Friday 31 December 2010

HBIC YIR - Part Two

We're back for the second half of Hockey Blog In Canada's Year In Review. Champagne, good food, and friends and family should be on the docket tonight, so HBIC will run through some of the highlights from the second half of the year. Yesterday, we took a look at the stories from January to June that attracted some attention, and we'll do the same today as we work through July to December. Happy New Year, everyone, and we'll be back in the normal fashion starting on January 1 with more hockey-related news and stories. Until then, all the best in the new year, and may health and happiness find you no matter where you are!

July Highlights
August Highlights
September Highlights
  • September 4: HBIC's month-long road trip through the midwestern US takes me through Kansas City, Missouri. Lots of good hockey history in that city, and I look at some of it.
  • September 5: The following day had me in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Great city, and some solid hockey history there. I really enjoyed my time in the city.
  • September 8: Houston's WHA era was interesting, and certainly has some very cool history behind it. The Howes, the flirting with the NHL, and their eventually dissolution are all covered in this piece.
  • September 9: Houston's WHA Aeros led to the IHL's Houston Aeros being born in memory of the WHA franchise. Some more excellent hockey history here.
  • September 20: San Antonio is a gorgeous city, and I really enjoyed my time there. Because of my visit, I wrote a piece on San Antonio's hockey history.
  • September 23: My stop in Des Moines, Iowa was short, but I drove through the city rather than going around it. A lovely little city that has a solid hockey history attached to it.
  • September 29: The Whale return! Unfortunately for Hartford, the Whalers continue to not exist while the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack will become the Connecticut Whale. I'm not impressed with these developments.
October Highlights
  • October 2: Washington shows off its uniform choice for the Winter Classic. While the jersey choice is highly appropriate, Reebok's lack of effort in recreating the uniform is more than disappointing considering the magnitude of the game.
  • October 17: Found some great viral video from France that features a guy showing people what it looks like when a player gets bodychecked into the boards. Hilarious!
  • October 29: The Penguins show off their chosen duds for the 2011 Winter Classic. It's kind of a mish-mash of former uniforms, but it gets a pass.
November Highlights
December Highlights
So there's another year down in the history of Hockey Blog In Canada. I'm really looking forward to next year already, and it starts with the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic tomorrow afternoon evening. Hunker down in front of the old cathode ray tubes, and enjoy some outdoor hockey from Sid the Kid and the Great Eight!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 30 December 2010

HBIC YIR - Part One

Time certainly has flown this year as we're two days away from recycling those 2010 calendars hanging on walls and posted on desks. Hockey has seen some great things this year, and we've also lost some icons that made the sport much better with their presence. We've seen players emerge as superstars and we've seen superstars fall to below-average play. All of this is actually a statement about the game - it's fluid, and it's constantly changing and evolving through each shift, each game, and each season. Today, HBIC looks back on the first six months of the year, and the important stories that came from January to the end of June.

January Highlights
  • January 1: We start every year off right with the NHL's Winter Classic, and the January 1, 2010 game was certainly memorable as the Philadelphia Flyers visited the Boston Bruins in historic Fenway Park. What a great day of hockey!
  • January 2: Switzerland's World Junior Championship team pulls off a massive upset as they defeated Russia 3-2 to beat the Russians for the first time in history at the WJC.
  • January 5: The 2010 World Junior Championship is decided in overtime as American John Carlson ends Canada's streak with his goal to give Team USA the gold medal. Great game, and a very impressive showing by America's best young hockey talent.
  • January 21: If you've been following this blog, you know I'm a big fan of Frank McClelland's newest equipment invention. January 21 was the first time I was lucky enough to speak to Frank and bring to light what would eventually be his Skate Fenders product. A very interesting story to see how the plastic skate guards got started!
  • January 23: I arrive in Minneapolis for the US Pond Hockey Championships, and the weather was very un-winter for the tournament. Strange weather is nothing new on the prairies, but January is rarely a month known for rain. Great uniforms seen at the tournament, and a few great stories!
  • January 25: I express my disappointment with the NHL's stance on protecting its players after a major incident in the QMJHL.
  • January 29: I bring to light the story of Alton White, the first professional black hockey player to record 20 or more goals in a season as well as the first professional black hockey player to record a hat trick in a professional game. Since it happened in the WHA, no one seems to care that he doesn't get this recognition. But I do.
February Highlights
  • February 5: The hockey world stops for a few moments to grieve the loss of Brendan Burke, Brian Burke's son. Brendan worked as student manager for the hockey team while attending the University of Miami (Ohio), but made headlines when he announced to the world that he was a gay man. And I still believe in my words: "Being gay doesn't change who he is or how much respect I have for him. Nor should it change you."
  • February 13: Phil Hecken of Uni Watch Blog and I take a look at what each team will be wearing at the Olympics. Some uniforms are good. Others are not.
  • February 14: I discuss some of the ways that women's hockey at the Olympics can fix blowouts between the elite teams and the rest of the field. I still feel that getting more women involved from the other countries will make the game stronger.
  • February 21: Team USA plays a much more complete game in the round-robin at the Olympics and beats Canada soundly. I'm hard on Canada and praise the Americans. And this will only set up the inevitable.
  • February 28: The Goal. Need I say anything more? I take a look at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a whole, and celebrate "The Goal.
March Highlights
  • March 4: Frank McClelland returns with some updates on his Skate Fenders. I'm truly a fan of Mr. McClelland's and LSSU's work, and this product is something that players should really look into for their own health.
  • March 11: HBIC renews its commitment to the Vancouver Olympics by giving the sport of sledge hockey as much coverage as possible. I really like this sport, and there have been some excellent games as of late as a number of countries have improved in this sport.
  • March 18: One of the countries that has improved? Japan. They defeated the heavily-favoured Canadian squad by a 3-1 score in the semi-final to earn a berth in the gold medal final. If you haven't seen a game of sledge hockey in your life, you're missing out.
  • March 21: The 2010 Women's Frozen Four wrapped up in style as there were some incredible games played by the NCAA women. Congratulations go out to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs who captured their fifth NCAA Championship!
  • March 30: The 2010 CIS Men's Hockey Championship wrapped up, and the Canadian collegiate champions are the Saint Mary's Huskies! Canadian collegiate hockey, while not as prolific as NCAA hockey, is certainly one of the places where NHL teams can find some hidden talent. There are lots of good players studying across Canada!
April Highlights

May Highlights
  • May 3: The KHL crowns a champion as Ak Bars Kazan won their second KHL Championship in consecutive seasons. While there are still major differences between the NHL and KHL, it appears that Kazan is becoming the "Detroit Red Wings" of the KHL.
  • May 7: I found a great article in Popular Science from 1935 about the game of hockey! It's a very good read with lots of pictures, but it goes to show that some magazines were covering hockey before it was popular!
  • May 14: A reader by the name of Chelsea sent me a great email about head trauma suffered by hockey players. She makes some excellent points in her email, and there are several NHL players who echo her sentiments.
  • May 23: The Czech Republic snaps the Russian's 27-game winning streak at the World Championships, and captured the World Championship title! Jaromir Jagr's reason for winning? "They had stars and we had guys who play in the Czech Republic, but this shows that talent doesn't matter - you have to work hard." Hard work, kids. I can't say it enough.
  • May 25: I still have no clue as to what happened to the Charlie Conacher Memorial Trophy that was awarded annually to an NHL player. Any ideas?
  • May 28: Damian Cox goes absolutely loopy with his suggestion that the Chicago Blackhawks change their logo because it's offensive. Cox stirring the pot? Nothing new.
June Highlights
So there are the highlights from the first six months of HBIC's 2010. I really had a great time writing this year, and the interactions with you, the readers, are what makes this so rewarding. I love reading other opinions and ideas, and I encourage you to continue to email, comment, friend me on Facebook, and whatever else you to do to send me your hockey thoughts.

More tomorrow as we review the year that was from July to December!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 12

Welcome back, Moose fans, and I hope your Christmas and holidays seasons are going beyond expectations! Antler Banter is looking back this week at the two games against the red-hot Peoria Rivermen, as well as looking forward at the games to come. We'll also look at where Manitoba finished the 2010 calendar year in the standings. Don't forget to check out the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose return from the Christmas break in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Send Them Up The Creek

Monday saw the Moose in the friendly confines of MTS Centre as they welcomed the Peoria Rivermen to town. Manitoba still has a number of games in-hand over their North Division opponents, so any and all points are vitally important in making a push up the standings. The Rivermen came in having lost their last game after going 11-0-2 in the previous 13 games. This game had all the makings of a "test" for the Moose.

One player who was up to the test was defenceman Mark Flood. Flood played an outstanding game as he finished the night with a goal, two assists, and a +3 rating. His goal was a powerplay marker, and he wasn't on the ice for either of Peoria's goals on the evening. Flood has been a most pleasant surprise since returning from injury, and it seems he's getting better and more confident with every game he plays. Flood has certainly solidified the Moose blueline, and he deserves the kudos I've given him for his excellent play!

After suffering through an extended goal-scoring drought, Marco Rosa is starting to light the lamp again! Rosa, last year's leading scorer, notched his fourth goal of the season and added a helper for the Moose. While it's not a "streak" that Rosa would celebrate at this point, his two-goal scoring streak might be the spark he needs to get his season back on track. Rosa has too much talent to be held off the scoresheet for this long, so this two-game mini-streak looks good for a struggling player. Well done, Marco Rosa!

A third player who seems to enjoy playing with the Moose again is Guillaume Desbiens. Desbiens had a pair of assists for the Moose on Monday night, and literally plays as though he's made of grit and sandpaper. Desbiens was finishing checks, forechecking hard, and making Rivermen miserable all night with his gritty play and abrasive style. Desbiens and Ryan Reaves scrapped midway through the third period, and Desbiens threw some great shots. While both players wrestled to the ice, the judges give the bout to Desbiens for his haymakers. Desbiens looks hungry and aggressive - exactly what will get him back into the Vancouver Canucks' lineup.

Eddie Lack stopped 28 of 30 shots that he faced, but the Moose victimized Jake Allen four times and added an empty-netter to secure the 5-2 victory over the Rivermen. For a team that was on a long break, it appears head coach Claude Noel had his team ready as the Moose seemed to be clicking all night long. Four straight wins, and the Moose improve their record to 16-10-4 on the season.

Leaving Without A Paddle

Goaltender Eddie Lack drew his fifth straight start in the nets as the Moose battled with the Peoria Rivermen on Tuesday in the second-half of the back-to-back series. Ben Bishop took to the nets for the Rivermen as they hoped he could deliver a win against the Moose. Could the Moose make it five wins in a row?

Sergei Shirokov has a little moxie going as he netted another goal against the Rivermen, and his third goal in three games. The speedy Russian sniper finished the game with five shots, and looked dangerous whenever he was around the puck. Shirokov's development this season has been very positive as he's still an offensive threat, but rarely gets caught out of position in his own zone. If this kind of production and development continue, we could be seeing Shirokov with the Canucks in the near future.

Last season I questioned why Tommy Maxwell was being kept on the roster when his contributions were few and far between. Tuesday's game showed me everything and more about Maxwell. First, Maxwell threw a couple of big hits. Then Maxwell fought Andrew Peluso and looked much stronger than his opponent in the fisticuffs. And to cap it all off, Maxwell scored his second goal of the season... ON THE POWERPLAY! For a guy who watched far too often from the penalty box last season, games like these make Maxwell worth more than his weight in gold as he was physical, he scored, and he certainly played like the house was on fire. Tommy Maxwell's best game of the season came at the right time!

Building on Maxwell's play, the rest of the Herd played very aggressively on Tuesday as well. Joel Perrault, Guillaume Desbiens, and Tommy Maxwell all delivered big hits early in the game to set the tone. Bill Sweatt, Joel Perrault, and Sergei Shirokov buzzed the net all night as those three combined for one goal, three assists, and 16 shots on the night. The defence, led by Lee Sweatt's one goal on the evening, held strong through the majority of the game, but finally let one by with less than six minutes to play. Eddie Lack was outstanding again as he stopped 33 of 34 shots on the night. Overall, one of the best team efforts seen all season, and the second such effort in two nights. Well done, Moose!

Another three-goal victory for the Moose over the Rivermen as the Moose close out the series with a 4-1 victory. The Moose push their streak to 5-0-1, and have won five straight games as they enter the New Year's Eve weekend. With the victory, the Moose improve to 17-10-4 on the season.

Standing Tall

So where do we stand? What's the deal with all these extra games? How will it help the Moose? Your answers are below as we look at the standings and the upcoming schedule.

Hamilton Bulldogs - 34GP with a record of 19-10-1-4 for 43 points.
Toronto Marlies - 35GP with a record of 17-13-0-5 for 39 points.
Manitoba Moose - 31GP with a record of 17-10-0-4 for 38 points.
Abbotsford Heat - 34GP with a record of 16-14-1-3 for 36 points.
Grand Rapids Griffins - 35GP with a record of 15-15-1-4 for 35 points.
Lake Erie Monsters - 35GP with a record of 14-14-3-4 for 35 points.
Rochester Americans - 34GP with a record of 15-16-2-1 for 33 points.

