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2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class changed the game

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The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame class will be inducted Monday night in Toronto.The six-person group will include builders NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Willie O’Ree, and former players Martin Brodeur, Jayna Hefford, Martin St. Louis, and Alexander Yakushev.

Each of the six inductees have made significant impacts on the game of hockey. From growing the game in North America and around the world to dominance on the ice, the 2018 class left a lasting imprint on the sport.

Player Category

Martin Brodeur – The true “no-brainer” of this class, Brodeur, is the NHL’s all-time wins leader at 691.

One could get as fatigued as Brodeur should have been as the New Jersey Devils’ workhorse goalie rattling off all of his records and milestones. Along with that wins record, he’s tops all-time with a ridiculous 125 shutouts. He also amassed eight 40-win seasons and won at least 30 games for 12 consecutive seasons.

His NHL trophy case features three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, a Calder, and five Jennings Trophies. Internationally, Brodeur won two Olympic golds representing Canada and a World Cup of Hockey title.

There’s not a debate about the NHL’s greatest goaltender ever without Brodeur’s name being included.

Jayna Hefford – Hefford’s distinguished career included four Olympic gold medals and seven golds at the IIHF World Championships. The Canadian legend is third all-time in scoring and games played for the national women’s team. Her goal in the final against the U.S. was the eventual gold medal-winning tally at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. She was named Top Forward at the 2004 and 2005 IIHF Women’s World Championships.

Playing majority of her club career for the Brampton Thunder in the NWHL and CWHL, Hefford finished with 439 goals in 418 games and hit the 40-goal mark twice. She was also a three-time CWHL MVP.

Martin St. Louis – He went undrafted, and that notorious Olympic snub coming off of a scoring title punched his ticket out of Tampa Bay. For much of his career, St. Louis seemed to deal with slight after slight, yet now he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It’s easy to see why.

St. Louis won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, two scoring titles, and was a prolific playoff performer. Even with “the clutch and grab” era diluting some of his numbers, he scored 391 goals and 1,033 points in 1,134 regular-season games. He also generated 90 points in 107 postseason contests.

Combine those totals with an Olympic gold medal and you can’t ask for a much better resume, especially since he had to earn every chance he ever received. St. Louis won’t need to kick down the door this time, though.

Alexander Yakushev – The Russian hockey icon was “a lanky and elegant scoring machine” during his playing days, standing out during the iconic 1972 Summit Series. He’d go on to win two Olympic gold medals (1972 and 1976), seven golds at the Worlds and be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2002.

Builder Category

Gary Bettman – One of the most controversial figures in NHL history, Bettman has undeniably made a huge impact on the league and sport as a whole. Whether you like it or not.

There’s been plenty of good and bad. For example, he’s been at the head of three lockouts, one of which included the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

But since taking over as the league’s first commissioner Bettman has helped the NHL expand from 24 teams to 31 (and likely 32 very soon). There have been plenty of successes to go along with polarizing decisions; this induction reflects all of that.

The league has also enjoyed big revenue growth since he took over as the league’s first commissioner. Over the last 25 years, league revenues have grown from $400 million to over $4 billion. Expanding the NHL’s footprint in North America and abroad, along with the introduction of outdoor games and TV rights deals in the U.S. and Canada have helped.

Willie O’Ree – This honor is long overdue.

O’Ree broke the color barrier for the NHL when he suited up with the Boston Bruins in 1958, inspiring countless players. The first black player in league history only played 45 games at this level, but his legacy is incredibly important.

Since 1998, O’Ree, 83, has been the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador for the Hockey is for Everyone Program and also worked as its Director of Youth Development. According to the league, the HFE program has introduced over 120,000 children to the game of hockey. Constantly on the road, he’s had a big hand in helping establish 39 grassroots programs helping disadvantaged youth around North America.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

“My expression is ‘If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right,’ and there’s a lot of truth in that,” O’Ree said. “If you set goals for yourself and work towards your goals and make things happen, everything seems to work out.”

Last spring, the NHL introduced the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is presented annually to the person who best utilizes hockey as a platform for participants to build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience. The first winner of the award was Darcy Haugan, the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

The Buzzer: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

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Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

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.

Mrazek gets punched in mask by Thornton; leads Hurricanes to win

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It was an eventful night for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.

When it comes to the important stuff — stopping pucks to prevent goals and get a win — he was about as good as he could have possibly been by turning aside 28 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime, as well as all three shots he faced in a shootout, to help lift his team to a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks and bust out of a mini-slump that had seen them lose three of their previous four.

He also had a run-in with Sharks forward Joe Thornton that saw him get punched squarely in the mask.

It all started mid-way through the second period when Thornton attempted to jab at the puck that Mrazek had covered in the crease. Mrazek, taking exception to that jab, then chased after Thornton, swung his stick at the back of Thornton’s leg, stood up to get in his face … then got punched.

There were penalties handed out here, with Thornton getting two minutes each for roughing and slashing, while Mrazek was given a two-minute minor for slashing.

Mrazek was asked after the game if it is tough getting back into the game and maintaining focus after a scrum like that, and he was quick to say that’s actually better for him because it makes him feel like he is in the game.

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.

 

Panarin scores in return to Columbus, helps Rangers steal one

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Artemi Panarin was back in Columbus on Thursday night for the first time since leaving the Blue Jackets to join the New York Rangers in free agency this past summer.

After hearing some early boos from the local crowd, Panarin ended up getting the last laugh and was the difference maker by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 win.

Panarin was the Blue Jackets’ best player for two years and one of the biggest reasons they made the playoffs both years, finally winning their first playoff series a year ago when they upset the heavily favorite Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

This is the video tribute the Blue Jackets had prepared for Panarin on Thursday.

So far his time with the Rangers has been everything the team’s management could have hoped for, and with his goal on Thursday is now up to 13 goals and 34 points on the season in his first 27 games.

What has to be especially frustrating for the Blue Jackets in this one isn’t just the fact that Panarin came back to haunt them by scoring the game-winning goal, but they were probably the better team in this game and played well enough to win. They ended up dominating the pace of the game and outshot the Rangers by a 47-19 margin and spent the entire night taking up residence in the Rangers’ end of the rink.

The problem was Alexander Georgiev was a rock in the Rangers’ net.

They also gave up a crushing goal to Brendan Lemieux in the closing seconds of the first period, erasing what had been a 1-0 lead and squandering what was a tremendous start to the game.

The win allowed the Rangers to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race and leaves them just three points back of a Wild Card spot.

The Blue Jackets fall to 11-13-4 and are already eight points back.

Related: Rangers’ Panarin returns to Columbus the way he left: as a superstar

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.

 

Canadiens’ Kotkaniemi leaves game after scary fall (Video)

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Scary scene in Montreal on Thursday night during the first period of the Canadiens’ game against the Colorado Avalanche.

Second-year forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi had to leave the game after an ugly fall that resulted in him hitting his head off the ice. He remained on the ice for a few moments before being helped off the ice by teammates with his head slumped over.

The Canadiens announced that he was out for the remainder of the game due to an “upper-body injury.”

You can see the sequence in the video above.

It all happened after Kotkaniemi was pinned against the boards by Nikita Zadorov, and then fell backwards. There are a lot of problems with Zadorov’s hit, including the fact it looked to be very late (the puck was long gone from Kotkaniemi when Zadorov initiated the hit) as well as the fact he appeared to lift his right leg and swing into the back of Kotkaniemi’s, knocking him backwards. That doesn’t really qualify as a slew-foot, but everything about the play itself seemed unnecessary.

There was no penalty called on the play.

The Canadiens are already playing without two key forwards in Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron.

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.