Wednesday 30 June 2010

Wednesday Before The Storm

The biggest shopping day each year comes on July 1 for thirty men with deep pockets. The NHL Free Agency Market opens tomorrow, and there will be general managers across the league looking to fill holes, change directions, and stock the cupboards as contracts are offered to players. Some players are of the "game-changing" nature: Kovalchuk, Gonchar, Hamhuis, and Volchenkov. These players, it seems, will attract the richest offers, and several teams have the salary cap to make those offers. But before any new players can be brought in, teams must first get their houses in order. HBIC is no different, and tonight I want to do a little clean up on the blog before the storm of free agency hits. There will be a number of items covered, so let's get to the organizing and cleaning.

  • The first of two major summer projects will run on Saturdays throughout the summer. The Saturday Funnies will literally be a page of hockey-related comic strips that runs weekly on, as its name suggests, Saturday. I have begun contacting several authors of some of the better comic strips I've read that deal in hockey matters, and I'm hoping they'll climb aboard for some free advertising compliments of HBIC. If, for whatever reason, the authors decline and there are not enough strips to make it worth the effort, I'll announce a change in this project. The Funnies page will make its debut by next Saturday at the latest.
  • The second summer project, as suggested by Ben, will be a look at advertising around the boards in NHL arenas. As you may know, there are a lot of advertisements pasted on the boards in NHL rinks, but they have changed throughout the years from more local advertising to league-wide advertising. I plan on featuring at least a few rinks per week throughout the summer as I embark on a very ambitious project. If you have any images of your local rink, please send them to me and I'll get them in order. I plan on having the first rink posted by next week.
  • There was lots of coverage of the passing of one of the most dedicated men I've ever read about a couple of weeks ago. Manute Bol, former NBA player, passed away at the age of 47, and his work to help the people of Sudan was incredible. His charitable work alone would be reason enough for me to pay my respects to him, but it was his one night as a member of the Indianapolis Ice of the CHL that many in the hockey community will remember of the seven-foot-seven gentle giant. Rest in peace for eternity, Mr. Bol. I'll always look up to you for your amazing humanitarian efforts.
  • There have been a number of trades as teams prepare for the free agent blitz tomorrow, but the Blackhawks were shedding salary again today. This time, they dealt Kris Versteeg and Bill Sweatt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Viktor Stalberg, Philippe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico. Getting Versteeg is not exactly the first-line centerman that GM Brian Burke may be after, but he's the kind of gritty player that Burke likes. With another salary off the books, it appears that the Blackhawks are serious about signing Antti Niemi and Andrew Ladd in the coming days.
  • For all of your off-season trades thus far, check out the TSN Trade Tracker.
  • Lastly, I am pushing forward with the HBIC prizes. I'm not waiting days for people to respond anymore. Jim W. and Tom O. should contact me ASAP in order to get in on the prize action. I'm moving on starting tomorrow, and everyone on the prize list is now being notified that they have 24 hours to respond. No exceptions will be made.
I'll be back tomorrow with the rundown of all the Free Agency moves by each team. I'm almost certain that there will be a few teams who avoid the blitz on July 1, but you never know what may happen on the biggest shopping day in the NHL.

Until tomorrow, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 29 June 2010

We Need Parenting Licenses

There are a lot of things that parents should do to help their children become well-rounded, respectful people as they mature into adults. Teaching important lessons and instilling morals and good ethics are paramount in ensuring that those children grow up to be productive segments of society. However, there seems to be a growing shortage of one important ingredient that children need. Without this ingredient, we have chaos. That important ingredient is "common sense", and two families in Toronto apparently missed the line where they were handing out common sense for free. It's one thing for parents to protect a child's best interests, but two families in Toronto have entered the range of irresponsible and idiotic with their current actions.

Sean Leahy of Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog was the first to pick this story up and elaborate on it, but the Toronto Star broke the story of Vito Valela and David Longo, parents of two boys who were cut from a Greater Toronto Hockey League team. Christopher Valela and Daniel Longo were cut from the Avalanche Minor Sports Club midget junior A team during tryouts in April.

Normally when players get cut, parents are supportive of their children despite the setback. You hear lots of positive reinforcement and some rationale on why the child was cut. It's heartbreaking sometimes, but it's a fact of life: there are only so many spots on a team, and sometimes cuts have to be made.

The lessons that can be taught here are many. Being "cut" from a team is something every single player in every single sport has experienced. One of the most famous "cuts" came when Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity high school basketball team. We all know how Mr. Jordan's basketball career panned out, but the lessons he learned from being cut were never forgotten. Being cut is an important life lesson, but it's not the end of the world.

Unless, of course, your names are Vito Valela and David Longo.

Were their children heartbroken over being cut? Undoubtedly. From personal experience, there may not be a worse feeling in the world. After all, you're essentially being told that you're not good enough, and I have yet to meet anyone who takes that news well. This is where, from my experience, a parent steps in and helps the child cope with the disappointment to get through experience. Again, it's an important lesson that all children need to learn.

Or, you could simply file a frivolous lawsuit against the minor hockey association.

According to Mr. Longo's lawsuit, by cutting Daniel, the coaches, team, and GTHL "caused irreparable psychological damage to Daniel Longo’s self esteem as an impressionable teenager and demoralized Daniel as an athlete and team hockey player with his peers. The conduct by all defendants destroyed the dignity of my son, whom in good conscience gave his team nothing but his best efforts."

WHAT?!? Um... are you for real? Seriously?

Oh, we're not done? According to Mr. Valela, "When Christopher was advised of his termination by my wife and I, he vowed never to play the game he loved since childhood. And, morevoer[sic], his misguided group of defendants demoralized my wife and I, whom had gone well beyond the call of duty as parents in support of the Toronto Avalanche hockey team for two seasons."

Here comes a rant. Close your eyes, kids, because Teebz is about to go off.

First off, Christopher Valela's vow of never playing hockey again? Already dead in the water. The "demoralized" child has already joined the Hillcrest Summits team, proving that he's clearly too distraught to play hock... um, never mind.

Clearly, Christopher has already put this behind him. I'm not going to suggest that the thought of him being cut doesn't bother him still. That's a given - it's something that everyone has to deal with in their own way. But for Mr. Valela to claim that his son will never play hockey again despite already having signed up for a new team? I call HORSEPOOP!

This is not a civil case for the courts. If I were the judge in this case, I'd throw both Vito Valela and David Longo behind bars for a night for contempt of court for wasting taxpayer's money and time with their ridiculous lawsuits. These are the DUMBEST lawsuits I have seen since Jonathan Lee Riches filed his lawsuits. In fact, these lawsuits might be worse.

Instead of teaching their sons to be better people by rising above the setback, both Mr. Valela and Mr. Longo are now looking to blame everyone but themselves and their children for failing to make the team. It's petty, it's small, and it's absolutely sickening. Add into the fact that they are asking for $25,000 from a minor hockey association, the coaches, and the team, and what you have are two men who are living vicariously through their two children.

By cutting both Christopher and Daniel, Vito Valela and David Longo also feel slighted. Since their children can no longer be part of the team, these two "men" - and I use that term loosely - are taking matters into their own hands, and the method they have chosen to resolve this is absolutely disgusting.

These are the kinds of hockey parents of which the sport needs to rid itself. Quite frankly, I'm 100% on the GTHL's side on this one. Hopefully, the courts will use common sense and also agree.

There are a lot of things that parents should do to help their children become well-rounded, respectful people as they mature into adults. The example set forth by Mr. Valela and Mr. Longo is not one of those things.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 28 June 2010

More Amazing Film

It's amazing to see some of the old films that were produced under the National Film Board of Canada's umbrella. We saw the amazing footage of the build-up to the Quebec Nordiques' first game in the WHA through Pierre Letarte's film Just Another Job. Hockey history was captured on film by Monsieur Letarte as the Nordiques franchise was shown from their earliest days through to their very first game. Films like these are treasures, in my opinion, because they are remnants of the past that still exist today. With the NHL failing to recognize the WHA's existence, it is films like this that allow us to see the past in all its Technicolor glory.

