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Category Archives: NHL

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NHL Point Leaders Halted With Season Stoppage

The stoppage of the 2019–20 NHL season could rob most of the league’s point leaders of hitting the century mark. Seven players were on pace to reach 100 points. Six more were scoring at a pace of just under 100 total points, needing a burst in their final dozen or so games. Use this guide to see how players were getting on before the stoppage as well as for a promotional offer.
Oilers Topping NHL Point Leaders
Prior to the NHL’s league-wide suspension on March 12 due to COVID-19, Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl was the only player currently over 100 points. The German forward is well over the mark too, posting 110 points made up from his 43 goals and 67 assists.

Draisaitl’s league-best 1.54 points per game is .03 higher than teammate Connor McDavid’s average, who is second in the NHL with 97 points in 64 games — 1.51 per game.

Behind the two Oilers are Boston’s David Pastrnak and New York’s Artemi Panarin with 95 points each; Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon with 93; and rounding out the top 10 are Boston’s Brad Marchand, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, all having over 80 points.
13 NHL Scorers in Sight of 100 Points
Over half of the top 10 were on pace to crack 100 points. All were in reach of triple-digits.

If the NHL does play all 82 games, Draisaitl’s on pace for a league-leading 127 points. McDavid would finish second with 113, Pastrnak and Panarin tied for third with 111, MacKinnon in fifth with 109, Marchand at sixth with 101, and Kucherov in seventh with exactly 100.

There were a handful of players needing to go on a streak to hit 100, such as: Patrick Kane, on pace for 98 points; Auston Matthews, on pace for 93; Jack Eichel, on pace for 92; Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, also on pace for 92, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, on pace for 91; and New York’s Mika Zibanejad, on pace for 90.

In this era, these are the 13 players surely to be on every fantasy hockey player’s radar.
High Number of NHL Point Leaders to Hit 100
Seven players were on pace to hit 100 points in 2019–20. If all seven did, this season would have the most triple-digits scorers compared to the past 10 full NHL seasons.

Over the past 10 full NHL seasons, a player reached 100 points 18 times. That’s 1.8 players per season, a much lower number than the seven on pace to do so this year.

Considering league-wide scoring is at its highest total since 2005–06, the numbers add up. By the way, 2005­­­ had seven 100-point scorers too, and was the second-last NHL season where seven scorers hit that mark (2006–07 the other).

The 2019–20 NHL season was also on pace for something that hasn’t happened in the 21st century: four scorers hitting 110 or more points.

2005–06 had two scorers of over 120 points (Joe Thornton, 125 and Jaromir Jagr, 123), but 2019­­–20 was set to feature the best group of top point-scorers since 1995­–96.
NHL Suspension Postponing History
1995–96 was a remarkable season; six players hit 110 points led by Pittsburgh’s otherworldly duo of Mario Lemieux (161) and Jagr (149).

2019­–20 was projecting to compare to the 1995–96 season. Draisaitl and McDavid were supposed to be the first two teammates to finish one and two in scoring since Lemieux and Jagr did 24 seasons ago. While the two Oilers would still finish one and two if the season’s cancelled, their accomplishment will have an asterisk from the shortened year.

Draisaitl was supposed to join Jagr, Kucherov, Thornton, and Sidney Crosby as the only 120-point scorers this century. Draisaitl’s projected 127 points would sit second for the highest single-season point total this decade, Kucherov’s 128 last year at the top.
2019–20 NHL Season Left with Unknowns
Given Draisaitl’s ability to score in sprees, and players like Matthews and Zibanejad catching fire, who knows how high this year’s crop of elite talent could’ve taken their numbers.

Then there’s the potential goal-scoring history. Three players were projected to reach 50 goals in 2019–20: Alex Ovechkin, 57; Pastrnak, 56; and Matthews, 55. Draisaitl and Zibanejad were on pace for 49 each too.

Three players haven’t scored 50 goals in an NHL season since 2009-10. Crosby and Steven Stamkos led the NHL with 51 goals that season, and Ovechkin had exactly 50.

Five players hadn’t scored 50 goals in a season since 2005­–06, one of the many feats that were possible in 2019-20, but now may never get to play its course.

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Dylan Holloway Looking to Excel with Wisconsin after World Junior Camp

OAKVILLE, Ont.– When Tony Granato first saw Dylan Holloway at the Chicago Steel camp two years ago, he was unequivocally astonished. 

“Holy cow,” said Granato, describing the first time he laid eyes on Holloway. “You watch him one shift and he’s special.” 

Granato is currently the head coach of the University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey team. Holloway, two years later after his astounding Steel camp, is now a rising star forward on the Badgers squad. With three goals and four assists in 17 games this season, Holloway earned a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp. The 18-year-old was one of nine draft-eligible prospects to attend the camp, demonstrating the profound depth of the 2020 class. 

“It’s such an honour to be selected for the Selection Camp,” said Holloway. “Growing up, the World Juniors was so important to me. Being around guys who have been drafted or will be selected this year, has allowed me to bounce questions off of them. It’s been a great experience.”
***
Seeing him at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ontario, Holloway possesses the power forward brand to his game. Playing alongside Anaheim Ducks prospect Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Edmonton Oilers draft pick Raphael Lavoie, Holloway showcased his nifty puck-handling skills and his ability to get to the front of the net with ease. But it is his speed that has impressed scouts and coaches alike, particularly his tendency to use cross-overs to fly past opposing defenders. 

“He’s impressed with his speed,” said Team Canada World Junior Head Coach Dale Hunter. “He’s skating well through the neutral zone and getting on the forecheck with his size. A combination of a good power forward.” 

In the overtime session during the first selection camp game against U Sports, Holloway used his hard wrist shot, which bounced through traffic into the back of the net. But when the time came to reduce the roster, Holloway would not be included in the final team. 

The young forward would be one of nine players cut from Canada’s World Junior team. It is unfortunate news that no player wants to hear, being stripped of a chance to wear the red and white jersey in representing Team Canada. For Holloway, he has fond memories growing up learning the game from his Dad and watching the World Juniors with his family. 

“There was an outdoor rink in the small town where I grew up,” said Holloway. “I would go out there all the time with my Dad, who taught me how to skate. He has been a big help for my hockey career thus far.” 
***
Holloway is a native of Bragg Creek, Alberta, just outside of Calgary. Son of former Vancouver Canucks player Bruce Holloway, Dylan credits his Dad for being an integral influence in him getting into hockey. 

The young prospect would get his first hockey experience playing for the Calgary Jr. Flames organization. It was there where Holloway played alongside future Ottawa Senators prospect Jonny Tychonick, providing a glimpse of the hard work needed to progress in his hockey career. 

After his time with the Jr. Flames, Holloway signed with the Okotoks Oilers in the AJHL. This is where the Calgary native’s ceiling as a hockey player enhanced, highlighting his dual power forward and scoring abilities. In his final season with the Oilers, Holloway recorded 40 goals and 48 assists. Catching the attention of the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, who picked the forward in the 2016 WHL Draft.

While Holloway could have elected to stay in Canada and play junior hockey, he elected to go the NCAA route, committing to the University of Wisconsin. As a member of the Badgers, Holloway has been afforded the opportunity to play with highly touted NHL prospects such as Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) and Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings).

According to Coach Granato, it reflects highly on the character of Dylan and his family to “combine education with hockey.”

“Fortunately, we were able to talk with him early and show him our campus and program,” said Granato. “Dylan was one of those guys that when we saw him, we knew he could be a program changer, inspiring other kids from Alberta who has similar ideas to commit to the NCAA.” 
***
Granato describes a game earlier in the season where Holloway encompassed all of his intrinsic hockey qualities. Despite the Badgers losing 4-0 to the Clarkson Golden Knights on October 25th, Holloway had seven breakaway chances in the first period alone. Granato says that it was a game for Holloway to “gain the confidence that he can not just play at this level but also the NHL.” 

“He’s a competitor,” said Bruce Holloway, who accompanied Dylan to all of his World Junior Selection Camp practices. “If you ask him to be put in as a goalie, he would put on the pads and do it.” 

It is not the first time that Holloway has been left off of a major international team. In 2017, the youngster was left off of Canada’s national U-17 camp roster. While disappointment can quash a player’s confidence, Holloway used it as motivation to secure a spot on future Canadian teams. 

A year later, Holloway represented Team Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he recorded one goal and two assists in three games. He was also selected to play for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge, where he posted two goals in the tournament, including one against Team USA that secured Canada’s gold medal victory. 


***
It is these challenges that Holloway relishes and as he heads back to the University of Wisconsin, the Badgers coaching staff is eager to watch him be a more motivated, complete player after the selection camp. 

“It will motivate him big time,” said Badgers Associate Head Coach Mark Strobel on Holloway not making the World Junior team. “He will look at it as an honour and people see him in a strong light. He’s going to come back even hungrier and more willing to prove the critics wrong.”

As Holloway prepares for the second half of the season with the Badgers, he is still ranked as a potential first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Emulating his performance at the Chicago Steel camp, expect Holloway to turn more heads as he skates his way to the professional hockey realm. 
The post Dylan Holloway Looking to Excel with Wisconsin after World Junior Camp appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team

OAKVILLE– Alexis LaFreniere is itching to get back on the ice.

