Hockey community rallies behind injured teens

Played at Minnesota Wild hockey games (and synchronized to hours of North Stars, Gophers, and youth hockey highlights on YouTube), the Celtic-infused Wild Anthem is the unofficial official anthem in defense of the State of Hockey.

It’s the song’s second stanza that illustrates how deeply ingrained hockey is in the state’s cultural and athletic self-awareness.

This sport was here
Before we came
It will be here when we’re gone
The game’s in our blood
And our blood’s in the game
Lay us down under
A frozen pond

It’s no surprise, then, that the people of Minnesota, from youth and amateur, from recreational leagues to collegiate hockey and up through the NHL, are doing what they can to shine light and offer hope to several of their own who need all the support they can get.

Much of the hockey community is already too familiar with the plight of Jack Jablonski, the 16-year-old Benilde-St. Margaret’s sophomore who was left paralyzed from a severe spinal cord injury after a hit from behind along the boards during a junior-varsity game Dec. 30. Jenna Privette, a senior at St. Croix Lutheran, suffered a spinal concussion on a hit from behind one week later and remains hospitalized and without feeling in her legs.

It’s selflessness intertwined with her love for hockey that’s getting Privette through her most trying time.

“I want to coach hockey so bad. I want to teach little kids how to play, coach them all the way up to high school,” Privette told Jamie Yuccas of WCCO-Minneapolis.

“I just love the game.”

Jablonski was recently visited by Minneapolis native and 1999 Benilde-St. Margaret’s alum Andrew Alberts, who brought along Henrik and Daniel Sedin and several other Canucks teammates to the hospital. Having known Jablonski from informal offseason workouts last summer, the upbeat attitude Alberts noticed last week was the same one that had stuck out to him the previous year, as reported by the Vancouver Sun.

“It’s tough to see anybody like that, but his spirits are up and he’s breaking new barriers every day doing things they said he wasn’t going to do,” Alberts told Sun reporter Brad Ziemer. “I’m proud of his effort and he is staying positive and that is the biggest thing. He was talking about the video game he is playing with electrodes attached to his triceps so every time he flexes his triceps he works the game.

“So his muscles are moving and he’s starting to feel things with his left and right hands. Every day is a building block for him and he sees progress every day and it’s huge.”

Eden Prairie native Chad Rau scored in his NHL debut and earned first star honors in a 5-2 Minnesota win over Dallas, capping off a Hockey Day in Minnesota on Jan. 21 that raised over $134,000 for the Jack Jablonski Trust Fund through a telethon, online auction, and contributions from all levels of hockey within the state.

Having spoken about the well-executed fundraising efforts by players’ wives and supported by fans in Love for Lokomotiv, the league’s Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, and the community outreach of individual teams that ensures that players are regularly assisting those who are less fortunate, it’s no surprise that a state such as Minnesota has so swiftly turned to the aid of one of its own.

To donate to the Jack Jablonski Trust Fund, follow this link.

Ducks migrate north in standings

In the third period of a tied game at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Teemu Selanne received a Matt Beleskey pass as he effortlessly sped along the left wing after entering the Penguins’ zone, drawing Marc-Andre Fleury into an awkward angle before flicking a precise backhand behind the goalie’s right shoulder and just inside the far post.

It was the game-winning goal, Selanne’s 19th of the season and the 656th of his career to move him into a tie with Brendan Shanahan for 12th all-time.

More important than Selanne’s rise up the career goal scoring and points lists is the dizzying rise up the Western Conference standings by the Ducks.

Left for dead after a 3-1 loss to San Jose dropped them to 10-22-6 on Jan. 4, the Ducks came from behind to defeat the New York Islanders 4-2 two days later to kick-start a 14-2-3 stretch that saw them climb to within six points of a playoff spot with 25 games to play prior to Phoenix’s win Thursday in Los Angeles that pushed the Ducks eight points out. Anaheim was 20 points behind then-eighth place Nashville prior to their win over the Islanders.

As 97 points seems to be the agreed-upon safety line for a playoff berth, we surmised over the All-Star break that the Ducks would have to go roughly 26-6-2 from that point in order to feel confident about making the playoffs for the sixth time in seven post-lockout seasons.

They’ve gone 6-1-2 since the break, making their current eight-game road trip a major test of their chances to play meaningful hockey in late March into April. They’ll have to maintain roughly .800 hockey the rest of the way.

