AHL’s Marlies give diehard Toronto fans an incredibly touching wedding present

Adam Proteau
Sean and Erin-Marie Boulton

When Toronto residents Sean and Erin-Marie Boulton were married this past Saturday, they had all that really matters: each other, and their families. But thanks to the American League’s Toronto Marlies, the couple also received a wonderful wedding present – the gift of hockey.

The Boultons originally were slated to tie the knot in September of 2015, but family health concerns caused them to move their wedding date up to May 24 of this year. The change in plans drained their financial resources and meant the diehard hockey fans and Marlies season ticket holders not only wouldn’t be able to renew their tickets for next season, but also prevented them from enjoying Toronto’s current AHL playoff run. However, their friends began making inquiries with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment management members – and after the wedding ceremony ended Saturday, one of the gifts awaiting them at the reception was a leather box with a blue ribbon around it.

Boulton tells the rest of the story in a touching blog post of his own: Read more

How The Hockey News ‘helped’ Jon Cooper get to the NHL

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Scott Audette/NHL)

Right above the urinal in the washroom of the Norfolk Admirals dressing room. That’s where coach Jon Cooper placed The Hockey News’ American League predictions from our Oct. 17, 2011, issue before the start of 2011-12. We had Norfolk finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. They ended up finishing first overall and cruising to the Calder Cup championship in a record-shattering season thanks to a remarkable run of 28 conescutive victories.

“Everybody had to stand and stare at it every day, so you can thank yourselves for being part of the motivation for our streak,” Cooper joked. “As soon as I saw it, I brought it in and said, ‘Look at where the biggest hockey magazine has put you guys.’ ”

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AHL Man of the Year Eric Neilson a soft-hearted enforcer

The Hockey News
Neilson_644x420

By Jared Clinton

The first thing you notice when talking to Eric Neilson is his presence – his voice booms. It makes sense that a man who makes his living playing as an enforcer would convey his 6-foot-2, 200-plus-pound frame just with his tenor. But even with his voice filtering through a phone, you can hear his cheeks pulled up in a smile.

All of this is to say that Neilson, contrary to his tough guy persona, is a gentle giant off the ice. So it’s no surprise that he received the 2013-14 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, which is given to the American League player who best exemplifies the spirit of community service. Neilson has been nominated six consecutive years – one for each of his full seasons in the AHL – but what makes his accomplishment more incredible is that he’s played those campaigns in five different AHL cities.

“I like to go where I get an opportunity,” said Neilson, who has played the past two seasons with the Syracuse Crunch. “That’s always my goal. I’ve been a journeyman throughout my career. I always try to go where my greatest opportunity is. I’m 29, but my goal is to one day play in the NHL.”

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Washington’s Andre Burakovsky

Andre-Burakovsky

Playoffs in the junior leagues are in full stride, while developments at the world under-18s have been intriguing to say the least. Team USA lost its first game to the Swiss before rebounding, while the Czechs are flying high and Canada is doing just enough to stay up top. Here’s a look at some of the top NHL prospects playing around the world right now.

Andre Burakovsky, LW – Erie Otters (OHL)

With 10 goals and 13 points through 12 playoff games, it goes without saying that Burakovsky is doing well for Erie, but you really have to see him live to appreciate the magic of the winger. Burakovsky loves to control the puck and uses his slick hands to weave through traffic, where a lethal wrister can then be employed to finish off the play. Considering he played against men last year in Sweden, it’s probably no wonder he is flourishing against players his own age now.

“Of course it was a little harder back home,” he said. “It’s older guys that know what they’re doing so you have to be really smart. Here it’s more physical; you have to keep your head up all the time and go a bit faster. And the hockey over here fits me better; I like the smaller ice.”

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Coming soon to an NHL team near you: This man

Ken Campbell
Jeff Blashill

Jeff Blashill and Jon Cooper are really close friends and it will only be a matter of time before they’re both living out their dreams as NHL coaches. You know all about Cooper now that he’s working his magic with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And sooner or later, you’ll learn about Blashill, who was named the American League’s coach of the year for his work with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

It may not be this summer, but Blashill will be an NHL coach very soon. And who knows? With all the coaching opportunities that figure to be opening up this summer, perhaps someone will take a chance on a 40-something AHL coach of the year and Calder Cup winner, the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Cooper. It’s not without its precedent. Since 2009, Cooper, Guy Boucher and Scott Arniel went directly from being AHL coach of the year to the head man behind an NHL bench.

“Personally, I think he needs another year or two to get more of a base of experience,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who hired Blashill as an assistant in Detroit before making him the Griffins head coach in 2012-13. “But I think he’s an NHL coach in the making, there’s no doubt about that.”

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Taking a slapshot in the mouth looks painful

Ryan Kennedy
Mitch-Callahan

Mitch Callahan is a gritty, hard-working prospect for the Detroit Red Wings currently plying his trade in the American League for Grand Rapids. He won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2011 world juniors, a Western League title with Kelowna in 2009 and a Calder Cup with the Griffins last year.

So of course his biggest moment in the spotlight is going to come from getting a slapshot right in the mouth. Callahan tweeted out a picture of the aftermath and it is not for the squeamish. If you’re not eating, take a look.

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NHL Prospect Hot List: Peterborough’s Nick Ritchie

Ryan Kennedy
nick ritchie

There’s a lot of movement in the prospect world right now as juniors and Europeans find their seasons ending, but the American League is still chugging along. From Robert Hagg and Dylan Labbe playing their first AHL games to Jake Paterson joining Grand Rapids, it’s an exciting time. There are also two intense Game 7s in the Ontario League playoffs Tuesday night, with Peterborough erasing a 3-0 deficit on Kingston and Niagara trying to hold off the favored North Bay Battalion. On top of that, Boston College, North Dakota, Union and Minnesota punched their tickets to the Frozen Four. Let’s take a look at some of the other names in the prospect world that we’re keeping an eye on.

Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
When Ritchie goes into beast mode, it’s tough to stop the young winger. At 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, he’s got the carriage to be an NHLer right now, but the Petes are happy he’s still with them. The power forward had two goals and a helper in Peterborough’s shocking come-from-behind Game 6 win over Kingston, a game in which the Petes trailed 3-0 before Ritchie got the 5-4 comeback started. But to hear the kid tell it, this was always a tight series.

“We were down 3-0 and all three games we lost were close ones,” he said. “Because we were playing so well, we knew the series was far from over.”

Part of the Petes’ success lately has been the top line of Ritchie and fellow 2014 prospect Eric Cornel with speedy center Hunter Garlent, who came over in a trade from Guelph and once played lacrosse with Ritchie.

“Ever since we picked up Garlent, we’ve been clicking,” Ritchie said. “We complement each other pretty well and we all like to move the puck.”

Citing Milan Lucic and Jamie Benn as NHL models for his game, Ritchie also has older brother Brett, the Dallas prospect, to lean on.

“I’ve tried to do everything he’s done,” Nick said. “I still try to watch his games when I can and we get excited for each other when we do well.”

Thanks to his combination of size, skill and snarl, Nick will likely be chosen in the top 12 this summer, besting his second-rounder brother. But Brett is already succeeding in the pros with AHL Texas, so Nick will have to keep working hard if he wants to keep the family tradition going. Draft eligible in 2014.

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Roy Sommer is a record-setting AHL coach, but his team would be lost without son Marley

The Hockey News
Roy Sommer

By Chris Kazarian

On a chilly Friday morning in the middle of January, all is quiet on the streets of Worcester, Mass., as workers in this proud city in Boston’s shadow have punched their time clocks, beginning the slow descent toward the weekend.

Deep inside the DCU Center, home to the American League’s Worcester Sharks, players who dream of NHL contracts are about to substantially raise the decibel level. It begins minutes after the Sharks’ morning skate in preparation for their home game later that night against the Springfield Falcons. As players walk the short distance from the ice to the dressing room, some throw their practice jerseys onto a rolling gray bin placed directly in the center of their stalls.

But not center Jon Matsumoto.

“Mo,” he calls out in a sing-song voice, holding up his jersey.

“Mo,” he repeats.

Within seconds a “Mo” chant reverberates through the wooden stalls of the Sharks’ dressing room as teammates join in.

‘Mo’ springs up from the corner and in a rocking horse fashion, runs up to Matsumoto, snags his jersey and slam dunks it into the bin, lifting his hands up triumphantly to a roar of approval. Read more