NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Game one of the tripleheader features Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC, followed by a Central Division battle between Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues vs. Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. 

Hockey Day in America coverage shifts to NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET, when Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings host Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers. 

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh – NBC – 12:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
St. Louis at Minnesota – NBC – 3:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)

Throughout Hockey Day in America on Sunday, NBC Sports will shine a light on various stories that celebrate the impact that hockey has had in the U.S. Feature stories that will air throughout the day include:

Team USA’s Shelley Looney – Shelley Looney scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. women’s hockey team in the gold medal game at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, which took place 21 years ago to the day of Hockey Day in America this Sunday. Looney persevered through dyslexia as a child to ultimately graduate from Northeastern University and make the ’98 Olympic Team. She now lives in Buffalo where she’s heavily involved in youth hockey and will coach the U.S. women’s team at the World University Games in Russia in March. Click here to watch a preview.

Charlie and Will Capalbo – Former Fairfield co-op high school goaltender Charlie Capalbo has been in a battle for his life the past two years. Charlie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic lymphoma in March 2017 shortly after the high school hockey season. Following treatments which helped put the cancer in remission, Charlie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Luckily, Charlie is again in remission, and his younger brother Will Capalbo, also a goaltender with Fairfield, is a match for a bone-marrow transplant. NBC Sports details Charlie and his family’s courageous fight, and how the local community has rallied around the Capalbos to provide their support. Click here to watch a preview.

Detroit Ice Dreams – Led by inner-city Detroit native and former semi-pro player Jason McCrimmon, Detroit Ice Dreams is a nonprofit that aims to grow the sport of hockey in Hockeytown and minimizes barriers which prevent underrepresented communities access to the game. Click here to watch a preview.

Bill Parsley and The “Over 60” Hockey Club – Four mornings a week, the Quincy “Bald Eagles” – an over-60 hockey team of retirees and grandfathers – hit the ice, led by their senior-most member, 85-year-old goaltender Bill Parsley. Despite his injury history – a pair of detached biceps, a pair of hip replacements and surgeries on both shoulders – Parsley serves as an inspiration to his team and continues to flash the pads in net. Click here to watch a preview.

• The Hughes Brothers; America’s First Family of Hockey – No American family has ever had three players taken in the first round of the NHL Draft, but in the next few years, the Hughes brothers have a shot. Oldest brother Quinn Hughes was selected 7th overall in the 2018 draft by the Vancouver Canucks and currently plays college hockey at Michigan; Jack Hughes appears to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft and plays for the U.S. National Team Development Program; and youngest brother Luke Hughes is an up-and-coming defenseman for Little Caesars AAA U-15 team.

• Arizona State Sun Devils – For years, the Arizona State Sun Devils were known for their successful club hockey program. They finally launched a NCAA Division I program a few years ago, and after some difficult seasons, are in the midst of their most successful year in school history, currently ranked No. 12 in the country. The club is led by sophomore and Phoenix native Johnny Walker, who currently leads the NCAA in goals with 22, and head coach and ASU alum Greg Powers. The Sun Devils are on the verge of become the first independent school to make the NCAA tournament since 1992.

• Minnesota’s Blind Hockey Team – Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild have partnered this year to launch the Minnesota Wild Blind Hockey program, a new hockey program for players in Minnesota with visual impairments. Blind hockey, which is the newest discipline of disabled hockey, is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport of hockey with minimal rule adaptations to make the game accessible for players who are all legally blind.

David Quinn and Mike Sullivan – The respective head coaches for the Rangers and Penguins in Game One of NBC Sports’ Hockey Day in America tripleheader will clash on Sunday, but share a similar path to their coaching roles. Quinn and Sullivan became friends as teammates at Boston University and discuss their relationship and New England roots.

Pre-game studio coverage begins at noon ET on NBC with NHL Live, which will be on-site in Hockeytown at The Rink at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, Mich. Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will anchor pre-game, intermission and post-game coverage throughout the day alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick. In addition, Tappen will provide reports and interviews from the Team USA vs. Canada women’s hockey game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.

High-schooler ‘sticks it to cancer’ with surprise comeback

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NBC Sports is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL Sunday tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

It was standing room only in the rink, with those in attendance unaware of the surprise that was to be announced in a few moments. Derek Zacchino was lined up on the blue line in full uniform next to his Bethpage High School teammates prepared to take part in the ceremonial puck drop for a benefit game in his honor.

It had been a trying three months for the junior defenseman and his family. A surprise diagnosis after the first practice of the year changed the entire season. Now here he was inside the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center holding a secret that only few people there knew.

Hours before the benefit game Derek learned that partaking in the pre-game puck drop wouldn’t be his only on-ice duties that evening.

