Mike Halford

On Leicester City, and Stanley Cup Cinderellas


OK first, let me address the obvious — you’re right, this is not a soccer site. It’s a hockey site. Kudos for pointing it out.

But bear with me for a moment.

Across the pond, tiny Leicester City is doing the unthinkable — closing in on a Premier League title despite opening the campaign as a staggering 5000-to-1 longshot. (Which you can watch this Sunday at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN when they play West Ham.) Leicester is, by every definition imaginable, a true Cinderella story.

Which got us thinking, what about hockey?

At first glance, it’s fair to say the NHL’s had a good number of Stanley Cup Cinderellas.

But most of the time, there’s a catch.

Like the 1991 Minnesota North Stars, for example. The Stars snuck into the playoffs despite a lousy (27-39-14) regular season, then upset the ‘Hawks and Blues and Oilers to make it to the Cup Final — which is when the clock struck midnight. Minnesota was blitzed by Mario Lemieux and the Penguins, losing 8-0 in the deciding game.

There was also the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. That team waited until the final week of the regular season to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, then went on a crazy run to upset top-seeded Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim.

But then… yeah, you guessed it. The clock struck midnight.

In Game 1 of the Cup Final, starting netminder Dwayne Roloson got hurt and was lost for the series. The Oilers rallied to push it to Game 7, only to see Carolina capture the final by a 3-1 scoreline.

Which begs the question: Are there any Cinderellas that made it to 12:01?

Oh sure, there’s a case to be made for the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, who got in as the No. 8 seed in the West and went on to capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But the notion of the Kings being a “Cinderella” was put to bed in subsequent years: in ’13, they went to the Western Conference Final and in ’14, they won the Stanley Cup.


To find arguably the best Stanley Cup Cinderella, we go back to 1938.

NHL on NBC play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick explains:

“The Leicester-like story was the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks. In a virtually-all-Canadian NHL, they had hired an American coach (Bill Stewart), had eight Americans on the squad, scored the fewest goals, only made the playoffs by two points, and upset everyone.”

“So surprising were they that the NHL did not even have the Stanley Cup present for their clinching game. It was being sent on to Toronto for what the hierarchy believed would be a fifth and deciding game there.”

Of course, no discussion about hockey and Cinderellas would be complete without the biggest one of all. No, it didn’t happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs and no, none of the players were professionals.

No matter. From NBC’s Al Michaels, who called the unforgettable game:

“The 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Team had an outside shot at a bronze medal as the Games began in Lake Placid. The group’s average age was 22 and most of the players had just finished their college careers. The Soviet Union team, on the other hand, were amateurs in name only. They spent eleven months each year on the ice either training or dominating competition on the international level. Had the Soviets been allowed to play in the National Hockey League at that time, almost everyone on their roster would have been a star.

“When the teams met on February 22, 1980, most everyone who knew anything about hockey gave the American team no chance. In fact, almost everyone expected the outcome to be totally one-sided. Over the next two hours and 15 minutes, the Soviets outshot the U.S. 39-16. They led 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 with the U.S. then tying the game on each occasion. At exactly the halfway mark of the third period, Mike Eruzione scored to give the U.S. its first lead. It held up. None of this would have happened without a performance for the ages by goaltender Jim Craig, who made at least a dozen unbelievable saves to never let the game get out of hand. When the horn sounded an entire country erupted with joy.

“But there was still more work to be done. Forty hours later, that same team would be back in action against Finland needing a win to clinch the gold medal. Final score: U.S. 4, Finland 2. Thirty-six years later, it’s no exaggeration to say it still brings tears of joy to many, many people who reminisce. I’ve seen it firsthand.”

NHL announces start time for Rangers-Pens Game 4

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby gets a stick on New York Rangers' Dan Girardi during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

From the league:

The start time for Game 4 of the First Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers has been set for 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 21, in New York.

And with that, this series will get its first one-day break. The two sides played last night — a 5-2 Pittsburgh win — and won’t play Game 2 until Saturday, a matinee affair at Consol.

Game 3 of the series will come after another two-day break, when the Pens and Rangers move to MSG on Tuesday, Apr. 19.

The drawn-out nature of the early part of this series could play into New York’s favor. The Rangers are hopeful that injured captain Ryan McDonagh (hand) will be able to play at some point in this series, so the more days off in between games, the better for the Blueshirts.

