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Oilers close decade of darkness with renewed hope for change – Sportsnet.ca



EDMONTON — Ken Hitchcock, one of eight— count ‘em, eight — men to stand behind the Edmonton Oilers bench as a head coach since 2010, had just lost at home to Arizona.

He had 20 players on his roster, but not nearly enough who made a difference on the night, a familiar theme for any Oilers coach between 2010 and now, 2020.

“We have to find a way. We have to find more people to do more,” Hitchcock begged, his tone a familiar one. “Whether it’s the group that’s here or the group that’s somewhere else, we have to find more people to do more if we expect to get a different result.”

If there was ever a quote that summed up 2019 in Oil Country, that is it. So perhaps it is timely that in their final game before the calendar turned, it was all hands on deck in a nervous 7-5 win over the New York Rangers — at least for the opening 40 minutes.

James Neal had a hat trick to get to 19 goals on the season, on night when the Oilers took a 6-0 lead, then hung on for dear life as Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome led a comeback that took New York to 6-5 late in the game.

Edmonton hadn’t won a game on New Year’s Eve since they beat Philly back in 1985, lugging a 0-13-3 New Year’s record (with one tie) into a visit by New York. On this New Year’s Eve, however, the ball dropped on Bulgarian goaler Alexandar Georgiev, who got steamrolled with three goals on the first six Oilers shots and was extracted a few minutes before the second intermission, the score 6-0 for Edmonton.

The Hitchcock quote, uttered back in January, sums up the decade of darkness in Edmonton, as did the Oilers nearly blowing a 6-0 lead — something that has never happened in NHL history. As for the calendar year 2019, Tuesday’s game hinted at reasons that the pining bleat of the understaffed Oilers coach may start to become a thing of the past.

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Start with farmhands like Kailer Yamamoto and William Lagesson, both who joined the big team last night and acquitted themselves just fine. The speedy winger Yamamoto played on Leon Draisaitl’s flank and looked NHL-ready, adding the crucial empty net goal while Lagesson’s quiet game came as advertised through 11:37 in ice time.

As we turn the page on 2019 the Oilers farm is stocked better than it’s been at any point in the decade, with players who GM Ken Holland promises not to promote until they’ve spent the commensurate amount of time learning the pro game. Lagesson, 23, has a season-and-a-half of AHL experience to go with 49 games in the Swedish Hockey League, while Yamamoto is the rare Oilers first-rounder who found himself still simmering in the AHL at age 21.

If that’s a nice change in 2019, so too are a set of NHL standings that show Edmonton right in the hunt near the top of the Pacific Division as January and the second half of the season arrives. This is a town that has seen its team eliminated by Thanksgiving — both Canadian and American — in recent years, so no matter the minutiae of the recent win-loss record, or Leon Draisaitl’s plus-minus, sitting four points south of Division-leading Vegas on Jan. 1 is progress, plain and simple.

The Year 2019 brought Oilers fans some unfinished business on the Jesse Puljujarvi front, as the big Finnish first-rounder’s agent began to hint back in February that it was perhaps time to annul the marriage between player and team.

We asked Markus Lehto back in February if a re-set was possible under an incoming duo of a new GM and head coach, and the agent was dubious: “I think it’s hard to re-set,” he said. “It’s like, when the player isn’t trusting anymore… ‘Do these guys really want me here? Do they really trust me to become a Top 6 guy? A Top 9 guy? An offensive player?’ The player is uncertain.

“Are we reaching the point that for the team and for the player, it might be actually beneficial for going different paths, different routes?”

They reached that point in 2019, and as the calendar turns Puljujarvi lives in purgatory, manning the top line for Finnish Liiga club Oulu Karpat. Meanwhile, Holland patiently shops the player, with the Feb. 24 trading deadline looming.

This year will also be remembered as the year Leon Draisaitl scored 50 goals and 100 points, and his Oilers restarted the rebuild for the umpteenth time, clearing out the front office and ringing in Holland, Tippett, et al.

And Dec. 31 will be remembered for a long-awaited New Year’s Eve win, not for one that almost got away.

Maybe, just maybe, it is a sign of change in a town that would dearly welcome a new storyline.

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Raptors’ Powell to return vs. Hornets; Ibaka, VanVleet out with injury – Sportsnet.ca



The Toronto Raptors will be without Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet when they take on the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, however Norman Powell will make his return from injury, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game.

Nurse also stated that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Powell will start in place of VanVleet and Ibaka.