Today, we'll take a look at another amazing historical piece produced by the National Film Board. This film, entitled Thunderbirds in China, was directed by Les Rose in 1974, and is a fascinating documentary portraying the Western world's values in comparison to the Eastern world's values as the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds travel to China to play hockey. The exhibition games between UBC and China show a marked difference in the way these two teams play hockey, and serve as a reminder as to how different we were as societies 36 years ago.

If you have 57 minutes and 51 seconds to spare, check this amazing video out. There are so many interesting things to witness over the next hour.

  • In 1973, China finished fifth out of eight teams at the World Championships by beating France and Great Britain. The Chinese government wanted to see the team improve, and agreed to allow the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to send one team over to China to tour the country and help the Chinese players get better. The Thunderbirds were the chosen team, and this film is the result of that agreement.
  • The first thing you may notice, aside from the uniforms worn by the teams, is that the narrator calls the Chinese capital "Peking". The city's name never officially changed at all. The Western world called it "Peking" after hearing the pronunciation of the city's name. However, when translated, the name is actually Beijing. Since the mid-1980s, the Chinese government has insisted that all official references to the country be made using "Beijing".
  • Check out the chin protection that the Chinese players are wearing at the 6:12 mark. That protector covers the entire lower jaw! Anyone know what that kind of protector is called? I have no clue, and it's the first I've ever seen of that kind of protector. You can see a great view of it at the 6:37 mark.
  • Take a look at what the goalies are wearing as masks at the 6:19 mark! It's a regular helmet with a very crude face shield underneath! Wow. Huge difference in equipment between the UBC players and the Chinese players.
  • Check out this line at 17:21 by a gentleman by the name of John Burns, speaking in regards to the Chinese lack of physical contact: "... bodychecking is, uh, not only politically, but culturally, a very difficult thing for them to accept." That's a pretty profound statement.
  • It appears that the UBC Thunderbirds were playing outdoors in China before it became insanely popular in North America. Check out the outdoor practice at the 21:30 mark in Harbin, China. Anyone feel like that picture is watching them?
  • If you caught the line spoken by the Thunderbirds player at 30:14, there were 17,800 people watching the outdoor practice at 11am! That's pretty incredible!
  • If you're squeamish about needles, skip over the 36-minute mark. The Chinese man has lost his voice, and the Chinese doctors use an unconventional way to bring his voice back.
  • At the 37:50 mark, we hear the Canadians ask about pollution. In 1974, we were aware of the problems, yet we're still fighting the issue today in 2010. Doesn't that ring a bell for anyone?
  • At the 40:41 mark, you can see the Chinese goaltender with a more conventional mask. Hockey is beginning to look like hockey again.
  • Check out the men with brooms at 50:54. As the narrator states, "it is a high honour" to sweep the rink. We have a slightly different perspective in North America as normally the players shovel rinks to play.
  • As the narrator states at 52:09, in the seven games that the Canadians played in China, they went 7-0 while outscoring their opponents by a 56-5 pace. The scores of the seven games were: 7-0 vs. Chinese national team; 5-0 vs. Chinese national team; 9-2 vs. Harbin; 14-1 vs. Qiqihar; 5-1 vs. Heilongjiang; 8-1 vs. Kirin; and, 8-0 vs. Kirin.
  • Listen to the UBC coach at 55:14. He speaks of what the Canadian boys have learned from his perspective, and it really goes to show how hockey can bridge gaps between cultures. That is a pretty impressive lesson that has been taught. Yes, he's sitting in a bathtub while talking thanks to his team delivering a bit of a hazing.
I was very impressed with this film, and it strikes me as an important piece of hockey history. The National Film Board has done an excellent job in bringing this historical film to light on their website, and it's something that hockey fans should watch once just to see how the players from different cultures form bonds through sport.

That lesson is the most important of all!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 27 June 2010

Uniform And Patch Updates

If there is one thing that the summer brings for the NHL, it's all the summer makeovers the teams seem to do. There are at least two teams that have already shown off their new uniforms, and we had two looks at patch placements for two of the three teams that have confirmed they will wear patches for the 2010-11 season. Like wandering through a clothing store, new looks will be seen this season, and different looks will be seen through accessorizing. It's almost like NHL teams are teenage girls with the number of times they change their outfits.

I need to point out a video before we begin looking at the changes. The New York Islanders have put together a video of their jersey history, and it's a pretty good look at a former dynasty that has undergone a number of changes over the last twenty seasons. From the Mike Bossy days to the Fisherman logo to the wave jersey design to the throwbacks, it's all covered in the video. Check it out if you have five minutes or so:

These are the kinds of videos that hockey historians and hockey fans should appreciate. Well done, Islanders, on this video project!

The reason this video is important is because the Islanders are once again changing their uniforms. Gone are the crazy Rbk EDGE designs for a more traditional design that looks a lot like their original designs. While the blue home jersey has yet to be seen outside of the video above, it appears this jersey will win over a large number of fans.

Personally, I have no problem bringing back the traditional design. The original sweater was very unique to the Islanders. While they have remained with the darker navy blue over the last number of years as their home colour, I'm still hopeful they will return with the lighter blue as well. That would be great! The font on the back is traditional blue-on-orange, so that's a plus as well. Well done, Islanders!

The other team that debuted their new uniforms for next season were the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs went back in time as well as they brought back a more traditional design to their jerseys by adding the hem stripes and by using the vintage Leafs shoulder logo. Also added are the lace-up collars which gives the new jerseys an "old-time" feel.

Again, this is precisely what the NHL needs to encourage: lose the "futuristic" look that the EDGE jersey tried to force upon everyone, and embrace the hockey sweater as it should look. The hem stripes? Perfect. The traditional shoulder logo? Perfect. The Leafs even killed off their silver outline for their name and number! Only the alternate jersey will remain as it was.

Why was this change made? It appears the Leafs are listening to their most important asset: the fans.

"Our fans have been quite vocal since 2007. They have wanted the stripes and shoulder patch back on the sweater," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and chief operating officer for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. "We listened to them, and we hope they are as excited about the new, classic look as we are."

I, as a born-and-bred Leafs hater, actually like this look, and appreciate the change back to something that seems so right. Well done, Maple Leafs!

As for patches, we got to see the placement of the tenth anniversary patches for both the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Minnesota will sport their patch on the front of the right shoulder, and Columbus will have their patch in the same spot.

The one team that handed out jerseys at the draft that didn't feature a patch was the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks will be wearing this patch to celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year, and the patch will reportedly be worn between the shoulder number and the elbow stripes on the sleeve of the jersey. I took it upon myself to create a rendering of that very idea.

This is the first time that I've ever seen a patch worn in the space between the numbers on the sleeve and stripes on the sleeve, and it appears that the Sharks are starting to look a little European with all those patches on their sleeves. It just seems too busy. Perhaps they need to swap the twentieth anniversary patch with one of their current ones for one season. That would make more sense to me.

Vancouver apparently will be wearing a fortieth anniversary patch this season, but they had no first-round picks in this year's draft, so no jerseys were handed out with Vancouver's logo on them. There is a throwback game reportedly being planned between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks to commemorate the very first game the Canucks played in their history. That game, incidentally, was also against the Kings. The date of that game is Saturday, October 9, 2010. It is thought that both teams may be wearing patches that night for the significant event.

The full schedule of the Canucks' "signature events" for their fortieth anniversary will be unveiled on July 7, 2010 at the club's annual "Canucks Summer Summit". I'll be checking out the information on that day to ensure that HBIC has all the anniversary info covered.

The one thing that I did notice, however, is that Derek Forbort, the first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, was given a throwback gold jersey rather than one of their current uniforms. The other picks outside of the first round received the Kings' current home uniform. Perhaps the Kings have big plans for this season as well?

All in all, there are a pile of updates for Sunday. The NHL will look a little different next season, but it should look better based upon the Islanders' and Leafs' new looks. Hockey teams might actually look like hockey teams once again!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 26 June 2010

Saturday Funnies

I've always been a fan of comic strips. There are some very smart, very funny comic strips that have existed over the course of time, but I've noticed that there are very few hockey-related comic strips. Sure, you'd get the occasional Peanuts comic strip where Charles Schulz would have the kids on ice, but you almost never see the mainstream comic strips delve into the world of hockey. In regards to this oversight in comic strips, HBIC, as one of my summer projects, has decided to run an online comic strip page on Saturdays for the summer where you can find hockey-based comic strips, similar to your "Funnies" page in your local newspaper.

I want to be very clear here: HBIC is not writing a comic strip. My artistic talent tops out at stick men, so there will be no poorly-drawn hockey art produced by me. Therefore, there will be no HBIC-based comic strip. I'm sure I'd drive a ton of readers away with my lack of any sort of ability.

I do think, though, that some of the artists that produce these comic strips should have their names and work featured on other sites. They produce great work, and it is very intelligently written in terms of its humor. There may not be a market for these comic strips in your local "Funnies" page, but I'm going to try to give these people a second pace to host their strips.

If you know of any comic strips that should be featured, please let me know via email or in the comments below. I'll need to contact the writer of the comic strip to find out whether he or she would be willing to participate in this project, so let me know what comic strips you'd like to see featured. I have a few strips that I want to feature already, and I'll be sending out emails this week to those artists to prepare for next Saturday as we enter July.

As an example, here is a great comic strip produced by Bill Charbonneau. Charbonneau publishes his comic strips weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on Small Market Sports, and I highly recommend that you check out his work. It's humorous and intelligent. (Click the comic strip to make it larger in a new window for easier reading!)
If you know of any additional comic strips, let me know!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 25 June 2010

Quiet Draft Day

The 2010 NHL Entry Draft went tonight in Los Angeles, California. It's the first time the NHL has had a draft hosted in the state of California, and the fans in the City of Angels seemed enthusiastic when it came to supporting the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman didn't get the rain of boos that he normally hears in the northern cities, at least not in the length of time that he normally hears them anyway. The city of Edmonton, Alberta was abuzz with anticipation as the Oilers held the first overall pick for the first time in their franchise history. And in the crowd, thirty young men sat waiting for their names to be called to claim the title of "first-round draft pick".

Let's run through the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. I'll include my comments below about the first round, as well as a recap of the few trades that actually did happen this evening. Here are the first thirty men who will hopefully suit up in an NHL uniform one day:

  1. Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall, Windsor Spitfires (OHL).
  2. Boston Bruins via Toronto - Tyler Seguin, Plymouth Whalers (OHL).
  3. Florida Panthers - Erik Gudbranson, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL).
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets - Ryan Johansen, Portland Winterhawks (WHL).
  5. New York Islanders - Nino Niederreiter, Portland Winterhawks (WHL).
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning - Brett Connolly, Prince George Cougars (WHL).
  7. Carolina Hurricanes - Jeff Skinner, Kitchener Rangers (OHL).
  8. Atlanta Thrashers - Alexander Burmistrov, Barrie Colts (OHL).
  9. Minnesota Wild - Mikael Granlund, HIFK (Finland's SM-liiga).
  10. New York Rangers - Dylan McIlrath , Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL).
  11. Dallas Stars - Jack Campbell, USA U-18 (USHL).
  12. Anaheim Ducks - Cam Fowler, Windsor Spitfires (OHL).
  13. Phoenix Coyotes - Brandon Gormley, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL).
  14. St. Louis Blues - Jaden Schwartz, Tri-City Americans (WHL).
  15. Los Angeles Kings - Derek Forbort, USA U-18 (USHL).
  16. St. Louis Blues - Vladimir Tarasenko, HC Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL).
  17. Colorado Avalanche - Joey Hishon, Owen Sound Attack (OHL).
  18. Nashville Predators - Austin Watson, Peterborough Petes (OHL).
  19. Florida Panthers - Nick Bjugstad, Blaine High School (Minn).
  20. Pittsburgh Penguins - Beau Bennett, Penticton Vees (BCHL).
  21. Detroit Red Wings - Riley Sheahan, University of Notre Dame (NCAA).
  22. Montreal Canadiens - Jarred Tinordi, USA U-18 (USHL).
  23. Buffalo Sabres - Mark Pysyk, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL).
  24. Chicago Blackhawks - Kevin Hayes, Nobles High School (Mass).
  25. Florida Panthers - Quinton Howden, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL).
  26. Washington Capitals - Evgeny Kuznetsov, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL).
  27. Phoenix Coyotes - Mark Visentin, Niagara IceDogs (OHL).
  28. San Jose Sharks - Charlie Coyle, South Shore Kings (EJHL).
  29. Anaheim Ducks - Emerson Etem, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL).
  30. New York Islanders - Brock Nelson, Warroad High School (Minn).
I'll admit that I found a few things surprising in this draft class.

First, only one NCAA player was taken in the first round. The Detroit Red Wings went collegiate in selecting Riley Sheahan, and I was surprised that more NCAA players weren't called in the opening round. The NCAA has been producing some excellent players in recent years, and it seems odd that there weren't more players selected from that pool of talent.

Second, I was surprised - no, make that shocked - that the Islanders used the fifth overall pick to select Swiss-born right winger Nino Niederreiter. I get that the Islanders may have been targeting Niederreiter, but why didn't they offer up the pick in a trade to move down a couple of spots? I'm quite certain that Niederreiter would have been there at the eighth or ninth pick.

Third, Cam Fowler drops to the Anaheim Ducks at pick #12, and suddenly the Ducks have a budding young offensive star on their blueline to replace the retired Scott Niedermayer. Not only are they able to select the best offensive defenceman this draft has to offer, but they don't have trade to move up to get him. Why the New York Rangers didn't scoop up Fowler at tenth spot is something that Glen Sather may only be able to answer.

Fourth, the Atlanta Thrashers get Alexander Burmistrov with pick #8, and they may have themselves a new, dynamic scorer much like they had before Ilya Kovalchuk opted to leave. Burmistrov, unlike some of his Russian counterparts, has stated time and time again that he has no interest in playing in the KHL any time soon, and that should be phenomenal news to GM Rick Dudley's ears. I really like this pick, and I think Atlanta may have selected one of top-three players in this year's draft.

Fifth, Minnesota and Washington continued to build with international stars that are close to home. Minnesota went back to Finland to draft Mikael Granlund, while the Capitals continued their Russian roster building with their selection of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both of these players appear to be highly skilled, and the other countrymen on the two teams' rosters should make these two youngsters a little more comfortable at their respective training camps.

Sixth, Pittsburgh selected Beau Bennett with pick #20, and Bennett became the highest player chosen from the state of California. What is more impressive is that ten Americans were selected in the first round of the draft, including goaltender Jack Campbell who was the highest American-born player selected at pick #11 by Dallas. It just goes to show that the American development system is growing stronger and stronger each year. Take note, Canadian teams.

The one trade that happened that actually involved current NHL players saw the Western Conference welcome back a tenacious defenceman. The Vancouver Canucks sent Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner, and the 25th overall pick to the Florida Panthers for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. Ballard provides the Canucks with a good puck-moving defenceman who doesn't shy away from the physical side of the game - something they sorely needed against the Blackhawks in last season's playoffs. For as much as they were given opportunities, both Bernier and Grabner appeared to be spare parts for the Canucks, but they will be given bigger opportunities in Florida.

