Friday, 30 April 2010

The Washington Paradox

Something struck me as I read the various blogs and newspaper articles asking why the Washington Capitals will be booking tee times rather than preparing to play the Flyers. You're probably going to tell me that you've heard it all before when I tell you the revelation that struck me, but the proof was no more evident than in Game Seven of the Washington-Montreal series. If there is any reason why the Capitals aren't playing right now, this revelation, to me, is the entire reason why. And I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the truth was shown as Montreal advanced and Washington went home empty-handed. Again.


There is nothing I appreciate more than seeing a team grab their lunch pails, throw on their hard hats and work gloves, and rub in a healthy dose of elbow grease when they take the ice. The Montreal Canadiens put forth an effort that would have built Rome in a day, while the Capitals seemingly were content with not stepping on the gas pedal when they had their chances.

Everyone wants to point to Jaroslav Halak as being "the difference", but we've known Halak was a very good goaltender for some time now. The key is that you have to be paying attention, and the two players that I assumed would have known how good Halak was would have been Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

You see, those two gentlemen had the pleasure of dealing with Halak in February when a major accolade was on the line. Halak was the starting goaltender for Slovakia at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, and he led the Slovaks to a 2-1 shootout victory in Vancouver over the highly-touted Russian squad.

Said Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski: "Unable to convert on the power play; unable to solve goalie Jaroslav Halak, whose only goal allowed was on a deflected puck; and unable to put away a Slovakian team that played in an intense and exhausting loss to Czech Republic less than 24 hours earlier."

Russia was outworked by a team that was dedicated to defence, and the Great Eight was shutdown in regulation time and overtime. His only highlight? Going one-for-three in the shootout. On the other side, Halak finished with 36 saves, and recorded six more in the shootout before the Slovaks prevailed. Halak was outstanding all night long, and helped his team to the best finish in his country's history as they finished fourth - ahead of the Russians who finished a disappointing sixth.

Perhaps Nicklas Backstrom should have known that Halak could shut the door as well. After all, he had three shots on net, and finished the Olympic quarter-final game with just one assist in a 4-3 Sweden loss to Slovakia. Backstrom, however, came to play in the opening round of the NHL Playoffs, but his scoring dried up when it mattered as well. Sweden finished fifth at the Winter Olympics, right behind fourth-place Slovakia.

All three men had a chance to exact a little revenge on the man who ousted their medal chances at the Winter Olympics, and appeared to have exorcised the demons as Washington built a 3-1 lead in the series. But a funny thing happened before Game Five.

The Montreal Canadiens, still believing that they could keep this series going, held a team meeting without practicing. Head coach Jacques Martin juggled his lines a little bit. And he opted to put Halak back in net after having Carey Price in his nets for Game Four.

The team refocused its efforts on shutting down the high-flying Capitals, and returned to playing five men in the defensive zone rather than looking for a quick break-out with a man releasing. The team bought into blocking every shot it could, and allowing Halak to see any long shot from the outside by clearing bodies in front and keeping the Capitals' snipers on the outside.

Basically, the Montreal Canadiens bought into the theory that this series would be won on hard work - bearing down on defence, working a solid cycle game to wear down the Capitals' defencemen, and keeping rebounds to a minimum. In a word, they were willing to sacrifice everything to win something. That is "desperate" hockey in a sense, but I prefer to call it NHL Playoff hockey.

The Capitals? They had three opportunities to put the Canadiens away, and couldn't find the extra gear they needed. They tried to wheel-and-deal like they had all season long, and it caught up to them when a defensive unit put the roadblocks out.

The Russians and Swedes? They had their opportunities to put the Slovaks away, and couldn't find the extra gear they needed. They tried to wheel-and-deal like they had all tournament long, and it caught up to them when a defensive unit put the roadblocks out.

Sound familiar?

In case no one has noticed, defence wins championships. The Pittsburgh Penguins found that out in 2008 when the Detroit Red Wings showed them that hard work and effort will trump talent every time. The Penguins came back in 2009 - a little grittier, a little meaner, and a whole lot more hard-working - and steamrolled the Ottawa Senators before ousting the Capitals in a lackluster Game Seven for the team from DC.

Talent goes a long way in the regular season. There's no denying that. Playoff hockey, however, is all about effort and sacrifice. Combine that with talent, and you have a lethal combination of scoring and willingness to win.

The Capitals have more talent on paper than most teams do. But they simply don't bring the work ethic necessary to win a Stanley Cup at this point. If I were head coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee, I'd come into next season preaching the benefits of bringing your lunch pail to work every night.

In the end, it might just pay off for Ted's crew of highly-skilled hockey players. Otherwise, Ted might just have himself a formidable crew of scratch golfers by the time the organization gets itself in order.

Point at Halak and tell me he was good. I'll agree with you. But I'll also add that the twenty men in front of him gave him everything they had in preventing Washington from doing any damage. Montreal's hard work trumped the abundance of Washington talent in the series, and it just goes to show how true that statement is.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Antler Banter: See You In September

Well, Moose fans, the season is over. The Hamilton Bulldogs retired the Moose in overtime in Game Six of their series, and won the series by a 4-2 margin. Honestly, I'm a little disappointed because I would have liked to have seen the Moose advance to at least the second round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, but it wasn't to be. That's the trouble with professional sports: there has to be a winner and a loser. Unfortunately, the Moose were the latter in that equation, and everyone might speak of how the Moose season ended because of Grant Stevenson's skate. I'm here to talk about the positives we saw this season, and what I want to see going forward with the AHL's best franchise. Sit back, relax, and let's take a look at a few of the highlights that stood out in my mind.

Best Of The Best

First off, Cory Schneider may just be the best goaltender on the planet who isn't playing in the NHL right now. Yes, he's been called up to the Canucks and is sitting in the press box right now, but what he did this season in leading the Moose to another 40-win season was simply outstanding. I'll even go on record right here in saying that he might be the best goaltender to have ever laced up the skates for a Winnipeg-based professional hockey team.

Schneider was clearly the most valuable player on the Moose roster this year, and his statistics reflected how important he was to the Herd. His 35 wins were the second-most in the AHL. He played the most minutes between the pipes in the AHL this season. He saw more vulcanized rubber than a Goodyear factory this season, and still was near the top in almost every goaltending category.

The only thing that bothers me about Cory Schneider this year is the fact that he may not be back next year. Schneider played out his contract this season after spending four seasons tending to the Manitoba nets, and he has gone on record that he is interested in competing for an NHL job. He didn't quite close the book on the Moose just yet, but it appears that he'll be willing to listen to offers once July 1 rolls around.

Personally, I can't fault Schneider for looking to move up the food chain. Vancouver has a pretty good guy looking after their goaltending duties right now, so a starting job may not be in the cards for Schneider just yet. However, if Vancouver GM Mike Gillis offered Schneider a competitive contract to be Luongo's back-up, Vancouver would suddenly have two outstanding goaltenders at their disposal. And if, for some reason, Schneider needs a little seasoning, he would be welcomed back with open arms to the Moose.

Don't get me wrong - Schneider has put his time in with the Moose in spades. He has done some exceptional things in Manitoba, played some of the most memorable hockey this city has ever seen, and deserves a shot at the bright lights of the NHL. If he leaves, I'll be happy for him. But I won't be very happy if he returns to Manitoba wearing a different uniform.

The Kids Are Alright

I'll be honest when I say that a youth movement for the Moose next season would certainly be welcomed if the kids play like they did over the last twenty games of this season. No less than four rookies were in the lineup at the end of the season for the Moose, and all brought intangibles that the Moose needed.

We'll start with the season-long rookie campaign for Russian sniper Sergei Shirokov. Shirokov came in with high expectations, and he certainly lived up to his billing as he finished the campaign ninth in rookie scoring. While certainly a streaky scorer, Shirokov was always dangerous when on the ice thanks to his blazing speed and hockey sense. What impressed me the most was the evolution of his defensive game towards the end of the year. Full marks should be given to head coach Scott Arniel and his staff for making Shirokov into a solid two-way player rather than just a one-zone scoring threat.

With the University of Minnesota's season at an end, the Canucks wasted no time in trying to get Jordan Schroeder signed to a pro contract. Schroeder inked his first contract and was assigned to the Moose for the stretch run where he looked the part of an NHL first-round pick. Schroeder had seven goals and eight assists in 17 total games this year with the Moose, including six points in six Calder Cup Playoff games. Schroeder found chemistry with Yan Stastny and Guillaume Desbiens to form a high-scoring, hard-working second line - something the Moose were desperately needing in the playoffs. I'm not sure how long Schroeder will be in Manitoba for, but get down to MTS Centre to see him play before he's with the Canucks.

The Moose went out and signed another collegiate player in Kevin Clark. Clark played with the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and scored 51 goals and 57 assists in 141 games with UAA over four seasons. He was a rugged power forward who didn't shy away from high-traffic areas. The Moose put this to good use as Winnipeg-born Clark scored three goals and two assists in 13 games. More impressively, he showed some solid defensive play and excelled in his defensive role as a shutdown forward. Clark would be a welcome addition next season as the Moose searched for some sandpaper all season long after releasing Darryl Bootland.

Perhaps my favorite signing came courtesy of Brown University as the Canucks inked senior Aaron Volpatti and assigned him to the Moose. Volpatti didn't set the world on fire with his scoring, but he was the grinding, agitating, sandpaperish player that the Moose desperately needed all season long. He came in as a player who didn't mind mixing it up, so his hard-nosed approach won him over fans early as he was willing to drop the gloves if the situation called for it. In his 13 games with the Moose, Volpatti scored two goals and one assist, but his 38 PIMs showed he would stand and deliver when necessary.

Ryan McGinnis, Matt Clark, Geoff Waugh, and Taylor Ellington were solid defensive additions when the Moose came calling as well. For a revolving door at the blueline with the amount of call-ups that the Canucks made this season, it's a surprise that these youngsters stepped in and played as well as they could with little to no AHL experience, but the kids proved they were alright. I'd offer up spots in training camp to all of them as they proved they could compete at the AHL level this season.

We didn't get to see highly-touted pick Cody Hodgson this season in a Moose uniform due to injuries that kept him out of the lineup, but Hodgson's past performance with the Moose shows that his potential is limitless, and we should expect Hodgson in Manitoba next season for at least a few weeks. Needless to say, the young man would be a huge help down the middle for the Moose, and his solid two-way play have earned his rave reviews in the OHL. Hodgson should be another solid addition to the Moose next season providing that he doesn't crack the Canucks' lineup.

The Grizzled Veterans

I'm anxious to see who returns from the current corps of forwards that suited up for the Moose this season. Players who should find a locker next season, if I were in charge, would be Moose captain Mike Keane, Marco Rosa, Yan Stastny, Mario Bliznak, Guillaume Desbiens, Peter Olvecky, and, if he returns, Matt Pettinger. Their leadership, experience, and scoring are needed, and the Moose relied upon these men this season. If Michael Grabner is back, that would also be a solid scoring addition to the Moose lineup as well.

On the blueline, I'd like to see Nolan Baumgartner, Evan Oberg, Tom Galvin, Travis Ramsey, and Lawrence Nycholat come together as a group again. Again, the revolving door that seemed to be spinning all season long for the Moose as players were shuffled between Winnipeg and Vancouver was ridiculous, but necessary for the NHL club. The problem, though, is that the Moose suffered due to the inconsistent lineup they iced night in and night out. While this is life in the AHL, the Canucks may want to look at bolstering their depth on the blueline so that the Moose aren't playing games with five defencemen as they did a couple of times this season.

Of course, both Dan Sexton and Brian Salcido will most likely be playing for the Syracuse Crunch next season as the Anaheim Ducks have partnered with them as an AHL affiliate. Sexton was everything and more while he was here in terms of meeting the expectations placed upon him, and I truly think he'll have a spot with the Ducks next season. Salcido, for some of his defensive lapses, will probably play for Syracuse next season, and the offensive defenceman will be looking to improve upon his 18-point season with the Moose this past year.

Daren Machesney would certainly be welcomed back, despite his numbers being nowhere near what was expected this season. Machesney, in his defence, played behind a potent offence in Hershey the last few years, so allowing three goals normally got him a win. With the Moose this season, three goals-against would be a difficult task to overcome for the scoring-challenged Moose, but Machesney played well enough to warrant another shot at tending the Moose nets.

The Man At The Top

Head coach Scott Arniel has put together some of the best seasons of hockey that this city has seen, and it appears he will be rewarded with multiple NHL interviews for head coaching vacancies. Atlanta and Columbus have been granted permission to speak with Arniel, and you'd have to think there's a good chance he'll get hired after stringing together four seasons of 40-win hockey, and an overall record of 181-106-33 over those four seasons. The Moose have seen Randy Carlyle and Alain Vigneault take the next step to the NHL level and show that the lessons they learned as a coach in the AHL readied them for the NHL bench job. Arniel certainly has a great shot at being the next man in line to earn an NHL job after spending time as the Moose's head man.

In Conclusion

I'm not going to lie. I wanted more Moose hockey this season. Another run at the Calder Cup would have been a perfect ending to the season, but the Herd came up a little short.

However, full marks to the team for banding together, rallying to make the playoffs, and sending some pangs of fear through the Hamilton Bulldogs in their series. There were a lot of solid efforts this season, and I really liked the additions the Moose made at the end of the season with the kids they brought in.

I'm already looking forward to next season, and I'm excited for more Hardcore Hockey! Antler Banter is calling it a season, but we'll be back soon to look at the Moose as they take on the AHL in the 2010-11 season!

Have a great summer, and keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Best Of Round One

What a crazy first round in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs! There were a grand total of zero sweeps, despite some series featuring one team who out-classed their opponents in every aspect of the game through the regular season. There were a few upsets, including a very painful exit for the Buffalo Sabres who were thought to be one of the favorites this season. The San Jose Sharks survived the first round without getting any goals from "Jumbo" Joe Thornton, while the Penguins basically rode Sidney Crosby's 14-point performance against the Senators in their series. If Round Two is anything like the previous round, this could be one of the more memorable Stanley Cup Playoffs in recent history. Tonight, we look at Round One's best performers in the HBIC Playoff Pool.

San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche

Two entrants score 11 points to lead this series in points, and they did it in slightly different ways. Alex F. called Games One, Two, Five, and Six correctly for a total of four points. He also called Cam Stewart's game-winning goal in Game One for another two points. Alex correctly predicted the Sharks would win in six games, and he received another five points for that, bringing his series total to 11.

Daniel W. went a slightly different route in calling the winning team of all six games correctly in this series for a quick six points. He also correctly predicted the Sharks would win in six games, netting him another five points. His series total was also 11 points.

Congratulations, gentlemen, and well done on your predictions!

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators

Three entrants scored 11 points in this series for their predictions. Kerry M. called Games Two, Three, Four, and Six correctly for a total of four points. He also called Patrick Sharp's game-winning goal in Game Four for an additional two points. And because he called the Blackhawks in six games, he picked up another five points for a total of 11 points in that series.

Konrad W. correctly predicted the winning team in Games Two, Three, Five, and Six for four points. He added two more when Marian Hossa scored the overtime winner in Game Five. Chicago took the series in six, so Konrad got another five points for that prediction, giving him 11 points in the series.

Robert M. gazed into his crystal ball to correctly call the winners in Games One, Two, Five, and Six. Like Konrad, Robert called the Hossa overtime goal in Game Five for another two points. And he added five more after predicting the Blackhawks would advance in six games, for a total of 11 points in the series.

Congratulations, gentlemen, and well done on your predictions!

Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings

One man went off in this series, scoring an amazing 14 points between these two teams. That man also recorded the highest point total of any entrant in any series in the Canucks-Kings clash with his 14 points. That man is your HBIC Playoff Pool leader, Ben T.

Ben correctly predicted the winning team in Games One, Three, Four, Five, and Six for a quick five points. He also called the Henrik Sedin game-winner in Game Four, and called the Daniel Sedin game-winner in Game Five for an additional four points. And because he called the Canucks to win the series in six games, he picked up another five points for the correct prediction. Add that up, and Ben T. scored 14 points in this series.

Congratulations, Ben, on your lead and your clairvoyance in this series, and good luck in the next round!

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Detroit Red Wings

Only one competitor scored a series-high 12 points, and that man was Aaron D. Aaron called Games Two, Three, Four, Six, and Seven for five points. Aaron called Henrik Zetterberg's game-winner in Game Two for another two points. And he correctly predicted that the Detroit Red Wings would need all seven games to eliminate Phoenix, picking up another five points. All said, Aaron scored 12 points in this series.

Congratulations, Aaron, and well done on your predictions!

Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Did anyone see this upset coming? According to most poolies, we shouldn't have expected a Game Six, let alone a Game Seven. However, one man believed in the Canadiens, calling a series win, but only in six games. That man was Dave F. who earned the most points in this series with seven points.

Dave correctly called the winning team in Games One, Two, Four, Five, and Six for a quick five points. He correctly predicted the Mike Cammalleri game-winning goal in Game Six for an added two points, bringing his total to seven in the series.

Congratulations, Dave, and well done with your faith in Montreal!

New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

This is another series that handicapped a lot of people thanks to the Philly upset. Not many people called a five-game series, but that's what we got. And as a result, there were two entrants who earned a series-high six points in this Eastern Conference clash.

Augustine R. correctly called Games One and Two in terms of the winning teams for two points. He correctly predicted Mike Richards as the game-winning goal scorer in Game One for another two points. And because he called the series in five games for New Jersey, he still gets two points for picking the correct number of games. His total is six points.

Mike F. was the other entrant who scored six points in this series. Mike correctly called the winners in Games Two and Four for two points. He was correct in calling Daniel Briere's game-winning goal in Game Four for another two points. And, like Augustine, he called the series in five games, but had the wrong team. With those two points, Mike scored six points in the series.

Congratulations, gentlemen, and well done on your predictions!

Buffalo Sabres vs. Boston Bruins

Two entrants racked up an impressive 13 points in this Eastern Conference battle, and nearly mirrored each other in their predictions. Forrest B. and Shannon P. had a great series in terms of the points they earned.

Forrest called all six games correctly in terms of the winners for six points. He correctly predicted Patrice Bergeron's game-winner in Game Three for Boston, adding another two points. He also called a Boston Bruins series win in six games, giving him an additional five points. Forrest earned a solid 13 points.

Shannon also called all six games correctly for six points. Shannon did differ in the game-winner, though, as Jason Pominville's game-winner in Game Five added another two points. Shannon also correctly called Boston in six games for another five points, totaling 13 points in the series.

Congratulations on calling the upset, and well done on your predictions!

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

Three entrants scored 11 points in this series to lead the way. Andrew G., Tom O., and Andy S. dug a little deeper to win this series.

Andrew correctly called the winning team in Games Three through Six for four points. He also predicted that Maxime Talbot would score the game-winner in Game Four, and that gave him another two points. And because he called Pittsburgh in six games, Andrew picked up another five points for a total of 11 points.

Tom correctly called the winners in Games One, Two, Three, and Six for four points. He correctly called the Jarkko Ruutu game-winning goal in Game One for Ottawa, earning him another two points. Because he called Pittsburgh in six games, he scored another five points for 11 points total in the series.

Andy decided to go the easy route and just call the correct winning team in all six games for six points. Because he called the correct team in each game, he correctly predicted Pittsburgh in six games for an additional five points. That's the easiest way to score 11 points!

Congratulations, gentlemen, and well done on your predictions!

Round Two of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs starts tomorrow night with Detroit in San Jose, so don't waste any time in getting your picks into me! Email me by clicking here, and make sure the subject line reads "NHL Pool R2" so I can keep everything straight!

Well done to all the competitors, and remember: you're not out until the Stanley Cup has been awarded!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Pearson To Lindsay

The trophy being held in Alexander Ovechkin's left hand is one of the more prestigious trophies that is given out on an annual basis at the NHL Awards. The Lester B. Pearson Trophy is given annually to "the most outstanding player from the regular season as voted by members of the National Hockey League Player's Association". It is the NHLPA's equivalent to the NHL's Hart Trophy in that it normally goes to the best player in the league as judged by his peers in the NHLPA. It was announced today, however, that the Lester B. Pearson Trophy will be renamed as the Ted Lindsay Trophy in honour of former Detroit Red Wings' legend Ted Lindsay, according to a statement from the NHLPA. The official announcement will happen Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindsay, a legend in Motown, was instrumental in the formation of the NHLPA during the 1950s. Lindsay was also credited as being the first player to hoist the Stanley Cup above his head and skate with it around the rink, something that is now quite common after the Stanley Cup has been awarded to the victors.

Because this award is voted upon by members of the NHLPA, I realize that they should have some say in terms of for whom the trophy is named. What I don't like is that it took forty years for the NHLPA to make this change. The first Lester B. Pearson Award was handed out in 1970-71 to Boston's Phil Esposito. Esposito was certainly tight with NHLPA boss Alan Eagleson, and there was never any problem with the name of the trophy until now.

I've gone over some of the interesting facts about the Lester B. Pearson Award, and I think that its former name was fine. I had no issues about calling it "the Pearson" ever. Personally, changing the name will only confuse casual fans more if they are just learning about the game.

Honestly, what I believe the NHLPA should have done is created the "Ted Lindsay Award" as a separate and distinct honour on its own. As to what it would be awarded for, combine the newly-founded Ted Lindsay Award and the NHL Foundation Award, which honours commitment, perseverance and teamwork in helping communities, and make it a joint award. After all, the NHL and NHLPA want to promote their stars within their communities, and there's nothing like some excellent charitable work to gain that exposure.

Honestly, I think Ted Lindsay was an excellent player. Four Stanley Cups, an Art Ross Trophy, and a trailblazing past in terms of sports labour relations says he is certainly worthy of being honoured.

However, Lindsay is also deeply committed to charitable work. His charity, the Ted Lindsay Foundation, was founded in 2001 and is working to find a cure for autism. The Ted Lindsay Foundation has raised over $1.5 million towards finding a cure for autism, and has given large sums of money to centers that are dedicated to helping children with autism. Clearly, the man is dedicated to his charitable work as much as he was his labour relations work.

Personally, keep the Lester B. Pearson Award as it is. Honour Ted Lindsay for the work he has done on behalf of players and on behalf of children everywhere with his own award.

Thoughts on this? Do you think it's a good idea to change the name of the Lester B. Pearson Award? Are there other changes the NHL has made that you would like to see changed back or abolished altogether? Hit me in the comments with your thoughts on these or other changes!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Not Much Needs To Be Said

Detroit and Phoenix will clash in Arizona for the right to advance to play the San Jose Sharks.

Can Detroit draw upon their vast playoff experience and knock off the youthful Phoenix Coyotes? Can Phoenix use their home-ice advantage and never-say-die attitude to deliver a knockout blow to the defending Western Conference Champions?

Washington and Montreal will clash in the capital of the United States of America for the right to advance to play a team from Pennsylvania.

Can Washington stop the bleeding and prevent a third-straight Game Seven loss in series that go the distance? Can Montreal capitalize on a shaken Capitals team by demonstrating their relentless shot-blocking, amazing goaltending, and timely scoring for a third game in a row?

In your view, who advances and why do those teams move on? I'm interested in seeing your reasons for your selected teams to advance. Let me know in the comments!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sunday Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap-up the week before we start anew on Monday, so we'll bounce around the hockey world as we look at stories from inside hockey. Of course, there are playoffs happening all over the place, so there will be updates to a bunch of leagues as to who is still in, and who is now on the golf course. There have also been some pretty big stories from the hockey world that need to be touched upon, and I'll provide my commentary to those stories in terms of how I see them. We'll also bounce over to one blog that has been entertaining me over the last few days, so there are lots of things to check out. Oh, did I mention pictures? Yeah, we'll have those too. A few of them anyway. Let's get to this full menu!

