I felt a little sorry for Jesperi Kotkaniemi when he stepped on the Bell Centre ice Thursday night and was greeted with boos and an obscene chant.
I felt a little sorry for Jesperi Kotkaniemi when he stepped on the Bell Centre ice Thursday night and was greeted with boos and an obscene chant.
I felt happy for Kotkaniemi when he tipped a shot from Sebastian Aho for his first goal as a Carolina Hurricane even if it elicited the loudest boos of the evening. The goal gave Carolina a 3-1 lead and some breathing room en route to a 4-1 victory.
The booing was to be expected. When players leave a team, the fans feel betrayed and, with ticket prices reaching astronomic levels, they need a way to vent their frustration in the wake of one of the Canadiens’ worst starts to a season.
But if you look at the circumstances of Kotkaniemi’s departure, you will see the 21-year-old Finn is not the villain in this saga. It’s not a case of a greedy, ungrateful player turning his back on Montreal and following the money. The Canadiens made it easy for Kotkaniemi to switch allegiance.
Kotkaniemi’s development in Montreal didn’t go as planned. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft had highs and lows and finished his second pro season in the AHL. He didn’t live up to his high draft status and there were questions whether he could meet the demands of an NHL centre.
Head coach Dominique Ducharme set Kotkaniemi’s departure in motion when he had Kotkaniemi in the press box for the opening of the playoffs this year. He was inserted into the lineup for Game 2 vs. the Leafs and scored a crucial overtime goal to force Game 7 in that series.
Kotkaniemi had a good playoff run. He was tied for fifth in team scoring with five goals and three assists in 19 games, he was a shade under 50 per cent in the faceoff circle and he had the second-best shooting percentage among players with 10 or more shots.
But he wasn’t dressed for the final two games. His minus-5 rating played into the decision to bench him, but Cole Caufield and Corey Perry were also at minus-5, while Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki were minus-6.
We can presume that Kotkaniemi was not happy with the way the season ended. And we can also presume that he wasn’t happy with the way his contract negotiations with general manager Marc Bergevin were going. If you thought enough of a player to draft him third overall and you are planning to have him as your No. 2 centre, you’re going to lock him up before he’s available for an offer sheet.
Bergevin has made some shrewd trades and some good free-agent signings, but the only Canadiens first-round pick playing for the team is Caufield. And Kotkaniemi joins Phillip Danault, Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov on the list of valuable players whose negotiations were mishandled.
The Hurricanes overpaid for Kotkaniemi, but they seem committed to bringing him along slowly and helping him reach his potential. In the meantime, his appearance in Montreal provided them with another chance to snipe at the Canadiens on their Twitter feed.
They posted a picture of Sebastian Aho — who received an offer sheet from Montreal two years ago — with the question: Did the Canadiens lose again? YES.
Female officials on the way: It’s only a matter of time before women are officiating NHL games. The AHL, which serves as a testing ground of NHL rules and procedures, has hired 10 women referees and linespeople this season.
The inaugural group includes Elizabeth Mantha of Longueuil, who has hockey in her blood. Her grandfather, André Pronovost, was part of four Stanley Cup teams with the Canadiens and her brother, Anthony, is a forward with the Washington Capitals.
Mantha, who refereed at the women’s world championship this year in Edmonton, played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after a university career that included a national championship with the Université de Montréal Carabins.
Chip off the old block: The U.S. college season is getting underway and one player who has been making waves is Carson Brière who is the nation’s leading scorer, with seven goals and an assist in four games. The Mercyhurst College sophomore is the son of Daniel Brière, who played one season with the Canadiens late in his career.
The Montreal Canadiens headed down south for a rematch with the Nashville Predators, a team they bested at home just two weeks ago in a wild 6-3 game at the Bell Centre. Since then, the Predators had alternated wins and losses in spite of their reunited top line thriving. The Habs obviously went through a massive change as they fired most of their front office and began the steps toward a change in direction.
