As the hockey world waited to hear about Patrice Bergeron’s future, Tuukka Rask was wearing his skates.
Rask pulled on his familiar No. 40 Bruins sweater, sans pads and helmet, during a charity game at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday. He laced up a pair of skates Bergeron had left at the facility, and grabbed one of Charlie McAvoy’s sticks. Turns out Rask, who catches left, shoots right.
Rask, like any goalie playing out, was less than smooth as he wheeled around with members of Boston Pride Hockey, a nonprofit organization. His hand-eye coordination remains sharp. He feathers a nice backhand saucer pass.
This was not the start of a comeback. Entering the weekend, his longtime teammate, Bergeron, was believed to be returning. Rask left little doubt: They couldn’t pay him enough — in US dollars, euros, or Bud Lights — to strap on the pads again.
“It’s so nice to be home,” said Rask, who lives in Newton with his wife, Jasmiina, and daughters Vivien, 8; Adelie, 5; and Livia, 2. The family will travel to Finland for six weeks this summer but is putting down roots here.
“Driving the kids to school, dance practice, playing a lot of golf. It’s been great,” Rask said. “We were busy playing hockey, but having three kids takes a lot of time. There’s not a lot of time to waste. I’m lucky to be able to play golf.”
Rask has had no trouble finding hobbies, but sitting in front of the TV is not one of them. He took in a few games in a TD Garden suite toward the end of last season but has watched “a period and a half” of the Colorado-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s nice to kind of miss it in a sense, but then, not at all,” he said. “I’m happy to be on this side, being a fan.”
After his aching hips told him his career was over, Rask retired in February and signed on as a Bruins ambassador. He is enjoying his new position. He shows up to support an event, has a few laughs, and goes back to his life. He has shown an interest in mentoring 23-year-old Jeremy Swayman, but he won’t be an everyday goalie coach any time soon.
Bloviating sports commentators made Rask a lightning rod in this town, despite a dozen high-caliber seasons. To some, the fact the Bruins earned one Stanley Cup ring last decade, and not three, will always be Tuukka’s fault. He has been good for ratings and page views.
He has also been, well, good. Better than that, actually. The Bruins have never retired a goalie’s number, and one could argue that the No. 30 of Gerry Cheevers and Tim Thomas should be in the rafters. No. 40 has just as strong a case.
Since Rask became a full-timer in 2009, only Thomas (.922) saved a higher percentage of his shots among NHL goalies than Rask (.921). While Thomas had a higher peak, and won two Vezina Trophies to Rask’s one, Rask’s NHL excellence extended longer.
The Hall of Fame, set to reveal its 2022 class on Monday, will surely discuss Rask’s candidacy when he is eligible in 2025. He meets the loosely defined statistical standards in wins (308), longevity (564 games), stinginess (.921 save percentage, 2.28 goals-against average) and despite not winning a ring as a starter (backup in 2011), playoff success. Rask went .925 in 104 postseason games. His save percentage was .940 in the 2013 run to the Cup Final, a Bruins record he shares with Thomas (2011).
Rask’s post-playing days have been all love.
“I’m just happy to interact with the fans without … the BS,” Rask said to a select group of reporters on Thursday. “You guys don’t have to chirp me. I don’t have to have my guard up all the time. It’s fun. The people are great. You guys are great.”
Around town, he said, people are thanking him for his service. He finds himself deflecting the praise.
“It’s almost overwhelming support,” he said. “I saw people the other day at the US Open. I told them, ‘I’m coming back, you should tweet that.’ They actually took it seriously.”
It seemed like a gag when one of the 192 ballots counted by Professional Hockey Writers’ Association voters listed Rask as a third-team All-Star goaltender (the top three: Igor Shesterkin, Jacob Markstrom, and Frederik Andersen). That vote was cast for a 2021-22 season in which Rask returned in January from hip surgery, allowed 14 goals in four games (.844), and called it quits.
Rask was amused when informed of the gaffe.
“What’s that? Oh, no way,” he said, wondering who cast the mystery ballot. “Was it you? … Maybe it was me.”
When Rask was out and about recently, he said, an enthusiastic fan told him, “Great season!”
His no-BS response: “Are you [expletive] kidding me?”
Yet another off-ice scandal
Tuukka Rask appeared at the Boston Pride Hockey scrimmage along with NESN commentator and ex-Bruin Andrew Raycroft, and incoming Boston Pride (PHF) president Colleen Coyne and general manager Maddie Rigsby, to promote diversity, inclusion, and positivity in hockey culture.
