Hockey Day in America: Ice Hockey in Harlem

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Today is Hockey Day in America, an all-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States. NBC will air nine hours of live coverage across its networks; here at PHT, we’re taking a look at stories of hockey’s impact across the country.

Hockey can teach skills like teamwork, creativity, and perseverance, but the costs associated with playing the sport can be daunting for many families.

That’s why programs like Ice Hockey In Harlem are so important.

Ice Hockey In Harlem is a non-profit organization that accepts applications from boys and girls ranging from ages of four to 10 that live north of 110th Street in Harlem. The program includes age-specific activities through the age of 17 that are focused on developing academic skills, as well as playing hockey.

Devin Gonzalez, 16, is one of the many youths the program has helped. He’s been with the program for 16 years.

“Being on ice is like being in another world,” Gonzalez told USA Hockey. “It is the highlight of my day. I owe so much to Ice Hockey In Harlem — the opportunity to learn and play this sport was a gift.”

Gonzalez spoke not only of his passion for the sport, but also his time taking part in the book club run by the coaches.

“They not only coached on Fridays, but they also stayed around to read and discuss hockey books with us,” Gonzalez said. “We learned about the sport’s history and even a fancy vocabulary.”

Rob Schoenbach, a public school science teacher who also serves as a volunteer coach, emphasized that the IHIH is about more than just playing hockey.

“We’re trying to also create a bigger scope for the kids themselves,” Schoenbach told NHL.com. “They get to socialize and have the experience of being on a team, and the team isn’t just at the rink or in the locker room — we’re creating a community.”

There are over 1,000 stories like Gonzalez’s thanks to Ice Hockey In Harlem, according to the Rangers’ website. Many, like Gonzalez, might not have gotten an opportunity to play hockey at all if not for this program.

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The founder of the program, Dave Wilk wrote that “Ice Hockey in Harlem was an oxymoron when we began.”

He first had the idea while studying at the University of Pennsylvania and was given the essay question, “What if you had a year off and nothing to do?”

“One part of my response was that I’d start a program for hockey in an inner-city environment,” Wilk remembered. In 1987, he made that a reality with the help of Upward Fund.

“So I went into Harlem in September of 1987 and I met with some kids who were playing street hockey with Upward Fund,” Wilk said. “They were interested in playing on ice as well. That’s how I started to recruit the first group of kids. I scrounged equipment from CCM, and we got this program off the ground.”

They started with 25 kids and have ballooned to the point where they open its doors to up to 225 students, so as Gonzalez begins to outgrow the programs, many new youths will get the same opportunity he has.

“I am so thankful for it and only hope that the organization continues to service boys and girls in Harlem and throughout,” Gonzalez said.

Some big decisions looming for Colorado in goal

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So, here’s what we know about the Avs’ current netminding situation:

• Veteran goalie coach Francois Allaire was dismissed yesterday, after four years on the job. The 57-year-old is perhaps best remembered in Colorado for his work with Semyon Varlamov in ’13-14, when Varlamov backstopped the Avs to the Central Division title, finishing second in Vezina and fourth in Hart Trophy voting.

• Two names have already been tied to the vacant head coaching gig: Dwayne Roloson (per the Star Tribune) and Finnish goalie guru Jussi Parkilla (per Sportsnet). Roloson, the longtime NHL netminder, spent a few years working as a goalie consultant for the Ducks. Parkilla, 40, has worked in a number of different European leagues, including the KHL and Finland’s SM-liiga.

• Per In Goal Magazine, Roloson’s connection to the Avs gig could be predicated on it being a part-time job. This would be different from Allaire, who worked in a full-time capacity, and may go back to the club’s previous model, when Kirk McLean worked as a “consultant.”

• Last month, BSN Denver reported the Avs had already decided to protect Varlamov over Calvin Pickard for the upcoming expansion draft. But that was before Pickard backstopped Canada to silver at the recently completed World Hockey Championship. Beating out Chad Johnson for the No. 1 gig, Pickard posted a .938 save percentage and 1.49 GAA in the tourney, making 40 saves in the championship game against Sweden.

