Sports remain on pause as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but Canadian Hockey League alumni still found ways to stay active and in the news.
Here’s a look back at some of their highlights:
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano (Owen Sound Attack) of the Calgary Flames speaks for us all with words of support for healthcare workers and others on the frontlines keeping us safe. He also stresses the importance of hand washing and social distancing to help stop the coronavirus spread.
Another important message was delivered by Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby (Rimouski Oceanic) offering love and support to everyone in his home province of Nova Scotia affected by the violent tragedy that claimed the life of RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, among others.
Adding to the difficult times last month was the sad passing of Edmonton Oilers forward Colby Cave (Swift Current Broncos). The entire hockey world mourned the loss of the 25-year-old former WHL captain who had been placed in a medically-induced coma following surgery for a brain bleed.
Despite the tragedies and disappointments of being away from the rink, CHL alumni have done their best to stay optimistic, active, and through the power of social media have also found ways to entertain their fans by providing unique perspectives of every day life at home. Like Max Jones (London Knights) of the Anaheim Ducks who brings new meaning to #HockeyAtHome.
Max’s former teammate Mitch Marner (London Knights) of the Toronto Maple Leafs shows us he’s still working hard on his game with a little help from his dog. Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno (Drummondville Voltigeurs) and Phillip Danault (Moncton Wildcats) of the Montreal Canadiens are also keeping busy with a stick in their hand on the street and on some different ice.
The boundaries were also pushed on the popular #HockeyAtHome hashtag to showcase players in a variety of other activities like Alex DeBrincat (Erie Otters) rollerblading with his dog, Samuel Girard (Shawinigan Cataractes) perfecting his bean bag toss, Carey Price (Tri-City Americans) practicing his fishing cast, Tyler Bertuzzi (Guelph Storm) showing off his golf game, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Quebec Remparts) having fun in the pool, Michael Grabner (Spokane Chiefs) pumping some serious iron, Dustin Brown (Guelph Storm) in the kitchen, and Andrew Ference (Portland Winterhawks) teaching us some composting techniques.
When it comes to social media, nobody has been better during the pandemic than Habs forward Brendan Gallagher (Vancouver Giants), specifically on the platform TikTok with entertaining videos like the one below.
Even away from the rink the competitive spirit hasn’t been lost among 23 former CHL stars who make up nearly half of the NHL’s 50 participants going head-to-head in the league’s Player Gaming Challenge.
Cam Fowler (Windsor Spitfires), Conor Garland (Moncton Wildcats), Jake DeBrusk (Red Deer Rebels), Matthew Tkachuk (London Knights), Warren Foegele (Erie Otters), Alex DeBrincat (Erie Otters), Jamie Oleksiak (Niagara IceDogs), Madison Bowey (Kelowna Rockets), Anthony Mantha (Val-d’Or Foreurs), Caleb Jones (Portland Winterhawks), Darnell Nurse (Soo Greyhounds), Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John Sea Dogs), Michael Amadio (North Bay Battalion), Devan Dubnyk (Kamloops Blazers), Victor Mete (London Knights), Nick Suzuki (Guelph Storm), Mackenzie Blackwood (Barrie Colts), Matt Martin (Sarnia Sting), Chris Tierney (London Knights), Evander Kane (Vancouver Giants), Robert Thomas (Hamilton Bulldogs), Tyler Johnson (Spokane Chiefs), and Ryan Reaves (Brandon Wheat Kings) will all represent their clubs in the EA Sports NHL20 tournament for bragging rights and to raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Another player in the spotlight is the charismatic P.K Subban (Belleville Bulls) who looks more comfortable than ever behind the camera in his role as host of NHL Hat Trick Trivia, a new weekly game show that welcomes special guests and features fan interaction focused around hockey trivia from home.
Everyone has a different story about how they’re coping during the pandemic or how they’re connected to frontline workers. But as we learn in this New York Islanders catch up story with Ryan Pulock (Brandon Wheat Kings) his thoughts are on his hometown more than ever where girlfriend Paige is an ER nurse.
Another New York Islander defenceman thinking about home is Noah Dobson. And by home we mean his home away from home during the first two years of his CHL career in Bathurst where he won a Memorial Cup title with the Titan. The NHL rookie recently shared a message for fans from in New York.
The impact a CHL community has on a player’s life, even after they’re gone, is truly special. This is certainly the case for Jeff Skinner (Kitchener Rangers) who made quite the difference with his recent support for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region donating a symbolic $53,000 in honour of the number he proudly wore for the blueshirts.
