Hockey Headlines

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Irresponsibility Ends Tragically

If you don't recognize the man to the left, that's ok. He hasn't played in North America, but he needs to be talked about in a serious way. Ladies and gentlemen, the man to the left is Dmitri Uchaykin, and he passed away today at the age of 32 after receiving a vicious check to the head the day before in a Kazakhstan Hockey League game. Before everyone gets up in arms over a high check, remember that a man has died as a result of a bodycheck to the head in a game of hockey. It's tragic and sad considering that he may have been fine had his head not been the target of the check.

I want to thank reader Peter K. for emailing me this story. Let's go to the game that happened on Saturday night, March 30 between HC Arystan and Uchaykin's team, HC Ertis-Pavlodar. The video itself doesn't actually show the hit, but you can see Uchaykin laboring as he gets to his feet before skating off under his own power.

The referee is speaking with HC Arystan's Donatas Kumeliauskas who threw the high hit on Uchaykin, and it appears he's pleading his case quite fiercely. It's impossible to know what is being said with my limited Kazakh vocabulary, but I'm sure he's pleading his innocence.

Everything seemed fine until Uchaykin woke up early this morning with a splitting headache. He was rushed to the hospital where he slipped into unconsciousness thanks to the cerebral hemorrhage that was causing the intense pain. Doctors couldn't stop the bleeding in time, and Uchaykin passed away at 4AM this morning. The 32 year-old leaves behind a wife who is expecting and young daughter in Pavlodov, Kazakhstan in his passing.

Perhaps the bleed that was in Uchaykin's head was already there to begin with before he took the violent check from Kumeliauskas. Perhaps the violent crashing around inside his skull caused the hemorrhage to begin in Uchaykin's brain. The one thing we do know is that the check thrown by Kumeliauskas on Uchaykin was the catalyst for a lethal bleed in his brain. Maybe a check later on would have caused the same problem, but there's no doubt that the check that targeted Uchaykin's head played a large part in the hemorrhage suffered by Uchaykin that eventually claimed his life.

Honestly, Dmitri Uchaykin's name should not be forgotten. While there have been other deaths in and around Russia and its former states in hockey, this tragedy was caused by a player throwing a check that targeted the head of an opponent. All players, regardless of where they play and what league they play in, need to be aware of what caused a tragedy like this.

Rest in peace, Dmitri Uchaykin, and I wish nothing but the best for Uchaykin's family as they cope with this devastation. I feel for Kumeliauskas and his family, knowing that his check was most likely the cause of Uchaykin's death. Here's hoping he changes how he plays the game in light of this tragedy regardless of how rare this type of accident may seem.

I'm not here to preach about the dangers of checks that target the head. Concussions aside, we now have the death of a player on our hands when it comes to advocating for or against high checks. That alone should make the hockey world sit up and take notice of how delicate the brain is, and how it needs the protection of more than just a plastic helmet and some foam.

More importantly, it should be noted that a family was destroyed because of a player's irresponsibility in throwing this kind of check. That's horrible, sickening, and nearly unbelievable had it not happened.

It also kind of makes you wonder when, and not if, the next player will be killed with a check to the head.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

March Of The Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins did something today that no other team can claim: they went perfect for an entire month in a month that consisted of more than ten games. Pittsburgh is 15-0 on their latest run, and they have put together quite a streak in terms of numbers. Sure, 15-0 is the most impressive number, but consider the numbers before they started this incredible run.

The Penguins entered their game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, February 28 with a respectable 13-7-0 record. Everyone was happy as the Penguins were competing for the division lead, but you got a sense that this Penguins team could be so much more.

By the end of the night, Pittsburgh had fallen to 13-8-0 as the Hurricanes downed the Penguins 4-1. The Penguins looked lethargic on the night as Jiri Tlusty provided two goals and a helper for Carolina, and this followed a 6-4 loss in Florida two nights earlier where the Penguins gave up four powerplay goals. Head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game, "If Florida and Carolina aren't the type of buildings that give you the same focus as Madison Square Garden or Philly, then that is something we have to address. We just can't show up in a building in Florida and Carolina and think it's going to be an easy game where we get two points."

Apparently, focus was something the Penguins were lacking, and Byslma and his staff began changing the Penguins' focus and preparation for games. It wouldn't be easy, though, as the Penguins rolled into Montreal for a game against the Eastern Conference-leading Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. It wasn't pretty by any means, but the Penguins got up for this game in downing the Habs by a 7-6 score in overtime. Not their best effort by any means, but two points none-the-less.

It was that game, though, that began the incredible run that the Penguins are on, and you can see this team changing through the streak. Defensively, the Penguins have made huge strides and appear to be playing sound playoff-like hockey. Their goaltending has seen an improvement with this increased focus on their play in their own zone. More importantly, the Penguins are still scoring, but not giving up chances against while creating offence. If you're Dan Bylsma, your name should be tossed into the Jack Adams Trophy race for the changes he has implemented.

Consider these numbers when looking at the streak:
  • The Penguins outscored their opposition 53-27.
  • They have allowed just 13 goals over their last twelve games.
  • They have allowed just 9 goals over their last eleven games.
  • They have won two games in OT, and one in the shootout.
  • They have won nine one-goal games.
  • The last time they gave up more than 2 goals - March 9, 2013.
  • They have recorded four shutouts.
  • They are currently on a three-game shutout streak.
  • They beat Montreal twice, Boston twice, Winnipeg, and Toronto.
This Penguins team was already good, and then they added some impressive pieces through trades. Brenden Morrow was added first, and he'll bring a ton of grit and leadership to the dressing room through his presence. GM Ray Shero then brought in Douglas Murray as a depth defenceman, but also for his grit and play in front of his own net. And then Shero landed Jarome Iginla in what most of the hockey world has called the "steal of the year". Iginla is a bonafide goal-scorer, a proven leader, can play physical, and will certainly make the Penguins better. In short, this trade deadline for Shero has been nothing short of the perfect storm.

According to various players on the team, no one is talking about the streak in the room, but you know it's on the mind of every fan walking through the turnstiles. But you have to believe that if Dan Bylsma has this team not looking at the numbers, this streak may last for a while yet.

Tuesday, the Penguins host the Buffalo Sabres who have already begun dismantling their team. While they can't be overlooked thanks to the play of Ryan Miller, you have to think that Bylsma will have the Penguins primed for this game. Following that game, the Penguins host the Rangers on Wednesday before invading Madison Square Garden on Friday. Back-to-back games against the same team usually allows for the teams to make changes, so the Penguins will need to be ready for anything, especially in the game in New York City. If the streak is still intact after those games, they will play the team that last defeated them as the Penguins roll into Carolina.

The scary part of this run is that the Penguins won't see another team currently holding a playoff spot until April 17 when they host the Montreal Canadiens. After that, they travel to Boston, host the Sabres, visit Ottawa and New Jersey, and close out the season by hosting the Hurricanes once more. The schedule certainly has its difficulties, but the Penguins have already proven that they can go undefeated over a month. If they can turn the trick twice, NHL records will fall and the Eastern Conference will be staring at a juggernaut as the playoffs open.

The game against Buffalo starts a new month. Focus only on that.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Frozen Four Kicks Off

The NCAA's biggest tournament in men's hockey starts today, and there are a number of intriguing story lines to be followed. Minnesota, who was dominant all year, comes in as the second-seeded team after Quinnipiac held onto the top spot in the poll. Two other Minnesota teams - St. Cloud State and Minnesota State-Mankato - are also in the tournament along with Denver, North Dakota, and Wisconsin from the powerful midwest collegiate hockey teams. UMass-Lowell is back for a second year as the third-seeded team, and Notre Dame enters as the fourth-ranked team. Who will advance to Pittsburgh is a toss-up in a one-game match, so let's check out the brackets.

The Quinnipiac bracket has the top-seeded team playing the surprising Canisius College Griffins while the Union (NY) Dutchmen square off against the Boston College Eagles. Quinnipiac (27-7-5, 1st) should be able to get past Canisius College (19-18-5, 20th) in their game. Quinnipiac didn't struggle against many lower-ranked teams this season, so there's no reason why they shouldn't dispatch the Griffins. However, one-game series make it anyone's game, and a mistake here or there could see the top-seed eliminated early.

Union (21-12-5, 13th) went on a magical run last year, and then came out and played solid hockey all season. They showed that last year's run in the Frozen Four tournament was no fluke as they pieced together an excellent season. Boston College (22-11-4, 6th) is a mainstay in the Frozen Four tournament, and they look like they'll do well in this year's tournament as well. Boston College played well in all zones, and has solid scoring and defence. I haven't seen Union play at all this season, so my knowledge of them is limited. I do like how they played last season, though, so I'll picking Union over Boston College in this game.

The Minnesota bracket has the second-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers playing the Yale Bulldogs while the North Dakota Not-Called-Sioux are playing against the Niagara Purple Eagles. Minnesota (26-8-5, 2nd) looked like a powerhouse all season long, but they did struggle in their own zone at times this season. They can score in bunches, though, but one-game playoffs may prove troublesome. Yale (18-12-3, 15th) didn't get much coverage here in the middle of Canada, but the Ivy League school certainly held their own this season in the ECAC. Yale is certainly an unknown, but they do have great defence and solid goaltending, and a hot goaltender can shutdown a good offence in a one-game series. I'm not saying Minnesota will lose this game, but I wouldn't put money on them either. Yale, simply, is too good to overlook.

North Dakota (21-12-7, 7th) always finds a way into the tournament, and they have a knack for winning big games. I watched them play a few games this season, and they can score when given the chance. Teams would be wise to keep their shifty, small forwards on the outside. If they can continue their winning ways, NoDak may be a tough out at this year's Frozen Four. The Niagara Purple Eagles (23-9-5, 14th) didn't have the most difficult schedule, so their ranking might be a bit overhyped. Niagara uses solid defence and good forechecking to win games, but they simply don't have the scoring pop to win shootouts. While Niagara looks good on paper, I sense that North Dakota's recent string of success will carry over as they have found the winning formula on their team.

The UMass-Lowell bracket featured the third-seeded RiverHawks squaring off against Wisconsin Badgers while the Denver Pioneers meet up with the New Hampshire Wildcats. UMass-Lowell (26-10-2, 3rd), like Union, turned a solid run in last year's Frozen Four into an excellent season this year. They have great goaltending, a deep team, and lots of speed that carried them to the third-seed. UMass-Lowell also has the experience of last season's tournament, so they shouldn't be overwhelmed in this year's tournament. Wisconsin (22-12-7, 8th) had an up-and-down season as they battled. They didn't really get on-track in terms of having a "Badgers season" where wins piled up, so they might be vulnerable. I'm going to say UMass-Lowell will win, but don't count the Badgers out of any game until the final horn sounds.

The Denver Pioneers (20-13-5, 12th) are a solid team, but they have their weaknesses - lack of scoring punch and a soft blue line. They get great goaltending, but they need to be far more physical in their own zone to do well in this tournament. They can't let New Hampshire skate on them. The New Hampshire Wildcats (19-11-7, 10th) don't get enough credit as an elite team due to their schedule. The Wildcats score in bunches and then hold onto leads vigorously, but this has burned them a couple of times during the season. In a one-game series, they'll do well with their opportunistic hockey as they should capitalize on mistakes. I like Denver, but my head is telling me New Hampshire in this game.

The Miami-Ohio RedHawks face off against the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks while the fourth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the St. Cloud State Huskies. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-12-3, 4th) won some big games this season, and that has helped them in the rankings. In saying that, the Irish do have some issues to work through - secondary scoring and defensive zone coverage. The Irish are solid, though, when firing on all cylinders, but you need scoring and a commitment to defence to win. I'm not sure this tournament is for them. I was lucky enough to see St. Cloud State (23-15-1, 9th) play Minnesota-Duluth on TV a couple of weeks ago, and this is a team that might come in under the radar. St. Cloud won't blow anyone out of the water, but they good fundamental hockey and are sound in their own zone. Honestly, I liked what I saw from St. Cloud State, and I think they'll be very successful against Notre Dame.

The Miami-Ohio RedHawks (24-11-5, 5th) come into the tournament looking extremely solid. Miami has excellent goaltending and they defend their zone well, making goal-scoring their only concern - a concern that really isn't that large. They can score when given the opportunity and have the guns to make any team worried, and I would have had them ranked higher than their fifth-seeded standing. Minnesota State-Mankato (24-13-3, 11th) is another hockey powerhouse from the state of Minnesota, but their Achilles' heel could be their defensive zone coverage. Like the Gophers, they tend to get caught running around their own zone at times, causing major breakdowns. While they can score to erase those mistakes, singular playoff games don't allow for many mistakes to be made. I like Miami-Ohio in this one.

There are my predictions for the opening round of the Frozen Four Tournament. I'm excited for this year's tournament, and I'll be cheering for the North Dakota Not-The-Sioux as the tournament progresses. Good luck to all the teams!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Hockey Show - Episode Twenty-Nine

What are you doing tonight at 6:00pm CT? Why aren't you listening to The Hockey Show on 101.5 UMFM? You must like hockey because, heck, you're here reading this blog. That's a good start. So why not tune into the radio program and hear some fun hockey banter? The Hockey Show with Teebz and Beans is the place where you can call, email, or tweet with your thoughts on the game, and we'll incorporate them into the show!

As you're probably aware, I am very appreciative of the various charitable organizations run by NHL players, but Winnipeggers are pretty lucky to have the True North Foundation in their city! Tonight, we speak to the Executive Director of the True North Foundation in Mr. Dwayne Green as we find out about all the programming and initiatives of which the True North Foundation is a part. Mr. Green is also a University of Manitoba Bisons hockey alumnus, and he's been heavily involved in many excellent hockey initiatives before starting with the True North Foundation! We'll hear all about his excellent work on tonight's episode of The Hockey Show!

Tune in on 101.5 UMFM in the Winnipeg region or on the internet as we hit the airwaves at 6PM CT tonight. We'd love to hear from you, so if you have questions you'd like to ask Mr. Green, please send them via Twitter to @TeebzHBIC! I'll compile any questions you may have, and we'll get them on the air! Tune in for an excellent interview with a man who is directly responsible for helping his local community!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

East Moves To Two

We saw the two Western Conference teams who advanced to battle for the right to play for the KHL's Gagarin Cup in yesterday's article, and tonight we'll look at the Eastern Conference as they reduce the pool of teams from four to two. Just as we saw in the Western Conference, seeds 1, 2, 3, and 5 remain, and two will move on.

VS.
#1 AK BARS KAZAN VS. #5 SALAVAT YULAEV UFA

Ak Bars Kazan was the top team in the Eastern Conference with 104 points while Salavat Yulaev Ufa earned 88 points through their play this season, capturing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Salavat is a veteran team, though, so this series could prove interesting.

GAME ONE: Both teams opened the game cautiously as they began to look for breakdowns, but there would be none in the opening period. It wasn't until 9:38 into the second period that Dmitry Obukhov put Ak Bars Kazan on the board. Just under five minutes later, though, Salavat drew even on the powerplay when Antti Pihlstrom's shot found the back of the net. It looked good for Ak Bars in the third period when Janne Pesonen scored at the 7:19 mark, but Pihlstrom struck again on the powerplay just 38 seconds later to knot the game at 2-2 again. Salavat pulled ahead at the 13:52 mark when Nikita Filatov snapped a shot past Konstantin Barulin to pull ahead 3-2. Iiro Tarkki held the fort through the final 6:08, and Salavat escaped with the 3-2 victory! SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: Defence was the name of the game in the second game, but the game started with a goal 16:54 into the first period as Salavat's Stefan Ruzicka put the visitors up 1-0. Aside from that lone goal, both goaltenders were perfect otherwise. Salavat would double their lead with 23 seconds left as Sergei Zinovyev deposited the puck into the empty net for a 2-0 victory and a 2-0 series lead. Iiro Tarkki was outstanding as he pitched the 37-save shutout. SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: As the series shifted to Ufa, the fifth-ranked team in the Western Conference had the top-seeded team on the ropes. Much like Game One, though, both teams came out quite tentatively as Game Three proved crucial. However, Ak Bars would open the scoring late in the second period as Jarkko Immonen notched his third goal of the playoffs with 2:52 to play in the middle frame. 1:17 later and Ak Bars had a two-goal lead as Denis Golubev doubled the lead. Ak Bars would hold the lead through the third period, and Kirill Petrov would ice the game with his empty-netter with just seven seconds left. Konstantin Barulin would wrap up a 28-save shutout in his display of netminding. SALAVAT YULAEV UFA LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: This game was quite different that the previous game as goals were traded back and forth. Salavat's Stefan Ruzicka and Ak Bars' Dmitry Obukhov sent the teams to the first intermission tied at 1-1. A pair of Ak Bars goals by Niko Kapanen were book-ended by Salavat goals from Antti Pihlstrom and Vitaly Atyushov to make it a 3-3 game after two periods. Kirill Petrov gave the Snow Leopards a 4-3 lead just 1:49 into the third period, and Niko Kapanen finished off the hat trick on the powerplay with 9:46 to play. Konstantin Barulin would hold steady the rest of the way, and the visiting teams were now 4-0 in this series. SERIES TIED AT 2-2.

GAME FIVE: Like Game Four, the two teams traded goals through the three periods. Ak Bars' Jarkko Immonen and Salavat's Alexander Svitov made it 1-1 after twenty minutes, and Ilya Nikulin put Ak Bars up 2-1 on a powerplay goal with 2:12 left in the second period. Just 21 seconds into the third, Salavat's Igor Musatov put the teams even once again. Ilya Nikulin struck again on the powerplay at 7:06 to give Ak Bars a 3-2 lead, but Salavat rallied once more as Stefan Ruzicka found the back of the net with 4:22 to play. The game would need extra time, and the final sounded at 9:45 of overtime when Ak Bars' Alexei Morozov ripped a shot home to give Ak Bars Kazan the 4-3 overtime win and the lead in the series. AK BARS KAZAN LEADS 3-2.

GAME SIX: If this series hadn't had enough excitement yet, the game in Ufa would provide more intrigue as these two teams came out firing once again. Alexander Svitov opened the scoring for Salavat just 5:17 in, and Salavat would double that lead 19:45 later as Alexander Stepanov scored at 5:02 of the second period. Kirill Petrov would pull Ak Bars within one goal with his marker at 10:46, and Ak Bars would tie the game 4:01 later as Jarkko Immonen notched his third of the playoffs. The two teams traded goals in the third period - Alexander Stepanov for Salavat and Dmitry Obukhov for Ak Bars - so we were off to extra time once more. After nothing was decided in the first extra frame, the second overtime period saw a winner scored as Salavat defenceman Brent Sopel scored at 15:50 of double-overtime for the 4-3 win. SERIES TIED AT 3-3.

GAME SEVEN: One game would decide the fate of two teams. It started well for Salavat as Brent Sopel scored 13:51 into the game. Ak Bars would even the game just 1:53 into the second period as Danis Zaripov scored on the powerplay, but Salavat would restore the one-goal lead just 1:04 later as Yury Trubachyov scored his first of the playoffs. Kirill Petrov would tie the game once again for Ak Bars at 4:49 with his fourth goal, but Salavat would rally again as Igor Mirnov scored on the powerplay at 9:32. Ak Bars continued to press, though, and Nikolai Zherdev would make it a 3-3 game at the 13:25 mark of the period that would carry through to the intermission. With one period to play, this game was still up for grabs. Just 2:09 into the final frame, Alexei Tereshchenko put Ak Bars Kazan up 4-3. The teams went toe-to-toe as they traded chances down the stretch, but Konstantin Barulin put up a wall to keep Salavat from scoring, and Ak Bars Kazan skated to the 4-3 win and the 4-3 series victory. AK BARS KAZAN WINS 4-3.

VS.
#2 AVANGARD OMSK OBLAST VS. #3 TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK

Avangard Omsk finished atop the Chernyshev Division with 102 points, earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Traktor Chelyabinsk qualified for the playoffs as the third-seeded team after posting 98 points in the Eastern Conference. With so little difference in their point totals, it looked like this series would be a closely-contested affair.

GAME ONE: The fans in Omsk were looking for a big win, but it was Traktor that came out strong. Petri Kontiola scored 4:18 into the game on the powerplay, and they doubled their lead 4:10 later when Valery Nichushkin scored his third goal. The two teams traded chances over the next forty minutes, but Traktor once again added to their lead. Andrei Popov scored at 9:36 of the third period, and Evgeny Kuznetsov added a powerplay goal just 43 seconds later to make it 4-0. Petri Kontiola would score his second of the game with two minutes to play, and Michael Garnett turned aside all 33 shots he faced as Traktor Chelyabinsk won 5-0. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: In what may have seemed like a recurring nightmare, Traktor came out blazing once again. Valery Nichushkin scored just 3:11 in, but the chances were clearly in favor of Traktor. Both teams tightened up through the second period as defence took over, but Traktor broke through once again in the third period as Nichushkin scored at 12:54 of the final frame to make it 2-0. 1:22 after that, Petri Kontiola added another goal, and Michael Garnett was lights-out once again as he pitched a 21-save shutout in the 3-0 win. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: If it seems like the first two games followed the same script - score early, play solid defence, and then put the game away in the third period - be prepared for another game written like the previous two. Alexei Vasilchenko scored 1:35 into the first period to put Traktor up 1-0, followed by two periods of chances thwarted and defensive plays. 5:40 into the third period, Maxim Yakutsenya made it 2-0, and Andrei Popov made it 3-0 just 47 seconds after that. Again, Michael Garnett was perfect in this game as he stopped all 24 shots in leading Traktor to the 3-0 victory. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 3-0.

GAME FOUR: After not scoring in the previous three games, something had to give for Avangard after they had dug a hole that may be insurmountable. The first goal wouldn't come in the first period, and it wasn't scored by a Traktor player! 3:37 into the second period saw Sergei Kalinin score to give Avangard their first goal and lead in the series. 2:49 after that, Avangard's Dmitry Syomin was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway by Alexei Vasilchenko. Syomin went high on the glove side to beat Garnett on the penalty shot, and Avangard led 2-0. 11:29 into the third period, Traktor's Stanislav Chistov scored on the powerplay to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Avangard's Tomas Zaborsky would wrap the game up with his goal at 18:52 to give Avangard the 3-1 victory. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK LEADS 3-1.

GAME FIVE: If there was light at the end of the tunnel for Avangard as they returned home, Traktor buried those hopes quickly in the middle frame of Game Five. Maxim Karpov, Jan Bulis on the powerplay, and Maxim Yakutsenya on the powerplay put Traktor up 3-0 after 40 minutes. Evgeny Kuznetsov added one more goal with 1:24 to go in the game, and Michael Garnett recorded his fourth shutout in this series alone with another 33-save performance as Traktor Chelyabinsk won Game Five by a 4-0 score. TRAKTOR CHELYABINSK WINS 4-1.

Just like in the Western Conference, the top team and the third-seeded team will meet for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Gagarin Cup Final. If I'm Ak Bars Kazan, I'm very concerned about how well Traktor Chelyabinsk is playing defensively, specifically goaltender Michael Garnett. If I'm Traktor Chelyabinsk, I'm certainly aware of Ak Bars Kazan's ability to rally when down and how explosive their offence can be. The Eastern Conference Final should be a good one!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Four In The West

We ran through the KHL Conference Quarterfinals a week ago, and we'll start updating North America about who is advancing from the KHL's Western Conference Semifinal tonight. Tomorrow, we'll look at the Eastern Conference, but we'll start in the west again where there were some intriguing match-ups.

VS.
#1 SKA SAINT PETERSBURG VS. #5 SEVERSTAL CHEREPOVETS

This series, like the previous series for SKA Saint Petersburg, looked like a bit of a mismatch. SKA Saint Petersburg was the top team in the Western Conference with 115 points while Severstal Cherepovets qualified for as the fifth-seeded team with 86 points. SKA Saint Petersburg advanced with a 4-1 series win over Atlant Moscow Oblast, and Severstal Cherepovets advanced with a 4-2 series win over Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

GAME ONE: If defence wins championships, neither team appeared to be content with that statement. SKA's Mikhail Varnakov scored on the powerplay at 7:21. Severstal's Nikita Alexeyev evened the score at 19:12, but Viktor Tikhonov restored the one-goal lead just 22 seconds later! Patrick Thoresen scored on the powerplay 5:48 into the second period to put SKA Saint Petersburg up 3-1, but Severstal's Mikhail Anisin made it 3-2 just 1:02 later. 1:34 after that, Evgeny Ketov evened the score at 3-3 at the 28:26 mark, and then Severstal pulled ahead 1:52 later when Ketov scored a powerplay goal to make it a 4-3 game, chasing SKA goaltender Ivan Kasutin from the game! Tony Martensson would even the score for SKA at 15:49 of the second frame, setting up what looked like a wild third period. But it was not to be as SKA Saint Petersburg showed the form that carried them to the top of the Western Conference in scoring three times - Viktor Tikhonov twice and Maxim Afinogenov - to close out Game One by a 7-4 score. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: The second game of this series looked more like how most expected this series to play out as SKA Saint Petersburg controlled the tempo of this game from start to finish. Viktor Tikhonov put SKA up 1-0 after one period with his powerplay marker, and he and Teemu Ramstedt has SKA up 3-0 after two periods. Severstal's Alexander Ryazantsev and SKA's Alexander Kucheryavenko traded goals in the third period, but SKA Saint Petersburg skated to a 4-1 victory to put the pressure on Severstal Cherepovets as the series shifted to Cherepovets. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 2-0.

GAME THREE: Severstal looked to get back into this series in their home rink, but knocking off the top team would prove difficult. Especially when SKA Saint Petersburg smelled blood in the water. Three first-period goals - Teemu Ramstedt, Mikhail Varnakov, and Anton Burdasov - put the visitors up over Severstal in a big way. Ivan Nepryayev added a fourth goal for SKA Saint Petersburg at the 11:07 mark in the second period, and goaltender Ilya Ezhov did the rest as he turned in a 32-save shutout in the 4-0 SKA Saint Petersburg win. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG LEADS 3-0.

GAME FOUR: With Severstal on the brink of elimination, they would need a Herculean task in coming back against SKA Saint Petersburg in the series, and it would have to start in Game Four. It didn't start as planned as SKA's Dmitry Kalinin opened the scoring on the powerplay at 9:18, but Denis Kazionov tied the game up on the powerplay with 2:43 to play in the opening period. Mikhail Anisin had the crowd buzzing after his goal just 1:39 into the second period as Severstal jumped out to the 2-1 lead. SKA would respond at 4:13 as Yuri Alexandrov's shot found the back of the net to even the game at 2-2. Alexander Kucheryavenko put SKA up 3-2 at 11:18, and Evgeny Artyukhin made it 4-2 wit 4:01 to play in the second period. Goaltender Ivan Kasutin took care of the remaining period as both sides traded chances, but the final score would read 4-2. SKA SAINT PETERSBURG WINS 4-0.

VS.
#2 CSKA MOSCOW VS. #3 DYNAMO MOSCOW

CSKA Moscow was the top team in the Tarasov Division, earning them the second seed with 96 points. Dynamo Moscow finished behind SKA Saint Petersburg in the Bobrov Division with 101 points, earning them the third seed despite being the second-best team in the Western Conference. Despite CSKA Moscow's standing, it appeared that Dynamo Moscow may be the favorite in this series. CSKA Moscow advanced with a 4-0 series sweep of Lev Prague, and Dynamo Moscow advanced with a 4-0 series sweep of Slovan Bratislava.

GAME ONE: It took ten minutes for Dynamo Moscow to find a few cracks in the CSKA Moscow defence, and they would spend the final two periods putting on a display of defence. Alexei Sopin opened the scoring at 10:48, and Sergei Konkov made it a 2-0 lead for Dynamo Moscow just 2:02 later. With 3:39 left in the period, Konstantin Gorovikov made it 3-0, and it appeared the rout was on for Dynamo Moscow as CSKA replaced Rastislav Stana in their net with Ilya Proskuryakov. Proskuryakov was perfect in his 43:49 of play, making 17 saves, but Alexander Yeryomenko was just as good in the Dynamo Moscow net as he turned aside all 21 shots sent his way in leading Dynamo Moscow to the 3-0 win. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 1-0.

GAME TWO: After coming out flat in Game One, CSKA got things started right in Game Two when Igor Grigorenko scored at 14:31 of the first period. Moscow would pull even with 1:06 to play on the opening frame as Andrei Mironov potted a goal. 5:19 into the second period saw CSKA regain the lead as Dmitry Kugryshev found some room to put CSKA up 2-1. After being pulled in Game One, Rastislav Stana took this game over, shutting down wave after wave of Dynamo Moscow attacks. While nothing else would get past Dynamo Moscow's Alexander Yeryomenko, the damage had been done as CSKA rebounds with a 2-1 win. SERIES TIED AT 1-1.

GAME THREE: With the series shifting to the Dynamo arena, the crowd was raucous as the two Moscow-based teams prepared for battle. Dynamo's Roman Derlyuk delighted the crowd just 1:41 in with his goal, but CSKA equalized with a Nikolai Prokhorkin marker at 12:12. Oleg Kvasha would put CSKA up 2-1 with 1:49 to play in the first, and this score would carry into the third period. 3:00 into the third period, Dynamo was able to even the score off Janne Jalasvaara's goal. After regulation time had counted down, it was next-goal-wins as the two teams went into overtime. 11:30 into the extra frame, we crowned a winner as Dynamo's Konstantin Gorovikov netted the winner! DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 2-1.

GAME FOUR: With defence and goaltending taking over in this series, Game Four was crucial to both teams for vastly different reasons. It started well for Dynamo Moscow as Sergei Soin netted his first of the playoffs to put Dynamo up 1-0 at 16:15 of the opening period. Just 1:57 into the second period, CSKA pulled even when Nikolai Prokhorkin's shot found the back of the net. Nearly 59 minutes later, we'd have a winner. Sergei Konkov wired a shot past Rastislav Stana just 38 seconds into overtime to give Dynamo Moscow the 2-1 overtime win. DYNAMO MOSCOW LEADS 3-1.

GAME FIVE: Knowing the importance of Game Five, both teams were doing all they could to secure victory. Dynamo Moscow could close out the series while CSKA Moscow needed a win to push them to a sixth game. It appeared both teams knew the importance of this game as they traded chances for 50 minutes, but no pucks were pushed across the goal lines. Filip Novak's first of the playoffs at 11:37 of the third period put Dynamo Moscow up 1-0, and the pressure was on for CSKA to tie the game. Alexander Yeryomenko stood tall in the Dynamo net, though, and with 25 seconds remaining, Jakub Petruzalek iced the game with his empty-net marker. Yeryomenko recorded 28 saves for the shutout in the 2-0 Dynamo Moscow win. DYNAMO MOSCOW WINS 4-0.

With the victories, the top-two teams in the Western Conference in terms of points will play one another for the right to compete for the Gagarin Cup. Both teams have been dominant thus far as they have similar 8-1 records thus far. Viktor Tikhonov appears to be asserting himself in his homeland with his dominant performance against Severstal, and Dynamo Moscow's defensive shell has yet to be cracked significantly. This should be a great series as these two teams battle for Western Conference supremacy!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Success In Odd Years

The CIS men's hockey championships took place last weekend, so I'm a little late to this party, but the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds hockey team are the kings of CIS men's hockey after surviving the weekend tournament. The second-ranked team in the six-team tournament earned their championship in a few hard-fought battles, and the Varsity Reds can stand atop the mountain as CIS champions after their 2-0 victory over the Saint Mary's Huskies in the final.

UNB downed the host Saskatchewan Huskies in their opening game by a 3-1 margin, and hammered the Quebec champion UQTR (Trois-Rivieres, PQ) by an 8-3 score. UNB really didn't face much competition until they hit the final against arch-rival Saint Mary's who was 3-4 against UNB this season. These two teams were very evenly-matched, having played one another all season long in the AUS, so you knew this game would likely be low-scoring.

A slow start for Saint Mary's allowed the Varsity Reds to build some momentum, and Daine Todd would put UNB up 1-0 with his goal just 10 minutes into the game. Aside from that goal, that was all the offence these two teams could muster with the two goalies in the blue paint. It wasn't until the final minutes with Huskies' goaltender Anthony Peters on the bench that another goal was scored. UNB's Tyler Carroll buried the puck into the empty net, and the celebration was on.

"I couldn't be happier," UNB goaltender Daniel LaCosta said after his 17-save shutout. "It'll be a late night tonight for sure in Saskatoon."

With the three wins in the tournament, UNB improved to 26-5-0 on the season - a record any championship team would enjoy. The CIS title is the fifth in UNB history, all under coach Gardiner MacDougall, with the previous wins coming in 1998, 2007, 2009, and 2011. That's a pretty solid record over the last seven years as they have four championships during that span. It appears as though UNB is becoming a hockey powerhouse through their program!

In every championship in the CIS, I always look for an uplifting story about a player. UNB's Travis Fullerton is the player I focused on in this championship season due to his past. Travis Fullerton was the backup for most of the year at UNB, but he showed success as he went 8-4 with a 2.23 GAA in his 12 games. Upon completing the season with a championship, Fullerton signed an amateur tryout contract with the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls!

If Fullerton's name sounds vaguely familiar, he was actually a rising star in the QMJHL with the Lewiston Maineiacs before an alleged drunk driving incident on August 21, 2006 got him removed from the team. Fullerton was the backup to current Los Angeles King Jonathan Bernier while playing with Lewiston! After bouncing around the QMJHL for a couple of seasons, Fullerton enrolled at UNB in 2008, helping the Varsity Reds win three championships in his time at the school. Not bad for a kid who made good after making a serious mistake in his career! Fullerton will play backup in San Francisco for the remainder of the season! Well done, Travis, and congratulations to the UNB Varsity Reds!

In another CIS development, I spoke a little about his new adventure on last week's episode of The Hockey Show, but University of Manitoba's Jesse Deckert recently signed with the ECHL's Florida Everblades! Deckert went 16-9-0 in Canada West play this season, eventually falling in the CWUAA semi-final to the Saskatchewan Huskies. He was one of the better goaltenders down the stretch as his improved play helped the Bisons into a playoff spot in the CWUAA. Had it not been for a slower start by the Bisons, he may have been a CWUAA All-Star.

After the Bisons were bounced from the CWUAA playoffs, Deckert signed on with the Everblades on March 5 and hasn't looked back. Here are the games in which Deckert has played since signing in the ECHL:

  • March 6 at Cincinnati Cyclones - 5-4 overtime win with 37 saves.
  • March 8 at Fort Wayne Komets - 6-3 win with 30 saves.
  • March 9 at Fort Wayne Komets - 6-2 win with 31 saves.
  • March 10 at Kalamazoo Wings - 2-1 shootout loss with 26 saves.
  • March 17 vs. South Carolina Stingrays - 4-3 overtime win with 19 saves.
  • March 22 vs. Cincinnati Cyclones - 6-2 loss with 14 saves.
  • March 23 vs. Cincinnati Cyclones - 5-1 win with 23 saves.
Since joining the Everblades, Deckert has gone 5-1-1 with a 2.64 GAA and a .909 save percentage, and has started seven of nine games since joining the team. I'd say the faith that Florida is putting in the youngster is well worth it based upon the results they are getting!

And just to make Deckert feel a little more at home, Florida went out on the March 7 trade deadline and signed University of Manitoba defenceman Ty Dittmer to an amateur tryout contract as well!  Dittmer has only played in one game - March 8 in Fort Wayne against the Komets - but he assisted on Mike Ratchuk's second-period goal for his first professional point, and finished the game as a +1!

For those keeping track at home, Deckert is wearing #40 with the Everblades while Dittmer sported #5 in his only action thus far. Still, for a pair of Bisons playing university hockey on the cold, Manitoba prairie, joining a pro hockey team in Estero, Florida for the remainder of the season is pretty awesome!

Congratulations to Travis Fullerton, Jesse Deckert, and Ty Dittmer on finding a spot on a couple of professional rosters, and congratulations to the UNB Varsity Reds for winning the 2013 CIS Men's Hockey Championship!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Blaming The Wrong Guy

It seems to have taken a lot longer than I thought it would for the axe to fall in Tampa Bay, but I was surprised that the man deemed expendable was head coach Guy Boucher. Either late last night or early this morning, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman felt the need for change had to happen now, and decided to relieve Guy Boucher of his duties with the club.

I will admit that I've always admired Boucher's work ethic and abilities considering the lack of talent he worked with in Tampa Bay, and, in saying this, I feel that Boucher's dismissal may have wrongly made him the scapegoat for what I feel are the Lightning organization's deficiencies in building a Stanley Cup team. This may be more because of the team architect's deficiencies, so Steve Yzerman should take a long, hard look at this roster he built and figure out how to overspend to fix it.

First off, the goaltending is AHL-caliber at its best. Yzerman went out and acquired Nashville backup netminder Anders Lindback with the hope that he could be the bonafide long-term starter in Tampa Bay for the foreseeable future. Lindback, at the time of his trade was 24, had played in a whopping 38 games in his career. The Lightning arguably gave up little in backup netminder Sebastien Caron, but the draft picks they gave up could be the lynchpin in this trade after all was said and done.

The Lightning gave up the 37th-overall and 50th-overall picks in the 2012 Entry Draft, and Nashville turned those picks into wingers Pontus Aberg of Djurgardens IF Stockholm and Colton Sissons of the Kelowna Rockets. In 47 games in the Swedish Elite League this season, Aberg had eight goals and seven assists for a team that finished 10th of twelve teams this season. Sissons, on the other hand, had 28 goals and 39 assists in 63 WHL games this year as the Rockets dominated the BC Division. Sissons looks like he's on the path to being an NHL player with his current development.

Normally, if a GM is acquiring an unproven goaltender, the thought is that he needs a solid veteran goaltender to go along with the green netminder. Garon arrived in Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2011-12 after spending two seasons backing up Steve Mason in Columbus, and it was thought that he could spell off Dwayne Roloson as the backup. Instead, Roloson faltered and Garon was given the starting duties in nearly half the games. The result? Tampa Bay missed the playoffs.

This season, it was expected that Garon could help Lindback develop as well as giving the youngster a night off here and there. Instead, it has been Garon who has faltered with a 3-8-0 record, forcing Lindback to play more rather than developing. Of course, the youngster is making mistakes thanks to his rather glaring inexperience in NHL games, and his record of 10-7-1 speaks to that.

Factoring in the trade of Dustin Tokarski, who appeared to be Tampa Bay's goalie of the future after leading the Norfolk Admirals to a Calder Cup championship in the AHL last season, for the once-acquired Cedrick Desjardins, and you have to wonder if Steve Yzerman's scouts are even watching games at the lower levels. Tokarski was a monster last season in the Norfolk Admirals' nets, and was an amazing 18-8-4 as the starting goaltender with Syracuse this season before the trade. Why would Yzerman even consider dealing him away for anything but NHL-caliber talent?

If goaltending wasn't the Achilles' heel of the Lightning, injuries certainly have affected this team. As of today, the above-mentioned Andres Lindback, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, and Mattias Ohlund are all out, and all have been given significant roles on this team. There aren't too many teams - outside of the Ottawa Senators, it seems - that could have their starting goalie, their top centerman, a second-line power forward, and a top defenceman miss significant time without affecting their standing. Tampa Bay is no different than any other team, and Guy Boucher doesn't have the depth to insert another player who can fill those roles and/or minutes with the same skill level. Depth, is of course, the mark of a great general manager, and Tampa Bay has none. They are getting contributions from their AHL players, but not at the same consistency as the fallen NHL stars, and this will certainly cause them to fall down the standings.

Cory Conacher has been a great addition, and guys like Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Dana Tyrell have been putting points on the board. However, Killorn, Johnson, and Tyrell only have 19 points in the games they have played, meaning they are ten points short of the contributions made by Malone and Lecavalier. I'm certainly not comparing skill levels between these players, but we're talking about three players needed to contribute the same as two players. In fact, it it weren't for Johnson bringing that average points-per-game total up almost 10%, Tyrell and Killorn - two centerman - would deliver half of Lecavalier's offence alone. That's simply not good enough if a star goes down and is needed to be replaced by one other player, let alone two players.

Of course, you can pin that on coaching as well. After all, if you lose a major offensive cog like Lecavalier from your lineup, you should be changing your strategy to play more defensively so that you can protect the net a little more. Lecavalier is good with the puck, so you need to look at puck possession as well, and that's directly a coaching concern as well. However, in the case of the Lightning, the problem goes directly back to men defending the net.

The Lightning are currently third in goals-for in the NHL per game at 3.26 goals-per-game - better than both Anaheim and Montreal, and only 0.01 goals-per-game worse than Chicago. It's not like the Lightning don't have the firepower to score goals in this league, and it would suggest that Tampa Bay should be one of the better teams in the NHL based on goals-scored when you find them nestled between Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim, and Montreal - all atop their divisions. Instead, they are nestled into the non-playoff teams when it comes to giving up goals, and that's a reflection on the skill and talent of their defencemen and goalies.

Tampa is 24th-overall when it comes to goals-against-per-game at 3.03, and are one of six teams to surrender three-goals-per-game or more. The others? Philadelphia, Buffalo, Colorado, Calgary, NY Islanders, and Florida - all non-playoff teams as of today's standings. They are nearly a full goal-per-game worse than NHL-leading Ottawa, and that's one of the reasons why Ottawa is a playoff team.

Ottawa had two solid goalies to start the season in Anderson and Bishop, and then Anderson got hurt, forcing Bishop to play starter's minutes. They called up Robin Lehner, another 1A goalie, and he's been just as good as Bishop was in that role. They say defence wins championships, and, as true as that may be, defence also gets you into the playoffs when your scoring dries up through injuries or slumps. Tampa Bay has suffered through a number of injuries to their top players much like Ottawa has, but Ottawa's defensive game has tightened up and they are still getting quality goaltending from their backup and their AHL starter. Garon and Desjardins are not giving Tampa Bay that same quality goaltending, and the defence is still abysmal in front of them.

If you look at Ottawa's defence, Chris Phillips and Marc Methot are your bonafide shutdown guys. They score a few points when they can, but they do the heavy lifting in moving players from in front of the net, blocking shots, and riding scorers out of the play into the boards. Of the following players, name their Tampa Bay equivalents: Victor Hedman, Sami Salo, Matt Carle, Eric Brewer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Keith Aulie, Radko Gudas, and Brian Lee. I'll wait for you to make a strong case.

Can't do it, can you? Consider this: Nate Thompson has played 31 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, and he leads the team in hits with 61, good for a tie at 81st-overall in the NHL. Of the men listed above, Keith Aulie is right behind Thompson with 60 hits, making him tied for 85th-best in the NHL. Comparatively, Ottawa's Marc Methot is tied for 21st-overall with 85 hits and Chris Phillips is tied for 43rd-overall with 70 hits. In other words, they make the lives of scorers tough once they cross the blueline, and those two men play major minutes for Ottawa. Keith Aulie doesn't log anywhere near the minutes that Phillips and Methot do, so what does that say about Tampa Nay's defence when scorers enter the Lightning zone?

Tampa Bay does, to their credit, block a lot of shots, but you have to block shots when your goaltending has been so poor. Again, it's not so much that they do it AND get great goaltending, it's that it seems Tampa Bay does it to SAVE their goaltenders from taking the shot. What's worse is that all these blocked shots don't count as shots on net, so you wonder how Tampa Bay's goals-per-game average is so high when they surrender the league's second-lowest shots-per-game total at 26.6. That speaks deafening volumes to the abilities of your goaltenders in stopping pucks, and Tampa Bay's goalies simply aren't doing that.

I like Steve Yzerman, but I'm afraid the mess that is the Tampa Bay Lightning is directly his fault. Guy Boucher may be the scapegoat for this season, but he can't improve his goaltending if he goalies simply aren't making the stops and the statistics are screaming that fact out. His team blocks a ton of shots that are directed towards his goaltenders, yet they give up a ton of goals on very few shots. Essentially, Tampa Bay is playing with a 1A goaltender in Lindback, a career backup in Garon, and a legitimate AHL netminder in Desjardins. If teams are built from the back out, this season's version of the Tampa Bay Lightning are a prime example of how not to build your team.

Unfortunately, that falls directly upon Steve Yzerman. If the Lightning lose today's game against the Jets, I suspect the fire sale will commence in Tampa Bay as Stevie-Y looks to erase memories of this season in preparing for next season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Ruling The Henhouse?

If there's one thing that hockey does well, it's having great traditions where players recognize their teammates in terms of hard work. As you can see to the left, David Backes of the St. Louis Blues was awarded the "Weenie of the Game" hat last season that the Blues award after each game to the "toughest and most deserving player" player on the ice. Hard hats are regularly worn, the Bruin wore a special jacket on their Stanley Cup run a few seasons ago, and now the Bruins are having some more fun with their hard-working player award.

The following picture features Dennis Seidenberg, a defenceman with the Bruins, in the newest piece of apparel that the hardest-working player must wear in front of the media: a rooster t-shirt.

So who is responsible for the change? Apparently, this new twist on the tradition came from defenceman Andrew Ference. TSN's Mark Masters tweeted out the following:
I have to say that this is a pretty funny idea, to be honest. Sure, the t-shirt is pretty ugly, but isn't that the point? I mean, the hot dog hat above is hilarious in terms of how it looks, but imagine doing an interview in it. The rooster shirt is much the same, and it should provide some good chatter between the player wearing it and the media for the first times it will be worn.

The only question left to answer is who will be the cock of the walk after tonight's game?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Math Means Better Travel

There are many things that go into a hockey season, but one of the biggest components is travel. Teams are always looking for ways to minimize the amount of time on planes moving from city to city, and the latest NHL realignment is supposed to minimize the travel... unless you're playing in the Northeast-Florida Division. Be that as it may, no longer will Winnipeg have to make long treks across the globe to play a divisional foe, and both Detroit and Columbus actually get to play road games in a time zone when most of their fans are still awake. In short, it seems good.

But is it really that good? What if there was a way to make it better by further reducing the travel by reshuffling the teams? What if you could reduce travel through math?

Ok, I know I've featured math on this blog before which may have bored a few of you, but hear me out on this one because it could significantly change the way in how the NHL looks. I was reading through Wired.com today when a story about NHL travel patterns appeared as a headline. Entitled Algorithmically Realigning Sports Leagues, the article focuses on the recent realignment plan by the NHL and determines that total league travel miles could be further reduced by better realigning the teams so that they play divisional foes who are located closer than current or proposed divisional opponents.

Under the current league alignment, a team of mathematicians at West Point determined that the NHL's current setup delivers 1,185,123 miles of travel. However, the new alignment starting next season would actually add approximately 30,000 miles of travel to the total amount of travel done by the 30 teams! Teams may play closer rivals, but the opposite of what was promised is being delivered!

Of course, one could call into question the algorithm that is being used, but the mathematics behind the algorithm are actually quite sound. I won't go into the details here, but I will link to the science behind how this algorithm was conceived in order to determine the travel trends. Absolutely worth the read if you want to see how math can flush out the best-case scenario from hundreds of possible solutions.

According to the algorithm, the best scenario for the NHL would be six five-team divisions that were as follows:

  • NORTHEAST: Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo.
  • ATLANTIC: Boston, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia.
  • SOUTHEAST: Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Florida.
  • CENTRAL: Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Tampa Bay.
  • PACIFIC: Colorado, Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles.
  • NORTHWEST: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Minnesota.
In this realignment, the 30 NHL teams would only travel 1,155,391 miles - 30,000 miles less than what the NHL teams currently travel in one season!
The team of mathematicians, though, looked at this realignment and realized that breaking up Florida and Tampa Bay made no sense, so they shuffled the alignment again to put those two teams back together in the same division. The result? Tampa Bay shifts to the "Southeast", Pittsburgh jumps to the "Northeast", and Detroit shifts back to the "Central". Difference in travel from the best-case scenario? A mere 578-mile increase!

Now you might be saying, "Teebz, who cares? Detroit and Columbus are in the east, and Winnipeg is in the west. This works better for everyone!", and you'd nearly be right. In the NHL's realignment, the NHL admitted that not everyone was happy with the proposal, but the majority ruled the vote. Democracy prevailed.

In the mathematician's best-case scenario, though, nine teams would see increased travel, but the league would see every other team traveling significantly less. In fact, the largest increase in travel would come from the teams in the American midwest as Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville, and Minnesota all see increases of nearly 10,000 miles of travel. The other four - Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, an Columbus - see an increase of less than a 1000 miles combined!
So what does this all mean? Well, not much. The NHL and NHLPA have agreed on the NHL's proposed divisional and conference realignment, so there isn't much to say for the next few years. However, once this trial period is over, the NHLPA may want to use some of the statistics to ensure that the players are on the road less and resting more. The days of having road-weary teams may be coming to an end with this sort of advanced math.

If you want to read the full report that also examines the travel of the other three professional leagues, you can click here for it. It's in PDF format, so it should be readable on the majority of browsers.

The key here is that math and science can play a big role in how the NHL operates. If it can help teams save some money by traveling less, that's a good thing. And better-rested players turn in better performances. Personally, I only see this math as a win-win from any perspective.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Hockey Show - Episode Twenty-Eight

The Hockey Show hits the airwaves tonight with a variety of topics to discuss. There has been a lot happening in the world of hockey lately, both locally and on the global stage, and Beans and I will tackle a number of topics that are on the docket. Of course, it's also a game night as the Winnipeg Jets host the Washington Capitals in an odd back-to-back home series against the Capitals before the Tampa Bay Lightning arrive at MTS Centre. It's a big night on The Hockey Show!

Amongst the various topics that Beans and I will discuss tonight will be:
  • the recent winning streak of the Winnipeg Jets and their playoff chances.
  • mandatory visors proposed at the GM Meetings.
  • larger nets vs. smaller goalie equipment - which is a better solution?
  • playing fantasy GM as we look at who the Jets should trade for at the deadline.
  • the challenge rule - do we need it after a number of questionable calls this season?
  • CIS and MHSAA results as those championships were decided.
Of course, we always welcome your calls, and we're always looking for Twitter questions! You can reach us at (204) 269-8636, and tweet me at @TeebzHBIC! We'll take calls and read tweets on the air! Join us at 6pm on 101.5 UMFM for some good hockey talk on The Hockey Show!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Honoring A Celebrity Coach

Imagine you're a prepubescent kid of the 1990s. Ok, some of us were actually prepubescent, but that matters none at this point. Imagine, if you will, taking your hard-earned paper route money or allowance down to the local sports card shop to buy a package of hockey cards. You look through the various options, and decided on a package of Pro Set Platinum cards. You exchange your money for the package of cards and race outside to see which star player you've obtained for your collection. With the excitement building, you pull open the cellophane packaging to find...


... Fred Rogers' face staring back at you? You check the packaging, ensuring you actually were sold hockey cards and not some sort of PBS celebrity collectible package of cards. Indeed, you bought the right package, so what gives? Why is Mr. Rogers mixed in with the likes of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, and Ray Bourque?

Pro Set decided to include some celebrities in their 1991-92 premium card set as a bit of a subset to the players' cards. Other celebrity coaches included Buffalo's Jim Kelly, Washington's Larry King, and Chicago's Jim Belushi. Now I'm not saying that any of the above people even attended games for those teams, but I'd suspect both Kelly and Belushi went to at least one game. The partial list, as far as I can find, includes:
  • Buffalo's Jim Kelly - former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
  • Chicago's Jim Belushi - comedian and actor.
  • Hartford's Susan Saint James - actress and activist.
  • Minnesota's David Wheaton - former pro tennis player.
  • NY Islanders' Ralph Macchio - actor.
  • NY Rangers' Marv Albert - sportscaster.
  • Pittsburgh's Fred Rogers - TV personality.
  • Quebec's Gaetan Boucher - Olympic speed-skater.
  • Vancouver's Rick Hansen - paralympian and activist.
  • Washington's Larry King - former TV and radio host.
  • Winnipeg's Burton Cummings - musician.
Pro Set reportedly produced the subset as part of the 75th Anniversary of the NHL's founding, but I'm not sure that this subset was needed to be produced. I'm talking about it today because, had stomach cancer not stolen him from us, Fred Rogers would have been 84 years-old today. I wasn't overly fond of his television program as a child, but you always knew that Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood would feature him wearing a sweater that his mom had knitted for him, the overview fly-by of his miniturized neighborhood, and his melodious singing of his theme song "Won't You Be My Neighbor?".

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers. For 35 years, you taught the children of North America about respect, integrity, and being a good person - lessons of which a lot of the world could certainly use more today. More importantly, you were a Penguins fan, and that makes you a great guy in my books.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Change Is Not Necessary

I've been using Photobucket for a long time with little problem. They have hosted all of the images I use here on Hockey Blog In Canada, and I am proud to say that they have yet to fail in terms of a service that goes down. While it's to be expected that websites and services will occasionally implement changes to the way they do things, Photobucket stayed pretty true to its original hosting service while making their changes. However, like so many other services, they appear to be forcing users to change to their new look and format with little regard for the simplicity and ease of use they had before, and I'm not overly happy with this decision.

Overall, no one is going to notice a change from this blog's perspective because the front-facing side of Photobucket remains the same. It's the uploading portion that has thrown me for a loop over the last couple of days with the photos of musicians as the site continues to try to decide where my photos should go despite me wanting them in a specific album. This, as you may be aware, is a complete pain in my rear because the links get all messed up, and I have to waste time moving stuff around when I was already at the spot I wished them to go.

The new layout of Photobucket is nice, and I'm not saying that the site wasn't due for an update in terms of color scheme and layout. Heck, I'm always considering changes for HBIC in order to keep things fresh and new for my readers. However, the basics will not change on this blog - menus on the side without much clutter and advertising will always be an HBIC trademark - and, in saying this, the basic functionality of Photobucket should have remained the same as well. Now that it has changed, it's maddeningly frustrating.

Anyway, if you're here looking for photos of musicians in hockey jerseys, I'll have more up by tomorrow once I get all of these photo misplacements fixed. I apologize for this, but the placeholders and thank-yous are already up on the site. My thanks to all who have sent in photos thus far, and please continue to do so if you find more! I'll work through this hosting issue, and we'll be back in business again.

Thanks for being patient with me.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Would You Trade Him?

There's no denying that Ryan Miller is fast becoming a polarizing figure in the sports world. He speaks his mind, and that will ruffle feathers when those words are pointed at his own teammates. He's frustrated with the play of his team, and perhaps his own play, this season as the Sabres are stuck near the cellar of the Eastern Conference. In short, the Sabres' netminder is not having very much fun this year.

The latest fracture in the Sabres comes courtesy of Miller speaking his mind in regards to Patrick Kaleta's comments about being a healthy scratch after serving his suspension. No NHL player, especially veteran players, enjoys being a healthy scratch, so it was to be expected that Kaleta would be unhappy. Miller, though, would have none of Kaleta's complaining.

I'm not sure if Miller is working his way towards an eventual goal of being traded, but you have to think that Miller's latest comments won't sit well in the dressing room with Kaleta. The fact that Miller stated that he'd walk over and tell that to Kaleta shows that Miller is frustrated with the ongoing drama surrounding this team at a time when wins and losses matter a whole lot more.

If you're the Buffalo Sabres, though, what do you do? Miller is still a high-quality goaltender who can play an extremely high level. His trade value would be decent despite his struggles this season. As stated above, Miller has a point in terms of players needing to keep their mouths shut and doing their jobs. But is this really something you can say in the manner in which he said it?

Therefore, the question must be asked since it appears that the Buffalo Sabres will not be participating in the postseason this year: do you trade Ryan Miller, or do you keep him despite his outspokenness?

Let me know in the comments, folks. Personally, I firmly believe a strong goaltender is your most important player, but sometimes you have to part ways when his off-ice demeanor outweighs his play on the ice. Tim Thomas would be an example of this. Hit me with your thoughts, readers. I'm interested to see what you think.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Musicians In Jerseys

I have decided to start up a little project here on Hockey Blog In Canada. We've all seen various musicians roll through town and decide to don the local professional hockey team's colors. The musicians get an ovation for showing the hometown team a little love, and the team gets a little free publicity. It's a pretty good little trade-off for both sides. What bothers me, of course, is that most musicians couldn't name you the third-line centerman of the local team despite his perceived allegiance. That's where my project is going to start.

What I want to do is catalog all images of MUSICIANS in HOCKEY JERSEYS. I'm not interested in t-shirts or sweatshirts or jackets. Anyone can wear a stylish jacket or golf shirt with a logo, but your die-hard fans wear a jersey. This project is meant to capture all of the images of musicians in a uniform regardless of whether the musician knows who the head coach is or the starting goalie is. Basically, I want to create a vast collection of musicians wearing hockey jerseys just for fun.

Personally, I think it will be neat to see some of the info that evolves out of this project. For example, there are musicians who seemingly tour the country just to get hockey jerseys they will never wear again for any reason. There are other musicians, though, who actually go to games, support the players and team, and wear the jersey because they are invested in the game. Needless to say, I think some very cool information can be extracted from this collection of images. I also think it will be cool to see if any musicians have been spotted wearing defunct teams at any point in history.

What I will do is list the team below with all of the musicians who are wearing their uniforms cataloged beside each team name. This is going to be fun, so I also want you to send in any and all images you may have collected from concerts, in the general public's eye, or from where ever you may discover them. Please send any photos to me via my email address, and I'll credit you accordingly for the find! Sound good? Let's do this!

Anaheim Ducks

Atlanta Thrashers

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Calgary Flames

Carolina Hurricanes

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Columbus Blue Jackets

Detroit Red Wings

Edmonton Oilers

Florida Panthers

Hartford Whalers

Minnesota North Stars

Minnesota Wild

Montreal Canadiens

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Quebec Nordiques

San Jose Sharks

St. Louis Blues

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Vancouver Canucks

Washington Capitals

NHL All-Star Game

Other Jerseys


Remember, if you want to add a photo to the list I'm compiling, send an email to me with the photo!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!