  • The KHL will get first billing tonight as the Gagarin Cup was in the house in Moscow as HC MVD had the 3-2 series lead at home against the defending champions in Ak Bars Kazan. Facing elimination, the current champs from Kazan put the gears to MVD as they pumped seven goals past MVD's netminders in a 7-1 Game Six win. That means we'll have one more game as Game Seven will be played Tuesday night in Kazan. Nothing like a Game Seven for all the marbles! Of course, there will be a full recap on Saturday after the Gagarin Cup has been handed out, so tune in for that!
  • We have some new threads for an NCAA team. Next season, the Michigan State Spartans will play games in these new uniforms, replacing some fairly iconic uniforms - home, road, and alternate. I'm not against the new look, and I think the Spartan logo looks pretty good, but why did they need black breezers? And why not drop the captain's "C" about an inch and a half so that it's only on the white portion? Personally, I don't think they needed to make a change, but I don't run the athletic department at Michigan State.
  • Speaking of NCAA uniforms, I wasn't aware that Providence College wore pants with their team name on the leg. This photo, featuring former NHL goaltender Chris Terreri in net for the Friars, shows the pants clearly that Providence College took to wearing in games. By the way, Terreri went 21-15-5 that season with a 3.12 GAA.
  • Big news out of the NHL today is that Blackhawks' forward Marian Hossa will not be suspended for his questionable hit on Dan Hamhuis in yesterday's game. You can see the hit here, and there were a lot of TV personalities who said that this was nothing more than a "hockey play". Pierre McGuire, as much as I disagree with him, is correct. That was a very dangerous hit. However, the NHL handed down its decision, and we're forced to live with it. The hockey gods will not be happy, Marian Hossa. They've punished you for being a hired gun for the last two years. This could be the third year his curse continues.
  • The ECHL has nearly completed their push for conference finalists. The National Conference will see the Idaho Steelheads and Stockton Thunder square off for the right to advance to the Kelly Cup Final, while the Reading Royals await the winner of the Cincinnati Cyclones and Charlotte Checkers. The Cyclones lead that series 3-2. The winner will advance to play the Royals for the right to represent the American Conference in the Kelly Cup Final.
  • The AHL, much like the NHL, is just finishing its first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and there have been some excellent games thus far. What I find slightly confusing is how the Western Conference is still determining who moves on, yet the Eastern Conference has already started their Round Two games. Why does the AHL allow this to happen? What's the rush on getting the Eastern Conference games done?
  • The Central Hockey League is down to two teams in their playoffs as the Allen Americans battle the Rapid City Rush for the President's Cup. The Americans took Game One by a 4-1 score, while the Rush rallied for 5-4 overtime win in Game Two. Game Three through Five will be held in Allen, Texas starting on Wednesday, April 28, so get down to the rink if you're in Texas!
  • The IHL has determined the four teams that will compete for the Turner Cup this year! The top-seeded Muskegon Lumberjacks will face the fourth-ranked Flint Generals, while the second-seeded Fort Wayne Komets will play the third-seeded Port Huron IceHawks. The schedule has been posted, so if you're near your local IHL franchise, get down to the rink and cheer the boys on!
  • Down Goes Brown brings the funny with Signs Your Team Is Not Making It To The Second Round. Some classic signs in this list. DGB is a solid read.
That's all for me tonight. I have a busy week coming up, so please don't freak out if the HBIC Playoff Pool isn't updated in real-time. There's still a ton of hockey to be played, and I'm going to go watch the Kings and Canucks tangle.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

On The Russian Brink

Before next weekend, the KHL will award the Gagarin Cup to one of the two teams currently in the final, and a champion will be crowned in the Kontinental Hockey League. HC MVD and Ak Bars Kazan are competing for the highest honour in Russia's top league. Kazan is the defending champion, while MVD is building themselves into a solid program. Let's take a look at how the final is going, and who has the best chance of winning the Gagarin Cup.

Game One: The series kicked off Thursday, April 15 between the Western Conference Champions in HC MVD and the Eastern Conference Champions in Ak Bars Kazan. 6060 fans attended Game One, witnessing a great game between these two teams.

HC MVD opened the scoring in the second period at 6:51 when Alexei Ugarov scored his eighth of the playoffs past Petri Vehanen. Kazan evened the score 2:54 later when defenceman Alexei Yemelin fired his second goal of the playoffs past Michael Garnett. HC MVD went back up by a goal at the 13:00 mark as Pavel Trakhanov scored his first of the playoffs on the powerplay. At 18:51, Niko Kapanen's sixth goal of the playoffs drew Kazan even again, and the two teams would enter the second intermission tied at 2-2.

Just 4:05 into the third period, Dmitry Obukhov netted his second of the playoffs, and Kazan jumped ahead for the first time in the game. It would be all that Vehanen needed as he shut the door the rest of the way, and Kazan took Game One by the 3-2 score.

Game Two: Friday, April 16 had the two teams back in battle, and 6080 fans turned out for this one with Ak Bars Kazan holding the 1-0 series lead. Would the hometown fans go home happy again?

Kazan opened the scoring in the second period just 1:18 into the period. With Filip Novak in the penalty box, Grigory Panin scored his first goal of the playoffs while playing four-on-four, and Kazan led 1-0. MVD's Yuri Babenko was called for a penalty at 15:08, and Kazan's powerplay lasted all of 19 seconds before Dmitry Obukhov scored his third goal of the playoffs to put Kazan up 2-0. After forty minutes, Ak Bars Kazan had a two-goal lead with one period to play, and would start the third period on a five-on-three powerplay with MVD's Filip Novak and Maxim Velikov in the penalty box.

Just two seconds after Novak was let out of the sin bin, Kazan struck again. Jarkko Immonen's third goal of the playoffs came on the powerplay at the 1:00 mark, and Kazan improved their lead to 3-0. Kazan's Evgeny Bodrov was sent off at 4:37 for hooking, and MVD's powerplay struck. Martin Strbak's point shot found the back of the net at 5:19 of the third period, and MVD trailed 3-1. However, Dmitry Obukhov iced the game for Kazan with sixteen seconds to play, and Kazan skated to the 4-1 win and 2-0 series lead.

Game Three:: MVD returned home on Monday, April 19 finding themselves deep in a hole against the defending champs, and they needed to rally to make their way back into the series. 7600 fans turned out to cheer on the Moscow-based team in their battle against Ak Bars Kazan.

Alexei Ugarov got the home squad on the board on the powerplay. After Kazan's Roman Kukumberg was given a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking, MVD's powerplay unit struck at 6:26 with Ugarov's ninth goal of the playoffs, giving HC MVD the early 1-0 lead. Kazan responded at 13:01. Alexei Yemelin's third goal of the playoffs evened the score at 1-1, and the score would remain that way through the first intermission. And the second intermission.

In the third period, the deadlock was broken when HC MVD's Maxim Velikov scored at the 9:26 mark to put MVD up 2-1. HC MVD added to their lead when Alexei Tertyshny scored his second goal of the playoffs at 13:18, and MVD had a 3-1 lead with 6:42 to play. Kazan cut the deficit to one goal at 17:23 when Stepan Zakharchuk scored his first goal of the playoffs. However, Michael Garnett turned away Kazan for the remainder of the game, and HC MVD claimed the 3-2 victory to make the series 2-1 in favour of Ak Bars Kazan.

Game Four: Tuesday, April 20 had the two teams back in action. Kazan looked to put MVD on the brink, while MVD looked to even the series. 8140 fans packed the arena to witness Game Four in the Gagarin Cup Final.

2:18 into the second period, the home team got on the board. HC MVD's Evgeny Fedorov scored his fourth of the playoffs, and MVD was out to the 1-0 lead. At 12:02, Kazan pulled even on Roman Kukumberg's fifth goal of the playoffs, and the game was tied at 1-1. The score would remain this way into the third period.

At 5:53 of the third, HC MVD grabbed a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Yury Dobryshkin's first goal of the playoffs would be the game-winner as Michael Garnett and the MVD defence prevented Kazan from scoring any additional goals, and HC MVD took the 2-1 victory to even the series at 2-2. The series suddenly becomes a best-of-three series, and the series shifts back to Kazan on Friday.

Game Five: With the series tied 2-2, both teams were looking for a victory to put themselves one victory away from hoisting the Gagarin Cup. Home teams had won all four games thus far, so Kazan had an advantage in playing Game Five on home ice in front of 6120 fans.

Kazan struck first at 13:38 of the first period. Dmitry Obukhov scored his fifth goal of the playoffs, and his fourth of this series, when he beat Michael Garnett. Kazan led 1-0. Less than two minutes later, MVD's Filip Novak scored his second goal of the playoffs on the powerplay after Kazan's Andrei Mukhachev had been sent off for contact to the head. The powerplay goal at 15:22 evened the score at 1-1, and that score would stand through the intermission.

HC MVD took the lead in the second period. Denis Kokarev's sxith goal of the playoffs got past Petri Vehanen at the 19:08 mark, and it appeared that MVD would carry the lead into the intermission at 2-1. However, with five seconds remaining in the period, Kazan defenceman Alexei Yemelin netted his fourth goal of the series, and the two teams were tied again as the zamboni took to the ice.

6:07 into the third period saw HC MVD regain the lead. Roman Derlyuk's first goal of the playoffs was a big one as it would turn out to be the game-winner. HC MVD's defence held strong, and Michael Garnett turned away all of Kazan's shots in the third period to give the visiting team the victory at 3-2. With the win, HC MVD stands one win away from hoisting the Cup as they lead the series by that same 3-2 margin.

Game Six: That happens tomorrow, and HC MVD will be at home against Kazan. There's a good possibility that the Western Conference Champions could dethrone the defending KHL Champions, but Kazan has a very talented team and shouldn't be taken for granted.

Both teams will undoubtedly come out flying, so it should make for a phenomenal game!

In terms of the playoff statistics, Alexander Radulov of Salavat Yulaev Ufa still leads with 19 points despite his team being eliminated. Radulov also shares the assist lead with HC MVD's Alexei Tsvetkov at 11 assists. There is a new goal-scoring leader, however, as HC MVD's Alexei Ugarov's nine goals is one better than Radulov's this postseason.

Of the two teams still playing, HC MVD's Alexei Tsvetkov leads the way with 16 points, while AK Bars Kazan's Niko Kapanen leads his team with 15 points. As stated above, Alexei Ugarov leads HC MVD in goals with nine, while Niko Kapanen leads Kazan with six goals.

It should be a great game tomorrow afternoon, and I'll try to update everyone tomorrow to see if there was a championship awarded, or if a seventh game will be needed. The game starts at 5pm local time in Russia, so we're looking at a morning game here in North America. Again, I'll look to update this tomorrow.

I'll also try to bring together all of the possible expansion and contraction news from the KHL, and have that ready to go later this week. There are some teams looking to join the KHL, and one story about a long-time club that is closing its doors for good after this season. This will be upcoming later in the week.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Spoils

I figured there was no time like the present to post the fabulous prizes that the 62 HBIC Playoff Pool entrants are vying for in this season's contest. There are some impressive prizes that I've collected and obtained from various sources, including some that are worth more than the standard $20-30 CDN value. With more people entering this season, I felt it was important that I ramp up the prizes and opportunities to win prizes, and I'm hoping to award as many as possible.

I want to be clear when I say that not everyone will win a prize. I apologize for this, but the number of entrants have made it harder to give out prizes to everyone. Instead, I will award as many as I can from the following list. The "grand prizes" will be listed first, followed by the smaller $20-30 prizes. Let's take a look at what's up for grabs.

  • Grand Prize 1: Toronto Maple Leafs gear. This prize pack includes an American Needle retro Maple Leafs ballcap, a CCM blue home Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (XXL), and a Toronto Maple Leafs keychain (courtesy of The only catch is that the keychain has the retro logo on it, not the modern one.
  • Grand Prize 2: Team Canada prize pack. This prize pack, courtesy of the good people at Pepsi/Gatorade/Frito-Lay, comes complete with a black duffle bag, a skate towel, a Team Canada-Pepsi ballcap, Pepsi noise makers, a Team Canada-Pepsi car flag, a pile of Team Canada face paint, and Team Canada-Pepsi temporary tattoos. There's also a Nike Team Canada stretch-fit hat, and a Nike Team Canada "Gold Olympic Champions" t-shirt (XXL).
  • Grand Prize 3: Buffalo Sabres jersey. That's right - a soon-to-be-discontinued Buffa-Slug home jersey. I seriously considered keeping this for myself, but the CCM home navy blue Sabres jersey (XL) is up for grabs.
  • Grand Prize 4: $75 gift certificate to the store. This prize comes compliments of the good people at Pepsi/Gatorade/Frito-Lay, and can be used on any of the merchandise featured at the NHL online store.
And we move on to the $20-30 prizes. These aren't anything to scoff at as I would actually like to keep a few of these, but I'm devoted to the pool, so you guys get the benefits.
There you have it, people. 22 prizes available for you to win, meaning you have approximately a one-in-three shot at taking something home. Again, no one is eliminated from the HBIC Playoff Pool until the Stanley Cup is handed out, so make sure you start thinking about Round Two.

If you have any questions about the prizes, feel free to fire me an email! Thanks again to the 62 people who threw their names into the pool! There may be more prizes if I happen to get my hands on more decent gear!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 25

We're one week into the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, and Antler Banter is still believing in green! The Hamilton Bulldogs and Manitoba Moose have battled through four games - two in each team's home arena - and we find ourselves staring down Game Five on Friday night. That means a sweep is out of the question for either team, but it also means that the heavily-favoured Bulldogs have been held at bay by the plucky Moose to a degree. We'll look at last week's "Keys To Victory", examine and expand on those this week, and look at the rest of the series. Your Manitoba Moose Calder Cup Playoff news and information can be found on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose Calder Cup Playoff game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Keep believing in green as we check out this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Moose Keys To Victory
  1. Special Teams. If the Moose stay out of the penalty box, and can convert on a few powerplays of their own, Hamilton could find themselves in trouble. The Bulldogs don't take a lot of penalties, so the Moose have to make them pay when they do take a penalty.

    The Moose have been pretty good with the man-advantage thus far. The Moose are 6-for-22 thus far in the series, clipping along at a 27.3% pace. The Moose haven't seen powerplay percentages like that since last season. However, The Dogs are scoring at a 22.2% pace as well, so the Moose need to tighten up on the penalty kill or need to stop taking penalties. Which leads me to...

  2. Discipline. This goes without saying when playing an offensive juggernaut like Hamilton. The Moose can't take dumb penalties, and need to be faster, smarter, and more disciplined when playing the puck. Anything after the whistle should be avoided entirely. The Bulldogs can score, so there is no reason to allow them additional chances to capitalize.

    Continuing on that point above, the Moose players have to stop taking lazy penalties. Of the minor penalties called, the Moose have taken six interference penalties, five slashing penalties, four hooking penalties, and two too-many-men penalties. Interference is a bit of a subjective call for a referee, but the stick fouls, including two tripping calls and a cross-checking penalty, make up twelve minor penalties already. And two too-many-men penalties is far too many in four games. The Moose have to play smarter, especially if they want to continue in this series.

  3. Need A Blanket. If I were head coach Scott Arniel, Mike Keane would follow Brock Trotter around the ice like they were siamese twins. There's no secret that the majority of Hamilton's offence runs through Trotter, so I'd assign my best defensive forward to cover him. Keane has been in this role in his career many times, and the Moose captain may even be able to draw a few penalties if he can get Trotter off his game.

    Trotter has three goals and one assist in four games, so the Moose have been keeping the most dangerous Bulldog in check. Where the Moose need to adjust is the pinching blueline. PK Subban has three goals and three assists, including the overtime game-winner in Game Four, so the Moose have to find a way to keep Subban in check. Mike Glumac's four goals have also been big, so a more focused defensive effort will certainly become paramount.

  4. Force Mistakes. The Moose have to score the first goal to have the Bulldogs change their strategy. As stated above, the Bulldog blueliners love to jump into the play, so putting them behind the eight-ball would force those defencemen to start pressing a little earlier. Defensive breakdowns will happen, and the Moose can look to take advantage of those chances.

    The Moose have caught the Bulldogs pinching on occasion, and their efforts have been rewarded. The Moose must remain aggressive in their forecheck in trying to force turnovers while the Bulldogs break out of their zone, and they have to remain vigilant in their transition game to catch the Dogs' blueliners flat-footed. Thus far, the Moose have done well, but they need to continue this approach.

  5. Sacrifice Everything. The Bulldogs love to shoot the puck. The Moose play extremely defensively. The only answer is to block shots, block shots, and block more shots. There should be no shortage of bruises and contusions if the Moose put their bodies between the puck and Cory Schneider, but the Moose have to help their defencemen and Schneider by limiting shots and second chance opportunities. The best way to do that is to stop the puck from getting to the net. Sacrifice the body, Moose players. And get the ice packs ready.

    There's not much else to say now. Being down 3-1 means that desperation hockey is a way of life, so the Herd had better be prepared to hurt, ache, and possibly bleed for their season. Throw the body with reckless abandon. Block shots like they are going out of style. Shoot like it's Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Hold nothing back, and play with no regrets. In other words, make the ultimate sacrifice for you and your teammates. Otherwise, the golf courses are expecting you.

Great Sections Available

One of the things I'm always impressed with are the crowds in Winnipeg. There is definitely an electricity in the building when the fans pack MTS Centre for a Moose game, and the two home games thus far have been nothing short of incredible. Through two home dates thus far, the Moose have seen 15047 fans make their way through the turnstiles, averaging just short of 7525 fans per game.

Hamilton, on the other hand, has hosted two playoff games thus far, and has only seen 9314 fans make their way into Copps Coliseum. The majority of those fans - 5626 of them - came out to last Saturday's Game Two against the Moose.

I'm not sure why fans in Hamilton aren't going to see the Bulldogs play, considering that Toronto didn't qualify for the NHL Playoffs. There could be some people going to Ottawa and/or Buffalo to see those teams play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but 9300 fans in two games in one of the Canadian "NHL-ready" cities is, quite frankly, disappointing.

Winnipeg had a first-place team last season, and they set an attendance record in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs. The Bulldogs play in a larger arena, but play to smaller crowds than the fourth-place Moose this season.

Way to go, Moose fans! If there was any doubt as to which Canadian AHL franchise has the best fans, Moose fans certainly have put their stamp on AHL attendance figures over the last few seasons. This is why I love being a Manitoba Moose fan - big crowds, a great team, and excellent entertainment!

Down But Not Out

The Moose do have an uphill battle for the rest of this series. They are down 3-1 to the Bulldogs after four games, and will play at home on Friday before finishing the series' last two games in Hamilton. Certainly the battle will be long and hard, but all hope is not lost by this writer.

Jordan Schroeder, Kevin Clark, and Guillaume Desbiens have really clicked in the last couple of games. If I were head coach Scott Arniel, these guys would be out whenever I could send them over the boards. For as reliable as Marco Rosa and Sergei Shirokov have been, they need to start clicking with Dan Sexton in order for the Moose to have two legitimate scoring lines. One scoring line will not get it done in the playoffs against any team, let alone the powerful Bulldogs.

Cory Schneider has played well, but needs to come up with one of those outstanding games where it seems he's on another level. I realize that asking Schneider to pay the saviour for this team seems like the "same old, same old", but Schneider has to steal a game at least once in the next three outings. This would mean that the Moose have to start scoring again, but the last two games have yielded 11 goals against the Bulldogs - more than half of what they scored in eight games against the Dogs in the regular season.

All in all, a tough test awaits the Moose. Game Five should be their only priority at this point, and anyone looking past their next shift should be glued to the bench. Every shift matters now as the room for error is nil. I believe in green, though, and I'm expecting the Moose to head back to Hamilton for Game Six. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Movie Review: Pond Hockey

Tonight, I want to offer up a review of one of the prizes that I will be posting in the HBIC Playoff Pool. Last year, I offered up a few DVDs that people happily snapped up, and I'm hoping this DVD is another one of those. Pond Hockey, produced by Northland Films and directed by Tommy Haines, follows several pond hockey players in their battle to claim the Golden Shovel in the very first US Pond Hockey Championship in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you're a reader of this blog, you're aware that I took in the US Pond Hockey Championship this past January, so this film hit home in terms of its look at the game of pond hockey.

If there is one thing that every athlete in every sport has, it's a camaraderie the athletes share with one another in their sport. Pond hockey players are no different than any other athlete despite the majority of them being "weekend warriors". However, if there is one trait that pond hockey players show more than any other athlete I've ever seen, it's a passion for the game like no other.

The story of Pond Hockey follows two teams for the majority of the pong hockey portion of the film: Sofa King Lazy and Federal League All-Stars.

Jeff Sorem, a Minnesota-born hockey player, starred for Yale University in the NCAA before returning to Minnesota where he took to the outdoor rinks and ponds to hone his pond hockey skills. He leads the Federal League All-Stars into the first US Pond Hockey Tournament, and is featured up above in the Team USA jersey.

The men from Sofa King Lazy get equal time to discuss their hockey pasts, but all of them have a story. The best part about the movie is that all the men basically know one another, and have stories and tales about some of the other men in the movie. Again, the camaraderie is evident amongst teammates and opponents in the game, and it speaks volumes to the community of pond hockey.

What makes this documentary different, however, is how director Tommy Haines looks at the evolution of pond hockey, the game of hockey, and how important the unstructured pond game is to the overall sport of hockey. Interviews with notable hockey stars such as Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Marian Gaborik, Neal Broten, and Tom Kurvers add to showing how important pond hockey or "backyard" hockey was in the development of these former and current NHL stars.

Brian Bonin, the Hobey Baker Award winner in 1996, has a particularly opinionated view about how outdoor, uncoached, unstructured hockey is more important than current indoor, structured team practices for young hockey players. Bonin comes off as almost angry that more kids aren't being encouraged to head out to their local outdoor rink to play so that they can develop skills and creativity that is normally stifled by coaches during scheduled practices. I, for one, feel that Bonin has a valid point when it comes to coaching children younger than ten years-old.

The movie is an excellent look at a sport that not many people have the benefit of being part of in terms of where they live. While the concept of pond hockey isn't lost on Canadians and Americans in the northern United States, Minnesotans live, eat, and breathe hockey, and pond hockey is a major component of that passion.

I am proud to offer up a copy of Pond Hockey as a prize for the 2010 HBIC Playoff Pool, and I really think this is one prize that will be cherished by the winner who selects it.

Overall, the movie gets "two thumbs up" from me. I really enjoyed the examination of the sport that Tommy Maines makes, and how in-depth he goes in terms of following some major players in the sport of pond hockey for a winter. It's a very comprehensive look at a sport that seems to have fallen to the wayside with all of the hockey options that players and parents have today. I especially was enthralled with the chatter that Maines had with several key backyard rink builders, most notably late author Jack Falla and ESPN reporter John Buccigross.

If you are a hockey fan, I certainly recommend spending the $20 on Pond Hockey. If you're in the HBIC Playoff Pool and you qualify for a prize, this is one that I would certainly recommend considering when making your choice. It's entertaining, it's educational, and it is a fabulous look at the sport and passion of pond hockey.

