USOC Media Summit

Sochi notes: Women’s hockey tourney has an interesting format

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Hey, have you missed me? You didn’t even notice I was gone, did you. Sigh. Well, I’ve been in Sochi for a few days now. I’ll be here until the end of the Olympics, which will culminate with the men’s gold-medal game on Feb. 23. I’m hoping I can pop in here from time to time and share a few offhand thoughts on the hockey, and just being in Russia. Otherwise I’ll be writing stories that appear on both PHT and NBCOlympics.com, or in some cases just NBCOlympics.com.

OK, onto my first list of notes:

—- Full disclosure: I’d never covered international women’s hockey until I came to Sochi, and I hadn’t really followed it since the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Like most hockey fans, I knew the basics – Canada and the United States are really good, everyone else is trying to catch up – but it’s not easy to parachute in (figuratively speaking; they have an airport and everything here) and start asking questions. Not good ones, at least. Fortunately, the American and Canadian players/coaches/management have all been super friendly and open during the media availabilities I’ve attended. I guess they know it’s important to promote their sport during the Olympics, which is really the only time there’s a significant media contingent on hand to cover it.

—- They’ve got an interesting format to the women’s tourney this year. In the preliminary round, the top four ranked teams — Canada, U.S., Switzerland, and Finland – will play each other – and the bottom four teams – Sweden, Japan, Russia, and Germany – will play each other. After that, the top two teams from the first group (probably the U.S. and Canada) will advance to the semis while the bottom two teams from the first group will play off against the top two teams from the second group for the other two spots in the semis. Got it? Good. A couple of reasons I figure they’re doing this. 1. They want to guarantee at least one game between Canada and the U.S. 2. They don’t want the blowouts we saw in 2010, like Canada 18, Slovakia 0 or the U.S. 13, Russia 0. Blowouts aren’t fun to watch, and they only shine a spotlight on the disparity between the top and bottom teams. I believe there’s genuine concern that women’s hockey will be removed from the Olympics if the rest of the world doesn’t start catching up to the two powerhouses.

—- I watched the U.S. and German women scrimmage earlier this week, and the disparity was vast. You could see it right off the bat in the warm-ups. On one side, the Americans were ripping shots crossbar and in; on the other, the Germans were — and I’m not trying to be mean here — basically floating theirs. They didn’t keep score in the scrimmage, but I can tell you it wasn’t close and the Americans ended with a really high Corsi rating.

—- I don’t want to say U.S. star Amanda Kessel (sister of Phil) waffled when asked if she was back to game shape after skipping the pre-Olympic tour to manage an injured hip (which required surgery in 2012), but she definitely didn’t give a resounding yes. “Getting there” was how she put it. “Decent.” She did look pretty good in the scrimmage though, and coach Katey Stone said later she was “100 percent.”

—- I wrote on Wednesday about new Canadian coach Kevin Dineen’s decision to take the captaincy away from women’s hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser and give it to Caroline Ouellette. The more I think about it, the more I wonder just what was going on with this team last year. Remember that Dineen only replaced coach Dan Church in December after the latter abruptly resigned. So that’s a coaching change and a captaincy change right before the biggest tournament in women’s hockey, which only occurs once every four years. Clearly Dineen felt the team needed a shakeup, and I guess you have to give him credit for making a tough move he believed in, because it would’ve been a lot easier to just go with the status quo. I’ll still be surprised if it’s anyone but Canada and the U.S. in the final game, but the U.S. sure does seem like it has a great chance to snap Canada’s streak of three straight gold medals. And of the two favorites, if one is going to get upset by another country, I’d have to bet it’s going to be Canada.

—- I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories of reporters and their unfinished hotel rooms. Well, mine is just fine, thanks. I did, however, have a panic the other morning that I’d lost my wallet. Fortunately, it was right there in my pocket the whole time, but I was sweating it big time for a bit. I just can’t imagine the hassle of trying to replace all the credit cards and other stuff in my wallet while in Russia. You may be wondering, how could I possibly think I’d lost my wallet when it was in my pocket? Good question. Best I can explain is my whole pockets routine has been thrown off over here. Usually I keep three things in my pockets – wallet, keys, phone. Same three things every day. Over here, it’s totally different. I have my own phone and a temporary local phone, and I don’t always take my wallet with me, plus I’ve got credentials hanging around my neck and sometimes I carry a little digital recorder and everyone’s speaking a bunch of different languages and I didn’t sleep for the first 36 hours I was here because I stayed up to watch the SEA-HAWKS! win the Super Bowl. You can see how a blogger’s pockets routine could get thrown off. I figure it’s a bit like North American hockey players having to adjust to the bigger international ice surface. I have no idea where my keys are, by the way.

I’ll leave you with one of the many pictures hanging in the hallways of the massive main press center here. Just the definition of old school Olympics.

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Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights into St. Louis every day’

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin makes a pass during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The latest on Tyler Seguin (and fellow injured Stars forward Patrick Eaves), per the Dallas Morning-News:

Q: On the statuses of Patrick Eaves (leg) and Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Lindy Ruff: “Both skated today, both progressing.”

Q: On if Seguin and Eaves will travel with the team to St. Louis for Game 3

LR: “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Seguin, as you’ve probably heard, hasn’t played since a Game 2 win over Minnesota in the opening round.

That was on Apr. 16.

Dallas’ All-Star center returned from a partially lacerated Achilles to participate in said Game 2, a nasty injury that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season and the series opener against the Wild.

The Stars say this latest injury has nothing to do with the previous one, but reporters haven’t been privy to much information beyond that.

In speaking last week, Ruff didn’t even want to put a timetable on Seguin’s return, for fear of what an inaccurate timetable might cause.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair. If I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that?”

GM Jim Nill did say the club expected Seguin to miss the first two games of the Blues series and, as of last Thursday, confirmed Seguin wasn’t skating.

“He’s day-to-day,” Nill explained. “Once he gets on the ice, it’s probably four to five days from there.”

This series, currently tied 1-1, will resume on Tuesday from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Trotz ‘disappointed’ in length of Orpik suspension, suggests NHL favors Penguins

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, top center, shouts to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Friday, March 25, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Barry Trotz thinks the NHL is biased in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s the only way to take Trotz’s remarks following Brooks Orpik‘s three-game suspension for hitting Olli Maatta late.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” the Capitals’ head coach told reporters today.

When asked what he meant by that, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”

Orpik, meanwhile, called the NHL’s decision “fair.”

“Bad hit,” he said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Split-second decision you make. You’ve just got to live with it.”

But let’s get back to Trotz, because he was also upset that Orpik was labelled a “predator” by NBC Sports commentator Mike Milbury.

“A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people,” said Trotz, per the Washington Post. “And I think it’d be very unfair to paint him that way. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league. And so I just think that’s really unfair.”

Regardless of Orpik’s intentions, Maatta will miss tonight’s Game 3 with an “upper-body injury.” The speculation is that the young defenseman suffered a concussion on the hit. The Penguins are hopeful that he’ll be able to play again in this series, but aren’t certain.

As for Orpik’s spot in the lineup, that’s expected to be filled by Dmitri Orlov, a healthy scratch in Game 2.

 

Leafs sign Russian d-man Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official today, announcing the signing of Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year entry-level contract.

It was reported all the way back in January that the Leafs were expected to do just that.

From the press release:

Zaitsev, 24, collected 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 46 regular season games with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this past season, before adding 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 20 playoff games. His 13 points in the post-season were tied for the most among KHL defenceman. Zaitsev was twice selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game and was named a KHL first-team all-star in 2014-15.

Safe to say that the undrafted Zaitsev will have a good chance to crack a Leafs defense that’s short on overall quality, and especially short on right shots.

Losing Granato might not be only change behind Detroit’s bench

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, left, and assistant Tony Granato watch their preseason NHL hockey game against the Blackhawks during the third period at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Jeff Blashill will definitely have one new assistant in Detroit next season, with Tony Granato having accepted the head coaching gig at Wisconsin.

But could other changes be coming as well?

From MLive:

Pat Ferschweiler, in his first season as an NHL assistant coach, was in charge of a power play that struggled much of the season, despite finishing 13th in the league following a late surge. It was ineffective in the playoffs (1 for 25).

Blashill didn’t rule out changing roles on the staff.

“We’ll look at everything,” Blashill said. “How I can be better is partly how we all can be better as a staff, so we’ll look at everything in totality and how we can make ourselves more productive. Our goal is to try to get better and if that’s done through our staff then we’ll certainly address that.”

Given Blashill’s the NHL’s second-youngest coach (at 42) and Ferschweiler doesn’t have a ton of experience, the Granato loss becomes even more profound. He was the only guy on staff with history as a player and former NHL head coach.

As such, all signs point to Detroit going for a veteran hockey guy behind the bench (or hockey guys, plural, if Ferschweiler isn’t retained.)

But who?

Adam Oates would be an interesting name, if Oates hadn’t recently told Sportsnet “I presume my coaching days are over,” and “I’m not planning on coaching anymore.” Remember, Oates spent some time at Detroit practices this year as a power-play/skills coach (read more from the Free Press here) and is familiar with the organization, having broken in with the Red Wings during the mid-80s.

What’s more, Oates has experience as a head coach on two NHL benches — Washington and New Jersey — and also served as an assistant in Tampa Bay.