Game on: Women’s hockey union takes 1st tangible step

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TORONTO — The reality of what the new women’s pro hockey union was launching didn’t resonate with Brianne Jenner until she came out of the locker room and saw the crowd – many of them young girls – in the stands of the 700-seat arena.

The leap of faith taken by the Canadian national team forward and more than 200 other top players – a pledged in May to not compete professionally in North America this season while demanding a single economically viable league – took its first tangible step in Toronto over the weekend.

The stars played in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association “Dream Gap Tour” stop, which featured some 80 Canadian players split over four teams for a two-day tournament.

“I think going into today I underestimated how special it was going to be, being on the ice and when you felt the crowd,” Jenner said after the team named after her defeated Team (Rebecca) Johnston 4-3 in the opening game.

“I think the cheers that we heard were something bigger than just a hockey game. There was a lot of passion in that rink,” she added. “Last spring, when we had the announcement of the (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) folding, I don’t think too many of us thought we’d have this kind of event put together in the short time that we did. So to see the talent out there, to see the fans supporting us, it was a pretty special day.”

Historic, perhaps as well, Jenner added, because it provided players validation that they just might be on to something.

“It’s knowing what we’re doing is something that’s bigger than ourselves,” said fellow national team member Kacey Bellamy. “And 50 years from now, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Wow, we started this.'”

Though it might be premature for anyone to get ahead of themselves, the tour got off to a solid start.

The game began with a ceremonial faceoff featuring Hockey Night in Canada television fixtures Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, and PWHPA executive and Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford. And it ended with Jenna McParland stuffing in a rebound to break a 3-3 tie with 3:20 remaining.

Just as important was the turnout, both games were played in front of a mostly packed arena with single-game tickets costing $15.

More impressive was the large collection of corporate sponsors the union assembled to not only pay for the players’ travel, lodging and food, but also outfit them with jerseys and track suits emblazoned with the PWHPA logo.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, served as the title sponsor, and has also committed to paying for the four Canada-based teams’ practice times. Adidas provided the clothes. Budweiser was on board, while also offering up a lounge for fans. The NHL Players’ Association provided enough of a commitment to have its logo placed on the upper right chest of the jerseys.

Other sponsors included Secret, Bauer, Tim Hortons and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The “Dream Gap” name of the barn-storming tour represents the missing link for young girls who fear being limited to competing in college or the Olympics while never having a shot to play professionally.

The PWHPA is also made up of U.S. and European players and has already scheduled tour stops in New Hampshire and Chicago next month with more in the planning stages. American players also made their union debuts this weekend by playing games against Boston College and San Jose Sharks alumni.

Hefford, who served as the CWHL interim commissioner when it folded last spring, estimated the PWHPA has already attracted more financial support from sponsors than the Canadian league did in its final year.

“Companies are coming on I believe because they’ve come to understand the current circumstance of the game where you have a player like Marie-Philip Poulin or a Hilary Knight making $3,000 a year. People didn’t understand that,” Hefford said.

The players’ movement was borne out of the CWHL’s demise after a 12-year run in which it out-grew its limitations in relying on volunteers and how much it could pay players under Canadian tax laws. Another issue was players accepting the status quo of little-to-no compensation, with players spending their own money on everything from tape to airport parking for away games.

Sarah Nurse was dismayed by the playing conditions during her one CWHL season after completing her four-year college career at Wisconsin. She noted Badgers players were treated far better than the pros.

“When I came to the CWHL and I saw everybody so satisfied with what they had, it shocked me and it made me sad because it was like, ‘You guys, we’re so much better than this,'” Nurse said. “So when the CWHL folded it was honestly just the kick in the butt we needed to really put this thing in motion.”

What remains unclear is what the women’s pro hockey landscape will resemble a year from now, and whether the PWHPA can generate enough momentum to gain the attention of the game’s stakeholders, in particular Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and the NHL. Another question is the stability of the five-team, U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League, which is embarking on its fifth season without many of its most high-profile players.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be viewed as “a bully” in pushing a women’s league out of business. He’s also said the NHL doesn’t believe in either of the league’s business models. Though the NHL provides funds to the NWHL, the league is mostly backed by private investors.

The players are pushing for the NHL to step in because it can provide them stability and the necessary infrastructure – from marketing to man-power – to promote and grow women’s hockey.

“It’s not about them just doing us a favor,” Hefford said of the NHL. “We bring content. We bring diversity and inclusion. We bring some entertainment value that people love.”

Though Jenner said every option is on the table, the NWHL isn’t considered a realistic option with players having already gone through the disappointment of the CWHL folding.

“It’s not about someone coming in and saying, ‘I have $20 million. I want to start a pro league, beautiful'” Hefford said. “That’s not what these players want. They want something that they know in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the road is going to be there, and it’s going to continue to grow and it’s going to be strong. So to me, you need that infrastructure and we never had that with the CWHL.”

Canadiens clobber flat Flyers in Game 2, First Round playoff series now tied 1-1

Canadiens Flyers Habs Game 2 series tied 1-1
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If you’re compiling a list of the most one-sided periods from the NHL return, you can’t ignore how thoroughly the Canadiens dominated the Flyers to open Game 2. From there, the Flyers never really took off, and the Canadiens cruised to a dominant 5-0 Game 2 win to tie the series 1-1.

Chalk it up to a “Win it for Claude” attitude as head coach Claude Julien was hospitalized before Game 2, or any number of motivational factors, but this was a lopsided affair.

