Saturday 31 July 2010

HBIC Comics - Volume 4

I'm going to be away this weekend doing a variety of non-hockey things, so I've prepared a few posts to go up in my absence. I'm hoping I did everything properly in my haste to get away for some rest and relaxation - R&R, to the layman - so that you, the reader, can get your HBIC fix over the long weekend. I'll be back on Monday to check to see if things went according to plan in my absence, so if things seem askew, just roll with it until Monday. Once I'm back, I can look into any and all problems, but I'm off the grid for this weekend. That means no connection to the HBIC world, so let's hope this place holds together! With that in mind, here are your HBIC Comics!

Benchies is a comic strip produced by Rick Pearson. Mick and Mike find themselves in all sorts of humorous situations, and hockey is just one of those situations where crazy things happen to the guys! You can find more of Mr. Pearson's Benchies every weekend on Uni Watch Blog where Mick and Mike get up to all sorts of hijinks!

Here is your Benchies for July 31, and it seems the boys think of an old TV show when talking about an Eastern Conference city!
Small Market Sports is a comic strip produced by Bill Charbonneau where his cast of characters are always up to something. There's Carter (the baseball), Doug (the football), Dave (the sports radio), Nash (the basketball), and Wayne (the hockey puck). Named after the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, Wayne the puck is "a hot-tempered and slightly egotistical 'super-star' (in his own mind, anyway). As the ambassador to his sport, he is quick to defend the unrelenting jabs about the excessive violence that permeates his hockey. Even if he has to drop his gloves and knock some teeth in to do it." Mr. Charbonneau produces a new comic every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday about these characters, and you can find them on Small Market Sports!

Here is a Small Market Sports comic strip for July 31. Doug is impressed with Sidney Crosby's clothes-dryer routine on The Tonight Show which prompts him and Wayne into a discussion of NHL rules.

Just to reference what Doug is talking about, here are Crosby and Max Talbot shooting pucks at a dryer while selling merchandise for Reebok:

A big thank you goes out to Rick Pearson and Bill Charbonneau for allowing me to put together a hockey-related comics page each and every Saturday. If you know someone who would like their work published, please have him or her contact me here. Whether you're an amateur or a professional artist, I'd be happy to feature your work on my site!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 30 July 2010

Brand-New Forgotten Looks

I was speaking to a friend today who is a pretty big AHL fan, and he seemed pumped that Darren Haydar is heading back to the Chicago Wolves. I asked him what he would equate the change to, and his response was "Remember when Hulk Hogan joined the NWO". As I stared at him with some confusion, he proceeded to inform me that it was the biggest coup in wrestling history, and how he went from the biggest hero in wrestling to one of the biggest heels ever. He didn't seem impressed that I had little knowledge of such a historic event, but it got me thinking about hockey players who played in cities after being so iconic in a previous city. There are a pile of players that can be included here, but I want to run through the few that seem to jump to the front of my mind.

  • We'll start with the most iconic player in Wayne Gretzky. We all know of his exploits in Edmonton and Los Angeles, so when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, it left a lot of people puzzled. Including Wayne. He signed in the off-season with the New York Rangers after appearing in a mere 18 games with the Blues.
  • Guy Lafleur was a star in his home province of Quebec, racking up Stanley Cup victories with the Montreal Canadiens before not playing for three years between 1985 and 1988. However, Lafleur in a New York Rangers jersey just doesn't seem right. Lafleur would spend a mere 67 games on Broadway before heading home to play for the Nordiques.
  • Another player who appeared on Broadway had a long career in a different city where he is hailed as a hero. Marcel Dionne's tenure with the New York Rangers lasted all of 67 games in 1988-89 after spending his entire career in Detroit and Los Angeles. Of course, he is a legend in Los Angeles for his work there.
  • This list will never be completely correct if it didn't include Bobby Orr. Orr had a phenomenal career with the Boston Bruins before knee injuries caught up to the legendary defenceman. Orr spent all of 26 games with the Chicago Blackhawks before retiring. Orr had previously played 631 games with the Bruins where he carved out a Hall-of-Fame career while redefining a position on the ice.
  • Another Bobby who played with the Blackhawks will make this list. Of course, Bobby Hull was a much more vivid Blackhawk, and he will always be remembered for his time as a Winnipeg Jet when he jumped to the WHA for $1 million. But Bobby's career basically came to an end in Hartford with the Whalers where he played a mere nine games. Not quite going out on top, but Hull had himself a very impressive career.
  • There's a player who won three Stanley Cups with three different teams that made two cameos on two different teams. Mike Keane spent time with Montreal, Colorado, and Dallas in winning his three Stanley Cups, but he also spent 70 games with the New York Rangers and 56 games with the St. Louis Blues! I have scoured the Interwebs for a Mike-Keane-St.-Louis-Blues image with no success. However, there is evidence of him in a Rangers uniform. Keane most recently retired after playing for his hometown Manitoba Moose where he is still spoken about with Winnipeg legends like Hull, Selanne, and Hawerchuk.
There are probably a pile more, but these players represent the iconic players who jumped to new teams through free agency or moved through trades. Gretzky, Lafleur, Dionne, Orr, and Hull all had Hall-of-Fame careers with their previous teams, and Mike Keane is one of nine players who won a Stanley Cup while suiting up for three different teams.

Is there anyone you think that should be added to this list? Leave names in the comments!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 29 July 2010

Vancouver Russkies?

The last time we saw a large contingent of Russian-born hockey players in the same Canadian city at once was during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The city of Vancouver played host to the Olympics, and Russia sent a very good squad over to Canada to compete for a gold medal. While they fell short in their quest to capture Olympic gold, there was nearly another Russian invasion into the city of Vancouver back in 1970 that would have seen some serious changes in the National Hockey League. Surprisingly enough, the national Russian hockey team were almost Canucks.

I know it seems hard to believe that the entire Russian hockey team would suddenly emigrate to Canada, especially in the 1970s when the Cold War was at is height, but the expansion of the NHL left a few general managers and owners somewhat worried in terms of the talent level of the players they needed to ice an NHL team.

According to Sports Illustrated's Scorecard on December 15, 1969, Punch Imlach had a radical and somewhat controversial idea in how to make the newly-founded Vancouver Canucks immediately competitive.

"Expansion franchises in the National Hockey League have been awarded to Vancouver and Buffalo, but the question of where to find players of adequate stature to put on major league ice has yet to be solved.

"George (Punch) Imlach, former manager and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose move to Vancouver is anticipated, had an idea, though. In his Toronto Telegram column Punch disclosed that he had offered the Russian national hockey team $300,000 to 'rent' its 20 best players to Vancouver from Sept. 15, 1970 to May 15, 1971. The players would split $200,000; the Soviet sports federation would get $100,000.

"Imlach met in a Montreal hotel room with Andrei Staravoitov, chief of the Ministry of Physical Culture's hockey committee and, through an interpreter, put his dollars on the table.

"'It was suggested,' he explained in his Punchy way, 'that the Russians would be as a whole much better than the garbage that would be available to Vancouver in the draft. Also the Russians would be a great drawing card.'

"The Russians have, of course, dominated international hockey in recent years and have expressed an inclination to meet a few NHL teams in exhibitions if the Soviet eligibility for 'amateur' and international competition would not be endangered, a question that must be considered in the Vancouver situation, also.

