Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Hockey Show - Episode 365

The Hockey Show, Canada' only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight with the first show of Season Eight! It's hard to believe that Beans and I have been doing this weekly program for eight years already, but we're kicking off this new season with another set of interviews as we meet some of the players that were recruited by the Bisons women's hockey team for this season! While there won't be any cake, there definitely will be some snacks for the ladies who join us, so let's check out which players are part of Episode One in Season Eight!

These four ladies are the first to commit to The Hockey Show's annual "Meet the Kids" series we do, and Beans and I are proud to welcome - from left to right in the image - forward Samantha Sichkaruk, defender Camryn Gillis, forward Polina Goncharova, and defender Camille Enns to the show! We'll get the skinny on the careers thus far that these young women have built, hearing about growing up in Regina, Winnipeg, Moscow, and Linden, respectively, and we'll ask them all sorts of goofy, fun questions to bring out a little personality from each of them. The ladies returned from a road trip with the Bisons this past weekend as well, so we'll get their thoughts on how camp is going, how the weekend games went against Mount Royal and Calgary, and what it means to them to wear the brown-and-gold! Join us tonight as we meet the kids at 5:30pm CT!

How do you join us, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, but we highly recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or perhaps another browser. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

Having lost faith in Facebook, I spend far less time on that site for good reasons. In saying that, you can still 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! We're here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Beans chat with Bisons women's hockey rookies Samantha Sichkaruk, Camryn Gillis, Polina Goncharova, and Camille Enns about coming to Winnipeg, playing in Winnipeg, figuring out the campus, figuring out university hockey, 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: September 19, 2019: Episode 365

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

A Big Piece Of The Whale?

The city of Hartford hasn't had an NHL team for more than two decades, but the legacy of the Hartford Whalers lives on thanks to merchandising and, apparently, Tom Dundon's appreciation for the history of his franchise. It's always a little touching when someone finds a piece of the Whalers' history, and it seemed like a rather large dose of nostalgia fell upon a Hartford junk yard this week when the zamboni to the upper-left was sold a couple of weeks ago to scrapping business.

According to Corey Pollnow of WFSB Channel 3 in Hartford, "[t]wo Saturdays ago, a vintage Zamboni with a Whalers logo on the side was sold to a scrap metal yard in the north end of Hartford." That scrap yard is City Auto Parts on Fishfry Street, and that's where this mystery of the Whalers zamboni begins.
It seems the mystery doesn't yet have an ending, and the actual zamboni that the Whalers used is a different machine than the one currently sitting at City Auto Parts. Regardless, this is still a cool find, and I'm hopeful that it has a happy ending. Maybe Brian Ruben will get a chance to restore it yet?

Any artifact that keeps the Whalers alive in the city of Hartford is something that should be preserved. Hopefully, someone will find a way to purchase the zamboni and get it looking like new. It's a fun little story, even if the zamboni was never on the Civic Arena's surface.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Does EA Sports Use A Formula?

If there is one hotly-anticipated game that's released each year, it has to be EA Sports' NHL game. While NFL fans usually salivate over the latest Madden entry, the NHL games have been among the top-selling games each and every year. It's fun to see the hot rookies introduced into the game, and the new features always seem to grab the attention of gamers. However, I always struggled to understand how EA Sports came up with their player ratings each year because it seems like they kind of make it up rather than having some hard-and-fast formula on which they rely.

I might be entirely wrong, and I assume I am, but how does EA Sports differentiate a player rated 100 overall compared to a player rated 98 or 99 overall? How do they determine year from year what player ratings should be if they aren't factoring in real, measurable stats from the previous season? What is the formula they are using to determine these ratings?

I wanted to know this answer after seeing the work done on Hockey-Graphs regarding player ratings from NHL '93 to NHL 2005. As seen on the image below, Hockey-Graphs did a comparison of ratings given in 1993 versus the ratings that EA Sports handed out in 2005, and there's a pretty clear distinction between the two games.
As you can see, the distribution of ratings in NHL '93 was much more even in terms of the entire collection of players whereas NHL 2005 seems to have a very large amount (half of all players) rated between 71-80. In fact, if you look at the graph on the site linked above, there's no player rated 40 or lower in any NHL game after NHL '96.

Is EA Sports artificially boosting player ratings? Possibly. Some of that, as Hockey-Graphs also hypothesizes, is likely due to the NHLPA agreeing to have its players represented in the game. It's very likely that none of the players appreciated being rated particularly low, so I imagine that EA Sports cut a deal with the NHLPA to have most players rated 70 or better. It's easier to keep everyone happy that way.

It's here, however, where we start to see some of the cracks in this deal as there are no fewer than four players in NHL '98 rated 100 - Dominik Hasek, Sergei Fedorov, Eric Lindros, and Jaromir Jagr - while there were no fewer than three players rated 99 overall - Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, and Pavel Bure.

Hasek won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 1997, so it's understandable to see why he'd be rated as the best goaltender in the game. Jagr finished sixth-overall in scoring, Lindros was 23rd-overall in scoring despite playing just 52 games, and Fedorov was 43rd-overall in scoring behind snipers such as Travis Green, Andrew Cassels, and Josef Stumpel.

Personally, it's hard to rank a guy like Fedorov in NHL '98 as a 100 overall if he's third on his team in scoring, some 22 points behind second-place and 24 points behind the leader. It's even harder to stomach when the guy who was second in scoring on the Red Wings - Steve Yzerman - was rated as a 76 in NHL '98. Yes, Fedorov did lead the Red Wings in scoring in the playoffs, but it's not like Yzerman fell off the map in helping the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 1997. How did EA Sports come to these player ratings?

To give you an idea how much the needle moved with regards to artificially improving player ratings, consider the plight of goaltender Bob Essensa. Essensa was mostly a journeyman goaltender who found success in Winnipeg before being discarded by the Red Wings following a trade. He bounced around as a backup netminder for a number of years, finding NHL work with Edmonton, Phoenix, Vancouver, and Buffalo.

In NHL '95, Essensa was a 51 overall with the Winnipeg Jets. In NHL '96 and NHL '97, he didn't even make the game before resurfacing in Edmonton in NHL '98 as a 58 overall. He followed that up in NHL '99 with a 56 overall before jumping up to 75 overall in NHL 2000. How on earth did Essensa make a 19-point overall improvement on his rating as a backup netminder with the Oilers?

Here are those three seasons of stats compiled by Bob Essensa.
In 1997-98, Essensa actually posted better overall numbers as he went 6-6-1 with a 2.55 GAA and a .913 save percentage which EA Sports determined would lead to a 56 overall rating, two points worse than one season earlier! And in 1998-99, Essensa went 12-14-6 with a 2.75 GAA and a .901 save percentage, but was rated a 75 in NHL 2000?!? Clearly, something is way off with Essensa's rating in 2000, but maybe it was just a one-off?

The issue with this is that it wasn't a one-off. Essensa's overall player ratings from 2001 until 2003 were 72, 76, and 70, respectively. Essensa's final rating of 70 was based on a season in which he went 0-5-0 in nine games for Buffalo while posting a 2.91 GAA and an .850 save percentage! How is he rated 70 for that season, but a 56 in NHL '99 when he statistically was superior in every category?

It seems that trophy winners received significant bumps in their ratings. After winning the Hart Trophy in 1994, Sergei Fedorov's rating jumped from 84 in NHL' 94 to 99 in NHL '95. After winning the Hart Trophy in 1994-95, Eric Lindros jumped from an 84 overall rating in NHL '95 to a 100 rating in NHL '96. Mario Lemieux was rated as a 100 overall in NHL '94 after winning the Art Ross Trophy in 1993. Jaromir Jagr went from an 87 in NHL '95 to a 97 in NHL '96 after capturing the scoring title.

Ironically, Nicklas Lidstrom won his first Norris Trophy in 2000-01 and the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP for the playoffs, and saw his player rating go from a 94 in NHL 2001 to an 84 in NHL 2002, the lowest he was rated by EA Sports since NHL '97. It seems, as far as I can tell, that his drop of two points in scoring between 1999-2000 when he posted 73 points and the 71 points he scored in 2000-01 was the impetus for the drop in his player rating of ten points. Yet when he scored just 59 points in 2001-02 and won his second Norris Trophy as the league's bets defender, Lidstrom received a 98 overall rating in NHL 2003.

Simply baffling.

So what does it all mean? It's very likely that EA Sports is simply another marketing tool for the NHL and the NHLPA. Players are given favorable ratings thanks to the number of players who play video games in today's NHL, and having half the NHL rated 71-80 as Hockey-Graphs showed means that there are very few players who fall into the "not very good" category that early NHL games had with their player ratings.

Of course, I could be wrong and perhaps there is some algorithm or advanced mathematical formula that gives EA Sports precise player ratings based on the individual skills and abilities that are rated for each player. If EA Sports does indeed have this formula, I could see them wanting to ensure it remains under lock and key so that others can't replicate their advanced math and build a player rating system of one's own.

In seeing the artificially-boosted player ratings as shown in the Hockey-Graphs images, I thought of a key line from The Incredibles uttered by Syndrome as he planned to market his technology as a "superpower" so everyone could be a superhero. He said,
While parity may be real in the NHL today, it shouldn't be among player ratings in the NHL series. The is simply no way that a 59-point season for Jeremy Roenick is the same as a 79-point season for Alexander Mogilny, yet both were rated as a 90 overall in NHL 2004 after posting those point totals in 2002-03. Frankly, that's just downright ridiculous.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 16 September 2019

Maybe Try Sportsmanship?

If there was one thing that I went to the penalty box for more than anything else in my playing days as a defenceman, it was when someone touched my goaltender. It's an unwritten rule that goalies are off-limits when it comes to bodychecks - intentional or not - and there's often a price to pay for those who decide to ignore that rule and bump the goalie. Or worse. On Saturday night, there was a clear instance of "worse" in a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game between the visiting Yorkton Terriers and the Melville Millionaires. This play didn't tip-toe around the line. It was flat-out intentional with what appeared to be an aim to kill.

With ten minutes to play in the third period and the Millionaires leading 5-1 over the Terriers, the Terriers' Greg Mulhall chipped the puck past the Millionaires defenders while shorthanded and raced up the ice hoping to corral the loose puck. With no defenders standing between the net and Mulhall, Millioanires netminder Berk Berkeliev came out to try and clear the puck away before Mulhall could get there. What happened next is entirely abhorrent and disgusting.
Watch the clip again and notice that Mulhall doens't slow up, leans into the check, uses his arms to deliver the full blow, and Berkeliev's helmet go flying off towards his net. Ladies and gentlemen, that is one of the most brutal checks I've ever seen thrown not just at a goaltender, but by any player on another player. Needless to say, Berkeliev was hurt on the play, and it seems that one of the Millionaires tried to pummel Mulhall before the pile of players who followed landed on top of Mulhall and the Millionaires defender.

Mulhall, for what it's worth, received a game misconduct for what the officials deemed as intent to injure.

After Berkeliev spent the night at the hospital, details about his injuries were revealed today. According to Millionaires head coach and general manager Kyle Adams who spoke to CBC, "Berkeliev was knocked out and suffered a concussion, a cut in his upper lip that required eight to 10 stitches, another cut on the back of his head that required five stitches and some missing teeth". Adams added that he was released from hospital on Sunday morning, but was to head back to the hospital today "to undergo a CT scan of his brain Monday because of the concussion symptoms."

"You know, it was one of the dirtiest plays in hockey I've ever seen in all my years of playing and coaching," Adams told Kelly Provost of the CBC. I'd have a hard time finding any disagreement with that statement when you consider the damage that Mulhall did to Berkeliev with that hit. As stated above, goalies are off-limits for even incidental contact, so throwing a check like Mulhall did should warrant a considerable vacation from the game of hockey, if not more.

Today, the SJHL Discipline Committee did rule on the hit, and Mulhall was handed the longest suspension in recent SJHL history as he was given a 25-game suspension. According to SJHL President Bill Chow, one of the three people on the Discipline Committee, it was decided that Mulhall's hit wasn't a hockey play, prompting the long length of the suspension which should deter others from committing these reckless acts of violence.

"He made no intention to play the puck," Chow said to Provost. "He went strictly to play the body. And you got a goalie that's in a vulnerable position."

As per the CBC report, "Adams said he was satisfied with the 25-game suspension, but was hoping it was going to be even longer."

"To me, that was the minimum that he should have got," Adams said. "So I am pleased that this league did step forward and put a harsh suspension on the player."

What perhaps needs to be said here that wasn't said in the CBC story was that this game was already on the verge of chaos based on the penalties that were being handed out. Melville recorded 18 minutes in penalties, including a ten minute misconduct, while Yorkton committed six minor penalties in the opening period alone. The second period saw Melville take 14 more minutes, including a second ten-minute misconduct while Yorkton add 26 minutes in penalties that featured two ten-minute misconducts, one of which was assessed to Mulhall after he was called for roughing late in the period. And in the ten minutes leading up to the brutal check by Mulhall, Melville added 34 more minutes by way of two ten-minute misconducts and a game misconduct while Yorkton added another 19 minutes via a fight and a game misconduct.

In total, Melville committed 23 penalties for 143 minutes in penalties while Yorkton recorded 86 minutes in penalties on 20 infractions. Clearly, the officials were struggling to keep some kind of order in this game based on how these two teams were going at one another. I'd fault both coaches on that, so we need to be a little mindful of who is innocent here when looking at the big picture. There's no doubt that goaltender the hit that goaltender Berk Berkeliev is a clear match penalty, but it seems the rough stuff that had been happening all throughout the game may have been a prelude to this event. Again, that falls on the coaches to rein in their players so that we never get to a point where a player decides to throw a hit like one that Mulhall threw on Berkeliev.

Regardless of all this, I just hope that Berkeliev gets out of this with his senses intact and he can return to the game. Mulhall will have lots of time to reflect on his poor life choices while he awaits the 25 games to elapse if he's still on Yorkton's roster at that time. Kudos to the SJHL and President Bill Chow and the Discipline Committee for throwing the book at Mulhall for his poor decision that will cost Berkeliev a pile of time in his recovery from this brainless hit.

Actions have consequences, folks, and this suspension is a consequence that carries a heavy message.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Championship Post

I've been busy with slo-pitch playoffs all weekend as the team I play on is in the midst of trying to win a championship. While Friday's games were rained out, the sun was out yesterday and today, and I have the sunburn to prove it. That being said, the Castaways were working towards a perfect round-robin record with the hopes of gaining a berth in the final. According to some of the veterans on the team, the last time the Castaways won was ten years ago! Needless to say, there was some push to try and erase that drought without a celebration, and the team came ready to play yesterday. Would we see the same effort today?

Because of the rain on Friday, all teams that were scheduled to play against one another were given a tie. The team that we were supposed to play against likely was the best of the teams we were to face all weekend, so there was some disappointment in not measuring ourselves against what could be a finalist. However, the defensive effort on Saturday morning was rather impressive, and a rally in the latter stages of the afternoon game against a second team that had its heart set on being on the final pushed the Castaways to a 2-0-1 record through Saturday.

I can officially say the Castaways went 4-0-1 through the round-robin with two more convincing wins on Sunday. That effort earned us a berth in the final against the 3-0-2 opponent who we should have faced on Friday night. The Castaways hit well all weekend, but, more importantly, they used the "defence wins championships" mantra throughout the four round-robin games to advance to the final. Could that effort last for one more game?

For the first time in league history, the final ended with a shutout as the Castaways defeated their opponents by a 12-0 score! The drought is over, there were adult beverages consumed, and the trophy was hoisted by all the Castaways who can officially call themselves champions!

I'm not going to lie - I'm sore, I'm tired, I'm sunburned, and it's taken me considerable effort just to write this. But we won. And that's a pretty good trade-off for the muscle pain and exhaustion right now. With that, I'm calling it a day. I'll write something hockey-related tomorrow. Tonight, I'm basking in our victory and not apologizing for it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!