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Posted On Sunday, 05.29.2011 / 9:08 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Combing the NHL Combine

Get prepared for the NHL Scouting Combine

As the preparation stages begin for the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, here's a look at some of the intriguing stories you may want to check out prior to's wall-to-wall coverage of the six-day event at the Westin Bristol Place and the Toronto Congress Center.

* Just because Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll have the highest average power output of any other player on the board upon completion of the anaerobic fitness exam. The proof will be in the pudding, as the old adage goes, when Nugent-Hopkins is among the top 102 draft-eligible players from North American and Europe to undergo rigorous testing and medical examinations at the NHL Scouting Combine from May 30 to June 4 in Toronto. Mike Morreale has the story.

* Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the top North American for the 2011 Entry Draft as determined by NHL Central Scouting. The Canadian Hockey League agreed with that decision Saturday, naming him as junior hockey's top draft prospect. Nugent-Hopkins, who led the Western Hockey league with 75 assists and tied for third with 106 points, beat out Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog and Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier. Bill Hoppe has all the details.

* Northeastern University defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak, the tallest draft-eligible player on the board for the 2011 Entry Draft at 6-foot-7, 244-pounds, was making the most of his time in the Boston area prior to heading out to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto. Oleksiak informed that in addition to taking extra classes, he's hard at work preparing for the rigorous fitness testing he'll undergo at the Toronto Congress Center beginning June 3. Mike Morreale tells us how.

* The Scouting Combine gives NHL clubs a chance to evaluate those future stars of the League less than a month before the 2011 Entry Draft. The top 102 players as rated by NHL Central Scouting in April, including North American and European skaters and goaltenders, have been invited to participate in various team interviews and medical and physical tests. Unlike previous seasons, the Combine fitness testing will be held at the Toronto Congress Center on June 3-4. To help prepare for this year's Combine,'s Mike Morreale highlighted the top players at each position last week looking to make an impression. Make sure you're up to speed. Left wings | Right wings | Defensemen | Centers | Goalies

* Get the most recent mock draft results right here.

* All season long, top prospects Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer (WHL), Scott Mayfield of Youngstown (USHL) and Seth Ambroz of Omaha (USHL) have maintained monthly blogs on Each player provided a little insight into their preparation for the Scouting Combine this month. You can check them out here: Nugent-Hopkins | Mayfield | Ambroz
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Posted On Thursday, 05.26.2011 / 9:58 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Don Hay may return as Canadian coach at WJC

According to TSN, Hockey Canada on Thursday afternoon will announce Don Hay as the head coach of Team Canada for the IIHF World Junior Championship, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

It would mark the second time Hockey Canada would turn to Hay to lead the program at the WJC. Hay, who just completed his seventh season as coach of the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League, coached Canada to a gold medal in 1995 with a team full of talented players, including Bryan McCabe, Wade Redden and Ryan Smyth.

During that run in 1995, when Canada finished 7-0-0 in the tournament, Canada's McCabe was named the best defenseman and Marty Murray the top forward.

Canada will play its Pool B games against the U.S., Finland, Czech Republic and Denmark in Edmonton before heading to Calgary for all playoff, relegation and medal games. Defending champion Russia will face Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Lavtia in Pool A.

Check back to later today following Hockey Canada's press conference at 4 p.m. ET for further details.

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.25.2011 / 1:43 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Memorial Cup draft-eligible leaderboard

So who among the 2011 draft eligible players are getting it done at the Memorial Cup after five days of activity within Hershey Centre in Mississauga?

Offensively, the creative wizardry of Tomas Jurco of the Saint John Sea Dogs has been on full display. Jurco, ranked No. 20 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters, leads all scorers at the tournament with 4 goals and 5 points through three games.

His teammate, No. 3-ranked Jonathan Huberdeau, is in a five-way tie for second with 4 points (2 goals). In fact, the top four draft-eligible players from Saint John, including Huberdeau, No. 5 Nathan Beaulieu (1-2-3), No. 15 Zack Phillips (0-3-3) and Jurco are among the top seven point producers in the tournament.

Beaulieu ranks first among those defensemen in scoring with 1 goal and 3 points. Mississauga St. Michael's Majors blueliner Stuart Percy, rated No. 53 by Central Scouting, is tied with Beaulieu with 3 points -- all assists. He's in a five-way tie for seventh overall.

