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Roundtable: Moments we’ll miss; hockey movies in quarantine

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If the NHL season is canceled, what’s something you’ll be disappointed not to be able to see?

SEAN: Missing out on Alex Ovechkin hitting 50 goals for the ninth time in his career and maybe adding a ninth Richard Trophy would be a bummer. Only two players in NHL history have scored 50 nine times — Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy — and for Ovi to hit that during a season where he reached 700 goals would have been a nice cherry on top.

Ovechkin would also be missing 13 games in his pursuit of Gretzky’s goals record of 894. He sits at 706 as we wait, only 188 goals away from The Great One.

JAMES: I’m assuming that “seeing the 2020 Stanley Cup awarded” would be a catch-all cheat answer. After all, that would cover things like “Will the Lightning avenge their first-round sweep?” and so on.

So, assuming that’s too wide a net to throw, I’ll toss my hat in the “Who wins the Maurice Richard Trophy?” ring. The season halted with David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin tied for first at 48, while Auston Matthews sat at 47. Leon Draisaitl was really gathering steam (43) while Mika Zibanejad somehow scored 41 goals in just 57 games.

It’s honestly a bummer just thinking about how fun that final push could have been.

ADAM: Probably just the unresolved storylines.

Whether or not David Pastrnak or Auston Matthews can unseat Alex Ovechkin on the goal scoring leaderboard. How many players can score 50 goals? We are on track to see more than we have seen in almost 15 years!

Would Pastrnak, Ovechkin, or Matthews score 60 goals? How many points will Leon Draisaitl end up with? How will the MVP and rookie of the year race play out? The playoff races and whether or not Columbus could hold on to a spot (I picked them to make the playoffs before the season and want to see this through!) and how or if the Rangers could hang around.

JOEY: It’s not often you get a repeat of the previous year’s Stanley Cup Final, but I really believed that the Blues and Bruins could make it all the way again. Both teams added pieces to their squads since last season, so it would’ve been interesting to see if they could go the distance again.

The Bruins came so close last year and they added some size with Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie at the deadline. As for St. Louis, they added a depth defender in Marco Scandella and they also traded for Justin Faulk at the beginning of the year.

There’s still a chance the season could happen, but you’d have to wonder if this extended pause would throw everything out of whack even if they did return.

SCOTT: On a personal level, I thought the Philadelphia Flyers would reach the Eastern Conference Finals this season and I’ll be disappointed not to see that savvy prediction come true.

But the part I’ll be most disappointed about is not seeing a player or group of players elevate their game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every year, there are a few players that carry their team throughout the postseason and the opportunity to witness that greatness is always special. The NHL postseason comes around once a year and players only get so many opportunities throughout their career to take their shot. To see young players on the cusp of greatness and seasoned veterans robbed of their chance due to a global pandemic is truly disappointing.

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You have one hockey movie to watch while quarantined, what are you choosing?

SEAN: “Mystery, Alaska” is one of those movies that whenever I come across it on TV I have to watch it through the end. There’s a solid cast with Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Burt Reynolds, Mary McCormack, and Mike Myers as the Don Cherry-type commentator. This is hockey, OK? It’s not rocket surgery.

There’s drama, the New York Rangers, and the movie doesn’t give you that typical feel-good ending.

JAMES: The common answer, I’d guess, would be “Slap Shot.” The cooler answer would probably be “Red Army.”

The honest one, though? I’d probably always lean toward “Miracle.” The hockey sequences are exhilarating, Kurt Russell rules, and they’ve got the friend from “The Truman Show” playing Craig Patrick.

“Pass, shoot, score” and “The legs feed the wolf” …. “We can beat these guys.” There were a lot of cheesy Herb Brooks quotes my friends and I would bat around back in the day, so that would also soothe some of that quarantine loneliness.

ADAM: Probably going to go with the original Mighty Ducks just because it seems more and more absurd every time I watch it, which then results in me laughing more and enjoying it more. Basically, I have a lot of questions about the set-up and management of that hockey league (how did nobody know Adam Banks was playing for the wrong team?!), and if Jack Riley was such a good and successful coach, why did he never advance beyond the Hawks? So many questions.

JOEY: I’ll go with the Mighty Ducks series of movies. It’s hard to argue with Emilio Estevez and the gang. Also, I’d get to roll with three different movies during the quarantine period. Gordon Bombay all the way.

SCOTT: Mystery Alaska.

The components that make up the Mystery roster are on every team throughout the hockey world; The slow-footed shrewd skater, the hot-shot superstar, the prolific passers and the “strange” goalie. ‘

Also, the national anthem prank is something I always find quite comical.

Sabres’ Okposo has surgery to repair right knee injury

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo had surgery to repair a right knee injury, leaving him plenty of time to recover during the team’s extended break.

The team on Friday announced Okposo had surgery this week, and is expected to miss up to six weeks.

The Sabres are off indefinitely after being one of seven teams to not qualify for the NHL’s proposed 24-team return-to-play format. The start of next season is expected to be pushed back, and may not open until January because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Okposo had surgery a week after the remainder of the Sabres season was canceled.

He was sidelined twice last season because of upper- and lower-body injuries that led to him missing 16 games. The 13-year veteran finished with nine goals and 10 assist for 19 points in 52 games, while playing mostly on Buffalo’s checking line.

PHT reviews hockey video games: ‘Super Blood Hockey,’ a gory good time

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Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of. Previously, that meant looking back at games that are now largely inaccessible. This week’s edition, on the other hand, can be found in many spots: “Super Blood Hockey.”

As we look back at old and very old arcade-style hockey games, it’s almost inevitable to wallow in the sadder elements of nostalgia. Why can’t current games capture those good old days?

Well, games like “Super Blood Hockey” aim to do just that. After spending some time with the Switch version of the game, I think solo developer Loren Lemcke’s aim ended up being mostly on.

“Super Blood Hockey” is an evolution (and devolution) of NES “Ice Hockey”

Earlier in this series, we looked at the NES classic “Ice Hockey,” which originally released around 1988. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s SNES emulator (available with Switch Online), you can toggle between “Ice Hockey” and “Super Blood Hockey” on the same device.

Of course, it really might come down to letting your kids play “Ice Hockey,” but not “Super Blood Hockey.”

On one hand, SBH carries a lot of the same spirit of that Nintendo classic. There are “fat, skinny, normal” players, with the skinnier being more elusive, and the “fat” being tougher to knock off the puck than vintage Eric Lindros. Much like “Ice Hockey,” “Super Blood Hockey” only involves four skaters and a goalie, rather than the NHL standard.

Fights definitely play a role in the game, as much like in classic titles, the team that wins a fight — actually a wild line brawl — goes up one player. In fact, as I learned earlier today in researching the game a bit more, you can also go up four skaters to one.

A meaty and gory franchise mode

The not-so-family friendly stuff boils down to the gore, and the dark gallows humor of the franchise mode.

Rather than a dry GM mode setup such as games like “NHL 20,” you begin the “Super Blood Hockey” version by … giving up a kidney to afford your team?

Super Blood Hockey screen kidney
via Super Blood Hockey

When you lose a fight, you don’t just essentially go on the penalty kill. You also risk being “down a man” in a dark way. Like, say, losing your best player “Ryan Bretzel.”

Super Blood Hockey poor Bretzel
via Super Blood Hockey

The game’s lack of an NHL or NHLPA license means that you get some fun names (Adam “Pates,” huh?) and the game can go down some literal dark alleys with drug use.

 

When it comes to the humor, your results will vary. As someone who worries that players might be put at risk to return to play, there’s some catharsis in the satire of “Super Blood Hockey,” though. The tone generally works for me, possibly thanks to the throwback pixel art.

Super Blood Hockey discard
Players are inmates in this dark franchise mode. (via Super Blood Hockey)

In a May 2019 interview with Nintendojo, “Super Blood Hockey” developer Loren Lemcke explained the tone of the game:

The omnipresent evil of profit-motive haunts the US Healthcare system and poisons our compassion by injecting into us the necessary machinery to dehumanize others. One doesn’t have to dig very deep to discover a terrifying crypt of nightmarish and surreal ordeals inflicted upon the sick and dying in the name of profit. Super Blood Hockey is a mere cartoonish effigy of the very real kafkaesque horrors levied upon the poor.

(How many other sports video game franchise modes inspire use of the term “kafkaesque?” OK, beyond the microtransactions in the NBA2K series.)

Ultimately, “Super Blood Hockey” follows its retro roots as being a fairly stripped-down game. You won’t play 20+ seasons in this franchise mode, seeing Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes retire along the way.

Yet there’s a lot to like. I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes when I tell my little pixely players to rest vs. hit the gym, but it’s fun to tweak their stats.

An impressive effort could be just a bit better with more resources

If you follow indie video games, you realize that small teams, sometimes basically one person, can sometimes will a game into existence. Sometimes that comes down to making the types of games that don’t get made any longer.

People craved another “Harvest Moon” game, so largely solo developer Eric Barone accomplished his own take on the series with “Stardew Valley.” That game became a smash hit, and Lemcke’s enjoyed his own success while making “Super Blood Hockey” an evolution and devolution of NES “Ice Hockey.”

Now, sure, there are beefs.

Above all else, it would be wonderful to be able to play games online. What better way to keep in touch with friends than to take advantage of their teams being down 4-on-2 thanks to lost fights?

And, while I’d argue that the game plays well, there can be some maddening moments. Sometimes it’s just flat-out frustrating trying to score against Pong-inspired goalies.

SBH stats
Bretzel’s sacrifice? Yeah, kind of in vain. (via Super Blood Hockey)

But with a fantastic retro soundtrack and look, and some fun gameplay, “Super Blood Hockey” could be a nice fit for those wanting an old-school hockey game. It’s often pretty cheap and on many platforms, from the Nintendo Switch to PC, to XBox One and Playstation 4.

As far as what’s next for Lemcke, well, I might need to check out his other project. If you’re of a certain age, you also have fond memories of the “Rampage” arcade games. It looks like Lemcke shared such memories, because check out “Terror of Hemasaurus.”

That looks like it might be worthy of its own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to be honest.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

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.

Roundtable: Best hub cities for NHL’s Return to Play

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Which two potential hub cities would be the best options for the NHL?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to rule out Canadian cities because … frankly, Canada is (broadly speaking) taking a more cautious approach. That’s positive for the greater good, but not those who want to hand out a 2020 Stanley Cup. That said, if the NHL was willing to comply with 14-day quarantines and the like, that would be a different ballgame.

But I’ll go with two cities in the U.S. to try to be more realistic.

My choices:
• Las Vegas, NV
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Look, you’re not going to find “perfect” options. But, after looking at the CDC’s listings for states/jurisdictions with the least and most infections, Nevada and Minnesota seem like decent bets. Of course, a lot can change in a few weeks, which is the timeline Gary Bettman discussed while pondering potential “hub cities.”

Personally, I’d be weighing safety far and away more than other factors, which is why I leaned (tentatively or not) toward Las Vegas and Minneapolis/St. Paul. In all honesty, the low infection rates of places like North Dakota make me wonder if ND really does rank among the best options. But oh well?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably repeat it some more: the NHL’s going to really need to show some finesse in threading the needle of actually pulling this off.

[Decision on NHL Return to Play hub cities weeks away]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I agree with James on the Canadian options. Given the current government mandates, if the NHL wants these two hub cities decided on in the next few weeks, I can’t see Edmonton, Vancouver or Toronto having the time to appease the league’s desires.

The one clear front-runner is Vegas, for obvious reasons. Hotel capacity, transportation, rinks, low COVID-19 case rates. The Nevada summer heat is one worry I have, which will give Dan Craig and his team plenty of work to do to ensure the sheets are up-to-par.

Columbus or Pittsburgh would make sense if you want that East/West mix for TV. If the schedule is going to be something similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Columbus/Pittsburgh side would start their games at noon ET and we’d have hockey all day with the Vegas games ending the night.

Both have key factors in their corner: multiple ice sheets, hotel proximity, and have been flattening the curve when it comes to COVID-19 cases.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: From the outside, it would seem the top considerations for hub city destinations are the COVID-19 conditions, and whether the infrastructure is sufficient to execute a tournament of this scope. The former is a variable that involves expert opinion and decision making, so I won’t attempt to weigh the cities based on that. The latter is something the league had time to evaluate before it announced the 10 candidates, so one would assume that all the “finalists” meet whatever minimum standard is required to host.

My initial thought from the very beginning was that Las Vegas should be a lock, and the details of what that might look like were described in a recent report from The Athletic. Vegas seems uniquely equipped to create the most controlled environment for these purposes. That’s got my first vote.

With that in mind, my second hub city choice is Pittsburgh, for a few reasons:

First, geographical balance is important considering that, at least at the very beginning, there figure to be several games per day across the two sites. This Olympic-style format would work best on TV if there were staggered start times to accommodate audiences in every time zone. That rules out Los Angeles and Vancouver.

Second, it’s unclear to what extent the US-Canada border situation will influence the final decision, but given where things stand at this exact moment, it seems more practical to have both sites in the US. That rules out Edmonton and Toronto.

That leaves Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh. I’ve got no good reason for picking Pittsburgh except: why not give a carrot to the team that has to go up against Carey Price (who was the overwhelming choice for best goalie in this year’s NHLPA Player Poll) and the Montreal Canadiens (who effectively had a zero percent chance of making the playoffs when the season paused)?

There you have it. Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. The Marc-Andre Fleury bowl.

MORE:
NHL announces return-to-play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

Russia hires Bragin as men’s national hockey team coach

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia hired Valery Bragin as coach of the men’s national hockey team on Friday as it gears up to defend its Olympic title in 2022.

Bragin moves up from his longtime role in charge of the Russian under-20 team, which he led to the silver medal at this year’s world junior championships.

The Russian Hockey Federation didn’t say for how long Bragin’s contract runs. Bragin said his main aim was to prepare the team for next year’s world championships with a focus on players from outside the NHL.

Bragin replaces former Toronto Maple Leafs player Alexei Kudashov, who moves into a consultant role with the national team after 11 months as head coach.

Bragin also takes over from Kudashov as head coach of club team SKA St. Petersburg, whose operations are tightly intertwined with those of the national team. Roman Rotenberg is the general manager for both teams and holds vice president roles in both the club and the federation.

Rotenberg said in a statement that Kudashov “cannot currently put his full focus on coaching work.” He did not elaborate further.

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Igor Larionov replaces Bragin in charge of the junior team.

Russia’s players won the men’s hockey gold medal at the 2018 Olympics under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name after the country was officially barred from the games for doping offenses.