Lightning draftee Bokondji Imama goes from bare-knuckled brawler to bar down scorer

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Saint John Sea Dogs left wing Bokondji Imama has gone from scrapper to sniper.

The rugged 20-year-old, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s sixth-round pick in the 2015 National Hockey League Draft, has a reputation as one of the fiercest fighters in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

But these days, Imama is scaring QMJHL goaltenders as much as opposing skaters. He has 27 goals and 10 assists in 40 QMJHL regular season games, up from 7 goals and 19 assists in 47 games during the 2015-16 season.

“I always try to prove to everyone that I’m not just a fighter, I’m also a player” Imama told me recently. “I consider myself as a power forward. This year, I’ve had a chance to prove it with the ice time that the coach gives me.”

Thanks to summer work on his shooting and skating, Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama a scoring threat this season (Photo/St. John Sea Dogs).

Thanks to summer work on his shooting and skating, Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is a serious scoring threat this season (Photo/David Connell/St. John Sea Dogs).

Imama is the Sea Dogs’ top goal-scorer this season, one ahead of right wing Mathieu Joseph – a Tampa Bay 2015 fourth-round draft pick who played on Canada’s Silver Medal-winning team at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship –  and center Matthew Highmore.

Imama’s 37 points – the combination of goals and assists – makes him the team’s fourth-leading scorer. Highmore’s 65 points – 26 goals and 39 assists  in 42 games- tops the team. Joseph, who signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Lightning before the World Juniors, is second with 26 goals, 24 assists in 31 regular season games.

Imama’s  evolution from a bare-knuckled brawler to bar down goal scorer is also reflected by fewer trips to the penalty box. He has 62 penalty minutes so far  this season.

He collected 86 penalty minutes last season and probably would have had more except for a 15-game suspension  in December 2015 for leaving the bench to defend an under-age 15-year-old rookie teammate against an experienced enforcer and a seven-game suspension in April 2016  for a hit on then-Cape Breton Screaming Eagles defenseman Tobie Pauquette-Bisson.

What’s most striking is that Imama is doing less striking, dropping the gloves and fighting less this season. The website hockeyfights.com  notes that he’s fought only three times in QMJHL games so far this season. He had one scrap for the Lightning in a September 2016 preseason game against the Nashville Predators.

Imama had five fights in 2015-16 and a whopping 15  bouts in the 2014-15 season, according to hockeyfights.com.

The change in Imama’s game is part of a plan to show that the Montreal native, the son of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa, is more than just a pair of fists as he completes his final QMJHL season and embarks on a professional hockey career.

“It started from my summer training, pretty much. I hired a skills coach, working on my offensive side, working on my power skating, working on my hands, working on my release,” the French-Canadian Imama told me recently. “The Saint John coach (Danny Flynn) has given me more responsibilities, putting me on the power play, putting me in different places. I’m doing great going to the net, putting puck on net.”

Lightning officials were impressed with what they saw of Imama offensively at the team’s development camp in Florida June 2016. He led a camp  3-on-3 tournament with 8 goals and tied Sea Dogs teammate Joseph for overall points in the tourney with 10.

Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is putting the puck in the net more and fighting less, per instructions by the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo/Saint John Sea Dogs).

Saint John Sea Dogs forward Bokondji Imama is putting the puck in the net more and fighting less, per instructions by the Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo/David Connell/Saint John Sea Dogs).

Still, Tampa Bay cut Imama during September’s training camp and sent him back to Saint John, the largest city in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. But the ‘Bolts organization gave him to-do list for his return to the Q.

“From the first day they released me from camp, it was clear: they don’t want to see me fight,  they don’t want to see me get suspended,” Imama said. “They want to see me on the ice, working on my game, scoring goals obviously, making some good plays, being an effective hockey player for my team.”

By following their prescription,  Imama says this has been his most rewarding season in the QMJHL.

He hopes that it ends with the Sea Dogs – currently in first place in the Q’s Maritimes Division – winning the President’s Cup league championship and later capturing the Memorial Cup as the top Canadian Hockey League team.

But  the 6-foot-1, 217-pound forward has no illusions about what will be expected of him in his pro career, whether its with Tampa Bay or its farm teams  in the American Hockey League or the ECHL.

“To be realistic, when I’m going to pro level, I’ll have to come back to myself, to be more of a grinder, more of a fighter,” he told me. “Right now, as a 20-year-old, I have the chance to play a more offensive dimension. So I’m pretty grateful and I’m having a lot of fun. But once I start playing pro, I have to get back to the old me, if I can say that.”

To that end, Imama looks to Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds and Edmonton Oilers left wing  Milan Lucic  – tough customers who are also elite goal scorers – for inspiration.

“Those kind of players, I love to watch them play,” he said. “They’re big guys, tough players, they bring  size and meanness to their team. But also, the coach will put them in different situations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights out for the shootout in championship games?

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There’s still an afterglow on this side of the border following the United States’ dramatic 5-4 comeback win over Canada in one of the greatest International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship gold medal games ever played.

But there’s still also a bitter taste – even among some Team USA  fans – that such a thrilling, entertaining, dramatic, and excellently-played championship game was decided by a five-round shootout after an overtime session.

 

From 1980 U.S. hockey Miracle on Ice Gold Medal Olympian Mike Eruzione to newly-forged hockey fan Tony X  deciding a championship game with a duel between a shooter and a goaltender was about as satisfying as the final episodes of “The Sopranos,” HBO’s “The Night Of,” or the Bobby Ewing dream sequence on “Dallas” in the 1980s.

Of course, some folks say that complaints about Thursday night’s shootout are merely sour grapes from fans who didn’t like the outcome of the game.

I have mixed feelings about shootouts. I don’t think any championship in any sport should be decided by any sort of shootout.

Can you imagine the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Caveliers deciding an NBA championship series on free throw or three-point shootouts?  Or a deadlocked Super Bowl being settled by a field goal kickers duel from 50-yards out?  Or a tied World Series baseball game being won or loss in a home run derby after the traditional nine innings?

Still, I understand the excitement that hockey shootouts can produce. I was at the U.S.-Russia game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi when Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie scored four shootout goals in an unbelievable, pressure-filled exhibition of skill.

The National Hockey League started using the shootout for regular season games in the 2005-06. But the league doesn’t use it for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The IIHF has used the shootout to decide deadlocked world championship and Olympic games since 1992.

What do you think? Should the shootout stay or go in championship games?

 

 

Jordan Greenway continues to impress at IIHF World Junior Championship

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Team USA's Jordan Greenway

Team USA’s Jordan Greenway

If the U.S. team at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship was a 1960s pop music group, it would probably be called Jordan and the Americans (Okay, I had to get some kind of Jay and the Americans reference in there before the end of the year).

Boston University forward Jordan Greenway continued his impressive play for Team USA at the tournament Saturday, by notching a goal and an assist and by generally wrecking havoc on¬†Team Canada in the U.S.’s 3-1 victory at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Greenway, a 2015 Minnesota Wild second round draft pick, made his 6-foot-5, 230-pound presence felt at both ends of the ice and made life miserable for Team Canada’s goaltender with numerous close-range stuff-in attempts.

His play Saturday caught the attention of analysts on the NHL Network and several folks on social media.

More from Chris Peters’ The United States of Hockey blog: ¬†The way Greenway has developed over the last two years should give a lot of hope to Minnesota Wild fans. He played like the power forward he was brought onto this team to be, using his frame to get pucks to the net and make some plays. The move he made to score Team USA‚Äôs second goal showed his combination of power and finesse. You need guys like that to impose their will on a game and I thought we saw that more today from Greenway than any other time in the tournament.

Busting a sports myth one bobsled run at a time

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We’ve talked in this space before about the supposed “sports that we don’t do.”

You know, black folks don’t like/play hockey, don’t/can’t swim, don’t play polo, don’t¬†do chess, don’t like winter sports.

The 2014 Winter Olympics opened a lot of people’s eyes that when it comes to blacks and bobsledding, we are more than just Jamaica.

The U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team featured five women of color. The sisters of sled are back on the track in 2016-17, and they have a new member, rookie Briauna Jones, a former track athlete at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

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

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).

On the men’s side, there are two brothers: Adrian Adams, a former North Carolina A&T State University football player, and Chris Kinney, a former Georgetown University hurdler.

The crew of the four-man sled on the U.S. Men's Bobsled National Team. Left to right, Christopher Kinney, Adrian Adams, Frank Del Duca, and Codie Bascue (Photo/Molly Choma/ USA Bobsled & Skeleton).

The crew of the four-man sled on the U.S. Men’s Bobsled National Team. Left to right, Christopher Kinney, Adrian Adams, Frank Del Duca, and Codie Bascue (Photo/Molly Choma/ USA Bobsled & Skeleton).

I’ve chronicled¬†the journeys ¬†of Jones and Adams from the tack and gridiron to bobsled for McClatchy Newspapers. Please take a moment and learn about these fascinating myth-busters who hope to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

 

 

Jordan Greenway stars as U.S. beats Latvia 6-1 at World Juniors

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Boston University forward Jordan Greenway made his presence felt in the United States’ 6-1 victory over Latvia in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Monday night.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore capped the U.S. squad’s night, scoring the team’s sixth goal against a scrappy but outgunned Latvia team. He led Team USA with seven shots on goal, most of them close to beleaguered Latvian goaltender Marek Mitens.

