Some big questions for some players of color ahead of the 2018-19 NHL season

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National Hockey League training camps open this week and the season begins October 3 with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals facing the Boston Bruins.

The 2017-18 NHL season is chock full of interesting story lines involving players of color that are worth paying attention to. Here are a few:

N.Y. Islanders forward Joshua Ho-Sang starts the 2017-18 season with a clean slate with new coach and GM.

THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AND JOSH HO-SANG. CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED? It’s safe to say that the Islanders and right wing  Joshua Ho-Sang, the team’s 2014 first-round draft pick, have fit as well as an ice skating rink inside Brooklyn’s basketball-perfect Barclays Center.

Previous Islanders management complained that Ho-Sang was too head strong and defensively insufficient, among other things. Ho-Sang griped that the old Islanders brain trust overlooked similar deficiencies of other players and unjustly banished him to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Isles’ American Hockey League farm team, while others skated scot free.

Well, there are new sheriffs on Long Island in General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz, who guided the Capitals to the Cup last season by getting the best out of superstar forward Alex Ovechkin, and they seem determined to make the Isles/Ho-Sang marriage work.

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Trotz and Lamoriello say Ho-Sang starts off with a clean slate under their regime And Ho-Sang appears to be singing from the same hymnal.

“Josh has to be part of our future,” Trotz told Stan Fischler last month. “He’s a talent who needs to be understood better than he has been. In this case, Lou will be good. My belief is that the kid has been misunderstood because he looks at the game differently.”

Ho-Sang told NHL.com that the new management has “been tremendous in working with me and talking to me. ”

“I really don’t want to get into what they’ve talked to me about, but it’s all been positive,” he told NHL.com. “Every conversation that I’ve had with them since the moment they became part of the organization has just been teaching.”

In addition to featuring a new attitude, Ho-Sang will feature a new number with the Islanders, if he makes the team, because notoriously old school Lamoriello has squashed players wearing high-numbered jerseys for 2018-19.

Ho-Sang wore No. 66 in previous stints with the Isles, which caused many hockey purists to lose their minds because it was Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux’s number during his glory years with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ho-Sang will wear No. 26.

Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds is in the final year of a six-year deal.

WHAT ABOUT WAYNE?  Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds enters the season in the last year of his six-year, $23.85 million contract. Talks about an extension with one of the team’s most prolific goal scorers have been slow, raising question about whether the Flyers are interested in jumping off and moving on from the “Wayne Train.”

Adding fuel to the speculation are the Flyers’ free agent signing of former Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James Van Riemsdyk and the late 2017-18 rise of  19-year-old center Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ 2017 first-round draft pick.

Like Simmonds, Patrick and Van Riemsdyk are net-front players who score bunches of goals by parking themselves in front of opposing goaltenders in hopes of tip-in shots or fat rebounds.

And Simmonds is coming off a down scoring season – sort of.  He had 24 goals and 22 assists in 75 regular season games last season and no goals and 2 assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff contests.

His 24 goals came after he scored 31 in 2016-17 and 32 in 2015-16. Some context here: Simmonds managed the 24 goals despite a laundry list of injuries that included a tear in his pelvic area, a pulled groin, fractured ankle, torn ligament in his thumb and a busted mouth twice. Still, he only missed seven games last season.

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall insists that the team would like to retain Simmonds and Simmonds has indicated that he wants to finish his playing career in Philadelphia.

“For being injured, I didn’t have a bad season last year, but it’s still not to my best ability” Simmonds told reporters in August. “So we continue to talk, we continue to talk. It is what it is right now.”

Forward Nick Suzuki, a former Vegas Golden Knights 2017 first-round draft, was traded to Montreal.

WILL THE MONTREAL CANADIENS RIDE SUZUKI BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS? The Canadiens finally ended the Max Paciorietty saga Monday by trading the high-scoring left wing and team captain to the Vegas Golden Knights for center Nick Suzuki, who was a Knights’ 2017 first-round draft pick, forward Tomas Tatar, and a 2019 second-round draft pick.

The trade caused howls among many Canadiens fans who still suffer bad flashbacks from the the team swapping defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for blue-liner Shea Weber in June 2016 and shipping all-world goaltender Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in December 1995.

The Paciorietty trade may look lopsided sided now – he has 226 goals and 222 assists in 626 NHL regular season games – But the 19-year-old Suzuki is no slouch. He impressed the Golden Knights in the team inaugural training camp, though he didn’t make the team last season.

Instead, Suzuki lit it up with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League in 2017-18. He tallied 42 goals and 58 assists in 64 OHL regular season games. He had 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games in 2016-17.

“Suzuki was the key piece because we like a young prospect that was picked 13th overall, which I believe at the time we had at 11 on our list,” Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin told reporters after the trade.

The question is when will Suzuki arrive in Montreal? The OHL is one thing, the NHL is another. Some prospects need time and patience – things that are often in short supply in in hockey-crazed Montreal.

WILL THE KIDS STICK? A number of highly-touted prospects who’ve already had a small tastes of the NHL are heading to training camps looking to stay in the big leagues.

Minnesota Wild rookie left wing Jordan Greenway had a dream season in 2017-18: Becoming the first African-American to play on a U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, skate for Hockey East champion Boston University, and play for the Wild in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Now the 21-year-old, Wild 2015  second-round draft pick has got to grind it out in training camp to land a permanent job in Minnesota.

