Travis Hair talks about the Coyotes, the fans, and snakes

YotesFans.jpgTravis Hair, the managing editor of Five For Howling, has lived
through the frustration of being a Phoenix Coyotes fan. He’s been a
devout fan through it all, and I know just how much he suffered through
all the troubles last summer. He seemingly took it personally, as his
team was fought over in court and nearly every pundit wrote how the team
should ultimately be moved.

Amid all this uncertainty was a
team that was in desperate need of
guidance, and a fan base that felt abandoned. The team had been mediocre
for too long in an environment where hockey can certainly struggle, and
when the issues surrounding the ownership of the franchise erupted the
fans were left out in the cold.

Now, after the first playoff
hockey game in Arizona since 2002, everything has turned completely
around. The Coyotes are the feel good story of the season, the fans are
back in rabid fashion and the Throw The Snake campaign has put Travis
and Five For Howling on the map. As the Coyotes get more and more
attention, so has Travis and his great blog.

Pro Hockey Talk was
able to chat with Travis about this past season, the great hockey game
in Glendale last night, and his experiences since become famous in the
hockey world.

As the hockey world embraces the Coyotes, Travis
says he’s not that surprised.

“Who doesn’t root for the CInderella
or the underdog?”  Those are the best of
sports stories,” Travis tells Pro Hockey Talk. “Who doesn’t hate the
Wings that isn’t a WIngs fan?”

“The
bigger surprise is the support from teams in the playoffs. Hawks fans,
Sharks
fans, Preds too. They’re cheering for us too.”

The Coyotes won a
big game against the Red Wings last night, as raucous fans turned a
hockey arena in Arizona into one of the most electrifying atmospheres in
all of hockey. Travis says that atmosphere was building outside the
arena before the game ever started.

“There were wranglers with white
coyotes on harnesses
walking around out front. Just cool.
There were tons of painted up fans, fans wearing capes, fans cheering
outside
before they ever got in. People were mostly in their seats early because
they
didn’t want to miss a moment.”

It was certainly a bit unexpected,
even with the hype the team had started to get leading into the
playoffs. Travis, however, says that this has been building for most of
the season. As far as the team goes, he says he knew they might be onto
something special well before then.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew
it was going to be this
special,” he says. “But the first clue I had was early in the year when
we went to
Pittsburgh and shutout the Penguins. It’s just one game, but anytime you
can do
something like that to the defending champs it gives you confidence in
your
team.”

What’s been truly special to witness is how a simple joke
on Twitter turned into an all-out campaign for solidarity among Coyotes
fans. The Throw The Snake movement has been embraced all around hockey,
and has put Travis and his blog on the map.

Travis says that
while there were “10 to 12” snakes that ended up on the ice, the arena
officials didn’t seem all that concerned with stopping it.

“One of
my friends was wearing a “Throw the snake” shirt [availiable on Five
for
howling] and the security people were like ‘What’s that mean?’ He had to
explain
it.

“Heck, some people got some octopi into the arena.”

As
the Throw The Snake movement gained traction, Travis has been sought out
by the media to provide his thoughts on the Coyotes, the fans and
hockey. He’s talked to Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog, appeared on local
radio, and had his blog mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada as well as
on iDesk on the CBC.

It’s some surprising instant fame for Travis, who considers
himself just a simple blogger. It’s all been a bit unexpected.

“Though
I run a blog on one of the biggest and well run networks around, I’m
just
a blogger.”

“I don’t even know where to
go from here. I’m just a hockey fan and had this random Throw The Snake
and the
team take off. I’m excicited about where this goes and also just stunned
by the
sudden attention.”

If there’s one blogger and one website that
deserve the attention, it’s Travis and Five For Howling. He’s toiled
through some tough times and now it’s paying off as his site sky
rockets.

The team has been pushing their “Whiteout 2010” campaign,
and Five For Howling has followed suit. It’s something that has
certainly worked for this team and these fans.

“Everyone was cheering, booing, oohing, Everyone
was high-fiving everyone. It was just
amazing.”
“Talk about how we shouldn’t do the whiteout if you
want,
but it was electric.”

You can follow Travis on Twitter at twitter.com/TravisHair.

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    Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

    If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

    Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

    Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

    “I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

    The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

    “We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

    The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

    Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

    Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

    She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

    She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

    U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.