Ex-NHL tough guy Donald Brashear goes from jaw-breaker to stick-maker

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After 17 National Hockey League seasons playing for five teams that provided him with every piece of equipment he needed, tough guy forward Donald Brashear had an epiphany – and a case of sticker shock – when he had to buy a hockey stick.

“I was retired for five years, so when I ran out of sticks and I went to buy one at a store, I thought the sticks were so expensive,” Brashear told me recently. “Even though I have money, it didn’t make sense for me to pay $300 bucks for a stick just to play in the beer league.”

Donald Brashear  launched a quest to make an affordable hockey stick.

Donald Brashear launched a quest to make an affordable hockey stick.

That breath-gasping experience launched Brashear on a mission to manufacture and sell professional-caliber, carbon fiber, high-performance hockey sticks at an affordable price.

The result was Brash 87, an upstart business that sells Brashear-designed sticks for players of all levels. He’s priced them between $129 (CAN) and $189 (CAN) – roughly $103 to $151 (USD) – about half the cost of name-brand sticks.

Brashear is the latest individual or company to venture into the lucrative and ultra-competitive hockey stick business.  In 2013, STX, a Baltimore-based lacrosse, field hockey, and golf equipment maker branched off into ice hockey sticks.

In 2000, golf club shaft-maker True got into the hockey stick biz and has sold more than two million twigs since.  But big-name hockey companies continue to be the big dogs. Bauer, for example, has an estimated 54 percent of the hockey equipment market – which includes sticks.

Brashear says he’s not out to conquer the hockey stick-making world. He just wants a small piece of the planet.

“It’s like you’re drinking Pepsi Cola and then there’s a new company that shows up and says ‘Listen, I want to take one percent of that market,'” he told me. “If I can get one percent of what that company is making, that’s a lot of money.”

Donald Brashear played for five NHL teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo/ Mitchell Layton/Getty Images via Philadelphia Flyers)

Donald Brashear played for five NHL teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo/ Mitchell Layton/Getty Images via Philadelphia Flyers)

Brashear began his quest slowly. First, he searched for a reliable manufacturer in China who could make sticks to his specifications. After personally putting prototype sticks through their paces, he began selling the sticks around hometown Quebec City and at a Toronto-area Canadian Tire store.

“In six months, eight months, I sold like close to 3,000 sticks with no marketing, no advertising, no nothing. Only word of mouth,” he told me. “I hit two markets: the parents who don’t want to pay for a stick that’s too expensive and the beer league player who wants a high-performance stick.”

He’s become a traveling salesman of sorts, lugging a few Brash 87’s with him to rinks around Quebec City where he plays hockey five times a week.

“I bring my sticks, other players take them and they realize ‘That’s a nice stick, it light,'” Brashear said. “I say ‘Why don’t you try it?’ They try it and they adopt it.”

Now Brashear is looking to expand. He pitched his wares earlier this month before the panelists of CBC’s “Dragons’ Den,” Canada’s equivalent to CNBC’s popular “Shark Tank” business reality television show. The episode should air in the upcoming season.

Donald Brashear recently pitched his less-expensive Brash 87 hockey sticks to CBC's "Dragons' Den," Canada's version of CNBC's "Shark Tank."  (Photo/CBC)

Donald Brashear recently pitched his less-expensive Brash 87 hockey sticks to CBC’s “Dragons’ Den,” Canada’s version of CNBC’s “Shark Tank.” (Photo/CBC)

“The ultimate goal is to build a high-performance stick to help people save money on sticks,” he said. “It’s not something I’m doing to become a millionaire. It’s something I’m doing where I’m helping people and helping me at the same time.”

Some fans might think Brashear’s desire to sell hockey sticks a bit odd. After all, he was a player known more for his fists than his scoring touch. In 1,025 NHL games, Brashear tallied 85 goals, 120 assists and a whopping 2,634 penalty minutes – most of them accumulated five minutes at a time as one of the league’s fiercest and most-feared fighters.

