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PHT All-Star Time Machine: Gordie Howe’s fight, Sandis Ozolinsh trade

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Throughout the season we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at a couple of truly bizarre and strange NHL All-Star Game moments.

The NHL All-Star Game has taken on many forms throughout its existence. There is the current 3-on-3 divisional format that we have now. There was the short-lived by sometimes absurd fantasy draft spectacle. We also had more traditional conference vs. conference setup, and the sometimes easily forgotten North America vs. The World format that was held between 1998 and 2002.

Most of those formats have come over the past 25 years as the league has tried anything and everything to spice up a game that really hasn’t had much intrigue on the ice.

In the early days, the game had plenty of spice on its own and a format that was completely different from even any of the modern ones.

[Related: Gretzky to Lemieux, the ‘called shot’, and the ’97 NHL All-Star Game]

The NHL first started playing an annual All-Star game during the 1947-48 season and instead of featuring two teams of the league’s best players going against one another, it featured one team of All-Stars (comprised of the league’s end of season first-and second-team All-Stars that were voted on from the year before) competing against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

It was also played before the season, and not in the middle of it.

That format went mostly unchanged until the NHL expanded in 1967 with two exceptions — in 1951 and 1952 the NHL’s first and second team All-Stars from the previous year played against one another. When both of those games ended in a tie (which did not please fans), the league went back to the original All-Stars vs. Stanley Cup champions format.

Those games were interesting, and despite some early dominance from the All-Star side the Stanley Cup winners held their own against the league’s best by winning seven games of the 19 matchups, with three ties mixed in. They were also competitive and physical.

Fights sometimes happened

In today’s All-Star Game there is almost no physical contact, anything even resembling defense is basically frowned upon, penalties are almost unheard of and go years without happening, and the idea of two players actually dropping the gloves and fighting in one is completely preposterous.

But when we’re talking about 1940s and 1950s hockey we’re talking about an entirely different era of sports when players were just simply wired differently. Not better. Not worse. Just different. This game was taken seriously and was played more like an actual hockey game instead of an exhibition of skill and a celebration of the game’s best talent.

Players were sometimes out for blood. Literally.

In the second ever All-Star Game in 1948 (featuring the NHL All-Stars vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs) there was a doozy of a confrontation between Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe and rugged Maple Leafs defensemen Gus Mortson.

Howe’s style of play is well known and his name is synonymous with “old school hockey, but if you are unfamiliar with Mortson just consider that he was the second most penalized player in the NHL between 1946 and 1959 (the span of his career in the league) and was nicknamed “Old Hardrock.”

In the second period the two players squared off in wild fight that continued in the penalty box (there was only one penalty box at the time that both teams shared) until officials decided to have them serve their penalties on their respective benches just to separate them … in an All-Star game.

This was not the only actual fight in an All-Star Game.

A few years later in the 1953 game, a 3-1 win for the All-Stars over the Montreal Canadiens, Bert Olmstead and Red Kelly fought in a game that featured 11 penalties!

 

Eleven penalties!

The Sandis Ozolinsh game

Moving forward to a more recent generation, I think my favorite All-Star Game story might center around the 2003 game (the return of the conference vs. conference format following the North America vs. The World experiment) because of what happened with defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

It is truly one of the most bonkers All-Star stories you will ever get.

The situation: The Florida Panthers were hosting the 2003 game and despite a down year on the ice had two representatives in the game, including Ozolinsh who was voted into the game as an Eastern Conference starter (Olli Jokinen was their other player in the game).

At the time, Ozolinsh was one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen and a bonafide All-Star due to his play with the puck. He was tremendous and received more votes than every player in the Eastern Conference that season except for Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux.

Keep all of this mind, because it is worth repeating: A team going nowhere that season, hosting the All-Star Game, with one of the starters voted into the lineup for what might have been one of the few highlights of the year. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, just two days before the game, the Panthers traded Ozolinsh to the Anaheim Ducks for a return that included Matt Cullen (who is still playing in the NHL today), Pavel Trnka, and a draft pick.

This, obviously, created an unbelievable storyline around the game. Just look at the sub-head from the Palm-Beach Post during the All-Star weekend.

Of course something like this involved Mike Keenan, who was coaching the Panthers at the time.

Once the trade was completed there was still the matter of what should happen with Ozolinsh who was now no longer a member of the Florida Panthers or the Eastern Conference.

Ozolinsh considered sitting out the game entirely but opted to play, but only after skipping the skills competition the previous night.

Again, from the Palm-Beach Post

 

The other factor in skipping the skills competition is that he would have had to have worn a team jersey, and since he was still a member of the Eastern Conference team and voted in as a member of the Panthers he would have had to have worn a Panthers jersey. He did not want to wear a jersey of a team he was no longer a part of. That was not an issue during the game when teams simply wore uniforms with the NHL emblem and not their team.

