Saturday, 11 July 2020

More Opt Out

With the new NHL-NHLPA deal to restart this season, NHL players have until Monday at 11:59pm ET to decide whether or not they'll take part in the NHL playoffs when the games resume in August. We've already seen Calgary's Travis Hamonic opt out for a very good reason, and now three more players have informed their clubs that they won't be participating either as Edmonton's Mike Green, Boston's Steve Kampfer, Dallas' Roman Polak, Pittsburgh's Zach Trotman, Montreal's Karl Alzner, and Vancouver's Sven Baertschi have all confirmed they won't be attending the hub cities as well.

Mike Green cited family reasons for his decision in the same manner that Hamonic did.

"Due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and after much consideration, I've decided for deeply personal family health reasons, not to participate in the return to play," Green said in a statement. "This has been a hard decision knowing I’m going to miss the opportunity to compete in the playoffs with a Stanley Cup contender. I wish the best of luck to the guys and I appreciate the Edmonton Oilers support."

Mike and his wife, Courtney, have four year-old Axel, their son, and seven month-old Luca, their daughter, at home, and I imagine that neither of Mike or Courtney want to risk not only their own health, but the health of their children in any way to this virus. Again, I fully respect any player who puts the health and wellness of their family ahead of the personal gain in winning a Stanley Cup, so Mike Green has my full support in his decision. Well done, Mike.

Roman Polak's decision not to rejoin the Dallas Stars has been known for a while now as he announced back in June that he had no desire to return to the NHL when it decided to start up again. He made that official today by informing the Dallas Stars that he's not coming back.

Polak's time in the NHL may be done entirely after this as the big defender signed a three-year deal with HC Vitkovice in the Czech Extraliga in June, and his contract with the Stars will end once the 2019-20 season has concluded. The 34 year-old former Blues, Leafs, Sharks, and Stars defenceman has 26 goals and 114 assists in 806 NHL contests.

"I am already determined to stay at home," Polak told Pavel Barta of sport.cz in June. "If I really had to finish the NHL, I would go. But I will do everything to make it unnecessary. I will definitely be here next season."

Sven Baertschi's opting out might be more of a case of circumstances as the Swiss-born forward had asked for a trade out of Vancouver prior to the shutdown after having spent most of this season with the AHL's Utica Comets. While Baertschi cited family reasons as the reason for his decision, one would have to think that Baertschi would opt to spend time with his family as opposed to being a black ace for the Canucks while sequestered inside his hotel room.

"Sven informed us late yesterday that he has chosen to opt out of the NHL return to play program," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "It was a difficult decision but ultimately one we respect and understand."

Baertschi had been skating with the Canucks in Vancouver as part of the Phase 2 plan, but it seems that he opted for family time over pressbox time with his decision after being one of three extra skaters that the Canucks invited to camp to begin preparations for the restart. I don't fault Baertschi for prioritizing his family over pressbox popcorn at all.

Steven Kampfer made the decision to not rejoin the Bruins in this year's restart after assessing his family's health and the risk that contracting the virus may put on them. Tara, his wife, and their son both have congenital heart defects, as Steven revealed, and his decision was a direct result of how the virus may affect them if he were to contract it.

Steven wrote via Twitter,
"After speaking with my wife, family and my agent I have decided that I am opting out of their return to play. This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. My wife and son have a congenital heart defect which can cause complications with COVID-19. We have taken this very seriously. Family will always be my priority."
Like Hamonic, this decision should never be questioned. While it was expected that Kampfer might play a larger role for the Bruins in the playoffs, his choice to put family ahead of the game is why he'll always have my respect. Well done, Steve.

Zach Trotman informed the Pittsburgh Penguins he won't be playing in Toronto after he opted out of the restart. Trotman suffers from asthma, so this seems like a very well-informed decision. It should also be noted that Trotman's wife is expecting their first baby, so Trotman likely wants to be there for that moment as well. Either way, this decision by Trotman seems like a very family-oriented decision based on that knowledge.

"We don't get into injuries but it's something that he's trying to work through that could flare when we get into the 'bubble,'" Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said during a conference call with local reporters on Saturday. "And we didn't want to take that chance."

It seems weird that a basic injury could "flare" when in the bubble after Trotman has been skating in Pittsburgh already, so it sounds like it might be more of a precautionary measure that Trotman is taking. Again, I have no issue with players looking after themselves or their families when it comes to health and safety so this seems like the right preventative move if that's the underlying reason for keeping Trotman off the postseason roster.

In saying that, it also sounds like Rutherford will skip the trip to Toronto as the 71 year-old is in that "high-risk" category for the virus. This also seems like the right move, although there's less need for NHL general managers to be in any building at this point in the season. Good on Rutherford for looking out for his health on this one, though.

The last player who has opted out thus far is Montreal Canadiens defenceman Karl Alzner. The Canadiens didn't provide a reason for Alzner's decision, but I suspect that playing with the AHL's Laval Rocket for the majority of this season would have something to do with it. Alzner likely would have sat in the pressbox for the Canadiens, so it sounds like the 31 year-old defender opted for family time over pressbox popcorn like Baertschi did.

Needless to say, the list of players opting out is growing, and it seems that the majority of these players have very good reasons to not risk their own health or the health of their families by playing. It makes little sense for anyone at this stage to put their health at risk after knowing what this virus can do internally to people, so let's take nothing away from these players with these decisions and hold nothing against them for protecting the ones they love.

They'll return to the ice when it's safe to do so. That's the most important part of this equation.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 10 July 2020

Priorities Matter

As you may have heard, the NHL will officially be returning in August to the cities of Edmonton and Toronto to conclude the 2019-20 season in whatever way possible. While I still think the bubble idea in these cities has far too many variables for the NHL to control, it seems they're pretty confident that the Stanley Cup can be awarded to whatever team makes it that far with enough players who can avoid contracting the virus. One player who won't be on the ice, however, is the man pictured to the left as Calgary Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic has made the decision to not resume playing this season in order to protect his family's health. Before you start ripping on the guy like some already have on social media, there's a very good reason for Hamonic's decision and it's one that I fully support.

The other people pictured in the image above are Travis's wife, Stephanie, and his infant daughter, Charlie. In saying that, Travis is a deeply-committed family man after having asked for a trade to be closer to family in 2015 when he was with the Islanders. While we all know that being a hockey player's wife in the NHL means the suitcases never truly are put into storage, this request had everything to do with Hamonic wanting to be closer to family and zero to do with wanting off Long Island.

"I probably wouldn't want to get into more detail," he told reporters at the time, "but I think the Islanders have been great with me throughout this whole process. I know people are going to say and write what they want and all that stuff, but it has nothing to do with the organization or how I've been treated here six years as playing and another two or three since I've been drafted. I've been honestly treated like gold from the start."

In late June of 2017 despite having rescinded his ask for a trade, Hamonic was traded to the Calgary Flames, and he, his wife, and young daughter moved back to western Canada. The fit seemed perfect for both sides - Hamonic was closer to family and the Flames got themselves a reliable defenceman who could play big minutes in all situations. Things seemed to be going well, and the couple even welcomed their son to the family as Travis was trying to help the Flames win the Stanley Cup.

Everything almost came to a screeching halt in January 2019, though, when Charlie, the Hamonic's daughter and eight months old at the time, became seriously ill with a serious respiratory issue. Travis left the team and joined Stephanie at their daughter's bedside as doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital worked to bring Charlie back to good health, and I'm happy to report that Charlie has recovered.

However, that moment was anything but easy for Travis and Stephanie.

"Everything goes out the window," Hamonic said. "My wife and I haven't left her side, we've been sitting in the room with her 24/7 and we probably won't leave her side, even when she's 50. We play a game for a living and it's my job and I take my job seriously. But my daughter is the most important focal point in my life."

Did you catch that last sentence - "my daughter is the most important focal point in my life"? Now you know why Travis Hamonic is opting out of coming back to play hockey in August. The risk of contracting a virus that wreaks havoc on people's respiratory systems is a risk that's just too high for Travis and Stephanie Hamonic with respect to their daughter's health. Playoffs would be meaningless if anything happened to his daughter, and Hamonic made that statement loud and clear with his decision today.

