During the second intermission of the Winter Classic, the USA Women’s Olympic Team was announced before the crowd at Target Field. If you were watching on TNT, you saw it…but it was mostly the players waving. No lower third on who was being announced. No dedicated audio from the stadium to broadcast over the air. It was Liam McHugh and Jennifer Botterill talking over the announcement.
While the insight of Botterill on the announcement and the players was nice, it seemed to really dim the light on the players who were being announced and receiving this accolade to play for their country. It’s something that could have been done after the announcement was made, but for some reason; talking over the announcement for no good reason.
I’ll be honest in saying I don’t follow women’s hockey as much as I could. Outside of Stevenson University’s team, Lacey Eden, Julia Blitz, and other Maryland women players– I’m not up on the women’s game. However, when the top women’s team in the country can’t get the respect of being acknowledge on a national broadcast– it’s not a good look. And I mentioned I don’t follow the game that closely because, outside of Hilary Knight, I didn’t know who the player’s were because of the lack of lower-third to show who the player being announced was. If you’re trying to get more eyes on women’s hockey– this wasn’t a good look to have these waving players with no identification.
While I hope it’s not a situation of Turner Sports not caring all that much because they don’t have the Olympic rights; but you’d think you wanted to help beat the drum, as a National Broadcaster, to grow the game. To give these women the chance to shine and keep up with the NHL’s message of hockey being for “everyone.” Just seemed so weird that they could have done the bare minimum and still screwed the whole thing up.
My hope is that USA Hockey or someone will post the announcement in full with graphics in the near future to give the women the respect they deserve for their hard work to make it to the Olympic team. Hell, 15 of these players were part of the Gold Medal team in 2018, still need to claw to get name recognition in a wider audience.
Shockingly– there was more that went on. I know. So, here’s a rundown of that from me…with the most tepid of takes.
First, you can’t really talk about what happened after before you talk about the salary cap being set at $81.5M, which was a bit of a lower figure than many people thought it would be. Luckily, having it happen before the draft gave teams the time to scrambled to see what they can get done. Which…some did.
Toronto was the first to make a salary dump– which they needed to do anyway if they wanted to re-sign Mitch Marner to a big money deal. They unloaded the Patrick Marleau contract to Carolina, along with both swapping picks. Marleau’s contract has a year left and with the uncertainty of Justin Williams’ future– it’ll provide a veteran presence with this team– just in case they needed it coming off of last year’s wonderful run.
With that move, it effectively took the Maple Leafs out of the running for PK Subban; which was actually a possible destination for the Nashville defenseman….well, ex-Nashville defenseman.
Subban was moved to the New Jersey Devils for prospects and picks going to Nashville– which probably moved the Predators in the running for Matt Duchene. But to Subban– this is the second trade he’s been through, which is odd for a guy that is considered one of the premier defensemen in the league. Three years left on the contract for Subban and the Devils needing some experience back there seems like a good fit.but as much as he wants a Stanley Cup in New Jersey– it could be quite and uphill struggle to get that.
As for the Draft itself, it was a Draft that USA Hockey won’t soon forget. Seventeen players from the US National Development Program were selected and 59 US players were picked overall. It’s a huge boost to the program in itself and really shows how much the USA program is evolving and catching up to their Canadian counterparts, who had 63 players picked overall.
Overall, players jumped, players fell, the Draft is usually something you can’t tell will pan out until five years down the line and they graduate where they’re from and maybe make it to “The Show” in that time frame.
Vancouver was fun overall, personally. It’s the first re-run for me and I didn’t have my running buddies with me all the time and didn’t have a Dufferin experience– but overall it was a good time.
Next up for the NHL, it’s the free agency talking period leading into the free agency period and everyone forgetting they own a calendar and asking if it’s October yet.
GRAND FORKS, ND– After three weeks off, the University of North Dakota came back to shake off the rust of the holiday season with an exhibition game against the US National Under-18 Team. It was a bit of a look into the future with UND, as two prospects for the Fighting Hawks were in the U-18 line-up in forward Judd Caulfield and goalie Cameron Rowe. Though coming into the game, the U-18s were 6-6 against NCAA Division teams, they were downed by the Fighting Hawks 6-2 in the exhibition.
It was a special game, as UND busted out a Fighting Sioux jerseys to honor the 1958-59 team, the first ever National Champion for UND. It’s the first time the team has wore a jersey with “Sioux” on it since 2012 after the nickname was dropped by the school due to NCAA rules.
After a flurry of offense from Team USA to start the first period, UND was the first to strike on the power play, after Jacob Bernard-Docker (JBD) set-up Rhett Gardner on a one-timer to put it past Rowe and give UND the early lead. The Hawks got up two when Grant Mismash crashed the net off a USA turnover and a Nick Jones cycle, put a shot on net, with Ludvig Hoff finding the rebound and putting it through Rowe’s five-hole to make it 2-0.
Just 90 seconds into the second, Matthew Boldy put the U18s on the board after pickpocketing Mismash in the UND zone, poked just barely off Patrick Moynihan’s shinpad, went in on a mini-breakaway before going forehand-backhand to go five-hole Adam Scheel. UND got the two-goal lead back midway through the period, after Jackson Keane drove into the zone, missed the net, but picked up the loose puck to find Casey Johnson; who then went near-side high-glove on Rowe to make it 3-1 UND. The Fighting Hawks made it 4-1 on the power play after some fancy passing in the zone, including a deflected pass, led to a Mismash goal with Jones and JBD getting assists on the goal.
The Hawks swapped out goalies, as Peter Thome came into the game to start the third, while Ryan Anderson finished. In only 16 minutes, Thome faced 18 shots and only gave up one goal.
“It’s always interesting when you get thrown in there and kind of under siege right away,” Thome said. “I was able to get the first one and then the second on and kept trying to go from there. I just tried to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead.”
Collin Adams made it 5-1 halfway through the third from a great set-up from beside the net from Joel Janatuinen, putting it past Rowe’s glove. Alex Turcotte cut the deficit to 5-2 after tipping home a Boldy shot from the top of the circle, after Gabe Bast took a holding penalty. Gavin Hain made it 6-2 with an empty net goal from an alley-oop pass by Matt Kiersted with Thome getting a secondary assist on the goal.
For Thome, who hasn’t had the best season thus far, going 1-3-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .838 save percentage. His last action was during UND’s 5-0 loss a month ago against Duluth. For him, it was a time to get a confidence boost.
“First half, personally, hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to,” Thome says. “Now, having a good first outing is definitely a step forward and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s such a mental position. If you don’t really have confidence, it seems everything can go wrong, but if you have confidence; you can do no wrong. I’m just trying to get back to that state that I’m playing my best.”
With almost a month off, the game was a little rough at times. With a long break and some holiday treats, it took some time to get things going.
“Some parts were a little slow and a little sloppy, but it’s kind of expected,” mentioned Mismash about the first game after the break. “We had a couple good practices kind of getting back in shape. It wasn’t a terrible game. We’ll ramp it up going back into the regular season.”
When asked about the exhibition games themselves, Mismash said; “I don’t want to say I feel bad for teams who hop right back into the season rather than have exhibitions, but it’s nice to get these games. Just to get a feel for it again and get your legs under you before you get going again.”
“This is one of the most skilled and fast and offensive teams that we’ve ever played against the 18s,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They’re record is 20-7-2 and they knocked off the #1 team in the nation the other night, so it’s one of those things we’ll take it as far as trying to get better. We have to make sure our last two non-conference games against Canisius count.”
Which is where UND heads next, as they’ll head to Buffalo, New York to take on Canisius to officially kick off their second-half of the year.
After weeks of waiting, the new Maryland NAHL has names and colors. As mentioned prior, the colors are the Maryland flag colors, but the name is a bit odd to the idea of Maryland.
The Black Bears will be the new identity, named after the main holding of the ownership, Black Bear Sports Group. The black bear population in Maryland is primarily in the Western part of the state, very rarely going into the suburbs. The logo and website for the Maryland Black Bears was revealed today.
The logo itself incorporates the Black Bear Sports Group logo with a wilderness scene, much akin to the Minnesota Wild motif. The colors are black, red, yellow, and white.
While it’s not the Crabs or anything of that sort, it’s a solid name and solid logo. This is the first of many things to come for this new team.
