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Posted On Tuesday, 11.01.2011 / 2:58 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Caps' Eakin to make NHL debut

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Cody Eakin nearly made the Washington Capitals’ opening-night roster at the start of last season, so the fact that it took him 10 games with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League in his first professional season to earn his first NHL promotion should not be much of a surprise.

Eakin was recalled this morning by the Capitals and is scheduled to make his NHL debut against the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2).

“I’m pretty happy. Obviously it is pretty exciting,” Eakin said. “It was pretty exciting. It wasn’t a call I was expecting to get or anything. I was actually hanging out at a movie theater when I got the call. It is always a nice call to get, and I am looking forward to it.”

Eakin was a 2009 third-round pick, and actually helped the Bears win the Calder Cup in 2010 despite being a junior-age player (he was allowed to play for them after his junior season ended). Last season began with him having a great training camp with the Capitals, a solid effort for Canada at the World Junior Championships and another dominant season in the Western Hockey League.

He did not make the NHL to start this season, but 3 goals and 8 points in 10 AHL games was enough to earn him a call-up -- even though the Capitals do not need him right now.

“Every report we’ve gotten is that he’s played really, really well down in Hershey,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a guy that we’ve really wanted to take a look at. Hershey only has one game this week, so this was a good opportunity to take a look at him.”

Eakin is Washington’s second-best forward prospect after Russian starlet Evgeny Kuznetsov, and after scoring 95 goals in the past two seasons in the WHL (including the postseason), he is someone who has enough offensive talent to play as top-six forward someday.

For now, he’ll likely skate on the fourth line, although that trio is expected to include Mike Knuble against the Ducks.

"(They said) the next little while depends on me," Eakin said of the message when he was sent to Hershey. "They said I could be in Hershey for a while, or I could be there for a short time. I’ve just tried to work hard and get the systems right and get comfortable with the game. I am lucky to have this opportunity -- this early especially."

Posted On Tuesday, 11.01.2011 / 12:48 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Capitals, Ducks

WASHINGTON -- Here are the projected lineups for the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks heading into tonight's game (7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2). Both teams hope to end respective mini-slides -- after winning seven straight to open the season the Caps have dropped two in a row, while the Ducks are 1-4-1 in their last six.

These teams played two dramatically different contests last season -- Anaheim won a tight-checking, 2-1 contest in overtime at Verizon Center, while the Capitals won a wild 7-6 decision at Honda Center.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Cody Eakin - Mathieu Perreault - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
Jeff Schultz - John Erskine

Tomas Vokoun will start in goal, with Michal Neuvirth the backup.

Mike Green skated for the first time since taking a shot to the face and landing awkwardly on his ankle, but he is not ready to play yet. Erskine had offseason shoulder surgery and will make his season debut tonight.

If Eakin plays instead of Jeff Halpern, it would be his NHL debut. Knuble skated on the fourth line in practice Monday.

Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Brandon McMillan - Nick Bonino - Andrew Gordon
Matt Beleskey - Maxime Macenauer - Devante Smith-Pelly

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Toni Lydman - Lubomir Visnovsky
Luca Sbisa - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller will start in goal, with Dan Ellis the backup.

Coach Randy Carlyle is going to shake up his forward lines as the search for more offense continues. The bottom two lines have combined for only two goals in 11 games, and everyone on the roster not named Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry or Selanne have combined for six. This would be Bonino’s season debut with the Ducks -- he has played 35 games for them during the past two seasons. Parros could play in place of Smith-Pelly on the fourth line.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.

Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 2:43 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Ducks, Wild

ST. PAUL -- The Anaheim Ducks are looking to stop a three-game losing skid while the Minnesota Wild are hoping to win for the sixth straight time against the Ducks here at Xcel Energy Center.

Guillaume Latendresse is back in the lineup for the Wild after being out with a groin injury. He'll start the game on the fourth line, but could move up if his play or others' dictates it, said coach Mike Yeo.

Devante Smith-Pelly is a game-time decision for the Ducks. He missed the opener of this seven-game, 13-day road trip with the flu. Either he or George Parros, who is sporting a nasty cut under his eye after getting hit with an errant puck Wednesday in practice, could skate alongside Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon on the third line.

Defenseman Kurtis Foster expects to be back in the lineup for Anaheim as well. Here's a projected lineup for both teams based on the morning skate and their previous games:


Patrick Maroon - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Devante Smith-Pelly / George Parros - Andrew Cogliano - Andrew Gordon
Brandon McMillan - Maxime Macenauer - Matt Beleskey

Lubomir Visnovsky - Toni Lydman
Cam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Luca Sbisa - Kurtis Foster

Jonas Hiller is expected to start in goal with Dan Ellis serving as the backup.


Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Cal Clutterbuck
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi
Nick Johnson - Kyle Brodziak - Brett Bulmer
Colton Gillies - Darroll Powe - Guillaume Latendresse

Justin Falk - Marek Zidlicky
Nick Schultz - Clayton Stoner
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Niklas Backstrom is expected to start in goal with Josh Harding serving as the backup.
Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 1:21 AM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

"Miracle on Ice" 'never gets old' for Johnson

Mark Johnson and the rest of his teammates on the 1980 Winter Olympics team accomplished something that changed the course of hockey in this country.

What happened in Lake Placid, N.Y. made them famous for life -- even if they didn’t know the full impact while they were still in the town during the Olympics.

“Once we left Lake Placid, we started to get a sense of what was going on,” Johnson said. “On Monday morning we got on Air Force One and we were flying down to Washington, D.C., to have lunch with the President -- you know, something that normally happens in our day. We get off the plane in Washington, D.C., and get on a couple of buses. We’re making our way down to the White House, and all these people are lined up on the streets with flags waving and they’ve climbed up telephone poles.

“I don’t know who it was but about halfway there someone finally said, ‘What are these people doing outside? What are they here for?’ Somebody said, ‘They are here to celebrate what you did up in Lake Placid.’ I think really for a lot of us it really hit home like, ‘Wow, this thing really much be pretty special.’ ”

For the 20 players on that team, they will always be remembered first and foremost for what happened in Lake Placid. That is true now, but of course it was during the rest of their playing days. 

Many of them went on to have success in the NHL, but there was a challenge or two that came with being part of the “Miracle on Ice” team.

“The hardest part for me and I’m sure it was that way for the other guys is when you first went into your NHL locker room,” Johnson said. “A week after Lake Placid I was in the Penguins locker room, and here’s Orest Kindrachuk and Ross Lonsberry and a couple of other guys who are Stanley Cup winners and NHL veterans for a long time and the game would end and here come the reporters and who would they go up to? They would filter over to myself. I would feel uncomfortable because you were in the NHL and you were getting paid to play, but you hadn’t earned any stripes yet. That was probably the biggest challenge most of us had. 

“Kenny Morrow was fortunate enough to walk into the Islanders locker room and end up winning four straight Stanley Cups. We all knew if we were going to stay up there we were going to have to play well.”

Johnson and his teammates remain heroes in the sport 31 years later, and they don’t go very many days without someone asking them about that day when they defeated Russia.

“We still get quite a bit of that, especially when you’re speaking at a banquet or somebody who is my age or a little bit younger who was at the game or was watching the game,” Johnson said. “The one story we always tell is I think the rink maybe held 9,500 people and I think 50,000 people have told me they were there at that game. I’m not sure what is accurate. We get it quite a bit, because people are excited and they want to tell you what they were doing or what was happening in their life. It is something that never gets old, and it makes you feel humbled and privileged to be one of the 20 players part of that even if it was more than 30 years ago.”

Posted On Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 1:11 AM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Groundwork in L.A. came before Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky did a lot for hockey in California when he arrived in a trade from Edmonton, but the sport’s story in Los Angeles doesn’t begin with that day.

The groundwork in L.A. came in the years before Gretzky’s arrival, as the expansion Kings grew into a strong NHL team and a fan base was cultivated in the process.

“I really enjoyed my time there,” said Bob Pulford, who played two seasons and coached for five with the Kings. “It was certainly not a hockey culture or atmosphere when we were there, but you had to train yourself and train your team that inside the arena it doesn’t matter if you’re in Toronto or Montreal or Los Angeles. It is exactly the same.”

Pulford’s Kings did not make the playoffs in 1971 or 1972 when he played or in his first season as a coach in 1973, but his final four years in Los Angeles before moving onto Chicago were filled with postseason contests.