"Another question arises. The Vancouver team was to call itself the 'Canucks.' Will it now be the Vancouver Russkies?"
That is some phenomenal reporting, and a simply astounding revelation in Vancouver Canucks' history. From all I've read about Imlach, I knew he was wired a bit differently, but this? This is absolutely insane! He wanted to rent a national team to play as an NHL team!

It's hard to imagine that players such as Vladislav Tretiak, Valery Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, and Valery Vasiliev could have been Vancouver Canucks, but that's exactly what Imlach wanted to do - bring the Soviet national team to Vancouver, and let them compete as the Canucks in the NHL. Innovative, interesting, and downright insane are the only terms I can come up with to describe Imlach's idea.

Gems like this that are buried in hockey's history are exactly why I love this game! Of course, Vancouver would be a landing pad for Soviets in the late 1980s as Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov joined the Canucks in 1989 after years of living under Viktor Tikhonov's regime in the Soviet Union. They, along with two others, would be the first Soviet players to legally move from the Soviet ice hockey program to the NHL.

This is one of the coolest stories I've heard in a long time, and it's one of a number of excellent tidbits of historical info in the Sports Illustrated vault. I recommend spending some time sifting through it! You might find something like this that just seems unbelievable!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Maverick Or Genius?

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to the man that might just be the smartest hockey man on the planet if it weren't for him being in charge of the second-best league on the planet. Alexander Medvedev, pictured to the left, is the head honcho when it comes to the KHL. He calls the shots, he makes the rules, he is "the man". However, Medvedev's offer to free-agent-in-limbo Ilya Kovalchuk today should have a few heads turning as players no longer just laugh off the KHL as some "old-timer league".

While Kovalchuk is still the biggest diamond available on the market, Medvedev decided to drop a bombshell of an offer in trying to lure the Russian sniper back to the Motherland. While the NHL and NHLPA slap each other around in front of an independent arbitrator at some point in the future, it could all be moot if Kovalchuk took Medvedev's offer as seriously as he did Lou Lamoriello's offer.

Medvedev floated this offer across the pond to Ilya Kovalchuk and his agent, Jay Grossman: a seventeen-year contract, and the ability to play where ever he chooses. As for money? Well, Medvedev really isn't hurting when it comes to his financial statement, so I'm quite certain that the $102 million that is up for grabs in the NHL would be delivered by Medvedev to Kovalchuk if he chooses the Russian offer.

Now, let me make something very clear here: Kovalchuk has stated time and again that his interest is playing in the NHL. However, with the contract he signed with the Devils being disputed by the NHL and NHLPA, the financial security that he was searching for may not be there if the arbitrator rules on the NHL's side. So if the arbitrator rules that the 17-year, $102 million is invalid as per the NHL's salary cap rules, there is absolutely no reason why Kovalchuk couldn't accept Medvedev's offer as the highest bidder.

In that scenario, Kovalchuk gets financial security in a relatively tax-free environment, he gets to play at home in Russia, and he is the poster boy for everything KHL. Not a bad deal, I'd say, and one that Kovalchuk may actually consider if the NHL wins the grievance.

The key in all this is that Medvedev would have secured the best player available on the free agent market by simply doing what the NHL wouldn't. If Kovalchuk doesn't sign with the KHL, Medvedev is out nothing and can continue on as if nothing happened.

If the KHL really wants to stick it to the NHL, this is how it can be done. It's savvy, it's intelligent, and it is all within the IIHF-NHL transfer rules since free agents can sign anywhere they like. For all the animosity between the NHL and KHL, this is probably the craziest move that could pay off in a big way that we've seen yet.

Kovalchuk, meanwhile, is in the best win-win situation he could ever hope for as long as he is open to moving back home. If he doesn't get $102 million from the New Jersey Devils, he can get it from the KHL. The NHL loses one of its marquee stars while the KHL secures its "Sidney Crosby"-like player to market and promote their league.

Alexander Medvedev could be just crazy enough for this offer to work. All it will take is selling Kovalchuk on the beauty of the Siberian winter over the New Jersey swamps. $102 million could be the price in that sale.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Talbot Stirs The Pot

There's a lot to be said about intense rivalries in the NHL. The battle of Alberta, the battle of Ontario, the battle of California, and the crosstown rivalry in New York City are all based upon proximity and familiarity. Familiarity, as they say, can breed contempt, and it sounds like this year's Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh might be the first outdoor game to resemble a classic game of hockey from yesteryear, complete with brawls. You see, the man in the upper left posing like a superstar has turned the heat up between the two teams by calling out one of the game's most dangerous scoring threats.

In promoting the upcoming 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, Talbot decided to tee off on Alexander Ovechkin during an interview for radio station 105.9 The X, using a few choice words to describe the flamboyant Capitals superstar while telling the world just how much he dislikes The Great Eight.

"I just hate the guy," Talbot informed The X in the interview. "I can't lie. Sorry. Even more so for a guy like Ovechkin. Like, seriously, okay...yeah. I don't like him."

You would think that he might be done there, right? Nope. He continues with some venom towards Ovechkin.

"The first time I met him, actually, when I met him off the ice," Talbot continued. "You hear a lot of stories about a guy, but sometimes they're not true. You hear of guys who are not good guys, and you're like, 'Yeah, okay, I'll give the guy a shot.' The first time I met him, let's say he didn't give the best impression to me, so better reason to hate him even more."

Wow. Yet Talbot continues to hammer away on Ovechkin's character, bringing another encounter into play.

"I was actually at the NHL Awards last summer with Malkin, and we brought the Stanley Cup over there after the season," Talbot recalled. "Malkin knew Ovechkin, and introduced me to him, and the first impression wasn't great. I'm not really gonna say what happened, but I'm like, 'Ok, this guy is a real (expletive deleted).'"

That "expletive deleted"? The word "douche". Not a good description by Talbot of Ovechkin's character, and normally you never hear players talking trash about other players. That's just not kosher when it comes to the unwritten Code in the NHL.

The Capitals and Penguins already have a serious dislike for one another, and the amount of disrespect these teams are showing one another harkens back to the days of the Bruins and Flyers in the 1970s when lots of words were said in the heat of the moment. Of course, they normally dropped the gloves moments later, but it remains to be seen if Talbot's outburst will prove to be a catalyst for a dominant season by Ovechkin.

Sometimes, it's better to not light a fire under a player who needs a little motivation to do spectacular things.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 26 July 2010

You Are What You Eat

If there is one thing that makes the game experience better regardless of the sport, it is the food and amenities offered by the team at its home building. Whether we're talking garlic fries at baseball games, taco in a bag at hockey games, or the plethora of other food options at sporting events, there's always a delectable delight for fans to enjoy. Today, however, ESPN decided to pull the curtains back on food prepared at stadiums by exposing the health inspections done for each team's stadium or arena. Some of the findings are startling. Others provide a sense of relief in knowing that you may have eaten there at one time. Needless to say, HBIC wants to show the hockey side of these findings.

What makes me a little disappointed in some of these findings is that we, as fans, spend our hard-earned cash on arena amenities, and we expect high-quality food and drinks with little consideration to the dark underside of the arena's food preparation. That's not to say I'm disappointed in the findings themselves. Instead, I'm disappointed that NHL teams allow some of the horrendous findings to be found. Health is something that all people - Canadians and Americans alike - take very seriously, and you better not mess with our food. Especially comfort foods.

That being said, here are the health inspection rankings for each of the NHL teams. The lower the percentage shown, the better the NHL team did in the health inspection, and that's good for all of us. The score is based on the percentage of vendors in violation of health requirements. Here they are in order of percentage with the health inspector comments, and I'll comment below with my thoughts:

  1. United Center, Chicago Blackhawks - 0%. *
  2. Nassau Coliseum, New York Islanders - 0%.
  3. ScotiabankPlace, Ottawa Senators - 0%.
  4. Scottrade Center, St. Louis Blues - 0%.
  5. Air Canada Centre, Toronto Maple Leafs - 0%.
  6. Honda Center, Anaheim Ducks - 3%. The only major violation was for not having chlorine sanitizer in the kitchen's dishwashing machine.
  7. Bell Centre, Montreal Canadiens - 3%. Food found at an improper temperature.
  8. Prudential Center, New Jersey Devils - 6%. Inspectors noted that at one location, the person in charge "did not demonstrate adequate knowledge of food safety," and the sink lacked soap and paper towels, and there was no sanitizer solution.
  9. HSBC Arena, Buffalo Sabres - 8%. Two critical violations for having a toxic chemical in an unlabeled spray bottle.
  10. Nationwide Arena, Columbus Blue Jackets - 9%. One of the stadium's critical violations was for employees' handling lemons, limes and oranges with their bare hands while placing them on beverage glasses.
  11. GM Place, Vancouver Canucks - 9%. A sushi display cooler was malfunctioning, and the temperature of the sushi rose above safe levels. Inspectors also cautioned one stand regarding properly heating donairs, which have been tied to E. coli outbreaks elsewhere in Canada.
  12. Staples Center, Los Angeles Kings - 11%. One stand dumped 9.5 pounds of sushi after inspectors found that it become too warm.
  13. Pengrowth Saddledome, Calgary Flames - 14%. Utensils and equipment at one location were not being cleaned and sanitized properly.
  14. Wachovia Center, Philadelphia Flyers - 15%. Inspectors found evidence of mouse and fruit fly infestations at one bar location.
  15. XCel Energy Center, Minnesota Wild - 17%. Chicken strips for topping a Caesar salad were found at 105 degrees, when they should have been at least 140 degrees.
  16. HP Pavilion, San Jose Sharks - 20%. At one location, inspectors found Chinese chicken salad had warmed to 60 degrees, about 20 degrees above a safe temperature.
  17. TD Garden, Boston Bruins - 21%. Storing dishwashing chemicals on top of an ice machine resulted in a critical violation for one location.
  18. Rexall Place, Edmonton Oilers - 25%. At one location, workers used contaminated cleaning items.
  19. Arena, Phoenix Coyotes - 33%. Inspectors spotted an employee scooping ice with his bare hands instead of using scoops.
  20. Philips Arena, Atlanta Thrashers - 35%. At a couple of locations, inspectors found food not being protected from contamination.
  21. American Airlines Center, Dallas Stars - 40%. Expired milk, brown lettuce and employees caught drinking or eating while they were working in the stand accounted for some of the stadium's critical violations.
  22. Joe Louis Arena, Detroit Red Wings - 52%. Poisonous or toxic materials were stored atop items used to serve customers, posing a potential risk of contamination. Inspectors also found roaches below a soda dispenser at one location.
  23. Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh Penguins - 55%. In one of the arena's higher-end clubs, inspectors found a live cockroach on top of a soda dispenser holster behind the bar.
  24. Bridgestone Arena, Nashville Predators - 59%. Nashville inspectors, who also score vendors, gave the facility's lowest score - 75 - to a vendor with three critical and nine non-critical violations.
  25. Madison Square Garden, New York Rangers - 61%. At one stand, inspectors found "53 mouse excreta" (38 on top of a metal box underneath the cash registers in the front food-prep/service area and 15 on top of a carbonated-beverage dispensing unit).
  26. RBC Center, Carolina Hurricanes - 67%. Inspectors cited one vendor after watching employees handle raw, breaded chicken while loading fryers and then handling cooked food without changing gloves or washing hands. The employees placed cooked chicken back in the same container used to pre-portion raw chicken before cooking.
  27. Pepsi Center, Colorado Avalanche - 67%. At one bar, inspectors found phorid flies, sometimes called coffin flies, in a bottle of cognac.
  28. BankAtlantic Center, Florida Panthers - 67%. Inspectors issued several violations for soiled ice bins and coolers.
  29. St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Bay Lightning - 88%. At one location with five critical violations, an inspector saw an employee handle dirty dishes and then put away clean dishes without washing his/her hands or changing gloves. The same location lacked soap at a hand sink.
  30. Verizon Center, Washington Capitals - 100%. Mice droppings, a critical violation in Washington, were found at at least 10 vendors.
* - Chicago stadiums and arenas were tested while the venue was empty. This may cause a false inspection due to no food being prepared during the inspection.

We even get a chance to check out a few AHL rinks thanks to those teams being tenants in arenas that were reviewed by the health inspectors.
  1. Toyota Center, Houston Aeros - 13%. At one stand, knives were put back into a knife rack without being cleaned.
  2. Quicken Loans Arena, Lake Erie Monsters - 14%. Inspectors found three critical violations at one location for coolers that weren't working, food that was improperly refrigerated or marked with an incorrect date, and an employee who touched food with bare hands.
And, not to forget the Winter Classic games, here are the reviews for the stadiums where the NHL has held and will hold the Winter Classic games.
  1. Wrigley Field, Detroit vs. Chicago - 0%. *
  2. Fenway Park, Philadelphia vs. Boston - 4%. Inspectors found raw steak that had warmed to almost 60 degrees, which was above safe temperatures.
  3. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo - 12%. In one case an inspector ordered workers at one stand to toss all hot dogs and sausages because they were too warm while waiting to be cooked.
  4. Heinz Field, Washington vs. Pittsburgh - 61%. Inspectors found employees lacking in overall food-safety knowledge after observing one worker washing his hands with his gloves on. Another location had a gallon of milk that had expired 10 days prior.
* - Chicago stadiums and arenas were tested while the venue was empty. This may cause a false inspection due to no food being prepared during the inspection.

Wow. I mean, what else can be said, right? Wow.

Let me just make a few casual observations here.
  • First, massive kudos go out to the Islanders, Senators, Blues, and Maple Leafs for their commitment to their fans. The other 26 teams should be calling these four teams for information on how to improve their standing on this list.
  • Pittsburgh's track record of food safety must be questioned when two of its venues have over 50% of the vendors in those stadiums in violation of health ordinances. PNC Park, where the Pirates play baseball, scored a 53%. Expired milk and a cockroach might only be the tip of the iceberg.
  • Chicago's seemingly perfect record is definitely not accurate. Don't believe those numbers until the inspectors actually perform an inspection while the games are being played.
  • Florida's two NHL teams apparently have no interest in keeping their fans healthy. This could be one of the reasons the attendance marks in those cities are declining. Soiled ice bins and coolers? No soap? Wow. I'm a little horrified.
  • While I may be a little paranoid about this, anything above 10% is pretty disgusting. If one-in-ten vendors is my mark, what is yours? And if you live in an NHL city, how do you feel about your team's food vendors?
  • Philadelphia's mice and fruit flies, Phoenix's bare-handed ice-scooping, Dallas' expired milk, Detroit's and Pittsburgh's roach issues, New York's MSG mice, and Colorado's coffin flies are enough to turn me off of all arena food vendors in those cities.
  • Does it bother anyone to see a lot of the Sunbelt teams near the bottom of the list? In fact, if it weren't for the California teams, the Coyotes would be the highest of the Sunbelt franchises. Yes, the same Coyotes who had a bare-handed employee scooping up ice.
The scariest part of all of this is that we, as fans, really don't get a say in how our food is handled by the majority of these vendors. A good majority of the time, we walk up to a vendor, and the food that you choose is pre-wrapped in a warming window where the salesperson simply plucks it out of the window and pushes it across the counter. When was it prepared? How was it prepared? Are you sure it has been prepared?

In the ESPN article, a food service worker from Sun Life Stadium near Miami, Florida reported that, "several small insects were mixed into frozen alcoholic beverages at a stand where workers hadn't cleaned equipment". The complaint reads, "'The whole stand needs to be properly inspected before hundreds, if not thousands, of fans (are) subjected to the possibility of becoming ill". Um... how gross is that?

While the inspections in all of these cases vary depending on country, state, and county rules and regulations, the vast majority of major problems - insects, fecal matter, expired food - seem to bring the "critical violation" mark, and that is good to see. I'd like to see harsher penalties for these violations as these are visible and highly-dangerous infractions, but the fact that we are talking about them today makes for a good start. After all, you now might be more inclined to open up your next arena burger and take a look at what's inside. It could just save your life.

I'm not here to tell you not to enjoy your favorite bite or drink at the next game you attend, though. Instead, I just want you to be aware of what you may be ingesting. After all, we're talking about mini-restaurants that pump through thousands of people every night when there is a game. Nicholas Casorio, who was interviewed by ESPN, said, "There's so much volume going through at one time that it's hard to do the necessary things to keep everything clean. Sometimes you sacrifice the cleanliness for expediting the service."

However, Nicholas' last line is the problem: sometimes you sacrifice the cleanliness for expediting the service. Personally, I'd rather wait a few more minutes to get a properly-prepared meal than to have it hurried through the kitchen where mistakes will happen as people "expedite the service". I don't need E. coli or salmonella or staphylococcus aureus or anything else ruining my fan experience, so I beg all vendors at stadiums to take a few more seconds and ensure that things are done right.

There's a reason why good food takes time to be prepared, and arena food can be great food if it is done right.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***Amazing work done in the ESPN piece by Paula Lavigne, Lindsay Rovegno, and Derrick Pina, and they deserve all the credit for bringing this to light. I applaud their Herculean efforts in bringing this to light!***

Sunday 25 July 2010

Off-Ice Moments

My last few days have been rough. Softball was fun, but the resulting sunburn was brutal. And I'm tired and sore from the activity. Honestly, I can use some time off. It's kind of like NHL players after they finish their runs in the playoffs and need the off-season. Because of my sunburn and fatigue, I'm taking it easy on Sunday night, and that means I'm going to be off the ice. And probably lathering myself in aloe vera thanks to the sun baking me like a Christmas ham.

Here are TSN's Top Ten Off-Ice Moments in honour of my night off.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 24 July 2010

HBIC Comics - Volume 3

My weekends are something similar to the image to left. I spend my day in the sun, I'm surrounded by a lot of sand and clay, and I normally have a sunburn to show for it. The last few weekends of softball have been hot and dry, and that's awesome for playing. It's not so good, however, when you're out all day in the sun. Thankfully, my SPF 75 sunscreen worked wonders today. I'll be back out there tomorrow, but things should be ok as long as I lather myself in more sunscreen. Needless to say, I could use a break from both the softball and the sun. Here are your HBIC Comics for July 24.

Benchies is a comic strip produced by Rick Pearson. Mick and Mike find themselves in all sorts of humorous situations, and hockey is just one of those situations where crazy things happen to the guys! You can find more of Mr. Pearson's Benchies every weekend on Uni Watch Blog where Mick and Mike get up to all sorts of hijinks!

Here is your Benchies for July 24, and it appears that Benchies is looking to join the NHL Competition Committee:

Small Market Sports is a comic strip produced by Bill Charbonneau where his cast of characters are always up to something. There's Carter (the baseball), Doug (the football), Dave (the sports radio), Nash (the basketball, and Wayne (the hockey puck). Named after the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, Wayne the puck is "a hot-tempered and slightly egotistical 'super-star' (in his own mind, anyway). As the ambassador to his sport, he is quick to defend the unrelenting jabs about the excessive violence that permeates his hockey. Even if he has to drop his gloves and knock some teeth in to do it." Mr. Charbonneau produces a new comic every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday about these characters, and you can find them on Small Market Sports!

Here is a Small Market Sports comic strip for July 24 where Wayne is worried about a lock-out, but Carter may give Gary Bettman new expansion ideas!

Bizarro is a fun comic strip produced by Dan Piraro. Dan takes the mundane, everyday occurrences and puts a new twist on them by looking at them from a different angle. Honestly, his work makes me laugh all the time because of its twisted humor, but that's why it's a such a great comic strip. Dan's Bizarro can be found on his blog, BizarroBlog, where he posts daily.

Today's Bizarro isn't a comic, but a great blog post by Mr. Piraro. It was written almost two years ago to the day, yet we're still talking about problems in Iraq. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose.

One last bit of fun, a reader requesting anonymity decided to snag the image that I used a while back of a horse with a bit of a problem, and came up with the Manitoba Moose's response to the Jets arriving back in town this season. Pretty funny!

A big thank you goes out to Rick Pearson, Bill Charbonneau, and Dan Piraro for allowing me to put together a hockey-related comics page each and every Saturday. If you know someone who would like their work published, please have him or her contact me here. Whether you're an amateur or a professional artist, I'd be happy to feature your work on my site!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 23 July 2010

Brain Drain

I've been addicted to Sporcle for some time in that their games always keep my brain running on overdrive. You choose a quiz that sounds interesting, and try to fill in all the blanks before the timer hits 0:00. Of course, for most of these quizzes, that's easier said than done. Some of these will twist and torment your brain until the timer counts down its last second, and then you'll do the old "face palm" as you realize you should have gotten one or two more answers.

Allow me to share with you my torment. Here are some awesome Sporcle quizzes that should keep you busy for a while. I've broken these down into categories so that you can work your way up to the most difficult quizzes. Believe me, these are not your average run-of-the-mill quizzes once you hit the bottom of the page.

Get those thinking caps on, kids. Here are your quizzes.

Can you name the National Hockey League Teams? - 30 teams. Name them all.

Can you name the National Hockey League Original Six teams? - Name the six Original NHL hockey teams.

Can you name the NHL teams with the longest Stanley Cup Droughts? - Name the teams that have fans who have waited a long time for the Stanley Cup.

Can you name the six NHL players who have had their jersey number retired by two teams? - This one shouldn't take you very long. Teams are given, you fill in the name.

Can you name the the teams for which Wayne Gretzky played (WHA and NHL)? - End this section with a Mickey Mouse question.

Can you name the all time NHL point leaders? - Tough, but you should be able to score well on this one.

Can you name the Multiple Hart Memorial Trophy Winners? - There haven't been many multiple winners of the Hart Trophy, so test yourself here.

Can you name the players who have scored the most goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? - Name the players who regularly light the lamp in the post-season.

Can you name the Conn Smythe Trophy Winners? - Name the MVPs in the playoffs. There are a few that totally had me stumped.

Can you name the NHL Presidents' Trophy Winners? - Again, a few of these point totals had me stumped.