When Ozolinsh was introduced before the game he received a thunderous applause from the crowd and ended up playing more minutes than any other player in the game.

More fallout:

Adding to the mayhem was the fact that Ozolinsh and his wife had just closed on a house in Florida … the morning of the trade.

It the end, it ended up working out well for Ozolinsh as he went to Anaheim and played a huge role on a Ducks team that made a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

As for the Panthers and Iron Mike? They won 24 games that year and Keenan was fired 15 games into the 2003-04 season, ending what was a mostly disastrous run with the team over parts of three seasons.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
 Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

 Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
 The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks
• The Eric Lindros Trade That Did Not Happen
• The Mighty Ducks and the most insane pregame introduction ever
• When the Detroit Red Wings’ Russian Five was not celebrated
• Paul Holmgren’s crazy year of Philadelphia Flyers blockbusters
Remembering the Nassau Coliseum Santa Brawl

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.

Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21: Report

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena at Belmont which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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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.

David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame

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It has been quite a week for David Ayres.

At this time seven days almost no one in the hockey world knew he was. But after being forced into action as an emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then getting the win in the game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is still getting some pretty big honors.

First, there was the shirt that the Hurricanes started to produce with his name and number on the back (with Ayres getting royalties, and other proceeds going to a kidney foundation). He was also invited to the Hurricanes’ home game on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Now he is getting his own hockey card from Upper Deck, while the stick he used in Saturday’s game is on display at the Metropolitan Division exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The card is part of Upper Deck’s Dated Moments e-packs.

From Upper Deck:

David Ayres, a 42-year-old maintenance operations manager and part-time Zamboni driver, was called into action as the emergency goaltender about halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against Toronto after both Carolina goaltenders were injured. In his surprise NHL debut, he helped Carolina to a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Meanwhile, the stick he used in Saturday’s game to stop eight out of 10 shots, is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The 42-year-old Ayres had previously served as an emergency backup goalie for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies but never entered the game. He was forced to play on Saturday after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured.

MORE: Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

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.

Islanders legend sees parallel with team’s addition of Pageau

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The expectations are enormous when a team surrenders valuable assets at the NHL Trade Deadline for the perceived missing piece.

No late season trade in the past 40 years paid off more handsomely than the Islanders’ acquisition of Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis in March of 1980.

Goring immaculately fit into the Islanders’ lineup and immediately became the second-line center New York was missing. The Islanders went on to win 19 consecutive playoff series and four straight Stanley Cups following the shrewd acquisition. When Goring retired after the 1984-85 season, he was 27th in all-time NHL points. The 26 guys ahead of him are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I never felt pressure to have to do something I wasn’t capable of doing, I was a mature hockey player,” said Goring, who had seven goals and 12 assists that spring as the Islanders won their first of four consecutive titles. “I knew that the Islanders had done their homework and they knew exactly what they were getting. The transition wasn’t difficult, as far as playing was concerned. It was just a matter of getting to know the guys, that was the difficult part.”

The Islanders will honor Goring Saturday prior to their game against the Boston Bruins with a jersey retirement ceremony. Live coverage will begin at 11:30 a.m. ET on MSG and MSG+.

“To think my jersey is going to be up in the rafters with some of the great players of this organization is almost unfathomable,” said Goring, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981.

A record 32 trades were completed at the 2020 deadline earlier this week as playoff contenders attempted to bolster their Stanley Cup hopes.

Prior to the deadline, the pressure is squarely on an organization’s front office to correctly identify the team’s needs and obtain the right players. However, the burden quickly shifts onto the coaches and players to help any addition settle in with a new franchise.

“I think what happens with a lot of players when they get traded to another team, they try to be more than they are,” Goring explained. “They think that they have to be a difference maker and show everybody it was a great trade. It doesn’t work that way.”

It’s borderline impossible to find a player that will have the success Goring and the Islanders did in the early 1980s. However, Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello identified a need on the ice and acquired a player that “checks all the boxes,” according to coach Barry Trotz.

The Islanders traded for Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for multiple draft picks and quickly signed the center to a six-year, $30 million extension.

“Would you like a 50-goal scorer? Of course, but that wasn’t available,” Goring said. “The Islanders had a need for a third line center, someone who can take faceoffs, someone who can kill penalties, and certainly someone that has offense. You evaluate these moves based on the needs of each team and I really like the deal Lou made for the Islanders.”

Pageau has scored twice in as many games while donning a new sweater, but the Islanders came up short in outings against the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

The playoff race in the Eastern Conference has quickly tightened up. The Rangers have won nine of their last 10, the Philadelphia Flyers have moved up the Metropolitan Division, the Carolina Hurricanes added several new pieces this week.