And, since only one person can win, the good people over at have the entire documentary posted on their website for you to watch. I'm not sure how many people have 79 minutes to spend in front of their computers, but, if you can make the time, I highly recommend it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

First Time I've Seen This

Former NHL goaltender Ron Hextall did a lot of things in the NHL over the course of his career, but one of the more amazing things he did was score goals. Open nets gave Hextall a chance to score as he possessed a pretty good lob shot down the ice. While he only scored two goals in his career, he was the first NHL goaltender to record a goal in both the regular season and the playoffs, accomplishing that in back-to-back seasons. In 1987-88, he scored into an open net against the Boston Bruins, and he scored his first (and last) playoff goal shorthanded against the Washington Capitals. I've seen the Boston Bruins goal before, and it's pretty good. However, in searching for this goal, EastCoastHalloween has a 1:34 clip on YouTube of Hextall's goal. It's the first I've seen of it.

Here is a clip of Hextall becoming the first goaltender to score a playoff goal in the history of the NHL.

I understand that the Capitals were dumping the puck into the Flyers' zone to make a change, but you have to know that Ron Hextall is back there. Hextall had scored an open-net goal just one year earlier when he scored on the Bruins.

Rod Langway, the Caps' defenceman who was coming on to the ice, had no chance of stopping the puck after Hextall fired it down the ice, so I'm not sure why the Capitals would fire the puck deep. The Capitals' defenceman who vacated the ice in favour of Langway? The defenceman who dumped the puck in before wheeling back to the bench? None other than #3 Scott Stevens.

Oops. The fourth-place Flyers knocked off the first-place Washington Capitals in the Patrick Division semi-final that year in six games, so that Hextall goal wasn't all that important in the scope of the series. However, historical moments are pretty big, and this one showed off why knowing your playoff opponent is critical to your team's success.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Overtime Hockey Rocks

There is absolutely nothing better than overtime in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. No shootouts to follow, no points to be won or lost. Instead, you get pure passion, intensity, and life-or-death in overtime during the playoffs. Except if your goalie looks like Ryan Miller does to the left. That was Miller after an overtime loss in the gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and it's pretty evident that if you're on the losing end, overtime sucks. That's exactly why players give everything they have and more during the extra period or periods required to end a playoff game. The joy, the exuberance, and the unbridled happiness that players show after scoring an overtime goal might be the image of hockey that should be used when promoting the game.

With that, let's take a look at last year's overtime goals and late-game goals that show the emotions of players, both winners and losers, as the goals are scored.

This is why I love playoff hockey. Overtime goals mean so much more! We've already seen a few games go into extra time this year, and there's nothing like seeing the players pour onto the ice after that big goal is scored!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Unfamiliar Territory

While I'm sure there won't be a referendum or a call-to-arms over Team Canada's Under-18 showing at this year's IIHF World Championship, there will be flags raised and concerns brought forth after Canada found itself digging the puck out of its net far too often this year. The 2010 Canadian Under-18 team finds itself in the relegation round after they posted a 1-3 record for fourth-place in Group A at the World Championship. For our best kids coming up, this trip to the relegation round will not be taken lightly by the executives at Hockey Canada, and, if they were to be relegated, it would border on a national tragedy.

Canada played poorly in their exhibition games, and that play carried over into the tournament where they were outclassed by some of their opponents. A stunning opening-game 3-1 loss to Switzerland was followed up by a lackluster 5-0 beatdown by the Americans. Canada hammered host Belarus by an 11-3 score, but found itself outskated and outscored by the Swedes in a 5-4 loss today.

When asked about his team's efforts, head coach Guy Carbonneau shared his thoughts with The Canadian Press.

"I just have the feeling that they thought everything was going to be easy," Carbonneau said on Sunday. "And that wasn't the case."

I've repeated this numerous times about Canadian hockey teams on this site, and apparently my broken record imitation isn't sinking in. When Canadian teams feel that they have more talent than other teams, they stop working hard. We saw it at the 2010 Winter Olympics, we saw it at the World Junior Championships, and we saw it again in this tournament.

The only team that has consistently put forth a concerted effort in the last few years, in my view, has been the Canadian National Women's Team, and they have reaped the rewards that go along with their hard work. I don't care how much talent a team has in any league or competition because the one mantra that holds true is the same one that coaches preached to me when I was playing hockey:


I don't understand why Canadian teams seem to think that it's a given that they will be playing in a championship game. The gap between Canada and the countries who used to roll over for them has closed considerably in almost every nation's respect. The nations we used to beat soundly have caught up to us, and are now delivering the beatings we used to put on them.

The reason for this? They have improved by learning systems and developing better players. Canadian players seemingly think that they can go through the motions and find themselves playing for gold. That isn't the case any longer nor should that have ever been the case. Carbonneau said nearly the same thing after the loss to Sweden.

"I think they're starting to realize that they need to get mad at themselves and not at the rest of the world, or at the other teams," Carbonneau said of his team. "I think the other teams are just playing their games, and I think there's been a lot of frustration in our game."

So rather than heading to Minsk to play for a medal, the Canadians will now travel to Bobruisk, Belarus looking to avoid a ninth- or tenth-place finish which would relegate them out of the Division-I Championship. Canada will play Slovakia on Thursday, and needs to win to remain relevant for next year's tournament. Otherwise, this ball of yarn could come unraveled in a hurry if they lose to the Slovaks.

I'm not saying this has been coming for a long time, and I cannot pinpoint where this team went wrong per se. Perhaps Carbonneau didn't push them hard enough. Perhaps this team simply took their opposition for granted.

Whatever the case may be, it's time for the coddling to stop. Someone needs to kick this program in the rear so that Canada finds itself working harder than every other nation out there. After all, talent + hard work = great results.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Champs Have Stranglehold

With the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, there aren't a lot of people paying attention to the championship being played out in the Kontinental Hockey League right now. However, there should be some attention paid to this league as there is a great series being played between Ak Bars Kazan, the defending KHL Champions, and HC MVD for the Gagarin Cup. Ak Bars Kazan is in familiar territory having been one of the most successful Russian Super League teams before joining the upstart KHL, and they are continuing that success in the 2009-10 KHL Playoffs.

Game One went Thursday. 6:51 into the second period saw the first goal scored. Alexei Ugarov put the Western Conference Champions in HC MVD up 1-0 on his eighth goal of the playoffs. 2:54 later, Kazan's Alexei Yemelin fired his second goal of the playoffs past MVD's Michael Garnett, and the game was tied 1-1. MVD went up 2-1 before the end of the period when defenceman Pavel Trakhanov scored his first goal of the playoffs on the powerplay with a shot that eluded Petri Vehanen at the 13:00 mark. Kazan, however, responded when Niko Kapanen scored his sixth goal of the playoffs 5:51 later to make it 2-2.

The third period saw the game-winning goal scored at 4:05. Dmitry Obukhov netted his second goal of the playoffs. From there, Petri Vehanen continued his spectacular play as he has throughout the playoffs, and secured the 3-2 victory for Ak Bars Kazan in Game One. The Eastern Conference Champions jumped out to the 1-0 series lead.

Game Two went Friday night, and the defending champions sent a statement to HC MVD. The scoring opened early in the second period. Filip Novak was sent off for tripping, and Kazan took to the powerplay at 1:18 of the second. Ten seconds after the drop of the puck, Grigory Panin scored his first goal of the playoffs to put Kazan up 1-0. At 15:27 of the second, Kazan doubled their lead when Dmitry Obukhov scored his third goal of the playoffs on the powerplay after Yuri Babenko had been sent to MVD's sin bin. Kazan was out to a 2-0 victory after 40 minutes of play.

Just 1:00 into the third period, Kazan jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Jarkko Immonen scored his third goal of the playoffs past Michael Garnett, and the defending champs had a commanding lead with 19 minutes to play. At 5:19, Martin Skrbak scored a powerplay goal for MVD, and the lead was cut to 3-1 on Skrbak's fourth of the playoffs. However, Kazan iced the game at 19:44 when Dmitry Obukhov scored an empty-net goal for the 4-1 Kazan victory.

HC MVD shouldn't be worried about being down 2-0 in the series. They were facing elimination in their previous round against Yaroslavl Lokomotiv at 3-2 before winning the next two games to advance to the Gagarin Cup Final. However, Kazan has been preaching the mantra that they cannot get complacent with a 2-0 series lead.

As for the stats race, Salavat's Alexander Radulov still has the KHL Playoff lead in goals (8), assists (11), and points (19). Of the active players, Niko Kapanen of Kazan and Alexei Tsvetkov of MVD have 14 points apiece. MVD's Alexei Ugarov leads the way eight goals, while Kazan's Jarkko Immomen and MVD's Tsvetkov have nine helpers apiece. Kazan's Petri Vehanen has a sparkling 1.54 GAA and 94.2% save percentage, while MVD's Michael Garnett has a 2.22 GAA and a 90.2% save percentage.

Kazan hosts Games Three and Four on Monday and Tuesday, so MVD will have an uphill battle the rest of the way. The defending champions can secure the Gagarin Cup for the second year in a row, and do it in front of their fans if they can sweep HC MVD. These next two games should be very interesting!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 16 April 2010

TBC: Now Is The Winter

Teebz's Book Club has had this review on the burner for some time now, but today seemed appropriate to bring it forth with a number of leagues determining their respective champions. Rarely do these kinds of books come along in the sporting world where a number of excellent essayists pen their thoughts about life, society, and sports with such intelligence, but Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey, edited by Jamie Dopp and Richard Harrison and published by Wolsak and Wynn, is one of those books. This collection of essays look at a wide variety of topics in and around the sport of hockey, and present very intelligent viewpoints on these topics that may go unappreciated by even the most dedicated fan. It is with this thought in mind that I began to read Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey, and I'm proud to say that I have considerable admiration for the ideas and thoughts brought forth by the essayists.

From the Wolsak and Wynn website: "Jamie Dopp is an Associate Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Victoria. He has published a variety of articles on Canadian fiction, poetry, and culture, as well as one novel and two books of poems. In 2004, during a very rare cold spell in Victoria, he stayed up all night to build a backyard ice rink and managed to have three blissful days of outdoor hockey with his family."

Richard Harrison is a freelance editor and teaches English and Creative Writing at Mount Royal College. He has published five books of poetry, and has earned numerous nominations for literary prizes, winning a Milton Acorn Prize and the City of Calgary/W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. He has infused poetry into the world of hockey by reading at places like the Calgary Booster Club’s annual Sportsman-of-the-Year banquet, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Pengrowth Saddledome. Richard lives in Calgary with his wife Lisa and their two children, Emma and Keeghan.

It's hard to put this book into one category since the essayists featured in this book delve into a wide-range of categories with their works. What I will do, however, is touch on each of the essays within the book as there are some excellent looks at the game of hockey in the contexts in which it is framed by each author.

Stephen Hardy and Andrew Holman examine a way to periodize hockey much like historians do with the world's history. In terms of the globalization of the planet, historians have been characterizing periods of time for centuries, but sport, in its own microcosm, needs some clarity as well. Hardy and Holman do a great job in breaking down the various periods that hockey has seen with respect to the global game.

Michael P. Buma looks at how hockey has been claimed and lost by Canadians as "our game" through politics in two books - George Grant's Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, and Bruce Kidd's and John Macfarlane's The Death of Hockey. Mr. Buma's look at how the game has evolved from a Canadian pasttime to an American business is in part due to the passion for the game changing in society. It's a very interesting look at how the game hockey moved from its humble roots into its billion-dollar industry.

Andrew Holman tackles the literary world in staking a claim over the portrayal of hockey, Canadians, and American heroes in fictional sports stories from 1890-1940. More often than not, hockey was a foreign sport played by the more talented and evil Canadian antagonists to the American protagonists. It was also portrayed as a violent, brutal sport that had no semblance of American values. Holman does an excellent job in bringing these points to light through numerous examples.

Richard Harrison draws a phenomenal comparison between the Stanley Cup and Superman - two Canadian creations that have been globalized. Both Superman and the Stanley Cup have experienced changes, seen dramatic reshaping of their worlds, and have remained as an icon in society through their histories. Honestly, this is one essay that should be read by all simply due to how both iconic figures seem to live in the same timeframes when speaking of their transitions and adaptations.

David McNeil brings to us a story of how photography in the 1950s really made hockey a more nationalized game thanks to the work of some early sports photography pioneers. The Turofsky brothers and Scotty Kilpatrick are two names that should be synonymous with sports photography, and we, as fans, should be thankful that these men pioneered some of the best camera rigs to capture the most timeless moments in hockey history. Mr. McNeil's story even includes his father's defining moment - goaltender Gerry McNeil of the Montreal Canadiens stopping Detroit's Gordie Howe. McNeil tells an impressive story of how these photos came to be, and it should be mandatory reading for photojournalists.

John Soares presents an interesting topic in his examination of international hockey from 1957-62 in looking at how hockey, and sports, can build bridges between politically-opposed nations. Soares looks at the dynamics between the Soviet Union and the United States as his example of two nations that forged friendships on the ice despite their respective nations staring one another down during the height of the Cold War. Very interesting essay, to say the least, and a compelling look at sports during a time of political unrest on the globe.

Sam McKegney delves into the mass media world in their look at Jonathan Cheechoo's Richard Trophy-winning season, and how Cheechoo was made into a sidekick of Joe Thornton rather than earning merit on his own for his goal-scoring prowess. McKegney feels that the media plays a large part in Cheechoo's mythological status by turning him into a sidekick. Another part is this unknown world that Cheechoo comes from called Moose Factory, Ontario - this "exotic" locale that makes Cheechoo seem foreign despite being Canadian. McKegney looks at a lot of different reasons for Cheechoo not getting the credit it seems he should have received, and, when looking back on it, McKegney may be right.

Anne Hartman has a long and interesting essay about the lack of women's shinny hockey in Toronto, and the uphill battle the women face year-in and year-out when it comes to claiming ice-time at various arenas. Hartman talks to all sorts of female hockey players in her quest to find why the women don't get the same chance to play as the men, and there are some very interesting comments made. An excellent piece by Hartman shows that while the women's game has never been more popular, they still have a long way to go for equality.

E.W. Mason looks at hockey in New Zealand, and how the sport is working to gain a foothold in a not-so-common hockey country. Mason shows that, despite big wins in international tournaments, the game is still being referred to as "new" by the media in New Zealand. Hockey has a deep tradition in New Zealand, so the "new sport" that the media speak of seems odd to Mason. Mason's work is literary genius, and it certainly deserves a read.

Brian Kennedy looks at hockey spectating, and compares the hoopla surrounding the game to that of a carnival atmosphere. He draws a lot of excellent comparisons, and really hits the heart of the matter when talking about the carefully-scripted hockey games and sensory overload that we experience today at games in comparison to those thirty years ago when the breaks in action gave the man at the organ something to do. A very well-written piece on what might be the biggest reason that some fans no longer enjoy the game.

Craig G. Hyatt, William M. Foster, and Mark R. Julien thoroughly examine the relationship between player and fan, and what is expected in this relationship from each side. In particular, they use the Chris Pronger trade demand out of Edmonton as their example, and the wrath of the Oilers fans after Pronger went public with his trade request. If you're a hockey fan, this is a must-read essay in terms of trying to determine who owes whom what in the player-fan relationship.

Kelly Hewson ends the collection of essays by looking at how hockey has worked its way into pop culture such as music and television, its effect on the Canadian psyche, and what each letter in the acronym "NHL" means to Miss Hewson. The writing is witty and humourous, but Miss Hewson really hits the nail on the head with her meaning of NHL.

The twelve essays are not arranged in any particular order that I can see, but they read very well. I liked the topics they brought forth, and there wasn't an oversaturation of one particular league or topic. From hockey media in New Zealand to the political views of Soviets and Americans in the Cold War to black-and-white hockey photographers in the 1950s, there are essays here for anyone interested in hockey at a more intellectual level.

While I wouldn't say the 140-page book is meant for anyone but adults, some advanced high school readers could tackle this work. There are some points of language that would push the book into a PG-rating, but the usage of this language is timely and appropriate by the authors. The content alone, however, is simply outstanding, and Now Is The Winter: Thinking About Hockey is more than worthy of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval due to the intelligent writing that Dopp and Harrison brought forth in this collection.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!