Springtime means hockey is in full bloom

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For a winter sport, ice hockey is pretty darn busy in the spring.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in full swing; the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 World Championship is underway in Slovakia; the IIHF’s World Championship kicks off in Paris and Cologne, Germany, May 5; USA Hockey begins evaluating players for the 2018 Winter Olympics women’s hockey team; and National Hockey League teams are making their lists and checking them twice ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago in June.

Auston Matthews leads the Maple Leafs to the playoffs in his rookie year.

And players of color are in the thick of all these events. Of the 16 teams in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all but four –  the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks – have minority players.

And two of those teams have minority coaches. Sudarshan Maharaj,  a Trinidadian raised in Toronto, is the goaltender coach for the Ducks and Paul Jerrard is an assistant coach for the Flames.

So who is playing in what series? Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: forward T.J. Oshie for Washington. Forwards Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri for the Leafs.

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers: forward Mika Zibanejad for the Rangers. Goalies Carey Price and Al Montoya and forward Andreas Martinsen for Montreal.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: defenseman Trevor Daley for the Penguins. Defenseman Seth Jones and forward Brandon Saad for the Blue Jackets.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators: Defenseman Johnny Oduya for Chicago. Defenseman P.K. Subban skates for the Preds.

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild: Forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Matt Dumba for the Wild. Forward Ryan Reaves for St. Louis.

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks: Defenseman Darnell Nurse and forward Juhjar Khaira for Edmonton. Forward Joel Ward for the Sharks.

While NHLers battle for the Stanley Cup, teenagers from 10 North American and European nations are fighting for international bragging rights at the IIHF U18 World Championship.

Akil Thomas, a rookie forward with the Niagara Ice Dogs, is playing for Canada. The son of a Canadian career minor league hockey player and a mother from suburban Washington, D.C., Thomas had 21 goals and 27 assists in 61 games for the Ontario Hockey League team.

Forward Akil Thomas joined Team Canada for the IIHF U18 World Championship after his strong rookie season with the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

He’s joined on Team Canada’s by another major junior rookie, defenseman Jett Woo of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Woo collected 5 goals and 17 assists in 65 games with the Warriors.

Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Jett Woo has been making waves at the IIHF U18 World championship with his solid play (Photo/ Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Team USA’s Tyler Inamoto (Photo/Len Redkoles).

Tyler Inamoto, a defenseman for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program is patrolling the blue line for Team USA in Slovakia.

The 6-foot-2 NHL draft-eligible defenseman skates for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and is ranked as the 68th-best North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting.

Inamoto tallied 2 goals and 9 assists in 42 games for the U.S.’s Under-18 team in 2016-17. He had 2 goals and 5 assists in 17 games for Team USA in the United States Hockey League.

If Inamoto is drafted, the NHL will have to wait. He’s committed to play hockey in the fall for the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

“Inamoto is a predator,” Badgers Head Coach Tony Granato said in November. “He is a physical, hungry, intimidating player. He is a great athlete. He’s big, strong, and has a mean streak…He’ll be a physical impact player right away next year. He’s strong enough already to play a physical game at the college level.”

USA defenseman Tyler Inamoto is ranked as the 68th best draft-eligible North American skater by NHL Central Scouting (Photo/Len Redkoles).

While the Under-18 championship is going on, 16 countries are finalizing their rosters for next month’s IIHF World Championship, a tourney that will feature some NHL players whose teams didn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs or were eliminated in the early rounds.

Team Canada quickly snapped up forward Wayne Simmonds, who led the Philadelphia Flyers‘ in goals with 31 in 82 games.

Team USA named Boston University massive forward Jordan Greenway  to its squad. Greenway, a 2015 Wild second-round draft choice, was a 6-foot-5, 230-pound force in January, powering the U.S. to a Gold Medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.

Greenway scored three goals and five assists in seven games for the U.S. and was the team’s second-leading scorer. Two of his three goals were game-winners. He was BU’s fifth-leading scorer in 2016-17 with 10 goals and 21 assists in 37 games for the Terriers.

Despite his impressive season, Greenway has elected to return to BU for his junior year instead of trying to make the leap to the NHL.

“I have a great time here with my teammates, and BU has just been great to me,” Greenway told Boston Hockey Blog’s Jonathan Sigal. “I want to win a couple more championships here, so definitely one more year is what I’m going to do.”

