Happy Independence Day- Random hockey thoughts on July 4 (podcast)

4thofJuly

Hey, all-

Happy Independence Day aka Insurrection from the Crown Day!

It’s been a slow couple of weeks here with hockey news, so thought I’d throw up a podcast with some thoughts on prospects, free agency and the NHL draft lottery plus some other things about hockey.

It clocks in at around 45 minutes, so hope you’ll give it a listen.

Have a great holiday and we’ll be back with more content soon!

-KL

 

Happy Canada Day

Things have been slow lately…

Working on a post about the NHL Draft lottery, but what’s the point? The system is what it is, but any lottery is going to have winners and losers, and only the NHL could come up with a scenario in which not one of the bottom-seven/non-24 playoff and play-in teams would end up with Alexis Lafreniere as the top overall pick whenever the NHL Entry Draft happens.

Is it even worth posting about? Not sure. But as a former member of the QMJHL club that finished dead-last in the league regular season standings but lost the draft lottery and dropped to the third pick in 2017, I know exactly what the Detroit Red Wings are going through.

In the meantime, Happy Canada Day to our great neighbors to the North and the very reason we have this game we love.

Dom, Reed and the rest of Canada- this whiskey’s for you!

Liked this graphic, so am borrowing it and the least I can do is link to the city of Kawartha Lakes’ website…

Canada Day

https://www.kawarthalakes.ca/en/things-to-do/canada-day-the-2020-way.aspx

 

 

 

Jarome Iginla the newest Bruin elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame

IginlaHHOF

(Image courtesy of the Boston Bruins)

The Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2020 was announced today and to no one’s surprise Jarome Iginla was one of the inductees as a first-ballot entry.

The one-time Boston Bruins 30-goal scoring forward and member of the 2013-14 President’s Trophy-winning squad joins Marian Hossa Doug Wilson, Kevin Lowe, Kim St-Pierre and Ken Holland as the individuals whose selections were announced today.

Iginla, who spent the bulk of his storied career with the Calgary Flames, could have been a Bruin for a little longer, as he was apparently traded to the team just before the 2013 trade deadline, but reportedly nixed the deal until the Pittsburgh Penguins put together an offer that he accepted. It was a bit of a crazy story, and the reality will always be known only to the primary players- Peter Chiarelli as then-B’s GM, Flames GM Jay Feaster and Iginla himself.

As you know, the Iginla-less 2013 Bruins instead acquired Jaromir Jagr from Dallas at the deadline and went on a run to the Stanley Cup final, coming up short in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Ironically enough, Iginla, whose trade to the Penguins at the time was widely hailed as the move that was sure to put the Pittsburgh offensive powerhouse of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin over the top, watched as the B’s swept the Penguins in four games of the Eastern Conference final. His output in the series…to quote the incomparable Dean Wormer from Animal House…Zero. Point. Zero.

A few months later, Iginla was wearing similar colors but traded the Penguin in for a spoked-B when he signed as a free agent.

I won’t lie- I was floored by the move. He was the one unrestricted free agent I was confident the B’s wouldn’t pursue after the trade fiasco, but Chiarelli and Co. torpedoed my ego and got him on a fun-now/pay-later contract that had a low base but easily attainable bonuses.

Iginla went out and hit just about every one of them, boosting his team-friendly deal of $1.8M in 2013-14 to another $4.2M in bonuses applied to Boston’s 2014-15 cap number for a total of $6M for his 30 goals and 61 points at age 36.  The B’s could only watch helplessly as they landed in cap hell and Iginla signed an un-matchable $15.9M three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche in 2014. His production steadily declined in all three years, and he finished out his NHL career with a late-season trade to the L.A. Kings in 2017.

“Iggy” is deserving of his place in the HHOF. He was a power forward who was among a new generation of players that took the mantle from Cam Neely, retired just one month before Iginla began his NHL career with the Flames as a 19-year-old rookie.

Originally drafted by the Dallas Stars in the first round (11th overall) of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft out of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers after winning the 1994 and 1995 Memorial Cups. He had a dominant season in 1995-96, racking up 136 points, but was dealt to the Flames mid-season in a trade that sent former multiple 50-goal guy Joe Nieuwendyk to Big D. It was the proverbial trade that helps both teams- Nieuwendyk was a member of the Stars’ 1999 Stanley Cup championship team, and Iginla became Calgary’s franchise player.

Iginla was a member of Canada’s Olympic teams in 2002, 2006 and 2010, winning gold medals in 2002 and 2010.

The closest Iginla came to an NHL championship was in his prime during the 2004 playoffs when the Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning battled to the seventh game of a hard-fought series, but fell short. After a 41-goal season (he shared a second Richard Trophy with Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash), Iginla tallied 13 goals and 22 points in 26 playoff games that spring. He would not get out of the first round for the remaining four playoffs of his Flames career.

In 1554 career games, Iginla scored 625 goals and 1300 points. He was one of the faces of the NHL during his tenure. When he won the Art Ross and Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy in 2002, he was the first black player to win those major awards in the NHL.

Iginla was one of the very best in the game, and he was extremely popular during his one season in Boston. If only GM Harry Sinden had a crystal ball in his possession, the B’s could have drafted Iginla with the 9th selection in 1995 over defenseman Kyle McLaren, but at least fans can claim him as one of their own, albeit for a short period of time.

As the old saying goes, better late than never.

Congratulations Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla– HHOF Class of 2020.

Boston Bruins cult heroes: Dean Chynoweth

With summer about to arrive, we’re still weeks away from the return of NHL training camps, so it’s time for another entry in the Bruins cult hero series with defenseman Dean Chynoweth, former 1st-round pick and depth defenseman who played just 94 career games with the B’s out of 241 career NHL contests, but was known for his toughness and willingness to pay the price for the team. He’s held numerous coaching jobs in junior and pro hockey, and is currently one of Rod Brind’Amour’s assistants with the Carolina Hurricanes. Much of this piece is lifted from an interview I conducted with Chynoweth in 2001, when he was head coach of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, and we had a chance meeting at the NHL draft in Sunrise, FL.- KL

When you think of the Boston Bruins, Dean Chynoweth’s name won’t be on the tip of your tongue.

The hard-nosed defenseman only played a total of 94 games with the team, scoring 2 goals and 10 points while totaling 259 minutes in penalties.  However, in his short time with the club, Chynoweth fit the traditional Bruin stereotype of a hockey player who battled hard for his team any given night, and while perhaps not the most talented, played the sport with toughness, tenacity and honesty.

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B’s sign Berglund to ELC

Berglund

The Boston Bruins have signed Swedish defenseman Victor Berglund to a three-year, two-way entry-level contract at an annual value of $818.3k in the NHL.

The news, which broke Monday evening on social media, means that the 7th round (195th overall) selection from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is in the fold after spending the last two seasons playing in Sweden’s second pro league (Allsvenskan) with MoDo. He had signed with Lulea for the 20-21 season, which would have been a step up in the SHL, his country’s top pro league, but the signing means he will bring his talents over to North America.

We recently ranked Berglund 6th among Boston defense prospects in our 2020 pre-draft rankings, and 3 Amigo Reed Duthie posted this excellent analysis of what he brings to the table.

Here are a few additional notes and observations on a player who was a virtual unknown when the B’s drafted him late in Chicago three years ago, but has taken positive strides in his development since as a player former Bruin and current team European amateur scout PJ Axelsson had a major hand in.

What this means: Boston is putting the depth pieces in place for the upcoming 2020-21 hockey season. Berglund should be given every opportunity to spend his first full year in North America with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. He’s coming from a lower level of play in Sweden, however, so it’s not a given that he’ll be an AHL regular- we could see that he might see some time between Providence and Boston’s ECHL affiliate Atlanta Gladiators.  However, with his pro experience to date and sublime wheels and solid puck-moving ability, our money is on him being with Providence. After all- he played 4 regular season games a year ago with the Baby B’s to close out the 2019 regular season and didn’t look at all out of place there as an 19-year-old.

Don’t be surprised if: Berglund plays NHL games sooner rather than later. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but one thing that plays in the 20-year-old’s favor is that he’s a right-shot D, and the B’s don’t have many of those in their system right now, with the majority being left-shot types. For some, playing either the left or right side isn’t an issue, but that is not always the case. If the B’s run into some injury problems with their righties, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Berglund get a recall to see what he can do. His rookie NA year might be a tad early, but we never say never.

Realistically speaking: If he makes the NHL at some point, it may be more as a role player. What’s interesting is that he fit a specific Boston archetype for what they like on the back end: outstanding mobility, puck skills and vision/IQ in spades. He’s not very big- an average-sized 6-foot in height (if that), but if we’ve learned anything from this club in the past three decades, the B’s aren’t afraid to give smallish blue liners an opportunity- just as long as they can skate and think it, and Berglund certainly fits the bill.

With Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk currently entrenched on the Boston roster, they are proof that the team isn’t averse to having more than one smaller defender on the club- it all comes down to whether the player can execute within the system and produce.

We think Berglund has a shot at doing that- someday, someway.

 

Boston Bruins Prospects Pre-Draft Rankings- 2020

Here is the list of signed (NHL contract) or drafted (unsigned) Bruins prospects (all players must be under age 25 to be considered for this list). Their 2019-20 teams are listed below.

We will post new prospect profiles of the 2020 NHL draft selections and a new prospect ranking after the event.

Players signed to AHL contracts are not included in this list.

Forward

  1.  Jack Studnicka, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  2.  John Beecher, C University of Michigan (NCAA)
  3.  Trent Frederic, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  4.   Zach Senyshyn, RW Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  5.  Karson Kuhlman, C/RW Boston (NHL)/Providence (AHL)
  6.  Jakub Lauko, LW Providence (AHL)
  7.  Curtis Hall, C Yale University (NCAA)
  8.  Quinn Olson, LW University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)
  9.  Oskar Steen, C Providence (AHL)
  10.  Cameron Hughes, C Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  11.  Matias Mantykivi, C SaiPa (Finland)
  12.  Joona Koppanen, C/RW Providence (AHL)
  13.  Pavel Shen, C Providence (AHL)
  14.  Jack Becker, RW University of Michigan (NCAA)
  15.  Jake Schmaltz, LW Green Bay (USHL)

Defense

  1.  Jeremy Lauzon, LD Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  2.  Urho Vaakanainen, LD Providence (AHL)/Boston (NHL)
  3.  Jakub Zboril, LD Providence (AHL)
  4.  Jack Ahcan, LD St. Cloud State (NCAA)
  5.  Dustyn McFaul, LD Clarkson University (NCAA)
  6.  Victor Berglund, RD MoDo (Sweden Div 2)
  7.  Roman Bychkov, LD Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL)
  8.  Nick Wolff, LD University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA)

Goaltender

  1.  Jeremy Swayman, University of Maine (NCAA)
  2.  Dan Vladar, Providence (AHL)
  3.  Kyle Keyser, Atlanta (ECHL)/Providence (AHL)

Don’t forget about…Karson Kuhlman

karson-kuhlman-2019-32

Over the past decade, Boston Bruins have found success in the undrafted free agent department, especially with signing NCAA players. Whether we’re talking about Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Frank Vatrano (whose trade to Florida in 2018 netted the pick the B’s used to select Jakub Lauko), or even Austin Czarnik (now with Calgary), the B’s have identified passed-over college players who have gone on to reach the NHL.

A more recent example is former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain Karson Kuhlman, who led the Bulldogs to their first of two consecutive NCAA championships in 2018 and then signed with the B’s shortly thereafter. The 2018 NCAA tournament MVP didn’t dazzle anyone with his numbers, but was, as it turned out, the perfect fit for Boston.