There's the story: three or four games in-hand on the rest of the division. January sees the Moose play the Abbotsford Heat four times, so those games can really put some distance between the Herd and Heat if the Manitoba can win at least three of four. The Moose also have three against the Toronto Marlies, and need to win two of three there to keep the pressure on the Marlies. Finally, the Moose have one game against the team they're chasing in the Hamilton Bulldogs, and a win is a "must" there.

The Moose have 14 games before the January 30 All-Star Game break, so the team will most definitely make up those four games by that time. Non-divisional games include a pair against the Hershey Bears, a pair against the Milwaukee Admirals, and a pair against the Chicago Wolves starting this weekend.

The Wolves are 6-2-1-1 in their last 10, including 4-0-1 in their last five games. They currently sit in fourth-place in the West Division, but are only five points out of first-place. The Moose need to play against the Wolves in the same fashion that they did against the Rivermen if they hope to close out 2010 with a win and start 2011 off right.

Following that two-game series, the Moose have Sunday, January 2 off before facing Abbotsford on the road on Monday and Tuesday. The Heat are 4-5-1 in their last ten games, and are currently winless in three games through regulation (0-2-1). Looking at the standings above, a very positive January will start with wins over the Heat, so there is no time like the present for the Moose in terms of their preparation for these upcoming games. It goes without saying, but the Moose need to continue their solid play and just DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Double Dose Of Red And White

Team Canada got off to a great start in both tournaments as the U-20 team scored a solid 6-3 victory over Russia on Sunday, while the Spengler Cup Canadians thumped Dominik Hasek and Spartak Moscow, another Russian squad, by a 6-1 score. Rarely do you see Dominik Hasek give up six goals in a game, but the 73 year-old looked fallible against Canada as six different Canadian players scored on Hasek. Thumbs-up, Dominik. Well done.

We move on to today where Teams Canada are back in action. We'll start with the junior men as they have a battle against Hasek's countrymen in the Czech Republic at 4:00 ET today in Buffalo.

The Czech Republic opened their 2011 World Junior Championship with a 2-0 victory over Norway. It was thought that the Czechs might have scored a few more goals against the plucky Norwegians, but the 2-0 shutout victory was more than enough to get the Czechs off on the right foot.

Goals by Antonin Honejsek and Tomas Rachunek, both undrafted players, put the Czechs up by the two goals as goaltender Marek Mazanec stopped all 21 shots he faced. The Czechs didn't look particularly interested in this game, to be honest, as they seemed to go through the motions at times, but their 38 shots say that they can generate offence when needed.

Canada will need to play in the same fashion that they did against the Russians in order to put the Czechs away early. There is absolutely no reason to go easy on the Czech Republic, and Canada needs to keep its foot on the gas as they prepare for a showdown against Sweden for top spot in the pool on New Year's Eve. Hit hard, aggressively forecheck, close off the blueline, and stay disciplined - the mantra for this Canadian team will be the difference as Canada should skate to another win.

As for the men playing in Switzerland, there is a considerable challenge standing before them as Team Canada plays the hosts in HC Davos today. Davos beat Spartak Moscow on Sunday by a 4-2 score, and they boast former NHL players Petr Sykora, Reto Van Arx, Josef Marha, Peter Sejna and Jaroslav Bednar in their lineup. History says that Canada should have the advantage against their hosts after having gone 22-8 all-time against Davos, but this Davos team is second-place in the Swiss Elite League and they always tough against Canada.

I took a quick look through the HC Davos roster, and I noticed a few irregularities on their roster. Now, I'm not saying they're cheating in any way as they clearly are doing well in the Swiss Elite League, but it seems that their rookies might be a little young, doesn't it? Of course, I jest as Kutlak was born in 1980, Von Arx was born in 1976, and Wieser was born in 1989 (two years after brother and teammate Marc), but the errors found on the Hockey Canada roster page are pretty funny when you consider how dramatically the birth years could affect a player if listed as "official".

The game today between Davos and Canada will determine the winner of the Cattini Pool with a 2-0 record, and give that team an automatic berth in the semi-finals on Thursday. A day off during a tournament is always a luxury, and there will probably be talk of it before the game in each dressing room. That should make for a spirited battle between these two teams! The game can be seen live on TSN2 at 5:00 ET!

Both Canadian teams need to bring that gritty, hard-nosed effort seen in their opening games to their respective games tonight. If they continue down that path, the road to victory should open for them once again. I'll be watching the World Junior Championship this evening, but I'll be switching over to the Spengler Cup game during breaks and intermissions. GO CANADA GO!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 27 December 2010

Across The Pond

The second international hockey tournament of this holiday season actually started yesterday, but Team Canada doesn't hit the ice until later today at the 2010 Spengler Cup. Each year, HC Davos of the Swiss Elite League hosts five other teams as the invitational tournament showcases some of the best teams in the world from Europe's most prestigious leagues. Last season saw the KHL emerge victorious from the tournament as HC Dinamo Minsk captured the 2009 Spengler Cup as they defeated the hosts in HC Davos in the final.

Canada started sending a team to the Spengler Cup in 1984 made up of players playing in Europe who were not playing for any of the invited teams. They also get some help from AHL clubs and free agents who want to play, but the vast majority of the roster is made up of Canadians plying their hockey trade overseas. Often there are a number of former NHL players who suit up for Canada at the Spengler Cup, so it's nice to see how these players have fared once they left the spotlight in North America. This year's squad is no exception as they have six to eight players that should be recognizable by name alone.

The Canadian nets will be guarded by Tyler Moss and Jeff Deslauriers. Deslauriers, as you may remember, played with the Edmonton Oilers for two seasons since 2008. He's currently playing second fiddle to Martin Gerber in Oklahoma City as the Oilers sent him to the AHL. Moss, on the other hand, is playing for Swiss team Langnau. Moss has literally bounced around North America during his playing career, stopping in places like Saint John, New Brunswick with the AHL Flames, Kansas City with the IHL BLades, and had a cup of coffee with Carolina for the NHL's Hurricanes. Most recently, Moss has been a KHL player as he has suited up for Spartak Moscow and Khabarovsk Amur before jumping to the Swiss League's Langnau. And those two men will be the Canadian goaltenders for this year's squad. I fully expect Moss to be the starter, but Deslauriers could surprise people.

The defencemen that Canada has enlisted for this year's tournament all play in the Swiss Elite League, and all have dabbled in the NHL and AHL during their careers. Marc Popovic (Lugano), Joel Kwiatkowski and Travis Roche (Bern), Duvie Westcott and Cory Murphy (ZSC Zurich Lions), Micki Dupont (Kloten), Brendan Bell (Biel), and Curtis Murphy (Langnau) make up the blueline for Canada, and there's some continuity for this team. The majority of these men played for Canada last year at the tournament, so there should be some familiarity with each other in terms of playing together. Having four of the players play together during their respective Swiss League seasons also helps immensely. This familiarity should be a strength for Canada in the long run as this tournament progresses.

Up front, Canada looks to be a "lunch pail" gang as they have decent speed and a solid work ethic. Again, all of the players come from the Swiss Elite League, but there are certainly recognizable NHL names on this squad. Dominic Pittis (ZSC Zurich Lions), Serge Aubin (Gotteron), Brett McLean (Bern), Josh Holden and Glen Metropolit (Zug), Mark Bell (Kloten), and Curtis Brown (Biel) are your former NHL players with some name caché, but none of them were known for their scoring exploits in the NHL. And that's fine. The large ice surface requires hustle, determination, and a doggedness that most don't give enough credit to, but these men bring that attitude to the ice. Rounding out the forwards are Pascal Pelletier, Mike Iggulden, and Brendan Brooks (Langnau), Eric Landry, Yanick Lehoux, and Martin Kariya (Ambri-Piotta), JP Vigier (Bern), and Blaine Down (ZSC Zurich Lions).

Canada's coaching staff is quite interesting. Former NHL coach Craig MacTavish guided the team to a 2-2 record at last year's tournament, but failed to reach the final as they finished in fourth-place. MacTavish opted not to return, so the search was on for a new head coach. Doug Shedden returns behind the bench, but he'll be serving as an assistant coach to one of the most intimidating men on the planet as he will guide the Canadian team through the Spengler Cup: Mark Messier.

Messier's coaching career is limited to just four international games at the Swiss Challenge and Deutschland Cup last month, and his record is 2-2 as a coach. The 49 year-old former NHL star has stated that he has a better appreciation for how difficult the job of coaching is.

"I always had a lot of respect for the coaches who do it well and I have a better appreciation now," Messier said Saturday to Shi Davidi of The Globe & Mail. “It's exciting coaching, there's a lot going on, there are decisions that have to be made and monitored continuously."

With that, Messier expressed that his team will work hard and will not tolerate cheap, dumb penalties. It sounds to me like Messier is bring his style of play to his coaching style.

"I expect the team to play with a lot of heart. I like an aggressive game, a puck-pursuit game, but I also like a very disciplined game and players who play to win.

"When you combine those things, we want a puck-control game, we want to have some systems in place where we can defend as a team and then hopefully let our talent work its way into the offence."
Serge Aubin has been chosen to captain the Canadian team with Josh Holden and JP Vigier serving as alternate captains. As for the goaltending duties, it appears the job will be split, but Messier gave no indication of who would start against Spartak Moscow in today's game.

That being said, you can watch all of the action on TSN today as the broadcaster will carry the first game of the Spengler Cup on the national carrier. TSN2 will take over after the first game and have the rest of the coverage. You can find the broadcast schedule here for more information.

Canada last captured the Spengler Cup in 2007, and are looking to improve on the fourth-place finish from last year. It all starts today, and I'm looking forward to another excellent international tournament!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 26 December 2010

The Tradition Continues

With the Christmas season, there's another tradition, at least in my house, that we partake in on an annual basis. The 2011 World Junior Championships start today with four games, and we'll get to see both of last year's finalists play today. There are a lot of reasons to watch this tournament, but there's no doubt that the number one reason to watch is for that one player or that moment that will simply go down in hockey history. There are a number of them that have happened so far, and there's a pretty good chance that we'll see one again in this year's tournament in Buffalo, New York. The Americans are the reigning champions so you know the people in Buffalo will be pushing the American boys hard, but the Canadians want supremacy back and the Canadian fans aren't afraid to make the trek south for one of the longest traditions in Canadian hockey history. Let's take a look at some of the greatest moments in Canadian international junior hockey history.

Best Canadian World Junior Goals

Gretzky wearing Canadian blue? Canada in Cooperalls? It happened!

2007 World Junior Shooutout - Canada vs. USA
Jonathan Toews becomes a household name in both countries.

Jordan Eberle's goal against Russia in 2009

Canada wins this game in the shootout. Spectacular goal!

John Carlson's gold medal goal in 2010

And the rivalry becomes even more intense between these two countries.

The tournament starts today with Germany against Switzerland, Canada plays Russia in the afternoon game, Sweden battles Norway in a Scandinavian evening matchup, and Team USA takes the ice in the primetime game tonight against the Finns. I am excited for these games, and I'm looking forward to another magical World Junior Tournament this year!

Just as an aside, the Spengler Cup - a third tradition in this house - starts today as well, but Canada doesn't have their first game until tomorrow. Canada battles the KHL's Spartak Moscow and the Swiss Elite League's HC Davos in their pool. We'll have more on the Spengler Cup tomorrow as Canada looks to capture another title during the holiday season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 25 December 2010

Christmas Conundrum

I found out this year that Christmas is a little difficult when trying to find a gift for a guy who has a special appreciation for hockey. My parents, my brother, and my girlfriend all found that buying hockey-related items for a guy who has a ton of hockey books, clothing, and miscellaneous items is a challenge. I wasn't aware of this, and my Christmas list really didn't have any hockey items on it, but I get that they wanted to get me something special. As it stands, I received one hockey item for Christmas.

I want to be clear: I had one of the best Christmas Days ever in my short history on this planet. There were lots of friends and family over, the food was amazing, and everyone came away smiling and merry. It was, for all intents and purposes, a perfect Christmas. Kudos go out to Mom for an extravagant feast as well. It's being prepared as I write this, and the smells of Christmas dinner are filling the house. Yum!

I'm not going to spend long here, but I will be enjoying the latest edition of Don Cherry's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Hockey. Dedicated hockey fans are a tough group to buy for, but my family came through with a good choice. I'm happy, I had a wonderful Christmas morning, and there's only more awesomeness to come. Yes, I said "awesomeness".

Enjoy your day, everyone! I'm off for more festive fun! And thanks for stopping by on the merriest of holidays!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 24 December 2010

Remember This?

I remember asking for the latest video games and systems for Christmas from the old Colecovision systems right up to my current Wii setup. There's always some cool new game and gadget that the video game makers put out around the Christmas season to drive sales. Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was no different as it included a computer mouse for the SNES system. With the game and mouse, you could do some very cool stuff such as create works of art (if you had the talent), colour in pre-made designs like a colouring book, and stamp things with pre-loaded NES icons. It was pretty cool for its day.