Can you name the Los Angeles Kings' Retired Numbers? - If you're a Kings fan, this should be easy. If you're not, I got stuck on two numbers until near the end of the time.

Can you name the Los Angeles Kings all-time goalies? - Yeah, good luck on this one. Kings fans will find this one insanely hard.

Can you name the Hockey Hall Of Fame members? - Got twenty minutes to spend on this one?

Can you name the members of the Miracle on Ice (1980 U.S.) Mens Hockey Team? - Think back to that big win in 1980. How many players can you rattle off from that roster? And the coaches?

Can you name the Montreal Canadiens Retired Numbers? - I'm pretty sure you'll forget about one or two players on this list. It took me a while to get them all.

Can you name the NHL players with the most points from 1989-90 to 1998-99? Very tough. Because some of these players played almost twenty years ago, you really need to think about these answers.

Can you name the NHL players with the most points from 1999/00 to 2008/09? - If you do one decade, you might as well just roll into the next decade.

There are a ton more of these quizzes over on Sporcle's website. Scan through and tickle your brain with some intellectual challenges! I know it keeps me busy for a long, long time when I need something to ramp up the old gray matter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Charitable Donations: Wayne Gretzky Foundation

HBIC is proud of the work that former and current players do in terms of their charitable work. True heroes are people who have the ability to give and help those in need without asking for anything in return. There are a large number of hockey players who have started their own foundations and charitable organizations to assist people in need. Some of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates and pull on a sweater are involved in a charitable organization, and the greatest player to ever appear in an NHL game is also a major player in charitable work. HBIC is proud to profile and examine the work done by Wayne Gretzky as a part of the Wayne Gretzky Foundation.

Mission Statement: Directly from the Foundation's website, the mission statement set out by the WGF is more of a set of ideals. These ideals are actually pretty simple in their premise, but they speak volumes as to what the Wayne Greztky Foundation is all about. And perhaps more importantly, they speak volumes as to what Wayne Gretzky, the person, believe in when it comes to the sport of hockey.

"Perhaps the most famous coaching advice in all of hockey came from Walter Gretzky. He told his son not to focus on where the puck is, but where the puck is going.

"That's good advice for life, too. The puck is going to our kids.
Our future.

"Hockey is our game. It promotes fitness and personal development. That's why the Wayne Gretzky Foundation is focused on putting hockey and well being within every kid's reach.

"It's not just about equipping kids for hockey. It's about equipping kids for life.

"You're guaranteed to miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. Every kid deserves a shot.

"Let's put every kid in the game."
How Did The Wayne Gretzky Foundation Start?: Well, there isn't a lot of information on exactly how the Wayne Gretzky Foundation was started, but I do know that Mr. Gretzky is passionate about getting more kids involved in the game he loves.

"Founded in 2002, the Wayne Gretzky Foundation’s mission is to provide less fortunate youth with the opportunity to experience the sport of hockey. This goal will be accomplished through the donation of hockey equipment and ice time, as well as providing the opportunity for young people to attend professional hockey games. The Wayne Gretzky Foundation believes that hockey instills many positive life skills and contributes to the physical, emotional and social growth of young people."

In knowing this, the Wayne Gretzky Foundation is involved in a number of great initiatives and causes that go towards helping children play more hockey. Some of the initiatives are discussed briefly on the above link, but the WGF has done some incredible work. In just looking at the "Future Team Canada Program" run in association with Hockey Canada, the WGF has provided 13 minor hockey teams in 2010 with:
  • Team Canada jerseys and hockey bags bearing the Wayne Gretzky Foundation logo.
  • Brand new hockey sticks for each member of the team.
  • $1,999 to be used for team development activities. This can be anything from booking more ice time to bringing in coaches to sending players to hockey camps to helping out other less fortunate hockey programs.
  • Coaching Volunteer Recognition Package (stick, bag, Coaching Club membership, development DVDs and more). That's a pretty nice package right there.
The WGF also worked with Ford Canada dealerships to help collect hockey equipment that could be donated to less fortunate children. The efforts of Ford and the WGF produced "over 850 pairs of skates, 580 pairs of gloves, 450 helmets and countless pads, sticks, pucks, bags and other miscellaneous pieces of clothing and equipment" that were cleaned, repaired, and donated to young athletes across Canada. That's a pretty significant number of athletes that were given the chance to continue playing. And that's awesome.

The WGF also helped the community of Iqaluit by giving the community enough equipment to outfit the minor hockey players in their community. Iqaluit is a city of 6100 people on the south coast of Baffin Island in northern Canada, and access to acquiring hockey equipment is difficult at best. Initiatives like this to include minority groups serve to grow the game of hockey - something Mr. Gretzky is extremely passionate about. Players such as Jonathan Cheechoo and Jordin Tootoo are great role models for the aboriginal and Inuit communities, and it's encouraging to see the WGF providing opportunities to develop more excellent hockey players from these communities.

The Wayne Gretzky Foundation also partners with other charitable organizations to assist in their causes as well. The WGF has worked in conjunction with Right To Play, the CNIB, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Ronald McDonald House of Canada. These organizations are excellent charities, and they can use any and all help they receive. In fact, Wayne Gretzky has been helping the CNIB since 1990! The launch of Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography in September 1990 "marked the first time in the world that a major publication was published simultaneously in print and braille"! A portion of the sales from Gretzky's autobiography was donated to CNIB! How cool is that?

Clearly, the Wayne Gretzky Foundation is working on a number of excellent initiatives to grow the game of hockey, and their efforts will be realized sooner than later thanks to the efforts of these initiatives.

How Can I Help?: Like the other charities that have been profiled on HBIC, there's always a need when it comes to helping these excellent organizations. The Wayne Gretzky Foundation, though, is slightly different in that they don't actually accept donations through the website.

Wayne Gretzky produces a line of wine under the No. 99 Estates Winery name. With each purchase, a portion of the sale goes back into funding the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. The best part of this option is that the wines are very reasonably priced, and they are very tasty! I highly recommend this option if you're looking for a little variety in your donation options! Personally, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite, but I do recommend any of the wines!

You can also do a little volunteer work if you like, or get tickets to see the Ford Wayne Gretzky Golf Classic presented by Samsung. Despite all the corporate naming rights, this event offers up some amazing golf and celebrity appearances while making a ton of money for the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. There are opportunities to volunteer at the event, and you can buy tickets to sit in the gallery and watch #99 putt for show!

If wine and golf just aren't your thing, and you're looking to head to training camp alongside some of the best hockey players to ever lace up the skates, the Wayne Gretzky Fantasy Camp might be your thing. It's pricey, but you may get a chance to skate with NHL legends like Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch, Denis Savard, Larry Robinson, and Marty McSorley. The camp runs in March, so start saving your pennies!

If you have any questions or would like more information, I highly recommend contacting the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. They have a great online form where you can submit your question. They can also be reached by phone at (519) 752-7199. And there's always snail mail. You can write to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation at:

245 King George Road - Suite 302
Brantford, Ontario
N3R 7N7

The Wayne Gretzky Foundation and Wayne Gretzky himself are helping the communities they live in. It's time for us to help them as well.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Passion Of The Arrested

Well, I'm a little embarrassed for the residents of Manitoba in general because stories like these just make everyone look like they're a little crazy. We all know how excited they get when being mentioned as a destination for an NHL franchise, but sometimes there are people who just take things a little too far in their love affair with the NHL. Now, this story is over a year old, but it was never publicized by the RCMP, and that was probably the best course of action in this case. Why it was published today? No clue, but the story seems almost a little unbelievable.

Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press reported today that a man from Lundar, Manitoba called the RCMP 911 line with demands that the NHL return to Winnipeg. I'm not making this one up.

WINNIPEG — At least one local hockey fan thinks it’s criminal the Winnipeg Jets haven’t returned home.

A 33-year-old resident of Lundar, Manitoba is facing numerous charges after allegedly making a series of 911 calls which included demanding RCMP officers somehow bring the National Hockey League back to the province.

"He began the conversation by saying he wanted the Jets back. He was quite upset about it," a justice source told the Free Press on Wednesday. The incident occurred last year but was never reported publicly by police. The Free Press uncovered details this week through court documents.

The potential return of the NHL has been a hot topic in recent years, with many believing it’s a matter of when, not if, Winnipeg gets a team back. And while the subject usually triggers passionate debate, this is believed to be the first time it has ever prompted police action.

The emergency dispatcher politely told the angry caller there was nothing she could do to help him and reminded him that he was tying up a valuable resource before hanging up. But the man continued to phone back, claiming he had a lot on his mind.

"He had apparently been drinking and told police he hadn’t slept in days. He started talking about world conglomerates, things like that. He was hallucinating, obviously," said the source.

The final straw came when the man began insulting the 911 operator, eventually calling her a crude name. She warned him that his number had been traced and police were being sent out to arrest him.

"If you’re coming to get me, can you bring me some smokes," was his reply.

Police arrested the man without incident and have charged him with public mischief, false messages, harassing phone calls and obstructing justice. Lawyers are expected to request a psychiatric evaluation when the case returns to Lundar court on Thursday. It’s possible the charges could be dropped if doctors believe the man has mental health issues which impacted his actions.

The accused has been receiving medical treatment since his arrest and has been free on bail without incident. He has no prior criminal record.
While I appreciate the passion that this man has, there are a few things that he doesn't understand. I'd like to clear these misconceptions up.
  1. While it seems that the Winnipeg Jets were stolen from the fans in Winnipeg, the truth is that they were sold. Because they were not stolen, the RCMP shouldn't really be called. And, just to put this in perspective, this call came about 14 years too late.
  2. By stating, "If you’re coming to get me, can you bring me some smokes", the man apparently thinks that the RCMP is a delivery service. The RCMP cannot bring you smokes for one very good reason: Tim Hortons does not sell cigarettes. DISCLAIMER: for my American readers, that's a cop-donut joke.
  3. No sleep + plenty of drinks = drunken phone calls. The worst place to call? The 911 service. They do not take kindly to passionate "dirty talk" from strangers. You want a 1-900 number for that. I can understand the confusion if he was drunk-dialing.
All in all, it's slightly embarrassing for citizens in Manitoba. They are entirely passionate about the Jets and NHL hockey, but incidents like this are not good for the overall perception of Manitobans.

My advice? Have a laugh, give us a break, and enjoy a double-double and a jelly donut, eh?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Justice Has Prevailed

You had to wonder when the NHL would finally come to its senses regarding these "lifetime" contracts that teams were handing out to superstars who had accomplished nothing. Well, it appears the suits in the Ivory Tower in New York City have finally pulled their collective heads from the sand and noticed that the finances of one contract were completely ridiculous. In pulling their heads from the sand, they replaced it with a very clear line in the sand. Ilya Kovalchuk is still a free agent, the New Jersey Devils need to rework some numbers, and the NHL finally can claim that it has been proactive in preventing another team from committing a "DiPietro".

Just hours after the New Jersey Devils rolled out the red carpet for Russia's free agent wunderkind, the NHL went ahead and ruled that the contract was null and void for the simple fact that Kovalchuk will have long retired before his contract had expired. According to Section 26.3 of this document, Kovalchuk's contract circumvents the rules of the salary cap, and is therefore invalid.

I had suggested yesterday that there was enough reason to cause concern amongst the other twenty-nine owners regarding star players signed to idiotic contracts. We've seen some of them fail miserably - DiPietro on Long Island - while others have been a blessing for the player and team - Ovechkin in Washington.

However, paying a player $3 million over the last seven years of his contract when he'll be between the ages of 37 and 44 is not only insane, but completely and utterly stupid. Because let's face it: Kovalchuk is not Chelios or Howe. He will not play into his forties, and he certainly won't hit 44 in a Devils uniform.

I would like to stand and applaud the men who occupy the NHL Offices in New York City. They didn't wait long to call the Devils' bluff on this one, and now the three parties sit in limbo while the NHLPA decides what it will do for Ilya Kovalchuk. If they file a grievance, the matter moves before an arbitrator who must rule on whether the contract is valid. Until that happens, though, this contract is officially dead in the water.

What makes this harder to understand from the Devils' perspective is that they had Steve Pellegrini work on the financial portion of this deal under his title of VP of Hockey Operations. Before joining the Devils in his VP role, Pellegrini worked for the NHL as their "cap regulator" - the guy who knows all the rules about the salary cap, including all the cap circumvention rules! Couple that with Lou Lamoriello's comments about how he dislikes these types of contracts, and this entire ordeal appears to fall back on a "just get it done by any means necessary" mandate from above. The above? That would be owner Jeff Vanderbeek.

So, to summarize, if the man who knows all the rules of the salary cap is told to break those rules by the guy holding the wad of cash in his hand, and the man who rules all aspects of how the franchise is run is told to endorse the contract by the man who is holding the wad of cash, apparently the puppets are being controlled by the man who is holding the wad of cash. If this is the case, the man holding the wad of cash needs to be punished by the man hired by the thirty men holding wads of cash. Namely, Bettman's salary cap watchdogs told Devils' owner Jeff Vanderbeek, "Do not pass 'Go', do not pay out $102 million".

It's not the first time that the cap watchdogs have gone sniffing around an NHL contract. Chris Pronger's deal with the Flyers, Roberto Luongo's deal with the Canucks, and Marian Hossa's deal with the Blackhawks were all investigated, but all quietly passed the test because they didn't extend well into retirement for these three players. All three men were given the green light to play for their teams, and owners reluctantly shrugged their shoulders and moved on despite seeing bags of money thrown at three players.

What the NHL has done today with Kovalchuk's contract is set a precedent. This new precedent is simple: honour the CBA as it is written, don't be greedy, and stop trying to interpret the rules as you see fit. With today's rejection, the NHL has put a stop to the fifty-year contracts that would eventually happen as I had suggested yesterday. And that's good for the league and its players... even though the NHLPA may not see it as such.

There's no reason that Kovalchuk and the Devils can't still work together to find a solution to this ordeal. In fact, all they have to do is change the terms of the contract. One or both sides may lose a little in changing the terms, but that's life in the NHL - sometimes you have to sacrifice a little to get what you want.

For the first time in a long time, justice has prevailed. I didn't like the contract yesterday, and neither did the NHL. And, if just for once, the NHL decided to act in the correct manner.

What's popular is not always right. And what's right is not always popular. Remember those words, kids. They speak volumes, and they certainly hold true in this case.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 19 July 2010

He'll Be Done Before 44

Honestly, I can't figure this one out. The image to the left could be Ilya Kovalchuk when his contract finally runs out with the New Jersey Devils. You see, according to reports, Kovalchuk will be introduced as a New Jersey Devil tomorrow where it is rumoured he will sign a seventeen-year, $102 million contract. You read that correctly. A child born today will be 17 years old when Kovalchuk's new contract has finally expired, making the Russian a free agent/pension collector. Kovalchuk will be 44 years-old when the contract expires, thereby guaranteeing he'll be a New Jersey Devil for the rest of his NHL career barring any trade made by GM Lou Lamoriello that involves Kovalchuk.

Let's break this down so you can see how 17 years of $102 million shakes down. Kovalchuk's age at the time of the salary shifts will be in parentheses:

  • Years 1-2 (28-29) = $6 million annually.
  • Years 3-7 (30-34) = $11.5 million annually.
  • Year 8 (35) = $10.5 million.
  • Year 9 (36) = $8.5 million.
  • Year 10 (37) = $6.5 million.
  • Year 11 (38) = $3.5 million.
  • Year 12 (39) = $750,000.
  • Years 13-17 (40-44) = $550,000 annually.
Putting this in more relative terms, Ilya Kovalchuk earns more money than some small countries on the planet from 2012 to 2017!

Here's why I have zero respect for Ilya Kovalchuk: he just proved he's bigger than any team. He turned down a twelve-year, $101 million contract from the Atlanta Thrashers before being traded to the New Jersey Devils after it was revealed that the Thrashers went as high as they could according to salary cap rules. The Los Angeles Kings offered him a fifteen-year, $80 million deal that would keep the Kings competitive by not destroying any cap room created by GM Dean Lombardi, but Kovalchuk again balked at the deal.

Instead, GM Lou Lamoriello got a little creative by tacking on five-to-six-years of contract that is just barely above the league minimum in order to give himself some wiggle room when it comes to signing other important players. Like Zach Parise, for example. They gave Kovalchuk exactly what he wanted: ten years at $10 million per year on average. In order to give him that, Kovalchuk had to agree to "accept" $3.5 million over six years at the end of the contract to give the Devils what they desperately needed: a cap hit of $6 million annually.

Kovalchuk gets what he wants: a ton of cash to play hockey.
Lamoriello gets what he needs: a superstar in Kovalchuk, and cap room to spare.
Devils fans gets what they want: a legitimate superstar who won't leave before he's 38 (most likely).

I just don't like this deal.

The Devils, particularly Lamiorello, did exactly what he's allowed to do, but he's skirting the cap rules to take advantage of a loophole. Why can't the Penguins sign Sidney Crosby to a 70-year contract so that the cap hit is a meager $10 per season? Can the Los Angeles Kings sign Drew Doughty to a 50-year deal that allows his cap hit to be no more than $100 per season? Doesn't this seem ludicrous to you?

This back alley deal between agent Jay Grossman and GM Lou Lamoriello stinks. It's not like Kovalchuk will be playing past the age of 40. Heck, there aren't many stars who stick around at the age of 37 when Kovalchuk will still be earning a healthy $6.5 million for his work. Kovalchuk will still have seven years of salary left at 37!

Look, I'm not complaining about the rules, but the NHL needs to put its foot down. The salary cap was designed to keep salaries in check and to allow all teams to pursue free agents if they had the cap room. By signing Kovalchuk through to the ridiculous age of 44, the New Jersey Devils have now proved that the salary cap rules are simply designed to be broken. If I'm one of the other twenty-nine owners, I'm calling for Commissioner Gary Bettman to step in on this one.

Otherwise, if I'm Ray Shero or Peter Chiarelli or Dean Lombardi, I'm signing all my star players for the next sixty years. And no one will have a shot at any of my talented young stars.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 18 July 2010

Name That Team!

HBIC reader James H. forwarded along a very interesting email to me that I have yet to hear about on other hockey sites. Granted, I may have missed it (very likely) due to how busy I've been over the last three weeks, but I'm surprised that there hasn't been more coverage of this potential story. It seems that in the near future, Chicago will have its third professional hockey team in its third professional league playing in the city or the suburbs. Thanks to James' keen eyes on the Interwebs, there will eventually be a new ECHL expansion team in the Chicagoland area thanks to the efforts of the C&S Family Sports group.

The ECHL plays primarily along the east coast, and it was how the league was originally formed and named: the East Coast Hockey League. However, the league has pushed westward in efforts to expand its presence as the premier AA professional hockey league in North America, and now has teams in Anchorage, Alaska, Las Vegas, Nevada, Ontario, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah. Franchises are becoming more stable as the league picks up steam in terms of being affordable, family-friendly hockey. While it's not the NHL in terms of the caliber of play, the hockey is exciting and the games are filled with all sorts of fun.

In moving to bigger markets, it appears that the ECHL is looking to make a mark in the Windy City area as C&S Family Sports appears to be interested in starting up an ECHL expansion team. The AHL Chicago Wolves play to great crowds, and the NHL Chicago Blackhawks fill the United Center nightly. With hockey in Chicago back in a big way, it makes sense to try to capitalize on the popularity.

And what better way to get fans interested than to hold a "Name The Team" contest?

While I've been meaning to run this for a while, there are still a few days to get a name into the contest. Lots of cool prizes are available to the winner, so put your thinking cap on. If you can't come up with a solid hockey team name, that's ok too. You can still vote for some of the other suggested names!

Chicago's ECHL team is nearly here, and a debut of team colors and logo will be made at a later date! Keep watching HBIC for more details as they are released!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 17 July 2010

HBIC Comics - Volume 2

Another day on the ball diamonds means another day with rain. Thankfully, I was only coaching today, so I didn't have to be out in the rain as an umpire. They were forced to evaluate the fields with the cycle of drizzle following by torrential downpours, but the good news is that the lightning finished the day off. I no longer have to be in the rain, but the result is an early morning tomorrow as we need to squeeze the games in for the Provincial Tournament. A berth in the Nationals is on the line, and that means we have to be on our game tomorrow morning! In order to get my head in a good place, here is another edition of HBIC Comics. As always, click on the strip to see it in larger form. Enjoy!

Benchies is a comic strip produced by Rick Pearson. Mick and Mike find themselves in all sorts of humorous situations, and hockey is just one of those situations where crazy things happen to the guys! You can find more of Mr. Pearson's Benchies every weekend on Uni Watch Blog where Mick and Mike get up to all sorts of hijinks!

Here is your Benchies for July 17, and check out the awesome jerseys worn by Mick and Mike:

Small Market Sports is a comic strip produced by Bill Charbonneau where his cast of characters are always up to something. There's Carter (the baseball), Doug (the football), Dave (the sports radio), Nash (the basketball, and Wayne (the hockey puck). Named after the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, Wayne the puck is "a hot-tempered and slightly egotistical 'super-star' (in his own mind, anyway). As the ambassador to his sport, he is quick to defend the unrelenting jabs about the excessive violence that permeates his hockey. Even if he has to drop his gloves and knock some teeth in to do it." Mr. Charbonneau produces a new comic every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday about these characters, and you can find them on Small Market Sports!

Here is a Small Market Sports comic strip for July 17 where the hockey season always takes precedence:

Bizarro is a fun comic strip produced by Dan Piraro. Dan takes the mundane, everyday occurrences and puts a new twist on them by looking at them from a different angle. Honestly, his work makes me laugh all the time because of its twisted humor, but that's why it's a such a great comic strip. Dan's Bizarro can be found on his blog, BizarroBlog, where he posts daily.

Today's Bizarro isn't a comic, but a great blog post by Mr. Piraro. Click here to read, and check out his thoughts on the "Pope of Canada". Great article!

While it's not a comic strip, I'd like to point out the work being done by Old Spice, ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, and ex-NFL player Isaiah Mustafa in their recent viral campaign where "the Old Spice Man" answers Twitter questions. He took a question from @NHLBlackhawks who asked, "What would you do on a day with the Stanley Cup". His manly answer is pretty funny.

A big thank you goes out to Rick Pearson, Bill Charbonneau, and Dan Piraro for allowing me to put together a hockey-related comics page each and every Saturday. If you know someone who would like their work published, please have him or her contact me here. Whether you're an amateur or a professional artist, I'd be happy to feature your work on my site!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 16 July 2010

Bringing Back The Whale

I'm still a fan of the Hartford Whalers to this day. Yes, I'll admit that they had some inferior teams compared to their Adams Division rivals, but the Hartford Whalers still have one of the most iconic logos in the entire sports world. Couple that logo with the famous tune of Brass Bonanza, and hockey in Hartford was pure fun. Sure there were some low points, and there was no shortage of bad trades made during their history, but the Hartford Whalers will always have a special place in my love of all things hockey. Today, I want to post a few videos of the Hartford Whalers in action, and relive a little of the Whale's time in the NHL.

Captain Kevin Dineen scores the last goal by a Hartford Whaler at the Hartford Civic Center. Kudos to the announcers for speaking about Kevin Dineen's importance to the Hartford Whalers. He went through a lot in Hartford.

The Whalers rarely blew a team out when they played, but when they did pull off the magic trick, it was a big event. Case in point? October 8, 1996 saw the Whalers hammer the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 7-3 score. Note some of the names on the Whalers: Marek Malik, Brendan Shanahan, Geoff Sanderson, Jeff O'Neill, Sami Kapanen, Andrew Cassels, Glen Wesley. That's some pretty impressive talent!

Whatever happened to Robert Kron? He always showed such potential, but never came close to meeting expectations. Perhaps he needed to play with Kent Manderville more often. Manderville goes off for a hat trick against the Boston Pooh Bears on March 12, 1997.

I think we need to bring back the WHA teams. More Jets. More Nordiques. More Whalers. Those cities just seemed to love hockey whenever their teams took to the ice.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 15 July 2010

Escaping The Tailspin

HBIC is back with another historical perspective. I'm quite fond of the Sports Illustrated online vault simply due to the overwhelming number of excellent articles produced back when hockey was still relevant to the magazine. Today's look back into SI history takes us to March 20, 1967 where Pete Axthelm looks at how the 1967 Chicago Black Hawks escaped their normal display of falling apart down the stretch had been replaced by a surprising run to the top of the NHL standings. There are a ton of interesting quotes and facts presented by Mr. Axthelm in his examination of the Black Hawks, and it's really a candid look back at how players were more than just teammates and contracts. In fact, I think you could say that this young squad was truly a family in how close their connections were.

Let's take a quick look at how the dust settled in 1967 after this article was written.

While the Black Hawks would not win the Stanley Cup in 1967 - the Toronto Maple Leafs dispatched the Hawks in the semi-finals four games to two - they showed an incredible improvement on previous seasons to win the regular-season standings, capturing the Prince of Wales Trophy. They finished with 94 points in 70 games, 17 points better than second-place Montreal, and racked up a league-high 264 goals-for while posting a league-low 170 goals-against. To put that in perspective, the Hawks scored 52 goals more than Detroit who were second with 212 goals-for, and gave up eighteen less goals that second-place Montreal. This Hawks team? Pretty darn good!

The Hawks would also dominate the accolades scene that year. Stan Mikita tied the NHL record for points in a season with 97, and Bobby Hull scored more than 50 goals for the third time in his career as he finished the season with 52 markers. Mikita would be awarded the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring, finishing 17 points better than second-place and teammate Bobby Hull. Mikita would also receive the Hart Trophy for being the league's MVP, and would add the Lady Byng for his gentlemanly play. Goaltenders Glenn Hall and Denis DeJordy would capture the Vezina Trophy for being the league's top goaltending tandem. The Black Hawks would finish the season with five players in the top-ten in scoring: Mikita, Hull, Ken Wharram (4th), Phil Esposito (7th), and Doug Mohns (9th).

Adding to the list of accolades, the Black Hawks saw five players named to the NHL All-Star teams that year. Defenceman Pierre Pilote, and forwards Stan Mikita, Ken Wharram, and Bobby Hull were first team NHL All-Stars, while Glenn Hall was named to the second team. These five players would square off in the 1968 NHL All-Star Game against the Toronto Maple Leafs to start the 1968 season. Mikita tied the game at 1-1 on a shorthanded goal at 19:53 of the first period from Hull and Montreal's JC Tremblay. The NHL All-Stars would go up 2-1 just 35-seconds into the second period when Ken Wharram notched a goal off a Stan Mikita pass. However, the All-Stars would eventually fall to the Maple Leafs by a 4-3 score, and Glenn Hall - now a St. Louis Blue in 1968 - would record the loss.

In looking back at the article, there are some amazing quotes that Mr. Axthelm puts forth:

  • "Patrick James Stapleton, 26-year-old gentleman farmer, father of five and an outstanding Hawk defenseman". How many 26-year-olds do you know that play in the NHL, are fathers of five children, and work farms in the off-season? It was simply a different era forty years ago.
  • "Last year everyone was preoccupied with Bobby Hull's drive toward a record 54 goals". That happened in 1966. Just five years after Hull scored 54, one-time Chicago forward and legendary Boston Bruin Phil Esposito would score 76 in 1971.
  • "[T]he mythical Muldoon Jinx—a curse allegedly pronounced by the team's first coach, Pete Muldoon, when he was fired in 1927". Much like the Chicago Cubs, it appeared that the Blackhawks had their own curse as they were only successful in capturing three Stanley Cups in their history before 2010's return to glory.
  • "Mikita, the best all-round player in the game, is a cinch to break Hull's record of 97 points". The first SI curse? Mikita would tie the record as he posted 97 points in 1967, but never surpass that scoring mark. He would score 97 points again in 1968-69.
  • "'Enjoy this?' he says. 'Are you kidding? I'm around here for one reason and that's the money.'" Goaltender Glenn Hall's speech should make him the idol of some members of the NHLPA.
  • "DeJordy can do almost everything Hall does, and since he is younger and more enthusiastic, he will undoubtedly be the goalie the Hawks protect this year in the expansion draft." Mr. Axthelm shows some very good hockey savvy as Hall was exposed in the expansion draft and picked up by the upstart St. Louis Blues. This, however, opened the door for another legendary Black Hawk as the Hawks claimed Tony Esposito on waivers from the Montreal Canadiens in 1969-70. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • "A few players declined Esposito's invitation to join him in a pheasant hunt. 'I don't know why,' Esposito said. 'I'm a very good hunter. As soon as something moves I shoot.'" Either Phil Esposito was an early incarnation of Dick Cheney, or he was simply preparing everyone for his future NHL success. If a goaltender moved, Esposito shot the puck at him.
I can't explain how much I love looking back into the NHL's history, but articles like this are exactly why I love these old stories. Mr. Axthelm does an excellent job in capturing the essence of that Black Hawks team, and the candid chatter with the players is something you never hear today. And what journalist gets that kind of inside access to a National Hockey League team?

Kind of makes me wish players were still like the players of yesteryear.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!