Hockey Headlines

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Hockey Show - Episode 200

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, returns tonight to celebrate a major milestone as we have reached reached 200 shows! It's a pretty big milestone considering we're not that far away from kicking off our fourth season, and it's pretty amazing to see all of the hockey we've talked over 200 weeks of doing this show. We've welcomed some big names and some up-and-coming names, we've talked about all the major stories from the hockey world, and we've delved into topics that don't get a lot of coverage. Tonight's show will feature a few prizes, hopefully a few guest drop-ins, and, as always, a load of hockey talk!

Tonight, Teebz, Beans, and TJ will discuss Brad Richards calling it a career after 15 years with the Rangers still paying him $5.05 million this coming season and $1.05 million through 2025-26, Wayne Gretzky signing with the New York Rangers 20 year ago today, the late Gordie Howe being mentioned at the Republican National Convention, Mark Scheifele's comments on Subban-vs-Weber debate on Toronto's TheFan590, former Canadiens' number guy Matt Pfeffer not owning his comments, and we'll talk about Teebz and TJ spending a day out in Neepawa for a very good cause. If we do get a few guests dropping in, we'll toss those topics aside and have some fun, but listen from start to finish for a few opportunities to take home some prizing! We have a bunch of stuff in the ol' shwag bag, so there's a chance to win something good if you know your trivia!

Tonight, we want to hear from you with prizes on the line, so give us a call at 204-269-UMFM (269-8636)! Make sure you tune your radio dial in the Winnipeg region to 101.5 on your FM dial or listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! 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. We celebrate 200 incredible shows on UMFM tonight on The Hockey Show and can be heard only on 101.5 UMFM!

PODCAST:July 21, 2016: Episode 200

Until next time, keep your sticks on your ice!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

What To Do With Russia?

The recent revelations made by WADA and lawyer Richard McLaren about Russia's systemic doping problem have shook several sports and their governing bodies to their cores. From 2011 until 2015, it seems that the Russians had a very elaborate and secretive doping plan in place for athletes across every sports discipline until whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov stepped forward and pulled the curtain back on the entire debacle. There is increased concern over results form every major sports event that was held in Russia in that time, and there's a cuse for concern about the entire Sochi Olympic Games and the results seen there. With the Rio Olympic Games bearing down on the IOC and the world, the push from the athletic community outside of Russia is to ban the whole Russian team. As wise as that question may be when it comes to fair play and competitiveness, I think the bigger question is what does the IOC and the world do with Russia as a whole?

I'll link WADA's report, prepared by Mr. McLaren, right here for those that want to navigate it. It's a 103-page document that is exhaustive in its reporting, but there are snippets worth checking out. If you have the time and want to learn how to read proper legalese, here's your link.

The first time I had read in-depth of system-wide doping happening in Russia was a John Brant article in The New York Times Magazine that exposed the lives of Russian track star Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, on June 22, 2016. It was five days previous to that article's publishing when the news broke that the IAAF had banned the Russian track-and-field from competing in Rio due to a massive doping scandal. It's in Mr. Brant's article, however, that you learn that this doping procedure was in place as far back as 2009 and, perhaps, even earlier based on his statements.

When you think that it could have been happening as early as 2008, possibly in Beijing for that Olympiad, there are a lot of athletes who were fighting an unwinnable battle for medals they were not medically-enhanced enough to win. That's not to say that some didn't overcome the odds and beat out the Russians who may have been cheating at the time, but there's at least seven years worth of doping that the Russian had been practicing - perfecting? - prior to WADA's findings and Rodchenkov's admissions of cheating.

In that time, there were two Winter Olympiads that the Russians sent hockey players to, and multiple international events that had them achieve some form of credible success. Richard McLaren has stated, "the system was set up following the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was in place until 2014" in his report and in interviews, so it seems like the worst of the systemic doping procedure was applied to the vast majority of Russian sports after the Vancouver Olympiad.

That makes sense when you consider the boasting that Vladimir Putin did prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics about how Russian athletes would restore pride to Russia with many gold medal performances. Russia did indeed do exactly as he predicted: they won the most gold medals with 13, and had the highest medal count of all the countries with 33. Norway (11) and Canada (10) were the only other countries to hit double-digits in gold medals after all was said and done, and the national pride that Putin spoke about before the Olympics was delivered just as he promised.