One of the coolest features, though, was the Mario Paint Composer that allowed SNES users to compose music! While the sound quality was that of an old 16-bit video game system, the fact that you could compose music made the game 100% cooler in my view.

Today, we feature one Mario Paint composition that should ring true to hockey fans everywhere, but especially in Canada. Here's the video of the tune on Mario Paint, just in case you may want to dust off the old SNES and Mario Paint sometime today or tomorrow.

Such classic memories! Christmas was great back then, and I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas this season! May Santa be as kind to you and yours as he was to me so many years ago. Be happy, be healthy, be merry, and be kind to one another in this festive season!

From HBIC, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and we'll see what Santa has left you under the tree tomorrow!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 23 December 2010

The $100M Problem

It was announced today that the New Jersey Devils were making a coaching change after starting the season 9-22-2 under the watch of head coach John MacLean. MacLean did everything he could with this team, in my opinion, but there's a significant white elephant that needs to be addressed that MacLean simply could not overcome: Ilya Kovalchuk. Because of Kovalchuk, John MacLean is now looking for work, and the New Jersey Devils will have Jacques Lemaire guiding the team going forward. I'm not putting the blame at the feet of Kovalchuk entirely, but it's time to call a spade "a spade".

John MacLean had no NHL head coaching experience to speak of, so it's fair to say that he may have been in over his head in his first full season of guiding the ship in New Jersey. MacLean has never been in charge of 22 men day in and day out from the locker room to the ice, so it's fair to say that this job may have overwhelmed him. But to say that he was given an opportunity to succeed is a bit of a stretch when one player on the team is eating up enough money to pay two or three decent stars. And that's where the man wearing #17 should start to own up to the problems he has caused this season in regards to the salary cap.

The Devils have played with just 15 skaters once and 16 skaters on another occasion, something the NHL has frowned upon. The reason for them playing with just 15 players is due to a couple of normal factors: suspension and injuries. But there's also another a reason: salary cap issues. Teams normally can play their way out of that problem by signing players or promoting players from their AHL squad. However, the Ilya Kovalchuk contract handcuffed the Devils from doing that, so into battle they went with just 15 players and 16 players because they found themselves dollars away from breaking the salary cap ceiling. Not good.

With Ilya Kovalchuk having been outscored by 22 defencemen in the NHL as of today's date, there's a significant problem in New Jersey with the $102-million dollar man. And you can't tell me that he was surrounded by more talent in Atlanta when he was scoring 50 goals in a season. While it is expected that Kovalchuk play more of a team game in Newark, you would expect him to still be on pace for another 100-point season, right? With 18 points this season, he's hardly on pace to break 50-points. But it's John MacLean's fault for the slow start, right?

Again, I'm not exonerating John MacLean from blame. He's the man guiding the good ship Devils, and he's ultimately to blame for the problems the team is having because you can't fire players. GM Lou Lamoriello took the easy way out on this, and basically admitted doing so in his quote to the media today.

"I take responsibility for waiting and trying to get it to where it should have been," Lamoriello said to Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun Thursday, in announcing the change. "Under no circumstances should all of this responsibility be placed on (MacLean). The responsibility lies on the players and myself for what couldn’t be done."

Cole continues with his poignant assessment of Lamoriello:

"Responsibility in New Jersey, though, never seems to rise. Crap runs downhill there, and the smell never clings to the GM. Players are disposable — though at least there’s a trade freeze over the holidays — and coaches even more so.

"But Lamoriello always lives to fight another day, fire a coach, hire a coach, 'retire' him again, when he’s served his short-term purpose, as he surely will do with Lemaire.

"Soon enough, the GM will once again be looking around for someone to take charge of the bench on a more permanent basis, though permanent is probably the wrong word.

"Two pieces of advice for the lucky candidate: rent an apartment or stay in a hotel, preferably a long way from Newark, New Jersey. And don’t buy any green bananas."
So in comes Jacques Lemaire, a man who has been around the New Jersey swamp a few times before.

"I asked him to come back for the second half so we can find out who we are and where we're at," Lamoriello said to Mike Morreale of "I also felt that there is time to get back on track. He's totally committed and will be coming to stay to get the job done."

That's fine and dandy for Lamoriello to say about Lemaire, but the fact of the matter is that Lemaire was cruising with a talented Devils team before the bottom fell out last season. The Devils finished the season at 48-27-7, but went 22-19-6 after December 21 before being eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games in the opening round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Before the Christmas break, the Devils were 26-8-1. After Christmas, they went 22-19-6. Anyone see a problem here?

Add to the fact that acquiring Kovalchuk did nothing to help the Devils down the stretch, and this only fuels that fire that Kovalchuk, not the coaching, is a large part of MacLean's dismissal. While it's true that the Devils struggled after Christmas last year, they didn't get any better with Kovalchuk's somewhat-friendly salary on the books after they acquired him. And Lemaire couldn't turn around a ship that was taking on a lot of water as they made an early exit from the playoffs yet again.

So I have to ask: why will the third coming of Jacques Lemaire be different when the Devils have less talent than last season, and more problems on both sides of the puck to deal with? They have scored a league-low 60 goals in 34 games, and have given up 108 goals - hardly New Jersey Devils-like numbers for any season.

The Devils are a team that is now stuck between a rock and a hard cap number. They can't sign any free agents because they don't have the cap room, and they can't afford to waive any overpriced talent because there isn't anyone that can step in and replace that struggling, overpriced player. Thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk's albatross contract, this situation will plague New Jersey for the next few years.

I found it funny today when Ilya Kovalchuk said the following to Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:
“I’m not the reason (why MacLean was fired). Don’t worry. Everybody has their own opinion, but in the situation that we are, (a coach gets fired). It’s unfortunate, but we have to live with it and move forward.”
So MacLean was fired because his team was performing up to expectations? MacLean wasn't dismissed like Robbie Ftorek or Larry Robinson. MacLean was dismissed because high-priced talent simply wasn't producing. Lou Lamoriello said it, and it's time that a $102-million dollar athlete accept responsibility for his poor play and the circumstances that surround it.

