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Game Day Notebook: Two more Canadiens added to NHL COVID protocol list – Montreal Gazette

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Louie Belpedio and Gianni Fairbrother, who were both on taxi squad, bring number of Habs on protocol list to 13 ahead of game in Carolina.

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Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme announced Thursday morning that two more of his players would be placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

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Ducharme wouldn’t name who the two players were after the team’s optional morning skate in Carolina, adding the names would be released later in the day as per NHL protocols.

“I think there’s a procedure with the league there, so I’ll wait for everything to be confirmed and sent to the league and everything,” Ducharme said about the names of the two players being released.

Later in the day it was announced that the players added to the list are defencemen Louie Belpedio and Gianni Fairbrother, who had both been called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket this week to join the Canadiens’ taxi squad.

The two new players bring the total number of Canadiens on the protocol list up to 13 ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Hurricanes (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) at PNC Arena.

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While the decision on whether to play the game or not isn’t in his control, Ducharme was asked if he thinks from a personal standpoint it’s right for his team to be asked by the NHL to play under the current circumstances.

“I’m not sure I’m here to say if it’s right or not,” the coach said. “They have people at the league that are looking around and making sure that everything is done for the league to be going and for every team looking at every situation. So it is what it is. Like I said before, we’re going to be having 20 guys wearing the jersey tonight, like we did in Tampa, and we’re facing a really good team. It’s a good challenge for us and we’re going to be ready to go.”

The Canadiens rank 31st in the overall NHL standings with a 7-21-4 record and are three points ahead of the last-place Arizona Coyotes (6-21-3), who hold two games in hand. The Hurricanes are third in the overall standings with a 21-7-1 record.

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The Canadiens are coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning Tuesday night in Tampa, while the Hurricanes haven’t played since beating the Los Angeles Kings 5-1 on Dec. 18. The Hurricanes are 6-1-0 in their last seven games.

Less than a week ago, the Hurricanes had 12 players on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, but they were down to three on Wednesday, including goalie Frederik Andersen. As a result, Antti Raanta will be in goal against the Canadiens.

Sam Montembeault will make his second straight start in goal for the Canadiens.

The 11 Canadiens players who were already on the protocol list are: goalies Jake Allen and Cayden Primeau, defencemen Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson and Chris Wideman, along with forwards Laurent Dauphin, Mike Hoffman, Artturi Lehkonen, Tyler Toffoli and Paul Byron.

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The search for a new GM

Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reported Wednesday night that eight people will be interviewed for the vacant Canadiens GM job next week:  Patrick Roy, Daniel Brière, Mathieu Darche, Marc Denis, Kent Hughes, Stéphane Quintal, Danièle Sauvageau and Émilie Castonguay. One or two other names could be added to the list by the end of next week.

Owner/president Geoff Molson, executive vice-president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton, minority owner Michael Andlauer and former captain and GM Bob Gainey will be on the selection committee.

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Waiting for test results

The Canadiens’ Jake Evans was asked Thursday morning what the anxiety level is on the team as the players await the results of their COVID-19 tests each day.

“I feel like even when I went home (at Christmas) the way that this variant’s been spreading I feel like everyone here knows a few people (who have COVID) that they were somewhat close with, all this contact tracing stuff,” he said. “So even here you might have had lunch with the guy beside you who tested positive the day before. I think we’re at a point where you’re not really thinking about it. You’re hoping nothing happens, but there’s been a lot of cases so it’s hard to get too anxious about it because it’s not going to be any good.”

When asked if the league should postpone Thursday night’s game with so many Canadiens players on the protocol list, Evans said: “That’s a tough question. What we’re going to do is just play with what we have and keep working hard and let the league and the team decide what’s best for us. Whoever’s in the lineup’s going to play hard and try and win.

