In the aftermath of Team USA’s 5–4 shootout victory over Canada to win world juniors gold last week in Montreal, I took a social-media timeout. Before doing so, I didn’t see too much negativity.
Everyone hated the shootout, but most recognized a great game. An instant classic that could have gone either way.
Sheehan Desjardins saw the same old, same old. And it brought back some painful memories.
Desjardins, now a 21-year-old Ryerson journalism student, was in Ottawa in 2009 to watch Canada win its record-tying fifth consecutive gold. Her father, Willie, was an assistant to Pat Quinn, who coached Jamie Benn, Jordan Eberle, P.K. Subban, John Tavares et al to a 5–1 victory over Sweden in the final.
“That was a fabulous time,” Desjardins said Monday. “So much fun. I remember being at the airport the next day, wearing my father’s gold medal. My older brother (Brayden) put it on, and people thought he played.” (He didn’t.)
One year later, she sat in Saskatoon’s Credit Union Centre, in circumstances eerily similar to those we watched last week. Canada vs. USA in a nail-biter for gold. This one went into overtime, tied 5–5.
Her father was now the head coach.
“I couldn’t see,” Sheehan remembers. “I was not tall enough, so I sat down. My father is really good at separating hockey from his kids, but this was way more stressful. You were expected to win. It wasn’t that you hoped to win, it was expected. All that pressure…. Nobody realized the pressure on the coaches and the kids.
“The building was crazy loud… then all of a sudden it went dead quiet.”
John Carlson scored to end Canada’s tremendous five-year run.
“It was terrible, people were so mean about it. My mother introduced ourselves to the fans in front of us as the goalie’s sister, so that they would stop screaming at the players. The year before, at the after-party, people were trying everything to get in. This time, there were empty tables. My dad just said, ‘This party could have been so much better.’ Back then, I didn’t have Twitter or Instagram, but I did have Facebook. Someone created a Facebook page: ‘Stop Willie Desjardins From Ever Coaching Again.’ Everyone who won a silver medal felt they let the whole country down. It’s brutal, shocking, and it’s shattering. You feel empty, because your dad isn’t responsible for letting the country down. He’s the best man that I know. That year, we weren’t allowed to spend Christmas with him, because that’s when the team bonds. We accepted that, because we know how hard he worked to win.”
Does she ever discuss that game with her father?
“No,” Sheehan answers. “He won’t talk about it. It’s not something he will bring up.”
Her mother, Rhonda, tells Sheehan not to go on Twitter after games like that. “Every day, she warns me,” Sheehan laughs.
But the similarities, a tough loss to the U.S. on Canadian soil, well, she couldn’t prevent herself. What she saw was worse than what I saw, and she wanted to send a message to the Canadian coaches and players.
“All I can think of is the families. I called my mother and she said, ‘Let me guess, you’re thinking about the families.’ Their hearts are literally breaking. But the coaches and players have to know they were great. That tournament is hard to win and what other people say doesn’t matter. They didn’t ruin or wreck anything.
“But you are going to be all right.”
1. Sheehan’s father now coaches the Vancouver Canucks. Does she watch his games? “I do for the first period because I buy him ties, so I see if he wears them,” she laughs. “But after that? No. My boyfriend has to watch on his phone in the bathroom because I can’t look.”
We spoke for approximately 20 minutes. She’s undoubtedly among the more passionate family members I’ve spoken to, and there’ve been a few.
2. We’ll do some deeper intel on a few players later, but it’s a shame the University of Denver plays Nebraska-Omaha on January 28. Would’ve loved to suggest the NHL extend an invitation to Team USA hero Troy Terry to compete in the shootout portion of the skills competition.
3. The International Olympic Committee indicated a Jan. 15 deadline for 2018 South Korean participation, but word from the International Ice Hockey Federation is that is no longer the case. Now we’re talking end of January, which coincides with All-Star, and a Board of Governors meeting. That makes a lot of sense. I understand both the NHL and NHLPA are awaiting specific paperwork as to what the IIHF will pay for if the NHLers go.
4. Mentioned last week that there were rumblings Montreal could be in two outdoor games next season, one at home and one on the road. Some sources threw cold water on that. The rumour was these two games would take place in a very short time period, maybe a few days. The NHL also considered having all of the Original Six teams play games in Montreal next season, sort of a mini-tournament, but doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen, either. The league does want something special there, though.
5. As for the United States, the league has something interesting brewing with some branches of the military. We’ve mentioned before the idea of playing at Army, with the Rangers as the visiting team. It sounds like they are also considering the Naval Academy, too. No one is saying what this all means right now, but I have to assume that would be a Washington game. And it’s also possible the games would be played simultaneously or at least on the same day. I’m really curious to see the exact plan, but it sounds very interesting. Could be a great idea and spectacle.
6. However, this may not happen next season. As you can imagine, such a combination would take a ton of planning. The NHL really wants to take these games to the “next level,” which moves them out of current markets and into big-name third-party locations. That’s got Notre Dame written all over it, and South Bend is very much on the mind for New Year’s 2018.
7. Teams are in the process of holding their amateur and professional scouting meetings. Some execs say trade chatter is increasing, but is still gridlocked by the fact only two teams really consider themselves out of the playoffs — Arizona and Colorado. The Coyotes have set high prices for their players, as the Avalanche have with those who have term. But word is Colorado is starting to get calls on some of their rentals, who include Rene Bourque, Jarome Iginla, John Mitchell and Fedor Tyutin. Those asks may not be as high, which could get things going. Can you feel the pleading in my writing? Please… someone… make a trade!
8. As they scour the globe for blueline aid, the Avalanche may bring one of their Russian draft picks to North America. Colorado took 22-year-old defender Andrei Mironov from Dynamo Moscow 101st overall in 2015. He is under contract to play one more season in the KHL, but word from overseas is there may be a willingness to let him come for 2017–18.
9. Purely my speculation, but Carolina is a very logical trading partner for the Avalanche. The Hurricanes need goals and are loaded with young defenders, both at the NHL level and below. Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog come with term. Historically, that’s what Carolina looks for, because it doesn’t get into bidding wars for free agents. That franchise is trending in the right direction on-ice, but are stuck in the league’s most competitive division. Makes sense to me, but I’m not the GM.
10. Who’s looking? Chicago, Los Angeles and Ottawa, for a forward. Tampa Bay, for something to send a jolt through the roster. The Bruins are clearly ready to do something. GM Don Sweeney had a blunt interview with the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa last weekend. Asked about coach Claude Julien, Sweeney replied, “I’m not avoiding the question…. You have to look at every different thing.” But the sense is he’d rather make a trade before changing the coach. St. Louis will add, too.
11. Boston kiboshed a potential Landeskog deal when the Avalanche insisted on Brandon Carlo, who is from Colorado Springs. I don’t think it was a one-for-one, but part of a bigger deal. That is believed to be the second time this season the Bruins have said no to Carlo’s inclusion. The first was Winnipeg, in a package for Jacob Trouba. It’s clear he’s making a major impression in Beantown. Boston suddenly is flush with young defensive prospects.
12. Then there’s Montreal. You have to include the Canadiens, because “Marc Bergevin is in everything.”
13. Speaking of the Canadiens, I don’t believe in coincidences. There was Tomas Plekanec getting 2:42 of power-play time in Monday night’s loss to Washington, scoring their lone goal. It was the team’s first game since Nick Kypreos mentioned the centre as a possible trade candidate. In Montreal’s last three outings (Toronto, Dallas, Nashville), Plekanec was out there for a combined 37 seconds during the man advantage. Monday’s goal was his fourth of the season, which is lower than the club would like, but Plekanec is eighth among forwards in power-play time per game. Nick is correct in saying moving Plekanec is a possibility, but there is one thing standing in the way: They are “all in” this season, and he is Michel Therrien’s most trusted defensive centre. No one has taken more defensive-zone faceoffs, both at even-strength and shorthanded. The best comparison is that he’s taken one more offensive-zone draw than the injured Alex Galchenyuk, but the latter starts in the attacking end 78 percent of the time. Plekanec’s number is 38.
14. A few more notes on Montreal: Had a funny conversation last week with Michael McCarron. Asked him about being a target, which has happened to him at prospect tournaments and in the AHL, because of his first-round pedigree and his size. He says he’s learned to handle it, because “I don’t say as much as I used to.” You’re a big talker? “Yes, but not as much now.” What happened? “Last year, we had a game against Binghamton and I said a little too much to Mark Fraser. He crushed me in the corner and said, ‘You better be careful.’ [AHL coach Sylvain Lefebvre] has told me, ‘Who are you more scared of? The dog that barks or the dog that growls?’”
Fraser is a tough guy. So is Matt Martin, and McCarron handled himself well in that situation last Saturday.
15. Watching the Canadiens practise Friday in Toronto, I saw how much of a presence Alexander Radulov can be. He was all over the ice, very involved. “He loves to practise,” one teammate said. “It’s infectious.”
“I’m not sure he always does the drills right,” another added, “but it happens in a way that makes everyone laugh.”
He showed a ton of fire during Montreal’s back-to-back overtime wins against the Predators and Stars. The second teammate quoted above: “He’s a very emotional guy, we’ve learned that. But those two games were even more than we were used to. We needed it.” We all wait to see what Marc Bergevin does here.
16. Carey Price, asked about some outbursts we’ve seen from him this season: “I just have high standards for myself,” he shrugged.
17. Nikita Scherbak scored his first NHL goal in his debut Saturday night. He said he was much more nervous for that game than when he first came to WHL Saskatoon from Russia in 2013. “Then, I had no idea what to expect. Now I do.” You’d think that would make him less antsy but Scherbak said it was the opposite. His family could not make it from overseas. How did they react to the news? “My mother, Evgeniya, she just cried. Couldn’t say anything.” Great weekend for them.
18. Coaches always like to see their salary bar raised. Word is Mike Sullivan’s extension took him into the $2M–$3M range. Well-deserved and another step up the ladder for NHL bench bosses. They were happy to hear that.
19. Apparently, there are six current NHLers on the top 100 list, to be fully revealed at All-Star Weekend. Five seem obvious: Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews. So, who’s your sixth? Evgeni Malkin? Carey Price? Duncan Keith? (I do know one voter who picked him.) Jagr doesn’t have to play in the game, so I wondered if maybe it was Joe Thornton, given the same consideration because he’s 37. We’ll find out in a little over two weeks.
20. More rumours out of Russia: that Pavel Datsyuk will be in attendance.
21. When Auston Matthews wasn’t even on the ballot, my conspiratorial antennae shot up. Toronto protects its rookies, tries to shield them as much as possible. Many of my old notes were destroyed in a flood, but GM Lou Lamoriello once told a story that he didn’t like how Scott Gomez was affected by going to All-Star the year he won the Calder Trophy. In the end, common sense prevailed. Matthews seems very level-headed, the kind of player who’d appreciate being around the 100 greatest players in the dressing room with the likes of Crosby. It made too much sense not to happen. And, as one source warned, “Everyone said Lamoriello would never give rookie bonuses. Did Auston Matthews get his bonuses?” Answer: yes. See, Toronto makes everyone a softie.
22. Toronto, astonishingly just out of a playoff berth as we all woke up Tuesday, is trying to become the third team this century to go from 30th to the playoffs. The Islanders did it in 2001–02, acquiring Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin, improving by 44 points. Philadelphia did it in 2007–08, rebounding from a rare, disastrous, injury-plagued season, improving by 39 points. The 2014–15 Buffalo Sabres, 2005–06 St. Louis Blues and 2001–02 Atlanta Thrashers made 20-point improvements, but none reached the post-season.
23. After the world juniors are over, I reached out to four or five scouts/execs and asked if anyone shot up or down based on their performance. One of them hopped up on the soapbox before agreeing to the request. “From a scouting perspective, this is an overrated tournament,” he said. “You get a two-week snapshot, and the media play it up. No team is making its decision solely based on this. You watch a player for two years, get your full picture. Sometimes I feel terribly for kids who shine here, because in the public’s eyes, you can only go down.” He mentioned Justin Pogge as someone who suffered from this.
