Tuesday, 16 January 2018

How Swede It Is

Just as I stated yesterday, nations are beginning to get themselves set for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, and Sweden followed the Czech Republic's lead in naming their men's Olympic hockey team today. With a vast number of talented players currently under NHL contracts, there would be no Zetterbergs, Sedins, Hedmans, or Karlssons going to South Korea. There will be, however, a Lundqvist that goes to South Korea, but it will be his first Olympiad despite being a long-time national player. Who will wear the Tre Kronor? Let's take a look.

Sweden's men's Olympic team will be assembled from the following players.
Just like the Czech sqaud, there are some notable names from their times in the NHL. Linus Omark, Anton Lander, Viktor Stalberg, Joakim Lindstrom, Staffan Kronwall, Erik Gustafsson, Jhonas Enroth, and Viktor Fasth should all be fairly recognizable names after spending time with NHL clubs. Having two former NHL netminders will certainly play into Sweden's favour, and both men are having solid seasons with their KHL clubs statistically.

The second wave of players will need to provide some extra scoring punch, and I think they'll be alright. Carl Klingberg played in the Winnipeg Jets' system for a while, Oscar Moller was in the Kings' system for a few seasons, Dennis Everberg served under the Avalanche's watch for a couple of seasons, and Jonas Ahnelov played for Arizona's affiliate in the AHL. They weren't flashy or prolific scorers at those levels, but Klingberg and Moller showed a knack for the net at times. They could be important scorers down the stretch for Sweden at this tournament.

Let's take nothing away from Joel Lundqvist either. The twin brother of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Joel will be the graybeard for the Swedes at age 35, but he brings a ton of international hockey experience, spent three seasons with the Dallas Stars, and has been a solid producer for Frolunda since returning to Sweden. He will captain this Swedish squad, and he's looking for his first Olympic medal to place alongside his three gold medals and two bronze medals from the IIHF World Championships and the bronze medal he earned at the 2000 IIHF World Junior Championship. If there's one guy who will be motivated to win, I'd suspect that Joel Lundqvist would be that player.

The Swedes have solid goaltending and good scoring, but they'll need a solid tournament out of their defensive unit. Kronwall and Gustafsson are your NHL-experienced rearguards and Rasmus Dahlin will be allowed to showcase his offensive flair, but there's not a lot of offence coming from the other five defenders.

And that leads me to ask why Sweden would only select twelve forwards and eight defencemen? That's an odd number of defencemen to take unless they plan on using a defender up front in case of an injury to a forward. It makes no sense to take an extra defenceman unless you're anticipating an injury or two, so does that mean we'll see an aggressive Swedish defence? Lots of blocked shots? I guess we'll find out.

Sweden looks like a team that is built to medal. They have solid scoring up front, they should get good goaltending throughout the tournament, and they'll most likely play a very fundamental defensive game. Just as they are in most tournaments, they should be a favorite for the gold medal, and I suspect they'll own one of the podium spots at the end of the 2018 Winter Olympic tournament!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Czechs Name Their Olympians

With the Canadian men's Olympic team named and the vast majority of the American men's Olympic team named, the world waited with anticipation for the remaining countries to submit their Olympic lists as the tournament begins to take form. We're less than a month away from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, so expect a number of teams to begin making announcements over the next couple of weeks. With no NHL players to name, who will make each team's list?

The Czech Republic announced their team today, and the list is posted below.
There are some recognizable names on that list from their time in North America. Most notably, Martin Erat, Jiri Sekac, and Roman Cervenka should be the stand-out Czech players in South Korea, but there are some players whose North American exploits may not have them as A-list stars but should still make them solid players. Michal Jordan had a solid run with the Carolina Hurricanes organization, Tomas Kundratek was a key component with Washington and Hershey, Jakub Nakladal and Roman Horak spent time in the Flames' system, goaltender Patrik Bartosak tended the nets in the LA Kings' system, and Michal Repik spent time with the Florida Panthers and its affiliates.

On top of those players, Jan Kovar has been a top-flight player in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Milan Gulas has been a solid offensive player for Färjestad in the Swedish Elite League, and netminder Dominik Furch has been the starting netminder for the KHL's Avangard Omsk for the last three seasons.

In other words, this Czech team isn't just smoke and mirrors.

Notably, one 45 year-old Czech superstar opted not to play in these Olympics, but I'm not sure this team really needs a Jaromir Jagr. Yes, his inclusion would be a major lift for everyone on this squad, but there is some good to great talent still on this Czech squad.

If you were asking me, I'd wager that one of Cervenka, Kovar, or Sekac will lead the Czechs in scoring. Like we've seen with the Czechs in other tournaments, their top players can likely run-and-gun with the big teams in this tournament, but the scoring falls off pretty hard after Repik and Erat, and those two weren't known for their explosive scoring in the NHL as it is.

In saying that, though, I think the Czechs have assembled a very solid team. They have a good defensive core with Jordan, Kundratek, and Nakladal carrying the bulk of the ice-time, and their goaltending will be solid but unspectacular. Scoring may be their Achilles' heel, but the Czechs might be able to score just enough and defend like demons to shock a few nations.

Of course, the house could collapse at any moment if things unravel as we've seen happen at a number of international tournaments, but the Czechs, at least on paper, look like they could be medalists based on this squad. In reality, they'll most likely end up in fourth- or fifth-place, but the Czechs could just shock one nation in one game and find themselves competing for a medal.

We'll have to see if they play for the Czech-mate.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Rundown - Week 11

Last week's games saw a few surprises as the Mount Royal Cougars moved within striking distance of both the Calgary Dinos and the Regina Cougars who sit in sixth- and fifth-place, respectively. Manitoba has UBC, Saskatchewan, and Alberta breathing down its neck, so every point mattered this week for the top-four teams. And Lethbridge, despite being in a bit of a losing streak, still have a shot at catching and passing the bottom-four teams if they can find the win column. Every game had importance this week in Canada West women's hockey, so let's take a look at what happened on this week's edition of The Rundown!

MOUNT ROYAL at LETHBRIDGE: Mount Royal entered the weekend just two points out of a playoff spot while Lethbridge trailed Calgary by five points. Both teams needed big efforts if they were to leap-frog the Dinos while holding each other back! The Pronghorns would start this game off right just eight minutes in when freshman Kyra Greig found her own rebound and beat Mount Royal's Zoe DeBeauville at 8:47 for the 1-0 lead.

That lead would last for seven minutes as Rachel Piitz made a nice move coming out of the corner and getting a shot off. Her shot would be stopped by Alicia Anderson, but Piitz picked up her own rebound and beat Anderson at 15:57 to make it 1-1. Lethbridge, though, would score late in the period when Brett Campbell took a pass in the slot and slipped a backhander past DeBeauville at 19:49 to put the Pronghorns up 2-1 going into the intermission!

The second period was rolling along nicely with chances at both ends before Anna Purschke finished off a two-on-one at 10:57 to tie the game at 2-2! 2:01 after that, Piitz picked up her second goal of the game when she deflected home a Mairi Sorensen shot past Anderson on the power-play, and the Cougars led 3-2! DeBeauville took care of the final seven minutes by keeping that one-goal lead intact, and we'd head to the third period with Mount Royal leading!

Despite Lethbridge bringing all sorts of heat in the Mount Royal zone in the third period, DeBeauville was outstanding in turning aside all 14 shots she faced in the frame, including several of the spectacular variety. Without denting twine, though, the Pronghorns couldn't find the equalizer in this 3-2 Mount Royal victory! DeBeauville stopped 24 shots in the win while Anderson suffered the loss in the 23-save effort.

LETHBRIDGE at MOUNT ROYAL: The second half of the home-and-home series went in Calgary as the Cougars welcomed the Pronghorns to Flames Community Arena. Lethbridge really needed a win to keep pace with the Cougars and the Dinos while Mount Royal was looking to win five games in a row for the first time since being promoted to the U SPORTS level! The Cougars got themselves rolling when Nicolette Seper found the puck on her stick off a Reanna Arnold point shot, and Seper fired home the game's opening goal at 13:48 for the 1-0 lead! After a quick stop at the bench to catch her breath, Seper found the puck behind the net, walked out in front, and beat Jessica Lohues through the five-hole at 15:58 to make it 2-0! Lethbridge found themselves in a bit of a hole through one period of play.

Like the previous night, the Cougars and Pronghorns traded chances in the second period that tested both Lohues and Zoe DeBeauville, but it would be the Pronghorns who finally found daylight late in the frame. Alli Borrow's initial shot was stopped by DeBeauville on the power-play, but Borrow grabbed the rebound and slipped it by DeBeauville at 17:50 to make it a 2-1 game!

Once again, Zoe DeBeauville stood tall in the third period in denying all ten shots fired towards her - including one absolutely fantastic save that required the splits and possible chiropractic appointment - as she backstopped the Cougars to another one-goal win in this 2-1 victory! DeBeauville stopped 30 shots in total in the win while Lohues made 29 saves in the loss.

ALBERTA at CALGARY: Alberta was looking to move up from their fourth-place standing as they opened the weekend in Calgary against the Dinos while the home squad needed some points to try and catch Regina for fifth-place. The problem with this setup, though, is that Alberta is firing on all cylinders and they look unstoppable. Lisa Lloyd scored at 10:46 and Autumn MacDougall added a power-play goal at 14:40 in the second period, and Dayna Owen really didn't have a lot to worry about as the Pandas skated to a 2-0 victory. Owen made just eight stops in the game for her second shutout of the season while Kelsey Roberts made 29 stops in the loss.

CALGARY at ALBERTA: I'd love to say things got better as this series moved to Edmonton, but the Pandas simply are in a different class than the Dinos. Hannah Olenyk opened the scoring 48 seconds in, Autumn MacDougall made it 2-0 at 12:33, and Amy Boucher made it 3-0 at 13:24 as the Pandas were off and running as Calgary pulled Kelsey Roberts and replaced her with Kira Wasylak.

The second period went scoreless before Amy Boucher scored on the power-play at 10:34 and capped off her hat trick at 18:46 of third period as the Pandas closed out the weekend with a 5-0 victory. Kirsten Chamberlin stopped just five shots - only one through the first two periods! - for her second shutout of the season while Kelsey Roberts took the loss in her 13:24 of work while making five saves on eight shots. Wasylak, for the record, stopped 25 of 27 shots she saw on this night.

SASKATCHEWAN at MANITOBA: Sometimes as a broadcaster, you're limited in the information you get prior to games. Saskatchewan came into this game having won three-straight game while Manitoba had split with the Pandas the week before. This should have been a clash between two dangerous teams, but the Bisons came out flat and looked a step slow all night. In saying this, the Huskies opened the scoring just 2:38 into the game when Kayla Kirwan pinched in from the point as Manitoba got caught running around in their own zone, leaving the right side of the ice wide-open where Kirwan found a rebound off Danielle Nogier's shot that she chipped up and over the left shoulder of Rachel Dyck to give Saskatchewan the 1-0 lead!

It took nearly thirty minutes for the Bisons to mount any sort of sustained pressure, but Jessica Vance was in denial mode all night. She turned aside all 15 shots through two periods while Rachel Dyck surrendered just the lone goal in the opening frame. The Huskies took their 1-0 lead into the third period where the teams exchanged chances before the Huskies struck again. Alexandra Anderson turned the puck over in front of the net after she was pressured by the forecheck, and Rachel Lundberg picked up the loose puck at the top of the crease and fired home a shot inside the far post at 12:02 to make it 2-0.

It looked like this one was over, right? Manitoba's Caitlin Fyten threw a puck at the net just two minutes later, and it went off of Lauryn Keen's skate and skipped past Vance into the net at 14:41 to make it 2-1! Manitoba would continue to press for an equalizer, pulling Rachel Dyck with two minutes to play, but Emily Upgang would end all hopes of a comeback when she hit the empty net at 18:48 to give Saskatchewan the 3-1 win over the top-ranked team in the nation! Vance was outstanding as she stopped 22 shots for the win while Dyck stopped 16 shots in the loss.

As I was saying above, we're sometimes limited in the information we're given. Manitoba's apparent lack of effort on this night was due to a rampant flu bug going through their dressing room. More than half the team was affected by the flu in the days prior to the game, and most were just getting over it by Friday. Needless to say, a good night of sleep, some fluids, and some medication might be needed if Manitoba hopes to salvage a split!

SASKATCHEWAN at MANITOBA: After a big win on Friday, Saskatchewan was looking for the sweep while Manitoba needed to find a way to gain three points after dropping the contest the night before. The home squad would get on the board early. The fourth line sustained some excellent possession after losing the puck and recovering, and Caitlin Fyten's shot from the point would be stopped by Jessica Vance only to have the rebound pop out to Nicole Carswell who potted her first of the season at 2:41 for the 1-0 Manitoba lead!

Vance was excellent again on this night as she surrendered just the lone goal to Manitoba as the former third-string Manitoba netminder had an incredible weekend in the Saskatchewan nets in returning to face the team that recruited her, but she had a goaltender at the other end of the ice who was looking to improve on her own stats!

