Wednesday 30 September 2009

We Got Nothin'

We waited all that time to get to this point. Ever since May 5, 2009 when Jerry Moyes announced to the world that he was placing the Phoenix Coyotes franchise into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, there has been much speculation as to who would eventually own da Chiefs the Coyotes. Judge Redfield T. Baum - a name that seemed like it came from a Hollywood script - turned this one-ring circus into a full-fledged carnival with all the sideshow antics from the parties involved, but it still remained his decision as to whether Jim Balsillie or the NHL would emerge as the owner of the Desert Dogs. And so it came to pass today that Judge Baum handed down his decision.

Are you ready for this? This decision could change the sports landscape for all eternity. Singlehandedly, Judge Baum could transform how sports franchise ownership is attained, and how franchises are awarded and relocated.

Except he didn't.

Option A: Jim Balsillie came away with... nothing.

Option B: The NHL came away with... nothing.

The Coyotes remain in Chapter 11 limbo.

Five months of time and piles of money on legal teams for nothing? Are you kidding me? What was the point of this whole exercise? It seems this was nothing but a lesson in futility for the parties involved, and a point of academia for the legal world. Never one to shy away from the details, however, let's take a look at the details that led to this decision. For those of you who are fluent in "legalese", here is Judge Baum's entire 31-page report.

What I do appreciate is that Judge Baum did exactly what he was supposed to do: he did what was best for the creditors in this situation. Judge Baum's ruling on Jim Balsillie's $242.5 million offer was that he could not "find or conclude that the interests of the NHL can be adequately protected if the Coyotes are moved to Hamilton without first having a final decision regarding the claimed rights of the NHL and the claims of the debtors and PSE". Essentially, the rights of the NHL and the creditors outweigh any reasonable reason for the forced sale and relocation of the franchise to go through. Balsillie's bid was denied with prejudice, meaning he cannot amend his bid to continue in the process.

Secondly, he took aim at the low-ball NHL offer of $140 million. Judge Baum found that because the NHL is opting to only pay "all legitimate creditors", he was "not inclined to approve a sale based upon critical, ambiguous evidence". Essentially, because the NHL could decide who to pay and who not to pay, and how much to pay each of the creditors, the NHL's application would be rejected since all creditors have equal rights to the money being used for the purchase. As stated in the findings, "[o]ne of the prime policies of bankruptcy is equality of distribution amongst the creditors". The NHL's bid was denied without prejudice, meaning that they can amend their bid, and continue to pursue ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Judge Baum decided on Option C, which was to award the team to no one. His statement, written in hockey-esque form, read as follows: "In hockey parlance, the court is passing the puck to the NHL, who can decide to take another shot at the sale net or it can pass off the puck". The message? Amend your bid or let someone else own the team.

The biggest shark in the water, Jim Balsillie, is no longer a threat. The NHL has an open net if it is simply willing to pony up some additional cash. Isn't this exactly what the NHL wanted? All they have to do is put the puck in the net.

Whether or not they do that is now entirely up to them.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 29 September 2009

THN Moose Preview

Ok, that title is a little misleading since I don't work for The Hockey News in any way, shape, or capacity. However, I will follow their style of analysis for their team previews that they used in their annual yearbook for this Moose preview. Some of you might be asking why I would be previewing an AHL team. I said a while back that I'm going to focus more on minor-league teams this season, and this is the start of that focus.

Success breeds expectations, and there are high expectations in Winnipeg this season. After posting the best regular-season record in team history and capturing the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as the best team in the AHL last season, the expectations would be to do the same this season. In appearing in the Calder Cup Finals last season, nothing short of hoisting the Calder Cup this season will satisfy the fans who pass through the turnstiles.

With the Moose finishing first overall in the AHL, there will be a microscope on the team in terms of them repeating that task, but the real test starts in the Calder Cup Playoffs where the Moose came up two wins short of the Calder Cup. The Moose should make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, but there will be some significant challenges this season.

STRENGTHS: The Moose will be anchored by good goaltending and solid, veteran leadership again this season. In knowing this, there shouldn't be any meltdowns if a few losses occur in a string. The Moose have been successful for a long time, and they can build on that.

Goaltenders Cory Schneider and Daren Machesney are established netminders who can carry the load if the other should falter. Veterans Nolan Baumgartner, Mike Keane, and Marty Murray should help to lead the youngsters to success, and head coach Scott Arniel has a firm grasp on running his team. The leadership at the top will only go to help this team achieve its potential.

WEAKNESSES: Losing Jason Krog, Jason Jaffray, Mark Fistric, and Maxime Fortunus will certainly hurt the Moose. Scoring, as seen with those four players, will be a little harder to come by this season, and there are no automatic "go-to" guys that Arniel can put on the ice initially. Of course, with the voids created by these players, there are opportunities for young players to step up, but someone has to step up. Krog led the team in scoring last season with 86 points, 37 points better than Jaffray who was second in scoring. There is a major void for someone to fill.

Defensively, Fistric and Fortunus were guys that Arniel relied upon heavily down the stretch last season, so there will have to be improvements from some of the younger Moose defencemen in order for the Moose to remain as an elite team. If they can't handle the added responsibilities, the Moose may struggle.

OFFENSE: The Moose believe they still have players who can put the puck in the net on a regular basis despite losing four-fifths of their top unit. Michael Grabner, Guillaume Desbiens, and Alexandre Bolduc will be expected to contribute as much or more than last season. The third- and fourth-line units will have to contribute with points more frequently this season to make up for the loss of the big guns, but the talent there says that shouldn't be a problem as long as they don't give up their defensive responsibilities.

The new guys will be expected to step up. Marty Murray and Marco Rosa will center the top two lines, and will be expected to make up the offensive output. Some of the younger players - Derek Leblanc, Matt Pope, Olivier Latendresse, Tommy Maxwell, and Dusty Collins - will have to come to play each and every night to compliment the scoring from the top lines.

DEFENSE: This may be the biggest question mark going into the season for the Moose. Back are veterans Nolan Baumgartner and Nathan McIver, and Travis Ramsey will be expected to eat up a lot of minutes as a shutdown defenceman. However, the Moose will need big contributions from these three men to help their offence as well.

Brian Salcido, Chris St. Croix, Geoff Waugh, and Neil Petruic will have to make up the difference on the back-end for the Moose. All are capable of playing at the AHL level, but none are "blue chip" prospects that could be gone mid-season to the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. There is an opportunity to see both Lawrence Nycholat and Michael Funk beef up the blueline. With Brad Lukowich being placed on waivers, there is a chance to have a second Stanley Cup winner in the Moose lineup, but the number of veterans will have an effect on the Moose roster this season, and Lukowich will only become another numbers problem.

GOALIE ZONE: This is clearly where the Moose have an advantage over some of the other AHL teams. Cory Schneider is the reigning Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award winner for being the AHL's best goaltender. Head coach Scott Arniel will go with Schneider as often as he can, capitalizing on the goaltender's strong work ethic and desire to get better. I'm not sure how much better one can get after being anointed as the best at your position, but Schneider has committed himself to being better this season.

The Moose signed backup goaltender Daren Machesney after watching him hoist the Calder Cup last season as the backup goaltender to Michal Neuvirth in Hershey. Machesney is a solid goaltender who essentially could be labeled as 1B in Manitoba. If Schneider needs a night off, the Moose won't notice a drop in the quality of goaltending as Machesney is a consummate professional and competitor.

ROOKIES: With no chance of getting Cody Hodgson to play in the AHL this year due to his age, the Moose were focused on Sergei Shirokov as one of their stars this season. However, Shirokov will start the season in the NHL with the Canucks as he replaces Pavol Demitra in the lineup. Shirokov's impressive camp may keep him in the NHL all season long. Hodgson, on the other hand, had a less-than-impressive camp with the Canucks, and was returned to the OHL's Brampton Battalion as he is still only 19 years-old.

Otherwise, the only rookie that appears to have a shot at making the Moose roster this season is Eric Walsky. The Anchorage, Alaska native had himself a solid camp, and looks to crack the roster at some point this season. Walsky, who turns 24 year-old tomorrow, appeared in five games for the Moose last season, recording two assists.

COACHING: The Moose have improved in each of the three years that Scott Arniel has been guiding the ship, but this season may prove to be his toughest to improve on past performances. None of that should worry Moose fans, though, as Arniel was crowned as the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award winner for being the best coach in the AHL. If Arniel can guide the Moose to 100+ points again this season, he might be looking at a second Pieri Award.

THE BUZZ: As stated, expectations are high for this team once again. Player movement can seriously hurt AHL teams as NHL teams move players that were vital to their AHL affiliate in order to improve their own standing, and the Moose saw some of the affect their off-season player decisions. However, the Moose should be competitive enough to challenge for the North Division title once again, and possibly give Chicago, Houston, and Milwaukee a run for the Western Conference title.

NEED TO KNOW: From last season's stats, Marty Murray would lead the team with 54 points. Marco Rosa scored 40 points last season for Houston, so the Moose need a major increase in production from those two to replace Krog's 86 points and Jaffray's 49 points. Nolan Baumgartner led the Moose in scoring from the blueline with 33 points last season, but the next three defencemen in scoring are all gone. Shaun Heshka is now in San Antonio, and both Raymond Sawada and Maxime Fortunus are with the Texas Stars. The Moose saw 66 points evaporate in those moves.

OUTLOOK: From this writer's perspective, there is a lot still to like about the Moose. While the scoring output has taken a noticeable hit, the Moose boast perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the league. GM Craig Heisinger isn't afraid to make a move to improve his team, and could do so once Vancouver has set their lineup. Jannik Hansen may return once he recovers from a broken hand.

In terms of how the Moose will fare this season, they will battle with the Abbotsford Heat and Toronto Marlies for top spot in the North Division. With a little luck in terms of avoiding major injuries, the Moose should win their division once again. While 100 points seems unlikely, a 90-point campaign should be attainable, giving the Moose another chance at the Calder Cup.

There is a preview of how I see the Manitoba Moose for this upcoming season. I'm excited for the upcoming AHL season, and it appears that there could be some good hockey on the horizon.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 28 September 2009

Paint, Jerseys, And Sock Mismatches

There's a lot that goes into uniforms in this world. There are a lot of institutions and places of business that use uniforms for a variety of reasons. The one thing that stands out with those uniforms is that they all look the same, and they are expected to be the same. Hockey's only canvas for personal expression is the goalie mask, and we've seen a number of those new paint jobs over the last couple of weeks. However, there is one team who seems to be missing this "uniform" idea when it comes to their uniform, and it was strikingly apparent in today's game. We'll also look at a few others things, among them some of those new paint jobs as well that have caught my attention.

  • The Chicago Blackhawks have fairly recognizable colours and stripes on their jerseys and socks. As I watched them in their game today against HC Davos of the Swiss Elite League, it dawned on me that there was a serious stripe height problem. In their media photo, you can see the stripe is slightly below the knee while wrapping around the shin. It started with Brent Sopel, who is #5 in the following picture, wearing his stripes around his skates last season, and now it appears to have spread to Andrew Ladd. I also caught Brian Campbell wearing his stripes low. What is going on in Chicago? Somebody needs to get this corrected so that the uniform starts looking, y'know, uniform. Those low stripes look ridiculous.
  • Another issue with the Blackhawks came up today in that the Blackhawks were wearing their Premiere patch against HC Davos in Zurich, Switzerland. While I understand that the equipment manager most likely didn't want to bring the sewing machine along with the team to Europe, this seems a little amateurish. Can they not bring a second set of jerseys if they aren't interested in doing a little sewing? The Finland patch didn't fit the game whatsoever.
  • The AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins unveiled a new alternate jersey for this season, and I like it. It goes back to their original colour scheme of black, yellow, and red. Ok, so there isn't a ton of yellow in it outside of the logo, but it does look good. Traditional, simple, and very hockey-esque. Thumbs-up from me.
  • We got to see Dwayne Roloson's new Islanders-inspired paint job a few days ago. Tonight, we bring the other free agent goalie paint job that the Islanders signed in Martin Biron. Biron's mask is a tribute to the man who many feel is still the greatest goaltender in Islanders' history: Billy Smith. I like this tribute, and Smith's old mask is well-represented.
  • Tampa Bay's newest goaltender in camp is former Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki had a fairly unique design while in Philly with gangster Frank Nitti shown on the side. "Nitty" is, of course, Niittymaki's nickname. Well, he didn't stray far in Tampa Bay. He simply changed the colours to reflect Tampa Bay's colours, and stuck with the Nitti theme on his helmet. His nickname fits so perfectly that it's hard to bring down this effort, so I won't. Nitty is now Tampa Bay's gangster.
  • Brent Johnson moved from Washington to Pittsburgh this offseason, and he's gone to the paint store as well. Johnson's new mask has a very distinct Led Zeppelin feel to it as Diogenes makes an appearance off the rock band's Stairway to Heaven album. It even has the symbols in the middle! A cool mask, and another one to add to the numerous rock bands and icons that have appeared on goalie masks.
There are some paint, jersey, and sock updates for Monday. It's hard to believe, but we're literally three days away from actual, meaningful hockey. A good summer is finally coming to an end with the start of another hockey season. Let's just hope that it doesn't get too cold this winter.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 27 September 2009

I Applaud Terry Gregson

We've all seen this happen on the ice: some player throws a monsterous, clean hit on another player, and then has to fight his way off the ice because a teammate of the fallen warrior has demanded retribution for the hit. While I understand the idea of defending your fallen teammate's honour, the huge open-ice hit was normally a result of his lack of concentration. The Code implies that these sorts of fights are not kosher by its standards, and I applaud the NHL's Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, for stepping forward today with his comments regarding these after-hit fights.

Gregson has been wearing the stripes in the NHL since 1978, and he has always been heralded as one of the better referees in the game. When he took the position of Director of Officiating, it was thought that there might be some changes. Today, he addressed the instigator rule, a rule that has been roundly criticized on this website.

This writer has stated time and again that the instigator protects those who play dirty because they rarely have to answer the bell when they do something stupid. When a good player throws a solid, open-ice check and some goon thinks it's his job to pummel the hitter, I understand why he's doing it. And I understand why the coach sends him over the boards to fight. However, the NHL's press conference today allowed Gregson to clear the air on his view of this sort of action.

But Gregson said it should be called more, particularly in cases where a player is clearly retaliating for a hit on himself or a teammate by calling an opponent out for a fight.

"Now, even when there are clean hits, there seems to be retaliation going on," he said.
People have crucified Dion Phaneuf for his open-ice destruction of the Islanders' Kyle Okposo, and I can understand that Islanders fans would want to see blood in that case. Phaneuf knocked Okposo into another dimension, and he was carted off the ice on a stretcher.

The problem is that Okposo should know that there is a predator lurking on the trolley tracks there. He's played the game long enough to know that if you go east to west on the blueline with your head down, you're going to see stars. I can give you a number of examples where Scott Stevens made a career out of this. And yes, Stevens answered the bell when he was called upon during the first few times he destroyed an unsuspecting player, but people - including Stevens, his coaches, and his teammates - realized that he's more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.

That's the same speech that Dion Phaneuf got from his coaches, and he's following their decree. Pascal Morency wanted to fight Phaneuf, and he chose to not fight Morency. Why? His coaches have told him to stay on the ice and out of the penalty box. And, as "The Code" states, Phaneuf shouldn't have to fight in that situation either.

While I understand and applaud Gregson's encouragement to his fellow officials to call the instigator penalty more often this season, particularly when a player skates across or down the ice simply to start a fight, I'm hoping that there won't be a massive explosion of instigator penalties handed out either. The game is still entertainment, and people like hockey fights.

Cleaning up goonish behaviour? Check. Allowing proper hockey fights to continue? Check. Terry Gregson is off to a good start in his new position.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 26 September 2009

On The Forecast: Aches And Pains

Tonight is officially the first game of the old beer league, and I'm thinking that I might be suffering from some serious aches and pains tomorrow. While I doubt my local veterinarian will help me with my symptoms, I'll probably have to do some serious stretching before the game. I may have to find a local yoga class just to limber up for the game. In any case, I have all my gear together, I've taped up my sticks again, and I'm looking forward to hitting the ice tonight. If there's one thing I miss about hockey after a long summer, it's the smell of the arena as you walk in the door. And it's unmistakably hockey. While I'm sweating my butt off tonight, here are a few headlines.

  • The ECHL's Stockton Thunder have introduced a new alternate jersey this season, and I have to say that I like it. The bright yellow colour is bold, and I like the lightning bolt just below the shoulder yolk. It's simple, but inventive. This jersey gets a thumbs-up from me.
  • Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov is sporting a new paint job this season as well. Varlamov has American imagery on the right side, and Russian imagery on the left side. As you may recall, he wore Capitals imagery on one side, and Hershey Bears imagery on the other last season, so the theme continues from last season. I like his new design, but I want more from that Russian side. All in all, a decent new design.
  • Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson is sporting some new paint. Here is the left side, the right side, and the back plate to his mask. I like the buoy on the back plate. Very cool idea. I was hoping for the Fisherman to show up on a mask, but looks like he won't be making an appearance this season.
  • Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom has brought some colour to the rink. The right side of his mask has the Wild secondary logo on it, and the left side has an evergreen tree. The back plate is even plainer with his name, number, and country's flag on it. The Wild need someone to break out of the monotony and get creative. I guess Martin Havlat is in charge of that department.
  • Jonas Gustavsson, the prized free agent goalie signing that Brian Burke made, might be worth every penny. The "Monster" held his own against the Red Wings as the Maple Leafs defeated Detroit by a 2-1 score. What makes this interesting is that Gustavsson has not yet surrendered a goal on North American soil. Vesa Toskala may not start the season opener if Gustavsson continues to impress.
  • The AHL Chicago Wolves look to be a powerhouse again this season as the Atlanta Thrashers assigned Jason Krog, Tim Stapleton, and goalie Drew McIntyre to the AHL club after trimming their roster by nine players. Krog is a former AHL MVP; Stapleton has lots of experience and is a gritty player; McIntyre was stellar in leading the Milwaukee Admirals to the second best record in the AHL last season. Keep an eye on the Wolves this season. They may just blow the doors off a few teams with all their talent.
Ok, I'm off to hockey. Have a good one, and enjoy the last official weekend of the offseason!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 25 September 2009

Which Hat Does He Wear?

As you can see to the left, Wayne Gretzky spent a lot of time looking up at the various scoreboards in NHL arenas. It's not to say that he enjoyed watching highlights, but he's never been one not to admire greatness. After all, he got a great shot of the infamous Alexander Ovechkin goal that Coyote fans are still trying to forget. However, for some people to suggest that Gretzky was "disrespected" in his release this past week is simply incredible. I've heard of ridiculous news stories, but this one has to take the cake.

Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe & Mail writes that "[t]he NHL's PR handling of Gretzky's tenuous position as creditor/employee was as adroit as everything else it's done connected to the Coyotes".

And while it's true that the NHL could have handled this much more delicately, there are a few facts that some people seem to be overlooking. Like how the NHL didn't put him in charge of the Coyotes' bench. Like how he only had one season above .500 in his four campaigns behind the bench. Like how he is, statistically, the greatest player to ever live, but how he's, statistically, a mediocre coach at best. Like how he's being paid $8 million to stand behind a bench with a sub-.500 coaching record. Like how his coaching efforts are in no way connected to his contributions to the game.

The NHL, nor Jim Balsillie for that matter, has stated that Wayne Gretzky's position as head coach is one it would like to continue to see. Yet the NHL gets thrown into the fire because of everything that Wayne Gretzky has done for the game.

Excuse me?

Why is it that the NHL is being raked over the coals while Jim Balsillie - the great "saviour" of the Canadian game - is not? Balsillie has shown more disrespect to a team that Gretzky OWNS than the NHL has in regards to his coaching status. Yes, Gretzky is a creditor. And, if Balsillie wins the auction for the franchise, Gretzky will get paid for his ownership stake.

But the NHL is the only party being accused of disrespecting the hockey legend. Forget the fact that Jim Balsillie never even extended an olive branch towards Gretzky when the bankruptcy proceedings were launched. Forget the fact that Balsillie's bid included a brand-new management team that never once gave Gretzky a vote of confidence. Yet the NHL is guilty of disrespecting the NHL legend?

Look, Wayne Gretzky's tenure as a head coach is certainly forgettable. Many in Phoenix are applauding Wayne Gretzky for having the cojones to step down in a time where every dollar the team can save is a priority. It makes good financial sense for the Coyotes for Gretzky to not cash in on the $8 million he was due in order to help the franchise. Gretzky has, once again, put the team before his own needs.

So why is it that the NHL is taking the heat for this? Why isn't Jim Balsillie guilty of disrespecting Wayne Gretzky since the outset? Where is the backlash towards the Canadian billionaire?

It seems to me that, for some people, any chance to hammer on Gary Bettman is a good one. Even if it is unfounded and ignorant.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 24 September 2009

Wake Up, Winnipeg

The Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning, two NHL teams that missed the playoffs last season, continued an annual rite of autumn by coming together for a preseason game in Winnipeg, Manitoba tonight. While most of the stars were out on the ice for the two teams, it was a different story on the other side of the glass where large areas of empty seats could be seen. Granted, preseason hockey rarely ever sells out a building, and a handful of the players in Winnipeg tonight will travel through the MTS Centre again as members of either the AHL Springfield Falcons or Norfolk Admirals, but I think it's pretty clear that Winnipeggers are tired of seeing second-rate teams come through their city. Paying ridiculous prices for tickets to watch a handful of stars and AHL players co-mingle in a meaningless game is the insult to the injury.

I can't say this enough: Winnipeg, in its current economic situation, is NOT an NHL city. Yet all over the arena tonight, fans could be heard saying that Winnipeg needs, deserves, and should have an NHL team.

11,644 people stopped by the MTS Centre and saw the Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in overtime on a Martin St. Louis game-winning goal. And that's a great turn out for a preseason game in a neutral site.

However, there is a slight asterisk to this situation. There were a plethora of great seats that went empty tonight in the lower bowl. This can mostly be attributed to the ridiculous pricing between $79 and $119 per ticket.

That's right: PER TICKET.

For a preseason NHL game.

Between two teams that didn't make the playoffs last year.

And probably won't make the playoffs this year.


You want to know why Winnipeg isn't an NHL city? Because we couldn't fill the MTS Centre for an NHL preseason tilt between two crappy teams when the ticket prices were considerably lower than what they would be in the regular season. Just so you know, the price for the same $119 ticket in Winnipeg would run you a cost of $205 per ticket in Edmonton for a "copper" game, also known as a game versus a crappy opponent. If you wanted a "blue" game, or a game against one of the better NHL teams, you're paying $235 per ticket.

So for those parents who took their two kids to the MTS Centre tonight and sat behind the benches at $119 per ticket, your bill for tickets alone would jump from $476 in Winnipeg for a preseason game to $820 for a regular season "copper" game in Edmonton. Add in beverages and snacks and a couple of souvenirs, and you're looking at a $900 evening at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

I'd like to borrow a few lines from Clark W. Griswold, Chicago Blackhawks fan, in helping to explain my outrage about preseason ticket pricing.

Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Avenue of the Americas with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, fore-fleshing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, [bleep]less, hopeless, heartless, fatass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey [bleep] he is. Hallelujah. Holy [bleep]. Where's the Tylenol?
I feel better after that rant.

Winnipeggers, give your heads a shake. You're better than the Tampa Bay Lightning and Edmonton Oilers. The Manitoba Moose could have given the Oilers a run for their money tonight. Next year, Winnipeg deserves two teams that will participate in this year's playoffs, preferably one that doesn't come from Alberta or Toronto.

Would it really be that hard to give us another Vancouver-St. Louis game like we saw from last season's playoffs? If you want the support of this Winnipegger, Mr. Bettman, you're going to have to do better than Tampa Bay-Edmonton in the preseason for $119.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 23 September 2009

The City Of Roses

Officially, I am back in the Great White North after a lovely twelve days in Portland, Oregon for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Conference. It's weird to say this, but I'm glad to be back for two reasons: I get to sleep in my own bed where I know I'll be comfortable, and not having to live out of a suitcase with no food in the fridge. Sometimes, I just want a couple of carrot sticks, and there were none to be found in the hotel room. In all seriousness, though, this entry is 99% hockey-free. I want to bring to light some of the cool stuff in Portland and the surrounding areas that we saw, visited, and accomplished. And since hockey is a foreign concepts in Portland, I'll save the little hockey news I have until the end. Skip down there if this doesn't interest you.

First, the weather was fabulous. All we heard on the first day is how the summer has been cold and crappy in Portland, but you saw none of that for the time I was there. It was hot, sunny, and only rained late at night when I was out cold. If autumns in Portland are like that every year, it would be the nicest place to live in the world for that season.

Secondly, there were no bugs whatsoever. I come from the prairies, so I know bugs, particularly mosquitoes. So you can imagine how dumbfounded I was when I discovered a grocery store downtown that keeps its doors open all day. Honestly, there were no mosquitoes, no black flies, no pests at all. It was nearly paradise... without the palm trees.

We hit the Oregon coast on Saturday two weeks ago after exploring the city on Friday. The smell, the sounds, and the feel of the breeze rolling off the ocean is something a prairie kid misses every time he leaves the coast. I honestly loved this area, and the day was amazing. We saw the Yacinta Lighthouse which is still functioning as a lighthouse today. We walked along the beach and checked out some of the tidepools. The igneous, volcanic rocks that make up the beach just keep rolling in with the waves. I'll take a day at the ocean over a day at a beach any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Marine life might be my retirement life.

From there, we visited the Newport Aquarium. Again, as a prairie boy, this is something we rarely see. We were granted backstage access to the tanks where the keepers work, and got to see sharks and flounders and all sorts of fishes from above. The Japanese king crabs were most impressive, and they are HUGE! We also got to touch an octopus, and they are stronger than they look!

Once we finished the backstage tour, we were shuffled to the front where we were let loose on the rest of the aquarium. We saw a female octopus with eggs, massive starfish, seals, otters, seahorses, jellyfish, eels, rays, and crabs. Phew! Lots of marine life, eh?

Huge thanks goes out to the Newport Aquarium for hosting the day. Needless to say, the day was great, and the outgoing staff and volunteers were awesome.

Of course, we spent four days in and out of classes and workshops at the conference. A lot of interesting information was gathered by me, and I'm hoping that we can enact some of the ideas that we picked up. I'm not here to go over those details, though. Let's get back to the pictures.

Last Thursday afternoon saw us at the Oregon Zoo where they had just opened the new Predators of the Serengeti exhibit the weekend before. The gift shop had a photo opportunity that almost everyone took advantage of... except me. We got to tour through the Oregon Zoo classroom where Kalahari, an augur buzzard, was the featured animal. Kalahari, along with a few other feathery and cute animals, are used in the zoo's education program and outreach programs. To get to the outreach programs, they use this well-decorated van that features Scott, the education director of the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, in front of it. Their education program is strong, and is a driving force behind the popularity of the Oregon Zoo.

There were lots of animals at the zoo that I've only seen on television or in books:

Of course, the Predators of the Serengeti featured three of the more famous animals from Africa: the lions, cheetahs, and African wild dogs although the wild dogs spent the entire visit sleeping.

Overall, the Oregon Zoo was an impressive facility that deserves a visit if you're in the northwest. It has a variety of species, and really does an outstanding job in bringing together education, conservation, and the public with their messages.

The next day, we moved north to Washington where we visited Tacoma. Tacoma, located on Puget Sound, is a nice city, and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium offers some amazing species. The only complaint about this day? Not enough time. I could have spent another two or three hours at this zoo. However, let's get to what I had time to see.

On the way to Tacoma, we heard a little bit about Mount St. Helens. We arrived at the redesigned front entrance of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium by mid-afternoon, and the new look was impressive. Upon wandering inside, the first sight you're greeted by at the top of the hill is Mount Rainier. Looking down, the PDZA has an impressive amphitheatre area, and they put on an excellent educational show. Of course, there were education staff members and zookeepers out with all sorts of animals, including this sloth who was taking in as much sun as possible.

As we wandered through the behind-the-scenes areas, there were some incredible sights. Baby meerkats in the Kids' Zone area drew lots of shrieks from the children watching them. An orb-weaving spider drew a few "yucks" from arachnophobes, but that was made up for in spades by the spider web-themed net found outside the building. The ring-tailed lemurs and wallabies attracted the children in the Kids' Zone due to their curious natures. The Kids' Zone area was a great attraction that gave all the children there something to see and do.

In the Asian area, there were Sumatran tigers, Asian river otters, and Asian elephants to be seen. Honestly, it was a lot hotter than it seemed, and all of the animals were seeking shade and water, so this area was a little deserted. However, it was still cool to see these different animals.

The last place we visited was an area just outside of Tacoma called the Northwest Trek. It is 575 acres of pathways and is a sanctuary for animals native to the Pacific Northwest. We saw a ton of stuff here: golden eagles, herds of bison, herds of elk, mountain goats, big horn sheep - rams, ewes, and lambs, and barn owls amongst all the wildlife.

They did have two monsterous brown bears and a couple of black bears, but photo opportunities for these guys weren't great as they were locked away for the evening. Without doubt, the kodiak bears might be the biggest live bears I have ever seen - perhaps even bigger than the polar bears I've seen in my travels. Or maybe it was just because we were pretty close. Either way, I would not want to run into one of those animals in the wild.

Amazing sights at both these places, and you need to visit them. Like the Oregon Zoo, they are top quality, and deserve your patronage.

So there are all the zoo and aquarium photos that I took. There are a few other things I want to address about Portland at this time.

Being Green: This isn't a choice. It's a lifestyle. Every company, it seems, buys sustainable, locally-grown, locally-produced food, and composts everything that isn't being used. They recycle everything. And anything that can be made out of a recyclable product is. When they say they are the greenest city in North America, they aren't lying. It impressed me to no end, especially at the restaurants.

Rapid Transit: The light rail system is, in one word, awesome. It's fast and efficient, and you never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a train. The bus system, while dealing with a bigger area of the city, was easy to use. And if you buy a pass for the rail, you can use it on the bus as long as it is valid. I wanted to point this out because, in perspective, our transit system sucks. Well done, Portland.

Lastly, if you're in Portland, and you want some inexpensive hockey books, aisle 649 at Powell's Book Store is the place to be. I picked up seven books for less than $60. Retail value of these books? Near $190. Huge savings, and the books are in used, good shape. Very impressed.

Overall, I had a great trip. I missed the hockey coverage that we have in Canada, but that's to be expected since we're hockey mad up here. I'm off now to the fantasy hockey draft that the boys are having tonight, and I have first pick so I can't be late. I'll catch up with everyone tomorrow.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 22 September 2009

TBC: They Don't Play Hockey In Heaven

Teebz's Book Club is making up for lost time. Considering I took the summer off, my summer reading is now being caught up, and I'm hoping to have a third book finished by the end of the week. We'll see how that goes, but let's get to this book. They Don't Play Hockey In Heaven, written by Ken Baker and published by The Lyons Press in 2003, is a story that is as inspirational as it is informative. Ken Baker's journey back to hockey after eight years away from the game is not only an inspiration story about following one's dreams, but how to live one's life. Mr. Baker's journey is filled with peaks and valleys, the support of his wife, Brooke, his friends, and teammates, but it is a story about one man following his dream, despite how impossible or unattainable it seems.

Ken Baker, a lad from Buffalo, New York, was a highly-touted goaltender by the age of 17. He played in the World Under-17 Championships with players like Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano, and led the Americans to a gold medal victory over the Canadians who featured goaltender Stephane Fiset. All three of those men would go on to play in the NHL, while Baker received offers to suit up for NCAA Division One teams. Baker accepted an offer from Colgate to play net for the Red Raiders, and it appeared all was well.

That is, however, until Baker started to notice that he was having trouble building any sort of muscle mass on the top half of his body. Some other rather startling symptoms began showing themselves, giving Baker more cause for concern: impotence, a build-up of flab despite his athletic endeavours, lethargy, and the occasional milky discharge from his nipples. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong, and it prompted him to visit Dr. Joshua Trabulus about these symptoms.

"A few days later, a battery of blood tests came back showing that I had 150 times the normal level of prolactin, a hormone that women secrete to produce breast milk. Then an image from an MRI confirmed it: A prolactin-secreting tumor had taken up residence a few inches behind my eyes. Trabulus explained that the more prolactin I produced, the less testosterone I produced. A normal man has a level of about ten nanograms per milliliter; a woman breast-feeding her children has a level of two hundred. My prolactin level was 1,578."
Baker was suffering from a condition called hyperprolactinemia as a result of the tumor. Surgery was scheduled, and, nine months later in July 1998, the tumor was removed except for a tiny piece. Drugs would help control the tumor's growth, but they affected him when he did strenuous workouts. As a result of the tumor's growth and its affecting his life, Ken Baker's professional hockey career died after he graduated from Colgate in 1992.

Now I could stop typing right here, and the man would still be a hero. He defeated cancer, and, albeit is still battling against it today, seems to have a pretty good hold on his life. Ken Baker is married to a wonderful woman named Brooke, has an amazing son named Jackson - seen here with dad at a Los Angeles Kings game in 2007 - and has his health. The story doesn't end there, though. We need to go back to 2001 where Ken Baker challenged himself and the institution of hockey, and proved that dreams can come true.

After deciding to go back to playing senior league hockey in Oakland, the fire was lit in Baker, and he wanted more. He was a successful writer for Us Weekly magazine, but "The Dream" had affected him. "The Dream" was a vivid scene that he had had while sleeping about playing professional hockey. At 30 years old, it was now or never, and, while it took some soul-searching and prodding from his closest friends and family, they convinced him to tryout with the WCHL's Bakersfield Condors.

He had nothing to lose if he didn't make the team. He just wanted to see if he was good enough to play in the professional ranks. After negotiating a deal with the Condors to be the third-string goaltender if he was good enough - including penning this book about his experience - Baker was kept as the third-string goaltender for the WCHL franchise. He had the support of the entire front office staff, but he still needed to prove that he belonged on the ice, and convincing the coach would be no easy task.

I'm not about to tell Ken Baker's story here. He tells it far better than I do as it is. I will say this: the cast of characters that he is around provide a number of laughs along with some frustration and anger. For anyone who has played the game, this will probably give you an idea of what it means to be good enough to make the team, but not good enough to play regularly. For anyone who hasn't played hockey, this will give you a real picture of what back-up goalies go through in a season.

Ken Baker has penned a brilliant story about life in minor-league hockey. His thoughts, his efforts, and his inspirational tale of fighting against the odds to realize his dream are chronicled well in this book, a sign of his excellent writing skills. They Don't Play Hockey In Heaven is truly one of the best hockey stories I have read to date amongst all the hockey books I have had the pleasure in reading, and Ken Baker's heartfelt, inspirational story deserves Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval.

There is one note I'd like to pass along about this book. Ken Baker doesn't censor anyone in this book. If a coach or player said it, it was added verbatim. Because of this, there are a number of instances where "locker room talk" is included in the story, so it may not be suitable for children or young teens. However, adults can probably relate directly to Mr. Baker's story, and I recommend They Don't Play Hockey In Heaven for anyone who has ever had what seems like an impossible dream.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 21 September 2009

More Paint

I've been trying my best to keep everyone updated on the new looks for goaltenders this season. Paint jobs on masks is a huge part of the game as it truly is the only part of the uniform that can be customized specifically by a player and used in a game without penalty. Now, there are traditionalists that prefer the old-school white masks like the one to the left, but there have been some exceptional designs over the years since Glenn "Chico" Resch first had his mask painted by an art student. Of course, the mask has also changed considerably since the 1970s, so there are a lot more ways to customize a mask now as well: the different colour of cages, the back plate, and signatures of certain players as examples. Today, we have a few more new masks to help you identify goalies this season.

  • Goaltender Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets will have a new look and a memorial on his mask this upcoming season. Light The Lamp has images of the new mask along with the old mask for comparison. The memorial is on the back plate of the mask. Mason is honouring his grandfather with the tribute on the back of his helmet.
  • Vesa Toskala of the Toronto Maple Leafs has changed the maker of his mask. Last season, Toskala wore an Itech mask. This season, as seen above, he's gone to a Bauer mask. I assume there must be some sort of sponsorship involved because goaltenders are creatures of habit, and changing equipment is not something they usually do.
  • The other goaltending Mason - Chris Mason of the St. Louis Blues - is also sporting a new coat of paint. Prominently featuring the St. Louis Arch on the front of his mask along with the Blues logo, the back plate has a ton of Mason's personal touch. His daughter, Avery, has her name on the back. The Canadian and American flags are featured. And Mason is an avid video game player, so I assume the axe has something to do with being a warrior. I like this new mask.
From there, I also want to bring about a fabulous video with a very odd player number. Neil Sheehy, the man who routinely made Gretzky's life a living hell when he skated for Calgary, was found in a video from his days with the Hartford Whalers. In this video, he is fighting Chicago's Bob Probert. Check out Sheehy's jersey number.

Sheehy is wearing #0.

From what I can find, Sheehy is the last NHL player to wear #0, much in the same way that goaltender Martin Biron was the last player to don #00.

NHL rule 9.2 states that "[s]weater numbers such as 00, ½ (fractions), .05 (decimals), 101 (three digit) are not permitted. In addition, each player and goalkeeper shall wear his surname in full, in block letters three inches (3") high, across the back of his sweater at shoulder height".

While I can't find the exact date of when this rule took effect, it appears that it started in either 1998-99 or 1999-00. Sheehy spent just a short time time with the Whalers in 1987-88, totaling a mere 26 games, after he was dealt to Hartford, along with Carey Wilson and Lane MacDonald, for Shane Churla and Dana Murzyn on January 3, 1988. After his time in Hartford, Sheehy signed with Washington in the off-season, and wore #15 for the rest of his NHL days. A pretty cool number cameo, if you ask me.

Ok, that's all for today, folks. Tomorrow might be an early or late post. I'm back in the air as I make my way back to the Great White North, so if I don't get something posted by noon, check back after 10PM EST. And yes, it's nice to be heading home despite the incredible weather we've received here in Portland over the last two weeks. I'll have a full synopsis on my trip later this week.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 20 September 2009

TBC: Mario

You may have wondered where Teebz's Book Club disappeared to over the summer months. Like school, I decided to give the literature a break while the summer months played out, and this worked out well because I was busy most nights as well. However, with school back in session, Teebz's Book Club makes its return, and we start September off with a book that interested me from the moment I picked it up. Mario, authored by Lawrence Martin and published by Lester Publishing, was produced in 1993 after Mario Lemieux had won two Stanley Cups and various accolades in his early career. In knowing this, it was a chance for me to examine the beginnings of my favorite NHL player through the eyes of Mr. Martin in this "unauthorized biography".

Rarely do players of such immense talent in their given sport come along. The story starts with Mario's humble upbringing in Montreal under his parents' watchful eyes. Jean-Guy Lemieux, Mario's father, was a house builder. Pierrette, Mario's mother, was a swimming instructor. Together, they produced three athletically-gifted sons: Alain, Richard, and Mario. It was Mario who dazzled on the ice with his love of the game, and his parents went to great lengths to help him pursue his passion.

Mr. Martin takes us to Ville Emard, Quebec where Mario shone as a youngster. His life-long friend, goaltender Carl Parker, was a teammate on the Ville Emard Hurricanes, and the talented Lemieux shone brightly in Parker's eyes. Parker was interviewed for the book and spoke glowingly of Lemieux.

The one thing that Mr. Martin does in the book is spell out how important privacy is to Mario Lemieux. He goes to great efforts to show that no matter what age Lemieux was, his privacy and family came before anything else. He was shy as a child, he was shy and reclusive as a teenager, and he walked his own path as an NHL superstar. This is made clear in the book many times, and it seemingly explains the pre-Stanley Cup Lemieux very well in terms of his reluctance in dealing with the media and fans.

Bob Perno, his first agent, encouraged him to go to Prague, Czechoslovakia to play in the IIHF World Championships in 1985 after the Penguins missed the playoffs. Lemieux was less than thrilled to be playing for Canada in a faraway country after a grueling NHL season. However, he reluctantly went to Prague to represent his country.

After playing the Germans and being crushed by the Soviets, Lemieux wanted out. Culture and history in a Communist country wasn't his thing, and the experience was exactly the opposite of what he thought his summer vacation should be. Perno was forced to explain the situation to Lemieux in terms of his commitment.

"You owe it to the team, you owe it to your country to stick it out. If you can't play because you are injured, then your job is to give support to those who can."
Mario, never one to take the beaten path, said he didn't care. He was tired, he was bored, he was hurt, and he wanted to return home. Perno and Eagleson forced him to stay, and this lit a fire under Lemieux. While watching Canada play the USA, Lemieux told Eagleson that he was staying. In the playoff round, Canada dispatched the Soviets by a 3-1 score with Lemieux factoring in by scoring two goals. The world was taking notice: if Lemieux was motivated, there was no one who could stop him. Canada, who had not beaten the Soviet Union at the World Championships since 1961, would play in the final against the Czechoslovakians. While they lost to the host team, Canada came back with an unexpected silver medal, and a young Lemieux who proved he can be the best.

There are also a number of Gretzky-Lemieux references made throughout the book as the two players went from being friends to rivals in everything they did. While there was still cordial and friendly chatter between them, hockey became the battleground for supremacy in the record books. While Lemieux was saddled with less talented players than Gretzky, there were impressive numbers being recorded by the Penguins centerman, and the comparison of the two players is on-going.

Perhaps the most telling section of the book is the part about Mario's back problems and the discovery of cancer. For all that the superstar endured in terms of his public image, his health concerns were a much bigger problem. There is some in-depth and poignant views from doctors about Lemieux's inner strength in the later chapters, and it really shows how he progressed from a reclusive, stubborn teenager to a bonafide superstar.

While Mr. Martin's account is chronological account of all that happened in Mario Lemieux's life, there could probably be dozens of accounts that paint Lemieux's life in a different picture. As a Lemieux fan myself, I appreciate these different viewpoints in order to keep everything in perspective about professional athletes. Lemieux was often misunderstood at the start of his career, and this book makes excellent efforts to not only show Lemieux's side of the story through his friends' accounts, but also through his own actions, words, and accomplishments.

Mario is an excellent look at the early career of Pittburgh's favorite hockey player and most celebrated athlete. Because Mr. Martin doesn't sugarcoat the story, Mario deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for being honest and straight-forward. While there is some PG language in the book, it comes highly recommended for everyone.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 19 September 2009

A Tired Saturday

I am pretty sure that my medical insurance won't cover a coffee intravenous bag this morning, but I could sure use one. I had a blast last night, and Jennifer of the Phoenix Zoo was part of the reason why. I'm sure she may be feeling it this morning too, but she appeared to be having a fantastic time as we, and several others, hung out last night. Needless to say, I am feeling the wrath of not sleeping right now. And it's 11AM in Portland, Oregon. Sometimes, I wonder why I put myself into these situations, but I know I'm a social animal. I like to have a good time. We had more laughs last night than what might be considered "normal", but normal is a relative term anyway. All in all, a very good wrap-up to a very good conference.

Because of that, today's entry is a mail-in. I'm taking it easy, and I'm going to link to others who have done some excellent work. Why? Because I need to go back to the hotel room and abuse the in-room coffee maker. Let's get this done.

  • The Denver Post's Avalanche blog has images of Craig Anderson's new mask that he'll be wearing while guarding the net this season in Denver. The abominable snowman makes a return on Anderson's mask. What really caught my attention was the mask that the Yeti is wearing, and the mask that is displayed on the back plate. Apparently, it's "Jake", the Corvette racing mascot. Anderson's mask was painted by Bob Dillon who, according to the comments, is in auto detailing and painting. The mask is a tribute to Corvette racing, of which Craig Anderson must be a fan. Or he simply likes the logo.
  • Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators is also sporting a new paint job on his mask for the upcoming season. On The Forecheck has one photo, so you can't see the whole thing just yet, but there is a comparison between last season and this season on there. And the new one looks a little fiercer.
  • On The Forecheck also has images of the new Nashville alternate jersey, this time worn by actual Predators players. I like the traditional look, but I'm not so sure about the checkerboard pattern. It seems superfluous and unnecessary. However, matching the primary logo's colours to the new jersey actually makes it a little more ominous in my opinion. But then again, what's my opinion worth?
  • Habs Inside/Out has the images of goaltender Carey Price's new mask design. This one honours the past 100 years of Canadiens' history, and I like it. It's subtle yet descriptive, and it really captures the essence of what being a Montreal Canadien is about: honour, respect, and tradition.
  • George Johnson of the Calgary Herald takes Dion Phaneuf to task for throwing the big hit, but then failing to answer the call when a player wants to fight him. And Johnson has a point: if challenged, he should respond. The problem I have with this is that the open-ice hit that Phaneuf threw was clean, legal, and vicious - exactly what we, as fans, love to see. Now, no one wants to see Kyle Okposo carted away on a stretcher by any means, but NHL hockey is a violent sport. No one can deny that. But if Phaneuf has to fight someone after throwing what may be the best clean hit of the season, something is wrong with that picture. The code states that enforcers seek revenge for dirty plays, and this was not dirty by NHL standards. So why does he need to drop the gloves? Is Phaneuf not more valuable on the ice for the Flames than sitting in the box for five minutes and/or potentially breaking his hand in a fight?
I may examine this Phaneuf thing a little more tomorrow once my head clears of the sleep-induced cobwebs. Until then, I'm going to drink a pile of coffee to stay awake, or head back to the room, listen to some tunes, and drift back off into dreamland.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 18 September 2009

Two Quick Notes

It's later, I'm back from a long day of being out in the fresh air, and a group of us conference people are planning on heading out and having a few beverages to celebrate the fun we had all week. While I will still be in Portland until September 22, it's nice to know that I can sleep in tomorrow and not have to be on a strict itinerary to keep up with the conference. However, I did log in a couple of times, and noticed two important pieces of news today. Let's get to those quickly as I have limited writing time - the party is waiting!

First, Air Canada, along with the Canadian government, have cut a deal with the American government regarding charter flights within the United States of America.

The Canadian government was alerted last month by the US Department of Transportation that all charters that moved between US cities would end if they originated in Canada. With NHL teams making long roadtrips - the Canucks play away from GM Place for over a month due to the 2010 Winter Olympics - this presented an obvious problem for the Canadian NHL teams.

However, through the work of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Transport Minister John Baird, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon in Washington this past, the charter flights can resume as scheduled as allowed by the US Department of Transportation, meaning the six Canadian teams won't have travel nightmares this season.

There has been no word on whether the AHL or ECHL teams face the same dilemma, but it is assumed that if the NHL received the green light, these leagues will also receive the same courtesy.

The second major note today is the long-anticipated trade of Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs. Kessel, as you are probably aware, was asking for a long-term contract with the Bruins in excess of $5 million per season, and the Bruins, wedged against the ceiling of the salary cap, were unable and/or unwilling to make sacrifices to sign the young sniper for this upcoming season to that amount.

With the move today, Boston receives Toronto's first- and second-round picks in 2010, and a first round pick in 2011. Toronto promptly signed the winger to a five-year deal worth $27 million for a cap hit of $5.4 million per season.

Does this make Toronto better? Yes. Does it make Boston better? Long-term views say that Boston will be ok. Short-term views may see it as a step back, but moving Kessel also gives other players better opportunities. I'd call it a wash for Boston considering their good, young talent.

I won't lie about this: I like this move for Toronto IF they intend on making Kessel a cornerstone piece of their franchise. With the signing that GM Brian Burke made today, it appears that Kessel will be one of those players. However, production speaks louder than words, and it will certainly remain to be seen if Kessel can equal or improve on his performance from last season without proven assist machines like Marc Savard getting him the puck in places where goals come easily.

Air travel conundrum? Solved. Phil Kessel drama? Resolved. Party-time for this foot soldier? You betcha. Have a good night, kids. I know I will.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 17 September 2009

Comeback Stories Are Good News

Comeback stories are always great. It shows a commitment and dedication to something from the person making the return, and it's always nice to see good people get second chances. As I reported a while back, Jared Aulin had essentially put his hockey career on hold after a few scary injuries. Aulin looked like a decent prospect while with the Los Angeles Kings, and even had a fairly decent debut in the short 17 games he played. The last we had heard of Jared Aulin, he was taking classes at the University of Calgary in Alberta in the field of kinesiology.

Well, we have an Aulin sighting, kids! Jared is playing hockey with the Columbus Blue Jackets at their training camp, and will most likely end up with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch after camp ends. For Aulin, this is a huge step after it appeared that his NHL career may be over. After defeating the concussion problems and working through a shoulder injury, he tended bar while attending school. The physical therapy he was doing allowed the scar tissue in his surgically-repaired shoulder to break down and loosen up, and he turned his attention back to hockey.

"If I didn't think I had anything left, I wouldn't put myself in this situation. Realistically, I don't think I can step into game situations and feel 100 percent comfortable. But I don't think it will take much time," Aulin told Lindsay Kramer of "It's definitely a different story. But it's a very humbling story. I've never been a cocky person. But when you are a young player playing in the NHL, then not playing pro anymore... it makes you appreciate every opportunity you have."

Aulin, who has been working out still, appears to be in great shape. While it may take some time for his timing to adjust to the NHL again, there was no guarantee any team would even take a chance on a guy who hasn't played in a professional game since 2006-07. Even worse, it's extremely rare for a tam to take a chance on a guy who has been out of the game for three years and had extensive injury problems.

Aulin, however, is a low risk, high reward move for the Blue Jackets. If he makes the team, Columbus has another young forward in their stable. Aulin is only 27 years of age, and he already has both AHL and NHL experience. If he doesn't make the team, he can go to Syracuse and hone his skills while waiting for a call up to the NHL. As Aulin said, "it makes you appreciate every opportunity", and I'm thinking that he'll give his heart and soul for this opportunity.

And if, for some strange reason, he is cut by the Blue Jackets, they lose someone they never anticipated having available to them. It's not like he's done if he's cut by Columbus, though. It's simply another hurdle for him to overcome. And he's overcome several major hurdles already.

I really do hope that Jared Aulin makes the Blue Jackets. It would be one of those "feel good" stories that could inspire other players to give their dreams a second chance. Heck, it may even inspire other non-hockey people to give their dreams another shot. And if it even inspires one person to start back down the path of their dreams, then his story has more purpose than he could imagine.

Isn't that what good news does - inspires us all?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 16 September 2009

The Whale Tail

Ladies and gentlemen, your fantasy hockey team that I have taken over now has an identity. I don't want to break down the fantasy hockey pool too much today, but I will tell you that I have my five players, I have drafted the first rookie as a team owner, and I have created an identity for my fantasy hockey team. And, if things go as well as I hope they will, I will be handing out rings to my fantasy team for winning the Fantasy Cup. Or some prolific trophy. You know what I mean. Without further adieu, I present to you the newly-named team in the fantasy hockey league: The Whale Tail!

Why did I choose this name? It's basically self-explanatory. The Hartford Whalers had one of the best logos of all-time in the annals of the NHL. The "W" with the whale's tail coming up from the middle made it easy to see the "Whalers" portion of the name. However, the negative space left over in the area forms a perfect "H" for Hartford. Clearly, this is one of the most clever, understated designs in all of hockey.

When one considers the players who suited up for the Whale in their history, it's easy to see why one would like this team, despite their obvious shortcomings in the success department. Brendan Shanahan, Pat Verbeek, Chris Pronger, Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, Paul Coffey - the names are storied, and the careers were long. I plan on bringing back the prestige and glory of the Whalers with this new team.

Here are the five players I decided to keep based upon scoring and their ability to avoid major injury:

  1. Jarome Iginla - the man is a scoring machine.
  2. Eric Staal - another scoring machine.
  3. Brooks Laich - the guy was a beast on special teams.
  4. Daniel Sedin - if one of them scores, the other has an assist.
  5. Miikka Kiprusoff - good teams start with great goalies.
Based on those five players, I have the foundation of a pretty good team, I think.

I also managed to have the first overall pick in the FHL Entry Draft, and I decided to go against the norm. I get that Tavares and Hedman are going to be good. There's no doubt. But I was thinking both short- and long-term with my first pick, and I needed a player who had a chance to crack his team's opening night lineup as well as put up some decent points. Tampa Bay will play Hedman, but they may not be very good again, and Tavares will have a shadow all season long. No one will alow him to break out on a weak Islanders team.

I wanted to go with Cody Hodgson since he can't be sent to Manitoba due to his age and the fact that he would be an overage player if he went back to the OHL. But I realized that he may also be playing on the third or fourth line in his first season, limiting both his ice-time and chances, after seeing who Vancouver had in camp as invitees. So I went with another OHL graduate in Colorado's Matt Duchene.

Duchene has a fairly good shot at cracking the Avalanche lineup, and he's playing on a team that is fairly weak down the middle. This, of course, will open up opportunities on the powerplay and penalty killing units, and I'm hoping he can step up to the challenge. If not, he's on my minor-league team for the net three years, so he can be used whenever I need him. Considering he'll have decent wingers on the top two lines in Colorado, I'm hoping 40 points will be a good target for him.

The Whale Tail also owns the first pick for the FHL Draft this year, so I'll have a good shot at assembling some more talent shortly. I'm banking on a few players that may fly under the radar for the later rounds, so we'll what comes of this draft on the 23rd. I'll keep everyone posted on the fantasy hockey league as we progress.

Other than that? We're a few weeks away from October 1 which is opening night for the NHL. I'm excited, and I can't wait for the season to get underway. I got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell hockey!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Do Mine Eyes Deceive Me?

Holy cow, kids. We have some hockey action to report on. And not just news or player movement, but actual scores! We're just past the halfway point in September, and it feels good to report on something other than some news. We had a few games tonight, including another game in the Battle of Alberta, but none of the games were overly impressive. Most of the teams are holding their stars out of these early games, and that's probably for the best. Why risk the injury, right?

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Columbus didn't dress Rick Nash or goaltender Steve Mason, while the Penguins held back Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin.

Columbus took it to Pittsburgh early on, racking up three goals in the first 40 minutes. Jakub Voracek scored on the powerplay in the first period, and Maxim Mayorov netted two goals in the second to pace the Blue Jackets to a 3-0 lead.

Crosby scored on the powerplay at 3:49 into the third period, and added another goal just three minutes later. Chris Conner tied the game at 13:44 as the Penguins showed some resolve after struggling for the first 40 minutes. However, Columbus' Alexandre Picard restored the lead for the Blue Jackets with his goal at 17:58. The Penguins responded quickly as Chris Kunitz netted the equalizer at 18:15 to tie the game at 4-4. And just 44 seconds into overtime, Kunitz struck again as he scored the winner past Dan Lacosta in the extra frame to give the Penguins the 5-4 win.

Mathieu Garon, the former Penguin, stopped all 21 shots he faced with the Jackets in his first start of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury was an average 16 of 19 in his 40 minutes of work. Goaltender Brad Thiessen stopped 8 of 9 shots to earn the victory.

Ottawa Senators vs. Florida Panthers
Ottawa sat out Daniel Alfredsson, Alexei Kovalev, and Jason Spezza. Florida had Tomas Vokoun in the press box. This game was played in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A fairly uneventful game with most of the offensive stars sitting out, but Pascal Leclaire started his first game in an Ottawa Senators uniform. Alexandre Picard (yes, another one) put the Senators up 1-0 as his long blast from the blueline got behind goaltender Scott Clemmensen. However, Scott Timmins and Kamil Kreps responded for Florida before the end of the first period, giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead into the intermission.

In the second period, David Booth increased the lead to 3-1 for the Panthers as he beat goaltender Robin Lehner. Both teams held tough for the rest of the way, and the game ended as a 3-1 Panthers win.

Other scores:

Boston defeats the New York Rangers by a 2-1 score. Tuukka Rask earned the victory, while Mark Savard scored the winner on a powerplay in the second period.

The St. Louis Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild by a 3-1 score. Chris Mason earned the win, and Chris Porter scored the game-winning goal.

The veteran-laden lineup that the Edmonton Oilers iced defeated their cross-province rivals in the Calgary Flames by a 4-1 score. Patrick O'Sullivan scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, while goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers earned the win. An interesting note that Robbie Schremp wore #88 in this game for Edmonton.

The split squad game in Glendale, Arizona saw the Phoenix Coyotes defeat the Los Angeles Kings by a 4-2 score. Jeff Hoggan scored the winner for the Coyotes while goaltender Ilja Bryzgalov picked up the win.

The other half of the split squad game in Los Angeles saw the Kings pick up the split by downing the Coyotes by a 4-3 score. Jack Johnson's shorthanded marker in he third period turned out to be the winner, and Jonathan Bernier scored the win in net.

It feels good to report on hockey action. I've missed it badly, and there is nothing in Oregon that is even remotely hockey-related. I've seen skating on a rink inside of a mall, but there were no sticks, no pucks, and no nets. I need to get back to the Great White North to get my hockey fix!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 14 September 2009

Lots Of News

I have a ton of links to throw up here today, and I feel like CNN with all the news, pictures, and stories I want to bring to you. Basically, it's been a few days since I focused on bringing everyone up to speed on some of the smaller stories around hockey, so I'm committed to doing that today. If there are updates, I'll even attempt to update throughout the day as I sit in workshops and classes at the conference all day. That's right: my mind never wanders far from hockey. Let's get to some of the links, starting with an excellent idea I am going to feature on this site in the sidebar.

  • My top story today came from an email from the good people at Pespi. As you may remember, I helped them with a contest last fall in bringing home the Stanley Cup an Mark Messier to a community in Canada. Today, they are back with another contest. Join The Cheer is Pepsi's new contest, and there are some awesome prizes to be won for showing Canada your most patriotic cheer. Your prizes? All the playoff games at the 2010 World Junior Championship taking place in Saskatoon, and up to three games at the 2010 IIHF Men's World Hokey Championship in Germany! For full rules and details, please visit the site linked above, or click here.
  • Speaking of World Championships, SNY RangersBlog is reporting that Rangers' goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is sporting a new mask design and some new equipment. The Tre Kronor worn famously by the Swedish hockey team is now prominently displayed on Lundqvist's mask. He's also wearing some new pads that look freakishly huge. Those things almost resemble riot squad shields in terms of their height!
  • Nate, who emailed me yesterday regarding the new Sioux jerseys, wrote a fabulous Uni Watch-style piece on the Sioux forums. Honestly, the more I see the jerseys, the more I like them. They aren't as bad as some of the Reebok monstrosities that are being used b various teams, and they stick to a very traditional style. I'm still a fan. They apparently will keep the black alternate jersey as well, as seen here in the North Dakota Sioux women's hockey uniforms. Not sure about that number on the front for the women, though.
  • The fabulous people over at Section 303, a fabulous Nashville Predators blog, have images of Taylor Swift performing in Nashville while wearing the rumoured, new alternate jersey of the Predators. This basicaly confirms the rumours I've been hearing all summer, and the traditional look is pretty impressive. I'm just not sure why they allowed Miss Swift to wear the jersey before it was unveiled.
  • The Boston Sports Network has a big image of Boston's Tim Thomas sporting what could be the Bruins' Winter Classic jersey. I like the yellow and the throwback logo, and I would hope that they wear this at Fenway. It would have instant classic written all over it. Heck, I'd even champion it as a better alternate jersey than their current attempt.
  • From Uni Watch, Rob Ullman is working on a ton of impressive sports-themed illos, and it's about time I throw him a bone for his amazing artwork. Hockey doesn't get left out by Mr. Ullman, and his North Stars gal is a beauty. And his Penguin gal with the Cup? Awesome! Check out all his amazing artwork, and even order an illo, by heading over to his Atom-Bomb Bikini site. Amazing work, Rob!
  • It appears that Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins is breaking in some new equipment in training camp as well. It's slightly different than what he wore in the Stanley Cup Final last year, but significantly different than what he wore in his reconditioning stint in the AHL after his injury two years ago. The yellow still makes me giggle. Good catch by Dane on the Uni Watch comments.
Ok, I have a bunch of stuff to study before the classes and workshops tomorrow, so the rest of my day will be me locking myself in my hotel room getting my brain all learned and knowledgeable. If you need me, email will be open. Have a good Monday, kids, and enjoy your day!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!