Category Archives: St.Louis Blues Pro Shop

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.

Robert Thomas Jersey

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OBERLIN, Kan. — Robert Thomas Berkheimer, 82, died Wednesday (Dec. 11, 2019), in Oberlin.

He was born Feb. 18, 1937, in Miller, Neb., to Lee Cloyce (Jim) and Jennie Elnore Boyd Berkheimer.

He married Yukiko Segawa on Nov. 18, 1959, in Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

He was a United States Army veteran and former general manager of the KOMC (more recently KSNK) television station in Oberlin.

He was a member of McCook Christian Church.

He was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Kenneth and sister, Donna.

Survivors include his wife, Yuki; children, Tom (Melissa) of Johnston, Iowa, Jim (Heather) of Rapid City, S.D., and Patricia (Lance) Dixon of Kingman, Kan.; 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Services were today, Dec. 13, 2019, at Pauls Funeral Home in Oberlin.

Memorials can be given in his name to McCook Christian Church and the Golden Age Center, both in care of the funeral home. Online condolences can be left at Pauls Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

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.

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ST. LOUIS – A day after Oskar Sundqvist returned to the lineup, the St. Louis Blues appear to be on the verge of getting another injured player back.

The Blues assigned forward Austin Poganski to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio on Friday, clearing a roster spot for the potential return of Alexander Steen.

Sundqvist had a goal and an assist in the Blues’ win over Vegas on Thursday, his first game after missing six with a lower-body injury. Steen has been out with a high ankle sprain since Nov. 6. He was placed on injured reserve in the wake of a collision with Oilers forward Alex Chiasson.

Forward Zach Sanford also appears to be nearing a return from an upper-body injury he suffered Saturday against Toronto, but he was not placed on IR and remains on the active roster.

Poganski’s second NHL call-up led to his NHL debut Tuesday in Buffalo. He was on the ice for 5:54 but did not dent the scoresheet. The 23-year-old has 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 22 games with the Rampage this season.

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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.

Vince Dunn Jersey

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There are many elements of hockey that have gone painfully soft in recent (or the past ten) years.

Whether it’s the lack of fighting, spineless calls for “roughing,” or just a general need to strangle this wonderful game with a diaper, the NHL action isn’t as fierce as it used to be.

So when I see St. Louis Blues’ defenseman Vince Dunn light up Andrew Mangiapane on Thursday night during a game with the Calgary Flames, I smile like a kid who just located the secret stash of chocolate chip cookies. It was a thing of beauty, please check it out.

They are right. Dunn did destroy poor Andrew, and I am here for more destruction.

I’m not here to tell you whether or not Dunn will be fined, suspended or stoned in the streets by the NHL Player Safety Board of Lame Souls. I truly don’t give a shit. It was a fantastic hit, and I won’t make Dunn apologize for it. It’s the same thing that Brayden Schenn did to a Tampa Bay Lightning player on Tuesday for admiring a pass. You climb over those boards, and you should know it may be a bad shift.

These guys aren’t playing angry badminton out there; it’s hockey. You know, the sport where having all your teeth is a rarity. The kind of sport where a player can break his jaw and continue to play. The kind of sport where a human being gets rocked into the boards, forcing him for a split second to forget his name and date of birth. The kind of sport that used to celebrate unhinged toughness instead of putting it in a corner while the FAST (calm down, Panger!) sport takes over.

According to Jeremy Rutherford, Blues legend Bobby Plager said he dishes out around 15 of those Dunn hits in the press box. Back in the day (which was also a Thursday), Plager would hand 10-15 of those hits out per game. It wasn’t a WHOA moment back then because it was more common.

These days, the first thing people think about is whether or not it will warrant a suspension. Imagine punishing a player for doing what head coaches and the origin of the sport told him to do. It’s not like Andrew messed around with Vince’s girl or stole his steak at lunch; it’s hockey and it’s hard. If it wasn’t hard, basketball players would do it too.

Dunn is an impressive talent. The kid is only getting warmed up. He just turned 23 years old, and put up 35 points last year. He’s playing around 15 minutes per game, so his production will only go up as he finds more time on the ice. Expect that to increase next year when Jay Bouwmeester steps down and the youth continues to ride into Enterprise. After the annihilation of Mangiapane, Dunn sealed St. Louis’ shutout victory with a wicked wrist shot from the slot.

He’s got four points in his last three games and is rounding into shape. Sure, there’s a few “WTF is that Shattenkirk” moments in his game from time to time, but he’s still young and learning. The important thing is Dunn plays the game like a savvy veteran most of his minutes, and knows how to lay someone out. It’ll only get better.

Allow me to apologize for not having a picture of the hit as my posting picture, but the ice detectives haven’t released the photos yet due to the area still being an active crime scene.

Dunn’s hit is unfortunately a rarity these days. As Art Lippo commonly states on Twitter, these kind of hits can make hockey great again.

One destruction at a time, ladies and gents. Old time hockey isn’t dead yet.

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CHICAGO — Jake Allen knows that this hot streak can go the other way at any time.

But he’ll do his best to maintain where he’s at how, and that’s on the hot side of it, after a 4-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday at United Center, the 20th of his NHL career which tied him for second in franchise history with Jaroslav Halak.

Allen’s rise from the start of the season is giving the Blues (18-5-6) one of the best, if not the best, goalie tandems in the league.

But after backstopping all 38 Chicago shots, including 17 in the third period, Allen is 5-0-2 on the road this season with a 2.11 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Going back 13 regular-season road games, Allen is 7-1-5 with a 2.04 GAA and .935 save percentage.

His teammates see the Allen that was so incredibly good against the Minnesota Wild in the the 2017 first round of the playoffs, one in which helped the Blues stun Minnesota in a five-game series win and again in the second round against the Nashville Predators.

“Yeah, he’s dialed in,” Blues forward Jaden Schwartz said of Allen. “He’s in the zone, making huge saves, timely saves for us. We know how good of a goalie he is.

“Every player, every goalie has a rough few months or an off year in their career, and he’s a guy that just continues to work and continues … even when he’s not playing, he comes to the rink and he’s working and he’s getting better. Yeah, you can see how good of a goalie he is, and you can tell he’s confident right now.”

Yes, Allen is confident, and it was on full display silencing the United Center crowd, and for that matter, aside from an 18-second stretch at American Airlines Center last Friday against Dallas when the game was tied 1-1, Allen silenced that crowd. He silenced the crowd in Edmonton too. It’s what a goalie does, one that’s thriving on the road, and one that’s helping his team win again on a nightly basis.

“Yes and no. A lot of people don’t believe me when I say it, but I find it really tough to get into the crowd,” Allen said. “I’m sort of in my own mindset during the game. For me, the crowd doesn’t really do a whole lot. It’s just ironic how this whole situations played out.

“I don’t know (about feeling dialed in). I probably said it a couple weeks ago, I’m trying to get better every single time for me right now. That was my goal the first couple games of the year. I sat down and I said, ‘Let’s try to get better every single time.’ It starts at that point. Now I’m getting some games and closer to consecutive days gets you a little more in the groove. I’m just trying to give the boys a chance, and guys are playing great hockey in front of me.”

Countless times during his career, more so in the past couple seasons, Blues fans have been so divided on Allen. They either love him or have a dislike for him. Those that have loved him remember the guy that began his career with such promise and one that can display that dominant No. 1 form at any time. And then there are those that saw the struggles in recent seasons, one that saw Jordan Binnington come in and supplant him as the No. 1 netminder last season and help the Blues to their first-ever Stanley Cup. The season before, Carter Hutton challenged him for the cage, and Brian Elliott before that.

But what has not been forgotten is that Allen, 29, took his role as the backup last in stride, like a guy that has the team in mind even though from a personal standpoint, wants to be the guy, but is willing to do whatever it takes.

The Blues were so high on Allen at one point, general manager Doug Armstrong rewarded him with a four-year, $17.4 million contract on July 1, 2016. There are days when people felt like he’s earned it, and there are those that have felt like he hasn’t.

Whatever the feelings are, one thing Allen has done is continue to drive himself to be at his best, even though there are nights when nothing would go right, but Allen has always driven himself to do what’s best for the Blues, and that’s one of the reasons why teammates love him.

“Yeah, he’s a mentally tough kid,” Schwartz said. “He doesn’t give up on himself obviously. It’s never easy when you have a tough week or two. It’s never easy mentally and he’s done a great job of just continuing to work, believing in himself and he knows we’ve got all the belief in him. So, I think it’s just his work ethic, working with Davie (Alexander) and Binner, they do a great job every day and you can just tell when a guy is focused – just the way that he prepares — that he’s ready to keep building, and I think he’s got that mojo back.”

Monday’s game is a perfect example of Allen at his best. Being positionally and fundamentally sound, being square to shooters, coming out to challenge shooters and not back himself into the blue paint, control rebounds, use his teammates effectively and make the saves he isn’t expected to make.

That’s when teammates really have your back.

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WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin still has a ways to go to catch Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal-scoring record.

For now, he did the next best thing. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame presented Ovechkin with its Wayne Gretzky International Award at its annual induction ceremony on Thursday night at the Marriott Marquis in Washington.

The award goes to an international individual who has made major contributions to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States. It is hard to argue with the choice of Ovechkin, whose singular popularity fueled the explosive growth of youth hockey in the D.C. area since he arrived in the NHL in 2005 at age 20.

Ovechkin was not able to attend the ceremony on Thursday. The Capitals left a day early for their game in Tampa Bay on Saturday night. It is their annual dads and mentors road trip. But Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was at the dinner to accept the award on Ovechkin’s behalf.

“From Day 1 Alex fell in love with our fans and this community and has said this is his second home,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that he really helped to establish this community as a hockey community. It’s been called The Ovechkin Effect – all the young people that are growing up and have lived through this era and they are hockey fans for life right now.”

ESPN’s Steve Levy hosted the awards dinner. Former NHL stars Tim Thomas and Brian Gionta were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, U.S women’s Olympian Krissy Wendell and Neal Henderson, co-founder of Washington’s Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Program, which for 40 years has provided access to hockey for underprivileged kids throughout the area.

Dr. Jack Blatherwick, a longtime college and pro hockey trainer who helped develop hundreds of hockey players during his career and worked closely with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, was given the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

Ovechkin joined such hockey luminaries as Gretzky, who won the inaugural award in 1999, legendary coach Scotty Bowman, Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull and, posthumously in 2008, Anatoly Tarasov, who is considered the father of Russian hockey for starting the Soviet Union’s ice hockey program from scratch after World War II and building it into an international powerhouse.

Ovechkin couldn’t be at the dinner in person, but he did thank the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame for the award by video.

“It’s a huge honor for me to get this award,” Ovechkin said. “Wayne Gretzky is probably the best player in NHL history and hockey history. This award goes not for me. It goes to the whole Washington Capitals organization and how they support hockey and how they grow hockey in this area is tremendous.”

Ovechkin quickly became the face of the Capitals with his brash, exciting style of play and his relentless goal scoring. He’s up to 679 now – still a long way from Gretzky’s 894, but closing in on 11th all-time at age 34. He has a good chance at becoming just the eighth NHL player to reach 700 goals by the end of the current season.

Ovechkin adds to his on-ice work by representing the Capitals all across the D.C. community whether working with special-needs kids or visiting sick children at local hospitals. The cherry on top, according to Leonsis, was the Capitals finally winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Ovechkin would eventually take the Cup to Georgetown Cancer Center and to visit Neal Henderson’s kids at Fort Dupont.

“We’ve just established the Capitals through Alex’s leadership and really historical greatness,” Leonsis said. “As a team and a hockey community, it’s really built to last…And since Alex stepped onto the ice from that very first game [in 2005] and drilled that [Columbus Blue Jackets] player into the glass until [Tuesday] night, it’s just been this constant build. We hope he plays for a long, long time and continues to be here. But his place in history is cemented.”

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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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Where were you on March 24, 1994, when Dave Andreychuk took a pass from Doug Gilmour and slipped it by goalie Arturs Irbe, sending Maple Leaf Gardens into a frenzy?

Maybe you remember, maybe you don’t (or, third option…maybe you weren’t alive yet). But that moment was special because it was the last time anyone wearing the blue-and-white Maple Leaf celebrated a 50-goal season.

Netting 50 goals is a feat reserved for elite goal scorers. It’s tougher now than it’s ever been, in a league that continues to grow faster and more skilled across the board.

Keep this in mind: only two players (Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl) have scorer 50-plus the past six seasons; when Andreychuk scored 53 in 1993-94, he was one of eight players to hit the half-century mark that season.

But this could be the year Toronto breaks its streak and has a player join the scoring elite. Auston Matthews, the Maple Leafs’ 22-year-old cornerstone center, is the player who can get it done.

Before going further, I must first acknowledge that John Tavares was only a few bounces away from scoring 50 for Toronto last year. He finished with an impressive 47 goals — good for third in the NHL — but that came with a career-high 286 shots and a 16.4 shooting percentage, his highest rate in a non-lockout year.

Plus Tavares’ shift starts are almost a 50/50 split between the offensive and defensive zone, which lessens his opportunity compared to someone like Matthews, who starts in the offensive zone more than 60 percent of the time.

Speaking of Matthews, let’s dive in on his quest to become Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer in more than a quarter century.
Almost on pace despite recent slide

After his usual hot start to the season — Matthews is a prolific October scorer, with 36 goals in 46 career games — a recent five-game goalless stretch pushed Matthews off the 50-goal pace.

During his drought, which lasted from Nov. 27 through Dec. 4, he took 21 shots but couldn’t buy a break. Finally, on Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, Matthews broke through with a pair of tallies.

“I’ve just got to keep shooting the puck,” he told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas, “and eventually it’s gonna go in.”

That sounds like a reasonable plan. Matthews shoots more than anyone else on the Maple Leafs and, wouldn’t you know it, he scores more as well. And he has the support of his coach to keep on keepin’ on, which is always a good thing.

“I didn’t think about (Matthews’ slump) one second,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after the St. Louis game. “Full confidence it’s going to fall in for him. He’s too good a player for it not to.”

With 19 goals through 32 games, Matthews is on pace for 48.7 goals over a full 82-game slate.

Of course, health is not something to take for granted; especially considering Matthews has missed 34 games over the past two seasons. But it’s impressive that he’s still almost on track for 50 goals despite his recent skid.
Toronto’s power play runs through Matthews

One could argue that Toronto’s power play runs through Tavares, given his usual position in the middle of the slot as part-time facilitator, part-time traffic cop. But when it comes to getting pucks on net and producing, no one shoulders more of the load than Matthews.

Sometimes he snipes from his power play perch, inside the faceoff circle to the left of the goalie.

Sometimes he bull rushes the net, unaccounted for, and chips the puck top shelf like he’s getting it out of a sand trap.