I haven’t seen co-host country France’s roster yet for the Worlds, but you can bet that it will include Flyers forward Pierre Edouard Bellemare, who has become one of the best French-born players to skate in the NHL.

Pierre Edouard Bellemare is pumped about World Championship being in his home country, France.

A late bloomer, the 32-year-old defensive specialist tallied 4 goals and 4 assists in 82 games. The Flyers liked Bellemare’s grit and grace enough that they re-signed him for two years at $1.45 million per year and added him to the team’s leadership, making him an assistant team captain.

He’s as pumped about the prospect of playing in his home country during the World Championship as he was getting the new contract and the ‘A’ from the Flyers. France, whose men’s team is ranked 14th in the world, opens the tournament May 6 against Norway in Paris.

“I think it’s going to be incredible,” Bellemare, a member of the French national team since 2004, told IIHF’s Lucas Akryod. “It is the first Worlds in France. I hope we will get a lot of fans for all the games, and that hockey will continue to develop in France.

And let’s not forget women’s international hockey. USA Hockey recently invited 42 players – including all 23 members of the 2017 Gold Medal-winning world championship team – for a selection camp April 30 to May 4 in suburban Tampa, Florida.

Kelsey Koelzer (Photo/Nancie Battaglia)

The camp is a prelude to developing  a final U.S. a roster for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeyongChang, South Korea.

Kelsey Koelzer, a senior defenseman for Princeton University and the 2016 first overall pick of the

National Women’s Hockey League (by the New York Riveters), is a selection camp invitee. She tallied 8 goals and 23 assists in 33 games for the Tigers.

Hockey’s busy spring rolls into summer when the brain trusts from the NHL’s 30 teams convene inside Chicago’s United Center for the draft June 23-24.

The NHL’s Central Scouting released its final player rankings earlier this month and there are several players of color to watch in addition to Inamoto.

There’s Nick Suzuki, a 5-foot-10 center for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. Central Scouting ranks the London, Ontario, Canada native as the 10th-best North American skater. He was the Attack’s second-leading scorer with 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games.

Owen Sound’s Nick Suzuki is ranked as the 10th-best North American skater eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft (Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images).

Then there’s Jason Robertson, a 6-foot-2 left wing for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Central Scouting ranks the Michigan native as the 14th-best North American skater. He led the Frontenacs in scoring in 2016-17 with 42 goals and 39 assists in 68 games.

Kingston Frontenacs left wing Jason Robertson jumped from 34th in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings to 14th in its final listing before June’s NHL Draft (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a defenseman for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He’s ranked as the 27th-best North American skater by Central Scouting.

The 6-foot-2, 161-pound 18-year-old notched 6 goals and 33 assists in 62 games for the Charlottetown.

Joseph is the younger brother of forward Mathieu Joseph,  a  sniper for the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs and a 2015 fourth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He signed an entry level contract with the ‘Bolts prior to playing for Canada in the 2017 World Juniors.

Another potential 2017 draftee is Cole Purboo, a forward for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. He’s ranked as the 189th-best North American skater. The 6-foot-3 Oakville, Ontario, Canada native scored 11 goals and 6 assists in 68 games for the Spitfires.

“I was hoping (to be) a little higher, but it’s alright,” Purboo told The Windsor Star last week of his Central Scouting rank. “It’s just people making a list…The same thing happened with the OHL draft. I don’t pay too much attention to them.”

 

Cole Purboo of the Windsor Spitfires (Photo/Aaron Bell/OHL Images).

Standing on the outside of top North American skaters on Central Scouting’s list is Elijah Roberts, a defenseman for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

Elijah Roberts of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers (Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images).

The 5-foot-8, 159-pound blue-liner, slipped from  208th in Central Scouting’s midterm list. He scored 4 goals and 14 assists in 65 games with the Rangers in 2016-17.

He’s considered undersized by today’s NHL standards, but his height hasn’t stopped him from excelling on ice. He was a major contributor for Team Canada in the World Under-17 hockey challenge.

“He’s a fast skater, very mobile, very aggressive on the ice,” one scout told Canada’s Sportsnet. “He’s been aggressive at the OHL level, too. He’s just a good kid; he skates hard and he works hard.”

Some NHL teams have drafted small D-men. The Vancouver Canucks took Jordan Subban, P.K. Subban’s 5-foot-9 younger brother, in the fourth round in 2013.

