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More minorities in officiating, coaching is NHL’s next step

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Shandor Alphonso never envisioned his hockey career taking him to officiating. He didn’t have to look far to see it was possible.

As a young, black player, all Alphonso had to do was watch “Hockey Night in Canada” or the Stanley Cup Final and he saw fellow minority Jay Sharrers working as a linesman.

“To be able to see someone who kind of looked like me working at the biggest stage of his job, it was unreal,” Alphonso said.

The 34-year-old Alphonso is the NHL’s only African-American official, and Calgary Flames assistant Paul Jerrard is the league’s only black coach. With the sport’s expansion to some nontraditional markets across the United States, there are almost two dozen black players in the NHL, but Sharrers, Alphonso and Jerrard serve as inspiration for more to follow into positions of authority.

“I think it’s an evolutionary process,” said Sharrers, who recently retired. “It’s definitely moved slowly, but I think when you just look at the amount of black players that are now in the league and the fact that that has increased, it would stand to reason that hopefully the opportunity for officials would present itself.”

Sixty years after Willie O’Ree of the Boston Bruins broke the color barrier as the NHL’s first black player, the league is still taking steps to increase its diversity. Alphonso is an ambassador for the “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign this month, which is Black History Month.

Sharrers acknowledged the expense of playing hockey has been a hurdle for minority children for years, but said he is optimistic that more will not only lace up their skates but move into other roles.

“It just stands to reason that that would be a natural progression, that there would more officials of color,” Sharrers said. “The league has been very proactive since they partnered with Willie and created the diversity taskforce almost 20 years ago to expose and to present to people of color that hockey is a great game and it’s a viable opportunity.”

Opportunities have existed for minorities to get into coaching and officiating, though the majority have ended up as goaltending coaches like former NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite. Jerrard played five games in the NHL and then went into coaching, where he’s a visible role model – even if that’s not a role he was looking for.

“I’m just another coach who’s trying to do a good job in the league and stay in the league,” said Jerrard, 52, who has been an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Flames along with several American Hockey League teams. “I guess I am now in a little bit of a position of a role model, but my drive to be a role model isn’t due to the color of my skin. It’s just the way I wanted carry myself as a human being, the way I want to be looked at: doing the right thing and working hard.”

Jerrard hopes kids seeing minorities on the ice playing or officiating or behind the bench coaching shows that “if they’re skilled, driven and passionate, there’s an opportunity for them.”

That’s what happened for Alphonso, who knew he wasn’t going to make it to the NHL as a player and wanted to stay in the game. He thought to himself, “If Jay Sharrers can do it, I could do it” and followed him up the ranks.

Now Alphonso is the one kids can look up to, and Sharrers – who became the NHL’s first black referee in 2001 – believes his younger counterpart can have an even bigger impact.

“Being that his skin is a lot darker than mine and I’m very light-skinned, it wouldn’t register necessarily with someone unless they knew my background to know that I was a person of color,” Sharrers said. “I think for him having both parents being black and being much more of a visible minority, if you will, I think that’s definitely a role that he will now assume.”

Alphonso welcomes that position and would love to one day meet a fellow official he inspired to go that route.

“It’s huge for younger kids to see there are way more things to hockey than just being a hockey player,” Alphonso said. “That’s hopefully what we can inspire these kids to do and get them more involved with the game down the road.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Morning Skate: The hockey world remembers Ray Emery

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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.

• Remembering Ray Emery. (TSN.ca)

• A tragic end for Ray Emery, a polarizing figure who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final. (Ottawa Sun)

• After signing a six-year, $37 million contract last week, a look at how an agent change changed the course of Connor Hellebuyck‘s career. (InGoal Magazine)

Logan Couture, who committed the next eight years of his NHL career to the San Jose Sharks on July 1, is ready to pay it forward. (The Hockey News)

• A move out the wing helped Claude Giroux revitalize his career, and helped Sean Couturier to have a career year, but could a move back to center be the best move for the Flyers going forward? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• A lengthy look at the single best contract for each of the NHL’s 31 teams. (ESPN)

• Vegas’ top line is good, but best top trio hockey? Nope. (Knights on Ice)

Ryan Kesler could miss the entirety of next season and the Anaheim Ducks don’t appear to be worried about it. (Anaheim Calling)

• It wasn’t just New York Islanders fans who felt the sting of his departure on July 1. His own teammates need to pick themselves back up as well. (Sportsnet)

• He’s one the greatest names in Detroit Red Wings history. It’s time to retire Sergei Fedorov’s No. 91. (Detroit Free Press)

• A look at Nathan Walker and the future of international hockey. (Puck Prose)

• Well, this is interesting: Troy Stecher’s closest comparable as he heads to arbitration is in Jim Benning’s family. (Vancouver Courier)

• A look at how Paul Bissonnette has forged a career in multimedia after forging one as a fourth-liner in the NHL. (Forbes)

• After signing Devon Shore to a two-year, the Dallas Stars are still in decent shape in terms of the salary cap. (Blackout Dallas)

• Oilers Nation is doing a player-by-player review from last season, and this particular review looks at if Edmonton is going to miss Patrick Maroon more than they think. (Oilers Nation)

• When Devils’ head coach John Hynes expects to fill his coaching staff and what he wants in an assistant. (NJ.com)

• How Andrej Sustr found healing through art. (NHLPA)

• The rollercoaster of a ride that was the first season of Fanatics handling official NHL apparel. (Scotty Wazz)


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

Canadiens make a good move: Solid deal for Danault

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Unanimously good moves haven’t happened regularly for the Montreal Canadiens these days, so it’s worthwhile to appreciate even what would seem like easy calls.