Owen Sound goalie Jordan Binnington, ranked third among those North American goalies eligible for the Entry Draft, is 1-0-1 with a tournament-low 1.31 goals-against average and tournament-high .959 save percentage.

Binnington was the third goalie to appear in the OHL finals for the Attack, stealing Game 6 and 7 while posting a 1.94 GAA and .943 save percentage. In 46 regular season games this season, he was 27-12-1-4 with a 3.05 GAA and .899 save percentage.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.25.2011 / 9:32 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Playoff hero Bieksa supports college way of life

To the five collegians invited to the upcoming NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa has some uplifting news with regard to the college way of life.

Following a three-year stint in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Burlington Cougars, Bieksa had the choice of attending Bowling Green State University of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association or playing for the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the Ontario Hockey League.

"It was going to be Mississauga's inaugural season and I was drafted by them in the later rounds, but went to their camp nonetheless," Bieksa told "It was a tough decision because of all the hoopla going on, with Don Cherry taking over the franchise. I was a big fan of his and it was something I really wanted to be a part of. I made the team and had a sit-down with my dad to really go over my options."

As it turns out, spending four seasons at Bowling Green turned out to be the turning point of his hockey career.

"It was one of the best decisions I've ever made," he said.

That's music to the ears of 2011 draft-eligible forwards Matthew Nieto of Boston University and Nicholas Shore of Denver University, and defensemen Patrick Koudys of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Adam Clendening of Boston University and Jamieson Oleksiak of Northeastern. All five players were invited to the NHL Combine from May 30 to June 4, where they'll undergo numerous interviews and partake in medical examinations and fitness evaluations.

Each player has high hopes they'll be considered by an NHL team when the NHL Entry Draft takes center stage at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24-25.

Bieksa's advice is something none of the players will take for granted, particular since the sixth-season Canuck played such a vital role in Vancouver's five-game series triumph over the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final. Bieksa's goal 10:18 into the second overtime on Tuesday resulted in Vancouver's first trip to the Cup Final since 1994 -- 17 years to the day.

In 2000-01, Bieksa joined the Falcons and produced 13 points in 35 games as a freshman to help BGSU become the lowest-seeded team (ninth) in CCHA history to advance to the league semifinals. He scored his team's lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Michigan State before Bowling Green was eliminated.

In June 2001, Bieksa was drafted by the Canucks in the fifth round (No. 151). He ended up playing four seasons at Bowling Green, where he scored 75 points in 147 games.

"Let's be realistic," Bieksa said. "At 16 years old, how many kids are actually going to make the NHL? So I wanted a fall-back plan. I didn't want to put all my eggs all in one basket, so I thought I'd go to school and get an education. The college route was picking up then and if I could make the NHL out of college, great, and if not, I had a (finance) degree to fall back on. I'd always been a pretty good student, so I think I made the right decision."

Bieksa said he would recommend college to any junior-age player asking for advice.

"I think there are cases where it's not beneficial, where some kids aren't going to finish school or aren't cut out for the classroom," he said. "But college turns you into a man, especially when you're moving away from home and living on your own. In college, you have unlimited responsibilities and schedules you have to fulfill. It's a great learning experience. I think you see a lot of college guys who, when they enter the NHL as rookies, are a little more mature as people on and off the ice."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.24.2011 / 4:00 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Right wings Salomaki and Shaw will attract attention

In case you missed it, on Tuesday published its list of the top right wings invited to the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto from May 30 through June 4.

That compilation of prospects is pretty impressive, but two other skaters who worked the right side of the ice this past season who will also be participating at the Combine shouldn't be forgotten.

Miikka Salomaki, Karpat (Finland): The skinny on the 5-11, 198-pound Finn, listed as a right wing on NHL Central Scouting's list of European skaters, is that he compensates for his lack in natural talent with a tremendous work ethic.

In 40 games with Karpat in SM-liiga, he produced 4 goals, 10 points and 53 penalty minutes. He stood out in the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo for his native Finland with 2 goals and 3 points in six games and collected 4 goals and 6 points in six games at the Under-18 World Championship in Germany. Salomaki is rated No. 7 overall among Europeans.

