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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the 10 greatest NHLers of Irish descent; Sharks and Jets meet in key Western playoff race battle; more news and notes.

By Allan Muir
March 17, 2015

Off The Draw

Historians say that hockey was born from the Gaelic game of hurley, but it’s not just the sport that can trace its roots back to Ireland. Though it might not be a hotbed of hockey, that glorious land’s descendants have produced some of the finest men ever to wear NHL colors. In honor of St. Patty’s Day then, let’s raise a glass to some notable sons of the Emerald Isle.

10. Liam O’Brien

His name may sound like it came out of a Random Irish Name Generator, but O’Brien is the real deal, a rookie who has appeared in 13 games so far this season for the Capitals. He’s big, tough, honest, and quick to defend his honor. In his final two seasons with Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, O’Brien earned 312 penalty minutes on the strength of 19 fighting majors.

9. Jim McFadden

One of just two Irish natives on this list, McFadden was born in Belfast and raised in Manitoba. He earned the 1948 Calder Trophy on the strength of a 24-goal, 48-point rookie season with the Red Wings, and won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 1950. He played a total of 412 games with the Wings and the Blackhawks, scoring 100 goals, with 126 assists.

8. Lester Patrick

One of the game’s true legends, Patrick was a six-time Cup winner and is best remembered for his emergency stint in goal with the Rangers in the 1928 finals ... when he was New York’s 44-year-old coach.

7. Owen Nolan

Another Belfast lad who had a bit of brawler in him, Nolan was feared as a fighter and as a goal scorer. He now serves as an ambassador for Ireland’s national ball hockey team.

GMs meeting targets the shootout, changes to OT format
6. Patrick Kane

His last name, derived from the original Ó Catháin, means “battler” ... which makes us wonder if there’s anything in Gaelic that corresponds to “sick mitts.”

5. King Clancy

When the Maple Leafs held a special night on March 17, 1934, to honor the contributions of defenseman Francis Michael Clancy (who went on to a distinguished career as a referee in the NHL and later became Toronto’s assistant GM), they dressed him in a green jersey with a shamrock on the back in place of his number 7. The league’s trophy that bears Clancy’s name is awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice and who makes significant humanitarian contributions to his community.                                         

4. Don Cherry

One of the greatest Canadians ever makes no secret of his Irish heritage. He’s proud to wear the green, as he did on last weekend’s edition of “Coach’s Corner.” In one famous installment of the segment, in 2008, he wore green and gold and claimed ancestry from County Cork. Only problem: Cork's colors are red and white. Then again, he wears those all the time.

3. Pat Quinn

They called him “the Big Irishman” and he fully embodied the nickname. Strong-willed and boisterous, he always wore his heart on his sleeve. Quinn was revered as a fearless player and as a smart, successful coach. And he never shied away from buying a round. Before their game against the Flyers on Tuesday night, the Canucks will honor their former coach, GM and president, who passed away in November.

2. Brendan Shanahan

A fine broth of a lad, Shanny is a first-generation Canadian born to Irish parents. He followed up his 21-season Hall of Fame career with a turn as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian—a fitting task for someone who didn’t mind knocking sense into others during his playing days. Shanahan now oversees the Maple Leafs’ rebuilding efforts. Toronto fans can only hope that he lives up to the translation of his name: the wise one.

1. Terry O’Reilly

He was to Boston what Jean Béliveau was to Montreal, epitomizing the spirit of the city in a way no one has before or since. O’Reilly was the ultimate working class hero, a player who battled his way to success despite his limited skills. And he was the ultimate family man, setting aside his career as a coach to take care of his ailing son. You don’t have to be Irish to love a guy like that.

What to watch tonight

Sharks at Jets (8 p.m EST; CSN-CA, TSN3)

The seven-game road trip that San Jose begins on Tuesday night has been called season-defining. A loss to Winnipeg, though, might render the remaining six contests moot. While both teams come into the game on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Jets are just one point behind the Kings in the wild-card race and have a four-point lead on the Sharks. A Winnipeg victory tonight won’t dash San Jose’s postseason hopes, but a two-point gap would be a whole lot easier to close than a six-point difference.

The Sharks have won four of their last six games, but have been relying heavily on goalie Antti Niemi. If they are going to make something happen on this trip, they’ll need something from struggling snipers Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. San Jose’s top scorers have combined for just two goals in the last 11 games, which explains why the Sharks’ offense has been held to two goals or fewer in nine of the last 12 games.

The Jets are already one of the league’s hottest defensive teams—they limited the Lightning to a season-low 16 shots on Saturday and have held five of their last six opponents to 21 shots or fewer—but are still hoping for some significant reinforcements. Defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, who were both expected to be sidelined by injuries through the game against San Jose, skated on Monday and could be in the lineup on Tuesday night.

Rest of the schedule: Penguins at Devils (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SNO, SNP, ROOT, MSG+); Senators at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; RDS2, TSN5, FS-CR); Sabres at Bruins (7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN); Canadiens at Panthers (7:30 p.m. EST; RDS, SNE, FS-F); Wild at Predators (8 p.m. EST; FS-N, FS-TN); Islanders at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. EST; MSG+ 2, CSN-CH); Blues at Flames (9 p.m. EST; FS-MW, SNW); Flyers at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; CSN-PH, SNP)


What you missed

• Is Andrew Hammond’s stunning success in Ottawa an Act of God?

• The indignities just keep piling up for the beleaguered Maple Leafs.

• Chicago announcer Pat Foley left a pretty cool gift for a young fan.

The numbers game

• With a win on Monday night (highlights) Tampa Bay is now 7-0-1 in its last eight regular season games against Montreal, dating back to Nov. 12, 2013. The Lightning are are 3-0-1 against the Habs on home ice and 4-0-0 at the Bell Centre. 

• The Rangers’ 95 points are the most by a Blueshirts squad through the first 68 games of a season since they rolled up 101 in 1971–72.

• Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick is heating up. His 1–0 win over the Coyotes on Monday night (highlights) was his sixth shutout of the season, the second in his last three starts and the 37th of his career, tying him for third with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury among active goaltenders. Roberto Luongo (68) and Henrik Lundqvist (55) lead the pack. Quick is 13-3-1 in his last 17 appearances, with a 1.67 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and three shutouts. 

Hot links

Secrets from inside the Minnesota Wild's training room

• Elliotte Friedman writes that a little known clause in the CBA could allow the NHL to artificially increase next season’s salary cap even if the NHLPA doesn’t want it to.

• Florida’s cattle call for emergency goalies attracted an interesting array of participants ... although I’m not sure the author of this piece is quite up to speed on what qualifies as a Hall of Famer.

• Forcing Milan Lucic to play at a higher pace seems like a recipe for disaster, but the tactic has helped the veteran forward turn around a forgettable season.

• James Mirtle says that the Oilers offer a lesson in how not to rebuild a team. Toronto should pay attention.

• Even if this NHL thing doesn’t work out, rookie sensation Andrew Hammond never has to worry about going hungry.

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