Sportsnet fires Don Cherry following Coach’s Corner comments

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Rogers Sportsnet has fired Don Cherry following his comments during Saturday’s Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada.

“Sports brings people together – it unites us, not divides us,” read the statement released by Rogers Sportsnet on Monday. “Following further discussions with Don Cherry after Saturday Night’s broadcast, it has been decided it is the right time for him to immediately step down. During the broadcast, he made divisive remarks that do not represent our values or what we stand for. Don is synonymous with hockey and has played an integral role in growing the game over the past 40 years. We would like to thank Don for his contributions to hockey and sports broadcasting in Canada.”

During a rant about seeing people in the Greater Toronto Area not wearing poppies to honor fallen soldiers, the 85-year commentator singled out immigrants ahead of Remembrance Day on Monday.

“I live in Mississauga, nobody … very few people … wear a poppy. Downtown Toronto, forget it, nobody wears a poppy. Now you go to the small cities … And the rows on rows … you people who come here, you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

The negative response to Cherry’s comments caused Sportsnet president Bart Yabsley to issue a statement on Sunday saying that the comments do no reflect what the network represents. Cherry’s Coach’s Corner co-host, Ron MacLean, apologized on Twitter and during Sunday’s “Hometown Hockey” broadcast.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory, which were flat out wrong … I owe you an apology, too. I sat there, did not catch it, did not respond. Last night was a really great lesson to Don and me. We were wrong, and I sincerely apologize. I wanted to thank you for calling me and Don on that last night.”

The NHL responded with a statement of its own:

Cherry, who coached the Boston Bruins for five seasons before becoming a full-time hockey commentator with the CBC in 1981, refused to apologize, telling the Toronto Sun, “I have had my say.” Following the news of his firing, he told the paper, “I know what I said and I meant it. Everybody in Canada should wear a poppy to honour our fallen soldiers.”

No word yet on how Sportsnet plans to use the first intermission of the early Saturday Hockey Night in Canada game yet.

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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.

Top women’s hockey players resolute in fight for new league

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PITTSBURGH — Hilary Knight has a gold medal. What she would like is a full-time job. Not just for her. For the other 200-plus members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association too. One that pays all of them well enough to simply go play instead of forcing most to find side gigs just to get by. One that provides adequate medical insurance. One that provides something resembling stability.

At the moment, the forward who scored the first goal for Team USA in the 2018 Olympic gold medal game victory over Canada doesn’t believe such a job exists. It’s why Knight and the rest of the PWHPA announced in May they would not play in North America during the 2019-2020 season, a decision that meant the 30-year-old would be sacrificing at least one winter – if not more – of her prime in the pursuit of something resembling equality.

Six months into a self-imposed sabbatical, Knight is equal parts anxious and resolute. Asked how long the PWHPA can hold out and she’s politely blunt.

”I don’t think there’s a set answer to that,” she said. ”Obviously, as players, we want to compete. We want to play in a league right now. However, we don’t have a league right now to play in so my answer would be, ‘Yesterday is too long.’ But at the same time, it’s as long as it takes for us to fulfill our needs of finding a sustainable, viable solution.”

At least Knight is keeping busy. She knows that makes her one of the lucky ones.

While the majority of the PWHPA either plays internationally or not at all waiting for a league – preferably one backed by the NHL – to materialize, Knight and the rest of Team USA and Team Canada began preparations for the 2019-2020 Rivalry Series by working out last week at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice facility. In a way, the training camp, which included a pair of sold-out exhibitions was a sign the movement the PWHPA started is gaining support. The two superpowers decided to get together after the Four Nations Cup in Sweden was canceled when top Swedish players pulled out of national team events due to concerns over salary and working conditions.

The PWHPA members believe there is palpable momentum for change, pointing to the support they received during the first three stops of ”The Dream Gap Tour ” earlier this fall. The three-day showcases in Toronto, New Hampshire and Chicago included intrasquad games between members of the PWPHA as well as clinics that allowed them to work alongside the girls they know will one day benefit from the stand the association is making now.

”I don’t think we knew what to expect after that news that happened in May,” Canadian star Marie Philip Poulin said. ”It was a great start and hopefully it’s going to keep going.”

The tour will likely continue in 2020, though the details have yet to be ironed out. Between that and the Rivalry Series – which officially begins in Hartford, Connecticut, on Dec. 14 – the top Canadian and American players are keeping plenty busy. At least in the short term. What happens after the 2020 World Championships wrap up in April is uncertain.

”Hockey wise, we’ve been getting what we need to to be ready in the long run (for international play),” said Team Canada forward Melodie Daoust. ”But we’re not where we want to be, being treated like professional or having more hockey games. But the answer to all of that is we’re waiting for the NHL to step in.”

A step the NHL remains reluctant to take with the National Women’s Hockey League still in play. While the Canadian Women’s Hockey League closed after 12 years of operation last spring – due in part to competition with the NWHL for talent – the five-team NWHL is in the midst of its fifth season , soldiering on without the same star power.

”It’s a glorified beer league to me,” said Knight, who won a scoring title with the NWHL’s Boston Pride before moving on to the CHWL. ”It’s serving a purpose but it’s not elite talented players that are playing at a high level.”

Asked if the PWHPA can create a league that meets its needs without the NHL’s support, American Kendall Coyne Schofield offers a qualified yes.

”If the NHL’s not going to step in, we could but I think we all have the understanding that the NHL would provide the resources that we would want to see in a true professional league,” Coyne Schofield said. ”We have not seen a legitimate professional league to date and we know that the infrastructure that the NHL has, the resources it has, the buildings they have, the staff that they have is something that this game needs. We need to wait and see what they do.”

And they intend to wait however long is necessary.

”In terms of the sacrifice players are making, I think you can ask anyone, it’s 100% worth it knowing that we’re fighting for something that’s going to last forever,” the 27-year-old Schofield said. ”And for me, my clock is ticking, but if I can leave this game better than it was, that’s what’s most important.”

Even if it leads to some potentially messy politics down the road. Though current WNHL players are not ”scabs,” – the NWHL does have its own players’ association – there is a chance one day that the women playing in the NWHL now could one day be competing with members of the PWHPA for roster spots if another league comes to fruition.

”If they’re vibing with what we’re trying to do and our mission, they’re more than welcome to hop into the PWHPA and join just as any member has joined,” Knight said. ”We’ve got a really talented group and we’re trying to carve out a better future. Not having health care and getting paid pennies to go play and call yourself professional, that’s not something any of us are interested in. So when people wake up and see the bigger picture, come and join us.”

The PWHPA remains adamant there is an appetite for professional women’s sports. The NBA-backed WNBA recently completed its 23rd season. The National Women’s Soccer League received a significant boost last summer while piggybacking off the Women’s World Cup, which led to expanded television coverage. Coyne Schofield said the WNBA in particular gives her optimism.

For now, the best players are scattered all over the world, either playing professionally overseas or strictly for their national teams or not playing at all, which in a way has added a new wrinkle to the white-hot tug of war between the Americans and the Canadians. Yes, when they pull on their respective sweaters, it’s the same as it ever was. Off the ice, however, there’s a sense of detente for the greater good.

”We’re all fighting for the same cause,” Philip Poulin said. ”We’re in it together. It’s so much bigger than the country we’re playing for right now. We’re together. We’re going to keep going. We’re going to go at it and we’re going to work together until it works.”

PHT Morning Skate: Lindholm on Viking clap; Malkin eyeing Saturday return

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Elias Lindholm on returning to Carolina for the first time since mocking the Hurricanes’ Viking clap after a February game: “I don’t know if I would have done it again. But it just happened. That time I got some heat for the fans in Carolina after the trade because I didn’t want to sign there. They booed twice during the game, and then I went up to Dougie (Hamilton) there and we were hitting each other with crosschecks here and there at the end of the game. I was kind of fired up and went with the flow.” [Sportsnet]

Evgeni Malkin returned to Penguins practice on Monday and hopes to be back in the lineup for their Saturday afternoon game against the Oilers. [Tribune-Review]

• Dennis Seidenberg has retired after 15 NHL seasons and is joining the Islanders as part of their player development staff. [Islanders]

• Are we witnessing Jonathan Drouin’s breakout year? [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

• Former Sabres head coach and current Coyotes assistant Phil Housley is happy for the team’s success this season, but isn’t looking into the past. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

Connor Carrick of the Devils will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken finger. [Devils]

Logan Couture on the Sharks’ scoring issues: “That’s been a story this season, we aren’t finishing. I can’t be sitting at one goal right now. (Hertl) is at three, Timo’s at two. We’ve got to score some more goals. We’re at 12 games in and I can’t be sitting at one goal.” [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• Paralyzed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Ryan Straschnitzk is heading to Thailand later this week for surgery that could help restore some of his movement. [Airdrie Today via CP]

• Would Eugene Melnyk ever sell the Senators? [Spector’s Hockey]

• An early season examination of the Panthers. [Panthers Parkway]

• Duante Abercrombie is taking the next step toward his NHL coaching dream with an assistant gig with NCAA Division III Stevenson University. [NHL.com]

• A look at some of the big summer moves that have yet to pay off. [Featurd]

• Joel Farabee has been impressing his Flyers teammates since being recalled from the AHL. [Inquirer]

• Goalies are the focus in this week’s fantasy hockey report. [RotoWorld]

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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.

‘Miracle on Ice’ player Pavelich found incompetent in attack

AP
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GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — The family of a player on the 1980 ”Miracle on Ice” Olympic champion men’s hockey team says concussions and blows he received during his playing career have contributed to his current legal troubles.

Mark Pavelich, 61, was found incompetent to stand trial by a judge in northeastern Minnesota on Monday on charges he beat a neighbor with a metal pole. The Cook County judge concluded Pavelich is ”incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency.” The case against Pavelich was suspended as authorities petition to have him committed.

Pavelich’s sister, Jean Gevik, said her brother’s personality has been altered by a degenerative brain disease.

”He’s been an amazing brother. Fun. Loving,” she said. ”This has been a total change.”

Gevik suggested CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, could be a factor. CTE, which can be diagnosed only after death, has been found in several former NHL players, more than 100 former NFL players and in dozens more athletes and members of the military who have been exposed to repetitive head trauma. The disease can lead to memory loss, depression and even suicide.

”All the research is out there about CTE,” Gevik said. ”This should not be a surprise here.”

The NHL has long denied there is a conclusive link between repeated blows to the head and CTE.

Pavelich, who starred at Minnesota-Duluth, assisted on the winning goal in a stunning upset of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament semifinals, a triumph that has long been referred to as the ”Miracle on Ice.” Team USA went on to defeat Finland in the gold medal game. Pavelich later played for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams.

Pavelich was charged with second- and third-degree assault this summer after he was accused of attacking his friend in Lutsen following a day of fishing. Pavelich accused him of spiking his beer, according to the Star Tribune .

Jim Miller, Pavelich’s neighbor for 20 years, suffered cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fracture to one of his vertebrae, according to a criminal complaint. Pavelich was booked into the Cook County Jail on Aug. 15.

Andrei Markov heads back to KHL on tryout deal

Veteran defender Andrei Markov has been hoping to make a return to the NHL after spending the past two seasons playing in the KHL, but it appears as if those plans will remain on hold.

The KHL announced on Thursday that Markov has signed a professional tryout contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Markov played for Kazan Ak-Bars the past two seasons, tallying seven goals and 47 points in 104 regular season games.

Markov, now 40, spent his entire 16-year career with the Montreal Canadiens and was hoping to make a return to the team this season but the feeling never seemed to be mutual.

“Two years ago, his contract was due, we made an offer,” Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told Canada’s RDS back in September. “Efforts were made to sign it and he chose another direction that was KHL. It was two years ago. Since that time, things have changed. The player has aged. The organization has changed direction. We have a lot of young people growing up.”

Markov’s agent said back in August that five teams had checked in on Markov’s availability and that he was seeking a one-year deal.

He is 10 games shy of playing his 1,000th game in the NHL, something that would be a nice milestone for what has been an extremely productive career. When he was at his best and not limited by injury (he had terrible injury luck for a three-year run between 2009 and 2012) Markov was an outstanding player and big point producer from the Canadiens’ blue line. Even in his last NHL season he had 36 points and a 54 percent Corsi rating in 66 games as a 38-year-old. Not exactly a small accomplishment.

Unfortunately for Markov there did not seem to be much of a market this year (at least not yet) for a 40-year-old defender.

The only players in the NHL over the age of 38 this season are Zdeno Chara (42), Patrick Marleau (40), Joe Thornton (40), and Ron Hainsey (38). Chara and Hainsey are the only defenders.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.