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

You hear the term hockey culture used a lot in our sport. Often, it’s a flattering term, or even a badge of honor. Lay your body on the line to block a shot? Give credit to others for your personal accomplishment? These are no-brainers for hockey players. It’s part of the culture. 

But in my 40-plus years involved with this game, I’ve come to learn that hockey culture is not entirely positive. Along with everything that makes this the greatest sport in the world – the camaraderie, the sacrifice, the joy of scoring a goal, just to name a few – there are still fundamental problems. 

In many ways, hockey is grappling with the same issues as our society at large. There are significant barriers to entry for minority or underprivileged youths. Those who do take up the sport risk entering a locker room that does not welcome them – no matter what level of play. And there is a serious lack of diversity in leadership positions. 

I have experienced all those things first-hand, and it is disappointing that hockey still falls short in these important areas. But I have always been someone who sees the positive in a situation. For every problem, there is an opportunity for a solution. 

That is why NBC Sports and I are launching Hockey Culture, a multi-platform content offering whose sole purpose is to champion equality and inclusivity at all levels of the sport. We plan to use this space to address problematic topics on and off the ice, improve the diversity of the game, and create more engagement in communities where hockey isn’t as accessible. 

It is appropriate that the launch of Hockey Culture coincides with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, because the path these 16 teams are about to embark on can in some ways be compared to the one facing the hockey community as it confronts these systemic issues. In both cases, success is not easy, and it is certainly not a given. It must be earned through a combination of teamwork, effort, resilience, and perhaps most importantly, delivering in key situations.

Changing the culture of this sport is a daunting proposition, but I am ready to meet the challenge head-on. As a player, the biggest moments always brought out the best in me, and I think that was because I never thought about what would happen if we lost. I only focused on how great things would be when we won. 

What’s especially encouraging is that I know I’m not in this alone. That became clear to me right after the murder of George Floyd, when I reached out to dozens of prominent individuals affiliated with the game to be a part of this social justice video. Man or woman, player or executive, Black or white – everyone in that video was willing and eager to participate. The hockey community is aware of the issues that plague our society and won’t tolerate them any longer.

Today, as we launch Hockey Culture, I am confident that there will be a time when our sport can truly say that it is for everyone, and I’m thrilled about the content we have planned to help make this a reality. 

Find Hockey Culture on YouTube

On our dedicated YouTube channel, YouTube.com/HockeyCulture, you’ll find a number of interviews and features available right now, including: 

  • Ryan Reaves, the Vegas Golden Knights forward who many view as the NHL’s toughest player. We discuss his role on the ice, his family’s history working in law enforcement, and his newest off-ice endeavor: owning a craft brewery
  • Xavier Gutierrez, the newly appointed CEO of the Arizona Coyotes – the first Latino to hold that position in NHL history
  • Stories on Renee Hess and her rapidly growing Black Girl Hockey Club, the Detroit Ice Dreams youth hockey program, and the connection between the El Paso Rhinos junior hockey team and the city’s predominantly Hispanic population

We will be adding new interviews on a weekly basis, so if you subscribe to that channel you’ll get notified as soon as they are published. 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: Punjabi broadcaster), and much more. There will be written pieces in the future as well, which we will feature on NBCSports.com/NHL 

Our sport has reached a critical juncture. Hopefully these conversations will help Hockey Culture chart a better course for the game we all love so much.

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    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.