U.S. and Canada rekindle fierce women’s hockey rivalry in Calgary series

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While hockey fans anxiously await next month’s World Cup of Hockey and the start of the 2016-17 National Hockey League season in October, there’s quality hockey underway in Calgary where women’s teams from the United States and Canada are resuming one of the fiercest rivalries in sports.

Forget Flyers-Penguins, Red Sox-Yankees, Cowboys and the Washington football team we shall not name, this rivalry between the world’s two best women’s hockey programs has more snarl, more grudge, more passion than any of them.

U of Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse is one of Team Canada's captains (Photo/Hockey Canada).

U of Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse is one of Team Canada’s captains (Photo/Hockey Canada).

There’s little friendly in the friendlies that the U.S. and Canadian Under-22 and Under-18 teams will play in the series, which started Wednesday night.

The series has all the ingredients, including talented players of color and, of course, a Nurse.

Forward Sarah Nurse is one of the captains for Canada’s U-22 squad. The Hamilton, Ont., native led the University of Wisconsin women’s team in scoring last season with 25 goals and 13 assists in 36 games.

She is the cousin of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who starred for Canada in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, and Kia Nurse, point guard for the 2015 and 2016 NCAA champion University of Connecticut women’s basketball teams. She played for Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sarah Nurse was the difference-maker in Canada’s 2-1 win over the U.S. Wednesday, scoring the game-winning goal at 19:37 of the second period.

Boston University’s Victoria Bach opened the scoring with a goal at 8:03 in the second. Harvard University Forward Sydney Daniels scored for the U.S. at 02:41 of the third period.

Canada's U-22 team goes up against its U.S. counterpart in Calgary. Sarah Nurse, fourth from the right. Katilin Tse, second row, seventh from the left.

Canada’s U-22 team goes up against its U.S. counterpart in Calgary. Sarah Nurse, fourth from the right. Katilin Tse, second row, seventh from the left.

Joining Nurse on Canada’s U-22 squad is Harvard defenseman Kaitlin

Harvard University defenseman Kaitlin Tse (Photo/Hockey Canada).

Harvard University defenseman Kaitlin Tse (Photo/Hockey Canada).

Tse, who registered an assist on Bach’s goal Wednesday night.  Tse played 32 games in 2015-16 as a freshman for the Crimson, tallying a goal and 10 assists.

She was a member of Canada’s Silver Medal-winning team at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championship and the 2014 Canadian squad that defeated the U.S. in a three-game series in 2014

Like Nurse, she comes from an athletic family. Her older brother, Matthew Tse, plays for Hong Kong’s national lacrosse team.

USA Hockey National Women's U-22 team. Kelsey Koelzer. second row, fifth from the right. (Photo/Nancie Battaglia).

USA Hockey National Women’s U-22 team. Kelsey Koelzer. second row, fifth from the right. (Photo/Nancie Battaglia).

Princeton University's Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Nancie Battaglia)

Princeton University’s Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Nancie Battaglia)

Nurse and Tse will face Team USA’s Kelsey Koelzer, a forward from Princeton University. The junior from Horsham, Pa., notched 17 goals and 16 assists in 33 games for the Tigers last season and finished second on the team with 8 game-winning goals.

Her game balances with offense and defense: she took 122 shots and blocked 61 pucks last season. The New York Riveters chose Koelzer in the first round of the 2016  National Women’s Hockey League Draft last month.

Defenseman Avery Mitchell is representing Canada

Defenseman Avery Mitchell (Photo/Hockey Canada).

Defenseman Avery Mitchell (Photo/Hockey Canada).

on its U-18 squad. She’s a blue-liner for the Toronto Jr. Aeros of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League.

Mitchell tallied 3 goals and 11 assists in 34 games for the Aeros last season. She collected a Bronze Medal playing for Ontario Blue at the 2015 National Women’s Under-18 Championship in Huntsville, Ont.

She’s committed to play hockey at New York’s Clarkson University in 2017-18. Clarkson has three current and former players on Team Canada’s rosters.

Canada's 2016 Under-18 women's team faces the United States in a three-game series in Calgary. Defenseman Avery Mitchell is the fifth person from the left, back row.

Canada’s 2016 Under-18 women’s team faces the United States in a three-game series in Calgary. Defenseman Avery Mitchell is the fifth person from the left, back row.

 

Sudarshan Maharaj named Anaheim Ducks’ new goaltending coach

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Anaheim Ducks' new goalie coach Sudarshan Maharaj.

Anaheim Ducks’ new goalie coach Sudarshan Maharaj.

Sudarshan Maharaj, whose passion for hockey began when an NHL player who would later become his boss tossed him a puck at a game decades ago, is the new goalie coach for the Anaheim Ducks.

The team tapped Maharaj to replace former NHL netminder Dwayne Roloson, who stepped down from the coaching job earlier this summer.

A native of Trinidad, Maharaj has been with the Ducks organization since the 2013-14 season. He served as a goaltendting consultant working primarily with the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks’ American Hockey League farm team that relocated from Norfolk, Va., last season.

Under his tutelage,  Gulls goaltenders posted a 39-23-8 record, a 2.87 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage, and a spot in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs. John Gibson, one of Maharaj’s former Gulls netminders, is poised to be the Ducks top goaltender for the 2016-17 season.

Maharaj is a veteran coach. He was the New York Islanders goalie coach from 2003 to 2006 and goaltending consultant for the team from 2009 to 2012. He also helped develop that National Goaltending Training Program for Hockey Canada from 2005-07.

In a hockey playing and coaching career that spans more than three decades, Maharaj has coached Montreal Canadiens backup goalie Al Montoya and former NHLers Kevin Weekes, Rick DiPietro, Joey MacDonaldSteve Valiquette, Martin Biron, and Roloson.

Maharaj attended Toronto’s York University and was a member of its 1984-85 championship hockey team. Afterwards, he played professionally in Sweden from 1985 to 1991. He enjoyed playing in Sweden, but living there wasn’t without its racial difficulties, including having his car set ablaze.

“One of the young lads didn’t particularly like the color of my skin, me being in the town, and who I was associating with and all that,” Maharaj told me last year. “So he decided to make a bonfire that night.”

Maharaj is one of hockey’s great six degrees of separation stories. His family moved from Trinidad to Toronto when he was about six years old. He went to his first National Hockey League game at the old Maple Leafs Gardens and stood by the low glass, wide-eyed as the Toronto Maple Leafs skated through their pregame warm-up.

Sudarshan Maharaj, left, gets promoted from the Ducks organization's' goaltending consultant to the full-time goalie coach for the NHL team.

Sudarshan Maharaj, left, gets promoted from the Ducks organization’s’ goaltending consultant to the full-time goalie coach for the NHL team.

As the Leafs left the ice, a player tossed him a puck – a moment that made Maharaj realize that hockey was the game for him.The Leafs player was Bruce Boudreau who became the Ducks’ head coach in 2011-12.

As goalie consultant for the organization, Maharaj helped evaluate, train, and educate goalies for the man who triggered his love for the game decades earlier.

“I told Bruce that story,” Maharaj told me last November. “He was shocked that I remembered. I said ‘Are you crazy? That’s a life-changing moment. It was one of my greatest experiences. My very first hockey game and a Toronto Maple Leafs player dropped a puck for me.’ To this day, if I ever see a young child in the stands I’ll always throw a puck.”

Alas, “Sudsie” and “Gabby” won’t be reunited in Anaheim. The Ducks dismissed Boudreau in April after the team lost a Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 7 for the fourth straight season. He’s now head coach of the Minnesota Wild .

 

 

 

 

 

Black athletes at 2016 Olympics shattering the myth of ‘Sports that we don’t do’

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You’d think ice hockey and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would be on opposite ends of the sports spectrum.

But, like hockey, the 2016 Summer Games are helping chip away the hard-dying myth that black athletes don’t excel in the so-called non-traditional sports associated more with white players.

Rio has been a splash party, a sabre-rattling, shot-blocking celebration of black athletes who are showing  the world that we are more to sport than football, basketball, and track and field.

From swimmer Simone Manuel adding to the Olympic pool’s water level with her Gold Medal tears of joy to Daryl Homer’s sabre-waving Silver Medal victory dance, it’s been fun – and inspiring – to watch folks thrive in the supposed “Sports That We Don’t Do.”

So what have we learned in Rio?

That black women can swim – and win.

Sugar Land, Texas’ Simone Manuel crushed it in women’s 100 meters on Thursday, becoming the first African-American woman ever to win an individual swimming Gold Medal. She added more Olympic hardware with a Silver Medal in the 50 meter freestyle swim Saturday.

Unfortunately, her feat comes as many Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States have shuttered their NCAA swim teams.

