Monday 30 November 2009

There Will Be Blood

I'm not one to rain on anyone's parade, but the image to the left is a pretty good representation of Steve Tambellini's version of the Edmonton Oilers. Tambellini put a few more eggs into his basket than he should have, and now there seems to be a serious problem in The City of Champions. After a 3-10 November, the Oilers sit 14th in the Western Conference, head coach Pat Quinn has no answers, and the Oilers have a rotating shift for players who are injured or sick. I can't fault Tambellini for trying to bring in as much talent as he can, but he has serious cap issues facing him combined with a lottery pick if things don't turn around quickly. And as of right now, the entire season is going up in flames right before their eyes. I believe this is due to one reason.

Some still think that Edmonton has a shot at the playoffs. There's nothing wrong with holding out hope that big-name players like Khabibulin, Souray, Penner, and Comrie can turn the ship around, but the worn-out path to the injured reserve is proving to be the Achilles' heel of this team. And at this point, that hope is nothing more than stubborn fan-ism.

I, for one, believe there is a completely different reason for the Oilers' woes, and it has nothing to do with who isn't playing. This comes about after watching them get hammered in Vancouver on Saturday, and it goes back to what Kelly Hrudey was saying on the November 17th broadcast of Coast to Coast on Hockey Night In Canada.

This is a team that plays ridiculously soft. And not soft in their own zone, but soft everywhere. Ray Ferraro, a columnist for TSN, wrote in his column/blog that Pat Quinn had told him "in the pre-season that small people can win puck battles, but they have to be willing, and he pointed out Igor Larionov as a great example of a small man who used body position and intelligence to win more than his share". I dare you to watch a game and point out the players who truly want the puck. As it stands, and as Mike Milbury pointed out with Patrick O'Sullivan, this is a team that is bailing out on everything right now.

The only two players who I have seen go hard into high-traffic areas and come away with pucks routinely at this point in the Oilers' season are Dustin Penner and Ryan Potulny. Penner leads the team with 15 goals and 15 assists - a full eight points ahead of the now-injured Ales Hemsky, and 13 points ahead of the next healthy Oiler in Gilbert Brule. Potulny has played a mere eleven games this season, but has five goals and two assists while logging time on the third line. Penner is a larger player, but Potulny is exhibiting exactly what Quinn was talking about: a smaller player with the willingness to go win a puck battle. His reward? Seven points in eleven games thus far.

There's no doubt that having a number of bonafide stars missing for extended periods of time will affect your overall standing. To miss Nikolai Khabibulin, Sheldon Souray, Ales Hemsky, Mike Comrie, Denis Grebeshkov, and Steve Staios for periods of time this early in the season will certainly undermine your overall talent level. However, the willingness to do the dirty work - muck it up in the corners, dig for pucks along the boards, take a hit to make a play - has been missing all season long thus far for the Oilers. It was apparent in that 5-2 loss to Chicago featured on HNIC on November 17, and it was clear to see on November 28 when the Canucks hammered the Oilers by a 7-3 score.

When the Oilers do play hard, however, success comes to them. They battled the Phoenix Coyotes hard all night long on November 23, and came away with a 4-0 win. The Oilers went into the corners hard, they chased after pucks with reckless abandon, and they got their noses dirty in scrums along the boards. An "A for Effort" translates into a "W For Win".

Edmonton needs to realize that they aren't the San Jose Sharks, the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, or even the New York Islanders. If they take a shift off, they get scored on. It's that simple. They don't have the talent that some of their opponents do when it comes to coasting through a shift. If they don't work hard, they're fishing the puck out of their net. I've seen it over and over again this season with the Oilers, and it's not going to stop until every player wearing the Oilers' colours realizes that effort can trump talent every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Until that message gets through, the Oilers might as well get their draft party ready because they're looking at a top-five pick.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 29 November 2009

TBC: Off The Crossbar

Teebz's Book Club is working feverishly to bring to you the best books for readers of all ages. So it surprised me when I was asked via email why there were no books specifically for young readers. I responded by saying that I had covered several books for children. I received a second email from this reader, and it became clear that I was missing an entire demographic. Children who are in middle school or slightly younger are normally a little too advanced for the books I've reviewed for children, but may not be advanced enough for some of the books geared towards adults. In saying this, I have started on a series of books intended for the adolescent crowd, and Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Off The Crossbar, written by David Skuy and published by Scholastic.

From the Charlie Joyce website, "David Skuy is a lawyer, recreational hockey player, and author of the Charlie Joyce Hockey Series. A popular speaker and advocate for the reading and writing skills of school-age children, he has crafted a series of books designed to capture the imagery, the sounds, the conflicts, and the achievements that typify a young boy’s life, be it in the school yard or in the hockey rink".

Now, you might be wondering who this "Charlie Joyce" character is. Charlie is the protagonist in the stories written by Mr. Skuy. Charlie's story begins in Off The Crossbar as we find Charlie, his mother, and his sister getting used to a new town as they have just moved to Terrance Falls. Charlie is a little nervous about starting Grade Nine in a new school where he knows nobody, but he's a pretty decent hockey player so there's a chance to make new friends.

However, his first pickup game doesn't go so well as "the new guy". Charlie runs into a few players who don't take lightly to the new guy showing them up, and Charlie soon learns that these players don't like Charlie one bit. Jake, Liam, Matt, and Thomas were a pretty tight group of kids who had grown up together, including playing hockey together. Pudge, a stocky fellow, was not part of their group, but they tolerated his presence. Charlie found himself at the scrutiny of these players for the first few weeks of school.

Mr. Hilton, Charlie's homeroom teacher, announced that the school tournament would be taking place soon, and Charlie decided that he should try out. Mr. Hilton would be coaching, and Charlie wanted to show Jake and his crew that he wasn't going to be intimidated. Through the tryouts, Charlie meets some guys who share his animosity towards Jake: Scott, Nick, and Zachary. These four players would form the majority of a good second line for Terrance Falls, playing behind Jake's line.

I'm not going to tell the story of what happens here, but this story was written extremely well by Mr. Skuy. He takes into account everything that kids go through at school: bullying, teasing from friends, trying out for teams, dealing with conflict, and the constant pressure of homework and family. Overshadowing all of these small storylines are the hockey tryouts and the tournament. All of it comes together very nicely through Mr. Skuy's writing, and that makes for a very enjoyable story and reading experience.

One of the neat things in the story is that several of the drills and systems that Charlie's team use are illustrated in the book very well. There's an excellent explanation of the neutral zone trap and how teams beat it, and this is something that everyone should know if they are interested in the systematic side of hockey. Mr. Skuy's descriptive examinations of these systems and drills shows that he not only knows the game, but understands how to teach the game as well. This is something that comes through in his writing often: he knows the game of hockey very well.

The 218-page story is perfectly suited for adolescents, including everyone from age nine to fourteen. The story really moves well, and was easy to read with its upbeat story and everything that Charlie faces. The characters are well-defined, and you gain empathy for Charlie as he works his way through each situation. Mr. Skuy's story was entirely a pleasure to read, and I am already looking forward to the second book in the series, Rebel Power Play. Because of this, Off The Crossbar deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval, and I can't wait to start on the next book to follow Charlie's adventure!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 28 November 2009

Black And Blue = Smashville

The "Black and Blue Hockey" era started in Nashville last night with the team renaming the city "Smashville" as they donned their new jerseys for the first time. If you kindly recall, the Predators used to have an alternate jersey that was the colour of mustard at best and the colour of puke at worst. With the announcement that they would wear brand new alternates this season, there was hope that improvements would be made. After a few leaks of the new alternate jerseys in action, we finally saw them in action against the St. Louis Blues on Friday night.

Honestly, when the Predators first debuted these new uniforms, I was blown away. The Predators, for the first time, actually looked respectable in terms of having a traditional hockey look. Gone was the ridiculous piping off the front. The addition of some traditional hem striping made the "apron look" a thing of the past. Honestly, these might be the best Predators jerseys to date in my view.

Again, we see another team going with a lace-up collar. If you're keeping track at home, that's 17 teams that feature at least one uniform with a lace-up collar. We need to find a new detail for teams to exploit. It might be the only thing that detracts from the overall aesthetic of this jersey.

The Predators went with an altered colour scheme, eliminating the yellow off these new alternate uniforms entirely. While I disagree with the idea of removing a primary colour, the fact that they didn't introduce a colour that wasn't in their scheme originally actually scores them marks. The silver and navy blue were always there, and black was a contrast colour just as before. Because of this, they changed the colours on their logo, and I have to say that this newly-coloured logo looks fabulous. The sabre-toothed tiger actually looks fiercer in the darker colour scheme.

The shoulder logo remains the same in terms of the design, but the Predators added a circular outline and a checkerboard pattern to the background. The new shoulder logo has an old-time hockey look, and the checkerboard pattern is subtle enough that it doesn't draw your attention away from the secondary logo. That is good design, kids, and the Predators should be recognized for it.

Just as an aside, head coach Barry Trotz has stated that the fossil logo worn on the shoulder on past jerseys was actually supposed to be the primary logo on the old alternate jerseys instead of the cartoonish cat's head. The NHL felt that the fossil logo was a little extreme as a primary logo, and asked the Predators to change it on their old alternate jerseys. Trotz talks about it below at the 1:14 mark.

Pretty cool story, right?

Anyway, carrying on with the new alternates, those hem stripes that I said were "traditional" are actually a combination of old-style stripes with a modern twist. The navy blue between the white stripes are actually more of that checkerboard pattern. Reportedly, that checkerboard pattern is a tribute to Nashville's rich motorsports and NASCAR community, but it is an element that hasn't been seen before in terms of its subtlety. If you notice, it is practically invisible unless you're looking at the jersey up close. Unfortunately for the Predators, I have to say this is a poor design element. If you can't see it, it doesn't exist.

The Predators moved away from their traditional font, opting for a more basic block font. The Predators also move away from the two-colour numbering on the jersey to the one-colour white numbers. In theory, this should represent a savings for fans who want to customize their new alternate jerseys, but that's totally up to the retailer. Overall, no complaints with keeping the font simple. It's clearly legible and easy to read, and that's good for the fans. While I don't necessarily believe that their traditional font wouldn't work, keeping it simple does work.

The one thing that really stuck out on this new uniform was actually not on the jersey, but on the breezers. The Predators have a new "NP" logo on their breezers that I have never seen used before. I don't really think it works all that well, and it is a little difficult to decipher when one quickly glances at it. The "NP" don't really jump out as those two letters. I'd lose this lettered logo if I were given the option.

Overall, I like these new jerseys. While I'm not particularly fond of the number of navy blue jerseys I'm seeing this season, the Predators' navy blue alternates work for them. They have traditional elements mixed with some modern additions, and the design comes together very well.

Just as a note for the teams who are unveiling alternate jerseys next season: November is a bad month in the standings for new jerseys. So far, teams that have debuted their new alternate jerseys this season are a combined 0-3 on their debut nights, and are now 0-5 in games wearing their new alternates. Colorado got thumped by the Canucks and lost to the Predators, the Panthers lost to the Penguins and Maple Leafs, and the St. Louis Blues ruined the Predators' big night last night.

Black and Blue Hockey is alive and well in Smashville. And they look good playing that brand of hockey while wearing these new uniforms.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 27 November 2009

Honouring The Past

During this holiday season in the United States, we should be reminded as to the meaning of Thanksgiving. The pilgrims that traveled to the new world traded and bartered with the indigenous people in order to survive in this new environment. It should be noted that there were skirmishes, but Thanksgiving dinner represents the success of two foreign communities - the Native Americans and the English pilgrims - in establishing a relationship. With that being said, we honour this tradition every year with our grand feasts. In saying this, it is nice to see one long-standing NHL team honouring their traditions by paying homage to its past.

The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their new alternate jerseys today, and you might say that they aren't new at all. I'd be inclined to agree with you, but there are some subtle difference to note, and we'll look at those. I'll have my sentiments at the end about these jerseys, but you should already have an idea of which way I'm leaning.

First off, the Blackhawks have gone to a lace-up collar - yet another team who has used this feature. However, this one gets a pass for using a retro feature on an old-time jersey. I like the lace-up collar on here because lace-up collars were distinctly an old-fashioned way to tighten the sweater on a player. The lace on the jerseys for the Winter Classic was black, making it almost invisible. I do like the off-white lace here, though, as it gives the jersey more of an old-time feel.

The Blackhawks introduced a shoulder logo that appears old-fashioned as well. Normally, the cross-tomahawk logo is much more modern, but this new logo has that distinct old-time feeling. This shoulder logo wasn't seen at the Winter Classic, so this is a new addition to the alternate jersey.

Overall, everything else is pretty much the same. The style of jersey is the same; the font used on the back is identical; the captaincy lettering is the same; and, the logo has the old-time "Black Hawks" name on it, appropriate for the period-specific timeframe of the jersey.

Overall, I thoroughly appreciate the work that the Blackhawks put into this jersey. It looks excellent, especially with the subtle changes that they made, and there hasn't been any extraneous junk added to it. Huge thumbs-up from me as this alternate jersey is something of which Blackhawks fans can be proud.

In terms of when and where they will wear the new threads, the schedule has been posted on their website. Some are home games while others will see the Blackhawks travel with their new duds (thanks, JTH!), so here's when you'll catch the Blackhawks in their alternate jerseys:

  • December 1 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • December 22 vs. San Jose Sharks
  • January 5 vs. Minnesota Wild
  • February 9 vs. Dallas Stars
  • February 14 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • March 2 vs. New York Islanders
  • March 13 vs. Philadelphia Flyers
  • March 23 vs. Phoenix Coyotes
  • March 28 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • March 30 vs. St. Louis Blues
  • March 31 vs. Minnesota Wild
  • April 6 vs. Dallas Stars
I'm not sure how the Columbus Blue Jackets got three dates against the Blackhawks in their new threads, but I'm not the schedule maker. Dallas and Minnesota also get two dates against the Blackhawks in their new alternate jerseys, so there appears to be some sort of repetitiveness going on here.

In any case, I am a fan of these new jerseys, and the Blackhawks have done an excellent job by improving upon an already appreciated design.

Just as a footnote to the alternate jersey discussion, the Nashville Predators will be playing in their new alternate jerseys tonight as they square off against the St. Louis Blues. I'll have a full write-up on them tomorrow after I see them in action. There are some interesting concepts at work in the Predators' new design.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 26 November 2009

Happy US Turkey Day!

Hockey Blog In Canada wants to wish all of its United States-based readers a Happy Thanksgiving tonight. Of course, tomorrow is the dreaded "Black Friday" where shoppers go absolutely insane while trying to find that rare gem for half-price. I've been through a Black Friday or two in my time, and they are the definition of insanity. In knowing this, please have yourself a wonderful feast tonight, and take care tomorrow if you're brave enough to venture out near a mall. Let's take a look at a few stories from around the hockey world.

  • One game in the AHL today, and the Binghamton Senators thumped the Adirondack Phantoms by a 7-0 score. Goaltender Andy Chiodo gave thanks for a solid defensive game in front of him as he posted his first shutout since March 11, 2006 when he was a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Josh Hennessy and Denis Hamel had a pair of goals each, pacing the B-Sens to the win.
  • If you have tickets to Friday's ECHL game between the Alaska Aces and the hometown Utah Grizzlies, make sure you pick up a teddy bear on Black Friday. The Grizzlies are holding their "Teddy Bear Toss" on Friday, and encourage fans to toss a new or gently-used teddy bear on to the ice after their first goal. All teddy bears will be donated to patients at the Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
  • Nice little story from Steve Silver of the Las Vegas Sun about foreign players and their experience celebrating American Thanksgiving. Personally, I prefer ham over turkey, so I liked Sweden's Joel Gistedt's view on Thanksgiving and Christmas: "Last year was my first time. I like the ham more than turkey. Christmas in Sweden is the best. Great food — sausage and Swedish meatballs. I miss it."
  • Brayden Schenn found himself traveling today as the Los Angeles Kings signed their highly-touted draft pick to a One-Day NHL Regular Season Amateur Tryout Agreement. With rookie Andrei Loktionov suffering an upper-body injury last night in Edmonton, the LOs Angeles Kings needed an emergency replacement in Vancouver, so they called on the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings for Schenn. Congratulations to Brayden Schenn, and here's hoping he lights it up in Vancouver tonight!
  • As some of you may be aware, I'm working with the AHL's Manitoba Moose in terms of providing them a fan's view on their website via the Antler Banter articles. Well, thanks to the opportunity they gave me, I was approached by the parent club as well. You can find me cross-posting the Antler Banter articles to the Vancouver Canucks' website as one of their "featured bloggers"! I thought that was pretty cool.
  • The Ottawa Senators defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight by a 2-1 score, and there were some interesting notes in this game. First, referee Dave Jackson was injured after getting crunched by Rick Nash, and he didn't return after leaving the ice. Secondly, Jason Spezza opened the scoring for the Senators with just his second goal of the season, and his first even-strength marker of the season. That's right: November 26, and Ottawa's first-line centerman just scored his first even-strength goal. Ouch. Senators do win, however, on a Nick Foligno powerplay goal in the third period.
That's all for tonight, kids! For Captain Canuck and JTH, the mail is going out tomorrow, so I'll be contacting you guys for some info on your packages. For everyone else, enjoy the busiest shopping day in the USA tomorrow, and stay safe! Turkey sammiches for everyone!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 4

Antler Banter returns as the Moose begin to slow down in terms of the number of games they're playing. The Moose entertained the Hamilton Bulldogs for a couple of nights this past week, and they won't see action again until tonight as they head to Rockford, Illinois on a roadtrip. We'll look at the games against the Bulldogs, preview the upcoming three-game roadtrip, check out the injury ward again, and look at the multiple player moves in this edition of Antler Banter. As always, for all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Without further adieu, let's get to the Hardcore Hockey!

Down To The Wire

The Hamilton Bulldogs, sporting a 10-4-1-3 record, visited MTS Centre for a Friday-Saturday set against the hometown Moose. The Moose, having played four more games that the Bulldogs by the time Friday rolled around, needed to earn the majority of points in these weekend games in order to try to close the gap between them and the second-place Bulldogs.

The game started at an intense pace, going up and down the ice with scoring chances at either end. However, it seemed that the Moose were slightly off as a number of their shots rattled off the endboards. At the 13:46 mark, the visitors struck as Blake Trotter snuck a low shot under Cory Schneider's right pad to the far corner of the net for his fourth goal of the season, and the Bulldogs were out to a 1-0 lead. That lead, however, was short-lived as Sergei Shirokov's team-leading eighth goal of the season just 54 seconds later drew the Moose even again. Shirokov literally has a ridiculous arsenal of moves, and his backhander past Curtis Sanford's pad and the post was a big league move.

Newly-arrived Erik Christensen, here on a conditioning stint from the Anaheim Ducks, put the Moose ahead at 4:02 of the second period with his first goal of the season. Evan Oberg's point shot was stopped by Sanford, but Christensen won a battle for the loose puck and netted the rebound. Mario Bliznak, on a solid rush displaying his speed, broke into the Hamilton zone and wristed his third of the season past Sanford at the 8:23 mark. While Sanford would have liked that one back, he found himself on the bench after Bliznak's unassisted marker as Cedric Desjardins took over in the Bulldogs' crease. The Moose went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.

The third period saw some craziness in the last two minutes of action. With Brian Salcido sitting in the penalty box, Hamilton pulled Desjardins for a 6-on-4 advantage. Mike Keane, whose hard work did not go unnoticed tonight, was rewarded with 91 seconds to play as he scored his fifth of the season into the yawning cage. Hamilton, not willing to go away quietly, responded with two goals in 38 seconds. Andrew Conboy fired a laser past Schneider for his second of the season at the 18:48 mark, and PK Subban added his second goal of the season at the 19:19 mark to close the gap to 4-3. However, Mike Keane iced the game, this time for good, by scoring his second empty-net goal of the night twenty seconds later. With the win, the Moose improve to 11-9-2-0 on the season.

Kind of a neat statistic, but Mike Keane's empty-net goals are the first time in his professional career that he has netted two empty-netters in the same game in his illustrious career.

Good, But Not Enough

Saturday night's game saw the Moose play to their largest crowd of the season as 13,582 people passed through the turnstiles to see the Moose tangle with the Bulldogs. And some of them, admittedly, were also there just to see Jason Earles, aka Jackson Stewart, from Disney's Hannah Montana. Luckily for those fans, they got to see a great AHL game between these two rivals.

Despite Manitoba mounting early pressure in the first period, it was Hamilton who struck first. With Hamilton pressuring the Moose by the midway point of the first period, out-shooting them 10-3, Mathieu Carle's point shot off an offensive zone face-off win eluded Cory Schneider and found the back of the net for his second goal of the season. The first stanza closed with the Bulldogs leading 1-0 on the scoreboard, and leading 10-9 in shots.

The second period saw the scoring happen early and often. Hamilton made it a two-goal advantage at the 2:04 mark when Mathieu Carle slapped home his second of the night off a rebound on a David Desharnais shot that had found the goalpost. Sergei Kostitsyn scored his fourth goal of the season at 7:35 of the middle frame as he one-timed a wrist shot to the top of the net over Schneider from the face-off circle. With the Bulldogs leading 3-0, things looked a little bleak.

Manitoba came back to life seconds later. Erik Christensen scored his second goal in a Moose uniform as he redirected a Sergei Shirokov pass under Curtis Sanford to put Manitoba on the board at 8:13. 1:07 later, Marty Murray slapped home a backhander as Sanford kicked out an Evan Oberg shot to the slot. Murray's fifth goal of the season narrowed the gap to 3-2. David Desharnais restored the two-goal lead for Hamilton at the 13:06 mark when he converted Sergei Kostitsyn feed in the slot for his fourth goal of the season. And finally, Sergei Shirokov showed a little moxie with 13 seconds left. Eric Walsky fed a lead pass to the streaking Russian at the blueline after a scramble in the Moose zone, and the shifty playmaker used a headfake in combination with a forehand-backhand-forehand to freeze Sanford, allowing Shirokov to record his ninth goal of the season. Again, another big league move from the young Russian.

The third period saw the Moose trailing 4-3, so the pressure was on the home team to equal the score. The Bulldogs rang a couple of shots off posts, but it took a powerplay for the Moose to respond. From the top of the face-off circle, Marco Rosa hammered a slapshot past Sanford for his sixth goal of the season at the 10:39 mark. Both teams battled down the stretch, but neither goaltender would allow another goal as the horn sounded.

In overtime, the extra ice benefited the Hamilton Bulldogs. Their defense jumped into plays and pressured the Moose. With 1:07 left in overtime, PK Subban used the extra room to find himself a lane where he wristed home the game-winner just inside the post from the face-off circle. Subban's third goal of the season gave Hamilton the 5-4 overtime victory. With the loss in the extra frame, the Moose drop to 11-9-3-0 on the season.

Continuing with the neat statistics, goaltender Cory Schneider picked up his first professional point as he earned the second assist on Shirokov's breakaway goal at the end of the second period.

Like A Junkyard Dog

Manitoba did themselves a huge favour by capturing three of four points against the Bulldogs. While it may seem small now, winning these weekend series could prove huge down the stretch. As it stands today, Manitoba remains one point ahead of the surging Grand Rapids Griffins and Abbotsford Heat, one point back of the Hamilton Bulldogs, and six points back of the division-leading Rochester Americans.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

There are still a lot of bodies in the intensive care unit this week.

  • Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set as he is still suffering from symptoms.
  • Lawrence Nycholat - foot and shoulder problems. Just had his knee scoped, so he's out another month. Let's set this return tentatively for January 2010.
  • Matt Pope - high ankle sprain. Looks like late December.
  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie - shoulder separation. Potentially this roadtrip if all things continue well.
  • Guillaume Desbiens - foot injury. Has been skating, but an early December return is most likely.
  • Michael Grabner - ankle injury. According to his blog, he gets his cast off in two weeks. Let's put this return at mid-December.
  • Alex Bolduc - shoulder injury. Early to mid-December at this point.
  • Matt McCue - concussion. No return date set as he is still suffering from symptoms.
Player Movement

Centre Erik Christensen made his Moose debut after being assigned to Manitoba by the Anaheim Ducks on a reconditioning stint. After two games, he has two goals and a +3 rating. Honestly, Christensen was one of the better players this past weekend for the Moose in their games against Hamilton.

The Ducks also assigned ECHL scoring star Dan Sexton to the Moose. Sexton comes to Manitoba from the Bakersfield Condors. The right-winger has put up an impressive 13 goals and 13 assists in 18 games at the AA level. He's fourth overall in ECHL scoring, and second in goal-scoring. Keep an eye on this 22 year-old.

Matt Pettinger returned to the Moose after Daniel Sedin was cleared to play in Vancouver. Pettinger will be in the lineup tonight as the Moose begin a three-game road trip through the state of Illinois. The downside to Pettinger returning is that he could be recalled at any time as his salary in the AHL allows him to avoid re-entry waivers if Vancouver finds themselves down a player again.

John Lammers was released from his professional tryout contract (PTO). Lammers appeared in 11 games with the Moose, but recorded no points and had two penalty minutes. The one stat that jumps off the page at you is the -7 rating. Those numbers won't keep you around for long.

The Moose also recalled defenceman Taylor Ellington from the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL. Ellington has one goals and four assists in 13 games with Victoria. The 33rd overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft should hopefully see some action on the Moose's three-game roadtrip.

Finally, centerman Derek Leblanc was assigned to the Rapid City Rush of the CHL. With the myriad of centermen in Manitoba right now, Leblanc wasn't seeing much playing time. In order to maximize his ice-time, the Moose assigned him to the Rush where he played last season. Here's hoping that Leblanc can get back with the Moose before the season's end.

Name In Lights

Moose forward Sergei Shirokov got back on track this week after being paired with Erik Christensen. He was named the AHL Player of the Week, and Shirokov showed off some serious talent and speed in the two games against the Bulldogs, proving that if teams don't keep a shadow on him, he'll do some damage. Goaltenders in the AHL haven't been able to solve him in the shootout or on breakaways, and that's a great sign from a young player. Over the long term, Shirokov appears to be headed for a long career in Vancouver if he continues to develop at his current pace.

Moose Outlook

The Moose head into Rockford, Illinois tonight to play the IceHogs. The IceHogs sit sixth in the West Division with a 9-10-2-1 record. Led by former Moose Mark Cullen's 19 points, the IceHogs only have three players in double-digits for points. Goaltender Corey Crawford should provide a formidable test for the Moose, though.

Friday night sees the Moose in Peoria, Illinois to battle the Rivermen. Peoria sits fourth in the West Division with a 9-7-1-2 record. Jonas Junland leads the team with 16 points, while Nicholas Drazenovic and Chris Porter have seven goals apiece. Ben Bishop and Hannu Toivonen have split the goaltending duties down the middle, and both have GAAs above 3.00.

The third game of the three-game roadtrip will be another meeting with the Chicago Wolves on Saturday night. The Wolves sit third in the West Division with a 10-8-0-1 record. Former Moose Jason Krog leads the way with 18 points while Tim Stapleton has dented the twine 10 times thus far this season. Former Moose goaltender Drew MacIntyre should draw the assignment against the Moose, and his 2.36 GAA is showing how effective this defensive unit can be.

These three games can go a long way in helping the Moose climb in the standings. While all three teams will be a test, the Moose should be aiming for a minimum of four points while spending some time in Illinois.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 24 November 2009

TBC: The Best Goalie Ever

Teebz's Book Club is back with another great book for youngsters today as we continue with our efforts to get young hockey fans reading, and young readers picking up more books about hockey. We've seen a few good books already, and it's time to add another in The Best Goalie Ever, written by Gilles Tibo, illustrated by Bruno St-Aubin, and published by Scholastic. Much like the last book we reviewed on here, Where's My Hockey Sweater?, Mr. Tibo has written this book for younger readers, aiming for children between the ages of three and eight years-old. The colourful illustrations make it easy for younger children to get a good visual sense of the story, and the easy-to-read story will further your child's reading abilities while being fun.

Gilles Tibo has written and illustrated over one hundred books. He is an award-winning writer, earning such prestigious accolades as two Governor General's Awards and two Mr. Christie's Book Awards. Born in Nicolet, Quebec in 1951, Mr. Tibo got his start working as a freelance illustrator designing flyers and album covers. He also drew a large portion of the French-Canadian comic strips that appeared in newspapers. Thanks to his work as an artist, Mr. Tibo translated that success into illustrating books. More recently, he has begun to write books as well, and his success has resulted in worldwide accolades for his work. Mr. Tibo resides in Montreal, Quebec with his family.

Bruno St-Aubin began his career at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. After receiving a scholarship, he began work at Metamorphosis magazine. After returning to Canada, he enrolled at Concordia University in their animation courses. Since 1988, Mr. St-Aubin has illustrated over 50 children's books. Mr. St-Aubin resides in Quebec with his family.

A young boy named Nicholas plays the central character in The Best Goalie Ever. Nicholas' dad asks Nicholas if he's interested in playing net for his team the following day, and Nicholas says "yes". His dad, tucking him into bed, wishes him a good night, and it suddenly dawns on Nicholas that he has never stopped a puck in life!

Nicholas spends the entire night thinking about being a goaltender, and he stays up all night worrying about stopping pucks. As you may know, athletes need their sleep to perform at their highest level, so Nicholas needed to get his sleep. Before he knew it, Nicholas' dad was getting him out of bed and he hadn't slept a wink! What would happen to Nicholas? Would he be able to help his team win despite being completely exhausted?

The 32-page book is an excellent story about preparing for a big game, and it is a good example of why children need their sleep - a message that parents routinely tell their children when sending them to bed! The story is humourous, and will make children laugh and smile when they read about Nicholas' goaltending debut. The pictures are colourful and vivid, and they help in bringing this story to life.

This book is definitely for readers between the ages of three to eight years-old due to its easy-to-read writing, and would be a good start for any child who is breaking into reading. The Best Goalie Ever takes a message that parents are trying to instill in their children, and makes it fun while avoiding the "nagging" that children sometimes tune out. Because of this, The Best Goalie Ever certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval, and comes highly recommended for all youngsters.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 23 November 2009

Neutering The Ferocious

I'm glad I have a red Florida Panthers jersey before it went extinct in this world. If you have a red Panthers jersey, kids, tuck it away because it is officially a collector's item at this point. I don't think you'll ever see the Florida Panthers go back to red after they unveiled their new alternate jersey tonight against the Penguins. You'd have a better chance of seeing a baby blue Panthers jersey than a red one at this point in the franchise's history. But I digress as we're here to rip apart examine their new threads. As the title of this article states, I was seriously underwhelmed by this effort. There are good elements in this jersey, but I think you'll come away like I did: disappointed, frustrated, and having more questions than satisfaction.

The Panthers, as you may be aware, already have a blue home jersey. There is something seriously wrong with NHL teams that create a third jersey in the same primary colour as one of their current jerseys. I'm thinking a distinct lack of imagination, but it could be other reasons. In any case, you can clearly see that yellow and red are accent colours for the Panthers, so there should be no mistaking what colours are in their scheme, right?

So I ask you, dear readers, where do they find the light blue?!? What is with the NHL's sudden obsession with light blue? Pittsburgh brought back their light blue alternates with great success. Atlanta decided to go light blue at home, and that design is still ridiculed throughout theleague. And then we had Colorado just a few weeks ago making their alternate jerseys into a celebration of baby blue. So, if you're the Panthers, why not follow the trend?

Here's a newsflash, Florida Panthers: YOU'RE NOT LIGHT BLUE.

Aside from the Penguins alternate jersey, the other two teams were oh-fer-two. You've now made it oh-fer-three, Florida Panthers, by joining the baby blue revolution. This is almost as bad as the teal influx into the league when San Jose joined as an expansion team. This had better be the last team to adopt baby blue as a "new" colour in their colour scheme, or I'm going to snap.

In terms of the design, there are a couple of things that I like. The new logo has been turned into an old-time logo by simplifying the panther's face and adding the circle around it. Yes, it bothers me that the whiskers are now gone, but the logo is admittedly a decent effort as a redesign. Could it have been more? Yes, definitely. You'd expect a more cartoonish logo on an AHL team, but the Panthers need to attract some new fans because the old ones are dressing like empty seats. And that's not good for the health of the franchise.

I'm not sure what effect that the new shoulder patch is supposed to be making, but perhaps they want to draw in the seniors and Canadian snowbirds with their TV morning show-like patch. Look, I get that these jerseys are supposed to be "new" and "different", but these seem half-assed right now, especially in light of what should have been.

The rear font moves away from their normal look, and throws in some useless Nashville Predators-esque lettering along with goofy block numbering. This is a weak effort, and it's going to be hell for jersey customization when considering names like "Clemmensen" or "McCabe".

Ok, so maybe I'm being a little too harsh. I mean, we haven't even seen them in action yet. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long as the Panthers took to the ice in Miami wearing their new jerseys.

The list of positives will be short. Again, we see a team break out the lace-up collar. I get that an old-time hockey jersey looks a little more vintage with the lace-up collar, but I'm starting to tire of it. It seems as though every team has at least one set of jerseys that have a lace-up collar.

Referee Kevin Pollack takes an up-close-and-personal look at Keith Ballard's new logo. While it would take some keen eyes to spot the whiskers missing at full speed, the new logo works on an elementary level. It looks clean and crisp despite being anatomically inaccurate. While I'm still not entirely sold on this logo, the fact that it looks like a panther while the players are moving means that it is doing its job.

That "Wake Up Florida" shoulder logo, however, doesn't even come close to their normal secondary logo. The palm tree-hockey stick logo actually makes one think of hockey in warm weather. If the Florida Panthers want to attract more youthful fans, they should stick with their classic logos, and stay away from the morning talk show logos. The new shoulder patch just looks dumb in game action. And to make matters worse, the Panthers are also wearing the logo on their breezers.

It still astounds me that the Panthers refused to go back to a red primary colour. This is exactly how I refer to the Panthers when I think of them, and it was helped by their Stanley Cup run in 1996. So how good would Tomas Vokoun look in a red jersey with his crimson red pads as opposed to the new alternate jersey? With Vokoun already wearing red pads this season in combination with his red-accented navy jersey, why can't anyone from the Panthers see how good that looks? There would be enough stripes on the alternate jersey if they used the same design that the monochrome look would be broken up. To me, a red alternate jersey would be a no-brainer in this case.

Also noticeable in this image is the single-colour lettering and numbering. Very clear white-on-navy blue font makes it easy to read. The Predators-style lettering isn't visible whatsoever, so it appears that they may be another useless addition.

I like the aesthetic that the socks create in terms of the dark over light look. It appears on a quick glance that the Panthers have their socks pulled up to the bottom of the knees. There's good striping on the socks as well, so everything is defined very clearly. Again, I'm not sold on the baby blue, though, so there is still some tweaking that could be done.

In saying this, there is little joy in Miami tonight. The Penguins defeated the Panthers 3-2 in overtime, and there is little to be excited about in terms of how the Panthers' new look. Sure, they scored a few points with their logo, their socks, and the legible font, but there are so many drawbacks to this alternate design.

All we are saying is give red a chance. It's part of your colour scheme, Florida, and you should be embracing it. The Panthers looked ferocious in red. They look tame in navy and light blues. And nothing is worse in a vicious catfight than cat with no moxie.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 21 November 2009

Best Jersey Per City

As you may know, this blog gets a lot of inspiration from around the Interwebs, particularly a little site known as Uni Watch Blog. Paul Lukas and Phil Hecken write phenomenal articles covering all sports, and they seem to have an appreciation for the aesthetics in the game of hockey. A commenter posted an interesting thought the other day, and I've decided that it might be something I can spin for this blog. We'll get to the comment in a second, but how many people have actually given thought to how many jerseys a particular city has seen? For example, the city of Denver, Colorado saw the Avalanche wear a number of different jerseys when one considers design changes and colour changes, but what about the Rockies? They wore some distinctive sweaters as well. That's what we'll focus on today: the best singular jersey per NHL city.

Now, the comment came from a gentleman named "Beardface", and it went as follows:

"You know what would be a fun project… Coming up with a list of the best possible uniform for each team in the NFL. Use any uniform in their past and choose the best one. now, of course, you’d have teams like Carolina where you have the default, but that would be a fun project, don’t you think?"
A fun project for sure, but I think it would be more interesting if we narrowed this down to NHL cities. With that knowledge, it will be far easier to include defunct teams that currently house NHL teams. Places like Denver and Minneapolis will have their former teams taken into consideration when examining those cities.

Essentially, what I'm doing is establishing an identity for that city based upon my own personal choices of what I like. There will be a few asterisks in this quick examination as well:
  • WHA franchises, although not recognized in NHL history, will be recognized here.
  • New York City and Long Island will be considered separate entities for the purpose of the examination. This relates back to the first asterisk in that the New York-based WHA team can and will be included in the potential choices.
  • NHL teams that lasted less than one full decade without having the NHL re-establish a team in that city will not be considered. My condolences to Kansas City, Cleveland, Hamilton, and Oakland as those cities never saw the NHL return after their first short era in the National Hockey League. This also removes the majority of the WHA teams where the NHL never set up shop.
Ok, let's get down to business here. Remember that these are my personal choices for the best jersey ever worn in that city by a professional hockey team. This is not scientific, nor is it objective. I'm ok if you want to agree or disagree, and I encourage you to post your thoughts in the comments. Here we go.

  • Anaheim: Say what you want, but I liked the eggplant jersey worn from 1993-06.
  • Atlanta: The Thrashers have dressed pretty poorly, so I'm going with the 1977-80 Atlanta Flames jersey featuring the player's name on the rear.
  • Boston: I wasn't around for the first time they wore the sweaters, but the 1993 throwback jerseys worn by the Bruins are still one of my favorite looks of all-time.
  • Buffalo: Seeing Pat Lafontaine flying down the ice with all those yellow stripes on that blue uniform that the Sabres wore from 1987-96 is a thing of beauty.
  • Calgary: Despite the Atlanta Flames and Calgary Flames looking identical, I still can see Theo Fleury pumping his fists as he slides across the ice in these jerseys that they wore from 1981-94.
  • Carolina (Raleigh): The red Hurricanes jersey used from 2000-07 had an awesome glitter effect in the silver. It's the only one I think of when I refer to the Hurricanes.
  • Chicago: I never get tired of the Blackhawks' red jerseys, but the jerseys worn from 1996-99 with the smaller, even hem stripes is a thing of beauty.
  • Colorado (Denver): The darker colours used by Starter from 1996-99 on the Avalanche jerseys is how I'll always remember them.
  • Columbus: I actually really like their current dark blue home uniforms. Classy and simple.
  • Dallas: Dallas always will be the star-patterned jersey that they used from 1998-2003. It just makes sense.
  • Detroit: The Big Red Machine always sticks out in my mind, but the 1986-2007 red jerseys were the symbol of hockey perfection.
  • Edmonton: Despite all the history they have in blue-and-orange and blue-and-copper, it's actually the Todd McFarlane-designed alternate jersey that they wore from 2001-07 that I really like. It was noticeable on the ice.
  • Florida (Miami): I really liked the red jerseys worn from 1998-2003. The vertically-arched name on the back and the deep red colour make this their best jersey to date.
  • Hartford: I'm gonna get slagged for this one, but the dark blue Whalers jersey worn from 1992-97 is still my favorite.
  • Los Angeles: The Wayne Gretzky era still ranks highly for me, so the 1992-95 silver-and-black jersey is my personal favorite.
  • Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul): No disrespect to the Wild's green jersey, but the North Stars' jersey worn from 1992-95 is still my favorite from that city. The stars down the side of the pants only make it even better.
  • Montreal: I grew up seeing the 1984-97 Habs jersey everyday, so it's been burned into my mind.
  • Nashville: The more I examined the legacy of the Predators, the more I realized that I didn't really like any of their designs due to some basic design stupidity. Letters that cross stripes and apron strings make it hard to appreciate how their jerseys look because it's such an eyesore. However, the white jerseys worn from 2005-07 without the captaincy designations are probably their best to date.
  • New Jersey (Newark/East Rutherford): Merry Christmas! The green-and-red jerseys from 1982-92 are how the Devils should look all the time.
  • New York (Long Island): I know you're all probably thinking that I'd choose this jersey, but I'm not. The 1978-84 road jersey represented the best times on the Island. I'm going with that one.
  • New York (NYC): As much as I wanted to choose the patriotic stars-and-stripes of the Brooklyn Americans, the home jersey worn from 1990-96 is entirely NYC. Winning the Stanley Cup in 1994 at MSG also helps burn that image into one's mind.
  • Ottawa: Senators fans probably won't agree with me, but sweaters worn in 1930-31 with the "O" in the middle were simply awesome. Thick stripes look so much better than thin stripes on a jersey.
  • Philadelphia: The little nuances of the 1984-97 road jersey make the Flyers look so much better. The little sleeve stripe, the small hem stripe, and the gigantic area of orange with the logo in the middle make this my favorite look for the big, bad Flyers.
  • Phoenix: Don't get me wrong in that I'm not saying I don't like the current red brick jerseys. I do. They're simple and classy. The problem is that I watched the Coyotes move into the desert with their southwest motif jerseys, so the 1997-2003 home jersey is what I remember best.
  • Pittsburgh: Two Stanley Cups and one of the most dominant teams of the early-1990s says "no contest" for the 1988-92 road jersey.
  • Quebec (Quebec City): Nothing is finer than the 1991-95 road jersey of the Nordiques. Simply one of the best looks of all-time.
  • St. Louis: The darker blue on the road jerseys worn from 1992-94 is still my favorite look for the St. Louis Blues. I almost went with the St. Louis Eagles here, but the Blues still do have that very iconic look.
  • San Jose: When the Sharks broke into the league, they were all about the teal. They essentially captured one colour, and used it to sell hundreds of thousands of jerseys. Why mess with a good thing? I still love the 1991-97 road jerseys.
  • Tampa: The 1993-94 home jerseys are still my favorite due to what's on the back. The italicized font was ahead of its time, and really gave Tampa Bay something unique. If only for one season.
  • Toronto: There is so much good about the blue road uniforms worn from 1992-97. The old-time Leafs shoulder logo, the throwback striping, and that vivid blue-and-white make this the jersey I refer to when thinking about the Leafs.
  • Vancouver: Vancouver hasn't been the same to me since they abandoned their original colour scheme. The old logo and yellow-and-red on the black road uniforms used from 1992-95 looked really sharp.
  • Washington: We're going to forget that period where the Capitals lost their minds and went away from the red-white-and-blue. The jerseys used from 1987-95 had so much right with them.
  • Winnipeg: When the Jets moved away from John Ferguson's New York Ranger-esque design, they instantly became a better looking team. From 1990-96, the blue Jets jerseys were the standard for all things related to the NHL in Winnipeg.
So there are my subjective picks as to how I fondly regard each team. Again, these are my choices and nothing more. I encourage you to debate and/or offer other suggestions in the comments. I'm not saying I'm right, and maybe there's a jersey I forgot that should take the place of one of my choices. Either way, let the debate begin as to what jersey you think should represent the city.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

AHL News Lines

With the AHL schedule finally starting to balance out so that some teams haven't played a dozen more games than others, there are some impressive things happening in the minor professional ranks as AHL teams prepare their players for the Calder Cup Playoffs and, ultimately, a roster spot in the NHL. There are also a number of teams that have put up some impressive numbers thus far. Knowing this, let's take a look into the AHL this week.

  • While the Texas Stars have the most points in the AHL right now, the Rochester Americans are still steamrolling through their competition. The Amerks have an impressive 0.853 winning percentage, and have compiled a 14-2-1-0 record through 17 games thus far. After opening the season 1-1-1-0, the Amerks have gone 13-1 with that lone loss coming at the hands of the Portland Pirates.
  • How are the Amerks doing it? Balanced scoring, great goaltending, and solid defensive efforts. The Amerks have nine players in double-digits for scoring, and have six players with five goals or more. Czech goaltender Alexander Salak has been outstanding for Rochester, putting up a record of 11-1-0 this season, adding an outstanding 1.88 GAA and .938 save percentage to back up that record. After a sub-par season last season, Rochester is back with a vengeance this season.
  • One team who has turned their fortunes around is the Grand Rapids Griffins. After starting the season 1-4, the Griffins have gone 11-1-0-0 in their last ten games. With the least number of games played in the North Division, leap-frogging both the Abbotsford Heat and the Manitoba Moose shouldn't be a problem if the Griffins can continue their hot streak. Former Toronto Marlies Jeremy Williams and Kris Newbury are leading the Griffins in scoring, while goaltender Daniel Larsson is leading the charge with his 7-2-0 record.
  • The Manitoba Moose got some added firepower this week as the Anaheim Ducks sent forward Erik Christensen to Winnipeg for a reconditioning stint. That move was followed by the Vancouver Canucks reassigning forward Matt Pettinger to the Moose as well. All of a sudden, the Moose are flush with talented centermen. Christensen, wearing #17, scored in his Moose debut last night against the Hamilton Bulldogs, helping the Moose to a 5-3 win over their North Division rivals.
  • The Boston Bruins made a couple of moves to help bolster the Providence Bruins this week. First, they reassigned Brad Marchand to the P-Bruins, and they followed that move up by placing Trent Whitfield on waivers with the purpose of sending him to Providence as well. I'm not sure how Whitfield's stock has dropped since he was with St. Louis, but he clearly isn't fitting into Boston's plans.
  • Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack continues to lead the AHL in scoring, having posted 29 points in 19 games. Alexandre Giroux is on his heels as he has 24 points in 14 games. Brandon Bochenski of the Norfolk Admirals leads the AHL in goal-scoring with 12 goals in 21 games. Goaltender Brent Krahn of the Texas Stars has the best GAA at 1.20 this season. His 0.964 save percentage is also tops in the AHL.
  • The Hershey Bears are leading the AHL in attendance. The Bears are averaging 9097 fans per game in their seven home games thus far. The Manitoba Moose sit second with an average of 6885 fans per game, while the Grand Rapids Griffins sit third with 6412 fans per game. On the flip side, Lowell draws the least amount of fans with 2001 per game. Toronto is second with a mere 2695 fans showing up to watch the Marlies. It shocks me that a city that boasts how it can support a second NHL team won't even come out to watch the future Leafs play. Then again, Toronto doesn't support anyone unless they are named the "Maple Leafs".
There are a few news stories coming from the AHL this week. More info coming up in Antler Banter this week, including a look at the two games against Hamilton this weekend. Get out and check out an AHL game, kids. It's great fun, and you get a chance to see all the next stars of the NHL before they make it big!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 20 November 2009

Friends In Incredible Places

I have spoken about my good friend, Michael, on a few occasions before. Michael and I worked together, we've played hockey together, and we're still friends to this day. Both of us have a burning passion for the game of hockey, and we try to get together when our schedules allow for some brews and hockey on the tube. Because we chat about hockey often, Mike and I routinely have great conversations about the game. Mike, however, writes an incredible music blog called Ear To The Sound because he also has an incredible passion for music and the music industry.

Without speaking too much about how Mike got knee-deep into music, I will tell you this: Michael is the Program Director for UMFM, the student-run radio station at the University of Manitoba. He hosts a weekly radio show on UMFM called Thank God It's Free Range, and he regularly has a solid lineup of musical talent and guests on his show. You can check out who is coming up on his show by hitting his show's blog - something entirely cool if you like independent music and awesome interviews.

And that's why I'm talking about him today. Michael asked me to submit a few questions for his most recent interview with Stephen Brunt, reporter for the Globe & Mail, and author of successful books like Searching For Bobby Orr and, most recently, Gretzky's Tears.

The interview itself is nearly 35 minutes long, and Michael asks a lot of questions about the book, the trade that sent Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, and everyone surrounding the most famous trade in NHL history. Mr. Brunt gives an excellent interview, and his insight into one of the more famous moments in hockey history is astounding. If you're interested in listening to it, you can hear it here on this nifty little audio player.

I have to thank Michael for sending me the audio of the interview. Michael, you're a true friend, and you're welcome on HBIC any time you like. Thanks for allowing me to send you a few questions, and thanks for taking the time to ask them to Mr. Brunt.

I also want to thank Mr. Brunt for answering my questions, and for a very informative interview. Gretzky's Tears is on the list of books that Teebz's Book Club will be acquiring shortly, and you've made the story sound all the more interesting. You have a guaranteed sale here, Mr. Brunt!

Lastly, I want to thank the readers who took the time to listen to Mr. Brunt's informative and insightful interview. I hope you gained a better perspective of what actually was going down during the time of "the trade", and I encourage you to check out Gretzky's Tears or one of Mr. Brunt's other books.

Just before I call it an evening, I do want to throw a shout out to Captain Canuck. He correctly answered the most questions right, and will be receiving the copy of Canadiens Legends: Montreal's Hockey Heroes along with a Montreal Canadiens keychain compliments of Congratulations, Captain Canuck!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Overseas Expansion

It's hard to believe that I'm here today talking about expansion with all the uncertainty in the world's economies today, but it seems that the second-best professional league in the world has its sight set on adding one, if not two, teams next season. The KHL announced today that AIK Hockey Club of Stockholm, Sweden has signed a letter of intent to join the KHL for the 2010-11 season. The Swedish club is currently playing in HockeyAllsvenskan, the level just below the Swedish Elite League. They play against such opponents as IF Malmo Redhawks and Leksands IF, and are currently sitting in fourth-place in the standings, just four points behind Växjö Lakers HC for first overall. With their letter of intent, AIK jumps from Sweden's AHL to the spotlight as the KHL begins to form a European "super-league".

As stated in their release today, this "concept of a Swedish club joining the KHL is consistent with the vision of the Pan-European League project that was introduced by the KHL at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Congress in September". As the cities of the KHL dot the map across Russia and its former states, the Stockholm-based AIK will now be the KHL's western-most club. That means that a roadtrip to Amur Khabarovsk, the KHL's eastern-most club, will require travel of about 6700 kms... give or take a hundred kilometers.

Now, in comparison, the New York Rangers only travel about 4460 kms to get to Anaheim's Honda Center. Clearly, this additional travel will most likely take a toll on the bodies of the athletes that play for these teams. However, it seems that the KHL is more than willing to open its doors to any and all European teams if the interested teams meet the KHL's required criteria.

The 24-team KHL will now have a 25th team, and it sounds like the Swedes are excited about joining the KHL: "We are thrilled by the invitation of the KHL," stated Peter Mellqvist, Chairman of the Board of the AIK Hockey Club. "It creates new possibilities for AIK Hockey to participate in the KHL. It brings the club to a completely different platform and creates enormous potential for the future. AIK Hockey and its fans and members will have the opportunity to take part in the world’s best hockey played on big ice."

Now, with 25 teams, there appears that there might be a problem with scheduling and standings. However, it wasn't long ago that the KHL was already discussing expanding elsewhere. Lithuania hosted a KHL exhibition match between SKA St. Petersburg and Ak Bars Kazan in Vilnius on October 12th, and it was an overwhelming success. This prompted talk of a true expansion team in Vilnius, Lithuania for possibly the 2010-11 season.

The Vetra athletic club, a leading Lithuanian sports club, and several Lithuanian businesses expressed interest in joining the KHL by letter shortly after the KHL exhibition game. Further to this interest, the Lithuanian letter "revealed plans for the construction of a new ice arena that would be the home of the expansion team as well as serve as the hub of a development project that would include a multi-use sports complex, hotel and retail area in downtown Vilnius".

The KHL, not one to look a gift expansion fee in the mouth, responded with a letter that "outlined a list of specific criteria that would be necessary from operational, logistical and financial standpoints to create a team and develop the required infrastructure to support it".

Look, I'm all about expansion if expansion is done right. The fanbases in these new cities need to be told the truth: there will be some extreme growing pains within the first ten years of joining the KHL. Success will not happen overnight, and teams that stay the course in the expansion process usually see good results. The San Jose Sharks needed about a decade to develop and stock their farm teams, and they are now reaping the benefits. They are an elite team.

There is one benefit that AIK might see more than the other teams. If you were offered a chance to play in Stockholm, Sweden or Magnitogorsk, Russia, which option would you take? Stockholm is a fairly attractive city for players as it is a major European market as compared to such places as Magnitogorsk or Astana (Kazakhstan). Because of Stockholm's attractiveness for Canadian- and American-born players, they may have an easier time attracting big-name, free agent talent. However, the money that some of the Russian teams can throw around could speak volumes as to who signs where.

All in all, congratulations on the KHL for adding one team, and possibly another if the Lithuanian bid works out. There will be more to report on next season with the first Swedish team in the KHL, and this could be the first of many European teams looking to make the jump to the "big league" in Eurasia.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Antler Banter: Volume 3

Hey, kids! We're back with another episode of Antler Banter! The Manitoba Moose returned home from their Texas roadtrip to rest up for a few days before battling their North Division rivals in the Toronto Marlies. We'll look at the two-game set between these teams. Last night saw the Moose hold their first ever "Super Skills" competition where the members of the Moose squared off in a high stakes skills competition to see who was the fastest skater, the most accurate shooter, the man with the cannon, and which goaltender would stand tall in breakaways. We'll go through all of that in this edition of Antler Banter. I'm going to hold off profiling anyone this week, however. As always, for all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Without further adieu, let's get to the Hardcore Hockey!

"We Gonna Get It On..."

The Marlies rolled into MTS Centre on Friday night after dropping their last game. The Moose, suffering through one of their worst scoring droughts in history, were also licking their wounds after getting pummeled in Texas. After some of the fireworks we saw in last season's Calder Cup Playoffs between these two teams, you had to know that the fuse was already lit on this powderkeg.

Before the game even started, we had some unhappy players as Mark McCutcheon and Toronto's Jay Rosehill were sent to the penalty box with coincidental unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. With the open ice, the Moose used the extra room to draw first blood when Marty Murray banged home his fourth goal off an Eric Walsky rebound to give the home side some early breathing room. Ryan Hamilton responded with his sixth marker of the season for the Marlies at the midway point of the first period to draw the score at 1-1.

Just a mere 1:02 into the second period, Marco Rosa forced a Toronto turnover and made them pay by firing home his fifth goal through goaltender Joey MacDonald to restore Manitoba's one-goal lead. Darryl Bootland, playing in what is certainly his best game as a Moose thus far this season, made it a two-goal advantage when he scored his first of the year. Never one to shy away from a little tussle, Bootland immediately canceled the goal celebration and started throwing punches at Toronto's Jonas Frogren after he had taken Marco Rosa down in the corner. This bit of excitement seemed to jump-start the Moose offense as Sergei Shirokov netted his sixth goal of the season just 4:01 later on a gorgeous cross-ice feed from Travis Ramsey. 4-1 for the Moose after 40 minutes, and suddenly it appeared the floodgates were open.

While the third period saw five fights break out between these two teams, Neil Petruic also added his first of the season on a slapshot from just inside the blueline that eluded Joey MacDonald. With their largest offensive outburst of the season, the Moose send a message to the Marlies with a 5-1 win. The victory pushes the Moose back to .500 with a 9-9-2 record.

"... 'Cause We Don't Get Along!"

Saturday night's game was expected to be a knock-em-down, run-em-over kind of game after Friday night's fight night. If you wanted to see some old-time hockey, MTS Centre was the place to be.

It didn't take long for these two teams to renew the bloodsport from the night before. Tommy Maxwell hooked up with Toronto's Richard Greenop a mere 4:37 into the first period, and the rough stuff simply continued from there. Toronto's Jay Rosehill was whistled for boarding with just under four minutes to play, setting the Moose up for a chance to take the lead into the intermission. Except that Dusty Collin threw an elbow 1:17 later, and the teams were down to four-on-four. Tyler Bozek used the extra room in the slot to fire his second of the season past Cory Schneider to give Toronto the 1-0 lead.

Jay Rosehill and Nathan McIver renewed acquaintances when they decided to drop the gloves just past the 11-minute mark. With just over five minutes to play in the second period, the Moose responded. Eric Walsky fired a shot on goaltender James Reimer from the top of the faceoff circle that Reimer kicked out. The problem? Sergei Shirokov was standing right where Reimer kicked the puck. Shirokov potted his seventh of the season on the rebound, and the teams were squared at one goal apiece.

The third period was fairly quiet: no fisticuffs, no goals, no real trouble. With the game knotted at one goal apiece, overtime solved nothing as well. That meant we were off to a shootout. Cory Schneider, having already played an excellent game, shone in the shootout by stopping all four Toronto shooters. Mike Keane and Eric Walsky responded for the home side, and the hometown fans went home happy after a 2-1 shootout win. With the win, the Moose push their record to 10-9-2-0, and move back into third place in the North Division.

"Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee!"

The wins were exactly what the doctor ordered, and the Moose climbed back up to third place in the North Division standings. Toronto's 15 points now has them sitting in sixth in the North Division, five points back of Grand Rapids Griffins. They say that there are no more important wins than the ones within your own division. The Moose did themselves a huge favour by taking all four points from the Marlies last weekend.

Manitoba Moose Intensive Care Unit

Little has changed in the infirmary for the Moose.

Michael Funk - concussion. No return date set.
Lawrence Nycholat - foot and shoulder problems. December?
Matt Pope - high ankle sprain. Still off skates. December?
Pierre-Cedric Labrie - shoulder separation. Potentially this weekend.
Guillaume Desbiens - foot injury. December at least.
Michael Grabner - ankle injury. December?
Alex Bolduc - shoulder injury. December?
Matt Pettinger - still in Vancouver. Doing well.

Jannik Hansen did return to the Canucks lineup, though, so there might be some additional scoring help on the way once Vancouver begins erasing names off their injury list.

The Kid's A Natural

I have to throw out some credit to right winger Eric Walsky. Walsky was named as the Moose's fastest skater and most accurate shooter at last night's Super Skills Challenge, and he has really climbed up the stats chart for the Moose. The Anchorage, Alaska native hasn't quite dented the twine as often as he may like, but he has been a force defensively as he sits with a team-best +3 in the plus/minus department. Head coach Scott Arniel, always an admirer of solid two-way play, has responded by giving Walsky more offensive time on the top lines. Great job, Mr. Walsky, and congratulations on your two skills competition wins!

Moose Outlook

The Moose are up against a test again this weekend as another division rival stops in for two dates at MTS Centre. The second-place Hamilton Bulldogs bring their impressive 9-2-1-3 record into Winnipeg. The Bulldogs are 6-2-0-2 in their last ten games, so they have faltered slightly, but they also sit with six games in hand on the Moose. With that potential twelve-point spread sitting over their heads like a black cloud, the Moose could do a lot to help themselves by capturing all four points this upcoming weekend.

Ben Maxwell and Brock Trotter lead the team with identical scoring stats: three goals and eight assists for eleven points. Former Manitoba Moose goaltender Curtis Sanford comes into the weekend with a 5-2-2 record with two shutouts. He sports a sparkling 1.44 GAA and .947 save percentage, so all of the Moose's top offensive guns have to be firing.

Just two games coming up. Next Wednesday sees the Moose leave for a roadtrip, and we'll preview that in the upcoming Antler Banter.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Alpha Moose

Some people consider Bullwinkle as the most talented moose of all-time. Others consider Rutt and Tuke, the two moose from Disney's Brother Bear, to be a close second. Tonight, however, the most talented Moose was crowned on the ice at MTS Centre. The Manitoba Moose welcomed fans down to the arena for their first "Super Skills" competition - essentially, a team-based skills competition featuring all of the non-injured Moose. There were a ton of things for fans to do on the concourse, including accuracy shooting and finding out who had the hardest shot, but the competition on the ice was the main draw. Tonight, the Moose split up into two teams to compete in the fastest skater event, accuracy shooting event, hardest shot event, and the breakaway relay. With that being said, let's get to the first annual Manitoba Moose Super Skills Competition!

Fastest Skater

Times will be listed per player as they skate one lap of the rink from the center ice line.

Team Black: Marco Rosa, Tommy Maxwell, Sergei Shirokov, and Mark McCutcheon.
Team White: Eric Walsky, Derek Leblanc, John Lammers, and Mario Bliznak.

Walsky - 13.46 seconds.
Rosa - 13.78 seconds.
Leblanc - 14.16 seconds.
Maxwell - 14.16 seconds, including a solid shoulder to a crossbar.
Lammers - 14.26 seconds.
Shirokov - 14.66 seconds after a false start.
Bliznak - 14.06 seconds.
McCutcheon - 14.50 seconds.

Team Black earns five points on Walsky's trail of fire around the rink.

Accuracy Shooting

Players will have their scores listed in the order that they shoot. There are five targets to hit: one in each corner of the net, and the ever-elusive five-hole. Scores will reflect the number of shots taken to hit the five targets. Players will line up directly between the faceoff circles in the slot for their shots.

Team Black: Darryl Bootland, Marty Murray, John Lammers, and Eric Walsky.
Team White: Mike Keane, Sergei Shirokov, Dusty Collins, and Marco Rosa.

Keane - 5/8 in 13.91 seconds.
Bootland - 5/8 in 13.90 seconds.
Shirokov - 5/9 in 15.08 seconds.
Murray - 5/10 in 15.80 seconds.
Collins - 5/10 in 17.57 seconds.
Lammers - 2/12 with a time-out, but five posts counted.
Rosa - 5/9 in 18.41 seconds.
Walsky - 5/7 in 11.96 seconds, and two posts.

Walsky earns another five points for Team Black with his laser-sighted shot! From the way it appeared, the bottom two corners looked like they were the hardest for the players to hit. Walsky, however, made it look easy as he missed the top-left corner twice on his two post-ringing shots.

Hardest Shot

Players will have their shots clocked in the order that they shoot. Players will tee off from high slot area just between the top of the faceoff circles. Each player will have two attempts to blow away the radar gun.

Team Black: Nolan Baumgartner, Evan Oberg, Derek Leblanc, and Geoff Waugh.
Team White:Brian Salcido, Travis Ramsey, Neil Petruic, and Mark McCutcheon.

Baumgartner - 85 mph followed by 85 mph.
Salcido - 96 mph followed by 94 mph.
Oberg - 92 mph followed by 89 mph.
Ramsey - 95 mph followed by 97 mph.
Leblanc - 88 mph followed by 90 mph.
Petruic - 92 mph followed by 91 mph.
Waugh - 87 mph followed by 83 mph.
McIver - 83 mph followed by 88 mph.

Team White earns five points on Ramsey's cannon-like blast. Some quick notes on this competition saw two misreadings by the radar gun. Evan Oberg's first shot registered as 13 mph, while Geoff Waugh's second shot saw him record a 14 mph shot. Neither men dribbled the puck into the net, I assure you. There was a break in the competition, though, as Travis Ramsey literally blew away the radar gun. Ramsey's second shot was a laser to the center post in the net, and the radar gun flew off the back of the net. After a quick reset, Ramsey's third shot of 97 mph was your winner.

Breakaway Relay

Players will be listed in terms of their appearance, and whether or not they scored. An X will be used for an unsuccessful shot, while an O will represent a goal. Goaltenders will have their total saves and save percentage shown at the bottom of the shooter list.

Team Black: Nolan Baumgartner, Geoff Waugh, Evan Oberg, Derek Leblanc, John Lammers, Mario Bliznak, Marty Murray, Darryl Bootland, and Eric Walsky.
Team White: Brian Salcido, Travis Ramsey, Neil Petruic, Nathan McIver, Tommy Maxwell, Mark McCutcheon, Marco Rosa, Sergei Shirokov, and Mike Keane.

Team Black Goaltender: Daren Machesney.
Team White Goaltender: Cory Schneider.

Baumgartner - X
Salcido - X
Waugh - O, on a backhander past Schneider.
Ramsey - X
Oberg - X
Petruic - O, forehand to backhand to the top of the net.
Leblanc - X
McIver - X
Lammers - X
Maxwell - X
Bliznak - O, as the backhand slides five-hole.
McCutcheon - X
Murray - X
Rosa - O, top-shelf on a gorgeous wrist shot past Machesney.
Bootland - O, crushing a slapshot past a sprawling Schneider.
Shirokov - X
Walsky - X
Keane - X

Machesney - 7/9 = 0.778 save percentage
Schneider - 6/9 = 0.667 save percentage

Team Black defeats Team White in the shootout by a 3-2 score. Each goal counts towards the team total as well, so Team Black picks up eight points to Team White's two points.

Team Totals

Team Black: 18 points.
Team White: 7 points.

Team Black is your winning Moose squad tonight! Congratulations go out to Nolan Baumgartner, Geoff Waugh, Evan Oberg, Derek Leblanc, John Lammers, Mario Bliznak, Marty Murray, Darryl Bootland, Eric Walsky, and goaltender Daren Machesney!

Honestly, this was a great night of fun hosted by the Manitoba Moose. Lots of prizes were given away, and a great crowd turned out to see the event. While the official attendance totals was announced at 3727, if felt like there had to be 4500-5000 people in the building tonight.

The glass was down in all non-essential places, and fans got to high five their favorite hometown hockey stars as they skated by. Moose players were available for autographs all night long, and, at $5 per ticket, this is exactly the kind of event that can go a long way in helping the Moose generate fans for generations. There were children everywhere in the crowd, proving that the Moose's efforts in being a part of the community are going a long, long way.

Perhaps one of the coolest things about having no glass up is that all the players were chatting with the fans all night long. It's that kind of interaction that makes this type of event a lot of fun, and it really is a memorable experience for all involved. Especially for the fans. The players poked fun at one another all night, and they really seemed to be having as much of a good time as the fans were.

Well done, Manitoba Moose, on starting an annual event that is fun, affordable, and a great time for all in attendance! Tonight, everyone was a winner!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!