Category: North America (page 2 of 11)

Hughes, projected No. 1 pick at 2019 NHL Draft, happy with USA Hockey

By Mike G. Morreale –

Jack Hughes, projected by many as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, never wavered in his decision to continue his playing career at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program this season.

Hughes (5-foot-10, 166 pounds), a center, had 116 points (40 goals, 76 assists) with the U-17 and U-18 NTDP teams last season, one point shy of tying Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the single-season point record (117) set during his U-18 season in 2014-15. Hughes had 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games for the U-18.

“I just felt like the NTDP was the best spot for my development,” Hughes said. “I love my teammates, my coaches, the resources and love being able to put on the USA jersey. I tell everyone no one trains as hard as us at the NTDP. We’re working out in-season, skating four times a week, and playing games on top of that.”

Hughes, 17, had the option of joining his brother, defenseman Quintin Hughes, at the University of Michigan. Quintin Hughes, 18, selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round (No. 7) of the 2018 NHL Draft, decided Saturday to return to Michigan for his sophomore season.

“I knew the NTDP was a great spot, and Michigan was a great spot as well,” Jack Hughes said. “Quinn had really good success there and anytime I have a chance to play with Quinn it’s really appealing. I took that into consideration, but I think the NTDP was the best spot.”

Jack and Quintin are representing the United States at the World Junior Summer Showcase this week at Sandman Centre. The first round of cuts by USA Hockey is scheduled for Wednesday.

“I talked to him a bit before I made my decision to go back [to Michigan],” Quintin Hughes said. “Michigan worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it would ultimately work for him. If you’re a good enough player, no matter where you go, you’ll find your way.”

United States general manager John Vanbiesbrouck wasn’t surprised by Jack’s decision.

“He saw his bother go through a process and is content working on his game and developing as a player,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “There’s a great opportunity for him moving forward wearing the red, white and blue. We hope we keep him into it for a long time.”

Canada’s National Junior Team staff unveiled for 2018-19 season

By Hockey Canada

A familiar name returns behind the bench to lead Canada’s National Junior Team through the 2018-19 season and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship this December in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.

Tim Hunter (Calgary/Moose Jaw, WHL) will be part of the coaching staff for the third-straight year, taking the reins as head coach after previously serving as assistant coach the past two years. Completing the coaching staff are assistants Marc-André Dumont (Montreal/Cape Breton, QMJHL), Jim Hulton (Kingston, Ont./Charlottetown, QMJHL) and Brent Kisio (Calgary/Lethbridge, WHL).

“To be in a position to have familiarity in our coaching staff with Tim Hunter gives us the opportunity to again compete for a gold medal,” said Scott Salmond, senior vice-president of national teams with Hockey Canada. “All three assistant coaches have also had prior experience working within our Program of Excellence at various levels. Their experience and knowledge will help our players succeed in this prestigious international tournament.”

Hunter won back-to-back medals as an assistant coach with Canada’s National Junior Team, earning gold in 2018 and silver in 2017. He also won a bronze medal as head coach of Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team at the 2015 IIHF U18 World Championship. Hunter is coming off his fourth season as head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League, guiding the franchise to its first Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular-season champion. Prior to joining the Warriors, he was an NHL assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals. As a player, he suited up in 815 NHL games over 16 seasons with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose and Vancouver Canucks, capturing the Stanley Cup in 1989 with Calgary.

Dumont was named head coach and general manager of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012. He previously coached the Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL), and was an assistant coach for two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL). Dumont was also head coach of Team Quebec at the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

Hulton has served as head coach of the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the past three seasons, and has also been general manager for the past two. Prior to joining the Islanders, he spent two seasons as general manager and head coach of the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. His international experience includes serving as associate coach of Canada’s under-16 team at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games, and as an assistant coach with Canada’s National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2004 and 2005, winning silver and gold. Hulton also spent two seasons as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

Kisio coached Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team to a gold medal at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. He was also head coach of Team Canada White at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and added a silver medal as an assistant coach with Team Pacific at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Kisio just completed his third season as head coach of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes, guiding them to the league final. Prior to joining the Hurricanes, he spent eight seasons as an assistant coach with the Calgary Hitmen, reaching the semifinal at the Memorial Cup in 2010.

Why Jack Hughes is the No. 1-ranked 2019 NHL draft prospect

By Chris Peters – ESPN

The 2019 NHL draft is shaping up to be as exciting as this year’s, at least at the top of the draft. The hockey world is already salivating over 17-year-old American phenom Jack Hughes after his jaw-dropping performance in leading Team USA to the title at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November. Since then, he has been lighting up scoreboards and generating headlines across the world for his superior skill and skating.

Part of a family with deep roots in the game, with both parents playing at a reasonably high level and a pair of brothers who make for great training partners and competitors, Hughes has been preparing for this moment his whole life. After Jim and Ellen Hughes’ eldest son, Quinn Hughes, went No. 7 overall to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, the spotlight will begin shining more brightly on their middle son.

“He has the most pure skill of any player I’ve seen for 2019,” one Western Conference scout said of Jack Hughes.

The skill and skating abilities Hughes possesses have been a big reason that his size comes up so much later in the conversation with scouts. Should Hughes go No. 1, he would be the smallest top pick since Patrick Kane was selected in 2007. Hughes was most recently listed at 5-foot-10, 161 pounds. Kane was listed at 5-10, 171 pounds in his draft profile. There’s no doubt Hughes needs to bulk up a bit, but there are a lot of reasons the size factor will be a minimal one come draft day next summer.

Hughes’ 16-year-old season is essentially unprecedented for an American player. At USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, he put up 116 points — just one point shy of Auston Matthewsprogram record. The big difference is Matthews did it when he was a year older. The previous high-water mark for a U17 player at the NTDP was 82 points set by Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller. That’s a 34-point difference from what Hughes did. Last I checked, both of those guys are pretty good NHL players.

Looking back through the years, there just haven’t been that many American teenagers who have had a season this astonishing from a production standpoint this young at a level this high. For reference, Mike Modano, the second American to go No. 1 overall, had 62 points in 70 games in his first WHL season at 16, and that was in 1987. Kane, at the same age at the NTDP, had 70 points in 63 games, but 40 of those contests were in the North American Hockey League, a Tier II Junior A league in the United States. Hughes appeared in 27 games in the Tier I USHL this season and spent half the season playing up with the U.S. national U18 team in the USHL, against colleges and U18 international teams.

To find recent, closer comparables to what Hughes did this season, the U17 OHL seasons of Connor McDavid (99 points in 56 games) and Steven Stamkos (92 points in 63 games) might be good starting points.

One of the more incredible stats from his 2017-18 season is that Hughes had 54 points against USHL competition, averaging two points per game. He led all USHL rookies and ranked 12th in league scoring despite playing only 27 games of a 60-game season.

Even more jaw-dropping, among U17 players who appeared in at least 20 games in the USHL’s long history, none averaged better than 1.45 points per game. This year’s No. 2 pick, Andrei Svechnikov, averaged 1.21 points per game in 48 games vs. the USHL in 2016-17. Matthews averaged one point per game in 20 USHL appearances as a U17. This league is traditionally difficult to score in, and Hughes obliterated it as a 16-year-old.

The Orlando-born forward also led two major international tournaments in scoring this year. He had 15 points in six games as the U.S. won the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, a tournament that boasts many of the NHL’s top players as alumni. Only Colin White, an Ottawa Senators first-rounder, had more points than Hughes in that tournament’s history. Some guy named Ilya Kovalchuk ranks third behind Hughes. Then he closed out his season with 12 points in seven games at the IIHF World Men’s U18 Championship, becoming the first under-ager to lead that tournament in scoring since 15-year-old McDavid did it in 2013.

Hughes is expected to return to the national team development program next season despite overtures from the Ontario Hockey League and flirtation with accelerating his schooling to attend college a year early, a la Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski. No player has gone directly from the NTDP to the NHL, but Hughes will probably have a chance at becoming the first. Each of the past four Americans selected first overall in the NHL draft — Rick DiPietro, Erik Johnson, Kane and Matthews — each played at the NTDP for two seasons before going on to college, junior or pro. Hughes will be part of a team many scouts consider one of the best the NTDP has ever produced, which is really saying something given that program’s star-studded alumni roll. There could be as many as six or seven first-round picks off of that team in 2019.

John Wroblewski, head coach of the team featuring most of the top Americans from the 2001 birth year, noted that having so many high-caliber players has created excellent competition in practices on top of the advanced competition the team plays throughout its season. So what has Wroblewski noticed as a separating factor for one of his prized pupils?

“When you’re at ice level and you watch his glide — compared to everyone else, he’s just moving so much faster,” Wroblewski said. “The game slows down in his mind.”

As the game continues to speed up, Hughes looks built for that brand of hockey. He will be scrutinized like all top picks are. He’ll have some competition along the way, perhaps even from some of his own NTDP teammates. But based on what we saw this season, considering the lack of precedent for what Hughes accomplished, it appears the next great American star has arrived.

Woo hoping to make history at 2018 Draft

By Mike G. Morreale

Jett Woo of Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League could become the second player of Chinese descent to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.

Woo, 17, is a right-shot defenseman listed at No. 28 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft. He was born and trained in Winnipeg; his father, Larry, is of Chinese descent and his mother, Dolly, is of German ancestry.

Jett has spent a lot of time learning about his Chinese grandparents and said he hopes to have an opportunity someday to play an NHL game in China. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will play in the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games Sept. 15-19 in Shenzen and Beijing.

“The way that hockey is shaping up, really anyone, anywhere, can play right now if you stick with it and work hard enough,” said Woo, who said he’s never been to China. “It’s something that’s really cool and I’m really proud to be playing hockey, proud to be of Chinese descent. Having those two things so close to me is something I really cherish and am thankful for.”

