Getty

Ryan Reaves promised Willie O’Ree a big game, and he delivered

2 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

PITTSBURGH — Willie O’Ree is one of the NHL’s pioneers having broken the league’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season when he first suited up for the Boston Bruins.

The 82-year-old O’Ree, who still looks like he could take a shift in the NHL if he wanted to, was in Pittsburgh on Thursday night to take in the Penguins’ game against the Los Angeles Kings and received a pre-game promise from Ryan Reaves, one of the current players he helped open the door for in the NHL several decades earlier.

In a meeting before the game, Reaves told O’Ree that he was going to try and have a big game for him and then proceeded to go out and score the game’s opening goal in the Penguins’ 3-1 win.

O’Ree was interviewed in the arena during a TV timeout and said that he spoke to Reaves before the game and that he actually promised him a goal. At that point Reaves stood at the Penguins’ bench and tapped his stick on the boards.

He had a chance to keep the promise early in the game only to be stopped on a breakaway by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. He would finally get that goal in the second period when he unleashed a pretty wicked shot from just above the right circle to beat Quick and give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

After the game there was some confusion as to whether or not Reaves had actually promised O’Ree a goal.

“I don’t promise goals,” laughed Reaves. “I can not promise goals. I do not know if you have seen my scoring touch, but I said I was going to have a good game for him, hopefully get him one. Then I did.”

Reaves, one of the NHL’s current black players, said it was a huge honor and a thrill to play in front of O’Ree.

“Coming off the last game, I don’t know if you guys watch too much hockey, but I was absolutely horrendous in our last game and I needed a bounce back,” said Reaves when asked what that moment was like. “Obviously with Willie O’Ree in the house it was pretty special. He was a pioneer for players like me and it was nice to get him one.”

“That is somebody you look up to. He was big in the NHL, big in all sports for players like me.”

Given what O’Ree was able to accomplish it is fairly stunning that he has not yet been honored with a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Even though his career lasted just 45 games over two seasons and resulted in only 14 points, his impact can not be measured in games played or points. It is bigger than that, and the NHL has a specific category for people like him that have advanced the game. It’s called the Builders category, and it absolutely applies to people like O’Ree.

Here is what the NHL says about the basis of selection for builders.

Coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.

That is pretty open for interpretation, but breaking the NHL’s color barrier seems to be a significant contribution to the game of hockey in general.

I asked Reaves after the game if it was long overdue for O’Ree to get a spot.

“Absolutely,” said Reaves. “I think it should have been done once he retired. A guy that has the balls to do something like that and jump into the NHL, he was the first black player to do that, it is a special thing.”

Indeed it is. Other sports seem to agree as almost all of the players that have broken the color barrier in the other three major North American sports have a spot in their sports respective Hall of Fame.

Jackie Robinson, having broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Three years later Earl Lloyd broke the NBA’s color barrier and was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 2003 as a contributor.

Marion Motley and Bill Willis broke professional football’s color barrier in 1946 when they played for the Cleveland Browns in the old All America Football Conference. Both are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (it is worth pointing out that Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who would go on to be the first black players in the NFL several weeks later when they played for the Los Angeles Rams, are not currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).

Probably time to get O’Ree a spot in Toronto.

————

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.

All-Rookie, All-Star Teams and rest of 2018 NHL Awards

Leave a comment

Let’s recap the remaining winners from the 2018 NHL Awards. Before we do so, here are the other big winners and corresponding links.

Hart Trophy

Taylor Hall

GM of the Year

George McPhee

Vezina Trophy

Pekka Rinne

Selke Trophy

Anze Kopitar

Jack Adams Award

Gerard Gallant

Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman

Calder Trophy

Mathew Barzal

Bill Masterton Trophy

Brian Boyle

Ted Lindsay

Connor McDavid

Lady Byng

William Karlsson

Also:

P.K. Subban named cover star for “NHL 19.”

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late coach Darcy Haugan (Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award).

***

Now, let’s jump into the remaining awards and honors.

Mark Messier Leadership Award

Deryk Engelland (see video above this post’s headline)

King Clancy

Daniel and Henrik Sedin

William Jennings

Jonathan Quick with Jack Campbell

Of course, Alex Ovechkin won the Maurice Richard Trophy and Connor McDavid took the Art Ross.

First NHL All-Star Team

Left Wing: Taylor Hall
Center: Connor McDavid
Right Wing: Nikita Kucherov
Defense: Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman
Goalie: Pekka Rinne

Second NHL All-Star Team

Left Wing: Claude Giroux
Center: Nathan MacKinnon
Right Wing: Blake Wheeler
Defense: Seth Jones and P.K. Subban
Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

All-Rookie Team

Forwards: Clayton Keller, Brock Boeser, and Mathew Barzal
Defense: Charlie McAvoy and Will Butcher
Goalie: Juuse Saros

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.

Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late head coach

1 Comment

Ten members of the Humboldt Broncos reunited on Wednesday night during the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. The survivors of the April 6 bus crash that killed 16 players and staff were on stage to help give out the first Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award to their late head coach Darcy Haugan.

The award, presented “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society,” was voted on by the public after fans submitted candidates, and the field was then narrowed down to three finalists.

From the NHL:

Haugan left a lasting impact in Humboldt, Sask., as well as every other community that was fortunate enough to have him as a resident or involved in junior hockey. He changed the lives of many of his players, always being there for each one of them and never hesitating to give them a second chance. He fought for his team and had their backs – he was the coach and mentor everybody wanted. Haugan believed strongly that the game is not about making hockey players; it is about making amazing human beings. He did just that, building up young leaders who also developed strong hockey skills along the way. His presence would fill the room and his love for the game was undeniable. Haugan died doing what he loved, surrounded by the young people he dedicated his life to. Haugan left behind, in all of those he touched, his spirit and passion for the game, his love for his beautiful family, and his example of dedication to his community.

Haugan’s wife, Christina, accepted the award in his honor.

The other finalists were Debbie Bland of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League and Neal Henderson of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club.

The NHL Foundation is donating $10,000 in Haugan’s memory to the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association, a charity important to the coach.

On Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson will bring the Stanley Cup to Humboldt on Aug. 24 that will involve a skills competition at the Broncos’ home rink.

————

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.

Hall beats MacKinnon for first Hart Trophy

3 Comments

Being that Art Ross and Ted Lindsay winner Connor McDavid wasn’t even a finalist, it’s clear that being indispensable to your team factored heavily into the 2017-18 Hart Trophy voting.

With those unspoken parameters in mind, it makes sense that the MVP race ended up being so close between runner-up Nathan MacKinnon and winner Taylor Hall. Anze Kopitar ranked a distant third, but he could take comfort in being a finalist and also taking home his second Selke.

Sometimes you need to dig deep into “With or Without You” stats to realize how much a player stands above his teammates. You merely need to glance at the gap between Hall’s scoring (93 points, sixth-best in the NHL) and the next highest-ranked Devil (Nico Hischer with 52). Hall clearly dragged the Devils to an unlikely playoff berth, scoring that many points in just 76 games.

Nathan MacKinnon, meanwhile, finished with 97 points in 74 contests, yet he enjoyed a bit more help as Colorado’s top line was rounded out by fantastic wingers in Mikko Rantanen (84 points) and Gabriel Landeskog (62).

Now, the trickier part is figuring out if McDavid deserved to either win it or at least be a finalist. Ultimately, the PHWA viewed Hall as the “player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” no doubt weighing a playoff appearance in their decision:

As you might expect, the deeper voting is quite interesting. Kopitar narrowly edged Claude Giroux for third place, while there’s an interesting list of players who managed a single vote: Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Victor Hedman, and Eric Staal. Drew Doughty got a fourth place vote while Hedman receive one fifth, yet Hedman ended up the Norris winner.

During certain seasons, the Hart Trophy is an easy call. This was one of the tougher years to truly pinpoint a top season, but the beauty for hockey fans was because there were so many great choices.

However you feel about who should have been the actual winner, Taylor Hall generated an absolutely brilliant season.

For a player who was traded for flawed reasons and blamed far too often for his teams’ failings, it must be awfully sweet to receive such high recognition. It can’t hurt that this award came after his first-ever postseason appearance, either.

Naturally, Hall has his eyes on the sort of celebration that Alex Ovechkin is enjoying right now, but Hall’s 2017-18 season was “a long time coming” in its own right.

And, yes, the Oilers must weep at the thought that they voluntarily gave up an opportunity to deploy the 2018 Hart winner (Hall) and the 2018 Art Ross winner (McDavid) on the same team.

GM of the Year George McPhee adds another award for Golden Knights

Leave a comment

George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights continued a big night for the franchise as he was named 2017-18 General Manager of the Year during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. Earlier, Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award for top coach, William Karlsson was named winner of the Lady Byng and captain Deryk Engelland took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

The NHL’s 31 GMs and a panel of League executives, print and broadcast media voted on the award following the conclusion of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Using the NHL’s expansion draft rules to his advantage, McPhee made shrewd deals to add draft picks and impact players while creating the franchise’s first-ever roster. Success came right off the bat and the Golden Knights ended their inaugural season by becoming the first modern-era expansion team from the four major North American professional sports league to win its division. By advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, Vegas became the third team in NHL history to win multiple playoff rounds in their first season.

McPhee was presented with the award by actress Lynda Carter and Nicklas Backstrom, the player he drafted in fourth overall 2006 while GM of the Washington Capitals.

Kevin Cheveldayoff of the Winnipeg Jets and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the other finalists this year.

————

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.