USA Hockey’s deal with top women help them play for career

By Larry Lage (AP Hockey Writer)

PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) — Kelly Pannek is on pace to graduate from the University of Minnesota in the spring with a finance degree. With two internships in wealth management also on her resume, she is a prime candidate to get hired in the business world.

The 2018 Olympic champion plans to put her off-ice-career on hold, thanks to a landmark deal involving USA Hockey last year.

”I plan on just playing hockey as long as I can because I can,” she said.

That used to be a challenging choice for the nation’s top female hockey players.

After threatening not to show up at the 2017 world championship at USA Hockey Arena, the top American female players in the sport agreed to a package of improvements, including one that helped their bottom line. Post-graduate hockey players can make about $70,000 a year and about $130,000 annually in Olympic years.

”The progress we made through that deal has changed a lot of our lives, and changed the future of our sport,” said Meghan Duggan, who captained the U.S. when it won gold over Canada at the Olympics earlier this year. ”Before that, all of us relied on other income from a second job, spousal and family support because we weren’t earning a living that supported us in an appropriate way. The deal also created awareness and cultural change.”

During USA Hockey’s training camp last week, where 44 of the top women in the sport gathered, the governing body had some of its top executives in attendance. Three-time Olympian Hilary Knight said that was new and suggested a dramatic difference in support.

USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher was in suburban Detroit not just to be seen. He said he heard what the women had to say and shared information about the USA Hockey’s mission.

”The communication is better than it has been,” Kelleher said before one of his meetings with the group. ”Relationship-wise, we need to have great teammates and be great teammates. We want to understand their side and what they’re looking for. We also want to give them more background on our organization, which has 650,000 participants and 1.2 million members. There’s a lot that goes with that.”

Before the 2017 agreement, many players had to juggle jobs and decide whether to stick with the sport or to give it up to pay the bills.

Knight used to squeeze in private lessons on the ice between her own training and competition to make ends meet after graduating from Wisconsin.

”Coming out of college and having that transition without a set template of what you should be doing and how to be a professional was challenging,” said Knight, now 29 and playing with the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes in Montreal.

Two-time Olympian Amanda Kessel, who is 27, said the increased training stipend allows her to live in New York City and not worry about balancing her career with a life as much as before.

”It was just stressful,” she said. ”You still loved playing hockey, but when you’re 25, 26 years old and you don’t have an income you’re think, ‘What am I doing?’ I had some help from family at times. I had side money from camps and just had to pinch pennies. Now, I have no problem getting a massage or going to physical therapy and paying out of pocket to take care of myself.”

The deal with USA Hockey also allows women to collect their training stipends while pregnant , a benefit enjoyed by the Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

Pannek acknowledged she didn’t worry too much about the fight for better benefits previously because she was still in college on a scholarship. But just months away from graduating, she is grateful for the path paved by those before her.

”I saw how hard our veterans worked to set this up for all of us coming out of college,” she said. ”I couldn’t imagine how it used to be. Coming out of college this next year is really special because there are options. I can get an education and I know I can use it, but maybe not right now and put that into the future and play hockey for the next few years. I want to keep playing as long as I can and then use my degree.”

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    The Buzzer: Vatrano’s four-point night; Laviolette earns win No. 600

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    Three Stars

    1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers: Continuing his career year, Vatrano notched his 16th goal and added three assists as the Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2. The score was knotted at two as the third period began but goals from Keith Yandle and Vincent Trocheck nine seconds apart blew the game open in the Panthers’ favor. Aleksander Barkov chipped in with three helpers of his own. According to the NHL, Vatrano is the third undrafted player in franchise history to record a four-point game, joining Steve Reinprecht and Jesse Belanger.

    2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: The Finnish netminder turned aside 35 of 36 shots he faced as Nashville downed the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. The win snapped Rinne’s three-game losing streak and helped Predators head coach Peter Laviolette earn his 600th NHL victory. Nick Bonino recorded his 100th career goal and now has four goals in his last four games. Nashville has won 12 of its last 13 regular-season games against Colorado.

    3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal scored his 15th of the season and later helped set up Charlie Coyle‘s game-winning goal during a 4-2 Wild victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves and has stopped 64 of his last 67 shots faced. Minnesota is now 4-0-1 against Vegas and are one of two teams (St. Louis) without a regulation loss against the reigning Western Conference champions.

    Highlights of the Night

    Pretty little goal here from Viktor Arvidsson, who leads all NHL players with 10 goals since the calendar turned to 2019:

    Paul LaDue‘s first goal since October was the difference as the Kings topped the Blues:

    Congrats to Mackenzie MacEachern for scoring his first NHL goal in the Blues loss:

    One heck of an effort by Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise to help set up Mikko Koivu‘s empty-netter:

    Justin Braun‘s going to want another shot at this one:

    Factoids of the Night

    • Via the AP: Laviolette is the 20th coach in NHL history to each 600 career wins and third this season joining John Tortorella and Claude Julien.

    • Per the NHL, birthday boy Jonathan Quick recorded his 302nd victory, which is fourth-best among U.S.-born goaltenders. He’s now 67 behind Tom Barrasso.

    • Also per the NHL, Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers is the 13th defenseman in the League’s modern era (since 1943-44) to record at least 10 goals in each of his first five seasons.

    Scores
    Predators 4, Avalanche 1
    Kings 4, Blues 3
    Wild 4, Golden Knights 2
    Panthers 6, Sharks 2

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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.

    LaDue’s third-period goal helps Kings edge Blues

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    The Los Angeles Kings will head into the NHL All-Star break and their bye week on a winning note following a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the St. Louis Blues Monday.

    Paul LaDue, who hadn’t played for the Kings since Dec. 29, scored 9:53 into the third period to snap a 3-3 tie and give the LA the lead — a lead they would not relinquish.

    The Blues entered the game on a positive swing after grabbing points in six of their previous seven games. Goaltender Jordan Binnington has been a difference-maker (4-0-1, .954 SV%, 1.19 GAA) since taking the No. 1 reins from Jake Allen. 

    It was a good start for St. Louis as Mackenzie MacEachern tallied his first NHL goal late in the opening period and Oskar Sundqvist followed up 8:18 later to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.

    The good times were short-lived for the Blues as Tyler Toffoli got LA on the board 15 seconds after Sundqvist’s goal and the Kings used the second period to flip the script. Goals from Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty changed the scoreline to the home teams’ favor. But while they were on good behavior for most of the game, a Dion Phaneuf cross-check opened the door and gave Ryan O’Reilly the room to fire home the tying goal on the ensuing power play.

    The loss was the sixth time this season that a 2-0 lead for St. Louis ended up as a defeat.

    Birthday boy Jonathan Quick made 33 saves to earn his 302nd career victory, which moves him past Mike Richter and into fourth place on the NHL’s list of most wins by a U.S. born goaltender.

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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.

    Oilers bet on Koskinen with three-year extension

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    The Edmonton Oilers have apparently made a decision on their goaltending for the next three years. On Monday, the team announced that they’ve extended Mikko Koskinen for three years with total salary of $13.5M.

    “We are excited to have signed Mikko to a three-year contract extension through the 2022 season,” said Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. “Mikko has a lot of experience as a number one goalie and has performed well both internationally and for our club.”

    That $4.5M salary cap hit means that Cam Talbot, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, will likely be moving on after the season. Koskinen has a .918 even strength save percentage in 27 games this season after spending the last seven seasons in the KHL and Finland.

    Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Koskinen will make $5.2M next season, $3.3M with a $500,000 signing bonus in 2020-2021, and $4.5M in 2021-22.

    Where did this extension come from? Koskinen’s recent numbers haven’t been strong (.906 ESSV% since Jan. 1) and it’s not like there was going to be a strong market for a soon-to-be 31-year-old goaltender with mediocre numbers come free agency in July. The worst part of this for the Oilers is that there is a very good chance Chiarelli isn’t in his job come October, so the next general manager of the team will inherit this contract.

    Was there a rush to lock up a starter for next season and beyond for the Oilers? Was Chiarelli thinking Koskinen’s price would rocket up if he played well over the final three months of the regular season? What is Talbot’s status as the Feb. 25 trade deadline approaches? Is he now, along with forward Jesse Puljujarvi, a piece of trait bait to shore up one of their numerous holes?

