Saturday 31 January 2009

Saturday Tidying

I apologize for not getting the book review of The Code up last night. I've had a long week, and I was exhausted. I kind of passed out while taking a break, and realized I hadn't published it when I logged in this morning. In any case, check out Friday's entry about The Code. It's a fabulous book, and really deserves to be read by everyone. In the meantime, I have a pile of stuff to comment on as there has been hockey going on everywhere this past week. Between the articles on fighting and everything else going on in my life, I could use a couple of weeks off. Anyway, enough of that. On with the show!

  • I was thinking about making a change to the banner up top. I like my old one as it has a great hockey feeling, but I feel that I'm focusing solely on the NHL when my blog covers so much more. So I pose the question to the readers of this blog: do I stick with the HBIC banner you've come to know, or should I change it to something like this? Comments are welcome on this one as I really would like some input.
  • The Ontario and New York Fire Departments raised over $9000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Fund and the Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome Family Network on Wednesday night in Ontario, California. A great cause benefited from the 1500 fans who showed up to watch the two teams battle it out. New York FD ended up winning the game 5-2 over the Ontario FD.
  • The FBI and the US Secret Service also squared off for a good cause this past week as the two teams battled to raise funds for raise the family of fallen Agent Sam Hicks. 1600 fans turned out Monday to watch the two government agencies do battle at the Kettler Iceplex in Washington, DC. Thanks to the fans, over $9000 were raised for Hicks' family. The FBI ended up winning the game 5-4 in overtime.
  • Steve Mason continues to build a strong case for the Calder Trophy as he and the Blue Jackets shutout the Ottawa Senators 1-0 last night. That's seven shutouts for the Blue Jackets' rookie netminder, and Mason's play has elevated the Columbus squad to sixth in the Western Conference. If he doesn't win the Calder Trophy at this point, I'm not sure if anyone is watching hockey. My only question is how many Hart Trophy votes does he receive?
  • Doug Gilmour will be honoured by the Leafs tonight as his #93 will be elevated to the rafters at the Air Canada Centre to join the other honoured numbers. Gilmour may not have won anything major aside from a Selke Trophy while in Toronto, but no one showed up to the rink every night with as much heart as Gilmour. While Gilmour was not the prototypical, intimidating leader at the time like other teams in the NHL had, he played that much bigger than everyone else on the ice each night. And he brought the city of Toronto together in 1993 like no one else. Does he deserve the honour? This writer says "undoubtedly".
  • The Peter Forsberg-to-the-Avalanche drama ends with him deciding to stay in Sweden, and the sun rises in the east. Let's just keep moving.
  • The Vinny Lecavalier trade talk is heating up in Montreal after the Habs stunk up the state of Florida. Except that TeeBay has picked up the pace and Lecavalier has been a major reason why. The VC Trade Watch is officially over. He's staying with TeeBay, people. And the sun rises in the east. Moving on.
  • Karen Newman, anthem singer for the Detroit Red Wings, apparently isn't just an anthem singer. She's got a website loaded with merchandise, and she's a helluva singer from listening to the embedded song. Check it out, and good for Miss Newman! Congratulations on all your success, and continued good luck for the future!
  • While Canadian head coach Sean Simpson may not have brought home a Spengler Cup against a KHL team Moscow Dynamo, Simpson's club team, ZSC Lions in Switzerland, battled Metallurg Magnitogorsk to a 2-2 in Game One of the Champions League Final. With the two teams coming down to a one-game showdown, both teams were looking to secure the championship. Simpson's coaching led ZSC to a 5-0 victory in Game Two, and the Champions League Trophy. Simpson was ecstatic with the support his team got from the Zurich fans, and hopes the Champions League will continue to be a draw for the best teams in Europe. Congratulations to the ZSC Lions on becoming the first Champions League champions!
Ok, that's all for today. I still have a billion and one things to get done, so I'm going to focus on those tasks for the rest of the day. Let me know about the potential new banner, or any other thoughts you may have for a banner. I'll check out the comments, and see what I can come up with.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 30 January 2009

TBC: The Code

With the look at fighting in the NHL this past week on this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to present a book that I feel is the standard for explaining fighting in hockey and its importance in the game of hockey. The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, written by Ross Bernstein and published by Triumph, is the one book that every single hockey fan, hockey executive, hockey parent, and hockey player should have on their nightstands. This book not only breaks down the code using examples from the NHL, Bernstein interviews the players involved in the scrums. The list of players who added a comment or story to this book is literally a "who's who" of NHL enforcers.

The forewords are written by two of the games most notable heavyweights in Marty McSorley and Tony Twist. Combined, these two men have spent 4502 minutes in the penalty box... or approximately 75 hours. Yeah, these two players know a few things about dropping the gloves. McSorley and Twist also contribute a number of anecdotes throughout the book as examples when Bernstein is describing parts of "the code". Having these two men on-board only adds credence to the code and how it works in the game of hockey.

However, the stories from the guys who did hockey's toughest job, both literally and figuratively, are littered throughout the book. Bernstein does a fabulous job in breaking down the book into four sections that really highlight the important pieces of the code. Section One deals with the history of fighting in the NHL; Section Two defines "the code"; Section Three defines what an enforcer is and what his impact on the game is; Section Four looks at how league rules and officials affect fighting; Section Five deals with how fighting in the NHL affects everyone else; and Section Six looks at the lockout in 2004 and what changes will affect the enforcers.

Section One is pretty self-explanatory. Bernstein goes over some of the more storied fights including the McSorley-Brashear incident and the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. It's interesting to hear of the more famous fights where the law had to step in. The game has always been about policing itself, yet there have been multiple times where societal law has intervened.

Section Two is all about the code itself. Players such as Kelly Chase, Mike Peluso, Stu Grimson, Rob Ray, Derek Boogaard, Paul Stewart, McSorley, and Twist all contribute to defining the code here. Remember how I said that everyone explains the code differently? Well, these men lived the code, and they have their own definitions of the code. The one theme that is constant throughout each man's story is respect and honour. And that's exactly what the code is - a set of rules to keep respect and honour in the game.

Section Three really shows what some of these men go through in terms of living the code. They played with broken hands, sprained wrists, cuts, bruises, stitches, and anything else just to keep their roster spot. The warriors quoted by Mr. Bernstein explain how they created space on the ice for the stars they played with because no one wanted to answer to them. They also kept the dirty play in check. If a player didn't answer for his dirty play, then it was open season on the opposing team's star players until someone answered the bell. The code really did work well when people weren't messing with the rules.

Section Four looks at the rule changes and the officials, and how both have worked to reduce the role of the enforcer. Dave Schultz has a great comment in this section about the instigator rule where he states,

"The rule was put in to prevent some tough guy from beating up a little guy. Well, I got news for you: it never happened and it probably will never happen. Guys fight within their weight classes for the most part in the NHL, unless somebody does something really stupid and totally deserves it. And that guy would get popped with or without the rule, so it is irrelevant."

Schultz continues,

"The instigator has taken away one of the most important elements of hockey: honor. Nowadays, instead of guys settling their differences by having a fight, guys run around cheap-shotting guys, carrying their sticks high and playing with absolutely no respect. There is no retribution now other than suspensions or fines, which is ridiculous. That doesn't solve any problems."

The aftermath of the instigator rule sees players playing with less respect now, mostly due to the fact that the instigator rule protects the guys out there playing dirty. And wasn't that entirely what the rule was designed to remove?

There's a phenomenal quote in the book in this section from ESPN's Spider Jones who, in 1996, explained how the game went from fighting to a more subtle, more vile violence. While I'm not stating that ESPN has no clue about hockey, isn't that a telling sign that the instigator rule is entirely wrong when an American writer can pen commentary about how the 1970s and 1980s were better than the hockey of the mid-1990s because there was no instigator rule?

Bernstein goes a step further by explaining how the instigator rule was put in place. Namely, one player caused the NHL to review its officiating and rules. That man was Calgary Flames defenceman Neil Sheehy. Sheehy's tactics on Gretzky during the late-1980s were legendary. While he would walk the fine line between legal and penalty with his actions, he refused to fight Semenko or McSorley because he stated he hadn't done anything outside the rules.

Once this tactic was absorbed by other teams, scoring took a dramatic dip, and the league instituted the instigator rule to try and maintain some control over guys who caused melées due to their actions. Instead, Sheehy has had a change of heart over how he played the game. In 2004, he published "The Systematic Erosion and Neutralization of Skill and Play-Making in the NHL". Sheehy, now a player agent, really makes a phenomenal argument for eliminating the instigator rule, and everyone needs to click that link and read up.

Bernstein delves deeper into the code, talking about divers, bench-clearing brawls, visors, and the linesmen and their need to know the code. All of these factors are examined in Section Four, and Bernstein does a marvelous job in bringing these stories to the forefront.

Section Five looks at how fighting in the NHL affects other leagues. Junior hockey is examined, with contrasts made between the CHL in Canada and the NCAA in the United States. There's chatter about how hockey in the south emphasizes fighting to bring in fans with promotions such as "Guaranteed Fight Night".

Bernstein also goes deep into whether or not fighting should remain in the game, with a very poignant look at fighting in youth hockey. Nearly everyone, including Ross Bernstein, feels that fighting in youth hockey is unnecessary, including this writer.

Section Six looks at how the new rules have forced teams to re-evaluate their on-ice talent, essentially removing the "goons" from the game. If an enforcer wants to be part of the game, he has to contribute on the scoresheet rather than just sitting in the penalty box. But as some players comment, the goon really only started being seen in the mid-to-late-1980s and early-1990s. Since then, enforcers such as Domi, Boogaard, and Laraque have been allowed to skate the ice on a regular shift.

As I stated yesterday, NHL owners and general managers should have this book in their offices at all times. Bernstein goes deep into the issue of fighting in hockey and explains all the nuances that lead up to a fight, as well as the fallout from those fights. While I'm not any sort of literary recognition panel, The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL doesn't shy away from the tough questions and making controversial decisions based upon evidence and reasoning. Ross Bernstein's book is absolutely the source for explaining and understanding the code in hockey, and absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for the excellent examination of this subject.

If you're interested in the subject of fighting in hockey at all, you need to read this book. If you're interested in respect in hockey, this book must be read. I'm not one to rank books or anything, but The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL is a must-have book for anyone who loves hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 29 January 2009

Examining The Code - Part Three

Throughout the annals of history in the NHL, there have always been the names of warriors who stand out above the rest: Bob Probert, Marty McSorley, Joey Kocur, Tim Hunter, Georges Laraque, Dave Semenko, Andre "Moose" Dupont, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Dave "Tiger" Williams, Tie Domi, and many others. These are the guys who policed the game - the guys who opened up space for the stars - by standing there and saying "no one will hurt you, not on my watch". But with the game evolving into a more skilled, less physical game thanks to rule changes, is the enforcer a dying breed of player? Is there any need for a guy who simply brings his fists to the game? Part Three looks at whether or not the enforcer is going extinct in the NHL in this final examination of "the code".

I first got the idea of writing about "the code" from two sources: a book that will be featured in Teebz's Book Club tomorrow, and Georges Laraque. Laraque had a column that on, and he routinely weighed in on topics of debate in hockey. As a player's perspective, Laraque routinely brought forth a good view. His most recent article, published on January 5, 2009, spoke volumes about fighting in hockey.

Laraque writes, "Fighting has changed a lot over the years. A lot of guys are lucky they weren't in the league 15 years ago. In those days, everyone was tough, everyone fought, and everyone was held accountable. Now, there's no policing, players are getting slashed in the face, guys are getting elbowed and hit in the head, and more and more guys are getting hit from behind."

For the most part, fighting and being an enforcer is a roster spot rarely open on an NHL roster today. Shane O'Brien of the Vancouver Canucks leads the league in PIMs this season with 132, but he's hardly considered a heavyweight by the standard seen in the 1980s. The next two players are David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Daniel Carcillo of the Phoenix Coyotes. Both players have spent 123 minutes in the sin bin thus far, and neither would be considered a top prize fighter. Eric Godard is the first true enforcer to appear, and he sits fourth with 116 PIMs.

This trend can be traced back to a few things. First, the instigator rule simply shackles the enforcer to the bench. Coaches can't send out a tough guy to swing momentum with a fight at the risk of having his team penalized for instigating. Winning still pays the bills, and losing because of an instigator penalty is both selfish and stupid.

Secondly, there is an increasing international flavour in the NHL. International hockey has banned fighting outright, so Europeans and Russians rarely worry about fighting. The NCAA has also banned fighting, so American collegiate players never have to worry about dropping the gloves either. While this allows for a more skilled game to be developed, there is also the possibility of bad habits and dirty play being taught since no one has to answer for an indiscretion.

Laraque writes, "[I]t's a real joke now how guys are turning their back to checks. For a physical player, it makes the job harder because you always have to be ready to stop in case the player turns his back to you. It's a joke how some players turn around at the last moment to draw a penalty. In the past, nobody turned and if you did, too bad. But hitting from behind wasn't a problem then. Guys were always ready, so there's simple way to fix it by taking away the instigator rule."

Laraque may be right about removing the instigator rule. Players today get away with crimes on the ice that would have seen donnybrooks in the past. Yet players can't respond with the instigator rule hanging over the game. While I would never condone a line brawl or bench-clearing brawl, I do expect that players will play the game honourably and with respect for the game itself, his opponents, his team, and and himself. By turning your back at the last second, you've disrespected everything listed above in one move.

Laraque writes, "[W]e can talk about how last summer, all the tough guys were signed quite quickly and before any other player, other than the obvious nine or 10 megastars. Who is the first player Pittsburgh signed this summer? Eric Goddard [sic], three-year contract, figure it out. As much as you need a fighter, a good one that can play is hard to find and the teams that have them won't let them go".

When you have three or four superstars on your team, you want to protect your investment. This is the same reason that movie stars employ bodyguards: you do not harm the stars under any circumstance. For Pittsburgh, signing Godard was a shrewd move as Crosby and Malkin are more valuable on the ice scoring than in the box serving penalties for defending themselves.

If you look at the top two teams in the NHL right now, San Jose has Jody Shelley on the bench to protect Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi, and Dan Boyle. Boston is playing tough-as-nails hockey with Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Shawn Thornton looking out for Marc Savard, Phil Kessel, and David Krejci. Detroit is carrying Darren McCarty again this year, and has recalled Aaron Downey on occasion to add some toughness. New Jersey has David Clarkson and Michael Rupp out there to look out for the Devils' scorers.

Does the enforcer still have a role to play? My answer is yes based upon the success of San Jose and Boston this year. However, the enforcer is no longer just a guy who will chuck knuckles once per game. The enforcer has to be a regular part of the team now, chipping in the odd goal here and there in order for the coach to find room on his roster for the enforcer. As Laraque writes, "I take more pride in the 53 playoff games that I have played; for a tough guy to have played that many games in the post-season shows how much more than a one-dimensional player I became". And it shows that if an enforcer can add some scoring to his resumé along with the other intangibles he brings, he's worth more to his team than they know.

According to Laraque, "The toughest guy in the East is Donald Brashear, hands down. He's the king and has been for years. Pound for pound the toughest guys are Riley Cote and Chris Neil. And in the West, the toughest guy is Derek Boogaard and the toughest pound for pound is hands down Cam Janssen." Without doubt, those are some of the toughest hombres to ever lace up the skates in the NHL.

I hope you've enjoyed this small look at "the code", and how it affects the game, the players, and each shift in the NHL. Again, the code is an evolving system that changes with the situations presented. Tomorrow, I am proud to present a book that I believe should be read by everyone involved in hockey. While I'm sure that most owners will have never read the book, it should be part of the owner's handbook when someone buys a team.

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Examining The Code - Part Two

In the second part of examining fighting in hockey, we need to bring about some understanding of "the code". What is it? Where does one gain this knowledge? How does one interpret the code? These questions are the very basis of the entire premise behind fighting in hockey. To know the code is to know the very reasons why fighting in hockey is an important part of the game. As I stated yesterday, enforcers in the NHL live by the code the same way that Marines live by their code - namely "Unit, Corps, God, Country". It is their livelihood, and they live by the code that dictates how the game is played.

Let me be clear: the code is not written down anywhere. You won't find it in any manual or hockey 101 book, and you certainly will have a number of people explain it differently according to how they know the code. The code, like the game of hockey itself, evolves. It changes depending on each situation and the factors in that situation. What the everyone can agree on, though, is that the code is a set of rules that separate right from wrong.

With that in mind, let's take a look at specific reasons that a fight might take place within the rules of "the code".

Retaliation For A Dirty Play

Make no mistake, this is the reason that fights break out most often. Middleweights and heavyweights will go after a player who commits a dirty play, especially if that play results in an injury to a star player. Most often, teams will respond immediately. A good example of retaliation for a dirty play would be the New York Islanders' reaction to the hit Dale Hunter put on Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs.

Protection Of A Star Player

This is the second reason that fights break out in the NHL. Scorers help teams win. When teams are successful and winning, fans come out to see the team play. With the team being successful, the chances of winning the Stanley Cup go up. Protecting star players is vitally important to a hockey club. Watch Marty McSorley go after Jim Peplinski after Peplinski grabbed Gretzky.

Charging The Biggest Dog In The Yard

Guys routinely came into the NHL and searched out the unofficial heavyweight champion of the NHL. Whether it was Bob Probert, Joey Kocur, Tie Domi, Marty McSorley, or Georges Laraque, someone who wants to be taken seriously as a tough guy will head right for the biggest dog in the yard and take it to him. By doing this, he was sending a message to the league that this new player will not be intimidated by anyone, nor will he allow anyone to intimidate his teammates. The best example would be the first fight between Bob Probert and a relatively unknown Link Gaetz. Gaetz of the San Jose Sharks made himself known by giving Probert a run for his money.

Bad Blood

This is probably a well-known reason, but these fights rarely happen any longer due to free agency and the league cracking down on any sort of premeditated vengeance. However, the 1990s saw bad blood rise between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche. Thanks to the 1996 Western Conference Final where Slava Kozlov drove Adam Foote's face into the boards, followed by Claude Lemieux driving Kris Draper face-first into the boards from behind, 1997 saw the bad blood boil over between these two teams.

Now that we've seen four common examples of why fights occur in the NHL, let's look at what the code states in terms of the rules of engagement.

1. Heavyweights only fight heavyweights. This is pretty much a no-brainer. Heavyweights don't go after smaller, skilled players or middleweights without just cause. If you're an enforcer, you only fight enforcers. Middleweights can fight up, but they cannot go after skilled players without just cause either. Fighters fight, and scorers score... unless something changes. Oh, and goalies only fight goalies. Otherwise, they are pinned to the ice. No one wants to punch a guy who is dressed head-to-toe in protection.

The code is about respect and fairness. You wouldn't want to see the 6'6" Derek Boogaard fight the 5'7" Brian Gionta. That's a mismatch, and the code states that you do not embarrass a guy in a fight. If you do, someone could certainly do the same to you later on. And if you develop a reputation as someone who embarrasses people in a fight, you'll find that a lot more enforcers will come gunning for you.

2. All fights are mutually agreed upon. Unless the fight is an emotional outburst, the code states that a fight is agreed upon by two competitors. Normally, the discussion will take place during a faceoff, and the fight will occur shortly after. If a player refuses to fight, he had better have a good reason. Otherwise, the code states if a player is challenged due to one of the above reasons for fighting, he should accept.

For those that refuse to fight, that may cause problems for someone else on that player's line or the team. And if a player continually ducks out of fights, his toughness and abilities may be questioned... not to mention his manhood. Again, it's about respect. If a player is willing to engage another player in a fight, the honourable thing to do is to step up and defend one's honour and teammates.

3. Injuries and coach's rules trump the code. The first reason that is acceptable for not accepting a challenge is if a player is injured. There is no honour in fighting someone who is hurt as the injury may result in a serious disadvantage for the injured player. The second reason is that a player has been instructed not to fight by his coach. If a player doesn't do what his coach says, it could result in watching a lot of hockey from the press box. In either case where a player cannot fight, the player who refuses the fight should issue a "raincheck" for a future encounter. His honour and toughness will not be questioned if he accepts a future engagement.

Both of these reasons are about respect and fairness. Again, reputations are made by what is done on the ice, and fighting guys who are hurt shows a distinct lack of backbone. Fighting guys who are not allowed to fight as per their coaches will only result in fighting an angry player who may take you to task if you do.

4. Always fight fresh, and never fight tired. The code states that you fight a fresh guy as opposed to a guy who is heading to the bench at the end of a shift. How spineless is it to fight a guy who just gone up and down the ice at top speed for a minute?

Talk to the player, and give him a heads-up that the next time he's fresh on the ice, you'd like to scrap him. If he honours the code, he'll accept. By doing this, you're respecting the code by showing respect and fairness for the other player. Good fighters know that fighting a player who is tired will only bring more retribution.

5. If you do something stupid, man up and take it. Sometimes, bad things happen. A seemingly clean hit can turn into a devastating injury simply through mistiming or a missed step. If you lay an elbow into the head of an opposing player by accident, man up and fight if challenged.

Again, it shows everyone that you respect the game, and that you're willing to pay for doing wrong. Players keep track of who the dirty players are and which guys turtle when it comes to paying for their actions. If you're a turtler, you better believe someone is going to come for blood when you do something bad.

6. Fight fair. This is pretty simple, but I'll give you Tyler Durden's rules in terms of fighting fair.

"If someone yells 'stop', goes limp, taps out, the fight is over". There is no need to throw a guy to the ice, slam him into the boards, or take his legs out from under him so he falls backwards. Fight until one of you needs to stop, and then break cleanly. Otherwise, keep chucking knuckles, and respect your opponent.

"Only two guys to a fight." Again, pretty simply. One-on-one scraps prevent any sort of disadvantage from forming. Again, respect your opponent, and tell any third man in to take a hike. And always face an opponent. Never, ever jump a guy from behind.

"Fights will go on as long as they have to." This one is tough since the linesmen can step in at any time if they feel one player has an advantage over the other player. However, if rules #1 and #4 are taken into consideration, any fight should last 30 seconds up to a full minute. However, once one player slows down, the fight is over. I can't stress this enough: you do not embarrass your opponent, especially when he's tired.

Again, these rules evolve and change according to the situation, but these six rules are fairly easy to understand. I'd hope that everyone agrees that these rules are the basics when it comes to the code. I think the best person to explain it is Stu Grimson. I found this video on YouTube, and it really speaks volumes as to the guys who know the code, and respect the other guys who carry on the tradition of the code.

Should there be anything added? Do you think this covers it all? Like I said, it's an unwritten set of rules that determine right from wrong when it comes to players policing themselves. There is no absolute rights or wrongs, but the code allows for growth and change as it evolves along with the game.

Tomorrow, the examination of the role of the enforcer in today's game, and if the enforcer even has a role in the NHL. Will guys like Georges Laraque and Riley Cote be nothing more than trivia answers in the future? I'll look at that tomorrow!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Examining The Code - Part One

For as long as there has been hockey, fighting has been a part of it. The game is emotional, high-tempo, and physical - three key ingredients to promoting aggressiveness and potential fisticuffs. The entire problem with fighting in hockey is that there are no written rules explaining what is acceptable and what is not during an encounter between two players. Players cite the rules of "the code", but what is this code and where can one find the rules of said "code"? Why do some players get hurt while others never get hurt their entire careers? What happened to Don Sanderson is absolutely tragic, and there needs to be an examination of fighting in hockey. But to ban it outright could prove even more harmful. Today, I want to embark down the path of the long look at fighting in hockey, and what changes need to be done in order to restore order to the game of hockey.

It's clear that the players have no interest in removing fighting from hockey. Even the stars think that fighting is a part of hockey as much as sticks and pucks are.

"I'm a traditionalist when it comes to hockey," San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton said to TSN while in Montreal during the all-star break. "Fighting's been around since day one. I think it would be a shame to take it out of the game. It's part of hockey, like tying up your laces or shooting the puck. It's been part of hockey for a long, long time."

There has been talk of banning fighting in all hockey since Sanderson's death, and that sentiment gained momentum earlier this week when Garrett Klotz of the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms went into a seizure after a fight last week. Here's the video of the event.

While the incident is scary, there are some other incidents that shouldn't be overlooked either. Klotz's career could have come to an end had he suffered a serious injury during that fight, and that's always on a fighter's mind. Nick Kypreos of the New York Rangers saw his career come to an end due to a fight.

I'm not encouraging fighting in hockey after seeing these two clips, but there is a strong precedence set in hockey that fighting actually works to police the game.

Everyone looks at the 1970s as being one of the toughest eras in hockey thanks to the Broad Street Bullies. The Flyers in the late 1970s won games by sheer intimidation. The "Flyers flu" was a common excuse for players who suddenly came down with an unexplained injury upon their arrival in Philadelphia to play the feared Flyers. Of course, Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup 1974 and 1975, proving that tough-as-nails hockey works.

There was an influx of skill into the NHL after the league expanded and absorbed the WHA, but there was also some dirty play, prompting teams to protect their stars. As hard as it is to believe, the number of fighting majors per game was at its highest in the 1980s. Ironically, goal-scoring in the 1980s also was at its highest level ever in the NHL. Traditionalists will say that it was due to expansion, but the WHA teams weren't expansion teams. The NHL absorbed the four most successful WHA teams, so there's no reason to think that these new teams were filled with grinders and role players.

Do you really think that the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s were as good as they were without Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley? Make no mistake that Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey were the engine that drove that dynasty. But for every goal that Kurri and Gretzky scored, Semenko and McSorley were there to make sure no one stopped the engine from doing what they did best.

If anyone even glared at Gretzky, there was a lineup of guys looking to take someone's head off. And they weren't the only team that had at least one tough guy at that time. Calgary, the Oilers' main threat to their legacy, had Tim Hunter and Neil Sheehy to protect Nieuwendyk and Fleury. Dave Brown patrolled the ice for Philadelphia when it came to someone taking a shot at Brian Propp or Tim Kerr. Chris Nilan looked after the Canadiens. There were lots of guys who played in the NHL for one reason: they were tough.

The best example of how important tough guys are comes from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In 1997-98, the Mighty Ducks missed the playoffs largely due to the fact that both Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were hurt for most of the season after being taken out by opposing players. Kariya was viciously cross-checked by Blackhawks' defenceman Gary Suter in the face after scoring a goal, resulting in a serious concussion.

As a result of the injuries to their stars, the Mighty Ducks went out and acquired Stu Grimson in the off-season. Grimson, known as "The Grim Reaper" in hockey circles, was a feared enforcer, and he was employed for one reason: you don't touch Kariya or Selanne... or else. The following season, Kariya and Selanne ended up second and third in league scoring, and the Mighty Ducks made the playoffs.

Coincidence? Maybe, but there's more.

Stanley Cup winners are normally thought to be the most-skilled team in the league. There's no question that there is an immense amount of skill on those teams, but there's also that one player who makes everyone else think twice about doing any harm to star players. These guys are the heavyweights and middleweights who will throw the gloves off to right a wrong done to their team. Check out the list of Stanley Cup winners and the number of players over 100 penalty minutes.

1981 - New York Islanders: 5 players with 100+ PIMs.
1982 - New York Islanders: 3 players with 100+ PIMs.
1983 - New York Islanders: 2 players with 100+ PIMs.
1984 - Edmonton Oilers: 7 players with 100+ PIMs.
1985 - Edmonton Oilers: 1 player with 200+ PIMs; 5 with 100+.
1986 - Montreal Canadiens: 1 players with 200+ PIMs; 1 with 100+.
1987 - Edmonton Oilers: 1 player with 200+ PIMS; 4 with 100+.
1988 - Edmonton Oilers: 4 players with 200+ PIMs; 2 with 100+.
1989 - Calgary Flames: 1 with 300+ PIMs; 3 with 200+; 4 with 100+.
1990 - Edmonton Oilers: 8 players with 100+ PIMs.
1991 - Pittsburgh Penguins: 4 players with 100+ PIMs.
1992 - Pittsburgh Penguins: 2 players with 200+ PIMs; 4 with 100+.
1993 - Montreal Canadiens: 1 player with 200+ PIMs; 3 with 100+.
1994 - New York Rangers: 7 players with 100+ PIMs.
1995 - New Jersey Devils: 5 players with 100+ PIMs.*
1996 - Colorado Avalanche: 1 player with 200+ PIMs; 3 with 100+.
* = projected results due to shortened season.

Now, it's interesting to see that over those 15 years, each Stanley Cup winning team - with the exception of 1982, 1983, and 1986 - had at least four players with more than 100 penalty minutes. Ironically, the teams that were most successful during the regular seasons rang up a ton of penalty minutes.

In 1992, the NHL introduced the instigator rule that, essentially, allowed for a lot more players to earn jobs as "grinding fourth-liners". These players would typically be thrown out against an opposition's skilled line, and would freely take liberties with the stars. Enforcers couldn't step in to police the game as they risked making their team shorthanded with the instigator penalty. So guys like Gary Suter above could deliver all the Sherwood sandwiches he liked with no repercussions.

If you notice, the only team to have more than five players with more than 700 minutes in penalties after 1992 was the 1994 New York Rangers team. Since then? No Stanley Cup winning team has even come close to the penalty minutes seen from the 1980s. In fact, last year's Red Wings team only had 937 PIMs total. In 1989, Calgary had 8 players with more than 1000 PIMs combined.

So what does this all mean? Well, the game has seen the skill level improve from the latest wave of expansion, so the on-ice product is improving. However, the number of injuries to NHL stars has also gone up steadily as players no longer have to answer for their actions. The "code" used to provide for an enforcer to step in and rectify a situation where a player disrespects another player, team, or the game itself.

Now? Not so much. Instead, the guys who used to police the game and keep the scorers safe are all but extinct. The NHL needs enforcers. They aren't just hulking neanderthals on the ice, looking for blood and violence.

They were the guys who kept the game clean. They were the guys who rectified situations like the Gary Suter cross-check on Paul Kariya. They were the guys who knew "the code" - the unwritten rules passed down amongst hockey players about what is right and what is wrong. And they were the guys who enforced the code to the full extent of the unwritten law.

Are enforcers important for the game of hockey? Undoubtedly.
Do they do good? Absolutely.
How do we fix the problem? Big question.

Tomorrow, I will look at "the code" itself. One cannot fix the problem if one does not know "the code". With the examination of the code, I'll provide some additional examples as I did above so everyone can see how the code is maintained and respected.

Just as Marines have a code that they adhere to and live by, NHL enforcers do as well. And their code means just as much as that of the Marines. Especially when lives and livelihoods are on the line.

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 26 January 2009

Another All-Star Game

With all the hubbub surrounding the "big game" in Montreal yesterday, it appears that all the major news networks and bloggers forgot about that league where the next stars are being developed. The AHL celebrated their All-Star Game in Worcester, Massachusetts tonight, and it was a helluva show. 7245 fans went home happy as they watched the 2009 AHL All-Stars set several records tonight. After a fairly successful Skills Competition yesterday, the All-Star Game itself showed that the AHL has a bright future, and that the NHL has a number of stars waiting in the wings.

First off, the kid from Huntsville, Alabama on the Philadelphia Phantoms can play. Jared Ross is the first AHL player from Alabama to appear in the All-Star Game, and he made it count. One goal and six assists later, and the PlanetUSA forward takes home the AHL All-Star Game MVP honours. His six assists and seven points are AHL All-Star Game records.

"I was just happy to be here," said Ross,the AHL's only player from that state. "I wasn't even thinking about the outcome of the game. I was just glad to be around these guys. It was a lot of fun to play with them."

NHL Hall of Famer Ray Bourque was part of the crowd as he watched his son, Chris Bourque, break the 11-11 tie in the third period with his goal at the 15:06 mark. Bourque finished the game with a goal and an assist, and Dad was proud from the look on his face. Nothing like a game-winning goal to make Dad smile.

Unlike the NHL All-Star Game, the players actually looked like they wanted to be there in the first period. And, believe it or not, they played defence and gave an effort! Hard to believe, the kids put on a show! As much as I joke about the intensity, the back-and-forth action was appreciated by the fans, and it really turned out to be an entertaining game.

Before I break into the boxscore, here are a few statistics that might have gone unnoticed:

  • Canadian and Milwaukee Admiral All-Star Mike Santorelli finished the game a woeful -7 in the plus/minus department. Had this been real game, I'm quite certain someone would have been skating extra man-makers at the next practice for his defensive display. Of course, I kid. Santorelli didn't pick up a point, but he did record two shots.
  • Canadian and Houston Aero All-Star Corey Locke scored four goals for Team Canada on the night, setting an AHL All-Star record. Locke ended a +6, tying with three other players in the game.
  • No penalties were recorded in the game despite the intensity shown by the players.
  • PlanetUSA and Albany River Rat All-Star Michael Ryan lead the way in the shot department with nine shots on net. Ryan scored twice, giving him a shooting percentage of 22.2% in the game.
  • Two empty-net goals were scored by PlanetUSA. Ryan Potulny of the Springfield Falcons and Martins Karsums of the Providence Bruins notched the empty-netters.
  • Locke's four goals have him and Teddy Purcell tied for career AHL All-Star Game points. Purcell picked up five assists tonight, giving both players eight points total at AHL All-Star Games.
  • PlanetUSA captain Rory Fitzpatrick was an unimpressive -3 with no shots. Maybe he didn't deserve to be at the NHL All-Star Game.
Overall, a highly enjoyable game. For the entire boxscore, please click here. The action late in the game was top-notch as the PlanetUSA All-Stars rallied from an 11-10 deficit with six minutes remaining to win 14-11. Tyler Weiman of the Lake Erie Monsters took the loss after surrendering seven goals in the third period, while Lowell Devils' goaltender Jeff Frazee scored the win.

A great AHL All-Star Game to watch, and I look forward to next year's game. No decision has been made as to which team will host the game, but, after this season's event, keeping this tradition going should be elementary.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 25 January 2009

All-Star Game Recovery

The NHL Skills Competition last night was a pretty good showing of the talent that the NHL has. Alexander Ovechkin, pictured to the left, showed a little moxie by donning a tilly hat and large sunglasses - an NHL first - in the Breakaway Challenge to win the event. Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate's hardest shot record, ironically set in Montreal in 1993, by hammering a puck at 105.4 mph. That's a cannon. Evgeni Malkin won the Shooting Accuracy event by going 4-for-4, and then 3-for-4 in overtime against Dany Heatley. Andrew Cogliano won the footrace in the Fastest Skater event, and Shane Doan won the Elimination Shootout over Marc Savard. The rookies beat the sophomores in the YoungStars game, and it appeared that everyone, fans included, had a good time.

In one of the best images all night, Doan would return to the bench after shooting in the Elimination Shootout where his daughter, Gracie, would greet him with a huge hug when he scored. With inspiration like that, who wouldn't want to keep scoring, right? I won't lie - I was pulling for Doan as soon as the CBC started showing Gracie's excitement for her dad's scoring. Congratulations to Shane and Gracie on winning the event!

Ok, there's a pile of stuff that I need to clean-up on this blog, so I'm going to spend today doing that, and I'll have an announcement below for a few articles this week. Let's get to that cleaning stuff. It only piles up more when you procrastinate.

  • TSN slipped up a little on Wednesday, but I'm sure they were more concerned with the All-Star Game. However, it's still important that they not publish incorrect information. The New Jersey Devils play in the Atlantic Division, not the Atlanta Division. Oops!
  • In hunting through Uni Watch Blog's membership card gallery, it occurred to me that there are quite a few hockey fans. In searching through the gallery, there were a ton of hockey designs that really deserve a good look. So I put together a little image of the Uni Watch Blog Hockey Card All-Stars. Scan through and see if you can pick out where the images are from. All the answers are on UW's gallery.
  • If you base the winner of the All-Star Game on leadership, it appears that this year's Western Conference team will win. The Western Conference team features eight team captains and five alternate captains, whereas the Eastern Conference team features only three captains and six alternate captains.
  • That goalie who stood in between the pipes during the Breakaway Challenge yesterday was a 21 year-old Montreal native named Jason Maggio. He plays for the Junior AA Vipers just outside of Montreal, and did a pretty good job in the net yesterday despite stopping 29 of 34 shots. Good work, Jason!
  • In one of the funnier stories of All-Star Game history, Tony Esposito made a pretty big impression on teammate Pete Peeters. You see, Tony Esposito snored while he slept, causing some distress for roommate Peeters. "I've never heard anybody snore like that. I didn't think anybody could make that much noise in their sleep." Peeters listened for about twenty minutes before going to the front desk of the hotel and asking for another room.
  • The AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms recently donned some promotional jerseys to honour the 1976 NHL All-Star Game played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Spectrum is to be destroyed, so this is a neat idea in honouring the events that happened there. Daniel Briere, in a conditioning stint, got in on the promotion as well.
  • If you read the All-Star Game jersey retrospect on Friday, you know I was a fan of the jerseys worn in the 1950s and again in 1992. There's a QMJHL team who uses the front-to-back stripes on the shoulders like the NHL All-Stars did. I give you Marc Denis in his Chicoutimi Saguenéens uniform. I love the look of this jersey.
  • Wednesday night saw the Toronto Maple Leafs break out a patch to little fanfare. The Leafs donned an "Ace" patch in memory of Ace Bailey. A classy move by the Leafs as they honour one of the their own, and celebrate the first "unofficial" NHL All-Star Game that happened in 1934. Well done, Toronto!
  • Great story from the Boston Globe's David Rattigan about high school goaltender Trevor Leahy who has designed his own pads. While there's nothing special about designing his own pads, the design on the pads is. You see, Leahy had the pads made to look like open net so that players can't focus on his pads. I'm not sure this will fly in the NHL, but kudos to Leahy for his innovation and creativity!
  • Game One of the IIHF Champions League Final between the ZSC Lions of Zurich, Switzerland and Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL in Russia takes place today. As it stands right now at the time of writing this, ZSC has a 2-0 advantage in the first period in Magnitogorsk. That's a surprising score considering how well Magnitogorsk has played this season. Lots of hockey to be played still, though. Nothing has been decided yet.
  • Out with the new and in with the old in Chicago. The Blackhawks announced that they are killing off their all-black alternate jersey, and replacing it with the jersey they wore at the 2009 Winter Classic. Huge thumbs-up from this writer on this decision. As much as the black jerseys were accepted by me on the Blackhawks, I much prefer this look. A message to all the teams of the NHL: bring back the colours!
  • In sticking with Uni Watch, Paul Lukas brought forth a fabulous site called Vintage Minnesota Hockey. The sweaters on the site are top-notch, and the site and company received glowing reviews in terms of their service and products. Spend a few minutes clicking through the jerseys on this site. Well worth the time.
  • Lots of fabulous info on Sidney Crosby's skates this week on the Uni Watch Blog. I've seen a few people skip eyelets before, but I never really thought about it. I figured it was a comfort or superstition thing, but now we have an NHL star doing it. I wonder if there will be a trend amongst kids to skip eyelets who want to be like Crosby?
  • If you can get past the good-looking woman in the picture, Chris Botta of NYI Point Blank has reported that the New York Islanders are "working with the NHL to clear their vintage mid-’70s jerseys as their primary uniform for next season" (scroll past the good-looking woman to "Jersey Boys). I don't think they need to go back to their mid-1970s jerseys, but they're much better than what they are currently wearing. That being said, maybe this is an attempt to bring back the fans who have walked away from the team?
  • Kari Lehtonen of the Atlanta Thrashers is continuing his multimedia mask theme. He has worn masks featuring characters from the Kill Bill movies, characters from the Final Fantasy X video game, and images from the Transformers movie. He has been practicing in a Dark Knight-themed mask lately with Heath Ledger's Joker on the side. However, he's not the first Atlanta Thrashers' goaltender to wear a Batman-themed mask. Pasi Nurminen wore images of the cartoon Batman and The Joker on his mask in 2003-04.
  • Lastly, I worked right through it, and didn't even notice until today. January 21, 2007 was the start date of my blog, so - even though I'm four days late - I have made it through two years of hockey blogging! I know that it isn't a huge date for anyone but me, but I do want to thank everyone who stops by, leaves a comments, links back to me, and reads my daily diatribes on hockey. Without you guys, there would be no Hockey Blog In Canada! Thank you!
Ok, so there are a bunch of updates from around the hockey world from this past week. In terms of this upcoming week, I want to take a look at fighting in hockey. There have been a number of scary incidents that have happened recently, and I think I have found something that might be of interest to all hockey fans. It's a trend that has gone relatively unnoticed by the people who run the NHL, but the trend is most evident there. Tune in this week for some interesting news.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 24 January 2009

Highlight Reel Moments

The NHL All-Star Game has produced a number of memorable moments. Since there is almost no defence played, the offensive stars get a chance to shine and be creative. And since this game is supposed to be for the fans, who doesn't love a little swagger when scoring a goal? Today's entry is a video blog of some of the best highlights I can find from NHL All-Star Games. Kick back, grab a beverage, and enjoy the show!

Chicago singer Wayne Messmer is drowned out by the fans in Chicago Stadium. Well done, Chicago!

I love when the players are mic'd up at the NHL All-Star Game. Kids, don't be like Rick DiPietro and swear on national television, please.

I love this introduction. This was the ABC Network's lead-in for the 50th NHL All-Star Game in Toronto in 2000. It deserved an Emmy.

I'm sorry, but Lemieux's performance at the 1990 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh was pretty spectacular. That third goal? Unreal.

Owen Nolan at home in the Shark Tank in 1997 on Dominik Hasek. Calling your shot on the best goalie in the game?

Old-tyme hockey? We have that too. Imagine a line of Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Jean Beliveau. Terry Sawchuk faced that in 1964.

Western Conference goalie Evgeni Nabokov stones fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk not once, but twice in Atlanta.

Some solid highlights there. Remember, the NHL Skills Competition and YoungStars Game goes tonight at 7pm ET. Huddle down around the video box, and watch the stars come out to shine. Montreal is ready to rock and roll!

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 23 January 2009

Clothes Make The All-Star

Well, this is a big one. The NHL All-Star Game has changed its look over the years as the formats for the game being played have changed. Teams that are hosting the event had some say over the design of the All-Star jerseys in the past, but the NHL has tightened control over these designs. Some were bad, some were good, but all were available for scrutiny. Today, we wade into the realm of fashion to take a look at some of the designs worn at NHL All-Star Games.

Please note that I am not going to do this on a year-by-year basis. Rather, I will point out design elements and changes between the uniforms. It's a little easier this way, and shouldn't allow this article to become an encyclopedia of All-Star uniforms. Also, I am only going to focus on 1960 and forward. If it's beyond that timeframe, there won't be much talk about it. One jersey will stand out from the rest from pre-1960, but that's to be seen below. Anyway, stop sitting around in your skivvies, and start on the journey through the All-Star jerseys.

In 1947, the NHL All-Stars wore these classy sweaters. Colourful and vibrant, the All-Stars beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs by a 4-3 score in the 1st NHL All-Star Game. The stripes make this jersey significantly different than any jersey used in the league at that point.

As a side note, the NHL All-Stars continued to use this design into the 1950s, but they added one little detail that really stands out as something unique: the year of the All-Star Game is on the NHL shield. These sweaters will be seen again.

In 1955, the NHL switched to a white jersey as they began to run into problems with the Red Wings and Canadiens looking somewhat identical in red. These are alright, and look very similar to the previous jersey, only coloured differently.

From 1960 until 1964, the NHL All-Stars wore this simple sweater as they took on the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The sweater pictured is Jean Beliveau's, and it has some very nice elements to it. The three stars (two front, one on the back neckline) representing the All-Stars is a nice touch. I'm a little confused about the shoulder element, though. It seems to serve no purpose aesthetically. I would have preferred stripes down the arm or a yoke. But that's just me.

We'll jump ahead to the 1968 All-Star Game where the NHL All-Stars battled the Maple Leafs in Toronto again. This game was played in a more sombre mood that most All-Star Games. Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars had been hit by two California Seals two days earlier, and had struck his head on the ice. Word came in that Masterton had passed away the following day - one day before the All-Star festivities. Heavy hearts were evident at the game. The All-Stars wore these jerseys, as seen on Bobby Orr in his first All-Star appearance. They look somewhat similar to the 1963 version, but the stripes on the shoulder are better than the trapezoidal shape. My only complaint is that they stop at the sleeve number. Bobby Orr wore #5 in this game so that Jean Beliveau could wear #4 - a classy move by Orr in respecting his elder statesman. These jerseys were worn from 1965 until 1968.

After the 21st NHL All-Star Game in 1968, the NHL changed formats to represent the East and West. The Eastern Division, or Original Six Division, was represented by Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Toronto. The Western Division, or Expansion Six Division, was represented by St. Louis, Oakland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. This meant that two All-Star teams could be derived from the two divisions, and that's precisely what the NHL did. The white jersey, worn by the Original Six teams, remained the same. The dark jersey was simply a differently-coloured version of the same jersey. This new dark jersey lasted until 1973.

In 1973, the NHL updated its All-Star looks. The league had grown to sixteen teams by this point, so there was a larger pool of players to choose from. The West Division wore orange in the 1973 All-Star Game, while the East went white. Two divisions, two teams, two stars on the shoulders? Perhaps. The stars on the hem stripe are a nice touch, and the little star in the elbow stripes is an added bonus. The NHL stuck with these uniforms until 1982. Kings' goalie Mario Lessard shows a little flair at the 1981 All-Star Game in his stylish uniform.

At the 1982 NHL All-Star Game, someone lost their mind. I'm not sure who approved this design, but NASA had to be involved with this many stars on the jerseys. The NHL stuck with the league colours of orange, white, and black, so that's a plus. However, the number of stars make me wonder if each star represented a roster spot on the All-Star Team. Wow. The Campbell Conference wore orange, while the the Wales Conference wore white.

Someone must have realized that the 1982 jerseys were a mistake. The 1983 NHL All-Star Game saw sanity found as the Wales Conference wore this design, while the Campbell Conference wore this design. While they have a very New York Rangers-feel on the front, the stars around the hem are a nice touch. Three stars down the arm will come back into play later on. Surprisingly, the manufacturer's logo on the rear of the jersey is that of Kappa, an Italian-based sports apparel company. I have no idea how they got involved in manufacturing the 1983 NHL All-Star jerseys. Gretzky celebrates in his Kappa-made jersey.

In 1984, the NHL went away from Kappa, and changed the font used on the front of their All-Star jerseys. Otherwise, the jerseys remained entirely the same.

At the 1985 NHL All-Star Game, the NHL made another slight change to the jerseys. The front of the jerseys remained the same, but gone from the rear numbers and name is the drop-shadow.

The 1986 All-Star Game saw the drop-shadow return with the jerseys remaining the same. It seems the NHL can't make up its mind on whether or not the drop-shadow lettering and numbers work for the All-Star Game. Lemieux and Gretzky faced off in a dramatic battle of superstar scorers.

Gretzky and Lemieux show off what the NHL chose for them to wear at Rendez-Vous '87. It harkens back to the jerseys worn in the 1970s for All-Star Games and the Challenge Cup against the USSR, but it still has that NHL-feel with the white, black, and orange.

The NHL decided it liked the look of the NHL Shield on the front of the jersey, and decided to add it to the 1988 All-Star Game jerseys. The jerseys themselves are the exact same design as the 1986-style, but the font on the back changed - no drop-shadow (go figure!) - and the logo is different. NHL All-Star Game patches started in 1989 with each host team designing their own patch which was worn on their jerseys all season long, and appearing on both Conferences' All-Star jerseys. The first home team-inspired patch, marking the St. Louis All-Star Game, can be seen here.

The 1989 All-Star Game saw the NHL go to contrasts as the Campbell Conference wore white, while the Wales Conference went with a black jersey. The new jersey design worked the stripe around the waist back in, but the stars were removed from the sleeves. The new design is sharp, but it will only last until 1993. Lemieux flew down the boards in his white jersey.

1992, however, was a monumental season for the NHL. 1992 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the NHL, and the NHL celebrated their longevity in a number of ways. The All-Star Game was a huge celebration, and the NHL went back to its roots for the All-Star jerseys. The Campbell Conference took the ice in these jerseys, while the Wales Conference arrived in these jerseys. The Campbell Conference jerseys are similar to those worn in 1947, while the Wales Conference jerseys is the same style, just coloured differently. Very classy, and the game looked great in the old-style jerseys.

We move on to 1994 as the Campbell and Wales Conferences are left behind for the Eastern and Western Conferences. With the change comes a radical new All-Star jersey design - instead of wearing stars, the players will don a star. What do I mean? The Western Conference All-Stars skated out in this design, while the Eastern Conference All-Stars debuted in this design. Despite some people complaining about this look, it was actually adopted by an NHL team in 1997. The Dallas Stars began wearing this design as an alternate jersey in their team colours. And in 1999, the Stars adopted this design as their jerseys for both home and road games. Back to the All-Star Game jerseys, I actually own one of these jerseys, and it's a point of pride in my small collection. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you my Teemu Selanne 1996 All-Star Game jersey. Sweet! Another patch was added to these jerseys. Along with the NHL All-Star host team patch, the players wore patches representing their respective teams. Identifying players was never this easy. Maybe it was to help in identifying which team played in which conference?

The 1998 NHL All-Star Game saw another change in formats as the NHL tried to generate interest for the Nagano Winter Olympics. The NHL switched the All-Star format to North America versus the World, despite some major complaints. The North American squad debuted in these jerseys, while the World Team skated in these designs. Fairly underwhelming designs - a trend we'll see for a while in All-Star Game fashions. A third patch was added to these jerseys as each player had the flag of his country added to the jersey. Complaints arose over the North American Team's selections since the majority of players were from Canada. To make matters worse, the number of Americans on the North American Team dropped from 1998 to 1999 from seven players to five players. These jerseys didn't make it past 1999, though.

That means that the 2000 NHL All-Star Game would look different again. And it looked very different. The North American players would wear this. The North American goaltenders would wear this. The World players would wear this. And the World goaltenders would wear this. Why the four jerseys? No clue. The thing that really irritated me was the goofy collars on the jerseys. What's the point? And why were the World players only subjected to this? By the way, check out Brett Hull's gloves in that last picture. What's up with those monstrosities? These might be the worst All-Star Game jerseys yet. No stars, no glitz, no glamour, no fun. Thankfully, they didn't get past 2001.

As an aside, the NHL began to experiment with what the referees were wearing by having them test new designs as well. The 2000 NHL All-Star Game saw Kerry Fraser and Don Koharski don these abominations. You're seeing that correctly - one orange stripe on the left side of the body. Absolutely stupid. It never went any further than this game, but there will be more tinkering with the referee's uniform to come.

The 2002 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles brought out the stars as Barry Melrose and Tim Robbins show off the extremely boring jerseys worn at this game. The World Team went maroon, but these jerseys, while simple and uncluttered, offer nothing visually to excite the viewer. Jaroslav Modry looks less than enthralled.

The 2003 NHL All-Star Game went back to the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, but the jerseys are still disappointing. Yeah, they look futuristic, but where's the flair? Brodeur doesn't look like an All-Star, does he? And the numbers on the lower left? Absolutely useless. At least the Western Conference has something to celebrate. What are they celebrating? No clue.

The 2004 NHL All-Star Game in Minneapolis went back to basics, and the look really was one of the best in the last 20 years. The cream-coloured Eastern Conference jersey was highlighted with red, and it looked very sharp on the ice. The green-coloured Western Conference jersey was highlighted with the cream colour, and it jumped out against the ice as well. The stars returned to the hem of the jersey - a big thumbs-up from this writer. A major change saw the removal of the flag patch worn during the North America vs. World games. However, in a statement of honouring and remembering a fallen teammate, Ilya Kovalchuk customized his All-Star jersey with the Dan Snyder memorial patch - the first time a team-specific patch has been worn on an All-Star jersey. A classy move by Kovalchuk, and one that should not be overlooked.

The 2007 NHL All-Star Game saw the Rbk EDGE uniform system introduced to the world. I'm still not a fan of what Reebok has done to NHL uniforms, but it's all we have, so what can I do? There were complaints from the players, but it didn't stop Daniel Briere from winning the 2007 All-Star Game MVP in the Rbk EDGE jersey. The Western Conference played in blue uniforms, and looked very good compared to the Eastern Conference's white-dabbled-with-red look. Sheldon Souray's gloves looked like they have a base coat of white paint on them. The stars, however, are very prominent on these jerseys despite them being hidden when the arms are down, carrying on a great detail of the All-Star jerseys. However, the introduction of the front numbers is an unnecessary move.

Speaking of unnecessary moves, the NHL decided to tinker with the referee's uniform again in 2007. The arm bands of the referees have always been orange to match the NHL shield colour. However, when the NHL shield went silver and black, the NHL thought they should update the referee's arm band as well. In fact, the NHL went as far as declaring that this new look for referees would be standard for the 2008-09 season. Needless to say, the silver arm bands fell to the wayside much like the orange body stripe did in 2000. Greg Kimmerly and Mike Leggo looked pretty snazzy in those pictures, didn't they?

The 2008 NHL All-Star jerseys featured the Eastern Conference in red and the Western Conference in white. I would have gone with white helmets on the Western Conference players as opposed to blue, but that's just my opinion. On the other hand, I would have had the Eastern Conference players in red helmets as opposed to white helmets. While I'm happy to see the stars down the sides of the jersey, the fronts of the jerseys seemed far too plain. Why not throw a star or two on the shoulders? Maybe a stripe or a shoulder yoke? C'mon NHL... you're better than this.

The 2009 NHL All-Star Game in Montreal present another look to the All-Star jerseys. The Western Conference players will appear in these uniforms. The stylized, futuristic font remains on the jersey, and the unnecessary front numbers remain. The Eastern Conference players will take to the ice in these jerseys. It's interesting to note that the Western Conference players will wear the three stars containing the three years that Montreal has hosted the All-Star Game on the right arm, while the Eastern Conference players will wear the stars on the left arm. That means that there will be one period on television where the stars will not be seen during face-offs. Not the brightest of design ideas, is it? I'm not a fan of the swooping third colour from the armpit across the bottom hem. Why is this necessary? These jerseys have such good elements, but such bad design flaws. Such is the way with Reebok jerseys, I guess.

And we're not done there. The NHL is planning to revamp the officials' uniforms yet again, despite failing miserably on the previous two attempts to revamp the referees' uniforms. The 2009 redesign looks like this. Simply horrendous. The NHL officials will now look like NFL officials. And that cone of orange on the bottom of the ref's arm? Is that some sort of penalty pylon? A dunce cap signal? Good luck to the four men who will be the first to wear the "new and improved" officials' uniforms: referees Marc Joannette and Brad Meier, and linesmen Pierre Racicot and Greg Devorski.

Here's a quick message to Reebok and the NHL: STOP SCREWING WITH THE OFFICIALS! The only acceptable change that I'll take is if they go back to these uniforms. Otherwise, stop messing with something that doesn't need to be changed.

So there you have it, kids - a look back at NHL All-Star Game fashion. Yeah, it ended up being a much longer exposé than I would have liked, but c'est la vie. See how I'm working a little French in there? That's savoir faire, mes amis. Beauty, eh? Tomorrow is NHL All-Star Game highlight day. Tune in for some of the best NHL highlights I can scrounge together before you tune into the Skills Competition tomorrow night.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 22 January 2009

Statistics 101

I decided to make a bit of a schedule change. I'm going to push back the look at uniforms until tomorrow simply because there are so many little things that need to be commented on with these. Especially the uniforms worn by the referees. In the meantime, like Belushi in Animal House to the left, we're going to take a look at Statistics 101: All-Star Game numbers. Some of these stats are simply amazing. Others were hard to believe. However, all of these statistics are a part of the NHL All-Star Game's history, and should be considered. Longevity, scoring, penalty minutes... all will be touched on in this look at the All-Star Game.

Most NHL All-Star Game Appearances: Gordie Howe with 23 games.

Gordie Howe's longevity will probably never be matched. First, rarely are there players who play past 40 years of age as an All-Star now, let alone into their fifth decade of life. Howe's last NHL All-Star Game came in 1980 where, as a member of the Hartford Whalers, he recorded an assist at age 51! Chris Chelios, who turns 47 this week, isn't even in the Top-10 for appearances, and no active player is within ten games of the 23 games that Howe played in.

Most Goals - Career: Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux with 13 apiece.

It took Wayne 17 appearances to record 13 goals whereas it only took 10 games for Lemieux to match that mark. Gretzky was never the prolific goal-scorer that Lemieux was, so any comparisons between the two for All-Star Game goal-scoring would be like comparing apples and oranges. Teemu Selanne is the highest-scoring active player right now with eight goals in eight games.

Most Goals - Single Game: Five players tied at four goals in one game.

Wayne Gretzky did it in 1983. Mario Lemieux was next in 1990. Vincent Damphousse turned in four goals in 1991. Mike Gartner tied the record in 1993. And Dany Heatley added his name to the list in 2003. This is a record that could be broken in any game if a player catches fire. My guess is that a guy like Alexander Ovechkin could be the man to do it.

Most Goals - One Period: Wayne Gretzky with four goals.

Gretzky actually wasn't even in the running for the 1983 All-Star Game MVP until the third period rolled around. With the score 3-2 for the Campbell Conference at the 35th NHL All-Star Game in 1983 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, Gretzky scored at 6:20, 10:31, 15:32, and 19:18 of the third period to claim the MVP Award. Ironically, Campbell Conference goaltender John Garrett had been voted the MVP after the second period before Gretzky's domination in the third period. Garrett, who was a replacement player for injured teammate Richard Brodeur, relieved Chicago's Murray Bannerman midway through the game, and allowed one goal before Gretzky's torrid scoring in the third period.

"I think John was up to the glove compartment, a horn and two tires when Mr. Gretzky took over," joked Lanny McDonald of the Calgary Flames after the game.

Most Assists - Career: Mark Messier and Ray Bourque with 13 apiece.

It took Messier 14 games to pick up 13 helpers, while Bourque needed 18 games. Messier had the benefit of playing a number of All-Star Games alongside guys like Kurri, Gretzky, and Anderson, so his numbers should be pretty good. Bourque, being a defenceman, had a pinpoint accurate break-out pass, and showed his skill every time he played in an All-Star Game. Another mind-blowing career total is Adam Oates' 12 assists in only five NHL All-Star Games. You never truly appreciated how good Oates was when it came to passing outside of his days in St. Louis alongside Brett Hull, but the guy could dish. Joe Sakic is the current leader in active players with 12 assists in eight games.

Most Assists - Single Game: Mats Naslund with five helpers.

Naslund took advantage of playing alongside Mario Lemieux in the 39th NHL All-Star Game in 1988 in St. Louis, Missouri by making it seem like the two players had grown up playing hockey together. Naslund assisted on all three goals by Mario Lemieux as well as goals by Tomas Sandstrom and Peter Stastny. There have been a pile of players to record four assists, but Naslund's record still stands today.

Most Assists - One Period: Adam Oates with four assists.

Oates set the mark during the 44th NHL All-Star Game in 1993 in Montreal, Quebec. His linemates - Mike Gartner and Peter Bondra - scored four of the six goals by the Wales Conference in the period, staking the Wales Conference to a 6-0 lead. Gartner had three goals, while Bondra recorded a single. Playing with two of the speedier players in the league at that time was easy for Oates. He simply had to thread the needle and let the scorers score goals.

Most Points - Career: Wayne Gretzky with 25 points.

It should be no surprise that the most prolific scorer in NHL history also holds the distinction for the NHL All-Star Game. His 13 goals and 12 assists are near the top of both categories, and it only took him 17 games to put up his 25 points. Gordie Howe, who played in the most All-Star Games, ranks third behind Gretzky and Lemieux. Lemieux recorded 22 career points, while Howe finished his career with 19 points.

Most Points - Single Game: Mario Lemieux with six points.

It's hard to believe that this record has stood for 20 years with some of the scores rung up at All-Star Games. Lemieux set this record at the 39th NHL All-Star Game in 1988 in St. Louis in the same game that Naslund set the record for assists in one game. Lemieux's three goals and three assists gave him a point on every goal scored by the Wales Conference in a 6-5 overtime win. There have been a pile of players who have hit five points, but the six points in one game still holds strong today.

Most Points - One Period: Three players with four points.

