The RIG 28 for December

Dec 1

Adam Clendening Interview

Seguin goal vs Penguins

Dec 2

Lightning prospect spotlight: Mitchell Stephens
Chris Krenn
TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the BB&T Center in Sunrise on June 26, 2015 with the 28th overall pick. Instead of selecting an eligible player, the Bolts elected to trade away their first-round pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for a second (33rd overall) and third-round pick (72nd overall).

With the 33rd overall pick, the Lightning selected center Mitchell Stephens of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit. Stephens boosted his draft stock heading into the 2015 draft with a strong performance at the 2015 World Under-18 Championship where he served as captain of Team Canada and finished second in team scoring with five goals and ten points in seven games.

Stephens’ ability to play a very mature, 200-foot style of hockey didn’t go unnoticed. According to The Hockey News, more than 20 different NHL teams conducted interviews with the Peterborough native at the draft combine as his impressive two-way play saw him move into first-round pick discussion.

“When you break down Mitchell’s game, one of his best qualities is that he’s not one dimensional,” Saginaw head coach Spencer Carbery said. “He plays both sides of the puck. He’s hard on the puck. He takes defensive draws. He’s a two-way forward.

“Right when I first got here and saw Mitchell and his skill in practice and then also against competition in games, you could see his elite tools for this level. His skating is as good as I’ve seen thus far in major junior and the OHL.”

Stephens is currently serving as captain of the Spirit while leading the team in goals with 10 and points with 25. After wearing the ‘C’ for Team OHL during the CIBC Canada-Russia Series, Stephens is expected to be in the running to serve as captain for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in late December.

“Mitchell leads by example. He leads by his work ethic,” Carbery said. “At a young age, you need to have that extremely high determination level because there’s so many kids that want the same thing that you’re going after. You have to be more determined, more focused, and more driven to want it so badly that when you get out on the ice, you show that and compete like that. Mitchell does that at the highest level.

“He is ultra-competitive and driven. That’s one quality you can see in Mitchell. He is really, really determined.”

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward inked a three-year, entry-level contract with Tampa Bay on April 4, 2016. Carbery believes that Tampa Bay fans have plenty to look forward to with Stephens.

“The best thing that I love about him and I see it every day is that he’s such a competitive kid,” Carbery said. “He’s going to be one of those guys that fans will appreciate because of how hard he plays.

“When you watch games, even if he’s not lighting up the score sheet, you’ll notice him because of the little things he does and how hard he works. I have no doubt that he’s going to do that once he permanently gets to the pro level.”

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Corcoran has ice covered
Gene Pereira
The Barrie Examiner

Connor Corcoran can hardly wait to step on the ice at the Barrie Molson Centre.

The Windsor Spitfires rookie had played there with his Barrie Colts ‘AAA’ minor-midget team last season, but never in front of the large crowds the OHL Colts often draw.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” said the 16-year-old Beeton native who, along with his Windsor teammates, are in town Thursday night to face the Colts.

“I know last year playing minor midget and playing in that rink I would always wonder what it would be like to play there with a decent crowd,” he said. “I finally get to do it Thursday, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Corcoran will have a pretty good group of family and friends cheering him on. As of Tuesday, the number was up to 38.

“Hopefully I just play good,” the Spitfires’ second-round pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection said with a chuckle.

Corcoran has certainly done that this season, says Spitfires general manger Warren Rychel.

The rookie defenceman has been playing forward of late for the Spitfires thanks to a rash of injuries and according to Rychel has played an important role in helping Windsor get off to a strong 18-5-4 start.

“When he’s on forward, he doesn’t try to over-complicate it,” the Spitfires GM explained. “He just moves pucks and gets in there, and when it presents itself to make a hit, he hits. I’m sure people from Barrie remember he’s got that big shot from midget and it’s even better now.

“He’s scoring some goals, he’s hammering some bodies and it’s good.

“We’re (hosting) a Memorial Cup here and you don’t really see 16-year-olds contributing to an older lineup and that’s not been the case here. He’s done very well and we can’t take him out of the lineup.”

Corcoran is not new to switching back and forth between the blue-line and forward to help his team. He did it in minor hockey in Barrie for two years, too, and even with this year’s Canadian under-17 squad when injuries resulted in him moving up.

The rookie says he has no preference which position he plays.

“I like both,” Corcoran said without hesitation. “I’ll do whatever the team needs.”

That means coming to the rink ready for anything.

“I usually wait to see what the lines are to see where I am,” he said before laughing out loud.

“It really helps my game, I think,” Corcoran added. “It helps the team and whatever I can do to help the team, I love doing that. I think it’s good that I can play both.”

While some players always feel they’ve got to play a certain position and question everything, Rychel praises his young player for his maturity and willingness to be versatile and play whatever role the team asks.

“He never asks questions,” Rychel said. “He comes, he works. He does what he has to do and fits in well with the other guys. The older guys really like him and he helps contribute.”

The Spitfires are a veteran club set to host this year’s Memorial Cup and that’s meant an all-in approach that has already seen them trade for NHL prospects Jeremiah Addison (Montreal), Graham Knott (Chicago), Sean Day (New York Rangers) and former Colts forward Julius Nattinen (Anaheim).

With a deep blue-line group that is arguably the strongest in the league and includes Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal), Logan Stanley (Winnipeg), Jalen Chatfield and Day, it’s not easy to find ice time for a young rookie.

Still, Corcoran’s play has made it difficult for Windsor head coach Rocky Thompson to keep him out of the lineup.

“We’re trying to fit him in wherever we can and he’s answered the bell every time he’s been challenged,” Rychel said of Corcoran, who has played in 23 of Windsor’s 27 games. “He had a couple of big goals for us along the way and he’s taken some draws. Rocky has no problem in putting him in any situation.

“It’s hard for 16-year-olds, as you know, to play in your own end and that’s a big thing, and he’s done very well as a defenceman and a forward. He’s been real good here and it’s promising for our future. He’s a big part of it.”

While Corcoran admits that the pace of the game is faster than he expected, the help he has received from his coaches and teammates have been a big help in helping him adjusting to the OHL game.

“Sergachev, before he left for NHL camp, was giving me pointers and stuff like that,” Corcoran said. “Stanley was showing me how to do the right things in the corners, kind of how to angle guys off so it’s easier to do your job.”

As a young player you have to be a sponge and that means listening intently to what the coaching staff is teaching you.

“Before games, with stuff Rocky says, you bring that out on the ice and you’re going to have a good game,” said the six-foot-one, 177-pound defender, who has three goals and a pair of assists this season.

“When I first started here, I was worrying a lot about keeping one hand on the stick and in the corners just pushing guys with one hand,” Corcoran added. “It took me a couple of practices and that to get stronger with that hand so I can move these guys because they’re bigger.”

While Corcoran may find himself playing both up front and on the blue-line this season, Rychel believes his future is on the point.

“I would say for sure. He’s too good back there,” the Windsor GM said. “All the reports I have from (Hockey Canada) when he went out to the Calgary camp (in the summer), he was great on defence. He was obviously in the top 10 in the country there, so my plan is to always have him play right ‘D’.”

Everyone in the OHL, and even in the NHL, is always looking for a right-shot defenceman, Rychel adds.

“The plan is for him to go back, but he keeps potting these goals, you never know,” he said, before adding a chuckle. “Our top four guys will be gone next year, so that will be his to take turns back there on the blue-line for us.”

With goals in back-to-back games and three points in his last five, Corcoran says he is feeling a little more comfortable on the ice these days and is just happy he can contribute offensively.

He’s relieved to get that first OHL goal out of the way and now to get that first one at the Barrie Molson Centre.

“Hopefully I can do that on Thursday,” he said.

What a return home that would be.

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Dec 3

Seguin goal vs Avalanche

Cammalleri goals vs Predators

Seguin postgame

Dec 8

Seguin goal vs Predators

Dec 10

Dauphin goal vs Predators

Dec 13

Red Wings’ Xavier Ouellet learns to ‘give everything I have’
Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Xavier Ouellet learned a valuable lesson when he wasn’t in the Detroit Red Wings lineup for much of November.

For a player not used to sitting games out, Ouellet learned to appreciate what it meant to be in an NHL lineup.

“I realize a little more maybe I was getting a little too comfortable,” said Ouellet, a young defenseman who has been a steadily effective player since returning to the lineup Nov. 26 in Montreal. “You just realize that you can’t take any nights off. I realize I need to play every game like it was my last one.

“Give everything I got, and by doing that, I’ve been playing good and it keeps me in the lineup. I just have to keep going like this and every night, give everything I have.”

Finding that extra passion has worked for Ouellet, who entered Tuesday’s game against Arizona with a team-best plus-6 rating and being paired with veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

Ouellet, 23, has always been described as a player who doesn’t have many flaws in his game, but doesn’t excel in any one area.

But during this stretch, after Ouellet re-entered the lineup, his defensive work has stood out, as well as an ability to make a good outlet pass.

Sunday against Philadelphia, Ouellet found Frans Nielsen on a pinpoint pass that sent Nielsen free on a breakaway.

“He’s a heavy, heavy body, hard in front of the net and he can make good outlet passes,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s done a real good job of making those outlet passes without trying to do too much. When he does that he’s an excellent player.

“He’s done a real good job so far and we need him to continue to play at a big level.”

Blashill said that before he was benched, Ouellet often tried to “bite off a little more than he could chew.”

Added Blashill: “He has that ability to make real good passes, and when you have that ability sometimes you want to overuse it. When he manages the game the way he’s done the last little bit, he’s a real good player.”

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Josh Leivo Interview

Dec 14

Yakupov goal vs Devils

Dec 15

Former NHL forward Kellan Lain brings the pain for Idaho Steelheads
Jordan Rodriguez
Idaho Statesman

Idaho Steelheads forward Kellan Lain is a hard fella to miss.

At 6-foot-6 — a daunting 6-8 with skates on — he is the tallest player on the roster.

Lain is also a hit on YouTube. A search for “Kellan Lain Fights” returns a reel of donnybrooks, including the infamous 2014 line brawl between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames. That was Lain’s first NHL game, and it lasted 2 seconds — he was ejected after the fight, setting an NHL record for the shortest debut.

“It was definitely memorable,” Lain said. “You don’t really picture it going that way, but that’s hockey. It was fun, and I embraced it. Playing in the NHL was my childhood dream, so it’s something I’ll never forget.”

In his next outing, Lain played a full game and scored a goal on his first NHL shot.

Despite his imposing frame and famous first-shift fight, Lain isn’t really a brawler — he only has 16 penalty minutes through 19 games in Boise. But he’s definitely not afraid to mix it up when the occasion calls for it, and his physical play has been a nice addition to coach Neil Graham’s lineup.

“Kellan is a very difficult player to contain because of his size and reach,” Graham said. “He brings a great presence in front of the net, he’s outstanding on face-offs, and he’s a solid two-way center who plays a hard, heavy game.”

According to Steelheads public address announcer Britt Talbert, there’s a reason many of Lain’s fights end up on YouTube.

“Kellan’s not a guy who fights for show,” Talbert said. “If he’s in a fight, he’s sticking up for a teammate, and he’s looking to do some damage.”

Loyalty to teammates helped bring Lain to Boise this season. He was college roommates with fellow Steelheads forward Kyle Jean, who campaigned hard for a Lake Superior State reunion in Idaho.

“We’re good buddies, so I kept after him all summer,” Jean said. “He came to my wedding, and I worked him pretty hard. I just told him how much I loved playing in Boise, and I knew he would, too.”

This is Lain’s first season in the ECHL, and he has made himself right at home. In addition to his physical play and face-off prowess, Lain has been heating up in the scoring column, netting three goals and four points over his last five games.

“He’s definitely a guy who can bang in some goals,” Jean said. “And he’s a huge asset to our team with the veteran calmness he brings to the room. The younger guys look up to him and the leadership he provides.”

Later this season, Lain hopes to cross an item off his career bucket list by playing in the Kelly Cup playoffs. Lain has yet to taste postseason hockey through three full professional seasons, but he stands a great chance with an Idaho franchise that has a 19-year playoff streak.

“We have a great group of guys here,” Lain said. “We’ve hit a little bit of a slide here of late, but we know we can get it going back in the right direction, and I know this team can do a lot of big things.”

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Peterborough’s Mitchell Stephens earns a spot on Canada’s world junior roster
MyKawartha.com

Peterborough native Mitchell Stephens is once again representing Canada on the world stage.

Stephens is one of 22 players to earn on a spot on Canada’s world junior hockey team. The team will face the world’s best junior players at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships in Toronto and Montreal. The tournament kicks off Dec. 26 when Canada faces Russia.

Stephens is one of five players returning from Team Canada’s roster last year. The other returning players are Mathew Barzal, Thomas Chabot, Julien Gauthier and Dylan Strome.

Stephens is a prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightening and currently plays in the OHL for the Saginaw Spirit. So far this season he has 11 goals and 28 points in 22 games.

In last year’s tournament, Stephens had a goal and an assist in five games.

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Canada’s world junior players remember their first NHL game
Kevin McGran
Toronto Star

As special as it is to represent Canada at the world junior tournament, four members on the roster have accomplished something equally amazing — they’ve played in the NHL.

Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), Dylan Strome (Arizona), Blake Speers (New Jersey) and Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders) each got a brief taste of the pros before returning to major junior.

Here are their recollections of their first game and how they learned they had made it to the NHL:

Thomas Chabot (1 game)

How did it feel to play your first game?

“It was great. It’s something you dream about. I remember being in my grandparents’ house when my parents were away when I was little, I was watching the Montreal Canadiens on TV. I told my grandmother — and she reminds me every time I see her — that one day it’s going to be me on TV playing. It’s something special, not only for me, but for my family also. Every guy here, our parents made so many sacrifices for us. I just see it as something great for me, my parents, my family that followed me my whole life. They knew I always wanted to play hockey. They knew I’d rather play hockey than go to school. My dad’s a teacher. He always joked a bit about that.

How did you find out you made the team?

“In the morning, at the morning skate, (Senators coach Guy Boucher) told me it’s going to be a special night for me. I kind of knew, but I asked anyway. He said you’re playing your first game tonight. I called my parents right away and all my friends to let them know.”

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Dec 17

Ouellet goal vs Ducks

Dec 19

‘Excellent’ Xavier Ouellet keeps doing more for Detroit Red Wings
Helene St. James
Detroit Free Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — An injury to their top-scoring defenseman likely means a bigger opportunity for young Xavier Ouellet.

Mike Green, second on the Detroit Red Wings with seven goals and 18 points, is sidelined at least through the week with an injury exacerbated by a hit from Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler on Saturday. That left the Wings having to tweak pairings for Monday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

At Monday’s morning skate, Ouellet slotted into Green’s place opposite Danny DeKeyser, reflecting how well Ouellet has played lately.

“He’s had to face tough opponents, in terms of the lines that he faces, and I think he’s been excellent,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He is strong on his skates, he is smart defensively, and he can make a play with the puck breaking out, he can make a play in the neutral zone with the puck. His biggest thing is to make sure that he manages his game and doesn’t try to do too much, that he takes what is given but still has the opportunity to make plays.

“And then, I think, he’s got a real good shot and can jump in like you saw the other day on the offensive blue line. Just the fact he got it off quick was the biggest key for him to score the goal. I think he’s got that ability in him, and I think he’s had an excellent go at it so far.”

Ouellet mostly has served in a shut-down role recently, opposite Jonathan Ericsson. Ouellet, 23, has played well since getting a foothold Nov. 26 against Montreal, finishing with an even or plus rating in 10 of his 11 games entering Monday. He leads the team at plus-nine overall.

Lately, he has been more determined to go to his shot, too, something the Wings could use, as they don’t generate much from their back end. He had a goal and an assist over the weekend.

“I think everyone wants to find a way to produce offensively,” Ouellet said. “But the most important for me is my defensive game. I have been focusing on that and doing a good job, and now I’m just trying to find little tips offensively, get pucks on net more.

“Things have been positive. I try to evaluate myself, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I am glad I can help.”

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Thomas Chabot will be easy to find at the world juniors: he’ll be wearing an A
Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot will be easy enough to spot during the upcoming world junior hockey championships. He’ll be one of two Canadian players with an “A” on the front of his jersey.

The offensive defenceman, selected by the Senators 18th overall in the 2015 draft, was named an alternate captain on Monday along with Mathew Barzal, a New York Islanders first-round pick and Seattle Thunderbirds forward.

Dylan Strome, picked No. 3 overall by Arizona in 2015, will be wearing the captain’s C when the tournament begins on Boxing Day in Toronto and Montreal.

Chabot, 19, will be representing Canada for the third time and will be one of five players on the club who also competed in the 2016 world juniors. Last year, he had three assists in five games, and the year before he had a goal and four assists in seven games at the under-18s.

“We have eight players on this team who are captains of their club teams, and numerous other associate captains, so there is an abundance of leadership,” coach Dominique Ducharme said in a statement. “Dylan, Mat and Thomas have been through this tournament before and we have confidence in their ability to lead this team on and off the ice.”

The 6-2, 190-pound Chabot has been producing at better than a point-per-game clip for the Saint John Sea Dogs this year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In his first 14 games, he’d picked up five goals and 15 assists.

He will be the only national team member with a direct Ottawa connection, but Ottawa 67’s fans should be familiar with six other players on the 22-player roster. The Ontario Hockey League will be represented by Erie’s Strome and Taylor Raddysh, Mississauga’s Michael McLeod, Sault Ste. Marie’s Blake Speers, Oshawa’s Anthony Cirelli and Saginaw’s Mitchell Stephens.

Canada will open the tournament at 8 p.m. on Dec. 26 against Russia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

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Senators prospect Thomas Chabot relishes leadership role with Team Canada
Lisa Wallace
CBC Sports

Thomas Chabot is hopeful this visit to Canadian Tire Centre will go much better than his last one.

The 19-year-old will get a chance to impress the Ottawa Senators, his future employers, when Canada faces the Czech Republic on Wednesday night in an exhibition game in advance of the upcoming world junior hockey championship.

Chabot was selected 18th overall by the Senators in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He survived the cuts out of training camp this season, but played just one regular-season game before he was sent back to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs after the Senators felt he wasn’t quite ready for the rigours of the NHL.

While disappointed by the Senators’ decision, Chabot was determined to return to his junior team and make the most of his season.

Chabot has five goals and 20 points through 14 games with the Sea Dogs, but what the Senators are most anxious to see is his performance on the world stage.

Only returning defenceman

Chabot, named an alternate captain for Canada earlier this week, is the team’s only returning defenceman and will be counted on to play significant minutes.

“You can’t buy experience,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “To have gone through this before helps you understand what needs to be done and where you need to go and we have five returning guys, but he’s the only defenceman so that’s an important piece for us.”

Chabot has played so far alongside Philippe Myers, a member of the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and the two have found early chemistry.

“Defensively they’re so mobile that they’re right on top of guys and they don’t give time and space,” Ducharme said. “I like the way they work together and to be playing against them you have to be pretty quick at taking space away from them.”

Myers said he much prefers Chabot as a teammate than as an opponent.

“He’s one of the best D’s in the league and it’s a great honour to play with him,” Myers said. “He’s got great hockey sense, he’s a great skater and put all that together and it makes a great hockey player.”

This will be Chabot’s third time representing Canada, but first in a leadership role.

“There’s a lot of great leaders in the room, but to wear a letter is special for me,” said Chabot. “It’s always fun to help the new guys that never went through that tournament. It’s fun to help them out and get ready for the tournament.”

Chabot didn’t get a lot of playing time while with the Senators, but says the experience of being around professionals on a daily basis left a lasting impression.

“I learned a lot in Ottawa off the ice, on the ice. I learned a lot of things about myself. I think I grew a lot as a player and became a bit more of a pro player.”

‘Hard tournament to play in’

After finishing sixth last year’s world junior championship, Canada is looking for a much better showing. While Canada is always expected to do well internationally, players know pressure will be even higher with the tournament being held in Montreal and Toronto.

“We learned a lot,” said Chabot of last year’s disappointment. “It’s a hard tournament to play in. Every night you’ve got to show up whether you think that country might not be as good as you are you still have to play as hard as you can. It’s a tough tournament.

“I feel it as good pressure. We all know we have a good team this year and we all work together. We worked a lot on our game the last couple weeks and we’re all really excited for the tournament.”

Canada plays its final pre-tournament game Dec. 23 in Toronto against Switzerland and opens the tournament Dec. 26 against Russia.

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Senators’ Chabot ready to be Erik Karlsson of Team Canada
Don Brennan
Ottawa Sun

OTTAWA — When Thomas Chabot returned to Canadian Tire Centre as an assistant captain of Team Canada’s under-20s on Tuesday, he was given the stall beside the one that was all his for the first month of the season.

His familiarity with the Senators dressing room sparked the obvious question.

“Guys are asking me where (Erik) Karlsson sits,” said Chabot, whose Christmas-time club will take on the Czechs in a world junior championship tune-up on Wednesday.

“It’s fun to be back around here,” he said earlier. “I know this place pretty well. I’ve spent a lot of time here in the past three years here.”

The most recent stint was mostly just practice, as Chabot played just one game and saw only 7:09 of ice time for the Senators before being returned to the Saint John Sea Dogs on Nov. 2. Being the go-to guy in an important tournament on the global stage, with the added pressure and scrutiny of it being held in Toronto and Montreal, is a large part of the development wanted from him.

Now he is the Erik Karlsson of Team Canada. He is its best defenceman, its power-play quarterback, a key member of its penalty-killing units. After failing to qualify for the medal round last year in Finland, Canada is looking to “make amends,” said captain Dylan Strome. To do that, the leader of the ‘D’ has to have a strong tournament.

“I feel it as a good pressure,” said Chabot, who has five goals, 20 points and a plus-8 rating in 14 games with the Sea Dogs since his return on Nov. 2. “I think we all know we have a good team this year. We have so many good players, everyone is really excited to get in that tournament. Everyone is in it all together. I don’t see any pressure on one or two guys on the team. It’s all the guys in the room. We all know what happened last year. Nobody wants to do that same thing again this year.”

So far, so good. Through two scrimmages and one exhibition game, Canada has surrendered a grand total of zero goals.

The competition is going to get much stiffer, if not quite yet. The Czechs were the opponents in one of the scrimmages — Canada gave them an 8-0 pounding.

Lining up as Chabot’s partner on the top pairing is Philippe Myers, a 6-foot-4, 206-pounder who plays for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. They have complemented each other well.

“The way they move, the transition is very good,” said Canada coach Dominique Ducharme. “Defensively they’re so mobile, they’re right on top of guys. They don’t give time and space. I like the way they work together. They’re hard to play against.”

Myers is the only player on the Canada roster who was not drafted. Undaunted, he went to Calgary’s development camp, built his confidence, accepted an invite to Philadelphia’s training camp and wound up signing a contract with the Flyers.

“I think we have good communication on the ice … that’s a big part of the game,” Myers said of his partnership with Chabot, whom he calls one of the best Ds in the Q. “It’s a great honour to play with him.”

“Honoured” is also how Chabot feels about being named one of the captains of the team.

“There’s a lot of great leaders in the room … to wear a letter, for sure, it’s special for me,” he said. “It’s always fun to help the new guys that never went through that tournament. When they have questions, it’s fun to answer them, to give them a good answer to get ready for the tournament.”

One of the questions they might ask is what happened last year in Finland. That answer does not come quickly or easily.

“We learned a lot for sure,” said Chabot, who was the team’s only 18-year-old blue-liner then and its only returning D-man now. “It’s a hard tournament to play in. Every night you’ve got to show up, whether you think the country might not be as good as you are. You’ve got to play as hard as your can.

“It’s only a game, it’s not a series. So you’ve got to win every game, you’ve got to get in every game as go hard as you can.”

Chabot will help set that example on Wednesday in the arena that was his home for a month this season — and for years to come. What kind of reception does he expect from the Ottawa crowd?

“I probably won’t get booed,” said Chabot. “It should be a lot of fun to be back.”

‘LITTLE BIT OF A BROMANCE’

Undeniable is the bond forming among Team Canada’s juniors — starting with the leadership core.

Teammates last year in Finland, assistant captain Mathew Barzal says he has become “super close” with Thomas Chabot.

“We were roommates in Mount Tremblant (last week),” Barzal said Tuesday when asked for a funny Chabot story. “We were together all the time. Cuddling and watching movies … little bit of a bromance.

“He’s great, honestly,” the Islanders first rounder added, turning serious. “Me and him gel really well together. I speak French, so we’re always kind of chirping each other in French. He’s a really relaxed guy. That’s what I really like about him.”

Captain Dylan Strome says Chabot’s contributions are evident both off and on the ice.

“He’s vocal, he’s funny … he’s pretty good English for a French guy,” said Strome. “He’s always talking, he’s always loud. He’s one of the loudest guys in the room.

“He’s been through it last year, like myself, so I think just his experience is huge. He’s so good with the puck on the power play. He’s just a calm presence back there. Every team needs that.”

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Dec 23

Seguin goal vs Kings

Dec 26

Olli Jokinen aims to grow hockey in South Florida
Tom Gulitti
NHL.com

Olli Jokinen led a nomadic existence during his 18 NHL seasons, moving from city to city while playing for 10 teams. But after his seven seasons with the Florida Panthers, the Kuopio, Finland, native kept coming back to South Florida because it was “always the best place to live.”

