Thursday, 31 December 2020

The Hockey Show - Episode 432

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, finds itself in a quandry today! According to Mike, our trusty Program Director over at UMFM, we've been pre-empted tonight for the annual UMFM Top Twenty Year-In-Review Countdown, so The Hockey Show will not be heard on the 101.5 FM frequency in Winnipeg or any of the streaming methods we have. With no hockey to chatter about on the air tonight, Jenna took the week off, but I have taken it upon myself to produce a one-off solo effort that can be downloaded at your leisure!

It won't be a normal one-hour show for this recording, but Teebz is here to discuss the reaction people are having to blowouts at the IIHF World Junior Championship as the suggestions to change the tournament have been somewhat reasonable to downright crazy. Teebz discusses why Jack Roslovic is making a big mistake, some of the players moves in the NHL you may have missed, and he sends 2020 off with a New Year's wish for all the listeners! All of this chatter happens below as we're not on UMFM tonight thanks to being pre-empted, so make sure you download the audio below to hear Teebz's thoughts!

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz records his own chatter about losses at the World Juniors, why Roslovic has lost his mind, the loss of Subban-Vonn, and the transition into 2021 as the first-ever audio exclusive of The Hockey Show is found right here and over on UMFM.com!

PODCAST: December 31, 2020: Episode 432

Until next time, Happy New Year, folks!

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

I Owe Them An Apology

I'm on record right now with a heartfelt apology for the Germans. I had written them off after all their COVID-19 problems before the tournament started, but count me in as a fan of these kids who just won't stop and seem to loving having fun while doing it. I didn't know if they had the depth to replace key players who missed the tournament, but not only did they have players waiting in the wings but those players have stepped up admirably and effectively in helping the Germans secure a spot in the medal round after today's results.

Germany, I apologize. You absolutely deserve to be playing for a medal.

After stunning the Slovaks in overtime one night earlier, the Germans came out today and beat the Swiss to finish in third-place in Group A despite having played half the tournament with just 14 skaters. It got a little tense when the Germans, who led 4-0 at one point, allowed the Swiss to chip away at that lead, but the final horn sounded with the Germans ahead 5-4 and taking the three points necessary to prevent the Slovaks from catching them.

Heiliger Bimbam!

Tim Stützle has been otherworldly in his efforts to will this German team into the medal round, and the contributions from linemates JJ Peterka and Florian Elias have carried the Germans past the Slovaks and Swiss to a more favourable matchup from Group B. It will unfortunately appear to be the Americans, but this a huge success for the Germans considering all the adversity they faced.

The loss by the Swiss tonight puts them in the relegation series against Austria. Despite there being no relegation this year, one has to be concerned about the direction the Swiss team has taken in recent years. As stated yesterday, the Swiss seem to be stuck in neutral when it comes to seeing them take steps on the international stage, and one has to wonder how the U20 program in Switzerland can find its way back to being one of this tournament's promising teams.

There's no doubt that the Germans will celebrate their achievement, but I doubt they're content with just making the medal round. I'm not counting them out against, potentially, the Americans who have had problems defending their own zone, and that's trouble when Stützle and Peterka are flying around the ice. If the Germans can get some above-average goaltending from Florian Bugl in that game, we might see Germany in the semi-final which would do wonders for their programs just as the 2018 Olympics did.

Enjoy the moment, Germany. You earned it, you certainly deserve it, I salute you, and I apologize for my lack of faith!

While the next test will be your stiffest yet, I suspect you'll find a lot of people cheering for you in the quarterfinal. I'll be one of them as I am officially joining the Germany Fan Club! Los geht's, Deutscheland!

Until next time, halte deine Stöcke auf dem Eis!

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

The Fallacy Of Blowouts

After a couple of big scores tofay by the US over the Czechs and the Russians over the Austrians, it seems the lid has been blown off the blowout debate once again. I find myself shaking my head tonight over this debate because there are always statistical outliers in any set of numbers. During this year's IIHF World Junior Championship, we're seeing a pile of games early in the tournament where teams are scoring an obscene amount of goals, and the end result has seen media and fans demand some sort of change from the IIHF to prevent this from happening again. This needs to stop here and now.

If we go back to the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, there have been 52 games whose final score has seen the winning team win by six-or-more goals. There have been 317 games played, including tonight's results, meaning that these blowouts happen at a rate of about 16.4%. To put that in context, we should see approximately four blowouts per tournament when everything is said and done.

I can already hear you exclaiming how we've seen seven blowouts in fifteen games played this year in Edmonton. I can't deny the numerical truth to this, but there have been years where things balance out. We'll run through these games now to show you who is doing what on the international stage when it comes to these big scores.

2011

  • Finland defeated Slovakia 6-0.
  • Sweden defeated Norway 7-1.
  • Canada defeated Norway 10-1.
  • Russian defeated Norway 8-2.
As you can see, 2011 went 4/30 in terms of blowout games. If you're reading those numbers correctly, Norway looked like the worst team at the tournament, but they actually defeated Germany in the relegation round to finish in ninth-place as both Norway and Germany were relegated. Germany's worst losses, I should note, came against Finland in a 5-1 game and against the US in a 4-0 game. Sometimes, the placement of teams in pools makes a difference, and Latvia and Denmark would replace Norway and Germany in 2012.

2012

  • Russia defeated Latvia 14-0.
  • Sweden defeated Slovakia 9-1.
  • Canada defeated Finland 8-1.
  • USA defeated Denmark 11-3.
  • Czech Republic defeated Denmark 7-0.
  • Canada defeated Denmark 10-2.
  • Finland defeated Denmark 10-1.
  • USA defeated Latvia 12-2.
2012 was one of the years where there were an excessive amount of blowouts as 8/30 games featured a lopsided score. Finland, who was blown out by Canada in their game, surrendered just two goals through the remainder of the round-robin to finish second in Group B while Slovakia, who took it on the chin from Sweden, finished third in Group A. Yes, Denmark was in a tough pool, but consider that the US was in the relegation round after finishing fourth in Pool B. Again, the placement of teams in pools makes a difference. Denmark, who lost two overtime games in the relegation round, would be sent down following this tournament, replaced by Germany.

2013

  • USA defeated Germany 8-0.
  • Russia defeated Germany 7-0.
  • Canada defeated Germany 9-3.
  • USA defeated Slovakia 9-3.
  • Finland defeated Germany 8-0.
  • Finland defeated Slovakia 11-4.
  • USA defeated Czech Republic 7-0.
2013 saw 7/30 games end in a blowout score, and you might be wondering how this is good in any way. Inexperienced Germany found themselves in Pool B with Canada, the US, and Russia which is never good. The fifth team in that pool was Slovakia and they too struggled, but lost in overtime to Russia and defeated Germany in overtime. Perhaps the biggest surprise came in the quarterfinal game between the Americans and Czechs as Team USA put the boots to the Czechs in a 7-0 drubbing before eventually winning the gold medal. The relegation round saw Finland down Germany by that 8-0 margin before putting up the 11-4 decision on Slovakia, but it would be Latvia - not blown out once in this tournament - who lost to Finland, Slovakia, and Germany in the relegation round, prompting their demotion. Norway would be promoted in Latvia's place for 2014.

2014

  • Slovakia defeated Germany 9-2.
  • USA defeated Germany 8-0.
  • Russia defeated Norway 11-0.
  • Sweden defeated Norway 10-0.
  • Sweden defeated Slovakia 6-0.
There were 31 games played in this tournament after a format change where eight teams advanced to the medal round, and the bottom teams in each pool played in the relegation round. As you can see, 5/31 games were blowouts including Sweden's 6-0 victory over Slovakia in their quarterfinal game. Germany and Norway would meet in the relegation round, and Germany would win the three-game series 2-1 as Norway was demoted once again. Denmark would make a return to the top tournament in 2015, and they'd be far better prepared this time around.

2015

  • Canada defeated Slovakia 8-0.
  • USA defeated Germany 6-0.
  • Russia defeated Switzerland 7-0.
  • Canada defeated Denmark 8-0.
As expected, four blowouts in 30 games played at the 2015 tournament. It should also be noted that no team hit double-digits on a scoreboard. Denmark's first appearance in the medal round may have ended with a blowout at the hands of the Canadians, but they took Russia to a shootout and lost, lost to the Czech Republic in overtime, and beat the Swiss in the shootout. Denmark, who had a number of players playing in the CHL, used that experience to vault them past Switzerland in their group, forcing the Swiss to play in the relegation round against Germany. The Germans would go home empty-handed in 2015, failing to earn a single point in their games as they were relegated. Belarus would join the top tournament in 2016.

2016

  • USA defeated Switzerland 10-1.
  • Finland defeated Belarus 6-0.
  • Sweden defeated Slovakia 6-0.
  • USA defeated Czech Republic 7-0.
Again, the expected total of 4-in-30 blowout games is seen in the 2016 tournament. It was looking like this tournament would result in fewer blowouts than any before it, but the two blowouts - Sweden over Slovakia and USA over the Czechs - happened in the quarterfinal to bring the numbers back into line. Switzerland, playing in its second-straight relegation series, downed Belarus in two games to remain in the top tournament. Belarus was relegated and replaced by Latvia in 2017.

2017

  • Canada defeated Latvia 10-2.
  • Russia defeated Latvia 9-1.
There were just two games at the 2017 tournament where the winner was six-or-more goals better. Latvia, for their part, ended up in the relegation series, but their opponents, surprisingly, were Finland who lost 2-1 to the Czechs, 3-2 to Denmark, and 3-1 to Sweden to end up one point back of the only team they beat in Switzerland. Finland would send Latvia home without a point in this tournament as they avoided relegation with a two-game sweep in the relegation series. Latvia would be demoted, and Belarus would return to the top tournament in 2018.

2018

  • USA defeated Denmark 9-0.
  • Canada defeated Denmark 8-0.
  • Canada defeated Switzerland 8-2.
  • USA defeated Czech Republic 9-3.
4/30 games were blowouts with just two teams registering those lopsided victories in Canada and the US. Surprisingly, Canada's thumping of Switzerland came in the quarterfinal while the US hammered the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal game. Not surprisingly, Denmark and Belarus met in the relegation series, and Denmark needed just two games to relegate Belarus once more. Kazakhstan would make its first appearance at the top tournament since 2009 in replacing Belarus.

2019

  • Canada defeated Denmark 14-0.
  • Slovakia defeated Kazakhstan 11-2.
  • USA defeated Kazakhstan 8-2.
There were just three blowouts in 30 games at the 2019 tournament. Canada, who finished second in Group A, drew the Finns in the quarterfinal where the Finns shocked the host nation with a 2-1 overtime win to send Canada home for the first time since 2016 without a semifinal appearance! Not surprisingly, however, Denmark and Kazakhstan played in the relegation series, and Kazakhstan needed just two games to relegate the Danes! Germany would be promoted for the 2020 tournament.

2020

  • Russia defeated Canada 6-0.
  • Finland defeated Kazakhstan 7-1.
  • Finland defeated Slovakia 8-1.
  • Germany defeated Kazakhstan 6-0.
Again, an expected four blowouts in 31 games played. The Canadian loss to the Russians was the largest loss Canada suffered over the eleven tournaments since 2011. Germany and Kazakhstan met in the relegation round, and Germany needed three games to down Kazakhstan with both wins coming in shutouts. Kazakhstan would be replaced by Austria in the 2021 tournament.

2021

  • Canada defeated Germany 16-2.
  • USA defeated Austria 11-0.
  • Canada defeated Switzerland 10-0.
  • Finland defeated Slovakia 6-0.
  • Sweden defeated Czech Republic 7-1.
  • USA defeated Czech Republic 7-0.
  • Russia defeated Austria 7-1.
As you can see, this year's tournament is way off the mark as 7/15 games are already classified as blowouts. With key players missing from teams and Germany playing part of this tournament with just 14 skaters, this tournament is clearly the anomoly in the results. As the round rbon winds down, we'll likely see scores start to correct themselves, but we shouldn't use this tournament as the example of needing change. If anything, it should be tossed from the results altogether with so many weird things causing disparity among teams.

Again, we should be looking at larger trends when it comes to improving or changing the tournament, and the most glaring one that jumps out at me are the number of times that the mid-tier teams - Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Switzerland - appear on the wrong side of these blowout scores without having been relegated. One has to wonder if the gap between the Big Five - Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, and Finland - is growing compared to these three teams based on results in games and finishes in tournaments overall.

Those three teams account for 19 of the 52 blowouts seen over the last eleven tournaments - more than one-third at 36.5%! - and none have been against one another. The Slovaks have blowout wins against Germany and Kazakhstan, the Czechs have one against Denmark, and the Swiss have never recorded one in the last eleven years. While no one is suggesting we'll see the Czechs or Slovaks return to their prominence as they once had as Czechoslovakia, I would have expected better results over eleven years from these three nations. Instead, they seem to be stuck as "the other teams" who play annually.

The other concern I have is that teams who qualify for promotion from the Division-1 tournament often are guilty of the same blowout mindset that the top tournament has. I'll run this down quickly, but here are some of the crazy blowouts from that tournament's eleven-year period:
  • 2010 - 1 blowout (Germany defeated Japan 10-0; Germany was promoted).
  • 2011 - 1 blowout (Latvia defeated Ukraine 9-0; Latvia was promoted).
  • 2012 - 3 blowouts (Germany defeated Austria 11-2, Belarus defeated Great Britain 10-2, and Germany defeated Great Britain 11-1; Germany was promoted).
  • 2013 - 1 blowout (Belarus defeated France 9-3; Belarus was not promoted).
  • 2014 - 1 blowout (Latvia defeated Slovenia 10-0; Latvia was not promoted).
  • 2015 - no blowouts (Belarus was promoted).
  • 2016 - 2 blowouts (Norway defeated Italy 10-1 and Kazakhstan defeated Italy 7-0; Latvia was promoted).
  • 2017 - no blowouts (Belarus was promoted).
  • 2018 - no blowouts (Kazakhstan was promoted).
  • 2019 - no blowouts (Germany was promoted).
  • 2020 - 1 blowout (Latvia defeated Slovenia 9-1; Austria was promoted).
The reason I have concerns about these blowouts, while less frequent, are that the teams being blown out at the next level are often the teams blowing out weaker teams at the Division-1 level. It's the same trend we see at the World Junior Championship where the Big Five are often the teams blowing out the weak teams, only at the Division-1 level we see those teams being Germany, Belarus, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. For every media person or fan who has complained about competitive imbalance, it happens at the level below the top tournament as well!

If you're asking how does the IIHF fix this, the answer is they don't. It's not up to the IIHF to provide the funding and training required to close the gap between the skill levels of each of the teams. These gaps are the reasons for the blowouts we're seeing, and they exist at three levels at the World Junior Championships in that we have the Big Five, the Next Three, and Potential Relegation Teams. These three tiers of skill level are entirely why we see blowouts at the top tournament and the Division-1 tournament, and it's up to those countries who aspire to be better to put in the time, effort, and resources needed to become better.

Just as we see in women's hockey where there are three or four good teams in a tournament of ten teams, it's not up to Canada or the US or Finland to stop being the apex teams in the tournament. You can't ask them to take a game off and go easy on a team for "competitive balance". That isn't why they're playing, and it would be an insult to the teams who are playing against them to have Canada or the US go easy on them. The scores often don't reflect the effort given by the losing teams in a blowout, but there's no way they'd want a team like Canada to ease up so the score remains more respectful.

Rather than being concerned with the final scores posted, we should be asking what these countries need to be more competitive, and this goes for both men's and women's hockey at all levels on the international stage. While I get that not every country eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey like Canada, there should be a concerted effort from the IIHF to find out why the Czechs, Slovaks, and Swiss seem to be running in neutral while the Big Five are pulling further away from them.

On the flip side, the IIHF should be asking how they can keep the momentum of Germany, Austria, Belarus, Latvia, and Kazakhstan rolling so that they can become and remain competitive with the Czechs, Slovaks, and Swiss in order to close the gap between those two tiers of teams. Germany seems poised to be that next team to cross the threshold, but one has to wonder if them doing so will bump one of those mid-tier teams backwards. If that happens, we're not making much progress in improving the game globally.

Changing the format for how these tournaments are played doesn't solve the inequalities in the skill levels shown by the emerging teams. Fostering that skill and helping it grow will aid those nations in catching up to the Big Five, and games against those five teams give those nations a good measuring stick on how much they've grown and how much growing they still have to do.

We need to stop worrying about the scores. As TSN's Gord Miller states time and again, "Blowouts happen." He's entirely right as we see blowouts happen at every level of hockey as proven above, but we need to more focused on the process each country is using to remain competitive. As long as the processes are in place for those countries to continue to close the gaps on the teams above them in skill level, we'll see this tournament get better and better each year to where there's a point where any of the ten teams could possibly win the whole thing or be relegated from the tournament.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 28 December 2020

Some NHL Moves

There has been a flurry of moves in the NHL over the past few days as teams gear up for training camps and the regular season set to begin play on January 13. As reports comes in about players possibly missing time due to injuries and/or surgery needed for injuries, a few teams have looked to restock the cupboards while other teams have added firepower or look to find some cap compliance prior to the season starting. It has made for a few crazy weeks in the NHL, and today's article is all about a summary of what went on in the last week or two regarding NHL rosters.

The Kings added Andreas Athanasiou on a one-year, $1.2 million contract on December 28. The Kings can use a bigger body who can score after dealing away Tyler Toffoli, and Athanasiou could be that guy if he's worked on his skating. If he can't keep up wth Kopitar, though, expect him to play down the lineup on this low-risk move by the Kings.

The Canadiens signed forward Corey Perry to a one-year, $750,000 contract on December 28. This might be one of the last contracts that Perry signs in his NHL career at age 35. His limited mobility likely makes him more of a power-play specialist, but Perry could be a very cheap scoring threat in Montreal's bottom-six.

The Canadiens also added another bottom-six forward in Michal Frolik on December 23 when they signed him to a one-year, $750,000 contract. He wasn't playing much in Calgary and didn't add much in Buffalo, but Frolik is a decent penalty killer and is a cheap veteran option on the wing for the Habs.

Carolina inked 13th-overall pick Seth Jarvis to a three-year, $832,500 entry-level deal. The Winnipeg-born Jarvis is coming off an outstanding year with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks where he scored 42 goals and 56 assists, and it seems the Hurricanes have plans for his future with the deal made today.

On December 27, the Ottawa Senators signed third-overall pick Tim Stuetzle to a three-year, entry-level deal. Financials were not disclosed. With Stuetzle's play at the World Juniors in Edmonton currently, the Senators have to be excited about having this player in their lineup soon.

The Senators also swung a trade yesterday as Tampa Bay came begging for some salary cap help. The Senators traded the rights to Marian Gaborik's and Anders Nilsson's LTIR contracts to the Lightning in exchange for Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, and a 2022 second-round pick. Paquette is a solid addition to Ottawa's bottom-six while Coburn likely can play on the bottom pairing in Ottawa. The cap relief in moving out the contracts for the Lightning should make them compliant once the season starts, and they paid for that relief with the second-round pick going to Ottawa.

The Senators also swung a trade on December 26 by adding Derek Stepan from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a 2021 second-round pick which they previously acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Stepan gives the Senators a solid two-way centerman down the middle, and Stepan has already indicated that he wants a bigger offensive roles compared to what he had in Arizona.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed winger Carl Soderberg to a one-year, $1 million deal on December 26. Soderberg was effective last season for the Coyotes at times, but he's slowing down at age 35. Joining a rebuilding Chicago team won't help his speed, but he can still score goals as shown by his 17 markers last season.

The Blackhawks also added winger Drake Caggiula on a one-year, $750,000 contract on December 21. Caggiula will likely play on Chicago's bottom-six rotation, but he can be an effective player when paired with a playmaker. If he's relegated to simply killing penalties, this is still a very low-risk signing for the Blackhawks.

The Oilers dipped into the free agency waters and added defenceman Slater Koekkoek on a one-year, $850,000 deal on December 26. Koekkoek appeared in 42 games with the Blackhawks last season where he had one goal and nine assists, and it appears he'll follow a similar lower pairing role in Edmonton. Koekkoek needs to show some consistency to remain in Edmonton's lineup, but it's likely he's simply holding a spot for a future Oilers defender such as Philip Broberg.

The Blue Jackets added a veteran depth defender in their signing of Michael Del Zotto to a contract of undisclosed length and value on Christmas Day. Del Zotto won't upset the pairings in Columbus, but he can play a bottom pairing and kill penalties for the club. His 49 games with the Anaheim Ducks saw him net two goals and 13 assists in 2019-20.

The Predators added some strength down the middle by signing Erik Haula to a one-year, $1.75 million contract in December 23. Haula's best season came in 2017-18 with Vegas where he and his linemates were forechecking nightmares for opponents, so this could be a really good signing for Nashville if they play this uptempo style. Unfortunately, head coach John Hynes doesn't, so I don't really know how Haula fits into his scheme. We'll find out on January 13, I guess.

The Capitals added some depth on their wings with the signing of Conor Sheary to a one-year, $735,000 contract on December 22. Sheary played really well with Sidney Crosby in his first stint in Pittsburgh, was virtually invisible in Buffalo, returned to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline and continued to look lost, and now ends up in Washington where he likely will get a bottom-six role. It's a low-risk signing by the Capitals, but they need to find a way for him to rediscover his ability to score.

The Capitals also invited former Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson to camp on a professional tryout contract. Anderson will be taking the place of Henrik Lundqvist who announced he would be sitting out this season earlier this month before revealing that he needs open heart surgery to correct the heart issues with which he's been diagnosed. Anderson will be a good replacement for Lundqvist in helping Ilya Samsonov become Washington's full-time starter. The Capitals will sign Anderson to a deal once Lundqvist has been placed on LTIR.

The Blues added former Panthers sniper Mike Hoffman to their camp on a professional tryout contract. Hoffman's inclusion will be made official once the Blues can clear some cap space through Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko both being placed on LTIR. Hoffman makes the Tarasenko absence sting a little less as the Blues open their season without one of their best players, and they're hopeful to have two dynamic wingers available for the playoffs in 2021. Salary caps are merely guidelines for some teams, I guess.

The Arizona Coyotes are going all-in with the PTOs in their efforts to have a full camp. As we already know, the Coyotes offered a PTO to former Leafs forward Frederik Gauthier for him to play. Gauthier has 13 goals and 18 assists in his NHL career, but he hasn't found the consistency needed to remain in a lineup. The Coyotes are hoping to see that change.

They also offered a PTO to former Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre. After having spent the majority of the last three seasons in the AHL, McIntyre's options were limited after being let go by the KHL's Dinamo Riga. Arizona is hoping he can rediscover his goaltending touch that prompted the Bruins to select him out of the University of North Dakota, so it's likely we'll see McIntyre on the taxi squad to start this season for Arizona.

The Coyotes are also inviting former Blues defenceman Jordan Schmaltz to camp on a PTO. Schmaltz played 43 games in the AHL last season between Toronto and Bridgeport, and the Coyotes are hoping to find a little magic in another former UND Fighting Hawks player with their invitation. It's hard to see Schmaltz taking a roster spot at this point from anyone in Arizona, but he's been skating there and could slide into the taxi squad for the Coyotes once the season starts.

And just because it needs to be mentioned, it seems that Ilya Kovalchuk's days in the NHL are over after he signed a two-year deal in the KHL with Avangard Omsk on December 26. Kovalchuk had ten goals and 26 points in 46 games last year with the Kings, Canadiens, and Capitals, but it appears he'll play out the rest of his career in his homeland with this new deal announced. If this is the last time we see him in the NHL, Kovalchuk recorded 443 goals and 876 points in 926 games over his career.

There's a quick synopsis of the last two weeks of moves around the NHL. We'll see how everything shakes down regarding Tampa Bay's and St. Louis' cap compliance situations, but it seems they have a plan to thwart that detail. As for Kovalchuk, I wish him well in Russia. Considering that I still have a McFarlane statue of him on my desk in a Thrashers uniform, it's been a very successful career for the Russian sniper. Here's hoping he finishes his career as he wants in his native land.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Czech-ed Into Submission

One day after lamenting a pair of blowout wins by Canada and the US, we turn the page and find ourselves in the midst of an old Eastern bloc dogfight between the Russians and the Czech Republic in Group B action. Just as Canada gets pumped for US or Russian clashes and just as the Finns and Swedes settle into one of their battles, the Czechs always have games against the Russians circled on the calendar. It's the rivalry they live and die for, and tonight's game was a perfect example as Czechs all over the ice sacrificed themselves to emerge as the victors!

After getting spanked by Sweden in their opening games, I felt that the Czechs had more to give and certainly wanted to show some national pride with a better performance tonight. The 8-1 loss to the Tre Kronor would sting each and evey Czech player, and they knew they had to regroup against the favorite to win the group in Russia. It didn't hurt that the Czechs always seem to want to play Russia when given the chance.

Russia, on the other hand, had dispatched the Americans in a sloppy-yet-successful showing as they used speed and passing to get past the Americans. It was a rather unusual game as Yaroslav Askarov looked rather mediocre in the Russian net, but he made enough saves for the Russians to claim victory over the US. With that average game behind them, it was expected the Russians would turn the engne over on this well-oiled machine of a team.

Where the script took a turn, though, was the Czech Republic's commitment to defence, particularly in the middle of the ice in the defesnive zone where the Russians found nothing for most of the evening.

A puck that hopped the stick of Shakir Mukhamadullin led to the first Czech goal when Jakub Rycholvsky brought the puck back and found Filip Koffer on the two-on-one rush, allowing Koffer to hammer home a goal late in the second period to put the Czechs up 1-0 in the game despite them having been under siege for most of the period. However, as stated above, the middle of the ice belonged to the Czechs as they allowed virtually no penetration into the high-danger scoring areas, and Lukas Parik was excellent in tracking pucks and smothering anything close to him.

The Czechs seemed content in allowing the Russians to make mistakes, rarely forcing offensive plays that may result in turnovers, and they weren't shy about skating as hard as they could into the defensive zone to take their spots in the system devised by Czech head coach Karel Mlejnek. He asked his players to sacrifice their bodies to help Parik by blocking shots, checking like demons, and allowing no second chances, and the Czech players responded with one of the best efforts in recent memory against a Russian team that looked like they would overpower the Czechs on paper.

Early in the third period, Martin Lang added an insurance marker after blocking a shot at the blue line and going the other way with it as his shot went under the blocker arm of Askarov and off the netminder's hip into the back of the net for a 2-0 advantage for the Czechs. The unlikely seemed far more real now as the Russians looked stunned and confused by the Czech's refusal to concede space on the ice or shooting lanes in the offensive zone. As time ticked to 0.0, the jubilation of not only shutting out the Russians, but beating them through patience and self-sacrifice, was evident through the cheers and smiles seen on the Czech team's faces.

As much as we don't want to see blowouts in this tournament, seeing the Czech squad absolutely lock down the defensive zone to stifle the Russians is the opposite of the blowout. This commitment to defence was the answer to all of Russia's offensive stars, and it was certifiably one of the best defensive efforts seen in this tournament in some years. While I don't expect the Swedes to go into a massive defensive shell when they play the Russians, it might be something to consider for whomever gets Russia in the crossover.

A team like Slovakia is showing that they can keep the lid on games against teams like the Czechs and Canadians, and it might be in their best interest to pull that page from the Czech playbook if they do match up against the Russians on the other side. The Germans can do the same, and the Swiss, who need to find some offence, could also use this same strategy against the Russians. In other words, the Russians need to solve this dilemma in case they face the same problem in the medal round.

Upsets are good for the World Junior Championship. Seeing the Czechs shake up the standings in Pool B means that the race to the finish line becomes much more interesting. The Czechs have already played both Sweden and Russia, so, if they can win against the Americans and Austrians, we could see a very different standings board than what everyone predicted before the tournament started. Again, upsets are good for this tournament because it means we may see some different finishes for teams this year.

I think this win by the Czechs will send a bit of a message to every other team here that believes they can win a medal, but upsets are good for hockey. I would have loved to have seen this upset happen in the medal round, but upsets anytime are better than none at all. Let's stop trying to reinvent this tournament because this result would have never happened had Russia and the Czechs not been in the same group.

We don't need to re-invent the wheel when it's already round and rolling.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Do We Need To Change?

If there's one thing that the World Junior Championship always guarantees, it's that we'll see a blowout or two when the powerhouses face-off against the also-rans. It happens every year where the weakest teams in the tournament find themselves bruised, battered, beaten, and otherwise destroyed by the best in the world, and it happened again tonight with both Canada and the US posting double-digit wins over their lesser opponents. Austria still has to face Sweden, who put an eight-spot up on the Czechs, and the Russians, so we're likely to see a few more ugly wins at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship before everything is said and done.

As you're likely aware, the IIHF uses goal differential as a tie-breaking rule to determine placement in the standings, meaning that all goals carry the same weight no matter how many are scored. If Canada had beaten Germany 66-2 tonight, they would have earned a +64 for the game, making their standing far harder for all other teams to match. Unfortunately, it would also force teams to try and run up the score on Germany to keep pace with the Canadians in this tournament.

The sentiment on social media tonight was that there needs to be a change to this rule or the tournament's format to prevent these blowouts from being all too common, and I don't disagree. We've seen the IIHF Women's World Championship go to a six-and-four format where the top-six teams in the world play a round-robin amongst themselves to determine seeding in the tournament while the bottom-two teams play quarterfinal games against the top-two teams from the remaining four teams. While I'm not against this idea initially, I still want to see all teams compete against one another.

Another suggestion was capping the goal differential model at a certain level. Once a team reaches a goal difference of a certain value, that goal differential stands as the maximum differential for the game's results. This happens in some minor hockey tournaments that I've seen where the goal differential is capped at +7 goals or +10 goals in order to keep the divisions more competitive. While I like this idea as well, I'm not sure it serves the purpose one intends at a major international competition.

When it comes to blowouts, we often see the teams that face relegation as the proverbial lambs to the slaughter when it comes to these wide goal discrepencies in games. While Germany has been plucky in their two games against Canada and Finland, they still have a chance to make the medal round if they can win over the Swiss and Slovaks in their next two games. Austria, who faces a much steeper hill to climb, will have to beat the Czech Republic and hope the Czechs lose every other game in the tournament. However, there's a reason why Germany surrendering sixteen goals tonight matters.

In hypothesizing this, the goal differential that both Canada and the US scored tonight would be rendered moot in my rule change. The reason for this is that teams who need a tie-breaker to elevate them to a higher position in the standings shouldn't get credit for beating up on the weakest teams in the tournament. If we assume that Canada, Finland, and Slovakia all tie for first-place with one regulation loss having defeated each other in group play, we'd use the IIHF tie-breaking formula which is laid out as follows:
  • Step 1: Taking into consideration the games between each of the tied teams, a sub-group is created applying the points awarded in the direct games amongst the tied teams from which the teams are then ranked accordingly.
In our scenario, all of Canada, Finland, and Slovakia won a three-point victory against one another, so this step moves us to the next one.
  • Step 2: Should three or more teams still remain tied in points then the better goal difference in the direct games amongst the tied teams will be decisive.
This could potentially eliminate one of the teams, but it could leave all three in play as the the direct games amongst the tied teams are considered. If Canada beats Slovakia 2-1, but loses to Finland 2-1, the goal differential is zero. Assuming that all three teams are still tied, we move to Step 3.
  • Step 3: Should three or more teams still remain tied in points and goal difference then the highest number of goals scored by these teams in their direct games will be decisive
Against, if the results for the three games were 2-1 scores, this step changes nothing. We move to the next tie-breaking step
  • Step 4: Should three or more teams still remain tied in points, goal difference and goals scored then the results between each of the three teams and the closest best-ranked team outside the sub-group will be applied. In this case the tied team with the best result (1. points, 2. goal difference, 3. more goals scored) against the closest best ranked-team will take precedence.
And herein lies the problem since we're assuming the Germans will finish ahead of Switzerland in the standings for this example. If Germany does, Canada already has an advantage over the Finns in that they defeated Germany 5-3 for a goal differential of +2 in their game. That means the Slovaks have to score fourteen more goals than Germany in their game to keep pace with Canada. That likely isn't going to happen.

Should Canada be given the boost to first-place in the group just because they hammered one of the worst teams in the group who played with just fourteen players and were clearly gassed after their impressive performance one night earlier against Finland? What's the difference between +10 and +14 goals when determining a tie-breaker that has already made it through three steps of tie-breaking steps when it comes to three teams? How often do we even reach the fourth step in a three-team tie-breaker scenario?

While I appreciate that people are calling for a mercy rule in international hockey, the fact that the IIHF already has accounted for a three-team tie-breaker scenario that seems virtually unlikely in that it would get to the fourth step means that we should likely encourage a cap on goals when it comes to tie-breaking scenarios. Since there are no ties in games, a two-team tie-breaker would never see the light of day in this situation, and that makes the likelihood of seeing Step Four in this process virtually nil.

Could it happen? Yes. Will we see it happen? It seems very unlikely. I'd be a fool to suggest that it will never happen because, as shown above, it could very well happen in a given year, but pounding teams into submission like the Canadians and Americans did in today's games just seems unnecessary when it comes to the tie-breaking format.

As TSN's Gord Miller stated tonight on social media, "blowouts happen". At the end of the day, the key statistic that matters in any tournament is wins. While I get that tournament organizers may not like the idea of teams running up scores, blowouts happen. Usually, the teams that score the most goals win the most games, so let's stop begging for a mercy rule when looking at the strength of the teams in this tournament. And breaking up the pools means that the teams who deserve a better standing than those who finished third in the "top teams" pool will never get that standing.

At the end of the day, Gord Miller is right: blowouts happen. No one likes them, no one cheers for them, and it's a guarantee no one wants to be on the receiving end of one, but unless that three-team scenario starts happening more often than not, it's a moot point on limiting the number of goals scored because when it does happen, goal differential matters. If you accept that Step Four exists in the tie-breaker rules, then you accept that all goals, no matter how meaningless they may seem in a 16-2 game, matter as well. You can't have one without the other.

As much as I wasn't excited for the 16-2 and 11-0 results tonight, the tournament's rules are designed to account for these blowouts. Germany and Austria will bounce back from these scores, and I'm hopeful that Russia, who already downed the Americans, Sweden, and Canada won't rely on running up the scores on other teams unless they have to do so. That's just the way this tournament is, and I often find that karma has a way of working itself out before the tournament ends when one team consitently puts up big scores on its opponents.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 25 December 2020

Merry LiveBlogMas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope your celebration is going well and that you made enough Nice Lists to get everything your heart desired this holiday season! Thanks to my local government's mandate of no gatherings, I am not celebrating Christmas with family or friends as I want, but I'll take a healthy country over my own personal wants on this day. That being said, it's time for an annual tradition to get underway as the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship begins today! I'm going to live-blog the early game today between Switzerland and Slovakia to get me into this tournament, so feel free to follow along as I break down this game in my own peculiar way!

We kick the tournament in Edmonton off with a Group A battle between Switzerland and Slovakia, and TSN has predicted that both teams will make the medal round but neither will bring home a medal. This first game will be important for both teams in terms of their standing in the group play, so let's get this live blog rolling!

PRE-GAME SETUP

  • TSN's James Duthie welcomes everyone to Edmonton, Bob McKenzie runs down a few key points about the tournament, and TSN's broadcast schedule is shown.
  • TSN reports that Germany will skate just 14 players - nine forwards and five defenders - in their game against Finland. If Germany is within a goal by the time the third period starts, the IIHF should give them a point in the standings for just keeping it close.
  • James Duthie drops a late Christmas gift for everyone by informing us that Dennis Beyak gets the call in the first two games. For the life of me, I cannot understand why TSN isn't using Dustin Neilson or someone else in Edmonton to call these games. Anyone but Beyak. I don't need this on an already-weird Christmas.
  • Before you jump all over me, yes, I know Beyak is the B-Team guy for TSN. My question is why. Always will be. He's not good at his job.
  • The annual check-in with Wayne Gretzky is happening.
  • I can honestly say, having gotten to know him a little, Wayne Babych is an absolute beauty.
  • While I think Canada will miss Kirby Dach in its lineup at times, using the Germany-Slovakia-Switzerland games to really refine the lines for chemistry will benefit Canada greatly. Spreading the scoring amongst the lineup will prove beneficial for Team Canada.
  • TSN confirms Devon Levi will start in net for Canada. No problem with that choice.
  • I have wanted referees mic'ed up in Canada West for a while. I think we'd learn so much more about the interactions among the players, coaches, and officials with that. Maybe we'll see if this is something we can add in the future on Bisons hockey broadcasts.

FIRST PERIOD

  • TSN has already ruined this broadcast with yet another song by The Reklaws. It's time to find a band to hitch your country music wagons to, TSN. Enough already.
  • Samuel Hlavaj will start for Slovakia today, and it's his third World Junior Championship competition. Hlavaj is very good, but he's going to need help today. If his defence can handle the Swiss attackers, Slovakia has the ability to win this game.
  • Thibault Fatton gets the start for the Swiss. Fatton is playing with the U20 Lugano squad in Switzerland where he's 9-3-0 in 15 appearances for the club. He'll need to be sharp against some of these Slovakian shooters.
  • It should be noted that Carter Sandlak, one of the referees in today's game, is the son of former Vancouver Canucks forward Jim Sandlak who played for Canada at the World Junior Championship!
  • Two minutes in, and it seems the Swiss an Slovaks are going to focus on the defensive side of the coin early as they look to establish their repsective game plans.
  • The first big hit is delivered by Switzerland's Valentin Hofer behind the Slovak net.
  • Apparently, the Slovaks aren't starting Hlavaj. Simon Latkoczy is in the blue paint for the Slovaks. TSN's Beyak and Craig Button speculate on a possible injury or tweak.
  • Craig Button is entirely right in that Slovakia seems to play with zero urgency in shutting down opponents. This was their entire issue against the Czechs in the pre-tournament game, and it's happening again here against the Swiss.
  • Switzerland's Nathan Vouardoux is assessed the tournament's first penalty for a cross-check. Slovakia to the power-play!
  • The Slovakian power-play is moving the puck well, but the players are fairly stationary. I'd like to see more flashes to the middle of the ice by the weak side players to open more cross-ice seams for a backdoor feed.
  • The Swiss penalty expires, and there's no harm done by the Slovaks.
  • Halfway through the opening period, and it's still 0-0 with the Slovaks leading in shots by an 8-1 count over the Swiss.
  • If Esso, who really needs no advertising since we all know what they do, invested the money they put into World Junior Championship ads into women's university hockey, we could have a heckuva U SPORTS broadcast platform. Just sayin'.
  • Noah Delemont is sent off for interference as Slovakia goes back to the power-play. They are oh-fer-one with the man-advantage today.
  • Again, still too stationary for the Slovaks. They need to cause chaos on this power-play through movement and shot selection.
  • The Swiss play a tight triangle in front of their net. Flashing players through that triangle will disrupt it, and the backdoor pass will be there. Slovakia needs some video work done during the intermission to recognize this.
  • Dear Skip the Dishes, the UMFM broadcasts of Bisons hockey would be a great place to invest some money since you have your headquarters in Winnipeg. Think about it.
  • The Swiss have been playing three players down below the hash marks in their defensive zone. If Slovakia wasn't playing such a passive forecheck, the Swiss transition game would nearly be non-existent as they break out two-on-three for most of the period.
  • Last minute of play in a rather uneventful first period.
  • Switzerland's Dario Allenspach is called for a trip. Slovakia will heead to its third power-play of the first period.
  • The first period comes to a close with a 0-0 score intact, and with Slovakia leading over the Swiss 12-5 in shots.

FIRST INTERMISSION

I'm making some lunch. Back for second period action shortly!
One grilled cheese sandwich and some veggies later, and we're back for second period action!

SECOND PERIOD

  • Slovakia starts this period with 1:18 remaining on the power-play.
  • The power-play nets zero goals, and Slovakia is now oh-fer-three with the man-advantage.
  • Raymond Fust whiffs on a shot and clips Marko Stacha with his stick for a high-sticking penalty. Slovakia goes to their fourth power-play opportunity!
  • Juraj Slafkovsky is whistled for goalie interference, and that will end the Slovakia power-play. Four-on-four hockey for just over a minute!
  • The Swiss now have an abbreviated power-play as Fust leaves the box. Five minutes gone in the second period.
  • Far too many white jerseys around the Slovakian goal, and the Swiss won't find much success in scoring goals with those numbers.
  • The Swiss power-play comes to an end, and we're still tied at 0-0.
  • Switzerland's first good chance of the second period is denied by Simon Latkoczy. Lionel Marchand with a nice burst of speed to create space, but the Slovakian netminder is equal to the task.
  • Swiss are showing some life here in this period at the midway point, but we're still scoreless with the Slovaks holding a 16-9 edge in shots.
  • Craig Button has already waxed poetic about Juraj Shefkovsky, but he reminds me of Miroslav Satan in how he plays the game in the offensive zone - head up, aware of passing lanes, and will shoot if given the chance. Based on how Satan's career went, let's hope Shefkovsky can find the same success.
  • Despite Switzerland coming on in this period, I've been very impressed with Latkoczy in terms of his readiness for any and all shots coming his way. He's showing some great concentration.
  • Seeing the reverse angle on that rush by the Slovaks showed that Fatton really does have good lateral movement while staying big. Mrazik's shot wasn't the greatest, but Fatton stayed big in sliding across the crease and took most of the net away.
  • Good hand-eye coordination leads to a chance for Oleksiy Myklukha, but he made one too many moves on the play. Had he put the shoulder down and drove across the net, we might be talking about the first goal. That comes with experience, but Myklukha has to open up Fatton on that play.
  • Last minute of play in the second period.
  • An excellent save with 3.1 seconds remaining by Latkoczy in coming out past the top of the crease to eliminate any angle for Switzerland's Simon Knak. Again, Latkoczy has impressed me so far for what he's done in the Slovakian net.
  • That'll do it for 40 minutes of play with the teams still tied at 0-0 and Slovakia still leading in shots 21-15.

SECOND INTERMISSION

Having seen the images of Kirby Dach's broken wrist, I won't post them here for those who may not have the same strength of stomach, but there's zero chance of him returning for anything in this tournament but a medal ceremony. Let's hope he's not out long for the Blackhawks because he's definitely going to need some time to recuperate.

THIRD PERIOD

  • Craig Button's question on hand-pass vs. glove-pass is what we in the business call "filler". It's the same thing, Craig.
  • Slovakia gets a chance off a broken play, but a good challenge from Fatton at the edge of his crease prevents any opportunity for a scoring chance for the Slovaks.
  • Six minutes into this period sees most of the period being played passively by both sides. Lots of play along the boards and in the neutral zone with dump-and-don't-chase being employed.
  • Did that Skip the Dishes commercial just tell me to "taste" the World Junior Championship? Terrible choice of wording in a panedmic of a highly-transmittable virus, Skip.
  • Switzerland's Cedric Fiedler is called for interference in front of his own net, and the goalless Slovakian power-play returns to the ice.
  • Again, good puck movement for Slovakia, but the two best opportunities came when they were moving players around the zone. The penalty does expire, though, and Slovakia is now oh-fer-five on the day with the extra player.
  • 8:19 remaining in regulation time, and this game feels like its headed to extra time based on how these two teams are playing.
  • Slovakia takes a timeout after an icing with 7:49 remaining. As Button points out, this is not allowed in the NHL, but the IIHF has no such rule.
  • Simon Nemec throws a puck to the front of the net that Fatton kicked out, but Roman Faith is right there to corral the puck and fire it home!
  • SLOVAKIAN GOAL AT 5:43 - Roman Faith from Simon Nemec and Michal Mrazik. SLOVAKIA LEADS 1-0!
  • Slovakia's Samuel Knazko is given a 2+10 penalty for boarding, meaning his day is over. The two-minute boarding penalty will be served by Martin Chromiak as the Swiss go to their second power-play of the day.
  • WHAT A SAVE! Switzerland's Inaki Baragano had a yawning cage only to have Latkoczy slide across and rob Baragano with the glove!
  • The penalty will expire, but the Swiss will go back on the power-play after Marko Stacha is called for tripping.
  • With 1:20 remaining, Thibault Fatton heads to the Swiss bench for the extra attacker, making it a six-on-four advantage as the power-play ticks away.
  • A couple of off-setting penalties were called in a scrum as Switzerland's Keanu Derungs was called for slashing while Slovakia's David Mudrak was called for roughing.
  • Simon Latkoczy makes a big save, and then looks to score on the empty net! However, his efforts were thwarted by the officials' whistles.
  • Time hits 0.0, and Slovakia emerges with a 1-0 victory! Latkoczy makes 27 stops for the shutout win!
  • Switzerland's Thibault Fatton and Slovakia's Simon Latkoczy are named as the Player of the Game for each team in an all-goaltender ceremony.
Slovakia captures the opening three points of Group A as they take this game by a 1-0 score off Roman Faith's lone goal. This might be the most important win of the group stage for Slovakia as they were expected to compete with Switzerland for third-place in the group.

The Swiss will need to regroup and find points against a depleted German team when they play to avoid the non-relegation relegation games. If the Swiss can somehow gets points against the Finns or Canada, there's still a chance they could finish in third-place in the group, but it's a tough ask for a Swiss team that seemed overwhelmed at times today.

I hope you enjoyed the live-blog of this game! Stay tuned for more World Junior Championship action over the next two weeks! Canada and Germany goes tomorrow, so let's get pumped for that!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The Hockey Show - Episode 431

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, is back on Christmas Eve as Teebz and Jenna settle into the holidays with a show that's more fun than it has been in recent weeks with all the pandemic talk and the business-over-humanity talk. Being that it's the holiday season, Teebz does his annual portion of the show where he gives thanks to all the people who appeared on the show this year as we're always grateful for the time people do give us. We wouldn't have as much fun on this show as we do without some of the great people we speak with, so thank you to everyone who appeared on The Hockey Show this calendar year!

Tonight on the show, Teebz and Jenna break down what appears to be a fairly competitive World Junior Championship while making a few predictions, they discuss the NHL's proposed 56-game schedule and advertisements on helmets, they chat about an interesting offer made to Gritty, and Teebz thanks everyone who has appeared on the show in the last year! To round out the Christmas Eve show, Teebz and Jenna choose their five favorite Christmas songs in what will surely stir some debate! Who makes the cut? You'll have to listen tonight at 5:30pm CT tonight to hear which songs made the Top-Five on one of 101.5 FM, Channel 718 on MTS TV, or on UMFM.com! Happy holidays, everyone!

Where's the best place can you hear tonight's show if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, so if you want to stream the show I'd recommend Radio Garden to do that as it works nicely with Safari. If you're more of an app person, we recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Teebz and Jenna go over the final preparations for the World Junior Championship, the ongoing preparations for the NHL season, the five songs that will aid us in our holiday prepartions, Teebz thanks all of our guests and friends who made the show so much fun this year, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

Lastly but certainly not least, from both Jenna and myself, we wish you and yours a very happy holiday season with the best of health, and a Merry Christmas in what has to one of the weirdest holiday seasons ever. From us to you, be safe, be merry, and enjoy this festive time as best you can with your loved ones either in attendance or online!

PODCAST: December 24, 2020: Episode 431

Until next time, Merry Christmas, folks!

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Prognosis: Negative... Kinda

As you're likely aware, the NHL has set its schedule and is pushing forward despite there being resistence from a few key folks who have to sign off on the NHL's masterplan for the 2020-21 season. The five Canadian provinces were mulling over the NHL's latest plan that was presented as it seems that Canada is taking this viral pandemic fairly seriously with two province in lockdown, two more enacting lockdown shortly, and one restricting travel into the province. The battle between the NHL and these five provinces continues tonight, but it seems we got a small update from TSN's Darren Dreger that makes me proud of this country's provincial health ministers.

First, the update from Darren Dreger posted earlier tonight. It reads,
Obviously, there is concern about transmission of the virus among provinces and cities where these teams will play, and the health ministers are doing the right thing by demanding as many safeguard tests and/or by having the NHL play in a bubble as they did in Edmonton and Toronto for the playoffs which worked so well. I cannot stress how smart this ask is of the NHL, and it's one that the NHL should be willing to meet if it wants its precious season to be played out with travel.

If the NHL is working on a response that's anything but "ok", call the whole thing off. As I stated on Saturday, screw the NHL if they think they can have freedoms in those provinces that citizens of those provinces currently don't have. The very ask by the NHL while Canada struggles to maintain some control over this virus was both ignorant and arrogant, but this response the NHL is working on to the health ministers, assuming it's not the word "ok", proves that the NHL cares not about the communities in which they play.

The OHL is finding out that the provincial lockdown in Ontario means something as they pushed back their start date for a season once again today. The league originally wanted to start on December 1 as per an August announcement, but that start date was revised on October 29 when the OHL announced that training camps would start on January 22 with a February 4 start date for the season. As stated above, that plan has now been scrapped with the provincial lockdown in combination with the closed Canada-US border, so the OHL will sit and wait like the rest of us.

Why should the OHL's decision matter when it comes to the NHL? The provincial lockdown has to have teeth or people will simply ignore it. If the Ontario government wants people to know how serious they are with respect to the lockdown's purpose, tell the NHL to kick rocks. No exceptions can be granted to millionaire hockey players when kids can't be out on rinks playing shinny. It completely flies in the opposite direction of what a lockdown is supposed to accomplish. It's that simple.

At some point in this entire charade, someone has to realize there are things to be more thankful for than hockey. Think about what you give thanks for when saying grace at your holiday meals - health, happiness, family - and how those things are affected by COVID-19 this year. Now ask yourself how they would be saved by hockey if the NHL was allowed to operate as they want. If the answer is "they aren't", allowing the NHL to operate unfettered in five provinces makes little sense to the overall health of this country.

Again, if the NHL doesn't agree to the health ministers' asks for additional testing procedures and/or a bubble, then the NHL can move its circus to the US for the coming season. This is not an unreasonable ask during a worldwide panedmic, and the NHL knows it. This ask will cost them more money, though, and that's the entire point of this charade for the NHL - money. Making it, losing as little as possible, and pushing forward with more ways to make money off everyone involved.

Stick to your guns, health ministers. Either the NHL plays ball by your rules or they don't play. Anything less is a failure by our governments to its own citizens when one considers that families can't celebrate the holidays together, small businesses have suffered through what is usually their biggest economic season, and kids' sports have all been cancelled until further notice.

If those three things don't matter to you, you're free to enjoy all the NHL action you want this season. For the vast majority of Canadians, though, these three things are vitally important to our day-to-day lives, and we want those things back sooner rather than later.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

TBC: Dare To Make History

With everyone gearing up for the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, I took some time this week to finish reading a book I kept chipping away at when I first received it. It wasn't that I didn't want to read this book - quite the opposite, in fact! - but I kept finding myself busy with other stuff. With the holidays upon us, though, I made some time and committed myself to finishing the read as Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Dare to Make History: Chasing a Dream and Fighting for Equity, written by Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, and published by the Radius Book Group. As you likely know, the Lamoureux twins have been thorns in the sides of Team Canada since they burst onto the international hockey scene, so getting an opoortunity to learn about Jocelyne and Monique in their own words was one I could not turn down.

As one-half of the twin Lamoureux sisters, Jocelyne is the free-wheeling forward of the pair who starred with Shattuck St. Mary's and the University of North Dakota before bursting onto the scene with the US National Team. Among the pile of personal awards she has won, her and Monique were part of seven World Championship American teams, a number of silver medal-winning Team US Olympic teams, and she put her name in the history books with her shootout goal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games that won Team US their first Olympic women's hockey gold medal since 1998! Jocelyne was also an instrumental part of the historic USA Hockey deal with the women's national team that saw the players named to the team receive more equitable resources dedicated to the team. Jocelyne lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota with her husband, Brent, and son, Nelson.

Monique Lamoureux is one-half of the Lamoureux twin sisters, and she's the defender of the two who, occasionally, plays forward on the opposite wing from Jocelyne. She attended both Shattuck St. Mary's and the University of North Dakota where he efforts put her on the map for Team USA, and her and Jocelyne were part of seven World Championship American teams where they captured six gold medals and one silver medal as well as being part of several silver medal-winning USA Olympic Teams. Monique also added her name to international hockey lore when she scored the tying the goal against Canada late in the third period on a breakaway! Similar to Jocelyne, Monique was a driving force in getting a deal with Hockey USA that saw more equitable resources dedicated to the team now and in the future. Monique lives in Grand Forks, North Dakota with her husband, Anthony, and her son, Mickey.

I likely won't be the only Canadian who tells you that I have a small part of me who simply hates seeing the Lamoureux sisters lining up opposite Team Canada. As you read through Dare to Make History, you'll find out that the twins never set out to be public enemies in Canada, but that they could have been skating for the red-and-white had a few things worked out differently! In knowing this fact, though, it made me want to read more about these two amazing women!

Jocelyne and Monique take you through their childhood, growing up as the youngest siblings of four brothers, playing on boys' teams and putting up with the relentless amount of insults and taunting they faced, and excelling where the boys either couldn't or wouldn't. They would find their way to Shattuck St. Mary's where they joined a program rounding into form as a national powerhouse, and they helped SSM find an immense amount of success as both Jocelyne and Monique found their own ways in the world.

Would it surprise you in knowing that the University of North Dakota, where the Lamoureux family had made a name for itself, wasn't the first place the twins played university hockey? That honour goes to one of UND's archrivals in the University of Minnesota! I won't explain how or why they transferred from Minnesota to North Dakota - that's in the book! - but it's pretty clear that the addition of the Lamoureux twins to the Fighting Sioux program elevated it immediately, leading to more amazing things for the university program.

If there was one part of Dare to Make History I was hoping that Jocelyne and Monique would allow readers to access, it was the negotiations and the behind-the-scenes look at the negotiations between Hockey USA and the US women when it came to their fight for more equitable treatment. I can say that not only did Jocelyne and Monique talk about this, but they were quite detailed about all matters that were involved in this situation, making for a very thorough telling of what transpired. Honestly, I appreciated Jocelyne's and Monique's story they told, but this portion - from the initial player meetings right down to the boycott they threatened - was so well-written and detailed that this part alone would be worth the price of the book!

One of the more puzzling moments came after the World Championship win in Michigan as the US Olympic roster was being finalized. Both Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux were scratched for the entire Four Nations Cup, leading some to question their health or fitness or perhaps this being punishment by USA Hockey for leading the charge for equitable treatment. Monique Lamoureux writes,
"Jocelyne and I didn't play the entire tournament. Obviously, something had changed between the coaches and us; we just didn't know what or why. We weren't injured. We didn't receive any feedback that indicated we were playing poorly. No explanations were provided. We were simply scratched from the lineup for an entire tournament."
Jocelyne adds her own thoughts a few pages later, writing,
"To this day, we have zero explanation as to why the way we were treated changed so drastically. We approached every single day like it was a make-or-break day at tryouts. We knew everything we did was being wacthed and judged, and that we had to be 'on' at all times, which was something we had to accept and deal with, even if by some chance we were wrong and the coaches didn't have us under a microscope."
Reading this chapter in Dare to Make History took me back to Sami Jo Small's experiences with Team Canada in The Role I Played, and I'm really starting to wonder how the national team programs in both countries have been able to play these mindgames with players for so long without being called out for this. If the intention was to make the Lamoureux sisters better for Pyeongchang, I suppose the end justified the means, but this seems like a cruel way to push an elite athlete to be better.

Overall, Dare to Make History was a very enjoyable read about two women who I started off disliking because of what they seemed to do to Canada every time they played against the red-and-white, but I find myself in a different place after finishing the Lamoureux sisters' story because I found myself empathizing with them. I'm proud to say that I don't hold any dislike them any longer, and I actually have a greater respect for them based on all they've accomplished of which I wasn't aware. Combined with the autobiographical nature of the book to go along with the hockey stories, Dare to Make History is definitely worthy of a gold medal and absolutely deserving of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

I do want to thank Radius Book Group for allowing me to review an advance copy of Dare to Make History, so please don't go searching bookstores for the Lamoureux twins' book just yet. The reported release day for the book will be February 23, 2021, so please pre-order through your local bookstore or through Radius Book Group itself so you can receive your copy of Dare to Make History as soon as possible! Based on the situations in the book, I would recommend Dare to Make History to all readers, especially girls and young women who might want a greater understanding of what the USA boycott threat at the World Championship means for them as they make their ways through the USA Hockey system!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 21 December 2020

What Is "Inconsistent"?

The man to the left needs no introduction as we all know that's late Alex Trebek. Trebek always seemed to embrace his Canadian roots whenever he had a chance by delving into the hockey world in one form or another. As we saw, he even made a splash at this summer's draft by announcing Ottawa's third-overall pick for the club in what was a classy gesture by the club to offer Trebek that opportunity and for Trebek to make the announcement. While he's been honoured by a number of hockey teams from a number of leagues with jerseys, today I want to focus on this specific Toronto Maple Leafs jersey he was given by the NHL club as it features a unique identifier, but also a strange inconsistency in how that identifier was rendered.

Before we get to the identifier, I need to add the Jeopardy!-style answer to this article. The answer is: "The Toronto Maple Leafs used a three-colour design for their numbers from 2000-2007 on their uniforms, making Alex Trebek's 'number' this."

Posted at 5pm by the Jeopardy! Twitter account, the photo below shows a one-colour Leafs "number" on the back of Trebek's jersey.
For the life of me, I can't figure out why the Maple Leafs wouldn't give Trebek's "number" the full treatment it deserved when they clearly rendered his name properly in their chosen font. Further to this, Trebek's jersey has no sleeve numbers either. The three-colour font wouldn't even be that difficult to rendered for Trebek's punctuation mark identifier considering that Carlton the Bear next to him has zeroes for numbers.

Perhaps the Maple Leafs' Stanley Cup curse will be extended after disrespecting one of Canada's all-time greatest people by not giving him a proper jersey. Or, more appropriately, maybe the Ottawa Senators will win the Stanley Cup first thanks to his ties to that city where they showed the trivia game show host the resepct he deserved!

The question to the answer above is "What is 'inconsistent', Alex?" which is something a hockey team should never be when it comes to their uniforms.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Whatever Happened To...

It was brought to my attention today that there was some history set back in 1981 by the man to the left. That's Doug Smail who was a constant on the Winnipeg Jets roster throughout the 1980s before bouncing through a number of teams and leagues at the end of his career. If there was one thing on which Smail could be counted, it was his lunchpail effort on every shift as a member of the Jets. He was also a mainstay on the Jets' penalty killing units where that goal-scoring ability would often see him with his arms raised following a shorthanded tally. I found myself asking what happened to Doug Smail, so let's take a look at this former Jet and some of the stops he made in his amazing hockey career!

It should be noted that Doug Smail wasn't drafted by the Jets, but was signed as a free agent after going undrafted. It's hard to think he went unnoticed by NHL teams back in 1980 after skating three seasons for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux where he scored 89 goals and 106 assists in 113 NCAA games, but the Jets jumped at the opportunity to sign the winger on the strength of his senior season where he scored 43 goals and 44 assists in just 40 games in helping the Fighting Sioux win the NCAA championship!

Smail played just 30 games in 1980-81, but he scored ten goals and added eight helpers in his NHL debut campaign. It would mark the start of a rather successful run for Smail where he scored ten-or-more goals for the next ten seasons with the Jets. While he would see time in the top-six with players such as Hawerchuk and Steen, Smail would excel on the penalty kill where he was used for his speed and scoring touch.

1984-85 was Smail's best season in the NHL where he went on a tear as one of those top-six forwards alongside other wingers such as Laurie Boschman, Brian Mullen, and Paul MacLean. Smail scored 31 goals and added 35 assists in that season for the Jets, finishing fourth in goals - one back of both Boschman and Mullen - and sixth in team scoring. The Jets would run into the juggernaut Oilers once again, but it seemed like Smail was on his way to being a household name across the league after topping 30 goals for the first time in his career.

It wasn't to be, though, as a number of Jets took steps backwards following that season, and Smail followed that trend. He'd hit the 25-goal mark twice more in his career with the Jets, but the consistency to remain among the top-six forwards for the Jets never seemed to return. Smail would eventually be traded on November 7, 1990 to the Minnesota North Stars for Don Barber in a trade that reportedly blindsided the veteran winger.

Smail would play out the remainder of that season with the North Stars before signing a one-year deal in the offseason with the Quebec Nordiques. While he would find the scoresheet ten times in 1991-92 in la belle province, but he'd move one province west with his next deal as he signed a contract with the Ottawa Senators.

Like his time in both Minnesota and Quebec, Smail just couldn't seem to find that goal-scoring rhythm in Ottawa he once had with the Jets, and he took a new challenge by making the unprecendented move of jumping to the British Hockey League in 1993-94, becoming the first player to go directly from the NHL to the BHL when he joined the Fife Flyers!

Smail showed up with his small-town humbleness that he often was known for in NHL circles, and it endeared him to the fans in Fife quickly as he carried his own equipment and demanded no special treatment whatsoever. The hockey success followed soon after he acclimatized himself, and Fife broke a 20-game winless streak in Edinburgh on a 3-2 victory where Doug Smail scored the game-winner, stating afterwards, "That was a hockey game!"

Smail exploded in Fife as he became a household name for the team with his scoring. Smail tallied 74 goals and 95 assists in 53 games for the Flyers at the age of 35 as he and centerman Mark Morrison found instant chemistry, and Smail's 13 shorthanded goals that season is a record that still stands in Fife today. He was named the British Ice Hockey Writers Association Player of the Year in 1994, but the Fife Flyers fell in the final to the Cardiff Devils as they just missed out on the ultimate prize in the BHL.

After a couple more seasons where he simply couldn't find that same rhythm or consistency, Smail hung up the skates for his career. In his NHL days, he scored 210 goals and added 249 assists in 845 games while his BHL career saw him score 108 goals with 123 helpers in 87 career games. Needless to say, that shorthanded goals record he holds in Fife as well as the BHL Player of the Year Award are things to hang his hat on, and he should also be proud that he recorded twelve consecutive NHL seasons in which he scored at least one shorthanded goal, tallying 28 in his career!

Today, you can find Doug Smail coaching in Colorado where he's the head coach of the Rocky Mountain Roughriders AAA boys program after spending the last two decades coaching youth hockey in different forms.

So what prompted this walk down memory lane with a former Winnipeg Jets forward? It was posted on social media today that December 20, 1981 was the day that Doug Smail made a little hockey history when he tied the record for the fastest goal to start a game when he beat St. Louis Blues goaltender Paul Skidmore just five seconds into the game! Smail officially tied the record set by Montreal Maroons forward Merlyn Phillips in 1926-27, and that record shared by Smail and Phillips has since been equaled by Bryan Trottier of the New York Islanders in 1983-84 and Alexander Mogilny of the Buffalo Sabres in 1991-92!

In case you were wondering, yes, there are highlights!
Officially, the goal was an unassisted goal at 0:05 of the first period as Smail tallied his 12th goal of the season, and the Jets would go on to win 5-4 over the Blues as Smail would score the fourth Jets goal at 3:19 for his 13th goal of the season as well!

Congratulations go out to Doug Smail on this day for his record-tying achievement!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!