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Joel Quenneville looking to offseason before deciding on NHL return

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Speaking for the first time since he was fired in November by the Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville said that while there’s an “appetite” to get back behind an NHL bench, he’s “in no hurry right now.”

Quenneville spoke to WGN TV’s Dan Roan during a Blackhawks alumni charity event on Sunday. The former head coach, who was replaced by Jeremy Colliton after a 6-6-3 start, said he wasn’t too surprised by the decision and appreciated his decade in Chicago.

“I think in our business there’s not too many surprises anymore,” said Quenneville, who led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups during his tenure. “I was privileged to be in Chicago for 10 years. It’s part of the business, I understand all that. I know when I exited other places, the bitterness and the animosity was at a different level. And here the memories are so special and so good, and the people here are so special to me and our family that it was tough… I never [had the opportunity to] thank the fans since I left, but I’ve got nothing but appreciation and [I] admire all they’ve done and supported our team and our experience here in Chicago.”

The Blackhawks have gone 26-24-6 under Colliton and still cling to hopes of grabbing one of the two Western Conference wild card spots. As of Monday, they sit five points out with 11 games to go.

Quenneville said he doesn’t find himself watching his old team as much anymore, but has enjoyed their turnaround.

“I try to not watch as much Blackhawks as I used to, but I watch most of the games,” he said. “It’s been a great race and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Since Quenneville’s firing, five NHL head coaching jobs have opened up. He was rumored to be the one to replace Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia, but that never materialized. Still under contract to the Blackhawks through the end of next season with a $6M salary, once the offseason arrives and head coaching jobs open up, he’ll ponder his future.

“We’re in no hurry right now,” he said. “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. I think we’ll have to think about it and we’ll see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hockey families get creative in solving time, cost concerns

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Megan Lincoln couldn’t put her son into hockey right away when he wanted to play.

She didn’t have the time to take off from work to shuttle him to practice or the money to pour into a traditionally expensive sport.

”Nothing is cheap,” Lincoln said. ”There’s nothing about hockey that is cheap. Maybe some laces.”

But Reggie Hunter became a hockey player when the family found out Snider Hockey was offering free equipment and instruction 20 minutes from their New Jersey home. He learned to play multiple positions over time as his great-grandfather drove him to and from the rink in Pennsauken. That was seven years ago. Hunter, now 21, went on to play junior hockey.

Many families wrestle with the time and money needed to play youth sports, but those challenges can be even more significant when it comes to hockey, with all of its equipment and rinks that are sometimes far away. For the less wealthy, having a child who dreams of hockey can look like a nightmare.

”The challenge is that hockey is a very unique sport and it’s a very expensive sport,” said NHL diversity ambassador Willie O’Ree, who broke the league’s color barrier in 1958. ”To go into a sport shop and outfit a 10- to a 13-year-old boy or girl, it costs about $800, and a lot of these families, they just can’t afford the money.”

The cost of protective equipment, sticks and ice time is one factor that keeps hockey lagging behind sports such as basketball and soccer in the U.S. among minority children. Snider Hockey program director Dan Rudd estimates the expenses of travel hockey alone can cost a family $2,000-$3,000 a year.

Steps are being taken to address those concerns, including programs like Snider Hockey in Philadelphia, Detroit Ice Dreams and Hockey is for Everyone, Future Goals and Learn to Play from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. Many outfit kids with all they need to get on the ice.

Detroit Ice Dreams vice president and program manager Cynthia Wardlaw likened the cost of her children playing hockey to a car bill or a mortgage bill.

”I would’ve never been able to afford hockey if it wasn’t for a program like this because it wouldn’t have ever fit in my budget,” Wardlaw said. ”No matter how much my kid might’ve enjoyed it or liked it or loved it, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. We have a lot of parents that are thankful for our program because they would’ve never been able to experience the game of hockey because hockey is very expensive.”

Neal Henderson, who founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington in 1978, said his organization outfits kids from head to foot with safe equipment. Some rinks rely on donated or used equipment that can be passed down from older to younger players.

Snider Hockey provides equipment, too, as part of almost $5 million in annual expenses. It also helps parents trying to figure out what to buy.

”Sometimes the parents don’t have the experience in the sport to understand what to look for, so they need mentors, they need subject matter experts,” said Jim Britt, the since-retired first employee of Snider Hockey. ”They need coaching along the way to make sure they know a $500 piece of equipment isn’t necessarily better than a $300 piece of equipment or a $200 piece of equipment.”

Coaches are also part-time drivers at Snider Hockey, and parents run carpools for practices and games. Detroit Ice Dreams Founder Jason McCrimmon said he barters with city-run rinks by offering basic classes to get favorable ice time that allows kids to practice and play after school – hours more favorable than early in the morning or late at night.

Small-ice practices, where a team needs just a third of the rink, also helps organizations keep costs down.

”You divide the dollars you spend on an hour of ice by 60 instead of 20,” Snider Hockey executive vice president Jan Koziara said. ”It’s a huge return.”

NHL, NHLPA and USA Hockey assistance goes a long way as the organizations try to grow the game. Henderson believes the onus is still on parents to explore options.

”The parents have to make a sacrifice, and they have to make a sacrifice to become involved,” Henderson said. ”(A child who asks their parents to play) knows the answer will be they’re too busy or they’ve got to work or they think that the price is too high. They have no idea of cost, and they don’t know what a commitment would be.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

In city centers, a determined effort to diversify hockey

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In a crowded hallway at Scanlon Ice Rink, Logan Johnson slid into his pads as his brother Malakye and sister Wylla skittered around sticks and bags bulging with hockey equipment.

Their mother, April, tried to keep order and Wylla asked whether a board game of Candy Land might help fill the time until Malakye’s practice, which didn’t start until a half-hour after Logan wraps up. Snacks and homework were handy since the family knew they would be spending several hours here on a school night.

It was a standard visit to the rink for the Johnsons, who are familiar with the 20-minute drive from their Germantown neighborhood to Kensington in north Philadelphia. Four years after knowing nothing about hockey, the sport now consumes their lives for nine months out of the year between travel, practices and games, as it does for countless families of young players across North America.

The Johnsons, however, are African-American and the participation of people of color in a sport that has for decades been predominantly played by whites still stands out 61 years after Willie O’Ree broke the color barrier in the National Hockey League. Minority players in the NHL remain a relative rarity but the effort to increase diversity in the sport – some of it funded by the league – has never been more robust than it is now. The results can be seen in neighborhoods where basketball, baseball and football are still the top choices for many.

Hockey was a tough sell for the Johnson family with football the sport of choice in Germantown. April Johnson said she didn’t want to switch her children, now 13, 10 and 8, to the ice even when she found out it could be free through the Snider Hockey program that runs programs at five city rinks, including Scanlon. She now tells everyone she can about her experience, though she encounters plenty of reluctance – almost always that their child already plays football or basketball.

”Some people are just kind of gun shy,” she said. ”They don’t know what to expect, so they just don’t even want to try it out.”

The challenge for youth hockey programs trying to add minority players are cultural, socio-economic and logistical. The sport, unlike others, has to feel more welcoming and inclusive than others in communities that have shunned or ignored it.

The Scanlon rink, in the heart of a neighborhood that has struggled with drugs and crime, is both a refuge and a showcase of what the future of the sport could look like. Far from the reputation of hockey being a white sport, children and families of all races and from all corners of the city reflect the population far more than the NHL today.

While just 5 percent of the 778 NHL players are minorities, that number is 70 percent within Snider Hockey, a program the late Flyers owner Ed Snider started in 2005 and provides free equipment, ice time and academic support for more than 3,000 students. Ice Hockey in Harlem, Detroit Ice Dreams and other organizations are also trying to bring the sport to people who never thought it was for them.

