FLUTO SHINZAWA I SUNDAY HOCKEY NOTES
HANDOUT/Northeastern University Athletics
Naturally, Dylan Sikura scanned the Canadian roster he will be joining for the Karjala Cup, a six-team international tournament that starts on Nov. 8. Among the names familiar to the 22-year-old Northeastern senior was Derek Roy, the former go-to scorer in Buffalo.
It was the 34-year-old Roy’s age as well as his name that stood out.
“I was just looking at the roster — 30, 33. It’ll be a little different,” Sikura said with a smile. “Here, I’m kind of an older guy, being a leader on the team. I’m excited for the challenge over there. I think it’ll be fine. I’ll get along with all the other guys. I know they like having young guys around. Hopefully I can be a spark plug for them.”
Through the regular Olympic prism, neither Sikura nor the Karjala Cup is a name or tournament that would be viewed with great significance. Sikura is a skilled left-shot forward who, after seven games, led Hockey East in scoring with eight goals and eight assists.
The wing, however, would not exactly share depth-chart space with Brad Marchand and Jamie Benn in Hockey Canada’s traditional bin of left-shot forwards. Canada usually bypasses the Karjala Cup, an annual tournament held in Finland named after one of the country’s numerous frothy beverages.
But with the NHL saying no to Olympic participation this February in South Korea, each federation is thinking about players and viewing opportunities that would usually not be considered. Sikura, Chicago’s sixth-round pick in 2014, could be among the relative unknowns that get the call to PyeongChang.
The native of Aurora, Ontario, is an example of why the Winter Games could be an attractive show even without the NHL. Olympic viewers like underdogs. Sikura qualifies as such.
“When he got here, I could see the skill,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “But I also saw the skill in a 153-pound body who couldn’t fight through traffic and was just trying to learn how to play away from the puck. So the skill was there. But the strength wasn’t there and the endurance wasn’t there to fight through it.”
Sean Burke, Hockey Canada’s general manager, does not have the pool of talent that Steve Yzerman enjoyed for the last two Olympic cycles. Given Canada’s depth, Yzerman could have dressed a JV team in Sochi (Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, and Joe Thornton did not make the final cut) and still contended for gold.
So Burke is considering nontraditional candidates. Other ex-NHLers joining Sikura in Karjala Cup are Mason Raymond, Rene Bourque, Matt Frattin, Simon Despres, Justin Peters, and Ben Scrivens.
For the most part, they are ex-NHLers currently seeking their fortunes in other countries, such as Sweden, Russia, and Switzerland.
In some ways, Burke’s pursuit is like Madigan’s. In Hockey East, Boston College and Boston University have usually claimed the top teenage prizes. For some of his classes, Madigan has had to mine deeper for players who might not qualify as immediate blue-chippers.
Sikura, the younger brother of former Dartmouth standout Tyler Sikura, played his junior hockey for Aurora of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Sikura was coached by former University of New Hampshire captain James Richmond, who played with Madigan in junior. In 2013-14, Sikura scored 17 goals and 47 assists for Richmond in 41 games.
His skill was unquestionable. The forward’s stature, however, made him something of a project for the Huskies. As a freshman, Sikura dressed for only 25 games, mostly because he was not strong enough for Hockey East battle.
His primary office would have to be the weight room. Madigan and his staff wanted the skilled wing to become stronger on the puck and durable enough to hold his ground in the dirty areas.
Some of Madigan’s previous recruits include current NHLers Josh Manson and Matt Benning. The defensemen arrived on Huntington Avenue as men, closer to finished physical products than a fledgling sprite such as Sikura.
“By the end of that freshman year, he was really confident,” Madigan said. “There were stretches of his freshman year where he missed 8-9 games in a row for us. He just couldn’t fight through the traffic because of his strength. He’s put time in the weight room his freshman year, sophomore year, junior year. Now, at all of 169 pounds, he’s got strength in the right areas. His confidence is so high. The stick skills, Coach Richmond was so right about. He’s a highly skilled player. One of the most skilled players we’ve ever had here at Northeastern.”
Sikura’s work proved both Northeastern and Chicago right. As a sophomore, he scored 10 goals and 18 assists in 39 games. Last year, Sikura exploded for 21 goals and 36 assists in 38 games, six points off Zach Aston-Reese’s team-leading pace. This season, Sikura, Braintree’s Adam Gaudette (Vancouver’s fifth-round pick in 2015), and Nolan Stevens (St. Louis’s fifth-round selection in 2016) are Madigan’s go-getters.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, could be getting a bargain. Chicago has emphasized drafting collegians because of the extra development time they are given. Had Sikura gone the major junior route, Chicago would have had to sign the forward by 2016. The risk Chicago is running is of Sikura declining to sign and becoming a free agent next August.
Sikura is considering his options but has enjoyed attending Chicago’s development camps, where he’s played alongside current NHLers such as Ryan Hartman and Alex DeBrincat. Brother Tyler is currently playing for Rockford, Chicago’s AHL affiliate.
Sikura and fellow collegian Zach Whitecloud (Bemidji State) are the only current NCAAers populating the Canadian roster. On Nov. 8, the Canadians will start the tournament against the Swiss in Biel, Switzerland.
Two days later, Canada will play Sweden in Helsinki. They will stay in Finland and play the host country on Nov. 12.
“I try not to think about it too much and not get distracted while I’m here at school,” Sikura said of being called to Olympus. “But now that I’ve been invited to this tournament, it’s in the back of my mind. I’m going to go down to Switzerland and Finland, try and play my best, try to make a name for myself, and put myself in the running for the team.”
Madigan will be without Sikura on Nov. 10 and 11 for games against BU and UMass Lowell. If Sikura impresses Burke, coach Willie Desjardins, and the rest of the staff to the point of Olympic invitation, he would be gone for most of February. Madigan would be down one of his best players for critical games. But he would practically drive Sikura to the airport if South Korea became his destination.
“The player deserves all the credit,” Madigan said. “But it’s nice that Northeastern can be affiliated with his success as he goes on to this tournament. And if the opportunity came about where Team Canada selected him to the Olympic team, no one would be happier than this university, this hockey program, this administration, and our athletic director. Because we’ve all seen Dylan grow up here over the last four years. Everyone knows he’s earned it through his hard work and efforts. It would be great to have an Olympian, whether it be on the US team, the Canadian team, or any team in the Olympics. We’d all be very excited for his success and the opportunity to represent his country.”
Cam Neely has grown to like soccer, not just because daughter Ava plays the sport. The Bruins president is a board member of AS Roma, the Serie A soccer team owned by Boston’s Jim Pallotta, a longtime Neely acquaintance.
“Ball control,” Neely said of soccer’s element he particularly enjoys. “I really admire a team that can control the ball, the way they move it and try to set up a goal opportunity. The ball control and how they can lay passes out there. It’s somewhat similar, obviously with a much bigger surface. That’s always been appealing to me.”
Neely, who counts former women’s soccer superstar Mia Hamm among his fellow board members, has applied some of what he’s learned from Roma to his day job. Pallotta bought the team in 2011 and became its principal owner one year later. Roma is a 90-year-old franchise and an iconic brand in Italy. But under Pallotta’s watch, Roma is trying to expand its footprint worldwide. Pallotta has identified growing markets in China, India, and Africa where he wants soccer fans to identify with Roma.
Neely sees similar growth opportunities in China, where the Bruins have been one of the most aggressive NHL teams in planting seeds. David Pastrnak has visited China as part of a good-will tour the last two summers. The Bruins have a partnership with China’s O.R.G. Packaging. The Canucks and Kings played exhibition games in Shanghai and Beijing in September.
“I’m excited about China,” Neely said. “Us going over there and setting a little bit of a footprint of the Boston Bruins, being in China to say, ‘If you’re going to cheer for an NHL team, have it be us.’ It’s helping them build the game from the grassroots up. To have that presence over there, have players go and do some youth hockey clinics, I think builds some loyalty with that country and our team.”
The NHL has said no thanks to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. But the league is signaling keen interest in Beijing in 2022. China’s hockey market is in its infancy now. It will still be far from mature five years from now. But the sooner the Bruins plant their flag in the Far East, the better their chances will be of seeing their investments pay off.
Neely’s soccer experience has helped him understand that even the world’s most popular sport has room to grow. That applies even more so to hockey.
Josh Anderson is a John Tortorella type of player. The 6-foot-3-inch, 221-pound Blue Jackets forward is a horse. He does not back down from any challenge, even those that stand 6-9 and 250 pounds such as Zdeno Chara, the man he did battle with on Oct. 30.
After being stapled by Chara into the end boards of Nationwide Arena, Anderson made his displeasure known to the point where the Boston behemoth agreed to shed his gloves.
But Tortorella remains disgruntled that Anderson did not sign his three-year, $5.5 million extension off his entry-level contract until Oct. 2. By then, Anderson had missed all of camp. He was not fit to play Columbus’s first two games.
“He’s going to be one [heck] of a player,” Tortorella said. “I just thought he was stupid at the beginning of the year. I thought he was stupid and his entourage was stupid. That guy, and where I think he can go in his career, to miss one minute of camp was a crime. I’m not trying to insult people. It was a crime for a young player to miss a minute of camp. Especially him, where he can be. It still bothers me.”
Anderson is represented by Darren Ferris. Last season, in his final ELC year, Anderson recorded 17 goals and 12 assists in 78 games. He also was whistled for 89 penalty minutes, including five in a one-sided, linesman-aided battering of Adam McQuaid. There are not many specimens around the league like Anderson, who can skate hard, play hard, and fight hard.
But even low supply and high demand cannot help players fitting Anderson’s profile at this time of his career. He did not have arbitration rights. He would have been ineligible to play in the NHL this year if he didn’t sign by Dec. 1. Teams were not lining up to give him offer sheets. Had Anderson, a native of Burlington, Ontario, played in Europe this season, he would have remained in the same position next year.
In the end, the Blue Jackets got their man at their price. They have locked in Anderson to a respectable $1.85 million average annual payday through 2020, which should be among his most productive years. But even a team-friendly deal has not been enough to soften Tortorella. That should be no surprise.
The Ducks could be without Cam Fowler (knee) until mid-December. Sami Vatanen missed the first nine games following offseason shoulder surgery. Hampus Lindholm was unavailable for the first five games while recovering from shoulder cleanup. Kevin Bieksa (hand) is out indefinitely. But the Ducks are holding their ground because Brandon Montour is settling in to Anaheim’s blue line — one that is loaded, albeit perpetually banged up. Through 12 games, the former UMass Amherst defenseman had four goals and three assists while averaging 21:17 of ice time. The right-shot Montour has been seeing action on the power play, where he’s recorded three of his seven points. The 23-year-old spent all of his first pro season and most of his second in San Diego, Anaheim’s AHL affiliate. The Ducks might have been content with leaving Montour in school for longer. But Anaheim preferred Montour developing in the pros instead of at UMass, where he spent one year under ex-coach John Micheletto.
Of the 12 forwards in Black and Gold against Vegas, five were AHLers last season (Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, Austin Czarnik, Jordan Szwarz, and Danton Heinen) while one was a collegian (Anders Bjork) . . . It’s been nice to see Sean Couturier, cast in a shutdown role his first six seasons, expressing the offense he always believed he’s had. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia center had nine goals and eight assists while averaging 20:09 of playing time. Not only is Couturier assuming more of the workload, he’s helping Claude Giroux adjust to being a left wing for the first time in his career . . . The Oilers believed they got a bargain by signing Jussi Jokinen, bought out by the Panthers, to a one-year, $1.1 million contract. They’ve got nothing from the veteran: no goals and one assist through nine games. Jokinen will be one of the first to go if GM Peter Chiarelli decides bodies have to be moved . . . On Thursday, Dustin Byfuglien took on Jamie Benn, who is no slouch in the fisticuffs department. But considering the mammoth sturgeon that Byfuglien and ex-Bruin Matt Hendricks landed in October, any of Big Buff’s future combatants will be considered a lightweight.
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