Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A Movie And Some Playoffs

I know that American hockey fans miss out on a lot of stuff that TSN and CBC does, especially if you live outside of a border state. That being said, the TSN crew that host the NHL on TSN put together perhaps one of the best pieces of pop culture-related hockey fun that I've seen in a long, long time. With the release of The Hangover 3 coming up, TSN filmed a pretty funny short in which James Duthie, Darren Dreger, Aaron Ward, and Rick (a TSN producer) experience their own hangover.

Seriously, I'm not sure how long this took to film, but watch right through to the end to catch some outtakes. They're just as funny, or perhaps funnier, than the feature film.

Well done, TSN! Very solid work, and I expect more of these in the future. The acting skills shown by all, especially by Darren Dreger, should not be wasted while still in the primes of your acting careers!

Playoff hockey starts tonight, kids. If you're not ready by now, you may never be ready. And remember to enter the sixth-annual HBIC Playoff Pool before puck-drop tonight!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Colorado Avalanche Select...

They had the second-best chance at coming away with the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, but the Colorado Avalanche technically beat the odds to be able to have the entire list of available players to look over before being required to add a new youngster to their depth. With the likes of American Seth Jones and the two Halifax kids in Nate MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin available, the Avalanche will get themselves a very talented young man when they pick. The only question that everyone will have is WHO will they pick?

There's no doubt that about half the teams in the NHL could use a great puck-moving defenceman like Seth Jones. He skates well, has a great shot, and can quarterback a powerplay. He can almost be a fourth forward when on the ice, but rarely gets caught out of position when the play heads back towards the WHL's Portland Winterhawks' end of the ice. Being that he's an American kid, he'd be the kind of player that the Avalanche could build around in terms of the team and a marketing standpoint, adding him to their already-youthful lineup that includes Semyon Varlamov, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, and Erik Johnson.

On the other hand, Jonathan Drouin has been making waves in the QMJHL playoffs as he has helped the Halifax Mooseheads to an incredible 12-0 record through the first three rounds. The Mooseheads are set to play the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL final, and Drouin has amassed 10 goals and 18 assists in just those 12 games. While he's a little sleight of frame in comparing him with NHL players, Drouin has a nose for the puck and can skate extremely well. While it appeared that he would be the thirteenth forward for Canada at the past World Junior Championship, his work ethic and skill made him a fixture on the second line as he performed extremely well for Canada. Adding a solid scoring winger like Drouin would be a very smart pick for the scoring-anemic Avalanche.

And just to make things a little more difficult, Nate MacKinnon is also proving to be indispensable for the Mooseheads in the QMJHL playoffs. MacKinnon appeared to be on the same path that Sidney Crosby once was - the unmissable phenom - but has since been caught and possibly surpassed by most scouts' analyses by the two players above. That being said, MacKinnon has been just as good as Drouin in the playoffs as he's put up 9 goals and 19 assists in helping the Mooseheads to their 12-0 record. While the Avalanche have good young centermen already, adding another is never a bad thing. That being said, they do have other holes that need to be filled.

Regardless of who the Avalanche pick, the two Florida teams will benefit as well. Florida will get the second pick, and they could use any of the three players listed above in terms of improving their squad. Tampa Bay, who holds the third-overall pick, will get the remainder of the three players above, and they can certainly use any of the three men as they have glaring holes to fill and older players who will eventually need to be replaced.

Aside from the flipping of draft spots by the Avalanche and Panthers, there were no other teams who moved up or down in this year's draft order. Teams that could use some additional help - Calgary at sixth, Dallas at tenth, and Winnipeg at 13th - may look to move up to grab a higher-ranked player, but that will depend entirely on who is available at the time.

The NHL Entry Draft could be very interesting this year, and it all starts with Colorado stepping to the podium first at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on June 30.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Annual HBIC Playoff Pool

It took the rescheduled game today between the Boston Bruins and the Ottawa Senators to determine who would play whom in the Eastern Conference. I have a feeling that a lot of Canadian reporters are disappointed in missing out on a Montreal-Toronto first-round series, but kudos to Ottawa for going into Boston and winning. Because all the seedings are decided and teams are preparing for the second season, it means one thing will be happening here on HBIC. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers, and tell your fiercest rivals that the ALWAYS-FREE HBIC Playoff Pool officially opens for business tonight!

MAKE SURE YOU READ TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY FOR DETAILS! If it's an important piece of info, I have highlighted it in orange. Good? Good. Go.

Every year since the founding of HBIC, I have offered an absolutely-free hockey pool for my readers. There are prizes for those who perform well, and I am happy to do this for those of you who stop by here when you can. This year will be no exception as the pool will be free again, and there will be some great prizing available for those that rise above the rest.

RULES

  • Entrants will be required to pick the winner of each game for each series. In doing so, one will also choose the number of games played by the two teams in each series.
  • Entrants will be required to pick the game-winning goal scorer for each game.
Sounds pretty easy, right? No real strategy as to which team will go further, who is playing whom, and all that jazz. Points will be based upon your predictions in each game and series.
  • For each correctly-predicted team that wins the game, one point will be awarded. 
  • For correctly predicting the series length, two points will be awarded. 
  • For correctly predicting the series length AND winning team, five points will be awarded. If one correctly predicts the series length and winning team, the two-point option is overridden by the higher-scoring option.
  • For predicting the player who scores the game-winning goal per game, that entrant will receive an additional two points per game per correctly-chosen player.
The following example should help you weed through the rules:
For the Pittsburgh-NY Isles series, I predict that Pittsburgh will win Games 1, 2, 4, and 6. The Islanders will win Games 3 and 5. I also predict that Chris Kunitz will score the game-winner in Game 1; Paul Martin in Game 2; Sidney Crosby in Game 4; and, Tyler Kennedy in Game 6. John Tavares will score New York's winner in Game 3 while Mark Streit will score the winner in Game 5.
If I correctly predicted the entire series (highly improbable with my record of prognostications) of Pittsburgh winning in six games with all my game-winner scoring choices being right, I would earn 23 points (6 for each correct game + 5 for correctly predicting length and series winner + 12 for each game-winning goal scorer).

The catch to this whole thing is that no one will be eliminated until the Stanley Cup is handed out. With each new round beginning, each entrant will be required to send in their picks just as they did in the previous round. This way, everyone has a chance at some free shwag. And everyone loves free shwag.

TIE-BREAKER

I would hazard a guess at there possibly being a tie between two or more people, so your tie-breaker, required at the start of the first round, is to name the team who will accumulate THE MOST PENALTY MINUTES THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PLAYOFFS. Those who are tied will have their answers reviewed, and the entrant who picked the team with the higher PIM total for the playoffs will be crowned as the winner. Secondary tie-breaker, in case two entrants pick the same team for PIMs, will be number of series correctly predicted in length of games. For example, if Entrant A picks Boston and Entrant B picks Detroit, and Boston has the higher PIM total, Entrant A would be the winner. If tied, the entrant who had the most series wins would be the winner.

COST TO ENTER

The best part of the HBIC Playoff Pool? It's FREE! Always has been, always will be. You guys support me all year, so I feel I should give back when I can, and this pool allows me to do so.

You can enter at no cost, and the shwag is up for grabs. The only thing I ask, to be fair, is that you only enter once, please. Also, if you happen to miss a round, that's fine. Things happen, people get busy, no big deal. Just remember that you may find yourself in a very difficult spot if you miss any of the rounds because the point totals available in each round decrease with the lower total number of series being played. I won't be babysitting, so it's your job to enter as the Playoff Pool continues.

HOW DO I ENTER?

I will continue to use the email account specifically for the HBIC Playoff Pool simply because my normal email is ridiculously cluttered and I need some time to go through it. That being said, you MUST send all picks to this new email address: hbicplayoffpool-at-gmail-dot-com. Entries sent to any other email address that you have for me will be categorically deleted so that I can keep all of the HBIC Playoff Pool entries in one place. Clear? Nod your head. You don't want your Poolie Picks to go missing in my disorganized mailbox, do you?

