Toronto’s Bozak under fire for Michael Jackson costume

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A year after Phoenix forward Raffi Torres came under heavy scrutiny for dressing as Jay-Z, another NHLer is facing a similar storm of controversy.

Late Tuesday night, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak posted a picture of his Halloween costume — Michael Jackson — and was immediately met with criticism for dressing in blackface.

The picture in question:

source:

Bozak pulled the picture shortly after tweeting it, but defended his actions in a subsequent tweet.

“That’s a tribute to one of my fave artists,” he wrote. “For anyone saying its racist is crazy!”

Last October, Torres faced similar condemnation after he and his wife attended a Halloween party dressed as Jay-Z and Beyonce.

The photo was tweeted by Coyotes teammate Paul Bisonette and opened Torres up to harsh criticisms, with two prominent journalists — Bruce Arthur of the National Post and Bill Platschke of the Los Angeles Times — penning columns about the ramifications of wearing blackface.

The negative response to Torres’ costume was enough for the Phoenix organization to issue a statement defending him.

“There was absolutely nothing racist about Raffi and his wife’s costumes,” the statement read. “Raffi is a huge fan of Jay-Z and his wife loves Beyonce. It was a Halloween party. The fact that this was reported is ridiculous. We will have no further comment.”

At the time of writing, the Maple Leafs have not issued a statement on the Bozak situation.

Sens, Avs to play pair of regular season games in Sweden

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NEW YORK (AP) The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two regular-season games in Sweden next season.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association on Friday announced their new Global Series games Nov. 10 and 11 in Stockholm.

The Avalanche and Senators will play the NHL’s first regular-season games in Europe since 2011. It’s the NHL’s sixth trip to Europe and the seventh and eighth games played in Sweden.

Colorado’s captain is 24-year-old Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog. Ottawa’s captain is 26-year-old Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson, winner of the 2012 and 2015 Norris Trophy.

Other Swedes currently playing for the two clubs include Ottawa’s Frederik Claesson (Stockholm) and Viktor Stalberg (Gothenburg), and Colorado’s Anton Lindholm (Skelleftea) and Carl Soderberg (Malmo).

Commissioner Gary Bettman says with more Swedish players than ever, it’s a good chance to showcase the game there. Eighty-four Swedes have played in the NHL this season, roughly 9 percent of the league.

“We have more Swedish players than ever in the NHL, and we are extremely pleased that the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series will allow us to showcase a number of those players, with their NHL teams, in their homeland,” Bettman said. “The return of regular-season NHL games to the international stage will provide yet another highlight for our Centennial celebration.”

Mario Lemieux is ‘fine’ with Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66

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Believe it or not, many people have an issue with Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang wearing number 66, but it sounds like former Penguins great Mario Lemieux isn’t one of them.

On Thursday, Lemieux made it clear that Ho-Sang using his number wasn’t an issue.

“I’m fine with it,” Lemieux said via a spokesperson, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s just a number. Number 4 and number 9 were worn by great players (Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe, respectively), and they are not retired forever. Players can choose whatever number they want.”

 Unlike the number 99, the NHL hasn’t retired 66, which means any player can still use it.

Some see it as a sign of disrespect, but Ho-Sang has made it clear that that’s the last thing on his mind when he decided he wanted to wear Lemieux’s old number.

“It’s honoring [Lemieux] and just, I think a lot more people remember who he is now because they’re yelling at me about wearing the number, right? I think that’s cool too,” he told Newsday earlier this month. “There’s a lot of light being shined on an amazing player. By no means am I trying to be better than or trying to prove anything. For me, it’s definitely a tribute to a great player. If he asked me not to wear it, I’d definitely consider it, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls or anything. So for now I’m gonna wear it.”

Even though Lemieux has now given his blessing, don’t be surprised if Penguins fan are all over Ho-Sang during Friday’s game between the two teams at PPG Paints Arena.

PHT Morning Skate: Matt Duchene helps fan land a prom date

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Matt Duchene may be having a tough season, but he picked up a terrific assist on Thursday night, as he flipped a puck to a fan and helped her get a prom date in the process. (Top)

–Sportsnet breaks down the five longest individual playoff streaks. Henrik Zetteberg has the longest active streak, but that’s about to come to an end in the next few weeks. After the Red Wings are officially eliminated from the playoffs, Sharks defenseman Paul Martin will own the longest streak. (Sportsnet)

–As you may have seen, yesterday was National Puppy Day. Several NHL players shared pictures of themselves with their dogs. BarDown has accumulated some of the best ones. (BarDown)

–The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell thinks the NHL could improve the World Cup by taking some ideas from the World Baseball Classic. Campbell writes: “Not only was the World Cup in one country, heck it was in one city, in one arena. The World Baseball Classic, on the other hand, was played in four countries – South Korea, Japan, Mexico and USA, with three different American cities hosting games. If you want to capitalize on the unique passion that many European fans have for the game, you have to bring it to them and make them feel a part of the experience.” (The Hockey News)

Al Montoya is the first Cuban-American player to make it to the NHL, and he spoke to the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan about his heritage. “I’m a first-generation Cuban-American. You don’t really hear that a lot. A lot of these (Cuban) people have been here for a while, so it’s something that’s special to me. Where my grandparents came from … they passed away a few years ago, but for me it was always a sense of pride the way that my grandparents carried themselves. The traditions that we had during the holidays … whatever it might be. (Montreal Gazette)

–The Vegas Golden Knights and Cirque du Soleil have become strategic entertainment partners. This partnership should make in-game entertainment pretty interesting. “Cirque du Soleil has had a significant presence in Las Vegas since 1992 and continues to be one of the most popular entertainment options in town. We are always looking for creative ways to enhance the overall fan experience at our home games and this partnership certainly helps advance that objective.” (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”