Phoenix Coyotes v New York Islanders

Jason LaBarbera honors Pat Tillman with new mask

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Goaltenders find inspiration from any number of different sources when pulling together a concept for a new mask. Some pay respect to the organization’s history and some keep the same general design no matter where they happen to play. Jason LaBarbera has always has some pretty cool masks for music fans to check out—from Metallica to Eddie Vedder.

This season, he’s taken it to a completely different level.

LaBarbera’s new mask pays homage to the great Arizonan (and American) Pat Tillman. For those who don’t live in Arizona or don’t remember his story, Tillman was the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left an NFL contract on the table in the wake of 9/11 to fight for his country.  After a few tours, Tillman lost his life while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.  Regardless of political beliefs, Tillman was a man who stepped up for his country during an emotional time of uncertainty and confusion.

LaBarbera explains the new mask and theme to NHL.com (you can check it out here):

“I wanted to make sure that all troops knew how much we respect and appreciate their sacrifices to protect our way of life. Pat’s story is well-known around the country and the world, but it’s so important here in Arizona were the people see him as their own. He is a part of Arizona sports history and our nation’s history and I wanted to show that.

“You walk by the Arizona Cardinals stadium (just across the street from Jobing.com Arena, home of the Coyotes) and you see the statue and it really impacts you what Pat Tillman did and the decision he made. Here’s a guy who gave up a very lucrative profession, something he loved and did all his life, to do what he thought was right. Not a lot of people can say that.”

It’s hard to explain what Pat Tillman meant to the sports landscape in the Phoenix area. He played with the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, and thrived for both. During his time with the Cardinals, he had other offers to move onto greener (and more lucrative) pastures, but stayed to play with the Cardinals. In the wake of his untimely passing, both the Sun Devils and Cardinals have retired his number—you’ll see his name whether you attend a college or pro football game in the greater Phoenix area.

Sometimes goaltenders masks are silly at best—or self-serving at worst. But you have to give it up to the goaltenders this offseason for “getting it.” This year, we’ve seen tributes to the fallen enforcers, former NHLers who perished in the Lotomotiv plane crash, and now a soldier who fought for his country and still means a lot to his community.

If good things happen to good people, expect LaBarbera to have a heck of season as he shares time with Mike Smith this season.

Devils’ Merrill undergoes shoulder surgery, out four months

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04: Jon Merrill #7 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Detroit Red Wings at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Red Wings defeated the Devils 1-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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New Jersey d-man Jon Merrill, who struggled through an injury-riddled campaign, has undergone successful shoulder surgery with an expected recovery time of four months, the club announced on Wednesday.

Merrill, 24, only appeared in 47 games this year, first missing time with an arm injury, then suffering a shoulder ailment late in the year.

There was no clear indication if the two ailments were related, but Merrill’s arm injury was on the right side, and surgery was on his right shoulder.

A former University of Michigan standout taken 38th overall in 2010, Merrill enjoyed solid rookie and sophomore campaigns in New Jersey. His second year was especially solid — 14 points in 66 games, averaging over 20 minutes per night — and he boasts good size, going 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Based on the four-month timetable for recovery, Merrill will likely miss parts of New Jersey’s training camp and preseason action.

Max Talbot mulling European options for next season

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After a 10-year career with over 700 games played and one Stanley Cup, Maxime Talbot could be done in the NHL.

Per RDS, Talbot — who’ll hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 — has “some options in Europe” for next season, and is contemplating a move overseas.

In his prime, Talbot was a gritty, hardworking forward with decent touch around the net. He scored double-digit goals four times, including a career-high 19 in ’11-12.

The 32-year-old split last season between Boston and its AHL affiliate in Providence, scoring seven points in 38 games at the NHL level.

Talbot did acquit himself very well with the P-Bruins — 21 points in 26 games — and has some experience playing abroad, having suited up for Finnish League club Ilves Tampere during the lockout.

Based on how things went last year in free agency, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Talbot land in Europe.

The likes of Maxim Lapierre, Curtis Glencross and Marcel Goc all failed to score NHL contracts last summer — Lapierre and Goc proceeded to sign overseas, while Glencross opted to retire.

 

Ex-‘Hawks coach Suhonen takes Austrian national team job

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13:  Thomas Raffl #5 of Austria celebrates with his teammates after Thomas Hundertpfund #27 scored a goal in the first period against Tuukka Rask #40 of Finland during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Alpo Suhonen, who became the first European-born NHL coach in over 50 years upon taking the Chicago gig in 2000, has been named the new bench boss of the Austrian men’s national team, per IIHF.com.

Suhonen, 67, takes over from former NHL defenseman Dan Ratushny, who was splitting duties between Team Austria and Lausanne of the Swiss League.

Suhonen takes over the national team at a critical juncture. Austria finished a disappointing fourth at the 2016 World Hockey Championship Division 1 tournament — meaning the country finished 20th overall. As the IIHF websites notes, that’s the worst finish for Austria in 86 years of WHC competition.

Looking forward, Austria does have a chance to make amends this summer, when it will play a series of contests to prep for Olympic qualification.

Suhonen inherits a roster with decent NHL pedigree as Thomas Vanek, Michael Raffl and Michael Grabner are all eligible to participate.

That said, Vanek was named to Team Europe’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup of Hockey, and it remains to be seen how that will impact his national team commitments.

Datsyuk’s agent acknowledges offer from KHL’s SKA, but no deal yet

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) celebrates his empty net goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Monday, March 9, 2015. Detroit won 5-2. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Gennady Timchenko, the billionaire chairman of KHL club SKA Saint Petersburg, reportedly believes there’s a “good chance” that Pavel Datsyuk will be playing for his team next season.

But according to Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, there’s only been an offer from SKA. Nothing has been signed yet. There could still be offers from other KHL teams for his client to consider.

And at any rate, Milstein insisted once again that Datysuk won’t be making any decisions until he speaks with the Detroit Red Wings in mid-June, after the 37-year-old returns from a family vacation.

Milstein passed along that update to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, plus a few other Wings reporters.

Related: Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options’