Is Aaron Ekblad the next Nicklas Lidstrom?

Ken Campbell
Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Funny how Aaron Ekblad looks neither particularly dangerous nor lonely the afternoon before the 2014 draft. He’s sitting in his designated spot at the National Constitution Center, wearing an NHL-issued golf shirt, khakis and casual footwear (no socks), swatting aside questions with the same ease he does 16-year-old lightweights in the Ontario League. His hair has a blond streak and he’s well tanned, the result of having a little downtime after the season to spend on his family’s new Sea-Doo 21-foot Challenger boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor. There’s a certain irony that Ekblad, the day before he’ll be consigned to an NHL team over which he has absolutely no choice, is doing this in the same city where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed.

Ekblad’s emancipation from junior hockey, though, is almost complete. He’ll soon be a part of the Barrie Colts alumni. At 6-foot-4 with a cannon from the blueline, NHL hockey sense and the makeup to log big-time minutes, he’ll be playing in the best league in the world this coming season. On this afternoon, the only question is where. The Florida Panthers are dangling the first-overall pick and they’re getting some action, particularly from the Flyers, who want to make a splash in front of their fans. They also want the player who’s the most NHL-ready among all the prospects. “He’s a man,” says Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who stays up all night stewing over trade offers before deciding to take Ekblad. “He’s 18 going on 30.”
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After bumps in the road, Isles’ Kyle Okposo is proving his worth

Adam Proteau
Kyle Okposo (Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kyle Okposo’s favorite movie is The Count of Monte Cristo. The protagonist in the famous movie/novel is a teenager who appears destined for success, only to be thrown into turmoil beyond his control. While at his low point, he transforms himself into a learned man and goes about seeking revenge on a world that wronged him.

If you get to know Okposo, you can see why he loves this story. There are some striking similarities between the New York Islanders right winger and The Count. Okposo came into the NHL with much fanfare and a bright future, only to land in deep, sticky mud that caused him to question everything. But from that low point, Okposo has continued to develop and now he’s bent on leaving his mark on a hockey world that has doubted him too many times.

When the St. Paul, Minn., native was drafted seventh overall by the Islanders in 2006, he was coming off a big year at the University of Minnesota. He’d played at the legendary Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school and used to structure his class schedule so he’d have time to watch schoolmate Sidney Crosby practice. The world was his oyster bar, and he had an all-you-can eat meal plan.

But like all players not named Crosby or Jonathan Toews, Okposo discovered his road to the NHL was not going to be a simple one. After his 18-goal, 39-point rookie NHL season was followed up with a 19-goal, 52-point sophomore effort, he ran into roadblocks. Read more

When booze, smokes and a hint of sex paid our salaries

Jason Kay
Great moments in smoking

Today’s trends, tomorrow’s humor.

We’re pretty proud of our history at The Hockey News, with our rich and unique library dating back to 1947. But some of the content in our rearview mirror is curious, and some is downright hilarious.

Take the advertising. For the first few decades of our existence, the primary purchasers of space were alcohol and tobacco companies, targeting predominately a male audience. There were smaller, quaint ads, selling everything from local restaurants to skate sharpening to ice paint, but the vices drove the revenue machine.

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Hey NHL – let’s treat women as equals and ice the ice girls

Adam Proteau
Colorado Avalanche Ice Girls (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The hockey world has made great leaps and bounds in social awareness issues in recent years: the anti-homophobia You Can Play Project was embraced by players and teams, and racist epithets hurled at certain players are met with increasing disgust from the majority of fans. But there are still some areas in which the sport – and in particular, the NHL – can do better. One of them is in eradicating the misogyny, explicit and casual, that exists in the sport.

And one of the easiest places to start is by getting rid of half-dressed ice girls.

This issue isn’t about the cheerleaders themselves. It’s about what we ask them to do under the guise of “entertainment.” We ask them work for next to no money in frigid arenas with their shoulders, midsection and/or legs exposed. We ask them to objectify themselves – to be ogled and leered at by strangers – and never stop smiling. We ask them to reduce their contributions so that they’re little more than eye candy.

And really, why? What purpose does it serve? Nobody has demonstrated teams that employ ice girls sell more tickets than teams that don’t. Nobody leaves a game and says, “The best part of the night didn’t have anything to do with the action on the ice – it was when that cheerleader jumped up and down in co-ordination with other cheerleaders and said something positive about the team!”

More importantly, let’s look at what the presence of ice girls does to the paying female customer. Read more

From Seguin to St-Louis, NHLers train insane, just not the same

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Anthony Tuccitto)

At any given time in the summer, Matt Nichol has 
three or four of his 16 NHL clients working out at his gym in Toronto. They’re a mixed bag of stars, mid-range players and guys on the cusp. Each is as unique as the other, and no two train the same.

Take this quartet of Nichol’s, for example: Mike Cammalleri is 5-foot-9, 190 pounds and built like a brick. Wayne Simmonds is lean and lanky at 6-foot-2 and 183. Hal Gill is a small mountain at 6-foot-7 and 243. And then there’s Chris Stewart, who at 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds could easily pass for a linebacker.

“You couldn’t have four more different body types,” said Nichol, who also trains Tyler Seguin and Michael Del Zotto. “They can’t all do the same exercises.”

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The man who predicted the Rangers would go from last to the Stanley Cup

Jason Kay
Rangers Cup

The New York Rangers finished dead last in the Patrick Division in 1992-93, out of the playoffs and searching for answers.

Yet, remarkably, entering the subsequent season, THN senior writer Mike Brophy predicted they’d win the Stanley Cup when most figured Pittsburgh was a shoo-in for their third in four years. He explains why in the Oct. 15, 1993 issue of The Hockey News, and this edition of Throwback Thursday.

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Pixels and pucks: a history of hockey video games

Matt Larkin
NHL 94 image

Hockey video games have made an incredible journey over the past three decades, from pixelated characters to the spitting images of real players, from mindless fun to managing a salary cap, from something little kids play to something NHL players compete to represent. THN delves into the world of consoles to unearth the nuts and bolts of every 
landmark release and paradigm shift in how our great sport has appeared in game form.

 

THE 1980S: COLD, HARD STEEL

 

It is 1988. I am five years old. I kneel before a large Zenith television, encased in wood panelling, inches away from a black screen, brow furrowed in frustration. It worked yesterday. I thought Dad fixed it. I pop the hood of my Nintendo Entertainment System and yank out the cartridge. I stick my bowl-haircutted head against the console and blow inside of it until my lungs are empty. He said it was dust. I jam the game back inside, turn it on and hear the sounds I’ve giddily awaited. First the high-pitched SCHLING! Then the familiar, muffled voice: “Blades…of Steel.”

It brings Dad jogging into the room. We grab controllers, choose our teams and go head-to-head for three hours straight. He beats me 10 times in a row. I cry. His rapid puck movement reminds me of those Red Army guys he told me about. The game’s voice, which I swear has a hand covering it, haunts me: “HITS THE PASS. HITS THE PASS. HITS THE PASS.”

Mom, furious, tells Dad to let me win. “No way,” he says. “When he beats me for real, it’ll be that much better.” And he’s right.

Ice Hockey. The simplistic name implied its creator didn’t understand the material. You know who calls our sport “ice hockey”? People who don’t watch or play it.

It was thus not a huge surprise the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 1988 release Ice Hockey had four skaters per team, not five, and a few faceless nations to choose from. Colin Moriarty, senior editor for the juggernaut video game publication IGN and a classic games expert, describes it as one cog in NES’s nondescript sport series, which included such original titles as Golf and Baseball.

“The ice was a little bit more wide open and the game wasn’t a simulation at all as much as it was a very arcadey experience,” Moriarty says. “But it was still fun. It was still a classic game.”

Anyone who played Ice Hockey remembers it fondly for one fun feature. Among those gamers: Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of EA Sports’ NHL series, the pinnacle of modern hockey gaming.

“Nintendo hockey: the skinny guy, the fat guy and the medium guy,” he says. “Very basic game mechanics. The fat guy was strong and the skinny guy was quick and fast. That’s how it started. Back then it was figuring out the easiest way – the consoles weren’t anywhere close to what they are now – to get something that looked like hockey. That being a player moving on an ice surface, as opposed to all the other sports with running, and trying to make that as real as possible.”

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Penguins’ signing of Daniel Carcillo, Steve Downie makes Mario Lemieux a hypocrite

Adam Proteau
Daniel Carcillo (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

In the winter of 2011, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux sent a strong and public message to the NHL in regard to a “sideshow” brawl between his franchise’s players and those of the New York Islanders. Calling the incident a “travesty”, the retired Hall of Famer went on to talk about the type of league and game he wanted to be associated with:

“We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players,” Lemieux said. “We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated.”

Three years later – with Matt Cooke’s infamous legacy in Pittsburgh still relatively fresh in the collective memory of hockey fans – Lemieux’s team has made moves that suggest the integrity of the game and player safety isn’t as much of a priority as he’s suggested it ought to be: In July, the Pens signed expert agitator Steve Downie to a one-year contract; and Thursday, they agreed to terms on a professional tryout deal with journeyman and fellow super-pest Daniel Carcillo.

When you hear Carcillo’s and Downie’s names, the words “integrity of the game” and “safety” do not leap to mind. In fact, they run screaming away from mind. Read more