Ontario fan throws banana at Wayne Simmonds in shameful racist display

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In what the NHL calls a “stupid and ignorant” display of racism, at least one fan threw a banana at black Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds during a shootout attempt tonight. Simmonds still managed to score on his attempt, although the Flyers ended up losing that preseason game to the Detroit Red Wings in front of a neutral-site crowd in London, Ontario.

It’s possible that this wasn’t the only time a fan attempted to throw a banana at Simmonds during the game, either. Brian Floyd passes along a fan’s note that someone tried to hit Simmonds with one late in the third period when he scored a 3-3 goal to send the contest to overtime, but that attempt fell short.

Sam Carchidi caught up with Simmonds following the game, who confirmed that it happened but said he didn’t want to make a big deal about it. Here’s a little more from Simmonds on what must have been a strange moment.

“I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact I’m black,” the Toronto native said. “I certainly hope not. When you’re black, you kind of expect (racist) things. You learn to deal with it.”

Simmonds acknowledged the banana rattled him, and his only thought was to get off a shot — which went in for the Flyers’ only score in the shootout.

“It shocked me and knew I had to keep going and get a shot off,” he said. “It was certainly unusual.”

Simmonds deserves credit for shaking it off in such a professional way, but the fan (or fans) should be ashamed for that revolting act. To add an extra level of sadness to an already awful situation, Simmonds is a Scarborough, Ontario native.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time hockey fans have thrown bananas at a black hockey player. Former Carolina Hurricanes goalie Kevin Weekes dealt with the racial epithet during a 2002 series against the Montreal Canadiens.

As far as exchanges between opponents, it’s impossible to know how many slurs fly around during trash talking sessions, although there was at least once incident in which the matter became public. Georges Laraque accused Sean Avery of calling him a “monkey” in 2005, a claim that Avery denied.

Naturally, hockey isn’t the only sport in which fans interact with black players in such a way. (Soccer fans have a reputation of doing so, for example.) That doesn’t make it any less disturbing, especially since it’s far from uncommon to see black players in prominent roles now. Groundbreaking players such as Willie O’Ree and Grant Fuhr have made way for an impressive wave of stars, from Jarome Iginla to Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien.

Obviously, such a ghastly display of racism is discouraging – it’s 2011, after all – but hopefully this will just be an ugly, isolated incident.

Update (10:15 am ET):  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement regarding the incident.

“We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our
players and for the game. The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one
individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London,
Ontario.”

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

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The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

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The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.

Mitchell signed PTO with Blue Jackets — shortly after getting cut by Blackhawks

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When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.

His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.

It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.

Calgary mayor: ‘Errors of omission’ in Flames arena proposal

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On Thursday, the Calgary Flames released a report claiming they were prepared to contribute $275 million for a new arena, with additional funding — in the ball park of $225 million — from a Community Revitalization Levy.

On Friday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi responded to the proposal and the events of yesterday.

“I wouldn’t say dishonesty. I would, however, say that there are perhaps some errors of omission,” Nenshi told reporters, according to Global Calgary, when asked if there had been a level of dishonesty from the Flames with their proposal.

The Flames not only released a report with financial details to their website, but they also took out ads in local newspapers. Nenshi took issue with the details the Flames released yesterday.

“What was in that ad was not actually what the last deal on the table with the city was,” he said.

“For example, yesterday you saw that the Flames’ owners are claiming that they’re putting $275 million up front. Makes it sound like a (check) is being put on the table. Certainly that has not been discussed. That would’ve really changed things had that been the discussion.

“The discussion, the last I saw, was the Flames were putting $100 million in and the rest would be a ticket tax, which they wanted the city to take out, to get for and to front. I’m not quite sure how that equals the Flames putting in money up front.”

Yesterday, the Flames added in their report that, after two years of discussions with the city about a new arena, they will no longer pursue a new arena in Calgary.

The Flames currently play at the Saddledome, which is now 34 years old.