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Thursday, 31 December 2009

HBIC YIR 2009

As the clock clicks towards 2010, Hockey Blog In Canada looks back in 2009 to bring you the best work done on this site from the past twelve months. I realize that there are a number of stories that should be highlighted for their importance or relevance to the major hockey stories this past year. We'll also take a look at the resolutions I proposed at the start of last year to see if I held true to things I wanted to do through 2009. Lastly, I want to run through some people and organization that deserve a "thank you" for helping HBIC become what it is, and for working towards making HBIC better than what it was. Let's get this party started with the Year-In-Review.

Janaury 2009
February 2009
  • February 14 - What number do you wear? HBIC takes a look at goaltenders who wear wacky numbers from a historical perspective.
  • February 20 - Oscar night. How many players named Oscar have had success in the NHL? HBIC can tell you.
  • February 27 - History of the masked men. HBIC, in conjunction with Uni Watch Blog, takes a look at the way the goalie mask has evolved over the course of time.
March 2009
  • March 6 - The passing of a legend. Colleen Howe, the woman behind NHL legend Gordie Howe, passes on. The world loses one of the all-time greatest people with the loss of Mrs. Howe.
  • March 15 - A legend retires. Brian Kilrea, legendary junior coach, hangs up the skates and clipboard. His retirement marks the end of an impressive era in Ottawa.
  • March 23 - Frozen Four logos to 1999. Uni Watch Blog and HBIC join forces to examine the Frozen Four logos and history up to, and including, 1999.
  • March 25 - Frozen Four logos to today. More information about the logos and history of the men's and women's Frozen Four.
  • March 28 - Men's Frozen Four jerseys. Phil Hecken from Uni Watch Blog works his magic in examining the jerseys worn by all 16 teams in the 2009 Frozen Four.
  • March 31 - The HHOF decides women are important. After being stuck in the stone age for so long, the Hockey Hall of Fame changes its by-laws to allow women into the Hall based upon their body of work in the game of hockey. Finally.
April 2009
  • April 9 - Communicating in hockey. HBIC is proud to provide major coverage of the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships. Great hockey is played over the next two weeks.
  • April 21 - Overtime playoff hockey rules. I love overtime in the NHL Playoffs, and this piece has a number of videos to show why.
  • April 24 - Ovechkin and Mara. These two are forever linked due to Ovechkin's goal-scoring ability and Mara's presence on the ice.
  • April 25 - Awesome photos. Triswykes, a commenter on the Uni Watch Blog, emailed me a pile of old pictures from the NCAA. Note all the old equipment!
May 2009
  • May 4 - Overtime in the playoffs. I'm not sure why the talking heads on TV need to change something that works so well in the NHL Playoffs.
  • May 5 - Stick-swinging incident #1. Tomas Surovy clocks teammate Jaroslav Halak. My opinion is that it is an accident, but it's still stupid.
  • May 9 - Balsillie gets lots of press. The battle for the Phoenix Coyotes was just beginning, but Jim Balsillie proved that he had been planning the coup for some time. I take swings.
  • May 16 - Bettman mentions Winnipeg. This dream of having an NHL team in Winnipeg needs to stop. I make the case for the insanity to end.
  • May 18 - Rick Dudley's music career. I was unaware that Rick Dudley's hockey career in Cincinnati was overshadowed by his music career. Until I wrote this piece.
  • May 24 - A non-starring role. I spend a day out in Selkirk, Manitoba on the set of CBC's newest mini-movie about Don Cherry. And I learn about the movie-making business.
  • May 26 - Losing another. The hockey world sees Peter Zezel lose the battle with anemia. The entire world loses a great man who was significantly underappreciated.
June 2009
  • June 8 - A more personal loss. Paul Lukas, head man over at Uni Watch, sees his father pass on. Rest in peace, Mr. Irwin Lukas.
  • June 13 - Lord Stanley's Cup is handed out. The Penguins defeat the Red Wings in seven games to win the third Stanley Cup in team history.
  • June 16 - Spelling errors. HBIC takes a look at mistakes on the Stanley Cup in terms of spelling errors, multiple names, and a few omissions.
  • June 21 - Hockey's family tree. HBIC looks at all the members of the Sutter family who have played hockey in the various leagues across the globe.
  • June 23 - New mathematics. HBIC looks at a formula to determine a defenceman's value in terms of overall performance on the ice.
  • June 30 - Prospects and the future. HBIC takes a long look at the vast amount of talent that the Washington Capitals have stockpiled.
July 2009
  • July 7 - Going extinct. The Iowa Chops, farm team for the Anaheim Ducks, announce that they are ceasing operations. And the AHL gains respect as a professional league.
  • July 10 - End of an era. Joe Sakic announces that he will retire. Burnaby Joe is the epitome of class in a hockey player, and I pay him some respect.
  • July 24 - Product endorsement. I had never heard of "Sweet-Stick", but chatter of it on Hockey Night In Canada forced me to research it. Readers said it works.
  • July 27 - More product endorsement. I test WIN detergent out at home. My test piece of laundry drew rave reviews for its overall stank.
August 2009
  • August 8 - Clairvoyant. I make a radical proposal in the battle for the Coyotes: the NHL should buy the franchise. I'm not saying that I am clairvoyant, but I came close.
  • August 9 - The cab ride from hell. Patrick Kane shakes the hockey world up by posing for mugshots in Buffalo after a dispute with a cab driver.
  • August 14-15 - Captains of the ship. HBIC looks at the captains of the Manitoba Moose since their move to Winnipeg. IHL captains are featured, followed by the AHL captains.
  • August 25 - Confirming clairvoyance. The NHL officially files a motion to buy the NHL. 13 days earlier, I had suggested that very thing.
  • August 30 - Wild new look. The Minnesota kick off the alternate jersey frenzy for the 2009-10 season as they debut their new alternates. And I comment on this look.
September 2009
  • September 2 - Retro Flames. The Calgary Flames announce that they will be wearing a throwback jersey in honour of their 30th anniversary. I comment on these.
  • September 9 - Breaking the rules. Washington's Alexander Ovechkin tells the NHL that he doesn't care about their ideals, and will "definitely" be playing in the 2014 Olympics.
  • September 13 - More new threads. Philly shows off their Winter Classic uniforms, and the University of North Dakota gets some Reebok-isized uniforms.
  • September 24 - Being fed crumbs. Or, at least, crummy teams. The NHL stages an Oilers-Lightning game in Winnipeg. I demand better based on the price of tickets alone.
  • September 30 - Unceremoniously. The Phoenix Coyotes ordeal ends with a whimper, and Jim Balsillie walks away with his tail tucked between his legs. For now.
October 2009
  • October 9 - Icing is bad. I'm not a fan of touch icing when there is such a huge risk for injury. I make the comparison of driving a Ferrari into a wall.
  • October 13 - Toronto is in a hole. The Leafs start the season in complete disarray, and I make a bold statement: if Toronto betters last season's point total, I'll give away a Maple Leafs jersey. It's currently in the Prize Vault awaiting the Leafs to do good.
  • October 15 - ECHL fashions. I post the entire list of ECHL teams that will have a promotional jersey night this season.
  • October 16-17 - Theoren Fleury talks. Fleury's return to the NHL didn't end with a roster spot, but it helped him talk about his life and his new book. He appeared on The Hour and on The Fifth Estate on CBC.
  • October 19 - Simply amazing. In November 2008, I wrote an article about the Preston Rivulettes. This is the follow-up article with Miss Ruth Collins. Huge thanks goes out to Miss Collins and Matt, her grandson, for providing me with this opportunity!
  • October 21 - Down the middle. HBIC looks at center ice lines in hockey, and the various design elements that go into making them unique.
November 2009
  • November 2 - Head trauma. I make the suggestion that cheering on monsterous hits could be a reason for the increase of hits to the head, and the resulting increase in concussions.
  • November 3 - Wednesdays change. An opportunity is extended to HBIC from the AHL's Manitoba Moose. HBIC will now dedicate Wednesdays to the AHL club.
  • November 5 - No more games. OHL Commissioner David Branch throws the book at Erie Otters forward Michael Liambis after he destroys Ben Fanelli.
  • November 12 - Colorado goes blue. The Avalanche present their new alternate jerseys to the world, and I find serious problems with their design and colours.
  • November 16 - Forsberg says no. Peter Forsberg announces he will not return to the NHL this season. Does anyone notice? Or care?
  • November 21 - Best look ever. I take a look at every city to house either an NHL or WHA team, and pick the best uniform from their history.
  • November 23 - Panthers are tamed. Florida introduces the world to their alternates, and I am underwhelmed again. This trend will continue.
  • November 27 - Blackhawks go retro. The Blackhawks bring back their Winter Classic jerseys with a few changes. I'm a fan of these.
  • November 28 - Smashville. Nashville goes black-and-blue with their alternates, and there are elements that I like in this new jersey.
December 2009
  • December 3 - Computer savvy. I got to test-drive an impressive piece of hockey software, and I must say that it was quite slick.
  • December 6 - Coward. I make the case that Daniel Carcillo's punch on Matt Bradley is a sucker-punch and, therefore, cowardly.
  • December 10 - Magazine archives. I found an interesting article in an old edition of Popular Mechanics that suggests that Gordie Howe's wrist shot is harder than any shot recorded in modern NHL history.
  • December 11 - Most successful coach. I find some interesting information about John Paris Jr., the most successful African-American head coach in pro hockey.
  • December 19 - No yule logs. The Minnesota Wild encounter a serious problem as their equipment burns in the back of their truck.
  • December 21 - Best all-time. I make the case that Martin Brodeur is the best goaltender in the history of the NHL based on his career stats and accolades.
  • December 22 - Being responsible. Sheldon Souray makes the case for players protecting players, and I agree with his suggestion.
I do want to thank a number of people for helping me make HBIC successful this year. In no particular order, I'd like to thank: Paul Lukas, Phil Hecken, Rick Pearson, Eric Postma, Dorion Morphy, Nikole Kritikos, Cassandra Sadek, Derek Jory, Matt McLeod, Ruth Collins, the Manitoba Moose, the Vancouver Canucks, Pepsi Canada, Scholastic Canada, and Random House Canada.

But most of all, I want to thank you, the reader, for stopping by and reading my babble about hockey. At the closing bell for 2009, over 302,000 visits have been logged on this site, and I want to issue 302,000 thank yous to all of you. Thank you so much for making HBIC a part of your day, and for making HBIC an absolute joy for me.

There is the HBIC YIR for 2009. There are lots of stories that I didn't pick as my favorites, so I encourage you to search through the archives if you're searching for specific news. The Winter Classic is less than 15 hours away, so get yourself ready for some excellent outdoor hockey action tomorrow!

Until 2010, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 9

Welcome to the last Antler Banter of 2009! After a week-long break, the Moose returned to action on Sunday and Monday as the Abbotsford Heat traveled east to Winnipeg for a two-game set. With the Heat hot on the heels of Manitoba in the standings, these two games were vitally important to both teams in terms of the points at hand. Did the Moose use the week off to work on the little things to get their overall success rolling, or does 2009 end in the same fashion as the previous three months of .500 hockey? Also, there was more shuffling of the lineup with releases and call-ups, and we'll look at the injury report as the Moose begin to get healthy for the new year. As always, for all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Happy New Year of Hardcore Hockey!

Putting The Heat On The Heat

Manitoba came into the game needing a couple of wins over their division rivals from BC in order to put some space between the two clubs. These four points over the next two nights could prove huge down the stretch, so there was hope that Manitoba could pull off two wins over Abbotsford. 7748 fans took in the Sunday game that saw Cory Schneider take to the nets for Manitoba while Matt Keetley drew the assignment for Abbotsford.

It didn't take long for Manitoba to show that they were hungry for the win. With Keith Seabrook off for holding just 1:59 into the game, the Moose powerplay went to work quickly and efficiently. Brian Salcido's wrist shot from the point at the 2:05 mark got the home side on the board as it appeared to have deflected in off of Abbotsford defenseman Matt Pelech. Salcido's powerplay goal was his fourth of the year. Marty Murray drew an assist on the goal after winning the face-off in the offensive zone cleanly, and this kind of success in the face-off circle will help the Moose immensely.

A few more penalties were handed out as the rest of the first period was winding down, but they had little effect on the outcome. I will say that this first period of hockey might have been the best that I've seen the Moose play this season. Shots were kept to the outside for the most part, and the Moose played aggressively. With the shot clock favoring the Moose by a 13-6 margin, the Moose took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Michael Grabner made his return to the Moose line-up in a big way as he opened the second period with a gorgeous goal just 2:08 in. Sergei Shirokov found the speedy winger standing all alone at the edge of the crease with a pass through two Heat defenders, and Grabner roofed his fifth of the season over the sprawling Keetley to give the Moose a 2-0 advantage.

At 6:38 of the second, the Moose struck again. Marco Rosa sent the puck behind the net to Sergei Shirokov. Shirokov saw defenseman Nathan McIver pinching in from the point, and fed him the puck in the face-off circle. McIver hammered a blast past Keetley's blocker for his first of the season, and Manitoba was off and running with a 3-0 lead.

Just 1:30 later, the Moose opened a four-goal advantage. Pierre-Cedric Labrie picked up a loose puck after Tommy Maxwell had won a battle along the boards, and skated the puck out to the blue line before flipping it over to Evan Oberg. Oberg took two strides and unleashed a high slapshot that got past Keetley on the blocker side. Oberg's first of the season gave the Moose a 4-0 lead at the 8:08 mark. With that goal, Keetley's night was done, and Leland Irving was sent out to try and salvage something for Abbotsford.

Manitoba carried the play in this period as well, and they won a lot of the battles for loose pucks. Again, Manitoba outshot Abbotsford in this period by a 12-7 advantage, and played extremely well in their own zone. After 40 minutes, the Moose had a solid 4-0 lead.

The third period was more of the aggressive Moose play. Bodies were banged, shots were fired, and saves were made. However, Abbotsford came out with a renewed sense of aggression as well, and they began matching the Moose shot for shot.

Travis Ramsey was whistled for holding at the 15:47 mark of the third period, sending Abbotsford to their fifth powerplay of the night. Keith Seabrook wired a shot on net from the point that Schneider couldn't smother, and Kris Chucko poked the puck under Schneider and across the goal line for his ninth goal of the season. With the score 4-1 and only 3:42 remaining, the Heat shifted into desperation hockey.

However, it wasn't to be as the Moose withstood the onslaught of Heat shots late in the third, securing the 4-1 win. Schneider shone brightly in net tonight, but this game was really a collaborative team effort from whistle to whistle. Everyone showed good hustle, a lot of little things were done extremely well, and the end result was a win that brought back memories of last season. With the victory, the Moose improve their record to 18-14-4-0.

Divisional Points Are Huge

With the win in the books the previous night, the Moose looked to turn around their dismal second game record this season with another "W" against the Heat. With the Heat falling two points further back of the Moose, you know they were looking for the split. With 7636 Moose fans escaping the cold, the Moose really looked to put the pressure on the Heat.

Geoff Waugh and Abbotsford's JD Watt renewed acquaintances just 4:09 into the game as Waugh took exception to Watt's hit on Nathan McIver. After they danced for a minute, both men took a five-minute break. Manitoba jumped out to an early lead thanks to Brian Salcido once again. Just 40 seconds later, Salcido one-timed a Travis Ramsey feed high and hard to Irving's blocker side, and the Moose were on the board. Salcido's fifth of the season, and second goal on back-to-back nights, put the Moose up 1-0. Both teams played a little tighter as chances were limited, but the Moose took that one-goal lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes of play.

With both teams testing the defense of their opposition, play was tight to open the second period. Mikael Backlund and Evan Oberg were sent off for roughing just 1:09 into the middle frame, and the rough stuff didn't end there. Hits were being dished out by both teams until two of the bigger kids had had enough. Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Abbotsford's Ryley Grantham solved their disagreement through a bout of fisticuffs, and a massive right fist from Labrie to Grantham's cranium scored him the win in this battle.

Goaltender Cory Schneider made a number of highlight reel stops in this period, but he couldn't stop them all. With Tommy Maxwell sitting in the sin bin for roughing, the Heat evened the game. Riley Armstrong tried to jam the puck underneath Schneider from the side of the net on the stick side, but Schneider made the stop. However, the puck popped straight out to the top of the crease where Jamie Lundmark was lurking, and the veteran sniper netted his eighth of the season on the powerplay at the 17:51 mark.

After 40 minutes, the game was tied at 1-1, but without the efforts of Irving and Schneider, it could have been 9-9. Both goalies were incredible in the second period as the two teams combined for 29 shots-on-goal. Abbotsford held the slight edge in the game at a 25-24 count, but both teams had excellent chances turned away by spectacular goaltending.

The third period saw the tight checking continue, but the teams held their discipline in check as only one penalty was called on either side. The goaltending clinic being held at either end of the ice was the difference as neither team could find the twine in the third. Overtime was much the same as both the Heat and Moose were comfortable in not allowing either side to gain an advantage, so it was off to the shootout to decide this one.

Schneider was perfect on all four shots he faced, while the Moose scored on two of three attempts. Marco Rosa and Michael Grabner beat Irving to give Manitoba the 2-1 shootout victory, improving their record to 19-14-4-0.

One note that should be pointed out is that Jamie Lundmark was assessed a ten-minute misconduct under Rule 75.4 at the end of the overtime period. According to the rule, there are four incidents where this rule may be applicable, but only one fits the situation in which Lundmark received the penalty. That portion of the rule states that "[a]ny player or goalkeeper who, after warning by the Referee, persists in any course of conduct (including threatening or abusive language or gestures or similar actions) designed to incite an opponent into incurring a penalty".

While it had no bearing on the outcome of the game - Lundmark was the fourth shooter in the shootout - this is the first time I have ever seen an official hand out a misconduct for "threatening language". Referee Jean Hebert must have heard or seen something that was entirely inappropriate from Lundmark to warrant that kind of penalty.

Creating Space

The four points that Manitoba picked up this week are enormous. Having played 37 games already, the Moose now sit firmly entrenched in third place in the North Division with 42 points. They have a five-point lead over both Grand Rapids and Abbotsford. They also trail Hamilton by three points and Rochester by four points. While Rochester has three games in hand (GIH) and Hamilton has four GIH, the Moose distanced themselves nicely from the Griffins and Heat. Abbotsford has a mere one GIH while Grand Rapids has three GIH. As I stated before the Christmas break, winning divisional games was paramount for the Moose. There is the proof of that statement.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

While concussions still plague a couple of Moose players, there is light at the end of the tunnel for another mainstay on the blue line.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - broken finger. Baumgartner has been skating with the Moose this week, and is hopeful for a return against the Texas Stars this weekend. Otherwise, the Moose reargaurd should be ready for a rematch of last year's Calder Cup against the Hershey Bears.
  • Michael Funk - concussion. Word from head coach Scott Arniel is that Funk is still experiencing concussion symptoms. This is extremely worrisome in that Funk has had a couple of concussions within a one-year period. No time set for a return, but it might be better to hold him out for the rest of the season.
  • Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set, but the Moose are playing it safe with their concussed players. This treatment of not rushing players back is something that should be applauded and endorsed throughout the hockey world.
As Fast As They Are Here, They Are Gone

The Canucks recalled one Moose player this week who had contributed to their recent success, and the Moose released another player.
  • Mark McCutcheon - released from PTO. McCutcheon's time in Manitoba wasn't marked with a lot of scoring as he recorded no points, but he did provide adequate relief to a team racked with injuries and call-ups earlier. However, his lack of production in his twelve games probably spelled the end for the plucky centerman.
  • Alexandre Bolduc - recalled by the Vancouver Canucks. Bolduc was recalled due to Jannik Hansen's inconsistent play, according to Canucks' coach Alain Vigneault. However, Pavol Demitra is skating with the Canucks again, so it appears this move will be temporary.
Upcoming Moose Action

The Moose have the West Division-leading Texas Stars in town this week. The two clubs meet up at MTS Centre at 4PM CST on New Year's Eve for the Moose's annual New Year's Eve game, and then play the second of two games on Sunday night. This should be a great test to see if the Moose's recent play is indicative of their commitment to this style of play, or was simply a matter of catching Abbotsford off-guard. The Stars enter the game with a 20-10-2-3 record for 45 points.

The Stars have three players leading their team with 21 points. Former Moose forward Greg Rallo is having an outstanding season with 12 goals and nine assists. His 12 goals are a team-best for Texas. Also at 21 points with identical six goal-15 assist records are Aaron Gagnon and Perttu Lindgren. Veteran defenseman and Canucks property Brad Lukowich is leading the Stars from the blue line. Lukowich has three goals and 15 assists this season. Goaltender Brent Krahn has been absolutely outstanding in net for the Stars. In 12 games this season, he has a 10-2-0 record with three shutouts, a 1.41 GAA, and a .958 save percentage.

Clearly, this Stars team is playing extremely good hockey, and they will be a stiff test for the Moose. A weekend split would be a good result, but the Moose should really be looking for all four points while playing at home.

Good-Bye 2009, Hello 2010

I just want to take this time to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and to remind you to be responsible on New Year's Eve. If you're going to have a drink, please don't drive. Let's ring in 2010 in the happiest way possible!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Random Things

This post has little value aside from being a random collection of things that have been bouncing around in my head lately. While all of these thoughts have to do with hockey, some are pictures, some are my own commentary, and others are pure random thoughts. I'm not going to waste a lot of time with this pre-amble, so let's get going.

  • Canada's shutout streak at the World Junior Championships ends at 177:25. That is a new record for one team at the World Junior Championships, but it finally came to an end on a Slovakian powerplay goal by Richard Panik. Well done, Canada!
  • Canada defeats Slovakia tonight by an 8-2 margin. The US trounces Latvia 12-1. The New Year's Eve tilt between the two North American teams will be for first place in Pool A as both teams sit 3-0. And both teams seem to be foaming at the mouth for this game.
  • Sweden took control of Pool B with a convincing 4-1 victory over Russia today. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson had a goal and two assists for the Swedes as they move to 3-0. The loss drops Russia to 2-1, and they square off against the Czech Republic on Thursday. Sweden and Finland also tangle on Thursday, but it appears the Tre Kronor will win Pool B.
  • Several Olympic teams have been announced, although none are set in stone as of yet. According to the IIHF rules, the Olympic rosters don't have to be set until the night before the competition begins. That means that other players could be swapped in for injured players as we get closer to February. If you're interested in examining who is playing for what country, here are the rosters for Russia, Sweden, Latvia, Norway, Slovakia, and Belarus thus far.
  • Dan Shaughnessy of Sports Illutrated takes a stab at why the Winter Classic is beginning to look better and better each New Year's Day. If you are sick of the "Corporate Dollar Bailout Bowl" and the "Taxpayer Relief Fund Bowl" in the NCAA featuring two football teams that are barely above .500, you'll like what Shaughnessy has to say.
  • One guy who isn't going to the Olympics this year? Dominik Hasek. Tomas Vokoun, if his ear can hold up, will be the starter for the Czech team according to head coach Vladimir Ruzicka. It's probably for the best if Hasek doesn't play. The last time he went to the Olympics, he blew out a hip. He'll be 44 years-old, and there just aren't that many doctors that can perform successful hip replacement in the Czech Republic from my research (I kid! I kid!).
  • Bobby Hull makes regular stops into the United Centre, normally when there is a chance to stand in the spotlight like he did on May 22, 2009 with Michael Jordan. However, there was a time once when Hull enjoyed the simpler life of tossing hay bales and chewing on cigars. The good ol' days, indeed!
  • Check out this picture of Glenn Hall sitting in his stall in the Black Hawks locker room. The little amount of padding alone is ridiculous when considering some of the shots that Hall faced in his record-setting 551 consecutive starts in both the regular season and playoffs. I'm also fond of that Black Hawks garbage can.
  • I have nothing but appreciation for this picture of Mike Milbury covered in New York Islanders Fisherman colours and logos. I'd buy that jacket at full price right now if I could find one that fits me.
  • If I could find a Cleveland Barons jersey that looked as good as this one, I'd mortgage the house for it. I don't know why, but those Ohio-outlined sleeve numbers are the epitome of a unique uniform idea.
Tomorrow is the last Antler Banter of 2009, and we'll have the HBIC Year-In-Review on Thursday and Friday when I'll be somewhat incapacitated. There have been some incredible stories from this past year, and I think they need to be re-examined in the YIR.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 28 December 2009

My Two Cents

If someone offered me a penny for my thoughts today, I'd come away with two cents. I only want to touch on two things, and then I'm off the grid today as I have a million and one things I want to accomplish before I return to the old salt mine tomorrow. Needless to say, there are some things happening today in the world of hockey, and I'll point those out at the end of this scribe. Let's get to my two ideas worth a total of two pennies, though.

First, HBIC is running its World Junior Championship Contest right now. All you have to do is predict the top scorer in the tournament, the two teams in the final, and the gold medal game final score. It's easy, and there are three awesome prizes to win!

Get your entries in ASAP!

The second thing that happened yesterday that caught me off-guard was a strange, fluky goal in Calgary. The game between the Canucks and Flames was a hard-fought, Northwestern battle as always, but things seemed to go off the tracks for the Flames after Miikka Kiprusoff was victimized by a Mason Raymond goal. Check it out:

Oops. Raymond's second goal of the night was certainly one that Kipper would like to have back in a big way. Raymond capped off his natural hat trick later in the game, but Calgary was simply a different team after this goal.

And one last thing that totally caught my attention was the announcement of the Swedish Olympic team yesterday. Ok, that didn't catch my attention as much as the omissions did. Johan Franzen? Not included. Stefan Bergsfor? Not on the list. Mikael Samuelsson? Not there either. And Samuelsson was not happy about it.

"Probably going to get in trouble for this, but they can go (expletive deleted) themselves," Samuelsson said to CTV's John Marchesan after the Calgary-Vancouver game.

Wow. With all the injured players on the list that head coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, I suppose that Samuelssson has a right to be angry. You just never hear it put so eloquently.

Lots of hockey action on today if you're looking for some hockey on TV. 3:30 EST has Canada taking on Switzerland at the World Junior Championships on TSN, 2:00 EST has Team Canada playing HC Davos at the Spengler Cup on Rogers Sportsnet (tape delayed in for west of Ontario), and the NHL has a whole bunch of games on tonight. Check out some hockey action!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The European Canadian Team

There's another Team Canada that is celebrating the holiday season by defeating teams from all across the planet. The Spengler Cup is being played in Davos, Switzerland, and Canada is looking to better their second-place finish from last season's tournament. You'll probably recognize the majority of the names on this team as they are former NHL and AHL stars, but this collection of Canadians are currently playing in Europe for a variety of teams.

Canada is led by former Islander Wade Dubielewicz and former Coyote David Leneveu in net. Dublielewicz is currently playing for the AHL's Houston Aeros, and sports a 7-7 record with a 2.21 GAA for the AHL club. Leneveu is playing with EC Red Bull Salzburg, and most recently welcomed his second daughter, Hannah, to the family. David and his wife, April, and his two daughters, Ashlynn and Hannah, are with Salzburg on a one-year deal.

On the blueline, the Canadians are led by former St. Louis Blues defenseman Jamie Rivers, former Maple Leaf Ric Jackman, and former Thrasher Yannick Tremblay. Rounding out the seven defensemen are a few former AHL stars: Micki DuPont, formerly of the Peoria Rivermen; Mike Siklenka, formerly of the Philadelphia Phantoms; Curtis Murphy, formerly of the Houston Aeros; Shawn Heins, formerly of the Chicago Wolves; and, Travis Roche, formerly of the San Antonio Rampage.

Up front, the collection of forwards include a former first overall NHL draft pick, a former Stanley Cup winner, and a number of recognizable former NHL players. The first overall NHL draft pick is none other than Alexandre Daigle, who is currently starring for SC Langnau Tigers in the Swiss Elite League. The former Stanley Cup winner is Boyd Devereaux, who is currently playing for Lugano in the Swiss Elite League.

Other notable names include former Shark and Sabre Curtis Brown, former Penguin and Lightning Michel Ouellet, former Blue Jacket and Thrasher Serge Aubin, former Avalanche and Panther Brett McLean, former Shark and Maple Leaf Mark Bell, former Thrasher JP Vigier, and former NHL nomad Randy Robitaille. Rounding out the forwards are former AHLers such as Cory Pecker, Kurtis McLean, Dale McTavish, Brendan Brooks, Blaine Down, and Jean-Guy Trudel.

While the lack of apparent star power that this team has, don't be fooled by the lack of success these players had in North America. Brendan Brooks, for example, leads the SC Langnau Tigers in scoring with 17 goals and nine assists in 34 games this season. Serge Aubin leads Fribourg-Gottéron with 12 goals and 17 assists in 32 games while Shawn Heins sits third on the team in scoring with eight goals and 15 assists in 33 games. The players selected for the Spengler Cup team have had a lot of success in their respective European leagues.

Leading the team behind the bench is former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. He is joined by last year's Spengler Cup head coach Sean Simpson and former NHL forward Doug Shedden. Simpson is the head coach for Zurich in the Swiss Elite League, while Shedden is the head coach for Zug of the Swiss Elite League.

Yesterday was the opening game for Canada as they squared off against HC Energie Karlovy Vary from the Czech Republic. While Canada had only been together since Christmas Eve, they faced Karlovy Vary who has been struggling in the Czech Extraliga. Currently, they sit 12th out of fourteen teams in the Extraliga.

Both teams were a little shaky with lots of turnovers. Michal Dobron opened the scoring for EKV with three minutes to play in the opening period, but Mike Siklenka responded for Canada with one minute to go. Both teams took a 1-1 draw into the first intermission.

Jaroslav Kristek scored his first of two on the day just six minutes in. Consecutive goals by Shawn Heins and Travis Roche put Canada up 3-2. Kristek evened the score just a few minutes later with his second goal. Kurtis McLean put the Canadians back up by one, but the Czech squad responded with two goals before the end of the period. Former NHLer Dmitry Zyuzin and Lukas Pech gave EVK a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes.

The third period saw both teams doing all they can to try and steal a victory. Mark Bell notched a goal in the opening seconds of the period to even the game at 5-5. Alexandre Daigle gave Canada the lead just before the halfway mark of the third period, but EVK responded with a goal from Jan Kostal just three minutes later. Both teams battled to the final buzzer, and overtime solved nothing as neither team gave an inch.

In the shootout, Dubielewicz stopped former NHLer Zigmund Palffy, Lukas Pech, and Jaroslav Kristek. Serge Aubin scored on Canada's second shot, and the Canadians earned a hard-fought but sloppy 7-6 shootout win.

Canada will be in action again tomorrow as they play the host HC Davos club from Switzerland. Davos defeated HC Dynamo Minsk from the KHL last night by a 3-2 score, and defeated EVK today by a 5-3 score. Canada will need to play better in their own end to keep pace with the speedy Davos players. Former Blackhawk Reto Von Arx leads Davos in points with four (2-2) and former Panther Juraj Kolnik leads Davos in goals with three.

With the World Junior Championships and the Spengler Cup happening at the same time, this is the best time of year to be a Canadian hockey fan!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Goals All Over

If anyone thought Canada might have trouble scoring goals in this year's World Junior Championship, the team may have laid that idea to rest after one period today. Granted, Canada was playing also-ran Latvia in today's opening game, but 16-0 is an ugly score for any team to have hung on them. In the other early game, Sweden also proved that it will be an offensive force to be reckoned with as they trounced the Czech Republic 10-1. The Swedes ran roughshod all over the Czechs, and lived up to their billing as one of the pre-tournament favorites.

With all that being said, Hockey Blog In Canada wants to get you some free gear. That's right: it's the season of giving, and HBIC wants in on that action. I might be a little later for Christmas, but a gift is still good any time of the year, right? With that being said, I present to you...

HBIC's World Junior Hockey Championship Contest

The rules for this one are easy:
  • Name the leading scorer in the tournament.
  • Name the finalists in the gold medal game.
  • Call the final score of the gold medal game, noting which of your two selected teams is the victor.
Now, you might be thinking that this is far too easy with Canada and Sweden hammering their opponents in their opening games. Well, Russia still has to play, the Americans and Finns meet tonight, and all of the favorites still have to play one another. And the four teams that aren't favored to win the event can still pull off some upsets.

All you have to do is name the leading scorer of the tournament. Gabriel Bourque has seven points thus far for Canada, but anything can happen over the rest of tournament. If you win, I'll get you some free gear compliments of Pepsi, and throw in some stuff from the HBIC Prize Vault.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that I have to send your address to Pepsi as they will not send me the Cheer Gear. If you are uncomfortable with having your name and address passed on to a third party, please DO NOT ENTER.

Prize 1: Pepsi Cheer Gear package, Team Canada baseball cap, and Hockey Firsts book.
Prize 2: Pepsi Cheer Gear package and Beyond the Crease book.
Prize 3: Pepsi Cheer Gear package.

The scoring for this contest is easy:
  • The scorer you select will earn you points. For every point he tallies, you earn the same number of points. Therefore, if Bourque scores 16 points in the tournament, you end the tournament with 16 points in this section.
  • Each correct team in the gold medal game will earn you five points. If Canada and Russia play in the final, and you select those two teams, you will have earned ten points. If Canada and Sweden make the final, and you had called Canada-Russia, you will only receive five points.
  • The correct score and team will net you another five points. If you only have the correct team, you will only receive one additional point. If you called the correct score, you'll get two additional points. These will not be combined. For example, if you predicted that Canada would win by a 4-2 score, and Canada wins 5-3, you get one additional point. If Canada loses by a 4-2 score, you get two points for predicting the score.
  • However, to reduce the number of ties in this contest, the further your score is away in total goals will reduce you point total. If Canada wins by a 5-4 score but you had predicted a 4-3 final, you will lose two points (9 - 7 = 2).
Sounds easy, but you need to have a handle on who is playing, so check the info here. Entries will be accepted no later than December 28 at 11:59pm! Get your entries in by emailing me with the subject line reading "WJC Contest". Good to go? Alright then. Get those entries in!

I want to thank Pepsi for their generous donation of the three Cheer Gear packages in helping out with this contest. Thank you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Another Christmas Tradition

I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas Day, and that all of your Christmas wishes have or are coming true. People always say that it's a magical time of year, and I have to agree. There is no season like the holiday season as everyone around the world, regardless of their beliefs, looks to celebrate. Traditional practices such as family feasts, the exchanging of gifts, and inviting loved ones to a family gathering are all seen during this season. I'll just point out that the feast at my locale was delicious, and certainly deserving of a culinary award. Gifts were exchanged, so everything about the holiday season has gone to plan. And now, we prepare for another popular tradition in Canada: the World Junior Championships.

There are a couple of teams that probably will be overwhelmed when they step on the ice against the top-six teams. There are a couple of darkhorses that, if given the opportunity, can pull off an upset and possibly find themselves in a medal game. There are also the tournament favorites who will most likely find themselves battling with each other for tournament supremacy.

Today, HBIC will take a look at the teams in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championships, and rank them in inverse order as to their final standing.

AUSTRIA: The Austrians will be hard-pressed to avoid relegation this year as they come in with only one player who has played in North America. Defenseman Stefan Ulmer will be representing his country after suiting up for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs this season. The majority of the team comes from European leagues, so Austrian players will simply be getting their names out there for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Like Michael Grabner, this tournament could help them out in achieving a bigger dream.

LATVIA: The Latvians always come in as an upset choice as they seem to have just enough moxie to steal a game from one of the unassuming favorites. After shocking both Germany and Kazakhstan in last year's relegation round, the Latvians look to build on their success this year. The majority of their team comes from the junior Dinamo Riga team. Dinamo Riga is the only KHL team in the Eastern European country, but having this junior squad has allowed the team to build continuity. Roberts Bukarts, who is suiting up for the senior Riga team this season, should be a player to watch as he seems to have a nose for the net. In a pre-tournament game against Russia, Bukarts scored twice in a 3-2 Latvia victory. While there are players who are currently playing in North America, none are playing in an upper-tier junior program.

SLOVAKIA: As much as I like this team, I feel that the Slovaks may play well below their potential again this year. It's not to say that they don't have the talent; rather, they never seem to reach their full potential. They'll be missing goalie Jaroslav Janus, so their best junior player isn't on this team. Tomas Tatar of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins should be their offensive catalyst as he's looked good for the Red Wings' minor-league affiliate. Richard Panek of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, Adam Janosik of the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques, Andrej Kudrna of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, and Marek Viedensky of the WHL's Prince George Cougars are all North American-trained, and should provide some scoring. The majority of this team, however, comes from HK Orange 20, a junior team based in Puchov, Slovakia that plays in the Slovak Extraliga. This is essentially the national training team for players aged 20 and under in Slovakia, and was formed after 2007 when the Slovaks finished dead last at the WJC tournament. We'll see if they can improve on my prediction this season, but they may find the competition slightly better than the Slovak Extraliga.

SWITZERLAND: The Swiss have an interesting team this year, but they always seem to run into problems scoring against the upper-tier teams. They have talent from top leagues - Luca Sbisa of the WHL's Lethbridge Hurricanes, Alain Berger of the OHL's Oshawa Generals, Lukas Stoop of HC Davos, and Tim Weber of Modo. They normally get solid goaltending, although there are no clear-cut top goalies this season. Again, secondary scoring and defensive zone coverage will determine how far this team goes. Make no mistake, though, in that Switzerland could challenge for a medal if they get hot.

CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czechs performed admirably against Canada in their pre-tournament game, but the defensive shell that the Czechs are forced to employ may only carry them so far. Injuries to their best players will limit this team's success if they aren't near perfect every night. The Czechs have a number of excellent players out of Canada's junior system, including Tomas Vincour of the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, but there simply is the lack of a star to carry the offensive load. Jaroslav Hafenrichter, who plays for HC Slavia Praha, is injured and will miss the tournament after he put up 62 points in 44 games for the Czech Extraliga team last season. The team already is missing his scoring.

FINLAND: It's always tough to have Finland finishing out of the medals, but they may not have the firepower that is needed to make a serious run in this year's WJC. They do have solid scoring from the likes of Jyri Niemi of the WHL's Saskatoon Blades, but, like other Finnish teams, this is a group of players who will simply attempt to wear other teams out with gritty, physical play. Defensively, they play a hitting game in their own zone, and finish all checks in the offensive zone. The lack of scoring will hurt the Finns in games against teams like Sweden, USA, Russia, and Canada, so they must do all the little things right to outwork their opponents if they hope to capture a medal in this tournament.

USA: The USA is one team that legitimately could turn this entire tournament upside down. What they lack in experience they could make up for in effort and energy. John Carlson of the OHL's London Knights and Cam Fowler of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires should lead the offensive attack from the blue line, and both play extremely responsibly in their own zone. Up front, Jordan Schroeder from the NCAA's University of Minnesota, Danny Kristo of the USHL's Omaha Lancers, and Jeremy Morin of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers should be prominent in the USA's scoring stats. Mike Lee will tend to the nets, but he hasn't been a standout for St. Cloud State in the NCAA at this point. If he suddenly gets hot, however, the Americans could be looking at one of the top-two medals.

SWEDEN: The Swedes, like Canada, seem to suffer from having their best players in the NHL. Victor Hedman is leading the Tanpa Bay Lightning and Erik Karlsson is sticking with the Ottawa Senators, so the torch will have to be passed to others. Jakob Markstrom is good enough to be the best goaltender in the tournament, and should provide quality backstopping to get Sweden a medal. Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson should be a force in this tournament as the speedster from last year is rounding into his bigger frame. Marcus Johansson, Andre Petersson, and Mattias Tedenby should provide lots of goals for the Tre Kronor. Defensively, this team would be scary if Hedman and Karlsson were in Saskatchewan, but, as it stands, David Rundblad and Tim Erixon will lead the way. Sweden plays hard, but they may get bullied by some of the more physical teams. This may be a concern during the playoff round.

RUSSIA: Despite the lack of NHL draft picks on this team, you can't be fooled by the Russian talent. If it weren't for the lack of a transfer agreement, the majority of the Russian squad would heading for NHL rinks near you in the immediate future. Nikita Filatov of the Columbus Blue Jackets/CSKA Moscow teams should be near the top of the scoring lead. He has immense talent and will look like a man amongst boys in the majority of games. Alexander Tarasov and Kirill Petrov should be decent players in this tournament as well, but because the majority of players are playing in Russia, scouting is tough. The Russians are missing two top players - Dmitri Kulikov is staying with the Florida Panthers, and Kirill Kabanov is out with a wrist injury. Despite these absences, the Russians have a deep team that should challenge for one of the top medal colours.

CANADA: Now, some may call this homer-ism in terms of me awarding Canada the gold medal before the tournament. I'll tell you right now that this is not the case. Canada is deep, solid, and well-coached. Jake Allen appears to be everything that Canadians have come to expect from their goaltenders - reliable, consistent, and athletic.

On the blue line, the Canadians may have the best collection of defensemen in the tournament with Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Ellis, and Colten Teubert all returning from last year's gold medal-wining group.

Up front, Canada has grit, size, skill, and speed. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Brayden Schenn, and Brandon McMillan have shown incredible skill and speed in the pre-tournament games, while Nazem Kadri, Luke Adam, Jordan Caron, and Patrice Cormier have taken the body at every opportunity.

The one place that Canada may run into problems is in their physical play, though. Cormier has spent considerable lengths of time in the penalty box, and good teams like the Russians and Americans will hurt the Canadians on the powerplay. Discipline will need to be preached at all times with this Canadian sqaud, but they have looked solid. Canada will also have to match their opponents' tenacity when it comes to playing against Canada. The Czechs threw checks with reckless abandon, and it seemed to rattle the cages of the Canadians just a little.

Overall, this looks to be an exciting tournament as the Canadian prairies welcomes the world. It all gets started tomorrow, and Canada squares off against Latvia at 3:30 EST in a game that might get out-of-hand if the Canadians are firing on all cylinders. The entire tournament schedule is here, and I encourage you to try and catch as many games as possible. Tomorrow, HBIC will announce the WJC Contest, so head back here tomorrow to get the details!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

'Twas The Night Before Christmas

With it being Christmas Eve, I thought it might be appropriate to speak about my favorite part of the holiday season. Some people get excited for the presents and the festivities, but the one thing that I honestly look forward to every Christmas is the World Junior Championships. This is some of the best hockey you'll ever get to see, and the majority of the players are future NHL players. The rivalries between the Canadians, Russians, Americans, Swedes, Finns, and Czechs are still there, and each year provides a little more fodder for the battle, and a little more drama to the tournament.

But since it doesn't start for another two days, I thought I'd have a little fun with a traditional holiday practice that a lot of families still do. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the HBIC version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Enjoy!

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the league
Not a player was stirring, not even Kris Versteeg.

The jerseys were hung in their lockers with care,
In hopes that Lord Stanley would soon be there.

The fans were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of Cup parades danced in their heads.

And Gary in his office, and I near my tree
And just tuning in for the World Junior Tourney.

Back in Regina there arose such a rattle!
I turned on the TV to see who was in battle.

Off to the sofa, I flew in a dash!
TSN has the feed; it starts in a flash!

The lights on the sheet of the freshly-laid ice
Gave way to red shirts and Canadians scoring twice!

When, what to my Canadian eyes should appear,
But 23 junior players, complete with hockey gear!

With a little coach deciding who is startin'
I knew it must be Willie Desjardins.

More rapid than eagles his players they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Go, Caron! Go, Brayden! Go, Teubert and Allen!
Go, Kadri! Go, Kozun! Go, Ellis and Cowen!

To the top of the pool! Be a defensive wall!
Now score a goal! Block a shot! Defeat them all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, raise their game high,

So up through the standings the players they flew,
With a slew of big goals, and defensive play too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard the crowd roar,
Five straight gold medals, and we want more.

As I drew in my head, and the excitement grew,
Down the length of ice Taylor Hall flew.

He was dressed all in red, from helmet to his skates,
The Hockey Canada logo on his chest looked great.

A big defenseman he carried on his back,
But with his speed and strength broke away from the pack.

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And his teeth were clenched, as white as the snow.

The shaft of the stick he held tight in his hands
As the cheering grew from the crowd in the stands.

He had a gleam in his eye as he deked to the left,
before juking to the right with a move so deft.

Hall was alone by himself with a wide-open net
As the goalie guessed wrong, his fate having been met.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Hall scored the goal, and put this game to bed.

He spoke not a word, but thanked his teammates roundly,
A sixth gold medal after beating the world soundly.

And laying his medal inside of his stall,
He was thankful to be a part of it all.

This is my guess, and with solid reason,
A sixth gold medal in this holiday season.

So get ready for hockey for the next two weeks,
World Junior Championships are so sweet!


Happy Holidays to all my readers, and thanks for making my year so great! I'll have a full preview of the World Junior Championships tomorrow as the tournament kicks off on Boxing Day here in Canada, and December 26th for those without Boxing Day.

Until then, Merry Christmas!

Antler Banter: Volume 8

With the holiday season upon us, the Moose took to the ice against the Lake Erie Monsters before beginning their Christmas vacation. There were some great promotions that went on at MTS Centre during these two games, and we'll look at both the games and the promotions. Of course, we'll check out the Moose Intensive Care Unit once again, chat about who is in and who is out of the lineup, and take a look at where the Moose stand as they roll into the break. As always, for all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Merry Hardcore Hockey!

Everyone Wins On "Teddy Bear Toss" Night

7388 fans took part in the Manitoba Moose's annual Teddy Bear Toss on Friday night in supporting the Christmas Cheer Board. We'll look at those stats after the game in terms of how well the fans did, but the hockey game featured the Manitoba Moose and the Lake Erie Monsters. Cory Schneider got the start for the Moose while Tyler Weiman started for the Monsters.

The first period was quite uneventful as the two teams tested the goaltenders unsuccessfully. In an interesting development, Lake Erie's Patrick Bordeleau and Manitoba's Pierre-Cedric Labrie skated the length of the ice jawing at one another. After crossing into the Lake Erie zone, Bordeleau dropped his gloves, but Labrie skated away. The fans seemed a little bewildered at this turn of events, but Tommy Maxwell jumped in to battle Bordeleau. Bordeleau got the jump on Maxwell with a couple of decisive blows, sending a bloodied Maxwell to the ice just 2:17 into the game. Aside from that, not much else happened as the officials tucked away the whistles. After one period, the teams were knotted in a scoreless draw, but Manitoba led in shots by a 7-4 margin.

The second period was much like the first in that there wasn't much excitement. However, the Moose finally broke the stalemate. Travis Ramsey's pass into the slot found Guillaume Desbiens' stick, and the Moose forward caught Weiman going down as he roofed the puck over Weiman's blocker. Desbiens' fourth goal of the season at the 7:22 mark gave the home side a 1-0 lead. Besides that goal, there were a couple of chances at either end, but neither team could find the back of the net. After forty minutes, the Moose lead 1-0. In what may have been some foreshadowing of the rest of the weekend, the Monsters outshot the Moose 13-5 in the second.

The third period saw neither goaltender give an inch. The Monsters outshot the Moose by a 10-5 margin, but Cory Schneider held the fort. The Moose backstopper turned away 27 shots for his second shutout of the season as the Moose captured the 1-0 victory. Weiman also had an impressive showing, but the one that got away cost the Monsters two points. Weiman stopped 16 of 17 shots in the loss. With the victory, the Moose improve their record to 17-13-4-0.

The Teddy Bear Toss, which took place in the second intermission in support of the Christmas Cheer Board, was a rounding success for both the Moose and the charity. The Moose collected 2073 stuffed animals that were tossed onto the ice and into the back of several pick-up trucks, and raised $3212 for the Christmas Cheer Board through the Teddy Bear Toss! This marks the best showing in both the number of bears collected and the amount of money raised for this event! Congratulations, Moose fans, on a job well done! Many Winnipeg families will benefit from your generosity!

Beaten On "Beat The Winter Blues" Night

7859 fans turned out for the second game of the back-to-back set between the Moose and Monsters on Saturday night. The same goaltenders who put on a clinic the night before took to the nets as Schneider and Weiman drew the assignments. After a solid defensive game from the Moose despite being outshot, there was hope that Manitoba would respond with some jump in this one.

The first period was end-to-end action as both teams fired 13 shots apiece on the opposing netminder. However, it was the Moose who found the cracks in Weiman's armor.

With Moose forward Marty Murray in the penalty box for boarding, the Moose struck. A turnover at the blueline between Lake Erie point men Brett Skinner and Tom Preissing sprung Alex Bolduc. Bolduc settled the puck down before making an excellent move to open up Weiman's five-hold, netting the shorthanded goal. Bolduc dragged the puck across the crease from left to right with Preissing pestering him from behind, and Weiman slid across to cut Bolduc off. However, as he pushed off with his right leg, the five-hole opened up, and Bolduc made no mistake as he slid it along the ice between Weiman's legs. With Bolduc's second goal of the season, the Moose led 1-0 at the 9:04 mark of the first.

The Moose doubled their lead at 16:41. As Guillaume Desbiens tried to go around Lake Erie defenceman Travis Gawryletz, he threw a quick pass into the slot. There were no Moose players there, but the skate of Monsters' defenceman Kevin Montgomery was, and the puck deflected past Weiman to give the Moose a 2-0 lead. A lucky break to be sure, but Desbiens' second goal in two nights and his fifth of the season put the Moose up 2-0.

Remember how I said that the second period of Friday night's game was a little foreshadowing? Saturday was the day of reckoning as the Moose looked overwhelmed in the middle frame. Marco Rosa was sent to the penalty box for holding at 10:56, and Lake Erie's Ryan Stoa netted his eighth goal of the season on the powerplay at 11:41. Stoa converted a gorgeous backdoor, cross-crease pass from TJ Hensick to make it a 2-1 game.

Lawrence Nycholat was sent off for interference at 15:10, and the Lake Erie powerplay scored their second goal of the game. Captain Brian Willsie picked up a rebound off a Philippe Dupuis shot and shoveled it over Schneider for his seventh of the season. With their two powerplay goals, the Monsters had squared the game at 2-2, leaving the final twenty minutes to determine a winner in regulation. The Monsters outshot the Moose 14-10 in the period, giving them a 27-23 advantage.

The third period saw the two teams throw caution to the wind as both sides had several good scoring chances. With the game being played a little more wide open, the speed of the Monsters began to dominate the play, and they took advantage at 15:35 of the third. Philippe Dupuis streaked down the left wing, cutting between Travis Ramsey and Alex Bolduc as he crossed the blue line. With his shoulder down, he drove the net hard on his backhand, finding a hole through Schneider as Matthew Ford crashed the net. Dupuis' backhander just got through Schneider, and the winger's fourth goal of the season gave the Monsters a 3-2 lead with just over four minutes to play.

The last four minutes were pretty much the same as the previous 36 minutes in that the Monsters controlled the play. The Moose had some chances with Schneider sitting on the bench, but the Monsters were the better team tonight, and earned the 3-2 comeback win. They outshot the Moose 42-31, carried the play, and played like they wanted the win. With the loss, the Moose enter their Christmas break with a 17-14-4-0 record.

Into The Christmas Break

This is going to be a bit of an editorial, but I have to get this off my chest. That Dupuis goal was some of the worst defensive play I have seen this season by the Moose. Neither Ramsay nor Bolduc did much in the way of slowing down Dupuis, let alone stick-checking or bodychecking him. And, of course, it ends with a goal against. Over the final forty minutes of Saturday's game, the Monsters carried the play, yet no one on the Moose stepped up to try and swing the momentum back in their favor. A big hit, a fight, some gritty play... any of that would have been better than what the Moose put on display in the final two periods against the worst team in the AHL. The Moose are 2-2 against the lowly Monsters this season.

The worst part about watching this Moose team is its apparent lack of character and/or toughness. They have some guys who will drop the gloves if need be, but they don't have anyone who wants to be the sandpaper that this team needs night in and night out. Darryl Bootland knew his role well, and routinely was causing havoc for opposing players out there, but there is no one on this roster right now that looks like they're willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Until each Moose player discovers that hard work trumps talent, this team will be no better than an average club. And that's disappointing considering the talent that has been assembled by GM Craig Heisinger.

Opportunities Missed

It goes without saying that the Moose dropped two important points in the Saturday loss. Instead of being two points behind the fading Rochester Americans and three points behind the division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs, the Moose are stuck at 38 points. The Grand Rapids Griffins are a mere one point behind the Moose while the Abbotsford Heat trail by two points.

With the Moose having played the most games in the AHL at 35, every single divisional game is a must-win, and every game against teams lower than them in the standings is a must-win. If this team wants to make the playoffs, they need to capitalize on these games because they have no wiggle room in the standings. As it stands, Hamilton has four games in hand (GIH), Rochester has three GIH, Grand Rapids has four GIH, and Abbotsford has one GIH.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

It seems like a surreal situation considering the number of injuries this team has seen, but the Moose sick bay is almost cleared out. There are still a couple of guys nursing injuries, though.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - broken finger. Was re-evaluated, but is still expected back around the start of 2010.
  • Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set.
  • Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set.
The Revolving Door

The Moose send one fan favorite off into the sunset, but get back three familiar players.
  • Darryl Bootland - released from PTO. Bootland's stay in Manitoba lasted 12 games, and he scored one goal and added one assist. However, his gritty play will certainly be missed by this Moose fan.
  • Michael Grabner - re-assigned by the Canucks. Grabner's speed and goal-scoring will be welcomed for a team that is struggling to put pucks in the net on a regular basis.
  • Lawrence Nycholat - returned from injury. Nycholat didn't set the world on fire like Aaron Rome did, but he ate up the minutes that Rome was playing and wasn't a liability.
  • Matt Pope - returned from injury. Pope played this weekend in the games against Lake Erie, but looked invisible on Saturday. However, getting another regular back is big for the Moose as they start piecing their opening night roster back together.
Upcoming Moose Action

The Moose aren't back in action until next Monday when they welcome the Abbotsford Heat to MTS Centre. The Christmas break might be what this team needs to refocus and get themselves on track to make a run in the second half of the season. As it stands, scoring will be important in the second half of the season, and head coach Scott Arniel is preaching the mantra of shooting from everywhere.

The Moose are 9-1-1-0 this season when scoring three or more goals. They are 8-13-3 when scoring two or less. And playing this win-one, lose-one style of hockey has to end as well. If Arniel's mantra takes hold, the Moose may see better results as well. They have been outshot in 19 of 35 games thus far. When they outshoot their opponents, the Moose are 10-3-1-0, but fall to 6-10-3-0 when being outshot.

With Abbotsford coming in, the Moose have to be aware of former teammate Jason Jaffray. Jaffray leads the team in goals (12), assists (16), points (28), powerplay goals (5), and is tied for the lead in shorthanded goals (2). Leland Irving has played extremely well for Abbotsford, posting a 2.73 GAA and a .909 save percentage in 23 games. Matt Keetley is a solid backup as well, so it doesn't get any easier if the Heat decide to give Irving the night off.

Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus/Etc.

Lastly, I just want to say "Happy Holidays" to everyone who stops by, and I hope you and yours are safe and sound this holiday season. I appreciate each and every one of you who stop by, and thank you for making this "job" seem like fun instead of work.

If you are celebrating this holiday season with some festive spirits, please be sure not to drink and drive. Call a cab, spend the night, do whatever you have to so that the holidays remain merry!

Until next time, Happy Holidays from Hockey Blog In Canada!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Where The Onus Falls

I'm sure you remember this image of Paul Kariya lying motionless on the ice in Game Six of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Scott Stevens absolutely destroyed Kariya as he watched his pass, leaving him motionless except for the condensation of his breath on his visor. Honestly, it was a scary hit, and one that has not been forgotten by a lot of hockey fans. Surprisingly, Kariya returned in that game and scored the game-winning goal. The question has to be asked, though: how badly did that hit rattle Kariya's brain inside of his skull, and what were the lasting effects that it had?

More importantly, hits like this today are becoming more and more common. Philly's Mike Richards threw a devastating hit on Florida's David Booth, and Booth still hasn't returned from his concussion. With star players moving at increased speeds thanks to the NHL cracking down on obstruction, there will be more high-speed collisions, resulting in an increased number of injuries. Because of the faster speeds, players have less time to react as well, so there is less preparation time when it comes to bracing for a big hit. In knowing this, it was refreshing to read Sheldon Souray's comments to Sportsnet.ca's Mark Spector.

“The responsibility, a lot of it, doesn’t really fall on a committee or the league, or general managers cracking down. It’s the players. Ultimately it’s the players who go out there and see opportunities when guys are vulnerable.

“You don’t have to knock a guy out for a month. It’s unnecessary. It doesn’t make you any tougher, it doesn’t gain you any more respect among the group. It has no purpose. It is so unnecessary to go out there and follow through when you know there is a chance.

“This has to fall on the players. Absolutely has to.”
That "chance" Souray is talking about is the chance of injury, something no player enjoys having happen to them. And Souray should know - he missed 16 games earlier in the season with a concussion.

Now, it's one thing to talk about change, and another to institute it. However, Souray and his Edmonton teammates have already begun that process in their own practices. They use two words to let the player know that a hit is coming:

"Heads up!"

“I do it — and guys have done it for me,” Souray said this week. “As a matter of fact it happened at the end of (Saturday’s Washington) game, against Ovechkin. I was going to hit him and said, ‘Head’s up!’ You know. ‘It’s comin’!’”

And I commend Souray for speaking out about this. I'm not here to play the blame game and rip one side or the other. But it's refreshing to hear a multi-million dollar athlete say "my bad" when it comes to how the game is played. And it's entirely encouraging when he stands up and says "I'm going to fix this".

The NHL has done enough tinkering and changing of the rules to ensure that the players are protected from themselves. At some point, the players have to agree to meet the NHL halfway and start changing the way they play the game. This is the same agreement they have with the NHL in regards to their Collective Bargaining Agreement, so why can't the product on the ice be viewed in the same light?

Of course, there will be those in the NHLPA who will still advocate that the NHL is responsible for making the rules that the players follow, but, to that, I must point out the obstruction that we saw run rampant in the mid-1990s. The rules were always there to prevent stick infractions and interference, but the referees, players, and coaches began to adapt their styles to allow this type of play to dominate that decade.

The solution came from the NHL in that they told the NHL officials and the NHLOA to start calling the rules as they were written in the rule book. The result? The game we see today. Faster, better, and more exciting. The NHL and the officials worked together to make the game better by reducing the stuff that slowed the game down. This has worked to the NHL's advantage as well as the NHLPA's advantage in that the game is growing in popularity, albeit slowly.

There have been discussions and debates every week in hockey circles about head shots and what to do about them. It has branched out into the medical community as well after the discovery of the trauma on Reggie Fleming's brain. There will continue to be discussions as to how to reduce the number of checks to the head and the growing epidemic of concussions in hockey. This is a no-brainer.

However, if the officials and NHL executives have put the safeguards in place to help prevent these hits from happening, which is the only group that hasn't changed anything to help stop players from getting hurt?

Sheldon Souray's suggestion is what we call "common courtesy" in the real world. If someone tosses something at you without you watching, what is the most common phrase heard?

"Heads up."

Are hockey players less courteous to each other than you or I? They are all part of the same union and they all work for the same organization, so I can't see the argument of "us versus them" working very well.

Perhaps this element of respect is being lost in the speeches that coaches give their players. David Branch stressed the respect factor in his decision to suspend Michael Liambis after his crushing hit on Ben Fanelli. Coahces preach the importance of "finishing checks", but there's a difference between finishing a check and finishing off someone's career. If you don't believe me, check footage from the early-1980s when the Islanders and Oilers were playing. Guys would eliminate their checks out of the play rather than trying to decapitate them. Big difference in terms of the respect for your fellow opponent.

"Heads up" is exactly that: respect for your opponent and your fellow union member. The call of "heads up" still allows for a big check to be thrown. The difference is that the player receiving the check has a chance to brace for impact. Because of this, injuries would decrease as players are given a chance to protect themselves from the violent hit they are about to receive.

Kudos to Sheldon Souray. This might be the best suggestion for a better NHL since the reduction of obstruction. Now he just needs to sell the idea to the other members of the NHLPA. Once the players are onboard, things should change dramatically for the better once again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Records Continue To Fall

To think that the image to the left was where the master of goaltending got his start. Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils broke into the league wearing #29, and has since demolished the majority of records set by the masters before him. Players like Sawchuk, Roy, Hasek, and Esposito have stood in the nets before him, but no one stands taller than Martin Brodeur tonight as he finally broke Terry Sawchuk's record for shutouts in a career with his 104th blanking. It's one thing for a goaltender to break a record that has stood for nearly 40 years, but when that goaltender holds or shares a number of all-time records? Brodeur has to be considered the greatest goaltender of this generation, and maybe of all generations.

Drafted 20th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1990 from the Ste. Hyacinthe Laser of the QMJHL, there are probably a number of teams who should have opted for the perennial NHL all-star over their picks. They include:

  • New York Islanders - selected Scott Scissons 6th overall. Played 2 NHL games recording no points.
  • Calgary - selected Trevor Kidd 11th overall. Kidd was the first goalie picked, but ended playing in only 387 NHL games.
  • New York Rangers - selected Michael Stewart 13th overall. Never made the NHL, bounced around the minor leagues before playing out his career in Europe.
  • Hartford Whalers - selected Mike Greig 14th overall. Greig played 135 NHL games, recording 17 goals and 23 assists.
  • Edmonton Oilers - selected Scott Allison 17th overall. Allison never appeared in the NHL, playing his career out in the minors and in Europe.
  • Vancouver Canucks - selected Shawn Antoski 18th overall. Antoski recorded three goals and five assists in 183 NHL games.
Of the goaltenders that were selected that year, Brodeur is the only one who has consistently played at a high level. Some of the goaltenders played well, but Brodeur's commitment to improving himself year in and year out really has shown by both his perserverance and his legacy.

Besides Kidd and Brodeur, the other goaltenders selected in 1990 were Felix Potvin (31st- TML), Mike Dunham (53rd - NJD), Mike Lenarduzzi (57th - HAR), David Goverde (91st - LAK), Todd Bojcun (100th - BUF), Greg Louder (101st - EDM), Mike Bales (105th - BOS), Denis Casey (110th - PIT), Roman Turek (113th - MIN), Jeff Levy (134th - MIN), Mike Power (143rd - EDM), Shawn Murray (167th - CAL), Pat Mazzoli (169th - QUE), Robert Horyna (178th - TML), Parris Duffus (180th - STL), Corey Schwab (200th - NJD), Jon Hillebrandt (202nd - NYR), Tommy Soderstrom (214th - PHI), and JP McKersie (239th - MIN).

If you examine that list closely, the three goaltenders selected by New Jersey in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft - Brodeur, Dunham, and Schwab - played a total of 1675 NHL games over their careers. The other 17 goalies from that draft year? 1444 games, with the majority coming from four men: Kidd, Potvin, Turek, and Soderstrom.

However, Brodeur has the most career games out of all of those goaltenders by a wide margin, and holds all of the major career achievements and has captured a number of accolades. Brodeur won his emergency call-up debut after both Chris Terreri and Craig Billington were felled by injuries in 1991. Brodeur started against the Boston Bruins, and won the contest by a 4-2 score. He played in one playoff game that year with the Devils after spending the majority of the season with the AHL's Utica Devils.

In 1993-94, he won the starting job in New Jersey. Brodeur led the Devils to the second-best record in the NHL, and took the team to the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the New York Rangers in seven games. Because of his strong season, Brodeur was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following season saw a strike shorten the season to 48 games, and the Devils finished fifth in their conference. However, their intense checking style - the trap - allowed them to change the dynamics of the game in the playoffs. Brodeur shut out the Bruins in the first round in three of the four games, and was stellar against the Penguins in knocking them off in five games. After Philadelphia was dispatched in six games, the Devils held the high-powered Detroit offense to a mere seven goals in the four-game sweep, earning their first Stanley Cup ever.

Amongst his various accolades, he has set incredible records:
  • Youngest goaltender to 300, 400, and 500 career wins.
  • Only goaltender to win 400 games with the same team.
  • Most 40-win seasons by a goaltender with seven.
  • 12 straight seasons with 30+ wins from 1995 to 2008.
  • 11 straight seasons with 35+ wins from 1996 to 2008.
  • March 17, 2009 saw Brodeur win his 552nd game, breaking Patrick Roy's record of 551 career wins.
  • November 27, 2009 saw Brodeur play the most minutes ever, breaking Patrick Roy's record of 60,235 minutes.
  • December 21, 2009 saw Brodeur earn his 104th shutout, breaking Terry Sawchuk's record of 103 career shutouts.
  • Most overtime victories with 45 in his career.
  • Most games played by an NHL goaltender (and counting).
  • Only NHL goaltender to score a game-winning goal.
  • Only one of two goaltenders to score a goal in both the regular season and the playoffs.
  • Most wins in a season with 48 in 2006-07.
  • Most minutes played in a season with 4697 in 2006-07.
  • Most shutouts in a playoff year with 7 (2002-03).
  • Only goaltender to have recorded three shutouts in two separate playoff series.
  • Tied with Patrick Roy for most career playoff shutouts with 23.
  • Tied with Frank McCool for Stanley Cup Final shutouts with 3.
  • Holds over 30 franchise records for goaltending.
His trophy case is also quite full:
  • Three-time Stanley Cup Champion (1995, 2000, 2003).
  • Four-time Vezina Trophy winner ('03, '04, '07, '08).
  • Four-time Jennings Trophy winner ('97, '98, '03, '04).
  • Calder Trophy winner (1994).
  • 2002 Olympic gold medal.
  • 2004 World Cup of Hockey Championship.
  • Ten-time NHL All-Star.
  • Author of Beyond The Crease.
It appears that Brodeur is the odds-on favorite to start for Team Canada in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics with the way his season is progressing as well. Honestly, he looks like he's still 20 years-old, and is playing like it as well.

Is there any doubt that this man is not only a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but perhaps the greatest goaltender to have ever played?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!