I would not be surprised if Drysdale is the first defenseman off the board this summer, so top-five is on the table for him, too.

Drysdale actually played on a pairing with O’Rourke in Kitchener and while he may be the least-known of the four, O’Rourke is opening eyes quickly. The 17-year-old was just named captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and that is quite the accomplishment for a second-year player. O’Rourke moves well too, but also has a nice level of snarl in his game. Both he and Drysdale can put points on the board, too. If O’Rourke continues his strong play, I could see him sneaking into the top-10 in the draft, but if he goes lower he’ll be a very nice pick-up for an NHL team.

And the best part of this Big Four? They like each other.

“We’re always hanging out at the hotel, we’re good friends off the ice,” Byfield said. “We always support each other on the ice as well. All three of them are special players and we thrive off each other. The energy between all of us is strong.”

How many of them will make the team? It’s difficult to say, given how loaded Canada is for skaters. For me, even surviving an initial cut at main camp would be a badge of distinction, but it sounds like Canada’s coaches are keeping an open mind.

“It’s always open,” Hunter said. “Whoever’s the best, we’ll take. That’s what you want; a battle for all positions.”

Jamaica boosts Olympic hockey dreams with LATAM Cup championship

By William Douglas – NHL.com

R. Oliver Mair said some friends gave him puzzled looks when he told them that he planned to watch Jamaica play hockey over the weekend.

“When I made the announcement that Jamaica was going to play in hockey everybody was, like, ‘Who? Jamaica?'” said Mair, the Caribbean nation’s counsel general in Miami. “I mean, the [Jamaica Olympic] bobsled thing happened years ago but ice hockey, this is a surprise.”

Jamaica shocked the 2019 Amerigol LATAM Cup on Sunday by defeating defending champion Colombia 3-2 in a shootout at the Florida Panthers IceDen.

It feels unbelievable, we just made history,” said Jamaica forward Jaden Lindo, who was selected in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. “This is something that Jamaica is never going to forget.”

Jamaica’s team was comprised of players, like Lindo, 23, who are of Jamaican lineage but live and play hockey in Canada and elsewhere.

Colombia also had its share of foreign-born players, including forward Michael Nijjar, a Los Angeles native who is a minority owner of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It also had a few elite players including Daniel Echeverri, a Medellin-born defenseman who scored Colombia’s first goal of the game in the second period. Echeverri, 29, appeared in 52 games for Macon of the Southern Professional Hockey League and Greenville of the ECHL in 2017-18.

Jamaica and Colombia, countries without ice rinks, were playing for a Cup — but each was also playing to prove a point.

Jamaica was trying to show that its effort to establish a hockey program to someday compete in the Winter Olympics is worthy of financial and fan support. Its roster had only one player who was born on the island. But the team earned a huge fan in Mair, who wore a yellow, green and black soccer jersey under his suit jacket as he watched the games Sunday.

“I’m super-impressed. They are dominating play, I’m so proud of them,” Mair said. “This is going to bring a lot of motivation, a lot of people are going to be inspired. I’m in awe of how well they are playing.”

The reaction to the team went from “Jamaica who?” to a prominently placed feature story Sunday in the Jamaica Observer, published in Kingston, about its tournament performance.

For Colombia, the tournament was about trying to solidify its place in the Latin American hockey hierarchy after it defeated a team from Mexico last year to win the inaugural Amerigol Cup. Colombia has also defeated Mexico, a country that does have ice rinks, at Pan American ice hockey tournaments.

“This really decides who the powerhouse in Latin America is,” Colombia coach Sam Uisprapassorn, a resident of Orange County, California, said of the Amerigol tournament. “Whether the team is affiliated with an International Ice Hockey Federation member or not, this is really setting the bar. You have a very, very strong program in Mexico. We’ve cemented our place in the Latin American hockey community, and then we have the up and comers, teams like Argentina and Brazil.”

Colombia didn’t leave the Amerigol Cup — which featured more than 400 players, 21 teams and four divisions — empty-handed. It won the tournament’s Under-16 division by defeating Argentina 3-1.

Falkland Islands team won the men’s Division II championship, defeating Puerto Rico 6-2. Argentina won the women’s title with a 4-2 victory against Colombia.

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