Coyotes to induct inspirational Leighton Accardo into ring of honor

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lyndsey Fry remembers the day she met Leighton Accardo.

Addressing a group of 40 kids at a hockey camp, she felt the tug of a 4-year-old girl who needed to use the bathroom.

The cute freckled face, the unapologetic gumption.

Fry remembers the day Leighton died.

The Arizona Coyotes were supposed to visit the 9-year-old one last time that day. They just missed her.

The sobbing in the shower, the regret of not going to see her sooner.

“She was just that kid in the rink that everybody knew because she just had this radiating positivity, bubbliness, whatever you want to call it, everywhere she went,” said Fry, the Coyotes’ director of external engagement and female hockey. “She was a memorable kid.”

The Coyotes will take an extraordinary step before Saturday’s game against St. Louis by inducting Leighton into their ring of honor.

The inspirational girl with the tenacity of a hockey player will become the first person in NHL history who’s not a former player, coach, general manager or broadcaster to be inducted into a team’s ring of honor.

Her name will join Wayne Gretzky, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, and Bobby Hull inside Gila River Arena.

Leighton’s imprint on the organization runs that deep.

“She really left the impact on us, not just as someone who loved hockey, but as someone who really captured the spirit of resiliency and of grit and of overcoming adversity in the face of an incredible challenge,” Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “Her famous saying was, ‘skate hard, have fun.’ And that’s really what we wanted to continue to do, to really keep her in our memories as an organization.”

There’s a connection every time a professional athlete meets a child with cancer. The encounters move the players, uplift the kids, yet are often brief.

Leighton’s effervescent spirit, her tenacity on the ice — everything in life — and that smile were like an imprint on the soul of everyone she touched.

She had uncommon grit at an early age, falling and crying during one of her first times on the ice, yet refusing to come off. It carried her through her fight with cancer.

Leighton was memorable.

“People just really drew so much from her in the way that she carried herself during her cancer fight,” Fry said. “I mean, like that’s something that adults can’t handle and she just handled it with so much grace, so much positivity. She never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her.”

From the day of that first tug on Fry’s pants, Leighton was the girl who stood out just by being herself.

Her father, Jeremy, played eight seasons in the major leagues and is the New York Mets’ assistant pitching coach. The athletic ability was passed down to Leighton, who excelled at hockey, baseball — whatever she attempted.

An undercurrent of persistence thrust it forward.

Fry saw it at the clinic and through the Arizona Kachinas youth hockey program.

Coyotes players and coaches became enamored of Leighton when she became their ambassador for Hockey Fights Cancer Nights. It was reinforced by numerous interactions, including visits to her hospital room.

“We knew, obviously, how special Leighton was and what an amazing soul she was,” Leighton’s mother, Carly, said through tears. “And for them to see it, too, just made us really proud. They connected with her on such a personal and different level.”

The news of Leighton’s death on Nov. 24 sent a bolt of sadness across Phoenix and the hockey world.

The Coyotes made good on their promise to visit, playing a game of street hockey outside the family’s home in her honor the day she passed. Messages of condolence and tributes poured in from all corners.

Fry called her boss. She had planned to rollerblade 96 miles to raise money for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital or some other place for sick kids.

Once Leighton passed, “Skatin’ for Leighton” shifted focus. The money would go toward a scholarship in Leighton’s name to assist girls interested in playing hockey in Arizona.

Fry set out on Feb. 21 from Phoenix Children’s Hospital and hit all seven Phoenix-area ice rinks before ending up at Gila River Arena.

Fry skated for more than 14 hours, her feet and ankles throbbing, hips burning. She kept pushing through, completing a journey that’s raised more than $100,000 for the Leighton Accardo Scholarship Fund.

“I kept telling myself throughout the whole thing, at the end of the day, it was nothing,” said Fry, who also serves as the Coyotes’ radio analyst. “I mean, even at the time, it was getting hard and it would hurt my hips, retired or whatever. I just remind myself this is nothing compared to what Leighton had to go through.”

The Coyotes signed Leighton to a contract in 2019 and players have worn “LA49” decals on their helmet this season. They’ll wear “Leighton 49” warm-up jerseys before Saturday’s game that will be auctioned off, the proceeds going to her scholarship fund.

The ring of honor ceremony will cement her place within the organization, the memory of a memorable girl living on forever.

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    Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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    FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

    The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    “Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

    A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    “Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

    Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

    Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

    “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Robertson will finally be there now.

    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.