“We’re just looking at his smarts, how he adjusts,” Wild first-year General Manager Paul Fenton told The Athletic at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. “Being able to play in the Olympics gave him a different dimension to where he was playing in college hockey. To turn pro and play in the playoffs, from afar I was watching and he looked like he adjusted to the pro game right away. That’s what we’re looking to see – how he was able to take the summer and take his maturity an go forward.”

Calgary Flames rookie forward Spencer Foo scored 2 goals in four NHL games last season.

The Calgary Flames are doing the same thing with right wing Spencer Foo and defenseman Oliver Kylington.

Foo, a high-scoring, highly-coveted free agent from NCAA Division I Union College, signed with Calgary in June 2017, appeared in four games with the Flames late in 2017-18 and scored 2 goals.

“It’s going to be a blast,” Foo told Canada’s Global News of the upcoming season. “First game of the season is always exciting whether it’s exhibition or not. I think everyone’s pretty pumped.”

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Foo spent most of the 2017-18 season with the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ AHL farm team, where he was third in scoring with 20 goals and 19 assists in 62 regular season games.

He was there with Kylington, a 21-year-old  blue-liner from Stockholm, Sweden. Kylington was the team’s seventh-leading scorer with 7 goals and 28 assists in 62 regular season contests.

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“There’s a spot available” on the Calgary roster, Kylington told The Montreal Gazette. “And it’s a lot of work to get that spot. I feel ready, I’ve been training hard this summer and putting a lot of grind in the gym and mentally preparing myself for this year and this camp.”

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‘Making Coco’ documentary goes behind the mask of Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr

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Grant Fuhr was a man of few words during his National Hockey League career.

“Back then, five words was a long conversation for me,” Fuhr told me recently.

Grant Fuhr was Edmonton’s first-round draft pick in 1981.

Fuhr preferred to let his play in goal do the talking, winning five Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers from 1984 to 1990, capturing the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender in 1988, being named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players, and becoming the first black player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003.

“The Great One,” Hall of Fame center Wayne Gretzky,  also vouched for his former Oilers teammate, calling him “the greatest goalie that ever lived.”

Fuhr tells his story with the help of Gretzky and other NHL legends in Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story,” a Sportsnet documentary that goes behind the mask of one of the league’s most acrobatic, dominating, and enigmatic goaltenders.

“I think the biggest thing is it’s a chance for people to see what my life was actually like,” said Fuhr, who was nicknamed “Coco” during his playing days. “There has always been speculation, guessing and such, and everybody thinks that the world is glamorous all of the time.”

Audiences will get a first glimpse of the film at a private screening in Toronto during the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday, September 11. The documentary will have its world premiere at the Calgary International Film Festival on Saturday, September 29, as part of the festival’s closing gala.

“Making Coco” will be televised in December on Sportsnet in Canada. The film’s producer says he’s still working on when and where it will be shown in the United States and elsewhere.

“Grant’s often forgotten on those great Oliers team because there were so many great players,” said Adam Scorgie, producer of the documentary directed by Don Metz. “You had arguably one of the greatest players to ever play (Gretzky), one of the greatest leaders in Mark Messier and you forget how good Grant Fuhr was backstopping that team and all the boundaries he broke within the NHL.  He was the first black superstar, the first to win the Stanley Cup and the first black to be inducted in the Hall of Fame.”

The Oilers teams of Fuhr’s era were known for their offensive prowess, not their defensive skill. Yes, they had a Hall of Famer in smooth-skating offensive-minded defensman Paul Coffey, who states flatly in “Making Coco” that “I don’t block shots.”

The Oilers’ defense was its offense, which often left Fuhr to fend for himself at the other end of the rink.

“I licked my chops every time we were going to play them ’cause I knew I was going to get three or four two-on-ones guaranteed,” Tony McKegney, the NHL’s first black player to score 40 goals in a season, told me recently. “Well, we did and we would lose out there 7 to 4 or something like that. During those games, Grant would make five or seven spectacular saves. Obviously, Wayne and Messier and Glenn Anderson were the story, but if you asked them today they would admit they had four guys up the ice all the time to score knowing Grant was back there.”

Grant Fuhr won five Stanley Cups during 10 seasons with the offensively-gifted Edmonton Oilers. On many nights, the netminder nicknamed “Coco” had little help defensively.

Because of Edmonton’s go-go offense and gone-gone defense, Fuhr has a career goals-against average of 3.38 – the highest among all Hall of Fame goaltenders.

Other Hall inductees with regular season GAA’s over 3.00? Georges Vezina (3.28) – yeah, the trophy guy- and the New York Islanders’ Billy Smith (3.17), who has four Stanley Cup rings to Fuhr’s five.

Fuhr compiled a 403-295-114 (ties) record and posted 25 shutouts in 868 regular season games with Edmonton, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames from 1981-82 to 1999-2000. He had a 92-50 record in 150 Stanley Cup playoff games, including six shutouts.

And Fuhr wouldn’t be a true Oiler if he didn’t provide some offense. His 46 points – all assists – that places him third among NHL goalies behind Tom Barrasso’s 48 points and soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Martin Brodeur’s 47 points. Three of Brodeur’s points are goals that he actually scored or was given credit for.

Fuhr’s accomplishments aren’t bad for a player who many hockey experts thought was overweight, broken-down, and washed up when the Blues signed him in 1995-96.

He revived his career in St. Louis, thanks in large part to training with Bob Kersee, a world-class African-American track coach and husband of U.S. Olympic track Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

After appearing in only 49 games for three different teams in 1993-94 and 1994-95, Fuhr played in a whopping 79 games in 1995-96 and 73 contests in 1996-97 for the Blues and posted a 63-55-27 record in those two seasons.