While the rest of Canada’s World Junior hopefuls were taking part in practices, LaFreniere was putting in a ton of work on the bike. For the last few weeks, the Rimouski Oceanic forward has been nursing an ankle injury. It forced him to miss the QMJHL’s games against the Russians in the Canada/Russia series. And for the entirety of World Junior Selection Camp, including practices and games against U Sports, LaFreniere has been on the sidelines.

On Thursday morning, the 18-year-old met with the media for the first time during camp. When asked about his injury, LaFreniere was pleased with his recovery, saying that the ankle is getting better day by day.

“It’s gotten better over the last couple of days,” said LaFreniere. “They don’t want me to push too much on it. I am excited to be back on the ice soon.”
***
While LaFreniere has not been on the ice, he has been integral behind the scenes. With three 17-year-olds at camp, LaFreniere has served as a mentor, introducing them to one of the most celebrated traditions in hockey.

It was just one year ago where LaFreniere was that young, inexperienced future star playing in his inaugural World Juniors. While a quarterfinal exit on home soil in Vancouver was not what he had desired, the Saint-Eustache native inherited a wealth of knowledge that he can translate into veteran leadership on this year’s team.

“Big experience last year,” said LaFreniere. “I can take that to help me this year and to have a bigger role. It’s important for the younger guys to enjoy it, have fun and work hard.”

One of those young players who LaFreniere has interacted with is Sudbury Wolves forward Quinton Byfield. Similar to LaFreniere, Byfield has generated a lot of buzz with his high level of play, currently second in the OHL in scoring (57 points). While Byfield and LaFreniere will be compared and debated regarding who should be the number one pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the two have put that aside to focus on making an impact on the World Junior team. Despite the two playing in different leagues, LaFreniere and Byfield welcome the opportunity to be on the same team and to learn from each other.

“Quinton played great last game,” said LaFreniere. “He’s a big guy, who is exciting to watch. It is fun to have him here. To eventually being able to skate with him is going to be fun.”

“He’s a busy guy so it’s hard to talk to him,” said Byfield. “But we’ve said hi a couple of times and it is great to have him here.”
***
Even with a lingering ankle injury, LaFreniere has been dominant in the QMJHL. His 23 goals, 47 assists (70 points) lead not just the Quebec league but the entire Canadian Hockey League. When watching his performance with Rimouski, it is evident LaFreniere has progressed with his puck handling ability and tendency to get in front of the net to create traffic. While he is a pass-first forward, the youngster has improved his shot, making him a dynamic offensive talent that is NHL ready.

While the heightened attention regarding his NHL draft status will come in due time, LaFreniere has a huge opportunity in front of him. When the time comes for LaFreniere to hit the ice again, the highly touted prospect is ready to embrace a leadership role on this team.

Looking to bring Canada back to the golden promise land. The post Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada

OAKVILLE– Dale Hunter really does not like losing.

So much so that during the 2006 OHL Playoffs, the London Knights head coach was fined $5,000 for arguing with on-ice officials. Even though his team got swept, Hunter still stuck up for his players.

It is that fervent focus on winning and distaste for losing that has made Hunter the blueprint junior hockey coach in Canada. Under Hunter’s leadership, the London Knights have achieved nine division titles and won two Memorial Cups.

Flash forward to the present and Hunter is employing his winning background to Canada’s National U-20 Junior Team. With the selection camp on its second day, the Canadian players are getting a taste of the identity Hunter wants to develop for this team. 

“There is nothing more than Dale loves to do than to win hockey games,” said McMichael. “The biggest thing is to work your hardest. He likes guys that can compete, protect leads and stick to a system.” 
***

Connor McMichael plays for Hunter on this year’s London Knights squad. After getting drafted 25th in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to the Washington Capitals, McMichael was sent back to London to improve his game. 

The decision would be the impetus for the Knights once again near the top of the standings. Under Hunter’s leadership, McMichael has become the OHL’s most dynamic scorer, leading the league in points with 59 (25 goals, 34 assists). But in addition to his offence, McMichael is focusing on other aspects of his game. 

Hunter prepares his players for a career in the NHL. And by doing so, he puts his players in situations where they may not be the most comfortable. For McMichael, this has allowed him to be more of a defensive force in his own zone. Tied atop the OHL in power-play goals, the Capitals prospect has also been seen killing penalties. It is this attention to detail in all aspects of a player’s development that has made Hunter so victorious. 

