Mike Halford

Calgary Flames v Edmonton Oilers
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Journeyman d-man Aulie signs in Finnish League

Keith Aulie, a veteran of nearly 200 NHL contests, has signed with HIFK of Finland’s SM-liiga, the club has announced.

Aulie, 26, was originally a Calgary draftee in 2007, only to be flipped to Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf blockbuster three years later.

Aulie went on to play 79 games for the Leafs before getting traded to Tampa Bay in 2012.

Following a three-year stint with the Bolts, he proceeded to spend time with both the Oilers and Coyotes organizations — he spent this fall in Arizona on a PTO — before ultimately landing with AHL Springfield.

 

 

For Condon, Winter Classic ‘couldn’t have been scripted any better’

FOXBOROUGH — Heading into the Winter Classic, Mike Condon — Massachusetts native, Patriots fan and, oh yeah, starting goalie for the Montreal Canadiens — tried to downplay the significance of the event.

“At the end of the day, it’s another game,” he said. “Another two points.”

But once he helped secure those two points, Condon was signing a pretty different tune.

“Probably the most special [game],” he said, after stopping 27 of 28 shots for second star honors in Montreal’s 5-1 win over Boston. “I had a lot of friends and family here tonight. Bruins, Habs, Gillette Stadium, Winter Classic, New Year’s Day — probably couldn’t have been scripted any better.”

Condon was a major factor in writing that script, which ended with a pretty significant win.

From a personal perspective, his ties to this event ran deep. Condon grew up in Holliston, Mass. — a 20-minute drive from Gillette Stadium. He’s a huge Patriots fan, with a special mask that pays homage to Bill Belichick. His dad, a sergeant in the Massachussets State Police, led the Canadiens’ escort to the stadium yesterday.

From a professional perspective, Condon needed this type of performance.

The pressure’s been on for weeks now. With the feel-good, what-a-story stuff from the beginning of the year worn off, the 25-year-old undrafted free agent was subjected to what struggling goalies in Montreal get subjected to: criticism, questions and, last week, added competition, as GM Marc Bergevin swung a trade to bring in Ben Scrivens.

If Condon keeps playing like he did against the Bruins, Scrivens will be hard pressed to get a game.

Yes, Boston put just three shots on goal in the first period and yes, they were without two of their best offensive players in David Krejci and Brad Marchand. But that doesn’t take away from the fact Condon finished with a sterling .964 save percentage, or the fact he made some key saves at big moments — like this one on Ryan Spooner right at the end of the second period:

Pretty good stuff from a guy that went 2-8-0 with an .888 save percentage in December.

It was easy to see how much a good start to January meant.

“New year, big win, hopefully January’s a lot nicer to us,” Condon said. “Big win, two points. Can’t argue with that.”

Gallagher shines as Habs thump Bruins at ’16 Winter Classic

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FOXBOROUGH — During the lead-up to the Winter Classic, P.K. Subban said the game would be a “perfect fit” for Brendan Gallagher‘s return to the Canadiens lineup.

Turns out he was right.

Gallagher, who’d missed the previous 17 games with a broken hand, was a driving force in his first game back in action, scoring a goal while setting up another to give the Habs a 5-1 win over the Bruins at Gillette Stadium.

Paul Byron netted twice for Montreal, who got January off to a good start following a 3-11-0 month of December. Single markers went to Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais — who, at 74 seconds, scored one of the fastest opening goals in Wither Classic history.

And then there was Gallagher, the game’s first star.

Yesterday, Subban told reporters that, because outdoor games often don’t have the best ice and tend to be chippy, Friday’s contest would be “right up [Gallagher’s] alley.”

The diminutive forward, out since Nov. 22, made good on his teammate’s prediction.

Gallagher quickly re-established chemistry on Montreal’s top line with Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec — combined, the trio finished with six points, seven shots on goal and a plus-five rating.