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“I think with all these quarantine rules and with COVID you don’t want to get it and you know we’re in, I guess you could say, kind of a hot spot with how many guys on the team are getting it,” Evans said. “You don’t want to be stuck in a city you’re not familiar with, too (while in quarantine after testing positive). But you trust the league and you trust the team and what we’ve been doing to keep safe. Testing every day and rapid testing and all that stuff. So I feel pretty confident in how our team and how the league’s been handling it and hopefully we can just move on soon from it.”

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Hurricanes a well-balanced team

The Hurricanes are a very well-balanced team, ranking first in the NHL in defence (allowing an average of 2.14 goals per game) and eighth in offence (scoring an average of 3.28 goals per game).

The Hurricanes also rank second in penalty-killing (88.7 per cent), 10th on the power play (22.5 per cent) and third in faceoffs (54.4 per cent).

The Canadiens rank 31st in offence (2.19 goals per game), 30th in defence (3.56 goals against per game), 32nd on the power play (12.0 per cent), 29th in penalty-killing (72.7 per cent) and 25th in faceoffs (48.0 per cent).

“They do have a really good team over there and they’re a fast and skilled team,” Evans said about the Hurricanes. “So just playing smart and hard and hopefully we can pull out a win.

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“They’re a balanced and well-rounded team,” Evans added. “They’ve got great goaltending, great defencemen and a lot of offensive skill up front, too. Last game I thought we played a pretty solid game (against the Lightning) limiting their chances and just playing hard. We got to continue that tonight and just limit those mistakes because with their skill up front they can capitalize on as few chances as possible.”

Ducharme noted that the Hurricanes like to play a fast game.

“They’re a fast team, they play with pace and they’re pretty consistent up and down their lineup,” the coach said. “You can clearly see their team identity and they play within that identity and they’re pretty consistent doing it.”

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The Kotkaniemi watch

This will be the Canadiens’ second game this season against the Hurricanes, who won 4-1 at the Bell Centre on Oct. 21.

Former Canadien Jesperi Kotkaniemi, playing his first game against his old teammates, scored a goal in that game while being booed by Montreal fans every time he touched the puck.

In 29 games this season, Kotkaniemi has 7-6-13 totals and is plus-1 while averaging 12:13 of ice time and winning 50.8 per cent of his faceoffs. He is on a three-game point streak with 1-4-5 totals during that span and has four goals in his last 11 games. No player on the Canadiens has scored more goals than Kotkaniemi’s seven.

“We were good friends last year and he’s a great guy and a great player,” Evans said about Kotkaniemi, adding that he still keeps in touch with him. “So it will be fun to play against him and hopefully shut him down this time and get a big win against him so we can rub it in.”

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Romanov a hit machine

The Canadiens’ Alexander Romanov ranks second among NHL defencemen in hits with 101, trailing only the Florida Panthers’ Radko Gudas, who has 121.

Romanov ranks seventh overall in the league in hits with former Canadien Nicolas Deslauriers of the Anaheim Ducks leading the way with 137.

When asked if he checks his number of hits after games, Romanov said: “No, I never check it. It’s just my style of play.”

Romanov logged a season-high 26:53 of ice time in Thursday’s game against the Lightning, along with three hits.

The 21-year-old Russian said his biggest improvement since joining the Canadiens has been in the defensive zone while learning to play with a close gap.

“I think you don’t need to waste energy and work with your brain,” he added. “You have to think more on the ice. No rush. Just wait.”

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Curfew back in Quebec

After reporting more than 14,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the Quebec government announced new pandemic restrictions, including a curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. starting Friday.

The Canadiens have already postponed their next four scheduled home games at the Bell Centre because of attendance restrictions put in place by the government because of COVID-19. A fifth game in January that was scheduled against the Bruins at the Bell Centre has been moved to Boston.

“Honestly, for us it doesn’t change that much since for a while we’re not allowed to go anywhere, basically,” Ducharme said a curfew. “We’re one the road, we’re staying at the hotel, we cannot go outside or eat out or anything else. They asked us to do the same in Montreal now. So curfew or not, beside taking a walk at night, for us it doesn’t change much.

