The news broke late Wednesday that Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In Abbotsford, B.C., one of his former peers read the news.
"Brings back memories," said Jordan Sigalet, now the goaltending coach for the hometown Heat of the AHL.
Sigalet was diagnosed with MS when playing for Bowling Green State University in March 2004. Harding kept his news secret from everyone but close family for one month. Sigalet did so for six months. Only his family and coaches knew.
"I was worried what Boston was going to think," Sigalet said, referring to the Bruins, who owned his NHL rights. "I hid behind a lie.
"I'd say I had the flu or not feeling well. I was not being honest with myself ... I was in denial, always thinking one more doctor would tell me it was misdiagnosed."
Once he finally did admit the truth, things changed for the better
"The emails and letters made me feel so much better about going public," he said.
Dave Lewis, then head coach of the Red Wings -- and later with Sigalet in Boston -- sent a handwritten note that really energized him, so Sigalet will reach out to Harding and the message will be that this doesn't mean your career or your life is over.
"It made me a stronger person and a better goalie," he said. "Every time I stepped on the ice, I thought about the doubters, those who didn't think I could do it.
"I wanted to prove people wrong ... It's been nine years since I was diagnosed and it wasn't the reason I retired. It was time to move on with my life."
Sigalet played three years in the AHL and did get into an NHL game with the Bruins before trying one season in Europe. He laughed at the idea that it's solely his coaching that has Abbotsford allowing the fewest goals in the AHL so far this year. The only scare in his on-ice career came in November 2007, when he collapsed while playing for Providence.
"I was dehydrated, exhausted," he said. "There were signs a few days earlier I shouldn't play.
"[I learned] people won't think less of you if you don't play or take a game off. You'll be fine.
"The big thing is fatigue. Rest when you can, take care of your body, but as an athlete, you should be used to that already.
"Learn your limits, don't allow yourself to get overheated. There were days when I was playing, living my life that I didn't even know I had it."
That's probably the best news of all.
FINDING SOMETHING TO DO
Calgary Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas was interviewed Monday on Hockey Night In Canada Radio and dropped an interesting tidbit. His boss, Bob Hartley, has the coaching staff -- Jacques Cloutier, Gelinas, Clint Malarchuk and Jamie Pringle -- at work every day. What are they doing? Putting this unwanted extra time to good use.
"I have more time to watch our opponents," Hartley said. "I spent six hours watching a Canucks game [from last year].
"You never get that much time during the season."
Hartley is trying his best to keep a sense of normalcy as Lockout Loopiness 2012-13 reaches December. Their lives are much more 9-to-5 than usual, but they are preparing as if there will be an NHL season.
A lot of time is spent watching video and editing it for the players' return. There's big-picture stuff, like neutral-zone defence, defensive-zone breakouts and offensive-zone entries. There's also the microeconomics of the Flames' system.
"We have [video] of our philosophies -- 'Have your stick on ice' and 'Always stop at the net,'" Hartley said. "We also take a look at Jarome Iginla, his last 60 shifts from last season.
"The next day ... it was Mike Cammalleri, then Alex Tanguay. We did that for everyone."
Then, there are the opponents -- or why he spent six hours watching the Canucks.
"We don't know what's going to happen, but let's say the season starts and the NHL tells us, 'To make the travel easier, we're going to play only in our conference,'" he added. "We've broken down opponents' systems -- even strength, power plays, penalty killing."
It sounds like a lot, but the players won't watch anywhere near as much as coaches do. Hartley sees what many of his brethren recognize, that if your video sessions are much longer than 10 minutes, "you're losing them. It's not quantity, but quality."
The key is being ready should this insanity end. Gelinas, for example, spent the last three years as director of player development for the Nashville Predators. While he did go on the ice with players, he'd never run a practice. Hartley had him do it with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, using drills that the Flames will eventually see. An end to the lockout in mid-season means getting everything together in a hurry.
"We've prepared for quick training camps, from four to eight days," Hartley said. "If it's four days, one day you do your 5-on-5.
"The next day is power play, 5-on-4 and 5-on-3. The third day is penalty killing.
"If [camp] is five days, it gives you extra time to spend on your systems. Six days, seven days, we've got plans for that, too -- we're not the only ones doing it."
No, but as an all-new staff, the Flames are playing catch up. Let's hope they and everyone else get a chance to put things into action.
1. Ready for some labour? Next Wednesday is a huge day with the NHL board of governors meeting in New York City. Will commissioner Gary Bettman reserve the most important part of the get-together for the highest levels only? Each team has one governor and at least two alternates with one exception -- the Phoenix Coyotes, who only have the latter. In at least one meeting during the last lockout, there was a point where Bettman told all the alternates to leave, so only the true decision-maker for each franchise would be in there with him.
2. According to the NHL's Official Guide and Record Book, 25 of the 29 governors are owners. The exceptions are Josh Kroenke of the Colorado Avalanche (he is the owner's son), Tim Leiweke of the Los Angeles Kings, Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils and David Morehouse of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That could be the core group for the biggest decision of the commissioner's career.
3. Obviously, some governors have more power than others. Case in point, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs flexing his muscles as board chairman. The NHL and the Winnipeg Jets denied this story, but there is no question that a) negotiations between the NHL and NHL Players' Association take on a more frigid atmosphere when Jacobs is there and b) newer owners definitely feel as if they are expected to smile and keep quiet.
4. There is a real sense that if this gets settled (and it's going on longer than I thought it would), it will be at the absolute last minute. So this becomes a game of figuring out when the deadline really is. The NHL wants the players to think that day is coming soon. However, I just can't imagine the league wants to see "Merry Christmas, they've cancelled the season!" headlines.
5. The 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled in February, but it probably won't be that late this time. A few executives believe the true "red alert" is between January 1st and 15th. The concern among the moderates is that the mushroom cloud between the two sides continues to build, which endangers the possibility of a last-minute settlement.
6. When the 1994-95 NHL lockout ended in January 1995, the collective bargaining agreement didn't get signed until the following August. The league and players agreed to a "Memorandum of Understanding" and the 48-game schedule went on while lawyers haggled over details. Now it sounds like many of the "smaller" issues are agreed to and may be drawn up, but if this really goes late/sideways, will the NHL and NHLPA be willing to do that again?
7. A number of reports criticised the NHLPA for waiting so long to consider decertification because it takes time. That's true, it can take 45-60 days because a formal vote must happen through the National Labour Relations Board, but there is a slightly different process to be aware of. It's called "Disclaiming." Basically, it means NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr can say he no longer represents the players in collective bargaining. Barring a breakthrough in mediation, it's expected the NHLPA will begin moving in that direction very shortly. It can take effect immediately. It's what the NBA did days before reaching a settlement last November.
8. Dan Oldfield, who provides lockout analysis for CBC Sports, pointed out a drastic NHL defence for this. The league could suspend operations, which prevents anti-trust lawsuits. That would be a neutron bomb. More likely is it files an unfair labour-practice complaint, just as the NBA did when its players were threatening such a move last year.
9. A question heard a few times over the past little while: "If the NHL wants to put a GM in the negotiating room, where's Ken Holland?"
10. Jeff Citron is a partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He was associate counsel of the NHLPA from 1995-2000 and helped craft the 1995 CBA. Citron wrote a blog in October that I came across this week (the Pony Express took its time reaching CBC). It makes a lot of sense on the contractual issues at the heart of the current disagreement. You can read it for yourself, but the idea of term limits depending on age (eight-year maximum for ages 20-28, five years for 31 and older) are workable because it reduces the need for backdiving contracts that hurt both sides.
11. Interesting that Roman Hamrlik and Michal Neuvirth were among the first players to loudly and publicly question union strategy. I've heard a few times over the years that former NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow thought the Europeans and Americans were much easier to keep "on side" than the Canadians. Goodenow keeps a low profile these days, but apparently he felt Canada's players felt the most pressure to settle and received the greatest criticism for staying out.
12. Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star reported that the NHL and NHLPA were close to an agreement on moving free agency from July 1 to June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded, whichever is later. That's the Major League Baseball timeline. Only thing I don't like about it? In 1999, Roman Turek was told about his trade to the St. Louis Blues the night that the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup. There was an expansion draft and the Stars needed to make a move. I thought that was unfortunate.
13. The first NHL season was 1917-18. The 75th anniversary season was 1991-92. By that logic, the 100th season should be 2016-17. So if the new CBA was to be only five years, as proposed by the NHLPA, wouldn't that be safe? Or is the league pushing the celebration back one year? (Aside: I totally understand there are many who would like the next CBA to last 100,000 years).
14. Wow, did the WHL come down hard on the Portland Winter Hawks for player benefit violations. It seems harsh, but we don't have the full picture. No one from the WHL would come on HNIC Radio. When the Hawks released the list of violations, the league declined to answer whether or not it had any issue with what was revealed.
15. When the Windsor Spitfires were punished in August, they threatened to appeal. The OHL dropped the fine from $400,000 to $250,000 and restored one of three first-round draft picks, but there was no suspension in Windsor along the lines of Mike Johnston's in Portland. How lenient is the WHL willing to be, if at all?
16. There was shock about the suspension to Johnston, a popular figure in hockey circles, but it's indicative of the fact that large market versus small market battles aren't only fought in the NHL. The WHL's small-market teams wanted a forceful punishment and there are owners east of Manitoba who would cheer this as well. They believe it's not just about what rule is broken, but how many times it happens.
17. The leader in the clubhouse for Sidney Crosby's services is Switzerland. I wondered if he might play for Canada in the Spengler Cup should things not be settled, but that's a huge insurance bill for Hockey Canada.
18. Winnipeg Jets fans really didn't like netminder Ondrej Pavelec's early-season numbers in Europe, but one scout who saw the Karjala Cup, held two weeks ago in Finland, said Pavelec was excellent. He made 37 saves in the clinching victory over Russia. So relax, Winnipeg.
19. One thing to worry about if you're a locked-out player is if someone on your NHL team's affiliate improves enough to take a job. This is one of those years, like 2005, where the AHL gets so much better because of who is playing down there. One exec said: "Most teams have two or three players they are looking at now who will make them think when the NHL returns."
20. Hartley didn't want to single out any particularly impressive players in Abbotsford. The Heat have allowed just 32 goals in 18 games. The only other teams in the thirties -- Springfield (36) and Binghamton (38) -- have played fewer games. He did admit, though: "There have been no disappointments down there."
21. Barry Brust's AHL-record shutout streak came to an end last Saturday after hitting 268 minutes and 17 seconds. The most impressive thing about it was his smallish workload. On Oct. 20, he gave up a goal to Zack Kassian of the Chicago Wolves at 8:19 of the first period in a 4-1 Heat win. Brust sat for three games over 11 days before beating the Toronto Marlies 3-0, then he watched three more games over 12 days before posting back-to-back shutouts (3-0, 2-0) against the Lake Erie Monsters. Ten days and three more non-starts later, things ended during the second period of a 3-2 victory over San Antonio Rampage.
22. The Heat want Brust, Danny Taylor and 2006 first-rounder Leland Irving to play, so all of them have to be patient. Taylor won the job out of training camp, but Brust's been otherworldly. When Brian Boucher set the NHL record of five straight shutouts in 2003-04, he didn't have to sit between starts. Brust wasn't able to get into the same kind of rhythm, which makes his streak pretty incredible.
23. Brust, 29, is motivated by Tim Thomas, another late bloomer. Sigalet sees a comparison. "Barry is aggressive like Thomas. Unorthodox." Brust will use the pokecheck and stacks the pads, too.
24. NHL teams would love the option of sending junior-aged players to the AHL, a battle they have lost to the CHL so far. Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter are the latest examples. Both are taking big steps this season.
25. Another New York Islander getting good reviews is Travis Hamonic. "A beast," said one scout. I mentioned this last year, but a couple of teammates said he just had to understand how good he is. Sounds like he's figuring it out.
26. AHL praise for Marcus Foligno: "A man now." Robin Lehner: "Making it look easy." Cory Conacher: "A nasty little guy." Also, a player I'm really unfamiliar with, Nashville's Patrick Cehlin, a Swedish forward who was a fifth-round pick in 2010.
27. A potentially big weekend in the NCAA for Boston College head coach Jerry York, who is one win behind Ron Mason's record of 924. York, in his 41st year as head coach, could tie and break the mark this weekend against hated rival Boston University. There were 22 alumni in the NHL last season and you can bet many will be there to see if he climbs to the top of the mountain.
28. College kid to watch: Yale's Antoine Laganiere, from Ile-Cadieux, Que. He went to Vancouver's camp two years ago and to Edmonton's last summer. Tall at 6-foot-4 but not yet filled out, he'll be a free agent and won't be sitting alone at the prom.
29. I was on Mark Spector's radio show in Edmonton when a caller asked how the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets could be so involved in Oscar Klefbom and Ryan Murray's injury discussions. Both signed NHL contracts, but they weren't "with" their NHL teams when the lockout began, so there's more latitude. Teams usually have two concerns -- who's doing the surgery and who's supervising the rehab.
30. I met Marvin Miller two years ago, while working on a feature about Donald Fehr -- just as Fehr was taking over the NHLPA. Miller was 93, but still lucid and imposing. We taped the interview at a restaurant across from his condo and the moment it ended, he ordered a Jack Daniels on the rocks. Then, we chatted for a few hours. I didn't agree with everything he said, but I respected his knowledge and passion. I'm glad I got the chance. There's a person who made a lasting impact.
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