“Not every player comes into camp and can be a top-six scoring forward,” said McMichael. “Dale wants me to adapt to a different role and to embrace any role I’ve been given.” 
***
During selection camp practices, Hunter does not put himself into the center of attention. He is often in the background, discussing drills with a small group of players. When the players are completing their tasks, Hunter does not raise his voice or act in an aggressive manner. When he speaks, the players and personnel listen, as every word uttered is of great importance. 

Sudbury Wolves forward and top 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Quinton Byfield appreciates this quality about Hunter. Having worked with the Knights head coach at the Canada/Russia series, the 17-year-old is aware that Hunter expects a lot of effort and skill for a full 60 minutes. While Byfield may not be on one of the top two scoring lines for Team Canada, he believes that he can use his size and speed to make a noticeable impact in a Hunter system.

“They are really great coaches,” said Byfield after his first practice Tuesday morning. “It would be a great experience to play under them and to represent Hockey Canada.” 

The head coach position for Canada’s World Junior team is highly sought after but even harder to keep. In the last ten years, The Canadian team has only won two gold medals. While it speaks to an increased amount of parity amongst the participating countries, having a strong, experienced leader at the head coach position can inspire a team to greatness. 

While the Hockey Canada management group wants to shift the attention to this year, it is hard to ignore last year’s quarter-final exit. The worst result on home soil in this decade. Regardless of where Canada places in the Czech Republic, Hunter will put out a team that believes in each other and will work tirelessly to wear down their opponents with speed and skill. 

Winning the number of times Dale Hunter has done with the London Knights while producing a plethora of top-tier NHL talent, is not by accident. His formula has worked and will continue to shine on Canada’s brightest junior hockey stage. 

“Dale brings a lot of calmness,” said Head of the Management Group Mark Hunter. “The respect he holds behind the bench is something that not a lot of coaches have. He’s not an in your face kind of coach. He gets his point across through ice time and being in the dressing room.” 

 The post Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes

OAKVILLE— Joe Veleno will get his chance at World Junior redemption.

The Detroit Red Wings prospect was on the losing end being a part of Team Canada, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver. The late goal that bounced and tipped into the net behind Michael DiPietro would send the Canadians home early and propel Finland to an eventual gold medal.

Veleno understands fully the weight of World Junior heartbreak. Now, he will get another opportunity to put on the red and white uniform, as Canada hits the ice the Czech Republic at the end of December to get back to World Junior glory.

“Joe has maturity in his game and brings experience and leadership playing against the older guys,” said Hockey Canada’s Head Scout Brad McEwen.

At 6’1, Veleno has great vision for the ice and likes to play the game at a high speed. Transitioning into the attacking zone from his own end is effortless for Veleno, who posted 104 points last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
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But as McEwen states, it is his defensive play that has really made Veleno into a complete player. Something that Team Canada coaches Dale and Mark Hunter are looking for in their players.

“He’s a complete guy, a 200-foot type player. He is so offensively important to his team and has rounded into a more complete player,” said McEwen.

With three goals and six assists through 25 games played this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Veleno provides a wealth of experience playing with bigger players in the AHL. This will translate to success in the World Junior tournament, making him stand out for Canada on both ends of the ice.

Veleno is the fourth returning player from last year’s World Junior team, joining Alexis LaFreniere, Jared McIssac and Ty Smith. While the disappointment from last year’s tournament was apparent in the short-term, McIssac, who is just getting back from a shoulder injury, has put in the rear-view mirror as he embarks on another training camp. He welcomes the opportunity to work with Veleno, LaFreniere and Smith to instill veteran leadership in the locker room.

“It’s a tough tournament to win,” said McIsaac. “All of us have been captains for Hockey Canada through the years. We are ready for this challenge.”
Early Defensive Pairings
Coming into training camp, Mark Hunter made it clear that he wants players “that can control the puck with skill and speed.” After the first practice of selection camp, it is evident that the Canadian selectees can glide on the ice and aren’t afraid to showcase their speed.

Below are defensive pairings that were seen in the first practice:

Harley-Drysdale

Bahl-Bernard-Docker

Smith-Schneider 

Diliberatore-Addison 

McIsaac-Byram 

Two pairings that stood out were Harley/Drysdale and Bahl/Bernard-Docker. Putting an already drafted player in Harley with a draft eligible 17-year-old in Drysdale was an interesting move for the coaches to explore. But both defensemen held their own, breaking into the zone with pace, making efficient passes to their forwards and showcasing their fast shots. More needs to be seen but early on, it appears that Harley and Drysdale complement each other nicely, particularly with Harley’s puck handling and Drysdale’s skill.

Bahl and Bernard-Docker were very at ease playing alongside each other. Bahl, the Arizona Coyotes prospect, is a 6’6, 229 pound defenseman who possesses the size and physicality to wear opponents down along the boards and in his own zone. This was complemented with Ottawa Senators prospect Bernard-Docker’s skill, ranging from his fast skating to his quick release shot from the point.

“Jacob plays a complete game,” said McEwen. “He’s a good complement to our puck movers, making sure things are kept clean in his own zone.”
Early Forward Considerations
Sudbury Wolves star forward Quinton Byfield was not at the first practice due to a travel issue. The same was said about Alexis LaFreniere, who missed practice because of his regularly scheduled maintenance day.

Los Angeles Kings prospect Aidan Dudas skated before practice began, as he has been recovering from an injury. According to McEwen, the coaching staff will take Dudas’ situation “day by day” to see if he will be ready enough to play on the team.

This left the following forward combinations to provide an initial jumpstart to their World Junior Selection Camp campaigns.

Krebs-Cozens-Foote 

Thomas-McMichael-Mercer

Newhook-Groulx-Holloway 

Perfetti-Dellandrea-Foudy 

Krebs-Zary-Lavoie

It is expected that Byfield will slot into the Cozens line, while LaFreniere will slot into the Dellandrea line.

The line combination that stood out the most was Akil Thomas, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer. A Washington Capitals prospect and the leading scorer in the OHL with 59 points, McMichael exemplifies offensive prowess with his quick shot and blazing speed. While he had not played with McMichael before, Akil Thomas embraced the opportunity, getting into open space for passes and finding the top shelf with his fast wrist shot.

“I want to be the guy that my coaches can depend on,” said Thomas. “Connor is a really great player and it would be awesome to play with him if given the opportunity.”

For McMichael, he hopes that he gets a chance to be one of the top six forwards on the Canadian team. But his stellar performance with the London Knights is thanks to McMichael’s ability to be multi-faceted as a player. Whether it is being tough on the defensive end or relentless on the penalty kill, Dale Hunter has employed McMichael to adjust to whatever role he gives him. The young forward has certainly succeeded thus far.
Goalie Performances
Olivier Rodrigue, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws and Joel Hofer took the ice to take some shots in between the pipes.

Coming into the camp, the front runners for the three goalie spots are Rodrigue, Jones and Daws. Rodrigue is currently fifth in the QMJHL in wins with 15. Jones for the Peterborough Petes is third in goals against average (2.53) and second in save percentage (.918) in the entire OHL. But leading the crop of goalies in the OHL has been Nico Daws, who is first in both goals-against-average (2.06) and save percentage (.939), after being the Guelph Storm back up goalie last season.

In the first practice, both Rodrigue and Daws looked extremely calm and poised in the crease, particularly in the shoot out where they were stopping some very fast shots. The depth in goaltending will certainly make for a competitive camp and a challenge for the coaching staff to select which goalies belong in the tournament.

“You need to take the body of work this past year,” said McEwen. “They all have great numbers since September and are on teams trending upward. They’ve put themselves in a good spot.”

Tuesday will see Team Canada practice twice before they compete against U Sports on Wednesday and Thursday.The post Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Guelph Storm Complete Historical Comeback, Crowned OHL Champions

GUELPH– Not many thought it was possible. If a team was given what the Guelph Storm had to endure this OHL Playoffs, the odds were slim. But the 2018-19 Guelph Storm isn’t just any other team. They epitomize perseverance, determination and conquering adversity on another pedestal. In three consecutive series, they experienced deficits. Two of those were on the brink of elimination.

But this pesky Guelph team never gave up. The Storm surged when their backs were against the wall. And now, they are on top of the Ontario Hockey League, claiming the J. Ross Robertson Cup for the fourth time in their franchise history by dethroning the Ottawa 67’s in six games.

“I can’t put this into words,” said Isaac Ratcliffe, who had two goals and two assists in the 8-3 rout of the Ottawa 67’s in Game 6. “The resiliency from this team is unbelievable, none that I haven’t seen before. I’ve never played for a team with this much skill, class and character.”
Guelph Storm Battled Adversity All Playoffs, Including Game 6 Against Ottawa

Every OHL season has its ups and downs. Whether it’s a slump during the regular season or being down in a playoff series, the adversity that a junior hockey team faces is integral in building character and toughness.

This is the Guelph Storm mantra. Against the Western Conference leading London Knights they were down 3-0. In the Western Conference Final against the Saginaw Spirit they were down 3-1. Finally, the OHL Championship presented its own challenges, as the Ottawa 67’s took a 2-0 series lead.

But the experience of coming back to win against London and Saginaw proved to be vital for Guelph. In the final four games of the OHL Championship, the Storm would outscore the 67’s 23 to 13. The final two games saw the Ottawa 67’s have early leads.

