Wednesday 31 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 22

There are only six games remaining in the Herd's regular season, and we could possibly have two or more weeks of playoff hockey. Antler Banter is back on Wednesday, and the Moose had two big games this week on Monday and Tuesday. We'll look at those two battles against division-rival Abbotsford, and we'll update the standings and what the Moose have to do to ensure a playoff berth. For all of your breaking and current Manitoba Moose news and information, head over to the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Let's get down to business with some Hardcore Hockey!

Points Make The Difference

Manitoba rolled into Abbotsford, BC for a couple of road games against a team ahead of them in the standings in the Heat. Manitoba trailed the Heat by a mere three points with an opportunity for four points in the two-game set, so you know these were big games for both teams. The Monday night tilt saw Cory Schneider start for Manitoba in net, and the Heat responded by sending Leland Irving to their blue paint.

Manitoba found themselves down two men after a penalty to Dusty Collins for slashing at 3:37, followed by a delay-of-game call on Travis Ramsey at 3:57, put the Moose behind the eight-ball early. The Moose were just about to kill off Collins' penalty, but the Heat made them pay for their indiscretions. The Heat worked the perimeter of the powerplay, passing between Latendresse and Delmore before Staffan Kronwall fired a puck from the top of the triangle just over Schneider's left pad at the 4:35 mark to put the home team up early. Kronwall's powerplay goal was his fifth of the season, and the Heat led 1-0.

The two teams battled for the rest of the period, but neither team was able to dent the twine. Newcomer Aaron Volpatti, wearing #11, made his impact felt as he rumbled with Logan MacMillan at 18:23, so the kids were looking to light the fire for the Moose again tonight. Abbotsford led in shots with a 7-5 lead, and had the 1-0 lead on the scoreboard after twenty minutes.

The second period, however, seemed like the Moose were playing at home. The largely pro-Manitoba crowd, thanks to their affiliation with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, had a lot to cheer about after this period.

Taylor Ellington, who has been playing with the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings this season, scored an early goal when he ripped a slapshot past Irving off a great Mario Bliznak flip-pass across the point. Ellington's first of the season came just 1:28 into the second period, and the two teams were tied up again at 1-1.

3:12 later, the visitors took the lead. Mario Bliznak won a battle in front of the net against Mark Mitera, and chipped home a backhanded, cross-crease feed from Guillaume Desbiens at 4:40. The plucky Moose forward has his ninth of the season. More importantly, the Moose led 2-1, and that assist by Desbiens will be important later on in the game.

Moose rookie Jordan Schroeder made it a 3-1 game at 13:22. Tom Galvin fed Yan Stastny at the top of the right face-off circle, and his wrist shot was stopped by Irivng, but the goaltender couldn't control the rebound. The puck landed to his left where Schroeder was standing, and Schroeder stuffed home a backhanded shot for his third of the season.

After forty minutes of play, the Moose had taken a 3-1 lead. More importantly, the Moose won the period in goals and shots, outshooting the Heat 13-6 for an 18-13 lead in the game. There were still twenty minutes to go, and, as seen in some games this season, no lead is safe if you sit back.

The Moose continued to pressure the Heat, and it paid off at 4:59 of the third period. Schroeder carried the puck into the Heat zone on the right wing before finding Matt Pettinger in the high slot. Pettinger made one move before dishing a backhanded pass to the trailing Guillaume Desbiens at the top of the left face-off circle, and the Moose forward made no mistake on the one-timer as he ripped it past Irving. Desbiens' 17th goal of the season made it a 4-1 Moose lead.

The Moose kept the heat on the Heat. Matt Pettinger was sent in on a partial breakaway two minutes later, and his low shot was stopped by Irving's right pad. Again, though, the Heat goalie couldn't control the rebound, and it popped out to his right as Aaron Volpatti crashed the crease with Carter Bancks checking him. The puck bounced off Volpatti and landed in the back of the net, marking the rookie's first professional hockey goal. Volpatti's first career goal at 6:59 gave the Moose a 5-1 lead.

Two seconds after that goal, JD Watt and Guillaume Desbiens dropped their mitts at center ice, and the dance was on. Desbiens assumed the role of politician as he handed out right after right to Watt. Judges score the fight 10-8 in favour of Desbiens, and the Gordie Howe hat trick was complete! More on this below.

The only other goal in this game came at 16:12. Andy Delmore brought the puck in over the Moose line on the right wing. With no one to pass to, the Heat defenceman let a bullet of a wrist shot go to the far post on Schneider. The Moose goalie couldn't get a blocker on it, and the Heat saved a little face on Delmore's sixth goal of the season.

The Moose shut down the Heat the rest of the way, and the 5-2 score was indicative of the Moose's play: aggressive, up-tempo, and lots of shots. Manitoba ended up outshooting the Heat by a 25-19 margin, and their victory pushed their record to 36-31-5-1 on the season. More importantly, the Moose trailed the Heat for third-place in the North Division by only one point!

It was nice to see Desbiens named as the first star in Monday's game. He played a big game all night, and was all over the ice causing problems for the Heat. His Gordie Howe hat trick - a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game - was highly appropriate as well. Mr. Hockey turned 82 on Wednesday, so it was fitting that a scrappy player like Desbiens would register the Gordie Howe hat trick.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

The Moose were looking to move into third place on Tuesday night in their second game against the Abbotsford Heat. Another big effort would be needed from the Moose if they wanted to move up the North Division. Cory Schneider was back in net for the Moose, but the Heat went to David Shantz for their goaltending duties after Leland Irving suffered the loss the night before.

The two teams alternated in their trips to the penalty box until Taylor Ellington's penalty at 16:27 for holding. Kronwall quarterbacked the powerplay from the point, and found John Rheault along the left wing half-boards. Rheault didn't have a lot of options for passes, so he fired a slapshot from the circle that found its way through the maze of legs in front of Schneider and went past the Moose goalie on the glove side. Rheault's powerplay goal was his fourth of the season, and the Heat had the 1-0 lead at 17:29 of the first period.

I'm pretty sure that Abbotsford head coach Jim Playfair read his team the riot act after rolling over the night before, and it showed through their shot totals. The Heat outshot the Moose 14-6 in the first period, and led 1-0 on the scoreboard because of it. While I'm sure Playfair didn't snap like he did late last week, I'm quite certain he demanded a lot more out of his team after the weak and uninspired 19-shot effort one night earlier.

Powerplays continued to control this game. The Heat bench was whistled for too many men on the ice at 5:31, and the Moose powerplay unit took to the ice. Sergei Shirokov cut through the slot and took a pass from Evan Oberg that he fired on net, but Shantz was there for the save, and the puck ended up off to the left of the net. Shantz, however, had overplayed Shirokov badly, and Shirokov circled behind the net. Marco Rosa, seizing opportunity, called for the puck as he was wide-open at the right side of the net, and Shirokov obliged. Less than a second later, the puck was in the back of the net before Shantz could recover. Rosa's 22nd of the season on the powerplay tied the game at 1-1 at 7:06 of the second period.

The tight checking continued through the rest of the deadlocked period, and the game rolled into the second intermission tied at 1-1. However, Abbotsford continued their onslaught of shots, outshooting the Moose 16-11 in the middle frame for a 30-17 advantage through forty minutes. Could Schneider continue his magic through the third period?

At 13:17, both Guillaume Desbiens and Colin Stuart were sent off. Desbiens was whistled for holding while Stuart earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the dive on the play. During the four-on-four situation, a stretch pass by Keith Seabrook found David Van Der Gulik behind the Moose defencemen at the blueline. Both Evan Oberg and Tom Galvin couldn't catch the speedy Heat forward, and Van Der Gulik slipped a shot between Schneider's pads to put the Heat up 2-1. Van Der Gulik's 14th of the season was a tough goal as the Moose appeared to be running on fumes in the third period.

Unfortunately, the Moose couldn't muster any more offence, and the Heat earned the 2-1 win at the end of regulation time. Cory Schneider put in a magnificent performance, stopping 41 of 43 shots, but the Moose couldn't muster any more offence than one goal on 20 shots. With the loss, the Moose drop to 36-32-5-1, and fall three points behind Abbotsford again.

Honestly, the split wasn't much help as the Moose lost two games to make up points by only winning one of the two games. With six games remaining, the Moose will want to shoot for a 5-1 record to try and salvage third-place, and possibly second-place, in the North Division.

Down The Stretch

The Moose didn't do any favours for themselves by not beating Abbotsford twice, but there is still a chance that they can pull off the impossible and end up in second-place in the North Division. Get out your calculators, kids, because here's today's math assignment.

For Manitoba to end up in second-place in the North Division, they need a pile of help. Rochester has five games remaining and sit with 85 points. Abbotsford has 81 points and has five games remaining. Manitoba has 78 points, but has six games remaining.

Rochester plays the AHL-leading Hershey Bears on Friday, the North Division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday, and finish off the season with games against Grand Rapids, the Toronto Marlies, and the Syracuse Crunch. If they go 3-2-0 in those games, they will officially prevent Manitoba from getting into second-place. It's entirely possible that the Amerks could defeat the Griffins, Marlies, and Crunch in the last week of the season, so the Moose will need some help there.

Abbotsford has games remaining against Grand Rapids on Friday and Saturday, before finishing the season with two games in Lake Erie against the Monsters and one game in Toronto against the Marlies. Wins in all five games will assure that the Moose will not move into second-place, and that is entirely possible. Again, the Moose will need help, but if the Heat can go 3-2-0, there's a good chance they should hold on for third-place in the North Division.

Manitoba has two games against the Toronto Marlies this weekend, two against the Hamilton Bulldogs next week, and close out the season at home with a two-game set against the Peoria Rivermen. The Moose have struggled against the Marlies and Rivermen this season, so they'll need to play playoff hockey for the next two weeks if they want to climb the standings. Otherwise, those two games against the Bulldogs will be a first-round playoff preview. I'm guessing that the Moose have to go 4-1-1 at worst to have a shot at third-place.

For a team that has played win-one, lose-one for the second-half of the season, that 4-1-1 record might be a tall order at this point in the season. But I still believe it can be done! DO IT, MOOSE!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Huskies Are Top Dogs

It took a little longer than one may have expected, but the Saint Mary's Huskies can finally say they are CIS men's hockey champions. The eighth-ranked team in the CIS defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears on Sunday night in overtime to win the biggest championship in Canadian University hockey. There were a number of stories that followed the Huskies this season, but everything worked out in the end as the Huskies hoisted the CIS Championship Trophy at the end of the season. Let's take a look at some of the stories that put the Huskies into the news.

The first thing that Saint Mary's University was in headlines for was the admittance of a former NHL player and criminal to their school and hockey program. Mike Danton, the former St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils forward, had enrolled into SMU's Arts program, and this caused some minor controversy as Danton had spent time in a US federal prison after having been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. However, both Danton and university officials stated that they were confident in Danton's rehabilitation after 63 months behind bars, and Mike Danton officially was part of SMU's student population.

Danton's passion for hockey hadn't diminished, and he was interested in playing for SMU's hockey team. Again, there was some concern about Danton playing hockey, but SMU stood behind their student.

"This is a unique opportunity to prove that a university can offer someone a second chance, whether they have been challenged economically, socially or by other circumstances. I am proud to be associated with Saint Mary's University and the role we are playing in this case," said SMU Athletic Director Steve Sarty in November.

"If we say no to Mike Danton, who are we going to say yes to?"

That was the question, and Danton showed that he would be an integral part of the team. The 29 year-old former NHLer scored his team's only goal in his first game, a 4-1 loss to the Acadia Axemen on January 27, 2010. Through to the Atlantic University Sport championship, Mike Danton played in 16 games for the Huskies. He recorded nine goals, four assists, 28 PIMs, 55 shots, and was a +11 in those games. Not bad at all, I'd say.

But the story of the Huskies this season doesn't stop there. Saint Mary's finished the season 16-8-4 to finish third in the AUS Conference. That qualified them for the playoffs, but the biggest test lay before them as they embarked on the quest to win the AUS Conference.

The Huskies knocked the Université de Moncton out in the quarterfinals in two games. They knocked out Acadia University, who had secured a first-round bye by finishing second in the AUS, three games to one. And it was a three-game sweep of St. Francis-Xavier University, the fifth-ranked team, to give the Huskies the AUS Championship.The championship run by Saint Mary's resulted in their qualification to the CIS Championship tournament.

Their first round-robin game on March 26 in Thunder Bay saw the Huskies face the McGill Redmen out of Montreal. Saint Mary's won that hard-fought game by a 4-2 score. March 27 saw Saint Mary's hammer the University of Manitoba Bisons by a 5-0 score. Their 2-0 record in Pool B of the round robin allowed the Huskies to advance to the final as one of the top-two teams.

The final saw the Huskies matched up against the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Alberta was the Canada West Conference Champions, and had a stellar record of 25-5-1 up to that point. The Huskies needed to play an excellent game in order to defeat the Golden Bears.

Alberta got on the board first at 14:21. Tyler Metcalfe scored the only goal in the period as his shot got past goaltender Neil Conway, and the Bears led 1-0. The most telling stat in that period was the shots-on-net. The Golden Bears outshot the Huskies by a 12-5 margin, and turned that into the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Just an aside from the game, check out Alberta goaltender Travis Yonkman's mask. I love the Hanson brothers on it! Excellent paint job on his mask! That might be one of the best masks I've seen this season!

The second period saw the Huskies pull even when Cam Fergus buried a shot past Yonkman at 10:37. However, the real story was the goaltending of Neil Conway in the Huskies' net. Conway stood on his head again as the Bears outshot the Huskies in the second period by an 11-8 margin for a 23-13 advantage through two periods. But the score on the scoreboard is the only one that matters, and the Huskies and Bears were even at 1-1 after 40 minutes.

The third period saw the Huskies pull ahead. Andrew Hotham notched Saint Mary's second goal of the game just 3:46 into the third period, and the Huskies led 2-1. Alberta battled back, though, and finally broke through at 15:17. Derek Ryan tied the game at 2-2 for the Golden Bears, and the two teams were headed for overtime after the final 4:43 played out without any additional goals. Another period of the Bears outshooting the Huskies, this time by an 11-9 margin, saw the shots stand at 34-22 at the end of regulation time.

The CIS Championship was decided 9:13 into overtime. Saint Mary's Marc Rancourt fired a shot on Yonkman from a sharp angle, and Yonkman couldn't control the rebound. Brad Smith was standing on the doorstep, and he whacked the loose puck past Yonkman to give Saint Mary's the 3-2 overtime victory.

Saint Mary's secured their first CIS Championship in school history, and celebrated accordingly. Defenceman Andrew Hotham received the Major W.J. "Danny" McLeod award as the tournament's MVP. He was also named as a tournament all-star, and was joined by Huskies goaltender Neil Conway, forward Cam Fergus, and forward Cody Thornton. Alberta's Ian Barteaux and Chad Klassen rounded out the all-star team.

Congratulations goes out to the Saint Mary's Huskies for their championship victory!

And, for Mike Danton, his return to public life after 63 months away from it is starting out pretty good. He's getting an education, he has won a CIS hockey championship, and he's only 30 years-old. I'd say that his road to redemption might be paved with gold for a while yet!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 29 March 2010

More Cherry Tonight... And Stuff

The conclusion of Keep Your Head Up, Kid - The Don Cherry Story was on tonight, and naturally I was glued to the television set as the story transitioned from Don Cherry the player to Don Cherry the coach. I really enjoyed the entire story as produced by the CBC, and I felt that the story was told honestly and openly without raining on anyone's or any team's parades. I'm still working on an answer about when the DVD will be available of Don Cherry's story, but as soon as I know, you'll know. I have received emails from American readers about not having the opportunity to see this story, so my pledge to all my readers is to find out when this film will be released for home viewing. However, let's keep moving onto other hockey stories.

  • As much as I was impressed with the debut of Jordan Schroeder in Manitoba this spring, there is another kid who is taking the AHL by storm, and he may not be with his AHL team next season. Jordan Eberle, just 19 years-old, has 17 points in 15 AHL games, and his first goal of the season this year came on his first shift with the Springfield Falcons when he battled past a defender to the slot and ripped home a wrist shot. My guess? Eberle will not be in Oklahoma City next season. He'll be playing in Edmonton with the Oilers.
  • It's an interesting development, but the Saint Mary's Huskies are the Canadian Interuniversity Sport champions in men's hockey. Why is it interesting? They have a former NHL player suiting up for them. As you may recall, Mike Danton - he who served prison time for trying to hire a hitman - is slowly putting his life back together. He enrolled at Saint Mary's University in the fall, and was invited to play for the hockey team. Danton was on the ice when Brad Smith scored 9:13 into overtime to give SMU the 3-2 win over the University of Alberta Golden Bears. It may not be a Stanley Cup, but Danton appears to be doing very well as a student! More on Saint Mary's first CIS hockey victory tomorrow!
  • About two weeks ago, the Alberta Pandas won the women's hockey title in CIS hockey when they did the unbelievable: the Pandas broke McGill's 86-game winning streak! Let me repeat that: 86-game winning streak. Not an undefeated streak, but a winning streak. The McGill Martlets hadn't lost or tied a game since December 30, 2007 when they were beaten by the Alberta Pandas by a 2-1 score. Alberta defeated the Martlets by a 2-0 score in the CIS Championship game, and won their seventh CIS Championship. Congratulations to the Pandas, and I'll have more on their win later this week!
  • The KHL is set for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals as there are only four teams remaining in the Gagarin Cup Playoffs. Second-ranked HC MVD will play fifth-ranked Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Western Conference Final, while regular-season champions Salavat Yulaev Ufa takes on defending Gagarin Cup Champions Ak Bars Kazan. Salavat's Alexander Radulov still leads the playoffs in scoring with 15 points, and Kazan's Petri Vehanen leads the KHL in GAA with a sparkling 1.29 GAA. The Western Conference FInal begins on April 1, and the Eastern Conference Final will start on Friday.
  • The NCAA's Frozen Four in Detroit, Michigan has been finalized. Miami University will play Boston College while the University of Wisconsin meets Rochester Institute of Technology. Both games will be played on Thursday, and the winners will meet under the lights of Ford Field at 7PM ET on Saturday night. RIT is clearly the underdog out of the remaining teams, but they did knock off hockey powerhouses in Denver and New Hampshire, so Wisconsin may have their hands full. I'm looking forward to the games this week, and I'll be tuning in to watch some great hockey!
You're now up-to-date in regards to all the championships that have happened or are happening across the globe right now in all the major leagues. I'm listening to the Manitoba Moose game right now as they battle division-rival Abbotsford as they attempt to catch the Heat in the North Division. Back to the game!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 28 March 2010

The Don Cherry Story - Part One

Tonight, the CBC featured Part One of Keep Your Head Up, Kid - The Don Cherry Story in prime time. The story, filmed across parts of Canada, highlights the career achievements of Donald S. Cherry from his time as a boy in elementary school right up to his career as a icon on Hockey Night In Canada. The two-part mini-series runs tonight and tomorrow, so we'll look at tonight's episode a little bit as the first half of Don's illustrious career takes to the small screen with all the Hollywood glitz and glamour. The best part? I was lucky enough to see a lot of this part filmed in Selkirk, Manitoba. I probably won't be in any of the scenes, but I was there, I assure you.

The visual photography is excellent in the film. Director Jeff Woolnough does a fantastic job at bringing together the major life moments of Don's life in a very succinct way, and his attention to detail is excellent. It also helps that executive producer Tim Cherry has first-hand knowledge of Don's life being that Tim is Don's son!

The story features an excellent wardrobe as well. The old sweaters seen in the movie are replicas of what was worn on the ice. There are great looks at the old Rochester Americans sweaters, the old Hershey Bears sweaters, and the old Springfield Indians sweaters from the AHL, as well as looks at the old Montreal Canadiens and Bostons Bruins from the NHL.

One of the things that I really appreciated was the attention to detail seen in Don Cherry's injuries. We learn early on in the movie that removing stitches after two or three days, followed by extensive cocoa butter on the wound, will prevent scars. Buckets of hot water followed by ice cold water does wonders for a broken toe. Of course, none of this is recommended by doctors, but it seemed to work for Don Cherry in his life. And there was always room for a Don Cherry scrap on film!

The portrayal of Don Cherry is done wonderfully by Jared Leeso. Mr. Leeso captures the essence of Don Cherry by adopting some of his favorite mannerisms and catchphrases. Eddie Shore, a man who was instrumental in developing Cherry's tough image, is played by Stephen McHattie, and he does an excellent job in showing how tough, and how thrify, Shore was in life.

We learn through the players of Shore's cheap methods when Cherry, sitting in the dressing room, is looking for tape for his shinpads. Cherry is informed by a Springfield teammate that innertubes are better because they can be re-used, meaning Shore can save money on tape.

And perhaps the greatest role is played by Sarah Manninen, who portrays Rose Cherry. Rose would become the most important figure in the Cherry household as she was the yin to Don's yang. As we would see later in life, Rose was not only the strength behind Don, but she was the entire world to Donald S. Cherry, and her passing would have a profound effect on the gruff hockey spokesman. Sarah's portrayal of Mrs. Cherry is outstanding, and she might be the star of the show.

Overall, Part One was very enjoyable, and I am looking forward to Part Two tomorrow evening. I'll try to contact the CBC about getting a possible DVD of the mini-series once it concludes, and, if I can obtain one, I'll toss that into the prizes for the upcoming HBIC Playoff Pool!

Part Two goes Monday night, and it looks like a beauty!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 27 March 2010

Picture Time!

I always have a good time sifting through photos of various hockey-related events, especially old historical photos. There's always great stuff to see in the photographs, and there's usually some cool stories associated with the photo. In any case, the collection of photos I have here today come from various sources and will take us back through several decades of hockey. There are some that will look at uniforms, some that have unique equipment, and others than I simply like due to their historical significance. I encourage you to take a look at the photos, and enjoy the history and hockey that is presented here today on HBIC.

  • We start first by looking at those New Jersey Devils retro jerseys they wore on March 17 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Honestly, I really like their retro jerseys, and I think that there isn't enough green in the NHL at this point in time. In comparison to the photo above, here is a picture of Martin Brodeur from 1991-92 when he broke into the league. HBIC is officially calling for more green in hockey, whether it be the old Devils' look or something new altogether.
  • Something that really delighted me was this old photo of the Los Angeles Kings in their alternate jerseys. There is something endearing about that old alternate jersey despite its obvious ugliness. If you look closely on the right, Robert Lang is wearing #13, and the alternate captain is #17 Jari Kurri. Classic jerseys!
  • If you look closely at the headline of the March 22, 1968 edition of The Hockey News, you'll see that two franchises were threatening to move out of the cities they were located in. Oakland, who had problems as the California Seals, would eventually move in 1976 to Cleveland after renaming themselves a couple of times. The other franchise, surprisingly, was the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were unhappy with their agreement with the City of Philadelphia while playing in the Spectrum, and threatened to move elsewhere unless changes were made. Personally, I couldn't imagine the Flyers playing elsewhere after seeing the history they have racked up. If they had moved, we may never have had the Broad Street Bullies!
  • Speaking about the California Seals, here's a look at the first jerseys worn by the Seals in the NHL. That's Bert Marshall in the photo. Compare that jersey to what they wore from 1974-76, modeled by Len Frig, and seen here in colour on Butch Williams, and I think that the first jerseys as the California Seals were the best look they had. Of course, there was this look as modeled by Carol Vadnais from 1970-74, but I believe hockey is a sport where the chest logo should be displayed prominently. Your thoughts? Which Seals jersey do you prefer?
  • Something you don't see in today's NHL? Accents on players' names. That's Denis Dupéré of the Colorado Rockies. Rarely do you see one accent, let alone two. For those that don't speak French, Denis' last name would be "do-pay-ray".
  • Something else you rarely see in today's game are full names on the back of jerseys. That's Don Maloney of the New York Rangers. The only other players from the modern era that I can think of that had their full names on the back of their jerseys were Rich and Ron Sutter. Anyone know of any others? And do you have pictures?
  • Sports are the one place where one had better be careful what one says. If one isn't careful, one could be removing one's foot from one's mouth. Case in point? This article from the February, 27, 1976 edition of The Hockey News shows exactly how that can be done. Harold Ballard, in a Friday interview, stated that he was looking for "a sensational center" to play with wingers Lanny McDonald and Errol Thompson. That spot was occupied at the time by Leafs' great Darryl Sittler. The next night, Sittler went out and scored his famous six goals and ten points against the Boston Bruins, inadvertently showing up his boss by setting a National Hockey League record. In Sittler's defence, though, Ballard was never really a smart owner as proven by the Leafs' records through the 1970s and 1980s.
  • March 6, 2010 saw the AHL's Springfield Falcons go pink in support of breast cancer research. I'm all for raising funds to help find a cure for breast cancer as it is a leading cause of death in women, but those jerseys are brutal. I understand that the team may not make any money off these jerseys, but the least they could do is make them look good for those fans who may want to bid on them in the auction process to help make as much money as they can. I'm not impressed with these jerseys at all.
There are some photos I've been holding onto for the last few weeks. Again, I endorse the move to more green in the NHL. I love the way those old Seals jerseys look, and I think the Wild and Stars could do a lot more with the green in their logos. Why does it seem that hockey has a phobia of certain bold colours?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 26 March 2010

Friday Thoughts

I had a ridiculously busy day at work today, but the weekend is finally here. It seemed to take forever to get here, but the weekend is finally here. There's lots of of hockey being played this weekend as playoff races in the NHL and AHL are determining who is going to the big dance. The KHL Playoffs are into their semi-finals. The NCAA men's hockey tournament started today and continues over the next couple of weeks. This is one of the better times of the year for hockey fans because no matter what level of hockey you follow, there are playoffs or tournaments happening. And out of that, there are always news stories and pictures to check out. Here are HBIC's thoughts as this week closes.