The diminutive defenseman was the sixth-leading scorer for the Utica Comets, the Canucks’ American Hockey League farm team, in 2016-17 with 16 goals and 20 assists in 64 games.

 

Black players on NHL teams? The list is long

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A reader recently asked me if the New York Islanders had any other black players skate for them besides forward Josh Ho-Sang, a late-season call-up from the minor leagues, and former goaltender-turned-broadcaster Kevin Weekes.

The quick answer is yes: forward Kyle Okposo, who was taken by the Isles with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 National Hockey League Draft, played for the team until he joined the Buffalo Sabres for the 2016-17 season.

Christopher Gibson, a black goaltender from Finland, who appeared in four games last season, and three other players also had stints on Long Island  over the years.

The reader’s question made me realize that a lot of hockey fans,  especially newer ones, may not know that their favorite teams have had several black players on their rosters over the decades.

Every NHL team has had at least two black or biracial players on their rosters. The Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and New York Rangers have had 12 black players don their jerseys.

Few folks remember that  about 25 percent of 2010-11 roster of the Atlanta Thrashers – now the Winnipeg Jets – was black: Forwards Evander Kane, Anthony Stewart and Nigel Dawes and defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Johnny Oduya.

 

Many of the players hail from traditional hockey areas like Toronto  or St. Paul, Minnesota.  But they also were born in non-traditional hockey places like Zaria, Nigeria,  Kingston, Jamaica,  Port-au-Prince, Haiti,  and Los Angeles, California.

The players run the gamut from those who’ve enjoyed long and Hockey Hall of Fame-worthy careers like Los Angeles Kings forward Jarome Iginla, and retired Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr to pugilists like forwards Val James and Donald Brashear to relative newbies like Ho-Sang.

Here’s a list of NHL teams and black players. Abbreviations: C=center, D=defense, G=goaltender, LW=left wing, RW=right wing.

ANAHEIM DUCKS: Emerson Etem, RW; Devante Smith-Pelley, RW; Chris Stewart, RW; Ray Emery, G.

ARIZONA COYOTES/WINNIPEG JETS: Anthony Duclair, LW; Paul Bissonnette, LW; Jason Doig, D; Nigel Dawes, LW; Steven Fletcher, LW; Georges Laraque,  RW; Craig Martin, RW; Kenndal McArdle, LW; Eldon “Pokey” Reddick, G; Bill Riley, RW.

BOSTON BRUINS: Jarome Iginla,  Willie O’Ree, LW;  Graeme Townshend, RW; Malcolm Subban, G; Darren Banks,  LW; Anson Carter, RW; Ray Neufeld, RW; Nathan Robinson, C; Sean Brown, D;  Sandy McCarthy, RW.

BUFFALO SABRES: Val James, LW; Tony McKegney, LW; Evander Kane, LW; Mike Grier, RW; Justin Bailey, RW; Nick Baptiste, RW; Grant Fuhr, G;  Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, D; Rumun Ndur, D; Sean McMorrow, LW; Kyle Okposo, RW; Chris Stewart, RW.

CALGARY FLAMES: Akim Aliu, RW; Jarome Iginla, RW; Fred Brathwaite, G: Grant Fuhr, G; Nigel Dawes, LW; Olivier Kylington, D; Tyrone Garner, G.

 

CAROLINA HURRICANES/HARTFORD WHALERS: Sandy McCarthy, RW; Anson Carter, RW; Kevin Weekes, G, Ray Neufeld, RW; Derek Joslin, D; Anthony Stewart, RW.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Tony McKegney;  Dirk Graham, RW; Johnny Oduya, D; Dustin Byfuglien, D;  Ray Emery, G; Trevor Daley, D; Jamal Mayers, RW.

COLORADO AVALANCHE/QUEBEC NORDIQUES: Reggie Savage, C; Chris Stewart, RW; Jarome Iginla; Tony McKegney;  Greg Mauldin, C; Bernie Saunders, LW; Peter Worrell, LW; Shawn Belle, D; Andreas Martinsen, LW.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Fred Brathwaite, Anson Carter, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Seth Jones, D; Greg Mauldin.

DALLAS STARS/MINNESOTA NORTH STARS: Johnny Oduya, Chris Stewart, Trevor Daley, D; Gemel Smith, C; Maxime Fortunus, D.

