Joel Ward: The locker room is a lonely place for a black hockey player
August 28 2020
Thursday’s decision by NHL players to put games on hold was undoubtedly a significant moment for the sport.
“It was a big moment for hockey, a big moment for society,” retired NHLer Joel Ward told Hockey Central on Friday when asked about his peers’ announcement on Thursday to press pause on the playoffs and stand with the rest of the sporting world in solidarity against racial injustice.
As a founding member of the recently formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, Ward played a crucial role in the player-led postponement of Thursday’s and Friday’s games. Members of the HDA posted public calls to action directed at the NHL to join their pro sports peers across the NBA, WNBA, MLS, MLB, NFL and professional tennis to halt operations in a widespread demand for change.
“For us, obviously hockey’s a different demographic from other sports and we thought it was a good opportunity for hockey to really step up,” Ward said. “We wanted to show solidarity. This is an important issue going on in society. People are dying — Black and people of colour are dying on the regular. Everybody sees it, and nobody’s doing anything about it. Everybody’s just turning a blind eye on it.”
Joel Ward: The locker room is a lonely place for a black hockey player
August 28 2020
The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks initiated this historic wave of action from around the sports world on Wednesday when they announced they would be sitting out their game against the Orlando Magic in a call for justice after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Ward said he and other members of the HDA, including Evander Kane, Akim Aliu, Mathew Dumba, Chris Stewart, and Wayne Simmonds had “good discussions” with players in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles as well as within the HDA about the key issues at hand leading up to the league’s announcement.
Ward said he’s proud of what the HDA has accomplished and of his NHL peers for “really understanding and just taking that moment to reflect.”
“I think as guys started chatting more and more and realized the importance of what is going on in today’s world, it just kind of unfolded, and sure enough, guys agreed to boycott the games and put it on pause for a minute, and you’ve seen what happened last night,” he said.
Of course, what happened on Thursday (and continues Friday) will be a mere moment, not a movement, if the conversations halt when the games pick up again on Saturday.
“This is just a small little moment here,” said Ward. “Obviously, you’re not going to make drastic changes in the 24 to 48 hours, but I think just having conversations with guys, just educating guys to let them know that this is very serious.”
The HDA, though not currently officially affiliated with the NHL, will continue to work with players to help educate them and move forward in their goal to eradicate racism in the game of hockey.
“We need allyship in the hockey community — our former players, current players, everybody in the hockey world to step up and say that, ‘Hey, NHL, this is a big issue,’” said Ward.
“Hopefully we can kind of solidify a solid partnership,” Ward said of working with the NHL. “We’re just trying to help our game grow, and that’s what we’re all about … We’re just here to make hockey a safe place for all of our kids growing up.”
Marcus Smart reportedly yelled at his teammates in the locker room following the Boston Celtics’ 106-101 loss to the Miami Heat in game 2, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.
The Celtics, who blew their second straight lead in the second half, are now down 2-0 in the series.
“Y’all on some bulls—,” Smart yelled while leaving the locker room. Several other teammates were also reportedly heard yelling following the game.
Smart did not talk to reporters after the game.
Brad Stevens, Kemba Walker, and Jayson Tatum all downplayed the situation, chalking it up to the emotion of the loss.
“It really just, a lot of emotions just flying around. Obviously we feel like we could have won, we should have won, but we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it,” said Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics were outscored 37-17 in the third quarter.
Walker added that the Celtics were simply outplayed during the third.
“Man, they outplayed us. They outplayed us. It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. It was just a really bad quarter for us. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us up and get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys, they took great advantage of it. They played hard. They played really hard. They played a lot harder than us. They wanted it.”
EDMONTON — What I’ll remember most was the pure guttural scream.
It echoed up through Rogers Place when the Tampa Bay Lightning gathered 48 of the 52 members of their travelling party on the ice with the Prince of Wales Trophy to take a photo here Thursday night.
You’d never know that a celebration could be so emotional in an empty building because, until three days ago with the Dallas Stars, this was completely unprecedented.
The Lightning left their hearts out there. This was a moment six years in the making, or more, for so many members of this organization. And it was clear that booking a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was no less rewarding under these circumstances than it would have been before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.
“It is so hard to explain, because regardless if there’s fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief, it’s unparalleled how you feel inside,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When you look back at this — and it’s not over — but we’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days. And when people said this might be one of the hardest Cups to win, it might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. There’s two of us left standing, they’re going through the exact same thing we are.
“You want your fans there, but it’s not about the fans, it’s about the players and the effort and dedication and perseverance they’ve put into this. And they’re the ones that deserve this, because they’ve done all the work.”
For the Lightning, it was also about Steven Stamkos, even though the captain hasn’t played a game since late February. He’s been rehabbing an undisclosed injury inside the NHL bubble without playing a game and was called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn for the trophy presentation with deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
The pride on Stamkos’s face was unmistakable. He let Hedman and the others who played in the six-game series victory over the New York Islanders touch the trophy — at least until Hedman skated it over to him with instructions to carry it into the team’s dressing room.
“It was obviously a great feeling,” said Hedman. “Even though Stammer’s not playing, he’s still the leader of this team and he’s such a good influence on the room. During practices and morning skates. He’s still a big reason that he’s here where we are.
“I’m just so happy for the whole group obviously to once again — you know, a few of us went there in 2015. To go back in the Final with the Lightning again is an unreal experience.”
They had good reason to believe this would have happened sooner. It was a young team that lost the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.
Tampa has been the NHL’s top team in basically every measurable category since that happened but they’ve experienced nothing but heartbreak. A Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018, and then a record-breaking 62-win season last year followed by a sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Losing this would have been the ultimate gut punch.
The Lightning were the better team against New York, but there’s a price to be paid against the Islanders. Brayden Point was in and out of the series, Ondrej Palat took a shot off the foot during Thursday’s series-clinching 2-1 victory and Anthony Cirelli left for a time after an accidental knee-on-knee collision with Anders Lee.
It was Cirelli who finally froze the clock in overtime with his first goal and first point of the season.
The celebration was incredible. These guys understood on a fundamental level what this meant.
“You have to cherish these moments and try your best to take advantage of them,” said Cooper. “We’ve been knocking at the door and it can get frustrating. It can make the summers, time-wise they’re so short, but mentality-wise they’re long. You just have to believe in your process and you have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to have players that jump on board.
“In the end, it’s a player’s game.”
The players celebrated this one together. The Lightning brought every extra skater they have here on the ice for this Eastern Conference Championships photo. There was Mathieu Joseph and his wonderful hair, Braydon Coburn and his thick playoff beard, Stamkos and his ever-present smile.
“Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved,” said veteran defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “Great moment.”
Hedman is always the last player on the ice after a Tampa victory and had to wait out a four-question Killorn interview with NBC after they eliminated the Islanders. You could hear him banging his stick while Killorn spoke with Pierre McGuire inside this empty building.
He knew his teammates were celebrating without them but still wouldn’t skate off.
What a cool scene, all of it.
The Lightning will be back out here against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night and they didn’t shy away from the fact they may have emptied a couple veins just to get the opportunity.
“As for gas in the tank, I guess we’ll see,” said Cooper. “This is unlike any other Stanley Cup Final where we’d get days rest. If you don’t go seven, you usually get days rest. We’re not here, but if you were going to tell me, ‘Hey Coop, you get to play in the Stanley Cup Final.
“You’re only going to get 45 hours to rest before the game but you’re going to get to play in it,’ I’m taking that all day.”
It’s been a whirlwind few days for Manny Malhotra, who on Thursday officially left the Vancouver Canucks organization to become the Maple Leafs’ newest assistant coach.
“I had a lot of conversations with [Canucks’ head coach Travis Green] here and then after talking with [Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe], I was left with about two days to make the decision,” Malhotra told TSN on Thursday.
“For me, it came down to [the fact] this is an opportunity to advance my coaching career and be a part of a really good organization with a lot of good talent to work with. So I’m very happy at the conclusion of this whole process, but it was a very hectic four or five days.”
Malhotra comes to the Leafs after a three-year stint as an assistant coach in Vancouver, joining Dave Hakstol in rounding out Keefe’s staff. A native of Mississauga, Ont., Malhotra’s French-Canadian and South Asian background make him one of the few visible minority coaches in the NHL.
He replaces the recently departed Paul McFarland, who became general manager and head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs in August.
TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the Leafs also spoke with Rocky Thompson and Bruce Boudreau about the job before landing on Malhotra. Thompson had been the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves and is now joining the San Jose Sharks’ staff for next season, while Boudreau has been a free agent since the Minnesota Wild relieved him of head coaching duties in February.
Malhotra, 40, will bring plenty of experience with him to the Leafs’ post, having segued into roles behind the bench after his 16-year playing career ended in 2016.
Originally selected seventh overall by the New York Rangers in the 1998 draft, Malhotra developed into a strong two-way centre over his 991-game tenure with seven different teams. He retired with 295 points (116 goals, 179 assists) and an impressive winning percentage in the faceoff circle (56.4), making a quick transition from there to a one-season development coach role with the Canucks. Malhotra became a full-fledged assistant in 2017.
“The work ethic, character, intelligence and attention to detail that made Manny the ultimate teammate when he played are all assets that have translated to his coaching. That, combined with his charisma and communication skills, make us really excited to have him join the organization,” said Keefe in a press release.
Malhotra hopes to help Toronto’s top offensive players, like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, become stronger two-way players.
“First and foremost I’m really looking to just get to know those guys and try to understand their make-up and what makes them tick, what motivates them,” Malhotra said. “I think it’s most important to find out who they are as a player, and then find out their mindset and where they are in their career, and then just try to relay some of those messages on the details of your game and sharpening up the small, finer points that everybody always harps on from a young age. It’s a matter of putting those into play on a regular basis that separates guys and allows guys to grow in your career.”
Malhotra learned the benefits of focusing on those little things from Green – not just with individual players, but in coaching as a whole.
“He really likes to analyze things, overanalyze, overcook,” Malhotra said. “And initially you think it’s probably a little bit of overkill, but you realize when you put that type of thought into decisions, into systems, into lineups, that it shows you care. It shows that you’re putting the proper time in to make those key decisions.”
Malhotra can apply all that while taking over the duties vacated by McFarland, who spent one season in Toronto primarily running the Leafs’ power play.
McFarland and Hakstol were hired under former head coach Mike Babcock in May 2019, but remained on with Keefe after Babcock’s firing in mid-November and Keefe’s subsequent promotion into the role.
Malhotra is now the second coaching appointment Toronto has made under Keefe’s direction. The club had parted ways with another of Babcock’s hires – video coach Andrew Brewer – in August, and brought in Samuel Kim as his replacement on Sept. 1.
Malhotra said the opportunity to work with Keefe was a driving force behind his choice to change coasts.
“His credentials and his accomplishments as a coach speak for themselves,” he said of Keefe. “There’s nothing but complimentary things said about him and his character and his personality and his knowledge of the game, so I’m excited to work with [Keefe and Hakstol].”
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