NHL ice crew does final prep for Dodger, Yankee stadium rink builds

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This will be a weekend of firsts for hockey. The first matches of the Stadium Series, the first NHL games hosted in Yankee and Dodgers Stadium, and for that matter, the first time the NHL will host regular season outdoor games on back-to-back days.

That’s created a lot of challenges for NHL senior director of facilities operations Dan Craig and senior manager of facilities operations Mike Craig, but with the Los Angeles Kings set to face the Anaheim Ducks and the New Jersey Devils getting ready to take on the New York Rangers, everything should be ready for their contests.

That’s despite some of the last minute headaches they’ve faced in Yankee Stadium. Their task of painting the ice was delayed by a snowstorm on Tuesday that dumped about a foot of snow onto the rink. Facing a hard deadline, the Yankee Stadium crew teamed up with the NHL event staff to clear the rink so that they could resume their work.

“We paint it white, we build up the sheet a little bit, then put our lines and logos,” Mike Craig told NHL.com. “Then we flood it to the point we’re able to skate over the lines and logos. We’ll be doing that for close to 24 hours a day until Saturday morning when we get ready for the first people who step on the ice.” (See more here.)

Snow obviously hasn’t been an obstacle at Dodger Stadium, but trying to host a game in Southern California presents its own set of challenges.

After the snow was cleared in New York City, their work was furthered postponed because the sun starting beating down on the ice Wednesday afternoon. That caused them to shift their efforts to working on the ice itself. If that’s an issue in New York in January, you can imagine the potential for problems in Los Angeles.

Their solution to that was to take the sun out of the equation entirely. At Dodger Stadium they have been shielding the ice in reflective blankets while the sun’s out. Its meant working nights, but the results have been encouraging.

“I was shocked how level (the ice) was and how good a job Dan (Craig) had already done because usually the first time you step on the ice it’s never really good,” said Kings president Luc Robitaille, according to NHL.com, after testing out the ice on Wednesday.

Dan Craig isn’t quite satisfied yet, but the heavy lifting is done. Now it’s about fine-tuning the surface by careful positioning of an ice-making truck. In Los Angeles, the when counts as much as the where though, because in addition to the sun, the humidity has increasingly become an obstacle. (See more here.)

These cities have presented the NHL with two very different sets of challenges and because the games will be happening on Saturday (Ducks-Kings, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Sunday (Rangers-Devils, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC), they’ve been forced to divide the rink-builders crew into two teams for the first time.

In just a couple more days, the fruits of their efforts will be enjoyed by four teams and NHL fans from coast-to-coast.

Related:

Q&A: Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Miller talks Mighty Ducks movies, Cheers and Stadium Series

Yankee Stadium rink build delayed by winter storm

Dodgers prez: Conditions ‘should be fine’ for Ducks-Kings outdoor game

Ducks unveil Stadium Series jerseys

Kings unveil Stadium Series jerseys

Marjory Stoneman Douglas hockey team wins state championship

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The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School varsity hockey team can now call themselves state champions, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus.

Their 7-4 victory over Jesuit High School capped off a Sunday that saw them upset top-seeded East Lake High School 3-1 in the semifinals. Stoneman Douglas lost to both teams in the round-robin phase of the tournament on Saturday. Their three losses in the early stage put them as the lowest-seeded team heading into the elimination games of the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament held at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida.

According to NBC2’s Joe Putrelo, some Stoneman Douglas players dyed their hair yellow to honor a friend of the team, Joaquin Oliver, who died in the shooting.

The state title now means that Stoneman Douglas will take part in the high school hockey national championship tournament next month in Minnesota.

“We came into the game knowing we had to give it our all to get the win and that’s what we did, and now we get to bring the trophy back to the best high school in America,” said forward Joey Zenobi.

MORE: Panthers’ Luongo gives emotional speech about Florida school shooting

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Datsyuk: Olympic gold medal means more than Stanley Cup

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Seconds after the Russians won their first Olympic hockey gold medal since 1992, Pavel Datsyuk couldn’t contain his joy at what he considers the peak of his career.

Even though Datsyuk won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and 2008, the 39-year-old said capturing gold at the Olympics in his fifth try was his greatest accomplishment, even in a tournament without NHL players and even when called “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” because of sanctions over state-sponsored doping.

“When you play for your country and I win this medal, this special time, it’s more important,” Datsyuk said. “I have accomplished my dream. Now I have no dream.”

