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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 4:15 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

U.S., Finland scoreless after one period in Edmonton

EDMONTON -- Despite playing at a feverish pace in the opening period, the United States and Finland had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard during their 2012 World Junior Championship matchup here at Rexall Place.
The Finns, coming off an 8-1 loss to Team Canada on Monday, were determined to play physical and fast against the bigger and stronger Americans. The U.S., meanwhile, seemed to take away much of the middle of the ice, content on allowing their opponent to work along the boards. The U.S. scored an 11-3 victory in its tournament opener on Monday against Denmark.
Each team was penalized twice, and the Finns actually had a 4-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds that was denied by the United States. The U.S. entered the game having allowed three power-play goals in three times short against Denmark.
Both teams were able to generate some quality scoring chances but couldn't solve the opposing goalie. Finland's Sami Aittokallio, property of the Colorado Avalanche, had eight saves and Team USA's John Gibson turned aside four shots. The start for Gibson marked the first time since the 2010 WJC gold medal game against Team Canada that three-time WJC participant Jack Campbell didn't make the start between the pipes.
Gibson, drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round last June, is making his first appearance in the World Junior Championship.
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 3:14 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pirri hoping to make most of opportunity

CHICAGO -- Prospects of the Chicago Blackhawks never want to hear coach Joel Quenneville assess their play in a game as "just OK."

That's Quenneville's nice way of saying they weren't good enough in one or more aspects of the game.

Yet, that's how 20-year old Brandon Pirri's most recent game with the Hawks was described by Quenneville after Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. One game earlier, against the Montreal Canadiens before Christmas, Quenneville raved about the improvements Pirri had made at Rockford of the American Hockey League -- especially defensively.

Is Pirri's play in three games this season (2 assists) merely evidence of the turbulent nature of trying to find your way in the League as a rookie?

"Absolutely," Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate at the United Center. "That's part of the process for young guys. He's still 20 years old and working his way here and trying to find a place and a niche. I think technically he's improved, but I think that's probably the learning curve to be expected of a young guy."

Often, getting a "just OK" assessment from Quenneville means a prospect is likely headed back to the minors very soon. In Pirri's case, the lingering upper-body injury of fellow rookie center Marcus Kruger (believed to be a concussion) has given him another chance to center the Hawks' second line between stars Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Pirri knows it's a golden opportunity that not a lot of young centers get this early in their career.

"You don't want to waste it, because you're only up here as long as you're playing well," he said. "So, I'm just trying to come to each game and play well just so I can stay up here. I’ve got to create space for (Sharp and Hossa). It’s about giving skill guys like them opportunities and also still play my game of puck possession and speed.”

As for that inherent pressure to play well in order to stay, Pirri said there's only one good way to deal with it.

"You try not to think about it, because then you're worried about stuff other than the game," he said. "I've got a job to do and I know that it's the same for everyone else. If you're not playing well, you're going to be switched up and down the lineup or not in the lineup. That's part of being a pro."

If it sounds like Pirri is sounding more comfortable dealing with life in the NHL -- on and off the ice -- it's because he is. One of the things he's worked on down in Rockford was developing confidence in his own ability to make plays at a high level.

"It's just confidence and playing my game, not being timid," Pirri said. "Down in Rockford, my confidence is real high and I'm playing good hockey down there. I'm just trying to bring that same game up here."
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 2:48 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Gagne injury opens up chance for Loktionov

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings are already struggling to put the puck in the net, but now they'll be trying to solve those issues without one of their top-six forwards.

The Kings put Simon Gagne on the injured reserve list on Wednesday morning with an upper-body injury that is suspected to be a concussion -- something Gagne has dealt with in the past. He was injured in the first period of a 4-3 win on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes and wasn't able to finish the game.

Now, Gagne could be sidelined for an extended period and his team will need to fill the void. Gagne scored 7 goals and added 10 assists in 34 games, but recently-named Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the answer will likely come down to young players seizing the opportunity to shine.

"You know what, to be perfectly honest some of our veteran players haven't been productive in terms of offense anyways," Sutter said after his team's morning skate at the United Center on Wednesday. "So, it's an opportunity for a younger player, simple. It's not that hard to figure out. The game is about depth and there are injuries and you move on in a hurry."