  • The Los Angeles Kings made an interesting announcement this week. According to this news article, the Kings are planning to wear their alternate jerseys throughout the playoffs when playing at home. The "Back In Black" theme will be in place throughout the playoffs for as long as the Kings are in the playoffs. If you're interested in picking up a Kings alternate jersey, the Team LA store has them at a reduced price!
  • A couple of affiliation switches were the big news from the AHL this week. The Springfield Falcons were informed by the Edmonton Oilers that they would not renew their affiliation with the Falcons, leaving the Massachusetts team without an NHL affiliation. Enter the Columbus Blue Jackets who signed a one-year deal with the Falcons with an option for 2011-12. The Falcons jerseys go from this design to this design under the new affiliation next season. As you can see, Columbus' primary logo is on the shoulder, and a star has been added on the forearm area. The colours are also reflective of Columbus' colour scheme.
  • The second switch involved the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks don't have an affiliate as it stands, and were looking for an AHL partner. With Columbus moving their affiliation to Springfield, the Syracuse Crunch ended up with no affiliation next season. The Anaheim Ducks filled that void with the announcement that they will partner with the Crunch next season. There have been no announcements on changes to jerseys or anything, so we'll see if this Ducks-Crunch affiliation makes any changes to the Crunch's uniforms.
  • Great story out of Quebec where it was announced today that former NHL head coach Pat Burns would have a new arena named after him at Stanstead College. It was tough to watch footage of the now-frail Burns at the press conference. Burns is suffering from lung cancer, and has decided to opt out of chemotherapy and treatment for the terminal illness. The only three-time Jack Adams Award winner in the NHL, Burns guided the 2003 New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup Championship, and compiled a 501-350-175 coaching record after serving as a police officer before he began coaching full-time. HBIC wishes all the best to Pat Burns and his family, and I hope that he stays with us for a lot longer than what he has been told. He deserves that much, and probably a lot more.
  • I said I wouldn't talk about the rumours of NHL teams to Winnipeg, but it says a lot when a media outlet like The Hockey News starts to light fires. According to Ken Campbell, if the Ice Edge bid for the Coyotes falls through (which is looking more and more likely), it appears that billionaire John Thomson gets the first shot at owning the Coyotes. And if that happens, apparently the Coyotes are returning home. I'm going to stick with this mantra: until it happens, it's all just fantasy and speculation. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Those are the stories that caught my attention from earlier in the week. Lots of photos coming up in tomorrow's article, so make sure you check out some of the images I've collected over the last few weeks. There are some great pieces!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 25 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 21

It's Thursday, and you don't usually find Antler Banter on your doorstep on this day, but here we are thanks to a couple of midweek games this week. Manitoba tangled with the Grand Rapids Griffins on the weekend before welcoming the Hamilton Bulldogs to Winnipeg for a couple of games. The Moose got some help courtesy of Mike Gillis' signings this week, and released a couple of players to get these new bodies into the lineup. We'll look at all of these developments coming up, as well as the push to the Calder Cup Playoffs! For all of your current Manitoba Moose news and information, hit up the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Let's look at Thursday's recap of Hardcore Hockey!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The Moose met up with the Grand Rapids Griffins for the second time in two weeks, and there was a definite feeling of two teams battling for their playoff lives. The Moose and Griffins had split their two-game set earlier this month in Michigan, so the Moose were looking for a season series win at home. Cory Schneider started for Manitoba while Daniel Larsson got the call for Grand Rapids.

The visitors opened the scoring when Brad May notched his fourth of the season. Nathan McIver won a battle behind the net for the puck, and the Moose defenceman kicked the puck towards the left corner. Brad May grabbed the puck near the bottom of the circle and fired it on net. The puck went high blocker side and found some room between Schneider and the crossbar. Certainly not a highlight reel goal, but they all count, and Grand Rapids had the 1-0 lead at 4:14.

Less than two minutes later, Riley Armstrong centered the puck from behind the net past two Moose defenders, and Francis Paré was standing on the doorstep all alone. He fired the puck past Schneider, and the Griffins went up 2-0 on Paré's 14th goal of the season at 6:01.

The Moose powerplay got a chance to stretch their legs when Logan Pyett was sent off for holding at 13:57. A face-off win in the offensive zone by Peter Olvecky sent the puck back to Evan Oberg on the right point. He centered the puck to Brian Salcido who ripped a one-timer high on the glove side that Larsson couldn't grab. Slacido's eighth goal of the season came at 15:36 on the powerplay, and the Moose were on the board, trailing 2-1.

The real story in the first period was Daniel Larsson. The Moose came out guns a-blazing in this game, outshooting the Griffins by a 19-6 advantage! Larsson was incredible in denying the Moose again and again, and he was the entire reason the Griffins were leading after 20 minutes.

Some rough stuff occurred in this period as Tommy Maxwell and Paul Crosty rumbled at 9:18. The scrum was eventually broken up, but there would be more to come.

Sergei Shirokov evened the game up after he found himself on a breakaway. The speedy Russian went backhand-forehand, opening up Larsson as he pushed from right to left in his crease. That movement gave Shirokov just enough room through the five-hole for his 21st goal of the season, and the game was tied at 2-2 at 14:59.

However, the Griffins jumped back in front just 21 seconds later. Jeremy Williams snapped a high wrist shot from the right face-off dot over Schneider's glove as Schneider went down, and the Griffins' sniper had his 24th of the year. More importantly, the Griffins led 3-2 at 15:20.

3:10 later, and all hell broke loose. Daniel Larsson earned a ten-minute misconduct under Rule 75.4. I didn't quite catch what he did, but it appeared he threw a punch with his blocker, earning him the misconduct. Nathan McIver and Jamie Tardif squared off in an old-fashioned bout of fisticuffs, and they sat for five minutes each. Tommy Maxwell and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen took double-minors for roughing, and each were given a ten-minute misconduct for their battle.

The teams saw these penalties roll into the third period, but none of them resulted in a powerplay. Nathan McIver did come off worse for wear, however, and I'll discuss him a little more below.

Evan Oberg, coming down the right wing, made a nice move to get past Crosty as he chipped the puck deep into the Griffins zone. Oberg won the race for the puck, and centered it as he crossed behind the net. His centering pass found Mario Bliznak in the slot, and Bliznak whacked the puck underneath Larsson and into the net. Bliznak's eighth goal of the season at 9:00 tied the game at 3-3.

The Griffins came back, though. The Moose looked to clear the puck down the ice as they went for a change, but they turned the puck over at their blueline, and Francis Paré brought the puck back into the zone. Mike Keane couldn't check Paré, and he fed a backhander across the slot to an open John Vigilante who one-timed the puck past Schneider's outstretched glove. Vigilante's 11th goal of the season made it 4-3 for the Griffins with just 4:08 remaining.

The Moose battled hard, but couldn't get another puck past Larsson. At the final horn, Grand Rapids had secured the 4-3 victory, dropping the Moose's record to 33-30-5-1 on the season. Perhaps a bigger loss was the loss of defenceman Nathan McIver. McIver broke his hand in the fight against Jamie Tardif, and is scheduled to be gone for approximately eight weeks. For a team already light on blueline help, this kind of news stings.

Schneider Stands Tall

If the weaker goal that Brad May scored on Schneider on Friday night sparked the Moose goaltender, it showed nicely in the only afternoon home game this season. The Moose and Griffins met for the fourth and final time on Sunday afternoon, and the Moose were looking for the win. Cory Schneider started for the Moose while the Griffins responded with Daniel Larsson in net.

Grand Rapids' Justin Abdelkader took a foolish goaltender interference penalty just 37 seconds into the game, and the new-look Moose powerplay took to the ice. Jordan Schroeder, playing his first pro game for the Moose, was sent out on the man-advantage. Matt Pettinger's pass from the right half-boards to Lawrence Nycholat at the point opened up a shooting lane. Nycholat teed up the puck, and Schroeder, wearing #23, scored his first professional goal by tipping the puck on its way to the net, and it got past Larsson. Schroeder's first goal of his career put Manitoba up 1-0 just 1:52 into the game.

Another newcomer from the collegiate ranks gave Manitoba a bigger lead. Dusty Collins threw the puck at the net, and Larsson made the save. Tommy Maxwell picked up the puck as he circled out from behind the net, but Larsson didn't give him any space to shoot. As the Griffins crowded the crease, Kevin Clark joined the crowd in the blue paint. Maxwell finally shot after skating across the crease to the right side, and the puck hit a defender in front. Clark whacked at the loose puck, and his shot knocked the puck into the net. Clark's first career goal at 6:25 gave the Moose a 2-0 lead.

