Good morning and welcome to Snap Shots. This week, we’ll take a look at two players who had their numbers retired, a pay bump for hockey players, and a “pissing match” between an NHLer and a journalist.
1. Bruins Retire #22 to Honor O’Ree
On Tuesday, the Boston Bruins retired number 22, which was worn by Willie O’Ree when he played for the Bruins. Coincidentally, the jersey retirement date of January 18, 2022 was exactly 64 years after O’Ree made his debut with the Bruins — January 18, 1958 — and broke hockey’s color barrier as the first Black man to play in the NHL. It was a great gesture by the Bruins to honor O’Ree, not just for the obstacles he had to overcome to play in the NHL, but for his 24 years of work as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador. O’Ree made a positive influence on over 100,000 youths who participated in the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program, and continues to do so, even at 86 years of age.
The ceremony itself included recorded messages of thanks for current NHL players, and former Bruins player Anson Carter, who is Black, was one of the people who carried out O’Ree’s banner and then raisee it to the rafters at TD Gardens. O’Ree was not in attendance at the ceremony, but he did address the audience from his home. If you missed the ceremony, you can watch it here:
2. Former Isles Captain Gillies Dies at 67
Clark Gillies, a former New York Islander and member of four Stanley Cup Championship teams, died on Friday at age 67. No cause of death was given.
Gillies was a first-round pick of the Islanders in 1974 and played with the team for 12 seasons. He was the Isles’ captain from 1977 to 1979, and a key part of the Islanders run of four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships from 1980 to 1983. He played on a line with Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier — known as the “Trio Grande Line” — and was a two-time First-Team All-Star. Gillies also played two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres at the end of his career and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.
Gillies continued to work hard off the ice once he retired, and started the Clark Gillies Foundation, “a non-profit corporation developed to help children who are physically, developmentally, and/or financially challenged.”
It is always sad when one of our hockey heroes passes away, but even more so when it is unexpected and at a relatively-young age. My condolences go out to Mr. Gillies family, as well as Islanders fans who appreciated his work on and off the ice.
3. Draisaitl – Matheson “Pissy” Feud
During a press conference after team practice last week, Oilers center Leon Draisaitl got into an argument with sportswriter Jim Matheson. Check out the 90-second video above if you haven’t seen it yet.
Matheson, who was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has covered the Oilers sine 1973. During the presser, he asked Draisitl if he was surprised that the team lost six games in a row and what one thing the Oilers needed to get better at.
“We have to get better at everything,” was Draisitl’s reply. Matheson asked Draisaitl if he wanted to elaborated, in which he retorted “Nope. You can do that. You know everything.”
This prompted Matheson to ask, “Why are you so pissy, Leon?” That escalated things.
First off, let me state that Jim Matheson has been covering hockey longer than I have been alive. I acknowledge that and respect that. I think his questions for Draisitl were fine at first.
But Matheson was out of line here. Matheson is 72 years old and should know better than to get into an argument with a 26-year-old athlete. Being a journalist — and especially a sportswriter — for such a long time, Matheson should have thicker skin by now. He should have turned the other cheek when Draisaitl said “you know everything” in a condescending way.
Had Matheson let that slide and moved on to the next question, Draisaitl would have looked like the jerk and Matheson would have looked even more like the longtime, Hall of Fame-caliber professional that he is.
Athletes can sometimes be “pissy” or rude — and they can usually get away with it most times because, at the end of the day, people pay to see them play, and then pay to hear what they have to say afterwards. Yes, that’s unfair, but life is unfair. Had Draisaitl personally insulted Matheson, then Matheson would have every right to turn it right back at him. That was not the case, though.
But at the end of the day, life still goes on for everyone, and the Oilers — who finally won a game on Saturday after losing seven in a row — still suck.
4. PHF to Expand, Increase Salaries
Last week, the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly known as the National Women’s Hockey League) announced that it will increase each team’s salary cap from $300,000 to $750,000 starting in the 2022-23 season. This will increase the average salary for a 25-player roster from $12,000 per season to $30,000 per season; or more if teams have less than 25 rostered players. Teams must have a minimum of 20 players.
The league will also expand by two teams, bringing the total number of PHF teams to eight. One team will be added in Montreal while the other will be in the United States, though exactly where has not been disclosed yet. (Fingers crossed that it is CHICAGO.)
When the league was known as the NWHL, it struggled, cut salaries in its second season (2016-17), and lost many of its best players as a result. The pay increase should convince many of the best Canadian and American players to re-join the league next year. Granted, $30K per season isn’t exactly “quit your day job money,” but it is a huge step in the right direction.
Adding two more teams will also help raise the profile of the women’s league. This is especially important in an Olympic year, when interest in women’s hockey is usually at its peak. PHF games are currently streamed on ESPN+, and it’s All-Star Game will will be held this Saturday in Buffalo.
5. Blues Retire #44 to Honor Pronger
We started this column with a jersey retirement, and we’ll end it with one, too. Last week Monday, the St. Louis Blues retired number 44 in honor of former defenseman Chris Pronger, who manned the Blues blueline for nine seasons. He is the eighth player to have his number retired by the Blues.
Progmer played for the Blues from 1994-95 to 2003-04, and was their team captain for five years. Pronger also won two awards while with St. Louis: the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman and the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, both for the 1999-2000 season.
Pronger had an impressive, 18-year NHL career that probably would have been longer if it wasn’t cut short by an eye injury and a concussion. He was a First-Team All-Star once and a Second-Team All-Star three times. Pronger was also a big part of the Anaheim Ducks’ Stanley Cup Championship in 2007, and also captained the Ducks and the Flyers. He also won Olympic gold medals with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Pronger gave a very entertaining retirement speech, bringing up former Blues’ Coach and GM Mike Keenan (who received a chorus of BOOS! from the audience). He also jokingly thanked the Blues fans for letting “it be known that I need to step up my game a little bit” when he first arrived in St. Louis. You can see Pronger’s speech at the video below:
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■