Minnesota Wild Tattoos
Wayne Ojala, Cloquet, Minn.
Minnesota Wild Tattoos
Wayne Ojala, Cloquet, Minn.
The Edmonton Oilers have their first mascot in franchise history, and kids seem to like Hunter, the Canadian lynx, despite the fact he has piercing cat eyes and fangs.
The Edmonton Oilers said goodbye to Rexall Place this past season, leaving behind 42 years of memories and tradition, but with the official NHL opening of Rogers Place only weeks away, the Oilers are looking to start some new traditions.
One of those new traditions includes the introduction of a mascot, the first-ever in franchise history. And while it’s all well and good that the Oilers are trying to get into the mascot game for the first time, the creation the team has introduced is more on the side of terrifying than cute and cuddly.
The mascot is a lynx, named ‘Hunter’ in honor of original Oilers owner Bill Hunter. While the anthropomorphic animal may seem an odd choice when a big ol’ oil drop with eyes probably would have sufficed for a mascot, there is a bit of a backstory for Hunter.
There are lynxes throughout the Edmonton River Valley, which is said to be where Hunter came from, but the origin story for the mascot goes well beyond him just showing up to work after making the trek to Rogers Place. It includes watching kids play hockey after coming out at night to hunt and him burrowing under Rogers Place until the building was ready.
“During the winter of 2013 I heard many shinny players talking about a new, world-class building that my beloved Oilers were going to play in. I was ecstatic, and knew right then and there that this was my chance to get in on the action,” Hunter’s origin story reads. “On the night before the first shovel hit the ground, I packed up my stuff and made my way to 104 Ave and 104 Street, where I built a secret den under the construction site, watching and waiting for this magnificent building to be completed. Just as the finishing touches were being made to the building, I revealed myself to the Oilers.”
What a pleasant surprise an almost seven-foot-tall lynx with piercing eyes must have been for those lucky few who first got to meet Hunter.
Hunter’s unveiling has been met with, uh, mixed reviews, we’ll say. A fair share have pointed out the connection between Hunter, a lynx, and the Oilers hitting the links early for the past decade, and the eyes and fangs haven’t helped make Hunter look that inviting a furry friend.
Tell me this isn't weird pic.twitter.com/qGdLdPk5MQ— Josh Gold-Smith (@GoldAndOrSmith) September 26, 2016
However, among the target audience and the people who really matter when it comes to the mascot, Hunter seems to be a hit. More than 2,000 kids were surveyed and Hunter was the most popular choice for the new mascot, and the kids seemed less frightened by his gaze than one would expect.
“The mascot character will certainly not be at the forefront of our game-night experience but will add a new element to our presentation toolkit,” Oiler Entertainment Group senior vice-president of marketing Jeff Harrop told the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones.
“Having that mascot character to do the things in the community, especially in the child-centric places, whether it’s festival, hospital or school visits, is going to be a nice piece to engage those future Oilers fans.”
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Team Sweden came into the tournament as a favorite to make the final. And now it's out because of the way it approached the game.
Let’s get something straight here. Sweden did not lose the semifinal game in the World Cup of Hockey because of a disputed goal in overtime. It did not lose because it failed to score on the power play. It didn’t lose because all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist dropped his stick at one of the most inopportune times of his career.
The Swedish players are heading to NHL training camp instead of the best-of-three final in the World Cup of Hockey because they decided - or probably more accurately, had it decided for them - that they were going to play chess until the third period of their 3-2 overtime loss to Team Europe. They played the game afraid to lose and that’s exactly what happened. It was a display of a dull, turgid, safe and utterly ridiculous brand of hockey given their level of talent that came back to haunt them.
And for that we should all be grateful. Even if you’re Swedish. Because perhaps the people who run the national program in Sweden will go back and realize what an opportunity they frittered by taking a bunch of thoroughbreds and forcing them to trot their way around the track. That’s not how these players play in the NHL. That’s not how they’re wired. Players such as Erik Karlsson have to go and holding them back should not be rewarded.
And it this case it was not. Had Sweden somehow underachieved its way to the World Cup final, it would not have highlighted how absolutely terrible this approach was. Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog, who told Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada after the first period that, “We kind of stood around waiting for each other,” capsulized the game plan right there. Then he added: “We’re in the World Cup of Hockey semifinal. You’re not going to give them anything just to play beautiful hockey.”
Sweden was outshooting Team Europe 10-5 after the first period, then took a 1-0 lead 2:31 into the second. Perhaps thinking one goal would be enough to win, the Swedes eventually shut it down and collapsed, sending the game into a lull of ennui that made it darn near unwatchable. And if they had won, they would have been rewarded for it. But they didn’t, so that’s a good thing. Only after Tomas Tatar made it 2-1 12 seconds into the third period did the Swedes decide they needed to play with just a little more urgency. And by that time, Team Europe goalie Jaroslav Halak had found his groove. If not for a Karlsson floater that hit Roman Josi’s stick, the overtime wouldn’t even have been necessary.
The Swedes obviously saw this game a lot differently than your trusty correspondent did. When asked why with all this talent, and a brain trust that included Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom, his team could play the way it did, Swedish coach Rikard Gronborg responded by saying he thought his team played well.
“I don’t think we were passive. I think you’re wrong there,” Gronborg said. “We need to show patience, and I think we showed patience. But at the end of the day when they’re scoring six goals against us in an exhibition game, we didn’t show patience. That’s what happens. This is a very good team we’re playing against. What we wanted to do was obviously make sure we don’t get turnovers and we don’t get odd-man rushes against, and I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight. We put ourselves in a position of winning this game. In the offensive zone we don’t put reins on our players. We don’t put defensive assignments in the offensive zone. So I don’t think I agree with you there.”
Looks like we weren’t watching the same game. Nobody said the Swedes had to get all turnover happy and turn the game into a round of pond hockey, but at some point, don’t you realize you’re better than the other team and play to your strengths. The Swedes lost 6-2 to Team Europe in the final pre-tournament game and instead of using that game as a lesson on how to manage the puck better, it responding by thinking it couldn’t try anything creative.
“That’s what teams have done against them and that’s why they lost against this team,” Daniel Sedin said. “They’ve been playing a full-out attack and you can’t do that against this team. They want us to make mistakes and we played a patient game thinking it was going to pay off in the end and it didn’t. It’s easy to say after the game that we should have attacked more.”
Actually, it was quite easy during the game to say that. Anyone who was watching could see where that game was going. And the fact the way it went the way it did is a setback for Sweden, but a triumph for the game. Sweden teased us all tournament, telling us they still hadn't played their best game. They certainly didn't do that Sunday and now they won't have a chance to do it again in the World Cup.
Sam Gagner already has four points in two pre-season games for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he shook Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre with a remarkable shootout goal to down Boston on Monday.
Sam Gagner was and is too skilled for no team to take a shot on him this past off-season, and it wasn’t surprising that by August the 27-year-old pivot had found himself a job with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But after a difficult season — inarguably the worst offensive year of his career — with the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s easy to forget just how skilled Gagner is with the puck and exactly the talent level he brings to Columbus. Thankfully, and for our viewing pleasure, Gagner wasted little time this pre-season doing his best to remind hockey fans everywhere the type of ability he can bring.
In the Blue Jackets’ pre-season tilt against the Bruins, goals from Columbus’ Sonny Milano and Daniel Zaar were matched by Boston’s Jimmy Hayes and Danton Heinen. With the clubs deadlocked at two, the exhibition game went to overtime and, when that solved nothing, a shootout.
It was in the breakaway competition that Gagner flashed one of his signature shootout dekes, but he did so with such speed and seemingly with such ease that one would think he was trying to prove that he’s still got a lot to give. Check out this fantastic goal:
The way Gagner fakes the backhand with the reverse toe-drag almost makes you feel bad for Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre, who played the unfortunate role of the goaltender stunned by the dazzling deke.
What might be even more promising from Gagner than the shootout goal, however, is the fact that he got such a big role during the pre-season game.
While it’s still exhibition and roughly half the forwards were players who won’t be suiting up in Columbus this coming season, Gagner has to be excited by the fact he skated 18:36 against the Bruins after averaging less than 14 minutes per game in Philadelphia in 2015-16. The only forwards who boasted a higher ice time were Brandon Saad, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alex Wennberg, but no one saw as much time as Gagner on the power play.
Gagner has been contributing in Columbus when he’s been on the ice, too. Through two games, he had one goal and four points, picking up his third assist of the pre-season Monday against Boston.
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Mississauga's towering defenseman leads off our weekly round-up of prospect talent – and he's not content with just being a shutdown specialist.
We’re back, folks. Another year, fishing for gems in the world of prospects. This is a tricky time of the season, since some of the best youngsters are still at NHL camps. So take your CHL results with a grain of salt until further notice. But it is nice to see Ryan Moore and Nicholas Caamano (Dallas) give the fans in Flint something to cheer about early on. Let’s get to the list, shall we?
Nic Hague, D – Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Hague was already one of Mississauga’s best defensemen last season, but thanks to his late birthday, he gets another full year to state his case in front of NHL scouts. So it’s kinda funny to think that he’s only starting his second year of major junior. Hague played his 16-year-old year in his hometown of Kitchener with the Jr. B Dutchmen – and it wasn’t because of an NCAA decision.
“I felt really young,” he said. “I wanted to take back a year just for me; stay home, get Grade 11 out of the way. I felt I wasn’t ready yet and I would have stepped into a No. 6 or 7 role in Mississauga. With the Dutchmen, I was a 1-2 guy, getting power play time, killing penalties…I always had the puck on my stick. That year helped me improve a lot.”
Last year, his rookie OHL campaign, was pretty good too. The 6-foot-5 shutdown defenseman helped the Steelheads push heavily-favored Barrie in the first round of the playoffs, only succumbing after seven games.
“Going into that series, we were supposed to get swept,” Hague said. “When we came back in Game 2, that was an eye-opener for us. It made a lot of guys realize we could compete with the best in the league. In this year’s playoffs, we want to go all the way.”
And there are some pieces to do so. Hague will be key on defense, using his reach and body to discourage incursions to the net. He’s about 210 pounds now but sees himself at 215 and perhaps even 225 eventually – as long as it’s muscle he’s putting on. Hague also wants to make sure he doesn’t get pigeon-holed as defense only. He had 24 points as a rookie and two in his first two games this year.
“I really like being put in those situations,” he said. “I don’t consider myself just to be a shutdown guy; I like to jump up in the play and I feel comfortable on the power play.”
As he continues to grow both physically and game-wise, Hague will be a lot to handle – and he’s clearly not going to stand still when it comes to his development.
In the Pipeline
Matt Luff, RW (Los Angeles): The Kings are getting a pretty good return on their most recent investment. Luff was just signed as a free agent last week and is already piling up points for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The league’s player of the week notched six points in two games, largely thanks to his shot and instincts.
Ales Stezka, G (Minnesota): The USHL goalie of the week. Stezka became the first Chicago Steel netminder ever to record a shutout in his opening night debut. The Czech native has a big frame and will be one to watch for the world juniors this year.
Ilya Sorokin, G (New York Islanders): Once again, Sorokin is thrashing the KHL for CSKA Moscow. The quick netminder has posted two shutouts in his first eight starts and is rocking a .949 save percentage, good for third overall. He’s also undefeated in regulation, going 6-0-1 so far.
Fredrik Karlstrom, C (Dallas): Karlstrom is one of the top scorers in Sweden’s second-best circuit (the Allsvenskan) so far, jumping out with five points in his first five games against men. The AIK center is fast, big and aggressive – a nice combination.
2017 Draft Stars
Nolan Patrick, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): The consensus No. 1 prospect for the draft, Patrick missed Canada’s world junior camp in the summer due to sports hernia surgery, but made it back in time for Brandon’s season opener. The result? Two points for the all-around center in 3-2 overtime loss.
Michael Rasmussen, C – Tri-City Americans (WHL): Hard to top Rasmussen’s season debut. The imposing 6-foot-5 center rang up four goals against Spokane, then added another the next night in Portland. Needless to say, he’s your early leader in tallies.
Clayton Phillips, D – Fargo Force (USHL): The University of Minnesota commit is going to be a very dangerous offensive defenseman this season for the Force. Phillips got rolling early, with two goals in his first game, earning him USHL defenseman of the week honors.
Erik Brannstrom, D – HV 71 (Swe.): With five points in five games, Brannstrom is off to a cracking start to his draft year. Scouts love this kid, who brings skill, skating and details to the blueline – one told me he’s “the closest thing to Kimmo Timonen that I’ve seen.” Size is the only concern, as Brannstrom comes in at 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds right now.
2018 Draft Stars
Benoit-Olivier Groulx, C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Teams better get a handle on Groulx quick, because the kid is great at finding those soft areas in the offensive zone that lead to goals. The son of famed coach Benoit Groulx has two tallies in his first two games since going first overall in the Quebec League draft this summer.
Filip Zadina, LW – Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.): The Czechs were a great story this summer, winning the Ivan Hlinka tournament on home ice after years of Canadian dominance. Zadina may turn out to be an even greater story, as some scouts believe he could vie for first overall in 2018 thanks to his high-end motor, shiftiness and shot. He basically does everything well.