RobZepp

Flyers goalie Zepp looks to Thomas, Fasth as inspiration

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One of the more unlikely free agent signings on July 1st came from Philadelphia, where the Flyers brought aboard a 32-year-old goalie that’s never played in the NHL — Rob Zepp.

Zepp, twice drafted by the Thrashers and Hurricanes, never advanced beyond the AHL level with either club and has spent the last nine seasons in the Finnish and German leagues. While his road to the NHL is an unlikely one, it’s not completely unheard of.

“Over the years, guys have done it,” Zepp said, per Simcoe.com. “Tim Thomas and Viktor Fasth came over in their 30s and we know the success they’ve had, especially Tim.

“Stories like that provide inspiration and motivation for guys like me.”

(Thomas was 31 in his first “full” NHL season and won his first of two Vezina Trophies at 34. Fasth was 30 upon making his NHL debut with Anaheim.)

As far as picking teams, Zepp chose wisely with Philadelphia. Steve Mason’s entrenched as the No. 1 and Ray Emery is returning as his backup, but neither is a lock for a huge workload. Mason missed time last season with a concussion and has never appeared in more than 61 games in a single season; Emery, who turns 32 himself in September, didn’t exactly have a banner campaign in ’13-14 (9-12-2, .903 save percentage, 2.96 GAA).

Throw in the fact AHL Adirondack goalie Cal Heeter is still relatively untested — he has just two full seasons at the American League level — and ’12 second-rounder Anthony Stolarz is still just 20 years old…and, well, Zepp could really have a shot at this. He’s no slouch, going 24-14-0 with a 2.39 GAA and .931 save percentage with Berlin last year, and knows this might be his real last chance at playing in the NHL.

“Ten or 15 years ago it was not possible,” he explained. “But maybe more teams realize guys have maybe been lost in the shuffle.”

Hedman still isn’t ready to return for ‘desperation mode’ Lightning

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 23: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning holds his arm against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on December 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Whatever “illness” is bothering Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman must be pretty bad, as he’ll miss his third straight game as the Bolts visit the Sharks in San Jose tonight.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the team (which he considers in “desperation mode”) will evaluate Hedman on a game-by-game basis. Hey, for a squad dealing with as many injuries as Tampa Bay has been this season, it’s probably refreshing to say “game-by-game” instead of “day-to-day.”

To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’ve begun a potentially harrowing road stretch reasonably well, especially considering Hedman’s absence. Let’s look at it as a whole:

Monday: 2-1 win at Kings
Tuesday: 2-1 OT loss at Ducks
Tonight: at Sharks
Saturday: at Coyotes
Tuesday, Jan. 24: at Blackhawks
Thursday, Jan. 26: at Panthers
Tuesday: Jan. 31: begin four-game homestand vs. Bruins

That’s a pretty challenging way to head into March, especially without one of the best defensemen in the NHL. The Bolts have to hope he gets over this sickness (or unspecified injury?) soon enough.

NHL explains new All-Star Skills Competition event

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  Fans arrive for the game between the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues at the Staples Center on January 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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We wrote yesterday about the NHL’s plans to replace the “Breakaway Challenge” at the All-Star Skills Competition with something called the “Four Line Challenge.”

Today, the league explained how the new event will work:

This event involves four shooters from each team. Each shooter will shoot from one of four shooting positions; near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line.

The first shooter from each team takes two shots from the near blue line in an attempt to score goals in either the upper left or upper right corner of the net. Successful shots score one point for their team.

The second shooter from each team takes two shots from center ice in an attempt to score goals in one of the four corners of the net. Successful shots in the lower corners score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score three points for their team.

The third shooter from each team takes two shots from the far blue line in an attempt to score a goal in one of the four corners of the net or the five hole. Successful shots in the lower corners or five hole score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score five points for their team.

The fourth shooter from each team takes two shots from the far goal line in an attempt to score a goal in the five hole. Successful shots score 10 points for their team. Captains can substitute the fourth shooter with a goalie. A successful shot by a goalie is awarded 20 points for their team.

In addition, the first All-Star to score two goals in the five hole from the far goal line will win the new 2017 Honda CRV.

Sounds like fun.

Or at the very least, worth a try.

The skills competition will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Each all-star will compete in at least one of the six contests: the skills challenge relay, the four-line challenge, accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot, and the shootout.

Minor-league team involved in rollover bus crash

COLUMBUS, GA - MARCH 13:  Shannon Szabados #40 of the Columbus Cottonmouths watches the action from the bench at Columbus Civic Center on March 13, 2014 in Columbus, Georgia. The Pensacola Ice Flyers defeated the Columbus Cottonmouths 5-0. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Cottonmouths, a Georgia-based team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, was involved in a rollover crash on Thursday afternoon while traveling to an away game in Peoria.

Per the Peoria Journal-Star, the charter bus carrying the team crashed on Interstate 74 and all 24 passengers — players, coaching and traveling staff — were transported to hospital.

More:

Two had to be extricated from the vehicle and were transported immediately to the hospital, while the others followed later in another bus. Morton Fire Chief Joe Kelley said his firefighters had to cut out holes in the top of the bus to remove the two. The rest were able to get out on their own.

Twenty-three of the bus’s occupants were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Three were considered trauma patients and listed in serious condition, though OSF media relations coordinator Shelli Dankoff described their injuries as non-life threatening. The remaining 20 patients were not seriously injured. Some had already been treated at release shortly after 3 p.m. and were waiting for transport to their hotel.

The Cottonmouths have since followed up with a release, confirming all players have been accounted for and that there are no life-threatening injures to players, staff or personnel.

Pre-game reading: About that time Donald Trump considered buying the Panthers

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie discusses Paul Maurice’s status in Winnipeg. Is the Jets’ head coach on the hot seat?

— Did you know that Donald Trump once considered buying the Florida Panthers? He never did buy them, of course, but the Miami Herald’s George Richards recalls the time, “around 2000,” when Trump kicked the tires on the hockey club. The Panthers, oddly enough, are now owned by Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Army, Vinnie Viola. (Miami Herald)

— From The Journal Star newspaper in Peoria, Illinois: “A charter bus carrying the Columbus Cottonmouths team was in a rollover crash on Interstate 74 on Thursday afternoon as the Southern Professional Hockey League team was on its way into Peoria for a weekend series against the Peoria Rivermen.” Fortunately, there don’t appear to be any serious injuries — just some “bumps and bruises,” according to the team’s co-owner, Bart Rogers. However, two people were reportedly taken to the hospital in an ambulance. (Journal Star)

— The Washington Post spoke to Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer about the new streamlined pants that all NHL goalies must start wearing by Feb. 4. While Holtby isn’t too concerned about the changes, Grubauer had this to say: “I understand you want to get the game more exciting for the fans, but there’s a fine line between making the gear smaller and also keeping the goalies protected. If too many guys get hurt with those, it’s not a good thing. … What do you want to take away next? Goalies without sticks? Without skates?” PHT prediction: They’ll let goalies keep their skates on.  (Washington Post)

— An encouraging update from Bryan Bickell, who was diagnosed with MS in November. The Hurricanes forward has been taking a drug called Tysabri, and the results have been good. “I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve been on the ice a couple times. … Different people react differently to different drugs and I’ve been reacting good and we’ll see how it goes.” (NHL.com)

— The Nashville Predators picked up “another teammate” on Friday, but they’re still not sure if “Mario” will last the season as their good-luck charm. (The Tennessean)

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Enjoy the games!