Grant Fuhr shows off the bling from five Stanley Cup championship rings won with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo/Derek Heisler/www.derekheisler.com).

“It saved my body, it got my body through a lot,” Fuhr said of the training. “The body was good, but it became so much better. And I got a better understanding of it, what I was capable of, and how I could play around certain injuries.”

Fuhr’s legacy and longevity captivated another goaltender of color, Fred Brathwaite, who became a teammate in Fuhr’s final NHL season in Calgary.

Growing up in Ottawa, Brathwaite so idolized Fuhr that he put up a poster of the veteran goaltender in his bedroom at his mother’s house, where it still hangs today.

“Just the way he could raise his game to the level it could be,” said Brathwaite, a Hockey Canada goalie coach who was the New York Islanders’ goalie coach last season. “He might let in a goal or two, but when it came down the final thing, he’d raise his game up to help his team win Stanley Cups, or Canada Cups, and all those other things. I was very fortunate, very lucky, to play with him in his last year of hockey.”

Former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite is such a Grant Fuhr fan that he keeps a poster of the five-time Stanley Cup winner in the bedroom of his boyhood home in Ottawa. The two became teammates on the Calgary Flames in Fuhr’s final NHL season in 1999-2000 (Photo/Fred Brathwaite).

Fuhr considers considers himself lucky, despite the ups and downs he experienced in his life and career.

The child of black and white biological parents, he was adopted by a white family in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada, and was lured to the net by all the neat gear that goaltenders wear.

Small town Spruce Grove and Western Canada served as an incubator of sorts for Fuhr in the early stages of his career.

He said he never really experienced racial hostility on or off the ice the way players like forwards Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington CapitalsWayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban have endured in recent seasons.

“The Great One,” former Edmonton Oilers center Wayne Gretzky, calls Grant Fuhr the greatest goalie ever in “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story.”

Fuhr thinks that the NHL’s first generation of black players – forwards Willie O’Ree, Mike Marson, Bill Riley, Val James, and McKegney ran that gauntlet for him.

“Some of the (minority) guys that played in the minors in the states, they did all the heavy lifting,” Fuhr said. “Guys like Val James, Bill Riley, Mike Marson, they did the heavy lifting, they went through all the abuse.”

He said he didn’t feel or sense racism’s sting until he was traded to the Sabres in 1992-93 and after a suburban country club where other Sabres players and team officials were members initially denied him membership.

Retired Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla being interviewed about what it was like being an opponent and later a teammate of Grant Fuhr in “Making Coco: The Grant Fuhr Story).

“The more you traveled in the states, the more you could see it (racism). You live in an element where race matters a little bit and people have some pointed views on it,” he said.  “You would think that as time progresses and as history progresses that it would get better. And, if anything, in the last for or five years, it has taken steps backwards.”

Fuhr doesn’t shy away in the film from discussing perhaps the lowest point in his career – a one-year suspension by the NHL in 1990 after he admitted that he abused cocaine from 1983 to 1989. The league reinstated him after he served five months of the penalty.

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“I went to the school of life and, unfortunately, not everything runs as smoothly as it’s supposed to. You make mistakes along the way, and there’s a great price to pay,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is that I lived life – good, bad and otherwise.

“I wasn’t sheltered from anything. I didn’t protect myself from anything. So, yeah, you can make mistakes and still have a positive life out of it,” he added. “There are things in school that they don’t teach you. The only way to learn ’em is by falling on your own. Yeah, I tripped and fell on my face a few times.”

But from the falls, Fuhr said he’s now able to teach others on how to avoid stumbling.

“Kids that I help out now, talk to and such, I get a little bit of credibility because of having been through it instead of someone telling them ‘Hey, this is how it has to be’ having never been through it.  Having been though it, and been through it in a public way, I get a little more credibility from them.”

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Dr. Joel Boyd, the NHL’s first black team physician, is Wild about hockey

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Call Dr. Joel Boyd an original.

He’s been taking care of broken bones, meniscus tears and other serious upper and lower body injuries as the Minnesota Wild’s physician and orthopedic surgeon since the team’s inception in 2000.

Dr. Joel Boyd (Photo/Minnesota Wild).

Before he became the National Hockey League’s first black team physician, Dr. Boyd was the physician for the U.S. men’s hockey team at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan – the first Olympiad that featured squads comprised of NHL players.

“There weren’t very many African-American team physicians, period, especially at the pro level,” Dr. Boyd recalled. “And you consider how many African-Americans are playing the game, almost no matter what game you’re talking about, aside from hockey. At the time, there were no Major League Baseball black team physicians, no National Football League black head team physicians…”

Dr. Boyd has helped change that in a big way.  In addition to caring for Wild players, he’s the team physician for University of Minnesota football, the former team doc for the NFL Minnesota Vikings (He was the NFL’s second black team physician) and former physician for the Minnesota Lynx of the National Women’s Basketball Association.

Dr. Joel Boyd, second row, served as team physician for the U.S. men’s hockey team at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the first Olympiad that allowed NHL players to participate (Photo/USA Hockey).

He didn’t set out to be a hockey doc. Football was Dr. Boyd’s main game, having been a star running back at Bucknell University in the late 1970s.

But hockey always seemed to be in the background. He knew a bit about the game from growing up in the District of Columbia and watching a woeful 1974-75 Washington Capitals expansion team that featured Mike Marson, a rookie forward who became the NHL’s second black player.

