It is not uncommon for snowbirds -- those northern folks who seek the sun when the cold winds start to blow -- to spend their winters in Arizona and their summers in western Canada. Former Minnesota Gophers star Phil Kessel is not a snowbird, and yet here he is, working in the Valley of the Sun much of the winter, and now playing hockey inside the Edmonton bubble, as a member of the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL’s pandemic-adjusted playoffs.
On Friday, August 7, Kessel’s first goal of this most unique postseason helped the Coyotes upset the Nashville Predators 4-3 in overtime and win their opening-round best-of-five series 3-1. Arizona now advances to round two, where the Coyotes -- with four ex-Gophers on the roster -- will face the Colorado Avalanche, who have former Gophers defenseman Erik Johnson as their anchor on the blue line.
Six of the 17 Gophers who began the postseason on NHL rosters have now seen their seasons come to an end as their teams were eliminated. Of those six, Kyle Rau and Mat Robson of the Minnesota Wild and Vinni Lettieri of the New York Rangers did not dress for any of their teams’ opening round games.
Florida bowed out in four games to the New York Islanders, despite former Gopher Erik Haula’s goal in game three of the series, which was the only game won by the Panthers. The Islanders, who have former Gophers defenseman Nick Leddy on their blue line, will face Washington in round two. Eastern Conference games are being played in Toronto.
For the Capitals, former Gopher Travis Boyd played in just one of his team’s first three games and had just one shot, but he made it count. Boyd scored Washington’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, August 6. It was his first career playoff goal.
Icebreaker postponement leaves re-scheduling issues
The Gophers were originally scheduled to face UMD in Duluth in mid-October as part of the annual Icebreaker tournament, which was to have Providence and Minnesota State-Mankato in the four-team field. Last month UMD officials announced that the Icebreaker in Duluth would be postponed until 2021, and due to previously set schedules, the Gophers will not participate in that one.
School officials everywhere are working on schedules currently, and trying to replace games lost due to the on-going effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But trying to find two games to replace those cancelled Icebreaker contests is tricky. The NCAA limits teams to 34 regular season games, but provides exemptions for some in-season tournaments, such as the Icebreaker. So with 34 other games already scheduled, replacing those two games lost is difficult without some additional waiver from the NCAA.
Sources have indicated that there is discussion of a home-and-home series between the Gophers and St. Cloud State on-going, but the dates and feasibility have not been hammered out. With Big Ten football announcing a conference-only schedule, there is also discussion that the conference will do the same for basketball and hockey, which would mean the Gophers would be limited to playing their six other conference foes: Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
Hendricksons host their Golf Festival this week
The bad news for former Gophers star Darby Hendrickson, who has been a long-time assistant coach for the Minnesota Wild, is that his team was eliminated from the postseason early Saturday morning, falling 3 games to 1 in their opening round series with the Vancouver Canucks.
The silver lining for Hendrickson is that he and a handful of Wild players and coaches can now be in attendance on Thursday, August 13, when the Hendrickson Foundation hosts its annual Golf Festival in Prior Lake, Minn.
Created by legendary high school hockey coach and trainer Larry Hendrickson, who passed away in 2018, the Hendrickson Foundation raises funds for programs like sled hockey, blind hockey, special hockey and warrior hockey in the region.
Their program begins at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, with foursomes heading out to play Legends Golf Club at 11 a.m. Danny Hendrickson, another former Gopher and the foundation’s executive director, said they will hold most of the day’s events outside, in a COVID-sensitive environment. Among the celebrities scheduled to golf are former Wild players like Andrew Brunette and Mark Parrish, and Minnesota Twins legend Kent Hrbek.
There are still openings available for golfers at $300 per person or $1,200 for a foursome. More information is available at the Hendrickson Foundation website.