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Paul Bissonnette on personality in hockey, transitioning to radio (PHT Q&A)

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NEW YORK — After a few years away, Paul Bissonnette returned to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a different role. Now retired after 12 seasons as a professional, “Biz Nasty” has taken on the job as the team’s radio analyst and community ambassador.

That was the start of a busy summer for Bissonnette, 32, who also filmed “Biznasty Does B.C.,” a five episode web series that will debut on VIKTRE.com in November. It will feature over a dozen NHL players and other athletes documenting his travels through British Columbia.

Bissonnette chatted with Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday as the Zamboni hummed along the ice inside Madison Square Garden.

Enjoy.

Q. How did the opportunity to join the Coyotes as radio analyst come up?

BISSONNETTE: “I’ve always loved Arizona, they gave me my chance. I’ve always remained good friends with a lot of guys, especially in the media side of it, just because I spent so much time in the press box and bag skating and hanging out with them afterward. [Coyotes PR man] Rich Nairn, we’ve been talking about it for a few years but I still wanted to play. And then I blew both of my ACLs out last year and it was just time. Luckily, I was able to move in as the color radio guy. I’m obviously thankful now to be back on planes and back in the NHL.”

What made you decide against going through rehab for the ACLs and deciding to hang them up?

“It was just time. I’d met a girl and she [asked] ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ And to be real, I knew I was eventually going to get into the media stuff. I don’t want to say I became irrelevant, but I was fading out; whereas when I was in the NHL and I was Tweeting, I was in [people’s] faces because I was around. When I went to the [AHL], it was good to get away. I got to win a Calder Cup with the LA farm team [Manchester Monarchs] and I got to have some fun my last couple of years winning. I got to ride it out on my own terms and then it was just time to hang them up.”

If a different organization had come calling, would you have had the same feeling?

“I don’t know. I never really exercised any of my options because I’ve been talking with Rich for at least a year and a half about it. Last year, when I tore my first ACL I was pretty sure I was going to hang them up. I didn’t get surgery right away. I tried to rehab it to finish my career for my last season last year, and then my first game back I tore my other one. So it was a year from hell. I think that was someone up top’s way of saying, ‘Bro, f—off. You’re done. We’ve given you 12 years of pro, now beat it.’ So it’s time to let the kids play, so to speak.”

What’s been the learning curve for you in the booth so far?

“It’s way more difficult than you think. There’s a lot of preparation that’s involved. I’m fortunate enough where I get along with all the media staff. [Fox Sports Arizona’s] Todd Walsh has been around a long time. Tyson Nash was in a very similar situation that I was and he’s done a great job and been successful at it, so I’ve just been asking a lot of questions and shadowing them. They’ve done a great job of helping me out and taking me under their wing.”

What’s the normal game day routine for you?

“I just like to come [to the rink] and chat and sometimes pick opposition’s media’s brains and see how their team is doing. There’s another thing, the NHL Network people, I don’t know how the f— they keep track of 31 teams and all these guys. I have a hard time just doing ours. I’ll get here two hours before [the game] on the bus with [radio play-by-play man] Bob Heethius, who’s been awesome to me, I just prepare with him. We talk about the notes. We look back what their record’s been against this team in recent memory, how the team’s been playing, stats and then just prepare ourselves for the game. Like I said, it’s nice to have a guy and follow him around and do it properly. And even at the beginning, I wasn’t sure I was preparing enough, where the last couple of games I’ve been doing it more and you’re never left with times where you have nothing to say because you always have a little nugget… That’s a term they use, by the way. I learned that one.”

Yeah, you’re catching on.

“Yeah, see? You know what nuggets are. I didn’t know what nuggets were.”

A lot of guys step away and don’t know what they want to do. It must be nice for you remain around a hockey team on a daily basis.

“That’s the one thing I’m most thankful for, is you see these guys, a lot of us don’t have education. We were too busy playing hockey our whole life and all of sudden it’s taken away from you. A lot of guys don’t get to go out on their own terms. I was fortunate to be able to do that and I was fortunate to have a job lined up where I didn’t have to sit around waiting like where am I gonna see my next paycheck, even how am I going to stimulate my mind. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not even the money. I’ve been fortunate.”

What duties are part of your ambassador role with the team?

“One thing as a player that I never had a problem doing, especially because I didn’t play a lot, was going to do all of these events or charity meet and greets. These guys have a long schedule. It’s hard on them, and I told [the team] if these guys are tired and they just got off a road trip and they have a hospital visit, if one guy’s been lugging a lot of ice time and he’s banged up a little bit, send me instead. I know it might not have the same impact as Oliver Ekman-Larsson being at a hospital rather than me.”

Did you have an idea during your career of what you wanted to do after hockey?

“I’ve always one to be a clown. I don’t take myself seriously at all. Lately I’ve been reading on Twitter guys get ragged on, especially hockey guys, for having no personality and I’ve kind of sat back and been like, yeah, because anytime something’s not going well hockey-wise fans and media will use that against them if they show any type of personality. So they use it to their convenience.

“For instance, we got [Connor] McDavid in our mockumentary for the finale. Well, now I’m a little concerned because do I want to put this thing out where maybe Edmonton’s not doing so great and then now people are going to be like ‘Well, shouldn’t you guys be focusing on hockey?’ It’s like, you can’t please anyone now.”

But it was filmed in the summer. It’s not like you’re doing it now.

“But you know it’s coming. We’ve been trying to do some media stuff with the Coyotes and it’s hard because the team’s not winning. You don’t want to also put guys in a vulnerable situation where fans are attacking them because they’re having a little bit of fun off the ice. You’ve got to remember it’s just a game. If any time, especially now, you need to lighten up and try to remember you’re playing a game for a living.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZxI73qhI4X/?hl=en&taken-by=biznastydoesbc

What did you want to get out of the project?

“Other than the fact that I’m thankful that these guys took the time. Shane Doan jumped in for a full day; so did Morgan Rielly. It was at a charity golf tournament where Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Brendan Gallagher jumped in for 20 minutes each. This is more of hey, I hope hockey fans realize that these guys do have personality. We just have a very humble sport where guys tend to not come outside their shell because they don’t want to come off as abrasive. There’s a lot of reasons. They don’t want to give people fuel and open themselves up in a way where someone can use that negatively towards them.”

Jaromir Jagr had a great quote on Hockey Night in Canada recently where he said he avoided media at times because he didn’t want to have all the attention on himself and felt it might rub some guys the wrong way. He justed wanted to be part of the team.

“That’s just being self-aware. I guess it was different for me because when they interviewed me they just wanted me to be a clown and it was different, as opposed to if you’re interviewing a star and you’re having individual success and the team’s struggling a little bit. Yeah, you never know what other guys are thinking. Maybe there’s a little animosity towards that where I think maybe guys would overthink it when it’s really not like that. That’s just how humble hockey guys are. That just goes to show that they’re more concerned about what their teammates feel and how that might look towards them or make them feel than of them just being themselves and being like hey, these guys want to interview me.”

Finally, now that you’ve stepped away and said it was the right time, do you miss the game?

“Yeah, I didn’t think I would miss it as much but as I’m around the rink more… Because I’m part of an organization, so when you see a guy get hit or taken advantage of you want to get down there and get involved. I’ll always miss it.”

Still have a little enforcer in you.

“Maybe I’ll come back like [Michael Jordan] with the 45 or something.”

————

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Bolts need Vasilevskiy; Isles should be buyers

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Flyers are rallying behind Oskar Lindblom after his Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• The Bolts need Andrei Vasilevskiy to play like he’s one of the best in the world again. (Tampa Times)

• Coaches have been getting fired for reasons both known and unknown. (Los Angeles Times)

• The Blackhawks keep finding ways to hit new lows this season. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Jim Benning was looking to trade Sven Baertschi, but he was forced to put him on waivers. (Vancouver Sun)

• A London Knights physiotherapist helped save Tucker Tynan’s life. (CTV News)

Tom Wilson has become a new-age power forward. (Sportsnet)

• Four players from the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association will play in the ECHL All-Star classic. (The Ice Garden)

• If good teams don’t go on long losing streaks, what does that mean for the Edmonton Oilers? (Edmonton Journal)

• Referee Tim Peel is likely done for the season after suffering a broken leg. (RMNB)

• Islanders GM Lou Lamorielllo should dip into the rental market this season. (GothamSN)

• Alexis Lafreniere is hoping to become the next future first overall pick to turn in an incredible performance at the World Juniors. (Featurd)

• It’s still too early to say that Jack Eichel is among the greatest players. (Rotoworld)

• It’s time for the Anaheim Ducks to rebuild. (Spector’s Hockey)

• Former Lightning head coach Steve Ludzik needs a liver transplant. (Tampa Times)

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.

