Saturday, 11 August 2018

Rapid City Bisons?

The Rapid City Rush aren't a team that is prolific in the hockey circuit, but they are one of the seven teams that the ECHL absorbed into its membership once the Central Hockey League folded. The Rush have yet to qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs in any of their three seasons in the ECHL to date, but there's hope a few players that played directly north of Rapid City, South Dakota can help the Rush earn their first playoff berth. As it stands, the Rapid City Rush could rebrand themselves as the Rapid City Bisons with the signing streak they're on!

First, we'll start with a re-signing. Back on February 27, the Rush went out and made a trade for former Manitoba Bisons forward Shaquille Merasty who was playing with the Wichita Thunder. At the time, the power forward had three goals and two assists in 20 games with the Thunder after putting up 74 points in 82 games during his U SPORTS career.

Flash forward to July 2, and #19 inked a new deal to return to the Rush for the upcoming ECHL season after the Thompson, Manitoba native posted two goals and five assists in eight games with the Rush! Merasty was injured for a portion of his time in Rapid City, but it seems the team liked what they saw from the big guy and offered a new contract to him which makes him Manitoba Bison #1 on the roster!

"One of the most important things about Shaq," Head Coach Daniel Tetrault said in a release, "is his willingness to shoot the puck. In Wichita, he managed 38 shots on goal in 20 games, but with us he racked up 42 in just 8. It shows me that once he got his playing time, he took advantage of it and tried to be a factor every night. I'm very excited to have him back."

Manitoba Bison #2 just finished his university career this past spring, and #26 in Manitoba will suit up for the Rush after signing with the ECHL club on August 7! Quintin Lisoway signed his first professional contract with the Rapid City Rush after posting 19 goals and 13 assists in 53 Canada West games, and that total included 11 goals in his senior year!

Lisoway kicked off his junior career with Brandon Wheat Kings where the Neepawa, Manitoba native spent parts of three seasons with the WHL club before getting a shot with the QMJHL's Acadie-Bathurst Titan for 20 games. After 22 goals and 29 assists in the CHL, Lisoway jumped at the opportunity to return home and suit up with the Bisons where he was a solid contributor in his two seasons in the brown-and-gold.

"What stood out to me most about Quintin is his leadership ability. He had a great junior career and put up great numbers in college, so it was a no-brainer to bring him on," Tetrault said of Lisoway in a release. "Quintin is a defense-first player up front, so we'll task him with shutting down the opposition's forwards, but in his college career, he found a scoring touch, so we'll put him in all situations. I'm very excited to see what he brings to the team in Training Camp."

You'd think the Rush might have a pipeline into the University of Manitoba after signing two players because they went and added a third Bison on August 9 when they inked defenceman Blake Heinrich to a professional contract. The Cambridge, Minnesota native spent time in the USHL, WHL, and Canada West before being drafted by the Washington Capitals with the 144th-overall pick in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Heinrich had a solid couple of seasons with the Bisons as he was a physical presence while chipping in five goals and six assists in 39 games while spending 59 minutes in the sin bin. With the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, he used the longer schedule to accumulate 15 goals and 38 assists in 132 games while logging 171 penalty minutes. And his two seasons and a game with the USHL's Sioux City Muskateers saw Heinrich total ten goals and 27 assists in 85 contests where he was a physical force in amassing 227 penalty minutes. Heinrich won't light up the scoresheet, but he'll deliver timely goals and assists while administering a little old-school justice in his own zone.

"Similar to his former college teammate, Quintin Lisoway, who we announced earlier this week, Blake is a leader and a 200-foot hockey player," Tetrault remarked on his rookie defenseman in another release. "Coming from the WHL, I know Blake takes care of his own zone on the back-end, but exercises great hockey sense on when to join in offensively. Blake brings a great skill-set, a ton of youth, and a wealth of enthusiasm to this team, and I can't wait to see what he’s made of in Training Camp."

It's always a great story to hear that a former Bisons player has gone on to bigger rinks and brighter lights, but when three mini lion bots come tog... wait, that's a different thing. No, when three Manitoba Bisons find themselves on the same ECHL team, that's fantastic news for the players and a pretty big compliment for the program that head coach Mike Sirant is running.

We'll do regular Rapid City Rush updates on the The Hockey Show and on Bisons hockey broadcasts this season to keep everyone up-to-date on Shaq Merasty, Quintin Lisoway, Blake Heinrich, and the rest of the Rush as they battle through the ECHL season towards a playoff spot! Best of luck in South Dakota, gents, and do Manitoba proud!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Wisconsin Losing Its Stripes

There's probably never a wrong time to post this, but we're getting close to a number of sports kicking off their seasons at the high school and amateur levels so it's very topical that a report out of Wisconsin came out today regarding a referee shortage hitting the sport of football in that state. What should alarm everyone reading this is that it is happening in every sport - hockey, football, soccer, basketball - where officials are being abused by coaches, players, and, most notably, parents and fans that these young officials are quitting the job of officiating. In most cases, they quit for good, and that's not a great outlook for sports that require officials to keep the games going. In saying this, let's have a discussion once more about the treatment of officials since I'm an official over the summer.

Let's start with the report from WKOW Channel 27 in Wisconsin.
As stated in the report, "more than 70% of refs quit the job within the first few years. Jameson says the 2-3 year mark is typically when most hang up their whistles." That's a particularly damning statistic when you think that seven of every ten registered officials quits after two or three years due to the largest factor being abuse of officials. Wisconsin football was the subject of this study, but hockey isn't getting off easy on this page. If you're keeping up with your statistics, officials in hockey quit at an alarming rate as well.

According to a 2012 report from the the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine entitled Violence in Canadian Amateur Hockey: The Experience of Referees in Ontario, the study found that more than 90% of the 632 referees who responded to the survey said they were recipients of aggression and anger. Around 46% said that referees are threatened by physical violence. Hockey Canada has approximately 30,000 officials registered to officiate minor hockey games every year, and they state that approximately 10,000 fail to return every year. In perhaps the scariest and most tragic of incidents in the last few years, a soccer referee in the US was killed when he threatened to eject a player from an adult-league soccer match in suburban Detroit in 2014.

Abuse of officials is a far more common incident of abuse than one may think. Verbal abuse and physical abuse are seen at far greater instances than ever in the past, and it begs the question as to where we, as a society, began to lose our common decency to plummet towards this inexcusable behaviour?

Look, I understand that one may get caught up in the moment, but being in the moment also requires a sense of understanding that there are still lines that cannot be crossed. NHL players, for an incensed as they can be, understand they cannot scream vulgarities at an official or touch an official without some sort of retribution coming their way. They're literally playing for glory and a pay cheque; you, in the stands, are simply making someone's day or life a little more difficult with the barrage of insults being hurled at them. And why? Because they missed a slash on the opposite side of the rink that your eight year-old barely noticed?

I'll refer to Adam Proteau's words from The Hockey News on November 28, 2013 when he wrote,
Let me speak directly to these cretins for a moment: Look, I know you think you're sticking up for your kid or a child you coach when you unload two lungs-full of air on an official. But you’re not doing anybody a scintilla of good. You're embarrassing yourself and your child and you're damaging someone who is officiating not for money or glory, but because they love the sport. You're demonstrating to everyone within earshot of your obscene squeals that the best way to address an injustice isn't by overcoming it, but by folding your arms across your chest, sticking out your bottom lip and reprehensibly shifting the blame to a person who doesn't play for either team. In short, you're hurting hockey much more than an official ever could. So either rein in your pathetic ranting or stand outside the arena and ask one of the other parents to provide Twitter play-by-play of the game you're obviously not emotionally mature enough to watch in person.

If the tone of this message seems overly harsh to you, I don't care. We've tried to go the polite route on this for years now. We've tried to connect with you by posting bluntly stated rules about your unacceptable behavior. But it's still continuing and the reasonable among us have to look at new, more effective methods to control braying and bleating from insensitive oafs whose selfishness knows no bounds. Some minor hockey associations already have parental codes of conduct as part of their programs. But if that's not enough, it's time for guerrilla war tactics on people who won't change their ways. For instance, maybe sane hockey parents have to start videotaping abusive fans and posting them online in social media forums for their employers to see. Maybe if more people faced repercussions beyond the hockey world for their actions within it, we'd force them to wise up, grow up and shut up. The choice for amateur hockey is clear: demand more restraint from all participants, or face a future where the number of officials shrinks every year until nobody wants to call a game and subject themselves to this garbage. Only by getting rude and in the face of people who get their kicks from being rude and in the faces of referees and linesmen will we do the right thing and push them out of a world they don't deserve to participate in. I'd rather have zebras making mistakes the ice than a herd of jackasses letting their mouths run amok in the stands.
I stand with Adam. I'm not suggesting to cause a confrontation with those who are overtly rude towards officials, but, as Adam suggested, it may be time to start making examples out of these people as the type of fan that your hockey organization doesn't need. Officials are there to help players get better by enforcing the rules and to keep games moving smoothly by ensuring that incidents don't spiral out of control. Parents and fans who launch a barrage of insults and verbal diarrhoea towards officials are counteracting both of those goals.

As an umpire, I have made mistakes. I will fully admit I'm not perfect, and to err is to be human. If I blow a call, so be it. I'm pretty sure you're not batting 1.000 all season, so let's compare success rates if you like. I guarantee I make wrong calls far less than players hit into outs. At the very worst, I have made umpiring calls based on not knowing a specific rule as well as I should have, and that's on me to be better an umpire. I am fully aware I'm not an encyclopedia of rules, but I'll do my best to mitigate the negative impacts that may be caused by my lack of knowing every line of the rule book. The one thing I don't need help with is your "interpretation" of the rules whether I make a bad call or I make an error on a rule. You're welcome to have a discussion with me as to what I saw or my understand and/or interpretation of the rules, but yelling like a buffoon about the mistake I made from the bench or stands will only result in my patience being worn thin.

I've taken my fair share of heckles, and I certainly can understand why some of these younger officials walk away from the game based on some of the stuff I've heard. Being on the other side of the coin and wearing the official's uniform, it has become very apparent that officials are doing the best they can and they rarely, if ever, are involved in the deciding plays that result in wins and losses. If you believe the officials are out to get you or your team, it might be time to look at why your team is under the microscope with the officials. Rarely do officials care one way or another who wins as long as everyone has fun and the rules are being followed. If you decide to make a mockery of the game, the other team, or the officials, chances are that your team will earn that special attention through reputation and word-of-mouth among the officials so that whatever mockery has happened doesn't occur again.

I'll say it here and now: I stand with any and all young officials across the sports spectrum. I will not let fans, parents, coaches, nor players disrespect you while I'm in attendance nor will I stand for third-party accounts of abuse of officials when I hear about them. Please speak to whomever oversees the sport in which you officiate if you feel like someone crossed the line between cheerful banter and hurtful comments. You never deserve the abuse received while doing your job in keeping the games going. It's important to remember that without you, there are no games. And we clearly need more passionate, good people like yourself than the vile, disgusting people who feel it's easier to chirp from the sidelines than it is to don the stripes.

Fans, parents, coaches, and players, I urge you to remember that these young officials want to keep the games going so that the next generation of players can possibly be the next wave of great officials. I was inspired by a couple of great umpires who took the time to talk with me about umpiring and why it's important as a player to get the perspective from their side of the game. I fully understand that perspective now, and I don't let a bad call or a wrong call affect me nearly as much as it did in my younger days. I encourage you and your kids to do the same when it comes to the officials in your chosen sport or your kids' chosen sports. These are good people doing a tough, thankless job, so even just a thank-you goes a long way for officials and their work.

In my position, I get to chat with catchers and pitchers most often, so I do develop some chemistry with the battery just as they understand why my strike zone is what it is. What I find more rewarding anything else is the conversations that don't pertain to baseball: how was your weekend, what's new, how's the season going. I respect the trust levels that I have with some catchers who discuss everything under the sun with me as they get ready between innings, and I generally enjoy that they know that they have my trust when it comes to them making jokes and comments in jest with me. While I would never tread on that trust to sway my decisions to affect an outcome, I truly believe they understand that I will be as fair and impartial as possible. All it took for these relationships to be built is a little conversation.

We're all human, folks. No one will remember that call that I screwed up in the bottom of the third inning on July 24, but people will remember that guy who went ballistic because a ball that was pitched for strike-one was a hair outside. It's just a game, folks. No one is going to the big leagues, and your child, as talented as he or she is, has a less-than-one-percent chance of making the millionaire pro athlete ranks. What will lower that percentage even more is having a parent who is disrespectful to officials because no college, university, junior, or professional team tolerates that kind of behaviour from its fans.

I'll refer you to this PSA put out by Hockey Canada as I end this article. Keep this in mind the next time you feel the urge to explode into a rage of obscenities and insults because the person in stripes did something you didn't like.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Hockey Show - Episode 307

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back with its continuing Summer of Interviews series! We've met some amazing women who are doing remarkable things in their careers and lives, and today's guest is no exception. She's won a pile of medals on the international ball hockey circuit, she's got a ton of stuff going on in her personal life, and she's always going to be one of The Hockey Show's favorite guests because she's a highly-decorated Manitoban! To say I was excited to get to sit down with her is a major understatement!

I'm humbled, proud, honoured, and privileged that this amazing woman gave me an hour of her time. Earlier in the week, I recorded an interview with recently-retired Calgary Inferno netminder Delayne Brian! Delayne has had an outstanding career on the ice with the Inferno where she defended the net since 2013 when she was drafted, but she's also a monster in the nets for Team Canada on the international ball hockey circuit where she's won a number of gold medals and personal accolades! We'll hear about the Inferno, ball hockey, Wayne State, Robert Morris, her hero and greatest fan, and a ton more as we introduce you to one of Manitoba's best players ever to come out of this province in Delayne Brian!

"I know Delayne! How can I listen?" you ask. Well, the easiest way is for you to download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet. It's literally the most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows! Of course, you can do the radio thing at the 101.5 frequency on the FM dial and you can always listen online via the UMFM website as well!

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

Tonight, Teebz goes one-on-one with goaltender Delayne Brian as we learn about the Inferno, her success on the world stage, her crazy college years including the insanity at Wayne State, and much more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: August 9, 2018: Episode 307
RESOURCES: International Street and Ball Hockey Federation

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Off To Balashikha!

The arena to the left is Balashikha Arena located in the city of Balashikha. You might be wondering why I'm writing an article on an obscure arena in the middle of Russia that has no KHL team, but they actually will have a KHL team as of today. The only problem? It won't be their own team. If you recall, I wrote an article on July 24 about Avangard Omsk possibly having to move due to foundation problems at Arena Omsk. Today, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Avangard Alexander Krylov made the announcement that Avangard Omsk will indeed move to Balashikha to start the 2018-19 KHL season.

The first thing you should know about this move is that Avangard Omsk will be moving some 2700 kilometers to the west! If you're a fan of the Omsk team and live in Omsk, that's a 35-hour drive one-way to see your team play at "home" this season! Balashikha is approximately 45 minutes to the east of Moscow, so this move takes Avangard Omsk entirely out of their fanbase's reaches unless one has the means for a three-hour flight to see Omsk play. Is this is a good move? Krylov addressed that in the press release put out today.
"For Moscow region, several factors say at once. Firstly, this is a large army of our fans living in Moscow - here and those who were born in Omsk, and those who were born in the capital, but thanks to family traditions are rooting for the 'Vanguard'. In Krasnoyarsk, too, love hockey, but fans of the 'Vanguard' there is extremely small. Secondly, the Balashikha Arena is an active stadium, everything is set up in all directions necessary for us, while the Platinum Arena has just been handed over and there, in fact, all processes need to be started from scratch. Third, logistics. We all figured, in case of moving to Krasnoyarsk, "Avangard" would become the fourth club for remoteness for all teams of the KHL. In Krasnoyarsk from Moscow to fly five hours, in addition, in this city, we could play only until the start of the playoffs, since March 2 there will begin the Universiade. There was another option with Mytischi, but there already holds its Euroleague matches the basketball club "Khimki". Given the very tight calendar of the KHL and other related issues related to the site, it is not possible to place two clubs from different sports in the 'Mytischi Arena'."
It seems that the Omsk club did their homework very well in researching their potential options regarding a temporary move. The fact that Krylov and the Board of Directors addressed processes and logistics as two of their main factors in determining the move makes it seem as though they're looking out not only for the team and its bottom line, but the players and staff who will be uprooted and moved temporarily. while it may not be the best option for the team's fans in Omsk, at least the Board of Directors gets full marks in ensuring that the team itself won't be hamstrung by any unforeseen circumstances.

There will be a noticeable difference in terms of fan support inside the arena depending on how many fans Omsk will attract. Arena Omsk is a 10,318-seat arena that usually fills up pretty quickly due to the popularity of the team in the city and region whereas Balashikha Arena only seats 6000 fans. There shouldn't be a discernible difference in arena noise, but losing 4000 seats per night does affect a team's bottom line. I'll have to keep an eye on Avangard Omsk's fiscal situation going forward, but they are one of the teams who is better off in the KHL compared to others.

If there is a plus to moving, it's that Balashikha Arena housed a KHL team for a couple of seasons in HC MVD. That club was merged into Dynamo Moscow in 2010, and a new Russian junior team run by the Dynamo club was founded in Balashikha. Having that KHL experience should help the arena staff ease the transition of the Omsk team into the building and make the process of running game nights fairly smooth as long as some of the arena staff have remained working at the rink. If not, they'll still have their junior hockey club experiences to fall back on, so it's not like Omsk is walking into a rink with zero experience in hosting a season of high-level hockey.

At the end of the day, 2700 kilometers is a long way to go to cheer for the Omsk team, but perhaps they'll attract some new fans from the Moscow region to join the "large army of fans living in Moscow" as Avangard fans. The best news is that Avangard Omsk is moving into a KHL arena while Arena Omsk is being repaired, and they'll be able to play out the season while the repairs continue. While the short-term plans may not be the best solution for fans in the Omsk region, the long-term plans of returning to Omsk and playing out the franchise's days there should be on solid ground once the foundation of Arena Omsk has been repaired.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Couple Of Coaching Changes

While the U SPORTS team in Calgary at the Hockey Canada Developmental Camp dropped its first game against Team Japan last night, there was some movement in the coaching ranks this morning as one team filled a vacancy while another finds itself needing a coach. Coaching changes at the Canadian university level isn't something new. After all, Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz both coached at that level before ascending to bright lights and bigger rinks. Today's announcements have one coach moving up the ladder in the hockey world while the other is making more of a lateral move that should pay dividends based on her recent successes behind the bench!

Let's start with the departure as this move seems to have come out of the blue. Late last week, the Lethbridge Pronghorns announced that men's hockey head coach Spiros Anastas had resigned his position with the team to pursue another coaching opportunity. It was a move that kind of flew under the radar since the Pronghorns haven't made a ton of noise in Canada West men's hockey for a while, and Anastas had only led the program to to 5-, 11-, 11-, and 9-win seasons over the four years while compiling a 36-68-8 record in that time.

Anastas, for his part, is a good coach and really had the Pronghorns looking like they may be on the verge of turning a corner with some solid play over the last few years as his record above indicates, and he's an outstanding student of the game. Anastas had joined the Pronghorns after serving as an assistant coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League, and his knowledge and tactics that he employed gave Lethbridge an instant boost in their play from what was seen on the ice.

Lethbridge, for those that may not be aware, have had their share of great coaches come through their ranks. Mike Babcock spent the 1993-94 season at the campus where he led the Pronghorns to a University Cup Championship, and more recently Bill Peters, now of the Calgary Flames, called the Lethbridge campus home from 2002-05 before moving up the ranks. I name those two men because it appears that Spiros Anastas might be the next coach you want to keep an eye on that once called the University of Lethbridge home.

It was announced today that Spiros Anastas will be the new head coach for ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays!
Anastas joins a great organization that is committed to winning as proven by their three Kelly Cup Championships in 1997, 2001, and 2009. Anastas replaces Ryan Warsofsky who was hired by the AHL's Charlotte Checkers as an assistant coach earlier this summer. The Stingrays went 47-16-7-1 last season to finish second in the South Division, but were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs in the opening round by the surprising Orlando Solar Bears who finished 29 points back of the Stingrays.

This move should be seen as a positive for both Anastas and the Stingrays. Anastas gets back into pro hockey after running a Canadian university program like a professional organization, and the Stingrays get a coach whose dedication to his craft and players, his work ethic, and his knowledge of the game should see great things continue in Charleston, North Carolina. For the Pronghorns, it's a void that will be tough to fill, especially with the Pronghorns being the host team at this year's University Cup, so I'm sure they're looking for another coach at this moment who has pro experience and can continue to build on what Anastas was doing in Lethbridge.

As for the vacancy that was filled, this one carries all sorts of possibilities based on who filled the vacancy. On May 11, Kelly Paton, the former head coach of the Western Mustangs, accepted a role at the University of Wilfred Laurier as Manager of Women's Hockey Operations and Head Coach of the Golden Hawks. Paton had taken the Mustangs to an OUA title and to a U SPORTS National Championship Final, winning silver last season, and has helped U SPORTS earn a silver medal as an assistant coach with Canada's 2017 Winter Universiade team in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In her two seasons at the helm of the Mustangs, she posted a 39-19 record in the regular season and playoffs combined.

Needless to say, those are some big shoes to fill at Western University. So who did Western hire? Someone whose feet can fill those shoes and possibly more!
That's right: Candice Moxley, formerly an assistant coach with the Clarkson Cup-winning Markham Thunder, will assume the head coaching role at Western University this fall! Outside of her professional coaching experience, Moxley was responsible for some impressive success with the Division-3 NCAA State University College at Buffalo where she led the team to the playoffs in all five of her seasons behind the bench.

Moxley was a standout at Niagara University as a player before that NCAA program was scuttled, but she parlayed that success into a three-season stint in the Canadian professional women's league. Beyond that success, Moxley also played with Team Canada's national women's ball hockey squad in 2013, and helped Team Canada win silver at the 2014 World Inline Hockey Championships. In short, Moxley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Western University bench, and they're pretty excited to have her coaching the Mustangs.

"We're thrilled to have Candice joining our team and continue the success that has established our program into one of the best in the nation," said Christine Stapleton, the director of Sport and Recreation Services at Western, told Mike DeBoer of The Gazette. "Candice has a phenomenal depth of experience from across North America, and we're excited to see her step in and lead our team."

If the strong get stronger, both the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays and U SPORTS' Western Mustangs picked up some incredible talent to guide them through this coming season and beyond. Both Anastas and Moxley are incredible coaches, but they're also better people as they truly want to see their players succeed both on and off the ice. Those are the kinds of people I would want guiding my program moving forward, so I wish nothing but the best of luck to Spiros Anastas and his family as well as Candice Moxley and her family as they embark on new adventures this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!