James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Panthers game won’t be canceled after Fort Lauderdale shooting

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Friday’s Nashville Predators – Florida Panthers game will take place as scheduled at 7:30 p.m. ET despite the shooting that happened earlier today at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov reports that the Panthers discussed canceling the game, but “the NHL and Broward County Sheriff all agreed to play.”

He did notice more security around the arena, however.

The BB&T Center is located about 20 miles from that airport, so it’s not surprising that Panthers players were shaken by the news, noting that such events happened in their “backyard.”

The Panthers are playing on despite that scary situation, which likely puts the team’s own inner drama in perspective.

The Boston Bruins’ flight was diverted to Miami because of the shooting, as well.

With rare win vs. Canada on New Year’s Eve, 2016 ends well for USA Hockey

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Hey, if nothing else, USA Hockey finished the oft-criticized year 2016 on a high note.

In prepping for the bigger games in the 2017 World Juniors, the United States won all four of its games, never trailing on the way. Saturday was truly special, however, as the U.S. beat Canada in the traditional New Year’s Eve game by a score of 3-1.

To give you an idea of how rare that is, consider this: Canada won the last six games on NYE.

With that 4-0-0 mark and this win against the Canadians, the U.S. won Group B.

Minnesota Wild prospect Jordan Greenway (50th pick of 2015, pictured) stood out among the pack, scoring a goal and two assists. Ryan Lindgren (49th pick in 2016 by the Boston Bruins) had a great game in his own right, being named the player of the game for the United States.

It’s fitting that a defenseman was named the MVP of the contest, as this was a very tight game. Despite building a 2-0 lead about six minutes into the game, the U.S. limited Canada to a manageable 26 shots on goal. Neither team scored a goal in the third period, either, so it was a suffocating contest.

Of course, a team as talented as Canada did generate its fair share of chances.

Overall, it was a heck of a performance by the U.S. that featured some great moments for Wild prospects, although Luke Kunin (15th pick by Minnesota in 2016) was ejected for this hit:

Still, the United States managed to lock things down and avoid making that extra mistake that plagued them in previous New Year’s Eve matches against Canada.

Now they need to carry on that strong effort to the even bigger games as the tournament gears up.

Kris Draper and Gary Roberts got a little chippy at alumni game (Video)

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There’s a lot of nostalgia in the air for Saturday’s two alumni games. Most of that involves good-natured fun, but did we sense a little tension too?

As you can see in the video above, Kris Draper and Gary Roberts mixed it up a bit during the 2017 Centennial Classic’s alumni game. They didn’t come to blows, but it was still a pretty entertaining sight.

There were at least some bad feelings involved:

But, yeah, most of the other moments were jovial:

Draper scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win for the Detroit Red Wings over the Toronto Maple Leafs, so you could say that he got the last laugh. (Lanny McDonald just happened to get the best laugh.)

There was at least one great athletic feat mixed into the proceedings:

Overall it seems like the fans were the biggest winners, so the event was quite the success.

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NHL.com also has a nice piece about young Maple Leafs meeting old icons. Former Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues players are engaging in an alumni game of their own today, so it’s quite a way for many fans to close out 2016.

Concussion issues sideline Bruins’ David Backes indefinitely

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The Boston Bruins won both games of their back-to-back set against the Buffalo Sabres, yet Thursday presented a significant injury loss in David Backes.

Backes is out indefinitely due to a concussion suffered thanks to a hit by William Carrier, which you can view in the video above. The 32-year-old dealt with at least one concussion stemming from 2014. (Let’s not forget his exchanges with Duncan Keith, either.)

John-Michael Liles has been sidelined with his own concussion issues since late November, with sparse updates in his regard as well.

Carrier seemed to hurt his hand in a fight with Adam McQuaid as a response to the hit that injured Backes:

Finland fires coach Rautakorpi after letdown at World Juniors

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Last year, Finland won gold at the World Juniors. This time around, they’re in the relegation round after losing their three preliminary matches, prompting the mid-tournament firing of coach Jukka Rautakorpi.

Rautakorpi’s replacement is Jussi Ahokas, who boasts some impressive credentials. The Canadian Press notes that he was the head coach of Finland’s under-18 team for the past three years, bringing home gold in 2016.

There’s a “What have you done for me lately?” feel to this move, even by the fickle standards of sports. That’s especially true when you realize that this version of the Finnish team lacks some of the high-end talent they had last year, most notably Patrik Laine.

Finland’s outlook regarding their overall performance apparently mirror captain Olli Juolevi’s comments about an upset 3-2 loss to Denmark:

“We should beat Denmark or we should at least score more than two goals with those shots or something,” said Finland captain Olli Juolevi, per Postmedia. “There’s no excuses.”

There aren’t any excuses … and there’s zero tolerance for failure now that expectations have been raised.