Down the Manitoba end, Lauren Taraschuk was making her first start since December 1, and she was sharp in between the pipes all night. Despite a number of good chances by the Huskies on this night, Taraschuk would allow nothing by her as she lowered her conference-leading goals-against average in the Manitoba 1-0 win! Taraschuk stopped all 26 shots she saw for her third shutout of the season while Vance stopped 19 shots in the one-goal loss.

REGINA at UBC: The Cougars came into Vancouver with two teams hot on their tails, so they needed to find points against one of the nation's best teams. UBC, on the other hand, was trying to hunt down Manitoba, so they needed points as well. On a night where UBC wore gree for Mental Health Awareness and Regina wore green as theuir standard colours, it seems that all the players saw was red. Let me just preface this game by saying that these two teams may have worn out a few pens at the scorekeeper's table in this Friday night game with the amount of time spent in the penalty box. Every goal was scored on special teams in this game, so let's get at it.

UBC opened the scoring when Hannah Clayton-Carroll took a feed from Emily Costales in the slot, and wired a shot past Jane Kish on the power-play to put UBC up 1-0 just 5:29 into the game. Costales then got one of her own on the power-play when she backhanded home a shot past Kish at 10:02 to make it 2-0 for the Thunderbirds. The Cougars wouldn't let UBC run away with this one, though, as Jaycee Magwood found a seam on Tory Micklash at 17:39 for a power-play marker to make it a 2-1 game.

The second period is when the sin bins got a solid workout, and the Birds opened up their two-goal lead again. Ta the 5:01 mark, Costales scored her second goal of the night on the power-play when she tipped home a Madison Patrick shot past Kish, and it was 3-1 for UBC.
Patrick really wanted a power-play goal of her own, so she went and got one from a nearly-impossible angle at 15:37 when she somehow beat Kish to make it 4-1 for UBC. Melissa Zerr would get one back for the Cougars in the third period while shorthanded as she was sprung on a breakaway after exiting the box, and she tucked the puck past Micklash on the deke to make it 4-2, but that's as close as the Cougars would get as UBC skated to the 4-2 victory. Micklash was solid in picking up her ninth win on the strength of 19 saves while Kish suffered the loss despite making 29 saves.

As for the pens? There were 28 penalties called on the night, leading the final boxscore to look a little off compared to what is normally seen in women's hockey.
Yes, you're seeing that correctly. That's 25 power-play opportunities on the night between the two teams. UBC's fifteen total power-plays means that they almost played half the game five-on-four or five-on-three! Would we see the same parade to the penalty box on Saturday?

REGINA at UBC: Both teams came out more focused on Saturday as UBC opted for Amelia Boughn in their net while Regina responded with Morgan Baker between their pipes. The first period saw chances at both ends, and it appeared that we'd go scoreless until a late power-play in the opening frame. A Madison Patrick shot from the point was stopped, but the rebound saw all sorts of bodies and traffic end up in front of Baker where Mathea Fischer finally found the loose puck and she went shelf on Baker with 19 seconds to play in the period for the 1-0 UBC lead!

The Cougars would find the equalizer less than six minutes into the second period when Jaycee Magwood's shot handcuffed Boughn as she knuckle-pucked the shot, and the result was a goal for the Regina forward at 5:47 to make it 1-1. The two teams played some tight-checking hockey through the middle frame, but the Thunderbirds would restore the one-goal lead with a goal midway through the period. Cassandra Vilgrain showed off her wheels and her hands when she rushed the puck from her own end up the ice, finishing the rush with a gorgeous bar-down goal at 13:37 to put the T-Birds up 2-1!

Down a goal and needing point this weekend, the Cougars came out of the room into the third period like they were on fire. The final count in the period saw Regina outshoot UBC 15-1, but would the find the goal they needed? In a word, yes! Lilla Carpenter-Boesch tossed a centering pass from below the goal line that found the stick of Emma Waldenberger, and the big Regina forward wired home a shot at 4:24 to make it 2-2! Since Boughn stopped the other fourteen shots and Baker was good on the only third period shot she saw, this game went to overtime!

The four-on-four overtime period solved nothing. The three-on-three period solved... wait a second! With 23 seconds remaining in the period, a scramble around Baker's net saw a Cougars defender close her hand on the puck while in the crease, and that means we'd get a penalty shot! Head coach Graham Thomas selected Vilgrain to take the shot, so let's go to the video!
The head fake and the move to the backhand opened up enough room on Baker's right side for Vilgrain to dent the twine, and the UBC Thunderbirds take the win in a 3-2 double-overtime win! Amelia Boughn picked up the win in a 31-save performance while Baker was saddled with the loss in a 21-save effort.

CANADA WEST WOMEN'S HOCKEY
School Record Points GF GA Streak Next
British Columbia
12-4-2-2
42 47 29
W4
@ LET
Manitoba
12-5-2-1
41 45 36
W1
vs MRU
Alberta
9-4-4-3
38 48 35
W3
@ REG
Saskatchewan
12-7-0-1
37 34 26
L1
@ CAL
Mount Royal
6-11-3-0
24 33 39
W5
@ MAN
Regina
6-10-1-3
23 32 42
L5
@ UBC
Calgary
6-12-0-2
20 17 36
L4
vs SAS
Lethbridge
3-13-2-2
15 22 35
L6
vs UBC

The Final Word

Don't look now, folks, but the Mount Royal Cougars are currently sitting in fifth-place after being at the bottom of the standings in December. Zoe DeBeauville is playing incredible hockey with three shutouts and just three goals-against over those five games, and the Cougars are playing great team defence. They're beating the teams they need to beat - Regina and Lethbridge - to get themselves back into the playoff picture, but they'll face a stiff test when they visit Manitoba next weekend.

There are some outstanding battles happening as Calgary, Regina, and Mount Royal battle for two playoff spots, Saskatchewan and Alberta clash for third- and fourth-place while looking upwards at second- and first-place, and Manitoba and UBC continue to flip-flop for the top spot in the conference. With four weeks and eight games remaining, the race for Canada West playoff spots will only tighten, making for one heckuva finish this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Just Ducky

It's hard to believe that it's been 25 years since The Mighty Ducks movie hit theaters. I guess I don't really look back on my life with respect to movie premieres, but that seems like a long time ago when I start thinking about it. The fact that there were three Mighty Ducks movies might be more indicative of just how much time has passed since those movies premiered in North America. That being said, January 27, 2018 will see the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones bring all three movies to the present day as they will wear jerseys from each movie in their game against the Fort Wayne Komets!

As you may be aware, Cincinnati used to be a Mighty Ducks town when the AHL's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks called the city home. From 1997 until 2005, the former Baltimore Bandits franchise played at the Cincinnati Gardens as the primary affiliate of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks from 1997 until 2000 when the Detroit Red Wings affiliated with the Mighty Ducks for three seasons after the Adirondack Red Wings folded. In 2003, the Red Wings moved their affiliation to the Grand Rapids Griffins, leaving Anaheim as the sole affiliate with Cincinnati until 2005. After voluntarily suspending operations and failing to reach their season ticket goal, the franchise was moved to Rockford, Illinois in 2007 where they became the Rockford IceHogs.

The history, however, is barely important when one considers the jerseys being worn in two weeks.
There are three periods in a hockey game, and three different jerseys to be worn that associate with the three Mighty Ducks movies. With the coincidence of Cincinnati once being the home of the Mighty Ducks, this game's jerseys almost seem surreal when one considers the hockey history in the city.

Nevertheless, all three jerseys were designed by Jeff Tasca, and he did a fabulous job. The first jerseys depict a skating cyclone on the original Mighty Ducks jersey when they won the state championship. When the Cyclones come out in the second period, they'll wear the Team USA jerseys the Mighty Ducks wore in the Goodwill Games in D2 with the word "Cyclones" written on the sleeve. And the third period jerseys will depict the modern Mighty Ducks jersey from D3 with a logo representing the Cyclones' secondary mascot known as Puckchop. Just so we're clear, they aren't representing the IceHogs... despite it looking like they might be. Clear as mud? Alrighty then.

Jeff's designs are outstanding with his accuracy of the jerseys and the playfulness of the logo changes. He dropped me a note about the night coming up that feature his designs, and he's doing amazing work. Full credit to him on making the Cyclones look as good as the Mighty Ducks did in their Disney movies. Athletic Knit put together the final product for the night, and the three sets of jerseys will be auctioned off following the game with proceeds going to the Cincinnati Cyclones Foundation which aims to help children in the Greater Cincinnati Area discover a love and a passion for the game of hockey.

In most cases, the final product on the ice looks better than the artwork for the jerseys does, and I have a feeling that the Mighty Ducks Cyclones will look amazing when they take the ice in each period against the Komets. The fact that those jerseys will help raise money to help ease the costs associated with playing hockey for kids in and around the Cincinnati area makes this venture worth the effort!

Now that's something for which it's worth quacking open the pocketbook!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 12 January 2018

They're Right

If you happen to listen to the broadcasts of the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team, we often have two writers from the school's student-produced newspaper, The Manitoban, on during the intermissions. I have to say that we're fortunate and lucky to have two outstanding writers in Ryan Stelter and Jason Pchajek join us regularly to discuss articles they've written about the sport, but the newspaper really has an outstanding group of individuals that turn in superb stories. One such story appeared on my Twitter feed today, and I have to say that Austin Frame's work, combined with an earlier article written by Ron Mahon who is a former Bisons men's hockey broadcaster, hit the nail on the head when it comes to the amount of overlooked talent playing in U SPORTS men's hockey.

NHL and AHL teams are always looking for good players to plug holes, fill in for injuries, and simply upgrade their levels of talent. There are draft picks, free agents, and possible undrafted NCAA players they could use to improve their teams, but the one pipeline that seems to be overlooked consistently is men's hockey at the Canadian university level. As Rob Mahon points out in his article, the AHL's Manitoba Moose have found some solid players that are making impacts at the AHL level after their U SPORTS eligibility was fulfilled. The Aalborg Pirates in Denmark's Metal Ligaen have tapped the U SPORTS pipeline to pick up some quality talent to bolster their roster. The AHL's Ontario Reign went out and signed a significant U SPORTS prospect as well.

What does all of these notes mean? Well, as Austin Frame wrote, it might be time for Hockey Canada and the professional hockey ranks to really start scouting Canada's university hockey system for high-quality talent, especially after the U SPORTS team downed the Canadian World Junior selection squad in a pair of games played prior to the tournament.

"I think a lot of the guys felt that U SPORTS gets overlooked as a whole. For lots of guys this is still a stepping stone to professional hockey and I don’t think people realize that," Saskatchewan Huskies defenceman and U SPORTS all-star captain Kendall McFaull said.

"So for us to showcase the talent against the [Canadian] world juniors and prove that this is how good U SPORTS hockey is was something really important to us and we treated it like they were big games and not just your typical all-star games."

Make no mistake that U SPORTS is not going to push the allure of the NCAA off the map. It's not designed to be that way, but is designed to fill a niche that other programs do not. If players in the Canadian Hockey League graduate out of that program, they get one year's worth of tuition for every season played in the CHL. That allows older players to return to school to gain a post-secondary education after having sacrificed years in helping their chosen teams in the CHL. It's a pretty good deal when you look at it, and one that I think more players should utilize when it comes to their futures.

In saying this, U SPORTS is seeing the level of talent rise across the country as more and more players take advantage of the tuition program. In turn, this has allowed the Canadian university hockey program to move from glorified beer league to one of the best leagues no one watches on the planet. There are now former NHL draft picks playing in all four Canadian university conferences, and the university teams have had to up their recruiting processes to try to fend off suitors from across the land when it comes to talented hockey players.

Now you may be saying that this is all nice and well for these players who probably will never play in the NHL, but let's be honest when it comes to anyone taking one of those 800-or-so NHL jobs. It just doesn't happen all that frequently, but there is greater turnover in leagues around the world.

One example of a player who was a highly-touted NHL player who came back to U SPORTS following a major injury and retirement from the NHL is Jared Aulin. Aulin, who was bartending in Calgary when he decided to give hockey one more try, joined the Calgary Dinos and parlayed that university stint into a highly successful career in Europe in Sweden and Switzerland. It's my pleasure to report that Jared signed a one-year contract extension with the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers at the age of 35. For a guy who thought his career was over, U SPORTS provided a springboard back into the game, and he has been enjoying life in Europe ever since.

The key in U SPORTS men's hockey is that most of the players are already in their mid-20s when they graduate from their respective university programs, making them more physically mature than their NCAA counterparts who graduate from their respective American universities. Getting a 23 or 24 year-old free agent who has four years of university hockey and four years of major junior hockey under his belt is something not many teams can boast, and these players are having impacts at the AHL and ECHL levels in North America and in leagues across Europe the moment they hit the ice. It's like signing a physically-mature, mid-draft selection who can score and play immediately without having to actually use a draft pick on him.

The talent in U SPORTS is there. There's a goalie who was at the Spengler Cup playing in Saskatchewan right now (with that article penned by Ryan Stelter). There are NHL draft picks scattered across the country on various teams. There are players who were highly-touted junior players that NHL teams passed over in their draft years. The talent level is deep at the U SPORTS level.

The only question to ask is why aren't you watching?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!