It took almost the entire first period for the Flyers to merely earn a shot on goal. By then, the Canadiens were already up 2-0, and then opened the second period on a power play following a controversial penalty whistled on Shayne Gostisbehere defending a breaking Max Domi.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Let’s be honest, though: the Flyers might strain something trying to reach for that moment as an excuse. This was almost a baffling affair, and it was far from Carter Hart‘s fault, as the young goalie got the hook for Brian Elliott after the 4-0 goal.

Carey Price needed to make some nice saves to keep the score the way it was, but this was a sound Game 2 win for Montreal. Price generated his seventh career playoff shutout, stopping all 30 shots. While his performance won’t be the main focus, Price helped stop the Flyers on some power-play opportunities that might have made Game 2 more competitive.

Max Domi ranked among the other standout Canadiens, collecting three assists in Game 2. Also, Jesperi Kotkaniemi continues to look more like the beyond-his-years rookie version of himself, rather than the Kotkaniemi who struggled enough to get demoted to the AHL in 2019-20. Both Kotkaniemi and Tomas Tatar enjoyed two-goal performances against the flummoxed Flyers in Game 2.

Flyers might just want to burn the tape from Game 2 beatdown vs. Canadiens

For the Flyers, there are some questions. Is Travis Konecny OK after leaving the contest with an injury? Could some of this boil down to overconfidence for a team that’s been red-hot really since before the pause (they won nine of their last 10 regular season games).

On one hand, there’s likely less heartache when you just experience a dud of a game. On the other hand, it’s important to do some soul-searching after a game like this. Especially since, as usual, the Habs dealt most of their damage at even-strength.

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal 5, Philadelphia 0
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

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Canucks-Blues stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Canucks-Blues stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s First Round matchup between the Canucks and Blues. Coverage begins at 630 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Blues stream at 6:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Canucks beat the defending Stanley Cup champs 5-2 in Game 1 on Wednesday. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third period before Vancouver scored three goals in the final 20 minutes to seal the win.

Vancouver lost its first game of the qualifying round vs Minnesota, being shut out in a 3-0 loss. Since then, they have won four
straight games, scoring three-plus goals in every game.

After leading the Blues to a Stanley Cup as a rookie last season, Jordan Binnington has struggled to regain that form in this year’s playoffs. He has lost all three of his starts and allowed five goals on 22 shots in Game 1 against Vancouver, his second straight
game allowing five-plus goals. He allowed a soft goal in the third period from Troy Stecher, which head coach Craig Berube said “He probably wants that one back for sure. But it is what it is.”

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 14, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

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

Avalanche take 2-0 series lead, but Coyotes tested Avs in Game 2

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The Coyotes almost looked like a different team from the passive group the Avalanche handled in Game 1, but the Avs still won Game 2. Thanks to a late game-winning goal by Andre Burakovsky, the Avalanche beat the Coyotes 3-2 in Game 2, taking a 2-0 series lead.

Top Avs make a difference (but so do Avalanche supporting cast members) vs. Coyotes in Game 2

Sometimes, in close games, it boils down to top players like Nathan MacKinnon simply making plays. In a flash, MacKinnon seized an opportunity for … well, a very MacKinnon-like goal. Even a red-hot goalie like Darcy Kuemper can only do so much on chances like these:

The Desert Dogs wouldn’t just roll over in this one, though.

While Taylor Hall wasn’t credited with an assist, he made a nice pass to help set up a Clayton Keller 1-1 goal. Throughout Game 2, the Avalanche and Coyotes traded hard hits and chances aplenty. In particular, Nikita Zadorov threw some questionable checks, including one that prompted an elbowing penalty when he hit Conor Garland, a hidden gem for the Coyotes.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Again, this was a much better effort from the Coyotes. Arizona generated more shots on goal during the second period (15) of Game 2 than the Coyotes did in all of Game 1 (14). Philipp Grubauer wouldn’t ease into a shutout in this one, but he helped the Avs hold on and hang in there.

Nazem Kadri and other supporting cast members seem poised to continue giving the Avalanche a boost when there were times before when it felt like it was MacKinnon’s line or bust. Kadri set up a very nice Andre Burakovsky game-winner, and that was enough for the Avalanche.

The Avalanche hold quite an edge with this 2-0 series lead, but if the Coyotes can stay focused as the two teams turn around for Game 3 on Saturday, this could end up being a lot more interesting than Game 1 indicated.

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

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Colorado 3, Arizona 2
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

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien receives stent, heads home

Claude Julien Montreal stent heart
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TORONTO — Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien is returning home to Montreal a day after a stent was placed in a coronary artery. The team said doctors expect a full recovery.

Julien was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto overnight Wednesday with chest pain. He had surgery Thursday.

“Coach Julien would like to convey his most sincere thanks to everyone at St. Michael’s Hospital for the wonderful care he received during his stay,” the Canadiens said in a statement Friday. “He also wishes to personally and sincerely thank everyone who has sent their well wishes during this time.”

Since Julien left the NHL bubble in Toronto, he will have to follow quarantine protocol if he wishes to re-enter it.

Team members wanting to return to the bubble must provide four consecutive negative COVID-19 tests carried out over four days. They will be quarantined for at least that time period, and possibly up to 14 days depending on risk of exposure while outside the bubble.

Kirk Muller will serve as interim head coach for the rest of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers led the series 1-0 entering Game 2 on Friday.

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule