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Wickenheiser, Pegula reflect NHL’s trend toward diversity

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — With a laugh, Kim Pegula’s competitive nature kicked in when the subject of the Toronto Maple Leafs hiring Hayley Wickenheiser was broached.

Impressed as the Sabres president was by the gender-breaking move in August, Pegula’s first reaction was wondering how Buffalo’s cross-border rival beat her to the punch in making Wickenheiser the NHL’s first woman to hold a hockey operations role as assistant director of player development.

”Darn it,” Pegula said, smiling. ”I wish I would’ve done it first.”

The NHL’s first female team president then turned serious.

”No, I was very glad to see that. I think it’s a long time coming,” Pegula said. ”That’s going to have staying power.”

Wickenheiser was amused when informed of Pegula’s initial reaction, hoping other teams such as the Sabres will follow the Maple Leafs in breaking hockey’s glass ceiling.

”Well, that’s a good thing,” said Wickenheiser, a five-time Olympian and one of the most accomplished women in hockey. ”I don’t see why we won’t see women in other positions like this in the near future.”

The Maple Leafs also added Noelle Needham as an amateur scout – only the third women to hold such a job in league history – in another move buttressing the idea that the NHL is making progress in welcoming women to key roles.

”I think respect, courage, getting over tradition, being brave enough to think outside the box is what took so long,” Wickenheiser said.

”Hockey’s a very traditional game, very old school in a lot of ways. And the new generation of leadership coming in doesn’t think the same way as the old school did,” she added. ”It’s just an evolution of where we’re at as a society. And I think hockey’s following along with it.”

Pegula, who with her husband Terry also own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, took over the president’s title of both teams in May after Russ Brandon resigned over an alleged inappropriate relationship with a female employee. Rather than hire a new president with both teams breaking in new coaches and general managers, Pegula took over to provide stability.

Inroads are being made at the league office, too. In the past two years, ,the NHL has hired Heidi Browning as chief marketing officer, and Kim Davis as executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stressed the importance of encouraging diversity in a league he says has a fan base almost evenly split between men and women.

”We want our clubs and our league to hire the most qualified people. But we want to consider applicants with every sort of background,” Bettman told The Associated Press. ”Diversity is a strength in all forms. So as we’re continuing to evolve and grow, having the resource of lots of different people with lots of different backgrounds and experience is only going to make the game stronger.”

Wickenheiser has long criticized the NHL’s lack of diversity, especially when it comes to hiring women as compared with North America’s other major professional sports.

Dawn Braid was pro hockey’s first full-time female assistant in being hired as the Arizona Coyotes skating coach in 2016; she is no longer with the team after a two-year stint.

The NBA now features two female assistant coaches, including Becky Hammon, who interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching vacancy in spring. In the NFL, Pegula’s Bills were the first to hire a full-time female assistant, Kathryn Smith, in 2016, and in August appointed Phoebe Schecter to a season-long coaching internship.

Finally, the NHL is catching up, with Wickenheiser saying: ”If you’re only hiring white men, you’re probably missing out on a lot of talent that’s out there.”

Wickenheiser’s qualifications are hard to match, male or female. The 40-year-old won four gold medals and a silver, and is the Winter Games career leader with 18 goals and 51 points upon retiring in January 2017.

Even though she is pursuing a degree in medicine at the University of Calgary, Wickenheiser jumped at general manager Kyle Dubas’ offer to mentor Leafs’ prospects both in western Canada and during monthly trips to Toronto.

Wickenheiser acknowledged there’s added pressure on her to succeed.

”I think it would be silly to ignore that fact. So yeah, I feel that expectation,” she said.

And yet, it’s no different from the challenges she faced playing on the international stage and in various men’s leagues during her 23-year career.

”To me, it feels pretty natural,” she said. ”There’s something a little bit disarming about it that makes it in some ways easier to have that conversation. They know I’m not a threat to them, because I’m on their side.”

Pegula’s rise to becoming one of the most influential women in sports grew from modest beginnings. She was an orphan in South Korea before being adopted in 1974, and eventually grew up outside of Rochester, New York.

”I really don’t take that for granted, and I realize the situation I’m in,” she said of her childhood. ”There’s nothing I can complain about. And I hope I never lose that excitement and energy of what I do, good or bad, wins and losses.”

The Pegulas are newcomers to sports. They purchased the Sabres in February 2011, a year after Terry Pegula sold his Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling rights for $4.7 billion to Royal Dutch Shell. Some 3 1/2 years later, they secured the Bills’ long-term future in western New York by buying the franchise after the death of owner Ralph Wilson.

Kim Pegula acknowledged there’s been a steep learning curve in going from being a season-ticket holder to the owner’s box of a sports empire that also includes the National Women’s Hockey League ‘s Buffalo Beauts.

Pegula regards her role as an equal partnership with her husband, though their interests in approaching their teams differ, which is a reflection of their 25 years in marriage. Terry Pegula enjoys studying film, player development and paying careful attention during games, while Kim veers more toward game presentation, fan amenities and player needs.

”For Terry, I call him ‘a wild-catter’ in the oil and gas business. What he loves is finding and developing natural gas fields,” she said. ”I’m more, and I think it comes from being a mom, whether it’s problem solving, figuring things out, getting things done. Execution.”

It was Kim who played a big role in designing the Sabres and Bills new locker rooms and player lounges.

Pegula won’t, as she put it, tell coach Phil Housley how to run his power play, but she did have a say in hiring him, and takes a personal approach in getting to know each player.

Upon signing with the Sabres in July, goalie Carter Hutton recalled how Pegula texted his wife asking if she needed help getting settled. Pegula then sent gift baskets to Hutton’s wife and children.

”For someone in a position like that to reach out and take the time to really make sure my wife felt comfortable was really important,” Hutton said, noting that didn’t happen in his previous four stops. ”It makes the transition easier for me to focus on playing hockey when everything else is taken care of at home.”

Pegula is pleased with NHL’s emphasis on diversity.

”What we have now and women being seen in these roles, that trickles down,” Pegula said. ”So in 10 years, you’re going to have qualified coaches available, not just one, much more of a handful.”

Wickenheiser foresees opportunities opening up on numerous fronts for women, from officiating, coaching to management.

”Yeah, anything’s possible,” she said, before breaking into a laugh when asked about her next step.

”Honestly, I have given that zero thought,” Wickenheiser said. ”I’m just trying to get through today.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

3 Takeaways: Lightning top Stars in Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stars nearly erased a 3-0 deficit in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but the Lightning held on for a 3-2 win to tie the series 1-1. Let’s mull over three takeaways from the Lightning’s narrow Game 2 win vs. the Stars.

The Stars and Lightning face off in Game 3 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Injuries, fatigue haven’t totally blunted the Lightning attack.

More than once early in Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it sure seemed like Nikita Kucherov was hurting. Some of us might have felt an impulse to suggest resting the seemingly banged-up winger after Kucherov suffered through this collision with Jamie Oleksiak:

(And that wasn’t even the only scare for Kucherov, although it was the biggest one from Game 2.)

Despite accruing more bumps and bruises, the Lightning showed that their skill can take over against the Stars during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. Promisingly, Brayden Point rifled home a key 1-0 power-play goal. Being that Point missed significant chunks of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final, seeing Point score was a welcome sight even beyond the scoreboard.

But Kucherov was especially impressive. He made a nice play to set up that Point goal, and the real treat was Kucherov’s tremendous slap-pass to set the stage for Ondrej Palat. Palat almost seemed handcuffed by that great Kucherov feed:

With both Kucherov and Point banged up, and Steven Stamkos still not in the lineup, it doesn’t always look like the Lightning are at full-strength. Apparently they’re pretty dangerous even when they’re not at 100 percent.

2. The Stars are better off in a Game 1-type situation than Game 2.

On one hand, the Stars showed that they’ll fight hard in Game 2. No, it wasn’t enough to erase that 3-0 deficit, but that was a strong push.

And a nasty style? That’s probably in the Stars’ more rugged wheelhouse.

Still, Game 2 served as a reminder that if the Stars had the chance to choose between control or chaos, they’re better off coloring inside the lines.

Recall that, through the first two periods of Game 1, the Stars largely bottled the Lightning. Dallas actually won the SOG fight 18-14 over the opening 40 minutes, then saw the Lightning bombard a keyed-in Anton Khudobin during the third period.

In Game 2, both teams kept streaming to the box, and that burned the Stars like the Texas sun during summer time. It made for wilder, more compelling hockey, but Dallas is better off avoiding the dangerous game of trading chances with Tampa Bay.

To some extent, that problem might sort itself out quite a bit since officials are notorious for avoiding calling just about any subjective penalty as a series goes on. That said, there were unforced errors in Game 2, such as Blake Comeau taking a foolish interference penalty during the second period.

Ultimately, the Stars need to find the right balance between taking away the Lightning’s time and space, while also not having that physical edge push them into the penalty box. That rhythm was off – for Dallas – in Game 2.

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves some attention, too.

It’s only natural for Anton Khudobin to draw a ton of attention. Beyond playing exceptional hockey, his journeyman story just begs for headlines, and probably glossy video features.

Don’t forget about the guy in the other end, though. Even if he’s a prototypically sized goalie who bucked the larger trend and was selected as a first-round pick.

We’re through Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, and Vasilevskiy hasn’t suffered consecutive losses during this Lightning run.

Tampa Bay needed Vasilevskiy to have a stellar second period, and he didn’t disappoint. Only a Joe Pavelski tip ended up in the Lightning net despite the Stars generating an 18-5 shots on goal advantage in the middle frame. Overall, Vasilevskiy stopped 27 out of 29 shots in Game 2.

It’s not as sexy of a story as Khudobin beating the odds, yet Vasilevskiy living up to huge expectations isn’t exactly chopped liver in narrative form, either.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

Lightning ride hot start in Game 2 to tie 2020 Stanley Cup Final vs. Stars

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The Lightning almost watched a 3-0 lead evaporate before their eyes, but they did enough to beat the Stars 3-2 in Game 3, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

From here, the two teams approach Game 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN – livestream) with the 2020 Stanley Cup Final series looking like a coin flip.

Lightning win Game 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final thanks to strong start vs. Stars

Back in Game 1, the Lightning failed to score during a busy third period, but they put a lot of pressure on Anton Khudobin.

This time around, the Lightning broke through. Tampa Bay received three consecutive power-play opportunities to begin Game 2, and chasing in with PPG played a big role in taking that crucial 3-0 first-period lead.

Nikita Kucherov sent tremendous passes to Brayden Point (1-0 PPG) and Ondrej Palat (2-0 PPG) to set up those first two goals. Considering the bumps and bruises Kucherov already was dealing with, it’s impressive that he managed that after painful falls like these:

We’re not that deep into the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, yet the Stars and Lightning are already building up some serious bad feelings. Things boiled over more than once in Game 2, including after Ryan McDonagh ended Blake Comeau‘s night early with a bone-rattling hit.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Chalk it up to sitting on a lead or the Stars unleashing the hounds, but either way, Dallas made a serious push to get back into this one. The Stars managed an 18-5 shots on goal advantage during the second period, a frame where there stream of penalties turned into a geyser. Joe Pavelski‘s nice tip for a PPG gave the Stars a shot, and then Mattias Janmark cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 early in the third thanks to a tremendous feed by John Klingberg.

Anton Khudobin’s been getting a lot of attention, yet Andrei Vasilevskiy has been strong during these 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was sharp when he needed to be on Monday.

Once the Lightning’s lead diminished to 3-2, it seemed like they rose to the task. The Lightning actually managed a significant third-period SOG advantage (12-5), even though the Stars was trying to get back into Game 2.

Mikhail Sergachev seemed to score a 4-2 insurance goal, but a successful offside review pushed it back to 3-2.

That didn’t end up being a turning point in Game 2, as the Lightning shut the door against the Stars, tying the 2020 Stanley Cup Final 1-1.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2.
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

Leon Draisaitl becomes first German to win Hart Trophy, also takes Ted Lindsay

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Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl became the first German player to ever win the NHL’s MVP, taking the 2019-20 Hart Trophy. This capped quite a haul for Draisaitl, who ran away with the Art Ross Trophy (110 points) and also won the player-voted answer to the Hart, taking the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award.

Draisaitl finished first ahead of Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) and Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers).

Along with becoming the first German player to win the Hart Trophy, Draisaitl became the fourth Oilers player to nab the award. Draisaitl joined Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Connor McDavid (who won in 2016-17).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl wins 2020 Hart Trophy over MacKinnon, Panarin

Draisaitl ended the truncated 2019-20 season with 110 points. Not only did he lead all scorers, but Draisaitl was the only player to cross the 100-point threshold. Draisaitl’s Oilers teammate Connor McDavid finished second in scoring with 97 points.

Panarin, meanwhile, tied David Pastrnak for third in scoring with 95 points. MacKinnon ranked as the only other player above 90 points in 2019-20, collecting 93.

While Panarin and MacKinnon managed large edges in points scored over their next-highest-scoring teammates, some will ding Draisaitl for the boost he received playing with McDavid. Even so, Draisaitl showed that he can carry his own line at times, and put up bonkers numbers. Managing 110 points in an 82-game season is already impressive in this tight-checking era. Doing it in 71 games is pretty flabbergasting.

The Hart Trophy debate among members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association would have been interesting to hear, as MacKinnon wasn’t that far behind Draisaitl:

It’s also interesting to see Connor Hellebuyck received some — though not a ton — of Hart Trophy votes.

NHL announces All-Star teams, All-Rookie teams

Naturally, Draisaitl also made the 2019-20 NHL First All-Star Team. With Draisaitl taking the center spot, Nathan MacKinnon actually settled for a second-team nod, with David Pastrnak sliding in at RW.

Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck, Norris winner Roman Josi, and Norris runner-up John Carlson joined Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin on the 2019-20 NHL First All-Star Team:

2019-20 NHL First All-Star Team including Hart winner Draisaitl

MacKinnon joined Brad Marchand and Nikita Kucherov as the forwards on the 2019-20 Second All-Star Team. Tuukka Rask got the nod as the goalie, while Victor Hedman and Alex Pietrangelo made up the two defensemen.

Finally, the 2019-20 NHL All-Rookie Team is an impressive group. You almost wish they would have listed more than the usual two defensemen, as Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar made it alongside Quinn Hughes. Elvis Merzlikins got the goalie spot, while Nick Suzuki, Victor Olofsson, and Dominik Kubalik took the forward selections.

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.