DETROIT RED WINGS: Tony McKegney, Nathan Robinson,  Brian Johnson, RW.

EDMONTON OILERS:  Anson Carter,Grant Fuhr, Fred Brathwaite, Sean Brown, Mike Grier, Georges Laraque;  Joaquin Gage, G; Theo Peckham, D; Shawn Belle ; Mark Fraser D, Mike; Darnell Nurse, D; Eldon “Pokey” Reddick, G.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: Kevin Weekes, Eldon “Pokey” Reddick,  Peter Worrell, Anthony Stewart, Craig Martin, Kenndal McArdle, Eldon “Pokey” Reddick.

LOS ANGELES KINGS: Grant Fuhr, Jarome Iginla, Anson Carter  Mike Marson, LW; Wayne Simmonds, RW; Nathan LaFayette, C.

MINNESOTA WILD: Chris Stewart, Joel Ward, Shawn Belle; Robbie Earl, LW.

MONTREAL CANADIENS: Georges Laraque, Shawn Belle, Andreas Martinsen P.K Subban, D; Donald Brashear, D; Devante Smith-Pelly, RW;  Steven Fletcher, LW/D; Francis Bouillon, D; Nigel Dawes, LW.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: Seth Jones, Francis Bouillon, P.K. Subban; Joel Ward, RW.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Devante Smith-Pelly, Kevin Weekes, Sean Brown, Mark Fraser, Johnny Oduya; Bryce Salvador, D; Claude Vilgrain, RW.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Josh Ho-Sang, Kyle Okposo, Kevin Weekes, Graeme Townshend, Christopher Gibson, Justin Johnson, Greg Mauldin.

NEW YORK RANGERS: Anthony Duclair, Sandy McCarthy, Nathan LaFayette Donald Brashear, Nigel Dawes, Anson Carter, Kevin Weekes, Andre Deveaux, Jason Doig, Emerson Etem, Tony McKegney,  Rumun Ndur.

Ottawa Senators: Ray Emery, Graeme Townshend.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: Wayne Simmonds, Ray Emery, Claude Vilgrain, Donald Brashear, Sandy McCarthy; Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, LW.

Left to right: Philadelphia Flyers forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Wayne Simmonds with Willie O’Ree and former Flyer goalie Ray Emery (Photo/Philadelphia Flyers).

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Trevor Daley, Georges Laraque, Paul Bissonnette, Jarome Iginla, Darren Lowe, RW.

ST. LOUIS BLUES: Ryan Reaves, Grant Fuhr, Chris Stewart, Jamal Mayers, Fred Brathwaite, Nathan LaFayette, Tony McKegney, Bryce Salvador; Ryan Reaves, RW; Chris Beckford-Tseu, G.

SAN JOSE SHARKS: Joel Ward, Mike Grier, Derek Joslin, Jamal Mayers, Mike McHugh, LW;  Dale Craigwell, C.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: J.T. Brown, Kevin Weekes, Mike Grier; RW; Gerald Coleman, G.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Mark Fraser, Grant Fuhr, Val James, Robbie Earl, John Craighead, RW;  Andre Deveaux, C.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS: Anson Carter, Donald Brashear, Nathan LaFayette, Emerson Etem, Derek Joslin, Claude Vilgrain, Kevin Weekes,  Jordan Subban, D; Darren Archibald,  RW.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS: Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Reggie Savage, Anson Carter, Donald Brashear, Jason Doig, Joel Ward.

WINNIPEG JETS/ATLANTA THRASHERS: Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Johnny Oduya, Rumun Ndur, Nigel Dawes, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Anthony Stewart.

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She’s got Seoul: Toronto’s Danelle Im scores for South Korea’s women’s hockey team

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Danelle Im first thought it was one of those Internet scams, you know, like when the prince from some faraway land sends you a too-good-to-be-true email promising to share his vast stolen fortune if you help him recover it by supplying your bank card or social security numbers.

Danelle Im (Photo/Alex D’Addese).

When Im, a Toronto native, got a message in 2012 inquiring whether she’d be interested in playing hockey for South Korea in the 2018 Winter Olympics, she was a tad skeptical.

Lucky for the 2018 Winter Games host country,  Im did her homework and the former Ryerson University forward joined South Korea’s women’s national team.

