Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Losing A True Friend

Flags will fly at half-mast here at HBIC today. I don't usually give this space a lot of personal time, but today's article is necessary because HBIC lost a good friend and respected teammate this past weekend. Brad Drake, long-time hockey player and friend of HBIC, lost a battle that very few of us knew he had engaged in, and it's with great sadness that the world lost a fabulous human being this weekend. Brad and I had played together on a few hockey teams, and he was the epitome of what a good teammate was. When I say I'll miss the big guy, I say it with a heavy heart as I was proud to call Bradley Drake a friend. His smile, his laughter, and his mocking of teammates in a fun way will all be missed by this writer, and he certainly will never be replaced in any line-up.

From the Winnipeg Free Press obituary page,

"BRADLEY WARREN DRAKE It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Bradley Warren Drake on Sunday, February 26, 2012 at the age of 37 years. Brad will be lovingly remembered by his parents, Warren and Doreen, his brother, Wes (Jensen) and their daughter Makena, his grandmother Irene Van Damme, special friend, Gayle, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family and friends. Brad will be sadly missed and fondly remembered for his love of hockey, football, sport jersey collection, movie compilation and vast book collection. After a great deal of hard work, over the course of one year Brad was able to lose over 150 lbs. and finish the 2011 half marathon in under two hours, an accomplishment that is still greatly admired by friends and family. Cremation has taken place and a memorial mass celebrating Brad's life will be held on Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 4588 Roblin Blvd. with Monsignor Maurice Comeault officiating. In lieu of flowers, if friends so desire, donations may be made in Brad's memory to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Manitoba Division, 4 Fort Street, Suite 100, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 1C4."
Like Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, and Wade Belak, this came as a shock to all his friends and family. Brad was always quick with a joke and laughed freely when the barbs were fired back and forth in the dressing after a game. As stated above, the family has requested donations go to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Brad, like the three fallen hockey stars above, took his own life on the weekend.

I have to admit that I never would have suspected that Brad was battling demons of his own based on his demeanour and personality. The weight that he lost was a massive accomplishment in his life, and it seemed that he was a brand new man with new found confidence in himself. He looked good, he laughed a lot, and he really seemed happy. Or so I thought.

You never really stop to think, "That could never happen to me or someone I know". It's hard to believe that Brad was in the same boat as Rick Rypien, another guy who seemed to be upbeat about his opportunities and future after signing a contract with the Winnipeg Jets this past summer. When it hits home, though, it shakes you to the core. Your foundation gets rocked in that you begin to question whether or not you truly know someone as well as you think and whether or not he or she is bring totally honest with you. I'm not saying that I'll have trust issues after this, but there will always be that lingering doubt as to whether you know the whole truth when asking someone a question as simple as "How are you?"

If I could go back and change anything, I would certainly spend more time off the ice with Brad. I feel as though I've lost a major part of why I liked going to hockey as Brad was always laying into me about various hockey topics. He was a really good guy, and I am saddened to have to say that I lost a dear friend.

Rest in peace, Bradley. You were always one of the best. I raise my stick in honour of your life, contributions, and abilities. As a note, HBIC will close shop tomorrow so that I can attend the funeral service for my fallen friend. I'll be back on Friday.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

TBC: Cornered

I grew up watching CBC's Hockey Night In Canada, and it became customary to join Ron and Don at the first intermission to hear what the former Bruins coach had to rant about each week. Don's punny friend, Ron MacLean, was somewhat of a mystery to me as it seemed like he had the best job in the world: he talked about hockey for about four hours every week on TV. How did he get this awesome job? HBIC is proud to present the story of how Ron MacLean got his great job in Cornered, written by Ron MacLean with Kirstie McLellan Day and published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Cornered takes the reader through the journey that led Ron MacLean, radio disc jockey, to the host of Canada's most popular television show and the partner to Don Cherry on Coach's Corner. The journey is interesting, funny, and intriguing, and it certainly was an entertaining read.

From his biography, "Ron MacLean, host of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada for twenty-five years, began his broadcasting career in 1978 as an all-night DJ in Red Deer, Alberta. In 1984, he moved to Calgary to host Flames telecasts on Channels 2 and 7. MacLean joined CBC in 1986, where he hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs' telecasts on HNIC, before becoming the full-time national host in 1987. He has also hosted CBC’s coverage of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, World Cup Hockey, the Calgary Stampede and Battle of the Blades. MacLean has been recognized with ten Gemini Awards, including Best Host in 2004 and 2006. He and his wife, Cari, live in Oakville, Ontario."

Also from the HarperCollins website, "Kirstie McLellan Day has written five other books, including the #1 bestselling memoir of Theo Fleury, Playing with Fire, and the bestselling memoir of Bob Probert, Tough Guy, as well as Above and Beyond, a biography of cable magnate JR Shaw, Under the Mat, a memoir with Diana Hart of the Hart wrestling family, and No Remorse, a true-crime story. The mother of five lives with her husband, broadcaster Larry Day, in Calgary, Alberta. Visit her online at www.kirstiemclellanday.com."

Ron MacLean takes us all the way back to the days when his parents, Cape Breton residents, were growing up. Ron's father, Ronald Francis MacLean, had a pretty tough childhood from Ron's account, and he left home at eighteen to join the army. Ron's mother, Catherine Sarah MacDonald, was raised by her grandmother, and she joined the air force when the opportunity arose. Through their respective time serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, Ronald and Catherine eventually married in France in 1959. April 12, 1960 saw young Ronald Joseph Corbett MacLean welcomed to the world in Unterm, Germany at the Zweibrucken Air Base!

Being a child of military parents, Ron moved all over the country. He finally found a foothold in Red Deer, Alberta when he was given a job at 99.9 CKRD-FM radio in Red Deer while in Grade 11. He was soon promoted from "station identification button presser" to nights from 3PM until midnight. Soon after that, Ron jumped to newsreader as his first on-air job with the radio station. Ron made his way through to being a regular deejay, and that eventually turned into a TV job where Ron was Red Deer's best known weatherman.

When Ron was in Grade 12, he met his "one in six billion" - Cari Lynn Vaselenak - who was in Grade 10. Like most guys at his age, Ron would go out of his way to cross paths with Cari despite never having the nerve to actually ask her out. Ron finally worked up the courage to ask her to be his date for graduation, and Cari accepted. The two have never been apart since as Ron writes,

"I've never had a serious relationship with anyone else. I am Cari's first love, and she is mine. How often does that happen?"
Ron also includes many stories in Cornered about Don Cherry and other CBC personalities with whom he had the opportunity to work. My favorite story is Ron's explanation of the Dave Hodge incident and how he was fired after criticizing CBC's decision to cut away from a Flyers-Canadiens playoff game to the national news. I knew of Hodge's "firing", but the interesting twist for me was how the CBC handled it the following week on Hockey Night In Canada. This is one story that everyone needs to read because it's almost too hard to believe.

Overall, I have to say that Cornered is an excellent read over its 307 pages, and it is highly entertaining. Ron's honest, candid stories are entirely what makes him enjoyable as a television personality, and you can literally hear him in your head telling you the stories he has written as you read along. Ron's writing doesn't come across as pretentious or high-and-mighty, but rather he seems humble and content with his chosen profession. Reading his anecdotes is like reading the memoirs of a man who loved his life. It's this reason that I feel that Cornered deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval because it feels like a Saturday night in front of the television with Ron MacLean spinning yarns about the game of hockey.

Cornered is highly recommended for all readers! It's funny, entertaining, and you get a good insight into what it's like working with Donald S. Cherry on a weekly basis!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Trade Dud-Line

The NHL Trade Deadline Day finally arrived. There was lots of speculation in terms of who would go where and which team would finally land Rick Nash as the biggest swap of the day, but it really turned out to be a long day of very little action for the vast majority of the NHL. From all the tweets being broadcast on TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, it appeared that a good portion of Canada was taking the day off from school and work, and I really feel for those that did. They burned a day that really brought little to get excited about.

I like what Nashville did in bringing in Paul Gaustad. Another big body down the middle will help in the battles in front of the net in the playoffs, and Gaustad isn't afraid to head into traffic. The Andrei Kostitsyn deal was a little puzzling since he wasn't shooting the lights out in Montreal, but if reuniting Andrei and Sergei can light a fire under one or both players, the Predators might have something there. Adding Hal Gill before the trade deadline was a decent addition, and his big body can certainly help against teams like Detroit and Vancouver in front of his own net.

