Monday, 24 July 2017

Backup Money

The Winnipeg Jets completed their off-season moves today by signing goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to a new deal before their arbitration date on August 1. Hellebuyck's contract is a one-year deal with $2.25 million, and the Jets' "goalie of the future" knows he needs a big season if there's any hope of him being a fixture in the blue paint in Winnipeg for years to come. With Steve Mason getting nearly twice that for the next two seasons, this contract is a curious one since it neither guarantees Hellebuyck will be here long-term nor does it pay him like a starting netminder in the NHL. I'm struggling with the end goal of this deal if it's not to allow Hellebuyck to prove he's worth Steve Mason money because it seems like he'll be playing behind Mason on most nights.

I'll give Hellebuyck credit in that he said all the right things to the media today, indicating how hungry he is to prove that he belongs in the conversation among the NHL's upper echelon of netminders.

"It's all on the line," the 24-year-old told reporters. "I learned a lot, got a whole lot better, but I have a whole lot more to give. I got more to offer than what I showed last year. I look forward to doing that this year. I'm going to have Mason here and I'm going to learn from him. I owe these guys my best every night."

Look, I appreciate Connor Hellebuyck's commitment to becoming and desire to be the best goaltender he can be. Honestly, that's all you can ask of a player, and the rest really is up to him or her to do whatever is necessary to become the best player he or she can be. But if one were presented with the following stats lines, which goaltender would you say is better after one full season as a starting netminder in the NHL?
I'm not going to reveal who those two stats lines belong to just yet because I want to remind everyone that Connor Hellebuyck's tenure as a starting NHL goalie is one full year. He took over for Ondrej Pavelec whose time in Winnipeg was worn woefully thin due to poor play, and Hellebuyck's inconsistent play gave his detractors enough ammunition to cause the Jets to seek help in the form of Steve Mason. That's not to say that he isn't ready, but maybe he needs someone more reliable than Michael Hutchinson who shoulder some of the load as Hellebuyck grows as a player and netminder.

The stats lines from above? The top one is from Carey Price in his first full season as a starter in the NHL. The second is from Connor Hellebuyck who, as we know, has just completed one full season as a starter. The two stats lines are nearly identical in all major categories: minutes player, goals against, goals-against average, and save percentage. One stat that isn't shown is points percentage - the number of points earned through wins and shootout losses - is also nearly identical with Price having a .538 pts% stat and Hellebuyck having a .500 pts% stat. Does that mean that Connor Hellebuyck is on the same path that Carey Price is in terms of being the best of the best who stops pucks? Not necessarily, but the similarities are there in that Price took a backseat at times to Jaroslav Halak in the season following his first full season as a starter just as Hellebuyck may take a backseat to Mason at times.

What it does mean is that Hellebuyck isn't carrying the load full-time because the coaching staff doesn't have faith in the backup netminder to spell off the starter and earn a win. Hellebuyck is more than capable of winning games most nights, so having a tandem that includes both Mason and Hellebuyck working together should benefit Hellebuyck's overall game.

“I view it as a good thing," Hellebuyck said when asked of Mason joining the team. "It's good for the team and it's going to bring the team some confidence in the net. I'm going to learn from him. He's a veteran guy who's been through the ropes. I'm going to take what I can from him. And you know what? It's going to push us both as goalies."

If the Jets are going to be successful against a number of improved Central Division teams and the rest of the NHL, they'll need high-quality goaltending from both netminders on the roster. If, for some reason, Mason stumbles or is injured, the Jets still have a very capable starter playing behind him. Hellebuyck has a new agent and strength coach this summer, and he feels the changes he's made to his game should benefit his this season. It's still going to be all up to him to put it together, but he's now playing for a contract.

If he plays as well as we've seen him play in some games with extended consistency, he could be looking at a very nice pay day next season when his contract needs to be renewed.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Journeyman To Stuntman

I was enjoying Sunday the best way that I could, and that included stretching the couch out as I watched a movie or two. One of the movies that I watched today was Pacific Rim, and I'm sure you're aware of the plot and cast who headline this movie. But were you aware that the man to the left, Mr. Jere Gillis, was in the movie? Not only that, but it seems the former pro hockey player has become a working stuntman in Hollywood with a number of appearances in major Hollywood movies! While he played an unnamed Spartan general in 300, he's been taking bumps and performing stunts in nearly 90 movies and even landed a role in Goon in 2011! Not bad for a guy who was considered a journeyman, but Jere Gillis played in a number of very interesting places as well!

Gillis came out of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Castors program as a high-scoring left winger who scored 38 goals and 95 points in 1974-75, increased his totals to 47 goals and 102 points in his third year with the team, and then capped off his junior career 55-goal, 140-point campaign in 1976-77 that saw him lead the team in scoring ahead of some rather notable players such as Rick Vaive and Jimmy Mann. His work in Sherbrooke saw him drafted in the first round twice: the Canucks selected him fourth-overall in the NHL Entry Draft while the Cincinnati Stingers selected Gillis seventh-overall in the WHA Amamteur Draft.

Gillis would choose the NHL route and began his career in Vancouver where he had a fairly decent rookie season, scoring 23 goals and 41 assists. Unfortunately for Gillis, both those numbers would be career highs as he spent parts of three more seasons in Vancouver where he'd total 26 goals and 59 points before Vancouver traded Gillis and Jeff Bandura to the New York Rangers on November 11, 1980 for Mario Marois and Jim Mayer.

After having played just 11 in Vancouver, Gillis found himself as a bit of a utility player for the Rangers who used him sparingly to fill in for injured players and play certain roles that were needed in specific games. As a result, Gillis saw only 35 games of action in the Big Apple, scoring just ten goals and 20 points. He would begin the next season with the Rangers and see time in 26 games, but he only scored three goals and 12 points before the Rangers decided to trade Gillis and Dean Talafous to the Quebec Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek and an eighth-round pick in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft.

But hold the phone, folks. That trade to Quebec almost didn't happen as Dean Talafous retired after being told that he was being traded, having played just 29 games with the Rangers! Talafous announced his retirement on January 1, 1982 - two days after the Rangers and Nordiques announced their trade deal - throwing the whole deal into chaos. As The New York Times wrote on January 4, 1982,
Then, with no explanation from Coach Herb Brooks, or anyone else, Talafous was benched for four games. He decided, on the afternoon of the Rangers-Islanders game last Wednesday, to ask Craig Patrick, the general manager, what was wrong. Patrick told him he had just been traded, with Jere Gillis, to the Nordiques for Robbie Ftorek.

On New Year's Day, Talafous decided that he would retire rather than play for Quebec, a decision that has tangled the trade in confusion and led to a league decision enjoining any of the players involved from playing for any team while the league studies the deal. Quebec claims the retirement nullifies the trade; the Rangers insist the deal was made in good faith and is valid.
With both sides holding a different opinion on how this problem should be resolved, the NHL ruled that the trade could stand with the understanding that the Rangers and Nordiques would have to reach an agreement on a second Rangers player that was to be sent to Quebec by March 9, 1982. As you'd expect, the teams could not come to an agreement on a player, so an NHL arbitrator completed the deal by awarding Pat Hickey to Quebec on March 8, 1982 to finalize the terms of the deal. How crazy is that drama? Wow.

Getting back to the man of the hour, Gillis' arrival in Quebec City wasn't filled with fanfare, and he didn't spent much time in vieux Quebec. After just 12 games where he posted two goals and a helper, Quebec sent him to the AHL's Fredericton Express where he'd play 28 games, scoring two goals and adding 17 assists. Fredericton would miss the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs as the worst team in the eleven-team circuit.

Gillis would not spend another full season in the NHL after that demotion. He would play 37 games in two separate seasons for the Canucks in a second go-around with the team, but Gillis would spend time with Buffalo and Rochester where he'd help the Americans to the best AHL record and capture the 1983 Calder Cup, Vancouver and Fredericton, and Philadlephia and Hershey from 1982 until 1987. None of those locales would remain as a permanent home for Gillis, and he began to look elsewhere for opportunities.

With his career seemingly nearing an end in the NHL, Gillis decided to take his game overseas to Italy where he suited up for Italy-A's Brunico SG. He would join former Washington Capital Rick Bragnalo on Brunico, and Gillis would finish fourth in team scoring in 1987-88 with 20 goals and 36 points to help Brunico to a 15-18-3 record. In comparison, Kent Nilsson was absolutely crushing the Italian league, helping Bolzano HC to a 30-3-3 record while scoring 60 goals and 72 assists in just 36 games - and he finished second in league scoring!

Gillis hung up the skates following his season in Italy, but the lure of the game called him back as he decided to join the British Hockey League's Solihull Barons at the age of 31 in 1988-89. It seemed the time off may have recharged Gillis' batteries because he ripped off 46 goals and 47 assists in just 18 games with the Barons! Incredibly, the Barons still managed to go 9-21-3 to finish eighth out of ten teams in the British Hockey Leagues "Premier" Division - essentially, their ECHL level of hockey. Yikes!

Gillis would stick around for another season in Solihull where he'd add 50 goals and 35 assists in 30 games, helping the Barons to a fourth-place finish with a 16-15-1 record. He would lead the Barons in scoring by 31 points over teammate Jim Lynch, but his 85 points trailed league-leading scorer Gerard Waslen who racked up an impressive 116 goals and 201 points in just 32 games while also leading the league in penalty minutes with 149 PIMs! Who was this Waslen kid?!?

Gillis would move to a new BHL team the following season as he took his game to the Peterborough Pirates! His season wouldn't be long, though, as he only played six games with the Pirates before retiring from the game for a second time. In those six game, though, he tore up the league again by scoring 13 goals and adding four helpers. He still finished as the seventh-highest scorer for Peterborough despite playing one-sixth of the games that everyone else played!

The game still called to him, though, as Gillis remained in Britain to take a coaching job with the BHL's Telford Tigers in the top division. He had a great run in Telford that season, coaching the team to a 21-9-6 record, good for fourth-place in the top division! While hockey played a large role in his life for many years, it was in retirement in Quebec where GillisN discovered and converted to Scientology. Now, HBIC doesn't get into religion for the sake of everyone's sanity, but according to Gillis, "I made it to the NHL but Scientology has made me more successful. It has given me an understanding of life and relationships that cleared up a lot of 'advice' that I had before. And life is great!"

At the age of 39, Gillis decided to give the ol' hockey career one more kick at the can when he joined the Quebec Senior Professional Hockey League's Acton Vale Nova in 1996-97. That experiment lasted all of five games, and while he did record three assists Gillis walked away from the game for good after that stint. When all was totaled on his career, Gillis didn't have Hall of Fame numbers, but he played in a number of cities in countries around the world, got to see the world while he was playing hockey, and he even picked up a few accolades along the way. There's nothing wrong with that kind of career!

It is his second career, though, where's he's seen all sorts of success! Gillis might be one of Hollywood's most in-demand stuntmen as he's been working on major Hollywood films since 2002! Among his many credits are:
  • The Sum of All Fears starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
  • Shattered Glass where he was Hayden Christensen's stunt double.
  • The Day After Tomorrow starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum.
  • The Notebook starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
  • Death Race starring Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson.
  • Pacific Rim starring Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba.
Honestly, his stuntman career might be more rewarding than his hockey career at this point! He's been a part of a number of blockbuster movies, he's even appeared in a handful of roles, and he's still working! For one of five NHL players born in Oregon, Jere Gillis has made an outstanding life for himself after hockey. He's a member of SAG, ACTRA, and UDA, so you know he's a professional.

Honestly, you won't see Jere Gillis' name on many major trophies or in a Hall of Fame for hockey, but his life off the ice is far more interesting after he found himself as a part of Hollywood's lore. With 90 movies to his name, he's worked alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood while playing against some of the best athletes the sport of hockey has to offer. How many other people on this planet can say that?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

You're Not Naming Our Team

This port city on the coast of Casco Bay and just a stretch of water away from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is Portland, Maine. Portland used to have an AHL team called the Pirates, but that team unfortunately no longer exists as the franchise was transferred to Springfield, Massachusetts following poor attendance in Portland. Regardless of what happened in the AHL, the ECHL decided not to pass up an opportunity to expand into a hockey market with rich history, granting an expansion team to Comcast Spectacor to play in Portland in the 2017-18 ECHL season. With that being said, Comcast Spectacor has turned to the public for some help in naming the new franchise!

I'm all for fans naming a team as long as that name is something respectable. For a coastal city like Portland, there could be a number of names that one could choose with a naval theme or a water-themed name and everything would be fine. The other option would be to name the team after something that makes Portland, Maine unique. It could be something from the city's history, a specific point of interest, or something that Portland is known for when speaking about the city. To me, a name like "Mariners" seems appropriate, but may be a little too elementary for this contest.

"We are looking for a team name that connects the team to the area and with the fans; one that best represents Portland, Cumberland County, Southern Maine, and the competitive nature of this region," Danny Briere, Vice President of Hockey Operations for Portland Hockey, said at the press conference on Thursday. "This is Portland's team, and we want Portland to name this team."

And apparently they are dead-set on letting someone from the Portland region name this team. I've taken the liberty of bolding a portion of the statement below, but this is the statement found on the Portland, Maine hockey website.
The winner of the Name the Team contest will win 4 season tickets to the inaugural season, a team signed jersey and participate in the ceremonial puck drop on opening night!

Winner must be 18 years of age and a resident of Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Submissions must be made by August 14, 11:59 PM
I guess my "Mariners" name won't be selected unless I decided to move to Maine, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts.

Look, I get that you want a direct connection to fans in your region. There's nothing wrong with building support and community involvement through a "Name the Team" contest, and I wholeheartedly hope that people in that region take an interest and submit names. But why wouldn't they try to include more fans from additional regions who don't have a loyalty to any ECHL team and may find one with this new Portland-based franchise? I don't have any loyalty, and I'd love to win the team-signed jersey. If I won, I'd donate my season tickets to a children's charity in Portland so that more kids could attend games and I'd donate my puck-drop ceremony to that same charity where one of the children and his or her parents could take part in the festivities. If Portland Hockey Incorporated is going to exclude a major part of their fanbase - kids under the age of 18 - with this contest, I'd be more than happy to do my part to get more kids to their games.

I'm not saying that I know a heckuva lot of the history in the Portland area. I'm not saying I know anything about how to run a contest or how to market a hockey franchise. I do know that by excluding kids, the team may be cutting off a vast number of fans, both young and old, who will probably make up a large segment of the team's fanbase by excluding kids from the contest. No one says you have to select nine year-old Johnny's selection for the team name, but at least let the kids play when it comes to something fun like this! The buy-in from kids would be immediate, and that will rub off on their parents who will probably take little Johnny and Jenny to games to see their new team.

Here's hoping the Portland ECHL franchise gets a great name, comes up with amazing jerseys, and finds immediate success on the ice. The fans will play a major part in that success, especially early on when the name is chosen and logo is designed. Remember, Portland fans, Danny Briere told you, "This is Portland's team, and we want Portland to name this team."

But only if you're 18 or older. And live in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. And subscribe to Comcast TV, internet, and every other service they offer. And have voted in the recent election. And have seen a live hockey game in Portland. Anyone else want to place more exclusionary limitations on whose team this really is?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Free Agent Pipe Dream

I'm not sure if he just likes seeing his name in the news or if he's somewhat serious, but it sounds as though the 2017-18 season will be Ilya Kovalchuk's last in the KHL as he's planning to return to the NHL in 2018-19 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. While this may catch the attention of some NHL GMs, you have to think that Ray Shero's comments about not having the opportunity to turn down deals for Kovalchuk this summer should be a cautionary flag for the Kovalchuk camp in the NHL's desire to see Kovalchuk return to North American rinks.

