Phoenix Coyotes\' Martin Hanzal, right, of the Czech Republic, checks Vancouver Canucks\' Alex Burrows, left, as Coyotes\' Boyd Gordon ducks while sitting on the bench during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday April 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Author: The Hockey News
Phoenix Coyotes pushing for playoffs but slump to poor loss against Canucks
VANCOUVER - The Phoenix Coyotes were a team on a mission.
They arrived in Vancouver on the strength of three straight wins on home ice and without a loss in regulation dating back to March 25 against Detroit.
But the Coyotes' recent surge hit a snag in their timid 2-0 defeat to the Canucks on Monday. Phoenix (17-16-6) started slow and barely recovered, finishing with just 19 shots on goal.
Goaltender Mike Smith did all he could to keep his team in the contest, stopping 41 shots, but his performance failed to inspire a lacklustre Phoenix offence.
"We just didn't create enough to give ourselves chances and good looks to put the puck on net," Smith said.
"Credit to them they did a good job of getting in our face and making it hard on us to get pucks back in their end, but when you're facing elimination like we are we've got to be more desperate than we showed tonight."
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was disappointed with the display and even more annoyed with his team's inability to build on Smith's work between the pipes.
"We were just slow moving, we were slow out of the gate for whatever reason," he said. "It's not a lack of confidence, we should have confidence coming off some good home wins, but we didn't execute well, we didn't skate well and that's what you get when you don't execute and don't skate."
While it was only Phoenix's first regulation defeat in seven games, it was a critical loss. With only nine games remaining in the shortened season, the Coyotes still sit three points behind the eighth-placed Red Wings.
It may not appear to be a big gap, but six of Phoenix's remaining games are on the road and it has struggled outside Arizona, going 4-9-5.
"We haven't executed nearly as well on the road as we have at home," Tippett said.
"It's little plays getting made, it's playing a sound game and we just haven't been able to get enough people to get up to snuff like they are at home."
Added Coyotes captain Shane Doan: "We've just got to get back to playing the way we've been playing for the last six or seven games and give ourselves a chance.
"Obviously it makes the next two on the road (against Edmonton and Calgary) that much more important."
John Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, but Peter Laviolette managed the feat in fewer games and the numbers point to him being the best American NHL coach of all-time.
John Tortorella is used to making headlines, but when he did so as the first American-born coach to win 500 games in NHL history, it was reason to consider Tortorella among the greatest American-born big league coaches of all time. He has the Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award, the milestone 500th win and he’s climbing the all-time wins list with each passing victory.
But it’s hard to argue that Tortorella is the greatest American coach the NHL has seen with Peter Laviolette hot on his heels.
On Sunday, Laviolette did what Tortorella had done one month earlier: he became a 500-game winner, the second American-born NHL bench boss to hit the half-grand mark. The thing is, though, Laviolette’s climb to win No. 500 has been more impressive than Tortorella’s and it would seem as though it’s only a matter of time before Laviolette finds his way back on par or above Tortorella on the all-time wins list. And purely statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette being not just the better of the two bench bosses, but the best American-born NHL coach in history.
For some, putting Laviolette in the same conversation as Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks is akin to hockey heresy. There’s reason for that. The accomplishments of Johnson and Brooks are legendary. Johnson is arguably the greatest coach the NCAA has ever seen, a Hall of Famer twice over and a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91. Johnson had his NHL tenure cut short, tragically passing away in November 1991 to brain cancer. Brooks was likewise a standout coach in the NCAA, a Hall of Famer three times over and most famous for leading the United States to gold at the 1980 Olympics. Sadly, Brooks passed away in August 2003 as the result of a car accident.
The legacies of both Johnson and Brooks are untouchable and their importance to the game as coaches in the United States will never be matched. For both, though, their greatest work and most lasting mark was made outside the NHL — Johnson at University of Wisconsin, Brooks for his part in the ‘Miracle On Ice.’
It’s hard to know where Johnson’s career would have gone had he been able to continue coaching. The 1991-92 Stanley Cup seemed a given, at the very least, but beyond that it’s impossible to say. He finished with 234 wins in 480 games behind the bench, and went 41-35 in the post-season. As for Brooks, he coached 506 games and has a perfect .500 points percentage — 219 wins, 219 losses, 66 ties and two defeats in extra time. In the playoffs, Brooks went 19-21. From a purely statistical point of view, neither matched what Laviolette or Tortorella has accomplished in the NHL.
So if Johnson and Brooks are removed from the discussion, the debate comes down to Laviolette and Tortorella, with a handful of present-day coaches sprinkled in. Despite who’s added to the mix, though, it’s hard to choose anyone but Laviolette as the best American-born coach the league has seen.
