Top 5

Jonas Hiller

Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller was born in Switzerland and is fluent in German, French and English. Here are his Top 5 cities in Europe:

  1. Bern, Switzerland

  2. Prague, Czech Republic

  3. Paris, France

  4. Barcelona, Spain

  5. Rome, Italy

NHL Confidential

James NealTravis Mathew Apparel specializes in casual menswear for on and off the golf course. It’s a favorite of Wayne Gretzky as well as current NHL stars James Neal, Dustin Penner, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Getzlaf. “That laid-back, SoCal athletic vibe resonates with a lot of guys who want to look good during an off-day on the golf course,” said Leif Sunderland, the marketing director for the Seal Beach, Calif.-based retailer.


2020 NHL Conference Finals preview

2020 Stanley Cup playoffs

The Final Four features the two favorites on each side of the ledger, Tampa Bay and Vegas, facing off against a pair of capable upstarts who are playing terrific hockey in the New York Islanders and the Dallas Stars.

The bubble shrinks to just one site for the Conference Finals, as Tampa Bay and New York will join the Western Conference teams in Edmonton, Alberta. Both series should be extremely tight with little separating the four remaining teams fighting for the Stanley Cup. The result should be some electric games and a pair of close series.

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2020 NHL Conference Semifinal Previews

2020 Stanley Cup playoffs

The last three weeks have truly been the National Hockey League’s version of March Madness. (August Awesomeness?) The Cinderellas, Chicago and Montreal, enjoyed their moment in the sun before the clock struck midnight on the league’s pretenders.

Now that first few weeks have passed, the truly elite teams, especially Boston, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Vegas, rose to the top, while the 12 seeds and other upset-minded squads fell by the wayside. It also became clear which teams want to be in the bubble, stay together and compete for a title, and which were ready to go home and see their families.

This leaves eight excellent teams on each side of the ledger. Two, the Golden Knights and Avalanche, truly stand in front of the pack in the Western Conference. The result: every series from here on out will be ultra-competitive and terrific to watch. Very little separates the NHL’s elite eight. Here’s my preview of the NHL Conference Semifinals.

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2020 NHL Conference Quarterfinals Playoff Preview

2020 Stanley Cup playoffs

After a frenetic week of hockey, the NHL is back. Call them postseason games or not, the qualification round saw plenty of terrific series and a couple of March Madness-style 12-5 upsets—with heavy underdogs Chicago and Montreal advancing into the conference quarterfinals. The league proved that, despite no fans in the building, its playoffs could stand on their own as far as must-see television.

2020 NHL Playoffs Preview

After a 2019-20 National Hockey League (NHL) season unlike any other that included an abrupt 140-day pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hockey is officially back with an epic sprint to the finish. 24 teams remain alive, with the eight remaining lowest seeds in each conference facing a play-in qualification round to advance to the normal 16-team bracket.

A 16-team race for the finish is about the only normal aspect to the 2019-20 campaign, which came to a halt on March 12. Facing the prospect of scrapping a season in which many teams already played 70 games, the NHL and its players were able to come together to create an unprecedented return-to-play plan involving conference playoff hockey in two different hub cities—Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the Western Conference.

Though no fans will be in attendance, players get the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup in a relatively safe environment. With the extended layoff, the teams’ regular-season records can essentially be thrown out the window. Series will be difficult to predict. As far as talent goes, there are four clear favorites on both sides of the ledger. Each of those eight teams gets a free pass into the final 16-team field.

Who would’ve rolled in Detroit Rock City?

2020 Frozen Four

Detroit is Hockeytown. At least that’s what it likes to call itself. 

The Red Wings have won Stanley Cups there, the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament is played there each year, and it has hosted Frozen Fours before. The most recent came in 2010, when the event took place inside Ford Field, the Lions’ stadium right down the road, an experiment that thankfully hasn’t been attempted again. 

This year, the Frozen Four was coming back to Detroit — this time to a hockey arena, the Wings’ sparkling Little Caesars Arena. It was an event that thousands upon thousands of people were looking forward to. I considered attending the event as a fan too, just like I did in St. Paul two years ago. 

As with several other sporting events around the country, the Frozen Four was canceled thanks to fears of spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It became the second major hockey event canceled in Michigan in the decade after the Winter Classic was canceled in Ann Arbor back in 2013. One big difference: the Frozen Four was canceled because of a pandemic. The Classic was due to a lockout. 

