AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

USA Hockey sees youth program climb toward top of the heap


By Mitch Stacy (AP Sports Writer)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In the first 20 years of the world junior hockey championship, Team USA managed two podium finishes good for bronze medals in 1986 and 1992. The American youngsters couldn’t keep up with teams from Canada and other nations where hockey is more deeply woven into the sporting culture.

That has changed. U.S. amateur hockey has caught up and then some.

At the annual tournament for the world’s best players 20 and under, the results reflect the development work and higher profile of a sport that usually plays second fiddle to football, baseball, basketball and more: The Americans have won gold medals three times since 2010, including last January when they beat Canada in a riveting final .

The U.S., however, has never successfully defended a title or been able to win juniors at home. That will be the objective when the 10-nation tournament begins Dec. 26 in Buffalo, New York.

Coach Bob Motzko tried to drive that message home with the players – seven from last year’s gold-medal team – who trained in Ohio this month.

”At our meeting, Coach basically said this is probably one of the best times USA Hockey is going through right now, with the strength of the teams we have, the players in the NHL, the strength of colleges nowadays,” said defenseman Andrew Peeke, who is playing college hockey at Notre Dame . ”It’s just an awesome time.”

Peeke, a second-round draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2016, is one of two players on the preliminary roster from Florida, a region not exactly known for producing elite hockey prospects. But the growth of the NHL – Miami and Tampa got teams in the early 1990s – and more media exposure has helped youth hockey make inroads in nontraditional markets in the South and West.

”You look at a kid like Auston Matthews coming from Arizona,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski , regarding his former teammate in World Juniors. Both are just 20 and already established NHL stars.

”Kids coming from all over are playing,” said Werenski, who grew up in suburban Detroit. ”The training and what everyone knows now is way more in-depth on what you need to work on at a young age, the skills you need and just how to play at a fast pace.”

The game has seen tremendous growth in the U.S. since the early 1990s, leading to more rinks, kids getting involved earlier, better instruction and more competitive select leagues. The 555,000 registered hockey players in America this year is up from about 195,000 in 1991, according to USA Hockey. Participation is up 21 percent just in the past decade.

All that means there are more elite players to choose from for the national teams.

”A lot of respect for what some other countries have done, but we feel like we’re going on a great path now,” said Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. Junior team. ”We have more depth at every level and any championship we show up to, we feel like we can compete with anybody in the tournament.”

Motzko, who coaches at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, said traditional hockey states in the Northeast and Midwest continue to put the bulk of talented youth players on the ice. A third of the players on the 28-man early roster this time are from Minnesota. But there are also a few from Missouri. Peeke and defenseman Quinn Hughes came from Florida. Forward Kailer Yamamoto, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, has already played in nine NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers. California has been well represented in recent years.

”We’re in strong traditional markets that are still producing players, but it’s fun to see this spread out and grow now,” Motzko said.

Team USA routed Belarus 14-0 on Wednesday and had another exhibition game Friday night against Sweden ahead of the tournament’s opening round next week. The U.S. team has Dec. 29 circled and recircled on the calendar – that’s the day the Americans play Canada in the tournament’s first outdoor game, at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills.

No pressure, right?

”There will be a little bit of pressure knowing you’re the defending champ, but I think it’s kind of more a motivation to want to defend rather than the pressure of it,” Peeke said. ”Especially that it’s on home soil. You want to be able to give people the opportunity to see that we can defend it and cherish the opportunity to defend it.”

Jeff Carter comes through to help Kings get two huge points

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The Los Angeles entered Monday’s game in Minnesota as one of the six teams in that chaotic scramble for one of the final three playoff spots still up for grabs in the Western Conference.

Trailing by a goal with less than a minute to play — after giving up three consecutive goals to squander what had been a two-goal lead — it seemed as if they were going to leave two important points on the table.

It was at that point that Dustin Brown sent the game to overtime with a late goal, setting the stage for Jeff Carter to score the game-winner in overtime and lifting the Kings to a 4-3 win.

It was Carter’s second goal of the game and continued his strong play since returning to the lineup in late February from injury. In 12 games since returning to the lineup Carter now has eight goals and 10 total points. The Kings are also now 7-4-1 with him back in the lineup. He is still an impact player and having him healthy is going to certainly be huge for the Kings down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot.