The website dropyourgloves.com calculates that Brashear had 390 fights during his hockey career – 277 of them while playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and New York Rangers. He spent enough time in the sin bin that he’s ranked 15th all-time in penalty minutes among NHL players. Brashear says the frequent fisticuffs obscured his overall hockey talents.

“I shot a lot of pucks and I know a lot about sticks,” he said. “I would watch (Capitals forward Alex) Ovechkin make a move and I would try to make the same one. It would take me two years before I would be able to, but in the end I would get it.”

Brashear had the ability to light the lamp. He was second in scoring on the Fredericton Canadiens -Montreal’s American Hockey League farm team in 1993-94 – with 38 goals and 28 assists while amassing 250 penalty minutes. He had an NHL career-high 28 points – 9 goals, 19 assists – for the Canucks in 2000-2001.

One Brashear’s most satisfying seasons was when he scored 25 points – 8 goals, 17 assists – with the Flyers in 2002-03 as a fourth-line player with right wing Sami Kapanen and center Keith Primeau.

“That was a fun year, I really liked it,” he told me. “I always wanted to be in different situations, and I was used in different situations. I wanted to become a better player.”

But toughness remains his calling card. When his young players were being pushed around in the Swedish Hockey League last season, Modo Assistant General Manager Peter Forsberg telephoned his then 42-year-old former Flyers teammate Brashear and asked him to hop a plane and suit up.

“I said ‘Peter, I’ve been retired for five years. Yeah, I play a lot of hockey, but I’m not in game shape like going 100 miles an hour like these kids now in Europe,'” Brashear recalled. “I said ‘We’re not allowed to fight.’ He said ‘No, but your presence there is going to make a big difference.'”

Brashear’s Modo stat line: 12 regular season games, no points and six penalty minutes.  He had a goal, no assists, and two penalty minutes in four playoff games. He was a fan favorite during his nearly three-month stint in Sweden.

“I really enjoyed it…I kind of wish right after my career I had the chance to go play there to get better at the game there,” he said. “There’s so much skating, passing the puck. It’s not so much physical.”

Rockets hope to soar in Memorial Cup tournament

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Tyrell Goulbourne isn’t going to let a little thing like recovering from surgery on a lacerated calf muscle keep him from being with his Kelowna Rockets teammates when they compete for the Memorial Cup in a four-team major junior hockey tournament that begins Friday in scenic Quebec City.

“I wouldn’t miss it if I was in a wheelchair, I’ll be there,” Goulbourne, the 21-year-old left wing told Western Canada’s AM 1150 radio.

Goulbourne’s injury – he was cut by Portland Winterhawks forward Keegan Iverson’s skate in the third round of the Western Hockey League playoffs – has been the only downer in the Rockets’ ride to the 97th annual Memorial Cup tourney that will determine the Canadian Hockey League champion.

Injured Kelowna Rockets forward Tyrell Goulbourne will root for his team in the Memorial Cup from the sidelines (Photo/Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Injured Kelowna Rockets forward Tyrell Goulbourne will root for his team in the Memorial Cup from the sidelines (Photo/Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

The team stormed through the Tri-City Americans, the Victoria Royals, and the Brandon Wheat Kings to capture the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup, losing only three games along the way. The Rockets began the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Americans and ended it by sweeping the Wheat Kings.

The quest for the Memorial Cup begins Friday when the Rockets face the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Quebec Remparts, the tournament’s host team. The Rimouski Oceanic, the QMJHL’s champions, and the Oshawa Generals, the Ontario Hockey League champs, also qualified for the tournament.

An Edmonton native, Goulbourne was a major contributor to the Rockets’ 53-13-5-1 regular season record and in the team’s playoff run before his injury. A Philadelphia Flyers third-round draft pick in 2013, he tallied 22 goals and 23 assists in 62 regular season games and notched a goal and an assist in 12 playoff games.

Four Rockets players were among the Top 10 scorers in the WHL playoffs. Still, Kelowna is known more for its defense. After all, this is the team that produced the likes of defensemen Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, Tyler Myers of the Winnipeg Jets, Josh Gorges of the Buffalo Sabres and the Flyers’ Luke Schenn.

