Happy Monday! This week, I want to take a look at a big story that made the rounds early last week, when a quick-thinking Seattle Kraken fan helped save a Vancouver Canucks’ assistant equipment manager’s life. We will also take a look at an awesome goal, a new “rookie” record that was set, and the potential end of a solid NHL career. Plus, COVID-19 continues to ruin hockey.
1. Connor McDavid Put On the COVID Protocol List
COVID-19 has been a very serious problem in the NHL this season. As of Sunday night, 101 games have been postponed. Countless players have been put on the COVID Protocol List, for either testing positive or being within close proximity to someone who has. But you know the shit has really hit the fan when Connor McDavid, the best player in the league, has to sit out several games because of COVID.
Folks, COVID does not care of you are Connor McDavid or a fourth-line grinder. Most infectious respiratory diseases do not discriminate. Off the top of my head, some of the elite players in the league who have had to miss games because of COVID include Artemi Panarin, Andrei Vasilevsky, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, and Brock Boeser. McDavid is just an exclamation point — or three!!! — on this ever-growing list of players.
The NHL has taken some measures steps to try and mitigate the spread of COVID among its players and staff, including:
• Masking while indoors at team facilities
• Physical distancing during team meals at home
• No eating at restaurants with the general public while on the road
• No public autograph appearances or charity appearances
You can read the NHL’s four-page memo in its entirety here.
Do these measures go far enough? It’s easy for someone like me to say no, since I don’t spend half my life on the road, traveling to other cities and playing pro hockey.
But I think the NHL would be wise to have players stay in their hotel rooms when they are on the road when they are not playing or practicing — and this includes having players eat by themselves in their hotel rooms when on the road. That may suck for the players, but it sucks for fans when they can’t see their favorite players play; especially when they buy a ticket beforehand only to find out that night that he’s not playing.
And you know what? That sucks for the players, too. However, this problem is only going to get worse before it gets better.
2. Hockey Fan Saves Assistant Equipment Manager’s Life
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) January 2, 2022
The feel-good story that made the rounds early last week was about Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici, who alerted Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton that he may have a cancerous mole on his neck.
Popovici, who had worked as a nursing assistant, noticed the mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck when the Canucks visited the Kraken on October 23. After the game, she banged on the plexiglass and held up her phone with a message that read “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!”
Hamilton had the mole checked out, and sure enough, it was cause for concern. He had the mole removed and, after a biopsy, it was determined that the mole was cancerous. Once Hamilton knew that he was in the clear of any cancer, he asked the Canucks to help him find the woman who tried so hard to get his attention that night.
The Canucks were able to track Popovici down, and the two officially met last Saturday, when the Canucks played the Kraken in Seattle. The Canucks and Kraken donated $10,000 to help Popovici pay for medical school.
Hamilton was a guest on NHL Now last week, and he further explained how it all happened — and how several family members have already died from cancer.
The video is about 10 minutes long, but in summary, Hamilton said “It’s a huge relief. My mom lost two kids to cancer, and a granddaughter, and my dad. So, cancer has hit my family. So, my biggest stress is telling my mom. How am I going to tell my mom, that now I have cancer. It was a long three weeks of waiting — or two-and-a-half weeks — of waiting for the biopsy, and when I got it, it was such a sigh of relief.”
Enough great things cannot be said of Popovici, who went through great lengths to get Hamilton’s attention, in a way that would not embarrass him, and how she saved the life of a fellow member of the hockey community.
3. Sharks Put Evander Kane on Unconditional Waivers
The San Jose Sharks are officially done with Evander Kane. The winger was suspended for 21 games earlier this year for submitting a fake vaccination card. He has since returned to play for the Sharks AHL team, but got into more hot water because he violated the AHL’s rules by traveling home to Vancouver while he was in COVID protocol. Then on Saturday, the Sharks put Kane on unconditional waivers, meaning any team could take him if they wanted.
Should no team claim Kane, the Sharks will terminate his contract, which in its fourth of seven years at $7 million per season. The NHLPA stated that it will issue a grievance if Kane’s contract is terminated, as per ESPN.
Overall, this has been a terrible year for Kane. At the start of the season, Anna Kane, his estranged wife, accused him of domestic abuse, and stated that he was betting on NHL games. The League investigated both those claims and could not find proof of either. Kane was then suspended for submitting a fake vaccination card, then violates COVID protocol while playing in the AHL. Having his contract terminated would be another blow to the 30-year-old’s career.
4. Zach Fucale Sets Record for “Start of Career” Shutout Streak
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There is a saying in life: “Every dog has his day,” which more or less means “everyone will have good luck or success at some point in their lives.”
For Washington Capitals goaltender Zach Fucale, that day was over eight years in the making. He was drafted 36th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2013, and “rode the pine” as a Habs backup for a bit during the 2015-16 season, but didn’t get his shot to play in the Show. Fucale also played for eight different minor league teams from 2015-16 to 2021-22.
But Fucale’s day finally came on November 11, 2020. He started the game for the Capitals, registering his first game, his first start, his first win, and his first shutout. It can’t get any better than that for a goalie.
Yet it did. On January 7, Fucale stopped all seven shots he faced in a 19-minute relief appearance, extending his shutout streak.
Finally, Fucale went another 59:36 without allowing a goal on Saturday, January 8, extending his shutout streak to 138:07 — setting the record for the longest shutout streak to start a career. Former Minnesota Wild goalie Matt Hackett previously held the mark at 102:48, and coincidentally, it was the Wild that Fucale and the Capitals faced Saturday night.
We can’t call it a “rookie shutout streak” to start his career because Fucale technically isn’t a rookie. He’s 26 and, despite having zero NHL games of experience before this season, is too old to be considered a rookie. (You can thank Sergei Makarov for that rule.)
Regardless, Fucale showed anything but a lack of experience in his first three games. It seemed like he was going to be one of many goalies who get drafted and get close, but never get their opportunity to play in the NHL. So, it is extra special when a guy who spent almost a decade toiling in the minors doesn’t just get his shot, but makes the most of it. And setting a record IS making the most of that opportunity.
I think this dog has quite a few more days on the horizon.
5. Cale Makar’s Overtime Heroics
Practically everyone has seen Cale Makar’s overtime goal against the Blackhawks last week. But if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch this short video of what is one of the nicest goals of the season.
Makar skates the puck up along the boards, goes around the net, fools Kirby Dach into thinking he’s carrying the puck back to the blue line, then — WHOOP! — turns on a dime, fools future Hall of Fame goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before shelfing the puck on a backhand shot. Makar shows once again why he is one of the best young defensemen in the game…and that he’s better at playing forward than Kirby Dach is at playing defense. This was Makar’s 11th game-winning goal since 2019-20, which is the most among active defensemen.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■