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“I think it’s hard on everyone, not only us,” Ducharme added. “I think it’s hard on everyone mentally at one point to be stuck like that. But we’ve been through it last year. It’s a challenge, but we got to do what we need to do and we have nothing to say on that part. It’s a government decision and we’ll see what happens and what they ask. But as a team and as a league we’re being careful everywhere we go and we need to be avoiding any kind of activities like this. So for us it doesn’t change much.”

The lines

Here’s how the Canadiens’ forward lines and defence pairings looked at Wednesday’s full practice in Carolina:

Drouin – Suzuki – Gallagher
Harvey-Pinard – Poehling – Caufield
Belzile – Evans – Ylönen
Pezzetta – Paquette – Vejdemo

Romanov – Savard
Kulak – Clague
Niku – Schueneman

What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly to Florida after Thursday night’s game and play the Panthers on New Year’s Day Saturday (1 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

After that, the Canadiens are not scheduled to play again until Jan. 12 when they will face the Bruins in Boston.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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NHL announces massive update to 2021-22 season schedule with games moved due to COVID-19 – CBS Sports

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IMAGN

The NHL has announced an update to the 2021-22 regular season schedule, which will allow all 32 teams to finish their 82-game seasons by the original closing date of April 29.

As a part of the update, there are new dates for all 98 games that had been previously postponed from Nov. 18, 2021 to Jan. 18, 2022 due to COVID-19. In addition, there are date changes regarding 23 other games in an effort to accommodate the new dates for games that were postponed.

The league will use the 16-day period from Feb. 7-22 that was previously slated for the NHL‘s participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics. There will be games scheduled on all 16 of those days.

“We are profoundly grateful to our fans for their support and understanding during a challenging time and to our Clubs, the NHL Players’ Association and the Players for their cooperation in a rescheduling of unprecedented logistical complexity,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a press release.

In addition to these changes, the NHL also revealed that there will be start time changes for the following games:

The NHL had a short pause over the holiday break due to several teams dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. The league returned to the ice on Dec. 28.

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Stu Cowan: New Canadiens GM Kent Hughes a breath of fresh air – Montreal Gazette

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Montreal native and former player agent calls new job job “the chance of a lifetime” on an emotional day filled with pride and excitement.

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Jeff Gorton wanted to make it clear that Kent Hughes is not his best friend.

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“Nobody would want any of my best friends to be running the Montreal Canadiens, so I would never do that to you,” Gorton, the Canadiens’ executive vice-president of hockey operations, said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Bell Centre to introduce Hughes as the team’s new general manager.

“No offence, but Kent is not my best friend.”

Gorton explained that his relationship with Hughes dates back to when he was an assistant GM with Boston and was negotiating an NHL entry-level deal for Patrice Bergeron after the Bruins selected their future captain in the second round of the 2003 draft. Hughes was Bergeron’s agent and he impressed Gorton.

Over the years, Gorton and Hughes — both living in the Boston area — kept in regular contact, talking on the phone a couple of times a week because Gorton trusted the agent’s opinion on hockey matters and respected him as a person. Gorton called it a professional relationship and added they never socialized together, although Gorton did meet Hughes’s wife, Deena, a couple of times.

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As GM of the New York Rangers, Gorton also selected Hughes’s son Riley in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

While they might not be best friends, there’s no doubt Gorton wanted Hughes to join the Canadiens. During Wednesday’s press conference, we learned why.

For someone not used to being in the public spotlight, Hughes shone on the stage set up on the ice at the Bell Centre for him, Gorton and team owner/president Geoff Molson. Hughes answered a variety of hockey-related questions thoughtfully and intelligently for 50 minutes and looked like the GM of a billion-dollar NHL franchise in a sharp blue business suit with a red tie. The 51-year-old was also very, very comfortable speaking French.

Hughes’s life changed dramatically when he walked onto the stage just after 4 p.m. in front of the TV cameras, photographers and journalists. He will never walk the streets of Montreal unrecognized again.