The cancelation has led to many in the media wondering what might have been. Would Minnesota-Duluth have won its third national title in a row? Would Minnesota State (Mankato) finally end its long string of first round losses and get its first NCAA Tournament victory? Who would have even made the tournament — none of the conference tournaments were completed and nobody officially earned an automatic bid, even though we knew which teams were most likely to get one. 

A Star-Tribune reporter made their predictions on how things would’ve turned out. So did College Hockey News and USCHO. They all came up with different winners. Some picks made sense, while others were a bit of a reach. That’s what made it fun. I decided to get in on it. I know I give you all my predictions each year, but this is a whole different situation, and more intriguing. 

Before I give you my predictions, I’ll tell you how I picked my tournament. There’s really only two ways you could make a realistic bracket. You could either strictly abide by the Pairwise rankings, which of course officially determine the tourney field. Or you can use the Pairwise for the most part and then since there are zero autobids this year, you could fill in those slots with whoever won the regular season championships. Since I’m not a big fan of the Pairwise, I’m going with the latter, which is closer to what CHN did. I feel that if you rely strictly on the “final” Pairwise rankings this year, you make winning the regular season title worthless. Because of that, I’ll be going with CHN’s pairings. Without further ado, here’s what would’ve happened. 

Worcester (Northeast) Regional

North Dakota vs. American International 

This is a fun pairing because top-seeded UND has surprisingly missed the last two tournaments after winning its eighth national title in 2016. Meanwhile, AIC is back after pulling a shocking upset of St. Cloud State in the first round last year. Like CHN said, the Yellow Jackets get the Atlantic Hockey autobid after winning the regular season championship. However, the Fighting Hawks won’t be stung like the Huskies were as they strike quickly and overwhelm the Jackets. UND holds a 3-0 lead after the first period, two from Hobey Baker finalist Jordan Kawaguchi, and cruises to a 5-1 win. 

Massachusetts vs. Clarkson 

Massachusetts is back after finishing runner-up to UMD last year and even though they lost Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar to the NHL, the Minutemen are still a force and they want to finish the job this time. The Knights haven’t earned a tournament win since 2008 (hey, that’s still better than Mankato!), but they’ve had another solid year in the ECAC and made the NCAAs for the third straight season. Unfortunately for Clarkson, that streak will continue as the Knights blow a 2-0 lead in the second period and get dealt a 3-2 loss with the Minutemen getting the game winner late in the third period from Bobby Trivigno. 

Regional Final

UND vs. Massachusetts

Once again, the Hawks draw first blood and unlike the day before, the Minutemen can’t recover. UND takes a 1-0 lead late in the first and goes up 3-0 in the second on two tallies from Shane Pinto. Massachusetts tries to rally in the third, getting two power-play goals, but the Hawks get two empty-netters in the final two minutes to clinch a trip to Detroit. 

Loveland (West) Regional 

Duluth vs. Arizona State

The Bulldogs are not surprisingly back in the tournament after two straight national championships. They’re trying to get the NCAA’s first three-peat since Michigan did it in the early 1950s. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils earn their second straight bid, which is impressive for an independent program that’s only existed for five years. However, due to its lack of a conference tournament, ASU is on a five-week layoff and it shows as the Devils are ice cold. Duluth hammers ASU as badly as it did the Minutemen last year. The Bulldogs get two goals from Hobey winner Scott Perunovich and a stellar outing from goalie Hunter Shepard as they get a 4-0 win. 

Denver vs. Bemidji State

If you would’ve asked me at the start of this season if BSU had a chance at making the tournament, I would’ve laughed and told you no way. However, the Beavers shocked pretty much every analyst in the country and almost won the WCHA regular season title before getting edged out by Mankato. Denver, on the other hand, made its 13th straight tournament bid, the longest streak in the nation. The Pioneers are looking to make their fourth Frozen Four in five years. However, they fall short and in dramatic fashion: Denver holds a 2-1 lead in the third period, but Bemidji rallies, tying it with five minutes left on a power play goal by WCHA First Teamer Adam Brady. In the final minute, Beavers goalie Zach Driscoll denies DU star Bobby Brink on a partial breakaway and seconds later at the other end, BSU forward Owen Sillinger scores on a rebound to send the Beavers to the regional final with a 3-2 win. 

Regional final

Duluth vs. Bemidji

Two Minnesota schools enter and only one can emerge with a ticket to Michigan. Surprisingly, it’s the Beavers who come out on top and in exciting fashion again. The game is a goaltending battle between Driscoll and Shepard, with neither giving much of an inch as the two teams go to overtime tied 1-1. However, the Beavers find a way early in the extra period as senior Tommy Muck gets the puck out by the blue line and slaps a rocket past Shepard to send Bemidji to Detroit and ending the Bulldogs’ attempt at a three-peat. 