Making a difference doesn’t always need money. Just ask the young hockey players in Truro, Nova Scotia, who were uplifted when their hometown hero Brad Marchand (Halifax Mooseheads) dropped in with a surprise digital visit during the team’s year-end video call.
NHL superstar Connor McDavid (Erie Otters) is trying to make a difference by inspiring fitness among fans of all ages with help from with his trainer Gary Roberts (Guelph Platers). McDavid posted several workouts throughout the month of April with exercises that can be completed at home.
McDavid was also in the spotlight with another famous Edmonton Oilers captain when he joined Wayne Gretzky (Soo Greyhounds) for a unique one-on-one for GQ Magazine.
Turning the page now to some former NHL stars, two-time Stanley Cup champion Kris Vertseeg recently announced his retirement after 643 regular season games. The Lethbridge, Alberta, native played three full seasons with his hometown Hurricanes from 2002-05 before a final WHL season split between the Kamloops Blazers and Red Deer Rebels. The majority of his NHL career was spent as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks where he hoisted Lord Stanley in 2010 and 2015.
Another recent retiree is Joel Ward who enjoyed a successful career from unheralded beginnings. First going undrafted to the OHL where he played four seasons with the Owen Sound Attack, to playing at the University of Prince Edward Island, to making the jump to the AHL and then NHL despite being undrafted. Ward’s NHL career included 726 games over 11 seasons in Minnesota, Nashville, Washington, and San Jose.
1990 Memorial Cup champion Eric Lindros (Oshawa Generals) has found something new to do during his own retirement. The Hall of Famer is returning to the Philadelphia Flyers where he spent the first eight seasons of his career to serve as the club’s community ambassador attending various events, fan appearances, and corporate partner engagements once the season resumes.
To NHL hopefuls, 2016 third round pick Markus Niemelainen (Saginaw Spirit) has signed a two-year entry-level contract. The defenceman played two OHL seasons from 2015-17 before spending the last three years in his native Finland.
The American Hockey League is also still on pause but did announce individual team winners of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year awards for outstanding contributions to local community and charitable organizations during the 2019-20 season.
That list includes 16 former CHL players including Keegan Lowe (Edmonton Oil Kings), Morgan Klimchuck (Brandon Wheat Kings), Christopher Gibson (Chicoutimi Sagueneens), Derek Sheppard (Gatineau Olympiques), Oscar Dansk (Erie Otters), Chris Terry (Plymouth Whalers), Kale Kessy (Kamloops Blazers), Mike Liambas (Erie Otters), Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound Attack), Jimmy Oligny (Rimouski Oceanic), Brett Sutter (Red Deer Rebels), Nathan Paetsch (Moose Jaw Warriors), Manuel Wiederer (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies), Zac Leslie (Guelph Storm), Daniel Walcott (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada), and Carter Bancks (Lethbridge Hurricanes).
While the balance of the 2019-20 AHL season remains in question, a trio of 2019 CHL grads including Morgan Frost (Soo Greyhounds), Joe Veleno (Drummondville Voltigeurs), and Alex Formenton (London Knights) were in news stories highlighting their impressive rookie campaigns.
In March it was announced that the balance of the 2019-20 East Coast Hockey League season would be cancelled. In April, the league began recognizing their annual award winners which featured a number of CHL graduates.
Defenceman of the Year was awarded to Alex Breton (Gatineau Olympiques) of the Allen Americans, while Spencer Watson (Mississauga Steelheads) of the Indy Fuel was named Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year. Breton was also named a first team All-Star leading all defencemen with 55 points in 61 games. Miles Liberati (Kitchener Rangers) of the Tulsa Oilers was named a second team All-Star finishing second in points among defencemen with 46 in 56 games. Joining him at forward was Tim McGauley (Brandon Wheat Kings) of the Utah Grizzlies who scored 62 points in 49 games, and Jesse Schultz (Kelowna Rockets) of the Cincinnati Cyclones who scored 64 points in 62 games a year after earning league MVP honours.
Two of the league’s most recent alumni were named to the ECHL All-Rookie team including Samuel Asselin (Halifax Mooseheads) of the Atlanta Gladiators and Justin Brazeau (North Bay Battalion) of the Newfoundland Growlers. Asselin finished the season tied for second among rookies with 26 goals and third with 52 points, while Brazeau led all rookies and was tied for fifth overall in the league with 27 goals in 57 games and finished second in rookie points with 55.