”The first barrier is just letting folks know about this opportunity that’s in their neighborhood,” Snider Hockey executive vice president Jan Koziara said. ”The biggest barrier is convincing families who aren’t hockey fans, haven’t ever really been exposed to hockey to give it a shot. From there, people become hockey fans and hockey families very quickly.”

USA Hockey counted 382,514 youth players last season, up from 339,610 eight years earlier, but has only just begun tracking participation numbers by race and doesn’t yet have any data to share publicly. Kim Davis, hired in 2017 as the NHL’s first executive vice president of social impact, growth and legislative affairs, said she believes diversity of hockey at the youth level is underestimated.

”You look across the country, you can’t help but know that given the demographics that we’re seeing regionally and state by state that the pipeline of talent, particularly for kids that are starting our sport as early as age 3 or 4, is shifting,” she said.

William Frey of the Brookings Institute, who has consulted the NHL on demographic shifts, expects the 2020 census to show the population under age 18 is less than half white, which makes the outreach to nontraditional hockey communities critical to the future of the sport.

”We don’t want to leave anybody behind,” said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who aided an effort to keep Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Arena open amid a funding crisis. ”It’s within everyone’s best interest to make sure that we build organizations, businesses, communities that are reflective to the people that you serve.”

It remains a challenge to lure children to an unfamiliar sport. Kids in Kensington who know LeBron James and Steph Curry are less likely to know about black hockey players like P.K. Subban or even Wayne Simmonds, who was recently traded by Philadelphia to Nashville.

”A lot of kids don’t see it, so they don’t think it’s OK,” said Jason McCrimmon, the Detroit Ice Dreams president and founder. ”That’s what we still deal with in this day and age when we go out to recruit. It’s still like: ‘I don’t really want to play hockey. My friends don’t play it or what would they think of me if I played it?’ It’s an easier situation for a kid to kind of adapt and going the route of playing basketball or football because it’s so normal and it’s seen on a regular basis for kids that look like them.”

The NHL said the league and the NHL Players’ Association have invested roughly $100 million since 2015 in programs to grow the game, from the joint Industry Growth Fund to Hockey is for Everyone, Future Goals and Learn to Play. Subban, Simmonds, Columbus’ Seth Jones and O’Ree serve as inspirations in black communities across North America just as players like Scott Gomez, Richard Park, Jonathan Cheechoo and Craig Berube did for Hispanic, Asian and Native American and First Nations communities.

”When I was younger, if I didn’t see people who look like me playing hockey, that’s probably something that I wouldn’t have (gotten into),” Simmonds said.

Snider Hockey exemplifies that in Philadelphia, which is more than 40 percent black. Director of programs Dan Rudd said it was difficult to find black and Latino coaches to reflect the community at first but over the past decade alumni have come back to coach.

There is Virlen Reyes, who went from the streets of Kensington to captain West Chester University to a club hockey national title, became Snider Hockey’s first college graduate and now co-owns an art studio. There is Kaseir Archie, another Kensington kid who chose hockey over basketball and is now a junior at Drexel.

Reyes used to get strange looks carrying her bag and stick on the train and saw drug dealers and syringes not far from Scanlon. Now she sees all kinds of kids rolling their gear into the building.

”I’ve seen an immense decrease in drug influence and violence within that community,” Reyes said. ”You have people from outside the community, they are coming in and bringing their families. To see other families be comfortable with coming into a community that’s known to be one of America’s most violent and drug-influenced areas, that is a signal to know that great change is happening here.”

When he’s not watching NHL Network to learn about a sport he was entirely unfamiliar with, Chip Finney comes from West Philadelphia for his 9-year-old son Miles’ practices. A conversation with another father in the schoolyard took Finney’s family to hockey, and now Miles is the goalie for a team that also has a Muslim girl who wears a hijab on the ice.

”This unusual is his normal,” Finney said.

O’Ree, who broke the NHL color barrier with the Boston Bruins in 1958, has spent 22 years as the league’s diversity ambassador. He said he has noticed significant progress.

