The Will Sports Group

The RIG 28 for March

Mar 1

Goldobin acquired by Canucks
Canucks Media Relations

Vancouver, BC – Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning announced today that the club has acquired left wing Nikolay Goldobin and a conditional fourth round pick in 2017 from San Jose in exchange for Jannik Hansen.

“Nikolay is a gifted offensive player with good hands and good release on his shot,” said General Manager Jim Benning. “His play away from the puck has improved this year in the American League and we believe with his skillset and continued development, he has the ability to become a valuable member of our team.”

“Jannik has been an important part of our team for over a decade and we would like to thank him, his wife Karen and their children for all they’ve done and wish them all the best in San Jose,” continued Benning. “While this was a difficult decision to make, this trade helps us with our goal of continuing to build a younger, skilled team for the future.”

Goldobin, 21, appeared in 46 games for the San Jose Barracuda this season, recorded 41 points (15-26-41) and ranked third on the team in scoring. He also played two games for the Sharks in 2016.17. The Moscow, Russia native has appeared in 11 NHL games, scoring two points (1-1-2). He recorded his first NHL goal in just his second career game.

On the international stage, Goldobin represented Russia at the 2015 World Junior Championships. The 5’11”, 180 pound forward recorded five points (2-3-5) in seven games played, ranking tied for third for the lead in team scoring, and earned a silver medal. He also appeared at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament where Russia placed fifth.

Prior to his professional career, Goldobin played two seasons for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. Over the course of two seasons he collected 162 points (68-94-162) over 135 games. He appeared at the 2014 CHL Top Prospects Game for Team Cherry and was named Player of the Game.

Goldobin was originally selected 27th overall in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks.


Ho-Sang Named CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month

The American Hockey League announced today that Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward Josh Ho-Sang, St. John’s IceCaps forward Chris Terry and San Jose Barracuda goaltender Troy Grosenick have been selected as the league’s award winners for February.

Ho-Sang, the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month, scored five goals and added 10 assists for 15 points while registering a plus-9 rating in 12 games for Bridgeport in February.

Ho-Sang had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win over Rochester on Feb. 3, and assisted on the only goal in the Sound Tigers’ 1-0 victory at Providence on Feb. 10. He established personal bests with three assists and four points in a 5-2 win at Rochester on Feb. 17, and came back the following afternoon with a goal and two assists to help Bridgeport to a 3-2 victory at Albany. Ho-Sang wrapped up the month with an assist on the deciding goal in a 2-1 win over Hershey on Feb. 26.

The 21-year-old Ho-Sang has recorded 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points in 48 games for Bridgeport this season, tied for sixth among all AHL rookies in scoring. The native of Thornhill, Ont., was a first-round choice (28th overall) by the New York Islanders in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and earned his first career recall earlier this week.

Each monthly award winner will be presented with an etched crystal award prior to an upcoming home game in recognition of his achievement. For more on the other February award winners, click here or visit the league’s official website at


Joshua Ho-Sang ready for new beginning with Islanders
Brian Compton

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The smile on Joshua Ho-Sang’s face at the New York Islanders’ practice facility Tuesday was as wide as Long Island.

After a tumultuous start with the organization that was willing to take a risk and select him with the No. 28 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Ho-Sang is finally where he wants to be and is expected to make his NHL debut when the Islanders continue their nine-game road trip at the Dallas Stars on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, MSG+2, NHL.TV).

“I’m just super excited,” said Ho-Sang, who got the call from Islanders coach Doug Weight that he was being recalled from Bridgeport of the American Hockey on Monday and immediately drove down to Long Island. “I’m just going to take it and run with it. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life. Getting the call-up is one thing, but playing a good game is another.”

Ho-Sang’s first NHL training camp in the fall of 2014 lasted one day; he overslept on the first day and was sent back to Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. It’s been a long road to get to the NHL since then, but he arrives after scoring 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in his past 16 games for Bridgeport, which has won 16 of its past 19. He has 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 48 AHL games this season.

It’s a positive change for Ho-Sang, who frequently was a healthy scratch earlier in the season by Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson.

“I don’t really have any comment about that,” Ho-Sang said. “It is what it is. I’m just happy to be here right now.

“I’m excited with the changes that I’ve made to get here on a personal level. I’m not really going to discuss all those, but I’m a better person now than I was three years ago, and I think that everything happens for a reason. It’s helped me change a lot and make a lot of changes in my lifestyle, which have been beneficial.”

