Saturday 31 March 2012

The Party's Over

The image to the left should pretty much tell you that the euphoria surrounding a playoff appearance by the Winnipeg Jets is now over. There's no denying that it was a pretty good run for Jets in the last few weeks, but some key losses down the stretch put the writing on the wall for this day to come. Had the Jets even taken half the points they left on the table, the race between Washington and Buffalo may have been about which team had the better chance of catching the Jets instead of the Jets needing to close out the season with nothing but wins and requiring a pile of help for them to make the playoffs. But, as Tennyson wrote, "'Tis better to have loved and lost/than never to have loved at all".

We look back to February 27 when the Jets were right in the mix of things as the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. A 4-0-2 run, including a big win over Boston and a decisive victory over Colorado, had the Jets looking very good for the stretch run towards the playoffs. A recent shootout loss to the impressive St. Louis Blues - a game in which the Jets were neither outplayed nor outhustled - looked to set the table for the Jets to roll over the Edmonton Oilers two days later.

Everyone but Edmonton got the message as the Oilers came into Winnipeg and dropped a 5-3 loss on the Jets. The Jets led 2-1 at the end of two periods, but four goals in the third for the Oilers allowed one of the Western Conference's also-rans a free pass through Winnipeg. The Jets looked lost in the third period as they got caught on a number of odd-man rushes and gave up two clear breakaways to the young Oiler snipers. In the loss, the Jets gave up two points they should have had considering the way the previous six games had played out.

"We looked like we were emotionally drained, physically drained and we didn't have much energy - and why is that?" Claude Noel asked after the game. "Is it the level of the games we've played and the pressure of winning at home and trying to get points? Those things take their toll."

Winning games against teams that are behind you in the standings are a must when pushing for a playoff spot. March 18 was a great opportunity to derail the Carolina Hurricanes' charge up the standings while improving the Jets' standing. After a 4-2-0 run in which the Jets beat Florida, Buffalo, Dallas, and Washington, it appeared that the good run displayed by Winnipeg could be furthered in a game against the Hurricanes.

Much like the Edmonton game a few weeks earlier, the Jets set themselves up well in the first forty minutes as they had built a 3-2 lead. A breakaway to Eric Staal and a late goal by Chad Larose were the only two goals scored in the final frame, and the Jets found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-3 score. Again, odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns contributed to this loss after the Jets had every opportunity to skate away with two points. Instead, the Jets gave up another two points they desperately needed in the playoff race.

"The problem was, you couldn't stop the bleeding, and that's really sad. It's sad because we came so far and to do this to each other, to disrespect each other like this was silly," a clearly frustrated Claude Noel said in his post-game press conference. "This one will stick in there for a long time. The bottom line is, if we don't make the playoffs, we don't deserve to make the playoffs."

The third game I'd like to identify as a game that the Jets absolutely needed to win was on March 26 when the Ottawa Senators played the Jets. Ottawa, entrenched in seventh-place, was once a team that Winnipeg was battling with for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. After beating Washington and playing well against both Nashville and the New York Rangers, there was hope that the Jets could grab a couple of needed points against the Senators.

The running theme of this article is that the Jets were in a great position after two periods of play, and this paragraph is no different as the Jets and Senators found themselves knotted up at 3-3 after forty minutes. Alfredsson put the Senators ahead before Evander Kane tied it up, but Alfredsson put the Senators up 5-4 just 24 seconds later with 2:33 to play. The Jets would not recover as the Senators downed Winnipeg by a 6-4 score. Again, the Jets had opportunities to end this game early in the third period - a failed Kyle Wellwood penalty shot and multiple scoring chances that went unconverted - but couldn't get the job done. A couple of key mistakes by the Jets gave Ottawa the chances they needed, and the curtain fell on the Jets in this game.

"We had it," Jim Slater said in a post-game interview. "We tied it up. It was a great effort crashing the net then they came back and were able to put the game-winner in under two minutes. It happened to us twice tonight late in the period and it came back to beat us."

Perhaps lost in the great atmosphere of the MTS Centre, and the amazing record that the Jets had at home, was that all three of these key losses were at MTS Centre. For as much as everyone said that there was a home-ice advantage for the Jets - admittedly true in some cases - the advatange was nil when the chips were on the table and the Jets were needing a win. The Jets failed three times against teams that were either directly ahead of them in the playoff race or behind them in the standings. That's not how you earn a playoff spot.

Perhaps Claude Noel was right when he said, "The bottom line is, if we don't make the playoffs, we don't deserve to make the playoffs." The Jets didn't earn wins they desperately needed, so maybe they never deserved to be in the talk about a playoff spot. The run was great, and there's no denying that this season has been an absolute success both on and off the ice for True North Sports and Entertainment. If anyone looks at this season and can find any fault with the Jets, it might simply be that they didn't deserve to make the playoffs.

In the end, it needs to be said that the fat lady was singing long before the team arrived in Tampa Bay tonight.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 30 March 2012

Possible KHL Expansion

With the KHL Playoffs underway and several teams already having been eliminated, you're probably aware that HBIC hasn't brought out the updates for the KHL yet. I haven't had much time to review everything, but I will post some sort update eventually once I get a chance to sort everything. The big news from Friday, however, had nothing to do with any player, team, or playoff series currently featured in the KHL. It seems that the KHL has been contacted by another non-KHL, European-based team that is interested in joining Asia's best hockey league for the 2012-13 season and beyond. This is the second straight season in which the KHL has announced an applicant for their league while the playoffs have been happening - something we in North America wouldn't even consider happening in a league here.

HC Slovan, a team based in Bratislava, Slovakia, has submitted an application to join the KHL for the start of next season. The hockey team was founded in 1921 in Bratislava after a soccer club under the same name had bee formed in 1919, and has become one of the most dominant teams in Slovakia after the fall of Czechoslovakia. Since 1994 when Czechoslovakia broke apart, the team has won seven Slovak championships - nearly one in every two years - and also has a Czechslovakian championship to their credit in 1979. Before that, the team won three straight Spengler Cups from 1972 to 1974, and has recently won the 2003-04 IIHF Continental Cup. The team is storied, but their recent history proves that they are one of the better teams in European league play.

The team has produced a number of stars, some of which played in the NHL:
  • Petr Buzek - defenceman who played for Dallas, Atlanta, and Calgary.
  • Zdeno Ciger - forward who played for New Jersey, Edmonton, the NY Rangers, and Tampa Bay.
  • Robert Dome - forward who briefly appeared with Pittsburgh and Calgary.
  • Jaroslav Halak - current St. Louis Blues goaltender.
  • Miroslav Satan - forward who played for Edmonton, Buffalo, the NY Islanders, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
  • Josef Stumpel - forward who played for Los Angeles, Boston, and Florida.
  • Lubomir Visnovsky - current Anaheim Ducks defenceman.
Miroslav Satan is currently the captain for HC Slovan, so another former NHL player will have the opportunity to suit up in the KHL next year if Satan returns to Slovan. Satan led the team in scoring despite appearing in only 54 games this season. He notched 28 goals and added 37 helpers while also finishing second in penalty minutes with 133! I'm not saying that Satan underachieved in the NHL, but he appears to be heads-and-shoulders better than anyone else on his team based on his point total, PIM total, and the number of games he played this season. If it makes any difference, Satan was third in league scoring this season, two points back of HK 36 Skalica's Rene Skoliak, but 25 points back of HK 36 Skalica's Zigmund Palffy who appeared in the same number of games as Satan. Wow.