I fully and completely respect his decision not to return, and I will defend his decision from anyone who believes he's made the wrong decision. This is entirely the right choice by him as it shows that family, not hockey and not the Stanley Cup, is the one thing that drives Travis Hamonic. No one will ever deny that he wants to win, but he seems to be fairly grounded in knowing that there will be much bigger wins and so much more to celebrate in his future with his daughter, son, and wife remaining safe and healthy than what the Stanley Cup will bring this season.

To me, that already makes Travis Hamonic a champion, and to question his heart or his character after making this decision to protect his "home" team makes me wonder how some of these social media warriors can face themselves in their mirrors. Hamonic's family will always be there for him just as he'll always be there for them, and that's the team he's chosen to put ahead of all others. And, honestly, rightfully so.

If I needed a person to inspire me, Travis Hamonic would be that person. His devotion to his family and his unwavering character to make a decision that a lot of players wouldn't make tells me that he'll always be a champion because he already wears a ring that means more to him than any other: his wedding ring. He and his teammate in life, Stephanie, are raising two little teammates who will bring them joy, tears, happiness, and laughter for a lot longer than any Stanley Cup parade ever will. Travis Hamonic loves his family, and this decision proves that blood is thicker than any champagne that will flow following a Stanley Cup victory.

I'll never question his dedication to his team that he's built. Ever.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Hockey Show - Episode 407

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back tonight as I continue to work my way across the Canada West Conference in talking to some amazing women who call this province home but play elsewhere! Tonight, we meet a woman who took a different path than a lot of players from this province take in getting to university where she plays hockey, but she definitely earned the opportunity with everything she's done!

Tonight, The Hockey Show welcomes Calgary Dinos forward Annaliese Meier to the show! Anna's route to playing at the University of Calgary saw her dominate the Winnipeg Women's High School Hockey League while playing for NorMan up in Thompson, Manitoba before heading east to the Ontario Hockey Academy! Her work with the these teams attracted the attention of the Dinos, and we'll hear all about her adventures playing in Manitoba before we look at her work with the Dinos, her thoughts on the short season with teams added and lost, and more! It's a fun chat with Anna Meier, so make sure you tune in 530pm CT on 101.5 FM and/or UMFM.com!

Where's the best place can you hear tonight's show if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, 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.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz chats with Annaliese Meier of the Calgary Dinos about growing up at the rink, exploding onto the WWHSHL scene, travelling to northern Manitoba for games, moving to Cornwall, Ontario before heading west to Calgary, everything Dinos, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: July 9, 2020: Episode 407

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Bad Boys

There won't be any appearances by either Will Smith or Martin Lawrence in this article, but I can understand why you might think that from the title. Instead, if I were to ask you which country would be the most unlikely to start a skirmish in international hockey, my guess is that Switzerland - neutral in almost every other international conflict - wouldn't make your top-three for countries named. However, it seems that a couple of Swiss lads were none too happy with the Finnish team they were playing at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, and they now find themselves in a little bit of hot water with the IIHF over what went down at the conclusion of the Switzerland-Finland game at this year's Winter Youth Olympic Games.

After Finland had defeated Switzerland in the final preliminary game, Swiss players Rodwin Dionicio and Noah Greuter decided to unload some frustration on the Finns through fisticuffs which, as you know, is a big no-no in IIHF international events and definitely illegal when it comes to Olympic hockey play. Fighting after the game has ended? Even worse.

According to this statement from the IIHF,
"After the loss in the last preliminary-round game against Finland, both Dionicio and Greuter had altercations with opposing players and violated Rule 141 (fighting). In the case of Dionicio he also head-butted his opponent (Rule 142) while Greuter instigated a fight despite the linesman trying to break up the pushing and shoving.

"The incidents happened after the final buzzer but before the players left the ice."
There's a lot of wrong committed by Dionicio and Greuter in that statement, and the IIHF was forced to determine a punishment suitable for their on-ice misdeeds. As the statement reads, "[t]he Deciding Panel considers a suspension according to Rule 110 ii. for one game as adequate and sufficient in both cases."

