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Pioneer made lasting impression on Grier

Friday, 01.11.2008 / 10:00 AM / Game-Day Skate

By John Kreiser - Columnist

San Jose’s Mike Grier still appreciates what Willie O’Ree did to pave the way for him and other blacks to play in the NHL.
A few thoughts while waiting to see who will be added to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.

Saluting a legend — Willie O’Ree was among those attending Thursday night’s Canucks-Sharks game at HP Pavilion in San Jose. It’s been nearly 50 years since O’Ree became the first black player to skate in an NHL game, but San Jose’s Mike Grier still appreciates what O’Ree did to pave the way for him and other blacks to play in the NHL.

“He means a lot to me,” Grier said after the Sharks’ 3-1 victory against Vancouver. “He sacrificed a lot for me to be able to play in the NHL.

“Like Jackie Robinson, he opened a lot of doors.”

O’Ree played his first NHL game on Jan. 18, 1958, skating for the Boston Bruins against Montreal.

Ready for the showdown — With Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout victory against the Buffalo Sabres out of the way, the Ottawa Senators can turn their attention to Saturday night’s showdown with the Detroit Red Wings, the only regular-season meeting this season between the NHL’s two conference leaders.

Ottawa center Jason Spezza is among those looking forward to facing the Wings, who lead the overall NHL standings. The Senators are tops in the East.

''It's going to be a big game,'' Spezza said. ''I haven't had much time to think about it since this one just ended, but I'm sure (Friday) the excitement will build up. They've got a good hockey club and we know we can't make as many mistakes as we made tonight, but I'm sure we'll be sharper.''


Stealing Sid’s thunder — It was billed as a showdown between Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier, but Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win at Tampa Bay on Thursday belonged to Ty Conklin.

Pittsburgh’s red-hot goaltender won his ninth game without a loss since being recalled from the AHL last month when Marc-Andre Fleury was injured. He stopped 35 shots, including six by Lecavalier, the NHL’s scoring leader.

''He's playing outstanding for us,'' Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said of Conklin. ''That's a big surprise. He got a chance, he got an opportunity to be back in the NHL and he's certainly trying to take full advantage of it.''

Two other streaks ended: Crosby had his nine-game points streak snapped — and the Penguins ended a 12-game slide against the Lightning.

''I think all teams have pride, and whether it was guys who where here for it or weren't here for it, you don't want to have to talk about it every time, either,'' Crosby said. ''For us, we want to be considered a good team at home and on the road. We don't want to be known for having bad games.''

All-Star at last — Being named to the All-Star Game is old hat to a lot of players, but not to Manny Legace. At 34, the St. Louis goaltender is enjoying a career year and was named Thursday to the Western Conference All-Star squad.

It’s the first time he’s been named an All-Star, and he can hardly wait to get to Atlanta for the Jan. 27 game.

''A childhood dream,'' Legace said of playing in the game. ''I've been watching it all my life growing up in Toronto. It's always been a dream to go to the All-Star Game.''

Legace showed why he was named to the team when he stopped 25 shots in Thursday night’s 4-2 win over Dallas. He has allowed just four goals in his last 319 minutes.


Hitting a bump — Chris Osgood will be one of Legace’s teammates on the West squad at the All-Star Game. But unlike Legace, the Detroit goaltender’s evening didn’t go too well. Osgood gave up a season-high five goals to Minnesota, then was beaten twice in a shootout as the Wild won 6-5 at Joe Louis Arena.

''Things had been going so well for me and the team,'' said Osgood, who had signed a three-year contract extension a day earlier. ''I've had some lucky breaks and so have we, but this was the first time all year that the puck was ricocheting around and going in our net.''

Osgood fell to 19-2-2 for the season as the Wings lost to Minnesota for only the seventh time in their 27 meetings.

Shooting, not scoring — The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a scoring slump, but not for lack of shots. The Leafs had 56 shots in a 3-2 home loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, then took 50 more on Thursday during a 5-2 loss at Los Angeles.

''We're shooting pucks,'' center Alex Steen said. ''That Philly game, I thought we were shooting a lot from the perimeter and weren't getting enough bodies in front of the net. Tonight we did, but we still couldn't find a way to get it by their goalie.''

No one had more reason to be frustrated than Toronto captain Mats Sundin, who fired 11 shots at the Kings’ Jason LaBarbera but couldn’t beat him.

Brimming with confidence — It’s amazing what a couple of wins can do for a team.

The Edmonton Oilers came back to Rexall Place for a five-game homestand needing a good showing to keep their playoff hopes alive. After a shootout win over the Rangers on Saturday and consecutive regulation victories over the Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes, the Oilers again believe in themselves.

''We've talked about confidence being the most important thing in the game and getting the goal scoring we've had in the last two games really solidifies the confidence on our team,'' coach Craig MacTavish said. ''There are a lot of good things happening right now. We've got more confident players on the team right now than we've had at any point so far.''

The Oilers have two more games at home before heading out on a five-game road trip.

Still powerful — Sheldon Souray may have taken his big shot to Edmonton, but the Montreal Canadiens’ power play is doing just fine, thanks.

Souray had 19 power-play goals last season before signing with the Oilers. But the Canadiens still are tops in the NHL with the man advantage. They scored twice in six tries in Thursday night’s 5-2 win at Boston and lead the league with 50 power-play goals and a 25.1 percent success rate.

Boston coach Claude Julien was impressed with what he saw.

''They are a highly skilled hockey team and when they get a chance to showcase those skills, they do,'' Julien said. ''That is why they are the top power-play unit in the NHL.''

The Canadiens have been especially good at all facets of the game against the Bruins this season. They’ve won all five meetings and are 8-0 in their last eight games against the B’s.


Hats off — Scott Hartnell wasn’t about to throw his second career hat trick back, though he’d have preferred a different location and perhaps some nicer-looking goals.

''It probably would've been cooler at home to see all the hats flying on the ice,'' the Philadelphia forward said after scoring three straight goals as the Flyers overcame a 2-0 deficit for a 6-2 win against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. ''I'll take them where I can get them.''

A couple of the goals weren’t things of beauty — one came on a pass from behind the net that went in off goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

''When you get a goal, they seem to come in bunches,'' said Hartnell, who has four goals in two games after getting just four in his previous 16 games. ''The first one was a lucky one. You'll take those any day of the week. The third one, I made a nice move and put it in.”

Stopper — Sometimes the best saves are the ones you don’t have to make. Just ask Tomas Vokoun.

The Florida Panthers’ goaltender faced one of the toughest sights in hockey — Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk coming in on a shootout — in Thursday night’s game against the Thrashers.

''I was just trying to read him. I thought he was going to shoot five-hole,'' Vokoun said. ''Once he started going over, I knew he was going to shoot it back where he came from.

''He missed the net.''

Happily for Vokoun and the Panthers, Olli Jokinen followed by beating Kari Lehtonen for a 3-2 victory.


No excuses — The Carolina Hurricanes are sick and sore. They dressed only 17 skaters for Thursday night’s home game against New Jersey due to a rash of injuries and an attack of the flu that KO’d four players, including regulars Glen Wesley and Ray Whitney.

The result: A 4-1 victory by the Devils. But Carolina coach Peter Laviolette wasn't using the injuries and illnesses as an excuse.

“We were gross,'' he said. ''I don't know — it's frustrating. When you step on to the ice, it's about competing in a lot of different areas: It's about competing in your skating; it's about competing in the physical play; it's about being mentally ready; it's about playing smart, playing hard, fighting for pucks. We did none of it. If we did do it, we lost in all areas. It's completely unacceptable.''


Quote of the Day

You could feel it. You could feel that they were going after each other and trying to win the game for their team.

— Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom on Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Penguins forward Sidney Crosby each scored hat tricks
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