Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

He Came, He Saad, He's Gone

Stan Bowman tried to convince everyone, including himself, that Brandon Saad was going to be back. Bowman was talking long-term contracts and "core players" when it came to Saad's impending restricted free agency, and there was some general excitement that Saad would be a long-term fixture in the Blackhawks' future. Bowman tried to make things work and he was right when he said that Saad would return to the United Center, but in the end he'll return as a Columbus Blue Jacket after Bowman tried Saad to the Ohio-based NHL franchise in a multi-player transaction.

There was always a chance that a team could come along and throw an offer sheet at Saad that Chicago wouldn't be able to match due to their salary cap constraints, so arriving at a new deal with Saad or trading the winger had to happen before July 1. While there would be compensation returned to the Blackhawks in the form of draft picks if a team put an offer sheet on Brandon Saad, it's hard to replace a player like Saad at any point due to how much he brings to the table - the same reason why so many teams were salivating at the chance to submit an offer sheet. Bowman, in short, made a deal to salvage his salary cap and bring back NHL-ready talent because he felt that he couldn't sign Saad without destroying the core of the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks dealt the 22 year-old Saad with prospects Mike Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst to the Blue Jackets for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth-round pick. To call this a blockbuster would only be scratching the surface. On any given day, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who felt that Chicago was losing a big piece in this trade. However, today is not that day as I'm here to tell you that the Blackhawks may very well have won this trade based on the pieces they got back.

Losing Saad will certainly hurt, but the Blackhawks have dealt with losing key players before. Finding a second player of Saad's skill set on the trade market is rare, and it's even tougher to find them in the minor leagues. The Blackhawks will attempt to replace him with Artem Anisimov who is a bigger body and can skate. Anisimov can play both the second and third lines for Chicago, but would probably benefit greatly from being on the second line where his offensive game can flourish. In 81 games in 2013-14, Anisimov had 22 goals and 17 assists and was regarded as a solid winger as the Blue Jackets went to the playoffs. He'll need to rediscover that scoring touch as a member of the Blackhawks and, if he can find that touch, should be expected to be a 20-25 goal scorer.

Slovakian Marko Dano may be the piece about which Chicago should be most excited. He reminds me of another breakout player that Chicago watched this season in Teuvo Teravainen. He uses speed to find holes, he has excellent hands, likes to go into high-traffic areas, and he makes good passes. He's not going to dipsy-doodle like a Patrick Kane and doesn't have Marian Hossa's size, but he'll be an excellent piece on that third line with Teravainen. Again, I'd be excited as Dano is a younger, cheaper upgrade than Antoine Vermette.

Jeremy Morin was once a Blackhawk, and will now return to the Blackhawks. Morin was always a favorite in the Chicago front office, and he was a very good player with Rockford before he left for Columbus. He'll be given a shot to make the Blackhawks' roster, but we're looking at no more than a third-line spot with the fourth-line being more realistic. He scored 30 goals in 2012-13 for Rockford followed by 24 goals in 2013-14. He was swapped for Tim Erixon in December 2014, and there were some who said that Rockford lost one of their best goal scorers following that deal. Chicago will find a way to use his talents this time.

Corey Tropp has bounced all over the North American map with stops in Portland, Rochester, Buffalo, and Columbus as a professional alone, and he's a speedy winger who hasn't seen his NCAA numbers emerge. I can see Tropp starting in Rockford where he'll get a legitimate shot at being a full-time player with the IceHogs, but his cracking the roster in Chicago will be a long-odds longshot.

Columbus gets grittier, gets more scoring, and gets more hustle from Saad. There's no doubt that they have wingers who are fast, skilled, and gritty in Saad, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, and Cam Atkinson. People can talk about the talent that Pittsburgh has or the speed and skill the Capitals and Islanders have, but the Blue Jackets might have the best all-around forward group in the Metropolitan Division at this point. Which is scary if they can avoid the disastrous injuries that swept through their team this past year.

Saad won't push them into Stanley Cup contender status, but they should be a discussion for a playoff spot at least. He was becoming a difference-maker in Chicago, and the Blue Jackets need another player like that. In getting him, they have a Western Conference crash-and-bang set of forwards with a decent Eastern Conference speed-and-skill set.

If you ask who won this trade, you may have to wait a few years to answer that question.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Apparently There Was Some Risk

When Dean Lombardi decided to give Mike Richards another chance after he found himself at on the fourth line at the end of the 2013-14 season, there were some eyebrows raised at that decision. Richards, it seemed, had lost a step, lost passion for the game, and lost his nose for the net. He was no longer the solid two-way force that was seen at the Olympics and in the first Stanley Cup run for the Kings. He appeared to be a shell of the former player known as Mike Richards, and Lombardi was stuck with an albatross contract.

Today, we find ourselves on completely new ground as Richards was waived yesterday for what was expected to be a buyout to save the Kings a pile of money and headaches over the next decade. Instead, we found out that the Los Angeles Kings would be excusing themselves of any further payment to Mike Richards by terminating his contract.
"The Los Angeles Kings today have exercised the team's right to terminate the contract of Mike Richards for a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player's Contract. We are not prepared to provide any more detail or to discuss the underlying grounds for the contract termination at this time."
Since the Kings were making no further comments on this, the speculation on why they were terminating Richards' contract and what caused the Kings to turn to that decision began to run wild. Combined with the recent legal trouble that Jarret Stoll has been experiencing, a lot of people figured that Mike Richards was somehow involved.

Let me say this: HBIC will not speculate on this. We're talking about a man's life and livelihood hanging in the balance where he may have to take legal action to not only save his reputation, but to save his career. It's entirely unfair for me to speculate whatsoever, but I will say that the Kings had to have felt that whatever Richards did or was involved in was beyond excusable, and his actions forced their hand into this decision.

I will, however, make this claim: it's not over. Expect that in the next 60 days, as per the CBA rules, that the NHLPA and Mike Richards will file a grievance. "We are in the process of reviewing the facts and circumstances of this matter, and will discuss the situation with the player in order to determine the appropriate course of action," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said in a statement. Translate that to read, "We're talking to Mike and figuring out what happened. Once we do, we'll be filing a grievance."

$22 million of Richards' contract hang in the balance. If his NHL career is over for whatever reason, that's a lot of money that was left sitting on the table if he was indeed in breach of his contract. Details will emerge as this story develops over the next days and weeks, but this is going to be one of those legal matters that, like the situation in Glendale, may drag on through the summer with allegations and speculation running rampant.

Seems like an NHL summer, doesn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Lehner Is The New Neuvirth

There was a hefty fee paid to acquire backup goalies this weekend, and it's pretty amazing to think that mediocre backup goalies fetch first-round draft picks. Granted, Ottawa traded Robin Lehner AND David Legwand to Buffalo, but neither would warrant a mid-round pick on their own, yet somehow garnered a first-round pick together. Buffalo, who experimented with Michal Neuvirth one year ago before shipping him off to the New York Islanders, seems to be in this perpetual state of rolling the dice on unproven goalies in the hopes that they become the next Dominik Hasek. The problem is that Robin Lehner isn't Dominik Hasek and, unless something changes in a hurry, he's probably not going to succeed in Buffalo.

Michal Neuvirth, for all he was subjected to in Buffalo, actually came away a lot better than for what he was given credit. It's not often that a goaltender can make 32 saves per night on the worst team in the league while stopping 91.8% of the shots he faced and still surrender 2.99 goals per game. The fact that he was facing 35 shots per game in his 27 games played with the Sabres is a pretty remarkable statistic on its own as those types of shot totals haven't been seen since the mid-1980s. Neuvirth's record of 6-17-3 looks terrible, but the stats speak to how well he played on the majority of nights. Yet Buffalo discarded him.

Robin Lehner will now be tasked to grab the starting position from another former career backup goalie in Anders Lindback. This may prove tougher than it seems as Lindback seemed to find a groove in Buffalo towards the end of the season, but there are still worries of overall consistency from him. If Lehner is unable to grab the reins as the starter as some (read: Tim Murray) think he is capable of doing, I'd imagine Buffalo will spin-doctor this into a 1A/1B scenario.

So is Lehner a starter or a 1B?

Let's be honest here: he lost his job to Andrew Hammond in Ottawa last season because Hammond outplayed him in every sense of the word. He finished the season having played 25 games while posting a 9-12-3 mark, a 3.02 GAA, and a .905 save percentage on a better defensive team than what Neuvirth played behind. Lehner, over the last two seasons, has played 61 games while going 21-27-9 with a 3.04 GAA and a .909 save percentage. If you're a coach looking for to give your starter the night off, tossing Lehner between the pipes means there's a 60% change you're losing that game. And Buffalo gave up a first-round pick for a 41.8% of winning on a nightly basis with this guy?

Look, there's no questioning that Lehner could find his groove and settle in as the best goaltender in Buffalo since that Ryan Miller guy. He was the 46th-overall pick in 2009 showed that he has the ability in the AHL, so the step to the NHL was the only logical move that could be made. However, you wonder if the pressure in Ottawa over his lackluster play in the last two seasons finally began to show. Take this snippet from the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan for what you will.
Robin Lehner is the latest Senator to purchase piranhas. He says his are bigger than Marc Methot's and are named after four of the local hockey beat writers - yours truly, Bruce Garrioch, Sly St-Laurent and Ken Warren. "The fifth one got eaten," said The Lehner. What was its name? "I can't tell you that," he said. Lehner, who had piranhas while growing up in Sweden, likens the blood thirsty fish to reporters, he says, because when we smell a story we attack it. I'm gonna go with that...
While that seems to be complimentary to the four Senators beat reporters, it's a little backhanded in its delivery. Yes, reporters will attack when they smell blood because that's their job. If there's no blood, there's little to worry about, so it seems like Lehner has a little paranoia about the guys who deliver stories about the make-up of the Senators. Perhaps if he focused on his trade a little more and less on the guys talking about how he's plying that trade, he'd still be a Senator.

In any case, the Sabres are rolling the dice that Lehner, who played for Tim Murray in Ottawa, can regain the form that helped the Binghamton Senators to the 2011 Calder Cup and saw the netminder named as the Calder Cup MVP. I'm not sure the gamble was worth a first-round pick in what was clearly a deep draft this year, but the Sabres are resting their hopes on Lehner to be able to take the starting job in Buffalo or push Lindback to be much better.

At this point in Lehner's career, though, that seems like a wild gamble.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The Oilers Need To Be Honest

Peter Chiarelli went into the NHL Entry Draft with some glaring needs at defence and goaltending. While no one was suggesting that they not select Connor McDavid with the first-overall pick, they needed to, as Chiarelli reminded reporters again and again, build from the back out. They drafted fairly well, made trades to fill holes, and added to their roster where they needed help, but there's a real problem in Edmonton that no one has mentioned: this team is awful in their own zone.

I can't speak to how Todd McLellan will change the system in Edmonton. It will change, though, by necessity as the Oilers are downright horrible in their defensive zone play. Because of this, goaltending will always look culpable in being a part of the problem when the goaltenders are a smaller factor than what they are credited with on a nightly basis. Yes, goalies are human so there will be a bad goal here and there, but it speaks volumes when Devan Dubnyk goes from Edmonton and a 2.57 career-best GAA to a Vezina trophy runner-up and a 1.87 GAA in Minnesota. It's not like he suddenly stumbled across the handbook to becoming a dominant goaltender.

Edmonton was 30th in goals-against per game last season at 3.37. Minnesota was sixth at 2.42 goals-against per game - a full goal per game better in terms of keeping the puck out of their own net. Dubnyk's best season with the Oilers in 2012-13 saw the Oilers sitting at 19th with a 2.73 goals-against per game. Dubnyk's always been a decent goaltender - not great, but not anywhere near as terrible as people thought he was with Edmonton. The difference? He was playing behind a defence-first team in Minnesota this year, and all they asked him to do was make saves. Suddenly he's a Vezina trophy nominee.

Ben Scrivens, who is a very capable goaltender as well, had never played more than 39 games in any professional season, but he was pressed into 57 games last season with Edmonton. Since moving to Edmonton, Scrivens has seen his goals-against average jump over half-a-goal per game from his days in Toronto, and over a goal per game from his time in Los Angeles. It's not like Scrivens arrived in Edmonton and forgot how to stop pucks. Yet he's not good enough to be a starter, so Edmonton went out and got another goalie.

Two seasons ago, the Oilers employed six goalies over the course of the season. Only one - Viktor Fasth - has a GAA below 3.00 and he only played seven games. The majority of the games were played by three netminders - Dubnyk, Scrivens, and Ilya Bryzgalov - and the three of them combined for a 3.13 GAA in their 73 games.

Last season, the Oilers used five goalies over the course of the season. Two - Laurence Brossoit and Richard Bachman - had GAAs below 3.00 and they played a combined seven games. We'll excuse Tyler Bunz's one period where he gave up three goals (9.00 GAA) since he didn't make it through a full game as well. The majority of the games were played by Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth and they posted a combined 3.29 GAA in the 83 games they played.

See a trend here? Starting goalies go to Edmonton to die, and Cam Talbot is on his way.

I appreciate the roster of talent they are building: Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Griffin Reinhart are a GM's dream in terms of young, potentially greant defencemen. The problem is that they are still years away from being seasoned veterans at the NHL level. Schultz is there already, but Klefbom, Nurse, and Reinhart are still projects. Enjoy Bakersfield, gentlemen.

That means the NHL-level defence unit consisting of Schultz, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne, Keith Aulie, and the newly-acquired Eric Gryba are, in a word, questionable. None of those players would be elevated to a first-line defenceman on the majority of NHL teams, and none of them are known for their defensive prowess. There are glimpses and moments of elevated play, but this unit's moments of greatness are few and far between. And who is relied upon heavily to bail them out? You guessed right if you said the goaltender, but the breakdowns in the defensive zone lead to cheating and covering by other teammates, and the goalies are left hung out to dry.

Upgrading the goaltending won't solve the defensive problems in Edmonton. It might prevent a few more goals in the long run, but the issue still remains: this Edmonton defence is the Achilles' heel of this team. Chiarelli focused on the back-end of his team, and rightfully so. However, he went all-in for Cam Talbot when he should have been offering more to Ottawa for a better defenceman instead of settling for Eric Gryba. He may have been able to pry a defenceman away from Chicago as well, Pittsburgh is dying for wingers and have some good defencemen as well, and Philadelphia was dealing away contracts out of necessity. There were and are defencemen to be had, but the Oilers dropped three picks for Talbot and now have to cobble together a blue line that would be better suited in the AHL than the NHL.

Free agency may still salvage the Oilers this season if they can bring in a solid two-way defenceman. Otherwise, Chiarelli had better hope that McLellan's system makes up for the shortfall in defensive ability the Oilers currently have. Otherwise, Cam Talbot is just another goaltender heading to Edmonton to face a lot of rubber with little help.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Draft Day Fashions

The NHL Draft went as predicted for the first two picks. Connor McDavid is now being hailed as a demi-god in Edmonton after he was selected first overall, and Jack Eichel is already autographing most of the Buffalo Sabres' merchandise that was shipped down to Florida. All fifteen semi trucks. Arizona, Colorado, Edmonton, Montreal, and Columbus share a special bond today, however, as these five teams decided to tweak or change their uniforms, and all were unveiled today as each welcomed a new player to their franchise. I'll also toss in one more uniform change that happened earlier this week as six teams will play with new looks next season. And yes, we'll go from bad to good.

Sixth-Place

The Montreal Canadiens are keeping their timeless colors and amazing logo the same, but they went off and added the one thing that has been overused in jersey design and redesign in the last decade: collar lacing. Completely unnecessary. Further to that, why white laces? Use the Habs' blue for the red jersey laces and red on the white jersey, and it immediately looks a thousand times better. If you're going to add an old standby, the least you could do is dress it up a little different, Montreal.

The only saving grace? The NHL finally recognizes that Montreal speaks French first and everything else second, and decided to follow the CFL's lead and rebrand the league patch in French.
Overall, though, I find the big change of the lace-up collar to be unnecessary for a team with the history of the Canadiens. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

Fifth-Place

Colorado is ready for a cooking convention again this season. There was serious hope that the apron look created by the piping would disappear, but it appears the Avalanche are simply adding some pieces of flair to their uniforms. There's the 20th anniversary patch that will be worn this season, and it's nothing too gaudy thankfully. The yeti footprint patch on the shoulder is gone, replaced with the "C" from Colorado's state flag. However, the state flag features a yellow center inside the "C". The Chicago Cubs feature a blue center similar to the Avalanche. If you want to know if this passes the stupid test, it does not. And I'm not impressed. But at least they don't have lace-up collars.

Fourth-Place

When the Arizona Coyotes had mentioned that they would be changing uniforms this season, there was a collective gasp from the hockey community. The brick-red jerseys that they had been using were clutter-free and generally pretty nice overall. Today, we saw the introduction of black into the uniforms again as the Coyotes changed the sleeve striping, eliminated the shoulder yoke, and changed the pants and socks.

I dislike the sleeves as they feel too busy now. The white cuffs combined with the black trim of the gloves give a stripe overload around the hands as there are seven color changes from the wrist to the shoulder. Way too busy on these uniforms.

The font changed on the uniforms slightly as well. There's no real loss here as the previous iteration was easily readable, and so is this font. However, the socks are clearly visible here and, like the sleeves, look way too busy with all the stripes and color changes. The black breezers don't help either.

The Arizona patch worn on the shoulder will remain on the road uniform, but the home uniform will see a new sand-colored paw print patch added. Why? Who the hell knows? Because they can, I guess?

Overall, these uniforms feel very minor-league compared to what the Coyotes were wearing before. With all the drama surrounding the team this summer, the last thing they needed was a mediocre jersey to kill merchandise sales.

Third-Place

Sometimes, you just need to do things right to make things better. The Columbus Blue Jackets announced that they were changing their shoulder patch from the Civil War-referecing patch to a new one. They've also had the interlocking CBJ as a patch the insect patch at points, but the Blue Jackets went ahead and updated their alternate logo with their current colors for their new patch and it looks pretty good. Ever since Columbus has updated their look with the flag on the front of their jersey, they've ranked pretty high in my books with their look. Adopting this patch changes nothing regarding that opinion.

Second-Place

If it wasn't for one small detail, these new Oilers threads would have been in first-place. We'll get to that in a second, but let's give the Oilers credit here. As the last remaining original WHA team that hasn't relocated, the Oilers are a pretty special franchise when it comes to honouring the past. The NHL, as we know, likes to pretend that the WHA never existed by neither paying homage or showing respect to the league, so let's give credit to the Oilers for reaching back into their history and pulling out these WHA-inspired orange uniforms!

I love the TV numbers on the shoulders. I love the bold orange color - imagine a game in high-definition between the bright yellow Predators and the orange Oilers! I love how these throwback jerseys look like traditional jerseys despite the circular hem! These are one of the best throwbacks I've seen, and I'd really like to push the NHL to consider making all alternate jerseys as throwbacks as a rule for each and every team. It would be awesome!

The one thing that pushes this jersey into second-place, though? They will only be worn seven times next season, meaning they are more akin to being heritage jerseys than actual alternate jerseys. Honestly, I want to see these more than seven times. They're great!

First-Place

I happen to believe that the Washington Capitals missed the mark entirely by not going back to their traditional jerseys when they had the chance. They've worn the white throwback as an alternate, and they're bringing back the red for this upcoming season! This has always been their best look in the history of the franchise, and I can't say enough good things about them wearing these uniforms for up to fifteen games this season. Had it come down to Edmonton wearing their throwbacks the same amount of times, I would have gone with the bold WHA statement, but kudos to Washington for sticking with the timeless red-white-and-blue uniforms!

It should also be noted that Reebok is still the main jersey sponsor and partner of the NHL, yet the Capitals sent Alexander Ovechkin to the unveiling who decided to don a Nike cap. I know Ovechkin has a contract with Nike, but I'm almost certain that the NHL won't appreciate him pimping Reebok's main competitor in any way.

There's your rundown of who is wearing what for the upcoming season. Which jerseys do you like best? Least? How wrong am I on a number of fronts? Sound off in the comments!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Hockey Show - Episode 145

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, returns tonight with some history! Rarely do we ever get to be the first in anything thanks to our obscurity in working for a campus radio station, but we stand in line to speak with some interesting people whenever we can. Tonight, though, we are the first radio station in Canada to have an exclusive with an athlete who made history just two weeks ago!

Pictured to the left is New York Riveters GM Dani Rylan and the first woman to sign a contract in the NWHL in Janine Weber! Janine, as you may remember, scored the overtime goal in the Clarkson Cup Final for the Boston Blades with the CWHL last year, and she's taken the leap of faith to join the NWHL as their very first signing! The former Providence Friar signed a one-year deal with New York, and we'll speak with her about her college career, her rookie year in the CWHL, signing with the NWHL and what it means to her, and her time playing at the World Championships in Rouen, France this year where Austria finished in second-place! We have a lot to discuss, and we're proud, honoured, and feel privileged to have Janine Weber join us on the show tonight!

With Janine calling in from her home, we're shutting the phones down tonight. It doesn't mean our interaction has to stop, though! Join us tonight on 101.5 UMFM on your radio dial in the Winnipeg region or you can listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! You can tweet me anytime you like 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. Join us tonight as we speak to the woman who made history by being the first player in the newest professional women's hockey league in Austria's Janine Weber!

PODCAST: June 25, 2015: Episode 145

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 8

Antler Banter is back with a few stories from the AHL this week as the off-season is upon us and the news slows. With teams moving to California, Manitoba, and Newfoundland, the news from these locales should start heating up as they set up their respective franchises, but it's still early for major personnel decisions to be made. There was one California-based AHL team who named a coach, though, and we'll look into his history to see what the future may hold for that franchise. Two teams announced a unique training schedule and location for next season, and there are some smaller stories that the Banter will touch upon in this piece. Let's get rolling on another entry of Antler Banter!

Barracuda Man

It was announced on Friday that the San Jose Barracuda have a head coach as Oakland, California native Roy Sommer was given the reins for the newly-located franchise. Sommer is no spring chicken in the AHL as he holds the AHL record for most games coached at 1344, and trails only Fred "Bun" Cook's 636 wins with 617 of his own.

"Roy's career statistics and track record speak for themselves and the Sharks organization will continue to benefit from his efforts working with our prospects and preparing them for the NHL," Barracuda GM Joe Will said. "We are excited that Roy and his staff can bring some continuity to this franchise's transition to the west coast and build off the successes they had last season."

The 58 year-old has spent his entire career with the San Jose Sharks' AHL affiliates in the Kentucky Thoroughblades (1998-2001), Cleveland Barons (2001-06) and Worcester Sharks (2006-15). Sommer has led San Jose's AHL affiliates to six 40-win seasons and three division championships in his 17-year career thus far, and looks to continue to build on successes seen in Worcester.

I like this (re)hiring of Sommer for the Barracuda, and it should bode well for the Sharks. Sommer has a long track record of players graduating to the NHL to go along with his impressive track record, and this gives the Barracuda a strong coaching staff to start their time in the California sun.

Another Promotion

The Detroit Red Wings announced that Pat Ferschweiler, formerly an assistant coach under Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids, will join Blashill as an assistant coach in Detroit for the upcoming season. Fershweiler is a very good coach in terms of running the offence and power-play, and this should bode well for the younger players in Detroit as they will already be accustomed to his systems.

On the flip side, Todd Nelson loses a very capable coach in Grand Rapids. Nelson should be able to replace Fershweiler, but it means that the Griffins will most likely be learning all new systems for next season. We`ll see how that affects them out of the gates when the AHL season opens.

Partners In Hockey

The Syracuse Crunch will begin their training camp in Lyon, France next season after it was announced that the Tampa Bay Lightning had extended their partnership with the Lyon Lions hockey club into next season. Joining the Crunch in Europe will be the defending Western Conference Champion Utica Comets. Both teams will train in France and play preseason games there.

We've seen NHL teams affected by starting their seasons in Europe, so it will be interesting to see how the AHL teams perform once they get back to North American soil. The AHL plays less games during the week than the NHL does, but plays more three-games-in-three-nights weekends than the NHL does. Will the travel and jetlag affect the Crunch and Comets? We shall see.