On the brink of elimination, Ottawa scored two goals to open Game 6, putting doubt and silence throughout Sleeman Centre. But the Storm players never wavered. After being outshot in the first period 13 to 12, Guelph began to surge in the second period, winning the puck battles and creating scoring chances. After the 67’s missed on two wide open nets to put the game out of reach, Guelph would score five unanswered goals, two of which came from their captain Isaac Ratcliffe, and one from Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki.

It is this belief in each other and the veteran leadership that enables the Storm to have success coming back from any deficit.

“We had a nice response in the second period,” said Burnett. “Being behind in two series helped us when we were down tonight. We stayed patient and we were able to find the puck to generate offence.”
 
The Storm Surges to Halifax for the Memorial Cup

Not only was Isaac Ratcliffe a pillar for this Storm team, but also the players Guelph acquired at the trade deadline. Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, after acquiring him from the Owen Sound Attack, generated 42 points this postseason (16 goals, 26 assists). This earned the young forward the Wayne Gretzky Trophy for MVP of the OHL Playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks prospect Mackenzie Entwistle, after being traded from the Hamilton Bulldogs, used his veteran leadership to be a pivotal asset for the Guelph Storm. Playing alongside Ratcliffe and Suzuki in Game 6, Entwistle was a +2 with one assist, adding to his seven goals and 14 assists for the entire postseason.

With Guelph’s fourth OHL Championship in franchise history, the team now prepares for its next challenge. The Memorial Cup, the holy grail of junior hockey, is up for grabs and the Storm will look to continue its hot streak playing alongside the best junior hockey teams in Canada. For these youngsters, it’s an opportunity to showcase their gifted offensive abilities on an even bigger stage.

“For me to have another chance to play for a Memorial Cup, I am so excited,” says Entwistle.
 
Two years ago, a championship seemed like an unattainable concept. But through hard work and a devoted ambition to be better, the sunny skies turned to clouds. And the clouds turned into a Storm that has now surged to the top of the Ontario Hockey League.

This team isn’t ready to give that up just yet.
The post Guelph Storm Complete Historical Comeback, Crowned OHL Champions appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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St. Louis Blues Prospect Alexei Toropchenko Shines for Guelph Storm

Alexei Toropchenko has taken notice of his drafted NHL team. Early Wednesday morning, the St. Louis Blues would secure a dramatic Game 7 victory over the Dallas Stars in double overtime. The 31-year-old Patrick Maroon would instantly become a hockey hero in St. Louis, scoring the goal that would send the Blues to the Western Conference Final.

695 miles away, at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, Ontario, an investment into the St. Louis Blues future will be taking the ice. Blues prospect Alexei Toropchenko, has been the anchor for the Guelph Storm offence, scoring four goals the past two games in the OHL Championship Series. His two goals in Game 3 propelled the Guelph Storm to defeat the Ottawa 7-2, handing the 67’s their first loss of this OHL postseason.

And for Storm head coach George Burnett, it’s now a whole new series for his team, leading up to Game 4 at home.

“It was important for us to respond in Game 3,” said Storm coach George Burnett. “When we look at the tape from Games 1 and 2, particularly from Game 2 where we had a chance to win the hockey game, our energy was low. I thought our energy was high (Monday). We did get some bounces, but that comes with a lot of hard work.”
Alexei Toropchenko Keeps Legacy of Late Father Alive with Stellar Hockey
Before becoming a pivotal forward for the Guelph Storm, Alexei Toropchenko grew up in Russia. His Father, Leonid Toropchenko, played professional hockey in Russia and spent two seasons in Springfield and Cleveland, competing in the American Hockey League. Like his Dad, Alexei possessed deep aspirations of playing professional hockey. It is why he made the ultimate sacrifice to travel across the ocean to North America, when he got selected by the Guelph Storm, in order to make his hockey dreams become reality.

“I got a grasp of hockey in North America,” says Toropchenko. “Also, I have learned English, which is helpful. (Teammate and best friend Dimitri Samorukov) and I have English classes twice a week so now I understand more and can speak better.”

Life in North America was an adjustment for young Toropchenko. He had to adapt to the English language. Alexei was away from family, the people that provided him stability and support. The young forward’s ability to conquer personal adversity would be put to the test when Leonid passed away with a sudden heart attack. It was a loss that shook Alexei to the core, but it provided an opportunity for his Mom, Julia, to come be with him in Canada. Having his Mother close to Alexei was pivotal in his improved performance towards the end of last season. But as coach Burnett alludes, Toropchenko always exhibited sound hockey skills.