Now to expedite the marking, I have created a pretty little Excel document that can be opened in both Microsoft Excel and OpenOffice Calc. Fill this out and send it back to me WITH YOUR NAME AS THE NAME OF THE EXCEL DOCUMENT (ie. Teebz.xls).

Click here to download if you missed the link above.

And I think that about does it. If you have any questions, fire me an email here. DO NOT SEND YOUR PICKS TO THAT EMAIL! Follow the directions above to do so. Get your picks in by the puck drop in Game One of the first series on Tuesday to enter the pool! If you have some sort of issue with this deadline, please email ASAP so we can make arrangements!

And may the best prognosticator win!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Gagarin Cup Final

While I'm over a week late with this update, it still needs to be written as the other major professional hockey league finished its playoffs with an exciting final between two third-place seeds in their respective conference. Here is the recap of the Dynamo Moscow-Traktor Chelyabinsk Gagarin Cup Final.

VS.
#3 DYNAMO MOSCOW VS. #3 TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK

Dynamo Moscow won the right to be the home team in this series with a better regular-season finish with 101 points. Moscow was 12-3 in the playoffs, knocking out Slovan Bratislava, CSKA Moscow, and SKA Saint Petersburg on their way to the Gagarin Cup Final. Traktor Chelyabinsk finished the season with 98 points in the Eastern Conference, and they dispatched Barys Astana, Avangard Omsk Oblast, and Ak Bars Kazan to advance to the Gagarin Cup Final while posting a 12-7 record in the playoffs. Both teams finished as the third seed in their respective conferences.

GAME ONE: Dynamo Moscow was looking to win their second consecutive championship, and opening at home in front of 8098 raucous fans was a good start. Like they had done throughout the playoffs, they gave those fans something to cheer about as Alexei Tsvetkov scored a shorthanded goal - his fifth goal of the playoffs - off a Denis Kokarev pass just 5:06 into the game while Sergei Soin sat off for roughing. Both goalies would hold strong until midway through the second period. Soin blasted home his second goal of the playoffs at 9:11 of the second period, and Dynamo Moscow went up 2-0. The Moscow fans were partying through the intermission, but things quieted down when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to make Traktor's deficit a single goal. Moscow, though, like they have done all playoffs long, played extremely well defensively in limiting chances, especially second chances on rebounds, to help Alexander Yeryomenko out. The only shot to get by Yeryomenko was Kuznetsov's powerplay marker as Dynamo Moscow took Game One by a 2-1 score. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: If Dynamo Moscow was ever going to be defeated, one team would have to prevent them from scoring early. Traktor didn't do that again in Game Two as Moscow's Jakub Petruzalek scored his seventh goal of the playoffs to put Moscow up 1-0 at 10:28. Traktor would even the game up after Dmitry Pestunov was sent off hooking. Jan Bulis scored his ninth goal of the playoffs at 17:08 to even the game at 1-1. Traktor pulled ahead midway through the second period when Andrei Kostitsyn snapped his second goal of the playoffs past Yeryomenko at 11:53 on the powerplay as Andrey Mironov sat off for slashing. Dynamo would respond 3:34 into the third period, though, as Marek Kvapil ripped home his seventh goal of the playoffs that Michael Garnett had little chance on. With 2:42 remaining in the game, Janne Jalasvaara's fourth goal would be the winner as Alexander Yeryomenko let nothing else past in leading Dynamo Moscow to the 3-2 win. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: As I stated above, if some team could ever score first, it would force Dynamo Moscow to change their strategy. Traktor finally made the adjustments, and they netted the first goal of the game into the second period. Maxim Karpov's fourth goal 3:13 into the middle frame put Traktor Chelyabinsk up 1-0. They made it a two-goal lead at 14:31 when Deron Quint's shot eluded Yeryomenko, and Traktor would carry the 2-0 lead into the intermission. Yegor Dugin's third goal of the playoffs would make it 3-0 for Traktor at the 3:43 mark of the third period. Michael Garnett's shutout would be broken at 5:01 of the third period when Denis Kokarev's first goal of the playoffs got past him, but nothing else would hit twine for the remainder of the game as Traktor earned their first win in the 3-1 victory. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: Traktor looked to send this series back to Moscow tied at 2-2 while Dynamo needed a win to put a stranglehold on the series. Neither team, though, came out flying as both teams seemed to be waiting for a mistake to capitalize. It took 38:30 for the opening goal to be scored. Dynamo Moscow's Jakub Petruzalek netted his eighth goal past Garnett to give his team the 1-0 lead with one period and 1:30 to play. Again, both teams seemed to play without desperation until the final few minutes, but Alexander Yeryomenko stood tall against all 25 shots he faced in earning the 1-0 shutout in Game Four. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-1.

GAME FIVE: Traktor needed a three-game win streak to win the Gagarin Cup, and Moscow had only lost four games over four series thus far. The challenge was laid out as the teams returned to Moscow, and Traktor began work early in this game. Stanislav Chistov scored his second goal at 3:37 into the first period, Anton Glinkin doubled the lead 3:07 later with his third goal, and Vladimir Antipov gave Traktor a 3-0 lead just 2:05 after that. Needless to say, Dynamo getting shelled early on in a home game wasn't what they had in mind. They would start the comeback at 7:36 of the second period when Marek Kvapil poked home a powerplay goal to make it 3-1. The celebration was barely over when Jakub Petruzalek scored 51 seconds later, and suddenly the game was 3-2 in Traktor's favor. At 14:51, Sergei Soin made things very interesting with his third goal as he pulled Dynamo Moscow even at 3-3. After this goal, the game tightened up. It wasn't until Andrei Kostitsyn scored his third goal of the playoffs with 4:58 left in the game that the dynamics changed. However, Michael Garnett would stop all shots from that point on, and Traktor Chelyabinsk would escape Moscow with a 4-3 win. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-2.

GAME SIX: Traktor once again had their backs against the wall, needing a win on home ice to force Game Seven. Dynamo Moscow was taking a second opportunity to win their second consecutive championship. Like the previous game, though, Traktor scored first to put the pressure on Dynamo. Maxim Yakutsenya's sixth playoff goal at 14:29 put Traktor up 1-0. Sergei Soin, who became one of this series' key performers, tied the game up at 11:36 of the second period, and then Dmitry Pestunov gave Dynamo Moscow the lead just 2:32 later with his first goal of the playoffs. As the game moved into the third period, the crowd was buzzing in anticipation of the celebration. Petri Kontiola, though, had other ideas as he beat Yemyomenko at 9:58 for his tenth goal to tie the game 2-2. Nothing would be solved in the final ten minutes, so we'd need overtime to complete Game Six. I'll let the video do the rest on this one.
Alexei Tsvetkov's sixth goal of the playoffs, coming at 5:57 of overtime, is your Gagarin Cup-winning goal! Shortly after the game, Alexander Yeryomenko was named as the Gagarin Cup Playoff MVP as he led his team to a 16-5 record in the playoffs while posting a GAA of 1.74 over those 21 games. The defensive play of Dynamo Moscow was good, but Yeryomenko was fantastic as the last line of defence! Congratulations to both Dynamo Moscow for their championship, and to Alexander Yeryomenko for his MVP performance in the playoffs!

Dynamo Moscow earned their second consecutive KHL championship, equaling them with Ak Bars Kazan in terms of total championships won in the five seasons that the KHL has been in existence. Since merging with HC MVD, a team from Balashikha and owned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Moscow Dynamo has won two championships. Clearly, the merger worked out well as the team has been improving since the merger, culminating in two league championships.

Congratulations to the 2012-13 KHL Gagarin Cup Champions, Dynamo Moscow!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Your Survivor Roster

If you missed the radio show last night, you missed some fun. We have all sixteen spots filled for Survivor: NHL Playoffs. It took a little longer than the half-hour we had on the air, but I have to say that we have one of the best Survivor rosters ever when comparing our roster to the TV show's many seasons. Before I list who is playing for whom, I do want to run over a few things.

First, there are still seeds being decided over the next few days. I know we sold a couple of spots as seventh- and eighth-place spots, but the standings will show Ottawa as sixth-place, the Rangers as seventh-place, and the Islanders as eighth-place. Clearly, we're not juggling teams as the Islanders were already guaranteed a spot, so if you had the seventh-place team's spot, you'll end up with the higher seed between Ottawa and the New York Rangers. Same thing in the Western Conference as Detroit and Minnesota could finish in a couple of different spots.

Secondly, we are presenting a number of challenges. These challenges will allow any of the entrants to win a prize simply through completing a challenge. None of these will be ridiculous in terms breaking unbreakable records or anything, so don't worry if you have a somewhat-challenged team offensively representing you. The challenges we present are:

  • First Team Eliminated - NHL t-shirt. -> Linda
  • First Upset Completed - Miracle DVD. -> Laura
  • First Shutout - Tim Horton's gift card -> Jared
  • First Overtime Goal - NHL ballcap -> Stu
  • First Game Misconduct - Goon DVD -> Judy
  • First Penalty Shot Goal - NHL t-shirt. -> Barry
  • First Hat Trick - NHL ballcap. -> Josh
  • First Player To 5 Playoff Goals - NHL t-shirt. -> Chantelle
  • Last Team To Advance To Second Round - Tim Horton's card.
  • First Team To Score In Second Round - Tim Horton's card.
If we acquire more prizes, we'll roll out more challenges. There's no sense in holding prizes back, so we'll get more prizes out to you if and when we get them. Deal? Deal.

Officially, here is the Survivor: NHL Playoffs roster!
The second season starts on Tuesday, so we'll have an update on The Hockey Show next week for what's been happening. Good luck to everyone who has entered, and watch your inboxes for updates and prize alerts!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Hockey Show - Episode Thirty-Three

Ladies and gentlemen, it has arrived! The Hockey Show is proud to present a contest that will be fun, thrilling, and a little crazy - and that's just the registration portion! As we gear up for the playoffs, The Hockey Show is proud to present Survivor: NHL Playoffs!

I posted the rules of this contest earlier this week, so PLEASE READ THEM if you haven't already. We're looking for the first sixteen callers into the show, and those sixteen callers will be setup to choose a number which corresponds with a randomly-assigned team, and that's your team through the playoffs. We'll award prizes based on challenges, and we'll get the winner of Survivor: NHL Playoffs a boatload of gear. Needless to say, this could be a lot of fun if everyone participates!

When calling, I will ask for your name and phone number. The reason for this is so we can keep the show moving. Once I have that info, we'll let you pick your team. After the show ends, I will call you back and we'll discuss all the other details needed - address, Twitter name, email address, etc. In only having a half-hour to get people on the air to pick their teams, we're going to rush through this.

Logistics aside, this will be fun! I'm excited, and the prizing will be announced and posted here on HBIC before the playoffs start. Make sure you call in tonight at 6pm CT on 101.5 UMFM to get entered! You can reach us at (204) 269-UMFM (8636)! If the line is busy, please keep trying. We do realize that a large number of people may try to phone in, and that's fine. Just like on Survivor, don't give up!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Lots Of News

There have been a pile of stories that have rolled across the wire over the last few days that have been small enough not to warrant an entire article, yet significant enough that I need to address them in some way. I'm going to be busy tomorrow with the start of Survivor: NHL Playoffs, so I thought I'd get these all down on paper before I miss mentioning them. Here is a quick rundown of all the stories that I believe to be important.

Survivor: NHL Playoffs

I would be remiss in not mentioning the contest that will begin tomorrow on The Hockey Show. Survivor: NHL Playoffs starts tomorrow as we assemble the sixteen people and their respective teams so that they can win some cool stuff. I know we have t-shirts, hats, DVDs, and some other hockey gear available as prizes already, and I'm working on getting more. Needless to say, the prizing will be solid for those who win via challenges as well as the overall winner. Tune in tomorrow at 6pm on 101.5 UMFM for your chance to enter the Survivor: NHL Playoffs contest!

Internationally Retiring

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Kim St. Pierre has retired from the Canadian women's hockey team, following Sarah Vaillancourt off the ice as the second major Canadian women's star to retire in less than a week.

St-Pierre has taken the 2011-12 season off in order to give birth to her son, Liam. While she played with the Montreal Stars of the CWHL this year, St-Pierre wanted to give Hockey Canada lots of notice before naming their Olympic tryout team for the Sochi Olympics.

"Being part of three Olympic teams and nine world championship teams, I think I accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish," St. Pierre told The Canadian Press on Monday. "That's why I retire today with a big smile."

I wish Kim St-Pierre nothing but the best as she embarks on the next leg of her career and life. She was one of the best in the world, let alone Canada, and she will always be remembered for her contributions on the ice. Best of luck, Kim!

Make It Three

The exodus of former Canadian players into retirement continued as Cherie Piper called it an international career earlier this week as well! The three-time Olympic gold medalist has decided to step away from the game after finishing her education degree to become a teacher! Piper also decided that this season's efforts with the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women's Hockey League would be her last as well.

"I've been thinking about it for a little while now," Piper told The Canadian Press. "This season confirmed it for me. I still love the game, but your body hurts a little more at the end of weekend games and I've had a lot of little injuries over the last few years. I've given a large portion of my life to the sport. It's time to be active in the sport in another way and not necessarily playing."

Piper did not play with Canada this season while finishing her education, and I commend her for making a difficult decision when it comes to representing her country. It could not have been an easy decision for the 31 year-old to make, but she will certainly make a mark on the kids she'll be teaching in the future.

I wish Cherie Piper all the best in her teaching endeavors! She'll make a great teacher if she brings the same passion and desire to the classroom, and I have no doubt that many leaders of tomorrow will talk about Cherie Piper the teacher and how she inspired them just as she inspired many girls in the game of hockey. All the best, Cherie!

President's Trophy Curse?

With their 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks earned the President's Trophy as the top team in the NHL. Many people view the Blackhawks as the default Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Final, including myself. However, the road to the Stanley Cup is filled with bumps and potholes, and that's why they play the games.

Since the introduction of this award in 1985-86, the President's Trophy-winning team has only won the Stanley Cup seven times. Because the President's Trophy winner sits atop the mountain for the regular season, that team seemingly becomes a target throughout the playoffs. This should make Chicago's playoff a little more interesting this season, especially if they meet Detroit in the opening round.

The last time, incidentally, that Chicago won the President's Trophy was in 1990-91. Things looked great for Chicago as they met up with the barely-made-it-in Minnesota North Stars. Six games later, the Blackhawks were done. I'm not saying history will repeat itself, but the similarities are a little unnerving when you consider that the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup that season. And they are a favorite for the Stanley Cup this season.

Twilight Zone?

Win. Rinse. Repeat.

I will have a full recap of the KHL's Gagarin Cup Final on the weekend, but congratulations go out Dynamo Moscow on their six-game series win over Traktor Chelyabinsk to win their second-straight Gagarin Cup!

They seemingly struggled early on in the KHL season when armed with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but Dynamo got things rolling and peaked through the playoffs. Dynamo became the second team to repeat as champions in the KHL, and look to become the first team to win three KHL championships next season.

My only question: do Ovechkin and Backstrom get rings?

Sled Excellence

I'll be covering this recap coming up as well, but congratulations go out to Team Canada's sledge hockey team with their gold medal victory over Team USA at the IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship!

Canada and USA renewed their rivalry in sledge hockey in the final, and the game was an incredible display of speed, skill, and physicality that only these two team seem to bring. Canada scored the only goal of the final in earning the 1-0 victory, but the Americans easily could have won by the same score if not for a few bounces.

Congratulations to Canada on bringing home the gold!

Ok, that'll do it for today. Tune into The Hockey Show at 6pm CT on 101.5 UMFM tomorrow night for Survivor: NHL Playoffs, and call in to enter the contest! We'll have lots of fun with it, so make sure you get entered by being one of the first sixteen people to call in!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

One Game For A Season

This is probably as friendly as these two teams will be tonight. The Washington Capitals sit one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in-hand as they cling to the Southeast Division lead and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The Jets will visit the Capitals tonight with two points and, quite possibly, the Jets' playoff hopes on the line. If the Jets win, there's an excellent chance they will make the playoffs. Lose, and they'll need a lot of help with one game to play. If you wanted drama in a game, tonight's Jets-Capitals affair will provide all you need.

If we look back, this game didn't have to be the lynchpin on the Jets' season. The Jets could have squashed Washington with back-to-back wins at home in March, but the Jets went out and got bombed 10-1 in those games. Cue the Washington rally after they won those two games in convincing fashion as they rattled off eight straight wins and have gone 13-2-1 since those two big wins on the road. That allowed Washington to go from 13th in the Eastern Conference to third-place. Suddenly, the Jets have no one but themselves to blame for allowing the Capitals back into the race, let alone taking the Southeast Division lead. There were still points on the table, but you never want to be chasing teams in a playoff race.

However, the table has been set as the Jets look to topple the Capitals tonight in their efforts to earn a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. This will probably one of the toughest games on the schedule considering how well the Capitals are playing and how poorly the Jets played last night in Buffalo. They got the important two points off the Sabres, but the game was anything but complete. The Jets will need to be much better tonight.

The Jets will also be down another body tonight. With no Zach Bogosian and no Olli Jokinen, the Jets' lineup appears to be a lot of smoke and mirrors held together with duct tape and crazy glue right now. They're finding ways to win, but bodies are dropping. Kyle Wellwood, who has seen his ice-time increase with Jokinen's injury, blocked a shot with his hand and was in considerable pain last night. After the game, head coach Claude Noel told reporters, "Kyle Wellwood will be out long-term with an injured hand."

Add another body to the injured list.

Teams are always looking to prevent injuries at this time of year so they can be locked and loaded for the playoffs. Losing Wellwood, who had looked more and more comfortable playing with Evander Kane, doesn't help the Jets whatsoever. He's been going to the net, burying rebounds, and opting to shoot with great results. Being weak down the middle, the Jets didn't need another veteran centerman to fall.

The good news, though, is that both Nik Antropov and Anthony Peluso appear to be ready to return. If I'm a betting man, I'd suspect that Antropov will replace Wellwood in the lineup. Wellwood's not the fastest player by any means, so swapping his fleet-of-foot out for the turtle-like skating of Antropov is a wash. Where the Jets may benefit is having Antropov's larger body in front of the net. Antropov also has a pretty decent shot if and when he's actually in position to use it. Losing Wellwood hurts, but gaining Antropov back should even out the loss.

While finishing as the third-seed in the Eastern Conference would be a huge boost for the Jets, any points tonight are extremely valuable. The Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders are all within two points of the Jets, and catching any of them would push Winnipeg into a playoff spot. The Jets hold the tie-breaker of regulation and overtime wins (ROW) over all three teams, so continuing to earn points is vital for the Jets and their playoff aspirations. Especially if you consider that all three teams hold one game in-hand over the Jets as well. Win, and the pressure is on everyone else to win. Lose, and things become grim.

The Capitals, on the other hand, come in as one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, and are looking to book themselves into the playoffs as the third seed with a win. Home-ice advantage through at least the opening round is always nice to have, and Washington can book those dates tonight with a win.

Expect Braden Holtby to start as his recent success against the Jets - three wins with only one goal surrendered - would make that choice a no-brainer. Look for head coach Adam Oates to exploit a Bogosian-less Jets defence by rolling Alexander Ovechkin out against Byfuglien-Meech a lot. Expect to see a lot of Washington's pair of Erskine and Carlson against the Little-Ladd-Wheeler line as they have had incredible shutdown success against the Jets' top line.

The cards are stacked against the Jets in tonight's game due to injuries, their lack of scoring punch beyond their top line, and an unfavorable match-up with one of the NHL's hottest teams. But, as the adage goes, you have to beat the best to be the best, and this test for the Jets tonight will determine if they are a playoff team or a playoff also-ran. If there was a time to play playoff hockey for the Jets, their playoffs start tonight with a Game Seven-type game.

Win and you're most likely in. Lose and you're done. It's that simple for the Jets. Lose, and this whole season was nothing more than an academic exercise with a couple of math problems thrown in for good measure.

No one really likes academic exercises in futility.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Hockey Show - Survivor: NHL Playoffs

Ladies and gentlemen, this will be one of the most interactive contests I have ever run. I am thoroughly excited for this contest, and I hope you'll be excited too. We're planning lots of interaction on this one, so we'll get this rolling right away with rules and information to help you get registered. If you've ever been in a Survivor pool at a work or with friends, though, you'll pretty much get the idea of what we're doing right away when this contest starts.

SURVIVOR: NHL PLAYOFFS

There are a few requirements that I need to cover first. These are REQUIREMENTS, so if you can't fulfill them, please don't ruin the fun for someone else.
  1. You must call into the show on Thursday night between 6pm and whenever we fill all the spots in the contest. I will be sticking around to ensure we have all 16 spots filled with contestants, so don't think that your opportunity to get in ends when the show ends.
  2. You must have a Twitter account so that we can tweet you info when needed. Also, we'll be using a specific hashtag so that you can follow tweets about this Survivor contest and respond if and/or when necessary.
  3. A photo of yourself that we can attach to our Survivor board that will be posted on HBIC.
  4. A desire to watch your chosen team's progress in the NHL Playoffs.
So there are the requirements that you must fulfill. That last one is pretty important in that if you have no interest in watching hockey, please don't take a spot. If you're not on Twitter, get on it. If you don't have a photo, find one. And if you don't want to call in, don't complain about the availability of this contest. If you're calling long-distance to reach us, spend the fifty cents for us to get your info. We'll call you back. Good? Good.

Now, if you're aware of the Survivor pools, you basically just pick a name out of a hat, and that person on Survivor is your person for the run of the show. If he or she is voted off the island, the game for you is over. We're about to do the same thing.

We will have whomever calls in to select a number between one and sixteen. Those numbers will have a corresponding team assigned to them randomly. Whatever number you've chosen will select your team for the playoffs. Sounds easy, right?

For example, Beans calls in at 6pm. We put him on the air, and he chooses #7. The team associated with #7 is the Montreal Canadiens. Beans is now cheering for the Montreal Canadiens. I call in, and I chose #10. Team #10 is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I am now cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What we'll do is post the board with the corresponding names on HBIC, and we'll let the games play out. If Montreal meets Toronto, Beans and I will face-off in a Survivor-style match-up where one team will advance, and one team will be sent home/voted off the island. If Montreal beats Toronto in their series, my Survivor: NHL Playoffs is over.

Once a team is eliminated, we will call you back so that you may be ready to deliver your thoughts on your team's effort in the playoffs in a Survivor-style ending like the one below.
There won't be any money for the winner, but there will be prizes. But please don't whine like Jeff Kent did. You can say "my team sucks" or whatever, but we're working on getting those people who are eliminated on the air to discuss their teams' issues that led to their demise. Of course, you may not even care about the NHL Playoffs, but we do expect you to be able to speak about your chosen team's problems, so please watch SportsCenter at least.

As stated above, there will be prizes. Not everyone, though, will get a prize. Like Survivor, it will have to be earned through a challenge. We'll organize the winner's prize once we finish getting everything together, but here are some of the challenges: first team eliminated, first shutout earned, and first hat trick. Prizes will be awarded to the contestant who successfully wins these challenges, so there's hope for everyone in this contest in terms of possibly getting a prize.

Sound good? If you have questions, please email me. If you have comments, leave them below. If you simply hate this idea or hate me, leave that info in the comments too. I'd like to address all concerns before we roll this contest out. Thanks for reading, and here's hoping we hear from you on Thursday! I'll post all the contact info on Thursday so we can get this contest underway!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

News And Notes

There's a bunch of things that have been happening behind-the-scenes here at Hockey Blog In Canada, and I feel that it's time to update everyone on some upcoming events, some on-goings, and some past things. Some of these will be of little interest to you while others may have a high level of interest. Of course, that's entirely up to you in terms of how you view some of these pieces of news and notes, so feel free to comment below if something catches your fancy. Without further adieu, let's get cracking.

Radio Playoff Fun

Every year, HBIC runs its annual playoff pool, and it's a lot of fun. I will also admit that it's backbreaking work some days, but everyone who is entered seems to have fun with it. This year, I've come up with a new format for radio! The HBIC Playoff Pool will still run, but we're holding a new contest on The Hockey Show for those of you who want to try your hand at a new contest!
I'll outline all the details for this contest tomorrow, but please be aware that this is a RADIO CONTEST ONLY. In other words, if you don't listen to the The Hockey Show at 6pm CT on 101.5 UMFM on Thursday evenings, you won't know how to enter this contest. Details will be announced tomorrow, but this contest will run concurrently with the normal HBIC Playoff Pool that will start up in just over one week. This contest, I feel, will be a lot of fun.

Why Now?

I get that the Edmonton Oilers' slim playoff chances are no longer a concern, but you have to wonder if they would have seen more out of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had he had shoulder surgery early in the season rather than waiting until now.

The Oilers decided to shut down Nugent-Hopkins and send him to Cleveland to have his shoulder examined where surgery will likely follow. Nugent-Hopkins missed time with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons earlier this season during the lockout because of shoulder soreness, and also was held out of some of Canada's World Junior preseason games and exercises due to this soreness.

Can someone explain to me why this surgery wasn't done the moment the lockout was ended? If it was a lingering injury, as Nugent-Hopkins called it, why wasn't it fixed the moment the NHL had the injury insurance back on their side?

This just seems like more stupidity from a franchise that really is going out of its way to seem incompetent.

Retired But Not Gone

Sarah Vaillancourt, a stalwart on the Canadian women's roster, announced that she was stepping away from the game after spending the last year dealing with a rash of injuries that put her career on hold and in jeopardy. For Miss Vaillancourt, there was a great deal of personal satisfaction that came with her announcement as she was able to play and contribute in the recent Women's World Hockey Championship in Ottawa.

"It was a perfect opportunity for me to really close the deal and enjoy my teammates one last time," Vaillancourt told The Canadian Press. "It was perfect closure for me."

The two-time Olympic gold medalist had 43 goals and 98 points in her 107 games wearing Hockey Canada's colors, including two goals and five assists in the recent World Hockey Championship. She will continue playing for the Montreal Stars in the CWHL, but her decision was based on being unable to complete the grueling training camp planned for Team Canada in their preparation for the Sochi Olympics.

"I was telling the girls at worlds 'I haven't lifted a weight in two years,"' Vaillancourt said. "You can't go into an Olympic year not having lifted a weight. If I wanted to push my body one more year, I probably could have, but I don't think it would have been beneficial for my future."

All the best to Sarah Vaillancourt in the future! This writer will miss her skill and grit on the ice when Canada goes for the gold medal in Sochi, Russia.

Friend Of The Show

Big congratulations go out to Dustin Sproat of the Bentley Generals! Dustin and the Generals are this year's Allan Cup Champions after they downed the Clarenville Caribous in Canada's senior men's hockey championship!

We featured Dustin's business partner, Mr. Kyle Hagel of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, on The Hockey Show in 2012 where he spoke about his iPhone/iPad app called Shnarped! From what I have read, the Shnarped app is doing well, and I highly encourage you to download it if you have an iProduct.

Bentley, an Alberta-based team in the Chinook Hockey League, last won the Allan Cup in 2009, and they downed the 2011 Allan Cup winners in Clarenville, hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador. Notably, Kelly Buchberger played for the Generals in 2005-06, Darren Van Impe joined the squad in 2009-10, and they were coached by Brian Sutter for a season in 2006-07 before he returned as the bench boss in 2008-09. While neither of those players claimed an Allan Cup with the Generals, they were taken to new heights by these three individuals!

Congratulations to Dustin Sproat on winning the Allan Cup, and check out his app for iProducts in Shnarped!

That's all for today, kids, so make sure you check out the details of the new contest tomorrow. It's an easy contest to play, and both Beans and I think it will be fun and interactive with listeners. There will also be a Twitter component to the contest, so get yourself on Twitter if you aren't already there!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Microcosm Of Our World

This scene was devastating to watch and even harder to fathom. The Boston Marathon will forever be remembered for the tragedy that took place at the finish line, and I can't help but to wonder what would have provoked such an abhorrent act of violence against people who have little to do with anything happening in the world except for long-distance running. Even saying that, it's harder to understand because the bombs set of by two fairly young men injured only those that were there to cheer on friends and family in the marathon.

It has been said that sports is a microcosm of the world we live in; that we, as a society, can see the major societal changes happening in the world through sport. With the opening of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 this week, it should be noted that when Jackie was breaking the color barrier in baseball, there was a major societal shift in thinking happening in the United States. These types of major changes are reflected in sport, and sport certainly shows us a great deal about ourselves when something tragic like the Boston Marathon bombing occurs as the players usually wear society's sentiments and feelings on their uniforms.

Cancelling games after this tragedy was a no-brainer. When the players returned to do their jobs, though, they reflected what so many people felt in society. The Boston Bruins and visiting Buffalo Sabres both wore "Boston Strong" ribbon stickers on their helmets as the country rallied around the strength of Boston's resolve in finding the suspects and regaining normalcy in their lives.
From there, the manhunt cancelled another set of games as a citywide lock-down went into effect as Boston police and Massachusetts state police located their potential suspects. With one of the two suspects shot dead, sporting events become less-than-important as police continue to do their jobs with increasing efficiency.

After capturing the second suspect late last night, Bostonians - and the rest of North America - breathed a sigh of relief. Boston and Massachusetts law enforcement were the heroes in bringing down two men who, on the surface, appeared to have no reason to commit such an act of terror in the city and country that they lived.

With the lock-down lifted and the surviving suspect in custody, the Boston Bruins played today against the Penguins and, just as society gave their thanks to the tireless efforts of the men and women of Boston and Massachusetts law enforcement, the Boston Bruins mirrored those thanks by wearing Massachusetts state police ballcaps in warmup while donning the "Boston Strong" ribbon patches on their uniforms.
The Penguins, in a show of solidarity like the Sabres, donned Boston-centric patches as well. Pittsburgh wore the "Boston 617" patch as they too supported the efforts in Boston and the citizens of Boston in this difficult time.
Both teams wore helmet stickers as well, and Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun wore the "Boston 617" sticker on his mask's backplate as well.
Perhaps one of the classier things seen done by the Penguins happened before the game started. Dan Bylsma, being interviewed by the media, gave this quote:
"Clearly we were all watching for days and being here yesterday and being in the hotel, being inside certainly became a part of the situation and part of what the city of Boston was going through. I think although we weren't a part of it, the celebration outside as a city and as a people last night, and just feel like it's a great opportunity to play a game today with the city of Boston, and not just against the Bruins, but with the city and with the Bruins."
Again, sport is a reflection of society, and the Boston Strong sentiment was seen in Bylsma's words and on what he wore during the media scrum. Chris Kunitz also was wandering the halls of the arena in this same shirt before the game.
I know the Red Sox and the Celtics are also showing their support, but it seems like hockey is the one sport where everyone is far more connected to the community regardless of the city they play in. The Sabres and Penguins certainly showed that they support the city of Boston in this time, and I think it would be safe to say that the cities of Buffalo and Pittsburgh would be supportive of the citizens of Boston during this week.

Sports is a microcosm of the world we live in. While sports provides a great release from the world we sometimes live in, the sporting world speaks for the communities that they represent during times such as these. The voices they represent, though, as as much yours and mine as they are the team's and its players' voices.

Until next time, everyone be Boston Strong!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Try Before You Buy

Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman has begun assembling his team of coaches for the upcoming World Hockey Championships, and there should be little surprise that a long-tenured former NHL head coach was selected as the man to organize the players once they hit the ice. Former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff was given the reins to the team, and there will most likely be an emphasis on defence and puck control with Ruff at the helm. But there is one thing that everyone should remember in looking at this appointment of Ruff - Steve Yzerman never removed the "interim" label from Jon Cooper's head coaching promotion. Could we be seeing an NHL general manager kicking the tires of a well-established NHL head coach in an effort to bring him to Tampa Bay?

While Yzerman has never alluded to Jon Cooper not remaining in his current role with the Lightning, he hasn't exactly announced that Cooper will be in the same role next year. After all, Cooper led the AHL's Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup last season, and was taking the newly-affiliated Syracuse Crunch to new heights this season as their head coach. Cooper might be a better AHL coach than NHL coach, and there's nothing wrong with that assessment.

After relieving Guy Boucher of the head coaching duties in Tampa Bay, Yzerman was asked about a timetable in terms of replacing him. "A specific timetable, no, but I’m hopeful that I can get something in place as quickly as possible," Yzerman said to reporters. "I’m not looking to drag things out. I have an idea of what I want to do and I’m trying to get that accomplished as soon as possible. I am going to hire and name a head coach for the remainder of this year and years to come."

Splitting the timeframe - "the remainder of this year and years to come" - could mean that Jon Cooper will be leading the Lightning next season as the head coach. But if it were interpreted as "we'll name a replacement for the remainder of this year, and then look at who is available for the years to come", it now appears that all available coaches not currently employed by an NHL team will have a shot at the Lightning bench job.

Lindy Ruff is under contract with the Sabres through the remainder of this season, so it's clear he cannot jump into another head coaching position without Buffalo's permission. Buffalo, at the time, was in a battle with the Lightning for a playoff spot, so it would be very unlikely they would allow Ruff to join the Lightning for the remainder of the season. In the meantime, Cooper is working with the Lightning as they will finish out of the playoffs, and the Sabres are officially done with a loss tonight. Let's just call a spade "a spade" - they are done too.

Once the season is over and all the games have been played, though, Buffalo would probably allow any and all teams to speak to Ruff in order to rid themselves of the contractual obligations they may still owe him. Steve Yzerman, who may still be looking for a battle-tested NHL head coach, now gets approximately one month to work with Lindy Ruff in putting together a team for the World Championships.

They'll undoubtedly discuss coaching philosophies, strategies, and how they want to approach this tournament while perhaps seeing if one another mesh in terms of their ideas. Yzerman will most likely be doing more of the measuring, but if things go well and Ruff gets a good performance out of the players he and Yzerman select for the competition, Yzerman may have some things to consider over the summer when looking at his coaching situation.

Adding another layer for Ruff being a potential candidate is his experience against the teams of the Northeast Division, Tampa Bay's new home for next season. Ruff has coached against the powerful Northeast teams for a long time, and knows a lot about those teams' tendencies and players. Having a guy who brings that kind of considerable NHL experience and knowledge is fairly rare, and finding a guy who has 500 wins under his belt who isn't retired is almost impossible.

Of course, if things go horribly wrong, Yzerman can deny ever considering Ruff. All of this speculation on my part could be nothing more than a mental exercise of "what could be". Perhaps Yzerman is happy with Cooper and will make his announcement in the summer that the "interim" tag has been removed, and Cooper will be with the Lightning for the foreseeable future. Perhaps Yzerman already has another person in mind, and will be making his pitch to this other candidate when the season ends.

Trying out a coach before "buying" him with a contract is a pretty nice luxury for Canada's World Hockey Championship general manager. Regardless of the outcome of Canada's entry into the tournament, Steve Yzerman will have a pretty clear picture in terms of who Lindy Ruff is and whether he would be a good fit with his youthful Lightning squad.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Hockey Show - Episode Thirty-Two

We've decided to do something a little different on The Hockey Show tonight: we've pre-recorded our episode! That means we will not be in the studio to take calls, answer emails, or respond to tweets. Unfortunately, both Beans and I have activities we must attend to tonight, so our attendance in the studio has been excused after we did our homework and pre-recorded the episode!

We'll be talking about the IIHF Under-18 World Hockey Championship that started today in Sochi, Russia. We'll look at who we think should be on Team Canada for the World Hockey Championships coming up in May. We look at former University of Manitoba Bisons goaltender Jesse Deckert's impressive play in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades, and how that team is doing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. We discuss the Jets and their playoff hopes. We look at the potential playoff match-ups in the NHL. And we close the show with our thoughts on the debacle in the Edmonton Oilers' front office.

It's a busy show, but tune in and let us know how we did with the pre-recorded show! Comments and feedback are always welcome. The podcast may be up later than normal due to our absence at the station, but it will go up this evening. I assure you I will not forget to post it under the podcast section of this blog!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

How To Ruin A Good Thing

If there was one thing you had to name that is the highlight of every NHL season, most people would probably choose the Winter Classic game. Everyone flocks to the stadium of choice being used to house the Winter Classic, and there is no denying that the game is a winner for television as well. If the NHL did one thing right, introducing this game as an annual event between two teams that have a load of history makes the grade. Even allowing a second game in Canada - the Heritage Classic - works extremely well.

Like anything that makes a lot of money, there's always the option to increase the supply to meet the demand. The problem with this thought is that over-saturation of a product can decrease demand quickly and, in some cases, kill demand altogether. The NHL is enjoying the financial windfall of these Winter Classic games because of the demand for them, but having six outdoor games in one season would be the definition of overkill.

The Winter Classic game is scheduled for January 1 at Michigan's Big House on New Year's Day, and will feature the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs against the hometown Detroit Red Wings. The vast history these two teams bring into this game make for an incredible aura, and there should be a buzz in Motown for the weeks leading up to the big game.

That buzz is what makes the game so great. People are excited, the players are excited, the media covering the event are in a frenzy. There are more statistics and historical produced about the two teams than one could ever imagine. In short, this game makes even casual fans into die-hard hockey fans for one day.

But reports yesterday see five additional games being proposed by the league conditional on contracts being signed. Why are these games even necessary? Can they not be planned for the following years? Do we really need to tarnish the shine on Detroit's big game by having another one just three weeks later?

According to the reports, the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings will play a game at Dodger Stadium on January 25. While I get that Dodger Stadium is usually empty and that these two teams aren't that far apart on the map, is the Battle of California really necessitating the need for an outdoor game in a tropical climate?

Perhaps the NHL wants to experiment with running a game of this magnitude in a warm weather climate. That's their prerogative if they choose to do so. I'm not sure, though, what they're hoping to accomplish or discover considering they have already held games at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas. I can't imagine there would be anything new to discover in Los Angeles.

If it seems like that game is already tarnishing the Winter Classic, how about having two more games within the month of January? This time, the NHL jumps to the east coast as the New York Rangers host the New York Islanders on January 26 - one day after the Los Angeles game - at Yankee Stadium, and then follow that home game with another Yankee Stadium game against the New Jersey Devils on January 29.

Forget the Winter Classic game - that's three outdoor games in a span of four days! And for what reason other than grabbing a pile of money by pretending these games are something special?

Let's not forget that the NHL and the players are already gearing up for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Just nine days after the Rangers-Devils game, the world's best players will be in Sochi competing for a gold medal. That's enough of a "special event" in itself that it requires two weeks of intense hockey action before the players return to their respective NHL teams after February 23.

But just one week after the Olympics end, the Penguins will visit the Blackhawks at Soldier Field for the fifth outdoor game of the season on March 1, and finally the NHL will have the Heritage Classic in Canada as the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks meet at BC Place on March 2.

ENOUGH ALREADY!

Look, I like an outdoor game as much as the next guy, but six in one year - an Olympic year, no less - is a little extravagant. The mystique of this game will be gone by the time the Rangers and Islanders suit up, and people will be downright bored of them when Ottawa and Vancouver play. You can't keep going to the well for water when the well is nearly dry.

Maybe the NHL is trying to squeeze the last few cities that deserve a Winter Classic game in before doing away with the New Year's Day tradition. Maybe the NHL just doesn't know when to stop squeezing the stone when looking for blood. In any case, six games and an Olympic tournament in one year is downright ridiculous.

Less is more, NHL. Look into it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Taste Of NHL Colors

The Reading Royals are a fairly successful ECHL team. They're currently in the playoffs, and have advanced to Round Two with a 4-1 series win over the Greenville Road Warriors. They'll battle the Florida Everblades in this second-round match-up, and will don a new look on Friday in this series. Normally, you don't see teams changing their look midway through the playoffs due to either league rules or superstition. Reading, however, is tossing superstition to the wind and will don new uniforms for Game One of their series against Florida.

Being the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals and being situated just 151 from the Washington Capitals is probably a pretty good reason for the Reading Royals to transform themselves into the ECHL's version of the Washington Capitals, I suppose. It's not like a number of the Royals' players on their roster this season have played in the NHL, and, for some, this might be as close to the NHL that they get.

Is it a cool promotion? Absolutely.

Is it necessary? No. Not in any way, shape, or form.

During the regular season, this type of minor-league promotion wouldn't bother me in the least. In fact, I'd be inclined to praise the Royals for doing something like this to help bring people into the arena to see their games. But we're talking about a playoff game where the READING ROYALS are competing for the Kelly Cup. Running a promotion that helps draw attention to the NHL franchise isn't really appropriate at this time of the season.

Do I like the uniforms? Sure, they're nice. I like how the Royals' team name across the chest to the Capitals font. I assume the patch on the left shoulder is the Kelly Cup Playoffs patch, making the uniforms entirely unique in terms of when they were worn on the ice. But they did this in Round One against Greenville as well!

I'm not sure why Reading is giving up their look to be the Capitals-lite. It just seems like something that one would do during the regular season when the hockey world couldn't care less if they played in garbage bags. The playoffs, though, is when you play for the logo on the front of the uniform and not the name on the back. I get that it says "Royals" on each player's chest, but a quick glance from any hockey fan would indicate that the Capitals are playing. I get that it's for one game only in the series, but the Royals should be making their own name in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in their own uniforms, not helping to promote the Washington Capitals.

In any case, I'll be cheering against Reading when they open their second-round series against Florida because I'm all about the goaltending performance of Winnipegger Jesse Deckert in the Everblades' net. Deckert played with the University of Manitoba Bisons in the CIS over the last few seasons, and turned in a fantastic 16-9-0 record with a 2.19 and a .915 save percentage. He joined the Everblades, and proceeded to go 9-1-1 in 11 games, posting a 2.40 GAA and a .916 save percentage. He started all six games for the 'Blades in the Kelly Cup Playoffs, leading them past the Elmira Jackals in a 4-2 series win.

Go Florida and keep on winning, Jesse! I'll be cheering as you send the Royals and their Capitals-centric uniforms home with nothing to show for their efforts or uniforms!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Extreme Changes Needed

No offense to any Oilers fan who is reading this, but the NHL organization in the city of Edmonton is led by a triumvirate of clowns. After he excused Steve Tambellini from his general manager duties, Kevin Lowe turned around and named former player and head coach Craig MacTavish as the new leader of the club. Scott Howson, recently dismissed by the Columbus Blue Jackets as their general manager, is back in as the Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations. If there was any team who took a step back today, the Oilers might be it.

"We are not where we want to be right now, or where we should be. We feel strongly we make changes right now," said Oilers' President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe at the press conference. "We need to get better immediately. That starts today with this announcement."

Better? You're giving Craig MacTavish, a guy with exactly zero experience as a general manager, the reins to a team that is very much in disarray, and Kevin Lowe thinks that makes them better? The Oilers have a pile of young, exciting players that they have picked up with their numerous high draft picks over the last four years, yet still have not seen the postseason. How does adding MacTavish make this team better given the state of the franchise that these three men left it before Tambellini was hired?

"As far as the group that messed things up," Lowe stated in the defence of his team, "you're talking about the group that had the team one win away from winning the Stanley Cup."

That's a pretty bold statement to make when looking back seven years ago. Gone from that team are Chris Pronger, Fernando Pisani, Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek, Raffi Torres, Mike Peca, and Jarret Stoll - all players with double-digits in points in that postseason. Only Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, and Ryan Smyth remain on this Oilers team seven years after losing in the Stanley Cup Final. Smyth, however, was traded and brought back as a shadow of his 2006 self.

If teams are going to one-and-done Stanley Cup runs, the Oilers made it pretty clear that you shoot for glory and then rebuild for a decade. That's not a "strategy" that many fans will buy into, and none should accept. Teams that players like to play for - Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston as examples - enjoying playing for these organizations because there is a commitment to winning and a chance to do something special every postseason. That's why players like Dany Heatley and Michael Nylander refused to sign there. That's why the Oilers had to throw $50 million at Thomas Vanek just to have him sign an offer sheet. Players simply aren't interested in wasting their short playing careers toiling for a franchise in a constant rebuilding mode.

Taking credit for the team's 2006 Stanley Cup run is nothing short of arrogant and ignorant. It took some incredible performances by a few key players in the playoffs to help Edmonton get to the Stanley Cup Final, and they also got some major help along the way. Not one of the top-four teams in the Western Conference advanced to the the second-round in 2006, meaning that four points was the difference between Edmonton and fifth-place San Jose in Round Two. Edmonton and Anaheim were merely three points apart in the Western Conference Final, so it's not like they were knocking off the toughest teams in the Western Conference during their run.

To claim that the three men at the press conference today were the architects of that Stanley Cup run is Kevin Lowe's grand delusion. Sure, they put that eighth-place team together, but they caught a number of breaks that opened the doors for their run to be much easier. With all four of the top seeds falling early to injuries suffered by key opposition players in the next rounds, the Oilers make good on these lucky breaks and capitalized. I'll admit that Lowe and MacTavish put together some magic in getting the Oilers to dispatch the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings, but claiming that they drew up that blueprint is a pipe dream.

The arrogance bled through once more when Kevin Lowe, clearly agitated by the questioning, stated, "There's one other guy, I believe, in hockey today that’s still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me."

How is the number of Stanley Cups Kevin Lowe won as a player even relevant? If Stanley Cups were an indication of great management, Steve Yzerman would have his Lightning in the playoffs right now. Glen Sather would have the Rangers firmly entrenched in a playoff spot. Instead, guys like Ray Shero, Ken Holland, Stan Bowman, and Peter Chiarelli have more Stanley Cups to their names as management than Kevin Lowe has.

Great players are often elevated to player management positions on teams on which they previously played. Rarely does this work out well for the former star player. Brett Hull with Dallas? Horrible. Wayne Gretzky with Phoenix? Nightmare. Joe Nieuwendyk with Dallas? In progress, but not looking good. Steve Yzerman with Tampa Bay? The exception in that he didn't play for Tampa Bay, but the jury's still out.

Instead, we see guys who have toiled as assistant GMs, player agents, and journeymen players who do well. Star players who promote their own former on-ice accomplishments while sitting in the front office are nothing more than egomaniacs trying to justify their own jobs while stuck in the midst of futility. Kevin Lowe? If I owned the Oilers, he'd be dangerously close to teetering on that cliff right now between employed and embarrassed.

You never once hear Ken Holland talking about his four NHL appearances as a goaltender. You never once hear about Ray Shero's achievements at Harvard while speaking at press conferences about the latest deal made by the Penguins. Not once has Peter Chiarelli spoken about all the great deals he cut as a player agent while serving as the general manager of the Bruins. And why not? Because it's not about what they did as players. It only matters what they do as general managers.

Honestly, the Oilers are a mess in the front office, and it starts with Kevin Lowe. In nine of his 13 years at the helm of the Oilers, they have missed the playoffs. This year could be the tenth season in his 14 years. No one cares what Kevin Lowe did as a player because that was eons ago as far as fans are concerned. No one cares how many Stanley Cups Kevin Lowe won as an Oiler because he hasn't treated Edmonton to a parade since 1990.

The sports world isn't about what have you done for me. It's about what have you done for me LATELY. Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, and Scott Howson had better learn that fairly quickly because they're dangling by a fairly thin thread right now in terms of fan support and fan sympathy.

With the Oilers eight points out of the playoffs right now, they need someone who has studied the game closely over the last few years to step in and change the course of this team. I'm not suggesting Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton or Tampa Bay's Tom Kurvers, but with seven games left there was an opportunity to fill Tambellini's role with someone who really understands the game today and is a student of the game.

Patronage hasn't worked in Edmonton's favor in the past, and I don't see it working here either. It might be time to cleanse the front office of the Oilers from top to bottom much like John Davidson did in Columbus when he was hired to steer the good ship Blue Jackets.

If we look at the standings, it says a lot when one considers changing the dynamics of a team. The Blue Jackets are within two points of a playoff spot, and six points ahead of the Oilers. The Blue Jackets are making a run at the playoffs while the Oilers are fading badly into the also-ran category. Starting over in terms of rebuilding starts at the front office level and extends through the franchise.