24. The top prospect who had the roughest time was Finland’s Kristian Vesalainen, who went down with the ship as his country lived a two-week nightmare. “But,” as the scout above mentioned, “he’s dominated other tournaments.” Another agreed. “He’s got plenty of time to re-invent himself after that.”
NHL teams that left the event feeling particularly good about themselves were Boston, Minnesota and Ottawa. As mentioned, the Bruins have some talented young defencemen, led by Charlie McAvoy, who “exceeded expectations that were high to begin with.”
The Wild already got a taste of Joel Eriksson Ek, and must be thrilled to know USA’s Jordan Greenway and Russia’s Kirill Kaprizov are coming. How did Kaprizov fall to the fifth round? “He’s small and Russian,” one scout answered. “That can be a bad combination because you don’t know if they are serious about coming over.”
As for the Senators, no doubt their fans are drooling about the possibility of seeing both Thomas Chabot and Colin White in their lineup next fall. No one had a negative thing to say about how they played.
25. From an upcoming-draft point of view, Switzerland’s Nico Hischier clearly was the big winner. Some under-the radar types who got a mention were forwards Martin Necas (Czech Republic) and Kirill Uvakov (Russia). Latvian goalie Mareks Mitens, who plays in the North American Hockey League, is expected to get an NCAA offer. One scout mentioned Slovak goalie Adam Huska, who plays at the University of Connecticut: “Sure knows how to use his size.” The Rangers took him 184th overall in 2015.
26. It would be wrong to close any world juniors discussion without mentioning Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who is not eligible until 2018. “He is at the top of the pedestal for sure.” At 16, he was sheltered against the older players and was involved in the giveaway that won Russia the bronze. But none of that fazed anyone. “No one likes to see those mistakes, but it’s going to happen to great players because they have the puck in those situations. We’ll see how he grows, but no one is worried.” Said another scout: “He oozes with potential,” a quote I had to include because I like the word “oozes.”
27. Finally, reports indicate potential 2017 top pick Nolan Patrick will soon return to action after missing the tournament with an upper-body injury. I asked two different scouts (whose teams will be picking high) if that affects Patrick’s status. Number one: “The only thing you’re worried about is transparency. What is the situation? This is going on a little too long.” Number two: “Not at all. Alex Galchenyuk. How did that one work out?” (Galchenyuk was hurt in his draft year.)
28. The USHL Top Prospects Game takes place Tuesday night in Sioux Falls, S.D. Eeli Tolvanen had six points in six games at the world juniors, but no Finn left Canada feeling great about themselves. Unfortunately, he is injured and won’t play, a slight disappointment for scouts making the trip. Among those to be closely monitored is Halifax’s Shane Bowers. Eligible for the June draft, the centre plays for the Waterloo Black Hawks.
29. When a coach like Guy Boucher steadfastly refuses to answer questions about someone (like he’s doing with Bobby Ryan), I wonder if it’s because he honestly can’t. If the discipline or situation becomes an NHL/NHLPA issue, the muzzle is mandated.
30. The funeral for Ron Smith was held last Thursday, and in attendance was Las Vegas GM George McPhee. Smith coached McPhee, then 19, to a Centennial Cup championship with the Guelph Platers in 1988. “He was a guy that a lot of us really admired,” McPhee said Monday. “Classy, well-educated, dressed professionally, a family man. He was very technically advanced for his time, way ahead of the game.”
McPhee said he interviewed Smith for one of his Washington job openings “and I should have hired him.” Best advice given to you: “Stop fighting,” he answered, with a laugh. “[I was] doing too much of it, and he didn’t think all of it was necessary. The year we won, he said, ‘Enough, no more.’ I listened.”
McPhee closed by saying Ron’s wife, Patti, told him, “In 52 years of marriage, he never yelled at me once. I yelled at him a lot, but he never did it back.” He paused, then continued. “I could see that. He seldom raised his voice.”