A recommendation from an NHL general manager did not hurt Theresa Feaster’s opportunity to work for Providence College’s men’s hockey program. The referral, however, would have been promptly dismissed had Feaster’s work not satisfied her boss.
“It would have been no different with any other student that walked through my door,” said Friars coach Nate Leaman. “If that student weren’t proactive, weren’t passionate, weren’t hard-working, it would have never worked out.”
Feaster did not become Providence’s coordinator of hockey operations on Oct. 26 because former Calgary and Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster is her father. She scored her job because, as an undergraduate, she approached the door her father helped to open and hammered it off its hinges on her own.
“As soon as you’ve worked with Theresa, you have the feeling that, ‘I need her,’ ” Leaman said. “It’s not, ‘I want her.’ It’s, ‘I need her.’ That’s what great people do.”
As a 24-year-old with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, Feaster is an outlier in an industry primarily populated by ex-players. In June of 2012, when Feaster met Leaman at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, they were attending the NHL Draft, the annual confluence of former players turned scouts and hockey operations executives.
But Feaster, then about to become a junior, developed her knowledge in a singular fashion: at the side of a GM who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and the Calder Cup with Hershey in 1997.
She sat in on pro and amateur meetings. She chatted hockey with Bob Hartley and John Tortorella. After attending a Lightning game, she and her father would talk pucks while driving home, then watch late games on TV.
“I just loved being at the rink,” Feaster recalled. “I loved sitting in on coaches’ meetings and listening to them talk systems, listening in on scouting meetings or trade propositions.”
So in 2012, after the Flames drafted then-Friars Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies, Jay Feaster, while hosting Leaman in Calgary’s suite in Pittsburgh, mentioned his daughter’s willingness to help. That fall, Leaman brought Theresa Feaster on as a student assistant, responsible primarily for video. Leaman was encouraged when, after reviewing tape from an underwhelming game, Feaster properly assessed Providence’s performance with two thumbs down.
“She was very blunt in her assessment,” Leaman recalled with a smile, “of how soft we played that night.”
Feaster filmed Providence’s games and practices. With guidance from ex-Friar Kyle Murphy, the team’s former coordinator of hockey operations, Feaster logged games in SportsCode Gamebreaker, Providence’s video program. She broke down every player’s shifts and made them available for postgame viewing.
Feaster promptly expanded her baseline of duties, both as an undergraduate and a graduate assistant. She managed individual files that included video of every Friar’s shift. She built a recruiting video database in which she logged potential Friars’ shifts for coaches to watch. She pulled NHL clips — Providence, for example, played a left-wing lock last year similar to Nashville’s — for coaches to use in video meetings. If the coaches want to show their players examples of stout defensive work, Feaster packaged video of NHL defensemen executing plays that amplified their skill sets.
“Maybe if it’s a mobile defenseman, you start looking at guys that use their feet to defend,” Feaster said. “Or maybe they’re really good at closing space and using their stick well. Things like that — things that might go unnoticed on a stat sheet, but that make those players high-caliber players.”
One of the most important advances Feaster and Murphy initiated was monitoring advanced statistics. Before, Leaman and his assistants brainstormed about deeper numbers that could reveal more about their players. But they didn’t have time to invest in tracking such statistics. Feaster and Murphy shaped their coaches’ ideas to the point where Providence monitors variables such as penalty-killing clears, puck retrieval rates, and carries into the offensive zone. What once had been theories are now black-and-white data points for the coaches to use as information and teaching tools.
Robust video databases and cutting-edge analytics were part of the reason Providence won the NCAA championship in 2014-15. The more critical components were recruiting and player performance.
Leaman, however, needed time to recruit and develop his players into champions instead of baby-sitting his support staff. In college hockey, coaches are pulled in a dozen directions, ranging from staying compliant with NCAA regulations to monitoring student progress. Leaman would have compromised an important piece of his program if he had to hold Feaster’s hand. He never had that worry.
“As a coach, you can’t take a person on in that role unless they’re really proactive,” Leaman said. “Because as the coach, you can’t come in and think about, ‘What work am I going to give this person today?’ The work comes when it comes from a coach. She’s so proactive that her and Murph, they’re the ones that started all the advanced statistics.”
Feaster earned her master’s degree this year. This summer, she wasn’t sure where she’d land in the fall. Feaster’s full-time opportunity took place when Murphy was promoted to associate athletic director for men’s and women’s hockey and Schneider Arena, the home of both programs. Feaster’s additional responsibilities include managing travel logistics for the team.
As someone who is not two weeks into her new position, Feaster is not considering her next move. Her former preferred landing spot was the NHL. Now, she’s not dead-set on pro hockey given her affection for Providence.
But Feaster’s hire and inclination toward working in hockey are much needed in the sport. It has not been easy for women to find jobs in hockey operations. When Leaman previously made inquiries on Feaster’s behalf, the calls did not find traction.
“Initially, some people were interested,” Leaman said. “Then you let them know she’s a female. I wouldn’t say it’s uncomfortable, but it’s new. Because it’s new, maybe not everyone’s open to it.”
Other teams may have declared hesitation about hiring Feaster. Not Providence.
“It’s never been an issue,” Feaster said. “It’s not really something I think about. From Day 1 everybody welcomed me aboard as a member of the staff. I hope my work can speak for itself.”
There is a reason Feaster has settled into her office, one with a cracking view of the Schneider Arena sheet, just down the hall from Leaman on the rink’s second floor. It has nothing to do with her gender. It has everything to do with how valued she’s become.
Leaman proud of former players
As an assistant to former Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, Nate Leaman coached Dominic Moore for four seasons. In 2011-12, Leaman’s first season behind the Providence College bench, he inherited junior forward Tim Schaller. In 2014-15, Providence’s championship season, Noel Acciari served Leaman as cocaptain.
So it is with a sense of satisfaction that Leaman has been monitoring the play of the Bruins’ fourth line.
“I’m happy for them,” Leaman said. “I hope they can help the Bruins win. That’s what you’re hoping for. I try to watch most of their games. It seems to me like they’re winning the coach’s trust. That’s the most important thing. ‘Do I want to play you? Or do I need to play you?’ Hopefully, the Bruins feel like, ‘We need the grit. We need that grit to win.’ I’m happy for Noel. I’m happy for Schalls. I hope they continue to contribute and play well because it’s fun to watch. At the end of the day, you’re really happy for them.”
Moore, the oldest of the bunch, was a skilled forward at Harvard. Schaller, recruited to Providence by ex-coach Tim Army, battled for Leaman through an injured shoulder his senior season to score 23 points and earn a free agent contract with Buffalo. Acciari has played with the same wrecking-ball pace for Claude Julien as he did for Leaman for three seasons.
The three played more high-profile roles in college. Their current priorities are hard skating, smart defense, and tight checking. Fourth lines matter.
Kronwall going to great pains
A surgeon’s knife cannot accelerate Niklas Kronwall’s return to the ice. The Detroit defenseman’s left knee has deteriorated to the point where additional surgery would not do it any favors. Both Kronwall and the Red Wings are of the belief that on-ice discomfort will be his companion until he says no more. It’s up to Kronwall to determine how much pain he can handle to be an effective player.
“It’s probably going to stick around,” Kronwall said of his knee’s condition. “But it’s starting to feel better. Hopefully we can manage it.”
Kronwall, once the bone-crushing sheriff of Detroit’s blue line, has yet to play this season because of his condition. The seven-year, $33.25 million contract Kronwall signed on Oct. 31, 2011, has become an albatross. Kronwall is due $4.75 million annually for the remainder of this season plus two more. It is a timeframe the left-shot defenseman looks unlikely to fulfill.
Last season, Kronwall played in only 64 games because of his knee. He scored three goals and 23 assists while averaging 22:00 of ice time. Kronwall had a 49.57 Corsi For percentage during five-on-five play, the lowest of his career. Given the time he’s missed, his age, and Detroit’s performance with the puck, the 35-year-old is likely to be chasing the play more than controlling it upon his return.
Through four appearances, the Wings had received airtight goaltending from Jimmy Howard (0.86 goals-against average, .973 save percentage). While the ex-Maine goalie’s resurgence may make him Detroit’s temporary No. 1, Petr Mrazek is the organization’s long-term puck stopper. Las Vegas may be in Howard’s future.
But Howard has not been able to mask Detroit’s overall play. While the Wings rolled off six straight wins in October, they have been the second-worst possession team in the league, leading only Buffalo in five-on-five play. Whether Kronwall could be a significant improvement over Ryan Sproul or Maxime Ouellet remains to be seen. He has only been practicing with his teammates for the last week.
“In his case, it’s the battling,” said Detroit coach Jeff Blashill. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to do a lot. He can skate without battling. But the battling is going to be the biggest thing.”
Although the Wings are tight against the cap, activating Kronwall would not require them to move salary. Detroit is not using the long-term injury exception with Kronwall.