Lowe believes the Oilers are in Year Three of the rebuild. It seems to me that they've been tearing down and rebuilding for a lot longer - 14 years, maybe? - than that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Bulldogs Rule The NCAA

Eight miles separate these two teams on Whitney Avenue. They both reside in the state of Connecticut. There can only be one winner as Quinnipiac and Yale traded punches to determine the NCAA's top men's hockey program. Yale was the last team to qualify for the Frozen Four, making it only due to a Michigan loss. Quinnipiac was the top-ranked team in the NCAA for most of the season. And it all came down to one game on Saturday to determine the best team in collegiate hockey.

If you watched the game, you live in the USA. I was quite stunned when neither CBC nor TSN picked up the game to show in Canada, even moreso because TSN and ESPN work with each other quite regularly. In any case, you probably already know that the Yale Bulldogs defeated the Quinnipiac Bobcats 4-0 in the Frozen Four Final to capture the NCAA Championship.
I'd like to congratulate the Yale Bulldogs in winning their first NCAA title in men's hockey in the school's history. It seems like Yale should have a lot more championship trophies on their mantle considering how long they've been around, but it is what it is. Regardless of history, congratulations to the current roster of the Yale Bulldogs on making their own history as the first NCAA Men's Hockey Champions in the school's 117-year history.

The thing that one has to remember is that Yale may not be done. They only had six seniors on this championship team, and they featured eight freshmen. While two of those seniors who will be graduating are goaltenders, this team is very nicely positioned for another possible run next season after gaining a wealth of experience this year. Their blueline will lose a big player in Colin Dueck, but they only have one senior in their defence corps. If teams are built from the goaltender out, this Yale team should be very good next season in their own zone.

Yale had lost three games to Quinnipiac this season, and really needed help getting to the Frozen Four. While they won the Ivy League Championship this season, they finished fourth in the ECAC Tournament, falling to Union 5-0 in the semi-final before succumbing to Quinnipiac 3-0 in the third-place game. Had Michigan defeated Notre Dame in the CCHA Tournament Final, Yale wouldn't have appeared in any program. But, like the Los Angeles Kings in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, all you need to do is get in. After that, anything can happen.

Yale went out and battled with the second-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in their opening Frozen Four game, taking them to overtime before Jesse Root scored just nine seconds into the extra frame to eliminate the Gophers. Momentum carried into their next game as Yale hammered the University of North Dakota by a 4-1 score, and the Bulldogs were headed to Pittsburgh for their first Frozen Four Semi-Final appearance since 1952.

Yale drew UMass-Lowell in the semi-final, and these two teams threw hits and made plays like they were pros. It was 2-2 after regulation time had expired, so Yale would go into overtime with the third-ranked team in the nation. Andrew Miller beat his check around the outside before cutting to the middle and sliding the puck between the legs of a sprawling Connor Hellebuyck to send Yale into the Frozen Four Final.

The Frozen Four Final saw Jeff Malcolm stop all 36 Quinnipiac shots fired at him, and Clint Bourbonais's deflection with four seconds left in the second period would prove to be the game-winner. Charles Orzetti, Andre Miller, and Jesse Root capped off the scoring in the 4-0 victory, capping an historic run as Yale became the first team in NCAA history to beat the top-ranked, second-seeded, and third-seeded teams in the tournament. Andrew Miller was sensational in the tournament, being named as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Congratulations to the 2012-13 Yale Bulldogs, the NCAA Men's Hockey Champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Stitches Or Reconstructive Surgery?

We've already seen a pretty gruesome facial injury this season when Marc Staal took a shot to the face that nearly blinded him thanks to his choice of not wearing a visor. After suffering the injury, Staal is reportedly going to wear one when he returns. Tonight, we got another reason why visors are important as Nate Thompson's face was spared the full wrath of a Mike Green slapshot due to his plastic shield.

Here's the video of how Thompson's visor exploded on his face, yet saved him from what could have been a serious concussion, hours of surgery, and possibly even death.

I'm not going to lie: I winced the moment I saw Thompson take the puck in the face. Having been hit in the face myself from a deflected slapshot, it brought back memories of intense pain, lots of blood, and a lot of swelling. Thompson will still experience all of this much like I did, but it could have been much, much worse.

The full force of the slapshot was absorbed by that shattered visor one can see in the top photo. Because the visor took the major impact, it appears that Thompson will escape with a few stitches rather than something a lot worse. Sure, he leaked a little blood, but it could have been much worse had the visor not been there. Having his head take the full force of the Mike Green slapshot could have been catastrophic.

Anyone still think that visors shouldn't be mandatory? More importantly, anyone in the NHLPA think they shouldn't be? Marc Staal will tell you differently. Nate Thompson will tell you differently. Common sense should tell you differently.

Thankfully, Nate Thompson's visor did its job and kept Thompson safe. Kudos for Thompson for wearing one before it may have been too late.

UPDATE: Here are the remnants of Nate Thompson's visor, courtesy of his Twitter account @NateThompson44. Still think visors don't save faces and lives?
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Everyone Can Play

I'm pretty happy with the NHL today. This announcement shouldn't surprise anyone as I have an undying passion for the game of hockey, but I'm proud of the announcement made by the league and the NHLPA in partnering with the You Can Play Project in combating homophobia in sports. By being the first league and player's union to step forward and welcome any and all players regardless of their sexuality, everyone should be proud of the NHL as they blaze a new path in sports history.

Normally, we see players speaking out about this sort of topic in terms of their own personal views, but getting the NHL and NHLPA to support the cause really shows that it doesn't matter if a player is gay, straight, or any variation in between. As long as that player has the ability to play the game at the NHL level, his sexuality will not prevent him from being a card-carrying NHLPA member in the NHL.

THAT IS AWESOME!

Honestly, this is the kind of announcement that makes me happy. I know several gay people - men and women - and their sexual orientation is the least of my concerns. Heck, I worked with one guy who continually tried to convince me to join his team, and his suggestions of finding a "better team" didn't bother me because I'm comfortable with who I am.

It seems that Canadians are fairly tolerant of the majority of issues, but we've never really ever seen a problem with gay men or women. Team Canada's women's team features Sarah Vaillancourt who has not hid her sexual orientation. But the key is that she doesn't sensationalize it either. She's still careful with the topic when traveling with Team Canada. "They don't want me to talk about it so much because if one person comes out, everyone's [going to be labeled] a lesbian," she told David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times. "My whole team is not lesbian."

Dallas Eakins and the Toronto Marlies have been very conscientious of their language since speaking with a member of the Toronto Gay Hockey League. Team Sweden has had two confirmed gay players on the ice for them in Erika Holst and Ylva Lindberg. Other teams are being more welcoming, so it's great to see the NHL get on-board.

The macho, male-driven world of professional sports is literally the last place on this planet that gay men and women have yet to be accepted, let alone welcomed. You can point to the WNBA as an example, but I'm talking the four major professional leagues in North America where not one player has ever admitted to being gay. If Germany can pull down the Berlin Wall, the NHL is working to pull down this wall that is keeping good, intelligent people out of hockey because of their sexuality.

One of the stories that everyone should know when discussing gay men and women in pro sports is that of Peter Karlsson. Swedish-born Peter Karlsson played with VIK Västerås HK in the Swedish Elite League, but was murdered at the age of 29 in 1995 because he was gay. Karlsson was stabbed 60 times by a skinhead, part of a Swedish neo-nazi movement, as he was on his way home from a disco simply because he was gay. The trial of his 19 year-old murderer saw him receive eight years for manslaughter - hardly the sentence that someone deserves after admittedly stabbing a drunk man 60 times for suggesting they have relations!

If the NHL has done anything right, this is the one thing that they should have at the top of their accomplishment list. Brendan Burke's lasting legacy is the You Can Play Project, and he would be excited and proud at the news that the NHL and NHLPA are supporting the You Can Play Project. Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the NHLPA, stated that joining the You Can Play Project was the "right thing to do", and he's entirely right.

Count me in as a supporter as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!