Tuesday, 19 February 2019

This Is The Man In Charge

If there is one thing that frustrates me to no end when interviewing someone, it's when they avoid answering the questions asked. Yes, there are occasionally some tough questions that are asked, but you often get a good sense of the person's character depending on how one answers. Bob Nicholson, CEO of the Edmonton Oilers, was on CBC radio this morning in Edmonton with Mark Connolly, and I'm not sure that this interview portrays Nicholson in a positive light after Connolly asked a few tough questions.

If you recall, Nicholson was the man who brought in both Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan to the Oilers before relieving both of them of their duties this year. Nicholson has been guiding the Oilers from a business standpoint for the last few years, and Connolly asked him about some of the struggles that the Oilers have seen in recent years.

I won't go into detail about any of Nicholson's answers, but here is the audio of Mark Connolly interviewing Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson this morning on CBC radio's Edmonton AM.
That wordsmithing and tip-toeing is what most interviewers would categorize as "avoiding to give direct answers to direct questions". It's frustrating to hear because if anyone can restore hope in Oilers Nation, the man holding the CEO's office is the last vestige of where hope may be found. I'm not sure Bob Nicholson did anything to foster hope, let alone restore it.

Kudos to CBC's Mark Connolly for not being afraid of asking the tough question or going after Bob Nicholson with those questions. Some would worry about losing a possibility of a second appearance by Nicholson, but I commend Connolly for asking the questions that a lot of Oilers fans likely have.

If this franchise is ever going to find its way back to respectability, that has to start at the top. You haven't sold me that you have any sort of plan, Bob Nicholson. That's not a good start.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 18 February 2019

Well We All Shine On

Maybe John Lennon was right. In February 1970, John Lennon released the song Instant Karma! as a single on Apple Records after spending a year in Aalborg, Denamrk - home of the Metal Ligaen's Pirates, a favorite team of this blog - where the concept of "instant karma" was discussed by Lennon, Yoko Ono, Ono's former husband Tony Cox, and Cox's girlfriend, Melinde Kendall. It's funny how that phrase - "instant karma" - seems to pop up in hockey because the young man to the left may have just handed out some instant karma last night. That young man is St. Francis Xavier X-Men forward Sam Studnicka, and he earned the Subway Player of the Game nod in Game Three of the quarterfinal series against the Acadia Axemen.

With the game tied 1-1 midway through the second period, Studnicka found a loose puck in the slot, and he spun and fired it home past Acadia netminder Logan Flodell to put the X-Men up 2-1 - a lead they would not surrender as they went on to down Acadia 4-1 on home ice and advance to the AUS Semifinals against Saint Mary's after winning this series 2-1!

After everything that this young man has been through over the last couple of weeks and after all these two teams have been through over the last two weeks, it's almost poetic justice that Sam Studnicka would score the series-clinching goal to push StFX past Acadia. In a bit of a karmic twist, that was also Studnicka's first goal of these playoffs. It's almost as if this was meant to be.

Instant karma's gonna get you.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Rundown - Quarterfinals

There were only four teams in action this week as the Canada West Quarterfinals got underway in Vancouver and Saskatoon! The Regina Cougars headed to the left coast to play the UBC Thunderbirds while the Mount Royal Cougars went east to meet the Saskatchewan Huskies in best-of-three series to determine who would move on to play either Alberta or Manitoba next weekend. Results matter this week as two teams will see their seasons end, so let's get at it on The Rundown!

Friday night's game went in favour of just one team, and it wasn't the team who travelled. Emily Costales got things going for UBC at 5:50 of the first period, and Ashley McFadden made it 2-0 on the power-play at 16:12. The second period saw Madison Patrick make it 3-0 at 2:06, Emily Moore score the fourth UBC goal at 6:59 to end Morgan Baker's night, and Hannah Clayton-Carroll made it a 5-0 game by beating Jane Kish at 10:16. Through 30 minutes of hockey, UBC simply exerted their scoring will on Regina to jump out to a commanding lead.

In a game that featured only one minor penalty through the first 40 minutes of play, UBC was able to capitalize on that advantage. The tables turned in the third period, though, when UBC was assessed two minor infractions, but the T-Birds penalty kill units did their jobs effectively. Regina had a handful of chances in this game, but UBC was relentless in their attack and forechecking pressure, often hemming the Cougars in their own zone for minutes at a time. In the end, they were too much for Regina on this night as UBC took Game One by that 5-0 score. Tory Micklash made 17 stops for the win and shutout while Morgan Baker took the loss after stopping 13 of 17 shots in 26:59 of action. For the record, Jane Kish stopped 11 of 12 shots in relief.

Highlights are below!

After seeing UBC skate up and down the ice the night before, the second game in this series between UBC and Regina had an entirely different look as these two teams filled the penalty boxes all night. However, scoring wasn't limited by the parades to the sin bin.

Adela Juzkova took an early tripping penalty that gave UBC a power-play, and they converted when Mikayla Ogrodniczuk's point shot was tipped by Mathea Fischer past Jane Kish at 2:41, and the T-Birds had the 1-0 lead. They'd double their lead five minutes later when Hannah Clayton-Carroll recovered from a fall into the boards to regain possession of the puck and find Brielle Bellerive out front who went short side on Kish for the 2-0 lead at 7:10!

Regina needed to find some offence after surrendering seven-straight goals to UBC, and they finally cracked the goose egg just past the midway point of the period. While on the power-play, Tamara McVannel's point shot would be stopped by Tory Micklash, but Emma Waldenberger was in the right place to slide the rebound home at 12:11 as Regina cut the lead to 2-1! That score would hold through to the intermission.

The second period started with another Regina penalty, and UBC would make them pay just as they did in the first period. Mathea Fischer wired a shot through a screen in front of Kish for the power-play goal and the 3-1 lead, and that would prompt the Cougars to swap Kish for Morgan Baker. Just 40 seconds after the goal and goalie change, Hannah Koroll would welcome Baker to the game by lighting the lamp behind her, and Madison Patrick would find the twine off a long point shot that found the top of the net as Baker had traffic in front, and it was 5-1 at 5:11.

From there, things kind of went off the rails for Regina as they were whistled ten minor penalties and three game misconducts in the final 35 minutes of play. UBC, for their part, also took part in the penalty celebration with a handful of checks to the head and a roughing call, but the Cougars held a significant advantage when it came to time in the box. We wouldn't see any additional goals scored, but the key stat in this game was the 13 power-plays given to UBC compared to the five given to Regina.

When the dust settled on this one, UBC swept the Cougars in two games with a 5-1 victory. Tory Micklash stopped 14 of 15 shots she faced for her second win in these playoffs while Jane Kish was assessed the loss in stopping just one of the four shots she faced in her 22:19 of work. For the record, Morgan Baker stopped 18 of 20 shots she faced in relief.

Highlights are below!

Third-seeded UBC now advances to play second-seeded Manitoba in Winnipeg next weekend.

The series in Saskatoon showed all sorts of intrigue as these two teams had split the season series 2-2, and Mount Royal held a 14-12 advantage in goals through the four regular season games. Could Mount Royal win their first-ever Canada West playoff game? Could they do the unthinkable and upset the Canada West finalist from a year ago?

Unfortunately, the answers to both questions on Friday was no. Saskatchewan got goals from Morgan Willoughby at 7:12 in the first period, three second period goals that included a power-play goal from Nicole Fry at 7:33, an Emily Upgang marker at 9:15, and a power-play goal from Kayla Kirwan at 13:01, and a third period power-play goal from Bailee Bourassa at 13:57 to skate to the 5-0 win.