The Canucks wheeled and dealt to get bigger and more skilled. Sami Pahlsson is a good upgrade on the third line as a shutdown centerman. The man he replaces, Cody Hodgson, was swapped for Zack Kassian in Buffalo, but I do have some concern that Kassian might be in over his head still. He plays hard and throws the body, but he needs to show some serious finish if he wants to play for Alain Vigneault. It becomes a little more baffling when you consider that Hodgson was fourth in goals for the Canucks with 17 while Kassian only has seven points to date. Marc-Andre Gragnani will be a good puck-moving addition on the back end as he was one of few Sabres with a plus/minus in the positive. The addition of Andrew Gordon is curious as he will most likely see the playoffs from the press box.

The Bruins did some very nice things today. They went out and got shot blocker extraordinaire Greg Zanon from the Wild. Zanon isn't know for this offensive flair, but he's one of the best players in his own end, and he'll sacrifice his body at any chance he gets to prevent a goal. Adding Brian Rolston from the Islanders will put some additional scoring into the third or fourth lines, and having Mike Mottau available in the press box gives the Bruins another serviceable defenceman at their disposal.

Other than that, I really don't think there were a lot of significant moves by anyone else. There were some minor-league players moved around by the Leafs which pretty much told the world that the Leafs were comfortable with missing the playoffs yet again, but there are some - Brian Burke - who believe that this current crop of Leafs can weather the storm and make the playoffs. We'll see, I suppose.

Overall, a very unimpressive trade deadline for the vast majority of the NHL. I'm not saying that there needs to be blockbuster trades every year, but the teams that were doing a lot of talking about making changes seemingly did not. Calgary was absent from all deals. Detroit stood pat. Pittsburgh made no noise.

Better luck next year? Whatever players your team has now is how they'll finish the season. Does your team have the tools in place to march to a Stanley Cup parade?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Add Another Tally

I know there has been a lot of talk about Henrik Lundqvist being a potential MVP candidate this season with the amazing numbers he's putting up, but I believe there is another player who could easily win the honour. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin had himself another whale of a day at the office yesterday as the Penguins trounced the Lightning by an 8-1 score. As you can see in the image, the ice was littered with hats after he put away three more goals, but HBIC wants to look at another highlight reel moment that Malkin created yesterday to add to his growing resumé from this season.

In a previous post, I had included goals by the aforementioned Malkin, Matt Duchene, Mike Ribeiro, and Mika Zibanejad as possible "Goal of the Year" candidates, but Evgeni Malkin's tally against the Lightning might have been the greatest individual effort this season to date. Here's the video.

Does anyone here think that this guy might be the greatest pure goal scorer in the game right now? Sure, there are other guys who can dent the twine, but Malkin has the moves and the hands that make him look like Jaromir Jagr fifteen years ago. Or Mario Lemieux twenty years ago. The moves he put on the Lightning? Incredible in terms of how gifted he is when the puck is on his stick.

Malkin has willed the Penguins to wins in the past, but you can see how much fun he is actually having. The surgery and rehab to get his torn ACL and MCL back into game shape not only has him looking stronger than ever, but the commitment made by Malkin this summer has made him a better athlete.

Back in the summer, Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport spoke to Evgeni Malkin's father who said, "Evgeni is seriously focused. I am not even sure he will vacation somewhere this summer. He wants to approach the start of the NHL season in top form."

Considering the season that Malkin is putting together, I'd say he reached that goal, and is now pushing the bar higher. The only question that remains is how high will that bar be pushed?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Just Write!

HBIC is proud that it can deliver daily articles to you. I love the game of hockey in all its forms, from the NHL to the grassroots level and everything in between, and there are so many stories that really should be told. I love the historical aspect of hockey, from the Original Six to the WHA to the current 30-team NHL, and there are so many stories from that era that just need to be unearthed so that we may learn more about this great game. I have encouraged you, the readers, to send me your articles so that they may be read because I like hearing about your thoughts on the game. Heck, I've even offered up prizing for those that want their thoughts published! Please, send me your articles if you want to write about hockey!

In saying this, I have begun to receive vast amounts of email from people who want to write for me in exchange for pushing their own agendas. These people will claim that they only want to write, but they send emails with fancy website names attached to them with an offer.

For example, I received an email from a person named "Henry" on February 17 who writes,

"Hi Teebz,

"I was surfing the Internet and recently came across hockey-blog-in-canada.blogspot.com - we were impressed with your site!

"(website name omitted) would love to write an article on a topic of your choice for you. Articles are typically 500-800 words long, but could be longer or shorter. If you're interested, send me some topic suggestions or I'd be more than happy to give some options.

"I look forward to hearing back from you!"
While I appreciate the kind words about my site, I certainly am not going to tell anyone what to write, especially one associated to a site that has the word "promotional" in its web address. I want someone who is willing to write about their passion for the game of hockey.

It comes down to a simple adage: "If work was fun, it wouldn't be called 'work'". I'm pretty sure that everyone reading this right now understands that adage, and can attest to it being true. It's why I blog - I don't find it to be work as much as I find it being fun.

So with it happening once, I usually chalk this up as spam, but I received an email from "Imogen" on February 21 who writes,
"Howdy there,

"hope you're keeping well. I'm just getting in touch to ask if you're in need of any freelance writing at Hockey Day In Canada - if so, it'd be an honor to help out and I would love to get involved if you have any need for me.

"I'm 29 have been working full-time as a professional writer and researcher for five years now; in that time there isn't a lot I haven't already covered (there are a few samples below for you to check out). Anything I send over would be written with the site's readership in mind - as long as you're happy with the resulting material, you'd be welcome to publish it as you see fit and the content will be owned by you entirely (in that I won't send it to anyone else, either before or after publication).

"The good news is that I'd be able to offer my services at no charge; the only thing I would ask in return is that I'm able to include a link to a site within the article - nothing shady or unethical, just one of the professional businesses I freelance on behalf of. Otherwise I'd be happy to chat about alternative arrangements.

"Do let me know if you're interested, and if so I can get something written for you over the course of the next few days. Needless to say, the offer is open to any other sites you might own as well as hockey-blog-in-canada.blogspot.com. I appreciate that this kind of offer is not for everyone however, so if I don't hear from you, no offense taken and I won't trouble you again."
This eloquently-written email offers me a 29 year-old's abilities as a "professional writer and researcher" that she's been doing for five years at no cost. Pretty good deal, right?

Note the fine print: "the only thing I would ask in return is that I'm able to include a link to a site within the article - nothing shady or unethical, just one of the professional businesses I freelance on behalf of". So you want to offer me your services for free in order to advertise for someone else? How many advertisements do you see on HBIC right now? I won't be using your services, Imogen, so I hope there is "no offense taken".

Of course, Imogen is welcome to send in anything she wants published relating to the game of hockey. In exchange, I'll give her full credit for writing an article, and it will be hosted by HBIC for the world to read. Isn't that exchange good enough for a "professional writer and researcher"?

I appreciate the work done by Peter Santellan and Mike Engle in January because they had something they wanted to say, and they put pen to paper... or fingers to keys. Peter has a great blog, but he's a valued reader here on HBIC because he makes excellent comments and he contributes his thoughts and ideas to make this site better. Mike also contributes with solid comments, emails, and articles, and he is another valued member of HBIC.

While having "professional" writers offer me pieces is a nice gesture, I am not in the blogging world to further someone else's agenda. If there is a hockey-related story that needs to get out, I am more than happy to present that story on HBIC, and, if it results in helping someone out, all the more power to them because they presented the information in a way that helps themselves and HBIC.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again here today: this is a blog of the people, by the people, and for the people, and I happen to respect my readers far too much to allow someone to advertise something on my site that my readers will find little value in. If you want to write something about hockey, please submit it to me and I'll post it. Your thoughts on the game are just as important and relevant as mine are, and I will never deny someone from having HBIC as their soapbox if they have something to say.

If you come to me asking what you can write or offering to write a post in exchange to promote something non-hockey in nature, don't waste time writing the email because I will mark it, and any future emails, as spam.

Please, readers, feel free to write. I want to hear your thoughts on the game as much as I want to vent my ideas. Prizes are still available for February, and I will be giving away prizes every month for the best reader-submitted article! Get your pencils sharpened, and start writing for a chance at great stuff!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 24 February 2012

What Day Is It?

