Saturday 28 February 2009

The Fifth Estate

As a Canadian, we seem to take for granted the amount of quality homegrown television we have on the air. Sure, I've spoken at length about how important Hockey Night In Canada is across this great country of ours, but there is so much more that should be talked about. Granted, this isn't a TV blog, but the CBC does so much for this country with its other programs as well. One of those programs is the investigative news show called The Fifth Estate. Like NBC's Dateline or ABC's 20/20, The Fifth Estate asks the hard questions on the sensitive subjects. Last night was no different.

Yeah, it seems weird of me to be sitting home on a Friday night watching Canada's public broadcasting station, but that's what I did last night. Ok, not all of the night. Just from 9pm until 10pm. Why, you ask? Fighting in hockey.

As you know, I wrote a couple of pieces back in January regarding "the code" and how fighting has changed in the NHL since thew 1980s (find them here, here, and here). While I don't have access to the personalities and people involved in the game, Bob McKeown does through the CBC. And he uses this access to speak to some of the advocates for and against fighting: Don Cherry, Bob McCown, Marty McSorley, Nick Kypreos, Jim Kyte, Dean Brown, Georges Laraque, Jon "Nasty" Mirasty, and Brian Burke.

Let me make something clear: I am not condoning fighting, but I am not against it. There is a time and place for it, and it should never appear in developmental leagues where players are younger than 21. This includes the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL despite there being a willingness to "do whatever is necessary" to make it to the next level. Once you turn pro and are of adult age across North America, you can decide how you want to play the game. But there is not one developmental league that specifically trains enforcers to fight. None. Zero. Zilch.

What Bob McKeown has done with his investigative report is put fighting up for debate. Everyone he interviewed has a different opinion on fighting, but each person feels that mandatory equipment and the instigator rule, it seems, would make fighting safer for all involved.

I'll let you decide on your own. I'm not here to tell you what is right and what is wrong when it comes to fighting in hockey. That's totally up to you, depending on your beliefs and involvement in the game. What I will do is link up the CBC pieces with each person, as well as the entire story. It's up to you to watch them, and it's totally up to you to decide whether or not fighting belongs in hockey.

Please click here for CBC's The Fifth Estate page on fighting in hockey.

If you'd like to contact The Fifth Estate for more information, please click here for the webform. If you'd like a transcript or a video recording of the broadcast, please feel free to call them at 1-800-363-1281.

This is a fantastic piece, and I am thoroughly impressed with The Fifth Estate's thoroughness on this subject. And the best part? It's not some TMZ-style gossip crap. It is real reporting on a subject that we all have an opinion on.

This is why The Fifth Estate continues to rack up awards for their reporting. Well done, CBC, The Fifth Estate, and Bob McKeown!

My question to you - what do you think of the piece, of fighting in hockey, and of the opinions of the people interviewed? Let me know in the comments. I am very interested to see what everyone thinks.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 27 February 2009

Superheroes AKA Masked Men

A couple of weeks ago, Uni Watch Blog bench coach Phil Hecken was approached by a reader who asked about goalie numbers. Being that he's not really as committed to hockey as I am, he forwarded that request to me, suggesting to the reader that I could probably answer the questions off the top of my head. Sure enough, I did, and he suggested we should put together a piece on that for Uni Watch. Unfortunately, I had already turned it into an entry for Hockey Blog In Canada. Undeterred, however, Phil approached me to assist him with something even more interesting than the goalie number: the goalie mask. There’s quite a history behind this invention-out-of-necessity. Below, we’ll examine it’s origins and humble beginnings, taking it from its roots to the beginning of its modern form (which I expect we will explore further at another time). Before we begin, a quick aside from yours truly.

When we originally discussed this idea, I had grandiose visions of a complete history of the goaltender’s mask from its humble starts to the various paint jobs seen today. However, when I really began investigating the mask, it became apparent that it has evolved more than any other piece of equipment in hockey. And, for those of you who think this is just a hockey article, there is information about how hockey intertwined with baseball and fencing. Who knew these sports were related? Anyway, onward!

When one considers dangerous professions, several come to mind: policeman, fireman, tight-rope walker, trapeze performer. But rarely do we consider hockey goaltenders as a dangerous profession. With the modifications in equipment and advancements in technology, today’s goaltenders are more like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man than "masked men". But it’s that very piece of equipment that has changed the way the game has played, and how the goalie mask got started is an interesting look at the history of the sport.

The first recorded instance of a mask being worn in a hockey game by a goaltender came in the late-1920s. There is some debate as to who was first, but we’ll start with the first instance as recorded by the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Hall features an unidentified North American goaltender protecting the net in Switzerland wearing a baseball catcher’s mask. However, there is a photo from 1927 of Elizabeth Graham donning a fencer’s mask in a game for Queen’s University. As to which was first, there is no certainty, but the late-1920s was definitely the first era to have goalies were primitive masks.

The catcher’s mask used in Switzerland was similar to the first mask introduced in baseball by Fred Thayer. Thayer was the player-manager for Harvard’s Baseball Club in the 1870s, and couldn’t find anyone to play catcher for his team. Players weren’t too keen on catching foul balls in the face as they crouched behind home plate. Thayer went about designing a mask for catcher with strong metal bars spaced far apart for better vision than a fencing mask. The finished mask was debuted in spring of 1877, and the first mask was sold in 1878 for $3.

The first mask seen in the NHL was worn by Montreal Maroons goaltender Clint Benedict in 1930. Benedict dropped to make a save on Montreal Canadiens’ star Howie Morenz when he was struck in the face, knocking him unconscious. He awoke in the Montreal hospital with a badly broken nose and a shattered cheekbone. Six weeks later, on February 22, Benedict returned with a mask to protect his still-healing face. It was made of leather supported by wire, and protected the forehead, nose, and mouth, but not the eyes. The nosepiece obstructed Benedict’s view, and he ditched the mask several days later after the first game. Unfortunately, Benedict’s career ended on March 4, 1930 when he was hit in the throat by Howie Morenz. His injury forced him to hang up the skates for good.

The next major mask innovations came about because of another piece of face equipment – eyeglasses. Japanese goaltender Teiji Honma wore his historic cage at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany to protect his eyeglasses. The mask has been modified to protect the frames of his glasses. Ironically, Roy Musgrove wore a half-mask used for field lacrosse while playing for the Wembley Lions of the British National Hockey League in 1936 – coached by none other than Clint Benedict! Musgrove donned the half-mask to protect his glasses while he tended to the twine.

The NHL, though, didn’t see another mask worn until a gentleman named Delbert Louch from St. Mary’s. Ontario sent all six goaltenders a clear, plastic, full-face shield in 1954 that was a precursor to visors seen in the NHL. There were complaints of it fogging up, causing glare, and being too warm for goalies to wear, but it was endorsed by Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk and Toronto goalie Johnny Bower. However, it was never worn in a game.

November 1, 1959 changed the way fans saw the game forever. Andy Bathgate, who just had his number retired by the New York Rangers, fired a high backhand on net that caught Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Jacques Plante in the face. The resulting cut on Plante’s face sent him to the trainer’s room, causing a 45 minutes delay in the game. When he returned from getting stitched up, his face was dramatically different – he was wearing a mask!

Bill Burchmore had witnessed Plante getting hit in the forehead with a puck, resulting in a 45 minute delay in the game while he was being stitched up. While at work the next day, Burchmore was looking at a fibreglass mannequin head when he realized the he could design a contoured, lightweight fibreglass mask that would fit the goalie’s face like a protective second skin. Burchmore gave Plante his idea, and Plante was persuaded by his trainers to give it a try. A mold was taken of Plante’s face by putting a woman’s stocking over his head, covering his face with Vaseline, and allowing him to breath through a straws stuck in both nostrils while his head was covered with plaster. Burchmore layered sheets of fibreglass cloth saturated with polyester resin on top of the mold. The result was the flesh-toned 0.125 in (52 mm) thick mask that weighed only 14 oz (397 g).

Despite Toe Blake’s resistance to allowing Plante on the ice with the mask after he recovered from his injury, Plante donned the mask for the rest of the season. Burchmore finally built up the courage to write to Plante with his molded fibreglass mask idea in the spring of 1959, and convinced Plante to have his face covered in fibreglass. Plante began wearing his new formed mask at the start of the 1959-60 season, and showed a renewed courage in standing up to blasts.

Burchmore’s mask wasn’t three months old when he came up with a new mask design. This new design was made of fibreglass yarn instead of sheets of fibreglass. This allowed for better ventilation as the yarn could be fashioned into "bars" much like the baseball catchers’ masks of yesteryear. The first design that Burchmore gave to Plante resembled that of a twisted pretzel, and the "pretzel mask" was born. Due to the design of the bars, however, this mask weighed a tiny 10.3 oz. The pretzel mask, with its improved ventilation and light weight, was worn by NHL stars such as Cesar Maniago and Charlie Hodge into the 1960s.

Detroit Red Wings trainer, Ross "Lefty" Wilson, came up with another design in the early-1960s after Terry Sawchuk went down with another facial injury, infuriating Red Wings’ GM Jack Adams. Wilson’s primitive mask design was accepted by the Leatherface-looking Sawchuk, and he donned it permanently by October, 1962. Wilson began making masks for a large number of goalies throughout the NHL who wore them in games and practices, charging a mere $35 for his creations.

Roy Weatherbee advanced the pretzel mask again by furthering the protectiveness of the mask by studying the tensile properties of fibreglass, and his improved design was worn by a large number of older goaltenders as we entered the 1967 Expansion age. However, a large number of the up-and-coming netminders were already wearing the next mask design at this time.

In 1968, a young netminder named Neil Higgins was complaining to his father, Ernie Higgins, about the store-bought mask he was wearing while at Boston College. It didn’t fit properly, but it was all the younger Higgins could wear. Ernie Higgins went about designing a new mask for his son, and, after five years, had perfected his design and mask-making technique. **Thank you Janet-Marie for the timeline correction!**

After the design that Neil Higgins was wearing made it into the Boston Gardens’ home team dressing room, Ernie Higgins was invited to meet with Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers about his design. Cheevers wasn’t fond of the flat Wilson mask as he found it to slide around on his face while he played. Higgins recognized the need for a more curved mask to hug the face, and went about getting a mask ready for Cheevers that wouldn’t move. In 1968, Cheevers debuted a model that had a few recognizable Higgins' traits: the ventilation slits across the forehead formed a T-shape, and the cheek ventilation holes were triangular for maximum ventilation.

By 1969, Higgins was a full-time mask maker, retiring from his first profession of plumbing. He continued to tinker with his design, adding the back plate to secure the mask tightly to the head, and extending the sides to protect more of the goaltender’s head and face. In the mid-1970s, the helmets worn by Doug Favell and Gary Smith were essentially the precursor to the masks seen today. As an aside, Higgins' work in masks led him to designing prosthetic devices and casts for injured athletes and accident victims, most notably for the leg of Boston Red Sox slugger Ken Harrelson.

Jacques Plante returned to the mask scene in 1970 when he founded a company called Fibrosport in Magog, Quebec. Fibrosport made masks of fibreglass and an epoxy resin that featured ridges to deflect pucks away from the face, preventing the full impact of the puck from being absorbed by the goalie’s face. The price for a Fibrosport mask ranged from $12 to $150, and was worn by a large majority of goaltenders until 1979 when masks changed significantly.

Mask designers got a huge shock from the Summit Series in 1972 when the Canadian NHL All-Stars squared off against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It was here that everyone first witnessed the peculiar "birdcage" mask worn by Vladislav Tretiak. Tretiak’s mask allowed for good ventilation and an excellent field of vision, resulting in better play compared to his Canadian counterparts. This new cage would be the next major piece in the evolution of the mask. The "birdcage"-style of facial protection wouldn’t make it to the NHL, though, until 1976.

Greg Harrison and Michel Lefebvre added to the Fibrosport design by extending the chin downward to cover the throat. Harrison added a hinge to his throat protection for better movement, but the large extension downward was cumbersome for goaltenders who needed to be able to look from shoulder-to-shoulder.

In 1976, New York Rangers’ goaltender Gilles Gratton donned a helmet with a cage, looking a lot like Tretiak’s mask seen four years earlier. It wasn’t long before Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender Don Edwards followed suit, and the "birdcage" began to catch on as the mask of choice. Fibreglass masks appeared to be heading the way of the dodo.

Additionally, 1977 saw Buffalo’s Gerry Desjardins suffered a horrific injury when a puck caught the eyehole in his fibreglass mask, putting his vision in serious jeopardy. It caused him to retire prematurely, and, in 1978, the Canadian Standards Association banned the use of fibreglass masks for minor hockey. Bernie Parent’s eye injury the following year forced a large number of goaltenders to abandon their fibreglass masks for the birdcage design.

In 1979, the fibreglass mask was nearly dead. However, change was already on the way. Veteran goaltender Dave Dryden and designer Greg Harrison met in 1977. Dryden was convinced that the cage was the safest facial protection for goalies, but wanted the tight fit to the head that the fibreglass mask provided. Harrison mocked up a design that incorporated both the cage and the tight fit. What was born was the "hybrid mask". Phil Myre was the first to adopt the hybrid, wearing it for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1981.

The hybrid mask is what is worn by the majority of goaltenders today (Chris Osgood not included). It is secured by a back plate to allow for movement of the head, and features a large cage for good ventilation and vision. The chin protection helps to protect the throat, and it provides the most protection while being lightweight.

Clearly, the innovation and evolution of the goalie mask is a large story. 70 years of changes saw the mask evolve from baseball catchers’ masks and fencing masks to intricately-designed pieces of artwork.

As a post-script to this, the Hedberg mask seen above is his new design, entitled "Indiana Moose" in keeping with his helmet's Moose theme.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 26 February 2009

Break It Down!

There has been a somewhat surprising lack of commentary on the Ryan Whitney-for-Chris Kunitz and spare parts deal made by Pittsburgh and Anaheim today. While it seems that sides are divided on who essentially won the trade, both teams seem to fill glaring holes. Anaheim, in the tightly-contested Western Conference, needed to improve their blueline while securing a quality defender for the future. Pittsburgh, desperate for a scoring threat to play alongside Sidney Crosby, acquired Kunitz who, for all intents and purposes, should slot in beside Sid for the foreseeable future. The Penguins also acquired junior player Eric Tangradi, currently starring with the OHL's Belleville Bulls, to help the team in the future after dealing away Angelo Esposito last season at the deadline.

The terms "winner" and "loser" in a trade don't really fit here since it all depends on your perspective. Whitney's return from injury caused the Penguins to send Alex Goligoski back to the AHL, and created a logjam of defenders in Steeltown. Moving him was a result of his contract and his recent poor play. At 26 years of age, he still has a huge upside, but he simply looked out of place in his own zone with the Penguins.

In Anaheim, he can play on the second unit and pair up with one of Pronger, Niedermayer, or Beauchemin to give the Ducks one of the deepest bluelines in the West. He'll help a powerplay with his shot and puck movement, and he still has a good breakout pass from his own end - perfect for scoring threats like Selanne, Perry, and Getzlaf. Being coached by a former Norris winner in Randy Carlyle should only help him in his own zone in front of Giguere and Hiller.

"I know that I can play better than I have this year and I think I will," Whitney said about the trade to The Associated Press. "It's about me getting some confidence back and having a new start."

While it was known for some time that Whitney was possibly up for sale at the trading post, I don't think anyone could have predicted getting Chris Kunitz back from Anaheim. He has 16 goals and 19 assists this season, but could see a dramatic rise in his output if he and Crosby click as expected. He's a great hustle guy who isn't afraid to go into the corners, and seems to enjoy the battles. His conditioning with the Penguins shouldn't be a problem as he was logging over 27 minutes per game on the west coast.

Once again, though, the Penguins get a little smaller. Giving up Whitney hurts their size on the back end, and Kunitz isn't the big, power winger that Crosby appears to have needed. Kunitz will have to continue to play as a plus-player - the Penguins need to get a better effort from their backchecking forwards if they want to climb into a playoff spot.

Where this trade may look like a mismatch is through the development of throw-in Eric Tangradi. Tangradi is currently second in OHL scoring, posting 38 goals and 49 assists with Belleville. When GM Ray Shero traded Armstrong, Christensen, and Esposito to Atlanta last season, there were some serious questions raised about the number of good, young prospects in the Penguins' organization. With the addition of Tangradi, the Penguins may have added a legitimate scoring threat for the AHL Baby Penguins next season.

All in all, this trade should benefit both teams. Are these the pieces needed for this year's playoff push? Time will tell, but neither of these players should be a cause to sound any alarms with their new teams.

In a second trade today, the Montreal Canadiens sent forward Steve Begin to the Dallas Stars for journeyman defenceman Doug Janik. I'm not sure how this helps the Montreal Canadiens whatsoever, but Dallas is getting a hard-nosed, grinding forward who can wear down opponents.

I've never understood why depth players like Begin are cast aside by teams. They are the guys who coaches send out to do the dirty work - skate the opposition's top line and throw a lot of checks; chip in a goal to swing momentum of a game; or to shut down and pester a player who has a scoring touch. Begin did all of these things well, and never once complained about ice time or playing on the fourth line publicly. While he asked GM Bob Gainey for a trade if he wasn't going to be used after having been a healthy scratch for the last five games, it was his depth and energy that seemed to break the Canadiens out of slumps. Begin wasn't Ovechkin, but he brought intangibles to the table when he played.

The acquisition of Janik by the Canadiens gives them some depth, albeit not much. Since turning pro in 2001, Janik has played in 159 NHL games, recording three goals and thirteen assists. He's obviously not going to shoot the lights out like Mike Green, but his lack of playing time in the NHL clearly speaks volumes. With the majority of his games coming between 2006 and 2008 with the Tampa Bay Lightning - one in which they were the worst team in the league - I still have no idea why Gainey would take a chance on Janik, especially when he has to clear waivers.

"It was more of a wish than a demand," said Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey to The Canadian Press. "I believe this will be a good opportunity for Steve and we also capture a defence player with NHL experience who will be available to us if he clears waivers."

That's a huge "if". Look at what happened with goaltender Wade Dubielewicz earlier this season. He was supposed to be suiting up with the Islanders, but the Blue Jackets claimed his off waivers. The same thing could essentially happen to Janik, leaving Montreal with nothing in return for dealing Begin.

Honestly, though, who is that desperate to claim Janik?

I really think Begin could be the grinding forward that Brett Hull wanted Sean Avery to be this season. Good on the Stars for picking up the veteran for, literally, nothing.

Trading season is starting! March 4 is officially the big day, but another big piece of the pie has been moved as Whitney is off the board. Who will be next?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 25 February 2009

This And That

There is absolutely no reason for starting this entry with a Ren and Stimpy image, but I had it floating around on my desktop, and I really like the old cartoons. Nothing was better than old Ren and Stimpy cartoons as I was progressing through grade school, and I'll even admit that I bought Season One on DVD because I like the crude cartoon so much. However, cartoons always seem to offer a character like Wile E. Coyote who gets tripped up by the same prank every time. And tonight, it felt like a Roadrunner cartoon simply due to a few recurring themes in the hockey world.

  • The New York Rangers lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs again. The only difference? John Tortorella was behind the bench tonight. It took a shootout, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but the Rangers really need to start beating teams below them. This slide has got to stop. Wade Redden, looking for some relief of the harsh criticism, did score the Rangers' lone goal in the 2-1 shootout loss, so he has to feel good about that.
  • Speaking about things that stay the same, why is it that the Islanders always seem to play Pittsburgh like it's 1993 again? Pittsburgh scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win, but it was an UGLY game. Sykora scored the only goal, so it's a vital two points for the Penguins, but they should blow them out when comparing rosters on paper.
  • I was surprised to read that Calgary billionaire and CBC's Dragon's Den panelist Brett Wilson has a handshake agreement in place with the Nashville Predators to purchase a reported 5% stake in the team. Wilson is an admitted sports fan, but I never thought he'd buy into a team like the Predators. However, Predators majority owner David Freeman and Wilson own a minor-league baseball team in Jackson, Tennessee together as well as English soccer team Derby County. This seems to be an extension of their business partnership and friendship.
  • Trade deadline talk is boring me. I don't care about who the Leafs are going to move. I only care about who is moving. Let's wait until March 4 before we start getting our panties in a bunch, ok, mainstream media? Thanks.
  • Coming up on Friday: I've been asked by Uni Watch Blog bench coach Phil Hecken to assist him with an article. I found it to be a pretty informative piece, so I'll cross-post it here as well, and you guys can have a read. Tune in for a comprehensive piece.
  • I also got an email from a lady by the name of Maria who wanted some info on fighting in hockey. I provided a piece in which I defended "the code", and she said she would get back to me with the final product. What is it being used for? No idea yet, but I'm hoping it will be used to help explain why fighting in hockey today is far more dangerous than it was 15 years ago. Once I get the word from Maria, I'll link up what she came up with.
  • Lastly, thanks to all who voted for me in the Greatest Job contest. I cannot say "thank you" enough to all of you, but I really could use your help if you haven't voted. Please read here, and vote if you can. Thanks.
Ok, that's all for tonight. I have a few things on the go, so I'll be back tomorrow with updates. I really need some sleep too, so I'm gonna go get me some of that. Take care, everyone!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Nothing To Do With Hockey

This entry has absolutely nothing to do with hockey one bit, but I figured I needed the help of the readers of this site. Why? Because you guys rule. I decided to enter into the running for "The Best Job In The World". You may have heard of this - Tourism Queensland in Australia is offering a six-month contract to someone who will blog about all the cool stuff that happens on and around the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Well, I decided that I wanted this opportunity.

There's a lot that goes on behind the monitor where I write. I take pride in the environment and doing green, environmental things. I reduce, reuse, and recycle as often as I can, and I rarely just "throw stuff out". Being green takes a little effort, but it has so many benefits - saving money, saving the world, less greenhouse gases - and that's important to all of us, even if you don't believe in the science of it.

I like to have fun. Everyone does. And I really think this job will be fun. But - and let me make this entirely clear - I will never take this job for granted. Much like I do on this blog, I will report and give my opinion. I will make jokes and have fun stuff available for you to peruse. I will dedicate myself to this new endeavour as much as I dedicate myself here.

Secondly, I volunteer at my local zoo in the Education Department, and there is an extreme need to help save the Great Barrier Reef. It is one of the most important ecological habitats in the ocean for animals and coral species, and it is being eliminated at an alarming rate. The Reef is home to over 1500 species of fish and 400 hard and soft coral species. Changing the environment in the slightest way not only impacts the fish species, but significantly affects the coral species of the Reef.

Why is it suffering? For starters, coral shouldn't be handled with bare hands or stood upon for any reason. It is a living organism, and should be treated as such. I mean, you don't want somebody wiping their feet on your cat or dog, do you? The oils on our skin can actually cause problems with the coral polyps' mucous membranes, and the coral will stop feeding if it feels threatened.

Coral also suffers from man-made problems like pollution, fishing, and anchors. Pollution includes sewage, fertilizer, oil spills, and the dumping of various chemicals and sediments in the rivers and ocean. Fishing methods cause bleaching of the coral - a dangerous and lethal problem for coral. Anchors will break apart the coral skeleton when they are dragged or land upon coral reefs. In all three cases, the organisms making up the reef almost entirely die.

Secondly, coral has predators like every organism on the planet. Crown-of-thorns starfish are the largest predator of coral in the Great Barrier Reef. There is usually a very delicate balance between predator and prey so as to not upset the balance of life in the Reef, but occasionally the starfish have a population explosion where they will consume the coral faster than it can rebuild itself. At times, divers have been encouraged to pick the starfish off the coral to help preserve it, but this should only be done by someone trained in how to remove the crown-of-thorns starfish as they are covered with poisonous spines.

Combined, these reasons are causing the Great Barrier Reef to diminish in size at an alarming rate. While it's hard to judge how much has been lost, there is a definite realization that it is smaller than what it was just a decade ago.

Why is the Great Barrier Reef so important? I mean, it's just a coral reef, right? It's a spectacular vision from under the water, but does it serve any purpose other than being an ocean piece of artwork?