***

September 4 on Long Island was a hot one. Temperatures reached the 90s the day before many schools opened in the area. That Tuesday also marked the first day of practice for the Bethpage Eagles hockey team.

The 2018-19 season was to be one of transition for the Eagles. Despite losing the league’s top goaltender and scorer, and some of their top defensemen to graduation, they were hoping to build off last season’s run where they won their conference, reached the Nassau County final, and participated in the New York State tournament.

Derek left that first practice early feeling ill. He found himself experiencing double vision and ended up vomiting in the dressing room. Having experienced headaches over the summer, he chalked it up to being related to concussions he’d suffered in the past. One week and numerous tests later, he found himself on the way to Cohen Children’s Medical Center after doctors discovered a large mass.

“Sorry I couldn’t come to practice tonight, I had to go to the hospital. Turns out I have fluid on my brain,” was the text Derek wrote to Eagles head coach Jeff Schmier, who initially thought he was feeling dehydrated.

Doctors had found a tumor on Derek’s brain and were able to take most of it after emergency surgery the next day. After some tests, it was discovered the tumor was malignant and he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an “aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

“[My wife and I] were just numb. I just thought life as I know it was ended,” said Derek’s dad, Don. “If something takes Derek away from me, I don’t see how I can ever be the same, let alone move on.”

But seeing Derek’s attitude after surgery and the diagnosis, especially as his concern focused on when he could play hockey again and not what he’s been through, helped Don and his wife Dawn deal with the situation.

“He never complained,” said Don. “He never showed sadness or [asked] ‘why me?’ That’s what carried us through. People ask me at work all the time, ‘How are you going through with this? You’re amazing.’ I’m not amazing. My son’s amazing. When I grow up, I want to be Derek. He was leading my wife and I in this journey of positivity. He never let us break down, because how could we? It doesn’t seem to be affecting him.”

Following the surgery, a schedule began that featured radiation treatments five times a week and a chemotherapy infusion every Monday. Derek still wanted to attend school, so treatments took place after classes ended for the day. His new challenge also didn’t keep him away from rink. He was still able to attend practices and games just to be around his teammates and help keep a sense of normalcy.

“It wasn’t too hard being away,” said Derek. “It was more tough not being able to play in the games.”

***

As Derek went through his cancer battle, the community rallied around the Zacchinos. Plans were made to turn Bethpage’s Dec. 19 game into a benefit for the hospital, which saw T-shirts featuring the slogan “Stick It To Cancer” sold in large quantities, as well as gift baskets and signed items donated by various NHL teams to be raffled off.

The night that was expected to raise only few hundred dollars ballooned into something bigger.

Once the crowd filed into packed rink, the atmosphere by those in attendance was likened to that of an NHL playoff game. Everyone was there to support Derek, but earlier in the day some surprise news changed the entire feel of the night.

As Derek sat down for his lunch period, Don called with the news that his doctors had cleared him to play that night. Now he had to go the rest of the day without revealing the secret.

When they arrived at the rink later that day, only Derek, his parents, Schmier, and the head coach of the opposing team, Oceanside High School, knew he was playing.

Derek arrived about 90 minutes before the game because he wanted to beat the crowd and say hello to everyone he needed to and then get ready. “I came in and I’ve never seen so many people in such a confined space,” he said. Schmier had arranged to have each team in the league have a representative in attendance, some of whom sent a number of players from their roster.

A former member of the Eagles’ team who now helps out assisted Derek in getting his equipment into the dressing room without anyone noticing. As Schmier did his usual pre-game pep talk, he emphasized to his players the importance of focusing on such a big night, especially as they were facing a 9-0-1 team. He finished by revealing the secret.

“One more thing,” Schmier said to his players. “I have some news that is going to rock your world. Like I say, defense wins it. We have someone that’s going to be joining us playing tonight and I need one of you players not to dress tonight. Talk about it amongst yourselves. Derek’s going to be playing tonight.”

From there the dressing room erupted in cheers, some players even broke down in tears at the news. It was a needed emotional boost for a team that was going through an up-and-down season.

Once the furor died down, Derek started getting ready, but kept getting interrupted by requests from local news stations for interviews. He didn’t really get to settle in until later on, and once he hit the ice he was running on adrenaline.

Still, while he took part in warmups in full uniform and all of his equipment on, no one in the crowd knew he would be playing. It was Dave Schneider, Bethpage superintendent of schools who made the announcement, which resulted in a roar from the crowd.

There was still a game to be played and the Eagles came out gave their best performance of the season, one that was capped by a strong defensive effort in the final moments.

As Bethpage held a 4-3 lead with under a minute to go and after some penalties, Oceanside found themselves with an empty net and a 5-on-3 advantage. 

“There’s no way I’m getting off this ice,” Derek told Schmier when asked if he wanted to stay on for the final shift.

A complete 60-minute effort wouldn’t be without some luck. As Oceanside pressed for the tying goal, their best chance clanked off the goal post with seconds remaining. The ensuing face off was tied up in the corner by Bethpage and time ran out with the Eagles immediately surrounding Derek in celebration.

“I have never been involved in a sporting event like that night. It was so emotional,” said Schmier, who still remains impressed at the level his team played at that night. “I’ve watched games since… I actually told them, I don’t ever want to hear that that team was better. I saw what you could do tonight, you have no more excuses because they were capable of that.”

Northwell Health

The game took place two days before Derek’s 17th birthday and the victory only added to a night that was a complete success. By the end, $21,016 (Derek wears No. 16) had been raised for pediatric cancer research at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

“I don’t think anything really changed me,” said Derek of his cancer experience. “I learned that there’s a lot more good people out there than you think.”

Derek was unable to finish two other games the rest of the season, as the effects of his radiation treatments were too much for his body. His fight wasn’t over yet as there was a second surgery on Feb. 1. Another MRI in January showed doctors that part of the tumor that was left there originally did not go away and it had grown a little. The good news was that the surgeon was confident he could go in and get it, mainly because there was more room between the tumor and the brain than he originally expected.

Pro-active treatments are now being done to prevent the cancer from returning and eventually he’ll begin an oral chemotherapy treatment. The fatigue he experiences from the radiation treatments is expected to wear off by the end of the month and while they’re not focusing on it yet, he should be fully ready to return to the ice next season.

A week after the second surgery, Derek was a guest of New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk during his annual Kancer Jam fundraiser. The two connected thanks to a teacher at Bethpage High School and met after a game at Madison Square Garden in late December.

Shattenkirk wasn’t the only NHL player to reach out. Fellow Long Island native Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins sent a signed jersey, as did Alex Tuch, who got his Vegas Golden Knights teammates to autograph one for Derek.

***

Through this experience, nothing phased Derek. While his family were concerned about his health, he never complained about what he was going through. His only concern was when he’d be able to play hockey again.

“I don’t even think it’s still hit me,” said Derek, who was named after Boston Bruins great Derek Sanderson even though Don is a die-hard Rangers fan. “When I found out that my last surgery went well, as the doctor said, in remission as of right now. I never really freaked out. So I don’t think it’s even hit me that I was diagnosed with it yet, let alone healed.”

“He was never high and low,” said Don. “He’s Derek. This is Derek.”

That was never more evident as the four of us sat for an interview last week and Schmier casually broke the news to Derek that he would be the team’s captain next season.

“I guessed my senior season year would be our best season,” said Derek. “That’s what I’m hoping.”

The Eagles will only graduate four seniors in June, which means the 2019-20 season will feature an upperclassmen-heavy roster. That will be a team led by a motivated captain who has conquered the ultimate obstacle.

“I didn’t know until this happened, the magnitude of [nothing phasing Derek] and really how impressed I am,” said Don. “Looking back, this is Derek’s personality. The strength and the poise, this is a whole other thing.

“Like I say, when I grow up I want to be him.”

Pre-game studio coverage begins at noon ET on NBC with NHL Live, which will be on-site in Hockeytown at The Rink at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, Mich. Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will anchor pre-game, intermission and post-game coverage throughout the day alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick. In addition, Tappen will provide reports and interviews from the Team USA vs. Canada women’s hockey game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule:
N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh – NBC – 12:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
St. Louis at Minnesota – NBC – 3:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)

————

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.

The Buzzer: Mrazek shines for ‘Canes, Kucherov’s unstoppable run

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Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes moved into a playoff position on Saturday night with a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars (then celebrated like “a bunch of jerks“). It was Petr Mrazek playing a key role by stopping all 33 shots he faced to recorded his third shutout of the season. It hasn’t been a great season for Mrazek overall, but he came through in a big way for them on Saturday night to help put them in a position that seemed impossible for them to reach a couple of months ago.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. Just another day at the office for Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading scorer. He recorded his fourth consecutive multi-point game and is already up to 94 points on the season in just 59 games played. He is still having a season for the ages. Quite literally for the ages. These are Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux type numbers he is recording this season.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes have a brutal season on the injury front and are trying to hang on in the Western Conference playoff race. Their 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night was a big help on that front and it was driven by a shutout from Darcy Kuemper who turned aside all 22 shots he faced to shut out one of the NHL’s best offensive teams.

Other Notable Performances From Saturday Night

  • The St. Louis Blues winning streak reached nine games thanks to a Jake Allen shutout and another big game for Vladimir Tarasenko, while the Colorado Avalanche continued to fade.
  • The Ottawa Senators’ big-three trade candidates all played big roles in their overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets as Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel all scored goals. Dzingel’s goal was the overtime winner.
  • Erik Karlsson made his return to the San Jose Sharks’ lineup and recorded an assist in their 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Joe Pavelski also had two points in the win.
  • Derek Ryan had three assists for the Calgary Flames in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • After losing three games in a row and seven of their past nine games the Vegas Golden Knights broke out of their slump with a big 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

Highlights of the Night

Check out this snipe by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to open the scoring in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made the save of the night against the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins went on to the game 4-2 to keep pace in the Atlantic Division.

This shot by Ryan Pulock to open the scoring for the New York Islanders in their win over the Edmonton Oilers was an absolute rocket. Perfectly placed, too. An unstoppable shot if there ever was one.

Factoids

  • Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane extended his points streak to 17 games. This is the first time since 2009-10 that more than one player has had a point streak of at least 17 games in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have three players with at least 70 points through the first 60 games of the season. The most recent team to do that was the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. [NHL PR]
  • The Winnipeg Jets did not win, but they did collect a point for the overtime loss thanks in large part to a pair of shorthanded goals. [NHL PR]
  • Saturday was the sixth time in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history they surrendered a four-goal lead but still went on to win the game. That is … kind of impressive in a weird sort of way. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel became the 16th American-born player in NHL history to record at least 800 points in the NHL with an assist in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Detroit Red Wings 5 (OT)

Calgary Flames 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

St. Louis Blues 3, Colorado Avalanche 0

Arizona Coyotes 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 0

Ottawa Senators 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 0

New York Islanders 5, Edmonton Oilers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Dallas Stars 0

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Nashville Predators 1

San Jose Sharks 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

Boston Bruins 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes move into playoff spot, keep celebrating like ‘bunch of jerks’

Carolina Hurricanes
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The Carolina Hurricanes found themselves in the crosshairs of another angry old-school hockey analyst on Saturday night when Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry used his Coach’s Corner segment to criticize the team’s Storm Surge celebrations that take place after home victories.

During the segment, which was basically a 1:17 rant, Cherry repeatedly referred to the Hurricanes players as “jerks” (four times to be exact, including as “a bunch of jerks” at the end) and warned them not to do it in the playoffs because, well, this is the National Hockey League and that’s just not what you do.

This all comes after former NHL general manager Brian Burke has repeatedly criticized the celebrations and referred to them as “pee-wee garbage stuff.”

(You can see Cherry’s segment here starting at the 4:25 mark.)

The Hurricanes, of course, do not really care what the outside world thinks and their social media team wasted no time in having some fun with the criticism.

So guess what happened on Saturday night?!

The Hurricanes won again by defeating the Dallas Stars, 3-0, to move into a playoff spot for the time being by jumping one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins who were on the losing end of a 5-4 decision against the Calgary Flames earlier in the day.

The Penguins still have a game in hand and play on Sunday afternoon (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC), but the fact remains that the Hurricanes are currently occupying a playoff spot. Even if they fall a point back by this time on Sunday, they have still played their way back into legitimate playoff contention and are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, not only for a potential Wild Card spot, but perhaps even a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division.

They are in it.

The Hurricanes also did what they do in these situations and broke out another Storm Surge celebration by doing … the limbo.

With a minute to play in regulation, fans at PNC Arena, obviously having been made aware of Cherry’s commentary, started chanting “bunch of jerks” as the clock ticked away.

They are not just embracing the criticism, they are feeding off of it.

My stance on the Storm Surge is very well established at this point: It is great, it is fun, and it is not showing anyone up because the other team is already long gone from the ice and it’s for the home fans. And even if it was, if you do not like it as an opponent you always have the option of winning the game. Nothing wrong with showing personality and having fun in sports.  Also, I want to see them doing it on the road, but as Jordan Martinook said to me after a game a couple of weeks ago “that will never happen.”

As for the recent results on the ice and what this all means for the Hurricanes, with Saturday’s win they are now 16-5-1 since Dec. 31, giving them 33 points during that stretch.

No team in the NHL has more points since then.

Everything is clicking for them right now.

They have an outstanding defense that makes them the best shot suppression team in the league (again!) and Curtis McElhinney has been a surprising stabilizing presence in net. That combination has made them a top-10 goal prevention team in the NHL and the recent addition of Nino Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild has given them a much-needed goal-scoring presence in their top-six to go with emerging stars Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

Whether or not this will all be enough to end what has been a decade long playoff drought has yet to be determined, but this is probably one of the best chances they have had to get back in the playoffs. It is also the most exciting team they have put on the ice since that last playoff appearance during the 2008-09 season. They are young, they are fun, and they are building something that is worth watching — during and after the games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.