She scored a goal Sunday, helping to power South Korea to a 5-1 win over Slovenia in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division II Group A tournament in South Korea.

“Being handed this opportunity – it’s literally been given to me – is extremely humbling,” Im told Ryerson’s Eyeopener in February. “That’s why I want to put up my best effort. This is a gift.”

Her tally was an even-strength goal that came in the third period and extended South Korea’s lead to 4-1.

Im, who recently  finished her first and only season at Toronto’s Ryerson, was one of several hockey players with Korean-sounding last names and living in North America who received invites to help the Asian nation quickly build Olympic-level women’s and men’s ice hockey from teams almost from scratch.

South Korea’s method for filling its Olympic hockey roster isn’t unusual. For example, Jamaica is scouring the United States and Canada for hockey talent of island heritage in hopes of fielding an Olympic ice hockey team in the near future.

Togo, a West African nation, used Facebook to recruit a Togolese-born skier who was raised in the French Alps to be a member of its two-person team for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

And Dominica’s cross country ski team at the 2014 Winter Games was a couple who hailed from Staten Island, New York, not the Caribbean island nation.

Former Ryerson University forward Danelle Im played 20 games for the Rams in 2016-17 (Photo/Alex D’Addese/Ryerson Rams Athletics).

South Korea isn’t known for hockey – its women’s and men’s teams are both ranked 23rd in the world by the IIHF. The country has only 2,591 players, 259 of them women, according to the IIHF

But because PyeongChang, South Korea, is the site of the 2018 Winter Games, the country gets to field men’s and women’s teams to go up against more established hockey powers from North America and Europe.

From Toronto to PyeongChang. Former Ryerson University hockey player Danelle Im is looking forward to facing the world’s best at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea (Photo/Alex D’Addese/ Ryerson Rams Athletics)

So when South Korea put out an all-call to help boost its program pronto, Im was only too happy to sign on  – once she learned that the offer was legit.

“I never dreamed this would happen,” Im, who was born in Toronto to Korean parents, told The New York Times in February.

Im’s goal Sunday matched her output for Ryerson in 2016-17. She had a goal and 3 assists in 20 games for the Rams.

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Rhyen McGill, Clarkson University win women’s Frozen Four championship

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Congratulations to forward Rhyen McGill and Clarkson University for winning the NCAA Women’s Division I Frozen Four championship over the weekend.

Clarkson University forward Rhyen McGill.

McGill’s Golden Knights beat the University of Wisconsin Badgers 3-0 in the title game played Sunday in St. Charles, Missouri.

The sophomore from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, McGill didn’t register a point in Sunday’s championship game, but she was a key contributor to Clarkson reaching the Frozen Four final, scoring the game-winning goal in the Golden Knights’ 4-3 semifinal victory over the  University of Minnesota on Friday.

McGill was the Golden Knights sixth-leading scorer in the 2016-17 season with 9 goals and 22 assists in 41 games. In her 2015-16 freshman campaign, she was Clarkson’s seventh-leading scorer with 14 goals and 11 assists in 40 games and was tied for third among ECAC rookies with 25 points.

Clarkson’s Rhyen McGill in action against the University of Wisconsin Badgers in NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championship game (Photo/Clarkson University).

Clarkson, a school in Potsdam, New York, finished the 2016-17 regular season with a 32-4-5 overall record and a 19-1-2 record within the ECAC.

University of Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse.

Sunday’s championship game was the last collegiate contest for Wisconsin forward Sarah Nurse, cousin of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse and University of Connecticut basketball point guard Kia Nurse.

She was the second-leading Badgers scorer during the regular season with 25 goals and 28 assists in 39 games. She’ll leave Wisconsin as the school’s eighth all-time goal scorer among women with 74.

 

Professional hockey and a spot on Canada’s 2018 Winter Olympics women’s team could be in Nurse’s future. She was chosen by the Boston Pride with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 National Women’s Hockey League Draft. And she has been a mainstay for Hockey Canada in international tournaments.

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Sista Sled – U.S. women’s bobsleds win gold and silver on 2018 Winter Olympics track

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Congrats to Sista Sled  – members of the U.S. Women’s Bobsled  National Team – who captured gold and silver medals Saturday at a World Cup event on the track built for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The U.S. Women’s Bobsled National Team. Left to Right, Kehri Jones, Brittany Reinbolt, Aja Evans, Lauren Gibbs, Elana Meyers Taylor, Jamie Greubel Poser, Lolo Jones, and Briauna Jones (Photo/Molly Choma/USA Bobsled & Skeleton).