“My friends and I would go and watch them play because they had a black player and we were, like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to see this,'” Dr. Boyd said. “It was just, like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.'”

Dr. Joel Boyd was first drawn to hockey by the woeful expansion 1974-75 Washington Capitals and the exploits of rookie forward Mike Marson, who was the NHL’s second black player (Photo/Washington Capitals).

But hockey fell off of Dr. Boyd’s radar as he turned his attention to football and his studies at Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and later at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Hockey re-entered his world during a sports medicine fellowship at the University of Western Ontario in Canada where part of his training dealt with hockey injuries.

Dr. Boyd pulled double-duty at UWO, keeping with his fellowship while putting his Bucknell gridiron experience to use by serving as running backs coach for the Canadian university’s championship football team.

Dr. Joel Boyd, the NHL’s first black team physician, hangs out with Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (Photo/Courtesy Dr. Joel Boyd).

The team had several black players from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who told Dr. Boyd about how scores of African-Americans fled the U.S. South to the Canadian Maritimes to escape the dehumanizing scourge of slavery.

There, they established the Coloured Hockey League, whose players authors George and Darril Fosty credit with creating some of the elements of modern hockey, including the slap shot and butterfly goaltending.

Dr. Boyd’s hockey involvement grew through a United States Olympic Committee training program for physicians that led to opportunities with USA Hockey.

By the mid-1990s, he was serving as a physician for the old Minnesota Moose of the International Hockey League and for USA Hockey’s Under-17 teams and international squads.

He advanced in USA Hockey’s medical ranks to serve as national team physician from 1996 to 2000. His USA Hockey affiliation also began a sort of six degrees of separation chain that led to Dr. Boyd’s hiring by the Wild.

Through USA Hockey, Dr. Boyd met Bryant McBride, who was an architect of the NHL Diversity Task Force, the predecessor of the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative.

The initiative provides support and unique programming to some 30 nonprofit youth hockey organizations across North America, offering kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to play the game and learn life lessons through the prism of hockey.

Working with McBride and the diversity task force, Dr. Boyd met Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player and the league’s diversity ambassador.

A light bulb clicked on in Dr. Boyd’s mind.

Dr. Joel Boyd, the NHL’s first black team physician, said he’s learned a lot about hockey from talking to Willie O’Ree, who became the league’s first black player in 1958 (Photo/Courtesy Dr. Joel Boyd).

“The whole thing started coming together in terms of what I learned in Canada about Halifax, meeting Willie, and putting the pieces together about blacks and hockey,” Dr. Boyd said.

Dr. Boyd’s task force work also put him into NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s orbit. Impressed the doctor’s career, Bettman put in a good word on his behalf with the expansion Wild’s ownership team.

“There were a number of people who helped support me locally, getting me to know the ownership group,” Dr. Boyd said. “But one of the big letters for me was actually from Gary Bettman. At that point, I had already been working with the Diversity Task Force for several years, so I had gotten to know Gary. I still have that letter he sent to the ownership group. That was sort of the beginning.”

In addition to serving as the Minnesota Wild’s team physician, Dr. Joel Boyd was the team physician for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Here, he’s tending to former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (Photo/Courtesy Dr. Joel Boyd).

Now, Dr. Boyd can be found in an office along the main corridor of St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center during most Wild home games, hoping that none of the players on the ice suddenly require his attention, but standing ready if they do.

“I love the game,” he said. “My boys love playing hockey. They played here in high school, my youngest son coaches at the high school where he went to school. They both played club hockey at Dartmouth.”

As for their dad?  “I look back and kind of go, ‘If I had learned to skate early, this might have been the sport for me,'” Dr. Boyd said with a laugh.

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Blake Bolden returns to the NWHL, signs with Buffalo Beauts

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Blake Bolden is back in the National Women’s Hockey League.

After two seasons with the Boston Pride, defenseman Blake Bolden is playing this season with HC Lugano (Photo/NWHL).

The 27-year-old two-time NWHL All-Star defenseman from Ohio signed with the Buffalo Beauts Wednesday after playing last season for HC Lugano in Switzerland.

“My decision was made pretty quickly,” Bolden told The Buffalo News at the city’s HarborCenter Wednesday. “I had been going back and forth on where I wanted to play next season. I had no idea, and it just felt right about Buffalo. I think it’s going to be a great decision, a great move for me.”

Bolden made the move to Switzerland to get a taste of international hockey and cure a case of wanderlust after she didn’t receive an invite from USA Hockey to attend training camp for the U.S. women’s team that competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in February.

Defenseman Blake Bolden is bringing her talents back to the NWHL after playing one season in Switzerland (Photo/Courtesy HC Lugano).

“I just wanted a fresh start, something I’ve never done before, a new experience,” Bolden told me last November before heading to Lugano. “I’ve played in every league I could possibly play in North America. I didn’t think it was time for me to quit and I really wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone and experience new things and be able to travel in a basically different environment.”

From her native Ohio to Boston to Lugano and now to Buffalo. Oh, the places hockey has taken defenseman Blake Bolden (Photo/Courtesy HC Lugano).

The former Boston College team captain responded by tallying 16 goals and 11 assists in 20 regular season games for Lugano in 2017-18. She added a goal and 3 assists in six playoff contests.

Bolden is a trailblazer in women’s hockey. She was the first African-American to play in the NWHL and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She was an All-Star and won the Clarkson Cup in 2014-15 with the CWHL’s Boston Blades.