Saksatchewan's speed and skill was on display all night as they limited the Cougars to just six shots per period with very few being of the high-danger variety. In the end, Jessica Vance made all 18 saves for the win and shutout while Zoe De Beauville was credited with the loss as she stopped 17 of 21 shots in her 33:02 of work. Emma Pincott relieved De Beauville midway through the second, and she was good on 10 of 11 shots in her 26:58 of action.

Obligatory Huskies GIF? How about Nicole Fry on her first-career Canada West goal!

Game Two on Saturday was a do-or-die for the Mount Royal Cougars as a loss would send them home for another summer while a win would not only extend the series, but be historic in its own right as their first playoff win in Canada West. After being shutout and dominated for long stretches the night before, the pressure was on as the Huskies looked for the sweep!

Whatever head coach Scott Rivett said to his team prior to Game Two, the message was received as the Cougars looked like an entirely different team on this night. They stifled Saskatchewan breakouts and were quick on pucks in the neutral zone as they suffocated the home squad while playing with the last change. Anna Purschke would use the strong defence to pick up a puck in the neutral zone, get a step on a defender, and fire one that went under the bar past Jessica Vance on the glove-side that seemed to surprise the netminder to put the Cougars up 1-0 at 13:22! I might add that Purschke's shot was the first that Vance had seen in the game, so she may have been a little cold on that rocket from Purschke, but it counts all the same!

That same suffocating defensive approach by the Cougars was employed in the second period, but Saksatchewan did have a couple of good chances. However, the goaltending of Zoe De Beauville was solid as she bounced back from her outing one night before where she was pulled in the second period. Through two periods of play, Mount Royal held the 1-0 lead, but found themselves being outshot badly in a 16-7 ratio.

Early in the third period, Daria O'Neill hit Tianna Ko with a pass behind the net, and Ko spotted Breanne Trotter out front where she one-timed the feed from Ko past Vance to put the Cougars up 2-0 at 3:39! The Huskies began taking a few more chances offensively as they trailed by two goals, and they found chances only to be denied entirely by De Beauville. Late in the game, the Cougars would ice the game when O'Neill's blast on the power-play from the point was tipped in front by Jayden Thorpe and past Vance at 18:24, and that would be all Mount Royal needed for their first-ever playoff win and, more importantly, a 3-0 win to even the series at 1-1! Zoe De Beauville stopped all 19 shots she faced for her first-career playoff win and her first-career playoff shutout while Jessica Vance was on the losing end of a nine-save performance.

Here are your highlights!

Who's ready for a little Sunday evening hockey? If you had said either the Mount Royal Cougars or the Saskatchewan Huskies, you'd be right because this series ended in a way only these two evenly-matched teams could play. Hold on for this one, folks - it was an incredible night of puck!

The first period was all about limiting chances as neither side allowed many chances. Both Zoe De Beauville and Jessica Vance stood their ground in keeping the opposition off the board. Mount Royal was called for a penalty, but they would kill that off. At the end of 20 minutes, it was still 0-0 with Saskatchewan leading in shots 8-5.

Early in the second period, the Huskies found the back of the net after controlling the puck in the Mount Royal zone for some time. Emily Upgang and Brooklyn Haubrich won a puck battle in behind the Cougars' net, sending the puck into the slot where Bailee Bourassa wired it home past De Beauville for the 1-0 Huskies lead at 1:53! The rest of the period was played more like the first period as both teams clamped down in the defensive zone, and after 40 minutes the Huskies held the 1-0 lead and a 17-11 edge in shots.

Saskatchewan came out and looked to double their lead as they pressed, but Mount Royal continued to repel the opportunities. After killing off a penalty, the Cougars went to the power-play when Saskatchewan's Jordyn Holmes was called for hooking. The momentum built off the penalty kill carried over as the Cougars moved the puck well. The Huskies penalty had just expired when Tatum Amy's wrist shot from the point found a path through traffic and past Vance into the back of the net at 17:01 to tie the game at 1-1!

When the final horn sounded, the game remained deadlocked at 1-1, so it was time for the most exciting hockey of the season as Game Three went to overtime with the next goal guaranteeing advancement!

The first overtime period saw Saskatchewan dominate the ten-minute period as they outshot Mount Royal 7-1, but there would be no goals scored. We'd move to the 20-minute double-overtime period where Saskatchewan continued to pepper Mount Royal with shots, outshooting the Cougars 13-3 in this period, but the Cougars would not allow the Huskies to score. The third overtime period saw more Saskatchewan pressure as they outshot Mount Royal 34-10 in the free hockey, but it would be the 34th shot in overtime and 60th of the night for the Huskies that was the difference!
Shyan Elias forced the turnover in the Mount Royal zone, and her pass found Rachel Lundberg who one-timed the puck past Zoe De Beauville with 10.7 seconds to play in the game for the 2-1 triple-overtime victory! Saskatchewan wins 2-1 in the game and 2-1 in the series! Jessica Vance stopped 24 shots in 109:50 of work for the victory while Zoe De Beauville made 58 stops in the triple-overtime loss.

Fourth-seeded Saskatchewan now advances to play first-seeded Alberta in Edmonton next weekend.

While technically not standings, here are your Canada West Semifinal series with game times for each game shown.
While I can't speak for Alberta's coverage of their series, I can tell you that the Manitoba-UBC series will be broadcast live and for free on 101.5 UMFM and on UMFM.com. Pre-game show will start 30 minutes before puck drop, so tune in for free via the radio or internet stream for all the action!

The Last Word

There isn't a lot to report on in the first five games of the Canada West playoffs, but there some stats that stick out for the two teams that advanced.

First, the Saskatchewan power-play was 3/10 against Mount Royal, accounting for 3/7 goals scored in the series. UBC's power-play was 3/14 in their series against Regina, accounting for 3/10 goals scored in the series. Both teams used strong power-plays to help them advance, and both Alberta and Manitoba will need to be cognizant of this as they open their series.

On the flip side, Saskatchewan killed 4/5 penalties against Mount Royal, so Alberta will need to work hard in both forcing the Huskies to take penalties and then on the power-play where the Saskatchewan penalty killers are doing their parts. UBC's penalty killers were successful on 6/7 penalties they took, so Manitoba's power-play will have to be at the top of its game in order to win the special teams battle.

I expect some close games as Saskatchewan was 1-3-0 against Alberta, but was outscored just 6-2 in the four games. Saskatchewan is 1-7-0-0 in the last five seasons at Clare Drake Arena, so Alberta's dominance at home is well-documented. However, Alberta was just 1/15 on the power-play against Saskatchewan this season, so it will likely be five-on-five play that determined who wins this series. Alberta has outshot their opponents in 27 of 28 games this season, going 23-4-0 in those games so Saskatchewan will either need to weather that storm and look for opportunities or they'll need to bring every ounce of offence they have in their bag of tricks for every minute of play as Alberta did lose the one game where they were outshot this season. On the road, Saskatchewan was just 6-7-0-1 this season while Alberta posted the best record in the conference at home with a 13-1-0-0 while surrendering just seven goals in those 14 games.

UBC went 2-0-2 in their games against Manitoba this season, and both teams scored nine goals against each other. These two teams might be the most evenly-matched squads in the playoffs with Manitoba holding a slight 4-3-0-1 edge over UBC at home in the regular season over the last five seasons. The key difference in this series is that Manitoba was 0/11 on the power-play against UBC this season while UBC was good on 4/13 power-play opportunities against the Bisons. If Manitoba gets into penalty trouble, that could be the break that the Thunderbirds can use to win the series. UBC was 9-2-2-1 on the road this season where they surrendered just 19 goals while Manitoba was 10-1-2-1 on Wayne Fleming Arena ice this season while scoring a conference-high 45 goals at home.

Canada West playoff hockey continues next weekend so catch the action!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 16 February 2019

TBC: Grant Fuhr

Thanks to my cat waking me up this morning at a rather ridiculous hour, I had some extra hands on my time today and I was determined to put it to good use. As I sipped a warm cup of coffee with her purring silently as she slept beside me, I finished off some reading that I has started before this busy February began. Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend, written by Grant Fuhr and Bruce Dowbiggin and published by Vintage Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. I thought I knew about Grant Fuhr before reading this, but I now feel that I have a better understanding of who Grant Fuhr is, why he was a good as he was, and what caused his career to be seemingly shorter than it should have been.

From the biography on the Penguin Random House website, "Grant Fuhr was the Hall of Fame goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers, and the first black superstar in the National Hockey League. He is now a role model and fundraiser for charity, inspiring young goalies around the world. Fuhr plays golf at the professional level on the pro Stars Tour, starring with ex-professional athletes who benefit charities by their activities." I'm not sure why they didn't include that he is a five-time Stanley Cup winner, a Vezina Trophy winner, a Canada Cup winner, and played 19 NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres, the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues, and the Calgary Flames.

Also from the Penguin Random House website, "Bruce Dowbiggin has covered hockey for the CBC (where he won two Gemini awards as Canada's top sportscaster), the Calgary Herald, and The Globe and Mail, and is the author of several bestselling hockey books. He lives in Calgary, Alberta." He has written The Meaning of Puck which was reviewed here on HBIC along with Money Players which continually appears on my list of books I want to read. He was also part of CBC's team for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Games and was part of radio coverage for the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games.

I thought I knew about Grant Fuhr's career before picking up Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend. Yes, he was part of the Oilers dynasty that won five Stanley Cups. Yes, he won a Vezina Trophy. Yes, he was traded a few times before landing in St. Louis where it seemed like Mike Keenan discovered a fountain of youth that let Fuhr play every game for the Blues. I knew he finished his career with the Flames, but I had no idea about everything else that went on behind the scenes in Fuhr's career that made him the man he is today.

Fuhr grew up as an adopted child to parents who were Caucasian in Spruce Grove, Alberta along with his sister, Debbie. He was a solid baseball player, but the sport of hockey drew him in at the tender age of seven when he proclaimed to his parents that he was going to be a goaltender in the NHL. Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower were his idols thanks to Hockey Night in Canada, and Grant's athletic abilities as a child combined with emulating his idols made him the talk of the town in Spruce Grove as a young goalie.

As he got older, more and more people began talking about Grant Fuhr's skill between the pipes. It attracted a man named Kenny Larue, a scout of the WHL's Victoria Cougars, who noticed his lightning-quick glove hand and his athleticism. By age 17, Fuhr had dropped out of school as he was a full-time member of the Cougars! To reinforce his decision to stick with hockey, Fuhr won the WHL's Rookie of the Year award in 1979-80, and that put him in the talk of a possible NHL job!

The eighth-overall pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft belonged to the Oilers, and despite having names like James Patrick, Al MacInnis, and Tony Tanti still on the board, GM Glen Sather opted for Grant Fuhr which surprised many after Andy Moog had seemingly claimed the starting goalie position in Edmonton. Nevertheless, Fuhr joined the Oilers, platooned with Moog, and the Oilers had the two men who would backstop them to a decade of greatness in the 1980s.

Along the way, Grant faced the usual hockey problems like hot streaks and cold streaks, bad play, mental hurdles to overcome, and more, but there were some significant challenges he faced as well. Racism was more prevalent when the Oilers traveled to the US, and Fuhr learned to deal with the hurtful comments some would make. He wasn't great with money as a young NHLer, and that dealt him some difficulties. He had kids, he went through divorces, there were contract disputes, and he endured trades that saw him move or friends and teammates move. But perhaps the biggest challenge he faced was his admission of using cocaine and his suspension from the NHL from it due to the negative publicity that came with it. Fuhr, however, endured all of this and came out stronger.

