Tretiak: Russia yet to choose between Bobrovsky, Varlamov

7 Comments

On the same day Russia had its first practice in Sochi, the president of the Russian Hockey Federation — and one of the country’s greatest netminders ever — said the team still needs to decide on a starting goalie.

“The most important thing for us is to take a good goalie,” Vladislav Tretiak said, per the Olympic News Service. “We now have two leading ones and we need to choose which one will start. It’s good that we have this choice.”

Russia’s No. 1 gig will either go to Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky or Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov. At Monday’s skate, the Russians weren’t tipping their collective hand as to who it would be — PHT’s man on the ground, Jason Brough, said there were no hints or suggestions leaning either way — and that’s not surprising, given both have been equally good in their respective NHL campaigns thus far.

Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina winner, rebounded from a mid-season groin injury to compile tremendous numbers over the last two months, posting a .926 save percentage in 10 January games (with one shutout), then upping that to a .942 save percentage over four games in February.

Varlamov, who sits tied for third in the NHL in wins (28), has done very well lately in the face of some huge shot totals. He stopped 46 of 48 in a mid-January win over Chicago, 41 of 44 against Dallas in a victory on Jan. 27, and 34 of 32 in a loss to Philly right before the break — a game in which he was named the third star.

In terms of international experience, Varlamov is decidedly out in front. He represented Russia at a pair of World Junior tournaments (2006 and ’07) and a pair of World Championships, including the ’12 edition in Helsinki in which he backstopped his country to gold.

Bobrovsky, meanwhile, hasn’t suited up internationally since the 2008 World Juniors, when he won bronze for Russia. On Monday, the Columbus ‘tender said he hadn’t been informed who’s going to start when Russia opens the tournament against Slovenia in two days, and explained he’s just trying to focus on the basics.

“I try to keep it simple,” he said. “My job is to stop the puck, and I try to focus on that.”

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers look to push win streak to four games against Red Wings

Getty
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Tuesday, as the Detroit Red Wings will host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Flyers have been flying (yes, I went there) over the last few weeks and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to slow down anytime soon.

They come into this game having won three in a row over three teams currently playoff spots (Maple Leafs, Devils, Capitals) and seven of their last eight contests. By now, you’ve heard about the tremendous seasons that Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek are having, but the Flyers have also received production from Travis Konecny, who scored the OT winner against the Caps on Sunday.

Konecny has collected 10 points in his last 11 contests. The fact that he’s skating on a line with Giroux and Couturier certainly doesn’t hurt.

The Flyers now sit in the first Wild Card spot, but they’ve also managed to close the gap on the teams in front of them. Their 54 points are just one behind Columbus, who is in third in the Metro, and two behind the Devils for second place in the division (New Jersey has a game in hand).

“We keep going this same track, we’ll keep plugging away at teams above us,” goalie Brian Elliott said, per NHL.com. “We can be our best and worst enemy, I guess. We have to keep looking forward, not look at teams chasing us.”

Things are a little more bleak for the Red Wings in the grand scheme of things, as they’re eight points behind the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the conference. On a positive note, the Wings are coming off a big 3-0 win over the Devils last night.

The Wings had dropped four of their previous five games going into last night’s tilt, but a strong performance from Petr Mrazek led them to victory.

“I’m trying to get some confidence every game I play, every save I make. I haven’t played a lot of minutes, so every game I am trying,” Mrazek told NHL.com. “Guys did a great job blocking a couple of shots. They hit the post twice. A couple of lucky bounces there. That’s how it is sometimes.”

Detroit will play their next three games at home, as they’ll host Philadelphia tonight and Chicago on Thursday before the All-Star break hits. Coming out of the break, they’ll host San Jose before finally jumping back on the road.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Big brother Granato prepared for role as US Olympic coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Growing up as the oldest of six children, Tony Granato always seemed to be in charge.

If that meant telling brothers Don and Robby to help their younger siblings put on their shoes or find their jackets, that’s what he did.

A decade or so later, those same qualities stood out on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team – even though defenseman Eric Weinrich and 15 other players were older than Granato.

”I really looked up to Tony as a real leader and someone you could aspire to,” Weinrich said. ”He was really a mature guy for the group that we had. I always kind of thought of him as an older player than he really was. He always seemed like one of those guys that would be a good captain.”

Decades later, the 53-year-old big brother finds himself in that role again on the biggest stage in international hockey.

Granato will coach an unheralded men’s hockey team without NHL players at the Olympics in South Korea next month. Hand-picked by general manager, friend and 1988 Olympic teammate Jim Johannson, who died unexpectedly on the eve of the games, Granato has spent more than 30 years building to this moment.

”I’ve been there as a fan, I’ve been there as a player, I’ve been there as an assistant coach,” Granato said . ”There’s no greater sporting event. There’s no greater place for an athlete to be.”

Brother Don said Tony’s ”spirit is what the Olympic spirit is,” something that began as a teenager in the wake of the 1980 ”Miracle On Ice” team winning the gold medal in Lake Placid, New York. The four hockey-playing Granato children got white and blue jerseys of 1980 heroes Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig and wore them during spirited games in their suburban Chicago basement that always pitted Tony and Cammi against Don and Robby.