The Penguins decided to relieve Philadelphia of their Dan Hamhuis problem by trading for his rights. Reportedly, Hamhuis has no interest in signing with the Flyers and was prepared to test the free agency market. However, with Pittsburgh and Sergei Gonchar seemingly at odds in their contract negotiations, Hamhuis may get some decent coin to play in Pittsburgh in place of Gonchar.

Hamhuis is reportedly looking for $4 million per season for four seasons, according to his agent Wade Arnott. The Penguins have approximately $11 million in cap space, and still need to sign a few players from last season. Dan Hamhuis, Bill Guerin, Mark Eaton, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Jordan Leopold should attempt to be signed, especially if Sergei Gonchar doesn't return. And I would rank them in that order of importance in terms of their signings. Otherwise, Ben Lovejoy may have a roster spot next season by default. Lovejoy is no slouch, but the Penguins could upgrade to have Lovejoy as the seventh man.

All in all, it was a rather uneventful draft outside of the Taylor-vs-Tyler debate. As seen above, Taylor Hall went first overall, Dallas took the first goaltender and American in Jack Campbell, and we're on to Round Two of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft tomorrow.

Let's just see if tomorrow remains quiet as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 24 June 2010

One And Done?

Today marked the first day of the official Stanley Cup Champions' dismantling. The Chicago Blackhawks, deep in red ink when it comes to the salary cap numbers, shed five players in an effort to bring their payroll in line with the NHL's mandate. It was known before the Stanley Cup Final that this day would come. The only question that Blackhawks fans had was who would be the first big name to go? And, slightly less important to Hawks fans, where is he going? We got the answer today in two trades. And one of those two trades was clearly a salary purge.

The Chicago Blackhawks reportedly made a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers yesterday, but the deal needed league approval due to the salaries being moved between the two teams. With the NHL's blessing today, Chicago sent forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu along with defenceman Brent Sopel to the Atlanta Thrashers for the 24th and 54th picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and forwards Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, and Joey Crabb. Later in the day, the Blackhawks shipped forward restricted free agent Colin Fraser's rights to the Edmonton Oilers for the 151st pick in this year's draft.

Obviously, the big piece in this trade was Dustin Byfuglien. The Minnesota native became nearly a legend in Chicago with his play during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his big body and work ethic were cheered at every chance by the Hawks' faithful. Atlanta will be getting a player who knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup while being in the spotlight, and Byfuglien will be expected to be the bruising power forward for the Thrashers that everyone saw in this year's playoffs.

Second City Hockey, a fabulous Blackhawks blog, spoke candidly about how Byfuglien's recent success on the ice may have gotten the Hawks more in return than what he was seemingly worth. Said McClure:

"While no one can coach Byfuglien's size, the fact of the matter is that there are far more willing wingers on this team to go to the net in most situations, and all of them are more mobile than Buff. While yes, he has been a playoff 'killer', keep in mind he did that killing against very inferior defensive corps in Vancouver and San Jose. The instant someone with as equal skill wants it more than Buff, he disappears, as evidenced by Games 1-4 of the finals, and pretty much every regular season game. I'll be thankful for his contributions, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it."
Wow. The hardest part in accepting McClure's sobering look at the big man is that he's exactly right. Byfuglien was seemingly a fringe player during the majority of the regular season, and has recorded no more than 19 goals and 36 points in any of his three full seasons in the NHL to date. There's no denying that Byfuglien's efforts in this year's playoffs were instrumental to the Blackhawks' successes, but there has to be more shown in the regular season by Byfuglien if he wants to make the Hawks regret moving him. 36 points at his salary leaves them with no regrets at this point in time.

Brent Sopel, whose antics with his sock stripes won him no fans on this blog, was an easy choice on the blueline as his $2.2 million salary was extremely pricey for a fifth defenceman. Yes, the Hawks will lose a player who ate major minutes while killing penalties, but, like Byfuglien, Sopel's stock rose in the playoffs with his performance. Should that be expected through 82 games next season? I'm betting on "no".

Coming to the Hawks in return is Marty Reasoner, a player who will most likely end up filling the fourth-line centerman position next year. He's fairly inexpensive at $1.5 million, and will replace the departing John Madden as he will demand more money on the open market than Chicago can offer. Reasoner is a decent face-off man, but his comparisons to Madden will end there. Don't expect this guy to be a defensive shadow like Madden was, Hawks fans. It just won't happen.

With a couple of larger salaries off the books for next season, there are still a few more players who shouldn't get too comfortable in the Windy City. One of Andrew Ladd or Kris Versteeg could and probably will still be moved, and it also means that the Hawks will not be dipping into the free agent market for any major names this July. Cristobal Huet should start looking for an apartment in Rockford next season as it is almost a given that his salary will be buried in the AHL.

Growth, it seems, will have to come from within just as it did four years ago.

Now this begs the question: can the Blackhawks be as competitive as they were this year while cutting salaries all over the place? As I stated last Friday, are you interested in seeing your team take one big run at the Stanley Cup, or would you rather have them build gradually over the course of a few years so that a potential dynasty can be born?

The salary cap has changed how hockey dynasties are shaped. The Detroit Red Wings, who constantly replaced expensive, departing talent with younger, cheaper talent, demonstrated how a dynasty can be built and maintained. Chicago, on the other hand, have all the makings of a one-and-done thanks to their salary purges.

So which would you, the fan, rather have: a solid team that has the capability to go deep in the playoffs each year, or a team that has all the makings of a Stanley Cup Champion, but is forced to scuttle that team once their playoff run is over?

For me, I choose the first option. You may not win, but you're seeing a lot of playoff hockey every year. With apologies to San Jose Sharks fans, the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but remaining competitive over the course of a decade is good for the team's bottom line. Which, in turn, should be good for the fan.

This one is a tough decision, but which would you choose?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Hardware Handed Out

Las Vegas, Nevada was the place to be tonight to see all of your favorite NHL stars dressed like a million bucks. Or, if you're an NHL player, dressed like pocket change. There were a number of Hollywood B-listers who were on-hand for the event tonight as well as the NHL Awards ceremony took place in Sin City. Comedian Jay Mohr hosted the soiree from the Pearl Concert Theater inside The Palms Hotel, and the NHL had a number of big names on the roll call: Mark Wahlberg, George Stroumboulopoulos, Snoop Dogg, Jamie Kennedy, and Jerry Bruckheimer but to name a few. But the reason everyone was there was to see which NHL stars went home with a new addition for their mantle.

I'm not going to draw this out or make this a profile on each NHL star. You know who each of these players are, so I'll just post the list of winners below. After all, you should know all of these players by name simply from their phenomenal seasons this year.

For information on each of the trophies and how they are awarded, check the "History of NHL Trophies" drop-down list on the right! Without further adieu, here are your 2010 NHL Award winners:

  • Hart Trophy - Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Ted Lindsay Trophy - Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
  • Calder Trophy - Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Vezina Trophy - Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Norris Trophy - Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • Art Ross Trophy - Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Jack Adams Trophy - Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes.
  • Jennings Trophy - Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.
  • Selke Trophy - Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Masterton Trophy - Jose Theodore of the Washington Capitals.
  • Lady Byng Trophy - Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • King Clancy Trophy - Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes.
  • Richard Trophy - Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • NHL Foundation Award - Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Mark Messier Leadership Award - Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Conn Smythe Trophy was already handed out at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks was the winner of that award.

There are your award-winners for the 2009-10 NHL season!

Just before I go, I want to bring something to the attention of the HBIC Playoff Pool winners. For those of you who are one of the twenty-two winners, start checking your email. I've had a number of people who apparently are on holidays or away from civilization, and I've been waiting for up to four days for a response. I can't stress this enough: CHECK YOUR EMAIL.

For the eight people I've already contacted, your prizes are officially being mailed tomorrow. I know I said I'd have them out last weekend, but I'm not making repeated trips to the post office because others are not checking their email. They will officially be in the mail tomorrow (barring any unforeseen circumstances), and you should have them by next week. Any questions on this, fire me an email. And yes, I do check mine.

That's all for tonight as I've got a pile of stuff I need to get done. Take it easy, and let's get ready for the NHL Entry Draft on Friday night from Los Angeles, California!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Let's Hear It For The Girls!

There were a lot of interesting developments today in hockey as the San Jose Sharks basically gave long-time Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov his walking papers, while the Boston Bruins dealt an underwhelming Dennis Wideman and the fifteenth overall pick in this year's draft to Florida for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell. But that's not why I'm here today. Sure, the Sharks got a little worse, the Bruins got a little better, and the Panthers are apparently giving Horton what he wants. Instead, it's time to give credit where credit is due on this blog, and I'm looking directly at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has pushed aside amateur and international players for the sexier option of NHL players that bring notoriety. There are many NHL players deserving of the honour of being in the Hockey Hall of Fame without doubt. But there are a large number of players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame who have not suited up in the NHL, and it appears that the Hockey Hall of Fame is finally changing its tune towards one group of individuals. Especially when its home page states that it is "[h]ome to hockey's greatest players".

Let's go back to July of 2007 where I blasted the Hockey Hall of Fame regarding their lack of recognition given to the phenomenal female players on planet today. Some of these women are trailblazers in their building of their countries' respective programs, and deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame not only for their playing abilities, but their leadership, courage, and dedication to the sport of hockey.

Looking forward, it was announced in March of 2009 that women, for the first time in the Hockey Hall of Fame's history, would be eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Thanks to the Hall of Fame's wisdom, two women will be eligible for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame per year from this year forward. The women's game, thought to be at risk in future Olympic years, should point to this day as the first day where women's hockey is given the same respect as the men's game.

There are literally dozens of women players who deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but the two women voted into the Hall of Fame today are extremely well-known in North America for their efforts in growing the women's game within their respective countries of birth as well as on the international stage. Canada's Angela James and USA's Cammi Granato will be the first women to have their faces molded in bronze and hung alongside the many men voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame before them.

While the Hockey Hall of Fame has always maintained that women have always been eligible, it was nearly impossible for their careers to be compared to the men who played in the NHL. As a hockey fan, it makes me proud that the women's game is getting equal billing after decades of living in the shadow of men's hockey.

However, not everyone shares this sentiment. The comments on the TSN website are absolutely disgusting and highly misogynistic in their nature. Overlooking the spelling and grammar mistakes, you would think that these people are from the 1800s where women couldn't vote or own property.

Says "cbrcbr":

"I have a MAJOR PROBLEM with totally inferior Women Hockey Players being selected for entrance to our now lost so called Hockey Hall Of Fame .To me it is now thye CANADIAN HOCKEY HALL OF SHAME.There are at least 30 Former NHL players and Builders who have been waiting for many years for admission.TYPICALLY CANADIAN,WE HAVE TO BE OUR VERSION OF POLITACULLY CORRECT.Our Juinor A teams would beat any Canadian team of the past and or present.All American Hiockey leage Teams and European Leage teams would do the same. I am Appauled no more NHL Hockey for me."
It's funny that "cbrcbr" feels that most any men's team can beat the Canadian national women's team. After all, the AAA teams from Alberta are having their asses handed to them by the Canadian women. These AAA players are the next NHL players, the next Junior-A players, and the next European League players. Yet they are getting hammered by a non-checking women's team. But the women aren't that good, apparently.

"Acesup" jumps in with this beauty comment, showing vast intelligence and hockey savvy:
"HHOF is the wrong place for the ladies. They should be in the IIHF hall of whatever they have. To push aside legitimate NHL players to include them is wrong, wrong, wrong."
I forgot how the Hockey Hall of Fame is strictly for NHL players. Perhaps that's how Vladislav Tretiak got in there - his phenomenal NHL numbers. What's that? He never played in the NHL? Oh, right! It's not the NHL Hall of Fame, it's the HOCKEY Hall of Fame. My bad!

"Scorp0232" feels that Canadian history is being smeared by keeping out a former Maple Leaf:
"Putting these women in the hall is ludicrous.Paul Henderson scores the most important goal in Canadian hockey history and he can't get in and yet they vote these 2 ladies in."
When did the Hockey Hall of Fame become the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame? In the grand scheme of things, the Henderson goal is an iconic moment in Canadian history and Canadian hockey history. There's no denying this. But what significance did it have on the Americans? The Swedes? The Czechs?

Henderson's goal is already an enshrined moment in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, but a player like Henderson is not even close to being worthy of having his face in bronze on the wall. He didn't even score 500 points in the NHL, let alone score 500 goals. If his one claim to fame is "the goal", then John Slaney should also be in the Hall of Fame. And he's not going there either.

Frostyice, who apparently is not married, hates women, and feels all women should be back in the kitchen, thinks that the women should be kept separate from the men:
"Please create a seperate hockey hall of fame for Women as most of us don't really consider Womens hockey a Sport. If Someone wants to watch Womens hockey or read about it they could go there."
I'm going to guess that "Frostyice" is one of those bandwagoners who claim Canadian supremacy when the Canadian women win a gold medal or World Championship, but complain about the game. Should sledge hockey be kept separate from the Hockey Hall of Fame too? After all, it's different. As far as I can tell, it's not the "Hockey Hall of Fame for People Who Have Male Sex Organs". It's open to all hockey players, regardless of gender.

Angela James was a dominant force in women's hockey throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Long regarded as the Wayne Gretzky of the women's game, the argument against James, and Granato for that matter, being inducted into the Hall of Fame is that she played against vastly inferior opponents during her heyday. There is validity to this argument, but James' induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is less about her point totals, and more about what she did for the game of women's hockey in Canada.

Without James leading the way, there may be no St-Pierre or Campbell to speak of in this country. Without James blazing a trail, there may not have been a Rheaume playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning or a Wickenheiser attending the Flyers' training camp or an ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones' camp.

Cammi Granato deserves her induction for the same reason: she literally grew the game through her actions in the United States. While her older brother, Tony, went on to play in the NHL, Cammi broke down barriers at Providence College by shattering every scoring record the school had seen. She's the idol of current players such as goaltender Chanda Gunn.

"You have to understand - I didn't want to be like Cammi Granato," Gunn told Wayne Coffey of the NY Daily News in 2005. "I wanted to be Cammi Granato."

Granato was the building block of the US Women's Program in the same vein that Mia Hamm was for US Soccer and Jennie Finch was for US Softball. She literally was the face of US Women's Hockey for 15 years, and is a major reason why the US Women's Hockey Team is a powerhouse on the world scene.

There is no doubt that both of these ladies scored at a torrid pace when they played the game. In fact, Granato is still the leading scorer, the leading goal-scorer, and the leader in games-played for her country after retiring. However, it was their actions that allowed the game to explode onto the North American sporting world, and this is the primary reason their inclusion to the Hockey Hall of Fame is deserving.

If Wayne Gretzky is credited with growing the sport in the state of California and into the Sunbelt in the southern United States, James and Granato are responsible for growing the sport in two entire countries. Name one player currently in the Hockey Hall of Fame that has had that kind of effect on the game of hockey.

Bobby Orr? Wayne Gretzky? Gordie Howe? Maurice Richard?

