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Nathan Walker Jersey

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With 5:59 left in the second period, Australian winger Nathan Walker claimed his first goal with the St. Louis Blues during Saturday night’s tilt against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volleying a bouncing pass out of mid-air from Jaden Schwartz, the newly promoted forward blasted a slapshot past goalie Matt Murray to give the Note a 2-1 lead.

This tally made history, with Walker being the first Australian to ever score for the franchise. Then again, he has a history of making history.

How exactly did Walker end up on the Blues’ top line, notching his second NHL goal? His path to hockey’s premier league takes many unexpected turns, starting with the fact that he was born in Cardiff, Wales. Not exactly the hotbed of hockey talent.

At the age of two, his father uprooted the Walker clan and transplanted them in sunny Sydney, Australia. Known for its hard-hitting rugby, time-honored cricket, and endless surfing, there are only 22 ice rinks sprinkled across the continent down under. That did not stop the young Walker from falling in love with the game:

It all started when my brother started playing. We slowly learned the hockey, and from there we went to Toronto for a tournament, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and bought all the hockey DVDs. I think it just kick-started from back in the day when “The Mighty Ducks” was up and running.
Mike Vogel – NHL.com

Having worn out home-made goals of PVC pipes and growing frustrated by limited ice time, Walker’s outsized ambition lead him to do what can only be described as a “hockey walkabout.” He moved to the Czech Republic at the young age of 13 to play junior hockey against players his age and skill level.

From 2007-10, Walker laced up for HC Vitkovice U18, racking up 57 points in 62 games for the under-18 squad. Stints with the under-20 team allowed him to test his skill against older players, all while flashing his trademark speed. He proudly wore the green and gold sweater of his home nation, competing in the 2012 World Championship Division Group B in Krynica, Poland. Although the Mighty Roos failed to win a game in the tournament, he bagged two goals and turned his attention to playing in the United States.

The Youngstown Phantoms were Walker’s first taste of North American hockey and there was no jet lag in his game. Tallying 27 points in 20 games, he was quickly making a name for himself. However, due to the byzantine draft rules, he would have had to wait until the 2014 Draft to sign an NHL contract. Instead, the Aussie winger opted to play in the American Hockey League for the Washington Capitals affiliate, the Hershey Bears, signing in Sep. 2013.

With 5:59 left in the second period, Australian winger Nathan Walker claimed his first goal with the St. Louis Blues during Saturday night’s tilt against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volleying a bouncing pass out of mid-air from Jaden Schwartz, the newly promoted forward blasted a slapshot past goalie Matt Murray to give the Note a 2-1 lead.
Craig Berube: “It was a big goal. Made us feel good about ourselves.” (‘NHL Post-game press conference’, NHL.com – 11/30/19)

This tally made history, with Walker being the first Australian to ever score for the franchise. Then again, he has a history of making history.
Long and Winding Road to the NHL

How exactly did Walker end up on the Blues’ top line, notching his second NHL goal? His path to hockey’s premier league takes many unexpected turns, starting with the fact that he was born in Cardiff, Wales. Not exactly the hotbed of hockey talent.

At the age of two, his father uprooted the Walker clan and transplanted them in sunny Sydney, Australia. Known for its hard-hitting rugby, time-honored cricket, and endless surfing, there are only 22 ice rinks sprinkled across the continent down under. That did not stop the young Walker from falling in love with the game:

It all started when my brother started playing. We slowly learned the hockey, and from there we went to Toronto for a tournament, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and bought all the hockey DVDs. I think it just kick-started from back in the day when “The Mighty Ducks” was up and running.
Mike Vogel – NHL.com

Having worn out home-made goals of PVC pipes and growing frustrated by limited ice time, Walker’s outsized ambition lead him to do what can only be described as a “hockey walkabout.” He moved to the Czech Republic at the young age of 13 to play junior hockey against players his age and skill level.
Nathan Walker British Empire
Nathan Walker, HC Vitkovice U18
(hc-vitkovice.cz)

From 2007-10, Walker laced up for HC Vitkovice U18, racking up 57 points in 62 games for the under-18 squad. Stints with the under-20 team allowed him to test his skill against older players, all while flashing his trademark speed. He proudly wore the green and gold sweater of his home nation, competing in the 2012 World Championship Division Group B in Krynica, Poland. Although the Mighty Roos failed to win a game in the tournament, he bagged two goals and turned his attention to playing in the United States.
Phantoms, Bears, and Caps Oh My

The Youngstown Phantoms were Walker’s first taste of North American hockey and there was no jet lag in his game. Tallying 27 points in 20 games, he was quickly making a name for himself. However, due to the byzantine draft rules, he would have had to wait until the 2014 Draft to sign an NHL contract. Instead, the Aussie winger opted to play in the American Hockey League for the Washington Capitals affiliate, the Hershey Bears, signing in Sep. 2013.

That decision started a series of historic “firsts” for Sydney’s favorite son. Walker was the first Australian to play and score in the AHL. Following a solid season with the Bears, the Capitals drafted him in the third round of the 2014 NHL draft, 89th pick overall. Another first.

Then, on Oct. 7, 2017, Walker became the first Australian ever to play in the NHL. He even picked up his first NHL goal, deflecting a Devante Smith-Pelly wrister off of his backside and into the net.

After being picked up by the Edmonton Oilers on waivers and then reacquired by the Capitals just 18 days later, Walker became the first Australian to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, in which he recorded an assist. (from ‘Capitals re-claim Aussie forward Nathan Walker off waivers,’ Washington Post, 12/20/2017)

And then the biggest first of them all came on June 7, 2018, as he joined his teammates in hoisting the Stanley Cup. This was a first for Australia and the first for the Washington organization, too. Though he did not get his name engraved on the sacred trophy, he did get a shout-out from then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball.

Equally as rewarding were the complimentary words from Capitals then-head coach Barry Trotz. “He’s got a really unique skillset,” Trotz said of Walker. “He’s explosive, he’s quick, he gets on people, he causes havoc. It’s not nice to play against. A lot of those Australian qualities that you endear with those south of the equator, he has that mentality and mindset. He’s going to make you pay, he’s going to play hard against you and he’s going to have an effect on the ice.“
From One Champ to Another

Called up for just three games in the 2018-19 campaign, Walker decided it was time to part ways with the Capitals after six years. On July 1, he signed a two-year, two-way contract with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.
Nathan Walker skates for the Capitals against the Blues in a 2016 preseason game (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

So, how could a 25-year-old left winger with only 12 NHL games get a shot with defending Stanley Cup champs? By putting up impossible-to-ignore numbers for the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage. At the time of his call up, Walker led the Rampage with 12 goals and 22 points.

Yet, even with all the injuries to the Blues offense, there was some concern that Walker might get passed over due to his size. Listed at 5-foot-8, 186 pounds with speed to burn, he reminds many fans of the recently-traded Robby Fabbri, who couldn’t crack the lineup this season.

During his post-game interview on NHL.com following the Blues 5-2 win over the Penguins on Nov. 30, here’s what Craig Berube had to say about Walker:

This guy’s had a good year so far. He had a real good training camp. You know, (Walker) was really close to making the team. Probably maybe even did make the team. But we have the same team back from last year and there wasn’t room right away, so he went down to the American League and is leading their team in scoring, and maybe the league, I think, in scoring, so he’s played really well.
from ‘Blues win third straight, beat Penguins 5-2,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/30/2019

Subbing for the injured Oskar Sundqvist, Walker made a pest of himself against the Dallas Stars and appeared to have scored his first NHL goal in two years, stuffing the puck home past netminder Ben Bishop. Unfortunately, that goal was waved off due to offsides.
Craig Berube, Jake Berube
St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube, along with his son Jake, carry the Stanley Cup (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Walker wouldn’t have to wait too much longer to bask in the red glow of the goal lamp. The next night, he found himself skating with top-liners Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz during the second period. Playing on his off-wing, he sent a knuckle-puck bouncing over Murray’s pads, rippling the twine. Berube explained the line mash-up: “Schenn and Schwartz needed a guy to get in there a bit with more energy and bang around a little bit and create some loose pucks.”

With Sammy Blais and Vladimir Tarasenko out for the foreseeable future, the Aussie forward has the opportunity to change the course of his career. From his first three games with the Blues, it appears the man from down under wants to stay up for good.

Vladimir Tarasenko Jersey

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For the St. Louis Blues and their fans, Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and gratitude. A time for family and friends. It’s a time we can all take a minute or two and bring to mind the blessings we have in our lives today. It’s something that goes so far beyond sports.

It’s about more than just being mindful of all the blessings. It’s about showing that gratitude and blessing another fellow human. Be it a stranger, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker. I don’t want to miss the true nature of gratitude in this article without encouraging all of our readers at some point between now and the end of the year to reach out and bless someone else.

Nothing brings gratitude like unconditionally helping another. Sometimes it’s just listening to someone as they unload their burdens and worries. Sometimes it’s through a random act of kindness. Whatever the case we all know someone, somewhere who needs our help. So show some gratitude and help them.

If no one immediately comes to mind then as you think about it here are some things as Blues fans we can be grateful for.

As St. Louis Blues fans we have already endured some tough news this season with injuries and suspensions.

Although this news has been unwelcomed and unsavory there are some things we can certainly be grateful for.

It’s not the November 2018-19 season!

A year ago at this time, the Blues were fresh off firing then-head coach Mike Yeo and Craig Berube had taken over as the interim. The team was in the midst of spiraling its way to the bottom of the league record-wise.

This season, however, the Blues sit near the top of the Western Conference and near the top of the entire NHL. The Blues have a 14-5-6 record good for 34 points and tops in the Central Division and second in the Western Conference.

Robert Thomas is Displaying Top 6 Center Skills

With the Blues combatting injuries and looking for some more offense Craig Berube finally unleashed Robert Thomas as a center for the third line. In his brief time there at the writing of this piece, he has amassed 5 points in his last four games.

He is showing off his vision and playmaking abilities with ease and has really come on as the future superstar the Blues and their fans have been hoping for.

David Perron’s Wrist Shot

DP57 since his time in Vegas and here has really developed and improved his wrist shot to the tune of 11 goals in 25 games. With the unwelcomed and unfortunate news of Vladimir Tarasenko needing shoulder surgery and being on the shelf at a minimum of 5 weeks DP57’s number has been called often. Paired up with Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron has been given every opportunity to showcase his shot.

With O’Reilly setting the table Perron has shown not just the Blues, but the entire NHL that he has a shot that is hard, quick and more importantly incredibly deceptive. Thank goodness he altered the curve on his stick and has found this new shot.

He always had a good shot, but the way he is delivering now has added an element of deception that makes it very tough for the opposing goaltenders to pick up on the release. Keep firing the puck DP!

Jordan Binnington is a Bonafide NHL Starter

At the start of the season, everyone outside the Blues fanbase was questioning if Jordan Binnington was the real deal or not. Over the course of the first quarter of this season, all Binnington has done is go 11-4-4 with 1 shutout a 2.23 GAA and .923 SV%.

I don’t think there are any doubters or question marks left. The guy has ice water coursing through his veins and an unrelenting competitive hellfire burning in his chest. He is the biggest reason this team will make the playoffs and stay competitive in this early injury-plagued season.

Alex Pietrangelo Jersey

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Alex Pietrangelo might seem like the St. Louis Blues’ grizzled veteran captain by now, but it’s true he’s still just 29 years old.

He’s accomplished quite a bit in his 12 years with the Blues, but now he’s getting some more recognition off the ice.

Forbes Magazine has named Pietrangelo to their annual 30 Under 30 List of people in sports to watch for 2020.

The Blues’ defenseman was the only hockey player on Forbes’ list this year. Pietrangelo will actually turn 30 on January 30.

Other notable members of this year’s Forbes list include Nathan Chen, Julie Ertz, Paul George, Patrick Mahomes, Christian Pulisic, Klay Thompson and Christian Yelich.

Colton Parayko Jersey

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Blues player Colton Parayko is helping the Ronald McDonald House families shop for loved-ones at no cost this holiday season.

Today was the grand opening of the Ronald McDonald House charities McGift Shoppe. All of the items in the shop have been donated by members of the community. Parakyko met with the families and even helped them shop.

“I enjoy not only being a part of the Ronald McDonald House but spending time with the kids and their families. I just saw one of the families I’ve been with. We were just kind of talking how long we’ve know each other. Worth my time,” said Colton Parayko

Parayko also volunteers his time at the Ronald Mcdonald House by playing games with guest families and by preparing meals.

Justin Faulk Jersey

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Take a minute and think about it then when you’ve guessed who that is for the St. Louis Blues and then continue reading. If you thought Vince Dunn you’re wrong. Shockingly it’s Justin Faulk. That’s right. Faulker is Mini-Petro.

The St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong surprised us all trading Joel Edmundson to Carolina for Justin Faulk and then signing him to a 7 yr deal worth $6.5 million a season.

The St. Louis Blues when announcing the deal touted Justin Faulk’s power-play goal production and offensive abilities. The trade made sense from the perspective that the Blues were looking for a tried and true power play “quarterback”.

One thing they didn’t take into consideration was if Mark Savard, Craig Berube, and Mike Van Ryn were looking for outside help on the power play. It appears, for now, they weren’t. Leaving Faulk to play in a role he just isn’t suited for.

Faulk has never been a solid defensive player. He has forever been the Carolina Hurricanes fan’s whipping boy.

Faulk has been a minus player despite the offensive production, most of which on the power play. Points be darned if you’re a minus player then you probably aren’t very good on defense. Something the Blues say Pietrangelo is.

Faulk in his defense also played on a Hurricanes team that failed to make the playoffs every season and reached over 90 points as a team once in his career there prior to 2018-19.

So one could argue that Faulk was on losing teams and that the overall team play hurt his numbers whereas Petro played on a lot of winning Blues teams and therefore benefitted where Faulk couldn’t.

Looking at the advanced statistics for Faulk I was surprised to see that Faulk’s Corsi for was 50.2. A score of 50 means you are average.

So 50.2 isn’t changing the game, but I was really surprised that he was even slightly above average. It starts to fall apart in the next few categories.

In the shots through percentage, which measures the number of your shot attempts that go on net, Faulk is at 46.3. Less than half of his shot attempts go on net. Shockingly, Vince Dunn is even worse at 44.9.

Here’s the stat that I know every single Blues fan sees and remembers. Justin Faulk is second on the team in giveaways. I’m sure we all can guess who is first on the team in giveaways. If you’re thinking Alex Pietrangelo you are correct.

I have been trying to come up with a nickname for Faulk. Then it dawned on me. Cardinal Nation has Mini-Pedro so now we Blue Bleeders have Mini-Petro.

It’s fitting. I’ll catch some heat for this I’m sure. Nevertheless, Mini-Petro it is! Faulk to me has done nothing but resemble the worst things in Pietrangelo’s game. At least with Petro, he is contributing to the score sheet regularly and that can be attributed to the time on the powerplay where over half his points have come from.

Give Mini-Petro the same opportunities and he’d maybe do the same thing. Just speculation of course. Pietrangelo’s Corsi for is 50.4 by the way. The one place they differ in advanced stats is their shots through where Petro has a 52.6. Logically that shots through percentage should be higher given you’re playing more minutes with the man advantage.

One other area they differ is +/- where the captain has a 0 and Mini Petro has a -6. What’s my point?

The point is that Doug Armstrong made a trade and signed a guy that given the same opportunities as Alex Pietrangelo offensively can and should replicate the same kind of numbers aside from the +/- category.

This isn’t an article to defend Faulk’s poor play, nor is it an article to bash the captain. Although I did both a little. I am just bringing to light some interesting stats. I am also trying to glean whatever I can from what is potentially going through GM Doug Armstrong’s mind.

Speaking of Dougie, he was at the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs game the other night. The long-running rumor has been Pietrangelo for William Nylander. It’s been in the rumor mill for what feels like a decade now.

Maybe he isn’t shopping the captain. Maybe he’s shopping Mini-Petro? He could also be shopping back-up Jake Allen since Toronto is in the market for a backup. It’s anyone’s guess why he was there.

Jay Bouwmeester Jersey

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A year ago about now, Jay Bouwmeester was struggling on the ice as he came back from hip surgery and his playing future was in doubt. Once back to full health, the veteran defenseman became part of a shutdown pairing with Colton Parayko and signed a one-year contract extension right before the Blues began their Stanley Cup playoff march.

This season, at age 36, he’s kept right on going. He’s third on the team in ice time (21:26 per game), behind only Alex Pietrangelo and Parayko. (Only two players in the league, Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Chicago’s Duncan Keith, are older than Bouwmeester and recording more ice time.)

Has Bouwmeester thought about another season yet?

“I feel good,” he said Friday. “If I feel good, I’d like to continue to play. Last year, I was in the same boat, in the last year of my contract, and we approached it like, we’ll see how it goes and see what happens. In February, I talked with Doug (Armstrong, the Blues’ general manager) about if I wanted to do an extension. This year is different, we’ll see how it goes.”

One difference is that, since he has a one-year contract, he can’t sign an extension until after Jan. 1. Last year, he was coming off a multi-year deal and could sign a new deal once he entered the final year.

“It’s not a big deal,” Bouwmeester said. “Last year, I went through a lot of different scenarios. As long as you feel good, you want to keep playing. We’ll see what happens.”
Brouwer in?

Blues coach Craig Berube wants to get newly signed forward Troy Brouwer into the lineup as soon as he can. But the decision on when that game will be is out of his hands as Brouwer, who is from Canada, waits for his work visa.

As of the end of practice on Friday, Brouwer hadn’t gotten it, and that potentially could idle him for the weekend. The visa doesn’t have to be in his hands, but it does have to be issued.

While the official roster on Thursday night had Brouwer wearing No. 22, he said he would be wearing No. 36 for the Blues, as he did when he was with the team in 2015-16. Brouwer has worn 22 at several stops in his career, including last season in Florida. But as a Blue, he feels like he’s No. 36.

“I thought maybe it would be cool to have a new number for every team I went to,” Brouwer said. “Then I had such good success here (with 36), I thought I’d keep it in Calgary, and that didn’t pan out. So I changed my number again. Coming back to the Blues, I see myself as 36 on the Blues.”

Based on practice on Friday, if Brouwer does get in, Klim Kostin would come out.

Zach Sanford’s four-point game Thursday against Calgary surpassed his previous best, a three-point game vs. Chicago on Oct. 27, 2018. The link between them? The Blues were wearing their third jersey, the powder blue Winter Classic uniform. Sanford wore the retro 1990’s jersey on Thursday, so his two best games in terms of points have come at Enterprise Center, but neither wearing the team’s usual home jersey.

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — The Blues were back on the practice ice Friday after ending their three-game losing streak with a 4-2 win against Vegas on Thursday.

It was a quick, brisk, snappy practice with what coach Craig Berube called a “pace” practice, one in which was done so with the idea of moving pucks at a rapid pace and one in which groups were working in unison.

“Same as the other day. I just liked the pace and the energy of it,” Berube said. “They’re quick. The intensity’s up right now in these practices, which is good. It’s not a long practice, but the intensity is up, and that’s the key.”

One change from recent weeks is that a near-full group was on the ice, including forwards Alexander Steen (ankle) and Zach Sanford (upper body), both who appear ready to play.

Steen was skating on a line with Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas and Troy Brouwer and Sanford was taking shifts with David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak.

“Yeah, we’ll see tomorrow, but they looked good today,” Berube said of Steen and Sanford. “They’ll let us know today how they felt a little bit later.”

It creates a bit of a logjam up front, something the Blues haven’t had as far as a luxury item. Of course, there’s still a huge void missing in Vladimir Tarasenko, who will miss most of, if not all, of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder, but Berube and staff have decisions to make with two players ready to jump back into the fight and others that are not ready to relinquish their spot.

“I guess it’s a good thing,” Berube said. “It’s tough, you’re right, but it’s a good thing. We’ve got depth and these guys are good players. We’ve got to make decisions, but in saying that, nobody wants to come out, I get that, but we need everybody down the stretch. We know that. We need depth. It’s tough, but it’s part of it all, it’s part of being a pro, it’s part of being a team.”

Players seem to agree.

“Good problem to have,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “We have good depth. We have important pieces coming back. Obviously Steener, whether he’s back tomorrow or the next game, he’s a huge piece of our team, huge piece of our locker room, does so many good things for us and we’re excited to get him back whenever that is. You see when a guy like Sunny comes back in how much it means to our locker room and on the ice. … When we got our full lineup in, we feel like we’re a deep hockey team and that’s a good problem to have. We’ve had lots of guys step up and played really good hockey. We’re going to need that throughout the whole year.”

What would be ideal is of Steen and Sanford can have the grand return like Oskar Sundqvist had. Sundqvist returned Thursday with a goal and an assist, his first game after missing six with a lower-body injury.

“If they’re anything like Sunny was last night,” Berube said. “He did a real good job for us.”

With Steen’s return imminent, the Blues assigned Austin Poganski to San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Friday. Poganski made his NHL debut this past Tuesday at Buffalo.

The injury bug didn’t completely abandon the Blues. They announced late Friday afternoon that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will go on injured-reserve with an upper-body injury sustained in the win over Vegas, and the team has recalled Niko Mikkola from the Rampage.

Gunnarsson, who did not practice Friday, played 15 minutes 22 seconds and after a tough first period, he finished with a plus-1 rating and three blocked shots.

“He’s not available to play. We’ll evaluate him tomorrow,” Berube said after practice and before the announcement of Gunnarsson going on IR. “… I don’t know yet. I don’t want to speculate on it to be honest. I just found out today. That’s why he wasn’t out in practice.”

Mikkola, 23, who is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound left-handed shot and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, had eight points (two goals, six assists) in 26 games with the Rampage this season.

Doug Wickenheiser Jersey

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TORONTO – Lorsque Hayley Wickenheiser a téléphoné au domicile de ses parents, à Calgary, pour leur annoncer qu’elle venait d’obtenir sa place au Temple de la renommée, la grande dame du hockey attendait une réaction, disons… un peu plus enflammée.

« Nous sommes déjà au courant. Ça fait trois heures que la nouvelle est diffusée en boucle par tous les médias », a répliqué son père Tom.

L’effet-surprise était peut-être passé, voire raté. Mais la fierté de Tom et Marylin grimpait toujours en flèche. Une fierté qui était encore évidente samedi lorsque les parents de la septième femme à faire son entrée au Temple de la renommée étaient assis dans les premières rangées du Grand Hall avec les autres amateurs venus croiser et poser des questions aux nouveaux intronisés.

Unanimement qualifiée de meilleure joueuse de l’histoire du hockey, ce n’était qu’une question de temps avant que Wickenheiser ne vienne rejoindre Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe ou Bobby Orr qui sont ses égaux du côté masculin. Elle fait d’ailleurs son entrée dès sa première année d’admissibilité après l’attente minimale de trois ans imposée après que les candidats eurent disputé leurs dernières saisons en carrière. Une période que les dirigeants du Temple auraient pu écarter comme ils l’ont fait lors de la retraite de Wayne Gretzky tant Wickenheiser a dominé son sport.

Mais bon!

Parce qu’elle vit au même rythme endiablé qu’elle jouait au hockey, Hayley Wickenheiser a troqué son équipement pour un sarrau dès le moment où elle a accroché ses patins. Elle a aussitôt pris la direction de la faculté de médecine de l’Université de Calgary pour y entreprendre les études qui lui permettront de devenir urgentologue.

C’est d’ailleurs parce qu’elle était en pleine simulation de réanimation de patients en arrêt cardio-respiratoire en juin dernier que Wickenheiser a appris trois heures après ses parents et le reste de la planète hockey son invitation à franchir les portes du Temple de la renommée.

Meilleure façon de boucler la boucle

Wickenheiser accueille bien sûr cette invitation avec de grandes doses d’honneur et de fierté. Mais elle l’accueille aussi comme le meilleur moyen de faire le deuil sur sa carrière sensationnelle.

« Lorsque j’ai décidé d’accrocher les patins, je me suis consacrée totalement à ma formation médicale. Je ne me suis jamais vraiment offert une période de transition qui m’aurait permis de faire le point sur ce que j’avais accompli avant de tourner la page pour mieux amorcer ma nouvelle vie. Mon intronisation et toutes les festivités au programme en fin de semaine me permettent de tirer un trait sur ma carrière. Je trouve que ça donne une saveur supplémentaire à tout ce qui m’arrive », expliquait vendredi la plus grande joueuse de hockey de l’histoire.

Née en Saskatchewan en 1978, Hayley Wickenheiser développe rapidement une passion pour le hockey. Une passion qui la propulse sur les mêmes patinoires que les garçons avec qui elle doit en découdre pour avoir la chance de jouer du hockey organisé.

À 15 ans, la cousine de Doug Wickenheiser, premier choix du Canadien et toute première sélection de la cuvée 1980, rejoint des femmes qui deviendront vite ses idoles au sein de l’équipe canadienne. Une équipe dont elle endossera l’uniforme pendant 21 ans. Période au cours de laquelle elle marquera 168 buts, obtiendra 211 passes et récoltera 379 points. Des résultats qui représentent bien sûr des records.

Hommages à France St-Louis et Danielle Goyette

« J’étais une adolescente au milieu d’un groupe de femmes qui jouait pour l’amour du hockey. Elles ne recevaient pas un sou pour jouer. En fait, elles payaient pratiquement de leur poche pour jouer. Ma première grande source d’inspiration a été France St-Louis qui a fait fi des menaces de perdre son emploi d’enseignante pour jouer avec l’équipe canadienne. Elle avait le choix : son travail ou le hockey. Elle a choisi le hockey. Ça m’a toujours impressionné. Inspiré. J’ai aussi eu la chance d’évoluer au sein du même trio que Danielle Goyette qui est la meilleure joueuse de hockey avec qui j’ai évolué ou que j’ai affrontée », a témoigné Hayley Wickenheiser lors de la rencontre avec les partisans, samedi, dans le Grand Hall du Temple de la renommée.

Wickenheiser a reçu la plus belle ovation lors de la présentation des nouveaux intronisés. C’est aussi elle qui a eu droit aux plus beaux témoignages.

« Je suis un fan de hockey depuis toujours et je dois te dire que tu n’es pas seulement ma joueuse préférée, mais mon joueur préféré tout court. Tu m’as fait découvrir le hockey féminin qui, à bien des égards, est beaucoup plus beau que celui qu’on nous offre dans la LNH. Ma femme et moi avons eu quatre filles et nous avons nommé notre troisième Hayley en ton honneur », lui a confié l’un de ses admirateurs.

Cet admirateur lui a ensuite demandé si elle croyait que des femmes pourraient un jour se tailler une place dans la Ligue américaine, voire la LNH.

« J’ai atteint les rangs professionnels en Suède et en Finlande dans des ligues dont le niveau de jeu est au niveau de la Ligue américaine. Sur le plan du talent, de la vision, de la qualité des passes, des tirs et même du patin, je crois qu’il serait possible pour plus de femmes de rivaliser avec des hommes aujourd’hui. Et ce le sera davantage dans le futur. Mais il faut aussi se rendre à l’évidence : regardez la stature des gars qui m’entourent. Regardez la grosseur de leurs mains, de leurs épaules. La force physique joue un rôle important au hockey ce qui rend les comparaisons injustes entre les hommes et les femmes. L’avenir du hockey féminin ne passe pas par des faces à faces avec les hommes », a ensuite plaidé Wickenheiser.

Vers une LNH féminine

Parlant de cet avenir, il passe par où alors que les meilleures joueuses ont simplement décidé de boycotter la plus importante ligue féminine en attente de conditions salariales plus satisfaisantes.

« J’appuie les joueuses dans leur quête de meilleures conditions. Elles sont les meilleures au monde et elles veulent vivre d’une façon décente de leur sport. Je crois que les succès du hockey féminin passent par un regroupement sous la gouverne de la LNH au sein d’une ligue qui regrouperait les meilleures joueuses au monde. Comme la LNH. Je sais que le commissaire Gary Bettman suit le dossier de près. Je sais qu’il est sensible à l’avenir du hockey féminin. C’est un homme intelligent, qui veut réussir. Je suis donc convaincu qu’il prendra le temps nécessaire pour bien analyser la question et trouver les options qui seront les mieux en mesure d’offrir au hockey féminin la plate-forme nécessaire pour que ça fonctionne. »

Le palmarès d’Hayley Wickenheiser dépasse l’entendement. Il dépasse aussi les cadres du hockey alors qu’elle a reçu le titre d’officier de l’Ordre du Canada (2011) en plus d’être élue au sein de la commission des athlètes olympiques en 2014 et de faire partie de la haute direction du comité mis sur pieds à Calgary afin d’obtenir les Jeux paralympiques de 2026.

Sur la glace, Wickenheiser revendique sept médailles d’or et six d’argent au Championnat du monde.

Elle revendique aussi quatre médailles d’or olympiques (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) et une médaille d’argent obtenue aux Jeux de 1998. Elle a prononcé le serment des athlètes aux Jeux de Vancouver en 2010 en plus d’être porte-drapeau lors des cérémonies d’ouverture des Jeux de Sotchi en 2014. Des Jeux qu’elle a disputés en dépit d’une fracture au pied gauche.

À cette époque, les Canadiennes et les Américaines étaient seules sur les patinoires internationales. La rivalité qui les opposait et leur grand talent étaient sensationnels. Mais le manque de compétition nuisait au rayonnement de leur sport.

Ce qui n’est plus le cas aujourd’hui alors que la Finlande a repoussé le Canada au troisième rang lors du dernier Championnat du monde de hockey féminin.

Une source de satisfaction pour Wickenheiser?

« Je ne me réjouirai jamais du fait que le Canada soit au troisième rang. Mais oui c’est une grande victoire pour le hockey féminin de voir que d’autres nations se sont hissées au rang du Canada et des USA. Notre programme a besoin d’être fouetté un peu. Tout comme le programme de la Suède qui stagne après des années intéressantes. Mais pour moi, le fait de voir de plus en plus de jeunes filles jouer au hockey ailleurs qu’au Canada et aux États-Unis est une très bonne nouvelle. C’est surtout nécessaire pour la survie de mon sport. Quand je jouais dans les rangs professionnels en Finlande, la fille d’un de mes entraîneurs commençait à patiner. Elle n’avait que cinq ans. Aujourd’hui, Matilda Nillson défend les couleurs de la Finlande avec son équipe nationale. Des Matilda Nilsson il y en a de plus de plus dans le hockey féminin. Et ça, c’est certainement un très bel héritage pour moi et toutes les autres femmes qui avons contribué à mettre ce sport à l’avant-plan. Mais il reste encore beaucoup de travail à faire.»

Du travail qu’Hayley Wickenheiser pourrait accepter d’abattre tout en travaillant comme urgentologue et comme membre de l’état-major des Maple Leafs de Toronto au sein de l’équipe de responsables du développement des joueurs.

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WASHINGTON | Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch et Denis Potvin. Seulement cinq défenseurs ont atteint le plateau des 100 points dans l’histoire de la LNH. Depuis Leetch avec les Rangers de New York en 1991-1992, aucun défenseur n’a réalisé ce rarissime exploit.

Il reste encore très loin de l’objectif, mais John Carlson produit actuellement à un rythme d’une saison de plus de 100 points. Après 20 matchs, le défenseur des Capitals de Washington a déjà 30 points (8 buts, 22 passes). S’il gardait la même cadence, il terminerait la saison avec 123 points.

« Les défenseurs qui ont obtenu des saisons de 100 points font tous partie du Temple de la renommée du hockey, a dit Carlson aux collègues de Washington. Ils ont connu de glorieuses carrières. Je n’appartiens pas à cette conversation, même si ça fait plaisir d’entendre mon nom parmi eux. »

Réalité ou fiction

Une saison de 100 points pour un défenseur dans le hockey d’aujourd’hui, ça tient de la réalité ou de la fiction ?

« Il n’y a pas si longtemps, je croyais que c’était impossible, a dit le défenseur Seth Jones, des Blue Jackets de Columbus, en entrevue au Journal plus tôt cette semaine. Erik Karlsson et Brent Burns ont connu des saisons de 80 points et plus. Juste de produire à un rythme d’un point par match pour un défenseur, c’est assez fou. Mais Carlson produit à un rythme infernal depuis le début de la saison. Il voit tellement bien la glace et il a un tir incroyable.

« S’il veut atteindre les 100 points, il devra en récolter au moins 40 en supériorité numérique, a poursuivi Jones. C’est un gros facteur, la production à cinq contre quatre. »

La machine des Capitals

Zach Werenski, un autre bon défenseur offensif et le partenaire de Jones à la ligne bleue des Blue Jackets, croit aussi aux chances de Carlson d’atteindre la centaine.

« Oui, j’estime que c’est possible, surtout pour un gars comme John, a répondu Werenski. On parle toujours de ses talents offensifs, mais il est aussi bon défensivement. Quand il est sur la glace, il sort rapidement de son territoire, alors il passe plus de temps en zone adverse. Il a aussi la chance de jouer pour une machine offensive et une équipe terrifiante en supériorité numérique avec Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie et compagnie. »

Un maître de l’avantage numérique

Matt Niskanen a bien connu Carlson à son époque avec les Capitals. Maintenant membre de la brigade défensive des Flyers de Philadelphie, Niskanen a apporté son son de cloche au départ exceptionnel de son coéquipier des cinq dernières saisons à Washington.

« Ça fait déjà quelques années qu’il produit à très bon rythme. C’est l’histoire de sa carrière, a noté Niskanen. L’offensive est sa force, mais les gens oublient parfois qu’il est un bon défenseur dans tous les aspects du jeu. »

« Les gens disent souvent qu’il inscrit beaucoup de points juste parce qu’il joue en avantage numérique, mais ils ont essayé plusieurs joueurs à sa position et il est de loin le meilleur que j’aie vu. Mike Green a été de la dynamite là-bas pendant des années, mais John amène une autre dimension avec son tir, son talent de passeur et son intelligence avec la rondelle. Je dis souvent qu’il est un tireur générationnel. C’est un art de performer à haut niveau avec constance en supériorité numérique et il est l’un des rares qui le font, sans compter qu’il génère aussi beaucoup d’attaque à cinq contre cinq.

« John est capable d’atteindre le niveau des Burns et Karlsson, a poursuivi Niskanen. Déjà, il connaît un départ monstre et je le sais capable de maintenir ce rythme sur une saison complète. Il a tous les outils et l’instinct pour produire autant que ces gars-là. »

Avant cette année, Carlson a connu sa meilleure saison l’an dernier avec une récolte de 70 points (13 buts, 57 passes) en 80 matchs.
Le record d’équipe avant la centaine

John Carlson visera une marque plus modeste avant de rêver à une saison de 100 points. L’Américain de 29 ans aimerait d’abord écrire son nom dans le livre des records des Capitals.

Larry Murphy détient la marque chez les défenseurs des Capitals avec 81 points (23 buts, 58 passes). Ce record de concession tient depuis la saison 1986-1987. Kevin Hatcher s’en était approché en 1992-1993 avec une récolte de 79 points. Plus récemment, Mike Green avait aussi menacé la suprématie de Murphy avec 76 points en 2009-2010.

Carlson n’a pas caché son souhait de battre le record de Murphy.

« Je crois que ce serait génial si ça pouvait arriver, a dit Carlson à Stephen Whyno, de l’Associated Press à Washington. C’est encore tôt dans la saison. Je me concentre surtout sur les aspects de mon jeu qui font de moi un bon défenseur. Je veux surtout aider mon équipe à gagner nos matchs et si nous gagnons de bonnes choses pourraient survenir. »

Un peu de chance

Pour décrire ses succès personnels en ce début de saison, Carlson reste très modeste.

« Pour un défenseur, je crois qu’il y a toujours un aspect chance dans la récolte de points, a mentionné l’Américain de 29 ans à Ben Raby, de Capitals Radio. Je réussis de bons jeux, je ne veux pas vous faire croire le contraire. Je ne fais pas juste me débarrasser de la rondelle. Je génère des chances de marquer, mais je profite aussi d’un fort taux de réussite en ce début de saison. C’est dans ce sens que je parle de l’aspect chance. »

Le mot chance ne revenait pas dans le discours de Michal Kempny, le partenaire de Carlson à la ligne bleue des Capitals.

« Il est formidable pour nous, a raconté Kempny. À mes yeux, il est un futur gagnant du trophée Norris. Il est une bonne personne, un bon coéquipier et évidemment un bon défenseur. Il est sur une autre planète en ce moment. »

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In the grand scheme of things, Taylor Hall‘s time with the New Jersey Devils is a small speck compared to the time other stars spent in the Garden State. The numbers hanging in the rafters include Scott Niedermeyer (13 seasons), Scott Stevens (13 seasons), Patrik Elias (20 seasons), Ken Daneyko (20 seasons) and Martin Brodeur (21 seasons) all had at least three times the career in New Jersey.

Even players like Zach Parise and Claude Lemieux spent more time with the Devils, and some would argue they had a bigger impact overall on the Devils franchise. Both players carried the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. Hall got them to the first round of the playoffs. At the end of it all, Ilya Kovalchuk will have played more games with the Devils than Taylor Hall. That’s actually kind of insane to think about with the lockout shortened season, and with the midseason trade.

Still, there were some amazing times with number 9. When Bob McKenzie announced that “the trade is one for one”, that was going to be a day that changed everything for the Devils. They turned a floundering young defenseman into one of the most exciting players in the league. Hall had all the upside, and he hit his ceiling.

Now that we’re getting to the end, instead of looking ahead and being bitter about what could have been, let’s look back and be happy about what we had.