Now residing in Coral Springs with his wife, Katerina, and their three daughters, Jokinen is firmly entrenched in the area after finishing his playing career in 2014-15 with the St. Louis Blues. Although the 38-year-old hasn’t officially retired — “That’s something that’s going to happen very soon,” he said — he’s already begun his next career with the help of three other former NHL players who also have settled in South Florida.

Together with two-time Stanley Cup winner Petr Sykora and former Panthers Tomas Vokoun and Radek Dvorak, Jokinen founded the South Florida Hockey Academy, which opened in February at the Panthers’ former practice facility, Glacier Ice and Snow Arena, in Pompano Beach.

The academy also runs a pro summer camp, complete with NHL-quality training and equipment staffs, to help NHL, college, minor league and junior players with their offseason training, but its main goal is to develop youth hockey players in the area.

“I see this as my chance to give back to the game and grow the game,” said Jokinen, who scored 321 goals and had 750 points in 1,231 NHL games. “Before, families had to send their children away to Minnesota or New England or Canada to continue their development after they were 14 or 15 years old. We want them to be able to stay here. Hopefully, someday we can have some kids that make it to the big leagues.”

The academy started small this fall with an AAA team of 9- and 10-year-old players coached by Sykora, 40, and Dvorak, 39, that includes Sykora’s 9-year-old son, Nicholas. Next fall, it will add a 12-and-under AAA team that Dvorak will coach and a 16-and-under AAA team that Jokinen and Vokoun will coach.

Beginning in 2018-19, the academy intends to have five teams combined in the 18-and-under and 14-and-under age groups also joining the academy. To strengthen the talent pool, it will recruit some players from Europe.

“There’s a lot going on right now,” Sykora said. “We are in the stage where we are building this up and we’re going to take it easy year by year because we want to do it right.”

Though still in its infancy, Jokinen said the academy is an idea he’d been discussing for three years with his friend, Mikko Saarni, a former youth and junior hockey player and coach from Finland who serves as general manager of the academy. Saarni previously worked as CEO of Universal Players, which specialized in placing European athletes in boarding schools, Junior A programs and colleges in North America.

During their time with the Panthers, Jokinen, Vokoun and Dvorak always thought South Florida was an under-tapped market for youth hockey, noticing how expansion helped turn California into a hotbed for youth hockey.

Vokoun, 40, saw similar results during his eight seasons with the Nashville Predators, beginning with their inaugural season in 1998-99.

“I started with the expansion franchise, and when I came back last year, they had done an amazing job with their youth hockey program over there and rinks,” said Vokoun, who went 300-288-43 with 35 ties and had a 2.55 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 700 NHL games. “When I [started], there were 300-plus registered youth hockey players. Now they have like 3,700 in Nashville. So there’s no reason why in Florida it shouldn’t be the same. There’s two NHL teams in the state.

“Obviously, you compete always with the weather and some of the less expensive sports. … But the Panthers are improving. They have an exciting young team and they’ve done some great scouting, and for years to come, they’re going to have some great players, like the [Tampa Bay] Lightning.”

A handful of players from Florida have made it to the NHL. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who was born in Boca Raton and got his start in the Junior Panther program, became the highest-selected player born in Florida when he was picked No. 16 by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Chychrun is one of six Florida-born players to score an NHL goal, along with Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (Pembroke Pines), Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway (Naples), Vancouver Canucks forward Jayson Megna (Fort Lauderdale), Dan Hinote (Leesburg), who played for the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, and Blake Geoffrion (Plantation), who played for the Predators and Montreal Canadiens.

Also taken in the 2016 draft were defenseman Andrew Peeke, a Parkland native who was picked in the second round (No. 34) by the Columbus Blue Jackets, right wing Brandon Duhaime from Coral Springs, who was chosen by the Minnesota Wild in the fourth round (No. 106), defenseman Chase Priskie of Pembroke Pines, who was selected in the sixth round (No. 177) by the Washington Capitals, and left wing Nick Pastujov of Bradenton, who was picked in the seventh round (No. 193) by the New York Islanders.

But those players had to leave Florida when they got older to continue their schooling and hockey development. For example, Chychrun attended school in Boca Raton through ninth grade but traveled to Detroit on weekends in eighth and ninth grades to play for the Little Caesars youth hockey program there and later joined the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

“We are trying to create somewhere for the Florida kids where they don’t have to move from home,” Sykora said. “They can be with the family, but they will get the highest possible training and school and all that stuff together.”

