Thursday 31 May 2012

Changing Of The Rearguard

His very first game happened on October 3, 1991 when the Detroit Red Wings battled their division rivals in the Chicago Blackhawks to a 3-3 tie at the legendary Chicago Stadium. Twenty years, seven months, and 28 days later, one of the all-time greatest defencemen has finally decided to call it a career in Detroit. Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the classiest men to have ever laced up the skates on this planet, has decided to retire.

Lidstrom may not have been the flashiest player on the ice, but you always knew what you got when #5 went over the boards. He was a consummate professional, and relished the job he was given in shadowing the opposition's best while still playing at an exceptionally high level in the offensive zone. He was a rock for Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock, and he really became the foundation of the franchise after the tragic accident to Vladimir Konstantinov in 1997. With legends such as Howe, Yzerman, Lindsay, and Sawchuk already donning the Winged Wheel, Nicklas Lidstrom carved out a career that put him in the same echelon as the greats that once wore Detroit red-and-white.

Seven Norris Trophies leaves him one shy of Bobby Orr's record of eight, and he is tied in Norris Trophies for second with another legend in Doug Harvey. He earned the 2002 Conn Smythe Trophy, and added his name to the Stanley Cup four times. He was the first European born-and-trained captain of a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2008. He played in 12 NHL All-Star Games. He never missed the playoffs. He score the gold medal-winning goal for Sweden in the 2006 Turin Olympics. He met the President of the United States, and presented him with two Red Wings jerseys for him and his father. He played in a Winter Classic. He scored a total of 1325 points for the Detroit Red Wings over a twenty-year career. In today's day and age of free agency and big money, he was one of the few to play his entire career in one city for one franchise. In short, Nicklas Lidstrom was someone special.

Nicklas Lidstrom went from this fresh-faced kid, pictured with Vladimir Konstantinov, in 1991...
... to one of the NHL's all-time best rearguards to have ever played the game. The respect he earned from his teammates and opponents can be clearly seen.
A new era begins in Detroit in 2013. It is an era where #5 will not take the ice in training camp or exhibition games as players begin to work off any rust from the off-season. It is an era where a new player will be forced to hold the torch high and continue the excellence that Nicklas Lidstrom forged in Detroit. The past era, forever known in Hockeytown as the "Lidstrom Legacy", will be a benchmark all future eras can be measured against for all of time.

When a player like Nicklas Lidstrom leaves the game, the game itself changes. And for all that Nicklas Lidstrom did in his career, he is certainly a living legend amongst the hockey community. There may never be a better defenceman to pull on the Winger Wheel sweater, and, if that's the case, I'm happy to have lived to see Nicklas Lidstrom play the game beautifully in his gifted way.

Heroes get remembered, but legends, especially those of Lidstrom's status, never die. Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Lidstrom, and may you and your family experience many more great moments after hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Pictures Win You Prizes

Last week, I told you about a cool new website brought to you by CBC and Microsoft called the Playoff Pulse. Basically, it's a one-stop site for highlights, polls, and a playoff pool run by CBC, and Microsoft helped to build the site with CBC. After speaking with my contact, they have decided that HBIC can be your stop for winning some incredible prizes compliments of CBC and Microsoft! However, because HBIC likes to see its readers involved in making things better, there will be a little work to do to earn yourself an entry into the prize draw.

Because the Stanley Cup Final starts tonight, I'll only offer this prize up until the Stanley Cup is won. That being said, if either the Kings or Devils sweep, you only have a week or so to get the work done. Basically, this contest will run during the Stanley Cup Final only, and not a moment more. The prizes, however, are entirely worth the work, and all you have to do is be a little creative.

STEP 1: You need to send me a picture of your XBox. On top of or beside your XBox in the picture should be a card or piece of paper that reads "HBIC NHL XBox". Make sure the card is legible and large enough to read! If you don't have an XBox, you're not out of luck just yet. Just get yourself a cardboard box, write the word "XBox" in big letters on the side, toss the card or piece of paper on top or on the side, and take the picture. The key here is that the more creative the card and photo is, the better your chances of winning. Write the info in Lego blocks. Paint the words. Design some sort of way to display it on your TV. Just make it creative, and make sure your XBox is CLEARLY VISIBLE!

STEP 2: Sign up for the Playoff Pulse Pool (you don't actually have to play if you don't want), and show me that you've liked the Playoff Pulse page on Facebook and/or followed it on Twitter. In fact, if you do both, that will increase your chances of winning. Make sure you sign up, like and follow, and then grab a screenshot of that. If you don't know how to grab a screenshot, this should help if you use Windows, and this will help if you're using an Apple product.

STEP 3: Send both pictures to me via this email address. The subject line should read "Playoff Pulse Entry". Once I have it, I'll be sending it to Tania D., the marketing rep that sent me the prizes, and we'll determine a winner based on the entry we like best.

Now you might be asking yourself, "Teebz, why do you want a picture of my XBox and me liking some stupid website". The reason for this is that the prizing comes directly from CBC and Microsoft, and the prizes are pretty spectacular. I'm even tossing in a prize from the HBIC Shwag Bag, so here's what's available for those that enter:
Solid prizes, right? Start putting your creative thinking caps on, and get rolling on this prize. Honestly, I'm a little jealous of whomever wins this as I wanted to keep it, but I will dutifully stick with my principles in offering you as many free prizes as possible. And, at the end of the day, who doesn't want a free jersey, a free XBox game, and possibly the greatest hockey movie ever produced in exchange for a picture and a screenshot?

Get cracking, readers, and you could win the three prizes above! And a huge "thank you" goes out to CBC, Microsoft, and Tania D. for making these prizes available to my readers. Without their generosity, this contest wouldn't have happened. Thank you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Wads And Wads Of Cash

The stories have already started despite us being two years away, but the players are checking their bank accounts for what surely will be one of the biggest acquisitions in television history. While the NHL and NBC Sports are quietly getting their houses in order in terms of broadcasting hockey in the United States, the battle over Hockey Night In Canada rights is just heating up in the Great White North, and it appears that the three major hockey networks in Canada will be throwing wads and wads of cash at the NHL for the right to host NHL games on Saturday night. Needless to say, this is one battle where the winner will literally take all if the NHL decides to go with the highest bidder idea.

Rogers Media president Keith Pelley has already hinted at his network, Rogers Sportsnet, being interested in HNIC, and Bell Media has made no secret that it would like to take over NHL broadcasts by expanding into Saturday nights with their NHL on TSN broadcasts. The current rights holder, CBC, has made some cost-cutting moves recently as the nation's public broadcaster found itself in the red ink, and there is widespread speculation that both Rogers and Bell will force CBC out of the race by simply throwing more money at HNIC than CBC can spend when CBC's contract is up in two years.

I'll be honest in that I like the work that CBC has done over the last 60 years as the major hockey broadcaster in this country. They have shown the ability to grow with the game, adding new camera angles and high-definition broadcasts, but more importantly is the fact that they have partnered with so many great hockey ideas to help the game remain as popular as it has over the years.

The thing about CBC is that the channel is available to everyone with just basic cable. I use Shaw Cable at home, and I also get their high-definition feed for free with my HD digital box. Hockey, if you haven't seen it in high-definition, is definitely made for HD with its speed, and it looks absolutely fantastic on the CBC HD feed. While seeing Don Cherry in high-definition is definitely a "must-see" at least once just for his jackets, CBC generally does a great job when it comes to their hockey broadcasts. The CBC's personnel - specifically Ron MacLean, Kelly Hrudey, Jim Hughson, and Don Cherry - are some of the best in the business. I'd be quite happy to see HNIC remain on the nation's public broadcaster if given the option.

However, a new player jumped into the fray this season when TSN joined the basic cable programming for Shaw. Included with my standard-definition TSN feed was the high-definition feed. And because I'm using a digital cable box to pick up the HD signals, I also get the TSN2 standard- and high-definition channels as well. If hockey is being covered on both channels as it was in the first-round of the playoffs, I'm flipping between these two channels, and CBC, quite religiously. TSN boasts an excellent broadcast team - James Duthie, Bob MacKenzie, Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun, Chris Cuthbert, and Gord Miller - and they truly know the game inside and out. If CBC is not able to retain the rights to HNIC, I'm quite comfortable if TSN is the new home of HNIC and will enjoy the excellent broadcasts they are known for already.

Where I fear HNIC will lose its mystique is on Rogers Sportsnet. I receive Sportsnet West and Sportsnet West HD as part of my basic package, but Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet Pacific, and Sportsnet One are extra. Funnily enough, Sportsnet One HD is part of the standard HD package, but the standard-definition channel is not. Makes sense, right? Also, note that there's no Sportsnet Quebec, but the broadcaster does show QMJHL games so there's still hope that the Canadiens will be featured on Rogers Sportsnet if they successfully acquire the NHL rights. One major problem is that Sportsnet really has nobody in the booth that can be considered in the same echelon as Gord Miller, Chris Cuthbert, or Jim Hughson. Additionally, I'm not really interested in just seeing western Canadian teams all the time on Sportsnet West, so there may have to be a serious rethinking of their channel structures. In short, Rogers Sportsnet is probably the worst choice of the three when it comes to the NHL rights.

Reportedly, the former deal that the CBC signed was a five-year deal for $100 million. While that seems like a rather small amount of money, there was an excellent report in MacLean's magazine about the ordeal that the CBC went through when it came to dealing with Gary Bettman and the CBC regarding the TV rights. I highly recommend you read the linked article because it really gives you an idea of how negotiations for the next CBA may go as well. And possibly the next lockout. Yes, the information in the article is that revealing. Richard Stursberg, former head of CBC, really tells all in this excerpt from his book.

With the NHL once again informing everyone that revenues were up across the board over the last five years, I'm going to assume that the $100 million price tag will have, at least, doubled. With Gary Bettman doing the negotiations, it may end up being tripled or even quadrupled by the end of the dealings, and there's no way the CBC will even come close to that price tag. After giving up playoff games and Maple Leafs games to TSN in the last negotiation, I'm afraid to say that the CBC might be out of the game before it even starts.

If it is a two-dog race, I'm hoping for TSN. They really do a marvelous job on their hockey broadcasts, and certainly rival CBC as the best hockey broadcaster in the nation. The only problem is that nearly 85 years of hockey on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will be nothing more than a small piece of history in game where dollars and cents are clearly becoming more important than ever before.

The NHL needs to realize that it's not the NFL. Ridiculous contract demands in a market that already salivates at the most minor hockey detail is probably tantalizing for the NHL, but pricing themselves out of the CBC's market is a bad idea because all of our cable TV prices go up. With the demands that the NHL could possibly make, making the choice to have rising basic cable costs for a lot of Canadian families when other necessities are so much more important might price cable TV right out of their homes. That's bad for business on a number of fronts, especially when most of these families already cannot afford to attend their local rink to see their NHL team play.

I can't tell anyone what's going to happen, but I think there needs to be some sort of teamwork shown by Rogers, Bell, and CBC. If the three networks come in with low-ball offers, the NHL will have to acquiesce to at least one of the offers. Some can call this collusion, but I see it as fiscal responsibility. Canadians love hockey, but we're not willing to see it at any cost. We practice smart fiscal responsibility, and we appreciate a good deal. The three major networks who carry hockey should, ultimately, do the same when it comes to making the game more affordable for everyone to see.

That being said, business is business. The networks will outbid one another for the NHL TV rights, and the NHL will find themselves laughing all the way to the bank while the winning network will up their advertising rates. Someone will win in the NHL TV rights battle in Canada. It just won't be the companies that advertise during hockey, and it probably won't be hockey fans.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 28 May 2012

A Wanted Man

It was widely known last season that the handling of the trade involving Mike Cammalleri was a huge blunder made by the Canadiens. While Cammalleri would be swapped for Rene Bourque, the Canadiens and Flames seemingly got rid of two players that were deemed expendable despite their solid production on the ice. But it seems that the two teams are not only zeroing in on players they want, but on unemployed personnel as well. Today, it was revealed that the Calgary Flames had interviewed Bob Hartley a second time for their vacant head coaching job - a job that a number of people thought Hartley would be taking with the Canadiens. With that news, this story could become very convoluted depending on what Bob Hartley does in the coming days.

The only problem? Bob Hartley signed a multi-year deal with the ZSC Lions in Zurich, Switzerland earlier this year, and Hartley coached them to the Swiss Championship. It's doubtful that with the success Zurich had in winning this year that they would be willing to just shred that contract and allow Hartley to go on his way. Winning is good for business, and the ZSC Lions definitely were in business last season with their championship victory.

While Hartley has been a successful coach in the NHL in the past, there needs to be a reminder passed on here before we discuss which team is a better fit if he were to be given his release from the ZSC Lions. Hartley won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with a talent-laden, veteran Colorado Avalanche squad that had the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Chris Drury, Ray Bourque, and Patrick Roy in the line-up. They also acquired Rob Blake at the deadline, and saw Alex Tanguay play some of his most-inspired hockey. While I'm not here to say that Hartley's contributions as head coach were not significant in getting the most out of his players, a lot of the men listed above are considered to be some of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. Hartley's systems were put in place and the Avalanche played them well, but he had significant talent to compete for the Stanley Cup.

When you look at the rosters of either the Flames or the Canadiens, you don't get that same feeling that you do when you see the 2001 Avalanche roster. Aside from Jarome Iginla, you don't see many Hall-of-Fame names on the Flames' roster. And I'm not sure you can find anybody who will make the cut on the Canadiens' roster either. In short, Hartley will have to work hard to push one of these two teams into the playoffs, but his recent gig with the Atlanta Thrashers should tell you that the success seen in with the Stanley Cup victory in 2001 was more a product of the great players he had available rather playing and executing his system than just his system being the difference.

Hartley didn't fare well in Atlanta, but he did put up decent numbers. He went 137-118-13-19 (W-L-T-OTL/SOL) during his four years as a head coach in Atlanta. He missed the playoffs in three of the four years, but did get Atlanta into the playoffs for the only time in their existence in 2006-07 when the team won the Southeast Division. The only problem? The Rangers swept the Thrashers out of the playoffs in four games. While this paragraph doesn't sound exactly like a ringing endorsement, Bob Hartley got more out of the Thrashers than anyone else was able to during the team's existence, and that says a lot about how Hartley can help a maturing team.

Hartley won a QMJHL Championship as the head coach of the 1992-93 Laval Titan, and while that may be twenty years ago, he has shown that he can work with younger players and be successful. He also won the 1996-97 Calder Cup Championship in the AHL while coaching the Hershey Bears. Toss in his success with some of the younger Avalanche players during their heyday at the turn of the millenium - Tanguay, Drury, Martin Skoula, and Dan Hinote - and Hartley seems like he would be a great coach for a team of younger players mixed with solid veteran leaders.

His success in Zurich followed nearly the same blueprint. The ZSC Lions have nine players under the age of 25 on their roster, but also have a great collection of veteran players who can lead by example. Jeff Tambellini, Dominic Pittis, Juraj Kolnik, Steve McCarthy, and Cory Murphy have all had NHL experience, and have played well internationally when given the chance. Having these experienced players buy-in to what Hartley's systems makes it far easier for the rest of the team to make the transition. The Lions shocked a heavily-favored SC Bern to win the Swiss Championship in a closely-fought seven-game series that was decided on a Steve McCarthy goal with just seconds to play. The Lions rallied from being down 3-1 in the series with three straight wins to secure the championship! But to reinforce the point, Hartley gets the most out of all his players, and his time in Zurich is more proof of that.

With all of this in mind, the question needs to be asked: which team is a better fit for Hartley's coaching style?

I'd have to say that Calgary is a better fit for Hartley than Montreal is. Sure, Hartley can speak French and clearly has a pedigree of success in hockey, but Calgary has a roster with more accomplished veterans and a few rising up-and-comers. Montreal's tumultuous season resulted in very left being left in the cupboard for Hartley to work with in terms of veterans and solid blue-chip prospects, so I'm going to say that Hartley will end up in Calgary. He worked with GM Jay Feaster in Hershey when he won a Calder Cup, so the two have a solid history together.

The only question that needs to be answered regardless of where he chooses to coach is whether or not Zurich will grant him his release from their contract. After all, winning makes these types of decisions very tough.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 27 May 2012

Round Three Totals

Another round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are done, and that also means another round of the HBIC Playoff Pool is done. Los Angeles has been lights-out in their games this postseason, especially on the road, and the New Jersey Devils out-dueled the Rangers in their series. Who would have expected that Wayne Gretzky's former team would be playing the team Wayne Gretzky called a "Mickey Mouse organization" for hockey's greatest annual prize? There were a couple of excellent prognosticators seen in this past round, and we'll take a look at who moved up, who jumped ahead, and who paced the rest of the field in the third round of the HBIC Playoff Pool.

If you remember, I guaranteed everyone who entered this round six points for simply sending in an entry due to the fast turnaround in the NHL Playoffs coupled with the focus I was putting on my vacation. I'm happy to say that not one entrant finished with a total of six points in this round. Here are your round leaders, your overall round leader, and the newest spreadsheet for the NHL Stanley Cup Final.

NEW YORK vs. NEW JERSEY: Four entrants finished this series with an impressive ten points in this series. I'm not going to break down all four entries, but the four people who performed well with their predictions were Casey H., Andy S., Jackson N., and Terry C. Well done, gentlemen, on this excellent series!

PHOENIX vs. LOS ANGELES: There was one entrant who did extremely well, scoring an incredible 14 points in this series. Scott M. received the freebie three points for Game One, but he also correctly predicted the winning team in each of the remaining four games. Tack on Shane Doan's correctly-predicted game-winner in Game Four for another two points, and then add another five for correctly calling the Kings' series win in five games. All totaled, Scott earned 14 points for this series! Well done, Scott, and keep up the excellent work!

If you're looking at the leaderboard to the right, we have a new leader based on the third round scores. Casey H. scored a remarkable 20 points in this round to jump up the standings to the top spot! He currently holds an eight-point lead over Ty F., former leader LJ S., and Andrew G. as the Stanley Cup Finals starts, so these four entrants are almost guaranteed a prize in this year's pool. Well done, gentlemen, and congratulations to Casey for the excellent predictions in Round Three!

If you haven't entered your predictions for the Stanley Cup Final yet, I've uploaded the spreadsheet for you to download. Get cracking on sending this in before the Stanley Cup Final starts on Wednesday night. I know you're good for it. Send all entries to the designated email address in the same YOURNAME.xls FORMAT, and we'll see how this entire pool plays out once the dust has settled.

Well done to all the entrants, and thank you for making this pool so enjoyable this year! Keep up the good work, and you might be getting an email regarding some free gear!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 26 May 2012

Tasteful Yet Questionable?

If you've been keeping up with the 2012 Mastercard Memorial Cup, you knew this year's tournament was going to be a wide open field for any of the four teams to emerge as a victor. After the four teams were tied with one win and one loss apiece for the first time in Memorial Cup history, it seemed that any of the four teams - the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, the OHL's London Knights, the QMJHL's St. John's Sea Dogs, and the host Shawinigan Cataractes - could come away as Canadian major junior hockey's finest this season. The three champions certainly had the prognosticators determining that two of them would be playing in the final, but the host team decided to take its fans on a wild ride that saw them advance to the final.

This year's Mastercard Memorial Cup saw the Cataractes eliminate the Edmonton Oil Kings in the first elimination game before sending the St. John's Sea Dogs home in similar fashion. In the final, the OHL champion London Knights will face the hometown Cataractes for the right be called Canada's best junior team for one year. But while there may be one game yet to play after last night's Shawinigan win over St. John's, HBIC wants to take a look at Shawinigan's commemorative jerseys that they wore this year as well as the controversy that seems to be brewing from everywhere but Shawinigan in regards to their current look.

We'll start with a little history. Shawinigan is an Algonquin word meaning "portage on the ridge". The Cataractes team name translates to "waterfalls", and there is a 50-metre high waterfall which helped found the city of Shawinigan Falls, the home of NHL legend Jacques Plante. The waterfall prompted several power plants to be built in Shawinigan, and allowed the city to become the first city in all of Quebec to have public electric lighting. The 2504-seat Jacques Plante Arena, which sits a block from the Cataracte's current arena, still stands today, and remains virtually unchanged from when it was built in 1937. The Cataractes called the Jacques Plante Arena home until the QMJHL team moved into the larger and more modern Centre Bionest in 2008. The Cataractes, founded in 1969, remain as the only founding QMJHL team to have remained in the same city since the league's inception. Pretty cool little bit of history, right?

So how did a team with waterfalls, a legendary goaltender, and some great league history on their side end up with a logo that looks like this? We'll come back to that question in a second. First, let's take a look at a Memorial Cup tradition that I am finding myself liking more and more each year.

Every year since 2008, the host team of the Memorial Cup has taken part in the Theme Jersey Program that helps benefit the Dominion Command Poppy Trust Fund. From the CHL website, the "[p]oppy funds are spent to support veterans and their families, buy hospital equipment, support cadet groups, and provide student bursaries". The emblem for the Poppy Trust Fund is a poppy, and the host teams honour a significant military presence by changing at least their logo for the respective branch of military they are honouring - Mississauga St. Michael's wore these uniforms in 2011, Brandon wore these uniforms in 2010, Rimouski wore these uniforms in 2009, and Kitchener wore these uniforms in 2008. Clearly, there are some excellent uniforms there, and all of them have significant meaning in terms of the money they raise through the CHL auction site for the trust fund and to the military divisions they represent.

This year, the Shawningan Cataractes honoured "the 62nd Field Artillery Regiment. The 62nd Field Artillery Regiment is is a militia unit of the Canadian Army that is located in Shawinigan, Quebec. It recruits primarily in Shawinigan, Joliette and Victoriaville. Its oldest and most notable subunit is the 81st Field Artillery Battery, which was founded in the Eastern Townships in 1912 and relocated in Shawinigan, Mauricie in 1936. The 'S' shoulder patch is a homage to the 1945-46 Shawinigan Junior Team that had numerous war veterans playing for them." While the cannon on the front looks like they might be more suited for the Blue Jackets, I think the idea of honouring this historical regiment located in the heart of Shawinigan is classy. Well done, Cataractes, on this jersey!

Where things start to get murky is when we see what the Cataractes normally wear during the season. There has been some significant outrage towards racially-insensitive names and imagery recently on one prominent website, but I'm not so sure if the outrage extends north of the border simply because there seems to be no one complaining about Shawinigan's logo or associated branding that goes along with it. The new logo is definitely an upgrade compared to the previous logo the Cataractes employed, but it seems as though the race card is being played by everyone but the First Nations people in Quebec on this one. So the question needs to be asked: if the group that it supposedly offends is not complaining publicly about the logo, why should the Cataractes change anything?

Here's what I know: the Cataractes have worn three variations of their current logo on jerseys: white, yellow, and navy blue. All three have the new logo on it which, admittedly, is much less offensive than the old logo in my opinion. Their mascot, Thomas Hawk (Tommy Hawk... get it?), could once more be deemed as offensive, and they could have just followed the Chicago Blackhawks' "Tommy Hawk" route to have avoided any question with regards to insensitivity with their mascot. Honestly, if you're a hawk, can you really be racially-insensitive with the name "Tommy Hawk"?

I'm not going to start in with the fans who dress like First Nations people with the headdresses of feathers and the face paint and all that. Fans will still do whatever they want when it comes to supporting a team, so there's not sense in railing against the Cataractes' fans in this case. If you want to dress like the Cataractes logo, that's fine with me. Personally, I wouldn't dress like that, but I also don't paint my face for the sake of Halloween costumes either.

While there have been no shortages of racism in the game of hockey, I'm just not convinced this is one of them. While the imagery might be offensive to some, the First Nations people of Quebec seemingly have said nothing about the issue nor has the CHL found any reason to ask the team to change its logo or imagery. Without any of the people involved making a stink about the name, I say this is a non-issue, and one that shouldn't be addressed again unless one of the respective parties involved has reason to speak up on it.

Enjoy the hockey if you happen to have a way to catch London and Shawiningan battle it out for the Memorial Cup. These are two proud teams with long histories, and they'll put on a show tomorrow night in Quebec. As for the logo, just let it be. It's not an issue in Canada, and it shouldn't be for an American website or its writer that is covering the tournament.

If you really need something to write home about in terms of its offensiveness, how about this hot mess of logos on the front of the Cataractes' uniforms? Yikes. Can the Reebok logo on the chest not be covered up by the Memorial Cup patch for aesthetics' sake? Wow. And if that doesn't strike you as terrible, perhaps not raising racial questions the day before this team's biggest game in its history would be a better idea.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 25 May 2012

CBC And Microsoft For Playoffs

I'm not entirely sold on the idea of having Corporate Canada/America getting their hands on the game of hockey and branding it into a giant billboard for whatever their hawking, but I received an email from a lady and interesting piece of equipment from Microsoft Canada that had me clicking a button for the better part of a day today. Last season, CBC and Microsoft Canada joined forces to bring the NHL Playoff Pulse page to life for Canadians who wanted to get in on some playoff contests, polls, and a way to watch highlights of CBC's extended Stanley Cup Playoff coverage. With that button today, I also joined thousands of Canadians on the CBC Playoff Pulse page, and I was pretty impressed with what was delivered on that website.

We'll start with the email I received on May 15 from Tania D. from a Toronto-based marketing firm. She wrote,
"I wanted to quickly reach out to you let you know about a really cool app that Microsoft Canada and the CBC having been working on related to the playoffs, and I actually think it is right up your alley. I’d love to send you some information so you can test out the app and play around with it."
Because my work involves technological know-how, I was interested from the moment I started reading. Of course, I wrote back and indicated that I would be very interesting in participating in whatever Tania wanted me to do. After emailing back and forth, I received a package in the mail that contained this trinket. Yes, the picture quality sucks. That's my Blackberry's camera for you.

Anyway, with my curiosity already piqued, I did what any responsible computer nerd does, and I plugged the device squarely into my laptop's USB port. It lit up blue. With the device powered up and the drivers correctly installed on my laptop, I couldn't wait any longer - I had to push the button!
Thankfully, Ren was half-wrong when said something bad would happen because I would say he's half-right in saying something good will happen. Good did happen when I pressed the button!

The button took me directly to the CBC Playoff Pulse page that featured the three-minute game between the Devils and Rangers from their Game Six battle! I was already pretty happy that I had a cool new gadget on my desk, but now it does even more!

As an aside, I apologize to readers outside of Canada as the CBC and Microsoft Canada have limited the viewing of the video to Canadian viewers only. I can't change that, so make your voice heard on Twitter at @MicrosoftCanada if you want to see the CBC coverage of these highlights.

The site also has an area where fans can go to the CBC Playoff Pulse pool page, and there's also an area where fans can answer a poll question. The poll questions change throughout the games, so head back to this page while watching the game to answer new poll questions as they happen!

Clearly, as I've linked all the pages on the CBC Playoff Pulse site, you don't need one of these Microsoft smart buttons to access the website. The fact that they sent me one is a nice gesture, and I'm happy to work with both CBC and Microsoft Canada to bring forth some new innovations that they're working on for the fans. That being said, I'm hoping to bring you, the readers, something awesome from one of these two companies in the future, so stay tuned here.

As for the website, head over and check it out. I was pretty impressed by what CBC and Microsoft Canada have done over there, especially with the highlight packages. You can also see live goals as they happen on the "Plays" page on the site, and there are a ton of things to do during the games as well. Check it out, and let me know what you think of this all-in-one stop for highlights, fun, and interaction!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Equipment Watch 2: Launch Skates

I love receiving email about ideas for hockey innovations that I've previously written about here on HBIC. One such idea was Launch Skates, an innovative idea for placing springs in skates in order to maximize skating power thus making a player faster. I first had doubts of the validity due to the claims being unattributed to any professional hockey people, but David Blois, the man responsible for the Launch Skates, wrote me an excellent email in which he cleared up some of the validity concerns I first had. It now seems, however, that the validity of the Launch Skates is very real as Mr. Blois' product will be featured in the June 2012 edition of a science magazine that the world holds in very high esteem.

Popular Science, a monthly science- and gadget-filled magazine, produces an annual "Best Invention" edition in which they highlight the previous year's best innovations. This year's edition, which hasn't reached the market yet, will feature a number of pretty cool inventions - a recirculating shower, an inflatable tourniquet, a better lobster trap, and Mr. Blois' Launch Skates. You can see the preview of the June 2012 edition of Popular Science here, and listed right at the top of the 2011 Invention Awards is none other than "A Spring-Loaded Ice Skate".

While I certainly will not publish anything from the magazine without their authorization before the magazine hits newsstands, Mr. Blois did email the article that will be published about his skates, and I have to say that the credibility of the Launch Skates is now very real and extremely intriguing as a product. One of the men interviewed for the article - a Mr. Bill Heath, hockey instructor for the hockey training center Hockey Extreme in Toronto - tried out the Launch Skates for Popular Science. He states,
"They definitely feel a little different, but once you get used to them, you can definitely feel a boost, especially from a standing start. I skated for 20 minutes and I felt less fatigued."
So there's definitely a good indication from a hockey instructor that these skates offer some tangible results when it comes to playing hockey. Less fatigue means better hockey over sixty minutes, and a less tired player makes less mistakes. This factor cannot be overlooked when considering these skates.

There was one person who did have some concerns in the article. Former NHL centerman Curtis Brown expressed a potential problem that Mr. Blois will be addressing. Again, because it isn't a direct quote, I won't discuss what that potential problem is or how Mr. Blois plans to address it, but Popular Science's thumbs-up - which carries significantly more weight than that of HBIC - will certainly help the Launch Skates find a niche in the market.

Congratulations go out to Mr. Blois for this achievement in attaining a significant honour for his invention from a very popular science magazine. I am happy that HBIC is on the cutting edge in terms of Mr. Blois updating me with his work, and I remain very anxious to see the Launch Skates hit the hockey market in the coming year. I think there is a great potential for the Launch Skates to change skating in hockey, and this Popular Science article gives some high praise to the skates.

Well done, Mr. Blois! I look forward to any additional news you may be able to provide about your product going forward. Thank you for keeping HBIC in the loop about the Launch Skates, and keep up the excellent work!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Almost Had Him

With my time in Chicago wrapping up, I spent some great time with a good man in James H. last night as he treated me to a hockey game. It wasn't the NHL or the AHL or any other professional league, but I got a chance to watch his son, Quentin, play hockey at a local arena. Honestly, it was a lot of fun as I was given the task of statistician for the game while James manned the scoreboard and clock duties. All said, his son's team didn't win, but good times were had by all including yours truly. After sending Quentin off for a shower and to bed, James and I took in the Phoenix-Los Angeles game, and enjoyed the carnage caused by Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner as the Kings booked their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, and became the first team in NHL history to knock off the top-three seeds in the conference in the same playoff year!

There is a link, however, between last night, Chicago, and my next stop in Minneapolis. James' son played defence, and played very well. While he isn't draft eligible for a few more years, there are definite signs that Quentin could be a very good defenceman. The Blackhawks have a couple of exceptional defencemen right now, but they also have had the best defenceman, in my opinion, to have ever played the game suit up with the Blackhawks as Bobby Orr skated for them as well. And had it not been for some last minute dealings, Minneapolis could have also seen Bobby Orr skate for them before he retired from the game of hockey.

Bobby Orr was already re-writing the NHL record books when the WHA started up, but the Saints were able to sign his former Bruins teammate and free agent Wayne Connolly on the initial startup. The Saints obviously were looking at more Bruins and sought Orr's stardom in their camp, but they pledged to honour the contracts signed by NHL players and not play unethically. While Orr's knees took a beating over the next few years, the 1974-75 season saw his contract expire. His agent, Alan Eagleson, immediately began looking for the riches that Orr was deserved, and the Minnesota Fighting Saints decided to offer the defenceman a contract despite it looking like there was little to no chance of him ever suiting up in the WHA due to the Bruins nearly worshipping his being. Or so it was thought.

Orr had made the Boston Bruins into a contender alongside players like Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, and Gerry Cheevers over the previous ten years. However, Alan Eagleson knew that his client was certainly the best player in the NHL, and he demanded a major salary increase for this client's service once his contract expired at the end of the '75-76 season. Eagleson basically offered one demand to all listeners: highest bidder will attain the services of Bobby Orr once his contract with the Bruins expired.

The Boston Bruins obviously were first in line when it came to re-signing Orr to an extension, but Eagleson called all of Boston's offers to Orr a "joke". The Bruins, in their case, were more concerned with Orr's knee and its potential failure, so they low-balled on the contract extension in order to protect their interests. Clearly, the two sides were far apart in their numbers, so Eagleson sent messages to all 30 NHL and WHA teams on June 1, 1975 that Bobby Orr would listen to offers from whomever wanted to pay what Eagleson deemed fair. All interested parties were informed to contact Alan Eagleson at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal on June 7, 1975, and a decision on which team Orr would suit up with for the 1975-76 season would be made by July 1.

With former Bruin Mike Walton already making a significant impact as Fighting Saint, Minnesota had an insider to help their case in landing Orr. Walton and Orr ran a series of hockey schools together, so Minnesota decided to take a shot at landing Orr after having secured his negotiation rights. This decision raised a number of eyebrows considering the financial difficulties that the Fighting Saints seemingly faced, but if anyone could fill seats in Minnesota, Bobby Orr could do it with ease. In realizing what Orr could bring to the franchise both on and off the ice, Fighting Saints GM Glen Sonmor stated that the club would be willing to go to "pretty fantastic lengths" to sign Orr.

We pick up the story of the Saints' pursuit of Orr with an article from The Journal out of Meriden, Connecticut on July 14, 1975. The story states that the Toronto Sun had reported that the Fighting Saints had offered a contract to Orr that included a $1 million signing bonus, and that the offer, according to Bill Watters, was three or four times what the Winnipeg Jets paid Bobby Hull for his contract. In other words, it was a boatload of money offered to Orr.

The Anchorage Daily News brings us our next update on July 22, 1975. Wayne Belisle, president of the Minnesota Fighting Saints, states that he will meet with Bobby Orr very soon for "serious contract talks". Meanwhile, Alan Eagleson lobs another stone in Boston's direction by stating that the Bruins "will have to be more realistic" if they hope to retain Bobby Orr's services after Harry Sinden submitted another low offer to Eagleson. It seems this contract extension is turning very sour very quickly.

We jump ahead to August 26, 1975 where we find out through an article from The Argus-Press in Owosso, Michigan that Bobby Orr, Alan Eagleson, and Wayne Belisle are meeting to discuss a possible contract for the following season. From the article, it seems as though this contract being offered by Minnesota will not only benefit Orr for the rest of his career, but his children and their children in terms of how lucrative it is.

Reportedly, 11 of the 14 WHA teams agreed to the deal - reportedly $7.5 million for 10 years - with only the Quebec Nordiques, Calgary Cowboys, and Indianapolis Racers not agreeing. Not surprisingly, both the Cowboys and Racers were knee-deep in red ink at this time, so getting them to cough up some money to help finance this deal was literally like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. However, it appears that Minnesota and Belisle were going full-steam ahead as this picture shows Eagleson, Orr, and Belisle meeting at Eagleson's house with what appears to be papers for Orr and Eagleson to read. If you were a fan of the Bruins, this had to make you sweat a little when seeing this image.

And if you thought things were bad when Orr and Eagleson met with Belisle, the August 28, 1975 report from The Gazette in Montreal should have made you irate. Orr and Eagleson rejected the final offer from the Bruins, and Eagleson stated that the only way that Orr wouldn't sign with the Saints was if the Bruins were sold to a new owner. Storer Broadcasting Corporation was in negotiations to sell the club to Sportsystems, a group of buyers headed up by Max and Jeremy Jacobs. If the sale went through and received the NHL's blessing, Eagleson would be open to hearing what the new owners could offer his client.

What made matters worse in the Bruins' case was that NHL President Clarence Campbell made it very clear that no NHL franchise would assist the Bruins in retaining Orr. Essentially, if Orr was staying in Boston, his salary would be be paid by the Bruins and only the Bruins for whatever amount it took to keep Orr. Not one dollar would be paid to keep Orr from either the league itself or any of its teams other than the Bruins.

On September 8, 1975, however, it appeared that the landscape had changed dramatically. According to a report from The Citizen in Ottawa, Wayne Belisle stated that he was "99 per cent sure" that Bobby Orr would remain a Bruin after the Bruins countered the Minnesota offer with a 10-year offer of their own. The key is that the condition of the agreement was based on the sale of the franchise to Sportsystem. Belisle also stated that the offer made by the Saints was a $4 million, five-year contract.

Everyone thought it was over. However, a report in the Lawrence Journal-World on September 29, 1975 showed that Orr was still talking to the Saints despite his insistence that he wanted to sign with the Bruins. With the contract talks on hold as the NHL season was starting and no guarantee for the next season, Orr was still in play, and he continued to have open lines of communication with the Fighting Saints.

With Orr suffering yet another knee surgery, it appeared his value would plummet based on the reconstructive surgery being done yet again. But after his seventh surgery, Minnesota Fighting Saints president Wayne Belisle was still interested in bring Orr to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. From the December 5, 1975 edition of the Lewiston Evening Journal, the Saints' offer to the defenceman still stood through it all, and the chatter about the Saints and Bobby Orr could continue.

However, things came to a grinding halt just sixteen days later when a report was published in the St. Joseph, Missouri News-Press about the financial woes that the Fighting Saints faced. Th Saints had lost $4.9 million in just three years, and had borrowed $200,000 to meet payroll in the 1975-76 season. Furthermore, the Securities Division of the Minnesota Commerce Department gave the Saints 90 days to raise $500,000 or face bankruptcy. Suddenly, that $4 million deal for Orr didn't seem like a smart investment, especially considering that the Saints were barely making payroll for their current roster.

It's pretty common knowledge that the Chicago Blackhawks would sign Bobby Orr after his long recovery from that seventh surgery. The Fighting Saints wouldn't make it out of the season due to their financial woes, but the Cleveland Crusaders, suffering the same problem in Cleveland, decided to head west and take up the name and logo of the Minnesota Fighting Saints for the 1976-77 season. The WHA was on extremely shaky ground in the majority of their cities, and the league would cease to exist in two years. Bobby Orr, ironically, would retire just six games into the 1978-79 season as a Chicago Blackhawk, the same year that the WHA would fold.

In bringing this whole article full circle, James' son played very well, and looks like he is developing into a very serviceable defenceman for his age. While I'm not going to compare Quentin to Bobby Orr in any way, there are certainly things he did on the ice that stood out in terms of his talents. James' son looks to be a on a solid path as a defenceman if he so chooses that position going forward.

It's pretty amazing to think that Bobby Orr could have been a Minnesota Fighting Saint had the Saints not ran into critical financial problems. Perhaps had they not run into those issues, the WHA might have featured the four of the best hockey players from any generation at once: Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky.

I'll be in Minneapolis/St. Paul tomorrow. I had a great time in Chicago, and it's a great city. Thank you to James and Quentin for the awesome time at the game, and I hope that Quentin will one day be representing Team USA at the World Junior Championships! And maybe the "kid from Chicago" will end up as a Minnesota Wild or even a Winnipeg Jet!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

You Make The Legal Call

Normally, titles like the one above will accompany a questionable hit or call that happens during a game. Today, I am proud to say that we will explore something entirely different that I think is an absolutely incredible idea. Frantic Films, a Winnipeg company, is producing an "innovative legal web series" that allows you, the reader/viewer, to deliver a verdict on a possible crime committed in the video. Essentially, it's a court case on video, and YOU are the jury!

While I didn't think this had anything to do with my blog whatsoever, the email I received from Tammy about the web series proved me wrong. I'll post her email first, and then we'll take a look at why I'm helping Tammy get the word out about this exceptional idea. Tammy wrote,
I wanted to tell you about an innovative legal web series I've created that tackles the issue of fighting in hockey in this week's episode. This week on Verdict, we put a hockey enforcer on trial - he's charged with manslaughter after participating in an on-ice hockey fight in which the other goon dies. It's up to our jury of viewers to vote and decide whether he's guilty or not guilty.

I thought you might want to check it out and share with your readers so everyone can join in the deliberation and discussion about this hot button issue!

Verdict is a legal web series in which we present a court case to our "jury" of viewers each week, and then they deliberate and ultimately vote on the accused is guilty or not guilty.

The series is really a fascinating social experiment, delving into the psyche of people on a wide range of topical issues. We've already challenged our viewers to vote on episodes about father's rights and abortion, invasion of privacy in a social media age and on and on! This hockey fighting episode is sure to be a huge talker.

The demographics that we reveal at the end of each voting period really tell an interesting tale about how people feel about each issue as well (women/men, different age groups etc).

Anyway would love if you checked it and shared!
I highly recommend that you take a look at the video of the hockey goon on trial from the Verdict series. I'm not going to lie when I say that I was very impressed with how this series engages the viewer into becoming a vital part of the story. In short, I am very much behind this idea.

Nick Butler is the man who is being charged with manslaughter after he blindsides Jeremy Hill with a punch to the back of the head. The result of the punch was that Jeremy Hill ended up dead, and now you, readers, need to weigh in on whether this act of aggression is actually manslaughter, just part of the game, or if Mr. Hill's death is the result of some other factor.

You can actually look at this case in the same way that the legal system is currently looking at the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident. While Moore survived the attack, Bertuzzi's attack caused his career to end and put his health in significant jeopardy. It was a cheap shot that Bertuzzi threw, and it was a cheap shot that Butler threw that seemingly caused Hill's death.

Watch the video, and make a comment if you like. The voting is over on whether Nick Butler would be going to jail or not, but I'm not going to sway you one way or another in telling you how I would have voted. You should definitely weigh in as a hockey fan in the comments here on HBIC or over on the Verdict site. Have your say, and get your voice heard in this case. There is no right or wrong answer, but it might be good to discuss the various points that you see in this case.

If you want to participate in more trials like these, Verdict has a number of past series available to watch as well as current trials and upcoming previews of trials. This unique web series is one of the most interactive ideas I've seen in a while, and I am happy to give Verdict an outlet here on HBIC.

Keep up the fantastic work, Tammy! You have a fan in me!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday 21 May 2012

Victoria(s) Day

It's officially a day off in Canada as Canadians celebrate Victoria Day, officially the day of birth for Queen Victoria. As you're probably aware, Canada is still a Commonwealth nation, so we take advantage by celebrating a number of holidays that focus on the British and its rulers. However, today is a different sort of Victoria day here at HBIC as I'd like to take a look at the Winnipeg Victorias, an amateur team from the late 19th century that became Winnipeg's first Stanley Cup-winning team. Winnipeg's current and former versions of the Jets haven't come close to winning a Stanley Cup while playing in the Manitoba capital, so the Victorias are held in high esteem in the province. Let's take a look at Winnipeg's first championship hockey team.

Tying the article into today's holiday, the Winnipeg Victorias actually based their name on the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. While they were one of several "Victoria" teams, the Winnipeg franchise quickly established themselves as the premiere hockey outfit in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, and soon found themselves reaching out to other teams from across Canada to provide an adequate challenge.

On December 20, 1890, the Victorias met with the Winnipeg Hockey Club in Winnipeg in the first match in Western Canada between organized hockey clubs. While this in itself wasn't all that remarkable, the upward progress of the Victorias was certainly something that had to catch the eye of Winnipeggers. After playing against Manitoba-based teams for six years and winning many of those games, the Victorias challenged the Montreal Victorias to a one-game showdown for the Stanley Cup on February 14, 1896!

The game was set in Montreal, and the Winnipeg Victorias came to play! Nearly 2000 fans turned out to watch this hockey spectacle, and they got quite a show. Winnipeg captain Jack Armytage put the visitors up 1-0 early in the first half, and that lead was doubled when CJ Campbell scored a goal before the first half ended! George "Whitey" Merritt, the goaltender for Winnipeg, stopped all the shot she faced while wearing cricket pads on his legs to stop the puck! In a stunning 2-0 defeat, the Winnipeg-based squad had captured the Stanley Cup and brought it west for the very first time!

Because there was no radio or television to recount the victory to fans back in Winnipeg, an unusual method to bring the action to fans in Winnipeg was employed. Winnipeggers received the first ever play-by-play account of the action via CPR Telegraph, and they were elated to find out their team had won hockey's greatest prize! The train that returned the team home was adorned with hockey sticks and brooms as the train pulled into Winnipeg - a sign that the Victorias had cleaned up on the ice in Montreal. Once the team had arrived and settled back in Winnipeg, the very first Stanley Cup parade unofficially took place down Main Street as Winnipeg honoured their hockey heroes!

The celebrated heroes who were honoured by Winnipeg included forwards Jack Armytage, Donald Bain, CJ "Tote" Campbell, and TA "Attie" Howard, defencemen Fred Higginbotham and Rod Flett, and George Merritt tended to the nets. Robert Benson didn't see the ice in Montreal during the game, but he was Winnipeg's designated substitute for the big game. These eight men were the first team to bring the Stanley Cup west, and they brought it to Winnipeg! Unfortunately, Fred Higginbotham's career would come to a tragic end later in 1896, forcing the Victorias to find a suitable replacement in order to defend their title.

Winnipeg would reign as the Stanley Cup Champions until December 30, 1896 when Montreal reclaimed the Stanley Cup after a 6-5 victory in Winnipeg. It would be a while before the Victorias would ascend to the top of the mountain again, however.

In 1899, the Victorias lost a two-game total-goals series to Montreal once more. Another loss in 1900 followed shortly, and the Victorias returned to Winnipeg to regroup for their next challenge. The Montreal Shamrocks took over as Stanley Cup Champions shortly thereafter, and the Victorias challenged them in a two-game total-goals series on January 29 and 31, 1901. Winnipeg was victorious in Game One by a 4-3 score, and took the second game by a 3-1 score for a 6-4 total-goals victory! The Stanley Cup would be returning to Winnipeg! Of note, Donald Bain wore a mask through these two games - something not seen in a Stanley Cup competition since the challenges began.

This Victorias championship would be protected for more than a year as they defeated the Toronto Wellingtons in a two-game series played in January of 1902. However, the Victorias' run as top team in the land ended in March 1902 in Winnipeg as the Montreal Hockey Club - aka the Montreal AAA - defeated Winnipeg for the Stanley Cup. Winnipeg took Game One by a 1-0 score on March 13, but Montreal rallied on March 15 with a 5-1 win before closing out the series on March 17 with a 2-1 victory.

While this loss wouldn't deter Victorias in pursuing the top prize on hockey, the city of Winnipeg wouldn't see another Stanley Cup opportunity until far later in its history. It was determined in 1908 that the Stanley Cup would only be awarded to professional teams, thus ending any chance the amateur Victorias would have their team name etched onto the Stanley Cup in the future.

While the amateur Victorias pushed on without the Stanley Cup, they did capture Canada's amateur championship in back-to-back years in 1911 and 1912. While there was some controversy over their 1911 win as Ontario didn't permit their amateur teams from competing, the Victorias eventually defeated the Kenora Thistles by a combind score of 16-10 in two games to officially capture the Allan Cup. The 1912 Allan Cup Championship saw the Victorias defeat Calgary twice by a combined score of 19-6, Toronto by a combined score of 24-5, and Regina bu a 9-3 margin.

The Victorias were eventually overtaken in Manitoba by the Winnipeg Hockey Club as the top amateur team. The WHC won the 1913 Allan Cup to keep the amateur championship in the Manitoba capital. The third Winnipeg-based team, the Winnipeg Monarchs, captured the Allan Cup in 1914 bfore losing it midway through the year to the Regina Victorias - another Victoria team! This would be the last time a "Victoria" team won the Allan Cup as well.

While it may be true that the modern versions of Winnipeg's professional hockey teams never captured the Stanley Cup, the Silver Chalice called the city home a couple of time. While hockey history may have forgotten the heroics of the Winnipeg Victorias, HBIC is proud of his hometown hockey heroes!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday 20 May 2012

TBC: Jacques Plante

While I've been traveling through the American midwest, I have found some time per day to squeeze in a little reading! And you thought I was just crashing after being a tourist all day! I love historical hockey pieces, and I must say that getting my hands on this book proved to be well-worth the opportunity. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, written by Todd Denault and published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. The story of Jacques Plante's life is one that seemingly didn't get a lot of coverage due to how closely Plante guarded his privacy, but Mr. Denault did a superb job in documenting Plante's exceptional life in this book.

From his bio on the McClelland and Stewart site, "A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Todd Denault is a freelance writer who has had his work featured in numerous online and print publications. A graduate of Carleton University and Lakehead University, Todd resides in Cobourg, Ontario. This is his first book."

It is emphasized over and over in Mr. Denault's writing that Jacques Plante was a man who treasured his privacy, so the resulting book that detailed Mr. Plante's life is, itself, a treasure as well. Mr. Denault went above and beyond in digging up a lot of information on Mr. Plante's life, and Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey truly takes you along for the ride as we learn about the struggles and successes that Mr. Plante endured before he appeared in the NHL, during his 17-year NHL career, and after his career had ended. In short, Mr. Denault is exhaustive in his research on the man known as "Jake the snake", and the result is a fantastic read for any hockey fan.

We learn that Jacques Plante grew up listening to Montreal Canadiens games on the radio, and trying to emulate his idol, Canadiens goaltender Bill Durnan. Little did anyone know that Jacques Plante from Shawiningan Falls, Quebec would one day star in the same blue paint as his idol. Plante was so taken with the idea of emulating his idol that he won the starting goaltending position for the high school team... at age 12!

With his ability growing and word of his ability spreading, it wasn't long before he was playing for much better teams in Quebec. With this notoriety, the Leafs placed Jacques Plante on their negotiation list, entrenching Plante behind a number of talented goalies. Plante was approached by the Rangers in an effort to secure his rights, but Plante found himself on the Canadiens' negotiation list soon after. With the Leafs having a multitude of goaltenders ahead of Plante on their depth chart, they decided to abandon the claim on Plante, allowing the Canadiens to obtain his rights. With that, Jacques Plante found himself promoted to playing for the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League.

It wasn't long until Jacques Plante was called up to the Canadiens in place of the injured Bill Durnan and Gerry McNeil. Both men were succumbing to an injury that one doesn't normally see in goaltenders, but I'm not about to ruin Mr. Denault's work here. The injuries, however, would cause Durnan and McNeil to miss more and more time, and Plante's workload began to grow with the Canadiens. Perhaps more importantly, Plante showed that he wasn't about to miss the opportunity as he backstopped the Canadiens through the series against the Blackhawks in 1953. McNeil would return to the nets to help Montreal capture the Stanley Cup, but Jacques Plante showed that he was capable of standing in the Montreal net against any team.

Some of the more interesting things that we learn about Jacques Plante in Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey are that he loved to knit toques that he would wear on the ice in junior, he was notoriously frugal amongst his teammates, he was the first goaltending coach in NHL history, and that he was entirely devoted to goaltending. He was also a very independent man who wouldn't hold back when it came to defending what he believed in even if it meant bristling against management. Jacques Plante was, of course, the man who began wearing a mask despite Toe Blake's and Frank Selke's insistence that he should go bare-faced. His belief in the fiberglass mask were so strong that he bought and developed Fibrosport, a company that specialized in making goalie masks. While Terry Sawchuk was the second goaltender to adopt the mask full-time, do you know who was he second player in NHL history to wear a mask in a game? The answer is below.

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey also delves into his professional life after his days with the Canadiens. Plante was traded to the New York Rangers, but the team in New York was far inferior to what he had experienced with the Canadiens. After leaving the Rangers for retirement, Plante surfaced in St. Louis after Scotty Bowman had talked him into playing against the Russians in 1965. Bowman needed a goaltender with experience to play alongside Glenn Hall, and the two goaltending legends led St. Louis to two Stanley Cup Final appearances.

Plante's quirks led to him being made expendable again, and he was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1970. Plante worked with Bruce Gamble and, later, Bernie Parent to help the Leafs immensely. But he again changed addresses when the Boston Bruins acquired him in a trade in 1971 to help them for the playoffs. The acquisition of Plante didn't help as the Bruins were eliminated in the first round, but the Bruins had visions for Plante for the following season. Plante, however, decided to accept a head coaching job with the WHA's Quebec Nordiques, and his relationship with the Bruins' Harry Sinden went ice-cold in so much that his equipment that he used in Boston went missing when he asked for it back.

The experience with the Nordiques also went horribly as Quebec missed the playoffs again. While it was thought that Plante would be fired, he actually resigned his position with the Nordiques in order to become the goaltender with the Edmonton Oilers! Plante started out strong, but a freak injury while practicing with the Edmonton Oil Kings threw his season into disarray, and it all but ended his playing career.

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey is an excellent look at Jacques Plante and his incredible life. Mr. Denault has really done a superb job in collecting all sorts of data and information, and he presents this information in easy-to-read chapters. The book itself is 294 pages, but this book is essentially the only book one may ever need when searching for information on Jacques Plante. I can't stress how good this book is when it comes to chronicling Mr. Plante's life, and, because of this fact, Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

And if you're looking for the answer for the question above, the second man to wear a mask in an NHL game was the Boston Bruins' Don Simmons!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday 19 May 2012

Why Is Everyone Shocked?

It came as a surprise yesterday when I finally heard the news that Canada had been eliminated by the Slovaks at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championships. Canada had earned first-place status in their pool, and they looked like they were starting to gel as a team after having very little time to work on the finer points of any sort of chemistry on the ice. In drawing the Slovaks, however, one only had to be reminded of the Slovakian performance at the 2010 Winter Olympics when they shocked the world in upsetting the Russians in the preliminary round before upsetting Sweden in the playoff round. If anything, the talent assembled on the Slovak roster was very similar to what they had in Vancouver, and their preliminary round performance was very reminiscent of their Winter Olympic performance.

I had to view all the highlights on the internet thanks to ESPN giving zero coverage of the World Hockey Championships here in the USA, so my being a day late with this info is due to my having to search out all of the info online between doing all of the tourist things I've planned. No highlights, no chatter, and no recaps from the ESPN SportsCenter crews has made my hockey obsession wanting more. A lot more.

Anyway, the loss to the Slovaks on Friday should really show that Slovakian hockey is more of a sleeping dog than anything else. Once again, when the chips were down and they were in an elimination game, the Slovaks came out and played incredibly well.

In Vancouver, they only had to finish in the top-three in their pool. They finished third.
In Helsinki, they only had to finish in the top-four in their pool. They finished fourth.

Both finishes guaranteed them a shot at a medal, and Slovakia took that chance and turned it into something great. For Slovakia, a silver medal was just as good as the gold medal because no one expected them to be there outside of the their dressing room. While the players undoubtedly wanted the gold medal, a medal at the World Hockey Championships is a fantastic result when you consider the countries that didn't medal this year.

In Vancouver, we first caught a glimpse of Slovakia's unorthodox strategy in their round-robin game against Russia. While the Russians came in waves at the Slovakians, they simply sat back and waited for a break. Russia led 1-0 after two periods, and looked like they were poised to add to their lead as the third period opened. Instead, a goal by Marian Hossa pulled Slovakia even, and the two teams played through overtime very cautiously into the shootout. It was there that Slovakia stole the win in a game where they were outshot 37-33.

In order to move on after the round-robin, the Slovakians had to dispatch Norway in the qualification round to advance to the quarterfinals. It was there that we saw Slovakia play its efficient game by keying on powerplay chances and opposition turnovers, and converting these opportunities against Norway and Sweden.

Three powerplay goals by Slovakia against Norway paced them to a 3-0 lead, and Miroslav Satan's third-period goal game the Slovaks a 4-3 win. Against Sweden, two more powerplay goals by the Slovakians in the second period saw them lead 3-2 after 40 minutes, and close out the game with a 4-3 victory after Tomas Kopecky scored a third-period marker. If anything, the Slovaks are all about capitalizing on a chance regardless of how small the chance is.

Even against Canada in the semi-final, the Slovaks saw the door open just slightly, and they tried to kick it off the hinges. Two goals in the final ten minutes, plus some extremely tense moments as the Slovaks pressed, saw the Canadians nearly succumb to this same strategy two years ago. The Slovaks capitalized on the Canadians sitting back and protecting the lead, and capitalized on turnovers and a laisser-faire attitude by the Canadians. The upset almost happened two years ago, and yet people are "shocked" that the Slovaks beat Canada yesterday?

Again, the Slovaks played for the last goal against Canada. Canada led this game by a 3-2 score after 40 minutes, but the Slovaks just kept coming. All it took was a Ryan Getzlaf penalty for opportunity to knock for the Slovaks, and they answered the door with the Michal Handzus tip-in past Cam Ward seconds after Getzlaf was sent off. This is EXACTLY how the Slovaks beat Norway and Sweden two years ago - powerplay goals were aplenty for Slovakia - and they showed that they are playing the same "third period-centric" game they showed in Vancouver.

Still don't believe me? Slovakia beat the Czech Republic today by a 3-1 score. It was 1-1 after 40 minutes. If there is one team that is the greatest third period team in recent history, it is Slovakia by a wide margin. No team shows up more often or as efficiently in the third period as Slovakia. As long as they can skate with you through the opening 40 minutes and not find themselves down by more than three goals, the Slovaks can turn a deficit into a win in the last twenty minutes like no one's business.

So while the gold medal will go to one of Russia or Slovakia this year, the "shock" being experienced by people in Canada should not even be felt. We knew this is how Slovakia plays its game. We knew that they'll try to stretch out the first forty minutes before picking it up in the last period. We knew... and we responded as we always do: "we're Canada, and we rule in hockey".

You have to know your opponents, and we knew our opponents. We simply refused to study their methods in order to outplay them. That is why we, as a nation, lost to Slovakia. That is why we, as a nation, will not compete for gold yet again this year. That is why we, as a nation, need to start doing what every other nation does when they "Canada" on their schedule - know the opponent.

If Russia is smart tomorrow, they will press as hard as they can to get out to a three- or four-goal lead. Forecheck like the dickens, force Slovakia to make a lot of bad passes, and convert turnovers as often as possible. Once Russia is up by a handful of goals, continue to forecheck, but turn those bad passes into long possessions by passing the puck around. If Russia can get through 40 minutes with a three-goal lead, the pressure falls squarely on Slovakia, and it's difficult to put a three-spot on Russia in one period in any tournament.

Ad for Canada, let's start looking at the past so we stop making these same mistakes as we play in tournaments in the future. If you're shocked about anything, be shocked that we, as a hockey nation, do not respect our opponents enough to fear their abilities.

After all, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday 18 May 2012

One Express Hockey Year

Having enjoyed myself on my extended roadtrip thus far, HBIC wants to use today to look at some of the lesser known teams that the cities I'm visiting have called home. While the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the Original Six teams, Chicago is home to another professional team in the AHL's Chicago Wolves, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. But there was another professional league that called Chicago home for less than one year when the ECHL granted a franchise to Chicago - the Chicago Express. How did this team start? What happened during its existence? Where is it now? We'll answer all of these questions below.

While the Wolves and Blackhawks have certainly found a niche in the city of Chicago, there always was a less expensive option for fans. Whether it was the All-American Hockey League with the Chi-Town Shooters or the United States Hockey League with the Chicago Steel, there has always been a lower-tier team in the Chicago area for fans to see if the AHL and NHL were a little out of the price range. Thanks to Craig Drecktrah, a successful manufacturing engineer, the ECHL would join the two higher-tiered leagues in Chicago for the 2011-12 season!

Craig Drecktrah found a love for hockey after seeing a Milwaukee Admirals game during his formative years in the Wisconsin city. He fell in love with the minor-league game, but his career took over his life as he found success as an engineer. However, Drecktrah actually got his start as a hockey owner as a part-owner of the United Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs.

With local ownership, Drecktrah turned the IceHogs into the model franchise for the UHL as the team's popularity grew in the community. The team was highly profitable for Drecktrah, and the team was also very successful, culminating a 2006-07 Colonial Cup Championship in seven games over the Kalamazoo K-Wings! With the team enjoying its success and Drecktrah reaping the rewards, the city of Rockford decided to step up and purchase the IceHogs from Drecktrah with hopes of gaining an AHL franchise.

After Drecktrah sold the franchise to MetroCentre of Rockford, Drecktrah focused on remaining as an owner in the UHL when he purchased the Chicago Hounds franchise. The Hounds would play out of the 9400-seat Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, a western suburb of Chicago near Schaumburg. The agreement with the Sears Centre was anything but good. The Hounds found themselves subject to cancellations at any time of games, the lease rates negotiated were less than reasonable, and the ice conditions were abhorrent. In fact, the first Hounds game scheduled to be played was actually cancelled due to the ice conditions over an hour and a half after the game was scheduled to start! That's not how you win over fans by any means.

On June 6, 2007, the Hounds decided to stop operations after Drecktrah was unable to negotiate a reasonable lease with the Sears Centre. Again, the options made available by the Sears Centre were brutal. They wanted the Hounds to play all their home games on weekdays, and they wanted to jack up the price of the lease threefold! And with the cessation of operations, Craig Drecktrah walked away from the UHL as a viable league.

Drecktrah didn't disappear, though. In the summer of 2010, Drecktrah announced that he was bringing an ECHL franchise to the Chicago area. He would officially fold the UHL Chicago Hounds and focus on landing an ECHL team at the Sears Centre. At the ECHL's annual Board of Governors Meeting in June 2010, the league officially granted a franchise to Drecktrah on his second attempt. Drecktrah had applied one year earlier as well, but the ECHL was not yet ready to incorporate a Chicago-based team at that time as they looked to expand westward. With the suburb of Hoffman Estates fully behind the application to the ECHL and having recently taken ownership of the Sears Centre, the Chicago ECHL franchise was rolling!

With Drecktrah officially in the ECHL fold, he went to work on hiring competent and successful businesspeople to run his franchise. His first hiring was Wade Welsh as President and General Manager, formerly of the Kalamazoo K-Wings. Steve Martinson was hired to be the team’s first head coach and Director of Hockey Operations, formerly of the Rockford IceHogs. Drecktrah also hired Ray Kincaid as Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Operations, formerly of the Chicago Shamrox professional lacrosse team. Kincaid's experiences in dealing with the Sears Centre as the Shamrox's Director of Operations made him a good choice for arena-tenant discussions.

While it's hard to fathom that a successful team would have problems, it seemed the Express did. The Express played very good hockey and had some solid talent on their roster, but they lacked one key ingredient in their success: fans. The Express drew a league-low 2508 fans per game on average, and routinely found themselves playing in front of hundreds of fans instead of thousands. Without fan support of a team, the economics will catch up to the franchise very, very quickly.

However, the lack of fans in the stands didn't hurt the Express in the standings. They finished second in the North Division with a 34-26-8-4 record for 80 points, and missed the playoffs due to having less wins than the 80-point Reading Royals. Needless to say, the first season for the Express was a success on the ice despite missing the playoffs as the team showed it was going to be competitive despite nobody watching.

Individually, there were some standouts on the Express roster. Tyler Donati was the leading scoring with 14 goals and 47 assists in just 46 games - a fantastic total for the undrafted right-winger and former Elmira Jackal. Pierre-Luc Faubert, another former Jackal, finished second in scoring with 19 goals and 25 assists in 72 games. Maxime Gratchev, the 106th-overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Islanders, finished third in scoring with 15 goals and 27 assists in just 46 games. Goaltender Peter Mannino, who appeared with the Jets last season, was the busiest goaltender for the Express after playing in just 22 games. His record was 10-8-2-2 with a 3.15 GAA and a .899 save percentage. However, Rob Madore, the former University of Vermont goaltender, was the best goaltender of note for the Express at 8-3-1-0 with a 2.41 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Individually, there were some excellent showings for the Express.

Unfortunately, there was bad news looming on the horizon. On April 6, 2012, it was announced that the Chicago Express would cease operations after the season ended as it was suffering from lack of support and poor attendance. Again, the Express were the lowest-drawing team in the ECHL in a city that would certainly rank as one with the highest population, so it is disappointing that the Express couldn't make a go of it for more than one year.

The Chicago Express: a one-year team in the ECHL that almost saw them make the playoffs. While the attendance was poor, it seemed the franchise was set for future success. Sometimes, though, dreams require solid financial backing, and it appeared that the Chicago ECHL franchise wasn't willing to put up financial losses in exchange for on-ice success. Even when that success was only seen by a couple of hundred fans per night.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!