    The Oilers are only three points out of a Western Conference wild card spot, and with jobs on the line, as well as the pressure of season ticket renewals approaching, there’s a full-on playoff push by the organization and an attempt to set up their future in a positive way. But given the previous decisions of the current regime, don’t bet on it.

    MORE: Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie

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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.

    PHT Power Rankings: Don’t sleep on the Blue Jackets

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    It can be really easy to sometimes forget about, or even completely overlook, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Historically, they are still a franchise that has yet to get out of the first-round of the playoffs. They have been constantly stuck in the shadows behind perpetual Stanley Cup contenders (and Stanley Cup winners) like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the standings, and unable to knock them off their thrones when it comes to the postseason.

    This season they not only have to deal with those two teams that have won each of the past three Stanley Cups, but the New York Islanders have also emerged as the story in the Eastern Conference.

    So again, it is easy for them to kind of get … lost.

    But the Blue Jackets are good. They are really good, and they are a team that you should be paying attention to as we head into the second half of the 2018-19 season.

    How good are they? For starters, they are a top-10 team in the league standings as of Monday. They have an exciting game-breaker at forward in Artemi Panarin, and they have one of the best all-around defenders in the league in Seth Jones who continues to get better every single season. Along with them, second-year player Pierre-Luc Dubois is developing into a legit top-line center, while Cam Atkinson is the best goal-scorer in the league that nobody ever talks about (14th in the league since the start of the 2015-16 season). Their underlying numbers are strong. They are a good possession team, they typically win the scoring chance battle, and they are really good on the penalty kill.

    What makes them such an intriguing team is that they have maintained such a high spot in the standings and are still right in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race despite getting some of the worst goaltending in the league this season.

    At least as far as potential playoff teams go.

    Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play has dropped significantly from where it has been in previous seasons, and while Joonas Korpisalo is a decent backup he’s probably not going to be backstopping a team to a title.

    Overall, the Bobrovsky-Korpisalo duo has managed only a .900 save percentage for the season. That is 20th in the NHL. The only teams currently occupying a playoff position that are worse than them are the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. When it comes to even-strength play, they drop down to 24th where Sharks are the only team in a playoff spot with a worse mark. Typically teams that get this level of goaltending don’t end up winning many games. The fact the Blue Jackets are, and winning as regularly as they are, is a testament to how strong the team in front of their goaltenders can be.

    Long-term this team has some question marks, specifically as it relates to Bobrovsky and Panarin who are both eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Losing one or both could be pretty damaging, especially with Panarin because it is going to be extremely difficult to replace his production. But in the short-term, this is a really good hockey team that is decent goaltending away from being a true contender in the Eastern Conference. Especially as the two teams that have stood in their way the longest have seemingly taken a step back this season.

    The only question is whether or not they can actually get that goaltending this season, and if it is going to come from Bobrovsky or from somebody that is currently outside of the organization.

    The Elites

    1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still in a class all to themselves. The pressure to win it all is going to be immense this season.

    2. Calgary Flames — An absolutely incredible one-year turnaround. In any other year Bill Peters would probably be a lock for the Jack Adams Award, but he is probably already stuck in second place behind Barry Trotz.

    3. San Jose Sharks — It’s not usually a good sign when two of your top-three scorers are defenders. But when those two defenders have combined to win three Norris Trophies (and be finalists three other times) and are both point-per-game players, you can win with it. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are giving the Sharks just what they expected this season. Unfortunately for the Sharks Karlsson is going to be shut down for a couple of games.

    The second tier

    4. New York Islanders — They have won 15 of their past 18 games and enter the week with a three-point cushion over every other team in the Metropolitan Division. If they win it Barry Trotz will probably be a unanimous coach of the year winner.

    5. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t always looked great in recent weeks, but they keep scoring a lot of goals and piling up a lot wins.

    6. Vegas Golden Knights — Alex Tuch has been the big breakout player for the Golden Knights this season, and now that they have a healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny there is an argument to be made they are even deeper than last year’s team.

    7. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they would be this season with decent goaltending.

    The Other Contenders

    8. Nashville Predators — They’ve slumped a bit recently, but I am still not worried. The types of peaks and valleys that every team faces over an 82-game season.

    9. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have lost seven out of 10 and some of their big-money players, specifically William Nylander, are not scoring like they are expected to. Surely this will all result in a calm, rational response in Toronto

    10. Washington Capitals — A five-game losing streak is almost unheard of for the Capitals. They gave up at least seven goals in two of those games during the current losing streak.

    11. Boston Bruins — You have to think there is going to be a trade for some more forward help. Their top three forwards are incredible. They do not have much help.

    12. Pittsburgh Penguins — They were on a roll and looking like a Stanley Cup contender until they went on this most recent Western Conference road trip where they reverted back to their early season ways. The bye week and All-Star break is coming at the absolute perfect time for them.

    13. Montreal Canadiens –Carey Price is the X-factor for this team. He has a .951 save percentage so far in January and a .930 mark since the start of December.

    The Bubble Teams

    14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are not going away quietly and really trying to make a run at a playoff spot. Nino Niederreiter was an outstanding pickup that will help not only this season, but in the future as well.

    15. Minnesota Wild — They still have the inside track for a playoff spot at the moment, but the status of defenseman Matt Dumba and swapping Niederreiter for Victor Rask is not a promising development for their roster.

    [Related: Dumba’s anger led to indefinite stint on sidelines]

    16. Vancouver Canucks — They are definitely benefitting from the bottom half of the Western Conference being completely mediocre, but they are still exceeding expectations in a big way. Will Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser be enough to drag them to the playoffs? That is a big ask, but they are at least an interesting team because of them.

    17. Buffalo Sabres — With Jack Eichel continuing to develop into a star, Jeff Skinner erupting offensively, and the team winning 17 of its first 25 games it seemed like the playoffs were a given. Not so much now.

    18. Colorado Avalanche — The more this season goes on the more it seems that this is a completely ordinary team that just so happens to have one truly dominant line up front. They are just 5-11-3 in their past 19 games.

    19. St. Louis Blues — Somehow they are still very much in the Western Conference wild card race, and at the moment are probably playing better than any of the teams around them. Unfortunately that terrible start to the season may make this a case of too little, too late.

    20. Arizona Coyotes — Not only are they are 8-4-2 in their past 14 games, but they are doing it with a roster that has been held together with duct tape and playing really well against some of the league’s best teams.

    21. Dallas Stars — Just when they started to show some signs of getting it together, they dropped four in a row this past week. Hopefully the bye week is an opportunity for them to recharge and put the first half drama behind them.

    The Lottery Teams

    22. New York Rangers — After David Quinn ripped his team’s effort in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets they responded by winning three in a row. Not enough to make a dent in the deficit they are facing in the Wild Card race, but a nice response either way.

    23. Anaheim Ducks — It is downright stunning that a team that lost 12 games in a row, 13 out of 15, and has a minus-29 goal differential on the season is still anywhere near a playoff spot. Have to imagine that is the season goes on they settle more into the lottery pack than the playoff pack.

    24. Philadelphia Flyers — Positive signs for the Flyers include Carter Hart looking good in net and Nolan Patrick starting to heat up offensively. They could be difference-makers in the very near future.

    25. Edmonton Oilers — Placing Ryan Spooner on waivers is just another reminder as to how bad the roster management of this team has been. What a waste.

    [Related: Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie]

    26. Chicago Blackhawks — Patrick Kane is still scoring at an elite level, Jonathan Toews is having one of the best seasons of his career, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two young players that look to be emerging on cheap contracts. There are some positives here. The negatives are pretty much everything else.

    27. Florida Panthers — With every loss coach Bob Boughner seems to call out his big-money players more and more. Can’t imagine that will be very impactful for very long.

    28. Ottawa Senators — The Senators seem determined to get Matt Duchene re-signed, and that leads to a very big question: Why? As in, why would he want to re-sign there, and why are the Senators going to probably overpay a 29-year-old forward to be a part of a rebuilding team that is probably years away from being relevant again? The only logical answer here is that with the salary floor they have to pay someone.

    29. New Jersey Devils — Without Taylor Hall in the lineup there just is not much here.

    30. Los Angeles Kings — Their 7-1 loss to the Avalanche over the weekend was as ugly as it gets.

    31. Detroit Red Wings — This will be the first time since the early 1980s that the Red Wings will have missed the playoffs three years in a row. Given the state of the roster and the current rebuild it’s worth wondering how many years this particular streak will continue.

    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.