New Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan has always had “the protective gene”

Brendan Shanahan (Getty Images)

Let’s make one thing clear: Brendan Shanahan never used fighting as a tactic. There was nothing strategic or calculating about it. From the time he was seven years old, he knew what it was to defend himself or someone close to him. His father, Donal, was a big, strong man who preached pacifism, but as a child, the future Hockey Hall of Famer often could be found rolling around on sidewalks and lawns in suburban Toronto, taking on physical challenges the way kids often have to in order to prove their mettle.

It was simple, really: he either did the beating up, or was the beaten-up.

So as he got older and Shanahan’s two sporting loves – hockey and lacrosse – came calling, he was naturally prepared for what came next. That is, to a degree. Like everyone who goes from playing for fun to playing for keeps, he still needed an education. His experiences in major junior and the NHL created arguably the archetype of the modern-day power forward of the 1980s: a player who could give as good as he got, who had a universal respect for his fairness, and who never asked anyone else to settle his scores.

And those experiences, that education and that evolution still guide him – through his first off-ice career as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, and now as the new president and alternate governor of the Toronto Maple Leafs.



Shanahan showed up in London, Ont., in 1985 to play for the Ontario League’s Knights as a high first-round pick, tall and lanky and just 16 years old. As such, he was a target for opponents right off the hop. Then-Knights coach Don Boyd and team brass were surprised when they saw him more than hold his own in his first OHL fight – and Shanahan quickly realized a no-guff-taken attitude carved out a bigger place for him on the ice.

“It got me respect and room and space to score goals and be a better player,” Shanahan said. “There was no advantage growing up to being a decent fighter, but I found that during my first trip through each team I got treated one way, and my second trip through each team, I got treated differently.” Read more

World’s largest minor hockey league takes on hitting, finances

Ken Campbell
bodychecking photo

The biggest minor hockey league in the world will likely begin to progressively eliminate bodychecking at all age levels of its lowest elite age group by the 2015-16 season. All of which means players who play at the ‘A’ level of the Greater Toronto Hockey League will be able to play a reasonably high level of competitive hockey without worrying about body contact.

The GTHL recently conducted an expansive survey on the matter asking players, coaches and officials whether they wanted bodychecking removed from all age levels of ‘A’ hockey and 64.3 percent of the 4,000 who responded said they want it removed. Currently, there is no bodychecking in any competitive bracket of any age level from peewee (12 years old) and below anywhere in Canada. The GTHL move would eliminate body contact at all age levels for the ‘A’ bracket, but bodychecking would continue at the more competitive ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ levels. Read more

Revisiting Columbus hero Boone Jenner as a 15-year-old

Ryan Kennedy

The Columbus Blue Jackets are scrapping for their playoff lives right now, currently holding down the final wild card spot in the East. But nothing has ever been guaranteed for this franchise, which is why a player such as Boone Jenner is so integral to success. Jenner helped the Jackets to a critical 4-0 win over the New York Islanders yesterday, getting a greasy goal in tight to open the scoring, then dishing to Mark Letestu for another.

The first time I interviewed Jenner, he was 15 years old. You can read the article here. It’s funny how the roots of his gritty, determined play already seemed to be there, even as a youngster.

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The Sarnia Sting will take Jakob Chychrun first overall tomorrow

Ryan Kennedy
Jakob Chychrun

In a press conference at the team’s arena before lunch today, the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting announced what THN’s Ken Campbell first reported this morning: Jakob Chychrun will be the first overall selection in the OHL draft tomorrow.

Chychrun, a behemoth defenseman who was raised in Florida and whose father Jeff was an NHL enforcer, played for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season. He’s already 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, with a bomb of a point shot and great mobility.

“He was a man playing among boys,” one OHL scout told me. “Great offensive defenseman, but also a good defender. He’ll push the pace, but also gets back. He plays a composed game and he’s just scratching the surface.”

Chychrun has a lot to live up to as a No. 1 overall pick – the past two players selected in that spot by Sarnia were Alex Galchenyuk and Steven Stamkos. Barrie’s Aaron Ekblad was the last defenseman taken first overall and he may reprise that position in the NHL draft this summer. At the least, he’s a lock to be the first blueliner taken.

Chychrun will join a Sarnia franchise in flux. The Sting’s ownership situation may or may not be in transition, depending on who you believe, but at least the 16-year-old won’t be on an island. Defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and right winger Nikolay Goldobin are both top-50 talents for the NHL draft this summer, while fellow Jr. Canadiens alum Nikita Korostelev is coming off a successful rookie campaign.

Golden boy Nicholson has NHL in his future


There will be no need for Hockey Canada to give Bob Nicholson a golden handshake or a gold watch when he officially announces his departure on Friday. Nicholson already has approximately as much gold as Fort Knox.

Under his watch as president and CEO of Hockey Canada, his country has won seven Olympic gold medals (three men, four women), five World championship golds, 12 World Junior golds and 10 World Women’s gold medals. And speaking of gold, he has presided over Hockey Canada becoming a money-making monolith, both in terms of attracting sponsorship money and generating revenues from events. For example, the WJC in Montreal and Toronto could make a profit of up to $30 million, 50 percent of which goes to Hockey Canada. Read more

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson stepping down, but leaves organization at its peak

Adam Proteau

Longtime Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson is scheduled to officially announce his resignation from the organization at a news conference in Toronto Friday. There was no indication as to what he planned to do after spending more than 15 years in the position, but the longtime executive has been linked to NHL GM discussions in the past – and given that he leaves with Canada’s national team enjoying an incredible run of success, it’s unlikely he’ll be out of work very long.

Nicholson has held the title of president and C.E.O. for Hockey Canada since 1998, but was senior vice-president of the Canadian Hockey Association for the previous six years. During his time running the program Nicholson led Hockey Canada to seven Olympic gold medals (three men’s and four women’s, including both golds at the 2014 Sochi Games), 12 International Ice Hockey Federation world junior championships, five IIHF men’s world championships and 10 IIHF women’s world championships. To say other hockey federations want to match his results is an understatement. The Vancouver native has also steered the organization in its role as Canada’s sole governing body for the amateur side of the sport (ice hockey and sledge hockey) and produced phenomenal metrics in growing the game. Read more

“Wobbling” goalie dances up a storm for Columbus Cottonmouth fans

Adam Proteau
Andrew Loewen (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

SPHL goalie Andrew Loewen ceded some of the spotlight this week when his Columbus Cottonmouths signed Canadian Olympic women’s team netminder Shannon Szabados and started her in net last Saturday against Knoxville. But Loewen took it in stride. Well, it was more like a glide. Well, officially, the dance is called The Wobble – and Loewen put on a clinic when he shook his moneymaker with team cheerleaders during the game’s second intermission.

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Long drives and caribou stew: keeping the north alive

Ryan Kennedy

Coach Sal Lamantea is a busy man. His OHL Cup is over, but he’s got players heading in different directions and team pictures to hand out. Eventually, he’ll need to make it back home to Sault Ste. Marie, an eight-hour drive from Toronto.

But travel comes with the territory for Lamantea and his players, who came to the OHL Cup as Team NOHA, an all-star squad representing Northern Ontario. They were one of the first teams eliminated from the tourney, but several players will be selected in the upcoming Ontario League draft on April 5 and that itself is a victory for a region that long ago once stocked the NHL. Now, just putting together a competitive entry is tough.

“We’re drawing kids from Sault Ste. Marie all the way up to Kapuskasing and Hearst,” Lamantea said. “We’re talking seven or eight hour drives.”

Meanwhile, the population-rich Toronto scene put both teams in the title game with the Marlboros beating the Jr. Canadiens 5-0. The Marlies have made the OHL Cup final eight years in a row now, winning four times. Last year, they lost to the suburban Oakville Rangers and in fact, no team from outside the Greater Toronto Area has made the championship game since 2009, when Boone Jenner’s Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs fell to a Marlies team featuring Ryan Strome, Brett Ritchie and Stuart Percy.