Related: Rangers don’t think Lundqvist’s eye injury is ‘too serious,’ rule out McDonagh for Game 2

Avs’ Rantanen, Bruins’ Vatrano split AHL outstanding rookie award

Mikko Rantanen, Tim Jackman

Colorado and Boston had their season end on down notes — both missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year — but each club received some positive news on Thursday, as Mikko Rantanen and Frank Vatrano shared the AHL’s outstanding rookie award.

More, from the AHL:

Rantanen has had a remarkable 2015-16 season despite being one of the youngest players in the AHL. The 10th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Rantanen leads all AHL rookies in scoring and is tied for sixth overall with 60 points (24 goals, 36 assists) for San Antonio, recording at least one point in 42 of his 51 AHL games.

Vatrano has also had a historic first season as a professional, highlighted by his league-leading 34 goals in 34 games for Providence. Bidding to become just the fourth AHL player ever to average a goal a game in a 30-goal season, Vatrano has added 17 assists to give him 51 points, good for a league-best 1.50 points per contest, and he has recorded three hat tricks on the year, including tying an AHL record with three unassisted goals in a single game on Mar. 6 vs. Portland.

Rantanen, 19, also got a taste of NHL life this season, appearing in nine games — including a few down the stretch, when the Avs were fighting for their playoff lives (and Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon were out injured). All told, the future looks pretty bright.

Vatrano, 22, seems to have a bright future as well. He had an even bigger role in Boston this year than Rantanen did in Colorado — 39 games — and acquitted himself well offensively, with eight goals and 11 points.

Tippett’s ‘gut feeling’ is that Doan won’t retire

Shane Doan
Getty Images

Shane Doan‘s contract expires in July, and he turns 40 in October.

But Shane Doan also scored 28 goals this year, the third-highest total of his career.

The former is why he’s mulling retirement, and wants to discuss his playing future with his family.

But the latter is why some think he’ll be back.

To that last point, there’s also this — from the Arizona Republic:

With a little more than two minutes remaining in the Coyotes’ final game last Saturday in San Jose, Doan joined the action with the team pursuing a tying goal on the power play.

After 1:30, Doan skated off with 44 seconds to go and watched a 1-0 loss finalized from the bench.

“If that was his last game, he never would have come off the ice,” Tippett said. “So that’s just my gut feeling. He may prove me wrong.”

That anecdote aside, Tippett had some more concrete logic as to why Doan might come back.

The head coach raved about the 39-year-old’s contributions — “[Doan] had a very good year,” Tippett said — and it’s hard to ignore the fact that, by leading the Coyotes in goals this year, he became the fourth player in NHL history to do so at age 39 or older.

This could be why Tippett isn’t the only high-ranking person within the organization that wants to see Doan come back.

“Our view is if Shane wants to come back, we’re thrilled,” Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said. “There’s no bigger figurehead in regard to the Arizona Coyotes than Shane Doan.”

The big question, it would seem, is if Arizona’s new GM will be in lockstep. Don Maloney, recently dismissed from his post after nine years on the job, was always one of Doan’s biggest backers.

This past season, Maloney said Doan would “stay with us as long as he wants to stay with us.”

Will the new GM feel the same way?

Huge boost for Isles as Hamonic returns for Game 1

Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Travis Hamonic

Last year, the Isles had to play their entire opening-round series without the services of Travis Hamonic.

This year, different story.

Hamonic, who missed the final six games of the regular season with a knee injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday and play in the playoff opener against Florida, per head coach Jack Capuano.

It’s terrific news for the Isles.

Hamonic is the club’s ice-time leader (23:49 per game) and will take some pressure off New York’s top d-man pairing of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, who were pressed into extra minutes with Hamonic on the shelf.

“He plays a lot of minutes and he’s a good defenseman,” Boychuk said, per the Isles’ website. “We need him to come back and play and play like he can and he will. It will give us a big boost.”

Based on today’s skate, Hamonic will skate alongside Calvin de Haan on the second blueline pairing, while Thomas Hickey and rookie Ryan Pulock will comprise the third. That would leave veterans Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait as the odd men out.

Considering how the Isles ended last season — a defensive unit comprised of Boychuk, Leddy, Strait, Hickey, Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield — they’ve got to be pretty pleased with tonight’s lineup.