By finishing first, Jamie Greubel Poser won the overall World Cup points title. She piloted a two-person bobsled pushed by Aja Evans. The silver medal-winning sled at the PyeongChang, South Korea, event carried Elana Meyers Taylor and Lolo Jones. The second-place finish moved Meyers Taylor to third in overall World Cup standings.

All four women were members of the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That team featured five women of color. This year’s team has six.

Saturday’s showing bodes well for the U.S. women’s chances at the 2018 Winter Games, which runs Feb. 9 thru Feb. 25, 2018. The Meyers Taylor/Lolo Jones sled set a track record with a push time of 5.25 seconds.

They also established a track record by completing the course in 51.79 seconds.

“We learned a lot over these three weeks on this track by experimenting with lines and seeing what’s fast,” Meyers Taylor said.

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Canisius College goalie Charles Williams named Hobey Baker Award finalist

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Canisius College goaltender Charles Williams is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the coveted prize for the top NCAA Division I men’s hockey player.

Canisius College goalie Charles Williams.

Williams, a transfer graduate student who’s enjoying an outstanding year between the pipes for the tiny Buffalo college, was one of 10 players chosen as Hobey Baker finalists by the NCAA’s 60 D-I hockey head coaches and by online voting by fans.

“It is a true honor to be mentioned with a lot of great names,” Williams told the Buffalo News Wednesday. “Being the first in school history is a great honor, too.”

The field of finalists will be whittled down to three – called the Hobey Baker hat trick – on March 30. The winner of the award will be announced April 7 during the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four tournament in Chicago.

Canisius College goalie Charles Williams has been a nightmare for shooters this season, making him a 2017 Hobey Baker Award finalist (Photo/Canisius College).

Williams, a Canton, Michigan, native led all D-I goalies with a .946 save percentage during the 2016-17 regular season. He was tied for first with 5 shutouts and second in the nation with a 1.83 goals-against average.

He finished with a 15-6-4 record and helped backstop the Golden Griffins on a 17-game unbeaten string dating back to January. He’s also been unbeatable in the Atlantic Hockey conference tournament, leading top-seeded Canisius to semifinal Friday against fourth-seed Robert Morris University.

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Hockey is flowing for Akil Thomas and Charles Williams like Niagara Falls

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Is it something in the Niagara Falls water?

Two hockey players of color on both sides of the border are rolling like the water down the Falls – playing some of the best hockey in their league and their conference.

Akil Thomas, a rookie center for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League, enjoyed a 5-point game – 1 goal and 4 assists – en route to a Niagara 7-1 win against the North Bay Battalion on Sunday.

Niagara IceDogs center Akil Thomas posted a 5-point night Sunday and is second among Ontario Hockey League rookies in scoring (Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images).

The performance upped the Florida-born Thomas to 21 goals and 26 assists in 58 games for the IceDogs. He’s second-leading scorer among OHL rookies, the IceDogs’s fourth-leading scorer, and the major junior hockey league’s 81st best scorer.

Thomas, 17, hails from a hockey family: His father, Khalil Thomas, was a career minor league player. His uncle, Leo Thomas, retired  last year as a player for the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Comets and is an assistant coach for the Macon Mayhem of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Akil Thomas’ dad and mother, Akilah Thomas, are owners of  the Oshawa RiverKings of Canada’s Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.

While Akil Thomas is on a roll in Canada, Charles Williams is in the flow stopping pucks across the border for Cansius College in Buffalo, New York.

Williams’ strong play over the weekend powered the Golden Griffins past Upstate New York rival Niagara University and helped the team advance to the Atlantic Hockey conference semifinals.

Canisius College goalie Charles Williams beat Niagara University 3-0 and 2-1 over the weekend, advancing the Golden Griffins to the Atlantic Hockey Tournament semifinals.

Williams earned a 3-0 victory against NU’s Purple Eagles on Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday. The wins extended Canisius’ unbeaten streak to 17 games, dating back to January.

The winner of Atlantic Hockey Tournament gets an automatic berth to the 2017 NCAA Ice Hockey Championship.

A Canton, Michigan native, Williams is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top NCAA men’s hockey player. He’s also a semifinalist for the  Mike Richter Award, presented to the best goaltender in NCAA Division I hockey.

Williams, a fifth-year transfer from Ferris State University, posted a 15-6-4  regular season record. He led all NCAA Division I goaltenders with a .944 save percentage and was tied for first with 5 shutouts. He was second among D-I goalies with a 1.83 goals-against average.

 

 

 

Canisius College scores on a rebound year from goalie Charles Williams

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Charles Williams felt he wasn’t finished.

He had a decent career in goal at Ferris State University, graduating from the NCAA Division I school in Big Rapids, Michigan, with a 22-15 record, 3.00 goals-against average, and a .899 save percentage.

Charles Williams is one of U.S. college hockey’s best goalies this season.

But Williams felt he still had something to prove in college hockey – and, boy, is Canisius College ever glad.

Williams is having an amazing rebound season at Canisius, a tiny Division I school in Buffalo, New York, and is one of the best goaltenders in U.S. college hockey in 2016-17.

The fifth-year transfer student backstopped a Canisius 15-game unbeaten streak en route to the Golden Griffins’ winning their first-ever Atlantic Hockey regular season title with an 18-4-6 conference record.

The suburban Detroit native leads D-I goaltenders in save percentage (.944) and is tied for the lead in shutouts with 5. He’s second in the nation with a 1.83 goals-against average, an impressive stat considering that he faced 1,004 shots in 31 regular season games and stopped all but 56 of them.

Only five D-I goalies have seen more vulcanized rubber than Williams this season.

Williams’ spectacular season – he posted a 15-6-4 record – earned him a Hobey Baker Award nomination. The award is given annually to the NCAA top men’s hockey player.

Past winners include Jimmy Vesey, a New York Rangers forward who played for Harvard University, in 2016; Buffalo Sabres center and Boston University alum Jack Eichel in 2015; and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, who starred at Boston College, in 2014.

The last goalie to capture the award was Vancouver Canucks’ Ryan Miller way back in 2001 when he played for Michigan State University..

Charles Williams leads NCAA Division I goaltenders in save percentage and is tied for the lead in shutouts with 5 (Photo/Canisius College)

“It’s great, it shows that the hard work has paid off, but at the end of the day, we’re focused on the big goal that we set on the beginning of the year which is a championship,”  Williams said of being a Hobey Baker nominee. “It’s great, but definitely only the beginning.”

The road to that championship starts with winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, which would guarantee a berth in the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament. The 2017 Frozen Four Championship is April 6-8 in Chicago at the United Center.

Canisius had an opening round bye in the Atlantic Hockey tourney. The Golden Griffins face Upstate New York rival Niagara University Friday in a three-game tournament series.

Williams, 24, was able to play for Canisius after earning his bachelor’s degree from Ferris State because he had a year of NCAA eligibility left stemming from being  a medical red-shirt due to an injury that cost him his entire 2014-15 junior season.

After appearing in only 11 games as a senior at Ferris State and finishing with a 3-5-1 record, a 3.48 goals-against average, and a .888 save percentage, Williams felt he could do better and thought that transferring to another school would rekindle his career.

“I spoke with my coaches at Ferris and they helped tremendously in terms of reaching out to teams and stuff like that,” Williams told me. “At Canisius, our assistant coach (Trevor Large) played at Ferris before, and that’s what really made my decision a lot easier. I spoke to him a lot. I listened to what he had to say, what they’re building here. It sounded a lot like what I wanted, what I want to be a part of.”

And the change has been beneficial – for Williams and for Canisius.

“We knew that he had been a good goalie, but we knew that it didn’t go as he had planned at Ferris so he was looking for an opportunity,” Canisius Head Coach Dave Smith told the College Hockey News website. “He came in right away, and he didn’t talk, he just worked. He was sincere, he was mature, and he was competitive.”

Williams began playing hockey when he was 13 after his family moved from Detroit to Canton, Michigan. He began playing goal because he got tired of losing games.

“I started off as a (forward) and my brother I were on the same team and our goalie was letting in a lot of goals – we’d lose, like, by 13 or 15, stuff like that,” Williams recalled. “I told my brother ‘If you keep scoring, I’ll try to stop the puck.’ Everyone had to go through a rotation playing goalie and I wanted to volunteer, and it actually worked out great. We started winning and we didn’t want to change it.”

