NCAA Men's Frozen Four - Michigan Wolverines v North Dakota Fighting Sioux

Brett Hextall: Like father, like son

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Take a look at the name stitched across his back, and fans see a familiar name that makes them wonder about his bloodlines. Take a look at the competitive style on the ice and he removes all doubt. The NHL may want to brace itself. There’s another Hextall coming down the road—and he’s just like all of the Hextalls that came before him.

Phoenix Coyotes prospect Brett Hextall signed a pro contract this April and will be wreaking havoc all over the Coyotes training camp this week. He spent two seasons with Junior A Penticton before moving on to the University of North Dakota.

“Yeah, [the chippiness] probably my strongest point—at least when I’m playing my most effective,” Hextall explained. “I’m really getting under people’s skin just because I’m a pest. Like a Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, or someone like that. If I can be a relentless guy, [play] in-your-face, winning pucks, and just getting under people’s skin because I’m always around, always there, and always getting a piece of them. That’s definitely when I’m at my best.”

That’s right. A Hextall just said that he’s at his best when he’s playing like Matt Cooke. Not surprisingly, it’s something he’s learned from his family. He’s known from the start what it would take to be a good hockey player.

“I got that ‘mentality’ from my Grandpa and my Dad and hearing their stories,” the 5’10” forward shared. “You play the game hard with everything you’ve got. That’s the only way I’ve ever known. I’m definitely not going to ‘wow’ anyone with my skill, but if I can play a really hard, up-and-down game, that’s when I’m at my best.”

He’s right—when he’s playing with an edge, he’s an unmistakable force on the ice. But he’s selling himself short when he says he won’t “wow” anyone out on the ice. He’s an incredibly fast skater with above average hands that are good for more than just fighting. He racked up 72 points in his final season with Penticton in “one of the best years of his life,” and then managed double-digit goals in each of his three seasons with the University of North Dakota.

Some people might be surprised that the younger Hextall didn’t follow his father’s lead into the net. But what younger fans may not realize, is that Ron isn’t the only former NHLer with the Hextall surname. In fact, Brett is looking to become the second-ever 4th generation NHL player. His great-grandfather Bryan had a Hall of Fame career for the New York Rangers. His grandfather (Bryan, Jr.) and great-uncle (Dennis) also had long careers in the NHL. All of the family made it to the NHL as skaters; it wasn’t until Ron played goal that the family made a name with a netminder. Brett told ProHockeyTalk.com that he tried on the mask and pads when he was younger—but it wasn’t for him.

“My Dad just told me, ‘Just keep playing forward, learn how to skate, and then we’ll go from there.’ I eventually never really feel in love with [goaltending]. I like being a forward, it never stuck.”

Finding a position isn’t the only advice Ron dispensed to his son, as he tried to find his career path. Ron, the current assistant GM of the Los Angeles Kings, encouraged Brett to go the college route to serve as a back-up plan if his hockey career didn’t pan out.

The youngest Hextall says going to college was always his plan. “I definitely wanted to play college growing up. My Dad played major junior and he told me, if he didn’t play in the NHL, he’s not sure where his life would have led. He definitely encouraged me to take the college route and it’s worked out pretty well.

Like so many other hockey players, there was a bit of luck that was involved when the Coyotes selected him with their 6th round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. Assistant GM Brad Treliving revealed that the organization was in Penticton to scout a better known prospect (Zac Dalpe).

“It’s funny, when we drafted him… I remember coming out of that game and saying, ‘who’s this kid?’ He was causing a riot it seemed every shift. So we took him with the thought that he’s a competitive kid, obviously he had great bloodlines.”

Needless to say, those within the Coyotes management are intrigued with the type of player they’ve landed.

“I think his game translates to a 3rd line kind of guy,” explained Treliving. “But he can play with good players. One thing about Brett is that he has ‘hockey intelligence.’ I watched him a lot at North Dakota and he plays with a lot of energy and he can get in and forecheck; but he puts the puck in the right spot, he supports the puck well. He knows how to play the game—he’s a smart player. All of those things [type of role] will weed themselves out in training camp, but I think he’s a guy who can play in a checking, energy type role. But I wouldn’t discount him and say he not a guy who can play with good players.”

But as people keep picking apart his game and analyzing his potential, Treliving was able to pay him the biggest compliment without even trying. “He’s definitely a Hextall,” Treliving said with a laugh.

Does that mean we can expect him to attack future Hall of Famers in the future? “I might have to!” the younger Hextall said with a grin. “I have to get a few YouTube videos just to match-up [with my Dad].”

Yeah, it’s doubtful the rest of the league will be a laughing when he’s showing the rest of the league exactly what “being a Hextall” means.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.