She hoisted the NWHL’s Isobel Cup championship trophy in 2015-16 season and earned All-Star honors with the Boston Pride.

Beauts General Manager Nik Fattey said signing Bolden was a no-brainer.

“Great player. Big shot, Really good reports on being a great teammate and a hard worker…,” Fattey told The Buffalo News. “It just seemed like a good fit.”

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Caps’ Smith-Pelly does the rounds with Stanley Cup at Toronto area pub, hospital

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Talk about Soul on Ice.

Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly had a cool day with the Stanley Cup Monday complete with an ice sculpture likeness of him in at a Scarborough, Ontario, pub hoisting the treasured trophy.

Washington Capitals right wing Devante-Smith Pelly.

Hundreds of fans braved torrential rain in the Toronto area to venture to the Black Dog Pub to get a glimpse of the Cup and the man of the hour.

“When I saw it start to rain, I didn’t know what to expect,” Smith-Pelly told NHL.com. “To see the line of people snaked around and down the block, I’m so excited…I  mean, you want to bring the Stanley Cup where you grew up. I grew up right down the street from here and used to come here and hang out.”

Chris Stewart, a forward who skated for the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames last season, was among the water-logged faithful at the Black Dog.

“He’s come a long way. I’m proud of him,” said Stewart, who has 160 goals and 161 assists in 652 National Hockey League games. “He stuck it out and now he’s on top.”

How cool is this? Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly and an ice sculpture likeness of him with Stanley Cup (Photo/Courtesy Phil Prtichard/HHOF).

The Black Dog Pub wasn’t Smith-Pelly’s only stop with Stanley on Monday. He took the Cup to downtown Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and showed off the trophy to family and close friends in private moments.

Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s most valuable player, but Smith-Pelly also had a heroic Stanley Cup run.

Devante Smith-Pelly with Toronto Mayor John Tory, left, and some young hockey fans (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

He tallied 7 goals and 1 assist in 24 playoff games; potted a goal in three consecutive Stanley Cup Final games against the Vegas Golden Knights; netted the game-winning goal in Game 4; scored the tying goal in Cup-clinching Game 5, a highlight reel kick-the-puck-onto-the-stick and fly-in-the-air snipe past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; and the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Not bad for a guy who only scored 7 goals and 9 assists in 75 games and averaged 12:21 minutes of ice time per game during the regular season and 12:02 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Devante Smith-Pelly has a little quiet time with the Stanley Cup and his grandparents, who rocked the Washington Capitals red hockey jerseys (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

“There’s been some struggles,” Smith-Pelly told NHL.com. But at the same time, I’m not the first guy to go through it and I won’t be the mast. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to go out there and do what you have to do.”

Smith-Pelly’s playoff prowess made Capitals fans love him. And Smith-Pelly fell in love with Washington. So much so that he rejected contract offers from other teams with longer terms and more money to sign one-year, $1 million deal to return to the Capitals.

Ain’t no party like a Stanley Cup party. Washington Capitals’ Devante Smith-Pelly shares the Stanley Cup with some of his long-time buddies (Photo/Courtesy Phil Pritchard/HHOF).

“It wasn’t worth it to leave somewhere where I’m happy and somewhere where I really want to be,” Smith-Pelly told the Associated Press in June. “The money to me personally is not that important if I’m not going to be happy somewhere else.”

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Caps’ Madison Bowey shares Stanley Cup with Winnipeg rink, and grandma’s cooking

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What’s better than eating pierogies out of the Stanley Cup?

Washington Captials defenseman Madison Bowey.

Eating grandma’s pierogies out of the Cup, just like Washington Capitals defense Madison Bowey did during his designated day with the trophy in Winnipeg on Saturday.

Bowey shared the Cup with his family and Winnipeg’s Varsity View Community Club, which he credited with helping mold him into a National Hockey League player.

“My hockey career began here, at this great community club in this wonderful hockey city, and this is my chance to pay tribute to everyone who helped me get started, and encouraged me to keep going,” Bowey said, per Canada’s Global News.

Bowey didn’t play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the 23-year-old did appear in 51 regular season games as a rookie in the 2017-18 season. He didn’t score a goal, but he did register 12 assists.

Washington Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey samples some of grandma’s pierogies from the greatest serving bowl – the Stanley Cup (Photo/MParolin/HHOF).

The Capitals showed their faith in their 2013 second-round draft pick when they re-signed him to a two-year, $2 million deal earlier this month.

Bowey said he hopes bringing the Stanley Cup to his local rink will show younger hockey players that all things are possible.

Madison Bowey hoisted the Stanley Cup after the Capitals won it in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights. He lifted it again at his local rink in Winnipeg (Photo/MParolin/HHOF).

“Help the younger guys that are striving to be where I am right now, and I think if I can just come back and help out the community as much as I can, it goes a long way,” Bowey said, according to Global News.

Nothing says “Thank you” like bringing the Stanley Cup to where your hockey career began. Washington Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey did that on his Cup day Saturday (Pnoto/MParolin/HHOF)

Bowey and Caps forward Devante Smith-Pelly will become the eighth and ninth black players to have their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup.

Years before he won the Stanley Cup, Madison Bowey spent some quality time with it as a Hockey Hall of Fame visitor. And he has the picture to prove it (Photo/WNeubrand/HHOF).

