Hockey Headlines

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Linking To Genius

I've decided to push the latest addition to Teebz's Book Club back a day in order to bring you a fabulous article written by Uni Watch Blog's Phil Hecken. Phil is a regular contributor to the fabulous site, and he's brought life to a story rarely told outside the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pictured to the left are the Preston Rivulettes. They were a dominant female hockey club in the early 1930s, and Phil wrote a phenomenal piece on these women today on the Uni Watch Blog. I'm going to post the entire article here, and then post some additional stuff on the Rivulettes afterwards. Enjoy Phil's work. It's a beauty.

"That sweater’s a ting of beauty, eh? (Here’s the back, breezers and socks.) It belongs to one of the greatest teams ever to play hockey — the Preston Rivulettes. From 1931 until 1939, this professional team’s record was an estimated 350 wins, 3 ties, and 2 losses. So great was this team that they were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963. But you probably never heard of them, right? That’s because the Preston Rivulettes were a women’s team.

So, to whom does that beautiful sweater belong? Perhaps the greatest player ever — Hilda Ranscombe, a member of the Preston (P/Springs) Rivulettes. She has been called the "Wayne Gretzky of women’s professional ice hockey." She was regarded as the heart and soul of the Preston Rivulettes. Playing right wing, Hilda Ranscombe’s skills dominated the sport (here’s a color shot of a similar sweater). Scoring data have not been saved, but Ranscombe was by far the top scorer, becoming a legend in her time. An all-round athlete, she also excelled in softball and tennis. She was twice a finalist for Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year. Here is Hilda shortly before her death being inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame.

The Rivulettes were the first women’s team inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and were voted along with the 1947-48 Maple Leafs, 1949-50 Detroit Red Wings, 1959-60 Montreal Canadiens as one of the greatest teams ever. They so dominated women’s ice hockey in the 1930s that the Rivulettes won 10 Ontario titles, 10 Eastern Canadian Championships and 6 Dominion Championships.

So what happened to the Rivs? The team disbanded at the end of the 1930s upon the outbreak of World War II. Unfortunately, after the war, women’s hockey would not return, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the sport started to regain popularity. So, now that they’re not The Greatest Team You Never Heard Of anymore, who is? Let’s hear your nominees."
You can post your nominees on the Uni Watch Blog here.

Pretty phenomenal stuff, right? This is a team that went 350-2-3, and you've probably never even heard the name "Preston Rivulettes" mentioned in your life. Let's take a closer look how the Rivulettes came to be, and what happened to them.

According to legend, the Rivulettes were formed in 1930 at the Lowther St. Arena in what is now Cambridge, Ontario. The women's softball team was discussing their future when one of the ladies suggested that they form a hockey team. When the idea was scoffed at, the ladies decided to form the hockey team to put their doubters to rest.

The original team was composed of nine players: Hilda and Nellie Ranscombe, Marm and Helen Schmuck, Marg Gabbitas, Myrtle Parr, Toddy Webb, Pat Marriott and Helen Sault. As softball players, they showed their athletic abilities on the ice, and they quickly rose to prominence in the Ladies' Ontario Hockey Association that featured teams from Toronto, Kitchener, London, Hamilton, Guelph, Stratford, and Port Dover in Ontario. Hilda Ranscombe emerged as the high-scoring winger in the mold of Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens, while Nellie Ranscombe was a star in net. They won their first title in 1930, and didn't stop winning until they were forced back to the factories for World War II. In total, they won the Bobby Rosenfeld Trophy as Ontario Champions 10 times, the Elmer Doust Cup as Eastern Canadian Champions six times, and the Lady Bessborough Trophy as Canadian Champions six times.

The Rivulettes, in their first two seasons, went 21-0-1 and outscored their opponents by a mind-blowing 151-9! In 1933, they won their third Ontario Championship by defeating the University of Toronto 1-0, and won again in 1934 over the University of Toronto by a 1-0 score. In the 1934 game, the winning goal was scored by Marm Schmuck from center ice!

In the spring of 1934, the Rivulettes travelled to Edmonton with a short-handed team as several of the women were suffering from the flu. "In Edmonton, the atmosphere was so different and we went with nine players and three were sick," said star player Hilda Ranscombe. "Myself, all I did on the ice was cough. The girls played good hockey but we only had one spare."

Ironically, the game was refereed by future NHL president Clarence Campbell, and the games resembled the men's game as both were played rough with lots of bodychecks. However, after a three-day train trip and battling the flu, the Edmonton Rustlers won both games 3-2 in the best-of-three series, sending the Rivulettes home with two stinging losses.

In 1935, the Rivulettes returned to the Dominion Championship game, and throttled the Winnipeg Eatons in Game One by a 7-1 score. The game was marred by a brawl between the players which only spawned bad blood for the second game. In Game Two, the Rivulettes won 3-1 over the Eatons to secure their first Lady Bessborough Trophy.

In 1936, the women's game was so popular that the Dominion Championship was moved to the Montreal Forum where the Rivulettes won yet again. It is estimated that over 10,000 people attended each game, making it the largest women's sporting event in Canada to that point in time.

The Rivulettes won their seventh Ontario Championship in 1937-38 by defeating the Stratford Aces 10-1 and 3-2 in a best-of-three series. Lottie Rigg, goaltender for the Aces, was sensational in the series, prompting Aces' teammate Ollie Aiken to say, "If Lottie had been a boy, she would have made it to the NHL."

As the Rivulettes' notoriety grew, they added additional star players in Violet Hall, Sheila Lahey, Gladys Pitcher, Norma Hipel, Ruth Dargel, Elvis Williams, Fay Hilborn, Winnie Makcrow, Eleanor Fairgrieves, Midge Robertson and Marie Bielstein.

In 1938, the Beacon Herald - Stratford's local newspaper - filed this report on a game between the Aces and the Rivulettes: "Preston Rivulettes, who still talk about the time they lost a game three or four years back, spent a few anxious minutes at the arena last night. The Rivulettes, holders of just about every title that's available in the realm of ladies' hockey in Canada, left the ice at the end of the first period trailing Armour Keane's Aces 2-1. Only twice in the last seven years have the gals from the mineral springs town lost a hockey game, so there wasn't much whoopie in their dressing room between periods. They came back with a do-or-die look in the second session and rattled in three goals, without a reply from the Aces. Another counter in the last session gave them a 5-2 decision."

The key line in that snippet from the press? "Only twice in the last seven years have the gals from the mineral springs town lost a hockey game". Those would be the losses to Edmonton, and that's absolutely outstanding.

In 1939, the team had been invited to Europe to compete against men's teams, but the outbreak of World War II cancelled that opportunity. However, the Rivulettes folded in 1940 after government-imposed gasoline rationing prevented them from honouring their travel commitments. In 1996, the Rivulettes were inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame for their achievements. In 1997, they were inducted into the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, and, in 1963, were inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1999, Hilda Ranscombe was named the female athlete of the 20th century by the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame.

The CBC archives have a fabulous interview with Gladys Pitcher and Hilda Ranscombe, and it can be seen here. I recommend watching it as it really is informative.

Hockey history really is amazing, isn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Burke Hits Toronto

Brian Burke faced the media today at the press conference held by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to announce his hiring. Burke has been around a long time, so I expected him to have all the "right answers", but some of the stuff he said was refreshing. Does this move make the Leafs better? Short-term, no. Personally, I think it will take the Leafs a minimum of three years to right the ship with Burke at the helm. I'm almost certain four-to-five years should be expected. This is a team that tried to sign aging veterans and traded for players past their primes by giving up their future every year. The cupboard is bare, and it will take Burke some time to restock the pantry.

Burke becomes the 13th general manager in 92 years of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey, and the first American to lead the front office. His new deal is worth a reported $17 million over six years. The Irishman is expected to turn the Leafs into a contender, and he has six years to do so. However, let's take a look at what Burke said today during his introduction.

"Luke Schenn looks like the real deal to me.": This is pretty much a no-brainer. Schenn is the only draft pick in recent Leafs' history to start the season as an 18 year-old, and perform at a high level. He's shown heart and skill the entire time in Toronto, and could be Burke's new version of the Chris Pronger experiment in Hartford.

Luke Schenn is exactly who Burke should focus building his defensive unit around. Schenn has the look of a young Pronger - poised, solid defensively, confident - and should be the foundation of the new-look Leafs. Burke also had praise for Mikhail Grabovski by stating that he had tried to acquire the young forward while he was in Anaheim. Grabovski is a good starting point for Burke to work with up front, but Grabovski still needs to grow as a player before he can be considered the cornerstone of the forward unit of the Leafs.

"You're talking about the Vatican if you're a Catholic.": Brian Burke's comparison of Toronto in the hockey world to the Vatican in the religious world is pretty much bang-on. The "Centre of the Universe" hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, and the fans are on the verge of being rabid. However, as Burke stated a few moments later, the Leafs have "blank pages to write on" now. The Burke era is a brand-new era in Leafs hockey, and this should bear fruit if fans are patient.

Again, this team has little to nothing on the farm when you look up and down the roster of the AHL's Toronto Marlies. Justin Pogge is the best goaltending prospect that the Leafs have, and he hasn't been able to stick with the NHL club. Staffan Kronwall is the best defensive prospect, and he's been up and down more than the stock market. Jiri Tlusty might be the Leafs top forward prospect, but he just doesn't seem to be a top-six forward for the Leafs. Clearly, the Leafs need to start building from within to become the contender that they want to be. But this will require patience from the fans in order to become a contender. Are Maple Leafs fans willing to wait three, four, five years to become the powerful Leafs of the past?

"I don't think players should get traded at Christmas time.": Burke introduced a concept he has used in both Vancouver and Anaheim where he institutes a no-trade freeze period ten days before the NHL freeze goes into place. That means that the trade freeze for the Leafs will start on December 9. It doesn't give Burke a lot of time to make changes before the Christmas break, so I wouldn't expect any moves until at least mid-January.

The issue facing Burke is that he doesn't have a lot of valuable assets to make deals for high-round draft picks or dynamic, young players. The guys who are contributing are solid, young players, but do you give up a two solid second- or third-line players in the future for something now? These first two years of his contract will be the biggest test for Burke, and will prove his mettle if he can acquire some pieces who will contribute in a large way down the road.

"This guy has two dollars less than God already.": It sounds as if Burke has no interest in signing Mats Sundin whatsoever. And, personally, that's a good move. Burke spoke of how he will be fiscally-responsible when it comes to signing players, and Mats Sundin is looking for a large payday. He doesn't really need the money, so this is just Sundin using his name to grab a few extra zeroes on the number being offered to him. Burke made it clear that a high-paid player will not play "half-assed" while cashing a paycheque, and I believe that Burke will avoid any meeting in Los Angeles with Mats Sundin and/or his agent, J.P. Barry for the reason of not wasting anyone's time.

Really, though, if you're a Maple Leafs fan, do you even want to see Sundin back after he railroaded your team last season by refusing to waive his no-trade clause? He's out there taking the highest offer from the best team available this season, and yet he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause for a couple of months last season? That's absolute crap if you ask me.

Honestly, Burke's signing puts a very smart hockey man in a very demanding hockey job, and it should be noted that there will be no shortage of money in Leafs-land to get the job done. I would expect that Burke will sign a bonafide tough guy this summer in order to prevent guys like Luke Schenn from dropping the gloves. I think you'll see some true grit from this team by this time next season, whether it be from their current group or new guys that have been brought in.

It should be no surprise that the Leafs will be much tougher two years from now. The Anaheim Ducks led the league in fighting majors during their Stanley Cup season, and no one backed down from a fight in Anaheim. Burke made it clear during the press conference that he will build from the goaltender out, and that should prove genius when you consider the youthful bluelines of Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. Those teams have a couple of key veterans, but there are always young guys stepping up and there is an abundance of skill and grit in the defensive zones. And it's not like Anaheim had a weak defence corps either.

The building of the Leafs back to their lofty status of the pre-expansion days starts on November 29, 2008. Only time will tell how this plays out, but the future as it stands right now is very bright. And since Al Strachan is based in Toronto, even if you don't like the Leafs, the UFC-style arguments that Strachan and Burke have will certainly be entertaining.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 28 November 2008

News I Forgot This Week

In my examinations of alternate jerseys and coaches this week, I forgot about a major story in the world of sledge hockey. The World Sledge Hockey Championship game took place last weekend in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and featured teams from Norway, Japan, the USA, and Canada. The tournament actually started on Tuesday, November 18 and I had intended to write about it, but it actually slipped my mind until yesterday. Let's get everyone caught up on what happened in Charlottetown.

Canada, Norway, and the US teams are solid squads who routinely challenge for medals at the Paralympic Games, and Japan was the underdog in this event as one of the newer teams to take to the ice recently. It was expected that both Canada and Norway had good shots at the gold medal, but the USA had beaten both teams before so this was a three-way race to the finish.

On Tuesday, Norway trounced Japan by an 8-0 score. Rolf Pedersen and Helge Bjoernstad scored four goals each as Norway looked to improve upon their silver-medal finish at last year's World Sledge Hockey Championship in Kelowna, BC. Roger Johansen recorded the shutout for Norway, and the Norwegian team outshot Japan 16-12.

The later game on Tuesday featured the North American squads facing off. Canada and the USA took to the ice at the CARI (Capital Area Recreation Inc.) Complex. Hervé Lord opened the scoring 13:53 into the first period for Canada, giving the home side the lead at the intermission. Marc Dorion doubled Canada's lead at 2:31 of the second period, but the Americans reduced the deficit to one goal after Chris Manns scored at the 14:00 mark. Summerside, PEI's Billy Bridges got a huge ovation after he restored Canada's two-goal lead on the powerplay at the 1:47 mark of the third period. Canada controlled the game the rest of the way, and won the game 3-1.

The early game on Wednesday saw the Americans taking on the Japanese team as both teams were looking to rebound from losses the previous day. Andy Yohe, Taylor Lipsett, and Bubba Torres built a 3-0 lead for the Americans into the second period before Japan's Mamoru Yoshikawa scored Japan's first goal at the 13:59 mark of the second period. Tim Jones added a little extra insurance in the third period as the Americans won the game 4-1.

Canada and Norway squared off in the second game with Canada's 1-0 victory from Kelowna still fresh in the Norwegian team's minds. Canada jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Billy Bridges and Bradley Bowden, but the physical play between the two teams was intense as there were eight penalties handed out in the first 15 minutes of play. The second period featured fast-paced back-and-forth action, but the goaltenders were equal to the task. The third period was marred by a Raymond Grassi game misconduct for Canada which gave the Norwegians a five-minute major to work with. However, Canadian goaltender Paul Rosen held the fort, and secured the shutout in the 2-0 Canada victory. Canada's second win guaranteed them a spot in the gold medal game, meaning the meeting between Norway and the USA would be a win-and-you're-in game.

The early game Thursday saw Norway and USA clash, and the Norwegians jumped out in front by a 2-0 score on goals by Rolf Pedersen and Helge Bjoernstad. Pedersen's shorthanded marker really energized the Norwegian team as they dominated the first period. They made it a 3-0 lead in the second period on Tommy Rovelstad's first goal of the tournament, and looked to be in control of the game. However, the third period belonged to the Americans as they controlled from the opening face-off. They were rewarded at the 8:24 mark when Bubba Torres scored. One minute and 24 seconds later, Jim Connelly reduced the deficit to one goal when he scored on Norway's Roger Johansen. The Americans applied tremendous pressure in the last five minutes, but Johansen made a number of huge saves to preserve the 3-2 win. With the win, Norway advanced to Saturday's final against Canada - a rematch of last year's final. USA would take on Japan in the bronze medal match.

Speaking of Japan, they ran into the Canadians on Thursday night. Greg Westlake, Matthew Cook, and Dany Verner posted Canada to a 3-0 lead before Japan's Naohiko Ishida put Japan on the board at the end of the first period. Adam Dixon made it 4-1 Canada in the second period, and Canada iced it with three goals in the third period. Westlake had his second of the game while Bradley Bowden and Billy Bridges had their first goals of the game. With the 7-1 victory, Canada finished the round-robin with a 3-0 record while the Japanese team finished with an 0-3 record.

As Friday was an off-day for the teams, the bronze medal game was scheduled for noon Atlantic time on Saturday while the gold medal game was scheduled for 4pm.

Japan and the USA met at noon, and this one wasn't even close. Tim Jones, Jim Connelly, and Brad Emmerson scored in the first period to put Team USA up 3-0 after the first period. The hammering continued in the second period as Taylor Lipsett scored twice, Adam Page scored on the powerplay, and Andy Yohe added another to put the Americans up 7-0 after two periods. Brad Emmerson's second of the game and Taylor Chace's first goal of the tournament were scored in the third period to round out the scoring. Team USA won the World Sledge Hockey Championship bronze medal over Japan by a 9-0 score.

More than 1200 people showed up to watch the Canadians and Norwegians tangle for the gold medal. However, this game was over before it began. Bradley Bowden scored 23 seconds in to put Canada up 1-0. Todd Nicholson added another to give Canada a 2-0 advantage at the first intermission. Marc Dorian and Greg Westlake added two more goals for Canada in the second period as Canada dominated the first 30 minutes of the game. At the end of the period, an ugly incident occurred. Norwegian scoring sensation Rolf Pedersen was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for elbowing. It seemed to kill Team Norway completely as they began the third period shorthanded. Marc Dorion and Greg Westlake added their second goals of the game and Billy Bridges had his first as Canada won the gold medal game 7-0. Paul Rosen shutout the Norwegians for the second time in the tournament.

Canada's dominance in sledge hockey is starting to emerge as they manhandled the powerful Norwegians in the final. However, Team USA made strides in this tournament by playing strong against both Canada and Norway, showing the world that the gap might not be that large.

Overall, congratulations to all the players on the teams that participated, and I look forward to the next sledge hockey international tournament. If you get a chance to see this hockey live, go see it. It's fast and exciting, and these guys can play. The skill and athleticism shown by the men on the sleds is absolutely amazing!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Changing The Focus

I never played junior hockey and I've never played professional hockey. I can't tell you what the players at these levels are taught, but you always seem to hear the same cliché used over and over at these levels: "You have to finish your checks". I believe this very phrase is the reason we have a large number of hitting-from-behind penalties being seen at the NHL level right now. It happened earlier this week when LA's John Zeiler crushed Colorado's Adam Foote from behind, and it happened again last night when Edmonton's Steve Staios hammered LA's Patrick O'Sullivan from behind. If "finishing your check" means serving a suspension, why do coaches press their players to "finish their checks" when 90% of players don't know what purpose bodychecking serves in hockey?

As pictured above, more and more players are looking for the momentum-swinging, helmet-popping, stuck in the trolley-tracks kind of hit. Scott Stevens was very good at finding these hits, and literally made a name for himself because of it. There's nothing wrong with these types of hits, and it certainly isn't forgotten by the players when it occurs.

However, the opposite is also true when a player gets stapled into the boards from behind by a player "finishing his check". Patrice Bergeron? We remember him lying on the ice after being crushed by Randy Jones last season. After the October 27, 2007 game, Jones made the following statement:

"Words really can’t express the way that I feel right now. I am very apologetic for the hit and what I did. It was not intentional. It is something that I have never done before and it is not part of my character. I am extremely sorry. I hope he does ok and everything works out for him. I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery."

I completely believe Jones did not intend to hurt Bergeron whatsoever. However, he was doing what he had been taught throughout his life - "finish your check". And that's what needs to change in today's hockey world. "Finish your check" has lead to a number of checks from behind this season as Ryan Hollweg can attest to. How can this be fixed? What needs to be done?

Removing bodychecking is simply not an option. However, the purpose of the bodycheck needs to be clarified and taught to players at a young age. Originally, the bodycheck was used in hockey to separate puck-carrier from puck. It was not meant to injure, and it was not meant to intimidate. Yes, some players were more adept at bodychecking and used it to make themselves more intimidating (the "Scott Stevens" effect), but bodychecking was used to separate puck from puck-carrier.

This is important to know because open-ice hits were still plentiful, but the bodycheck was used as a tool, not as punishment. With the evolution of players in the NHL over the last 50 years, bigger and faster have resulted in more injuries. While evolution cannot be blamed, the mentality that a bodycheck should serve as punishment for playing the puck can and should be blamed for the dangerous hits from behind. "Finishing your check" is precisely that mentality.

"It's just my nature to play that way, so it's hard to say [to] not to play that way," Leafs' forward Ryan Hollweg said to the National Post's Michael Traikos after being suspended for hitting St. Louis' Alex Piertrangelo from behind. "It's been about 20 years of playing hard-nosed and then all of a sudden someone's telling me to take it down. Some way I'm going to adjust to it."

Therein lies the problem. For 20 years, people have been telling Hollweg to finish his checks, and he's parlayed that advice into an NHL career. However, after repeated boarding calls and mandatory suspensions for those hits, Hollweg either isn't getting the message, or the NHL isn't sending one. For all those who have been hit from behind, the danger of "finishing your check" is real.

"This is a sport where you assume a lot of risk," Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli told Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe after the Jones-on-Bergeron incident. "But you don't assume you're going to be driven from behind like that."

I believe Chiarelli is exactly right. Watch Toronto's Mike Van Ryn look back to see who is coming before getting drilled from behind by Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos:

Kostopoulos finished his check, and Van Ryn is out for a month with injuries. There was absolutely no attempt to play the puck, so Kostopoulos' hit was entirely unnecessary aside from following his coach's instructions to finish his checks. I don't think Van Ryn ever assumed he was going to be pasted against the boards like he was, and never had time to brace himself for the hit. Again, with no attempt to play the puck, this was simply throwing a hit for the sake of throwing the hit.

Do we need to start reminding NHL players with the stop sign patches like they use in youth hockey? If you see a player's numbers, let up and play the puck! That's the entire point of the game, so why are you slamming someone into the boards from behind like a bug hits a windshield on the highway?

"There seems to be no filter," Maple Leafs' head coach Ron Wilson said to the National Post's Michael Traikos of Hollweg after being suspended. "If he looks up and sees a guy's numbers, he should really be thinking about pulling up. It's going to be up to him to figure that out or he's not going to be playing many games."

Look at the number of hits-from-behind thus far this season:

- Rostislav Olesz (FLA) on Chris Lee (NYI) in the preseason.
- Ryan Hollweg (TML) on Jay McKee (STL) in the preseason.
- Ryan Hollweg (TML) on Sergei Kostitsyn (MTL).
- Ryan Hollweg (TML) on Alex Pietrangelo (STL).
- Andrei Kostitsyn (MTL) on Matt Stajan (TML).
- Tom Kostopoulos (MTL) on Mike Van Ryn (TML).
- Andrei Markov (MTL) on Niklas Hagman (TML).
- Colton Gillies (MIN) on Ryan Johnson (VAN).
- John Zeiler (LAK) on Adam Foote (COL).
- Steve Staios (EDM) on Patrick O'Sullivan (LAK).
- Sean Avery (DAL) on Milan Lucic (BOS).
- Ben Eager (CHI) on Mikhail Grabovski (TML).

We haven't even played two months of the season, and those are just the hits I could find sifting through the NHL scoresheets. Is it really that difficult to teach young players to use the bodycheck as a defensive tool instead of using it as a way to decimate a player's career?

The excuse of a player turning his body is getting old. Everyone in the world turns away from danger in order to protect themselves. This is just a reaction. If we didn't, there would be a much better selection of candidates for the annual Darwin Awards. It's a reaction to potential harm, and people can't be blamed for protecting themselves.

Rehab counselors always say that you control your reaction to someone else. I believe this to be true in that you are responsible for your actions. In hockey, if you can see both numbers on the back of a player at the same time from any angle, you need to let up. It's the only way that hitting-from-behind penalties will stop aside from long suspensions and ridiculous fines.

And if the players can't control themselves, the NHL should institute long suspensions and ridiculous fines for those committing these dangerous hits. When will it someone send a message about the dangers of hitting from behind? Do we need to see someone break their neck or, worse, become paralyzed?

"The game today is better in a lot of areas," New Jersey Devils' head coach Brent Sutter said to SI.com's Jim Kelley after seeing his son, Brandon Sutter, injured with a hit to the head. "But in some areas, it's not and it's troublesome. There is a lack of respect for opponents' players. It's the way the game is played today, and there are significant injuries. It is what it is."

Leafs' general manager Cliff Fletcher echoed the lack-of-respect sentiments of Sutter after the Kostopoulos-on-Van Ryn hit. "I do know these hits seem to be happening more often," he said to Terry Koshan of Sun Media. "Going back 10 and 20 years, there never were hits from behind. Players have less respect for others today."

Ryan Johnson, one of the men victimized by a questionable hit this season, had a lot to say regarding the league's stance on these types of hits and what needs to be done. "The league needs to make players pay a price," he said to Jim Jamieson of The Province. "It shouldn't be about waiting for the result of the injury before they decide if they're going to penalize the guy.

"I hate the fact that we always wait for an incident to happen before we change the rules. If you start giving five to 10 games for even the hit the guy gets up from but is still preventable, guys will stop doing it. Let's not wait for somebody to break their neck."

Finally, someone has the gonads to say it - someone will get seriously injured, and the NHL will react rather than being proactive to ensure this type of thing never happens. Why is the NHL so afraid to protect its most marketable assets: its players?

Start making examples out of the Ryan Hollwegs and John Zeilers and Steve Staioses. Personally, any hit from behind will be worth a minimum suspension of ten games. If you are unable to control your body while on skates, you won't be on skates for very long. As for the respect portion of the equation, there is simply no right answer for how to breed respect amongst men who are asked to kill each other on a nightly basis.

But the best way to plant the seeds of respect is to have players protect the livelihood of one another. Hitting from behind is just too dangerous to have in the sport with the speed the players move at now, and the NHL and NHLPA are in agreement about this.

We just need them to start acting like they believe in that statement. Perhaps they should learn how to finish their checks?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

What's The Motivation?

As I sit here writing what will undoubtedly be a controversial article, I am brought back to my days as a coach and player for examples. It's hard for me to criticize the people who taught me the game and helped me get better at whatever sport I was engaged in, but, as I look back now, I have to wonder why some of these coaches were allowed to stand on the sidelines. Normally, school extracurricular sports are coached by a teacher, and that's fine. However, it's the sports that take place at the community clubs where a parent coaches a team that normally see the phenomenon I like to call "Weekend Warrior-ism". These parents are their kids biggest fans, and they want everyone to know how good their kids are in everything the kids do. After seeing enough of this in my life thus far, my question to all coaches is this: why are you coaching?

Let me be clear here: not all coaches are afflicted by "Weekend Warrior-ism". There are very good coaches out there who take on the role as teacher, and help children learn the important things they need when playing sports. Things like sportsmanship, team goals over individual goals, and skills are stressed instead of winning and losing, and that's precisely what a coach at the grassroots level needs to emphasize. Children need to learn these vital life lessons in order to become well-balanced members of society. Good coaches teach these skills.

My problem, and the basis of this entire article, is that there is a heavy emphasis placed on winning and losing in today's youth and minor hockey programs. It seems there is more demand for results rather than building fundamentals and having fun. There is a far higher demand placed on parents and players as children are expected to go to hockey schools in the summer, skate all year, criss-cross the country for tournaments, and still have enough time for important things like school and family. Children as young as 12 years-old who are exceptional players have agents now. Where did we steer off-course, and can we get back?

I'm not sure if we can, but here are my proposals for fixing what is wrong with hockey for children 12-and-under.

First, lose the weekend warrior coaches. Coaches are supposed to be teachers to children of that age, not the next John Tortorella. I should never hear a coach questioning a ten year-old's heart or bag-skating them in a practice because they laughed about messing up a drill. Record the wins and losses as a reflection of your team's overall skill level compared to others of that age group, but don't let it become your main focus.

Teach the important things like skating, stickhandling, passing, teamwork, and having fun. After all, a lesson taught with humour is a lesson retained. Have fun, let the kids laugh and play, and teach them fundamentals to make them better. Believe it or not, the Internet is a fabulous resource for finding some of these drills, and I'll link a few of them up at the end of this article.

Secondly, if you're a parent who sits in the stands, encourage your child as much as possible, and don't point out the mistakes they made. If your son or daughter brings up what they think they did wrong, help them work through it by asking what they would do differently next time. When combined, constructive criticism, positive reinforcement, and allowing your child to figure out what went wrong will make them a strong player mentally. You have no idea how important that will be down the road.

If you stand around the water cooler at work and discuss how your son's or daughter's team went 6-0-1 last month and how many points he or she had, don't even bother going to the rink. Stay home. Don't show up. You're not there to make your son or daughter a better player. You're there to use him or her to make you look better in front of your peers. Your child isn't playing for a Stanley Cup and there's no Art Ross Trophy at the end of the year, so stop worrying about points and missed goals.

How many times have you heard Walter Gretzky brag about how good his son, Wayne, is? How many times have you heard Troy Crosby boast about how good his son, Sidney, is compared to everyone else? That's right: never. And that's the key. They pushed their sons to be better by helping them and supporting them. It was never a hockey boot camp at either household. It was always about fun.

I've seen lots of coaches and I've seen lots of parents at games, and I'm not saying everyone is like this. In fact, the majority of coaches and parents are very supportive of their children regardless of whether they win, lose, or draw. But every once in a while, you run into the Weekend Warriors - the parents who lives vicariously through their children and can't stop talking about how good their children are compared to everyone else.

And, personally, they are the most pathetic people at the rink. They are the parents who are screaming obscenities at the referees, trash-talking the other team's fans, yelling at the players to lay someone out, and whooping it up when their child scores his or her fourth goal because the other goaltender "sucks". You know who I'm talking about because we've all seen it. Heck, maybe it might be you.

So what can you do to prevent this type of person from coaching your child?

Ask questions of the potential coach. Go to practices. Talk to your child. Ask to be involved if you feel you can make the commitment. Be supportive of all the players as well as your own child. Cheer them when they win. Cheer them when they lose. Cheer them whenever you can. Play street hockey with them.

Most of all, encourage them to have fun, and not to worry about personal achievements or statistics. That's what being a kid is all about, right? Let them play. Let them have fun. And stand behind them 100% no matter what their skill levels are.

As an example, don't be like Jules Winnfield as a hockey coach or fan. It's funny, but he doesn't teach good fundamentals that children should know.


Tomorrow, I'll look at another controversial topic, and I'm sure it will generate some discussion as well. With hockey seasons already started all over North America, it's time we demand more from the pedagogues we put in charge of our children so that they become better players and people. Isn't that what we all want for our children?

As for the links, I encourage you to check out Hockey Canada's Skills Program. TSN also has some video examples of some of the drills. You can view the stickhandling drills, speed and agility drills, the one-touch pass and move drill, tips on how to dangle, tips to improve quickness and agility, and the importance on being ready for the puck. Some great tips and drills in those videos.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Lots Of Small Stories

I've been holding on to a few things over the last few days as I examined the latest batch of alternate jerseys that the NHL had in store for us. Some of these stories may interest you, while others may not. It's just a collection of stories and pictures from the last few days that should be noted.

  • Great story out of The Vancouver Sun today about how the zambonis at GM Place are going green starting next season. With the price of fuel skyrocketing, the battery-powered zambonis are an excellent idea. Europe has lead the way in this hockey technology, and now it seems that Vancouver will follow Montreal in becoming the second NHL arena to operate a zero-emissions zamboni. Kudos to Vancouver for making this excellent decision!
  • Speaking of zambonis, they are not playground structures, kids. Please do not play on, near, or around zambonis! Case in point: this story from the Toronto Star. My thoughts go out to the 12 year-old, and his family.
  • Montreal held Patrick Roy's number retirement ceremony on Saturday, and the Habs sported a patch to commemorate the event. If you'll notice, there are no 100th anniversary patches to be seen, so the jerseys were altered specifically for the event. Fitting, however, considering how this is how Patrick Roy is best remembered.
  • Montreal broke out one of their throwback jerseys against Philadelphia last week, and it was strangely ironic that they used these jerseys. See, that little shield on the hemline means that these jerseys are from two seasons ago. Reebok is apparently now in the thrift store business as it seems that they are recycling jerseys rather than providing new ones. Simply brutal.
  • Toronto held a ceremony for Wendel Clark on Saturday as the honoured his number, and raised his banner to the roof of the ACC. All the current players wore Clark-era Maple Leafs jerseys with his name on the back for the warm-up, followed by wearing their throwback jerseys with a special patch on them. Very classy move by the Leafs.
  • Since we've seen Bobby Hull wearing #16 with the Blackhawks, it occurred to me that perhaps Brett Hull wore his dad's old number to honour him. Well, I scoured the Life Magazine gallery to find Bobby Hull and his family on the Chicago Stadium ice in 1965. Unfortunately, Brett isn't in this photo. That's Bobby Hull Jr. and Bart Hull in the picture with mom and dad. Brett would have been less than a year old at the time of this picture, while younger brother Blake and baby sister Michelle hadn't been born yet.
  • This is Jack McCartan in 1960 with the New York Rangers. Take a good look at Mr. McCartan because this is one of the few photos you'll see of him in an NHL jersey. He only played 12 games total in his career. Why is he important? He was the goaltender who won a gold medal for Team USA at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960 by defeating the heavy favorites in Canada, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. The University of Minnesota stand-out only saw action in four games in the 1959-60 season and eight games in the 1960-61 season before the Rangers sent him to the minors after surrendering 36 goals in seven games. He was inducted into the United States Hall of Fame in 1983 for his performance in the 1960 Winter Olympics.
  • I have to draw attention to this picture of Gordie Howe in 1959. Check out the location of the captain's "C" - looks familiar, doesn't it? The amazing thing about Howe is that he played against both Maurice Richard and Wayne Gretzky during his illustrious career. Two men who were considered to be the best offensive players of their times, and Howe squared off against both men. That's longevity.
  • Sweden announced their U20 World Junior Championship team today, and there are a few returnees that should be recognizable. Victor Hedman, Joakim Andersson, Magnus Svensson Pääjärvi and Mikael Backlund all were with the team from last season, and will return this season. This tournament will be a showcase for Hedman as he attempts to secure his place as the top prospect for this year's NHL Entry Draft in Montreal. Of course, it is expected that John Tavares will be playing for Team Canada, and he looks to be Hedman's main competition.
  • The Champions League has three semi-finalists set already for the championship. Metallurg Magnitogorsk won Group A, and will take on their KHL rival in Group C winner Salavat Yulayev Ufa, guaranteeing a Russian team in the finals. In their only meeting in Russia this season, Ufa crushed Metallurg 5-1 in Magnitogorsk. The two cities sit a mere 250kms apart, so this semi-final should be rowdy. The Espoo Blues have also secured a berth in the semi-finals by finishing atop the Group B standings, and await the winner of Group D. Group D's final game will determine who wins that group as HC Slavia Prague is at home against ZSC Lions Zurich with one point separating the two teams. For more information, check out the Champions League website.
  • Los Angeles' John Zeiler got three games for hitting Colorado's Adam Foote from behind, and, quite frankly, the NHL needs to start handing out longer suspensions for this. They claimed that they were making an example out of Ryan Hollweg, but it appears no one is listening. It's time to wake everyone up with a minimum 10-game suspension for hitting from behind.
  • Another Roy is in trouble in the QMJHL. Quebec Remparts forward Frédérick Roy - son of NHL legend Patrick and brother of the infamous Jonathan - received a 15-game suspension for cross-checking Montreal Juniors defenceman Vincent Bourgeois in the mouth during a scuffle. 15 games is certainly legitimate, but if Patrick Roy wants to start bringing some positive light back on himself, he should personally suspend his son another three-to-five games. Call it "disciplinary action" or whatever, but these kinds of actions cannot be tolerated whatsoever. I'm not embedding this video, but here's the link of Roy's actions. Make your own decisions as to whether 15 games was long enough.
Ok, that's a pile of updates. I'll have another book review out later this week, and it will help me explain some of the older Life Magazine photos that I really didn't elaborate upon when I linked them up. Great history in this book as well. I'll also be looking at some of the bigger news stories tomorrow, and will open the discussion on a topic that I think should be talked about. Check back this week, and you'll get a chance to sound off on my thoughts.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 24 November 2008

RHI Expansion Teams

After infuriating fans of the San Jose Sharks with my article regarding the Sharks' new alternate jerseys, it's time to light a fire under a couple more fanbases. I'll address the outrage in San Jose at the end of this article, but let's get to the jerseys. Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Phoenix Coyotes unveiled their new alternate jerseys this weekend, and it really looks like the NHL is working hard at becoming a roller hockey league. Phoenix's jerseys are questionable while Tampa Bay's jerseys are downright ridiculous.

Phoenix admittedly has one of the better looks in the NHL with their brick-red home jerseys. The road whites are fairly easy on the eyes as well, giving them a great look whether at home or on the road. Yet the Coyotes felt it was necessary to adopt a black alternate jersey for some inexplicable reason. I can't understand why teams who already have a good look insist on adding a black alternate jersey to the mix.

For a team that is bleeding red ink year in and year out, it's obvious that the Coyotes are trying to earn a few more merchandise dollars. This is the same team that designed and wore a bionic coyote alternate jersey a few years ago, so you know this is all about revenue and not the look. After all, who wears a black hockey jersey in Phoenix, Arizona as a fashion statement?

The jerseys themselves aren't that bad, though. The side panelling really goes nowhere, but that seems to be a common theme in the Reebok jersey designs. Phoenix rolls out a brand-new logo with their new alternate jerseys, and I'm not high on it. Is it a coyote? A red fox? A border collie?

However, Phoenix adds their distinctive logo to the right shoulder, and adds a brand-new patch to the left shoulder. I like the new patch simply because it's far more relevant than the old "PHX" patch they have been using.

Overall, these are solid but unspectacular jerseys. I'm still disappointed with the Coyotes introducing a black alternate jersey, but it seems to be the way of the NHL world. If they added a shoulder yoke of colour, I'd give them a higher grade, but these are simply palatable at this point. If you're looking to increase your revenue streams, Phoenix, there are better ways to do it.

The other team that debuted their new threads were the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a team that has seen its ups and downs, and has a Stanley Cup to show for it. They have secured themselves a spot in hockey's folklore, and are still firmly entrenched in a large part of a sports market that was thought to be unattainable in the Tampa Bay area.

The Lightning and Senators came into the league at the same time, but that's basically where the comparisons end. Yet these two teams are brought back together thanks to their awful alternate jersey idea - the nickname. Just as Ottawa did with billboarding their nickname across their chests, the Lightning have chosen to follow the same path. Why on Earth would any team do this?

First off, the colour is an improvement from the all-black look of their normal home jerseys. How much better does the blue look compared to the black jerseys? Infinitely, if you ask me. Another improvement is the loss of the shoulder number. I have never been a fan of the cluttered mess on the front of the jersey when you add patches and captaincy designations, and I'm glad that the Lightning didn't try to add the numbers back in on this alternate jersey.

The victory stripes under the arm - a constant on every Lightning jersey since Phil Esposito ran the club - are still present. The hemline stripe features a "Tampa Bay" workmark in case you had no idea where the "Bolts" came from. And the Lightning are the first team to alter their font for the new alternate jerseys. Normally, the font has a white-on-blue-on-silver outline, but the new outline is white-on-silver-on-black, essentially eliminating the outline effect. While I'd consider this a wash in terms of being good or bad, some people may consider this a drawback.

And can I make one simple request? Players need to start wearing their socks properly. Steve Eminger looks like a hockey player with the stripes around his shins, but Radim Vrbata does not. I noticed at least six or seven players wearing the stripes around their ankles rather than on their shins. Maybe it's just me, but it's an aesthetics thing, and I prefer the stripes worn properly.

Overall, the nickname idea is beyond stupid, but the blue jerseys are a nice look for the Lightning. They continue the tradition of wearing the victory stripes, but the rear hemline workmark is minor-league at the best of times. Another poorly conceived jersey, but I'll rank it higher than Ottawa's alternate jersey simply because it brings back some colour.

Lastly, to everyone on The NHL Arena board who want me to reconsider my thoughts on the Sharks' alternate jerseys, I still think the jerseys are terrible. Here's why:

  • The San Jose Sharks are a professional NHL hockey team. They do not need to sell Seagate's latest product for Seagate. In fact, I would bet that of the 18,000 people that show up to Sharks' games, 80% of the paying customers have no use for Seagate's latest product nor would they even have a clue about what "BlackArmor" is. The entire jersey is a billboard for Seagate now, and your team is better than that. Or at least I thought they were.
  • "Every heard of ‘HP’ Pavilion, ‘Oracle’ Arena, ‘Monster’ Park, etc.?" Yes, I actually have heard of them. They are stadiums. They are not jerseys. Arena owners use that naming revenue to help pay for things like improvements, renovations, and new arenas. Your team sold the ENTIRE alternate jersey to a corporation's marketing team. That's the definition of selling out. Are the Sharks that deep in the red that they have to sell off an entire set of uniforms? Otherwise, why not give away Seagate BlackArmor units to the first 5000 fans who purchase a new alternate jersey? Wouldn't that be a win-win for both the Sharks and Seagate?
  • "[L]est people forget that the Sharks are located in one of the most tech savvy places in the world". That explains the 12-year partnership, but it certainly doesn't qualify the Sharks to sell an entire set of uniforms to a company.
  • "I think if they had slapped a Seagate logo on the jersey, I would have protested too." But selling the entire uniform to a company to promote its product, and branding it as such, doesn't warrant the same protest?
  • Clearly, the HTML coding doesn't transfer through on a copy-and-paste. There were a number of strike-throughs being used for comedic purposes in comparing Venom to Seagate, Spiderman to the Sharks, and Peter Parker to Patrick Marleau.
  • As for "some blogger that's impressed with himself", I'm simply pointing out why I don't like them. While I appreciate you guys taking time to read my work, I'll gladly disagree in thinking that these jerseys are special. They're not. But that's my opinion, and that's precisely what I am saying.
  • "That writer is absolutely ignorant." I must be completely ignorant. I mean, the Sharks only started this season 17-3-1 in their regular jerseys featuring the burnt orange accents. Joe Thornton jerseys were only the 9th-hottest seller in December of last season out of all the players in the NHL. In February 2007, Thornton jerseys were still the 13th most popular. So it seems that as "unpopular" the colour is, burnt orange has no effect on the sale of Sharks jerseys. Thanks for being ignorant of that fact.
Look, I don't like black alternate jerseys. The Sharks have enough history that they could have done so much more than gone with boring black uniforms. In a sport that has seen jerseys of all colours, there is more to a team than a black alternate. Of course, we all have different opinions, and I respect that people in San Jose may not like the burnt orange highlights. I even pointed that out. However, as one person said, "it's just a friggin' jersey". Should we spend this much time on one person's opinion of them? That's up to you.

It's not like I'm suggesting someone should attempt to purposely injure a Shark. It's not like I've wished upon a star for Thornton's hands to turn to stone. It's not like I've placed a voodoo curse on them, hoping that they will crash and burn for the next 60 games. I could understand the rage if I had suggested any of those options.

I, as a person, like the Sharks as a team, and I am relying on them to keep their strong start going as they are helping me immensely in my fantasy pool. They're consistently a strong team, and they have an excellent front office staff who keeps them in the upper echelon of the NHL. I just wish they'd steer away from the black jerseys, much like I'd prefer Chicago and Carolina to avoid the black alternates. As for the fans, you guys are an incredible bunch, extremely passionate, and highly knowledgeable of all your team's activities. And isn't that what every NHL team wants - smart, engaging, passionate fans?

Honestly, though, thank you to everyone who has a comment and/or criticism. The fact that I've generated discussion amongst everyone is a sign that we're all passionate hockey fans. And nothing brings a smile to my face like having an intellectual discussion with passionate hockey fans.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Little Black Dress

Is it possible that there are simply just too many black jerseys in the NHL at this point? Is there anyone out there who simply is tired of black as a colour for a uniform? Last night, Ottawa rolled out their alternate atrocity, and I had a lot of photos to work with. In the late game, the Colorado Avalanche rolled into Los Angeles to play the Kings in their new threads. The Kings have used a variety of alternate jerseys since Gretzky rolled through The City of Angels, but there has long been a request for the Kings to go back to their glory days of the black-and-silver. With the Kings' new alternate worn yesterday, it appears that they are scratching the surface of that sentiment.

We're not going to bring up the alternate jersey affectionately called the "Burger King" jersey. That was a low point during Gretzky's time in Los Angeles, and it doesn't need to be re-examined. However, the logo on that jersey was one of the more comical logos ever produced, and it seems that the Kings are going down that route again with their new alternate logo. Do we need "LA" on the logo? No, not at all. But in case you were wondering who this "new" team was, it's easier to identify them now.

The Kings are back in black to a greater degree than either Carolina or Ottawa are.

As goaltender Erik Ersberg made his way on to the ice, the first that hit me was contrast. The black-vs-white contrasts really stand out, especially against Ersberg's pads. The Kings brought back the hem stripe on their alternate jerseys, something that has been sorely missing from hockey jerseys since Reebok took over. So far, this jersey is getting a passing grade.

The rear font is the same font used on their current jerseys, but I'd like to know why the shoulder yoke stripe runs into the arm stripes. They look like marionettes with the stripes in that format, and I don't think that was the intention. However, the sock stripes harken back to the days of Gretzky in his silver-and-black uniform, and that's a good look.

The one thing that I was really impressed with was the helmet sticker. That is the same helmet wordmark that the Kings used to use in the 1990s. That's a fabulous touch in bringing back the past, and I commend the Kings for making this decision.

All in all, these new Kings jerseys aren't as bad as I originally thought they might be. The logo is highly questionable, but the look of the uniform is very traditional yet modern-looking. The small details that the Kings used - the helmet sticker, the black-and-gray colour scheme, the hemline stripe - actually make these uniforms respectable. While I'm not crazy about them, the Kings may have introduced the best black jersey of the bunch that we've seen so far.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Can I Get That In Black?

Another day, another alternate jersey. Tonight, the Ottawa Senators rolled out their new alternate jersey for the 2008-09 season against the New York Rangers, and I'm simply baffled by how teams lack any sort of creativity. The Senators' website has AC/DC's rock anthem Back In Black screaming on their splash page, so you already know what's coming. I believe that originality scores high marks, so Ottawa's copying of Carolina's "Back In Black" unveiling already brings them in at a low score. However, this dumbing-down of the alternate jerseys has to stop. Now. It's insulting and gives the appearance of a minor-league outfit.

What am I talking about? How about the nickname on the jersey? Both Ottawa and Tampa Bay are committing this sin, and it's an abomination of anything traditional in the NHL. You don't see the Islanders plastering "Isles" across their jerseys. You don't see the Penguins promoting "Pens" on their jerseys. You don't see the Blackhawks wearing "Hawks" across their chests. What exactly is the point of this new wordmark?

Look, I get that some people that are new to hockey may not know where Ottawa is, or who the Senators are, or what this logo means. But if the new fans are interested, they'll hunt it down. Why? Because they are interested. At this point, the Ottawa "Sens" are nothing more than a local roller hockey team in this jersey. That's simply pathetic when you're playing in the best league on this planet.

There are absolutely no redeeming qualities to this jersey. None. Zilch. Zero.

The half stripes on the arms? Fail.

The patches of colour on the sleeves that go nowhere? Fail.

The apron look? Fail.

And despite all of Reebok's work to get their name plastered all over every single piece of the on-ice uniform, Dany Heatley went with Easton for his pants thanks to his contract with Easton that trumps the league's contract with Reebok.

Ottawa has gone with the black alternate jerseys before. The problem isn't with the black jersey here. The problem is that they had so many opportunities to reach back to the Senators of early 20th century for an iconic look. They're already using the "O" as a secondary logo on their home jerseys. Instead, another team chose to go black, and really decided to scrap any creativity by putting their nickname on the jersey instead of a logo.

Why couldn't they have opted for this logo? They have a patent registered in Canada for it. It looks fairly modern, and it would fit into their current scheme as well.

Instead, we get this. If there is anything positive I can say about these uniforms, it's that the Senators decided to keep their font the same as their other jerseys. Honestly, that's the only positive thing I can say. Everything else about this jersey advertises a lack of creativity, imagination, and professionalism.

The less I see of this jersey this season, the better. I am infuriated as a long-time NHL fan that a team like the Senators - one who has been fairly traditional in the past - has slapped every fan in the face. They are the Senators, not the "Sens". You can get by with "Sens" if you're talking about them casually, but they are always the "Senators" in the professional world.

Perhaps the NHL really isn't concerned with being professional any longer. It appears the Senators aren't.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Black Is The New Black

There have been a lot of teams that have recently turned to a black alternate uniform. Spiderman did it as well, but he's infinitely cooler to six year-olds than NHL teams are. I have asked it before, and I'll be asking it again soon: what is the fascination with the colour black as a uniform base colour? Spiderman to the left does look much more ominous than he did as his red-and-blue self, but Spidey also gets a lot of help from the artists by portraying him in shadows and darkness. There are a number of ways that Marvel tried to spin this new "uniform" that Spiderman decided to wear, but it was eventually revealed that his black tights were an alien symbiote known as Venom. Venom tried to bond with its host, Peter Parker, but was rejected. The Sharks, attempting to capitalize on a partnership, appear to be the NHL's version of Peter Parker as they have allowed a symbiote to change their look.

As you roll your eyes, consider this: the San Jose Sharks are calling their new black jerseys "BlackArmor". Working with Seagate in this 12th season of their partnership, the Sharks are allowing Seagate to promote its newest product called, ironically, BlackArmor™. BlackArmor, the world’s first safe portable hard drive, "is a storage solution that provides government-grade AES encryption certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to help protect against unauthorized access to your valuable and private information. The BlackArmor portable hard drive also puts all security keys and cryptographic operations within the device, delivering stronger protection against hacking and tampering than traditional software alternatives".

What the...? Are you kidding me?

For all the complaints that fans have made in North America over the advertisements seen on European hockey jerseys, isn't this the biggest sell-out yet? The Sharks have named their alternate jerseys after a product! What's next - the "Seagate Sharks of San Jose"? This is bordering on offensive in terms of selling advertising space.

"Aligning the cool new black sweater with our BlackArmor portable hard drive is a unique promotion that we think Sharks fans will enjoy," Chief Executive Officer of Seagate Bill Watkins said. "Just as strong defense is key for a successful team like the Sharks, strong defense for your valuable digital content is the key benefit of our BlackArmor portable hard drive, and we’re leveraging this promotion to raise awareness of the importance of keeping your content safe and secure."

The San Jose Sell-Outs are poised for a good run in the "best marketing campaign of the year". That statement from Mr. Watkins is the biggest stretch since spandex was made in extra-large sizes.

Anyway, let's take a look at how Venom Seagate attached themselves to Spiderman the Sharks with these new uniforms.

First off, the Sharks decided to return to a black alternate jersey as they have worn in past seasons. I'm ok with the new white-bordered logo as it stands out against the black background, but I simply hate black backgrounds on uniforms. The one thing that does bother me is the size difference between the numbers on the left-hand shoulder compared to the size of the captaincy designations on the right-hand shoulder. They make the jersey look asymmetrical. It's more noticeable on Peter Parker Patrick Marleau.

As you can see on Marleau's jersey, the Sharks are using their city's initials as a shoulder patch with a miniscule secondary logo for good measure. Perhaps this shoulder patch will remind people that the symbiote company Seagate doesn't, in fact, own the Sharks. Why not just use the fin logo? What purpose does it serve if you can barely see it? That's an "epic fail" move.

The rear font is clean and crisp, and makes reading the player's name and number very easy. Unfortunately, this is precisely what white-and-black is supposed to do, so I'm not going to commend the Sharks for using polar opposite colours to make their font stand out.

What bothers me the most about these jerseys is that the Sharks have abandoned the burnt orange colour they were trying to introduce on their regular jerseys. Aside from the microscopic fin logo that will go unseen on televisions around the world, where did the orange go? Patrick Marleau is still looking for it.

Really, though, these jerseys scream "boredom". There's nothing revolutionary or different about them that would make them stand out in crowd. They are black with a couple of stripes on the arms. Big whoop. There are no shoulder contrasts, as seen on the home jerseys, and the complete lack of orange - a colour the Sharks heralded during their redesign - is completely gone. They list their colour scheme as "Deep Pacific Teal, Burnt Orange, Black", yet there is no orange anywhere to be seen on this jersey.

Maybe the Sharks' staff members were reading blogs about how some fans didn't like the orange in the colour scheme. Orange just isn't liked in the colour scheme, it seems. However, the burnt orange is sharp, and I like it as an accent colour on their normal jerseys.

Could they have worked it in on this jersey? I'm thinking they could have. How? I'm not sure. I'm not a designer. But apparently the Sharks didn't use one to come up with this alternate jersey anyway.

Overall, a very boring jersey. And a thumbs-down from me. The worst part is calling the jerseys "BlackArmor". It stinks of cash grab. I understand the partnership, but you're nothing but a poorly-dressed European hockey team in these jerseys, Sharks. And that's poor form for a professional hockey team in the best league in the world. Very poor form.

Get back to the red-and-blue, Spidey teal-and-silver, Sharks. Black just ain't your colour.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

PhotoBlog

I love old photos. The historical aspects seen in each photo tells a lot about the timeframe in which the photo was taken. If the adage of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is true, I'm a believer. Life Magazine, in partnering with Google, has now made 10 million of their photos available via the Google Image Search, and some of these photos are truly amazing. From the start of the 20th century, Life Magazine has been compiling these photos, but the majority have never been seen by the public. In fact, Google and Life claim that 97% of the photos released to Google have never been seen! I've compiled a few of these, so let's run down some of the highlights. I'll also include some other photos I haven't had a chance to post yet. Let's take a look at some phenomenal hockey history.

I'll start with the Montreal Canadiens since they are the most storied franchise in NHL history. Jacques Plante, seen here wearing his mask, was a pioneer in hockey, and had a number of photographs taken of him. However, it was rare to get a picture of him without his mask. Life Magazine captured a picture of Mr. Plante in 1959 in the dressing room between periods. In another fabulous photo, Life also captured Jean Beliveau in his Quebec Aces sweater before he joined the Montreal Canadiens. Photos like these are absolute gold to me.

Moving on, the Chicago Blackhawks have a pile of photos in the Life Magazine gallery. Mike Karakas was the NHL's first American-born and trained goaltender, and starred with the Black Hawks. The Bentley brothers were a trio of stars for the Black Hawks. Bill Mosienko's fastest hat-trick in NHL history was memorialized on film. Mosienko turned the trick in 21 seconds versus the New York Rangers on March 23, 1952. Check out the uniform worn by Lionel Conacher - fabulous look, despite the all-black colour. Bobby Hull had his famous #9 retired by the Blackhawks, but how many people remember him wearing #16 and winning a Stanley Cup? And, while this photo isn't from Life Magazine, check out this Black Hawks player from the 1920s. Fabulous sweater!

From there, I have a few odds and ends that need to be seen. It's strange to see owners sitting in the crowd amongst the paying customers today, but Conn Smythe sat with everyone else in 1951 when he owned the Maple Leafs. I've never liked athletes in poses, but this Terry Sawchuk photo from 1952 shows a rudimentary blocker and a pretty nice shiner. Sawchuk never liked masks. Dave Kerr stacks the pads in the 1940s. The old-time Rangers sweater looks far different than today's jerseys.

Life Magazine has shown some impressive photography, and I'm excited to be able to sift through all their old images. However, there have been other pictures that need to be seen as well.

The Vancouver Sun took suggestions from kids as to what the new Vancouver Canucks alternate jerseys should look like. In a recent edition, they published the best of the bunch, and there certainly are some interesting ideas. At least kids in Vancouver have more creativity and imagination than the designers who worked on Dallas' alternate jersey.

There was definitely some sadness after the announcement of Alexei Cherepanov's passing, and the players in the NHL who were close to him obviously felt the loss of a dynamic, young player. In New York, Rangers' forward Nikolai Zherdev had been excited to play with the youngster next season, and clearly was forming a bond with Cherepanov through Jagr. When the announcement was made of his death, Zherdev took refuge on the bench to grieve for his friend. Brandon Dubinsky let Zherdev know he was not alone when it came to losing Cherepanov as a teammate and friend. A very classy move by Brandon Dubinsky in my opinion.

Josh Harding has been sporting a new mask for sometime, but, apparently, I missed the memo. Here's the side view of Harding's mask showing some pond hockey. I like it. I like it a lot.

If you're interested in wading through the myriad of photos that Google has already posted from the Life Magazine archives, please click here. Lots of good stuff in there, and hopefully they'll add more!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Bull And Bullies

Yesterday saw two more NHL teams roll out their newest jersey creations for this season's alternate jersey celebration. While one team went historical, following in the footsteps of the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vancouver Canucks, the other team went boring. I expected more from the Dallas Stars, and they seriously disappointed me despite all I heard about their alternates. The Philadelphia Flyers, on the other hand, went back in time to their glory days, and they look fairly sharp. Let's take a closer look at both of these new uniforms.

I might as well get Dallas out of the way first. I was hoping that Dallas might bring back the star-style jerseys that they had worn for so long, and were a completely unique design outside of the NHL All-Star Games for a few years. I was dreading the thought of them bringing back their previous alternate jersey. I hated it then, and I still hate it now.

However, they stuck to their word and introduced a brand-new alternate jersey that looks remarkably like a jersey they already wear.

Now, I'm not one to criticize a design team, but when your alternate jersey looks exactly the same as your home jersey but has the colours reversed, we call that a "road jersey". Why the Stars decided to replicate their home jersey in road colours and call it an alternate is beyond me, but wouldn't this jersey be more appropriate as the alternate now? I mean, it looks different than the other two jerseys, right? Or maybe the new alternate was a stepping stone in the evolution of the Stars' jerseys? They have the same striping, they have the same shoulder patch... could it be the missing link?

Absolutely brutal effort, Dallas. You could have done much, much better. Except you didn't. And I'm calling "BULL" to that effort.

On the other hand, the Flyers went back in time to the golden age of Philadelphia ice hockey. Or make that the bloodiest era of Flyers hockey. Either way, the Flyers unveiled their highly-anticipated throwback ORANGE jerseys to the days of the Broadstreet Bullies yesterday, and they look excellent.

I have been longing for the Flyers to return to the orange jerseys that they wore. They are classy, and the Flyers might be the only NHL team that can pull off orange this good due to their traditional look. To be quite honest, I hated the silver elements in their old alternate jerseys.

In bringing back the traditional look yesterday, the Flyers decided to add some very nostalgic pieces to the look of their new alternates. They employed the white nameplate just as the Flyers of the 1970s did. The white-on-black numbers really jump off the orange background, making them look sharp and bold. The side view is fairly traditional with the orange TV numbers.

I like the look of these new Flyers jerseys. They get a thumbs-up from me. Dallas, on the other hand, gets a different finger up from me for their complete lack of effort in designing an alternate jersey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Complete Stupidity

I love going to AHL games to watch the next wave of stars battle to make an NHL roster. There are always some players who shine a little brighter than others, and there are always the grizzled veterans who are the bonafide leaders on their respective teams. There are some phenomenal rivalries, and that's what makes the league even better. However, the rivalry between the Manitoba Moose and the Toronto Marlies just got a little more heated, thanks in large part to André Deveaux. The 6'4" centerman officially has committed the first stupid act of the 2008-09 hockey season by trying to injure Moose defenceman Nolan Baumgartner.

While I haven't been able to secure any video of the incident, I have seen it on television, and it literally makes Chris Pronger's stomp look like child's play. During the third period of Saturday's 4-2 Moose victory, Marlies forward André Deveaux drilled Baumgartner into the boards in front of the Moose bench with a legal, solid check.

The problem was what Deveaux did next. Deveaux pinned Baumgartner's head to the ice with his knee, kicked him in the side of the head with his skate, and then kneed him in the face again before the other Moose players intervened. However, with Baumgartner in a somewhat prone position, Deveaux continued to lean on Baumgartner's head with his knee while the scrum around the two players carried on.

Thankfully, Baumgartner only ended up with a few cuts on his face despite his close proximity to all the skate blades, but André Deveaux's actions were disgusting. Referee Kyle Rehman charged Deveaux two minutes for roughing which drew a chorus of boos from the Manitoba crowd. However, referee supervisor Dan McCourt was in the MTS Centre on Saturday, and spoke to AHL disciplinarian Jim Mill regarding this incident before the league decided on how to handle Deveaux's actions.

"To me, that wasn't a hockey play," said head coach Scott Arniel to the media scrum after the game. "That was just a guy ... whatever, stupidity. A guy trying to hurt another guy, with Baumer being in a very vulnerable spot. I hope the league looks at it and they agree with that, and whatever happens, happens. I don't like to see that stuff.

"That was just a guy on top of another guy driving his head into the ice."

Manitoba submitted a tape for the league's review, and the league handed out a four-game suspension today to the Marlies' forward under the provisions of AHL Rule 29.1. Deveaux will miss Wednesday's game at Rochester, Friday's game at Binghampton, Saturday at home against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and next Wednesday's game against Rochester in Toronto.

Honestly, it was a sickening incident that looked like something out of the UFC. I'm not sure what Deveaux was thinking when he decided to plant his knee in Baumgartner's kisser, but it's this sort of thing that makes hockey look like Thugs-On-Ice. Personally, Deveaux's punishment is probably long enough, but I would have liked to have seen the AHL come out harsh and punish Deveaux for his utter stupidity.

In any case, the struggles for the Marlies continue, and they'll be forced to head into action in the next four games down a man. Stupid is as stupid does, Deveaux. Next time, try using your head. That's that lump that sits three feet above your ass.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Something Stinks

I rarely seem to have enough free time to do anything outside of work and watch hockey (I know - I lead such a difficult life), so it took me a long time to finally take in Mike Myers' latest comedic flick known as The Love Guru. I have been a fan of Myers for sometime. I still maintain that Myers playing his own dad in So I Married An Axe Murderer is his best performance yet. So when it was announced that Myers was filming a hockey-themed movie, I figured that there were all the makings of a comedic masterpiece. After all, Myers is Canadian, loves the Toronto Maple Leafs, and grew up loving the sport of hockey. All I needed was a couple of hours, some popcorn, and the DVD, and I'd be good to go for some laughs.

Or so I thought.

How the hell did Myers greenlight this garbage? I don't think I even smiled during the viewing. Myers' performance was insulting, and I'm not even of the Hindu religion. Justin Timberlake's performance made me want to take my own life. Romany Malco's performance was palatable, but that's me being overly nice. And Jessica Alba's performance was as demeaning to women as humanly possible.

All in all, my review is as follows:
Ok, it's a bit of a stretch, but that's two hours of my life I'll never get back. What utter crap!

Mike Myers, I'm officially putting you on notice: you owe me two hours of my life back. And while I know you'll never pay up, all I ask for in exchange is a well-written comedy that I can watch over and over again. Because I'll never watch The Love Guru again for as long as I live. Satan probably plays it on endless repeat in Hell as a way to add to the fiery torture those souls are already enduring.

Ok, that might have been a little harsh. Seriously, avoid this movie. It's bad. Really, really, really bad.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!