Golden boy Nicholson has NHL in his future

Nicholson

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
Bob Nicholson (DAVID COOPER / TORONTO STAR)

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
Zack-Dorval

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.

OHL Cup: Future top pick McLeod best of the best

Ken Campbell
Michael McLeod

By being named most valuable player in the OHL Cup, Michael McLeod has placed himself in some rare company. But being surrounded by elite hockey players is not exactly foreign to him. All he has to do is look around his own house or step outside for a ball hockey game to be surrounded by special players.

Michael McLeod will likely be a top-five pick in the Ontario League draft after leading the Toronto Marlboros to the championship of the OHL Cup with two goals, including one shorthanded, in a 5-0 win over the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. McLeod finished second in tournament scoring with seven goals and 11 points in seven games. The OHL Cup is symbolic of minor midget supremacy in Ontario and has been a springboard for a number of NHL careers. Other winners of the MVP trophy include Steven Stamkos, Sam Gagner, Sean Monahan, Casey Cizikas and Connor McDavid. Read more

“Trick” goal in women’s junior game pretty damn cool

Edward Fraser
Trick play (Screen Cap via YouTube)

 

A link to this goal from the Junior Women’s Hockey League semifinal game between the North American Hockey Academy and Notre Dame came across my desk this morning and I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. Needless to say, it’s pretty awesome. In fact, I think the people on the other side of the floor – and it’s a pretty big office – heard my “OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH.”

And now that I’ve (over)sold it…

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Szabados the latest pioneer in the evolution of women’s hockey

Adam Proteau
Shannon Szabados (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

When she skates out to start in net for the Columbus Cottonmouths Saturday night in Georgia, Shannon Szabados will be making history as the first female ever to play in the decade-old Southern Professional League. But in the big picture, she’s another bricklayer in the road today’s best females are building for generations of young women to come.

The 27-year-old Edmonton native already has risen to the summit of the women’s game, winning her second gold medal for Canada at the Sochi Olympics and establishing herself as one of its most dominant netminders. But this is a different kind of victory, a podium you step up on without hearing your anthem. Although Szabados won’t appear in an NHL game anytime soon, her time in Columbus isn’t just a publicity stunt. Playing against men who play the game for a living is a legitimate next-level achievement and a test for someone who has excelled when tested. Just as importantly, the fact she signed a professional contract Thursday and participated in a brief practice the same day only encourages other women playing the game to dream and push themselves, no matter how far-fetched their goal might sound to some. Read more

Prospect Watch: scouting reports from the OHL Cup

Ryan Kennedy
Logan-Stanley-OHL

The OHL Cup is a showcase for some of the best talents available in the Ontario League draft, which is coming up quick on April 5. This year’s tournament is being held at Buckingham Arena in Toronto, with teams coming from all over the province and parts of the United States where players are OHL eligible. There has been some amazing parity so far, with only two of 16 teams still unblemished (Ottawa Jr. 67’s and Toronto Marlboros) and every squad playing at least twice, but the big story is the absence of Toronto Jr. Canadiens defensemen Jakob Chychrun and Victor Mete. Both are considered top-five picks, but got injured before the tourney began. Nonetheless, there were a lot of excellent prospects skating on Wednesday, where I put together some scouting reports.

Logan Stanley, D – Waterloo Wolves

On the first shift of his tournament, Stanley demolished a Guelph puck pursuer. Of course, that’s a lot easier to do when you’re already 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds as a 15-year-old. And while Stanley likes the way Nashville star Shea Weber plays the game, I see a lot of similarities to Tampa’s Victor Hedman right now: A tall blueliner who skates very well, plays with an edge and can rush the puck up the ice. He has a decent shot and could use it more frequently, but it’s the movement combined with the size that makes Stanley such an intriguing prospect.

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