You bet it does. It's a protective area for fish and micro-organisms. Large predators such as sharks and whales can't get into the small crevices of the coral reef, providing protection for a large number of those 1500 fish species. The area between the outer and inner edges of the Reef acts as a place for fish to spawn and for eggs to develop into the next generation of fish.

Those gorgeous beaches you see in pictures of Australia? Protected by the Great Barrier Reef as well. The Reef acts as a cushion to protect Australia's shorelines from the ocean waves that come crashing in. The outer edge of the Reef absorbs the impact of the wave, and the water settles by the time it reaches the beaches along the coastline.

It also acts as a regulator for the ocean. If you've ever looked after a pool, you know there is a large amount of work that goes into it in terms of maintaining the pH levels and cleanliness. Leave a pool for too long, and it can become green, dirty, covered in algae, and have low pH. Put too much chlorine in, and it becomes impossible to swim in. The Great Barrier Reef looks after this part of keeping the ocean beautiful by helping to regulate the amount of calcite and aragonite in the ocean water.

This will feel like a chemistry lesson here, but bear with me. The calcium carbonate in the coral skeletons of the Reef are actually more vulnerable to disappearing with falling pH levels. As the concentration of the carbonate ions fall from supersaturated levels, the pH level drops in the ocean. It's a delicate balance.

When carbonate becomes undersaturated, structures made of calcium carbonate - skeletons of coral, for example - begin to dissolve in the water in order to bring the balance of carbonate ions in the water back up. Essentially, as the water becomes more acidic, the coral reefs are sacrificed to bring the water back to its neutral state.

Wow. Ok, so you made it this far. And you're probably asking yourself why you're still here, right? This is the important part where you come in.

I need you. I need you to help me. I need you to vote for me so that I can put my beliefs into action in Australia. If you vote for me, I will be eternally grateful for your help. I can't give you anything or send you anything as a "thank you", but I really appreciate the help you can provide.

Outside of hockey, this is my second major passion, and I really would like the opportunity to show off this other side of me to the world.

So, will you help me? Click here to vote for me. Granted, it's not the best video or the most entertaining, creative video, but it's me chatting about why I'd like the job.

That is all. More hockey to come shortly. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled hockey blog.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 23 February 2009

The European Curse

I was searching for images of guillotines for today's news when it occurred to me that Tom Renney's firing from the New York Rangers had a commonality between him and three other men this season. Long gone are Barry Melrose and Craig Hartsburg from their respective teams, and Michel Therrien joined those two last week. While Tampa Bay never even came close to their potential under Melrose, Hartsburg seemed out of answers when it came to the Ottawa Senators and their season-long funk thus far. Pittsburgh has struggled mightily as well this season, and Therrien was shown the door after two-thirds of an underachieving season. It now appears that Tom Renney, while unable to turn around a dreadful two months, will be joining the other three men who opened the season overseas with games in Europe.

While I'm not saying that next season's European tour featuring the Blackhawks, Panthers, Red Wings, and Blues will result in pink slips for Joel Quenneville, Peter deBoer, Mike Babcock, and Andy Murray, the fact is that the four men who started the season in Europe this year are gone from their teams. Fired and dismissed like yesterday's trash.

Honestly, though, there have been rumblings in New York for some time about Renney's apparent lack of ability behind the bench, although you'd never hear it from the players. Renney's lack of fire and emotion behind the bench was a detriment to his team apparently, thus making his calm demeanor less valuable as a steady influence to young players.

Excuse me, but I don't buy that for a second. I may have repeated it, but it seems like a steaming pile of you-know-what. And that's what this article is about today.

In every single case of these four teams - New York, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay - the management model is the same. All four teams have between two and four players signed to massive contracts. All four teams have an apparent lack of depth. And all four teams have struggled mightily this year, especially through injuries.

All four coaches struggled to ice lineups this season that could compete with the likes of the Bruins, Red Wings, Sharks, Devils, or Capitals. All four coaches struggled with shaky, inconsistent goaltending and untested, unreliable back-up goaltenders. All four coaches had special teams that went ice-cold for long stretches of the season thus far. And all four coaches are now watching from home.

While the coaches are somewhat responsible for their team's play, the majority of blame has to be dumped at Glen Sather's door for the Rangers' struggles. This is a team that plays far too soft far too often. Bringing back Sean Avery won't help this team get any tougher either. When Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Markus Naslund, and Wade Redden are earning $28.1 million and posting combined totals of 47 goals, 89 assists, and a -45, are you happy with your return on investment this season? When Alexander Ovechkin is four goals behind the four top-salaried players on your team for the entire season, you know you have problems.

The same problems plague the Lightning, Senators, and Penguins - all three teams struggle to score. The only difference is that Lecavalier, Heatley, Malkin and Crosby are scoring for those teams. Unlike the Rangers, the guys being paid the most are producing. Where they struggle is in the depth department.

Look, I think Renney is a solid coach who succumbed to the same problems as Hartsburg and Therrien - an underachieving club riddled with injuries and listlessness who, on paper, should be a lot better. I also think that this won't be the last we see of Tom Renney, and he'll surface with another team before long.

But is Tom Renney to blame for the Rangers' woes? No. Not entirely. Everyone involved is responsible to a degree. After all, Renney fills out the line-up, sets lines, devises a system, and gets the players to buy in. But when the players who are earning the most money aren't scoring goals and you have to sacrifice good depth players to sign these albatrosses, the blame must be shifted to the man putting the depth chart together: the general manager.

The Rangers seemingly have been running off Sather's past for a long time. Yes, he built the Edmonton Oilers from literally nothing, and he deserves recognition for that. However, since 1990, what has Sather done? Not much, if you ask me. Smoking cigars in the pressbox notwithstanding.

Look at his draft history since he took over in 2000. For players drafted in the Top-50, where you expect to draft solid, first-line players, Sather has acquired:

  • Dan Blackburn (10th overall, 2001) - retired from hockey.
  • Fedor Tyutin (40th overall, 2001) - Columbus Blue Jacket.
  • Lee Falardeau (33rd overall, 2002) - 83 AHL games to date.
  • Hugh Jessiman (12th overall, 2003) - 215 AHL games to date.
  • Ivan Baranka (50th overall, 2003) - playing in the KHL.
  • Al Montoya (6th overall, 2004) - 153 AHL games to date.
  • Lauri Korpikoski (19th overall, 2004) - 11 points, 47 GP.
  • Marc Staal (12th overall, 2005) - 15 points in 139 NHL games.
  • Michael Sauer (40th overall, 2005) - 116 AHL games to date.
  • Bob Sanguinetti (21st overall, 2006) - 67 AHL games to date.
  • Alexei Cherepanov (17th overall, 2007) - deceased.
  • Michael Del Zotto (20th overall, 2008) - still playing junior hockey.
Out of all those players, Staal is the only one taking a regular shift. Korpikoski has been a scratch several times this season, and Sather traded Fedor Tyutin in the Nikolai Zherdev deal. The rest of them? Nowhere to be seen. Sather gets a pass on Cherepanov simply due to the unfortunate circumstances, but when you draft like that, it's no wonder that your team is floundering. And who is the guy who is required to sign off on every draft pick that the Rangers make? GM Glen Sather.

If there is anything I want to see in the NHL this season, it's a GM who says "you know, I screwed up, not my head coach". I'll give credit to Brian Burke for calling out his players, but I want to see someone call out the general manager for stupid personnel moves. While owners rely on their general managers to make smart, shrewd personnel moves, Rangers' owner James Dolan may want to call Sather into his office for a little sit-down.

$28.1 million for four players who have produced next to nothing, an abysmal draft record, and another early-round exit in the playoffs. It doesn't sound like Glen Sather has done much of anything in nine years to rebuild the Blueshirts into the Detroit of the eastern seaboard.

And isn't that what he was hired to do?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 22 February 2009

Blast From The Past

Remember when these things to the left were all the rage? Arcade machines seem to have fallen to the wayside recently with all the innovations in video game technology. Oh sure, you still have your Dance Dance Revolutions and your Street Fighter vs. Every Important Video Game Character Ever Made series of games, but there is a definite void in my life where I used to plug quarters into machines. There was always one type of game that was missing from the arcade palace, and that was a solid hockey arcade game. Sure, you had the occasional air hockey table or bubble hockey game, but there was a complete lack of attention paid to hockey from video game manufacturers. Well, today I found an arcade palace who had not one, but TWO hockey arcade games!

The first was a terrible, quarter-eating version of the old Nintendo stand-by called Blades of Steel. It was a 12,000-in-one style of arcade that featured something like a dozen Konami-made games, but one of the games was Blades of Steel.

Honestly, the gameplay was horrible. Each quarter would get you one minute of actual game play time, and the period was four minutes long. So, in essence, you had to plug a dollar into the machine just to play to a 0-0 tie in the first half. If the computer scored on you, you lost 10 seconds of time you paid for. However, if you scored, you earned an additional 30 seconds of time paid-for. Like the Nintendo version of the game, there were definite ways to score easy goals.

One of the funniest parts of the game, however, are the fights. The arcade game has players yelling insults at each other like "hey, you're brain-damaged!" or "hey, pretty face!". Yeah, 1987 wasn't so politically-correct. The fights are pretty crappy after that, but the fact that a player calls another player "brain-damaged" was almost worth the sleeve of quarters I plugged into the machine.

I won the first game I played by a 9-8 score after what felt like playing for an hour, and then I just walked away. I couldn't waste anymore time on a game that really felt it would be better on the old 8-bit Nintendo. And plugging that much money into a machine that left me that unfulfilled was like plugging a parking meter for a bicycle. Ridiculous.

The second game, which was entirely more enjoyable, was the 2 On 2 Open Ice Challenge. The game was licensed by both the NHL and NHLPA, so the stars of the NHL took to the ice in the game. However, being that this game was released in 1995, it took a little figuring out who would be good before I began choosing teams. Honestly, this game feels a lot like NBA Jam, and it's a pretty fun.

Teams include most of the NHLPA's bigger stars including Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved (Pittsburgh); Teemu Selanne, Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhamnov (Winnipeg); and Joe Sakic, Claude Lemieux and Owen Nolan (Colorado). After defeating the Hartford Whalers with Pittsburgh by a 14-10 score, I dominated Detroit with the Winnipeg Jets by a 15-7 score - yeah, that would never happen in real-life, but I got ridiculous goaltending from Tim Cheveldae. There are a ton of NHL stars featured, and a number of them have already been inducted to the Hall-of-Fame. Classic gaming, indeed!

If you get a chance to play this game, have at it. I must have plugged two or three dollars into this machine, and it was totally worth it. Without a doubt, it is the best hockey arcade machine I have found to date. And, as a bonus, the New York Islanders' logo when choosing them comes up as the Fisherman. Huge bonus points for that detail!

Are there any others that aren't carried by my local arcade palace? I'm not talking console games either, people. Don't bring those up. How about a pinball game? I have never seen a hockey pinball game, but you would think that would be a pretty solid game with nets, and boards, and players as bumpers. Hit me up in the comments with any other games I may have missed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 21 February 2009

Hockey Day In Canada '09

Hockey Day In Canada is taking place right now in Campbellton, New Brunswick. I'll be the first to say that the weather in New Brunswick looks a heckuva lot better than what it did for Hockey Day In Canada in Winkler, Manitoba last year. However, like the people of Winkler, everyone from Campbellton is out in full force with all the CBC crew, and it appears that CBC has put on another highly-successful Hockey Day In Canada. Of course, there will be NHL games played today that feature all six Canadian teams, the one thing I really enjoy the most about Hockey Day In Canada are the features on the grassroots movements and the lesser-heard stories. This is why Hockey Day In Canada is so great.

One of the first things that happened this week was surprise visit to Campbellton Middle School by Coach's Corner icon, Don Cherry. The kids at Campbellton Middle School had been busy for over two months in preparing for the CBC's arrival, decorating their school "with hundreds of ties and images of Don Cherry" as they waited for the CBC's arrival. While Don Cherry had nothing on his itinerary about stopping at the school, he changed it up and made the special visit once he heard about what the kids had done. That is why Hockey Day In Canada is so special.

"Cherry was greeted with a deafening roar from the roughly 265 Grade 5 to 8 students who had not been expecting to see the former NHL coach". Cherry greeted the children and had photos taken with him before autographing a large number of the paper versions of himself.

Not everyone likes Don Cherry, and that's alright. However, it's this kind of outreach by the outspoken hockey personality that makes events like this so memorable. 11 year-old Spencer Irvine, a Grade Five student, had his picture taken with Cherry. How long do you think he'll talk about that? I guarantee you that was the only thing he talked about for days.

I'm not saying that the NHL doesn't do things like this, but keeping the grassroots movements going is vital to the success of the NHL. While the NHL itself is big-city, big business, the tiny communities and smaller markets are where a lot of the support for the NHL in Canada comes from. And the NHL needs to start looking at this when trying to grow the game in the USA.

The CBC also had a special feature on the goaltenders of Team Canada's women's team in Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonté. The relationship these two women have is a special one as they both push one another on the ice to be better. St-Pierre used to tend the nets for the McGill Martlets, while Labonté currently backstops the Martlets in the CIS and won a CIS Championship last season. However, both women say that there is a genuine respect for one another as they battle for the starting spot, and that each is the other's biggest fan.

Again, the fun relationship these two have is something you never see off the ice unless you're directly involved with the team. Having this type of feature available on Hockey Day In Canada only furthers the game as young girls everywhere have idols to look up to and emulate. Canadian women's hockey is strong, but keeping it in the spotlight will only help the game. Thanks to St-Pierre and Labonté, there should be no shortage of chatter about Team Canada in Vancouver.

Something else I think is phenomenal is the offering of the featured games on CBC today in languages other than English and French. Tonight's game between Montreal and Ottawa will be offered in Cantonese. The second game between Vancouver and Toronto will be offered in both Punjabi and Italian. And the third game between Calgary and Edmonton will also be offered in Punjabi.

Canada is a multicultural country where everyone is encouraged to celebrate their roots and honour traditions. It was how the country was built, and it is something we take pride in. With the number of minority groups in Canada growing, it makes sense to offer the game in languages other than the two "official" languages, and this really brings the game home to those who are interested in hockey, but may not be comfortable or familiar with the terms and diction used in English and French when describing a hockey game. This really speaks volumes, in my opinion, about the CBC and their efforts to keep the game strong in the Great White North.

I'm not saying that what the CBC does on its broadcasts is entirely perfect. I still feel there are too many Toronto Maple Leaf games on Hockey Night In Canada, but I'm not in charge of scheduling and programming. What I can say, though, is that I am proud of the CBC for the work they do in growing the game and keeping hockey in the minds of Canadians.

There's no denying that when Team Canada takes to the ice, the country stops and watches. And when Team Canada wins, it's a huge sense of pride for the entire country. However, every player that dons the red-and-white starts on a community rink somewhere across this great land.

Having the CBC reach out to those communities and inviting the rest of the country in is one of the major reasons why Hockey Night In Canada is still the premiere broadcast for hockey in the world. Kudos to the CBC on what appears to be another highly-successful Hockey Day In Canada. And a huge thank you to Campbellton, New Brunswick for allowing us to be a part of your community.

After all, any one of the kids in Campbellton who are on the ice today might be the next player who wears Team Canada's colours in an international event. Make sure you check out the 2009 Hockey Day In Canada website for lots of info!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 20 February 2009

Oscar Night

I'm not sure if you're aware, but this Sunday is the 81st Annual Academy Awards where the greatest films and stars of 2008 will be honoured for the work done on the silver screen. While this writer has some interest in seeing who wins, I have no interest in watching four hours of gift baskets being handed out to the people who need them the least. Instead, I present to you tonight's first installment of Hockey Blog In Canada's Academy Award weekend. Oscar Night is all about players named Oscar who have played in the NHL. If you think about it, you might be able to name one, maybe two players named Oscar who have enjoyed success in the NHL. And strangely, there haven't been many high-profile Oscars who have enjoyed long careers in the NHL. However, tonight's look at the Oscars will bring a little fun to what is sometimes a monotonous evening of speeches and fake reactions.

Best Short Film, Live Action
aka The Oscar Who Played The Least Amount of NHL Games

Winner: Oscar Aubuchon. Aubuchon was born in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec on January 1, 1917. He only appeared in 50 NHL games in his short career, the majority coming with the Rangers where he suited up for 38 games. The other 12 games were spent as a Boston Bruin. Career numbers? Twenty goals and twelve assists for 32 points. His 50 NHL games lasted from 1942 until 1944. Not much to speak of, but Oscar Aubuchon did play in the NHL.

Best Achievement In Costume Design
aka The Oscar Who Lived Out of a Suitcase

Winner: Oscar Asmundson. Asmundson was born on November 17, 1908 in Red Deer Alberta. He broke into the NHL in 1932 with the New York Rangers. After 94 games over two seasons, Asmundson played three games for the Detroit Red Wings to start the 1934-35 season after being sold to Detroit by New York. He then was moved to the St. Louis Eagles for 11 more NHL games. Asmundson moved on to play one game in 1936-37 for the New York Americans. 1937-38 saw Asmundson dress for two games with the Montreal Canadiens. Total NHL games? 111. Stats? Eleven goals and 23 assists over those games. Total teams played for? 17, including minor-league franchises. He did, however, win a Stanley Cup in 1932-33 with the Rangers in his first season, so that has to count for something.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
aka The Oscar Who Appears to be The Best Prospect

Winner: Oskar Osala. Osala was born on December 26, 1987 in Vaasa, Finland. Osala has only played one NHL game thus far in his career (he wore #48 in that game), but the Washington Capitals' prospect appears to ready to take the next step. After spending two seasons with the OHL's Mississauga Ice Dogs from 2005-07 where he put up 39 goals and 48 assists in 112 games, he joined the Finnish Elite team Espoo Blues in 2007-08. In 53 games in Finland's best league, Osala recorded 18 goals and 17 assists. He rejoined the Capitals' AHL franchise in Hershey this past season, and has excelled. In 53 games thus far with the Bears, Osala has recorded 19 goals and 12 assists. He was named AHL Rookie of the Month in November, and has helped the Bears remain as one of the elite teams in the AHL this season. Without a doubt, Osala appears to be one of the many young stars that Washington has stockpiled.

Other nominees: Oscar Hedman (Washington Capitals prospect), Oscar Bartulis (Philadelphia Flyers prospect).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
aka The Oscar Who Looks Like a Bonafide Star

Winner: Oscar Möller. Möller was born on January 22, 1989 in Stockholm, Sweden. The Swedish forward really impressed NHL scouts with his play for the WHL's Chilliwack Bruins after joining the club in 2006. Over the course of 131 WHL games, Möller racked up 71 goals and 81 assists. He scored over a point-per-game pace throughout his WHL career, prompting the Los Angeles Kings to draft Möller 52nd overall in 2007. He skipped past the AHL, joining the Kings straight out of training camp this season. Of course, Kings GM Dean Lombardi allowed Möller to join Team Sweden for this past year's World Junior Championship where he was one of the better players in the tournament before being sidelined with a broken clavicle in the semi-final. He has helped Sweden bring home silver in the last two World Junior tournaments, captaining this year's team. In 31 games with the Kings thus far this season, Möller has six goals and seven assists. However, he appears to rounding into form, and looks to have a long NHL career ahead of him.

While there aren't a lot of Oscars in the NHL, there have been a few. And it appears there will be a few good Oscars playing for the foreseeable future if things go well. Without doubt, Möller is a great player who just needs a little time, but he looks like the best Oscar to break into the NHL thus far. Could there be more in the future? Only time will tell.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 19 February 2009

This Is A Late Post

Two playoff games tonight. Lots of hockey on TV. Really, could this night be any better for a hockey fan? I started the night watching the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins battling the struggling Montreal Canadiens. I'll talk a little about this game later, but I had to leave midway through the game for Games One and Two of the best-of-three playoff series for the last team I play on. It's chilly outside right now, but I never seem to notice the cold when I'm on the ice. These were good games, and I really have to applaud both teams as these games were battles right down the the final whistle. Add in a pinch of drama, some late-period heroics, and you've got yourself a playoff series! Let's get cracking on this late edition of the blog.

  • Pittsburgh vs. Montreal was pretty much a snore-fest tonight. A couple of decent plays, but nothing that stood out in the first two periods that I saw. Fleury and Price both whiffed on a couple of easy saves, players not named Malkin can't play alongside Crosby, Saku Koivu is a black hole on the Montreal roster, and Mathieu Schneider scored his first goal for the Canadiens. Honestly, first star goes to the zamboni driver. The ice looked good. Oh, and Pittsburgh won the game 5-4. Montreal's woes continue.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight in a shootout by a 4-3 score. This game featured a battle between former Team Canada World Junior goaltenders as Steve Mason defended the twine for Columbus while Justin Pogge backed the Leafs. With the win, Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock recorded his 500th NHL win, and the Blue Jackets moved into sixth place in the Western Conference. Playoffs, anyone?
  • After spending nearly two years out of hockey due to injuries, it's nice to Steve Sullivan lighting the lamp again for Nashville. He scored his first two goals of the season against Detroit last night in a 6-2 loss, and added his third of the campaign against St. Louis tonight in a 2-1 loss. If only Nashville could get him a win when he scores, the night would be perfect.
  • Scary incident last night as the AHL's Albany River Rats' team bus slid off an icy highway in Massachusetts, causing the bus to roll. It is suspected that the icy conditions combined with traveling speed may have been the major factors in the crash. Players Nicolas Blanchard, Joe Jensen, Casey Borer, and Jonathan Paiement, along with radio broadcaster John Hennessy, were admitted to the Berkshire Medical Center for treatment. My thoughts and prayers to these five men on a speedy recovery. No one was seriously hurt, but you never want to see anyone hurt either. Good luck, gentlemen. May your returns to the ice and broadcast booth be speedy and successful.
  • Game One of the playoffs for us tonight saw us play poorly defensively. It may have been a combination of having guys there that missed a few games late in the season when we got onto a streak, but being down 6-3 with three minutes to go is never good. Except we scored. And scored again. So with less than 10 seconds, we needed an offensive zone faceoff with the goalie pulled. Which we got. Which ended up on my stick. Which ended up in the back of the net. With three seconds to play, we tied the game 6-6. There's no overtime in these games (which seems weird), so they went straight to the shootout. Which we won 1-0. Insane? You bet. So that set the stage for Game Two...
  • And we were down 3-1 with six minutes to play. Cue the comeback, right? We scored, but the Motley Crew came right back to make it 4-2. I potted another from the blueline - where did I find this insane scoring touch all of a sudden? - to make it 4-3. However, their goalie stood on his head for the last five minutes, denying us time and again. When the final whistle blew, we were on the wrong side of the 4-3 score. Letdown? A little. But that sets up a pivotal Game Three on Saturday. Win, and we're in the final. Lose, and that's all she wrote on a successful season. We know what we have to do.
I feel good after our games tonight. I think I am finally shaking this cold, so that's a positive. All I know is that we have to play big on Saturday - ironically which is Hockey Day In Canada - in order to vault us into the finals. On the other side of the pool, the #4 seed knocked off the #1 seed in two straight games, so we have a very good chance of bringing the title home. But we can't get ahead of ourselves. Saturday is the only game that matters.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Updates To The Ol' Blog

It's been a while since I informed anyone of the updates going on around here, so I think now might be the best time. With all the mass media and information sent your way, it's sometimes good to slow down and look around. Well, I find it is. Maybe you're different. Either way, there have been some updates on this blog, and some additions to certain sections. I also have some email news to pass on, and that one means a great deal to me. In any case, there have been a number of small, less noticeable changes on here, and it's time I caught everyone up on what's been going on. Ready? Here we go.

  • There have been a pile of patches added to the patch articles under the "Highly-Clicked Articles". Adam Graves' retirement patch, a few from the Maple Leafs, and now Glen Wesley's retirement night patches have all been added to the list of patches worn by the respective teams. If you're looking to customize an NHL jersey with a patch, these articles might be the most comprehensive patch lists on the Internet today.
  • After watching my lead dwindle to a mere seven points over Kevin Schultz's team, he of Barry Melrose Rocks fame, in the fantasy hockey pool, my players have suddenly decided to turn the heat on again and start playing. If I can actually open up a bit of a chasm between me and second-place again, I may look at wheeling-and-dealing a few players at the deadline. All of this depends on whether or not my players can keep up the scoring. And that's a huge IF.
  • Several new blogs to check out under the heading to the right: Colin Timberlake on Hockey, John Walton Hockey, NHL 2K9, Nucks Misconduct (formerly Yankee Canuck), Penguins Experience, and Shallow Frozen Water. Check them out at your leisure. Good reads on all of them!
  • I received a pretty neat email from a lady who I will call "Goalie". Goalie lives near the Ottawa area, and she's looking for a team to play on. Nothing out of the ordinary there, right? How about this - she's 65 years-old (and still playing at a high level!), and she's a sledge hockey goalie! Personally, I think is fantastic, and she really just wants to keep playing. She practiced with some members of the Team Canada sledge hockey team, and she's looking for a sledge team to play or practice with. If you know of a team who needs a goaltender, please contact me via email. Serious inquiries only, please. She sounded serious, so I'm going to do my best to find her a team.
  • Don't forget to enter the blog contest to the right! It could be your chance to skate in your home rink with the Stanley Cup hoisted above your head! Enter the contest, and Bring Home The Cup!
  • Coming soon: another book review, another "You're Wearing That" article, and some more in-depth looks at interesting hockey quirks. Huge thanks to everyone who linked up to the goalie number article. I'll keep bringing articles like that to you. You guys keep reading. Deal? Right on!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 17 February 2009

February Blues

You know I'm on the wrong end of a cold when I skip sports to stay home in bed. I suffered all day at work, and I will officially say that it was a mistake to get out of bed this morning. I've canceled with the volleyball team for tonight, and I've medicated myself to the teeth. I'm officially done for the evening. Much like Alexei Kovalev, I'll be staying home instead of working up a sweat. The Montreal Canadiens officially hit the "panic button" as they told Kovalev to stay home as they embark on a two-game road trip through Washington and Pittsburgh. But the moves weren't done with the lethargic Kovalev. No, the Canadiens sent the enigmatic Sergei Kostitsyn to the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs with the hopes that he can rediscover his scoring touch. Overall, it appears that Montreal and I are suffering from the same thing: February blues.

Let's not go too crazy here, though. Mathieu Schneider will be wearing #24 when he suits up for Les Canadiens, and he'll be joining a team needing a boost. Whether or not he's the answer for a listless powerplay remains to be seen, but the Habs desperately need some sort of change in order for them to hang on to a seemingly unwanted playoff spot.

Glen Wesley will be honoured in Carolina tonight as the Hurricanes and Bruins meet. The former Bruin, Whaler, Leaf, and Hurricane will have his jersey retired by the Hurricanes. This is a nice honour for a steady player like Wesley. Was he Hall-of-Fame material? It's debatable, but he is certainly one of the best to ever don the red-white-and-black of the Hurricanes. Congratulations to Glen Wesley on this accolade, and his career!

Great piece on TSN's Off The Record with Michael Landsberg today. Former Penguins head coach Michel Therrien had nothing but praise for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as leaders of the Penguins' dressing room, and said he was surprised he was fired as head coach. While he didn't get into the details, he still believes that the Penguins are a playoff team despite them sitting tenth in the Eastern Conference right now. A very classy interview by Therrien, and he deserves some recognition for taking the high road.

Don't get me wrong here, but Dallas losing Brad Richards for six-to-eight weeks with a broken wrist won't be the end of the world. Yes, it's a loss in the scoring department, but it will allow other players to step up. One of the guys I'd like to see thrust into Richards' spot on the depth chart is rookie James Neal. Neal looked like a special player during his brief stint with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, and he has certainly played well with Dallas. He hustles, he plays hard, he scores goals, and he deserves mention as a darkhorse as a Calder Trophy candidate. If he gets to step in where Richards played, his stock will certainly rise. He's second in rookie goal-scoring, and fifth overall in points for a rookie. Get him on the ice, Dave Tippett!

Ok, I'm going to bed. Buffalo has a stranglehold on their game with the Leafs, and Drew Stafford scored against the Leafs again. No highlight reel goal this time, but it appears that Stafford likes playing against the Leafs. Anyway, my body is telling me to get it some sleep, so I'm off.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 16 February 2009

Happy Day Off!

It's Louis Riel Day in my neighbourhood. Apparently, the rest of Canada is celebrating "Family Day". While I'm not going to spin this into a political message in honouring the efforts of Louis Riel to get the Métis people in Canada some basic human rights, I hope everyone is enjoying the day off. As for me, I'm suffering with a ridiculous head cold, and I really am struggling to stay awake. However, because I'm a slave to my work, Hockey Blog In Canada isn't taking a day off. Lots of stuff to look at today, and we'll cover as much as possible while I'm awake. If you happen to notice that this entry ends abruptly, just roll with it.

  • Great moment in Nashville tonight by Ottawa goaltender Alex Auld. Normally, goaltenders stand in their crease during the national anthems and wait for the game to begin. Tonight, Auld skated over to the boards and looked directly at the members of the US Armed Forces in attendance while the Star-Spangled Banner played. Auld, the son of a military man, paid a huge tribute to the men and women in the crowd from the US Armed Forces, and it is definitely worth mentioning.
  • Pittsburgh's playoff hopes took a serious blow today in their shootout loss to the New York Islanders. While I'm not going to pass judgment on interim head coach Dan Bylsma after today's game, I will say that coaching a team that you haven't even seen practice is ridiculous. This is a team in serious turmoil right now, and it will take a big effort to get the Penguins playing as well as they were last season at this time.
  • The NHL Trade Deadline is 15 days away, and one of the assets everyone wants is off the board. The Montreal Canadiens dealt two draft picks to the Atlanta Thrashers for defenceman Mathieu Schneider. Schneider has played in Montreal, so he knows the expectations, and he will be relied upon to get a stagnant powerplay back in gear. Atlanta gets a couple of picks they can use in 2009 and 2010. If I'm Ilya Kovalchuk, I'd be booking a one-way ticket out of Atlanta for the day after my contract expires.
  • Sunday night saw London Knights forward John Tavares notch his 200th goal in the OHL. Tavares scored in overtime on the powerplay to give London a 3-2 win over the Kitchener Rangers. Congratulations to Tavares for reaching the 200-goal plateau!
  • The QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic appear to be ready to host this season's Memorial Cup. Last night, the Oceanic defeated the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 6-2 for their eleventh straight win. After starting the season on a seven-game losing streak, the Oceanic have turned it around, clinching a playoff spot in the QMJHL playoffs already. Congratulations to the Oceanic on the turn-around, and here's to a successful Memorial Cup!
  • The AHL's Manitoba Moose have opened up a seven-point lead on the Hershey Bears and Milwaukee Admirals after they swept this weekend's games. The only problem? The schedule! Manitoba has now played 57 games - two more than Hershey, and four more than Milwaukee! This is still a race no matter how you look at it, and Manitoba shouldn't rest comfortably on its laurels.
Ok, I'm dying here. Back to bed for this sick kid. I'll have the Ottawa-Nashville game on, thanks to TSN, but it appears that Tom Renney's days are seriously numbered. The Rangers can't score, and when you can't score... well, the coach is usually the first to fall. Rangers and Blues tied at 1-1 right now, so we'll see what happens.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 15 February 2009

Changing Of The Guard

When a team is underachieving, it's tough to pinpoint one or two players to get rid of. Unless you're Dallas, and then you simply remove Sean Avery to return to playoff form. But as it stands right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a long five points from the playoffs, so something had to give. Despite there being reports that head coach Michel Therrien was speaking to each player individually about raising his game, he was fired today by the Penguins. In no uncertain terms, the results of this team now lie directly on the heads of the players. While Therrien got results last year, I still believe that he was the wrong guy for the job in Steeltown.

Look, Therrien did some very good things while coaching in Pittsburgh. He obviously juggled the Crosby-Malkin show as well as he could. While no one seems to be able to play on either wing with Sidney Crosby, Therrien found magic with Malkin-Sykora-Malone last season and rode that combination into the playoffs.

He struck gold by relieving Dany Sabourin of the starting duties after Marc-Andre Fleury fell to injury, and stuck with Ty Conklin who, for all intents and purposes, resurrected his NHL career. He got great contributions from youngsters like Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Kennedy than anyone may have expected.

But when it all boils down to it, was Therrien the reason for this team's success last season? I can't entirely say he was directly responsible for his team's success, but he did play a minor role in it, without doubt.

Putting Malkin, Sykora, and Malone together last season? Clearly, his decision. Otherwise, Malone could still be plugging away in Pittsburgh on the third line rather than cashing gigantic cheques in Tampa Bay.

The option to go with Conklin over Sabourin? Kind of his decision. He could have stuck with Sabourin through the growing pains while the inexpensive veteran watched from the bench. However, Pittsburgh was challenging for top spot in the conference, and Therrien opted to go for wins rather than developing a struggling young goaltender. The result? Six games into the Stanley Cup Final before their season ended.

But he wasn't pulling Conklin's strings. Defensively, the Penguins woke up and started helping their goaltender, and Conklin made all the saves he had to in order to give the Penguins a chance to win. And really? That's what your goaltender is supposed to do. Had Sabourin done that, Conklin might still be in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with the Baby Penguins. Heck, Sabourin might still be in Steeltown rather than playing out the season in Springfield, Massachusetts.

How about Malkin's rise to the upper echelon of NHL stars? I'm going to go with my gut and say that Therrien played a small role in this. Motivating the sometimes lethargic Malkin was always a challenge, but the results last season are undeniable that Malkin has world-class talent. In knowing that, Therrien played Malkin. A lot. Malkin responded, and the Penguins went on a couple of crazy winning streaks.

Here's where the rub comes in, though. If it were any other coach, would the results be the same? If a taskmaster like Pat Burns was behind the bench, would the Penguins have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final?

A young team needs specific coaching in order for them to grow as a team. Players need a chance to develop while receiving quality technical coaching at the same time. Some players advance quickly, others slower, but everyone needs to be brought along in order for the team to do well. This season, it only appeared that Malkin and Crosby were playing to their potential - a possible sign that Therrien had been tuned out by a lot of players in the Penguins' dressing room.

All of that means nothing now as Dan Byslma takes over on an interim basis for the time being. The Penguins have 26 games to climb the Eastern Conference standings, and, after being trounced by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the climb will be hard and long. But if Pittsburgh can weather this storm, they may be a darkhorse in the playoffs.

If they don't, however, the Pat-Quinn-to-Pittsburgh rumour mill will be running at full capacity.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 14 February 2009

What Number Do You Wear?

Playing on two hockey teams is hard enough. Schedules can conflict and there's a lot of running around to do, but it becomes extremely tough on the body when playoffs arrive. Because of these two co-ed hockey teams, I am bagged. Dead tired. Not interested in the least bit when it comes to blogging. However, thanks to the team currently in the playoffs this weekend, I came up with something that seems very unknown. Our goaltender, Cory, wears #20 in net. His idol? Former NHL goaltender Ed Belfour. While it's easy to see why he wears #20 - Belfour wore #20 during his career - it's not so easy to determine why or how that trend started. Or why goalies wear #1. Or #30. But we'll break down why goalies opt for these numbers in today's examination.

Frank Patrick, one of the men at the top of the legendary Patrick hockey hierarchy, introduced a numbering system in 1911-12 in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association where players were numbered from the goal out: Goaltender #1, Defenceman #2, Defenceman #3, Rover #4, Left Wing #5, Center #6, and Right Wing #7 (teams played six + goalie back then). There were no subs - all players played the full 60 minutes. Many believe that this evolved from soccer.

The reason goaltenders were assigned #1 was that they slept in sleeping bunk #1 (lower bunk, closest to door) on the train. Goaltenders were relied upon heavily to win games, so they were given the best place to sleep in order to maximize their rest. In order to keep things straight, Patrick would assign sleeping car bunks and positions by jersey numbers. This lasted for nearly 50 years when teams saw the need to carry two goaltenders on their expanding rosters. The rosters were up to 19 players in 1960-61 (twelve forwards, six defencemen, one goaltender) when all teams moved forward with carrying a backup goaltender who was assigned #20 most often.

Just as a note, when Gordie Howe made the Detroit Red Wings roster in 1946, he wore #17, not #9. The reason? The veterans got the best sleeping arrangements on the trains, and the rookies were there to round out the rosters. He was expected to bide his time like every other rookie had before moving up the depth chart. However, after establishing himself as a fierce competitor and scoring sensation in the 1946 season, he quickly gained the respect of his teammates. He didn't switch to his iconic #9 until the 1947-48 season after Roy Conacher was traded to the Blackhawks. Initially, Howe had no interest in changing numbers, but when he was informed that his sleeping quarters would change, he jumped at the opportunity. Bobby Hull did the same when he switched from #16 on the Blackhawks to #9. Numbers played a big role in the early NHL.

Internationally, the Soviets, coached by Viktor Tikhonov, were beginning to develop their dominance in the game, and Tikhonov assigned the goaltenders #1 and #2 as designation for sleeping arrangement in trains, and as their order of starting in games. However, there was the occasional Soviet defenceman who wore #2 while playing in Russia, and Tikhonov worked to get those he liked the numbers they regularly wore. However, due to Vladislav Tretiak's wearing of #20 in the Russian League, Tikhonov allowed Tretiak to keep #20. The Soviets only carried twelve forwards, six defencemen, and two goaltenders when traveling to keep costs down, and the backup goaltender was relegated to either #2 or #20. It wasn't until a young Soviet defenceman named Vyacheslav Fetisov came along that #2 was taken off the board for goalies on Tikhonov's team.

In 1966-67, the impending expansion of the NHL from six to twelve teams opened up hundreds of jobs for players. The league allowed for additional players to be carried on the roster in order to protect against injuries, thus removing the "regional ownership" over minor teams that some NHL teams enjoyed in the Original Six days. In the 1964-65 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs already had a veteran goaltenders named Johnny Bower who wore #1. However, they acquired Terry Sawchuk who also wore #1 traditionally. Sawchuk, being the younger of the two men, relinquished his #1 so that Leafs' veteran Bower wasn't challenged for his #1. Instead, Sawchuk opted for #25 initially, before settling on #30. Sawchuk reportedly changed his number to #30 since there were more players on the roster after expansion.

Due to Sawchuk's change in numbers, a lot of younger players began wearing #30 as goaltenders thanks to the Leafs' continual appearances on Hockey Night In Canada. While #1 was still popular amongst goaltenders thanks to the likes of Glenn Hall and Johnny Bower, a lot of goaltenders began looking at #30, thanks to Sawchuk, and #35, thanks to a Blackhawks goaltender named Tony Esposito. Those three numbers were primarily the dominant goaltending numbers until the late-1980s. If you'll notice some of the trends, a lot of the American goaltenders wore numbers near #35 (Vanbiesbrouck, Barrasso, and Richter are good examples) as they embarked on their NHL careers in the late-1980s and early-1990s. As a note, Vanbiesbrouck opted for #34 when he broke into the league because teammate Ron Scott wore #35 during the Beezer's rookie season.

It wasn't until a young Francophone goaltender named Patrick Roy came along that some of the "weirder" goaltender numbers began appearing. Roy never thought he would make the team in 1986, but he ended up playing 47 games that season. Due to his spectacular play, Roy earned the starting job for the playoffs as a 20 year-old. However, because he had no idea he would be part of the Canadiens' roster, he went with #32 to start his career. Once he made the cuts, Roy needed to choose a number with the Canadiens. He had worn #30 all throughout his junior career, but Chris Nilan already wore #30. #35 was being worn by Mike McPhee, so that number was out as well. Instead, Roy settled on a happy medium and chose #33 - the number directly between #30 and #35.

With the change in numbers, lots of goaltenders began to choose less traditional numbers while defending the blue paint. #1, #30, and #35 are still used today, but we've seen lots of other numbers used as well.

There are a lot more goaltenders who wear odd numbers. This was just a sampling of some of the weirder numbers seen on goalies. As you can see, though, jersey numbers played a very big role in determining traditional numbers for the masked men in the NHL. Hopefully, this will help any future goalies choose a traditional number. Or a weird number. Either way, make it important to you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!