It didn’t take Kuhlman long to see his first NHL action and by the spring of 2019, he was playing a supporting role in helping the B’s get to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship. In 19 regular and playoff games combined, the rookie netted four goals and eight points, not bad for a defensive forward in college whose best season consisted of just six goals and 22 points in 42 games during the 2016-17 campaign.

The Esko, MN native has always impressed with his speed, intelligent two-way game and hyper-competitivene style, going back to his USHL days with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

After making such a surprising impact (at the very least in terms of timeline), Kuhlman made the 2019-20 Bruins roster out of camp, but fractured his tibia Oct. 19 in a game against Toronto. He missed the next two months and returned to the ice in late December, bouncing between the NHL and AHL with Providence until the NHL season was put on pause.

He still meets our criteria of a prospect, even though he’s seen 36 NHL regular season games in his first two pro seasons, so here’s a quick snapshot of Kuhlman and what B’s fans can expect going forward:

Strengths: Superb skater- explosive, agile and quick. He’s got excellent acceleration and is strong on his skates- able to roll off of checks and maintain his balance. Very good small-area burst. Hockey sense is very good- while not overly creative, he sees the ice and makes good decisions with and without the puck. Tremendous intangibles such as character and leadership packaged up in a relentless work ethic. He’s a superior forechecker who disrupts and creates turnovers with his speed and sheer tenacity- constantly hunts pucks. A winner- he won a USHL championship with Dubuque in 2013, took 2018 NCAA tournament MVP honors in leading UMD to a national title, then was part of Boston’s extended run to the SCF a year later. That kind of thing is not an accident. Can play center and wing- able to take key defensive faceoffs when needed and has a quick stick in the dot to win draws.

Weaknesses: Size is average, and he’s not a skill player by any means. A standout player for Cloquet High, he was not a point producer in the USHL or in college, so he’s not going to have the offensive ceiling to be a front line forward in the NHL.

Overall analysis/projection: The leg injury set Kuhlman back, and as his 1 goal and 6 points in 25 games this season can attest, he’s in a low-end depth role right now with Boston. At age 24, he’s old enough and mature- he can play up or down the lineup if needed, but with the B’s healthy when the NHL’s expected resumption happens in July-August, he’ll have a challenge ahead to work himself into the lineup on a regular basis.

Going forward, we can envision Kuhlman carving out more of a role for himself as a checker/grinder/Swiss Army knife player the Boston coaches trust in certain situations. He’s not going to go out and score 30 goals and 60 points, but in the B’s system, could develop into a regular role player because of his versatility, drive and jam.

The B’s haven’t just enjoyed success finding college free agents- they hit on former Swift Current/WHL captain Colby Cave, who suddenly and tragically passed away this spring while a member of the Edmonton organization, but the NCAA pipeline has been a productive one for Boston. Kuhlman should continue to contribute going forward, and the B’s continued the pattern by signing college defenders Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and Nick Wolff (Kuhlman’s UMD teammate) this past March.

His only goal this season vs Vancouver an attempted pass that went in off  Troy Stecher

KBJR local feature by Alec Bochner during Kuhlman’s senior season at UMD

In-depth UMD profile on him from October 2017- check out his answer to the question at 7:20 about the one city he would pick up and move to- Kuhl-stradamus?

 

Off the top of the head: Jake Schmaltz

Jake Schmaltz closes out the current Bruins prospect series- we started recapping and updating all of the drafted and/or signed prospects back when the COVID-19 quarantines began near the end of March and three months later, we’re caught up. We look forward to analyzing the next wave of Boston prospects- whenever the 2020 NHL Entry Draft happens. Watch for a main page post that will rank and list all of the prospects we’ve covered linked to each of these profiles for ease of reference.

Jake Schmaltz, LW/C- L

6-1/175

Current team: Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

Previous team: Chicago Steel (USHL)

Strengths: Hockey IQ/vision is Schmaltz’s best asset- he’s smart and creative, able to see the play unfolding and get to the point of attack where he can influence things. His natural instincts help him to be a 200-foot player who understands his role and responsibilities in his own end. A  quick, agile skater for his height- able to get off the mark quickly, and while he doesn’t possess dynamic open-ice speed/separation, Schmaltz can get to loose pucks with fine small-area skills and burst. Deft touch with the puck- more of a passer/distributor.  Good character and work ethic.

Weaknesses: Although possessing good height, Schmaltz is lean and will have to address his functional strength going forward. He’s not all that strong on his skates and tends to be more of an upright skater, making him susceptible to being knocked off the puck when trying to drive through contact while in motion.

Overall analysis: The former Wisconsin high school and Team Wisconsin (AAA) standout’s offense blossomed two years ago and he earned a top NCAA commitment to the Fighting Hawks. A season later, he was a strong two-way forward in his rookie USHL campaign in 2018-19, parlaying that into being Boston’s final selection in Vancouver.

Schmaltz, a cousin of NHL brothers Nick (Arizona) and Jordan (NY Islanders- Bridgeport),  isn’t a high-end prospect by any means, but plays a sound three-zone game and has some pro upside with his natural smarts. Like most players his age, he’s got a lot of physical development ahead, and added strength to his lower body will improve his skating in terms of  overall power/leg drive.  He’s a versatile forward who brings the attributes that coaches value to play an honest, consistent shift. Don’t expect a big point producer at the higher levels, but he does compete hard and finds ways to contribute on both sides of the puck.

Projection: Like Jack Becker, Schmaltz is on the long program in Boston’s system. He’s got a top commitment in the NCHC with University of North Dakota, and could very well play the four full years of his NCAA eligibility before he signs/turns pro. That will obviously depend on how he develops there, but there will be no urgency to get him into the system for the time being.

Given his age and USHL experience, Schmaltz should be one of Green Bay’s top players in 20-21 as long as the plan remains in place for him to return for one more year of junior.

Bruins development camp video from 2019

 

WFRV (Green Bay) news feature on Schmaltz:

Jack Becker: Then & Now

The Bruins prospect series rolls on with 2015 7th-rounder Jack Becker, who skated with John Beecher at Michigan this past season.- KL

Jack Becker, RW/C-R

6-4/200  Born: 24 Jun 97

Current team: University of Michigan (NCAA)

Jack Becker then:

July 18, 2015

Jack Becker, C Sioux Falls (USHL); 6-3, 190

Acquired: 7th round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Lanky Minnesota high school product is about as raw as it gets at this stage, but could bring some long-term boom potential if he continues to progress. Felled by a bout with mononucleosis this season, he came back strong to finish the season at Mahtomedi High and then played a couple of USHL regular season affiliate games with the Clark Cup-winning Sioux Falls Stampede. He lacks initial burst and agility in his skating, but crashes the net hard and scores goals the old fashioned way. Watch for this son of a former NY Islanders draft pick to make noise at Wisconsin eventually.

 

July 25, 2015

(Here’s a draft day quote on Becker from former colleague Dan Shrader, who is now an area scout with the Winnipeg Jets)

Good friend and Red Line scout Dan Shrader saw Becker multiple times this season and smartly listed him in the RLR final rankings.

“He’s not a facilitator but is a great crash and bang type,” Shrader said. “He’s terrific with the give and go net drives. He’s a bit thorny (in his development) and needs time but could be a player when all is said and done. No one in Minnesota high school hockey crashed the net harder than Becker this year.”

May 5, 2016

Jack Becker, C (2015 draft- 7th round): Minnesota high schooler when drafted went to the USHL this past season with the Sioux Falls Stampede. The Mahtomedi native is a pretty raw product, still growing into his frame and developing his skill set. It will likely take him some time to transition into being an impact performer with the Badgers, but for a seventh-round pick, there is some interesting long-term potential here. Current status: unsigned.

(current note- Becker was no longer committed to Wisconsin by the fall of 2016 and committed to Michigan Tech, before decommitting there and following head coach Mel Pearson to the University of Michigan for the 2017-18 season. See video below the post for more.)

Jack Becker now:

After concluding his junior season in Ann Arbor with the University of Michigan Wolverines, his long-term status with the Bruins is still up in the air. Drafted five years ago, the Bruins still hold his rights as long as he stays in school, and then have until August of 2021 to sign him or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He skated mostly on the wing with fellow B’s prospect and 2019 first-rounder John Beecher.

With 22 goals and 42 points in three NCAA campaigns, Becker has not been a point producer since playing single-A high school hockey in Minnesota. And even then, Becker wasn’t a driver/creator- he used his size to get to the net, and had the hands/shot to find the twine to the tune of 55 goals.

He’s got a pro-sized frame and is a powerful straight-line skater. Initial steps and small area quickness should see continued improvement. In the offensive zone he uses his size and strength to maintain puck possession and make plays around the net. He’s got a quick release on a hard shot; we’d not be surprised to see him hit the 30-point mark as a senior, and double his goal totals. There has always been an intriguing buzz around his soft hands and ability to finish at the lower levels.

Realistically, Becker is tracking more as journeyman/depth player as a pro. He’s a capable two-way forward who might lack a flashy offensive package, but stands out with his ability to go to the net and protect the puck. Barring a major breakout senior campaign, the B’s may take a wait-and-see approach to see how he looks after he exhausts his NCAA eligibility.

With his natural size, strength and heavy-style game, there’s enough to wonder if he can be a viable pro, even if he tops out at the AHL level. This last collegiate season will be his final exam to see if that raw promise the B’s saw half a decade ago will get a chance to pan out for the organization.

***

Wolverines YouTube video- Jack Becker on how he ended up at Michigan after commitments to Wisconsin and Tech

 

 

 

 

Friday Flashback: Bruins 2006 Draft

Here’s a comprehensive look at the 2006 Boston Bruins draft, which transformed the franchise in a single weekend of picks and one major trade. Other than 1979, there isn’t a more impactful single draft in team history, though 1980 was quite strong, along with 2014 more recently. Here you go- KL

Brad_Marchand

(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins franchise was in disarray at the conclusion of the 2005-06 hockey season and faced a crucial crossroads leading up to the entry draft being in Vancouver that June.

A year that began with promise with the return of NHL hockey after a lockout cancelled the 2004-05 big league campaign descended into chaos and despair when a series of big-money free agent signings went bust (Alexei Zhamnov, Brian Leetch, Dave Scatchard) and franchise face Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose before December for the kind of return that ultimately sealed Mike O’Connell’s (Cohasset, Mass.) fate as Bruins GM. O’Connell’s departure opened the door for one-time Harvard hockey captain Peter Chiarelli’s ascension as the B’s new chief of management and operations, but as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, the job of riding herd over Boston’s 2006 draft and early phases of free agency fell to O’Connell’s interim replacement, Jeff Gorton.

 Thanks to a win by the Columbus Blue Jackets on the final day of the 2005-06 regular season, the Bruins slid into the fifth overall draft position (not affected by the draft lottery, won by St. Louis).  Two points are what separated the B’s from Phil Kessel and someone else (Derick Brassard went one selection later at sixth overall). Kessel may no longer be with the Bruins, but his impact will likely be felt in the years to come, even if the jury is still out on the players received from Toronto and then Dallas last summer.

The B’s former chief amateur scout and current director of player personnel, Scott Bradley, called 2006 a “historic” draft year and critical moment for the rebuilding of the once proud franchise’s sagging fortunes. Little did Bradley know at the time that his words would prove to be prophetic, and that just five years later, the club would reverse direction from the road to ruin to Stanley Cup glory in the very city the draft occurred, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game championship series.

Boston’s selections in the second and third rounds were instrumental in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, while No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask’s history is inextricably linked to the 2006 draft as well. Although Lucic was traded five years ago, Marchand has ascended to NHL superstardom, as has Rask, who could be in line to collect the second Vezina Trophy of his career after a shortened 2019-20 season. Marchand and Rask helped lead the B’s to within one win of the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, though they fell short at home to the St. Louis Blues.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Boston’s 2006 draft is still making a direct and indirect impact on the team’s fortunes.

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