Hockey Headlines

Monday, 30 April 2012

Hold Your Jets On This KHL Story

I was shocked when the story broke earlier today that KHL team Ak Bars Kazan had apparently approached Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets about accepting a contract to jump across the pond to play in the KHL. While there is no transfer agreement currently in place between the NHL and KHL, there is a friendly understanding that neither league will poach players under contract in their respective leagues. Unfortunately, it appears that Ak Bars Kazan has decided that it wants the services of the young Winnipeg Jets back in Russia and playing for them.

Peter Adler, writer for The Cult of Hockey in the Edmonton Journal, wrote,
"Shamil Khusnutdinov, the club’s director, is confirming that Kazan has also offered a contract to Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets."
This is interesting news considering that Burmistrov has one year remaining on his NHL contract at $1.5 million. If Ak Bars Kazan is viewing Burmistrov as the next Alexander Radulov, I'm not sure that they're barking up the right tree.

Burmistrov is preparing for the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Russia, and, according to Adler, apparently the KHL club has already contacted the young winger about the possibility of playing for his hometown team next season.
"Khusnutdinov would not reveal any more details other than the club’s representatives have already talked to Burmistrov who is now in training with Team Russia for the world championships."
It does need to be said that Burmistrov is represented by agent Mark Gandler who helped Alexei Yashin find a new lease on his hockey life by getting him out of the contract he had signed with the New York Islanders and into a new deal with SKA St. Petersburg.

With all this being said, I'm not sure how much I believe of this story. Alexander Burmistrov was a player that Jets fans seem to like this season even if his occasional disappearances for games at a time drove them a little mad. But he's a young player, and that will happen. In Adler's piece, he only has what seems like the Russian side of the story, and I'm not sure how much faith one can have in the Ak Bars Kazan's side of the story when it appeared that Burmistrov was enjoying his time in Winnipeg. And, of course, no one spoke to Gandler, so there is definitely a large gap that needs to be bridged between reality and fantasy right now.

If Burmistrov is intending to make the jump across the pond, it may be the last time that he is seen in the NHL. I'm going to state here that I doubt Winnipeg will trade his rights nor will they allow a situation like Radulov's to play out where Burmistrov can simply burn the final year of his contract by playing out the last few regular season games. Of course, we also need to hear Burmistrov's side of the story, and there may be major details we're all missing here as we pass judgment.

I'm not here to tell Alexander Burmistrov how to live his life, but I think that, if this story is indeed true, he needs to re-evaluate his options. I thought he showed great potential in Winnipeg, and he could be a solid contributor for many years to come. Sure, he may be a first-line star for Ak Bars Kazan, but it's not the NHL. And that's the dream of all hockey players.

A dream that Burmistrov is currently experiencing.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hockey: It's Not Baseball

As the title of this article suggests, hockey is not baseball. I get that things like hand passes occur in the NHL, but throwing the puck in any way, shape, or form is strictly forbidden. David Legwand of the Nashville Predators didn't seem to observe this clearly-defined rule in tonight's Nashville-Phoenix game, and the Hockey Gods punished his team for trying to toss the rules, and the puck, aside.

Here is the video of the Radim Vrbata goal for Phoenix that came directly from the hand of David Legwand. Keep your eye on the puck, and watch how it ends up in front of the net.
Did you "catch" that? David Legwand did. And by "that", I mean the puck. Once he caught it, he had to get rid of it, so it appeared he tried to toss the puck over the net towards the boards, but he came up significantly short on his throw as Vrbata picked up the loose puck near the net and buried a key goal in tonight's game.

Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal also scored for the Coyotes as they take a commanding 2-0 series lead with a 5-3 victory. Nashville will return home for the next two games, and there's a famous adage in the playoffs that says you're not in trouble until you lose a game at home. Here's hoping that Nashville can find a way to win on home ice to keep this entertaining series going.

And if David Legwand is reading this, just toss the puck to the corner behind you next time. That was a brutal toss that resulted in bad things for the Predators.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

First Round Wrap-Up

The opening round of the playoffs brought many surprises, and it led to only the third time in NHL history since the seedings began that #1 through #8 will be represented in the second round of the playoffs. Because there were some crushing defeats and massive upsets, this also had a significant impact on the HBIC Playoff Pool. I will say that one series in particular saw a vast number of people tie for the same amount of points, and it is the largest number of people in the five years of running this pool to have finished with the same score in one series. I'll work through the winners in all of the series, so let's get cracking to see who won which series.

VANCOUVER vs. LOS ANGELES: There was only one person who scored seven points in this series, and that was the highest point total as the massive upset of the Canucks in just five games threw a lot of people for a loop. Jim W. was the winner in this series as he correctly predicted the Kings to win Games Two and Three, and the Canucks to win Game Four for three points. Jim also called the Jarret Stoll game-winner in Game Two and called the Dustin Brown game-winner in Game Three for another four points! After adding it all up, Jim W. had the best point total in this series with seven. Well done, Jim!

ST. LOUIS vs. SAN JOSE: This was the series that saw a whopping eleven people predict a series that would result in eight points. I'm not going to work through all of their combinations, but here are the eleven people who scored eight points: Austin M., Cole V., Dan F., Jay F., Jim W., LJ S., Mark A., Mike E., Sammy B., Terry C., and Tyler B. Well done, everyone, and keep up the good work!

PHOENIX vs. CHICAGO: Three entrants tied for the highest total in this series with nine points. Dave F. correctly called wins for Phoenix in Games One, Three, and Six and added a Chicago win in Game Five for four points. Add in the fact that he called the series for Phoenix in six games for another five points, and Dave F. was nine points better.

Michael J. called the first three games correctly for the winners, and added the Game Six victory for Phoenix to give him four points. Because he called Phoenix to win in six games, he also got the five points tacked on for that prediction, and ended this series with nine points.

Westin F. correctly predicted the winning team in Games One, Two, Four, and Six, and had another five points added in for his six-game victory for Phoenix. Westin also ended this series with nine points.

Well done, gentlemen, and keep up the strong predicting!

NASHVILLE vs. DETROIT: This was another series that threw a lot of people off. Only one person ended this series in double-digits, and that person was Casey H. Casey correctly predicted the winning team in Games One, Four, and Five. Casey also called the David Legwand game-winning goal in Game Five, so that added an extra two points. And because Casey called the Nashville series win in five games, he got another five points. Adding it all up, Casey scored ten points in this series! Well done, Casey!

NEW YORK vs. OTTAWA: There were a lot of people who called this series in a four-game New York sweep or a five-game Rangers victory, but only one person picked up double-digits in this series as well. Adam F. correctly called the winning team in Games Three, Four, and Seven, and also called the Kyle Turris game-winning goal in Game Four for Ottawa. Because he called the Game Seven game correctly, it's a given that Adam also got the five points for correctly calling the New York series win in seven games, so he ended this series with ten points! Well done, Adam, on these wise predictions!

BOSTON vs. WASHINGTON: This was another series that threw people off as Washington literally clawed their way into the playoffs to run into the defending champs. But two people saw things differently, and they were rewarded for their gazing into their crystal balls. Aaron D. correctly predicted the winning team in Games One through Four, and added the winning team in Game Seven for five points. He also called the Alexander Semin game-winning goal in Game Four for another two points. And because he called the Game Seven game correctly, he got five more points for the Washington series win. That's a total of twelve points!

The other entrant to earn twelve points was Matt H., but he did it the old-fashioned way by simply calling the winning team in each game! Add in his five points for calling the seven-game series win for the Capitals, and that's his twelve points!

Well done, gentlemen, and keep calling the excellent predictions!

FLORIDA vs. NEW JERSEY: Lots of people finished with double-digits in this series, but there was only one entrant who rose to the top with his 14-point series! Jay F. correctly predicted the winning team in Games Three through Seven, and added the Zach Parise game-winner in Game Four and the Kris Versteeg game-winner in Game Five for a total of nine points in the series. And because he called the Game Seven winning team correctly, Jay picked up another five points for the highest point total of the round in all series with 14 points! Well done, Jay, and congrats on being the big winner of the first round!

PITTSBURGH vs. PHILADELPHIA: A lot of people didn't see the Flyers taking the first three games, and there seemed to be more people favoring the Penguins than the Flyers. Three entrants were able to predict an eleven-point series in this one, and we'll start with Andrew G. Andrew called the winning team in Games One, Two, Five, and Six, and then called the Scott Hartnell game-winning goal in Game Six for six points. Because he called the Game Six winner correctly, he also picked up an additional five points for his eleven points in the series.

Michael J. also scored eleven points on the strength of him correctly predicting the winners in Games Two through Four and Game Six. He called Jordan Staal's game-winner in Game Four, and picked up the five additional points for calling the Flyers in six games.

Ty F. was the third entrant to score eleven points, and he called the same teams as Michael J. did for four points. He was able to predict the Scott Hartnell game-winner in Game Six for another two points, and, because he called the Flyers' Game Six win, earned the additional five points for a total of eleven points in the series.

Well done, gentlemen, for your strong prognostications in this series!

As you can see on the right-side of the screen, all of your leaders except one appeared on these lists of predictors. Andy S. didn't have the best scores in any of the series, but he scored high enough to make his way into the Top Five, proving that you don't have to be the best to win. Rather, you just need to predict well and finish near the top in a few series in order to do well. Congrats on the Top Five finish in the first round, Andy, and keep up the good work!

Scores will be updated as the four series in this round end. Keep your eyes on the scoring page for all the details! The Prize Page will be posted next week, and I'm happy to say there will be some happy people getting some great stuff.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Who Accepts The Cup?

While it's far too early to suggest that the Phoenix Coyotes are your favorites as the Western Conference Champions in the Stanley Cup Final, my brain got to thinking tonight after seeing the Coyotes beat the Predators in Game One of the Western Conference Semi-Final. As you're very aware if you've followed hockey at any point for the last couple of years, the NHL owns the Coyotes. That, of course, means that 29 other owners and the NHL itself have a 1/30th share in any success that the Coyotes have this season. If the Coyotes can knock off the Predators and then dispatch the winner of the Blues-Kings series, they are literally four wins from the Stanley Cup. As improbable as it seems, the Phoenix Coyotes - a team with no true owner - could be your Stanley Cup Champions.

Normally, Gary Bettman presents the Stanley Cup to the team captain, and the celebratory laps are done with hockey's greatest trophy. There's always a couple of moments where the coaching staff and trainers get their moments on the ice to hoist the trophy in front of friends and family. And then, of course, there are the owners who get to lift the Stanley Cup after paying the bills to ice a championship team.

So if Phoenix were to win the Stanley Cup, does that mean Gary Bettman gets his name on the Stanley Cup? Will there be 29 other owners who get their names engraved despite none of their teams winning this season? Or does Bettman and his executive team simply engrave "NHL" on the Stanley Cup where the owner's name normally goes? Or do they just forgo the owner's name altogether to save face in the event that Phoenix is bought and/or moved? Honestly, it's an unprecedented situation that not many people are considering at this point, and that's fair given how far the Coyotes still have to go. But it's still something to be considered.

I've looked through a pile of historical accounts, and I can't find one example of a league-owned team winning a championship in any of the four major sports in the modern era. Of all the recent league-owned teams, the Expos weren't close to being a World Series team while MLB owned them, and the New Orleans Hornets didn't even make the NBA playoffs this season. Clearly, the Coyotes would be one of the biggest asterisks in any record book because 29 other teams were bankrolling their players to a championship.

"In Calgary, they're helping fund us so we can compete against them," Coyotes' president and chief operating officer, Mike Nealy said to Sports Business Journal. "I'm sure sometimes they scratch their heads about that. But, in the bigger picture, what's the better alternative?"

Personally, I believe that the NHL will opt not to have an owner's name on the Stanley Cup if the Coyotes were to win the Stanley Cup due to the ethics of the situation. After all, as Nealy said above, the owners in places such as Calgary, Toronto, Columbus, Long Island, and Edmonton all contributed financially to the Coyotes winning the Stanley Cup, yet all of those teams missed the playoffs.

Don Maloney, General Manager of the Phoenix Coyotes, certainly deserves a bulk of the credit for operating on a budget that would make most GMs resign, but Maloney deserves all the credit he gets for identifying good players who will contribute in a big way for not-so-big dollars. That is a massive accomplishment when he requires league approval to add any salary to his payroll because there are 29 other owners who assume some additional fiscal responsibility every time that Phoenix does. I'm not saying Maloney is a magician, but his coaching staff, his scouting staff, and the staff in San Antonio where Phoenix had its AHL affiliate before moving to Portland, Maine all deserve a massive amount of credit for the system they have in place, the work they do with the players, and the development of some of the young talent that Phoenix has on the ice. In short, Phoenix's front office is probably one of the best in the NHL when you consider the constraints they are force to work under in their predicament.

The Coyotes are still a long way from planning a Stanley Cup parade in Glendale, but every win moves them one step closer. Does the Eastern Conference Champion team have their owner accept the Stanley Cup as owner since he owns both teams? Feel free to comment below on what you think the NHL should do if the Coyotes complete their quest!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Your Second Round Info

After the double-overtime marathon that New Jersey and Florida battled in tonight, I didn't have time to update the scores for the last few series. All scores, however, will be updated before the clock strikes midnight on Friday. That being said, Round Two starts tomorrow night for the Western Conference, so there's barely time to breathe before we begin the HBIC Playoff Pool battle again. That being said, I'm modifying the rules for this second round of play so that you have more time to get your picks in.

Normally, I want the picks in by puck drop of the first game. However, I will allow you to submit picks until the puck drop of the first game on SATURDAY. Please note that if you submit the picks after either of the Friday night games start, you will not receive credit for those games UNLESS I RECEIVE YOUR PICKS BEFORE THE END OF THE FIRST PERIOD OF THE FIRST GAME.

Good? Ok. Have at it by clicking this link, and downloading the new spreadsheet. Send all entries to the designated email address in the same YOURNAME.xls FORMAT, and you're in the pool for another round!

I'll have the scoring updates done by tomorrow, and I'll post the first-round winners of each round based on how you did. Some have done well, some are stuggling, but there is still a ton of hockey to be played. The Prize Pool will be finalized sometime next week, and there are some good prizes available. I'm a little jealous about some of the stuff I'm giving away.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Electric Dynamo Win

If you had spent some time reading HBIC's Gagarin Cup Playoff recap a week back, you would already know that Avangard Omsk Oblast of the Eastern Conference would face Dynamo Moscow of the Western Conference for Russian hockey supremacy. Avangard was the second-seeded team in the East while Dynamo was the third-seeded team in the West, but Dynamo actually finished the season with more points than Avangard. Both teams had received spectacular goaltending and timely scoring to dispatch the three teams that stood in their way to the final, and Russian hockey's biggest prize was on the line as these two storied teams squared off for the KHL Championship.

Game One

Game One of the Gagarin Cup Final went at the raucous Arena Omsk, and the home team got a boost when they were sent to the powerplay just 26 seconds in. While they wouldn't score on that man-advantage, Roman Cervenka put Omsk up 1-0 at 4:47 on with his 11th goal of the postseason. Omsk carried the play in the first period, but Moscow goaltender Alexander Yeryomenko stopped the remaining 16 shots as the teams went into the intermission with a 1-0 score.

Moscow, showing the same resiliency they had in earlier series, broke through in the second period as Leonid Komarov led a three-on-two, and opted to shoot the puck. Karri Ramo couldn't keep it from crossing the line, and Komarov's third goal of the playoffs at 10:05 knotted the game up at 1-1. Both teams really played defensively in this period as they only took a combined 11 shots through 20 minutes. With the game tied 1-1, would we be seeing another defensive stalemate?

Just 3:59 into the third period, Avangard Omsk Oblast grabbed the lead once again. Alexander Perezhogin notched his fifth goal of the playoffs when he banged in a rebound to put Omsk up 2-1. Omsk really played shutdown hockey after regaining the lead, limiting Moscow to just seven shots in the third period with most being of little risk to Omsk. When the final horn had sounded, Avangard Omsk Oblast had drawn first blood with their 2-1 victory.

Game Two

Game Two started furiously again as the Omsk put on a skating and shooting display for their fans. But Moscow weathered the storm and jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Denis Kokarev sped around Omsk defenceman Anton Belov and poked home his first of the playoffs at the 7:57 mark of the first period. It looked like it would be another one-goal lead as the team's headed to the dressing rooms, but a late powerplay in the period gave Moscow the advantage they needed. Ilya Gorokhov's point blast was tipped by Leonid Komarov, and his deflection found its way behind Karri Ramo for Komarov's fourth goal of the playoffs and a 2-0 Moscow lead after the first frame.

The second period saw chances on both sides, but both goaltenders held up their end of the bargain as the final period saw the 2-0 Moscow lead open the period. Just 51 seconds into the third period, Alexander Perezhogin buried his sixth goal of the playoffs past Yeryomenko to cut Omsk's deficit to one goal. Despite out-shooting Moscow by a 17-3 margin, Omsk could only get one past Yeryomenko, and Dynamo Moscow would square the series at 1-1 with the series heading to Moscow for Games Three and Four.

Game Three

If this series was all about defence and goaltending in getting these two teams to the Gagarin Cup Final, Game Three was a perfect example of how to play hockey in the playoffs. The two teams began with chances at either end, but it was Alexander Perezhogin who opened the scoring with his seventh goal - and third of the final - at 12:57 of the opening frame on a great shot. Like the previous games, the team that opened the scoring would carry a shutout into the intermission as Omsk took the 1-0 lead into the break.

For the remainder of the game, both Ramo and Yeryomenko matched each other save for save, and the two teams battled through the second and third periods with no additional goals. There was a furious barrage that Dynamo Moscow unleashed on Omsk's goal, but Ramo held strong to record the first shutout of the final. Perezhogin's goal would stand as the winner as Omsk took a 2-1 series lead on the strength of their 1-0 win.

Game Four

Dynamo Moscow needed to rebound to even the series once again, and it was decided that Artyom Chernov would be inserted into the line-up for his first game in the 2011-12 KHL Playoffs. Chernov would play a significant role in this game as he notched his first goal of the playoffs by firing home a rebound just 5:22 into the game to put Moscow up 1-0 on home ice. The trend of scoring first and holding the shutout would continue, and Moscow took their one-goal lead into the break.

Nearly 13 minutes after the period began, Omsk was on the board with a goal. Alexander Perezhogin dazzled the crowd with some nifty stickhandling before dishing the puck off to Alexander Popov for his fourth goal of the playoffs at the 12:51 mark. While Moscow outshot Omsk in the second period 10-8, the score was even once again with twenty minutes to play.

The third period was played with a better defensive awareness, but both teams continued to pepper the goaltenders with shots. Moscow threw 13 at Karri Ramo while Omsk responded with 10 on Yeryomenko, but none of them dented the twine in that period, so we were looking at overtime for the first time in the final.

Just 8:15 into the overtime period, one name popped up yet again as the game-winning goal scorer. Here's the video of that goal.
Perezhogin's fourth goal of the series and eighth of the playoffs pushed Dynamo Moscow to the brink of elimination as Avangard Omsk Oblast won Game Four 2-1 in overtime for a 3-1 series lead.

Game Five

With the series moving back to Omsk, it appeared that Moscow was in a very deep hole in enemy territory, so they needed a big swing in momentum to get this series back to Moscow. In a rather surprising twist, Omsk defenceman Anton Belov was forced to miss this game due to a failed drug test. The loss of one of Omsk's best rearguards could have major implications on this game and series!

Just 3:44 in, Moscow's leading scorer Mikhail Anisin got onto the scoresheet with his 14th goal of the playoffs off a nice pass from Konstantin Gorovikov. Just 5:59 later, Moscow increased their lead to 2-0 when Yuri Babenko got a little help to score his first goal of the playoffs. Karri Ramo accidentally knocked the puck over the goal line, and Moscow doubled their lead on the miscue. The team that opened the scoring once again carried a shutout into the intermission as Moscow started the second frame with the 2-0 lead.

Five minutes into the second period, Konstantin Gorovikov ripped a shot past Ramo for his sixth goal of the playoffs, and Dynamo Moscow had the first three-goal lead of the series. However, Omsk began to show some life, and they cut the deficit to two goals when Anton Kuryanov's tight-angle shot deflected off a skate and past Yeryomenko for his third goal of the season at the 11:52 mark of the second period. Omsk was not out of the woods yet, though, as they trailed 3-1 after forty minutes.

While Omsk would pour on the pressure in the third period, they could only manage one goal in a scramble with just 19 seconds left in the game. Yury Alexandrov scored his second goal of the playoffs, but Dynamo Moscow lived to play at least one more game with their 3-2 victory in Game Five.

Game Six

Belov's suspension for the banned stimulant would continue, and Omsk was forced to take the ice without him in Game Six. Would Omsk be able to overcome this loss in this game and capture their first KHL Championship, or would a Game Seven be needed to settle this series?

It didn't start well for Omsk when Belov's replacement, Yury Alexandrov, got beat by Konstantin Gorovikov who setup Leonid Komarov for an easy tap-in for Komarov's fifth goal of the playoffs just 53 seconds in. 8:02 later, Omsk evened the score when former NHL defenceman Martin Skoula converted a diagonal cross-ice pass from Alexei Kalyuzhny for his first goal of the playoffs. But Moscow would restore their one-goal lead when Karri Ramo left a rebound in a bad spot, and Denis Mosalev buried the puck in the back of the net for his fifth of the playoffs at 15:46. Omsk's Dmitry Syomin was whistled for tripping at 17:14, but he spent less than the full two minutes in the sin bin as Filip Novak hammered a puck past Ramo on the powerplay for his second playoff goal at 18:31. Moscow went to the dressing room with a 3-1 lead in the game after twenty minutes.

The crowd was singing at the 11:58 mark when Moscow forward Marek Kvapil found himself on a partial breakaway. While he was forced behind the net, Kvapil's centering pass as he circled the net hit Georgijs Pujacs and found its way past Karri Ramo for Kvapil's seventh goal of the playoffs and a 4-1 Dynamo Moscow lead. While Omsk was still getting good chances, Yeryomenko was incredible in stopping all 12 shots he faced, including several that looked like sure goals.

Omsk eventually broke through in the third period again as Martin Skoula's second goal of the game was a rocket of a one-timer from Kirill Lyamin that beat Yeryomenko at the 11:53 mark. Any comeback, however, was killed when Kvapil scored his second goal of the game and eighth of the playoffs into an open net with 1:50 remaining. Dynamo Moscow would force this series to a Game Seven with their 5-2 victory.

Game Seven

In a series where defence and goaltending determined most of the scores, Game Seven was yet another example of how excellent goaltending and smart defensive play can make or break the hopes and dreams of any team. Both Alexander Yeryomenko and Karri Ramo were favorites as the KHL Playoff MVP, so this game would most likely determine which of these two players would win the accolade.

Both teams took the action to the opposing goaltender in the opening frame, but neither team could find a hole through Karri Ramo or Alexander Yeryomenko. There were a few tense moments when goal-mouth scrambles produced gasps and cheers, but the horn at the end of the first period sent the teams to the dressing rooms in a 0-0 deadlock.

Omsk began to assert their control on the game in second period. They held Dynamo Moscow to a mere four shots, but they could not find a way to solve Yeryomenko. The Dynamo goaltender was spectacular in the second period as he turned Omsk aside again and again. Neither team could dent the twine in the middle frame, so there would be at least twenty more minutes needed to determine a winner.

With the way both teams and both goaltenders were playing, it looked like an overtime goal may end this contest, but the lmap was lit at the 12:03 mark of the third period when the Avangard Omsk Oblast defensive corps made an error in coverage, and it gave Dynamo Moscow the chance they needed.
Jakub Klepis cycled the puck in the corner and did what he was supposed to do on the cycle: head to the net. With the puck in the corner, all four Omsk defenders get caught watching Marek Kvapil in the corner as Klepis finds himself wide-open in the slot. One backhand pass to the slot was all Moscow needed as Klepis got a couple of whacks at the puck before it got past Ramo for the all-important 1-0 lead with just 7:57 to play.

Omsk poured on the pressure, needing a goal to keep the series and their shot at the Gagarin Cup going. Yeryomenko made a couple of key saves, including one on former NHLer Alexander Frolov, to preserve the shutout and the win for Dynamo Moscow as their 1-0 victory gave them the 4-3 series win, and completed the comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. Your 2012 KHL Champions are the Dynamo Moscow!

"I'm almost without emotion," Dynamo coach Oleg Znarok told media after the game. "It's a kind of emptiness and fatigue. I want to thank the players for the trust and character they showed right through the playoffs. It was all very difficult and tense but we went step by step to our success and I'm happy that everything ended well.

"Even when it was 1-3 I had no doubts about these guys and I was confident we could still do it. That's why I said it was only just starting, and I was right. We won because we were the better team. There’s no other way to succeed in sport."

Alexander Yeryomenko was voted as the KHL Playoff MVP after conceding just ten goals in seven games, and he truly earned the accolade after backstopping his team from the 3-1 series deficit. Yeryomenko showed he's a class act as his acceptance comments included those men who had fallen in the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv tragedy earlier this season. "I'd like to dedicate this win to the guys on the Lokomotiv team who are no longer with us," he told R-Sport. "I’m sure everyone on our team would agree with me. It's been tough for everyone throughout the season, coming to terms with it. We've all had to quietly step around it and play. We'll always remember those guys."

Dynamo forward Mikhail Anisin set a new KHL Playoff record with his 14 postseason goals, and linemate Konstantin Gorovikov led the playoffs with 14 assists. Overall, Avangard forward Roman Cervenka led the playoffs in scoring with 21 points on the strength of 11 goals and 10 assists.

Congratulations go out to Dynamo Moscow, the 2011-12 Gagarin Cup Champions!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Clear It With Us First

Everyone knows that beer and hockey, especially in Canada, go together like shirt-and-tie. It's an unmistakable combination of being responsible while enjoying an adult beverage and focusing one's attention on a graceful, fast, and somewhat-violent game. Lots of people enjoy a brewed beverage responsibly in the confines of a sports bar, a restaurant, an arena or stadium, or their homes while watching hockey or any other sport, so it's not like this is a revelation. What makes today's article a little more interesting is that an NHL sponsor is trying to offer something to fans that actually might not be kosher with the NHL or its teams. And that, readers, is a problem if you've happened to enter the contest already.

I received an email today from a Michelle E. who was hawking a pretty impressive contest run by Budweiser. At first, it seemed unlikely that this contest would get NHL approval based on what could be won, but the email looked and read like an official contest notification, so I read through it with an open mind. I'll publish the "official" email below, but here is what Michelle E. wrote to me,
"Playoff season just got even better with Budweiser's Playoff Payoff – one of Canada’s biggest hockey pools that offers the chance to win hockey tickets for life! As Canadians hunker down to watch their favourite cities duke it out in hockey’s yearly battle royale, they’ll also have the chance to win big with Budweiser’s Playoff Payoff – featuring more than $6 million in instant win prizing from partners including Samsung, Xbox and McCain.

"Playoff Payoff is simple: in order to play, just twist off any specially-marked bottle of Budweiser – or look on coasters at participating bars and restaurants – and collect Playoff Payoff PINs that represent a city and a round in the playoffs. Fans can go online to www.KingClub.ca to enter PINs and track their Playoff Payoff pool in the hopes of winning the ultimate hockey fan’s dream, or visit www.Budweiser.ca for more details.

"Below is more information on the promotion and I’d be happy to arrange for you to speak with Ben Seaton, Marketing Manager, Budweiser Canada.

"Please let me know if you’d have any further questions or if I can provide any further information."
Seems legit, right? I mean, Budweiser has lined up instant win partners in Samsung, XBox via Microsoft, and McCain, so it looks like this contest is off and running. I hit the Budweiser website, and there is an entire website up for this contest. All good, right? Well, let's check out the press release that Michelle included on her email. It reads,
"TORONTO, April 11, 2012 /CNW/ - This season, Budweiser - the #1 selling beer in Canada - is upping the ante and giving Canadians the chance to win† the ultimate hockey fan's dream - hockey tickets for life††. Budweiser's new Playoff Payoff promotion rewards hockey fans in a big way and, with a chance to win† more than $6 million in instant win prizes, playoff season has never been more exciting. In addition to hockey tickets for life††, fans have the chance to score every time they twist open an ice cold Budweiser. There are more than $6 million in high quality, instant prizes available to be won†. This includes a suite of premium products from Samsung Canada that will help ignite and fuel Canadian passion for hockey anywhere anytime. Products from Samsung include Samsung 55" LED TVs Series 6000, Samsung 32" LCD TVs Series 4, Samsung Galaxy Tabs 10.1, Samsung Galaxy S II Phones. Additional prizes include Xbox 360 4GB Kinect Bundles with 12 month Xbox LIVE Gold Memberships and McCain Rising Crust Pizzas.

"'Budweiser is a huge supporter of hockey and we know how deep love of the game runs coast-to-coast. We're continuing to make hockey more exciting, more fun and more accessible for Canadians. And, with Playoff Payoff, we're delivering on this in a very big way - the chance to win hockey tickets for life,' said Ben Seaton, Marketing Manager, Budweiser Canada. "This season - whether their favourite city makes the playoffs or not - fans can become part of the excitement from start to finish with the simple twist of a cap.'

"Playoff Payoff PINs can be found on bottle caps in specially-marked cases of Budweiser and on coasters at participating bars and restaurants. Each PIN includes a city and playoff round. For example, VAN1 2345678912 is Vancouver, Round 1. Fans enter the pin on www.KingClub.ca, where a personalized bracket will be set up. There, the PINs become "caps" that sit on a player's bench. These caps can be dragged and dropped into a player's bracket as the playoffs unfold. Players can also trade duplicates and make trades for caps missing from their bracket. Once a player has filled in their entire bracket, they have the chance to win† hockey tickets for life††. Additionally, Budweiser will seed special Power Play PINs throughout the contest. Power Play PINs - which act similar to a wild card - can be entered into any position on a player's bracket. Fans should keep their eyes out for Power Play PINs, which will be released across several channel including Facebook, email, SMS and more.

"To register or learn more, visit www.budweiser.ca."
So all is good, right? Budweiser has the disclaimers and all the legalese clearly defined in their press release, and the contest has been endorsed by the NHL and its teams. Er, it was, wasn't it?

The Edmonton Oilers didn't seem to think so:
"You may have heard about a contest that is currently being run across Canada promoting the chance to win “hockey tickets for life” to a Canadian hockey team’s games. We want our fans to know that neither the Edmonton Oilers nor the NHL have an affiliation with that promotion, and the Edmonton Oilers can offer no assurances to our fans that the desired tickets will be available to the winner.

"The NHL does authorize a number of sweepstakes and contests, including one from its official partner Molson -- The Stanley Cup Collection -- which includes the chance to win a trip to this year’s Stanley Cup Final, as well as some other great prizing. Learn all about this exciting promotion on our partner’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/MolsonCanadian"
In fact, the NHL and its teams have NOT endorsed this contest as they have a standing deal with Molson Brewery. Budweiser is not an official sponsor of the National Hockey League at all, and the "Playoff Payoff" contest isn't licensed, sponsored by, or otherwise associated with the NHL or its teams. That seems like a little bit of a foul-up, no? I mean, Budweiser is using the NHL logo without authorization, and they are doing nothing to support the game other than buying some fan tickets for life.

The thing that catches me about this whole debacle is that the team chosen by the fan doesn't have to provide the seats at all. For example, the Winnipeg Jets have their entire rink sold out for the next two seasons at minimum thanks to a successful season-ticket drive before the team arrived, so there aren't any season-ticket packages to be had if Budweiser wants to purchase one for a lucky fan next season. Since the Jets sold a minimum three-year commitment to the seats for all seats in the building, there won't be any seats available for purchase through the club until the 2014-15 season. And that's only if those who have those seats don't want to renew!

So unless Budweiser is buying one of the game-day tickets through the Jets for every home game, this will require an insane amount of administration on Budweiser's part if a fan in Winnipeg happens to win this contest. That also means that the fan will be moving around the arena on a nightly basis since there is no ticket for a guaranteed seat. Granted, most fans won't complain about seeing a hockey game for free, but if you win a contest, you should be guaranteed something better than a random nose-bleed section ticket, no?

I don't know - maybe I just have higher expectations from a company like Budweiser. I'm quite certain that the NHL and its teams have had a major change in their attitude towards Budweiser with this recent "unauthorized" contest, so it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. In the end, Budweiser still has to deliver on their promises of free tickets for life whether they have the NHL's blessing or not, and it will be interesting to see how the winner of this contest views Budweiser once all is said and done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***UPDATE: Budweiser will still "deliver on our Playoff Payoff Tickets for Life commitment to fans" with or without the NHL's blessing. Full details can be read here.***

Monday, 23 April 2012

Maybe Don't Bet On These Guys

If there is one team that you should avoid betting on in the playoffs, I'd wager that the best regular-season team is the one that should be never picked by pundits in playoff predictions. Don't get me wrong when I say that the best regular season team shouldn't be viewed as a Stanley Cup favorite because they should. After all, they endured the the regular season's ebbs and flows to come out on top as the best team in the NHL, and that's always an encouraging sign if you're a fan. But the playoffs are a different breed, and the stakes change from the regular season as players dig deeper and play harder than seen in the regular season. Just because a team was the best regular-season team doesn't mean that they are built for the playoffs in any way. In fact, the team that wins the President's Trophy is probably one of the few teams I wouldn't put faith in due to the track record of losing in the playoffs that seems to follow the President's Trophy.

With the Los Angeles Kings ousting the Vancouver Canucks, another President's Trophy winner will be watching a team that finished below them in the standings hoist the Stanley Cup as NHL Champions this spring. Los Angeles played extremely well, limiting the Canucks chances while capitalizing on their own chances, and the Canucks were sent home for the second year in a row with nothing to show for all their regular season success. If the playoffs are the culmination of all the hard work a team puts in over the course of an 82-game season, there is a bitter taste when a President's Trophy team walks down the hallway to the dressing room for the final time in a season without bringing the Stanley Cup with them.

It's not like Vancouver is the only team to have been ousted as the top team in the NHL's regular season. Since the introduction of the President's Trophy for the 1986-87 season, only seven teams who have won the President's Trophy have gone on to capture the Stanley Cup. If you're keeping score at home, that's seven teams in twenty-six attempts - a .269 winning percentage. That's not such a good winning percentage when you're looking at the team that had the most success in the regular season against all other teams. But, as stated above, the playoffs are a different beast.

In terms of making it to the Stanley Cup Final, there have been seven teams that have won the Silver Chalice, but three other President's Trophy-winning teams that have lost in the final. That's a .385 winning percentage - slightly better than a 3-in-8 chance of appearing in the Stanley Cup Final. While any of the sixteen teams that start the playoffs would take that chance of appearing in the Stanley Cup Final, the best regular season team would probably scoff at that percentage and take their chances. After all, five of every eight President's Trophy-winning teams would be on the losing end of that winning percentage.

Where it gets scary for the President's Trophy-winning team is in the opening round of the playoffs. The NHL's best regular-season team has taken a first-round exit six times since the introduction of the trophy, giving the best regular-season team only a .769 winning percentage against the eighth-seed in its conference. While that would be a great winning percentage in the regular season, there is a 1-in-4 chance that the best team in the NHL will be heading home after the first-round of the playoffs, and I guarantee you that any eighth-seeded team would be salivating at those odds.

Where I'm going to throw a monkey wrench into these proceedings is here. The President's Trophy winning-team, if they survive the first-round of the playoffs, should be your Stanley Cup favorite once the field has been reduced to eight teams. Again, they have won the Stanley Cup seven times as the undisputed favorite going into the playoffs, and the track record of the second-best team in the NHL shows that the favorites hold a heavy advantage as long as they get to the second-round. Of the 26 teams that finished second-overall in the NHL, only three have won the Stanley Cup. In fact, no other team ranked in the top-ten of the NHL's overall regular season standings is better than that, so it proves that if a President's Trophy team can get out of the first round, their chances of winning the Stanley Cup go up significantly.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the President's Trophy in 1991, but were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by an upstart Minnesota North Stars squad. Chicago finished 38 points ahead of their division-rivals, but were sent home after a 4-2 series loss. Jeremy Roenick had led the Blackhawks to their best finish in years only to be golfing a mere two weeks later.

"It was a great feeling at the end of the season because we knew we had such a great team and we rolled through the regular season," Roenick told Dan Rosen of NHL.com in 2009. "We thought that we had it in the bag and, because of that feeling, we took a team that was playing well in Minnesota for granted. We just got spanked.

"I remember going off the ice at the old Met Center and getting hit with a hot dog bun and having a beer thrown at me. It was a big kick in the face after such a great season. I'll never forget that feeling."

Maybe it takes the experience of losing as the President's Trophy winner to know that there are still sixteen wins needed for immortality. Of the six President's Trophy-winning teams that won the Stanley Cup, five of those teams won the Stanley Cup after winning their second President's Trophy. Only the Detroit Red Wings have an asterisk beside their name as they won it on their third President's Trophy-winning season. And since 1986-87, Detroit is only team to have won the Stanley Cup twice as the President's Trophy-winning team, doing so again on their sixth try as the top regular-season team in 2007-08. In fact, the last two President's Trophy-winning teams to win the Stanley Cup are none other than the 2001-02 Red Wings and the 2007-08 Red Wings.

Only one - last year's Vancouver Canucks - have made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and four of the last ten President's Trophy-winning teams have gone home after the first-round of the playoffs. The "upset" of the best regular-season team is becoming more common in today's game than it ever has been in the past, and three President's Trophy winners in the last four years have been ousted in the first round. Ouch.

In looking at Vancouver's early exit this season, it seems they may be following Detroit's path of winning President's Trophies and Stanley Cups. In 1995, Detroit was the best team in the regular season to claim their first President's Trophy, only to lose in the Stanley Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils. In 1996, the Red Wings rose to the top in the NHL once more during the regular season, but bowed out in the Conference Final to Colorado in the playoffs. Six years later, the Red Wings captured both trophies after downing the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final.

Vancouver captured the President's Trophy last season as the NHL's top team before eventually losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins. This season, the Canucks returned to the top of the mountain before being ousted by the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round of the playoffs. If the Canucks are following Detroit's map, are Vancouver fans willing to wait another six years for their team to capture both trophies? In fact, I'm positive that the fans would take a Stanley Cup over another President's Trophy any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

However, Los Angeles moves on to play St. Louis. Vancouver goes home to watch on TV. Such is life for the NHL's President Trophy-winning team.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Back To The Auction Block

With playoff hockey on in virtually every league across the globe, I thought it might be time to step back and take a look at some more awesome jerseys. Classic Auctions always has a ton of incredible uniforms on display on their website, and HBIC loves looking through their collections for some treasures. While I can't afford to buy any of the uniforms or memorabilia on their site, a guy can dream, can't he? In saying that, I've scoured the site for a number of interesting uniforms once again, and I bring forth Classic Auctions' best from their recent auction items.

We'll start with an incredible look at the Minnesota North Stars from 1983-84 to 1984-85. The reason these two years are significant is that the North Stars switched jersey manufacturers between the seasons, and there are a vast amount of changes seen with the change in manufacturers. We'll start with Dirk Graham's jersey from the '83-84 season. Note the width of the 8 on the back, the orientation of the "N", the size of the logo, the lack of white holes in the sleeve number, and width of the striping on both the sleeves and hems. And compare those details to those found on Harold Snepsts' '84-85 North Stars jersey. Pretty darned significant, right? It makes me long for the days of teams sourcing their own manufacturers because each uniform style was unique. Minnesota's jump from Pedersons to Steichen's/CCM removed all that was highly unique, but gave the North Stars a much better chest logo as the "N" looks much better. Call the change in manufacturers a wash in this case.

Everyone that has followed the NHL for some time has an appreciation for the gorgeous uniforms worn by the Quebec Nordiques. However, they didn't always look this way as the Nordiques had a significantly different look in the WHA and for their first season in the NHL. Garry Lariviere wore this uniform in 1979-80 as a member of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques. Note how much lighter the blue is and how white the logo is. It was thought that the Nordiques switched to their iconic look once they got to the NHL, but they actually played their first season looking like the WHA Nordiques!

Kevin Dineen's 1995-96 jersey from the Hartford Whalers. Because I can. After all, it's the Whale. Exactly. You know what I'm talking about. The Whalers' uniform still is one of the greatest in history.

How many people remember Jimmy Waite's tenure with the Chicago Blackhawks? I do, but I didn't remember him wearing #60 in 1989-90 for four games. I do remember him wearing #29, but apparently he wore #60 for a few games as a call-up in '89-90. It's another one of those uniform cameos that the Blackhawks have had in their time, much like the 1994 preseason jersey worn by #65 Ethan Moreau.

I've always believed that the Montreal Canadiens had worn CCM on the ice since the NHL awarded them the league-wide contract in the mid-1990s. After all, CCM is a Quebec-based company, so it would seemingly make sense that they would use CCM for their uniforms. However, the Montreal Canadiens opened Y2K by wearing ProPlayer jerseys for their first game in the 2000s on January 2, 2000. How many people knew that? Again, I thought they were CCM-loyal due to both the Canadiens and CCM being Quebec-based institutions. Who knew?

I found another player who suited up in the 1995 NHLPA 4-on-4 Challenge in Hamilton, Ontario during the NHL Strike. Donald Audette played for Team Quebec in the event, and wore this great NHLPA jersey as #44. Audette was part of the Team Quebec squad that featured Luc Robitaille and Vincent Damphousse, making it a formidable offensive team at that time. I'm still hunting down other members of the team, but video footage of these games would be awesome!

September 22, 2001 saw the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to play their AHL affiliate Penguins in a preseason game. The NHL Penguins iced a star-studded line-up for their AHL fans while the AHL Penguins got a boost from a major NHL star: Mario Lemieux. "I think it's going to be exciting to see me in a different uniform," Lemieux said before the game. "I always wondered what it would be like to play against the Penguins. I'll have my chance on Saturday." Lemieux would lose the only AHL game in his career as the NHL Penguins took the game by a 4-2 score on that night.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a number of minor-league affiliates over their storied history, but I had never seen a jersey for the Newmarket Saints until today. Jeff Reese's Saints jersey is on display here as he suite dup for the former AHL team in 1986-87. Check out the logo with the "saint" on it - that's a little creepy!

Wanna see "gorgeous"? Check out Eric Brolin's sweater from the AHA's St. Paul Saints circa 1927! I love the stripes! And check out that number placement between the shoulder blades! Brolin was signed by the Detroit Cougars, but they sent him to St. Paul midway through the 1926-27 season, and he donned this beautiful sweater. Honestly, this might be one of the bets old-time hockey sweaters I've seen in a long time.

However, this Colgate University sweater from the 1920s is pretty spectacular in its simplicity. While it appears to have yellowed in its 90 years of existence, I'm pretty sure this crisp white sweater would have been a spectacular sight on the ice. Simple always works well, and the logo, while understated in its placement and size, is absolutely perfect for this sweater. This, readers, is something that should be manufactured today as a throwback sweater. Absolutely perfect!

While I'm not overly fond of these Quebec Remparts jerseys that the team wore in the 2003 Memorial Cup hosted at the Colisée, there is something that should be noted on the jersey. If you examine the left shoulder and the rear hem closely, you can see the mark of CCM as the manufacturer. However, the tags on the inside show that this jersey was actually made by Nike! So what gives? Well, CCM had the jersey contract at the time for the entire Canadian Hockey League during this time, so the Remparts, along with a few other teams, had to affix a CCM logo over the Nike Swoosh on the front shoulder and on the back hem in order to have the CHL approve the usage of these uniforms in games. Talk about gamesmanship by the teams and manufacturers!

We'll finish off this auction action by looking at a couple of Canadian jerseys. The first was worn by Jack McLeod at the 1961 World Hockey Championships as he and his fellow Trail Smoke Eaters from BC represented Canada in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland. Canada went 6-0-1 with 45 goals-for compared to 11 goals-against to tie them with Czechoslovakia for the best record in the tournament. The tie that both teams recorded was against one another, so it came down to goal differential, and Canada was +34 compared to Czechoslovakia's +24. I love the "Trail" patch on the sleeve to represent the town of Trail, BC. The use of blue in these uniforms will start a trend as Canada begins to use blue in their uniforms more prominently on the international stage.

Case in point? The 1978 World Junior Hockey Championships held primarily in Montreal and Quebec City saw Canada wear uniforms that were not at all indicative of the red-and-white that they normally wear. That uniform was Craig Hartsburg's jersey, and he lined up in the tournament alongside some kid named Wayne Gretzky who led the tournament in scoring with 17 points in six games. He finished ahead of notable names like Sergei Makarov, Mats Naslund, and Anton Stastny in the tournament. But Gretzky did wear Canadian blue in picking up a bronze medal at the 1978 World Junior Hockey Championships.

There are a pile of interesting jerseys from a number of different eras and leagues that were offered up by Classic Auctions in their recent auctions. I'll have more coming up in the future, but these should do for now. Of course, you're welcome to leave comments on any of the jerseys seen above, or point me to others that you find interesting! Leave your comments below!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Streak Is Over

If you've been keeping tabs on hockey outside the NHL, the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs began this past week. The developmental league for the NHL saw one of its teams start the playoffs with a ridiculous streak intact as the Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, kicked off the playoffs at home riding a 28-game winning streak. In short, the team hasn't lost in regulation, overtime, or the shootout in two months! Norfolk is the favorite to win the Eastern Conference title with this sort of success, but one team has decided to end the streak and make the Calder Cup Playoffs a little more interesting by winning Game Two of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Game One on Friday night in Norfolk saw the Admirals jump out to a familiar start: a 3-0 with just 20 minutes to play. It looked like the 29th-straight victory by this squad would come fairly easily as the Manchester Monarchs, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, had barely put up a fight to that point. After all, the Admirals had held Manchester without a shot for more than 10 minutes during the second period, so it seemed that the writing was on the wall as the Admirals were simply toying with the Monarchs.

The third period, however, saw the Monarchs turn the game around in a big way. After looking out of sorts in the first two periods, the third period was all Manchester as the momentum of this series seemed to change. Stefan Legein and Marc-Andre Cliche found holes through Admirals goaltender Jaroslav Janus, and the Admirals hung on to kill off four minutes of powerplay time to secure the Game One victory by a 3-2 score. But if there was any doubt that the streak could be in jeopardy, the Monarchs showed that the Admirals might fall sooner than later.

In Game Two tonight, the two teams battled to a 2-2 deadlock through forty minutes, but, like Friday's tilt, it was was all Manchester in the final frame. Robbie Czarnik scored just 5:28 into the third period to give Manchester the 3-2 lead, and Linden Vey and Andy Andreoff rounded out the scoring for Manchester as the Monarchs took Game Two by a 5-2 score. More importantly, though, they ended the Admirals' 29-game winning streak, and this series suddenly was a best-of-three.

"It is gratifying to watch our players celebrate this momentous win," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "Ending the Norfolk winning streak should help our team gain confidence moving deeper into the series. The Admirals run was no small feat and they deserve credit for their accomplishments. They are an explosive team, but we proved they are beatable. The Scope was rocking with their rowdy fans. I am hoping our Monarchs faithful can show Norfolk how much we enjoy our hockey in New Hampshire!"

I have to agree with Morris. The Monarchs capitalized on turnovers, got great goaltending from Martin Jones who stopped 37 shots, and killed penalties with reckless abandon as Norfolk finished the game oh-fer-five. In short, Manchester played against Norfolk in Game Two much like their NHL affiliate has been in their series against Vancouver. Martin Jones will be the trivia answer to the question "what goaltender ended Norfolk's record-setting winning streak", and that's a pretty cool accomplishment.

To give you some perspective on how remarkable this win streak was, consider that Norfolk finished the season with a 55-18-1-2 record. Here's how things have gone down in Norfolk this season, with a heavy emphasis on the 29-game winning streak:
  • The Admirals hadn't lost since February 5 until tonight.
  • Eric Neilson hasn't shaved since the win streak started, and may not get to if he continues the superstitious route in the playoffs.
  • Cory Conacher - the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's Rookie-of-the-Year, the Les Cunningham Award winner as the AHL MVP, and the Willie Marshall Award as the top goal scorer in the AHL this season - hasn't had his hair cut since the streak started.
  • As an addendum to the above point, Conacher's 39 goals and Texas' Matt Fraser's 37 goals make them the first rookies in the 76-year history of the AHL ever to finish 1-2 in goal-scoring.
  • Conacher and teammate Tyler Johnson finished the season as the top-two scorers for the Admirals. Both players are rookies.
  • Goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who went 32-11-0 and led the league in victories, did not play in a single shootout this season.
  • Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus were the only two goaltenders of record during Norfolk's streak.
  • Head coach Jon Cooper - the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL's best coach - hasn't washed his undershirt he wears under his shirt and tie since the streak started.
  • Norfolk’s 13 straight road wins and 28 road wins for the season both tie AHL records, and their 28 straight games with at least one point in the standings is one better than the Cleveland Barons’ 21-0-6 run to end the 1947-48 season.
  • Norfolk won more games on their record-setting winning streak than they did in the other 48 games they played that saw they win 27 times.
  • Norfolk's 3-1 victory, and 24th in the streak, over the Binghamton Senators on April 6 snapped the 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks’ record for most consecutive non-shootout wins of 16.
  • Of the 29 wins they strung together, only two went past regulation time. They defeated Syracuse in a shootout on February 18 and Binghamton in overtime on April 14.
  • Norfolk tied the 1972-73 Cincinnati Swords for the fourth-best record in AHL history this season, behind only the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers (.775), the 2009-10 Hershey Bears (.769) and the 1998-99 Providence Bruins (.750).
  • In the 29 games they won, the Admirals outscored their opponents 110-44.
  • In nine of the 29 games, they won by a one-goal margin.
  • In 12 of the 29 games, they gave up two or more goals.
  • In four of the 29 games, they recorded a shutout.
  • During the streak, Norfolk defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton four times, Albany four times, Adirondack three times, Charlotte three times, and Albany three times.
  • During the streak, Norfolk did not play Manchester until the playoffs began.
WOW!

The series continues Wednesday night, April 25, at 7:00pm at the Verizon Wireless Arena in a pivotal Game Three. Manchester has the last win, so they'll look to make it at least a two-game winning streak against the team that set the North American professional hockey record for consecutive wins. Norfolk, of course, wants to try to start a new winning streak and move in the playoffs, so they'll need to bounce back after seeing their record-setting win streak snapped. It should be another great game between Norfolk and Manchester!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 20 April 2012

No Isles For Brooklyn

The brand-new Barclays Center is set to host the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils on October 2, 2012 in an NHL preseason game, but it might be the only NHL hockey that the Barclays Center will see this year. And that's fine for most, but the Islanders, having lost the battle for a new arena in Hempstead and fed up with their aging arena in Nassau Coliseum, are now looking for a new home, and the Barclays Center seems to fit the bill when it comes to a brand-new venue for hockey. The newest New York landmark already has a tenant in the NBA's New Jersey Nets, so it seems that there really isn't anything to worry about in terms of the Islanders moving in as a roommate. Unless your name is Gary Bettman.

Gary Bettman was asked about the possible move into the Barclays Center by the Islanders today, and he repeated previous comments made that "the league ideally wanted the club to remain in Nassau County". Of course, the NHL isn't really interested in any clubs moving, but is this really a "move" in the sense that a team is being relocated within the same city? The franchise's lease at Nassau Coliseum runs out after the 2014-15 season, so finding a new venue is paramount for the health of the franchise.

Bettman repeated himself that the league was helping the Islanders explore their options "in the metropolitan area" at an Associated Press Sports Editors meeting today, and that moving the team outside New York was not currently being considered. I guess the rumors about the Isles-to-Quebec can die off for a while as it seems that the NHL wants the Islanders to remain in the city, if not the state, of New York at worst. With the Barclays Center opening at 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, would that not still be considered "in New York"?

According to this page on the Barclays Center website, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow stated, "We're extremely excited to play the first NHL game in the new, state-of-the-art Barclays Center. We already have some of the most passionate fans in the league supporting our young team, and we are looking forward to expanding our base into Brooklyn."

Seems like a smart move, right? Move into an area that could be considered underserved as a hockey market in Brooklyn, and try to gain more fans. Honestly, the move closer to Manhattan and its surrounding areas could be beneficial as the Islanders may sway some of the casual Rangers fans into becoming Islanders fans. The key, however, is that Brooklyn is the most populous of New York's five boroughs, and 41.1% of its residents are in the key demographic of 18-44. That's a great market to work in when trying to attracting fans, and the Islanders' young team may be a draw to the residents of Brooklyn as they appear to be a team that is fairly blue-collared and hard-working. Brooklyn is home to many banks and credit unions, and has sizable services and manufacturing employment numbers. With unemployment low in the borough, Brooklyn appears to be an excellent mark when it comes to finding a place with income that support an NHL team.

Ethnically, there are many people living in Brooklyn that may not take to hockey as their primary sporting interest, and this is something that the Islanders may have to tackle if they indeed move to the Barclays Center. The area around the arena on Atlantic Avenue has a large Greek-American influence, and the businesses in the area reflect that. The street crossing Atlantic Avenue to the south, Flatbush Avenue, has an Arab-American influence. There is a significant West Indian community throughout the borough, and the Flatbush Avenue-area businesses also reflect this. To the southwest, there is a large Italian-American contingent, and the Bushwick area to the east is nearly 80% Hispanic. Traditionally, none of these ethnic groups hold hockey as the primary sport they follow, so the Islanders may have some work to do in attracting new fans. But the possibilities are endless if they can sway a few people to come watch their games at Barclays Center.

Where it may make sense to move the Islanders to Brooklyn is on the transit map. Much like Madison Square Garden is a major stop for a number of public transit options, the Barclays Center is on the hub of the public transit lines in Brooklyn. "Barclays Center will also afford current Islander fans with great accessibility," said Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, "as the Long Island Rail Road and nine subway lines will come directly to the arena at the Atlantic Terminal transit hub." That's a great way to entice people to come to see your games as public transportation to and from the game are literally a stone's throw away. There seems to be opportunities for public parking further away, so the choices for fans heading to and from the games are numerous. Like the Rangers in Manhattan, this puts the Islanders directly on several major routes for people heading to and from Brooklyn.

If you take a close look at the map of Brooklyn where the new Barclays Center is being built, it's near a major harbour to the west and the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the north. In saying that, there may be a chance to revive those Fisherman jerseys as a possible alternate jerseys with the harbours being nearby, and the Islanders can certainly honour the men and women of the US Navy with special camouflage jerseys when they feel it necessary as other teams do. As long as they get rid of these garbage jerseys in three years time - the exact time when their lease runs out - the world will be right once again in hockey.

While I get that the Islanders were named after their Long Island home, there are a couple of aspects that the Islanders can use from former iterations that would make great sense. The Sea Gate area of Brooklyn is famous for the Coney Island Lighthouse, and I'm pretty sure the Islanders have used a lighthouse as a logo before. I'm not suggesting that they use that as a the chest logo, but that could return as a secondary shoulder logo, and it would fit nicely as representation of one of Brooklyn's most iconic buildings. Again, the Fisherman logo is probably more suited as an alternate logo and it may need a tweak or two to have it fit more to Brooklyn, but the logo works with the harbours nearby.

All in all, I can't see why Gary Bettman is against the Islanders moving to Barclays Center full-time in 2015. I understand that there should be some investigation as to the viability of the market in Brooklyn, but the team is still in New York, it's in a more populous area than Hempstead, and it makes the Islanders franchise more relevant to the city of New York rather than being out in Hempstead. The distance from Hempstead to Brooklyn via the Grand Central Parkway is a bit of a drive - approximately one hour - for a 7:30pm start, but if there are only 10,000 people going to see the team in Hempstead, how many fans will be lost with them moving an hour to the west and closer to Manhattan? Madison Square Garden to Barclays Center is a mere 30 minutes on public transit compared to a three-hour public transit trip from Nassau Coliseum. At worst, I see that as a wash as many people in Manhattan may head down to Brooklyn to see the Islanders if the prices are affordable.

I wouldn't give up on the hopes that the Islanders will move out of Nassau "Mausoleum" just yet, Islander fans. They may move west to Brooklyn, but that's the only option that seems logical with Hempstead killing off a new arena in that area. And if it saves the storied franchise known as the New York Islanders, I say move them as soon as the lease is done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Will He See The Ice Again?

Paul Bissonnette is a popular NHL player due to his constant interactions with fans and media on social media sites and through interviews. He usually gives funny quotes or has funny comments about any topic, so he's a welcome addition to the cliché-filled sports world. However, if the examine the image of Paul Bissonnette on the left, you may notice something that could keep him from seeing the ice in any of the next games against Chicago. It's tough to see in the smaller picture, so I'll give you an opportunity to see it larger.

Paul Bissonnette isn't sitting on the Phoenix bench because he'll fill the net with goals. If he does, it's certainly an unexpected benefit for the Coyotes, but Bissonnette is better known for his fists and toughness. Against Chicago, it was known he would probably be called upon for a few dances, and he certainly obliged with Brandon Bollig just 5:24 into the first period. But he forgot a very important part of the "code" when it comes to fighting. You can see it clearer in this image.
The fight strap on Bissonnette's jersey wasn't secured to the loop on his pants, and that, readers, is cause for a game misconduct if caught by the officials. Sure enough, Bissonnette lost his jersey in the fight against Bollig, and the referee had no choice but to excuse Bissonnette from the rest of the game, putting Phoenix one man down against the Blackhawks. Worse yet, they lost a key element of toughness and tenacity from the game, and I have to believe that head coach Dave Tippett expected more than just 30 seconds of work from Biz-Nasty tonight.

While I believe that Tippett may not bench Bissonnette for the mistake, Bissonnette has to be smarter than what he showed tonight. With the loss of Raffi Torres for what could be the rest of the playoffs, Bissonnette has a chance to step into the line-up and make himself a valuable addition to the roster by providing the toughness that the Coyotes lack. Instead, he excused himself from the game with his oversight and with 55 minutes left on the clock. I'm 100% sure that isn't what Tippett had in mind when Bissonnette's name was penciled onto the roster sheet.

Dave Tippett is a good coach, so I'm pretty sure he'll sit Paul Bissonnette down and explain to him why this sort of mistake can't happen again. I've never seen Tippett blame anyone for a loss, and the Coyotes did win against Chicago tonight, but I'm sure the coach wants more than one shift out of Bissonnette. Otherwise, what's the point in dressing him at all? And if that question is asked, why not just dress someone else who is willing to do the job?

Again, I'm not yet convinced that Bissonnette will be banished to the press box for this mistake, but you know that Tippett probably told him that, in no uncertain terms, his jersey had better be securely fastened to his pants if he wants to play again. Biz-Nasty isn't a dumb guy, so I'm sure he's already told the coach that this type of mistake won't happen again. But you have to wonder if his name will be on the roster sheet in Game Five.

I guess we'll see on Saturday!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Forever Young

I received a very interesting email from Zachary C. today. Zachary wanted me to check out a video about a lady that I'm assuming he knows. I'll explain how these two people may know each other below, but the lady to the left is the lady whose story Zachary wanted me to hear. Meet Diane Pieknik, a semi-retired, 65 year-old Farmington Hills, Michigan lady who loves the Detroit Red Wings and has recently began laying hockey herself. That's right: she took up hockey for the first time ever at 65 after being forced into retirement with the recent harsh economic times.

The reason Zachary emailed me is that he works as a TV Producer at Erickson Living, a collection of retirement communities found across America. Diane is a resident at one of the Michigan-based Erickson Living communities, and Zachary went out and filmed Diane's story.

Honestly, Diane's story is very inspirational for anyone at any age, and she truly lives life to its fullest. She plays on a hockey team called the Voodoo Dolls, a team of women over the age of 18 - people starting their adult lives while Diane is entering into retirement! Diane doesn't look out of place on the ice in the short clips of her on skates. Her favorite Red Wings player is Todd Bertuzzi because... well, I'll let Diane tell you why in her own words.
How cool is that? I'm totally impressed with Diane's positive attitude in life and how she's embraced the game with which she's recently fallen in love. The best part might be that she understands the game more when watching her beloved Red Wings, and I'm happy to hear that. It shows that she's not just content with being a player, but rather that she's a student of the game!

I'm not here to promote the linked website for the retired community for which Zachary works, but I will trumpet Diane's story. Regardless of where she lives, her video is inspiring and it brought a smile to my face in hearing how much joy the game of hockey has brought to her. Winning or losing matters to a point I'm sure, but Diane speaks with exuberance and excitement about hockey because she loves the game itself. That's the kind of joy that I wish I'd see more of when parents are bringing their kids through the minor hockey system - "just enjoy yourself"!

Well done, Diane! You have a fan in this blogger, and I wish you nothing but success in your future hockey endeavors! Here's hoping you can win a championship with the Voodoo Dolls before you truly "retire" from the game! And if you ever want to get your thoughts out on the game of hockey, Diane, HBIC would be honoured if you wrote a piece about your own hockey experiences, being a Red Wings fan, or any other hockey topic you wish to cover! Contact me if you like to write about the game, Diane!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Punish Stupidity Harshly

The image to the left was one of hope and potential as Raffi Torres stood on the stage in his new uniform, preparing to take the next step as a bonafide NHL player. He showed some excellent ability as a member of the OHL's Brampton Battalion, and it led to him being selected as the fifth overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. He could score, he could skate, he was gritty, and he could play physical - Torres literally had all the tools to play in the NHL as an effective player for a team. Today, some twelve years later, his ability is still there, but his effectiveness has definitely been called into question thanks to his history of injuring players with somewhat questionable hits.

Raffi Torres, in my view, has more hockey skill than another man he has been compared to in Matt Cooke. Both of these players lived on the edge when it came to their physical play, and neither would hesitate in taking the opportuity if given to lay out an opponent in any manner possible. I'm not suggesting that either Cooke or Torres intended to injure anyone with their devastating hits, but the end result was that players got hurt when these two men were on the ice and in the "zone".

Torres, as stated above, clearly has more hockey talent, but he seems to have forgotten about chipping in offensively and goes hunting for the next big hit. Simply put: he's a predator on the ice. Players have to be aware when Torres is on the ice in the same way that they had to be aware when Matt Cooke was on the ice. Cooke, however, had the book thrown at him by the NHL's disciplinarians and his team after his numerous indiscretions, and actually became a solid hockey player this season with his outburst of offence. He's still a gritty, physical player, but he has certainly toned down the headshots and elbows that frequently came with his physical play after the Penguins threatened to cut him loose if he didn't clean up his play. As a result, Cooke is a now an asset for the Penguins rather than a liability because he scores as well as plays physically within the clearly-defined rules.

The otehr side of the coin is where the old Matt Cooke resides and where Raffi Torres currently plays. His respect for the health of other players is nil. Contact with the head on any checks has been outlawed for some time now, yet Torres continues to play on the wrong side of the established line in the sand. Case in point? Tonight's hit on Marian Hossa that saw Hossa leave the United Center on a stretcher.

I have read a number of reports that have said that Torres' hit was a "good hockey hit" and that he "didn't make contact with the head" as the media have been stressing. I'm pretty sure that the people writing these phrases are either blind or incompetent. And no, I won't mince words when it comes to this because you have to be stupid to say that Torres made no contact with the head.

If you watch the end of that video, check out how Hossa's head snaps to the left when Torres leaves his feet to deliver the high hit. That, readers, is what you call "contact with the head". That, readers, is exactly the kind of hit that Torres has become known for and why he deserves to be punished harshly. That, readers, is why Torres is looking at a lengthy suspension.

It's not like this is the first time that Torres will appear in front of the NHL Player Safety Department either. One year to the day, Raffi Torres threw this devastating head-check on Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
Again, if you call that a "good hockey hit", you need your bell rung. That was a shoulder to the head as clear as day. A player's head doesn't snap back the way that Seabrook's head did if Torres had caught him shoulder to chest. While Torres was not suspended by the NHL for this hit as the NHL's Hockey Operations department said that the rule did not violate Rule 48 due to the area behind the net being designated as a "hitting area", the Hockey Operations department certainly was already aware of Torres' penchant for devastating head-checks.

Before throwing the hit on Seabrook, Torres had been sitting at home as punishment for another indiscretion with his physical play. The NHL had already suspended Torres on April 5, 2011 for this vicious head-check on Edmonton's Jordan Eberle.
Torres received a four-game vacation for that hit that was unmistakably a check to the head of Eberle. Some will say that it's Eberle's responsibility to know who is on the ice at any time, but the blame, if you want to assign some, is 50/50. The hitter is just as responsible for how he throws a check as the recipient is for absorbing the check. If you catch a player's head with your elbow or shoulder, you're just as much to blame, if not more, as the player you're hitting in terms of put their safety at risk.

Pass It To Bulis, a fabulous Canucks blog, wrote in a November 19, 2010 article, "Don't ever change, Raffi, don't ever change." While the context in which PITB used this sentence is entirely different than my own, I think that he has to change his ways immediately. He's giving up a lot of money through his various suspensions, and he certainly isn't endearing himself to his fellow players with his constant dangerous play.

Torres seems to target the head of opposing players with regularity. Here he is from December 28, 2011 where he delivers a clear check to Andrew Ference's head while both players are pursuing the loose puck in the corner.
Some will say that this sort of contact happens all the time in puck pursuits, and I can believe that there is contact between the players. But Torres clearly goes after Ference's head once again with this check. If you truly believe that Torres is snake-bitten to the point that he simply is always in the midst of throwing a check when a guy sticks his head in the way, I have much swampland in Florida to sell you.

Phoenix hit the road after hosting Boston, and Torres was in the line-up as he wasn't punished for the Ference hit. So what does he do? He goes out and scrambles the brain of Colorado's Jan Hejda one night later.
I won't clear Hejda in this one completely as he appears to be anticipating a hit coming, but the puck is long gone by the time Torres is on Hejda. Some have said that Torres was simply trying to finish his check, but I'm calling bee-ess on that. Hejda is 100-feet from the play by the time Torres hits him, and Torres doesn't let up. While Hejda is partly to blame for dropping to a knee, why isn't Torres holding up on this hit? What makes it worse is that Torres' shift is over, and he heads directly to the bench after throwing this hit. He didn't have to finish his check in this case - someone else was coming onto the ice to pick up Hejda! Instead, he throws a check where his elbow catches the head of Hejda, and Hedja is crumpled in the corner. Even if Hejda had stayed on his feet, Torres was aiming for his head with his shoulder through his body position. That, readers, is sickening. Torres? He skated away with nothing more than a $2500 fine.

With no suspension coming on either play, though, Torres must have thought he could deliver another devastating hit since he got away with two in two days. Just two days later, on New Year's Eve against the Minnesota Wild, Nate Prosser is the next victim of a head-check. This time, however, Brendan Shanahan hands Torres a two-game break as he's suspended for his reckless play.
In the span of less than a week, Torres made deliberate and intentional contact with the heads of three different players. His history speaks of how he targets heads with his checks, and we have three separate incidents in three games within five days that show that Torres is a head-hunter.

Watch this "check" that he throws on Philly's Sean Couturier on December 3, 2011. Couturier is looking down for the puck, and Torres' shoulder goes up towards Couturier's head as Torres looks to exact revenge on Couturier's near-miss on Torres' head.
If there is any doubt that the head-check is a weapon of choice for Raffi Torres not only this season, but in his career, I'm not sure how much more proof one needs. There are better ways to react to Couturier's hit where it barely missed Torres' head, but Torres threw the shoulder upward at Couturier's face when he was looking for the puck in his feet. That's blatent, that's intentional, and that's dirty.

Want more? Here's a November 2, 2011 game between Phoenix and Colorado in Denver where Torres takes a run at Joakim Lindstrom in the corner. Check out the upward motion of his shoulder as he lays into Lindstrom.
If you've been keeping tabs, that's five attempts to scramble someone's brain in two months. These aren't just unfortunate circumstances; they are checks that are meant to hurt his opponent, and they target an area of the body of which everyone has become much more protective. When will someone put an end to Torres' reign of terror?

Some people have said to me in my moments of exasperation while watching Torres that "he's a little guy so he has to check upwards to knock guys over". The problem with that line of thought is that it is illegal to leave one's feet while throwing a check, and Torres isn't such "a little guy". He's 6'0" tall and weighs approximately 225 lbs., making him more of a wrecking ball on skates than a "little guy". He generates enough momentum when he skates that his checks will hurt regardless of how he throws them. He's a good-sized player, but he doesn't seem to understand how to throw a check properly. And when he does try to check a taller player, he almost always leaves his feet when throwing the check. Watch Torres launch himself into Max Pacioretty's face from a February 22, 2011 game.
Here's a tip: if you see a player launch himself upwards into the face of another player and the recipient of the hit loses his helmet, his head was the target. Guaranteed. No questions asked. So don't try and rationalize the fact that Torres is one of the NHL's all-time dirtiest players despite him being "a little guy". That's a load of horse poop.

Want to send a message? Shanahan should hand out the same suspension he gave to Matt Cooke for his play: a 10-game suspension starting next season and any additional playoff games that the Coyotes are in. Heck, give him 25 games (plus the rest of the playoffs) like Philly's Jesse Boulerice got for cross-checking Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in the face. Hand him a 20-game suspension (plus the playoffs) like Philly's Steve Downie got when he threw a nasty head-check on Ottawa's Dean McCammond in 2007. The NHLPA should have nothing but support for the NHL in Torres' upcoming meeting with Shanahan because Torres has been hurting the members of the NHLPA for too long with little repercussion. If the union isn't going to protect its members rather than one person, maybe let the NHLPA lawyers square off with Torres in a checking contest for a while.

I can't present any more evidence than what is above about the reign of terror that Torres has cut through the NHL and the members of the NHLPA. Hossa, Ference, Hejda, Prosser, Pacioretty, Williams, Milan Michaluk, Seabrook... all names of players who have suffered some sort of crushing blow to the skull from Torres, and six of those players within the last calendar year. That's not a track record - that's a pathology.

If this type of behavior has become pathological in Torres, he made need more than just time away from the game.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!