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Daniel Briere on starting up an ECHL franchise, his future in management (PHT Q&A)

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It didn’t take long for Danny Briere to get back into hockey following his August 2015 retirement. Two months later, he was working for the Philadelphia Flyers learning the ropes of management under the guidance of Paul Holmgren.

That experience prepped him for the next step in his post-playing career: management.

This past summer, Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the Flyers, bought the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, who were ceasing operations, and moved them to Portland and renamed them the Maine Mariners. Briere was named vice president of hockey operations and has been helping the franchise get prepared for its start for the 2018-19 season.

Portland had AHL hockey as recently as two years ago, but the Pirates were sold and moved to Springfield, Mass., which caught many in the community by surprise. Briere and his staff have been working to re-connect with the fanbase. They also now have a head coach after hiring Riley Armstrong. And while the franchise is owned by Comcast Spectacor, the Mariners are not affiliated with the Flyers or any NHL team at the moment.

We recently spoke to Briere about his move into management, what a day in his life looks like now and his future working in hockey.

Enjoy.

Q. How did this opportunity with Mariners come about?

BRIERE: “I always had a good relationship with Paul Holmgren. He’s the one who signed me with the Flyers when I was a free agent back in 2007. After I retired he approached me and gave me the opportunity to get involved on the business side with the Flyers, kind of learning a different facet of the organization that I didn’t know much or anything about. It’s been amazing. It’s really gotten me out of my comfort zone. At first, I was completely clueless to what was going on around me, but they have amazing people in the office that have helped me learn the business side and feeling more and more comfortable every day. It’s been a fun challenge; very uncomfortable at times, but that all started with Paul Holmgren bringing me aboard and giving me the chance to learn first-hand how it works behind closed doors.”

What are your duties now and will they change once the franchise is up and running next fall?

“I followed Paul around for a couple of years, along with [Flyers Chief Operating Officer, Alternate Governor] Shawn Tilger, they’ve been great at integrating me on the business side. When this opportunity came and Comcast Spectacor, who owns the Flyers, bought this ECHL franchise, Paul and Shawn approached me about running the business side of the hockey department for that franchise. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get my toes wet a little bit, to learn first-hand and really move forward to make my own decisions a little bit. It’s not just about following and seeing how things work, but now I have a little bit more of a say and I have to make decisions. It’s been great. I don’t know moving forward what the deal will be. I’m just kind of running with this at this point and trying to make the best of it and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Run me through a typical day for you as you’re getting things up and running?

“It’s checking in with the people up in Maine at this point. Because we don’t have a hockey team going, it’s mostly building the front office, checking in with [vice president of business development] Adam Goldberg up there, making sure everything is working right, that he has all the tools to function. It’s trying to get our name out in the community in Portland, letting people know that we have the team coming back, trying to get people back on board. And also some stuff on the hockey department, especially here in the second half looking at hockey games, trying to find players that might be enticing to add to our group and to bring to Portland for next year.

“I think it’s a job that evolved because we’re starting from scratch. You’re building a front office, now we’re going to start building the hockey side and then we have to put the team together before we start playing. There’s different stages and we’re moving towards every stage so far without too many problems. It’s been good. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s a role that evolves as we moved forward.”

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after playing?

“No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’ve always liked the finance field. It’s something that I was always drawn into from an early age. But I also had no clue how much involvement it entailed [working in an] organization, how much work needed to be done on the business side. When I played I was worried about meetings on the teams I was going to face, on the power play we were going to bring up that night, the goalies I was going to face, the defensemen. So I had no idea how many people it needed, how much work needed to be done to get a game ready, to get people in the stands, to get advertising for a franchise to function. It’s been really cool to see a different side of hockey that I didn’t know much about.”

Do you see this as a first step into NHL management someday?

“Honestly, I hope so, but at this point I’m not looking too much forward. I want to enjoy what’s going on now. I’m having a blast, I’m having fun with this. I’m trying to soak it all in as much as I can to get some experience. It’s not very often that you have the chance to start an organization from scratch. We saw Vegas do it last year and they’ve been extremely successful, so they’re a good example as well. But it doesn’t happen very often. I’m trying to gather as much experience and information as I can as I’m going through it. I believe that moving forward it’s probably going to benefit me. It’s probably going to help me moving forward. That’s the way I see it, but I don’t have any long-term goals that I’m trying to get to or achieve. I’m just trying to enjoy this as much as I can and make this team and this franchise as successful as we can.”

What’s the response been like from the Portland community about the franchise coming back?

“It’s been good. I feel like the people in Portland have been burned a few years ago with what happened and the team leaving at the last second. We’re trying to make them believe in us, make them believe that we’re there for the long haul, it’s not a one-and-done. Because it’s such a big organization that Comcast Spectacor is, we’re serious about putting a good, solid organization there. But I have the feeling that they’ve been without hockey for a couple of seasons now and I feel like they are excited about this team coming back in their community and I’m hoping that people reach out and really decide to support it. We want that as well. We want to include the fans as much as possible. We want it to be their team and be there for the long haul, kind of like the old Maine Mariners, the reputation that they built over the year, we’re hoping it goes back to that and they can look at their team and be proud of the Maine Mariners, just like they were of the old Maine Mariners. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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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: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

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.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.