Haley Skarupa/ Photo by Jen Conway (@NHLHistorygirl)
The US Women’s National Team has been on a non-stop media tour since winning the country’s first gold medal in 20 years. For defender Haley Skarupa, she says that it started to hit her of this accomplishment on the flight back to the US.
“I was thinking about it from our flight back from Korea,” Skarupa remembered during media availability Saturday night in Annapolis. “It was the first time it started to sink in that, ‘Wow, we’re going back to the United States bringing our country a gold medal.’ You can’t put words to that experience. You’re kinda going non-stop, but it’s good.”
The Rockville, Maryland native played in all five games for the US, though she did not register a point during the tournament, helped the defense for the US keep a co-tournament low of five goals against during the Olympics. Saturday night at the NHL Stadium Series game in Annapolis was a sort of homecoming for Skarupa, who was a Capitals fan when she was growing up.
“It’s awesome to come back here,” said Skarupa. “I was going to come back and watch this game regardless with my family and friends, but it’s awesome to come back here with my teammates and bring home a gold medal and show it to my family and friends.”
One of the last moments of the celebration of the gold medal was the fact that two flags were on the ice were the USA flag and the flag of Maryland. It was brought on the ice by Skarupa’s former teammates from the Washington Pride.
Kelly Sherman, Haley Skarupa, and Kat Mackey/ Photo by Kush Sidhu
“Two of my best friends (Kelly Sherman and Kat Mackey) literally flew in the day before the game,” Skarupa said. “I didn’t know they brought the flag– it was so dang cool to see that. I brought it down, took a picture with it and it was so crazy to bring a piece of home out there with me. I love the flag it’s great. It’s so much cooler than all the other ones.”
While Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic is without a professional women’s team, the game has been growing in the girls’ ranks. Ranging from U12 to U19, the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (AKA the DMV) area has been starting to grow with the influx of girls picking up the sport– something that may rise from the USA winning gold.
“The sport has come a long way in this area,” explained Skarupa. “It used to be you play boys’ hockey until you’re in high school. Nowadays, there’s so many girls’ teams in the area. At the clinic, there was over 200 girls register from the DMV area. It’s awesome and really exciting. To see how far it’s come since I’ve been playing has been really incredible.”
Despite not playing on a girls’ team until she was in her teens, Skarupa relished the challenge of playing on the boys’ roster. It’s something she said that was fairly invaluable to her development to where she is today.
“I loved playing against the boys,” remember Skarupa. “They challenge you, they’re aggressive, and they’re ruthless. I played until I was 12 against the boys and then my brother and his friends out in the driveway. Getting beat up by the boys really helps you in the long run. Getting to prove the boys wrong is a good feelings.”
The Rockville native doesn’t forget her roots. She said she had numerous people coming up to here this week from people who went to pre-school with her to old teachers from Wooten High School. She also credits former Capital Jeff Halpern (and to an extent his Astro Donuts store) for helping her on her way to development.
“Jeff Halpern helped me throughout my career,” mentioned Skarupa. “We both skated through the same power-skating coach, Wendy Marco and Cold Rush and he became a coach there. Skating with him helped push me, too. He’s a great role model for this area with his success and how he gives back to the community.”
While she is riding high now, Skarupa is also taking the future into account with a clearer head. She said that she’s taking it one day at a time and while there’s not a team there and Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis hasn’t talked to her about one coming through– she believes the area should be rewarded with a professional team sooner rather than later.
“In the future, women’s pro hockey should expand to this area,” according to Skarupa. “With all the girls that play here and all the interest, there’s a huge opportunity for women’s hockey in this area.”
You can bitch and moan about the Olympic rosters not giving you what you want out of a hockey tournament– but to be honest, it’s exactly what it should be, if not a little too pro for the “amateur” Games. In fact, the stories of redemption in these rosters are exactly what the Olympics and Olympic hockey needs.
But people became spoiled with the NHL. It came at a very formidable time for fans in the late ’90s when the NHL was becoming a hotter property than it had been in the past. People had grown accustomed to having their favorite team go on hiatus and cheering for a rival player because they played for the same country you lived in. Those people are also the ones who loved “Miracle” and don’t realize that they’re kind of seeing that some thing play out here in a more “Bull Durham” aspect.