“His work and his compete and his hustle and willingness to block shots and cycle the puck and protect the puck, there are a lot of things that are good there,” affirms Burnett.  
Guelph Storm Offense Leading Comeback Charge in OHL Championship Series
With the win Monday night, the Guelph Storm are back in the OHL Championship Series. This pesky team has gelled with the offensive success of Alexei Toropchenko, along with Nick Suzuki, Isaac Ratcliffe and Mackenzie Entwistle, who each got two goals in Game 3. Toropchenko’s ability to create havoc in front of the net, as well as using his length and speed to create matchup problems, makes him an offensive force on the ice.

It is these qualities that attracted the St. Louis Blues to draft Toropchenko in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In late 2018, a few months removed from his Father’s passing, young Alexei would sign his first NHL contract.

While his NHL affiliate St. Louis Blues are looking to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970, their young prospect Alexei Toropchenko is looking to tie the series in the OHL Championship. In back to back series, the Guelph Storm have come back from series deficits to win consecutive Game 7’s on the road. Their belief in themselves to have the ability to come back is felt throughout the locker room, particularly with Alexei Toropchenko.

With 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points during the regular season, count on Alexei Toropchenko to provide more postseason magic, for a Guelph Storm team looking to etch themselves into the annals of junior hockey history.The post St. Louis Blues Prospect Alexei Toropchenko Shines for Guelph Storm appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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San Jose Sharks Prospect Sasha Chmelevski Relishing in OHL Final

OTTAWA– The Ottawa 67’s and San Jose Sharks have been on similar paths. While one organization may be junior and the professional, they share the common joy of competing in their respective postseasons. And since 2017, the Sharks have invested into young forward Sasha Chmelevski, drafting him and watching him develop with the 67’s. In Game 1 of the OHL Championship Series, Chmelevski was a star on the ice. He got the scoring going for Ottawa in the first period. He would eventually generate two goals, propelling the 67’s to a 7-2 victory over the Guelph Storm. Despite taking nine penalties, Chmelevski was ecstatic with his team’s ability to handle the pressure of playing in a Championship series.

“The best thing about this team is we always live in the present,” said Chmelevski after the game. “We did a good job responding to adversity. You don’t just win 13 games by accident.”
Chmelevski Has Showcased Offensive Abilities Since OHL Draft
Sasha Chmelevski isn’t your ordinary hockey story. He didn’t grow up in the snowy hills or frozen ponds of Canada. Instead, he was born in Huntington Beach, California, a place marked by sunny skies and surfing.

Growing up in California could present an obstacle to breaking into hockey. But not for Chmelevski. From early on, Sasha demonstrated tremendous ability to break out into the offensive zone. His stick handling and ability to control the puck are second to none, and from an early age, he showed an affinity to score goals. This is what attracted the Sarnia Sting to initially draft the young forward in the 2015 OHL Draft. But 29 games played with the Sting, Chmelevski struggled to adjust to the pace and physicality of the OHL. Only generating nine goals and eight assists, the Sting traded Chemlevski to the Ottawa 67’s.

A move that according to Sasha’s Father, Tal, made all the difference for the forward to become a prolific scorer in the league.

“Ah, Ottawa has been very good to us,” Tal said. “Sasha is having a blast here.”
Chmelevski Relishing Opportunity to Help Ottawa 67’s Win OHL Championship
It appears that the choice to draft Sasha Chmelevski has paid off for the San Jose Sharks. Last season, Chmelevski has a career-high 76 points for the 67’s (35 goals, 41 assists), earning him a chance to play six games for the Sharks’ AHL affiliate squad. This season was a mirror to last year, generating 35 goals and 40 assists in 56 games. Despite a slower start to the season, Ottawa 67’s coach Andre Tourigny has been impressed with Chmelevski’s development offensively and defensively.

“He’s not a fast starter, but this year he took over a little bit earlier,” said Tourigny. “It was in late November when he started getting the points like he is now.

“The big thing about Sasha is his best asset can be the worst enemy as well. His best asset, for me, is his competitiveness. You play ping pong with Sasha, and if he loses, he will want to fight. At the start of the year, he was pushing a lot to get points.”

When it has mattered most, Chmelevski has risen to the expectations. This postseason, where the Ottawa 67’s have gone a perfect 13-0 thus far, Sasha has eight goals and 17 assists in 23 games played. In Game 1 of the OHL Championship Series against the Storm, Chmelevski scored the game’s first goal and was an anchor on an Ottawa 67’s powerplay that generated four goals.