Their names join those of goaltenders Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers – 1984, 1985, 1987, 1998, 1990), Eldon “Pokey” Riddick (Oilers – 1990) and the late Ray Emery (Chicago Blackhawks – 2013), forwards Dustin Byfuglien(Blackhawks -2013) and  Jamal Mayers (Blackhawks-2013), and defensemen Johnny Oduya (Blackhawks-2013, 2015) and Trevor Daley (Pittsburgh Penguins – 2016, 2017).

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.

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Hockey players of color tout talent – and diversity – at summer tournaments

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Two hockey teams of color literally took the show on the road this month to showcase  their skill and their commitment to making the game more diverse.

The women of the Brown Bears and the boys from the NextGEN AAA Foundation didn’t take home any championship trophies, but they still felt like winners because their presence at two New England tournaments proved a point.

“It’s just shows that hockey is for everybody,” Brown Bears co-captain Gina Weires told me. “It shows that we can do it.”

The Brown Bears assembled for the first time at the Hockey Fights MS 2018 Vermont Tournament (Photo/Courtesy Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips).

The NextGEN AAA Foundation team that played in the 2018 Chowder Cup in suburban Boston strikes a pose (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

Weires and fellow co-captain Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips formed the Brown Bears to participate in the Hockey Fights MS Vermont Tournament.

The two friends wanted their team to be different. They wanted a roster of mostly minority women, something that they never experienced in their years of playing in the Maryland-Washington-Delaware-Virginia area.

“Seeing other hockey players of color around growing up, but very few, we felt that it was important that the ice surface is as diverse as the cities that we live in,” Bazinet-Phillips said. “Getting together the team, we hope to build a network of female hockey players of color, and then give female hockey players of color something to look forward to during the year in terms of coming to the tournament. But we also want to inspire them to go back to their local ice arenas and begin to build diversity at their rinks.”

But the first step for Bazinet-Phillips and Weires was building the Brown Bears’ inaugural roster.

Bazinet-Phillips, a Baltimore native who played NCAA Division III hockey at Maine’s Colby College, and Weires, a Washington, D.C., resident who played for and managed American University’s women’s club hockey team, reached out to the few minority players they knew and then brainstormed about where to find others.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney awkwardly stated that he had “binders full of women” who he could hire if he won the 2012 presidential election.

Weires and Bazinet-Phillips didn’t have binders, but they assembled a Google Doc with the names of 45 minority female hockey players who they could invite to join the Brown Bears, including some heavy hitters.

Brown Bears co-captains Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips, left, and Gina Weires racked their brains, searched the Internet, and even scoured The Color of Hockey, looking for players for their team (Photo/Courtesy Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips).

They contacted Sarah Nurse, who starred at the University of Wisconsin and won a Silver Medal playing for Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

They reached out to defenseman Blake Bolden, a National Women’s Hockey League and Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion who played last season on HC Lugano’s women’s team in Switzerland.

Nurse and Bolden couldn’t make it. But Jordan Smelker, a forward for the NWHL’s Boston Pride, and Toni Sanders, a forward who skated for NCAA Division I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2010-11 to 2013-14 did make it.

So did an 18-year-old who played high school varsity hockey and a 55-year old woman who started playing the game five years ago. In all, 12 women of varying skill put on the tie-dyed jersey with the big claw logo and played for the Brown Bears in Vermont.

The team didn’t win a game, largely because tournament organizers moved it out of the women’s division into a more competitive co-ed division because of the presence of Smelker, Sanders and other skilled players.

“We were moved to the second-highest division with predominantly males,” she said. “I think it kind of made the men’s heads spin, but I think they were also happy to have us there. There was a very positive aspect to their reaction.”

The players on the NextGEN team turned heads with their performance at New England’s Pro-Am Hockey’s 2018 Chowder Cup in suburban Boston earlier this month.

NextGEN players in action at 2018 Chowder Cup (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

NextGEN – a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, education and hockey programs to low-income and at-risk youth – fielded a team with some of the program’s elite players and sent them to the tournament through a sponsorship from Pure Hockey, the largest hockey equipment retailer in the United States.

The players came from across the U.S. and Canada and had never skated together. But once they hit the ice, it seemed like they had been playing together forever, NextGen founder Dee Dee Ricks said.

Tournament coach Khalil Thomas – head coach and general manager of the Oshawa RiverKings and father of 2018 NHL second-round draft pick Akil Thomas – and Program Director Jeff Devenney ran the players through a few practices and had them ready to go.

NextGEN lost in the tourney’s quarterfinals to the NW Huskies, the team that went on to capture the Chowder Cup championship.

The diverse NextGEN team takes a break during practice at the 2018 Chowder Cup tournament (Photo/Courtesy Dee Dee Ricks).

“It doesn’t really matter about the winning, if you could have seen these kids together. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ricks said. “Just in terms of the bonding, the jelling, the acceptance. Immediately, it was like they were life-long friends, coming together for the cause.”

Bryce Salvador, NextGEN’s NHL alumni ambassador and a former captain for the New Jersey Devils,  said the mostly-minority squad was just thrilled to have the experience.

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“It doesn’t happen so often when you get a team that’s as diverse like that at a high level,” said Salvador, who was the NHL’s third black team captain. “Just the ability for them just to spend time together was, in my opinion, more important than actually playing the game.”

That said, Ricks and the NextGEN brain trust showed as much competitive fire during the tournament as the team that it put on the ice.

“My son went out for three shifts in one of the last games that we were up. And one of the (opposing) kids asked him ‘Why are you playing with a bunch of black kids?'” recalled Ricks, who is white. “And John-John looked at him, and he goes, ‘Why are you losing to a bunch of black kids?'”

