Nicholas J. Cotsonika

  • NHL All-Star Game MVP: Welcome to Ryan Johansen's coming-out party in Columbus

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 1 day ago

    COLUMBUS — Ryan Johansen has a ritual the mornings before games at Nationwide Arena. He walks into an office down the hall from the Columbus Blue Jackets’ dressing room, and he chats with veteran NHL broadcaster Jeff Rimer, the team’s TV play-by-play man.

    “I’ve told him 100 times if I’ve told him once,” Rimer said. “ ‘Do you realize how great of a hockey player you can be?’ ”

    Johansen has not realized his potential, in more ways than one. But over NHL All-Star Weekend, he got a glimpse of what he can be. The whole hockey world did. Months after a bitter contract dispute with the Blue Jackets, he was thrust into a leading role. He played to the crowd and received lots of love in return.

    Blue Jackets teammate Nick Foligno made Johansen the first pick in the fantasy draft Friday night.

    Johansen hammed it up as he won the breakaway challenge Saturday night, taking off his Blue Jackets sweater to reveal an Ohio State football jersey, grabbing the son of a Blue Jackets trainer and carrying him to score a goal, gathering guys to form the ‘Flying V’ out of the “Mighty Ducks” movie.

    “I think it really bothered him,” Rimer said. “Obviously it was a long negotiation.”

  • Brian Elliott's All-Star journey from a Caribbean beach to the NHL's best-on-best in Columbus

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 2 days ago

    COLUMBUS — Brian Elliott was in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday, soaking up the sun, snorkeling in the ocean, enjoying the All-Star break. Then he looked at his phone and saw a message from St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.

    He knew immediately what it was about. He knew Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had suffered an injury Wednesday night, and he had wondered whether the NHL would need an injury replacement for the All-Star Game.

    Some would have ignored the call or come up with an excuse stay away. Not Elliott. Not his wife, Amanda.

    “Well,” she said, “we’re going if that’s what it’s about.”

    He called Armstrong and got the news. Yes, if he wanted, he could cut short his vacation, leave his posh resort and scramble to Columbus. He and his wife accepted the invitation, grabbed some champagne and went to the beach. They celebrated as the sun set.

    They packed, had dinner and went to bed. They got up Friday morning, had breakfast and caught a cab. They flew from the Turks and Caicos to Miami, from Miami to St. Louis. They had all of two hours to go home, grab cold-weather clothes and get back to the airport.

    “I didn’t have a suit,” Elliott said.

  • World Cup domination: NHL, NHLPA shooting for hockey supremacy on a global scale

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 3 days ago

    COLUMBUS — This is just the beginning. When the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association stage the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto – featuring the Big Six nations, plus a team of other Europeans and one of 23-and-under North Americans, unfortunately – it will be the first step in what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called their “joint vision for international hockey.”

    “The aspiration,” said John Collins, the NHL’s chief operating officer, “is to build a global brand and a global business.”

    The NHL and the NHLPA announced the World Cup on Saturday at the All-Star Game. But they are working on a Ryder Cup concept – say, a best-of-5 series between North American and European NHL stars in a city like London or Berlin in 2018. They’re researching expanding eligibility requirements so NHL players who can’t make their national teams can represent other nations where they have roots – say, England or Italy. They hope to hold a qualifying tournament in 2019 to fill out the 2020 World Cup, so they don’t need teams of other Europeans and 23-and-under North Americans and the World Cup can become a pure nation-on-nation tournament.

    They see potential for growth.

    We’ll see.

  • Blackhawks soar into All-Star Game as NHL's go-to glamour team

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 3 days ago

    COLUMBUS — Brent Seabrook came with his family Thursday night. The rest of the Chicago Blackhawks’ contingent came Friday morning – not on a private jet, not in first class.

    Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford crammed into a United commuter plane at O’Hare. They stuffed bags into tiny overhead compartments. They were asked to move around the cabin for weight balance. They were supposed to take off at 8:10 a.m. (CT) but sat through about an hour’s delay.

