Friday, 29 April 2011

Equipment Watch: Integral Hockey

How many times have we seen a stick explode in the NHL Playoffs this season when a team sets up a big one-timer? It happens far too often with the composite sticks, and it can be ridiculously expensive for leisure players and parents of younger players to replace these sticks when they do explode. Because of the flex I put on my stick when I shoot, I fully admit that I have not made the change to composite because I like the durability of a wood stick. One Vancouver company, however, is looking to help players and parents save a little cash and keep that composite stick in play when it snaps. That company is Integral Hockey.

Now, I can already hear what some of you are thinking: "Teebz, this will never work. You can't fix a broken stick because it will be the weakest point on the stick if it is repaired. It will just break again!" You're right in terms of the physics, and I thought the same thing. So what is this concept that Integral Hockey is bringing forward?

According to their website, "Randy Langille, founder of Integral Hockey, applied advanced laminating processes he learned from building aircraft components back in the early days of his manufacturing career". This new application of an old technology to broken composite sticks has proven to be very successful thanks to a number of testimonials and the number of teams now using the process.

The science behind fixing a composite stick is quite involved. The "carbon fiber/e-glass, vacuum infused process" that Integral Hockey is using is nothing new in terms of science, but the application to hockey sticks certainly is. You can find this technology in airplanes, wind turbines, and a host of other places that require immense strength where repairs have been made. Therefore, this would, theoretically, work for hockey sticks where the demands put upon them are somewhat less, albeit still high to the player using the stick.

While the repair process is proprietary to Integral Hockey, meaning I can't really tell you how it's done, there is a video on their website that shows a little of the early process in how a composite stick is repaired. Ok, it doesn't show much thanks to the proprietary process involved, but the fact that a composite stick can be put back in a player's hands without losing any flex or balance and without adding any weight while still being strong is quite an impressive feat.

Says Russ, an Integral Hockey customer,

“I have been using that S19 that you repaired for me…and have been loving it, again. I have been hammering lots of slap shots with it... kind of a torture test for a repaired hockey stick I suppose... and it has been great. Chris is also happy with that S17 that you did as well. Thanks for the great repair – I have another friend sending you some sticks.”
Nothing says quality like hearing actual people using the product. But for a real test of the repairs on sticks, I'd like to see actual hockey players put the sticks through the ringer during the course of a season. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a Junior-A team in the British Columbia Hockey League, has been working with Integral Hockey as a test pool for the work done on their hockey sticks.

Josh Mitchell, the Bulldogs' leading scorer this season, used a repaired stick from this season, and he had this to say:
"I was very impressed with the stick that Integral Hockey repaired for me. It felt brand new and seemed even more durable than before. I used the stick down the stretch and in the playoffs and even chose to use it over some of the other sticks I had available. I had complete confidence that the stick would respond the way I expected it to and will definitely use them again in the future.”
If the leading scorer from a Junior-A team gives it his thumbs-up, it has to be a pretty good service, I'd say. After all, those games can be quite physical as the players look to move up to the next level of hockey. It even works for sticks used in roller hockey as Mackenzie Legacy says.
"The stick that you gave me to try has been great. I have been using it for a couple of weeks now. The repair was right in the middle of the stick and it doesn’t seem to have affected the flex. It has taken a fair bit of abuse. Roller hockey tends to have a lot of slashing. It has also withheld a lot of face-offs. This stick seems to be holding up very well. I am happy with the repairs on this stick. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to try it out.”
There you have it, folks: this service not only repairs the stick, but provides it with enough strength and flex that it can do anything asked of it - face-offs, slashing and receiving a slash, and slapshots. That's pretty good proof that Integral Hockey has themselves a service that can and should be used by a number of players and parents that want to save hundreds of dollars in a season, depending on the number of sticks that are snapped.

The pricing is fair as well when you consider that most wooden hockey sticks run in around the $30-50 range. The price to repair a composite stick through Integral Hockey is $45 plus taxes and shipping and the price to repair a blade is $55 plus taxes and shipping - not bad at all when you consider that some composite sticks run as high as $300! Repair cost information can be found here, but those prices are very fair in my opinion.

Now you might be asking yourself what kind of guarantee do you get. Normally, sticks aren't guaranteed against breakage because of the nature of the sport. Most places will tell you that up-front if you ask because hockey is a sport where sticks are regularly broken for a variety of reasons. Integral Hockey actually has a warranty for their work on the repaired sticks! That's right: your repaired hockey stick has a warranty against breakage! While the warranty is only 36 days, it's still better than nothing, right? You can see the full warranty info here.

I've never heard of any process like this, and I'm glad that Integral Hockey has brought forth a service like this. The cost of composite hockey sticks is astronomical in some cases, and I can't imagine spending more on sticks than I do on equipment when I play. The fact that you can have a composite stick repaired for the price of a new wooden stick is a great way to keep those composite sticks in play when looking at a replacement. After all, not all parents and players have professional contracts with stick manuafacturers.

For more information about this new innovative process, please visit the Integral Hockey site. Personally, this offering may change me over to composite sticks as I spend $100-120 a season on wooden hockey sticks. And that means more business for Integral Hockey!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

HBIC Round One Winners

With everyone in the pool, I thought I should update who were the stars in the opening round of the HBIC Playoff Pool. I was very impressed with some of the scores that players are putting up, and there have been some surprises. I know one entrant - not mentioning any names here - called two series correctly in terms of seven games, but each of the games was opposite of the team that actually won! So with everyone in the pool and the games underway, let's take a look at who had the best performances in each series of the opening round.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. NEW YORK RANGERS: There were two entrants who picked up an impressive 14 points in this series. Rick K. and David L. both called each game correctly in terms of the winning team (five points), had the right number of games and winning team (Washington in five for five points), and then tacked on two game-winning goal scorers for an added four points. Both Rick and David correctly called Dubinsky's game-winner in Game Three for New York, and added Alexander Ovechkin's series-winner in Game Five. Were these two copying off one another? I kid, I kid. Well done, gentlemen, in this series!

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS VS. BUFFALO SABRES: Charles N. was the clear winner in this series as the 1-2-2-2 sequence in this series seemed to throw a lot of entrants off in their prognostications. Charles correctly predicted the winning team in Games One, Two, Five, Six, and Seven for five points. He also predicted that Philly would emerge victorious in seven games for another five points. All totaled, Charles came away the winner in this series as he picked up ten points! Congratulations on your successful predictions, Charles!

BOSTON BRUINS VS. MONTREAL CANADIENS: David L. continued his fantastic predictions in the Eastern Conference as he earned an additional 14 points in this series. David correctly called the winning team in Games One, Three, Five, Six, and Seven for five points. He also called Boston in seven games for another quick five points. But David called Montreal's game-winning goal scorer in Games One and Six as he predicted Brian Gionta scoring the winners. That's another four points, and that's 14 points total. Congratulations on winning this series, David!

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Aaron D. came out the winner in this series as he earned 12 points! Aaron correctly predicted the winning team in Games One, Two, Four, Six, and Seven for five points. He also called the Tampa Bay seven-game series win for another five points. And to add a few more points, Aaron correctly identified Vincent Lecavalier as the game-winning goal scorer in Game Two. All totaled, Aaron earned himself 12 points in this series! Congratulations, Aaron, in winning this series!

VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: This series really threw a few people for a loop as the majority of entries saw five games as the norm. However, James H. thought differently and he was rewarded with a 12-point performance! James called the winning team in Games Two, Three, Five, Six, and Seven for five points. He picked up another five points for calling Vancouver's seven-game series win. And he added another two points by calling Daniel Sedin's game-winner in Game Two. Congratulations on winning this series, James!

SAN JOSE SHARKS VS. LOS ANGELES KINGS: This is another series that really threw people off due to the way it played out. Kerry M. showed that he knew what was happening, though, as he picked up 11 points in this match-up! Kerry correctly predicted the winning team in all six games played for six points. And because his crystal ball showed San Jose winning in six games, Kerry earned another five points. After all was said and done, 11 points were added. Congratulations to Kerry on predicting this series entirely correct!

DETROIT RED WINGS VS. PHOENIX COYOTES: Only two people correctly predicted a sweep in this series, and both entrants picked up nine points for their efforts. Ryan J. and Greg A. called all four games correctly for four points, and had Detroit sweeping through to the next round for five points. Congratulations to both Ryan and Greg for correctly seeing Detroit into the second round in the shortest amount of time!

ANAHEIM DUCKS VS. NASHVILLE PREDATORS: One entrant won this series with an 11-point performance, and that entrant was Daniel W. Daniel correctly predicted the winning team in Games Three, Four, Five, and Six for four points. He also knew that Nashville would win in six games for another five points. And Daniel picked up two more points for calling Corey Perry's game-winner in Game Four. After all those values were entered into the calculator, Daniel had himself 11 points! Congratulations to Daniel on this great series!

I'm pumped for the second round as this round was very exciting both on the ice and in the HBIC Playoff Pool! The prize list will be posted next week once I get the final few prizes secured and in my possession. There will be possibly 10 individual prizes, including one grand prize. I'll know more once I get everything organized, but things will be finalized with the prizes shortly.

Thanks for playing to the men and women involved, and here's hoping your second round goes as good or better than the first round! Good luck!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 29

There were some negative vibes running through Antler Banter last week, but we're back with a new week, a new graphic, and, appropriately, a new opponent to battle as the Moose decided to pull up their collective socks and beat a bewildered Lake Erie squad. Again, I stuck by the Moose because of their playoff experience in knowing how to deal with pressure, and the Moose proved me right as they battled back from the brink to move onto the second round of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs! Hit up the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose playoff news and Calder Cup information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose playoff game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose and Monsters close out their opening round playoff series in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Against The Wall

With the Moose down 2-1 in the series, there had to be a sense of urgency for the Herd to make good on their home ice in order for them to go back to Cleveland with the upper hand. Thursday night was a chance for the Moose to pull even, shift momentum in the series back to themselves, and make this a best-of-three series. Tyler Weiman would square off against John Grahame, but Weiman's night would be a short one as Eddie Lack closed out this game.

Make no mistake about this: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES. Have I made this clear enough for everyone, including the Moose players? Thursday night saw both sides of the special teams pull up lame as the Moose allowed three powerplay goals on eight chances while the powerplay was oh-fer once again in missing out on four opportunities AND allowed another shorthanded goal.

Any time you give up three powerplay goals in one game, you're going to be hard-pressed in winning that game. While I disagree that Aaron Volpatti deserved the major penalty and game misconduct, I'm not wearing the stripes on the ice. Lake Erie scored twice on that five-minute powerplay, added another on an early second-period powerplay, and added a fourth goal while playing shorthanded. The finger is being pointed at the special teams tonight: that's how you lose games, gentlemen.

Again, the powerplay is not only horrific offensively, but they seem to have a knack for giving up goals as well. Is it possible to just decline powerplay opportunities? Rarely do you see powerplay units being outscored like this Moose unit has been, and, quite frankly, it's pathetic. I'll say it again: if the Moose lose this series, you can narrow it down to the powerplay unit's ineffectiveness.

The Moose made a game out of this one, trailing 4-3 with a minute to play, but two empty-net goals by the Monsters ended this night on a 6-3 losing note. Special teams were the problem on this night, and the Moose now find themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 series lead. It's do-or-die from this point on, so let's hope that Friday night's game extends the series for another visit to Cleveland.

Back To The North Coast

With their backs clearly against the wall, the Moose needed to make a statement if they hoped to head back to Cleveland with some momentum on their side. The only advantage the Moose seem to have thus far in the series is their play at even-strength. The Moose went back to Eddie Lack in Friday's game with their season on the line. He stood at the opposite end of the ice from Jason Bacashihua as John Grahame was given the night off.

For the first time in a very long time, we may have seen the Moose play a complete three periods of hockey. The top line of Sergei Shirokov, Marco Rosa, and Jason Jaffray looked impressive in this one as they combined for two goals, three assists, a +5 rating, and 13 shots on net! Jaffray really came to play as he was physical, he scored the insurance marker, and he assisted on Shirokov's tally to open the scoring in the third period. That line stepped up with the pressure on, and that's what you need from your elite players.

Discipline was also part of the equation in this game as the Moose were only whistled for two penalties, and were a perfect two-for-two in killing those penalties off. For a series that has been as physical as it has, this game really was a tight-checking affair. Credit Manitoba for not taking a number of unnecessary penalties after their previous outing saw them embarrassed while a member of the Herd sat in the sin bin.

What can you say about Eddie Lack? The unflappable rookie returned to MVP form with his 26-save performance in Friday's game. Cleveland launched 26 shots, and none found the twine behind Lack as he pitched a shutout to send the series back to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. Again, with the pressure on, the Moose got a fantastic performance from one of their best players.

The Moose stormed out of the gates, outshooting the Monsters 18-5 in the first period, but had nothing to show for it at the end of 20 minutes. It wasn't until the 6:35 mark of the third period that we got scoring as Shirokov's third goal of the series put the Moose up. It was all the scoring the Moose would need, but Jaffray added the insurance marker into an empty net with ten seconds to play, and the Moose booked a flight back to Cleveland with their 2-0 win. The Monsters, though, still have the advantage with a 3-2 series lead.

Rockin' And Rollin' The Rock 'n' Roll Capital

Lake Erie had a second opportunity to close out the series as the series shifted back to the second-largest city in Ohio. Manitoba is still struggling while on the powerplay, but their play in the last game was indicative that this Moose squad is superior in five-on-five situations. Eddie Lack suited up for Game Six after his shutout performance in Game Five, and the Monsters went back to John Grahame to try to close this series out.

Hold the presses, ladies and gentlemen: the Manitoba Moose scored a powerplay goal! And this one was a big one. With the Moose and Monsters knotted up at 1-1, Lake Erie's Mark Olver was sent to the box for holding, and I figured it would be at least two minutes before the Moose could score another goal. Thanks to a very subtle change, the Moose made this powerplay count for the first time in the series.

Keith Seabrook was sent over the boards for the powerplay, and his laser from the point found space past Grahame, giving the Moose the 2-1 lead in the game and their first powerplay goal of the series! While the joy of scoring wasn't over-celebrated by the Moose, I, for one, was overjoyed! Good job on the Moose coaching staff for adding Seabrook to the powerplay unit as his regular-season scoring prowess returned quickly in this one.

Two other Moose players had excellent games as Kevin Clark and Jordan Schroeder (remember him?) both had two assists in the game. Clark and Schroeder combined on setting up Bill Sweatt for his first of the postseason early in the second period before relaying the puck to Seabrook for the powerplay marker in the third period. Great game for these two after they had been struggling down the stretch and into the playoffs, and the Moose will need more efforts like this one if they hope to advance.

Eddie Lack was stellar once again, and the Moose skated to a 3-1 Easter Sunday victory in this game to even the series at 3-3. With a Game Seven scheduled for Tuesday, this series has had a lot of drama in it, and now we get to see a Game Seven to finish this one off. Can the Moose pull off an improbable recovery from a 3-1 series deficit to advance?

Cleveland Rocked

If we go back to Antler Banter: Volume 27, I stated that I thought the Moose would advance due to their previous playoff experiences when compared to the Monsters who were in their first-ever postseason. I stated,
"For all intents and purposes, this looks like a very even series at the outset. If I were a betting man, though, I'd give Manitoba the edge through experience."
Well, it was all about seeing whether or not my prediction for this series would hold true as Game Seven would either make me a liar or would serve prophetic. Eddie Lack and John Grahame would be the goaltenders in this deciding game as both the Moose and Monsters looked to advance.

I think we might be seeing a trend here - the Moose scored yet another powerplay goal! And wouldn't you it, but Keith Seabrook was the man to notch his second goal of the playoffs, both of them powerplay markers! Seabrook's third-period goal came just 55 seconds after a fabulous goal by Alex Bolduc put the Moose up 2-1 in this game, swinging the momentum in this game to the Moose's side in a big way. Seabrook also had an assist on Bolduc's goal, so he was key in the two goals to put the Moose ahead in this game.

Eddie Lack was absolutely spectacular in this game, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced. When the chips were on the line, Lack turned his game up another notch, and really put up a wall in the Moose zone. To think he battled a former NHL goaltender as well as he did shows a ton of poise and maturity in this young goalie. The Moose may not have a goaltending controversy, but if Lack continues to progress as he is, the Vancouver Canucks certainly will in the future.

After allowing Lake Erie to jump out in front for the third straight game while facing elimination, the Moose battled back to take Game Seven and the series by a 4-1 score! It's amazing how many times the Moose found themselves behind in this series, especially after being down 3-1 in games, only to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. The Moose's experience in high-pressure games was clearly evident as they battled back from the brink of defeat to win this series, and they proved me prophetic with their incredible win! The Moose will now advance to the North Division Final, and that series starts on Thursday.

