Wednesday 30 November 2011

Smith Finds New Lease On Career

With the old Winnipeg Jets franchise returning to the place they left so long ago, along with them comes a man who has found himself in a sort of career renaissance. Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes has been playing outstanding hockey thus far this season, and he's a large reason why the Coyotes have started the season as well as they have. It wasn't long ago that Smith may have passed through Winnipeg as a goaltender of another team as he was banished to the AHL last season as his play suffered. But an increased workload, some belief from the coaching staff in him, and a renewed confidence has Smith arguably playing the best hockey of his career. It also has made him one of the early favorites for a shot at the Vezina Trophy, something he could only dream of during his tour of AHL cities last season.

Mike Smith has certainly been to a number of places where he has tended nets. He played for both Kingston and Sudbury in the OHL, and his play led him to being selected 161st overall by the Dallas Stars in 2001. He jumped to the professional ranks and played with the AHL's Utah Grizzlies and the ECHL's Lexington Men O' War over the next two seasons before starring with the AHL's Houston Aeros in 2004-05. In 2005-06, he had his final full-time season in the AHL with the Iowa Stars, posting a 25-19-6 record in 50 games with a 2.50 GAA, three shutouts, and a .917 save percentage.

Smith took his next step as he was promoted to spell out Marty Turco in Dallas. His future looked promising as he was an extremely capable and reliable back-up goaltender in Dallas, and there were whispers that his strong play would carry him into a starting role with a team needing a good, young goaltender. In two seasons behind Turco, Smith posted a 24-14-2 record in 44 games with a 2.35 GAA, five shutouts, and .909 save percentage. Indeed, it looked as though Smith would be in line for a sizable pay raise.

That is, until February 26, 2008. The Tampa Bay Lightning came calling as they felt they couldn't sign star forward Brad Richards to a long-term contract, and they wanted the remarkable goaltender that Dallas had in their tandem. The Lightning traded Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to the Stars for Smith, Jeff Halpern, Jussi Jokinen and fourth-round pick at the trade deadline, and Smith finally got what every goaltender wants: a starting job in the NHL.

The difference, however, is that while Dallas played a very tight-checking, defensive game, Tampa Bay did not. Smith saw his numbers change dramatically over the next four seasons, and suddenly the once-hot prospect was now being sat more than he was being played. In four seasons with the Lightning, Smith appeared in 118 games, posting a record of 43-52-17 over that time. Smith never won more than 14 games in a season, but it looked as though he might be turning his game around in 2010-11 when he was 13-6-1 in the 22 games he played.

The Lightning had a different idea. With three men in the crease capable of playing at the NHL level - Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, and Mike Smith - one of them would have to be dispatched to the AHL to continue playing. It came down to money and numbers, and with Roloson earning the most money and sitting as the starter, it was between Ellis and Smith. Smith, unfortunately, was the choice to play with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals, and he went down to the AHL determined to play his tail off to get back to the NHL.

With only a few weeks left in the season, Smith missed the "clear day" rosters needed by the AHL for players that would be eligible for the Calder Cup Playoffs. If he were to be re-assigned for the remainder of the season, Smith would not be playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs with the Admirals. Smith was still determined to play his best in case he was recalled to the Lightning.

In his first game on February 11, 2011, Smith pitched a 3-0 shutout over the Syracuse Crunch. Smith was back in the nets on February 15 to face the juggernaut Hershey Bears. Smith played well, but took the loss in a 2-1 Hershey win. Smith took on another powerhouse in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on February 18, but he found himself behind another poor offensive outing as the Penguins defeated the Admirals 2-0. Three games, one shutout, and only four goals surrendered - not a bad AHL debut despite his 1-2-0 record. Combined with his January conditioning stint, though, Smith was 1-4-0 in five AHL games despite playing very well with a 1.83 GAA and .924 save percentage.

It became clear that when Dwayne Roloson re-signed with the Lightning this past summer, Smith's opportunity to be the started in Tampa Bay was somewhere between slim and none, with the latter being the most realistic option. Smith decided to hit the free agent market, and he got a few people kicking tires, but one team saw him as an option for their goaltending woes. And thanks to one man, Smith is now getting the opportunity he sought in Tampa Bay, and he's running with it.

When Ilya Bryzgalov's rights were traded to the Flyers in the summer, the door was left wide-open for someone to step in and pick up the minutes once eaten up by Bryzgalov. Jason LaBarbera was still in Phoenix, but it was clear that the Coyotes were looking for a long-term solution to their goaltending problem. Goaltending coach Sean Burke was given a task to find the Coyotes their solution.

"Bryz is not exactly replaceable. We know that," Burke told "So for us, this offseason was about trying to search for the type of goaltending that gives the opportunity to win every night."

The Coyotes signed Smith on July 1 to a two-year, $4 million contract that raised some eyebrows around the NHL. After all, this was a guy who finished an AHL stint with a 1-4-0 record, and his NHL consistency has been anything but consistent. But in Smith, Burke saw a guy that reminded him of another former Coyotes goaltender: himself. With that in mind and Dave Tippett having coached Smith in Dallas before, the two coaches sold GM Don Maloney on Smith, and they gave him a chance to fight for the starter's job in the desert.

"I wanted to come to Phoenix for a lot of reasons," Smith told "The chance to play for Dave, who I have a lot of respect for and know well, was big. The chance to work with Sean, who knows about being a big goalie (they are both 6-foot-4) was a no-brainer. And the opportunity to be a starter, or to have the chance to fight for a starting job, was very important to me. It's something I want very badly."

With everyone second-guessing the goaltending move made by Maloney and the Coyotes, Sean Burke went to work with Smith, and the results have been proof-positive that Burke knew what he was doing. Both Burke and Tippett were big on Smith before the season, and their confidence in him is showing in spades this season.

"I have a lot of confidence and regard for Mike Smith," Tippett told "He's a very good person and teammate. He's an unbelievable athlete from a fitness standpoint. His ability to play at a high level is as high as it can be. I thought he was moving toward being a very good No. 1 goalie when he left Dallas, but he's been up and down since."

"Goalies can't worry about how the offense is doing, or the power play or even the defense," Burke said. "Whatever is going on around you, your job never changes. You have to stop the puck, in whatever way they can, and if you're consistent in your approach the odds swing in your favor."

SO far this season, Smith has been exactly the man who can make everyone in Phoenix forget about Bryzgalov. Smith has a 12-4-1 record with the Coyotes, and has been incredible on most nights. Tomorrow, he'll get to play against the new Winnipeg Jets in the barn than the Manitoba Moose played in last season. It will literally be full circle for Smith as he plays the new Winnipeg NHL team as part of the old Winnipeg NHL team in the former Winnipeg AHL arena on Thursday. And the Coyotes come into the game with a 7-3-1 record on the road this season.

Coyote fans can thank Sean Burke and Mike Smith for those outstanding records. I'll be cheering for Smith tomorrow despite my allegiance to the Jets because I have a deep respect for the hard work he's putting into making the best of this situation.

Mike Smith: comeback player of the year? So far, he's a lock.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 29 November 2011

From Hunted To Hunter

The changes that happened swiftly in the NHL's coaching ranks yesterday had a lot of people going through a myriad of emotions. Gone from Washington was Bruce Boudreau, he of the cussing on HBO and coddling of Ovechkin, Semin, and Green. Replacing him was former Capital Dale Hunter, fresh from behind the bench in London, Ontario. Kirk Muller got the call in Milwaukee to join the Carolina Hurricanes while Paul Maurice cleaned out his desk. The change in Carolina isn't so surprising with the way that Carolina has played thus far this season, but the move to replace Boudreau with Hunter could prove very interesting. If Boudreau's push for accountability wore thin with the stars in Washington, Hunter - a man who made everyone accountable when he played - will either change the mentality of the Capitals franchise or will die trying.

There's no doubt that the Capitals players had tuned Boudreau out. Ovechkin looks like a shadow of his once great self. Semin is absolutely invisible on most nights. The Capitals, as a team, would either show up in gangbusters or wander aimlessly on the ice. They gave up goals in bunches. They played horrific defence in their own zone. To be honest, accountability was the last thing that the Capitals should have been preaching when they simply weren't even accountable to themselves individually.

