Nordiques Nation’s next trip: 2,000+ fans to April 10th Bruins-Devils game

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Depending on how the respective Phoenix Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers sales go, it’s quite possible that there could be two NHL teams on the move. If you take Gary Bettman’s comments about the Coyotes at face value, Winnipeg seems like the odds-on favorite to “make it seven” Canadian cities with a NHL team.

Yet that hasn’t stopped the City of Quebec from pushing hard for the return of the Nordiques (or at least another NHL squad) as well. While politicians push to build an expensive NHL-ready arena on the backs of taxpayers, grassroots campaigns by the group Nordiques Nation might provide an impressive showing of support in a more personal way.

Back on December 11th, Quebec area radio personality Vincent Cauchon managed to convince approximately 1,100 people to travel to Long Island for an Atlanta Thrashers-New York Islanders game to announce just how passionate the idle fan base could be. Even if Cauchon meant it as more of a statement about the Thrashers than the Islanders, the message was clear. If fans were willing to take a big chunk of the seats all the way away from home at an Islanders game, imagine how many would show up for a game in Quebec?

Cauchon and the Nordiques Nation hopes to make yet another statement on the final night of the 2010-11 regular season, as they plan to bring more than 2,000 fans to Newark for a Boston Bruins-New Jersey Devils game. The New York Times Slap Shot blog reports that 1,600 people will make the trip via 31 buses while 500 people will travel on their own.

“We just want to show the N.H.L. that Quebec needs a team and is a better market; maybe a third of the markets in the N.H.L. aren’t doing so well right now,” Cauchon said.

Cauchon said last week that the trip to Newark had “the same goal, in the same peaceful way, just to let people know we won’t give up and we are the best crowd with our team.”

When it comes to statements of minor protest, these are as peaceful – yet still persuasive – as they come. It’s true that the Devils aren’t a moribund franchise from an on-ice success perspective. Yet without getting too in-depth with attendance statistics that aren’t always 100 percent reliable, let’s just say their consistent winning ways haven’t consistently generated the greatest level of passion from fans in New Jersey and its surrounding areas.

Even with the playoffs being unlikely, the fact that more than 2,000 fans – not just out of the state but out of the country – could organize a pilgrimage to New Jersey for the final game of the regular season says a lot.

If you ask the Nordiques Nation, it would be tough to imagine 2,000 seats going unattended if they ever get their team back.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.