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Kirsten Welsh happy as one of NHL’s first female officials

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Once the butterflies and adrenalin rush of officiating her first NHL prospects game subsided, Kirsten Welsh woke up Saturday eager to get back on the ice again.

Whatever miscues Welsh made and hesitancy showed during her debut at the Buffalo Sabres prospects tournament a day earlier were overshadowed by how much she enjoyed the experience. There was also the realization she might have a future as an NHL linesman – or is it lineswoman?

”I just think this is what I love. This is what I’ve always been about,” Welsh told The Associated Press by phone before preparing to officiate her second tournament game Saturday. ”Having the opportunity to pursue this is just unbelievable. I can’t tell you how thankful I am.”

The 22-year-old from Toronto was, as she put it ”thrown into the fire,” by working a game between Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins prospects. Aside from calling offside and icing and handling faceoffs, the 5-foot-10 Welsh was unafraid to get in the middle of several post-whistle scrums.

”I think the guys were kind of thrown off that a girl was rushing in there to break them up,” said Welsh, who completed a four-year college career playing defense at Robert Morris last season. ”I got smushed in the boards yesterday, too. It’s fun. I just think it’s so great to be out there with them and being able to be on the ice with all these amazing athletes.”

Welsh has the potential of becoming a trailblazer in a role that’s been exclusively reserved for men at the NHL level until Friday. That’s when the league announced Welsh was one of four women selected for the first time to officiate the league’s various prospect tournaments held around the nation.

Welsh is joined by Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke, who were selected as referees to work tournaments in Anaheim, California, and Nashville, Tennessee. Kendall Hanley was assigned to work as a linesman at the Detroit Red Wings tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.

The four were chosen after being among 89 participants – 11 of them women – at the NHL’s annual officials scouting combine in Buffalo last month. And they become the first women assigned to work on the ice in a competitive NHL setting.

All four are considered candidates to eventually break the NHL’s officiating gender barrier, which has become a point of emphasis stressed by commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s director of officiating Stephen Walkom.

The NBA has had female officials since Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner were hired in 1997. Sarah Thomas was the NFL’s first female official in 2015. Pam Postema, in 2000, was the first female to umpire a Major League Baseball spring training game, and there are at least two women currently working at the Triple-A level.

Al Kimmel, the NHL’s director of scouting and development for officiating, told The AP last month the growth of women’s hockey has led to a surge of candidates.

”In my six years here, the growth and improvement of the on-ice and off-ice abilities match some of the men and surpass some of the men,” Kimmel said. ”We’ve got some high-caliber women officials here that have world-class experience that are going to show some of the boys some things out there.”

Guay is the most experienced of the four. Her 14-year officiating career includes working women’s games at last year’s Winter Olympics, college hockey men’s games and being part of the first all-female officiating crew to work the women’s Frozen Four championship last spring.

Her lifelong objective was limited to working the Olympics, before finally realizing the possibility of working in the NHL.

”I think it’s huge,” she said last month, of the chance of being selected to work an NHL prospects game. ”I think any time people are given a chance and new paths are formed, it opens eyes for others to kind of dream bigger.”

Welsh’s debut wasn’t spotless. Admitting to being nervous, Welsh said she needs to be more assertive in her calls and more in control of players during faceoffs.

”It’s really being firm, like kicking them out of the faceoff if that’s the case, don’t let them get away with (stuff) because I’m a girl,” she said.

Welsh was grateful for the positive support she received from her fellow on-ice officials and league supervisors, who immediately went over her tape to provide tips on what she needs to improve. She also leaned on the support of former Robert Morris player, Brandon Blandina, who made his NHL officiating debut last season.

Welsh was particularly encouraged by Penguins undrafted prospect Chase Berger congratulating her by shaking her hand following the game.

”I literally had to say, ‘Wow. Thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me,”’ she recalled.

Bruins prospect forward Cooper Zech said he wasn’t aware of a female linesman working the game until he noticed Welsh’s long hair.