It is cool that the Lightning and the Lions are partners to help grow the game in France. Kudos to the Lightning, Crunch, and Comets for turning hockey into a global sport a little more.

That's all for today as Antler Banter is feeling the summer slowdown. There will be more AHL news posted next week as it comes, so come on back for more Antler Banter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Turning Ice Into Fire

Technology has changed our world dramatically in the last quarter-century. Cell phones have become mini-computers with the vast amount of applications and things they can do. Computers have gone from gargantuan towers capable of running a few minor applications to portable mainframes. And hockey rinks have seen scoreboards with individual bulbs and limited abilities to display sprites become incredibly high-definition TVs and ribbons around the rinks. One of the coolest innovations? The on-ice projections that are seen in a number of rinks now, and some NHL teams are really stepping up their games when it comes to on-ice productions with these videos.

Turning your rink into a lake of fire? It's been done.
Having the rink break into pieces and fall away? Got it.
Turning the rink into a full-sized video game? Yup.

With this new technology, rinks have become 2604-inch TVs with 6.5K resolution. And for that to happen, arenas need to contact Quince Imaging out of Washington, DC. While most people marvel at the video being displayed on the ice, the science and technology that go into the dynamic picture being seen in the ice surface is pretty incredible.

As Wired's Tim Moynihan found out, Quince Imaging is pretty good at this projection stuff.
At the Prudential Center, the Quince team uses a dozen high-definition (1080p) projectors suspended from the rafters and the center scoreboard. There are six clusters pointing down at the ice, each one a pair of 26,000-lumen projectors, arranged in pairs for brightness—and for backup. "In the worst case scenario, one might fail, and the other one would still be able to go through the event," [co-founder and COO of Quince Scott] Williams says. "They're superimposed on each other. If one goes out, it's a little dimmer in that one area, but you'll still be able to have a show."
Pretty cool, right? According to Quince, the two most important factors in displaying video onto ice is brightness and resolution. "If you can deliver enough foot-candles of brightness and pixel density," says Williams, "'you have the ability to fool people into seeing that the object being projected upon is moving or breaking apart.'" And that's where the magic happens.

The investment for one of these systems is over a million dollars, and a lot of that money goes into the Coolux Pandoras Box servers used for the media presentations. I'm pretty sure that the investment in the media servers is kind of a no-brainer when one sees the amazing stuff being done with these on-ice presentations. And there are some amazing things being done.

Calgary's pregame presentation starts off slow, but really picks up.

Of course, Tampa Bay did the old NES Blades of Steel game in an intermission. Which is totally awesome!
Scott Sleder, a 22-year-old motion graphics intern at Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment and a student at Sanford-Brown Chicago, came up with the idea for the old NES productions after growing up a Red Wings fan in Michigan.

"[Blades of Steel] was the first hockey game that I had ever played," Sleder told Wired's Reyan Ali. "I especially remember the fights [with] the announcer screaming, 'Fight!' and then being able to go at it." Blades served as the venue for some "pretty heated" sibling rivalry between Sleder and his two older sisters, he said. "I just love the game. I thought it would be a neat thing to put on the ice – something different, something that I hadn't seen before," he says. Something totally awesome, I say.

Montreal's pregame presentation is pretty awesome as well.
And that, readers, is how a frozen sheet of ice becomes a lake of flames.

Ain't technology awesome?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 22 June 2015

No One's Perfect, But...

It's all over. The greatest achievement in hockey has been competed for over the last couple of months, and we finally have a winner. If you think I'm talking about the Stanley Cup, you haven't been following the intrigue and drama of the HBIC Playoff Pool! We had a player who led wire-to-wire through the first three rounds, and he was looking to wrap up the 2015 edition of the HBIC Playoff Pool with a solid final round. There were players hot on his heels, though, and they were looking to catch and overtake him for their own shot at glory. Today, we narrow it down to the five entrants who can claim a prize and we find out who finished atop the leaderboard!

I want to point out that the totals with an asterisk are a little more special due to these men risking it all. I decided that, in the interest of fun, I wasn't going to deduct any points and post your actual totals had you not risked anything. That being said, I am going to post the amount of points these brave individuals risked so that everyone can see what real courage is all about. Because none of them posted a perfect a round. But it took guts to say "I'm laying it all on the line", so well done, gents. You are the winners of the inaugural HBIC Courage Patch for your bold wagers!
  1. Daniel W. risked 74 points.
  2. Dan F. risked 25 points.
  3. Greg C. risked 51 points.
  4. LJ S. risked 61 points.
  5. Neal L. risked 10 points.
  6. Tony T. risked 55 points.
  7. Ty F. risked 25 points.
  8. Westin F. risked 63 points.
While that's something that isn't actually a physical prize, you're welcome to copy it and post it as an avatar, stick it on your website, add it to business cards, and use it anywhere else you like. You eight are the boldest of the bold this year despite the perfect round eluding you. There is a silver lining, though.

Not one person correctly predicted the Stanley Cup Final. However, one entrant did gaze deep into his crystal ball, and he picked himself up the highest point total of the final round. Jared R. went off in this round by calling Games One, Two, Four, and Six correctly for four points. He correctly predicted Chicago winning the Stanley Cup in six games for another five points. And to close out this impressive series for him, he called the game-winning goals in Game Four by Brandon Saad and in Game Six by Duncan Keith. All said, Jared collected 13 points in the Stanley Cup Final! Well done, Jared!

So who finished where? Did Jared's fantastic last round push him up the leaderboard? Who won the whole darn thing and by how much?

Finishing in fifth-place with a total of 86 points was Matt H.!
Finishing in fourth-place with a total of 93 points was Connor N.!

Let's go to the podium for the remaining scores...
The victory for Jeremie G. over Andy S. literally came down to the tie-breaker. Jeremie's prediction of Chicago having 150 PIMs was only 12 off their total of 162 PIMs in the playoffs. Andy's prediction of 198 PIMs for the St. Louis Blues was 150 PIMs off their total of 48 PIMs. Andy, you're welcome to blame St. Louis due to their first-round exit because that was the difference between first-place and second-place in this year's HBIC Playoff Pool.

Congratulations to Jeremie G. on winning his first HBIC Playoff Pool! Congratulations to Andy, Jared, Connor, and Matt for being prize-winners in this year's pool as well. And thank you to everyone who participated in this year's HBIC Playoff Pool. Once more, it was a ton of fun, and I really enjoy running it year after year. Emails will begin to go out this weekend to the prize-winners, so keep an eye on that inbox if you're one of the five entrants named above!

Until next year, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Dear Networks: You Suck

The first-ever NWHL Junior Draft happened yesterday, and I'm sure you saw the exhilaration on Alex Carpenter's face when she was selected first-overall in this historic moment. You didn't? That seems odd. Well, I'm sure you tuned in as Hannah Brandt went second-overall to the Connecticut Whale, right? No? That's ok, I guess, because you caught the draft results on SportsCenter last night after being busy during the day, right? I mean, what sports network would pass up an opportunity to film the event as it happens and review the results of the historic draft later on all their sports highlights shows?

Turns out all of them did. Every. Single. One.

Not Seen, Not Heard

Let's be honest with ourselves here: this isn't a problem with women's hockey despite me using the NWHL as the example. No, this is a problem with networks insisting on showing Alex Rodriguez's 3000th hit in a five-minute musical montage as opposed to giving the Women's World Cup games from the day five minutes of airtime combined.

Rodriguez's 3000th hit is a milestone for sure, but it's one that 27 men have hit before. It's not really worth the five minutes of talking head time to analyze where it ranks in the pantheon of baseball history because it's been done before - 27 times. Combine that with Rodriguez's tainted legacy of performance-enhancing drug use, and it might be the most tarnished of the 28 times a MLB player has hit a baseball 3000 times safely in a career.

Yet when there's an actual moment of history such as the NWHL Draft, not one major sports network was willing to send a reporter to cover the event, let alone sending a camera crew with the idea of doing a voice-over later. And no, Canadian sports networks aren't off the hook here either if you think this is an assault on American sports television. TSN's SportsCentre had more coverage devoted to Rodriguez than they did to Germany and China becoming the first two teams to advance in the Women's World Cup which is BEING PLAYED IN CANADA.

In a rather fantastic article written by Maya Dusenbery in Pacific Standard, Miss Dusenbery presented a story that featured this report showing that the last 25 years of sports history has shown that sports networks are devoting less time to women's sports despite the massive upswing in sports reporting and technology. In the report, Cheryl Cooky, Michael A. Messner, and Michela Musto write regarding networks ESPN, KABC, KNBC and KCBS that,
"... the three local affiliate news shows together devoted about 5% of their main broadcast coverage to women's sports in 1989 and 1993. In 1999, their coverage of women's sports jumped to 8.7%. The coverage of women dipped slightly in 2004 to 6.3% and then plummeted to its nadir of 1.6% in 2009. The slight increase to 3.2% in our 2014 findings indicates that the news shows' coverage of women's sports remains substantially lower than its coverage in 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago. SportsCenter's coverage, over the 4 time periods it was included in our sample which spans 15 years (1999–2014), has remained remarkably flat, never rising above 2.5%, and in 2014, women’s sports on the main broadcast coverage hovers at a paltry 2.0% of the total broadcast coverage."
Are you kidding me?!? If you're a visual person, here's some help.
Maybe stats and graphs aren't your thing, so let me put it to you this way. In the last 25 years, the three local affiliates in Los Angeles, at their best in 1999, appropriated five minutes and 13 seconds of an hour sports news broadcast to women's sports. If you factor in commercials making the broadcast approximately 45 minutes long, the numbers in 1999 meant that three minutes and 55 seconds were devoted to women's sports.

Less than four-freaking-minutes, people. Four minutes. That was the highest total time seen in the last 25 years, and those are from the local Los Angeles affiliates! If we look at the nationally-broadcasted ESPN totals and base it on the 45 minutes of airtime used, ESPN at its highest in 1999 devoted a mere 59 seconds to women's sports. LESS THAN A FULL MINUTE at its highest rate! What in the singular expletive is going on at the network level when it comes to women's sports coverage?!?

With women's sports viewership continuing to grow, especially for marquee events, you would have to think that it would be increasingly impossible for networks to deny following women's leagues on this planet. Yet they do and seemingly have no issue in sweeping the issue under the rug.

Further clouding the issue is the fact that the "vast majority — more than 80 percent — of what little women's sports coverage exists is devoted to basketball". While I'm not faulting NCAA or the WNBA for getting their coverage as they should, it means that of 2% of time that ESPN currently devotes to women's sports on its broadcasts - that's 54 seconds, readers - 11 seconds are devoted to all other women's sports COMBINED. Let's illustrate this.

Jim: "Welcome to SportsCentre, I'm Jim Host."
Steve: "And I'm Steve Anchor. In women's hockey news, Minnesota defeated North Dakota 3-1. Moving on to basketball..."
Jim: "Really? That's it?"
Steve: "In the NBA tonight..."
Jim: "There were no other NCAA women's games last night? I know Boston College played."
Steve: "As I was saying, in the NBA..."
Jim: "Seriously?"
Producer: "Drop it, Jim. Move on."

And that's women's sports in a nutshell on network TV. Except there's probably less protest from the co-anchor. And as reported by Miss Dusenbery, "three-fourths of the coverage last year was devoted to the "big three" men's sports — basketball, football, and baseball. These sports increasingly dominate the broadcasts — to the exclusion of both women's sports and other men's sports — even during their off-seasons". Hockey, soccer, and any other sport played by both sexes regardless of the news is pushed out by Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association, otherwise known as the three leagues with national TV contracts across multiple networks. Suddenly, it's starting to be easy to see why these three sports dominate the sports news shows. We call that "tail wagging the dog".

Is This Really "News"?

Worse yet, Miss Dusenbery notes that "[t]he researchers highlighted some of the oh-so-compelling segments that ran on shows that featured not one single mention of women's athletics, including one about a swarm of bees at a Red Sox versus Yankees game and another about basketball player Kendall Marshall's quest to find a good burrito in Milwaukee." Because those are certainly compelling pieces of human interest reporting. Not one has highlighted Dani Rylan's foray into building a new women's hockey or how she got started in hockey. Not one had delved into the Spanish women's soccer team's coup to oust their coaches in Toronto's airport following their elimination at the 2015 Women's World Cup. Not one has spoken of American midfielder Ali Kreiger's return from a near career-ending concussion in April. Yet we get bees-vs-baseball players and the search for Milwaukee's best burrito. Because that's important(?).

If it wasn't for a few key bloggers following women's hockey, I'm not sure we'd even have a niche in the non-mainstream media. Kudos go out to Watch This who have a number of great writers, including editor Kate and writer Nicole Haase amongst the excellent team on the blog, but there are still massive coverage gaps on the women's hockey side that aren't even touched. Does anyone write about CIS hockey? I'm not faulting Watch This for these gaps, but it says a lot about the Canadian blogging and media scene when there is nothing being written about the amazing ladies playing the game at the university level on a regular basis.

If you're looking for more excellent coverage, please don't stop there. Meg Linehan is another excellent writer covering a ton of women's sporting events in the New England area, Kate Cimini covers all things NHWL for Today's Slapshot, and Nicole writes for the incredible Badgers-centric Bucky's 5th Quarter. If you were expecting a mainstream media site, keep looking.

Sex Sells

The message in sports broadcasting admittedly has changed from women being used as punchlines and sexual objects, but we haven't fully escaped that view entirely. Brandi Chastain's shirt-removing incident opened up a major can of worms in this regard when her excitement after her World Cup goal bubbled over in 1999, but instead of showing her with shirt on, Sports Illustrated pictured her in her iconic pose sans shirt. If you think that having Brandi in her sports bra was just an iconic photo of a moment of exhilaration as opposed to a way for Sports Illustrated to boost sales of that copy of the magazine, I have some incredible waterfront real estate to sell you in Florida.

Chastain was asked to posed nude in Gear magazine after the World Cup, and she expressed regret after seeing the magazine published for how she was depicted in the photos. Writers of the above-linked article Gretchen Miller, Jonathan Scheyer, and Emily Sherrard wrote, "She consented to take the pictures, but she did not get the rights to the photographs, which allowed Gear to use other suggestive pictures of Chastain. Her corporate sponsors became very concerned about her marketability being damaged by such explicit photographs. Although these pictures were taken because of Chastain's reaction after her goal symbolic of her athletic talents, it was her sexual appeal that made it so intriguing for Gear magazine."

Remember that Chastain's iconic photo and the US winning the Women's World Cup happened in 1999 - the very height of women being highlighted on sports newscasts. The writers even credit the team for trying to break the stereotypes surrounding women's sports, writing, "This team tried to defy all stereotypes that women are not as competitive or athletic as me. They sought to banish the notion that men can only be interested in women’s sports if the women they are watching are attractive. Even though some of the qualities about this team were toughness, competitiveness, and great team chemistry, they still were not able to break the barriers of this gendered view of women in sports." And yet, after all was said and done, Brandi Chastain's moment of greatness and unbridled, exuberant celebration in victory was sexualized forever by mainstream media outlets, including the sports networks. Don't kid yourself that it wasn't.

Should women have to trade their athletic ability for sexual attractiveness in order to get people to watch? To me, this not only marginalizes the vast hours of training they've put into becoming the best at their sports, but it's demeaning in that they're seen as sexual objects first and athletes second. If we can be impressed by Dara Torres coming out of retirement to train and swim for the American Olympic team after becoming a mother, why do we sexualize Hilary Knight after she posed for ESPN's The Magazine's The Body issue? Why is Knight - who is the best American hockey player since Cammi Granato - not held to the same standards that Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos where they are viewed for their accomplishments first and everything else second? Why is Ryan Kesler not sexualized for his body in the same magazine yet Knight is? When Eugenie Bouchard was asked to twirl by an on-court presenter at the Australian Open, she immediately went from athlete to sexualized in seconds. How many times has Roger Federer been asked to twirl?

Thanks, male-centric sports coverage. We're all just in it to see Bouchard's figure instead of her control and grace on the court. I feel degraded by this, and I'm a guy.

Further to this, enrollment in sports by women at the collegiate and high school levels has gone up every year, and NCAA women's teams have outpaced the men in recent years in terms of growth. Yet the media is telling our daughters and nieces that you have to be pretty before being an athlete thanks to sports networks catering to men before women.

Penny Marshall made a point of this in A League of Their Own with the following scene.
It's a very poignant scene where the male establishment of baseball, represented by Jon Lovitz's scout character, is thwarted by Geena Davis' and Lori Petty's characters regarding talent vs. looks. That scene, set in 1943, makes a very bold statement about women in sports, yet it's one of the least celebrated scenes in the movie. And to add a little salt to the wound, the Library of Congress selected A League of Their Own for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2012 for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", but we still hold the same stereotypical male standards for women in sport some seventy years after the time in which the movie was set. Maybe we need to watch movies a little closer for their moral messages?

It's So Boring

The main complaint that I hear from men regarding women's sports is that watching them is akin to watching paint dry. There are two thoughts on this, and both relate to the medium. First, the broadcasters normally seem less-than-excited to be at the game and calling the action, and, secondly, those recapping the excitement on sports news shows are equally less-than-pumped for the highlight packages. Both of which are squarely on the broadcaster's shoulders.

A lot of this comes from a basic lack of understanding the nuances of women's sports. First and foremost, it's NOT men's sports. Let that sink in for a moment. Women and men are different in a number of ways, so trying to make their sporting endeavors the same is empirically stupid.

Women's hockey is not, will not be, and will never become men's hockey, and I, as a male, am very happy about that. Women's hockey is built on the ideas of speed and skill versus the sometimes-seen brutality that wins games in men's hockey. You can't hide a weak-skating third-line player in women's hockey because skating is so vital to the sport. Granted, you can't do that in men's hockey very well anymore either, but we still have teams who employ the likes of John Scott and Dan Carcillo. They might be somewhat important to the physical game, but they find themselves as spectators in the press box more often than they're on the ice.

If you found games between the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers exciting this season, you're one of a very few that did. Ditto for those NBA fans who watched the brutal Los Angeles Lakers meet up with the hopeless New York Knicks. Add in the fans that were gaga for Tennessee against Jacksonville - division rivals! - in the NFL and the always-entertaining matchup between the Brewers and Phillies in baseball this year. In other words, there are always bad games that very few watch on the schedule, and women's sports are no different.

Canada and the US in hockey is always a big deal, but the emerging nations such as Japan and the Czech Republic need to play against better teams to learn the game. How many times as a kid were you told that you only get better by playing better teams? The same holds true for women's sport because some of these programs are literally a few years old in terms of their history. If they had the history of the Yankees and Canadiens and were still at their current talent levels, I'd say that it was a systemic problem. But it's not. It's a matter of "hi, we're new and we want to get better". So give them a chance and show a little respect.

That last line goes for the networks as well. Yes, we get that a USA-Belarus women's hockey game won't be placed into the Hockey Hall of Fame for the play on the ice, but Belarus scoring one goal on the juggernaut American team is literally a historic moment for that country's program. We in North America take that for granted because of the successes our teams have shown, but it wasn't so long ago that the American squad was getting their rears punted around the arena by an experienced Canadian squad.

Massive investments into the American program after the 1990 IIHF Women's World Championships saw the American squad improve year after year against the highly-talented Canadians, and the culmination of that improvement was realized in 1998 with an Olympic gold medal in Nagano, Japan. It took a ton of money and almost a decade, but the Americans finally defeated their rivals. And now we're unwilling to give other countries time to improve? Are we really that ignorant?

NBC took a shot at airing the women's Olympic gold medal final between Canada and the US from Sochi on its main feed on NBC, and the numbers had to have shocked them. According to sportsmediawatch.com, the "Olympic women’s hockey gold medal game drew 4.9 million viewers on NBC, according to Nielsen fast-nationals, up 96% from the same match-up on MSNBC in 2010(2.5M). Viewership was the highest for women’s hockey final since 2002, when coverage aired in NBC's primetime window." Up NINETY-SIX PERCENT from an obscure cable channel. They doubled the viewership by simply allowing people to see the game. Does this not resonate with anyone at any network?

When you add in the number of people who streamed the game through NBC in the US, it was noted that the game "was watched by 1.2 million unique users and generated 34.9 million minutes of consumption" online. Only Super Bowl XLVI had more online viewers. Read that last line again - only the most marketed event on the planet had more viewers! But women's sports are "boring", right?

Furthermore, when you see these numbers combined with TSN's phenomenal numbers for women's curling in February and ESPN's triple-digit growth in ratings for the WNBA playoffs, women's sports are seeing massive increases in their viewership numbers. Yet networks still barely give them the time of day outside of major competitions. The CWHL gets no mention on TSN or ESPN. The National Women's Soccer League is hardly a thought to the networks. However, when the women are competing for world championships, Olympic gold medals, or a World Cup, viewership is setting new marks each and every time women's sports are broadcast. Seems kind of backwards, no?

I would bet that the average Canadian hockey fan knows more about Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia than they do about Beauceville, Quebec, yet both towns have hockey players who have scored "Golden Goals" for Canada at the Olympics. I'll wait while you Google which athlete hails from Beauceville because she's generally viewed as one of the best women's hockey players on the planet by both Canadians and Americans. Makes you feel a little empty inside that you had no clue where she was from, right?

So What's The Problem?

To be honest, I can't explain why women's sports are kept off TV other than money. The contracts the networks sign with the three major men's sports - NBA, NFL, and MLB - seem to have a direct correlation with how much coverage they get on the sports news programs, especially in the USA. Canada, meanwhile, gives an inordinate amount of coverage to hockey and the Toronto Blue Jays, and Sportsnet has those two contracts in its back pocket.

While I get that these contracts are for massive amounts of money and the networks are looking to capitalize on selling commercial time to make that money back, would it be so hard for Hockey Night in Canada to pledge ten minutes a week to women's hockey, especially since they employ one of Canada's most decorated women's hockey players in Cassie Campbell-Pascall?

Sportsnet covers the CWHL as well, yet not one score is posted until the playoffs when their coverage begins. Is that really the kind of network deal the CHWL wants? I'm 99.999% sure that it needs more from the one place that the vast majority of Canada will see its product. Part of that blame lies with the CWHL, but Sportsnet, as its partner, should be doing more.

We, as fans, should demand more. Our subscriptions to our TV packages line these networks' pockets with money, yet we get no say in what is broadcast. I get that a private company doesn't have to listen to the people paying its bills, but the numbers are clearly showing that Canadians and Americans want more women's sports on TV. We tune in with huge numbers, but the networks don't give us any sort of glimpse into how or why these national heroes got to where they are.

I'm not saying you need to abandon your Super-Mega Sports Package on TV. But I am saying that you need to make sure that your sports coverage gives some additional time to the women who are heroes to the many girls across this continent. Without them, why would any girl want to play sports for a living like we want all of our boys to do?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Awaiting Scores

Sorry, Daley and Waterfield. You guys don't have enough points to win a prize in the HBIC Playoff Pool. There are several who do, though, and I am having someone check over the scoring as a second set of eyes this weekend to ensure that the right people will receive prizes. If you had read the last updates, you know that one person's total should have changed. I will report that the changes made due to that entry will affect the final outcome. Yes, the scoring is that tight.

On Monday, I will post the final tally from the 2015 HBIC Playoff Pool. The top-five entrants will be eligible for a prize, and I will post the prizes that day as well. There are some decent prizes, and all are worth more than $25 so you're getting a decent prize for your entry fee. Something for nothing does exist in this world unless you count the work sending in your entries as work. In that case, something for nothing still doesn't exist. But it was still free to enter.

Let me just say thank you up-front to everyone who entered. I love running this pool and, despite some who drop out, you guys make it fun. Some of the wackiest entries turn out to be the highest-scoring entries, and that's what makes this pool so much fun - the randomness of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs means no one really can be better than anyone else unless you have that proverbial crystal ball. Sometimes, those crystal balls are a little cloudy for some, but those who have played annually seem to be finding the trends and figuring out how this pool works in terms of collecting a decent point total in each round.

As for the prizes, I will say that there is some Winnipeg Jets stuff (naturally), a Washington Capitals item, some DVDs, a book, and some other items that will round out the prizing and make the five prizes for the top-five pretty decent, I think. I may still add some stuff from the shwag bag, but we'll see how things go before Monday. In any case, the prizes are solid and I'd be happy with any of them.

Until Monday, poolies, when the totals are posted, sleep soundly knowing you turned in a solid playoff pool this year. Thank you for entering, and be ready for the results come Monday when all shall be revealed!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 19 June 2015

An Olympian Joins

If there's one thing that we, as Canadians, should be shamed for, it's our complete lack of interest and support for our university athletes outside of a few programs. Football, like the NCAA, gets major coverage in the CIS, but we have rinks that sit mostly empty all season long while fantastic hockey players ply their trade in front of rows of empty seats. It's not very Canadian, and it must be frustrating for some of the Olympians who play in the CIS to play in front of a handful of fans every weekend instead of packed houses.

We have some amazing young women who have taken the CIS by storm with their talents, and we've seen the likes of Danielle Dubé, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Charlene Labonté emerge from the CIS as top players for Canada. While the NCAA is still the highest amateur level for women to play, the CIS has begun to add international players who will carry the torches for their respective countries. Calgary has Russian Iya Gavrilova on their roster, and she appears to be headed for stardom with her national team. And Manitoba has added its first international recruit this year as they will have an Olympic bronze medalist on their roster!

The woman in the photo above is Finn Venla Hovi. Miss Hovi agreed on May 21 to join the Manitoba Bisons for this upcoming season as she pursues a degree at the University of Manitoba. The 27 year-old has played in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, where she earned a bronze medal with Finland, and at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. The Bisons are getting a player with major international experience under her belt, and it appears that they'll rely on her for scoring and leadership during her CIS career.

She has played for a few teams in Europe as well. She was a member of KalPa Kuopio in Finland for the 2012-13 season where she had 19 goals and 20 assists in 24 games, and suited up in Austria for the EHV Vienna Sabres last season where she recorded four goals and three assists in six games with the Sabres. Her Olympic career has seen her score three goals and add one helper in eleven career games, including the following goal against China in 2010.
The problem I have found in terms of finding out more information on Miss Hovi is that there is little to no information on the Finnish national team member online. There are a ton of photos thanks to her playing in the Olympics, but there is virtually no information on the Finn anywhere to be found. While I appreciate people's privacy, a little info would be helpful.

So I guess I'll have to take it on myself to interview Miss Hovi and get some information about her for this blog and the readers who appreciate women's hockey. I'm quite certain the 27 year-old forward has some great hockey and life stories to tell, but it's almost as if no one in the hockey world - including in her own country - has taken the time to sit down with Miss Hovi and talk hockey and life with her. I'll bet money that the fans of the University of Bisons women's hockey team will certainly be interested in this new player who will don the brown-and-gold next season, so I'll get some info about Miss Hovi going as soon as she arrives at the university.

There's an Olympian among us. Come see her play.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Hockey Show - Episode 144

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, is back tonight with what could be called the "wrap-up show" as all of the major hockey championship trophies have been handed out for another year. The NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs, and the ECHL's Kelly Cup Playoffs have all been finalized and winners have been crowned. It's kind of surreal to think that Beans and I made it through another hockey season without anyone storming the studio or having cease-and-desist letters delivered to us, but here we are once more! In saying that, we'll talk about the individual champions in the three leagues and start prepping for the summer!

Obviously, all eyes were on the Blackhawks as they captured their third Stanley Cup in six years, but the bigger questions will be how they move forward with regards to the salary cap. GM Stan Bowman has already told everyone who will listen that restricted free agent Brandon Saad will be part of the Blackhawks "for years to come". This could be one of the most interesting free agency periods we'll see for some time with all the creative accounting that could happen. We'll also talk about the Manchester Monarchs winning the Calder Cup and if the defending Calder Cup Champions in the Ontario Reign can repeat(?) as champions. Yes, this part could get confusing. And we'll talk about the Allen Americans defeating the South Carolina Stingrays for the Kelly Cup in the ECHL in their first year being in the league - the first time that's happened since 2004 when the Idaho Steelheads did it! We'll also bounce through a pile of news from the hockey world as we break down the summer's early moves, and we'll discuss a few moves made by the Manitoba Bisons as they prepare for the 2015-16 CIS season!

The phones will be open, we'll be awaiting your calls, and we want to speak with you on any or all of these topics! Hit us up at 204-269-8636! Join us tonight on 101.5 UMFM on your radio dial in the Winnipeg region or you can listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! You can tweet me anytime you like 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. Lots of wrap-up to do tonight before we look at what next season holds for some teams tonight on The Hockey Show only on 101.5 UMFM!

PODCAST: June 18, 2015: Episode 144

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 7

Antler Banter is back with what might be the last of these multiple-story-entries-in-one-article articles. The Calder Cup has been awarded, players are returning home in preparation for next season, free agents are charging their phones, and general managers are hunting for the next great coach to take over their respective teams. There will be tinkering, retooling, rebuilding, and relocating as the AHL takes on its new look with the California-based teams preparing for their first seasons in the AHL. One team has completely rebranded themselves already with a new logo, and we'll take a peek at that today as well. All in all, it's an article of wrap-ups, getting set, and new looks on today's Antler Banter! Let's get this started!

Monarchs Are Kings

The Manchester Monarchs completed their run to the Calder Cup Championship by downing the Utica Comets in five games. The Monarchs were the AHL's best team all season so this should come as no surprise when betting on a winner. What should be notable, though, is that backup Patrik Bartosak won Games Four and Five on hostile ice in Utica after Jean-François Berube left Game Three with an ankle injury. Mike Richards was not a part of this group despite playing for part of the season with the Monarchs. This Monarchs team used balanced scoring, solid defence, and good goaltending to carry them to the franchise's first Calder Cup.

"I've never won a team championship like this," Bartosak told Paul Feely of the New Hampshire Union Leader after drinking champagne from the Calder Cup hours after the victory on Saturday. "It definitely tastes better coming out of the Cup. It's better to win as a team."

So while the players and fans get to celebrate for the next few weeks, the moving trucks will begin to make their way to Verizon Wireless Arena where the AHL Monarchs will pack up their equipment for the move west to Ontario, California. The "defending AHL Champion" Ontario Reign will begin play next year in the AHL while the Manchester Monarchs name will be transferred to the new ECHL franchise that moves into Verizon Wireless Arena.

Kinda sucks for the fans of Manchester, but the players are expressing their disappointment as well. "Obviously I’m going to miss Manchester," said Bartosak. "It was a great year, in a great city. I've made some good friends here, and the city has treated us so well. But it's not our decision to leave. We just have to take it and go with it."

Business as usual in the world of hockey.

How Swede It Is

Sweden's Adrian Kempe, a name that you should get used to hearing, was part of the Monarchs' championship run, and he made some history in winning the Calder Cup. Drafted 29th-overall by the Los Angeles Kings last year, Kempe became the youngest Swede to win a North American professional championship. The 18 year-old forward won't turn 19 until September 13, so he's certainly a little green when it comes to life experience but is now an AHL champion.

Congratulations to Adrian Kempe, Sweden's youngest North American champion!

Ageless Wonder Goes Young

USA Hockey announced today that former AHL Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves defenceman Chris Chelios - amongst the many teams he played with - will be behind the American bench as an assistant coach to Ron Wilson at the upcoming World Junior Championship! Chelios played 26 seasons in the NHL and represented his country ten times on the international stage, and should be a fountain of knowledge for the young American players on that squad. Joining him to round out the coaching staff are Danton Cole and Kevin Reiter.

Some may ask why this is in the AHL article, and there's a good reason why. Chelios has spent the last five seasons in the development and mentoring of a number of the Detroit Red Wings' prospects, so he has a knack for teaching, it seems. More than that, Chelios saw more games in the AHL than the NHL in his final two seasons, and he was still a huge draw for fans in those AHL cities. With his work alongside Jeff Blashill in Grand Rapids and his continued relationship with Ken Holland in Detroit, can an NHL bench job be far behind?

Danton Cole is also a former Grand Rapids Griffins coach, so this American team will have a very Detroit feeling to them for fans. While Cole would be further away than Chelios in solidifying another coaching position, perhaps this appointment with the American team will lead back to the AHL in the future.

In any case, the Americans have a solid coaching staff for the Helsinki, Finland tournament.

Another Name Returning

The Griffins are reportedly close to having former Griffins defenceman Todd Nelson join the team as the next head coach. Nelson recently coached the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons and the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, but was given his release when the Oilers hired Todd McLellan. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press is reporting that Nelson has agreed to the job, and will take over from Jeff Blashill who was promoted to the Red Wings.

Nelson is a very capable coach, and I see the Griffins continuing their recent success under his tutelage. He coached the Muskegon Fury to two straight UHL titles in 2003-04 and 2004-05. He joined the Chicago Wolves in 2006, and was part of the 2007-08 AHL Calder Cup team as an assistant coach. He was promoted as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers in '08-09 before taking over the head coaching duties of the Oklahoma City Barons in 2010-11. He was then promoted to the Oilers' bench last season. At no time as a head coach in the minor leagues has he posted a losing record, so bringing Nelson home to coach the hugely successful Griffins is a fantastic move by Ken Holland.

Dressed Up In Texas

The Texas Stars followed their NHL parent club's lead by changing their logo and colors to match the Dallas Stars for the next year!
"The colors and themes have worked so well in Dallas and they've become synonymous with Stars Hockey," said Stars owner Tom Gaglardi. "It's exciting for us to have the Texas Stars represented in the same Victory Green that we take great pride in."

Dallas did have some catchy uniforms last year. Texas will now look good in their new green jerseys as well.

Returning To Texas

Dallas also announced that they had re-signed defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka to a two-year contract extension. Financial details were not released. Jokipakka played 87 games with the Texas Stars over the last two seasons, putting up eight goals and 18 assists.

"Jokipakka thinks the game well and has the tools to grow into an extremely dependable player in the NHL," Stars GM Jim Nill said. "Over the last season, he grew leaps and bounds and proved that he could play effectively at this level. We fully expect him to continue that growth and become a big part of our defensive unit in the years to come."

Jokipakka has a shot at making the Dallas Stars this season, but there will definitely be a spot on the Texas Stars' blue line if he doesn't make it after the loss of a few key veterans in Cedar Park.

More Coaches Promoted

The New Jersey Devils announced today that Alain Nasreddine and Geoff Ward will join former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Hynes behind the bench in Newark.

Nasreddine was an assistant coach to Hynes with the AHL Penguins for the last five years while Ward has piled up a number of awards in several stops. In 2003, he was the co-winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL's outstanding coach while with Hamilton. He helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 as an assistant coach. He was the head coach for the DEL's Adler Mannheim this past season where Adler Mannheim won the DEL Championship while Ward was named as the DEL's best coach.

New Jersey has one of the best young coaching staffs in all of hockey at this moment.

Didier Back For More

I'm a few days late on this one, but the new St. John's IceCaps, formerly the Hamilton Bulldogs, signed defenceman Josiah Didier to a one-year deal. He signed a professional tryout contract in March after the University of Denver Pioneers were eliminated from the NCAA Frozen Four playoffs, and he posted one assist in eight games.

Didier played 148 NCAA games with Denver, putting up 4 goals and 25 assists in his collegiate career. The 6'3", 220-pound defenceman should add some grit to the IceCaps' blue line next season as he had recorded 203 penalty minutes with Denver over his career as well.

Personally, I like this signing for the future, but the Canadiens only inked him to a one-year deal. Is this a "show me what you can do" deal by Marc Bergevin? We shall see, I guess.

That's all that is happening in the world of the AHL this week. Antler Banter will be back next week with what should be a more condensed version as things settle down in the off-season. Of course, free agency is coming up, so we'll see how the AHL teams are affected at that time!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

These Guys Like Pucks

With the ongoing experiments being done on our favorite piece of hockey equipment, the next experiment might result in the mushroom cloud seen to the left. We've seen our trusty scientist on YouTube, known as CarsandWater, put a hockey puck through a number of rather extreme tests already, and our amateur physicist is back with another grueling test for the little puck that refuses to be destroyed. The red-hot ball of nickel was no match for the vulcanized rubber of the hockey puck, and we saw it withstand the super-cooling of liquid nitrogen as well. Today? CarsandWater turns up the heat in a big way.

If you really want to turn up the heat, thermite is an appropriate compound to use. Industrial uses see thermite used for welding together railway segments and for welding together electrical and telecommunication lines on towers. The high temperatures that thermite burns at can be used in small spaces, making thermite welding a safe and easy job when done right.

The most common type of thermite, as seen in our video below, is iron thermite. Iron thermite can reach temperatures of 2500°C when ignited, so to say that this little experiment is far more dangerous than the last two would be an understatement. When lighting the iron thermite, a ribbon of magnesium is inserted into the thermite and lit on fire. As it burns down, it heats the thermite causing a chemical reaction that gives off heat. A lot of heat, apparently.

What will it do to a hockey puck made of vulcanized rubber?
Well, the puck certainly took a bigger beating than in the previous experiments, but it didn't actually lose its shape. As stated in the red-hot ball of nickel experiment, vulcanized rubber can withstand higher temperatures, but who knew it could withstand 2500°C?

If you're keeping score, that's Puck - 3 and Science - 0.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 15 June 2015

Sweet Home Chicago

It's hard to believe that it's been 77 years since the Stanley Cup was given to the Blackhawks in the city of Chicago. 77 years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup against the Toronto Maple Leafs in four games after winning the best-of-five series by a 3-1 count. It was their second Stanley Cup in franchise history after the Blackhawks had won in 1934, but this one had a little more drama than the first in 1934. A goaltending controversy surrounded the Blackhawks after starter Mike Karakas broke his toe, and there was a ton of doubt that the Blackhawks could even skate with the mighty Maple Leafs.

April 5 saw the start of the Stanley Cup Final as the Blackhawks visited Maple Leaf Gardens. Chicago skated to the 3-1 victory in Game One, shocking the Maple Leaf faithful to take a 1-0 series lead. Toronto responded in Game Two by pressuring the Blackhawks all night long in a 5-1 victory to even the series at 1-1. However, the shift to Chicago saw the Blackhawks play extremely well as they played a magnificent game in winning 2-1 to take a 2-1 series lead and pushing the Maple Leafs to the brink. And Game Four would see the Blackhawks close out the season by winning the Stanley Cup in a 4-1 victory to take the series 3-1.

The controversy surrounding the Blackhawks and their goaltending started when Alfie Moore took to the ice in Game One. Moore was a member of the Pittsburgh Hornets and donned the pads because replacement goalie Paul Goodman didn't arrive in Toronto in time for Game One. League President Frank Calder allowed the 3-1 victory to stand with Moore in net, but ruled Moore ineligible for the remainder of the series due to him not being affiliated with the Blackhawks in any way. Goodman finally arrived and lost Game Two in Toronto, but Chicago got Mike Karakas back in Games Three and Four as he played net with a steel toe covering his skate to protect his broken toe! The rest is history as Karakas gave up two goals in two games to help Chicago win!

The Blackhawks, however, recognized Alfie Moore's efforts in their win by giving him $300 and a gold watch after the series - a pretty awesome gesture by the Blackhawks for the one game of service Moore provided. Bill Stewart, a rookie head coach in the 1937-38 season, became the first American-born head coach to win the Stanley Cup, and he would be the only American-born winning coach for the next 53 years until "Badger" Bob Johnson won the Stanley Cup in 1991 with the Penguins! Forward Carl Voss became the second player in history to have his name added to both the Stanley Cup and the CFL's Grey Cup as he won the Grey Cup in 1924! The other person? The legendary Lionel Conacher whose brother, Charlie Conacher, was the captain of the Maple Leafs in 1938!

Here are a few pictures from the archives of the Chicago Tribune from that season.
Tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup on home ice with a 2-0 victory over another team in blue-and-white in the Tampa Bay Lightning! The Chicago Blackhawks are your 2015 Stanley Cup Champions!
More on this in the coming days, and the HBIC Playoff Pool will wrap up this weekend. Stay tuned, everyone! Prizes will be shown off when they arrive in my mailbox this week!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!