Sunday 31 January 2010

Trade Deadline Looms

There are a number of players who are getting fitted for new uniforms today. Seven players are changing addresses after the Maple Leafs, Flames, and Ducks got in on some pre-Olympics player swapping. With the moves made today by three teams, it appears that there are a number of trades looming on the horizon. While I'm not going to speculate on who is going where, I will give you a look at the trade that went down, along with some other potential player moves that several news sources have reported. Needless to say, the moves made today will have an impact on the three teams involved, and the moves could have a very significant impact on the future of these three teams.

IN: Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Fredrik Sjostrom, Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
OUT: Ian White, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala.

Let's start with the changes in Toronto. The Leafs dealt away four of their top-twelve forwards in this deal. Now, there have been a lot of people complaining on various message boards and hockey sites about how much potential offence was given away, but if your team is in 29th-place overall, what offence did you have?

Jason Blake's point-per-game average in New York was 0.61.
Jason Blake's point-per-game average in Toronto was 0.65.

Toronto was paying a player $5 million to essentially put up 53 points per season based on his point-per-game average. Do you really think Jason Blake is worth $5 million per season?

Brian Burke has essentially shed himself of a pile of bad contracts, made his team younger, and reinforced the one major problem of his team: keeping the puck out of his net. Phaneuf and Giguere are obviously the highlights of this trade, but I really like the pick-up of Keith Aulie in the Phaneuf trade. Going forward in a couple of years, we could be talking about Phaneuf-Schenn-Gunnarson-Aulie as the top-four defencemen in Toronto, and that's a pretty good outlook. Combine that with some bad expiring contracts, and Toronto's future is brighter than what it was yesterday.

IN: Ian White, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan.
OUT: Keith Aulie, Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom.

I'm not sure if Calgary wants to make the playoffs this year. I find GM Darryl Sutter's moves odd and out-of-line with what playoff-bound teams do. While I don't argue that there was some sort of change needed in Calgary, blowing up your team before the Olympic break seems questionable.

Dion Phaneuf had regressed under Mike Keenan, and that was apparent. I'm not sure what happened to Dion Phaneuf, but he is on pace for his wost season yet statistically. This would be the second year he has seen a decline in points from the year before.

However, we're talking about a 24 year-old physical defenceman. The kid has all sorts of potential, but, to me, it appears he was stuck between a rock and a hard place in Calgary. He couldn't score enough to be a perennial all-star, but he couldn't throw enough monster hits to be a physical defenceman. It was like he never did enough despite all he tried to do. And when a player starts trying to do too much, his play suffers. Thus, it surprises me that Calgary gave up on a player who appears to have at least ten good years of hockey left in him.

The New Jersey Devils had a kid who scored a lot of points from the blueline. He was considered one of the premiere defencemen in all of hockey, and they paid a big price to get him. However, he was given a leadership role on the Devils, and was told to play physically and to not back down in his own zone. The result? Between 1994 and 2004, he never scored more than 31 points despite having broken the 70-point barrier twice earlier in his career. Who was this player?

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Stevens. Not surprisingly, the Devils' success came after Stevens was given a well-defined role. Perhaps Calgary simply needed to allow Phaneuf to find his niche?

The players that Calgary is receiving will not solve the scoring woes that they are experiencing. Matt Stajan appears to be penciled in to play alongside Jarome Iginla, but Stajan is far from a first-line centerman. Hagman could be a decent second-line winger, but it appears he may suit up alongside Stajan and Iginla in the hopes of igniting Iginla's scoring. Mayers will most likely see fourth-line action, but his career is on the decline.

The one player that Calgary might be happy with is Ian White. White can play forward and has shown that he is a very capable defenceman. However, with players like Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester, the Flames already have a plethora of offensive defencemen. While I have no doubt that White will find a role with the Flames, it might be a more defensive role than what he's been used to playing.

IN: Jason Blake, Vesa Toskala.
OUT: Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

This deal was simply one team trading a problem for another team's problem. However, it appears that both deals may work out for all parties involved.

With the Ducks signing goaltender Jonas Hiller to a four-year contract extension earlier, the writing on the wall was visible in terms of the Ducks dealing Giguere. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner hadn't been playing anywhere near his potential, and the money the Ducks were paying him could be better used elsewhere.

Enter Toronto who had a minor goalie controversy as well. With Jonas Gustavsson emerging as Ron Wilson's guy between the pipes, the higher-paid Vesa Toskala wasn't doing anyone any favors by sitting on the bench.

While it would be impossible for both teams to take on a large salary, we're beginning to see how problem contracts can solve themselves. In the exchange, the Maple Leafs get Giguere's heavy salary, but counteract that by dealing Blake's fat contract along with Toskala's mid-range deal.

With the Ducks having Toskala on the bench, they have an NHL-ready back-up goalie in case Hiller falters. While there is no discernible difference in Giguere's stats and Toskala's stats, the price tag makes a huge difference.

With Jason Blake as the counter-balance in the salary swap, the Ducks get faster down the wing while adding a former 40-goal scorer. Adding a player of Blake's experience and calibre never hurts when trying to make the playoffs.

So what do I make of this?

Toronto got better in the long-term. There's no denying that adding the youth in Phaneuf and Aulie will make their blueline better for the future.

Anaheim got better in the short-term. Hiller is a superior goaltender to both Giguere and Toskala, so his extension was paramount. Getting a veteran like Jason Blake for a run at the playoffs is a pretty good bonus for the Ducks.

Calgary, in my mind, took a step back. No longer do they have that intimidating presence on their blueline that can change a game with one monsterous hit. They dealt a defenceman who looked like he might be a solid prospect despite being a couple years away from the NHL. And they acquired a number of players who have never come close to scratching the surface of their potentials.

If the rumours are true, it appears Calgary is sending Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. While I appreciate the Flames getting grittier, this is doing nothing to help their scoring woes.

Time will tell if Calgary made the right moves for this season. Anaheim's moves are more of an intermediate-term case where Toskala will be gone after this season, allowing the Ducks to use that cash to improve their team of they don't make the playoffs. The Leafs are the long-term planners who are investing heavily in their future.

For all three teams, time is of the essence.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 30 January 2010

Hockey Day In Canada

Today is "Hockey Day In Canada" as coined by CBC for their all-Canadian broadcast today. Each year, CBC's Hockey Night In Canada travels to some small town where the spirit of the game is strong, and the dreams of playing under the lights is a twinkle in everyone's eyes. From outdoor rinks to NHL arenas, Canadians are always associated with hockey where ever you may be on this planet. While I'm not here to advertise for any companies, there is one other thing that Canadians are fiercely proud of: coffee.

Canadians are not like people from Seattle who have seen the likes of Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee and a pile of other upstart coffee peddlers try to carve out a niche in the hot beverage world. No, when you speak to Canadians about coffee, there is one name that stands above the rest: Tim Hortons. Isn't it fitting that Canada, hockey, and coffee are all woven together under this name?

Tim Horton was a proud Canadian and former NHL player. Tim Horton bought a couple of coffeehouses and renamed them after himself. Tim Hortons is a proud sponsor of Timbits Hockey, a minor hockey program that encourages as many youngsters as possible to play hockey. And Tim Hortons is a proud Canadian company.

Because of how all this is related, I've been extremely impressed with the commercials that Tim Hortons has produced about everything Canadian. Who knew a Canadian coffee company would produce such excellent hockey commercials?

Sidney Crosby was a Timbits hockey player when he was younger.

This is an exceptional commercial for the message contained within it. And, as strange as it sounds, Tim Horton's cups are present in garbage cans at every arena in Canada.

There are certainly more great commercials out there, but these two are my absolute favorites simply due to the messages that they carry. It's not about the coffee that Tim Hortons sells or any of their other products. These two commercials bring together proudly-Canadian three institutions: Tim Hortons, hockey, and family.

Sometimes, there's nothing better than a warm Timmy's at a remote arena watching kids play a game they love. That, to me, is Canada.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 29 January 2010

Unrecognized Hockey History

Do you know who the gentleman is pictured to the left? If you don't, that's ok. I'm here to tell you. The NHL doesn't recognize any of the records set in the WHA by any player simply because the NHL doesn't recognize its largest rival to date. The WHA was the "rogue league" - a league whose players wouldn't be included in any international event that the NHL was included in. Because of this, there are a large number of records that have gone unrecognized despite the WHA having some impressive records set. The man to the left is a man who set a record that will never make a record book because of the NHL's unwillingness to acknowledge anything WHA. However, the man to left - Alton White - will be recognized here because of what he did.

While Willie O'Ree is certainly recognized and celebrated by the NHL for his achievement of being the first African-Canadian or African-American to suit up in the NHL, Willie O'Ree didn't accomplish what Alton White accomplished. White is widely recognized as the second black player in professional hockey, but Alton's achievements need to be recognized by the NHL simply due to marketing. Not many kids today can relate to what Willie O'Ree did, but they can relate to what Alton White accomplished.

The right winger starred in the WHA with the Los Angeles Sharks from 1972-74. He never caught the eye of any NHL general manager, but White carved out a pretty decent hockey career in the IHL, AHL, and WHA.

White was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia on May 31, 1945, but moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba as a young child with his parents. White's father took a job in the Manitoba capital with the Canadian National Railway, so they headed west. White was taught to skate before he was four, and he continued playing hockey in Winnipeg. White attended United College (now the University of Winnipeg) to study liberal arts, but only made it through a year-and-a-half of school before turning to hockey as a full-time job.

White had a successful season with the Winnipeg Rangers in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1962-63. This led to a roster spot with St. Paul Rangers in Minnesota under the tutelage of legendary Flyers coach Fred Shero in the old Central Professional Hockey League. Shero, a Winnipeg native, would go on to coach the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers for the 1971-72 season, leading them to consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1973-74 and 1974-75.

From the CPHL, White cracked the roster of the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets. In his first professional season in a major league at age 20, White played 66 games, posting 17 goals and 25 assists.

The Columbus Checkers picked up White for the following season, and he really began to climb the scoring ladder. In his first season with Columbus, he scored 24 goals and 42 assists in 62 games. Columbus kept him around for the 1967-68 season, and he continued to show improvement. White put up 37 goals and 38 assists in 70 games for the Checkers, prompting them to bring him back for another season. The 1968-69 season was his best yet as White scored 35 goals and 50 assists in 72 games for the Checkers.

Because of his impressive scoring in the IHL, he was signed by the AHL's Providence Reds for the stretch run and the playoffs at the end of the '68-69 season. In seven regular season games, White only scored one goal for the Reds. However, the Reds made the playoffs, and he also scored one goal in nine playoff games.

The Reds signed White for the next three seasons where he played a total of 211 games. His scoring ability quickly found its way back, and White scored 48, 61, and 64 points respectively over those three seasons. In all three seasons, he scored 24 or more goals, showing that he definitely had a nose for the net. With his 64 points, White finished second in scoring on the Reds - pro teams started to take notice of the 26 year-old.

With the upstart WHA coming into existence in 1972, there were hundreds of professional hockey jobs opening up for players with talent. The New York Raiders were one of the teams in the WHA's first year, and they quickly signed White to a deal after he starred with the Reds. However, he saw little ice time with the Raiders after they had signed a number of talented minor-leaguers, and he demanded a trade in December after playing only 13 games. With one goal and four assists to his name in his short time in New York, White demanded a trade to the Los Angeles Sharks, and got his wish in December of 1972. The trade for White got New York a couple of grinders in Bob Brown and Jarda Krupicka.

In Los Angeles, White got what he wanted: playing time. Sharks coach Terry Slater gave White a spot on the top two lines most nights, and White responded. In 57 games after the trade from New York, White went on a tear, finishing the season with a combined total of 42 points in the 70 games he played that season. But what was more significant were the two benchmarks he set.

White became the first black hockey player to score 20 or more goals for a professional hockey team, finishing the season with 21 goals. And White became the first black hockey player to ever record a hat trick in a professional hockey game. That feat was accomplished on March 1, 1973 in Minnesota.

In a rather surprising seven minutes of action, White netted three goals for the Sharks in a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Fighting Saints. The first two came the standard way: beating the goaltender with shots. The goaltender that gave up White's first two goals was Jack McCartan, the gold-medal winning goaltender for Team USA at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California and former New York Rangers goalie.

White's third goal, and 21st goal of the season, was credited without having White shoot the puck. With the net empty late in the game and Los Angeles up 3-1, White was sprung for a breakaway. However, a Saints player threw his stick into White's path, and the play was blown dead. The officials made the correct call in awarding White the goal, giving him his first career hat trick and the first hat trick ever recorded by an African-Canadian or African-American player.

In a post-game interview, White downplayed the colour of his skin in regards to the hat trick. Instead, he said that the hat trick itself was a big achievement in his hockey career. While that may be the case for White, the fact that the NHL doesn't have any information about Alton White is tragic. If they needed a role model for African-Canadian or African-American who scored in bunches, Alton White was the first man to score with some regularity after becoming the second black man to play hockey professionally.

White's WHA career only last two more seasons, seeing him suit up for the Sharks before moving on to the Michigan Stags/Baltimore Blades franchise. Thanks to a little research and some digging, Alton White's story can be told here. In the 145 WHA game he suite up for, White recorded 38 goals and 46 assists. 21 of those goals and 21 of those assists came in the 1972-73 season split between New York and Los Angeles when he was 27 years-old.

According to Joe Pelletier's fabulous site, Greatest Hockey Legends, White is living in Vancouver and working in the construction business.

So there's a little hockey history about Alton White, the first African-Canadian or African-American hockey player to record twenty goals in a season, and the first African-Canadian or African-American to record a hat trick in a professional game. While there are some details that conflict in stories, there is no denying Alton White's place in hockey history.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***Information sourced from Ebony Magazine, April 1973 edition.***

Thursday 28 January 2010

Good Guys Wear White, Right?

This is how I grew up watching hockey. The two men on the covers of their respective issues of Sports Illustrated were the dominant forces in the game, and they electrified fans where ever they went. But perhaps the most notable part of those pictures are the jerseys being worn by Gretzky and Lemieux. You see, home teams always wore white when I was growing up with hockey, and you didn't have the myriad of alternate jerseys we see today. Because of this, you instantly knew who the home team was based upon who was wearing wearing white and who wasn't. With that in mind, I turn the forum over to Uni Watch Blog's Phil Hecken and the highly-respected James Huening for a little fun.

Phil: Ah, memories. I grew up during the halcyon days of the NHL when the Flyers, Islanders and Canadiens (and later, the Oilers) were the kings of hockey. In fact, from 1972 through 1990, other than those four teams, only the Calgary Flames (in 1989) won a Stanley Cup. Despite my feigned disdain for the sport of hockey nowadays, the fact is I was a huge fan of the game growing up. An back then (and up until the 2003-04 season) everyone wore a white sweater at home.

My fondest memories of the white jersey, of course, came while I was following the New York Islanders, a team who played (and still plays) in the Nassau Coliseum, a scant few minutes from my home. Back then, before cable television reached my neighborhood, local games were subject to a “home blackout,” meaning, the only Islander games I could ever see, unless they were somehow on national TV, were road games. Thus, the white sweater took on an even greater prominence — it was special. I had to GO to a game to see my team wearing their home white jerseys. Back then, since I was actually good friends with the son of the team’s dentist, I did go to quite a few games (and of course, had the best seats in the house). All sports, except for the NFL, had the home team wearing white. Ya know, the good guys. And when I’d go to those games, all the teams who came into the Nassau Coliseum wore a different color uniform, and that was cool too.

Now…you go to a game (or watch one on TV) and the road team (for the most part) always wears white. Of course, the “dark at home” can be traced directly to the sales of the dreaded alternate jersey (and yes, I know that prior to prior to 1969-70 the home team wore dark — ever wonder why the Rangers were always called the “Blue Shirts”?). But when I grew up, the home white jersey was king.

So, when it was mentioned a few days ago in the comments that “such and such” is a better white jersey than “so and so’s”, it got me to thinking that we should put this all to a poll. There are quite a few of the white jerseys in the league that I prefer to the alternate or dark jersey wears — and I bet I’m not alone. But, how do they stack up against each other? And would anyone besides me like to see the NHL return to “white at home”?

Today I’m teamed up with Uni Watch Pollster, James Huening, who’s assisting me with today’s column. Here’s James with the setup:

James: Oh, yeah, white at home in the NHL... I think only the youngest readers here wouldn’t remember that.

For me, as a Blackhawks fan, it was a little bit different. For starters, there were no championships and the home blackouts had nothing to do with not having cable TV. They had everything to do with “Dollar” Bill Wirtz and his supposed promise to his father Arthur as he lay dying that home games would never be televised as long as he owned the team. So, if I was watching the Hawks on TV, they were on the road.

No white sweaters.

No Barton organ.

No anthem. (OK, that one was actually on TV, but I was at the game.)

Hell, no Stadium at all.

So, yes, it was a special treat to get to see them wearing white.

But I digress. We’re not just here to reminisce about the good ol’ days. We want to know what you think of the current crop of NHL road unis. You know, the ones with the white jerseys.

So please, take a few minutes to complete our survey. Here are some pictures you can use as reference material. They’re broken up into groups of six and organized alphabetically:

Big thanks to Andrew M. Greenstein and his invaluable website, The Hockey Uniform Database, for those images.

Phil: Thanks for the setup, James. Now, it’s up to you to decide. If you haven’t yet clicked on the poll, there is the survey and a few quick questions. Please let us know what YOU think of the jerseys, in a simple rating system (like we did with the NFL jerseys). We’ll be back with the results in a couple of weeks, so vote early (and often).

Get in on the voting action, people. It seems that there is less of an appreciation of the white jerseys in the league since the switch to dark at home, so this is a chance to take a good look at the white jerseys. Once the results are tabulated by Phil and James, I'll post them up here.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Antler Bantler: Volume 13

Antler Banter returns today with a severe case of triskaidekaphobia. The Manitoba Moose rolled into Hershey, Pennsylvania for a couple of games against the AHL-leading Hershey Bears, and there were some definite questions as to how the Moose would respond after a couple of blow-outs against the Milwaukee Admirals before the AHL All-Star break. Injury news returns today as the Moose see a few players return to the stretchers. 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. Hardcore Hockey takes a bit of a beating today, so let's get through this.

Mauled By The Bears

This one was simply looming on the horizon. The Moose were playing downright brutal hockey, and the Bears were destroying unsuspecting teams like they had rabies and a thirst for blood. Yes, it was that bad. I can't even begin to describe the horror I witnessed, but let's just say that Manitoba was consistent in scoring one goal per period. Cory Schneider got little help in the Moose net Friday night, while Braden Holtby suited up for the Bears.

Let me blunt here: I'm going to do this quickly. Like tearing off a band-aid. Quick and painless. Well, there's always a little pain. But it's fast so it doesn't last as long. That's better than long-term pain, right? Lots of pictures to try and make you smile through this horrific recap, so let's begin.

Andrew Joudrey poked home a rebound off an Oskar Osala shot from the right side of the crease for his sixth goal of the season at 10:07 of the first. Hershey led 1-0.

Mathieu Schneider pounded home a slaphot from the point on the powerplay to pull the Moose even 48 seconds later. Schneider's third goal of the season made it 1-1.

Keith Aucoin found a seam between Moose defencemen Taylor Ellington and Brian Salcido to streak in alone on Cory Schneider. A quick shot to the glove side found the back of the net, and Aucoin's 23rd goal of the season gave the Bears a 2-1 lead at the 12:42 mark of the first period. That score would hold steady to the first intermission.

Marco Rosa was sent to the box at 1:28 of the second period for charging, and the Bears went back to the powerplay. However, things got worse for the Moose when Mathieu Schneider was given two minutes of time in the box for hooking 1:02 later. With two Moose players in the box, Chris Bourque hammered a one-timer home from the slot to give the Bears a 3-1 lead on the powerplay at 3:07.

Marco Rosa brought the Herd within one goal at 4:55 when he shoveled home a loose puck under Holtby while a conference of players stood in front of the goaltender. Rosa's 12th goal of the season had the Moose trailing by a 3-2 score.

At the 6:26 mark, Steve Pinizzotto converted a Kyle Wilson pass from behind the net when he found a hole in the right corner. Pinizzotto's eighth of the season restored the Bears' two-goal lead at 4-2. Surprisingly, this was the last goal of the period despite there being 20 shots on net between the two teams. Hershey led in shots-on-net by a 20-16 margin.

Marco Rosa's 13th goal of the season was set up by a gorgeous feed from Michael Grabner. Grabner ate up a turnover and fed Rosa who beat Holtby to make it 4-3 just 2:41 into the third period. Let's just say that the Moose had poked a sleeping bear for too long.

Nikita Kashirsky was sent off at 6:04 for slashing, and the Bears went back to the powerplay. Alexandre Giroux sent a rocket from the point towards the net, and Andrew Gordon got a piece of it to deflect it past Schneider at the 7:25 mark. Gordon's 20th goal of the season on the powerplay put the Bears up 5-3.

39 seconds later, Oskar Osala scored his 11th goal of the season, and Kyle Wilson added his 17th of the season 1:20 after Osala's marker. Before the Moose could breathe, they were down 7-3.

Three minutes later, Jay Beagle scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal while teammate Patrick McNeill was off for hooking. Beagle skated down the middle of the ice after the Moose turned the puck over, allowing him to break in alone on Schneider. He deked around Schneider's left leg, and notched his eighth of the season past the sprawling Moose goaltender. Hershey led 8-3.

Like any mauling, it mercifully came to an end after Beagle's goal, and the Bears claimed victory with their 8-3 thrashing of the Moose. The Hershey fans went home happy on Friday night, and the Hershey Bears left the Moose in a bloody mess. With the loss, the Moose dropped to 23-18-4-1, but there was no silver lining on this game. Instead, all the Moose had to look forward to was a Saturday night game against these same Bears.

Dead Moose Carcass

The Moose looked to rebound from a disappointing effort that saw the Bears hang a season-high eight goals on the Herd, but this was nothing more than a repeat of the mauling they took a night before. Daren Machesney was thrown to his former Bear teammates, but they took little mercy on their former friend and ally. Braden Holtby returned to the den for the Bears.

Guillaume Desbiens solved Holtby just 1:19 as the Moose looked like they were going to reverse their fortunes early on. Mario Bliznak found Desbiens with a cross-ice pass that Desbien zipped past Holtby on the right side for his ninth goal of the season. The Moose jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the surprised Bears. However, you never surprise a bear. Ever. Because just when you think it's safe, you're bear dinner.

Keith Aucoin rifled a slapshot past Machesney on the powerplay with Evan Oberg in the box. Aucoin's 24th of the season knotted the game at 1-1 at 7:14. Oskar Osala netted his 12th of the season at 11:50 after zipping the puck upstairs past Machesney. And 27 seconds later, Jay Beagle scored his ninth of the season with a low shot that eluded Machesney.

For all the good that Manitoba had done in the first few minutes, it came undone in a hurry in the first period as the Bears closed out the first stanza with a 3-1 lead on the scoreboard, and a 22-9 advantage in shots. The Moose should have considered that a victory in itself as it could have been much, much worse.

The second period didn't fare much better, however. The Bears were buzzing the Moose net like jet fighters in an air raid.

Keith Aucoin scored his second of the night and 25th of season just 1:48 in as his wrist shot found the back of the net. This gave the Bears a 4-1 lead, and the rout was just starting.

Defenceman John Carlson made the Moose pay during some four-on-four hockey when he broke in all alone on Machesney, and ripped a shot past Machesney's glove hand. Carlson's third of the season made it 5-1 at 8:07 mark of the second period.

In what should also be considered a bright spot for the Moose, Evan Rankin scored his first career AHL goal at the 14:17 mark. Rankin had been signed by the Moose earlier that day on a professional tryout contract, and he showed management that he deserves a look with his marker.

With 40 minutes in the book, Hershey led by a 5-2 score, and they had a huge advantage in the shot department with a 34-20 count. If there was a time to wave the white flag, this may have been it. However, professional hockey doesn't allow for teams to throw in the towel, so it was on to the third period.

With Travis Ramsey off for an early tripping penalty, Andrew Gordon took full advantage on the powerplay. Off a beautiful backdoor feed from Keith Aucoin, Gordon scored his 21st goal of the season at 1:05, and the Bears took a 6-2 lead.

The powerplay continued to kill the Moose. Guillaume Desbiens took a delay-of-game penalty, and Chris Bourque used the extra room to make it 7-2. Bourque's 13th goal of the season came at the 11:13 mark of the third period.

Boyd Kane scored his 16th goal of the season with 1:39 to play in the game. Despite the score, you would have thought that the Moose's pride would have eventually prompted them to play with a little more passion, but it wasn't to be.

After the slaughtering on Saturday night that resulted in an 8-2 Hershey win, the Moose drop to a 23-19-4-1 record.

What Can I Say?

Honestly, when you're outshot 76-58 and outscored 16-5 in the last two games, there's probably going to be a whole lot of wind sprints at practice in the next few days. This weekend is one to be forgotten.

Combine that effort with the weekend before, and the Moose have been outscored 29-9 in their last four games. This is not the team that played so confidently two weeks ago at MTS Centre against the Bears whatsoever. Whatever has changed since then hasn't helped one bit.

Moose Infirmary

There were a few key additions to sick bay this week, and they have a lasting impact on the team. For a fragile blueline as it is, losing a couple of key cogs isn't helping matters at all.
  • Mathieu Schneider - knee injury. Reports say he tweaked his knee during Monday's practice, and will likely be out for 7-14 days.
  • Nathan McIver - broken hand. It could be up to a month before McIver returns to the Moose lineup.
  • Geoff Waugh - broken hand. It's the same story for Waugh as his broken hand needs time to mend. Losing both McIver and Waugh is a huge blow for the team.
  • Alexandre Bolduc - shoulder surgery. Bolduc blew out his shoulder in a fight while with the Vancouver Canucks, and the gritty forward is most likely done for the season. This is a huge blow to the offensively-challenged Moose.
Bodies Everywhere

Players were recalled. Players were signed. Players were back from injury. All in all, it was a busy few days of paperwork for GM Craig Heisinger and head coach Scott Arniel.
  • Nolan Baumgartner - recalled by Vancouver. Baumgartner's play and recent AHL All-Star appearance prompted the Canucks to recall the veteran in place of injured Sami Salo. If you're counting, that's four Moose blueliners who are now missing.
  • Marty Murray - return from injury. Murray was out with a groin injury, but should be ready for action tonight in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Matt Pettinger - return from injury. Pettinger was also nursing a groin injury, but he's expected back tonight as well.
  • Nikita Kashirsky - signed to PTO. Kashirsky has been plying his trade with the South Carolina Sting Rays of the ECHL, and comes to the Moose having scored 17 goals and 14 assists in 36 games this season. The 24 year-old forward was an ECHL All-Star this season.
  • Chad Painchaud - signed to PTO. Painchaud has been with the Victoria Salmon Kings this season in the ECHL where the forward has scored 18 goals and 28 assists in 40 games this season. He does have 38 AHL games to his name with both Chicago and the Iowa Chops.
  • Evan Rankin - signed to PTO. Rankin has been playing with the Toledo Walleye this season. The 23 year-old forward has 20 goals and 14 assists in 41 games this season in the ECHL, and spent time in the Central Hockey League last year.
  • Tom Galvin - signed to PTO. Galvin comes to the Moose having played with Grand Rapids and Providence in previous years. The 30 year-old defenceman was on the blueline for Muskegon of the IHL this season before the Moose came calling.
Full Steam Ahead

After having been dismantled by the Hershey Bears, the Moose travel into Worcester, Massachusetts for a couple of games against the Sharks. They play the Baby Sharks on Wednesday and Friday before moving on to tackle the Baby Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday and Sunday.

The Sharks are holding "Guaranteed Win Night" on Friday for their fans. If they win, everyone goes home happy. If they lose, everyone gets tickets to a Sharks game for free! Let's hope that the Moose show up and cost the Sharks some tickets on Friday.

Steven Zalewski leads the team in scoring among their active players with 17 goals and 25 assists. Former Moose defenceman Danny Groulx is right behind him with 32 points, so the Moose won't have it easy in their defensive zone. Alex Stalock is 25-10-1 with a 2.50 GAA, so scoring will require an all-out effort for the Moose.

In Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Dustin Jeffrey leads the team in scoring with 43 points while winger Luca Caputi leads the team with 14 goals. John Curry is a respectable 16-13-1 with a 2.54 GAA in the Penguins' net. Being that these games will be Game Two and Three of a three-in-three set, the Moose will need a big effort.

Let's be honest here: with all the turnover in the roster for the Moose, four out of eight points would be a minor miracle. If anything, the Moose simply need a win right now, and that's where they need to start. Don't worry about points; rather, just get a "W", and go from there.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Updates From The Weekend

I know this past weekend was a little off in terms of me posting regularly, so I want to be sure that you get a chance to read about some of the things I was up to while I was away in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I tried to post as often as I could, but time was at a premium all weekend, so I was posting a little behind most of the time. Between events and traveling, the laptop didn't see much of me. However, things are now caught up as I finished some articles, and this is just a quick review of what you may have missed in my mad rush to get caught up.

THURSDAY: Frank McClelland's skate guards are introduced to the world. There have been a number of people who have emailed me with suggestions as to what Mr. McClelland should call his product, but the story of how they came to be and how they work is fascinating. If you are interested in a pair, they will be available for purchase shortly. I'll update you when this happens. For now, send me name ideas, and I'll forward them to Mr. McClelland on an on-going basis.

SATURDAY: Having spent the day on Lake Nokomis on Friday watching the first day of the US Pond Hockey Championships, the second day turned quite wet as rain moved into the area. However, the spirit of the competition was never broken, and some teams wore some impressive jerseys. Highly recommended read for jersey ideas if your team is searching for a new look.

SUNDAY: I spent the evening at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for a game between the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Honestly, I really had a good time there with a great friend. Perhaps the best part of the night was a lady by the name of Ciel who was the usher in our section. She was funny and personable all night, and really added to the experience. I took some photos while at the game as well, so check that out. Huge thanks to my good friend Rhonda for getting a couple of tickets, and to her friend Tony for making everything possible.

MONDAY: Patrice Cormier's suspension was handed down by the QMJHL, and I look at how the NHL can become more of a leader in the discipline department. This is something I have been preaching for a while on this site, but it never seems to come up in discussions when the NHL is looking for ways to improve. C'mon, NHL. You're better than this. Or at least I thought you were.

I'll be back tomorrow with some Antler Banter. Things are somewhat back to normal now that I'm no longer stranded in a tiny town with sketchy wireless Internet. HBIC returns to its normal schedule tomorrow!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 25 January 2010

The NHL Is Way Behind

I'm a little late to the party thanks to the blizzard we have encountered today, but I want to take a little time to reflect on the suspension handed down by the QMJHL today against forward Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. As you may recall, Cormier threw a vicious elbow on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts last week that left Tam convulsing on the ice. I called for his career to end in the QMJHL, and Cormier received a suspension for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. There were a lot of people who said that the injury shouldn't warrant any additional time off, but I fully disagree with that sentiment. It's time that I set out on a crusade to make the game of hockey better regardless of what the crime is. While I'm simply a voice in the dark on this, perhaps someone will change his or her opinion on how the game is being played. If I do that, I have succeeded.

The 19 year-old Cormier is a New Jersey Devils prospect, and they were high on his abilities. He is certainly a Lou Lamiorello-type player: he finishes checks, he kills penalties with reckless abandon, and he is a leader. While Lamiorello is still high on Cormier's abilities, this hit has cast a serious shadow on his ability to play disciplined on the ice and within the rules of society. It's not like this is an isolated incident with Cormier either. So what needs to happen for things to change?

First off, we need to teach kids that any act of violence - including those on the ice - will have consequences. That's not to say that a clean hit or facewash is bad for the game. All it means is that the further you cross that imaginary line between clean hit and dirty play, the consequences should be more and more damning.

This could be something as minor as a penalty, but it could reach as far as a court of law. There is precedence now for the criminal justice system to respond to violent acts on the ice. Marty McSorley was charged in Vancouver for his stick-swinging incident against Donald Brashear. Steve Moore is still in a legal battle with Todd Bertuzzi, Marc Crawford, and the Vancouver Canucks. Jonathan Roy pleaded guilty in a Quebec courtroom for his total loss of control in a game last season. While these cases are definitely the farthest reach on the scale, there is certainly precedent for bringing in criminal charges after someone commits a horrendous act of violence on the ice.

Having your team play shorthanded for two minutes is enough to cost your team two points. If you're suspended for any length of time, it could cost you a game or two in the standings at least.

Consider the plight of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies now. Rouyn-Noranda had swung a trade with the Rimouski Oceanic to acquire Cormier and Jordan Caron in exchange for two 17 year-old players and a package of draft picks. With the two talented players, the Huskies appeared to be setting themselves up for a run to the Memorial Cup - the CHL's most-coveted prize. Now, because of Cormier's elbow, he has not only cost the team his services, but two 17 year-old players and those draft picks. His indiscretion with his elbow not only affects his teammates and his team's standing, but possibly his team's overall success this season and its future.

How selfish is that? This is something that needs to be stressed to young players. Doing something like Cormier did is not only foolish and stupid, but it is extremely selfish. With hockey having a major team component, a selfish player is the last kind of player you want on your team.

Secondly, there has to be some sort of agreement or deal put in place between all of the leagues in North America regarding suspensions. If a player is suspended in League A, he cannot go to Leagues B or C and gain acceptance as a player. Basically, if a player is suspended from hockey, he is suspended for the duration of time set out by the league that suspended him across the board with no exceptions.

I was glad to see that Devils' GM Lou Lamiorello is going to uphold the QMJHL's suspension, and prevent Cormier from joining the AHL's Lowell Devils at the end of Rouyn-Noranda's season. Lamiorello stated that the Devils would "honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season". I'm not fond of Mr. Lamiorello's business approaches regarding the teams that the Devils own and are affiliated with, but it's nice to see that an NHL executive has respect for the game. Big thumbs-up from me, Mr. Lamiorello.

Lastly, the NHL - the world's premiere hockey league - needs to start ruling with the iron fist that the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL do for several reasons.

Injuries to players in the NHL are never something that the home team wants to see because it affects their ticket sales through star power. If a player like Ilya Kovalchuk is injured by a reckless play, would you buy tickets to watch the Atlanta Thrashers? Since he's really their only highlight reel player on a nightly basis, the chances are slim that you'd plop down a pile of money to go see the Thrashers play. When ticket sales are affected, NHL teams suffer.

These hits that cause major injuries are shown ad nauseum on highlight shows around the continent, and children are watching this. While there have been athletes who have tried to denounce their "role model" status, if you're on TV, you're a role model to someone. It's that simple. So when you do something dumb like throwing a vicious elbow on an unsuspecting player, you have to accept that your actions may be repeated by someone younger who doesn't know how wrong those actions were. With the digital world that we live in now, you can be sure that something as vile as Cormier's elbow will appear online. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'd be sick about kids imitating me if I did something so heinous.

Your public perception, and that includes players from hockey leagues, will undoubtedly take a serious nosedive. Losing respect of your fellow players is tough enough when you're playing a physical game. Steve Downie and Dale Hunter still carry their baggage around for their lack of discipline, and that's something that may follow them for some time still.

While I don't disagree with parents teaching their children about right and wrong, putting this onus on parents to explain why your actions were wrong is entirely unfair. Again, no one wants to see anyone imitating these actions, but children are highly impressionable. Parents should be responsible for praising their kids after the game, not explaining that what someone did on the ice should never, ever be done by anyone. Right and wrong is hard enough for some parents. We don't need to cloud the picture with vicious elbows.

If the NHL wants to be a leader, they need to start cracking down hard on players who step outside the line of respect for others on the ice. It's not like there isn't any NHL precedent for long suspensions. There have been a number of players who have had the book proverbially thrown at them, and this should be a starting point for discipline and discouraging dirty play.

  • Chris Simon - 30 games. Simon received the longest suspension in NHL history for his stomp on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu in 2007.
  • Chris Simon - 25 games. Simon is given 25 games for his baseball-style swing at the head of New York Ranger Ryan Hollweg in 2007.
  • Jesse Boulerice - 25 games. Boulerice was suspended for 25 games after he crosschecked Vancouver's Ryan Kesler across the face in 2007.
  • Marty McSorley - 23 games. McSorley was suspended for the remainder of the season after clipping Vancouver's Donald Brashear in the head with a baseball swing in 2000.
  • Gordie Dwyer - 23 games. Dwyer is given 23 games to think about his actions after abusin officials and leaving the penalty box to join a fight in 2000.
  • Dale Hunter - 21 games. Hunter's bodycheck on the Islanders' Pierre Turgeon after he scored in a playoff game got him a 21-game vacation in 1993.
  • Steve Downie - 20 games. Downie was given a quarter of the season off after he threw a vicious check that targeted the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in 2007.
  • Tom Lysiak - 20 games. Lysiak deliberately tripped an NHL linesman, giving him a 20-game break in 1983.
  • Brad May - 20 games. May watched from the press box for 20 games after he swung his stick at the head of Columbus' Steve Heinze in 2000.
All of these acts are vicious and completely outside the realm of respect for one's fellow players and peers in the game of hockey. All were punished severely, and all could be used as precedence in the NHL in terms of cleaning up the game.

Again, the NHL claims to be a leader in several facets of making hockey better, yet they consistently fail in the department regarding punishing violent acts. While I get that the NHLPA has a hand in preventing its players from being punished too severely, there has to be some give by the NHLPA when it comes to protecting the players as well.

Until that happens, it seems this is entirely a moot point. And that's a sad state of affairs for the NHL to be in when it claims to be a leader.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 24 January 2010

A Wild Time

Saturday night saw me take in a National Hockey League game while on my weekend vacation. I don't usually try to go out of my way for sports tickets while away, but I've heard such good things about the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota that I decided I should try and see the Minnesota Wild play live. Detroit had been in town on Thursday and had won in a shootout, so there was still a good buzz amongst the hockey fans about how the Wild had played. With the Columbus Blue Jackets in town for Hockey Day in Minnesota, there was hope that the 12th-place Wild could grab two points off the 14th-place Jackets. The Jackets took to the ice in their visitor's white uniforms while the Wild skated in their alternate uniforms. More on this below.

One of the Wild's biggest problems this season seems to be their inability to score early. That wasn't the case tonight when it appeared that Mikko Koivu poked a puck under Steve Mason, but referee Mike Leggo had blown the whistle. With little delay, we were off to the video review just 3:41 into the game after the Wild made their case!

I've never been through a video review in the NHL, but it seems like any momentum gained by the goal is lost through the delay. The review on Koivu's goal only lasted for about a minute or two, but it seemed much longer. However, when Leggo skated out towards center ice, his announcement that Koivu had indeed scored sent the crowd into a frenzy. The Wild led 1-0, and the crowd was buzzing.

Can I just say that the Wild have one of the best goal songs in any sport? Joe Satriani's Crowd Chant is one of the best themes in all of sports, and the Wild use it after every goal to keep the fans jacked up. Does it work? From an eye witness perspective, it most certainly does!

Cal Clutterbuck was literally risking health and body with every shift as he resembled a human ping pong ball as he threw massive hit after massive hit. If there are any youngsters out there looking for a player to emulate in terms of throwing clean hits, Clutterbuck's approach to the game with his relentless energy would be a good player to model your game after. He was everywhere in this game.

Despite there being a bunch of big hits, there was no other scoring, so the 1-0 score midway through the period held through to the first intermission. By the way, that was an impressive scoreboard.

During the intermission, we got to see some future Wild players take to the ice. No, the AHL's Houston Aeros weren't in town. Instead, Minnesota minor hockey has their players take part in a fun game on the Xcel Energy Center ice - something these kids will remember forever. The white team eventually came out on top with a 2-1 win.

Mikko Koivu gave his team another boost just 1:26 into the second period. Koivu wired a shot past Mason as Mason was screened, and the Wild jumped out in front by a 2-0 margin. While the crowd was rocking, they barely had time to get settled as Eric Belanger lit the lamp three minutes later. Belanger picked up a loose puck and fired a quick shot as he turned around, and the puck found its way through Mason's five-hole for a 3-0 lead. Could the rout be on?

The biggest cheers on the night came when fan favorite and Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard and Columbus' Jared Boll decided to drop the gloves. The tale of the tape would indicate that Boll would be at a serious disadvantage.

Boll runs 6'3" and 210 lbs.

Boogaard stands in at 6'8" and 257 lbs. He's a big boy.

Boogaard literally gave Boll nothing to work with, and landed a number of heavyweight punches. I have to give credit to Boll for hanging in there, but Boogaard's height and reach were simply no match for the undersized Boll. Decision goes to Boogaard after the linesmen jumped in between the combatants.

This is a direct message to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: don't touch fighting. I guarantee you that the people in Minnesota will be calling for your head. The section I was sitting in could have been mistaken for a UFC or boxing crowd when Boogaard dropped the gloves. As much as the NHL is trying to increase the entertainment value of the game by increasing the skill, there is no denying that a good bout of fisticuffs energizes a crowd as much or more than a good goal. The fans in Minnesota are living, breathing proof of this.

If there was one thing that plagued the Blue Jackets tonight, it was their knack for taking dumb penalties. Double-minors and additional minor penalties added during scrums killed any sort of momentum that they were trying to build, and the 3-0 Minnesota lead through two periods was evidence of this.

The third period appeared to have the Wild protect the lead and the Jackets simply play out the game. Robbie Earl netted his fifth goal of the season with just 68 seconds to play for the Wild, but the game was far from over. Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette scored for the Blue Jackets in the last 40 seconds of the game, but the comeback was too little, too late as the final horn sounded. The Wild earned a 4-2 victory in the game, and really looked good for 59 minutes.

Hockey Day in Minnesota saw the Wild win, and, as a gesture to the 18,173 fans who attended the game, the team gave the fans a "stick salute" of thanks at center ice to the Team of 18,000. A classy way to end the day after a fun game.

The Xcel Energy Center is a gorgeous facility as well. I didn't get a chance to take any photos of the arena thanks to the "no cameras allowed" policy, but it definitely has a very Minnesota feel to it. There's lots of wood and many hockey exhibits around the concourse, giving it a feeling an old hockey lodge. The sight lines are fantastic from every corner of the arena, and there are a number of excellent concession options available. While a little pricey, they certainly will quench the hunger if it strikes.

Above the scoreboard, the Wild had banners of all 30 NHL teams arranged in alphabetical order in divisions. I'm not sure why they were placed in their respective divisional organizations, but the effect was still pretty cool.

Overall, the Minnesota Wild experience gets a 9.0 out of a possible 10 from me. There are enough little bars and hang-outs around the arena for eats and drinks before and after the game, and Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub is literally a museum of hockey history. I highly recommend stopping by there before or after the game. You won't be disappointed.

More coming on Monday, but it might be a little shorter than usual. Monday is a travel day, and I'm hoping that the blizzard the US Weather Center is calling for will hold off just long enough for me to get home. We'll see, I suppose.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 23 January 2010

Skating In The Rain

Rain in mid-January. I've never seen it once on the Canadian prairies, and it certainly is something that we don't even consider in the Great White North during the winter. Minneapolis, though, gets rain in January on the rarest of occasions, and this weekend was one of those occasions.

Saturday was an extremely wet and slushy day at Lake Nokomis for the US Pond Hockey Championships. Honestly, the games resembled boot hockey more than pond hockey, and several of the rinks on Lake Nokomis had gone away from a puck in favour of a plastic ball. Huge difference in the way the game is played when considering what a ball does, but you could have mistaken pond hockey for ice golf today.

Every time a puck was shot or flipped down the ice, the ball or puck would simply hit-and-stick. Players were soaked from head to toe, splashing was more common than skating, and there were all sorts of efforts to keep equipment dry.

Needless to say, it was not a pretty day.

However, I need to make something extremely clear. The people of Minnesota and all the participants at the US Pond Hockey Championship never once let the inclement weather slow them down. If you want to talk about heart and "passion for the game", everyone at the USPHC displayed an amazing amount of both of those traits, and everyone had a smile on their faces regardless of the wet and poor conditions.

I can't even being to tell you how wet some players looked, but I did get out and get some shots of teams who had impressive jerseys. Some of these are simply good looks while others have a bit of a story behind them.

  • Team NYPD - these are the same guys that Paul Lukas of Uni Watch Blog met on the airplane down to Minneapolis. They were amazingly generous with their time, and they seemed to be having a great time on the ice. Even when Officer Nelson, the man in the picture, stated that he couldn't believe that he paid to play in that much water. As Paul wrote on Friday,
    My flight out to Minnesota was pretty lively, because I was surrounded by guys who’ll be playing in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships (including a team comprised of New York City cops). They told some good stories about last year’s tourney, when the temperature was 20 below, but mostly they talked about (1) playing “for the love of the game,” with absolute sincerity, and (2) drinking beer (and they were pretty damn sincere about that, too). A swell group of guys, and I look forward to watching them play on Lake Nokomis later today.
    Pretty cool, eh? Continuing...
  • Foote Lake - these guys had the awesome Ottawa 67s alternate jersey, and I can't begin to tell you how good they looked on the ice. They informed me that they are one of the original teams from the first USPHC in 2005, and also passed on some info about their ages. If age is a measurement of their overall youth, however, these guys will always be young at heart. They hail from Williamsburg, Minneapolis, Lakeville, and Orono. I do know that these gentlemen won their game that they were preparing for, and it appeared they were headed for Sunday's championship day.
  • Marines - this is actualy a team of marines stationed in Minneapolis. I'm not sure what rank Mr. Swisher held, but he was also amazingly generous in speaking with me. He and his teammates are all marines, and they thought the USPHC would be a great weekend activity. I have to say that they looked great on the ice (despite my lens being covered in rain).
  • YMBO - these gentlemen were dressed in the 1932 Team USA jerseys. I'll admit that my photo is completely blurry, but these are the jerseys they were wearing. They were definitely one of the best-dressed teams at the event, and they get full marks for style. Four of the team members were from Minneapolis, and one made the trek in from Colorado. A gorgeous jersey choice, and one that this Canadian can fully endorse.
  • Cold'n Oldies - what made these guys unique was the Chinese imagery and lettering on their jerseys. I'm not big on black jerseys as you are probably aware, but these just had enough going on that the black was tolerable, and your eyes were drawn to all the symbols and lettering on their jerseys. This is an excellent black uniform. These guys hail from Minneapolis, and had one of the better team names at the event.
  • Pond Scum II - these guys didn't have overly impressive jerseys, but their numbering on the back was entirely unique. Full marks for the creativity and originality. This is exactly what pond hockey jerseys are about: a little do-it-yourself ingenuity and the ability to make it happen.
  • Lumberjacks - who says hockey jerseys need to be actual jerseys? There were a few teams who fashioned their looks out of household items. The Lumberjacks were one such team. This is a great idea, and their uniforms actually serve to provide warmth as well. This is another team that has been around since they started the tournament, and they look great on the ice.

I'm off to the Minnesota Wild-Columbus Blue Jackets game tonight, so I'll grab some pictures there as well. Hockey Day in Minnesota has been a blast thus far despite it being wet, but the sloppy, slushy conditions haven't killed anyone's enthusiasm. Just don't wade too far out onto the lake! Championship Sunday will see the Golden Shovel awarded, and the Stanley Cup will unfortunately go back to the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 22 January 2010

Made It!

It's now official: I'm in Minneapolis. The long trek was an enjoyable one, if not entertaining. Inclement weather is being forecast for the entire weekend, and we caught the edge of that system as we arrived. However, you won't hear me complain about rain and temperatures above freezing in mid-January around these parts. Normally, I see that kind of weather in March at the absolute earliest, not January. So here I am, in Minneapolis, with gorgeous weather behind me, and a storm system moving in ahead of me. Sounds like a fun weekend, doesn't it?

First off, many thanks to those of you who have sent in submissions for naming Mr. McClelland's skate guards. I will compile all the names come Monday and send them off to Mr. McClelland for him to look over. There have been a number of good suggestions, so if you have a name suggestion, please send it to me here.

I'm off to catch some pond hockey today before hanging out with the UniWatch crowd at Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis. I'll try to have pictures and updates tomorrow, but being that I'm on a whirlwind tour of the Twin Cities, I may have a short update. That's probably not what you want to hear, but it is what it is.

I'll do what I can to bring you more action tomorrow!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 21 January 2010

Breaking (Foot) News!

I'm sure you recognize the medical device to the left. The walking cast is a common sight for hockey players due to skates being the one piece of equipment that hasn't seen any sort of major upgrades in protecting the feet. From 100mph slapshots to hacks and slashes across the feet, all of these contribute to foot injuries in hockey. And it's not just players that suffer these injuries. You frequently see officials getting hit with pucks as they are rattled around the boards or cleared out of a zone, and they often come up gingerly on their sore feet if struck there. As of today, though, it appears that protection might be more affordable for all those who may want some additional protection thanks to the vision of one man.

Frank McClelland, a retired school teacher from Michigan, had been looking for some sort of protection for his feet when he played hockey because, like most players, he didn't enjoy the sharp pain in his feet when he was blocking shots. I also share this same sentiment as a defenceman as I find myself the victim of deflections and slapshots quite regularly when battling my check in front of the net. The University of Moncton has determined that a hockey puck at top speed has the same kinetic energy as a 22-caliber bullet (PDF document). Yowza! This might be why players hobble back to the bench when hit in the foot with the puck.

However, where this story takes a turn is when Mr. McClelland contacted me with his idea.

Mr. McClelland has come up with a product originally called "Ankle Armor", a plastic covering for the skate boot that provides added protection to the boot of the skate. His design has seen a number of revisions and redesigns, and an early model of the product is now being used by a couple of NHL teams, and there are a few more teams waiting for their shipment. Needless to say, Mr. McClelland's idea is starting to pick up speed as word gets out.

So how did this entire endeavour start? What does the final product look like? How does it compare to the earlier designs? What is the cost of these skate guards if I'm interested in buying them? Where can I get them? There are lots of questions that one may have, so let's work through this idea from conception to today.

Mr. McClelland started with clay models of his idea. The patent process followed shortly after, and it took approximately three years for the patent process to finally be approved by the US Patent Office. The patent is still pending in Canada, but the wheels are in motion. The key to the patent, however, is that the concept of the skate guards that Mr. McClelland has patented. Because of this, he owns the rights to how the design concept of the skate guards - an ingenious patent idea in terms of a business model.

With patents and prototypes in hand, Mr. McClelland approached all of the major skate producers that he could contact. Easton, Nike, Reebok, CCM - none of them were interested in Mr. McClelland's designs. For something that would be an easy "upsell" for all retailers, it seems like these companies might be a little short-sighted in their rejections. However, Mr. McClelland was undeterred by the lack of interest from the major skate companies.

Paul Boyer of the Detroit Red Wings was the first person to actually respond to Mr. McClelland’s many letters. Mr. Boyer, for those that may not be aware, is the equipment manager for the Red Wings, and he thought the skate guards were a great idea. The problem, Mr. McClelland told him, was financing, manufacturing, and engineering a better skate guard than his first prototypes. With Mr. Boyer’s encouragement, Mr. McClelland persisted in going to one manufacturer after another until finally making a connection with Lake Superior State University and their Prototype Development Center. With this connection, the wheels began to turn, albeit slowly at first.

The first prototype was a two-piece unit that was glued together. They were “ugly” and cumbersome compared to his later designs, and the glued pieces were liable to cracking and breaking apart when struck with a puck. Mr. McClelland even admitted that they were a closer resemblance to Frankenstein boots rather than hockey skates. The goal that Mr. McClelland wanted was a one piece guard, and he kept working toward that goal.

Finally, working with LSSU and getting his design into a CAD format, the engineering students at LSSU worked diligently with Mr. McClelland to improve upon his design. Mr. McClelland had two options: a thermal forming process, or an injection molding process.

Thermal molding was certainly more affordable, but the drawback is that the process has limitations in terms of what can be produced. It only uses one sheet of plastic. That means that the thermal mold will produce guards that have identical thickness over the entire guard, but any additional strength elements will be tougher to produce. While the cost may be lower than injection molding, this version of molding plastics was too limited in what could be done with the design of the guards.

Injection molding allows for the guards to made in large quantities with identical attributes. The drawback is cost as the creation of a mold is high, but large volume productions would counteract that cost.

After going through 14 design revisions and prototypes, Mr. McClelland and LSSU have finally come up with a finalized product. The final skate guard product will look like this, only in a clear plastic form.

Why are the guards clear? As Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer reported, the players don't like advertising that they are either injured or protecting a part of their body for the obvious reasons of not attracting attention to it. As Mr. Boyer put it, "the players don't want to wear anything that they don't have to". By making them clear, the skate guard becomes virtually invisible on the skate unless you're looking directly at it.

If you look at the final design of the guards, you can see there is some ribbing in the guards as well as some small rectangular holes. The ribbing provides added strength for the skate guards to protect the foot. You don't want your armor breaking in mid-combat, and the ribbing allows for some added strength in the design.

The small slits on the top of the guard are for ventilation so that you feet can still breathe under the guards. There's nothing worse than sweat pooling in your skates, and Reebok's EDGE design can attest to that. The slits on the side are slightly larger, and these allow for some movement of the straps that secure the guard to the skate boot. These are made to be universal for all skates, do the slightly larger slits will allow the skater to move the straps and fit the guards snugly to the skate. When the straps are done up, the bottom and rear straps are fairly protected by the guard and the boot.

You already know that the Red Wings' players are wearing the skate guards. Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, and Patrick Eaves are the confirmed players from Detroit that have been wearing Mr. McClelland's guards. In fact, the two previous images were taken from a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast from November 28, 2009 when the Red Wings met up with the Montreal Canadiens. During the game, Stuart's guard had the rear strap either break or come undone, and he adjusts it during the play. CBC's website still has the video up, so here's a chance to see the guards in action in the NHL. Kronwall's guards can be seen early in the video after he takes a dirty hit, and Stuart's can be seen at approximately the 1:03 mark.

A second NHL team is also using them now. The Calgary Flames have a few sets that their defencemen are wearing. I haven't been able to confirm who the players are at this point, but equipment manager Gus Thorson has been in touch with Mr. McClelland about the Ankle Armor guards. As of the time of publishing this, both the Phoenix Coyotes and St. Louis Blues have been contacting Mr. McClelland, and both teams are awaiting their first sets of guards.

There have been reports of other teams using them, but these teams have not been in contact with Mr. McClelland. In fact, one team - the Montreal Canadiens - was featured in a Globe & Mail story written by Sean Gordon on January 2. In the article, Mr. Gordon writes,

"I took a shot off the foot in the Washington game [Nov. 20] and it hurt pretty bad," [Travis] Moen said in a recent interview. "That's when I decided to try them.”

“Them” refers to the moulded plastic skate guards he and a half-dozen other members of the Canadiens have taken to wearing in games.

“You still feel it when the puck hits you, it's just that it doesn't do as much damage,” Moen said. “They're pretty light and they don't really get in the way.”
Sound familiar? It did to Mr. McClelland. While he's tracked back how the Canadiens may have acquired his product without going through him, he has also heard reports of players wearing them from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Atlanta Thrashers. When I forwarded this article to Mr. McClelland, he said there was "no doubt whatsoever" that players were using his guards. However, he was concerned about who may be distributing them without his knowledge, but it appears that his sleuthing may have solved that problem. For now.

Perhaps the best part of this story is the partnership that Mr. McClelland has developed with LSSU. Due to their heavy involvement in the design and manufacturing process, royalties off the sales of Ankle Armor guards will be paid to the University as thanks for their hard work. While there is no doubt that the economy in Michigan can use a boost, helping out an institution such as LSSU will go miles in both the education side of the school as well as various other endeavours. All of the guards will be made in Michigan, and the product will carry a "Made in Michigan" motto as a reminder that this innovative product is a home-grown idea.

In terms of using the prototypes sent to me, I cannot say enough good things about the Ankle Armor skate guards. I no longer fear getting hit in the foot by a shot while playing defence, and blocking shots no longer leaves me black-and-blue reminders of my work. These may not prolong my career in the beer leagues, but they might be the difference for someone else out there. I fully and completely endorse the Ankle Armor product, and will be recommending the guards to everyone.

As a cost, Mr. McClelland couldn't nail down an exact price point at this time as he is still examining the market versus the manufacturing costs. He said that he would like to keep the price point below the $50 USD mark, but he is still researching the costs at this point. In comparison, the carbon-fibre skate guards that Saku Koivu and Josh Gorges of Montreal wore over the last couple of seasons or the guard that Daniel Sedin wore for a while this season will run you anywhere from $1000-1500 in total for maximum protection. While NHL players may be able to afford this cost, the average hockey parent probably doesn't want to pay for skate guards that cost more than the child's entire set of equipment.

As for production, the Ankle Armor skate guards are not yet on the consumer market, but you're not that far away. Production is supposed to start within the next four weeks, and the first set should be shipped out by mid-February, according to Mr. McClelland. Of course, that schedule could change, but that's where Mr. McClelland stands today with the product.

Without a doubt, Mr. McClelland has found a niche in an industry where the big boys generally have all the ideas. With his affiliations in the NHL, it appears that the skate guards may become popular faster than anyone could ever imagine. Mr. McClelland needs to decide on a new name for the guards but I will keep you posted when he decides. He says he’s open to suggestions, so if you have a good name for the skate guards, email me here and I'll pass on your suggestion!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***All skate guard photos are property of Frank McClelland, and may not be used without Mr. McClelland's expressed written consent under any circumstance.***

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 12

We have a lot to cover on Antler Banter this week as the Moose had three games in the last seven days and there was a little event called the AHL All-Star Game. Two Moose players took part in the mid-season event, and we'll check out how they fared in their All-Star Game appearances. Because of the All-Star Game info, I'm going to hold off on player moves and injury news for today. 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. Lots of Hardcore Hockey, so let's get to it!

Reduced to a Simmer

The Moose spent last Wednesday in Abbotsford for their second game of a two-game set against the Heat. Another sold-out Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre was divided between Heat fans and Canucks fans, so it was close to being a home game for the Moose as the crowd cheered the visitors as much as their home team. Cory Schneider started for the Moose against Abbotsford's Matt Keetley.

Abbotsford's Garth Murray was sent off for interference just 34 seconds into the game, and the Moose powerplay capitalized on their early chance. Evan Oberg found Mathieu Schneider with a pass, and the veteran defenceman ripped home his first goal as a member of the Moose. Manitoba's powerplay goal put them up 1-0 at the 47-second mark of the first period.

Murray was back in the sin bin at 2:15 when he bumped defenceman Travis Ramsey into goaltender Cory Schneider. Tommy Maxwell came to the aid of his goaltender as both Maxwell and Murray dropped the gloves. After a fairly spirited battle, Maxwell was hit with the instigator penalty, meaning his night was over. The Moose, however, killed the man-advantage off, and the teams were back to five-on-five hockey.

Guillaume Desbiens hit the scoresheet at the midway point of the first period. A defensive zone turnover committed by the Heat led to Desbiens going one-on-one with Keetley. Desbiens found the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season, and the Moose had a 2-0 lead at the 10:00 mark.

Both teams settled down after Desbiens' goal, and the Moose carried a 2-0 lead into the intermission despite being outshot 10-7.

The second period didn't feature any goals, but there was some bad blood. Guillaume Desbiens and Ryley Grantham exchanged blows at the 6:35 mark, and both got five minutes for their efforts. However, they were joined by Travis Ramsey and JD Watt just 27 seconds later as those two men dropped their gloves and settled things the old-fashioned way. If there was any doubt that these two teams don't like one another, it was put to rest in this game. However, with no goals scored, the Moose carried the two-goal advantage into the third period.

Just two seconds into the last frame, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Ryley Grantham started the period by chucking knuckles. After those two were done, the game got back to normal, but the parade to the penalty box didn't end. Minors were being handed out by referee Francis Charron as he worked to keep the game under control.

With 27 seconds left in the third period, Guillame Desbiens scored his second of the game and eighth of the season into an empty net, and that sealed the deal. Manitoba earned the shutout victory with a workman-like effort. The 3-0 win was another strong game for Cory Schneider as the goaltender turned away all 35 shots fired his way for his third shutout of the season. With the win, Manitoba improves its record to 23-15-4-1.

Just as a note, Abbotsford forward JD Watt finished the game with 29 minutes in penalties in this game. Is there any wonder as to why the Heat lead the AHL in PIMs this season?

Anchors Away!

Manitoba returned home for a two-game set against the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday and Saturday. Milwaukee has being playing excellent hockey lately, so the Moose were in for a test in this series. Except they forgot to show up. Cory Schneider started in the Moose net on Friday, but didn't finish there. At the opposite end of the ice, Mark Dekanich got the call for the Admirals.

I'm going to run through this quickly because it was ugly. There's no sense in highlighting all nine goals when only one team showed up to play.

The Admirals jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Mark Matheson and Jonathan Blum. Matheson's point shot handcuffed Schneider and found the back of the net at the 12:44 mark. His fourth goal of the season made it 1-0. Defenceman Jonathan Blum made it 2-0 as he pinched in from the point as the Moose defenders were lost in their own zone. Blum tucked his fifth goal of the season in the Moose net at 14:02, and the Admirals were sailing after 20 minutes.

The second period saw the Admirals make the Herd into cannon fodder. Triston Grant turned a Manitoba turnover into his seventh goal of the season just 1:40 into the middle stanza, and the Admirals had a 3-0 lead. Chris Mueller made it a 4-0 game for the Admirals when he beat Schneider for his sixth goal of the season just over two minutes later. At the 3:53 mark of the second period, Cory Schneider's night was over - not that he got much help in preventing that from happening.

With Rejean Beauchemin occupying the blue paint for Manitoba, there was hope that the Moose might respond. But they didn't. Wacey Rabbit scored his seventh goal of the season off a goal-mouth scramble just 40 seconds after the goaltending change, and the Admirals led 5-0.

In what can only be called a "kamikaze move", Guillaume Desbiens tried to spark his lifeless team by challenging Admirals' captain Nolan Yonkman. The problem? Desbiens is 6'2" and 205 lbs. Yonkman stands in at 6'6" and 253 lbs. While the feisty Desbiens held tough early on in the fight, Yonkman eventually used his size to score the win. But Desbiens' effort seemed to wake the sleeping Moose as they started to show some life after the battle.

Milwaukee's Oren Eisenman was whistled for hooking at 13:24, and the Moose sent out their powerplay unit. After moving the puck fairly well, Mathieu Schneider scored his second goal of the season on the powerplay when he ripped a shot past Dekanich from the high slot. With 4:47 to play in the second period, the Moose trailed 5-1.

1:35 later, it appeared that the Moose were starting to get their legs. Walsky won a puck battle along the boards, sending the puck back to Travis Ramsey at the point. Ramsey's wrist shot was deflected by Matt Pettinger in front of Dekanich, and it found its way through the goaltender. Pettinger's eighth goal of the season at 16:47 pulled the Moose to a 5-2 deficit with 20 minutes to play.

Any comeback was crushed by Winnipegger Colin Wilson. Wilson scored his fifth of the season from the edge of the blue paint up under the crossbar after he took a pass from behind the net. Just 3:51 into the third period, and the Admirals led 6-2. Hugh Jessiman put the icing on the cake as he tapped in a gift from Wacey Rabbit. With Jessiman behind Pettinger, his ninth of the season looked effortless, and the Admirals led 7-2 with just over five minutes to play.

The horn sounded at the end of sixty minutes, and the Admirals had bombed the Moose 7-2. I know that moose are mammals, but this group of Moose literally laid an egg. With the loss, the Moose drop to 23-16-4-1.

Déja Vu All Over Again

After watching the Moose get dismantled by the Admirals on Friday, there was hope that the Herd would respond with a better effort on Saturday. Cory Schneider got the start after being yanked a night earlier, and he squared off against Winnipeg's own Chet Pickard in the Milwaukee net. The Moose honoured the Trail Smoke Eaters by wearing Smoke Eaters-inspired jerseys tonight. The Smoke Eaters won Canada two World Ice Hockey Championships in 1939 and 1961.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Milwaukee's Scott Ford got to stretch their arms early as they dropped the gloves and removed their buckets. Both men got a few quality shots in, but neither one gained a serious advantage. With Labrie earning a draw, it appeared that Manitoba was ready to improve on their previous night's performance.

Manitoba had its chances early on as Shirokov's breakaway shot went wide and Mathieu Schneider had a few solid blasts turned aside. Chet Pickard looks like he could be Nashville's goalie of the future with his steady play and poise. However, the Admirals were the first on the scoreboard again. Colin Wilson banged a rebound past Schneider of a Mike Santorelli shot at 17:18 of the first period for his sixth goal of the season. Wilson's marker gave Milwaukee the 1-0 lead.

44 seconds later, and the Admirals struck again. Robert Dietrich hammered a shot from the top of the right face-off circle, and the screened Schneider had no chance. Deitrich's third goal of the season gave the Admirals a 2-0 lead at 18:02, and they carried that lead into the intermission.

The Admirals came out flying to start the second period, and they were rewarded again for their efforts. Peter Olvecky's centering pass caught the skate of Taylor Ellington and deflected past Schneider. Olvecky's 11th goal of the season at 5:10 put the Admirals up 3-0.

The Moose began to chip away at the 13:50 mark. Marco Rosa corralled a puck and fired a rising wrist shot from just inside the face-off circle that got past Pickard's glove. Rosa's 11th goal of the season brought the Moose to within two goals at 3-1.

Any momentum being built by the Moose was swept away when the Admirals scored again before the end of the second period. Peter Olvecky's weak shot from beside the net got underneath Cory Schneider, and Chris Mueller shoveled home the puck from inside the crease. Mueller's seventh goal of the season put the Admirals up by a 4-1 score after 40 minutes.

7:14 into the third period, the Herd got one back. Marco Rosa's backhander was deflected by Sergei Shirokov in front of the net, and the puck found its way through Pickard's pads and just over the goal line. Shirokov's 14th of the season pulled the Moose closer at 4-2.

Just 11 seconds later, the Admirals showed why they are one of the better clubs in the AHL. Colin Wilson stripped Evan Oberg of the puck behind the Moose net on the ensuing dump-in. Skating towards the right corner, Wilson found Chris Mueller wide-open at the edge of the crease, and Mueller roofed it past Schneider. Mueller's second of the game and eighth of the season restored the three-goal margin as Milwaukee led 5-2 with just over twelve-and-a-half minutes to play.

The Admirals iced the game at 17:23. With everyone watching Cal O'Reilly skate from west-to-east across the blueline, Mike Santorelli got in behind the Moose defenders. O'Reilly threaded a perfect tape-to-tape pass to Santorelli, and he broke in on Schneider. As Schneider followed Santorelli across the crease, the five-hole opened up, and Santorelli made no mistake. Santorelli's 12th goal of the season gave Milwaukee the 6-2 win.

With the loss, the Moose drop to 23-17-4-1 on the season, and find themselves in third place in the North Division as they enter the AHL All-Star Break.

Clearing the Air

I'm not going to lie when I say that these two games sound worse than what they actually were. The Admirals play a very good up-tempo, puck possession game that the Moose don't match-up well against. While there weren't any players who had exceptionally bad games on either night, the Moose simply don't have an answer for Milwaukee's style of play. This is something that the coaching staff will have to address going forward, however, as Milwaukee exposed all sorts of problems in the Moose systems.

Thankfully, however, the Moose will only see the Admirals again this season if both clubs advance to the Western Conference Final. Which could be entirely possible.

All-Star Skills Competition

The best skaters and goalies assembled for some fun as the 2010 Ducks Unlimited AHL All-Star Skills Competition was held Monday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.
  • Fastest Skater - Bobby Sanguinetti. The Hartford Wolf Pack defenceman set a new AHL record by completing the lap of the rink in 13.677 seconds.
  • Hardest Shot - Blair Jones. The Norfolk Admirals' forward unleashed a blast of 100.7 mph to win the event. Jones is only the fourth player to break the 100 mph mark at this event.
  • Most Accurate Shot - Jon Matsumoto. The Adirondack Phantoms' centerman hit four of five targets to win this event.
  • Top Goaltender - Cedrick Desjardins. The Hamilton Bulldogs' netminder stopped 16 of 19 shots he faced in the Skills Competition to earn the title.
Canada defeated PlanetUSA in the Skills Competition by an 18-12 score to stop a three-year losing streak at the hands of the PlanetUSA All-Stars.

All-Stars On Display

The 2010 Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic was played Tuesday night, and both Sergei Shirokov and Nolan Baumgartner made an impact in the game. Shirokov suited up for PlanetUSA while Baumgartner was the captain for Team Canada.

Shirokov netted two goals in his All-Star Game debut, and nearly had the best setup of the night when he played the puck into his own feet before kicking it across the crease while on a two-on-one. Unfortunately for Shirokov, the puck not only eluded Canadian goaltender Jonathan Bernier, but also his PlanetUSA teammate who got caught watching Shirokov's magic.

Nolan Baumgartner scored a goal and added an assist in his play for the Canadian squad. Baumgartner really looked good playing in the wide-open format of the All-Star Game, and finished with a surprising +3 in the plus/minus department.

In the end, a shootout was needed after Canada stormed back in the third period to tie the game at 9-9. Shirokov was unsuccessful in his shootout attempt as the third PlanetUSA shooter. Canadian PK Subban of the Hamilton Bulldogs scored the shootout winner to give Canada the 10-9 All-Star Game win.

Back To Business

The Moose head out on the road to Hershey, Pennsylvania for a couple of nights with the Bears. The Bears are the best team in the AHL with a 32-9-0-2 record, so this will be another weekend of tests for the Moose. Not much needs to be said about the Bears: they're good, and they know how to win.

I'm looking forward to this weekend's action! It should be another good set of games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!