”Hockey’s a white sport? That’s ridiculous,” O’Ree said. ”You can play any sport you want regardless of what color you are if you have the will and the desire.”

Rudd and Snider Hockey coaches have honed their message at schools and churches to try to reach more kids like Malakye Johnson, whose friends still don’t play hockey. Kids and parents, after all, make up the real sales force.

”It just takes word of mouth,” April Johnson said.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Sharks defenseman Radim Simek needs knee ligament surgery

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — San Jose Sharks defenseman Radim Simek needs surgery for torn ligaments in his right knee.

General manager Doug Wilson said Thursday that Simek tore his ACL and MCL after a hit in Tuesday night’s win against Winnipeg.

Simek has one goal and eight assists in 41 games this season. He has mostly been paired with Brent Burns.

The first-place Sharks have depth at defense and will move Joakim Ryan into the lineup. Erik Karlsson remains sidelined by a groin injury but is expected to be healthy for the playoffs.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Push for the Playoffs: Lightning continue chasing ’95-96 Red Wings

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

As the the Tampa Bay Lightning hold a 16-point lead on the San Jose Sharks with 12 games remaining, the Presidents’ Trophy is just about locked up. An historic regular season could be added to should they win a majority of the rest of their schedule.

After the Presidents’ Trophy, next in the Lightning’s sights is the 62-win feat achieved by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. It’s fitting that Tampa is in Detroit tonight, looking to win their 54th game of the season, which would tie a franchise record. There is also the monstrous challenge of earning 23 of 24 points to close out the season to set an NHL record for most points in a season (132), which is currently held by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

But the challenge of winning 10 of their final 12 games to top that Red Wings team will also serve as a test. Thursday’s game in Detroit is only one of two games remaining for the Lightning that come against teams out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture (They play Ottawa on April 1).

“I think if we get to 59, maybe we’ll start talking about it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper via the Tampa Bay Times. “But we’re not talking about it right now.”

Since Tampa is firmly in the top spot in the Atlantic Division and will have home ice throughout the playoffs, at what point does Cooper begin resting players like goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s started 44 games, and not worry about history? Presidents’ Trophy winning teams already don’t have the greatest of luck in the postseason. Of the 32 times its been awarded, only eight teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Only 11 have even been able to reached the Cup Final. There’s the target on your back aspect and the pressure that comes with being the NHL’s best regular season team.

What the Lightning have done this season — especially as a contender for the last few years — has made it Stanley Cup or bust in 2019. Two Eastern Conference Final disappointments to the eventual Cup champion in the last three seasons hasn’t sat well with them. The only history that should be on their minds is adding a second championship come June.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Sharks vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Flames vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth in one of two ways:

• If they beat the Panthers and the Wild lose in regulation to the Stars.

• If they beat Florida and the Wild get one point against Dallas and the Coyotes lose in regulation against the Ducks in regulation.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Penguins at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Capitals at Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Lightning at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Stars at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Bruins at Jets, 8 p.m. ET
Ducks at Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET
Predators at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
Panthers at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning – In
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 99.7 percent
Capitals – 98.8 percent
Islanders – 98.5 percent
Penguins – 95 percent
Hurricanes – 89.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.6 percent
Canadiens – 49.9 percent
Flyers – 8.1 percent
Panthers – 0.6 percent
Sabres – 0.1 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – Out
Red Wings – Out
Senators – Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Sharks – 100 percent
Flames – 100 percent
Jets – 99.8 percent
Predators – 99.1 percent
Blues – 97.7 percent
Golden Knights – 97.6 percent
Stars – 87.7 percent
Coyotes 50.4 percent
Wild – 37.9 percent
Avalanche – 19.7 percent
Blackhawks – 7.4 percent
Oilers – 1.9 percent
Canucks – 0.8 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Rangers – 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Sabres – 5 percent
Blackhawks – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Wild – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Canadiens – 1 percent
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 111 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 100 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 99 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 90 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 90 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 41 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 39 goals
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks – 38 goals

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.