Byfuglien an unexpected hero for Blackhawks

Every postseason is filled with unexpected heroes, players who
stepped up and took their game to the next level as their team
progressed in the playoffs. When teams don’t have those sorts of
players, then progressing in the postseason becomes increasingly
unlikely. More than any other sport, we learn just how much of a team
game hockey is once the postseason comes.

For the Chicago
Blackhawks, perhaps we can look at none other than Antti Nieimi as the
difference maker so far. Yet with a team leading four game-winning
goals, including three in the sweep against the Sharks, there’s no way
we can overlook just how important Dustin Byfuglien has become for the
Hawks.

We all know about his willingness and ability to move from
forward to defense and back again; it’s an unsung ability and role you
just don’t see very often in the NHL. Yet when Byfuglien was permanently
moved to the top line against the Canucks, that’s when he really
started to make a difference.

“I think it started in
the Vancouver series. All those fans were getting
on his case. He wasn’t popular in that building,” Blackhawks forward
Patrick Sharp said of the man known as “Big Buff.” “Seems like he likes
the spotlight. He likes being the hero. He steps up in big-time.”

Byfuglien
has eight goals in the postseason, including goals in five straight
games. His willingness and ability to crash the net, his agility in the
trenches despite his size, makes him one heck of a foe for opposing
defenses to try and clear out. Amazingly, the defenses have sometimes
completely forgotten about Byfuglien as he’s picked the perfect time to
come down low and pound home a goal.

He was instrumental in
frustrating the Canucks and was the backbreaker against the Sharks.
He’ll continue to have to be a difference maker in the Stanley Cup
finals, when every goal and every play becomes so incredibly important.

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    Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

    Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

    USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

    Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.

    Report: Former NHL referee Devorski to stop by Jets camp

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    There is heightened focus on penalties right now and the Winnipeg Jets have taken the step of bringing former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp for help.

    The league is cracking down on slashes and faceoff infractions right now, although according to Sportsnet, Devorski’s influence at Jets camp will go beyond just those two calls.

    From Sportsnet:

    The retired NHL referee will be at training camp on Friday where he will officiate the team during battle drills to give Jets players a better sense of how to stay within the rules.

    NHL teams reaching out to the league to consult on officiating is not new, but having a referee work on-ice with a team is a less common step.

    Currently many NHL teams are consulting with the league over more hot-button issues like slashing and faceoff violations, but the Jets focus with Devorski will be on past issues.

    Around the league, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the number of penalties called, especially early on, and if so, the possible impact that will have on the games once the regular season gets going next month.

    Per Michael Traikos of the National Post, there had been 91 slashing penalties called through 19 exhibition games in which real-time statistics were kept prior to Wednesday’s slate of games.

    “It definitely changes how you have to defend. Those reactionary slashes of the stick, taps to the hands, are so ingrained in a defenceman,” Eric Gryba told Sportsnet. “If they stay as rigid on the rules as they are right now… the whole makeup, landscape of the D-corps is going to change, from top to bottom. Everyone is going to have to be a better skater to defend.”

    The new tweak on faceoffs has also garnered some critics. Like Brad MarchandHe isn’t a fan.

    “The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand told CSNNE earlier this week.

    “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

    While the Jets are seeking the knowledge of a seasoned official to help them stay out of the penalty box beyond slashing and faceoff violations, it seems the entire league is in for quite a learning experience over these next few weeks.

    Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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    SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

    NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

    The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

    “Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

    An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

    A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

    With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

    Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

    “To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

    Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

    Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

    Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

    “So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

    Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

    “I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

    That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

    “The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

    But this is the first step in a long process.

    “It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”

    Blackhawks release trio from professional tryouts

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    The Chicago Blackhawks made some roster moves Thursday, releasing forwards Drew Miller and John Mitchell, and defenseman Mark Stuart from their professional tryouts.

    All three players were added to the training camp roster at the beginning of last week, after Cody Franson was previously brought in to the Blackhawks camp on a PTO.

    Chicago is now down to 54 players in camp.

    Miller, 33, had spent the last eight seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, although he also spent seven games in the minors last season with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

    Stuart, 33, spent the last six years on the Winnipeg Jets blue line. Mitchell, 32, had played the last five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.