The Kings finished with 42 wins and 105 points in 1975 but were upset by Pulford’s old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the best-of-three preliminary round of the playoffs. The next two seasons Los Angeles were knocked out in second round by the Boston Bruins.

“In my five years of coaching there we had great teams,” Pulford said. “We were never able to get by Boston in the playoffs, but they had Bobby Orr and that’s when they had the great team. We played them hard and they respected us.

“I found in coaching that if I could convince the team that inside the rink it was the exactly same in Los Angeles as it was in Toronto that they would have the right attitude in playing. We were successful in doing that, and during our period there we had some great teams. We actually outdrew the Lakers for four of those five years that I coached there. It wasn’t exactly the same as when Gretzky got there and his contribution to hockey in Los Angeles, but I felt we did a lot to make hockey acceptable or popular in Los Angeles.”

Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 7:41 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

All started with a rink for Rossi

For Tony Rossi, his life of volunteer work in hockey began with building a rink.

Where it went from there has surprised him and continues to do so, and it has brought him to RiverCentre to be recognized for all of his work.

“It was different for me, because I didn’t come from a background of playing for a number of years,” Rossi said. “It was always just kind of in my nature to put things together. You start with an ice rink in your neighborhood and things like that and got that done. 

“I think the biggest thing is I never dreamed I’d still be doing it so many years later and enjoying it more now than I probably did then. Now it is a different level, with a lot of going overseas and things like that.”

Rossi has been instrumental in helping to organize and fund hockey programs in Illinois, and from the youth level he has progressed to working with USA Hockey at the national and international level.  

“After I graduated from law school, the first home we bought we had four young kids and we moved next to a family that had two young boys that were each exactly one year older than my two boys that were like 3 and 5 at the time and they were playing hockey,” Rossi said. “That’s how we really got into it. We didn’t have an ice rink within an hour of house, so we got involved with the Park District and building that.

“I was fortunate enough to have the ability to get different challenges. First it was with the state of Illinois, then it was with USA Hockey and then it was internationally with the IIHF. It was different. I’m not sure I could still organize eight-year olds into teams, but the challenge got to be different and we got to meet other people.”

The other guys who are being honored at the 2011 Lester Patrick Awards are all more famous with hockey fans than Rossi. Mark Johnson helped create a Miracle on Ice. Bob Pulford won the Stanley Cup four times with Toronto before a long career as an NHL coach and executive. Jeff Sauer won 655 games as a coach at the college level.

Rossi might not have played or coached, but his impact has been felt far and wide both in Illinois and around this country in the sport of hockey.

“The important thing there is volunteer, because you need people like that,” Sauer said. “I’ve known Tony for 25 years and he’s been one of those guys who has always just been there. He’s there to take charge of things for USA Hockey. He certainly deserves this award, but he also deserves the position he has with USA Hockey. Being on his board, I’ve seen how committed he is to developing hockey in the United States and that has been great. He’s had grandsons along the way, and he’s been a parent too. He’s come through the ranks in all different areas.”

Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 7:17 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Rossi, Pulford happy with Chicago hockey explosion

Bob Pulford and Tony Rossi have seen the rise and fall and rise again of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise a few times over in their decades of being connected with hockey in the area.

Count them among the many people in the area who are ecstatic about the current state of the Blackhawks.

“I go to a lot of games,” Pulford, a longtime executive with the club, said. “Certainly Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough and Stan Bowman have done an outstanding job with hockey in Chicago. It is as popular or more popular as it has ever been.”

Added Rossi: “Right now their marketing is so good, you see kids in the stores wearing Blackhawks shirts instead of Bears shirts. It has really changed.”

Rossi was in the stands during Pulford’s tenure with the organization, but his devotion to the team goes back much further. 

“I’ve always been a big fan of the game,” Rossi said. “I used to go down to the Blackhawks games with friends from high school and we’d go up to the third balcony and buy standing-room only at the time. This was in the 50s, so times have significantly changed since then.”

Pulford joined the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in 1977 and helped guide the franchise to a pair of appearances in the conference finals in the 1980s.

“Hockey goes in cycles. There’s ups and downs, peaks and valleys,” Pulford said. “When I first went there in ’77, they were in a valley. It was after the Mikita-Hull Era and hockey was down and not drawing very well at all. We were fortunate to have some great drafts, and by the early ‘80s we were a very good hockey team and selling out every night. Hockey was popular again and very good.

Eventually those players got older and moved on in their lives as hockey players, but now it is back. It has gone through another cycle and it is as strong in Chicago as it has ever been -- maybe better."

Rossi has done so much work with youth hockey in the state of Illinois, and it is big part of why he’s being recognized this evening. Participation has grown tremendously in the state, as has the number of talented players who go on to college and professional careers.

He thinks the Blackhawks have had a lot to do with that.

“Frankly, the financial support from the Blackhawks in the last 20 years has been terrific with Illinois hockey,” Rossi said. “They just never got it out in the public. They got a lot of shots about “Dollar” Bill Wirtz and everything, but all that time people were criticizing them, nobody helped Illinois hockey financially as much as Bill Wirtz and the Blackhawks foundations. We are fortunate and blessed with what the Blackhawks have done from a marketing point of view in the past few years,” Rossi said. “They are really selling the hell out of the sport. Registrations are up, and there are just a ton of little kids who are telling mom and dad they want to play. They’ve gotten the sport out of the United Center. It is still there obviously, but they’ve got players going to youth arenas, they’ve got signs in all the arenas. They’re terrific with that. 

"I’ve probably had season tickets for 30 years, and I’ve been there when the stadium was empty and the United Center was empty. It is just a whole new ballgame now."

Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 6:33 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Bettman talks Twin Cities Winter Classic

People around here like to call Minnesota “The State of Hockey.” Passion for the sport at all levels might be unparalleled anywhere else south of the Canadian border, so when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spent a few minutes with the media here at RiverCentre before the 2011 Lester Patrick Awards, a much-talked about subject in this region was bound to come up -- the Winter Classic.

The Winter Classic has been a huge success for the NHL. The game this January will be the fifth installment, and speculation where it might be next or in the future is always a popular topic for hockey fans.

So what about the Twin Cities as a future host?

"There's no shortage of demand, but clearly, ultimately, this is one of the places we will probably get to if for no other reason the climate and the interest," Bettman said.

There a couple of enticing venues in the area, namely a brand-new baseball stadium in Target Field and a brand-new college football stadium in TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. There could also be a new facility for the Vikings at some point in the future.

Finding people to come to an event like that in this region certainly wouldn’t be a problem. It was also a logical place to host this event tonight, given the order on the docket is to celebrate people’s contributions to hockey in this country.

“I love to come to St. Paul. The level of interest in our game here is phenomenal,” Bettman said. “This has been a terrific franchise for us. I love the arena, the Xcel Energy Center. To be able to bring an important event that recognizes the accomplishments that have been devoted to our game -- there is no better place to do that than here.”

Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 4:35 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Live from RiverCentre

We're live and ready to go at RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul, Minn., for the 2011 Lester Patrick Award dinner. There will be media availability with the honorees in a few minutes before a cocktail reception and the ceremony, which gets rolling at 8 p.m. local time.

Haven't been to Xcel Energy Center before, but it looks splendid from the outside. It is next door to RiverCentre, and this whole complex overlooks the Mississippi River. The view from what has been designated the media room alone is very nice. Given the time of year, the leaves are a million different colors and walking along the river made for a nice little afternoon in the Twin Cities. 
Posted On Wednesday, 10.26.2011 / 3:01 PM

By Corey Masisak - Staff Writer / - Lester Patrick Awards blog

Celebrating hockey in the United States

Four men who have helped thousands of Americans develop their passion and talents in the sport of hockey will be honored tonight at the RiverCentre here in St. Paul, Minn., as the recipients of the Lester Patrick Award for 2011 are honored.

U.S. Olympic hero Mark Johnson, longtime college coach Jeff Sauer, longtime volunteer Tony Rossi, and former player, coach and executive Bob Pulford will be presented with the award, given to people for their contributions to hockey in this country.

Johnson and Sauer have many ties to the University of Wisconsin, while Pulford and Rossi have been staples of hockey in Illinois at different levels. Check back here throughout the night for observations and stories and anything that comes an evening of celebrating hockey in the United States and particularly in the Midwest.
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