Penalties rounded out the first period, including a scrap between Tommy Maxwell and Paul Crosty, but the Moose held their two-goal lead. Schneider was excellent in the first period, turning away all ten shots he faced. This will be a common theme in today's game. The second period had no scoring, but the vacations in the sin bin continued. Guillaume Desbiens and Brad May spent the most time there in the middle frame after their scrap got them five minutes each.

Lawrence Nycholat added to the Moose lead midway through the third period on the powerplay. His slapshot from just above the right face-off circle beat Larsson on the glove side with Yan Stastny providing an excellent screen. Nycholat's fourth of the season at 11:23 put Manitoba up 3-0.

With 32 seconds left, Jordan Schroeder capped off a great day. Schroeder was battling with Sergei Kolosov in front of Larsson, and managed to create a little room for himself. Matt Pettinger fed the puck from the right face-off circle to where Schroeder was standing, and that space he created allow him to chip the puck past Larsson for his second powerplay goal of the game, his season, and his career. Manitoba took a 4-0 lead.

Grand Rapids would mount no more offence in the game, and Cory Schneider recorded his fourth shutout of the season as Manitoba skated to the 4-0 win. With the victory, Manitoba improves to 34-30-5-1 on the season. It was a spectacular debut for the two youngsters as Clark and Schroeder combine for three goals including two powerplay markers, six shots on net, and a +1 rating.

Don't Wake A Sleeping Dog

Hamilton entered the Tuesday contest against the Moose with nothing on the line. They had secured a playoff spot, and had a large lead over the rest of the North Division, so there was little for which they had to compete. However, the games still have to be played. Cory Schneider got the call for the Moose against former teammate Curtis Sanford.

The first period was relatively quiet. No goals, only three minor penalties, and not a lot of scoring chances at either end. Schneider stopped all eight shots while Sanford kept the nine shots he saw out of the Bulldogs' net.

The first goal was scored by the visitors. Alex Henry's point shot through traffic ricocheted off the crossbar behind Schneider and ended up in the slot. Schneider couldn't find the puck, and Mike Glumac had no problem chipping the puck into the net. Glumac's 18th of the season made it 1-0 for the Bulldogs just 5:39 into the second period.

Less than a minute later with Alex Henry in the penalty box for roughing, the Moose responded. Brian Salcido made a nice move around a sprawling JT Wyman at the blueline, and fed a cross-ice pass to Marco Rosa at the top of the right face-off circle. Rosa took one step and fired a high wrist shot to the near corner past Sanford's glove. The powerplay marker was Rosa's 21st goal of the season, and the Moose evened the game at 1-1 at 6:27.

The fast and furious scoring continued. Mike Glumac and David Desharnais broke in on Tom Galvin on a two-on-one. Glumac pass the puck from the middle of the ice to Desharnais, forcing Galvin to cut off Desharnais as Lawrence Nycholat back-checked hard. However, Desharnais feathered a pass back to Glumac to went forehand-backhand on Schneider before roofing it behind the Moose goalie. Glumac's 19th goal of the season came at 7:03, and the Bulldogs were back on top by a 2-1 score.

It took ten minutes for the next goal to be scored. Nycholat broke out of his zone with a pass to Marco Rosa who was gaining speed at the Moose blueline. With Glumac pestering him from behind, Rosa brought the puck in across the Bulldogs' blueline. Rosa sidestepped a check from Brock Trotter and fed a pass across to Guillaume Desbiens at the top of the face-off circle. Desbiens wasted no time in getting a wrist shot on net, and Sanford made the save. Or so it was thought. The puck squirted under his arm and slid into the net. Desbiens' 16th goal of the season came at 17:28, and the Moose pulled even again at 2-2.

After two periods, the Moose and Bulldogs were all even at 2-2, and they had both registered 17 shots. Both teams appeared to be sitting back, waiting for the other team to make a mistake, but the game was square after 40 minutes.

10:27 into the third period saw the home team finally grab the lead. Jordan Schroeder didn't have much room to work with after Yan Stastny had centered a pass from the corner, so the Moose rookie dropped the puck back to Evan Oberg in the high slot. Oberg's low shot found a seam through Sanford's five-hole, and the Moose were out to a 3-2 lead on Oberg's fourth goal of the campaign.

While both teams continued their sit-back-and-wait approach, the Bulldogs did pressure with time winding down. The Moose held strong, though, and picked up the victory against their potential opening round opponent in the upcoming Calder Cup Playoffs. With the 3-2 victory, the Moose move to 35-30-5-1 on the season.

Bloodthirsty Killing Machine

Wednesday night's game featured the back end of the two-game set against the Bulldogs, and all I'll say is that this one was ugly. Hamilton didn't just beat the Moose, they thrashed, trounced, and destroyed them. This one will be short simply because there's no need to re-open a nasty wound. Cory Schneider started for the Moose, and Cedric Desjardins got the call for the Bulldogs.

Brock Trotter scored his 32nd goal of the season just 56 seconds in. Lawrence Nycholat tied the game with his fifth goal of the season after he cashed in a Jordan Schroeder rebound at 3:49. Trotter added his second of the game at 7:32 for 33 goals on the season, and Hamilton was up 2-1. They made it 3-1 on Aaron Palushaj's seventh goal of the season.

12:44 into the second, Yannick Weber ripped a slapshot through Schneider for his fifth of the season, and Hamilton had the 4-1 lead. Ryan Russell made it 5-1 on his 18th goal of the season at 17:07 of the second. Hamilton led 5-1 after two periods, and head coach Scott Arniel decided to give Cory Schneider the rest of the night off.

With Daren Machesney in net, things didn't get any better for the Moose. Dany Masse added a powerplay goal at 13:43 for his second goal of the season, and Hamilton was up 6-1. Andrew Conboy notched his seventh of the season at 17:11 on the powerplay, and the Bulldogs skated to a 7-1 victory.

An ugly loss for sure for the Moose, but it was much worse than what the boxscore read. Geoff Waugh and Andrew Conboy got into a scrap at 17:15 of the second period, and it looked as though the two were evenly matched. However, Conboy decided to tackle Waugh into the ice, slamming the Moose defenceman's head into the ice. Waugh was escorted off the ice and didn't return, and it was almost obvious that he had suffered a concussion.

Don't get me wrong: I appreciate a good tussle when they develop. But what Conboy did was not only cowardly, but it was extremely dangerous. I'm not sure if the Moose will be sending tape to the AHL Offices, but you can bet that if these two teams meet in the Calder Cup Playoffs, that move on Waugh won't be forgotten.

Scoring Youngsters In, Others Out

The Moose are benefiting from Mike Gillis' signings in Vancouver. Clearly, as seen in the Sunday game against the Griffins, the new kids are bringing some scoring ability to the Moose, and that will help tremendously. Here are the latest moves.
  • Jordan Schroeder - assigned by Vancouver. Schroeder jumped from the University of Minnesota to the Canucks by signing his first pro contract, and was assigned to the Moose for some training in the professional game. In three AHL games, Schroeder has two goals, two assists, and seven shots.
  • Kevin Clark - signed by Manitoba. The Winnipeg native was plying his trade at the University of Alaska-Anchorage when he decided to make the jump to the pro ranks. The Moose signed Clark to an amateur tryout contract, and the former Winnipeg South Blues star responded with one goal in three games with a +1 ranking.
  • Andy Brandt - released from PTO. Brandt was officially released from his professional tryout contract. The numbers game saw him sitting, and the Moose simply had too many hands on the farm.
  • Nikita Kashirsky - released from PTO. Kashirsky was in the same boat as Brandt, so the Moose had to release him as they brought in the youngsters.
  • Aaron Volpatti - signed by Manitoba. Volpatti was Brown University's captain, and leaves the school as the career leader in PIMs. Volpatti played with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL before making the jump to the NCAA. He can score and likes to hit, so the Moose can definitely use his tenacity.
Coming Up

The Moose head out on a six-game roadtrip where they'll face North Division opponents in every game.

They'll battle the Abbotsford Heat on Monday and Tuesday, and the Moose currently trail the Heat by four points in the standings. They need to win both games to cause a major pile-up in the middle of the North Division standings.

Following those games, the Moose battle the Toronto Marlies and the Hamilton Bulldogs, two teams that the Moose have to beat at least once. If the Moose can win four of six games, they'll certainly guarantee themselves a playoff spot. They may also achieve their goal of hosting a playoff series as second place in the North Division is still quite attainable.

However, it starts with winning. The Moose have eight games remaining, and I'm going out on a branch in saying they have to go 6-2-0 to secure second place. It starts on Monday and Tuesday, though. Wins over Abbotsford are paramount if they want second place. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Short Entry Tonight

I just returned home from witnessing what can only be described as a thrashing. The Hamilton Bulldogs were visiting the Manitoba Moose tonight, and one team found their hands, legs, and the back of the net often. All of that info will be brought forth tomorrow in a Thursday edition of Antler Banter. Tonight, I want to post one thing before retiring for the evening. This kind of hit is something that will get a crowd going, but it's something that I believe demonstrates a complete lack of respect that players have for one another today.

I appreciate North Dakota's Matt Frattin's opportunistic hit on Minnesota's Kevin Wehrs, but I have one problem with this hit. It's not that Frattin hits Wehrs' head. It's not that he wound up from the blueline.

My issue is that he never attempted to play the puck in any way, shape, or form.

The original reason for the bodycheck in hockey was to create separation between the puck-carrier and the puck. In the instance above, the intent was obviously different. And the more I watch the replay, the more I am disgusted with the hit.

My call, if I were officiating, would have been a two-minute minor for charging, a five-minute major for a check to the head, a five-minute major for boarding, a ten-minute misconduct, and a game misconduct.

In reality, Frattin got a major contact-to-the-head penalty that led to five minutes in the box. He was suspended for one NCAA game a day later. Wehrs got to lie on the ice motionless as his teammates came to his defence, and ended up with a mild concussion.

While I'm far from calling for a player's head, I do think that the NCAA should do more about cultivating a culture of respect in the collegiate hockey system. Had Frattin actually tried to make a play on the puck, the damage he inflicted on Wehrs wouldn't have been as severe, and North Dakota may have generated a scoring chance. Instead, Frattin spent the next five minutes in the penalty box.

Let's review:
  • Frattin gained speed for approximately 50 feet before heading into the corner.
  • Frattin didn't make any attempt for the puck along the boards.
  • Frattin left his feet to throw the check.
  • Frattin led with his shoulder, making contact with Wehrs' head.
Personally, if I was in charge of the NCAA, Frattin's season would be over. But that's just my opinion. And I welcome your opinions. If you were making the decision in terms of Frattin's suspension, would you give him any more than one game? Would you suspend him at all?

Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 23 March 2010

From Walk-On To MVP

Every year in hockey, there are a number of excellent stories that seemingly slip below the radar in terms of their importance not only in the scope of the game, but to the millions of kids and teenagers out there who are toiling as hockey players. The player to the left, Shawn Hunwick, is entirely one of those great stories that doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but really needs to be told so that everyone has a greater appreciation for what he has accomplished. And his accomplishment might just prompt one of those kids who doesn't get a scholarship to keep plugging away at what he or she loves.

Shawn Hunwick was born on April 9, 1987 in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The diminutive kid played one season in the North American Hockey League with the Alpena IceDiggers where he posted a respectable 17-9-2 record with a 3.06 GAA in 2006-07. Not bad for a goaltender who only stood at 5'7", making him shorter than most goaltenders by today's standards. And certainly small by Michigan head coach Red Berenson's standards.

However, Hunwick stayed true to his passion, and eventually earned a spot as a walk-on goaltender with the NCAA's Michigan Wolverines in 2007-08. While he saw action only in practice, he was beginning to turn heads on the ice. As Ryan Kartje of The Michigan Daily found out, his teammates believed in him as much as they did in starter Bryan Hogan in terms of carrying the team.

While it's foolish to believe that all walk-on players get a chance to play in the spotlight, there are a select few where it seems that fate smiles upon them. Being thrust into the limelight isn't easy for anyone, let alone a player who had just 20 minutes of action in three seasons of being part of the team, but this was the reality that Shawn Hunwick faced.

February 25, 2010 saw Bryan Hogan kick out a leg to make a save against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. While the save was of the routine nature, the result certainly was not. Hogan couldn't get back to his feet after pulling a groin muscle, and the hearts of all Wolverine fans sank. The 19-16-1 Michigan Wolverines had struggled up to that point, but losing their top goaltender only appeared to be impending doom for the remainder of the season.

Twenty straight NCAA men's hockey tournaments appeared to be coming to an end, and it was the worst season in Berenson's 26-year tenure as head coach. The kid with "ugly pads", as reader Sammy B. described them, was skating from the bench to the blue paint in the crease as the crowd let out a collective moan. I'm sure hearing that didn't make Hunwick any less nervous as he took over as the starter in a Michigan net.

If the young man was feeling his nerves, he certainly didn't show it against Notre Dame. Hunwick picked up his first NCAA win in a 4-0 shutout of the Fighting Irish. The second game of the two-game set went in South Bend, Indiana on February 27, and a couple of soft goals hurt the Wolverines as they lost 5-3. Hunwick was 1-1, and the Wolverines were the seventh-ranked team in the CCHA at 20-17-1 as the conference playoffs were about to begin.

Hunwick showed his resolve in helping the Wolverines knock off Lake Superior State in two games by scores of 5-2 and 6-0 to open the CCHA tournament. Michigan State was up next, and Hunwick again stared the odds down as Michigan knocked off their rivals by scores of 5-1 and 5-3. In four of the biggest games that any NCAA goalie will play in, Hunwick had only given up six goals while posting a 4-0 record with one shutout. Fans in Ann Arbor, Michigan began to believe. However, their biggest test still laid in front of the Wolverines.

Miami (Ohio) University, who boasted the CCHA Player of the Year in goaltender Cody Reichard, were the next foe standing in Michigan's path. Miami-Ohio was the top-ranked hockey program in the country, and had dismantled teams all season long on their way to being ranked #1 in the nation. Clearly, Hunwick's luck, and Michigan's Cinderella story, had to come to an end at the hands of the best team in the nation, right? 8,000+ fans in the Joe Louis Arena hoped it wasn't over.

Five Michigan goals, including three in the third period, put Reichard on the Miami-Ohio bench, and the Wolverines skated to a 5-2 win. The improbable had happened, and now Hunwick had everyone associated with the University of Michigan believing that the Wolverines' run was no fluke.

What a lot of people didn't realize was that if Michigan had lost any of their previous games, their run to the NCAA's Frozen Four Tournament was over. Losing to the RedHawks wouldn't have been a surprise, but the disappointment of not going to the big dance would have been painful. Instead, the Wolverines saw opportunity, grabbed it, and never let go against the top team in the nation. And because of that, they stood one win away from the most improbable run in college hockey in recent memory. And with a walk-on goaltender backstopping them to the CCHA Finals.

Northern Michigan stood between the Wolverines and destiny, and it appeared that neither team wanted to give the other an inch at Joe Louis Arena in front of 17,063 fans that were mostly pro-Wolverine.

Louie Caporusso put the Wolverines up 1-0 with 19.4 second to play in the second period while on the powerplay. Matt Rust had lost his stick while cycling the puck in the Wildcats' zone, and returned to the bench to retrieve another one. However, Caporusso jumped onto the ice and into the play. He received a pass from defenceman Brandon Burlon at the top of the right face-off circle, and ripped a wrist shot past NMU netminder Brian Stewart on the blocker side.

Caporusso struck again on the powerplay 8:53 into the third. Just seconds after hitting the goalpost himself with a shot, Caporusso deflected a Steve Kampfer shot from the high slot past Stewart to put the Wolverines up by a pair of goals.

Less than a minute later, NMU's Andrew Cherniwchan grabbed a loose puck just outside the crease as Hunwick was down, and he flipped the puck over Michigan's goaltender to make it a 2-1 game at 9:47 of the third period.

Including that shot, Hunwick only faced three shots in the third period as Michigan literally carried the play through the final frame. While Michigan outshot NMU by a 35-18 margin, Hunwick was called on to make some rather remarkable saves. NMU, however, could not get another puck past Hunwick, and the Wolverines - with their walk-on goaltender - won the game 2-1 to capture the CCHA Championship!

Because of his efforts through the CCHA tournament, Shawn Hunwick was named as the CCHA tournament's MVP. That's right: a kid who had only played 20 minutes in the previous three seasons, and only started one game in his NCAA career, was named the MVP of the CCHA tournament, and led his team to an improbable berth in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament.

While this seems like a fairy tale, it is entirely true, and it should be inspiration to every hockey player out there. Shawn Hunwick's storybook season isn't over just yet. Michigan will square off against Bemidji State on Saturday in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the opening round of the NCAA Frozen Four tournament.

The amazing season that Michigan is having might just be hockey's best story of the year. And the main character of that story is a kid who has no hockey pedigree, no hockey scholarship, and what appeared to be no chance of playing for the Wolverines this season at all. Instead, Shawn Hunwick has become an inspiration for every hockey player out there who thinks they may not have a future. And Shawn Hunwick is the player that could still lead his team to an NCAA Championship.