But it’s not just the native population of the big city and its suburbs that give the GTA an advantage; kids from all over are coming to play for these teams. That championship Oakville Rangers team had kids from Sarnia, Ottawa and even Montreal, while several GTA teams have seen an influx of Russians join their ranks recently. While most of these places can deal with the loss of talent, it’s tougher in the north, which has a smaller population base and more geographic obstacles to overcome. Even staying up north is difficult for a burgeoning hockey star.

“It’s a bit hard,” said center Zack Dorval. “We always have to move because we don’t have AAA hockey in Hearst. But it is fun. We get to showcase what the North can do. We have great players and great programs.”

Dorval was recently named the NOHA minor midget player of the year and is considered to be on the bubble of the first round for this year’s OHL draft. An intelligent offensive player who was a leader at the OHL Cup, he comes from the same town as Philadelphia Flyers star Claude Giroux. Hearst is a speck on the Trans Canada highway, located about 11 hours from Toronto. Dorval played for the Soo Thunder during the regular season, seven hours away from home, so he billeted with a local Sault Ste. Marie family.

Though Dorval can only think of three NHLers who have ever come from his town – Giroux, Claude Larose and Rumun Ndur (who was born in Nigeria, but began playing hockey in Hearst) – the teen isn’t actually alone in repping the small French-Canadian enclave right now. Raphael Lecours is looking like a third or fourth round pick in the OHL draft this season thanks in part to the fact the center is already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds as a 15-year-old. Lecours is also a Hearst native who billets outside of town, though he plays in Kapuskasing, about an hour from home. When he does come back to Hearst, he can count on his mom cooking up a nice caribou stew – just in case you forgot how north we’re talking here.

“My parents go caribou hunting in Quebec sometimes,” he said. “We’re big moose hunters and we eat a lot of meat. In Hearst there is a lot of moose and it’s a big sport in our town.”

So when Lecours tells you he has a rifle, don’t assume he’s talking about his wrist shot.

“I’m a physical guy,” he said. “I have a physical presence, I work hard, compete and create a lot of energy off the bench.”

Even with those two however, Team NOHA couldn’t notch a win at the OHL Cup. It’s always going to be tough sledding for a squad that has little to no cohesion coming into the tournament. Development camp was in August. Scouts evaluate players through the year and in December they played in a Barrie Colts showcase tournament, carrying 23 players. Then they practised for a weekend in Sudbury in February, hosted by the OHL’s Wolves. Finally, they had practice and a video session in Sudbury right before leaving for the OHL Cup last week. But for the coach, playing on this all-star team is about more than just draft positioning.

“A lot of great friendships are born,” Lamantea said. “Guys that were rivals from Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury learn about each other and become friends. It’s about the whole package, not just the OHL draft – the life skills they’re learning from rooming with a guy you’ve only known for two hours and gelling.”

The 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs would not have won the Stanley Cup without Northern Ontario. Frank Mahovlich and Allan Stanley came from Timmins; George Armstrong, Jim Pappin and Eddie Shack hailed from the Sudbury area and Tim Horton was from Cochrane. Even though leading scorer Dave Keon was from Quebec, he was from Rouyn-Noranda, just across the border and less than three hours from Timmins.

But as Toronto fans can tell you, 1967 was a long time ago and most of the NHL’s best players now hail from the GTA: Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Tyler Seguin, just to name a few. Talking with fellow THNer Ken Campbell (a proud Sudbury native), there are many explanations and theories for the shift in demographics. Back in the Original Six era, most players learned the game on outdoor rinks and up north, the cruel winters provided longer seasons. The primary industries from those towns (logging and mining) also attracted men in need of jobs and if they or their sons happened to be great at hockey, all the better. Then there’s the professionalism of the sport these days, where anyone in Toronto with enough money can hire a skills coach or trainer with NHL clients, or rent out private ice (indoors) so their talented kid can become a very talented one.

So every year, Team NOHA fights an uphill battle when its players clash with the big city’s best. But they do still fight, and that’s the most important thing.