"Miikka is strong as a bull in one-on-one situations," Stubb told "He's a 100 percent team player. Whoever drafts him, will get a very useful two-way player whose overall skill level is surprisingly high."

Logan Shaw, Cape Breton (QMJHL): Another big (6-foot-3, 197 pounds), power-forward type who displayed greater confidence as the season wore on. In his third year on the Eagles' roster, Shaw was considered a veteran despite being only 18-years-old -- the team didn't possess any 19-year-olds.

He led his 18-45-1-4 team in scoring with 26 goals, including 9 power-play goals, and 46 points in 68 games -- all career highs. He also won 48 percent of his faceoffs on 94 attempts while generating a team-leading 190 shots on goal.

"As the season progressed, he displayed his very good skating abilities and puck skills," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau said. "He was hanging on to the puck and making heads-up plays at the right time. He displayed more self-confidence as the year went on and, don't forget, his team has to travel 40 percent more than any other team in the 'Q'. He has the potential to be a good player at the next level."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Monday, 05.23.2011 / 12:10 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

A return to Sweden is possible for Adam Larsson

Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, a likely top five selection at this year's Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24, confirmed he hasn't yet decided whether he'll play in North America next season.

While Larsson is actually under contract with Skelleftea for 2011-12 in Sweden's Elitserien, that wouldn't keep him from beginning what is sure to be a prosperous NHL career. Still, it wouldn't come as surprise to his agent, Claes Elefalk, if Larsson spent one more season in the Swedish Elite League.

"Normally in most cases, we Euros think it's sometimes an advantage to stay one or two seasons after the Draft," Elefalk told "It's a tremendous culture change but it's not unusual to see players playing in Europe stay there an additional year or two. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) was an exception but we'll have to see what happens. Our belief is we'll stay another year or two in Sweden."

When recently contacted in his native Skelleftea, Larsson told he would wait until after the Draft to determine for sure whether or not he would remain in Sweden's Elitserien at least one more season.

"I can play in the NHL next year (despite being under contract) but I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do next season," Larsson said. "But I'm ready, but am still learning every day. I think if I do decide to play in North America, I want to feel very prepared for it."

The youngest player on the team had 9 points and 41 penalty minutes in 37 regular-season games with Skelleftea this season and chipped in 4 assists and 12 penalty minutes in 17 playoff games. He also had a goal and 4 points in six games in the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., in January.

Whether or not Larsson decides to spend another year in Sweden shouldn't diminish his draft status. Most scouts have him rated among the top overall list of draft-eligible players. His upside along the blueline has been well documented and the fact he played well on the smaller North American ice surface during the WJC is further proof of his ability to play in tight corners. He's looking forward to meeting the NHL GM's and scouts at the Scouting Combine next week.

"I talked to teammates about the Combine and they gave me some tips so I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I've taken the test done on the bikes a couple of weeks ago, so I feel I'm prepared what it is going to be like going in."

More to come following the NHL Scouting Combine next week ...

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Sunday, 05.22.2011 / 1:09 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Dubuque wins USHL's Clark Cup championship

After spotting the Green Bay Gamblers the first game of their best-of-5 series in the United States Hockey League championship series, the Dubuque Fightning Saints capped a three-game winning streak on Saturday with a decisive 6-1 victory in Game 4 of Clark Cup before an energized 3,480 at Mystique Ice Center.

It was the largest crowd to see a game in the history of Dubuque hockey, which earned its first USHL crown since the 1984-85 campaign. Dubuque became the first expansion team to win the Clark Cup since the Lincoln Stars won it all during their inaugural season of 1996-97.

The last team to reach the Clark Cup Final in their first season was the Fargo Force in 2008-09. The first time Dubuque had a USHL team, they won the Clark Cup in their inaugural season 30 years ago (1980-81).

Following a scoreless opening period, during which Dubuque outshot the 2010 Clark Cup champion Gamblers, 13-10, Green Bay grabbed a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds into the second when C.J. Eick connected for his second goal in as many games. It also marked the second consecutive time that the Gamblers would open the scoring before eventually losing the contest -- the club was 4-0 when scoring the first goal of the game in the playoffs prior to its series with Dubuque.