In this case, it appears that 21-year old center Andrei Loktionov will get the first chance at filling in for Gagne on the left wing of the second line with Mike Richards -- who recently returned from an injury -- at center.

Loktionov, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has 2 assists in 15 games with Los Angeles this season. He has 4 goals and 9 points in 35 career NHL games and put up some impressive numbers in the American Hockey League over parts of the last two seasons.

Now, he's got a shot to show what he can do in the NHL -- even if it's not at his preferred position of center.

"I've seen him play in the American League last year and I've seen him in the world championships," Sutter said. "I know he's a skilled kid and he'd prefer to play center, but we're pretty strong at that position."

Sutter then ticked off the Kings centermen -- Anze Kopitar, Richards, Jarret Stoll and former Blackhawk Colin Fraser -- as evidence of the challenge a youngster like Loktionov has in cracking the lineup in the middle of the ice.

"If you want to play and get into the lineup, you're going to have to move out of position," Sutter said of Loktionov. "He's a talented enough kid that he should be able to adjust to that."

His teammates agree. They're trying not to focus on Gagne's absence, but rather on the presence of guys like Loktionov, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.

"We have other guys that can jump in and they can get the points and stuff like that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "A lot of our scoring comes from our big guys, but it also comes through how our team's playing. When we stick to the system and we're working hard -- not giving the puck up and getting traffic and screens -- that's how our pucks are going in these days. So, even though (Gagne is) a big part of our lineup, I think the guys who are taking his spot are doing a great job."

Gagne's injury is also being looked at by the Kings as just a fact of life playing in the NHL -- where injuries to key players can be fairly common each season.

"(Gagne) is a top-six forward for us and we just got (Richards) back, but that's kind of how the season goes," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It's always the same every year. You always have guys go down and it's just an opportunity. We have some young guys in here and it's obviously time for them to step up and fill a bigger role. They've got to be excited about that, and as a team we've just got to pull together. We've been through it this year and last year. It seems like every year you always have injuries throughout."
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 2:00 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kane in Blackhawks' lineup despite battling illness

CHICAGO -- Injury updates were the theme of the day at the United Center, where both the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings prepared for Wednesday's night's game.

The Kings will be without second-line forward Simon Gagne, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday morning with an upper body injury believed to be a concussion. The Hawks will be missing rookie center Marcus Kruger (upper body) and forward Daniel Carcillo (upper body), whom they hope will return on Friday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Chicago will have star forward Patrick Kane in uniform against the Kings, though he's fighting off a case of strep throat which hampered his play in Monday's 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kane missed Tuesday's practice, but said the rest he got -- plus some antibiotic medication -- helped him feel much better on Wednesday.

"It's never fun to miss a day at the rink, especially when you just had four off for Christmas," said Kane, who started feeling ill on Christmas Eve and continued to get worse. "It's good to be back today. It was more strep throat, so it wasn't very fun. But I think the worst is over now. I just have to try and get through it tonight, I guess."

The Hawks are in the midst of a lengthy homestand and thus far have taken advantage of it. They've won five in a row at the United Center and are 6-0-1 in this building in the month of December - with the game against the Kings on Wednesday and the Red Wings here on Friday.

"You never want to have slumps and ups and downs, especially when we've got a lot of home games here coming up," Kane said. "You definitely want to separate yourself from the pack and take advantage of these, because we know in February we're going to be playing a lot on the road."

Chicago defenseman Steve Montador also missed Tuesday's practice for what Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called a "maintenance day," and also sat out Wednesday's morning skate. Montador, however, will play against the Kings on Wednesday night.

As for Kruger, it's more of a precautionary action after several hard hits he took against Columbus on Monday may have caused the concussion symptoms he incurred last week in Pittsburgh to flare up again.

"He played the other night and he's close," Quenneville said. "I don't know if it was a defining hit (by Columbus that did it). He's feeling alright today."

Here are the projected lineups for the Blackhawks and Kings:

Kyle Clifford - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Andrei Loktionov - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Kevin Westgarth

Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Jack Johnson - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier

Andrew Brunette - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Brandon Pirri - Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Viktor Stalberg
Daniel Carcillo - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Nick Leddy - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Steve Montador

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 1:58 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

John Gibson gets the start in goal for Team USA

EDMONTON - U.S. National Junior Team coach Dean Blais will give John Gibson an opportunity on the grand stage on Wednesday when the 18-year-old goalie faces Finland in the club's second game of the 2012 World Junior Championship at Rexall Place.

Gibson was named the top goalie at the 2011 IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship in Germany, going 4-2-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage as the U.S. garnered its third straight gold medal.

Gibson was a second-round selection (No. 39) of the Anaheim Ducks in 2011. He is currently in his first season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. In six games with the Rangers, Gibson is 4-2-0 with a 2.34 GAA and .926 save percentage.

Gibson will be filling in for Jack Campbell, who earned an 11-3 victory over Denmark on Monday in the team's tournament opener. All three goals scored on Campbell, who is making his third tour of duty for the U.S. at the WJC, were of the power-play variety. In 10 WJC starts, Campbell is 6-2-1-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L).  

The U.S. is scheduled to play Finland at 3:30 p.m. ET (NHLN-US). It will mark the 31st meeting between the two countries, with Finland holding a slight series advantage. Despite the fact the U.S. is 11-2-0-15-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) against Finland at the WJC, the U.S. has won six of its last seven outings against the Finns. That surge includes a 3-2 overtime decision in the preliminary round last year in Buffalo, N.Y., when forward Nick Bjugstad connected for the game-winner.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 1:09 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Wedgewood gets start for Canada vs. Czech Rep.

Canadian National Junior Team coach Don Hay announced on Wednesday that goalie Scott Wedgewood would be between the pipes for the club's second game of the 2012 World Junior Championship when his team faces Czech Republic at 8 p.m. ET.

Wedgewood, a third-round selection (No. 84) of the New Jersey Devils in 2010, is currently in his fourth season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. In 21 appearances this season, the 6-foot, 194-pound Wedgewood is 13-8-0 with a 3.08 goals-against average.

"Scott played good in the selection camp and we were impressed with what he did in the pre-competition games and that probably changed my mind a little bit in how I wanted to go about things [with rotating the goalies]," Hay told the media. "We're going to need both goalies going ahead. Mark [Visentin] played very well against the Finns and that was expected of him from his experience and summer camp and what he's done in pre-competition. I think we're in a good situation if they both continue to play like they have."

Visentin stopped 24 of 25 shots in an 8-1 victory over Finland in their tournament opener on Monday.

"We wanted both our goalies to play in a competitive game and this is going to be a very competitive game to test not only Scott but our team," Hay said. "I think we feel he's capable and ready to play and we have a lot of confidence in him."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 12:03 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

College teams get first view of Winter Classic rink

PHILADELPHIA -- While the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers is the prime event for the ice rink being built here at Citizens Bank Park, it's far from the only event.

Representatives from four college teams that will play here after the NHL leaves got their first tour of stadium Wednesday, and walked away highly impressed.

"It's kind of breathtaking," Drexel University coach Greg Marinari told NHL.com. His team will play Villanova University on Jan. 5, one day after Penn State plays Neumann University. "It's very exciting to see all the work they're putting in."

Marinari said he told his players about the game following a game in early December, and said the reaction "was so loud outside the locker room that the parents were asking what the big announcement was."

Bill Downey, Penn State's director of hockey operations, said his players had the same reaction when they learned they would be playing outside at Citizens Bank Park.

"We were actually on a trip down to Liberty University in Virginia, we're on the bus … they were getting all the information from social networking, via Twitter and Facebook," Downey told NHL.com, "so we could hear them start rumbling in the back of the bus. We didn't want to tell them until the end of the weekend, but in this day and age, that stuff comes out pretty quickly. They were thrilled. I know they couldn't be more excited to play in the game."

The game will be a boon for PSU, which moves from a non-varsity team to NCAA Division I next season. Currently, PSU plays as an independent in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, before joining the new Big Ten conference in 2013-14.