With both players being far too old for the next Winter Youth Olympiad, the IIHF will apply those penalties of one-game suspensions to their next IIHF-sanctioned event which, as per the statement, would be "Switzerland's first game at the next IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship". While I doubt that these one-game suspensions will affect their chances of making Switzerland's U18 team, you have to wonder if they look back on what they did in the Switerland-Finland game and ask themselves, "What were we thinking?"

I'd say that they should use their heads a little more, but Dionicio already threw a head butt at his opponent. Be smarter, lads. This entire ordeal was completely avoidable had you simply shown some maturity beyond your ages.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Blues Aim Higher

If you were the St. Louis Blues, I'm not sure there's a lot left to accomplish when it comes to on-ice achievements. They're the top-ranked team in the Western Conference when the NHL resumes this season so they're already flying high, and the Blues erased decades of disappointment with a Stanley Cup win that was as good as any. If they can repeat this season, they'll be the first to do so since the Pittsburgh Penguins who are their expansion cousins from 1967. It's a good time to be a St. Louis Blues fan, but what if they could do more? Their announcement today certainly points to doing more, and I think it deserves some special mention because this new effort will open doors for players who might never wear the note on their chests outside of cheering for their favorite team.

I made mention in the chat that I had with Sam Vint, the producer and director of the film The Tournament, that I really needed to learn more about the sledge hockey community. I've been following some of the news stories closer since I met Sam, and I already know how passionate this community is about hockey. What you may not know is that sledge hockey players are even more passionate about getting people of all walks of life onto the ice as a way to remove barriers that may be holding them back. It's with this in mind that the St. Louis Blues today introduced Blues Warrior Hockey!

"Hockey is a sport that teaches and requires many important life skills to play the game including teamwork, acceptance, dedication and leadership among many others, but most importantly it provides an escape from daily routines for those who need it," Steve Chapman, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of the St. Louis Blues, stated in a release. "We are proud to partner with these brave men and women who fought for our freedom and ensure there are no barriers for them to play hockey in an inclusive and safe environment. We believe Hockey is for Everyone and will continue to work to provide opportunities for anyone who wants to play."

The Blues Warrior team took to the ice today in its first official practice as 24 players who served in the American military - Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force - got their first taste of being St. Louis Blues players. And if you're thinking this is just 24 military men on the ice, Tracy Cockrum of the US Air Force, is listed as a forward and goalie for the squad, making this Blues team even more inclusive as Cockrum will play for the Blues Warrior team!

As the team prepares for its September 12 game against Kansas City, there will certainly be ups and downs along the way. With the support of the St. Louis Blues, though, I'm hoping this team doesn't have too many financial downs that will affect how often and where they may play. The only way these players will enjoy the game is if they can play regularly and against competition, and that will require an investment of money. Hopefully, the St. Louis Blues NHL franchise will be there to assist the Blues Warrior team whenever they want to play on the road or host a team in St. Louis.

"This team will mean so much for the veteran and hockey communities in St. Louis," Nathan Laupp, the St. Louis Blues Warrior Hockey president and Marine Corps veteran, stated. "We will be able to serve and support disabled veterans through the greatest sport in the world. As a lifelong Blues fan, this partnership means a lot personally and also gives us greater reach and a louder voice to help."

When it comes to the phrase uttered by Steve Chapman above - "Hockey is for Everyone" - this effort by the St. Louis Blues shows that they're going to be a supporter of that phrase by helping disabled veterans find a new hobby they'll enjoy. My hope is that the Blues Warrior program can grow with this new injection of money from the NHL franchise to include kids as well as the St. Louis sledge hockey scene grows stronger. Time will tell as to how this partnership will evolve, but getting the clout of an NHL team behind the sledge hockey community in St. Louis will make a difference.

Kudos to the St. Louis Blues for this effort, and here's hoping the Blues Warrior program becomes the gold-star standard in the US for sledge hockey just as the men and women who make up the Blues Warrior team are gold-star people!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!