“In this day and age,” Rask said, “it could not be more important.”
No kidding. Yet another off-ice scandal is rocking the sport. This time, Hockey Canada is under the microscope.
In April, an Ontario court settled a lawsuit in which a woman alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players following a Hockey Canada Foundation event in June 2018. The details in the suit, which were first reported by TSN, are sickening. The suit alleges Hockey Canada imposed no sanctions on the players once they learned of the complaint.
This past week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the way Hockey Canada handled the matter, the federal government froze the organization’s funding, and Canada’s House of Commons unanimously motioned for an independent investigation into Hockey Canada.
The identities of the eight players, the defendants in the suit along with Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League, have not been named. In a statement, the NHL called the allegations “abhorrent and reprehensible,” and pledged to conduct its own investigation. The NHL’s involvement stems from the thought some, or all, of the players could be in the league now.
Nonprofit truly welcoming to all
Boston Pride Hockey, the nonprofit, is making the NHL’s “hockey is for everyone” slogan a lifestyle.
The organization has grown from 15 to 150 players over its 20-year run, according to cofounder and vice president Mark Tikonoff. Its Inclusive Hockey League, the first LGBTQ+ outfit in New England, started last year and has four teams, 70 players, and plays year-round. An under-18 program, perhaps the first nationally, skates once a month in Revere. With strong fundraising, it offers free games and skills coaching for anyone. It’s Team Trans program has nearly 50 players.
It is welcoming back those of all ages who grew disillusioned with the sport because of unwelcoming locker rooms, high prices, and overwhelming pressure.
“A lot of us are playing BPH because we went through that as kids,” said Tikonoff, who grew up in Burlington and left high school hockey after one year. “Even though things have improved for us as adults, not a lot has improved for kids [in youth hockey].
“It’s a competitive, hyper-masculine, sometimes violent sport … It’s very exclusive. It’s the opposite of BPH. It’s expensive. It takes a lot of travel. And you’re often in a locker room that can be hostile to kids.
“It drove a lot of us away from the sport. This community brought us back to it.”
Pride hope to build another winner
What’s up with the Boston Pride, the two-time defending Premier Hockey Federation champions? No one around the team is saying much.
“We’re working on the roster,” said team president Colleen Coyne, a former defender from Falmouth and 1998 Olympic gold medalist. “There’s a method to the madness.”
Most PHF contracts are for one year, so player movement is common. Recent rumors had the Pride swiping Allie Thunstrom, the lightning-fast scorer and Boston College alum, from the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The PHF more than doubled its per-team salary cap, to $750,000, and Coyne said the league’s top earners will be able to focus solely on hockey (plus, all players who want it get health insurance).
The Pride’s banner ceremony, on opening night, is Nov. 5 at Warrior Ice Arena.
Happy days in Ottawa?
For Senators fans, this could be the most celebrated few days in recent memory, and not because castoff Nick Paul was grinding his way through the Stanley Cup Final.
On Monday, franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson could be called to the Hall of Fame. And, there’s another new arena deal in place, with the hope that it might actually go through this time.
Alfredsson, who spent all but the final year of his career (1995-2014) with Ottawa, has a better case than any of the first-year eligibles other than Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Including one final year in Detroit, the gritty Alfredsson scored 1,157 points (444 goals, 713 assists) in 1,246 games. He is the Senators’ leader in nearly every offensive category, including goals (total, even-strength, power-play, shorthanded, and game-winners), assists, points, hat tricks, shots. He is the first modern-era Senator to have his number (11) retired.
His 14 goals in 20 games — including the OT winner to end the Eastern Conference finals — helped power the Senators’ run to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, to date their only appearance on that stage. In those days, he teamed with prime-aged Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza to create one of the best lines of the era. They were known as the Pizza Line, referring to a promotion once run by the chain Pizza Pizza. Ticket-holding fans got a free slice if the Senators scored five goals or more in a home game. They made it happen about 20 times in two seasons. Everyone loves a free lunch.
Found money in the person of Alfredsson, a sixth-round pick (133rd overall) in 1994, helped turn that franchise from expansion laughingstock into hated rival of the Maple Leafs. According to a 2016 Canada National Post story, then-director of player personnel John Ferguson Sr. pounded the table for the overage winger, even though the Senators were iffy on taking another European after picking Radek Bonk and Stan Neckar.
Alfredsson, 21, was playing for Frolunda HC in Sweden (as a teenage P.J. Axelsson was breaking in), and wasn’t on North America’s radar. Ferguson, who unearthed Swedish star Thomas Steen during his GM tenure in Winnipeg, had found another gem.
Alfie to the Hall would pair nicely with this past week’s news about the new arena at the LeBreton Flats site in Ottawa.
The city’s National Capital Commission announced Thursday it had a deal with the franchise and a group of partners to build an NHL arena on Albert Street, on the western edge of downtown. The rink and surrounding development reportedly will be privately funded.
The NCC killed a similar deal in 2018, amid hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits between two partners in a bid, late former Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Trinity Development chair John Ruddy.
The Senators have yet to specify plans for ownership after Melnyk, 62, died in March. He said before his death the team would remain in his family’s control.
Not saying Andrew Brunette was the answer in Florida, but it was strange to see a Jack Adams finalist replaced. Or was it? Joel Quenneville (2021 finalist) was out of a job seven games into last season. Neither Alain Vigneault nor John Tortorella, both finalists in 2020, lasted more than a year. The other 2020 finalist, Bruce Cassidy, was turfed after two seasons ... The Panthers are looking to go further in the playoffs with an experienced coach, but Paul Maurice has made the postseason in nine of his 24 seasons behind the bench. Maurice, who went to the Stanley Cup Final with Carolina as a 35-year-old in 2002, has made it to the third round three times in his career … One of Cassidy’s potential challenges in Vegas: getting the strong personalities on the roster — Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner, Max Pacioretty — singing from the same hymn book … Tortorella, after he was introduced in Philadelphia, about the perception of him: “I’m not that guy, the YouTube clips and all that stuff, that show. There’s intensity. You’re going to be pushed. But I also care about people.” His people, meaning his players, not the critics … Zdeno Chara’s agent, Matt Keator, on the big man’s future: “He’s going to take the summer with his family and assess where he’s at physically, where his family’s at, and make a decision in September. No rush.” Chara turns 46 next March … Two former Bruins teammates could one day be coaching against each other in the NHL. Marco Sturm, formerly a Kings assistant, was this past week named head coach of the AHL’s Ontario Reign, Los Angeles’s top affiliate. In his first season as an OHL coach, Marc Savard took the Windsor Spitfires to the league championship, where they lost in seven games. Sportsnet in Canada reported Savard, who coached Dallas first-rounder Wyatt Johnson, was on the Stars’ radar before they hired Peter DeBoer … Clinton, St. Mark’s, and Boston University product Scott Young, once a high-scoring winger (40 goals with St. Louis in 2000-01),signed on as Vancouver’s director of player personnel. He spent the last five years as Pittsburgh’s director of player development … The Canucks also gave Dale Tallon another gig, the ex-Panthers and Blackhawks GM signing on as a senior adviser and pro scout … Some team might get a strong lower-pair, right-shot defenseman in RFA Ethan Bear, whom Carolina gave permission to test the market. He would likely cost a second-round pick as compensation, plus a contract worth $2 million-$2.5 million a year. The Bruins, looking for right-side depth, could do much worse … The NHL now has three female assistant GMs, after former Wisconsin forward Meghan Hunter was elevated to that post in Chicago. Vancouver’s Cammi Granato and Emilie Castonguay are the others … The Blackhawks also promoted former BU goalie and Boston Pride GM Karilyn Pilch to director of player personnel. She scouted for the organization last season … Entering the weekend, it was unclear if the PHF’s seventh team, in Montreal, would debut this fall. The PHF hoped to add two clubs this offseason … The true slam-dunk HOF cases among newcomers this year: the Sedins, who worked their magic in Vancouver from 1999-2018. Henrik, the 2010 Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, scored 1,070 points in 1,330 games and was captain from 2010 until their retirement. Daniel scored more goals (393 to 290), had nearly the same overall production (1,041 points in 1,306 games), and won an Art Ross of his own in 2011. Even Brad Marchand would vote for them … Rod Brind’Amour and Jeremy Roenick will receive strong consideration. On the women’s side, Canadian forwards Caroline Ouellette and Jennifer Botterill, and American Jenny Potter will be in the mix … Good question: Is Marchand the best current player never to win an individual NHL award?