Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada’s Captain Clutch, set for 4th Winter Games

Marie-Philip Poulin will always remember watching members of Canada’s women’s hockey team burst into tears as they celebrated their Olympic gold-medal win over the United States at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Poulin, 10 at the time, turned to her mother on the couch at their home in Beauceville, Quebec, to ask why everyone was crying.

“And she said, `One day you might know,’” Poulin recalled.

Eight years later at the Vancouver Games, as the youngest female hockey player ever to represent Canada at the Olympics, Poulin got an opportunity to appreciate her mother’s words.

“I knew what she meant at that moment,” she said. “It was special.”

Extra special, perhaps, given how Vancouver was where Poulin began establishing her reputation as Canada’s “Captain Clutch,” and eventually drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby by scoring both goals in a 2-0 championship-clinching victory.

Four years later in Sochi, she did it again, scoring the tying goal in the final minute and then again in overtime in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. for another gold Then came this past August, when Poulin scored in overtime — the puck went in so fast it wasn’t ruled a goal until after a review — to secure a 3-2 win over the Americans in the world championship final to end the U.S.’s five-tournament run of victories.

At 30 — don’t remind her — Poulin is preparing to make her fourth Olympic appearance and second as team captain at the Beijing Games.

She is the unquestioned leader of what is a mostly veteran team featuring 13 players with Olympic experience. And while beating the Americans at the worlds was a start, Poulin and the Canadians have unfinished business to attend to after losing to the U.S. in the final the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

It’s no coincidence, after Canada lost consecutive games to the Americans during their pre-Olympic rivalry series in November, that it was Poulin who responded by scoring overtime goals in each of the following two games.

“We’ve been working for this moment and waiting for this game since the last two,” Poulin said after a 2-1 win on Dec. 15. “This was a great time to turn it around.”

Her teammates were hardly surprised.

“Being able to rise to the high-pressure situation as a group, and especially having our captain lead the way, it’s huge for us,” forward Emily Clark said following a 3-2 win two days later. “She’s the heartbeat of our team.”

In 70 career games against the U.S., Poulin is the team’s active leader with 27 goals and 46 points. Overall, she ranks seventh on Canada’s career list with 162 points (78 goals, 84 assists) in 145 international games, and eighth with 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 15 Olympic games.

“She shows up in the biggest moments,” said Hockey Hall of Fame member Jayna Hefford, who played with Poulin in 2010.

“She can go out and play really well, and that’s what you expect from her. But then those moments arise and all of a sudden she takes it to another level,” Hefford added. “She’s done it time and time again. And so I think that’s secured her legacy.”

Poulin carries herself with a quiet modesty, playfully giggling when her nickname is mentioned.

“Yes, it’s happened a couple of times, but I know there’s days that it doesn’t go your way,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words. But one thing I always came up with is it’s my surroundings, my environment, my people, my teammates, my friends, my family.”

One of Canada’s most celebrated hockey players grew up in modest surroundings in a town of about 6,300, closer to Maine’s northwestern border than the hour-long drive north to Quebec City. She took to hockey at a young age, following in the footsteps of her older brother, Pier-Alexandre.

With no girls’ hockey program in town, Poulin played on boys’ teams until she was 15, when she moved to Montreal. That’s where she stayed with family friends, developed her game and began learning English in her bid to earn a scholarship at a U.S. college.

Poulin went on to play at Boston University where she helped the Terriers win four consecutive Hockey East titles and made two Frozen Four appearances, losing both.

“Obviously, it was not easy times. There’s moments you ask yourself why? If I made the right decision when I was struggling in school,” Poulin said of living in Montreal. “But I had a lot of people who wanted me to succeed, and I think that really helped.”

Poulin recalled times when she would attend team parties at a local restaurant and being limited to what she could order because her parents could only afford so much. While others got to drink Coke, she’d have water. Dessert was a luxury.

“I didn’t come from a wealthy family, and they had to work two jobs to make sure my brother and I would play what we loved the most. And that’s something we’re so thankful for,” she said. “It’s beautiful what they did for us. And to be honest, I would take that water and that meal any day.”

It was at the Vancouver Games following Canada’s victory, and with her family around her, when Poulin truly came to appreciate their sacrifices.

“I was able to actually share that gold medal with them, and we all were tearing up, all crying,” Poulin recalled. “It was like, finally, we can share together all the hard work that we all did in our own way.”

The tears she once saw on television flowed with unrestrained emotions of joy.

“At that moment,” Poulin said, “it was our gold medal.”

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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.