Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 22

We're 22 weeks into the return of the Manitoba Moose to the province's capital, and today's Antler Banter might have the most Moose news since the team's return! Players have been sent down to the Moose, we have a few signings in Tulsa, and there's an actual team being put together for the new Moose's first season back in Winnipeg. Opening night is a week away and the Moose will set foot on MTS Centre ice on October 15 for their home opener. In other words, the AHL season is right around the corner, and we have lots to discuss in today's entry! Without further adieu, let's put hooves to ground and get this edition of Antler Banter rolling!

Moose Get Players

The Winnipeg Jets pared down their roster on Monday by sending fourteen players to Moose camp. Those fourteen had few surprises in the list as John Albert, Joel Armia, Eric Comrie, Patrice Cormier, Chase De Leo, Matt Fraser, Matt Halischuk, Brenden Kichton, Scott Kosmachuk, Jan Kostalek, Andrew MacWilliam, Julian Melchiori, Josh Morrissey, and Ryan Olsen were all sent down the hallway at MTS Centre to the Moose dressing room. They join Jimmy Lodge, Axel Blomqvist, Ben Walker, Austen Brassard, Brennan Serville, Aaron Harstad, Peter Stoykewych, and Jussi Olkinuora who had already been re-assigned to the Moose.

The Invitees

We already know that David Leggio is in Moose camp on a PTO, but there are eight other players who are attending camp on PTOs as well. They are Mathieu Brodeur, Jiri Fronk, Mathieu Gagnon, Brant Harris, Darren Kramer, Kellan Lain, Brendan O'Donnell, and Brock Trotter.

Trotter is an interesting case as he was always a thorn in the sides of the Moose players when he was with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He comes to the Moose after spending last season in the KHL with both Zagreb Medvescak and Dynamo Moscow. It will be interesting to see how Trotter does, but fans of the old Moose will certainly appreciate seeing him in Moose colours as opposed to the opposition's colours.

The Stopper

The Jets announced today that Connor Hellebuyck was re-assigned to the Moose. Hellebuyck had an outstanding season in the AHL last season, so getting him back is certainly good news for the Moose. Hellebuyck finished last season with a 28-22-5 record on a 2.58 GAA and a .921 save percentage.

He only saw action in two preseason games for the Jets, but there's no question that the Moose need some strong goaltending behind their young lineup. If Hellebuyck can recreate that same magic he had last season, expect him to be a fan favorite along the status as Cory Schneider and Johan Hedberg.

Tickets Please

The Moose announced that single-game tickets for all 38 home games go on sale on October 2. What they didn't tell everyone at the outset is that there's a price increase for single-game tickets which seems a little shady when you consider that those who bought mini-packs and season tickets sitting beside you kept more money in their pockets.

According to the Moose press release, "Single game tickets are priced at $25.50, $30.50, and $35.50, a total cost which includes all taxes and agency fees. Fans still currently have the opportunity to save $10.50 per ticket across all price categories by purchasing Full Season Seats and Mini Packs". While I appreciate the economics lesson from the Moose in terms of spending money to save money in buying season tickets and mini-packs, it appears that those who want to walk up and buy tickets because they have a night free to see the Moose had better bring some extra cash with them.

Tulsa Gets Deeper

On Wednesday, The Tulsa Oilers, ECHL affiliate of the Moose and Jets, announced today they had signed forwards Brandon Wong, Brian Nugent, and Igor Vladykovskii to contracts for the upcoming season. Wong and Nugent have previous ECHL experience on their resumés while Vladykovskii comes to North America after having played for Dynamo St. Petersburg in the MHL, Russia's major junior league.

Wong played with the Evansville Icemen and the South Carolina Stingrays last season, tallying 20 goals and 33 assists in 69 games between the two teams before helping the Stingrays advance to the Kelly Cup Final where they lost in seven games. Nugent played 55 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones last season where he recorded 5 goals and 12 assists. Wong and Nugent actually grew up together in Vancouver, BC, so there's hope that they can find some chemistry with the Oilers this season. Vladykovskii played with the Springfield Jr. Blues in the North American Hockey League in 2013-14 where recorded three goals and two assists in 31 games. He was actually selected by the OHL's Erie Otters as a 19 year-old in the import draft, but opted to return home to Russia.

On Tuesday, the Oilers announced they had signed defenseman Sean Erickson and goaltender Andy Iles. Erickson has played the four seasons in Tulsa in the past and returned last season. In seven pro seasons, he's recorded 57 goals and 152 assists in 385 games and looks to be an offensive catalyst from the blue line. Iles spent last season with his bags packed as he spent time with the Alaska Aces, Florida Everblades, and Tulsa Oilers. He posted a 2.98 goals against average and a 15-6-2 record in 23 appearances with the Everblades last year before being acquired by Tulsa.

Training camp opened for the Moose on Tuesday at MTS IcePlex, so we're not far off for the AHL's return to Winnipeg. Personally, I'm thinking the Moose will have a solid season in front of ravenous fans, so get out and get your (price-increased) tickets on Friday for any of the 38 home dates the Moose play at MTS Centre!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Move Back To Nassau

The New York Islanders are settling into their new Brooklyn-based home in the Barclays Center, and there are a few things that need to be reviewed. Moving is always a time of upheaval and change so this was to be expected to a degree, but there are still a few things the Islanders need to correct. There are a bank of seats that are so far away from the ice surface that they may still be on Long Island. There's an alternate jersey that's entirely black and white with no explanation other than those are "Brooklyn colors". And there's a little problem with the noise after a goal is scored.

Seriously, I have no idea who came up with this iteration of the goal horn, but the Islanders now have a worse goal horn than some high school teams. This is just awful.
What is that? WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT RACKET?!? You don't cut deals with the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to your goal horn, Islanders! There is nothing to be proud of with that horn. NOTHING.

The funniest part is that there are a ton of people who are comparing the sound to the scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey's character proceeds to demonstrate the most annoying sound in the world which, of course, upsets their guest.

Well, if you've visited the incredible website known as We Just Scored, you'll find a brand-new horn sound for the Islanders on the Islanders' page. Well played, We Just Scored. Very well played.

The Islanders were supposed to be moving up in the world by moving to Brooklyn. If there's one thing for certain, they're taking the train into the city. And home. And every time they score. Hey, if they were smart, they could appeal to Gary Bettman to have Subway as their first jersey advertisement! The jokes write themselves, folks.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 28 September 2015

TBC: Shift Work

With school back in, I decided to hit the books again. Literally. I have a pile of excellent titles that I'm really excited for, and I'm going to start those reviews right here and now. Teebz's Book Club returns with a fantastic book as I am proud to review Shift Work, written by Tie Domi and published by Simon & Schuster. Shift Work is an autobiographical look at the life of Tahir "Tie" Domi and his work on and off the ice in the NHL. If there is one group of players who have incredible books it would be the enforcers or tough guys of the NHL from days gone by, and Shift Work is no different in being an enjoyable, humourous look at Tie Domi's days in hockey, his family life, his childhood, and everything in between!

From the Simon & Schuster website, "Tie Domi was raised in Belle River, Ontario. Over his sixteen-year NHL career, he played for the New York Rangers, the Winnipeg Jets, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he was and still is a beloved fan favourite. With 333 career NHL fights, Domi has the most fights in NHL history. Now a consultant, Domi is also active in many charitable foundations. He is the proud father of Carlin, Max, and Avery. Domi splits his time between Toronto and New York City, where he spends time with his girlfriend, Heather."

Shift Work takes us right back to the beginning of the Domi story with his father, John, who was born in Albania. His father survived World War II and, despite being an anti-communist, escaped the Soviet Union-controlled Albanian communist government. It was in escaping that John met a young Kosovo woman named Meyrem in 1954 who would soon be his wife. After bouncing around Europe in trying to find a place to settle, John emigrated to Canada, landing in Winnipeg. However, he would soon move to Toronto and make enough money to have Meyrem join him. It was in southern Ontario that the story of Tie Domi starts.

Tie was born on November 1, 1969, and he was born into a family that was close with his parents, brother Dash, and sister Trish. His father set the example that Tie always followed - hard-working, friendly, and accepting of everyone - that would be the trademarks of Tie's interactions with everyone he met in his life. These three traits are repeated often in Shift Work, and there are many examples where you can see these traits shine through in his collected memories.

Tie goes over his biggest moments in his hockey career as well. He talks about his fight against Detroit's Bob Probert while with the Rangers, bring traded to the Winnipeg Jets and looking out for Teemu Selanne, his eventual trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs and looking out for Mats Sundin, playing for legends like Roger Neilson, Pat Burns, and Pat Quinn, and meeting his idols in Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux, and Jean Beliveau. Needless to say, Tie had a memorable sixteen-year run in the NHL that included some definite highs and some lows, but I'm pretty certain that he enjoyed every second of it as seen in his writing.

The one low that really resonated with me was his talk about Wade Belak. Wade and Tie played together until Tie retired, and the enforcer spoke at lengths about how Belak really just wanted to be included in whatever was going on. He spoke of how Belak's demeanour would change on nights where there was an enforcer waiting for him on the other bench, and how wound up Belak would be in anticipating that. Belak, as Domi wrote, never wanted to fight. It's an interesting look into the psyche of Belak from Domi's point of view and, ultimately, an unfortunate one as Domi recounts hearing the news of Belak's passing.

Make no mistake that I was very interested to read what Domi had to say about his time with the Winnipeg Jets in Shift Work. From his reaction of being traded to the Jets to arriving and discovering the locker room environment, it was a very unique look into the Jets of the 1990s. Because I have an advanced copy of this book where changes may still occur before the final publishing, I can't deliver any quotations on this section of the book. I can assure you, however, that Tie Domi is a unique player who understood his role on the team both on the ice and in the dressing room of every team he played for including Winnipeg.

Shift Work is a fascinating look into Tie Domi's life, and I have to say that I enjoyed reading this book. Domi's life may not have been perfect, but he's the epitome of never giving up and always putting in hard work. As Vince Lombardi once said, "The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary", and Tie Domi is living proof of that statement. His writing contains some excellent lessons and because of this, Shift Work absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Shift Work is due in book stores in November, and I highly recommend this book for all hockey fans. If you're doing a little Christmas shopping in November and you have a hockey fan on your list of those you're buying for, Shift Work would be a perfect gift to receive!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Getting Paid

What do three Stanley Cups, a ten-year career with the same team, one of the quietest leadership roles in the game, and being an all-star at your position get you? A pay day, folks, and Chicago's Brent Seabrook went and got paid yesterday with his new eight-year, $54.8 million deal that is lockout-protected in case of another work stoppage. The new deal will kick in next season after his current deal expires, and the Blackhawks will be on the hook for $6.85 million annually for Seabrook's work that will keep him in Chicago colours until he turns 39 barring any unforeseen trades.

There is no doubt that Seabrook was a major factor in the three Stanley Cup runs that the Blackhawks have made, and perhaps this deal was about paying Seabrook what he may have been owed on his last deal which was five years for $29 million. That total isn't exactly chump change in itself, but Seabrook made the best of what was offered.

However, in watching Brandon Saad force a trade because the Blackhawks weren't willing to meet his demands despite him offering the prime years of his career only to turn around and pay Seabrook a small fortune for eight years seems counter-intuitive. Worse yet, the two contracts for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane seriously handcuff the Blackhawks already, and now we'll add on another $7 million for Seabrook! We haven't even mentioned the $5.5 million-and-change for Duncan Keith and the $5.275 million for Marian Hossa for the next four seasons past this one. Artem Anisimov will also get $4.55 million, and Corey Crawford is on the hook for $6 million through 2020. All totaled? Seven players will cost the Blackhawks just over $49 million through to new decade.

You wonder if GM Stan Bowman is looking at ages. You wonder how the Blackhawks, who have $71,093,462 tied up in salary as per war-on-ice.com, give that raise to Marcus Kruger who took less money to stay with the Blackhawks this season. You wonder how they can re-sign a player like Viktor Tikhonov if he has a good season. You wonder what a player like Andrew Shaw will cost Chicago when he becomes an RFA in 2016-17. The Blackhawks, who have yet to play a game this season, already have $66,620,128 committed to 17 players for next season.

There's no denying that Seabrook will be a factor for the Blackhawks for the next few seasons. He doesn't skate as well as when he broke into the league, but his vision and first pass are second-to-none when it comes to moving the puck and he's reliable for head coach Joel Quenneville. He'll always play second fiddle to Duncan Keith's offensive numbers, but Seabrook will be out there every second shift in crunch time for the Blackhawks.

There is going to be some creative accounting in the front offices on Madison Avenue for the next few years as they work through these monster contracts that Stan Bowman is handing out to the core players. There will still be tough decision in the coming years for the Blackhawks to make due to these massive deals, but the core players are locked up tight through to whenever the next work stoppage happens and further.

The nice part is that Seabrook still gets paid whether he's locked out or not. Cap or no cap.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Follow-up

We've gone over the eight teams in Canada West women's hockey in some detail, but there are many questions that have yet to be answered on the recruiting front for some teams while others have seen inexplicable departures from their rosters. There are also a couple of players to keep an eye on this winter as the season progresses, and we'll talk a little about these players in detail below. While this is not a "definitive guide" on who will rock the boat in Canada West this season, I expect a few of these players to really show a new side to their games after having fairly impressive off-seasons. Let's get it rolling with this follow-up!

It took a rather unorthodox search to find the information on Alberta's recruits, but I can successfully say that I have a breakdown of who Howie Draper has recruited. All it took was checking Draper's Twitter feed to find out that he's successfully recruited about half of Team Alberta. By my count, six women are joining the Pandas for the upcoming season, so let's get into who is headed to Edmonton for the upcoming season as there are all sorts of positions covered by Draper's recruiting class.

We'll start with Alexandra Poznikoff who played with the Edmonton Thunder in the AMMFHL. All she did was lead the league in scoring with 24 goals and 42 points. In that total included three power-play goals and five game-winners, so you know she's going to jump into a role pretty quickly with the Pandas. Oh, and if that doesn't impress you, check out this stat line....
Yes, that's a goalie stat line. She played one game in net, allowing three goals on 17 shots, after one Thunder goalie had been injured and another was tending to a personal matter. It appeared that the second netminder would make it in time for the game against Grande Prairie, but she arrived about 10 minutes after the game had started. Poznikoff played the entire game, and it appears that Alberta is getting one heckuvan athlete in Alex Poznikoff.

Joining Poznikoff up front is Erinn Baddock of the Lloydminster PWM Steelers who finished 26th overall in scoring with 11 goals and 19 points with four power-play goals. Baddock plays a power forward game that doesn't shy away from a little rough play as evidence by her 48 PIMs last season. She will make the Pandas a little grittier while being a dangerous goal scorer.

Draper also recruited Regan Wright from the Calgary Fire of the AMMFHL. Wright recorded 17 goals and 32 points to lead her team and end in fourth-place in AMMFHL scoring, so the talent level continues to rise for the Pandas. Draper is quoted as saying, "She is a very skilled player who brings a natural athleticism to the game that will surely bring her success as a player in the CIS. We're confident that this success will transfer to our program as well."

The Pandas will also welcome defenceman Cayle Dillon to the program. Dillon finished twelfth in AMMJHL scoring with the Edmonton Thunder with 14 goals and 25 points. As a defenceman. Yes, you read that correctly. She also recorded a mere four minutes in penalties, so you know this rearguard is always looking for the puck. Expect Dillon to jump into the Pandas lineup this season.

The Pandas will add a netminder as they welcome Dayna Owen to the program. The Calgary native played last season with the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, so the Pandas are getting another quality netminder to join their already-formidable tandem. The 5'8" netminder may not play much behind Lindsey Post this season, but red-shirting with the Pandas is never a bad thing with the talent they have assembled and are assembling.

The final recruit added by coach Draper is Abigail Benning. The St. Alberta, Alberta native played with the Edge School for Athletes Mountaineers last season, and the defenceman looks like she's be a steady addition to the program. While she isn't as offensively-gifted as some of the other recruits, she did score three goals and add 12 points in her 28 games with Edge last season. She's very responsible defensively, and she'll make the Pandas' blue line stronger with her presence.

The reigning champions in Canada West are certainly a strong bunch today with these additions. However, there's still the outstanding problem of Jessica Kampjes. Kampjes, last season's leading scorer for the Pandas, is not listed on the roster for the Pandas thus far and has yet to play any of the preseason games. This is a curious problem for the Pandas as she hasn't graduated, is still eligible to play in Canada West and the CIS, and hasn't announced a move to another program if she was leaving the University of Alberta. So what exactly is going on with Kampjes for this upcoming season?

There's a thought that she may be academically ineligible as all CIS athletes are expected to pass 18 credit hours per academic year regardless of their sport. Failure to do so makes them academically ineligible to take part in a CIS sport, so there's a thought that Kampjes may not have reached the 18 credit hours successfully passed as required.

If she is academically ineligible, she could still be kept as a red-shirt for the upcoming season, but would burn one year of eligibility. I can't see Draper letting one of his best players walk this year, so I assume he'll opt to red-shirt her and claim she is injured or something along those lines to protect his star player from any public embarrassment.

Logically, this theory makes sense, but I cannot stress enough that this is only speculation. We may never find out why Kampjes isn't playing this season as long as Howie Draper holds the cards. I will see if I can get some information out of him when Alberta visits Manitoba on October 3, but there's a good chance that Kampjes will hold his cards tightly to his chest regarding his star forward. We'll see as the season opens in one week's time.

I also found a little information on a recruit that has committed to the Lethbridge Pronghorns. As you may remember, the Pronghorns had begin the process of telling recruits to look elsewhere to play this upcoming season after an internal report surfaced that had the women's hockey program in jeopardy of disbanding. Well, the scramble to control this news resulted in the University of Lethbridge president to commit to keeping all eleven varsity sports team, and the team immediately began trying to save some of their recruits. One recruit who could go a long way in helping this program get out of the Canada West cellar has joined the team for this upcoming season.

The top goaltender in the AMMJHL last season committed and has joined the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Calgary Fire's Alicia Anderson played 18 games last season, going 12-5-0 with a 0.91 GAA, a .960 save percentage, and eight shutouts. Anderson's numbers are on the ridiculous side, so you have to wonder what happened in those five losses. Anderson joins the Pronghorns and will most likely step in as the starting netminder over both Jessica Lohues and Brooklyn Paisley. Anderson has more than enough talent to push the Pronghorns to new heights. All she'll need is a little help going forward.

Word out of the Manitoba Bisons camp is that second-line forward Charity Price has come into camp after having spent the summer committing herself to crossfit training like never before. The third-year forward is fitter than ever, and it's being seen on the ice already in camp as she's faster and stronger on her skates than in previous seasons. She's been playing with playmaker Lauryn Keen and Finnish import Venla Hovi, and word out of camp is that this line has all the makings of being a very productive line this season.

While we always hear of the work being done by NHL players in the off-season that transform their games into something more, there is a lot taken for granted by some of the collegiate-level players. Kudos to Charity Price for committing herself to a summer of hard work. I'm expecting big things from the Alberta native after these reports!

One player to keep an eye on this season is is forward Sasha Vafina. Vafina will most likely start on a line with fellow Russian Iya Gavrilova, and the Chelyabinsk native has been impressive in clicking with Gavrilova. Vafina actually came to the Dinos via the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, so you know she was already highly sought-after before arriving in Calgary. Vafina scored four goals and added six assists as a UMD forward in the 2012-13 season before returning to Chelyabinsk to continue her master's degree in education via online courses. She's played in the 2010 Winter Olympics, the 2013 World Championships where she helped Russia earn a bronze medal, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics. She's been reunited with her former Bulldogs teammate in Gavrilova, so there's some chemistry being reignited here.

The funny part about Gavrilova is that Gavrilova lost her NCAA eligibility and led to minor sanctions being handed down to UMD's Shannon Miller and the Bulldogs program when the NCAA determined she had signed a professional contract with a Russian club team in 2012. So you might ask how she is eligible to play in the CIS if she's already been a pro hockey player. Well, the CIS has no rule on it as long as the player hasn't burned any university eligibility. It's how players like Mike Danton and Hayley Wickenheiser can play CIS hockey without penalty despite their professional hockey time.

Yes, there's a little more to the rule than that, but Gavrilova essentially can play CIS hockey with no fallout on her former professional career due to the CIS being a little less fascist compared to the NCAA when it comes to professional contracts. Score one for the CIS on this front as we get to marvel at Gavrilova's talents while the NCAA does not.

Before we check out on this article, here's a pretty solid piece on the work done by head coach Danielle Goyette with the two Russian women by Sportsnet. Honestly, this is nice to see from a major media outlet, so here's the video.
For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for all your women's hockey information!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Cats And Dogs

Part four of the four-part look at the eight teams in women's hockey of the Canada West Conference in the CIS goes today after a short delay. We've taken a look at the four teams in Alberta, the one in BC, and the one in Manitoba, so we'll focus on the province not yet represented in the two teams in Saskatchewan as we wrap up this series. These two teams have the potential to be serious wild cards with the talent on their rosters, so we'll see if they can supplant one of the potential top-three teams in Canada West. Through a little digging, I'll also need to post a correction from an earlier article, and I want to do that upfront so that everyone is ready for the season with proper information on rosters. Let's take a look at all of this as we close off the Canada West women's hockey preview!

Swing and a miss for Teebz. I had reported in the third-part of the series that the Alberta Pandas would have Jessica Kampjes back with the team this season. She was one of their leading scorers last season in helping the Pandas to the Canada West title, but it appears that I jumped the gun a little. Kampjes is not on the Pandas' roster at this point, and it appears she's not playing with Alberta this season in a somewhat-stunning turn of events. Losing her suddenly pulls a pile of offensive talent from that lineup, but there's still a lot of balance on that squad.

While I accept responsibility in not digging further on this one, the Pandas really need to do a better job in keeping people informed through their website about player movement and team-related news. Not having news on a departing player is one thing, but not even highlighting the recruits? C'mon, Alberta.

In case you missed them, the previous three entries are listed here. You can find UBC and Manitoba here, Mount Royal and Calgary here, and Lethbridge and Alberta here. Yes, the corrections to the Alberta write-up as pointed out above have been strategically applied to that article. Everything else in those three articles seems correct up to this date, but anything can happen on the rosters as teams are finalizing them over the next week. Stay tuned for any breaking roster news before the season kicks off on October 2!

The Regina Cougars have a fairly young team with only five players in their fifth-year of eligibility this season, so it will be a youth movement in the Saskatchewan capital. Head coach Sarah Hodges enters her 17th season as the only head coach of the Regina Cougars program, sporting a 170-125-22-9 record over those seasons. Last year, she coached the Cougars to a sixth-place finish at 15-11-2 while seeing her team score 60 goals-for while giving up 69 goals-against. Kylie Gavelin led the team in goals (13) and points (21) while defenceman Triston Riemer led the team in assists (11). Toni Ross played the most time in the crease while posting a record of 7-7-1 in 18 appearances with a 2.33 GAA, a .922 save percentage, and two shutouts.

The Cougars saw Riemer graduate out of the program after she played her fifth year of eligibility last season. Also gone this season are forward Nicole Mitchell, forward Natasha Kostenko, defenceman Tori Head, goalie Jennifer Schmidt, forward Jordan Doram, and red-shirt Mallory Roy. Riemer's presence on the blue line will certainly be missed, and Head's rugged play in her own zone in clearing the crease needs to be replaced. Kostenko's five goals and five assists can be replaced by at least two players already on the roster, and Doram, Mitchell, and Roy didn't have much of an impact on the scoresheet, so there are a few roster spots open for others to claim.

The Cougars will rely heavily on Kylie Gavelin, but expect to hear a lot about Stephanie Sawchuk and Emma Waldenberger up front as they were the second- and fourth-leading scorers on the team last season. Waldenberger is entering her second season in Canada West and her skating has much improved from preseason scouting reports, making the six-foot forward a legitimate power forward threat. Bailey Braden, Brooklyn Moskowy, and Kylee Kupper will be expected to pick up the slack for the outgoing Kostenko, and they are more than capable of holding their own in the Canada West scoring race with increased ice-time.

Defensively, Carleen Mezsaros will have the spotlight on her once more as she finished third in team scoring. Alexis Larson should be able to improve on her 11-point season from last year as she enters her fourth year in the conference. Michela Esposito and Nikki Watters-Matthes will need to step up their games this season as both recorded -10 ratings on the season last year. Esposito, at 6'1" tall, should be much more effective with her stick based on her height, but she took a major step backwards last season in her defensive awareness. That will have to improve. Watters-Matthes led the team with 40 PIMs and had eight points, but she needs to cut down on the former and improve the latter. Krista Metz and Jolene Kirkpatrick round out the six-woman unit and they'll see their spots, but the Cougars need more from them as well.

As stated above, Ross played the most minutes, but she was pushed all season by the outgoing Jennifer Schmidt. In saying that, Ross will handle the vast majority of the goaltending assignments this season as backup Jane Kish has played a grand total of zero minutes in Canada West thus far. The two netminders are the only goalies listed on the roster, so any injury to a netminder will mean that the Cougars are toying with fate. It's a little surprising to see just two goalies on the roster, but it appears that the Cougars are comfortable with their tandem at this point not to bring on a third goalie.

The Cougars recruited a fairly strong class for the upcoming season. Jaycee Magwood and Tamara McVannel committed almost a year ago to the Cougars, and they recruited Chelsea Perepeluk a few weeks later as they proved that even hockey season is recruiting season. Perepeluk is a Regina native where she played with the Regina Rebels of the Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League and led the league in scoring in 2013-14 with 59 points in 28 games, but took a downward trend in only scoring 21 points in 25 games last season. Magwood comes to Regina via the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League where she played with the Westman Wildcats and was named league MVP in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 and was a three-time all-star. Joining her from Manitoba is McVannel where the defenceman was named a second-team all-star in 2014-15 with the Central Plains Capitals of the MFMHL and was named as the top defender for the Capitals three of the four years she played there.

The Cougars started their preseason over in Sweden as they toured a few cities in preparation for this season. First up was Leksands IF where the Cougars held a 3-1 lead before eventually falling in overtime 4-3. They rolled into Sundsvall to play there, and skated to a 4-0 victory. They then went to Stockholm where they dropped a 3-2 decision to AIK HF. They returned home to face the Mount Royal Cougars twice, winning the first game 3-2 in overtime before taking the second game 4-1. They downed the U18 team Saskatchewan team 7-1 last night to kick off the Mandi Schwartz Challenge, and will play the Lethbridge Pronghorns, Saskatchewan Huskies, and MacEwan Griffins before kicking off their season at home against the Calgary Dinos on October 2. Thus far, the Cougars are 4-1-1 in the preseason with a 2-0 in-conference record.

The Saskatchewan Huskies shocked a number of people in 2013-14 with their second-place finish in Canada West and a bronze medal finish at the CIS Championship, but their youthfulness showed a little more last season with their fifth-place finish in the conference. Head coach Steve Kook enters his tenth season at the helm, and the only Huskies coach in team history is a two-time CIS Coach of the Year. He led the Huskies to a 14-10-4 record last season on 58 goals-for compared to 67 goals-against, so you know a lot of wins for the Huskies come in close games. Kaitlin Willoughby led the team in assists (16) and points (26) while Kandace Cook won the goal-scoring race with 13. Cassidy Hendricks appeared in 26 games for the Huskies compiling a record of 13-11-2 on a 2.21 GAA, a .926 save percentage, and four shutouts.

Cook, the Huskies' leading goal scorer last season, graduated out of the program, so that's a big chunk of the Huskies' offence gone from the program, especially on the power-play where she recorded seven of her 13 goals. Chelsey Sundby was the only other fifth-year player on the Huskies roster last season, so there aren't many roster spots open for rookies to grab. As stated above, the Huskies are young and the vast majority of the roster will return.

Kaitlin Willoughby will be back for her third year of Canada West action, and the Huskies will lean heavily on her to continue to bring the offence. There is a major drop-off in the point totals for the Huskies after Willoughby and Cook, so the offence will have to overcome its anemic ways if the Huskies want to challenge for a top-three spot. Lauren Zary and Marley Ervine are the only returning forwards to hit double-digits in points, so the Huskies are going to need major improvements on the offensive side of the puck with Cook out of the lineup.

Julia Flinton was the top-scoring rearguard for the Huskies with 14 points, and she's the clear leader in terms of production from the blue line. The remaining five defencemen recorded just 15 points combined, so there is very little offence coming from the blue line. This should be a major concern for the Huskies because not only does this affect them in terms of puck movement five-on-five, but it's a huge issue for the power-play as almost every power-play goal is generated off the half-boards or lower. Brooke Mutch had six assists, but the remaining four women on the blue line need to step up in a big way to help the forwards with the offensive game.

Defensively, the six-woman unit isn't overly bad in any one area, but this is a team that could desperately use some size in its lineup as all the ladies are 5'8" or shorter. They struggle against some of the taller women due to their lack of reach, and occasionally struggle to clear their own crease. Flinton and Mutch, the two most consistent defencemen, spent 38 and 34 minutes in the penalty box respectively, so the Huskies have to find a way to keep those two on the ice instead of watching from the sin bin.

As stated above, Cassidy Hendricks played the bulk of the season for the Huskies last year, and there's no reason to believe this year will be any different. Backup Jerrica Waltz was a rookie last season, but she had pretty solid numbers in her three games and 144:27 of work. Waltz was 1-0-1 with a 2.08 GAA and a .934 save percentage, so her stats were actually better than Hendricks' stats. Hendricks moves well and has a little size, but she needs some help from her defencemen. She's good at making the first save, but traffic and rebounds always seem to go against her. Hendricks could also use a little rest once in a while, so there's a shot we could see more of Waltz this season as she enters her second season in the conference.

Like a couple of other schools in Canada West, there is absolutely zero information on Saskatchewan's recruiting class. I found a lot of information on the soccer program's recruiting class, but the hockey news is barren when it comes to who Saskatchewan is bringing in this season. I'm not sure how a program gets people excited about their product if there's no information on the next wave of stars entering the hockey program. Get it together, Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan, according to their schedule, has played a mere one preseason game against the Mount Royal Cougars that they lost 2-1. That would put their preseason record, if my math is correct, at 0-1-0 with a similar in-conference record. They will host those same Mount Royal Cougars on October 2 and 3 to kick off the 2015-16 season.

These two teams were separated by four points last season, and there's no reason to believe they won't be within a game of one another again this season. Calgary, who finished three points - one win - better than Saskatchewan, will also be in that mix. I expect that Calgary will finish fourth, Regina in fifth-place, and Saskatchewan will finish in sixth-place, but you can roll the dice on these three teams in any way you like. If Mount Royal improves with their impressive recruiting class, we could see four teams battling for three playoff spots late in the season.

For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for all your women's hockey information!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Hockey Show - Episode 158

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced hockey radio show, is opening up the phone lines tonight as we take your calls on everything hockey! Specifically, we're going to chat about the Jets who are 0-1-1 after falling 1-0 in overtime to Minnesota and 3-2 to Edmonton, but we'll chat about anything and everything tonight that is brought up by you, the callers!

The one issue, however, that we won't be chatting about is the latest developments in the Patrick Kane saga as that story has gone from disgusting to absolute insanity. While it is a major story to be followed by journalists who are paid to do so, Beans and I are going to show the victim some respect by not dragging out all the details of what has happened over the last few weeks once more. The Hockey Show is not interested in piling on. Further to that, we're not lawyers, there are probably a bazillion details we don't have, and we're not going to jump to conclusions. If you call in and want to chat about the latest drama, we will change the subject very quickly. You've been warned. If you insist on pushing the subject, we'll just end the call. Got it? Alrighty then.

We'll ask a bunch of questions tonight, so get your thinking caps on. The Oilers scored a pair of power-play goals and a penalty shot goal, so it will need to be asked tonight if the Jets need to curb their penalty-filled ways if they hope to repeat the feat of making the playoffs this season. The Jets also went oh-fer-seven on the power-play, so is it time to panic just yet after the Jets have gone oh-fer-nine in two preseason tilts?

Phil Kessel's debut with the Penguins was a pretty good one as Pittsburgh downed the Carolina Hurricanes 7-3 in their opening preseason game. As Eliotte Friedman noted, "Phil Kessel scored on two even-strength tip-ins during his first game with the Penguins. How many tip-ins did he have at even strength in 2014-15? Answer: one." Will the offensively-gifted Penguins be able to bail out the defensively-liable Penguins when the time comes?

John Tortorella. Team USA. World Cup of Hockey. Is this a good move?

Josh Ho-Sang showed up late to the first day of Islanders training camp. The team made him run stairs for three hours before finally informing him he'd be going back to the OHL for showing up late. Ho-Sang, who had been having a pretty solid rookie camp, expressed his disappointment in his circumstance while GM Garth Snow stated, "Enough with the bull----. It's time to grow up." Is this a case where a GM should probably keep his mouth shut after the same GM traded up to get Ho-Sang in the NHL Entry Draft?

All of these questions and more, especially your questions, will be answered on The Hockey Show, so tune your radio dial in the Winnipeg region to 101.5 FM or you can listen live between 5:30pm and 6:30pm CT on your web-enabled device at the UMFM webpage! You can tweet me anytime with questions you may have for Big Ern by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show. Your calls, questions, comments, complaints, and everything else is featured on The Hockey Show only on 101.5 UMFM!

**UPDATE**: Amanda Schubert and Alana Serhan of the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team dropped in to say hi! We had a good discussion about their off-season, the new kids in camp, their preseason, and more! That's the first half-hour of the show! Thanks, ladies!

PODCAST: September 24, 2015: Episode 158

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 21

Antler Banter is back, and this week's episode has a distinct lack of news as NHL training camps and preseason games are underway. AHL teams won't be doing much in terms of signings or cuts at this point as they wait for players to trickle down to them via NHL cuts, and we'll take a look at a few of those sent to their respective AHL clubs. There has been some AHL news happening behind the scenes so we'll also take a look at that in today's entry. We also have an interesting tidbit of news from the Manitoba Moose that a source has brought forward. Moose fans will want to read this one as we work our way through a condensed version of Antler Banter with the AHL on hold right now! Without further adieu, let's get this party started!

Essensa In The AHL

No, this isn't a Bob Essensa piece, Jets fans. Essensa, a national group purchasing organization (GPO), has entered into a multi-year partnership with the AHL. As per the release, "Essensa will become a sponsor of the AHL Marketing Meeting and AHL Annual Meeting, and will be the Official GPO of the AHL, providing cost-saving opportunities to the league and its participating AHL member clubs."

The crux of this agreement is to help lower costs for individual AHL teams and the AHL as a whole across the board. Personally, I'm all in favour of this deal if it can lower adult beverage costs at MTS Centre, but the overall savings should be significant for the AHL while providing new business opportunities to help grow the bottom lines of teams. "We are excited to begin our partnership with Essensa," said Chris Nikolis, EVP, Marketing & Business Development for the AHL. "Essensa has a proven track record at streamlining the business operations and reducing costs for its members. We are sure our teams will benefit from Essensa's insights and business partnerships."

Essensa is also partnered with the ECHL and Minor League Baseball, so they're bringing some experience to the table in this deal with the AHL. Five AHL clubs - the Rockford IceHogs, San Diego Gulls, Syracuse Crunch, Texas Stars, and Utica Comets - have already signed on with Essensa as GPO members, and there's hope that other clubs will follow.

If this deal brings the costs of some of the AHL's merchandise and concessions down, consider this a major win for fans. If all they do is help to peddle more overpriced merchandise to fans, the AHL needs to have some sort of review process in place immediately. Just because you have more crap to sell doesn't mean more profits.

Marlies Get Deeper

It was expected that with some 63,000 people in Leafs camp that there would be some cuts made by Mike Babcock. It was announced today that the Leafs had done some trimming, sending Casey Bailey, Frederik Gauthier, Brendan Leipsic and Josh Leivo to the Marlies who open camp on September 28. While no one is overly surprised by these moves, the additions to the Marlies' lineup will be welcomed.

Casey Bailey comes to the Marlies by way of the NCAA's Penn State Nittany Lions where he had 80 points in 96 NCAA games. The centerman also suited up for the USHL's Omaha Lancers prior to attending Penn State where he had 27 goals and 33 assists in 60 games. Bailey looks like he'll be a welcomed scoring threat down the middle.

Josh Leivo played with the Marlies over the last two seasons, recording 74 points in 110 AHL games. The former third-round pick appears to be a lock for one of the left-wing roster spots for this season. Leivo is a solid AHL player, and his continued work and growth may push him into an NHL roles sooner than later!

Frederik Gauthier is probably best known for his work as Canada's checking centerman at the two most recent World Junior Championships. Gauthier was a point-per-game player in the QMJHL, but expect the Leafs to continue to ask him to check like a demon as he's shown with Hockey Canada. I expect him to be a Kris Draper-type centerman with the Leafs who can score, when asked, like Yzerman.

Brendan Leipsic was acquired by the Leafs in the deal that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators, and he's showing solid scoring ability in the AHL. In one season with Milwaukee and Toronto, Leipsic recorded 14 goals and 40 assists. Expect him to be a big part of the Marlies' offence this season.

If you're a Moose fan, you can see these players up close as the Marlies are the only Eastern Conference team to find their way to MTS Centre this season! Tickets are on sale now, and there are a pile of Toronto options in the mini-packs!

OUTRAGEOUS!

I was searching other teams' promotional schedules to see why the Moose promotions in comparison are less than stellar. I happened across the promotion schedule for the Milwaukee Admirals, and they're having their annual Salute to Seinfeld night by bringing in Phil Morris, the actor who played lawyer Jackie Chiles in the sitcom! Honestly, why can a team like the Admirals get Phil Morris to come down and sign some autographs as his famous character while the Moose offer up a few special jersey nights? Is it really so hard to have some fun and announce the details of the promotions to make people want to attend those games?

As Morris' character once said, "It’s an infringement on your constitutional rights. It’s outrageous, egregious, preposterous!"

Voice Of The Moose

A wee bird dropped a bit of news on me today in reporting that CBC Sports Desk and occasional Evening News anchor Mitch Peacock will take over as the Manitoba Moose's play-by-play voice for the upcoming season! Mitch has a long history of sports reporting ranging from junior hockey leagues in Alberta and BC to the CFL to Major League Soccer right up to being a rinkside reporter with the Jets. He's also called some events at the 2015 PanAm Games and has worked with CBC at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games!

While I have never heard Mitch call a game live, I do know he's well-versed in sports and certainly has paid his dues over his two decades in the sports journalism field. I think opportunity will go well for him if he can ratchet up the intensity for the Moose with his calls! Congratulations, Mitch, on your new gig!

That's all I have for today for Antler Banter. There will be more next week as teams begin announcing cuts and AHL training camps open. Stay tuned for all of that news as we get closer to the puck dropping on October 9 for another AHL season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Oil Country

We continue our four-part look at the eight women's teams in Canada West hockey, and we've seen a couple of teams bring in excellent recruiting classes to add to their lineups while another team found an international player who should bring the offence. The fourth team didn't really bring on any new stars-in-the-making, but there is a lot of opportunity for any of the current or new players to step in and make an impact. With four teams to go, there have been two teams who should be in the top-three and two more who should battle it out for fourth-place and lower. Today, we'll see a team from each of these categories.

If you missed the preview for the UBC Thunderbirds and Manitoba Bisons, please click here. It was an all-Calgary preview yesterday as the Mount Royal Cougars and Calgary Dinos took center-stage. We'll finish off the province of Alberta today as we take a look at the Lethbridge Pronghorns and the Alberta Pandas in this continuing preview series of Canada West women's hockey!

The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns went through major changes this off-season as they finished in eighth-place in Canada West to find themselves at the bottom of the standings. They posted a 6-21-1 record with a conference-low 32 goals-for and a conference-high 88 goals-against. In other words, it wasn't a great season in Lethbridge for the women. They'll be led into the season by first-time head coach Michelle Janus after she replaced interim head coach Hailey Wood this summer who replaced former head coach Chandy Kaip who took medical leave before resigning outright. Janus will have her work cut out for her in trying to improve this Pronghorns squad. Sadie Lenstra led the team in goals (7) and points (14) while tying for the lead in assists (7) with Sarah Spence. Crystal Patterson played in every game last season, and the goaltender posted a 6-21-1 record with a 3.10 GAA, a .913 save percentage, and two shutouts.

The graduating class will leave some big holes in the Pronghorns' lineup. Gone are goaltender Crystal Patterson, defenceman Courtney Minor, forward Chelsea Minor, forward Angela Burke, and defenceman Katie Mucha. Losing Patterson puts a heavy strain on the very inexperienced goaltenders that Lethbridge kept pinned to the bench last season, but there are still four spots available where the Pronghorns will need more than two goals and eight points combined from those four players. No matter which way you look at these departures, there's only one direction that this team can go.

Lenstra was definitely the best player statistically for the Pronghorns last season, but there are some players who could take a step forward this season to help the Pronghorns immensely. Janae Culp finished second in team scoring with six goals and ten points, and she needs to improve that output this season. The same can be said for Sarah Spence, Kirsten Reeves, and Delaney Duchek as all are returning to the Pronghorns this season. Collectively, those three had nine goals and 20 points on the season which is the output each of them need individually if the Pronghorns are going to make noise this season.

Amber Yuha was the leading scorer from the back-end last season with a mere four assists. Jocelyn Sabourin had a goal and an assist to finish second in scoring for the defencemen. Needless to say, the puck movement by the defenders leaves a lot to desire. Yuha and Sabourin are going into the fourth year in the conference, so it's really a case of do-or-die for this very young, very inexperienced defence corps. If there's an Achilles' heel for this Pronghorns team, I think you know where it lies.

I'm not sure what the thought process was for interim head coach Hailey Wood last season, but Patterson played every single minute except for one period last year. Backup Jessica Lohues played just 20 minutes last season and surrendered two goals in her only period of work. She was a rookie last season, but both she and second-year netminding partner Brooklyn Paisley will be forced to carry the load this season with virtually no experience in the conference whatsoever.

It feels like I'm piling on here, but the University of Lethbridge doomed the women's team to another last-place finish this season with a study done last season into the athletics programs at the university. As the report states, "The women's hockey team believes it is on the chopping block. Recruits are even being told to look at other options." Not good news for the Pronghorns who are looking to bounce back after a difficult season. So the question has to be asked in would they even ice team this season?

Well, four days after the news broke, University of Lethbridge president Mike Mahon committed to all of the school's eleven varsity teams in returning for the 2015-16 season. I'm sure that the recruits that the Pronghorns had told to explore other options were still on the table at that point, so I'm inclined to believe that Hailey Wood was able to save her recruiting class. The only problem? It seems they have yet to announce anyone who has been recruited. So while I'd like to tell you that they'll be better, I can't actually buy into that theory at this point.

According to the Lethbridge site, they played the Saskatchewan Huskies in the preseason on September 12 and won 3-2. Saskatchewan, however, shows no evidence of this game ever existing. I'll give Lethbridge the benefit of the doubt, but they have a big test in front of them this weekend as they play in the Mandi Schwartz Challenge in Regina where they'll face the Regina Cougars, the MacEwan University Griffins, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks. Lethbridge will open the season on the road against the UBC Thunderbirds, and won't see their first home game until October 16 when they welcome the Saskatchewan Huskies to town.

The University of Alberta Pandas had themselves another successful season in Canada West last year as they finished atop the standings. Head coach Howie Draper embarks on his 14th season behind the Pandas' bench, and he led his club to a 20-7-1 record last season with 86 goals-for and just 35 goals-against. All-time, Draper's record is an incredible 277-50-8 in conference play for a ridiculous .839 winning percentage, and he has yet to post a losing record in any season since taking over the program. Clearly, the Pandas will be ready to roll once the season opens thanks to Draper's preparation. Jessica Kampjes and Hannah Olenyk tied atop the scoring stats for the Pandas with 25 points apiece with Kampjes leading in goals (13) while Olenyk lead in assists (15). Lindsey Post was the conference's best netminder last season with a 20-6-1 record, a 1.18 GAA, a .940 save percentage, and ten shutouts.

The Pandas lost a warrior in defenceman Kayla Lavallee as she filled her full eligibility. Lavallee was the defenceman that Draper turned to most often in all situations, and she took over games in the defensive zone at times. She doesn't score many points, but she does the little things right and certainly was out on the ice to do the dirty work on many occasions. The rest of the Pandas will return in 2015-16, so the dominance of this program looks to continue!

Kampjes and Olenyk will certainly be relied upon for their her offensive touches once more, but one can't overlook Alison Campbell's ten goals and 23 points, Lindsay Cunningham's 12 goals and 19 points, or Deanna Morin's 12 helpers and 18 points. There's no denying that the offence has depth and the top two lines like to spread the wealth around. Stopping this efficient forward unit is easier said than done, and they all skate extremely well so they are as responsible defensively as they are talented offensively.

Defensively, the Pandas get a pile of offence from their blue line. Hannah Mousek had 13 points, Natasha Steblin had 12 points, and Kirsten Toth had nine points. They move the puck extremely well, and are great at standing up the opposition and preventing a lot of good shots from getting through to the net. Morgan Kelly, Jesse Olfert, and Nicole Reimer round out the six rearguards, and every one of them could step up and put up double-digits in points. This is the best six-woman unit in the conference.

Make no mistake that Lindsey Post will be manning the nets for the Pandas once again. She's intimidating in her stance as she's 5'11" off skates, and she's extremely agile and flexible when it comes to stopping the puck. She has a lightning-quick glove hand, and she rarely misplays a puck. The one way to beat her, however, is to get her to open up which means moving the puck laterally across the crease as she's in her butterfly. That, though, is a tall task with the Alberta defence clearing the crease and tying up bodies. Hannah Baker will see a game or two in the blue paint, but Lindsey Post is the end-all and be-all for the Pandas. Kianna Peterson is the third wheel in the goaltending carousel, but she may see as much time as she did this past season.

Like their brethren in Lethbridge, there is nothing to be found about any recruits for the Pandas. However, they have virtually the same team returning for this upcoming season, so there's no reason to believe they'll slide down the standings. They'll compete all season for top spot in the Canada West Conference, and have a good shot at being in first-place when all is said and done.

The Pandas downed the NAIT Ooks by a 6-0 score, the MacEwan Griffins by an 11-0 score, and Calgary Dinos by a 4-1 score thus far in the preseason. They'll play against the U18 Team Alberta squad this upcoming weekend before opening the season on the road against the Manitoba Bisons in a Canada West Final rematch from one year ago.

These two Alberta-based teams will represent the worst and the best teams in the Canada West Conference this season. I sincerely do hope that the Pronghorns can win a few more games this season so that there's no more talk of disbanding the team. As for the Pandas, here's hoping they lose a few more compared to last year. The odds of that happening, though, aren't very good.

For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for all your women's hockey information!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Cowtown

As stated yesterday, there is a major void in the coverage that Canadian collegiate hockey receives from almost everyone. There are a couple of CIS-related blogs out there, but I want to go inside the women's collegiate game as there is nearly no coverage for CIS women's hockey in this country despite hockey being one of our official sports. HBIC is committed to bringing a great awareness to the women's game, so we'll continue with the week-long look at the Canada West women's hockey teams.

Today, we focus on Calgary, Alberta where two teams play - the University of Calgary Dinos and the Mount Royal University Cougars. One team has seen a lot of success in their history while the other is still finding its foothold in the Canada West Conference. While one has aspirations of CIS Championships, the other takes as much joy in beating their cross-town rivals as they do in working towards the playoffs. If one thing is certain, though, these two teams are closer to each other than what their histories would suggest.

The Mount Royal University Cougars are one of the new kids on the block. In 2011-12, they won the ACAC Championship over Grant MacEwen and were promoted for the following season to the Canada West Conference from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. Suddenly, Mount Royal was playing with the big programs like Alberta, Manitoba, and Calgary. Head coach Scott Rivett is entering his eighth season as the Cougars head coach, and he's been the only coach at the helm since the move upward to Canada West. Rivett saw his squad finish with a 6-17-5 record that put them in seventh-place with 39 goals-for and 84 goals-against. Reanna Arnold led the team with 11 assists and 15 points, and both Tanika Dawson and Janessa Jenkins led the team in goals with five apiece. Jess Ross finished just barely ahead of Emma Pincott in terms of time in the blue paint, and Ross' record was 4-9-2 with a 3.05 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

It won't help to see your two leading goal scorers leave your program, but both Tanika Dawson and Janessa Jenkins won't be back for this upcoming season. Joining them are Taralynn Suzuki, Jade Osadchuk, Danielle Klein, Kenzie Menzak, Jess Reid, and Megan Parkyn. That's quite the exodus of players for one of the lowest-scoring teams in the conference, so you know that coach Rivett hit the pavement to find a number of talented ladies to replace the outgoing seniors.

Reanna Arnold will be expected to carry the bulk of the scoring for the returning players. Her 15 points didn't put her into the top-20 in scoring, but it was the best that Mount Royal got out of anyone last season. Dawson and Jenkins were second and third in scoring, respectively, but they only contributed 19 points combined. Sydney Laurin was fourth with seven points, and the Cougars will need a much bigger season out of her and Sarah Weninger if they have any hope of running with the big teams this season.

Shawni Rodeback had a fairly solid season on the blue line, leading the defencemen with four goals and three assists in her 28 games. Jocelyn Froehlich added another four points, but these two ladies make up the bulk of the points scored from the blue line. Defensively, it's not surprising to see all of the rearguards with minus ratings, so coach Rivett has his work cut out for him in implementing a solid defensive system. In saying that, the Cougars have enough talent to cut their goals-against down which should give them a fighting chance in every game.

While Jess Ross played more games and spent more time in the Mount Royal nets, Emma Pincott made a strong case for her to be the starter. Ross' stats are above, but Pincott posted a 2-8-2 record in 15 appearances. Where things look better is her 2.54 GAA and .905 save percentage with one shutout. The rookie outplayed the veteran down the stretch and began starting more games as the season wore on. While Pincott's record doesn't reflect her superior statistics, there's a strong case to be made for Mount Royal building from the net out as they try to assemble a talented squad for this season. Starting with Pincott in net would be a good foundation on which to build.

Remember how I said Scott Rivett needed to hit the pavement to find some talent? Well, his recruiting class is arguably the best in western Canada. He recruited Elisha Cunningham, the leading goal scorer (29) and leading scorer (47) of the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League in 2012-13. She was recruited to play for the famed Notre Dame Hounds program in Saskatchewan, so she'll be up to the task in terms of providing offence. Joining her from the AMMFHL is Kennedy Bozek of the PAC Saints. Bozek was 15th-overall in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists in 32 games. Bozek played in all situations, recording a pair of power-play goals and a shorthanded goal, and she had a pair of game-winning goals. Clutch scoring is something the Cougars can desperately use!

Rivett went out and recruited three players from the Edge Hockey School Mountaineers in Kate Hufnagel, Hali Reardon, and Channia Alexander. Hufnagel had four goals and 12 assists in 27 games. Reardon had four goals and 12 assists in 28 games for Edge. Alexander, a defenceman, will join her older sister Cyrenna on the Cougars' blue line, and she comes in having scored six goals and 13 games in 28 games with the Mountaineers. Chemistry is vitally important in a short CIS season, so getting three women from a high-caliber program like Edge is important. Add in the fact that the Alexander sisters probably know each other very well, and the chemistry is lining up very nicely for the Cougars this season.

Rivett still wasn't done in the recruiting department, though, as he brought in rugged defenceman Chantelle Beadman-Rolph from BC. Beadman-Rolph had four goals and ten assists last season in midget and had more than 40 PIMs in each of her three seasons in midget hockey. For a team that found the penalty box a little too often last season, the Cougars are going to have to find a way for Beadman-Rolph to focus that tenacity with less fouls. He also brought in Talia Terry from the Notre Dame Hounds program where she finished sixth in scoring last season with five goals and nine assists in 28 games. And there's hope that Rivett will activate his one red-shirted player in Moeke Fujimoto this season. Fujimoto was part of the Team Japan entry that qualified for the 2015 Women's World Championship, but she was not selected for the World Championship team. Will the Japanese-born player see time this season?

The Cougars are 2-2-2 in the preseason thus far. They recorded a 2-1 win over Calgary and a 2-1 win over Saskatchewan, but lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames Bantam AAA Boys, lost 3-2 in double-overtime to Regina, and lost 4-1 to Regina. The lone shootout game came against Calgary where they lost in the skills competition, and that gives Mount Royal a 2-1-2 in-conference record in the preseason. They'll open the season on the road against Saskatchewan on October 2.

The University of Calgary Dinos have every reason to shoot for the stars this season as they host the CIS Championship. Head coach Danielle Goyette is looking to improve upon her team's fourth-place finish at 14-9-5 that saw the Dinos score 82 goals-for but surrender 70 goals-against. Russian Iya Gavrilova led the team in goals (21), assists (16), and points (37) last season that helped her to second-overall in conference scoring. Hayley Dowling tended the nets most often for Calgary, posting a record of 9-7-3 with a 2.18 GAA, .912 save percentage, and two shutouts.

You have to wonder how well Calgary would have done had they had Hayley Wickenheiser playing more than just home games. Well, that won't be an issue this season as the veteran, Team Canada member, and arguably the most recognizable name in Canadian women's hockey has played her full eligibility. Gone from the Dinos are Wickenheiser, defenceman Sarah Astle, forwards Janelle Parent, Erika Mitschke, Jenna Smith, and Chelsea Peterson. Parent, Smith, and Wickenheiser represent the second-, third-, and fourth-leading scorers on the team, so there's a major chunk of the offence gone due to eligibility. Combined, 20 goals and 41 assists graduate out of the program with those three players.

There's absolutely no doubt that the offence starts and ends with Gavrilova. She has speed, soft hands, and a nose for the net that is only helped by a strong shot and some excellent vision. Had Gavrilova not gone to the Unversiade Games last winter, there's a good chance she would have won the Canada West scoring title. Instead, she brought home a gold medal where Russia claimed top spot over the Canadians. Losing their top scorers, though, will put more pressure on Heather Berzins and Jessyka Holt to really step up, and it will be interesting to see who slots in with Gavrilova on that top line for the Dinos.

Defensively, the Dinos get good puck movement to their forwards. Stephanie Zvonkovic's 14 points saw 13 of them come as assists and Megan Gregon had eight of her 11 points as assists. Where they could use more from their blue line is in the goal-scoring department as the team collectively had just five goals from the defensive unit. That's simply not good enough at this level, and they'll need to find someone who can shoot the puck to give the forwards more opportunities for deflections and rebounds. While the team is built on speed and a solid transition game, they seem to get hemmed in their own zone a little too often when pressured. Coach Goyette needs to find a stopper-type defenceman who is willing to do the dirty work to keep the puck out of the middle of the ice and out of the Calgary net.

Some may say that the Dinos would have won a few more games last season if they had a few more saves, but I'm not sure that's the case with Dowling. Her stats put her fourth in the country with respect to her goals-against-average, but her save percentage is the lowest of the top-seven netminders. Personally, I thought Dowling played pretty well. Backing her up was rookie Carissa Fischer, and Fischer's numbers weren't bad for a first-year player. She put up a 5-4-0 record in 12 games with a 2.87 GAA, an .855 save percentage, and one shutout. Perhaps the Dinos do need better goaltending, but they'll go with Dowling and Fischer again this season unless something major changes in the preseason.

Danielle Goyette lost six, but went out and got seven players to come in and fill spots. The collective group includes forwards Chelsea Court, Delaney Frey, and Sydney Mullin, defencemen Diane Hitchings, Morgan Loroff and Paige Michalenko, and goaltender Sarah Murray. Frey was a first-team all-star with the Regina Rebels in the SMFAAHL, Loroff is a transfer from Finlandia University in Michigan but is originally from Slave Lake, and Murray was an AMMFHL All-Star this past season. While Calgary's recruiting class isn't full of stars and statistics, they're getting seven very good players who can fill in a number of holes on the roster and make immediate contributions.

The Dinos have only played two preseason games thus far, winning in the shootout over Mount Royal and losing 4-1 to Alberta to push them to a 1-1-0 record thus far. The Dinos will open the season in Regina against the Cougars on October 2, and won't play their first home game until October 16 when they welcome the UBC Thunderbirds to Calgary.

I'm not saying that the Cougars have improved by leaps and bounds, but I think they will move up the standings this season. A top-four finish may be out of the cards, but Mount Royal will improve. Calgary, on the other hand, may slide down the standings after the offensive exodus this past spring. They'll be competitive, but they may find themselves in a dogfight for that fourth-place spot once again.

For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for more!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Checking Out The Ladies - Bookends

If there is one major void in Canadian reporting of any kind - mainstream media, blogging, random articles - it's that there is practically zero coverage of CIS sports. Local newspapers will make an effort if something remarkable happens, but the local universities in most Canadian cities get relegated to the back pages of the sports section assuming they're even included. Today and going forward every Sunday, HBIC is going to take an in-depth look at the stories and highlights from CIS women's hockey with a major focus on the Canada West Conference. This as-yet-untitled series will strictly be about the women's game, so you'll want to tune into HBIC every Sunday or Monday to catch up on this country's collegiate level hockey!

From today through Tuesday and again on Friday, I'm going to post articles on two teams per day to get everyone up and running with the Canada West women's teams. Wednesday, of course, is Antler Banter as we look at the AHL, and Thursday is The Hockey Show preview, so those two days will interrupt the running previews of the Canada West teams. However, by Saturday, you'll have a clear picture on which teams should do well, which teams are rebuilding, and who will challenge for the Canada West crown again this season and compete for the CIS Championship in Calgary in 2016. Since there are four teams in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan, we'll start with the book-ends of the Canada West Conference!

We'll start on the west coast with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Head coach Graham Thomas is readying his squad for his fourth season in CIS play. The 2013 CIS Coach of the Year saw his team finish in second-place in the regular season one year ago at 18-6-4 with 81 goals-for and 53 goals-against, but fell to the University of Manitoba Bisons in the Canada West semi-final game. Tatiana Rafter tied for the lead on the team in goals (14), and led in assists (15) and points (29) which put her third in league scoring. Samantha Langford logged the most minutes in the blue paint in 2014-15, putting up an 11-4-2 record with a 1.77 GAA, a .932 save percentage and four shutouts.

UBC saw Tatiana Rafter fulfill her five years of eligibility, so she won't be skating for the Thunderbirds this season. Sarah Casorso, Nikola Brown-John, and Katie Greenway also played their full five years, so there are some open roster spots for the T-Birds to fill. Replacing Rafter's offence will be a big challenge for coach Thomas as Rafter was key in the UBC scheme, but there are players ready to step up. Rebecca Unrau, a fifth-year player this season, was second in team-scoring last year and will expected to shoulder some of that load. Helping her will be fourth-year player Nicole Saxvik, but this offence will look to spread the scoring around through the remainder of the roster.

The blue line is anchored by fourth-year player Kelly Murray and second-year player Celine Tardif, but they'll miss Casorso's scoring and minutes this season. Devon Morrison, Cailey Hay, Madison Patrick, and Kaylin Snodgrass will need to find ways to generate offence from the back-end this season to help the lack of scoring up front. Stephanie Payne red-shirted last season, so she could crack the roster if she's of an offensive mind. As a unit, the T-Birds are aggressive in their own zone and like to pressure the puck which helped them to the third-best goals-against in Canada West last season. They'll need more of that to keep their opposition at bay if the scoring isn't there.

Samantha Langford had impressive numbers thanks, in part, to that ravenous defensive game, but she held her own in a lot of UBC games as well. Langford's strength is her positioning as she always seems to be square to the puck, and her lateral movement is among the best in the conference. She can be beat if she's moving, but she's a wall when she's set and ready. Former Team Canada and Long Beach Ice Dog netminder Danielle Dubé actually had better statistics than Langford in her ten games as she posted a 6-1-0 record with a 1.44 GAA, .926 save percentage, and one shutout, but the 39 year-old only played home games last season as she's a full-time firefighter as well as an Arts student. I appreciate the fact that she still wants to play, but it might be time to let the kids play a little more. Danielle Lemon and Katie Greenway played a combined six games and finished the season with a combined 1-2-1 record.

The one notable recruit for the Thunderbirds this summer was Norwegian Mathea Fischer. The feisty 5'6" forward played five games at the IIHF Division-I World Championships where she had a goal and two assists for the emerging hockey nation, but she's been dominant in top Norwegian women's league while playing for Vålerenga. In ten games in 2012-13, she had 14 goals and 15 assists! She spent the last two seasons in Ontario where she's been playing in the Ontario Hockey Academy at a high level. Fischer could be the player that replaces the offence that the T-Birds lost with Rafter, and it appears she's ready to make her name known in Canada West!

So far in the preseason, the T-Birds are 3-2 with wins coming via 3-2 and 3-0 decisions against Pacific Junior Women's team Pacific Steelers and a 3-2 win versus the RSEQ's McGill Martlets. They dropped two games via a 2-0 decision to Queen's and a 5-1 loss to Montreal, pushing their non-conference record to 1-2-0. They'll return home this upcoming weekend for a pair of games against the U18 BC women's team before kicking off their season on October 3 as hosts to the Lethbridge Pronghorns.

The most easterly team in the Canada West Conference is the University of Manitoba Bisons. Head coach Jon Rempel is back for his twelfth season behind the bench at Wayne Fleming Arena, and will look to build on last season's success. The three-time Canada West Coach of the Year saw his team finish 19-7-2 for third-place in the conference last season with 79 goals-for and 51 goals-against, but fell in the Canada West Final to the Alberta Pandas. Alanna Sharman, the CIS Rookie of the Year, tied for the team lead in goals (17) last season, and led the Bisons in assists (23) and points (40) which made her the conference's highest scorer. The majority of the workload between the pipes was handled by Rachel Dyck as she recorded a 16-4-1 record along with a 1.70 GAA, a .927 save percentage, and three shutouts.

There were some notable departures from the Bisons lineup. Maggie Litchfield-Medd, Jessica Rosenbaum, Michelle Pawluk, Jessica Dyck, and Chantal Gamache all moved on from the Bisons roster, leaving some sizable holes to fill. In Litchfield-Medd's case, there will be a new captain for the Bisons this season, and there will be a massive hole on the blue line with Pawluk closing out her collegiate career. Rosenbaum, Gamache, and Dyck all played supporting roles, but they were crucial in key situations for coach Rempel, so there will have to be some new players who step up and fill the void left by these seniors.

Having the reigning scoring champion as a rookie is a pretty nice luxury for the Bisons, and there's still a lot of hockey for Alanna Sharman to play in Canada West. There's no question she should take another run at the scoring title this season. Her linemate in Alana Serhan is also back, and the Bisons' second-leading scorer should find the same chemistry with Sharman once more. Personally, I expect a big season out of Serhan as this is her opportunity to grab the spotlight. Lauryn Keen will also be back and wearing a different number, but the Bisons' third-leading scorer should be given every opportunity to contribute more this season. Charity Price, Kayleigh Wiens, and Courtlyn Oswald should be given more of the workload as well.

The blue line will miss Pawluk, but Erica Rieder has every opportunity to bring the offence from the defence. Rieder started slow last season, but the rookie came on strong as the season ended. Rieder, if she had a good off-season, has the ability to a game-changer from the back-end for the team. Caitlin Fyten and Lindsay Blight are solid veterans who play a very sound defensive game, but they'll have to chip in where they can. Megan Tully, Alexandra Anderson, and Jayden Skoleski round out a very capable six-woman unit who should be solid from top to bottom once more in keeping the opposition to the outside.

Rachel Dyck, after having red-shirted the year previous, broke into Canada West in a big way. Alberta's Lindsey Post was the only goaltender statistically better than Dyck all season, but the third-year netminder is looking to supplant the Alberta stopper this season as the top goalie. Dyck is extremely good at squaring up to shooters, and her flexibility and lateral movement make it nearly impossible to score along the ice. While she does give up goals while screened, Dyck has the ability to make herself big to cut down angles and close off holes to reduce the amount of twine visible behind her. This skill came in handy a number of times last season. Amanada Schubert is one of the best personalities in Canada West and isn't afraid to show it. Her work in the crease is respectable, but she was used sparingly last season while Rempel relied heavily on Rachel Dyck. In just seven games, Schubert put up a 3-3-1 record on a 1.99 GAA and a .903 save percentage - numbers that should have led to a better win-loss record for sure. It might be a good idea to use Schubert more this season to keep Dyck ready for the Canada West Playoffs where strong goaltending can change a short series dramatically. Elisha Oswald and newly-recruited Jessica Vance are the goaltenders-in-waiting as they look for their opportunities to seize a roster spot.

The Bisons added a few key recruits, but none more noticeable than former Finnish Olympian Venla Hovi. The 27 year-old won a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and has a pair of bronze medals from the 2008 and 2009 World Championships. In six games with EHV Sabres Vienna at the European Women's Champions Cup, Hovi had three goals and four assists. She can definitely skate, she doesn't mind crashing the crease, and she has shown that she can score at any level. While it might take Hovi a few games to get her Canada West legs under her, expect Hovi to find the back of the net often for the Bisons this year.

Joining Hovi are forward Celine Caron and defenceman Taryn Kokesch. Both Caron and Kokesch bring offence to the team as newly-signed recruits. Caron played with the Eastman Selects in Manitoba, and led the team in scoring with 25 points in 27 games last season as well as playing for the Steinbach Sabres boys' high school hockey team. While she may be small at 5'3", the size of the fight in Caron won't go unnoticed. Kokesch finished third in scoring on the Peace County Female Midget AAA Storm in Alberta, and she's not afraid to mix it up as she tied for the lead in penalty minutes as well. She can skate, she can shoot, and she'll be a solid presence on the Bisons' blue line this season. One of the key players to return to Manitoba as a player is former NCAA Maine Black Bear Karissa Kirkup. In 2012-13, the Virden, Manitoba native had 102 points with Westman of the Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League, and she turned her three years of leading the MFMHL in scoring into her NCAA opportunity. In 30 games with the Black Bears, Kirkup had five goals and eight assists. She should see time with Sharman and Serhan this season as the top unit on this Bisons squad.

Manitoba is 4-4 in preseason action thus far having downed the Shaftesbury Titans high school team by scores of 4-3 and 6-0. They dropped a pair of games to Team Manitoba by 2-1 and 4-2 scores before bouncing back with a 3-1 victory. In the Windsor Pre-Season Tournament, the Bisons dropped a 4-2 decision to the Ottawa GeeGees, a 2-0 loss to the defending CIS champions in the Western Mustangs, but got one back by downing the host Windsor Lancers by a 5-2 score. That sits their non-conference record at 1-2-0 right now, and they visit the University of North Dakota for a cross-border NCAA-CIS tilt against the #7-ranked team in the United States this weekend. The Bisons open the regular season at home against the Alberta Pandas in a Canada West Final rematch on October 3 and 4.

There are the two of the final four teams from last season, and we'll see how things shakedown with the season opening in a couple of weeks. I suspect both of these teams to be in the top-four when all is said and done this season, but it will all come down to offensive production by the Thunderbirds and defensive responsibility for the Bisons.

For more great women's hockey news and insights, head over to Women's Hockey Nation for more!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!