As for the Monsters, their season is done, and they'll prepare for next season in the coming weeks. But for now...

Moose Nemesis

After having defeated the Oklahoma City Barons in six games, the Hamilton Bulldogs will face the Moose in the second round of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. The Bulldogs must be salivating at this match-up as they have had the Moose's number all season long. There is no nice way of saying this: the Moose will need a Herculean effort to exorcise their demons against the Bulldogs.

There are a few things that the Moose can do, though. The first is to stay out of the penalty box. As seen in the Lake Erie series, when the Moose start a parade to the penalty box, they lose games. They have to play more disciplined that the Bulldogs, and they have to constantly move their feet. Lazy penalties will make this a short series as the Bulldogs are an offensive dynamo as a team.

Secondly, the Moose have to find a way to continue to light the fire under their powerplay. The easiest way to have the Bulldogs thrown off kilter is to kill them on the man-advantage. If the Moose can put the Bulldogs behind the eight-ball with the powerplay, they'll find that the trap the Bulldogs use will evaporate as Hamilton will need to press for goals. I've said it all through the Lake Erie series, so here it is again: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES.

And thirdly, make life difficult for Nigel Dawes, Aaron Palushaj, and Dustin Boyd. It's no secret that this line made life difficult for the Moose in every single game this season, and it appeared as though the Moose made no adjustments to throw this line off their game. Yes, they're fast, they can score, and they do the little things that make them successful, but the Moose have to make adjustments to cause this line some frustration. Be physical, out-hustle them, and do not give them an inch to work in or they will hurt you. It will be a difficult assignment for whoever draws this match-up, but the Moose cannot let this line dominate this series like they did in the regular season.

Bulldogs and Moose kick things off in Hamilton tomorrow! I'm pumped, and I'm calling another Manitoba win in seven games! DO IT, Moose!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Test Of Character

I began exams today with a kick at the Accounting bucket. My brain is somewhat fried from all the studying that I've been doing and from watching hockey, and it appears that there might be a few teams that will be fried after watching all the insanity pile up. Four Game Sevens are taking place this year - the most since 1995 in the opening round! If there is ever a test of character and nerves, a Game Seven has to be it. Between the pressure and knowing that one mistake can end your playoff life, there is nothing in sports like a Game Seven in hockey. And it's a large reason why I love hockey!

Thanks to TSN's Top 10, we have a collection of magical Game Seven endings to watch. I remember a lot of these, including the Pat Lafontaine marathon-ending goal! Take a look and see how many you remember.

Speaking of memorable Game Seven games, I will always remember where I was when the Islanders knocked off the Penguins in 1993 on a David Volek overtime goal. Kevin Stevens would never be the same player after he broke his face on the ice. Here are the highlights from that game.
If you care to know, I was standing in front of an electronics store in West Edmonton Mall when Volek scored. And I didn't move for about ten minutes as the jubilant Islanders knocked off the top-seeded Penguins to end the two-time Stanley Cup champions' run towards a three-peat. Personally, this was one of Tom Barrasso's worst games as a Penguin, and I'm not sure why Ken Wregget wasn't put in the net after that long Benoit Hogue goal from outside the offensive zone.

There is some Game Seven magic, kids. Tomorrow, the opening round ends, and we'll see who is still standing after the chips fall into place. For those of you entered in the HBIC Playoff Pool, points will be updated on Thursday for all to see!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 25 April 2011

I Missed The Date...

I was cruising through the archives yesterday in my search for some information that I thought I had posted, and I came across something that I forgot had happened on April 24. The man to the left, Michael Leighton, is back with Philadelphia as they look to recreate the magic from last season, but April 24 is a big day for Michael Leighton for another reason as he was part of history on this day. I'm going to assume it was overlooked by a number of news sources and weblogs, but Leighton was one of the goaltenders of record in the longest AHL game in history on April 24, 2008.

Michael Leighton was tending the net for the Albany River Rats in 2008, and they met the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. Game Five took place on April 24, and who would have known at that time that the game would take on historical proportions as the two teams battled through eight periods before a winner was crowned.

I'll let the video do most of the talking on this one, but I'll get everyone up to speed after the highlight. Mark your calendars, kids, because April 24 is a big day once you see the stats.

Onion bag? Did he just... seriously? Seriously. Alright, here are the cold, hard numbers from that game:
  • Leighton made 98 saves on 101 shots. The 101st shot was the one that got away. His 98-save performance broke the record held by Ty Conklin who had made 83 saves for the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2003 against Houston.
  • 62 of Leighton's 98 saves came in overtime.
  • Michael Leighton, for all his work, was voted as the second star of the game. The first star? Game-winning goal-scorer Ryan Potulny.
  • Phantoms goaltender Scott Munroe made 65 saves on 67 shots.
  • Because of the number of shots taken by the Phantoms, the scoreboard showed only one shot on net at the conclusion of the game. Albany's scoreboard rolled over to zero on the 100th shot.
  • A mere 1809 people showed up for the game. By the time the game was done, only a few hundred remained in their seats.
  • For a bigger slap in the face of fans that decided to watch history, the concession stands reportedly closed down at 9PM for night. The game officially ended at 12:38AM, a short five hours and 38 minutes after the puck was dropped.
With the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs nearly having decided the opening round, I guess I can be thankful that I haven't had to endure one of these marathon games yet. Only one bracket is left to decide in this year's AHL Playoffs as the Manitoba Moose and Lake Erie Monsters play Game Seven in Cleveland tomorrow.

Here's hoping the Moose can win Game Seven so I can see more live playoff action this season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Finally... The Second Round!

The title of this article may sound like I'm mocking the Nashville Predators, but I'm actually very excited for this team because the Predators needed this win for themselves and their fans. I'm not saying that they were the most deserving team of a berth in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they outworked the Anaheim Ducks and got some timely goals from their players. Those two factors, far and away, helped the Nashville Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks for their first playoff series win in franchise history.

If anything, the fans in Nashville have been loyal for the most part when it comes to supporting the Predators. They turn out in droves for playoff hockey, even if some of those attending may not know all the rules. But they are there, cheering on their team, giving them as support as any fan can give. If there was anyone who deserved this win, the fans are those who did.

As I sit here with my Shea Weber jersey on, there were a number of inspiring performances in this series from the Predators. Steve Sullivan, David Legwand, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter are still the "go-to" stars, but how about the performance of Jordin Tootoo in this series?

If you haven't heard the story, Tootoo voluntarily entered the NHL/NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program on December 27, 2010 to combat an alcohol problem. Just over one month later, Tootoo was moved to the follow-up care phase of the program, and he returned to the Predators to continue his career. However, he wasn't cleared to resume playing with the Predators for another month. With his battle seemingly behind him, Tootoo came back to the lineup, but seemingly was more reserved than his "wrecking ball" reputation.

"With the support I've gotten from my teammates, my family, the fans of Nashville, it has been unbelievable," Tootoo told The Associated Press. "Without their support, I probably couldn't have done it, I think bottom line is it's something I needed to do and at the same time, I'm just happy to be back and thankful.

"I'm just going to take it one day at a time. Right now I'm just living in the moment and enjoying every bit of it. I can't tell you how far down. I'm just going to live in the moment right now."

While Tootoo's play on the ice was good enough to keep him in the line-up over the next season, it was nothing like what we saw in the six games against Anaheim Ducks. Tootoo finished the series with one goal and four assists - one point behind Predators' leading-scorer Mike Fisher. After posting 18 points in just 54 games, who would have thought that the physical player had it in him?

Captain Shea Weber didn't at first, but he believes in Tootoo's talent.

"Wouldn't be my first pick, but the way he's been playing the second half of the year, I wouldn't question someone if they told me that," Weber said. "I mean, he's been so great since he's come back to us. I'm really happy for him. He's a new person. He's playing well and hopefully he continues to do so."

I had the opportunity to watch Jordin Tootoo when he played with the OCN Blizzard in the MJHL where he was voted as Rookie of the Year and received Scholastic Player of the Year honours. His one season in 1998-99 was impressive as he scored 16 goals, added 21 assists, but spent a whopping 251 minutes in the penalty box that season. There was no doubt that Tootoo had an incredible talent for hockey in watching him, and his move to the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings was a no-brainer.