Albany (East) Regional

Cornell vs. Michigan

The Big Red are, outside of Mankato, the team that can’t seem to make it out of the regionals. Including this year, they will have made the tournament for the fourth year in a row, but Cornell hasn’t made the Frozen Four since 2003. Then there’s the Wolverines, who used to be the model of consistency. They reached the Frozen Four in 2018, then missed the tournament altogether in 2019 after flopping in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan is coming into the tournament hot, but Cornell is the better team and it shows it quickly. The Big Red score in the opening minute and stay in control for the majority of the game, leading 3-0 early in the third. Michigan gets two back, both from Will Lockwood, but the Big Red gets an empty-netter from Morgan Barron to clinch a 4-2 win. 

Boston College vs. Ohio State

For the first time in four years, the Eagles are back in the tournament. Like Michigan, UND, Minnesota and others, BC was always there for the longest time, but it’s been on a slide for a while. This season, the Eagles had a strong second half and came in with momentum. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have been up and down before getting two wins over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. The two teams start off slow. It’s a 0-0 game until midway through the second, when it becomes a back and forth affair. It’s tied 2-2 in the third before the Eagles’ Logan Hutsko scores on a rebound with three minutes left. OSU tried to get the equalizer, firing 10 shots on net in the final two minutes. It looked as if it would get it too, as Carson Meyer had an open net with 20 seconds remaining, but BC goalie Spencer Knight made a sprawling save to get the Eagles to the next round. 

Regional final

Cornell vs. BC

Can Cornell finally end its jinx? Is this the year? Unfortunately for Big Red fans, the answer is no. CU looks good early, as Barron gets a power-play tally in the first period and goalie Matthew Galajda stifled the Eagles through the first two periods. However, the Big Red can’t close out the win. BC catches fire in the third period, getting two goals 20 seconds apart from Jack McBain and Mike Hardman. Knight then shuts down the Big Red the rest of the way to get the 2-1 victory, and the Eagles scan their ticket to Detroit. 

Allentown (Midwest) Regional

(Nothing says Midwest like eastern Pennsylvania)

Mankato vs. Maine

If the Mavericks are going to get their first tournament win, it’s now. They’ve been good from start to finish and they’re good in every area of the ice. Honestly, Mankato is probably the most complete team in the country, but it doesn’t get an easy task with Maine. The Black Bears return to the tournament for the first time in eight years and they’re led by goalie and Mike Richter Award winner Jeremy Swayman. He and the Mavs’ Dryden McKay repeatedly rob their opponents of scoring opportunities, and the game stays 0-0 until midway through the third when All-American Marc Michaelis snaps a wrister past Swayman. The Mavericks hold on to get a 1-0 win, allowing head coach Mike Hastings to breathe a sigh of relief. 

Penn State vs. UMass-Lowell

The Nittany Lions did what they always do, score goals and hope for the best on defense. For the most part, it’s worked for them as with this year, they’ve made the NCAAs for the third time in four years. The River Hawks are one of the more consistent teams this decade. They’ve gotten back to the tournament for the first time since 2017. Not surprisingly, Penn State starts fast and they’re up 2-0 midway through the first period. However, Lowell manages to get its act together and ties it at 2-2 early in the second period. With the game tied 4-4 in the third, Lowell explodes, getting two quick goals from Andre Lee and then an empty netter from Seth Barton to eliminate the Lions 7-4.

Regional final

Mankato vs. Lowell

The Mavericks are on the cusp of making their first Frozen Four ever. First they need to stop a River Hawks team that erupted for seven goals the night before. That’s what McKay is for. The All-American netminder shuts down Lowell through most of the game and he gets good goal support, including two from Julian Napravnik. Michaelis notches a power-play tally late in the third to put the game away. The Mavericks make it to Detroit with a 3-0 shutout win. 

Frozen Four

UND vs. Bemidji

The last time the Beavers were in the Frozen Four was 2009. That appearance came after big upsets over Notre Dame and the Big Red in the regionals. However, Bemidji’s run came to an end once it got there, and it happens again in Detroit. Driscoll does his best to stop the powerful Hawks offense, but UND busts loose in the second with three goals. Brady gets one goal past Hawks goalie Adam Scheel early in the third, but UND’s Colton Poolman puts the game away on a goal with four minutes left. The Hawks move on to the championship game with a 4-1 win. 

