Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 30 June 2012

American Eagle Senators?

Way back in the 1930s, there was significant movement in the NHL as the Great Depression hit some NHL teams hard. There were a few of the Original Six teams that suffered through some dry spells, but a few teams were hit very hard and were forced to relocate or fold entirely. Today, HBIC wants to take a look at a story that was developing in 1933 when it appeared that one Canadian team would make one American team stronger by merging with it. However, the story that played out in history is entirely different than what was being tossed about in the newspapers, but the idea was pretty grandiose.

December 7, 1933 saw a major story published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the Ottawa Senators' players would be playing to keep jobs as a potential merger was on the horizon between the Senators and another struggling franchise in the New York Americans. In reading through the info, both clubs denied that a merger was on the horizon, and NHL President Frank Calder also dismissed the rumors.

There had to be some truth to the rumors, though. After all, how would a story like this come to light if it hadn't at least been discussed by someone in the know?

Well, it seems that the Americans, led by Frank Patrick, had tried to purchase some of the Senators' players in an effort to improve their team while shoring up Ottawa's bottom line, according to Americans' secretary Marty Schenker. Ottawa representative William McIntyre suggested differently, though, stating that the club was "doing very nicely at present". It seems that the Board of Governors meeting that happened earlier that week was doing nothing to help the press get a true story out.

The following day saw a story published in The Montreal Gazette that had Senators owner Frank Ahearn denying the merger outright, telling his players that the "reports were groundless" and that the team would remain as part of the NHL. The ticket booth, as the story states, saw the sold-out sign go back up after the Senators defeated the Bruins, and, following Ahearn's announcement, the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. If the team needed a cash infusion, winning games certainly helps at the ticket window for a little extra money.

December 11, 1933 saw another blow to a merger as the Senators made their win streak a three-game streak. St. Petersburg's The Independent reports that the win on December 10 over the Americans, combined with the Montreal Maroons' loss to the Detroit, helped Ottawa leap past the Maroons into third-place in the Canadian Division. The win over the Americans kept the New York-based team in last-place while the Senators moved within three points of the second-place Montreal Canadiens. Could the Senators keep the good karma rolling?

The Independent picked up the race between the Maroons and Senators as they battled for third-place just ten days later. Obviously, the Senators had not caught the Canadiens, and the fortunes of the Maroons must have picked up if they were battling the Senators for third-place with just a point separating the two clubs. Yet the merger talk seems to have died down. Maybe it was just a way of getting some inspired play out of the 1933 Senators?

If it was inspirational, it seemed that nothing really came of it as the Senators continued to drop games. After reaching third-place with a 5-7-0 record on December 11, the Senators were left reeling as they went 3-12-5 in their next twenty games to drop them to last-place in the Canadian Division by February 5, 1934. Worst of all, they were looking up at the New York Americans, four points ahead of them in the standings. Would the merger talks begin to heat up again for the worst two teams in the NHL?

By March 3, the Senators' season was nearly over. One month of play in which the Senators needed to make up some ground on the teams in front of them saw the team go 3-6-0 to essentially kill any chance of the team making the playoffs. Worse yet, the attendance at Senators games was dismal. Poor attendance combined with a bad team in difficult economic times is the best way to see a club moved.

One month later, the teams' poor play, poor attendance, and poor financial situation had caused some dominoes to fall as the Ottawa Senators would be no more come the start of the 1934-35 NHL season. On April 2, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix stating that the team would relocate to either Chicago or St. Louis for the upcoming season. Owner Frank Ahearn had no comment, but the NHL seemed to indicate that the arena in St. Louis would be the more suitable place to relocate the franchise based upon the quality of the arena.

I will say that Frank Ahearn was right: there would be no merger as the team simply would leave Ottawa. Whether they ended up in Chicago as the Windy City's second NHL team or in St. Louis would be decided in the weeks to come.

Nine days later, the American Hockey Association made a statement that they will not deny the move of the Senators to St. Louis if compensated for the loss of the territory. While there could be some negotiating with the Black Hawks if the Senators were to move to Chicago, the move to St. Louis now only has one obstacle: money. If the NHL intends to move the team to St. Louis, they have no opposition to prevent them from moving into the American midwest.

June 15, 1934 was one of the last days that the Senators would exist in Ottawa for a long time. The Calgary Daily Herald published the headline that the deal to send the Ottawa Senators to St. Louis was "as good as closed". Indeed, the St. Louis Eagles would take flight the following year as the Senators closed up shop for good in their first iteration.

While the team saw its success in December fend off a merger with the New York Americans, poor play and poor attendance continued to plague this club in its latter days. While the team recorded 17 years of play in the NHL, it wouldn't last beyond 1934 as the team officially moved to St. Louis.

Hockey history is always cool, and I really think this story about the first version of the Senators is pretty neat. The denials issued by both the Senators and Americans of a merger were indeed true, but the writing was on the wall for the struggling Senators. And now you know how the St. Louis Eagles came to be part of the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Power Of Zero

I received an email from Paul Lukas, author of the excellent Uni Watch blog, asking me about NHL players who wore #0 or #00. Normally, there would be discussion about John Davidson and Martin Biron, but Paul actually wanted to know all of the players who wore either #0 or #00 and why they chose such an odd number. Honestly, I had never given much thought as to why the players chose those numbers, so that was a challenge I accepted wholeheartedly as I thought it might be a good way to find out some interesting reasons why a player would be a zero (not literally). Here are the stories of the five men who donned #0 or #00 in the NHL or the WHA.

From Paul's June 22nd article, "NHL/WHA: Paul Bibeault, Canadiens; Martin Biron, Sabres*; John Davidson, Rangers*; Bernie Parent, Blazers; Neil Sheehy, Whalers. (Special thanks to Teebz for his help with these.)"

Let's start with the man who first donned a singular zero in competition, Paul Bibeault. Bibeault was a backup goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens in 1940. The only problem is that there were no official backup goalies at that time, so Bibeault never actually was assigned a number at the start of the season. However, poor play by and injuries to starter Bert Gardiner led to Bibeault getting a couple of starts. By the start of 1941, Bibeault had taken the starter's role.

The issue, of course, was that players who weren't on the official roster could assigned any number that was available. Bibeault was given #0 in one of the games, and he was recorded as the first player in the NHL to have worn the number. He also had worn #1 and #16 in games, so it's not like #0 was his designated number, but he was the first. He wouldn't be the last, however.

The next player to be a zero was actually in the WHA. Bernie Parent made the jump over to the Philadelphia Blazers for a richer payday, and he needed to choose a number with his new team. It was actually Parent who made the joke about his number, saying, "Every time a puck gets past me and I look back in my net, I say 'Oh,oh'". And from there, Bernie Parent served as #00 while with the Blazers.

From Parent, we skip ahead to John Davidson and his time with the New York Rangers. Davidson didn't actually want to wear #00, but he became the first player in NHL history to do so because of Phil Esposito. He told Scott Morrison, "The reason I wore it was because of Phil Esposito. When he got traded to the Rangers, he wanted number seven but Rod Gilbert had it. Phil asked me if I would wear 00 because he was going to wear 77 and at the time double digits were rare. Later on, when Ken Hodge got traded he wore 88 because Steve Vickers had eight.

"I was a naive kid, 21 years old at the time, and I agreed to do it for him. Phil was the most superstitious player I ever met. In his dressing room stall he had all kinds of stuff hanging in there for good luck. But he wanted someone to help him transition to the new number and I was the guy."

The next person to show up with a donut on his back was Neil Sheehy in his time with the Hartford Whalers. Sheehy only spent 26 games in Hartford as #0, but his story is perhaps the funniest reason as to how he became a zero. Before Calgary traded him to Hartford, he had been assigned to the Moncton Golden Hawks in the AHL where he wore #0! Sheehy told Scott Morrison,
"When I was with Calgary I had two games to go before my contract became a one-way contract. Calgary was on an eight-game losing streak and I got called into Cliff Fletcher's office and told I was being sent to the minors. That team was going to play four games in four nights on the road, what a treat.

"Terry Crisp was coaching the minor-league team at the time. When I got there, the trainer had a jersey with number 0 on it and he asked me what number I wanted. I said whatever, it didn't matter. He said would you do me a favour and wear this, number 0. I laughed and said absolutely. Crisp came in a few minutes later and said you're not going to wear that are you, and I said, sure. He laughed and said great, 'that's why I love you...'.

"So I wore it in the minors for four games. I got traded to Hartford in 1988 and when I got there I wanted number 5 because I had worn it before but it was taken. I had worn 15 before and it was taken. My first time in the minors I wore 21, but it was taken. So I asked the general manager, Emile Francis, if I could wear number 0. He looked at me funny and laughed, but I told him I wore it in the minors, Crispy loved it, and Emile said 'why not?'

