With a boycott looming over the Women’s World Championships scheduled to begin later this month in Michigan, the National Team and USA Hockey are locked into intense negotiations to save this event.
Both sides called Monday’s discussions “positive.” That’s a step, but you learn over the years that these discussions can be tenuous. We’ll see how things go. If you care about the growth of hockey, a host-country fiasco would be the opposite of good — no matter which side you support.
Some of this is about money and the age-old North American problem of how to financially support our Olympic athletes. But this is also about something else: making competitors feel as though their governing body has their backs.
According to several sources, the “last straw” for the American women involved the 2014 Sochi Olympic sweaters. There was stitching on them recognizing gold medals won by the men in 1960 and 1980, but, initially, nothing highlighting the women’s 1998 victory. This didn’t go over well.
That triumph, 3–1 over Canada, was a course-altering moment for the Canadian women’s team.
“There was quite a lot of bitterness right after those games,” Therese Brisson said Monday night.
Brisson, a defenceman, won six World Championships with Canada, adding Olympic Gold in 2002. The 1998 loss was the only major tournament defeat of her international career.
“Part of the problem was the uniqueness of it all,” added Cassie Campbell-Pascall, winner of two Olympic golds and six World Championships. “We’d never had a full-time women’s team. I don’t think anyone fully understood the needs.”
Campbell-Pascall said Brisson deserves a lot of credit for what happened next.
“I ended up [in] the middle,” Brisson laughed. “There was some fear. You worry: ‘If you’re going to be the troublemaker, you’re going to get cut.’”
(It has been reported in the last week that Cammi Granato’s surprise expulsion from the 2006 U.S. Olympic team was due to her advocacy.)
But the players and Hockey Canada shared a common feeling: disappointment. They hated to lose in Nagano and were determined to avoid a repeat.
“[The players] didn’t win every battle,” Brisson said. “And the negotiations were hard sometimes. But both sides agreed with the spirit of what we were trying to do. Number one was to win. Number two was to grow the game. It was very honest. We told them what we expected from them, and they told us what they expected from us.
“[In 1998], the International Ice Hockey Federation awarded $1 million to the men’s team that won the World Championships. I think it was $50,000 for the women at that time. Our eyes were opened to make us identify other opportunities.”
The players formed a Women’s High-Performance Advisory Committee, with Hockey Canada agreeing to put a representative on its Board. They hammered out sponsorship rights for the individual versus the group, moving expenses, medical expenses and payment during Olympic years.
Brisson remembers the breakthrough moment.
“We were practising in Calgary. Towards the end, this guy shows up on the ice to skate with us for a bit. Nobody told us who he was, what he was doing there. Then they introduced him as Dan O’Neill, president and CEO of Molson, and he was stepping up with $1 million for the women’s team for (the 2002 Olympics).
“My jaw dropped.”
No relationship is perfect, but this one has come a long way.
In training for the 1998 Games, the Canadian players were paid a little more than $200 per month. By 2002, it jumped to almost 10 times that. Now, Hockey Canada hosts two fundraisers a year for the women’s team and there’s another to help parents afford travel. (Another group, the Ladies First Hockey Foundation, has raised almost $2 million since its inception.)
Hockey Canada makes sure to include male and female ambassadors on its sponsorship deals. National Team members (and some others on the periphery) have necessary medical care covered.
Since that 1998 defeat, Canada has won four consecutive golds.
“The thing we are most proud of,” Brisson says about those who worked together after 1998, “is we’ve created a legacy that’s lasted.”
A legacy their American counterparts wish to emulate.
1. If I was running the NHL, I’d be terrified of offside video reviews in the post-season. One of them is going to decide a playoff series, and it’s going to be ugly.
2. Claude Giroux admitted to Philadelphia reporters his surgically repaired hip/abdominal injuries bothered him more than he let on. “When you try to make plays you used to make and can’t really make them, it is frustrating and confusing,” he said.
A few opponents wondered about that, and I had an interesting conversation this week with an exec who said teams are getting more and more wary about the length of recovery from sports-hernia surgery. Both Philly GM Ron Hextall and defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere have downplayed how much of a factor the latter’s own surgery has played in his sophomore struggles, but, again, opponents suspect it’s more of an issue than meets the eye. Potential No. 1 pick Nolan Patrick had this procedure, too. That hasn’t gone unnoticed.
3. Some deep breaths in Sweden last week when highly rated defence prospect Timothy Liljegren was helped off the ice with a knee injury during a playoff game. He resumed playing a few minutes later, so everyone could relax. With Patrick already battling injuries, the last thing the teams at the top of the draft needed was further medical uncertainty.