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University discontinued its program earlier this year, leaving Washington, D.C.’ Howard University as the nation’s only black college with an NCAA Division I swim program.

Overall, only 180 African-American women among 12,428 female swimmers and 214 African-American men among 9,715 male swimmers competed at the collegiate level in 2014-15, according to NCAA figures.

Manuel is aware of  her place in history. She told USA Today that “Coming into (Thursday’s) race, I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders as it is something I carry with me being in this position.”

“But I do hope it kind of goes away,” she added. “I am super glad with the fact I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport, but at the same time I would like there to be a day when there are more of us and it’s not ‘Simone, the black swimmer.’”

 

That black women can float –  and do a pretty darn good Dikembe Mutombo “Not in my House” imitation in the process.

Miami, Florida’s Ashleigh Johnson is backstopping the U.S. women’s water polo team, which plays a quarterfinals match against Brazil on Monday.

 

That black women can fly.

Simone Biles. ‘Nuff said.

 

That black men can thrust and parry, too.

Daryl Homer won the first U.S. men’s Silver Medal in individual sabre in 112 years. The Virgin Islands native and Bronx, N.Y., resident also became the first American to medal in fencing since the 1984 Games.

 

That you can be true to your sport and your faith.

Ibtihaj Muhammad arrived in Rio as one of the most decorated women in fencing – ranked seventh internationally, a three-time NCAA All-American (2004,2005, 2006), and the 2012 Muslim Sportswoman of the Year.

She also arrived wearing a hijab, becoming the first U.S. female athlete to compete in the head covering worn by some Muslim women. The 30-year-old Duke University graduate was eliminated in the women’s individual sabre competition, but helped the U.S. women’s team advance to the semifinals Saturday with a 45-43 win over Poland.

 

 

John Saunders, ESPN broadcaster, hockey player, dies at age 61

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I didn’t know John Saunders, the popular ESPN broadcaster who recently passed away,  particularly well. But every time I saw him, it felt like running into an old friend.

We were in Baltimore together in the 1980s- Saunders a popular sports anchor for WMAR-TV and me a reporter for the late, great Evening Sun newspaper. When we saw each other at functions or games, we’d speak a language that few, if any other, black folks in Baltimore spoke: hockey.

 

We’d briefly chat about what was going on in the National Hockey League, even talk about the doings of the minor league Baltimore Skipjacks hockey team.

Saunders knew his hockey history because he was part of it. Born in Canada, he was an all-star defenseman in Montreal’s junior hockey leagues. He played for Western Michigan University in the 1970s before he transferred to what’s now called Ryerson University in Toronto.

He played briefly with his brother, Bernie, who went on to play 10 games for the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques, now the Colorado Avalanche, between 1979 and 1981.

Hockey helped lead John Saunders to Ryerson, the place where he fell in love with broadcasting. He developed into one of broadcasting’s best with an easily recognizable voice and easy on-air style that made TV viewers feel as comfortable as their favorite couch.

He was a versatile, knowledgeable presence on-air whether it was anchoring ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” working NCAA college basketball contests, doing WNBA games, hosting Stanley Cup Playoffs coverage, or moderating ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” show.

“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades,” John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, said in a statement. “He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”

NHL Network analyst and former New York Rangers General Manager Neil Smith – the mustachioed hockey player pictured with John and Bernie Saunders in the Western Michigan hockey photo -took John Saunders’ death especially hard, tweeting that “Life will never be the same” with his passing.

“One of the saddest days of my life today as I grieve suddenly losing my best friend of 42 years, John Saunders,” Smith tweeted.

The cause of Saunders’ death was unknown Wednesday. Although he traveled to Washington last week for the National Association of Black Journalists convention, the Saunders family said in a statement that “John wasn’t feeling well physically in recent days and sadly, he was unresponsive earlier this morning.”

“We appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers for our cherished father, husband, brother and uncle,” his family said.

 

 

In Rio, Nurse family seeks more hardware

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The never-ending sports tour for the Nurse family – one of Canada’s most athletic and competitive clans – continues.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse.

Kia Nurse, the sister of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, looks to up her bragging rights over her big bro by bringing home an Olympic medal from Rio de Janeiro as a member of Canada’s basketball team.

“Obviously we have the goal to go in there and get a medal,” she told Canada’s 570 News. “I think need to play really hard together and peak at the right time. So I see our success as playing our best basketball over the last four years at the Olympics.”