Because after losing 5-1 to the New York Islanders tonight, Ilya Kovalchuk finds himself in a familiar place in the NHL standings at Christmas once again: dead last. And that number won't change with a new coach unless a $102-million dollar scoring threat starts playing up to his contractual obligation.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 11

Antler Banter wants to wish each and every reader a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays during this festive time of season! The Moose battled the Houston Aeros at MTS Centre this past week in a relatively quiet two-game homestand before a week off for the holidays. We'll also take a look at the stats to see how the Moose are doing in relation to the rest of the AHL as we prepare for next week and a new year. As always, check out the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. It's the all about the spirit of giving in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Bears And Aeros Fall

It was a big night on Friday, December 17 as the Moose and Houston Aeros tangled for the first time this season. While the title of this section has nothing to do with Hershey's AHL team, there were bears flying all around MTS Centre. 7906 fans turned out to help support the Christmas Cheer Board with the Moose's annual Teddy Bear Toss! 2071 stuffed animals found their way to the ice surface of MTS Centre, and the Moose raised an additional $3040 for the Christmas Cheer Board! Well done, Moose fans! Your generosity this holiday season will certainly help some underprivileged families in Winnipeg!

As for the Moose, there were some excellent contributions made on the ice on Friday night. Joel Perrault made a big impact on the scoresheet as he recorded a goal, added two assists, and finished with three shots. The key to Perrault's play on this night was that all of his points came on the powerplay as he awakened the Moose extra-man unit with his play. Perrault controlled the powerplay from his usual spot on the point, and the Moose saw immediate benefits to having him back in the lineup!

A player who has made significant impact since returning from injury is defenceman Mark Flood. Flood had a goal and assist, both on powerplays, and his late second-period goal was his first of the season. Flood scored one-third of his point total on Friday night, and it's always nice to get a big contribution from a guy who isn't expected to light the lamp all that often. Where Flood really looks good is on the powerplay, and he should score a lot more if he continues with his strong play of late.

Guillaume Desbiens, recently sent to Manitoba from Vancouver, showed that he hasn't lost a step. Desbiens scored his first AHL goal of the season, and finished the night with a +1 rating - exactly what you'd expect from a player who has spent a third of the season in the NHL. Desbiens looks inspired and hungry, and he should help the Moose immensely while Cody Hodgson is injured.

Overall, the evening was a very good night for both the Moose and the fans. The fans did their part by bringing out cash and stuffed animals, and the Moose did their part on the ice by taking out the Aeros in 5-3 victory. Manitoba improves their record on the season to 14-10-4 with the win.

Winning The Battles

The Moose and Aeros had a rematch on Saturday night, and the Aeros were looking to avenge a loss the previous night after leading 3-1 early in Friday's second period. The Moose were looking to build on a solid effort from Friday night, so both teams were looking for two points. Eddie Lack took to the nets for the Moose while the Aeros sent Anton Kudobin out to guard their twine.

There weren't a lot of goals on Saturday evening, but Sergei Shirokov deserves a little of the spotlight as he scored the only goal on the night and tied for the game-high total of four shots. Shirokov is showing that blazing speed down the wing that we saw so often last year, and he has the confidence to finish strong. While the Canucks have recalled some of the other Moose wingers recently, I truly feel that Shirokov will have his number called before the end of the season due to his impressive play thus far this season. Shirokov leads the team with 13 assists and 20 points, and looks dangerous every time he steps onto the ice.

Another player whose play has significantly improved from last season is that of defenceman Travis Ramsey. Ramsey was a goal short of the "Gordie Howe hat trick" on Saturday, but he has become the physical force that the Moose desperately need on the blueline. If the Moose had one more player who pays with as much heart and tenacity as Ramsey, they would be a much tougher team to play against in their zone. Ramsey is showing great improvement over last season at this point, and those strides should bring him closer to an NHL job.

While it wasn't a busy night for Eddie Lack, he did make 20 saves to record his first doughnut of his professional career. Because of Lack's performance, the Moose only needed Sergei Shirokov's third-period goal, and they took the second-half of the back-to-back games against Houston by a 1-0 score. With the win, the Moose improve to 15-10-4 on the season as the holiday break begins.

Number Crunching

The Moose have played 29 games thus far in the AHL season, tied for the lowest games-played total by any AHL team. They sit in fourth-place in the North Division, but have every opportunity to jump ahead of teams with all the games they have in-hand. However, this section is all about the numbers the Moose have recorded thus far this season in those 29 games.
  • Kudos to Moose fans as the Manitoba Moose rank second in the AHL for attendance up to this point! The Moose have seen 100,473 people come through the turnstiles for 12 home games thus far for an average of 8373 fans per game! Well done, Moose fans!
  • Eddie Lack is seventh for goaltenders in terms of goals-against average. Lack is sporting a 2.03 GAA through the 18 games he has appeared in.
  • Manitoba sports an 8-4-0 record at home, but needs to be better on the road after posting a 7-6-4 record away from MTS Centre.
  • Manitoba is 3-4 in shootouts thus far, but has yet to win or lose in overtime. Apparently, the Moose feel they have a better chance of winning in the breakaway competition despite their below-.500 record in the shootout.
  • The Moose are 7-for-28 on shootout shots, placing them 19th overall in the AHL.
  • The Herd's goaltenders have stopped 19 of 29 shootout chances, placing the Moose 19th overall in the AHL for shootout goals-against.
  • When scoring first, Manitoba carries an 8-1-3 record through to the final buzzer.
  • Manitoba is pretty consistent in terms of their divisional play. The Moose are 7-5-2 against North Division opponents, and 8-5-2 against West Division opponents.
  • Manitoba has climbed to 28th overall in the AHL for their powerplay conversions with a 12.3% conversion rate. They rank 24th at home with a 13.4% rate, and 26th on the road with an 11.5% rate.
  • The Moose are sitting at 4th overall for their penalty killing this season at 86.7%. At home, the Moose are 10th in the AHL at 86.0%, but are 5th overall on the road at 87.2%.
  • The Moose have scored one shorthanded goal on the season, and are one of two teams who has yet to give up a shorthanded goal. Division rival Hamilton Bulldogs are the other team.
  • Manitoba is 20th overall for goals-for-per-game with 2.79. They have scored 81 goals thus far this season.
  • The Moose are 9th overall for goals-against-per-game with 2.72. The Moose have allowed 79 goals on the campaign.
Who's Got Next?

The Moose have a two-game set after Christmas with the Peoria Rivermen on Monday and Tuesday. Peoria has charged up the standings in the West Division after going 8-1-1 in their last ten games, and goaltender Jake Allen has made Peoria into a dangerous team. Allen is 11-2-0 on the season with a sparkling 1.58 GAA and four shutouts. The Moose will have to come out guns a-blazin' to get a few pucks past Allen, so there's only one thing to say: DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

No Play Nazem

There are a lot of things I don't understand about the Toronto Maple Leafs. For instance, how can a team that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 have such a passionate following? How can a team so stacked in history struggle to emerge from the basement year after year for the better part of a decade? And why does a team that gets so many high draft picks seem to be unable to develop a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate? It is this last question that has me puzzled today as it seems that the Maple Leafs' brass is happy keeping highly-touted rookie Nazem Kadri under wraps as he watched the last two games from the press box.