”It didn’t change anything. It’s a linesman. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy, girl, they blow the whistle, the plays dead. Nothing changes,” Zech said. ”She’s got the same jurisdiction of any linesman in the National Hockey League or anywhere. Hockey’s hockey.”

Bruins minor-league coach and former NHLer Jay Leach was impressed by how Welsh kept up in what was a fast-paced game.

”I thought she may have missed a couple of calls, but we all miss a couple of calls. It happens,” Leach said. ”That’s an intense game, and there’s a lot of people watching, and she did a nice job.”

He had no trouble envisioning a women NHL official, by noting the keys to the job are skating and communicating.

Leach then broke into a smile upon mentioning communication, saying: ”As my mother would tell me, women are much better at that than men.”

Welsh wasn’t sure what her future held upon completing her college career until an assistant coach raised the possibility of officiating last season. Though she landed a job with an oil and gas company in Pittsburgh in May, Welsh made a commitment to attend the officials combine.

Welsh laughed in acknowledging she might have a career choice to make one day.

”It’s a balance, and obviously my heart is with hockey, so we’ll just see how far it takes me,” Welsh said. ”I’m kind of just riding the wave and trying my hardest to see where it takes me.”

Canucks’ Troy Stecher honors late dad after Game 1 goal

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As he skated around the Blues’ net after firing home the Canucks’ third goal, Troy Stecher pointed to the sky and yelled, “Let’s go!”

The goal was meaningful for two reasons: It gave Vancouver the lead for good in their Game 1 win over St. Louis. But it was also Stecher’s first goal since his father, Peter, died on Father’s Day from complications of diabetes. He was 65 years old.

The Canucks defenseman opened up about the loss of his dad to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre last month. Peter Stecher was his son’s first hockey coach and wrote Troy a letter during his rookie season that was never sent. Troy found the letter, which was about how proud his dad was that his hard work led to the NHL, while cleaning out Peter’s apartment.

“I miss my dad every day. It was a big goal at a crucial time,” Stecher said afterward. “We’ve talked about trying to get the win in Game 1 and obviously that gave us the lead, and the boys hunkered down.”

The Canucks knew the magnitude of that goal, not just for the game, but also for their teammate.

“What he went through in the summer was just devastating and I just wanted to go and hug him,” said Elias Pettersson.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zack MacEwan and Jacob Markstrom also lost their fathers this season. Both were there for Stecher in his time of need.

“Very emotional for him,” Markstrom said. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, I was just so happy he got it. I got emotional as well just thinking about it. I gave him a big hug after the game and to get rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he has been going through that’s huge.”

It’s not been easy for the 26-year-old defenseman this summer. But getting back to his teammates when summer training camp opened helped him while he grieved.

“It’s been tough at certain moments throughout this process,” Stecher said. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates and I had a couple of seconds there to reflect on my dad. And the biggest thing was everybody showed their support on the bench instantly and just motivated me to keep me going.”

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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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.

The Wraparound: Blue Jackets try to bounce back from tough Game 1 loss

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down all of the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• Check out NHL Bubble Wrap to look back at all of Wednesday’s action.

• They only needed two overtimes to decide Game 1 of Bruins-Hurricanes thanks to Patrice Bergeron.

• Rod Brind’Amour was fined $25,000 for calling out referees.

After playing 150 minutes of hockey only to lose in a fifth overtime, the Blue Jackets canceled their Tuesday practice. Wanting to get some rest, John Tortorella had his players meet in the afternoon to watch tape and have the Blue Jackets’ medical team tend to any ailments ahead of Game 2 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).

It was only Game 1, but to play that much hockey and not come out as winners? That’s difficult to swallow. Tortorella would only say his players are “fine” in the aftermath of Tampa’s victory. The messaging from players was similar.

“We’re just going to keep going,” said Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand. “Now we just have to be ready for the next game, and I know we will be ready. So we’ve just got to keep going.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was valiant effort considering it was their fourth game in six days — three of which needed overtime. Columbus played in the final game of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and the opening game of the First Round. The Blue Jackets did all they could to take Game 1. Joonas Korpisalo was unreal stopping 85 shots. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski were horses playing 65 and 61 minutes, respectively.