Madison Bowey hoists WHL championship trophy, perhaps a practice lift for the Memorial Cup  (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Madison Bowey hoists WHL championship trophy, perhaps a practice lift for the Memorial Cup (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Carrying on that blue line tradition is team captain Madison Bowey, a 2013 Washington Capitals 2013 second-round draft pick. His 2014-15 season could earn him more than a look-see from Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz during the team’s rookie camp and training camp later this year.

The 20-year-old Winnipeg native scored 17 goals and 43 assists in 58 regular season games and had a gaudy plus-minus of plus-38. He had 7 goals and 12 assists in 19 WHL playoff games. Bowey also played for Gold Medal-winning Team Canada in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, scoring a goal and 3 assists in the tournament.

All Bowey has done is win this season to the point that he’s in a position to complete a hat trick – an IIHF championship, a WHL championship, and a Memorial Cup.

Another Rockets defenseman, Devante Stephens, hopes to follow in Bowey’s skates and be selected by a National Hockey League team at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Fla., next month. He’s ranked 116th among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.

 Devante Stephens hopes to follow a long line of Kelowna defensemen into the NHL  (Photo/ Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Devante Stephens hopes to follow a long line of Kelowna defensemen into the NHL (Photo/ Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Stephens scored 4 goals and 7 assists for the Rockets in 64 regular season games and 4 assists in 17 playoff games. The Surrey, British Columbia, native won the team’s Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player awards this season.

If Stephens, 18, hears his named called inside Sunrise’s BB&T Center at the June 26-27 draft, he may give an assist to Bowey, whose absence from the Rockets for the world junior championship gave Stephens more minutes and more responsibility on the ice.

“When the guys went away to world juniors….I really had an opportunity to show the coaches what I had,” Stephens told Rockets TV. “And I think it was a real stepping block for me, especially  in this league. I really just got to show my stuff.”

Born in Haiti and raised in Canada, Michael Herringer helped backstop the Rockets to the WHL championship (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Born in Haiti and raised in Canada, Michael Herringer helped backstop the Rockets to the WHL championship (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Kelowna Rockets).

Rockets goaltender Michael Herringer has had a chance to show his stuff to Rockets coaches – and potential NHL suitors –  this season.  In 14 regular season games Herringer posted an 11-2 record and recorded 2 shutouts.

Born in Haiti and raised in Comox, British Columbia, the 19-year-old Herringer had a 2.33 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. He went 3-0 in the WHL playoffs with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.

Debate over a hockey team’s Indian name, logo, surfaces in a surprising place – Sweden

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The fight over sports teams using Indian/First Nations names and logos shifted to an unlikely battleground this week – Sweden.

A Stockholm man complained to Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman and demanded that the Frolunda Indians Hockey Club change its name and ditch its logo – an angry-looking Indian/First Nations member wearing a red, white, green, and black feather headdress.

“I want to report their logo to you and I want to demand that it is changed because it is offensive to all Indians and it uses a stereotypical image of Indians,” the complainant wrote to the ombudsman, according to a story reported by The Local in Sweden.

The  Frolunda Hockey Club's name and logo prompted an unsuccessful complaint to Sweden's government..

The Frolunda Hockey Club’s name and logo prompted an unsuccessful complaint to Sweden’s government.

But the complaint was dropped because “We arrived at the conclusion that it was not covered by Swedish discrimination law,” Clas Lundstedt, a press spokesman for the ombudsman, told The Local. “Discrimination is defined in the legislation as somebody being disadvantaged or treated worse than another person in a similar situation and that has not  happened in this case.”

He added: “This case could perhaps be related to freedom of speech legislation or similar, but that is not covered by laws on discrimination, so it is nothing that is within our remit.”

Frolunda's Joel Lundqvist.

Frolunda’s Joel Lundqvist.

Frolunda is a member of the Swedish Hockey League. The team’s alums include New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and former Buffalo Sabres forward Christian Ruuttu. Lundqvist’s twin brother, Joel, a former Dallas Stars center, played for Frolunda in 2014-15.

