Thursday 30 September 2010

TBC: The Mighty Tim Horton

HBIC really has no affiliation towards the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there seems to a be a large number of books written about the NHL franchise. It has a lot to do with their storied past and eccentric owners, but the players who have dressed for the Maple Leafs have always been somewhat larger than life, especially in the old days. One of those players was the iconic Tim Horton, and his career is examined in a different light today. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present The Mighty Tim Horton, written by Mike Leonetti, illustrated by Greg Banning, and published by Scholastic Canada. This story isn't just about doughnuts, though, and is certainly worth reading.

Mike Leonetti has written a number of hockey-centric books, including Canadiens Legends and The Rocket, both of which were reviewed right here on Hockey Blog In Canada. Mr. Leonetti lives in Woodbridge, Ontario, with his wife, Maria, and their son, David.

From his bio on his website, Greg Banning "is sought after by major advertising agencies in Canada and the USA and he has now worked with clients in the UK. One of Greg’s most notable illustrations was his re-imaging of the iconic 'Brawny Man' for Brawny Paper Towels". Mr. Banning has worked as an illustrator with a number of publishing companies, and has illustrated five of Mr. Leonetti's books including the one we're reviewing today. He's currently working on his own book in New York with Harper Collins. For more information on Mr. Banning and his work, please check out his website here.

The story of the mighty Tim Horton surrounds the play of Trevor, a big, young defenceman who liked to use his size against smaller players. However, we find out that his reckless physical play begins to affect his team as they lose a game with Trevor sitting in the penalty box. He vows to change his game, and looks to his favorite hockey player for inspiration: Tim Horton of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Even with the changes he was making, Trevor found himself on the bench more often as his coach avoided putting him out at the end of the game with the score close. In December while on a fund-raising initiative, he was selling Christmas cards door-to-door when he happened to knock on the door of the house belonging to none other than Tim Horton!

Trevor and Tim discussed the problems he was having in high school hockey, and Tim left his with four tips that were written down on the back of his order form. Trevor left Tim Horton's house with more than just a sale of a box of Christmas cards. He now had advice from one of the best defencemen to ever lace up his skates in the NHL!

The four pieces of advice that Tim Horton passed on to Trevor are four skills that should be developed and practiced by all hockey players today. They are the four essential skills a defenceman should have, and all will make any player much better. I'm not about to tell you what those skills are, though. You'll have to pick up the book to find out what they are!

Were Tim Horton's pieces of advice enough to get Trevor back on the ice more frequently? Were they enough to change his game, making him a bigger piece of the puzzle for his team? How did the Leafs finish in 1962 with Tim Horton patrolling the blueline? How did Trevor's team finish the season, and did he see the results he was looking for in his changes? All of these questions are answered in Mr. Leonetti's story!

Once again, Mr. Banning's illustrations are works of art. Just as they were in The Rocket, the images seen in The Mighty Tim Horton not only complement the story, but add some stunning visuals to the words. Mr. Banning should be celebrated for his artistry because they images in this book are exceptional. As seen before, Mr. Banning is an impressive artist, and his work should be celebrated with his work in this book.

Mr. Leonetti brings a great message to young readers in The Mighty Tim Horton as his four simple skills will improve a young hockey player's skill set immensely. By giving young players these four pieces of advice, Mr. Leonetti is teaching them that practice, discipline, and hard work will always be rewarded. I especially like the fact that he emphasizes practice as being key in Trevor's development as a player since all good players practice a lot. Because of these great messages and the excellent story presented by Mr. Leonetti and Mr. Banning, The Mighty Tim Horton certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Not What I Was Expecting

It's late on a Wednesday night, but I've been waiting for this announcement for a long time. The Whalers Sports and Entertainment group, having been successful in their purchase of the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, began their quest to bring the Whale back to Hartford. The image to the left is of the Whalers' center ice design before they started their final game in Hartford against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and there was hope that the iconic Whalers logo, while never being duplicated, could at least have some influence on the new logo that the soon-to-be-called Connecticut Whale will wear.

With baited breath, I waited and waited for this evening. The announcement was made that the Whalers Sports and Entertainment group would unveil the new logo before the exhibition game between the Wolf Pack and Albany Devils this evening, and I've been scouring any news source that may have the new logo available.

And we finally have it!

And with that new logo comes the inevitable letdown when comparing this gorgeous logo with this cartoonish, minor-league logo. Even the OHL's Plymouth Whalers have a much more professional logo than what the AHL's Connecticut Whalers will wear at some point in the 2010-11 season, and the Plymouth Whalers are a Canadian junior team!

From the way a couple of surveys are going, it appears that this move to change the Wolf Pack to the Whale isn't being met with a lot of support after seeing this new logo. According to the Hartford Courant's online survey, only 603 people have liked the logo thus far out of the 1613 people that clicked on the survey. That's a mere 37% of the people surveyed, and over half of the respondants would have preferred something closer to the NHL logo. Over on the NBC Connecticut's site, their survey shows that twice as many people are laughing in regards to the new logo as there are people who are thrilled. I'm no Marketing whiz, but I'm pretty sure this isn't the kind of groundswell that a new logo and newly-named team wants.

There is some good news for Whalers fans, though. Pucky the Whale will remain as the mascot for the new Connecticut Whale, and that has to be good for fan morale. I've always liked Pucky, and thought he was highly underrated. He is, however, one of the few mascots to actually appear on an NHL jersey, and he even had his own patch!

"We wanted to not only incorporate our traditional Whaler green, but focus on the whale, the official animal of the state of Connecticut," according to Howard Baldwin, chairman of the Whale franchise. No offence to Mr. Baldwin, but when Spongebob Squarepants has a better whale character than your pro hockey team, you're missing the entire point of the exercise. I mean, you don't have to hire Walt Disney to design your logo, but they did a heckuva better job in both Pinocchio and Finding Nemo than what was put forth here. But who am I to criticize? After all, I'm not a graphic designer.

Personally, I expected more from Howard Baldwin's team. He knew how much the Whalers meant to Hartford, and he came up short with this design. Very short. I'm officially going on record here: I hate this new logo. But that's just me.

What say you, readers? What is your take on the new Connecticut Whale logo? Comments are encouraged on this one!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Sweet Home Alabama

Despite me being back in the saddle here at HBIC, I am proud to bring another reader's article to you today. I don't get a lot of opportunities to cover NCAA hockey since the only games that are broadcast in my area are UND Sioux games. I'm not complaining about those, but there are a large number of teams that I'd really like to see on TV thanks to the power of the Internet and word-of-mouth marketing. Today, Mr. Aaron Duncan brings to us the story of one team that has seen its ascension into Division-I NCAA hockey come with its fair share of hurdles and obstacles.

Aaron is a major sports fan. He has a major collection of baseball caps, loves the beauty of the 6-4-3 double-play, and appreciates the game of hockey at the collegiate level. Today, Aaron brings to us the story of the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey program. Honestly, it's quite an intriguing look at a collegiate program where one wouldn't suspect a top-flight hockey program exists. Here's Aaron!

If you’re like me, the first place you think about when you think of ice hockey is Huntsville, Alabama. Wait... Alabama? Ok, let me re-phrase that, the last place you think about is Huntsville, Alabama. As odd as that seems, the University of Alabama in Huntsville is home to the Chargers, an NCAA Division-I ice hockey program, and a pretty good one at that.

Collegiate sports have always fascinated me more than the pros, and hockey is no exception. My first exposure to NCAA hockey was with various teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, but, living in southeast Missouri, teams like North Dakota and Minnesota seemed so far away and non-accessible. I began to study the other conferences looking to see if there were any teams closer to home, but did not find a "home team". I did find one interesting geographic anomaly and that was the UAH Chargers. As I began delve deeper into the Chargers story, I began to realize how easy it is to become a sentimental fan of these underdogs.

The UAH program began as a club team in the Southern Collegiate Hockey Association in 1979 and won the SCHA championship their first three year in existence. The Chargers obtained NCAA varsity status in 1985, and competed in Division-II until the NCAA closed it after the 1986-87 season. This development forced the program to move up to Division-I. UAH operated as an independent team at this level until the reinstatement of Division II for the 1992-93 season. It was during this period that the Chargers developed a serious rivalry with the Bemidji State University Beavers. The two teams fought it out for the NCAA title for several years in a row, with the Chargers winning their first national championship in 1995 and followed up with another title in 1998.

The NCAA again shut down Division-II at the start of the 1998-99 season forcing the Chargers to move to Division-I again as an independent. The following season, UAH joined with Army, Air Force, Bemidji State, and Niagara to form the College Hockey America conference. Again, the Chargers continued to win, making six appearances in CHA Tournament finals and winning the conference championship twice. Due to this, they also earned two trips to the NCAA Division-I tournament, including this past season. They have even been awarded the right to host the 2012 “Frozen Four Tournament” in Tampa, Florida.

Sadly from this point on, the fate of the UAH program is in question. The CHA ceased operations at the end of the 2009-2010 season with four teams leaving for other conferences. Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State have joined the WCHA, while Robert Morris and Niagara are joining Atlantic Hockey. UAH made an application to join the CCHA conference but, by a vote of acclimation, were denied entry and this is where things start to get troublesome.

The CCHA commissioner, Tom Anastos, issued the following statement in a news release, "The league completed its due diligence of the application for membership submitted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville with careful consideration and discussion of various issues. At this time we have chosen to maintain our membership at its current level The CCHA will remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members to ensure the conference’s continued success and long-term viability." This is a long winded way of saying nothing so speculation as to their intent is wide spread.

While searching various blogs and articles on the matter I have come across a few theories for the UAH denial. The first theory is that it would be cost prohibitive for the smaller conference teams to have to travel to Huntsville for games. The CCHA just lost Nebraska-Omaha to the WCHA. This is a team with a similar distance from the majority of its former CCHA members as the Chargers would be if accepted into the conference. Perhaps the CCHA is wanting to see how finances are across the conference without the travel expenses they have had in the past. It is even rumored that UAH had offered to help offset the additional travel expense to the other teams, but if that’s the case, it did not help their bid for membership.

Another theory is that the CCHA is holding out for a possible Big-10 hockey conference. If six of the Big-10 teams are active in a varsity sport they would be able to organize under the Big-10 name. This would also pull teams from the WHCA. Of course, after the last round of NCAA conference adjustments this did not come to play, but could still be a future possibility.

The theory that seem to currently have the most strength is that the CCHA is holding out for Penn State, who are working on moving their men’s and women’s programs up from the club level to Division-I. Now I personally find this hard to stomach if it is the case. To turn away an established program with a competitive record behind them and proven facilities for a higher-profile name that doesn’t have any experience at this level is complete nonsense.

Probably the most emotional of theories is that it is simply a matter of regional clique. Like it or not, many in the ice hockey community look down on any organization that forms in the south. I have noticed this even as high as the NHL where teams like Florida, Phoenix, and Dallas have a hard time getting the same respect the northern teams do. I think this line of thought is more an emotional knee-jerk reaction than actual fact.

As it stand now, the Chargers will be operating as an independent which will be very difficult this day and age. Without conference backing, it will be difficult to schedule games. They will have play teams during available non-conference times. There will also be a serious lack of media coverage and available scholarships. This will seriously hurt their chances in recruiting talent. These factors will make it very difficult - if not impossible - to maintain operations without a conference home in today’s economy.

So what we are faced with is a hockey program with 25 years of winning experience and a proven fan base that is on the verge of extinction due to outside factors they have little to no control over. A conference, the CCHA, that could come out of this with "egg on their face" should the UAH program fold, and the reputation of collegiate hockey, who face the possibility of their host team for the Division-I tournament closing down prior to the event, are in serious jeopardy of looking like a second-rate outfit rather than the highest standard of American developmental hockey. It’s sad and infuriating, but at the present we have little choice but to wait and see. I hope and pray that the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers are able to find a home soon. It would be a true shame to see so much hard work and pride just vanish for no better reason that pure politics and money.

Wow! What an excellent article! Thank you, Aaron, for your passionate look at UAH hockey!

Let's get to the meat of this article: the existence of UAH hockey. Should they have a team in the CCHA? Yes. Very much so. But, as Aaron pointed out, this is not the case. The history that the Chargers have written in the NCAA's various Divisions would put them on the same level as that of Maine, Boston College, and Denver, yet they have little to show for their efforts. And, as Gross Misconduct's 2009 article states, this move to exclude UAH could be "the first domino to fall in what could prove to be a herd-thinning situation in college hockey".

I want you all to click this link which will take you to the "Save UAH Hockey" page. The link is the "How to help" section, and the authors give a ton of excellent suggestions to show that UAH hockey is more than just some random collegiate sport. It means a great deal to the University of Alabama-Huntsville, the community, its fans, and the people that work for, with, and around the team.

Thanks again, Aaron, for bringing this to my attention, and I really hope that the UAH team will exist in 2012 to host the Frozen Four. I'll do my part, and help the team out by following the suggestions on the linked page. I hope you will as well!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 27 September 2010

TBC: The Rink Rats

Teebz's Book Club returns today with a goal in mind: more reading for more people. With school having already started, we're approximately one month away from National Young Readers Week, so TBC wants to get a few great authors' names out there for this upcoming week. One such name is Irene Punt, and Miss Punt's newest book, The Rink Rats, will be released on October 1, 2010 for young readers. This is actually the fourth book in Miss Punt's series about a Calgary boy named Tom and his local hockey team, the Glenlake Hawks. I haven't had the privilege of reading her other three books in the series, but I can tell you that this book really makes me want to hit the bookstores to find them. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present The Rink Rats, written by Irene Punt and published by Scholastic Books.

Irene Punt is a former teacher who has transformed her energy in the classroom into an unbridled passion for her subjects on paper. She received a Bachelor of General Studies degree from Simon Fraser University, and took up teaching as a way to give back. She studied children's literature at S.F.U. under David Booth, and developed a passion for writing from Mr. Booth's teachings. Her move to Calgary from Vancouver prompted her to begin writing children's books, and has scribed picture books, novels, TV scripts, and stage scripts. Her other Scholastic hockey books include The Wicked Slapshot, The Funny Faceoff, and The Rotten Ref.

The story of The Rink Rats starts with Tom and his Hawks teammates on a frozen pond playing hockey. They find the ice a little unsatisfactory for skating, and start to smooth it using various methods. Once they clear enough, they find the skating to be much better, and even come up with a new play they dub "The Pinball".

After their next game, Coach Howie announced that the team was still in search for ice time for the Family Game after finding out that the Hawks' home rink was booked. Having played and groomed the pond, Tom, Stuart, Mark, and Jordan had a great idea: use the pond rink for the Family Game! Everyone on the team was in agreement, but that left the boys with the monumental task of preparing the rink in two weeks for the game!

The boys find out that a few kind acts will repay themselves ten-fold as they work their way towards the game. Without revealing any major details, the boys find out that maintaining a rink is a lot more work than they had imagined. With a litte help from friends, though, the rink starts to take shape.

Will February's weather hold up for the game? Can the boys get the ice ready for an all-out game of hockey against their parents? Do they have enough experience to maintain and keep a pond rink going for two weeks? Can they shovel all the snow off the ice to make a big enough rink? Does an offer to go and watch the Calgary Flames play Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Saddledome derail the boys' dream of hosting an outdoor game? All of these questions are answered in the book!

I really like this book because Miss Punt describes some important lessons for younger readers: help from friends and the value of teamwork is important, doing good deeds and helping others does not go unnoticed, and the importance of following through on responsibilities once one has accepted those tasks. The story is engaging, and the illustrations give enough of a picture to help the story along through the 82 pages.

Thanks to the lessons presented by Miss Punt combined with her well-written story and easy-to-read presentation of that story, The Rink Rats is perfect for any younger reader, and would be a great fit for National Young Readers Week! The story itself contained within the covers of The Rink Rats is excellent, and is certainly deserving of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! It should be a welcome addition on any young hockey fan's bookshelf!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 26 September 2010

Home Sweet Home

It's Sunday, and it's late. And that's ok with me for a couple of very good reasons. First, I've arrived home after spending the last 22 days on the road through the heartland of the United States of America. That means I get to sleep in my own bed - something you really take for granted after being away for three weeks! Second, I actually get to indulge in this season's hockey affairs as I get up to speed on some of the major stuff I've missed while traveling. I have done my best to stay apprised of the major stories, but there were days on the road where I was more concerned with getting some sleep than getting caught up on hockey. In any case, two very good reasons why I'm ok with this late post.

Because of the time, however, I'm calling it a night. No intriguing post today, kids (although you may not find any post intriguing at any time). I have a new Teebz's Book Club entry tomorrow, and we'll have a solid post from another reader on Tuesday.

Just as an aside, this may be something that I'll continue throughout the year. I really liked the contributions made by the guest readers, so I'll keep everyone up-to-date regarding the next "Of the people, by the people, for the people" month!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 25 September 2010

The Rookie Diaries: Volume One

Back when I first started toying with the idea of having readers blog about hockey stories they wanted to see, James Huening came to me with his idea of starting hockey as a 30-something rookie. I was immediately intrigued, and I thought that this would be an excellent feature on this blog, but he wanted some input from the readers. After scribing an article explaining what he wanted to do, here is James with what will be a regular feature on this blog. HBIC is proud to bring to you James Huening's story, forever known as "The Rookie Diaries".

A couple weeks ago, I asked you, the reader, to let me know via a poll whether or not I should try organized hockey for the first time in my life. Despite a bit of a technical glitch with that poll, the votes did come in and it was unanimous. Everyone who responded chose the "go for it" option.

So that means the ball was in my court, er, maybe the puck was in my zone. Whatever. It was up to me to follow through and sign up already. Honestly, unless the voting was unanimously in the "don’t do it, old man" category, I was going to sign up anyway. (I still probably would have done it if everyone told me not to.)

So I called the Skokie Park District to see if there was any space available in adult novice hockey on Thursday nights. I was told that session was full but that they had plenty of space available in the intermediate level, which is on Wednesday nights. There are two coaches, so they’ll split everyone up and the novices will take half the ice and the more advanced players will take the other half.

After a brief conversation where I described my skating abilities and asked some general questions about the program, I decided that I’d give it a shot.

As I write this, I’ve done two sessions. Here’s how things have gone so far.

Week 1: September 15, 2010

  • I get to the rink and as I’m bringing my gear from my car to the dressing room, the first thing that occurs to me is that the old duffel bag I’m using is not going to cut it. I’ll need to pick up a real hockey bag.
  • A quick glance around and I see that there are some that are a bit younger but it’s mostly guys about my age. I was expecting some to be teenagers/college-age.
  • I get all my gear on and I’m sweating before I even get on the ice. C'mon Zamboni dude, let's go.
  • Coach Lew likes the Wisconsin jersey I’m wearing. So at least I've got one thing going for me.
  • OK, time to take the ice. And wow, it’s not in good shape. It’s really chewed up in some spots. I hope I don't blow out a knee or something.
  • Time for some warm-up laps and stretching exercises. OK, any minute now they’re going to split us up, right?
  • Sure enough, we’re getting split up, but it’s just at random. Half of us to the right, half to the left. Time for some skating drills.
  • By this point it’s pretty clear that we are not going to be divided up by skill level (or lack thereof). But hey, I think I can hang with these guys.
  • Oh yeah, that backwards thing. Maybe not.
  • A half hour left, so we’re going to play a scrimmage game. This should be interesting. I play my first shift and I don’t actually get my stick on the puck but I do manage to disrupt a decent offensive chance for the other team.
  • I go back to the bench and start talking to one of the guys. He played in college, but he hasn’t played in about 20 years. Obviously, he's a much better player than I am, but I'm in way better shape. Maybe I can hang after all. (I hope this guy's OK. He doesn't look so good.)
  • A few more shifts, nothing spectacular but I don’t completely embarrass myself, either. I’m getting really tired, though.
  • Time to head in and get this gear off. Gee, I really should have brought some clothes to change into. A towel would have been a good idea, too. I think I sweated out about 5 pounds.
  • Now I need to get home, shower quickly and get to bed ASAP. Need to wake up early to do some Habitat for Humanity work. I hope I’m not in too bad of shape for that.
  • Next morning? No pain at all, I’m just really tired.
  • Two days later? I can barely move my legs. I’m not sure if that's from hockey or the HFH thing. Maybe both? I did do a decent amount of lifting when I was helping out at the HFH store, but I’m thinking this is mostly from the hockey.
  • All in all, not bad. I’ll be back next week.

Week 2: September 22, 2010

  • New bag? Check.
  • The ice is in much better shape this week – very few rough patches.
  • This time around, all the skating/passing/stickhandling drills seemed to go much more smoothly for me.
  • Coach Lew even noticed that my backwards skating has improved over last week. Back straight, knees bent….
  • One minor screw-up during the game. I didn’t see the guy ahead and to the left of me (with nobody between him and the goal) so I took a pass that was clearly intended for him and promptly turned it over in the neutral zone. Ah, well, if it had been a better pass….
  • No sign of the guy I was talking to last week. I hope last week wasn’t too much for him.
  • I talked to someone else on the bench who also tried to get into the novice session and ended up in the intermediate like I did. He says he’s been taking skating lessons on Monday nights and it’s made a world of difference for him. I’m thinking that’s a good idea for me.
  • Next day: feeling pretty good.
  • Two days later: a little bit of soreness in my legs, but no real pain.

Now, I can't tell you how happy I am that James is playing hockey. I think that everyone should skate at least once, attend a pro hockey game once, and sit in an arena during a kid's hockey game and take in the passion. I know James has done the middle one, is working through the first one, and will probably be doing the last one shortly if he hasn't already. However, the bigger thing to me is James is trying something that he has always wanted to do.

I can't say that it's every child's dream to play in the NHL, but every hockey player has had that thought cross his or her mind at least once. While James will most likely never get an emergency call from the Chicago Blackhawks or Chicago Wolves, he is still doing something he has always wanted to do.

Isn't that unbridled joy and passion for the game exactly what sports are all about?

James will be updating up weekly though this feature, and I'm happy to feature his writing here! Good luck in the upcoming week, James!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 24 September 2010

KHL Olympic Hero

This image to the left probably won't be a memorable moment from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, but the man making the stop has himself a place in hockey lore. Andrei Mezin, the Belarussian goaltender, is best known for his 2002 Olympic performance against Sweden in the quarterfinals, but he has carved out a pretty good career over in Russia playing in the Russian Super League and the KHL. Today, I want to take a look at the highlights of Mr. Mezin's career after he was named as one of the KHL's Players of the Week for the last week.

Born in Chelyabinsk on July 8, 1974, Andrei Mezin bounced around North America from 1993 until 1998, playing in the ECHL, the Colonial Hockey League, the IHL, and the UHL in those six seasons.

In 1995-96, he starred with the Flint Generals of the Colonial Hockey League where he played 40 games with the team. He finished with a stellar 27-9-2 record despite having a 3.49 GAA and a .883 save percentage. He helped the team finish first in the East Division, and the Generals tore through the playoffs to win the Colonial Cup!

The following season saw Mezin star with the team again as he led them to first in the East Division again, this time with a 19-4-1 record, a 2.46 GAA, and a .902 save percentage. The Generals ploughed through the playoffs once more, but ran into an upstart Quad City Mallards team that had finished second overall in the CoHL. The Mallards downed the Generals in six games, but Mezin shone all season long.

The Generals finished second overall in the inaugural season of the UHL in 1997-98 on the strength of Mezin's 21-5-0 record. He regressed in his stats, posting a 3.47 GAA and a .885 save percentage, but the Generals marches their way to the UHL Final to face the Quad City Mallards once again. This series was much closer than the previous year as the series went back and forth. Quad City won all of the odd-numbered games, while Flint took all the even-numbered games. In Game Seven, it took overtime, but the Mallards finally prevailed by a 3-2 score. Bryan McMullen logged the majority of games in the playoffs, but the Generals had finished strong once again.

The 1998-99 season saw Mezin jump to a new locale as he began a career in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers. He backstopped the Ice Tigers to first overall in the DEL, and carried them into the playoffs where they were stopped in the final by Adler Mannheim. The 1998-99 Ice Tigers still hold the best record for a Nürnberg DEL team.

After playing one season with Nürnberg, Mezin moved to the Berlin Capitals for three seasons. While he never experienced the same success as he did with Nürnberg, Mezin played no less than 54 games in each of his three seasons with the Capitals. However, with the Capitals experiencing financial problems in 2002, the team dropped to a lower-tiered German league as they worked to re-establish itself. With that, Mezin moved closer to home.

Of course, 2002 was Mezin's shining moment as he led the the winless Belarus team into the quarterfinals against the 3-0 Swedish team at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Mezin was brilliant in the game, stopping 44 shots, and he provided the Belarussians with a chance to win. And that's exactly what they did when a Vladimir Kopat shot from 70-feet away was misplayed by Sweden's Tommy Salo, landing in the back of the net for a 4-3 Belarus lead with 2:24 to play.

"For sure, it is a miracle for us," Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin said to at the time. "But sometimes a gun without bullets can shoot, and that was us. We've made our place in history."

Belarus would lose their next game to Canada, but Mezin's heroics made him the darling of the 2002 Winter Olympic men's hockey tournament.

Mezin's next stop after the Berlin season ended was for Russian superpower Ak Bars Kazan. Kazan, however, used him as a backup only, and he appeared in only one game with Kazan. Kazan finished fourth in the RSL, meaning they had no chance of winning the championship as the top team through the season was awarded the trophy. After spending one year watching from the bench, Mezin was on the move again.

HC České Budějovice in the Czech Extraliga was where Mezin landed for the 2003-04 season, but his record suffered. Some of this may be attributed to his lack of playing time in Russia, but a 4-9-2 record didn't reflect his 2.98 GAA and .904 save percentage. Mezin didn't find many opportunities to play in the Czech Republic, and he was on the move again for the next season.

The Russian Super League would be where Mezin established his career over the next few seasons. He started with SKA St. Petersburg in 2004-05, but the team finished in the bottom half of the standings. Salavat Yulaev Ufa would be Mezin's next stop in 2005-06, and he would stick around Ufa for two seasons. Ufa increased its standing between the two seasons, but Mezin would play a smaller role in the second season than in his first season. Once again, Mezin would be on the move in 2007-08.

2007 saw Mezin move to the northern reaches of the Russia as he joined Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Through this season, Magnitogorsk would battle with Mezin's former team in Ufa for top spot in the RSL. At the end of the season, though, Metallurg Magnitogorsk would fall six points short of Ufa as they finished in second-place in the RSL. Mezin's record wasn't kept, but he did finish with a 1.84 GAA through 35 games - a clear indication that he wasn't done being an elite goaltender.

The 2008-09 season saw a major transformation as the Russian Super League transformed into the Kontinental Hockey League. Mezin stuck with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and faced the NHL's New York Rangers in the inaugural Victoria Cup on October 1, 2008. Mezin showed he was certainly a very capable goaltender as he stopped 44 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers. However, he would only play 26 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk that season, posting a 2.82 GAA. He would appear in six games in the KHL Playoffs as well.

In 2009-10, Mezin jumped to Minsk Dynamo, but he joined a fairly weak KHL team. Mezin appeared in 41 games, posting a record of 10-20-5, but his 2.67 GAA and .902 save percentage are evidence that the Belarussian goalie hasn't lost his moxie. Minsk Dynamo finished seventeenth in the 24-team league, though.

Thus far, Minsk Dynamo has seen a major push to start the 2010-11 season. Mezin has posted a respectable 5-2-0 record with a 2.21 GAA and a .922 save percentage. Last week, Mezin was named as the KHL's best goaltender for the week. In three games, Mezin posted three wins, a .917 save percentage, and allowed an average of two goals per game.

Congratulations go out to Andrei Mezin for his work this past week! He's still one of the biggest stories I've witnessed in my time thanks to his heroics at the 2002 Olympics, and he is the only reason I own a Belarus hockey jersey. Thanks to Mezin, hockey in Belarus saw a huge spike, and we could see more Belarussians in the NHL in the upcoming years!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 23 September 2010

The "City Beautiful"

I spent a night in the city of Des Moines, Iowa and I have to say that I feel this city deserves the bright lights of hockey more than it has received in the past. The AHL has tried a few different faces here while the CHL and USHL have both stopped by for a taste of the Iowa capital. There has been one team that has been a consistent performer on the ice, though, and that is the team that will occupy most of this article. Granted, this team has also spent the most time in Des Moines, but we'll look at a few teams that have barnstormed their way through the most populous city in Iowa as well.

In 1969-70, the Minnesota North Stars shifted their CHL franchise from Memphis, Tennessee to Waterloo, Iowa, establishing the Iowa Stars. This is the first edition of the Iowa Stars, and, while not in Des Moines, needs to be touched upon from a historic standpoint.

The Stars only played one season in the CHL, but they were fairly successful. They posted a record of 35-26-11, making the playoffs in their first season in Iowa. They boasted future NHL greats in Rick Dudley and Marshall Johnston, and were led in scoring by Mike Chernoff and Bill Orban, both of whom scored 75 points in 1969-70. A young John Muckler was the GM of the Iowa Stars, and Parker MacDonald coached the squad.

The Adams Cup Playoffs were two rounds, and the Stars squared off with the Tulsa Oilers in the first round. Iowa jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but Tulsa battled back in Game Five to cut the deficit. However, Game Six saw goaltender Fern Rivard stand out as he led the Stars to a 4-0 win, helping the team earn the victory in six games.

The Adams Cup Final had the Stars against the Omaha Knights, but the series was far from similar to the previous one. Omaha and Iowa split the first two games, and then it was all Omaha for the next three games. After all was said and done, the Omaha Knights had downed the Iowa Stars in five games.

While it seemed the franchise had fared pretty well in its first season, the news behind the scenes wasn't as pretty. The North Stars decided that hockey in Iowa wasn't as profitable as they thought it would be, and uprooted the franchise from Waterloo to Cleveland, Ohio.

According to this website, the North Stars had every intention of making hockey work in Iowa if it was profitable. "Speaking for the North Stars," Muckler stated, "it was our feeling and good intention that this thing should become a success and obviously it never did.

"I would have to agree that a 30 percent increase in business next year, as suggested, would be possible, but it would still leave $130,000 cushion for us to make up. At Cleveland we will have none of this."

With that, the CHL days in Iowa would come to a screeching halt. However, hockey would return years later to the Iowa capital. With the return of hockey came an established commitment to winning.

In 1979, the US Olympic team, coached by the legendary Herb Brooks, visited Des Moines to play the St. Louis Blues in an exhibition game. After the game, concerned citizens and parents of hockey players asked Brooks how to keep the youth hockey program intact after it was announced that the Metro Ice Sports Arena may be sold. Brooks' advice was simple: get a permanent hockey tenant for the building.

In 1981, that tenant was found as the Des Moines Buccaneers took to the ice in their first season in the USHL, the Junior-A system in the United States. They finished in second-place in their inaugural season, and this would prove to be a harbinger of the Bucs' future success. However, it would take them a decade of building before they would bring home victory to Des Moines.

In 1991-92, the Buccaneers saw dramatic improvement as they finished the season with a 35-11-2-0 record. Jamie Adams led the team in scoring with 92 points, and head coach Bob Ferguson had his team ready for the postseason. They rolled through the playoffs, winning the Clark Cup as champions of the USHL, and then captured the Gold Cup as the top Junior-A squad in the United States! Des Moines saw its first two championships in the same season!

In 1993-94, the Buccaneers won the Anderson Cup for being the top regular-season team in the USHL at 36-12-0, but they fell short in the playoffs. The USHL Triple Crown still eluded the team, but they had captured all three championship statuses within three seasons under Bob Ferguson.

In 1994-95, the Buccaneers put it all together. They went an incredible 38-5-5 in the regualr season to capture the Anderson Cup as the top USHL team. After steamrolling the USHL in the regular season, they continued their dominance in the USHL Playoffs by winning their second Clark Cup in team history. The Buccaneers took their dominance into the National Championship and won their second Gold Cup, capturing the team's first Triple Crown in history! Brad Frattaroli led the team in scoring with 72 points, and was one of six Buccanneers to record more than 60 points. Balanced scoring and solid goaltending resulted in major success for the team!

The Buccaneers have also captured the National Championships in 1997-98 and 2005-06, making them a four-time US Junior-A Champions, but their staying power is what has made them a part of Des Moines. They consistently produce high quality players, including 2009 Dallas Stars' draft pick forward Alex Chiasson, Florida Panthers' goaltender Scott Clemmensen, Carolina Hurricanes' forward Erik Cole, New York Islanders' forward Kyle Okposo, and St. Louis Blues' forward Peter Sejna.

In 2005, Howard Baldwin and Bob Schlegel took the dormant Louisville Panthers franchise, and relocated it to Des Moines, Iowa. The new team signed an affiliation agreement with the Dallas Stars, and the Iowa Stars were born in the look of their NHL affiliate.

In the 2005-06 season, the Stars posted a 41-31-0-8 record under Dave Allison, leaving them fourth-place in the seven-team AHL West Division. They did qualify for the playoffs in their first season, though. Toby Petersen led the team in scoring with 73 points, while Loui Eriksson showed his NHL mettle by leading the team with 31 goals.

In the opening round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, the Stars met the Milwaukee Admirals who had finished fourth overall in the AHL that season. Milwaukee and Iowa split the first two games before Milwaukee won Games Three and Four in Iowa. With their backs against the wall, the Stars went to work. They won Game Five by a 5-1 score, and went into Game Six in Milwuakee and won Game Six by a 4-2 score. However, the bottom would fall out in Game Seven as the Admirals downed the Stars by a 4-1 score to close out the series. The Stars showed that they could run with the top teams in the AHL by scaring the Admirals, and they took that determination into the following season.

The Stars looked to improve their standing in 2006-07, but found themselves in the same spot as the previous season as they finished in fourth-place in the AHL West Division. Dave Allison led the team to a 42-34-3-1 record, and Junior Lessard led the team in scoring with a mere 52 points. However, eight players scored 30 or more points that season, and the Stars idea of defensive hockey would help them in the playoffs.

The Stars opened the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs against the West-leading Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The two teams split the opening games, but Iowa took a stranglehold on the series after winning the first two games in Des Moines. Omaha won Game Five by a 3-2 score in overtime in Omaha, but Iowa closed out the series in Game Six with a 5-2 score to give the Stars their first AHL Playoff series victory.

The Stars moved on to play the Chicago Wolves in the second round. The Wolves wasted no time in establishing their dominance, winning the three of the first four games of the series by a combined score of 23-8. Iowa's 5-4 victory in Game Two made up for half of their offence. The Stars fired back in Game Five with a 5-1 victory, but the Wolves closed out the series in Game Six with their own 5-1 victory. Again, hope was high for the Stars after closing out the season with some excitement.

The 2007-08 season was not the culmination of two seasons worth of building excitement. The Stars finished eighth in ultra-competitve AHL West Division, missing the playoffs for the first time in their existance. Dave Allison led the team to a 35-37-5-3, and Marty Sertich led the team in scoring with just 52 points. Tobias Stephan had a solid season statistically, but the team's defence-first philosophy couldn't score enough to put them on right side of the scoreboard most nights.

In February 2008, with the Iowa Stars looking like they would miss the playoffs, the Dallas Stars announced that they would be starting their own AHL franchise based in Cedar Park, Texas at the start of the 2009-10 season. Because of this, the Stars pulled their affiliation from the Iowa franchise. However, the Anaheim Ducks were in need of an AHL affiliate, and they signed an agreement with the Iowa franchise for the 2008-09 season.

With the change in the affiliation, the Iowa Stars reinvented themselves as the Iowa Chops, a desperate attempt to "illustrates Iowa’s agricultural heritage" as per Kirby Schlegel, CEO of Schlegel Sports, who owned the franchise. Look, I still can't believe they named the franchise as "Chops", but there is a history in Iowa of that term. Let's take a look at the Chops' legacy.

Gord Dineen was hired to coach the Chops in the 2008-09 season, and he led them to seventh-place finish in the AHL West Division with a 33-33-0-14 record, finishing just ahead of the San Antonio Rampage. TJ Trevelyan led the team in scoring with just 47 points. They missed the playoffs, and really were looking forward to the 2009-10 season.

However, hard times fell on the franchise. In May 2009, the Ducks abruptly ended the affiliation agreement after the Chops failed to make contractual payments as part of their agreement. Following that, the Chops franchise was involuntarily suspended by the AHL's Board of Governors after it was discovered that the club "had used the franchise as collateral to obtain a loan in March, 2008, from a North Carolina branch of Wachovia Bank", according to the Des Moines Register newspaper. Those funds, $1.99 million, had been used to cover operating costs, something that the AHL strictly forbids. As a result, AHL CEO David Andrews suspended the franchise for the 2009-10 season for violating the league's constitution. As such, AHL hockey would come to an immediate end in the Iowa capital, and the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers would remain as the only hockey franchise in Des Moines.

So there is some hockey history from Iowa. Lots to digest, but there has been some very good NHL talent that has passed through the state of Iowa and, specifically, Des Moines. I have a few days left on my whirlwind tour of the US Midwest, so check back in when possible for more info!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

More Wardrobe Changes

There have been a pile of new uniforms that have been unveiled thus far this off-season, and we're far from being done with all the new threads being worn in this upcoming season. There are Heritage Classic jerseys, Winter Classic jerseys, throwback jerseys, alternate jerseys, and every other imaginable reason for new jerseys causing Reebok much havoc in the design and manufacturing departments. Not that I'm concerned much about Reebok, but they do have the contracts for just about every professional and junior hockey league in North America. We have a bunch of new looks to examine today, so let's get to this as we'll cover several leagues worth of new uniforms.

If you happened to poke through the Sean Avery website that Justin St. Louis brought to our attention the other day, you may have caught this information. If not, the Icethetics blog did. While the page might be dead, Icethetics kept the image alive by capturing Sean Avery in what appears to be the new New York Rangers alternate jersey.

I'm almost 100% certain that the page is dead because the Rangers have yet to show off the new threads, and since Avery's page URL includes "feels nice", one should feel confident that the jersey that Avery is wearing is indeed the new uniform. I'm not sure when the page was taken down, but the Icethetics page is dated September 16, so the picture is fairly recent.

The next jersey comes from the AHL, and is another New York-based hockey team. The Rochester Americans are part of the opening weekend of throwback games, and we're still waiting for these new jerseys to be unveiled. However, they did get the jump on showing off their new alternate jerseys for the 2010-11 season, modeled here by American Spirit Dance Team members Jillian, Allison and Stephanie.

Personally, I don't mind the throwback to the 1960s, but they look a lot like their home uniforms. I much preferred these alternates that the Americans wore, but to each their own, I suppose.

While there was no jersey unveiled, the Hartford AHL franchise announced major changes to their operations yesterday. The Wolf Pack will eventually change its name to "the Whale", but no dates have been set yet as Howard Baldwin takes over.

My take on this is that the name may draw people back to the idea of the Hartford Whalers, but the Connecticut Whale are still the Wolf Pack. I believe William Shakespeare had it correct when he wrote, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet". In other words, it doesn't matter how you dress up the AHL franchise, they are still the same AHL franchise. Unless Baldwin has some sort of magic power that endears the community to the team, he's simply playing on the fans' passion for the Whalers. The name will only carry the team so far.

The WHL's Red Deer Rebels also jumped on the throwback alternate bandwagon today when they introduced their new alternate jerseys for the upcoming season.

From the Rebels' website (along with some grammar and spelling corrections done by me):

The most noticeable change from the previous "R" uniform is the base color. The predominant burgundy has been replaced by a beige color that adds both a retro tone, along with a western feel. The standalone "cow skull" shoulder path, taken from the teams' primary logo, reinforces this western concept. The striping has been moved to the middle of the jersey, and a burgundy shoulder "yolk" added to the top of the sweater.

The most predominant feature of the jersey, the popular "R" logo which the team has worn since 2001, has been madeover. The black fill adds strength to the logo, and compliments the neck collar. The team will wear black pants and black helmets to complete the look. Player socks will be beige with two burgundy stripes through the middle.
Count me as one who likes them. The Rebels look like a collegiate team, but they wear the throwbacks well. These jerseys should be a big seller in the Alberta city!

The OHL's Kingston Frontenacs got into the throwback alternate business today when they debuted their new alternate jerseys for the 2010-11 season.

"We went for a retro look and they turned out better than what we ever imagined," said Jeff Stilwell, Director of Marketing and Communications. I have to agree. I love the yellow jerseys, and the socks are an added bonus with the bold striping. The Frontenacs will look good in their alternates this season!

While it wasn't an announcement about new jerseys, it still was a big announcement for Penn State University as they join NCAA Division One hockey this year! To add to the event, Penn State showed off the uniforms they will be wearing. Unfortunately, they are the same as their non-D1 days, but it's still a big day for the Nittany Lions.

There are some of the major uniform updates through to today. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the hockey history of Des Moines, Iowa. I happened to stop there for the night, and it was interesting to hear people talk about the Stars, the Chops, and a few other teams that have called the city home.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

He Who Owns A Crystal Ball

There is a lot that can be said for those who can accurately predict the future. While some prefer to read the fairly-generic horoscope each day in the local newspaper, others seek out mediums who may be able to catch a glimpse of the future. I am no cliarvoyant whatsoever, and all predictions I make are worth the money you pay for access to this site (E5). You'd be better off not listening to me, but HBIC will provide you with one man's vision of the 2010-11 NHL season. HBIC is proud to bring back Justin St. Louis with his predictions for this upcoming hockey season.

We met Justin last week when he took a look at five records that may never be broken. Justin and I are co-workers, and he's a devoted hockey fanatic. He has a miniture Stanley Cup on his desk, he never misses a minute of playoff hockey, and he even runs his own hockey pool! Details on that one below, but here's Justin with his look at the ten biggest questions of the 2010-11 NHL season.

Want to hibernate for the winter? Don't want to watch 1230 NHL games plus playoffs? Want to know what happens in advance? I have all the information here for you. I have peaked into the crystal ball and here it what it says will happen in the 2010-11 NHL season. Warning: best used when betting with someone else's money!

1. Will a Canadian team win the Stanley Cup?

No. Vancouver is the closest team this year but as has been the case since Montreal in 1993, Stanley will elude home soil again.

2. Which team will win the President's trophy?

Safe bet - Washington. They return the core group of players and have all the firepower of the US military. Ovie, Backstrom, Green lead the offence. There will be lots of shoot-outs this season in DC as the Caps go into the season with two unproven goaltenders. Hard to not see them as the class of the NHL again this year.
Mild bet - Vancouver. Lots to like with this group of players led by Hart trophy winner (and soon to be captain) Hank Sedin. Brother Daniel, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Bobby Lou in goal. Suspect defence could be the downfall.
Wildcard - LA Kings. Solid young team on the way up.

3. Who will win the Art Ross?

Safe bet - Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin.
Mild bet - Henrik or Daniel Sedin.
Wildcard - Ilya Kovalchuk.

4. Will the Blackhawks repeat?

No. They will be a good team but it takes so much to even get to the Stanley Cup tournament, much less win the sixteen games required to hoist the hardest trophy to win in sports.

5. Will the Winter Classic be "classic"?

Yes. Sid vs Ovie? Check. Backstrom vs Malkin? Check. Green vs Letang? Check. This has all the makings of a great day at Heinz Field.

6. What about the Leafs?

Safe bet - They will suck.
Medium bet - They will improve their standing from last season, but still miss the playoffs.
Wildcard - They make the playoffs.. barely. Even if they do, they are not Montreal and they will bow out in the first round.

7. Will the Jets return to Winnipeg be a headline this season?

Yes. There is a building and an ownership group in place backed by the richest man in Canada. This will happen prior to the start of next season. Whether it will be the Coyotes remains to be seen. If not there are other teams on the bubble right now - hello Atlanta?

8. Will the Nordiques return to Quebec City before 2011-12?

No. Even with the support to build a $400 million sports complex, the city is not ready to support the return... yet.

9. Where will NHL attendance be this year?

The league will tell you that it is up; the highlights will tell you that it is down. In this recession era I am not sure how teams like Atlanta, Nashville, Tampa Bay, or Florida will survive. Actually they won't - they will move. Eventually.

10. Does anyone else know that Sean Avery has his own website?


West Playoff Seeds
1. Chicago
2. Vancouver
3. LA Kings
4. Detroit
5. San Jose
6. St. Louis
7. Phoenix
8. Calgary

East Playoffs Seeds
1. Washington
2. Pittsburgh
3. Boston
4. New Jersey
5. Ottawa
6. Buffalo
7. Philadelphia
8. NY Rangers

Conference Finals - Washington vs Pittsburgh; Vancouver vs San Jose
Stanley Cup Champion in 2010/11 - San Jose Sharks

There you have it - all you have to do now is sit back and watch.

For those that are interested, I have created a Fantasy league for hockey through Yahoo Sports. I made it as easy as possible and used their default rules. The first eleven teams entered there get in, and it is head-to-head for the season and set to auto-draft. Let's put the skills to the test, readers. This will only be open for readers of this blog so you don't have to worry about any ringers... in theory. Follow this link!


Great article, Justin, and some very good questions and answers! Thanks for the preview of some of the major stories of this season, as well as your predictions for the playoffs. We'll examine those at the end of the upcoming season to see how well your crystal ball sees the future!

I can't see Detroit finishing below Chicago this season, but I do feel that those two teams will be neck-and-neck for most of the season as they battle for the Central Division title. I think Buffalo will finish higher than Ottawa unless Alex Kovalev has a magical season. If he does, I see Ottawa finishing as high as fourth. My guess is that Ottawa finishes seventh, though, and matches up with Pittsburgh in the first round again.

As always, all predictions are guaranteed or your money back, kids! Settle in, and let's see how this season plays out!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Fabric Surgeons?

While we had the pleasure of seeing the Buffalo Sabres go through an entire makeover for the third time in the last decade, there are a few teams who have recreated their images a number of times since their starts in the NHL. There are the obvious teams like the Ducks and Kings who have rebranded themselves in completely new looks, but some teams have evolved their logos before completely going in a different direction altogether. One such team is the Vancouver Canucks, and they have certainly had their fair share of wardrobe makeovers over the years. Today, HBIC is proud to bring back Peter Santellan, author of the Pucks and Rocks blog, to discuss the many jerseys worn by his favorite NHL team.

We met Peter last week when he wrote a great piece on the leaked images of the new Buffalo Sabres jerseys, and those photos turned out to be entirely correct. Peter is a die-hard Canucks fan, loves a good rock riff, and is an amateur artist and journalist! Here is Peter with his view on the many changing jerseys of the Vancouver Canucks.

When I tried to come up with a piece, I wanted to do something on the Canucks. However, since I haven't gotten to them yet on my blog's NHL season preview, that pretty much leaves my hands tied. I can talk about who should be captain now that Roberto Luongo relinquished the duties, but trying to fill the space would be a chore, especially since the argument for who would be captain is pretty much down to two people. So, to keep with what I talked about on Thursday, today is about the many appearances of the Vancouver Canucks over the years.

Like the Sabres, the Canucks are celebrating their 40th year in the league and, to celebrate, they are bringing out from the mothballs their original jerseys from the inaugural year (well, the RBK Edge designed version, anyway). This jersey pretty much imitates the look of the Canucks' first year, right down to the "V" that goes across the striping on the sleeves. There will be no nameplate on the back, so unless you know your Canucks, you're out of luck. Now, this is going to be their fourth jersey for the year, as they already have their standard home and away jerseys with the Raging "C" Orca below the VANCOUVER lettering and their third jersey, which features their original stick in a rink logo (which is the shoulder patch on the home and away jerseys) and Johnny Canuck's head connected to the "V" on the shoulders.

I know what you're saying, and yes, four jerseys to be worn in one year can be one big adventure. However, the Canucks have been anything but conventional when it comes to jersey fashion. The original stick-in-rink logo had the blue and green color scheme from birth until the late 70's, when they decided to go with those "Flying V" jerseys.

As weird as those jerseys were, one can argue that they wouldn't be suitable for any team except the Canucks. After all, good fashion sense hasn't always been associated with the Pacific Northwest/Canadian Pacifc area. Remember the Seahawks and their hideous lime green jerseys last season? How about the Grizzlies when they were in Vancouver and those teal jerseys? The "Flying V" jerseys weren't actually too bad when they went with the road blacks. However, when they went with the home yellows, it's time to put on the sunglasses.

Eventually, in the mid to late 80's, the Canucks ditched the "Flying V" jerseys and went with a more conventional look while keeping the home yellows. The logo to be put on the front: the "plate of spaghetti" that was on the shoulders of the "Flying V" jerseys. Soon, the Canucks went with the more conventional white home jerseys and the shade of orange became red.

That lasted until 1997, which coincided with the Canucks' signing of Mark Messier. That introduced the Raging "C" Orca and a completely different color scheme as the Canucks went with ocean blue, red, navy blue, and silver as the colors. For the most part, those jerseys were fairly monochromatic in the sense that they lacked the character of the original jerseys, the color of the "Flying Vs" and the weirdness of the plate of spaghetti years. In fact, this was probably the Canucks at their most serious... until they introduced those third jerseys that had the navy blue fading into the red with the Raging Orca on the front of the jersey.

If you recall, the Canucks did something similar in 1996, with the gradients and subliminal processing. That jersey wasn't too terrible, if only because the Kings, Bruins, and Mighty Ducks all introduced third jerseys at the same time.

As for the "blue and red" era, it gained some of the vintage look when the stick-in-rink logo returned as a shoulder patch until 2007. For a time after the lockout, the Canucks also had a vintage jersey that looked a lot like the team's jerseys from the early years. 2007 was the year that the RBK Edge jerseys came into existence, in which all teams adjusted their jerseys according to the design of the jersey. It was at that time that the Canucks went back to the blue and green color scheme, but kept the Orca as its primary logo.

Yes, the Canucks have had quite the history when it comes to jersey designs and logos, as well as colors schemes. In fact, they have more major makeovers than any other team in the league. One thing is for certain, you know which version of the Canucks is your favorite just by looking at the logo.

Wow! Great job, Peter! There is your visual look at the history of the Canucks' uniforms, brought to you by Mr. Santellan!

Personally, I always liked the jerseys that the Canucks wore in the 1990s before the Messier/Keenan era started. I understand why they went away from that look with the ownership changes, but that colour combination screams "Vancouver Canucks". It is unique to them, and that's entirely what you want when running a team.

Which Canucks jersey is your favorite? Which one do you like the least? Hit the comments with your thoughts, and Peter can check in and discuss as well! Thanks again for the great article, Peter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 20 September 2010

Reptiles And Rampage

After spending a day in the fine city of San Antonio, it occurred to me that hockey hasn't known the city of San Antonio for any length of time. They have had three professional hockey teams in the history of their city, and the current AHL team known as the Rampage is the highest level of hockey that city has seen. With the growth of hockey throughout the state of Texas in the 1990s after the arrival of the Dallas Stars, cities that never knew hockey suddenly found a home on the hockey map. San Antonio was one of these cities, and their inclusion to both the IHL and AHL made sense geographically. However, there was one team before the IHL and AHL arrived in town, and we'll start with at this point in our examination of San Antonio's hockey history.

The Central Hockey League saw its first expansion team join the league in 1994 when the San Antonio Iguanas joined the league for the 1994-95 season. The team started with former Minnesota North Star Bill Goldsworthy as their head coach, but he only spent ten games behind the bench, going 5-4-1. Goldsworthy stepped down after being diagnosed with AIDS in November 1994, the first professional hockey player to acknowledge having the disease. In 1996, Goldsworthy passed away due to complications from the disease, and his gravesite is located in Lakewood Cemetary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After Goldsworthy announced his early retirement, he was replaced by John Torchetti. Torchetti guided the Iguanas to a 37-22-7 mark, good for second-place in the seven-team CHL. Paul Jackson would lead the team in goals with 51, and Brian Shantz would lead the CHL in assists with 80 and in points with 119. With the top four CHL teams making the playoffs, the Iguanas would meet up with the Tulsa Oilers in the playoffs in their first season.

The two teams battled through seven games. Only Games One and Six would be decided by less than three goals, and those two games went to overtime. Tulsa won both of those games - Game One was a 6-5 overtime win, while Game Six was a 5-4 overtime win. The other five games were all significant wins with margins of three goals or more. The series would flip back and forth before San Antonio wrapped up the series in the seventh game by a 6-1 score at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. Their win gave them a berth in the CHL Final!

The Iguanas would face-off against the CHL regular-season champions in the Wichita Thunder. The Thunder would win Games One and Two before the Iguanas cut the deficit in half on home ice with a 5-2 win in Game Three. The Thunder would rally back to push the Iguanas to the brink, but the Iguanas staved off elimination in Game Five with a 6-2 victory. Game Six, however, saw the Iguanas fall 9-4 to Wichita as the Thunder captured the first Ray Miron President's Cup. John Torchetti won the Commissioner's Trophy as coach of the year at the conclusion of the season.

The Dallas Freeze would drop out of the CHL in 1995-96, leaving only six teams to compete for the championship. The Iguanas would finish in second-place for the second straight season, ending the campaign with a 39-17-8 record. Brian Shantz would have an outstanding season for the Iguanas, leading the team in goals with 56, and leading the league in assists with 85 and in points with 139. It appeared that the Iguanas were set to make another run at the CHL Championship.

The Iguanas would host the Memphis RiverKings in the opening round of the CHL Playoffs. The series was split 2-2 through four games, but the Iguanas poured on the heat in Games Five and Six, winning them 4-2 and 6-3, respectively. The six-game series win put the Iguanas into the CHL Final for the second consecutive season!

The Iguanas would meet the Oklahoma City Blazers in the final. The Blazers finished as the top-team in the CHL in 1995-96, so the Iguanas faced the same uphill battle as they did in the previous season. The Blazers would jump out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Iguanas were a determined bunch. They won Game Five in Oklahoma City by a 6-4 score before returning home to win Game Six by a 5-4 score in overtime. However, Game Seven saw the Blazers capture the Ray Miron President's Cup on home ice as they downed the Iguanas by a 4-2 score. Again, the Iguanas came up short, but they had been bridesmaids in their first two seasons of existance - not too shabby at all!

John Torchetti wouldn't be behind the bench for the Iguanas to start the season in 1996-97, but he was still in San Antonio. Torchetti took an assistant coaching position with the IHL's San Antonio Dragons as they began play in San Antonio. Instead, Dale Henry would guide the team through the first 36 games. Henry's reign would be cut short as he posted an abysmal 9-24-3 record in those 36 days, and he decided that he would rather help the team on the ice. He resigned his position as coach and took a seat on the bench as a player while Ric Seiling stepped behind the bench. Seiling would go 17-12-1 down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to get the Iguanas into the playoffs. They would finish the season in last place in the East Division with a 26-36-4 record.

Dale Henry played 23 games that season for the Iguanas, posting 12 goals and 19 points after his brief coaching stint. Paul Jackson led the Iguanas in goals (44), assists (46), points (90), and PIMs (391). Yes, you read that last stat correctly - leading scorer with nearly 400 PIMs! He would finish second in the league in PIMs and seventh in goals. Not a bad season's worth of work!

However, the Iguanas found themselves in a bit of a bind when another reptilian team took up residence in San Antonio in 1996. The IHL decided to set up shop in San Antonio after moving the Peoria Riverman franchise to Texas, and the Dragons took flight for the 1996-97 season. At first, the Iguanas and Dragons shared Freeman Coliseum, but the Dragons eventually forced the Iguanas out of their home. The Iguanas decided to suspend operations over the 1997-98 season while the IHL tested the waters in San Antonio.

The IHL Dragons lasted all of two seasons in San Antonio - not quite the lasting power that the IHL wanted. However, they had some success in their two-year existance. Head coach Jeff Brubaker hired former Iguanas' coach John Torchetti to help behind the bench, and the 1996-97 Dragons posted a record of 45-30-0-7. Daniel Shank led the team in all the major stats with 33 goals, 58 assists, and 91 points. He was also second on the team in PIMs with 293 minutes in the sin bin! David Littman and Bruce Racine split the goaltending duties fairly evenly.

The Dragons finished their first season in first-place in the Midwest Division. That finish gave them a first round date with the Chicago Wolves. In the best-of-five series, the Dragons were more than the Wolves could handle despite three of four games being decided by one goal, and San Antonio advanced with a 3-1 series win.

The Dragons would run into their cross-state rivals in the Houston Aeros in the second rund of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Houston jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before San Antonio picked up a 2-1 win to force a Game Five. The Aeros didn't let it go any longer, though, as they closed out the series with a 4-3 win to secure the 4-1 series win.

The 1997-98 season saw only one in San Antonio as the IHL's Dragons no longer had to share the Freeman Coliseum. The Dragons, unfortunately, would not survive past this season as they ran into financial problems. Despite being the better draw compared to the Iguanas, the Dragons simply couldn't make it work.

The 1997-98 season was certainly not the best way to go out, either. John Torchetti left the Dragons to take the head coaching job of the Fort Wayne Komets, and the carousel of coaches in San Antonio began. The Dragons stumbled through the season, posting a 25-49-8 record. Along with the Quebec Rafales, they were the only two teams to miss the Turner Cup Playoffs that season in the sixteen-team IHL. The Dragons were the worst team in the IHL in the 1997-98 season, closing out their existance with nothing more than a whimper. Once the season came to a close, the franchise folded due to their money problems.

Daniel Shank was clearly the star of the team once again in this season-to-forget. Shank finished 34 points ahead of the next closest scorer on the Dragons, Micah Aivazoff. Once again, he led the Dragons in goals with 39, assists with 43, and points with 82. The carousel of goaltenders saw six men dress for the Dragons. Scott Bailey played in 37 games, sporting a record of 11-17-3, a GAA of 3.73, and one shutout. Statistically, Eldon "Pokey" Reddick was the best goaltender that season. He played in 17 games for the Dragons, going 5-9-1 with a 3.13 GAA, a .900 save percentage, and one shutout.

With the Dragons extinct, the Iguanas returned to the ice in the CHL for the 1998-99 season. Their one-season time-out didn't seem to ruin their fan support. Head coach Todd Simpson led the team to a 37-26-0-7 record, good for second-place in the CHL's Western Division and a playoff spot. Johnny Brdarovic led the team in goals with 56 and points with 115, while goaltender Ken Shepard backstopped the team with a 16-11-2 record, a 3.64 GAA, and one shutout. Brdarovic was also named as the CHL's Rookie of the Year in 1998-99.

The Iguanas squared off with the Wichita Thunder in the opening round of the playoffs, and they showed that hadn't missed a beat. Wichita opened the series with a 3-2 ovetime victory, but the Iguanas rattled off three straight wins to clinch the series by a 3-1 margin.

In the second round, the Iguanas ran into an old nemesis as they matched up against the Oklahoma City Blazers. The Blazers finished first in the Western Division, so this was also a divisional rivalry between these two clubs. Unfortunately, the comparisons run short when looking at the series as the Blazers dismantled the Iguanas in a four-game sweep. Despite the loss, the Iguanas made a pretty good return to San Antonio!

Chris Stewart would take over behind the bench for the 1999-2000 season, but his first season didn't fare very well. Despite leading the Iguanas to a 33-32-5 record, the team missed the playoffs. Brian Shantz led the team in scoring with 109 points, 79 of which were assists!

Stewart would guide the Iguanas to another second-place finish in the Western Division and to the playoffs in his second season on the strength of a 42-21-0-7 record. A familiar name in Johnny Brdarovic would return to San Antonio to claim his team's scoring title. Brdarovic scored 29 goals and added 56 assists to lead the Iguanas in scoring just two seasons after leading the Dragons in scoring.

The Iguanas faced off against the Topeka Scarecrows in the first round. Much like their last trip to the playoffs, they allowed the Scarecrows to draw first blood with a 4-2 win before rattling off three straight wins to secure the 3-1 series win.

The second round was reduced to a best-of-five series, and the Iguanas and Blazers would clash again in this round. San Antonio took Games One and Three to go up 2-1 on the Blazers, pushing their rivals to the brink. However, the Blazers hammered the Iguanas 5-2 in San Antonio to push the series back to Oklahoma City. There, the two teams battled to a 1-0 score through overtime. However, the Blazers were the team to score, and San Antonio went home empty-handed once more thanks to the Blazers.

Stewart would be the first coach to last three seasons with the Iguanas, and he guided the club to a second-place finish in the Southeast Division on a 40-16-8 record in 2001-02. Blair Manning would lead the club in scoring with 77 points.

The Austin Ice Bats - the Iguanas' in-state rivals and first-place in the Southeast Division - were the Iguanas' opening-round opponents. While the two teams split the first two games, the Ice Bats took the next two games to close out the Iguanas' season with a 3-1 series loss. Not quite the finish they were looking for, but the Iguanas had larger issues at hand.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Florida Panthers had annouced a partnership to bring an AHL franchise to San Antonio's SBC Center in May 2002. Because the Iguanas' lease had expired, they had to look at the Alamodome as a possible place to play their home games. However, the search for an ownership group to purchase 25% of the team fell through, and the team had to cease operations without suitable ownership.

This, of course, opened the door for the San Antonio Rampage to be born, and the AHL moved into the SBC Center as the San Antonio Spurs and Florida Panthers launch an expansion team to be stocked with Panthers' prospects. The AHL franchise was awarded to the Spurs/Panthers ownership group on May 6, 2002. Before the team had been named, however, the group made a shrewd decision in hiring John Torchetti as the first head coach of the AHL franchise on May 31, 2002. Torchetti would return to San Antonio as part of the third professional hockey franchise in the history of the city.

On Jume 3, 2002, the Spurs announced that the AHL franchise would be named as the "Stampede", and would feature a rampaging bull with a blue, black and silver color scheme. The blue came directly from the Panthers while the silver-and-black are the colours of the Spurs. However, the Spurs made a second announcement just eleven days later stating that the AHL franchise would be named as the "Rampage", but all logos and the colour scheme would remain the same. On September 14, 2002, the Rampage unveiled their jerseys to the public just weeks before their first pre-season game against the Houston Aeros on October 4, 2002.

The Rampage haven't seen very much success in their eight seasons, but they started off fairly well. They opened their franchise history on October 12 in Milwaukee against the Admirals with a 6-2 loss. October 18 saw the Rampage record their first victory, a 5-4 win over the Utah Grizzlies. Their first home win in the brand-new SBC Center happened on November 7, 2002 when they defeated the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks by a 4-3 score. Filip Novak is selected as the team's first AHL All-Star, playing for PlanetUSA. Jeff Toms led the team in goals with 30 and scoring with 63 points in their inaugural season.

With a 36-29-11-4 record, the Rampage qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs in their first season. They would match up against the Norfolk Admirals, but the series wouldn't last long as the Admirals swept the Rampage out of the playoffs. While their first season showed promise, this season would be one of two where the Rampage played past the last regular season game.

Since their inaugural season, the Rampage have made the Calder Cup Playoffs twice. They made the playoffs in their first season, as seen above, and in 2007-08 under the watchful eye of Greg Ireland who guided the team to their best finish at 42-28-3-7 thus far. The team finished fifth in the eight-team West Division, and met up with the Toronto Marlies in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Despite falling behind 3-2 in the series, the Rampage pushed the Marlies to seven games before falling in Game Seven by a 2-1 score.

The Rampage have had some highlights, though. On February 14, 2005, Jay Bouwmeester represented the Rampage at the AHL All-Star Game for Team Canada. On June 30, 2005, the Spurs bought out the Panthers to become the sole owners of the Rampage. They hired the front office and coaching staff of the Utah Grizzlies to run their team after the Grizzlies had decided to pull out of the AHL. In early August of 2005, the Spurs announced that they had come to an agreement with the Phoenix Coyotes to be their AHL affiliate.

December 1, 2005 saw the San Antonio Rampage host the Cleveland Barons in the AHL's 30,000th regular season game. The game featured two NHL goaltenders as both Vesa Toskala of Cleveland and Brian Boucher of San Antonio took to the nets. Both goaltenders battled to a scoreless draw into the shootout. Karl Goehring replaced Boucher in the Rampage net for the shootout, and stopped four of five shots to post his first win as a member of the Rampage while giving the Rampage the victory in the 30,000th AHL game.

September 7, 2006 marked a new look for the Rampage as they changed their uniforms to reflect their affiliation with the Coyotes. The new colour scheme is black, gray, and silver, and the primary chest logo on the jersey has just the bull's head, replacing the full Rampage logo. Not that this should be a major piece of news, the Rampage also were afflicted with the Rbk EDGE jersey in 2007.

The Rampage will continue to write history this season as they begin their ninth AHL season. While the history of hockey has been short in San Antonio and there have been no championships to speak of yet, hockey appears to be thriving in the Texas city. Having both the Texas Stars and the Houston Aeros as in-state rivals should only help to fuel the rivalry that burns in the Texas winter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!