Hockey Headlines

Monday, 31 May 2010

Did You Know...

A lot of stuff has been said about these the two teams still standing in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, but there is something I have yet to hear anyone say. That is, however, until we were chatting at work today. I wasn't aware of this, but the last time that current Blackhawks defenceman Brian Campbell played against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this was his lasting impression.

Wow. That hit is still one of the best to date. Shoulder on shoulder, and Campbell didn't give an inch. Now, there's no doubt that Campbell probably won't be throwing any major hits like that on the Flyers, but I wasn't aware that happened the last time he faced the Flyers in the playoffs.

There's a bunch of "did you know..." stuff that I want to go over today. Some of this stuff is older pictures, but there are some pretty good stories amongst these images. Without further adieu, here we go.
  • I wasn't aware of this - probably because of my dislike for the Hamilton Bulldogs - but the Bulldogs wore a 10th anniversary patch a few years ago. They didn't wear a 10th anniversary jersey like some teams. No, they went classy instead. The best part? The Bulldogs even kept the team theme by using two crossed bones to make the Roman numeral "X". High marks for commemorating the anniversary as a patch, and for keeping the patch in theme.
  • Everyone knows that Peter Stastny was one of the better players in the history of the Quebec Nordiques, but the rest of his family wasn't bad either. Pictured here from left to right are Peter, Marian, and Anton Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques. Honestly, that uniform is absolutely gorgeous.
  • It may just be coincidence, but the two remaining teams in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs have players wearing Skate Fenders. That's right - both the Flyers and Blackhawks have players wearing the foot protection. Niklas Hjalmarsson is wearing Skate Fenders, and, after breaking his foot earlier in the playoffs, Jeff Carter is now wearing Skate Fenders as well. Mr. McClelland is still working with the NHL to make them available to all teams, but you're literally watching a company grow by leaps and bounds here, readers. And all because of one man's passion for the game.
  • There has always been chatter regarding the NHL expanding into Europe. This has been an idea floated around for as long as I can remember, but it never had any legs from as far as I can tell. With the KHL in charge of the best Russian teams, it's probably going nowhere today. However, the December 19, 1969 edition of The Hockey News states that former NHL president Clarence Campbell wanted this European Division to happen as the NHL expanded. Could you imagine what the NHL would be like today if this had happened? History would have been drastically changed.
  • Sticking with THN, the September 1, 1968 edition showed off the brand-new Montreal Forum that was scheduled to open that season on November 2. Ok, not "brand-new" per se, but a Forum that received extensive renovations over the summer. Some of the "more notable additions" included "several escalators", "2,000 extra seats", "[a] new and modern press box", and "larger concession areas". The 1968 seating capacity would be 16,300 - the highest number of seats in the Montreal Forum up to that date.
  • If the December 1969 edition was about possible expansion fever, it was an all-out epidemic in 1972. THN's February 11, 1972 edition stated that the NHL would expand from 14 teams to 24 teams by 1980. This was, in part, due to the WHA's rapid growth, but also due to recent mergers of minor leagues. Of course, the NHL added franchises on Long Island and in Atlanta the following year, but the NHL wouldn't hit 24 teams until 1992-93 when both Ottawa and Tampa Bay joined the league. Dreams are meant to be dreamed, right?
  • The August 1967 edition of THN showed off the California Golden Seals' new jersey and logo. I was always a fan of the Seals' look, but I never recalled the sleeve numbers being up on the shoulder. However, looking back at Bert Marshall's sweater, it's pretty clear that the sleeve numbers were, in fact, shoulder numbers. They did eventually move down the arm to the correct area as the team changed names and locations.
  • Sometimes, the worst jerseys were meant with the best intentions. Case in point? The Detroit Tigers had Nicklas Lidstrom throw out the first pitch, and gave him a Tigers jersey with the captain's "C" on the right shoulder, much in the same place that the Red Wings have their captaincy designations. It just looks awful on a baseball jersey, though. Fail.
Ok, I'm off to watch Game Two. I have my Blackhawks jersey on, so I'm rocking as "Amonte" tonight. I'm thinking this Stanley Cup Final might actually have a fight in it with Daniel Carcillo being put back into the lineup. One can only hope, right?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Both Teams Have Prairie Connections

In looking at the rosters of this year's Stanley Cup Finalists, there's a strong connection to the province of Manitoba. What is slightly more coincidental is that the last time the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers won their respective Stanley Cups, there was a strong Manitoba presence on those rosters as well. Now, there's a good contingent of other players also contributing, but the Manitoba-Northern Ontario region seems to have a lock on big-name players for both teams as they compete for the Stanley Cup. No matter who wins, the Stanley Cup will be visiting the Canada's center province.

The Philadelphia Flyers have three players from central Canada as Riley Cote hails from Winnipeg, Aaron Asham is from Portage La Prairie, and Mike Richards calls Kenora, Ontario home. Richards is the captain of the Flyers and plays on the top two lines, while Asham and Cote are role players used primarily on the third and fourth lines.

In 1974-75, the Flyers won the Stanley Cup with a Manitoban front and center. Flin Flon's Bobby Clarke was one of the most feared players both with and without the puck. Forward Reggie Leach was from Riverton, Manitoba, and he ended that season third in scoring on the Flyers. Defenceman Ted Harris was a solid defensive defenceman, and he hailed from Winnipeg. Of course, the head coach that year was the legendary Fred Shero, and Shero was also from Winnipeg.

While current head coach Peter Laviolette is not a Manitoban, the Flyers have three players in their lineup that played a lot of hockey in Manitoba as they grew up just as they did back in 1974-75. Richards is the leader of the Flyers this season, and led his team in points this season. Bobby Clarke was the leader of the 1974-75 Flyers, and he led his team in points that season.

Now, some of you might be saying, "Teebz, you know that Kenora is in Ontario, right". I'm well aware of the geography. Kenora, however, shares more traits with Manitoba than it does with Ontario. For example, it is part of the Central Time Zone with Manitoba, unlike the vast majority of Ontario. Most of Kenora's businesses will deal with Winnipeg than their major centers in southern Ontario because of the time and distance between Kenora and the Golden Horseshoe region. These are just a couple of the traits, but Kenora and Winnipeg do have a strong bond between the cities.

As for the Blackhawks, they have a number of players from Manitoba as well. Jonathan Toews is a born-and-bred Winnipegger, Patrick Sharp's birth certificate reads "Winnipeg", and Duncan Keith calls Winnipeg home as well. This Winnipeg trio leads the Blackhawks as well: Toews is the captain, while both Sharp and Keith are alternate captains.

The Blackhawks had a couple of Manitoba-born players on the ice during their Stanley Cup run in 1960-61. Eric Nesterenko was born in Flin Flon, Manitoba - the same place as Bobby Clarke - and he centered the second line for Chicago. Winger and teammate Ab McDonald was born in Winnipeg, and he most often lined up alongside Nesterenko.

Ab McDonald might be the most notable player in Blackhawks' history right now as he scored the game-winning goal in Game Six of the 1961 Stanley Cup Final to give the Blackhawks just their third Stanley Cup parade in their history. McDonald, who still lives in Winnipeg, told Earl McRae in the interview, "That’s why it’s so special to be in the final and especially to win because you never know if you’ll ever experience it again. A lot of players don’t. There’ve been many players, great players even, who’ve never got to the final in their careers."

So what does this all mean?

Well, with the number of players from Manitoba and northwestern Ontario playing in the Stanley Cup Final, the Stanley Cup will be coming to this region for at least one day this summer. It has been here recently before: when Kevin Hodson brought the Stanley Cup through when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1998, it was the closest I've been to it while in the possession of a Stanley Cup Champion. He came for dinner and golf at the prestigious St. Charles Golf and Country Club in Winnipeg where I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the magnificent trophy before it went out onto the golf course.

I'm excited about seeing the Stanley Cup come back to this city, even for a day. With all the players from this region battling for the Silver Chalice, I won't have wait too much longer.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

TBC: Travels With Stanley

With the start of the Stanley Cup Final mere hours away, I thought it would be good to review a few books regarding the Stanley Cup itself, and some of its adventures through the course of its history. Today, Teebz's Book Club is proud to bring to you a great book that shows the many places the Stanley Cup has visited. Travels with Stanley, written by the Keepers of the Cup and published by the Fenn Publishing Company, is a photographic recollection of all the places that the Stanley Cup has visited thanks to the tradition of the winning players having their day with the Stanley Cup. Some of the visuals in this book are amazing due to the locations that the Stanley Cup has been captured on film at, and the stories of who took the Stanley Cup to these places are quite interesting.

Philip Pritchard, Craig Campbell, Mike Bolt, Walt Neubrand, and Bill Wellman are the Keepers of the Cup, and they pass on their stories through this book, along with some of their photos. All five men are employees of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and each have accompanied the Stanley Cup to corners of the Earth. Pritchard has been working for the HHOF since 1988; Campbell since 1991; Bolt since 1995; Neubrand since 1995; and, Wellman since 1993. You will likely see both Pritchard and Campbell on television this year as they are the men in white gloves who are responsible for carrying the Stanley Cup onto the ice for the ceremony, and have been doing so since 1998.

I'll admit this up front: I was quite impressed with Travels with Stanley. I had originally thought it would be a collection of photos from various places that the Stanley Cup had been, but it's quite a bit more than that. The little blurbs that accompany each photo tell you who took the Stanley Cup to each place, and the pictures show that the Stanley Cup would have quite the passport and photo album if it were a person.

Some of the more interesting photos actually had nothing to do with an NHL player or team whatsoever. For example, the Central Hockey League's Memphis River Kings got to spend some time with the Stanley Cup during its tour of those teams' cities. Thanks to efforts of the players and management, the Stanley Cup was photographed at Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. While Elvis wasn't a hockey fan as far as I can tell, the Stanley Cup visited the site where the King of Rock and Roll lived.

The Stanley Cup has visited some remote locations as well. Thanks to their 2004 Championship, the Tampa Bay Lightning's Dmitry Afanasenkov brought the Stanley Cup to his hometown. That town? Arkhangelsk, Russia. Originally named Novo-Kholmogory, the city changed its name in 1613 in honour of the monastery of the Archangel Michael. The Stanley Cup, in 2004, was photographed in front of a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in Petrovskiy Park, nearly 400 miles northwest of Saint Petersburg, Russia!

In 2006, the Stanley Cup traveled to Rio Grande, Texas to appear at the Central Hockey League's All-Star Game, and it was photographed straddling the US-Mexico border. It took a while, but 2006 was the first time that the Stanley Cup had entered the country of Mexico!

In 2001, after the Colorado Avalanche had won the Stanley Cup, a few members of the Avalanche decided to take the Stanley Cup to its highest point. The highest peak in the Rockey Mountains is located in Colorado, named Mount Elbert. The Stanley Cup was photographed at the peak of Mount Elbert, an astounding 4400 metres, or 14,433 feet, above sea level!

All in all, there are some excellent stories in Travels with Stanley's 168 pages. The pictures are absolutely fascinating, and it's amazing to see the amount of mileage that the Stanley Cup has piled up. If it were collecting frequent flier miles, it would have a lifetime pass. Much credit goes to the five men responsible for looking after the Stanley Cup for bringing this book to life, and I'm sure they could have written volumes with the places they have visited. Without a doubt, Travels with Stanley deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! The book is suitable for all ages, and shouldn't be a difficult read for early readers at all.

REMINDER: If you're a part of the HBIC Playoff Pool, you have hours before the Stanley Cup Final begins. Email me here with your picks for the Stanley Cup Final!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 28 May 2010

If It Ain't Broke...

The man to the left is sports reporter Damian Cox. Damian works for the Toronto Star as a sportswriter, and works a weekend gig on TSN on a show called The Reporters. There's no denying that Damian Cox likes to stir up some discussion, but he occasionally goes way over the edge of sanity in doing so. Heck, there was even a blog that highlighted some of his greatest misses. I have to admit that today's article, published both on the Toronto Star's website and in their print pages, goes slightly over the line in terms of sane hockey writing.

There has been a serious push in certain circles to remove the imagery and slightly offensive team names that negatively portrayed Native American peoples. I understand the reasons for this, but there seems to be some serious misguided lawsuits over the names that are being used out of respect of the indigenous peoples.

Let me be clear here: names that are offensive to any group of people should be reconsidered. It's just a bad idea as a business to offend a group of people in public. There are a number of sports teams who have already rebranded themselves in order to escape any embarrassment or prosecution from Native American peoples.

  • NCAA - St. John's Redmen changed to St. John's Red Storm.
  • NCAA - Arkansas State Indians changed to Arkansas State Red Wolves.
  • NCAA - University of Massachusetts Redmen changed to University of Massachusetts Minutemen.
  • NCAA - Stanford Indians changed to Stanford Crimson.
  • International League Baseball - Syracuse Chiefs changed to Syracuse SkyChiefs, but now use "Chiefs" with a railroad reference.
  • Midwest League - Peoria Chiefs changed their imagery from an indigenous peoples reference to a firefighting reference.
  • AHL - Springfield Indians changed to the Worcester IceCats who are now the Peoria Rivermen.
In all of those cases, except perhaps for the "Chiefs", the name chosen by the team or school was slightly offensive. "Redmen" clearly refers to the colour of the indigenous peoples' skin colour, while "Indians" is an incorrect term thanks to Christopher Columbus' miscalculations in believing he landed in India. History shows that this mistake was never corrected over hundreds of years, and the term "Indians" remained applied to Native American peoples despite not being related to India in any way, shape, or form.

There are current sports teams who still use team names that would be considered slightly to completely offensive, depending on your point of view.
  • NFL's Washington Redskins
  • MLB's Cleveland Indians
  • NFL's Kansas City Chiefs
  • MLB's Atlanta Braves
  • CFL's Edmonton Eskimos
  • WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors
  • WHL's Spokane Chiefs
  • WHL's Portland Winterhawks
There are many more teams that use indigenous peoples' imagery with names that refer to them in less than flattering light, but the point is that Damian Cox's article is completely ridiculous. If there is one team that has never attempted to portray anything but respect with their logo, it is the Chicago Blackhawks.

I don't know how Damian Cox comes up with the idea that the Blackhawks' logo is offensive, but I don't see it. Stating that the Blackhawks take to the ice "with the cultural equivalent of a cigar store Indian on their chests" is highly offensive to me, more so than the Native American logo on the chests of the Blackhawks. One is a cultural stereotype. The other is a proud logo of a proud franchise with a long history. There's a major difference between the two.

Cox makes a good point in stating,
"The connection between UND and the Blackhawks, meanwhile, is that the original Fighting Sioux logo was based on that used by Chicago’s NHL entry. So an image now banned at a major NCAA hockey school is still happily in use in the NHL."
The issue, however, is that the Sioux were forced by North Dakota's Supreme Court to change the name despite the support of one of the Sioux tribes in North Dakota for UND to continue using the logo. It's not like this fight has been on-going for decades; rather, it started with the decree by the NCAA five years ago to remove these names.

If the Fighting Sioux logo was based on the Blackhawks' logo, then how does one rationalize the Portland Winter Hawks' logo since it is a spitting image of the Blackhawks' logo? And why has no one spoken out against it?

The fact is that the Black Hawk name and logo came about thanks to some very honourable people. Cox even states that "the name came from the wish of founder Frederic McLaughlin back in 1926 to honour his battalion from World War I, which was nicknamed after Chief Black Hawk of the Saux Nation, who fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812".

So tell me again how is it offensive if the name, logo, and reasons are all honourable and respectful of men who deserve recognition?

My guess is that Cox was simply stirring the pot on a slow news day. There have been few major hockey stories to report with the break before the Stanley Cup Final, so Cox was simply stirring the pot and getting hits on the Toronto Star website. That's fine and dandy to do, I suppose, but it also seems a little petty in terms of trying to attract readers and comments.

Cox is literally trying to eliminate 84 years of history with the Native American head by making the claim that it's offensive when I've never heard anyone claim that. If you want to talk offensive, perhaps he should focus on the local team whose spelling of their team name that leaves a lot to be desired if you're an English teacher (excuse the pun).

All in all, a fanciful little article, but a serious miss from one of Toronto's sportswriters. Perhaps CoxBloc was right: Toronto is "[t]he centre of the bad sports writing universe". Proof positive, in fact.

The Chicago Blackhawks should not even entertain this idea. Keep it real, Hawks fans!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Twice As Nice

It's taken a while to announce the upcoming outdoor games for the NHL in 2011, but it appears that we'll have two teams who have appeared in an outdoor game once already battling two teams who have not played outdoors. The best part is that there will be an outdoor game in Canada once again, albeit much later than the New Year's Day Winter Classic Game. However, beggars cannot be choosers, and I, at this point, am a beggar.

There's no doubt that the Heritage Classic game in Edmonton was a smashing hit on the north side of the border. Watching the old-timers from the Oilers and Canadiens get together for an amazing shinny game was worth the price of admission alone. However, the game that followed between the then-current Oilers and Canadiens brought forth some spectacular images. Jose Theodore's toque/mask combo is a lasting impression of that game.

Since that time, we've seen three more NHL outdoor games. The 2008 Winter Classic saw the Pittsburgh Penguins break out their powder blue throwback sweaters against the Buffalo Sabres in their original, and much better, logo. Ryan Miller followed Jose Theodore's lead by donning a toque for the event as well.

The event, held in Ralph Wilson Stadium, posed a few new problems the NHL had not yet experienced, but the fans loved it, and the falling snow combined with a shootout to end the game - a pond hockey and shinny tradition - made for a phenomenal New Year's Day in 2008.

The 2009 game saw a couple of old rivals bring back the history of old-time hockey as the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Both teams wore throwback jerseys, and Detroit's Mike Babcock even donned a fedora to give the old-time hockey game a more historic feel. The game was fast and physical, and the NHL had bottled some success on New Year's Day once again as the fans in Chicago really seemed to enjoy the outdoor game.

The 2010 Winter Classic moved to Boston, Massachusetts where the Bruins squared off against the Philadelphia Flyers at historic Fenway Park. The traditions continued in this game as Boston's Claude Julien donned the old-time headwear in the same fashion that Mike Bobcock did the year before. The Bruins wore some gorgeous yellow jerseys that should, in my view, become their alternates sooner than later. The Flyers wore a simple, yet immaculate, white jersey, and looked fantastic. Overall, the TV viewership was down, but the fans in Boston came out in full force and really enjoyed themselves.

This year, the NHL has decided to award the Winter Classic game to Pittsburgh where the Penguins will face their arch-rivals in the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field. The TV viewership should go up with these two teams renewing their rivalry, and the Crosby-Ovechkin showdown gets a major opportunity to ramp up the heat.

While some have said that this "force-feeding" of Crosby by NBC to the American TV viewer will take away the lustre of this game, I disagree. TV networks force-feed sports stars to the American public all the time. NBA games? Lebron or Kobe. NFL games? Manning or Favre. MLB games? Yankees or Red Sox. That's TV, people. It's not the NHL's doing. But the NHL needs its biggest stars in its marquee game to capitalize. There's the rub - big stars in the biggest regular season game is good for business.

The second outdoor game next season will be an all-Canadian affair in February as the Calgary Flames will host the Montreal Canadiens on February 20, 2011 at McMahon Stadium. This will only be the second outdoor game in the NHL's long history that will take place outdoors in Canada. You would think that, given the proper conditions for ice and cold in Canada during the majority of the season, more of these games would take place in the Great White North. But I digress.

If this is the start of having two outdoor games per season, I'm all for it. American TV ratings can have New Year's Day and the Winter Classic. It can be a new/continued tradition for American television and American hockey fans. That's cool with me.

Canadian hockey fans should be entitled to the Heritage Classic that features an all-Canadian match-up in February. All sorts of great games can be played: the Battle of Alberta, the Battle of Ontario, Montreal-Toronto, and Vancouver-Calgary are all games that could be staged for the next several Heritage Classic games. In case, you hadn't noticed, NHL, Canadians like hockey!

So there you have it: New Year's Day has the Capitals and Penguins battling in Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic, and February 20 has the Flames and Canadiens battling in Calgary in the Heritage Classic.

It just makes sense, doesn't it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Regular Season Flashback

I'm fairly certain that I can count the number of people who predicted a Chicago-Philadelphia Stanley Cup Final on one hand. The two teams had entirely opposite seasons with Chicago flying high while the Flyers needed a shootout in the final regular season game to get in. However, both teams will square off on Saturday night in Game One for the NHL's biggest prize.

If we flashback to March 13, 2010, though, we may get a glimpse of how this series will be played. Michael Leighton was in the net for the Flyers that day, but the Blackhawks had Cristobal Huet between the pipes. Antti Niemi will be the starter on Saturday, so there's one change for the Blackhawks already.

Let's take a look at that game, goal by goal, and see how that game ended up.

Brent Seabrook's blind backhanded pass came up a little short after the Flyers started the dump-and-chase, and Daniel Carcillo picked up the misplayed pass. Seabrook then chases Carcillo around the net, leaving Simon Gagne wide open on the left side. Carcillo finds Gagne, and Huet is at his mercy. Make it 1-0 for the Flyers.

Seabrook, in my view, is a much better defenceman than this, and I doubt you'll see him make such a careless error in his own zone in the Stanley Cup Final. However, the Flyers need to continue to punish the opposition's defencemen on the dump-and-chase in order to create turnovers. If they can wear down Chicago's defencemen like they did to New Jersey, Boston, and Montreal, there's a good chance they can knock off the Blackhawks.

With the Blackhawks on the powerplay, they respond with a goal as Kris Versteeg buries the Marian Hossa rebound to make it 1-1.

This goal is simply a case of a man-advantage, and some poor penalty kill coverage. Simon Gagne is out covering the point as Richards and Pronger battle along the boards with two Blackhawks. The problem? Two Flyers are along the boards while Versteeg and Hossa are open down-low. Kimmo Timonen can't cover both men, and commits to Versteeg as he gets the puck off the boards. Versteeg passes the puck to Hossa, wide open in the slot, and his initial shot is stopped by Leighton. However, Versteeg pounces on the rebound and shovels it home.

The Flyers can't get bunched up and find themselves giving up a two-on-one down-low. The Blackhawks, to their credit, spaced the zone well, and the open man - Hossa - was the catalyst for the powerplay goal.

The Blackhawks strike again as Marian Hossa's one-timer finds the back of the net before Leighton can get set, and the Blackhawks move ahead by a 2-1 score.

Troy Brouwer, not David Bolland as stated, protects the puck beautifully against Lukas Krajicek as he comes in across the blueline. His quick pass to Hossa is one-timed through Kimmo Timonen and past Leighton.

There's not much that can be done differently by the Flyers on this one in my view. Kudos to both Brouwer, who used his body to shield the puck from Krajicek's stick-check, and to Hossa, whose quick shot through the partial screen by Timonen got past Leighton.

Kimmo Timonen tees up a gorgeous slapshot stretch pass to Scott Hartnell at the Blackhawks' blueline. Hartnell gets his feet moving before Brent Sopel can catch him off the Chicago line change, and the gritty forward outworks Sopel to the net before going short side on Huet. Hartnell's goal ties the game at 2-2.

Good commentary from the colour guy on this one. The dump-in by the Blackhawks would have been fine had it not been for Leighton stopping the puck behind the net. Had the puck rattled around the boards, Chicago's change would have been made in time, and Sopel wouldn't have had to chase Hartnell. Leighton's heads-up play started this one, and his second assist on the play is huge.

Kimmo Timonen picks up the stopped puck from Leighton, and now the game is afoot. Timonen sees the Blackhawks still in the midst of a change, and spots Hartnell all alone at the Blackhawks' blueline. With pinpoint accuracy, Timonen rifles the puck down the ice to Hartnell's forehand. If this pass is behind Hartnell, Hartnell gets crossed up and Sopel has time to recover. Timonen's phenomenal pass is the second major piece of this superb goal.

Lastly, Hartnell is already in stride as he nears the blueline, making the chase that much harder for Sopel. He takes the pass on his forehand, allowing him to gain a step to cut to the inside on Sopel as he closes in on the net. Hartnell uses his body well to shield the puck from Sopel's rather feeble stick-check, and Sopel stumbles to allow Hartnell enough time to fire it past Huet on the short-side. Honestly, this was a beautiful goal from start to finish.

Aside from the slow change, the Blackhawks have to be aware of what's happening on the ice as the new line comes on. More important, Sopel needs to play tougher on that play, using his body to force Hartnell off the puck. The stick-check? Useless when the offensive player already has position on you. Sopel needs to be a much tougher defenceman if he wants his name on the Stanley Cup.

Claude Giroux's pass to Chris Pronger might have resulted in Pronger's most memorable goal thus far in his career. Pronger's tap-in past Huet with 2.1 seconds remaining put the Flyers up 3-2.

There isn't much to say here for the Flyers aside from Pronger jumping into the play, creating the odd-man rush, and Giroux's phenomenal cross-ice pass to Pronger's stick for the game-winner. Pronger really deserves credit here as he's been criticized in some circles for his foot speed this season, but he showed that his hockey sense is still strong.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, were a mess on this play. I know Patrick Kane took serious heat from Don Cherry on Coach's Corner, but there's so much more to this play aside from Kane making a line change with six seconds to play. I'll run through this chronologically.
  • The Blackhawks have a tired line on the ice, but they don't dump the puck in to get fresh legs on the ice. Instead, Kane tries to skate the puck in. Because of this decision, he loses the puck on a Matt Carle hit as the puck rolls around the boards behind the net. Mistake #1.
  • Jonathan Toews, clearly gassed as he makes the hit on Chris Pronger in the corner, finds himself deeper in the Flyers' zone than the already-tired Kane. Mistake #2.
  • While there's no question that Toews was finishing his check on Pronger, Pronger beats Toews out of the zone to create the four-on-three situation in the neutral zone. Again, a tired Toews and a tired Kane watch four Flyers break out of the zone against three Blackhawks. Mistake #3.
  • Troy Brouwer, coming off the bench as part of the broken line change, gets caught floating as Giroux and Hartnell break up the ice with speed. Instead of matching speed with the approaching Flyers, Brouwer's flat-footed play sees him left in the dust as the Flyers turn the four-on-three into a four-on-two. Mistake #4.
While there's no doubt that the Blackhawks' young tandem of Toews and Kane were looking to generate a scoring chance and possibly hem the Flyers in their own zone, this was a wake-up call in terms of being leaders. Honestly, I think both players have been much better in the playoffs since this game, and have shown much better leadership in making good line changes throughout the playoffs.

So that's how the only regular season game between these two teams ended: Philly won 3-2 on the Chris Pronger goal with 2.1 seconds left.

Again, the Blackhawks have really turned on the jets recently as they dispatched the Sharks in four games, so there's no doubt that the Hawks are really on their game. Toews, Sharp, Kane, Byfuglien, Hossa, and Versteeg have paced the Blackhawks thus far, and their contributions will be needed against the Flyers.

The Flyers will have to be patient as they were in the previous three rounds, and capitalize on the Blackhawks' mistakes. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Daniel Briere will have to match the Blackhawks' scorers, or it will come down to how well Philly can shut down the Blackhawks' high-octane offence.

I'm excited for the Stanley Cup Final as it really looks like we might have a physical, entertaining series. Isn't that what everyone wants?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A Non-NHL Trophy Mystery

The man to the immediate left is NHL Hall of Famer Charles William Conacher. The "Big Bomber" came from a family of ten children that produced three NHL players: older brother Lionel Conacher, middle brother Charlie Conacher, and younger brother Roy Conacher. However, Charlie was one of the NHL's most dynamic players during his time in the league, and his charitable work led to the creation of the Charlie Conacher Memorial Trophy in 1968 that would be awarded to the NHL player "who best exhibited outstanding humanitarian and public services contributions" each season. The only problem? The trophy was only awarded until 1984, and all records of who won this trophy are nowhere to be found. There's our mystery: what happened to Conacher's Award, and who were the players that won the trophy?

First, let's start with a little background on Conacher before we get to the missing information on an NHL Award.

From the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame:

Conacher played a year of junior hockey with North Toronto before joining the Toronto Marlboros in 1927. He played on the Marlies' Memorial Cup-winning team in 1929 and made the jump to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1929-30. His brother, Lionel, who by that time was coaching the New York Americans, negotiated Charlie's first contract figuring it would be better for a kid of 19 to begin a career in his home town.

Charlie played a strong right wing, and after a few mediocre front line configurations, Leafs owner Conn Smythe teamed 20-year-old Conacher with 18-year-old Harvey "Busher" Jackson (who'd played with Conacher on the Marlies) and 22-year-old Joe Primeau. Because of their youth and inexperience, the three were called the Kid Line. It was 1931, and the Leafs were not showing well in regular season, so the new Kid Line didn't grab a lot of attention. At first.

The Kid Line went on to become one of the most dangerous lines in hockey history, and the threesome found itself near the top of the scoring lists for the better part of a decade. Conacher himself became the best right wing in the game over the next half-decade. Five times between 1930 and 1936, he either led or tied for the league lead in goal-scoring. He was a Second Team All-Star in his second and third years in the league and a First Team selection for three consecutive seasons beginning in 1933-34. He also helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup in 1932.
So we know that Charlie Conacher was a big-time player with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent nine seasons in Toronto, helping the Leafs win one Stanley Cup. His nine years of being a "take-no-prisoners" power forward in the NHL had resulted in a pile of injuries: "removal of one kidney after crashing into a net, a broken collar bone, a shoulder separation, blood poisoning from a cut to his hand, and various other fractures and cuts". His bruising body began to slow down, and the Leafs sold him to the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 1938.

Conacher would have a solid season in Detroit, but it was clear that his career was winding down. The following summer, he was shipped off to the New York Americans where he would play another two seasons. However, Conacher's love of the game kept him around as he turned to coaching. In 1944, he coached the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup Championship, and even took the reins of the Chicago Black Hawks for three seasons in the late 1940s.

In the 1960s, it was discovered that Charlie Conacher was suffering from throat cancer. On December 30, 1967, he finally succumbed in his battle with the disease at the age of 58 in Toronto, Ontario. However, Conacher had started the Charlie Conacher Research Fund to help raise funds for research into how to defeat esophageal cancer. Because of his humanitarian and charitable work, the Conacher Research Fund created the Charlie Conacher Memorial Award that would be given to the NHL player "who best exhibited outstanding humanitarian and public services contributions".

Now, I need to stress that this is not an NHL-endorsed award. The NHL never once awarded the Conacher Memorial Trophy to an NHL player in any circumstance. Instead, it was given annually to an NHL player by the Conacher Research Fund. And this is where the mystery begins.

The only instance I can find of any NHL player ever being credited with winning the Conacher Memorial Trophy is George Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968-69, the first player to accept the award. That picture appeared in the August 1968 edition of The Hockey News, and is the only image I've ever seen of the trophy or a player accepting it. Because the award was not an NHL Award, there is absolutely no record of it anywhere in the history of the NHL. Even Armstrong's bio page on the Leafs' website makes no mention of the Conacher Award, despite the picture saying that it was "one of his most cherished honors". Ditto for his Legends of Hockey page.

However, some online detective work has turned up one additional name who accepted the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award between 1968 and 1984. Gary Bergman, a defenceman for the Detroit Red Wings, shared the award in 1973 with another unnamed player in the NHL. And that's all I can find.

I'm all ears if anyone can point me in the direction of the Conacher Research Fund's website so I can contact someone there. Again, I found nothing online that would resemble a website for the charitable organization, so if you know something, put it in the comments. I'd like to know who shared the award in 1973 with Gary Bergman, and who the other fourteen winners were over that sixteen-year span where the trophy was awarded.

I do know that the 1968 gala dinner for the Conacher Research Fund attracted more than 500 people. That clip is from the May 24 edition of the Montreal Gazette, showing that people were behind cancer research in the late-1960s.

Again, if you have any information regarding the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award, please leave some contact info in the comments, or email me directly. I'm very interested in knowing who else won this award!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Holiday Monday Musings

Sometimes I wonder what goes through people's minds before they speak. I often wonder if they simply don't think before speaking, resulting in an awkward quote being captured by reporters and fans. Normally, this quote is clarified or explained by the speaker, and everything is fine after the clarification or explanation is given. However, one former NHL player, known for his scoring prowess and his quotes, has made headlines once again by speaking his mind. Whether he thought about his comment beforehand is questionable considering what he said in context of the question. The "he" is Bobby Hull, and the comment is in the first bullet point below. Let's take a look at the stories happening in hockey.

  • "If they ever invited me to drink out of that Cup, I'd jump through the rim of my own butt and hang myself just to get another drink out of it". - Blackhawks' legend Bobby Hull, answering Dan Rosen of NHL.com, on what he'd do if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this season. Wow. That tells you how much respect the former players have for the Stanley Cup, and what they'd do to have one more chance.
  • EA Sports has confirmed that NHL '11 will have all 60 junior teams from the CHL included in the game. The "Be A Pro" feature will have your player start in the Memorial Cup as a junior hockey player, experience the draft based upon your Memorial Cup performance, work your way through the AHL, and (hopefully) end up in the NHL as a star. With the realism that EA Sports is putting into their franchise, is there any reason to actually put the skates on anymore? (I kid, I kid!)
  • Speaking of the CHL and the Memorial Cup, congratulations go out to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires as they captured their second consecutive Memorial Cup with a 9-1 victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings. There's no doubt that this year's version of the Spitfires will go down in Canadian Hockey League history as one of the most dominant teams ever in junior hockey. Congratulations to the Windsor Spitfires franchise on their two years of success, and their work this year in becoming only the eighth team in CHL history to repeat as MasterCard Memorial Cup Champions!
  • Congratulations also goes out to Windsor Spitfire Taylor Hall, who became the first player in CHL history to win the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the Memorial Cup MVP in consecutive years. Hall led the tournament in scoring with five goals and four assists, one point ahead of teammate Adam Henrique. Hall showed some amazing talent this week in Brandon, and should be the first overall selection at the draft this season if scouts were watching Hall display his talents this past week.
  • Speaking of dominant, the Hershey Bears eliminated the Manchester Monarchs in six games to advance to the AHL Calder Cup Final for the second consecutive season. The defending Calder Cup Champions ran roughshod over the AHL this season, and are continuing that dominance in the playoffs. Hershey awaits the winner of the Western Conference Final between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Texas Stars. Hamilton leads that series 3-2.
  • With the Chicago Blackhawks sweeping the San Jose Sharks out of the playoffs yesterday to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the running joke of the Curse of Hossa continues. Hossa, as you probably know, is a member of the Chicago Blackhawks this season, having lost in the Stanley Cup Final in the previous two seasons with Detroit and Pittsburgh, respectively. Will it be three-for-three in misses, or is the third time a charm for Hossa?
  • Charles Wang's dream of relocating having his New York Islanders travel to China next season has been killed by the NHLPA. While no details are given as to why the China trip was canceled in the report filed by ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, the NHLPA reportedly has angered the Islanders' owner. Honestly, Wang has had himself a rough year: no new arena and retail center, and, now, no China trip. Forget Hossa's curse; the Islanders, as a franchise, appeared to be cursed.
  • In the story that just won't die, Winnipeg Free Press scribe Gary Lawless has confirmed that True North Sports and Entertainment is the third, "unnamed" buyer in the mix for the Phoenix Coyotes. I have lots of inside information on this, but I've agreed to keep quiet on this for the good of all involved. I will confirm that Lawless has his facts straight in that TNSE does indeed have its house in order to purchase an NHL franchise should one become available. But I want to make this clear: as of right now, the AHL Manitoba Moose are the primary tenants in the MTS Centre this season, and will remain the primary tenants for the foreseeable future.
  • In a massive court ruling that will shape the way that all leagues do business, the US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of American Needle, Inc. in their battle with the NFL over an anti-trust allegation. Because of this, the NHL cannot operate as one business entity representing the thirty NHL franchises if a business wants to deal with one or several teams exclusively. Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski jokes about how video gamers might be affected, but it could mean that we may see a sequel to Electronic Art's 1993 version of NHL hockey.
  • If you missed the play in Game Four of the Montreal-Philly series, Josh Gorges had a strap break on his skate guard that resulted in a Philadelphia goal. Gorges is apparently taking the guards off to ensure that his miscue doesn't happen again, but I have a couple of comments on this. First off, Montreal uses counterfeit skate guards, and not the patented Skate Fender design which limits the amount of strap on the outside of the boot. The inventor of the Skate Fenders, Frank McClelland, is aware of the counterfeit models, and is working to have this patent infringement corrected. Secondly, the guards are used to prevent foot injuries while blocking shots. If Gorges wants to risk a foot injury, that's his choice. I, however, will continue to wear my pair, and I will endorse them for all the good they do despite Gorges' bad press for his counterfeit pair.
  • Lastly, I'll close this day's musings with a great article from The Onion where they try to decipher why the shark in the logo of the San Jose Sharks is eating a hockey stick. Good satire, and a nice chuckle to finish off your Monday.
Happy Victoria Day, Canadians! Enjoy your day off! I'm going to get back to the Montreal-Philadelphia game, so take it easy and enjoy the game!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Another Russian Heartbreak

There's no doubt that this year's IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship had its share of controversy and intrigue. From an IIHF staff member ripping NHL players who decline invitations to the tournament to IIHF boss Rene Fasel issuing an apology to Sidney Crosby for being singled out as one of those players, the IIHF saw a little egg on its face in terms of attracting big names to the event. However, there were some good stories as well as the host Germans set a world record for attendance at a hockey game en route to beating the USA in the tournament's opening game, and then proceeded to thrill their fans throughout the tournament with their play. Today's championship final featured two teams that had a number of their best players in the line-up, and two teams that have a long history of battles at the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship and throughout international hockey history.

The biggest name that appeared on the Czech Republic's roster was 38 year-old Jaromir Jagr. Jagr has never been one to shy away from representing his country on the world's stage, but he opened the tournament in an unhappy mood after finding that some of the more prominent Czech names in hockey had decided to sit the tournament out. Jagr, who may have been slightly annoyed at being one of a few marquee names on the team, saw his team fall to Switzerland and Norway by identical 3-2 scores in the preliminary round. It was the first time a Czech team had lost to Norway on the international scene in 73 years!

"It's the national team — we didn't really have any success lately and a lot of guys said no in our country," Jagr said on May 10. "Probably the top 25 guys said no and I think it's too much. I understand the guys are injured or they feel tired after the season, but look at guys like Ovechkin or Kovalchuk.

"I think you've got to be a little bit more proud of your country."
With Jagr calling out those who didn't show up, he may have also called out the players around him, and the Czech Republic team responded. After being in a bad situation with two losses, the Czechs won their next four games, beating Latvia, Canada, Finland, and Sweden to earn a berth in the IIHF World Hockey Championship Final.

The team that they would face would be a juggernaut through the IIHF World Hockey Championship again this season. The Russians went 8-0 through the games leading up to the championship final, outscoring their opponents by a 31-9 margin over those eight games. They beat, in order, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Canada, and Germany again to advance to the final. Surprisingly, the two games against Germany were the closest that Russia came to losing as both goals were one-goal victories.

After all was said and done, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, and head coach Vyacheslav Bykov had continued their dominance at the the IIHF World Hockey Championship as they had strung together an impressive 27-game win streak over the last three years in winning the last two IIHF World Hockey Championship tournaments. Eight players were looking to three-peat at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, so the Russians had motivation.

Today, the Russians faced the Czech Republic in the 2010 IIHF World Hockey Championship Final. 19132 fans packed Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany to see these two hockey powers square off for world hockey supremacy. Semyon Varlamov got the start for the Russians while Tomas Vokoun got the nod for the Czechs in net.

Just twenty seconds into the first period, the upstart Czechs took the lead. Jakub Klepis converted a feed from Jaromir Jagr, and the Czech Republic led 1-0.

The announcer gets way too excited just :20 in.
The Czechs, unable to match firepower with the Russians, played a fairly conservative period, but also killed three Russian powerplays in taking the 1-0 lead into the intermission. Vokoun made 13 saves in the first period, while Varlamov saved seven of eight shots.

Another goal was scored at the 18:13 mark of the second period. Czech captain Tomas Rolinek made it 2-0 off a pass from Karl Rachunek after Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Sergei Fedorov collided in the offensive zone, turning the puck over at the Czech blueline.

Apparently, they checked upstairs to ensure it wasn't in off Rolinek's skate.
After Ovechkin nearly ran into Alexander Semin, he literally jumped into Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov didn't even see the hit coming. With the goal, the Czechs took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after forty minutes. Vokoun had stopped all 25 shots he had seen thus far, while Varlamov had stopped 16 of 18 shots. With one period to play, the unthinkable was on the minds of everyone.

I'm not going to say much about the penalty-filled six minutes that closed the game, but here are the last two minutes of the final of the IIHF World Hockey Championship. Russia starts this sequence on a two-man advantage, trailing by a 2-0 score. Intrigue? Intensity? You betcha.
With 36 seconds to play, Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Russians, with assists to Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar.

Thirty-six seconds are a lifetime in hockey, so there was still enough time for Russia to tie the game. However, the Czechs, playing the same conservative, defensive hockey they had used against the other hockey powers, used up the remaining time to claim their first IIHF World Hockey Championship in five years!

In winning, the Czechs snapped the 27-game win streak by the Russians and held Alexander Ovechkin scoreless in the final game. Ovechkin actually finished the game as a -2, and his unintentional check on teammate Sergei Fedorov led to the game-winning goal by Tomas Rolinek.

Remember what I've been preaching for a while now about how hard work beats talent every night? Jaromir Jagr essentially echoed that in his post-game interview.

"This was probably the biggest surprise in hockey history," Jagr said to Lucas Aykroyd. "They had stars and we had guys who play in the Czech Republic, but this shows that talent doesn't matter - you have to work hard."

Kids, if you're reading this, live by that mantra. Talent will only get you so far. Hard work will always get you further. Jaromir Jagr, one of the greatest players in the world, believes in that, and you should too.

Russian forward Pavel Datsyuk was voted as the best forward in the tournament by the IIHF Directorate. Finnish defenceman Petteri Nummelin was voted as the best defenceman, while German goaltender Dennis Endras was voted as the best goaltender. Nummelin and Datsyuk were named as tournament all-stars as well, along with German defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, Russian forward Evgeni Malkin, and Swedish forward Magnus Paajarvi Svensson. German goaltender Dennis Endras was also a tournament all-star, and was also named as the IIHF World Hockey Championship MVP! Congratulations to all these men on their excellent tournaments!

The final rankings in this tournament are as follows:
  1. Czech Republic
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden
  4. Germany
  5. Switzerland
  6. Finland
  7. Canada
  8. Denmark
  9. Norway
  10. Belarus
  11. Latvia
  12. Slovakia
  13. USA
  14. France
  15. Italy
  16. Kazakhstan
Because of their finish at the bottom of the pile, both Italy and Kazakhstan are relegated to the Division I Men's Hockey Championship next season, being replaced by Austria and Slovenia in Slovakia for the 2011 IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship.

And finally, I was a little disappointed by the seventh-place finish by the Canadians, but they battled hard in every game. Without a doubt, the loss of Ryan Smyth, aka Captain Canada, took a lot of energy and grit out of the Canadian line-up, but I thought Ray Whitney stepped up admirably in Smyth's absence.

I just want to mention the Hockey Canada online store where you can find all of Hockey Canada's merchandise. They have some pretty cool shirts, including a few that are reduced in price, and it's the best place to find a Team Canada jersey if you're not in the Great White North. There's also a button on the right-hand side for convenience in case you want to do a little Hockey Canada shopping in the future!

Congratulations to the Czech Republic on their World Hockey Championship victory, and to all the teams for a fantastic tournament! A big thanks to Julia for the heads-up on the Hockey Canada online store as well, and keep your eyes peeled for a Team Canada contest coming up in the future!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Ultimatums And Decisions

Musically-speaking, the Barenaked Ladies sang a song entitled "If I Had $1000000" that spoke of all the crazy things that they would buy if they had one million dollars. Not many of us have that kind of money to buy things like art (a Picasso or a Garfunkel), a fur coat (not a real fur coat because that's cruel), or a monkey (haven't you always wanted a monkey?!?). If you're dealing with the NHL, though, $1 million will buy you approximately nine days of time. That's a pretty hefty price tag for anyone regardless of how much money you have.

The NHL has essentially issued the City of Glendale an ultimatum in this cat-and-mouse game of ownership of the Coyotes franchise: find a local buyer by December 31, or we'll sell the team to the highest bidder*.

If you noticed the asterisk, congratulations. With their latest move, the NHL has essentially told the City of Glendale that if you can't make hockey work in Arizona, we'll let someone else try in some other location as long as they have the money to buy and move the team.

Remember that $25 million that the City of Glendale guaranteed the NHL to cover losses this season? That bought the city approximately 222 days of time to find an owner from the date of publication. Each day costs the taxpayers in Glendale $112,612.61 in lost revenueIF, and only if, the City of Glendale cannot find a buyer for the Coyotes and the NHL loses the full $25 million in operation costs this upcoming season.

And you thought Jim Balsillie played dirty.

Of course, this re-opens the entire discussion on True North Sports and Entertainment's pursuit of the Coyotes. Let's go to the report.

"The agreement, obtained by the Globe and Mail, also states Glendale can only keep the Coyotes after Dec. 31 if it finds a local buyer and the NHL has 'not yet entered into an agreement to sell the team in a non-Glendale sale and the city identifies a prospective bona fide purchaser.'"
We'll call this portion of the agreement the "out clause". With this clause written into the agreement between the NHL and the City of Glendale, the NHL has taken the appropriate steps to exhaust all potential local buyers, thereby opening the field up to any and all offers, including those where the team would move to a new home. With no local buyers, the NHL can definitively say that moving the team is the only option.

However, they left the job of selling the team to the City of Glendale. Now, I'm not sure about you, but I know that there aren't a lot of private businessmen and businesswomen who will do business with a level of government. It just doesn't make good business sense to deal with the "house", to use a gambling term, because the "house" - in this case, the government - never loses. Nevertheless, the NHL has left it up to the City of Glendale to find an owner, putting the onus squarely back on the city's councillors to come up with a solution for a problem they are ultimately paying to solve.

In defence of the City of Glendale, this could simply be a case of academia in that "city manager Ed Beasley and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Glendale council that the sale of the Coyotes is expected to close by the end of June" on May 11. Whether Glendale agrees to the concessions demanded by either Jerry Reinsdorf or Ice Edge Holdings, none of the $25 million could be spent nor will the NHL's "out clause" come into effect.

The sticking points thus far in the negotiations with Ice Edge, the leading candidate as far a public opinion is concerned, is that Ice Edge wants the City of Glendale to sign an agreement offering them the exclusive negotiating rights with the city in addition to some changes being made to the arena lease deal under which the Coyotes currently operate. As it stands, the City of Glendale will not sign off on that exclusivity agreement, and, quite frankly, I don't blame them.

Limiting your sale to one buyer limits your bargaining power when it comes to capitalizing on the potential growth that the Coyotes may bring. By signing off on the exclusivity deal, the City of Glendale paints itself into a corner - something that would help the Ice Edge Holdings bid immensely.

The other player who had stepped forward is apparently either no longer interested or simply laying in wait. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, was the odds-on favorite a little over one month ago to seal the deal with the City of Glendale until Glendale came to their senses. Reinsdorf got greedy in asking for $45 million in subsidies, and this prompted the City of Glendale to bring Ice Edge back into the negotiations.

While I doubt that Reinsdorf will back off the subsidies he asked for if the City of Glendale decides to re-open talks with him, it appears his bid for the team is dead. Judging by public opinion, many in the greater Phoenix area consider this a win for the team. I have to agree with them.

So it comes to this: find a buyer before the calendar turns to 2011, or the NHL will open the floor to all bidders regardless of having a team in the Phoenix market or not. With Winnipeg already on the map in terms of being NHL-ready in terms of having an owner, it appears this soap opera in the desert just won't go away.

And it's costing the good people in Glendale $112,612.61 per day to live in this made-for-TV drama.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 21 May 2010

TBC: Old-Timey Hockey Tales!

While the photo to the left doesn't do him justice, the man in the Penguins shirt is none other than artist Rob Ullman. Rob is a man I truly respect because he has talent that I could only wish to have considering my artistic ability. I've been lucky enough to get to know Rob through his phenomenal website, Atom Bomb Bikini, and through our occasional discussions on the Uni Watch Blog. Rob draws illos, and his ability is second-to-none when it comes to combining the female form and sports.

Let me say this up-front: I respect Rob for his ability. He's a phenomenal artist. Some might view his work as "sexist", but I think that his works are magnificent. They are simple enough that they don't lose the model's form, but are detailed enough that the Blackhawks logo is very clear and concise. His blending of the female form and sports is no worse than the Statue of David in my mind. If you disagree, disagree with my opinion. Rob makes a tidy living with sales of his illos, so don't hate on him. I'm featuring him here, so complain to me if you're unhappy with Rob's work being displayed here. That being said, let's get back on track here.

Rob sent me an "official programme" of his Old-Timey Hockey Tales!, and I have to say that I enjoyed this short look at hockey through Rob's eyes very much. Rob illustrates comics in Old-Timey Hockey Tales! of Bill Barilko, Terry Sawchuk, and The Rocket Richard Riot. The historical recounts of these stories are factual, and Rob does a good job in emphasizing the major points in each historical hockey story.

What makes this sixteen-page book so great is that the story of each legend is illustrated to show the major events in those players' lives. The illustrations are superb, and really turn the stories from historical recounts into visual storytelling. Rob's artistic ability shines through as his illustrations of each of the main characters are their actual personages in ink.

Old-Timey Hockey Tales! is available in Rob's online store, along with a pile of other comics that he has drawn. Of course, there are other hockey-themed comics available, and I may have to pick a few more of Rob's works up for my own collection. The best part? Nothing is more than $30, and all of your proceeds goes towards helping an artist create more art. That's something I'm proud to support here on HBIC: community helping community.

If you'd like a preview of the Bill Barilko comic contained within Old-Timey Hockey Tales!, Rob has published that one-page comic on his website. You can read it here. Rob has a ton of stuff on his Atom Bomb Bikini website, so I encourage you to take some time to go through all his works posted. It's definitely worth the time.

Here are a few colour illos that I think deserve some recognition. I'll list them off, and make a few comments of my own about them.

  • Team USA 1960 Throwback: I love this jersey, and Rob does a beautiful job in capturing how gorgeous this jersey actually is. This might be my favorite of the bunch.
  • Team USA jersey: Rob's female model is wearing Brooks Oprik's number, a shout-out to his favorite NHL team and country.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins jersey: A Pens-Caps game is previewed featuring a Malkin Penguins jersey. Love the attention to detail on the font.
  • Philadelphia Flyers Winter Classic: This is just a gorgeous jersey, and Rob does a fantastic job in bringing its rich colour scheme to life in 2D.
  • Boston Bruins Winter Classic: Rob's details, such as the non-symmetrical "B" in the logo, are captured brilliantly here.
If you have a few bucks to spare, I recommend picking up Old-Timey Hockey Tales! from Rob's online store. The money goes towards helping Rob, and you get some fantastic artwork for a relatively small setback. Get on it, readers!

Rob, thanks for allowing me to talk a little about your work, and keep drawing your amazing illos! Your work is certainly appreciated by me, and my artistic ability is limited just to stick men!

And because I enjoyed the work, Old-Timey Hockey Tales! receives the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Meaningless Math

It's interesting to see how some people have grown up after being quite famous at a younger age. Take the lady to the left, for example. That's Danica McKellar, formerly known as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years starring Fred Savage from 1988 until 1993. Today, the 35 year-old holds her mathematics degree from UCLA, having graduated summa cum laude, and writes books on math for middle-school girls to help them gain an appreciation for the subject. However, this isn't a Teebz's Book Club feature, so you're probably wondering why I'm talking about Danica McKellar and math. There's a perfectly good reason why.

Last year in June, I proposed a way to evaluate a defenceman's value in comparison to other defencemen around the league based upon team stats and personal stats. Admittedly, it's not a scientific evaluation of a player's value to his team, but it does give a numerical value to a player based on team and personal success. As a general manager, that's something that would be important to me as an evaluation tool.

This season, I decided to run the top ten defenceman in scoring through this tool, as well as adding a few other names for comparison purposes. Surprisingly, one player stands heads and shoulders above everyone else, and was better than Dennis Wideman's value of 4.28 last season.

Here is this season's look at Defenceman-Metrics. All defencemen below played a minimum of 41 games this season.

  • Mike Green of the Washington Capitals led all defencemen in scoring this season, and he leads the way in terms of his numerical value as well. Thanks to Washington's excellent season, Green checked in with an amazing 6.47 value!
  • Green's defensive partner, Jeff Schultz, didn't score as many points as Green, but he played the steady defensive role that the offensive Capitals needed. While Green was chipping in points, Schultz was piling up pluses. As a result, Schultz was valued at 4.40.
  • One of last season's worst player in terms of his value was New York Islander Brendan Witt. His -0.759 rating was the second-worst in the NHL, and he didn't do much to improve his standing this season. Witt scored a value of -0.55 this season, putting him in the bottom five of the league once again.
  • The New York Rangers had the worst-valued defenceman last season in Thomas Pock. Pock scored a league-low -0.78 in value. Pock didn't play in the NHL this past season, so there would be a new player crowned as the worst value in the league. That player would be Calgary Flame Steve Staios in terms of all the numbers I've run thus far. Staios came in with a value of -0.59, worst in the NHL.
  • While some people may think Nicklas Lidstrom had an unusually poor season, I'd argue that while his offensive production dropped off, but his value remained high. While Lidstrom scored a 3.76 last season, he still posted a 2.61 value this season. That would rank him fifth in terms of the top ten in scoring this season. Not bad at all, I'd say.
  • While Brendan Witt showed the ugly side of the Islanders' blueline, Mark Streit continues to show that his contributions to his team are high. Streit scored a solid 1.62 last season, and followed it up with a 1.53 this season. The worst team in the league has one of the top offensive defencemen. I'd love to see how good Streit's numbers would be if he played with Washington, Chicago, or San Jose.
  • Speaking about Chicago, Duncan Keith turned in another solid campaign. Last season, Keith turned in a 3.29, and this season saw him improve with a 3.94 value. While there's no doubt that Keith is a valued member of his team, it goes to show that he is still approaching his potential as an NHL player. Keith deserves a little recognition for that.
  • Drew Doughty, in his first season as an NHL regular, scored a very impressive 3.28 value with the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty had a superb season, so there was no doubt that his value will be high. I was impressed with just how high his value was.
  • There was talk early last season of Michael Del Zotto's impressive start with the Rangers, but this measuring tool is all about consistency. Unfortunately, Del Zotto couldn't continue his hot start, and his value suffered because of it. Del Zotto ended the season with a surprising 0.78 value.
  • Tyler Myers, however, showed exactly what consistency is all about as he had am impressive campaign with the Buffalo Sabres. Myers earned himself a Calder Trophy nomination, and I have to agree with that nomination after seeing him come in with a 2.51 value. Just to put that in perspective, Nicklas Lidstrom finished the season just 0.10 higher than Tyler Myers.
  • While a lot of people poked fun at the Toronto Maple Leafs this season for their on-ice struggles, perhaps no one personified that better than Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle finished tenth in scoring for defencemen this season, but only finished the season with a 1.03 value. His brutal plus/minus stat really killed his offensive production, and that's what this mathematical value is all about: showing you both sides of the ice.
  • One of the more surprising players to come out of this math was Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff got little press outside of Vancouver about how good he was on both sides of the ice. Ehrhoff's middle-of-the-pack stats combined with his high plus/minus value put him at a value of 3.73! That's higher than Dan Boyle (2.67), Chris Pronger (2.59), Drew Doughty (3.28), and Nick Lidstrom (2.61), and all four of those players were in the top ten for defenceman scoring!
  • For as good as Pronger was for Philadelphia, Ryan Parent was not. Parent had a bad season in terms of points and plus/minus, and his -0.56 value showed. Parent has to be better if he wants to ever make Pronger money.
  • Another player I was pleasantly surprised with was former Manitoba Moose and current Dallas Star Marc Fistric. Fistric is more of a defensive defenceman, so plus/minus is the stat that will carry him in the player values, and he ended the season at a value of 1.81. You read that correctly as that value puts him higher than Mark Streit (1.53), Tobias Enstrom (1.66), and just behind Sergei Gonchar (1.84). As you can see, this equation gives equal weight to preventing goals as it does generating them.
  • We'll close this look at math in the same fashion as last season. Brian Campbell of the Blackhawks, whose reputation takes a beating due to his apparent lack of defensive contributions, posted a 2.80 last season. This season? Fairly similar in his 2.69 value. There's no doubt that Campbell brings offence to the game, but his defensive awareness isn't as bad as some make it out to be.
There's a little Thursday night math for everyone. My brain needs a break, so I'm kicking out of here for a few hours.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wednesday's Web Walking

There are a pile of things that I've wanted to touch on over the past week, but I simply haven't had time with all the major stories going on in the hockey world. I still owe the Vernon Vipers an article, and I have not forgotten about it, but I'm still doing some research on their amazing run of success, so I'll publish that this week. However, there have been a pile of stories that have emerged in hockey over this past week that need to be examined, and I'll touch on as many as possible. Lots of links will be included, and I'll try to throw some photos up as well to break up all the reading. Get your walking shoes on, readers. We have a pile of sites to wander through, so let's get those feet moving!

  • Let's start with a good news story, and one that I will undoubtedly expand on at a later date. As you may be aware, I'm a big supporter of NHL players and their respective charities as I believe that the NHLPA and the players are some of the best examples of athletes that give back. In saying that, I have nothing but respect for Maple Leafs' GM Brian Burke and his efforts in helping MyGSA.ca, a site that helps children in school escape bullying due to their sexual orientation. Burke also pledged during the announcement that he would march in Toronto's Pride Parade this year in honour of his late son, Brendan. Brendan, as you may know, came out this season as a gay man while working with the University of Miami-Ohio men's hockey team, and had his life tragically cut short in a traffic accident. Well done, Mr. Burke, and you have my full respect for making Brendan's fight your own. His legacy will never be forgotten because of your efforts.
  • At the Memorial Cup in Brandon, the Windsor Spitfires await the winner of the Calgary Hitmen-Brandon Wheat Kings semi-final game to see who gets to hoist the Memorial Cup. The QMJHL Champion Moncton Wildcats are out of the tournament after losing all three round-robin games, finishing fourth. Calgary defeated Brandon in the final round-robin game by a 5-1 score, so there's a lot on the line for both teams when they meet again. The defending champs await the WHL semi-final winner!
  • The Edmonton Oilers have named their new AHL franchise based in Oklahoma City. Ladies and gentlemen, here are your Oklahoma City Barons! Ok, the name leaves a lot to be desired considering the long history that Cleveland has had with that name in the AHL. And there was also that Cleveland-based NHL team of the same name. Could the Oilers not come up with something better? Thumbs-down to the name.
  • This year's leader in penalty minutes in the AHL was Zack FitzGerald. Note how his name is spelled in Carolina Hurricanes' font. That's key because he actually spells his name with a capital "G" in FitzGerald. His previous team, the Manitoba Moose, correctly displayed his name on his jersey. The Albany River Rats, however, did not. There's a lot to be said for details, especially when it comes to names.
  • Light The Lamp brings to light a ton of media coverage on the recent upwards trend in NHL ratings on Versus, and how ESPN has remained tight-lipped on the entire situation. This is a longer article, but it's worth the time. LTL does its homework well!
  • Larry Brooks of the New York Post scribes a very good and very intelligent article about the New York Islanders, and how the fans and players deserve better in terms of where the Islanders franchise will be located in the near future. I'm not a Brooks fan by any means, but this is one of his best hockey articles ever.
  • Raw Charge takes a look at the rumours swirling around the Lightning's vacant GM seat, and how Pierre McGuire fits into those plans. Or, rather, shouldn't be considered for any position above usher. Pro: he's no longer on Canadian hockey broadcasts. Con: he's still associated with the NHL. Personally, I wouldn't even have him drop off the mail, but that's just me. Mr. Vinik can decide who he wants running his team for himself.
  • Some interesting news out of Grand Rapids as Griffins goaltender Daniel Larsson signed a two-year deal with HV-71 of the Swedish Elite League. I've seen enough of Larsson over the last two years to know he has enough talent to be a back-up in the NHL, but it appears that he got tired of riding the bus in the AHL. Larsson will earn significantly more in Sweden than he would have had he re-signed with Detroit and been assigned to Grand Rapids, but he still feels this is a good way to reach the NHL. Whether it will be with the Winged Wheels or not is a question that should be answered in time.
Ok, that's all I have for today. Lots of stuff coming up on this blog, including the Vernon Vipes information, updates to the HBIC Playoff Pool, and some World Championship news. All of that will happen before the Canadian Memorial Day on Monday, so be prepared.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Growth Comes From Within

There's a lot that can be said about building a good team. Smart trades and key free agent signings do wonders for hockey teams, but the best teams all have one thing going for them: they have built from within. They have drafted good young players after doing their homework, worked hand-in-hand with their AHL affiliate to develop players within similar systems, and have allowed those players to grow without NHL pressures. Because these teams have hitched their wagons to this theory and allowed their good young players to grow, they have seen a ton of success.

The same goes for communities in their development and growth. Communities face many of the same plights that hockey teams do. They try to attract talented free agents (businesses) with lucrative monetary deals (tax breaks), they work to grow their homegrown talent by providing them with opportunities, and they trade assets for assets in the form of goods and services. Good communities, like good hockey teams, lay the foundation for success with their internal growth.

Why am I writing about this? There was an article written by Mr. Randy Turner in today's Winnipeg Free Press. As you may know from reading this site, I hold Mr. Turner in high esteem for his mostly-objective writing and his ability to call it as he sees it. Good, honest reporters call a spade "a spade" when they see one, and Mr. Turner does that in nearly all his articles. Needless to say, I am a fan of his writing and reporting.

In the article published today, Mr. Turner brings to light some of the issues that the city of Glendale, its community, the Coyotes, and the fans of the Coyotes face. I want to address a few points that he makes on a case-by-case basis.

For the people from Arizona who may be reading this, I'll try to weed through some of the misconceptions about both Winnipeg and Glendale. To do this, I've recruited a very good writer in Jordan, who has his own excellent Coyotes-based blog called Five For Howling. Thanks for helping me out with an Arizona-based perspective, Jordan.

For the people in Winnipeg who may be reading this, I'm not going to soften the blow here: this is reality. But I do have some interesting information at the end.

To everyone else, please read through and try to see the light on both ends. Phoenix and Winnipeg aren't very different in terms of its values, economics, and ideals when you clear away all the extraneous fluff like palm trees, mosquitoes, and two cities fighting for the same franchise.
Here we go. Mr. Turner's writing is italicized, while I add Jordan's and my commentary in regular font below his paragraphs.

"Hockey fans in Arizona look at Winnipeggers as vultures just waiting to swoop down on the Phoenix Coyotes' carcass.

"For the most part, they're right. Why deny the obvious?"
Well, aside from a few hundred people who show up at mock "Bring Back the Jets" rallies, I wouldn't say a lot of us are "vultures" at this point. Would Winnipeg like to join the country club again? Sure. There are lots of cities who would love the opportunity, and Winnipeg is no different. There are a large number of Winnipeggers who want the Jets back. We just don't fly off the handle like those shown by the media.

I believe the reason everyone thinks we're so ravenous in our pursuit of the desert-based NHL club is because of the media. No one ever interviews the people in Winnipeg who are content with the AHL Moose. No one ever interviews the people who would like to see the Jets come back without selling the city's soul. Instead, all the interviews go to the "hockey-mad citizens" of Winnipeg.

Which is a lie. They're NHL-mad citizens and have never embraced the Moose. All they want are the bright lights and big names of the NHL. And they get the airtime to make the rest of us - the large majority of Winnipeggers - look like we're just as idiotic.

Again, Winnipeg and Phoenix aren't so different. They're passionate about their team. We're passionate about our team. It just so happens that we're passionate about the same team.
"According to the [Glendale]'s own documents, property tax revenue is 'plummeting.' Hence the desperate need for any revenue generated by Jobing.com to pay off the original construction debt -- with the cost foisted on users (through sales tax) and local area businesses (through a special tax district).

It's not just about the arena, however. The city's grand plan to be a 'sports and entertainment hub' involves not only a city-funded ballpark complex that hosts the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers for spring training, but also the University of Phoenix Stadium (for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals) and the Westgate City Center.

The city is expected to pay around $115 million for the Camelback Ranch ballpark for the Dodgers and White Sox and another $37 million for the surrounding 'infrastructure.'

Meanwhile, Westgate developers had big dreams for a sprawling eight-million-square-foot entertainment/business wonderland that would feed off a projected 22 million visitors a year when completed. Tens of thousands of those visitors were expected to be Coyotes hockey fans.

To date, however, Westgate has only developed about 500,000 sq. ft. and the Coyotes continue to lose tens of millions of dollars a year playing before thousands of empty seats a night.

Instead of reaping tax revenue, the city is being forced to prop up the Coyotes because it's not about just a hockey team, but the millions of tax dollars already invested in a vision of creating a sports and entertainment oasis."
I'm no W.P. Kinsella, but it is almost true that "if you build it, he will come". While Mr. Turner spoke about the thousands of empty seats that the Coyotes played to, I'm almost certain that he's using average NHL attendance figures to reach that conclusion.

Jordan also comes to this conclusion: "I did an article about this about a month ago. Yes, at the beginning of the season, there were some abysmal attendance numbers. And it was fairly understandable considering the prior 8 years of 'success' on the ice and the summer from hell that the fans had been put through. Add to that complete lack of any marketing or ability to sell season tickets, and it was not surprising that the crowds were not there. But it turned around pretty nicely, as you can see. And finishing the season with 8 consecutive sell-outs was a very encouraging sign."

For as much as there were terrible numbers to start the season, the Coyotes finished strong. Much like Gary Bettman has been saying in media reports, fans in places like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Ottawa, and Edmonton are returning to the rink to support their NHL teams after enduring some pitiful seasons while ownership drove the team into the ground by cutting costs. However, with recent successes, fans in those cities are filling those arenas once again. The fans in Phoenix are doing the same, although it is taking a little longer than perhaps one may like to see.

Clearly, the fans are there. The market is big enough to support the Coyotes. With a winning team, the fans began to return to Jobing.com Arena in droves. But there's the catch: ownership mismanagement and a lack of qualified hockey people in the front office led to a decade of despair in Glendale. When a team is a perennial loser, the casual fans stop going because it's no fun losing every night. And this is why Phoenix, despite having some very vocal season ticket holders, appeared to play in front of empty sections.

Taking into account the economic hardships that a lot of people faced over the last few years, and it's easy to see why tickets to hockey games were not being bought in Phoenix. Entertainment is always one of the first things to be sacrificed when people are faced with a shortage of cash, and NHL hockey relies on ticket sales more than any other sport. No tickets being sold means losing fistfuls of cash, and, without selling tickets, the arena looks empty.

These hard economic times also affect business development. The reason that some of those promised developments haven't materialized? The same reason why those fans aren't in the seats at Jobing.com Arena - a tightening of the pinch on the pennies.

Mr. Turner even emphasizes how closely the Coyotes' and Citibank's situations are in terms of their importance: "That's because the Coyotes are to Glendale what Citibank was to the U.S. government: Too big to fail".

Citibank failed when their risks in giving out mortgages below prime to attract a lot of new consumer business bit them in the rear when people couldn't pay for the higher interest rates once the sub-prime mortgage market nose-dived. The Coyotes failed when their risks in putting out a non-competitive team to save money and improve their bottom line bit them in the rear when people decided to stop going to games due to their lack of competitiveness and a bad economical time after seeing their banks claim failure.

In essence, the Phoenix Coyotes' situation was a microcosm of the hard economical times in the United States of America. Both the Coyotes and Citibank took poorly-calculated risks to make their bottom lines look better, and, in both cases, it came back to shake them to their foundations.

Let's review. Here is what the Coyotes situation looked like, and what it could potentially be if the current management continues making good moves for itself and its community.
  • Perennially bad team + lack of fans coming to arena and surrounding areas = lack of money for both team and surrounding businesses.
  • Lack of money for development of team and businesses + lack of fans = team and area in serious financial despair.
  • Bad team in serious financial despair + lack of fans + lack of surrounding businesses + bad economical times = hockey team and area drowning in red ink.
  • Hockey team drowing in red ink + $25 million safety net provided by taxpayers = buying time to potentially save team and area.
  • Buying time + economical improvement + competitive team = increase in fans.
  • Increase in fans + competitive team = improved outlook for businesses in area + new businesses popping up.
  • Increased money for development of teams and businesses + lots of fans = team and area in good financial situation.
  • Perennially competitive team + lots of fans coming to the arena and surrounding areas = lots of money for both team and surrounding businesses.
And now you see where the title of this article comes from: growth comes from within. Good hockey teams build from within, developing star players and having those players become a part of the aura to which fans cling.

Look at the Blackhawks: Kane, Toews, Keith, and Seabrook are all household names in Chicago. Throw in Patrick Sharp, and you have yourself a pretty good first unit developed entirely within Chicago's system. Phoenix has begun to draft fairly well, and have added some excellent young players at the most recent deadline. Let them develop, and they will flourish.

Do you want to know why the Original Six teams have such a strong following? Originally, they began as a team in a region who would select players from that region to stock their teams. Montreal, as a part of that deal, had the entire Quebec area to select from, and it's one of the reasons why they were so good. They developed talent from within their borders, grabbing French-Canadian players such as Maurice Richard, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Yvon Cournoyer, Jacques Plante, and so on. The players were a part of the community they came from, and the fans had a strong bond to these homegrown players. The growth, and success, of the Original Six teams came from within their own team and community, and the fans had players they knew very well, both personally and regionally, building a sense of community with the team. Fans were vitally important to each team as they built their brands.

Cities and, more importantly, fans are still vitally important to the health of NHL franchises. As I stated above, the NHL relies heavily on ticket sales in this day and age in terms of revenue per team. Having a good team will result in fans filling the arena, and Phoenix saw this happen in the latter stages of this past season. Eight straight games of sell-outs shows that the market in Phoenix is strong, and that the Coyotes - if they continue on this path of success - might be able to make a go of it on the ice in the desert.

Winnipeg, this is where your ears should start burning. 11,000 fans may have been fine in the old NHL days, but not any longer. Phoenix, Nashville, and Atlanta have all shown that averaging less than 11,000 fans is the fastest way to financial doom in the NHL. When the NHL left Winnipeg, they averaged slightly more than 11,000 fans per game in a season where the Jets leaving the city was already announced.

There's a good chance that the NHL will consider Winnipeg as a viable option if and when a team is available to be moved. It could still be Phoenix, but it could also be a couple of other teams who are currently in some sort of trouble. But the NHL isn't going to give a team to an owner where getting fans out to games is like pulling teeth.

The equation for keeping a team in your city is very simple: it starts and ends with that franchise's fans. For Phoenix, it means that they have to start going back to the arena now that their economic woes are beginning to let up. For Winnipeg, it means that any team that is awarded to the city must have an extremely high number of season tickets sold for the team to do well. For all other cities, the fans have to continue to show up.

Being a fan means you're married to your team. That means you're with that team through thick and thin, through sorrow and joy, and through sickness and health. Phoenix is stuck in sickness right now. It's up to the fans to nurse them through this.

Marriage, hockey, and community all have one thing in common: they're all teams in way or another. With some nurturing and support, all teams make their way through tough times. The city of Glendale bought you some time, Phoenicians. Now it's up to you to make this marriage, this team, and this community work. And Winnipeg, perhaps its time to start learning these lessons before you get all "hockey-mad" about an NHL team. It just doesn't work if all parties aren't involved.

If you're a fan of an NHL hockey team, it's time for you to go out and prove it. Go to as many games as you can. Demand that your GM develop from within the organization. And be prepared for the ups and downs in your relationship with the team. Things will go bad, and good things will happen. That's life in general. But it's your reaction and perservence in these relationships that will temper the highest highs and the lowest lows.

That's what being a good teammate is all about, and, as fans, we're all teammates in the business of hockey. After all, that's where the seeds for the love of hockey are planted. We need to cultivate that seed to see it grow into something incredible. Whether it be a seed, a marriage, a team, a community, or a country, successful entities always realize that growth always comes from within.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!