The fact that Kovalchuk will be a free agent means that a few GMs will kick the tires on what will be a 35 year-old winger. The issue that presents itself is that contracts given to 35 year-old players are fully guaranteed as per the CBA. For a player who reportedly has lost a step in the KHL as age has begun to catch up to him, I'm going to doubt that many teams will show up with bundles of money to sign the aging star when he's been out of the league for nearly six seasons.

That's not to say there won't be interest, though. For a guy who scored 32 goals and 78 points in helping SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup, he has shown that he can still pull the trigger in the KHL and his play-making abilities are still there on the big ice. The critics, however, will point to the KHL and state that the game play is more akin to what you'd see in the AHL, so make of that what you will. There will be a few GMs who could offer a short-term deal who would want to see the sniper bag 25-or-more goals just as he did in nine of ten full NHL seasons.

As stated above, a few GMs called Shero about the availability of Kovalchuk via a trade earlier this summer, but Shero told Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com he never received a trade proposal from any team.

"It was, 'I talked to this team, that team, do you mind following up?' Which I did, and like I said, I never had an offer I turned down," Shero told Gross. "He had to get a deal somewhere. That was step one. Nothing happens with him. That never happened, at least to bring to me for me to consider anything. So again whatever happened in that process, I don't know. It wasn't my business, it was theirs. I was ready for point B but never got there."

Now it would seem like Shero left it up to Kovalchuk to make a deal with another team which is find for Shero to do, but Shero also added in the Gross interview that he was under the understanding that Kovalchuk would become a free agent in 2018. "Yes," he stated, "that's been the understanding all along. Won't have to go through this again."

In hearing that, I could see why Shero fielded zero offers on Kovalchuk. If a team can wait one season until he becomes a free agent, there's no sense in dealing players or picks for a guy who may want to play elsewhere anyway once he hits unrestricted free agency. But even if he had found a deal and some team traded for Kovalchuk, you still have to do the due diligence and find out what you're getting prior to making the deal and possibly signing Kovalchuk beyond 2018-19. With teams having scouts everywhere across the world now, it might more prudent than ever to really know what you're getting when you see who Kovalchuk's linemates were last season as well.

Look, this isn't a debate about whether Kovalchuk is coming back to the NHL. He is, and that much we can be sure of from his statements today. What the debate is about is signing a point-per-game player in the KHL to a guaranteed contract in the NHL for some term. Anything more than three years is ludicrous when you consider the number of 38 year-old players in the NHL today, but you'd have to expect that at 35 years of age Kovalchuk would want three years to make it worth his while. And term will most likely dictate what he's paid as well since that contract is guaranteed whether he plays, retires (again), or simply sits in the press box watching.

If your GM is a cautious man, I could see him trying to buy low on this one for a shorter term with the promise that the next deal, if Kovalchuk can bring in good returns, would make up the difference. If your GM is gambling man, I could see someone plunking down a three-year deal for $4 million in the hopes that Kovalchuk immediately brings results.

If you're Kovalchuk, though, there may only be five or six teams you're willing to even listen to when it comes to trying to win a Stanley Cup. Those teams are usually near the cap as it is, so Kovalchuk may be forced to take less in order to win. Whatever the answer is, we'll know Ilya Kovalchuk's strategy next summer on July 1. Until then, there is an NHL season to play and a KHL season to play, and anything can happen between now and then.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 252

The Hockey Show is a little late in getting this up today as the last twenty-four hours have been extremely busy, but here we are nonetheless. Tonight, Teebz is flying solo in terms of our regular hosts as Beans is off conducting a little family celebration as a birthday is happening, so we'll toss out some good wishes on that front. He will be joined by a special guest host, though, and the two will spend some time discussing a wide-range of topics as The Hockey Show gets back to its roots! Oh, and if you like winning stuff, tonight's show will have a couple of cool prizes up for grabs!

Tonight, The Hockey Show is proud and privileged to welcome a man who has been heard on Bisons hockey broadcasts as The Manitoban's Jason Pchajek sits down with Teebz in-studio! Jason covers all sports at the University of Manitoba and outside the campus as well as contributing on several other non-sports stories during his time at the university newspaper! He's extremely well-versed in the ongoings of the hockey world, so we're honoured he can spend some time with us! Among the topics we'll be covering tonight will be the recent slate of signings by the Winnipeg Jets and whether that will be enough to vault them past the usual suspects in the Central Division for a playoff spot, why the Moose seem to be content with being eliminated from the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs by Christmas, CWHL expansion and relocation, the new recruits by the Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team, why this year might be THE YEAR for the Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team, is Letterkenny the best Canadian comedy right now, the upcoming final season of 19-2 and what that drama means to Canadian TV, and we'll give away some clothing compliments of the Sami Jo Small Hockey School and Rebel Pizza! There's lots happening, so make sure you tune in tonight!

I wouldn't repeat it week after week if it wasn't important. Download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet! It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows!

If you prefer social media, we try to up-to-speed there as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, Teebz welcomes one of the upcoming-and-coming writers in Manitoba to the show as Jason Pchajek makes an appearance to talk hockey, Jared Keeso projects, and more only on The Hockey Show found on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: July 20, 2017: Episode 252

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Another Pro Thunderbird

It's starting to become clear that a few pro leagues have decided to give U Sports athletes a shot at playing professional sports. The latest player to sign a professional contract is the University of British Columbia's Anthony Bardaro from the men's hockey team. Bardaro will forgo his fifth and final year of eligibility to join HC Asiago of the Alps Hockey League which consists of teams from Italy, Austria, and Slovenia. He'll join a squad that finished as a finalist for the league championship last season, and HC Asiago is getting one heckuva competitor from everything we've witnessed in Canada West Conference hockey play.

Bardaro was a major reason why the Thunderbirds made the playoffs last season in Canada West. He led the team in scoring with 14 goals and 30 points while appearing in all 28 games for the T-Birds, placing him fourth-overall in Canada West scoring. While Calgary eliminated UBC in the opening round of the playoffs, Barbaro added a goal and an assist in the two games the Thunderbirds played against the Calgary Dinos. In 110 U Sports games, Bardaro scored 36 goals and 102 points while adding another 14 points in 14 playoffs games. He was a major part of the T-Birds' offence, and he'll get to try and elevate those skills in Italy next season.

"I'm extremely excited to begin my professional hockey career in Italy," Bardaro told Jeff Sargeant of UBC Sports. "My time at UBC has been amazing and I cannot thank all of my coaches and trainers, the university, and the athletics department enough for everything they have done to help me reach this point in my career. I look forward to being a part of this program's alumni in the future."

The former Prince Albert Raider was an arts student at UBC while representing them on the ice, and joined the team after one-and-a-half seasons with the Prince Albert WHL club. In his final season with the Raiders, he served as an assistant captain while scoring a career-high 25 goals and 57 points. Prior to playing with the Raiders, he had spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Spokane Chiefs. His WHL career saw Bardaro post 90 goals and 200 points in 266 WHL games. He was named as a CWUAA Second Team All-Star this past season after posting CWUAA career highs in goals and points.

"You can't replace a leader like Anthony," assistant coach Kevin Cech told Sargeant. "But as with Derek Dun and Luke Lockhart, it proves the strength of our program here at UBC and that's a big reason why we've got new recruits and returning players who are looking forward to the opportunity left by those guys."

As mentioned by Cech, Bardaro makes three Thunderbirds that have signed pro contracts this off-season as Dun and Lockhart signed with the KHL's Kunlun Red Star in late June, providing evidence that U Sports might be the most overlooked league in North America when it comes to solid prospects. And while no one is saying that teams should abandon their traditional scouting methods, it might be worth it to send a few scouts to U Sports games. When Team Canada takes goaltender Jordon Cooke to the Spengler Cup, there may just be a wealth of talent that the pro men's leagues are ignoring.

I suspect Bardaro will do well in Italy as he and girlfriend Chelsea Kerley head to Mediterranean country. Kerley, a graduate of Washington State University in Spokane's Nutrition and Exercise Physiology program, has worked extensively with hockey talent in Vancouver at Factory Hockey where a number of well-known hockey players work out in the off-season. There have been no announcements about Miss Kerley being hired, but it seems short-sighted if HC Asiago didn't utilize her knowledge and skills for its players as well.

In any case, I wish nothing but the best to one of Canada West's best players in Anthony Bardaro as he embarks on a new adventure in Italy and the Alps Hockey League! He's going to make a name for himself over there!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

US Pond Hockey Goes Sledding

Having been lucky enough to spend some time with Billy Bridges while he was working at the Sami Jo Small Hockey School, it became pretty apparent to me that sledge hockey still doesn't get the recognition that it truly deserves on both a local and national stage. Granted, it has made leaps and bounds over the last two decades thanks to players like Bridges, Brad Bowden, and Greg Westlake leading the charge for Canada on the international stage. We've seen the Norwegians, the Americans, the Japanese, and the Swedes all turn in solid programs over the past number of years as well, so the sport is growing with solid numbers and a fantastic following!

If one is looking to continue that solid growth, it helps if more people can take part in the game. Bridges had all the campers at the Sami Jo Small Hockey School give sledge hockey a try, and the smiles and laughter seen on the ice and after the sledge session was impressive as everyone seemed to love their experiences. But there still needs to be more exposure for the sport to grow, and one group that is taking a lead on that front is the US Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There was an announcement from the US Pond Hockey Championships yesterday as Jim Dahline sent out an update that came with a pretty important announcement for sledge hockey players. He writes,
"We have had sled exhibitions in the past, and it's a travesty that we haven't had a sled division. So this year, we're changing that. This is a first on the pond hockey circuit, and we're proud that USPHC will award the first Sled Championship in 2018."
That is OUTSTANDING! Well done, US Pond Hockey Championships. That's amazing news, and hopefully a number of excellent teams will play in this first edition of the tournament! With it being an Olympic year, there shouldn't be a pile of Olympic players there either, so there's a very good chance that a team of amateurs or semi-amateurs will capture that first championship!

I'd be very interested in returning to Minneapolis this February for the US Pond Hockey Championship, but that whole Super Bowl thing is a crowd with whom I really don't want to deal. NFL football fans are great, but the Super Bowl turns fans into fanatics sometimes, and I just wanna watch some pond hockey. Maybe I'll return in 2019 for the fun... and if I practice I could be on the ice on my sled!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Early Days Of Broadcasting

I feel pretty lucky that I get to be involved in the radio broadcasts of hockey each winter thanks to the University of Manitoba entrusting me and my esteemed colleague, TJ Phillers, to be the voices of Bisons women's hockey. After a short meeting with TJ tonight about this season's broadcasts, I realize that we've pioneered a number of firsts for Canada West hockey broadcasts of which we're pretty proud. But they pale in comparison to the guy who really blazed the path for all broadcasters, including us, in Foster Hewitt.

Hewitt is a Hall of Fame broadcaster who spent forty years as the voice of Hockey Night in Canada. I've always been curious as to how he was selected as the man to be the voice of Canada's most famous sports program, and there's a CBC video documenting this very subject!
He turned a part-time reporting job into the world's first full-time play-by-play hockey broadcast which is amazing to me. I thought it was kind of cool that he used the telephone to make the first radio calls as we still use that technology today for some of our broadcasts! Seeing Hewitt's path from the seats to the gondola is pretty incredible as well, and the explanation for the gondola makes total sense. For a three-minute video, there's a lot of great stuff that Hewitt shares!

We lost Foster Hewitt at the age of 82 on April 21, 1985 due to throat cancer, but the voice of Hockey Night in Canada is still one of the most important people in hockey history for everything that he did to make play-by-play broadcasts a weekly program that millions would tune into on the radio. The gondola that he had made famous unfortunately succumbed to the pure stupidity of Harold Ballard when he removed the gondola in August of 1979 to make room for private boxes. The gondola reportedly went to an incinerator and was never seen again.

Where would we, as hockey fans, be today without Foster Hewitt and that gondola?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

TBC: Leafs AbomiNation

I'm always one to throw a little shade on the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's just how we in western Canada view the Ontario city's NHL team. One thing I won't do is support the team in any way, so when I had a chance to acquire today's entry in Teebz's Book Club at a reduced price from the already-low price of $19.67 (nice poke at the team!), I jumped at that opportunity. It should come as no surprise that reading today's entry gave me some pleasure as the writers take a few shots at the Maple Leafs, so Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Leafs AbomiNation, written by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange and published by Random House Canada. To say that Feschuk and Grange pulled back the curtains on why the Leafs were mired in mediocrity since 1967 would be a bit of an understatement when it comes to this book.

From the Penguin Random House website, "Dave Feschuk is a sports columnist with the Toronto Star and formerly wrote for the National Post. He has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award, and his piece on the underdog's life of Wayne Gretzky's hockey-playing brothers was included in the anthology The Best American Sports Writing. Feschuk lives in Toronto." Feschuk has been with the Toronto Star since 2003 where he covers all sports for the newspaper, and seemingly was on Phil Kessel's bad side while he played in Toronto. There has been no word on whether the current Penguins winger and former Leafs winger has changed his opinion on Feschuk since being traded to Pittsburgh.

Also from the Penguin Randon House website, "Michael Grange is a sports reporter for The Globe and Mail and an award-winning magazine writer, writing in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for much of his 14-year tenure at Canada's national newspaper, the New York Times, and ESPN." Grange has since "joined Sportsnet in 2011 as a columnist for Sportsnet.ca and regular contributor to Sportsnet magazine. During his time at Sportsnet, Grange has become one of the network's leading basketball analysts and regularly contributes to Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and Sportsnet Central."

Leafs AbomiNation goes directly at all of the misfortunes, poor hirings, bad trades, and inept management that the Leafs have exhibited since Keon and the boys captured the Stanley Cup in 1967. Names like Ballard, Stavro, Peddie, Tanenbaum, Ferguson Jr., and Quinn all get mentions within Leafs AbomiNation, but Feschuk and Grange point out that there have been smaller mistakes made by each of these men who have run the Leafs that have led the Leafs cleaning house and appointing a brand-new empire to rebuild the castle. Being that this book was published in 2009, a few points have long passed, but it's the examination of the ineptitude of eras of management that had me glued to the pages.

It's interesting that two men who work in and around the Maple Leafs for a living would embark on a project like Leafs AbomiNation, but they seemed to get input from almost all the subjects which they covered. Aside from those who have passed on, the authors allowed the men under examination to respond to the allegations of mismanagement with which they are associated. It didn't take the edge off the words that Feschuk and Grange wrote, however, as they ripped into management from every era that has contributed to the long-suffering that Leafs fans have endured.
Ballard's anything-for-a-buck lust knew few boundaries. Concerned about a loss in revenue from program sales when the NHL mandated that teams emblazon jerseys with the players' surnames, Ballard obeyed the ordinance to the letter: he saw to it that white letters were sewn on the backs of white jerseys, so fans couldn't possibly read them. He sold the Stanley Cup banners that hung from the Gardens rafters. He once made inquiries with the arena superintendent as to how many cucumbers would fit in the 30,000-gallon tank that held the mixture that circulated through the refrigeration pipes beneath the rink floor. "He said he wanted to make dill pickles to sell at games," rink manager Wayne Gilespie told the authors of the book Forever Rivals. "He'd dream up these schemes — anything to make a buck — then he'd forget about them."
While their fact-checking requires a little work - HBIC went deep into the jersey names in the past - both Feschuk and Grange bring to life stories about the Maple Leafs that seem almost implausible. Reports of John Ferguson Jr. turning down an opportunity to sign Fabian Brunnstrom long before anyone had heard about him is detailed in Leafs AbomiNation. Details on Pat Quinn's refusal to mentor Ferguson Jr. are written. The various interests of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan as the majority owners are covered, and winning a Stanley Cup isn't high on their priority list. The squabbling between various segments of ownership through the years, the poor trades and scouting the Leafs have done, and the complete mismanagement of the team from top to bottom are all covered by Feschuk and Grange in Leafs AbomiNation.

