31 Thoughts: Aaron Ekblad injury a massive blow to Panthers

Aaron-Ekblad-Florida-Panthers

Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad chases a loose puck during an NHL hockey game on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

• Ekblad injury a massive blow
• Hamonic won’t be traded
• Canadiens may not be done dealing

At puck drop of Saturday night’s NCAA Midwest Regional between top-seeded North Dakota and two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, Ryan Fanti’s father (Mike) and mother (Kellianne) sat down to watch in their Thunder Bay, Ont., homes.

Six hours later, both were emotionally drained and incredibly proud. Kellianne accidentally destroyed her smartphone’s charging cord in celebration, Mike moved to tears by his son’s act of sportsmanship. All on a night Ryan wasn’t supposed to play.

Minnesota-Duluth blew a 2–0 lead with less than two minutes remaining, had an overtime winner overturned because it was offside by the slimmest of margins, but prevailed 3—2 in the fifth extra period — the longest game in NCAA Tournament history. Ryan Fanti dressed as starting goalie Zach Stejskal’s backup. Four minutes into the fourth overtime, Stejskal couldn’t continue.

“Going into that fourth overtime, some guys were talking about cramping up,” Ryan said Sunday night, after the bus trip home from Fargo, N.D. “I could see (Zach) resting between whistles, not 100 per cent. I warmed up in the tunnel, in case I was called upon.”

His calisthenics were noted by the broadcast team of Leah Hextall and Dave Starman.

“When (Ryan) is playing, I’m right in front of the television, very stressed,” Kellianne laughed. “(Saturday night), I was still nervous, but I was sitting on the couch. When they said he was stretching, I flew in front of the TV; my eyes probably blew out of my head a little bit. When you’re the parent of a goalie, it’s a whole different ball game.”

“Actually, it was the least nervous I’ve ever been,” Mike said. “I knew he’d want to seize the moment.”

“You have to be ready if anything happens, stay mentally in it,” Ryan said.

You weren’t nervous about sitting there for five hours, then going into an elimination game?

“I was less nervous compared to sitting on the bench, not being able to help out there,” he answered. “Once you get in your crease, you’re focused on the puck, not worried about much else.”

Stejskal made 57 saves in 125 minutes. Fanti stopped six of six shots in 17:36 before Luke Mylymok won it for the Bulldogs at 2:13 of the fifth overtime.

If the game reached another intermission, there was going to be a conversation about calling a temporary halt and resuming on Sunday. In the celebration, Fanti noticed the Bulldogs’ third goalie, Brampton, Ont.’s Ben Patt, “jump over the bench and get his feet caught on everyone else. He landed flat on his back. We’re in the corner celebrating — he’s on the ice.”

But everyone else noticed Fanti’s next move: skating away from his jubilant teammates to console North Dakota’s Adam Scheel, who made 51 saves in defeat.

“You get to that point in a game — five overtimes — there’s no better goalie or better team,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a rival. You feel for them. It could’ve went the other way. They hit the post right before we won.”

“That’s who he is,” Kellianne said. “I spoke to him (Sunday) morning while he was packing up at the hotel and told him how proud I was. That’s their biggest rival. He knew how (Scheel) would feel. That he had it in his heart in that moment — I’m super proud of him.”

Because of COVID and the Canadian border, parents and child haven’t seen each other since August. Father and son FaceTimed at 3:30 a.m. Sunday. Mike became very emotional discussing the aftermath. His voice cracked a couple of times during our call.

“When I saw that — there’s no greater honour than that. The respect he showed to the other team, the other player. It’s sad someone had to lose that game. For Ryan to be a sportsman in that moment, I can’t be more proud.”

“I’m not surprised my father was so emotional discussing it with you,” Ryan said. “I call him a bit of a burnt marshmallow. He’s hard on the outside, soft on the inside.”

Like many children, Ryan began his goaltending career as target practice for an older sibling. He’s two years younger than brother Jared, who was a pretty good defenceman in his competitive days.

“When [Ryan] was five, he went to his first organized tryouts,” Kellianne said. “He said he wanted to be the goalie, and I would say, ‘No, go skate.’ Finally, he put his hands on his hips and said he wasn’t playing hockey unless he was the goalie. That’s how it started.

“The only rule we had was, ‘No crying if you lose games.’ NHL goalies lose games, too.”

He was cut three times from Thunder Bay’s biggest minor hockey organization, which limited his options. Fanti spent two seasons with the North American Hockey League’s Minnesota Wilderness. When Minnesota-Duluth called to offer him a scholarship (and needed a quick answer), he was on vacation in the country of San Marino and had to find somewhere where a cellphone could even get one bar of service.

In 2018–19, he played one period of one exhibition game as the Bulldogs won their second straight NCAA crown. This season, he was the starter until head coach Scott Sandelin began to alternate him with Stejskal in recent weeks. The Frozen Four begins April 8 in Pittsburgh. Mike and Kellianne are both considering how a trip could be possible.

For a city with a population of 100,000, Thunder Bay has great hockey lineage. The Staals, the Pyatts, Patrick Sharp and three current NHL goalies — Mackenzie Blackwood, Carter Hutton and Matt Murray. New Jersey’s starter sent Fanti a text after the game; “Good stuff. Coming in late, that’s hard to do.”

Yes it is. Ryan Fanti added another chapter to local lore. Now he’s going for more.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

31 THOUGHTS

1. It was awful to watch Florida’s Aaron Ekblad on the ice in agony during the Panthers’ 4–1 win in Dallas.

“It must have hurt so bad,” teammate Jonathan Huberdeau said. “I really didn’t want to see it.”

The Panthers announced Monday night the star defenceman underwent surgery to repair a fracture in his lower extremities and will be sidelined 12 weeks. That’s a massive loss for Florida. Their assistant captain was having a brilliant season — very much in the Norris Trophy conversation — tied for the NHL lead in goals by defencemen (11, with Darnell Nurse and Jeff Petry), playing 25:05 a night for a team flirting with first overall.

The Panthers were looking at adding a defender even before this occurred. This will add to the urgency, but what an enormous challenge to fill Ekblad’s spot. All the best to him. Just terrible.

2. I will admit this even if it makes me look unprofessional, but I’m rooting for a Buffalo victory. No one deserves this level of on-ice misery in such a mentally challenging isolation season.

With two weeks until the trade deadline, no GM is using more data than Kevyn Adams. The Sabres are out of the race and not pretending otherwise. I thought he did well to get two picks for Eric Staal, and Adams tried for a second-rounder before committing to Montreal. The advantage for him right now is some other teams (Arizona, Columbus, Nashville among them) are holding because they’re suddenly in the race.

Adams was believed to be discussing something with struggling St. Louis. I wondered if it would be Taylor Hall, but received pushback on that idea, so we’ll see where it goes. There are a ton of teams calling to see what he’s willing to do, and what it will take.

3. Hall will be interesting, and I think it’s possible he stays in Buffalo a bit longer so his cap hit goes down. I said last week on my weekly Buffalo hit (Instigators) that it will be hard for the Sabres to get a first-rounder unless there’s a bidding war. That seems insane, but look at it this way: In a flat-cap world for the foreseeable future, first-round picks are seen as even more valuable. You’re going to need entry-level talents who can make a difference.

It’s unfortunate for the Sabres and for pending unrestricted free agent Jake McCabe that he’s out for the year. He would have been an excellent trade chip. A good team needing defenders would gladly have added him. In addition to some of the veterans, I’m wondering if 2017 first-rounder Casey Mittelstadt gets a change of scenery, too.

4. Will Arizona hold now that that the Coyotes are a point behind St. Louis? GM Bill Armstrong: “Our team will lead me to that conclusion.”

I’m surprised the Blues are in this position, although they’ve been hammered by injuries on the blue line. Eighteen of their final 21 games are against Colorado, Minnesota and Vegas.

One thing about their GM, Doug Armstrong — he is utterly fearless and could do anything. Chatter around the Blues is increasing. He is someone who got first-rounders for rentals (Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017 and Paul Stastny in 2018) without harming the long-term future of his team.

5. Awful weekend for Columbus. Low-energy performance in Detroit.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll say it again: Do not underestimate how much reaching the playoffs means to the bottom line. Even if you can’t get many fans this year, does it increase your season-ticket sales for next year?

I can see the Blue Jackets weighing this as they map their future. They’ve got some good depth options in Michael del Zotto and Riley Nash. I’m most curious to see what happens with David Savard. I think Colorado is there, and, in stealth mode if they can fit it, Tampa Bay. The Lightning think they can repeat (and certainly could). He makes sense for them.

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6. Carolina asked Vancouver about Travis Hamonic. The right-shooting defender has made it clear several times he chooses to stay in Western Canada for family reasons. He stayed consistent to that philosophy and won’t be traded.

The Hurricanes are looking for someone like Hamonic, a right-shot with an edge. Tanner Pearson’s injury doesn’t appear as serious as initially feared, so we’ll see where this goes. The Canucks have made some nice waiver claims, and that could change the trajectory of Adam Gaudette’s future.

7. In an interview with The Athletic’s Sara Civian, Carolina GM Don Waddell indicated an extension with head coach Rod Brind’Amour is getting closer. That is certainly the expectation around the NHL.

8. What is Tuukka Rask’s health going to do to Boston’s decision-making?

9. Plenty of mystery surrounding Frederik Andersen’s status, with Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe saying last weekend the goalie is undergoing “different evaluations,” and his return is not imminent.

Here’s the best info I can find: The Maple Leafs do not believe — as I write this — that Andersen’s injury is season-ending. They are not eager to eat their precious cap space on another netminder unless they absolutely have to. I do suspect GM Kyle Dubas has a move or two in his back pocket, and is waiting until the numbers work — or something else drops on his lap.

10. Not sensing a ton from Calgary, yet. The Flames aren’t loaded with UFA types (although Derek Ryan is a good idea for a contender). As Montreal gets back to work, the Canadiens have five games in hand on the Flames and six on Vancouver — with a two-point lead. My biggest concern for the Canadiens is their schedule. Starting Tuesday, it’s 25 games in 43 days. That’s….not easy. I look at Dallas. The Stars, to me, are better than their record indicates, and their players are doing an unbelievable job of competing through the meatgrinder created by a COVID outbreak and the Texas power failures. That is one banged-up group. Montreal’s created itself some runway, but this will be a challenge. Their biggest advantage is depth. Michael Frolik hasn’t played all season, and he’s an NHLer. They’ve got bodies.

11. Yeah, I’m still not convinced Marc Bergevin is done. I think he had something going with Artturi Lehkonen to create cap space. It’s possible the Canadiens need to be clear of the COVID shutdown before anything else happens.

12. Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett offered his players a day off last Tuesday, once the Oilers were told their games in Montreal were postponed.

“They said no. They wanted to go to the rink,” Tippett said.

I get that — the Oilers were on the road, and it’s not like you can drop into Stogie’s for an afternoon Rocky Patel.

Tippett divided his practice time as follows: small-area games on Tuesday, scrimmages Wednesday, structural stuff and face-off drills Thursday, regular day-before-game brisk practice on Friday. (The taxi squad was included the first three days so no one felt like an outcast.)

“Sergei Zubov always used to tell me we need to scrimmage more, so I made time for it,” Tippett laughed.

I didn’t get a chance to ask him about it, but I’m wondering if the decreased quarantine gets any of Edmonton’s talented AHLers a look at some point. Bakersfield’s Cooper Marody and Tyler Benson are one-two in league scoring; Ryan McLeod is 10th.

13. Tippett was very complimentary of Nurse.

“He deserves a ton of credit,” the coach said. “On and off the ice, he’s a great leader and he’s backed it up with his play. He plays a lot of minutes and has gone to another level with the way he reads situations. He’s learned to control his emotions — use them for you, not against you. And he took a lot of that responsibility on his own. Older and wiser.”

He added Ethan Bear, whose season was derailed by a fluke concussion, “is coming. He looks to be back where he was. He’s back to doing the things he did last year. We knew he’d work his way through it.”

I asked if Jesse Puljujarvi might get more first-power-play time, and Tippett hinted yes.

“We like what he’s doing. It’s really been positive, and he plays hard. He’s coming. We just wanted to take things carefully, make sure everything’s going in the right direction.”

14. I’m another one who believes Luke Glendening is very much on Edmonton’s radar. (Tippett is not the source for this.) Makes too much sense, but the challenge for the Oilers is getting outbid by a higher pick than they want to exchange.

I heard that his Detroit teammates jokingly compared Glendening — when in the face-off circle — to a dog eying a ball. His eyes never leave the puck in a linesman’s hand. He’s completely focused on it and ignores all else. Guess that’s why he’s at 64 per cent.

15. Cole Caufield is a Montreal Canadien. Dylan Holloway, Edmonton’s 2020 first-rounder, gamely tried to play through a broken thumb for NCAA Wisconsin, and the recovery time will affect his decision on Oilers or Badgers.

Other decisions coming down after weekend results:

• Spencer Knight (Boston College/Florida Panthers). This is a big one. The Panthers have a crowded crease with Sergei Bobrovsky and 2021 revelation Chris Driedger (who can be a UFA). They have another good-looking prospect, Devon Levi. Knight can’t be a free agent for two more seasons, and everyone’s watching what he chooses to do. The best thing the Panthers have done here is show that who plays well determines who gets the net. It’s not about contract — it’s about performance. That’s all a prospect can ask for.

• Also: Knight teammates Matthew Boldy (Minnesota) and Alex Newhook (Colorado).

• Free agents: North Dakota’s Matt Kiersted and Jordan Kawaguchi. Kiersted is in the process of preparing his game plan to make this decision. I’ve heard Kawaguchi has a couple of teams he’s considering, but no confirmation yet. Finally, one overage Canadian junior I wanted to mention: WHL Vancouver’s Tristen Nielsen. He’s got seven points in two games for the Giants. He’s a free agent, and someone will give him a shot.

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16. Lots to unpack in the aftermath of Tim Peel’s removal. There was a Twitter brushfire last Thursday when referee Eric Furlatt covered his microphone during a conversation with Toronto’s Wayne Simmonds. I wondered if the officials considered refusing to wear them. A few of them indicated the answer is no, it was never seriously discussed. They felt this was one-time human error, not something requiring pushback against being mic’ed up.

17. There are two separate, in-depth conversations surrounding this situation. One is about officiating itself. The other is about business. Much of the dialogue surrounded the former. I’ve been more interested in the latter. The biggest surprise, to me, was how swiftly the NHL acted in taking Peel out of the rotation. We’re used to, “We’re going to take our time and investigate this — we’ll let you know when we have a finding.”

Nope, not this time.

Peel was out 12 hours after it occurred. According to multiple sources, Peel, devastated by what happened, threw himself on the grenade and took full responsibility, apologizing to the Predators post-game. Apparently, he’d seen a replay of his call on the video screen, realized it was a miss, and was annoyed at himself.

Most of the current and retired officials who were willing to discuss the incident said they understood the decision. They didn’t like it, and felt terribly for Peel, but they understood. A couple of them brought up disgraced ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was caught betting on games in 2007. (Let’s just state for the record, I don’t believe Peel was doing anything remotely similar or unethical.)

“When that happened,” one said, “the NHL immediately reached out to us. They asked us if there was anything they needed to know.”

There were deep conversations about how damaging it is to your league during a crisis of consumer confidence. The CBA between the NHL and its officials now contains specific code-of-conduct references: “Each official agrees to abstain from habits of intemperance, gambling, immorality or other conduct likely to bring himself and/or the NHL and/or the game of Hockey into disrepute or which results in the impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of NHL games or the integrity and good character of its officials.”

It’s one thing to believe calls are evened up. It’s another to hear a referee accidentally admit it. It’s very, very bad for business.

18. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Michael Leboff, a longtime Islanders fan who is senior editor at The Action Network, an influential media entity that covers sports betting. (Leboff leads its NHL coverage.)

“When it happened, my boss told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to need to do a newser on this — it’s definitely a thing,” Leboff said. “They wanted to know what Tim Peel’s history was. No matter how you shake it, this is a gambling story.”

Leboff’s boss is Chad Millman, who, 12 years ago, wrote a great gambling book, The Odds. Formerly editor-in-chief of ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com, he’s highly respected in the industry. The Action Network’s lead sports business reporter is Darren Rovell, who has two million Twitter followers. (He was very interested in the story, and tweeted a link to Leboff’s work.)

As puritan North America finally clues into the fact everyone else in the world embraces gambling, it will be critical to rebuilding the NHL’s economic structure in the post-pandemic world. You can’t have people like Millman and Rovell questioning your integrity in that space. You just can’t. So when you ask me why I think the NHL acted so swiftly, this is it. (We’re going to come back to Leboff later in the blog.)

19. As for how the games are called, the biggest problem is that there’s no consensus as to what is “right.” “Call the rulebook” is a common refrain, but is that truly what players, coaches, executives and fans want? When Brendan Shanahan’s summit led to the biggest adjustment we’ve seen in recent memory (2005–06), power plays jumped to 5.85 per team per game. That’s the highest number in NHL history. Some loved it, others hated it.

