I’ve treated the NHL Live app like it’s Netflix for the last couple of months, binge-watching hockey in absence of much else to do inside a pandemic. And I’ve come to the following conclusion: Sudbury is present all over the league.
I’m not just referring to ice level, although there’s plenty of that, too. Clearly, Wolves fans will know the names of the players who suited up here in the last decade or two — like ageless veteran Mike Smith in Edmonton’s crease, his teammate Dominik Kahun, Chicago Blackhawks sniper Dominik Kubalik and, of course, the Folignos — Marcus in Minnesota and Nick in Columbus — at least for the moment with the trade deadline looming. There’s also Marc Staal in Motown, who could also be on the move.
But local boys and former Wolves are literally sprinkled throughout the league, making contributions this season behind benches and in countless broadcast booths far above mostly empty arenas.
Sudbury’s most recent head coach, Cory Stillman, is of course in Arizona this season, supporting bench boss Rick Tocchet in grooming budding young stars like Clayton Keller, Conor Garland and Jakob Chychrun as the Coyotes take aim at a playoff spot.
Down in Florida, a couple of ex-NHLers who come from this area are no doubt making an impact on what has been a phenomenal season to date for the Panthers. Sudbury native and former Wolves captain Derek MacKenzie and Valley East’s Andrew Brunette are assistant coaches under the master, Joel Quenneville. The Cats will miss former Barrie Colts blueliner Aaron Ekblad, out for the season with an injury, but are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender regardless, sitting first in the Discover Central Division with a record of 26-10-4.
It’s a slightly older crowd behind the microphone — the guys who are beyond their playing days, and in some cases have dabbled in coaching or other hockey ventures. At this point, they’re a great fit in the analyst world.
Coniston’s Jimmy Fox is a key contributor on the LA Kings TV crew, and is spending time in the booth with former Wolves standout Derek Armstrong, who brings a great sense of humour to a telecast. The Ottawa native was an Islanders draft pick who spent six seasons with the Kings as a pro. Older Sudbury fans will remember his 44-goal, 106-point season in 1992-93, in the days right before the likes of Jamie Rivers, Barrie Moore and Zdenek Nedved led the Wolves to within a win of the OHL final in 1995.
Rivers is another ex-Wolf who is very comfortable around a microphone — not a surprise, because he was a great interview even as a young kid in Sudbury. After putting up 121 regular-season points as a defenceman 1993-94 and an incredible 33 points in 18 playoff games in 94-95, Rivers had a lengthy NHL career that saw him play in a number of cities, starting and ending in St. Louis. He is a natural as a Blues analyst.
In between the Wolves playoff runs led by Rivers and the aforementioned Derek MacKenzie, there were some relatively lean years in Sudbury. But a couple of goalies who did a good job of backstopping mediocre Wolves teams have also found their way into the broadcasting world.
Stephen Valiquette is an excellent studio analyst for the MSG network, covering the high-powered New York Rangers, and Andrew Raycroft has the same role for NESN, providing insight on the Boston Bruins. Raycroft was a CHL goalie of the year and a Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year, but of course Leafs fans will only remember him for the fact their team traded away a young Tuuka Rask to get him.
Given that it’s trade deadline week, that might serve as a timely reminder for Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and his colleagues around the league. But that’s a story for another day.
As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of Sudbury, but you can’t take Sudbury out of the boy. As it turns out, you can apparently take the boy out of hockey, too, but you can’t take hockey out of the boy.
That Joe Bowen guy is obviously pretty proud of our community, given how many times he has mentioned it on broadcasts over the years. And the feeling has always been mutual, for a guy who still calls a game with a passion like no other.
There are surely others making an impact and this is not intended as a complete list — just the people I’ve noticed while surfing from the couch in lockdown. But it’s great to see so many Sudburians and ex-Wolves making a name in the game even after they step away from the ice.
Jeff Giffen’s Wolf Tracks column runs regularly every hockey season.