Jeff Gorton wanted to make it clear that Kent Hughes is not his best friend.
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks capped a chaotic day with a massive comeback Tuesday, rallying to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3.
It’s a win that shows the team has character, said head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“We all talk about it and sometimes people didn’t think they had character at the beginning but you can tell, this is a team that played the last 50 minutes with five defencemen, down 3-0 and they battled back,” he said. “The goalie battled back from a rough first period, and played really solid, so it’s a team that wants to win.
“When you got something like that, it’s a really special feeling for a coach.”
The victory extends the Canucks’ win streak to five games, all under Boudreau, who took over on Dec. 5.
Bo Horvat scored twice, including a last-minute winner, with Elias Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin adding goals. Quinn Hughes registered three assists and Tyler Myers tallied a pair of helpers.
Eric Robinson had two goals for the Blue Jackets (14-12-1), who also got a goal from Max Domi and two assists from Alexandre Texier.
Jaroslav Halak made his first start since Nov. 28 and stopped 21-of-24 shots to collect his first win in a Canucks jersey. Elvis Merzlikins made 35 saves for Columbus.
Vancouver went down to five defenceman midway through the first period after Tucker Poolman was pulled from the game and placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
“I guess the test came back a little late and while he was playing and so once the test came back, he was positive, we had to pull him off the ice,” Boudreau said. “So we just followed all the NHL guidelines and the NHL protocols and that’s what happened. It would have obviously been nicer if we had got the result before the game but we didn’t.”
Poolman was the fourth Canucks player to enter protocol Tuesday, following fellow defencemen Luke Schenn and Brad Hunt, and winger Juho Lahmmikko.
Vancouver recalled Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Canucks on Tuesday to help bolster the depleted roster. To make room for the transaction, defenceman Travis Hamonic was placed on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
The Canucks came into the third period down 3-1 but outshot the Blue Jackets 13-7 in the final frame.
“I just think we believe in each other. A lot of guys are playing good hockey. Obviously there’s just a new life, a new energy in the room. And it’s showing on the ice,” Horvat said. “I just find this team right now has no quit.”
Vancouver got a prime opportunity with just 72 seconds left on the game clock when Blue Jackets defenceman Andrew Peeke was called for holding.
The Canucks called a timeout to scheme, then J.T. Miller sent Horvat a blistering pass that the captain deflected in past Merzlikins to give the home team a 4-3 lead with just 58.8 seconds to go.
Vancouver was 1 for 2 with the man advantage Tuesday and the Blue Jackets were scoreless on their lone power play.
Podkolzin buried the equalizer 9:35 into the third. The Russian rookie collected the puck from Hughes and fired a quick wrist shot in past the Columbus netminder.
Rogers Arena erupted in chants of “Bruce, there it is!” in tribute to the team’s head coach.
Pettersson narrowed the deficit to a single goal 4:07 into the third, picking up the rebound on a Garland’s shot and jamming a wrist shot in from the side of the net. It was the Swedish centre’s sixth goal of the season.
With the Canucks down 3-0 heading into the first intermission, Boudreau spoke to his group about their potential.
“Obviously (Boudreau) knows how we can play. We showed it in the first four games with him, ” Horvat said. “He just kind of reiterated a lot of the good things we do when we’re successful and we obviously didn’t do that in the first period.
“We kind of picked each other up and talked as a group and proved it in the second and third. And that’s the way we want to play all the time. And that’s how we have to play for a full 60 next time.”
Tempers flared midway through the second after Columbus defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov cross-checked Conor Garland behind the net. Garland was quick to drop his gloves as the whistle blew, but no real blows were exchanged before the pair were separated by officials.
Garland was called for roughing and Gavrikov headed to the box for cross-checking, leaving each side with four men apiece.
Vancouver took advantage of the open ice, with Horvat getting the puck at the top of the circle, quickly assessing his options, then rifling a shot over Merzlikins for his eighth goal of the year.
The Canucks struggled mightily through the first period, getting solidly outchanced and repeatedly turning over pucks.
Robinson put away his second goal of the night 16:18 into the game. He beat Horvat and Tanner Pearson in a foot race through the neutral zone, got to the puck first and blasted a shot from inside the face-off circle, beating Halak glove side to give Columbus a 3-0 lead.
Domi put the visitors up earlier in the frame. Halak stopped a long bomb by Gabriel Carlsson but couldn’t control the rebound and Domi tapped it in from the side of the net.
The Blue Jackets opened the scoring 4:20 into the first period off a two-on-one rush. Vancouver defenceman Noah Juulsen dropped to the ice in an attempt to stop a pass from Texier to Robinson, but his manoeuvre came too early. Texier dished the puck to Robinson at the top of the crease and the left-winger popped it in past Halak for his fourth goal of the season.
Columbus’ head coach Brad Larson said his team simply didn’t play for two periods.
“I’m not sure what happened, why we stopped playing,” he said. “You knew they were going to be better. It wasn’t like that was a big surprise but we just didn’t have the jam for two periods. We didn’t deserve to win. We hung on and hung on and hung on but we didn’t deserve to win. We got what we deserved.”
NOTES: The two sides split the two-game season series, with Columbus taking a 4-2 win on Nov. 26. … Canucks defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson returned to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed injury. … Juulsen played his first game for his hometown Canucks. Vancouver acquired the 24-year-old blue liner and Lahmmikko from the Florida Panthers in a trade for Olli Juolevi in October.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2021.
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.
Jeff Gorton wanted to make it clear that Kent Hughes is not his best friend.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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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