Shanahan once joked that when then-teammate Steve Yzerman, who thought that standard was unrealistic, disliked a call, the captain would needle him with something like, “Nice job, Brendan.” These are two Hall of Famers, and they couldn’t agree. By the next season, that number was down one penalty per game. (This season, it’s at 3.04.)

Players say they know referees are going to call stick fouls on the hands (that was re-inforced as important in the aftermath of Peel’s microphone mishap). I think they’d like more emphasis on boarding and slew-footing, but I’d be lying if I claimed I talked to everyone. I liked what Anson Carter said last week: be consistent. If you’re going to call the rulebook in the first period, do it in the third. If you’re going to “let them play” in the first, “let them play” in the third.

“I don’t think you should be able to pick and choose what is called based on the score of the game,” one veteran texted.

20. Two more “thoughts” on this. First, this happened as officials and players are in closer contact than normal. They don’t usually stay at the same hotels, but COVID protocols dictate it. They also mix during testing. After Jeff Marek and I discussed it on last week’s podcast, a couple of officials said they actually liked it — because you could create some kind of a relationship — but others aren’t crazy about it, because it exacerbates raw feelings. There’ve been some uncomfortable moments.

Earlier in the year, a few teams complained about officials travelling on planes with the general public, because it wasn’t necessarily safe. That’s a tough one, because if you put them on, say, the Leafs’ team plane, Toronto could hypothetically bribe them for calls with tasty lobster, good wine and a souffle. Another challenge in a year full of them.

21. Finally, I don’t understand the idea that removing Peel a month before his final game wasn’t a significant punishment. For one thing, it’s a harsh public rebuke. Bryan Lewis, a referee and NHL director of officiating from 1966 to 2000, gave an excellent interview on The Fan 590’s Writer’s Bloc with Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt. He discussed what losing a “goodbye game,” scheduled for April 24 in St. Louis, would mean to Peel.

“That to me is the biggest kick in my backside I could ever think of as an official,” Lewis said.

22. Wanted to come back to Leboff, who says, “I want more bettors to bet on the NHL because I think the sport is the best to bet on. The puck drops, you get 10 guys chasing after a little piece of rubber on ice. It makes no sense in the most beautiful way.”

I have a friend who loves betting NHL parlays. He loses more than he wins, but when he wins, the payouts are excellent, so he’s up money. Leboff said that fits with his experience, explaining there’s only been one season since 2005–06 where favourites won more than 60 per cent of the time — the lockout-shortened season of 2013.

“(French philosopher) Albert Camus would have loved betting hockey,” he says, “because if you can embrace suffering, you can take the two or three losses in a row, but come out ahead when the Senators beat the Maple Leafs.”

23. Because there’s less money on NHL games than say, the NFL, Leboff says a bad line won’t change as quickly, something sharp bettors can take advantage of. Last week, a wagerer I know did very well on the over of a game when he heard the goalie matchup, racing to his site before the odds changed. (His winnings evaporated Sunday, thanks to Anthony Stolarz’s brilliant performance for Anaheim in St. Louis.)

Leboff’s best advice: “The public data on the NHL is very good. A regular bettor should get familiar with sites like Evolving Wild and Natural Stat Trick. They are good and helpful.”

He looks for “predictive metrics” like expected goals at five-on-five, and how that relates to actual goals scored.

“Block out the noise,” he said, “like Friedman and Marek talking about the Leafs all the time, because it drives up their value. What’s said does not matter — look at the numbers in front of you.”

There you go; don’t say I never do anything for you degenerates. (By the way, if you’re looking to write on this topic, Leboff is seeking contributors at Michael.Leboff@actionnetwork.com.)

24. Antoine Morand, traded from Anaheim to Tampa Bay in the Alexander Volkov deal, went from scoring a goal to switching teams in one second. As word of the move was leaking out, Morand was in action, playing for AHL San Diego against Ontario. The Ducks’ organization did everything it could to prevent his name from getting out, so they could make sure he was informed face to face. Morand, on ice to protect a one-goal lead, scored an empty-netter at 19:59 of the third to clinch the 5–3 victory. After the buzzer, he was officially dealt.

25. A couple of NHL executives asked an interesting question: Is the “new” tanking going to be to finish in the bottom 11? The changed draft lottery rules mean — starting next season — you can only move up a maximum of 10 spots. If you’re 12th or 13th from the bottom, what do you do?

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March 23 2021

26. Heading into his interviews at the 2016 NHL Draft Combine, I heard Jakob Chychrun memorized the names of each team’s scouting personnel to make a good impression. He confirmed that was true.

“I had 20-something teams,” he said on the 31 Thoughts podcast. “I would look (online), guess who would be in there and do my best to remember it before I’d go meet with the teams. That was important to me. I think it’s just good manners.”

It’s great advice for anyone preparing for a job interview — or any situation where you’re trying to impress. That definitely made an impression. Chychrun, selected 16th overall by Arizona, said another story I’d heard was incorrect; that he’d worn Coyotes colours on that day because he thought they’d take him. The contact info of that source was deleted.

27. Chychrun, developing into one of the NHL’s top defenders, turns 23 on Wednesday. He’s in his fifth NHL season, a road littered with challenges. In the lead-up to the 2016 draft, he was, at one time, right up there with Auston Matthews as North America’s top prospect. But shoulder surgery after his first season at OHL Sarnia set him back.

“I was frustrated, hard on myself,” he said, as his ranking dropped.

He had 20 points in 68 games during his rookie season, and the Coyotes told him he’d be Alex Goligoski’s partner the next year. That summer, he injured a knee stepping into a pothole while doing hill sprints. He returned on Dec. 3, 2017, lasting 50 games before a slew foot caused another knee injury on April 3, 2018.

“I remember, when that happened in Calgary, I broke down right away,” he said. “I knew I was going to go through the same thing…. Another rehab summer. I had my little time to myself that night, and then the next morning I woke up and I texted (my doctors) and said, ‘Guys, we’ve got to buckle it in again. We’ve got the same thing (to) go through again.’ It was tough. I was tested mentally. I never lost hope. I never (doubted) myself. I always knew I was going to come back and be myself again. I never lost that drive and mentality.”

28. Through Sunday, Chychrun was 16th among defencemen in scoring, with 22 points. Victor Hedman is first, with 33. We asked if Chychrun could catch Hedman, pointing out the 2018 Norris Trophy winner also has a game in hand.

“He does, eh?” Chychrun laughed. “Well, maybe not, then.”

His nine goals are two back of Ekblad, Nurse and Petry for the lead. His 23:12 per night leads Arizona and is 29th overall.

“Big jump for me this year. I want to continue to take those big jumps.”

29. Capitals’ 2019 first-rounder Connor McMichael, who is playing at AHL Hershey, told NBC Sports Washington, “I honestly want to stay here and just play pro hockey. I think it would be best for my development.”

If he’s not on the NHL roster, the CHL Transfer Agreement states that McMichael must go back to the London Knights. He’s not the only one. Los Angeles’s Quinton Byfield (Sudbury), Montreal’s Jan Mysak (Hamilton) and Carolina’s Ryan Suzuki (Saginaw) would be in the same boat. (Looks like Jamie Drysdale and Trevor Zegras are Anaheim Ducks now.)

Other junior players have already migrated back to Quebec and Western League locations, but the Ontario government’s dilly-dallying over a start date to the OHL season is extremely challenging for these particular players. Even though they’d be eligible for the shortened quarantine if crossing the Canadian border, it sure sounds like McMichael isn’t alone in this thinking. Some already did an extended quarantine prior to the World Juniors and say it’s unfair to be asked to do another one, citing mental health.

30. Everything you needed to know about the love affair between Bob Plager and the St. Louis Blues was on full display the night the team won the 2019 Stanley Cup in Boston. He was on the ice with the team and lifted the Cup. I can’t remember another alumnus in an ambassador role afforded that honour, especially on the road. He loved the city, and the city loved him.

31. Wanted to shout out Steve Konchalski, officially retiring after 46 years as the men’s basketball coach at St. Francis Xavier University. Konchalski arrived as a player in 1962, leaving his native New York for Acadia. He was MVP of the Axemen’s national championship run in 1965, and I was in my final year at Western in 1993 when he won his first as a coach. That was his 18th season on the bench, and Konchalski had been taking heat for not winning it all. The Final Eight was in Halifax, and the building went berserk with the victory — Xavier students charging the court to make a giant X from corner to corner.

I interviewed him while he wore the net as a necklace. Konchalski would win two more titles and coach the Canadian national team. Very, very nice man. Great career.

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