Datsyuk, who took home a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, had six assists to help the Russians capture Pyeongchang gold as captain and one of their best players.

“There are a lot of nice feelings now in my heart, but at the same time I can’t believe it yet.”

Datsyuk went home to Russia in the summer of 2016 citing family reasons after putting up 314 goals and 604 assists for 918 points in 953 regular-season games over 14 seasons with the Red Wings. Datsyuk, who was the oldest men’s hockey player in the Olympics, still hasn’t decided whether to retire after this season.

He accomplished his dream with the help of Ilya Kovalchuk, who went back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League despite being just three seasons into a $100 million, 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk had five goals and two assists and was voted tournament MVP.

Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev, who led Russia and the tournament with 12 points including two goals in the gold-medal game, were great. Datsyuk was Russia’s captain and leader.

“Our hearts almost stopped beating,” Datsyuk said of the back-and-forth final, “but we recovered and the team showed character.”

Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for completed deals as the Feb. 26, 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Brandon Bollig and Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Sharks for 2018 sixth-round pick.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec* and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. (*The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Boston Bruins acquire Rick Nash* from the New York Rangers for a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, Matt Beleskey*, Ryan Spooner and the rights to Ryan Lindgren. (*The Rangers will retain 50 percent of Nash’s salary, while the Bruins are retaining half of Beleskey’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 24 New York Islanders acquire Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 23 – Vegas Golden Knights acquire Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa Senators acquire Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – New Jersey Devils acquire Michael Grabner from New York Rangers for 2018 second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from Boston Bruins for 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 21 – Washington Capitals acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Feb. 21 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Tobias Rieder* and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. (*Arizona retains 15 percent of Rieder’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – Boston Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – San Jose Sharks acquire Eric Fehr from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2020 seventh-round pick.

Feb. 19 – Washington Capitals acquire Michal Kempny from Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional* 2018 third-round pick. (*Chicago will receive the higher of Washington’s own third-round draft choice or the third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Washington acquired the Toronto draft pick from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Marcus Johansson trade on July 2, 2017.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 19 – Philadelphia Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek* from Detroit Red Wings for a conditional* 2nd round pick in 2018 or a 3rd round pick in 2018 or a 4th round pick in 2018 and a conditional* 3rd round pick in 2019 (*Red Wings retain half of Mrazek’s salary. *The 2018 fourth-round pick turns into a third-round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games during the regular season. That pick will become a second rounder if the Flyers win two playoff rounds and Mrazek wins six games. The 2019 third rounder becomes Red Wings property if Mrazek signs with the Flyers.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 15 – Chicago Blackhawks acquire Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa Senators for Ville Pokka.

Feb. 15 – St. Louis Blues acquire Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2019 fourth-round pick.

Feb. 13 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Dion Phaneuf*, Nate Thompson from Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. (*Senators retain 25 percent of Phaneuf’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Rinne, Predators hand Blues their sixth straight loss in 4-0 win

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The thought of the St. Louis Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs a couple months ago would have been brushed fiercely, and with good reason.

Even with a packed infirmary, the Blues managed to hang with the big boys atop the Central Division, a testament to their depth. Everything was pretty much status quo, what we’ve come to expect from the Blues as a perennial playoff team with lots of talent.

And then the wheels fell off.

The Blues lost their sixth straight game on Sunday, a 4-0 defeat to a Nashville Predators team that they previously shared a table with in the NHL’s toughest division.

Now, the Blues are now fighting for a playoff spot. They sit a point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third in the Central Division.

The Blues are now 0-5-1 in their past six and have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their past 10 games, including being shutout twice. The once-reliable scoring well has dried up. St. Louis was shutout 4-0 on Friday night against Winnipeg in an embarrassing effort. Sunday’s wasn’t much different.

Nashville, meanwhile, continues to cruise and regained sole possession of top spot in the Central Division, two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand.

The win also put the Predators a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for tops in the Western Conference and two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning at the summit in the NHL.

Along with Sissons’ goal, Kevin Fiala notched his 20th to five the Preds a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Everything went right for the Preds, even when they were shorthanded.

Watson’s shorty made it 4-0 after Scott Hartnell gave Nashville a 3-0 lead 1:20 into the second period.

That nice orange-red circle in front of Jake Allen is pretty telling.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, was solid in the crease for the Predators, picking up his sixth shutout of the season and 49th of career in a 27-save performance.

The Predators, who have now won four straight, get their stiffest challenge yet against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. On the line is first place in the division, a spot both teams will likely duke out for heading down the home stretch.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck