Jason Brough

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)

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    ‘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.

    Goalie nods: Schneider returns to Devils’ crease after almost a week off

    Getty

    Only two games tonight after the Blues and Blackhawks wrap up the Winter Classic in St. Louis.

    In New Jersey, Cory Schneider will look to bounce back after allowing four goals in each of his last two starts, both losses. It’s been a very frustrating season for the Devils’ number-one netminder, who’s 10-12-5 with a lowly .904 save percentage.

    The Devils host the Bruins, who have not yet announced a starter. One would think Tuukka Rask will get the nod after Saturday’s 26-save win over Buffalo. The B’s don’t really have a reliable backup right now, with Anton Khudobin unable to string together many solid performances.

    As for Schneider, he should be plenty rested, given he hasn’t played in almost a week. Backup Keith Kinkaid made the last two starts — the first one went really well, the second one not so much, as he allowed all six goals in a 6-2 loss to Washington on Saturday.

    Read more: Schneider vents frustrations after yet another loss

    Elsewhere…

    Ryan Miller will start for the Vancouver Canucks, who will be going for their fourth straight win at home to Colorado. The Avalanche, minus Semyon Varlamov (groin), are expected to go with Calvin Pickard for a fifth straight game.

    World Juniors: Finland edges Latvia, 2-1, in first game of relegation series

    AP

    The defending gold medalists at the World Juniors got a big win today over Latvia.

    But it wasn’t for a medal. It was to avoid relegation. Finland won the game, 2-1, while outshooting their opponents by a wide margin, 45-24.

    The Finns still have to beat the Latvians once more in the best-of-three series, which continues tomorrow in Montreal. Game three, if necessary, is scheduled for Thursday at Bell Centre.

    The loser of the series is relegated to Division I Group A, where next year it will battle the likes of Germany, France, and Kazakhstan.

    Today’s game was tied 1-1 before 17-year-old forward Kristian Vesalainen scored nine minutes into the third period.

    Related: Finland fires coach Rautakorpi after letdown at World Juniors