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Ten who could surprise at 2015 World Juniors

Wednesday, 12.24.2014 / 3:00 AM / 2015 World Junior Championship

Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Finnish National Junior Team received quite a few surprise performances on the way to its gold medal-winning effort at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

Goaltender Juuse Saros stole the show when he made 35 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against Sweden in the gold-medal game. Saros, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 99) by the Nashville Predators in the 2013 NHL Draft, finished 5-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in six games. He was named to the tournament All-Star Team.

It's not uncommon to have a player jump off the score sheet in unexpected fashion at the World Juniors.

Switzerland's Nino Niederreiter, who now plays for the Minnesota Wild, is the poster boy for coming out of the woodwork at the event.

It was Niederreiter's performance for Switzerland at the 2010 WJC that ultimately placed him in the crosshairs of scouts and coaches leading up to the 2010 draft. He had six goals and 10 points in seven games, including the game-tying and overtime goal in the quarterfinals against Russia, and was named to the tournament All-Star team. Although the Swiss placed fourth in the tournament, Niederreiter opened eyes and went on to become the highest-drafted Swiss-born player ever, going No. 5 to the New York Islanders.

Here are 10 players who could surprise at the 2015 WJC (listed alphabetically):

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U.S. goalies Demko, Gillies share special bond

Wednesday, 12.24.2014 / 3:00 AM / 2015 World Junior Championship

Evan Sporer - NHL.com Staff Writer

Thatcher Demko made his collegiate debut at Boston College on Oct. 13, 2013, backstopping the Eagles to a 7-2 victory against Rensselaer. Demko was the best goalie on the ice that day, but whether or not he was the best goalie at Conte Forum was up for debate, as Jon Gillies of Providence College was tucked away high in the stands as a spectator.

Gillies had met Demko in August at a United States World Junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. The two developed a relationship and often text each other. Gillies said he knew how eager Demko was to get into his first game and made the near-hour drive from his campus to Chestnut Hill, Mass.

"We hit it off from the beginning; we see a lot of things the same way," Gillies told NHL.com. "It's kind of grown from there, and it's been fun to share some things with him over the last couple of years."

Gillies was the starting goalie at the 2014 World Junior Championship for a United States team that finished fifth. Demko, the third goalie on that team and the only returning American goalie for the 2015 WJC, is expected to be the starter for the U.S. when the tournament starts Dec. 26.

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Heavy hearts for Blackhawks on way to Winter Classic

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

The camera abruptly zoomed in on Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's face, so close that you could see the tears that hadn't yet dropped out of the bottom of his eyelids. This was the picture of a man, not just a coach, dealing with the stark reality of life and death amidst the whirlwind of an NHL season.

Clint Reif, an unheralded member of the Blackhawks family as their assistant equipment manager, was found dead in his home Sunday morning. He was 34 years old.

Earlier in the week Reif was doing what he loved to do, preparing the equipment, the jerseys, pants, socks, skates, everything, alone at United Center while the Blackhawks attended a season-ticket holder function at Navy Pier.

The EPIX cameras were with Reif while he worked. He dished on players, providing some insight into the inner workings of the Blackhawks and the personalities that made work never feel like work.

Then Reif was suddenly gone, so Quenneville had to stand in front of the media and talk about his loss prior to Chicago's game Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. His eyes welled up while he stood at the podium. He was a picture of shock and sadness.

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Sharks' Scott to have phone hearing Wednesday

Tuesday, 12.23.2014 / 8:13 PM / Department of Player Safety News

NHL.com

San Jose Sharks forward John Scott will have a phone hearing Wednesday for punching Anaheim Ducks right wing Tim Jackman during a game at Honda Center on Monday.

Scott did not receive a penalty on the play, but will speak with the Department of Player Safety for punching an unsuspecting player.

The Ducks won the game in overtime, 3-2.

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EPIX to air second episode of Winter Classic series

NHL.com

As the journey toward Nationals Park on New Year's Day continues for the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, the second episode of "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Winter Classic" examines the truths of winning and losing, teamwork and toughness, and the reality that occasionally the game can take a backseat to family, friendship, loved ones and, unfortunately, lost ones.

Some of the highlights in the second episode of the four-part series, which airs Tuesday night on EPIX, include family skates for both the Blackhawks and Capitals, featuring the loved ones and the little ones that are rarely seen but so important in the lives of the players and coaches.

There are light-hearted moments, such as Alex Ovechkin walking through the concourse at Verizon Center while attending a Washington Wizards game in search of ice cream. There is a segment on Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, who is affectionately known as "The Mutt" for his uncanny ways of getting under your skin by running his mouth and never holding back. Capitals rookies Michael Latta and Tom Wilson are shown during a lunch in Columbus talking about how pickles are made.

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Blackhawks trim Girgensons' lead in 2015 NHL All-Star Fan Vote presented by SiriusXM

Buffalo's Girgensons Remains Overall Leader with Nearly 1.3 Million Votes

Tuesday, 12.23.2014 / 1:58 PM / 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend

NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Buffalo Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons is the top vote-getter for the fourth straight week in the 2015 NHL All-Star Fan Vote presented by SiriusXM with 1,291,186 total votes. Close behind are five Chicago Blackhawks teammates – forwards Patrick Kane (815,990) and Jonathan Toews (803,034), defensemen Duncan Keith (790,922) and Brent Seabrook (641,736), and goaltender Corey Crawford (714,471). If voting ended today, Girgensons would be the sole non-Blackhawks player selected (via fan vote) to take part in the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

Through five weeks of balloting, more than 25 million votes have been collected, with 20% and 10% of total votes cast for Blackhawks and Sabres players, respectively.

This week's biggest mover was Toews, with 229,836 tallies in seven days of voting. New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak is now third in voting among goaltenders with 364,917 total votes, up 65% from last week.

The leaderboard of the top vote-getters is available at NHL.com/vote. Fans can join the conversation by using the official hashtag #NHLAllStar.

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Fantasy top 100 forwards: Pacioretty rounds out game

Tuesday, 12.23.2014 / 12:14 PM / Fantasy Hockey Draft Rankings, Advice and Analysis

Pete Jensen - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey insider Pete Jensen will provide you with in-depth forward analysis. From updated weekly top 100 rankings to trending players and more, Jensen will be your go-to guy for fantasy forward advice all season long.

Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty had a career year in 2013-14 with 39 goals, the fourth-highest total in the NHL. But one category is never good enough in fantasy hockey.

As much as fantasy owners covet goal-scorers, it's more desirable when a player nears his full potential in terms of category coverage. Pacioretty performed well in other standard-league categories (power-play points, plus-minus, shots on goal), but his underwhelming showing in assists was a concern.

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Blackhawks undeterred when taking on the elements

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

CHICAGO -- The wind whipped in howling gusts, the snow fell in sheets and Soldier Field transformed into a gigantic snow globe.

The calendar read March 1 for the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins last season, but nobody thought about spring's arrival during the Windy City leg of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

Chicago's iconic football cathedral, located near the shores of Lake Michigan, was frigid with polar air and awash in white. It was the perfect backdrop for an outdoor hockey game, reminiscent of the days so many players spent as kids on frozen lakes and ponds.

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Capitals face tough road trip before Winter Classic

Adam Vingan - NHL.com Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The remainder of the Washington Capitals' road to the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will wind through the Metropolitan Division, a weeklong journey that could have sizable implications.

Before the Capitals host the Chicago Blackhawks on New Year's Day at Nationals Park (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVA), they conclude their December schedule with three straight road games against divisional opponents.

"We're aware of the situation here that we have a big schedule coming up here," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We've got to be focused and make sure we're not taking it lightly. Every point is important right now. We've got to be sharp here."

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Around the League notebook for Monday, Dec. 22

Tuesday, 12.23.2014 / 9:00 AM / News

NHL Public Relations

GAUDREAU HAS FIRST CAREER HAT TRICK IN WIN VS. KINGS

Johnny Gaudreau (3-0—3) scored three goals to send the game to overtime where Mark Giordano (1-1—2) scored the winner as the Calgary Flames won 4-3 against the Los Angeles Kings. The Flames ended an eight-game losing streak and improved to 18-15-3 (39 points this season). With the victory, Calgary also improved to a 7-3-1 record this season against Pacific Division opponents.

* Gaudreau's three-goal performance is the first hat trick of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, at 21 years, 131 days, Gaudreau is the eighth youngest player in Calgary franchise history to record a hat trick. Gaudreau ranks second among NHL rookies in points (10-17—27) and assists and is tied for second in goals.

* The last member of the Flames to record a hat trick was also a rookie, Josh Jooris (3-0—3), who did so earlier this month on Dec. 2 in a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to have two different rookies record a hat trick in the same month was the 1992-93 Buffalo Sabres. Joe Juneau (3-0—3) scored three goals on Jan. 12, 1993 in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins and Steve Heinze (3-0—3) scored three goals two days later on Jan. 14 in a 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Quote of the Day

[He's] real confident with the puck now, getting it off his stick quick and no second-guessing. We need that. He's such a good guy in the room. He works so hard. That's the big thing. For not a big man, he just fights for every puck and when he scores, the guys appreciate that even more.

— Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice on Mathieu Perreault, who scored two goals in win against Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday