Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
I'm going to take this in a slightly lighter direction than many of my peers that follow by saying I'm thankful for David Pastrnak. The 23-year-old forward has always been a talented goal-scorer, but never quite like this. I've seen him score four in one night, make moves that shouldn't be legal, and light up the room with his personality and smile. The other day, I asked David Krejci, a close friend of Pastrnak, if he thought the right wing could score 50 goals this season. Krejci took it a step further. "I hope so," he said. "He's on pace for what, 70?" Krejci isn't wrong. With 20 goals in 23 games, Pastrnak is technically on pace for 71.3 goals this season. There hasn't been a 70-goal scorer since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each scored 76 in the 1992-93 season, when the NHL was a different animal. But hey, I can dare to dream. And Pastrnak plays on what in my opinion is the best line in hockey. No matter what happens, it'll be fun to watch.
Tim Campbell, staff writer
At the risk of being disowned by family, friends and colleagues, I'm grateful for snow on the prairies in October. This is something I never, ever, envisioned I'd say. I despise snow in October, but the steady flurries at the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Oct. 26, though a blessing of circumstance, was a blessing nonetheless. The NHL neutral-site outdoor game was already bound to be a good one with the Winnipeg Jets playing the Calgary Flames. But the atmosphere in a dressed-up and sold-out stadium in a city that was hosting an NHL game for the first time was further enhanced by the flakes that fell throughout the game. Anyone who experienced that in person is surely grateful.
Nick Cotsonika, columnist
I'm grateful for being able to watch the best players in the world each day -- in arenas, on television at prime time, even on TV at 10:30 p.m..
Too often we take it for granted in North America, and I was reminded of that when I went to Stockholm for the 2019 NHL Global Series.
European countries produce lots of NHL players, including some of the best. Fans in Europe love hockey like we do. Yet unless the NHL comes overseas, they don't get to see the best players in person and need to stay up into the early hours of the morning to watch live on TV.
When the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning held open practices at Ericsson Globe, I spoke to fans like 12-year-old Ture Sodergren. Each morning, he watches NHL highlights on YouTube on his phone. Yet that was the first time he had gotten to see NHL players with his own eyes.
"It's very cool to see the world's best players live," he said.
William Douglas, staff writer
I am thankful for what's to come, the induction of Neal Henderson, the founder and coach of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington, D.C., into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Dec. 12.
For more than 40 years, coach Neal, as his players call him, has presided over the oldest minority-oriented youth hockey program in North America. He uses the sport to teach kids life lessons, encourage them to excel in school, pursue higher education and have high expectations for themselves.
Henderson has taken children from some of Washington's toughest neighborhoods under his wing inside an aging ice rink and produced solid citizens who've gone on to become school teachers, pharmacists, military aviators and even NCAA hockey coaches.
I'm thankful that grassroots folks like Henderson and Rico Phillips, founder of the Flint Inner-City Youth Hockey Program and recipient of the 2019 Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award, are publicly getting their due from the hockey world for their tireless work on behalf of their communities and the sport.
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
I am thankful for NHL players' willingness to give back and help others. Kade Foster, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan from Newfoundland, experienced this after his father, Jason Foster, tweeted on Nov. 3 that none of the friends Kade invited to his 11th birthday party showed up. Maple Leafs captain John Tavares responded by calling Kade to invite him to Toronto's game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 9. Kade met the entire team before the game, was presented with a birthday cake, and everyone at Scotiabank Arena sang "Happy Birthday" to him.
The Washington Capitals provided another example when they were in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Oct. 29 and presented Alex Luey, a 15-year-old battling osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer), with their player of the game helmet -- a Washington Nationals batting helmet -- following their 4-3 overtime win. Luey has become a kind of good luck charm for the Capitals and captain Alex Ovechkin since they met two years ago, and they remain in close contact.
These are two of many instances, particularly during Hockey Fights Cancer month in November, when the players have gone the extra mile.
Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
I'm grateful for having the chance to meet Grace Eline of Long Hill, New Jersey, on Hockey Fights Cancer night at Prudential Center on Nov. 23. The 10-year-old has undergone several cycles of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with a brain tumor 19 months ago, but she's been cancer free since December 2018. She spent a lot of time with the Devils this past week, skating with them at practice and joining coach John Hynes for his pregame scrum before reading the starting lineup in the locker room ahead of their 5-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. What amazes me about this very special girl is that even before she was diagnosed, she chose to receive donations for cancer kids in lieu of gifts. She's an inspiration because she realizes helping others feel good, and helps her feel good, too. It's an important lesson we all should remember. "I think that I am happy and positive because I just try and be nice to everybody," she told me. Thank you, Grace.
Tracey Myers, staff writer
I love hockey. I love to travel. And I was thankful to merge those passions when I went to my first NHL Global Series in late September/early October. It wasn't even so much about the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers opening their season in Prague on Oct. 4. It was everything around that 10-day trip to Prague and Berlin. The atmosphere when the Blackhawks played Eisbaren Berlin in their final preseason game on Sept. 29 was especially fun. That game was nearly two months ago, and I still have "Hey, wir wollen die Eisbaren seh'n," the team's anthem, recorded by the German rock band Puhdys, in my head. I got to interview Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek. I got to see and talk to former Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa again. And who knew there was a small museum dedicated to the Ramones in Berlin?
Dan Rosen, senior writer
I'm grateful to Matt Dumba and Haydn Fleury for telling the story of their friend, Kale Williams, who killed himself at the age of 17 on Feb. 10, 2013. Dumba, the Minnesota Wild defenseman, was the first to tell me about Williams and their friendship that was born in Red Deer, Alberta, where Dumba played juniors. He told me about the impact Williams had on his life, the happiness he felt when he was around him, the sadness he felt and still feels about his loss, and about how he memorializes him with tattoos on his back. Fleury, the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, did the same. He also played in Red Deer, where he met Williams. He also memorializes Williams with a tattoo on his arm. I'm grateful they were open and willing to talk about loss, suicide, mental illness and its effects. Without them, I never would never have been able to share their story on NHL.com. Dumba and Fleury have said it has made a difference, that people, including NHL players, talk to them about it. They plan to use their platforms to spread awareness for mental illness. The story is the beginning, but I'm grateful because maybe it has, or will, make a difference in someone's life.
Dave Stubbs, columnist
I've been privileged during more than four decades in the journalism business to have had many interviews spawn cherished friendships. Hockey legends whom I worshipped in my youth, icons whose hockey cards I collected, are now among my friends. They are wonderful gentlemen whose love for the game shines brightly in the stories they share over a beer, a meal or a call.
I've written too many obituaries and appreciations for the giants who are no longer with us, but there are many living legends I'm proud to include among my friends, including eight Hall of Famers especially important to me with whom I've been happy to connect with this season: Johnny Bucyk, Yvan Cournoyer, Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Dave Keon, Bernie Parent, Larry Robinson and Rogie Vachon.
As tremendous as they were as players, they're even better men. And as appreciative as I am that I get to continue to write about them, I'm even more grateful for their friendship.
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
I don't know the date. I'm not sure if it was the preseason or regular season.
But I remember the moment. I always will.
Like so many countless times through the years, I was in the media room at Scotiabank Arena for a pregame meal when he walked in. There was always a certain presence when he did, even though the last thing he wanted was a fuss.
Mr. Gregory was in the house.
Mr. Gregory, of course, is Jim Gregory, the former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and an NHL executive for 40 years. Most importantly, a class act who treated a hot dog vendor with the same dignity afforded a famous celebrity.
I greeted him the same way I always did.
"Always a pleasure, Mr. Gregory," I said.
The response, too, was always the same.
"Easy on the Mister stuff," he said.
It didn't matter how much he protested, he was always Mister to me. Always will be.
Little did I know I would never see him again.
Mr. Gregory died on Oct. 30 at 83.
His funeral was memorable. From Dave Keon to Steve Yzerman to Darryl Sittler, a who's who of the hockey world came to pay tribute to Gregory. And when his son David finished his eulogy, it was greeted by an ovation. I'd never experienced that before.
Looking back, I'm so thankful I knew Mr. Gregory, and I'm so thankful I had one final moment with him.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gregory.