The Buzzer: Kane’s hat trick; Staal’s milestone night

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with Jonathan Toews
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Three Stars

1) Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Kane surpassed Sidney Crosby for the scoring lead this decade with 16 days left in the 2010s. Since Jan. 1, 2010, Kane has 791 points (311G, 480A), while Crosby has 788 points (296G, 492A). No. 88 recorded his sixth NHL hat trick in Chicago’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota. The Blackhawks have a long way to go if they want to have a realistic shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but a victory against a surging division rival is a good place to start.

2) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

On a football Sunday, the Jets scored a touchdown in their 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Scheifele played a huge part with his three-point performance featuring a goal and two assists as he extended his individual point streak to six games. Neal Pionk added three assists, including two power-play helpers. The top four teams in the Western Conference (Blues, Avalanche, Jets, Stars) currently reside in the Central Division and playoff positioning will be crucial as each team eyes a lengthy postseason run.

3) Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Staal became the 89th player in NHL history to have 1,000 career points when he tallied a power-play goal against Chicago Sunday. After a dreadful 4-9 start to the season, the Wild have climbed up the standings with a 12-4-5 record in their past 21 games. The alternate captain leads Minnesota with 26 points, including four goals in the previous three games.

Other notable performances from Sunday:

  • Anze Kopitar’s two-goal performance in the Kings’ 4-2 victory against the Red Wings helped him surpass the iconic Wayne Gretzky for fourth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Kopitar picked up his 918th and 919th point in his 1038th game.
  • Blake Wheeler finished with three points, including a goal and an assist during a four-goal barrage spanning 4:17.

Highlights of the Night

Staal etched his name in the NHL record books with this one-time blast

William Karlsson won an important foot race before Reilly Smith slid a cross-ice pass over to Jonathan Marchessault

Factoids

  • A total of 33 goals were scored across four contests Sunday for an average of 8.25 per game [NHL PR].
  • The Jets scored four goals in a span of five minutes or less for the fourth time in franchise history [NHL PR].
  • The Jets’ four goals in a span of 4:17 are their second-fastest scored in a game in franchise history, behind the mark of 3:50 set on Nov. 18, 2017 [NHL PR].
  • Canucks’ Bo Horvat has won an NHL-high 414 faceoffs this season [Sportsnet Stats].

NHL Scores

Winnipeg Jets 7, Philadelphia Flyers 3

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Minnesota Wild 3

Los Angeles Kings 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, Vancouver Canucks 3

Sabres demote under-performing center Mittelstadt to minors

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have assigned under-performing second-year center Casey Mittelstadt to the minors.

The demotion to Rochester of the AHL was made Sunday, coming a day following a 3-2 overtime loss at the New York Islanders in which Mittelstadt was a healthy scratch for the third time in four games.

The 21-year-old has four goals and five assists in 31 games this season, and limited to just a goal and an assist in his past 21. Buffalo selected the play-making center with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft following his senior year in high school.

He then signed with Buffalo and jumped directly to the NHL in making his Sabres debut immediately following his freshman college season at Minnesota.

Mittelstadt has failed to play up to early projections of developing into Buffalo’s second-line center. He has 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 114 career NHL games.

Players hope U.S.-Canada rivalry game helps spawn pro league

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The United States women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public’s interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.

Canada’s Victoria Bach and the Megan Keller of the U.S. traded power-play goals in the first period, before Amanda Kessel put the U.S. on top for good with a player advantage in the second. Abbe Roque’s backhand in the period gave the US a 3-1 lead and Alex Carpenter beat Genevieve Lacasse for the final goal 1:15 seconds later.

More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.

“I think it’s important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that’s out there,” Kessel said. “It’s getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year.”

The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women’s Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.

“The product is there,” Kessel said. “The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place.”

Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women’s league.

“We can look at (the WNBA) and see that women’s sports have value and they have a place in this world,” said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. “That is definitely a model that we look to.”

The rivalry series was created after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over their salary and working conditions.

Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.

Canada won two of those over the US in Pittsburgh last month.

But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players’ development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Nurse said. “Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more games to play.”

Cayla Barnes, who plays defense for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.

“They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations,” she said. “Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can.”

Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting “U-S-A” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older,” said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury “I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn’t the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it.”

The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.