Jason Brough

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All four Wild prospects showing well at the World Juniors

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The Minnesota Wild have only made 11 draft picks in the last two years, but it sure seems like they made some good ones based on what’s happening at the World Juniors.

Consider:

Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov, a fifth-round pick in 2015, leads the tourney with seven goals.

Swedish forward Joel Eriksson-Ek, a first-round pick in 2015, isn’t far behind with five goals.

American forwards Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin have also shown well. The former was a second-round pick in 2015; the latter was a first-round pick in 2016.

“It’s been fun to see our guys performing so well,” said assistant GM Brent Flahr, per the StarTribune.

It’s been encouraging, too, given the Wild have a number of older core players, especially up front. Mikko Koivu is 33; Eric Staal and Zach Parise are each 32. Those three are all under contract through at least next season, and they can all still contribute.

But there isn’t a team in the NHL that doesn’t need a constant supply of young talent, and it’s harder for good teams like the Wild, who haven’t missed the playoffs since 2012.

Minnesota has another promising forward in Alex Tuch, a 20-year-old who’s currently in the AHL. Tuch was the 18th overall pick in 2014.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Alex Tuch

‘Hawks assign Motte to AHL, which may signal return of Hossa

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In what may be a sign that Marian Hossa is ready to play again, the Chicago Blackhawks have assigned forward Tyler Motte to the AHL.

Motte hadn’t been playing much prior to today’s demotion. He logged just 10:21 of ice time in yesterday’s Winter Classic, which the ‘Hawks lost to St. Louis, 4-1. The 21-year-old rookie has four goals and three assists in 33 games.

Chicago doesn’t play again until Thursday versus Buffalo at United Center.

Still remaining with the ‘Hawks is center Tanner Kero, who has helped replace the injured Marcus Kruger.

Hossa has missed five games with an upper-body injury, but was close to playing yesterday.

Related: Motte out 2-3 weeks after crashing heavily into boards (Video)

Pre-game reading: On Shea Weber, and an emotional return to Nashville

— Up top, St. Louis may be best known as a baseball town, but the Blues hold a special place in the city’s sports landscape.

— A profile of Shea Weber, ahead of his return to Nashville tomorrow night. “I’m not going to lie — there’s probably going to be a lot of emotion. I’m human. I spent a lot of time there. I put a lot of hard work and effort into everything I did there. Obviously built a lot of friendships and relationships even outside of the game with people there.” (The Tennessean)

— The gamesmanship continues. On one side, you’re got NHLPA chief Donald Fehr saying he’s “more optimistic now than I ever have been” that NHLers will go to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. On the other, you’ve got NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saying owners are still reluctant and nothing has really changed on that front. Big ol’ sigh. (Canadian Press)

— Speaking of the commish, did you know he was in a fraternity at Cornell? That must’ve been fun. Toga! Toga! Toga! “The fraternity system then was really a function of where you were going to live. In fact, we were a fraternity of people who were pretty focused on — in addition to having a good time in college — getting a good education.” Oh. (Sportsnet)

— It sounds like the NHL is aiming for three outdoor games next season. One of them will almost certainly be played in Ottawa, but that won’t be the Winter Classic. West Point’s Michie Stadium, with a capacity of 38,000 for football, could reportedly be in the mix. (Ottawa Citizen)

— For you history buffs, here’s a story about the 228th Battalion, a hockey team that competed a hundred years ago, made up of Canadian soldiers. “Taking the ice, the hockey-soldiers of the 228th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force wore khaki-colored uniforms, just like their brothers-already-at-arms along the bloodied Somme River in France. Known as the Northern Fusiliers or just plain Soldiers, this was, briefly, one of hockey’s best teams.” (New York Times)

Enjoy the games!

‘I think we were literally watching that guy’s dream come true right before our eyes’

AP
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Jorge Alves usually sharpens the Carolina Hurricanes’ skates. Lately, the team’s equipment manager has been lacing up his own.

It’s been a wild past few days for Alves. The 37-year-old former Marine, ex-minor leaguer and veteran of the team’s equipment staff suddenly found himself in uniform for an NHL game — and even, for 7.6 unforgettable seconds, on the ice — as the Hurricanes’ emergency goalie while regular backup Eddie Lack was too sick to play.

And when the Hurricanes returned to practice Monday, he was back on the ice again – he regularly suits up during morning skates when one of the goalies on the roster is unavailable – and trying to get comfortable with the attention his unusual story has generated.

“This is the brightest stage in our sport, and it’s just, to have the honor to do this, everybody dreams about it,” Alves said. “Just working out and running and stuff, I’m always thinking about it — what if it ever happened? What would I do? How would I react? And then, when it actually did happen, I kind of went blank. You can’t prepare for that. It was unexpected and it was just quite a memory.”

It’s not like Alves doesn’t know his way around a rink: After serving four years in the Marines, he played club hockey at North Carolina State from 2002-04 and skated in the ECHL and the low-level Southern Professional Hockey League. He first worked with Carolina’s equipment staff during the 2003-04 season and became a full-time equipment manager in 2012-13.

The Hurricanes found themselves in a pinch when Lack fell ill before Saturday night’s game at Tampa Bay. Roughly two hours before the puck drop, they announced the signing of Alves to a professional tryout contract and issued him jersey No. 40. His mask – which he painted himself, based on drawings by a local illustrator – features caricatures of the team’s other equipment men.

“I think we were literally watching that guy’s dream come true right before our eyes,” starter Cam Ward said. “Seeing how emotional he got before that game made everybody emotional. And I said to him right before the game, `They don’t ask how or why, but you made it to the NHL.”‘

Ward bucked the tradition of having the starting goalie lead the team onto the ice for pregame warmups, letting Alves have the spotlight for himself. And with 7.6 seconds left and the outcome all but decided – the Lightning led 3-1 – coach Bill Peters sent Alves onto the ice to replace Ward. He didn’t have to face a shot but was handed the puck by teammate Jeff Skinner.

“Every time I see it, I kind of get choked up,” Alves said. “Seven-point-six seconds is going to be near and dear to me.”

A repeat doesn’t seem likely Tuesday night when New Jersey visits: Peters says if Lack is too sick to skate against the Devils, the team will recall someone from its AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

That seems fine with Alves, who joked with alternate captain Jordan Staal that the Hurricanes’ shooters weren’t about to take it easy on him during his first practice since his big debut.

“I told Jordan, ‘It was only 7.6 seconds, guys,”‘ Alves said. “I’m not an NHLer.”

Blackhawks have just one win in their last six, as Hossa’s absence looms large

In case anyone needed to be reminded that Marian Hossa is a really good hockey player, the Blackhawks have gone 1-4-1 since he got hurt.

That record includes the 4-3 loss to Ottawa on Dec. 20, the game Hossa had to leave in the first period with an upper-body injury. The 37-year-old is still unable to play.

The ‘Hawks sure could’ve used him in today’s Winter Classic, a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium.

Hossa’s 16 goals are tied with Artem Anisimov‘s for the most on the Blackhawks, so his absence was bound to be felt. And it’s more than just his offense. Hossa is also excellent defensively, one of the best two-way wingers the game has ever had.

“Hossa’s situation is he skated [Saturday], felt better,” head coach Joel Quenneville said yesterday, per NHL.com. “He will not be playing [in the Winter Classic].”

Chicago’s only goal today came from a defenseman, Michal Kempny.

The ‘Hawks were also without injured center Marcus Kruger, and they will be for a little while longer.

The good news? Chicago (23-12-5) has built such a comfortable playoff cushion that it can afford to go through a tough stretch.

The ‘Hawks return home for four games, starting Thursday against Buffalo.