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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Top of My Head

The Montreal Canadiens played poorly enough in one stretch this season to get coach Claude Julien fired and replaced by Dominique Ducharme. They played 25 games in 44 nights because of COVID and then hit the stretch drive riddled with injuries. Given no chance against the Toronto Maple Leafs after dragging themselves into the North Division playoffs, they overcame a 3-1 series deficit.

With the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and now the Vegas Golden Knights dispatched – they beat Vegas with Ducharme out with COVID and former Edmonton Oiler Luke Richardson running the bench – they’re back in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since winning in 1993 against Tampa Bay starting Monday. One more chapter to go in a remarkable story.

“It’s really fun to see the guys enjoying themselves in the dressing room,” Richardson told Eric Engels of Sportsnet. “They deserve it. It’s really heartwarming to see a group of guys that work that hard together. I know every team is the same, it says the same thing, but these guys are a special group and a really good mix. It’s hard to put into words how proud we are of them, but they deserve it, and they’re not done yet.”

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To call the Canadiens underdogs who’ve beaten the odds is an understatement of epic proportions. When the playoffs began, all 23 writers at Sportsnet picked Toronto to beat them. Before the semifinals against Las Vegas, 30 of 33 writers at NHL.com, ESPN and USA Today picked the Golden Knights to win.

Yet, here they are, four wins away. Do the Canadiens have one more upset in them against the Lightning? If they can find a way, the story this edition of the Habs has scripted will go down as one of the unlikeliest sips from the Cup ever to be seen, no matter how long you’ve watched this game. The smart money says Tampa Bay will win, but what the hell — Habs in seven.

WHILE I’M AT IT

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Oct 20, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; A view of the NHL shield logo on the jersey of an official in the game of the Chicago Blackhawks against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The old hockey saying that “what happens on the bus stays on the bus” – essentially that what happens within the team stays within the team – should never, ever apply to a serious issue like sexual assault, but apparently it did with the Chicago Blackhawks from 2010 until this May, according to a series of stories by Rick Westhead of TSN.

The alleged sexual assault of two players by former video coach Brad Aldrich was reported to the team over a decade ago but wasn’t passed on to Chicago police by senior management. It remained an “open secret” among team personnel inside and outside of hockey operations until the accusations became public when the players filed lawsuits against the Blackhawks in May. Two of Westhead’s stories are here and here.

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An excerpt: “During a May 2010 meeting with then-Blackhawks president John McDonough, vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, general manager Stan Bowman and team sports psychologist James Gary, then-skills coach Paul Vincent shared what the players had told him about being assaulted and asked the team executives to contact the sex crimes division of the Chicago police, the person said, adding that the request was denied.”

You’d think after past revelations about sexual abuse in hockey, specifically the that endured by Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury by Graham James, dirty little secrets like this latest case would no longer stay secrets for over a decade, but that’s not the case. The hideous “don’t talk, don’t tell” mentality as it pertains to issues of racism and sexual assault is still a part of hockey culture, as it is in society at large. That has to change, but apparently the NHL feels this case isn’t worthy of pursuing.

The NHL is aware of the situation but has so far refused to launch an investigation. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has declined comment: “We have been in contact with the club regarding the matter but there is no ongoing investigation. We do not have any further comment at this time,” Daly said Friday. No ongoing investigation? That’s mind-boggling.

AS IT TURNS OUT

May 8, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates after a second period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

As has been noted, five years ago, former GM Peter Chiarelli had himself a busy week. On June 24, 2016, the Oilers drafted Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall at the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo. Five days later, June 29, Chiarelli traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. Then, on July 1, Chiarelli inked free agent Milan Lucic to a seven-year worth $42 million.

Best move? As unlikely as it seemed two years ago, it might turn out to be Puljujarvi with the improvement he made under Dave Tippett this season after spending time with Karpat. Big strides for the big winger. Worst move? That was watching Lucic struggle mightily after an OK first season here. I thought the deal was two years too long when signed. More like six years, it turns out.

AND . . . 

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  • The NHL will hand out its remaining awards Tuesday and it’ll be a stunner if Connor McDavid doesn’t add the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsey Award to the Art Ross Trophy he already won as the league’s leading scorer. 
  • To the handful of knuckleheads in every city who just don’t get it, you can be a passionate hockey fan and celebrate like hell when your team wins without being an asswipe about it. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee