Mike Halford

’16 World Cup: Montreal, Ottawa, Columbus to host training camps; exhibition schedule set

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Plenty of news today regarding lead-up events to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, so let’s dive right in.

TRAINING CAMPS

Three NHL rinks will host: Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre (Team Canada), Montreal’s Bell Centre (Team Europe, North America “Youngstars”) and Columbus’ Nationwide Area (Team USA).

The Czechs will conduct camp at the O2 Arena in Prague, the Finns at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, and the Swedes at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg.

Notes: 1) Russia’s camp location is still to be determined. 2) Montreal is co-hosting Team Europe and Team North America with the Videotron Centre in Quebec City.

EXHIBITION GAMES

There’ll be 12 of them, over a six-day span prior to the start of the tournament. Host cities will be Columbus, Pittsburgh, Washington, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Prague, Gothenburg, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.

Schedule:

Thursday, September 8
Team Czech Republic vs. Team Russia – Ice Palace; St. Petersburg (Start time TBD)

Team Sweden vs. Team Finland – Hartwall Arena; Helsinki (Noon ET/7 p.m. local)

Team Europe vs. Team North America – Videotron Centre; Quebec City (8 p.m. ET)

Friday, September 9
Team Canada vs. Team USA – Nationwide Arena; Columbus (7 p.m. ET)

Saturday, September 10
Team Russia vs. Team Czech Republic – O2 Arena; Prague (10:30 a.m. ET/4:30 p.m. local)

Team Finland vs. Team Sweden – Scandinavium; Gothenburg (Noon ET/6 p.m. local)

Team USA vs. Team Canada – Canadian Tire Centre; Ottawa (7 p.m. ET)

Sunday, September 11
Team Europe vs. Team North America – Bell Centre; Montreal (6 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, September 13
Team Finland vs. Team USA – Verizon Center; Washington, DC (7 p.m. ET)

Wednesday, September 14
Team Czech Republic vs. Team North America – CONSOL Energy Center; Pittsburgh (3:30 p.m. ET)

Team Sweden vs. Team Europe – Verizon Center; Washington, DC (7 p.m. ET)

The Preliminary Round begins on Saturday, Sept. 17 with Group play at the Air Canada Centre.

Team Canada vs. Team Russia – CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET)

GROUPS

Group A: Canada, Czech Republic, Europe, USA

Group B: Finland, North America, Russia, Sweden

World Cup preliminary round play begins on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the ACC. The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals — played on Sept. 24-25 — and the winners of each semifinal will compete in a best-of-three final on Sept. 27, 29 and, if necessary, Oct. 1.

No hearing scheduled for Shaw after high hit on Beauchemin

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Chicago forward Andrew Shaw doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled following his questionable hit on Colorado’s Francois Beauchemin from Tuesday night, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

Shaw was given a two-minute charging minor on the play, which occurred midway through the third period of the Avs’ 3-0 victory. Beauchemin, who appeared daze, didn’t take another shift for the remainder of the contest.

Per Chicago Tribune sources, the NHL did review the hit and, despite ruling against supplemental discipline, suggested it was “certainly a close one” with regards to potential punishment.

Shaw has been suspended before — during the ’12 playoffs, he was given a three-game ban for charging Coyotes goalie Mike Smith.

Habs send Kassian to AHL after clearing waivers, say he’s not a ‘priority’

Scott Darling, Zack Kassian
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Twenty-nine NHL clubs passed on claiming troubled Montreal forward Zack Kassian off waivers today.

And the 30th doesn’t appear to have any interest in him, either.

After the Habs announced Kassian cleared waivers and was assigned to their AHL affiliate in St. John’s, head coach Michel Therrien offered this rather blunt assessment of where the 24-year-old stood:

Yesterday, Kassian was reinstated from Stage Two of the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

Almost immediately afterward, the Habs put him on waivers.

Kassian was originally placed in the SABH program on Oct. 5, and suspended without pay until clearance. That came just days after he was involved in an early morning car accident in Montreal, in which Kassian was a passenger in a SUV driven by a 20-year-old female.

Montreal police later confirmed that while speed didn’t play a factor in the collision, alcohol may have.

On Oct. 7, Vancouver GM Jim Benning — who traded Kassian to Montreal in exchange for Brandon Prust this summer — confirmed that Kassian went through Stage One of the SABH while with the Canucks.

Kassian has yet to appear in a regular-season contest for the Canadiens.

Devils put reigning AHL MVP O’Neill on waivers

Brian O'Neill, Calvin de Haan

New Jersey has placed forward Brian O'Neill on waivers, per Sportsnet.

O’Neill, 27, was acquired by the Devils just prior to the start of the season in a trade with Los Angeles. A career minor-leaguer, O’Neill made waves last season by capturing AHL MVP honors with Manchester, on the strength of 78 points in 69 games.

Stuck behind a bevvy of talented forwards in Los Angeles, he got an opportunity for a more significant role in New Jersey this year. O’Neill made his NHL debut and appeared in 22 games for the Devils, scoring two points while averaging 10:22 TOI per game.

Per The Record, the O’Neill transaction was in order to clear roster spots for Tuomo Ruutu and Travis Zajac to come off IR. Zajac hasn’t played since Dec. 3, while Ruutu has been out since Oct. 16.

It’ll be interesting to see if someone takes a flier on O’Neill. He’s got a relatively low cap hit — $562,000 — and, with the Devils, showed he could play as a bottom-six forward at the NHL level.

For streaking Avs, Varlamov has ‘been our best player, no doubt’

Tampa Bay Lightning v Colorado Avalanche
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The first two months of the season were not kind to the Colorado Avalanche and No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov.

This month, though? Different story.

The Avs won for the sixth time eight games on Tuesday night — a 3-0 victory in Chicago — which is the same amount of games they won in all of November.

Considering we’re barely halfway through December, that’s pretty good — and the biggest reason for the club’s success has been Varlamov.

“I think he’s been our best player, no doubt. I think we all know that,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said following last night’s victory. “We all knew how good Varly could be and how important he is for this hockey club.”

Varlamov’s save percentage was an ugly .889 in October. In November, an even uglier .885.

Talk about a turnaround.

Colorado, known its lacklustre possession metrics and shot totals, hasn’t started slamming the door shut — the Avs have given up nearly 33 shots per night in December. Varlamov, though, has stopped 189 of 196 pucks faced for an eye-popping .964 save percentage, stoning the likes of the New York Rangers (the NHL’s sixth highest-scoring team), Minnesota (ninth) and Chicago (12th) in the process.

“He stole one for us in St. Louis the other night,” Landeskog noted. “Tonight [versus ‘Hawks], he was overall solid. He made the big saves when we needed them.”

Performances of this nature are what head coach Patrick Roy envisioned — and expected — when he called out Varlamov in late November.

We contrasted Roy’s approach with that of Carolina’s Bill Peters, who refused to publicly call out Cam Ward and Eddie Lack for their lacklustre efforts this year. At the time, there was no telling how Roy’s critiques of Varlamov would play out; the coach was desperate for results (just 10-14-1) and, as such, desperate to do whatever he could to snap Varlamov out of his funk.

For now, Roy’s strategy seems to have worked.