I like a snarky piece as much as the next person, but I'm surprised that both Feschuk and Grange haven't been excommunicated by the Maple Leafs after all they wrote in Leafs AbomiNation. The writing is solid and the chapters read well, but there are definitely some stories that probably shouldn't have been put into ink if one was worried about one's career. I credit both Feschuk and Grange for taking that courageous leap in making that happen, and it makes for a very compelling book as we learn about the dirty laundry hidden behind the boardroom doors at MLSE. For that reason, there's no doubt that I, as a fan of things going wrong for the Maple Leafs, happily award Leafs AbomiNation with the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can find Leafs AbomiNation at most bookstores and libraries across this great nation!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Mea Culpa

Back in June at the introduction of the Kunlun Red Star CWHL team, there was a bit of confusion towards the pluralizing of the word "team" that CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress used. One team definitely was introduced that evening, and we all became excited for a six-team CWHL next season that involved some international, overseas travel. However, there was still some unrest at the idea of there being multiple Chinese teams next season after Miss Andress used "teams" in her speech. Would there be further announcements? Was there a second team in the works? What details had yet to be revealed?

These question went unanswered until tonight. With one tweet, the CWHL confirmed an article written in Chinese that stated there would be a second team. If you had listened to The Hockey Show on UMFM on Thursday night, I had asked Sami Jo Small about the possibility of two teams, and she confirmed the rumour that there would be two teams. However, she also stated that only one would play in the CWHL next season. I thought I had the story, and I ran with it on Friday when people were speculating about the second team.

What Sami Jo Small and I didn't know is that Miss Andress had left the press conference in Markham, Ontario on Tuesday in order to catch a flight over to China for a meeting with officials for the second hockey club. Sami Jo Small was in Winnipeg running her hockey school, so she'd have no idea about the changes that were happening behind-the-scenes in Toronto at the league offices when she reported what she did on The Hockey Show when asked about the possibility of two Chinese teams. Things literally change that fast in the CWHL right now.

With the plane carrying Miss Andress touching down in China some time later on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday, it's clear that Miss Andress and the Chinese officials who were interested in bringing this second CWHL team to fruition came to an agreement at some point over the next few days between Wednesday and today, prompting the tweet to go out tonight about the second CWHL team based in China. Again, Sami Jo Small would have had no communication on these new developments, and I happened to report what I (and Sami Jo) had known to be true at the time on Friday - there was no second CWHL team in China.

Tonight, I sit here with a little egg on my face for being vehement in defending what I was told. There is no one to blame for me speaking out about this other than myself for stating what I was told, and I'll take the heat for that. Blaming anyone else would be wholly and completely wrong, and I won't allow that to happen on my watch. I spoke out, I said the words, and I deserve the heat I have already felt and will feel in the coming days for the error. It's all on me, folks.

There's a lesson to be learned here, and it's one that I should have heeded in this time of incredible expansion in the CWHL. That lesson is that in times of great change, multiple sources confirming any story are extremely important. Any single-source stories, as I've been taught, should come from an authoritative source. I took Sami Jo Small as being an authoritative source, and I will consider her to be one in the future. However, until this summer of great change in the CWHL is over, I will double-down on my efforts and get multiple sources on any major piece of news so that I don't lead people astray in the future.

In saying that, I have one message: sorry, folks. I messed up. I promise to be better in the future.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Newly-Painted Huskies

Being one of the people on the play-by-play broadcasts for the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team means I don't spend a lot of time giving players from other teams in the Canada West Conference a lot of credit while on the air unless they do something rather spectacular. That's not to say that we in the booth don't discuss stuff off the air and marvel at the talents of the Bisons' opposition. We do that - a lot, in fact - but we simply don't do it on the air. Because of this, I rarely get a chance to make mention of the helmet designs employed by some of the netminders in the conference which are rather incredible!

The Saskatchewan Huskies will have Jasey Rae Book and Jessica Vance tending to their nets this season, and both will have brand-new paint jobs with which they can wow fans. Vance, who is a former Bisons redshirt, wore a white mask while with the University of Manitoba. She'll dazzle in the nets this season with her new paint job. Have a look at these designs with the hidden reflective messages painted into the designs.
Both masks were designed and painted by Schinny Designs in Lethbridge, Alberta. The company has done a lot of work with goaltenders in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but notably has worked with University of Saskatchewan men's goaltender Jordon Cooke and Mount Royal University Cougars women's netminder Jessica Ross from the CWUAA. As of right now, Schinny Designs is warranty-certified by both Bauer and Protechsport masks, so you shouldn't have to worry about your Bauer or Protechsport mask if you send it to them. Needless to say, both Book and Vance will look pretty sharp this upcoming season!

If you have a mask you want to see painted, please contact Schinny Designs and be sure to read the FAQ. There are things the company and cannot do when it comes to one's mask, so be sure you know what you're doing. And while Schinny Designs may be able to make you look good on the ice, you'll still have to put in the work to look good on the ice!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Hockey Show - Episode 251

The Hockey Show crossed over a major milestone last week with our 250th show in our illustrious? contemptuous? history, and we want to keep that party rolling! Tonight, for show #251, The Hockey Show is out on the road as we invade a local arena for some fun, laughs, and discussion on all things hockey! Guests will be on the show, Beans will not be on the show, Teebz will guide you through the discussions, and we'll see how many people we can get involved in this week's episode!

Tonight, The Hockey Show is proud, honoured, humbled and privileged to have been invited to Gateway Recreation Centre to broadcast live from the Sami Jo Small Hockey School! Sami and her cast of instructors have been working with the attendees at the hockey school all week, so The Hockey Show is going to bring the media element to the school tonight! Among the instructors who may be lingering around the Gateway Arena are Billy Bridges (who was phenomenal on last week's show), former Olympic gold medalist and CWHL All-Star Jenelle Kohanchuk, former Olympian Fiona Smith, and more! Needless to say, the star power at this camp is high, and we'll try to squeeze in a few words with as many of these world-class instructors as possible before getting some of the kids involved! There's bound to be some fun discussions, so make sure you tune in!

I also want to point out that there are still many camps being offered through the Gateway Recreation Centre if you missed the Sami Jo Small Hockey School here in Winnipeg. Click the link and check the dates because there are camps for all skill levels and age groups spread out through the remainder of the summer! For more details on these camps, click the outlink from the Gateway Rec Centre website!

Without doubt, this is going to be a fun show tonight, and you should be tuning in for it. How, you ask? Download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet! It's the easiest and most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows!

If you prefer social media, we try to up-to-speed there as well! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, The Hockey Show is live on-location at Gateway Recreation Centre as we talk to the instructors and players participating at the Sami Jo Small Hockey School only on 101.5 UMFM and on the UMFM app!

PODCAST: July 13, 2017: Episode 251

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Taking Steps Backwards

The Manitoba Moose are a curious case. For a team that has an abundance of youth looking to establish themselves in the professional game, there seems to be a definite lack of professional players who can show the next generation how to play like a professional, the work required behind-the-scenes to be a professional, and exactly what being a "pro hockey player" means. That's not to say that these kids don't carry themselves professionally or speak fluent "media-speak", but there seems to be an obvious chasm between the Manitoba Moose and the Winnipeg Jets when it comes to grooming the kids into professional hockey players.

If you remember some time ago, the Jets were a team picked by The Hockey News as the 2019 Stanley Cup champions. With high-scoring junior players being added at every draft, hope was bubbling over into hype with the number of blue-chip prospects the Jets seemed to be amassing. Names like Nic Petan, Chase De Leo, Scott Kosamchuk, Kyle Connor, and Jack Roslovic had scouts in a frenzy as the Jets continued to stockpile outstanding junior players.

Instead, the reality is that the Jets have visited the playoffs just once, winning a grand total of zero games in their illustrious history thus far - twice if you want to include Atlanta with a whopping zero wins to show for it - in what has to be one of the most laughable histories of any team to date. As the team approaches its twentieth anniversary of its founding, 2019 seems like a pipe dream when it comes to playoff success when the Jets simply struggle to even make the playoffs.

A lot of that missed opportunity can be directed at the AHL's Manitoba Moose and how they are run. Ever since the team relocated from St. John's, Newfoundland to the Manitoba capital, the Moose have done nothing but swirl around the drain, usually finding themselves eliminated from playoff talk around Christmas with the deficit in which they find themselves in the standings. There are some good players on the Moose squad, but they seem to be missing a few veteran players that other teams are only too happy to employ for the sake of development. Right now, the only thing developing with the Moose is a sense and an atmosphere of losing, and that's never going to help the kids become better hockey players.

Why am I speaking about this today? Well, the Moose decided to cut ties with their third- and fifth-leading scorers, setting Dan DeSalvo and Kevin Czuczman adrift as free agents to sign with any other team they like. The fact that the Moose opted to keep veteran players like Darren Kramer, Patrice Cormier, and Brandon Tanev over DeSalvo, Czuczman, and Quinton Howden shows just how poorly this AHL franchise is being run. It might be time to separate the NHL team's influence over this AHL team by giving it more independence to make decisions that help itself.

Instead, DeSalvo signed with the Hartford Wolfpack today, giving them a solid addition to their forward group. DeSalvo was a solid player for the Moose last season, appearing in 66 games while collecting 18 goals - eight of them coming on the power-play - and 22 assists. His 18 goals were second-highest on the Moose while he finished third in scoring. He was a solid face-off man as well - something the Moose desperately needed last season. There was no doubt that DeSalvo was a solid veteran addition, but the Moose allowed him to walk this off-season with little explanation.

Also gone is Kevin Czuczman. The rearguard played 76 games last season, picking up nine goals and 23 helpers to finish fifth in scoring, leading the Moose blue line in scoring by 12 points and setting career highs in both categories. He was often called upon to play against some of the better competition late in the season, but Czuczman showed improvement throughout the season that should have warranted a return to the Moose defence corps. Instead, he'll ply his trade with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this season after the Moose allowed him to walk as well.

Of the regulars returning, Patrice Cormier is the grizzled greybeard for the Moose at this point. He's 26 years old. Compare that to, say, the AHL Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins who re-signed Ben Street to a deal. Street will be 30 this season. Or maybe we should consider 33 year-old Brett Sterling with the Chicago Wolves. There's 33 year-old Chris Conner in Lehigh Valley, 38 year-old Tom Kostopoulos in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and 30 year-old John McCarthy from the San Jose Barracuda. The key with all of these players? They're veterans who have been around the game long enough to show the kids a few things in being a professional while being important contributors on their teams. Oh, and all their teams employee two-to-four guys who are aged 27 or older.

The year that Winnipeg's AHL affiliate lost in the Calder Cup Final - the 2013-14 St. John's IceCaps - saw them employ three regulars aged 27 or older, including leading scorer Jason Jaffray who was 32. Brenden Kichton and John Albert were fifth and sixth in scoring, respectively, and were the highest-scoring players on that team under the age of 25. Of that team, only the ninth-highest scoring player remains on this Moose team today, and that player - JC Lipon - has seen his scoring drop way off as the Moose became all about development. Lipon went from 42 points to 26, 30, and 30 in the next three seasons. So exactly WHAT are the Moose developing if the highest-scoring player remaining from a championship-caliber team has seen his scoring drop off in a big way while the team rids itself of veteran leaders and players?

There will always be good, young players who filter through an AHL affiliate. Kyle Connor got a chance to play alongside Jack Roslovic this past season with the Moose, and the two developed some great chemistry. Both will be fixtures on the Jets' roster at some point, but this pipe dream of a Stanley Cup parade in 2019 down Portage to Main Street in Winnipeg needs to end. The Moose do a horrific job at developing talent, and a lot of that has to do with pitching the veterans into free agency. Veterans are where the kids learn how to play the game through the vets' experiences, trials, and tribulations. Without a few veteran players, the kids have no experiences from which they can draw.

If youth but knew what age could do. Or, in this case, if the Moose but knew.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Moving To Markham

HBIC officially is not relocating. That's not even an option at this point in my life nor would I want to move. I like the little niche that I've carved out for myself, and I'm happy to be where I am. However, the CWHL made a significant decision to move today. Specifically, the league decided to move a franchise from an area where they were somewhat underrepresented to an area where they will receive increased exposure through both fans and television along with moving into a fancy new home. The Brampton Thunder will move northeast to Markham, Ontario and rebrand themselves as the Markham Thunder!

The Markham Thunder will take up residence in the Toronto suburb starting this winter for the 2017-18 season. Brampton, which was the lone Ontario women's hockey franchise that survived all the changes through women's hockey, will move into an arena that will accommodate TV cameras and crews, more fans, and possibly a fierce rivalry with the Toronto Furies in the years to come. While it's sad to see Brampton abandoned by the CWHL, this move to the city of Markham will be good for the team, the league, and the women's game overall.

Having the community support from Markham is huge, and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti was proudly on-hand to welcome the Thunder to Markham this morning. That's not to say that there wasn't community support in Brampton, but moving to "Canada's most diverse community" doesn't mean there will be more fans attending games unless the city of Markham and the CWHL sell the Thunder hard to the existing Markham community. From a diversity standpoint, the 2011 census information on Markham shows that residents who speak languages as their mother tongue outnumber the traditional Canadian official language speakers by a ratio of 171,875 to 117,785 - just under 55,000 more than English- and French-speaking residents combined. That's a lot of varying interests and sporting passions in Markham.

Where the CWHL and Markham should really make a push is through the Kunlun Red Star appearances in Markham in terms of appealing to one of the largest individual groups in its census area. According to the census, the number of residents who identified themselves as either Cantonese- or Chinese-speaking residents was 78,625 in 2011 - 26.1% of all respondents to the census. That's one-quarter of the entire census population in Markham, and there were some 40,900 women who identified themselves as Cantonese- or Chinese-speaking residents - over half of all those who identified themselves as having Cantonese or Chinese as their primary spoken language.

There has been talk that because the CWHL held the Clarkson Cup Final in Markham for a few seasons that the community is already primed for CWHL hockey. I'm calling nonsense on that idea as it's now 2017-18, not 2014, and the Clarkson Cup Final will bring in spectators and supporters from all over the map. We're talking about support for 15 home games plus playoffs potentially in an area that has only hosted the league's biggest game in the past. This will still be a hard sell for the team to overcome, but they do have access to the greater Toronto area now for added marketing opportunities. I just don't think this initial season is going to be rainbows and unicorns out of the gates unless the team adds some major star power or can sell the community on the Markham Thunder/CWHL experience.

I still have no idea why the CWHL and Markham are selling the players of yesteryear when there's a whole crop of amazing women playing for the Thunder. Statements from the releases that say, "The Thunder have been home to several great Olympians including Jayna Hefford, Vicky Sunohara, Cherie Piper, Gillian Apps and Lori Dupuis" do nothing for selling the on-ice product of today. Yes, those players are part of the Thunder's history, but why aren't we talking about Olympians Jocelyne Larocque and Laura Fortino? Why was there no mention of the CWHL All-Stars that included goaltender Erica Howe, defenceman Courtney Birchard, and forwards Jess Jones, Laura Stacey, Rebecca Vint, and Jamie Lee Rattray? Why is nothing said of the community and charitable efforts put forth by players like Fielding Montgomery or Liz Knox? There are a ton of amazing things being done by these women and every player on this Thunder team, and it seems like the CWHL, in its press conference, missed its first big selling opportunity to get the community onboard.

Look, I'm always critical of a relocation. I think that uprooting teams does harm to the civic pride of a community, and the resentment that hangs over said community towards the team and league can affect the team's financial performance. I lived through the Jets leaving Winnipeg, the Whalers relocating to Raleigh, the Nordiques jumping to Denver, the North Stars heading south to Dallas, and the Thrashers packing up for Winnipeg. I can tell you I've seen the good and bad, but the teams who have arrived in their new cities have sold the present and future well in order to get the community excited. I don't believe Brampton lost a team as much as the Thunder simply needed a better arena to in which to play. I hope that Brampton fans will continue to support the team even if they moved out of your backyard because this team and the CWHL rely heavily on your support. Don't hate them for moving into a better home the same way you wouldn't hate a neighbor for moving to a better home.

In the end, this move helps the Thunder for exposure and marketing opportunities. Whether or not the fans show up to support the Thunder in greater numbers than they saw in Brampton will remain to be seen. There are some key selling features the CWHL should be endorsing as reasons why people should go see the Thunder in my view, so we'll see what the future holds for this franchise.

If there is one certainty out of all of this commotion today, it's that the Furies now have a closer rival than before.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Montreal's Defence Looks Different

See these guys? After having been pillars on the Montreal blue line for a long time, vast changes swept through the defence corps of the Canadiens this off-season at the hands of GM Marc Bergevin. For a team with a franchise goaltender who puts up gaudy numbers each season, improving the team's defence usually isn't at the top of the list when it comes to improving one's team, especially when areas like scoring and middle-of-the-pack special teams could use some tinkering. Instead, Bergevin went out and blew Montreal's blue line apart in an effort to get younger and better at the same time.

While everyone will focus on the Karl Alzner signing as the "big move" by Bergevin, there were other key moves that weakened his blue line significantly in this writer's opinion. Of the fifteen defencemen used last season by the Canadiens, only six are still with the franchise today. They include Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber, Zach Redmond, and Brett Lernout. Redmond and Lernout will most likely start the season in Laval at the AHL level, leaving four NHL-experienced defencemen on the roster after all the moves were made.

Gone are important secondary pieces such as Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin. Beaulieu played in the most games in his career last season, registering career highs in goals and tying for second in power-play points despite playing considerably less power-play time than Andrei Markov. Some will point to the fact that he was last among the Canadiens' regular defencemen in Corsi and scoring-chances-for percentages, and it seemed that he was exposed by the New York Rangers in their playoff series in terms of his defensive play. However, for a player who is just 25 and playing in his second full NHL season, Beaulieu's progress should have been good enough to warrant a roster spot this season. He'll have one, only it will be with the Buffalo Sabres who acquired him from Montreal so that Montreal wouldn't lose him for nothing in the expansion draft.

The other player who ate a ton of minutes and played a solid defensive role was Alexei Emelin. For as those that decry his somewhat questionable hits and the lack of speed he possesses, he was Shea Weber's defensive partner on the top pairing and the two spent some 850 minutes together at five-on-five. They spent significant time together killing penalties as well, and the hiring of Claude Julien saw improvements to a penalty kill that was ranked in the bottom-third for most of the season. The fact that Emelin was still sent over the boards by Julien in these situations shows that the coach believed in his players. Some will say that Emelin was buoyed by Weber in his own end, and there may be some truth to that statement. When paired with Jeff Petry at times under Julien, Emelin's poor skating and poor judgment with trying to throw a big hit were exposed. Emelin's contributions in playing the most games and minutes of his career, though, helped the Montreal blue line this season.

Let's be honest: Karl Alzner is probably a better defensive replacement for Emelin than for he may be given credit. Alzner won't be much help in the offensive department unless something changes within his game over the summer, but Alzner is a slight upgrade over Emelin. The other replacement that Bergevin brought in was David Schlemko via trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Schlemko and Beaulieu are comparable players overall, so we'll call that a wash. They also signed Joe Morrow for some depth, so the Canadiens have a little depth, but he's no Mikhail Sergachev in terms of his potential.

If you're looking at the depth chart, Weber, Petry, and Jordie Benn are your right-side defencemen. That leaves Alzner, Schlemko, and Brandon Davidson as your left-side defencemen. While younger than the Markov-Emelin-Davidson combination, there's a significant lack of experience there as well. Alzner certainly has played in big games and seen almost every situation, but Schlemko and Davidson haven't had the seasoning that Markov and Emelin have had in their careers. I'm not saying that will plague the two younger defencemen, but expect some bumps on the road as they are forced into situations by default that they may not have encountered at this point in their careers.

Do I like what Bergevin has done this off-season? I'll say that the jury's still out. I know they needed scoring and to get Jonathan Drouin they had to give something up, but Mikhail Sergachev seemed like a stiff price to pay. I know they didn't want to lose Beaulieu for nothing in the expansion draft by exposing him, but maybe they should have swung a deal to keep Beaulieu with the Golden Knights. I do like the addition of Schlemko and potentially giving Davidson a bigger role, but the left side, if the roster remains static, might be exploitable for a lot of teams.

One thing is certain for next season: the Canadiens' blue line will look far different than it did this season. Where that will take them is all up to the players and coaching staff now.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Don't Blow A Tire

Hockey, as we've seen over the years on this blog, comes in many forms. There's the ubiquitous ice hockey whose hockey form gets the most coverage across this planet. Field hockey is also quite popular across Eurasia and the Australian continents, and HBIC usually gives Olympic years its due coverage. From there, we've seen sledge hockey, floor hockey, underwater hockey, air hockey, and a number of other forms that seem a little odd, yet have a following of dedicated players who regularly play and practice the game. Today, HBIC brings you another form of this great game that apparently has a following all over the world... and somehow has eluded my vision of the game!

I'll be completely honest: I am ignorant of the rules and how the game is played, so let's go to the video!
Ok, so Peter Searle, the uploader of said video to YouTube, seems to have a little fun with the dramatic introduction of the game, but watching that video seems to show that the game is a lot like regular ice hockey with a few notable exceptions. Let's take a look at some of the differences as documented in the game's official rules as per the governing body, the International Unicycling Federation.

First off, there are five players to a side with a minimum of three players needed for each team to start a game. There are no goaltenders - each member of the team can play goaltender with no special privileges awarded to whomever is guarding the net at the time. Any stick deemed legal for play in ice hockey is also legal for unicycle hockey except for the goaltender's stick which is not allowed in the game whatsoever. Sorry, ice hockey goalies - this game kind of excludes you.

The equipment is pretty standard - shorts with kneepads or pants, shoes, gloves, helmets, dental protection, and a jersey or shirt of similar colours and markings as your teammates. It's the unicycle's measurements that seem to vary among players. The maximum diameter of the wheel is 24 inches, but it seems most players prefer a 20-inch wheel diameter for quick turns and bursts of acceleration. With my limited - read: none - experiences on unicycles, I wouldn't be able to tell you the differences and pro and cons between the wheel sizes. Just know that a two-foot diameter is your limit. There cannot be any protruding parts on the unicycle that could cause injury such as bolts or quick-release levers, and the pedals have to be made of plastic or rubber. Believe me, those metal pedals with the teeth on them leave a heckuva mark on your shins if you get dinged by them!

The ball is a regular street hockey ball made of the hard rubber that leaves a welt when it hits you. Alternatively, a "dead" tennis ball can used. A dead tennis ball is one that bounces thirty to fifty percent of its original height when bounced. The only key is that the type of ball used must be attainable in all countries where unicycle hockey is played or it is removed from play.

