NBA’s Jason Richardson nearly became a hockey star

Jason Richardson is a high-flying, three-point-shooting star for the Orlando Magic but the NBA wasn’t always his first calling. While growing up in Saginaw, Michigan he played hockey as a kid as well as basketball. When you grow up in a place that’s home to an OHL team and a haven for Detroit Red Wings fans, it’s almost automatic that you’ll start off playing hockey.

For Richardson though, hockey wasn’t just a passing fancy and something else to do as a kid, he had a real interest in the game and it came naturally to him. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel tells us that if things had gone a bit different, perhaps we’d be talking about Jason Richardson the Detroit Red Wing rather than NBA star.

“I really wanted to play in the NHL,” Richardson said. “At the time, I think there were only two or three African-American players. I wanted to be the fourth one.”

While Richardson was growing up, there really was a dearth of African-American players. That’s not the case so much anymore as we’ve seen times change with the rise of Jarome Iginla as captain of the Flames and Dustin Byfuglien in Atlanta as well as the emergence of youngsters like Wayne Simmonds of the L.A. Kings and P.K. Subban with the Canadiens.

What derailed Richardson’s dream?

But finances ended his NHL dream. He was in a family of six children growing up without a father. His mother was the breadwinner, working at Toys ‘R’ Us and Red Lobster while also attending school.

“My feet just kept growing, like size 12 or 13,” said the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Richardson. “It’s hard to find skates that big. You had to get them custom-made.

“We didn’t come from a wealthy family, and there were hard times. My mother always found ways to make ends meet, but some of those skates cost hundreds of dollars.”

It’s an unfortunate truth for anyone growing up that hockey is a costly game to play. Lord help parents whose kids grow up wanting to be goalies because the cost of pads, blockers, and trappers piles on to the cost of skates and sticks. Just think what it would’ve been like to have a 6’6″, 225-pound forward racing around the ice either as a slick-skating forward or a defensive force. Anyone that size in the NHL almost immediately gets noticed.

Stories like this never fail to entertain us because it brings in the whole, “What if?” factor. Think Michigan State, where Richardson went to college, would’ve loved to have him on the ice to win a National Championship? You better believe it and you’d better believe the Red Wings would love to have a forward or defenseman that big roaming the ice for them now. As it is, it’s all a fantasy situation but it’s great to read that even an NBA star grew up wanting to become a NHL star first.

Former Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko passes away from cancer

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Former Edmonton Oilers forward Dave Semenko has passed away after a short battle with cancer. Semenko was 59 years old.

The Oilers released a statement earlier this morning:

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Oilers legend Dave Semenko after a short, but courageous battle with cancer. Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.

Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and many friends.

Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler

Semenko played for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons (two in the WHA, eight in the NHL). He also had short stints in Hartford and Toronto.

He finished his NHL career with 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games. Semenko also won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985.

Teams are reportedly lining up for pending UFAs Bonino, Williams

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The free-agent class of 2017 isn’t loaded with quality. There is no star player available, but there are a few guys that will get a lot of attention in the coming days.

Two of those guys are forwards Justin Williams and Nick Bonino.

According to TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger, both veterans have at least 10 teams chasing them before the market officially opens on July 1st.

It looks like they’ll have no shortage of suitors:

Per Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline, Columbus is one of the teams that has serious interest in Bonino.

The 29-year-old suffered a broken tibia during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t seem to be scaring anybody off.

Despite being limited to a third-line role in Pittsburgh, he still managed to put up 18 goals and 37 points in 80 contests.

Expect Bonino to come away with a significant raise whenever and wherever he signs. He had been making $1.9 million over the last three seasons with Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

As for Williams, he may not be searching for the highest dollar amount possible. When he was a free agent two summers ago, he reportedly turned down more money from Montreal to sign with Washington for $3.25 million per year.

Now, the veteran winger is looking at another shot at winning a Stanley Cup.

“First and foremost, at this point, you want your family to be comfortable,” Williams said, per the Washington Post. “That’s probably number one on the list, and then number two is a chance to win. I feel like I’ve got a lot of game left. I’ve got a lot of will to win left in me, and I’m still productive.”

The 35-year-old had 24 goals and 24 assists in 80 games with Washington in 2016-17. He added nine points in 13 postseason games.

PHT Morning Skate: 4 free agents that will need to take a hefty pay cut

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–30 years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Mats Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques, so The Hockey News lists the five best franchise players that have been acquired via trade. That Joe Nieuwendyk for Jarome Iginla swap worked out pretty well for both Dallas and Calgary. (The Hockey News)

–Free agency opens in two days, so The Score predicts which four players will be the biggest bargains when it’s all said and done. Buffalo goalie Anders Nilsson isn’t a household name, but he might provide some great value for whoever signs him. (The Score)

–The Carolina Hurricanes are loaded with quality prospects, but can any of their young junior players make the leap to the NHL next season? Julien Gauthier, Spencer Smallman and Callum Booth all had nice season with Saint John in the QMJHL, but their head coach thinks they can benefit from a stint in the NHL. (Charlotte Observer)

–Yesterday, we wrote about Connor McDavid‘s potential $13 million per year extension. Some people believe that teams can’t pay one player that much money, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman thinks that kind of deal could make sense for both Edmonton and their captain. (Sportsnet)

–TSN’s Gino Reda looks at four potential unrestricted free agents that will likely be forced to take a pay cut on their next contracts. Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Dennis Wideman and Patrick Sharp can all expect to take home less money in the coming years. (TSN.ca)

–Miller and Bernier will likely need to shave their salaries, but they still made NHL.com’s list of top free agent goalies. Brian Elliott and Steve Mason also find themselves on the list. (NHL.com)

Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

“Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.

“He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

“There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.