Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Yes, it’s August.
And yes, thanks to the quirkiness, cancellations and postponements in the 2020 sporting world caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs only began this past Saturday.
Only time will tell if an asterisk will be placed beside the name of the eventual Stanley Cup winning squad in the history and record books.
After all, this is not a normal post-season for the NHL. Besides beginning in August, instead of its traditional start of April, the league’s playoff schedule also included 24 squads, up from the usual 16 participants.
Eight of these entrants, four from the Western Conference and four from the Eastern Conference, are taking part in round-robin series, simply to determine seeding for the next round of the playoffs, which commence Aug. 11.
The other 16 playoff teams are competing in best-of-five qualifying series, to see which eight clubs will move on to what is officially dubbed the first round of the post-season.
This format might be somewhat confusing to some. But these are not normal times for the NHL, which is conducting its entire post-season in two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton.
Among those seeking to capture the Stanley Cup this year – which will be awarded in either late September or early October – are Cree coach Craig Berube from the defending league champion St. Louis Blues, as well as six Indigenous players.
A closer look at all of these individuals follows.
Berube, who is from Calahoo, Alta, has an extensive hockey resume. The 54-year-old played 17 seasons in the NHL with five different franchises but never won the Stanley Cup as a player.
He’s also been coaching in the pro ranks since 2004. His wasn’t a member of a Cup-winning team until last year when he guided the Blues to their league crown.
Berube’s Blues are now among the four Western Conference clubs taking part in the round-robin series to determine opening-round seeding.
Oshie, who has Ojibwe ancestry and is from Mount Vernon in the state of Washington, is the only current Indigenous NHLer in the post-season who already has his name on the Stanley Cup.
The 33-year-old right winger helped the Washington Capitals win the league title in 2018.
Oshie and his Washington teammates are now one of the Eastern Conference squads competing in the round-robin series along with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Connor McDavid is undoubtedly the star and face of the Edmonton Oilers. But Bear, a 23-year-old defenceman from Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, has become a fan favourite, especially in Indigenous communities across the country, in this his first full season in the NHL.
The Oilers are now battling the Chicago Blackhawks in a best-of-five series to see which team advances to further playoff action. The series is tied at 1-1 with Game 3 set for Wednesday night.
Price, the 32-year-old Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender, is in his 13th NHL season.
Price, a member of Ulkatcho First Nation in British Columbia, has been considered one of the top puckstoppers in the league for a good chunk of his career.
The Canadiens are up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their best-of-five series now. Thanks in large part to Price’s puckstopping efforts, Montreal defeated Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime in the series opener. The Penguins evened the series with a 3-1 triumph on Monday. Game 3 is Wednesday night.
Ferland, a 27-year-old Cree forward from Swan River, Man., is a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
Vancouver managed to even up its best-of-five series against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday thanks to a 4-3 win. The Wild blanked the Canucks 3-0 in the series opener.
It’s uncertain whether Ferland will be available for Game 3 on Thursday. That’s because it is believed he has an undisclosed injury since he didn’t return to the ice after the opening period of Tuesday’s outing.
Whitecloud, a 23-year-old defenceman with the Vegas Golden Knights, is getting his first taste of the NHL playoffs.
Whitecloud, a member of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba, earned an assist in his first NHL post-season game as Vegas defeated the Dallas Stars 5-3 on Monday night.
The Golden Knights and Dallas are among the Western Conference franchises battling in the round-robin series now. Vegas’ next game is Thursday versus St. Louis.
Keeper, a 24-year-old defenceman with the Florida Panthers, played his first NHL playoff contest on Tuesday.
But Keeper and his teammates will now need a massive comeback in their series against the New York Islanders to keep their Stanley Cup aspirations alive this year.
Keeper, a member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Man., saw his Panthers fall behind 2-0 in their best-of-five series with the New York Islanders with a 4-2 loss on Tuesday.
Game 3 is Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 5.