 Team USA's Erik Foley, left, and Jordan Greenway stand during the playing of  U.S. national anthem during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo/ Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Team USA’s Erik Foley, left, and Jordan Greenway stand during the playing of U.S. national anthem during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo/ Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images).

Greenway, the Minnesota Wild’s ¬†2015 second-round draft pick, was named Team USA’s best player after the game for his offensive display and his intimidating physical play.

For those watching the world juniors – and it’s great viewing to see the next generation of NHL players – Greenway is easily found. He’s the man-mountain parked in front of the opposing net casting an imposing shadow over the goalie.

BU hockey Head Coach Dave Quinn has described Greenway, a Canton, N.Y. native, as a highly-skilled hockey player with the football body of “a five-star tight end at Alabama or Notre Dame.”

 

Greenway plays a game similar to Philadelphia Flyers high-scoring forward Wayne Simmonds: screen the goalie, try for tip-in shots, and fight for rebounds.

Greenway is making a name for himself at the IIHF tourney in Toronto and Montreal and in Boston. He’s BU’s second-leading scorer with 6 goals and 10 assists in 16 games.

 

Fatima Al Ali and Washington Capitals prove that ‘Hockey is for Everyone’

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Fatima Al Ali is a dangler, and a darn good one.

Former Washington Capitals  star Peter Bondra  quickly noticed that when he was working as a coach at the Pavilkovsky Hockey School in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in November.

Ali is a slick¬†stick-handling whiz who looks like she’s been playing hockey forever. But the star of the UAE’s women’s hockey team has only been playing since 2008 when she caught the hockey bug while working as the official photographer for the country’s men’s national team.

Bondra was so impressed with her stick handling skills that he told the Capitals. Now the team, in partnership with Etihad Airways, is giving Ali a chance to show off her skills and meet Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin and other NHL players in the United States.

They surprised her earlier this month with two round-trip business class¬†tickets to D.C. and tickets to attend a Capitals game in February, which the NHL observes as “Hockey is for Everyone Month.”¬†

“When we talked, I remember you told me your favorite player is Alex Ovechkin, and your favorite team is the Washington Capitals,” Bondra told Fatima during a video call earlier this month. “Looking forward to seeing you again in person, and watch the game, and hopefully (you will) meet Alex Ovechkin and the whole team. I hope you be able to show some skills to Washington Capitals players.”

 

With a population of more than 5.7 million, the United Arab Emirates has 802 ¬†hockey players – 386 men, 334 juniors, and only 82 women. Its men’s national team is ranked 46th in the world while its women’s program isn’t ranked. There are nine indoor rinks in the country.

Bondra journeyed to Adu Dhabi with on a mission to help grow the game, a priority for the Capitals brain trust.

“We recognize the growth of basketball and hockey worldwide, along with the Arena Football League and our new franchise, the Washington Valor,” said Jim Van Stone, president of business operations and chief commercial officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. “We are committed to encouraging that development on an international scale through several initiatives, including upcoming clinics.”

 

 

 

 

 

Foley, Greenway, and Jones make U.S. roster for junior championship tourney

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Erik Foley, Jordan Greenway, and Caleb Jones received early Christmas presents Saturday – roster spots on the U.S. team that will compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

With its final roster announcement, USA Hockey will skate one of the most diverse teams in the 10-nation tournament that begins Monday in Toronto and Montreal.

The three American players join Team Canada’s Mathieu Joseph¬†and ¬†Team Sweden’s Oliver Kylington members of the diverse National Hockey League draft class of 2015 who will represent their countries in the tournament.

Providence College Friars forward Erik Foley in action for Team USA against Finland (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Providence College Friars forward Erik Foley in action for Team USA against Finland (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Foley, a Winnipeg Jets third round draft pick, is a forward for Providence College Friars of Hockey East. A sophomore, Foley leads the team in scoring with 7 goals and 8 assists in 15 games.

Boston University's Jordan Greenway earns spot on U.S. roster for IIHF world junior championship (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Boston University’s Jordan Greenway earns spot on U.S. roster for IIHF world junior championship (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Greenway, a Minnesota Wild second round draft pick, is a forward for Boston University of Hockey East. The sophomore is the Terriers’ second-leading scorer with 6 goals and 10 assists in 16 games.

Portland Winterhawks defenseman Caleb Jones will patrol the blue line for Team USA at IIHF world junior championship (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Portland Winterhawks defenseman Caleb Jones will patrol the blue line for Team USA at IIHF world junior championship (Photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey).

