Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Just Like The Movie!

With Slap Shot turning 40 years-old today, I was going to speak about the influence it had on hockey back in the 1970s and early-1980s as the cult status of the film grew. Instead, the film seemed to come to life tonight in the AHL as division rivals met and spilled some blood on the ice and in the hallway to the dressing rooms. Honestly, the image of the brawl from Slap Shot above wasn't far off the results seen on the ice tonight between the Chicago Wolves and Iowa Wild, but it's what happened after the line brawl that will evoke memories of the hockey film!

The eventual final score from this game was a 4-1 victory for the Chicago Wolves, but the game's ending had quite the finish. Vince Dunn and Kurtis Gabriel gave both the fans and the players quite a show on this night, and you'll want to jump ahead to the 4:15 of this video to take it all in!
Honestly, Gabriel deserved what he got for going hit on the hit, cross-checking Dunn in the face, and then for having the stones to walk over to Dunn after both were sent off with fighting majors with less than five minutes to play. That cut on Gabriel's cheek from the stiff right hand of Dunn probably more than made up for the not seeing the last minute of play. I understand how rivalries go and these two teams have one, but imagine these two teams in a playoff series against one another.

Wait, what's that you say? It could happen?
The Wolves will need some help since Grand Rapids has four games in-hand on Chicago, but these two teams could potentially meet in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs if the hockey gods had any will to make it happen. You have to hand it the AHL schedule makers, though, as the Wolves and Wild will tangle FIVE more times before end of the season including tomorrow's rematch!

Get popcorn and beverages, folks. This divisional matchup could spill over into an all-out war by the time the season is over. And then there's the potential for seven more games of this craziness!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 24 February 2017

He's Coming, Avs Fans

There was a lot of anticipation when the Colorado Avalanche announced at last summer's NHL Entry Draft that they were taking Penticton Vees player Tyson Jost with the tenth pick in the event. A number of people, including TSN's scouting guru Craig Button, talked about how much talent Jost has, and we saw some of that ability at the World Junior Championship in December. For Colorado Avalanche fans, there's excitement brimming on the horizon because it appears Jost is finding his way in the nCAA with the University of North Dakota, and the winning goal he scored in tonight's game against Omaha should have Avs fans rubbing their hands together for what the future holds.

I was sent a link to see the goal a couple of dozen times by a number of people. Honestly, I really wish that there was some way that NCAA hockey would be shown in Canada more often because there is a ton of great hockey being played at the collegiate level in the US by both men and women. My wishes aside, though, Tyson Jost may have just scored one of the goals of the year when he undressed two Mavericks en route to scoring the game-winner. Have a look-see at these hands.
Holy moly, what a goal! As a defenceman, playing against someone who can stick-handle like Jost without your stick is a death sentence. Joel Messner, a Lorette, Manitoba product and former Selkirk Steeler from the MJHL, was the player who lost his stick behind the net. Messner should have pinned Jost to the boards in this case, but he was already a step behind the sniper. Once Jost got himself free, Messner should have simply let Jost skate into him where he could have tackled the freshman Fighting Hawk. Take the penalty to prevent the goal. Instead, Jost dangled him nicely, and was on his way to the slot area untouched.

The second player to fly by Jost as he deked into the slot was Luc Snuggerud. Snuggerud, whose hockey lineage includes dad Bo who is a legend at the University of St. Thomas and uncle Dave who played in the NHL, was drafted by the Blackhawks in the fifth round in 2014, but he looked nothing like an NHL pick with that defensive effort. Jost walked around him like he was barely there, and the two defencemen really left Alex Blankenburg out to dry against one of the best freshmen in the nation.

That's a heckuva goal on a Friday, folks. And it doesn't even appear on SportsCentre.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 231

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, hits the air tonight with some chatter about everything happening in the NHL right now as deals are being made and lineups are being evaluated and adjusted for the final push to the playoffs and beyond! We'll talk about the deals already made and which ones seem smarter than others as well as taking a peek at what some teams might do with guys they've deemed expendable! It's a big show for deadline deals, so let's roll!

Tonight, we'll wrap up the road trip to Kenora for Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada with our final thoughts on Kenora, talk about the potential players available for trade deadline deals, players who have been traded already, a discussion on what the Jets and Moose need to change, and we'll plug Barys Astana in the KHL, the Aalborg Pirates in Denmark's Metal Ligaen where Brandon Reid is coaching, the CWHL Clarkson Cup Playoffs, and the CWUAA Women's Hockey Playoffs! There's a lot to talk about on th show tonight, so make sure you tune into the program at 5:30pm CT!

If you're gonna be out and about tonight, but still want to hear the show, you really should download the UMFM app. Like now. It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows, so get to it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today!

If you're all over social media, we try to be as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, we talk trades, what needs to change, what has changed, international results, and the outstanding city of Kenora, Ontario on The Hockey Show only on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: February 23, 2017: Episode 231

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A Unique Stop

As we near summer, the annual movement of AHL teams will get underway. We already know of a few teams that will be changing addresses next season, but the Senators - currently of Binghamton, soon-to-be of Belleville - made a stop that one normally doesn't see while playing for their current-and-soon-to-be-former city. Some would say that holding a practice in the city you intend to move to shows a wee bit of disrespect for the current city and its fans, but the Senators cared not for societal norms today as they arrived for a meet-and-greet and practice in Belleville, Ontario.

More than 300 enthusiastic fans showed up for the open practice in Belleville today to watch their soon-to-be new team work through the drills on the ice before the team got a tour of the practice facility they'll be using next season. The reason they made this stop is because they are returning to Binghamton from Toronto where they fell to the Marlies 4-2 on Monday before hosting the Marlies on Friday. Having three days off between games means this is quick visit before they get back to business at home.

"It was unreal coming out here and seeing the stands full and people cheering," Senators captain Mike Blunden told Paul Svoboda of The Belleville Intelligencer. Blunden's brother, Stephen, played for the OHL Bulls from 2006-08. "It's going to be fun here. Belleville's a great hockey town. It was a great OHL town. My brother loved it when he played here."

If you're still reading this with one eyebrow raised and questioning the motives of the why the B-Sens would make this trip, it appears this visit to their new home was initiated by the players. "The players all agreed to stop here," said Belleville rec director Mark Fluhrer. "This is a day off for them. They're coming off a road trip. We're very appreciative of their efforts."

It sounds like fans, arena management, and the team are all pretty happy about this unscheduled stop on the team's day off. I'm not entirely against the team making this effort, but it just seems like with the Senators some half-dozen points back of a playoff spot, they're looking forward to next season instead of trying to close out this one with, to quote another red-and-black clad man in Deadpool, maximum effort.

I'm happy that Belleville is finding hockey after the OHL's Bulls left town, but it's not like the Albany Devils have gone wandering into Binghamton while the Senators were away and started checking out their new digs for next season. Albany is focused on the task at-hand as they compete for top spot in the AHL's Atlantic Division rather than taking road trips to Binghamton to meet fans. There will be lots of time for that in summer as the team makes its move, but the Devils know they have a job to do.

I don't know, but this seems like a classless move to me when there's still a month-and-a-half of games to play as the Binghamton Senators. I know that the city of Belleville is awaiting their arrival, but the Senators are still representing the city of Binghamton for the remainder of this season for however long that lasts. Showing up at their new home prior to the end of the season, to me, shows a serious lack of respect for the city of Binghamton.

I was a fan of the Senators in Binghamton, I would have dropped my support of them like a bad habit upon reading this story. The relationship was already tenuous with the announcement of the Senators moving, but this just shows a lack of tact when it comes to ending the relationship with Binghamton and the hockey fans in that city amiably.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

More Than Just First-Place

It's rare in the sports world today for any team to lead its league all season without faltering. Teams go through ups and downs just like everything else, and other teams can get hot at the right time and overtake them. Sometimes, injuries play a part in slowing a team's progress. The fact that this is something rare makes accomplishing the feat that much more meaningful for the members of that team, and it speaks volumes to the work done off the ice with regards to team building, game preparation, fitness, and recovery. After 43 games, let's throw some credit at the Aalborg Pirates as they have officially clinched first-place in Denmark's Metal Ligaen after leading all season long!

There are still two games to play and the Odense Bulldogs could conceivably tie the Pirates with 88 points, but Aalborg holds the tie-breaker between the two teams after today's 6-2 win over the Herlev Eagles, giving last year's eighth-place team a new accolade as they will finish as the top team in the league this year! Aalborg currently sits at a 26-11-4-2 record, and will hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs unless they fall. For a team used to traveling for playoff games, this will mark a major change for the organization!

Who they will play is still up for grabs, but you can't think anyone wants to roll into Aalborg after this season. As of writing, the Rungsted Seier Capital are five points back of seventh-place SønderjyskE, and Aalborg sports a 4-0-1-0 record against Rungsted this season as they have outscored them 15-7 in their five contests with the one shootout goal taken out. It hasn't been easy despite a recent 6-2 victory over Rungsted, and the pressure only ramps up in the playoffs so the Pirates will need to be ready for a team that has played them close all season long.

The key in the Metal Ligaen playoff scenario, though, is that Aalborg will be able to choose which team of the bottom-four playoff teams they'd like to play! This unique playoff scenario means that the seemingly-tough Rungsted team may not be the team that Aalborg chooses if they've found more success against the other teams, and there are five teams in contention for the bottom-four spots right now. Clearly, the team will have some decisions to make before kicking off the most anticipated playoff season in some time!

Among the individuals who are leading the way for the Pirates, one of the early recruits that Brandon Reid brought into Aalborg was 27 year-old defenceman Bryce Reddick. The Winnipeg-born player is the son of former Winnipeg Jet Eldon "Pokey" Reddick, and he had a special set of skills that Reid liked in recruiting. Reid told Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press in June, "We needed a guy with good speed who could really control the power play. A right-handed shot. We looked at all the options we got from the agents. One main thing is you got to be a good person if we're going to take you. He was the perfect fit for us."

Reddick has kept his end of the bargain as it appears he'll finish fourth on the team in scoring this season and as the team's leading scorer from the blue line by a large margin. Reddick has been a key cog in Aalborg's defensive turnaround as well as he has the abilities to either skate the puck out using speed or make a good outlet pass, and his speed is vital in chasing down opponents while being extremely mobile in his own zone. He's the kind of player that Reid leans on to settle the team defensively thanks to his capabilities, and it's quite clear that Reddick is thriving in the opportunity.

I'd be remiss in not speaking about Peter Quenneville once more. Quenneville was a goal back of league-leading Harrison Reed of SønderjyskE just a week ago, but today's scoring race sees Quenneville atop the league's goal-scoring standings with 29 markers to date! He's also fourth in overall scoring with 48 points, just one point back of two players. I doubt he's going to score 12-15 points over the next two games to catch Odense's Dale Mitchell for the overall scoring league, but anything can happen. I'm almost certain, however, that head coach Brandon Reid isn't going to run one of his best players ragged for a scoring title.

Another player who deserves a lot of kudos is Julian Jakobsen. Relatively unknown to most hockey fans on this side of the ocean, the former Swedish Elite League and German League centerman has found some incredible chemistry alongside his national team partners in the Hojberg twins on the top line, and the result is that the 29 year-old Dane sits second in assists with 34 this season, just two back of league-leader Dale Mitchell. He's a very fluid skater with good vision on the ice, and he loves to generate offence. While his goal total of eight will largely be overshadowed by Quenneville's total, make no mistake that Jakobsen can score if given the opportunity. His play-making ability is what has him on Aalborg's top line, though, and that's come through in spades this season.

And let's not forget about the man between the pipes who has had a direct contribution on Aalborg's minuscule goals-against total this season. Ronan Quemener is another one of those unknown players to most North American fans, but let's run down the stats this 29 year-old French netminder has put up this season: seventh in save percentage (.918), seventh in goals-against average but fourth among goalies who have played 2000+ minutes this season (2.06). That's nearly a goal-and-a-half better for GAA and some 30 points better in save percentage compared to last season's starting netminder. To say that netminding hasn't been a key contributing factor in the Pirates' turnaround would be underselling how important Quemener's contributions have been this season!

So the Aalborg Pirates have some key players and have take some important steps in earning their best finish ever in the Metal Ligaen. The players above have been key contributors, and the team is playing exciting hockey. None of that matters, of course, if no one is watching the team. As head coach Brandon Reid told McIntyre in his article, "We're trying to do what the Winnipeg Jets are trying to do. We're trying to bring back that fever. Aalborg is a great hockey town. It can be something great if you get that winning culture into it. There's big opportunity over here. It can be a really great lifestyle. I played 10 years in Europe. I'm known over here, my wife and I feel comfortable."

Aalborg has a 5000-seat arena, one of the largest in the Metal Ligaen. In 2015-16, the IIHF reported that the Metal Ligaen averaged 1361 fans per game, meaning there may been a lot of empty seats in Aalborg's arena. That was down from 2014-15 where the league averaged 1481 fans. That's a worrying trend, but it seems Aalborg has followed that trend as shown by the numbers on The Internet Hockey Database as attendance has fallen year after year after that third-place finish in 2013-14.

Granted, the team was the second-most watched team in 2015-16, but the arena would look empty with more than 60% of the seats still unfilled. It sounds like Reid's efforts in making this team the best in the circuit could push Aalborg to being the most attended team in the league if photos of the rink are any indication of the city's excitement over their hockey club's performance. Unfortunately for us, the Metal Ligaen doesn't release attendance reports on their website.

"From what I've heard, he used the hall to be packed with people, it was not just sport, it was an event," Reid told MigogAalborg.dk, and stresses that his goal is to get that mentality back in town, and he is not in doubt if the team has the potential to bring Aalborg Gens are back to hockey hall.

"About three years if all according to plan, we have 5000 spectators for each game, not only because we continue to win, but because hockey culture is back in town."

Season tickets in Aalborg are only 1000 Krone or about $186 CDN. Aalborg simply wanted to see more tickets sold to the walk-up crowd so they can put more butts in seats. One of the most amazing things about the attendance figures for Aalborg this season that will eventually be released is that Aalborg did something completely unheard of in professional sports: walk-up tickets were free all season long... with an asterisk.

You might be shaking your heard in wondering how a professional hockey team with costs and expenses to pay can offer up free tickets. How they do it is completely unique. Instead of charging for every ticket, beer, and soda as fans walk through the door, the Pirates' only caveat in entering the arena is that before the entering of the arena, fans must buy a beer or soda for a maximum of 40 Krone! By doing this, fans get a ticket and a beverage when they show up to the rink!

Thomas Bjuring, director of the Aalborg Pirates, told MigogAalborg.dk - and loosely translated by me and Google,
"The concept has been received with great enthusiasm by both fans and partners. I have received countless inquiries from fans and sponsors and had visits from both North Jutland, P4, TV2 north and our own TV team yesterday. 10 minutes after the publication, internet traffic on the net was so large that the server crashed. We are all wildly enthusiastic about the massive reception this concept has gained. Now we cross our fingers for the city's suppoort with a great turnout in the new season," said Pirates boss.

"Gigantium is a great arena, and all our fans and sponsors love when there are many people in the hall. The new initiative is only possible thanks to good partners," says Bjuring.
Pirates management wanted a full arena, but they needed to do more than just offer a beverage and a ticket. There had to be a reason to come down to the rink if the Pirates wanted to see this promotional idea come to fruition. I can honestly say that the Pirates are a much better team with Brandon Reid in charge, and that culture both he and Bjurring spoke of is spreading wildfire through the Aalborg region.

Once players have enough money to live comfortably, they will seek out winning cultures in hockey because the window to win championships decreases daily for players. Not every player will say he has won a championship, so players will seek the best places they can win in order to fulfill that need to win. Both Detroit in the 1990s and Chicago in recent years have seen veteran players come to the team for less money in order to have a shot at a championship. Brandon Reid is building the same winning culture in Aalborg with his team, and that three-year plan he spoke of has been kick-started in a big way with this incredible first season.

In the end, if the Aalborg Pirates somehow are upended this season in the playoffs, there will be disappointment in them falling short. The goal of any hockey team is to win its respective league championship each and every year. Brandon Reid's work in recruiting impact players, getting more out of returning players, and giving fans a reason to flock to the arena is already paying dividends in his first year, but this is only Year One of what appears to be a three-year plan. Losing will hurt, but the culture being installed in Aalborg should guarantee repeated success in future years. Make no mistake that fans a love a winner and Aalborg will continue to see support as they move forward with the plan.

Finishing atop the standings in the Metal Ligaen is an incredible accomplishment for Brandon Reid and the Pirates. I don't know if anyone would have predicted this in his first season, but we stand here today with that fact in-hand. The playoffs stand before the Pirates, and they'll need to be better than they were in the regular season if they hope to capture the Metal Cup. I suspect Brandon will have the players ready to go once the calendar flips to March.

Seasons, however, will come and go. The big picture in long-term sustainability for this franchise is changing the culture surrounding this team, and that job has only started for the Pirates. But let's make sure we call a spade "a spade" when it comes to how they started this three-year plan: pretty damned great! And the Pirates can cap it off with twelve wins over the next month to hoist their first Metal Cup in club history and the first in the city's history since 1981!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!