Mankato vs. BC

The last time the Eagles were in Detroit for the Frozen Four, they blitzed Miami in the semis 7-1 on their way to their fourth national title. BC was unstoppable that year in the Frozen Four. They weren’t quite as potent this time around. They fell behind 2-0 before getting one back on a nice goal by Hutsko. The Mavs looked like they were on their way to the national championship as Michaelis put them up 3-1 with a power play tally early in the third, but then things fell apart. BC scored two quick goals to tie it up midway through and then McBain got the game-winner with three minutes remaining. With a 4-3 win, BC got a date with UND for the title. 

National championship

UND vs. BC

These two programs have had some epic battles in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks (then the Fighting Sioux) beat the Eagles for their seventh national title in 2000, then BC ended its long drought getting revenge the following year. They also tangled in the Frozen Four semis from 2006-08. They looked like they were on a collision course for another championship bout in 2014 and 2016, but it wasn’t to be. Not surprisingly, this championship bout was one to remember.

The game was tied 1-1 after the opening period and 2-2 after the third. BC took the lead with about 11 minutes left on a goal by David Cotton, then stopped back-to-back UND power plays, the last one with less than four minutes remaining. However, Hawks head coach Brad Berry gambled and pulled Scheel a few seconds after the second power play ended. The move paid off as Kawaguchi snuck a wrister in the slot past Knight with a minute left and send the game to overtime. Both teams had chances in the first overtime with Hardman ringing a shot off the post and Pinto off the crossbar, but neither squad could find the back of the net and the game went into a second extra session. With both teams clearly exhausted, somebody needed to step up and Westin Michaud was that guy. He got a pass from Jacob Bernard-Docker three minutes into the second overtime and snapped a shot through traffic that got past Knight, giving the Hawks their record-tying ninth championship. 

This was a sad year and not just for sports. Thousands have died from COVID-19 and many more have lost their jobs, either to furlough or layoffs with me being one of them. Many of us turn to sports to take our minds off these horrors, but that’s all but disappeared. We won’t see a trophy be embraced or exciting moments to remember. So we’re left wondering what might have been with the Frozen Four and hopefully, I’ve given you a good glimpse of what we would’ve seen together.

Kraft Hockeyville USA 2019: Different, more of the same

Jordan Binnington
St. Louis defenseman Colton Parayko (left) and goalie Jordan Binnington get separated from a Detroit player during the third period of the Kraft Hockeyville USA game in Calumet, Michigan. (Photo by Shannon Stieg)

Three years ago, I got to be part of a blockbuster event.

After covering and participating in Kraft Hockeyville USA when it came to Marquette, Michigan in 2016, I thought that would be the peak moment of exposure for the Upper Peninsula. An often-overlooked place in the country (especially by the NFL and Mountain Dew), Marquette and the U.P. outlasted several other cities and towns in a nationwide campaign to land $150,000 in upgrades for the aging Lakeview Arena, and an NHL preseason game between Buffalo and Carolina. The game was a dud (a 2-0 win by the Sabres), but the event as a whole was a success. It was something many of us up here will never forget.

Then, unexpectedly, Hockeyville came back.

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31 NHL Team Previews in 31 Words or Less

Sitting in last place at the beginning of the 2019 calendar year, St. Louis provided optimism for every National Hockey League (NHL) team by rebounding all the way to a magical Stanley Cup championship run in June. The Blues won’t be the favorite to repeat. The title of this year’s favorite rests squarely with a squad that tied an NHL record for most points in a season — Tampa Bay.

Both the Blues and Lighting play in loaded, top-heavy divisions, which means success will hardly be a given. How will it all shake out? We’ll all find out next June.

Here are my predictions for all 31 NHL teams this season, in just 31 words.

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2019 Stanley Cup Final Preview

2019 Stanley Cup playoffs

For two-plus rounds the San Jose Sharks were the story of the 2019 playoffs. The Sharks were certainly a serious contender despite suffering several key injuries during their quest. However, what San Jose will be remembered for most during this postseason is helping rewrite the NHL yearbook. The Sharks caught break after crazy break, including a hand-of-god play in overtime of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals that gave San Jose a 2-1 series lead against the St. Louis Blues.

Amazingly, that would be the last game San Jose would win. St. Louis added another painful chapter to the Sharks’ playoff history by winning the next three games to return the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 years. This Blues team, which sat in last place on Jan. 3, is hardly a fluke. After posting the best record in the NHL in the second half of the season, St. Louis discovered yet another level at the end of its series with San Jose.