Although Nicholas is 9, Sykora already had started to think his son would have to move north to continue his hockey development and education. Sykora, his wife and daughter would have moved with him.

After becoming involved with the South Florida Hockey Academy, Sykora no longer is thinking about leaving the area.

“As a parent, forget being an ex-NHL player or now a youth coach, I just didn’t feel before we started (the academy) that it would be the best place for my son to grow up as a hockey player,” said Sykora, who played 1,017 NHL games and won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1999-2000 and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09. “But with what we created, now I’m very comfortable that this is the best thing for my son.”

Creating an environment where youth players can develop their skills will be essential to the academy’s success, but Jokinen, Sykora, Vokoun and Dvorak also emphasize the importance of education. The academy has a working relationship with St. Andrew’s School, a prestigious boarding school in Boca Raton about a 15-minute drive from Glacier Ice and Snow Arena

Players living locally can remain at their current school or attend St. Andrew’s along with those joining the academy from out of state.

“We want to get these kids better,” said Dvorak, who scored 227 goals and had 590 points in 1,260 NHL games. “We want to give them a chance to move on and go to college and go play hockey plus study. For us, school is the No. 1 thing. That’s our priority. So we want to combine these two things and we are doing it. We want to give them the best chance to go and play a high-level game.”

Players enrolled in the academy attend school during the day, and then head to the rink for on- and off-ice work in the afternoon. On weekends, they travel to tournaments.

But Jokinen stressed, “Academics come first. If your grades aren’t at a certain level, you don’t skate.”

Among the NHL players who used the academy’s pro summer camp to prepare for this season were Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty and defenseman Andrei Markov, as well as defensemen Dmitry Kulikov (Buffalo Sabres), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets), Erik Gudbranson (Vancouver Canucks), Steven Kampfer (New York Rangers) and Keith Yandle (Panthers). With the help of a staff that includes medical trainer Jim Pizzutelli, who worked for the Panthers and Sabres, strength and conditioning coach Manny Mair, and Panthers locker room attendant Oscar Munguia, players get an NHL-style setting to do their offseason training.

“They have their lockers here, so they can leave their equipment here,” Jokinen said. “They can work out off the ice and work with our trainers, and they can skate here.”

Being involved with the pro camp and the youth players has helped Jokinen, Vokoun, Dvorak and Sykora stay involved in the game and provides what Vokoun called “that kind of locker room feeling” many players miss after they retire.

“Once you’re done playing hockey, you kind of look for something to do,” Dvorak said. “We all played for a long time and we all retired, and it’s something that we can give something back to the kids. We were kids as well, and growing up we were always looking up to older players, and we all know how important it is to work with the kids. It’s been great. Hockey is our life.”

In a way, the academy has become their life as well. As investors, Jokinen, Vokoun, Dvorak and Sykora are not receiving any salary.

“The only way we’re going to make any money off of it is if we sell the academy, which I don’t see us doing for a long time,” Jokinen said.

Although they’re just getting started in South Florida, they’ve seen progress being made in other parts of the state, particularly in the Tampa area with youth programs such as Southeast Elite Hockey, which has former NHL players Chris Dingman, Brian Rafalski, Sami Salo and Mathieu Garon on its coaching staff, and is affiliated with the Florida Alliance AAA team and Florida Everblades AAA and junior teams.

Dingman and fellow Lightning alumni Jassen Cullimore, Filip Kuba and Vinny Prospal also are involved with the Tampa Bay Scorpions, whose under-14 and under-16 teams won Tier II USA Hockey Championships in 2015.

“On our side (of the state), there’s the four of us and there’s (former NHL player) Marco Sturm, who’s helping too now,” Vokoun said. “There’s a lot more ex-NHL players who are retiring in Florida. I think it’s going to take some time for us to catch up. Obviously, we’re not in the New England area or Michigan or Minnesota, where every neighborhood has a rink. That’s a little problem, but other than that, there’s people with the knowledge and there’s a lot of kids.

“It’s just starting the right way with them right from a young age. Obviously, it’s not going to turn around overnight. It’s going to be a process, but I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Jokinen has spoken to the Panthers about establishing a business relationship, but there isn’t an official connection so far. He believes that working with the Panthers to grow the game in South Florida would be mutually beneficial.

He’s seen it in other NHL markets where he played.

“When the kids play hockey, their parents go to the games,” Jokinen said.

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