"To have an opportunity for our school to come play here, it's going to mean so much to the players moving forward, as a memory for them," said Downey. "I couldn't be more happy for the players, and for the program it's such a step in the right direction."

Downey said he was in Pittsburgh last year for the 2011 Winter Classic, and has talked to people from other college and NHL teams that have played outside for advice. What they've told him is that there's not a lot, really, you can plan for in advance.

"We've been talking to a bunch of people, trying to figure some things out," he said. "It's such a crapshoot with what the weather is going to be like. You can plan for a thousand things, but you might drive yourself crazy doing that. When the day comes, we'll be ready to go and be mentally focused.

"I think the biggest thing is to try and eliminate some of the awe factor of walking into a venue like this and just allowing them to play a game as normally as possible. They're all going to be excited and just having them prepare and be ready mentally to play the game is most important."

Marinari said he's gotten the same advice for when his team faces Villanova in another chapter in their area rivalry -- both are members of the ACHA Eastern College Hockey Association.

"You're still putting on your skates, you're still putting on your pads," he said. "Maybe now you're putting an extra layer underneath, but you're still playing a hockey game.

"It's very exciting. I cannot wait."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 11:16 AM

NHL.com - Making of a Royal

The importance of bonding with your teammates

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 10:58 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Classic Preparations

Winter Classic ice gets reinforcements

PHILADELPHIA -- The ice crew for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic reached into their bag of tricks Wednesday morning and pulled out a good one that had people standing around the boards wondering just what they were doing.
With NHL Facilities Operations Supervisor Don Moffatt looking on and helping out, the crew pulled out long sheets of white mesh and started freezing them into what they know are the weakest areas of the ice as a reinforcing agent.
Moffatt called the tactic "making steel ice," and said the mesh becomes so strong when it gets frozen into the ice that you need a circular saw to take it out. He said they used the tactic in Calgary last season for the Heritage Classic as well as in Boston for the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
They ran a piece 20 feet long by 5 feet wide the long way from the Zamboni doors out well beyond the holes for the goal moorings and then laid in a piece 30 feet long by eight feet wide along the goal line at the opposite end of the rink. Moffatt said reinforcing those two areas is important because they are where the Zamboni comes onto the ice and where it makes a lot of its turns.
They sprayed water over top the mesh in each area and used squeegees to spread it out and make sure the mesh was as straight and flat as it could be.
Moffatt said they may also use the mesh in front of the benches, because that's another high-traffic area. The mesh is not used in indoor NHL rinks because the ice is built on a cement floor. But for the outdoor rinks the NHL uses, the 30-foot wide aluminum panels that serve as the base are not as rigid and can bow slightly under the weight of the Zamboni in certain areas.
Now those areas are reinforced.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 10:38 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

The start of something good

Ever wonder how TSN and NHL Network hockey insider Bob McKenzie got his start?

        Canadian broadcaster Bob McKenzie
Forward Mark Stone of the Canadian National Junior Team certainly does, although he wasn't even born when his father would ultimately have an indirect impact on McKenzie's rewarding broadcasting career.

Stone's father, Robert, was a sportswriter for The Sault Star (in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) before deciding to leave and give McKenzie his shot as a hockey writer.

"It was the summer of 1978 and I had gotten a summer job at the Sault Star during my second year at Ryerson [University]," McKenzie said. "It was a four-man sports department and Rob was there. I played on the Northern Plumbing slow pitch team with him."

As the story goes, McKenzie was told at the end of the summer that if a spot opened in the sports department, he would be hired.

"In January, Bob Stone departed Sault Ste. Marie for a job in Winnipeg and the paper called me in January and said Stone was leaving and there was a job in the sports department," McKenzie said. "So in April and May of 1979, I worked there."

When McKenzie broached the subject with Mark Stone, the youngster smiled and nodded his head when the inquisitive reporter asked him, "What exactly was the job your dad took in Winnipeg?"

"I really couldn't tell you," Mark said.

And what is the elder Stone doing now?

"He's selling aircraft engines," Mark Stone said.

Well, of course!

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential