Sled Hockey

Hockey Day in America: Lightning sled hockey program sparks national movement

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Happy Hockey Day in America! Be sure to check out PHT throughout the day as we bring you features and previews of all the events, including a nine-hour NHL block of programming across NBC and NBC Sports Network.

An NHL franchise’s most popular mandate is to win the Stanley Cup, but its impact on the community extends far beyond on-ice performance. Teams have a tremendous opportunity to change lives and, with the help of Travis Leigh, the Tampa Bay Lightning have done just that.

Inspired by his hometown Lightning as a teenager, Leigh wanted to take up the sport of hockey, but cerebral palsy hindered his attempts at skating. Ultimately he decided to stay involved in the sport in other ways and when he learned about sled hockey — where players use specialized sleds to move around the ice instead of skates — he joined a team in Sacramento, where he was going to University.

After two years with the California-based club, Leigh — a broadcasting major — approached the Lightning about a possible internship in 2006. While there, he pitched the idea of putting a sled hockey team in Tampa Bay.

“[Lightning Director of Fan Development] David Cole came up to talk to me and was very positive about it,” Leigh said. “It surprised me because I was so used to people saying no.”

From there, Tampa Bay became the first NHL franchise to sponsor a sled hockey club.

The program has since grown and other teams have followed in the Lightning’s footsteps. The United States has established itself as a leader in the sport with its success at the 2010 Winter Paralympics Games, taking home the gold medal without allowing a goal.

USA Hockey has since established the Hockey Sled Classic, a tournament between NHL affiliated teams. For the first tournament, a total of 46 players participated on teams affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

A year later, the Philadelphia Flyers hosted over 100 of the nation’s top sled hockey players for the second annual event.

Thanks to the NHL’s involvement, sled hockey teams have been able to take the game outside. Angie McCoy got to see her 16-year-old son, Daniel, score a hat trick in a sled hockey game as part of the lead up to the 2011 Winter Classic. Sled hockey is also on the agenda for events surrounding the upcoming 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit.

From Leigh’s first meeting with the Lightning to what it is today, sled hockey has flourished in the United States. And given how far the sport has come over these few short years, we could one day look back and see this as the beginning of something even greater.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Judge for yourself: Was Drouin’s would-be 1-0 goal offside?

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To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.

The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.

As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.

Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.

The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)

Lightning coach believes Drouin ‘is going to be dominant in this league’

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.

At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.

These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.

In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.

” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”

Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.

In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.

The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 6

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning collides with Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:

Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6

Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5