No pinching necessary for Brad Newman

Ronnie Shuker
Newman_644x428

Brad Newman sits on the bench, hoping for the tap on the shoulder he’s been dreaming about for 14 years. Just 24 hours earlier, he cried when his coach told him he’d be dressing him for the game.

The first period goes by and Newman still hasn’t had a shift. He’s so close to realizing his dream of playing pro hockey, but it’s a tight game late in the season, Feb. 1, against Asiago, the second-best team in the Italian League, and Cortina SG is in a fight to make the playoffs.

How Newman even got to this point was a miracle. At 36, he hadn’t played competitively since 1999-00, yet here he was in the lineup for Cortina SG after begging for a tryout and playing the role of Rudy Ruettiger at practice for months, with no guarantee he’d play.

Newman, who grew up in Chicago, was a nominal player at Bowling Green, where he had just two goals and four points in 40 games over four seasons. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles and continued to play, but never anything higher than rec hockey for the next 13 years. Read more

Top five sophomore slumps of 2013-14

Conacher

By Jared Clinton

1. Cory Conacher
C, Buffalo Sabres
Early last season, Conacher was a sneaky favorite for the Calder Trophy. The diminutive forward was turning in an eye-opening offensive campaign in Tampa Bay when, out of the blue, he was dealt to Ottawa in exchange for Ben Bishop. History will not be kind to that trade. The Senators waived Conacher after he failed to show even moments of the brilliance that put him in the conversation for rookie of the year. In 79 games this season, Conacher failed to match the 11 goals he tallied in his lockout-shortened rookie campaign. Read more

Top 5 single-game performances from 2013-14

TJ Oshie

1. T.J. Oshie’s Olympic shootout
When the St. Louis Blue was tabbed for the U.S. Olympic team, his shootout prowess was in mind. Of the 29 NHLers with at least 10 shootout attempts this season, Oshie’s 75 percent conversion rate was tops. Imagine what his totals would have been if the NHL let any player shoot any time after the third round, as is the case at the Olympics. Because, in Team USA’s Sochi quarterfinal match against the host Russians, Oshie went up against Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk in an incredibly entertaining skills competition. American coach Dan Bylsma kept putting Oshie on the ice to counter the two Russian stars and in six shootout attempts, he scored on four of them. ‘T.J. Sochi’ singlehandedly pushed the Americans into the semifinal, saving them from an early exit and earning public praise from U.S. president Barack Obama.

2. Ben Scrivens’ record-setting 59-save shutout against San Jose
In less than a year, Ben Scrivens was traded from Toronto to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Edmonton, so you wouldn’t expect a nomadic player like that to set any positive NHL records. But on Jan. 29, Scrivens established an expansion era, regular season standard for saves in a shutout – and he did it against the mighty San Jose Sharks. Scrivens made 20 stops in the first period and turned aside all 59 shots for a 3-0 win. He surpassed Phoenix goalie Mike Smith’s record of 54 saves in a 2012 shutout and, obviously, Scrivens also set an Oilers record.

3. Kristers Gudlevskis, cinderella man
Speaking of things no one saw coming, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis almost led an upset for the ages when his underdog Latvian team scared all of Canada silly and threw a major fright into the nation’s Dream Team. A prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning who toiled for Florida in the ECHL and Syracuse in the AHL for most of 2013-14, Gudlevskis made 55 exhausting saves that game and had the Latvians in a 1-1 lock deep into the third period. But a Shea Weber goal with seven minutes remaining  gave the Canadians a 2-1 edge from which they didn’t look back and a country breathed again. Two months later, Gudlevskis appeared in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for Tampa Bay.

4. Tomas Hertl’s four-goal magic
In just his third NHL game, San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl launched his campaign for the Calder Trophy, setting himself up as the early favorite. On Oct. 8 against the New York Rangers, the Czech scored four goals on seven shots in a 9-2 San Jose romp. But it wasn’t just the stats-packed night that got Hertl a ton of attention – it was the between-the-legs breakaway goal that put him in the spotlight. He scored it against Martin Biron, who retired less than two weeks later. If Hertl hadn’t have gotten injured, the Calder race between him and Nathan MacKinnon would have been ferocious.

5. Teemu Selanne’s bronze medal game
The ‘Finnish Flash’ had his ice time cut this season and his role has been less pronounced in his later years, but on the Olympic stage, Selanne remained the go-to guy for Finland. Selanne scored four goals and six points in six Sochi games, and saved his best for last against the Americans in the bronze medal game. Selanne scored twice in his final appearance to lead his country to a 5-0 win, which earned Finland its fourth men’s hockey medal in the past five Olympics. Though the Suomi has never captured gold, no country has medalled more in the NHL Olympic era – and Selanne was there for each one.

This article originally appeared in the May 26 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Alex Ovechkin to KHL would be blessing in disguise for Capitals

Adam Proteau
Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

At first blush, the idea of Alex Ovechkin leaving the NHL to go home to his native Russia and play in the Kontinental League seems screwy. Unfortunately, after nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has failed to live up to expectations – if not as an individual, then certainly as the driver of a team.

His Washington Capitals are awash in mediocrity and have moved from being a bona fide Cup contender to a draft lottery candidate. He won his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy, but had the NHL’s third-worst plus-minus (minus-35). Where once he was the Hockey Elvis, he’s now the King in his unhappy later years, surviving on what he’s always been good at, but never growing as an artist.

So now when you wonder if Ovechkin could actually leave the NHL for the KHL, the question doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. Increasingly, it’s near-fetched. And to this writer, it seems like the best solution for the star and the Capitals. Read more

Backchecking: Nathan Perrott

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

Nathan Perrott is no stranger to the trials of training camp. His NHL career started at Nashville’s in 2001 and ended when he was released from New Jersey’s in 2006. He’d been through plenty of gruelling hockey trials, but nothing that could help him in the preparation needed for his current job: use of force, gun training, shooter situations, rapid troop deployment and advanced counterterrorism tactics.