The team finished in third-place in the Slovak Extraliga standings this season with a 32-16-7 record. They missed top spot by a mere eight points, so the race to the finish in the Slovak Extraliga appeared to be down to the wire this season. The playoffs, however, will feature the top-seeded HC Kosice and the soon-to-be-KHL-bound HC SLovan in the Slovak Extraliga Final this year. The first game of the final goes April 8, so the eventual Slovak Extraliga Champion could be off to compete in the KHL next year!

Of course, nothing is written in stone yet as a KHL committee will travel to the Slovak capital to carry out an inspection of HC Slovan’s infrastructure before making a decision regarding the club's participation in the KHL next season. We've seen the KHL turn down teams before, so there is no guarantee that HC Slovan will get in. However, you'd have to think that their success and history would be a major reason why they have a good chance to get in, especially if they are joining as the Slovakian champions.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 29 March 2012

It's Lurking

This is the third day in a row that I've featured reader emails on HBIC, and I'm quite happy to do so. I like the interaction with you, the reader, and I'm happy to answer questions that you may have. While the image above is quite peaceful, there is something lurking on HBIC that has everything to do with the watery picture featured. HBIC is known for a pool that I open annually, and it leaves a few people floundering while others ride the waves to a great spring.

I have received a number of emails asking about the HBIC Playoff Pool, and I'm happy to say that it will return for its fifth installment this spring! Prizes are already being procured, and I can say that this may be another great year in terms of prizing for those who participate. At least NHL jersey is already being held for the event, a number of pieces of Jets merchandise is in the shwag bag already, and I'm working on other stuff for the offering - books, DVDs, trinkets, and the likes.

The pool will go live once the match-ups in the playoffs have bee set. I'll publish a spreadsheet again to make my life easier in marking the entries so that I don't get all sorts of different formats. That being said, the same format for the pool will be used: winning team, number of games, and game-winning goal scorers will be your tools for scoring points. It all comes down to your prognostications and predictions in terms of how many points you will score.

Keep your eyes on this site for the "go live" date for the pool. Tell your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else you may think will want to enter. After all, like the previous four HBIC Playoff Pools, it's FREE! Nothing better than getting something for
... er, predicting, so put your thinking caps on, study your stats and trends, and get ready to dive into the pool!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 28 March 2012

More Video Greatness

After yesterday's viewing of the Battle of Ontario courtesy of Algonquin College's David N., HBIC is happy to feature another email from a reader who has a video for me to present. David N. deserves some kudos again for producing the Battle of Ontario video, but today's video, while a commercial, is actually pretty entertaining in its own right. I'll be upfront here in telling you that I was not solicited by Visa in any way to post this article or the video below, but I have to say that Visa is certainly doing well in the hockey-themed commercials in its time supporting the NHL.

Reader Mark B. sent me this short note, writing, "Thought you might like this funny NHL hockey video I found", so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. All I knew is that the preview window had a guy dressed in a Winnipeg Jets jersey in what appeared to be a small room. So, like any curious cat, I clicked play.
Hockey love does hurt when you realize that any loss by the Jets at this point in the season will put them in the same boat as the Maple Leafs and Canadiens - two teams already eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jets have an extremely slim chance of making the playoffs and absolutely need help along the way, but there's still a chance. Any flame left burning is a chance that an inferno could catch.

If you want to have a chance to attend the first game of the Stanley Cup Final this year, make sure you head over to Visa's Hockey Love Hurts Facebook page. Throw a comment on the page, and let the people at Visa know how much you love hockey. If you have a Visa card - in other words, NOT ME - you will be entered to head off with ten of your closest pals to the opening game of this year's Stanley Cup Final. So get swiping that card!

Well done, Visa, on a solid hockey commercial. Again, I'm not a big believer in pushing the corporate agenda for anyone, but a good commercial deserves kudos. Kudos, Visa, on a job well done!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

An Ontario Video Twist

If we were to believe that the Battle of Ontario was to become something to watch again this season, it appears that only one of the two Ontario teams got that memo. While preseason predictions had the Ottawa Senators finishing the season in the cellar - anywhere from 26th to 30th - the reality is that the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently hovering around that mark while the Senators are poised to enter post-season play as the seventh-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. Clearly, the Battle of Ontario didn't turn out as well as fans in Ontario would have liked this season.

So knowing that the Battle of Ontario hasn't produced many memories since before the lockout, I found it slightly strange that I received an email from someone who actually endorses the Battle of Ontario.

David N., a first-year student at Algonquin College studying TV broadcasting, made a little documentary about the Battle of Ontario and the fans that love the rivalry between the Senators and the Maple Leafs. In David's production, you'll get to hear passionate Senators and Leafs fans talk about the rivalry between the two teams, and it's actually a pretty accurate view of the Battle of Ontario from what I've seen. Ottawa fans cannot stand Toronto fans, and vice versa. But rather than reading my ideas on the rivalry, here is David's video on the Battle of Ontario....
Not bad, right? As you're probably aware, I'm anything but a fan of the Maple Leafs, and I wouldn't say I have any allegiance towards the Senators unless the Senators are playing the Leafs. David's video portrays the rivalry between the two teams, their fans, and the hatred each side has for the other pretty well.

While I'm not saying that this piece is a Gemini Award winner or anything, I think David has done an excellent job in putting this together. It takes some moxie to send the video to a random hockey blogger as well, but I'll give David my blog as a platform on which he can show his work. It was a solid piece, and David appears to have a bright future ahead of him in broadcasting. Well done, David, and keep up the great work! HBIC will be happy to post any other hockey-related pieces you may produce!

Here's hoping that the Battle of Ontario can regain its status as one of the nastiest battles in NHL history. It was for a while when the Leafs and Senators continually met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's been sorely lacking the passion that it once possessed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 26 March 2012

The Tech Side Of HBIC

This probably won't mean much to you if you're just here reading, but I would like to comment on how Blogger changed thanks to Google's drive to make everything look the same across their platforms. Personally, the new design is lifeless and somewhat confusing. I suppose that Google can brand its properties any way it likes and that I simply use a service that they offer, but sometimes change for the sake of change is highly unnecessary. Anyway, I'll keep an eye on the nuts and bolts of HBIC, but I do want to look at a couple of things on this blog that you should influence.

First, the favicon? You know, the little image that appears beside the URL in the address bar above and looks like the image to the left? I think I need a new one that isn't pushing the Blogger name. I mean, Blogger's been a good service for the five years I've been doing this, but I think it's time that I start branding this blog a little more with my own brand. Granted, I'm not looking to brand like Nike or Reebok, but I think a favicon would be a good addition. In saying this, I'm open to suggestions. Remember that a favicon is a very small image, so creating widescreen images for a favicon would be a bad idea. Your suggestions are appreciated, so hit me with them in the comments!

Secondly, I've considered changing the banner a couple of times, especially with the Thrashers long gone and the Jets back in town, but I've decided to stick with the banner the way it is for now. It serves as a reminder of when this humble blog started, and I do appreciate hockey history. Perhaps I'll have a change of heart in the future, but I'm comfortable with the banner at this juncture.

Thanks to the improved stats that Google shows, I can now target key demographics more accurately with my stories. The vast majority of hits come from the United States and Canada, but would you believe that Germany is third? That surprised me because I don't recall a lot of articles that dealt specifically with German topics. Even more surprising is that the Netherlands and India were ninth and tenth respectively, not far behind hockey-centric places such as Russia, Sweden, and Finland. I like the new stats from Google.

There were reports this month that Google Chrome had overtaken Internet Explorer as the world's most popular browser for a short time, but my stats still show that I've had more people tune into HBIC with IE and Firefox than Chrome. The difference between Firefox and Chrome is less than 1%, but Internet Explorer is still ahead of both Firefox and Chrome by 13%. Safari, not surprisingly, is fourth, and Mobile Safari - iPhone's browser - is fifth. Strangely, I've had 267 hits this past month from a browser called "Iceweasel". Interestingly, I learned something new from my stats as I had never heard of Iceweasel before.

I took a look at the keywords that people use to reach my blog. I figured that "hockey blog in canada" would rank high, but it was second all-time since May 2009. So what was first? Amazingly, the name of Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash was the top search that brought people to HBIC. Another player's name was third as Eric Lindros' name brought a large number of people to HBIC as well. Other players that gave HBIC some hits were Randy Carlyle (fifth) and Colton Orr (sixth). The most surprising keyword was that of "tim hurlbut". You might be wondering who that is. Well, he was the lead photo in this article. I was shocked that Tim's name would generate that much traffic!

I'm not in love with Google's push to change the look of Blogger as I had grown quite fond of the setup that they had previously. I'm not saying that I'll abandon Blogger for anywhere else just yet, but I'm going to have to play with the new settings and layout that they have introduced behind the scenes. Make sure you hit me with your ideas on the new favicon, though!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 25 March 2012

If At First You Don't Succeed...

You had to know that Sidney Crosby was going to get it going once he got his game legs back. He's sat out long enough for the stir-craziness to begin haunting him, so it was certain when he came back that he would put points on the board while playing cautious due to his concussion problems. That being said, Crosby has taken more chances and absorbed more hits recently, and now looks like himself - especially after tonight's game against the New Jersey Devils. While a lot of his moves thus far haven't generated highlight reel goals, you just knew it was a matter of time before he dazzled on the ice again. Martin Brodeur suffered the goal against, but it was Marek Zidlicky who may want to rethink that trade that sent him from Minnesota to New Jersey if the Devils and Penguins meet in the playoffs.

The move that Crosby put on Zidlicky was actually the second time he used this move in the game. As the old saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed...".

I'm not going to say that Brodeur had no chance, but can you really do anything but marvel at a move like Crosby made around Zidlicky? That is a fabulous move, and certainly reminiscent of a pond hockey move. Creative? Yes. Imaginative? Certainly. Incredible? Almost.

Chalk that one up as another finalist in the Goal of the Year category, kids. That one will certainly be on a number of highlight reels come the end of the year as Crosby absolutely danced around veteran defenceman Zidlicky.

The Penguins defeated the Devils by a 5-2 score, but Crosby's goal was certainly the highlight on this night. If you're going into the playoffs against the Penguins, how do you defeat this team in seven games? Scary.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 24 March 2012

Guaranteeing Last

It's hard to imagine any team trying to help another team finish dead last in the NHL standings, but the 1971 Montreal Canadiens could have been found guilty of that very move. There was one player who stood head and shoulders above his peers in junior hockey that season, and that was the man to the left - Guy Lafleur of the Quebec Remparts. Everyone knows that "the Flower" was a legendary Montreal Canadiens player, but he could have ended up as a California Golden Seal had a few things not worked as they did. The first was a seemingly innocent trade, but the rest involved Montreal dispersing talent to the also-rans in 1971 to help them out. Could this happen today? Probably not with the way the talent is distributed, but it was interesting to see how the Canadiens almost guaranteed themselves the drafting of Guy Lafleur.

On May 22, 1970, Canadiens' GM Sam Pollock orchestrated a deal with the California Golden Seals to obtain their first-round draft pick. Pollock, having seen Guy Lafleur play as a junior player, gambled on the Seals being terrible and potentially finishing at the bottom of the standings in the 1970-71 season. Pollock dealt Montreal's first-round pick and winger Ernie Hicke to the Seals for California's first-round pick, a bundle of cash, and defenceman Francois Lacombe. While eyebrows were raised on this deal, it wouldn't become apparent as to what Montreal's motives were until the season was underway.

It was clear as the season began that the Boston Bruins were the team to beat. The Bruins set all sorts of records in the '70-71 season, and they simply had too much firepower for teams to keep up as they captured the East Division crown with 121 points. The New York Rangers, powered by 109 points, finished second, and the Montreal Canadiens, with 97 points, finished third.

January 13 saw the Habs make a trade that brought an aging veteran to their team to add some scoring punch. The Canadiens traded Mickey Redmond, Guy Charron, and Bill Collins to Detroit for Frank Mahovlich. While the Canadiens gave up some very good players in the three men they dealt, they did get some decent scoring punch back. The benefit, however, would be that Detroit got a boost on a very weak roster that saw them jump ahead of the California Golden Seals in the overall standings. Would it be enough to keep the Wings out of the cellar, though?

The Canadiens saw stars Ralph Backstrom and John Ferguson "retire" mid-season as head coach Claude Ruel's reign over the team turned into a dictatorship. When Ruel resigned as head coach, Al MacNeil took over and both players returned to the Canadiens' dressing room. However, by this time, the season was in ruins as the Canadiens were far behind Boston. The best that the Habs could hope for was a favorable playoff match-up if they were to compete for the Stanley Cup. But GM Sam Pollock also had an eye on the standings.

At the same time as the Canadiens were slumping, so were the Golden Seals. Ralph Backstrom, one of the best two-way players of his time, had tired of playing behind Jean Béliveau and Henri Richard, and had asked Pollock for a trade earlier in the season. Pollock had watched the Seals play poorly to that point, but suddenly the Los Angeles Kings had hit a cold streak where they began plummeting in the standings. Pollock solved two problems in one by sending Backstrom to the Kings in exchange for Gord Labossiere and Ray Fortin on January 26, 1971.

Labossiere's stay in Montreal was all of a few hours as Montreal traded the scoring threat to the Minnesota North Stars for Rey Comeau. While this trade was again puzzling as it seemed that the Canadiens gave away sniper Labossiere for literally nothing, Sam Pollock saw more than that. With Minnesota still having a number of games left against the Seals, this move could have been labelled as a "precautionary move" in the hopes that Labossiere would light up the Seals. Indeed, he did as his first game against the Seals saw him score three goals in a 7-1 victory.

Backstrom, on the other hand, made an immediate impact in Los Angeles as he recorded 27 points in 33 games for the Kings, and helped the Kings get back on-track as they snapped the losing streak. Los Angeles would miss the playoffs, but would finish the season with 63 points, tied with Buffalo and better than Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Detroit, and California.

Labossiere helped the Minnesota North Stars to fourth-place in the West Division and a playoff spot with 72 points. Detroit, meanwhile, missed the playoffs as they finished with 55 points on the season to finish last in the NHL's East Division. Would that be enough points to have the Golden Seals finish last?

After January 13 when the Habs made the trade with Detroit, the Golden Seals posted a record of 8-26-3. The combined records of Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Minnesota against the Seals after the January 13 trade was 9-3-0. Ironically, these four teams were a combined 9-3-0 before the trades as well. So what does that mean?

Well, technically, nothing. But consider this:

  • Detroit went 9-22-7 in their games since January 13, but were 2-0-0 against California.
  • Los Angeles went 14-20-5 in their games since January 13, but were 2-1-0 against California.
  • Minnesota went 14-15-8 in their games since January 13, but were 2-1-0 against California.
All three teams were headed for the cellar before the trades. While their seasons ended poorly according to their records after the trades - all finished below .500 - the important records of note show each of the three teams with a winning record against California! Could Montreal have played a role in that with their timely trades?