Pickard, a former second-round pick, carries a $1M cap hit and has shown well in the past, posting a .922 save percentage or better in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He’s also only 24 years old, and seems like a legitimate candidate for Vegas.

Add it all up, and GM Joe Sakic has much to ponder this summer.

It feels like Sakic’s decision making hinges on Varlamov. The GM has repeatedly said a big reason for Colorado’s awful year was losing the Russian ‘tender to injury, and that improvement will come with Varlamov returning to health, and shouldering the starter’s workload.

That could be risky. Varlamov just turned 29 and has a history of chronic hip and groin problems. He’s also got two years left on a five-year, $29.5 million deal — one that carries a hefty $5.9M average annual cap hit.

Related: ‘There’s going to be a lot of turnover’ in Colorado

It’s ‘reasonable’ to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

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The Pittsburgh Penguins could have a couple of reinforcements for tomorrow’s seventh and deciding game against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena.

Pens coach Mike Sullivan said this morning that it would be “reasonable” to expect the returns of defenseman Justin Schultz and forward Patric Hornqvist.

Schultz was injured early in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final and hasn’t played since. But he traveled with the team to Game 6, suggesting he was getting close to a return.

Hornqvist hasn’t played since Game 1, and he didn’t travel to Game 6. Instead, he stayed back in Pittsburgh to rehab, along with fellow injured teammates Chad Ruhwedel and Tom Kuhnhackl.

The Penguins lost last night by a score of 2-1, but they weren’t particularly upset with how they played.

“I thought we played a real good game,” said Sullivan. “I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn’t score tonight. The puck didn’t go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we’ll get the result.”

KHL contracts two teams for upcoming campaign

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Last week, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said the league’s optimal size was 24 teams.

On Wednesday, he got closer to achieving that goal.

The KHL is officially down from 29 to 27 teams, following today’s announcement that Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Medvescak Zagreb have been contracted.

“We have realized that revising the number of member clubs and optimizing their staffing structure will enable us to solve the problem of spending cuts and also stimulate the labor market,” Chernysheko said last week, per the league website. “At the moment, the highly skilled players are spread too thinly among the clubs.

“It follows that the quality of play will improve, and with it the entertainment value and commercial potential of the League.”

Novokuznetsk, located in Siberia, has been in the KHL since 2008-09. The club has never made the postseason and, last year, had just eight wins in 60 games.

Medvescak was the KHL’s lone Croatian-based club, having come over from the Austrian League in 2013. After making the playoffs in its inaugural campaign, Medvescak struggled in the following three and ran into financial crisis this season. From the IIHF:

Medvescak faced some well-documented financial problems and, after a fire sale of players in the closing weeks of the campaign, suited up just 14 players in its last games.

With the team heavily reliant on sponsorship to provide a sustainable budget, the decision to return to a league closer to home.

It’s unclear what the future has in store for Novokuznetsk, though reports suggest the club could move to the VHL, Russia’s second-tier professional league.

Report: Sabres interested in Pens director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton

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New Sabres GM Jason Botterill has been on the job for less than a month, but with the draft around the corner, he’s got to start filling some holes in his front office.

Botterill, who came over from Pittsburgh, is allowed to bring former Pens colleagues of his over to Buffalo, but only if they’re given promotions by the Sabres (no lateral moves).

According to a report by Chuck Gormley, one person who could move from Pittsburgh to Buffalo is Randy Sexton, who currently serves as the Penguins’ directer of amateur scouting.

Sexton would bring plenty of experience to the Sabres’ front office, as he’s been a general manager with both the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.

Having someone with that kind of experience could be beneficial for a rookie GM like Botterill, so the move would make a lot of sense from that point of view.

Related:

Botterill has “no problem” with Lehner as No. 1

Botterill to use Pens’ NHL-AHL relationship as model for Sabres