Pittsburgh — It’s become an annual staple for the television networks covering hockey and the celebration of the sport in the United States.
Sunday was the kickoff for Hockey Week Across America (created by USA Hockey in 2008) with “Hockey Day in America."
The week is meant to celebrate the game and those involved at all levels, while introducing the sport to new audiences.
Coach Jeff Blashill has three children, a girl and two boys, all of whom are playing hockey. Blashill sees the sport booming on a daily basis.
“I do, and the one I talk about first is my daughter the opportunities for girls’ hockey is so much better than it was,” Blashill said. “In certain states, it’s better than others, but Michigan is a state we’re lucky to live because my daughter has an unreal opportunity. She’s not at the Triple-A level, she plays at the Tier II level and they practice with three teams in the same age group, which is great. That has been awesome.
“And with my boys, same thing, it’s been a great opportunity.”
As the men’s coach at the past three world championships, Blashill has seen the depth of talent at the professional level expand to levels not seen before.
“I’d say the one thing I saw at the worlds over the number of years I was there is that historically, every country, especially Canada and the US, have a number of players that say no (to attending the tournament), but it hasn’t affected Canada as much because of the depth of players they’ve had,” Blashill said. “What I’ve seen in the U.S. now is, when a bunch of guys choose not to go at the end of the year for various reasons, which I understand, we can still field teams every year that are good enough to have an opportunity to go over and win gold. That just speaks to the depth of hockey in the USA, depth of elite type of players that we have.”
A key for that development, said Blashill, is Jim Johannson, the former assistant executive director/general manager of USA Hockey, who died in 2018.
“The impact he had on U.S. hockey, I don’t know if many people had as much an impact as he had. We certainly miss him a ton. But the way the U.S. performs on a consistent basis is a tribute to him.”
One thing Blashill would like to see at the youth level is parents and administrators keeping “perspective."
“The only thing I’d caution is we keep perspective in youth sports, that’s the one thing that could derail the the momentum we’re building in USA Hockey,” Blashill said. “It’s not about winning at the 9-, 10- or 11-year old (levels). It’s about helping these young people get better and teach them life lessons and if we can do that with the population and interest we have in hockey, we’ll be a great hockey nation.
“But we have to keep perspective.”
Cost and expense have caused many families to drop out of youth hockey, but Blashill said USA Hockey has attempted to combat the rising ice bills.
“It’s something USA Hockey has tried to fight with the American development model, ways to split ice costs,” Blashill said. “Ice is a huge cost. Some areas of the country have big travel costs. We can probably help ourselves by not going to numerous tournaments, and all that kind of stuff, and play local more. That would be something I would emphasize, play for your local teams, and get away from the super elite teams. They’re not good for anybody’s development, generally.”
Defenseman Trevor Daley (upper body) wasn't available after injuring himself Saturday in Boston. Madison Bowey was slated to re-enter the lineup.
... Forward Justin Abdelkader was a healthy scratch Saturday in Boston, with Brendan Perlini drawing back in. But Blashill said Abdelkader would be back in against Pittsburgh, and that Abdelkader is battling with several forward for a regular spot in the lineup.
"Abby goes out there and cares a bunch," Blashill said. "I know he cares about being a good pro, and the Red Wings. He's just in the mix with different guys, who will take their turn (in the lineup) and he wasn't in the mix (Saturday)."
Abdelkader entered Sunjustinday's game without a goal (and three assists) in 42 games.
... Blashill wants his team to support the puck better than they have in recent games.
"We have to want the puck better, " Bashill said. "We don't have the puck enough, and two big reasons is because we don't support it well enough and we have to win more battles in the offensive zone."
In relation to supporting the puck, Blashill said players have to want the puck, yell for the puck and skate with the puck, all of those areas while coming out of the defensive zone.