Win or lose on Saturday, Shawn Hunwick will always be an inspiration to me for simply playing a game he loves. When given the chance, he has run with it, showing some incredible goaltending along the way.

The best part about Hunwick's story is that the ending is still unwritten, but the pen is in his hand. And that's what every kid wants: a chance to write his or her own fairy tale. Congratulations, Shawn, and HBIC is rooting for you this weekend!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***Big thanks to Sammy B. for prompting me to research this story a little more. If you have a story that you'd like to see published, please feel free to email me with your story ideas!

Also, big thanks to James H. who caught my inglorious error on Miami-Ohio's school name! Stick tap to James and Sammy!***

Monday 22 March 2010

Science Should Be Popular

I spent some time today scanning through the online archives of Popular Science. Normally, the magazine is focused more on technology and science, but they do branch out into sports science once in a while. Hockey has had a few articles printed on the pages of Popular Science, so let's take a look at some of the items examined by the magazine over its time.

  • Bob Sillery brings a little FYI on hockey to the pages of Popular Science's February 2003 maganzine. There are some generic facts on this page, but what caught my attention was the fact about George Owen of the Boston Bruins in 1928 on this page. This would make George Owen the first player in the NHL to wear some sort of protective headwear in a game, but there are no images proving this to be true. Anyone know of any pictures that exist of Owen wearing his helmet?
  • The December 1996 edition of Popular Science had an excellent explanation on how the FoxTrax puck worked. The glowing puck contained a battery, a circuit board, and 20 emitters that 16 sensors positioned around the ice and in the rafters would pick up. From there, the sensors would send the information back to computer that were hooked up through the cameras, enabling the cameras to create the tail on the puck. Those computers would then send that information to the Fox Puck Truck (nice name) where the information would be broadcast as the cameras displayed the game live. Pretty cool science in that whole system, right? The execution, however, left a lot to be desired.
  • The February 2002 magazine took a look at some skates that the Czech and German teams were wearing in the Salt Lake City Olympics. The t'blade skate, created by Würthner Sport of Germany, used a thinner blade to reduce gliding friction by up to 40% thanks to a warmer blade creating a layer of water. The skates were also 35% lighter, thus enabling players to be faster. While there were some noticeable differences - the skates sounded like tearing paper when moving along the ice - they had yet to be adopted by North American skaters. There are other sites that endorse their properties, but the t'blade still hasn't overtaken the normal chassis we see on skates to my knowledge. Anyone with more knowledge or experience wanna comment on the blades and chassis?
  • Finally, one article that caught my attention was August 2008 article about save percentage and how it doesn't tell the full story about a goaltender. Alan Ryder, who writes the Hockey Analytics site, states that shot quality is more telling about a goaltender than shot quantity. What this tells a person is how good a team defence is and how this reflects in a goaltender's overall stats. From the inserted stats board, you can see that Marty Turco's numbers improve his ranking by fifteen spots based on the shot quality rather than just save percentage. It's an interesting application of the numbers provided by the NHL, and it goes to disprove the inflated save percentages of some of the pretenders on the leader board.
There are more great hockey stories to be found in the Popular Science archives, and I'll be bringing those forward shortly. Hockey science is pretty cool if you ask me, and it's nice to see the major publications who focus solely on science and technology bringing sports science to the forefront.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 21 March 2010

Epic Women's Final

To say that the final of the 2010 NCAA Women's Frozen Four today was a great game might be the understatement of the year. Today's game could rival the Canada-USA matchups that the women are used to seeing, and it was an absolute delight to see both Cornell and the University of Minnesota-Duluth laying it all on the line for collegiate hockey's biggest prize. While there has to be a loser at the end of the game, neither of these teams lost today if they were looking to attract fans to the women's game. But we'll get to the game in a second.

In case you may have missed it, the top-eight women's collegiate teams squared off on March 12 and 13 for the right to be called the nation's best team. The top-four teams were ranked, and the remaining teams were selected from the best teams around the country.

Elite Eight

Fourth-ranked Harvard drew Cornell in the first round on March 12, and the two teams met at the Bright Hockey Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cornell jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period as Catherine White and Karlee Overguard scored markers for the Big Red. The Cornell onslaught continued in the second period as Laura Fortino, Melanie Jue, and Chelsea Karpenko paced the Big Red to a 5-0 lead midway through the period. Harvard got one back on the powerplay as Randi Griffin notched a goal, but Cornell quickly restored the five-goal lead when Kendice Ogilvie found the back of the net to make it 6-1. Leanna Coskren made it 6-2 in the third period, but Cornell advanced with a dominating performance, upsetting the fourth-seed in the tournament.

Top-ranked Mercyhurst drew Boston University in their opening game on March 13. Mercyhurst had the home-ice advantage as the game was played at the Mercyhurst Ice Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. Cassea Schols and Bailey Bram got the home squad out to a 2-0 lead after one period. Vicki Bendus added another early in the third period to give Merchyhurst the 3-0 lead before Tara Watchorn got Boston University on the board with a powerplay goal. However, Bailey Bram added her second of the game as insurance, and Mercyhurst advanced on a 4-1 victory.

Second-ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth faced off against New Hampshire in their opening game, and, like Merchyhurst, had a home-ice advantage as this game took place at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth, Minnesota. Jocelyne Larocque opened the scoring for the Bulldogs early in the first period, and UMD had the 1-0 lead. UNH's Micaela Long capitalized on a defensive zone turnover by UMD, and her goal tied the game 1-1. Rookie Jessica Wong scored the game-winner on the powerplay early in the third period, and the Bulldogs would advance on the 2-1 victory.

Third-ranked University of Minnesota matched up with Clarkson, and had home-ice advantage as they took to the ice at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brittany Francis scored the only goal of the first period, but her marker gave the Golden Gophers the early lead. Emily West made it a two-goal lead late in the second period, and it appeared the Gophers might be in the driver seat. However, Melissa Waldie and Juana Baribeau scored third period goals for Clarkson, and this game was headed for overtime. With 3:09 to play in the overtime period, Emily West scored her second of the game for the game-winner, and Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four weekend.

Frozen Four

Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota played host to all of the Frozen Four games, and the state of Minnesota had two teams left in the tournament. However, one of those teams would be eliminated after Friday's games, so the pride of Minnesota was on the line.

We'll start with top-ranked Mercyhurst who drew Cornell after the Big Red upset the Harvard Crimson in the opening round. Cornell played aggressively to open the first period, and were rewarded with the only goal of the frame when Laura Fortino buried a shorthanded rebound goal after teammate Karlee Overguard was stopped on a breakaway.

Mercyhurst's Kylie Rossler tied the game midway through the second period after a goal-mouth scramble that saw the puck cross the line. Meghan Corbett put Mercyhurst ahead when she ripped a loose puck into the back of the net just three minutes later, and they had a 2-1 lead.

Karlee Overguard evened the score for Cornell when she fired a rebound home on the Big Red's first shot of the period at 7:06. Neither team could notch another in regulation time, so it was off to overtime to determine a winner.

At 13:14 of overtime, what seemed like the impossible happened. Catherine White poked home a loose puck on a rebound off of Amber Overguard's initial shot. While the ladies celebrated, the officials went to a review to determine whether or not the puck had actually crossed the line. Minutes later, the celebration was official as White's goal stood, and Cornell advanced to the Frozen Four Final.

The all-Minnesota semi-final was a battle of bitter conference rivals. The second-ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs faced off against the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers with a trip to the final on the line.

UMD opened the scoring when Laura Fridfinnson wrapped the puck around the net and found some space. The 1-0 lead would last throughout the period, but it appeared this game may take on a very physical look as both teams didn't give an inch on the ice.

Emmanuelle Blais made it a 2-0 UMD lead at 12:55 of the second period as she deflected a Laura Fridfinnson shot past goaltender Noora Raty. Sarah Erickson cut the deficit to one goal when the Golden Gopher used a low slapshot to get the puck past Jennifer Harss after beating the defencemen. UMD led 2-1.

However, Blais and Fridfinnson teamed up to restore the two-goal lead with less than a minute left. Fridfinnson intercepted a pass near center ice and broke into the Gophers' zone. She left a drop pass for Blais in the slot, and she made no mistake as she went high on Raty's left side that the goalie couldn't stop. With Blais' second of the game, UMD was back on top by a 3-1 score.

Minnesota's Emily West scored with 54.3 seconds remaining in the third period to cut the lead to 3-2, but it was too little, too late for the Gophers. The UMD Bulldogs laid claim as the best team in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and they advanced to Sunday's final to face the upstart Cornell Big Red.

Frozen Four Final

The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the second-ranked team in NCAA women's hockey this season, played the Cornell Big Red for college hockey's top prize. Cornell had been underdogs in each of their previous games, and this game would be no different. UMD was looking to capture its fifth NCAA Championship in ten years.

Melanie Jue opened the scoring for Cornell with about six minutes to play in the second period. Her redirection of Lauriane Rougeau's slapshot from the point found its way through Jennifer Harss to give the Big Red a 1-0 lead.

UMD evened the game just 18 seconds into the third period on the powerplay. Emmanuelle Blais's initial shot was blocked by Rougeau, but Blais picked up the loose puck and fired a rocket past goaltender Amanda Mazzotta to tie the game at 1-1.

UMD took their first lead of the final with 5:18 remaining when Julie Rasmussen pinched in from the point and took a cross-ice feed from Saara Tuominen. Rasmussen's one-timer found the back of the net, and it appeared the Bulldogs were in control of the game.

However, Cornell's never-say-die approach paid off again for them. With 3:30 remaining, Cornell tied the game. Laura Fortino's shot from the high slot rang off the post, and the puck ended up loose in the crease. A scrum ensued, and Melanie Jue found the loose puck just outside the crease. Her backhander couldn't be stopped by Harss during the scramble, and the game was tied at 2-2.

The first overtime period solved nothing, despite both teams having excellent chances. The second overtime period was inconclusive as well, but both teams saw glorious opportunities in the fifth period. However, the golden goal would be scored in the sixth period of hockey.

At the end of a powerplay in the third overtime period, Tara Gray fired a slapshot from the point as the penalized Cornell player raced back into the play. Two UMD players were standing on the doorstep as the blast made its way towards the net, and rookie Jessica Wong got a stick on the blast to redirect the puck past Mazzotta with 33.6 seconds remaining!

With the victory, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs are your 2010 NCAA Women's Hockey Champions! Congratulations to the Bulldogs on their fifth national title in the last decade, and to Emmanuelle Blais who was named as the tournament's MVP! Blais, a senior, finishes her NCAA career with 73 goals and 72 assists in 145 career games, and the Lasalle, Quebec native will undoubtedly look to crack Canada's roster in the future!

Another player who will be looking to crack Canada's roster in future years will be this year's Patty Kazmaier Award winner. Mercyhurst's Vicki Bendus, a native of Wasaga Beach, Ontario, was selected as the top woman in college hockey this season, beating out New Hampshire's Kelly Paton and Minnesota's Noora Raty. Bendus tied for the scoring lead in Division-I women's hockey with 65 points, scoring 28 goals and adding 37 assists. Congratulations to Vicki Bendus on a great season!

With that being said, the NCAA Men's Frozen Four Tournament is gearing up as we're only 18 days away. This year's Frozen Four event takes place in Detroit, Michigan, and the interactive bracket is here. The University of Miami-Ohio is the top-ranked team, the University of Denver is ranked second, the University of Wisconsin is ranked third, and Boston College rounds out the top-four teams. There are a number of excellent teams in this tournament, and my darkhorse pick looks like the University of North Dakota Sioux.

However, as seen in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, and the Women's NCAA Tournament above, anyone can beat anyone else in a single-elimination tournament, so the Frozen Four could be wide open as to who will win it all. It should be good, though, and I'm looking forward to a phenomenal event!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 20 March 2010

KHL Playoffs

As the race towards the playoffs in the NHL and the various minor leagues in North America come to a head, there are playoffs happening elsewhere on the planet that have a ton of intrigue happening. The Kontinental Hockey League's Gagarin Cup Playoffs have been on-going since last week, and we need to provide a quick update as to who is still in, who is out, and the fantastic upsets that have occurred thus far. Not all the favorites are playing in Round Two, and it goes to show that, like the NHL Playoffs, upsets do happen despite the success seen by some teams in the regular season.

The seedings for the Western Conference were as follows:

  • #1 SKA Saint Petersburg vs. #8 Dinamo Riga
  • #2 HC MVD vs. #7 HC CSKA Moscow
  • #3 Dynamo Moscow vs. #6 HC Spartak Moscow
  • #4 Atlant Mytishchi vs. #5 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Missing the playoffs were Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Severstal Cherepovets, Dinamo Minsk, and Vityaz Chekhov. Torpedo finished ninth in the Western Conference standings, and still ended the season nine points back of eighth-place Dinamo Riga.

The seedings for the Eastern Conference were as follows:
  • #1 Salavat Yulaev Ufa vs. #8 Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg
  • #2 Metallurg Magnitogorsk vs. #7 Traktor Chelyabinsk
  • #3 Ak Bars Kazan vs. #6 Barys Astana
  • #4 Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk vs. #5 Avangard Omsk Oblast
Missing the playoffs were HC Sibir Novosibirsk, Amur Khabarovsk, HC Lada Togliatti, and Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Sibir and Amur were in the playoff race until the last week. Sibir missed the playoffs by two points, while Amur missed by four points.

Western Conference - Round One

Dinamo Riga dispatched SKA St. Petersburg in four games, sending the top seed home. Riga won 2-0 and 3-1 before losing Game Three by a 4-2 score. However, Riga closed out the series on Sunday by winning Game Four by a 4-2 score.

HC MVD had no problems with CSKA as they swept the seventh-seed out. MVD won by scores of 3-1, 4-2, and 5-2 to wrap up their series in three straight games.

Sixth-seeded HC Spartak Moscow won the battle of Moscow by eliminating Dynamo Moscow in four games. Spartak won 4-3 in overtime in the first game before playing to a 1-0 victory in Game Two. Dynamo rallied for a 3-1 win in Game Three, but Spartak ended the series with authority with a 4-0 win in Game Four.

Fifth-seeded Lokomotiv Yaroslavl defeated Atlant Mytishchi in four games as well. Lokomotiv won the first game by a 2-1 score, but lost Game Two in overtime by a 4-3 score as Atlant pulled even. However, Lokomotiv earned a couple of victories as they posted a 4-3 score in Game Three and needed a 2-1 overtime victory in Game Four to wrap up the series win.

Eastern Conference - Round One

Salavat Yulaev Ufa needed four games, but they outlasted Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg. Game One went to Salavat by a 5-1 score, and Game Two was a 4-1 victory for Salavat as well. Game Three saw Avtomobilist rally for a 4-3 win, but Salavat closed out the series on Monday with an 8-1 thrashing of the eighth-seed.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk needed four games to eliminate Traktor Chelyabinsk. Metallurg took Game One with a 5-2 effort, and followed up that victory with a 3-1 win. A 2-1 overtime win by Traktor extended the series to a fourth game, but Mettalurg closed out the series with a 3-2 overtime win.

Ak Bars Kazan had no trouble with Barys Astana in their opening-round series. Kazan used scores of 4-3 in overtime, 4-2, and 3-1 to sweep Barys out of the playoffs.

Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk eliminated Avangard Omsk Oblast in three straight games as well. Neftekhimik won by scores of 2-0, 6-2, and 2-1 to sweep their opening-round series.

Western Conference - Round Two

HC MVD earns a matchup with eighth-seeded Dinamo Riga. Victories by scores of 4-1 and 2-0 have MVD up 2-0 in their second-round series. This might be another sweep for team from Balashikha unless Riga can step up its game.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and HC Spartak Moscow have locked horns in the second round, and each team has a victory in the first two games of Round Two. Lokomotiv drew first blood on Friday night with a 5-1 victory, but Spartak drew even today with a 3-2 overtime victory.

Eastern Conference - Round Two

Salavat Yulaev Ufa draws fourth-seeded Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in the second round. Game One went today, and Salavat laid a beating on Neftekhimik, winning 6-2 to take the early 1-0 lead in the series.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Ak Bars Kazan matchup in Round Two, and their opening game was today as well. Kazan showed that their third-seed ranking means nothing as they took Game One by a 4-0 score.

Don't look now, but Alexander Radulov of Salavat Yulaev Ufa is leading the KHL Playoffs with 12 points. He's four points better than teammate Patrick Thoreson. Radulov is leading the playoffs with nine assists as well. Four players have four goals thus far in the playoffs to lead the way: Kazan's Niko Kapanen, Kazan's Alexei Morozov, Neftekhimik's Maxim Pestushko, and Salavat's Patrick Thoreson. The top goaltender as it stands is HC MVD's Michael Garnett with a 1.20 GAA. Kazan's Petri Vehanen is second amongst goalies who are still in the playoffs. He has a 1.27 GAA.

There's your update on what's happening in the KHL! For more information, please check out the KHL website, or tune in here as I'll try to run another update next weekend!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!