Anaheim is no longer in uncharted waters. While the Ducks have flirted with the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues’ post-lockout record of coming from 11 points behind after 45 games to earn a playoff spot (the Ducks were also 11 points out of a playoff spot after their 45th game, a 6-2 win over Phoenix on Jan. 18), having to close an eight-point gap has been accomplished several times before. The 2008-09 St. Louis Blues were eight points out after both 55 and 60 games played, though they were eventually swept in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks.

The New York Islanders were 12 points back of the playoffs as late as Jan. 31, 1994 and concluded the season on a 19-11-7 run to make the playoffs as an eighth seed that won only 36 of 84 games. Pierre Turgeon, Ray Ferraro and Ron Hextall were swept in the first round by the eventual Cup-winning New York Rangers.

No team since 1994 has erased a 12-point deficit in order to make the playoffs; if the Ducks win roughly four of every five games remaining, they’ll have made up a 20-point deficit.

Anaheim is 24-24-9 for 57 points in advance of Friday’s game at New Jersey, eight points behind eighth-place Los Angeles (65 points). The Ducks’ season will be determined by their current eight-game road trip, on which they’ve started 3-0-1. With so little margin for error, the Ducks could be staring at virtual elimination should they lose two or three games in a row in regulation.

After New Jersey, they’ll finish the trip against Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina. Home and away games remain against San Jose and St. Louis in addition to a visit from the Boston Bruins on March 25, the 76th game of the regular season.

“All these games that we’re going to win are going to be nail-biters,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Everybody we play from here on in is pretty well in the playoffs or got a shot at it.”

NHL to Seattle update

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn introduced the city’s private/public arena endeavor Thursday in collaboration with developer and financier Chris Hansen, a Ranier Valley native and current San Francisco resident who offers the third-highest private investment in a professional arena in the country, as told by King County Executive Dow Constantine and reported by the Seattle Times.

“On first look this is an exciting proposal,” McGinn said, introducing the venture with Constantine. Hansen was not present.

Because of Initiative 91, a directive passed by voters in 2006 that stipulates the city cannot support professional sports teams unless such investments result in a profit, the city and county would raise a maximum of $200 million through rent and tax revenues that wouldn’t exist without the arena.

Hansen would provide at least $290 million with more coming from other investors and would also be responsible for luring both an NBA and an NHL team – with the NHL mentioned specifically within the press conference’s opening statements, including a remark by Constantine referencing the 1917 Stanley Cup-winning Seattle Metropolitans. The city will not offer its own investment until a tenant is secured, an agreement that comes with a binding non-relocation agreement for 30 years.

“A lot of planets have to align for this to work,” McGinn said.

Seattle immediately jumps to the top of any NHL relocation scenario once an arena is in place, and with the Phoenix Coyotes’ ongoing financial challenges, the city is a potential target for the Coyotes to land. A Phoenix-Tampa Bay exhibition game drew 7,281 fans to Everett, 25 miles north of Seattle, on a Tuesday in September 2009.

McGinn stated his preference that Key Arena, designed as a basketball arena without easy hockey reconfiguration, house the teams in a temporary situation. Hockey sightlines and aesthetics were subpar at the Key when it housed the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds before the team relocated to a new facility in suburban Kent, Wash., in 2009; improvements to locker rooms, showers and training facilities would likely be needed, even as a temporary home.

Former SuperSonics player, coach and executive Lenny Wilkens will serve on a three-person review panel that will reconvene with McGinn after a report is prepared over the next month.

“This is ultimately a regional investment that will be a benefit to the entire region,” McGinn said.

Game of the Weekend

Friday, Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators at Detroit Red Wings

The Preds haven’t played since Tuesday, when Ryan Ellis’ game-winner gave the previously 0-1-2 club a big win over slumping Chicago. They’ve only lost twice in regulation to divisional opponents this season – both by 4-1 scores to Detroit – in going 13-2-2 against the toughest division in hockey. They’ll have to weather an early storm and engineer their best penalty killing as they go into an opposing team’s house of horrors, Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings have won an NHL-record 21 games in a row. Henrik Zetterberg has started to show off his goal-scoring touch once again for Detroit with three goals in four games, but he’s likely to miss this one with a lower body injury. Detroit will likely go back to Joey MacDonald in net as Jimmy Howard continues to recover from a broken finger.