Weight said Ho-Sang will play a “top-six, top-nine role for sure” as long as he’s with New York. How long Ho-Sang stays in the League is ultimately up to him.

“He’s been a pro now, he’s got great leadership down there as far as on the ice, he’s got great coaching. They’ve been really forthcoming with him and challenged him, and he’s answered the bell,” Weight said. “He’s played well. He’s done what he does well well, and he’s worked on everything. He’s had a great attitude in the last five weeks and the team’s responded because of it. He’s been a big part of that success. We’ve got a lot of guys that are going to get healthy, but he’s here to play hockey and he’s done it his whole life. We’ve got a couple of days here to get him into it.

“Nothing’s ever behind you, because people will always talk about it, whether it’s an organization or your personal life. Just like our team as far as standings or where we sit as a team, we’re going to face it head-on.

“I’ve talked to Josh already about what’s expected of him. Those things don’t just go away, so we’re going to talk to him about them and make sure he’s ready to be a pro up here because nothing else is going to be tolerated. He’s got a great attitude. He’s a good kid and he’s a good player.”

Ho-Sang said he was unsure how many friends and family members will be attendance at American Airlines Center on Thursday — “I want to make sure I’m in the lineup first,” he said. Nonetheless, he’s eager to help the Islanders in the push for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. New York (29-22-10) is one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with a game in hand.

“The guys are really welcoming, which is always a pleasure,” Ho-Sang said. “I’m really excited.”


Mar 3

Ho-Sang’s Debut A Family Affair

Mar 4

Goldobin goal vs Kings

Call him Goldy, but Goldobin’s goal is to be as good as Gold
Ben Kuzma
The Province

“There are no words, just let me show you and that will be easier.”

LOS ANGELES — Nikolay Goldobin said to call him Goldy.

If the 21-year-old Russian winger can take the confidence he gained as a minor-league sniper and turn it into major-league production, the 2014 first-round draft choice is going to be called something else. How about Gold?

In an accelerated Vancouver Canucks youth movement triggered by another slide out of National Hockey League playoff contention and an aging roster, the acquisition of Goldobin in a Tuesday swap with the San Jose Sharks — it was for Jannik Hansen and a conditional fourth-round pick that becomes a first if the Sharks win the Stanley Cup — is a refreshing singular franchise focus.

Goldobin was eased into his debut Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings. He was purposely placed on the third line with Brandon Sutter to get accustomed to systems, be allowed to strut some offensive stuff and not have the top-six pressure that will come with time.

It landed him a breakaway goal.

It might not mean everything to a team trying to find its way, but it’s something of significance.

This is how you create a buzz around a 28th-place club that continues to wallow in the muck of mediocrity with a 29th-ranked offence and 28th-rated power play.

This is how you sell tickets. Whether it’s Goldobin this season, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and a motivated Jake Virtanen next season and Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen on the horizon, anticipation is finally replacing the annual angst of past promise as opposed to future potential.

Goldobin isn’t a saviour, but he has top-six and power-play potential. He wasn’t making any promises Saturday, but you can understand a sense of cockiness and the swagger of someone who looks more like a rock star.

After all, his agent is Igor Larionov, who had Vancouver and San Jose included in his five NHL stops, and his idol growing up in Moscow was Sidney Crosby.

So, how would Goldobin describe his game?

“There are no words, just let me show you and that will be easier,” said Goldobin. “We had a young team (in the AHL) and I think I was a leader, so you should feel comfortable. It helps you.

“The feeling is good. I was kind of surprised at being traded and who knows what is going on, but I was happy to be traded to this organization. It was hard to make that (Sharks) team and I probably would have been playing fourth line.”

Goldobin played just two games with the Sharks this season, but had 15 goals in 46 games with the club’s AHL affiliate to tease his potential. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound winger lacks a 200-foot game, which won’t fly in Willie’s World, but showing some faith and enough minutes to be creative is going to help everyone.

“He’s got good skill — even in a short practice like that (morning skate) you could see it,” said Desjardins. “We want to see how that translates into a game. And you’ve got to make it happen. As a new player coming in, you have to find a way to succeed and we’ve got to try and put him in those spots.

“But in this league, nothing comes easy. You can’t give anybody anything, You have to find a way to take it.”

Goldobin will eventually get his power-play chance, but working him into the lineup means being part cautious and part exploratory.

“He’s a high offensive player and we need that and I’d like to see that out of him,” added Desjardins. “He has been working more on consistency and being harder on pucks.”

Canucks winger Reid Boucher was Goldobin’s linemate during the 2012-13 Ontario Hockey League season with the Sarnia Sting. Boucher exploded for 62 goals and Golobin had 30.

“He was with me that year and he’s super skilled,” said Boucher. “A good passer, a good shot and he has good finishing ability. That was his rookie year and he played really well for us in Sarnia.

“His AHL numbers are good and he was lighting it up, but there was no room in San Jose and I think he’ll be a good fit on this team.”

The Canucks heavily scouted Goldobin in 2014, but had more pressing needs at centre and took Jared McCann as the 24th overall pick. Goldobin went to the Sharks three selections later but he didn’t make much of an impact in 11 games over two seasons.

And in his brief auditions this season with the Sharks, Goldobin said: “I’m an emotional guy, but I can control it. I know I can’t do anything bad with everybody watching, trying to please the coach. Try to play simple and not forget my strengths.”

If he does that, then he could be as good as Gold. Or Goldy.


Mar 7

Ho-Sang’s first NHL Goal vs Oilers

Olli Jokinen Announces Retirement
Florida Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. – Florida Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon announced today that the Panthers will be signing former captain Olli Jokinen to an honorary contract with the club and will officially announce his retirement from professional hockey as a member of the Florida Panthers.

“Olli is an important player in the history of the Panthers franchise and he remains a fan favorite,” said Tallon. “We are proud to give Olli the opportunity to retire as a Panther and we congratulate him on a long, successful and productive National Hockey League career.”

“My heart has always been with the Panthers organization and now I feel like my career has come full circle,” said Jokinen. “I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to play hockey in South Florida and help the sport grow. I want to thank my family – my wife Katerina and my daughters Alexandra, Emma and Keira – and all of the fans, teammates, coaches and staff who have supported me throughout my career.”

Jokinen and Tallon will meet today at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Fla., to sign the honorary contract at 1PM (ET). In Florida’s 7:30 P.M., game tonight against the New York Rangers, the Panthers will honor Jokinen’s legacy and accomplishments during the second period.

Jokinen, 38, played seven seasons for the Panthers (2000-08) and served as captain for four seasons (2003-2008). Over 567 games played in a Panthers uniform, the native of Kuopio, Finland produced a franchise record 419 points (188-231-419). In franchise history, Jokinen ranks first in points, goals, game-winning goals (36), overtime goals (10), power play points (153) and shots (1,837) and ranks second in assists and power play goals (65).

In the 2006-07 season, Jokinen became only the second Panther in franchise history to record 90 points in a season, registering 91 points (39-52-91) in 82 games. In that season, Jokinen ranked 10th in goals and points among all Eastern Conference skaters. In Florida’s first time hosting the NHL All-Star Game in 2003, Jokinen represented the Panthers.

Originally selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round (third overall) of the 1997 NHL Draft, Jokinen was acquired by the Panthers along with goaltender Roberto Luongo from the New York Islanders on June 24, 2000 in exchange for forwards Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

A veteran of 1,231 NHL games, Jokinen recorded 750 points over his career with the St. Louis Blues (2015), Toronto Maple Leafs (2015), Nashville Predators (2014-15), Winnipeg Jets (2012-14), Calgary Flames (2010-12 & 2009-10), New York Rangers (2010), Phoenix Coyotes (2008-09), Panthers (2000-08), New York Islanders (1999-00) and Los Angeles Kings (1997-99).

Among Finnish NHL players, Jokinen ranks third all-time in goals, fourth all-time in points and sixth all-time in assists.


Mar 8

Cammalleri – Investors Bank Inspires: Vol. 4

Seguin goal vs Senators

Mar 10

Ouellet goal vs Blackhawks

Ouellet Postgame

Savard goal vs Sabres

San Jose Barracudas

Third-year pro Barclay Goodrow is just 24-years-old, yet he is a wily old vet in a locker room filled with 11 first-year American Hockey Leaguers.

In Goodrow’s rookie campaign in 2014-15 the 6-foot-2, 216-pound forward played in 57 games for the San Jose Sharks after being signed as a free agent out of junior.

Over the last two seasons, Goodrow has spent a majority of his time in the American Hockey League developing all facets of his game. His development has paid off, and the Barracuda are reaping the benefits of having a go-to power forward

In 47 games played for San Jose (AHL) this season, Goodrow leads the team with 18 goals and has the only hat trick. But aside from his offensive production, it has been Goodrow’s consistency in all three zones that has been his greatest asset for San Jose.

“I think he’s been our most dominant forward consistently throughout the year,” said Barracuda Head Coach Roy Sommer. “I don’t know what he did over the summer, but I’ve never seen him skate so well.”

“He’s the best net front guy that we have on our team,” Sommer continued. “The biggest thing he needed to work on was his physical play and playing inside on a consistent basis, and he’s done all those things for us this year.”

Not known as a vocal leader, Goodrow has led by example this season. And has continuously picked up the offensive slack when players are out of the lineup.

“We’ve gone the whole season with guys in and out of the lineup, with call-ups and stuff like that, but as a team, we’ve been able to replace that production. I’ve just tried to play my game while playing within the system and it has seemed to pay off,” said Goodrow. “We’ve got a bunch of first year guys on the team, and it’s their first time going about pro hockey, I’ve tried to look to lend a helping hand because I feel like I’ve seen a bunch of stuff and I can help.”

Goodrow’s strong play in the AHL has not gone unnoticed by the big club. The Toronto native has appeared in a pair of games for the San Jose Sharks and has been recalled as a reserve numerous times throughout the season.

“He’s become a consistent, mature player for us. A player that we can trust and can call up at any moment and put in NHL situations,” said Barracuda General Manager Joe Will. “He’s a player that can do a lot for you, he can produce, he can be defensively aware, and he has a bunch of tools.”

As San Jose charges toward the Calder Cup Playoffs and a hopeful championship run, Goodrow will be relied on heavily in that pursuit just as he has all season long.


Mar 11

Savard goal vs Sabres

Mar 13

Ho-Sang goal vs Hurricanes

Tyler Seguin to Donate Ball Hockey Court
Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin , in conjunction with the Dallas Stars Foundation and Pro Players Foundation, announced plans today to donate the Tyler Seguin Ball Hockey Court to Boys and Girls Club of Collin County.

The Tyler Seguin Ball Hockey Court will be a multi-purpose outdoor court located at the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County location in McKinney, Texas. The court surface will be built using Sport Court®, a high-quality modular synthetic sports flooring system. Tyler will donate $50,000 to cover the entire cost of the court, which is generously being supplied by locally-based NexCourt.

This is the second season Tyler has partnered with Boys and Girls Club of Collin County, as he has donated a suite at Stars home games to the group for the last two seasons and meets with all of the kids following each game they attend.

“Boys and Girls Club is an important community organization and I am proud to collaborate with them,” said Seguin. “Their leadership development initiatives, after school, and sports programs are valuable building blocks to enriching lives of local children. I look forward to continuing to work with their dedicated staff on future projects.”

Seguin, along with volunteers of the Dallas Stars Foundation and Pro Players Foundation and members of Boys and Girls Club, will assist in the construction and dedication of the court, which will take place on Sunday, March 19 at the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County located at 701 S. Church Street, McKinney, Texas, 75069.


Islanders Rookie Josh Ho-Sang Is Playing With a Veteran’s Poise
Allan Kreda
New York Times

When the Islanders rookie right wing Josh Ho-Sang is looking for inspiration, he does not immerse himself in hockey. Instead, he turns his attention to the soccer field.

“I mostly watched soccer highlights,” he said. “I couldn’t sit through a hockey game until I was 16. My dad would get on me and say, ‘You know it’s pretty useful if you watch the game you play.’”

Ho-Sang wears No. 66, the number of his hockey idol, Mario Lemieux, but credits his style to his childhood soccer hero, Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I think my style developed because I was really into Ronaldo when he first came in — I was like 9,” Ho-Sang said. “I always liked the way he played, especially if you look at his Manchester United highlights.”

Ho-Sang, 21, views the game through a prism different from most, and he prefers it that way.

Ho-Sang made his home debut Monday night in a messy 8-4 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes after having joined the Islanders for six games during their nine-game trip. He scored his second N.H.L. goal — his first came at Edmonton on March 7 — late in the second with an assist from Anthony Beauvillier, and he assisted on Calvin de Haan’s goal earlier in the period.

And early in the game, when had control of the puck several times, he heard a variation of the “olé, olé, olé” chant often heard at soccer games, using his name instead.