4. Mentioned a few weeks ago that Las Vegas was checking out KHLers Evgeny Dadonov and Vadim Shipachyov. Haven’t spoken to the Golden Knights, but word is both free agents come with big asks. The first request should always be high, but it gives you an idea of where talks are expected to go. Shipachyov is believed to be looking for around $5.5 million per season, and Dadonov $3.5 million. Will be curious to see if any NHL team steps up at those numbers — and we haven’t even discussed term.
5. Edmonton’s Josh Healey, who plays at Ohio State, has been suspended for the first two games of the NCAA Tournament. That means he’s now been suspeneded five times for contact-to-the-head penalties since Nov. 2015. I don’t think NHL teams are concerned, feeling some of those hits wouldn’t be penalized at the pro level. If Ohio State wins twice this weekend, he can return for the Frozen Four. If not, he’ll go to the next level. At one time, all four Western Canadian teams were interested. It sounds like Healey’s down to a short list. I think Calgary is there, although the Flames won’t comment. But they aren’t the only ones.
6. Chicago hosts the Frozen Four this season, and the Blackhawks have the most prospects playing in the tournament — seven. It’s interesting — opponents always assume Chicago is in the race for just about every free agent of note. (That goes for both North America and overseas.) They aren’t afraid to sign them, and are willing to take chances because they need entry-level successes to surround the core. A couple of free agents to watch: after seeing Minnesota-Duluth defenceman Neal Pionk bowl over a goalie last week, one scout laughed, “He’s ready for the NHL.” Another had praise for Union’s Mike Vecchione, even in a loss during the conference championships.
7. As Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has reported, there is expectation Wisconsin captain Luke Kunin will leave school and join the Wild.
8. Ottawa is trying to sign Colin White, selected 21st overall in 2015, out of Boston College. When Columbus signed Zach Werenski last season, he was 18, so he needed to play 10 games before burning that first year of his entry-level contract (section 9.1 of the CBA). White is 20, so the 10-game bar is gone. I always thought someone had to get into one game to burn the year, but that’s not necessarily the case. There is no “entry-level slide” after age 19, so, if the contract begins for what’s remaining in 2016-17, only two years remain, even if he doesn’t play.
No one disputes he is ready for the next level. What the Senators have to weigh is, does White go back for his junior season if he doesn’t like the offer? It’s a poker game (and I always wonder in these cases if bonus structure is another debate). It’s possible he gets a World Championships invitation, too.
9. What did I learn after spending 24 hours in Canada’s capital for the outdoor-game announcement last week? The Senators — we’re talking players, organization and fans — are spoiling for a fight if Erik Karlsson loses the Norris to Brent Burns over point production. They felt Karlsson was clobbered for being too offensive-oriented last year.
10. Still three weeks to make up my mind, but Burns and Karlsson are in both the Hart and Norris conversations. Ottawa’s surge propelled Karlsson into the MVP race, and his teammates stress how much he sacrificed offence earlier in the year to set an example. Living in Toronto, I don’t get to see Burns as often live, so I ask opponents about him. When the Hart seemed to be either him or Connor McDavid, Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek said he’d “have to vote for Burns. He makes the Sharks go.” Then he paused. “It makes it sound as if I don’t like McDavid, but that’s not true. He’s a great player. But I’d say Burns.”
11. Lots of hoopla over Commissioner Gary Bettman’s “assume we’re not going to the Olympics” comment from Tuesday. “Assume we’re not going,” is different than “We are not going.” It’s getting late, but the patient has yet to flatline. I still assume everyone comes to their senses.
One thing that the NHL says it will not consider: allowing a certain number of players per team to go if the league does not (officially) participate. It does not feel that is a proper solution.
12. Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk on whether or not he will allow Karlsson to go the way Ted Leonsis would allow Alex Ovechkin to go: “I’m going to give Sweden my best player at the risk of him being injured, beating our Canadian team? That doesn’t make sense. Maybe if it was a Canadian going to play for Canada… maybe. But right now, it doesn’t make any sense for our franchise, it’s not fair to our fans if we were to lose him, God forbid, into a year like this to an injury in the Olympics.”
There’s a lot to digest here. Melnyk’s attitude stems from 2006, when Dominik Hasek was injured playing for the Czech Republic. One year later, Ray Emery led the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final, but the organization felt very strongly that Hasek’s absence cost them a shot at the championship.
I worked those Olympics and we interviewed the goalie after he got hurt. You could tell right away he knew it was bad, and after the interview aired, then-Ottawa GM John Muckler tracked me down in a panic to gather as much information as possible.
Melnyk is the ultimate old-school, shoot-from-the-hip, oh-my-God-what-did-he-say owner, but he’s not backing down on this issue.
13. The obvious follow-up is, what does Karlsson think about this? Melnyk said he plans to meet face-to-face with his captain to explain his position. Hours before the Senators started a critical back-to-back with Montreal, Karlsson provided a quote: “I really want to go and feel all of the players do, too.”
Melnyk has to handle this situation carefully, making sure he’s not upsetting his most important player — who is an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
14. I understand Alexander Radulov’s frustration with reports he asked for eight years, but is it possible his agents were negotiating and didn’t tell him specifics? It’s not unusual, especially during the season. Agents discuss, throw out concepts. Players worry about playing.
15. The NHL is thinking about some kind of New Year’s Eve event next Dec. 31 to conclude the 2017 Centennial Year. They really want to do something in Montreal, so I wonder if there’s a fit, but that’s purely a guess.
16. As Nick Kypreos reported, the New York Islanders and Barclays Center are in negotiations to extend the team’s lease with that arena beyond 2018–19. A lot of eyebrows were raised by reports the Rangers and Sabres will play the 2018 Winter Classic at Citi Field — home of the New York Mets. James Dolan (who owns the Rangers) and the Wilpon family (who own the Mets) are involved in financing the Islanders’ potential new arena near Belmont Park. That’s a lot of coincidence.
17. Interesting note from Kypreos’s sit-down with Patrick Kane: When then-Vancouver defenceman Willie Mitchell said Kane “couldn’t play five-on-five” during a 2009 playoff series, Scotty Bowman handed the Blackhawks forward a copy of the newspaper with that quote as the two boarded the team bus.
18. I’ve got a few Blackhawks notes after seeing them in Ottawa and Toronto. Senators’ goalie Mike Condon had a great breakdown of Kane’s assist to Richard Panik on the winning goal last Thursday in the Canadian capital. Kane was moving behind the net with the puck. “The rule of thumb is to turn your head when the he crosses the middle bar of the net,” Condon explained. Watch the highlight below. Kane knows it. “Yes, he was waiting for it,” the goalie said. Condon turns and by the time he picks up Kane, the pass is en route to Panik. Just a really smart play.
19. Derick Brassard on Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson: “It’s like playing against Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. They close the gaps and don’t allow you to do anything.” Brassard saw a lot of those two in Columbus.
20. Interesting to hear some of the younger Blackhawks — Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz — discuss what they’ve learned this year. All three said they were surprised/impressed by how confident the veterans are. “No matter what the situation, they think we are going to win,” Hartman said. “We could be down two goals with five minutes left, and they believe we’re going to do it.” Practises? “Fast-paced,” he replied. “But you better make hard passes.”
Schmaltz smiled when Hartman said that. “You’re going to hear it from (coach Joel Quenneville) if you don’t. ‘Hard! Hard!’”
Kero added one more detail: “You better be able to make hard passes… and receive them.”
In talking to those players, you can tell they realize quickly a lot is expected. Age/inexperience is not an acceptable excuse for sloppiness.
21. John Hayden, who joined the team after finishing his senior season at Yale, said he never seriously considered going elsewhere. Free agency was an option if he waited until August and there would have been interest. “What’s not to like about playing here? There was an opportunity, you know you’re going to have a chance to win, they supported me staying in school. There was no reason to go anywhere else.”
22. Scott Darling, who will be heavily pursued after the season, had an interesting line about his growth. “I stopped worrying about what you guys said about me,” he said on Saturday. “It used to really bother me.”
Darling wasn’t being a jerk, just explaining. It is true for everyone — not just athletes. You have to eliminate the noise.
23. Bruce Cassidy went almost 13 years between NHL head-coaching jobs — from Washington to Boston. Wondered if that was some kind of record, but that’s fifth-longest in the post-1967 era. John Muckler led the Minnesota North Stars in 1968–69, then went 21 years before being named head man in Edmonton. (Oilers aficionados will say he was the brains behind the operation before that, but you have to hold the title.) Al MacNeil also went 21 years between stints behind the Calgary bench. Between those two and Cassidy are Barry Melrose (14 years, Los Angeles/Tampa Bay) and Craig Ramsay (14 years, Buffalo/Philadelphia).
