Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News' senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League's Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

What happened to the once-great Quebec goalie factory?

Ken Campbell
Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford

A popular notion is the impact of Quebec on goaltending has diminished significantly. That’s not true, not at all. After all, almost a third of NHL teams – eight to be exact – employ Quebec-born goaltending coaches. The shocking, and blasphemous if you’re from La Belle Province, fact is that total represents double the number of goalies from Quebec who are actually playing in the NHL.

Not including Martin Brodeur, who may or may not find NHL employment, the NHL’s Quebec goaltending fraternity could easily hold its meetings in a Mini Cooper. There was a time, when Patrick Roy made goaltending cool and the position attracted the province’s best athletes, when half the league had a starter or backup goalie from Quebec on its roster. Of the 60 possible goaltenders in the NHL in 2014-15, that number will have likely dwindled to four: Chicago’s Corey Crawford, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier and Florida’s Roberto Luongo.
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Gordie Howe’s condition takes turn for worse: “Definitely headed in wrong direction”

Ken Campbell
Mark (left) and Gordie Howe  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After a brief glimmer of hope following a stroke last month, hockey legend Gordie Howe has taken a turn for the worse over the past 10 days and, “is having a really difficult time here,” according to Howe’s son, Mark.

“Things are definitely headed in the wrong direction,” Mark said.

The younger Howe, in fact, sent an email out to family and friends last week telling them that Gordie Howe’s condition has been in rapid decline and that it might be time to consider hospice care for him. “Father Time and all Dad’s illnesses are pains are catching up with him rapidly,” he wrote. Read more

Penguins winning with possession, penalty killing, goaltending. Who knew?

James van Riemsdyk (left) and Evgeni Malkin (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

As has been the case for the better part of the past decade, the proof will be in the playoffs for these Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re the No. 1 team in the NHL at this moment in terms of winning percentage, but we’ve seen this act before. Nobody will believe this team is for real until the players and their goalie prove they can excel in the post-season.

But there is a different feel around this team. With guys like Nick Spaling, Patric Hornqvist and Steve Downie in the lineup, they’re certainly a little more difficult to play against. Heck, even Evgeni Malkin got into a fight in the Penguins 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night after he responded to a perfectly clean hit by Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf. There is a sense that not only do these Penguins have more of an edge, they also have more of a team concept in their own end of the ice. Read more

Teenaged Peter Forsberg had some advice for Leaf legend Borje Salming: ‘F— off’

Ken Campbell
Peter Forsberg (left) and Borje Salming  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

On the same weekend Peter Forsberg is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, fellow Swede Borje Salming was welcomed into Legends Row with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nice symmetry there. Salming was asked a softball question about his first memory of Forsberg and we all expected a heartwarming tale.

Instead, we got this. Salming recalled playing against a teenaged Forsberg in the Swedish Elite League in the early 1990s. One night Salming’s AIK squad was playing Forsberg’s MoDo team. “(Forsberg) was going crazy on the ice and screaming at the refs and everything,” Salming said. “I skated up to him and I tried to calm him down. I said, ‘Peter, relax, you’re going to get a match penalty.’ And he just said to me, ‘F— off.’ “ (Salming later confirmed that Forsberg said it in Swedish, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.) Read more

2014 Hall of Fame class highlights global reach of the game like never before

Hall of Fame Class of 2014 (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Take a close look at the four men who will be inducted in the players’ category of the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night. You’ll see something you’ve never seen before, and may never see again.

Four players, four different countries represented. A Hall of Fame cohort that includes Rob Blake, Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg and Dominik Hasek belongs in the debate of the best of all-time. We’re not going to get into that debate, but hey, the 1972 class included Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Hap Holmes and Hooley Smith. But there is no Hall of Fame induction group that represents the global reach of the game more prominently than this one. Read more

Former teammate Marc Savard feels Nathan Horton’s pain

Ken Campbell
Nathan Horton  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

If it turns out that this is the last that we’ve seen of Nathan Horton as an NHL player, there will likely be a segment of the population that figures Horton has had it pretty lucky. After all, he played the game he loved at the highest level and has made $38 million doing it, with another $32.1 million coming to him in retirement.

What’s a little back pain when that’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Well, the money is nice, but it won’t replace the void that is created by being robbed of the opportunity to do something you’ve done since you were a child. And nobody knows that better than Horton’s former teammate Marc Savard, whose career was suddenly ended 25 games into the 2010-11 season, largely because of a concussion he sustained on a hit from Matt Cooke the season before. Read more

Wrists and stick technology Phil Kessel’s Weapons of Rask Destruction

Ken Campbell
Phil Kessel (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Phil Kessel astonished the hockey world twice and crushed the spirits of the Boston Bruins Wednesday night with his lightning release, Brad Janson was watching from his living room in Kitchener, Ont., and he was not the least bit surprised.

You may not know who Brad Janson is, but hockey players certainly do. Janson has forged a career supplying sticks to some of the biggest stars in the game, which he currently does for Easton, the company that supplies Kessel with what Wednesday night was his Weapon of Rask Destruction. This past summer, at the urging of Kessel and Janson, Easton came up with a stick called the Stealth CX that has made Kessel even more dangerous than he was before.

Now it’s not all stick technology. Kessel’s wrists, which he built up religiously as a young player, are about three times the thickness of the average. And he obviously has a fast-twitch muscle memory that is the envy of any athlete. There is not a player in the league who gets the puck off his stick more quickly than Kessel does – Alex Ovechkin included – and his ability to do so catches goalies so unaware the puck is behind them before they know it. If you’re looking for comparables from the past, start with Steve Shutt and Mike Bossy.

Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle referenced Kessel’s second goal in his team’s 6-1 win over the Bruins as a perfect example of that. “The puck hits areas in the net that you’d never think they’d score from,” Carlyle said of players of Kessel’s ilk. “They puck hits areas in the net that you’d never think they’d score from. That second goal was a real surprise that he put the puck in an area where (Tuukka) Rask just couldn’t get to it, simple as that.”

Back to the stick. First, Kessel knows his sticks the way surgeons know their scalpels, which stands to reason since it’s such a big part of his game. He knows the minutest details of his stick and he’s obsessive about them. And because he shoots the puck so quickly, he needs a stick that has strength at the point where the blade and the shaft meet.

That part of the stick is known as the hosel. Even when traditional one-piece sticks are constructed, they start with a blade that has a hosel that is five-to-six inches long that is inserted into the shaft, then glued and sanded down and fused together. So it’s not really a one-piece stick. But what Easton did this summer at Kessel’s urging was make a true one-piece stick that does not have a hosel, thereby eliminating the weakest point in the stick.

“He doesn’t really take the stick off the ice,” Janson said. “He actually bends the stick and makes the stick snap back. That’s what propels (the puck). He wants that stick to snap back as quickly as possible so the puck flies off the stick. So we had to come up with a design that when he bends it, that it actually wants to snap back to its original state as quickly as possible. So we came up with a design where we eliminated the fusion of the blade and the hosel.”

For his part, the shy and reserved Kessel didn’t tip his hand when asked about the secret behind his shot. “I’ve been doing it for a long time,” he said. “I just kind of shoot it.”

Kessel’s teammates and coach were much more loquacious about his shooting. Linemate James van Riemsdyk sees Kessel’s shot up close every day in practice and in games and marvels at the way he is able to release the puck.

“He’s got that smaller blade and whippy stick and he’s able to just use it like a slingshot,” van Riemsdyk said. “It’s the stick, but if you gave that stick to me, I wouldn’t be shooting it like that.”

Carlyle was asked if he’s ever played with or coached anyone with that kind of release and he recalled his days playing with Rick Kehoe in Pittsburgh. In 1980-81, Kehoe had 55 goals using that same kind of pop. “He had the same kind of release,” Carlyle said. “He had that quick wrist shot. A different kind of player, but that release. And that’s the thing those special goal scoring players have. The release is something that is natural to them and they don’t waste any time.”

Hockey Canada will save a spot for Connor McDavid on WJC team

Ken Campbell
Connor McDavid (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

If Connor McDavid’s broken finger goes the distance and he’s out of action for six weeks, Hockey Canada is willing to wait and will save a spot for him on the Canadian team for the World Junior Championship.

The Erie Otters announced Wednesday night that McDavid suffered a fracture of the fifth metacarpal on his right hand – which basically means he broke his pinky finger – and is expected to be out of the lineup between five and six weeks. Six weeks from Wednesday is Dec. 24 and Canada opens its WJC schedule against Slovakia in Montreal Dec. 26.

Teams must finalize their 22-man rosters by 24 hours before their first game of the tournament, but an enormous factor working in McDavid’s favor is that teams are also allowed to keep one extra roster spot open that they can fill at any point in the tournament, and that player can play in any game provided he is added to the roster three hours before the game.

McDavid will be at camp when it opens Dec. 11 and by that time he will have been out of the lineup four weeks. Hockey Canada will monitor McDavid’s progress, but it’s clear it will keep the light on for McDavid as long as there is hope he can play at some point in the tournament. Even if he can’t participate in the final selection camp or any of the exhibition games, McDavid will be on the team if he’s healthy.

“We have a lot of good hockey players in Canada,” said Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations and national teams for Hockey Canada. “But Connor is a very special player. We want a 100 per cent Connor McDavid in the lineup and we’ll do anything to make that happen.”

Hockey Canada has dealt with injury issues before, so this is not a unique situation for the World Junior team. Salmond said it’s too early to tell, but he hinted Canada would be prepared to go with McDavid even if he is not 100 percent healthy. If he misses the entire camp and the exhibition games, it means McDavid will be hitting the ground running, exposing himself to an incredibly high level of competition after sitting idle for six weeks. But that’s clearly a situation Hockey Canada is willing to endure for a player who was on a 170-point pace with the Erie Otters before he was injured.

“We’ll have to see how his stickhandling and puckhandling will look,” Salmond said, “but he’s such a special player, if he can come in and play, I can’t think of a situation where he wouldn’t be put in our lineup.”

Salmond said he was with World Junior coach Benoit Groulx and head scout Ryan Jankowski at the Subway Super Series game in Brandon Tuesday night when he learned of McDavid’s injury and called it a “double whammy” because the Western League team also lost the game. But he said after everyone processed the situation and spoke with the Otters, they feel confident McDavid will be able to play.

“I think that would be the best Christmas present for Canadian hockey fans,” Salmond said, “and for us.”