How did this happen? According to McLaren's report on page 10,
"The Disappearing Positive Methodology was used as a State directed method following the very abysmal medal count by the Russian Olympic athletes participating in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. At that time, Sochi had already been designated as the next Winter Olympic venue."
Just as I stated above, the systemic doping procedures were put in place in order for Putin to make good on his boasts of national pride being restored. There is enough evidence in McLaren's report that points to this being a directive that would have had to come from offices much higher than the individual sports' authorities themselves.

How does this relate to hockey? According to the chart found on page 41 of McLaren's report, there were a minimum of 14 positive doping test results that disappeared. I say "a minimum" because Mr. McLaren was not able to have access to all of Russia's records, so he only had a chance to record these 14 cases in the sport of ice hockey. There certainly could be more, but 14 is a definite number of players who were doping at the ice hockey event in Sochi.

Let's assume that the NHL players in Sochi were following guidelines as set out by the IOC and the NHL to be able to be included in the event. That would leave nine Russian men who played in the KHL for the 2013-14 season. I'll also note that all 21 Russian women were playing in the Russian women's league during the 2013-14 season including CIS stars Iya Gavrilova and Sasha Vafina as well as NWHL player Yekaterina Smolentseva. In total, there are 30 players who played the 2013-14 season of hockey in Russia who could have been part of this doping scandal, and it appears that nearly 50% of them were.

It probably didn't help Putin's cause when the men lost to Finland 3-1 in the quarterfinals, and there was certainly some finger-pointing at the time of the loss when it came to blame. The Russian women fared no better either, finishing with a 2-0 loss in the quarterfinals to Switzerland. At least in the case of the women, they knew it would take a miracle to capture anything more than a bronze medal.

When you look at the numbers, though, it would make sense to say that either three or four men and ten or eleven were caught doping if the numbers are true, and I'm using the 14 definite cases that disappeared as the magic number. We need to drill down further to see if there might be some players who can still be counted out of the positive results because there are players who had left North America for the KHL without being in the system since 2010.

The nine Russian men's players include defenceman Ilya Nikulin, forwards Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Svitov, Alexander Popov, Alexei Tereshchenko, Alexander Radulov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Yevgeny Medvedev, and goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko. It seems too obvious to lump the superstars into the doping group, but it would be irresponsible not to include them. While we might never know the answers as to who were the guilty parties from these nine men, only one of these men played less than a year in Russia prior to the Sochi Olympics - Ilya Kovalchuk. That would make him an unlikely candidate in the scandal.

No, it seems like this doping scheme was built on long-term doping methods. Maria Sharapova had admitted to taking mildronate, also known as meldonium, since 2006, but tested twice for the drug in two separate tests in January and February 2016, prompting the ITF to hand down its two-year suspension to the tennis star. Meldonium was added to the banned substance list on January 1, meaning that the Russians had been ahead of the doping game for some time.

Following that news, the entire Russian U18 team that was suspended for testing positive for meldonium in April, preventing them from competing at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The availability of meldonium in Russia makes it sound as if it's widely available like aspirin or ibuprofen. Patrick Reevell and Christopher Clarey of The New York Times reported,
For decades meldonium was given openly to Russian athletes, along with vitamin supplements, and many trainers have complained about the ban while asserting that they would comply with it. Sold as Mildronate, meldonium is not approved for sale in the United States or the European Union but is sold over the counter in Russia and some Eastern European countries. A study by a Russian anti-doping center found that more than 700 Russian athletes were on meldonium last year before the ban, according to the Russian newspaper RBK.
It was reported that Sharapova had been using meldomium for approximately ten years to battle a number of medical ailments, and there's belief that the science and investigation into meldonium finally caught up to a number of these Russian athletes who had been using the drug for a variety of reasons. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, meldonium "demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions". Yeah, that definition sounds exactly like cheating, doesn't it?

Look, I can't tell you what the exact right answer is for Rio or for any other event going forward other than double-blind testing where the same samples are tested by independent WADA-certified labs without knowing the results from the same sample in the other lab. This will drive up costs and certainly delay results depending on where those labs are located, but it seems to be the only way to ensure that samples can be verified as clean with respect to drug-testing. Maybe that's what has to happen until better testing solutions can be found, but it seems like ensuring the tests to a laboratory in a somewhat morally-compromised country will only result in better methods of cheating.

I'll tell you this, though: it didn't help the Russians on the ice. And maybe that's the one intangible that can't be cheated: when the talent level is identical or close to being identical, hard work and teamwork will always overcome an individual's cheating in a team sport.

As for the Russian track-and-field team not competing in Rio and the possibility all Russians will be banned? Well, you made your bed. Enjoy lying in it, you dopes.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Saskatchewan, Not Republican

There's no denying that Gordie Howe will always be associated with the Detroit Red Wings when it comes to his NHL career. Sure, there was a brief stint prior to his days in Detroit with the New York Rangers along with his Hartford Whalers days at the end of his career, but he spent a lot of time in the red-and-white in the NHL. Had the Red Wings not forced him into retirement after a wrist injury in 1971, there's a good chance he would have played another decade in Detroit rather than jumping to the WHA and the Houston Aeros. But why fuddle the narrative with details, right?

Well, it seems that the Republican Delegates at the National Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio tonight did a little name-dropping in an attempt to keep pace with the boasts made by the other states in attendance. I apologize for bringing politics into this, but hang on until the 45-second mark when Ronna Romney McDaniel starts dropping names.
Look, I get that you need to keep up with the Joneses around you, Miss McDaniel, but why bring Gordie Howe - a Canadian - into your assembly? Can the man not rest in peace rather than being associated with this farcical congregation? And what about all the other amazing people who have called Michigan home and are born-and-raised Americans who weren't singled out by Miss McDaniel?

I don't know what Mr. Howe's politics were and I can't ever recall him endorsing one party over another in either country. I'm quite sure, though, that he wouldn't have endorsed Donald Trump's policies of building a wall between Canada and the US. Mr. Howe was a tough son of a gun, but he certainly wasn't crazy.

Politics and sports shouldn't be thrust into the same conversation. Ever. Don't name-drop a guy that the Red Wings forced out of hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Own It

If there's one thing I've learned from having a blog and a radio show, it's that what I write and/or say can live on forever. I will fully admit that I've been wrong on many occasions with my hockey prognostications and my opinions on some of the topics I've covered probably should have landed me in some hot water had the hockey world considered me more of an authority. You learn through these errors in judgment about what should and shouldn't be said, but there's one thing more than anything that I've done when it comes to my lapses in judgment: I've owned it.

I have been reading the recent comments that Matt Pfeffer has been making regarding analytics, the PK Subban trade, and his apparent emphatic plea with Montreal management to keep the dynamic defenceman. While I have gone on record both on this blog and on the radio show that I believe the Canadiens should have kept Subban rather than making the trade for Weber, the trade happened and Subban will play for Nashville for presumably the remainder of his career.

I won't apologize for my comments. I truly believe that Marc Bergevin made a serious error in judgment in making this deal, and I happen to fall into the majority of the hockey world who believes this similar sentiment. Matt Pfeffer is part of that majority, and he went on record with The Hockey News' Ken Campbell today about his feelings on the deal and what appears to be Montreal's change in direction for its analytics department after Pfeffer's contract was not renewed.

He makes some comments in Campbell's piece that may come from emotion as opposed to rational thinking. Among some of his comments, the highlights include:
  • "I guess everyone knows now where I stood on the Subban-Weber trade. There are times when there's some possibility that there would be another side to the argument, but this was one of those things where it was so, so far outside what could be considered reasonable."
  • "My analysis of Shea Weber had very little to do with Corsi. It's easy to hate on Corsi, but he is not a good goal differential guy either. He's not pushing the needle in terms of how many goals the Nashville Predators score and get scored on when he's on the ice. He's good, he's serviceable, but he doesn't really push the needle on either side."
  • "An average NHLer is worth a heck of a lot and that's what Shea Weber is."
As an unemployed analytics guy, it's probably not a good idea to rip into your former team or the decisions made by those who were signing your cheques. It's a bit of a career-limiting move, but you could tell that Pfeffer is still emotional about his job, his work, and the trade. That's part of being human, and to be human is to err.

Being 21 years-old is no excuse, but there's wisdom in experience as well. You might say that his youthful exuberance got the better of him in the interview with Campbell. At 21, I fully admit that I was far sharper with my tongue than I probably should have been, and I learned the lessons necessary to know that there is a time and a place for speaking out when it comes to the hill one chooses to die on. Pfeffer is also learning those lessons as we follow this story.

What bothers me, though, is that he made the statements and then decided that his comments weren't entirely wise when it comes to being employed by any other NHL team as he tweeted out the following:
Of course, that tweet has been deleted along with most of Matt's other Twitter work. I have no problem with a guy making rather controversial statements, but why delete it? Why remove what you believe to be true, especially since it's based on real numbers?

Career suicide obviously doesn't last long as Matt has already joined the Hockey Graphs family, so his work in analytics will continue albeit not with an NHL squad. I feel he'll do well there as he can really show off his work with numbers across the entire NHL spectrum. I can't deny that Matt has talent - he's good at what he does.

However, he needs to own this situation. He made comments that were perhaps said in haste and out of emotion, and he should be apologizing directly to Weber and the Canadiens instead of expressing regret over what he said. This is about accepting responsibility for one's comments and showing the maturity to admit that what was said was negative and, possibly, hurtful. An apology directly to the Canadiens and Shea Weber would be infinitely better than the expressed regret via social media.

I do hope that Matt Pfeffer can find a job with an NHL team in the future if he pursues one. He does have an innate ability to decipher numbers and dig deeper into the stats. However, there will be a lot of GMs who will "eye-test" this situation for a long time when it comes to future employment. An apology would go a long way in Matt owning his future.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Camp Built On Hope

I'm not sure anyone knows what it feels like to lead the NHL in goals in a season except for a select few people on the planet. It's a very exclusive club, so it's hard to imagine that Jonathan Cheechoo is a world away as he plays in the KHL. Jumping to the KHL might somewhat be like leaving his family in Moose Factory, Ontario to join the Belleville Bulls when he was a teenager, but the isolation in both cases is real. Earlier this week, though, Doug and Jordan Cheechoo, Jonathan's uncle and brother, set up a camp that was only for Aboriginal youth as they try to follow their hockey dreams!

The Hockey Camp of Hope opened this week in Sudbury, Ontario to a number of Aboriginal youth hockey players in an attempt for them to better their games while addressing some of the challenges that Aboriginal youth face in their quest to become a professional hockey player at the NHL or minor-pro levels. The Hockey Camp of Hope is run by Doug Cheechoo and his team of coaches who strive to even the playing field both on the ice and off it for Aboriginal youth.

"We get the opportunity when we have all aboriginal kids to talk about the issues they will face," Doug Cheechoo told Bruce Heidman of the Sudbury Star.

"With most teams, they will be the minority, if not the only Aboriginal, and that presents challenges to the individuals. All the coaches at the camp have gone through it whether it is racism or whatever, and not just from fans but from their own team sometime, and that's why we have them all in one classroom and talk about the challenges, talk about living away from home for the first time ad how to deal with homesickness. For the Aboriginal student who is already a minority, it is a different experience all together. The social and living conditions are so much different, it is a bigger adjustment for an Aboriginal person."

This is a topic that Doug knows well having seen Jonathan leave home for Belleville before being drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks. While there were some Aboriginal role models that Jonathan could certainly look up to while getting into the league, finding his place in any of the leagues he starred in as one of a handful of Aboriginal players can be difficult.

"They are kids are from isolated reserves, they move away and have to try to make new friends, and aboriginal people are shy as it is and it takes a couple of weeks at least to get adjusted," Jordan Cheechoo told Heidman.

"I know my first training camp in Sudbury, I was shy and didn't do what I was able to do and got cut from that team, so I just want to tell them to be outgoing from the start. When you are a minority on a team it is tough, so we want to help them."

For every Johnny Bucyk and Jordin Tootoo that makes it to the NHL, there are many more who do not. Camps like the Hockey Camp of Hope, though, allow Aboriginal youth the opportunity to train under NHL and AHL talent so that they have an appreciation for the hard work needed to get their careers to the next level. Instructors at the camp include Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Todd Nelson, Bakersfield Condors assistant coach Tony Borgford, and Winnipeg Jets scouting coordinator Barett Leganchuk.

"We’re working with players that will be prospects down the road, possibly major junior, and we are preparing them for that next level and let them know what they will face down the road," Leganchuk told Heidman.

"We teach them and tell them what scouts will be looking for from them down the road and how in-depth scouts look into them and what their personalities are, and we want to help them learn that different types of players make it and you can find a role at the next level. We aim at tackling the on- and off-ice and we prepare kids for what they will have to face down the road and how to handle situations, like if a coach is mad at them or a situation where they may have to persevere. There is more to it than shooting a puck and skating."

It's this kind of instruction that will help any of attendees go far, and I'm hoping that someone from one of the Hockey Camps of Hope will have his name called at an NHL Entry Draft in the near future. For now, though, the work being done by the Cheechoos is pretty incredible when it comes to getting Aboriginal youth deeper into the game.

I, for one, think the Hockey Camp of Hope is an amazing initiative, and I'd hope that the NHL lends its support to the camp at some point. For a sport that is primarily seen as being played by white males, the inclusion and support of the Aboriginal community would be a big step for hockey.

Your move, Mr. Bettman.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!