Kia’s one of the Great White North’s best basketball players and one of the best collegiate players in the United States. She helped guide the University of Connecticut’s storied women’s basketball team to NCAA championships last season and in 2015.

She was the Most Valuable Player at the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship. Richard Nurse describes his tough-as-nails point guard daughter’s game with an almost hockey reverence.

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

Darnell is no slouch in the championship department. He was a major factor in Team Canada winning the Gold Medal in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

Kia and Darnell come from a highly athletic family. 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.

Sarah Nurse, daughter of Roger Nurse and cousin of Kia and Darnell, is a forward on the University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team that played in the 2016 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four tournament.

 

 

The Joel Ward hockey story – by writer Joel Ward

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San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward

San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward

More often than not, no one can tell your story better than you can.

Catching up on my summer hockey reading, I came across this marvelous piece on the fascinating, deeply moving, hockey and life journey of San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward in  The Players’ Tribune. The author? Joel Ward. Give the story a read.

Trevor Daley hoists the Stanley Cup one more day – his day with the trophy

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Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley devised the plan years ago. All he needed was the Stanley Cup to hatch it.

Daley accomplished that last month when the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final, meaning that his plan for what he’d do on his day with the Cup would finally come to fruition.

Unlike other major league sports, each player on a Stanley Cup-winning team gets to have the championship trophy for a day to do whatever. Phil Pritchard, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s white-gloved Keeper of the Cup, accompanies the trophy on a summer-long journey through Canada, the United States, Russia, wherever a championship player resides.

“I’m going to bring the cup back home to where I grew up and around my neighborhoods that I grew up around playing hockey,” Toronto native Daley told Texas’ SportsDay earlier this month. “I can’t wait. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about that day for a really long time. Now that it’s come true it’s amazing.”

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley, center, brought a friend with him to a local ice rink - the Stanley Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley, center, brought a friend with him to a local ice rink – the Stanley Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Daley took Stanley on a mini whistle-stop tour of sorts during his Cup time that stretched Friday into Saturday. First stop: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where he played major junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League before the Dallas Stars made him their second round pick in the 2002 NHL Draft.

Then it was on to home town Toronto for some public and private quality time with Lord Stanley’s trophy.

The Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory capped a bittersweet 2015-16 season for Daley. He was traded from the Stars to the Chicago Blackhawks before the season began, then dealt by the Hawks after 29 games to the Penguins.

Sitting on the dock of the bay, Trevor Daley and the Stanley Cup watch the tide roll away (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Sitting on the dock of the bay, Trevor Daley and the Stanley Cup watch the tide roll away (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

He skated with a heavy heart as his mother, Trudy Daley, battled cancer. Her dying wish was to see her son hoist the Cup. Penguins team captain Sidney Crosby made sure that happened, handing Daley the Cup first even though Daley missed the San Jose series because of a broken ankle.

He was all smiles as he skated briefly and gingerly with the 123-year-old, 35-pound trophy that has the names of 2,000 Cup-winning players and coaches inscribed on it.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley and son with the Stanley Cup in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley and son with the Stanley Cup in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

“She was pumped, she was excited,” Daley told SportsDay. “She got to see my son out there on the ice with me too so she was really excited about the whole situation. She said before the game …’It’d be nice if they win this for you tonight so you can come home and see me soon.'”

A week later, Trudy Daley passed away at age 51.

Trevor Daley and Lord Stanley hanging out at the firehouse on Daley's day with the Stanley Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Trevor Daley and Lord Stanley hanging out at the firehouse on Daley’s day with the Stanley Cup (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

She didn’t live to see her son’s day with the Stanley Cup. But, as part of a plan he devised so long ago, Trevor Daley’s family, friends, and others he encountered along his hockey journey had a chance to bask in Lord Stanley’s silvery glow.

“The day after he won the Stanley Cup, he called me and said ‘the Cup is coming home,’” Ryan Land, who organized a Cup-viewing for Daley at The Spice Route bar in Toronto, told The Toronto Sun. “Two weeks later, he called me with a date and said ‘plan me a Stanley Cup party and here’s what I want to do.”

Trevor Daley introduced the Stanley Cup to his old neighborhood playground (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

Trevor Daley introduced the Stanley Cup to his old neighborhood playground (Photo/Phil Pritchard/Hockey Hall of Fame).