Only six points separate the second-place team and seventh-place team in the Metro. In order for the Islanders to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pageau will need to seamlessly fit in with the Islanders and have a Goring-like impact.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The NHL’s All-Underrated rookie team

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Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks defender Quinn Hughes have long been thought of as the only two legitimate Calder Trophy candidates. But is it really just a two-horse race? One of those two players will likely be named rookie of the year, there are other first-year players having impressive seasons in 2019-20.

So, we decided to build the all-underrated rookie team for the 2019-20 season. We’ll pick two wingers, a center, a pair of defensemen and a starting netminder. These first-year players have received their share of recognition, but none of them has gotten serious Calder consideration.

Here we go:

Dominik Kubalik – W – Chicago Blackhawks: The 24-year-old scored a hat trick in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s now up to 29 goals and 44 points in 62 games this season. That puts him on pace for 37 goals in 2019-20. That’s an impressive total for any player, let alone someone who is in their first season in North America.

Even his teammates are openly campaigning for him now:

Kubalik’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider that 25 of his 29 goals and 35 of his 44 points have come at even strength. No other rookie has more than 12 even-strength goals in 2019-20. That’s how good the ‘Hawks freshman has been.

Nick Suzuki – C – Montreal Canadiens: Suzuki was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights along with Tomas Tatar and a second-round draft pick. The Habs had to give up captain Max Pacioretty to them that haul, but it’s a deal that’s worked out well for both sides.

Suzuki started the year playing wing on the fourth line and he’s since emerged as a valuable contributor down the middle. The 20-year-old is in the middle of a four-game pointless drought, but he’s managed to pick up 13 goals and 40 points in 66 games. His numbers are solid, but don’t jump off the page. That’s mainly because he didn’t start getting power play time until later on in the season.

He deserves to be mentioned among the group of under the radar rookies. He’s shown that his hockey IQ is up there for a player of his age and he has the offensive instincts to chip in offensively with regularity.

“He’s a smart player, he figures it out, but at the end of the day it’s having been through that grind before,” head coach Claude Julien said of the rookie’s heavy workload in junior hockey, per CBC. “Once the guys go through it once they’re a lot better the second time around. So to me, he had it before he got here and that’s why he’s doing well.”

Victor Olofsson – W – Buffalo Sabres: Olofsson is to power play goals what Kubalik is to even-strength production. The Sabres rookie has scored 19 goals this season and 11 of them have come on the man-advantage. Sure, you’d like to see him produce more at five-on-five, but when you can get this type of offense from a player drafted in seventh round, you shouldn’t complain.

No matter what you think of his even-strength production, you have to be encouraged by the fact that his first NHL campaign has gone this well. It’s definitely something he can build on going forward. And since when is being a lethal weapon on the power play such a bad thing anyway?

Adam Fox – D – New York Rangers: How is it possible to be underrated in New York? Well, Fox has found a way. The 22-year-old has an impressive seven goals and 34 points in 63 games this season. He’s also averaging 18:45 of ice time per game, but he’s played over 20 minutes in each of the last eight games.

It’s always good for a youngster to be mentioned in the same breath as a player like John Carlson. The numbers in the above tweet are really impressive.

Canadiens forward Max Domi banked a puck off Fox and into the Rangers net in the first period of last night’s game, but the rookie responded with a goal and an assist in his team’s comeback victory.

Ethan Bear – D – Edmonton Oilers: Penguins defenseman John Marino would’ve probably been in the spot had he been healthy, but he’s been sidelined for a while now. Bear is worthy of being here. The 22-year-old played 18 games in the NHL last year, but he still qualifies as a rookie in 2019-20.

He’s emerged as a key piece on a team that’s been lacking quality defenders for a while now. Bear has begun getting more power play time recently and he’s also averaging 21:42 of ice time, which is more than Makar (20:52) and slightly less than Hughes (21:44).

Bear has five goals and 20 points in 64 games this season. Those numbers should continue to climb now that he’s getting added time on special teams.

Elvis Merzlikins – G – Columbus Blue Jackets: How could it not be Elvis? Yes, Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov has also put together a strong rookie year, but no one expected the Blue Jackets to compete for a playoff spot this year.

Merzlikins suffered an injury on Tuesday night and Columbus needs him to get back as soon as possible. He’s posted a 12-9-8 record with a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage this season. And, oh by the way, he’s also tied for the league lead in shutouts, with five.

The 25-year-old’s first season in North America has gone as well as anybody could’ve expected. The Blue Jackets are 1-4-5 in their last 10 games, but they’re still clinging on to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They need Elvis to get back in the building (sorry) as soon as possible.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.