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New Jersey Devils hire former NHLer Mike Grier as an assistant coach

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The New Jersey Devils hired former National Hockey League forward Mike Grier as an assistant coach Monday, adding to professional hockey’s minority coaching ranks.

A Detroit native, Grier played 1,060 NHL games as a right wing from 1996-97 to 2008-09 for the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and San Jose Sharks.

A 1993 St. Louis Blues ninth-round draft pick out of Boston University, Grier went on to score 162 goals, 221 assists and accumulate 510 penalty minutes in 1,060 NHL regular season games.

Rugged forward Mike Grier had two stints with the Buffalo Sabres during his 14-season NHL career (Photo/Bill Wippert)

He collected 14 goals, 14 assists and 72 penalty minutes in 101 Stanley Cup Playoff contests.

“We are looking forward to having Mike join our organization,” said Devils Head Coach John Hynes. “Having played 14 years and over 1,000 NHL games as a forward, Mike will lean on his experience in leadership roles to work with our players. He was a highly-respected teammate and had the ability to relate to all players with his personality, demeanor and experience. These attributes will be valuable in communicating and developing our players, as we continue to build a strong culture.”

Football is the Grier family business. Mike’s brother, Chris Grier, is general manager of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins. Their father, Bobby Grier, served as director of player personnel for the New England Patriots and was a personnel advisor for the Houston Texans.

But Mike, despite having a football-esque 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame during his playing days, opted for the ice rink over the gridiron.

He became the NHL’s fourth U.S.-born black player. He followed Indiana native Donald Brashear, Maine’s Mike McHugh, and Ocala, Florida’s Valmore James who became the NHL’s first African-American player when he debuted with Sabres in the 1981-82 season.

James and Brashear were tough guys, on-ice enforcers known more for their fists than their scoring hands. McHugh played only 20 NHL games for the Sharks and Minnesota North Stars and scored only one goal.

Grier combined toughness with a scoring touch. He was the NHL’s first African-American player to score more than 20 goals in a season.

At Boston University, Grier notched 29 goals and 26 assists in 37 games in 1994-95 and helped power the Terriers to an NCAA Frozen Four championship. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player.

Grier played for Team USA at the 1995 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship and won a bronze medal skating for the U.S. at the 2004 IIHF Men’s World Championship.

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“It’s really something that I’m proud of, being one of the first to break through,” Grier told the Color of Hockey in 2014.  “The (minority) players who are coming up now are skill players who are contributing to their teams. It’s only natural to get more kids of color in the game.”

Barring any moves, Grier will be one of six NHL coaches of color when the 2018-19 season begins in October.

The others are goalie coaches Sudarshan Maharaj of the Anaheim Ducks, Frantz Jean, of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Fred Brathwaite of the New York Islanders.

Scott Gomez is on the Islanders coaching staff and Nigel Kirwan serves as a video coach for the Lightning.

Paul Jerrard was the only NHL coach of color to work behind the bench during games last season. The Calgary Flames fired Jerrard in April  and the NCAA Division I University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks hired him in May to be the team’s assistant coach.

Former NHL pugilist Peter Worrell was hired earlier this month as an assistant coach for the Fayetteville Marksmen of the South Professional Hockey League.

In May, the SPHL’s Macon Mayhem named Leo Thomas its head coach, making him the only black professional hockey head coach in North America.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.

 

 

 

 

Willie O’Ree’s hockey tree grows another branch with Ayodele Adeniye’s rise

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To understand why Willie O’Ree is entering the Hockey Hall of Fame in November as a builder of the game look no further than Ayodele “Ayo” Adeniye.

Adeniye is the latest branch – and a very big one – from the O’Ree hockey tree to bear fruit.

U of Alabama-Huntsville 2020 hockey commit Ayodele Adeniye.

The 6-foot-5 defenseman from Columbus, Ohio, committed last week to play for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, an NCAA Division I team in the  Western Collegiate Hockey Association, beginning in the 2020 season.

In the meantime, he’s headed to Canada this fall to skate for the Carleton Place Canadians, a Junior A team in the Central Canada Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Adeniye said he’s achieving his dreams by following the hockey gospel according to O’Ree.

Adeniye first met the National Hockey League’s first black player when he was six years old and O’Ree visited the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, a part of the league’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program.

“In terms of development, he was just a good role model because there are not a lot of (black people) in hockey,” Adeniye told me recently. “He was always the guy I asked questions and looked up to. I picked his brain a little bit.”

Six-year-old Ayodele Adeniye with Willie O’Ree at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit when the Columbus Ice Hockey Club played  in the “Hockey in the ‘Hood” tournament (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

And Adeniye had ample opportunities to do it. His mother, Lisa Ramos, chauffeured O’Ree around whenever he visited Columbus.

“I probably met him over 15 times,”  Adeniye said. “For me, Willie getting into the Hall, to me, means the world.”

Ramos said her son bonded with O’Ree, in part, because of their shared history with vision issues.

O’Ree only played 45 NHL games over the 1957-58 and 1960-61 seasons with the Boston Bruins largely because he was blind in his right eye, the result of a deflected puck.

That didn’t prevent him from having a long and prolific minor league career, scoring 328 goals and 311 assists in 785 games in the old Western Hockey League.

Adeniye suffered from misaligned eyes, a condition that required several surgeries to correct, Ramos said.

“It’s not only the story of him being the first black hockey player, but everything he went through, the issue with his eye,” Ramos told me. “The other thing that Willie does, and it means so much to Ayo, is he always takes time to talk to him. You can see the stars in his eyes when Willie talks to him, even now.”

Defenseman Ayodele Adeniye was cut from the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA hockey program, but worked his way back onto the team (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

Adeniye, whose father is from Nigeria, got interested in hockey around age three when he attended a skating birthday party at a local rink. He noticed a high school hockey game on an adjacent ice sheet and told his mom that’s what he wanted to do.

Ramos immediately said “no” because “I didn’t know anything about hockey at all.”

“My grandfather played in the Negro Leagues (baseball), my dad won the state in high jump in track and field, he won the state in cross country, he played basketball for the Army in Europe,” she said. “We had all these different sports, and hockey wasn’t one of them.”

Defenseman Ayodele Adeniye practicing with the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA team.

But Adeniye persisted. When his mother put him in a tyke basketball program, he moved about the court in ice skating motions instead of running like the rest of the children. Ramos got the hint.

“My mom  said ‘Whatever,’ put me in hockey, and I fell in love,” he said.

Hockey didn’t always love him back. At one point, Adeniye was cut from the Ohio AAA program. Instead of sulking, he remembered one of O’Ree’s favorite sayings: “If you can, you can. If you say you can’t, you’re right.”

He became a hockey nomad to improve his game. He joined the Cleveland Junior Lumberjacks U16 team of the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League in 2014-15; the Florida Eels of the United States Premiere 3 Hockey League in 2015-16;  the USPHL’ s New Jersey Hitmen along with the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League’s North Jersey Avalanche U18 squad  and Iowa Wild AAA U18 team all in the 2016-17 season.

He returned to Columbus last season and played 33 games for the Ohio Blue Jackets, contributing a goal and 7 assists from the blue line. He had 30 penalty minutes.

Adeniye patterns his game after Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star defenseman Seth Jones.

Ayodele Adeniye hanging out with his favorite NHL player, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (Photo/Courtesy Ayodele Adeniye).

“One hundred percent. I want to consider myself a two-way defenseman, but I’m more of a defensive defenseman with offensive abilities, just like Seth,” Adeniye said. “He can join the rush every once in a while and he’s a pretty good lock-down defenseman. I try to play the same game. I look at his speed, I watch his positioning.”

He met Jones once and offered the 23-year-old NHL veteran a bit of advice: Watch your back.

“I told him, as a joke, ‘I’m taking your spot,'” he said. “‘Give me about five, six years, I’m taking your spot.'”

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Former Florida Panthers enforcer Peter Worrell joins pro hockey’s coaching ranks

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 Peter Worrell punched his way into professional hockey. Now he’s looking to coach his way back to the pros.

Worrell, who accumulated more than 1,500 penalty minutes as a left wing and enforcer for the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche from 1997-98 to 2003-04, was named assistant coach of the Fayetteville Marksmen of the single-A Southern Professional Hockey League last week.

Former Florida Panthers forward Peter Worrell in 2002.

A Panthers 1995 seventh-round draft pick, Worrell quickly turned to coaching after playing his last professional game with the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2005-06.

He returned to Florida the following season to become head coach of North Broward Preparatory School. He assumed additional responsibility in 2010-11 when he became bench boss of Florida Atlantic University’s American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division III team.

“When I ended my seasons last year, I made the decision I wanted to explore new challenges,” Worrell said. “I contacted a lot of teams, in many leagues. When I first contacted the Marksmen and I talked to (Head Coach Jesse) Kallechy, it just felt right. It was a big decision for me, as I was comfortable in my previous positions, but everyone in Fayetteville has been so welcoming and first class, I know I couldn’t have found a better position.”

And Kallechy believes that he couldn’t have found a better bench sidekick for the Fayetteville, North Carolina, team than Worrell.

“He blew me away in the interview process,” Kallechy said. “He was an excellent communicator, our views on player personnel aligned, and he is eager to learn and bring fresh viewpoints to the team.”

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Worrell will become the SPHL’s second black coach when the puck drops for the 2018-19 season. In May, the Macon Mayhem tapped Leo Thomas as its head coach, making him the only black professional hockey head coach in North America.

While the SPHL’s minority coaching numbers grow, the ranks of coaches of color in the National Hockey League declined following 2017-18 season.

The Calgary Flames let go veteran Assistant Coach Paul Jerrard, who was the league’s only minority coach to work behind the bench during games.

He wasn’t unemployed very long. The University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks hired Jerrard in May to be an assistant coach for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference team.

“He has a very good track record of developing players,” UNO Head Coach Mike Gabinet said. “I knew, first off, how good of a person he was having played for him. He was my (defense) coach. And when you’re a player, people always ask you afterward who’s influenced you as a coach.”

Jerrard, who played hockey for Lake Superior State University from 1983-84 to 1986-87, said he’s stoked about returning to the college game. He tallied 40 goals and 73 assists in 156 games as a defenseman for the Lakers.

“I’ve always loved college hockey, and I’m looking forward to working with and developing our players, not just in their careers but academically as well to help them prepare for success in the future,” he said.

The NHL’s remaining coaches of color are goalie coaches Sudarshan Maharaj of the Anaheim Ducks, Frantz Jean, of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Fred Brathwaite of the New York Islanders.

Scott Gomez is on the Isles’ coaching staff and Nigel Kirwan serves as a video coach for the Lightning.

Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. Download the Color of Hockey podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.