Woo would be the second player of Chinese descent selected in the NHL Draft; the New York Islanders picked Lawrenceville School defenseman Andong Song in the sixth round (No. 172) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Woo said he recalls spending time with his grandparents at their house in Winnipeg, learning about their culture and their cuisine. Woo’s grandparents were born in Canton, China and owned a small restaurant chain in Winnipeg called Marigold. His grandfather has since passed away.

“My dad’s whole side is Chinese so growing up we’d spend days at my grandparents’ house eating Chinese food,” Woo said. “We actually owned a chain of restaurants and were either eating there or getting takeout.”

Even though Woo is looking to break new ground in the NHL, he is considered a throwback-type hockey player.

“If you don’t have your head up, look out,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. “He reminds me of former St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. He usually gets one or two big hits every night, but his skill level has improved this season. He has a good shot, makes plays, and his skating has gotten considerably better.”

Woo (6-foot, 205 pounds) had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 44 games, and had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 WHL playoff games.

He’s become a fan favorite in his three seasons with Moose Jaw, and fans at Mosaic Place, Moose Jaw’s arena, serenade him with a loud “Woo,” reminiscent of professional wrestler Ric Flair, after big hits.

“It’s neat to hear those chants,” he said. “I have to give credit to my parents for having the name. It’s cool to have the attention around that and to see different reactions when you go to different places. But to have people chanting your name … it’s a lot of fun.”

Larry Woo played forward for Victoria and Swift Current in the WHL and then for four seasons for the University of Manitoba. Larry and Dolly named Jett, the oldest of their three children, after Chinese film star Jet Li.

“I’m not exactly sure if my dad is a big fan of Jet Li … he might be,” Woo said. “I know that’s where my name came from. I know my grandparents liked the name. With dad having the opportunity to come to Winnipeg and then ending up going to Hollywood, it all ended up working well for him.”

Larry Woo played Park Kim in the movie “Goon” in 2011, and its sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” in 2017.

“Dad was probably one of the biggest influences I had in hockey,” Jett said. “He was the one driving me to the rink and was my coach growing up, so he had a lot of say on the bench or on the long rides home. He and my mom were there for me. I’m always looking for them for advice and having that extra person to lean on.”

Woo wears No. 4 to honor Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and said he’s also a big fan of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber because of his intimidating presence.

“I feel having that extra grit kind of helps me in the game,” he said. “I always bring it back to Shea Weber. One time I watched a game of his and a player was coming down on his side but cut across to the other defenseman and I think it was because he didn’t want to take Shea Weber 1-on-1. That’s something I want to bring to the game; be that guy that opponents are scared to play against.

“I take pride in making defense a priority whether that be competing for every puck or being the first guy at the net boxing out, or making a good first-pass up ice. That, along with playing physical, smart and deciding whether to have stick on puck or to go right at the guy and have body-on-body contact, are the things I feel I do well.”

At long last, Ovechkin and Capitals are Stanley Cup champs

Greg Beacham The Associated Press

Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals’ joyous celebration.

And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put both hands on his head again in a gesture of disbelieving ecstasy.

You can believe it, Ovi. So can the Washington fans whose championship drought is finally over.

After striving through 13 of his franchise’s 43 seasons, the Russian superstar and the long-suffering Capitals are sitting on top of hockey for the very first time.

“It doesn’t matter what happened before,” Ovechkin said through his gap-toothed grin. “We just won it.”

Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals claimed their first NHL title with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with an early power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights.

“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record. “That’s all that matters. Look at the smiles on my teammates. This is something you’ll never forget. This moment, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m so happy. It’s unbelievable.”

Vegas’ incredible expansion season finally ended, and so did the Capitals’ wait for a title since their debut in 1974. But after so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Caps confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.

Ovechkin and his teammates are Washington’s first championship hockey team — and their city’s first champion in a major pro sport since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in early 1992.

“It doesn’t come easy,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves while outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the opposite net one final time. “It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up. And we finally did it.”!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00236-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Alex Ovechkin (8) and his Washington Capitals teammates celebrate
after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 to win their first Stanley Cup.

After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.

When a succession of teammates finally got the Cup back to Ovi, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.

“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the misery,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench and a potential free agent without a contract for next season.

The Caps couldn’t win a Cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on. Vegas never got close to a tying goal despite both teams getting an extra chance to rest while the officials checked on the timing. The clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.

Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home playoff games before dropping the last two.

“When you get this close to the Cup, it’s hard,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t happen too often. It’s very disappointing.”

The defeat ended the storybook inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL’s 31st franchise last fall and immediately launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history. Few expected the division title they delivered, and fewer still thought Vegas could challenge for a championship.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00268-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Alex Ovechkin is congratulated by Vegas goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury.

Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored deflection goals for Vegas in the second period, but Fleury’s 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-winning goal.

“It means everything,” Eller said. “You couldn’t write the story better. If you’re going to win on the road, I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it.”

Forward T.J. Oshie spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who he said was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff, but he’s going to remember this,” Oshie said. “I’ve never seen a team come together like we did here. I’ve never seen the commitment from start to finish like we had here.”

Washington’s win was its 10th on the road in this postseason, tying the NHL playoff record and illustrating the superior toughness of this team. While past editions of the Caps created their team’s reputation for postseason flops in part by losing five playoff series in which they had won three of the first four games, Ovechkin’s latest group promptly closed out all four of its series this year on the very first try.

The Caps also came back from series deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four series on the road.

The remarkable Golden Knights hadn’t lost four consecutive games in their entire inaugural season before the Caps rolled them.

“It’s going to be a tough couple days,” Vegas defenceman Deryk Engelland said. “You never want it to end like this.”

The Capitals had thousands of fans in the Vegas crowd and a building full of supporters watching back home along with countless thousands outside in the crowded D.C. streets. They got a barn-burner of a finale befitting this thrilling series, with wild shifts of momentum before that bizarre clock incident that didn’t appear to affect the outcome much.

The Capitals’ triumph also adds another chapter to a stretch of sweet relief for long-suffering, loyal sports fans across North America. The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February, and baseball’s Houston Astros won their first World Series last November.

First-time titles are all the rage, and Ovechkin and the Caps have paid their dues for this one.

Ovechkin, who turns 33 later this year, has been among the most exciting and productive players in his sport since joining the Caps in 2005. Yet for all of his goal-scoring prowess and athletic swagger, the Great Eight had never won an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup title.

But after becoming the fifth player in the last quarter-century to score at least 15 goals in a postseason, Ovechkin is a champion at last. He also became the first Russian captain to raise the Cup in NHL history.

The title is also validation for Holtby, who has spent his entire NHL career in Washington. After several seasons of being measured unfavorably against Fleury and other goaltending greats despite his 2016 Vezina Trophy, the Saskatchewan native also has his long-sought ring — and his unbelievable stick save on Alex Tuch in Game 2 will ring forever in Caps history.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00205-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly acrobatically scores in the
third period of Game 5 on Thursday.

Ovechkin put the Caps up 2-1 in the crazy second period of Game 5 when he set up in his customary spot in the left faceoff circle and put Nicklas Backstrom’s cross-ice pass into a sliver of open net. But after Perron tied it with a deflection goal while falling into Holtby’s net, Smith scored into an open net after Ovechkin went to the penalty box for tripping.

Washington pressed early in the third, but didn’t connect until Brooks Orpik flung the puck at the net against the run of play. Smith-Pelly barely controlled the puck and stretched out to fling it toward the net while falling face-forward, and it slipped inside Fleury’s post for the veteran forward’s seventh goal of the postseason — matching his total from the entire regular season.

“I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid,” Smith-Pelly said. “The team, with so much change, you didn’t know what to expect. We knew we could do something special, and we did.”

Moments later, the Knights struggled to keep up with the Caps’ puck movement and left Brett Connolly open for a shot. Fleury stopped it, but the puck fell to the ice underneath him — and Eller fought off Luca Sbisa and slapped the puck into the net for the game winner.

Czech-born hockey coach discovers Jewish roots

By Paul Lungen – Canadian Jewish News

When Czechoslovakian-born Dusan Kralik took his first drive down Bathurst Street after arriving in Toronto in the early 1990s, he saw something pretty familiar to Torontonians but totally foreign to him.

There, wearing clothing that clearly set them apart, were groups of Orthodox Jews walking freely. It got him thinking.

Back in Bratislava, where he was born, he knew there was some family connection to the Jewish people, but he wasn’t entirely sure what it was, or what being Jewish actually meant.

“No one talked about it,” Kralik says.

Raised a Roman Catholic, during Christmas he would receive as a gift what he now realizes was Hanukkah gelt. He recalls his mother keeping two sets of dishes and cutlery and that she cooked matzah balls.

He didn’t think too much about it. He was too busy working on his hockey career, which saw him suit up for the Czech national junior team at the world under-20 championships, facing the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk on Team Canada.

That was followed by a stint in the Czech pro league, and by the time he immigrated to Canada, on his own, he didn’t have much knowledge of a Jewish past.

But the Bathurst Street experience got him thinking. “To me, it was so fascinating,” he said. “I’m not in it, but I had a feeling of belonging.”

In 2007, Kralik, who was already developing a career as a hockey instructor in Toronto, was at the Pavilion ice rink in Vaughan, Ont., when he saw a Team Israel tryout. The players were wearing jerseys with Magen Davids right on the chest. Curious, he asked what was going on and was told he was watching Team Israel.

Kralik knew one of the kids on the team and approached Jean Perron, the ex-Montreal Canadiens head coach who was in charge of Team Israel, asking if he needed help.
“He took me in to help with the tryouts,” Kralik recalled.

Later, Kralik joined the team on a tour of North American cities, and when he heard the Israeli national anthem played in Chicago, with 2,000 spectators present, “I’m totally tearing,” he said.

A few months later the team was in Vienna for the IIHF World Championships, and despite undergoing a hip replacement operation only six weeks before, and despite the dangers of developing a blood clot, Kralik decided to join the team.

“I had to go. I had to be there. It was so close to my heart,” he said.

Once the tournament concluded, Kralik travelled to Bratislava to visit his grandmother. It was a telling visit.

She wanted to know what he was doing there, and when he showed her the Israeli team jersey, with the Star of David on its front, “she started to cry. She told me how the Nazis came in 1939, hunting them down and killing my great-grandfather.

“She said, ‘I’ll never stop hearing the dogs barking and the people yelling and screaming,’” Kralik recounted.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked.

“It’s so dangerous,” he was told. “You have no idea. I tried to protect you.”

After his return, Kralik did more research into his family past, getting information from his grandmother’s best friend, who lived in New York. He learned that other members of his family were victims of the Nazis.

“I needed to find out what was missing in my life, the culture, the spirituality, what my family was not able to do freely,” he said.

Today, he has embraced his Jewish heritage. At the Maccabiah Games in 2013, Kralik took time off from his coaching duties to visit Jerusalem.

“I went to the Kotel and I never had such a feeling. When I went to the Western Wall, I trembled,” he said.

Comparisons to Sidney Crosby not easy for Alexis Lafreniere to ignore


He’s heard all the chatter about how good he is right now and how much better he’s projected to become.

It’s something that’s hard for Alexis Lafreniere to ignore when he’s already being touted as a future first overall NHL Draft pick – not for this year, or even next, but in 2020.

There are even endless comparisons to Sidney Crosby, who shares the distinction of being a No. 1 pick by the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic.

“A lot,” Lafreniere said when asked how often he hears is name in the same sentence as the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, “but I try to (disregard them). Eighty-seven is another player. He’s the best in the world. I try to do my job – what I do good.”

Lafreniere was the youngest but highest-scoring player at Canada’s world under-18 championship training camp last week. Canada’s tournament begins Thursday in Russia against the powerful Americans.

Hockey Canada waited until the second round of the CHL playoffs were complete before setting a roster for the opener, and only 2000-born players were being assured of selection. However, coach Don Hay said Lafreniere impressed early in camp and added he wouldn’t hesitate to give roster spots to younger players if they’re deserving.

Lafreniere then went out and netted a goal and added an assist in Canada’s first pre-tournament game, a 5-0 win over Slovakia on Sunday. He scored again in the final tune-up match, a 3-2 victory over Finland on Monday, to secure his place on the team.

His track record shouldn’t have left any doubt anyway.

Lafreniere was drafted first overall by Rimouski in 2017 after an 83-point effort with his hometown midget AAA Saint-Eustache Vikings. In his rookie QMJHL season he scored 42 goals as a 16-year-old — something no ‘Q’ player had done since Crosby.

Lafreniere also recorded 80 points with the Oceanic, becoming just the second person to reach that mark at his age since Crosby earned 135 points in 2003-04. (The other player is Angelo Esposito, an eventual Penguins first-rounder, who had 98 points for the Quebec Remparts in 2005-06.)

“I knew there was a lot of hype around him,” said goaltender Colten Ellis, a teammate on both Rimouski and Team Canada. “He’s fulfilled everything I thought he’d be.”

So, it’s not surprising Lafreniere is being mentioned in the same breath as Crosby, especially given the Rimouski connection.

Canadian assistant coach Daniel Renaud isn’t crazy about the references to the future Hall of Famer. But as the head coach of the rival Shawinigan Cataractes, Renaud knows full well the six-foot-one, 184-pound winger is a “dominant player.”

“He’s who he is. He’s Lafreniere,” Renaud said. “He’s gonna evolve into himself. It’s not fair to compare him to anybody right at this point in time. He’s just 16. But as a 16-year-old player, he was something to see this year. I’m really excited to have the chance to coach him.

“This year, every time we got a chance to play him, he made us pay the price big time. He got a couple points each and every night.”

Defending against Lafreniere requires the attention of every player on the ice, Renaud added.

Matching him one-on-one is a losing battle. When he does break through to get an unfettered chance, it’s a frightening proposition for the man in net.

“You never know what he’s going to do,” Ellis said. “He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. It’s definitely a challenge every time he comes down on ya.

“He likes to do a little pump fake and go backhand, forehand, low blocker. He gets me with that quite a bit (in practice). But you can never cheat for it because, once he sees you cheating, he’ll just change it up and make you look stupid. He’s hard to read. He’s an awesome player.”

Lafreniere is quick to defer credit for his success to his coaches and teammates, particularly his over-age centreman and former Philadelphia Flyers prospect Samuel Dove-McFalls.

Lafreniere’s goal and point totals ranked second in QMJHL rookie scoring. The player ahead of him by two in each category was Halifax Mooseheads winger Filip Zadina – a projected top-five pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who’s two years older.

It seems like Lafreniere has taken a good first step towards the 2020 draft.

“Two years is a long time away. He can definitely handle it,” Ellis said. “He’s got a great mindset. He’s dealt with the pressure all year.”

There are areas in which Lafreniere can improve. Skating, shooting, and developing a consistent work ethic come to mind for Renaud.

His hockey sense, however, needs little tweaking.

“He sees everything on the ice, with and without the puck,” Renaud said. “When he has the puck, he can see open players that normally no one would be able to see. Without the puck, he’s able to find that free ice, open space, and get open and create offence out of nothing.

“You think you’re in full control and, bang, he sees something, and they have a pretty good scoring chance out of it.”

Sounds like No. 87, doesn’t it?

“It’s nice, but I think Crosby’s on another level,” Lafreniere said. “He’s already winning Cups and gold medals. I just try to do my stuff. That will be good.”

Dahlin tops Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters

By Mike G. Morreale

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin of Frolunda in Sweden is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft, to be held at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23.

Central Scouting revealed its final list of the top International skaters and goaltenders, and top North American skaters and goaltenders, on Monday.

Dahlin (6-foot-2, 181 pounds), a left-handed shot, could become the first Sweden-born player chosen No. 1 since Mats Sundin by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. He would be the first defenseman chosen No. 1 since Aaron Ekblad by the Florida Panthers in 2014.

“Dahlin is an exceptionally talented prospect who will be able to contribute, influence and impact a team’s fortunes much in the way that defensemen Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) have in the NHL,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “If you wanted to pick one player from the 2018 draft who could potentially be viewed as a generational talent, Rasmus would be the only candidate. There is that much respect for him and his abilities.”

Dahlin, who turned 18 on Friday, had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), a plus-4 rating, 30 hits, 36 blocked shots and 84 shots on goal while averaging 19:02 of ice time in 41 games in the Swedish Hockey League. He had three points (one goal, two assists) and a plus-3 rating in six SHL playoff games.

He was named the best defenseman at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship after he had six points, all assists, 25 shots on goal and a plus-7 rating while averaging 23:08 of ice time in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal. He also was the youngest player on Sweden’s roster for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics by seven years.

“Dahlin is in a class of his own,” said Goran Stubb, director of NHL European Scouting. “He’s fulfilled everything that was expected of him as a regular with Frolunda. He’s a smart two-way defenseman with a great set of tools, including skating, puck handling, vision, intelligence and shot.

“He’s not overly physical on the ice but he doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff.”

Dahlin opted to sit out the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, which runs April 19-29, in order to prepare for the NHL Scouting Combine in June. He played 74 games in 2017-18, including regular-season and playoff games for Frolunda, and with Sweden in international tournaments.

Rounding out the top five among European skaters are No. 2 defenseman Adam Boqvist (5-11, 168) of Brynas’ team in Sweden’s junior league; No. 3 right wing Vitali Kravtsov (6-2, 170) of Chelyabinsk in Russia; No. 4 right wing Martin Kaut (6-1, 176) of Pardubice in the Czech Republic; and No. 5 defenseman Adam Ginning (6-3, 196) of Linkoping in Sweden.

Boqvist, 17, is a right-shot defenseman who had 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) and a plus-6 rating in 25 games with Brynas in the junior league, and one assist in 15 games with Brynas in the SHL. He’s the younger brother of New Jersey Devils forward prospect Jesper Boqvist (No. 36, 2017 draft).

[RANKINGS (PDF): North American Skaters | North American Goalies | International Skaters | International Goalies]

“Boqvist is an extremely skilled defenseman with excellent vision and tons of talent,” Stubb said. “He has good on-ice awareness, a good shot and is a finesse-type player who plays bigger than he is.”

Kravtsov, 18, was No. 10 on Central Scouting’s midterm list. He made a big jump after major strides in the second half of the season for Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) in 35 regular-season games, and 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 KHL playoff games.

“He’s gained more weight and is a powerful skater with balance and speed,” Stubb said. “He’s also gritty at times and has a no-quit attitude. A prototypical power-forward.”

Kaut, 18, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 38 games in the Czech Republic’s top professional league.

Ginning, 18, a left-shot defenseman, had two points (one goal, one assist) in 28 SHL games.

Lukas Dostal (6-1, 158) of Treibic in the Czech Republic’s second division, is the No. 1 on Central Scouting’s final list of International goaltenders. Dostal, 17, had a 2.43 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 20 games.

“He has good overall net coverage with strong angle and positional play,” Stubb said. “When he is hot, he’s really good. But like many other young and inexperienced goalies, he’s a bit inconsistent from game to game. But he does play with a lot of desire, determination and confidence.”

A Cape Bretoner grows the game in China

By Cape Breton Post

Jessica Wong was picked first overall by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft and after two seasons, called it a career.

Since then, she landed a job with Hockey Canada as a co-ordinator of membership development and lived in Calgary with her fiancée, high school sweetheart Mitchell Brewer of Baddeck, and their dog, Gus.

But an opportunity arose that she just couldn’t pass up: growing the game in China. It started with a call from Kunlun Red Star head coach Digit Murphy, who asked Wong to come out of retirement to join the fledgling club. The Red Star and the Vanke Rays were the two CWHL expansion teams from China for the 2017-18 season.

“At this point, it was not really about my career, it was about Team China,” said the 27-year-old, who’s back home in Baddeck for a visit. Players from Kunlun and Vanke skate for China’s national team that’s competing in the 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division 1 ‘B’ Championship in Italy this week.

“I was kind of done with the more competitive stuff. I had a good run and a great career, and once I was able to put the more competitive side aside and focus more on them and try and help them grow, I just thought it was something I truly wanted to do. I was really glad I had the opportunity to be with them this first year.”

The Red Star team plays 45 minutes outside of Shenzen in southeast China, a city of over 12.5 million people located in Guangdong Province.

Wong said the sport has been growing steadily, but it did take some time. During the team’s first game, many fans who came out to watch were silent, mainly because they weren’t sure when to cheer or were unfamiliar with the rules of the game.

To remedy the situation, a program was printed for the next game that had team rosters, as well as a guide with the rules of hockey and when to cheer.

“It was pretty funny,” Wong said. “It’s got to start somewhere, right? We’re growing the game little by little and that’s something I’ll always remember.”

Although she came out of retirement, Wong didn’t lose a step. The blue-liner finished with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points in 28 games this season, led the team in ice time and was a finalist for the league’s defenceman of the year.

She also helped the squad move from expansion club to league contender. The Red Star reached the Clarkson Cup championship game but lost 2-1 in overtime to the Markham Thunder in Toronto on March 25.

“Overall, it was an amazing year,” said Wong. The Red Star finished with a 21-6-0-1 record for second place in the standings. “It was definitely more than we thought we could do and we’re super proud we were able to participate in the Clarkson Cup. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but we definitely are proud of how we played all season.”

Playing in China also had a special meaning for Wong.

“Being half Chinese, my grandmother lived three hours south of Shenzen and it does really mean a lot, just to see what China’s all about,” she said. “It was my first time and it opened my eyes up a lot to see where she grew up and came from, it definitely means a lot. I’m really happy I took this experience.”

Wong is the most accomplished women’s hockey player ever from Cape Breton. She skated for Canada’s national women’s under-22 team in 2010 and 2011, winning gold at the MLP Cup both years. She also won gold at the 2009 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship and was also a gold medalist at the 2015 Nations Cup with Canada’s women’s development team.

Wong played NCAA Division 1 hockey for four seasons at the University Minnesota Duluth. In her first season in 2009-10, she scored the winning goal in the third overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 win over the Cornell Big Red in the final of the Frozen Four championship. She was named team captain in her final season in 2012-13 and graduated as the all-time leader in goal scoring among defencemen.

As for next season, Wong wasn’t sure what the future holds. She said there are still some community events and camps she’ll attend with the team this summer. In the meantime, she and her fiancée will get married in July.

Player Profile

Name: Jessica Wong

Hometown: Baddeck

Height: 5-6

Position: Defence

Age: 27

• Played for the Kunlun Red Star of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2017-18.

• First overall pick of the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 CWHL draft.

• Four time gold medalist for Canada in international competition.

Khaira opening doors for a billion Indians

By Ryan O’R’ Leary –

When does the name on the back of a hockey sweater go far beyond simply identifying a player?

Well, in the case of Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira, the phenomenon takes place when the letters stitched on his orange and blue Oilers jersey represent billions of people hidden in the game of hockey.

The 23-year-old son of Punjabi immigrants – who were volleyball stars in their own right – has finally found a meaningful role with the Oilers after bouncing between the pro club and its AHL affiliate for the past few years.

Perhaps more importantly, he’s only the third player of Punjabi descent to play in the NHL, joining pioneer Robin Bawa and Manny Malholtra as the only other players from the region to play at hockey’s highest level.

Though Khaira’s story is extraordinary, the family’s immigration story is not. They settled in Surrey, British Columbia along with a number of other Punjabi families.

In fact, Surrey boasts one of the largest South Asian populations in all of Canada with folks from the region making up 30.7% of the city’s demographic.

Sukhjinder and Komal Khaira were hardworking, blue-collar people toiling as a gravel truck driver and speech language pathologist. As they worked hard to provide for the family, Jujhar turned to Canada’s sport for assimilation.

There’s a natural attraction to ice hockey for Indian immigrants for a couple of reasons. The first and least surprising is field hockey.

It’s everywhere in India and the national team is one of the most dominant in the world. Although the game is played on ice in Canada, the speed and specificity of the game entices immigrants looking for a taste of home.

“There is something that attracted recent immigrants to the game and that has to do with the link of field hockey, which is big in India, and ice hockey,” said Hockey Night in Punjabi host Randip Janda.

“Indian people are used to fast-paced, physical games, so hockey was a natural draw.”

The second reason is sociological. Hockey is so ubiquitous in Canadian society that new arrivals gravitate to the sport as a means of creating common ground. And according to Bhupinder Hundal, play-by-play announcer for Hockey Night in Punjabi, hockey passion in the Punjabi community has been growing for a long time.

“It’s [the passion] been there for a long time, a couple decades or more, but now you see it really bubbling up,” he said.

“Within the South Asian community there has been a passionate, loyal hockey fan base across the country and now it’s all coming together.”

Hero Status

Whether he likes it or not, Jujhar Khaira is the face of hockey for more than a billion people.

And if you ask Janda, there isn’t a more perfect idol for the number of young Punjabi’s looking to play hockey.

“He’s not necessarily the most skilled player, he does have some, but he works harder than everyone else,” said Janda.

“That’s a game-changer because it shows all the other kids like him that you can do it through sheer hard work.”

In Surrey, a hockey rink today looks much different than it did even 20 years ago. The youth ranks are filled with players of different backgrounds and the ice is much more reflective of the community.

“Hockey has traditionally been very conservative and lacking diversity,” said Janda. “It’s been hard not to be white and make the NHL.”

But now, in light of Khaira’s success, all of those kids have a tangible idol they can try to emulate.

“For so many of those kids, they’re more than just hockey viewers, now they’re participants.”

Khaira, who has 21 points in 65 games with the Oilers this year, isn’t the only Punjabi succeeding at the higher levels of hockey.

Look no further than his brother, Sahvan, who plays defence for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL. There’s also Akash Bains of the Everett Silvertips.

“Look around the BCHL and you’ll see five or six Punjab names on each roster,” said Janda.

“The game in the Punjabi community is stronger than ever before.”

Though there’s just one Punjabi player in the NHL, Janda projects it’ll take a five to ten years before we see the true impact of Jujhar Khaira’s fame.

“In a couple years we’ll be seeing Khaira jerseys all over the local rinks,” he said. “All of those kids are saying, if Jujhar can do it, why can’t I?”

Spreading the Game

In recent years there’s been an interesting addition to the Hockey Night In Canada Broadcast.

Since 2014, Hockey Night in Punjabi has been a staple in thousands of immigrant households cross Canada. Each week they broadcast a hockey double-header in their native Punjabi tongue.

“What we’ve been able to do is tap into the passion that exists,” Hundal said. “But we’ve added an element of flare and excitement to it that really makes it resonate with a cross-section of Punjabi speaking people.”

“We bring something to the table that really connects.”

The broadcast reached peak notoriety during the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, when Harnarayan Singh’s infamous “Bonino-Bonino-Bonino” call of Nick Bonino’s overtime, series winning goal went viral.

While that moment might’ve exposed the larger hockey community to HNIP’s existence, it’s the mark they’ve left on the Punjabi community each Saturday night that makes them most proud.

According to Hundal, the cities with the largest South Asian communities across Canada are Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, so heavy airtime is devoted to those teams. That quintet of cities makes up roughly 90% of the entire Punjabi population in Canada.

They’ve also penetrated into American cities such as Chicago and Pittsburgh and see a ton of web traffic from Punjabi hockey fans living overseas.

Back in Canada, Hundal says the data suggests that the broadcast has reached more than 55% of all Punjabi homes.

“We’ve been able to connect with so many people in the community,” Hundal added.

“People can gather around their TV and watch their favorite team in their language and that creates a special feeling.”

Both Janda and Hundal point to the fact that the broadcast has connected multiple generations of Punjabis to the game of hockey in a way they weren’t before.

The broadcast is also seeing a boost now that Khaira has found a permanent role with the Oilers – giving HNIP a familiar face to feature and one that Indian people everywhere can celebrate.

“He’s representing the hopes and dreams of so many young South Asians,” Hundal said emphatically.

“To see someone that looks like him play in the NHL goes a long way.”


According to the IIHF Survey of Players there are just 1,293 Indians currently registered to play hockey back home in India and roughly one-quarter are women.

The country’s hockey is based in the northern parts of India such as Ladakh where it gets cold enough that hockey can be played on natural ice for a few months during the winter.

So, in light of this data, is India the next frontier for hockey?

Well, Janda says yes, but with a caveat.

“India is definitely the next global destination for hockey, but it’s such a new game there,” he said.

“It’s really starting from square one, even with simple things like geography, weather and infrastructure.”

Infrastructure is a financial thing, but if you’ve read the news lately you know that India is rising in that category. According to an October report from the World Economic Forum, India is the seventh largest economy in the world and is projected to trail only China by the year 2050.

Finding a player base shouldn’t be an issue. The country boasts 1.3 billion people and as stated earlier, hockey is already semi-engrained.

Understanding that India is hockey’s next frontier, Canadian legend Haley Wickenheiser launched the India2YYC Initiative project.

The project is two-pronged. First, Wickenheiser and former NHLer Andrew Ference led an envoy of hockey officials to Ladakh, India, to coach female players and expose more to the game in January.

“It’s just about more than [hockey]. It’s about empowering women and children, and it’s about giving them confidence. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself and making a difference in another part of the world,” Wickenheiser told the CBC.

Secondly, Wickenheiser will welcome those same participants to The Canadian Tire Wickenheiser World Female Hockey Festival in November 2018 to further their development and exposure to the game.

“Hockey is just a vehicle we use, but the lessons and the interactions, the emotions, go way past playing a sport. But by playing the sport we all connect.”

Wickenheiser’s initiative is an important one, but it’s still early days. India isn’t an ice hockey country yet, but the opportunity is there.

And given Khaira’s success and the impact of Hockey Night in Punjabi, it seems there is momentum for the game in India.

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