In watching him in Game Five, his set-up of Jerred Smithson's overtime goal looked very reminiscent of his play while with the OCN Blizzard as all three Ducks defenders stood and watched Tootoo thread the needle to the breaking Smithson in the slot. Take a look:

That's exactly the kind of attention he got as a major junior player with his talent, and that talent shone through in Game Five as he helped Nashville take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Jump ahead to tonight where Tootoo was key in sending the Ducks home with his speed and nose for the net. As Tootoo breaks down the wing, it was eerily similar to how he played as a major junior player: straight-ahead at full-speed.
While he didn't score, there were many times in the MJHL where he broke in hard across the blueline, put his head down, and barreled towards the net. More often than not, he would come away with a point as he either scored or had someone clean up the rebound like Nick Spaling did tonight. Again, this is Jordin Tootoo at his finest, and it is great to see the Tootoo Train back to his old ways.

"Obviously, it's great to contribute offensively," Tootoo said to's John Manasso. "For me, I think the game slowed down just a tad bit and, you know, I'm able to make those plays and my linemates are finding those open areas to create chances and we’ve been pretty fortunate here. Part of our line, we talk about communicating and doing the simple things and I think that's what makes us successful.

"Part of my game is driving hard to the net and dropping the shoulder and going hard and creating those second and third changes. And Spals, obviously, got the rebound there on the game-winner. When you drive hard to the net, good things happen."

Indeed, Mr. Tootoo. It's great to see you back to your old form!

One of the other men that should be credited with this win who didn't play one shift in this whole series? Head coach Barry Trotz. The 13-year head coach of the Predators has certainly done yeoman's work as the only head coach in franchise history, and his work really needs to be recognized. While it's not to say that the Predators haven't had talent - Kariya, Forsberg, Vokoun, Timonen - it does say a lot about Trotz in that this year's version of the Predators is balanced from top to bottom, and has their first playoff series victory in the team's history.

"We've been disappointed in the playoffs a few times," Trotz told Michael Traikos of the National Post. "Now we've taken another step in winning a series. I always tell our players, if it comes easy, you probably don't appreciate it a whole lot. And it's been hard for us and I think the fans really appreciate it."

Speaking about those fans, Trotz has seen the growth of the game in Nashville. From his perspective, hockey has a home in "Smashville".

"The city's abuzz," the Dauphin, Manitoba native said. "Our whole subdivision has these blue-and-gold ribbons and people have hung decoys from their mailboxes. I took my youngest to school this morning and all the kids are dressed up in Predators garb. It's a big deal in town. It really is. I think we're sold out already for next game.

"We've had 20 sell-outs this year. I know in Canada it sort of gets skewed a little bit. But we're building one fan at a time. Right now, people have embraced the hockey culture. They love it."

With the way this team is playing, it's hard not to love what thy bring to the ice each and every game - hard work, dogged determination, and pure joy when they score. The fans have had thirteen seasons of ups and downs that have included some painful playoff losses.

Ride the wave, Nashville fans. There will be ups and downs in every season, but you've got a good thing going in Nashville right now. From the play of Jordin Tootoo to the coaching of Barry Trotz, the Music City is a great place for cultivating a dream.

The dream of a Stanley Cup may not be far off.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ryan Evokes Lemieux Memories

Goals that define a playoff year are rare enough that you can probably only come up with a handful for various reasons. Brett Hull's foot in the crease against Buffalo? Memorable because of the rules in place that season. Darren McCarty's flash of brilliance against the Philadelphia Flyers? For a hard-nosed, tough competitor like McCarty, it was like watching a kid dominate the competition in a shinny game. Mario Lemieux has had a couple of goals like that. His move on Jon Casey in the 1991 Stanley Cup Final was a thing of beauty. And thanks to Bobby Ryan's ridiculous moves in today's Anaheim-Nashville game, memories of that Lemieux goal came flooding back.

Here is the Lemieux goal as it happened. It still gives me chills watching how good he was as a pure goal-scorer.

He dekes through Shawn Chambers, and then uses that ridiculous wingspan to make Jon Casey look like a peewee goaltender. This is still one of my all-time favorite hockey goals.

However, fast forward to 2011 where Bobby Ryan, the second overall pick behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in their draft year, makes a couple of Mario Lemieux-like moves as he breaks in on Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators.
David Legwand is still looking for his jockstrap in the arena as you read this. That was an outstanding individual effort, and it certainly has "Goal of the Year" written all over it.

However, there is one major difference that may keep this goal in memories, but not push it to the forefront as one of the best goals ever. The Anaheim Ducks lost this game, and now trail the Nashville Predators 3-2 in their series. As inspiring this goal is and for all the firing up it may have done for the Ducks, they still dropped Game Five.

Brett Hull, Darren McCarty, and Mario Lemieux all won Stanley Cups in the years that their goals took place. All three scored their goals in Stanley Cup Finals where they hoisted the Stanley Cup soon after. None of them lost the game where they scored their memorable goal.

So I have to ask, readers: despite being an overwhelming favorite for "Goal of the Year", does Bobby Ryan's goal lose its lustre if the Ducks lose this game? And does it lose its immortality if the Ducks are eliminated by the Predators in the first round of the playoffs? Comments are certainly welcome on this one as the merits of immortality are discussed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Official 2011 HBIC Playoff Pool Scoring Page

I know all of you who have entered the HBIC Playoff Pool through two rounds have been waiting to see how you are doing in the pool compared to everyone else. Thank you once again for being patient with these results as I've been busy trying to put my life in order now that school is over, and I'd be happy to discuss any of the results with you in case there is any confusion over the scores.

Here are the entrants in alphabetical order according to first name and last initial. The info in parentheses is the tie-breaker team that each person has chosen.

Here's the list.

  1. Aaron D. (WAS) - 70
  2. Aaron P. (PIT) - 49
  3. Andrew G. (DET) - 35
  4. Andrew P. (BOS) - 45
  5. Andy S. (VAN) - 36
  6. Bobby H. (BOS) - 46
  7. Bryan J. (MTL) - 78
  8. Charles N. (BOS) - 59
  9. Cole V. (PHI) - 52
  10. Corey D. (BOS) - 68
  11. Dan B. (BOS) - 67
  12. Dan F. (WAS) - 86
  13. Dan M. (NAS) - 25
  14. Dan S. (BOS) - 59
  15. Daniel W. (VAN) - 58
  16. David F. (VAN) - 77
  17. David L. (PHI) - 58
  18. Forrest B. (WAS) - 55
  19. Frank M. (VAN) - 55
  20. Greg A. (PHI) - 43
  21. Greg C. (BOS) - 58
  22. Jake I. (PHI) - 41
  23. James H. (VAN) - 76
  24. John M. (WAS) - 54
  25. Justin S. (BOS) - 81
  26. Kerry M. (VAN) - 65
  27. Kim W. (BOS) - 34
  28. Matthew K. (BOS) - 43
  29. Matthew S. (DET) - 80
  30. Michael J. (DET) - 57
  31. Mike E. (ANA) - 38
  32. Mike F. (NT) - 25
  33. Mike M. (NT) - 40
  34. Peter S. (PHI) - 73
  35. Rich M. (PHI) - 25
  36. Rick K. (PHI) - 60
  37. Robert R. (NT) - 31
  38. Ryan J. (VAN) - 83
  39. Sammy B. (PHI) - 51
  40. Scott M. (BOS) - 56
  41. Shannon P. (PHI) - 65
  42. Thomas H. (PHI) - 41
  43. Ty F. (PHI) - 55
Those are the update point totals as of the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final! Congratulations go out to Dan Franko, the 2011 HBIC Playoff Pool Champion!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Get The Ilya Outta Here

Comedy is sometimes misinterpreted when people take it out of context, but there was no denying that Ilya Bryzgalov's latest diatribe towards the city of Winnipeg is one of the most uneducated, idiotic things to say to a microphone or reporter. While Mr. Bryzgalov is certainly entitled to his opinion on a wide-range of topics, sometimes it is better to leave well enough alone and be done with it. Instead, Mr. Bryzgalov opened his mouth, inserted his foot far enough that he scratched his tonsils, and then proceeded to insult a collective group of people totaling somewhere in the range in 800,000. If the Coyotes do move back to Winnipeg, I'll lead the charge in not having Ilya Bryzgalov as a member of the team.

His abysmal playoff statistics aside, I want to prove that Ilya Bryzgalov is not only misinformed, but grossly stupid for his comments made after the Coyotes were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in four games. The reason I want to address these comments is because I, as a Winnipegger who was born and raised there, find his comments to be sickening. And I don't even work for Travel Manitoba.

In speaking to Slam Sports, Mr. Brygalov brought these pearls of wisdom forward:

"You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said after the Coyotes lost to Detroit, Wednesday night. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it's cold. There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family."

