Family competitiveness fuels hockey success for the Nurses

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When it comes to competition, it’s hard to beat the Nurse family.

Athletic excellence seems to be on every branch of the family tree: Roger Nurse was a stellar Lacrosse player in Canada. Brother Richard was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. His wife, Cathy, was a basketball standout at Canada’s McMaster University. Their daughter, Tamika, played hoops for the University of Oregon and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Another daughter, Kia, is a point guard for Canada’s national women’s basketball team and will play for the University of Connecticut this Fall.

Even extended family members have strong sports ties: Richard and Roger’s sister, Raquel, a former Syracuse University basketball standout, is married to former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Athletic competition fuels competition in the family.

 “Our whole family, we compete all the  time,” Richard Nurse told me. “My kids compete, me and my wife compete. Everybody competes. There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not competing.”

In recent years, a new competitive branch has sprouted on the Nurse family sports tree – a hockey branch.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers' roster and Team Canada's, too.

Darnell Nurse wants to make the Oilers’ roster and Team Canada’s, too.

Darnell Nurse, a defenseman for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, will be vying for a spot on the Edmonton Oilers roster when the National Hockey League team opens training camp in September. Next month, the Oilers’ 2013 first round draft pick will attend Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team’s summer development camp in Quebec, an audition of sorts for a slot on Team Canada for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto this winter.

Darnell, 19, captained the Greyhounds last season and tallied 13 goals, 37 assists in 64 games. He played four regular season games for the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s American Hockey League farm team, and registered one assist. He also notched an assist in three playoff games for the Barons.

http://kfor.com/2014/04/25/barons-nurse-continuing-family-athletic-tradition/

Not bad for a kid who initially wanted to follow dad and Uncle Donovan and play football.

“He wanted to play football because he was surrounded by guys who played football,” Richard said. “When you’re a young kid and you’re athletic, they make you a running back. You end up getting hit 1,000 times before it truly ever counts. I told Darnell, ‘You’re a lanky kid, you’ve got a little bit of athleticism, they’re going to make you a running back, you’re going to get hit, you’re going to be on your knees all the time. If you want to play football, you can pick football later.’ He never did because the hockey thing obviously worked out for him.”

These days, it’s Darnell who dishes out the hits on the ice as a physical defenseman with skating skill and some offensive tools. He was one of the final cuts the Oilers made at last season’s training camp and he’s determined to make Head Coach Dallas Eakins’ decision whether to keep him or send him back to Sault Ste. Marie for another season of seasoning a hard one. When he was cut last year, Darnell said “it sucks.” This season, he’s taking a more measured approach.

 “Playing [in the NHL] last year probably wouldn’t have been the best for my development, and you probably take it a little harder when you first get sent down but for me I’m just going to put myself in a position where I’m in the best shape possible and as strong as I can be when September rolls around,” Darnell told the Edmonton Journal earlier this month.

Hockey runs in threes in Roger and Michelle Nurse’s home. Daughter Sarah, 19, begins her sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey team. A forward, she scored 11 goals – including three game-winners – and 10 assists for the Badgers in 38 games. Her performance earned her a spot on the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s 2013-14 All Rookie Team.

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

Sarah Nurse, earned IIHF gold for Canada, seeks NCAA title with Badgers (Photo/David Stluka)

“She’s the cerebral one,” Roger said. “If I have to do a scouting report, I’d say she’s got a very high hockey IQ; does nothing fancy but just gets to the net;  she gets to the open space. She’s always put pucks in the net.”

She was a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship in Finland. She’s among 42 players invited by Hockey Canada earlier this month to participate in its National Women’s Development Team selection camp next month in Calgary.

“The first thing that comes to mind with Sarah is speed,” Badgers Head Coach Mark Johnson said last year. “She is a great skater, very quick and very fast. She also combines her speed with great stick skills and the ability to score. She comes from an athletic family.”

Sarah’s younger brother, Elijah, was a 13th-round pick of the Greyhounds in last April’s OHL draft. A left wing, he scored 6 goals and 4 assists last season for the Hamilton Huskies in Canada’s Alliance Hockey Minor Midget Pavilion League.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

Elijah Nurse hopes to follow Cousin Darnell with Greyhounds.

“He’s undersized, but tough, tough as nails,” Roger Nurse said of his 16-year-old son. “He can go in a corner and get hit by three guys bigger than him and you think he’s dead. Doesn’t miss a shift.”

Then there’s baby brother Issac,  a 15-year-old forward who played last season for the Huskies. Some hockey experts believe that he could be a future OHL first round draft pick.

“I tell him ‘The harder you work, the harder you work on the ice, it’s up you. You can go anywhere from the first round to the 10th round, it all depends how hard you work,'” Roger said. “He’s got the tools. He’s just got to make sure the toolbox is intact, and this is the year to prove it.”

With a house full of high-caliber athlete-children and being athletes themselves, the Nurse adults combine loving understanding with tough love in preaching and teaching  accountability, toughness, and commitment to their offspring. Those were lessons taught to Richard and Roger by their parents, who moved to Canada from Trinidad.

“You play when you’re hurt, you play through injury, you go hard, and don’t show weaknesses,” Roger said. “You don’t sit off. It’s just a mentality we have.”

Asked if all their kids understand the mentality, Richard Nurse, ever the competitor, let out a laugh.

“I think mine have figured it out,” he said. “Roger’s are still working on it.”

 

 

 

Claude and Cassandra Vilgrain, like father, like daughter hockey duo

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The hockey gene kicked in for Cassandra Vilgrain on Feb. 21, 2002.

After watching the Canadian women’s hockey team beat the United States 3-2 for the Gold Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City on television, Cassandra was overcome by a sensation that she never felt before – the sudden urge to play the game.