The Canadiens’ lineup had been wildly altered since the teams’ last meeting as well, namely with Josh Anderson and Jeff Petry out long-term. However, returning to the lineup for the Habs on Saturday was Mike Hoffman, and the team hoped he might solve their drastic power-play woes.
Hoffman’s return to the lineup started about as unfortunately as it could as he was whistled for a trip inside the opening 30 seconds. Jake Allen fought off some strong looks by the Predators’ power play and allowed Montreal to escape the penalty kill unscathed.
That still didn’t stop Nashville from finding the first goal thanks to a timely deflection by Eeli Tolvanen. Mattias Ekholm carried the puck into the Habs’ zone and pulled up to fire a shot from the blue line. As it headed toward the net, Tolvanen caught a piece of it, lifting it past Allen to open up the scoring.
In response to the Predators’ opening goal, the Canadiens took another penalty as David Savard blatantly shoved a Nashville player headfirst into the Montreal net behind Allen. The penalty-killers and their goaltender again teamed up to keep the Preds’ seventh-ranked power play off the board once again, and shortly after drew a penalty of their own.
With the units in a state of flux, the one with Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield brought some kind of life back to Montreal’s offence. Poehling teed up Caufield for a clean look from the left circle, but Juuse Saros read it the whole way, swallowing up the hard shot without allowing a follow up opportunity. There was little momentum gained from that play, as Nashville went right back to dominating the game at even strength, once again leading to the Canadiens taking a defensive-zone penalty in the final minute of the period.
The Habs did well to fight off the late power play, including Tyler Toffoli creating a short-handed breakaway, but instead of passing it to a wide open Christian Dvorak, Toffoli took the shot himself, and it was stopped by Saros as the period ended.
The Canadiens’ penalty-killers kept a perfect record intact to start the second period as they easily dispatched the remaining 42 seconds of the power play. Then the game had it’s first fight after an extremely physical first period, and it featured none other than Michael Pezzetta. The rookie forward buried Matt Benning in the Predators’ zone and for his troubles had to throw down with Mark Borowiecki in a spirited fight.
Following the fight, William Carrier was called for holding the stick, and this time the Habs power play clicked. Caufield drew the defenders to him as he dipsy-doodled with the puck before feeding Chris Wideman, who in turn slid the puck to Nick Suzuki. The young centre walked into the faceoff circle, loaded up his shot, then ripped it over the shoulder of Saros to get the Canadiens on the board.
Suzuki’s goal brought some life back into the Canadiens’ offence, and with some excellent hustle Christian Dvorak had the Canadiens back in the lead. A long lob from Savard was destined to be an icing until Dvorak hustled down the ice to negate it and create a chance of his own. The puck was fed back to Savard at the point whose shot was batted down by Saros, but Dvorak pushed off his man to swat home the rebound to give Montreal its first lead of the night.
John Hynes challenged for goaltender interference, but the official review saw no such thing and the Habs headed to another power play thanks to the failed challenge. On that power play, Mathieu Perreault took a stick to the face, making it a five-on-three advantage for Montreal. The Habs promptly squandered the key chance as their two-man advantage failed to test Juuse Saros and the play returned to five-on-five with the Canadiens nursing just a one-goal lead.
In the final minutes of the period, Nashville finally found a second goal as a point shot from Ekholm was tipped home by Tanner Jeannot. It was initially believed to be a high stick, but a quick review said otherwise and the game was tied.
Montreal wasn’t able to get to the intermission without another Hoffman penalty giving Nashville a power play to start the third. Montreal’s penalty-killers handled the power play, and the team used that momentum to take the lead back once again.
Alexander Romanov won a puck battle that allowed Caufield to start an odd-man rush up the ice. Caufield wisely held the puck before fluttering a pass int to middle of the zone to a charging Brett Kulak, who snapped it under Saros’s glove to give Montreal the lead back.
After Kulak fought Luke Kunin following the next faceoff, it became the Jake Allen show once again as the Habs failed to clear their lines. After an icing, it was Allen sprawling all over to keep the Predators from tying the game up. The Habs failed to get their legs going from there and in a scramble around the net it was Kunin who was able to chip it by Allen who was searching for the loose puck in his crease.
A too-many-men penalty put the Habs back on the penalty kill again, and once more they managed to deny Nashville as the game entered its final minutes. Artturi Lehkonen nearly found the late go-ahead goal, but his breakaway chance was denied, and after a flurry of pad saves at the other end, Allen had forced the game into overtime.
The three-on-three frame was a wild affair, and it looked like the Habs might have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a pair of set plays. Jake Evans won a draw forward right out of the zone, setting Hoffman off after the puck, creating a breakaway opportunity but Saros denied. They nearly accomplished the same thing on the next defensive-zone faceoff on the opposite side of the ice.
The Preds eventually caught the Habs napping just long enough to score the winner. Filip Forsberg lost his stick in the corner as the puck transitioned to the other side of the zone. As his teammate held it, Forsberg retrieved his stick and slid in behind the defence and easily converted the pass to secure a second point for Nashville.
When Greg Marshall became head coach of the Western Mustangs football team in 2007, he set at standard that remains unyieldingly high.
In his tenure, Western has contended for major championships nearly every year, playing in the Yates Cup OUA title game 11 times and winning six.
They’ve also played in two Vanier Cup national championships, winning once in 2017 and adding to the two national titles Marshall won as an assistant under Larry Haylor.
At this point, winning is not merely expected, it’s required.
But when the Mustangs face the Saskatchewan Huskies Saturday in the 56th Vanier Cup in Quebec City, they’ll battle a program with similar aspirations. The game can be seen live on CBC Television, CBC Gem and CBCSports.ca starting at 1 p.m. ET.
WATCH | CBC’s Signa Butler, Justin Dunk discuss what to know ahead of the Vanier Cup:
In the four seasons since Scott Flory took over as head coach, the Huskies have won two Hardy Cup championships as the top team in the Canada West Conference.
His club has the No. 3-rated offence in the country this season, just behind Western’s No. 2, and Flory is inching toward the same level of success he had as a player.
As a CFL Hall of Famer who won three Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes and two Vanier Cups as a standout on the Huskies offensive line, his standards are exceedingly high.
Here’s what to watch for as these two powerhouses prepare battle for a national title.
The Mustangs have the best rushing game in the country this season, led by three stellar backs who all have the ability to chew up more than 100 yards in a game.
Keon Edwards, a second-year running back from Toronto, was the No. 1 rusher in all of U Sports this season with 1,217 yards, 16 touchdowns and an average of 6.9 yards per carry.
Fourth-year back Trey Humes, from Ajax, Ont., was Robin to his Batman for much of the season, finishing as the nation’s No. 4-rated rusher.
WATCH | Looking back at the Vanier Cup:
But Saint-Jerome, Que. rookie Edouard Wanadi had a breakout game in the Mitchell Bowl against St. Francis Xavier, with 238 yards and three touchdowns.
Look for Western to run early and often, especially if December winds disrupt the Mustangs passing attack.
Huskies quarterback Mason Nyhus, from Regina, Sask., has had an MVP-calibre season, averaging 265 passing yards per game and 21 total touchdowns. He’s a major reason Saskatchewan finished second in scoring average this season with 35 points per game (including playoffs).
But Nyhus and the Huskies offensive line will be under pressure from the remarkably stingy Western defence, led by second-year lineman Deonte White, from Ajax, Ont., who led the nation in sacks during the regular season with 7.5.
Western’s defence allowed just 10.9 points per game this season, including the playoffs. Their average margin of victory is 36.7 points.
Huskies running back Adam Machart, from Saskatoon, will go down as one of the top rushers in school history.
He also scored one of the most important touchdowns in recent memory, dashing into the end zone with five seconds left in the Uteck Bowl to lift Saskatchewan over Montreal and into the Vanier Cup.
Machart is a small, shifty runner — listed at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds — with a knack for dancing around defenders and the ability to make big plays. If the Huskies offensive line can clear space for him in key moments, he could be an X-factor.
If not, it will be a long day for Nyhus and the rest of the Huskies offence.
If you want insight into Marshall’s tenacious perfectionism, have a look at the benching of Jackson White, who began this season as Western’s starting QB.
White, a former understudy to Hec Crighton Award winner Chris Merchant, lost the starting job to Evan Hillock three games into the 2021 campaign.
A shaky performance in Week 2 gave Western its only loss of the year, 23-21 to the Guelph Gryphons. The following week against Laurier, Marshall pulled White after a scoreless first half that found Western trailing 7-0 at the break.
First-year pivot Evan Hillock, from Hamilton, took over in the second half, leading the team to a 36-16 victory. He’s had the starting job ever since, and White appeared to accept his role as a high-quality backup.
If Hillock falters or goes down, White may be able to step in and help.
He said all the right things after being demoted, publicly placing the team’s fortunes above his own. This is what’s expected at Western, and other powerhouse programs that aim to contend every year: Win at all costs, and no matter what — stay ready.
It certainly could’ve been worse. After falling behind 0-3 i the first half of the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs mounted a second period comeback against the Minnesota Wild only to lose in a shootout. Jason Spezza scored twice and added an assist for a three-point night. Morgan Rielly finished with a Mitch Marner hat trick (three assists), and Auston Matthews scored as well in the loss. Jack Campbell stopped 37 of 40 in the loss, very similar to his counterpart Cam Talbot, who gave up three on 42 shots.
Usually the Leafs have fallen apart when falling behind early, for example the Penguins game from earlier in the season, but credit to them they fought back and tied the game all before the third period. Spezza was obviously huge in that, but all of Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, and Rielly brought their A-game. They showed fight, which is promising.
The fact that the win-o-meter swung the Leafs way at all after the 0-3 goal, that’s impressive to say the Leafs. You win some and you lose some, at the very least the Leafs got a point, didn’t lose the game in real hockey, and continue their strong form.
With Marner out of the lineup, Simmonds jumped up to the top line with Matthews and Bunting. That line had a lot of fun below the goal line and in the corners, but it was pretty clear Matthews wasn’t going to play as much as the other two. True to that form, after the Leafs got an offensive zone faceoff, Matthews jumped out on the left wing with Tavares and Nylander. After seeing the third line the shift before, that trio was, uh, notably better.
Rielly got high-sticked midway through the period, sending the Leafs to the power play. The opening faceoff was scuffled a bit, but the puck somehow got to Matthews in the slot. His clapper got parried away by Talbot’s blocker. The power play had some trouble making passes as Rielly left the puck behind him once, and then Tavares sent it to the wrong spot when going back to the point.
Holl bobbles a puck at the defensive blue line and the Wild take advantage with the first goal of the game scored by Jordan Greenway.
Not a markedly bad period for the Leafs, but Jack Campbell had to make three or four really big saves off the rush and in front. He looked sharp in the first period, very positionally sound and dialed in. Shot attempts were 14-16, but the Leafs only had 33% of the expected goals.
After Rielly went to the box for cross checking, the Leafs got a power play. Matthews had another chance on his own rebound but couldn’t get all of it on the second shot against Talbot’s left pad.
Another goal for the Wild against Muzzin-Holl, this one was on the penalty kill with Kaše in the box. Zuccarello sent a pass to the slot and the puck ricocheted off Holl skate and in.
Now a penalty to Dermott after Sandin stepped up at the line and the Wild got through on transition.
Another one, this one from Marcus Foligno off a faceoff. Two bad bounces, first off a clear from Brodie, then off a shot block from Matthews.
The Leafiest goal against I’ve ever seen
Brodie’s clear attempt is deflected and goes right to a Wild player. A shot is taken and the rebound hits the ref pic.twitter.com/pLU7tYpKHM
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2021
The Leafs were now chasing the puck and feeling outnumbered at all points on the ice. At this point, Keefe finally put Nylander with Matthews.
Nylander, who had been the best player on the Leafs to this point, had a brilliant drive past Goligoski. He went around the outside, but Talbot stretched the pad and made an incredible save.
Spezza! Another weird bounce as Spezza scores from an impossible angle (beyond what he tries in practice) as the puck bounces off the back of Talbot’s head an in to put the Leafs on the board.
That goal seemed to give the Leafs some more life. Well, either that or the Leafs were looking a lot more dangerous anytime Nylander was on the ice.
Tavares, Nylander, and Matthews had yet another big chance in front of the net. Matthews deftly tipped a point shot from Rielly for Tavares to jam away at the puck in front of the net. Nylander dove into the pile to get the rebound with Matthews following up for the third time, but Talbot collapsed and didn’t open a hole for the puck to slip through. Jordie Benn took a penalty on the play, leading to…
Spezza with his second on the power play from the bumper position! Assists to Matthews and Rielly, with Nylander creating a great screen in front.
A new-look third line nearly scored again as Simmonds was hooked by Goligoski otherwise he would’ve tied it. Good pass from Ritchie at the side of the net to get the puck to the Scarborough legend.
And in the final minute of the period, Matthews ties the game on the power play! A third point for Spezza as he gets the primary assist. Also getting his third point: Morgan Rielly!
These screenshots are courtesy of Katya. Here is the Leafs shot map after the 0-3 goal and then the shot map after the 3-3 game. Safe to say the blob got better. In terms of who was getting those chance, it was Nylander, Tavares, a big gap, and then Kerfoot and the rest. Safe to say that second line is pretty dominant at the moment. In all situations, Matthews was the top Leaf in chances, so he’s at least getting it done when it matters most.
Rielly and Eriksson-Ek both held each other’s sticks, but only Rielly got the penalty. Then on the penalty kill faceoff, Kämpf gets called for a high-sticking penalty. Muzzin, Holl, and Kerfoot were out to kill the penalty in front of Campbell, who made one very good save on Zuccarello. In the dying seconds of the 5-on-3, Campbell lost his stick while trying to spin around and stop a shot on the far side. He didn’t have to formally make a save but it was very stressful as Rielly eventually got out of the box, got to the puck first, and cleared it away. Credit to the trio for killing the whole 1:48 of the 5-on-3 on the road.
The Leafs ran lots of lines in the second two periods, but one that I especially liked was Spezza with Matthews and Bunting. Even if they can’t run it for the whole game, it created some good chances when together.
I’d like to disagree with Omar, Dermott went full Dermott there.
In the final 30 seconds of regulation, Foligno drove the net and ran all the way through Campbell. The Leafs cleared the puck despite there being no call for goalie interference at all. Keefe was yelling at the refs afterwards and rightfully so as Campbell was both in his crease and hit in the head. What more do you need to make that call? For it to have happened 40 minutes sooner?
Matthews, Nylander, and Rielly to start. Kaprizov had the first chance, but shot the puck very high and wide. Brodin caught the Leafs on a line change, but he kicked the puck forward and Campbell cleared the puck into the bench.
Tavares had a chance a minute and a half in. Bunting nearly got a rebound on a second shot from Muzzin. Campbell made a good poke check going the other way on Fiala just before that play.
Kaprizov had another chance, but Nylander tied him up and stopped the shot. Going the other way, Nylander made a nice pass to Matthews behind him, Rielly followed up and nearly beat Talbot under the blocker.
With Engvall, Tavares, and Sandin on the ice Dumba had a point shot, but Campbell came across and made the save.
Spezza nearly got his hat trick, but he got slashed hard on the hands and had to go to the room to check on his right arm/left hand. Brodin got called for slashing and the Leafs went to the power play for less than a minute. Wild fans didn’t like it, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have liked that goalie interference call either.
Nylander nearly scored twice on the power play, but nothing doing as a shootout was needed. The Leafs big four was clearly exhausted as they didn’t move much on the power play.
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