With his stellar play in the OHL Playoffs, Chmelevski will likely have a full-time role for the San Jose Sharks AHL team, the San Jose Barracuda. The San Jose Sharks are currently in the heart of the NHL Playoffs, looking to advance to their second Western Conference Final in four years. For Sasha Chmelevski, his sole focus is helping the Ottawa 67’s qualify to the CHL Memorial Cup in Halifax. And to emulate the performance of his current NHL team in the playoffs.

 The post San Jose Sharks Prospect Sasha Chmelevski Relishing in OHL Final appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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A Year After Tragedy, Maple Leafs Look to Avenge Game 7 Demons

It was like any ordinary day in Toronto. People going to work. Store owners opening their shops. The sun was shining. Spring was in the air.

Until it wasn’t. On the busy stretch of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard Avenues, a van would ram its way into the crowds at Mel Lastman Square. 10 were left dead, 16 more injured. For a city that is considered to be the beacon of the world for its diversity and security, Toronto was under attack. A senseless tragedy that would change the lives of those affected forever.

The world mourned for the losses of these innocent Toronto citizens. We saw the immense bravery and courage by Toronto first responders, in the face of violence and terror. And just like one year ago, Torontonians can escape their present struggles to cheer and support an entity greater than ourselves.

That is of course, Ontario’s capital team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs Provided Anchor of Hope for a City in Despair
Sports has been entrenched in our cultures for generations. Not only are we captivated by the brilliance of athletes in their respective sports, but more so by the game’s ability to heal and unite us in the face of adversity.

Hockey has enthralled millions of Canadians since the dawn of Canada’s confederation. As supporters of the Toronto Maple Leafs, fans understand that their blind love and faith towards this franchise can be considered idealistic. But this is sports. Hockey and the Maple Leafs have shaped the identity of this city, desperately hoping for success since 1967.

The Yonge Street tragedy occurred on the morning of the Maple Leafs’ Game 6 match-up against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs were down 3-2, needing to win on home ice to force a Game 7. In the chaos that unfolded at Mel Lastman Square, hockey took a temporary back seat. The primary focus was the safety and security of a city in crisis.

But as the minutes turned to hours after the attack, the emotional spirit became locked together to support Toronto’s premier hockey team that night. All of Scotiabank Arena had a moment of silence in memory of the victims who lost their lives during the attack. And with the entire city glued to the game, the Maple Leafs put on an inspiring performance. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. They were all over their arch-nemesis Boston Bruins, winning 3-1 to force a Game 7. It was a victory for Toronto, a city looking for a spark of hope in the midst of dark sorrow.

“We’re sending all our love,” said Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who scored the winning goal and added an assist. “It’s happening too often now, these things. It sucks. This world’s made for loving each other and making each other better.

“This is a big win for us after an emotional day.”
Toronto Maple Leafs Look to Win First Playoff Series on Tragedy’s One-Year Anniversary
As a student attending the University of Toronto, I could hear the piercing sounds of sirens that fateful April morning. Little did I realize that the city’s history would change forever by tragic events that occurred 14 kilometres away.

One year later, the loss still stings those individuals affected by the tragedy. Ceremonies, vigils and flowers are being organized throughout the city, honouring those innocent citizens who died. And similarly to a year ago, there is a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game tonight. Only this time, it’s a do-or-die Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, with the Leafs looking to win its first playoff series since 2004.

Recent history is not kind to the Maple Leafs when it comes to Game 7’s. Particularly against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. In 2013, up 4-1 in the third period, the Leafs would lose 5-4 in OT. Last year, Toronto was up 4-3 heading to the final period, only to give up four unanswered goals to the big bad Bruins.

But the past is meaningless. Looking backwards is counterproductive. The Maple Leafs are much more improved this year, with the additions of star forward John Tavares and defenseman Jake Muzzin. Through six games, the Leafs are outscoring the Bruins on even strength 11 to 8. With Toronto’s 12-11 record in Game 7’s put to the test tonight, Mike Babcock is preaching a similar message ahead of this historic game.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to be better tomorrow,” says Babcock. “It is an opportunity for our hockey club. We look forward to it.

One year later, Mel Lastman Square, once a place of horror and destruction, is now a sacred gathering spot for peace and reflection. Life is never to be treated so cheaply and for granted.

The rest of the world watched how our city lived up to the “Toronto Strong” persona. Disaster builds strength. And in tremendous hardship, we turn to hockey as the avenue for healing and conquering adversity.

Toronto fans will once again gather with a ferocious spirit, cheering on their beloved Maple Leafs. The city may never be the same, but our hearts will be with those victims today and always.

And our love and passion for the game of hockey will always live on.The post A Year After Tragedy, Maple Leafs Look to Avenge Game 7 Demons appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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