    No part of them wished they were headed to Cabo or Cancun for vacation – thanks to, say, a sudden lower-body injury – instead of Columbus for the NHL All-Star Game?

    “Aw, come on,” Toews said as he sat at a microphone for Media Day not long after he landed. “You want me to answer that straight up?”

    He smiled.

    “I’m kidding,” he said.

    OK, maybe part of them did wish they were somewhere warm. But Toews was kidding for the most part. Seriously.

    Not every team would want to do all that. Take the Los Angeles Kings, who have won two Stanley Cups in the salary-cap era, same as the Blackhawks, but don’t have the same profile. They have two all-stars here. They will play in their second stadium game in February.

  • Three Periods: All-star spotlight on Columbus; Vanek's vow; NHL notes

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 5 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include how far Columbus has come as a hockey market and how much room it still has to grow; why Thomas Vanek needs to be more selfish for the Minnesota Wild; and notes on Mike Yeo, Zach Parise and Nick Foligno.

    FIRST PERIOD: Columbus has come far as hockey market, can go much farther

    As recently as the 1990s, when it came to pro sports, Columbus was a minor-league town. It had the Chill in the ECHL, and hockey had a small niche. An abandoned prison crumbled on West Spring Street, where no one went for a good time.

    Today, Columbus has the Blue Jackets in the NHL, and hockey has a growing niche. The prison has been replaced not only by a beautiful arena, but by the Arena District – bars, restaurants, offices, homes, hotels – a model of urban renewal other cities hope to emulate.

    This weekend, fans will skate on the outdoor rink at the All-Star Winter Park and pack the NHL Fan Fair. Saturday night, the arena will host the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, and Sunday, the NHL All-Star Game.

    “They didn’t scream because they saw me,” Bobrovsky said. “They just were so excited after this win.”

  • Nick Foligno gets famous: From unknown NHLer to All-Star Game captain

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 6 days ago

    COLUMBUS — The last time the NHL staged an All-Star Game, few knew Nick Foligno. It was three years ago in Ottawa, and he was a Senator. But he wasn’t an all-star, let alone an all-star captain on center stage in the host city. He wore the No. 71 sweater, but he could have passed for a guy trying to sell No. 71 sweaters at a sporting goods store.

    Actually, a week after the All-Star Game, Foligno spent an hour undercover as “Frank” at a SportChek near the arena. To be Frank, it was humbling. A video on the Sens’ website shows him in a black T-shirt, posing as an employee, blending in all too well.

    “You know what would go really great with those skates?” Frank asks a girl trying on a pair. “A Sens jersey.”

    Frank smiles. She smiles.

    “And probably, like ...”

    He looks up and nods. She looks up and nods.

    “A Foligno Sens jersey,” he says, making eye contact, “just because he’s my favorite player.”

    He walks over to the sweaters, points out they’re discounted and …

    No recognition. No sale.

    “I tried,” he says. “Nothing.”

    “Hmm,” Frank says. “No. I wish.”

    “You look like him,”

    “I wish I was that guy.”

    * * * * *

    That left Foligno.

  • Everything's coming up goals for revitalized Rangers power forward Rick Nash

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 8 days ago

    The first goal showcased Rick Nash’s dominance. He pounced on a turnover and took off on a 2-on-1 rush. A split-second before the defender could deflect the shot with an outstretched stick, he fired from the left circle and beat the goalie cleanly, giving the New York Rangers a 1-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins 26 seconds into the game Sunday.

    The second goal showcased something else. The Rangers won a faceoff. Nash backed up with the puck above the left circle. While still backing up, he flicked the puck on net. It went off the stick of a defender in front, fluttered over the right arm of the goalie and fell across the line. It gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead and turned out to be the winning goal in a 5-2 victory.

    There are two parts to Nash’s season: good health and good luck. He’s skating the way he used to skate, and he’s getting the bounces, and he’s tied for the NHL lead with 28 goals. He’s on pace for 53 goals, which would shatter his career high, as he heads to the All-Star Game in Columbus, the city where he spent his first nine NHL seasons.

    “It’s amazing,” Nash said. “When the puck’s going in, it’s going in. And when it’s not, it’s not.”

  • Barry Trotz gave Predators their name, identity and foundation for NHL future

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 11 days ago

    Remember this as Barry Trotz returns “home” Friday night as the coach of the Washington Capitals: The Nashville Predators wouldn’t be the Nashville Predators without him.

    General manager David Poile hired Trotz to be the expansion franchise’s first coach in August 1997, more than a year before the first faceoff. The team settled on a logo – a saber-toothed skull, a reference to a fossil that had once been unearthed in downtown Nashville – before a name.

    They brainstormed. They flipped through dictionaries and hockey books. Trotz looked through a Canadian Hockey League guide and found a team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League called the Granby Predateurs.

    “The Nashville Predators,” Trotz said. “That sounds pretty decent.”

    The fans agreed. They ended up picking Predators instead of Ice Tigers, Fury or Attack.

    Trotz had never played in the NHL. He had never coached in the NHL. He didn’t know it then, but he would end up playing a huge role in establishing the NHL in Nashville, keeping the NHL in Nashville and building the NHL in Nashville to the point …

    “It doesn’t matter,” Gardner said. “We won’t be around when they change the carpet.”

    Yes, a flood.

  • Three Periods: Price check in Montreal; NHL goalie notes; Ovechkin 'easy' to coach

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 12 days ago

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s Three Periods column appears on Thursdays. This week’s topics include Carey Price’s outstanding season for the Montreal Canadiens; notes on other goaltenders, including Martin Brodeur, Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby; plus notes on Alex Ovechkin and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    FIRST PERIOD: Price has matured into a ‘true leader’ for the Canadiens

    The shot floated through the air from long range. Carey Price figured he would stop the puck and then play it, because his Montreal Canadiens were on the power play and he didn’t want a whistle in the defensive zone. The puck hit him in the chest …

    And dropped between his legs and dribbled behind him. He fell to his knees. As he searched for the puck, looking side to side, Erik Condra swiped it out of the crease and into the net. Shorthanded goal. Price had spotted the Ottawa Senators a 1-0 lead just 2:50 into the game Dec. 20 at the Bell Centre.

    “What a disaster for Price!” the TV announcer declared on ‘Hockey Night in Canada.’

    “He said, ‘D’oh!’ ” said teammate Brendan Gallagher. “And then he moved on. That’s just the type of person that he is.”

    SECOND PERIOD: More goaltender notes from around the NHL

  • Zen and the art of NHL goaltender maintenance: Marc-Andre Fleury keeps calm, keeps winning

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika at Yahoo Sports 15 days ago

    When Marc-Andre Fleury allows a goal, he skates to the corner to blow off steam. He scrapes his stick blade across the crease to clear off snow. He watches the replay on the scoreboard screen to see what happened, to see if he could have done something differently, and then he moves on.

    “I try,” he said.

    He said he has always followed this routine. But there are a couple of key differences now: One, he’s 30. He’s older and wiser. He said he knows how to “relax at the right time.” Two, he’s in his second season working with Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending coach Mike Bales, who has taught him not only about stopping the puck, but about letting it in.

    “Goals are going to go in,” Bales said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are. You’re going to let goals in in practice, you’re going to let goals go in in the game, and you need to have a plan how you deal with that. It doesn’t mean you have to be happy that they go in, but you have to have a way to reset. Marc’s worked on that, and he’s very good at that.”

    Bales said Fleury was “becoming almost more Zen-like in his approach to how he deals with goals.” He wouldn’t give more detail. Fleury smiled. He wouldn’t give more detail, either.

    Zen?