The Blues’ finals opponent just happens to be the same team they played back in the spring of 1970—the Boston Bruins. The same Bruins that years ago swept the upstart Blues and won on arguably the most famous goal in NHL history, Bobby Orr’s flying through the air overtime winner.

Boston, six years removed from its last Final appearance, will again be a favorite against the Blues after whipping around upstart Carolina like a ragdoll in a four-game Conference finals sweep. However, the time around the margins should prove to be extremely tight, with little separating either team. I think St. Louis will match up even better with Boston than San Jose, who I picked to reach to the finals and face off against the Bruins.

Stanley Cup Final Preview

Boston Bruins (First Round: Defeated Toronto 4-3; Second Round: Defeated Columbus 4-2; Third Round: Defeated Carolina 4-0)
vs. St. Louis Blues (First Round: Defeated Winnipeg 4-2; Second Round: Defeated Dallas 4-3; Third Round: Defeated San Jose 4-2)

The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season, even better than during their 19-game unbeaten streak at the beginning of 2019. Goaltender Tuukka Rask (12-5-0, 1.84 goals against average, .942 save percentage) is extremely locked in, and the clear leader for the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. Rask, who got hot toward the end of round one against Toronto, has allowed a remarkable total of just one goal in the three clinching games for the Bruins, earning two shutouts. After a slow start against Columbus in the second round, Boston’s top line is now hitting on all cylinders. Patrice Bergeron (team-leading eight playoff goals), David Pastrnak (15 points) and Brad Marchard (team-leading 18 points) dominated Carolina. The trio provided the exclamation point on the Eastern Conference Final, scoring all four goals in Boston’s 4-0 clinching Game 4 win. The Bruins’ forward depth, including trade deadline acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, and defense led by Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, have been nearly as good as the top line.

If there is a concern for the Bruins, it would be one of two: first, captain Zdeno Chara missed Game 4 against Carolina due to injury (he is expected to be at full strength). Second, Boston had a massive layoff after knocking out Carolina on May 16—11 days before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Winning a Cup for veteran David Backes, a former captain and longtime member of the Blues, might be enough to engage the rusty Bruins right away on Monday night.

Much like Boston, St. Louis is peaking at the right time. The Blues played great hockey on a tough road to the Conference Final, but found another gear against the Sharks after Erik Karlsson’s hand-aided overtime winner in Game 3 marked the turning point. St. Louis allowed just two goals from that point forward, winning three games in dominating fashion with rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington (12-7-0, 2.36 G.A.A., .914 S.P.) leading the way. The extremely deep Blues utilized players like Tyler Bozak, Oskar Sundqvist and hometown hero Patrick Maroon in knocking off Winnipeg and Dallas in the first two rounds. Their stars started to shine against San Jose. Sniper Vladimir Tarasenko now has eight goals and 13 points in the postseason. Ryan O’Reilly has 14. The Blues’ offensive catalyst is Jaden Schwartz, a talented 26-year-old who bounced back from an 11-goal regular season to lead the Blues with 12 goals and 16 points. Even with Tarasenko, O’Reilly and Schwartz all playing well, St. Louis’ strength remains its blue line. The Blues’ top six of Alex Pietrangelo (14 points), Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo are all terrific. At times they absolutely stifled the Sharks, Stars and Jets.

This should be a terrific final round. Little separates the two teams. Boston has a slight edge as far as top-end talent up front and in goal. St. Louis has a slight edge as far as top-end talent on its blue line and in its overall size and physical play. Each team has solid depth and a fourth line playing great. Each team is battle-tested after tough roads to the finals. The only clear edge in the Stanley Cup Finals is experience: Boston’s core is making its third finals appearance in eight years, while this is St. Louis’ first trip in 49 years. That is the edge that I think will make the difference as Boston will win the Stanley Cup in seven exciting but exhausting games.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview

2019 Stanley Cup playoffs

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are setting up to have few rivals as far as unpredictability and tight match-ups.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Division Finals Preview

2019 Stanley Cup playoffs

Remember those fearless predictions about the Stanley Cup playoffs I made about the Stanley Cup playoffs, just two weeks ago? That bracket might as well get tossed through the shredder. The top seeds in both conferences, Tampa Bay and Calgary, won exactly one first-round game between them. All four division winners, including last year’s Stanley Cup champion Washington and perennial contender Nashville, are out. Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Vegas, all contenders with recent long playoff runs, are no longer alive.

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