Tyler Lundey scored his second goal in two games midway through the second before Dubuque captain T.J. Schlueter knocked in his first of the playoffs three minutes later to put the Saints in front, 2-1. Schlueter would then score 1:50 into the third for a 3-1 lead on a power-play goal to drain any energy Green Bay might have had entering the final 20 minutes. John Doherty, John Gaudreau and Shane Walsh would also score in the third to complete the scoring.

Gaudreau, who is rated No. 193 by NHL Central Scouting on its final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, not only led the team in scoring during the regular-season with 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) but topped the team in 11 playoff games with 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists). Gaudreau, a left wing who is committed to Northeastern University next fall, also finished with a plus-9 rating in the postseason.

"It's awesome, coming out here as an expansion team with a bunch of players you don't know and winning it," Gaudreau said. "We played an awesome season and we deserved it."

Dubuque goalie Matt Morris (University of Maine) made 37 saves, his highest total of the playoffs, to earn the win. He also garnered Clark Cup Playoff MVP after finishing 9-2 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

Dubuque defenseman Joakim Ryan, rated No. 174 on Central Scouting's final list and who will attend Cornell in September, had 2 goals, 5 points and a plus-6 rating in 11 playoff games. Ryan, a native of Rumson, N.J., led all defensemen on the team with 29 assists and 32 points in 53 regular-season games.
Vinny Saponari, Dubuque (Atlanta Thrashers)

In all, seven players competing in the championship series are ranked among the top prospects by NHL Central Scouting, including Gaudreau, Ryan and goalie Jackson Teichroeb of Dubuque and defensemen Andrew Welinski and Aaron Harstad and center Austin Czarnik (No. 115) of Green Bay.

Two players in the series have already been selected in the NHL Entry Draft -- Dubuque defenseman Nick Luukko by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and Dubuque forward Vinny Saponari by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008. Saponari, of Powder Spring, Ga., finished second on the team with 64 points during the regular-season and second in the playoffs with 9 points (5 goals).

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Friday, 05.20.2011 / 2:35 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog = Sakic, Forsberg?

While nothing should ever be engraved in stone, there's a strong possibility that either Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog will be the first forward taken at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

The super-skilled Nugent-Hopkins supplanted Landeskog at No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters in April. Landeskog, who was atop the list on the mid-term report, comes in at No. 2. recently caught up with Central Scouting's Jack Barzee to discuss those little differences that create the makeup of each player. Barzee was obviously impressed with what each forward had in their arsenal.

"Do you want (Peter) Forsberg or (Joe) Sakic?" asked Barzee, referring to Nugent-Hopkins as Sakic. "I know that's pretty extreme because they were two superstars, but here are two guys that have a lot of similarities. They remind you of those players when they've got the puck, when they're skating, when they're playing and when they're executing."

Nugent-Hopkins finished tied for third in the Western Hockey League with 106 points, led the league with 75 assists, and his 31 goals (11 on the power play) were third on his team. He also posted a team-best plus-30 rating.

"Watching Nugent Hopkins … when he put that pedal to the metal and would just come up and snap that shot off or see someone out of the corner of his eye, you say how does he do this? How does a guy do this at top speed? You look at Sakic, who was the same way. Nugent-Hopkins is a little taller than Sakic was in his draft year but is probably 10 pounds lighter than Sakic."

The 6-1/2, 207-pound Landeskog had 36 goals, 30 assists, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes in 53 regular-season games as captain for the Rangers this season.

"When I watched Landeskog in Kitchener, I was amazed with his play in all three zones on the ice … the way he
used his body and his demeanor," Barzee said. "He is high octane in terms of level of performance; yet, his calmness and composure and the way he would execute in all three zones of the ice was so good."

Barzee was asked how he's able to enter each season with a solid grasp of those top prospects on the board.

"We always look for benchmarks to start," he said. "Who was best player last year? If you see a kid who looks just like him, then he's your benchmark. Now that's easy to do with experience, but it's the only way I can do it. I'm amazed sometimes how I can walk out of a rink and get so much and then leave another game and get nothing -- hockey will do that to you. The complexity of the game, the travel, the number of players and games all coming together all play a part of it.