Make no mistake, this was a huge win for the Kings when it comes to getting that playoff spot. They entered the night with 84 points, tied with the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars. The Kings were sitting in the second wild card spot due to tiebreaker but were able to jump back ahead of the Ducks for the third spot in the Pacific Division.

That means the Ducks fall into the second wild card spot, sitting two points ahead of the Stars and three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. Colorado with 86 points is also very much in that group.

Speaking of the Avalanche, even though the Wild let a point slip away tonight by giving up the late goal and losing in overtime they still picked up point and were able to move four points ahead of the Avalanche for the No. 3 spot in the Central Division.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ryan Donato scores in NHL debut for Bruins (Video)


One day ago the Boston Bruins signed US Olympian Ryan Donato to an entry level contract.

On Monday, he was given an opportunity to immediately slide into their lineup against the Columbus Blue Jackets and he did not waste any time making an impact.

After recording four shots on goal in the first period, Donato broke through with his first NHL goal in the second period (on his fifth shot of the game) when he blasted a one-timer home on a give-and-go with Torey Krug.

Have a look.

That goal tied the game at one early in the second period.

Brad Marchand and Riley Nash would add goals not longer that to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.

All of that is happening against a Blue Jackets team that entered the night having won seven in a row, while the Bruins were playing without Patrice Bergeron, Rick Nash and Charlie McAvoy. Pretty deep team they have in Boston.

Donato added two more assists after scoring his first goal.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they were unable to hold on to that 3-1 lead and allowed Columbus to come from behind for the 5-4 overtime win.

Prior to signing with Bruins (and along with his time on the US Olympic team) Donato had been playing his collegiate hockey at Harvard. He scored 26 goals and added 17 assists in 29 games this season.

He was originally a second-round draft pick by the Bruins in 2014. That 2014 draft class has already produced David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.


Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

[NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]


Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

NHL GMs are at least trying to fix goalie interference reviews

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Much like the NFL’s headaches when it comes to what is or isn’t a catch, a simple stroll around Hockey Twitter will often unearth loud groans about goalie interference reviews. At least when people aren’t grumbling about offside goal reviews, that is.

From the viewpoints of reporters on hand for the latest round of GM meetings, it sounds like the league is at least attempting to sort out the latest mess.

Granted, you could sense some of the fatigue on this issue from what Lightning GM Steve Yzerman had to say about it, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

“You can clarify the standards, but each referee and everyone, you and I, has a different opinion,” Yzerman said. “Within that room everyone has a little different opinion on did it impact the goaltender. It’s subjective. No one is ever going to agree 100 percent.”

Fair enough, but much of the frustration stems from the sheer confusion at hand, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear standard. It’s one thing to disagree with how an infraction is called, but at the moment, many feel like there’s far too much variation in calls.

With that in mind, some GMs apparently hope to tweak the process by, ideally, limiting the number of people who are making the snap decisions on goalie interference:

By “centralizing,” it could mean leaving that decision to “The Situation Room,” as Rosen explains:

The meetings reportedly included test cases for goalie interference, with Rosen noting that GMs and media alike had trouble reaching a consensus on certain examples. That helps to illuminate the challenge at hand, but again, many people would probably be at least a bit happier if it was easier to anticipate what would and would not be called as interference.

Quite a few numbers were thrown around about coaches challenges. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan shared a slide from the NHL that would argue that offside challenges have dropped off, likely because a failed challenge results in a delay of game penalty, but goalie interference remains a drag on the game.

It’s a vaguely depressing yet informative chart:

Ultimately, it seems like the league still has quite a bit to sort through, with totally fun subplots including the notion that goalies are being coached to embellish interference. Again, lots of fun.

For fans of the sport, it’s about walking the line between getting it right and not grinding too many games to a screeching halt. One might ponder carrying over the delay of game penalty to challenging goalie interference alongside offside reviews, but that might not fly:

Maybe Habs GM Marc Bergevin is correct in saying that just a small number of calls go wrong. Still, these challenges are slowing down games about two minutes at a time. That might not sound like much, though when it happens in the flow of an exciting back-and-forth contest, it can be a real killer.

Let’s hope they improve the process, even if it ends up being a work in progress.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.