Saturday, 6 March 2021

Catching Up On A Saturday

Over the last couple of days, there has been a ton of little stories in the hocke world that have emerged that need some telling. Some have greater weight than others when one considers the overall arcs of these stories, but with The Hockey Show on Thursday and the SDHL Playoffs moving forward yesterday, I felt the need to pre-empt these smaller stories for those bigger stories. With that in mind, I can tackle all of these other stories today and bring everyone up to date on what's happening elsewhere in the hockey world. From losses to retirements to relocations to firings to suspensions, there seems to be more bad news than good news in these stories, but they need to be told nonetheless. Let's get into the news from the past week!

A Loss Felt By A Nation

The patriarch of he Gretzky family, Walter Gretzky, passed away on Thursday at the age of 82. His funeral was today with Wayne Gretzky giving the eulogy for his father. It's always sad when the father of a man you've watched and admired for so long and who was so present in his son's life move onto the next realm following his passing.

For me, I met Walter Gretzky once at a hockey tournament a few years back, and he was everything that the media has said about him: generous with his time, wanting to meet the kids who came to see him, always smiling, and never once tried to avoid the celebrity he earned by being Wayne's dad. He spoke softly, but his words carried meaning for all that had a chance to meet him that day and I'll forever cherish the quick words he had for me as I met him briefly when he said, "Son, you might be the oldest ten year-old here."

That comment still makes me chuckle as the smile and the twinkle in his eye as he said those words are fondly remembered. Rest in peace, Walter Gretzky. The hockey gods added another legend to their team on Thursday.

Recycling Another Coach

You likely heard that the Calgary Flames, fresh off handing the Ottawa Senators a 7-3 loss on Thursday, decided to dismiss Geoff Ward as head coach and bring in Darryl Sutter to replace him. Sutter, who is no stranger to Calgary, will resume the head coaching role he once had with the team from 2002 until 2006 that included the loss in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"The message is really clear — we're going to get this straightened out and get the most out of everybody," Sutter told reporters about his video call with the team on Friday. "And everybody's looking forward to it and excited about it."

Personally, I think this does little to move the needle for the Flames for this season. While the might make the playoffs, they hardly look like a team that will rise through the division past the likes of Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto en route to another Stanley Cup Final. That being said, there are players who could use a fire lit under them, and that's what Darryl Sutter's coaching style brings in this situation.

"He just wants the best out of you. He just wants you to compete hard and work hard," Milan Lucic told reporters on Friday. "The daily grind is hard with Darryl because he expects a lot out of you on a daily basis. But when you get the results and you're winning, it's worth it at the end. And that's what he's all about."

We'll see how long some of these players are willing to buy in to Darryl's style. I don't think his type of coaching is conducive for long-term success, but it could see Calgary's short-term fortunes change. Maybe that's enough for Darryl Sutter to weed out some of the players that aren't performing up to their contractual standards, but it could also mean that players tune him out faster than needed if winning doesn't become the norm in Calgary.

With names like Julien, Gallant, Boudreau, and Babcock on the unemployment hill, one has to wonder why Sutter came out of retirement for this specific opportunity and why the Flames' brass sensed he was the right guy compared to the four guys above. Whatever the reason, the final standings for this Flames club will show whether or not the players bought into what Darryl Sutter preached over the final thirty games of the season.

An Odd Relocation

I don't follow the league all that closely, but there was a rather shocking announcement made on Friday in the North American Hockey League that will see the Amarillo Bulls, playing in Amarillo, Texas, move north to Mason City, Iowa for the 2021-22 season. The reason this move is shocking is that the Bull organization is blaming this move on the city of Amarillo who apparently were unwilling to meet the Bulls' ask for a long-term arena commitment at reasonable rates.

"In order to operate a sustainable business," the statement read, "we sought from the City of Amarillo a long-term commitment with reasonable terms to let us play out of the Amarillo Civic Center and continue to manage the ice for community events and recreation. However, we were unable to secure a partnership with the city to keep the Bulls in Amarillo. Nonetheless, we thank the City for all it has done for Bulls hockey over the years."

While that seems like a reasonable explanation, there seems to be more beneath the surface in this move. The owners of the Bulls are Alberto Fernandez and Robert Sweeney who are partners in the sports operations firm know as F&S Management - Fernandez and Sweeney - who bought the North Iowa Bulls, a NA3HL team, in 2019 along with the Amarillo Bulls in the same transaction. Usually, sports owners try to keep all their purchases closes to each other than the distance between Mason City, Iowa and Amarillo, Texas. That's a 900-mile gap as the crow flies.

Mason City, Iowa, for what it's worth, just finished building a brand-new multi-purpose arena which opened this year called the Mason City Arena. The owners of that arena? None other than F&S Management, better known as Alberto Fernandez and Robert Sweeney. Being that they can negotiate with themselves for a pretty sweet deal on that arena, moving the Amarillo Bulls seemed inevitable unless the city of Amarillo acquiesced to their every demand. Clearly, they did not.

The other factor in this is that the arena in Mason City that F&S Management own has run up $100,000 in debt due to the costs of running an empty arena. How do you erase those deficits? Hold more events like more hockey games.

But what about the NA3HL Bulls that played there, you ask? According to Zarren Egesdal of, "The future of the NA3HL franchise is still uncertain. Relocation is possible, but to where is still unknown." Or maybe they'll simple do what San Jose and Manitoba of the AHL do and play in the same building as the higher-level team to which they're attached.

Whatever happens in northern Iowa, there seems to have been a lot of bull-poop negotiating going on so that the F&S Management can cut costs in a pandemic year of slowdowns. And those decisions cost Amarillo, Texas their successful NAHL team.

Another Big Loss

Thursday saw the loss of another national hero, albeit one who gets less recognition than Mr. Gretzky. Mark Pavelich, who starred with the 1980 Team USA Olympic Team and was part of the Miracle on Ice year, passed away at the age of 63. He was found dead in a Minnesota residential treatment center for mental illness.

It had been known that Pavelich was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder which may have caused him to assault his neighbour, resulting in him being institutionalized. It's suspected that he may have CTE from the number of concussions he suffered throughout his NCAA, NHL, and international hockey playing days, but medical results are pending following his passing.

Pavelich is best remember for earning an assist on Mike Eruzione's winning goal to upset of the heavily-favoured Soviet Union in their medal-round game before joining the New York Rangers for five seasons before playing parts of seasons with the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. Pavelich recorded 137 goals and 192 assists in 355 NHL contests. His 76 points in 1981-82 set the New York Rangers' franchise record for rookie scoring.

Rest in peace, Mark. You were a phenomenal hockey player who always played bigger than you're 5'8" stature. The pond in the sky is waiting for a talent like yours. May you find peace skating with the many legends there.

A Good Loss?

Wahsington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was suspended seven games tonight for his rather unnecessary check on Brandon Carlo in Washington's game against the Boston Bruins last night. Wilson will forfeit $311,781.61 under the CBA rules for his two-week break from action.

At some point, there has to be someone who sits this guy down and explains that throwing high bodychecks that result in opponents' heads being smashed against the glass is simply not how hockey is played in today's day and age. The NHL rules that Carlo was in a defenseless position when Wilson threw the check, and it was pretty clear that Wilson had every opportunity to go shoulder-on-shoulder if he was looking to maximize his check. Instead, he threw a high hit that saw Carlo's head take the worst of it. The NHL made that point clear in its video, stating, "What separates this hit from others is the direct and significant contact to a defenseless player's face and head, causing a violent impact with the glass."

It should be noted Rule 41 for boarding, states "any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards" and "[t]he onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact" so you can spare me any rhetoric on how this was a clean check. The NHL actually interpreted this hit correctly in that Carlo's head took the worst of it BECAUSE of Carlo's vulnerable position and the result of the check injuring Carlo. By all accounts, this falls squarely and accurately inside Rule 41, and the NHL got the suspension correct.

I sense there will be an appeal, but, if there is, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman should make it longer so that the arbitrator's hearing can only reduce it to the initial seven games. Or, if Tom Wilson is smart, he won't appeal this one at all as the NHL gets a little safer for two weeks while he watches from home.


A big shout-out goes out to former Eastman Selects netminder Raygan Kirk who pitched the 1-0 shutout win over Syracuse University tonight to backstop the Robert Morris Colonials women's hockey program to the College Hockey America Championship! Kirk stopped all 36 shots she faced for the blanking of Syracuse as former Toronto Junior Aeros defender Gillian Thompson scored the lone goal - her only goal this season! - at 7:27 of the first period!

Kirk finished this season 7-2-1 with a 1.68 GAA and a .945 save percentage with three shutouts including tonight's massive blank sheet. It was her first game in nearly a month with her last action coming in a 5-3 win at RIT on February 17, 2021. Teammate Arielle DeSmet had earned the 3-2 semifinal win over Mercyhurst on Friday night while Molly Singewald picked up the 4-0 quarterfinal win on Thursday evening over RIT. This three-headed goaltending monster the Colonials boast should make things interesting as they approach the NCAA Championship!

Congratulations to Raygan Kirk on the biggest win of her university career! Best of luck in the NCAA Championship as Manitoba will be cheering from afar for you!

Bubble Secrets

I made mention of this on Twitter, but, during the TSN broadcast of the Mike McEwen-Brad Jacobs tilt at the Brier where McEwen's Wild Card team played Northern Ontario, there was mention of how the Jacobs team had a Zoom call with Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas about what to expect in the bubble situation that the Brier teams were in prior to the event in Calgary.

I wouldn't have thought that these guys needed any advice on how to cure hotel boredom, but apparently they went to Dubas with that question. When pressed by TSN as to what was discussed, Jacobs said that he couldn't reveal those details.

I find it hilarious that grown men from different sports are discussing how to cure hotel boredom on video calls. This pandemic has made everything surreal.


In the final piece of news tonight, the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques went back to the future by honouring their past with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in town by donning their Hull Olympiques jerseys! The Olympiques played as the Hull Olympiques from 1976 until 2003 when the city of Hull was incorporated into Gatineau, Quebec, and they share the Ottawa hockey market with the 67s in the OHL with the Ottawa River separating the two teams and leagues. Tonight, the tam wore the same jerseys as players such as Luc Robitaille, Jeremy Roenick, Jose Theodore, and Stephane Richer as they defeated the Huskies by a 7-3 score.

What makes this jersey more interesting is that it was the basis for the rebranding of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1990s under Bruce McNall. Reported on Uni-Watch and here on HBIC back in 2012, it was Luc Robitaille who had the most influence on the Kings going silver-and-black, similar to the Hull Olympiques for whom he played.

"Lou probably had more influence on me than anyone else, but then again he should," McNall recalled. "At that time he was our best player and had won the Calder Trophy."

So not only are these throwbacks worn by the Olympiques tonight a throwback to their own history, but they're a historical throwback in an NHL team's history as well. How can you not like hockey history when see stuff like this?

There's a quick rundown of all the major stories from the last couple of days in the hockey world. It should be noted that if I continue on my current one-article-per-day posting effort, I'll hit 5000 posts sometime next month. I haven't done the exact math yet, but the ballpark is sometime around mid-April.

How does one celebrate 5000 posts? I have no idea, but it seems like a pretty impressive number to hit considering the age of this blog. On that note, folks, thanks a million for reading. I appreciate every click and comment, and I hope my articles have been insightful, thought-provoking, intelligent, and combinations of those things at times! If nothing else, I hope you find this blog entertaining enough to read, so thanks for stopping by as often as you do!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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