"But when you see someone special, it hits you."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Tuesday, 05.17.2011 / 3:38 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Jersey's Peter McMullen drafted by USHL's Lancers

In case you missed the 2011 United States Hockey League entry draft on Monday, two New Jersey natives playing in the Garden State during the 2010-11 campaign were selected in the later rounds.

Delbarton Prep senior Peter McMullen, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lead his team to a state Non-Public championship at Prudential Center on March 13, was chosen in the 19th round (281st overall) by the Omaha Lancers.

McMullen, rated No. 200 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, is the grandson of the late Dr. John McMullen -- the man responsible for bringing NHL hockey  to the Garden State in 1982. He finished the season as the leading scorer for the state's No. 1-ranked team, with career-highs in goals (25) and points (45).

McMullen is committed to Boston College in the fall of 2011.

"He's definitely what I consider a late bloomer," Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel told "After playing three years on the wing, we had a void in the middle this year and he filled that role nicely. When he drives the net he's a force. He can really shoot the puck and he'll only get better with time. He's a kid who never specialized -- he kind of put lacrosse first. But now that hockey is on his horizon, he's going to really develop over the next two years into a fine college hockey player."

The transition to center wasn't an easy one for McMullen, but he certainly played a key role for the Green Wave.

"I've had to work on face offs a lot in practice and I played with two sophomores (John Baiocco, Drew Melanson) and they're both quick and they liked to use their speed," McMullen told "I like to play in the defensive zone and work the corners.

"I've always loved hockey and when I was given the opportunity to play in college, I didn't think twice about it," he added. "I'm just focused on the game and not worrying about the future right now."

Additionally, former Delbarton forward Charles Orzetti, who played for the New Jersey Hitmen in 2010-11, was taken in the 18th round (267th overall) by the Indiana Ice. Orzetti, who is headed to Yale in September, wasn't rated among the top 210 North American skaters by Central Scouting at their final meeting.

"He's a very strong forward at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds," Shatel said of Orzetti. "He can really shoot and if he plays in the middle, that adds a whole other dimension to your team where he can win face-offs. He can skate for a big guy and he should be a really good college hockey player as well."

For a full recap of the 2011 USHL entry draft, click here.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Monday, 05.16.2011 / 12:14 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Road to St. Paul 2011 Entry Draft Blog

Huberdeau: 'Q' playoff MVP; Memorial Cup set

Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau continued his superb play in the Quebec Major Junior League Playoffs on Sunday when he struck for a goal and one assist to lead his team to its first President's Cup with a 3-2 double overtime decision over the Gateneau Olmpiques in Game 6 of the best-of-7 series at Robert Guertin Arena in Gatineau.

The victory sends the Sea Dogs, a 4-2 series winner over Gatineau, into the MasterCard Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont., from May 20-29. Saint John will open the tournament against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors on May 20 at 7 p.m. ET. The Sea Dogs, who are in their sixth year of existence, will look to become the ninth QMJHL team to win the championship.

The Kootenay Ice, who scored a five-game series victory over the Portland Winterhawks in its league championship series, also qualified for the Memorial Cup and will play OHL champion Owen Sound Attack on May 21 at 7 p.m. ET.

Kootenay goalie Nathan Lieuwen, who was named series MVP, stopped 26 shots in a 4-1 Game 5 triumph on Friday for his 16th win of the playoffs. Lieuwen, born August '91, is in his third season with Kootenay and is eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft.

Owen Sound, meanwhile, scored a 3-2 OT victory over Mississauga in Game 7 of the Robertson Cup Final on Sunday before a sold out Hershey Centre crowd of 5,517. Owen Sound's Robby Mignardi earned the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as Playoff MVP with 15 goals and 9 assists for 24 points in 22 postseason games. Mignardi, born June 1990, is in his third and final year of eligibility for the Entry Draft.

Huberdeau, rated No. 3 by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, sent Game 6 to overtime by scoring with just 23 seconds left on the clock. In the second OT, Alexandre Beauregard scored the decisive goal for the Sea Dogs, who have all 10 of their road games in the playoffs this season.
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Quote of the Day

I've been so fortunate, blessed, to play a long time with some great players and be on power plays, play in some great cities and stuff. It's been fun.

— Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla on tying Dino Ciccarelli for 46th place on the NHL's all-time list with his 1,200th career point after their win vs. the Predators on Friday