Unfortunately, you can't trade away twenty players, so the man who was steering this ship was given his walking papers. Bruce Boudreau did a phenomenal job in allowing the Capitals to run-and-gun their way back to respectability and into the hearts of people in the DC-Maryland area. While the Stanley Cup still eludes the franchise, there's no doubt that Bruce Boudreau's efforts were vital in taking this franchise from an afterthought to the forefront in fans' minds in the Washington market.

And so the page turns to Dale Hunter to take the Washington Capitals to heights not seen in the Boudreau era. Hunter has proven that he can manage younger players as Hunter's London Knights posted 49 wins or more in each of the six seasons he was behind the bench. He has a Memorial Cup win to his name, so his credentials speak loudly that his players respond to coaching and his system. However, junior players taking home a per diem are far different than multimillion dollar athletes who can make or break a coach.

Hunter will have to have his captain's ear almost immediately. Alexander Ovechkin will need to buy into Hunter's system quickly, and there's no reason why he shouldn't. Hunter's system has made the London Knights into one of the best teams in the OHL and CHL, so there shouldn't be much to differ over in terms of strategy. The Knights had big-time scoring threats in Hunter's system, and this should bring Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom around if they can pick up the system quickly.

But it once again comes back to accountability, and that's one thing that Hunter instilled in his teams in London. His teams took no shortcuts and no one ever took a night off if they wanted to remain as a part of the London Knights. If Semin disappears, you'll probably find him in the press box because Dale Hunter will not stand for players that float or avoid scrums. He will stress that good players have to go to the high-traffic areas to win, and that battling through checks will be a way of life. Again, no one takes a shift off, and no one ever gives up.

If there's one thing that Hunter is very good with, it's managing the ice-time of his star players. John Tavares, Corey Perry, Sam Gagner, Patrick Kane, and Rick Nash all saw lots of ice while playing under Dale Hunter. There's a good chance that the 18+ minutes of hockey Ovechkin was logging under Boudreau this season will increase dramatically, and that will start tonight. Hunter won't be afraid to use Ovechkin to score, but Ovechkin will have to show hustle and determination to win the coach's trust.

The new era starts tonight at home against the St. Louis Blues. The Capitals haven't had much time to work on anything in Hunter's system, so it may be hard to see any differences over the next few days, but the Capitals will be a different team by the end of the season. And if Dale Hunter is successful, the Capitals will be a far more dangerous team by the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 28 November 2011

The Other Half Of The Classic

The uniform to the left? Yeah, it's not a historical uniform that the Rangers have worn in the past. This is the 2012 Winter Classic uniform that will be worn by the New York Rangers when they meet the Philadelphia Flyers on January 2, 2012 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. I will say that there are a few things to like about this uniform, but I'm also starting to become hesitant to endorse uniforms that lack creativity and originality. I'll explain that below and I'll post a big picture for a better look at the uniforms, but I also want to talk about the rosters for the Alumni Game at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

We'll start with those alumni rosters. The New York Rangers will have a pile of amazing talent on and off the ice. Of course, when you're talking about the Rangers, an Original Six team, there should be a pile of talent to choose from, and the Rangers certainly made good on that.

The Rangers will be coached by legends Mike Keenan, Emile Francis and Colin Campbell, and led by former captain Brian Leetch. Leetch will have Adam Graves, Glenn Anderson, Mike Gartner, Dave Maloney, Ron Greschner, Tom Laidlaw, Dale Purinton, Darius Kasparaitis, Mathieu Schneider, Darren Langdon, Stephane Matteau, Nick Kypreos, Darren Turcotte, Kris King, Brian Mullen, Paul Broten, Ron Duguay, Nick Fotiu and Pat Hickey. Goaltenders John Vanbiesbrouck and Dan Blackburn will handle the netminding duties, although it will be interesting to see if Dan Blackburn actually gets into the game.

If you recall, the last time Blackburn played net in a game, he was forced to wear two blockers due to nerve damage that prevented him from rotating his left hand. When asked if he would ever play hockey as a goaltender again, Blackburn replied in 2004, "Never. I doubt I will ever put goalie pads on again. I don’t have interest in playing net." Interesting.

There are a few notable names missing from the roster. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier are the two most notable names missing from the ranks up front, while Sergei Zubov is an obvious omission from the blueline. Those three players saw a lot of success while with the Blueshirts, but none of the three will take part in the Alumni Game.

As for the home team, the Flyers will roll out a star-studded roster as well. Calling the shots behind the bench will be Pat Quinn, Mike Nykoluk and Keith Primeau. The Flyers will feature a talented forward group that includes Bob Clarke, Bill Barber, Reggie Leach, Jim Dowd, Orest Kindrachuk, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Dave Poulin, Jeremy Roenick, Rick Tocchet, Al Hill, Bob Kelly, Shjon Podein, Brian Propp, Ken Linseman, and the ageless Mark Recchi. Defensively, the Flyers are loaded with Mark Howe, Brad Marsh, Eric Desjardins, Terry Carkner, Larry Goodenough, Kjell Samuelsson, Chris Therien, Joe Watson, and Derian Hatcher. Tending the net will be Mark LaForest and Neil Little.

Again, there are some notable players missing. Mikael Renberg can't get out of previous commitments, so the Legion of Doom line won't be re-united. Brent Fedyk, part of the Crazy 8's line, is also absent. Ron Hextall, Murray Craven, Tim Kerr, and Tony Amonte could also have been included.

From there, we get back to the featured game, and here is the large image of the New York Rangers' 2012 Winter Classic.
There are some things that I like, so we'll start with these first.

That modified logo? I like it. The shield logo has always been under-utilized as far as I've been concerned, so I like this idea. The white on the logo is actually white, and it feels very NYR-ish. GOOD. Although, it seems as though Ryan Callahan might want to walk the halls of Madison Square Garden a little more.

"They did a great job," Ryan Callahan, the Rangers' captain, said. "They've got the throwback look and the logo from the '26 team. It looks nice. They did a great job with it."

The problem? The Rangers didn't actually wear a logo on their sweaters in 1926. The logo may have been used as representation of the team itself, but a Rangers shield logo wasn't seen on a uniform until 1976 - 50 years later!

I also like the striping on this jersey, and I think that it would hold up in any era. There are no half-stripes that end on the inside of the forearm, and the hem stripes are fine, although I would have liked to see hem striping match the arm striping. However, the stripes are a positive. GOOD.

On the flip side, enough with the lace-up collars! I cannot stress that this trend has run its course. Go back to traditional necklines, and these uniforms would be outstanding. In 1926, they wore traditional necklines. In fact, the first lace-up collar seen on a Rangers jersey was in 1951 - 25 years later! While this jersey is not a true 1926-inspired jersey, let's stop mishmashing timelines, especially when it comes to lace-up collars. STUPID.

The cream-coloured jersey? Not at all Rangers-esque. I don't really need to say much more than the fact that the Rangers are red, white, and blue traditionally. Again, the first white uniforms seen in Madison Square Garden was in 1951, so why not just go colour on colour in this game? If anything, go pristine white instead of cream - you're the NEW YORK RANGERS! STUPID.

I'll weigh in that this Rangers uniform, like the Flyers' uniform, is nothing more than a PUSH at best. There's nothing overly inspiring that will make you fall in love with this look, but there's nothing to really hate either. For me, it's going to be more about the game than the uniforms this year, and that's not such a bad thing. But I am excited to take in that Alumni Game. It should be like watching an All-Star Game with all of the big names on those rosters.

And you? What's your take on the new Rangers jersey for the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 27 November 2011

Photo Blog

There's something to be said for great photography. It doesn't have to be a work of art in any means as long as it captures the viewer's attention. There have been many great photographers throughout the course of time, so these photos I'm presenting today probably didn't win any awards or gain someone a piece of notoriety, but I still think there's something about these pictures that have that certain quality that makes them great photographs. They are all hockey, and they all deserve a look at what they bring to the table.

We'll start with a simple arena photo from December of 1950. There's no distinguishing features that give away as to who is playing or what arena this is, but I found the large "No Gambling Allowed" sign very interesting. This doesn't appear to be an NHL arena nor do the teams below appear to be NHL teams, so this would be an amateur game. I guess there was no gambling on amateur games back then... although I'm sure some bets went on.

From that same arena, here are a couple of teenagers sitting on the boards watching the action on the ice. There is an innocence to this photo, and I love how it comes through the film. Behind the boys, you can see the "No Gambling Allowed" sign once again, so there is a tie to the arena in the first photograph... unless more old arenas had that warning up.

I don't usually post advertisements that I don't believe in, but this advertisement for Camel cigarettes has a very unusual hockey piece amongst its truth-bending. Back in 1935, it may have been normal to see professional athletes smoking, but it seems very unusual today. Bill Cook was a fantastic player for the New York Rangers, and the Camel ad has him in his Rangers uniform holding a cigarette! Clearly, product endorsement was a different animal back in 1935. As an aside, smoking is a dirty habit, kids. Just don't do it.

Nothing like a good discussion between players and officials. That's Boston University's Joe Folino on the left saying something to the referee. I love those old sweaters. Those are timeless.

Recognize this guy? He's currently a coach in the NHL. He never played in the NHL as a player, but he's been to one Stanley Cup Final as an NHL coach. He played two years with St. Lawrence University, posting his best stats in 1972-73 with a 4.10 GAA - yes, that was his best year. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1998-99, and he has spent time as the head coach in Ottawa, Florida, and Montreal. If you guessed Jacques Martin, you'd be right!

I have to say that I have a pile of respect for anyone who decides to run and complete a marathon. I'll be honest: I hate running just for the sake of running. Put me on a soccer or baseball field, and I'll run my tail off to win the game. But running? Meh. So when it was announced on November 5 that Mark Messier completed the New York City Marathon, I had nothing but respect for his accomplishment. Here are his results, and placing 20140th isn't all that bad when you consider that he finished the race in four hours, fourteen minutes, and 27 seconds. Well done, Mr. Messier, on completing the New York City Marathon!

Finally, this last photo could be hanging on a wall in my ManCave. I love this picture of Jean Béliveau meeting one of his biggest little fans on the street in Montreal. The picture has a romanticism to it in terms of the phenomenal architecture behind Béliveau and his greeter coupled with the two subjects in front. The lighting, the structures, the contrasts - it's just an incredible photo.

So there are a few of the images I've been holding on to for the last little while. There will be more that I find, so we'll get to see more great photos coming up. Until then, enjoy these frozen moments from the past when hockey wasn't as commercialized.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 26 November 2011

How Things Unfolded

I wanted to do some additional research on the fate of the Cleveland Barons. I wrote a little about the struggles of the Barons at the end of October, but I wanted to learn more about this situation. How did it start? What were the circumstances surrounding the Barons when the club was missing payrolls came to light? Needless to say, it's harder to find information about this situation online, and I am nowhere near the city of Cleveland to dig into local archives. Immediately, I thought there might be something in the local newspapers, but those searches proved fruitless unless I was willing to pay to sift through the archives of those publications. Instead, I turned to the newspaper archives on Google as my search there turned up a treasure trove of information.

I want to make something clear here: I'm not going to speculate or give my own thoughts in this article. Rather, I want to piece together a chronological account of how the team fell on hard time in 1977. This team didn't make it out of 1978, so there had to be rumblings before Peter Gammons wrote his Sports Illustrated article that I linked in October. Today, I present to you the chronological newspaper account of the beginning of the end of the Cleveland Barons starting in January 1977 until the conclusion of the season in 1977.

1977 opened for the Barons with another sparse crowd at the Richfield Coliseum. Owner Mel Swig was quoted as being "baffled" by the low fan turnout as Cleveland had averaged just 5357 fans in 22 home games during the 1976-77 campaign to that point. Needless to say, the problems were looming large for the Barons if they weren't even getting a third of the Richfield Coliseum filled. The Blade from Toledo, Ohio has the details on this story from January 11, 1977.

On January 14, the spin-doctoring of the mounting money problems in Cleveland begin. Reports were swirling that the Barons could lose up to $2 million dollars in the 1976-77 season, but public relations director Ron McGrath tries to stomp out those fires. The UPI writer spells out some obvious signs that the Barons are struggling - lowest attendance in the NHL, a poor record in a powerful Adams Division, and a pile of injuries - so it's hard to believe what Mr. McGrath was spinning. The Bonham Daily Favorite from Bonham, Texas carried this story on January 14, 1977.

Two weeks later, there is a clear money problem in Cleveland as the Barons were granted "more time" from the NHL to get their finances in order. Mel Swig is quoted as saying that the team needs "more than a half a million dollars" to make it through the season, and that he's unwilling to pour more money into the failing franchise. The Windsor Star brings this story to life on January 27, 1977.

We jump to February 2, 1977 when it is reported that the Cleveland Barons players aren't paid on Monday. Alan Eagleson steps in as he represents nine of the Barons, and he informs the press that the owners have rejected Mel Swig's pleas for help. We get our first report of Cleveland sports magnate George Gund backing out of a deal to inject the Barons with $4 million of new cash. Eagleson makes it clear that if the best Barons players elect to leave through free agency after not being paid, the franchise would most likely be terminated. This story appeared in the February 2, 1977 edition of The Calgary Herald.

One day after that story broke, the money problems really began to rear their ugly sides. The Barons players would have to surrender 27 percent of their pay cheques until May 15 so that the franchise could remain afloat. As seen in the article, the NHL had invested more than $8 million into the franchise, and the Barons had missed the January 31 payday. Sixteen players had filed notices that Swig had defaulted on payments, and if they were to play for the next two weeks without being paid, they would become free agents at the end of that period. Both articles were filed on February 3, 1977 with the first article appearing in The Montreal Gazette and the latter appearing in The Leader-Post from Regina, Saskatchewan.

Just two days later, Mel Swig said he had a plan to save the struggling club, but wouldn't go into detail with Barons player representative Bob Stewart. There were rumours that Washington Capitals owner and Richfield Coliseum owner Sanford A. Greenberg might be brought in to help keep the Cleveland Barons afloat. But the picture for the Barons was still cloudy as Stewart informed Swig that if the players were not paid on February 17, all 24 Cleveland Barons players would ask for free agency status on their defaulted contracts. While the meeting between Swig and Stewart was described as "cordial", you have to think that both sides were looking to cut their losses at this point. The two articles both appeared on February 5, 1977 with the first article from The Montreal Gazette and the latter being printed in The Windsor Star.

As a corollary to the problems that Cleveland was having, I found an excellent editorial penned by The Montreal Gazette's Dink Carroll on February 5, 1977 that looks at the issues with a number of teams in the NHL. The Atlanta Flames were in dire straits weeks before the Barons' situation arose, and Mr. Carroll gives a brief, but excellent, synopsis of how the Barons arrived in the financial mess they were in. Mr. Carroll identifies that, besides Atlanta and Cleveland, attendance issues were showing up for teams such as the St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Rockies, and Pittsburgh Penguins. While players' salaries are blamed for knocking hockey's economics out of whack, it seems that the late-1970s were a bad time for hockey.

We pick the Barons' story up again on February 16, 1977, and it's beginning to get messy. The proposed sale to Sanford Greenberg has fallen through, and the Barons are floundering. It sounds as though the deal presented by Greenberg to bring new money as an owner, but the terms presented by Greenberg to Mel Swig were not accepted by Swig. With just two days before the Barons players were to become free agents, Swig stated that they would be paid as per the agreement before the deadline. Swig missed the mid-February payment as well, but he has another 14 days to cover that payroll. Greenberg's people proclaim the Barons to be dead. The story appeared in the February 16, 1977 edition of The Montreal Gazette.

With Swig behind another payment to his players, things began to take drastic turns. The very next day, Swig let 19 players from the Salt Lake City Eagles go in a cost-cutting measure. He also hadn't paid the front office staff in both Cleveland and Salt Lake City. Three players had still not been paid from the January 31 payday - defenceman Glenn Patrick and forwards Frank Spring and Phil Roberto - and these three players would be free agents by midnight on February 17. It turned out that they got their releases earlier in the day. The Barons also lost Wednesday night to the Maple Leafs by a 5-3 score, but honestly, these stories shows that the Cleveland Barons were essentially running the franchise on nothing more than smoke and mirrors. These stories appeared in the February 17, 1977 edition of The Montreal Gazette and the Ellensburg Daily Record.

And what of the Salt Lake City Eagles? The CHL team was obviously shocked by the outright releases given to 19 players, but the vast majority of them would remain with the Eagles as the owners of the Eagles - Art Teece, Bill Acord, and Dean Acord - would pay the free agents through to the end of the season. At least one set of owners had their acts together. The Eagles would push forward with the majority of their roster intact. That article was written by Brent Checketts in the February 17, 1977 edition of the Deseret News.

Things were turning ugly on the ice as well as the players were considering not playing against the Colorado Rockies on February 18. Swig was still one payroll payment behind, and there was talk that the players would sit out until guarantees of payments were made. While some may call this sort of action a mutiny, would you work for no pay? This article appeared in the February 18, 1977 edition of the Pittsburgh Press.

Thankfully, the vote by the players wasn't held thanks to Alan Eagleson, and this gave Mel Swig more time. The players handed down an ultimatum to Swig: pay us by Tuesday or we're done. And it sounds like the relationship between Swig and the players was icy at best judging by Bob Stewart's comments. This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 19, 1977.

The game on Sunday wasn't much of a game as Pittsburgh defeated the Barons by a 4-1 score in what potentially could have been the Barons last game as an NHL franchise. With no other games scheduled between the loss to the Penguins and the Tuesday deadline at noon imposed by the players, Mel Swig's NHL franchise was literally on its deathbed. This story appeared in the February 21, 1977 edition of The Montreal Gazette.

So we move to Tuesday where it appeared that February 23, 1977 would be the day that the Barons were dissolved. The players were refusing to play against the Buffalo Sabres that night, and it sounded as though Swig was not willing to carry this struggling franchise any longer. If there was one thing that was apparent, the Barons' money problems were the result of poor attendance and poor management. Despite Swig trying to save face, it looked like all was lost for this franchise as the guillotine hung precariously above the Barons. As for the NHL, the Barons' dissolution would throw a few monkey wrenches into their business as well. All four of these stories appeared on February 23, 1977, and the publications featured are seen in this order: The Regina Leader-Post, News-Dispatch, The Regina Leader-Post again, and The Regina Leader-Post once more.

However, it appears the hockey gods weren't about to let this franchise die that easily. In an eleventh-hour effort, the Barons found $1.3 million worth of capital to save the franchise for the remainder of the 1976-77 season. The NHLPA kicked in $600,000, while the NHL and Mel Swig committed $350,000 each to make up the shortfall needed by the Barons. The NHLPA's portion of the money, it seems, came from a bank loan that would be paid through extra exhibition games in the following seasons. In some good news, the Barons played the Sabres the night before, losing 5-3 in front of their smallest crowd ever of just 3185 fans. And thanks to the infusion of cash, the Salt Lake City Eagles got themselves some added reinforcements from Cleveland as well, almost guaranteeing that they will finish the season in good standing. Both of these articles were printed on February 24, 1977 in the Deseret News.

With the franchise saved, Alan Eagleson suggests that the Barons won't exist beyond the 1976-77 season, and also states that three or four other franchises should seriously consider contraction as an alternative to remaining in business. He suggested to players that they not attend Barons' training camp next season unless the franchise is on solid footing as well. If he was looking to kill the franchise, it's those kinds of comments that will do it. This article was found in the February 25, 1977 edition of The Regina Leader-Post.

While the Barons would survive another season, Mel Swig would not be a part of it. He would sell the franchise to new ownership, but there's no doubt that support this franchise needed would not be found in Cleveland. While I only examined two months of the Barons' franchise in 1977, I'll most likely look at this franchise again through the print media in the future. This is a great start, though, and I hope it brings some insight to the problems that all parties faced in Cleveland during January and February of 1977 when things looked bleakest for the Barons and the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 25 November 2011

Insulting Or Just Stupid?

There was an interesting article that was sent to me via email that I want to share today. As much as it was interesting, I found the writing to be very ignorant and quite insulting in terms of the topic. You may recognize the character "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers movies to the left. His only athletic endeavor that we were privy to see was when he participated as a sumo wrestler - a stereotype that all heavier people have dealt with at some point in their lives. And while I'm not here to might light of people who are dealing with their own weight issues, the thought may have crossed a few minds that hockey teams would do much better with a sumo wrestler in net than they would with a skinny guy. After all, the sumo wrestler takes up more room, right? So wouldn't Fat Bastard be an excellent choice as a goaltender?

Todd Gallagher, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, penned a book entitled Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan and there was an excerpt of this book featured in the October 6, 2007 edition of WSJ. In the excerpt, Mr. Gallagher decides to tackle the question of "Could a morbidly obese goalie shut out an NHL team?". How he handles the question, however, leaves me feeling a little disgusted by his comedic style.

"Because of the geometry of the game, the potential for one mammoth individual to change hockey is staggering. Simply put, there is a goal that's 6 feet wide and 4 feet high, and a hockey puck that needs to go into it in order to score. Fill that net completely, and no goals can possibly be scored against your team. So why hasn't it happened yet?"
His second paragraph might be his best. He draws out the problem and identifies a solution, and then he appears to be ready to do the research on why this hasn't happened yet in the NHL. He makes a compelling case thus far, but it's the proof that will win this case.
"One answer is that professionalism and fair play prevent many sports teams from doing whatever it takes to win. This is also known as 'having no imagination.' Additionally, in hockey the worry of on-ice reprisal from bloodthirsty goons would weigh heavily on the mind of any player whose very existence violated the game's 'unwritten rules.' In other words, had Eddie Gaedel worn a St. Louis Blues uniform rather than one of the St. Louis Browns, his heartwarming story may have instead been a cautionary tale."
Hold on a second here. Why would a goaltender be subject to the "unwritten rules" of The Code? Goaltenders are very rarely bloodied on the ice, and there is absolutely nothing unprofessional or a case of poor sportsmanship by simply having a heavier player on the ice. All this paragraph does is bring into play a vast number of factors that would never affect a goaltender whatsoever. Someone just turned the corner onto "Stupid Street".
"Also, advertising money is a strong motivation for professional sports leagues to keep a sense of legitimacy to their made-up games. But considering that no one wants to advertise with the NHL to begin with, I started thinking there must be a simpler explanation. Maybe it was just against the real rules."
Why would having an obese goaltender have anything to do with advertising? When pairing those two paragraphs together, there is a complete and utter fallacy to the argument being made. The NHL has posted great revenue numbers since the lockout, and has attracted a large number of sponsors it once didn't have. Since this article appeared in 2007, are lies the only proof that Mr. Gallagher has?
"Looking for answers, I followed a path blazed by draft dodgers and drug-addicted football players and headed north to Canada. Actually, since it was the dead of winter, I just bought a five-dollar international phone card and called the NHL offices in Toronto to speak with Johanna Kytola. Johanna, not surprisingly, was appalled by the idea. However, after some prodding she was forced to concede that the NHL rulebook doesn't put any physical constraints on the size of players... which I suppose could have been surmised just by looking at Zedno Chara."
Insults to all those Americans opposed to the United States' stance on the war and the CFL aside, this paragraph comes off as complete ignorance. Forget the spelling mistake in Zdeno Chara's name by published writer (great research skills!), but I'm glad Miss Kytola was "appalled" by this jackass's question. And when it was handled professionally, Mr. Gallagher tried to present himself as the smart guy in knowing that Chara stands 6'9", but looks like an ass because he doesn't know how to spell Chara's first name. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.
"I had checked Johanna into the boards, but then she dropped her gloves. There are, she said, nonnegotiable restrictions on the size of goalie pads, and no regulation goalie pads would even come close to covering the body of a man who makes John Goodman look svelte. In practical terms this means a mammoth net-minder would have to absorb quite a bit of punishment on his exposed body from hard rubber pucks hurtling toward him at upward of 100 miles per hour. To pull this off, a team would not only have to find a uniquely fat guy, they'd have to find a total masochist."
The first sentence is absolutely ridiculous. The John Goodman comment could be considered libel, but I'm not a lawyer. As for the larger man playing net, if he used his pads correctly, he could easily turn away pucks without having to be a "masochist". Otherwise, every single boxer that has ever lived is a masochist. Unless, of course, they are trained in the art of boxing. Y'know... kind of how goaltenders are taught how to stop the puck without killing themselves.
"Then Johanna threw a Tie Domi haymaker: 'A man of that size would have a very hard time passing a physical. If he did and it became a problem for the league, the issue would then go through the commissioner and governor's office until a solution was reached.'"
Once again, the professional person in the conversation frames this possibility in reality. There are reasons why athletes succeed, and the sacrifices they make to stay lean and strong are ones that some heavier person clearly has not yet mastered. Miss Kytola has all but ended this conversation because of the physical requirements needed to play net. When you hear stories of goaltenders losing ten pounds of weight after a long game, you know that goaltender is in tip-top shape in order to survive those sixty minutes while burning off that much mass. A heavy person wouldn't be able to do it.
"From Johanna's veiled threats it was clear that this idea had merit, so I decided to continue researching how to ruin pro hockey forever. And no, that doesn't mean seeing if I could get their Versus deal extended."
Another shining example of high-class journalism. Moving on....
"It made sense that a guy who can't get out of bed might have trouble passing a physical or possibly even making it to the physical, but would a failed physical be enough to bar him from being forklifted into action? To find a legal loophole big enough for our fat goalie to be greased up and shoved through wouldn't be easy, since the NHL has more lawyers than fans. I didn't have a team of lawyers on retainer to go head to head with the NHL's, but David needed only one attorney to win the right to fight Goliath. The stone in my sling was Gilbert Geilim, a lawyer in Los Angeles who thought we sort of had a case against the philistines in the league office: 'The NHL would eventually figure out a way to keep a man who is a health risk off the ice, but if they looked like they were making the criteria for a physical to exclude a certain segment of society, even the morbidly obese, you might luck out and get a judge to issue a temporary injunction.'"
I'm completely disregarding the insults towards the NHL at this point.

