The puck hasn’t dropped for the 2015-16 hockey season yet and there’s already tons of news – most of it good, some of it worrisome.
First, three cheers for Willie O’Ree. The American Hockey League’s new San Diego Gulls franchise is hosting “Willie O’Ree Night” on Oct. 16 and will honor the National Hockey League’s first black player before the Gulls take on the Bakersfield Condors.
O’Ree skated into the NHL and history on Jan. 18, 1958 as a Boston Bruins forward playing against the Montreal Canadiens at the old Montreal Forum. He appeared in 45 games over two seasons for the Bruins – 1957-58 and 1960-61 – and tallied 4 goals, 10 assists and 26 penalty minutes.
The bulk of his professional hockey career was spent with the San Diego Gulls and the Los Angeles Blades of the old Western Hockey League. In 13 WHL seasons, O’Ree played 785 games, scored 328 goals and 311 assists and amassed 669 penalty minutes. Not bad for a guy who’s blind in his right eye.
“Willie’s a trailblazer and international sports icon,” said Ari Segal, president of
business operations for the Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks farm team. “He’s worked tirelessly throughout his life to promote diversity in our sport, and increase access to hockey for people of all races, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to honor him and celebrate his life and historic career on the day after his 80th birthday.”
O’Ree, the NHL’s director for Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, said he’s thrilled to be honored by his hometown team.
“I’m proud and thankful that the club has chosen to honor me during its inaugural AHL season,” he said. “This organization has proven time and again its commitment to becoming deeply ingrained in this community, including and beyond the 34 home game dates.”
Shameless plug: I profile O’Ree along with Larry Kwong and Fred Sasakamoose – the NHL’s first Asian and Indian players – in the upcoming issue of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Legends program guide. It should be available after the 2015 Hall of Fame induction festivities in November.
Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban hasn’t played a game yet this season but he already scored a huge goal when pledged $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Subban’s gesture is the largest philanthropic commitment ever by a professional athlete in Canada. For his generous donation, the hospital renamed its atrium “Atrium P.K. Subban.”
The flamboyant and sometimes controversial defenseman, a Toronto native, sent a message with his contribution: Hockey-insane Montreal is his town.
“The P.K. Subban Atrium is not only my footprint to the city but, more importantly, it is my sole promise to give back to those who have given me so much.”
Subban’s been on a roll in recent years. The 26-year-old won an Olympic Gold Medal at the 2014 Winter Games with Team Canada, he’s a two-time All-Star, and a 2013 Norris Trophy recipient as the NHL’s best defenseman. And he’s rich. He signed an eight-year contract with the Canadiens reportedly worth $72 million in 2014.
“P.K. is a person of character, who strives for success, always working at new ways to stay on top of his game and he understands the value of teamwork,” said Martine Alfonso, the Montreal Children’s Hospital’s associate executive director. “He is an outstanding role model for our patients and personifies the excellence for which the Children’s is world-renowned.”
Ray Emery isn’t trying to catch lightning in a bottle. He’s trying catch on with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The unemployed goaltender signed a professional tryout offer with the Lightning after the team saw most of its goaltending depth get wheeled into the emergency room.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, starting goalie Ben Bishop’s primary backup, is out for 2-3 months following surgery earlier this month to remove a blood clot from under his left collar bone. Kristers Gudlevskis suffered an injury while playing in a prospects tournament recently.
That leaves an open lane for Emery. The 32-year-old, 11-season NHL vet had a 10-11-7 record with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. He had a 3.06 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage for a team that failed to make the playoffs.
Emery appeared to struggle with explosive lateral movements last season, raising
questions about whether his right hip, surgically-repaired in 2010, was giving him trouble. The injury was devastating enough back then that many hockey people thought his career was over.
The Flyers opted not to re-sign Emery as Steve Mason’s backup. Philly signed former Washington Capitals-Buffalo Sabres-New York Islanders netminder Michal Neuvirth to a two-year deal reportedly worth $3.25 million.
Emery told the Tampa Bay Times that he’s “not done,” his hip his fine, and it wasn’t the problem last season. He chalked his 2014-15 pedestrian numbers to playing on a bad Flyers team.
“It was a frustrating year on that team,” Emery told The Times. “My season definitely reflected that as well. When you don’t make the playoffs, that’s normally how your season is. You’ve got some good parts, but they don’t outweigh the bad parts.”
Emery is auditioning for the Lightning under the watchful eye of goalie coach Frantz Jean, one of the few coaches of color in the NHL.
It was over before it began for Josh Ho-Sang. The Islanders 2014 first-round draft pick, the 28th overall selection, arrived late for the first day of the team’s training camp. Quicker than a New York minute, the Isles cut the controversial but talented forward and shipped him back to the Niagara IceDogs, his Ontario Hockey League major junior team.
Arthur Staple, the Islanders beat writer for Long Island’s Newsday, wrote that Head Coach Jack Capuano had planned to have Ho-Sang working on a training camp line with team captain John Tavares and Anders Lee.
“Enough with the bull,” Snow told Newsday Saturday. “It’s time to grow up.”
Snow told the newspaper that Ho-Sang is “obviously talented, but talent isn’t the issue.”
“It’s about becoming a professional and acting like one,” he told the newspaper. “Hopefully he takes this lesson and learns from it. It’s really up to him now – we can’t do anything else for him in this area.”
Team management was so miffed by Ho-Sang’s tardiness that they made the 19-year-old run the stairs of the Nassau Coliseum for three hours, Newsday reported.
Ho-Sang is one of the most talented hockey players to come out of Canada in years. He has scary scoring hands and speed to burn on the ice. But he also scares hockey establishment people because of his outspokenness and what they perceive as his immaturity.
He’s spoken bluntly about race and hockey and he’s blasted Hockey Canada for not inviting him to its summer camp for the world juniors team two years ago after he notched 85 points in 67 games.
Marty Williamson, the IceDogs’ general manager, told the Bullet News of Niagara that the Islanders told him that Ho-Sang was late for training camp because he overslept. He said Ho-Sang is “very upset and humbled by the whole thing.”
The IceDogs GM called Ho-Sang “a good kid” who’s “made a lot of strides in the right direction.” But he also called Ho-Sang out, saying he still has much to do before becoming the elite player that some in the hockey world believe he can be.
“He has some habits he needs to work on,” Williamson told the Bullet News. “He stays up too late playing video games and stuff like that. He sleeps through things and gets himself exhausted.”
Here’s hoping that Ho-Sang takes this oversleeping episode, and the Islanders tough-love approach to it, as a wake-up call.