NHL on NBCSN: Matt Duchene on transition to Nashville, fatherhood

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Is Matt Duchene the final piece in the puzzle that the Predators have been missing? After signing a seven-year, $56 million deal over the summer, the 28-year-old forward can finally be settled after two seasons and a pair of trades taking him from Colorado to Ottawa to Columbus.

“When [my wife and I] left Denver we were searching for a situation that felt like this,” Duchene told NBC Sports last month. “I’m so grateful for my stops along the way. Ottawa and Columbus were such awesome places to play the last couple of years, but I think our path coming into free agency, it was clear for us where we kind of wanted to be after really thinking things over, getting some distance, seeing how things played out.

“It’s really nice to hopefully be settled for a long time. Obviously, you never know, at the end of the day you bet on yourself. You believe if you do your job you are going to be where you want to be for a while.”

We spoke to Duchene during the NHL Players Media Tour in Chicago last month about his transition to Nashville, John Tortorella’s comments, and becoming a father.

Q. We know that Columbus has a great atmosphere and everyone always talks about that and Vegas showed up. So how crazy it is to play in Nashville and everything that comes with it?

DUCHENE: “I am pumped to get in front of the fans there. It’s pretty special, even the chants they have. It was a place I loved to go play because it was such a hostile atmosphere and it was so loud, so much energy, the game ops is amazing, we just got a new Jumbotron. It is going to be a lot fun. I can’t wait to step out first time in front of the home fans.”

Q. What went into making the decision to leave Columbus and go to Nashville?

DUCHENE: “I don’t think it was a decision of leaving Columbus. Columbus was definitely a place that we really loved and enjoyed. The guys are great, the staff, everybody from head to toe was awesome. I think at the end of the day, Nashville was a place that our hearts were kind of there for a while. That’s a city that we kind of fell in love with over the years. I think the most important thing, too, is the hockey, and it’s a team that is poised to win and have a chance to win and that’s the first thing you look at. Everything else that came with it is very us and where we want to be and I think even after hockey I can see us settling down for sure.”

[COVERAGE OF WILD-PREDATORS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Q. What about the city specifically drew you?

DUCHENE: “Well, everyone wants to point to the music part for me, but while that’s a great perk the big thing that I like is that outside of the city you can have a bit of land. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, my wife grew up in a small town outside off Denver called Parker. We grew up with space, we grew up in the country and I think that’s the biggest thing about Nashville, you can have that country lifestyle. It’s that laid back, a lot of land, a lot of room to spread out and still have the city right there. Nashville is such a cool up and coming, hip city and you know people are moving there like crazy. I think it is the fastest growing city in North America, so obviously I am not the only one that was drawn to it.”

Q. What did the team have that perhaps others didn’t?

DUCHENE: “There’s a lot of great teams in the league and it is very tough to pick a team to win the Stanley Cup. That just [shows] the parity of the game, but what I see from the team in Nashville, most of the team is entering their prime, which is exciting, so the longevity should be there if everyone does what they are capable of [doing]. I just believe in that group. I’ve liked that team from afar for a while and obviously, they came really close a few years ago, so it’s really fun to join a great, talented group.”

Q. You were one of three prominent players who chose to leave Columbus. Did you hear what John Tortorella had to say about it?

DUCHENE: “Yeah, I saw that. You know what, I don’t really take anything into that because after I signed with Nashville he and I exchanged texts and he was actually sending me fishing pictures over the summer. We had a great relationship and it was fun to play for him. That run is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and the fans in Columbus, the city it was pretty amazing. I am grateful for my time there. For me, I had to look at a lot of things, so Columbus was in consideration, for sure.”

Q. You became a father last season. What has that been like? Has there been anything as rewarding in your life?

DUCHENE: “No, it is the best thing I have ever been through. He eight months. He actually just started crawling. … It was amazing. Taking him to the rink the first time, it was on my birthday in Ottawa. It was really cool to take him to a game, take him in the room after we won. It was a good night. It’s been so neat. I want time to slow down. I also can’t wait to see him grow up.”

Pre-game coverage begins with NHL Live at 7 p.m. ET. Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play), Mike Milbury (analyst) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

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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.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.