Frolunda adopted the “Indians” name and image about 20 years ago as a tribute to the team’s aggressive playing style which was described as “Wild West Tactics.” Peter Pettersson Kymmer, the team’s media manager, told Radio Sweden that he doesn’t believe that Frolunda’s name and logo are disparaging.

“We think our symbol and name communicate

something entirely different, like courage, passion and fellowship,” he said.

Pettersson Kymmer’s comments sound similar to those of management of North

N.Y. Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, a Frolunda alum.

N.Y. Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, a Frolunda alum.

American sports teams. The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks,  Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins have resisted calls to change their names or logos.

Daniel Snyder, owner of Washington’s NFL team, has been under pressure by several Indian/First Nations groups, many members of Congress, and others to change his team’s name and remove the Indian head logo from the team’s helmets.

Media outlets like the New York Daily News, The Seattle Times, The Washington Post editorial board, The San Francisco Chronicle, and online sites Slate and Mother Jones no longer refer to the team by its name.

The U.S. Patent Office canceled the Washington football team’s trademark registration last June. But Snyder has vowed not to change the team’s name.

“A Redskin is a football player. A Redskin is our fans. The Washington Redskins fan base represents honor, represents respect, represents pride. Hopefully winning,” Synder told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” last year.

Frolunda management said they don’t intend to change their team’s name, either.

“The answer is no, but then I don’t know what will happen 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Pettersson Kymmer told Radio Sweden.

While the fight over Washington football team rages and the flap over Frolunda’s name generates headlines, Chicago’s NHL team doesn’t seem to get as much heat for its name and distinctive Indian head logo.

Last August, a seven-person panel from The Hockey News ranked Chicago’s logo as tops among the NHL’s 30 teams.

“What differentiates this logo from the Washington Football Club – and why there is not

 Chicago's Johnny Oduya sports one of the NHL's top-rated team logos.

Chicago’s Johnny Oduya sports one of the NHL’s top-rated team logos.

great controversy around it – is that it honors a great chief and does so with a sophisticated, artful design,” The Hockey News’ Rory Boylen wrote last August. “It’s not a cartoon like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians and the team’s nickname that it represents isn’t the outright slur Washington’s is. This name and logo honors the memory of a great Native American chief who stood up to the injustices inflicted upon his people.”

The Blackhawks have forged a relationship with the American Indian Center of Chicago over the years and the team has “a genuine and ongoing dialogue with the native community in Illinois and for that we respect them,” center general counsel Scott Sypolt told USA Today last year.

“There is a clear distinction,” Sypolt added, “between sports teams that depict Native Americans as caricatures and red, screaming savages…If you look at Chief Wahoo, you have the big lips, the exaggerated nose and the beady eyes.”

Still, several folks believe that it’s time for the Blackhawks to take a new nickname and logo. “Clearly, no right-thinking person would name a team after an aboriginal figure these days,” Toronto Star hockey columnist Damien Cox wrote in 2010, “any more than they would use Muslims or Africans or Chinese or any ethnic group to depict a specific sporting notion.”

NYC roller hockey players pay tribute to a minority trailblazer

There was a time not-so-long ago when hockey truly wasn’t for everyone.

In big cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, the lack of access to ice skating rinks and lack of funds to pay for hundreds of dollars worth of equipment and team fees sent working-class urban kids to the streets to play the game they loved.

And play they did. With wheels on their feet, they competed on their neighborhood streets, on playground basketball courts, and in organized roller hockey leagues. New York has tons of urban sports legends, from basketball players who lit it up Harlem’s Rucker Park to the brothers Mullen – Joe and Brian – roller hockey-playing kids from Hell’s Kitchen who made it big in the National Hockey League.

The New York Times has a touching story about Craig Allen, who endured the slings and arrows of racism to become a 1970s roller hockey legend in the city. The Times piece by Corey Kilgannon is worth a read.

Heroics and highlight reel performaces by players of color in playoff games

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Hockey playoffs are in full swing and players of color are at the center of the action.

From the National Hockey League to Canada’s major junior leagues to the alphabet jumble of various minor leagues, players of color are providing heroics and highlights in the early rounds.

Washington Capitals' Joel Ward getting it done in playoffs - again.

Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward getting it done in playoffs – again.

Washington Capitals right wing Joel Ward further enhanced his reputation as a clutch playoff performer with his game-winning goal against the New York Rangers with 1.3 seconds left in the third period in the first game of a second-round series opener at Madison Square Garden.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ward’s buzzer-beater against Rangers all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist marked only the third time that a winning goal had been scrored in an NHL playoff game with less than two seconds remaining.

Game-ending heroics are becoming old hat for Ward. He’s got three playoff walk-off (or skate-offs) goals, the most dramatic being a Game 7 overtime winner that vanquished the Boston Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012.

Anaheim Ducks left wing Emerson Etem is yet to score an NHL playoff game-ending goal. But he did recently notched a highlight reel goal in the Ducks’ opening round series against the Winnipeg Jets that melted the “White Out” of Jets fans inside the MTS Centre and drew oohs and aahs from amazed teammates.

Emerson Etem eats up Jets defenders on goal.

Emerson Etem eats up Jets defenders on goal.

Born in Long Beach, California, Etem wasn’t much of a scorer during the 2014-15 regular season, tallying only 5 goals and 5 assists in 45 games for the Ducks. But he has 2 goals in five games in the still-young playoff season – and loads of confidence after undressing the Winnipeg Jets.

A few rungs below the NHL, forward Connor McDavid is getting his share of snazzy playoff goals for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. The likely Number One pick in June’s 2015 NHL Draft is the Main Man in Erie, the straw that stirs the Pennsylvania-based franchise.

But folks lucky enough to catch the Otters’ playoff series against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on the NHL Network couldn’t help but notice Erie forward Nick Baptiste. He potted 4 goals in a crucial Game 4 against the Greyhounds, a team that featured defensemen Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first-round draft pick, and Anthony DeAngelo, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2014 first-round draft selection.

“It was one of those nights where you just try to shoot as much as you can, and they go in,” Baptiste said after the game. “Fortunate enough to get the goals, but more importantly, the win.”

Erie won the game 7-5 and eliminated the Soo from the playoffs four games to two. The series was a high-scoring affair that offered a glimpse of the future for the downtrodden Buffalo Sabres.

Sure, a bad Ping-Pong ball bounce or two in the NHL Draft Lottery cost the Sabres –  the league’s worst team in the 2014-15 season – the first-overall pick and a shot at McDavid in June’s draft.

But with the Number Two pick in the upcoming draft, Buffalo is poised to get a great player in Boston University forward Jack Eichel. And more help is on the way talent-wise to Buffalo in the near future in the form of players like Baptiste.

Nick Baptiste's performance in the OHL playoffs brought Erie Otters fans to their feet (Matt Mead/Matt Mead Photography).

Nick Baptiste’s performance in the OHL playoffs brought Erie Otters fans to their feet (Matt Mead/Matt Mead Photography).

The Sabres chose him in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft. In the 2014-15 regular season, Baptiste tallied 32 goals and 32 assists in 53 games with the Otters and the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves. He has 11 goals and 9 assists in 15 OHL playoff games thus far.

Baptiste was one of the last players cut in tryouts for the Canadian team that went on to win the Gold Medal in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The Greyhounds also featured a future Sabre in right wing Justin Bailey. A Buffalo second-round pick in 2013, Bailey scored 34 goals and 35 assists in 57 games with the Greyhounds and the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The Western New York native tallied 7 goals and 7 assists in 14 playoff games for the Greyhounds.

Predators’ Seth Jones joins Team U.S.A. for 2015 IIHF World Championship

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The Nashville Predators’ loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs became America’s gain this week when defenseman Seth Jones joined the U.S. Men’s National team that will compete in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship.

Predator's Seth Jones dons red, white, and blue jersey again (Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Predator’s Seth Jones dons red, white, and blue jersey again (Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Jones, 20, adds a wealth of international experience to a young U.S. team that’s set to compete in the 16-nation tournament which runs May 1-17  in Ostrava and Prague, Czech Republic.

He’s a three-time IIHF gold medalist, having helped the U.S. to the top prize at the 2011 and 2012 IIHF Under-18 World Championships and the 2013 World Junior Championship.

Jones, son of former National Basketball Association star Popeye Jones, also skated for Team U.S.A. in the 2014 IIHF World Championship and made the tournament’s All-Star team. He was also named best defenseman by the tournament’s directorate.

The U.S. team begins its 2015 quest for the gold May 1 against Finland, a game in which Jones could face goaltender Pekka Rinne, a Nashville teammate. Rinne was the 2014 tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

The 2015 U.S.A.-Finland game will be aired live on cable’s NBCSN at 10 a.m. All of the American squad’s games will be live-streamed for mobile devices, desktops and tablets via NBC Sports Live Extra.

The fourth player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, Jones appeared in all 82 games for the Predators during the 2014-15 regular season. He tallied eight goals and 19 assists and had a plus/minus of plus-3.

He played in all six of the Pred’s first-round playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks. He had no goals, four assists and was a minus-6. The Blackhawks eliminated the Predators four games to two.

But rather than go home to Plano, Texas, at the end of his National Hockey League season, Jones decided to head to the Czech Republic. He joins other NHLers  who are skating for their countries after their teams either failed to qualify for the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round.

Team Canada features an all-NHL roster that includes forwards  Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins,  Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

The U.S. roster is a mix of NHLers, American Hockey League players, and NCAA Division I college players including Boston University forward Jack Eichel, likely to be taken by the Buffalo Sabres with the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft June 26-27.

NHL players joining Jones on the American squad includes forward Nick Bonino of the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins, and defenseman Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes.

NHL head coaching diversity down to zero as Flyers fire Craig Berube

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And then there were none.

The number of minority head coaches in the National Hockey League zeroed out Friday when the Philadelphia Flyers did the expected and fired Craig Berube after the team failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Ted Nolan, left, and  Craig Berube, were the NHL's only minority head coaches. Both have been fired.(Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Ted Nolan, left, and Craig Berube, were the NHL’s only minority head coaches. Both have been fired.(Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

Berube, who is part Cree, joins former Buffalo Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan, who’s Ojibwe, on the unemployment line. The two made history in November 2013 when they became the first two First Nations members to coach against each other in an NHL game.

“Do I think he did a good job last year? Yes,” Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall said of Berube. “And this year things didn’t go so well. So you take the whole piece of the pie. I don’t think you can evaluate a coach on 20 or 40 games; you have to evaluate him on the whole ball of wax. We felt over two seasons that a change was needed.”

The Flyers tapped Berube, 49, to replace Head Coach Peter Laviolette in October 2013.  About a month later, Buffalo brought Nolan back for a second stint behind the Sabres bench.

Now the two have received their walking papers nearly a week apart. Neither firing was unexpected. Flyers management felt it had a playoff-caliber roster. But the team finished sixth in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division with a 33-31-18 record that wasn’t Stanley Cup Playoffs-worthy.

Philadelphia Flyers let Head Coach Craig Berube go after two season behind the bench.

Philadelphia Flyers let Head Coach Craig Berube go after two season behind the bench.

The team was plagued by inconsistent play – world-beaters against top-tier NHL teams, doormats against lesser opponents – and some questionable coaching decisions. Berube mismanaged goaltender Steve Mason, arguably the Flyers’ best player in 2014-15. Berube appeared to rush Mason back between the pipes early after the goalie suffered injuries.

Nolan’s canning wasn’t a shocker but the rationale for it was. The Sabres, at 23-51-8, had the NHL’s worst record, a dubious distinction that now puts the team in the best position to land the first overall pick in June’s NHL Draft, which will likely be Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid.

