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‘I want to do anything I can to help’: Lovejoy to donate brain for CTE research

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As a whole, people are more informed about concussions, brain trauma and CTE today than they’ve ever been before. One current NHLer is hoping to take it a step further at some point in the distant future.

In an interview with TSN, New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy announced that he’ll be donating his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Boston. The goal is to help researchers find out more about CTE and concussions down the line. Lovejoy is the first activate NHLer to commit to this kind of cause.

Although he’s never been diagnosed with a concussion, the 33-year-old believes this gesture can help unlock some the mysteries surrounding head injuries.

“Hockey has been so good to me,” Lovejoy told TSN.ca. “It’s helped me make a ton of friends, travel the country and world, and given me an amazing job that has paid me really well. My entire life has revolved exclusively around hockey and I want to give my brain to help make this game safer.

“I’m spoiled to have done this for so long. I’ve had teammates who are superstars and others who are minor-league role players who have struggled, missed time, and ended careers because of concussions. I want to do anything I can to help.”

Even though he hasn’t had a documented concussion, he’s still played a physical brand of hockey for a long time.  Lovejoy has suited up in 432 and 218 NHL and AHL games in his career.

Earlier this year, former NHLers Shawn McEachern, Bob Sweeney, Ted Drury and Craig Adams also pledged to donate their brains to concussion/CTE research.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Devils, Ducks fill needs with Henrique-Vatanen swap

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The Anaheim Ducks need some help offensively and the New Jersey Devils were looking to boost their blue line, so it makes sense that the two consummated a deal Thursday morning, especially considering the trade history between Ray Shero and Bob Murray.

Heading to Anaheim is Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick, while the Devils acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional third-round pick in 2019 or 2020. Here are those conditions:

“In acquiring Sami, we bring on a right shot, top-four defenseman who can play in all situations,” said Devils general manager Ray Shero. “This move also gives us contract certainty on the back end for the next two-plus years. When acquiring a defenseman like Vatanen, you have to give back quality assets or players in return. That is the case in this situation with Adam and Joe. Adam has been a key member of our organization for nearly ten years since he was drafted. His contributions both on and off the ice will always be appreciated by our organization and fans. For Joe, this is a great opportunity with a quality organization like Anaheim and I am happy for him.”

Vatanen, who is signed for two more seasons and is averaging 21:06 per game, is a great pickup to a fill a need in New Jersey’s top-four. After missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, Shero gets his highly-touted, puck-moving right shot defenseman. The 26-year-old’s possession numbers are down this season, but I think we can attribute a big part of that due to his pairing with Kevin Bieksa on the back end.

Look at the New Jersey blue line now and it’s one that can get the puck up ice fast and contribute offensively. The emergence up front of Nico Hischier, Brian Gibbons, Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood made Henrique expendable and allowed Shero to deal from an area of strength.

Given their injury woes, the Ducks have been sending Chris Wagner and Derek Grant over the boards to be their top two centers. A change was needed. Henrique’s addition is certainly an upgrade when you look at his 50 goals and 90 points over the last two season. If and when Anaheim gets back to full health, head coach Randy Caryle will have some decent depth to work with and this trade could help keep them afloat as they struggle to get back into playoff contention in the Western Conference.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

It’s been a tough start to the season for Kyle Palmieri’s feet

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It’s been a tough start to the season for Kyle Palmieri‘s feet.

After missing six games because of a left foot/ankle injury he suffered in practice late last month, the Devils announced that Palmieri is back on the shelf because of a broken right foot.

The latest injury occurred during Monday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, after he blocked a shot. The team says they expect him to miss anywhere between four and six weeks.

The Devils are off to a fantastic start this season (they’re 12-5-3 record has them in first place in the Metropolitan Division), but there’s no doubt that losing Palmieri for an extended period of time will hurt.

The 26-year-old has four goals and five assists in 13 games this season. He’s also coming off 30 and 26-goal seasons over the last two years.

Here’s your daily reminder that hockey players are tough:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Hischier asked to be benched after penalty-filled stretch

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WINNIPEG — Nico Hischier might only be 18 years old, but he’s already revealing a maturity that’s well beyond his years.

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero told The Star-Ledger this past week that the forward asked head coach John Hynes to “just (bleeping) bench me,” after the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft took a penalty 45 seconds into a 3-2 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 9.


Two nights earlier, in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Hischier took a penalty 36 seconds into the first period.

The Devils were shorthanded 44 times and were in the lower third of the league in terms of penalty kill percentage (79.6) in the month of October.

Something had to change.

“We had talked to the team about controlling (penalties) and if it didn’t get better, guys were going to sit for a certain amount of time,” Hynes said on Saturday. “We held strong to that and made it clear that it didn’t matter who it was.

“(Hischier) took a penalty the game before. We addressed in between games. He took the first penalty in the next (game) and he came back down and I said, ‘You’re going to have to sit for a bit,’ and he said, ‘I should. It’s my fault.’”

Hischier sat for just over seven minutes but still managed 21:18 of ice-time in the game. He hasn’t taken a penalty in three games since his brief foray riding the pine.

Hynes praised his rookie’s resolve as a team player that hasn’t put his ego before the team.

“He’s not one of these younger players that comes in and thinks, just because of where he was drafted or what his status is or because he’s a good player that he gets preferential treatment,” Hyne said. “That’s why he’s such a special guy for us to have on our team and in our organization. He’s an elite player that really understands what it means to be part of the team. Winning and the team comes before him and his ego.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brian Gibbons taking advantage of NHL opportunity with Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. — Two full seasons in the American Hockey League, after a taste of NHL life, would give some players a mentality that a regular spot in The Show may never come again. Not Brian Gibbons.

The New Jersey Devils forward wasn’t wondering when he’d get another NHL shot after 66 games over two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was thankful just for the opportunity.

“[I was] lucky to play the game still. It’s not the NHL, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Gibbons, 29, told PHT on Wednesday. “Great guys down there. It’s tough hockey, good hockey.”

The Devils are one of the early-season surprises atop the Metropolitan Division with a 11-4-2 record. It’s not just that they’re having success, they’re actually fun to watch again. The speedy Gibbons is one reason why.

The leading goal scorer for the Devils isn’t Taylor Hall or Adam Henrique or Kyle Palmieri or even last June’s No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier. Gibbons is the one currently holding that title with eight, which isn’t bad for someone whose last NHL goal before this season came on April 3, 2014.

What’s been the secret to his success? The answer is certainly not linemate Blake Coleman’s pickle juice, which Gibbons noted he stays “far away” from.

“I’ve just been trying to play the right way, really,” he said, “skate hard, work hard defensively. Obviously playing in the offensive zone as much as you can, try to get pucks behind their D and then once you’re in the O-zone try and make plays.”

Inconsistency plagued Gibbons earlier in his career, keeping him from earning a regular NHL job. His first professional coach is now his current coach — John Hynes. The two, along with Devils assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, were in Wilkes-Barre together for parts of three seasons from 2011-2014. Gibbons moved on to the Columbus, splitting the 2014-15 season between the Blue Jackets and their affiliate in Springfield. The next year he was in Hartford, trying to impress the New York Rangers for a callup that never happened. When no contract offers came his way in the summer of 2016, he earned a spot with the Devils’ AHL team in Albany after a tryout and planted the seeds for an NHL return.

A 16-goal, 38-points campaign impressed Hynes and Devils general manager Ray Shero (who was GM in Pittsburgh when Gibbons was there) enough that he earned an invite to main camp this fall. He fit into his role on the team and won himself a job.

“He’s really bought in to what his identity is as a player. He’s fast, he’s tenacious, he’s very smart. He’s a very good penalty killer. He understands how he needs to play,” Hynes said on Wednesday. “The biggest difference was when he was in Wilkes-Barre there was lots of pockets like that and inconsistencies, but the consistency level and professionalism he has now is allowing his talent and skill set to come out. It’s nice to see a guy like that come in and earn a job, and so far he hasn’t given it up. You want those things on your team because it helps drive internal competition.”

Gibbons and Coleman had a head start on chemistry development at the NHL level after a year of playing together in Albany. The transition was seamless and each knows what to expect from the other. The trio’s success is a small snapshot of a bigger picture. The Devils are one of the league’s top teams through nearly 20 games because of balanced scoring (14 different players have recorded a goal) and Cory Schneider’s play (.935 even strength save percentage) in net. It hasn’t always looked pretty, but they’ve been able to get the job done.

“[We’re] finding different ways to win games, whether it’s getting a lead and playing with a lead or coming from behind or goalies stealing us a game or power play getting a couple goals late,” Gibbons said. “It just seems, for the most part, that when we’ve needed a big play we’ve gotten it and we’ve gotten it from different guys, which is key when you don’t have to rely on one player and can just do it as a group.”

We’ll see if Gibbons can keep up the productivity and finally establish himself as a regular NHL player. When he was down in the AHL he never viewed his time there as one big tryout, hoping to impress a GM to get called up. He was only concerned with what he could control and that was helping his team.

That perspective can be credited to age and maturity.

“I’m at a different stage in my life,” Gibbons said. “Me and my fiancee have a little one-year-old. It’s nice to be able to share it with them. She was with me when I was in Columbus but he wasn’t around. It’s nice for them to be able to share this with me and just enjoying each day.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.