The question is how much Kronwall can help a team that is fighting to get on the right side of the possession breakdown. When he was at his best, Kronwall retrieved pucks efficiently and moved them out of danger. In the neutral zone, teams were nervous when Kronwall was on patrol because of the manner in which he closed on opponents and finished them with deadly body slams.
“I guess we won’t know until I come back,” Kronwall said. “But I feel like I have a lot left.”
Some SoCal hate
This is the age of speed and skill, but also of good manners in the NHL. Gone are the bare-knuckled days, and probably for good reason. In that context, the few remaining Neanderthals rub our hands when we see the rare blood-boiling game such as Los Angeles and Anaheim on Tuesday at Staples Center. The Southern California teams are not friendly neighbors, evidence being the four scraps that took place. The night started with an enforcers’ tilt between Kyle Clifford and Jared Boll. Clifford went for another go when Kevin Bieksa asked him for a spin later in the first. But things went sideways in the second after Tom Gilbert cranked Nate Ritchie into the boards, a penalty that brought a three-game sitdown for the Los Angeles defenseman. In the third, the kettle hit full boil after Jordan Nolan, with his team trailing, 4-0, tried to tag Ryan Getzlaf with a left jab. The Ducks rallied around their captain, as Clayton Stoner delivered a beatdown to Nolan, while Joseph Cramarossa and Derek Forbort engaged in an undercard bout. The rematch is in Anaheim on Nov. 20. We’ll be watching from our caves.
Stars and Stripes forever
Sean Kuraly, from Dublin, Ohio, made his Bruins debut on Thursday against Tampa Bay in place of the misfiring Matt Beleskey. Kuraly became the 11th American to play for the Bruins this season, joining Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug, David Backes, John-Michael Liles, Rob O’Gara, Austin Czarnik, Tim Schaller, Jimmy Hayes, Noel Acciari, and Zane McIntyre. Kevan Miller (hand) and Frank Vatrano (foot) will become Nos. 12 and 13 when they return from their injuries. All but Carlo played college hockey.
Flipping Condon netted an asset
The Canadiens broke camp with the 23-player maximum roster, which meant there was no room to carry a third goalie in Mike Condon. So instead of carrying Condon and waiting for injuries to strike other goalies, Montreal placed the Holliston native on waivers Oct 10. One day later, Pittsburgh claimed Condon to back up Marc-Andre Fleury while waiting for Matt Murray’s broken hand to heal. In retrospect, Pittsburgh made a wise transaction. While the Penguins only needed Condon for 20 minutes of playing time, goalies started dropping around the league, including in Boston, where Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were shelved at the same time. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford acquired a 2017 fifth-round pick from Ottawa for Condon, who posted a shutout in his Senators debut the next day against Vancouver. Craig Anderson is on indefinite leave to be with wife, Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer. Backup Andrew Hammond could be out for weeks because of a groin injury. As short as his stay in Pittsburgh was, Condon served his purpose.
Calgary did the right thing by proclaiming Matthew Tkachuk a full-time NHLer. The son of Keith Tkachuk made his 10th game count, scoring twice in Calgary’s 3-2 win over San Jose on Thursday. He was eligible to return to junior, but his days of playing boys’ hockey are over . . . Through 11 games, Dustin Byfuglien continues to prove he is the most impressive specimen in the league. Byfuglien was leading all players in ice time per game (29:02). Big Buff was averaging a shift length of 58 seconds, trailing only Aaron Ekblad (1:00). Opponents have marveled at how Byfuglien skates so smoothly while checking in north of 250 pounds . . . Phil Esposito will introduce Wayne Cashman at The Tradition, the Sports Museum’s annual fundraiser at TD Garden. The event is Nov. 29. You can find more information here . . . If you’re in the Bellingham area on Saturday, Nov. 12, please come by Barnes & Noble, where I’ll be signing copies of “The Big 50: Boston Bruins” at 2 p.m. . . . Eetu Selanne, son of legend Teemu Selanne, has committed to Northeastern. The 18-year-old, currently playing for Madison of the USHL, is likely to be a freshman on Huntington Avenue next fall. There must be something wrong, because the old man still looks like a college senior.
Four franchises — the Blues, Flyers, Kings, and Penguins — are celebrating their 50th seasons in the NHL, all within the same city (unlike the other two 1967 Expansionites, the Minnesota North Stars and Oakland Golden Seals, both of whom can be traced to the current Dallas franchise). In honor of the teams’ 50th anniversaries, we offer a synopsis of their histories.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.