In terms of contrasting narratives, Montreal getting Gallagher back was a foil to Boston’s story on Friday — without top scorer David Krejci (upper-body injury) and leading goalscorer Brad Marchand (suspended), the B’s really struggled to generate offense.

Out-shot 14-3 in the first period, Boston didn’t beat Mike Condon until 3:56 of the third period, when Matt Beleskey tipped home an Adam McQuaid point shot.

The top duo of Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson failed to make much happen despite a rotation of different forwards on their line, and Boston’s usually dangerous power play failed to convert on any of its chances.

In goal, both Condon (27 saves on 28 shots) and Tuukka Rask played well, and though Rask’s numbers (25 saves on 30 shots, .833 save percentage) don’t necessarily show it, the Finnish netminder was the main reason Boston only went into the first intermission down 1-0.

Looking ahead, Montreal will be buoyed by the win and the offensive breakout. The club had scored just one goal in four of its previous five games, and has to be thrilled the top line is back together and clicking.

For Boston, this disappointing result is hardly the way it wanted to start the year. What’s more, the B’s have a tough schedule ahead — a home date against Eastern Conference-leading Washington, followed by a lengthy five-game road trip.

Notes: The attendance was 67,426… The two teams combined for 58 minutes in what was a chippy affair…Habs forward Dale Weise took this Kevan Miller cross-check early in the second period, and didn’t return:

Video: Gallagher bats it home, after Pacioretty batted it to Gallagher

FOXBOROUGH — Maybe they should’ve had this thing at Fenway.

Despite playing in a football stadium, the Montreal Canadiens put on a batting display worthy of the diamond in pushing their lead to 3-0 over Boston in the 2016 Winter Classic.

Brendan Gallagher, playing in his first game after missing the previous 17 with a broken hand, knocked home a Max Pacioretty pass — which was also batted out of the air — for one of the better hand-eye coordinated goals we’ve seen in a while.

Tomas Plekanec added the secondary assist (sadly, not airborne) in what marked a triumphant return for Montreal’s top line.

Gallagher-Plekanec-Pacioretty was one of the NHL’s most productive trios prior to Gallagher getting knocked out of the lineup on Nov. 22.

Report: Columbus prospect Werenski unhappy at Michigan, contemplating going pro

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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Well, here’s an interesting one regarding Blue Jackets prospect and current World Juniors standout Zach Werenski, from the Columbus Dispatch:

There are loud whispers that Zach Werenski, the Michigan defenseman whom the Blue Jackets took with the No. 8 overall pick in the NHL draft last June, is unhappy in college and thinking of turning pro.

The Jackets have had major difficulties on the blue line this season, and some believe the sophomore could help immediately.

Taken eighth overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Werenski’s stock couldn’t be higher. He’s currently tearing it up for Team USA at the Worlds — five points through the first five games — and has played very well for the Wolverines this season, emerging as the highest-scoring defenseman in the Big Ten.

The lure of turning pro isn’t anything new, either.

After drafting him, Columbus reportedly told Werenski they’d be willing to sign him to an entry-level deal immediately, and end his collegiate career.

“I was 50-50 for a while,” Werenski said in September, per the Dispatch. “It’s a great position to be in — signing with Columbus or going to the University of Michigan are great options — but it’s a really tough call.

“Some of the teams I met with at the combine … they made it really clear: If we draft you, you’re going to do what we tell you to do and play where we say you’re going to play. Columbus didn’t do that, and I really appreciate it.”

Werenski’s in his sophomore campaign at Michigan, but still only 18 years old (he finished high school in three years, and enrolled as a freshman earlier than most.)

Columbus’ blueline isn’t great, and there’s widespread belief Werenski could step in immediately and not just play, but help. But there has to be some trepidation — playing in the NHL at 18 is a tall order, especially on defense, and often comes with a steep learning curve.

The Blue Jackets can ill afford to damage Werenski’s progression, which is why throwing him onto a struggling team in a fairly dysfunctional environment — led by a notoriously hard-line coach in John Tortorella — is a risky move.

Of course, the risk could always pay off.