If those four men grew the sport of hockey in North America through their skill, scoring, and charisma, then Cammi Granato and Angela James are long overdue for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Regardless of their scoring prowess, these two retired hockey players had more impact on their sport than 99% of the men currently in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

If you ask me, that's entirely the definition of what it means to be a great hockey player.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 21 June 2010

Retro Gaming Night

When I think back to my childhood days, there were some occurrences that stand out as something that happened almost daily. Street hockey, also known as road hockey or ball hockey, was played almost every night after school in the winter. During the summer, it was less frequent, but at least one game per week broke out on our quiet neighbourhood street. We used to play table hockey when it was just too cold or we needed something else to do. And, of course, we were just breaking into the video game era of the Nintendo versus Sega battle for console supremacy. We spoke a little of the games we used to play against our friends during a discussion at work today, and one game that came up as "classic fun" was Electronic Arts' Mutant League Hockey from 1994 for the Sega Genesis console.

While being far from accurate in terms of its parody of the NHL, Mutant League Hockey brought forth some good laughter with the parodied team names and player names. Some of the better parodied team names included:

  • Black Hearts, from the Blackhawks.
  • Montroyale Cadavers, from the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Bruiser Bots, from the Boston Bruins.
  • St. Mucus Ooze, from the St. Louis Blues.
  • The Derangers, from the New York Rangers.
  • Chilly Liars, from the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Mighty Weenies, being a shot towards the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
  • Pucksucker Pukes, from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Ice Slashers, from the New York Islanders.
  • Dead Things, from the Detroit Red Wings.
  • Lizard Kingz, from the Los Angeles Kings.
  • The Shrimps, being a shot towards the San Jose Sharks.
Of course, there were also a number of original teams:
  • War Slammers.
  • Deathskin Razors, a carryover from EA's Mutant League Football parodying the Oakland Raiders.
  • Mutant Monsters.
  • Darkstar Dragons, another carryover.
  • Screaming Evils, another carryover parodying the Philadelphia Eagles.
  • Slaycity Slayers, another carryover parodying the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Terminator Trolz.
  • Turbo Techies.
Now, there were three different types of players as well: skeletons, trolls, and robots. The skeletons were your average player, but were prone to falling apart when bodychecked. The trolls were slow, but had solid shots and threw big checks. The robots were your speedsters, but had little skill in the physical side of the game. Needless to say, you needed a mix of all three types of players to have a well-rounded team.

As seen with the team names, the parodies run deep. Take the Pucksucker Pukes, for example. Here is an abridged version of their in-game roster:
  • #66 Lepuke. We all know who #66 is in real life.
  • #25 Heavings. Very close resemblance to Kevin Stevens.
  • #68 Jamina Dagr (Jam in a Dagger). Jaromir Jagr's name is butchered.
  • #92 Sprocket. A reference to Rick Tocchet's time with the Penguins.
  • #5 Oof. A play on Ulf Samuelsson's first name.
  • #55 Scurvy. The oral disease represents Larry Murphy.
  • #35 Ima Spazzo. Ironically, this name lives up to his real-life counterpart.
  • #10 Fran Cyst. Ron Francis takes an interesting name.
And there are more. Looking down the Black Hearts' roster, we see more parodies:
  • #27 Bonelick. This would be Jeremy Roenick's number.
  • #28 Armor. Roenick's wingman, Steve Larmer.
  • #7 Smelios. Chris Chelios jokes were plentiful.
  • #30 Belcher. Ed Belfour's mutant player was pretty good.
  • #16 Ghoulet. No translation needed for Michel Goulet.
  • Coach Sputter. Even Coach Sutter was parodied!
Now that we've seen EA have a little fun at the expense of some of the stars of the NHL back in 1994, let's take a look at the important stuff: game play, fun, and replay value.

First off, each rink that you play in has an assortment of hazards. From sharks swimming below the surface of the rink that trip your player up to mines in the ice that explode and leave a giant hole in the ice, your players are in peril with every move you make due to the hazards at each rink. Add into the mix of having the spectators toss weapons like maces, chainsaws, and axes on to the ice, and you have the makings of a slaughterhouse on ice. Just the way Don Cherry likes it.

The game play is pretty standard fare for that era's hockey console games: lots of slapshots and goals can be scored from almost anywhere on the ice. Unfortunately, no one-timers in Mutant League Hockey, but that's life in 1994. Fighting is included, and is fairly primitive, but we'll look at that a little more below. Game control is fairly precise which is on par for all of EA's hockey games up to that point.

Where this game differs from your basic NHL games is in its officiating. Or lack thereof. Basically, anything goes on the ice. See an axe? Skate over it and begin swinging. Spot a chainsaw? Pick it up and slash away. Penalties are few and far between, and that means that goal scoring may come at a price. If reserves aren't turned on, you can quickly run out of players to fill spots on the ice... and that means you can forfeit a game simply by running out of players!

In terms of the graphics, the display is large and cartoonish, the characters on the ice are simple and clear as to what type of character each is, and the animations are fairly humorous. The violence in this game prompted the game's rating to be bumped to MA-13, meaning that children younger than 13 should not be playing the game. However, it's mostly cartoon violence, and shouldn't be taken out of context. After all, rarely do you see skeletons punching each other's lights out in the NHL.

One thing that kept me laughing was the trash-talking done by both the coaches and the players. Coaches range from sublime trash-talking to calling out the other team, while players take pride in showing up the opposition. Fighting is included in the game, and it's your standard punch-and-move fight engine - not the greatest, but good enough for 1994.

Replay value for this game? Very high. It's a fun and goofy way to have some hockey fun on a video game console, despite the gratuitous violence. Just figuring out who the players are from their mutant names is half the challenge. I'm a fan of Mutant League Hockey simply because it's so different from the regular NHL games from that era.

There are a pile of the old cartridges for your Sega Genesis on eBay if you're looking to pick this game up. Again, I recommend it if you're looking for a fun hockey game with which younger children can have some fun. Otherwise, get yourself an emulator, download the ROM, and have yourself a ball. Personally, I have the cartridge, and it has killed many hours as I grew up.

Electronic Arts' Mutant League Hockey - highly recommended by Teebz!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 20 June 2010

Thanks, Dad!

Today is a big day for dads. Father's Day is always special as we take time to honour and celebrate our father or father figure for the influence and guidance he has provided us over the years. Hockey dads are a part of hockey culture around the globe, especially when families are large and a number of children are playing the sport. As much as mom drives the family foundation by being a provider for kids, dads share an equal responsibility in helping his children and his children's friends become better people. Most often, we see a lot of fathers as coaches.

My father had the same role as I grew up. He often coached at both the amateur and high school levels in the one sport he knew best: soccer. He recently called it quits after coaching for over twenty years, but the one thing he always stressed was fair-play and respect for both his opponents and the officials on the field. Yes, disagreements will occur, but he was always the first one to shake hands with the officials after the game despite their differing opinions on calls.

Today, I would like to look at the men who are making kids' sporting lives a little better by teaching them the importance of being good people. This includes teaching sportsmanship, respect, fairness, and how to be part of a team, and there are a lot of dads out there who do this regularly through coaching. The linked article below probably didn't get a lot of fanfare from hockey bloggers and reporters over the last year, but I think these men deserve to have their stories told.

  • Bruce Ferguson, a Fort McMurray, Alberta father, has been coaching for over twenty years, including his two sons. The most important thing he teaches his team is the importance of equality. Ferguson's sons never got preferential treatment on any of his teams. Everything that came with it - respect, communication, sportsmanship - came with his lesson.
  • Jay Greco, an Ottawa, Ontario father, has coached his daughters through various levels of hockey, and now sees his daughters coaching younger players in the Ottawa area. He credits the bond through hockey he has with his daughters of making him a better dad. And his daughters agree. The best part? Mr. Greco's philosophy in coaching came from a man who coached him in North Bay when he was a youngster. Highly recommended read!
  • Ben Hoger talks of the late Art Missias, a coach in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who became a second father to a lot of the players he coached. Missias showed a tough exterior on the ice, but he was a true softie underneath his gruff exterior. Because of his love of the game, he inspired players to greater heights, and had a number of players and people follow in his coaching footsteps. Rest in peace, Art. Your lessons will live on throughout time because of the life lessons you taught your players.
  • We can't forget the lessons taught to society by Leafs general manager Brian Burke after his son announced that he was gay. John Buccigross penned an exceptional piece on how the gruff Brian Burke supported his late son, Brendan, when he first came out as a gay man to his family and then the world. Burke showed the kind of unconditional love that you'd expect from a true father, and Burke's support of his son, who passed away in an auto accident last winter, continues today. As much as Burke may not be liked by some in the hockey circles, Burke is the kind of father all sons and daughters should want.
  • A great story comes from Manhattenville College where Michelle Witz has benefitted greatly from her father's humbleness about his daughter's ability as a hockey player. While Michelle Witz was getting better as a hockey player under her father's tutelage, Ed Witz was always the last person to suggest his daughter should be elevated to better teams. In fact, most coaches had to force Ed Witz to speak about his daughter. Ed's lessons in humility has allowed Michelle to grow without the pressures that some children in sports feel. That is a very important lesson being taught.
Now, there are probably hundreds of other stories out there about coaches who have done amazing jobs in shaping children to be better people as they move through the stages of their lives. I simply selected these stories because they show exactly what kind of lessons I learned from dad as he coached me: respect, fairness, and sportsmanship like Mr. Ferguson; give back and help other like Mr. Greco; inspire and teach, but don't be a jerk like Mr. Massias; love unconditionally like Mr. Burke; and, be humble while being supportive like Mr. Witz.

To all dads today, I want to say thank you for the time and effort you put in while coaching and making today's tykes into the great coaches of tomorrow. More importantly, I want to say thank for molding these young people into great adults by teaching them lessons they need to know in life.

Thanks, Dad!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 19 June 2010

TBC: A Loonie For Luck

The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was a special time in Canadian hockey history. Following eight straight losses to the American women, the Canadian women captured the Olympic gold medal by defeating their long-time rivals. The Canadian men, led by Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, and Steve Yzerman, started poorly, but rallied to defeat the American men by a 5-2 score to capture their first gold medal in 50 years! There were a lot of hockey storylines at the Olympics that various people followed - Gretzky's rant against the world following Canada's 3-3 tie against the Czech Republic, Belarus' unbelievable upset of the vastly superior Swedes in the quarter-finals, the kissing of center ice by the Canadian women - but the one that author Roy MacGregor followed was the story of Trent Evans. The result? A Loonie for Luck, written by MacGregor, illustrated by Bill Slavin, and published by McClelland and Stewart, which tells the story of how the loonie got into the ice, and how Trent Evans became a legend in the hockey community for his superstitious decision.

Roy MacGregor has written some of Canada's best hockey books in his lifetime. He penned best-selling book Home Game with Ken Dryden, and is a best-selling author for his hockey-based mystery books for children in the Screech Owls series. Born in Whitby, Ontatio in 1948, Mr. MacGregor has written for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, MacLean's magazine, the Toronto Star, and The Canadian magazine. Due to his works, he has won two National Newspaper Awards, several National Magazine Awards, and two ACTRA Awards as the best television drama writer in the country. In 2005, Roy MacGregor was named an officer in the Order of Canada. He and his wife, Ellen, live in Kanata, Ontario with their four children.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the "lucky loonie" once the word got out about the coin being placed in the ice at Salt Lake City's E Center, but it started off as something that Trent Evans would never have thought twice about: pocket change.

While getting a coffee during his normal morning routine at the Tim Hortons on Sherwood Park, Alberta's Main Boulevard, Mr. Evans received change from the five-dollar bill he gave to the server. Amongst the change, he pocketed a loonie, Canada's one-dollar coin minted in 1987 in Winnipeg, that would become a part of the Hockey Hall of Fame three weeks later. With the change in his pocket, he headed to the airport in Edmonton for his flight to Salt Lake City.

So who is this Trent Evans guy?

Trent Evans is an employee of the Edmonton Oilers. His job? Ice technician for at Rexall Place where the Oilers play. His former boss, Dan Craig, was one of the officials in charge of preparing the hockey venues in Utah, and he recommended Trent as one of the official ice-makers for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Trent took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after consulting with his family, and he and the loonie were off to Salt Lake City.

The problem he discovered when he arrived at the E Center was that there was no center ice plug on the floor that ice-makers use to measure out all the dimensions on the ice. Every single NHL rink has this plug, but the E Center did not as it only housed the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies. In order to mark the center point after making a number of measurements to find it, Evans used a dime after consulting with Dan Craig as to how he should mark the center ice spot. However, it was something that Craig said that turned Evans onto the idea of using the loonie.

"Craig was checking the ice in one of the two practice rinks.
"'How did they mark it there?' Trent asked.
"'We used a splotch of yellow paint,' Craig answered.
"'How big?'
"'I don't know,' Craig's voice crackled through the static. 'Not big. About the size of a loonie.'"
From that point on, the loonie marked the center ice location at the E Center. Once the ice was finished and the loonie had been buried beneath five-eighths of an inch of ice, the legend of the "lucky loonie" began to grow and circulate amongst the Olympic village. Evans knew that his "secret" was no longer a secret. Sure enough, Dan Craig called to deliver the news: "Take it out."

Evans reluctantly went to the E Center to remove the loonie buried beneath the ice, but he noticed that no one was paying attention to what he was doing on the ice. He drilled the hole and pretended to scoop the loonie up, and no one thought twice about it. And this time, Evans swore, he'd keep it a secret.

Of course, the lucky loonie saw both the Canadian men's and women's hockey teams capture the gold medal in hockey in 2002. It's final resting place, including the three dents that it picked up over the course of the Olympics, is now the Hockey Hall of Fame where fans from all over the world can gaze upon the coin that inspired a nation. Even this guy.

In regards to A Loonie for Luck, Mr. MacGregor has written an excellent story about how the loonie made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but has also included some incredible historical notes. There's a short piece on how the loonie was hated by Canadians when it was first introduced. There's a phenomenal chapter on a number of the superstitions that players have had in the NHL, and how it carries over to coaches and staff of NHL and hockey teams.
"When you’ve got both Roy MacGregor and Wayne Gretzky involved in a project, it’s pretty much a lead pipe cinch to be good. And this little book doesn’t disappoint.…The quality of the writing and the compelling nature of the story, not to mention the fact that a portion of the proceeds will go to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation to help under-privileged kids buy hockey gear, make this a great book to buy the hockey fan, including yourself." - Oldtimers Hockey News
The main story about Trent Evans and the lucky loonie is definitely the draw to this book, though. There's a great foreword written by Wayne Gretzky that talks about his experience with Trent over the years and the Olympic experience. Trent's story, told on the 96 pages of the book, is an excellent read, and Mr. MacGregor's writing made it interesting and appealing. I could not stop reading this book. The best part is that it is appropriate for children of all ages, and is suitable for readers aged nine and older.

Because of Mr. MacGregor's excellent work, A Loonie for Luck definitely deserves Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval, and is recommended for all readers! If you'd like to hear Mr. MacGregor and Mr. Evans speak about their collaboration on this book, please click here for a radio interview. The information they give about the lucky loonie is pretty incredible!

Just before we part, there's a charitable aspect included in this book. With the sale of each copy of A Loonie for Luck, a large portion of the royalties will be donated to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. The Gretzky Foundation helps underprivileged North American children get hockey equipment and join minor hockey teams in their areas in order to get them into sports. The book is reasonably priced, and I'm proud to have helped such a worthy charity!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 18 June 2010

The Price Of Success

With the number of good, young hockey players making their way through their first contracts while putting up impressive stats, there is a sense that a lot of teams who have built through the draft will run into the inevitable: dismantling the team while still on the rise. Rental players will always be let go during free agency, but what happens when the young players that have been developed within a team's system suddenly find themselves worth more than the team can afford? How do teams keep their young talent under their umbrella after they make deep runs in the playoffs? These are difficult questions to answer since the free agency system allows players to seek the highest bidder, so how do championship teams stay together?

