This Friday marks one year since the NHL suspended the 2019-20 season due to COWID-19. The pandemic disrupted everyone’s daily life and routine and suspended the NHL season for four months before resuming for the postseason – though some teams didn’t play for 10 months. ESPN asked more than a dozen people from around the world to share what they’ve learned over the past year.
Nick Foligno, offensive lineman for the Columbus Blue Jackets: I discovered how deep the game was in me. I hope it made me realize that I am far from ready to quit. I realized how much I missed hockey. Sometimes the NHL can become a hatchet job when you play for so long, but it refreshed my feelings about the game. Because when they take that away from you and you have nothing left that you really care about, you realize how much it robs you. And I’m proud of it. I realize how much I love it.
Blake Bolden, professional scout for the Los Angeles Kings: When the pandemic started, I was a three-month scout. I just got my feet wet. I just felt comfortable with the travel, the organization and understanding the language. And then, boom, it exploded and everything stopped. I was very upset at first. And then I said: You know what? I missed three whole months of hockey that I could have made up for now and met all the players in my league as back-to-back.
It’s all about how you look at things. I made a gym in our garage with my friend – we got all these weights and plates from the market. I started gardening again because I had more time. I created an e-book for myself for vegetarian dishes. I just did things because I had the time. And that made me happier. So I think adaptability and a good attitude are qualities I will take with me wherever I go. Things can change at any time, and it all depends on how you respond to that setback.
Peter Laviolette, coach of the Washington Capitals: They say people can get tired of being with their families, but since I’ve been spending so much time with family lately, I’ve found that the exact opposite is true. My boys are now 21 and 22. They went to high school when I was in Philadelphia. They weren’t around much when I was in Nashville – they graduated and went to college, so I didn’t see them much. My daughter was with us in Nashville, but we couldn’t be the whole family. During the pandemic my boys were at home, my family was together again, and I found that very special. It brought my family home and gave me a chance to spend time with them and reconnect with them, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Marie Philip-Poulin, Team Canada attacker: Don’t take things for granted. Meanwhile… which was a little difficult… Things were just taken away. They put things in perspective. Live from day to day, make the most of it and enjoy life to the fullest. That’s what I learned.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman: I had a lot of time to think. I realized the importance of family and friends in life – relationships with people. Health and family are everything.
Kevin Weeks, NHL/Goalie analyst: The pandemic has reinforced a number of things to me, including the importance of a person’s living space. I’ve always wanted to make your home your sanctuary. I’ve always done it. If you prefer wellness or relaxation, don’t count on staying in a seaside resort to achieve this goal. If you like nutritious, entertaining, relaxing or other products, find a way to make them. Find a way to do it at home that is affordable or feasible for you.
So many variables are beyond our control. You have no control over the weather, government shutdowns or restrictions. If you can get your controllers under control, it’s a really great job. The fewer things you can rely on, the better.
Ian Mack, sports scientist and performance coach to many NHL players: During the pandemic, I learned that the world changes quickly and we must always be prepared to adapt immediately. I also learned to use the zoom.
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Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins defenseman: I learned how easy it is to focus when everything else is taken away. There was no journey, there was nothing. Hardly anyone left the house. In terms of training and nutrition, it was very easy. I went to the grocery store, planned all my meals, got everything I needed to be a good craftsman, and was very satisfied. It’s hard when you’re on the road all the time. …. It’s harder to stick to diets and things like that. But it was easy, it was good.
Jeff Carter, offensive lineman for the L.A. Kings: I realized that doing nothing was not good for me.
Gabriel Villardi, Los Angeles Kings lead: I discovered how close we are. How this thing literally affected everyone equally. We all do the same thing – stay inside, be careful – and you’ve seen how it affects everyone, and how it affects everyone mentally. They realize how connected we all are.
Lee Stempniak, Arizona Coyotes hockey strategist: I have three children and I think the teachers do a good job. I tried to teach my twin daughters programming and Spanish in kindergarten, but it was beyond my capabilities. So I have a whole new appreciation for teachers and how they brighten kids’ day. Because last year, when my kids had to do the Zoom with their teachers, their faces were beaming.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings offensive lineman: I really realized what a homebody I am. I really appreciate being home. I bought a house a few years ago, and I think a lot of things come and go in our lives as professional athletes. Lots of bags, lots of travel. So the first three or four months of isolation and quarantine, I was home and just enjoying it. I have a Bernedoodle puppy, so he obviously felt at home.
Tyler Motte, offensive lineman for the Vancouver Canucks: I take certain things for granted, from spending time with friends and family to my health. I think I am more grateful for this luxury today than I was a year ago.
Mark Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach: I learned the importance of hygiene. I think we all learned a lot about that and how important it is to wash your hands and wear a mask. Hygiene has become so important.
Rob Blake, Los Angeles Kings General Motors: Virtual learning. A year ago, I didn’t understand the word virtual itself. It was very helpful in communicating with the staff. Often, in the middle of the year, we get stuck in a routine. Scouting is so spread out that we usually have one or two meetings a year that everyone is invited to. Well, actually, every time you pick up the phone, we do it virtually. We use Microsoft Teams and now everything is done face to face. Attention to this aspect, namely communication with employees, has improved significantly. I don’t think it will go away. We find this beneficial. That’s much better.
Judd Moldaver, Senior Vice President of Wasserman Hockey: I believe the awareness and gratitude throughout the pandemic has been blessed with such wonderful family, friends, colleagues and clients. These are unusual times. That said, it reminded me that life always brings unexpected challenges and you have to be ready for them. Chess, not checkers. And just try to be positive.
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Jim Corsi, goalkeeping coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets: I’ve found that there are many ways to get distracted because many of us are used to a routine. Suddenly it became very personal. I don’t go to the rink, no one sets the agenda – it could easily become completely directionless. In my case, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn how to interact with many of the athletes I coach or watch on video. I also learned how much I learned from watching the video, there is so much more when you see the guys in action. You see the fears more easily, you see the subtleties that cameras can’t capture due to camera angle or blur.
As far as hockey goes, I miss the players, I miss the locker room – the jokes, the nonsense, the stories. When I talk to players coming out of the game, it’s always those moments in the locker room, the team atmosphere that they miss. The pandemic has also reinforced the value of friends and family and what we take for granted.
Eddie Olczyk, NBC host and NHL player: I think it initially brought me back to where I was in 2017, when I was going through my battle with cancer, because I was socially pretty scattered and alone and had been hiding in my basement for six months. Aside from the weird work and free time hours, it took me back to a time when I was sick, a pretty deep and emotional place. I realized that all those things – being socially dispersed, wearing a mask – aren’t so bad.
When I went through my battle [with colon cancer], I had enough peace to last a lifetime. We’ve had a lot of time to ourselves, and that gives you time not only to think, but also to worry, to wonder if something will end and how it will continue. And it was a struggle. I don’t know if anyone is aware of the lasting psychological impact this will have on us all. I’d like to think we’d all feel better if we had to go through this. It’s also National Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. We therefore remind you to take good care of yourself and your surroundings and to consult a doctor if you are not feeling well.
Stephen Walkom, Senior Vice President and NHL Office Manager: Life can change in an instant, and the things we love – like visiting Grandma or watching the kids play hockey – can be quickly taken away. I have learned to appreciate the sunrise or sunset more than I used to, the smell of coffee or fire, and the taste of caramel ice cream, because happiness can lie not only in what was taken away during the pandemic, but also in some of the simple pleasures that many experience at home.
This week’s three stars
What we liked this week
What we didn’t like
Best games to play
Social message of the week
The first two stages of the 2021 PWHPA Dream Gap Tour – games at Madison Square Garden and the United Center – are over, and an undeniable star has risen: Abby Roque, 23 years old.
The 1.70m striker has a good chance of making the selection for the Women’s World Cup 2021. The tournament, hosted by Nova Scotia, is tentatively scheduled for May, and Roque has the best chance of making the team, which still has a few spots open thanks to the recent withdrawals of Megan Duggan and the Lamoureux twins. And their performance over the past two weeks has only strengthened their position. Roque is the tournament leader with five points from four games. And then there’s this, from Hilary Knight: I think she will become the best player in the world. It’s that simple.
This is important for Roque, as she too graduated from the University of Wisconsin and considers the 31-year-old Knight one of her favorite players in college and high school. Again: Anyone who has experienced the journey of the boulder has seen this climb before. Patty Kazmaier, a 2020 finalist, finished her Wisconsin career ninth in scoring (170 points) and seventh in assists (114), plus/minus (plus-136) and power play goals (21).
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I’m not surprised at all that she’s doing great, said Canadian Sarah Nurse, who stayed ahead of Roque in Wisconsin for a year and was named her mentor. That’s what I saw in her when she was 17 or 18. She has a confidence, self-assurance and skill that few people have.
Roque grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on the Canadian border. His father, Jim, is a professional scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs and a Canadian citizen. Roque admits she grew up wearing many Hockey Canada jerseys and caps and cheering for Team Canada.
The nurse teased her a bit in Wisconsin and told her it wasn’t too late to join her friends up north. But for now, there’s no doubt that Roque is with USA Hockey. It’s nice for me because it’s never been a problem for me, she said. My father told me once: You can play Hockey Canada. And I am: Well, why would I do that? I grew up in America, I live in America, so I never doubted it.
Roquez is also proud of his Native American heritage. She is a member of the Wahnapit First Nation and her uncle is the chief of her tribe. Where I’m from, I know a lot of the locals and I’ve played with a lot of the local hockey players, Roque said. And then I went to college and realized that all the other students and my teammates probably didn’t know any locals other than me. It was so normal for me growing up because there were so many people like me. Now I realize not many people play hockey. This is what I would like to emphasize and make known. Hockey, especially women’s hockey, is a very white sport. That’s not necessary. We are still discussing how to take the game to the next level.
Addition of a nurse: It’s cool to see her in power because she understands that she has a voice. She feels that she represents a whole group of people and can be a role model for them. When she set foot on campus, she made it known: That’s where I’m from, that’s where I made it, that’s where my family is. I’m proud of the way she is proud.
Roque played hockey with the boys until he graduated from high school. To play hockey with the girls, I went across the river to Canada and played with the girls there, she says. Sometimes she had fall or spring tournaments for the girls, and she thought about going to Shattuck St. St. Mary’s, the famous boarding school. But I felt that for me and my development, I wanted to stay here and play with the guys on the team I grew up with.
Abby Roque has already excelled on the 2021 PWHPA Dream Gap tour. Sarah Stier/Getty Images
It was an integral part of the transition to full-time women’s hockey. The inspection met my expectations, Roque said. I had a lot of demerits the first year. And they were only physical contacts because you forget your own strength. I play football all the time, so I’ve had to learn to take my foot off the gas pedal a little. … Maiden’s game is very fit and has a high tempo. In the foreground, a girl is coming towards you. In men’s hockey, sometimes they just sit there and let you come to them.
At Wisconsin, the coaches always told Rock to shoot more and hold the puck longer. Unlike men’s hockey, where if I held the puck too long, I would probably get flattered, Roque said. And in men’s hockey, my shot wasn’t fantastic. I was there to give passes to the players so they could score goals.
According to Roke’s numbers, that experience helped her become such a well-rounded player. I was tough in men’s hockey, but I was more of a pass rusher, a playmaker. I am also a playmaker in women’s hockey, but I am also known as a more physical player.
Roque’s goal is to keep improving. With me, she said it wasn’t stagnation. It’s like my whole life has been hard work and now you can’t stop. It’s about learning and adapting as the game progresses, because the game is always changing and there is always something to learn.
During the Dream Gap Tour, Roque had the pleasure of wrestling Brianna Decker, another Wisconsin alumna who, like Knight, was named after her and can be seen all over the Badgers’ athletic complex. We play a similar game, we try to be strong on the puck, be physical, make the right actions, we just want to be solid, Roque said. Playing against them, of course, is such a challenge. She challenges me every time and she is so good at it. When you play against a great player, you can look at the little things she does and try to figure out what she does that you can do yourself.
Three Star Week
1. Mark Stone, RW, Vegas Golden Knights.
No one was more productive this week than the Golden Knights, who notched two goals and eight assists in just four games. The real story is that he had five (!) primary assists in a game, making him the first since Artemi Panarin in 2017. Only five players in NHL history have played six or more.
2. Chris Kreider, LW, New York Rangers.
Rangers’ longest-serving player scored his second hat-trick of the season, and this time he got the win. Kreider has scored nine goals in his last seven games and 13 on the season for the Nationals (five more than anyone else). When you score as many goals as he does, it means a lot to a team that has struggled to score this year, coach David Quinn said.
Look at Chris Kreider’s hat trick. You can thank us in the morning. #NYR #LGR pic.twitter.com/wF1KjcZVfv
– Rangers at MSG (@RangersMSGN) March 5, 2021
3. Thatcher Demco, G, Vancouver Canucks.
He stopped 95 of 98 shots in three starts, all victories, including one against the mighty Maple Leafs. Demko has been on a good run the last few weeks, slugging .913 for the season, and people in Vancouver are saying he looks like a bubble Demko again. That’s the biggest compliment of all.
What we liked this week..
– RIP to Walter Gretzky, the father of Canadian hockey. If this son of Belarusian immigrants had never built an ice rink in his backyard, who knows what would have happened? I enjoyed learning more about Walter Gretzky’s life. The recurring themes are grace, work, and humility. He worked for Bell for three decades, long after his son became the most famous hockey player in the world.
Residents of Brantford, Canada, paid tribute to Wayne Gretzky’s father, Walter, by tapping hockey sticks as the funeral procession left the church.
And when you see Wayne Gretzky following Alex Ovechkin on his way to the scoring record, you know who to thank. As Wayne Gretzky reminded us in April: At one point, when I broke Gordie Howe’s record, my dad said to me: One day your record will be broken, and I hope you have as much class and dignity as Gordie Howe did when you broke his record. And I hope so. I hope I’m the first to shake his hand when he breaks my record. I don’t think there is any doubt that he has a great chance of success.
– St. Louis Blues attacker Dakota Joshua Louis scored his first NHL goal in his first game….. and he didn’t have to shoot. But he wins the week with his handwritten message on the puck.
Number 1 #stlblues pic.twitter.com/NpZJl7t
– St. John’s St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 2, 2021
– New York Islanders forward Matthew Barzal is in the discussion for goal of the year …
@Barzal_97’s goal between the legs was WRONG.
(via @NYIslanders) pic.twitter.com/IIPFNhw2Q
– SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 6, 2021
…but it will be hard to beat Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman for the most spectacular goal of the year. It’s March Madness in the NHL.
SHOULD BE A WATCH: BUZZER BEATER!
Victor Hedman takes it with 0.1 seconds to play! The @TBLightning win 3-2 in overtime!
After the game on FOX Sports Sun! #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/drpqh6g7hW
– FOX Sports Bolts (@FOXSportsBolts) March 5, 2021
What we didn’t like this week
– Congratulations to Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Brent Seabrook. I have great sympathy for Mr. Seabrook, 35, who announced this week that he will not be able to continue his hockey career because of mounting injuries. (It was his right hip that was surgically repaired last year). Seabrook was not one to hang around the locker room talking to the press much, especially during the morning skate, my bread and butter. But he was a man respected by everyone on the team. Unbelievable. He was also the one who welcomed teenager Kirby Duch home last season, and helped the Blackhawks transition to the next era. Seabrook is as proud as they come. Therefore, it must be excruciating for her career to end the way it did, according to Blackhawks team physician Michael Terry : We tried every conservative treatment, but nothing worked well enough for him to live like an athlete.
Seabrook fought like hell last summer to play on the bubble, which he ultimately failed to do. This season, he struggled a bit more with rebounding. His body won’t allow it. I know it’s easy to scoff at his decline over the past two seasons and his contract – which is still $6.875 million for three years – but I fully respect Seabrook as a person and wish him well in his next chapter.
– Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is perhaps the most polarized player in the league. I’ve heard people in the Washington organization say he could be captain of the team, and I’ve heard some say the striker doesn’t belong in the NHL. Wilson has been suspended four times, all for illegal or late hits. He has shaken off controversy since being given 20 games (reduced to 14) for checking Oscar Sundqvist’s head in a 2018 preseason game. But here’s the thing about the player safety department. If you are Brett Pesce, who has no history of dangerous play, you will be fined $5,000 for scoring a goal and move on. But when you have a long history with Wilson and you’ve had multiple conversations with him about how to improve the game, you have much less leeway.
In fact, I don’t think Wilson’s hit on Brandon Carlo was worth an automatic penalty. The two referees on the ice did not call a penalty. One could argue that Carlo’s head was not the main point of contact. Wilson wasn’t climbing the career ladder. As his coach Peter Laviolette passionately defended: If it’s a paused game, all moves should probably be removed. But Carlo ended up in the hospital (I wish him well) and we’re talking about Wilson.
Barry Melrose loved the intensity he saw from the Bruins after Tom Wilson ran over Brandon Carlo.
Although DOPS recognized some aspects of this hit that might cross the line between a suspension and a non-suspension, it was decided that a repeat offender who forces a defenseless player to hit the glass and go to the hospital deserves a seven-game suspension. And as much as I like Wilson as a player, I can’t disagree. So did Wilson, who will not appeal the decision and will have to forfeit $311,781.61.
– This year, the NHL opted for one hotel per city for visiting teams to simplify COVID-19 protocols. San Jose Fairmont was selected to the Shark Tank, but not after they suddenly dropped Chapter 11 on Friday. That means all the guests were evicted on the spot, including the Golden Knights who were in town for two.
It was a surreal experience, coach Pete DeBoer said. I hope this is the end of the COVID year, but it was almost the culmination of what the past year has been for everyone in the world. Another thing to deal with.
Best games of the week
Message: Always oriental.
Wednesday, 10 a.m. March: Vegas Golden Knights v. Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m.
After a six-game winning streak, Minnesota got a bit of an upset, losing 2-1 on their last trip. The Wild can get back on track with a two-game sweep against the Golden Knights in the West (this game will be televised nationally by NBC Sports). Game on a much needed family property. You’ve had 31 years. Janvier played twice against Minnesota.
Friday, 12. March: Los Angeles Kings – Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. (ESPN+).
The Kings have been one of the pleasant surprises of the season. After a difficult two-year recovery period, they seem to be competitive again. They were shut out of the playoffs, but can return if they beat the Avalanche, who are still dealing with some injuries.
Saturday the 13th. March: Chicago Blackhawks – Florida Panthers, 7 p.m. (ESPN+).
It’s always interesting to see how the Blackhawks fare against their former coach, Joel Quenneville. But the story here is about two teams making it to the Central Division playoffs, despite many naysayers early in the season. (Let’s face it, the Panthers aren’t that good, but the Blackhawks, on the other hand.)
Social Media Post of the Week
If you’re in the NHL long enough, you witness unpleasant things.
When the shirt you wore as a rookie was brought back as a throwback.
What a legend pic.twitter.com/vbm4UCydMw
– San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) March 2, 2021
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