The woman to the left is Kari Byron. If you're a Discovery Channel watcher, you may recognize her from the TV show Mythbusters. But Mythbusters isn't why we're here today. Instead, Kari's shrugging shoulders indicating uncertainly or unknowing is what we're focusing on today because it seems as though the NHL Trade Deadline is kind of like Easter: it's an important day to those that follow, but it doesn't have a set date like Christmas, New Year's Day, or your birthday. And it doesn't have all the religious stuff attached to it either, but you get the idea when trying to find out when and where Easter falls on the calendar as it can be in either February or March depending on, well, something.

Historically, Easter jumps around on the calendar because Jewish observers used a lunar calendar, as opposed to the solar calendar, to mark the holiday of Passover. Because the lunar cycle is different from the solar cycle, Easter remains a constant holiday on the Jewish calendar, but it changes days for most everyone else. In short, it usually happens between March 22 and April 25, but not always.

I know - that really didn't help. But the NHL Trade Deadline Day is a lot like Easter in that there really hasn't been a set date for it ever on our calendar. Hear me out on this one before you scoff.

The first NHL Trade Deadline Day recorded by the NHL was on March 11, 1980. It didn't land on March 11 again until 1986, and then wasn't seen again on that date until 2003. The gap between the first deadline day and the second on the same date was six years, but the gap increased to 17 years between the second March 11 instance.

Here are the NHL Trade Deadline Dates per year:

  • March 11, 1980.
  • March 10, 1981.
  • March 9, 1982.
  • March 8, 1983.
  • March 6, 1984.
  • March 12, 1985.
  • March 11, 1986.
  • March 10, 1987.
  • March 8, 1988.
  • March 7, 1989.
  • March 6, 1990.
  • March 5, 1991.
  • March 10, 1992.
  • March 22, 1993 - note the two-week jump in dates!
  • March 21, 1994.
  • April 7, 1995 - the lockout pushed the deadline day into April.
  • March 20, 1996.
  • March 18, 1997.
  • March 24, 1998.
  • March 23, 1999.
  • March 14, 2000 - a week earlier than the last few years.
  • March 13, 2001.
  • March 19, 2002 - a week later again.
  • March 11, 2003 - a week earlier than in 2002.
  • March 9, 2004.
  • March 9, 2006.
  • February 27, 2007 - a week earlier than 2006.
  • February 26, 2008.
  • March 4, 2009 - a week later than the previous two years.
  • March 3, 2010.
  • February 28, 2011 - a week earlier again.
  • February 27, 2012.
I went looking for reasons as to why the dates kept changing. I was thinking it might have to do with the number of games played by NHL teams, but that didn't figure in very prominently. Of course, I tried to match up Olympic years with the dates, but there was no rhyme nor reason there either. It seems that the NHL Trade Deadline Day happens sometime between February 27 and March 12, but not always.

I have no conclusive evidence that would explain the jumps between weeks. The change in days can be accounted for in how the calendar works itself out from year to year, but the fact that the NHL has cut off trade activity as early as February 27 and as late as March 24 without any significant reason seems to make this an arbitrary date on the NHL calendar.

If anyone can explain the massive jumps in dates seen above, I'm all ears. I know that it most likely has to do with the number of games the teams have played to date, but there it's not like there is a magic number that all teams have to reach. After all, there are significant discrepancies between teams this year in the number of games played to date. So if anyone can explain the change in dates, hit me with your reasons in the comments.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Home Streak Burrowed

The one drawback of starting a historical streak is that it will inevitably come to an end at some point. The Detroit Red Wins had strung together 23 straight home wins, breaking the previous record of 20, and hadn't suffered a home loss in three months. All that came to an end tonight, though, as Alex Burrows and the Vancouver Canucks came into Detroit and took two points off the Red Wings. The Red Wings were almost out of this game with their 24th win at home, but some familiar faces changed the fortunes of the Winged Wheels.

With 15.4 seconds remaining in the game,Detroit leading 3-2, and Luongo on the bench for the extra attacker, Daniel Sedin took a pass just inside the blueline, and put the pressure back on Detroit to preserve the streak.

That was a cannon, and Sedin's 28th goal of the season sent this game to the extra time.

The extra frame produced no goals, so it was off to the skills competition. Jiri Hudler was stopped by Roberto Luongo, and Jimmy Howard matched David Booth in his attempt. Henrik Zetterberg ripped Detroit's second attempt wide of the net, and Jimmy Howard produced another save on Alex Edler's attempt. Todd Bertuzzi had Detroit's third attempt, and Roberto Luongo was equal to the task once again. That left Alex Burrows facing off against Howard with the streak on the line.
The backhander over Howard's sprawling body gives Vancouver the two points, and the streak is over at 23 games.

There were a lot of pretty amazing statistics that the Red Wings put together during this 23-game streak. I was quite surprised at some of these numbers.
  • Outscored their opponents 92-34.
  • Scored eight goals in an 8-2 win over the Kings on December 17.
  • Twice won by a margin of six goals, defeating LA and Winnipeg.
  • Defeated sixteen different teams over the 23 games.
  • Defeated four Eastern Conference teams during their streak.
  • Defeated St. Louis three times during the streak.
  • Only Vancouver and Minnesota were not defeated from the West.
  • Pacific Division was outscored 34-12.
  • Northwest Division was outscored 17-7.
  • Central Division was outscored 21-9.
  • Eastern Conference was outscored 20-6.
  • Four shutouts recorded during the streak.
  • Four games were won by shootout.
  • One game was won in overtime.
Again, those are some incredible numbers. While I felt that Detroit didn't play particularly well in this game against Vancouver, they almost made it out with the two points. Had it not been for Sedin and Burrows, we might be looking at Colorado as the streak breakers. Wings head coach Mike Babcock took nothing away from the Canucks, though.

"In the end you can't tempt fate like that," Babcock said. "They played longer than we did and in the end they won the game so I give them full marks."

When asked about the significance of the streak and the history made, Babcock was candid and honest. "It’s beyond impressive," he said. "I don't care what era and I'm not comparing it to anything. It's a real good run for the Red Wings and we're real thrilled to have done it. It's set us up to be in a real good situation playoff-wise now we've got to get back to skating."

I have to agree with Mike Babcock in that the streak was pretty impressive. The Wings will play Colorado on Saturday in an attempt to start a new streak. The Avalanche will get a chance to face former teammate Kyle Quincey as the Wings welcome Colorado to town.

Quincey was picked up by the Wings from Tampa Bay in exchange for defenceman Sebastien Piche and a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Minutes earlier, Tampa Bay had acquired Quincey from the Avalanche for forward Steve Downie. Both players are expected to be in the lineup on Saturday night! And it should be a beauty of a game between these two Western Conference teams!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Purple Twist

As you may be aware from reading this blog, I am a huge supporter of teams helping charities within their communities. I feature NHL player charities and I try to highlight impressive work by hockey teams that go out of their way to make the lives of their fans better. This month has seen a vast number of teams wearing pink in some form or another, but the Grand Rapids Griffins put a spin on the pink by donning purple for their game against the Peoria Rivermen on February 18. The special purple jerseys were to raise awareness and funds for Van Andel Institute's cancer research, and I'm all for the Griffins helping to raise funds for a local cancer research center. The question was how many people would come out on a Saturday night to help the Griffins make some money for the Van Andel Institute? And would those fans go home happy with a Griffins win?

The Griffins were looking for a win in those purple jerseys as they need to keep pace with the other teams in their division. Grand Rapids sits fifth in the North Division, but are only six points back of second-place Rochester. Peoria, meanwhile, is sitting third in the Midwest Division, and are chasing the Chicago Wolves who lead them by five points. This game was a big game for both AHL clubs with the season winding down.

Peoria opened the scoring midway through the second period as Brett Sterling and Derek Nesbitt took advantage of a defensive breakdown when Sterling popped his 21st goal of the season past Tom McCollum. Sterling found himself all alone on the doorstep when he made a quick pass to Derek Nesbitt who returned it to Sterling in front of a gaping net. A bad defensive sequence for Grand Rapids made it 1-0 for Peoria.

2:12 before the period had ended, Peoria increased its lead. Phil McRae, son of former St. Louis pugilist Basil McRae, fired a shot from the high slot that caught the screening Mike Peluso in front of the net, and the deflection found its way past McCollum. Peoria led 2-0 after 40 minutes.

6:51 into the third period, Gustav Nyquist put the Griffins on his shoulders as he went end-to-end through the Rivermen before firing a high wrist shot that beat Jake Allen to make it a 2-1 deficit for the Griffins. The two-goal lead was restored just 30 seconds, though, when Phil McRae notched his 17th goal of the season. Peoria would carry that 3-1 lead through to the final horn, and the Rivermen downed the Griffins on Purple Jersey Night.

Much like the Rampage's loss on their Pink in the Rink night, the end result in the game was far less important than the results that Grand Rapids put up for the Van Andel Institute. 9,235 purple-clad fans hit the turnstiles to get their free purple t-shirt, free purple rally towels, and lined up for purple cotton candy, sno-cones, and popcorn as the Griffins really got into the act. Five year-old Clayton Kendall, a two-time cancer survivor, dropped the puck at center ice for the ceremonial faceoff - a cool feature for the little hockey fan!

Clayton's battle truly is remarkable, and I can't give enough kudos to the Griffins for honouring this brave young man. Peter J. Wallner got to visit Clayton and his family, finding that little Clayton defeated cancer twice: once as "2-year-old after a tumor the size of a softball was found in his abdomen, and again starting in Nov. 2010 when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant from his 7-year-old sister, Julian." He's been cancer-free for a year, and that's a good sign for this little warrior.

"He's doing great," said Jim Kendall, Clayton's father. "He's not as strong or stocky... but he's quote, unquote getting back to normal.

"We're cautiously optimistic. We have strong faith and strong support from family and friends and Helen DeVos (hospital). Those three are what pulled us through."

While there has been no mention of how much money was raised, it appeared that everyone at the arena was firmly behind the money-making event. Congratulations to the Van Andel Institute, who received what was probably a sizable chunk of money, and a big kudos to the Grand Rapids Griffins for helping out this fantastic Michigan-based institution, its patients, and its causes.

In a bit of a strange happening for a regular-season AHL game, referee Jeff Smith didn't call a penalty all night, marking this game as the second in Griffins' history where a penalty wasn't called. The only other occurrence came on March 21, 2009 in Grand Rapids’ 3-2 home win over Toronto. The referee that night? Jeff Smith.

No penalties on a charity night? Perfect, if you ask me.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Save Of The Year?

I've watched a lot of hockey this year, and there have been a number of excellent highlight reel plays. I've picked a few "Goal of the Year" candidates thus far, but I haven't really been looking for any Saves of the Year candidates. Goaltenders rountinely make flashy glove saves when they are playing well, but while these look impressive, a regular glove save would normally suffice. However, one glove save that was not flashy was the save made by Ondrej Pavelec tonight against the Flyers, and this one literally stole a goal when it appeared that Pavelec was nowhere to be found.

There is little doubt that Pavelec has been the MVP for the Jets this season. During stretches of the season when the Jets were struggling to score, Pavelec stole wins from teams that should have walked away with two points. While the Jets only managed one point against the Flyers tonight due to an overtime loss, it seemed as though they would have no points to speak of after this game.

Except that Pavelec saw it differently. Check out this save.

Ho. Lee. Cow! Jakub Voracek had nothing but twine to shoot at, and Pavelec simply refused to give up. And Pavelec wasn't even visible until he dove across the crease!

While he won't garner many MVP votes throughout the NHL, there's no doubt that the Jets would much further back in the standings without the play of Pavelec this season. His numbers don't have him in the top-ten of wins, GAA, save percentage, or shutouts, but he does one thing very well: he gives the Jets a chance to win in every game. There haven't been many games this season where one can point to goaltending as an issue after a Jets' loss, and that's because Pavelec gives the effort seen above night in and night out.

What say you, readers: is this the best save of the season? Name your best save in the comments below!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Quebec City Looks To Build

The man pictured to the left is Claude Rousseau. Mr. Rousseau is the man appointed by Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume to ensure that the cost of building a new arena does not go over the $400 million budgeted. I'm pretty sure that some of the more modern arenas cost beyond that figure after all the invoices were paid, but Mr. Rousseau has been selected to keep the arena's cost under or at budget. I believe it's possible to come in near the $400 million tabbed for the project, but there have already been costs associated with the project when shovels have yet to break ground.

I'm not an economist in any way, but there's always been a competition between Montreal and Quebec City when it comes to hockey. From the glory days when the Stastnys took the Quebec Nordiques to new heights against a Canadiens team led by Lafleur and Robinson, the passion for Quebec City to be equal to Montreal in their new arena might play a factor in this $400 million price tag.

If we use Montreal as the measuring stick, the Bell Centre, which opened on March 16, 1996, cost approximately $270 million to build. If we assume that building costs for materials has increased by 10% over the last sixteen years, that would push this figure to $297 million by today's value. That would be the starting point at which Mr. Rousseau needs to consider - nearly 75% of the money is already spent. This $297 million leaves $103 million for any costs not identified strictly as building costs.

The site chosen for the new arena has already had a price tag attached to it as well: $40 million. That's the cost to have the proposed site of the arena decontaminated after it was found that the land near Le Colisée Pepsi has high levels of lead, tin, zinc, oil and carcinogens. Quebec City executive committee vice-president Francois Picard has stated that they are looking at alternate sites nearby to build the rink, but the room available near Le Colisée Pepsi is still the most ideal spot. Adding in the decontamination costs, and that drops the available monies down to $63 million.

Of course, $63 million is a lot of money to have left over for you or I, but if we consider all the amenities that Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center offers and that arena cost approximately $320 million to build, we're now looking at the remaining amount to being closer to $30 million. And while we still don't have a guarantee of a team to move in, I'm 100% sure that the price tag for an NHL team is slightly higher than the $30 million left over.

While everyone seems focused on Seattle's new possible arena deal as a destination for the beleaguered Coyotes, Quebec City's location might actually serve as a better destination for realignment. Winnipeg, as I'm sure you're aware, is still committed to the Southeast Division for at least next season, and that can't go on for much longer when one considers the amount of miles Winnipeg racks up going to Florida six times per season.

Regardless of how the conferences shuffle, there's a chance that Quebec City's arena plans could certainly fit under the $400 million limit that the city is willing to spend. Reality says that the costs will potentially run higher, but some good project management and shrewd business decisions could see this project come in at budget at the desired price.

Of course, there's still the matter of filling the arena with a full-time tenant, but if you build it, they could potentially come. The NHL no longer wants to own a team, and Quebec City certainly wants one. Having an NHL-suitable arena and a possible owner in Quebecor will certainly help Quebec City's chances in resurrecting Les Nordiques.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

CSI: NHL

While William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger have yet to be seen at an NHL game this year, it appears that the men who run the NHL offices in New York City have decided to play a more preventative role in ensuring that the clock malfunction seen in Los Angeles earlier this month won't be a recurring problem. Not only will the "eyes in the sky" be watching the clock in Los Angeles, but they'll also have an eye on the clocks in the other 29 arenas for the remainder of the season. In short, someone will always be watching the clock in order to prevent another Los Angeles incident from occurring.

Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior vice-president and director of hockey operations, spoke with Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times earlier this week, and told the reporter that the NHL will keep a closer eye on all clocks late in the game.

"We have initiated a number of steps to ensure there will be no clock issues in all arenas in the NHL," Campbell said in an email.

In the Kings' defence, Campbell told Elliott that "the clock's maker, Daktronics, had examined the clock and found 'no defects.' He also said the off-ice crew working that game had been interviewed and that he was 'completely satisfied' with the clock operator, whom he would not identify."

"We are observing all 'last minutes' of each period to make sure there are no 'blips' or 'pauses' in the last minute in the video booths upstairs," Campbell wrote in an email to Miss Elliott. "In our new video room in Toronto we now receive live feeds of the overheads so we are not 'slaved' to TV waiting to see if they show the overheads.

"We will find a way to bleed the clock feed into the overheads now. We have implemented a few other items into the clock process as well to make sure there can be no burps."

And with that, the case is closed. Done and done.

There are still some loose ends, you say? Well, the Columbus Blue Jackets get zero points from that night, so that's already been fulfilled. And since it was neither a clock malfunction nor was it human error as per Colin "Grissom" Campbell, I guess we need to bring back Robert Stack and file this one as an "Unsolved Mystery".
If you're anything like me, you know that this doesn't sit well. If there were no malfunctions and no human errors, there has to be something that caused the pause in time. All Campbell has done in this case is to say that the two most likely causes of the pause are not to blame. So what gives? What causes the stoppage of time?

Honestly, it seems that no one knows, and apparently the NHL is comfortable with that. From this perspective, the Los Angeles clock incident now becomes a "Cold Case". I suppose that Kathryn Morris will pick this one up somewhere down the road.
I'm disappointed in Campbell not giving a reason why the clock stopped momentarily in Los Angeles. If anything, Campbell's explanations only prompts more questions about what may have happened against the Blue Jackets. While there are always a few minor questions left over in any case, the heart of the investigation answers the main question asked. This one does not.

The only advice I have for the NHL after not solving this malfunction is "don't get fooled again".

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Alfa Romeo's Hidden Talents

I received an email today from a friend who is currently spending some time in Europe. I fully admit that I don't keep up with European hockey as much as I should, but it's a lot harder to keep track of what's happening in the various European countries when there's a vast ocean between us and there's a few language barriers as I'm only fluent in English. The email I received from Jason today actually shows off the unrealized talents of one Alfa Romeo. You see, Alfa Romeo is actually better known as an Italian automobile maker, not a hockey star. And their newest creation, the Giulietta, seems to have a knack for the game of hockey.

I want to say something upfront here so that I'm not giving the wrong message: this is a commercial. The stunts performed in the cars were done by professionals, and I recommend NOT trying anything you see in the following video. Good? Ok.

From their YouTube site, "Alfa Romeo UK put the Alfa Giulietta through its paces at Coventry Skydome ice rink. The mission set was to achieve the near impossible - getting a car to play ice hockey. The stunt, featuring the advanced Vehicle Dynamic Control of the Alfa D.N.A. system, driven by stunt driver Paul Swift, was captured using only iPhone technology, taking on Team Blaze star, David Phillips, in a challenge of icy skill and pinpoint control."

Here are the results of that challenge.

While there still is a significant gap between the Giulietta's wind-up and shot and that of, say, Zdeno Chara, the fact that the car got two pretty decent shots away is pretty impressive!

According to some of the comments on the YouTube page, the commercial itself took less than three hours to shoot, and driver Paul Swift had the "shot" mastered within 15 minutes. While there's no doubt that the goaltender wasn't really making an effort to stop the Giulietta's shot, the fact that a driver can actually make a car shoot a puck is what stopped me in my tracks.

Well done, Alfa Romeo, for a unique commercial!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Prayers To Be Answered?

While this may look like some wacky tourist in a photo in front of some interesting architectural building, you might be surprised to learn that the man above, Thomas Collins, is actually a pretty important person in Canadian Catholic circles. You see, Thomas Collins is actually an Archbishop in Toronto, and he was invited to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican this week to be officially elevated into the College of Cardinals.

Before we continue, I want to say that HBIC is not here to comment on a religious discussion. To each, their own, I say, and let all men be equal when it comes to their beliefs and convictions. In saying that, please do not comment below on the merits of Catholicism or any other religion. I'm going to keep it light, and so should you. Ok? Ok.

Getting back to Mr. Collins, the Archdiocese put out a release regarding Collins' picture and elevation in Italy, and it read as follows:

"Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins let his Toronto pride shine through Thursday, sporting a personalized Toronto Maple Leafs jersey in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

Cardinal-delegate Collins is in Rome this week in preparation for his elevation, along with 22 other bishops from around the world, into the College of Cardinals. His appointment as a new Cardinal was announced on January 6 and he will officially assume that post this Saturday, February 18 in a Consistory, led by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica.

"It's safe to say there are more than a few Toronto Maple Leafs fans in the pews of our parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto," said Collins from Rome on Thursday. "This is a fun way to let them, and all Catholics in our diocese, know that I am thinking of them at this time. I am truly proud and humbled to serve them all."

While there is a delegation of roughly 200 Canadians in Rome this week – including an official delegation of the federal government – to experience the Consistory and support Archbishop Collins, there will also be regional Masses of Thanksgiving celebrated in a number of parishes during the month following the Consistory."
Mr. Collins has devoted his life to his beliefs, and I congratulate him for being elevated to the College of Cardinals. I'm not Catholic myself, but the man's dedication is something to be respected.

All of this, of course, comes one week after the Catholic Church placed an ad in Montreal newspapers asking the people of Montreal to pray that the Canadiens make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I'm no theologian, but I'm thinking that the prayers of Maple Leaf fans will probably be passed on by Cardinal Thomas Collins to a higher power while the arch-rival Canadiens' prayers are not acknowledged. All this is speculation, but the rivalry seems to have crossed into a new segment of culture with the pro-Maple Leafs Cardinal getting closer to the Supreme Being.

Does this rivalry need any additional fireworks? Would Canadiens fans now be considered "heretics"? I guess those answers all depend on who makes the playoffs this year.

Wouldn't it be a kick in the pants if neither team did?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Directing Goon

You may not recognize the man to the left, and that's ok. I doubt that many of his peers and colleagues in Hollywood would recognize him as well, but he is quickly gaining steam as a pretty good comedy director thanks to his work on a number of films. The man you see to the left is Canadian-born Michael Dowse, and he has directed the highly-underrated It's All Gone Pete Tong and cult-favorite Fubar. So while this isn't an entertainment blog, Michael Dowse will try to etch his name into hockey lore with his recent directorial efforts on the movie Goon, starring Jay Baruchel, Seann William Scott, and Liev Schrieber. If this movie looks as crazy as the previews do, Mr. Dowse should be noticed for the work his is doing.

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Mr. Dowse in Winnipeg this week when he stopped by the Winnipeg Free Press News Café yesterday for an interview with Randall King of the Winnipeg Free Press. The replay of that interview is below, and it runs approximately 18 minutes. I will say that it's a pretty funny 18 minutes of Canadian humour. Just a reminder: some of the language is definitely not for kids.

Well done, Mr. King, in conducting a great interview with Mr. Dowse. Personally, I am really looking forward to seeing Goon when it hits the silver screen. A good hockey comedy is needed every now and then, and especially since there aren't many that can every hold a flame to Slap Shot.

Here's hoping that a Canadian director's influence can make Goon not only into a moneymaker for the studios, but to help propel Mr. Dowse's directing abilities into bigger projects as well!

Goon hits theaters on March 30, 2012!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

That's Using Your Head

The beasts in the East - the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins - tangled in Beantown last night that saw the Rangers topple the Bruins by a 3-0 score. Henrik Lundqvist is establishing himself as an MVP candidate with his play in each and every game, and he outdueled last year's Vezina winner in Tim Thomas in this game. 42 saves later, Lundqvist had his seventh shutout of the year, and, more importantly, a nine-point cushion over the Bruins in the Eastern Conference.

What made Lundqvist's night a little more spectacular was the save he made on Zdeno Chara during a goalmouth scramble. Take a look at how Lundqvist stops the five-time Hardest Shot champion's second shot on net.

I've head of putting a gun to your head, but Lundqvist literally had a firing cannon pointed at his noggin! In all seriousness, getting hit by a frozen piece of rubber in a place that is only protected by a thin piece of plastic and foam is probably not the most ideal way to make a save.

Don't call it conventional, but call it effective: a stop is a stop is a stop, and it's especially impressive when using your head.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Success By Generations

Tonight saw the most successful team in terms of wins and losses over the last decade set a new mark for their hometown fans. The Detroit Red Wings downed the Dallas Stars to win their 21st consecutive game on home ice, breaking the mark set by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers. For three months, the Red Wings have not given up two points at Joe Louis Arena. Overlooking the three shootout wins to preserve the winning streak, the fact that any team in today's parity-based NHL can put together a streak like the Wings have shows just how good this version of the Detroit Red Wings are.

There have always been teams that have been better than everyone else for a vast period of time in the NHL. The Red Wings have been the model franchise when it comes to winning for the last decade, and have kept winning despite changing personnel a number of times. Gone are former Red Wing greats in Yzerman, Hull, Robitaille, Fedorov, Kozlov, Osgood, Vernon, and Hasek. In their places are future greats such as Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holstrom, Stuart, and Howard. One man links the past to the present on the ice in Nicklas Lidstrom, and one man in the press box is responsible for the talent on the ice in GM Ken Holland.

That led to me to question which teams have been the most successful per decade starting from 1942 when the NHL dropped to six teams. The Original Six teams seem to rotate in strength and weakness, but the Canadiens and Leafs always seemed to find their way to the top of the pile when the Stanley Cup was on the line. But the regular season seems to have its winners and losers, so which teams dominated by decade?

Here are the lists, and a few of the teams surprised me. You won't find any of the expansion teams from the 1990s on these lists, but there are some names and records that are quite impressive.

1942-1952
1. Detroit Red Wings - 313-176-101 - three Stanley Cups.
2. Montreal Canadiens - 293-195-102 - two Stanley Cups.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs - 274-215-101 - five Stanley Cups.

1952-1962
1. Montreal Canadiens - 389-189-122 - six Stanley Cups.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs - 287-282-111 - one Stanley Cup.
3. Detroit Red Wings - 275-237-118 - two Stanley Cups.

1962-1972
1. Montreal Canadiens - 387-211-134 - five Stanley Cups.
2. Chicago Blackhawks - 386-231-115 - no Stanley Cups.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs - 331-281-120 - three Stanley Cups.

1972-1982
1. Montreal Canadiens - 511-153-132 - five Stanley Cups.
2. Boston Bruins - 460-222-114 - no Stanley Cups.
3. Philadelphia Flyers - 449-205-142 - two Stanley Cups.

1982-1992
1. Edmonton Oilers - 452-258-90 - five Stanley Cups.
2. Montreal Canadiens - 418-279-103 - one Stanley Cup.
3. Boston Bruins - 418-284-98 - no Stanley Cups.

1992-2002*
1. Detroit Red Wings - 461-222-107 - three Stanley Cups.
2. Quebec/Colorado - 429-257-104 - two Stanley Cups.
3. New Jersey Devils - 420-254-116 - two Stanley Cups.
* denotes ties = OTL/SOL.

If you go by these five generations, you can see that there is always one team from the previous generation still having success in the next generation. Of course, it helps when Montreal was a dominant team for so many years, but Detroit has had success in the past, and they jumped back to the forefront again in the 1990s with good drafting, shrewd signings, and a commitment to winning.

I didn't run up a total for the current generation as there is still a season going on in this current decade, but I'm fairly certain that the Detroit Red Wings will be one of those top-three teams again for this decade after winning a few more Stanley Cups and continuing to be at or near the top of their division. The fact that there has been little turnover in Detroit's franchise plays a big factor in this, just as it did in Montreal for so many years.

By keeping the same successful people in their positions, Detroit has built a winning tradition through their own means. It didn't come from expensive free agent signings. It wasn't done by stockpiling draft picks for a number of years. Instead, it comes from having an owner who demands the best and provides the means to achieve that goal, quality people in the management role making shrewd business decisions, intelligent and adaptive coaches, and players who want to win based on the traditions laid out by the teams before them.

That, readers, is most likely why the Detroit Red Wings will be able to ride into another generation starting in 2012 with the same expectations that they challenge each year for the Stanley Cup while being an ultra-competitive team in their division, conference, and in the NHL. 21-game home winning streaks are evidence that while the cogs may change in the machine, the machine just keeps winning.

In short, Detroit appears be the new Montreal when it comes to the longevity of their success. Good teams don't just happen overnight; they arrive, and stay for a long, long time in the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Retired Versus Honoured

If you happened to catch the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game on Saturday night, you may have noticed a lot of Mats Sundin jerseys not only in the stands, but on the ice. The former Maple Leafs captain was honoured by the team for his service, and the players honoured him by wearing his name and number during warm-ups and on a patch during the game. The team also gave him the greatest honour any team can bestow on a player by raising his #13 to the rafters to join the other honoured Maple Leafs players. This move by the Maple Leafs is rare in sports in that his honoured number can still be worn by other players whereas most teams retire the number and remove it from active service. And that got me thinking: why retire numbers at all?

Look, I get that these players hold a special place in the team's history and that the number they wore pushed that singular number into a place of prominence amongst the fans and team, but the number of retired numbers that are being hoisted above stadiums and arenas in North America is staggering.

The idea behind Toronto's honoured number program is that multiple players can be honoured while wearing the same number. And they have indeed done so since 1993 when the Honoured Number program began.

  • #1 - Turk Broda ('37-52) and Johnny Bower ('59-70).
  • #4 - Hap Day ('24-37) and Red Kelly ('61-67).
  • #7 - King Clancy ('31-37) and Tom Horton ('50-70).
  • #9 - Charlie Conacher ('30-38) and Ted Kennedy ('43-55, '56-57).
  • #10 - Syl Apps ('37-43, '45-48) and George Armstrong ('50-69, '70-71).
  • #13 - Mats Sundin ('94-08).
  • #17 - Wendel Clark ('85-94, '96-98, '99-00).
  • #21 - Borje Salming ('73-89).
  • #27 - Frank Mahovlich ('57-68) and Darryl Sittler ('70-82).
  • #93 - Doug Gilmour ('91-97, '02-03).
As you can see, Broda, Day, Clancy, Conacher, Apps, and Mahovlich all could have had some sort of beef with the Maple Leafs as they could claim they were the bigger name or have loftier achievements while wearing their respective number. But the fact that the Leafs honour the number rather than retire them make any future prospects eligible to make a name in their chosen number as well - something other storied franchises cannot claim.

If we look at the Montreal Canadiens, they have 17 numbers currently in "retired" status. No other player may wear those numbers now, and that leads to a lot of players wearing numbers once hardly seen - 63, 84, 75, and so on. Why is it that Maurice Richard can be the only player in Canadiens history remembered to wear #9? Does someone else wearing #9 diminish the legacy and history that Richard wrote as a Canadien?

The NHL has decreed that Wayne Gretzky's number 99 is retired throughout the league. While there is no debating the impact that Wayne Gretzky had on the NHL, why is it that only the NHL has his number out of circulation? I'm pretty sure he made an impact in hockey across the world, so why don't other leagues follow the NHL's lead in retiring #99?

Ok, so that might be a bit extreme, but I have to wonder what purpose removing a number from the options that a player can wear serves? I'm not saying that current Leafs Colby Armstrong and Cody Franson won't be Hall-of-Famers and significant historical figures in the annals of the Maple Leafs franchise at this point, but does their wearing #9 and #4 today diminish the accolades achieved by Conacher, Kennedy, Day, or Kelly? Personally, I say no.

Perhaps it's time to re-examine the idea of "retiring" numbers. While I'm certainly not saying that teams have to change their policies, it might be a better practice to honour a number of superb players in each franchise without banning the wearing of their numbers in the future. This will not only allow future players to wear numbers with which fans are already accustomed, but it will also keep 98 numbers in rotation for, possibly, ever.

What say you, readers: is retiring numbers a good idea? Do you think that honouring players is a better method in terms of keeping traditional hockey numbers in play? Have your say in the comments! I'm certainly interested in your thoughts on this!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Important Milestone

The man to the left hit an important milestone in anyone's career last night. Roy Sommer, head coach of the Worcester Sharks, notched his 500th win of his coaching career in the Sharks' 3-2 shootout win over the Hershey Bears last night. What makes Sommer's achievement even more remarkable is that he is only the fourth head coach in AHL history to hit that mark. It's a tribute to his longevity as a coach in the junior circuit, but it also marks his commitment to teaching and winning. Like the men who hit this mark before him - Fred "Bun" Cook (636 wins), Frank Mathers (610), and John Paddock (589) - Sommer has certainly put his time into his craft, and there's a good chance that he could catch Cook in the future.

Sommer has spent 14 seasons coaching in the AHL, spending time with the Kentucky Thoroughblades, Cleveland Barons, and the Worcester Sharks, compiling a record of 500-496-90 as a head coach. While his stints as head coach of the Thoroughblades and Sharks have produced winners, the five seasons spent with the Barons saw him only attain one winning season. His achievement has not come without its struggles.

Sommer's first win was against the Albany River Rats back on October 17, 1998 when his Thoroughblades downed the River Rats by a 6-4 score. Since then, he has worked for the San Jose Sharks organization in their AHL affiliates for 15 years as head coach. He has seen over 80 players promoted to the NHL level including Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Devin Setoguchi. But his moves through the hockey world has been more than just an AHL career.

Sommer got his head coaching start with the ECHL's Richmond Renegades in 1991. Learning the craft in the ECHL, Sommer's teams showed improvement year after year. In 1994-95, Sommer led the Renegades into the playoffs where they captured the Riley Cup after posting an impressive 41-20-7 record. He was also honoured as the East All-Star Team's head coach as the Renegades had one of the top records in the ECHL. In 1995-96, Sommer was named ECHL Coach of the Year after leading the Renegades to top spot in the league with a 46-11-13 record and 105 points. He was invited to the All-Star Game again as the North All-Star Team's head coach.

Meanwhile, Sommer's summers had been spent in the roller hockey league known as Roller Hockey International where he was the head coach of the expansion San Jose Rhinos from 1994 to 1996. He helped the Rhinos capture the Murphy Cup, the league's championship, in 1995 over the Montreal Roadrunners, and was named as the head coach of the RHI's Western Conference All-Star Team in 1996.

In 1996, Sommer took a job as the head coach of Team USA's inline hockey team which was preparing for the International Ice Hockey Federation In-Line Hockey World Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sommer led Team USA a gold medal in St. Paul, and he decided to continue this gig for the next year. In 1997, Team USA again captured gold in Anaheim, and he took over the GM duties in 1998 for the tournament in Anaheim. Team USA looked poised to capture its third-straight gold medal, but an upstart Canadian team beat Team USA in the final. For his three seasons as head coach of the Team USA Inline Team, Sommer compiled a 17-1-0 mark - an impressive total for any international coach!

In 1998-99, Sommer was named as the head coach of the Kentucky Thoroughblades. In his three seasons in Lexington, Kentucky, Sommer lead the T-Blades to an 128-76-28-8 record, three Calder Cup playoff appearances, two Mid-Atlantic Division titles, and was named as the head coach of the Canadian All-Star Team in 1999-2000. Clearly, the skills he had honed in the ECHL, RHI, and with Team USA had prepared Sommer well for an AHL coaching gig. However, with declining attendance, the San Jose Sharks decided to move their affiliate to Cleveland, Ohio where they would be rechristened as the Barons.

From 2001-2006, the Barons plied their trade in front of fans in Cleveland. The Barons never really had any sort of success in Cleveland - much like their NHL namesake - and never finished higher than fourth in their division. Attendance was no better than in Lexington, and, in fact, worse than in Kentucky in three of their five seasons on the Lake Erie coast. Sommer would finish the five seasons in Cleveland with a record of 150-201-26-20. The only season they reached the Calder Cup Playoffs was in 2003-04 where they defeated the Toronto Marlies 2-1 in the best-of-three preliminary round before falling to the Hamilton Bulldogs 4-2 in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Sharks weren't overly-impressed with the lack of fan support in Cleveland. That's when Worcester, Massachusetts came calling. The St. Louis Blues had decided to move their AHL affiliate, the Worcester IceCats, to Peoria, Illinois for the 2005-06 season, and the people of Worcester began petitioning several NHL teams to move their AHL team to the city. After negotiations with several teams fell through, the Sharks saw the city of Worcester as a viable option in comparison with Cleveland. On January 6, 2006, the Sharks announced that they would move the Barons to Worcester for the start of the 2006-07 season.

In Worcester, the Sharks have found their winning ways again. Sommer has led the Sharks to a 222-171-20-33 record over six seasons thus far, and he continues to help the Sharks ready themselves for a playoff run. In 2009-10, the Sharks captured the Atlantic Division crown, but playoff success continues to elude them as they have fallen in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs twice.

It's clear, though, that Sommer has had major impact on the various levels at which he coached. January 14, 2011 saw Sommer coach in his 1000th AHL game, becoming the fourth man to achieve that feat, and now he can add his name to another lofty milestone. Congratulations go out to Roy Sommer on this accolade, and here's hoping that he can continue to have long-term success in his post with the Sharks and any future endeavours!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Hockey Day In Canada

It's a big day in the Great White North as Hockey Day In Canada grips the nation, and all seven Canadian NHL teams are in action today! Having been to one Hockey Day In Canada in my lifetime, I can certainly say that it's an event that captivates fans of all ages as there's a ton of stuff to do. I was lucky enough to be a part of the event in Winkler, Manitoba in 2008 when it was frigidly cold, but the people of Winkler certainly made one feel at home with their warmth that day. From meeting Mr. Mike Bolt, the keeper of the Stanley Cup, and seeing hockey's greatest prize to interacting with the CBC Crew to meeting and speaking to Dustin Penner's mom, the entire day was incredible. This year's Hockey Day In Canada is hosted by Charlottetown and Summerside, Price Edward Island, and I'm entirely confident that the people of PEI will have an incredible time!

What makes today additionally special for me is that it is the first Hockey Day In Canada to have seven Canadian NHL teams playing! The Winnipeg Jets will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins to give Canada's newest team an opportunity to join the fun. In the other games, the Oilers visit the Senators, the Canadiens visit the Maple Leafs, and the Canucks visit the Flames! Seven teams, ten hours of hockey, and a ton of fun from PEI!

In looking at PEI, there are 26 players who have made it to the NHL from Canada's smallest province. Five are still active - the Rangers' Brad Richards, Dallas' Steve Ott, Boston's Adam McQuaid, Toronto's Darryl Boyce, and Winnipeg's Mark Flood. Ironically, there are three former Manitoba Moose players on the list as Mark Flood, defenceman Nathan McIver, and goaltender Drew MacIntyre suited up for the former AHL team during their career. Brad Richards is, by far, the highest scoring PEI-born player to date, but there are some other players who should be noted.

Al MacAdam may not be a very familiar name to hockey fans, but MacAdam was a pretty good player for the Minnesota North Stars in the early-1980s. MacAdam was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1972 out of the University of Prince Edward Island. MacAdam earned himself a Stanley Cup ring with the Flyers despite appearing in only six games with the club. He appeared in Game Six of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final that saw the Flyers win the series over the Bruins 4-2 on a 1-0 victory. Because he appeared in the Final, he earned a Stanley Cup ring, but his name does not appear on the Stanley Cup.

The right winger was dealt to the California Golden Seals in the trade that sent Reggie Leach to the Flyers. He represented the Seals at the 1976 NHL All-Star Game and was named as the last team MVP for the Seals before they moved to Cleveland. He was Cleveland's first NHL All-Star as he continued his strong play in the club's first season on Lake Erie, and he was named the Barons' captain for the 1977-78 season. He remained with the team when the Barons merged with the North Stars, marking his fourth team despite only being associated with two franchises.

In 1980, playing alongside Bobby Smith, MacAdam had his best NHL season as he scored 42 goals and assisted on 51 others. He was nominated for and won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as a member of the North Stars. MacAdam is the only North Star to have won the trophy named for the late Bill Masterton, himself a North Star. MacAdam's career would wind down in 1984, leaving him with 240 goals, 351 assists, and 509 penalty minutes in 864 NHL games. I'd say that's a pretty good career!

If MacAdam was one of PEI's best forwards, we need to find the man who could be considered PEI's best defenceman. Statistically, that man would be Bob Stewart, but it appears that Stewart's career would be defined by another statistic that may lead one to believe that his stats aren't all that spectacular.

Stewart was a rugged defender with the OHA's Oshawa Generals, and this led the Bruins to draft Stewart 13th overall in the 1970 NHL Entry Draft. Stewart was Boston's fourth pick of the first round, though, so he may not have been selected as high as he was had it not been for Boston stocking up on first-round picks. Stewart would only play eight games for the Bruins in his career before Boston traded him, Reggie Leach, and Rick Smith to the California Golden Seals for Carol Vadnais and Don O'Donoghue.

Stewart's career in California was where his defining statistic began. He never scored more than 21 points, but his plus/minus numbers were dreadful to say the least. In 269 games with the Seals, Stewart amassed 69 points and an unfathomable plus/minus of -151. Twice, he cracked the -40 mark - a reflection of simply how bad the Seals were. Stewart went with the franchise when they moved to Cleveland, so there was hope that a new city may bring new opportunity.

Cleveland, however, was no better for Stewart. He played in 145 games with the Barons, notching 30 points with a plus/minus of -56. He was claimed by Minnesota in the Cleveland-Minnesota merger, but was traded the same day to St. Louis for a second-round pick in the 1981 Entry Draft. In just a little more than a season with St. Louis, Stewart saw action in 88 games, scoring 19 points and posting a plus/minus of -29. There was improvement, but St. Louis swapped him to Pittsburgh for Blair Chapman. In 65 games with the Penguins, Stewart scored another 10 points while recording a plus/minus of -27.

Stewart retired after his one season with Pittsburgh in 1980. His career stats of 27 goals and 101 assists in 575 games isn't bad, but it is overshadowed by his career plus/minus of -260. In fact, Stewart's career -260 is the lowest total in NHL history since the NHL began tracking the statistic. I'm not sure that record will ever be broken!

There aren't a lot of netminders from PEI as the only two men to make it to the NHL thus far are Drew MacIntyre and Gary Simmons. Simmons is the clear leader in terms of games played in the NHL, so we'll focus on his career.

Gary Simmons bounced around the minor leagues for a while before landing in the Western Hockey League's Phoenix Roadrunners franchise in 1973. He played one season there before the WHA dropped a franchise into Phoenix, and the WHA Roadrunners decided to sell Simmons to the California Golden Seals on October 1, 1974. Simmons would share the goaltending duties in California with Gilles Meloche while wearing his familiar cobra mask, identifying him every time he stepped on the ice.

Playing alongside Meloche in California, Simmons posted some rather unspectacular stats in the 74 games he appeared in: 25 wins, 40 losses, eight ties, four shutouts, and a 3.50 GAA. The two men packed their bags for Cleveland when the franchise moved, and Simmons only made it through half the season when the Barons dealt him and Jim Moxey to Los Angeles for Gary Edwards and Juha Widing. This platooned him alongside a pretty good goalie in Rogie Vachon, and Simmons wouldn't get the same ice-time he had had while with the Seals/Barons franchise.

Simmons would only play 18 games in two seasons with the Kings. He would play five additional games with the AHL's Springfield Indians, but it was clear that he didn't have the same drive he once did. Simmons would retire having played 107 NHL games, posting a record of 30-57-15 with five shutouts and a 3.56 GAA.

What I find most remarkable about these three players is that they all played together on the Seals and Barons! How remarkable is it that three of the 26 players from PEI ended up playing on the same team at the same time! If the NHL is a close-knit group, this only reinforces that fact!

There are other players such as former Red Wings Gerald Gallant and John Chabot, Canadian World Junior coach Dave Cameron, and longtime Atlanta and Calgary Flame Bob MacMillan that have represented the province of Prince Edward Island well, but the combination of Al MacAdam, Bob Stewart, and Gary Simmons turned out to be a major component of the Seals/Barons franchise! And with players such as Stanley Cup winners Brad Richards and Adam McQuaid continuing to pave the way, Canada's smallest province should remain strong in producing top-notch hockey players in the future!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 10 February 2012

A New Hockey Rivalry

Gretzky vs. Lemieux. Howe vs. Hull. Probert vs. Domi. There have been some epic rivalries in the NHL when it comes to two personalities clashing. Some men fought their battles on the scoresheet while others dropped the gloves and settled the arguments as to who was better. The newest rivalry seems to have started at a place that most rivalries are forgotten: the NHL All-Star Game. The two men who are looking more and more like sworn enemies in nature? Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell and Toronto's Dion Phaneuf. Personally, this rivalry looks like it might be very entertaining for years to come as both men decided to put on a show last night in the Leafs-Flyers game.

Let's go back, though, to the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa. Hartnell scored himself a goal, and then skated by Team Chara's Dion Phaneuf and delivered a message.

Now some will say that Scott Hartnell was just having a little fun at the expense of Phaneuf, but I think that Hartnell's comment may have been filed away by Phaneuf for a future purpose. After all, no one likes to be embarrassed on national television, and the "Suck it, Phaneuf" comment would certainly qualify as embarrassing.

Jump ahead a week and a half, and the Leafs and Flyers are playing one another. Hartnell is having his usual game - throwing the body, being a disturbance, and causing general unhappiness for the Leafs - and Phaneuf is being his usual belligerent self for the Leafs. A hit by Phaneuf causes Hartnell to lose his balance as he falls behind the net, and then Hartnell comes out front and gets some retribution.
That's two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick, and he would indeed pick up the assist to fulfill the GHHT later in the game. Hartnell is having himself a whale of a season this year, and he's showing that he's equal parts glitz and grit.

If this battle between Hartnell and Phaneuf continues, we could be seeing a new rivalry unlike many others. Both of these men like to play physical, and both have established themselves as scoring threats for their teams. I like the idea of having these two gladiators dueling, and it could make for some fireworks if the Leafs and Flyers were to meet in the playoffs!

Whose back do you have, readers: Hartnell or Phaneuf? More importantly, why are you in this man's corner? I'm going with Hartnell myself simply because I like his chatter. "Suck it, Phaneuf" should be a new catchphrase for all Flyer fans.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Finally Shaking The Monkey

You had to feel for Scott Gomez. The man had literally exhausted a calendar without having dented the twine in an NHL game. I can't imagine what he's been going through. I mean, I play defence and I've scored eight goals this season in 18 games, and I'm quite certain that Scott Gomez has about a billion times the offensive ability that I do. Having said that, I can't imagine the weight that was lifted off his shoulders in the game against the Islanders tonight when he finally beat Evgeni Nabokov exactly one year and three days since beating the Rangers' Martin Biron on February 5, 2011.

Here's what it looks like when you toss a gorilla the size of King Kong off your back.

Hmmm... far less jubilation that I expected from Gomez. In fact, it looks like his teammates are more happy for him that he is. The French announcers seem to have taken real pleasure in seeing Gomez toss King Kong from his shoulders.

"I wasn't feeling sorry for myself, I've just kept working," Gomez told reporters. "It's certainly good to get a win, and of course it's great to finally score."

Sorry, big guy. Looks like it might be time to catch a flight to Anaheim as I believe George Parros is the new leader when it comes to not scoring goals. I'm sure Parros won't want this title for very long, so look for him to start shooting more and fighting less.

Congratulations to Scott Gomez for breaking out of his goal-scoring slump. I wonder how long it will take for him to notch his second goal of the season?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Springfield Almost Got By

I've been highly critical about uniforms that draw attention to past achievements or celebrate the longevity of a franchise. No one wears a t-shirt that says "I'm 43 years old" unless they are looking to be mocked, so why do hockey teams feel the need to plaster their achievements and age on their uniforms as so many minor-league teams seem to do? Patches honouring former achievements and certain milestones do wonders, yet the Springfield Falcons have decided to roll out some special uniforms three times this season to honour the past achievements of teams with which the current franchise isn't actually associated. Which, quite frankly, is stupid.

I'll admit that I had heard of these Calder Cup Championship uniforms back at the start of the season, but I had totally forgotten about the Falcons playing the game in them. And with me not following the AHL as closely with the Moose moving to St. John's, it simply slipped my mind to write about these uniforms. But not today as they donned them on Feburary 4 and I noticed them.

As you can see, Paul Dainton tended the net in these uniforms early in the season in a game against Providence, and they have worn them twice more since the season started. Each time, the team has honoured certain teams that have captured the Calder Cup for a Springfield franchise. I'm totally cool with this idea, and I think that honouring these men is a great way to get new hockey fans into the history of the local team.

What I don't think is appropriate is that the Falcons, sitting in fourth-place in the Northeast Division, wore the achievements of others on their uniforms. The original Springfield Indians are NOT associated with this franchise in any way, and the Springfield Kings also were NOT associated with this franchise in any way. The Peoria Rivermen are the team that the Indians eventually became, so, in a way, the Springfield Falcons are honouring the history of the Peoria Rivermen! How dumb is that?

Now some of you will say, "Yeah, but Springfield, Massachusetts should still get a chance to honour their heroes from days past", and I fully agree with that sentiment. But if the current team has no ties to the past, they shouldn't be allowed to wear those achievements like they are carrying on the legacy.

Furthermore, this sad-sack franchise has only made the playoffs once in the last eleven years, far from being the powerhouse minor-league team that was the Springfield Indians. The current Springfield AHL franchise hasn't seen postseason play since 2003, and there's no reason to believe that they'll be there this season as they battle for the basement in their own division and sit twelfth in the Eastern Conference. The only shining light that Springfield may have right now is that they sit four points out of seventh-place. The down side is that they have zero games in-hand on any team they are chasing, and most teams have two games in-hand on them.

Look, I'm all for teams honouring their pasts. But when another team, such as the Peoria Rivermen, own the history that you're trying to honour, it comes across as stupid. The Rivermen franchise once called Springfield home, but they are no more.

Bringing back heroes that once played in your town by the current franchise is a good move by any team. It brings the history of the city's heroes to light, and allows for some goodwill to be fostered for the current franchise. Plastering your uniforms with the achievements of teams that you have no affiliation with is downright stupid.

Sorry, Springfield, but these uniforms do not pass the "Good vs. Stupid" test simply because the current team is honouring a past they don't have. Slap a patch on the uniforms to honour the teams you want to honour in each of the three games, but to wear a uniform with those achievements written all over it is a dumb move in this writer's eyes.

And there's no reasoning or rationale that can convince me otherwise.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!