Saturday 31 May 2008

Critical For No Reason

I happened to be flipping through the Globe & Mail, a highly-read national newspaper in Canada, on Friday morning, and found myself stuck on reading a story on the back page of the Sports section. The article, entitled Mario Lemieux: exploiter extraordinaire, basically was about how Mario Lemieux only uses the press to get what he wants - a new arena, investors for the Penguins, an improved image of himself. The write, Mr. David Shoalts, seems to take great pleasure in pointing out that Lemieux uses the press to his advantage, and does it under the guise of some very polite insults.

For those of you who haven't read the story, please click here and read what Mr. Shoalts has to say regarding Mr. Lemieux before continuing.

I'm not sure how long Mr. Shoalts has been following hockey for as his biography on the Globe & Mail website is mysteriously blank. I assume he has some knowledge about Mr. Lemieux, or at least did his homework on the former Penguins' superstar. But from the tone of the article, it sounds like he was never around the game of hockey during the entire decade of the 1990s.

I'm going to break this down by accusations. I'll offer up what Mr. Shoalts wrote, and then offer a rebuttal. It will help the entire process to see where Mr. Shoalts may have gone wrong in his article.

SHOALTS: "Lemieux's last public utterance was in March of 2007, when he announced the deal for a new arena for the Penguins. Since then, all requests for interviews are politely declined through the club's public-relations staff."

I'm not sure how many owners publicly speak to the press. I have yet to find Mr. Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Red Wings, making himself publicly available for press conferences during the Stanley Cup Final. I'm almost certain that Oren Koules, one of the prospective owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning, should be having more press conferences with him buying the Lightning, but that hasn't happened either. I didn't see Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars, talking about his team on national TV when they were down 3-0 to Detroit.

No, it's always been about the coaches, general managers, and players talking to the press. Sure, Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, has used the press to express his opinions in the past, but that is Snider's way. Instead, Mr. Lemieux has allowed the people who are in charge of the hockey operations to speak about the operations of the hockey franchise. Isn't that how it's supposed to be? Does the owner of the Globe & Mail personally oversee every article Mr. Shoalts writes? No. The owner allows the people in charge of the operations of newspaper - his editors - to make decisions on the articles. The owner doesn't micromanage. Neither does Lemieux.

SHOALTS: "Even though Lemieux played a leading role in a well-orchestrated squeeze play that got a new arena out of the state, county and city governments - the Penguins threatened to move, then cozied up to Kansas City, Las Vegas and Oklahoma City as part of the campaign - the local fans do not seem to hold it against him."

You're kidding me, right? Mr. Lemieux wanted the city and state to fund a portion of the arena building costs. How do you put pressure on politicians? By appealing to the masses.

Politicians aren't stupid, either. They know how passionate the people of Pittsburgh are regarding their beloved Penguins franchise. That's why they wanted to keep the negotiations behind closed doors. When an agreement couldn't be reached, Mr. Lemieux came forward to the people.

Now I won't deny that threatening to move a franchise might be an unethical way to stir the masses. It prompted a response from the people so strong that these politicians, the same people who rely on the votes of the people for their salaries, knew they had to act. Is it fair? No. Is it democratic? Yes.

If you don't think what he did is fair, ask the people of Winnipeg and Quebec City what they think of the threat of their teams moving to new cities. I'm sure you'll hear a lot of opinions on why the threat has to be taken as real. The Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh for a long time thanks to Mr. Lemieux's actions. Ask the people of Pittsburgh if they are angry at what he did. I'm guessing 100% of them would say no. They get to keep their team, they get a new arena, and they get to watch NHL hockey all winter for a long time. So why would they hold it against him?

SHOALTS: "But communicating with the public has long been a one-way street with Lemieux. If there wasn't anything in it for him, interviews were not often granted."

Again, a lack of hockey knowledge shows here. Lemieux was never comfortable in giving interviews early in his career due to the fact that he wasn't very comfortable speaking in English. Growing up in Quebec, he had spoken only French for the majority of his life, and was reluctant to give interviews in English. There was also the fact that the press had already made him out to be a classless individual.

In 1984, the Penguins purposely tanked the season in order to draft Mario Lemieux. They will never admit to tanking, but history shows it to be quite obvious. Lemieux, in knowing Pittsburgh was going to draft him, wanted a contract negotiated before the draft. Pittsburgh declined, but drafted him anyway. Lemieux, being as rebellious as he was as a teenager, decided not to go down to the Penguins table and to not put a Penguins jersey on after being drafted. This was branded as "[a] tasteless demonstration of bad manners, unmatched by anything I've ever seen", as one writer put it. They viewed him as a spoiled brat. Why would he want to talk to anyone from the media?

Instead of viewing Lemieux as the next superstar after having won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, the Pittsburgh press continued to express their opinions regarding Lemieux in public. One reporter, commenting on Lemieux's seemingly non-existent work ethic, wrote "Mario will always be a pale copy of Wayne Gretzky, and the Penguins will remain mired in mediocrity".

Again, the fact that Mr. Lemieux gave any interviews is astounding. Writers have used him to make a name for themselves, yet Mr. Shoalts is essentially saying Mr. Lemieux is cut from the same fabric as Barry Bonds. That, in itself, is reason enough for Mr. Shoalts to be banned from being published.

Mr. Shoalts even writes, "to sell tickets for the team he had to buy out of bankruptcy, Lemieux made himself available for interviews". Hmmmm... the Penguins most marketable star makes himself available to save the team he owns in the only city he's played in during his time in the NHL for the only fans he's known. Do you really think that is self-serving more than it is community-serving, Mr. Shoalts? Are you that blind that you can't see that saving the Penguins is all Mr. Lemieux has done since arriving in Pittsburgh in 1985? Three times, he has saved the Penguins from being moved. Three times, he has turned a once-maligned franchise into a money-maker. Three times, he's done the impossible all by himself.

And you wonder why he doesn't want to give interviews?

SHOALTS: "So once that arena deal was announced, Lemieux didn't need any more attention. Not even a few minutes to talk about the feel-good story of his team."

Yes, he didn't need to save the team any longer. They had the foundations of a very exciting hockey team with Malone, Whitney, Fleury and Crosby in place, so why would he continue to appeal to the masses when he was looking at a very exciting future that included an arena deal to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh? He is now teaching a young Sidney Crosby how to deal with the same pressures he had because Crosby is going through the exact same thing Lemieux did. He is the on-ice savior of a franchise that had no star power, similar to 1985. He is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, similar to 1985. Mario Lemieux is passing the torch he carried for so long to a new superstar named Sidney Crosby.

Are you angry because you couldn't get an interview with him? Is that why you write with such unfounded anger and bias towards him? The man doesn't need to give interviews, especially to those who continue to sully his name after all he has done for the community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I haven't even talked about the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and the work he does there to help people with cancer. He uses his star power there to raise funds for cancer research. The Foundation has helped establish the Mario Lemieux Centers for Patient Care and Research at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and gave $2 million to the Children's Home of Pittsburgh. The Mario Lemieux Foundation also developed the Austin Lemieux Neonatal Research Project, a grant that supports research at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh in their Division of Neonatology and Developmental Biology after his son, Austin, was born prematurely. Additionally, the Lemieux Foundation supports other organizations such as the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Leukemia Society, the Lupus Foundation and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

But it's all about him, right, Mr. Shoalts? If it doesn't help Mario, why would he bother?

SHOALTS: "See ya, suckers, the saying goes."

Shut the hell up, you ignorant moron. I hope you never even get to sit in the same room as Mr. Lemieux. While I realize that your editors probably published this as an op-ed piece, it's clear why it was on the last page of the Sports section. Your opinions are ignorant, and your view of Mr. Lemieux is asinine.

Mr. Shoalts, you now rank below Mr. John Buccigross in terms of your placement in the hockey world. I didn't think there could be anyone more ridiculous than Mr. Buccigross, but apparently there is. My advice to you is to stop writing.

'Tis better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt, the saying goes.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 29 May 2008

Trading Spaces

Paige Davis will not be making an appearance in the NHL next year, but there will be a venue change for one game. According to TSN, the Chicago Blackhawks will play the Detroit Red Wings at one of either Wrigley Field or Soldier Field. This hockey game, featuring two Original Six rivals, should be embraced by the city of Chicago like no other game since their heady days of success in the early 1990s. Personally, I like this choice, and commend the NHL for showcasing a model franchise, and a franchise full of budding superstars.

If the NHL is serious about garnering more attention in its flagship cities, these games should be played in the major northern cities each year. Cities like Denver, Minneapolis, Toronto, Boston, and New York should be considered for future events. The grassroots hockey in those cities will only benefit from this major event, and the NHL franchises can use the added exposure across the continent.

While I had suggested Montreal would be a good choice, the 100th anniversary of the Montreal hockey club will already be a monumental event. Adding the circus of an outdoor game would only put more pressure on the Canadiens franchise, the city of Montreal, and the broadcasters.

Frankly, I am happy with the league's decision to play the game in Chicago, especially now that Rocky Wirtz is doing all he can to revitalize the franchise and the fans that Bill Wirtz so often left out in the cold.

Devastating Loss: I'd like to take the next few minutes to remember Vancouver Canucks' defenceman Luc Bourdon, who tragically passed away earlier this morning in a motorcycle accident in northern New Brunswick, Canada. The 21 year-old defenceman looked poised to be an NHL defenceman for a long time.

Bourdon played his junior hockey in the QMJHL with Moncton Wildcats, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Val d'Or Foreurs, posting great numbers. Impressed with his play, the Vancouver Canucks drafted the young Bourdon 10th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. His abilities earned him a spot on the Canadian World Junior Championship rosters in 2006 and 2007, winning gold medals in both years. Pictured on the left with Kris Letang, Bourdon looked to make the Canucks at the the start of the 2007-08 season, but was sent to Manitoba of the AHL after failing to earn a spot.

Bourdon played his first game in a Canucks uniform on October 10, 2006 against the Minnesota Wild while wearing #40. The Canucks, unwilling to burn the first year of his entry-level contract, returned him to the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL after nine games. Bourdon was traded from the Wildcats to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles midway through the 2006-07 season. After the Eagles were eliminated in the QMJHL semi-final, Bourdon was assigned to the Manitoba Moose for the remainder of the season.

Bourdon recorded his first NHL goal on November 16, 2007 against the Minnesota Wild. His point shot beat goaltender Niklas Backstrom, and helped Vancouver to a 6-2 over their divisional rivals. In 27 games with the Canucks in 2007-08, Bourdon recorded two goals and 20 PIMs. He also recorded six goals and eight assists in 41 games with the Manitoba Moose in 2007-08.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bourdon family, the Vancouver Canucks organization, and his friends and teammates. Mr. Bourdon will be remembered by this writer. Having met him on several occasions, he was an upstanding citizen and well-respected individual from this writer's perspective. My condolences go out to you all.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Hockey Potpourri

There have been a number of things that have flown under the radar this week due to the Stanley Cup Playoffs being on, and the Red Wings simply destroying the city of Pittsburgh. The AHL Calder Cup Final has been set, the ECHL Kelly Cup Final is underway, and there were a few stories that didn't get much press due to the Red Wings handing out shutouts like they were free samples at a grocery store. However, it's time to shine the light on the rest of the hockey world because that's what we do on this site.

Looking at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, set to take place in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place, it appears that Steven Stamkos of the OHL's Sarnia Sting will definitely become the newest member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"After the draft lottery I got an e-mail from Mr. Feaster," Stamkos said to The Canadian Press, referring to Lightning GM Jay Feaster. "He wanted to meet with me. I was actually supposed to go down this weekend but we had to re-schedule because of the events here."

Stamkos was in Detroit, along with some other highly-regarded draft-eligible players, to meet and greet the Stanley Cup finalists. With him were Zach Bogosian, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, and Alex Pietrangelo - the second-ranked player through to the sixth-ranked player in North America for the upcoming draft as decided by NHL Central Scouting.

Personally, the draft rankings mean nothing to me, and they shouldn't matter to NHL scouts either. Luke Schenn, who has been often compared to Adam Foote for his style of play, would fill a huge hole on the blueline for Los Angeles. Zach Bogosian, who models his play after Chris Chelios, would also bring some much-needed grit to the Kings' blueline. Bogosian is the better offensive player of the two, but either of those two players would go a long way to making the youthful Kings a much better team in their own end.

The Thrashers need some offence to go along with Kovalchuk, but could really use a guy to get Kovalchuk the puck consistently. Drew Doughty's offensive talents would be a welcomed piece of the puzzle in Hot-lanta, as well as Bogosian if he's not selected by Los Angeles.

St. Louis has the opportunity to pick up another defensive stud in this draft. One of Schenn, Doughty, and Bogosian will be remaining for the fourth overall pick, and they can start building from the blueline out. Erik Johnson is already playing well in St. Louis, so picking up one of these guys will only make them stronger in their own end.

If you're looking for some NHL Entry Draft coverage, Sherry of Scarlett Ice will have great coverage as she's in Ottawa. I suggest checking her site out for added details as the day nears.

Calder Cup: The Chicago Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins square off in Game One of the Calder Cup Final tomorrow night in Rosemont, Illinois. Both teams are making their third AHL championship appearance in this decade which is a testament to how well these AHL franchises are run.

Chicago advanced to the final with their five-game series win over the Toronto Marlies. The Wolves boast the back-to-back league MVPs and regular-season scoring champs in Darren Haydar and Jason Krog, and have won six of their last seven games in making it to the final.

WBS advanced to the final by defeating the Portland Pirates in a thrilling seven-game series, including winning the last two games. Former Pirate Tim Brent scored the winner in Game Seven with 30.7 seconds remaining.

There are a pile of ridiculous facts that need to be touched on.

The Penguins organization is bidding to be the first to have teams crowned as NHL and AHL champions in the same year since New Jersey and Albany accomplished the feat in 1995. This looks like it may not happen, though, as the NHL Penguins aren't doing so well in their final.

WBS's Dennis Bonvie has played the most AHL playoffs games without winning a championship. That mark stands at 102 games. Alain Nasreddine, also from the Penguins, sits second with 98 career AHL playoff games and no Calder Cups.

Chicago's Ondrej Pavelec and WBS's John Curry are the first rookie goaltenders to square off in the Calder Cup Final since 1995. Fredericton's Jose Theodore faced Albany's Mike Dunham in that Calder Cup Final.

Chicago's Joe Motzko won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim last year, and is attempting to become the first player to win the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup in successive seasons, order not withstanding, since Joe Murphy and Adam Graves won championships in 1989 with the Adirondack Red Wings and in 1990 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, if you want to see what life was like for the WBS Penguins all year, I suggest you read defenceman Ben Lovejoy's blog. Highly entertaining stuff!

Kelly Cup: The Kelly Cup Final got underway in Cincinnati this past Sunday, and the Cyclones used three first-period powerplay goals to pace themselves to a 4-2 victory in Game One.

The biggest crowd in Cyclones playoff history, the biggest crowd in the Kelly Cup playoffs this season, and the largest draw at a Kelly Cup playoff game since 2001 exploded with jubilation when the ECHL rookie of the year, MVP and leading scorer, David Desharnais, put a puck past Las Vegas goaltender Kevin Lalande in the first minute of play. The announced total of 8676 fans didn't have to wait long after the Wranglers' Peter Ferraro tied the game up in the seventh minute. Bryan Schmidt scored another powerplay goal, and Mathieu Aubin made it 3-1 66 seconds later. Jeff Swinger - awesome photo!

Desharnais finished the game with two goals and an assist.

Game Two saw the Wranglers even the series at 1-1, even though they were outplayed for most of the game en route to a 1-0 shutout win.

Adam Miller scored with 4:20 to play, and Kevin Lalande stopped 27 shots for his second shutout of the playoffs, and helped the Wranglers even the series.

"We got outplayed a little bit, but we played hard and we were smarter and a lot more disciplined," Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan said to Todd Dewey of the Review-Journal. "It was a great playoff game, a close game that could've went either way."

Games Three, Four, and Five take place at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, with Game Three going Thursday night. This series turned a little rough as Las Vegas was called for several roughing and boarding calls, so there may be a little more fire in this series when these teams take to the ice on Thursday night.

Odds and Ends: Here is some other randomness that may not have gotten a lot of press with all the news swirling around the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  • An arbitrator has decided that the New York Rangers are required to pay Bobby Holik and Jed Ortmeyer a portion of their signing bonuses that were withheld. The Rangers argued that the players needed to play during the lockout in 2004-05 in order to be paid their signing bonus, but the arbitrator disagreed. Holik will be paid $3.5 million, while Ortmeyer will be paid an undisclosed sum of money.
  • A federal jury rejected a request to award former Detroit Red Wing Vladimir Konstantinov and former Red Wing masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov nearly $300 million regarding their 1997 limo crash that left both men with disabling brain injuries. The jury decided that Findlay Ford Lincoln Mercury of Ohio was not responsible whatsoever. James Feeney, the lawyer representing the dealership, called their decision a "common sense verdict".
  • The Boston Bruins swapped defenceman Jonathan Sigalet to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for forward Matt Marquardt.
  • After meeting with Dave Nonis regarding the vacant general manager's position, the Toronto Maple Leafs met with former Stars' GM Doug Armstrong. Armstrong built the foundation of the current Stars' team, and is a good executive when it comes to evaluating talent. Which way will the Leafs go? Refer to the picture at the start of this article.

I think that will do it for today. Have a good one, everyone, and get ready for Game Three from Pittsburgh tonight!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Two Down And Uh Oh

If I'm the Pittsburgh Penguins today, I need a long look in the mirror. I have been outplayed by a large margin, and need to find something to help turn this situation around. Now, I'm not the Penguins, nor am I an NHL coach or analyst. Heck, I barely make a good armchair general manager, so it's funny to think that the drunk guy at the local sports bar had it right: there are distinct hockey styles played in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.

The Western Conference plays a hard-forechecking, bruising game that allows good teams to capitalize on mistakes. The Anaheim Ducks do this, the San Jose Sharks do this, and, of course, the Detroit Red Wings do this. Teams pay a price against the Western Conference powers because they don't let up. They bang you, they swarm you, and then they score on you.

Detroit is particularly good at this style of play because they have an abundance of speed, and excel at puck control. They utilized this style of play all season long to win the President's Trophy as the league's top team. Defensively, it's all five guys back in the defensive zone where they pressure to the outside, forcing their opponents to make a pass before they can set up. Once they have the turnover in their possession, they simply turn it back up ice where they attack with speed, most times lethally.

The Penguins, on the other hand, play the Eastern Conference style of game which looks a lot more like a European game than a North American game. They are given space, and can move the puck with much greater ease. There isn't a truck named Thornton, Franzen, or Holmstrom parked at the edge of the blue ice in the Eastern Conference, although some teams do put VWs named Gomez, Drury, and Hartnell in front.

All in all, this is the same reason why Anaheim abused Ottawa during last season's Stanley Cup Final, and this is why Detroit is abusing Pittsburgh. Just watch how both teams break out of their zones. Detroit has excellent support for the puck-carrier, while Pittsburgh is looking for the breakout pass.

Anyway, if you're not convinced that Detroit is seriously in control, then maybe this cartoon will help. The Penguins need to start watching a lot of film. Otherwise, they may be clueless right through Game Four as to how to break down the Big Red Machine.

Oh, and just for the record, I had said back in August 2007 that the Red Wings' move of the 'A' and 'C' to the right-side of the jersey bothered me. In fact, my exact words were "The move of the captain's 'C' and alternate captains' "A"s to the right side bothers me. I understand the NHL wanted the Original Six to remain traditional in their looks, but do we have to jump back to the 1950s".

Well, looking at the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Final patch placement on the Red Wings jersey, it only adds to that bother. In the 1950s, there were no Stanley Cup Final patches. What made this worse was that I had remembered that there was the Hockey Fights Cancer patch worn by teams earlier this season. Sure enough, Niklas Lidstrom wore the Hockey Fights Cancer patch, and had it wedged between the neckline and the captain's "C". Do the "C" and "A" markers have to be worn in the armpit?

By contrast, Sergei Gonchar has it right compared to Henrik Zetterberg in this picture. Why not just put the patch on the opposite shoulder? Who is in charge of patch placement in the NHL? Someone needs to give their head a shake, or possibly let Gary Roberts throw a stiff-arm to it.

Game Three goes Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are in must-win mode, while the Red Wings look to take a stranglehold on the series. Looking forward it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 26 May 2008

Cross-Border Cup

The 2008 Mastercard CHL Memorial Cup came to a close yesterday, and the final game featured the two best hockey teams in Canadian major junior hockey this season as the Kitchener Rangers squared off against the Spokane Chiefs. The hometown Rangers eliminated their OHL rivals on Friday night with a 9-0 thrashing of the Belleville Bulls, while the Spokane Chiefs earned the bye to the final by going 3-0 in the round-robin. Spokane's third win came against the Gatineau Olympiques, and sent the QMJHL champions home with an 0-3 record.

The game started out with an early Kitchener goal from Brandon Mashinter at the 5:01 mark of the first period. However, that suffocating defensive play by Spokane began to pick up momentum. Levko Koper, Tyler Johnson and Justin McCrae applied incredible pressure on the Rangers' top scoring line of Matt Halischuk, Justin Azevedo and Nick Spaling, and the Chiefs followed with some inspired play.

At the 16:10 mark of the first period, the Chiefs tied the game on the powerplay with a goal by Judd Blackwater. Spokane then took the lead just 4:11 into the second period as Drayson Bowman put the puck past Rangers' goaltender Josh Unice. 1:01 later, Trevor Glass made it 3-1 with another powerplay goal. Jared Cowen iced the game at the 19:04 mark of the third period with an empty net goal.

The Chiefs simply weathered the storm that the Rangers brought, but it was one heck of a storm they faced. The Rangers outshot the Chiefs 53-22 throughout the game. Chiefs' goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who is eligible for this year's draft, stopped 52 shots, including 25 in the third period, to help Spokane become only the fourth American-based team to win the Memorial Cup. The Chiefs were an amazing 41-3 this season when leading after two periods of play.

Congratulations go out to the Spokane Chiefs, the CHL's 2008 Memorial Cup champions. Congratulations to their owners as well, Mr. Bobby Brett and Mr. George Brett. Yes, that George Brett of the Kansas City Royals - twelve-time MLB all-star and Hall-of-Fame third baseman.

So you're probably saying, "Wait a second... how did George Brett get into CHL hockey". I can tell you he wasn't drafted like another well-known ball player. This isn't Baseball Blog In Canada, but here's how the Hall-of-Famer became the owner of two Memorial Cup rings.

The Brett family purchased the team before the 1990-1991 season. The Chiefs went on to win their first Memorial Cup that year, taking home the 1991 championship. However, baseball was always huge in the Brett household, and the hockey interest actually came from George's brother, Bobby.

Bobby was a regular at Los Angeles Kings games before the team went "showtime" with the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

"My brother Bobby always liked hockey," Mr. Brett said to Patrick King of "He was the first one of anyone I knew that had season tickets to the Kings games and obviously when Gretzky came to L.A. everyone wanted tickets but my brother had them before so his tickets became very, very valuable."

George Brett hadn't really seen a lot of hockey in his days while playing baseball, but he immediately took to the most-recognizable aspect of hockey - the violence.

"When I first started following it, I was more interested in a fight to happen but I think the more you watch hockey and understand how the game's played," he said, "fights don't turn you on as much as they used to."

With the win on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Brett will have an additional ring to add to his already decorated hand, and I'm sure he's proud of the men wearing the Chiefs' jerseys.

Just to give all of you a heads-up for next season, the 2009 Mastercard Memorial Cup will be held in Rimouski, Quebec.

Detroit and Pittsburgh is just starting, so I'm gone. Congratulations to all the teams in this past weekend's Memorial Cup, and especially to the Spokane Chiefs! More hockey info coming up this week as the AHL Calder Cup Final gets underway, and the ECHL Kelly Cup continues.

Happy Memorial Day to all the good people in the United States! Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 25 May 2008

Find A Better Word

I started writing this last night after watching the hockey game at a local sports bar, but I deleted it. I started writing it again this morning, but was still unhappy with what I was hearing. So as I sit here now, I want to make something abundantly clear to those of you who read this blog: the Detroit Red Wings did not win Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals due to experience. They simply outplayed the Penguins. No more, and no less. No experience was required.

I listened to a few sportscasters yap about how "the experience" of the Detroit Red Wings allowed them to take over the game midway through the second period. Except they didn't take over the game until Mikael Samuelsson's second goal of the game early in the third period. Once they were up two goals, they simply played Red Wings hockey.

So stop talking about experience. It had nothing to do with it. The Penguins did exactly the same thing to the Senators, Rangers, and Flyers in their previous series. They got up by a goal or two, and played shutdown hockey the rest of the way. Do the Penguins get credit for experience? No, they are said to be "inexperienced". "Too green". All that crap.

Look, the Red Wings outplayed the Penguins last night. You can tell simply by the shot total. The Red Wings gave up only 19 shots to the Penguins last night. That's the lowest total for the Penguins in the playoffs thus far. Several Penguins went invisible, including Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora, and Ryan Malone. I'll credit Detroit for playing a very good defensive game, but I will not credit their win to experience. Never.

If it was about experience, then the series between Detroit and Colorado should have been much closer. If it were about experience, the Penguins shouldn't have had a shot at beating the Rangers.

If I hear Nick Kypreos or Al Strachan yap about the experience of the Red Wings contributing to their victory in Game One once more, I'll snap. It's an intangible without a doubt. But it's not the reason that Detroit won.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 22 May 2008

Just The Facts, Ma'am

I'm no Joe Friday, but since it's almost Friday, I thought I'd just do a quick recap on the world of hockey from the last couple of days. There have been wins and losses, signings and firings, ultimatums and deadlines, and, of course, good hockey games. The AHL Calder Cup Final is close to being set. The ECHL Kelly Cup Final is set. The Memorial Cup playoffs are about to begin. And the big one of them all, the Stanley Cup Final, gets underway this weekend. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

NHL Spin: There have been a few things going on in the NHL.

The Vancouver Canucks resigned head coach Alain Vigneault to an extension that will take him through the 2009-2010 season. I think this is a good signing, and Vigneault has proven himself to be a very good coach in the Canucks' system thus far. However, the Canucks fired assistant coaches Barry Smith and Mike Kelly, two long-time Vigneault associates.

Tony Granato has once again been named the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche. He previously held this position from 2002-04 before being replaced by Joel Quenneville, who he now replaces. Granato has a spectacular record of 72-33-17-11 with the Avalanche, and he has served as their assistant coach for the last two years. I don't really think that Granato is the right man for the job, but he has worked magic before, so it will be interesting to see if he can make it happen again.

Johan Franzen is doubtful for Saturday's opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals. He is reportedly still suffering from concussion-related symptoms. While the Red Wings could certainly use his goal-scoring, having him back at 80% or less won't help anyone, especially him if he gets drilled by one of the Penguins.

The Dallas Stars re-signed co-GMs Les Jackson and Brett Hull to three-year deals, respectively. The interim tag is off, meaning that these two will be guiding the ship for the forseeable future in Dallas. After dealing for Brad Richards last season at the trade deadline, I'd say they deserve a passing grade for their work thus far.

According to the LA Times newspaper, the Anaheim Ducks have reportedly told Scott Niedermayer and free agent Teemu Selanne to make a decision regarding their intentions to play next season by June 20. June 20th is, of course, the NHL Entry Draft, and Brian Burke will be looking to add pieces to his team via the draft and trades if he can. I say kudos to Brian Burke for forcing these two to make a decision after watching his team struggle out of the gates this season. By making both of these players commit one way or another, Burke will know what holes he needs to fill, or what players he can possibly trade away. This move will help the Ducks immensely.

If the NHL is going to get serious about cracking down on crease violations regarding players in the blue ice, they had better start looking at pile-ups in the crease as well. Far too often have there been four or five guys lying in the blue ice, and at the bottom of the pile is the man with the pads.

AHL Spin: A quick update on the Conference Finals going on in the AHL right now.

The Toronto Marlies find themselves in a deep hole again, being down to the Chicago Wolves 3-1 in their series. Goaltender Justin Pogge, in his first AHL playoff start, helped Toronto win Game Four by a 6-1 margin, but they have a long, uphill climb ahead of them still.

The Portland Pirates took a 3-2 series lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after Portland defeated the Penguins on home ice by a 2-1 score. Game Six goes Friday night in WBS as the Penguins look to force Game Seven.

ECHL Spin: The finalists have been set in the Kelly Cup Finals.

The Las Vegas Wranglers secured their berth a few days ago, and they are joined by the Cincinnati Cyclones. Game One of the Kelly Cup Finals is Saturday at 7:30pm ET at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Cincinnati tied the ECHL record with 26 road wins this season, showing that they as good away from home ice as they are on it. The Cyclones set the ECHL record with 17 wins in a row this season, breaking the old mark of 14 in a row set by Knoxville in 1993-94. Not to be outdone, the Wranglers set an ECHL record and tied the professional hockey league record with 18 consecutive wins in 2006-07, winning their final 13 regular season games and their first five games of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. This final should be a great one!

CHL Spin: One team has gone home, the home team needs some help, and the WHL is sitting pretty.

The Gatineau Olympiques were sent packing back to the QMJHL after the WHL's Spokane Chiefs defeated them earlier this week for Gatineau's third loss of the tournament. At 0-3, they were eliminated from the playoff weekend.

The Belleville Bulls stuck it to the Kitchener Rangers by defeating them in the final round-robin game. With the win, the Belleville Bulls will be the home team and second seed for the semi-final game on Friday night. The OHL Champion Rangers couldn't shake the fiesty Bulls, and will now be the visiting team on Friday.

Spokane will await the winner of the OHL semi-final to see who plays them in Sunday's final. The Chiefs will attempt to become only the fourth American-based club to win the Memorial Cup in the tournament's 89-year history. The Portland Winter Hawks won the Cup in 1983 and 1998, while Spokane won it once before in 1991.

That's all for today. Have a good one, everyone!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Time For A Rant

You know, I sit here in front of this monitor with some ideas regarding what I want to write about regarding the world hockey. Rarely do I let off a little steam towards some of the more ridiculous garbage I see that brings this game down a level or three. No, I'm not talking about the stuff on the ice, although I still think Jonathan Roy needs his clock cleaned. No, I'm talking about some of the stuff off of it. That includes a lot of people: fans, journalists, television media, bloggers, and so on.

So why am I doing this? This is hockey's biggest time right now. There are absolutely spectacular games being played in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, and Memorial Cup, yet we're forced to swallow some of the most idiotic things to ever be written or said.

Focus on what matters, people. That's the game of hockey. Or, rather, the games you're missing while putting out this trash. Let's get started.

  • Bandwagon riders. If you have decided that there's no point in watching hockey since your team was eliminated from the playoffs, you are officially not a hockey fan. You're nothing more than a casual bandwagon rider, and you should be shot if you call yourself a hockey fan. I'll provide the bullet. You'll pull the trigger. This goes for everyone. In fact, if newspapers and television journalists are supposed to be following leagues such as the AHL and ECHL, why isn't there the same amount of coverage of those leagues in those respective media after the local team has been eliminated? I've never understood this.

  • Puckbunnies. You know who you are. You're the girl who sends gifts and crap to the players. You send them birthday wishes even though they couldn't identify you in a police lineup. You talk to hockey players like they've been part of your posse for years. You think you have some sort of deep-seeded bond with people who want nothing more than to have you as far away as possible. You scare hockey players. They fear you. Why? Because they think you are deranged. And guess what? You probably are.

  • People who get paid to be journalists, but don't know anything about the sport. If you're paid to be a beat reporter, that's fine and dandy. The least you could do is learn a little about the sport before publishing anything about it. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 1992, while the Rangers and Canucks squared off in 1994. Nice reporting, jerks. I'm sure that "" isn't mainstream, but get your facts straight. However, what makes your little website look like a third-grader's blog is when you repeat the same mistake over and over and over again. Hey, CBS, you made the same mistake THREE TIMES when describing THE PICTURE OF CROSBY. How about you actually look at the picture next time instead of making stuff up? Thanks.

  • Experience. Yes, it makes a huge difference when you're going into your first playoff series ever. Take a look at Pittsburgh last year, or Washington this year. Lots of young guys, and they took early exits. However, if you're going to get on TV and yap about how the Wings are far more experienced than the Penguins because "they've been there before", it's time for you to shut your trap. The Wings have nine guys with Stanley Cup rings, and the Penguins have three guys. However, this series is no different than the one before. You lose four games, and you're done. Simple as that. No experience is necessary because both teams have already won 12 games and three rounds! Just win four games before your opponent does. Nothing has changed! Stop saying it has!

  • John Buccigross. Your "hockey insight" is only slightly better than the book you penned, which isn't saying much because the book was terrible. In fact, Jonesy would be better served as a way to start a fire than as reading material. The fact that you work a plug for it in every single column makes me nearly as sick as I was when I read that literary disaster. However, I digress. The real reasons I dislike you are because your taste in music is equivalent to the taste of bile, and the number of stupid things you say in your columns makes me realize that the NHL is better off not having ESPN cover it. Keith Jones is a stand-up guy, and I appreciate his insights when he's on TSN. You, Mr. Buccigross, are the definition of why ESPN isn't needed in the NHL.

Ok, I think that might be all for today. I feel a little better getting some of that off my chest. The PLAYOFF LINE POOL is almost over, and Mr. St. Louis is way out in front thanks to Mr. Marc-Andre Fleury. Lots more hockey stuff coming up this week, so stay tuned!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 19 May 2008

Stanley Cup Showdown

And it all comes down to two blue-collar towns. The Pittsburgh Penguins secured their berth in the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday by eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday with a 6-0 victory. It's the first time that Pittsburgh has appeared in the final since 1992 when they last won the Stanley Cup. They take on the Detroit Red Wings, who eliminated the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Western Conference Final on Monday night by a 4-1 score. The Red Wings last appeared in the final in 2002, and will be looking to win their fourth Stanley Cup in the last eleven years.

If it's any consolation, the Stanley Cup Final will mark the first meeting between the Red Wings and Penguins as they did not play each other in the regular season. However, in the 2006-07 season, the Red Wings defeated the Penguins in both games. Obviously, these teams have changed significantly in the last two years, and this series appears to be a fan's dream, so let's take a closer look.

#1 vs. #2

The Detroit Red Wings come into the Stanley Cup Final as the favourite due to their overall regular season record. The Red Wings won the President's Trophy after posting a 54-21-7 record for 115 points this season. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen have led the way for the Wings in the playoffs, and they'll be needed against the Penguins. However, the Penguins can't overlook the secondary scorers of the Wings - guys like Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson have benefitted from opponents keying on Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Defensively, the Red Wings boast Norris trophy nominee Niklas Lidstrom and the offensively-talented Brian Rafalski. Chris Chelios brings his normal grit. However, the defenceman who the Penguins will need to keep their heads up for is Niklas Kronvall. He's thrown some serious hits in the first three rounds of the playoffs while picking up 12 assists. Between the pipes, Chris Osgood will start the Stanley Cup Finals with his 10-2 record, 1.60 GAA, and .931 save percentage. Osgood has been very steady for Detroit, and looks to build on his stellar stats in the final.

The Pittsburgh Penguins come into the final as the best defensive team in the playoffs. They have a 12-2 record, and have only given up 26 goals-against in their 14 games. The Red Wings will have to find a way to shut down the explosive two lines that Pittsburgh boasts, led by their talented centremen in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Of course, along with Malkin and Crosby come the likes of Peter Sykora, Ryan Malone, and Marian Hossa. The Red Wings have to be aware of the balance that Pittsburgh brings with to the table as the Penguins' checking line can also do major damage. Even the so-called "energy line" of the Penguins has contributed with some major goals. Defensively, the Penguins can match up with the Red Wings with Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney providing the offence from the blueline. Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi will play against Datsyuk and Zetterberg as much as possible, and have to be weary of the speed of the Red Wings. Marc-Andre Fleury has been lights-out in the Penguins' net, and has provided the team with the much-needed confidence to make a deep run into the playoffs. His 1.70 GAA, .938 save percentage, and three shutouts don't even come close to describing his spectacular play thus far, and the Penguins will need more of that play if they hope to knock off the "Big Red Machine".

Personally, this series will be the kind of Stanley Cup Final the NHL has wanted for a long time. There will be goals, good defence, and spectacular goaltending at both ends of the ice, and should be decided by the team that makes the least mistakes. I have to stick to my pre-playoff prediction of the Pittsburgh Penguins winning it all, though.

Teebz' Stanley Cup Final prediction: The Pittsburgh Penguins win their third Stanley Cup in six games over the Detroit Red Wings, and Marc-Andre Fleury wins the Conn Smythe Trophy for his amazing play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Russia Wins Gold:
Congratulations has to go out to Team Russia who defeated Team Canada 5-4 in overtime yesterday afternoon to win the 2008 IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship. Ilya Kovalchuk of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers scored both the tying goal and the overtime winner for Team Russia in the win.

Rick Nash was penalized for clearing the puck over the boards in the defensive end early in the overtime period, and Kovalchuk scored his second of the game past goaltender Cam Ward at the 2:42 mark.

Dany Heatley, a force throughout the tournament, scored his 12th goal of the tournament in this game, breaking Eric Lindros' 1993 mark for most goals scored by a member of team Canada in one World Championship. He also recorded his 20th point of the tournament to tie Steve Yzerman's mark for the most points scored in a single tournament. Yzerman set the Canadian record back in 1990.

With the silver medal, both Heatley and captain Shane Doan tie goaltender Sean Burke's Canadian mark for most medals collected at the World Championship with four.

After Kovalchuk scored the winning goal in overtime, the Russians celebrated by chipping away at centre ice where a loonie had been secretly embedded in the ice to bring the Canadians luck. That loonie is now on its way to Moscow.

Congratulations once again to Team Russia, and a big thumbs-up and thank you to Team Canada. Hold your heads high, gentlemen, as you made a country proud with your efforts!

The Stanley Cup starts on Saturday night in Detroit. Steph and Elly: I don't want to hear of any fighting between you two gorgeous and intelligent women. Play nice, or I'll be forced to send Kirsten there to settle the battle. She, of course, hates Sidney Crosby and the Penguins a little more than she hates Henrik Zetterberg and the Detroit Red Wings. If you need back-up warriors, Christy will undoubtedly join Steph, while the guys from The Pensblog will join forces with Elly.

Be ready, hockey fans. There could be an unholy war started Saturday night between two teams, and several bloggers.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 18 May 2008

You're Wearing That? - Long Weekend Edition

It's time for another edition of that seemingly popular article entitled You're Wearing That? There have been five parts in this series thus far, and a special edition that outlined the ridiculous number of jerseys that the Worcester IceCats of the AHL wore. Of course, there are still a myriad of jerseys out there that haven't even been discussed, and that's ok. That only gives this series of articles more follow-ups. If you'd like to see any or all of the first five articles, please click on them under the "Highly-Clicked Articles" section, and get your fill of questionable jerseys. Without further adieu, though, here is Part Six in the never-ending quest to abolish ridiculous jerseys while shedding light on some of the better jerseys out there.

First, we'll start on the international scene. The 2008 IIHF Men's Hockey Championship celebrated the 100th anniversary of the IIHF this year, and each country was invited to wear a retro jersey of their choice to commemorate the event. There were a few highlights in these jersey selections. Team Denmark looked similar to the New York Rangers with their retro design. Team USA went back to the 1960s for their look, and it receives a passing grade. The Russians pulled out the old CCCP jerseys for their retro look to bring back the Soviet Union for one game.

Team Canada, however, decided to redesign their entire wardrobe by unveiling a brand-new look, as modeled by Patrick Sharp and Gillian Apps. They look remarkably like Phoenix Coyotes' current design, but that's just my perspective on the design. Personally, I think they look alright, despite Nike calling them "retro-futuristic". How can something futuristic be retro? These words that Nike is making up to sell their products are starting to become "increasingly stupid".

Team Norway, also playing in this year's World Championship, didn't go back to their jerseys that they used in Lillehammer, Norway. It might have been for the best because I wouldn't have been able to tell you that this jersey was a Norwegian jersey at first glance. Thankfully, they have gotten somewhat better with their designs.

The NHL's Atlanta Thrashers helped out a local charity again this season by donning these St. Patrick's Day-themed practice jerseys before auctioning them off. Again, I can't say anything bad about these jerseys as all the money goes towards a great cause, and they look pretty decent as well.

The AHL's Manitoba Moose held a military tribute night this season, and wore some pretty sharp jerseys to commemorate the event. With there being several military installations in and around the city of Winnipeg, these jerseys are completely suitable, and they look pretty nice too. The Moose also held a WHA throwback night in 2003-04 by wearing Winnipeg Jets-themed WHA jerseys. They paid attention to details as well as the Moose even wore the white nameplate on the back of the jerseys. Well done on both jerseys, Moose!

The AHL's Chicago Wolves wore this jersey for their game before the turn of the millenium. Now, I'm not sure about you, but that looks nothing like the new millenium. Nor does it commemorate the event, unless Cujo took over Chicago. And not this Cujo either. Brutal design.

The Western Professional Hockey League's Alexandria Warthogs folded in 1999, and the league followed in 2001. I'm not suggesting that their jerseys were to blame, but would you wear something like this? That was their Mardi Gras jersey. They lasted one season. 'Nuff said.

The ECHL's Florida Everblades decided to commemorate their 10th anniversary with a new set of jerseys. Once again, hockey teams that celebrate their own longevity with a jersey are the equivalent to a bush league team in baseball. Patches look better. Jerseys look completely stupid.

The AHL's Hershey Bears wore throwbacks this season as well to celebrate an anniversary. Instead of making a jersey for the anniversary, though, they brought out some 1938-39 Hershey Bears jerseys. These are fabulous jerseys, and the Bears should be commended for their attention to details as the socks match the rest of the uniform. Well done, Bears!

The UHL's Fort Wayne Komets wore these Christmas-themed jerseys during the holiday season in 2000-01. At first, they look a little boring, but it has to be pointed out that the reindeer are pulling the word "Komets" like they would a sleigh in the logo. Also, the Santa hat on the snowflake gives a little more credence to the occasion for the jersey as well. This isn't the greatest Christmas jersey, but it's certainly not the worst. A passing grade for the design.

The ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones decided to have a Jimmy Buffet night in 2002-03. Why? No clue. He has no ties to Cincinnati. Unless they were celebrating Mardi Gras, there's no reason for this jersey. Except to push some sort of promotional idea. Personally, the jersey just screams "tacky".

There have been some eye-opening jerseys in the NHL, but I had totally forgotten about the Los Angeles Kings in 1975. Wow. They may have won games that season due to simply blinding their opponents. As bad as they look, though, they are somewhat endearing.

The AHL's Lake Erie Monsters went with a promotional jersey this season as they donned tye-dyed jerseys for a game. I'm not overly impressed with these as tye-dyed anything has never been a good look, but the Monsters did the job fairly well by keeping the team's colours as the only tye-dyed colours.

The ECHL's Louisiana IceGators were, at one time, the most popular team in the ECHL. They still hold the top-four attendance records in the ECHL despite having folded in 2005 due to financial difficulties. They did wear, during their time, a number of promotional jerseys. They combined their 5th anniversary jersey with a Year 2000 jersey. Again, anniversary jerseys are stupid, but combining two promotions is the definition of ridiculous. They also celebrated their 10th anniversary with a jersey. Please see above regarding my thoughts on anniversary jerseys. They honoured the men and women who were involved in the 9/11 tragedy with a jersey in 2001-02. These are alright. 2002-03 saw the Gators honour the Boy Scouts of America with a jersey. These look decent. Being in Louisiana, you know they had a Mardi Gras jersey. Not too sure about these ones. They also celebrated St. Patrick's Day in 1998-99 with a jersey. They seem a little bland. They wore a jersey in the 2004-05 season to honour the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. I like the look of these jerseys. During that same season, they also held a NASCAR night. Cross-sport promotions are a huge NO. And in the only jersey I can't explain, the 1999-00 season saw the IceGators wear a Whiteout jersey. I'd assume this is for the playoffs since there's a Kelly Cup patch on the shoulder, but why make a promotional jersey for something that the fans embrace more than the team?

The Central Hockey League's New Mexico Scorpions wore Christmas-themed jerseys in 2004-05. Christmas? Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. Instead, this jersey conjured up images of Ghostbusters. Why is the snowman so angry? Why is he coming to a dark town to crush all the homes? Why is Christmas so unhappy in New Mexico?

I spoke a little of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers during the Memorial Cup article a few days ago, but it has to be said again that their Memorial Cup military tribute jerseys that went up for auction are some of the most gorgeous jerseys seen as of late. A huge thumbs-up from this writer for these fantastic jerseys.

In sticking with the OHL, another memorial jersey must be mentioned. When Mickey Renaud passed away this season, there was a large outpouring of support for the Windsor Spitfire family. The OHL's Belleville Bulls showed their support for Windsor as well when the Spitfires returned to play the Bulls in Belleville, and both teams honoured Mickey Renaud with jerseys during the warm-up. A very touching gesture, and both teams get a huge thumbs-up as well.

One more OHL team to make an appearance is the Peterborough Petes. However, they hit the other side of the spectrum. The Petes would have gotten a thumbs-up if they simply stuck with the shoulder patch, but they decided to wear their 50th anniversary across their chests as well. So close, yet so far, Peterborough. Stick with the patch for the next anniversary.

This article wouldn't feel right if I didn't include the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards, before being displaced by the Quad City Flames, have always had interesting promotional jerseys. 2004-05 saw the Mallards have a Pirate night with the players dressing up like swashbucklers. Why? No clue.

The AHL's Albany River Rats went with a throwback jersey to commemorate their 15th anniversary. However, major loss of marks for having the 15th anniversary as part of their logo. It looks ok as a regular jersey, but don't mess with your logo. Why do teams do this? If someone has an explanation, I'm all ears.

The ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays honoured the Air Force with a tribute night in 2003-04. I'm ok with these tributes, but the logo needs to standout a little bit more. It would also be nice to see the team actually change the logo to reflect the tribute, but that might be asking a little too much. Either way, this jersey is simply ok. Not good, but not bad either.

The Toledo Storm of the ECHL wore one of the most inexplicable promotional jerseys that I've ever seen. In 1997-98, the Storm teamed up with the WB television channel to have a promotion for the WB's Batman and Robin cartoon. While I get that Channel 5 in Toledo, Ohio is the WB network, what kind of stupid promotion and jersey are these? The word "ugly" doesn't do these jerseys enough justice.

In the 1970s, Toledo had an IHL team. There were no promotional jerseys for this team, but their name simply is creative and awesome. I present to you the jerseys for the IHL's Toledo Goaldiggers. Good colour scheme, and classic look. These are things of beauty.

The AHL's Syracuse Crunch honoured the 1972-73 Eastern Hockey League (EHL) champion Syracuse Blazers before a game this past season. In doing so, the team also wore Blazers-inspired jerseys in their game. Personally, these look pretty good. Does anyone notice that there was a lot more yellow in hockey during the 1970s? Is it just me?

The Rocky Mountain Rage of the Central Hockey League make another appearance on these lists. This one is simply for their jersey logo. I get the rage = anger thing, but an eye? Is that the best you could come up with, Rage?

The USHL's Sioux City Musketeers have won a couple of different jersey designs during their lifetime. They celebrated their 20th anniversary with a jersey in 1999-00, and you probably can guess what I think of this. What bothers me most is that their 20th anniversary logo looks remarkably like the Boston Bruins' 75th anniversary patch. Originality, anyone? They also wore a 9/11 tribute jersey in 2001-02 which, to me, is quite boring. And their 2001-02 St. Patrick's Day jersey doesn't stand out very well either. I understand that the Musketeers may not have a huge budget, but if you're going to do a promotional jersey, you should at least do it right. Or not at all.

The AHL's Rochester Americans went with a camouflage jersey again this season as their military tribute. The jerseys were auctioned off for charity after the game, and the proceeds went to Foodlink. A good tribute for a good charitable cause with a good jersey to boot. Well done, Amerks!

The AHL's Norfolk Admirals donned some impressive jerseys in order to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association with their jersey auction. Personally, they look a lot like the old Los Angeles Kings' gold jerseys, but the logo is impressive, and they look good. The Admirals also raised over $26,000 for the MDA with the auction. Excellent job, Admirals!

The Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League wore special jerseys for the turn of the millenium, but they came across as quite ho-hum. I guess you can't truly reflect a party on your jersey, but confetti and streamers are a start, right? Maybe not.

Lastly, we have a jersey that wasn't worn on ice, but it was involved with water. The Team USA Paralympic Swim Team awarded the members of their team Team USA hockey jerseys with their name and the #08 on the back. The #08 is for the year as Team USA named the team earlier this year. A fabulous gesture for these athletes to receive, and a great souvenir for these team members to have. A big thumbs-up from this writer!

Ok, so there is the Long Weekend Edition of the You're Wearing That? series. There are some horrible jerseys as well as some spectacular jerseys, and that's what makes researching and writing these articles fun. I'll be doing some more research on these as well, but if you want to contribute any pictures of jerseys that make you cringe, please leave the link in the comments or email me directly at cdnuniguy-at-gmail-dot-com.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 17 May 2008

Feeling The Heat

If you've been watching any hockey at all this week, you know that there are several playoff series and championships going on across the land. Whether it be the Memorial Cup in Kitchener, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs, or the IIHF 2008 Men's World Hockey Championship, there has been some spectacular hockey in the last few nights. Teams are facing elimination, and that always creates some dramatic, exciting moments. If you're a hockey fan, this is the best time of year, and I have been thoroughly entertained over the last 72 hours.

Let's start in the NHL. Dallas and Detroit faced off in Game Five of the Western Conference Final today, and Dallas had their backs against the wall again. Detroit leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, and were looking to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

However, Marty Turco decided to shake the gorilla off his back, and led the Stars to a 2-1 victory over the Wings in his first career win at Joe Louis Arena. Turco had been winless in twelve career starts before this afternoon, but he won the biggest game of his career at Joe Louis Arena thus far.

"That's probably the best I've felt in this building - ever," he told The Canadian Press after the win. "Your next game is always supposed to be your best and, for whatever reason, it just felt I was in total control. It usually works out like that when you have that feeling."

Trevor Daley and Jiri Hudler exchanged goals in the first period, and Joel Lundqvist scored the winner midway through the second period after converting a long pass from Turco into a goal.

With the win, the Stars live to play again. Game Six of this series goes Monday night in Dallas. The Red Wings will have plenty of motivation to close the door on Monday, while the Stars will look to complete the unthinkable and move this series back to Detroit for Game Seven.

AHL Update: In the Western Conference Final, the Chicago Wolves met up with the Toronto Marlies in Game One on Friday night. The Marlies looked a little tired as the Wolves capitalized on mistakes to win Game One by a 4-1 score. Game Two goes Sunday in Chicago.

Of course, Toronto may be a little tired. Having been down to Syracuse 3-1 in the North Division Final, Toronto rallied back to win the next three games and win the series over the Crunch. Toronto became just the 14th team in AHL history to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-1.

Chicago was powered by Jason Krog's four point night. Krog, who leads the AHL in playoff points with 21, scored three goals and added an assist. Darren Haydar had the fourth Chicago goal, while Toronto's Patrick Wellar had the lone goal for the Marlies.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Portland Pirates and Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins are tied at one game apiece. WBS shutout Portland in Game One by a 2-0 score, while Portland responded with a 3-2 victory in Game Two.

Game One saw goaltender Jon Curry record his first playoff shutout while Dave Gove and Ryan Lannon added goals for the Penguins. Game Two saw Portland forward Bobby Ryan score two goals including the winner. Portland's Andrew Ebbett had the other Portland goal, while WBS got a pair of goals from captain Nathan Smith.

Game Three goes Sunday in Portland as this series now becomes a best-of-five.

ECHL Update: One finalist has already been set in the Kelly Cup Finals as the Las Vegas Wranglers advanced to final with a sweep over the Utah Grizzlies in the National Conference Final.

"It's nice to come out of a tough conference, but the guys didn't lift the National Conference trophy today," Las Vegas coach Glen Gulutzan said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "They left it on the table, so that gives you an indication" of the team's mindset heading into the final.

In the American Conference Final, the Cincinnati Cyclones have built a 3-1 series lead over the South Carolina Stingrays. Game Five goes tonight North Charleston Coliseum in South Carolina. It appears that the Stingrays need a serious infusion of power for their powerplay if they want to keep this series going.

"The power play has been the story of the series for us," said Stingrays winger Andrew Gordon to The Post and Courier. "We've had chances to score on the power play, but we haven't converted, and tonight was no different. Nothing seemed to work for us. It was one of those days. When you have seven shots on net and you don't score, that kind of wears on you mentally."

Only the Stingrays have won the Kelly Cup before out of the three remaining teams, turning the trick in 2001. Cincinnati is attempting to gain a berth in the Kelly Cup Final with a win tonight. Updates to follow tomorrow.

CHL Memorial Cup Update: Friday night saw the Memorial Cup kick off with the hometown OHL Rangers playing the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques, and this game was fantastic! If you ever want an example of why hockey may just be the best sport there is, I suggest you get a copy of this game. The proof is on the videotape.

First off, a huge thumbs-up from this writer for the commemorative Memorial Cup jerseys that Kitchener wore for this game. These are gorgeous jerseys, and should be kept as an alternate jersey for next season. If there was ever a jersey I would want to own, it's one of these jerseys. They literally are a masterpiece on the hockey fashion front.

The reason for the jerseys is quite special. The town of Kitchener was originally called Berlin due to the number of German immigrants that settled there between 1870 and 1913. However, when the First World War began, the city's population sought to change the name in order to separate themselves from the countries that opposed Canada. In 1916, Berlin changed its name to Kitchener after Boer War hero Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

Kitchener is, of course, huge on their OHL team, and they've produced some notable NHL stars over the course of time: Darryl Sittler, Scott Stevens, Dennis Wideman, Paul Reinhart (check out that helmet!), and Don Beuapre.

Friday night saw the Rangers defeat Les Olympiques 6-5 in overtime in what might have been the best third period of hockey I have witnessed in a long time. Jason Akeson, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk got the Rangers out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, but the Olympiques closed the gap with goals by Michael Stinziani and Paul Byron to end the first down 3-2. Mikkel Boedker and Halischuk replied in the second period to rebuild the Rangers' three-goal lead, but Darryl Smith cut the lead to two before the end of the second.

In the third period, the game really opened up. The Olympiques, not intimidated by the crowd or the Rangers, tied the game up with two late goals by Nicholas Valliere Mayer and Alexandre Quesnel. The pace of the third period was frantic, and the action was end-to-end with both goalies making some incredible saves.

In overtime, Justin Azevedo, the OHL's Most Outstanding Player, scored the winner on a powerplay at 6:59 to give the Rangers the win, and add a little legend to the new jerseys.

"We wanted to get a win for the fans and for ourselves," Azevedo said to the CHL's Aaron Bell. "It was crucial to get the win, especially in the first game and we did that."

By the way, the online bidding for those Kitchener Rangers' jerseys looks more like a car auction. Just 12 hours after scoring the overtime winner, online bidding on Justin Azevedo’s commemorative jersey was already above $2,000.

This afternoon's game saw the WHL's Spokane Chiefs and the OHL's Belleville Bulls square off. This game was a more tight-checking affair, but, like the game last night, it too went to overtime before anything was settled.

Drayson Bowman scored two first-period goals, and Mitch Wahl added another as Spokane jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the first intermission. Bryan Cameron, Shawn Matthias and Cory Tanaka knotted the game at 3-3 in the second period with their goals for the Bulls. Tanaka scored his second of the game to give the Bulls a 4-3 lead midway through the third period, but Spokane responded with the hat trick goal by Drayson Bowman with just under three minutes to play to send this game to an extra period.

In overtime, Levko Koper scored the winning goal at 4:46 to give Spokane the 5-4 OT decision over Belleville. Kopar slid the puck through Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy's five-hole on a rebound to pace the Chiefs to the win.

"That was definitely the highlight of my career so far," Koper said to the CHL's Aaron Bell. "To be up 3-0 and then give that up, our teams was a little down. Getting that overtime goal lifted our spirits back up."

Kitchener and Spokane face off tomorrow at 4:30pm EDT, while Belleville and Gatineau tangle on Monday at 7pm EDT. More Memorial Cup highlights as the week progresses.

World Championship Update: The bronze medal game went today in Quebec City for the IIHF 2008 Men's World Hockey Championship. Sweden and Finland squared off in the all-Scandinavian match, and this game saw an incredible performance turned in by a Minnesota Wild player.

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom stopped 36 shots in the 4-0 Finland win over their neighbouring country. Backstrom made a number of incredible stops to preserve the shutout, and give Finland its first win over Sweden at the World Championship since 2001.

Antti Pihlstrom had a pair of goals in the second and third periods, while Janne Niskala scored in the second, and Mikko Koivu added the empty-net goal. The win has given Finland medals in three straight World Championships after taking silver last year and another bronze medal in 2006.

Sweden, however, lost a second consecutive world championship bronze medal game. Last year, they lost 3-1 to the Russians in Moscow. With the loss, the Swedes also drop in the IIHF rankings, allowing Canada to move into top spot again.

Tomorrow, the Canadians and Russians will meet for the first time ever in the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship when there is a gold medal on the line. The game starts at 1pm EDT, and can be found on TSN if you have that channel available. Canada is attempting to become the first host nation to win the gold medal since the Soviet Union did it back in 1986.

Canada has indicated they will start Carolina Hurricanes' goalie Cam Ward in net tomorrow against the powerful Russians. He'll be trying to shut down such names as Ovechkin, Fedorov, Semin, Morozov, Kovalchuk, Radulov, and Afinogenov.

"You've got two teams that have a lot of good young dynamic players," said Canadian head coach Ken Hitchcock to The Canadian Press. "As much as we're excited, we're also curious to see how our good young players play versus their good young players."

This game should be fast, exciting, and up-tempo. You know where I'll be tomorrow afternoon, and I will not be answering phone calls whatsoever.

That's all for today. I have some other stuff to finish, but keep this page bookmarked for more playoff updates and tournament results!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 16 May 2008

The Cup In Kitchener

The 2008 Mastercard CHL Memorial Cup tournament starts this weekend in Kitchener, Ontario, and I am looking forward to some amazing major junior hockey games. Kitchener, the host town for the event, is an excellent junior hockey town, and they support their team as well as any other CHL town in the country. Along with the hometown Rangers, Kitchener will welcome the OHL finalist in the Belleville Bulls, the WHL champions in the Spokane Chiefs, and the QMJHL champions in the Gatineau Olympiques. The top two teams in the CHL are represented, while a dark horse from Quebec joins the party. Let's take a look at these great teams.

QMJHL Champions - Gatineau Olympiques
The Olympiques weren't favoured to emerge from the highly-competitive QMJHL, but they put together a great playoff run to win their third QMJHL title in six years. Canadian World Junior Championship star Claude Giroux is the spark plug on this team, and his line, along with Paul Byron and Matthew Pistilli, scored at an incredible pace throughout the QMJHL playoffs. Giroux appeared in two NHL games this season with the Flyers, so you know the talent he has. Their line scored an incredible 29 goals in the five games against Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL final, thanks to a great transition game and some clutch goal-scoring. Giroux was named the MVP of the QMJHL playoffs after scoring 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points in only 19 games. Goaltender Ryan Mior hasn't shown an elite level of play, but it steady in the net. If there is one key weakness on the Olympiques, it might be between the pipes as Mior is solid, but not spectacular.

WHL Champion - Spokane Chiefs
The Spokane Chiefs come into the Memorial Cup win the second-most wins this season, trailing only the host team from Kitchener. Unlike the other three teams, Spokane relied on solid defence to help them win their championship. Where the Chiefs may benefit is that they had to go through some incredibly talented teams to win the WHL championship. They are battle-tested, and look ready to make their league proud. Mitch Wahl, Chris Bruton, Drayson Bowman, Ondrej Roman, Judd Blackwater, and David Rutherford are the names who will appear on the scoresheet most often for Spokane, but they are solid and have balanced scoring right through their lineup. They are gritty in their own end, and will play with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Goaltender Dustin Tokarski was spectacular through the WHL playoffs, and will need to reproduce those efforts to win the Memorial Cup. The one factor that the other three teams may expose is the lack of size on the defensive unit from Spokane. Spokane will need to stay out of the penalty box if they want to keep their smaller defencemen from being punished by the bigger Ontario League forwards.

OHL Finalist - Belleville Bulls
The Bulls come into the Memorial Cup after having spent the better part of their last two weeks in Kitchener. Belleville lost in seven games to the Rangers, but they shouldn't look at this negatively. Both the Vancouver Giants in 2007 and the Quebec Remparts in 2006 won the Memorial Cup after having lost their league championships. The Bulls, however, shouldn't be taken lightly. After being down 3-0 in their series against Kitchener, the Bulls rallied to win the next three game before losing Game Seven. Canadian World Junior team member P.K. Subban will be looked to for offence, but the Bulls appear to be missing a sniper to which they can turn when they need a goal. However, goaltender Mike Murphy, the OHL's goaltender of the year, provides excellent goaltending, and the defence is an excellent shutdown unit. If the Bulls are down by a goal late, though, it is tough to pick one player out as a go-to-guy for a goal. That may be their eventual downfall in this tournament.

OHL Champion and Host - Kitchener Rangers
The Kitchener Rangers come in as the favourite on paper as they led the Canadian Hockey League in wins this season. This team is strong, fast, and deep. Justin Azevedo won both the playoff and regular season scoring crowns this season, and was named the OHL's Most Outstanding Player. His linemates, Nick Spaling and Canadian World Junior team member Matt Halischuk, make for a formidable scoring line, and they have incredible speed and scoring touch as displayed throughout the season. Halischuk is also a fabulous defensive forward, and can do as much in the defensive zone as the offensive zone. Mikkel Boedker, Nazem Kadri and fan favourite Mike Duco provide a pile of secondary scoring, and will be counted on to score as many goals as possible. Between the pipes, the Rangers boast World Junior MVP Steve Mason, but he has been out for over a month with a torn ligament in his left knee. However, Josh Unice, the Rangers' "backup", has performed incredibly well since Mason went down, and will be relied upon if Mason can't go in the Memorial Cup tournament. Kitchener lost defencemen Yannick Weber, their power-play quarterback, to a wrist injury, although he is apparently going to play. What does this mean? Teams will most likely be physical with the depleted defensive unit in order to wear them down. This may be the one hole that can be exploited in the Rangers' dangerous arsenal of weapons.

Personally, this is anyone's tournament. Gatineau is playing extremely well; Spokane is looking to build on their fabulous run through the WHL; Belleville would like to stick it to Kitchener by winning the Memorial Cup in Kitchener after losing the OHL final; and Kitchener has a ton of pride to play for, and a Memorial Cup to win.

My prediction? I'm going with Kitchener. Three of the last four Memorial Cup champions were the host team, and the Rangers are, statistically, the best team in the CHL. Will I be right? Only time will tell.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!