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Zack Kassian has doled out 1,067 hits during his career, but can’t seem to handle taking one

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The Edmonton Oilers winger believed Matthew Tkachuk should have answered the bell for a hit he threw in Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, and nothing will remove hitting from the game faster than the supposed need for every big bodycheck to be followed by a fight.Zack Kassian throws punches at Matthew Tkachuk|Derek Leung/Getty ImagesIt’s fair to say after Saturday night’s 4-3 win by the Calgary Flames over the Edmonton Oilers, The Battle of Alberta is back on. First, both teams are simultaneously relevant and in playoff contention for only the second time since 2005-06, albeit in the league’s worst division, albeit being the only playoff teams with negative goals differentials and albeit with the Oilers actually out of the playoffs when you measure by points percentage.
But we’ll take it. Hey, maybe these two teams will even meet in the playoffs, something that will not have happened, if you can believe it, in 28 years. It’s not what it once was because neither team looks particularly close to winning a Stanley Cup anytime soon, but the Oilers once again have the best player in the world – which doesn’t seem fair. And well, the bad blood is still there, as evidenced by what happened Saturday night.
The game had everything. Physical play, an outstanding rush by Connor McDavid, back-and-forth lead changes and even a little skatey-punchey for those who think the game needs that stuff as long as they’re not the ones getting smacked in the face. But most of all, what The Battle of Alberta has now is a villain. Matthew Tkachuk has no problem wearing the black hat, something he’s wearing with pride right about now knowing that he not only drove Zach Kassian into the boards, but also into a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
There was nothing about Tkachuk’s hit on Kassian late in the second period – or another one earlier in the game – that was anything more than a hockey play. In fact, the second one embodied everything that makes the game special. It was hard, it was clean and it was impactful. No charging, no head contact, no arms up. In fact, you could argue that Tkachuk might have even pulled up a little before delivering the hit. But there’s a certain sector of observers – and you can obviously count Kassian as one of them – who believe that sort of hit means Tkachuk should have been prepared to “answer the bell” and fight Kassian. But Tkachuk wouldn’t. Instead, he allowed Kassian to lose his cool and get an inexplicable double minor for roughing instead of a five-minute fighting major. (Kassian dropped his gloves and pounded on Tkachuk. On the same night, Vince Dunn and Jacob Trouba threw their gloves off and exchanged a flurry of punches with Dunn receiving a minor for roughing. Exactly what game are these referees watching?) And Calgary used the advantage to score the game-winner on the power play.
Predictably, Tkachuk was vilified by the pro-Oiler crowd, with Kassian leading the crusade by calling Tkachuk “a young punk” and “a pu—y.” Said Tkachuk wouldn’t fight him two years ago because he was a fourth-liner and still won’t even though Kassian has 13 goals. “What’s the excuse now?” Kassian said. Well, perhaps the excuse is that it’s ridiculous to think a player should have to fight because he’s had the temerity to throw a couple of hard, clean checks. If anyone should have to answer for his actions, it was McDavid, who threw a dirty and potentially dangerous hit on Tkachuk from behind into the boards in response to the hit on Kassian. If you want to be outraged, the McDavid hit was the one that has no place in the game.
Somehow in the past 10 years or so, this blight has foisted itself upon the game. There was a time when a player – regardless of whether he was a star player or a fourth-liner – would occasionally get blown up by a clean, hard hit and respond by picking himself up and getting back into the play. There was no sense that it needed to be avenged and everyone understood that. Then it became taboo to hit star players without having to deal with repercussions. Now you can’t even hit a superstar 13-goal scorer such as Zack Kassian without having to fight. If you really want to remove hitting from the game, this is a perfect way to do it.
It all goes back to this notion that has found its way into hockey that any slight – perceived or real, large or small – absolutely has to be avenged with gusto. It’s the kind of thinking that gave us the Todd Bertuzzi incident, but you know, people are slow to learn in this game sometimes. As Tkachuk said, the Flames took the power play and the goal and first place in the division. And all he had to do for it was take a flurry of punches from a player who has doled out 1,067 hits during his career, but can’t seem to take one himself.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: calgary flames, edmonton oilersConnect: About the AuthorKen CampbellKen Campbell, The Hockey News’ senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League’s Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

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The NHL is going to the Sunshine State for the All-Star Game next year. Any way they can shoot it into the sun instead?

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Everything about the All-Star Game, from the Skills Competition to the low-effort 3-on-3 tournament, is broken and the event does nothing to showcase the best game in the world.The Pacific Division All-Stars|Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty ImagesST. LOUIS – It’s pretty clear that F-bombs were the underlying theme of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game and that didn’t even include the chorus of millions of viewers who were sitting at home and likely saying something like, “(Expletive), this is god awful.”
Even by All-Star Game standards, where the bar is basically set on the ground when it comes to competitiveness and entertainment, this was putrid. Four teams played the equivalent of one full 60-minute game of hockey and scored a total of 38 goals. Think about that for a minute. The Canadian and American women’s teams, who actually played as though they cared about the game, produced just three in 20 minutes.
And for the second straight year, the female players saved the weekend. Which is great for women’s hockey, but says about as much about how bad this event is as it does about the excellence of the women’s game. For those of you who care, and will need to refer to the written word when the results are wiped from your memory bank 10 minutes from now, the Pacific Division defeated the Atlantic Division 5-4 in the championship game and split $1 million in prize money. David Pastrnak, who was named Least Terrible Player™ and won a car for his efforts, scored six points in the tournament. So did Leon Draisaitl and Quinn Hughes, which would represent a pretty good week for all of them.
The night was not without its controversial moments. Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong kept the censors busy by dropping three F-bombs during the band’s in-game performance. As one observer noted, with their performance, Green Day gave more (expletives) than the players.
And on the ice, the heated rivalry between Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames got a little bit of juice. On the second goal of the second game, which came 2:59 into the game, Tkachuk made a no-look, between-the-legs pass to Draisaitl, who buried it. Tkachuk didn’t even look toward Draisaitl and made for the bench, while Draisaitl appeared to say “(expletive) you” to Tkachuk.
“I hope everyone realizes I was just joking around,” Draisaitl said. “I guess I expected (Tkachuk to skate after the bench). I probably would have done the same.”
As far as his part in the exchange, Tkachuk said he didn’t hear anything from Draisaitl and as far as skating back to the bench, said he wasn’t about to do a major celebration for an assist in the All-Star Game. “I don’t know if anyone else was celebrating goals tonight,” Tkachuk said. “You guys read too much into that. I have zero idea (if Draisaitl said anything). It was my first shift of the game and I was going back to the bench and we had just made it 2-0. You have to ask everyone else if they celebrated after goals. I didn’t see too much of it.”
Tkachuk has a point there. Had these guys celebrated after every goal, there might have been a spate of rotator cuff injuries among the best players in the league going into the home stretch. “It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said about the Tkachuk pass. “Like I said all along, we’re all here to have fun, we’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game. This is not the time to be grumpy about anything. Our team, everyone here had a great time.”
Of course they did. They all held hands, sang Kumbaya and went out and put forth minimal effort. Over the three games, Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens was the only one to record a hit. It becomes clearer with every passing year that this event is essentially a mid-season waste of time. You can’t make players care about this game. Not even a $90,000 reward is enough to do it. The NHL has already said that next year’s game will have more of an “international flavor” to it, which might help. But this thing, from the Skills Competition to the three-game tournament, is broken. Badly. It’s embarrassing and it does absolutely nothing to showcase the best game in the world.
So to recap, the highlights of the weekend were the women’s game and seven-year-old Alex Letang, son of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris, who was adorable and engaging in the post-game interview area. Aside from that, nothing about this spectacle was memorable. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday that having the league shut down for two weeks every four years for the Olympics is, “extraordinarily disruptive.” Meanwhile, half the league is off for five days before the All-Star Game and the other half puts its feet up for the five days after. And the league takes a four-day break to put the event on. But it’s apparently too much for the league to take a two-week break every four years.
Next year’s All-Star Game is in Florida. Instead of going to the Sunshine State for the game, perhaps the NHL could just shoot this whole event into the sun.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: all-star gameConnect: About the AuthorKen CampbellKen Campbell, The Hockey News’ senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League’s Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

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Black Hockey History Tour Arrives Just When the Sport Needs it Most

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The mobile museum celebrates hockey’s trailblazing black players – and reinforces the ‘hockey is for everyone’ message during a turbulent time.|Matt Larkin/The Hockey NewsST. LOUIS – The trailer, decked out and converted to a mobile museum, was packed to capacity, adorned with images of black NHL players, information about their legacies and artifacts, including recreated St. Louis Blues jersey stalls for Grant Fuhr, Ryan Reaves and Jamal Mayers. A crowd gathered around a roulette-style trivia wheel, taking turns answering questions about the history of black hockey players. Among the people answering were black people and white people, kids and adults, men and women. This was the latest stop on the NHL’s Black Hockey History Tour, and it means a lot to many different people for many different reasons.
Firstly, for any person of color who has played the game or dreams of playing the game, seeing the images of and facts on black hockey players, whose history in the game dates back as far as the 1800s, is inspiring and moving. Retired NHL right winger Joel Ward, attending the exhibit Saturday in St. Louis, was visibly energized by the sight of it.
“As you can see, we’ve been playing hockey for a long time – we’ve been at it,” Ward said with a proud laugh. “What a cool thing to do. For me, growing up, there weren’t too many black players. Kevin Weekes in our family was the end-all of superheroes. So for the kids to come out here and get a glimpse and learn a little more about history and all the brothers that played, it’s really cool.”
The exhibit also carries far more weight today than anyone could’ve expected even two months ago. After right winger Akim Aliu came forward in November with revelations of racist comments by his former AHL coach, Bill Peters, it sent a shockwave through hockey that culminated in Peters’ resignation as coach of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. It was a watershed moment for the game that led to the NHL, with help from Aliu, tabling the idea of a code of conduct and zero-tolerance approach to hate speech in the sport. The initiative won’t change the landscape overnight, however. Retired NHL goalie turned NHL Network lead analyst Weekes, who was also on hand Saturday, said the exhibit shouldn’t carry extra weight right now, but that it does given the sad stories still coming out. We learned how far the game still has to go less than a week ago when AHL defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended five games for using racial slurs against the Ontario Reign left winger Boko Imama.
For Kwame Mason, director of the documentary Soul On Ice and the museum’s co-curator, the exhibit does an important service of offsetting all the upsetting stories in the hockey world today with some tales of wins for inclusivity.
“Because the atmosphere of hockey is fighting to be more inclusive, to be more welcoming, museums like this will show people that there is that idea of hockey being for everyone,” Mason said. “This is why it’s important. It counteracts the negative stories that are out there. For every negative, we have to have a positive.”
Lastly, seeing all the different types of people taking in the exhibit this weekend – which included all types of races – really underscored the point of the museum: it’s a way to bring attention and respect to the trailblazing black players, from Willie O’Ree to Angela James, but also a decidedly inclusive project designed to invite all types of people to learn about black hockey history. That philosophy is exactly what the NHL hopes to bring to the game as a whole – to eschew the antiquated idea that hockey is a sport for the old guard and no one else, that it can’t be shared with minorities, women or people of different sexual orientations. To drive the point home, Weekes came up with an illuminating analogy.
“I’ve been to Italy numerous times, I have a lot of Italian friends in Toronto and New Jersey, and they never say, ‘Pasta’s our food, it’s just ours. Nobody’s allowed to eat it. You can’t have it. You can’t have marinara sauce. You can’t have buffalo mozzarella. It’s just for us,’ ” Weekes said. “Nobody says that! So we can’t be saying that in hockey. We can’t. It’s the most ludicrous thing in the world.”
So while the NHL and the sport have many years worth of work left to establish that Hockey is For Everyone, the black hockey history museum didn’t exist a couple years ago, so it’s a clear sign of progress. Just as young women watching the 3-on-3 game on TV Friday might have been inspired to pick up a stick and play, any minorities visiting the museum could experience the same kind of inspiration.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
Tags: nhlConnect: About the AuthorMatt LarkinMatt Larkin is a senior writer at The Hockey News and has been part of the team since 2011. He’s your one-stop shop for deep-dive player interviews, predictions, statistics, fantasy player rankings, player safety and hair tips. Catch him weekly as host of The Hockey News Live and The Hockey News Podcast.

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