For me, these rosters and the stories that can be made from them are what will actually make me keep track of Olympic hockey. Not the NHLers, these guys who had tasted from the NHL fountain only to be told their not good enough and had to make their own path elsewhere. A good redemption story is one not to be overlooked. For guys who haven’t had things go their way– this is the perfect situation for them to actually go their way. These guys will take even more pride in wearing their countries colors because of the fact they won’t get to wear them otherwise due to the NHL players taking those spots most likely in the World Championships. Why are people worried about other guys not having a moment when they want to selfishly give it to an NHL who will have plenty of moments domestically and internationally.
Listen– the NHL will be back to the Olympics in 2022. The IIHF wants it, the NHL wants it, begrudgingly– the IOC wants it. It’ll happen because that’s how sports work now– it’s a business rather than a game. To have NHL players play in an untapped market of China would do gangbusters for everyone….should everyone want to play nicely and give-and-take as needed.
That said– let these guys have the moment. Watch, either live or on tape-delay, go in with an open mind, and appreciate the stories these guys are creating and what they’ll be able to tell their friends and family of the experience. While they are still pros, this is the true Olympic story of underdogs, redemption, pure love of the sport– which means playing wherever you get the chance to play.
GRAND FORKS, ND– With wind chills hitting -30 to -50 Fahrenheit; 10,113 came out to the Ralph Engelstad Arena to see the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks take on the US National Team Development Program Under-18 team. While many didn’t know what to expect, UND got out to an early lead and didn’t look back winning 5-2. There were some scares for UND during the game, but they got the job done in their first game back after the semester break.
The first period saw UND score early with Cole Smith deflecting a Colton Poolman shot past Michigan State commit Drew Deridder just two and a half minutes into the game. However, the US was able to get some sustained offense with Boston University commit Jake Wise ringing one off the post past Cam Johnson’s blocker. It would take until the half-way point of the 1st for UND to score again, with Austin Poganski picking up the puck in the neutral zone and going in alone to put one past Deridder and make it 2-0. Five minutes later, Matt Kiersted fired a laser of a shot high blocker after Grant Mismash set him up on a silver platter to make it 3-0. Team USA would get one back late in the first with Ryan Savage (Miami-Ohio) gathering up a rebound off a Patrick Giles (Boston College) shot.
UND didn’t wait in the second period, as they were put on the power play and make short work of it with Jordan Kawaguchi going high blocker on Deridder to make it 4-1. USA’s first chance of the period came when Erik Middendorf (Denver) streaked away short-handed, but couldn’t get a handle on the puck, making it a routine pad save for Johnson. However, at the middle of the segment, Oliver Wahlstrom (Harvard) cut down the slot and went backhand farside on Johnson to make it 4-2.
Peter Thome came on in relief of Cam Johnson in the third. Johnson’s night ended with the two goals against and 16 saves. USA tried to sustain some pressure in the offensive zone, with Jack Hughes impressing with his stickhandling through the neutral zone, but yielded nothing. Third-string goalie Ryan Anderson got into the game in the last 2:44 to keep warm during the exhibition game. Shane Gersich sealed the deal into the empty net to make it 5-2 UND.
While the game and stats don’t count for anything, it was something that many on the Fighting Hawks roster thought was a good idea.
Cole Smith/Photo by @NHLHistorygirl
“It was a good exhibition,” said forward Cole Smith. “Something to knock the rust off and not get out huge. Just to get guys back into the flow of things.”
Christian Wolanin echoed, “The exhibitions work well. I think it was my freshman year, we played Huntsville, which was tough to get up for because you’re a little heavy and need to work the kinks out. These exhibition games work out well and we take advantage it of it.”
Even with the win, there’s always room to improve. With an almost 100% healthy roster, coach Brad Berry still says there are some things to iron out as UND gets into a bulk of their conference play in the final half of the season.
“When you have a nine, ten game break, coming off a break, there’s a little rust– as you could tell,” mentioned Berry. “I think we competed hard and execution was a little off. Defensive zone, we have to tighten up on a few things. We played against a skilled team, they played fast and we have to make things better for next week.”
UND resumes conference play as Nebraska-Omaha comes into the Ralph for next weekend’s set.