The efforts by Jones and Werenski did not go unnoticed by their teammates and had an affect on those around them.

“Just how easy they make it look even at those minutes, that’s the incredible part,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “It just looks like Seth and [Werenski] can just skate forever. We’re lucky to have those guys in our back end. When you look over and you see how they’re not laboring, I think it actually helps your group. I think out of everyone, if they’re not tired, then you’re sure as hell not going to be tired as well. So I think morale-wise it was really good for us. Just unfortunately we didn’t come out on the right side of it.”

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) – 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Robin Lehner stopped 19 of 20 shots and Reilly Smith scored twice in the third period to give Vegas a 4-1 win in Game 1. The Golden Knights have outscored their four opponents this postseason 10-1 in the third period, by far the best differential of any team in these playoffs. Their defense has also been stout at the on-set – letting in just one goal in the first period.

Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins (BOS leads 1-0) – 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: In a game that was delayed 15 hours due to the length of Game 1 between Columbus and Tampa Bay, just two overtimes were needed to decide Game 1 in the Canes-Bruins series. Patrice Bergeron scored just over a minute into the second extra period to give Boston its first win this postseason and hand Carolina its first loss of these playoffs. For comments made following a failed challenge, Rod Brind’Amour was fined by the league $25,000. He was also assessed a conditional fine of $25K “in the event of similar inappropriate behavior through Aug. 12, 2021,” according to a league statement.

[Full NHL First Round schedule]

Game 2: Flames vs. Stars (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN; livestream: Calgary won Game 1 behind a pair of goals from Dillon Dube and a game-winner from Rasmus Andersson. Dube scored twice in the first period to put Calgary up 2-0 before Denis Gurianov and Jamie Benn scored twice in a span of nine seconds to tie things up in the second. Andersson scored the game- winner with just under four minutes to play in the second period. The Flames have won four of their five playoff games since entering the bubble. Dallas, who ended the regular season on a six-game losing streak, has now lost three of their four playoff games since entering the bubble.

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Coyotes vs. Avalanche (COL leads 1-0) – 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Flyers (PHI leads 1-0) – 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Canucks vs. Blues (VAN leads 1-0) – 6:30 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Islanders vs. Capitals (NYI leads 1-0) – 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 3: Stars vs. Flames (CGY leads 1-0) – 10:30 p.m ET – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Bruins vs. Hurricanes

Golden Knights vs. Blackhawks
Avalanche vs. Coyotes

Blues vs. Canucks
Stars vs. Flames

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020 nhl playoff schedule
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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

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. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (TB leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Lightning 3, Blue Jackets 2 (5OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Columbus at Tampa Bay, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (BOS leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Carolina at Boston, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (VGK leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 1 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Chicago at Vegas, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (CGY leads 1-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Calgary at Dallas, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, Blues 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

2020 nhl playoff schedule

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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.

Hockey Culture: Ryan Reaves on race, social justice in NHL

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NBC Sports has launched Hockey Culture, a multi-platform content offering dedicated to bringing equality and inclusion to the sport of hockey. Led by NBC Sports NHL analyst Anson Carter, Hockey Culture will address contemporary topics within the sport, aim to promote diversity around the game and on the ice, and increase community engagement with hockey.

In this episode of “Hockey Culture,” Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves joins Anson Carter to talk about positive change inside the hockey community and his role in the NHL’s fight against racism.

Carter and Reaves also discuss the Golden Knights forward’s role on the ice, his family’s history working in law enforcement, and his newest off-ice endeavor: owning a craft brewery

Upcoming episodes will feature J.T. Brown(Minnesota native, current Wild forward, and a leading activist for racial equality), Eustace King (a prominent Black NHL player agent), Kelsey Koelzer (the first Black female head coach in NCAA hockey history), Harnarayan Singh (Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabibroadcaster), and much more.

Subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE: Introducing ‘Hockey Culture,’ an NBC Sports multi-platform content series