"When people asked me why I wore it I had some fun with it. I would tell them it was the furthest number from 99 and talent-wise I'm furthest from Wayne Gretzky, but just remember opposites attract. At the time, the Battle of Alberta was pretty intense and my job was to play against Gretzky a lot of the time.

"I also told people I wanted to get the 'O' back in my name for O'Sheehy, my Irish ancestors. The truth is, in Ireland our name was MacSheehy. I just tried to have some fun with it. Fans used to yell at me, 'Is zero your IQ?' then somebody would say, 'Hey, this guy went to Harvard you know.' It was hilarious."
Pretty cool story, right? Essentially, he just took #0 because the trainer in Hartford asked him to wear it. How often would a player do that today?

Finally, the last player to have officially worn either #0 or #00 before the NHL outlawed it was Buffalo's Martin Biron. Biron was quoted on the Islanders website regarding his story. Biron got called up for three games in '95-96, and he took his number that he wore in Rochester and with the QMJHL Beauport Harfangs ("Snow Owls"). He said, "Its kind of a long story but when I played junior and in the AHL with Rochester, I wore #00. Even in my first NHL game with the Sabres, I wore #00 but the NHL made a rule at the start of the 1998-99 season to disallow the number. I had the choice of changing to #1 but hated that. My brother at the time was playing for Shawinigan in the QMJHL and wore #34 which someone already had in Buffalo so I flipped the numbers and got #43."

There are your five men who wore #0 or #00, and all but one are goaltenders. Neil Sheehy, who is now a player agent, gets the distinction of being the only non-goaltender in NHL history to have worn either #0 or #00 on the ice in an NHL game. Pretty cool topic if you ask me, and thank you to Paul Lukas for prompting me to do a little research on the topic!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Paul In The Hall?

There aren't many issues in hockey that can divide a country. We can look at examples like Marc Crawford keeping Gretzky on the bench in the shootout in the 1998 Olympic Games, but it's not like that moment defined either person's hockey career nor did it tarnish Hockey Canada's legacy in any significant way. However, there is one player who essentially became a household name due to his success on the international scene, and there is always a debate over whether or not he deserves to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame because of this one defining moment. Paul Henderson was a good NHL player and he certainly scored more than a few goals during his time, but his moment will always be defined by his most famous goal in 1972.

I received an email from Sun Media today with a video clip attached. I'm going to post the video clip below. I think it needs to be seen before I get involved in the debate. Here is the clip from Menzoid Mornings, starring David Menzies, regarding his push to get Paul Henderson into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Everything that Mr. Menzies said in his piece is true. Henderson did score the winning goals in Games Six and Seven of the Summit Series, and he certainly will be remembered for his goal in Game Eight of that series. He played in five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, seven seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, two seasons with the WHA's Toronto Toros, another three seasons with the WHA's Birmingham Bulls before ending his career after a 30-game stint with the Atlanta Flames. Henderson's career was long, but hardly illustrious if you remove his biggest hockey moment. And I think that's why he doesn't deserve to be part of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I'm not here to rain on Mr. Henderson's career or achievements. The man was a legitimate NHL player who seized the opportunity to become immortal when it was presented. I have no ill will towards Mr. Henderson, and, having met him, I know he's a genuine, caring, and warm individual. The news of him battling leukemia is horrible, and I want him to win in that battle because the man is a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

But the Hockey Hall of Fame still inducts jerks of all kinds. If Harold Ballard can get into the Hockey Hall of Fame, you have to know that the criteria doesn't include a "goodwill towards man" section. Instead, the criteria places merit on achievements, and Mr. Henderson's greatest achievement lasted for, at best, three games in 1972. Again, he was a very capable NHL winger, but he just didn't have the numbers or accolades to make him a Hall of Fame player - a fact that lots of players deal with year after year.

His best season for goals was 1971-72 while with the Leafs when he notched 38. His best season for points came in 1970-71 while with the Leafs when he scored 60. He appeared in two All-Star Games - '71-72 and '72-73 - but only appeared in 1067 professional hockey games. In 707 NHL games, he recorded 236 goals and 241 assists for 477 points - hardly numbers that are worthy of a Hall of Fame induction at any point.

If we consider the three-year period of wait time after retirement, the first year that Henderson could have been inducted would have been 1983. The men inducted that year? Ken Dryden, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita. None of those players should have been left out of the Hall of Fame in place of Henderson when you consider their careers as a whole.

There aren't many players who scored less NHL points than Henderson that are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are examples of men who have, though. Woody "Porky" Dumart, who played from 1935-1954 with the Boston Bruins, scored 211 goals and 218 assists for 429 points in 772 games, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992. But Dumart helped the Bruins to two Stanley Cups in 1939 and 1941, was named as All-Star in 1940, 1941, and 1947, and he missed four years of his NHL career serving in World War II with Canada. His achievements alone are more notable than Henderson's, and I believe that his induction is more warranted than Henderson at this time.

Another player, Edgar Laprade, played 500 NHL games and scored 280 points in a 10-year career with the New York Rangers. He was inducted in 1993, and those numbers may raise some eyebrows. However, Laprade helped the Port Arthur Bearcats win the Allan Cup in 1939-40, was named the Calder Trophy winner with the Rangers in 1945-46, played in four All-Star Games from 1947-1950, and won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1949-50. Again, Henderson's list of achievements pales in comparison to Laprade's despite Henderson scoring more points in his NHL career.

Since 1983, there aren't a lot of players who have been inducted that could be included in the debate about Henderson not being inducted. Each of the players have historically been better than Henderson in terms of their achievements. While Henderson's achievement is a massive accomplishment in terms of Canadian hockey history, it doesn't really resonate with the rest of the world that way. And since the Hockey Hall of Fame deals with hockey in a broad, general sense, the fact that Henderson's goal was a massive accomplishment in Canadian history just isn't that important to Americans, Swedes, Finns, or even Russians.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has an exhibit dedicated to the 1972 Summit Series where Paul Henderson's goal is a prominent highlight. That's precisely where it should be featured because his hockey career, as a whole, isn't worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. In fact, there are other sites who agree that his accomplishments in hockey aren't Hall-worthy either.

Mr. Menzies can insult female hockey players who put the game on the map and made it an Olympic sport, and he can try and sway the public with his passionate plea for Henderson's inclusion based on one goal (or three, depending on how you look at it). But the accomplishments over a career for Henderson make him an outsider, and Mr. Menzies says it himself when he states, "Henderson's NHL and WHA career statistics (he played from 1962 to 1981) won't make Wayne Gretzky green with envy. But who cares about those games?"

I'll tell you who does: the Hockey Hall of Fame. And I commend them for holding true to a standard that doesn't sway to the public opinion of an outspoken Canadian.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

KHL Schedule Announced

It seems odd that an ice hockey league would announce its upcoming schedule in detail before the end of June, but the KHL has come out with its schedule for the 2012-13 season today. If the CBA negotiations break down in the NHL, this schedule could become very important to hockey fans needing their fix of the fastest team game on the planet. That being said, let's take a look at the highlights that we should expect in the upcoming season.

Before we begin, it sounds like the KHL experienced a few scheduling problems this year in planning out their season. KHL Hockey Operations Vice-President Vladimir Shalaev said, "[H]ardly any of the clubs in the KHL own their home arenas. Lev of Prague, for instance, has notified us of 39 days on which the rink is unavailable for home games during the coming season. We also sympathize with Salavat Yulaev, who will have a long and arduous spell on the road during the winter while Ufa hosts the 2013 World Junior Championships. The team is also due to play on New Year's Eve in the Spengler Cup."

Despite Mr. Shalaev's complaints about the scheduling in certain arenas, the 2012-13 KHL season will feature the following highlights this year.

The opening night of the KHL's newest season will begin on September 4 in Moscow as last year's finalists - Dynamo Moscow and Avangard Omsk - will meet for the Lokomotiv Cup in memory of the tragedy that occurred last season. As you may remember, Dynamo Moscow won the Gagarin Cup last season, so they'll be looking to add another piece of hardware to their trophy case.

In memory of their fallen comrades, the KHL has declared that no games be played on September 7. September 7, 2012 marks the first anniversary of hockey's worst tragedy in the game's history, and I commend the KHL for this move. The loss of the players and coaching staff of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv last season should never be forgotten as 45 people had their lives and the lives of their families torn apart by this tragedy. Good on the KHL for recognizing the gravity of the situation.

The fifth KHL All-Star Game will take place on January 12 and 13 in Chelyabinsk. Home to Traktor Chelyabinsk, the city's 1.13 million people will get a chance to see the KHL's best players compete in the annual KHL Skills Competition before the KHL All-Star Game as well. The two captains have yet to be announced, but expect Sandis Ozolinsh and Sergei Fedorov to remain as the figureheads for the two teams as they were last season. Just as a note, Chelyabinsk is approximately 1750km east of Moscow - a 23-hour drive on the M7 - for those that are looking to attend the game this season. PLan your travels accordingly!

One week after the KHL All-Star Game, the KHL lands in North America as there will be two games played in the brand-new Barclay's Center in New York City. The borough of Brooklyn will welcome reigning KHL champion Dynamo Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg to the new arena in two games being played on January 19 and 20. More details surrounding the events associated with these games will be announced as these dates near.

The season will run 52 games for each team. The final games will be played on February 17 with the Gagarin Cup Playoffs beginning on February 20. Each playoff round will be a seven-game series, and the final game of the Gagarin Cup Final has been marked as April 19, 2013.

Each team will play against every other team twice – once at home and once as the visitors. There will be an additional pair of games, one at home and one on the road, between the following pairings:
  • Ak Bars – Salavat Yulaev
  • Amur – Atlant
  • Barys – Avangard
  • CSKA – Spartak
  • Dinamo Riga – Dinamo Minsk
  • Dynamo Moscow – SKA
  • Lev – Slovan
  • Lokomotiv – Severstal
  • Metallurg Magnitogorsk – Traktor
  • Metallurg Novokuznetsk – Sibir
  • Torpedo – Neftekhimik
  • Vityaz – Donbass
  • Yugra – Avtomobilist
We'll see a few new teams this season as well. Lev Prague of the Czech Republic, Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia, and Donbass Donetsk will join Vityaz Chekhov, Dynamo Moscow, Dinamo Riga, and SKA St. Petersburg in the Bobrov Division in the Western Conference. The other three divisions will remain as they were this past season, and the KHL will have 26 teams once again. The Western Conference will have 14 teams playing this season while the Eastern Conference will have 12 teams.

There are your outlined highlights. The regular season schedule can be downloaded in Adobe format here if you'd like a hard-copy. Personally, I'm excited to see the new teams in action in the KHL, and I want to see if Dynamo Moscow can successfully defend their title this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Veteran Scorer Returns?

A little piece of news floated by my desk today, and it could be an excellent opportunity for the Winnipeg Jets to bring back one of their own while acquiring a decent scoring winger who can add some veteran leadership to the locker room. Shane Doan, currently of the Coyotes, has indicated that he will be testing the free agent waters come July 1, and this is exactly the kind of player that I think could help the Jets take the next step as they push for a playoff spot this season. And let's not forget that is one of three players from the original Jets team still playing in the NHL!

That fact aside, bringing in a player of Doan's calibre probably won't come cheap. Doan is a fantastic leader, a solid scoring winger, and an excellent person off the ice who gives his time freely to a number of charitable causes. He would be welcomed almost immediately by Winnipeg fans, in my opinion, due to his past history with the city and because of how he plays the game. He's a blue-collar kind of guy, something that Winnipeg fans love, and his style of play and work ethic would be a welcomed sigh on MTS Centre ice.

The keys for Doan, however, would money and location. I'm almost certain Doan should be playing as a second-line winger at worst, but that may impact the development of some of the Jets' youngsters. And with Doan having earned $4.5 million per season in his last contract, would he be willing to sign in Winnipeg for less? I'm not sure I'd be willing to jump from the warmth of Phoenix to a team that may not make the playoffs for less money just because it's Winnipeg.

His family is also a major piece of the puzzle as his family is from the Phoenix area. His kids were born there, and they'd have to be uprooted and moved to Winnipeg for the upcoming season if Doan were to sign long-term in Winnipeg. While moving isn't a huge hurdle for NHL families to overcome, it's always difficult for kids to move and start over.

However, the issue with the ownership of the Coyotes and the budgetary limits place upon the team seem to be weighing on Doan after 15 years in the desert.

"They have been unbelievably open and honest and great with me and I can't say enough about how good they've been," Doan told radio station Arizona Sports 620. "And yet their hands are so tied with the whole stumbling block that keeps popping up with the team, and that is frustrating. I'd love for it to be the whole time in Phoenix. I've made no bones about that. I've really enjoyed my time here and like it here and this is where my family is from and it's what we want to do.

"But at the same time, it's such a unique and difficult situation."

Selling Doan on Winnipeg may be difficult as well as there may be a number of suitors vying for Doan's services this season. Pittsburgh is in the market for a winger for Crosby, and Doan would be considerably cheaper than Zach Parise, but it remains to be seen if Doan is even on Pittsburgh's radar. Toronto message boards seem to think that Doan would be a great fit for the Leafs, but there is talk that Doan could be signed by Dallas if Brendan Morrow is truly available in a trade. The Rangers were kicking tires when it came to Keith Yandle, but reports suggest that there is also some interest in Doan as well for the right price.

Needless to say, Shane Doan is a warrior that any team would probably love to have. The nostalgia of Doan returning to Winnipeg is enticing, however, and I'm hoping that Kevin Cheveldayoff pitches him an offer just to see if there is interest from Doan in returning to Winnipeg. He'd be a welcomed addition to the young Jets squad, and he'd certainly be appreciated by Winnipeg fans if he were to return.

Who knows? If the Jets can sign Doan, maybe they can convince Teemu Selanne to come back to Winnipeg as well?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pave-Locked In

Jets fans can breathe a sigh of relief as the Jets' MVP from last season will remain with the team, barring a trade, for a long time. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff repeatedly stated at the NHL Entry Draft that he was working on a deal to get Ondrej Pavelec back into the fold, but a rumor of an offer from a KHL team seemed to put a wrinkle into the negotiations. However, all of those rumors were squashed today when Ondrej Pavelec signed a five-year deal worth a reported $19.5 million.

Honestly, I was a little worried at Cheveldayoff's strategy at first. He had Pavelec, an RFA, asking for approximately $4 million per season after last year's outstanding campaign, yet he had hadn't closed that deal. He has Chris Mason going to free agency, and it appears Mason may not be re-signed due to his age. He also traded a conditional draft pick to the Maple Leafs for the right to negotiate with Jonas Gustavsson, but there's no telling whether the UFA will sign with the Jets to be Pavelec's backup this season.

"I'm assuming we'll talk early this week and see what their plans are," Gustavsson's agent, Joe Resnick, said to the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe in a telephone interview on Sunday. "At the draft, we didn’t really have an opportunity to talk. There was too much activity going on. To be honest, I don't know what their intentions are."

The good news is that Pavelec will be with the Jets for the foreseeable future, and that stabilizes a position that could have been a serious weakness for the Jets had Pavelec decided to sign elsewhere. While Pavelec may not be a Vezina candidate just yet, he does provide very reliable goaltending behind a somewhat-shaky defence corps, and that has to make fans happy. Pavelec was clearly the best player on the ice in a lot of the Jets games last season, so locking him up might be the best move made by Cheveldayoff in a long time.

"You always want to stay as long as you can in a city you like," Pavelec said to The Canadian Press by phone from his native Czech Republic. "It's something I was looking for. It was easy to sign a five-year deal that's for sure."

It's nice to hear a player like Pavelec say that he wants to remain in Winnipeg. After hearing the complaints about playing in markets such as Edmonton and Winnipeg, getting a quality young player to sign without hesitation is a great gesture from Pavelec about the city and its fans. The fans, of course, showered him with praise last season, and I suspect that will continue going forward now that he's locked into his contract.

The deal offered by Cheveldayoff works for the Jets' budget as they allow their younger players to develop. Having Pavelec in the nets for the next five years allows the Jets a nice window to keep their momentum going. This is a deal that seemingly works well for both sides.

Now, we can only hope the CBA negotiations proceed like this negotiation did.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

From Moscow Until Now

We last looked at the field hockey events that took place before 1980. With the Summer Olympic Games in 1980 taking place in Moscow, Russia, there was a significant change in the field hockey event as the women began play as part of the Olympic Games. We saw how India and Pakistan dominated all of the Olympic Games before 1980, and there are three countries who began to establish their dominance at the Olympics in field hockey. Today, we look at the 1980 Olympic Games until the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Games in Moscow were a celebration of the Soviet Union, and the men also made a run at a gold medal in the field hockey event. Spain finished atop the standings at 4-0-1 while India finished second at 3-0-2. The Soviet Union finished 3-2-0 to end up third while Poland captured fourth-place with a 2-2-1 record. That set up a bronze medal match between the USSR and Poland, and the Soviet Union captured its first medal in field hockey with a 2-1 win over Poland. India and Spain squared off in the gold medal match, and India returned to the top of the podium with a 4-3 win.

The women participated for the first time, and it was a one-round, winner-take-all format. The six countries participating were Austria, Czechoslovakia, India, Poland, USSR, and Zimbabwe. India opened the tournament with two wins over Austria and Poland, giving them the early edge. Zimbabwe, however, downed Poland 4-0 and tied Czechoslovakia to find themselves slightly behind. The third draw saw the standings swing, though, as Czechoslovakia downed India while Zimbabwe beat the USSR. India and Zimbabwe tied in the fourth draw, and both the USSR and Czechoslavakia won to create a bunch of win-loss scenarios for Zimbabwe, India, Czechslovakia, and USSR for the three medals. The three winning teams would medal, though, so it was imperative to win. The early game in the fifth draw saw Czechoslovakia beat Poland to put them into medal contention. The afternoon draw saw Zimbabwe down Austria to move them into gold medal contention. In the evening game, the USSR beat India to knock them out of the medals, leaving Zimbabwe with gold at 3-0-2, Czechoslovakia with silver at 3-1-1, and the USSR with bronze at 3-2-0.

The 1984 Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, and there was a return to the podium for another men's team. Pool A saw Australia win with 5-0-0 record and West Germany come runner-up with a 3-1-1 record. Pool B was won by Great Britain with a 4-0-1 record while Pakistan finished second with a 2-0-3 record. In the semi-finals, Pakistan overcame Australia by a 1-0 score while West Germany downed Great Britain by the same 1-0 score. Great Britain would capture the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Australia. After falling behind 1-0, Pakistan would rally to tie the game with West Germany before scoring the winner at the 82nd minute in extra time to capture the gold medal.

The women saw six teams participate again: Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the USA. There aren't many results to be found regarding this event on the Internet, but I can tell you that the Netherlands earned the gold medal, West Germany earned the silver medal, and the United States won the bronze medal. For the second straight year, a country took home medals in both events of the same color.

Seoul, South Korea was the site of the 1988 Summer Olympics, and twelve men's teams took part in the event. Pool A was won by Australia with a 5-0-0 record while the Netherlands finished second with a 3-1-1 record. Pool B saw Germany advance as the top team with a 4-0-1 record while Great Britain captured second-place with a 3-1-1 record. Germany squared off with the Netherlands in the first semi-final, and the Germans got past the Dutch squad with a 2-1 win. Great Britain and Australia played in the other semi-final, and a Sean Kerly three-goal day pushed Great Britain past Australia by a 3-2 score. The bronze medal match pitted the Netherlands against Australia, and a couple of goals by Floris Jan Bovelander was enough for the Netherlands to take the bronze by a 2-1 score. Great Britain and Germany played for gold, and Great Britain jumped on the Germans early and often. Great Britain picked up the gold medal in 1988 by downing Germany 3-1 in the final.

Again, there seems to be a gap in the information about the '88 Games because there are no records that I can find of how the women's tournament shook down. I can tell you that Australia captured the gold medal, Korea did their country proud in winning the silver medal, and the Netherlands prevailed over Great Britain for the bronze medal. Here's hoping that we get more detailed results as we move into a new decade.

Barcelona, Spain hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, and we're starting to see trends develop. Pool A in the men's tournament had Australia and Germany advance to the semi-finals while Pool B advanced both Pakistan and the Netherlands. Australia would get by the Netherlands with a 3-2 victory while Germany downed Pakistan in the other semi-final by a 2-1 score. Pakistan and the Netherlands filled the nets, but Pakistan would outlast the Dutch in a 4-3 bronze medal win. In the final, Germany and Australia would battle in a close match, but the Germans would emerge as the gold medalists with a 3-1 win in Barcelona.

The women's side saw eight teams participate, and they were broken into two pools. Pool A had Germany and Spain advance while Pool B saw Korea and Great Britain move on. Germany would down Great Britain in the first semi-final game on a 2-1 score while Spain would down Korea by the same 2-1 score. That set Great Britain up for another potential bronze medal, and they would bring home a medal with a 4-3 win over Korea. In the final, the host Spanish team was clearly cheered on by their countrymen, and they knocked Germany off by a 2-1 score to capture the gold medal!

We jump ahead to 1996 where the Olympic Games were held in Atlanta. There were high hopes for a number of nations from the western hemisphere after some impressive showings at the Pan-American Games in 1995, but the final results would look familiar once again. On the men's side, Pool A advanced Spain and Germany while Pool B would send the Netherlands and Australia to the semi-finals. Spain would lock horns with Australia, and the Spaniards would emerge victorious with a 2-1 win. The Netherlands showed their skill by jumping out to a 3-0 lead before the Germans notched a goal, but it was far too late as the Dutch downed the Germans 3-1. Germany, after falling behind early, scored two goals four minutes apart, but the Australians had other plans. Two late goals gave way to a 3-2 victory, and the Aussies would claim the bronze medal. The gold medal game saw Spain open the scoring, but three straight goals by the Netherlands 15 minutes apart put the game out of reach as the Netherlands would capture gold in Atlanta.

The women's side had eight nations participating once again, and they would play a round-robin format amongst the eight teams with the top-two teams in the standings squaring off for the gold medal, and third- and fourth-place meeting for the bronze medal. After seven games, the Netherlands and Great Britain would finish in third- and fourth-place, respectively, and the gold medal would go to one of Australia or Korea. In the bronze medal match, the Dutch and British played right through extra time without a goal, so penalty strokes would be needed. The Netherlands would push four penalty strokes to the back of the net to the Britons' three strokes, giving them the bronze medal! In the final, Australia overpowered the Koreans in a 3-1 victory that saw Alyson Annan score a pair including the game-winner. Australia captured the gold medal in Atlanta!

Sydney, Australia hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, and there was definite anticipation for the field hockey event with the Aussies looking for a gold medal on their home soil. Twelve teams participated, split into two six-team pools. Pool A saw Pakistan and the Netherlands advance to the semi-finals while Pool B would be represented by Australia and South Korea. South Korea and Pakistan would meet in the first semi-final, and Song Seung-Tae's goal in the 56th minute was all the the scoring needed as South Korea rallied past Pakistan 1-0. The other semi-final featured a sold-out pitch as the Netherlands and Australia squared off. While both sides had chances, neither team could find the back of the net in the allotted time, and it was off to penalty strokes. The Netherlands managed to net all five shots to the Australians' four shots, and the Netherlands would advance to the final. In the bronze medal match, Australia exploded for goals, including three by Troy Elder, as the Aussies would capture the bronze medal over Pakistan by a 6-3 score. In the final, the Netherlands appeared to be on their way to a gold medal with a 3-1 lead inside 65 minutes, but two successful penalty corners at the 66th and 68th minutes pull South Korea even. Extra time solved nothing, so it was back to penalty strokes, and the Netherlands pulled out the 5-4 victory margin to capture the gold medal in Sydney!

The women's tournament saw the top-three teams from each pool advance to a medal-round pool. Pool C had Australia, Argentina, and Spain advance while Pool D was represented by New Zealand, China, and the Netherlands. In the medal pool, the top-four finishers, in order, were Australia, Argentina, Netherlands, and Spain, meaning that the host Aussies would get a chance at a gold medal yet! In the bronze medal match, the Netherlands met with Spain. It wasn't an overly exciting match, but the Dutch women picked up the bronze medal after a 2-0 win over Spain. In the gold medal game, the host Australians used the home crowd's support to jump out to a 3-0 lead just 37 minutes in. Argentina would score a goal at the 43rd minute, but they wouldn't recover as Australia would win the gold medal by a 3-1 score!

The 2004 Olympic Games returned to Athens, Greece where twelve men's teams would take to the pitch. Once again, there were two pools of six teams, and the top-two teams would advance to the semi-finals. Pool A saw Spain and Germany advance while Pool B had the Netherlands and Australia advance to the semi-finals. The Netherlands met Germany in the first semi-final, and the Dutch squad continued its unbeaten ways as they downed Germany by a 3-2 score. Australia jumped out to a quick lead over Spain, and would down the Spaniards by a 6-3 score in their semi-final. Germany and Spain met for the bronze medal, and it took extra time to decide a winner. Björn Michel's golden goal in extra time would push Germany past Spain in a 4-3 victory! In the gold medal game, the winner would need extra time as well. Jamie Dwyer scored the golden goal for Australia, and the Aussies took home the gold medal!

The women's side saw ten teams participate, and the favorites had to be Australia going in. Pool A had China and Argentina move on while Pool B saw the Netherlands and Germany advance. Australia actually finished fourth in Pool B as they struggled in the preliminary round, meaning there would be a new gold medalist in Athens! The Netherlands and Argentina would meet in the first semi-final, and the two teams would match each other through regulation time. This 2-2 game would need penalty strokes to decide a winner, and the Netherlands continued its winning ways with the penalty strokes as they outscored Argentina 4-2 to move on. China and Germany also matched each other shot for shot, but neither team would score in regulation time. Penalty strokes would decide this semi-final as well as the Germans downed the Chinese 4-3 to advance to the gold medal game. In the bronze medal game, China continued its tight-checking ways, but Argentina broke through with a Luciana Aymar goal in the 70th minute to capture the bronze medal with a 1-0 victory! In the gold medal game, Germany jumped out to a 2-0 lead before settling in defensively. The Netherlands would get one goal back, but the Germans would be crowned as the gold medalists with a 2-1 win!

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games will be our last stop today. Twelve men's teams played in this Olympiad with Australia looking to defend its gold medal. Pool A saw Spain and Germany advance to the semi-finals while Pool B sent the Netherlands and Australia. Germany and the Netherlands would meet again in the semi-finals, and these two teams would find themselves deadlocked at 1-1 after regulation time. In the penalty shootout, Christopher Zeller's goal on Germany's sixth penalty stroke would be the difference as Germany downed the Netherlands 4-3 in the shootout. In the other semi-final, Australia jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 37 minutes in, but Spain would get two goals from Eduard Tubau at the 39th and 44th minutes to tie the game. 24 minutes later, Santi Freixa would deliver the knockout goal as Spain downed Australia 3-2 to advance to the gold medal game. In the bronze medal game, Australia scored three goals before the game was even ten minutes old, and they rode that early lead to a 6-2 victory over the Netherlands for the bronze medal. Spain and Germany battled in a tight affair, but Christopher Zeller's 16th minute goal was the difference as Germany downed Spain 1-0 to capture the gold medal!

The women's tournament featured twelve teams, and there was hope that the Chinese squad would follow Australia's lead in capturing the gold medal on home soil. Pool A saw the Netherlands and China move on while Pool B had Germany and Argentina emerge as the top-two teams. The first semi-final pitted China against Germany, and the Chinese would rally from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Germans 3-2 and advance to the gold medal game! In the other semi-final, the Netherlands met up with Argentina where Maartje Paumen put on a show in scoring three times, allowing the Netherlands to get by Argentina by a 5-2 score. The bronze medal game saw Argentina jump out to a 2-0 lead before they exchanged goals with the Germans in the second half. With the 3-1 victory, Argentina captured the bronze medal! The gold medal match saw the Dutch team play extremely well as they notched a pair of second-half goals to win the gold medal over China by a 2-0 score!

There are all of the winners since 1980 on both the men's and women's sides. Here's how the medal standings break down since the introduction of the women's tournament at the Olympics:

MEN'S STANDINGS

  • GERMANY: 2 gold, 3 silver.
  • AUSTRALIA: 1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
  • NETHERLANDS: 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
  • SPAIN: 3 silver.
  • GREAT BRITAIN: 1 gold, 1 bronze.
  • PAKISTAN: 1 gold, 1 bronze.
  • INDIA: 1 gold.
  • KOREA: 1 silver.
  • USSR: 1 bronze.
WOMEN'S STANDINGS
  • NETHERLANDS: 2 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
  • AUSTRALIA: 3 gold.
  • GERMANY: 1 gold, 2 silver.
  • ARGENTINA: 1 silver, 2 bronze.
  • KOREA: 2 silver.
  • ZIMBABWE: 1 gold.
  • SPAIN: 1 gold.
  • CZECHOSLOVAKIA: 1 silver.
  • CHINA: 1 bronze.
  • USSR: 1 bronze.
  • USA: 1 bronze.
  • GREAT BRITAIN: 1 bronze.
Clearly, there isn't a dominant team like India was for so many years on the men's side, but you'd have to think that the British men and women are going to give it their all with them playing in front of their home crowds. We'll break down some of the rules of the game in the next entry, and we'll start to preview some of the teams that have already qualified for the Olympics in the future.

Until then, keep your sticks on the field!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Draft Thoughts

The NHL Entry Draft is done for another year. I have to say that there were some definite winners and losers this year at the Draft when it comes to my opinion of who selected whom and who was traded where. I looked at the Jordan Staal deal yesterday, but there are some definite highlights of the draft that I want to go over along with a few downturns for some teams. You're welcome to destroy my opinions in the comment section, but I'll try to give you the reasons as to why I said what I said.

WINNERS
  • PITTBURGH: Say what you want about the loss of Zbynek Michalek and Jordan Staal, but $15 million in cap space allows you flexibility to add pieces you may have been missing. Adding a tough, gritty, scoring third-line centerman in Brandon Sutter also eases that burden as well. I like that Pittsburgh began restocking their reserve of quality defencemen with their selections of Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in the first-round of the NHL Entry Draft. Taking the underrated 6'4" Matthew Murray in the third-round could turn out to be an excellent move if the goaltender can make the transition to the professional ranks.
  • TORONTO: Toronto did very well by drafting two highly-rated defencemen with their first two picks in Morgan Rielly and Matthew Finn. The only thing that the Leafs have to do now is let them develop. I also like the idea acquiring James van Riemsdyk simply because he is a big kid who can bring a winning attitude to Toronto from Philadelphia. If Toronto is going younger, van Riemsdyk is a good leader in this new generation.
  • LOS ANGELES: When you're already the Stanley Cup champions, there aren't really a lot of pieces that can be added to make you better. The drafting of Tanner Pearson at the end of Round One was pure gold. Pearson is a pure goal-scorer and can play physically - something that all teams love. Pearson is probably a year or two away, but Kings fans will love this guy.
  • WASHINGTON: They drafted Filip Forsberg as he slid down the draft. They picked up a workhorse in Thomas Wilson five picks later. Oh, and they went and added Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for next to nothing. In short, Washington added a ton of offensive skill and grit in three moves within the first-round of the NHL Entry Draft. Grabbing Riley Barber at 167th overall? That could be one of the greatest moves ever made by Washington.
  • CAROLINA: Not only did they add Jordan Staal to beef up their offence for this season, but the drafting of Phillip Di Giuseppe in Round Two and winger Erik Karlsson in Round Four should help the puck find the back of the net in future seasons.
LOSERS
  • COLUMBUS: If they're waiting for the right deal to come along for Rick Nash, it appeared that this weekend was the best time to move him. Although the free agency period could make teams desperate to want to add Nash, I'm thinking GM Scott Howson is asking way too much again. While drafting Ryan Murray is a great selection, drafting the top goaltender from Sweden in Round Two and then Finland in Round Three pretty much guarantees that one of those two will wear another team's colors in the future.
  • WINNIPEG: The Jets made a great selection in Jacob Trouba as the ninth-overall pick, but it became a little more troubling to see what the strategy of the Jets was when it came to the rest of their picks as they didn't really add anything significant in terms of scoring or size. Adding Jonas Gustavsson from the Maple Leafs for a conditional 2013 pick was also puzzling. If the rumors of Pavelec jumping to the KHL are true, are Winnipeg fans content to start the season with one of Gustavsson, Chris Mason, or Eddie Pasquale as their starting netminder? Why not take a shot at Cory Schneider?
  • NY ISLANDERS: Getting Griffin Reinhart is a huge pickup for a team short on punishing defencemen. Trading for Lubomir Visnovksy from the Ducks made it appear that the Islanders might actually try protecting their goaltender this season. That is, however, until it was announced by Visnovsky that he was thinking about playing in the KHL next season. I like that the Isles drafted seven defencemen to start building their team the right way, but they didn't draft any scoring or goaltender whatsoever. And none of their defencemen, acquired or drafted, will play in the NHL next season. These moves are four to five years from seeing fruition. There's no guarantee this team will even be on Long Island at that time.
  • SAN JOSE: I like Tomas Hertl, just not as much as I would have liked Teuvo Teravainen in San Jose. I get that teams occasionally will pick a player because he fits a need on that squad, and Hertl does give San Jose another big, scoring player down the middle. But if San Jose wants to change its fortunes, it should probably look at getting some additional scoring. Gritty play didn't do so well in San Jose this season. Hertl will do well in NoCal, but I think Teravainen would have been a better fit.
That's how I saw it, kids. Give me your thoughts on the 2012 NHL Entry Draft! What did you like? Who made the biggest splash? What pick surprised you the most? Any and all draft chatter will be answered! And, of course, you're welcome to fry me for my thoughts if you so desire!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Carolina "Drafts" NHL Centerman

It's rare when an NHL team can draft an NHL-ready player at any point in the NHL Entry Draft. With players getting bigger and faster, it seems as though only truly special players can rise to the challenge of playing in the NHL for an entire season. Normally, teams send their drafted players back to their junior teams in order to give them some additional preparation time for the rigors of the NHL schedule and to allow those players to mature physically. When it came time for the eighth-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft tonight, I'm not sure that I was prepared for Gary Bettman's announcement despite all the tire-kicking that had happened in the weeks leading up to the Draft.

Ok, so the initial shock I felt was "did Pittsburgh get enough back from Staal". If you know anything about me, I am a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, so I took a vested interest in this trade. I like Brandon Sutter and what he brings to the Penguins. I like Brian Dumoulin and there's a chance he could crack the roster next season. I like the fact that Pittsburgh used the eighth-overall selection to grab Derrick Pouliot who looks like he'll be a great defenceman. But I certainly feel that Carolina upgraded its forward corps in a big way by adding the 23 year-old Jordan Staal.

This will be Staal's sixth season in the NHL. He can score. He excels at the defensive portion of the game. He's tall and lanky. He can skate. He can hit. In short, Jordan Staal would be a top-six forward on every other NHL team but Pittsburgh due to Crosby and Malkin. When he turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract from the Penguins, the writing was literally on the wall when it came to getting maximum value before he hit free agency after the final year of his contract next season. Personally, the Penguins did very well in getting what they received from Carolina.

If you look at what Carolina did, though, you have to be impressed. They essentially "drafted" a top-six forward with six years of NHL maturity to step in and help the Hurricanes immediately. General manager Jim Rutherford is confident that Jordan Staal will sign in Carolina after his contract expires, and I can't see that being a problem as the younger Staal will play alongside his brother, Eric Staal, at some point at minimum next season. So by giving up the eighth-overall pick, the Hurricanes acquire a former first-round pick who has grown and matured and has already won a Stanley Cup while being groomed in Pittsburgh.

Personally, that's a fabulous deal if I'm a Hurricanes fan when you consider it may have taken a pick up to four years to become a bonafide NHL second-line centerman. Staal has the pedigree, Staal has the experience, and Staal will made an immediate difference on the Hurricanes. I think any team's fan has to be happy with benefits like that.

The one thing that does excite me as a Penguins fan, though, is the available cap room that the Penguins have by shedding Jordan Staal's contract. While I'm extremely sad to see #11 skate for another team, the opportunity for GM Ray Shero to pursue Zach Parise or Ryan Suter is very real.

Crosby and Parise were teammates at Shattuck St. Mary's, and remain close friends today. That angle won't be lost on Shero when selling Parise on the positives of playing alongside Crosby this upcoming season. Suter, on the other hand, would be a featured rearguard, and was brought into Nashville by Ray Shero at the time. Shero was the assistant GM in Nashville who ultimately made the push for Nashville to draft Suter.

Pure hockey trades rarely happen in today's game. I like what Pittsburgh did here and they could get richer come July 1, but I have to say that Carolina's acquisition of a top-six forward like Jordan Staal certainly was the biggest splash on the first day of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

TBC: Gretzky's Tears

I may have been a little tardy with this review as some of the HBIC Playoff Pool prizes have begun to hit the mail, but Teebz's Book Club is checking back in with another solid book to add to your reading list. TBC is always interested in stories that center around some historical moment in hockey history, and today's book is no different as TBC is proud to review Gretzky's Tears, written by Stephen Brunt and published by Knopf Canada. The story that Mr. Brunt scribed is about what is arguably the biggest trade in NHL history, and the drama that surrounded Wayne Gretzky's trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. In what seemed like a gripping moment for Canada when Wayne Gretzky broke tears, Mr. Brunt tells an entirely different story about how the trade went down behind-the-scenes.

From the Random House website, "Stephen Brunt, a columnist at the Globe and Mail, is Canada's premier sportswriter and commentator. His most recent book, the #1 national bestselling Searching for Bobby Orr, was called "not only one of the best hockey books ever, but a book that transcends hockey" by the Edmonton Journal. He is also the author of Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In; The Way it Looks from Here: Contemporary Canadian Writing on Sports; Mean Business: The Rise and Fall of Shawn O'Sullivan; Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story and Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and in Winterhouse Brook, Newfoundland."

I will start off this review on a slightly negative tone. The first few chapters in Gretzky's Tears are long-winded, overly wordy, and feel a little unnecessary in their immense amount of detail. That's not to say that they don't describe Wayne Gretzky's early days in hockey because they, in fact, do. It's just that Mr. Brunt's writing style in these early chapters seems to be an area where he is trying too hard to say too much. However, I will also defend his writing style because it becomes apparent later in the book that his examination of even the most minute detail is very important in putting the touches on what turned out to be a very enjoyable read.

In bringing forth the circumstances that resulted in Wayne Gretzky essentially being sold to Bruce McNall and the Los Angeles Kings, Mr. Brunt identifies Peter Pocklington's crumbling financial empire as the reason for his decision to "trade" hockey's biggest star. In fact, there was no trade ever presented until Glen Sather, GM of the Oilers at the time, sat down and hammered out his demands to make the sale of Gretzky into a hockey deal. Instead, Mr. Brunt carefully identifies the key players in the move, and systematically builds the case that Gretzky's tears that he shed at the press conference were not entirely genuine.

There weren't a lot of backroom dealings and behind-the-scenes meetings that took place to set the events in motion, but there were key meetings set up between the players in this deal that made the trade happen. But the idea of selling Gretzky wasn't even McNall's idea initially - the seed had been planted by Jerry Buss years earlier in his dealings with Peter Pocklington before McNall approached Pocklington with his idea!

What made Gretzky's Tears an excellent read was how thorough Mr. Brunt was when it came to the financial sides of the deal. His information on the crumbling financial empires of both Pocklington and McNall is front and center as you begin to grasp the reasons for the sale of Gretzky to Los Angeles and his eventual trade from the Kings to St. Louis. Mr. Brunt does an especially good job in examining the pyramid schemes and lies told to financial institutions to secure credit by Mr. McNall. If the hockey portions of the book were removed, the financial story would be an excellent read on how one man lied his way into hundreds of millions of dollars only to see his house of cards collapse around him.

"It wasn't around his hockey team that the first cracks began to show, the first signs that the grand facade Bruce McNall had been constructing for most of his adult life was beginning to crumble. Of all of the elements of his fraudulent, precariously balanced financial empire, the Los Angeles Kings were among the most straightforward and the most legit. The question of where he got the money to fund his excesses, for the private jet, for Gretzky's salary - that was another story, one kept well hidden from those who ran the team day to day. As far as they were concerned, hockey per se was a straight cash-in, cash-out proposition, one that, despite the escalating costs of operating in the NHL, continued to turn a profit. For the longest time, they didn't suspect a thing.
I'll be very honest: I liked Gretzky's Tears. While Mr. Brunt's writing style at first seemed a little wordy, he certainly turned the story of Wayne Gretzky's trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles into a story worthy of high praise. The evidence he collected and presented in a very calculated fashion shows that not only is Mr. Brunt closer to the truth about the trade itself, but about the entire set of circumstances that were set in motion following Gretzky's move to Los Angeles. Mr. Brunt hammers home the details of what caused the trade, what happened during the press conferences, and what the aftermath looked like from "inside the room" where a number of deals were struck before, during, and after the trade had happened. Because of Mr. Brunt's excellent work in this book, Gretzky's Tears certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Why Will Arnett Is Awesome

Will Arnett is a pretty funny guy, a great actor, and a definite hockey fan. He has been spotted, as seen here with Louis C.K., at a number of hockey games, and even made a sizable donation to the Winnipeg chapter of the United Way when he stopped in the Manitoba capital to take in a Jets game so that kids could go to Jets games. I happen to like the work that Will Arnett does as an actor, but I'm really starting to appreciate his love for the game of hockey. Being a Canadian, I can't really blame him for loving the sport, but his time in Hollywood could have softened him a little.

We found out Wednesday night that he is perfectly capable of combining hockey with comedy in his sketch dedicated to Brendan Shanahan and his role as the NHL's disciplinarian. I laughed out loud a couple of times. Here's the clip.

That, readers, is pure gold. It was great to see Evgeni Malkin be recognized as the best player from last season with a plethora of trophies, Erik Karlsson be recognized for his fantastic season as a rearguard, and Henrik Lundqvist cap his season with a new addition to the mantle for his puck-stopping prowess, but Will Arnett's addition to the program made the NHL Awards show extremely entertaining.

My only wish is that he was given more opportunity to have some fun with other NHL personalities. But there's always next season, right?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Olympic Juggernauts

Every once in a while, a dynasty comes along in a sport and there's little, it seems, that can derail that team. Sure, there are players that come and go, but there aren't many teams that can string together a long line of success year after year in most sports. Ice hockey has seen a few dynasties in its history, but there is one team that truly was a juggernaut in the sport of field hockey for a long, long time.

The Olympic Games have featured men's field hockey since 1908, but women didn't get the inclusion to the Olympic field hockey event until 1980 in Moscow. There has been one team who seemingly have dominated this Olympic event, resembling the Soviet Union ice hockey squad in terms of their medal haul.

If you get confused by this paragraph, just hang in there. The first Olympic field hockey competition saw England, playing as Great Britain, beat Ireland, playing as Great Britain, by an 8-1 score for the gold medal while Scotland, playing as Great Britain, and Wales, playing as Great Britain, were the semi-finalists who lost. In short, Great Britain finished in the top-four spots in the tournament. Germany and France also participated, but they finished in fifth and sixth, respectively.

Field hockey was excluded from the Summer Olympics in 1912 in Stockholm, but the sport returned when the Olympic Games were held in Antwerp, Germany in 1916. Great Britain successfully defended its gold medal after the round-robin play, but Denmark would be the team that captured the silver medal. Belgium captured the bronze medal while France was left on the outside of the medal podium in the four-team tournament.

The 1924 Paris Olympic Games would exclude field hockey again, but, with the help of the newly-formed Fédération Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon (FIH), the sport made a triumphant return with a standardized set of rules to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games. It was here where the world was shocked and awed by a juggernaut Indian team. And this was only the start of the domination by India over the next thirty years.

India played in Pool A with Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria. The Indian team steamrolled their way to a 4-0-0 record, scoring 26 goals-for while surrendering zero goals! They would meet the winner of Pool B which turned out to be Holland. Again, the Indian squad showed just how dominant they were in controlling the game while downing the Dutch team by a 3-0 score. India would capture its first gold medal, the Netherlands would take home silver, and Germany would take home te bronze medal.

India once again dominated in the 1928 Los Angeles Olympics as only three teams competed that year: India, the United States, and Japan. India hammered Japan 11-1 before crushing the US by a 24-1 score to capture the gold medal once again. Japan defeated the US 9-2 in their game, giving the Japanese the silver while the US took home the bronze medal.

At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, there were a vast number of countries that participated. However, India was once again the most dominant team at the event. India downed Austria, Hungary, and the US in its pool by a combined score of 20-0, and then proceeded to destroy France 10-0 in the semi-final before crushing the host Germans 8-1 in the final. For a third straight Olympic Games, India had won the gold medal. Germany, as stated above, took silver while the Netherlands beat France for the bronze medal.

With the Olympic Games being interrupted by World War II, there was a break of twleve years before field hockey would be played at the Olympic level. The 1948 London Olympic Games featured 13 countries, and India found itself atop its pool again after outscoring Argentina, Austria, and Spain by a combined 19-1 score (Argentina had the lone goal against India). In the semi-final, India downed the Netherlands by a 2-1 score before advancing against the host British team. Great Britain was no match for India, and the students who once learned the game from British servicemen laid a 4-0 loss on Britain to capture the gold medal. The Netherlands would defeat Pakistan for the bronze medal. Unknowingly, though, the field hockey powers were beginning to shift.

The 1952 Helsinki Olympics saw a different format take place as the top-four teams from the previous Olympics - India, Great Britain, Netherlands, and Pakistan - were given first-round byes in a playoff tournament. Despite eight more teams joining them in the tournament, these four teams would end up in the semi-finals again. India would beat Great Britain by a 3-1 score while the Netherlands would beat Pakistan by a 1-0 score. In the final, India hammered the Netherlands for their fifth-straight Olympic gold medal while Great Britain beat Pakistan 2-1 for the bronze medal.

The 1956 Olympic Games took place in Melbourne, Australia, and everyone came in knowing that the Indian team was still a superpower. India destroyed Pool A as they went 3-0-0 with 36 goals-for and not one against in defeating Singapore, Afghanistan, and the United States. India drew Germany in the first semi-final, and handed the Germans a 1-0 loss to advance to the final. In the second semi-final, Pakistan finally overcame their previous losses by downing Great Britain by a 3-2 score. India, however, was too much for Pakistan in the final, and they captured their sixth gold medal in six straight Olympic Games with a 1-0 win. Germany captured the bronze medal with a 3-1 win over Great Britain. Great Britain, having finished second, third, and fourth in consecutive years, wouldn't see the podium for another 28 years after 1956.

The 1960 Olympic Games were set in Rome, and there were 16 teams in the event. India blew through Group A by downing Denmark, New Zealand, and the Netherlands for a 3-0-0 record. The only team to score on India was the Netherlands in a 4-1 loss as India scored 17 goals against the three teams. The 1956 silver medalists from Pakistan emerged from Group B in impressive fashion. They downed Australia, Poland, and Japan while scoring 21 goals and not allowing a goal. Kenya, in an upset, took Group C over Germany while Spain won Group D over Great Britain. India and Great Britain met in the first semi-final, and India secured a 1-0 victory. Pakistan and Spain met in the second semi-final, and Pakistan advanced to the final with a 1-0 win. In the final, the Pakistani team carried the play against India, and, in a huge upset, downed India by a 1-0 score to capture their first gold medal. Spain downed Great Britain in the bronze medal match by a 2-1 score.

The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan saw 15 teams participate. Pakistan went 6-0 to win their pool while India went 5-0-2 to win the second pool. In the semi-finals, Pakistan downed Spain 3-0 while India dispatched Australia with a 3-1 win. The finals for the third straight year featured India and Pakistan, and India would reclaim their Olympic gold medal with a 1-0 victory over Pakistan. Australia would capture the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Spain.

The 1968 Olympic field hockey event has very few details that I could find, but I was able to piece together a few items. For the first time in nine Olympic Games, India would not participate in the gold medal game as they lost in the semi-final to Australia. Pakistan, however, would play for gold again as they defeated West Germany in their semi-final game. Pakistan would once again capture gold as they beat Australia 2-1 in the final while India would take home a bronze medal with their 2-1 victory over West Germany.

The 1972 Olympic field hockey event from Munich was marred by some very unsportsmanlike behaviour from one of the 16 teams in the event. West Germany and Pakistan finished one-two in their pool while India and the Netherlands finished one-two in their pool, respectively. Pakistan met India in the first semi-final, and Pakistan would down India by a 2-0 score. West Germany and the Netherlands would play in the second semi-final, and the West Germans would advance after downing the Netherlands by a 3-0 score. The bronze medal match would see India defeat the Netherlands by a 2-1 score, but the real action happened in the final.

After West Germany defeated Pakistan by a 1-0 score, the Pakistani team proceeded to disrespect the West German team by turning their backs on the raising of the West German flag in victory after they felt that the umpiring in the game was suspect. They wore their silver medals on their feet, and they destroyed the locker room that they were in. After having seen the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games, the punishment was harsh for Pakistan: a lifetime ban for the 11 Pakistani field hockey players. After some apologies, the ban was reduced to two years. It should be noted that this was the first gold medal won by a team other than India or Pakistan in 44 years, and the first gold medal for a European team since 1920!

The final Olympic Games we'll look at today are the 1976 Olympics from Montreal. The eleven teams were broken up into two pools. Group A saw Australia and the Netherlands advance while Group B saw Pakistan and New Zealand advance. Australia would down Pakistan by a 2-1 score in their semi-final game while New Zealand would beat the Netherlands by the same score in their semi-final game to set up an all-Oceania final. After a hard-fought match, New Zealand scored the 1-0 win over Australia while Pakistan would capture the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over the Dutch squad.

The final chart from the first 13 Olympics that featured field hockey show the medal count as follows:

  1. India - 7 gold, 1 silver,  2 bronze.
  2. Pakistan - 2 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
  3. Great Britain - 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
  4. Germany - 1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze.
  5. New Zealand - 1 gold.
  6. Netherlands - 2 silver, 2 bronze.
  7. Australia - 2 silver, 1 bronze.
  8. USA - 1 silver.
  9. Spain - 1 bronze.
  10. Japan - 1 bronze.
  11. Belgium - 1 bronze.
It's clear to see that India, with ten medals, was the powerhouse team in field hockey for forty years. Pakistan came on towards the start of the 1980s, but India was by far the most dominant team in field in some time.

Just as the Soviet Union dominated ice hockey for a long stretch, the Indian team was the pinnacle of the field hockey world. Coming up shortly, we'll look at the more modern Olympic competitions when the women were included into the tournaments.

Until then, keep your sticks on the field!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Historically Eurasian

It's hard to pinpoint where a game got its start simply due to the various versions of the game that have been played throughout history. Ice hockey's start is still being debated today, but we're fairly sure it started somewhere in Canada. When it comes to field hockey, however, there doesn't seem to be an exact point in time or even a location where the game got its start. We do know that the modern version of the game has a specific starting point, but the history of field hockey in the past is something more of a mystery.

The game of field hockey can trace its roots back to a few places of interest. The Greeks were known to have played a game called "Κερητίζειν" ("kerētízein") as far back as 200 BC, and it resembled field hockey in that a curved horn was used to propel a ball-like object into a defined goal. It differed in a number of ways as well, but the idea of using a curved object that players swung to hit a ball seems like it might have some relation in how field hockey may have evolved.

There are reports that the Daur people of Inner Mongolia have been playing a game similar to field hockey for over 1000 years called "Beikou". Beikou sees a ball-like bundle of apricot root used in place of a ball, and players hitting the root bundle with sticks. The game itself is played in two fifteen-minute halves. Again, this seems like a fairly close description of field hockey, but night games are certainly different as the root bundle changes to a felt-covered ball. That felt-covered ball is set on fire, and players chase the fiery ball around.

The British have also laid claim to have started playing a sport that certainly is the closest resemblance to field hockey. In 1363, Edward III of England, in order to push the decadence of archery, issued the proclamation: "[M]oreover we ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games." His mention of hockey makes it clear that some sort of hockey-type game is being played in England in 1363, so there could be a relation to the current game of field hockey.

By all accounts, however, the modern game of field hockey as we know it today got its start in England in the mid-19th century. It was here that the game started its major evolution into the second largest team sport in the world while being played in over 100 countries. The Blackheath Football and Hockey Club was formed in 1861, and became the first organized field hockey club on the planet. The game rapidly grew in popularity in England, and the Teddington Hockey Club radically helped to form the modern game by introducing the striking circle and changing the ball to a sphere from a rubber cube.

The game followed the British across Eurasia during its reign. In the 1870s, the game was brought to India by British soldiers, and the first clubs were formed in India for field hockey by 1885. Two major tournaments had begun within ten years in India, and the sport's popularity grew within the region in spades. Before long, India and Pakistan had formidable teams made up from local citizens.

The game continued to follow British servicemen abroad. The sport moved into Australia and New Zealand near the start of the 20th century, and field hockey became increasingly popular in those countries as well.

Back home, this new sport that was being played all over Britain began to expand its borders. Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, and the Scandinavian countries all saw the sport cross into their countries, and each has seen the sport grow in popularity. Needless to say, field hockey "fever" gripped western Europe, India and Pakistan, and the Australian islands very quickly.

In Canada, the game arrived in the late-19th century as part of the British Commonwealth's influence, but it never really caught on as it did in Eurasia. The game was played where it could find a niche, but the summer sport of choice in Canada during the late-1800s and 1900s was lacrosse. Field hockey never really grabbed the attention of the British servicemen who were here due to lacrosse being far more popular upon the arrival of field hockey.

Where it did catch on in Canada, however, was in the province of British Columbia. As early as 1896, records have been found of clubs playing field hockey on Vancouver Island and school records have shown that school teams on Vancouver Island were playing field hockey as early as 1903. The game was definitely a fixture on the west coast where lacrosse was not as popular as it was in eastern Canada, and the game found a foothold there for the better part of a century.

Back in England, the Hockey Association was founded in 1886 in order to track club play and establish clear rules for the game that all clubs would follow in order to remove regional rules. In clarifying the rules and laying the groundwork for all clubs to play the game by, the very first international match was played between Ireland and Wales in 1895. The Irish took that game by a 3-0 score, but there were still some concerns over the differing sets of rules being used in different countries.

After that historic game, the International Rules Board was founded in 1900. This Board diligently worked to take the best rules from a number of regions to define the current rules to be used by all regions and countries whenever a competition was held. By 1908, the rules had been streamlined enough that field hockey appeared for the first time as a Summer Olympic sport at the 1908 London Olympic Games.

Historically over time, there have been some excellent teams for periods of years. Great Britain, and now England, usually produce solid squads. The Netherlands has always been a threat to capture a medal, and Germany always seems to find a way to hit the podium. India and Pakistan were once powers in this sport, but their dominance seems to be fading as other countries get better. Australia and New Zealand more recently seem to finding their groove in winning medals as well.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the Olympic Games of past and see which teams were the favorites when it came to winning medals. A number of the countries listed above will be mentioned often, so you know that they are leading the way in Olympic field hockey events.

Until then, keep your sticks on the field!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Hitting The Pitch

A playing surface is vitally important when it comes to getting good results on a scoreboard. You hear comments in ice hockey about the condition of the ice when teams visit warmer climates, and how the ice conditions cause the play to be slower and choppier than normal. Field hockey is no different in that field conditions can dictate how the game is played. There is much to know about the pitch, though, and HBIC will take you through the important information about the surface on which the game is played.

Most field hockey pitches today are some sort of artificial surface. Maintaining artificial turf as opposed to grass is entirely easier, and it provides a very stable surface where divots and holes are rarely seen and topography rarely changes. In short, there is a distinct advantage to going with artificial turf, and most arenas, including Hockey Centre in London, will have artificial turf. In fact, the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games were the first to feature field hockey on a synthetic surface.

FieldTurf is an approved FIH supplier of artificial surfaces, and has a long track record of success in various sports, especially field hockey. It's durable, it is easy to maintain, and the speed of the game has increased on the artificial turf tenfold since moving off grass. Here's a quick image of what FieldTurf looks like up close:

In seeing the image, it becomes apparent as to why the FieldTurf model would best serve as a field hockey surface. The shorter fibre structure allows for an increase in how fast the game is played, but the fibres provide a more natural feel for the players. The fibres are shorter than those seen in baseball and football stadiums, allowing for the ball to move much faster across the surface. While the speed is close to being what was seen on Astroturf, FieldTurf is proving to be a much better surface for the game as a whole in terms of the improvements seen in gameplay.

There are three synthetic turf constructions that are approved for field hockey play, and each have their advantages:
  • WATER-BASED PITCH: The pile is unfilled and requires regular irrigation. A water-based pitch is very sliding friendly for foot-sliding, and the ball bounces very true upon the surface.
  • SAND-DRESSED PITCH: The pile of the carpet is filled to within 5-8 millimeters from the tips of the fiber with fine sand particles. The sand is not visible. Sand is sprinkled on top once the pitch is prepared to closely resemble the properties of a water-based pitch. If sand is not sprinkled on the pitch, it resembles a sand-filled pitch in terms of its properties.
  • SAND-FILLED PITCH: The pile of the carpet is filled almost to the top with sand. The pitch is stable and even.
For play at the Olympics, we'll only see a water-based pitch being used. The speed of the game is best on the water-based pitch due to the dimpled ball not creating as much friction on the water substrate, and the players are able to execute better stroke techniques and footwork. There were also far less injuries seen on the water-based pitch compared to the sand-based pitches, so the acceptance of the water-based field was accepted universally.

Surface color is beginning to see some loosening of the rules. Green was the only standard for the longest time as per the International Hockey Federation. However, there appears to be some room for compromise since 2008 when the FIH published in their Pitch Handbook that the surface can be "green or another FIH approved colour". The London Olympics will feature the first non-green playing field at an Olympic Games as they will use blue for their field color. The run-off areas must be in contrast to the field of play, and London will contrast the blue playing surface with pink run-off areas.

In something that I found to be impressive on the side of FIH and its rules was the protection of the field from advertising. The FIH's rules state, "The inclusion of advertising or logos on the field of play is prohibited. Advertising or logos may be included in the run-off areas subject to conditions imposed by the users of pitches or by the organisers of particular competitions including the FIH". That means you'll never see an advertisement of any kind on a field of play at a FIH-sanctioned tournament. It's rare to see a sport uphold this kind of standard, but I applaud the FIH for preventing its sport from being overrun with all sorts of ridiculous advertisements. Good on you, FIH.

Because modern field hockey started out in the mid-19th century, imperial measurements were used. The field is rectangular, and originally measured 100 yards by 60 yards, but the standard field is now measured in metric for dimensions of 91.40 meters by 55 meters. The goal at each end stands at 2.14 meters (seven feet) and is 3.66 meters wide (12 feet) when measured from the inner sides of the posts and crossbar. The shooting circle - a semi-circle around the goal areas - measures 14.63 meters from the goal (16 yards), and is also called the "D" or the "arc" by some. Outside that line is a dotted line that is five meters (5 yards 6 inches) outside the shooting circle, and 19.63 meters from the goal. Beyond that, there are lines that cross the field 22.9 meters (25 yards) from the end lines, and are commonly referred to as "23-meter lines". Finally, a center line cuts the field in two, and there are two penalty spots or stroke marks measuring 0.15 meters in diameter that sit 6.4 meters (7 yards) directly in front of each goal.

There are no rules in terms of the distance needed for the run-off area, and this area can be as big or as small as necessary to fit the pitch inside a stadium.

The FIH published a Pitch Handbook in April 2008 that explains a lot of technical stuff about the pitch. Honestly, it's a bit of a dry read, but you're welcome to it if you like. They also have a manual on the care of synthetic turf you're welcome to read, but, like the Handbook, it's a little on the technical side for casual reading.

Information for Hockey Centre in London is being added to the London Olympics site as the Games approach. I encourage you to check it out when you can. We're not far off, and here's hoping we get to see some great hockey action this summer!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!