Let's make one thing clear: physicals are not meant to exclude portions of society from partaking in anything. They are a measurement of the physical body. The tests done in NHL physicals represent a sample size of real-life game action, and how a players reacts to those tests gives a team a very good idea of how he will perform on the ice. In other words, if you fail the physical, you don't make the team. Your success in the physical can make or break your NHL dream. In this case, a temporary injunction wouldn't even be considered because every single professional sport would then be under the microscope for giving physicals to players. That just isn't going to happen.
"For ostensible humanitarian reasons, I needed to determine whether an obese goalie could handle the physical demands of playing professional hockey. Jacob DiCesare, a doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told me, 'When people get into the weight range you're referring to—one thousand pounds and above—it is rarely because of body fat. People in that class of weight are nearly always retaining fluid somewhere in their body, often in the abdomen, although there have been cases where a majority of weight...' and that's when I tuned out."
Really, I only have one word: ASS. This would have been all the medical proof that Mr. Gallagher needed to report that "morbidly obese" people would not make good goaltenders. Instead, he "tuned out". ASS.
"Finally, he switched from medical mumbo jumbo and addressed the far more interesting aspect of fat men getting hit in the gut with a puck. 'Well, it would really hurt, especially because the padding wouldn't cover a lot of the body. At best you're looking at some severe bruising. Not to mention the incredible risk the morbidly obese would have just getting out on the ice. But theoretically if they had no cardiopulmonary issues or other health issues, once they were sat down in front of the net, and if they could deal with the pain, then sure, they'd do fine.'"
So if this was a fantasy-based world, a morbidly obese person could do just fine. Anyone here living in a fantasy world? No? Alright, moving on...
"With that ringing endorsement, it was time to see whether obese people might agree to be pelted with hockey pucks and circus peanuts. I spoke with a friend of mine who had packed on the pounds since high school—we'll just call him Mr. XL—and asked whether he'd be willing to gain enough weight to fill a net if an NHL contract were on the line. Since Tony... oops, Mr. XL... wasn't even aware that the NHL still existed, he was skeptical. I insisted that with some real commitment he could be bathing in gravy in no time."
This is Pulitzer material. For real. Keep reading.
"At all times there is a wealth of morbidly obese men in the world, all of whom are financially limited by their condition and have few ways of acquiring the Ho Hos and powdered doughnuts required for their survival. Undoubtedly at least one of them would be willing to take the physical abuse and mental anguish for the right kind of money. Millions of dollars can help a bruised ego and a broken sternum; that's what therapists and painkillers are for."
Let me know when this article is supposed to be funny. There are a vast number of people who have medical conditions that cause weight gain to be rather easy, even when they are eating healthy. I'm not about to say that all heavy people eat "Ho Hos and powdered doughnuts" because that's lazy and convenient. I find this line of thinking to be insulting and degrading. Whatever editor allowed this crap to go to print should fired.
"We were getting close. Now that the futzing around with feelings and rules was out of the way, the true test was almost at hand: actually putting a big fella in the net. My insurance doesn't cover obese-goalie-related death, so horror-movie director George Romero's special-effects school constructed a heavy foam fat suit to replicate the exact measurements of our mountain of a man. To test the limits of fat-goalie domination, they used the dimensions of the pear-shaped Robert Earl Hughes, one of the heaviest men in history at 1,069 pounds, who reportedly had a waistline of 122 inches, and then, to account for the carbo-loading regimen an NHL team would put this kind of goalie through, beefed him up a little more. (Romero's people declined my request to exhume and totally zombify Hughes, however.) This translated to an overall width of about 3.5 [edit: why do people use 1/2?] feet. Sitting him in front of a 6-foot goal would reduce the area available to score to 2.5 [my edit] feet, or about 15 inches on either side of our goalie. Add in our man's arms, legs, pads, blocking glove, and catching glove, and the goal would be reasonably full."
Wait... we have actual testing of a theory? Maybe I've been too hard on Mr. Gallagher. If his testing does prove useful, you read it here that I will fully apologize for my comments above.
"The only way to fully test this theory was to get an NHL team to shoot against the faux fatso. My esteemed editor, Jed Donahue, got in touch with a fellow Georgetown graduate who was doing nearly as well as he is: Ted Leonsis, billionaire owner of the Washington Capitals, whom the Sporting News once called one of the twenty most powerful people in sports. Leonsis, who made his fortune in the world of telecommunications and technology, is a bit of a visionary. And while his vision may not have originally included allowing the professional hockey team he owns to take slapshots at a guy in a fat suit, he saw the potential and gave the stunt the green light."
Using terms like "fatso" kills any credibility Mr. Gallagher has as a writer when it comes to describing his test subject. While Ted Leonsis may have green-lighted this experiment, I am almost certain that Mr. Gallagher didn't present his experiment to Mr. Leonsis with the same arrogance portrayed in his article.
"With a team of highly skilled shooters in place, we needed someone to get in the suit. I certainly wasn't going to do it (insert fake injury/ailment/note from my mom here), so I enlisted George Mason University goalie Trevor Butler. Once everything was set, I threw the suit in a rented white molester van and headed for D.C., the whole time glancing nervously in my rearview mirror, imagining how I'd explain what I was doing to an officer who thought he was pulling over the Beltway Sniper."
Can we add "coward" to the list of descriptions for Mr. Gallagher? Trevor Butler knows how to play net. Why not get someone who spends more time on his couch with his laptop than a guy who is trained to stop pucks? The variables in this experiment are already being skewed.
"After the monumental chore of getting Trevor in the suit and pads, we hit the ice—literally. To get him some level of comfort in the fat suit, I took him onto an unused rink adjacent to the one the Caps were playing on, and within seconds he fell flat on his fake fat stomach. Panic set in as we tried to pull him up, but finally a team of five men was able to drag him off the ice and get him on his feet again. Had this been an actual 1,000-pound man instead of an athletic goalie in a fat suit, the game would have been called on account of fatness."
I don't know if I'm disgusted or appalled with Mr. Gallagher's complete and utter lack of tact. Look, the guy was in a suit to make him resemble a morbidly obese guy. We gt that. To call the game on "account of fatness"? That's just a jackass comment.
"While Trevor prepared for his grand entrance, I checked in with the Caps. Their reactions were even less encouraging than Johanna's icy responses were. Most players wanted nothing to do with an elephantine goalie. Defenseman Ben Clymer was so ashamed of being associated with the tub that he tried to identify himself with a fake name (he used center Kris Beech's). Winger Dainius Zubrus put it bluntly: 'It would be embarrassing if there was a goalie that big.' Defenseman Steve Eminger confirmed my worst fears about how our big man would be received when he said opposing teams would simply try to run him over in the net. The Real Kris Beech had an even more depressing comment for our new star: 'You might spear him and see if chocolate came out.'"
If the NHL players in question actually said these things, I have zero respect for them. Instead of looking at this experiment objectively, they, like Mr. Gallagher, resort to mocking Trevor in his suit. If that had been a real person, would the mocking continue? I have my suspicions that it would.
"But if a half-ton wonder could bring the Stanley Cup to Washington, then it sounded like everyone would be as sweet as can be. Well, barely tolerant is probably a more accurate description, but it's a start. As Zubrus put it, 'If he was dominant it'd be fine. That's the goal, to win, right?' Beech agreed, but with a reservation: 'That'd be good as long as I didn't have to go to dinner with him.'"
Kris Beech is a class act, ain't he? So as long as the team was winning, a morbidly obese man would be tolerated. And if he wasn't winning? You get the idea.
"As I saw it, this was as close as we were going to get to support, so it was time to unveil the heavy artillery. Trevor took to the ice on the Capitals' official practice rink with as much grace as he could possibly muster. A full crowd was in attendance to watch their sporting heroes that day, and as Trevor waddled to the net, children laughed and pointed, adults covered their heads in shame, and the Capitals stared, jaws agape."
Yes, I get that a man of that size would certainly cause a reaction. Does seeing a man of that size on the street cause the same reaction?
"We got Trevor situated in front of the net, though it took a good five minutes of work, including tying his torso to the crossbar... probably a disturbing sight, given that very few people were clued into the fact that this was not an actual 1,000-pound man. Trevor's goalie crouch was itself unnerving: butt on the ice and legs splayed out in front of him—really the only way someone that large could be situated. There were certainly places to score around his head and shoulders, but he filled most of the net and made it difficult to see the goal line."
I guess the experiment proved that a morbidly obese man can cover the entire net as long as he sits on the ice and offers no lateral movement. How did the shooters fare?
"I watched in horror as the Caps began to shoot, but Trevor blocked every single one of their first eleven shots, including a glove save he may not have even been aware of that drew cheers from the crowd. After one particularly brutal slapshot that ripped off the fat suit's overalls, I checked on Trevor to see how he was doing. 'My knee hurts and I can't breathe.' Great, Trevor! Keep up the good work!"
Sounds like this experiment is great as long as the goaltender doesn't die. I have to say that the NHL players should be able to hit the openings behind Butler, but perhaps they couldn't look away from the man in the suit protecting the entire net.
"As our session progressed, the Caps went through a number of drills and shot from various angles. They began methodically testing the fattie's limited ability to move, trying breakaways, two on ones, and one-timers. Caps winger Matt Bradley seemed bothered as a particularly good wrister was easily stopped, while Trevor kept complaining about his inability to lift his arms or breathe. This led me to believe that real science was occurring, because it didn't seem like anyone was having fun."
Making jokes about the size of the individual is starting to wear thin. The "inability to lift his arms or breathe" is something that would most likely happen if a man of that size actually took the ice. And that has to make one concerned about the physical stress on the body from which someone of that size suffers.
"From our practice session some easy conclusions could be drawn. Breakaways, in particular, were death for Trevor. An NHL player will score every time from close in on a goalie who can't move unless the goalie is large enough to literally cover the entire net. Angles and wraparounds were also extremely problematic since Trevor could not move to close the open gaps. But when the shots were coming from straight on in five-on-five game situations, Trevor pretty much shut them down."
In other words, a morbidly obese individual as an NHL goaltender is pretty much useless for anything more than a slapshot. As for the goalie himself, what did Trevor Butler think?
"He said that in a real game a portly net-minder wouldn't stand a chance. 'You're kind of a sitting duck in net like that. And if that was my skin instead of padding I would be in the emergency room or dead right now.' Pussy."
The last word aside, Butler pretty much spells it out: you have to be athletic to be an athlete, especially one at the NHL level.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't so easily dismiss the Capitals' harsh assessments just by pretending to be tough. Their scouting report on my new superstar showed there were indeed some on-ice problems. Ben Clymer's review was less than glowing: 'The hardest part [to score on] was through his body, 'cause he's pretty fat. The easiest parts were pretty much anywhere where he wasn't, because he wasn't moving a bit.'"
If your opponents are saying you're easy to score on, you're probably not going to make it as an NHL goaltender. NHL goalies are the best of the best when it comes to stopping pucks. You don't stop pucks, you don't have a job.
"In the end, this is a complicated issue but one with a clear answer. There is no chance the NHL would allow a contract to be signed with such an obvious health risk, and though the court case might provide an opening, it wouldn't be a big one given these health concerns. It is also highly unlikely that any team would allow such an embarrassment to the game to take the ice for them."
This is the first paragraph where I fully agree with Mr. Gallagher, and the first paragraph of the article that actually makes him sound intelligent and articulate. Well done, Mr. Gallagher.
"In addition, not just any fat man would do the trick, as Matt Bradley explained. 'If you add maybe three hundred more pounds to that guy, he might be okay. If someone's willing to gain fifteen hundred pounds to go in net, there might be a job for him somewhere.' While there have been 1,500-pound men, none have been proportionally built in a way that would fill a hockey goal. In fact, there probably isn't a man in the history of the entire world fat enough to be effective in an NHL game."
If you can cover 24 square feet when you stand up, you're not really built for movement. NHL goaltenders have to have great mobility - the quickest are normally the best goaltenders. Mr. Gallagher just confirmed what we all know: great goaltenders are most often great athletes.
"That being said, if there was a team that was more concerned with winning than with their reputation, and if they could find a genetic marvel, a man pushing 2,000 pounds who's fatter than anyone the world has ever seen, who could survive making it onto the ice and withstand the pain of frozen hockey pucks being fired off his exposed body, and if that team could then win a legal battle against the NHL, and if the players didn't go on strike over the matter or beat the rotund goalie to death on the ice, that historically obese man could be a cost-efficient and effective goaltender. But what are the chances of that wondrous hog existing, and events unfolding in such a way? Pretty slim."
Did you see the juxtaposition at the end there with the "pretty slim"? Genius. It completely makes up for the "wondrous hog" comment one line earlier. Incredible writing skills on display here.

Look, there's simply no denying that NHL goaltenders are highly-skilled athletes. While the premise of having a large man guard the twine seems like it would be smarter, the physics of the game show that a quicker individual will certainly be better than an immobile one.

The fact that The Wall Street Journal published this should cause concern for the standards print media are setting. By publishing this, they are condoning, and possibly encouraging, the public mockery of obese individuals.

Print media is different than the spoken word in that messages get construed in print. The quality of this article could have been greatly increased had Mr. Gallagher simply ran this experiment in the name of science. Instead, we get this excerpt of crap from his book.

If you're looking for intelligent writing by Mr. Gallagher, it'll be slim pickings for you in this book. As for finding any class from The Wall Street Journal in allowing this sort of garbage to be printed? Fat chance on that one.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 24 November 2011

Not Thankful For New Threads

Well, it's Thanksgiving today in the United States of America, so I'm going to lead this article off right with a big "HAPPY THANKSGIVING" for all those who stop by from the USofA. Good neighbours are hard to find, so have a safe and happy Turkey Day! Unfortunately, the rest of this article won't find you much to give thanks for since it has some unhappy images of hockey uniforms. These aren't gimmick, one-time, minor-league jerseys either, although one of them will be worn only once this season. The problem, however, is that both looks seriously lack any sort of creativity and traditionalism for them to even be considered good looks. While one is definitely better than the other, you might be better just sticking to NFL football today than worrying about these two teams.

Let's start with the one-game jersey. The Philadelphia Flyers introduced their Winter Classic jersey for the 2012 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic taking place at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The home team's uniform will look a lot like their current home uniform despite the colours being messed up.

From the release, "Designed by Reebok, the jersey’s primary color is the team’s current recognizable orange with secondary colors black and a vintage off white. The Flyers primary front crest and player numbers are executed in rich felt black and vintage white appliqué."

So what do I like about the uniforms? The colours are alright. I can live with the Flyers being in orange because they've done it before, and it's infinitely better than a black uniform. Had the Flyers brought this look back, I might have burned Citizens Bank Park to the ground. The numbers will be easily visible on January 2, so that's also a plus.

There are some things I can do without. I'm really starting to tire of the tie-up collar. Does every single team need a tie-up collar on at least one of the jerseys? Also, let's give the contrasting name bar a rest for a while, Flyers. In 1980, Bobby Clarke didn't have a contrasting name bar. Fred Shero coached the Flyers without contrasting name bars. Let's try something different for this game, ok?

Also from the release, "The heritage stripping[sic] is inspired from a sock design worn by the Flyers in the late 1980's". While it's true that the sleeve stripes do look like the socks worn by the Flyers from 1984 until 1997 (late-1980s?), the hem stripe does not. It's missing the lower black stripe. So the heritage striping is incomplete, and only the sleeves have the proper sock striping. Just in case you're keeping track at home, this might be the first NHL uniform to be based on a team's former hosiery!

Overall, I'm not thrilled about this uniform. The Flyers could have honoured the former team that called Philly home in the Philadelphia Quakers, but that's not happening. We could have seen the current Flyers honour the Stanley Cup champion Flyers from 1974 and 1975 by wearing uniforms from that era, but that's not happening either. Overall, nothing to be overly excited about, so this is a PUSH at best.

And then we get to Philly's competition from last night. The New York Islanders debuted their new black alternate uniform against the Flyers last night, and they looked as hideous as they did during the unveiling last Wednesday. I'm almost certain that this will be the worst-selling jersey in Islanders history.

First, why is John Tavares' alternate captain "A" so huge? I'll go on record as saying that if you have two different fonts on your uniform, it's an automatic fail. That "A" looks way out of place compared to the "Islanders" name written across Tavares' chest. In fact, it's almost as big as the numbers below "Islanders". Does anyone involved with the Islanders franchise have any sort of design sense at all?

Secondly, the font on the back is the same as Tavares' "A", but it's very un-Islanders. The added serifs are not good, and the Isles already had a good look in their block lettering. While change is nice, there are certain things that get associated with a look, and the serifs, again, look out of place on the Islanders.

Thirdly, WHY DO THE ISLANDERS NEED A BLACK UNIFORM AT ALL?!? There was this orange alternate that Alexei Yashin wore. It's better than black. There were the Fisherman jerseys that have attained a cult status. They are better than black. There was the hybrid wave-jersey-traditional-logo jersey that transitioned the Isles from the Fisherman back to their normal uniforms. Again, much better than black. There is NOT ONE REASON the Islanders had to go black with this alternate jersey. Yet here we are.

The only members of the franchise that looked good in the new black duds? The Ice Girls. But I'll go on record here stating that it has less to do with what colour they are wearing, and more to do with what they are wearing. Angela King designed the new look for the Ice Girls, adding more sequins, a belt and patches on both shoulders. The letters NYI fall off of the left shoulder, while the Islanders logo is on their right.That's right - the Ice Girls has an actual designer design their outfits while the Islanders had a front office employee do theirs. Is there any wonder why they look horrible?

I'm not going to beat up on the Islanders any longer. Instead, enjoy your turkey and stuffing and all the other delectable delights set out before you on this magical Turkey Day. If you're not celebrating the US Thanksgiving holiday, enjoy your day, meal, or whatever it is you may be doing. No hockey tonight means a quiet night for me, but I'll be back tomorrow in full force.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Hockey Night In... Dubai?

There are many things Dubai can be described as - hot, luxurious, destination - but one thing it is not known for is its love of hockey. Hockey would be about as foreign a sport as one can find considering that soccer would probably be the biggest sport in the United Arab Emirates. However, CNN's Erin Burnett puts on her best SportsCenter face as she takes us through the final game of the Emirates Ice Hockey League pitting the Abu Dhabi Storms versus the Dubai Mighty Camels. You read that last team name correctly.

I apologize for the 30 seconds of advertising at the beginning of this video, but that's CNN's doing. Honestly, though, the wait is worth it when you see the video. UpFront's Erin Burnett does a pretty good job if ESPN is looking to hire a solid news anchor.

The Capital Cup was awarded to the Dubai Mighty Camels in a 6-5 victory over the Abu Dhabi Storms. Honestly, that Mighty Camels jersey looks like a hybrid of the San Jose Sharks logo and the Joe Camel logo. And did you notice the Canadian flag patch on the jersey? Do they identify each country from which each player hails?

If this isn't proof that hockey is growing on the global stage, I don't know what is. Who would have ever thought that the United Arab Emirates would have their own hockey league? If you ask me, playing hockey in the desert in the Middle East is pretty darned cool, especially at 110-degrees Fahrenheit.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Corporate Emails

I'm not going to say that I'm not excited for this movie despite whatever reviews it receives. Goon, the new flick starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, and Liev Schreiber, could be this generation's Slap Shot if it turns out as good as it looks. Part of the movie was filmed in Winnipeg, and I actually have props from the movie sitting nearby here at HBIC HQ. I'll be standing in line at my local theater on March 30, 2012 for the release of the film, and I'm quite certain that it will be an over-the-top movie. Canadian actor Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League, How to Train Your Dragon) and writer Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) collaborated on the writing of this film, so there's a good chance that this film will have a ton of laughs based on their previous works. And I have an email with a trailer to present today!

To give you an idea, here's the PG version of the trailer. Yes, that also means there's an R-rated version, and I'll link to that separately. If you're not old enough to see an R-rated movie, kids, HBIC advises you not to click any links!

Looks pretty good, right? The story itself is based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey. The book is about Doug Smith, an unlikely minor-league player who decided to take up skating at the age of 19! Smith fought his way up the ladder, eventually ending up in the second-best hockey league! Like I said earlier, Goon could be this generation's Slap Shot if it lives up to its advance billing.

For those of you looking for the NSFW version of the trailer as I promised, you can find it here. Parents, don't say I didn't warn you if you let your kids watch that. The movie will most certainly carry an R-rating when it comes out, so you've been warned. The movie's website can be found here, and the movie's Facebook page is accessible here.

The next email came from a Canadian institution that has really stepped up its grassroots work in helping kids. Canadian Tire has signed Jonathan Toews to help promote their sports department, and they recently began carrying Bauer's new JT19 stick which will exclusively be sold in Canadian Tire stores. To help kick off this new direction, Canadian Tire got North Strategic to film Toews showing off his skills with his new Bauer stick. Check out this display of puck wizardry.

Not bad, eh? Memories of the World Junior Championship shootout against the Americans. Captain Serious is Mr. Automatic when it comes to hitting targets. As for the stick, I can't say how much effect it had considering how good Toews is, but the stick is exclusively available at Canadian Tire today!

I received an email from the Scapa brand today to let me know that they have an exclusive website for their Renfrew hockey tape and Renfrew athletic brands. Simply head over to and check out all the tape and athletic gear they have available!

"Renfrew Hockey Tape has had a strong bond with generation after generation of elite and recreational players alike," said Michael Muchin, Scapa's Global Industrial Business Unit Manager. "This dedicated website is an additional tool to strengthen our relationship with our customers."

Great work by all three entities in marketing their products, and HBIC is happy to bring to light some products that could make the difference to a player. In the case of Goon, I'm not sure if that's the best example, but laughter is the best medicine they say and the movie looks like it will be filled with hilarious moments.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 21 November 2011

Old Headlines

I was doing a pile of research for a story, and I happened to be combing the newspaper archives on Google. I admit that I am very disappointed that Google has decided not to continue this project as I've found the stories from the individual newspapers about a subject to be varied and extremely informative. Alas, I guess the company saw little value in it, despite the incredible benefits I've found, and they axed the project from their scope. Thankfully, a number of newspapers have made their way to the digital world, and I've been lucky enough to find some amazing headlines that should raise eyebrows in terms of the information in the stories that accompany them.

Let's start with a CBA rule in 1977 that I wasn't even aware of in terms of its existence. Phil Esposito was traded to the New York Rangers, and the big power forward had a few clashes with head coach John Ferguson during his tenure as the Rangers' bench boss. What I didn't know was that there was a clause in the CBA that prevented a team from fining a player unless the infraction was on a list filed with the NHLPA - a clause not seen in any other professional sport!

In the article linked above from the February 4, 1977 edition of The Montreal Gazette, Phil Esposito decided to skip the NHL All-Star Game banquet dinner. His the reason for his absence, according to Ferguson, "was not satisfactory", but there was little Ferguson could do aside from holding a team meeting about this type of behavior. How many NHL players would wish for that kind of clause today? Sean Avery would probably be one of them!

Everyone knows that Billy Smith of the New York Islanders is the first NHL goaltender to be credited with scoring a goal in the NHL, but he was almost the second goalie to do so. Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon temporarily entered the history books on February 15, 1977, but the goal he scored didn't stand.

In the February 17 edition of The Montreal Gazette, the full story about how Rogie Vachon almost made history. With referee Andy Van Hellemond waiting to call a penalty on the Kings' Bert Wilson, Islanders goaltender Glenn "Chico" Resch made his way to the bench for the extra attacker. Islanders forward Bryan Trottier attempted to pass the puck back to either Resch or a defenceman at the blueline, but the puck traveled the distance of the ice and ended up in the Islanders net. The announced goal scorer was Vachon, but official scorer John Bealy determined some time later that Kings centerman Vic Venasky had been the last King to officially touch the puck. Vachon temporarily held the record for while, but ultimately his name was stricken from the record books. So close!

There's no denying that the Montreal Canadiens were the most dominant team in the 1970s. From 1970 until 1980, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup six times, were the best team in the regular season five times, were virtually unbeatable throughout the decade. Montreal could roll out their third line, and have them outscore most teams' top line. They were that good.

The February 18, 1977 edition of the Pittsburgh Press saw Dan Donovan pen an article about breaking up the Canadiens.While the case that he makes to break up the Canadiens isn't very strong, he illustrates just how dominant the Canadiens were in that decade. He writes,

"The Penguins are having their best season ever, yet still trail the Canadiens in the Norris Division by 34 points. The Penguins aren't the only ones who have trouble with the Canadiens, for Montreal has only lost 18 of its last 139 regular season games."
That, readers, is simply outstanding. The Canadiens were posting points in 87% of their games - simply dominant. With player movement the way it is today, there isn't a very good chance of seeing that kind of dominance again, but those figures certainly make the case that the Canadiens of the late-1970s were one of the best teams in NHL history.

Charles Wang's finances have probably seen better days as the owner of the New York Islanders, but it's not like he's the first Islanders owner to suffer losses and fan apathy towards his product. A June 15, 1978 article in the St. Petersburg Independent tells of Ray Boe's money woes as the owner of the Islanders and the NBA's New Jersey Nets.

In the article, Boe's debts are estimated at $25 million, and it appears the NHL told the struggling owner to get his house in order by July 18 or face revocation of his franchise. While we all know what happened in the following years - four straight Stanley Cup championships - but Boe sold the Islanders to John Pickett through a deal orchestrated by Bill Torrey. Bow was not seen in NHL circles again after divesting himself of the team.

Wayne Gretzky has set many records and had many headlines written about him, but would you believe that the Canadian government almost wrote a law concerning him? When Gretzky signed with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA as a seventeen year-old, the Canadian government had been assured by the WHA that no players under the age of twenty would be able to sign contracts. However, we all know that the WHA wanted to attract good, young players to their league over the NHL, so the WHA decided not to follow the NHL's lead in signing players who were twenty years of age of older.

The June 15, 1978 edition of The Leader-Post in Regina reported, "The federal government is powerless to stop the signing of underage junior hockey players to professional contracts". Minister of Sport Iona Campagnolo "said the situation has been brewing since the WHA was refused entry into the National Hockey League last year". So that would mean that talks began in 1977 to merge the two leagues! How very interesting!

Speaking of those merger talks, the Edmonton Journal reported that as early as June 15, 1978 that La Presse had information about the meeting between the NHL and WHA were "secret" merger talks. Again, they can't be secret if everyone knows about them, so instead the NHL and WHA made them into "anti-trust" discussions. Does anyone really believe that? Especially since four WHA teams started play in 1979 as members of the NHL?

Well, one man wanted everyone to believe differently.In that same issue of the Edmonton Journal, Peter Pocklington re-affirms that anti-trust stuff, stating, "The NHL is deathly afraid that the other WHA partners could sue for violation of anti trust laws... claiming the NHL was invading their territory", and he basically says that he'd preparing to be in the WHA for another year.

I found the talk of buying his way into the NHL as an extremely interesting perspective. The Barons had already merged with the North Stars, and the writer identifies the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Penguins as potential targets. Wayne Gretzky could have been a Pittsburgh Penguin?!? This is too close to being Bizarro World.

So there are some of the great tidbits of information from yesteryear. The little details are what make these stories so great. I'll have more later this week as my research on one topic has led to me almost a day-by-day account of two weeks in one franchise's problems. It should be good.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 20 November 2011

TBC: Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats 2

The road trip is coming to an end, and I'm actually glad. The malls were insane today, and I really am glad that I have approximately 90% of my Christmas shopping done. I'd probably be cursing up a storm if I had traveled across the border and came back with little to show for my efforts. In any case, I'm sitting here watching an NCAA hockey game between St. Cloud State and Minnesota, and some of these players could end up being profiled in a book in the future! Today, Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2, written by Paul Romanuk and published by Scholastic Canada. We got to see a number of players yesterday who could easily be in any debate as an NHL all-time great, so let's see who else can be tossed into the discussion with this second volume.

Best known for his work on TSN, Paul Romanuk has covered over a thousand NHL and international hockey games in his 25-year broadcasting career. He routinely works as the play-by-play man for the Spengler Cup, but has also covered Stanley Cup Finals, World Championships, World Junior Championships, and the Olympic Games. Mr. Romanuk now lives in London, England, and works as a writer, producer, and broadcaster.

We saw a lot of the big names eliminated yesterday in the first volume of this series - Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Hull, Orr - so who could possibly be left? Well, guys like Marcel Dionne, Bobby Clarke, Ted Lindsay, Mark Messier, and Brett Hull are included in Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2. There are guys who personified winning once again - Henri Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Larry Robinson, Bryan Trottier, and Steve Yzerman - as well as a couple of guys who may be darkhorses in some discussions about all-time NHL greats.

In the same vein as the first edition, Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2 has great pictures and facts about each of the players profiled. Some of the photos of the older players have great features shown that make sweaters from those eras significantly different from those today! These great images should make for great chatter between you and your hockey historian!

Like the first book, Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2 has a section at the end about all the individual NHL trophies and the qualities needed to be a nominee for each award. This is good for those who want a better definition for some of the lesser known trophies like the King Clancy Memorial Award or Lester B. Patrick Trophy.

This series of books by Mr. Romanuk are great starter books for your child, and Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2 is 48 pages of more information for him or her to digest. Again, it's a fairly easy read so this book would definitely be geared towards the younger reader, but the facts and information will still keep veteran readers interested. The photos and facts are excellent, and Hockey Superstars All-Time Greats: Volume 2 scores the hat trick for Mr. Romanuk in getting his third Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval in three days!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!