With that in mind, signing useful forward Phillip Danault to a nice three-year contract ranks as one of Marc Bergevin’s best decisions in some time, whether you can chalk up the value to RFA leverage or not. The Canadiens confirmed that the cap hit is a reasonable $3.083 million per season.

Danault, 25, has essentially been a point-every-other-game player for Montreal. He scored 25 points in 52 games this past season after a relative breakthrough in 2016-17, when he collected 40 points in 82 contests. Not too shabby.

It’s conceivable that Danault could maybe chip in a bit more if leaned upon in a bigger way, as he averaged 16:35 minutes per game, with a touch less than a minute (56 seconds) of that average happening on the power play.

Now, it’s not as though the Canadiens are being foolish in playing him in his current role, as it’s plausible that he’s best served as a supporting cast sort of asset. The point is that Danault seems to make good use of his time, might be able to do a tad bit more, and tends to check out reasonably well from a possession standpoint. He’s not the type of player who will win you a Stanley Cup, yet he’s also the sort of guy who wouldn’t take much off of the table, either. In other words, this is a justifiable contract and could even be a nifty value.

Faint praise? Pretty much, but it’s better than the usual reaction for Bergevin & Co. (laughter, mockery).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery passes away at age 35

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Terrible news on Sunday: former NHL goalie Ray Emery passed away at age 35.

Toronto photojournalist Andrew Collins first reported the sad news, which was confirmed by Hamilton Police. Multiple reporters, including Collins, indicate that drowning was the cause of death.

The Ottawa Senators drafted Emery in the fourth round (99th overall) in 2001, and some of Emery’s best moments happened with the Sens, including a run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. Emery played in 287 NHL regular-season games and 39 playoff contests, also suiting up with the Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks. Emery last played in the NHL in 2014-15 with the Flyers, while his last hockey season came in 2015-16, when he split that campaign between the AHL and Germany’s DEL.

In 2012-13, Emery and Corey Crawford were awarded the William Jennings Trophy, which is handed to the goalie (or in that case, goalies) who produced the lowest GAA during the regular season. He also enjoyed a moment with the Stanley Cup during his time with Chicago:

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Emery stood out thanks to his personality as much as his goaltending, with his one-sided fight against Braden Holtby ranking as one of his most memorable moments in the NHL.

While his NHL career was brief, Emery made an impact, as you can see from an outpouring of emotion from fans and former teammates, including Daniel Carcillo and James van Riemsdyk. Plenty of people around the hockey world also shared their condolences, including Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, who was familiar with Emery during his stint with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk released a statement in memory of Emery.

“On behalf of the Ottawa Senators, I wish to express my sincere condolences on the passing of Ray Emery. Ray was instrumental in our run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, and at his best he brought a competitive edge and combative mentality to the game. On behalf of our entire organization, I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Ray’s family, friends and loved ones.”

Blue Jackets get nice value with Bjorkstrand; Panarin meeting looms

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With agitating uncertainty surrounding the long-term futures of Sergei Bobrovsky and especially Artemi Panarin, it’s probably wrong to say that the Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their “to-do list” on Sunday.

They’ve at least taken care of the matters that are more in their hands this weekend.

On Saturday, defenseman (and potential-gone-wrong) Ryan Murray accepted Columbus’ qualifying offer in something of a shoulder shrug signing. The next day, it was more of a fist bump, as intriguing forward Oliver Bjorkstrand agreed to a friendly three-year deal.

The team didn’t confirm this in its release (because reasons), but the cap hit is a thrifty $2.5 million per season, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline and others.

During his first season in the NHL, the 23-year-old showed promise, scoring 11 goals and 40 points despite modest ice time (an average of 14:18 TOI per game). The Athletic’s Alison Lukan notes that Bjorkstrand checks many of the analytics boxes – rarely a bad sign – so there’s some very genuine optimism that the Dane will deliver strong value.

Personally, it’s also nice to see that he’s hungry to score more goals.

Speaking of the to-do list regarding items they might not have the power to address, Panarin announced that he and his agent will meet with Blue Jackets brass on Monday. Maybe a contract extension actually could happen? Maybe a different sort of resolution is coming?

A lot rides on that situation, yet it doesn’t hurt to land good values at a nice price. That’s absolutely the case with Bjorkstrand.

Really, value might be one of the themes of this Blue Jackets summer, as Bjorkstrand joins Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash as potentially wise bets. Cap Friendly notes that Columbus has its RFAs signed with $5.6M in cap space remaining, so perhaps they have more up their sleeves?