The 1980 victory helped the Granato kids realize they could aspire to make the NHL. After being drafted in the sixth round in 1982 by the New York Rangers, Tony played at the University of Wisconsin and representing the U.S. at two world junior tournaments, three world championships and the 1988 Calgary Games.

With full knowledge that he and his teammates were supposed to replicate the 1980 success, Granato was tied for second with eight points and still looks back on that experience with pride even though the U.S. went 2-3 and didn’t reach the medal round.

”I thought we had a tremendous team. We just didn’t get the results,” Granato said. ”We had two phenomenal games: one against Russia and one against the Czechs that we lost heartbreaking games that we could’ve easily won and put ourselves in medal contention. It didn’t go our way, but it was a tremendous honor to be part of that team. I’ve got nothing but great memories about it.”

Eleven years into his NHL career, Granato’s big-brother mentality was on full display in the form of telephone support for sister Cammi as she prepared for Nagano in 1998, the first Olympics with women’s hockey.

”It would be a five-minute conversation, but he was just checking in to make sure I was good, how are the games, how am I feeling – kind of a pep talk,” said Cammi Granato, who in 2010 became one of the first two women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. ”Of course I listened to everything he had to tell me.”

Granato put up 535 points in 852 games with the Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks during a proud pro career, but he wasn’t selected to play for the U.S. in 1998, the first Olympics featuring NHL players. He traveled to Japan anyway to watch Cammi. When he had to return to North America to resume the season, he was the first person she called to celebrate with after winning the gold medal.

Four years later, when Canada beat the U.S. in the women’s final in Salt Lake City, Cammi saw Tony and his children immediately when she got off the bus following the loss.

”His kids, my nieces and nephews, when I got off the bus were right there and I was pretty devastated,” Cammi said. ”Tony was the next one in line to just grab me and I just remember breaking down with him. He’s always been there for me.”

Since then, Granato has coached with the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and is in his second season at Wisconsin, his alma mater. Influenced along the way by Stanley Cup winning-coaches Joel Quenneville, Dan Bylsma and Mike Babcock, he returned to the Olympics as an assistant on Bylsma’s U.S. staff in Sochi in 2014.

Over one summer camp and two weeks in Russia, Granato made a significant impact on players. James van Riemsdyk called him ”cerebral” and T.J. Oshie instantly saw how much he cared about the players and USA Hockey.

”He was a really good guy and cared about players and cared about winning,” added Justin Faulk. ”That goes a long way.”

Even though being the bad guy sometimes comes with the territory of being coach, Granato is widely considered by former players to be an excellent communicator. Don got to see that up close as one of his assistants last year at Wisconsin.

”He is exceptional at trying to put himself in the player’s shoes,” Don said. ”He really will communicate differently to different people.”

Granato will be tested on that in South Korea with a 25-man roster that includes 17 players from European professional leagues, four from the college ranks, three from the American Hockey League and semi-retired 38-year-old captain Brian Gionta, many of whom already know him from the Deutschland Cup in November. Gionta described Granato’s coaching style as motivational and full of passion for the game.

Enthusiasm has never been lacking for Granato, who insists he’s not trying to match Cammi’s gold medal for family bragging rights.

”Our expectations of ourselves are to compete for a medal,” Granato said. ”There’s no NHL players going to be able to play in it. But I think it’s even more exciting because the opportunity that these athletes are going to get will be the biggest stage that they’ve ever been on in their lives.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

PHT Morning Skate: Subban on ‘The Daily Show’; Jim Johannson’s impact on USA Hockey

1 Comment
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the ‘Hawks and Bolts.

• Now that he’s feeling healthy again, Marc Savard has officially retired and would like to find work as a coach. (NHLPA)

• The best line in hockey? You’ll find it in Boston. (Bruins Daily)

• Jim Johannson helped shape USA Hockey in a big way. (ESPN)

• It sounds like the Mighty Ducks franchise could be making a comeback as a TV show. (Hollywood Reporter)

• Korea’s women’s hockey coach, Sarah Murray, says she has complete control of how ice time will be handed out on the unified squad. (NBC Olympics)

• Marie-Philip Poulin has been named captain of Team Canada’s Women’s Hockey Team for the upcoming Olympics. (Hockey Canada)

• At this time of year, there are always players’ names that come up in trade rumors. Spector’s Hockey looks at which of those guys won’t be dealt before the trade deadline. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Predators defenseman P.K. Subban will be making an appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”. (Tennessean)

• The Golden Knights blue liners have certainly chipped in offensively this season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Is Aleksander Barkov still underappreciated in his own market? (The Rat Trick)

Scott Darling‘s play is becoming a bit of an issue for the Carolina Hurricanes. (Cardiac Cane)

• Now that Mirco Mueller is healthy, it’ll be interesting to see if he can regain the form he had before he suffered his injury. (Pucks and Pitchforks)

• The Caps are having trouble limiting their opponent’s high-danger scoring chances this season (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

1 Comment

Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


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