With sterling play at both ends of the ice, Ho-Sang is quickly making the case for his roster spot to become permanent.

“A lot of guys come up and try to play a different game,” he said Monday. “The key is just go out there and play hockey.”

Recalled from Bridgeport of the American Hockey League because of injuries to forwards Casey Cizikas and Alan Quine, Ho-Sang has brought an extra burst of energy to the surging Islanders, who are 15-8-3 since Doug Weight took over as head coach after Jack Capuano was fired on Jan. 17.

With 14 games remaining, the Islanders (32-25-11) are already counting on Ho-Sang’s contribution as they make a push for a third straight playoff spot. The Islanders are in the race for the final Eastern Conference slot, battling the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“This is what I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid, being in the N.H.L.,” said Ho-Sang, who is primarily playing on a line centered by Brock Nelson, with Nikolay Kulemin or Andrew Ladd on the left wing. “As long as I’m bringing that compete level, I’m the happiest guy in the world.”

Weight has been impressed by Ho-Sang’s poise, talent and attention to details.

“He fits in physically, and with his skating ability and skill set, it looks like he’s been in this league a long time,” Weight said. “I’m not surprised. He has been well coached.”

Ho-Sang, who grew up in suburban Toronto, also brings an unusual family lineage to Brooklyn. His father, Wayne, is from Jamaica, and his great-grandfather was from Hong Kong. Ho-Sang’s mother, Ericka, was born in Chile, and her parents were Russian and Swedish. Ho-Sang was raised Jewish.

The Islanders took a chance on Ho-Sang, a brash scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, with a first-round pick in 2014. Many teams avoided choosing Ho-Sang because of reports of discipline issues and concern he may have been more focused on making flashy plays than on winning.

But Ho-Sang has been proving his critics wrong since he overslept on the opening day of training camp in 2015, leading the Islanders to send him back to his junior team.

The most controversy Ho-Sang has generated so far in the N.H.L. has been choosing to wear No. 66, which has been worn by only one other N.H.L. player since Lemieux retired in 2006. Ho-Sang’s decision was debated on social media, sports radio and Canadian television.

This season, his first in the A.H.L., Ho-Sang had 10 goals and 26 assists in 48 games. Ho-Sang made it a point to praise Bridgeport Coach Brent Thompson and his staff.

“The A.H.L. is a great league,” Ho-Sang said. “I think people should acknowledge that. It definitely got me prepared for this.”

His work ethic has caught the attention of the Islanders captain, John Tavares, who knows well the pressure of expectations.

“Josh has played extremely well,” Tavares said. “He understands how he needs to play, and he’s getting more confident. The hardest thing to do for a guy expected to score is come in and score.”

Ho-Sang always found his solace on the ice.

“I’ve played hockey the same way my whole life,” he said. “I’ve gotten in trouble for it, and I’ve gotten complimented for it. It’s important to just play your game.”


Mar 14

Ho-Sang goal vs Hurricanes

Leivo goal vs Devils

Mar 16

Seguin goal vs Canucks

Mar 19

Tyler Seguin Ball Hockey Court

Mar 21

Flyers Sign D Mark Friedman to Entry Level Contract
Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers announced today that they have signed defenseman Mark Friedman, the club’s 2014 third round draft pick (86th overall), to an entry-level contract for the 2017-18 season, according to GM Ron Hextall.

Additionally, Friedman will report to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, for the remainder of the 2016-17 season.

Friedman spent the last three seasons in the NCAA at Bowling Green State University of the WCHA. Below are some news & notes:

DRAFTED: 3rd Round, 86th overall (2014)
TEAM/LEAGUE: Bowling Green State University (NCAA: WCHA)
AGE: 21 (12-25-1995)
BORN: Toronto, Ontario
VITALS: 5’11”, 185 pounds

In three seasons at Bowling Green, he recorded 68 points (26g-52a) in 121 games to go along with a +21 rating.

This past season, he led the team’s defense in scoring with 26 points (8g-18a) in 40 games, which ranked fourth overall on the team, and were new career highs in goals, assists and points.

He led the team on the power play in both assists (9) and points (13).

In his Sophomore year, he was named to the First team All-WCHA, while also being named one of the Top 50 Players to Watch by The Hockey News.

As a Freshman, The tied for a team lead with 17 assists and was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team. He was also a part of Bowling Green’s defense unit that ranked second in the country on the penalty kill.


Mar 22

Savard goal vs Leafs

Mar 26

Seguin OT Winner vs Devils

Seguin Postgame

Goodrow scores hat trick with Barracudas in 5-4 loss

Mar 27

Irwin Named Nashville’s Masterton Trophy Nominee
Brooks Bratten
Nashville Predators

It would’ve been easy for Matt Irwin to give up. He’s glad he didn’t.

The Nashville Predators defenseman has been named the team’s nominee for the 2017 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA). The trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Originally signed to a one-year deal on July 1, 2016, by the Predators, Irwin, who had spent the previous season with the Boston Bruins organization, didn’t make Nashville’s Opening Night roster out of training camp. Irwin has admitted he wasn’t happy with his play in camp, and knew he had plenty more to give.

Due to injuries on the blue line early in the season, Irwin got that second chance, receiving the call to Nashville late in October – and he never looked back.

Since then, Irwin has tallied three goals and 14 points in 66 games, but more importantly, has played essentially every position on the Preds blue line over the course of the season, providing a sense of stability no matter who he’s skated with.

Those efforts earned him a new one-year deal on Jan. 6 to carry him through the 2017-18 season, a show of confidence from the entire organization to what Irwin can provide.

“I knew I could play in this League at this level, and I was comfortable coming in,” Irwin said. “Once I got a grasp on the systems, it’s been awesome ever since.”

The nomination is a nod to Irwin’s ability to re-establish himself as an NHL defenseman after doing so in San Jose to begin his career, only to lose that opportunity last season. Now, Irwin appreciates every day in the League that much more.

“I think maybe you take your first 150 games or so a little bit for granted, and it’s so true that once you’re up here, it’s a grind and it’s a battle to stay up here,” Irwin said. “You have to be sharp every year and every game. It was an eye-opener and a learning experience [to go back to the AHL]. But you take those positives and those learning experiences from being sent down and spending the year back in the minors to looking to get that opportunity again. I’m just so thankful for that.”

The three finalists for the Masterton Trophy will be announced at a later date. The award will be presented at the 2017 NHL Awards in late June.


Mar 28

Savard Postgame

Yakupov getting another chance and thriving
Jeremy Rutherford
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Nail Yakupov is expected to be in the lineup for the fourth straight game Wednesday when the Blues travel to play Arizona.

Since the start of the regular season, when the winger suited up in the first 11 games, he has played four in a row only twice — once in December (four) and once in January (six).

Now nearing April, Yakupov is earning his starting assignments, posting an assist in three straight games after going 16 consecutive games without a point. His latest helper came on Alex Pietrangelo’s goal Monday, giving the Blues a two-goal lead in a game they won 4-1 over Arizona.

“He’s playing with a real purpose,” Mike Yeo said. “I think his work ethic is very noticeable. Every game right now he’s getting involved physically, where he’s arriving on the body at certain times of the game. (Monday) for instance you see times in the game where he ends up down low in our zone, where he’s the first guy back in our zone and to me that’s a sign of his commitment to bear down on the defensive side of the game as well. These are the things that we talked about with him and these are the things that we believe if he has those elements in his game, then the skill part will surface.”

Yakupov, who was one of only six Blues’ skaters on the ice for Tuesday’s optional practice, said he’s simply trying to make the most of his opportunity after being an healthy scratch in 37 of 61 games before his recent return to the lineup.

“I think I just use my chance,” he said. “I try to always work hard. I don’t have in myself to be like a cheater or to be lazy. But just like sometimes when things are not doing good, I just try to stick with it and use the opportunity that (Yeo) gives me. I think the guys who I play with, they help a lot, too, and I think we play as a line and that’s what makes the team good.”

Yakupov’s resurgence has happened simultaneously with his placement on the Blues’ third line, playing alongside center Ivan Barbashev and left winger Zach Sanford. Since they’ve been lumped together three games ago, they’ve logged 10-plus minutes per night and have five points.

“It’s easier to do when you’re doing all the little things together and you do them good,” Yakupov said. “The last few games, we really enjoy our game and we’ve got a lot of chances. We’re just trying to have fun out there. It goes and goes and goes, and it’s because we’re all working hard.”

One Blues teammates happy to see Yakupov thriving is his friend, Vladimir Tarasenko. The two spend a lot of time together away from the rink, especially on the road.

“It was a really tough time for (Yakupov), I know, when he wasn’t playing,” Tarasenko said. “He always stays positive, always helps his teammates and it’s going to payback in the end. He do a great job and now he deserves to play.”


Mar 29

CBJ’s David Savard continues to make a nuisance of himself to opposition
Tom Reed
The Columbus Dispatch

A month ago, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella stood outside the visitors’ locker room in Montreal and summarized one of David Savard’s best qualities in a concise, comical and complimentary manner.

“He’s really good at getting in the way,” Tortorella said of his defenseman.

It’s a description that once applied to Tomas Holmstrom, the former Red Wings’ forward who planted himself in front of the opposition’s net to screen goalies and deflect pucks.

Savard makes a nuisance of himself on the other end of the ice. Sometimes, he does it standing upright. Often, he puts himself in prone positions and harm’s way to aid Sergei Bobrovsky.

Last night, the sublime Bobrovsky stopped 41 shots, but it was the two saves he didn’t need to make midway through the third period that also played a role in the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win over the Sabres in Nationwide Arena.

Savard broke up a 2-on-1 dropping down face first to prevent a Jack Eichel pass from reaching Evander Kane with the home side nursing a one-goal lead. Moments later, the blueliner hustled back to cut down the angle on forward Ryan O’Reilly, who appeared to have a clear path to goal. O’Reilly was forced right and lost control of the puck as Savard reached to poke it away.

Two great Sabres’ scoring opportunities and neither resulted in a shot on goal.

“He’s good,” Jackets alternate captain Brandon Dubinsky said of Savard. “There’s a reason he logs the minutes he does – the (penalty) killing minutes, the hard minutes, the end-of-the-game-when-you-are-up-by-a-goal minutes. He’s established himself as a reliable guy. We know what we are going to get from him every night.”

What the Jackets got last night from Savard was a team-high four blocked shots and a team-high 23-minutes, 18-seconds of ice time. His recent contributions, while often unnoticed, have been crucial as the Blue Jackets’ offense suddenly has dried up.

Columbus has averaged 2.14 goals in the past seven games yet managed a 5-1-1 record in that stretch. Bobrovsky, who seems destined to win his second Vezina Trophy, is the obvious reason for the success. But Savard and his fellow defensemen also are making plays around the net.

Kyle Quincey has been a good trade-deadline addition. Scott Harrington is giving Tortorella solid minutes. The top pair of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski is capable of headline-grabbing performances every game.

Savard and Jack Johnson don’t garner as much attention because they lack the offensive flair, but the partnership has been an invaluable one. Johnson has been a decent player for years, and possesses a wealth of international experience for Team USA. Savard, 26, is enjoying a career year after improving his fitness level and reinventing himself as a defensive defenseman. He leads the Jackets in blocked shots per game (1.8) and ranks tied for sixth in the NHL with a plus-28 rating.

What coaches and teammates love about Savard is the extra effort. He never quits on a play. He’s probably saved more than a half dozen goals this season throwing his body in front of pucks around the net. He’s not a smooth skater or technically-gifted player, but he finds ways to frustrate opponents.

Savard supplied the biggest defensive play last night by someone other than Bobrovsky. Eichel and Kane sped up ice on a 2-on-1 after a Jackets’ offensive-zone turnover. You couldn’t pick a more lethal duo on the Buffalo roster. Eichel, the outstanding second-year pro, leads the team in points and is the Sabres’ best passer. Kane is the club’s top goal scorer.

Between them they registered 14 shots on goal against the Jackets.

“I am watching Eichel’s ass going down on a 2-on-1 and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God,’” coach John Tortorella said.

Savard’s strategy was simple: Force Eichel to shoot and eliminate the cross-ice pass.

“If Bob doesn’t have to move side to side, it gives him a better chance to stop it,” Savard said. “My mindset is not to let that pass through. I know (Eichel) is a good player with a lot of skill so I was trying to get my timing right.”

Skating backward, Savard dropped to the ice just before Eichel released the pass. Once again, the stout French-Canadian had excelled by just getting in the way.

“I’m surprised (Eichel) doesn’t shoot it and it’s just a great play by Savvy as far as taking the ice away,” Tortorella said.

“I challenge myself to stop those,” Savard added. “It makes it fun when they are coming down on you and you can make a good play and stop those passes. Or, even blocking a shot when you are laying down . . . I am just having fun with it.”