When the names of the 2015-16 Penguins players are added to the Cup, Daley will join the small fraternity of black players with their names immortalized on the trophy:  goaltender Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers –  1985, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990),  goalie Ray Emery (Chicago Blackhawks – 2013), defenseman Johnny Oduya (Blackhawks – 2013, 2015), wing Dustin Byfuglien (Blackhawks – 2010), and netminder Eldon “Pokey” Reddick(Oilers –  1990).

 

 

 

P.K. Subban talks the Habs, the trade, Montreal and Nashville

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Montreal Canadiens Headshots

Canada’s Sportsnet spent some quality time  this week talking with defenseman P.K. Subban,  who was surprisingly traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators last month.

Subban gave the sports network his first extensive comments about the trade, and addresses some of the questions and rumors swirling about why he was abruptly dealt. Give the two-part interview a look.

Fort Dupont Hockey Club founder Neal Henderson still skating strong at 79

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His deep-voiced bark is still matched by its bite, and the tough love he bestows upon the kids of the nation’s oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program remains as strong as ever.

Neal Henderson, founder, coach, and father-figure of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, turned 79 over the weekend.

Through joint surgeries, an ancient ice arena with a sometimes leaky roof, and often with only just enough money to pay the program’s bills, Henderson continues to skate strong –  his passion for the program he created nearly four decades ago unabated by time.

Tough but tender, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club founder Neal Henderson celebrated his 79th birthday over the weekend.

Tough but tender, Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club founder Neal Henderson celebrated his 79th birthday over the weekend.

Henderson is responsible for producing a generation of black hockey players and fans in the Nation’s Capital. He’s also helped launch a generation of at-risk kids on the right course in life.

He preaches life through the prism of hockey, teaching the value of teamwork, responsibility, punctuality, good manners, and the necessity and value of staying school.

Fort Dupont developed into a model for programs like the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and similar organizations under the National Hockey League’s “Hockey is for Everyone” umbrella to follow.

“Neal Henderson has been a pioneer in helping develop and shape the lives of young boys and girls and use the core values of hockey to affect other life skills that these children would need as they become adults,” Kenneth Martin, the NHL’s vice president for community affairs told me. “His relentless commitment to children has been a trademark of our ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ program. He has been a true hero and a shining light, not only for the NHL, but for young boys and girls.”

James T. Britt, the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said Henderson’s “impact on his community and hockey throughout the United States has been tremendous.”

“His coaching style and communications are direct – when you hear him begin to address a player in his deep voice with ‘Young man…,’ it makes you feel you’d better take notes because something important is being highlighted,” Britt added.

Born in St. Croix, Henderson founded the program in Southeast Washington’s  Anacostia neighborhood in 1977, in large part to teach his son the game that he played while growing up in Canada.

The Fort Dupont club has no fees or dues. The only thing participants have to pay is attention to Henderson rules: maintain good grades, be respectful, and behave.

 

Henderson has had to beg, borrow – he would never steal – over the years in order to cover the free ice time, equipment, and instruction.

The NHL, members of the U.S. Congress and Washington’s lobbying community  have helped by hosting an annual lawmakers vs. lobbyists charity hockey game, with part of the proceeds going to the Fort Dupont hockey program and rink.

Through the program, Henderson has helped guide his charges to victories on and off the ice. He’s seen alums from his program complete high school and go on to college or serve in the military.

Some, like Donnie Shaw III., have gone on to play hockey in college. Still others, like Daunte Abercrombie, became so hooked on the game through Henderson’s teachings that they’re pursuing professional hockey opportunities.

“Coach Neal is a true living legend and a man with a long list of accomplishments that continue to grow,” said Shaw,  a 2013 NHL/Thurgood Marshall College Fund scholarship recipient who plays for Elmira College in New York. “I cannot thank him enough for all that he has done for me, as well as the devotion that he personally puts into every single kid who joins his hockey program as if they were family.”

Happy 79th,  Coach Neal.

 

 

 

Undrafted class of 2016 audition for NHL teams at development camps

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For some, the glow of the 2016 National Hockey League Draft has long flickered out. Now is the time for sweat and hard work for the players who didn’t have their names called in Buffalo.

Several members of the Undrafted Class of 2016 have scored second chances of sorts with invites to the development camps of NHL teams interested in giving them a look  and maybe a spot in their minor league systems.

Right wing Daniel Muzito-Bagenda of the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads didn’t get the call during the two-day draft in Buffalo. But he got a call from Buffalo a couple of days later.