Ibaka was previously listed as doubtful due to right knee soreness. He struggled in Toronto’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, finishing with five points on an abysmal 2-for-15 shooting, including a 1-for-10 mark from three-point range.

Overall, the 30-year-old has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2019-20. He’s averaging a career-best 15.9 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds per game.

VanVleet had not previously been on the injury report, however he is also listed as out due to left shoulder pain.

The 26-year-old is averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in 48 appearances this year.

Powell, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31 due to a fractured fourth metacarpal on his left hand, figures to shoulder a heavy minutes load right off the bat due to VanVleet’s absence.

Earlier this season, Powell also missed a stretch of 11 games after dislocating his shoulder.

Through 38 games this year, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 15.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

The Raptors will also be without Marc Gasol, who continues to be sidelined with a left hamstring injury.

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Zamboni driver turned NHL goalie David Ayres given his own hockey card – CTV News



The Toronto-area Zamboni driver who became famous after suiting up at the last minute for the Carolina Hurricanes has now been awarded a hockey card in his honour.

David Ayres, a 42-year-old from Whitby, Ont., joined the Hurricanes as an emergency goalie on Saturday after both their regular goalies left the game due to injury. Ayres went on to make eight saves on 10 shots to help the Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

Since the win, Ayres has become an internet sensation, leading to appearances on the TODAY show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to name a few. He was went to Raleigh, N.C., where he celebrated “David Ayres Day” in the city by signing autographs from Hurricanes fans and ringing the “siren sounder” before the game.

The stick Ayres used in the game has also been sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame, due to the fact he is now the oldest goalie to win in their NHL debut and the only emergency goalie to ever record an official win in the league.

Ayres’ 15 minutes of fame is not yet over, however, as the trading card company Upper Deck has created a hockey card in his name.

“When we saw the moment, we were blown away by how special it was,” Chris Carlin, head of customer experience at Upper Deck, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Ayers is featured in Upper Deck’s “Game Dated Moments” collection, which are cards unveiled on a weekly-basis that highlight notable performances from the past week. Ayres’ card features him standing in the Hurricanes’ net, wearing the team’s jersey and Maple Leafs equipment, while the back of the card tells the story of the game.

Other cards in Ayres’ pack include an Alexander Ovechkin card highlighting his 700th career goal and one about Los Angeles Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his first NHL goal just 10 seconds into his first shift.

Carlin said the cards for each week are chosen based on fan requests and that calls for an Ayers card were “like something we’ve never seen before.” It’s already one of their top-performing weekly designs.

“We knew it was a special moment, so it was important for us to dedicate all the resources we had to acquiesce to our fans,” he said.

“There is surprisingly huge demand for a 42-year-old rookie.”

Creating the card didn’t come without its own challenges, however. Because Ayres is not a member of the NHL Players Association, Upper Deck had to secure a deal with Ayres directly for permission to make the card.

“I was surprised myself that we were able to get this done in three days,” Carlin said. “Our window is so tight on these ‘Game Dated Moments’ cards that it’s really a tough one to get done. It’s not the hardest thing to go out and get an image rights deal with someone, but to get it done within three days is pretty much unheard of.”

Carlin said Ayres will also have a “Young Guns” rookie card in his name, which is set for release in mid-May and some autographed cards at a later date.

“We disputed perhaps calling it an ‘old guns’ given his age, because typically the players are anywhere from 18 to 20,” he joked.

Carlin added certain versions of Ayers’ rookie card will only be printed 10 or 100 times, meaning they could hold some serious value.

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Oilers' Green (sprained MCL) out 3-4 weeks – TSN



EDMONTON — Newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mike Green will miss three to four weeks with a knee injury.

The Oilers announced Friday that Green has a sprained MCL. He was hurt in a loss against Vegas on Wednesday.

The Oilers acquired Green in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings early Monday, hours before the NHL’s trade deadline.

Green was playing his second game with the Oilers when he suffered the injury.

The 34-year-old Calgary native has three goals and eight assists in 50 combined games with Detroit and Edmonton this season.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Kailer Yamamoto and Kris Russell will be game-time decisions tomorrow after being re-evaluated. Both players took regular reps in practice.

Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou, who left last game with a lower-body injury, is good to go. James Neal skated but is still a ways away from playing and defenceman Oscar Klefbom didn’t skate with the main group. 

Zack Kassian returns tomorrow from a seven-game suspension and Mike Smith is expected to start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. 

The Oilers (33-23-8) entered Friday night’s action holding the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

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