I'm not sure why they keep Kadri off the ice. Kadri has six assists in sixteen games thus far this season, but is saddled with a -4 rating. That gives him more points than Fredrik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, and Mike Brown already this season despite playing in less games. While those players are wingers and Kadri is listed as a centerman, you don't have to look far to find Tyler Bozak's 11 points in 33 games with a -9 rating, Tim Brent's six points in 33 games with a -4 rating, and John Mitchell's two points in 20 games with a -8 rating. So I ask this question honestly: why is Kadri watching while these other men are playing?

I'm not saying that Kadri is a Calder Trophy candidate by any means at this point in the season. His play has been good enough, in my opinion, to give him a shot in the lineup. But to sit him in the press box is absolutely ludicrous when he could be playing down the road for the AHL's Toronto Marlies and improving his game so that he can help the Leafs when called upon in the future. Yet he sits. Can anyone explain this?

Look, if the Leafs aren't interested in developing any solid young talent, they'll be doomed to the NHL's cellar for a long time. The last three Stanley Cup winners - Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago - all developed some excellent young players that helped them get to the playoffs and beyond. Kris Versteeg, one of those young players from the Blackhawks, is now a Maple Leaf, and he's playing well with 21 points in 32 games. However, his -16 rating is the worst on the Maple Leafs, and there seems to be no push from head coach Ron Wilson for him to change his ways on the defensive side of the puck. Versteeg, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak - once the Leafs' first line - are a combined -39 on the season thus far, and none of them are over the age of 25. That's some damning evidence of a coaching staff that either can't get its players to play in its system or evidence that the players have stopped listening. For young players, this is paramount in the development of bad habits and poor play.

I'm not saying that Ron Wilson should be removed as the head coach, but his team has become ineffective and unresponsive. Goals happen as often as deserts get rain, and goaltenders Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have seen more rubber than a Goodyear factory. Not scoring combined with giving up a lot of goals equals a losing season. And that leads me back to Kadri.

You need to change one of the variables in that equation: either score more goals, or stop the opposition from scoring. Kadri, from his current statistics, generates more offence than Sjostrom, Orr, Mitchell, Mike Brown, and Colby Armstrong. While these players bring different elements to the table than Kadri, it is clear that the Leafs need to score more goals. They are currently 28th overall in the NHL for goals-for with 73 on the season for an average of 2.21 goals-per-game. The problem is that they have given up 100 goals-against this season for an average of 3.03 GPG. Clearly, there are problems in Leafs-land on both sides of the puck.

So why not give Kadri a chance? What does a team like the Leafs have to lose when an offensive player like Kadri is sitting in the press box? You don't see a team like the New York Islanders sitting John Tavares. Kadri, for all intents and purposes, should be playing over some of the other Leafs centermen.

In regards to the development of young players, I believe that Ron Wilson has no ability in getting the most out a young player while turning them into an effective NHL player. He coached some great teams in Washington and San Jose to success, but those teams were flush with veteran players who understood the rigors and intricacies of an NHL season. He was able to push those veteran players, but he rarely got key contributions from young players in both Washington and San Jose, something that seems to be plaguing him again in Toronto.

With the way that the NHL is played today, young players are key to the success of many teams. Perhaps the NHL's ideology has left coaches like Ron Wilson behind. What I do know for sure is that leaving Nazem Kadri, an offensively-gifted player, in the press box is a bad idea for a team that can't find the net on a map. And this problem with Wilson not being able to develop good young players into good NHL players may eventually cost him his job in Toronto.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 20 December 2010

We Interrupt This Blogcast...

Over the last two months, my life has taken a few dramatic turns. I've decided, thanks to these events, to re-evaluate where my chosen career path was leading me, and I've decided to embark on a new venture. No, this blog will continue because I love hockey and I really like you guys who are reading this. You make it fun, and the comments are always appreciated. But I have decided that I need to upgrade my skills in my chosen field, so I've changed my career path from being a dedicated salt mine employee to a semi-broke college student.

Now, I'm sure there will be some questions, and I'm here to answer those inquiries. I know that some of you will probably want more information, so I've decided to hold this faux press conference to answer a few questions. With that, I open the floor to made-up reporter names working for completely-fabricated news agencies.

John Smithson, The National Reporter: What does this mean for Hockey Blog In Canada? Will there be a reduction in posts? Will you bring aboard new staff?

Great question, John. I want to be clear: HBIC will not change for any reason in terms of how or when I post information. I am dedicated to this blog because I love the game of hockey, and I really appreciate the people who stop by here to read my daily insanity for the game.

There might be a few changes that you do see, though. I'm not looking for additional writers at this time, but I am open to guest posts at any time. Basically, if you want to write an occasional article, I'm very open to that concept. This is a blog of the people, by the people, for the people, and I want to keep that concept open.

The courses that I am taking, though, will allow me to work on some new stuff. I'm taking a few computer programming courses in Java, .Net, and other programming languages, so I may work on some new tools and cool stuff for this site on the side. I realize that this may change some stuff on the site, but I'll need people to test some of the new stuff I come up with in terms of programming. Having this outlet to the world will only help me produce better tools. I am very excited about this opportunity.

Bob Felton, USA Present: You do a lot of giveaways, and you run a playoff pool with a lot of prizes in it. Will your "semi-broke college student" status affect the giveaways and pool prizes?

I'll be honest: the giveaways and pool prizes are a result of some very generous people at companies that I respect and endorse. I've been very lucky to have the great people at Pepsi/Frito-Lay and a few publishing companies work with me for some incredible prizing, and I look forward to continue to bring to my readers the very best prizes possible.

That being said, I do spend some of my hard-earned cash on prizing, and I always offer to mail prizes to winners at my expense. I'm not saying that changes will happen because I am still working part-time with a new employer, but I may have to roll some of the prizing back if my budget demands it. While I realize that this isn't what readers want to hear, I'm a realist. And reality demands that school be given my top priority for both my attention and my finances.

Lesley Hamilton, Seattle Sun: Exactly what are you pursuing at school in terms of your degree, and how long are we talking before you receive your degree?

Officially, I have enrolled and been accepted into the Business Information Technology program at Red River College. From their website, the Business Information Technology program "is a two-year program that gives you a solid foundation in information technology in the first year before you enter one of the following second-year specialties". Those specialties include application development, database management, network management, and web development.