24. Cassidy on the difference between taking the Washington job at age 37 and Boston job at 51: “Washington was a long time ago. I was younger and went there trying to make my name. When I was in junior, I wanted to be Bobby Orr… wanted to be a player. It didn’t work out and there were a number of reasons why.”
Cassidy, a defenceman, was Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 1983, but suffered serious knee injuries that damaged his career. “I was a little too dialed in, living and dying with the results every day. You mature as a person, and becoming a parent makes a huge difference. When you’re reading with your kids, or changing a diaper, you learn to enjoy the moment, don’t let it eat at you. More patience, tolerance. The time spent in (AHL) Providence. I’m better, older, wiser.”
Boston lost to Toronto and Ottawa in the last 48 hours, but generally, things have gone well since he took over. He’s aware that, despite a new attitude, he will be tested. “Yes, you know it can go the other way. But I understand that it only takes a couple of times for you to lose your composure before it defines you.”
25. Cassidy moved from Providence to Boston prior to this season. Coaches will tell you that it’s difficult to move from assistant coach to head coach on the same team. As an assistant, you are the good cop, managing the message between bench boss and players. The head coach has to be the bad cop and relationships strain when things change. “I wasn’t completely foreign to these players. During the Cup run (2011), I skated the Black Aces and a couple of veterans were with us. So there was a cordial relationship. Washington was all new faces. I also look at it this way: as an assistant running the defence and power play, I felt like the head coach of seven or eight guys. During a game, you have to get your message across quickly. That doesn’t change. You can’t be nervous, have to be confident. Your superstars know it.”
26. Changes? Not defensively. “I’m not fooling with that. Claude Julien knows how to coach it, the guys are comfortable and have won with it.”
I didn’t ask about this, but Don Cherry mentioned it last weekend and you really notice the Bruins are doing a ton of “flip plays,” where their defence fires it into the air creating races down the ice. Cassidy has tinkered with some of the offensive structure. “We want to attack more from the half-wall, aggressive especially against man-to-man. Less plays where the puck goes from low-to-high. We’ve also encouraged our defencemen to get more up-ice off the rush.”
Boston has nine goals from defencemen in the last 18 games after 18 in the first 55. Cassidy’s deployment has changed, too. Dominic Moore’s line does not get as many starts in the offensive zone. “Offensive players for offensive-zone draws, although there are situations where that depends on the score. For Dominic and Riley Nash, who are more responsible, they’ll get their opportunities, but elsewhere.”
Cassidy added Ryan Spooner will mostly get changed on the fly, “as we build his overall game.”
27. It’s awkward interviewing a new coach about changes, because you’re basically asking them to dump on their predecessor. (You also run the risk of Doug MacLean badgering you with comments like, “Yeah, like no coach has ever thought of those ideas before.”) Cassidy made sure to credit Julien for Brad Marchand’s growth into an MVP candidate. “He really worked with (Marchand), balancing the fire so that Brad would stay on the right side of the line. Be a star — don’t just stir it up.”
Cassidy was an assistant in Providence when Marchand arrived in 2008. “He was the hardest-working guy in practice every day from the day he walked in the door. He wanted to be an offensive contributor and believed he would be. Just out-wills people. First (NHL) season, he had one point in 20 games. It didn’t matter. He knew he was going to do it.”
28. The craziness over last week’s fishing excursion for several Toronto players and the 7–2 loss to Florida that followed reminded me of a great Adam Mair/Lindy Ruff story from Buffalo. Mair was asked if Ruff had changed at all during his Sabres tenure. He said the veterans saw there were two off-days before games in Florida, so they asked if the team could travel there early for a bit of a working vacation. Ruff agreed, but added, “You know you owe me two wins if we do this, right?” Mair laughed, but the message was received. The Sabres won twice.
29. Maybe Minnesota’s slide ended with Tuesday’s 3–2 win over San Jose, but what will really help is an excellent schedule to close the season. Six of the last 10 are at home, and the only back-to-back starts at home for the first game with a short trip to Detroit for the second. They end at Colorado and Arizona with a day in between.
30. I covered swimming at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It was a very difficult experience for Canada. There was hope, but the results were disappointing and the whole program was under siege. On the last day of competition, Ryan Cochrane came up with a surprise bronze in the 1,500-m — which brought some desperately needed enthusiasm and positivity. Cochrane added a silver in 2012, and admitted his disappointment at not medaling in Rio. But he co-captained a group that succeeded wildly beyond expectations. He retired on Tuesday. Seeing that Beijing swim was a career highlight, because it beat the odds and really meant something at a time where people were grasping for good news.