After putting an underwhelming product on the ice, and after a season of fan and media talk about the Sabres tanking for the best shot at McDavid,  Buffalo General Manager Tim Murray said he let Nolan go because he thought the team was better than its record indicated.

“I didn’t foresee us being a 30th-place team,” Murray said at a news conference. “Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys I had a big part in that, there’s no question and I own that. But up to the trade deadline I was open to keeping guys, I was open to maybe discussing with guys that were coming due, but the place we  were in was the place we were in.”

Whatever the rationale, both Buffalo and Philadelphia are in the market for head coaches. Both teams may take runs at Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock, whose contract in the Motor City expires soon.

They like Mike. Several NHL teams are expected to bid for Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock's services. (Photo Courtesy of The Detroit News/David Guralnick).

They like Mike. Several NHL teams are expected to bid for Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock’s services. (Photo Courtesy of The Detroit News/David Guralnick).

However, Babcock will be in high demand – Detroit, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will surely be interested – and he’ll demand to be paid, at least $5 million per season.

The Flyers may take a look at former Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team coach Dan Bylsma; St. Louis Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock;  former Flyer player and Gold Medal-winning Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team coach Kevin Dineen; or even former Flyers Head Coach  John Stevens, currently a Los Angeles Kings assistant coach.

Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club featured on PBS NewsHour

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Kudos to the PBS NewsHour for taking time in Thursday evening’s newscast to tell the story of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program.

Since 1977, program founder Neal Henderson has shown that if you give a kid – no matter what race, ethnicity, or gender – a stick, a puck, some equipment, ice time, and a chance, they can become hockey players.

Henderson is a hockey lifer who teaches life through hockey. He uses the sport to instill teamwork, discipline, perseverance, responsibility and accountability in kids from some of D.C.’s toughest neighborhoods.  He’s a gentle man who preaches tough love, a task master who takes time to make sure his players are alright, both on and off the ice.

Hockey is lucky to have him. And PBS NewsHour was thoughtful enough to show viewers the essence of what he and the Fort Dupont program are all about.

Neal Henderson, far left, and his Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club  hang out with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (Photo/Patrick McDermott).

Neal Henderson, far left, and his Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club hang out with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (Photo/Patrick McDermott).

The Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club is part of the National Hockey League’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative which provides support and unique programming to non-profit youth organizations across North America that are committed to offering children of all backgrounds opportunities to play hockey.

Diversity among NHL head coaches declines after Buffalo Sabres fire Ted Nolan

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Diversity within the National Hockey League’s head coaching ranks dwindled Sunday evening when the Buffalo Sabres fired bench boss Ted Nolan.

Nolan, who was in his second stint with the Sabres, piloted to team to a dismal 23-51-8 record, the worst record in the league. But many Sabres fans embraced the team’s race to the bottom for a chance at drafting Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid,  who’s ranked as hockey’s top prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting bureau.

Ted Nolan won't be back behind the Sabres bench in 2015-16. The team fired him on Sunday. (Bill Wippert, Buffalo Sabres)

Ted Nolan won’t be back behind the Sabres bench in 2015-16. The team fired him on Sunday. (Bill Wippert, Buffalo Sabres)

The league will hold a ping-pong ball lottery Saturday to determine which of the 14 NHL teams that failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs gets the first pick. The Sabres have a 20 percent of winning it.

Sabres General Manager Tim Murray told reporters Sunday that he felt the team had a better roster than its record indicated.

“I didn’t foresee us being a 30th-place team,” Murray said at a news conference. “Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys I had a big part in that, there’s no question and I own that. But up to the trade deadline I was open to keeping guys, I was open to maybe discussing with guys that were coming due, but the place we  were in was the place we were in.”

Murray added: “I don’t know if I was disappointed (in Nolan). We decided to go with young guys in a rebuild and surround them with some high-character veterans and we’ve done that. We still finished in 30th-place. There’s been a lot of changes here and that’s on me. I’m not going to question his coaching decisions here in front of you guys. It’s a decision that was made and there’s a big picture to it.”

Nolan, who’s Ojibwe, had a 40-87-17 record with the Sabres since he took over Buffalo’s coaching duties in November 2013. The team’s poor showing over the last few seasons prompted it to trade stars like goaltender Ryan Miller, high-scoring forward Thomas Vanek, and unload bad free agent contracts like forward Ville Leino‘s.

Asked  by the Associated Press about his dismissal, Nolan said “I’m just going to reflect on it and come out with a statement in the next couple of days.”

Evander Kane will have a new coach and new teammates next season in Buffalo.

Evander Kane will have a new coach and new teammates next season in Buffalo.

Buffalo is looking to use the 2015 draft to reload – both on-ice and behind the bench. The drive for 2015-16 began in February when the Sabres acquired forward Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets in a seven-player trade.

Kane suffered a shoulder injury before the trade and didn’t play a single game for the Sabres. He knows he was brought in to add firepower to a team on the cusp of getting McDavid or Boston University forward Jack Eichel.

“There’s a lot of excitement for the future in Buffalo,” Kane told NHL.com in February. “Just looking at next year, they’re going to get a top pick and that’s exciting. Just to have one of those guys maybe to play with next year, plus the other young players on that team.”

There’s speculation that if the Sabres do land McDavid they’ll take a serious, and expensive, run at Detroit Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock, who’s in the final year of his contract in the Motor City.

Babcock, who guided Detroit to the Stanley Cup in 2008, could command several million dollars per season as teams like the deep-pocketed Toronto  Maple  Leafs, which fired Coach Peter Horachek and General Manager Dave Nonis Sunday, aggressively vie for his services.

Nolan’s firing leaves only one minority head coach in the NHL – Philadelphia Flyers’ Craig Berube, who’s part Cree. But Berube might also be on his way out the door soon because the team – 33-31-18 – failed to make the playoffs.  The Flyers only have a 6.5 percent chance of winning the McDavid/Eichel lottery Saturday.

Kia Nurse joins big brother Darnell with a championship victory

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Another championship game, another championship for the Nurse family.

Defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first-round draft pick, powered Team Canada to a 5-4 victory over Russia to win the Gold Medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in January.

UConn guard Kia Nurse adds to the family championship trophy case.

UConn guard Kia Nurse adds to the family championship trophy case.

Wednesday night, guard Kia Nurse, Darnell’s younger sister, scored nine points to help the University of Connecticut Huskies capture their third consecutive NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship, the school’s 10th overall. The Huskies defeated Notre Dame 63-53 in Tampa, Fla.

“It’s the pinnacle of women’s basketball,” proud papa Richard Nurse told the hometown Hamilton Spectator before the game. “Outside of the Olympics there isn’t a bigger stage for women’s basketball than the NCAA championship.”

The Nurses are a close-knit, athletic family

Team Canada's Darnell Nurse.

Team Canada’s Darnell Nurse.

-and highly competitive. Father Richard Nurse was a wide receiver for the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats; his wife, Cathy, was a stellar basketball player for Canada’s McMaster University.

Their older daughter, Tamika, played basketball at the University of Oregon and Bowling Green State University. Richard Nurse’s brother, Roger, was a standout lacrosse player in Canada. Their sister, Raquel, was a Syracuse University hoops standout and is married to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Kia and Darnell’s cousin, Sarah Nurse, plays hockey for the University of

Wisconsin. Her younger brother, Elijah Nurse, was drafted by the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the Canadian major junior team Darnell plays for.

Kia Nurse gravitated to the hardwood rather than the hard ice. Still, her father says that she has a hockey player’s mentality on the court.

“Besides being extremely skilled, she’s a nasty piece of business,” he once told me. “She’s very physical.”

Big brother Darnell wasn’t able to attend Kia’s game on Tuesday night. His Greyhounds were preparing to play the Guelph Storm in the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

But most of the family – including McNabb – was in Tampa to cheer and celebrate. And the Nurses becoming a two-sport, two-championship household wasn’t lost on the hockey world.

Darnell Nurse team Canada photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images.

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