Is Phil Kessel a coach killer or Crosby without a supporting cast?

Ken Campbell
Phil Kessel (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It’s the Friday before the All-Star Game, and the NHL is conducting its (almost) annual dog and pony show with (almost) all the best players on the planet. It’s All-Star Media Day™ and Phil Kessel is being a remarkably good sport about it. He’s holding court, and though you get the sense in reality he’s about as comfortable as Richard Nixon during his first debate with John F. Kennedy, he’s doing his best to be whimsical. Clad in an NHL-issued hoodie and a Toronto Maple Leafs hat, he’s sporting what looks like a perpetual five-day growth, never getting shaved nor ever becoming more hirsute. Away from the 63-ring circus that is his existence with the struggling Maple Leafs, Kessel is as comfortable as he’s been in public in, well, forever, even though he tacks “right?” and “you know?” on the end of every sentence as though he’s searching for some kind of affirmation.

This is clearly not a Marshawn Lynch moment with a guy who has to be here to keep from getting fined. The way the NHL plays fast and loose with this event in terms of letting players off the hook for attending, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the league had allowed him to stay behind in his hotel room and watch movies all afternoon. The thing is, though, he’s been on the road a lot lately, and he’s seen every movie in the hotel loop of cinematic offerings. “Not the bad ones, though,” he says after some prompting. “Stay away from those.” Read more

Who knew? Turns out Colorado was the birthplace of ‘The Wave’

The Hockey News
'Krazy' George Henderson (The Denver Post)

By Joshua Kloke

George Henderson didn’t think it would happen where it did. He’d been a professional cheerleader for years, but the co-ordinated momentum that built through the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver Nov. 15, 1979, was entirely different. “The Wave” has become a staple of large, primarily summertime sporting events and many point to an Oct. 15, 1981 playoff game in Oakland between the Athletics and the New York Yankees as its debut.

Henderson, better known as ‘Krazy George’ and the inventor of the wave, remembers its origins differently.

“It actually started at a Colorado Rockies hockey game,” he said. “I had been doing it there for two years, but there was always such a small crowd that I never had it documented.” Read more

Get married during the season? Not when Conn Smythe ruled the Maple Leafs

Conn Smythe (B Bennett/Getty Images)

If you were a smart player when Conn Smythe ruled Toronto hockey – and he paid your salary – you didn’t mess with the ‘Little Major’ of Maple Leaf Gardens.

Smythe had his rules, and woe to those who chose to break them. One of Conn’s canons had to do with weddings. Get married during the season and – uh-oh – brother you’ll get Zamboni-ed right out of the lineup. Johnny ‘Goose’ McCormack, who just happened to be the Leafs best penalty killer, couldn’t wait and wed Margaret Gordon during the 1950-51 campaign. Alas, the Goose was cooked. Faster than you can say mazel tov, McCormack was sold to Montreal. Read more

Who makes THN’s All-Time Rookie Team?

Brian Costello
Wayne Gretzky (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The Calder Trophy is surely the most prized and special of NHL awards. If you plan on winning the trophy, you have to be spectacular at a young age and pretty lights-out right off the hop. And no matter how dominant you were in capturing the Calder, young man, you’ll never be able to win it again.

There have been a lot of exceptional freshman seasons over the years. Three first-year NHLers were so good, they won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Wayne Gretzky, Nels Stewart and Herb Gardiner are the centerpieces of our all-time all-rookie team, because, quite frankly, you can’t do any better as a rookie than also being named best player in the league. Read more

16 seasons. 22 teams. Zero NHL games. But the passion never left Frank Littlejohn

Ken Campbell
Frank Littlejohn (Photo Courtesy Brampton Beast)

Frank Littlejohn was most recently a Beast. Truth is, he’s been many beastly incarnations since he began his pro hockey career 16 years ago. He’s been a Glaciercat, an IceHawk, a Falcon, a River Rat, a River Otter, a Mallard, a Jackal and an IceGator. And that doesn’t cover half the teams he’s played for over the course of his hockey travels. He’s ranked as high as General, a Baron and a Privateer, but he’s also been a Lumberjack. He’s been a Nailer and a Checker, literally and figuratively. He’s even covered off the winter weather conditions as a Chill, a Blizzard and a Frostbite.

This issue of The Hockey News is known as our Rookie Issue, which showcases the players you’ll be seeing starring in the best league in the world for years to come. But for every Aaron Ekblad and Filip Forsberg, there are guys like Frank Littlejohn, who at 37 waits for the phone to ring with a minor league coach or GM on the other end, wondering whether he might be able to suit up and continue chasing the dream. Read more

Backchecking: Russian star Sergei Makarov speaks (very) softly but carried a huge stick

Sergei Makarov (Allsport /Allsport)

By Denis Gibbons

Terry Crisp bent over backwards to show Sergei Makarov respect when the great Soviet winger came to play in the NHL for Calgary in 1989. One day the Flames coach was drawing up a play on the board, illustrating to Makarov how to position himself. Suddenly, Makarov grabbed the chalk, crossed everything out and started making his own diagrams.

“Tikhonov bad guy, good coach,” he said to Crisp (in reference to the late Soviet bench boss). “You? Good guy, bad coach.”

Crisp, who had led the Flames to a Stanley Cup the year before, said Makarov, who played in the Soviet Union on the KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, probably had more talent than anybody he had ever coached. Read more

Auston Matthews or Jesse Puljujarvi – who’s No. 1 in 2016?

Auston Matthews (Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

During one of the off-days at the World Junior Championship, the way the camera lights were pointed, Auston Matthews of Team USA was literally standing in the shadow of Jack Eichel.

Don’t count on that lasting much longer. The Great American NHL Draft Hope of 2015™ (Eichel) and The Great American NHL Draft Hope of 2016™ (Matthews) were roommates at the WJC, a tournament that began what those at USA Hockey hope will be a long, championship-filled relationship. Read more

A letter to myself: Scott Hartnell tells his rookie self to keep his head up – literally

Scott Hartnell (Nhan Chu/Allsport)

(For our Rookie Issue earlier this season, we ask Blue Jackets veteran and NHL fan favorite Scott Hartnell to provide some advice to himself 15 years ago when he entered the league as an 18-year-old rookie with the Nashville Predators. This is what he had to say…)

Hey Buddy:

Wow, that was some hit, wasn’t it? You’ll probably never skate through the neutral zone with your head down when Darren Langdon is on the ice again, right? In case you’re wondering where you are at the moment, you’re in Raleigh, N.C. Actually, you’re in an ambulance and, yeah, that’s your dad riding with you. Way to screw up the Dads’ Trip there, pal. Read more