Top draft prospect Hischier plays the hero for Switzerland

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If you don’t know it already, remember the name Nico Hischier. The 17-year-old forward played the hero today for Switzerland at the World Juniors, scoring the overtime winner on a breakaway in a 4-3 triumph over the Czech Republic. The dynamic center also picked up two assists during regulation.

Hischier is expected to be a top pick at the 2017 NHL draft. It’s possible he could even go first overall, though Nolan Patrick remains the favorite for that.

“What’s special about him is attention to detail, especially defensively,” said Hischier’s coach in Halifax, Andre Tourigny, per The Hockey News. “He takes so much pride in his defense. It’s unreal.”

Hischier’s pretty good offensively, too. He has 48 points (23G, 25A) in just 31 games for the QMJHL’s Mooseheads this season.

The Swiss are still underdogs relative to international hockey powers like Canada and the United States, but they have a real chance to make an impact at this year’s tourney.

“Last year, we went to the relegation games, but we had a good team,” Hischier told the Chronicle Herald. “This year, we have a good team, too, so if we do the little things right and grow as a team, we can make the quarter-finals. That’s our main goal. After that, everything is possible.”

Ingram to start for Canada tonight, after Hart’s shaky performance against Russia


Connor Ingram will be in Canada’s net tonight against Slovakia at the World Juniors tournament in Toronto.

Ingram, a 19-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, will replace Flyers prospect Carter Hart, who started Monday’s opener against Russia, a 5-3 Canadian victory, and allowed three goals on just 17 shots.

Hart’s somewhat shaky performance put the 18-year-old squarely under the microscope in Canada. The third goal he allowed, off a long wrist shot by Yegor Rykov, was particularly questionable.

“We won, that’s all that matters,” said Hart, per the Toronto Star.

But if Ingram plays well tonight, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod going forward. Canada plays Latvia Thursday before its New Years Eve clash with the United States on Saturday.

Both goalies brought good numbers into the tournament. Ingram is 14-9-0 with a .935 save percentage for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, while Hart is 16-3-0 with a .928 save percentage for the Everett Silvertips, who also compete in the WHL.

Sabres fans are still suffering, and that’s not acceptable anymore


The Buffalo Sabres have been a better team with Jack Eichel in the lineup.

But not by as much as they’d hoped.

When Eichel was hurt to start the season, they went 7-9-5. Since he’s been back, they’ve gone 5-4-3 — a decidedly “meh” improvement.

The Sabres entered the Christmas break with no wins in their last four. They got embarrassed, 5-1, by the Islanders on Dec. 23. And to make matters worse, now they’ll be without Ryan O'Reilly (appendectomy) indefinitely.

“We have to figure out what kind of team we want to be,” captain Brian Gionta said after the debacle in Brooklyn. “We have to be a simple team, creating offense, passing and executing.”

It has to be frustrating for Terry Pegula, whose other Buffalo team isn’t doing so well either. Pegula became the Sabres owner in 2011, with much fanfare and optimism.

“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup,” he famously said at the time.

But the team hasn’t come close yet. It has missed the playoffs the last five seasons, and barring a heck of a comeback in 2016-17, it will miss them again.

To be sure, there are the makings of a better team. Eichel is still only 20; Sam Reinhart is 21, and Rasmus Ristolainen 22. Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall draft pick in 2016, has yet to make his NHL debut; he’s only 18.

Still, the Sabres had higher hopes for 2016-17. They’d signed Kyle Okposo and traded for Dmitry Kulikov. GM Tim Murray said the goal was “to make the playoffs, and we actually do expect that we can do that.”

And yet, they will enter tonight’s game in Detroit in last place in the Atlantic Division, eight points back of third-place Boston. Their offense ranks 28th; their goals-against 11th.

For Murray, major questions abound. Why can’t this team score at five-on-five? Is it time to move on from Evander Kane? How can the blue line be bolstered? Is Dan Bylsma the right head coach?

It has been a long time since the Sabres were Stanley Cup contenders. They went to the Eastern Conference Final in 2007, but haven’t won a postseason series since.

While the fan base largely accepted the “suffering” that went with a tear-it-down rebuild, it will not, and should not, accept much more losing.

Women’s league announces policy for transgender athletes


The National Women’s Hockey League today announced a new policy for transgender athletes.

“This is an opportunity to move the conversation forward and accelerate social progress,” said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan in a release. “The NWHL wants to be a reference point and resource for the next player or league that may feel uncertain or underprepared for their moment.”

For those players designated female at birth, it has been ruled that they “may not take testosterone hormone therapy. Athletes transitioning to male who undergo hormone therapy will be ineligible to compete.”

For athletes transitioning to female, the “athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum is within typical limits of women athletes.”

Click here for the full guidelines.

And read more in this story by the New York Times.

Bad news for the ‘Canes: Faulk week-to-week with lower-body injury

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Justin Faulk is hurt again. The Carolina Hurricanes’ top-scoring defenseman is reportedly week-to-week with a lower-body injury after getting hurt Friday against Boston.

Tomorrow in Pittsburgh, Faulk’s spot in the lineup will be taken by Ryan Murphy, who’s played just four NHL games all season. Murphy’s last appearance in a Carolina uniform was all the way back on Nov. 10.

Faulk goes on the shelf with seven goals and nine assists in 30 games. He missed three games in November with an upper-body injury.

The ‘Canes (15-11-7) went into the Christmas break on a three-game winning streak. But stuck in the Metropolitan Division, they sit seven points back of a playoff spot.