The 30-year-old Russian's knowledge of Winnipeg comes from a visit or two when he was with Cincinnati in the AHL.

"I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold," Bryzgalov said. "I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."
Ah, yes... the "it's so cold" argument. I love this rationale from people who don't understand how life on the prairies works. So go ahead and beat up on Winnipeg because it's cold in the winter. Perhaps you'll notice that's it's hot and dry in Phoenix while you're at it, Ilya.

I want to point out Moneysense's article on the best places to live in Canada as of 2011. In it, they rank the cities according to some pretty interesting criteria, with weather being one of them. Let's check Bryzgalov's comments about Edmonton, the eighth-best Canadian city to live according to Moneysense, in 2008.
I find it funny that of the six NHL cities on Moneysense's list, Edmonton's ranking for weather is second-best behind only Toronto. If you include Winnipeg and Quebec City, Edmonton gets bumped to third thanks to Winnipeg's better ranking. That would mean that the top three NHL cities for weather would be Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton.

Now you're probably asking yourself how Moneysense came up with these weather numbers. Here's their exact numerology breakdown:
18 points – (6 for each of: amount of precipitation, number of wet days, days below 0°C). Ideal volume of precipitation is considered to be 700 ml per year. Source: Environment Canada.
Did that say "days below 0°C"? And both Winnipeg and Edmonton were ranked above Calgary (fifth), Montreal (sixth), and Vancouver (seventh)? Those three cities get less sunshine and they have more rain - not the most ideal places when you want to go to a park, is it? Maybe it's not so bad having a few -40°C days in the winter for all the sunlight and summer warmth Winnipeg and Edmonton get. After all, when states,
Winnipeg gets an abundance of snow, with snowfall typically starting in November and often not finishing until April. The city’s worst winter temperature sits at about -20°C and summer temperature never exceeds 30°C.

It’s also a windy city, which can make winter even harder to bear. But, on the bright side, Winnipeg can tout the most days of winter sunshine than any other Canadian city. Plus, its climate is dry, which makes the cold easier to stand.
Most days of sunshine, the cold isn't as bad as everyone thinks it is, and we're fairly reasonable when it comes to temperatures. Is there something lost in translation here, Mr. Bryzgalov?

Speaking about those parks we have here in Winnipeg, it's a known fact that there aren't many people in parks in the winter in Winnipeg on account of the cold and snow. Yes, that's right: it actually gets really cold and it snows in Winnipeg! Captain Obvious strikes again, it seems.

While Phoenix, Arizona has South Mountain Park - a 16,283 acre park with 58 miles of trails in Phoenix and its outskirts - I doubt that Mr. Bryzgalov and his family spend much time there. Maybe they do and are actually avid hikers and bikers, and that's great for them. But there are more green spaces in Winnipeg that can be explored and appreciated for their wonders than what Phoenix boasts.

Let's run down a few of the more recognizable parks amongst the vast amount of green space that Winnipeg has to offer:
  • Assiniboine Park - 378 acres of green space that feature recreation areas for cricket, softball, beach volleyball, soccer, and ultimate frisbee. Contained within the park are the Assiniboine Park Zoo, the conservatory, the Leo Mol sculpture garden, an English garden, a large duck pond which becomes a skating rink in winter, the Lyric stage, the Assiniboine Pavilion, and an abundance of green space for relaxing. BBQs and children's playgrounds are free to use in the park. There is a large slide for high-speed sledding in the winter, and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is open year-round. New amenities are being added over the next few years as well, giving the park a year-round function.
  • Assiniboine Forest - right across the street from Assiniboine Park is 700 acres of natural forest that features a 1.5km paved trail called Sigimay Trail as well as 8.5km of additional paths and walkways.
  • Kildonan Park - 96 acres of green space that features the award-winning outdoor theatre Rainbow Stage, a duck pond, a public swimming pool, the Witch's Hut, a soccer field, the Peguis Pavilion, and many BBQs and public picnic areas. Many paths are situated near the river with some leading to rustic wooden bridges. The long roadway through Kildonan Park allows for people to drive in, but a large section is designated for joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers.
  • St. Vital Park - 114 acres of green space that features recreation sites such as two beach volleyball courts, a soccer field, a duck pond that converts to a skating rink in winter, BBQs and picnic sites, a children's playground, a boat launch onto the river, slides for winter sledding, and many cross-country ski trails in the winter. There are a number of totem poles within the park and a Rock Garden that has a ton of flower beds in it. Pathways are abundant throughout the park for walking, and the roadway is perfect for cycling, jogging, walking, and rollerblading.
And those are only four of the many parks in Winnipeg. We can't forget about the thirteen dog parks for taking Fido out for some leisure either. Overall, there are 11 major parks within Winnipeg, and many that surround the city as well. Kids are encouraged to check out the eight skateboard parks where they can pull off tricks with their friends. I encourage Mr. Bryzgalov to take a look at the vast services and green spaces that Winnipeg parks have to offer. And I haven't even narrowed down the number of green spaces that the majority of Winnipeg schools have attached to them.

Bryzgalov's recreational choices aside, his claims of there being "no Russian people" is downright absurd. When asked if he would listen to the owners of the new Manitoba NHL franchise about the city and its people, Bryzgalov responded,
"Probably not. I better go to somewhere in Russia, KHL, to be honest. Because KHL is Russian people, it’s family, friends. Even as a cold place, I can speak to people in Russian language."
Wow. I think he has his foot up to his knee firmly in his mouth at this point. Let's take a closer look at this claim that Bryzgalov is making with his extensive knowledge of Winnipeg.

According to this article from the Canadian Jewish Congress, "[i]n the last five years, about 2,000 Russian-Israeli immigrants have chosen Winnipeg as their new home". Indeed, the number of Russian-Israeli immigrants is on the rise, and Winnipeg and its surrounding areas boast a vibrant Ukrainian community as well.

There are even websites specifically set up to help Russians who have moved to the Manitoba capital to assist them in settling in their new homes. The Russian Cultural Association of Manitoba and are vital resources for the Russian community in the city. The Russian Cultural Association website has a ton of info on working and living in Winnipeg. In total, some 30,000 Russians of various descents call Manitoba home.

The German-Russian communities are strong within Manitoba, represented by the Mennonites, with the town of Steinbach being founded by 18 Mennonite families. The Mennonite Heritage Museum is a major attraction for the town, and there is no restrictions on the languages spoken within the town as regional Russian, Ukrainian, and German languages can be heard as commonly as English. In fact, there are over 100 recognized languages spoken in Manitoba, so it's more common to find someone you can talk to rather than someone you can't.

Oh, as for entertainment and Russian culture all wrapped up into one big week, don't forget about Folklorama, the largest and longest-running multi-cultural event of its kind on the planet. Prominently featured as one of the pavilions is the Russian pavilion where everyone can partake in some Russian hospitality.

But Winnipeg has no appreciation or representation of Russia or the Russian community, right? Again, I fail to see why Bryzgalov needs to make statements that are entirely untrue about a place of which he has zero knowledge. Let's review:
  • Cold? Sure, but we have the most sunshiny days of any major center in Canada.
  • Parks? We got 'em. Lots and lots of them.
  • Russians? We got 'em. And we don't mind if more of them move in.
Personally, if the Russian goaltender doesn't want to play here, I'm ok with that. When it comes down to it, Bryzgalov crapped the bed in the playoffs against Detroit, and there's no denying that fact. When your GAA is north of 4.00, you're probably better watching from the bench. We've seen incredible goaltending performances in Winnipeg from the likes of Nikolai Khabibulin to Cory Schneider to Eddie Lack. We're not losing if Bryzglaov decides that this town isn't his cup of tea after spending two nights here with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.

I do have a problem with someone spouting off at the mouth about a city that lives and breathes the game of hockey. Visiting teams, such as the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, don't usually get the guided tour of the town when they visit for obvious reasons, so allowing Bryzgalov to trash a city he knows nothing about does raise my dander every so slightly.

I'm not asking for Bryzgalov to give up his free agency status or to consider re-signing with the Coyotes if they do indeed move to Winnipeg. I'm sure that GM Don Maloney will court the Russian netminder as a free agent, and that's a smart move from a hockey standpoint after Bryzgalov has turned in two solid regular season campaigns. While his playoff performances leave a rather sour taste in one's mouth, there's no denying that Bryzgalov was vital to the success of the Coyotes this season.

That being said, I am willing to offer up my time and resources to show Mr. Bryzgalov around the city, and to help him understand that the city of Winnipeg is not in any way the closest thing to Hell-Frozen-Over. All he needs to do is contact me via email. If he's willing to take the tour, I'd be happy to show him around town.

If he's still hating on Winnipeg after reading all that I've written, then so be it. We'll part ways and never worry about one another again. Enjoy your career, good luck along the way, and we'll see you if you happen to come these parts with another team.

But don't think we'll forget about what you said if and when you visit.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 28

It's the first edition of Antler Banter as we enter the Calder Cup Playoffs, and, as seen in the graphic to the left, the Moose are locking antlers with the Monsters from Lake Erie. These two teams were very similar in their records over the course of the season and against each other, so I was expecting a very close series between these two AHL clubs. The Moose would open the playoffs on the road after finishing in third-place in the AHL North Division, so it was off to Cleveland for a pair of games before returning home for three. Playoff hockey always brings out the best in players and fans, so let's not waste any time getting to the action! Stop by the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose playoff news and Calder Cup information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose playoff game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose and Monsters kick off their opening round Calder Cup Playoff series in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Mauled In The Second Period

There was lots of hope that the Moose could recover after faltering on the last weekend in the regular season with two losses to the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Moose seemed to talk the talk as they prepared to battle the Monsters, so there were lots of reasons to think that the Moose were going in with some resolve and determination to grab a hold of this series on the road. Eddie Lack would start his first AHL playoff game while the Monsters opted for Jason Bacashihua in their nets to start the series.

I have harped on this aspect of the Moose's game all season long, and I have made every indication that a playoff series can be won and lost on special teams, but it seems the Moose powerplay wants to hear none of this. Tonight was a prime example in not capitalizing on opportunities and playing soft with the man-advantage. And it hurt the Moose in a big way.

With the Moose leading 2-1 early in the second period, they were handed a glorious opportunity to tighten the noose on the necks of the Monsters in Game One as they went to the powerplay just 1:23 into the second frame. Instead, the Moose powerplay comes out and handles the puck like a grenade. Justin Mercier poked the puck away from the Moose defenders, and was off to the races as he outskated both Mark Flood and Nolan Baumgartner down the ice for a shorthanded breakaway. A deke and a backhander later, and the Monsters have tied the game 2-2 with a shorthanded, momentum-swinging goal.

What is it about the Moose powerplay this season in that they seem to give up as many goals as they score? If you needed a "TSN Turning Point" in this game, the shorthanded goal was it. After Lake Erie notched that goal, it was all Monsters for the remainder of the second period as they tallied three times in the period. I'll say it again for the umpteenth time: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES. If this powerplay ineptitude continues for the Moose, it will be a very short series.

If there was one standout in this game, the nod has to go to Marco Rosa who has been the heart and soul of this team down the stretch. He continued his solid play tonight as he scored two goals, added two helpers, had three shots, and finished the night with a +1 rating. In a game where it just seemed like the Moose were constantly battling the puck and trying to play catch-up, Rosa was the beacon of light that seemed to play much better when the pressure was on. He just needs 21 other men to do that.

I'm not going to beat a dead horse, but the Moose won the first period and tied the third period, but were blown out in the second period. After all was said and done, the Lake Erie Monsters took Game One of this series by a 6-4 score. It wasn't pretty for Lake Erie, but they got the job done in the second period with three goals.

Just for the record, the Moose powerplay was oh-fer-four in this game. If you ask me, someone needs to light a fire under the collective rear ends of this group soon. Or it will be lights-out before the Moose know it.

Split For Home

The Moose needed a win to earn a split with Lake Erie, especially coming home for three games. While the effort on Saturday was there, it is clear that the small gaffes made by the Moose must be cleaned up to prevent the Monsters from jumping ahead 2-0 in the series. Lake Erie proved that they are willing to wait for Manitoba to make mistakes, and they capitalized in Game One where they could. After having watched his rookie goalie get shelled, head coach Claude Noel went with former Monster Tyler Weiman between the pipes in Game Two. The Monsters also made a change as they gave John Grahame the start in this one.

This game was all about one line: Murray-Volpatti-Rypien. If you needed to define an energy line, these guys came to play tonight with a purpose. They hustled, they made life difficult for the Monsters, and they provided an offensive spark when the Moose needed it. In short, Pierre McGuire would call these guys "monsters" against the Monsters.

Aaron Volpatti picked himself up a goal on his only shot on the afternoon, added a key helper, and finished the game with a +2 rating. For your energy/checking line guys, that's a great afternoon at the office. Make no mistake here: the Moose may have the most talented checking line in the AHL right now, and these guys put on a show this afternoon. Volpatti, though, was the showstopper, and his contributions were the difference.

Garth Murray earned himself an assist on Volpatti's first period goal, and finished the afternoon with a +2 rating. Murray should also get credit for working his tail off on a couple of penalty kill situations. He was on the ice for the Lake Erie powerplay goal, but his efforts in killing off the other three man-advantage situations can't be overlooked. Murray has really become a dependable workhorse for this team, and he deserves some kudos for that effort.

Rick Rypien finished the game with one goal, and it was a big one. His afternoon had him recording four shots and a +2 rating, but that fourth and final shot was the most important shot of the day. Rypien's first goal of the playoffs came at 8:03 of the extra frame on a pass from Aaron Volpatti, and his redirection found the back of the net for the game-winning overtime goal! While there was some controversy as the Monsters felt Rypien redirected the puck in with his skate, referees Chris Ciamaga and Tim Mayer would have none of it and allowed the goal to stand.

Marco Rosa scored his third goal of the series in this game, and Tyler Weiman played a very good game in his start to earn the 3-2 overtime win. Manitoba's energy line had a huge impact in this game, and it was great to see the grinders on this team being rewarded for the work. With the split, the series shifts back to Manitoba for the next three games. Could the Moose do the impossible and win three in a row on home ice to close out this series?

And since we're keeping a record of special teams, the Moose went oh-fer-three tonight with the man-advantage. That's oh-fer-seven in two games. Perhaps the powerplay units need to be tazered to be woken up.

Frustrating Display

With the Moose looking to gain control of the series on home ice, there was a sense of electricity in the air as the fans poured into MTS Centre for Game Three of the North Division Semi-Final. While the powerplay has been absent through the first two games, Manitoba has shown that they can score five-on-five, so they just needed to keep the powerplay off the ice. Of course, I am joking about this, but they really do need the powerplay to come through against the Monsters. Tyler Weiman and John Grahame squared off in a rematch of Game Two goalies on Tuesday night.

The Moose came out with a sense of determination, pinning Lake Erie deep in their own zone in the first minute. This aggressive forecheck paid off on their first shot as Sergei Shirokov beat Grahame high after faking the defender with a slapshot before finding open ice in the slot for his wrister. Shirokov had the fans on their feet early on, and it felt like this mihgt be the game where Manitoba exerted their dominance.

Except they forgot to tell John Grahame about this plan. Grahame was outstanding after giving up a goal on his first shot, stopping the next 39 Moose shots. At the final buzzer, there was no doubt who the first star of the game was, and the former NHL netminder proved that he still has the stuff to compete at the game's highest level with his performance tonight.

Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs in not only this game, but this series thus far. Whoever is coaching the Moose powerplay should be searching through the classifieds because he will be out of a job shortly if this futility continues. The Moose drew eight man-advantage situations tonight and came away with nothing.

Nada. Zilch. Zero. Squat. Nil. Any other word that you can think of to represent nothing.

Part of this can be attributed to the solid goaltending of John Grahame on this night, but there is no reason why the Moose powerplay is a combined oh-fer-15 in this series at this point. That's absolutely pathetic, and it's killing the Moose. I said it above, but I'll say it again: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES. Write it down, kids, because if the Moose lose this series, they can look at one stat and know why they're golfing before the calendar turns to the month of May.

Grahame's performance was incredible as he stopped 39 of 40 shots in a 2-1 Lake Erie victory after giving up the Shirokov goal just over one minute in. The Moose powerplay, thanks to their aforementioned futility, should just begin to decline powerplay opportunities because they did nothing but waste 16 minutes of time in this game. Lake Erie takes a 2-1 series lead after their victory on Tuesday, and it is an uphill battle for the Moose at this point.

Need Three Of Four

The Moose have a big task in front of them as they need to win three of the next four games. Against a team like Lake Erie, it certainly won't be easy, and that task is compounded by the fact that the powerplay units are asleep at the wheel.

Personally, they have to get the Lake Erie penalty killers moving. Open up lanes. Cut through the box. Rotate point men. Change the point of attack from the point to the wing. Do something to change the look and move the box to create openings. The Moose powerplay is getting shots, but they are being smothered by the Monsters' goaltenders.

I still have faith despite my somewhat negative view on these three games, and I'm not counting the Moose out. Again, playoff experience is vital when it comes to dealing with the pressure of winning, and this Moose squad is flush with experience. Buckle down and DO IT, Moose, before it's too late.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

When Given A Chance

This is by no means an endorsement of one candidate over another, but when it was announced today that former Manitoba Moose forward Michael Grabner had been named as a Calder Trophy candidate after his spectacular season on Long Island, it made me proud of the work that he did with the Moose and the opportunities given to him by the Moose. While it is a little difficult seeing Grabner nominated as a member of the New York Islanders and not the Vancouver Canucks, I understand the business side of the game well enough to know that moving Grabner was right for the Canucks at the time. I'm happy, though, that Grabner's hard work in Manitoba has finally blossomed into a full-time NHL career, and the possibility of having him turn into a superstar is very real.

There were times during his stay in Manitoba that Grabner showed flashes of brilliance: speed, soft hands, and a nose for the net. Grabner was undoubtedly a speed demon in Manitoba, routinely taking off down the boards and beating defencemen to loose pucks in the offensive zone. Those soft hands resulted in 67 goals for the Moose over parts of four seasons, but Grabner would occasionally disappear for a number of games between goals. As frustrating as this was, you could see that he had a future ahead of him in the NHL even if it may not be on a first or second line.

Grabner looked like he might get a shot with the Canucks after posting two solid seasons of AHL hockey, especially after posting 17 points in 20 AHL playoff games in helping the Moose to the Calder Cup Final. In his first call-up with the Canucks in 2009-10, Grabner scored his first NHL goal on October 14, 2009 when he beat Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks. An off-ice ankle injury would derail that call-up just nine games in, but the speedy Austrian would return later in the year after recovering and reconditioning in Manitoba.

Upon his return to the Canucks line-up, Grabner played very well, and looked like he had found a spot on the Canucks roster. He picked up his first NHL hat trick on April 2, 2010 against the Anaheim Ducks. He followed that up by beating Antti Niemi for his first career NHL playoff goal on May 1, 2010.

It was the business side of the NHL that sent him from Vancouver to the Florida Panthers, though. At the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Grabner and Steve Bernier were dealt to the Panthers for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich - two players that have contributed in big way to Vancouver's success this season. While it was disappointing for me to see Grabner leaving after his time in both Manitoba and Vancouver, this deal made the Canucks stronger and potentially would make Manitoba stronger.

I fully expected, after the season he turned in with the Canucks, to see Michael Grabner somewhere on the top two lines in Florida to start season. It was completely unfathomable to see him being placed on waivers after what Florida gave up to get Grabner, but GM Dale Tallon and coach Peter de Boer wanted him down in Rochester to get some additional AHL time. Being that he had to clear waivers, there was a chance he could get claimed by another NHL team, especially after the work he did in Vancouver and the talent he showed in his short time in the NHL.

Sure enough, October 5 saw the New York Islanders claim the 23 year-old on his birthday, and Grabner was off to Long Island as a member of the New York Islanders. While his season started slowly in the points category, the lessons he had learned as member of the Canucks and Moose began to show. He used that blazing speed to create room and cause defenders and goalies headaches. Those soft hands began to find the net regularly, and his work amongst the other young Islanders such as P.A. Parenteau, Matt Moulson, and John Tavares was incredible in terms of their chemistry.

Again, I'm not endorsing one candidate over another. Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes and Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks had fabulous seasons as much as Michael Grabner did, and they are deserving of the award as much as Grabner is. The difference for me, though, is that I've had a chance to watch Grabner grow as a player and person, and that's the point of this article.

Grabner is one of the nicest guys in hockey I've had the chance of meeting, and he really seems to enjoy the interaction with the fans. His Twitter feed, @Grabs40, is always being updated, and he frequently checks it for questions. He has a sharp sense of humour and loves the occasional prank, and, for a guy coming into his own as an NHL star, he really appears to have found his groove with the fans.

To think that he was a shy Austrian kid when he first got to Winnipeg is a long way off now. And here's hoping that the youngster from Villach, Austria continues to makes strides in the NHL. His nomination for the Calder Trophy might be the start of a long and prosperous career if he continues to work as hard as he did this past season.

This is why I love the AHL: when hard-working, talented players are given a chance at the next level, you usually come away pretty proud as a fan to have watched those players in their formative years.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Time To Buckle Down

Much like the NHL stretch drive, there are those who will sink and those who will swim as we approach the end of the term here at school. I, happily, am swimming quite nicely with my marks in the range that they should be, and I'm entering my playoff run - aka exam week - next week on April 26. I have four exams back-to-back-to-back-to-back on the four days starting on April 26, so I'm pretty much going to be cramming my brain full of information as much as possible. If you happen to notice a void on this site, chalk it up to exams because I want to finish the term with awesome marks. After Tuesday, it's all said and done with the school year, and we're into the exams. I'll try to post on here, but things may change depending on my comfort with the various subjects I am learning.

While I wrap my head around these subjects, I found it hard to fathom why Raffi Torres wasn't punished for aiming for the head of Brent Seabrook one night earlier. If you haven't seen the video being replayed millions of times on TV, here it is:

Wow. It's incredible that Seabrook was able to get up after having his bell rung like that.

Let's check the evidence here:
  • Blindside? Check. Seabrook never sees him coming.
  • Targeting the head? One can make the claim that Torres tried to avoid it, but let's be realistic here. This was Torres at his worst once again.
  • Player in a vulnerable position? Absolutely.
  • Did Torres let up? No. He actually accelerated to make this hit.
  • Seabrook has the puck? Not even close. The puck is on the way to being received, but Seabrook never makes contact. The interference call is correct, but....
So why on Earth was he not suspended? While I get that vicious elbows like those delivered by Matt Cooke are completely heinous acts that have every intent to injure, are hits like this not the same? Had he caught Seabrook two seconds later with a hard check to the chest after Seabrook received the puck and had his head up, I say it's a "no harm, no foul" situation. Seabrook has to know this is playoff hockey, and that there are predators on the ice.

Where I find fault with the NHL's ruling is that this type of hit goes against everything they have been preaching about "protecting players in vulnerable positions". Seabrook is attempting to receive a pass, causing his head to be down. The pass is being wrapped around the boards, causing his head to be turned away from the area that Torres is patrolling. From everything I have seen, Seabrook is making a hockey play while Torres is simply looking to hand out pain.

I normally agree with the NHL when they hand out suspensions despite the fact that the suspension time is shorter than I usually would like see. On this one, I don't care if Torres is making "a hockey play". He committed a serious foul that the NHL has outlined that it would take action against if committed. Yet they do nothing.

In tonight's Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game, Ben Lovejoy was walloped by Steve Downie on a check that was clearly shoulder to chest. Lovejoy even said as much in the post-game interview that Downie's check was clean despite Downie leaving his feet to deliver it. Word has it that Downie will have a phone call with Colin Campbell tomorrow to discuss his hit. Check it out below:
Downie clearly left his feet, but the check was shoulder to the upper chest. Lovejoy had the puck, and was aware that it was coming because his head was up.

So I have to ask: why was Torres spared?

If the NHL wanted to teach Matt Cooke a lesson for his elbows, they could have done the same with Torres' head-hunting checks. He was sat down for four games for his check to the head of Edmonton Oiler Jordan Eberle, and he seriously injured then-Red Wing Jason Williams earlier in his career with another check to the head. This pattern of checks to the head must stop in the same fashion that Matt Cooke's fetish for delivering elbows to people's head is being curbed.

Sorry, NHL, but you dropped the ball on this one.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

I'm Not A Judge Or Jury

In an interesting turn of events for a former NHL great, Vincent Damphousse was arrested on six charges of assaulting his spouse, Allana Henderson, since 2008. The former Montreal Canadien, Edmonton Oiler, Toronto Maple Leaf, and San Jose Shark and his wife are estranged, but this allegation is very serious. I'm not judging Damphousse by any means at this point, but I really hope that he's better than this. Abuse of any kind is something that should be taken very seriously so I understand why the police have to be involved, but I'm hoping that this can be resolved without getting too messy for either party.

Just for fun, Damphousse was in four fights while playing in the NHL, so it's not like he had a reputation for dropping the mitts with anyone. Let's take a look at these fights from all the online information I could find about what happened. I'll also take some creative control by filling in the details that aren't covered by the information.

His first scrap was while he was with Toronto, and he fought Calgary's Doug Gilmour on January 8, 1991. Both men received double-spearing penalties for their troubles as neither really chucked knuckles the way most hockey fights are done. With both men establishing themselves as scoring threats, I would assume neither wanted to break a hand, so they simply stuck with the hugging and whispering in each other's ears after trying to disembowel each other with their weapons. Unfortunately, no video exists of this scrap, so I'll have to let you imagine what may have happened in this bout.

His second tilt came against Yuri Khmylev of the Buffalo Sabres on February 11, 1994. The furious Adams Division rivalry between Montreal and Buffalo boiled over when lightweights Damphousse and Khmylev began poking at each other with their gloves on. This slap-fight continued until Khmylev lost his balance and fell backwards. Damphousse had dropped the gloves while Khmylev was down and was looking to add some insult to injury after softening him up, but the linesmen jumped in to break up this brouhaha before it began. Again, no video exists, but reports have this fight lasting just a few seconds. That's a Damphousse trait - fights that last just a few seconds.

The 1995-96 season was Damphousse's break-out season as a fighter. He was involved in two minor scuffles during this season. On November 8, 1995, Montreal and Anaheim were battling when Joe Sacco caught the ire of Monsieur Damphousse. Damphousse reportedly caught Sacco with an inadvertent high stick which resulted in Sacco throwing a cross-check on Damphousse. Both men were unhappy with those results, so they began hugging it out before linesmen jumped in. Damphousse got an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, so you know he was fired up and ready to rumble. Again, no video, but it seems pretty plausible from the penalty reports that Damphousse was the instigator here.

Ten days after that scrap, Damphousse was at it again. November 18, 1995 had Damphousse battling against Ottawa's Rob Gaudreau. Damphousse delivered a solid check on Gaudreau which resulted in Gaudreau throwing a gloved jab at Damphousse. Vinnie, being the known pugilist that he was, responds by slugging Gaudreau in the back of the head, causing the Ottawa player to fall. There's some pushing and shoving with sticks up around the facial area, they exchange words, and Damphousse must have said something about Gaudreau's significant other because both men dropped the mitts shortly thereafter. Damphousse, knowing that Gaudreau is overmatched in this bout, simply wrestles him to the ice, allowing the linesmen to jump in save Gaudreau from the inevitable beating he was bound to take. Vinnie is a player's player, y'know, and shows this by hugging his opponents regularly. Like the other three examples, no video, but the report stands.

Look, I'm making these comparisons in jest to the fight that Damphousse now finds himself in. I want to be very clear when I say this: HBIC DOES NOT CONDONE ANY SORT OF SPOUSAL ABUSE IN ANY FORM! Until the judge and jury has ruled for or against Mr. Damphousse, I sincerely hope that these allegations are not true, but the zero-tolerance towards abuse claims make it hard to believe that Damphousse is 100% innocent without any fault.

Innocent until proven guilty, readers. Let's just keep that in mind.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

New Kings Of The KHL

I've been meaning to update everyone on the Gagarin Cup Playoffs in the KHL, but various stories just keep popping up that merit their own looks. However, today was a big day for the KHL as their third champion was crowned as Salavat Yulaev Ufa captured the Gagarin Cup for the first time in their history. Salavat Yulaev Ufa was the third-seed in the Eastern Conference, and they knocked off the fourth-seeded Atlant Mytishchi in five games to earn the championship trophy.

Salavat Yulaev captain Viktor Kozlov, the former NHL star, stated after winning the Gagarin Cup that the road to the championship was a difficult one.

"I don’t think we’ll really know the taste of victory until tomorrow," Kozlov said. "It hasn’t really sunk in yet what we’ve done. One thing I can say: the road to the Cup was a really tricky one."

I'd say that Kozlov's assessment was correct. Salavat Yulaev battled to the second-best record in the KHL this season with 109 points earned over their 54 regular season games. However, because they play in the same division as KHL regular season Avangard Omsk, they found themselves as the third-seed for the Gagarin Cup Playoffs.

In the opening round, Salavat Yulaev Ufa was hardly challenged by Sibir Novosibirsk as Salavat Yulaev cruised to the four-game series sweep. Sibir only led once throughout the entire series, and the 26-point difference between these two teams was evident from the first puck being dropped in this series. Salavat Yulaev would advance to the quarter-finals to play the defending KHL champions and second-seeded Ak Bars Kazan.

If the adage holds true, it is said that one must beat the best to be the best. Salavat Yulaev took the series to Kazan from the outset, and Kazan couldn't recover. Salavat Yulaev jumped out to a 3-0 series lead on the strength of a 3-2 overtime win in Game One, a 3-1 victory in Game Two, and a 2-1 overtime win in Game Three. They would drop Game Four to Kazan by a 4-0 score, but the writing was on the wall as Salavat Yulaev returned the shut out by closing out the series on the strength of a 1-0 victory. After downing the defending champions, Salavat Yulaev looked forward to a meeting with the fourth-seeded Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the semi-final.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Salavat Yulaev locked horns in the semi-final, and this series felt like it could be the championship. Salavat Yulaev jumped out to the 3-1 series lead, and it looked like it was going to be another quick series for Ufa as they won Game One by a 4-3 score, Game Two by a 4-0 score, and Game Four by a 4-2 score. However, Magnitogorsk didn't quit, and they took Game Five by a 4-3 score, and then pushed series to a seventh game by winning Game Six by a 5-3 score. Both teams entered Game Seven with their defensive schemes on display, and it wasn't until 6:41 into the third period that a goal was tallied. Ufa's Vladimir Antipov scored his third goal of the playoffs in what would stand as the game-winning and series-winning goal as Salavat Yulaev won Game Seven by a 1-0 score.

So it was off to the KHL Gagarin Cup Final where Salavat Yulaev Ufa would meet Atlant Mytishchi after Atlant had knocked off the Western Conference top-seed in Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in six games.

Game One went down to the wire as it took extra time to find a winner. Just 1:43 into the extra period, Salavat Yulaev's Andrei Kuteikin scored his second goal of the playoffs to put Ufa up 1-0 in the series. Game Two saw Igor Grigorenko score his eighth and ninth goals of the playoffs, and his ninth was the game-winner as Salavat Yulaev took a 2-0 series lead with a 3-1 win. Game Three went back and forth in terms of scoring as Salavat Yulaev would score and Atlant would equalize. However, Salavat Yulaev's Patrick Thoresen would notch the winner with 7:15 to play as Salavat Yulaev won the game 3-2, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead in the final.

The series was much like the Kazan-Salavat Yulaev series where Salavat Yulaev jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a one-goal overtime win, a two-goal win, and another one-goal win except that Game Three didn't make it to overtime. Game Four, however, was almost identical in that Atlant came out buzzing and didn't let up as they downed Salavat Yulaev by a 4-0 score. Game Five, as seen in this series, was similar to Game Five of that Kazan-Salavat Yulaev series as it was decided by one goal as well. Alexander Svitov, the former Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jacket, scored with just over four minutes to go to put Salavat Yulaev up 3-1. A late goal by Atlant cut the lead to 3-2, but there wouldn't be any more goals as Salavat Yulaev closed out the series with a 3-2 win to earn their first Gagarin Cup!

Congratulations go out to Salavat Yulaev Ufa on their first championship! There were some pretty impressive performances by former NHL players in the players, so let's take a look at some of the more relevant stats:

  • former Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov - three goals, 15 assists for a team-leading 18 points in leading Salavat Yulaev Ufa to a championship.
  • former Shark, Panther, Devil, Islander, and Capital Viktor Kozlov - four goals, six assists in leading Salavat Yulaev Ufa as the captain to a championship.
  • former Red Wing, Sabre, and Thrasher Vyacheslav Kozlov - two goals, seven assists in helping Salavat Yulaev Ufa to a championship. Just as a note, this Kozlov was the only player on the Ufa team to finish as a minus-player after posting a -5 in the playoffs.
  • former Lightning and Blue Jacket Alexander Svitov - five goals, three assists in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
  • former Flame, Coyote, and Senator Oleg Saprykin - three goals, two assists in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
  • former King goaltender Erik Ersberg - 15-4 in the playoffs with a 1.93 GAA and a .933 save percentage in helping Salavat Yulaev to the championship.
Not a bad performance at all for most of the former NHL players, I'd say.

Without dragging this out any further, here are your 2010-11 KHL Gagarin Cup Champions: Salavat Yulaev Ufa!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!