Passed over by NHL teams at the 2016 draft, Mississauga's Daniel Muzito-Bagenda signed a one-year deal with the Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabres AHL farm team (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Passed over by NHL teams at the 2016 draft, Mississauga’s Daniel Muzito-Bagenda signed a one-year deal with the Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabres AHL farm team (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

The Rochester Americans, the Buffalo SabresAmerican Hockey League farm team, signed him to a one-year contract. The Swedish Muzito-Bagenda, 20, was ranked the 205th-best draft-eligible North American skater.

He finished fifth on the Steelheads in scoring in 2015-16 with 20 goals and 17 assists in 63 regular season games. He notched 6 goals and 4 assists in seven playoff games.

Muzito-Bagenda attended the Sabres’ development camp last week and played alongside Steelheads teammates Alexander Nylander – the Sabres’ 2016 first-round pick, the eighth player chosen overall – and local boy Austin Omanski, Buffalo’s 2016 seventh-round pick, the 189th player selected.

The Sabres once featured the “French Connection,” the high-scoring line of Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Rick Martin. Buffalo, at least for the development camp, could boast the “Mississauga Connection” with Muzito-Bagenda, Nylander and Omanski.

“We know each other from being teammates all last year, so it makes us feel more comfortable out there,” Muzito-Bagenda told the Americans’ website. “That has helped getting to know the other guys here, too.”

Mississauga Steelheads' Josh Burnside attended the Washington Capitals rookie and development camp (Photo/ Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Mississauga Steelheads’ Josh Burnside attended the Washington Capitals rookie and development camp (Photo/ Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Like Muzito-Bagenda, Steelheads team captain Josh Burnside went undrafted. Not ranked by NHL Central Scouting,  the 5-foot-11, 186-pound left wing landed a development camp invite from the Washington Capitals.

Burnside, 21, was the Steelheads fourth-leading scorer last season with 13 goals and 32 assists in 55 regular season games. He had 2 goals and 2 assists in seven playoff games.

Youngstown Phantoms right wing Yushiro Hirano is becoming a development veteran. Hirano, the first player born in Japan to skate in the United States Hockey League, was invited to the San Jose Sharks camp.

The Hokkaido native attended the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects camp last year. Hirano, 20, was ranked the 184th-best North American player in 2016 by NHL Central Scouting prior to the June draft.

He finished third on the Phantoms in scoring in 2015-16 with 24 goals and 22 assists in 54 games.

High-scoring forward Yushiro Hirano found his way to the San Jose Sharks' development camp after he wasn't drafted by an NHL team (Photo/Bill Paterson).

High-scoring forward Yushiro Hirano found his way to the San Jose Sharks’ development camp after he wasn’t drafted by an NHL team (Photo/Bill Paterson).

Left wing Jermaine Loewen of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers joined Hirano at the Sharks camp.

The 18-year-old is one of hockey’s remarkable stories. Born in Jamaica and adopted from an island orphanage by a white Manitoba family when he was five, Loewen didn’t lace on a pair of skates until he was six -late by Canadian standards.

 

But he’s making up for lost time. The 6-foot-3, 205 Loewen tallied 8 goals and 7 assists in 67 regular season games for the Blazers last season. He was held scoreless in 37 games in 2014-15.

It seems that no matter where defenseman Jalen Smereck goes, he always manages to surprise and impress. The Detroit area native worked his way from the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder to the Oshawa Generals who took him with the 299th overall pick of the 2013 Ontario Hockey League draft.

He developed into a top  defenseman for the Generals last season with 5 goals and 20 assists in 63 games.

Smereck  didn’t crack Central Scouting’s rankings and NHL teams passed on him in Buffalo, but the 6-foot, 173-pound alum of the minority-oriented Detroit Hockey Association  proved to be one of the highlights of the Arizona Coyotes’s development camp recently.

Former Oshawa Generals defenseman Jalen Smereck apparently impressed at Arizona Coyotes camp (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Former Oshawa Generals defenseman Jalen Smereck apparently impressed at Arizona Coyotes camp (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

“Jalen Smereck may be undrafted, but his play Monday looked like he should have been,” the website FanSided reported on its Howlin’ Hockey  Coyotes blog. “Smereck played hard on the puck, making it seem like he was bigger than he really was. His puck handling seemed reminiscent of P.K. Subban’s defensive stylings.”

Smereck appears destined to return to the OHL next season. The Generals traded him in the off-season to home state Michigan’s Flint Firebirds. That is, unless he surprises and impresses some more.

 

 

 

 

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