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Hughes said it was an emotional day for him, one filled with pride and excitement, adding he grew up dreaming of playing for the Canadiens but that this was the second-best option. He called this the “chance of a lifetime.”

“Certainly, from an agent perspective I was more of a behind-the-scenes type of agent,” Hughes said. “Having said that, I’m more excited about not who I am publicly, rather the challenges that lie ahead.

“I would describe myself as a hockey junkie,” he added. “I always have been. I’ve worked in the sport, I’ve coached in the sport. I’ve coached without my own children as part of it and my wife will tell you that if I’m not coaching or working in hockey I’m talking about hockey. So for me the public part of it is what it is. The excitement is the hockey piece.”

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Eleven candidates were interviewed for the job, but Gorton was hoping Hughes would be willing to leave his lucrative player-agent business to become GM of the team he grew up cheering for. Gorton approached Hughes at the beginning of the search process and he needed time to think about it. Near the end of the process Gorton went back to Hughes and then it was a matter of “leaving him alone and letting him come back to me.”

As GM of the Rangers, Gorton had tried to get Hughes to join him in New York, but the timing wasn’t right for him from a business or a family standpoint. While pondering whether to take the Canadiens job, Hughes got a call from his friend Bill Guerin, who is GM of the Minnesota Wild.

“Kent, it’s the New York Yankees, it’s the Dallas Cowboys, it’s the Montreal Canadiens,” Hughes said Guerin told him. “Come on! You don’t have a decision.”

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Now Gorton and Hughes can start the very difficult job together of rebuilding a franchise with a record 24 Stanley Cups that sits in last place in the overall NHL standings. Hughes is going to take some time getting to know the players both on and off the ice ahead of the March 21 trade deadline.

Hughes said the choice of words — rebuild, retool, reset — isn’t important. He noted the team that wins the Stanley Cup every year isn’t necessarily the one with the most talented players. He wants to create an environment people want to be a part of and build a team culture where everyone is pulling in the same direction. He’s not looking to win for just one or two years, but to create an environment where the team can compete for many years to come.

“I think when we set out, ultimately I wanted somebody … our committee wanted somebody that was a really good hockey person that would complement my skills or my skill set as well as we could and I think that’s what we’ve done,” Gorton said. “I’m really confident in that.”

I can see why — even if Hughes isn’t his best friend.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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Soccer-USMNT embrace the cold as World Cup qualifying heats up

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Bone chilling conditions are forecast for the next three U.S. men’s national team World Cup qualifying matches and the players on Wednesday said they were excited to battle the elements and their opponents.

Snow, frigid wind and sub-zero temperatures will likely greet the USMNT when they host El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio on Jan. 27, take on Canada in Ontario three days later, and close out the window against Honduras in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Feb. 2.

Defender Walker Zimmerman said the prospect of cold weather brought back memories of the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica in March 2013’s Snow Clasico in Colorado.

“I’m really excited,” Zimmerman told reporters on a call.

“I was talking to my wife over the break and I was saying, I want it to be freezing, I want it to be cold, I want it to snow. I want to be part of something so iconic, something like that game that I really remember seeing when I was growing up.

“And I think the guys are ready to embrace it.”

Forward Paul Arriola said he and his team mates have played in cold weather before and trust in their support staff to help them get ready.

“The staff on the national team do a tremendous job, and we have full confidence in them to prepare us,” he said.

“And we have our own duties as professional players and players on the national team to be ready for every possible condition.

“We’ll embrace the cold, and it will be a really good environment for the fans as well.”

The U.S. are second in the standings for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers with 15 points, a point behind Canada and one ahead of rivals Mexico.

The top three in the eight-team group qualify automatically for Qatar 2022 with the fourth-placed finisher going into an intercontinental playoff for another spot.

The team are eager to put behind them the humiliating loss they suffered at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago in 2017, which prevented them reaching the World Cup in Russia and led to a complete rebuild.

 

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis)

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