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Essex County represented on NHL’s biggest stage

by Garrett Fodor

As the puck drops on the NHL post-season, several local players and staff members are aspiring to bring the cup back to the area.

  When the NHL was forced to suspend games on March 12, no one could have imagined how long they would be without the sport, or how they would return amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, fast forward 142 days, fans are receiving their first look at playoff hockey, while in the midst of a global pandemic.

  Due to the league being unable to finish their regular season, the NHL opted for expanded playoffs, featuring 24 teams and a best-of-five play in series. The tournament will be taking place in Toronto and Edmonton, with players living with one another, in a secure bubble, featuring four hotels and entertainment for the athletes onsite.

  The expanded playoffs season features no shortage of Essex County talent, on and off the ice. Each one hopes to bring the cup back for the second year-in-a-row, following Lakeshore’s Steve Ott, who won the Cup as an Assistant Coach with the St. Louis Blues last season. 

  Beginning in the Eastern Conference, while appearing in just two games this season, rookie forward Jack Studnicka made the Boston Bruins’ post season roster. The second-round pick in 2017, he has the luxury of getting accustomed to the NHL, as the Bruins are playing in the top four seeding matches before their post-season begins.

  One of the Bruins’s potential quarter-final matchups is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are coached by Windsor native Joel Quenneville and enter as the 11th seed, facing off against the New York Islanders. Quenneville’s roster features Belle River native, and 2014 1st overall pick, Aaron Ekblad. Quenneville will count on Ekblad to serve as his team’s top defenseman.

  While at the opposite end of the ice, Windsor native, Matt Martin, hopes to stop the Panthers in their tracks. Martin has spent the last two seasons playing for the Islanders, serving as a hard-nosed veteran presence for the team. No matter who wins the best-of-five matchup, Windsor-Essex will be represented in the next round.

  Looking out west, Edmonton Oilers’ forward Zack Kassian is facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Windsor native was taken in the 1st round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and is coming off a career year, posting 34 points in 59 games. Kassian and the Oilers will hope to use home ice to their advantage, as Edmonton will host the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals.

  Continuing in the west, the Calgary Flames defenseman TJ Brodie is hoping to stop the Winnipeg Jets, to lift his team into the next round of playoff hockey. The Chatham native is a Leamington Flyer alumni. He has appeared in 22 post season games over his 10-year NHL career.

  Rounding out the field is Lakeshore native Steve Ott. The reigning Stanley Cup champion is in his third season serving as an Assistant Coach with the St. Louis Blues. Since the Blues had the most points in the Western Conference at the time of the stoppage, they will play three games to determine their playoff seeding for the quarter-finals.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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