While Tortorella was the first to 500 wins, it took him 1,028 games to pick up the milestone victory. By comparison, Laviolette added win No. 500 to his resume in game 970. The 58-game difference in coaching tenures is significant, too, because Laviolette is only 12 games back of Tortorella for the title of winningest American-born coach in league history. Tortorella has a career points percentage of .544, and Laviolette bests that with a mark of .577. And when it comes to the post-season, Laviolette has a decided edge.
Over the course of their respective careers, both Laviolette and Tortorella have seen the playoffs eight times. Over that span, Tortorella has been one-and-done on four separate occasions, while Laviolette has advanced to the second round five of eight times. Both have two post-season runs that went beyond two rounds under their belt and both have a Stanley Cup victory — bookending the lockout with Tortorella winning in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay, Laviolette in 2005-06 in Carolina — but Laviolette has the edge with a second trip to the final. He led Philadelphia to an Eastern Conference championship in 2009-10 and came two wins shy of adding a second Cup to his trophy case.
From a win percentage standpoint, Laviolette holds the edge, too. In 102 playoff games, his teams have won 52. Tortorella’s squads, by comparison, are below .500 in post-season action, dropping 43 of 89 games.
As far as accolades go, the only thing separating the two is a Jack Adams Award. Tortorella won coach of the year for his job in Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s title-winning season, and there’s a fair chance he’s adding a second Jack Adams this season for the job he’s done in turning around the Blue Jackets. Laviolette, on the other hand, is a two-time finalist, coming a single vote shy of the award in 2005-06. Tortorella can have the individual awards, though, because there’s a good chance it’s Laviolette who holds the edge in victories when both coaches call it a career.
The debate about who is a better bench boss — Laviolette or Tortorella — is likely to continue until their careers are done, and it’s only going to get more crowded at the top. In just eight seasons, Dan Bylsma is already at the 300-win mark at the helm of a young Sabres team that is building for the future, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins have won 63 of 100 games under his direction and recently fired Jack Capuano is knocking on the door of his 235th win, which would put him one ahead of Johnson.
But right now, if you had one game to win and needed to choose one American-born coach, Laviolette’s numbers have shown that he’s the best bet to get the job done.
Sam Gagner struggled in consecutive years heading into 2016-17, but the adversity helped him get tougher and his belief he could still contribute has led to a bounce back season in Columbus.
There was a point during the 2015-16 season where it looked like Sam Gagner’s time in the NHL could be over. On a middling Philadelphia Flyers squad, Gagner was mired in the bottom-six, demoted to the AHL for a stint and finished the campaign having been in and out of the lineup while producing the worst point total of his big league career.
Worst of all, Gagner, 26, was supposed to be in his prime. The sixth-overall pick in the 2007 draft, Gagner had consistently been a 40-plus point player and everything looked as though it was coming together in the lockout-shortened year when he scored 14 goals and 38 points in 48 games for the Oilers. But having followed that up with a 37-point campaign in 2013-14, Gagner found himself out of Edmonton, the only NHL city he had known, and on his way to Arizona come 2014-15.
Gagner’s points per game dropped for the second-straight season during his year with the Coyotes, and when he was shipped to Philadelphia ahead of the 2015-16 season, it was seen as another chance at a fresh start. Instead, it was one of the most difficult seasons of his career.
“It’s always hard to go through those struggles,” Gagner said of the consecutive down years in Arizona and Philadelphia. “But I truly believe that if you handle them the right way, the adversity can help shape you and help make you stronger. I feel like coming into this year I’m a lot stronger mentally than I maybe have been in the past.”
And if mental strength has been the biggest change in Gagner’s game, the 27-year-old might want to think about entering his brain into a strongman competition because the changes in Gagner’s play — and, most notably, his production — have been remarkable.
Entering the off-season as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, he landed a one-year, show-me deal with the Blue Jackets. It pays $650,000, which is more than $4 million less than Gagner had earned during the 2015-16 campaign. Gagner couldn’t care less about that, though, because he only wanted the shot at showing his game hadn’t gone anywhere.
“I still felt like I had a lot to give as a player and if I was able to get some opportunity, that I could help a team be successful,” Gagner said. “I think coming into Columbus, I got the chance to do that, I’m playing some really important power play minutes and in a lot of different situations. It’s definitely helped me add another level to my game, and it’s been a good fit.”
Good fit? There’s an understatement. The Blue Jackets, looking for someone to produce in the bottom-six and possibly push some of the youngsters to earn their place in the top-six, called on Gagner and he’s been dynamite. Through 45 games, his 14 goals and 33 points have him on pace for the best offensive season of his career. It’s been eye-opening for those thinking Gagner’s time as a productive player int he NHL was over. Least surprised of anyone, though, is Gagner, who said he expected this of himself and knew he put the work in to make it a reality.
“I feel confident in my game,” Gagner continued. “Obviously there are ebbs and flows during a season in terms of offense and whether the puck goes in the net or not, but it’s just a matter of staying consistent with it and having a proper mindset. A lot of the struggles in the past help you with that mindset.”
Gagner’s focus is shifting as the season progresses, however. While maintaining consistency in his game, he wants to help the Blue Jackets take the next step forward. For the organization, that's going to mean not just a playoff appearance, but actually winning a round. And a Blue Jackets team that went on an unthinkable 16-game win streak has designs on a deep run.
Going on a month-long winning streak has no bearing on playoff success, to be sure, and there has been bumps in the road since Columbus’ win streak ended. Though if there’s anyone familiar with turning a tough time into a period of success, it’s Gagner.
“You learn a lot about your team in a streak like that, and I think all that pressure that comes on you when you start to build up those wins, that only helps you come playoff time,” Gagner said. “I think it was a good thing for us, and now you go through a little adversity and fight your way through it. It’s all part of an 82-game schedule, and you learn from everything.”
In applications to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, the CHL describes itself as "professional." That might prove crucial in deciding if a class-action lawsuit can proceed.
When the Canadian Hockey League tries to convince the courts that its players are amateur athletes and not paid professionals, and therefore don’t deserve minimum wage, it may want to consult its own application for trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
First, the news. None of this will be decided for another couple of weeks, Feb. 7 to be exact. That’s the day a Calgary judge will make a couple of crucial decisions. The first one will be whether the CHL will be granted a sealing order over all financial records, some of which the CHL made public media last week. The hearing for that was supposed to be held Tuesday, but has been pushed to Feb. 7, the same day the judge will decided if the plaintiffs have grounds to proceed with a class-action lawsuit.
Now, the context. The crucial question here is whether junior hockey players are amateurs or pros. Part of that answer might be contained in the CHL’s trademark application to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, a document that is being used as part of another lawsuit in which the CHL is involved involving a trademark issue. The trademark was last renewed in 2014.
Here’s a list of all the goods to which the CHL applied to be able to trademark: Coffee mugs, shot glasses, drinking glasses, flat glass, water bottles, bubble gum, bubble gum cards, trading cards, hockey cards, buttons, caps, hats, gloves, hockey pucks, sponge pucks, picture pucks, jackets, mitts, pennants, scarves, shirts, jerseys, sleep wear, stickers, bumper stickers, toques, vests, running shoes, jean shirts, t-shirts, neon t-shirts, shirts, muscle shirts, crew neck shirts, cut off sleeve shirts, sweat pants, sweat shorts, bunny jackets, v-neck sweaters, shorts, hockey t-shirts, sweaters, pants, jackets, tank tops, badges, sew-on crests, stick-on crests, hockey sticks, goalie sticks, hockey uniforms, hockey jerseys, hockey pants, hockey gloves, socks, dolls, toy figures, cardboard collector board, board games, opera glasses (binoculars), sunglasses, paper weight holders, cartoon comic books, magazines, greeting cards, autograph sets, lithographs, posters, sports bags, wallets, rod hockey games, towels, adhesive bandages, first aid kits, bulletin boards, calculators, clocks, lamp shades, calendars, embroidered picture frames, magnets, neck warmers, oil dip stick cleaners, playing cards, stained glass window ornaments, sun visor radios, sweat bands, vinyl stickers, wood plaques, wristbands, infants’ and children’s short sets, leisure suits, shots, sweat shirts, turtlenecks, belts, buckles, coasters, ear muffs, flags, inexpensive jewelry, namely lapel pins, stick pins, pendants, charms, earrings, rings, tie racks, cuff links, leather bracelets, key fobs/key chains, foam fingers, noise makers, place mats, towels, watches, phone cards, hip pouches, knapsacks, license plate frames, miniature bells, money clips, spoons, pens, pencils, bottle cap openers, soap (namely deodorant soap, skin soap, toilet soap and liquid soaps for hand, face and body), game of hockey played with cards, radio earphones, videos, video games, arcade and pinball machines, snack foods (namely ice cream, hot dogs, soft drinks, hamburgers, candy and popcorn).
Wow, that’s thorough. Because you never know when every man in the world is going to lose his mind and begin using leisure suits as a fashion statement. As thorough as it was, though, under the Services portion of the application, the CHL is responsible for, “(1) Operation of a hockey league and entertainment services through participation in professional and amateur ice hockey contests, and promotion and benefit thereof…”
Hmmm. Professional and amateur ice hockey contests? Not exactly sure what that means, but you’d have to think the word professional gives you an idea of what the CHL thinks of its players. I mean, the word is right there, isn’t it? Professionals are not amateurs.
Another area that would go a long way to making a distinction would be whether or not the players receive earning statements such as T4 slips. Well, there’s where the picture gets murky. It seems players did receive them in the past, but in the past few years the standard player contract has been altered to reflect that players are being “reimbursed” or paid an “allowance” to offset their expenses of playing junior hockey. But according to one agent who is also a lawyer, the semantics might not matter.
“This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised,” said Anton Thun, who has represented OHL players for about 25 years. “The definition is something that is relevant, but I would say it would go by however it would be defined by the Employee Standards Act. And part of the problem is, the employment laws might be different if you play for the Erie Otters or the Flint Firebirds than they would be if you play in Ontario.”
The good thing is, there’s only two more weeks of sleeps before we might start getting some answers to these questions.
It’s very likely Gerry Boley is the world’s only male hockey-playing nun with a hip replacement, mitral valve patch in his heart and pin in his shoulder. And if that sounds like a joke, don’t worry, Boley’s not offended – he’s just happy that he made you laugh.
“I just want to bring joy and whatever assistance I can to Canadians who need it, and there’s no better way of doing that then combining satire with our country’s favorite pastime,” the St. Catharines, Ont., native said.
In 2005, Boley founded the Ladies in Black theatrical charity team – a group of men in nun costumes that performs comical skits while playing hockey to raise awareness for a variety of causes, such as women’s shelters and food banks.
The first event was a charity game for Parkinson’s disease, an illness that Boley knows all too well.
“My dad had Parkinson’s, and just seeing what he and my mom, who was caring for him, went through, I decided I couldn’t sit by and just watch,” he said.
But he soon found out that building the LIB wasn’t going to be an easy task. It took him a year to find sponsors, create characters and costumes, put together skits and find a venue. On top of all of that, he still had to put together an actual team.
After scouting the ranks, Boley recruited former junior and professional athletes to adopt a nun persona. Former Hamilton Tiger-Cat and CFL Hall of Famer Rocky DiPietro, who was teaching football at Lakeshore High School in Port Colborne, Ont., at the time, was one of the first players to jump on board.
“He approached me with the idea, and at first I was a little taken back,” said DiPietro, who is known on the ice as Sister BigFoot, the big, hairy team enforcer. “I mean, what do you say when someone asks you to play hockey as a nun? But I figured, why not have some fun and give back to the community at the same time.”
DiPietro brought with him Chris Zanutto, a former junior defenseman for the London Knights and the 1994-95 Canadian National Team, and Josh Oort, who played in Europe and had a short stint with the ECHL’s Greenville Grrrowl in 2004-05. Zanutto became known as Friar Truck, the team’s wacky trainer, and Oort took on the persona of Sister Celine Poutine, a play on Celine Dion and a delicious Quebec specialty.
Despite the amusement of seeing grown men throwing hip checks in nun costumes, the characters aren’t the funniest part. The LIB perform a number of spoofs, starting from the moment they enter the ice – full speed to their theme song Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress by The Hollies. From there the crowd can expect to witness anything from Sister Suzuki dishing out nasty karate chops to a performance of West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty, used to distract the opposing team while the nuns set up a stretch pass to Sister Offside.
“I remember the first time we performed, people had no idea what to expect,” DiPietro said. “Seeing them light up and react the way they did, it only confirmed that we had to keep doing this.”
But tragedy struck Boley and his family, causing him to hang up the skates for a little while.
On July 27, 2014, his nephews Jonathan, 33, and Daniel, 49, were killed while waiting at a red light in Kanata, Ont. Their vehicle was struck by a speeding motorist who hit a median, flipped in the air and came crashing down on their hood.
This wasn’t the first time their family had experienced loss. Boley’s sister Carol had also lost two of her daughters – Christine, to asthma, and Angela-Joy, to cancer – a few years prior.
Shortly after, Boley had his hip replaced and underwent open-heart surgery.
“When it rains, sometimes it pours,” he said. “I needed to put everything on hold.”
Now feeling much healthier, he and the LIB are ready to strap back on their skates and robes to hit the ice again.
“It’s nice to just go to a rink, let loose, forget about all your worries and have fun,” he said.
And to Boley, that’s what the game is all about.
“Hockey, just like life, is about having fun,” he said, “and if I can do something to help others fulfill that whether it’s through laughter or raising awareness, I’m certainly not going to sit on the bench and do nothing.”