Monday, 31 May 2021

Bring On Les Canadiens!

I'm not here to gloat or dance on the graves of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Montreal Canadiens completed the series comeback tonight with a 3-1 victory in Game Seven to eliminate the Leafs in seven games. The Montreal Canadiens will advance to the second round to play the Winnipeg Jets, and that series begins on Wednesday in the Manitoba capital. To say this second-round matchup is unexpected would be accurate if not underselling just how unexpected, but the North Division will be won by either the bleu-blanc-et-rouge or by the double-blue-and-white.

While social media is running rampant with statistics about the Maple Leafs and their lack of playoff success, it should be noted that Carey Price was simply as good as he's ever been over the last three games of this series. When one thinks of clutch Carey Price moments, this series should be lumped into that category based on some of the big saves he made to help the Canadiens advance. One has to think that had it been Jake Allen and not Carey Price in goal for the Canadiens, we likely wouldn't be talking about them advancing.

With the victory over the Maple Leafs tonight, Montreal and Winnipeg will grapple to see who gets the privilege of facing the winner of the Colorado-Vegas series that sees the Avalanche lead 1-0. Because Winnipeg finished 14th-overall and Montreal finished 18th-overall, they're the lowest-ranked teams by regular season records, so they'll play the top team remaining out of the final four teams, and Colorado won the President's Trophy with 82 points and by winning the season series over the Vegas Golden Knights who finished with 82 points.

Depending on which team advances from the Colorado-Vegas series and assuming cross-border travel is still prohibited, either the Jets or Canadiens would likely move into the arena of the team that lost the Colorado-Vegas series. However, that's putting the cart way ahead of the horse, so let's look at what to expect from Winnipeg and Montreal in this series to determine the North Division champions!

As mentioned above, this series features two former Vezina Trophy winners going save-for-save as Carey Price and Connor Hellebuyck look to back their teams to victory. I'm not going to fall into any sort of recency bias here because Carey Price just won three-straight games to eliminate the 2021 Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner while Connor Hellebuyck dismissed the 2021 Art Ross Trophy winner in four-straight games. Without a shadow of a doubt, goaltending will play a massive factor in this series, and I have to say this is a WASH based on the play of both netminders.

Team defence is a big focal point for both squads, and there's no denying that Winnipeg's defence was up to the task against McDavid, Draisaitl, and the Oilers. We shouldn't discount, however, the Montreal Canadiens who, admittedly, took some time in figuring out how to play against the Leafs, but eventually got it down to a science when it came to defending the slot and front of the net. Both teams showed real commitment to defence, but I like the how the Jets shut down both McDavid and Draisaitl. Yes, Montreal did slow down Matthews and Marner, but the slightest of edges in defensive play has to go to the JETS in this series.

Team offence seems like it would be pretty heavily biased towards the Jets, but I think there's a fallacy if we let it sink in. Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki are the usual suspects at the top of the points leaderboard for the Canadiens, but Montreal has 14 players with a point in these playoffs to date, and they have five players with two-or-more goals. The Jets, meanwhile, have 16 players with a point and they four players with two goals, so both squads have shown scoring depth needed to win playoff series. I hate to say this, but team defence and goaltending likely will determine the winner in this series, so I'm giving the offences a WASH based solely on what we've seen so far.

The special teams units for both teams have had their ups and downs in the opening series, but Winnipeg made good on 30.0% of their power-play opportunities (3/10) against Edmonton to put them squarely ahead of the efficiency shown by Montreal's 15.8% efficiency (3/19) against Toronto. Montreal did start to show some life on the power-play in the final few games, though, so they'll need to carry that into Winnipeg if they hope to beat the Jets. On the other side of the coin, Montreal was marginally better with an 87.0% penalty kill efficiency compared to Winnipeg's 81.8% efficiency, but it should be noted that Montreal did scored a shorthanded goal and led the league over the season. That counts for something here, so I'm giving the CANADIENS a slight edge in the special teams based on recent play.

If you're adding everything up, this seems like a pretty even series by my count, but here's the "x-factor" for me: rest or rust. The Canadiens will come into Winnipeg on one day's rest before playing four games in six nights again. Assuming that Carey Price starts all four of those games, Price's save pecentages in the playoffs on back-to-back nights is .889 while getting one day's rest sees his percentage jump to .930. That's not bad at all when one considers he just went through seven games of gruelling hockey.

Hellebuyck, who comes in with more than four days rest to start this series, posts a save percentage of .970 after that period of time while his one-day rest percentage is .953 and his back-to-back percentage is .925. If we're mapping this out based on save percentages, Game One sees Hellebuyck at .970 to Price's .930, Games Two and Three see Hellebuyck with a .953 save percentage to Price's .930, and Game Four is the second half of the back-to-back which has Hellebuyck sporting a .925 save percentage to Price's .889.

Unless Connor Hellebuyck is extremely rusty, the x-factor favours his performance for the JETS over a possibly tiring performance from Price. That doesn't mean the Jets will sweep based on those numbers, but you have to think that Connor Hellebuyck will be at his best when his body has had time to recover while Price played longer.

Will I be right? No one is certain until they play the games. What I am going to do, though, is predict that the Jets will prevail in six games over the Montreal Canadiens as the fatigue factor catches up with the Canadiens, especially in Games Four and Five in that back half of the back to back and then travelling back to Winnipeg for the fifth game.

This series starts on Wednesday with the North Division title on the line!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Road Trip This Season

I have to admit that some of my best memories from my amateur broadcasting career have come from when we've followed the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team on the road. Our trip to London, Ontario to witness and call the women winning the school's first U SPORTS National Championship in school history was pretty epic, and the trip we took to Charlottetown, PEI the following year was just as fun despite falling short in their quest for a second championship banner. Needless to say, there have been some fond memories made in following the team in our coverage of the seasons.

With Canada West having announced that the season will only be twenty games long for each of the nine teams this year, it means we'll only have ten weeks of coverage on UMFM and/or the UMFM Second Stream. Because each team plays half their season at home, that means you only get ten home games of coverage as well.

In any normal 28-game season, we'd offer up fourteen games of coverage with each of the teams visiting Manitoba once and vice versa, but that's not happening this season based on math alone. However, because I have always put the coverage of these student-athletes far ahead of my own personal wants or needs, I think we're going to have a 14-game broadcast schedule this year.

If and when Canada West announces the 2021-22 hockey schedule, we already know that Manitoba will play two additional games against both the Regina Cougars and the Saskatchewan Huskies in order to make up the four games needed to bring the schedule to a round number of twenty games. That means there will be two games at Wayne Fleming Arena for each of those teams and Manitoba will visit those cities for two more games.

Saddle up, folks, because this UMFM chatterbox is headed west to Saskatchewan to call four additional games!

Ok, let me be clear: none of this has been cleared by UMFM yet, and I am simply putting a few feelers out there to see if this is something Bisons fans want to hear. Because the host schools get the webcast rights, it would only be via a streaming radio option that we can broadcast this, so don't expect any sort of streaming video to happen either. This is strictly and solely a streaming radio option if we can make everything work.

This also might be a solo broadcast depending on the schedule of others such as Kyleigh Palmer and Jason Pchajek who have done Bisons women's hockey broadcasts with me in the past. I've done a few solo games at the Female World Sport School Challenge, and it's not as hard as it may seem as long as I'm on top of everything. I'd love to have a second person on the broadcasts for a myriad of reasons, but we'll see how that goes as well.

All in all, I'm looking at two treks out to Saskatchewan, possibly in the dead of winter, to call four more games because I believe these women deserve the coverage. On the heels of a success Secret Dream Gap Tour stop in Calgary and seeing how much those women missed the game, I can only imagine how badly the nine teams of Canada West are missing the game and the competition.

In saying this, I await the Canada West schedule to be released so I can book my adventures into Saskatchewan where I'll visit Merlis Belsher Place and the Cooperators Centre if everything gets green-lit. The women deserve the coverage after having seen a full season of hockey missed, so I'm gonna make the extra effort to see this through.

Get out to your local rink and support the highest level of continuous women's hockey that Canada has to offer! See you at the rink!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Foreshadowing 101

I'm not here to throw shade on the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Montreal's win tonight has the North Division series headed back to Toronto tied at 3-3 following Jesperi Kotkaniemi's overtime heroics. It was Sportsnet who decided to post the statistics above about Maple Leafs, so don't get angry at me. I'm just the messenger.

They have one final chance to clinch the series against the Canadiens on Monday, but it would seem that the Leafs are letting past shortfalls creep into their minds subconsciously. Whether it be Mitch Marner's lack of goals or the shutdown blanket that's been thrown over Matthews or the cobbled-together second line of Foligno, Nylander, and Galchenyuk not finding any chemistry yet, fans of the Maple Leafs have to be a wee bit worried this 0-7 record in closeout games could turn into 0-8 by the time Monday evening is finished.

For those that need a history lesson,
  • 2020: Toronto lost 3-2 to Columbus after forcing a Game Five.
  • 2019: Toronto lost 4-3 to Boston after leading 3-2 in the series.
  • 2018: Toronto lost 4-3 to Boston after forcing a Game Seven.
  • 2017: Toronto lost 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.
  • 2016: Toronto missed the playoffs.
  • 2015: Toronto missed the playoffs.
  • 2014: Toronto missed the playoffs.
  • 2013: Toronto lost 4-3 to Boston after forcing a Game Seven.
  • 2012: Toronto missed the playoffs.
  • 2011: Toronto missed the playoffs.
That's a lot of missed opportunities in the last decade of hockey for the Maple Leafs. When you consider the talent they've had over that period of time and were unable to win a single playoff series, it's not the kind of record that one wants when heading into the fifth deciding game of a series in the last ten years.

Montreal's history should also be considered here.
  • 2020: Montreal defeated Pittsburgh 3-1 before losing to Philadelphia 4-2.
  • 2019: Montreal missed the playoffs.
  • 2018: Montreal missed the playoffs.
  • 2017: Montreal lost 4-2 to the New York Rangers.
  • 2016: Montreal missed the playoffs.
  • 2015: Montreal defeated Ottawa 4-2 before losing to Tampa Bay 4-2.
  • 2014: Montreal defeated Tampa Bay 4-0 and defeated Boston 4-3 after trailing 3-2 in the series before falling to the New York Rangers in the Conference Final.
  • 2013: Montreal lost 4-1 to Ottawa.
  • 2012: Montreal missed the playoffs.
  • 2011: Montreal lost 4-3 to Boston after forcing a Game Seven.
If you're keeping count at home, that's four playoff series wins for the Canadiens over the same decade of play. While there has been some disappointment in La Belle Province over Carey Price's career not having a Stanley Cup, it seems pretty clear that the Canadiens have had more playoff success than the bleu-et-blanc.

Based on these trends and the statistics shown aboe by Sportsnet, it would seem that the deck is stacked against the Maple Leafs heading into Monday's Game Seven against the Canadiens. As we all know, though, they still have to play the game, and this would be the best time for the Maple Leafs to snap that ugly trend they've put up over the last decade.

Then again, I'm sure this guy will factor into Game Seven's outcome.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 28 May 2021

An Utter Embarrassment

The news of Robert Morris University shutting down its men's and women's hockey programs is still bouncing around in my head today as I sit here trying to process how the university could come to such a decision. Had it been about finances or lack of success over a prolonged period of time in cost-analysis, I'd understand it more. I still would have a serious problem with the decision, but that would be more palatable considering the past year of uncertainty thanks to the pandemic. But in their own statement, RMU admits that finances were never a problem in terms of what the teams did or generated, but it was an issue with not wanting to upgrade the current rink or build a rink for the teams that ultimately got them the axe.

Having seen this happen to three programs I followed closely in the University of North Dakota women's hockey program and the University of Lethbridge's men's and women's hockey programs, I will admit that I am writing this article from a place of bias. I've let the anger and disbelief subside a little, but accountability matters here and there are people who need to be held accountable.

Before we get into accountability, though, let's lay the groundwork.

Robert Morris University released this linked statement explaining their decision. There's a lot of well-crafted public relations crap in that statement, but the university does reveal its hand eventually in the Frequently Asked Questions section where they state,
"The decision to discontinue the men's and women's ice hockey programs was made based on an analysis which included scholarships and operating costs, and the necessary investments to maintain and improve the current facility. The university also wanted to align our athletic offerings more closely with other similar nationally-ranked universities of our size. "
Let me highlight the key area we need to focus on as the school tries to bury this with a lot of professionally-sounding garbage - "the necessary investments to maintain and improve the current facility". That seems like an odd statement to make about a couple of success hockey programs who play in a new facility, but more on that in a second.

The statement goes on to declare,
"RMU has no plans to discontinue other Division I sports. We remain committed to sponsoring a competitive Division I athletics program, and we continue to field 15 D1 sports."
They also add,
"COVID-19 certainly had a negative impact on university finances, similar to what many other colleges and universities experienced, but it was not the primary factor influencing our decision."
In breaking this down, finances were not the primary factor in discontinuing the hockey programs by RMU's own admission, and they have no plans to discontinue any other NCAA Division-I sports which includes the costly-but-mostly-unsuccessful football program that plays in the NCAA D1 Football Championship Subdivision which is not really Division-I football despite the name making it sound like it is. It's more like Division-IA, a lower standard than the true Division-I football programs across the US.

That leads us back to the first quoted paragraph above where the facilities seem to be the problem. For those that aren't aware, the UPMC Events Center, where the Colonials host a vast number of events, broke ground on construction in 2017 and was completed and opened on May 10, 2019. The 4000-seat venue plays host to both the Colonials basketball and volleyball, but it also serves as a smaller venue for events and concerts as musicians like The Doobie Brothers, Sara Bareilles, and Bob Dylan all have spent an evening there.

Hockey? It doesn't play there. Despite all of the shared facilities we see across North America where hockey and court sports co-exist, the RMU Colonials men's and women's hockey teams play out of the RMU Island Sports Center which is located nine miles from downtown Pittsburgh on the western tip of Neville Island, but is located 12 miles away from the RMU campus by car.

Having a venue dedicated to hockey isn't a bad thing, mind you, but it appears that hockey was never going to have a place on-campus to play based on a report by Matt Gajtka at Pittsburgh Hockey Digest. He writes,
"You know that sparkling new arena on RMU's campus? The UPMC Events Center? The fact that hockey wasn’t part of the plans for that facility indicated a clear pecking order in Moon Township.

"Basketball — specifically the men's team — was always going to come first with Howard and King, despite being an obvious No. 3 behind Pitt and Duquesne in a city where basketball is mainly a side dish on a diverse sports menu."
RMU Island Sports Center was built in 1998, but RMU moved in starting in 2004 so they had no input in on the design or building of the 1200-seat arena located there. As Gatjka wrote, "It was suitable as a home base for the hockey teams from their twin births in 2004 and '05, but they had long outgrown what is best described as a community rink." Based on that assessment, it seems that they required an upgraded facility or a new facility at some point in the future in order to continue to be an attractive program to future hockey players.

There's the crux of this entire debacle: these programs were discontinued because the cost of building a new arena was simply a cost that RMU wasn't willing to incur at any point in their future. There was no immediate need to upgrade this year or the next year, mind you, but it was an upcoming idealism that finding a more modern rink at some point in the future would be best for the long-term success of the RMU hockey programs.

Further to this point, the question needs to be asked what RMU is spending its money on after selling naming rights on the arena since 2007. In that time, Clearview Credit Union (2007-12), 84 Lumber (2012-17), and Clearview again (2020-present) have held the naming rights on the arena for undisclosed sums of money, so where is that money being spent if not being re-invested into the RMU Island Sports Center? Why weren't these funds earmarked for facility upgrades or improvements at that facility?

I shouldn't be, but I am shocked that Robert Morris University has seemingly gotten away with murder if you count the death of two hockey programs here, but do you know what the easiest way is to get out of paying for a new arena? Cancel hockey. Pretty easy to solve that problem, right?

The thing that I don't understand is that if the RMU Island Sports Center wasn't meeting the needs for the team, we're talking about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, not the middle of some desert. There are hockey rinks all over Pittsburgh that may have been more suitable for RMU's needs as a hockey program, but that option wasn't even on the table. The only option available, it seems, was to cut the program before the calls for an improved facility became louder and moved to the forefront of the public's eye.

In cutting the programs, RMU eliminated the best marketing tool it had when it came to being on the national stage. Personally, had it not been for their women's hockey program, Robert Morris University wouldn't even exist to me. I can't name one student from any of the other ballyhooed 15 D1 sports RMU boasts who has gone on to play on a professional or international stage anywhere, yet I can name Brianne McLaughlin and Rebecca Vint off the top of my head who have come out of the women's program and played professionally while McLaughlin went to both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics as a member of Team USA.