Gretzky's four-goal performance was highlighted above from 1983. Mike Gartner got mentioned for his three goals in the first period in 1988, but he also added an assist in that period. And Adam Oates recorded four assists in 1993, as seen above as well. Again, it's hard to believe that this record hasn't been broken with some of the ridiculous scores seen over the years.

Most Powerplay Goals - Career: Gordie Howe with six powerplay goals.

With the All-Star Game turning into a game where hits occur as often as blocked shots, powerplays are few and far between. However, back in the 1940s and 1950s, the game was played with a little more tenacity, so powerplay goals were more common. To give an example, Bobby Hull is second in career powerplay goals, and Maurice Richard is third. Six goals might never be touched.

Penalty Minutes - Career: Gordie Howe with 25 minutes in the sin bin.

Howe's All-Star legacy is not without its moments in the penalty box. In 1948 in his first All-Star Game, Howe got into a fight. You read that correctly - a fight in the All-Star Game. Howe squared off with Maple Leaf Gus Mortson in the first fight, which was followed by a Ted Lindsay-Teeder Kennedy scrap in the same game! As an aside, Howe only recorded two "Gordie Howe hat tricks" in his entire career: October 10, 1953 and March 21, 1954. Unofficially, Brendan Shanahan has recorded the most "Gordie Howe hat tricks" in his career with nine, according to The Hockey News. Unfortunately, THN has only tracked the GHHT stats since 1996-97.

Most Games Played by a Goaltender - Career: Glenn Hall with 13 appearances.

Hall, a Saskatchewan native, is way out in front of any active player in NHL history for appearances by a goaltender. His 13 cameos put him two ahead of Terry Sawchuk, long considered a goaltending legend, and Patrick Roy, a legend in his own right. The man they called "Mr. Goalie" played in 502 consecutive games for the Red Wings and Blackhawks, a record that will never be touched. To give you an idea, that's more than six straight seasons of 82 games. Blackhawk fans should know that he was the man who backstopped the 'Hawks to their last Stanley Cup in 1961.

Most Goals Against - Career: Patrick Roy with 31 goals-against.

In just nine games, Patrick Roy was shelled for 31 goals - well off his career numbers. However, there were some other goalies who suffered just as much or worse, and might have surpassed Roy had they played in more All-Star Games. Mike Vernon was hit for 21 goals in five games, while Andy Moog gave up 18 goals in four games.

Best GAA in Two Games or More - Career: Gilles Villemure with a 0.68 GAA in three games.

Who is Gilles Villemure, you ask? He was a goaltender for the New York Rangers and Chicago Black Hawks in the 1960s and 1970s. He began as the backup to Ed Giacomin at the age of 30, but soon took over as the starter with Giacomin inching towards retirement. Villemure stymied the opposition, going 66-27-10 in three seasons as a Ranger with a GAA never above 2.30. He appeared in three All-Star Games during his dazzling three seasons as a starter. As he neared his mid-30s, his play began to slide, and he was traded to Chicago where he backed up Tony Esposito. He never regained the form he had in New York, and retired after the 1976-77 season.

First Goaltender to Record a Point: Arturs Irbe in 1999.

This is one accomplishment that I was blown away by. Considering all the offence in the 1980s, you would think that possibly Grant Fuhr or Ron Hextall may have picked up a point somewhere, right? However, it was Latvian Arturs Irbe who recorded an assist at the 49th NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. Irbe drew the second assist on the World Team's second goal of the game at 2:02 of the second period by Teemu Selanne in an 8-6 loss.

First Brothers to Record a Point on Same Goal: Henri and Maurice Richard in 1956.

This one should be a no-brainer considering how good the Montreal Canadiens were back then, particularly the Richard brothers. The 1956 All-Star Game ended in a tie at 1-1, with the only Montreal goal being produced by the Richards. What astounded me is that it took 44 years for the next brother tandem to record points. It wasn't the Sutters who did it, either. Rather, it was the Bure brothers at the 50th NHL All-Star Game in 2000 in Toronto, Canada. 33 seconds into the second period, Pavel scored on a pass from Valeri to give the World Team a 4-2 lead. While I've searched high and low, I can't find any proof that Max and Doug Bentley combined on Doug's goal in the third period of the 1947 All-Star Game. If anyone finds otherwise, let me know!

First Overtime Game: 31st NHL All-Star Game in 1978 at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo fans went home delighted as the French Connection sparked the Wales Conference. Buafflo's Richard Martin tied the game at 2-2 with his goal in the third period with 1:39 remaining, sending the game into overtime for the first time in NHL history. At 3:39 into the overtime period, Buffalo fans celebrated their All-Stars as Gilbert Perreault netted the winner.

First Penalty-Free Game: 29th NHL All-Star Game in 1976 at Philadelphia Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This one caught me off-guard. The Flyers, known for their intimidating and rough play, hosted the first NHL All-Star Game where there was no time served in the penalty box by any player. The Broad Street Bullies even sent six players to the All-Star Game that year: Bill Barber, Andre Dupont, Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, Wayne Stephenson, and Jimmy Watson.

Most Goals Combined by Both Teams: 26 goals total at the 51st NHL All-Star Game in 2001 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

In what turned out to be a "last goal wins" style of game, the North American Team defeated the World Team by a 14-12 score. It was a line of Americans who dominated the scoresheet as Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, and Tony Amonte recorded six goals and seven assists in the game. Guerin was the MVP with three goals and two assists. Mats Sundin had two goals and two assists for the World Team.

Fastest Goal From Start of Game: Ted Lindsay in 19 seconds.

Lindsay and the Red Wings were all over the NHL All-Stars in the 4th NHL All-Star Game in 1950 as the Wings went on to win 7-1. Lindsay opened the game with a goal just 19 seconds in, and the Wings never looked back. Jacques Laperriere is second-fastest at the 20-second mark in 1970, and Mario Lemieux takes the bronze for scoring at the 21-second mark in 1990.

Fastest Goal From Start of Period: Ray Bourque in 17 seconds.

Bourque opened the second period of the 49th NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay in 1999 in style, scoring just 17 seconds into the frame. The three men above - Lindsay, Laperriere, and Lemieux - sit second, third, and fourth all-time, respectively.

Fewest Goals Combined by Both Teams: Two goals total. It happened twice.

The first time two goals total were scored happened at the 6th National Hockey League All-Star Game in 1952 at the Detroit Olympia in Detroit, Michigan. The First Team NHL All-Stars battled the Second Team NHL All-Stars to a 1-1 tie. The second time that the two teams combined for only two goals, the Richards combined to give Montreal their only goal of that game as the Canadiens battled the NHL All-Stars to a 1-1 tie at the 10th NHL All-Star Game in 1956 in Montreal, Quebec.

Most Goals by One Team: 16 goals by the Wales Conference at the 44th NHL All-Star Game in 1993 in Montreal.

Goal scorers for the Wales Conference in that game included Mike Gartner with four goals, Pierre Turgeon with two goals, Rick Tocchet with two goals, Peter Bondra, Alexander Mogilny, Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Pat LaFontaine, Jaromir Jagr, and Brad Marsh.

Fewest Goals by One Team: Zero goals by the NHL All-Stars at the 20th NHL All-Star Game in 1967 in Montreal, Quebec.

Garry Bauman and Charlie Hodge pitched the 35-save shutout for the Montreal Canadiens, marking it as the only time any team has recorded a shutout in an NHL All-Star Game. Montreal's Henri Richard was voted as the game's MVP while John Ferguson scores twice.

Most Shots Combined by Both Teams: 102 shots on net at the 45th NHL All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.

The game ended with the Eastern Conference All-Stars outshooting the Western Conference All-Stars 56-46. The Eastern Conference won the game by a 9-8 score, and Mike Richter was named the game's MVP after stopping 19 of 21 shots taken by the Western Conference in the second period. The two players to beat him? Paul Coffey and Sandis Ozolinsh - both defencemen. As an aside, the 56 shots taken by the Eastern Conference All-Stars is a record for one team as well.

Fewest Shots Combined by Both Teams: 52 shots on net at the 31st NHL All-Star Game in 1978 at the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.

It's not like the Wales Conference wasn't trying. The Wales Conference All-Stars fired 40 shots in the game compared to the measly 12 shots taken all game, including overtime, by the Campbell Conference. The Wales Conference won 3-2 in overtime, but goaltender Billy Smith of the Campbell Conference was named as the game's MVP, stopping all 16 shots he faced in the first period, much to the disgust of the Buffalo fans. The Campbell Conference shot total went as follows: 5-2-3-2. Horrendous.

Alright, that's enough numbers for today. Tomorrow, the jersey review will be out, and Saturday will be a day of highlights from past All-Star Games as we look at some of the more memorable NHL ASG moments. Lots of stuff to wrap your head around today and the coming days for sure.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!