It’s all Jack Bauer 24-type stuff, crammed into 12 weeks of boot camp at a military base. Not your typical NHL training camp and not your typical job. As a former NHL enforcer, Perrott used to get paid to defend his teammates with the Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, but now he’s part of a paramilitary team paid to defend the world’s second-largest nuclear power plant. He still wears a helmet to work, but he’s traded his shoulder pads and stick for a Kevlar vest and assault rifle.

And just like when Perrott played in the NHL, his team at the Bruce nuclear plant in Owen Sound, Ont., has its superstars. The Bruce tactical response team has won multiple SWAT championships in the U.S.

“They train hard, those guys,” Perrott says. “They’re right there with any of the NHLers for being in shape.”

His career has taken him through minor leagues, the NHL (four goals, nine points, 251 penalty minutes in 89 games), Russia and the pro boxing world, but Perrott never expected he’d grow up protecting the same nuclear plant where his mother worked during his childhood.

At 33, four years removed from playing in the NHL, Perrott was in nearby Walkerton, Ont., for a senior hockey game when a friend urged him to apply at Bruce Power.

“I realized it was time to turn the page in my life and I wasn’t getting any younger so my hockey skills were quickly diminishing,” he says. “I saw the security job and I thought that’d be a perfect fit for me.”

Nowadays, Perrott, 37, is fitting in as a skills coach with the Ontario League’s Owen Sound Attack and as an assistant minor hockey coach for the oldest of his three sons. And he’s got plenty of experience to share. After the Devils made him a second-round pick in 1995, Perrott later signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. But he didn’t play for either team. It wasn’t until Chicago traded him to Nashville in 2001 that he had his first regular season action. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Predators, Leafs and Stars before winding up with Chekhov Vityaz of the Russian Superleague in 2007.

Perrott played there for two seasons and witnessed the dawn of the Kontinental League, along with some of its early hiccups.

“They made everybody take a 20-percent pay cut,” he says. “The Russian guys always said, ‘Well, it’s Russia, what do you expect?’ ”

If Perrott learned one thing in Russia, it was to expect the unusual. He remembers the old lady who used to pay Chekhov players out of a shopping bag packed with millions in U.S. dollars.

“She’s coming from the bank, guys would line up by the (dressing room) door and they’d pay your bonus money,” he says. “This little old lady wouldn’t even have a guard with her.”

Chekhov Vityaz’s owner was the money guy behind Olympic boxing gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, whose Olympic training gym was near the Vityaz rink. Perrott soon started training there as a boxer and returned to North America for three pro bouts. He went 1-2, winning his debut fight over Makidi Ku Ntima.

“That was awesome because the guy was tough,” Perrott says. “I knocked him out right at the end of the fourth round.”

But even that taste of boxing glory couldn’t beat his greatest hockey memory. For most NHLers, that moment is a big goal or a title. For Perrott, it was an opening faceoff at the Air Canada Centre. It was the only time he started a game in the NHL and he was in good company. Ed Belfour was in net. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were on the blueline. And lining up at left wing, skating alongside Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, was lifelong Leafs fan Nathan Perrott.

“It was really exciting,” Perrott says. “You dream about it as a kid and it’s way better. The reality is better than anything you can imagine.”

Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Why the Ryan Miller experiment failed in St. Louis

Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller and St. Louis sure looked like an ideal match at first. He went 7-0-1 in his first eight games after arriving from Buffalo via trade in late February. The Blues were THN’s Stanley Cup pick, and we viewed Miller as the goalie to take them all the way.

The honeymoon phase fizzled quickly, however. The Blues ended the regular season with six straight losses and Miller started five of those games, allowing at least three goals each time. The slump cost St. Louis the Central Division and led to a matchup with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Miller wasn’t the reason St. Louis lost in six games, but he didn’t steal any. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews beat him with backbreaking overtime winners in Games 4 and 5. He posted an .897 save percentage.
Miller’s future is cloudy for the second straight summer. He’s 34 in July and an unrestricted free agent. Pundits can’t decide if he’s overrated or underrated, one good situation away from recapturing his 2010 Vezina Trophy form or doomed never to win the big game. Miller declined a request to discuss his future.

In two months, “When will the Blues re-sign Miller?” became “Should the Blues re-sign Miller”? Dismissing goalie coach Corey Hirsch suggested the Blues brass were directing blame for their early exit away from Miller, but in the end, GM Doug Armstrong decided to wipe the slate clean, announcing St. Louis was moving on from Miller and retaining UFA Brian Elliott.

How unhappy were the Blues with the goalie who, along with Steve Ott, cost them Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, William Carrier, a first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick? Coach Ken Hitchcock, for his part, reserves judgment given the sample size. “I wish we had more practices with him,” Hitchcock says. “Because we had played four or five less games than anybody, our March and April were absolutely packed. We had very limited time working with Ryan and the rest of the players.”

Read more

What it will take to break these NHL records

The Hockey News
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

By Jason Wryghte

Although Wayne Gretzky has repeatedly said he believes his career scoring records will be broken, he’s got to be the only one. To consistently score at the rate Gretzky did is almost incomprehensible when juxtaposing his totals with today’s NHL. In order for The Great One’s goal total of 894 to be surpassed, it would have taken the league leaders in goals from the past 18 seasons combined. This year’s top sniper, Alex Ovechkin, scored the “record breaking” tally Nov. 5 against the Islanders when the Caps forward blew a shot past goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. How many seasons of league leaders in other categories would it take for some of the NHL’s other all-time marks to fall? Read more