But go ahead, RMU. Go ahead and cut the women's program who gave eventual NCAA champion Northeastern everything it could handle in their quarterfinal match at the NCAA National Championship this past year after winning another CHA Championship with a 17-1 record. Go ahead and cut a women's program that went to the National Championship twice in five years. Go ahead and cut a men's program who put RMU on the map locally with their annual Three Rivers Classic tournament and who hosted the Frozen Four tournament twice. No big deal, right?

These programs gave RMU free marketing thanks to their dedication to the sport and successes seen in it, and now that's gone with one extremely short-sighted decision because the cost of upgrading an aging facility at some point in the future was something RMU didn't want to address. And while some will say, "Teebz, it's just 55 students and seven staff members," I'll be quick to point out that it's a ton of hockey alumni and supporters who just got cut from the school as well, some of whom likely have made financial and personal contributions to the school over time. As former player Michaela Boyle wrote on Colonial Sports Network today, "In the blink of an eye, all our hard work was ripped away from us. Not only from the current players in the program but 15 years worth of dedication from players who left Robert Morris better than it was before they came."

Is this amount of negative press, anger, sadness, and despair worth it, RMU? All because you weren't willing to examine future plans to make the arena better?

As it stands, rather than being a mid-sized school with exceptional hockey programs that give the best teams in the nation runs for their money, RMU has now sunk down to a level of being a middling school with rather unspectacular athletics programs that compete, but never really achieve any sort of greatness on a national scale. Rather than being remembered for the successes seen by the hockey programs, RMU will now be remembered as that school that cut its highly-successful hockey programs rather than celebrating them. That's an astounding legacy that RMU is trying to write, but they're in the midst of authoring that calamity right now.

For all the good that the hockey programs have done for Robert Morris University, my heart goes out to the 55 players and seven staff members, the numerous support staff, the countless students, and every single media member who worked with and supported these hockey programs. You absolutely deserved a fate better than the cards that were dealt to you by a cowardly administration from a school who never deserved your efforts. My hope is that there are hockey programs still out there needing a player or two, and that you find homes. For the coaches, you certainly earned a shot at another institution through your hard work and successes over 15 years, so here's hoping those come to you.

Robert Morris University might be the first university to ever screw over 55 students because they didn't want to fund an arena, but they won't be the last university to screw over students. As these program cuts seemingly become more and more common, the one constant in all of this is that there are now less places for players to pursue both an education and play high-level hockey simultaneously which makes me question the school's dedication to offering the best place to learn as well as the empty promises of inclusion after it cut 55 students adrift.

On a more macro level, how does Robert Morris University now attract top-level athletes to come to their school if a decision to not fund arena upgrades can spell the end of two Division-I hockey programs? How many athletes are going to look at RMU and think, "Yeah, they're dedicated to helping me achieve my goals" after watching 55 hockey-playing students being told, "You're not really worth the investment"?

This world makes less and less sense each day that passes, and my cynicism is rising when decisions like this are made without consultation or input from those that are affected. We see public funds being used all over the place to fund the construction of arenas and stadiums for millionaires and billionaires, but we see RMU administrators scoff at the idea of investing in students - the very thing they're supposed to be doing - and we're willing to let that slide without a second thought?

This entire debacle was a cowardly act executed by a team of short-sighted morons who think they're smarter than everyone else, and they need to be held accountable for these actions because 55 students are now stuck in limbo both academically and athletically. If that means calling out the RMU Board of Trustees - who came to this decision at an "annual retreat" no less; how much do those cost the school? - or RMU President Chris Howard or RMU Vice President and Director of Athletics Chris King for not only allowing this to happen but participating in the ultimate demise of the programs, they need to be held accountable for this decision.

Of course, these people sit upon their false thrones like they rule the kingdom that RMU has assembled and avoid answering any and all questions that relate to any sort of accountability because that's how cowards act - they hide from the truth, they avoid responsibility for the mess they caused, and they hope and pray that the mess goes away quickly. They'll issue empty statements of remorse and regret, but none of it rings true since they're not even willing to take suggestions on how this could have been avoided.

In short, these 55 students, for all they've done and all they could have accomplished in their chosen fields of study, don't matter to the greater dream of Robert Morris University being "amongst the most agile and professionally focused schools in the nation". Who knows what the hell that looks like since those are just words, not specific benchmarks.
Thanks for possibly crippling and/or destroying the future for 55 students, Robert Morris University. You sacrificed some really good people and a really good story of "the little university that could" all in the name of a few catchwords and marketing phrases because you seriously couldn't come up with a way to improve an arena and sports facility in the future.

That's helluvan an administration team you have there, RMU, who have shown a knack in having excellent problem-solving skills! The good news? At least we know I would have passed Sarcasm 101 at your joke of a school.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Hockey Show - Episode 453

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, returns to the UMFM airwaves tonight at our standard time with our standard hour-long examination of the game as Teebz and Jenna and sort through a pile of stories from the hockey world. From the highs of winning in the playoffs to the extreme lows of having hockey programs cancelled, this episode is a glass case of emotions with some of the stories the hosts cover tonight.

As stated, the emotions come out as Teebz and Jenna get together to chat about the Jets and sweeping the Oilers, the fallout from the sweep for the Oilers regarding player decisions, the racism that Ethan Bear faced from cowardly people, Wayne Gretzky leaving the Oilers for a new job, the crazy accusations that Canadian fans have thrown at the IIHF and Team Canada over the lack of success at the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship, a new arena finally opening in a new hockey city, SC Bern hiring a new general manager who has NHL "experience", and we close out the show with a lot of anger and frustration surrounding the Robert Morris University Colonials hockey programs. It's a show with some great highs and some very low lows, so make sure you tune in on one of 101.5 FM, Channel 718 on MTS TV, or via UMFM.com at 5:30pm CT!

Where's the best place can you hear tonight's show if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, so if you want to stream the show I'd recommend Radio Garden to do that as it works nicely with Safari. If you're more of an app person, we recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or Google Play Store. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Jenna and Teebz talk about the sweep, the upcoming decisions, the cowardice of fans, the new job, the craziness of fans, the new rink, the new GM, the rather weak reason to end hockey programs, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: May 27, 2021: Episode 453

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Going The Distance

After tonight's thrilling 3-0 win by the Minnesota Wild on home ice against the Vegas Golden Knights, it appears we'll have at least one series that goes the distance in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I have to admit that it's hard not to like how this series is being played as it's physical, mistakes are being turned into goals, and both Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot seem capable of stopping anything thrown their way. In short, this series has gotten better as it has gone on!

Minnesota has shutout Vegas twice in this six-game set thus far, and it's pretty clear that Vegas is struggling to score goals with nine of their 14 total playoff goals coming in Games Three and Four in Minnesota. While the Golden Knights do have a pile of talent that can still score, it's fairly evident that there's a hole in the lineup that needs to be filled by injured leading goal scorer Max Pacioretty.

Pacioretty has been out of the lineup since May 1, and has yet to practice with the Golden Knights in a full practice. If he's going to return on Friday to help the Golden Knights in their Stanley Cup quest, he might need whatever panacea it was that allowed Nikita Kucherov to come back and play hockey like he hadn't missed a beat after being out for the entire season.

All jokes aside, getting a 24-goal scorer back in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Golden Knights as they've only scored 14 goals in six games with nine of those goals coming in Games Three and Four while Games One and Six saw them end the night with a zero on their side of the ledger. While the Wild and Cam Talbot have been excellent in keeping the Golden Knights at bay, injecting a player with Pacioretty's talent in finding the back of the net into the lineup can't hurt.

As it stands, Pacioretty will be a "game-time decision" as Minnesota and Vegas get set for Friday's tilt in Sin City.

On the other side? A wildly different Minnesota team (see what I did there?) than what you may remember under the likes of Jacques Lemaire and Bruce Boudreau. The Wild play fast, exciting hockey that sometimes borders on chaotic based on what happens in their zone, but they've been opportunistic when it comes to capitalizing on mistakes and they're forcing mistakes with a reckless abandon on the forecheck.

If there are similarities to Minnesota Wild teams of the past, the current iteration is still extremely stingy in the defensive zone when it comes to allowing chances and shots to reach the net, and Cam Talbot's having his best season statistically as a result since his 2014-15 campaign with the New York Rangers. With the Wild dedicated to this defensive play, it seems not much has changed, but that's where the similarities end.

They have a legitimate superstar scorer in Karill Kaprizov whose playmaking and creativity is matched by his ability to score goals. They have crafty veterans like Mats Zuccarello, Zach Parise, and Marcus Foligno chipping in points. They have a crop of younger players in Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Nick Bjugstad who love to mix things up physically while terrorizing goalies. And they have an exceptionally underrated defensive corps that has found both its legs and its physical play with the likes of Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Ian Cole, Jonas Brodin, and Jared Spurgeon anchoring the blue line.

The end result of these two teams clashing in the first round is that we'll need a seventh game to decide who advances to square off the awaiting Colorado Avalanche in the second round. Minnesota comes into the deciding game with some significant momentum after outscoring Vegas 7-2 in those two contests and having the road team in this series win four of six games to date. Vegas, on the other hand, rallied back with a 3-1 win following the Game One shutout they suffered on home ice, so they're looking to replicate that result on home ice in Game Seven.

Friday's contest between these two should be a dandy, and one of the two teams will live to play another day in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If that's not motivation enough for these two teams, I'm not sure what is!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

A Rather Slow Day

The bottomless pot of coffee was something I used to appreciate while going to university, but today was a day where I needed it badly. After last night's thrilling triple-overtime victory by the Winnipeg Jets to sweep the Edmonton Oilers out of the playoffs, I was a little sluggish for most of the day and certainly into the afternoon while working. Seeing the Jets sweep the Oilers last night was an exorcism of sorts - the erasure of repeated crushing defeats that fans of Jets v1.0 know all too well - so count me in one of those fans who went to bed around 2am CT very happy.

If there's one thing I know that we, as Jets fans, should do after a big series win, it's that we need to stay humble. Winning one round of playoff hockey against the Edmonton Oilers is something that's fantastic, but it will mean nothing if the Jets fold like a cheap tent in the wind in the second round against either Toronto or Montreal. Enjoy the victory, Jets fans, but tip your hats to the Oilers because had any of those overtime games gone the other way, we'd still be in a series and heading back to Edmonton.

To the Oilers, thank you for an entertaining series in which you all busted your collective tails in an effort to advance. Overtime games are a fickle beast, and it would have taken one bounce, one broken stick, one knucklepuck in any of Games Two, Three, or Four that could have swung this series in your favour. I'm taking nothing away from your efforts because just as the Jets won the series, they could also be down 3-1.

This isn't going to be a long-winded entry by any means as I'm heading to bed shortly after a solid nap following dinner tonight, but I need to comment on one thing that was seen on social media because this blog will not stand for it.

There were some "fans" - I use that term very loosely - who believed that going to Ethan Bear's social media accounts and spewing vile, racist comments towards the Indigenous hockey player is acceptable behaviour. I'm not here to shame those that did because they accomplished that on their own, but I am here to say that if any of that crap ever reaches this blog on any story posted here there will be shame handed out in large quantities.

Ethan Bear is a very good defenceman who made a mistake on a turnover. There have been countless other mistakes made in hockey in the entire time that the game has been played, and there will be more made. Ever heard of Steve Smith, Oilers fans? Of course, we all recall that mistake in a time where social media meant "meet you at the game". That mistake cost the Oilers a shot at stringing together five Stanley Cup celebrations, so that was a big one. For the more recent fans, there was Ty Conklin against the Hurricanes in 2006 in the Stanley Cup Final, so I need to be clear here in saying that the Oilers franchise has experienced player gaffes before and undoubtedly will experience gaffes again in the future.

To turn a young man's world upside down after he was already dealing with arguably the worst mistake he's made in his career by posting racist comments on his social media is likely the most disgusting thing that any "fan" - again, using that term loosely - could ever do. Quite frankly, if this was you who did this or thought about doing it or even remotely considered it for a nanosecond, walk away from the sport right now and don't come back. I'm dead serious.

I posted the results of an Angus Reid survey 17 days ago. In that survey, respondants told Angus Reid that "[r]acism is a problem in the game with '58 per cent among those who identify as a visible minority' saying it exists, some 'nine points higher than Caucasian respondents (49%)'". The comments on Ethan Bear's social media not only reinforce these numbers, but prove them right beyond a shadow of a doubt. That's a damning statement to write on a blog focused on hockey, but the evidence is hard to deny.

Ethan Bear is a helluva defender, and he's going to be a fixture in the NHL for a long, long time with how he plays the game. His smile on the ice is infectuous, and you can't help but cheer for the kid because he appears to have a long and prosperous career ahead of him. One would hope it's in the orange-and-blue of the Edmonton Oilers, but it appears some fans have focused on the colour of his skin rather than the colour of his jersey when it comes to venting their frustrations.

I'd be delighted to have Ethan Bear playing for the Jets or any other team I cheer for simply because the kid's a gamer. He wants to be out there, he wants to make a difference, and he wants to win. Those are the only things I see when Bear is tearing around on the ice, and one mistake in the opening round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs will not define his career in my eyes where there are many chapters still to be written.

Besides being a phenomenal young player, Bear also runs a hockey camp for Indigenous youths at the Ochapowace First Nation where he grew up, helping youth in the First Nation community to find their ways through hockey. Not only is Bear a good player, but the man is a great person when it comes to giving back to the community that helped elevate him, and yet some "fans" have decided to commit the ultimate act of cowardice by making racist comments towards him.

If you did this, what the hell is wrong with you?

To Ethan Bear, keep up the great work. You have a fan in me. While your playoff run this season came to an end far earlier than you would have liked, I look forward to seeing #74 on the scoresheet for a long time in many playoff runs to come. You're a helluva a player, a better person, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you.

That'll be all for tonight, though, as I need some more sleep to function a little more normally tomorrow at work. I'm hopeful that the rant above doesn't apply to many readers who frequent this blog, but it's pretty clear that this sport still needs a lot of fixing to be better for all and more inclusive for all. Let's start making those fixes right here, right now by calling out those who feel this is acceptable behaviour.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 24 May 2021

Are We Really Complaining?

I'm not sure this is how Roberto Luongo and Shane Doan imagined the 2021 IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship would start, but the Canadians sit at 0-3 after stunning losses to Latvia, the US, and Germany. Canada has struggled to find any trace of offensive output being that they've scored a whopping two goals in those three games while surrendering ten, so there's clearly some issues with the chemistry on the team that Luongo built as they look to find their first win of the tournament on Wednesday against Norway.

What has me bothered, though, isn't the record of the team over in Riga. It's not the number of players who opted out - either by choice or due to injury - that forced Canada into secondary choices for players. It's not the coaching being done by Gerard Gallant or the effort put in by the players on the ice. While all of this has contributed, in part, to Canada's surprising oh-and-three record, I'm bothered more by the expectation some fans have that Canada will go into this tournament and come away with a gold medal while stomping all over nations like Italy, Kazakhstan, and Latvia.

We've seen upsets all over this tournament early on because of how the scheduling for the national leagues in Europe are played, allowing the players from their respective nations to gather earlier and work as a team in anticipation for the IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship. As a result, these teams are generally better prepared than the quickly-assembled Canadian and US teams who have been playing on separate teams until the beginning of May.

On top of that, are we really that arrogant to suggest that we should never lose to the likes of a Belarus or Latvia or Norway? There are good players coming out of those countries at this point, and it seems very apparent that the world is closing the gaps on the "superpowers" when it comes to having the best players in the world still playing NHL hockey.

For years, we've heard how the KHL was more on the same level as the AHL when it came to developing its players, but that's clearly not the case any longer when it comes to teams like Belarus, Latvia, Kazakhstan, and, of course, Russia developing their players there. The key is that these players are playing higher levels of hockey than ever before and, accordingly, they're better when they arrive on the international stage. When Canada sends a team of players who missed the NHL playoffs, the results seen in this tournament should surprise no one.

I have made the case over and over and over again on this blog that upsets are good for the game as a whole. Those teams who have defeated powerhouse countries for the first time since this tournament started have something tangible they can bring home when the tournament's over to say, "We're not there yet, but we're getting closer." At the end of the day, that makes for better tournaments in future years.

One year ago, everyone lamented the number of blowouts we saw at the IIHF World Junior Championship. The solution I proposed was to do nothing as the countries that were serious about improving would fund their national programs accordingly. As you can see at this year's IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship, there are countries who have invested in their programs while players from those countries, specifically, have invested in themselves by seeking bigger and better opportunities to improve. We're seeing that happen in front of us, and yet we're complaining about Canada not winning?

I gte the national pride when it comes to the game, but, to use a golf analogy, we're the yard marker that the rest of the world is trying to reach. Occasionally, the wind is blowing just right that it pushes one of those teams past the yard marker on a drive as we've seen, but that's the crux of being the yard marker: everyone is aiming for you. Just as the other teams have improved, Canada needs to do the same with this assembled group as the likes of McDavid, Crosby, and MacKinnon are still playing NHL hockey and are unavailable to bolster the roster.

As Canadians, we can grumble about losing, but we're also part of an international hockey community that needs more good teams to challenge the status quo. Having the same four-to-six teams compete for medals every year gets stale quickly, so having nations like Norway, Kazakhstan, and Latvia come in and shock the world with a big win is good for the game. With Germany defeating Canada today, their ascension up the ranks in international hockey continues as well.

Canadians have been blessed with some magical moments, a ton of great players, and a pile of hardware from international competitions over the years and decades, and we shouldn't take any of that for granted by thinking we simply showed up and won. That's not how these competitions work, and the teams that were nothing more than scrimmage practice squads at one point are now defeating the teams that used to embarrass them. That's what you want to see from these teams - constant improvement with a focus on, one day, joining the superpowers on an annual basis thanks to those improvements.

We're not there yet, but we're closer than ever to having a truly international game where any of the teams entered at the World Championship level can win the gold medal. Yes, it sucks that Canada is 0-3 to start this tournament, but it's a pretty clear message that the team we sent hasn't been able to match up well with its opposition - a sign that the game has indeed grown and the rest of the world is closing the gap on the superpowers.

Are we really complaining about having more competitive games?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Games Over

Don't look now, but two of three most recent Stanley Cup winners are officially booking tee times as you read this. The Colorado Avalanche finished off their sweep of the St. Louis Blues today, and that loss was followed by the Boston Bruins winning their fourth-straight game to eliminate the Washington Capitals in five games. A couple of short postseason runs likely means there will be changes in both cities regarding personnel on the ice, but it won't be easy to correct the problems on the ice.

We'll start in Washington where the Capitals repeated their five-game appearance from a year ago. After losing to lower-ranked teams in the first round in the last three years of playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup, the Capitals will need to take a long, hard look at their rosters and determine who stays and who goes as the core of their team is getting older while the younger players seemingly haven't developed fast enough.

The first point of business for the Capitals in this offseason is to address the looming free agency problem posed by Alexander Ovechkin. With just over $33.6 million tied up in TJ Oshie, Niklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Anthony Mantha, and Tom Wilson along with another $21 million already dedicated to John Carlson, Brendan Dillon, Justin Schultz, and Dmitry Orlov, the Capitals will have to make some hard decisions on who to move this season if they want to keep Ovechkin in the US capital.

That cap situation also needs to be examined if the Capitals are going to address the elephant in the room that is their woeful goaltending they received in the five games against the Bruins. Ilya Samsonov, thought to be the goalie to supplant the magic of Braden Holtby, fell flat on his face against the Bruins, posting an 0-3 record on the strength of a 2.99 GAA and an .899 save percentage. When 41 year-old Craig Anderson is outplaying the younger, faster netminder who was to be the heir apparent, that's a problem.

As of right now, Vitek Vanecek appears to be the front-runner for the job, and he's signed for one more season. All of Samsonov, Anderson, and Henrik Lundqvist are free agents, and that leaves just Vanecek, Pheonix Copley, and Zach Fucale as the netminders who will guard the twine next season, potentially without Ovechkin based on the salary cap pinch in which the Capitals find themselves.

The teardown of this team will likely start with Evgeny Kuznetsov who, between him and Jakub Vrana, was the wrong player to keep. Kuznetsov's abhorrent defensive play, his bloated $7.8 million contract that runs through 2025, and the problems he's had off the ice likely make him the hardest to move, though. The Capitals may be forced to buy him out if they want him gone because it's hard to see any team being comfortable with everything Kuznetsov has done over the past three years.

While he was seen as a big acquisition at the deadline for the Capitals, Anthony Mantha might be the most attractive piece to move in order to free up cap space. Mantha had four goals and four assists in 14 regular season games with the Capitals, so there's certainly some ability to find the back of the net for the 26 year-old, and his cap hit of $5.7 million through 2024 will allow some teams to kick the tires on him.

Regardless of who is available, the biggest issue might be how the Capitals are being run. They've been a good regular season team under a couple of coaches, but the first-round losses in three consecutive seasons - including just ten postseason games in the last two combined - seem to indicate that the Capitals are a one-trick pony which has seen the all three of the Hurricanes, Islanders, and Bruins take down the Capitals in short order. In saying this, it should be no surprise that the last time the Capitals advanced out of the opening round, Barry Trotz was still the head coach.

Needless to say, the roster of the Capitals is nearing an overhaul more by necessity than by choice, and this summer might be the best time to start that process.

The Blues, ironically, face a lot of the same problems that the Capitals do in that they too face some hard decisions when it comes who to keep and who can be set adrift, but the vast number of free agents that St. Louis has will make that decision easier. They could use some additional youth to step in and help the key veterans, but there seems to be little on the way to help.

The Blues will have to make decisions on free agents Jayden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak, Mike Hoffman, and Nathan Walker who earned a combined $15.05 million this season. At best, two should be brought back, and it's likely that Schwartz and Hoffman are the two that Blues should discuss. Bozak is 35 and has seen his play decline while Walker was barely used at all this season.

With seven restricted free agents in play, the Blues will need to evaluate which of these players is worth the investment. Vince Dunn appears to be on his way out while Josh Dakota and Jacob De La Rose would be better suited on two-way deals. Ivan Barbashev, Jordan Kyrou, and Zach Sanford can be good pieces for the Blues, so it will be interesting to see how they handle these three players. The one restricted free agent who is likely up for a big raise? Robert Thomas who shown that he can be an everyday contributor in the Blues' lineup.

Like Washington, the elephant in the room has to be the play of Jordan Binnington who, at times this season, looked like his Stanley Cup-winning self, but those moments of greatness were too few and often too far apart to string together any sort of consistent play that would make one confident in his starter role. His 2.65 GAA and .910 save percentage were similar to last season where he posted a 30-13-7 record, but his 18-14-8 record was far more indicative of his playing behind a team that struggled to score goals at times this season where Binnington simply couldn't steal a win or three.

The Blues do need a competent backup to push Binnington as Jake Allen did before being traded to Montreal. Of the unrestricted free agents who tend the nets, the most ideal player for the Blues to sign would be a guy like Florida's Chris Dreidger who got some great minutes with Florida this year, but his price tag might be high as he searches for a chance to start in the league. What is certain is that the Blues need to find someone who can push Binnington to be better in order to help them steal a few games.

Take nothing away from the Boston Bruins or the Colorado Avalanche in their series against the Capitals and Blues, respectively. We're seeing two incredibly well-coached teams executing at a high level as star players are making an impact for those two teams. They'll remain Stanley Cup favourites until someone says otherwise, but the Bruins and Avalanche deserve some credit for exposing some critical holes in both the Capitals and Blues that need to be fixed if those two teams are going to rise to prominence again.

For now, though, they've got some work to do this off-season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

*All salary cap numbers found on Capfriendly.com.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Topped With Walnuts

Somewhere in the middle of that scrum of Winnipeg Jets is Paul Stastny. Stastny, affectionately known as "Pauly Walnuts", scored the overtime game-winning goal tonight against the Edmonton Oilers that will send the Jets back home with a 2-0 lead over the Oilers with a chance to wrap up the series by Monday night if they can win the next two games of the series. For a team that struggled to find any way to stop the Oilers this season, this is the one scenario that no one expected.

To say that the Jets coming home up up two games on the Oilers is a surprise would be an understatement. I think a lot of fans hoped for a split based on the way Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl destroyed the Jets this season, but the reality was that the Oilers had won seven of nine regular season games so there wasn't a lot of joy in Winnipeg when it came to this first-round matchup.

Tonight, the city of Winnipeg is in "party mode" after Paul Stastny's shot found twine behind Mike Smith in overtime to give the Jets the 1-0 overtime win and a 2-0 series lead. How is this being down after both teams have scored just four goals (plus two empty-net goals) in this series? Let's take a deeper look.

McDavid By Committee

I had mentioned on Twitter that I was hoping the Jets would "Esa Tikkanen" Connor McDavid in this series; that is, find a player who can skate with him and just attach him to McDavid's hip no matter where McDavid went. A few people on Twitter came back and said they liked the idea, but wanted to see one player from each line do that job as opposed to assigning one player to him as I had suggested.

Not gonna lie: I didn't think the Jets had enough players who could effectively check McDavid based on how 97 carved up the Jets all season. It was ugly at times, to be blunt.

Instead, they've not only proven me wrong, but shown that a vast number of Jets have bought into the idea that gap control on McDavid and Draisaitl is good for their success. At no time in this series has McDavid or Draisaitl been able to operate without a Jets player stalking them, and the end result is that both players have gone pointless in the opening two games of this series despite Edmonton controlling the line matchups with the home-team advantage.

That gap control has been impressive as players that normally don't play an overly-physical game - Morrissey, Perreault, Appleton, DeMelo - have all become thorns in the sides of McDavid and Draisaitl with physical play and a relentless pestering of the stars. In having the Jets collectively bother Edmonton's two biggest stars, the scoring has been left to the Oilers' depth, and it's pretty clear that they're not going to hurt the Jets as much as 97 and 29 would. As a result, the Oilers have just one goal through two games on home ice, and they lose the matchup game they wanted to exploit as they move to Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is putting on a clinic thus far in demonstrating a death by a thousand checks to opposing star players.

The Connor We Know

There was some concern towards the end of the season that the most-played goalie and the most overworked goalie in the league may have been tiring down the stretch as Connor Hellebuyck looked human during the Jets' losing streak to close out the season.

Hellebuyck played in a league-high 45 games this season, amassing 2602:49 between the pipes, as the goalie who stood in the blue paint most often. He faced 98 more shots than second-place Andrei Vasileskiy, so there was some concern that after another season where Hellebuyck was relied on a little too foten that he might be slowing down heading into the playoffs.

We should probably start believing Hellebuyck when he says he feels fine because he's looked unbeatable in the first two games of this series. Hellebuyck has stopped 70 of 71 shots, has yet to be in "scramble mode" to deny shooters, and appears to be seeing the puck easily through traffic. Since Jesse Puljujarvi scored at 8:24 of the second period of Game One, Hellebuyck has stopped 59-straight shots, so the goalie is certainly on his game.

As captain Blake Wheeler noted in the post-game press conference, "He's the reason we have a chance."

There's no qualifier needed on that statement - Hellebuyck's play has not only given Winnipeg a chance in each game, but a chance to win this series where they were thought to be heavy underdogs.

An Unsung Hero

Every year, the playoffs allow for players to write a fun narrative about their own careers. Heroes are found on the fourth-line, the unheralded defenceman makes a play that saves a game or season, and backup goalies become the stuff of legend with big wins. We don't have any goalie stories here yet, but the first two stories have been written in the first two games of the series.

Dominic Toninato, a player who was supposed to be a veteran signing for the Manitoba Moose, grabbed some spotlight in Game One with his deflection that beat Mike Smith to put the Jets up 2-1 in an eventual 4-1 victory. Toninato, for the record, played in just two AHL games with the Moose and just three NHL regular season games with the Jets this season, and now he has one of two game-winners for the Jets this post-season.

Toninato earned a spot on the playoff roster after looking like the Energizer Bunny in the final few games for the Jets as he was recalled to fill a few injury spots for the Jets. He's clearly made an impact after it looked like his season was going to be derailed by a positive COVID-19 result in November, and now he's making the best of his moment after scoring a huge goal in Game One.

If the Jets are going to win this series and advance deep into the playoffs, their depth players have to be factors in the scoring. Players like Dominic Toninato, Nate Thompson, and Trevor Lewis are going to have to find the scoresheet occasionally, and Toninato's goal on Wednesday was a big one for the Jets in their quest to advance.

Defence Wins Championships

Sometimes, a player gets heralded for a play that doesn't show up on the scoresheet, and defenceman Dylan DeMelo gets that nod after his ridiculous arm save on Connor McDavid to preserve the 0-0 tie in the third period tonight. DeMelo, who was flat on his back on the right side of the crease after battling in front of the net, threw his arms up in the air with McDavid staring at an open net, and DeMelo's forearm made the save during the frenzy in front of the Jets' net.

DeMelo's known as a defensive defenceman - he hasn't scored a goal since playing with Ottawa in the 2018-19 season - and his work on McDavid and Draisaitl in the first two games of this series has been exceptional in keeping those two off the scoresheet. Again, you won't see DeMelo get credit in the stats or appear on many highlight reels for the save, but he likely made the biggest stop of the series thus far in keeping that puck out of the net. If McDavid had scored there, it's 1-0 Edmonton late in the game and the series could be tied at 1-1.

"Honestly, it was just pure chaos and desperation," DeMelo said after the game. "I just put my hands up and luckily it hit me."

Thanks to that luck, the Jets head home up 2-0 because of an unlikely hero putting himself in harm's way. When players talk about sacrificing the body in the playoffs, that's the kind of play they mean.

Is It 2018 Again?

I'll finish this examination off by crediting Paul Stastny for another big goal while centering the second line for the Winnipeg Jets. His overtime marker tonight was the difference in the 1-0 game, and it's another big moment for Stastny while with the Jets.

Let's not forget that Stastny centered the second line in 2018 when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference Final, and he was a force in the series against the Nashville Predators playing alongside Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. Stastny scored the game-winner in Game Seven against the Predators that year, scoring 14 points in 12 games to that point in the playoffs that year, so his legend with the Jets was already pretty lofty without tonight's heroics.

Instead, Stastny added another chapter to his Jets story with a seeing-eye shot that eluded Mike Smith to give Stastny his first goal of the playoffs, but, more importantly, his goal moves Winnipeg one step closer to moving on to the North Division Final.

As shown above, the Jets are getting the most out of every player on the roster right now, and it's a large reason why they're up 2-0 in the series despite scoring just three goals with Mike Smith in the net. From the buy-in on checking McDavid and Draisaitl all over the ice to the depth players stepping up, from the lucky plays in keeping pucks out of their net to the lucky plays that have seen pucks go into the Edmonton net, I'll credit Paul Maurice and his staff because the preparation they did to get the Jets for Edmonton has worked perfectly thus far.

The series isn't over, though, so there's nothing to celebrate yet. With games in Winnipeg on Sunday and Monday, there's a chance for the Jets to do something they've never done in sweeping the Edmonton Oilers out of the playoffs, but no one is putting the cart before horse here. The Jets still need 120 minutes of solid hockey like they played in the first two games before they can put a feather in their caps.

See you Sunday, Edmonton. Bring your A-game.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 May 2021

The Hockey Show - Episode 452

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, comes at you with a bit of twist tonight as Jenna and Teebz celebrate "Girl Power" with a ton of stories from women's hockey and about women in hockey. If you haven't been keeping up with those stories, you should probably look around a little as women are breaking down walls and smashing through ceilings when it comes to getting into the NHL's old boys' club, and it's a great thing to see all these women finally getting a shot. It's a "Girl Power" episode that features no COVID stories, so let's have some fun!

Tonight, Teebz and Jenna run down all the latest stories from the hockey world with a large number that feature women in prominent place in hockey! They discuss Leah Hextall being hired by ESPN to call NHL games next season, the hiring of Danielle Goyette and the promotion of Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hiring of former US Olympian Meghan Duggan by the New Jersey Devils, having Sarah Nurse, Hanna Bunton, and Brigette Lacquette on the cover of Elle magazine, a team wanting into the Russian women's professional hockey league, and why newly-retired Kacey Bellamy has a solid case for a Hockey Hall of Fame induction! After all those girl-powered stories, they talk about Eugene Melnyk trying to create his own version of Gilligan's Island, Dale Hawerchuk being honoured by the city of Barrie, the Montreal Canadiens playing in front of fans, and the QMJHL retiring Guy Lafleur's number. It's a busy show with a ton of information that should inspire women to follow their dreams as Jenna and Teebz discuss everything "Girl Power", so make sure you tune in on one of 101.5 FM, Channel 718 on MTS TV, or via UMFM.com at 5:30pm CT!

We're still looking to help St. Adolphe so they can bring hockey back in October. The St. Adolphe Community Club has started a crowdfunding effort on Amilia to help raise some money. The cool part is that if you donate $50 or more, not only are you helping St. Adolphe reach their goal so they can make repairs, upgrades, and improvements, but you'll also receive a tax receipt as well! Make sure you check out their website, their Facebook page, and follow both the St. Adolphe Twitter account and Instagram account for all the lastest news on their fundraising efforts and the repairs to the rink!

Where's the best place can you hear tonight's show if you're outside Winnipeg or not near a radio, you ask? The new UMFM website's online streaming player is pretty awesome if you want to listen online. If you're using an Apple device, the player doesn't seem to like Safari yet, so if you want to stream the show I'd recommend Radio Garden to do that as it works nicely with Safari. If you're more of an app person, we recommend you use the TuneIn app found on the App Store or Google Play Store. If you do use the TuneIn app, you won't be disappointed. It's a solid app.

If you have questions, you can email all show queries and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter! I'm here to listen to you, so make your voice heard!

Tonight, Jenna and Teebz talk about the women taking over the broadcast booths, the women in charge of the next wave of stars for NHL teams, the women making a statement in major publications, a woman who made a statement with her career, the insane Eugene-Melnyk-at-sea story, Ducky being honoured, the Habs and their rabid fans, why retiring numbers needs to stop, and much more exclusively on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: May 20, 2021: Episode 452

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

The Remainder Of The Series

After enjoying a shocking win by the Winnipeg Jets against the Edmonton Oilers in Game One of their series, I changed the channel over to the Colorado-St. Louis series. It should come as no surprise that Colorado looks to be in control of this series, but things came apart tonight as Nazem Kadri was escorted off the ice for a hit that was hard to watch as St. Louis defenceman Justin Faulk was on the receiving end of a vicious headshot from Kadri. I'm here to tell you I want to see this check punished heavily, and there should be no reason why Kadri returns to play any further games against the Blues for as long as this series goes.

First, let's examine the crime that Kadri committed.

There is no way that Kadri didn't know he hit Faulk's head there. None. It's the only place he made contact with Faulk. Whenever you see a player's head snap like that, it's the initial point of contact. There's no arguing this - that's a fact.

Kadri was handed a major penalty and a game misconduct - the correct in-game penalty - which automatically prompts a chat with the Department of Player Safety. It's at this point where Kadri should have the proverbial book thrown at him because Kadri being suspended in the playoffs seems to be an annual rite of passage.

We'll visit 2019 where Kadri, as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kadri cross-checked Boston's Jake DeBrusk in the face following a heavy hit that DeBrusk laid on Patrick Marleau in Game Two of the series. It could be that Kadri was hunting for revenge on DeBrusk who caught him knee-on-knee earlier in Game Two that went unpunished, but I'm not here to make excuses for anyone cross-checking an opponent in the face. Kadri was suspended for the remainder of the series against Boston - a total of five games - after the Maple Leafs were eliminated 4-3 in the seven-game series.

We can also reference 2018 when Kadri, while with the Leafs, threw a vicious hit on Boston's Tommy Wingels in Game One who was on his knees and facing the boards when Kadri came flying in and pasted him against the dasher. The result of his check earned Kadri a three-game suspension in a series where Boston would lead 3-1 through the four games where Kadri sat before eventually eliminating the Leafs in seven games.

Based on his past transgressions, the logical move for Kadri would be to suspend him a minimum of five games again. Assuming the Avalanche sweep the Blues after winning tonight's game to go up 2-0, that would mean that Kadri would sit for the first three games of the next series when it comes to playing either Vegas or Minnesota. In both cases, Kadri is more valuable on the ice for the Avalanche than sitting in the press box, so I'm hoping the Department of Player Safety has its head screwed on right because this the third time that Kadri has targeted an opponent's head with a violent act.

We'll find out tomorrow what punishment is handed down to Nazem Kadri, but let me be very clear on this: headshots belong nowhere in the game of hockey. Here's hoping that Justin Faulk is alright after that vicious, dirty, and cowardly hit.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

The Wheel Of Playoff Fortune

I'm not one who watches a lot of gameshows. Usually, I'm at work when they're on during the day, and the primetime gameshows have been definitely left me wondering how they were green-lit by executives. While I understand that reality television and gameshows are relatively cheap to produce compared to the ratings they may attract, one set of eyes that isn't watching are mine. Sorry, network executives.

When I was younger and home over summer from school, I used to watch gameshows like Family Feud, Jeopardy!, and Wheel of Fortune because soap operas were rather lame to my teenage self. There were challenges that each show presented, and I used to play along in trying to guess the top-six answers, the correct answers, and the word puzzles presented on these gameshows. While they weren't hockey, they filled my needs when it came to my television entertainment as a kid.

I grew up and lost the summers off of school, thankfully, and my tastes for televised entertainment changed. I became more interested in live sports and I certainly watched a ton of hockey. Every year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs would roll around, and sixteens would have an equal chance at winning the Stanley Cup depending on a few breaks, a little luck, a pile of hard work, and an equal amount of skill. It's a little like a gameshow if one were to spin a wheel when trying to determine who will win each and every year.

Obviously, I'm not Merv Griffith when it comes to producing a gameshow, but what if the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs were made into a Wheel of Fortune-style gameshow? You spin the wheel, and the team you land on is your chosen team that will win the Stanley Cup! While I can't lock anyone in on these picks, here's a wheel that will allow you to randomly pick your team!



Ok, so maybe you're looking for something more definitive to help you in choosing the winner of the Stanley Cup. What if, using the same wheel, we eliminated the team you land on, leaving just one team standing at the very end as your Stanley Cup winner? Again, I can't lock you into the team you end up with at the end, but post it in the comments if you want!



None of these spins mean a whole heckuva lot of anything in the grand scheme of things as teams still need to play the games to determine a winner. You could spin sixteen different times on the first wheel and get a different team each time which means nothing more than the odds are accurate. It is a fun way, though, to pick a team and see how far they go.

Give the wheels a spin, and have some fun with this!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 17 May 2021

The Search Begins

There isn't a lot in the hockey world that Danielle Goyette hasn't accomplished. When it comes to winning Olympic gold medals, World Championship gold medals, and being one of the best players in the world, her resumé has all that on it for a number of years. If we're talking about coaching, Goyette led the Dinos to a CIS National Championship and has her team poised for another run at glory this season based on the roster she has assembled. Again, there isn't much left for Danielle Goyette to accomplish in the hockey world, but she got to cross another major event off her hockey bucket list today with the major announcements that came out of both Calgary and Toronto.

If you missed the news, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs made a couple of moves regarding their operations. With her taking medical residence in Toronto thanks to her new doctorate in medicine, Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser was promoted by the Maple Leafs to the position of senior director of player development. Alongside that move, the Leafs also announced that they had hired Danielle Goyette as the director of player development, reuniting the former Dinos coach and former Dinos player to lead the Leafs' development staff moving forward!

Honestly, both women deserve these positions based on their bodies of work within the game, but they also should be credited with how much work they've put into being students of the game that has allowed them to seek these positions with the walls of the NHL. While there will be some learning on the job like any other employee, there should be no questioning the dedication and work ethic both have shown in ascending to the top levels of the sport.

For Dr. Wickenheiser, her transition into the new position won't be a huge adjustment as she has been serving as assistant director of player development since August 2018. For Goyette, however, it means she has to resign her position as head coach of the Calgary Dinos women's hockey program where she had coached for fourteen years. She will be relocating to Toronto where coaching the Dinos will not be possible.

"It wasn't an easy decision to make," Goyette stated. "I loved my job, I loved working at the University of Calgary. I have grown a lot as a person and as a coach, and I had the chance to work with so many great people. I feel fortunate to have had a chance to make a difference for so many young hockey players.

"On the other hand, what an honour to have a chance to work for one of the best sports organizations in the world. This opportunity was too good to pass up – it's a new challenge and I'm looking forward to working with the Maple Leafs and the Marlies. Changing cities and positions will be an adjustment, but I'm looking forward to the next chapter."

Congratulations to both Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette as the two University of Calgary Dinos will work together in developing future Maple Leafs, but Goyette's new role means there's a massive hole to fill on the bench for the Calgary Dinos with Canada West hockey getting set to resume in October. The head coaching role will have to filled soon with players returning to campus in late August and early September, and it's almost certain that the new coach will want to change systems and implement systems of his or her own for this season.

As the Dinos stated in their release, a national search will commence immediately as they look to fill the vacancy on the bench, but I'm sure there will be some fairly recognizable names that step up and make it known they have interest. Might we see an Erin Ambrose leave Concordia to move to Calgary where she was once a Hockey Canada team member? Erica Kromm works in the same city as an assistant coach at Mount Royal, so perhaps she'll want a shot at coaching the Dinos?

Of course, there may be non-Team Canada people who want the job as well, and I can't see the University of Calgary hiring just anyone who doesn't come in with an impeccable coaching record. There may even be retired international hockey people who want the chance to coach at the highest non-international level of hockey that Canada has to offer. Might we see people like Florence Schelling, Ralph Krueger, or a coach from the upcoming Women's World Championship join the Dinos?

If the Dinos wanted to fill the spot quickly, there is a guy in southern Alberta who has Canada West experience sitting at home right now. Doug Paisley, formerly of the Lethbridge Pronghorns women's hockey program, would be one name that I'd hope the Dinos consider if he expresses interest as Paisley did a good job at Lethbridge before the bottom fell out on him, his staff, and the players.

Again, I'm just spitballing here, but the options are wide open for the Dinos when it comes to a new head coach. It won't be the same seeing the Calgary Dinos in town without Danielle Goyette at the helm, but I can't fault her for jumping at this opportunity. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at this point, and I hope she makes the most of it like she did at the University of Calgary where she'll be missed.

It's the dawn of a new age in Calgary as the Dinos will have new faces both on the bench and behind it in 2021-22. Can the new coach, whomever that may be, lead the Dinos back to the top of the food chain in U SPORTS? We'll have our answer this winter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 16 May 2021

To The Farm

I'll admit that I haven't been keeping tabs on the AHL very much this season outside of what's happening with the Manitoba Moose. They finished their schedule today which landed them in second place in the North Division with an 18-13-3-2 record that saw the Moose go on an incredible 10-2-1-2 run in their final fifteen games of the 36 games they played. Needless to say, not having hockey means there was a lot of good AHL action missed down at the BellMTS Centre this season as the Moose went streaking! The two players to the upper-left, though, won't face the Moose as they suit up for the final AHL game of their affiliate's season.

It was announced today that the Montreal Canadiens were sending goaltender Carey Price and winger Brendan Gallagher to the AHL's Laval Rocket for the last game of the Rocket's season when they face the Toronto Marlies on conditioning stints as both players work their ways back from long-term injuries. Laval, who has wrapped up first-place in the North Division, has little to play for in their final game aside from pride, so this is a great opportunity for both Price and Gallagher to get some game action before Montreal opens its playoff series against the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Price is working his way back from a concussion he suffered against the Oilers on April 19 that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. Gallagher, meanwhile, has been out with an upper body injury he suffered on April 5 against the Oilers, causing him to miss the final 21 games of the Canadiens' season.

With the game the Rocket plays against the Marlies tomorrow night, both will be in the lineup for the AHL squad. That poses some interesting uniform conundrums for the Rocket as they already have players who wear #11 and #31 this season.

Rafaël Harey-Pinard has been wearing #11 for the Rocket this season as he's appeared in all 35 games to date for Laval including in last night's game against Toronto where he scored. Cayden Primeau, who is currently with the Montreal Canadiens in Price's absence, has worn #31 for Laval this season. It seems there will be new numbers for Gallagher and Price when they make their AHL debuts tomorrow.

Numbers aside, this is a big night for the Canadiens as they really do need both Price and Gallagher healthy to give Toronto a run for its money. There's no doubt that the Canadiens have the talent to compete, but getting a world-class netminder and a top forward back for the playoffs will help the Canadiens' chances immensely if they want to beat Toronto.

This isn't a hit piece on Jake Allen or Josh Anderson or Tyler Toffoli. It's quite the opposite. The Montreal Canadiens are still a dangerous team in their current iteration and there's no question they can defeat the Maple Leafs if they play their games. They have the talent to beat anyone as we saw all season, and there's no question that they can upset the Maple Leafs in a seven-game series with their current roster.

What I am saying, though, is that their odds go up considerably with the likes of Price and Gallagher in the lineup. That's the whole purpose of having Price and Gallagher play in Laval tomorrow night - they're going to ice the best lineup possible when facing the Leafs, and adding the likes of Price and Gallagher accomplishes that despite forcing Allen to the bench and despite seeing a useful player like Jake Evans relegated to the pressbox.

Getting those two back and adding Shea Weber back into the defensive corps puts Montreal on very solid ground when it comes to their chances of a potential upset of the Maple Leafs. Personally, I'm hoping they keep Cole Caufield in the lineup as well, but we'll see what head coach Dominique Ducharme does in the coming days as his Canadiens prepare for the top team in the North Division that finished 18 points ahead of the Canadiens.

One thing is certain, though: having your best player available to play can change the dynamics of a playoff series in a hurry. If you don't believe me, ask the Florida Panthers how different the Tampa Bay Lightning look with the likes of Stamkos and Kucherov in the Lightning lineup for Game One. I rest my case.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Blues Need Him Badly

Pictured to the left is not my garden despite my best efforts outside all day today. What you see are The Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, and the 55-acre parcel of land that was once a limestone quarry today blooms with amazing colours and fragrances that has taken over a century to cultivate. My garden, on the other hand, has some nice colours, but it's nowhere close to what you see above. This comparison relates to hockey when one realizes that the St. Louis Blues could be in big trouble when they start their series against the juggernaut Colorado Avalanche.

It was announced today that the Blues potentially could be without Nathan Walker, Jake Walman, and David Perron as all three players have landed on the NHL COVID Protocol list, putting their participation in the series with Colorado in serious jeopardy if they have tested positive for the virus.

While Walker and Walman aren't huge pieces of the Blues' offence, David Perron certainly is, and his play in the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko has kept the Blues rolling without their star winger. Perron's 19 goals and 39 assists were just two points back of his total last year and eight points off his best total ever of 66 points in 2017-18 with the Vegas Golden Knights, so it's pretty clear that Perron was having a career season after scoring 58 points in 56 games this season.

That's all in limbo at this point as Perron now has to test negative twice within a 24-hour period in order to escape the COVID Protocol list and be eligible for Monday's opening game in Denver. With Tarasenko's participation still in question following a lower-body injury that limited him to just 24 games this season, having the Blues go in to Denver to play the President's Trophy winners without their top-two wingers seems like a recipe for disaster.

If you're keeping track of the stats above, Perron played in every game for the Blues this season, meaning he helped the Blues go 3-5-0 against the Avalanche. There's some hope there if you're a Blues fan because Perron's inclusion gives the Blues some key firepower in getting to Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer. Perron helped the Blues' power-play to being sixth-best in the league at 23.2%, and we know that playoff series can be won or lost on special teams if defence wins championships.

What makes Perron's addition to the NHL's COVID list more concerning is that injury reports at this time of year are virtually classified by teams, and the Blues have already travelled to Denver as per their social media feeds. Not one person from the St. Louis Blues confirmed Perron's attendance on the plane, and it would seem that Perron would likely still be in St. Louis awaiting his test results to be returned with a chartered plane on standy-by if his tests return negative.

The other concern is that the NHL has been quietly pointing to the number of teams and players that have been vaccinated so that the Stanley Cup Playoffs can get underway, yet Jake Walman, mentioned above, tested positive for COVID-19 despite having been vaccinated. Again, with all information surrounding vaccinations virtually classified, no one will say when Walman received a vaccination or whether he's fully vaccinated, but it's clear that the vaccine hadn't fully protected him from the strain of COVID-19 he now has.
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With Perron being identified a day later as being on the NHL's COVID list, one might assume there could be spread within the locker room. The hope is that Perron's name was added to the list for contact tracing purposes only, but one can't be too careful when it comes to taking this virus lightly, especially when travelling by airplane and being in close quarters with others.

Perron had two goals and seven points in those eight games against the Avalanche this season, and his work on the top line beside Ryan O'Reilly involved matching up against Nathan MacKinnon's line on most nights. Perron seems to have thrived in his top-line role with Tarasenko being out, and Perron brings a little bit of everything to the game when he's on the ice: scoring, good work along the boards, reliable defensive awareness, and a touch of physical play. The Blues need all of that to keep the Avalanche at bay, so there's hope Perron will be in the lineup come Monday night.

If this series is as lopsided as Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic has predicted, Perron's absense would be a huge blow to St. Louis' chances at any sort of upset. The Denver Post's four writers have predicted this series being over in five games.

"We're going to beat them," Blues captain, Ryan O'Reilly, told reporters on a Zoom conference last week. It's nice to see that confidence that O'Reilly has in himself and his team, I'd say the reality of starting the playoffs without David Perron makes that proclamation a lot harder considering all that Perron has done for the Blues this season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!