In the case of penalties, we see something similar to field hockey. All penalties result in a free shot from the point where the penalty occurred. However, according to the rules, "a team gets a free shot within the opponents' goal area, the free shot is done from the closest corner mark (corner shot). If a team gets a free shot within their own goal area, the free shot is done at a distance of 1 m in front of the goal line (goalkeeper's ball)." Again, this is somewhat like field hockey's rules for free shots. The free shot must be indirect and the player executing the free shot can only touch the ball once before another player touches the ball. Opposing players and sticks must remain two meters from the free shot location.

But what if the penalty disrupts a scoring play, you ask? They have covered too.
If legal playing would have led to a direct chance to score a goal, a "6.5 m" is given. This includes fouls outside the goal area. The ball is placed at the 6.5 m mark. A player of the defending team goes to the goal and must sit with the bottom of the wheel of their unicycle within 0.5 m of the goal line. The other team chooses a player to shoot the 6.5 m. All other players must leave the goal area. After the referee's whistle the goalkeeper must ride the unicycle freely and not rest on the goal. The attacking player has three seconds to make one shot. If no goal is scored, play continues as soon as the ball touches the post, the keeper touches the ball or the ball crosses the extended goal line.
But wait, you say, if there are no goaltenders and it appears a team has a guaranteed goal, what about then? The rules account for that too!
If the defending team prevents a goal from being scored through an illegal play of the ball and if, in the opinion of the referee, the ball was traveling directly toward the goal and would definitely have entered the goal without being touched by another player, a penalty goal may be awarded. In this case the attacking team is awarded a goal. If there is any doubt as to the certainty of a goal, a 6.5 m must be awarded as described in section 8.4.2.
Basically, if your name isn't Patrik Stefan, there would almost certainly be a goal awarded. And, of course, if you're a real troublemaker on the court, they have rules for that too.
The referee can send a player off the field for two minutes, five minutes or for the remainder of the game. This is done in the case of unsporting behavior and also for intentional or dangerous disregard of the rules. While a player is in the penalty box, the team may not substitute a replacement for that player.
Just play within the rules and everything will be alright. Alright? Good.

The game is played in two 15-minute halves with a five-minute break between said halves. A bully - also known as a face-off in the hockey world - occurs at the center mark to start the half. If a game is tied after regulation time, there is another five-minute break followed by two five-minute halves with no break in between these extra halves. If still tied after the overtime periods, a penalty shootout will determine a winner.

To play, one basically has to be able to ride the unicycle freely. If one dismounts or falls off, the rider must get back on the unicycle at the point of the dismount and can only return to play when both feet are back on the pedals. If a player appears to be an obstacle in the course of play, that player must allow the play to play through without being an obstacle before returning to play on the unicycle. Basically, if you fall, don't be a speed bump.

The good news is that any part of the player, stick, and unicycle is legal in terms of playing the ball, but players cannot play the ball with the body in successive contacts. In other words, no knocking the ball down to a foot to redirect the ball as an example. Players are also not allowed to catch the ball at any time - open hands must knock the back down. If a ball gets caught in the spokes of a unicycle, the opposing team gets a free shot. And just like all forms of hockey, a goal cannot be scored if the ball is directed in off the hands or arms. Any player defending the net that moves the net will also give the opposing team a free shot. Any player who is caught dropping or throwing a stick intentionally will serve a two-minute penalty off the court without substitution as well as giving the opposition a 6.5 m free shot.

Unlike ice hockey, the game is played with as little contact as possible. Sticks raised above the hips indicate "exaggerated roughness", and players are not permitted to stick check opponents with any over-exertion of effort. Flipping the blade of the stick downwards is also prohibited. Players cannot push one another to knock opponents off-course, and players who have the ball have the right of way in almost all cases. The only player who can stop a player from traveling in a straight line is one who is idling or resting on one's stick. Ultimately, it is the referee who will determine right-of-way in the majority of these cases.

There are, of course, two major cases where a stick infraction could be dangerous: stick under bike (SUB) or stick in bike (SIB). If a player "subs" or "sibs" his opponent, it is an automatic foul regardless of intention. The result would be a free shot or a 6.5 m free shot depending on the foul's location. Aside from those stated rules in these last two paragraphs, everything else that constitutes gentlemanly play would apply in unicycle hockey as well.

The only other rule that stands out is the "long shot" rule.
A goal is disallowed if the ball was shot from one's own half and was not touched by anyone afterwards. The defending team gets a free shot (goalkeeper's ball). This rule does not apply if the ball is shot from the opponents' half into one's own goal.
Basically, like field hockey, one has to cross the half if one wants to score on one's own. Otherwise, the deflection play might be a routinely-called option if there's a need for a quick goal.

Unbeknownst to me, there are three countries with national unicycle hockey leagues: Australia (8 teams), Germany (53 teams!), and Switzerland (20 teams). England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea also have organized clubs that play regularly within those countries as the popularity of the sport seems to be similar to that of field hockey nations. In most nations, the club competitions feature teams of mixed genders, but the major unicycle hockey leagues consist mostly of men against men competitions. Needless to say, this could be the first sport that doesn't separate the men and the women during competitive play! I think that's an incredible feature of the sport, so here's hoping that remains a part of the game!

And with that, we have another version of hockey covered! I've never seen or even heard of it being organized in my area, but I might have to see if there's any sort of underground action of which I'm not aware. If you've seen or played the game, contact me here! I'd love to hear more about it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

En Fuego... Literally

This quiet little property is known as the Gigantium. Better known by its sponsored name, the Jutlander Bank Arena, the rink is home to the Aalborg Pirates in Denmark's Metal Ligaen. While it sits quiet right now, the arena is usually rocking when its main tenant is winning hockey games. It's a rather impressive building, seating 5000 fans for hockey and 8500 for concerts, making it the largest rink in the Metal Ligaen when it comes to the hockey part of its life. Aalborg Håndbold, the Danish Handball League entry, also plays its games at the Gigantium. Needless to say, it's a building that is bustling with sporting and musical activity on most days, but there was an entirely different sort of activity taking place at the building over the last few days.

Fire crews and police were called down to the rink on Wednesday morning after being notified by an employee that a portion of the building was on fire. According to reports, the handball facility took the brunt of the damage while the swimming and skating buildings were spared from the damage. Thanks to the quick actions by firefighters, it sounds as if the damage suffered by the Gigantium might be less than what was estimated.

"The extent of the damage actually looks reasonable considering the sight we met when we arrived at the scene. We initiated a strong response in order to limit damage," firefighter team leader Anders Brosbøl told The Local. "There is also water damage caused by all the water we used. But it looks like we will be able to salvage the wooden floor."

This is good news for handball fans, albeit still terrible news. While the handball facility will certainly be out of commission for some time, having the rest of the facility unaffected by the fire is a credit to the local firefighters' efforts. Handball has a very large following in Europe, and Aalborg's fans are no different as the sport ranks second in popularity in the community behind the soccer club. It will take some time to rebuild the handball facility, but the fact that the firefighters worked hard and saved the floor - an important part of the handball game - deserves some major kudos.

Thankfully, no one was injured in the blaze. One firefighter went to the hospital for observation, but he reportedly is fine. The only other employee that may have been affected by the fire seems to be a staff member who was using a weed burner on the exterior to get rid of some unwanted vegetation. It seems that the weed burner was the cause of the fire. Police reports state that the employee was removing weeds when he discovered that the building had caught fire. He then wisely contacted fire services. Unfortunately for the employee, charges of breaching safety and a fine will be handed out as per the police report.

Why am I reporting on a fire at a sportsplex half a planet away? As you may know, friend of the blog Brandon Reid is the head coach for the Aalborg Pirates. Thankfully, his team won't be affected by the fire, but it's still pretty brutal to see the handball team lose their home. The best part of this accident, though, is that there were thankfully no casualties. For something as innocent as a weed burner to cause this fire, it's always a relief that no families were affected by a major tragedy. Let's just hope that this serves a purpose in knowing how to use tools properly and safely.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!