Jones, an Edmonton Oilers fourth round draft pick, plays defense for the Portland Winterhawks, a major junior team in the Western Hockey League. Jones, the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, is fifth on the Winterhawks in scoring with 3 goals and 28 assists in 32 games. He’s tenth in scoring among WHL defensemen.

Mathieu Joseph, right, will play for Canada at the world junior championship tournament in Montreal and Toronto (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Mathieu Joseph, right, will play for Canada at the world junior championship tournament in Montreal and Toronto (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Team Canada’s Joseph, a Tampa Bay Lightning fourth round selection, is a forward for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He’s the Sea Dogs’ second-leading scorer with 33 goals and 40 assists in 58 games.

 

And let’s not forget Sweden’s Kylington. When he isn’t wearing his country’s classy Three Crowns jersey, the Calgary Flames¬†second round draft pick skates for the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Kylington is ninth on the Heat in scoring – and second among defensemen – with 4 goals and 9 assists in 25 games. He appeared in one game for the Flames in 2015-16.

 

 

Tampa Bay draftee Mathieu Joseph to play for Canada at 2017 junior championshp

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Congratulations to forward Mathieu Joseph, a 2015 Tampa Bay Lightning fourth-round draft pick, for being selected to play for Team Canada in the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

Team Canada's Mathieu Joseph (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Team Canada’s Mathieu Joseph (Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Joseph, 19, will represent Canada for the first time at any level internationally when he takes to the ice for the tournament that begins December 26 in Toronto and Montreal.

Canada will open with a tough matinee match against Russia at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre while the United States plays Latvia in an evening contest at the arena.

 Joseph is the second-leading scorer on the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 25 goals and 20 assists in 29 games. The 120th overall pick in the 2015 National Hockey League Draft has scored 80 goals and 91 assists in 176 QMJHL games since the 2013-14 season.

Mathieu Joseph in action against the Czech Republic in exhibition game play during the 2016 National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Mathieu Joseph in action against the Czech Republic in exhibition game play during the 2016 National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp. Photo/Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images).

Joseph got an early Christmas present in December when the Lightning signed him to a three-year entry-level contract on the eve of the IIHF tournament.

Joseph’s game is about high energy and enthusiasm – traits he carries on and off the ice. He’s a gregarious personality, something he inherited from his parents.

“I’m a pretty outgoing guy,” he told ¬†Canada’s TSN. “Honestly, it’s easy for me to talk. My family has been raised like that. My parents are like that, maybe not as hyper per se, but I”d say they raised me like that.”

Joseph isn’t the only one in his family who was recognized this month for his hockey prowess. His younger brother, defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph of the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders, was selected to play in the 2017¬†Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City on January 30, 2017.

Charlottetown Islanders' Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Charlottetown Islanders’ Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph has 4 goals and 23 assists in 32 QMJHL games this season. NHL Central Scouting lists him as a player to watch¬†and projects him to be¬†a second or third-round pick at the 2017 draft to be held June 23-24 at Chicago’s United Center.

USA Hockey will announce its final 23-man ¬†U.S. roster ¬† for the IIHF world juniors on Dec. 24. Three players ¬†of color who were also chosen in the 2015 draft are in the hunt for roster spots: Caleb Jones, a defenseman for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks and an Edmonton Oilers fourth-round pick; Boston University forward Jordan Greenway, a Minnesota Wild second-round draft choice; and Providence College forward Erik Foley, a Winnipeg Jets third-round pick.

Ice Hockey in Harlem scores $25K in new gear, with big assist from 12-year-old boy

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Here are some links to a¬†wonderful holiday hockey story that shows¬†what the caring power¬†of one person can do –¬†no matter¬†how young or how small.

Wayne Simmonds shows off Philadelphia Flyers’ Stadium Series jersey

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Wayne Simmonds does it all for the Philadelphia Flyers – scores, fights, checks.

Now add one more thing to the lanky, but strong forward’s profile: fashion model.

Simmonds, along with fellow forward Jakub Voracek, were tapped to show off the jersey the Flyers will wear when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 2017 Coors Light Stadium Series¬†game on February 25, 2017, at Heinz Field, home of the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

Simmonds tops the Flyers in goals with 15. He also has 11 assists for 26 overall points in 29 games. Voracek leads the team in scoring with 10 goals, 18 assists for 28 points in 29 games for the Orange and Black.

Philadelphia Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek model the team's Coors Light Stadium Series jersey.

Philadelphia Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek model the team’s Coors Light Stadium Series jersey.

Jerseys designed for the NHL’s outdoor games have been hit or miss over the years.

The Flyers appear to have taken a line from the classic film “Passenger 57” to heart in creating a¬†mostly black uni with the orange stripes on the sleeves and bottom, and an orange nameplate with black lettering on the back.