For the first time since 1970, there will be no Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs.
While there will be no hockey played north of the border this post-season, that doesn’t mean Northern Ontario won’t have any representation in the playoffs. Before the first pucks drop tonight, get acquainted with some of the Northern Ontario players you should be watching for this postseason.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (Fort Frances)
The reigning Conn Smythe winner will be viewing the Blackhawks first game against the Blues from the press box, as he serves the final game of a six-game suspension for recklessly swinging his stick at Charlie Coyle’s face. Chicago will be eager to get him back in the lineup as he will be critical if the team hopes to snag its fourth championship since 2010. While Keith spent his formidable years in Penticton, B.C., it was in Fort Frances, playing for the Tigers as a youngster, where he made the switch from forward to defence — a move that has worked out quite well for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (Hearst)
The Philadelphia Flyers had a slow start to the season, but rebounded for an impressive second half, posting a 20-9-6 record since the All-Star break and surging into the playoffs. With the way the Flyers have played lately, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that they could shake things up in the Eastern Conference. If they do, you can bet it will be influenced by the play of their captain, Claude Giroux. The pride of Hearst has a sterling playoff resume with 61 points in 57 career playoff games, including a 21-point campaign in 2010 when the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Final.
Derek MacKenzie, Florida Panthers (Greater Sudbury)
Despite having played 450 career games in the NHL, dating back to 2001-02, Sudburian Derek MacKenzie has not had the opportunity to play many games in the post-season. His first and only playoff experience came with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013-14. MacKenzie, who turns 35 in June, might be considered seasoned by some, but you have to remember that this Panthers team also features Brian Campbell (36), Roberto Luongo (37), Shawn Thornton (38), and, of course, the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr (44).
Andrew Desjardins, Chicago Blackhawks (Greater Sudbury-Lively)
There hasn’t been a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings, but after winning it last year, Andrew Desjardins and the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to make history this post-season. Desjardins spends most of his time on the fourth line and is heading into the playoffs with eight goals and five assists. He brings depth to the team’s bottom six and will certainly be motivated to bring Lord Stanley’s chalice back to Lively again.
Mike Richards, Washington Capitals (Kenora)
The Kenora native is no stranger to playoff action. Mike Richards won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings and famously brought the trophy back to his home on Lake of the Woods by floatplane. After his contract was terminated by Los Angeles this past off-season, Richards returned to his hometown, where it was reported he suited up for a few games on his brother’s men’s league team, the Kenora Kings. Now back in the NHL with the Capitals, Richards is part of a squad that is the favourite of many playoff prognosticators.
Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars (Thunder Bay)
Patrick Sharp was an integral member of three Stanley Cup-winning teams in Chicago and now brings that experience to a relatively green Stars team. If Dallas is to make a deep run this post-season, their road will likely go through Chicago. As both franchises sit in the Central Division they would be scheduled to meet in the conference semi-finals if they are both successful in their first-round matchups. If that’s the case, don’t expect to see any love lost between Sharp and his former teammates.
Eric and Marc Staal, New York Rangers (Thunder Bay)
The Thunder Bay brothers have the Rangers covered at both ends of the ice. Eric, a centre, was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in February, leaving behind one brother, Jordan, in Raleigh, only to join the brood’s second oldest, Marc, on Broadway. The latter, a former Sudbury Wolves captain, is a significant part of the Rangers blueline. The Staals already have two Stanley Cup rings — Eric and Jordan won respectively in 2006 and 2009 — but Marc hopes he and Eric can add to the family hardware this summer.
Robert Bortuzzo, St. Louis Blues (Thunder Bay)
If Robert Bortuzzo and the Blues hope to make it to the Western Conference final, they will have to bear down for the tough road ahead. St. Louis has not advanced beyond the quarterfinals since 2011-12 and it won’t be any easier this year as they’re squaring off against the Blackhawks in the opening round. The former Fort William North Star did not suit up for any of the Blues’ post-season games in 2015, but Bortuzzo should see playoff action this year for the first time since 2014 when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins (Thunder Bay)
Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Matt Murray appeared to be the Penguins’ de facto starter with Marc-Andre Fleury out with a concussion. Having spent most of his time with Pittsburgh’s affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Thunder Bay netminder was has been impressive in limited NHL action this year, picking up nine wins, including six straight to close out the season, with a combined .930 SV%. However, in the team’s final game against the Flyers, he left the game after colliding with Brayden Schenn. Murray is currently day-to-day with an upper body injury, but the good news for Penguins fans is that Marc-Andre Fleury is back at practice and should good to go for the first round.
You could certainly make several solid cases that the Stanley Cup could once again be making a trip to Northern Ontario after the postseason wraps up in June. Your guess is as good as mine as to where it will end up, so have your say below on which part of the North it may be destined for.
Which Northern Ontario community has the best odds of hosting a Stanley Cup celebration party?
1. Fort Frances
2. Greater Sudbury
5. Thunder Bay
Let us know in the comments below.