The premise of this article came from thinking about Chicago's group of core players, and how it will be increasingly difficult to keep the veteran contributors in Chicago without sacrificing some of their exceptional young talent. As we saw at the trade deadline, defenceman Cam Barker was deemed expendable due to his contract, and he was traded to the Minnesota Wild for the little-used Kim Johnsson and draft pick Nick Leddy. Of course, Johnsson's contract expires this season, so they essentially traded Barker for a developing player.

Today, after reading Eric Duhatschek's article in The Hockey News, he makes a very valid point: "the shadow of the salary cap hangs over every cup final these days". It was very evident in looking at the starting goaltenders in the Stanley Cup Final as Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton brought home a combined salary of $1.01 million combined this season. Sitting on the bench? Cristobal Huet and Brian Boucher who cashed in at $6.55 million combined.

Essentially, it comes down to a general manager, his scouts, and his support staff doing their homework and not overpaying for one good season. It is paramount to keeping good, young talent at home rather than them finding homes abroad. The return on the team's investment of training the player through the team's development system is zero if the player leaves via free agency. If that's how your GM is running his team, you may never see the Stanley Cup Final in your lifetime on home ice.

In 2007, the Philadelphia Flyers outbid the Montreal Canadiens for Daniel Briere's services. They awarded Briere $52 million over eight years, investing a huge chunk of change when it comes to the salary cap towards one player. Since he signed that contract, Briere has taken home $10 million, $8 million, and $8 million in the following three seasons.

What has $26 million bought the Philadelphia Flyers? No major awards, one playoff scoring title, and one NHL Stanley Cup Final appearance. In comparison, $26 million is approximately how much the Pittsburgh Penguins have invested in Sidney Crosby, and he delivered two Stanley Cup Final appearances, one Stanley Cup, an Art Ross Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Trophy, a Hart Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, and three NHL All-Star Game appearances. If you were investing in one player, who would you put you money on?

Looking at Chicago's plight in this upcoming off-season, they have a lot of contracts that reflect one or two good seasons of play in the past, and are now albatrosses. Cristobal Huet, arguably Brian Campbell, and Marian Hossa all have contracts that are far more bloated than their contributions would seem to attract, and moving these players will be difficult due to the dollar figures of their contracts. The talk of burying Cristobal Huet in the AHL is not only insulting to the player, but it shows a clear and concise lack of foresight when it comes to the expiring contracts of players like Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, and Antti Niemi - all major contributors to the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run.

They are not the only team who may feel the salary cap crunch, however. Pittsburgh was forced to let a few keys pieces of their Stanley Cup team in 2009 walk, and could be facing the same problem again this off-season. Detroit, who has been a force since the lockout, allowed a number of players to walk due to the salary cap since they won the Stanley Cup in 2008. Carolina and Anaheim also experienced the same problems in dealing with the salary cap in that they had to jettison some of the good talent they had to fit under the cap number.

Let me make something clear here: I'm not against the salary cap. In fact, I'm for the salary cap in so much that it forces teams to remain competitive by having them spend money on players they may never sign otherwise. With the cap in place, it has opened the door to parity, and that means better hockey and better races for playoff spots each and every year.

What the salary cap also prevents is the building of free agent dream teams in the big markets. The New York Rangers used to let the money flow like water from a tap when trying to sign players. Now, as proven by their recent string of playoff failures, it is a lot harder to build a winner when you can't outspend everyone else.

The teams that have won the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was instituted are teams that have grown from within. They all had home-grown goaltenders (Giguere, Ward, Osgood, Fleury, and Niemi), the majority developed their stars from within (Staal, Lidstrom, Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kane), and they had one or two key additions to their lineup who made huge contributions (Selanne, Whitney, Rafalski, Gonchar, Sharp).

This year's free agency period has a number of big fish in the pool that GMs will undoubtedly look to land. It's not surprising that teams look to improve their standing by adding a key free agent, but it is surprising that those players aren't developed from within.

If you're the Los Angeles Kings, you know you're stock in on the rise. You have excellent players already under contract, and are seemingly one or two ingredients away from being dominant. My question is this: do you make a run at Ilya Kovalchuk long-term in the same manner that Chicago did with Marian Hossa - possibly risking the loss of key players as their contracts expire in the future - or do you continue to build from within while giving yourself some room to play if a player decides he needs a raise?

A lot of NHL teams who have signed the home-run hitter have experienced roster turnover the following season thanks to the salary cap. I guess the real question is this: would you like your team to make one run at a Stanley Cup with the expectation they are going to win it, or would you like your team to be competitive in the playoffs for the next five years? Honestly, Chicago appears to be a one-and-done team thanks to their salary cap problems, meaning that some of their key players may be playing in new cities next season.

Personally, if I'm a fan, I want the five-year investment. There's a better chance that my team could appear in multiple Stanley Cup Finals. And if they win, there's a better chance they may repeat if they don't have to dismantle their roster in the off-season.

And if they don't win, you can just rename the team as the "San Jose Sharks".

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 17 June 2010

Another Contest!

As you may have seen, there was a pretty great prize from the good people at Pepsi/Frito-Lay/Gatorade available to one of the winners of the HBIC Playoff Pool. Mari N. claimed the $75 CDN gift certificate for the NHL's online store, and will most likely be putting it to good use. Congratulations again, Mari, on your great run in the HBIC Playoff Pool. But this brings me to another opportunity for the readers of this blog compliments of the good people at Gatorade. They want to send one lucky entrant to the sidelines for three incredible games: an NFL game, an NBA game, and the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh!

Let's check the video they sent me first.

Now, if you're a Canadian reading this, you've already made it past the fine print. I apologize to the international readers visiting here, but Gatorade Canada is running this contest. I have no control over this. I'm just the messenger.

If you are Canadian, though, click here to visit the Gatorade website. Click on the "Enter Now" link, and get yourself signed up. You only have until July 10 to be eligible for the three trips!

If you are the lucky winner, here's what you'll be taking part in:
  1. Get On The Ice: Live large at the 2011 NHL Winter Classic®!
    • Tickets for two to the game.
    • Watch the practice from the glass.
    • Flight and hotel for two.
    • $500 CDN for the winner.
  2. Get On The Field: Experience the action at a 2010 NFL game!
    • Tickets for two to a 2010 regular season game.
    • Watch the pre-game warm-up from the sidelines.
    • Flight and hotel for two.
    • $500 CDN for the winner.
  3. Get On The Floor: Rule courtside at an NBA game!
    • Front row courtside tickets for two to a 2011 regular season NBA game.
    • Flight and hotel for two.
    • $500 CDN for the winner.
Not bad, right? So get entering!

I don't use Gatorade when playing sports myself, but I cannot thank them enough for offering up some amazing prizes and contests on this site. They have been extremely generous, and they certainly deserve a "thank you" from this writer for all they have provided in some of the contests I have run. Thank you, Gatorade, for bringing forth another great contest for sports fans and the readers of HBIC!

Now if I were to win, I'd obviously be pumped about going to the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Under no circumstances would I miss that game simply because a Washington-Pittsburgh clash is always excellent hockey!

For the NFL and NBA games, I'm not sure where I'd go. Maybe Denver for a Broncos game? Perhaps some place warm like Miami or Los Angeles for a Heat or Lakers game? It would all depend, I suppose, on where ever I felt like going.

Here's the key: it could be you deciding on where you'd like to go! All you have to do is enter the contest. No purchase is required, and you're not required to subscribe to any newsletters. Get in the contest, kids! It's a chance of a lifetime!

Before leaving, I just want to say thank you to Gatorade one more time for allowing me to talk a little about this great contest!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!