WASHINGTON, DC – This weekend has been full of hockey news, most of it very sorrowful. The weekend began with the news of the death of at least 15 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League players and staff, who were killed in a bus accident in Canada on Friday afternoon. The Humboldt Bronco team was on their way to a playoff game when the tragic incident took place and the lives of at least nine college-bound players, who had just begun to grow into fine young men, were snuffed out. The entire hockey community is grieving for their loss and has responded with messages of sympathy and love for the families, the dead, and the injured. One specific GoFundMe page has already raised more than $3 million dollars for the families of the victims, as the hockey community attempts to support our own. The horror of the accident (and the identification with team bus rides by everyone who has ever played youth and/or minor pro hockey) has definitely reminded all of the fragility of life.
NHL games went forward yesterday, albeit with moments of silence for the Humboldt victims, and most of the first-round playoff matchups were decided. In addition, the University of Minnesota—Duluth won the NCAA national championship. Finally, in an 11:30 pm firing, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was let go as head coach of the Rangers.
Let’s take the last one, first. I personally liked AV very much—even voted for him for the PHWA good guy award this year. I say this despite many fans’ tweets of disappointment with his coaching style and in agreement with his statement yesterday that he could only coach the players he was given this season. However, I am in agreement with the Rangers letting him go too. AV’s style is not conducive to coaching a team of young players—and that is who this team will be composed of for the next two to three years. Not only will we see Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Alexandar Georgiev, Brett Howden, and Neal Pionk in Rangers’ uniforms, but hopefully also goaltending phenom Igor Shestyrokin, who is currently in the KHL. Coaching young players requires a skipper with lots of patience, with a firm, but gentle, style, who is familiar with today’s young players because of very recent experience with those that are developing. So, although Lindy Ruff, who has been associate coach with the team all season, may be the frontrunner for the job, my pick would be more like a Keith McCambridge, who most of the young players have had in Hartford for at least part of this past season and who has nine seasons of AHL coaching experience. No, McCambridge would not be the grizzled veteran that the Blueshirts usually hire, but maybe this team needs a change in how coaches are selected along with the recent decision to change the team composition. We will learn more about the Rangers’ plans tomorrow at General Manager Jeff Gorton’s press conference.
As for the team across the river—after the New Jersey Devils secured a playoff spot on Thursday, the team faced the Washington Capitals last night. The 5-3 loss was a sound defeat and was disappointing because, had New Jersey won, they would have played the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, the Devils will face either Tampa Bay or Boston (depending on the outcome of tonight’s game between Boston and Florida). Boston, the likely opposition is a surging team that beat the Devils three times this season, so facing them in the first round will be very difficult. Knowing the chances of this, it was surprising to me that the coaching staff decided to rest Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, and Sami Vatanen last night, making the contest much less competitive. Perhaps the Devils are counting on the Bruins losing tonight’s game (the Devils are 3-0 head-to-head with the Lightning this season), but more likely, they followed what has been Head Coach John Hynes philosophy all season (focus on our own team and not watch the others). Hall, Zajac, Palmieri, and Vatanen needed the rest, so they were all scratched last night. It remains to be seen whether this strategy was a good one.
Finally, Minnesota—Duluth won the NCAA championship last night, defeating Notre Dame by a score of 2-1. Five of the Bulldog players had been on the U20 WJC American team this winter, which gave them experience in big time games. The team had a total of 10 freshmen on the roster, which will likely make them a force next season too. The Frozen Four weekend also includes the selection of the Hobey Baker Award winner. This year the honor was given to Adam Gaudette, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, who led the nation in scoring (30G, 30A).