I haven't decided which specialty I'd like to pursue at this point. I'd like to keep my opportunities open in order to see which I am most passionate about, but I definitely see opportunities with each one for this site. There is also the opportunity that Red River College is pursuing with one of the major universities to have the credits transferred to a potential Computer Science degree once the two-year program is done. That sounds very appealing to me, but we'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I am looking towards starting my school career once again!

Jeff Smith, The Fairly Obvious: When do you start? Will you keep us updated?

Soon and yes. The program begins on January 4, 2011, so I only have a couple of weeks to prepare myself for school. But I feel that I will be ready. As for the updates, I will certainly let everyone know if and when I am working on a new tool or application that will be available for testing, and I'll give everyone updates when exams are happening so that you don't just think I'm mailing in a post when I'm actually mailing in a post.

Jack Whitten, The Dominion Traveler: How will this affect HBIC's travel plans to various events such as Uni Watch events or annual September road trips?

I haven't given it much thought, but my travel plans to new and wonderful destinations will obviously have to be reconsidered since school will demand a lot of attention and financial planning. Clearly, September is a school month, so that annual trip is most likely finished for some time.

As for any other trips, I can't say that I'll stop traveling completely, but I have to carefully track my expenses and keep a tight string on my budget if I want to partake in any of the Uni Watch events or any other road trips. Each of these trips will be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine the feasibility. I'd love to continue to travel, but school is certainly more important at this time.

So there's a little update as to what's been happening inside my personal life. I had been waiting on the acceptance letter for a few weeks, and it finally came today! I start, as stated above, on January 4, and I'm really looking forward to this new chapter in my life! I promise to keep everyone updated as best as I can, but HBIC will continue in the status quo until further notice!

And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email! If you'd like to contribute a guest post at any time on a hockey subject, feel free to hit me up with an email as well!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 19 December 2010

Where's Teebz?

I spent my Sunday out in the awesome town of Rosenort, Manitoba for a friend's birthday. Before the celebrations began, I was lucky enough to take in a game between the Red River Wild and the Niverville Clippers of the Carillon Senior Hockey League. The game was a spirited battle as the hometown Wild gave everything they had against the league-leading Clippers, but the Wild eventually fell 3-1 after a couple of fights broke out in the third period. While there were no bench-clearing brawls, there were some spirited line brawls, and that got me to thinking about the days of yore where bench-clearing brawls were common.

Today is simply a day where HBIC throws caution to the wind and opens both doors on the bench to let the players out. HBIC looks back at a few memorable bench-clearing brawls from the NHL as I celebrate a good friend's birthday.

Calgary's Tim Hunter loses his mind against the Winnipeg Jets.

Buffalo and Los Angeles gang-warred in 1985.

Chicago and St. Louis in the St. Patrick's Day Massacre.

The Good Friday Brawl in La Belle Province.

Philly and Jersey for Patrick Division supremacy.
Wow. Some good brawls there, and we didn't even go back into the 1970s with the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies! A good hockey fight always gets the blood going, and it's fun to watch these old videos. I'm not condoning any sort of bench-clearing brawl in today's game, but this was when the NHL was more like the wild, wild west.

Happy birthday, Brendan, and congratulations on the six PIMs you earned today!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Fear Or Fair?

It is with great interest to the rest of the hockey world that the NHLPA introduced Donald Fehr as their new Executive Director yesterday afternoon. The 62 year-old negotiator put off retirement to join the NHLPA as they prepare for upcoming negotiations in 2011 with the NHL. Fehr previously held the position of MLBPA Executive Director for 24 years, and won several major cases against MLB with regards to collusion and replacement players. And perhaps most infamously for Canadians, Fehr successfully led the MLBPA in a strike that canceled the 1995 World Series when the Montreal Expos were on top of the Major League Baseball standings. Because of this, you'll have to forgive Canadians when they feel a little hesitant towards the appointment of Fehr as the top man in the NHLPA.

I'll be honest: I don't know very much about Donald Fehr simply because I don't really follow baseball as closely as I probably should. I do know that Fehr's name sometimes irks MLB's owners, so there's probably a good reason that hockey owners have a little apprehension over Fehr's appointment.

To introduce Canadians to Mr. Fehr, the CBC, specifically Elliotte Friedman and Ron MacLean, presented an excellent piece this evening on Mr. Fehr, and I was very curious as to how he would come off on this piece. I'll have my thoughts below, but this 13-minute clip should bring to light a little bit of Mr. Fehr's personality for Canadians who may not be as knowledgeable about him as our American neighbours.

Marvin Miller ran the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, and transformed the MLBPA from an also-ran union into one of the United States' most powerful unions in history. Some of Miller's accomplishments included getting arbitration introduced into baseball, eradicating the "reserve clause" in baseball and introducing full free agency, and getting baseball's minimum salary to increase 1268% from $19,000 to $241,000. Clearly, he was a dynamo, and Fehr worked under him until he took over in 1985. However, under Miller, Fehr also witnessed three strikes that crippled baseball in the early-1980s.

To me, it sounds like Mr. Fehr understands the global game of hockey better than the men who preceded him in the NHLPA. In his interview with MacLean, he addresses the European market where hockey is already being played and is somewhat thriving, he addresses the international game in terms of IIHF's stance on the Olympics and the World Championships, and he gets that there is a large percentage of the NHL that comes from overseas. That's something that I think the NHL is interested in exploring, and it sounds like Mr. Fehr has a grasp of wanting to explore those markets in both a growth role and a financial role.

It also sounds like Mr. Fehr is an advocate for the players, and will keep players informed of what is happening during negotiations. There was some rumbling from players about the lack of transparency at the top of the NHLPA in the last few years, and there was certainly a sense of "traitorism" when Bob Goodenow agreed to the 24% rollback in salaries. Mr. Fehr, without being confrontational, said exactly what the players want to hear: we'll keep you informed as to what is happening in the negotiations, and we'll bring you to the negotiating table if you have questions about what is being put forth. That, to me, sounds like crystal clear transparency, and that has to please the players.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Fehr will accomplish as the top man in the NHLPA as he starts in his role in the NHLPA, but his interview leaves me thinking that he's going into these new CBA negotiations with the players' wants and needs in mind while being respectful of the owners' wishes in order to prevent another work stoppage in the NHL. As a fan, I can honestly say that hearing this sentiment is a relief when negotiations in the past seemed like a shootout at the OK Corral.

While his name is pronounced "fear", I'd say Mr. Fehr is all about fair right now. And for the NHL, NHLPA, and the fans, that's all we want to see in these new negotiations.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!