One of these problems was a contract dispute that Fuhr was having the Glen Sather while in Edmonton. For those hockey fans who never want to see ads on jerseys, it seems that agent Ritch Winter had a rather unique idea to get his client a few additional dollars per season in 1989-90.
As a means of expanding Grant's income, Winter had come up with a novel plan to have Grant wear the Pepsi-Cola logo on his goal pads in 1989-90. It was a creative idea, but one that faced a huge roadblock. The NHL did not allow (and still does not allow) individual players to promote products on their uniforms. Winter felt that if the Oilers could not afford to pay Grant his market value, they should at least fight to have an exemption made that would allow Fuhr to make up the difference.
Details like this are littered throughout Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend, and it was enlightening to read through some of the stuff that may be lesser known about the Hall of Fame goaltender. The book itself is split into ten chapters that highlight the ten most important games in his career, so it's easy to work through the 198 pages by chapter if you need to put the book down. What makes this book better is that throughout each chapter, there are comments from Fuhr about the topics discussed that provide even greater insight about the topics.

Overall, I found Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend to be an enjoyable read. It wasn't filled with statistics or long-winded, complicated explanations of complex goaltending tactics, but rather it was the story of a boy from Spurce Grove who made mistakes, found success, and ultimately was recognized for his efforts at the professional level of hockey. Readers will learn that Grant Fuhr is a lot like anyone else in that he has flaws, has passions, and is trying to figure out life, only he played pro hockey while doing all of that. Because of this refreshing read about one of the game's best, it's easy to make Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend a recipient of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend can be found at most libraries and bookstores. It's a pretty tame read when it comes to language, but there is a chapter about Fuhr's admission of his drug use. While I wouldn't say this book is good for kids, teens and older should find Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend to be a good read!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Season Of The Goalie Goal

There may not be as many people that know of the GOJHL - the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League - as much as they know the NCAA, the KHL, the AHL, the WHL, or the USHL, but all six of these leagues have something in common aside from being developmental leagues for higher-level hockey. I guess the KHL isn't truly a developmental league in the truest sense of the word, but you get what I mean. In any case, the GOJHL might have seen one of the strangest scenes in hockey tonight, and the end result was another goal for a goaltender.

In a game tonight against the Komoka Kings, the Kings did a rather unusual thing - they pulled their goalie in double-overtime! In looking at the standings, Kokoma is sitting in sixth-place with a playoff spot already guaranteed, and they were looking to make up ground on fifth-place LaSalle late in the season for a better playoff match-up. With nothing to lose, the coaches of Kokoma decided to go for broke by playing the 3-on-3 overtime period without a netminder to try and get an advantage.

It should be noted that in the GOJHL, there is no shootout at the end of overtime. Rather, if the two teams are tied through the 3-on-3 overtime period, both teams end the game with a point. Kokoma is running out of track when it comes to games remaining, so they gambled. And they lost both the gamble and the game.

Why is this news? With the game tied 0-0 in the second overtime period and with Kokoma running four players out there, Sarnia-born goaltender Anthony Hurtubise did the unthinkable.
Hurtubise had the presence of mind to make the glove save, drop it to his stick with traffic incoming, and loft it down the ice into the yawning cage with 1:13 left in double-overtime for the game-winning goal! On top of that, he also records the 27-save shutout of Kokoma as the netminder had himself the best night that any goalie likely could have statistically!

That's the sixth goal captured on video this year by a goaltender as Hurtubise joins Tristan Jarry of the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who scored on November 14, Ian Scott of the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders who scored on November 16, Atte Tolvanen of the NCAA's Northern Michigan University Wildcats who scored on December 7, and Roman Durny of the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers who scored on December 18, and Jon Ortio of the KHL's Vityaz Moscow who netted his own empty-netter on January 30.

If NHL teams are looking for unlikely offence as they near the trade deadline, they want to look for that offence from their own crease with how often goalies are scoring this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!