“I was figure skating and dancing and all that kind of stuff. I just went to my dad one day, me and my friend, after they won the gold and I said ‘I want to play hockey,'” Cassandra told me from the family home in Calgary, Alberta. “He was kind of taken aback and said ‘Oh, really? That’s great.'”

Dad is Claude Vilgrain, who played 89 National Hockey League games for the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia

Claude Vilgrain watches daughter, Cassandra, play hockey and reflects on his career.

Claude Vilgrain watches daughter, Cassandra, play hockey and reflects on his career.

Flyers, skated in eight North American and European hockey leagues, and played for Canada in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

From her 2002 hockey epiphany, to a newbie barely able to stick handle on ice, Cassandra is now a forward for the University of New Hampshire’s NCAA Division I women’s hockey team. She tallied 9 goals and 8 assists in 32 games for the Wildcats last season. She got to Durham, N.H., through good hockey genes and good coaching – both courtesy of Dad.

“My first year of hockey there was no coach and my dad was like ‘Oh, I might as well do it since I’m going to be there anyway,'” Cassandra recalled. “He was really good. He taught me everything I know.”

Claude admits he wasn’t so sure when he first saw his daughter play.

Cassandra Vilgrain wants to go from watching the Winter Olympics on TV  to playing in one.

Cassandra Vilgrain wants to go from watching the Winter Olympics on TV to playing in one.

“I watched her first couple of practices and she could hardly move the puck,” he recalled. “A Thursday I wasn’t there I got a call from my wife, Janet, and she said ‘You should have seen her, she’s flying out there. She’s like Mario Lemieux, blah, blah, blah.’ I said ‘What are you talking about, she can hardly move.’ But Cassandra’s always been a quick skater, a quick learner. She was always the hardest-working player on the ice and still is.”

Having a dad who’s an ex-NHL player as a coach is a plus. Having three former NHLers as coaches is a bonus. Claude had a volunteer parent-coaching staff on Cassandra’s girls teams that included Ron Sutter, – a forward who played for 555 games for the Flyers, St. Louis Blues, San Jose SharksCalgary Flames and other teams, and Kevin Haller, a defenseman who logged 642 games for the Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and others squads during his NHL career.

“I guess I didn’t realize how cool it actually was, all the experience I got to grasp from them, but I think it definitely helped my game,” Cassandra said. “The best part was, yes, they were parent coaches, but we weren’t their daughters when we were on the ice or on the bench. We were treated the same, professionally, and we learned the game well.”

UNH's Cassandra Vilgrain has her dad's game and number.

UNH’s Cassandra Vilgrain has her dad’s game and number.

As a tribute to her father, Cassandra wears Number 19 at UNH, the same number Claude wore during his NHL career. It gives Claude that “Mini-Me” feeling when he watches Wildcats games online back home in Calgary.

“I see her go on the ice, Number 19, and she turns around and I can see ‘Vilgrain’ on the back, it’s like a ‘Little Claudie’ out there,” he said.

“With a ponytail,” Cassandra added.

“With a ponytail,” Claude chuckled.

 Hairstyle aside, father and daughter say they see similarities in their games, which Cassandra credits to bloodlines and coaching.

“I’m like a playmaker and my dad was always a really good playmaker, passer, kind of a power forward, a force to be reckoned with, kind of hard to knock off the puck,” she said. “I think that’s what I see in my own game.”

While Claude revels in his daughter’s hockey accomplishments, he says he’s just now beginning to fully grasp the significance and impact of his hockey career.  Though raised in Quebec, Claude Vilgrain is the only NHL player born in Haiti – Port-au-Prince in 1963. He became a high-scoring forward for the Laval Voisins of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the University of Moncton, and Canada’s national team in an era before NHL players participated in the Olympics.

Vilgrain played for the Devils, Flyers, and Canucks in his NHL career.

Vilgrain played for the Devils, Flyers, and Canucks in his NHL career.

“One of the first times I realized the impact I had was when I was playing in Switzerland, I got invited to play in the Spangler Cup for Team Canada,” he recalled. “They invited a couple of college kids to play with us. One of those players was Jamal Mayers (who played for the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks before retiring last year), he was a young kid, about 20 then. We were fixing our sticks before the first practice and he came to me and said ‘Hey, Claude, you’re our idol. My friend and I, we were watching you every game when we were playing in the states and it’s an honor playing with you.’ It never dawned on me that there might be some kids watching me. I was a little oblivious to the whole thing.”

By the time Claude made his debut with the Canucks in 1987-88, fellow black players Willie O’Ree, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Tony McKegneyGrant Fuhr, Val James and Ray Neufeld had preceded him in the NHL. The trail they blazed was still a bumpy one for Claude. By the time he ended his NHL career with the Flyers in 1993-94, Claude totaled 21 goals, 32 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 89 games.

“When I played it wasn’t that easy. I’m not going to say I had a tough time, especially after talking to Willie O’Ree. I’m never going to complain,” he told me. “But I know every time I stepped on the ice, the eyes were turned towards me and they were wondering ‘Is this a black kid?’ It was even worse in Europe, especially when I was on the national team. We would play in places like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. Every time I stepped on the ice, the looks, the cameras, the interviews. They couldn’t believe there were black hockey players.”

Claude said it thrills him to see the growing number of players of color in the NHL today, especially players like Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds who have starring roles on their teams.

“You’re seeing more kids of color choosing the hockey path.” Claude said. “In Europe, I see Swedish black kids on my ex-team in Switzerland. I check the web sites of different teams in the German league where I played and I see black kids playing, the same thing in junior hockey.”

Cassandra wants to follow in father Claude's skates and play for Canada.

Cassandra wants to follow in father Claude’s skates and play for Canada.

As for Cassandra’s hockey path, both father and daughter hope she’ll follow in the old man’s skates and play for Canada in the Winter Olympics. Cassandra’s still jazzed about 2002 – and about the Gold Medal Canada’s women won at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi – and craves the Olympic experience.

She’s building the credentials: she was assistant captain for Team Alberta at the 2012 Canadian Nationals Under-18 competition and was a member of  the 2011 Team Alberta squad. But she’s yet to receive an invitation to Hockey Canada’s women’s juniors or Olympics prospects camps.

“I wouldn’t say that I was overlooked, but I feel like I could have made an impact in those (Hockey Canada) programs already,” Cassandra said. “I’m hoping to make the Under-22 program and then drive for the Olympics.”

Cassandra's hoping to make an impression at UNH and with Hockey Canada.

Cassandra’s hoping to make an impression at UNH and with Hockey Canada.

Claude said “It’s a little surprising that she never got invited for the U-18 type of thing” but added that “As a former national team member, I won’t mention anything. It’s up to her to find a way. She just has to work harder and make them notice her.”

Cassandra says she’s up for the challenge.

“I just always tell myself I’m going to give them no excuse not to invite me,” she said. “I’m going to play my hardest, do the best I can, and hopefully they see something in me and invite me next year or the year after.”

UP NEXT: Meet the Nurses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Subbans, building a hockey dynasty one child at a time

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Karl Subban remembers the days when he would take his young son, Pernell Karl, ice skating and look around the rink to see if there was anybody else there that looked like them.

“In those days if you saw a black parent or a black person in the arena you would look twice,” he told me recently. “And now you don’t have to look twice anymore, things have changed a lot. Every time I walk into an arena you see minority children and minority parents.”

Things are indeed changing at rinks across North America and around the world, and Karl Subban’s family is a major force helping to facilitate that

P.K. Subban, from skating at age two to millions of dollars as restricted free agent.

P.K. Subban, from skating at age two to millions of dollars as restricted free agent.

change. Young Pernell Karl simply goes by P.K. now and he’s grown into a Norris Trophy-winning, slick-skating superstar defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens.

Brother Malcolm is in the middle, a 2012 Boston Bruins first round draft pick who played his first year of pro hockey last season for the Providence Bruins, Boston’s American Hockey League farm team. Youngest brother Jordan is a defenseman and 2013 Vancouver Canucks fourth-round draft pick, who skated last season for the Ontario Hockey League’s Bellville Bulls – the major junior team that his older brothers played for.

Karl Subban can’t hide a patriarch’s pride that his sons are reaching hockey’s upper echelon. But then, that’s always been the plan.

“We had the dream for these boys to play hockey, not just house league, but at a high level,” the elder Subban said of he and his wife, Maria. “The hardest part is to make it their dream and make them want it more than mom and dad.”

Karl says he reminds P.K, and his brothers that they are “pioneers” who stand on the shoulders of players of color who went before them.

“I look at the work that so many people have done whether it’s Willie O’Ree, or Herb Carnegie and others – Mike Marson, the McKegney brothers, they also paved the way,” he said. “Maybe there was a gap in between. So whether it’s my boys or (Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell) Nurse, we’re starting to close that gap, especially at the professional level. I say to P.K.  ‘You’re a pioneer, you’re an inspiration and hope for so many.’”

Getting three boys to the pro hockey level isn’t an easy task for any family. For Karl, whose family moved to Canada from Jamaica when he was 11, and wife Maria, whose family arrived in the Great White North from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, negotiating the sport initially had its challenges.

“Our connection to hockey is as far as the distances we traveled to Canada,” Karl told me. “That’s the way I sort of summarize it.”

Karl was bitten by the hockey bug as a kid. He learned to skate while growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, and enjoyed watching the Sudbury Wolves play. The team had a talented forward on its roster, Marson, who later became the NHL’s second black player when he was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the team’s inaugural 1974-75 season.

Karl went on to play basketball at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., and went  into teaching upon graduation. But he still had hockey on his mind. He bought P.K. his first pair of skates when he was 2 1/2. By four, the tyke was playing in a house league. About that time, “Maria and I decided he’s going to skate every day,” Karl told me.

Before they were stars, P.K., right, and Malcolm Subban often skated with dad.

Before they were stars, P.K., right, and Malcolm Subban often skated with dad.

That often called for Karl to take P.K. to the rink late at night after he got home from work from two vice principal jobs in Toronto. It also meant that sometimes Maria would put an exhausted P.K. to bed after midnight still dressed in his snowsuit.

It’s a recipe that Karl followed with Malcolm and Jordan and with daughters, Natassia and Natasha, in their athletic endeavors. You see, Karl Subban is a firm believer in practice. He was “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell long before Gladwell wrote that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a task.

With that philosophy, Karl Subban isn’t a fan of Allen Iverson. You could almost feel him shaking his head in disbelief over the phone as he recalled the Philadelphia 76ers star point guard’s infamous 2002 rant after being questioned about his practice habits.

“We’re talking about practice?” Iverson said, repeating the P-word 20 times during the course of his discourse. “I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice? Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last but we’re talking about practice, man.”

Fingernails on a blackboard for Karl, a retired public school principal.

“What a wrong message to give kids who are looking up to him. You don’t get better by playing, you get better by practicing,” he told me. “With my boys…I wouldn’t be as upset if they missed a game, but if they missed an opportunity to skate, or to practice, or to shoot pucks, that didn’t sit well with me, that bothered me a tremendous amount.”

Masked man Malcolm Subban in action with Providence Bruins.

Masked man Malcolm Subban in action with Providence Bruins.

Practice and hard work have paid off for Karl’s boys – and will pay off handsomely for P.K. He scored 10 goals and 43 assists in 82 games for the Canadiens last season, ranking fifth among NHL defensemen. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he tallied 5 goals and 9 assists in 17 games, finishing fourth among defensemen in scoring.

As a restricted free agent, P.K.’s 2013-14 exploits – including logging a whopping 33 minutes of ice time in a Game 4 loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final – will likely translate into a long-term deal that exceeds $7 million per-season from Montreal or another team that bids for his services.

“Obviously, everybody wants a long-term deal, in a place where they like to play,” Subban told The Montreal Gazette last month. “But there’s a lot of different things to consider in a contract negotiation. There’s stability for the family. There’s what’s in the best interest of the player and in the best interest of the team, for the organization moving forward.”

“And,” he added, “proper compensation.”

While P.K. waits for an adjustment of digits in his paycheck, Malcolm is adjusting to life as a professional hockey player. In shifting from the OHL to the AHL, Malcolm went from being the main Bull to a back-up Bruin in net. He appeared in 33 games for Providence, won 15 lost 10 and sported a 2.31 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

He played in six Calder Cup Playoffs games for Providence and came away with a 2-2 record and 2.96 goals-against average.

“It was challenging, to be honest,” Malcolm told NHL.com. “When it’s something you’re not used to, like I’m used to playing a lot of games and being the go-to guy, so it was kind of tough being the secondary guy. But I just had to stay focused mentally. I think that was the hardest thing for me mentally, just to stay focused and earn my way. And you know you don’t play as much, so you know when you get a chance to play you’ve got to play well, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Jordan is waiting for his chance to show what he can do as a pro. He recently attended the Canucks’ prospect camp and impressed the team’s brain

Jordan Subban is waiting for his shot at the NHL. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Jordan Subban is waiting for his shot at the NHL. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

trust. He played 66 games for Bellvelle last season, scoring 12 goals and 30 assists.

“Jordan has high-end offensive skill and you can see, when they do the offensive drills, his ability to handle the puck and get his shot through to the net,” Canucks General Manager Jim Benning told The Ottawa Citizen. “He has really good lateral movement and he can also move the puck up the ice either with a good first pass or skating it out of his own end.”

With his three sons busy pursuing their hockey careers, Karl Subban is still busy building the family’s hockey legacy. He takes his 3-year-old grandson – Legacy Bobb , son of Natassia Subban-Bobb – ice skating often. Legacy’s baby twin brothers, Epic and Honor, will get the same quality time with granddad after Santa delivers them ice skates this Christmas.

“We go out, no hockey stick, no games, use what I did with the boys,” he said of his time with Legacy. “I’m on the ice with him, he never cries. It’s funny, I want him to skate but we never talk about skating. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

UP NEXT: Meet the Vilgrains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New neighbors on the block: prominent hockey families of color on the rise

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Hockey has always been a family affair.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard and younger brother Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard graced the rouge, blanc, et bleu of the Montreal Canadiens. The Howes – seemingly ageless Gordie played with sons Mark and Marty for the defunct World Hockey Association’s Houston Aeros and the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers . The Sutters were a hockey team unto themselves: Six brothers – Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, and twins Rich and Ron – who collectively played in more than 5,000 NHL games.

Hockey fans today are familiar with the Staal brothers – Eric and Jordan of the Carolina Hurricanes and Marc of the New York

U of New Hampshire's Cassandra Vilgrain learned hockey from dad, ex-NHLer Claude Vilgrain.

U of New Hampshire’s Cassandra Vilgrain learned hockey from dad, ex-NHLer Claude Vilgrain.

 Rangers – and identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.

But there are also new families on the block who symbolize the changing face of hockey, and this week the Color of Hockey looks at some of their stories.

In many ways, their hockey journeys aren’t that different from other famous hockey clans who wore out family cars shuttling kids from one hockey tournament to the next, fretted about the high cost of equipment, and watched their sons and daughters blossom from pee wee to pro and college players. But in other ways, their paths to building hockey legacies are unique.

“Ice hockey has defined my family as individuals and as Canadians,” Karl Subban,  Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban’s dad, told the Institute for Canadian Citizenship last month. Karl’s parents moved to Canada from Jamaica in the 1970s while the family of his wife, Maria, relocated from Montserrat. “An airplane moved us to Canada and hockey moved us from new Canadians to Canadians.”

With big brother P.K.  in the NHL,  Providence Bruins' Malcolm Subban waits for his shot at the league.  Youngest brother Jordan is also waiting in the wings in Vancouver's system.

With big brother P.K. in the NHL, Providence Bruins’ Malcolm Subban waits for his shot at the league. Youngest brother Jordan is also waiting in the wings in Vancouver’s system.

This week, we’ll profile the Subbans – Montreal’s P.K., Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm, and 2013 Canucks defensive draftee Jordan; the Vilgrains – former NHL player Claude and his daughter, Cassandra, a University of New Hampshire hockey player; and the Nurses – Darnell, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first round draft pick, cousin Sarah, who plays for the University of Wisconsin, and her brother, Elijah, a draft pick of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Darnell’s Ontario Hockey League major junior team.

Up NEXT: The Subbans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Players of color help NHL teams replenish, reload, through draft and free agency

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Between the 2014 National Hockey League Draft and the start of the NHL’s free agent signing period, some old faces changed places and the league infused itself with new young blood via the draft.

A lot has transpired from the time NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was robustly booed when he first strode onto the stage at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on June 27 to begin the draft to the last breathless breath of NHL Network, TSN, and NBC Sports Network analysts summing up the hurly-burly of the week’s free agent signing frenzy. Let’s recap:

Hoping for a Rocky Mountain high from a Stanley Cup win, Jarome Iginla signs with Avalanche.

Hoping for a Rocky Mountain high from a Stanley Cup win, Jarome Iginla signs with Avalanche.

Perhaps the biggest free agent catch was landed by the Colorado Avalanche when it inked Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $16 million deal. The former Calgary Flames icon hopes his third NHL team in three seasons – he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012-13 and Boston Bruins last season – will be a charm and deliver the Stanley Cup championship he longs for before he takes residence among the greats in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Iginla’s relocation from Beantown to the Rockies wasn’t an issue of the Bruins not wanting to keep him or the player tiring of the team. It was a matter of dollars and cents, or the Bruins’ lack of it. Boston simply didn’t have the salary cap space to fit Iginla into its budget.

Boston’s misfortune becomes Colorado’s fortune, even though it’s costing the team one. In Iginla, the Avalanche get an aging-but-still-productive player who can provide hard-nose leadership to a rising young team that seeks to leapfrog the loaded Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference to get a shot at the Cup. Now 37, Iginla scored 30 goals and 31 assists for the Bruins in 78 games.

“In the NHL it’s hard to pick which team is going to win, but you want to be on a contender and I think at this

Manny Malhotra takes his face-off skills to Montreal.

Manny Malhotra takes his face-off skills to Montreal.

stage of my career that is very important,” Iginla told Sportnet. “I know Boston, they have a great shot, they’re a great team and they work very hard and they’re committed. Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to this year in Boston, but they’ll be right back there and have a great shot again and I realize that. But it wasn’t really a full option and Colorado, to me, is a young, dynamic team and they’re just getting better.”

The Montreal Canadiens made a lesser but no less important free agent signing that the team is banking will help them get beyond the Conference Final next season. The Habs inked 34-year-old center Manny Malhotra to a one-year, $850,000 contract.

The Indo-Canadian Malhothra  is a role player, but a very good one. He’s one of the NHL’s best face-off men and provides locker room leadership to a team that saw its captain, Brian Gionta, move on to the Buffalo Sabres. Malhotra is also one of the league’s best feel-good stories. He suffered a horrific left eye injury when he played for the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 that many thought would be career-ending.

With reduced vision, he made the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers on a tryout and was later promoted to the parent club, the NHL’s Carolinia Hurricanes. He had seven goals and six assists for the ‘Canes in the 2013-14 season.

Brandon Montour, left, jumped from 18th-round USHL pick to 2nd-round NHL pick (Photo/Britta Lewis)

Brandon Montour, left, jumped from 18th-round USHL pick to 2nd-round NHL pick (Photo/Britta Lewis)

Feel-good stories were also abundant at the draft. Brandon Montour was all smiles when the Anaheim Ducks selected the defenseman from the United States Hockey League’s Waterloo Black Hawks in the second round with the 55th overall pick.

Montour, who’s Canadian First Nation, was beaming because little more than a year ago he selected by Waterloo in the 18th round of the USHL draft, the league’s 276th overall pick. What happened between the USHL and NHL drafts?  Montour was awarded both the USHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year in 2014.

He tallied 14 goals and 48 assists in 60 games for the Black Hawks, tops among USHL defensemen and ninth overall in the league in scoring. He was sixth among USHL players with a plus-35 rating.

Montour attended the Ducks’ prospects camp last week, but it will be a while before fans see

Mark Friedman hopes to join Montour in NHL after college (Photo/Britta Lewis)

Mark Friedman hopes to join Montour in NHL after college (Photo/Britta Lewis)

him performing in Anaheim. He’s committed to play college hockey at the University of Massachusetts. The USHL is the nation’s top junior league and a prime hockey feeder to American colleges and universities.

“Brandon is truly a special player,” Waterloo Head Coach P.K. O’Handley said on the team’s website. “Even more than his tremendous natural abilities and instincts, our coaching staff, Brandon’s teammates, and certainly Black Hawks fans appreciate the tremendous effort that was evident anytime he was on the ice.”

Montour had company from Waterloo at the draft. Teammate Mark Friedman, a defenseman, was chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 3rd round with the 86th overall pick. He scored 10 goals and 30 assists in 51 games last season for the Black Hawks. Friedman has signed a letter of intent to play hockey for Bowling Green State University, the school that produced former Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma.

Should Friedman reach the NHL after college he’ll be part of a small but growing contingent of Jewish players in the league. Calgary Flames forward Mike Cammalleri, Phoenix Coyotes forward Jeff Halpern, Nashville Predators forward Eric Nystrom, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Trevor Smith were among the NHL’s Jewish players last season.

Armada's Daniel Walcott hopes to make leap from college club hockey to NHL.

Armada’s Daniel Walcott hopes to make leap from college club hockey to NHL.

The New York Rangers feel they got a diamond in the rough in defenseman Daniel Walcott, a defenseman selected in the fifth round with the 140th overall pick. Like Montour, Walcott, who played last season for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, was an under-the-radar player who took an unusual route to the draft.

Prior to joining Armada, Walcott,  a 19-year-old Ile Perrot, Quebec, native, was playing U.S. college hockey – but not NCAA Division I, II or III. He was playing for Lindenwood University near St. Louis, Mo., a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association – club hockey.

Founded in 1991, the ACHA has 431 men’s and women’s teams spanning five competition divisions in 49 states. Teams like Navy, Arizona State University, New York University,  Florida Gulf Coast University, and San Jose State University are ACHA members.

Walcott, played organized travel team hockey in Canada when he was younger but stopped to play football and hockey at school. When his parents divorced, Walcott moved to Chicago where he attended high school for a year before accepting a scholarship at Lindenwood.

“They offered me a spot. I decided to take it because it’s university (hockey) and I always wanted to play there. Unfortunately, it’s not high quality. It’s not NCAA hockey, it was just club hockey,” Walcott told Yahoo Sports’ “Buzzing the Net.” “My assistant coach and (Armada coaches) were in contact, and my name came up. They invited to camp. I decided to come here because I live at home, basically. It was one of the major keys to the decision. Also, I wanted to get seen by scouts and here is a much bigger opportunity for that.”

Indeed. The Rangers looked at Walcott’s single season body of work in the QMJHL and decided he was worth drafting. In 67 games, Walcott scored 10 goals and 29 assists.

“I’m a two-way defenseman,” Walcott told “Buzzing the Net.” “I bring a lot of offense and I can play defense, too, and shutdown top lines. I can be in-your-face and physical. I give my heart out every game – a lot of character.”

Rick Zombo, Lindenwood’s hockey head coach and a former St. Louis Blues defenseman, said all Walcott needed was an opportunity to showcase his ability.

“He put all the work in and he got his opportunity, he was prepared and made the most of it,” Zombo said on the university’s website. “I’m very proud of Daniel and I fully expect him to make the most of his new opportunities.”

Walcott attended the Rangers prospects camp this week with fellow 2014 draftee Keegan Iverson, a forward for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks who was chosen in the 3rd round with the 85th pick by the Blueshirts. Also at camp was Anthony Duclair, a high-scoring forward with the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts. The Rangers chose Duclair in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft with the overall 80th pick. The speedy forward registered 50 goals and 49 assists in 59 games for Quebec in 2013-14.

Rounding out the 2014 draftees are Joshua Ho-Sang, a forward for the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, who was taken in the first round with the 28th pick by the New York Islanders, and Jaden Lindo, forward for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack who was taken in the fourth round with the 173rd overall pick by the Penguins.

 

 

 

Skillz Black Aces among NHL new faces

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The 2014 National Hockey League Draft concluded Saturday with alums of the Skillz Black Aces youth hockey teams doing the squad’s smiling Afro-man logo proud.

Three Skillz veterans were chosen in the draft Saturday, joining Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua

Barrie Colts and Skillz alum Brendan Lemieux.

Barrie Colts and Skillz alum Brendan Lemieux.

Ho-Sang, who was taken Friday night in the first round with the 28th overall pick by the New York Islanders. The draft began Saturday morning with the Buffalo Sabres choosing Brendan Lemieux, a Skillz alum who’s a forward for the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, with the first pick in the second round, the 31st overall pick.

While elated to be selected by Buffalo, Lemiuex, the son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux, was disappointed that he wasn’t chosen in the first round, where some mock drafts projected him. Lemieux tallied 27 goals, 25 assists and a whopping 145 penalty minutes in 65 games for Barrie during the 2013-14 season.

“I expected to be a first round pick and never really looked at the second round,” Lemieux told Yahoo Sports. “But that being said, things have a way of working out.”

The Skillz Black Aces and Black Mafia teams began as Toronto-based summer youth hockey teams coached by Cyril Bollers and comprised of elite, NHL draft-eligible players born between 1995 and 1996 – and almost all of them black. As the program became successful, kids of all colors began filling out the rosters.

A torn ACL didn't stop Pittsburgh from drafting Skillz alum Jaden Lindo.

A torn ACL didn’t stop Pittsburgh from drafting Skillz alum Jaden Lindo.

Alums include Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds  defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013  first-round pick last summer; Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Buffalo Sabres second-round pick; forward Stephen Harper of the Erie Otters; and Bellville Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban, the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-round pick and the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban.

Now add Lemieux, Keegan Iverson, and Jaden Lindo to the list. Iverson, a forward for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, was scooped up by the New York Rangers in the third round with the 85th overall pick. He registered 22 goals, 20 assists and 85 penalty minutes in 67 games for the Winterhawks. Last week, the Minnesota-born Iverson was among 42 players invited by USA Hockey to attend the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, an audition for a roster spot on Team USA for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship tournament.

“Pretty exciting stuff,” Amy Iverson, Keegan’s mother, said in an email message Saturday.

Portland and former Black Aces forward Keegan Iverson.

Portland and former Black Aces forward Keegan Iverson.

Iverson barely had time to celebrate being drafted. He boarded a plane Sunday for the Big Apple to attend the Rangers prospect camp, which runs June 30 to July 4 at Madison Square Garden Training Center.

“With the way the game is going you’ve heard every GM say we want to get bigger and stronger and faster, and that heavy style; well that’s the type of game (Iverson) plays,” Gordie Clark, the Rangers director of player personnel said on the team’s website. (Portland) had a really good team with five really high-skilled players that got most of the ice time. So I think with more ice time available next year (Iverson’s) numbers will go up.”

Iverson didn’t attend the draft at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, preferring to watch at home in St. Louis Park, Minn., with his family.  Lindo wasn’t in Philadelphia, either. The forward for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack was trying to watch the draft on television at home in Ontario, Canada.

Frustrated with the broadcast’s lag in listing drafted players, Lindo switched on his tablet to get more up-to-date results. That’s how he learned he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round with the 173rd overall pick. Lindo was surprised about being selected because he suffered a torn left ACL that curtailed his 2013-14 season at Owen Sound.

The power forward who lists Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward as role models, collected 9 goals, 9 assists and 41 penalty minutes in 40 games for the Attack.

“When I saw my name, I just screamed,” Lindo told me. “My mom jumped up and hugged me. I feel amazing, Pittsburgh’s a good organization. I’m going to work harder than before so the (knee) rehab goes well.”

The Penguins foresee Lindo becoming a Simmonds-like NHL power forward.

“Jaden Lindo is big, good along the wall, heavy on pucks, strong, good on the forecheck…great low game,” Randy Sexton, the Penguins co-director of amateur scouting said on the Penguins official website. “He’ll chip in with some offense, very reliable defensively.”

Any comparisons to Ward and Simmonds, who led the Flyers with 29 goals last season, is fine with Lindo.

“I try to model my game to theirs,” he told the Penguins website. “They’re both strong, physical players. I’m a big, strong winger. I like to use my size and strength to my advantage. I’m physical. I like to separate men off the puck and create room for my teammates.”

 

 

 

New York Islanders take Joshua Ho-Sang in first round of 2014 NHL Draft

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Look out Brooklyn, here comes Joshua Ho-Sang.

With several National Hockey League teams reluctant to pull the trigger and use a first-round draft pick to take the flashy, high-scoring Windsor Spitfires forward, the New York Islanders eagerly snapped up the 18-year-old Ho-Sang Friday night with the 28th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. In fact, the Islanders made a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning to get back into the first round to get Ho-Sang.

Joshua Ho-Sang (left) was taken by the New York Islanders, the 28th player picked in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Joshua Ho-Sang (left) was taken by the New York Islanders, the 28th player picked in the 2014 NHL Draft.

A relieved-looking Ho-Sang walked onto the stage inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, pulled on an Islanders jersey and happily tugged on a team cap.

“It’s just such an opportunity and a moment I’ll cherish forever,” he told TSN.

Many general managers were down on Ho-Sang, despite the 32 goals and 52 assists in 67 games for the Ontario Hockey League Spitfires last season. They viewed Ho-Sang as an individualistic, one-dimensional offensive machine who’s more of an electrifying highlight reel entertainer than a hockey player. They were concerned that he could not – or would not – conform his game to fit their teams.

Some comments he made in pre-draft interviews this week also didn’t endear him some in the hockey establishment. Some NHL team were quoted as saying Ho-Sang was on their Do Not Draft lists.

“All I was saying was that I truly believe in myself and I think if you ask any player in the draft, they do, too,” Ho-Sang said.

The Islanders weren’t scared off. General Manager Garth Snow said Ho-Sang will “fit right in” with the Isles and joked later in a television interview that “They(critics)  sh** on me, too.”
“They can’t s*** on me any more than they do, I think is what I said,” Snow later told The New York Daily News. “I don’t care. We get players that we feel can help us win a championship, and we don’t give a s*** what anyone else thinks – except our fans, or course.”
So the son of a Jamaican father of Chinese descent and a Jewish Chilean mother with Russian and Swedish bloodlines now hopes to take his talents to New York. Ho-Sang isn’t NHL-ready yet. But he could be by the 2015-16 season when the Islanders move from Long Island’s Nassau County Coliseum – one of the NHL’s oldest arenas – to multi-ethnic, multicultural Brooklyn and the Barclays Center.

When and where for Joshua Ho-Sang in 2014 NHL Draft?

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As this weekend’s 2014 NHL Draft approaches perhaps the biggest question is where Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua Ho-Sang will land?

Most scouts agree that Ho-Sang has first round talent – a natural goal scorer with great hands, vision, playmaking skills, agility and speed. Still, on the eve of the draft it’s anyone’s guess which team will select him and in what round. In its final draft rankings, Canada’s TSN.ca listed Ho-Sang as the 30th among North American and European skaters, a 10-slot drop from the sports website’s March ranking.

When and where will Windsor's talented Joshua Ho-Sang go in 2014 NHL Draft?

When and where will Windsor’s talented Joshua Ho-Sang go in 2014 NHL Draft?

He was ranked 18th in the NHL’s Central Scouting midterm list and slipped to 22nd in their final survey. Still, TSN Scouting Director Craig Button wrote that Ho-Sang “Continues to grow as a player. Excellent hands and can make plays in tight and is very difficult to get the puck from. He can make plays that very few are capable of. A dynamic type player. One of the most highly skilled players in draft.”

But Button’s assessment hasn’t stopped the naysayers from saying their nays about Ho-Sang.

Some of the negatives are physical: Listed at a generous 5-11, 176-lbs he’s considered undersized by some hockey people. But being short and light didn’t stop him from tallying 32 goals, 53 assists in 67 games for the Ontario Hockey League Spitfires. He’s scored 129 points in 130 career OHL regular season games. Defense isn’t his forte, though his plus/minus was a plus-26 in the 2013-14 season.

Then there are the questions of conformity. In a team sport the stresses playing the right way, Ho-Sang is pure offense and makes no apologies for it. He loves the puck and apparently it loves him because its hard to get it off his stick. He’s a human highlight reel who dangles, dekes, scores and enthusiastically celebrates. One of his tweets says  “A goal without a celly is like peanut butter without jelly.”

“A majority of skill players love to dangle, everyone loves to score, set up nice goals,” he told Sportnet’s Damien Cox. “You kind of have to find that in-between because not every play can be a highlight reel, you can’t beat two or three guys every shift. You have to pick your spots. A lot of that comes with maturity and understanding when to o it and not to do it.”

And Ho-Sang talks proudly about his talents and who he is, the son of a Jamaican father of Chinese descent and a Jewish Chilean mother with

Windsor Spitfires' Josh Ho-Sang skating for the Skillz Black Aces.

Windsor Spitfires’ Josh Ho-Sang skating for the Skillz Black Aces.

Russian and Swedish bloodlines. In interviews, he’s talked about being ready to be part of the changing face of the NHL, joining the likes of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, players who’ve also been under hockey’s sometimes harsh microscope.

“Because of all the backgrounds I have, I could bring a lot of interest in the game, for sure,” he told Cox. “I have all the pieces to bring a lot of people together. It’s cool to have the ability to inspire people, for sure.”

Ho-Sang hasn’t been afraid to mention race. He told The Toronto Sun “I think color definitely plays a factor in perception.” said Ho-Sang.

“When I start dangling, my GM calls me a Harlem Globetrotter,” Ho-Sang told The Sun’s Steve Simmons. Why am I a Harlem Globetrotter? Analogies get related to basketball all the time with me. I don’t play basketball. I’ve never played basketball. I’m a hockey player. Why are they doing that?

Apparently all of this – coupled with a six-game OHL suspension for a play that caused London Knights defenseman Zach Bell to suffer a broken leg – might be too much for some NHL teams.  Simmons reported Tuesday that “numerous teams have Ho-Sang on their Do Not Draft List.” Simmons wrote that only 18 of the NHL’s 30 teams interviewed him at the NHL Combine.

“And if I picked him, my scouts would all revolt,” the chief scout told Simmons. “He doesn’t fit what we’re looking for.” So much for the sports mantra of taking the best available player with a pick.

The criticisms haven’t dampened Ho-Sang’s spirit or confidence going into the draft this Friday and Saturday at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers.

“If I was a general manager and had first pick in the draft, I’d pick me No. 1,” he told The Sun. “In three years, I’ll be the best player in this draft. And I have no doubt about that. I know myself. I know the other players. I believe in my ability. There are guys ranked ahead of me who are nowhere near me.”

 

 

WHL Winterhawks’ Keegan Iverson invited to U.S. National Junior team tryout camp

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Portland Winterhawks center Keegan Iverson was among 42 players invited to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, an audition for a spot on the American team that will compete in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The one-week evaluation camp takes place August 2-9 in Lake Placid, N.Y. The world juniors, a showcase of future National Hockey

U.S. national junior team tryout, NHL Draft await Portland's Keegan Iverson.

U.S. national junior team tryout, NHL Draft await Portland’s Keegan Iverson.

League talent, is Dec. 26, 2014 to Jan. 5, 2015 in Montreal and Toronto. USA Hockey officials invited Iverson to the evaluation camp two days ago.

“I was really excited to find out I have an opportunity to play for Team USA again,” said Iverson, a St. Louis Park, Minn., resident who skated for the U.S, Under-17 national team in 2012-13.

He drew the attention of USA Hockey officials with an excellent 2013-14 season with the Western Hockey League Winterhawks, tallying 22 goals, 20 assists and 70 penalty minutes in 67 games. Iverson, an alum of Canada’s Skillz Black Aces youth hockey teams, will have familiar faces around him at the U.S. evaluation camp. Three other Winterhawks – goaltender Brendan Burke and forwards Chase De Leo and Dominic Turgeon – are also auditioning in Lake Placid to audition for spots on the U.S. squad.

Nashville's Seth Jones, former Portland Winterhawks and U.S. junior team star.

Nashville’s Seth Jones, former Portland Winterhawks and U.S. junior team star.

“The evaluation camp is an important step as the players try to earn spots on the U.S. World Junior Team,”  Portland Winterhawks General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston said. “I am confident all four players will have strong showings and make positive impressions at the camp.”

The Winterhawks have been a talent incubator of sorts for junior championship teams. USA. Former Portland defenseman Seth Jones, who completed his rookie season with the Nashville Predators last April, played on 2011, 2012 and 2013 U.S. national junior squads. Winterhawks defenseman Mathew Dumba, the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild, played for Canada in the 2014 world juniors.

Iverson’s evaluation camp invite is part of what’s shaping up to be an excellent summer for him. Next weekend,

Winterhawks' Mathew Dumba, a Minnesota Wild 1st-round draft pick and 2014 Team Canada national junior team member.

Winterhawks’ Mathew Dumba, a Minnesota Wild 1st-round draft pick and 2014 Team Canada national junior team member.

he’ll be glued to the television waiting to see which team selects him in the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia. He’s ranked as the 85th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.

Iverson said watching the draft at home may be nerve-racking, but it’ll be a breeze compared to going through the grueling NHL Combine strength and endurance camp in Toronto last month.

“At the Combine, my teammates told me to be myself and everything will go well,” Iverson told reporter Lesley Dawson. “As for the draft process, they told me to be excited for when my name gets called, and be ready to work after.”

 

 

 

 

Alec Martinez strikes again – scores double OT goal to lift L.A. Kings Stanley Cup

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It’s getting to be a habit for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, one that Kings fans hope he never breaks.

Mr. Overtime, Alec Martinez of Los Angeles Kings.

Mr. Overtime, Alec Martinez of Los Angeles Kings.

Martinez scored at 14:43 in double-overtime late Friday to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 and power the Kings their second Stanley Cup in three

seasons. It’s the second time this month that Martinez has been the man of the moment: He scored the Game 7 overtime goal that defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 and sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final.

And proving that things do indeed happen in threes, Martinez scored an overtime game-winner in his freshman year at Miami University of Ohio that defeated Western Michigan University and sent the RedHawks to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship in the 2005-06 season. Overtime heroics don’t seem to get old for Martinez. Neither does winning.

“I saw there was a loose puck in my own end, and I just tried to get it in a forward’s hands, I think (Kings left wing Tyler) Toffoli had a great shot far pad,” Martinez told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after the game. “Fortunately, the rebound came to me and I was able to put it in. It was a great play by them, I was just the benefactor.”

Martinez’s playoffs and Stanley Cup Final heroics have sent people scrambling to Google and other search engines to learn more about him and his heritage.

“My grandfather—that’s the Spanish side of my family.” Martinez told the Frozen Royalty website in May 2013. “My grandfather’s brothers were born in Spain, but he was born here, in the States. That’s where I get my last name.”

“His wife, my grandmother, she was English-Canadian, and my mom’s side of the family is all English,” told MayorManor.com’s podcast in 2012. “If you want to break it down in percentages, I’m about a quarter Spanish. My parents don’t speak it, my dad doesn’t speak it. When my dad was growing up, the Martinez side of the family only spoke Spanish when they didn’t want the kids to know what they were walking about. I essentially have the last name, and a little (Spanish) in me but I hate to disappoint anyone, but I just don’t really know how to speak it.”

 

 

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