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Paralyzed Humboldt player’s family preparing for next phase

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AIRDRIE, Alberta (AP) — The parents of a paralyzed Humboldt Broncos hockey player are preparing for the next phase of his recovery – his return home.

Ryan Straschnitzki is undergoing physiotherapy at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia after being paralyzed from the chest down in a crash between a semi-trailer and a bus carrying the junior hockey team at a rural Saskatchewan intersection in April.

The 19-year-old is expected to return home to Airdrie, just north of Calgary, in a matter of weeks.

His father, Tom Straschnitzki, says he’s already gone through six training programs on how to care for his son once he’s no longer under the constant watchful eye of medical personnel.

The programs include basics of day-to-day care, medication his son is taking and warning signs if something goes wrong.

”Because he can’t feel anything, if there’s a wrinkle, he’ll turn all red and his blood pressure will drop. We’ve got to figure out the signs and try and fix the problem,” Tom Straschnitzki said in an interview at his home with The Canadian Press.

”It’s scary. Hopefully we’ll know what to do and they’ve trained us pretty good.”

Tom Straschnitzki says the family home is about to be renovated to accommodate his son. An elevator is being installed, walls are being knocked down, doorways widened and bathrooms adapted. The reno could take up to six months and, during that time, they’ll need to find a new place to live.

”It’s daunting,” he said. ”It’s a lot of work, like building a brand new house.”

The basement where his son will be living is crammed with souvenirs he collected growing up and a lot more that have come in since the accident.

”That’s Connor McDavid‘s stick over there,” he said as he pointed to a corner in the basement. ”There’s boxes and boxes of letters and we ran out of room here so we put the rest in his room.”

Two books on the floor included ”99” by Wayne Gretzky and ”Against All Odds”, the untold story of Canada’s university hockey heroes.

A fundraiser to help with the family’s costs was scheduled for Saturday night at the Genesis Centre in Airdrie.

Cody Thompson, Ryan Straschnitzki’s former trainer and the event’s organizer, said it’s important the young man have access to treatment and resources.

”Any time you talk to anyone with a spinal cord injury, the first thing they will tell you is the younger you are, the more expensive it becomes, because of the longer time you will live with that injury,” he said.

”If you have the financial wherewithal, the likelihood of you coming out of this with more meaningful movement, mobility and strength to lead a normal life is exponentially higher (than) if you don’t have that ability.”

This time last year, Thompson said, Ryan was focused on playing with a junior A hockey team.

”Now he’s focused on gaining his ability to walk again and gaining full control over his body.”

Sixteen people died, including 10 players, and 13 others were injured as a result of bus crash.

Trotz, Capitals begin working toward contract extension

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Barry Trotz started dancing as soon as he walked into the locker room mid-celebration.

Within seconds, players doused him with beer and champagne, jumped around him and hugged their beloved coach. Trotz couldn’t see but still had plenty of clarity in that moment.

”I could feel the love,” he said.

Veteran Brooks Orpik believes that moment showed the admiration and respect Washington Capitals players have for Trotz, a pending free agent at the peak of his career after winning the Stanley Cup. Trotz’s contract status is the biggest question facing Washington as the offseason begins.

Trotz wants to be back, and general manager Brian MacLellan wants to sign the 55-year-old to an extension. Now it’s a matter of them getting a deal done.

Trotz and MacLellan met Wednesday to begin discussing a new contract. It’s uncommon for an established coach of a contending team to go through a lame-duck season and even rarer for a Cup-winner to not be back the next season.

”We’ve got lots of good things going,” Trotz said. ”We’ll work through what we need to do. If that’s what they want, then something will get done. If not, we’ll deal with that.”

MacLellan and the Capitals opted not to extend Trotz last summer following a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy-winning season that ended with a second-round exit at the hands of the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning the Cup at Vegas, MacLellan said Trotz would be back if he wants to be.

At the championship rally Tuesday, Trotz dropped hints of wanting to return by saying, ”We’ll do it again” and noting afterward, ”We’ll get something done.” He reiterated Wednesday he likes the area for his family and enjoys coaching this team.

MacLellan said he’ll meet with ownership over the next week and that he doesn’t believe either side feels pressure to get a deal done given Trotz’s contract expires June 30. Asked how confident he feels about being able to re-sign Trotz, MacLellan said: ”I don’t know. We’ll find out.”

It’s up to owner Ted Leonsis, team President Dick Patrick and MacLellan to come to Trotz with an offer that makes sense for him to return. The New York Islanders currently have an opening, and other teams around the NHL might even fire their coaches to hire Trotz, whose relaxed attitude during the playoffs contributed to the Capitals’ run.

”Barry was the right coach for this group,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”The things that he preaches turns out to be really important. It works for our group.”

Based on the salaries of other Cup-winning coaches like Toronto’s Mike Babcock, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville and Montreal’s Claude Julien, it’s reasonable to think Trotz could make $4 million-plus annually with the Capitals or another team.

Over the past 40 years, only four Stanley Cup-winning coaches didn’t return to that team the next season. Scotty Bowman left Montreal to become Buffalo’s GM in 1979, retired after winning with Detroit in 2002 and replaced Bob Johnson in Pittsburgh in 1991 when Johnson became ill. The other instance was when Mike Keenan left the Rangers after winning in 1994 because of a disagreement with GM Neil Smith and New York’s management.

That’s the most similar situation to Trotz, a proud veteran of 19 NHL seasons who went through a lame-duck season with prospective coach-in-waiting Todd Reirden on his staff. If Trotz returns, Reirden would likely be given the chance to catch on elsewhere.

Players widely want to see Trotz back in charge next season, in part because he pushed the right buttons on the way to the franchise’s first title and lived the pain and success with them on the way to the Cup.

”He’s been through adversity like the rest of us,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. ”He’s a huge part -him and the rest of the coaching staff. They gave us a good game plan and we executed it. I think his best quality this year probably was letting us kind of take care of ourselves. Showing us that if we’re going to have success we need to find it in our locker room ourselves and he did that.”

Ottawa assistant GM due in court, to miss part of NHL draft

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Randy Lee will miss at least part of next week’s NHL draft because he is due in court to face a harassment allegation, his attorney said Tuesday.

Lee is charged with harassing a hotel shuttle driver in Buffalo during the NHL’s pre-draft scouting combine two weeks ago. In a text to The Associated Press, Paul Cambria said his client is expected to attend his next court appearance in Buffalo on June 22, the day the league holds the first round of its two-day draft in Dallas.

Lee is responsible for prospect development and overseeing the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville, Ontario. The Senators have the fourth and 22nd picks in the first round.

Lee has pleaded not guilty to making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old male driver on May 30. He was charged with second-degree harassment and faces a fine and up to 15 days in jail if guilty.

Cambria said has had no discussions with prosecutors regarding a possible plea agreement. In an email to the AP, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league has no position on whether Lee can attend the draft. Daly said that decision was up to the Senators.

The Senators have declined comment since saying on June 1 they were reviewing the situation.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Capitals parade a welcome chance to cheer for DC sports fans

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom dreamed about the road less traveled.

Driving down Constitution Avenue on his way to each home game since his NHL debut in 2007, he imagined the street lined with overjoyed Washington Capitals fans.

”It always popped up in my head that one time we’re going to have a parade here, and finally that day is here,” Backstrom said.

It all becomes reality Tuesday when Backstrom and the Stanley Cup-champion Capitals give the city its first parade for a major pro sports team since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992. The parade is 26 years in the making for Washington sports fans who endured long, lean years of heartbreak.

”I don’t think anyone doubted what this city would do,” longtime Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman said. ”It’s just a matter of getting there and having the ability to do it. They definitely held up their end of the bargain.”

Tens of thousands gathered for viewing parties of road playoff games on the way to the Capitals’ first championship since beginning play in 1974. They camped out on the streets to watch on giant video screens – the kinds of scenes more germane to presidential inaugurations in this town than sporting events.

”I thought it was really cool when we were even at home and everyone was outside and going nuts and they would show that right after we would score a goal,” defenseman John Carlson said. ”I think that was probably one of the coolest moments of the playoffs for me and just seeing the support. … I think we deserve it, and so do the fans.”

It has been a long time coming. Since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in January 1992, the 1998 Capitals were the only Washington team in the NHL, NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball to reach a league semifinal until this spring, a drought of 74 combined seasons without a championship.

When the Capitals took the Cup into the Nationals’ clubhouse on Saturday, coach Barry Trotz wanted players to know: ”There’s no curse or anything. It’s all gone.” All they had to do to know that was look around the past two months to see the doubt being chipped away.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez, who texted with Trotz throughout the run, got his first real taste of Washington sports in the playoffs with the Chicago Cubs last year when he came out of the dugout seeing 50,000 fans in red and couldn’t hear himself think because it was so loud.

”Right then and there I said, ‘Hey, these people, they’re in, they love it,”’ Martinez recalled. ”This is exciting. And the city then rallied this year around the Caps. I get it. It was awesome. It was good for the city. Good for us. I know our boys were all in, they were excited about everything. I told them yesterday, ‘Let’s just keep it rolling. The city’s all-in.”’

Washington isn’t a city accustomed to being all-in because of the scars of so many playoff failures over the years. Longtime Capitals season-ticket holder Jimmy Patterson said fans became reluctant to get together to watch games because the mood at the end of the night wasn’t something anyone wanted to endure in a group setting.

That’s part of what made the public gatherings for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final and throughout the Stanley Cup Final so remarkable. Exorcising franchise-long demons by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round seemed to free fans to actually enjoy themselves.

”It showed what they were capable of and shows if you get to that level, they’re going to match it or even step it up a little bit more than the actual players,” Zimmerman said.

Fans celebrating the Capitals beating the Penguins led ESPN’s Michael Wilbon – a former Washington Post columnist – to call D.C. a ”minor league sports town.” It’s not the first knock on Washington, though 14 years of playing baseball in the city has given Zimmerman some clarity on explaining that it’s not Boston, Chicago, New York or Philadelphia, and he doesn’t think it has to be.

”This is such an interesting city because not many people are from here, so it’s hard to be a Boston or a Chicago,” Zimmerman said. ”That’s a generational sports town. So it’s nothing against (Washington). They shouldn’t be like that. They have no reason to be like that.

”A lot of these people move here for work in their early to mid-20s or come here even later than that and they adopt a team. This is what happens nowadays: Everyone compares everything. Just let it be. Let it be what it is. We have great fans and obviously if you make the playoffs and get to a Stanley Cup finals, you have really great fans just like any city would.”

Thousands of fans are expected to watch the parade, from 17th to 7th on Constitution. Trotz has been thinking about something like this since he arrived in 2014.

”You start thinking about, ‘Well, what would it mean?’ and then you think about a possible parade on one of the most famous streets in all the world, really, and it’s sort of now coming into play,” Trotz said. ”It’s going to come true.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

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

‘Flower’ wilts: Golden Knights must play better for Fleury

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Gerard Gallant didn’t consider pulling Marc-Andre Fleury as another game and perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup hopes slipped away.

The struggles and another pile of Washington Capitals goals are on the entire team. Gallant couldn’t pull all his players at once.

”There was nothing that he could have done,” Gallant said.

As the face of the franchise and its backbone on the ice, Fleury did just about everything to lead the expansion Golden Knights to the Cup Final with a .947 save percentage that made him the playoff MVP front-runner. In four games against Washington, Fleury has allowed 16 goals on 103 shots, a pedestrian .845 save percentage that speaks as much to Vegas crashing back down to earth as a team.

There is plenty of blame to pass around for the Golden Knights as they face a 3-1 series deficit that no team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs has overcome in the final. Vegas needs Fleury to be better and his teammates to improve in front of him in Game 5 on Thursday night or they will watch their opponent celebrate a championship their home ice.

”When you’re a goalie you don’t want to get scored on,” Fleury said. ”There was a lot of that (in Game 4). It’s never a good feeling. It’s a team game. Everybody’s trying hard out there, trying to help me out. We’ll find a way to make it work.”

It’s not working right now. The Capitals’ strategy of making lateral passes to get Fleury moving side-to-side is proving effective at even strength and on a power play that’s scoring at a 26.7 percent clip.

Forward Alex Tuch said staying out of the penalty box is one necessary improvement, but it goes beyond that. Vegas has ridden Fleury to this point and now has to cut down on the high-danger scoring chances he’s facing and too often allowing to turn into goals.

”Play better defensively,” Gallant said Tuesday. ”There’s too many guys staring at the puck carrier, and we’re leaving the back side open too much. Make sure we’re paying attention to the guys behind the puck and away from the puck. Marc will make the save on the guy shooting the puck. We’ve just got to make sure we’re taking away the passes.”

Fleury didn’t make the save on Devante Smith-Pelly on the doorstep in Game 4 as the Golden Knights fell behind 3-0 despite one of their best periods of the series that featured James Neal‘s inexplicable shot off the post facing a wide-open net. As Gallant pointed out, Fleury had little chance on others as Washington put up six goals in a blowout .

Golden Knights players can’t help but feel like they’re letting ”Flower” down.

”We have the best goalie in the league and he’s been carrying (us) the whole year along and we feel like the goals … there’s not much you can do on those,” center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. ”This is the frustrating part.”

Fleury acknowledged falling behind 3-1 was demoralizing. But the 33-year-old refuses to say fatigue has been a factor for him or his teammates.

”I think everybody’s fine,” Fleury said. ”It’s the same for their team, also. They’ve been through the same season, same playoffs. Being tired is no excuse.”

The Golden Knights have lost three games in a row as they near the end of an otherwise-charmed inaugural season. Perhaps Fleury has one more stand-on-his head, stop-everything game left in him in front of the home fans in Las Vegas, but the Golden Knights will need more than a singular effort from their goalie.

”Not where we want to be, that’s for sure,” Fleury said. ”Nobody’s quitting. We’re going home. We’ve had some success there. We just have to focus on period at a time, you know? Don’t think too far ahead. Just play our game, see where that takes us.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

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