Mike Halford

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After talking the talk, Laine ready to walk the walk at World Cup


WASHINGTON (AP) Patrik Laine isn’t afraid to be himself, whether he’s talking or playing hockey.

The No. 2 pick in the NHL draft thought he deserved to be No. 1 and said so. His on-ice persona is just as confident, and it’ll be put to the test playing for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey.

Laine is the youngest player in the tournament, and the Winnipeg Jets prospect is eager to show he belongs with the best.

“I’m going to have to prove that to everybody, and I’m going to show that when the tournament starts,” Laine said.

Laine’s offensive arsenal has more moves than his surname, which is pronounced Line-EH. He can shake defenders out of their skates but is best known for a wicked shot, which he used to beat Jonathan Quick in Finland’s exhibition game against the United States on Tuesday.

On a team that lacks the talent on paper of Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Russia, Laine has the ability to singlehandedly take a game over, despite being just under 18 years, 5 months old.

“When we named Patrik (to) this team, we know that he (had) good offensive-game skills and that shot was unbelievable,” coach Lauri Marjamaki said. “Of course he’s a young guy, but he has something we need and we’re trying to find some new elements about our offensive game.”

Picking Laine was a risk, though he earned it by scoring seven goals and adding five assists in 10 games at the world hockey championship in the spring. It was no surprise that he lit up the world juniors over the winter, but he had grown-up production playing with and against grown men.

Laine’s influence has continued leading up to the World Cup, as he struggled in the first two exhibition games before finding a groove.

“He’s just 18 years old, and I think he plays like a major player,” linemate Aleksander Barkov said.

Laine is a major player for Finland and could start the tournament alongside Barkov and either Teuvo Teravainen or 19-year-old Sebastian Aho. He’ll have chances to back up his braggadocio from before the draft, when he said the Toronto Maple Leafs should have selected him first overall instead of Auston Matthews. He’s not shying away from that, even while older teammates tell him players weren’t like that back in their day.

“I know that’s how good I am, and I can say that,” Laine said. “It’s not a problem for me. And if that’s a problem to somebody else, it’s not my problem. I don’t care what people think. I know that I’m a good player and I’m going to stick with that.”

Laine’s talent isn’t debatable, but there are questions about adjusting to smaller NHL rinks and, in this tournament, fitting into Finland’s team-first, stringent structure. The Finns’ hallmark is to play stronger as a group than as individual players, so it’s on Laine to fit into that concept without losing his creativity.

“He plays structure as good as anyone,” captain Mikko Koivu said. “But for sure when you get a skillset like that that can make a difference in a hockey game, I think you’ve just got to be careful when you use it and where.”

While plenty cocky about his game, Laine still has his teenage moments. His mother is moving to Winnipeg with him to help him adjust to North America, and after practice this week he stared in awe at some teammates’ lockers – after watching them in the NHL, he’s now playing with them.

Laine gets the benefit of plenty of veterans on and around Finland, most notably Teemu Selanne, who set the rookie goal-scoring record with 76 back in 1992-93 playing in, of course, Winnipeg. Selanne plans to talk with Laine about the NHL, Winnipeg and more during the World Cup.

“Everybody in their lives can’t speak with those kind of players,” Laine said. “It’s so good to have that kind of opportunity to talk with him and discuss about games and everything.”

For all his boasting, Laine concedes he has plenty of learning to do. He expects to get better game by game, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the teams in the World Cup and the NHL.

“People sometimes forget the guy’s 18 years old playing here,” forward Lauri Korpikoski said. “I’ve been really impressed by him. He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.”

Related: Not lacking confidence, Laine’s goal is to be drafted No. 1

Veteran d-man Strachan back with Buffalo, this time on AHL deal


Journeyman rearguard Tyson Strachan, a veteran of nearly 200 NHL contests, has signed on with Buffalo’s AHL affiliate in Rochester, the club announced on Wednesday.

Strachan, 31, spent the ’14-15 campaign with the Sabres, scoring five points in 46 games. He then split last year between Minnesota and AHL Iowa, appearing in just two games at the big-league level.

Given that prized RFA Rasmus Ristolainen is still without a contract, the Sabres are a bit thin on the blueline at the moment. Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges, Cody Franson, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk are the “top six” with Ristolainen out, while guys like Brendan Guhle and Taylor Fedun could also be in the mix.

As such, Strachan could parlay his AHL deal into something with the Sabres. He’s certainly got enough experience to merit a look.

An Ohio State product, Strachan has bounced around the league — in addition to Buffalo and Minnesota, he’s also had stops in St. Louis, Florida and Washington.

World Cup: Halak goes again for Team Europe, looks to be Game 1 starter


In a move that could have ramifications all the way to Brooklyn, Team Europe appears primed to anoint Jaroslav Halak as its No. 1 netminder for the World Cup of Hockey.

On Wednesday, head coach Ralph Kruger said Halak would start Europe’s final exhibition game tonight (versus Sweden, 7 p.m. ET), and all but confirmed the veteran Slovak will be the No. 1 when Europe opens the tourney against the U.S. on Saturday:

Halak’s largely been the man for Team Europe throughout the exhibition campaign. He played all 60 minutes in an opening loss to Team North America — allowing four goals on 21 shots — then came on in relief of a beleaguered Thomas Greiss in the rematch, after Greiss was hooked after allowing four goals in just over 10 minutes of action.

As mentioned above, this development goes beyond Team Europe.

Halak and Greiss are set to (presumably) jockey for the Isles’ No. 1 gig this year. Halak was the starter for a good chunk of last year until succumbing to injury, which Greiss used as an opportunity to showcase himself as a potential No. 1.

The German ‘tender went 23-11-4 with a .925 save percentage and 2.36 GAA last year, and helped the Isles win their first playoff series since 1993. The Isles also have a somewhat intriguing prospect in J-F Berube, who they re-signed this offseason.

At the Isles’ locker clear out day in May, Halak said the three-goalie setup was “not ideal,” adding that management will “have to decide which way they want to go for next season.”

Wounded Wing: Ericsson’s ailing hip ‘gets a little worse every year’


Given that Jonathan Ericsson is 32 years old, signed through 2020 and makes $4.25 million per, the following probably won’t come as welcome news for Red Wings fans.

In a candid media session, Ericsson told reporters his hip injury — called “hip impingement” — isn’t getting any better, and the pain it causes made it difficult to walk after some games last season.

“It gets a little worse every year,” Ericcson said, per the Free Press. “There’s arthritis in there, too.”

Ericsson said that while the pain is bad, it’s not unbearable — a key reason why he’s put off corrective surgery, which would sideline him for four months.

A lightning rod for criticism among Detroit fans, Ericsson struggled last season, scoring 15 points in 71 games while watching his ice time tip to 18:32 per night. That’s down significant from the career-high 21:19 he averaged during the ’13 campaign.

The big Swedish rearguard has dealt with a myriad of injuries over the last few years, though he did appear in all 82 games in ’14-15. And that’s sort of the thing with his hip ailment — it causes great pain and discomfort, but not enough to force Ericsson from the lineup.

And to be honest, the Wings can’t afford to lose him. Even though Ericsson’s play has been erratic, Detroit’s lack of depth on defense has been well documented.

Detroit’s pairings this season could look something like this:

Danny DeKeyserMike Green
Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall
Brendan SmithAlexey Marchenko
Xavier Ouellet

Might be a long year in the Motor City.

Byfuglien: Playing forward ‘definitely not my favorite,’ experiment could be over


WASHINGTON (AP) The Dustin Byfuglien at forward experiment might be a short-lived one for the United States.

Byfuglien played on the wing during the Americans’ 3-2 victory over Finland in their final exhibition game Tuesday night and had the lowest ice time of any player. Coach John Tortorella explained the move earlier in the day as a way to see the six other defensemen on the roster.

“We’re still trying to make some decisions on where people fit and in our mind we always felt Buff was kind of a wild card moving into a couple of different positions, so we’ll see,” Tortorella said.

Byfuglien had a big hit on Finland’s Olli Maatta, but skated just 10:32 in a fourth-line role. After splitting his NHL career between forward and defense, the 31-year-old Byfuglien became an All-Star defenseman the past couple of seasons with the Winnipeg Jets and didn’t seem too comfortable going back up front Tuesday.

“It’s definitely not my favorite spot,” Byfuglien said afterward. “It’s just something they wanted to try and that was it.”

Asked about his hit and some other impacts he made, Byfuglien said: “It’s my ice time. I’ve got to do what I got to do, what I’m told to do.”

Byfuglien should be back on the blue line when the U.S. opens the tournament Saturday against Team Europe. Tortorella loves what the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Byfuglien brings with his shot on the power play.

“We’re not putting him in front of the net,” Tortorella said. “We’re going to have him shoot the puck because he can shoot it pretty hard. I hope he’s a weapon.”

Byfuglien is a unique player because of his skating ability for his size, physicality and his shot. U.S. winger Patrick Kane, who won the 2010 Stanley Cup with Byfuglien as a forward on the Chicago Blackhawks, appreciates the Minneapolis native’s versatility.

“He kind of plays that rover style of game, anyway, where he’s all over the ice and in front of the net he’s a big body,” Kane said.

“He’s a special player. He’s one of those guys that’s kind of a rare breed of skill and power and he’s fast for his size. He’s pretty much got everything. He’s very physical, as well. He can do anything out there.”