That's up for you to decide, but had Montreal not made that swap on May 22, 1970, the Golden Seals could have had the Golden Flower playing for them, and that could have changed the entire landscape for the NHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 23 March 2012

Frozen Four Updates

I had been waiting to see what the University of North Dakota men's hockey team would wear for their game against Western Michigan tomorrow, and we have that answer. The image above, taken by Bruce Brothers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, shows Danny Kristo in the chosen design that the UND Fighting Sioux will wear for the NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament. Because UND is the fourth-seed in the tournament, they do get to be the home team in St. Paul this weekend.

The jersey certainly has an old-time feel to it, but they are anything but old. Reebok, in fact, actually had these jerseys available for UND at the start of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five, but UND waited to unveil them in case they didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament. UND has three uniforms made in this style - white, green, and black - but they are only wearing the white uniforms this weekend because of their seeding. If they do qualify for the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay this year, expect to see the other two jerseys flying to TeeBay.

Oh, and the cost for UND to participate in the tournament in these new uniforms? $21,000 according to Patrick Swanson, the team's director of operations. If they win, it will certainly be worth the money.

As for games tonight, the thirteenth-seeded University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks appeared to have everything under control against the seventh-seeded University of Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks, but the third period proved that the RedHawks were anything but pushovers. Down 3-0 to open the period, the RedHawks threw everything they had at UMass-Lowell, including two goals in 14 seconds, and suddenly the game was tied 3-3. UMass-Lowell defenceman Jake Suter, son of former NHLer Gary Suter, took a five-minute major for checking from behind with 3:35 remaining in the third period, and the once-confident River Hawks were in tough against the Miami Red Hawks. Thanks to goaltending heroics of Doug Carr, though, the game advanced to the overtime period. And just 2:13 into overtime, UMass-Lowell captain Riley Wetmore scored his second of the night to end the dramatic game and give the tournament its first upset!

In other scores, the third-ranked Union Dutchmen played a style that Jacques Lemaire would have been proud of in stifling the fifteenth-ranked Michigan State Spartans. While EPSN anchor John Buccigross' son plays for the Dutchmen, the real story was Jeremy Welsh as he had a goal - his 26th of the season - and an assist to lead the way for the Dutchmen in a 3-1 victory. The Spartans only managed 21 shots, and never had more than eight in a period as the Dutchmen showed a commitment to the defensive game unlike most other teams in this tournament.

The ninth-ranked Ferris State Bulldogs of the CCHA struggled to get past the tenth-ranked, and injury-riddled, Denver Pioneers on Friday. Goaltender Sam Brittain of the Pioneers was excellent, but the injuries certainly took their toll on the offence. The Bulldogs managed a 2-1 win over Denver, including defenceman Simon Denis' first NCAA goal, to send the Pioneers back to Colorado empty-handed. Ferris State got goals from Jordie Johnston and Denis while Denver's Drew Shore had the lone goal for the Pioneers.

The final game on Friday featured the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines playing against the fourteenth-ranked Cornell Big Red. Michigan may have underestimated the Big Red as the Wolverines found themselves down 2-1 after 40 minutes of play in this game. Big Red did a good job in clogging up scoring lanes and not letting the Wolverines skate as freely as they could, but the game itself was more of a yawner because of this style of play. Kevin Lynch, however, evened the score with 4:01 to play in the game, and it was almost certain that we'd be seeing more overtime. The Big Red got a big goal from Rodger Craig, who had played in only 15 games this season, when he knocked a rebound past Shawn Hunwick to give Cornell the 3-2 victory, and the second upset in the tournament.

There are six games on Saturday, including one that feature the new-look University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux:

  • #4 UND Fighting Sioux play #12 Western Michigan Broncos at 1:30 ET.
  • #1 Boston College Eagles play #16 Air Force Falcons at 4:00 ET.
  • #6 Minnesota Golden Gophers play #8 Boston University Terriers at 5:00 ET.
  • #3 Union Dutchmen play #13 UMass-Lowell River Hawks at 6:30 ET.
  • #5 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs play #11 Maine Black Bears at 7:30 ET.
  • #9 Ferris State Bulldogs play #14 Cornell Big Red at 9:00 ET.
HBIC will update the NCAA Frozen Four tournament this week, so stay tuned for all your NCAA stories as we follow the best collegiate hockey on the planet.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 22 March 2012

Welcome Back, Alex!

Alex Radulov suited up for his first NHL game in four years tonight after having spent the last four years in the KHL. He hasn't had much time to practice with the team yet, but he got a shot to break into the line-up tonight as the Predators battled the Pittsburgh Penguins. While there would probably be a little rust as Radulov worked to develop some chemistry with his new linemates, the hockey instincts he has should still be sharp after just finishing his season in the KHL.

After four year, it appeared that Radulov left off right where it appeared his career was starting before making the jump to Russia. They say good goal scorers don't avoid high traffic areas, that good goal scorers go to these areas because that's where the puck is. Here's Radulov putting that theory in motion.

While it was the only goal allowed by the Penguins on this night, Alex Radulov scored his first goal of the season, and looks like he has learned some valuable lessons after being in the KHL. He was the KHL MVP over there, so it's not like he doesn't have the talent to play, but the fact that he went to a high traffic area shows that Radulov might be much better suited for his career in the NHL this time.

This has to bode well for the Predators as they are getting back a world-class talent who can certainly score. Add into the fact that he's willing to get his nose dirty once in a while, and the Predators become that much more deep.

Now I know some of you might be saying, "Teebz, it's one game. Let's see how he does in the playoffs against Detroit". And you're right in that one game does not a career revival make. Detroit has shut down many offensive-gifted players in many series, so Radulov will have his work cut out for him. But he showed that he isn't afraid to go to the front of the net against the Penguins, and that's a good start for him because Radulov showed he's willing to go there.

Time will tell if this move by the Predators was a good one at this juncture of the season, but getting a talent like Radulov back is, on the surface, very good. It's even better when Radulov is willing to do the dirty work rather than float on the perimeter. Both Radulov and the Predators will benefit from that attitude.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Is It Really Justice?

It's hard to tell since his physical appearance has changed greatly since his time as a junior coach, but the man with the red facial protection on is Graham James, a known sex offender and pedophile. James was given two two-year sentences that will run concurrently for the offences committed against Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt - a mild sentence considering the offences committed by the man against teenagers. There was outrage by the victims as James was led away today in handcuffs as the former junior coach seemingly got a slap on the wrists from Manitoba Provincial Court Judge Catherine Carlson.

While Judge Carlson explained how James was able to manipulate the players he coached into doing whatever it was he pleased, she also came to James' defence. She stated that James had already received three-and-a-half years in prison in 1997 for similar crimes, and, that had these charges been brought up then, James would have likely seen a prison sentence of six years handed down in 1997. She also stated that he had no re-offended since 1994, received treatment, surrendered to police, pleaded guilty to the charges, and apologized in court. In Judge Carlson's eyes, these reasons somehow justify two two-year sentences to run concurrently in a federal prison rather than the six-sentence the Crown was asking for in this case.

Judge Carlson recognized that she was in a tough spot with this case as there was likely no sentence "that the victims, and indeed many members of the public, will find satisfactory," she said. "What happened to Mr. Fleury and Mr. Holt is every child’s worst nightmare, and every parent’s worst nightmare. It is trite, but important to note that the Canadian criminal justice system is not one of vengeance."

She did make mention that the maximum sentence is ten years for crimes such as these, and that comment leads me to wonder why Graham James is only receiving a total of two years in prison when his grip on the lives of Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt lasted much longer than that. I'm not saying it should be an eye for an eye in this case, but the lives of Fleury and Holt (and Sheldon Kennedy and Greg Gilhooly) were under James' direct control for a lot longer than two years.

"The thing that I have trouble with is 32 hours of rehabilitation is a joke," Mr. Kennedy said to reporters, referring to the treatment sessions Mr. James had in jail. "It’s been a lifetime of working and rehabilitating with counsellors and two hour sessions a week to just stay on track myself after the damage that Graham has inflicted. So to sit in there and hear that Graham James is rehabilitated really drives me nuts."

If we go back to the first sentence, Graham James spent 20 months in prison - less than half of the time assigned to him as punishment for the crimes he committed. Since this sentence is longer than one-year-less-a-day, he'll go back to federal prison and be eligible for parole after he has served one-third of his sentence. That's right: in eight months, Graham James could be out of prison again. He'll have served a total of 28 months in prison on four counts of child and sexual abuse.

Does that seem right to you? I'm not saying that James hasn't changed in terms of not being a predator any longer. The fact that he has changed doesn't absolve him for the horrific crimes he committed so long ago. In fact, he should waive his right to parole if he truly recognizes what he has done is wrong. That would show true recognition of the agony and misery he caused so many kids when he was sick.

The Crown may still appeal this decision, and I hope that they do. Eight months for two convictions of sexual abuse? Maybe it's the justice system that's perverse in all of this.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Highlights Of The Year... So Far

I was all set to post these highlights tonight when there were two late additions of absolute robbery in the Dallas-Phoenix game. Honestly, Dallas and Pittsburgh might be the two teams that have hit the highlight reel the most after some of their spectacular plays this season. I expected more from some other teams, but Dallas' top line has literally put on a show for the fans thus far. And there are still games to be played! I'm actually glad I didn't post this last week because here are HBIC's chosen Plays of the Year... thus far.

We'll start in November when the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins met in a game that appeared to be a mismatch when looking at the two teams. Colorado is a young team battling their way through the competitive Western Conference while the Penguins are a team full of stars that is a perennial Stanley Cup favorite. But Matt Duchene decided he wanted to show off his immense skill early in the game.

What great hands! Brooks Orpik had no chance on that move. With that highlight already making sports highlight show anchors drool across the continent, Evgnei Malkin was planning a little razzle-dazzle of his own.
That was as good a move around two players as I've ever seen. Malkin is so big and strong it evoked memories of Lemieux with his soft hands and immense wingspan. As Darren Pang would say, "Holy jumpin'!"

So we started off with two highlights from the same game, and we'll jump ahead to January. There have been lots of highlights from Mike Ribeiro in the. Given time and space, he normally pulls off an outstanding goal. We look at January 4 where Mike Ribeiro danced around the Predators for a fantastic goal.
Roman Josi is still looking for Ribeiro. Ribeiro slipped right past Josi like he wasn't even there before victimizing Pekka Rinne for a beauty highlight.

The very next night had a highlight from a guy who started this season in the NHL, but ended up playing for his country at the World Junior Championships. Ottawa Senators' prospect Mika Zibanejad ended a 31-year gold medal drought for Sweden when he exploded down the wing and beat Russian Andrei Makarov in overtime.
That, kids, is why speed kills in hockey. Zibanejad with the golden goal as Sweden rules the World Junior Championship for at least one year.

I may have missed this one, but I'm adding it to the contenders today. March 4 saw the Dallas Stars visit the Calgary Flames, and the top line for the Stars orgnaization was at it again. This time Loui Eriksson showed off some skill and creativity as he makes Alex Tanguay look like a pylon before beating Miikka Kiprusoff with a backhander.
It wasn't as fancy as Malkin's goal or Ribeiro's goal, but the fact that Tanguay got beaten clean like he wasn't even there is why this goal is an impressive highlight. Rarely do established NHL stars allow opponents to dance around them like Tanguay did.

The very next night (yes, it happened that way) saw another highlight reel goal scored, but this goal was notched by a guy who is rarely known for his scoring touch. Chris Thorburn, plugger for the Winnipeg Jets, shows that speed and hands are an explosive combination against the Sabres' Robyn Regehr and Ryan Miller.

While Thorburn admitted that he didn't actually get the toe-drag in, the fact that he turned on the afterburners past Regehr, picked up his own rebound, and then tucked in a backhand at top speed is a great move for a guy who is often sent onto the ice to stop goals such as these.

We make a stop in Buffalo as the Sabres were hosting the Canadiens on March 12. The Canadiens have had a disappointing season without doubt, but getting defenceman Andrei Markov back was supposed to be a big help as they closed out the season. Buffalo's Tyler Ennis didn't think so as he made the normally-reliable Markov disappear with a move before beating Peter Budaj.
Tyler Ennis is highly underrated in my view, and his hands on this play show why the Sabres have faith in him as a scoring threat. While he's still coming into his own, Ennis has all the makings of a superstar.

From great goals, we jump to the other side of the coin now and allow the masked men to take over. While there are a number of great saves that are made every night by goaltenders across the world, the ones that literally take sure goals away are those that I rank higher than all others.

The first highlight to roll out is from February 21 when the Flyers were visiting the Winnipeg Jets. The Flyers are a very good offensive team, and they certainly can hold their own in the offensive zone with any team in the league. When they get a team running around, as the Jets were, goals are usually the result. Jakub Voracek thought he had a gift... until Ondrej Pavelec stole the open net away from Voracek.
That's an outstanding effort in not giving up on the puck or the play. Pavelec has been the difference on many nights for the Jets this season, and he's certainly due for a pay increase when his contract is up.

We move to tonight's highlights that came from the same game as the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars squared off in a crucial Pacific Division and Western Conference match-up. I have to say that I've seen goaltenders get caught going the wrong way, but Mike Smith made an impressive save off Loui Eriksson to steal a goal away from the Stars.
Smith's outstanding save was going to be the end of this highlight package, but I didn't want to post this as I was watching the end of this very game. And wouldn't you know it, but the game went into overtime where Stars' goaltender Kari Lehtonen also showed off some incredible larceny.
Stack the pads! Lehtonen takes a game-winner away from Oliver Ekman-Larsson like it was no big deal! That is an outstanding save as well, and Lehtonen has really been impressive with Dallas this season.

So there are HBIC's choices for top goals and saves thus far. We still have a few weeks to play, meaning we could see more goals and saves added to this list. Which are favorites? Have I missed any that should be on there? Your comments will be read and considered!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 19 March 2012

Consider It Done

There isn't much more to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs as they finish their fourth campaign with Brian Burke sitting upstairs other than "same old". The Boston Bruins pounded the Maple Leafs into submission on the ice, as seen to the left, as the Bruins laid eight goals on the Leafs in yet another season of disappointment. When Brian Burke took over, Leafs fans were told that Burke wasn't interested in a five-year rebuild of the Leafs. They were promised truculence and a willingness to play hard, yet we're four years in and we've hardly seen anything that Burke promised. Once again, the Leafs will miss the playoffs, and we're looking at the fifth year of the "rebuild" next season with absolutely no progress having been made.

The Leafs have seen flashes of brilliance this season from players like Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, and Mikhail Grabovski, but there is too much not to like to say that this team was unlucky this season. Porous defence, abysmal goaltending, no secondary scoring, and a team that plays more often scared than confident has taken the Leafs right back to the same place they started four long years ago: no playoffs, and a need for a major retooling.

The dismissal of Ron Wilson was, in my view, probably the right thing to do as the players may have started tuning out Wilson's messages, but it's not like the team has turned the corner with Randy Carlyle directing the troops. In fact, they seem less interested now than they did with Wilson. Fingers can and should be pointed at the players for the mess that the Leafs are in with respect to the standings, but let's call a spade "a spade": Brian Burke built this team, and he needs to be responsible for the mess that Carlyle sends out onto the ice.