Williams is one of the few black goaltenders in U.S. college hockey history. The College Hockey News, in its research, only came up with five others: Jamie Phillips, a Winnipeg Jets farmhand who played for Michigan Tech from 2012-13 to 2015-16;  Jordan Tibbett, who played for Mercyhurst College from 2010-11 to 2013-14;  Eustace King, a major hockey agent who played for Miami University of Ohio in 1996; Peter Harris for the University of Lowell from 1988 to 1990; and Carey Grandy, a Huntsville, Alabama, native who backstopped Dartmouth College from 1981-83.

Carey Gandy played goal for Dartmouth College from 1981-83 (Photo/Dartmouth Digital Library Collections).

With his stellar 2016-17 season, Williams realizes that he might be drawing the attention of pro hockey scouts.

“I’m really just enjoying my last year and whatever happens with pro, it will all work itself out,” he said.

If it doesn’t, Williams has a Plan B: To use the master’s degree in sports administration that he’s pursuing at Canisius to start his own goalie academy.

“I think that’s something that will fit right in with my mission in hockey,” he said. “That’s what I really want to do.”

 

 

Josh Ho-Sang scores first NHL goal

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Josh Ho-Sang wasn’t on time on the first day of the New York Islanders training camp his rookie year, a transgression that prompted the National Hockey League team to immediately ship the talented forward back to junior hockey.

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang gets his first goal in his fourth NHL game.

Ho-Sang was right on time Tuesday night – scoring his first NHL goal on a wicked one-time slap shot that helped the Islanders beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-1 in Edmonton.

Ho-Sang’s goal came in his fourth NHL game at 17:23 minutes of the first period on a power play shot that blew past Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.

Islanders forward Andrew Ladd retrieved the puck as a keepsake for Ho-Sang, the son of a black Jamaican father of Chinese descent and a Jewish Chilean mother with Russian and Swedish bloodlines.

The Islanders chose Ho-Sang in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft with the 28th overall pick. The move was viewed as controversial at the time – the Islanders made a trade to get the pick  – because Ho-Sang was considered to be too outspoken, too flashy, and too immature by several NHL general managers and scouts.

There’s no denying his talent.Still, several hockey purists are annoyed that Ho-Sang has been wearing Number 66 – digits that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mario Lemieux wore during his Hockey Hall of Fame career – since being called up by the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ American Hockey League farm team.

But Ho-Sang has worn the number throughout his career in honor of Lemieux. He even wore it when he was a linemate of Oilers’ superstar Connor McDavid when they played for the Toronto Malboros youth hockey program.

“It’s not disrespect,” Ho-Sang told New York’s Newsday before the Isles-Oilers game. “If anything, it’s the ultimate respect.”

McDavid told the paper that his former youth hockey teammate is sometimes misunderstood.

“He says what’s on his mind and you have to respect that,” McDavid said.

 

 

 

 

Blackhawks’ Artemi Panarin apologizes for making racially crude remark in 2012

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Chicago Blackhawks star forward Artemi Panarin apologized Tuesday for a racially insensitive remark he made in a 2012 Russian television interview when he was playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Chicago Blackhawks Artemi Panarin

The Chicago Tribune, The Athletic, and other outlets reported that Panarin, the National Hockey League’s rookie of the year last season, participated in an interview segment in 2012 with former KHL teammate Yaroslav Tulyakov, who asked him what he would never do, three sources who saw the video told The Tribune.

“Have sex with a black woman,” Panarin replied, the three Russian-speaking sources told the newspaper.

The existence of the video, which has been removed from YouTube, was first reported by a Chicago hockey blog called Faxes From Uncle Dale.

The Tribune reported that Panarin’s remark occurred during a segment in which he and Tulyakov appeared to trying to be humorous, making off-color remarks as they read questions.

Panarin issued a statement to the Tribune through the Blackhawks Tuesday, saying “In 2012, I was a guest on a Russian TV show and made insensitive comments that I deeply regret…I understand my comments are offensive and I apologize for my hurtful words.”

The team also issued its own statement: “On Sunday, we were made aware of the video of Artemi’s appearance on a Russian TV show in 2012…We immediately addressed the matter with him. His comments in the video in no way represent the values of our organization. He has apologized and understands the offensive nature of his words.”

Panarin, 25, has 20 goals and 38 asssts in 65 games for the Blackhawks this season.