Monday 31 January 2011

Changing Their Course

Rarely are NHL fans treated to a new look midway through the NHL season. Rarely are we treated to a shift in the values, vision, and direction of a franchise so thoroughly with half the season still to be played. And it is the rarest of cases that a franchise will debut new uniforms midway through a season while still wearing their old uniforms. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning have decided to break the trend of waiting until the off-season to debut their new uniforms by unveiling them today. Of course, I have my take on these new threads, so we'll take a look at the good, bad, and indifferent about these new uniforms, and we'll have an overall grade of the new look debuted by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

We've seen a monumental shift in how the Lightning does business since Steve Yzerman took the reins as general manager of the Floridian franchise. The Lightning have definitely changed from an outside point-of-view, extolling the virtues of honour, tradition, respect, and doing things the "right way" as values of their franchise. So it comes as no surprise that the Tampa Bay Lightning published a new set of core values on which the team will build.

If you read that vision statement correctly, the Lightning represent three major keys: the Tampa Bay community, a championship team, and hallmark events. These are the cornerstones of the Lightning franchise in that they will represent and be part of the Tampa Bay community as both corporate citizens and icons within the community; they will be a championship-calibre team so that the metropolitan area of Tampa and St. Petersburg can be proud of their hockey franchise, and proudly stand behind and support their NHL club; and, the Lightning will host hallmark events in which the people of the Tampa Bay area can take part and of which they can be proud. Essentially, the Tampa Bay Lightning are redefining themselves in the market they play in, and I think this is an excellent idea.

Not only are the Lightning pledging to be more visual and more active in the community, but they are committing themselves to the community of Tampa Bay as partners and citizens. But it's not like this vision just suddenly appeared as some apparition to the men who run the Lightning. Instead, this is the basis that the vast majority of northern NHL markets run their businesses. Franchises like Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Minnesota, and Detroit send their players out into the community to interact with fans all the time at various community events. It's no secret that Steve Yzerman, a long-time Detroit Red Wing, is putting this vision forward as a way for the Lightning to become more visible in their own yard. This, readers, is how you generate buzz about your team. For a team that's deep in the sunbelt, this is nothing but a good idea. GOOD.

While the vision statement is something brand-new for this franchise that now puts an onus on the club in being a good corporate citizen, I have to admit that I'm shocked that the Lightning took a step back in their branding of themselves. The new logos, while fairly clear, are also still regressing backwards from their previous iterations. While we saw this work in the case of the Vancouver Canucks as they moved to new uniforms, the Lightning, to me, should be a little more bold. After all, lightning is a pretty awesome force in nature. So while the overall aesthetic of the Lightning hasn't been lost, it does seem a little underwhelming just being one colour. PUSH.

The new uniforms are different, and normally I believe that different is good if it leads to something better. The Lightning have essentially turned a once-bold look into a very subdued look. While I'm not totally against the idea of simplifying anyone's look, we go back to the Lightning being a name that exudes energy and boldness. Had the Minnesota Wild come up with a logo like this, the brand simply doesn't fit the identity. I feel that the home jersey's brand doesn't have the same effect without the black and silver that it once does, and the Lightning are worse off for it. STUPID.

However, I do like the blue colour that the Lightning have decided on for the home jerseys. I was always a fan of the alternate jersey that the Lightning wore in the late-1990s, and the "electric blue" that they wear on their current alternate jerseys stands out. While the Lightning certainly could use some black and silver highlights, the home jersey would essentially look a lot like their current alternate jerseys... making them Dallas East. Kudos for the Lightning in opting for the blue background for their home jerseys, and for not selecting navy blue as their primary colour. GOOD.

The new white road jersey is even more sterile than their current road jersey. Again, the jersey could certainly use some black and/or silver highlights to make the jersey "pop" a little more. After all, we're talking about "the Lightning". And I'm not a fan of the "Tampa Bay" written across this jersey. As you know, I seriously think that NHL teams need to live and die by their logos and branding and not the city name. While the city name is vitally important to the identity of the team, when you read "Chicago hockey", the Blackhawks logo probably comes to mind. Lose the name, grab some jersey accents for this road jersey. STUPID.

The new shoulder patch being sported by the Lightning is magnificent. Honestly, I love the retro look of this new patch, and I think that this design has a lot of opportunity to be a very good logo for branding. First, circular logos are automatically pleasing to the eye in their nature. Don't believe me? Think about these logos - Target, Apple, Disney, Mercedes-Benz, the Olympic Rings, AT&T, Shell Petroleum. What do they all have in common? They are round or have large portions of their logos in a round shape. And I guarantee that most of you can picture each of those logos in your head.

Secondly, the patch is very simplistic in its design. Less is definitely more in this case, and I think the Lightning should be very happy with this design. I, for one, think it could almost be their primary logo. GOOD.

I apologize for the size of the picture, but the Lightning have gone to single-colour names and numbers on the back of the jerseys. I'm certainly not complaining because you can read the names and numbers quite easily in that small picture, and it is much better than some of their previous font choices. The font is clean and simple, and that's perfect. GOOD.

Overall, the look of these new jerseys leaves me wanting more from the Lightning. It's not to say that they're bad or that I won't get used to them, but in comparison to today's look and yesterday's look, the Lightning just seem less aggressive in their new duds. Having the legends show up and wear the new uniforms, including Phil Esposito who never played for the Lightning, was a little much in terms of presentation.

The Lightning also announced that their recently-introduced alternate jerseys would move forward with the new uniforms to remain as the alternate jersey. So while the "Victory Stripes" may be gone from the home and road jerseys, fans of the Lightning will still get to see them when the Lightning play games in their alternate uniforms. As much as I like to make fun of the armpit stripes, they are unique to the Lightning, so I'm glad to see the stripes remain. However, I'm still not sold on "Bolts". PUSH.

So there are the new-look Tampa Bay Lightning in all of their uniform glory. Personally, I think the look will grow on me, so I'm going to give these jerseys a thumbs-up as they went 4-2-2 in the GOOD-STUPID-PUSH record. Time will tell how the Lightning fare in their traditional design, but at least Steve Yzerman didn't resort to bringing Manon Rhéaume in to back up Dwayne Roloson.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 30 January 2011

Uni Watch All-Star Look

It's that magical time of year when hockey gets back to its purest form and... alright, who am I kidding? I was asked by Phil Hecken to give some thoughts on the NHL All-Star Game jerseys for the incomparable Uni Watch Blog today, and I am replaying the article here. As you know, the NHL All-Star Game goes today, and there's something that has me excited about the game, but a number of things that do not. The NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft took place on Friday night, and we'll take a look at some of the more garish NHL All-Star Game jersey designs in a Jim Vilk-style "3+1 view". I'll also look back on a few of my favorite images from past All-Star Games. Let's get this review underway using the Paul Lukas "is it good or is it stupid" test!

The NHL decided to allow Reebok to push the envelope in their designs this year for the two teams, and I'm sorry to say that I don't like the look the NHL chose. There's nothing good about random striping that cuts off at the seam of the sleeve and then randomly begins on the back of the sleeve and end at the elbow on the front. Honestly, what is the point of these random lines? If this is some new gradient technology that Reebok has come up with, we've been there, done that, moved on. Stop trying to add flair – it just doesn't work! Random lines that do nothing for the aesthetics of the uniform are just dumb. STUPID.

Have you actually looked at the front of the jerseys? There's just way too much stuff on the front with the NHL All-Star shield logo, the number below the collar, the captaincy designation, and the NHL shield logo. Does anyone actually look at these jerseys before signing off on them? Are there no prototypes made? The easiest solution is to remove the “feature” that the NHL apparently insists on having on the front – the number. The jersey would be much less busy, and would look fairly good if you overlook the random lines all over the sleeves. However, that number can't be overlooked. STUPID.

The font used on the jersey for names and numbers is legible, so that's a plus, but we run into a problem with the numbers on the back of Team Lidstrom's jerseys. Again, what's with the random lines? Do we really need these lines on the numbers? The rear numbers clearly do not match up with the sleeve and chest numbers as it appears those numbers don’t have lines, so this might be the first time in NHL history where back numbers don’t jive with TV numbers. So that automatically makes this STUPID.

Now you’re probably saying, “Teebz, you’re such a downer,” due to my three “stupid” ratings in a row. There are, however, some things I do like about the NHL All-Star jerseys.

For starters, I love the colour used by the teams. Have you noticed that the black on these jerseys is as minimal as can be? The blue is bold, and the home team is wearing white! While I’m not completely sold on the shade of red being used, the game should look good and the fans, for the first time in a long time, will be able to cheer on the good guys in white! GREAT!

I'm guessing that Team Staal will be skating left-to-right tomorrow because the NHL All-Star Game logo is on mirrored shoulders for the two teams. I get that the NHL wants the logo showing in promotional pictures during the ceremonial face-off and stuff, but will anyone not know that this is the NHL All-Star Game? I can’t call it dumb because it serves a purpose, but when you combine that with the individual team logo of each player on the opposite shoulder, this one becomes a PUSH.

Overall, not the worst-looking All-Star Game in history (we'll see those in a second), but the NHL really needs to go back to their star design or a much more simplified design. The KISS rule always seems to work best.

Teebz's All-Star 3+1

Not much needs to be said here, but these are certainly the worst looks seen at the NHL All-Star Games over the years. The "+1" will be my favorite NHL All-Star Game look of all-time. Enjoy!

3. 1982 NHL All-Star Game – Wales Conference vs. Campbell Conference. I like the colours, but how many stars do you need on a jersey?

2. 2003 NHL All-Star Game – Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference. The Western Conference jersey looks good in colour, but the TV numbers on the front left hip for these teams are useless. The Eastern Conference jersey looks like a ripoff of the Mighty Ducks' jersey. Not a fan of these jerseys. They just don't say "all-star".

1. 2000 NHL All-Star Game – North America vs. World. Count the number of different jerseys you see. If you see four different jerseys, you're right. The goaltenders for each team wore jerseys that were different from their teammates. Aren't uniforms supposed to be, y'know, uniform? This is the dumbest idea seen at an NHL All-Star Game yet.

+1. 1992 NHL All-Star Game – Wales Conference vs. Campbell Conference. There is something to behold about the 1992 NHL All-Star Game: the colour, the throwback designs, and the overall aesthetic. These uniforms are absolutely gorgeous, and some NHL team should look at bringing a design like this to life.

There are also a number of pictures that make the NHL All-Star Game special. These are some that I've liked for various reasons.
That's all for today! Enjoy the NHL All-Star Game from Raleigh, North Carolina!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 29 January 2011

Rosters Are Set

There was some pretty good buzz about the team selection in the old schoolyard known as the NHL. The 2011 NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft, presented by Cisco because you can't undersell yourself, was held, and Team Staal and Team Lidstrom began to assemble as the two captains and their alternate captains went back and forth picking teammates. There were many big questions - who would go first, who would be selected last, would there be teammate versus teammate situations, will the Sedins be broken up for the first time in their careers - and each one would have an answer at the conclusion of the Fantasy Draft. So without further adieu, let's look at the rosters for both Team Staal and Team Lidstrom.

Team Staal

Team Staal, led by captain Eric Staal and alternate captains Ryan Kesler and Mike Green, were given the right to draft first in the Fantasy Draft. With names like Ovechkin, Nash, Toews, and Stamkos available, Eric Staal had a number of superstars to choose. With the first overall pick, Team Staal chose... Cam Ward? Alright, I get it - a little nepotism here as the Carolina Hurricanes superstar chose the Carolina Hurricanes goaltender for the hometown fans. No complaints there, I suppose.

Team Staal continued the nepotism theme as alternate captain Mike Green chose teammate Alexander Ovechkin with the third pick. And Ryan Kesler got in on the action as he chose teammate Daniel Sedin with the fifth pick of the draft. It appeared Team Staal was all about teammates early on, but the seventh pick was one made purely on talent. Zdeno Chara was added to Team Staal, and the ninth pick was another smart one as they added Rick Nash to the team.

Teammates and family played a role in the next two picks as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was chosen with the 11th pick. Following him was another New York Ranger as Eric Staal chose brother Marc Staal with the 13th pick. Patrick Sharp, Dan Boyle, and Carey Price were selected next by Team Staal before Eric went back to the Hurricanes' roster by selecting teammate Jeff Skinner with the 21st pick in the draft.

Team Staal rounded out their roster with Kris Letang, Claude Giroux, Erik Karlsson, Corey Perry, Patrik Elias, David Backes, and Paul Stastny. If you're keeping tabs on repeat player numbers, Team Staal should have two instances of #10 (Sharp and Perry), two instances of #22 (Sedin and Boyle), and two instances of #30 (Ward and Lundqvist).

Team Lidstrom

Niklas Lidstrom was joined on stage with his alternate captains Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis as they had the second overall pick in the NHL Fantasy Draft. With Cam Ward already off the board, that left a myriad of NHL superstars to choose from, and Lidstrom jumped at one of the league's best goal scorers in choosing Steven Stamkos with his first pick.

Lidstrom, like Team Staal, decided to use a little nepotism as alternate captain Patrick Kane chose defenceman Duncan Keith with Team Lidstrom's second pick. Martin St. Louis threw a little controversy into the 2011 NHL All-Star Game with his selection of Henrik Sedin at the sixth overall pick. That, of course, means that the Sedins will be playing against one another tomorrow afternoon.

From there, it was all about talent on Team Lidstrom. Shea Weber, Tim Thomas, and Daniel Briere were chosen with the next three picks before Patrick Kane had some say on the 14th and 16th overall picks. Team Lidstrom selected former Blackhawk and current high-scoring Thrashers defenceman Dustin Byfuglien at 14, and then added Blackhawk Jonathan Toews at 16. Team Lidstrom rounded out their goaltenders with the next two picks as Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonas Hiller were selected.

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos got to bring back one of the Lightning alumni with the 22nd overall pick as Brad Richards joined Team Lidstrom. Keith Yandle and Brent Burns rounded out Team Lidstrom's blueline with the next two picks. Burns' teammate and Kane's former teammate Martin Havlat was chosen at 28th overall, and he was followed by Anze Kopitar, Matt Duchene, and Richards' Dallas Stars teammate Loui Eriksson. So who was the last man chosen?

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For his wait, Kessel received a Honda CR-Z car and $20,000 to donate to a charity of his choice - not too bad for being the last man chosen. Kessel stated that he will donate the money to a cancer charity after having beaten testicular cancer in 2006. As for being chosen last, what did Kessel think of that honour?

"I don't care one bit at all," said Kessel of being chosen last to The Canadian Press. "When I was a kid, I would never have dreamed of being here. Hopefully the fans in Toronto are happy to see me in the game. I'll play well in the game for them."

If you're keeping track of those players with repeat numbers, Team Lidstrom will have two sets of numbers that will appear twice: #91 (Stamkos and Richards) and #33 (Sedin and Byfuglien).

Just as an added note, Jeff Skinner will officially become the youngest player in any of the four major sports to appear in an all-star game. Skinner is 18 years, 259 days. He officially knocks off Steve Yzerman's 1984 All-Star Game debut by eight days under the current format of the All-Star Game. When the NHL Stanley Cup champions earned the right to play the NHL All-Stars, there are two players who would be younger than Skinner: Toronto's Fleming Mackell in 1947 (18 years, 166 days) and Detroit's Larry Hillman in 1955 (18 years, 239 days).

Teammates that will face one another include Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler against Henrik Sedin; Zdeno Chara against Tim Thomas; Kris Letang against Marc-Andre Fleury; Claude Giroux against Daniel Briere; Corey Perry against Jonas Hiller; and, Patrick Sharp against Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews.

The NHL Skills Competition gets underway later today, so get ready for some fun and excitement as your 2011 NHL All-Stars show off their stuff!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 28 January 2011

Musical Fun On Non-Hockey Friday

I have to admit that we've seen some good videos over the last couple of weeks. Lee Sweatt's first NHL goal was pretty solid, and the work done by is, in a word, impressive. They have some excellent music videos, and we're going to continue down that path today with another band that has made a very good parody video in a hockey theme. I was contacted via email about a band named Subplot A, a Calgary-based musical group that produce pop-rock tunes. Of course, this piqued my interest, so off to the Interwebs I headed as the email stated that Subplot A had "a song about hockey". Music is great, but music and hockey together are like chocolate and peanut butter - it's just so good together!

After checking out the Subplot A website, I discovered that they had a song entitled "Hey There Iginla". Being a Calgary-based musical group, I figured that this may just be some tribute song to their favorite Calgary Flame, but it turned out I was only partly correct. For you see, they have parodied "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's. And it's pretty darn good. Have a listen!

I have to admit that this tune is very catchy! After hearing it a few times, I found myself singing along in parts. Now I'm not saying that I'm some sort of musical guru - my good friend Michael can attest to that - but I find this parody to be very well done!

What say you, readers - yay or nay for "Hey There Iginla"? Let me know in the comments! I can tell you that they already have one "yay" from this writer.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

***Huge thanks to Wesley-Anne for directing me to this band! I'll be checking out more of their stuff as well!***

Thursday 27 January 2011

No Hockey? What Do I Do?

Tonight is one of those rare nights during the NHL season when there are no games scheduled. I know - how does this happen? Of course, with the NHL All-Star Game on-tap for this weekend, players are getting themselves ready for the game by either attending the event in Raleigh, North Carolina or readying themselves a spot in front of their big screen TVs. No matter which of the options the players are in, it's a good place to be as a fan too. There is lots of stuff to catch this weekend, and HBIC will have some All-Star Game goodies queued up for the weekend as we approach it. Tonight, however, I need to get myself a fix of hockey, and this article will be nothing more than a repository of cool things you should check out with your free time today. I know you have free time because there's no hockey on. So what else are you doing?

  • In your mandatory reading piece for the day, you MUST check out The Royal Half's article on the LA Kings' Burger King alternate jersey and how it came to be. Today is, of course, the 15th anniversary of that jersey's unveiling. Paul Lukas of Uni Watch Blog also points out that the unveiling coincided with the unveiling of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Wild Wing jersey, marking this day fifteen years ago that the NHL went insane. Thankfully, the league has recovered slightly since then. Huge congrats over to The Royal Half for their work on this extremely interesting article!
  • Speaking of uniforms that are hated by mostly everyone, there's nothing better than seeing a Fisherman in action. Here's Zigmund Palffy from his New York Islanders days trying to slide a backhander in on the Philadelphia Flyers!
  • The Detroit Red Wings are known for the octopus during the playoffs, so I thought this picture of Detroit's Paul Coffey hoisting an octopus on his stick was interesting. Paul Coffey's time in Detroit is probably the last time he could be considered an all-star as well.
  • I like hockey history, and I love old color photos of NHL players. When this picture of Gary Simmons in a California Seals jersey was sent to me by a reader, I was blown away by how crystal-clear the colors and details are. I love this photo!
  • Speaking of historical photos, check out this photo of the St. Louis Flyers! Do you recognize who #3 is? He's not one of the Flyers as seen by his mismatched socks from the rest of the players. In fact, he's not even a hockey player, but he is fondly remembered as a sports icon and a legendary baseball player. That's Yogi Berra! From left to right in that picture are George Milligan, Donald MacDonald, Joe Lund, Yogi Berra, Don Grosso and Hec Pozzo. What a great photograph taken by Buzz Taylor!
  • Remember in last year's playoffs when Jonathan Toews grabbed Patrick Sharp's helmet while repairs were being made to his helmet? Or when Alexander Ovechkin was wearing Matt Bradley's helmet last season? Earlier this season, the Penguins' captain pulled off the same trick when Sidney Crosby grabbed Chris Connor's helmet while his was being fixed! It seems this helmet-swapping phenomenon happens often in the NHL for the stars!
  • In sticking with the Penguins, how awkward does Mario Lemieux look in this picture with Eddie Johnston? Who knew the man who would be the most important figure in Pittsburgh's hockey history would look like an awkward teenager in his early days with the Penguins?
  • Another hockey legend is caught in an unfortunate jersey mishap. Wayne Gretzky, who spent time in the Burger King jersey and the St. Louis diagonal jersey, found himself promoting Fox's hockey broadcasts. Remember the FoxTrax puck? Yeah, me neither. It was definitely a low point for both Gretzky and the NHL.
That's all for a quiet Thursday. I have a pile of homework to get through, so I'm going to hammer away on that. More coming up tomorrow as we get ready for both the NHL and AHL All-Star weekends!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 16

We're back for another week of Antler Banter, and we have a full schedule of stuff to report. Thanks to a morning game, we also get a Wednesday game update on a Wednesday! The Moose finished off their set against the Marlies, and we have a couple of games against the Abbotsford Heat to look at before the Moose take their show to Hamilton on the start of a seven-game road trip that sees them travel to Ontario, New York, and Pennsylvania. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Moose as they work their way into February! Head over to 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 an all-Canadian week in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

No Grief With The Baby Leafs

The Marlies and Moose finished their two-game set from last week on Wednesday night, and there was certainly some animosity between these two teams. The Marlies dropped a 4-2 decision on Tuesday, and desperately needed to beta Manitoba to keep pace. Manitoba, for their efforts, would put some distance between themselves and the Marlies, so the two points are big for both teams. Tyler Weiman got the call for the Moose while the Marlies sent James Reimer back to the paint.

Bill Sweatt showed that he's willing to step in in the absence of a number of Moose scoring threats. Sweatt potted a couple of goals on the night, and finished with a +2 rating and a game-high six shots on net. Sweatt showed great jump on a shorthanded two-on-one with Marco Rosa, and his toe-drag around the sprawled Marlies defender opened up James Reimer just enough for the puck to get through the goaltender. Sweatt also showed some elusiveness as he escaped coverage to chip home a rebound off Kevin Connauton's point shot. Keith Aulie was nowhere to be found as Sweatt burst past him and netted his second of the night. An excellent showing on this night by the younger Sweatt brother!

The top-rated penalty killing unit in the AHL had themselves another strong showing in keeping the Marlies at bay with the man-advantage. Manitoba went four-for-four in killing off man-advantages, and have not allowed a powerplay goal in the last 16 man-advantage situations. January 7 was the last day the Moose gave up a powerplay goal, and the Hershey Bears recorded two that day. Well done to the Moose PK units for their stingy play!

The Moose won by three goals on Tuesday night, and they pulled off the same trick on Wednesday night as they downed the Marlies by a 5-2 score. Tyler Weiman was solid in the net all night, and really gave the Moose a boost of confidence with his great play. With the win, the Moose improve to 24-12-5 on the season!

Where There's Smoke...

The Moose and Abbotsford Heat got themselves reacquainted at MTS Centre this past week as the Heat visited the Moose on a three-night, two-game stay. It's the first visit to Winnipeg for the Heat as all four games between these two teams have happened in Abbotsford thus far. Manitoba has won three of four games this season against the Heat, and look to improve on that record. The Moose sent Eddie Lack to the crease while the Heat responded with Leland Irving in this Thursday night tilt.

It's good to see Jordan Schroeder back on the ice for the Moose, and Schroeder wasted no time in re-introducing himself to the Moose faithful. Schroeder scored the game's opening goal on the powerplay with his only shot on net during the evening, and looked at home on the man-advantage. He seemed to be a little out of sync after missing 16 games and that's to be expected, but scoring a goal after that kind of layoff certainly bodes well for the young Moose forward.

I'll come out and say this right now: Eddie Lack played well, but could have been better. In the first period, he gave Chris Cunning a freebie. Cunning's shot from the neutral zone was gloved by Lack easily, but Lack misplayed the puck as he attempted to sweep it behind the net for his defencemen, and the puck slid slowly across the goal line for Cunning's eighth goal of the season. Penalty shots also hurt Lack as he was beaten once in regulation time on a nice move by Chris Cunning, and then twice in the shootout. Had Lack not donated the first-period goal to the Heat, the Moose would be two points better than Abbotsford on this night.

This tightly-contested match came down to the shootout as the Moose and Heat found themselves deadlocked at 2-2 after 60 minutes and an extra frame of overtime. Kevin Clark found the net behind Leland Irving, but Greg Nemisz and Jon Rheault beat Lack in the breakaway contest to lead the Heat to the 3-2 shootout victory. With the shootout loss, the Moose fall to 24-12-6 on the season.

See-Bee-Seeing Wins And Bobbleheads

The Moose had special guests at MTS Centre on Sunday as the Moose hosted the AHL on CBC on Sunday! The Moose also gave away Nolan Baumgartner bobbleheads to the first 5000 fans through the doors, so there was definitely a charge in the air as the Moose and Heat resumed battled. The Moose wanted a win on national TV and needed the two points to keep pace with Hamilton, and the Heat wanted to capture four points. The stakes were high, so you knew this was going to be a great game! Leland Irivng was back in the nets for Abbotsford, but the Moose opted to go with Tyler Weiman in the rematch.

It was a big day for Garth Murray as the tough-as-nails Moose forward was an assist away from the "Gordie Howe hat trick" in the first period! Murray scored his first goal of the season on national TV, and put the Moose up 1-0 just 4:46 into the game. Murray took a great pass from Bill Sweatt as he gained a step on the Abbotsford blueliners, and his backhander got through Irving as he drove the net. Later in the period, Murray destroyed Matt Keith with a textbook open-ice hit, and then scrapped with Stefan Meyer as Meyer tried to defend his teammate's honour. I'm calling the scrap a draw simply due to the fact that Meyer tied up Murray and wouldn't let him throw haymakers. This is the kind of swagger Murray needs to bring every night!

The second period belonged to Mario Bliznak as the shifty centerman picked up a couple of helpers by being aware of where his teammates were. First, he found Mark Flood on the blueline from the corner, and Flood blasted the puck home on the powerplay for his fifth of the season. Just 1:16 later, Bliznak's wrap-around attempt was less wrap-around and more pass. Irving slid across to block the wrap-around, but the puck went cross-ice to a wide-open Shawn Weller, and Weller had his eighth of the season. Bliznak's solid second period put the Moose up 3-2 with one period to play.

The third period was all about Desbiens. Guillaume Desbiens hasn't found the scoresheet often since being returned to the Moose by the Vancouver Canucks, but sometimes all you need to do is knock the gorilla off your back to get your confidence going. Desbiens started the period with a bit of luck as his cross-crease pass pinballed its way off a couple of Abbotsford players and past Irving. Desbiens wasn't done there, though, as the gritty forward closed out the game with an empty-netter for his third goal of the season. Desbiens played hard in this game, and he was finally rewarded with a bit of luck.

The two teams battled back and forth on Sunday afternoon, and the Moose had earned themselves a 5-3 victory after the dust settled. The CBC has to be happy with this game as both teams put on a good show. Thankfully, the hometown fans get to go home happy with their Nolan Baumgartner bobbleheads as the Moose improve to 25-12-6 on the season with the win!

Not A Morning Team

The Moose visited the Hamilton Bulldogs today for a very rare morning game as the Bulldogs hosted their first-ever "School Day" where youngsters from Hamilton could attend an AHL game! The 10:30am start is a bit of a shock to the system for players used to playing in the afternoon or night, so you do what you have to do. Tyler Weiman, having won his last six starts, got the nod for Manitoba while the Bulldogs sent former Moose netminder Curtis Sanford to the nets.

One player showed up for this game ready to play as Winnipeg-born Dustin Boyd put the screws to his former team. Boyd scored once in the second period and twice in the third period to record the hat trick as he now has 14 goals on the season. Having spent time with the Flames, Predators, and Canadiens, Boyd knows how to prepare for games, and he certainly looked good on this morning.

The penalty kill, which gave up two goals to the Abbotsford Heat on Sunday, responded by closing the door on Hamilton's powerplay. The Moose went four-for-four in killing off penalties, and the detail this unit is showing in doing the little things right has certainly been paying off. Well done to head coach Claude Noel and the coaching staff for improving this area of the Herd's repertoire this season!

Tyler Weiman was solid in only allowing two goals, but Curtis Sanford was better as the Bulldogs shutdown the Moose in front of their biggest crowd of the season. 10270 fans came out to see the Bulldogs shutout the Moose by a 3-0 score as Dustin Boyd recorded all three goals in the victory. Sergei Shirokov's point streak also came to an end in this game, and the Moose fall to 25-13-6 on the season with the loss.

One Up, One Down

I'm glad I posted this article late on Wednesday because we got to see another Moose player achieve a first in the NHL. After seeing Sergei Shirokov score his first NHL goal last week, Lee Sweatt made his debut with the Vancouver Canucks tonight, and he followed in Shirokov's footsteps.
#57 scores his first NHL goal, and it was the game-winner no less! Congratulations go out to Lee Sweatt for making the most of his call-up! Keep it up!

Time Waits For No Team

The Moose have a busy weekend as they play Friday in Rochester against the Americans, and then travel to Toronto on Saturday for a game against the Marlies. Two divisional games to finish off the week before the AHL All-Star Game should make for interesting times depending on the outcomes of these games.

Rochester is currently sitting in last-place in the North Division with a 19-23-5 record for 43 points. They come into the game 3-6-1 in their last ten games. Michal Repik leads the team in scoring by a large margin with 7 goals and 31 assists. Winger Michael Duco leads the teams in goals with 13 while both Scott Timmins and Kenndal McArdle have ten goals apiece. Neither Jakob Markstrom nor Tyler Plante are having particularly strong seasons thus far, but both have the talent to beat any team on any given night.

After having seen Toronto last week, the Moose are quite aware of what Toronto brings to the table. Toronto is now in fourth-place in the North Division, five points behind the Moose. They are 5-4-1 in their last ten games with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Moose. Toronto will be hungry in their barn, so the Moose will have to come out ready to play in this one.

The Moose will say goodbye to Sergei Shirokov after the Toronto game as Shirokov will make his way to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the 2011 AHL All-Star Game. Shirokov is the only Moose representative on the team this year, and this will be his second AHL All-Star Game appearance. I wish Shirokov all the best in this game, and I'll be watching the speedy Russian show off his skills on Sunday and Monday!

Two big games against divisional rivals, so you know those four points are important. After the lacklustre loss to the Bulldogs, the Moose need to bear down and DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 25 January 2011

TBC: Hockey Trailblazers

Hockey has had a number of interesting players that have done some amazing things in their careers. From Wayne Gretzky's amazing scoring records to Martin Brodeur's records between the pipes, there have always been players that have been a notch above everyone else in terms of their talents. There have been a few players who have walked a path that no one else has during their times in the NHL, and that's the focus of Hockey Trailblazers, a new book written by Nicole Mortillaro and published by Scholastic. Hockey Trailblazers looks at five players who changed the way the game is played for many people across the world because of their heritages or gender, eventually making it to the NHL through their hard work and determination. These five people are definitely trailblazers in terms of who they are.

Nicole Mortillaro is an accomplished author, having published a number of books such as Something to Prove: The Story of Hockey Tough Guy Bobby Clarke and Jarome Iginla: How the NHL's First Black Captain Gives Back. When she's not writing books about hockey, weather, and the planet Saturn, you can find Miss Mortillaro working as the Associate Editor at Scholastic Canada. Miss Mortillaro works and lives in Toronto with her daughter, Sara.

Hockey Trailblazers looks at the paths carved by five players: Willie O'Ree, George Armstrong, Manon Rhéaume, Bobby Clarke, and Larry Kwong. Each one of these players has a significant story about their path to the NHL, and each player left a lasting legacy that many children have followed when it comes to their dreams of playing in the NHL. Miss Mortillaro does an excellent job at pointing out how each of these players were important not only for their contributions, but also for their ability to break down barriers that some people would have considered impossible to overcome.

If you follow hockey, or at least been keeping up with some of the events over the last few years, you should have a good idea of who Willie O'Ree is. O'Ree is best known for being the first black man to play professionally in the NHL. O'Ree broke into the league as a call-up for an injured player on the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958 against the Montreal Canadiens. O'Ree's NHL career didn't last very long - just 45 games with the Bruins over two seasons, the last being 1961 - but he would be the only black man to suit up for an NHL team until Mike Marson played for the Washington Capitals in 1974. Miss Mortillaro does an excellent job in telling O'Ree's story, and has some very good quotes from the NHL legend in her first profile.

The next player she covers is George Armstrong. Armstrong played 21 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and was captain for eleven of those seasons. While this quite an achievement in itself, what made Armstrong's legacy even more impressive is that he paved the way for Native Canadian and Native American kids to look at professional hockey as a potential job! Armstrong was of Irish and Algonquin heritage, and his background led to his nickname of "Chief". Armstrong's captaincy remains the longest tenure of any captain in the Maple Leafs' history. Miss Mortillaro's work in this chapter is outstanding as she really highlights the importance of Armstrong's legacy in leading other Aboriginal players into following their dreams.

Miss Mortillaro profiles another trailblazer in the third section as she looks at someone who more recently made headlines. Manon Rhéaume's introduction to the NHL seemed more like a circus than an opportunity, but Rhéaume's breakthrough into an NHL preseason game has opened doors for other great female players to test their talents out in professional men's hockey. Miss Mortillaro includes all of the barriers that Manon Rhéaume knocked down: becoming the first girl to play in Quebec's International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament, becoming the first female in the QMJHL in joining the Trois-Rivière Draveurs, and becoming the first woman to play in an NHL game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Miss Mortillaro's look at Rhéaume's career shows that she certainly opened doors for other women to play in professional hockey.

The fourth person profiled by Miss Mortillaro in Hockey Trailblazers doesn't seem like he should be included. Bobby Clarke's legacy in the NHL is quite well-known as he was the captain of the Broad Street Bullies, but his background is not that special. Where Clarke's legacy is seen is with his medical condition as Clarke is a Type-1, insulin-dependent diabetic. Diabetes can be a very difficult condition to balance with the demands and rigors of an NHL career, but Clarke showed many diabetics that they are only limited by their own abilities in controlling the disease. Clarke's ability on the ice opened many doors for players who may suffer from any disease, and he proved that he doesn't have to be held back by anything. Miss Mortillaro illustrates this point well in the chapter on Bobby Clarke.

The last player may have the shortest appearance in the NHL, but Miss Mortillaro shows that Larry Kwong's legacy has not been forgotten. Kwong was born in Vernon, BC to Chinese immigrants in the early-1920s. Growing up in BC meant that the young Eng Kai Geong - Larry's given Chinese name - got to see a lot of hockey, and began playing the game as a result. On March 13, 1948, after having been signed by the New York Rangers in 1946, Larry Kwong got the call-up to the Rangers as they faced the Montreal Canadiens that night. Kwong only saw the ice briefly in the third period, but he became the first player of Chinese descent to play in the NHL! Kwong played many more seasons across the globe, but this short moment in time with the Rangers was all he saw in the NHL. Miss Mortillaro shows the hardships that Larry Kwong faced as he played the game of hockey, but refused to be discouraged by anyone's discrimination towards him.

I really like Hockey Trailblazers due to the fact that Miss Mortillaro shows that not everything in the NHL has to be about statistics. These five players showed determination in becoming NHL players despite being different than the majority of players around them, but not one of them ever gave up. In addition to these five players, Miss Mortillaro gives a number of other examples of players who faced uphill battles to achieve their dreams, and these individual stories in addition to the five players profiled should show that the only person that can hold someone back from one's dream is one's self.

This is an excellent lesson for children today, and I really think Miss Mortillaro has done a great service for the youth of today in Hockey Trailblazers. In youth hockey today, we see all sorts of kids of both genders from various backgrounds playing the game of hockey, and Hockey Trailblazers shows that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from when you're pursuing a dream. Because of this message, Hockey Trailblazers certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for showing that nothing should hold anyone back from following one's dreams. I highly recommend Miss Mortillaro's 61-page book for everyone as it is an excellent read!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 24 January 2011

The Lynch Mob

TEEBZ'S NOTE: I apologize for not publishing this on Monday night, but I wanted to be sure I had everything right. Apparently in my course of pointing the finger at Evgeni Nabokov this weekend for his holding out on the New York Islanders, some people feel that I may have taken the wrong stance on this. I understand that there may be some confusion with regards to the stance I presented, but I need to clarify some major points. The discussion on that article is very good, and I want no one to feel they have to agree with me in any way if they feel that I am wrong. That's the entire basis for a discussion from what I understand. Instead, we need to look at the cold, hard facts of this discussion, and determine what is right and what is wrong from this situation's standpoint.

First, I want to say that I have no problem admitting that I am wrong, and I will state that in this article. I made an error earlier this evening when I posted a comment, and I will clarify my misunderstanding and misreading of another article. I can assure you that I have no problem being wrong, and that it happens more often than I'd like to admit. That being said, let's work through the facts.

  1. Evgeni Nabokov signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. From what I understand, Ken Holland offered Nabokov a pro-rated contract that covered the remainder of the season, and Nabokov accepted the terms and signed the deal. The contract was then validated by the NHL, and Nabokov just needed to clear re-entry waivers for him to join the Red Wings for the remainder of the season.
  2. The Detroit Red Wings placed Nabokov on re-entry waivers in order for Nabokov to join the Red Wings. The reason he is placed on waivers is because he started the season in the KHL. The NHL CBA states that any player who begins the NHL season playing outside North America must clear re-entry waivers if he is signed by an NHL team during the current season. (Teebz: I made an error here, and I'll clarify my misunderstanding below.)
  3. The New York Islanders, needing an upgrade in goaltending from their current options, claimed Evgeni Nabokov on re-entry waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. Most likely, there were several teams who placed a claim on Nabokov, but the NHL rules state that the New York Islanders would be the team to claim Nabokov. The reason for this is that after November 1, the "priority is set by the League standings at the time the waiver request is submitted; the team with the lowest percentage of possible points has 1st priority". Because neither New Jersey nor Edmonton put a claim in on Nabokov, the Islanders received first priority.
  4. Evgeni Nabokov refused to report to the New York Islanders despite signing a valid contract that the Islanders had to honour.
Ok, so we know these facts to be the cold, hard truth. While the details surrounding these facts can certainly be debated and discussed, there's no denying that Nabokov signed a contract with Detroit, that he was put on re-entry waivers, that he was claimed by the New York Islanders, and that he refused to report to Long Island.

Where I screwed up, and I apologize for my mistake, was in the option to trade Nabokov if the Islanders wanted to do so. In fact, they cannot without putting him on re-entry waivers themselves, and then the option for his rights would go to the next lowest team in the standings who put a claim on Nabokov through waivers. I messed that part up totally, and I apologize for my oversight in the discussion on the comments.

Back to the problem at hand....

There are certainly a number of factors that could have influenced Nabokov to sign with Detroit - the chance at a Stanley Cup, the opportunity to stick it to the San Jose Sharks, a chance to do both in the same season - but the fact is that he signed with a team that is sitting in fourth-place overall in the NHL standings. That means there are 26 other teams below Detroit in the standings that could put a claim in on Nabokov once he hits the re-entry waiver wire.

I fail to believe that Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, didn't know about what may happen once Nabokov hit the waiver wire. Meehan has been around hockey since the early-1980s as a player agent, and his company, Newport Sports Management Inc., has over 100 current and retired NHL players on its client list. He's been involved in some very tough negotiations over his career as an agent, and he's certainly astute when it comes to the NHL's contractual agreements.

Blaming the agent, in this case, for not knowing the NHL's waiver rule seems futile. Meehan knows. And if he doesn't, he's certainly been fooling a lot of people with his knowledge of the NHL's workings. My guess is that Nabokov was advised by Meehan to sign with Detroit, and walk away if any non-playoff teams claimed him through the waiver wire.

One commenter, Joshua, got me thinking when he said that it was Nabokov's right to determine where he chooses to play. While this is certainly true if he was a free agent, he's fairly limited once his signature is on a contract. But the opportunity to win with a good team rarely comes along as good teams rarely need a goaltender when they are winning. Therefore, Nabokov jumped at the opportunity to join a contender as Detroit was in the position of needing a goaltender with Jimmy Howard hurting, Chris Osgood on the shelf with surgery, and Thomas McCollum out with a broken finger.

Where Don Meehan comes into play is that I feel that Meehan would have advised his client of the re-entry waiver rule as his counsel, and then proceeded to let Nabokov decide his own future. In a way, Meehan did his job while technically not doing his job as Nabokov's contract advisor. Can I blame Meehan for Nabokov's decision? No, not without some sort of concrete proof. Ultimately, the decision to sign with Detroit still comes down to Nabokov because his hand holds the pen that signs on the dotted line.

Where Meehan's advisory role may have come into play is when the New York Islanders claimed Nabokov once he hit the waiver wire. And here's why: I don't know what relationship Don Meehan has with the New York Islanders, but of all the players he represents as an agent, only five of them are New York Islanders: Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Matt Moulson, and Rob Schremp. Clients Peter Mannino, Pat Lafontaine, Ryan Smyth, Andy Sutton, Trevor Linden, and Mike Peca all left the confines of Long Island, and never returned as an Islander. Do we see a trend here?

Of course, there has been an endless amount of turnover in personnel on Long Island in the last two decades, so I can't really say that Meehan's clients are recommended to sign elsewhere, but you would think that fan favorites such as Mike Peca and Pat Lafontaine - two captains of the Islanders, no less - would have stayed or returned to the Island if they had the chance. Instead, they took their talents elsewhere when the opportunity arose. Again, where the player ultimately decides to sign is his choice, but the player's agent certainly has some influence on that decision.

Going back to the advisory role that Meehan plays, I think that Nabokov wanted to sign with Detroit for a chance at a Stanley Cup, and that he may have taken a shot at a Stanley Cup had teams like Chicago, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia came calling. But once the opportunity for a long playoff run vanished with the waiver wire claim by the Islanders, Nabokov said "no thanks" despite having signed a valid contract with Detroit. And I think that Meehan may have told Nabokov that if he gets claimed through waivers to just sit it out.

Think about it: if you don't get a chance at a Stanley Cup, why risk injury on a team that sees more rubber than a Goodyear factory? As an advisor, that kind of advice is gold to a player, and I think Nabokov wouldn't bat an eyelash if he was told this.

Again, Meehan knows the waiver rules. There's absolutely no doubt that he's one of the most intelligent and successful agents in hockey today, so he knows what he's doing when it comes to these kinds of situations.

As for Nabokov, I think he knew exactly what he was doing when he signed the contract with Detroit: Stanley Cup or nothing. He doesn't need the money, and he doesn't need the hassle of playing with a bottom-feeding team like the Islanders. So why risk anything by leaving the California sun to play on Long Island?

Oh yeah, there's that little contract issue. If Meehan and Nabokov knew about this waiver issue going in, a bare-bones, minimum salary contract wasn't going to stop them. That's just a minor inconvenience right now. Through this whole ordeal, it seems Nabokov's team never lost sight of their goal: Stanley Cup or nothing.

Who needs free agency in this day and age when you can choose who to play for after half the season is over?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 23 January 2011

Weekly NHL Guardian Project Update

We're back again on a chilly Sunday with more comic book unveilings. The NHL Guardian Project rolls on with seven more Guardians unveiled this past week, so we'll continue to run down the similarities between these Guardians and some of the more recognizable superheroes that have a hold on pop culture. Again, this is just some fun with the NHL Guardian Project before the big unveiling at the NHL All-Star Game on January 30, so don't take this article too seriously.

If you want to see any of the previous Guardians that have been unveiled, feel free to check out this article for the first eight Guardians or this article for the next eight Guardians. Seven more NHL-themed superheroes are on-deck, so let's get to them!

We'll start in Calgary where the Flame holds the fort. The Flame seemingly would be the equivalent of Pyro from the X-Men series or Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch from the Fantastic Four, but having the ability to shoot fire from his eyepiece reminds me of the X-Men's Cyclops as well. "Lava balls from his fingers" just sounds uncomfortable, so does that mean he has lava flowing through his veins? And apparently he can create "flaming stampedes" which means that the near-dead fire-horse is being revived by Stan Lee.

We move on to Columbus where the Blue Jacket has an arsenal of weaponry at his fingertips. As a "serious minded union soldier", I assume he'll protect the interests of the players with all his might as the NHLPA could use a good warrior. He does have "a devastating array of weaponry" attached to him, so I'm thinking that this Blue Jacket soldier is more machine than he is man. Thanks to the revamp of the Captain America, I'd say the Blue Jacket is a close copy of the stars-and-stripes superhero. That, or an Americana-themed Punisher. He was a fan of guns as well. Then again, maybe he's just a primitive Sentinel?

We head south to the state of Texas where the Star defends the city of Dallas. I have to admit that this Guardian's name is a little narcissistic, but who am I to judge? I find him to be very much like Electro in his electrical abilities. He's a "celestial enforcer", but I'm not quite sure what that means entirely. He "travels on solar wind", but I'm not sure why he would choose to travel this way when all it does is land him on the North or South Pole and/or send him clear past the Earth altogether. And this "magnetic tension field" stuff? Well, it is important in the field of magnetohydrodynamics, but let's just say that ten year-olds probably won't get the theory behind it. My guess is that the Star is probably from some far-off galaxy where this stuff is as common as 2+2, and is not of this planet whatsoever.

The fourth Original Six Guardian we see is the Red Wing. Only the Red Wing isn't wearing the Original Six logo, so I'm thinking we might need an update to this Guardian. The Red Wing seems like a poor man's Transformer, resembling something like Jetfire with wheels. He reportedly has "all the power of a Formula One racer and a fighter jet", so I assume he moves fast with great bursts of acceleration. Being that he's an "automotive empath", he comes equipped with Command Start, and can control any vehicle with his mind. He's like the Kreskin of Transformers!

We jump north of the border to encounter the Maple Leaf. Who actually isn't a leaf at all. However, being a walking and talking maple tree means that he actually is an ent, and he is only slightly more intimidating than Dr. Reggie Bushroot of Darkwing Duck fame. He is literally an "immovable object", so we just need to find the unstoppable force for the paradox. I like the Original Six logo once again, but if he can grow exponentially larger at will, can he become bigger than the planet? At what point does this power reach its limit? Will we see a Little Shop of Horrors reference at some point?

Next, we head to the desert to meet the Coyote. The Coyote is the NHL's version of Wolverine in Gambit's clothes with Sabertooth's claws. Strangely, he's also a drifter like Wolverine was in his past. He also has the same ability as that of the Sandman to control any amount of shifting sand. Oh, he also has a pack of Coyotes that roam the country side as his own personal K-9 unit. Much like the Phoenix Coyotes, I'm guessing this guy will be a major "underdog" in most battles until he "unleashes" his true powers. Puns are free of charge in this article.

The last Guardian we encounter today is the Avalanche. The Avalanche has some very distinct similarities to that of Mr. Freeze from the Batman franchise as well as the abilities of Iceman from the X-Men franchise. The fact that he's the "Rocky Mountain mad man" worries me a little, and I'd be very concerned about his reputation as an "unbridled risk taker". I understand the ability to control ice, but how does he control rock? Can he cause earthquakes? Is he able to make mountains out of molehills? What are the limits of this power?

There are your seven newest Guardians to arrive on the scene. Again, you can see all of the Guardians on January 30 at the NHL All-Star Game from Raleigh, North Carolina when they are are officially unveiled as part of the NHL Guardian Project!

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 22 January 2011

A Job Some Would Kill For

I find it a little insulting that Evgeni Nabokov, recently released by the KHL and searching for employment in the NHL, has the nerve to turn down a job that admittedly would be tough. Having been signed by the Detroit Red Wings and placed on re-entry waivers, the New York Islanders swooped in and claimed Nabokov to help out with their goaltending situation. Nabokov, though, has stated that he will not report to Long Island, and that has me a little irked.

You probably know that I'm not really an Islanders fan despite me being a huge fan of the Fisherman movement. You might be asking yourself, "Teebz, why do you care about whether or not Nabokov plays for the Islanders", and I'll admit that it's not who he plays for that matters. Heck, he could be playing in the ECHL right now for all I care. It's his refusal to suit up for the Islanders that has me bothered.

Look, there are 30 NHL starting goaltender jobs in the NHL and 30 back-up goaltender jobs awaiting the next best goalie on each team. By default, Nabokov would be the starter or back-up based solely on how well he has played in the past. If you consider DiPietro's performance thus far this season, you'd have to think that Nabokov would be thrust into he starter's job almost automatically.

Being that he would have a guaranteed job through the end of the season with the Islanders plus giving the Islanders the option to trade him before or at the deadline to a contending team, it seems to me to be a no-brainer in terms of taking the job on Long Island. He would get to play, keep himself in shape, show off to the other 29 teams that he's still a top quality goaltender, and showcase himself for a trade or a major off-season signing as a free agent.

Honestly, for four months of work, Nabokov could set himself up very nicely for a good payday. There are players who have toiled in the minor leagues for years who would kill for an opportunity with any NHL team regardless of the situation or standing of the NHL team. It's an opportunity, and that's something you don't just ignore when opportunity comes knocking.

However, Nabokov chooses to remain in California, and the Islanders are left with the same conundrum before they claimed him on waivers. While it is certainly within Nabokov's right to sit this one out, he signed a deal with Detroit to suit up for them before the Islanders claimed him. It sounds to me like he's being quite selective in terms of who he plays for, and this is why I'm irked.

If I'm the Islanders, I'd ask the NHL to carry over the contract terms to next season and force Nabokov to either play or sit for another season. This sounds like I'm being vengeful towards Nabokov, but it's really a tit-for-tat situation. Had Nabokov shown up and played the four months, this entire article wouldn't exist. Instead, he's enjoying life in California while the Islanders struggle on the ice.

Some people would kill for the opportunity to play for the Islanders. I'm no murderer, but I'd love the opportunity to play in the NHL, even for just one day. Wouldn't you?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 21 January 2011

Frustration = Lighter Wallet

I'm not sure why some NHL players and general managers think they can rock the boat when it comes to their comments towards the NHL's brain trust. There are just certain things you can't do in life, and calling out the NHL brass is one of those things if you're working under the NHL's umbrella. The man to the left, Los Angeles Kings' general manager Dean Lombardi, decided to unleash his frustration over a controversial allowed goal by calling out the man in charge of the NHL's War Room, Mike Murphy. And that's how you get yourself a lighter wallet, readers, because the NHL doesn't tolerate one of its people embarrassing the men who run the game.

Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes batted the puck out of mid-air with his stick, and it found its way into the back of the Kings' net. While the stick appeared to be high at the point of contact, the NHL War Room determined that the video was not 100% conclusive that Hanzal's stick was high, and the goal was allowed to stand. Phoenix went on to win the game by a 2-0 score.

Los Angeles' lack of scoring, the fact that the Kings are playing some of the worst hockey seen this season, and the inability to break out of this funk has all of the players and management wondering where the train went off the rails. The pressure is highest in the GM's chair as Dean Lombardi must find out why his team is underachieving so badly, so he went on a tirade after the loss to the Coyotes. The problem, however, is that he focused on the Hanzal goal as an example of the Kings' recent streak of poor play. And he directed his frustration at someone who has nothing to do with the Kings' poor play.

"When the guy in Toronto making the decisions on the goals, in Ottawa and the one tonight, wanted the GM's job in LA and was not happy about not getting it, you have to assume you are going to get those type of calls," Lombardi was quoted as saying on the Kings' website.

Oops. That's gonna be trouble.

The NHL responded to Lombardi's comments today by levying a $50,000 fine on Lombardi. From the comments made by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, it sounds like he was not impressed with Lmbardi's choice of words or the target of those words.

"There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the League's Hockey Operations Department in general or Mike Murphy, in particular," Bettman said in a statement. "People can disagree with a call by an official on the ice or an official in the Situation Room in Toronto, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Lombardi did."

Dean Lombardi seemed apologetic today, and I think he sincerely regretted the comments he made in the heat of the moment.

"I spoke to the Commissioner today and he made it very clear to me that my actions last night were inappropriate and detrimental to the game," said Lombardi today. "There is no question that his assessment is correct and the punishment fits the crime. Just as important, I apologized to Mike Murphy this morning and I sincerely appreciate his willingness to accept my apology.

"Like the team must learn from its mistakes, the GM has to learn from his mistakes as well."

That last statement is perhaps what should be put on the bulletin board for the team to see. The Kings have played some very poor hockey over the last few weeks, and mistakes have cost them dearly. As frustration mounts over this month of poor play, the Kings need to take a look in the mirror and check their hands.

The first thing they need to look for are callouses on their hands. The next thing they need to look for in the mirror is if there's a grindstone under their noses. If these things aren't found, chances are that the team just isn't working hard enough to break out of this slump.

If you're watching the games, though, this should be painfully obvious. And Dean Lombardi needs to demand more from his team, or start making changes to improve the work ethic on his team.

Apologies for missing the playoffs after such a promising season last year won't be tolerated by fans as nicely as his apology to Mike Murphy was.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 20 January 2011

Maybe The Fans Can Try?

I had visions of writing an article today on the shootout, and how this added bonus at the end of tied games send the fans home with a feeling of satisfaction or defeat. After all, hockey is a sport that prides itself on entertainment value, and no one really likes to go home unfulfilled after spending $500 on tickets, food, and souvenirs. Instead, I changed my focus once I came across an article that spoke of the longest shootout in hockey history, and one that network executive in North America would probably grumble about if it happened here.

We go back a few weeks to the Deutsche EisHockey Liga where the visiting Straubing Tigers played EHC München on December 22, 2010. Not much was out of the ordinary as the teams closed out the regulation sixty minutes tied 4-4. 4999 fans awaited the standard overtime period, and saw the two teams remain tied after the extra frame. So, as we see in most games today, a shootout was on-deck in this game.

The two goaltenders, Sebastien Elwing for München and Dimitri Pätzold for Straubing, have probably faced a number of penalty shots in practice, and I know some teams enjoy having a shootout competition at the end of practices as a little fun. I'm guessing both goaltenders have seen their fair share of penalty shots and shootout moves in their careers.

That being said, the game on December 22 may have doubled the amount of shootout attempts they have faced in their careers in one game. The shootout between Straubing and München went an incredible 21 rounds! The hockey game, including the shootout, lasted nearly three hours for the fans, players, coaches, and officials - a timeframe almost unheard of for professional hockey games.

There were goals in the third round of the shootout as Straubing's Justin Mapletoft and München's Martin Buchwieser each scored on their attempts to keep the shootout knotted at 1-1. Christian Wichart and Tobias Draxinger scored again in the fourteenth round to keep the shootout even at 2-2.

München captain Stéphane Julien appeared to score in the seventeenth round, but the goal was waved off by referee Lars Brüggemann after the video replay showed the puck did not fully cross the goal line. 34 skaters in, two goals, no winner yet. Will this game ever end?

As an aside, Lars Brüggemann is an interesting fellow. He is a former player from the DEL, and has now turned his sights on officiating in the German Elite League. Brüggemann played one season in the QMJHL with the Hull Olympiques in 1993-94, recording one goal, three assists, and 93 PIMs over 58 games. He left for the DEL after that season, but returned to North America to play in the ECHL three years later. He suited up with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings in 1997-98, scoring one goal, six assists, and spending 91 minutes in the penalty box over 49 games. The rest of his career played out in Germany. But back to this story....

Neville Rautert and Andy Canzanello exchanged goals in the eighteenth round, and both Martin Buchwieser and Tobias Draxinger scored again in the twentieth round as the two teams remained knotted at 4-4 through the shootout. But things were about to change in the 21st round.

Straubing’s Éric Meloche, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL, blasted a slapshot past Sebastien Elwing to put Straubing up by a 5-4 score. The game came down to Stéphane Julien, but the München captain was stonewalled Dimitri Pätzold as Straubing won the shootout by a 5-4 score and the game by a 5-4 score after 21 rounds of shootout.

The longest shootout in IIHF competition was 13 rounds between Belarus and France at the 2002 IIHF U-20 Championship. Belarus eventually won the game on Dmitri Mialeshka's goal in the 25th round as Belarus downed France. The NHL's longest shootout is still remembered between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals from November 25, 2005. I mean, how could anyone forget this goal?

Eric Meloche's name is the answer to the trivia question: Who scored the goal to end hockey's longest shootout in history?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 15

We're back with three games this week on Antler Banter! The Milwaukee Admirals visited Winnipeg and MTS Centre for two games over the weekend, and the Moose are in the midst of a two-game series with the Toronto Marlies. There has been a lot of movement between the Moose and the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, so we'll recap a little of that activity this week. And as always, we'll take a look ahead at next week's set of games as the Moose continue their quest for first-place in the North Division. 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. Here is this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Sinking The Boat

The Moose squared off against the Milwaukee Admirals on Thursday night to kick off a play-off-play series with the Admirals. The Moose and Admirals have Friday off before playing again on Saturday in one of those AHL schedule quirks, but both teams were hungry to kick this series off right. The Admirals won the only previous match-up by a 6-3 score this season, so the Moose were looking to even the series on this night. The red-hot Eddie Lack hit the ice for Manitoba while Mark Dekanich donned the pads for the Admirals.

While this seems to be a running theme over the last few weeks, Sergei Shirokov's night was pretty big on Thursday. His one assist and +1 rating don't tell the story. Instead, he tied the Moose franchise record with a point in his eleventh-straight game! Shirokov has really looked good in these last few weeks, and his point totals are showing just how much hard work he's putting into his game. We'll have more on Shirokov below, but he deserves credit for tying a franchise record!

The other man who made a big impact on this night was the man guarding the twine. Eddie Lack flashed the leather all night as he stopped all 27 shots he faced in blanking the Admirals. Milwaukee outshot the Moose in all three periods, so the Swede was definitely busy. If Lack continues to play this well, the Vancouver Canucks - once thought to be a goaltender wasteland - could be the new goaltender goldmine as Cory Schneider continues to fare well in Vancouver.

The Moose delivered a solid game at both ends of the ice on Thursday as they down the Milwaukee Admirals by a 3-0 score behind Lack's shutout. The Moose used the powerplay to down the Admirals as they scored twice with the extra attacker before scoring into an empty net. With the victory, the Moose improve to 22-12-4 on the season.

Admirals Salvage Their Ship

Saturday saw the Moose and Admirals renew their battle as the two teams met once again at MTS Centre. Could Sergei Shirokov put himself into the Manitoba Moose record book? Could the Moose take all four points from the Admirals? Could the Admirals finally break the goose egg that the Moose gave them on Thursday? Eddie Lack and Mark Dekanich were back in the nets for their respective teams.

The defensive combination of Ryan Parent and Nolan Baumgartner struggled while playing together on this night. Parent ended the night with one shot and a -2 rating while Baumgartner ended the night with one assist and a -1 rating. Where the issue lies is that both men were on the ice for the overtime goal. While Marco Rosa and Bill Sweatt were also on the ice, defencemen are paid to keep the puck out of the net. Especially when the game is on the line.

Sergei Shirokov will get one more mention as it took him all of 56 seconds to write his name into the Moose record books. Shirokov scored his 16th goal of the season early in the first period to extend his scoring streak to twelve games, eclipsing the mark set by Brett Hauer and Bill Bowler. You will see Shirokov's name once more on the article, but for a completely different reason than for what he's been doing in Winnipeg. Congratulations on the record, Sergei!

While the Moose jumped out to 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes, the Admirals chipped away before finally sinking the Moose in overtime by a 3-2 score. The Moose have to be happy with the three points, but can't be complacent when they have a team in a hole. Burying the Admirals would have been nice, but instead the Moose fall to 22-12-5 on the season with the overtime loss.

Stomping The Baby Leafs

It's always weird to see a divisional rival for the first time while being three months into the season, but this is the AHL. The Toronto Marlies and Manitoba Moose clashed for the first time this season on Tuesday night, and both teams were looking to climb the North Division standings. The Moose were playing without two of their better players as Sergei Shirokov and Chris Tanev are with the Vancouver Canucks, so the Moose needed a big effort from the supporting cast to keep the Marlies at bay. Tyler Weiman took to the nets for Manitoba while James Reimer, hot off his NHL debut, got the start for the Marlies.

Hometown boy Kevin Clark showed that he's willing to step up into a scoring role as the winger had himself a heck of a game! Clark finished the night with one goal, two assists, a +1 rating, and two shots on net. While he was on the ice for three goals total - two by the Moose and one by the Marlies - Clark's three points showed off his hustle and drive, and he certainly was a large part of Manitoba's offence on Tuesday.

The Moose powerplay got a little help from an unlikely source as Mario Bliznak cashed in with the man-advantage. With a lot of Manitoba's offensive stars either out with injury or playing in Vancouver, it's great to see a checking forward step up on the powerplay in letting his offensive skills shine. Bliznak recorded his sixth goal, and the Moose were off and running in this game thanks to Bliznak's tally.

Tyler Weiman had himself another strong game, posting his fifth win in his last five starts, as he stopped 29 of the 30 pucks that came his way. The Moose didn't have to be spectacular tonight as their lunchpail-like effort saw hard work turn into a win. I like this showing of work ethic by the club in their recent weeks, and kudos have to go out to the Moose coaching staff for holding the bar high each and every time the Moose hit the ice. With the 4-1 victory over the Marlies on Tuesday, Manitoba improves to 23-12-5 on the season!

Where Have I Seen You Before?

The Moose saw a lot of changes to their roster in a very short time as the Canucks, dealing with injuries of their own, came calling for a few bodies. Because of this shortage, GM Craig Heisinger began photocopying a number of PTO documents for new players to sign. Here are the roster moves over the last week:
  • Chris Tanev: recalled by Vancouver.
  • Sergei Shirokov: recalled by Vancouver.
  • Dusty Collins: signed PTO with Manitoba.
  • Andy Brandt: signed PTO with Manitoba.
  • Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Victor Oreskovich, Joel Perrault, Stefan Schneider: still injured.
The good news is that both Hodgson and Schroeder are close to returning, and both players could see a return to the lineup this weekend against Abbotsford if things go well. We'll have to see what head coach Claude Noel will do with his lineup as the weekend nears.

From Records To Firsts

I had to post this just because it's good to see that a young player's hard work is certainly paying off. Sergei Shirokov got his first action with the Canucks this season against the Colorado Avalanche. And wouldn't you know it, but Shirokov's point-scoring streak continued!
Congratulations, Sergei, and keep up the good work!

The Week Ahead

The Moose and Marlies renew acquaintances tonight as they finish off their two-game series at MTS Centre. The Moose inched closer to the Hamilton Bulldogs after their win on Tuesday while creating a larger gap between themselves and the Marlies. The Marlies, of course, want to salvage the series and restore the two-point gap between themselves and the Moose. This game should be a good one between two fierce division rivals!

The Moose then welcome the Abbotsford Heat to Winnipeg for two games on Friday and Sunday. The Heat currently sit in fifth-place in the North Division, but are a mere seven points out of first-place in the division. This divisional match-up should be another good match-up as the Moose look to move into first-place while the Heat work to catch the Moose in the standings. Abbotsford is 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, so the Moose will have to continue to show the same strong work ethic that we've seen over the last month to ensure victory.

If you're free on Sunday, make sure you get down to MTS Centre early for the game so you can pick up your free Nolan Baumgartner bobblehead! Baumgartner will follow in the steps of Mike Keane and Cory Schneider, becoming only the third Moose player to be bobbleheaded in franchise history! The first 5000 fans into the building will get themselves a smaller Nolan Baumgartner to take home!

Six points are on the line this week against divisional rivals, so get down to work, Moose, and DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!