13 minutes into the game tonight saw the Leafs down 4-0. Forget about "showing up" at that point. That's when you see the true character of a team. A team that finds itself in a big hole early but battles and fights for every inch on the ice to get a couple of goals back before the end of the game is one that you can say has some heart and determination. Not every game will go well, and that's just how the puck bounces. But when the chips are down, players - especially professional hockey players - have to show some backbone and have a sense of pride in representing the guys on the ice and the logo on the front of the jersey. I got none of that in watching the Leafs tonight.

There have been theories floated around that this slump that the Leafs find themselves in coincided with the loss of Joffrey Lupul to injury. That would be a very good theory except that Lupul isn't the heart and soul of this team. Lupul is having an outstanding season - I cannot deny that. He has made Kessel better, and vice versa. But let's get something clear here: there was supposed to be more than one line in Leafs-land that could score and play in their own zone. Instead, check out the stats on the regular centermen for the Leafs:

  • Tim Connolly? 11 goals, 20 assists, and a -10 rating.
  • David Steckel? 7 goals, 2 assists, and a -14 rating.
  • Matthew Lombardi? 8 goals, 9 assists, and a team-worst -15 rating.
  • Tyler Bozak? 15 goals, 26 assists, and a -8 rating.
Totals for these four Leaf centermen? 41 goals, 57 assists, and a horrific -42 rating. The only centermen that the Leafs have with a rating above even are Mikhail Grabovski (+3), Nazem Kadri (+3), and Joe Colborne (+1).

This is a team that is horrible in its own end, and rarely plays with enough of Burke's "truculence" to make the opposition worry about standing in front of Reimer and Gustavsson. And it's not like the two goaltenders have given any opposing shooters nightmares either.

I'm not going to say that Brian Burke's Stanley Cup victory in Anaheim was a fluke because he did some tinkering when he took over for Bryan Murray. The core of the team was there, however, and Burke added the missing pieces to help push the Ducks over the hump. In Toronto, however, he was starting from scratch with a team that really needed to build around Sundin and look to develop another legitimate superstar. Instead, Sundin left and there has been little development after Burke dealt away high draft picks to acquire Kessel.

When Burke promised that there wouldn't be a five-year rebuild, he got it right. The first five years will, at best, yield one playoff appearance for a team that has zero personality, zero heart, and zero determination. But I'm almost guaranteeing that the Leafs are at least another five years away from being a powerful team in the Eastern Conference thanks to the lack of development in their farm system and Burke's idea of how his team should be built.

This season is already over, Leaf fans. I hate to say it, but the Leafs are done after tonight's horrific loss. Next season is already being examined, and, if the Leafs decide to head into battle with the same troops, will most likely be looking at an oh-fer in terms of playoff appearances in Burke's tenure.

If Burke was honest, he'd tell everyone that the rebuild is starting now. It took four years to weed out the garbage, and that he sees the playoffs in three years. But Burke will never say that because he'd have to admit he was wrong - something Brian Burke has never done in a public forum yet.

If the Leafs don't make the playoffs next season, there's only one person who should get his walking papers after boasting about not wanting a five-year rebuild. As for this season's push to the playoffs, consider it done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 18 March 2012

And Then There's Sioux

The University of North Dakota is making things difficult on the NCAA in their fight over their chosen team name of "Fighting Sioux". The men's hockey team decided that it wanted to play a little longer and won the WCHA hockey tournament this weekend to qualify for the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. While UND doesn't have to worry about hosting any of the games in this tournament, there are still sanctions that the NCAA can impose on UND despite the Sioux being the fourth-seed in the tournament.

Three sanctions were immediately imposed on UND in late February after UND decided to give into petitioners who forced the government to repeal a law allowing the university to continue using the Sioux name and imagery. The sanctions were swift and harsh in their initial delivery, but the letter outlining the sanctions was very diplomatic. The following is the letter in its entirety:

Dear Dr. LeBel:

President Robert Kelly (sic) recently informed me that the University of North Dakota was resuming its use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and imagery in connection with its athletics program. I noted in my discussion with you and Mr. Brain (sic) Faison that this action by the university means that your athletic programs are subject to the NCAA’s policies concerning participation in NCAA championships. Please allow me to reiterate the limitations that are in effect immediately:

1. No University of North Dakota team may host an NCAA championship round. If a North Dakota team is selected as the lower-seeded team in a championship competition, North Dakota would be designated as the “home” team but would be assigned to play at the higher-seeded institution’s venue.

2. If the university accepts an invitation to participate in any postseason competition, the NCAA policy requires that student-athletes, band, cheerleading, dance and mascot uniforms and paraphernalia not have hostile or abusive racial/ethnic/national original references during the NCAA championship competition.

3. If an invitation is accepted and the university must forfeit competition because it has not adhered to this requirement, the NCAA reserves its right to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred by the Association for travel, per diem or other expenses in connection with the championship.

It is the spirit of the NCAA’s championship policy that the competing student-athletes (both North Dakota and its opponents) not be distracted or disrupted during the championship by debates about when and where your institution’s Native American imagery or nickname may be displayed or worn. Therefore, we ask that the university take measures to minimize or eliminate the presence of the imagery or nickname brought to an NCAA championship venue.

Should you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

Bernard W. Franklin
Executive Vice President of Membership and Student-Athlete Affairs/Chief Inclusion Officer
With these sanctions already imposed, it means that the Sioux would have to use a different uniform than their normal jerseys. Having worn their normal Sioux uniforms all season long, special jerseys had to be made for their March 24 date with Western Michigan in the first game of the regional bracket.

"It's pretty simple," Athletic Director Brian Faison said to Chuck Haga of the Grand Forks Herald. "We have to wear the new uniforms or we forfeit."

With new uniforms to be unveiled in St. Paul this weekend, the sanctions actually run deeper than just what the teams wear on the ice. It actually affects everything that the Sioux do while under the watchful eye of the NCAA. That means that everything is up for inspection when it comes to not showing the Sioux logo: hockey bags, luggage, luggage tags, cheerleader gear, t-shirts, sheet music for the band - if anyone from the team or school is seen sporting a logo, it could mean instant forfeit for the Sioux. The only people, it seems, who will not have the sanction imposed on them are the fans.

Reportedly, UND administration will locate some sort of North Dakota gear for the band to wear while they provide the victory music for the Sioux, but this whole thing is starting to be a little ridiculous.

I get that the NCAA wants to remove itself from any sort of conversation with regards to the rights of Native Americans, and that's their call. They are entitled to do what they think is best for their business. UND and the State Board of Higher Education were given three years by the NCAA to gain nickname approval from the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. Spirit Lake gave its consent in 2009, but Standing Rock refused to reverse its longstanding opposition thanks to the tribal elders. Again, that's their right, but it's not like UND is bringing shame to the tribes or their peoples.

There really is only one thing that is certain: the UND men's hockey team will wear new uniforms against Western Michigan this weekend. And while the fans rock the Xcel Energy Center in their Fighting Sioux gear, the team on the ice will try to continue their impressive win streak.

When it comes to the name of UND's teams, this is one problem that may not be resolved for quite some time. Perhaps these uniform loopholes will be closed by the NCAA one day, but it has allowed UND to participate in the Frozen Four despite their demands. For this weekend, the Sioux name will be represented proudly by 25 men who want nothing more to bring home victory.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 17 March 2012

TBC: Calling The Shots

I'm always on the lookout when cruising through vintage and second-hand stores for hockey stuff. Often I find t-shirts in sizes that would make it seem as if I shop at Baby Gap, but occasionally I find gems like the book I had the opportunity to most recently read. I picked the book up for less than $10, but the information on the pages is worth a lot more. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Calling The Shots, written by Bruce Hood with Murray Townsend and published by Stoddart Publishing Company Limited in 1988. Mr. Hood takes us through his life right through his career as an NHL referee, and it's a fascinating read about some of the referees, players, executives, and situations from days past. I didn't think it would be as entertaining as it was, but I honestly could not put this book down.

From the dust jacket, "Bruce Hood officiated from 1963 to 1984. He was the first NHL referee to hit the 1,000-game plateau. He and his family live in Milton where he runs his travel agency business."

Calling The Shots is an autobiographical look at Mr. Hood's life, from his childhood up to the time of publishing in 1988. From his growing up around the metropolis of Toronto in several small towns before settling in Milton, Ontario, Mr. Hood's early life was very interesting, especially when one considers that the rough-and-tough defenceman known as Bruce Hood won a cutest baby contest!

Mr. Hood has been involved in some of the biggest games in hockey history, including the infamous Good Friday Brawl between the Canadiens and Nordiques. He takes us through the entire ordeal from his perspective, and really gives you a good idea what it was like to have an absolute melée break out on the ice. He speaks of his time officiating in both the IHL and AHL as he broke into the professional ranks as he dealt with fans, players, management, and arena problems throughout his tenure in those leagues. Mr. Hood also speaks of the people who made his job good and bad in terms of the dealings he had with a number of well-known hockey figures. While his book isn't a tell-all tabloid piece, it certainly tells you more about the historic figures in the NHL than other books do.

What I found particularly interesting in Calling The Shots was how Mr. Hood spoke of all the inner workings of the NHL officials in terms of how they dealt with the NHL head offices at that time in Montreal. He spoke of the various roles of the off-ice officials and how they were relied upon if an official was injured to help the remaining two officials. He also spoke of rule changes that were being tested in some years that were eventually dropped. An example of this was the "free face-off" rule.

"One memorable experiment involved the 'free face-off' rule, designed so that when the defending team caused a delay in their own end, for example freezing the puck against the boards, the opposing team was awarded the puck at the corner face-off spot - without any competition. Everyone lined up as they would in a normal face-off except the defending center, who had to be outside the circle. The attacking center was then allowed to do anything he wanted with the puck except take a shot directly on goal. What usually happened was that he would draw it back to a big shooter at the top of the circle, who would blast it at the net. Goaltenders in particular weren't too excited about that proposed rule, and after several tries the idea was discarded.
Overall, Calling The Shots is an excellent book that really speaks volumes about the referee's role in the game through its 237 pages. While the autobiographical accounts of Mr. Hood's life are documented, the vast majority of the book deals with his time as an official. Mr. Hood was responsible for the formation of the NHLOA, and there's an excellent chapter about that battle as the NHL was not prepared to recognize the officials' stance in making their workplace better for them. Calling The Shots really looks at an era of hockey where the game changed dramatically through NHL expansion, the formation of the NHLOA, the emergence of international hockey, and the formation of the WHA. Because Mr. Hood takes us through all of these major events in hockey and more, Calling The Shots absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! If you get a chance to pick up this book, you won't be disappointed in its content!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 16 March 2012

Unknown Inventor

In getting an article ready for this weekend, I stumbled across some rather fascinating information. You probably recognize the tool to the left as a "stick gauge" or a stick measurement tool for measuring a stick's curvature. It's a standard piece of equipment for all professional leagues, international tournaments, and the vast majority of junior leagues. The design, however, is quite unique, and it appears that it has been refined to a point of great accuracy in that a referee can determine the legality of a stick's curvature in mere seconds when this tool is used. So where, exactly, did this gauge come from?

According to former NHL referee Bruce Hood, it was invented by an official from Boston named Neil Degle. The problem? I can't find any information about Mr. Degle anywhere on the internet. According to Mr. Hood,

"He asked me to help finalize his invention, which I did, and I arranged for him to present it to Scotty Morrison. It received a trial in the NHL, and is now standard equipment in that and most other leagues."
As far as I can tell, Mr. Morrison was in charge of NHL officiating from June 1965 until 1981. The first patent for a stick gauge I found online came from an Ottawa native named Thomas B. Lawson who worked with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association in 1975. In this case, Mr. Hood would have had to have introduced Mr. Degle to Mr. Morrison sometime before September 2, 1975 - a conceivable window of time in which this meeting could have occurred.

The gauge has evolved over time to include a variety of measurement tools including the length of a goalie's blocker, maximum width of a goalie's catching glove sleeve cuff, and a host of other measurements. It's actually an amazing piece of equipment that is rarely brought out by the officials unless they are asked to by an opposing coach.

If you don't remember one of the most infamous measurements ever made in the NHL, I direct your attention back to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens. The drama begins...
To think that McSorley's illegal stick, and a hunch by coach Jacques Demers, caused a massive shift in momentum is unbelievable, but the steps were set in motion by a small piece of equipment known as a stick gauge. The Canadiens, of course, won the 1993 Stanley Cup, but it could have been a 2-0 series lead for Los Angeles had McSorley not been caught. The stick gauge tool was a vital component in Game Two for the Montreal Canadiens.

It is an intriguing piece of equipment whose origin I'd love to learn more about, and, if possible, speak to the man who came up with this tool, Mr. Neil Degle. If anyone knows anything about Mr. Degle or anything additional about this tool, please put get in contact with me because I am an interested party in the tool's and Mr. Degle's stories.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 15 March 2012

Royal Summer Hockey

When hockey finishes in June, there aren't a lot of stories to keep one's attention on a hockey blog. There's the NHL Entry Draft and the opening of free agency, but the majority of the summer is spent filling time with articles that would occasionally rank as fluff. However, HBIC always loves a year that features the Summer Olympics because it means a shot at covering a sport that isn't the most popular in North American. Today, the world got an introduction to field hockey from a woman who knows all about the sport and will be a featured guest at this summer's 2012 London Olympic Games.

The young lady in white above is none other than the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, playing for Marlborough College. She took to the sport early on, and showed incredible talent. She was the highest scorer on the 12/13 year-old team at St Andrew's School in Pangbourne, Berkshire. Her Highness attended the pretigious $35,000-per-year boarding school Marlborough College where she served as captain of the school's field hockey team. The future Queen of England has the background, and she put that skill and knowledge to good use on Thursday when she visited the British Olympic women's team at Olympic Park while promoting the game.

"I was really looking forward to coming here, but now I am here and have discovered I have to play, I am not feeling so confident," Kate said.

While there may have been some doubt in herself as to whether the Duchess of Cambridge still had the gift, there was no doubt when she wired a shot into the goal with a solid shot. The smile on her face was evidence of the love she has for the game.

"She told me that she missed playing as part of a team," British captain Kate Walsh said. "She also told me that she used to hit the penalty corners and you could see that. She got low and her shots were really sweet."

Kate's work on the pitch was caught on camera by The Guardian, and it appears that Kate is enjoying the opportunity to play the game she once excelled at as a teenager.

How cool is that? Honestly, I am very impressed with the future Queen of England because she is so level-headed and connects with everyone on their level. She's as real and honest as anyone in the Royal Family, a great hockey player as the video shows, and I think her presence at the London Olympic Games will be a huge boost for the Great Britain teams.

That being said, Canada's teams did not qualify for the Olympics, so there will be no maple leaf-clad teams playing this summer on the world's biggest stage. HBIC, however, will cover the games throughout the tournament, and I hope to bring you more information about the game of field hockey as the Olympics approach.

The Olympics run from July 27 until August 12, so HBIC will certainly have something to talk about this summer. Catch all the results and chatter from a Canadian perspective right here!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

No European Vacation

With the CBA talks looming on the horizon, the NHL has decided that six to eight lucky teams will not suit up for exhibition and the first regular season games in Europe next year, meaning the seat sale to the left is absolutely useless to NHL teams. While no formal talks have begun, the decision to call off these games for the first time since 2007 shows that the NHL is serious about the expiry date of September 15, and that they seemingly are interested in having the 2012-13 season operate without any sort of work stoppage.

There was some discussion to open the season across the pond once again, but an agreement couldn't be reached between the NHL and NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage, according to reports. Without some sort of agreement in the event that one side walks away from the bargaining table, the NHL felt it was prudent to cancel the games as a precaution.

The NHL has done a great job in having teams with a large or popular European contingent to return home and play in front of the fans of those countries. Teemu Selanne and the Anaheim Ducks played in Selanne's home of Helsinki, Finland against Buffalo to open this season while Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers squared off against the Kings in Stockholm, Sweden against the Los Angeles Kings. Both games were extremely successful, and there was hope that they could open the season in new locales in Europe as well.

Personally, it doesn't matter if they open the season in Europe, North America, India, or on the moon. I actually enjoyed the afternoon games from Europe, and it was neat to see how fans over there reacted to the NHL. Clearly, the fans in both Helsinki and Stockholm were more boisterous than in Berlin, but there was an electricity in each of the arenas with the NHL playing, meaning that the NHL's brand is certainly reaching a global market.

While the travel is taxing on the teams making the trip, especially for the west coast teams, there's a sense that the players are also fans of these trips. For some, it's an opportunity to visit places they may never see until their careers are over if at all. For others, it's a chance to return home to Europe where they bring their extended families to the rink to watch them play in the best hockey league on the planet. In short, this is probably as good for the players as it is for the NHL.

The fact that the NHL has decided to cancel the games is nothing more than a precaution, and I wouldn't doubt that we'll see these games pick up once the ink has dried on the new CBA. While this decision won't win any new fans over in Europe this season, it's nothing more than a blip on the radar in what hopefully will be good relations for the foreseeable future for the NHL and NHLPA.

And if things break down, you know some players will make the jump across the pond to play, so European fans may get a chance to see NHL stars one way or another. Here's hoping, though, that there are no work stoppages this time around.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 13 March 2012

More Options For Pretty

If you missed Tyler Ennis' goal last night, HBIC will be happy to give you another chance to catch it here. Andrei Markov, who recently returned to the line-up for the Canadiens, found himself on the wrong end of this highlight as Ennis made him invisible before crossing up Peter Budaj. Honestly, it has been the best goal any Buffalo Sabre has scored this season, and it will join the other candidates for potential "Goal of the Year".

The knock on Ennis in his NHL career thus far is his size. It's true that he's a little guy, but he showed his best waterbug routine as he zipped and zagged around Markov before burying a goal on the forehand past Budaj. Check out these moves:

Rick Jeanneret is a legend.

Ennis's effort is one of the reasons why Buffalo is streaking towards a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference after being mired in mediocrity for the majority of the season. He zipped past Markov who had no answer for Ennis' hands and speed, and then Budaj was at Ennis' mercy.

I'll add this goal to the "Goal of the Year" candidates, and I'll review these goals later this week. I might have an early poll just to see which goal you're liking the best. Ennis' goal last night, though, has to be included in those choices.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 12 March 2012

Paging Dr. Henderson

This photo made it to Uni Watch today as there is something definitely not right about seeing Paul Henderson, member of the Red Wings, wearing a surgical mask. NHL players have historically been innovators when it comes to wearing facial protection and masks - Jacques Plante becoming the first full-time masked goaltender to Pat Lafontaine's protective addition for his broken jaw as a Sabre to Herb Raglan's half-cage while with the Nordiques. Never, though, have I seen a surgical mask on a player while on the ice as a member of an NHL team.

I decided to do a little searching about Henderson's choice of facial covering. There are many theories, apparently, as to why Henderson was wearing this mask in a game against the Maple Leafs.

I discovered Howard Berger had a tidbit about Henderson's mask on the HockeyBuzz website. Berger, who has a personal tie to the game, writes,

"There was also some personal irony in taking my son to his first Leaf game on Saturday. It just happened to be exactly 39 years to the night my father first took me to see the Leafs play - Sat. Dec. 3, 1966 - against Detroit in Maple Leaf Gardens. That game was shown on LEAFS TV sometime last year, as part of the station's popular "Sunday Night Classics" series, and I now have it on videotape. Paul Henderson, still playing with Detroit, skated around that night looking rather ridiculous in a surgeon's mask - the result of a virus he had contracted. Henderson wasn't yet wearing a helmet, so you could see the bands of the mask tied off on the back of his head. It must have taken some courage on his part."
So we have a day and year when this photo was taken, and that will certainly help our cause in finding out why Henderson took to the ice in his chosen facial wear.

Mark Askin, Leafs TV’s Senior Broadcast Producer, was interviewed on the Leafs' website, and he had this theory:
"Paul had allergies and asthma. He thought there was something in the air in Toronto that affected his breathing. He decided to wear a surgical mask. He’s playing the game, with no helmet and he would be one of the first to use a helmet. I remember sitting in the crowd saying, ‘what is that on his face’? That is so weird.’ He played the whole game with it. If that happened today, it would be on every sports show on the planet."
Interesting, but I need a story to corroborate this account, especially when you considered that Henderson didn't play with the mask on when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Askin also had the wrong year in which this photo was taken, so I'm not believing that asthma and/or allergies was the factor that led to the mask.

A Sports Illustrated article written by Gary Ronberg actually provided some good evidence. In fact, Ronberg went to Henderson himself and got the story from the guy wearing the mask:
"Like every other club, the Red Wings expect their share of bruises, sprains, stitches and even a few-broken bones. But until Paul Henderson, the crew-cut left wing who was leading the team in scoring, started coughing violently every time he stepped on the ice, nobody around Olympia Stadium anticipated the exotic ailment tracheitis. 'I coughed all the time,' said Henderson. 'I even wore a surgical mask in games to warm the air I was breathing.' Finally the Red Wings shipped him to Arizona so that the hot desert sun would bake the inflammation from his windpipe."
I'm going to say that this is pretty reliable information considering the sources. The strange thing is that it actually reminded me of a newspaper article I had read when looking for some information about Paul Henderson.

The article, found in the December 10, 1966 edition of The Windsor Star, pretty much confirms the story written by Mr. Ronberg above. The affliction that Henderson had come down with was "tracheitis", an inflammation of the trachea through a bacteria infection.

Tracheitis is most commonly caused by bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, the same bacteria that can cause staph infections, and presents itself most often as a dry irritated airway. This is a commonly-diagnosed problem in infants and children, not athletes of NHL caliber. So what exactly was Henderson dealing with, and how does sending him to Arizona help?

The treatment is normally to humidify the patient's surroundings, but the Red Wings opted to send Henderson to Arizona for the hot, dry air to bake out the infection - something that should have actually worsened his affliction! Instead, he was back on the ice without the surgical mask after a week in the desert. The curious case of Paul Henderson raised my eyebrows, but all's well that ends well, I suppose.

That's the story of the first man to wear a surgical mask during an NHL game. Paul Henderson has a number of lofty achievements credited to his name, but his surgical mask game is a highlight for this hockey fan!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!