Women pushing for new hockey league staring at open calendar

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For Kimberly Sass, the decision to risk missing a season of hockey in a bid for a better professional women’s league came down to simple choice.

Dollars and cents matter more than ice time and stopping pucks.

”In April, I came to realize that after tax write-offs, including equipment, travel and taxes I paid more to play professional ice hockey in 2018 than I made,” the Metropolitan Riveters goaltender said. ”It is the financially responsible decision to not play professional women’s ice hockey next season.”

Sass , who is also an architect in New York City, is among the more than 200 of the world’s top female players who announced they will not play professional hockey in North America next season in a bold attempt to establish a single, economically viable league. While members of national teams get stipend money from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and some sponsorships, some have been paid as little as $2,000 a year to play.

The decision to sit out was not easy, nor was it fully unified despite the large number. Time waits for no one in sports, and not practicing with teammates or playing games is a heavy blow. Staying in ”hockey shape” is a concern.

Women on national teams will have practices and tournaments like the Four Nations Cup in November and the 2020 world championships. Liz Knox, goalie and co-chair of the players’ union for the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, said she expects to see more support from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to keep those players fit.

Still, many players are just trying to figure out what’s next, and those conversations haven’t been held yet in the wake of organizing this push for a sustainable league. Knox said the challenge is balancing resources. Simply playing in a beer league wouldn’t be fair to players already in those leagues.

”So where do we fit in here?” Knox said. ”I don’t know. That’s something that we’re still trying to navigate.”

The clock is ticking for older players, including several of the stars who ended the United States’ Olympic gold medal drought in 2018. Meghan Duggan, captain of that U.S. team, will be 32 in September and has played in both the CWHL and NWHL. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who helped clinch Olympic gold for the United States in 2018 with her shootout goal, and sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando turn 30 in July.

Both sisters took off the past year to start families with each having sons last winter, and now they face a second season without hockey. Lamoureux-Davidson says the twins are trained by her sister’s husband and also skate at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The next step will be trying to figure out how everyone can train and stay sharp on the ice.

”And hopefully there’s support from other organizations, and I think there’s conversations about that,” Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”But yeah, definitely that’s where the concern comes in for a lot of players as well is, ‘What am I going to do to be where I need to be when there’s a place to play?”’

Sass already knows the challenge of taking a break from hockey, having thought she retired not once but twice. The first came right after graduating from Colgate and choosing graduate school over the CWHL or playing in Europe. Following the National Women’s Hockey League’s first season with Buffalo, she thought her career over again when she couldn’t find a position on another team. She didn’t work out or train with a goalie coach, making it tougher when she got a call just before the 2017-18 season.

Like many players, Sass juggles a traditional job with hockey. She has had colleagues ask why she works as an architect if she’s a professional hockey player, and she missed the Riveters’ last playoff game in March not wanting to take off an extra half day from her new job because travel to Minnesota was routed round-trip through North Carolina.

Sass said she knows at age 28 she might not play in the new league the women want.

”It’s really a personal decision for players to decide to continue training to keep doors open or to help the game in other ways,” Sass said.

Every woman who decided not to play in North America this next season understands that some may never benefit, and Lamoureux-Davidson said that is part of the push to create something that can last.

”I think everyone understands that it’s much bigger than any one individual’s career, and we’re all proud to stand together and hopefully make a big difference for the next generation,” she said.

Anything should be better than a typical Thursday for Knox while she was playing for the CWHL’s Markham Thunder. She worked her day job as a contractor from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m., grabbed dinner, went to class training for a career as a firefighter between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. before driving to practice. Knox said she could not remember the last time she got a full eight hours’ sleep balancing professional hockey and work.

”You’re looking at 6 a.m. to an 11 p.m. day, and we shouldn’t have to do that,” Knox said.

AP Hockey Writers John Wawrow and Stephen Whyno contributed.

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Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.