Seconds later, Savard provided another big defensive play. He made up ground on O’Reilly and didn’t allow him to cut across the face of goal.

“I was just trying to keep him on the one side so Bob can make a strong play on him,” Savard explained. “Bob’s probably the best goalie in the league. Every time he sees it, he’s going to stop it.”

The puck hopped over O’Reilly’s stick at the last second and another golden chance had gone begging for the Sabres.

Brandon Saad added an empty netter with 65 seconds remaining. Naturally, Savard was on the ice in a key defensive situation.

The Jackets must regain their scoring touch, particularly on the power play, if they want to make a deep playoff push. They have become too Bob-dependent in recent weeks.

In the meantime, Savard will patrol the area around his net, doing what he seems to do best — getting in the way.


How Josh Ho-Sang turned ‘crazy year’ into dream come true
Brett Cyrgalis
New York Post

Rarely are the things coming out of a player’s mouth as interesting as the things he does on the ice.

But Josh Ho-Sang is nothing if not a rarity, a mix of sublime talent and introspective candidness that make the Islanders’ 21-year-old forward a magnetic force. He speaks of all the things he has learned in the past seven months with reverence — and his learning experiences have been plentiful.

But he often shakes his head in disbelief, his curly mohawk bouncing like wayward springs. With his eyes wide, he said he never could have expected being here right now, helping the Islanders as they push for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with just seven games left in the regular season and his spot in the lineup integral to them making it or not.

“If you asked me if I thought I would be in the NHL, not a chance,” Ho-Sang told The Post after Tuesday’s practice, the final push continuing with Thursday’s game at Philadelphia. “A few months ago, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ Then I started playing better. For me, it’s been a crazy year.”

After the Islanders traded up to take Ho-Sang with the 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft, he rewarded them by oversleeping for the first day of his first training camp, earning him an immediate demotion to his junior team. This past training camp, he showed up on time and his skill was impressive, but he still didn’t make the team. The organization wanted him to learn how to be a pro, which took some time at AHL Bridgeport.

“For me, just a good kid, fun-loving guy that approached the game a little bit casual at times,” said Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson. “It was one of those things where we wanted to hold him accountable.”

Ho-Sang was told if he played well, he would be called up. He had six points in his first six games, but no call came.

“Then the negativity just creeped in,” he said.

By his own count, Ho-Sang was a healthy scratch seven times before Christmas. He said Thompson wasn’t really speaking to him, and that the coach “wasn’t sure how to talk to me.” But eventually, the message got through.

“It all kind of punched me in the face at once,” Ho-Sang said. “Nothing is perfect, no one in life is perfect. For me, it’s nice to have gone through that because that’s the worst my hockey career has ever felt — not been, but felt. On a personal level, I was like, ‘Oh, what am I going to do?’ ”

Ho-Sang said it was the first time he ever had been scratched in his life, “except for when I do dumb things. Normally I have coaches that are like, ‘Josh, you’re my best player. It doesn’t matter how bad you play, we know you’ll be better next game.’ [Thompson] didn’t care. He was like, ‘I don’t care if you’re going to be better next game, you don’t always get a next game. You don’t always get the next chance.’

“He taught me the value of the game to myself. Sometimes you just play. For me, I realized when I was getting scratched, ‘God damn it, I love this game. I want to be on the ice.’ ”

From the end of January until the end of Feburary, Ho-Sang had seven goals and 20 points in 16 games, and was kept off the score sheet just five times during that stretch. He finally was called up and made his NHL debut March 2 in Dallas.

Ho-Sang has played 14 games for the Islanders, with three goals and eight points. On Monday night against the Predators, the Islanders lost a crucial game and Ho-Sang had what he called his first bad performance in “a month and a half — which is pretty awesome, in the larger scheme of things.” But he took it hard, and watched the game in full twice before Tuesday’s practice.

“For me, adjusting to dealing with playing bad in the NHL versus playing bad in the AHL is like, they are two different sides of the spectrum,” he said. “You play bad in the AHL and, like, nobody’s watching. Right?”

But now people are watching, and the stage is set for the rest of the league to take notice — if it hasn’t already. And for the Islanders, it’s about making that final push to reach the playoffs and capitalize on all the maturing Ho-Sang has done in the past few months.

“For me, it’s just about being another gear in the turning clock,” he said. “I can be a big piece or I can be a little piece, but as long as the clock is turning, that’s all that matters.”