Saturday, September 29, 2007

Move over guys, looks like LA found a good goalie

Looks like Jonathan Bernier has found a new home in Los Angeles.

He just finished his first NHL game as the goalie for the LA Kings, and it was a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Up until about 13 minutes into the 3rd frame, it looked like Bernier was going to get the shutout victory, but then the Ducks finally connected on their powerplay. Oh's still a very solid game for Bernier.

Everyone knows that Bernier's a good goalie. He demonstrated his skills a few weeks back in the Super Series, but I wondered if he was ready for the show now, or if he would need another season in Lewiston.

The Kings could still send Bernier back to the Q, but I would be shocked if they did. They need a goaltender...or anyone who can stop a couple of pucks now and then...and Bernier didn't stumble in his debut.

What impressed me most was not that he showed great positioning, calmness, and had confidence to boot - because I already knew that about him. What impressed me was that he was able to maintain all of that considering the situation:
(1) It's his first NHL game
(2) He's halfway around the London
(3) He's playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions
(4) He's only 19 years old...19!!

I think we'll be seeing Bernier all season long in a Kings uni, and he'll give his team a shot to make the playoffs this year.


It was funny to see the crowd at the O2 arena boo Pronger - you'd think it was an Ottawa crowd that flew over London. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

One lousy split second...

I swear, if the Pens had only one-tenth of a second left on the clock, they would've forced overtime in their pre-season game against Buffalo tonight, Sid would've gotten the hat trick, and then everyone would've celebrated by getting smashed. But Malkin scored just a split second too late. Pens lose 6-5. Crap.

How about some positives? I think that Sid and Geno looked great on the ice. Lots of pressure, and Sid's all over the scoresheet with 2 goals and an assist. And Geno drew a ton of penalties to get the Pens on the PP, and luckily the PP actually clicked tonight. Three goals while up a man - really good, considering they only had 2 PP goals in their previous four games, combined. AND their PK was perfect.

The bad...well, Sabourin didn't look great in goal. Or good. He had a few pretty good saves, but they all do at some time or another. He just looked completely out of place in his crease and the Sabres took advantage of him. Made me wish that T-Bo was back as backup to MAF.

The Pens D looked a Ok, they didn't look all that great. Sydor is supposed to be better than he was tonight, and Letang just played himself right on down to the AHL.

I won't completely tear them apart though, given that it's still the pre-season and they're still gellin'. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a 'brain fart'. Besides, the games don't really matter, and success in the pre-season means nothing for the actual season. Look at Chicago last year - they won like 7 of 8 games in the pre-season, but were golfing in early April.

One more pre-season game against our 'pals' the Sabres tomorrow night, and then we await Game 1 of the 2007-08 NHL season late next week. Schweeeet.

Downie, go sit in your room and think of what you did

Steve Downie, no NHL for you!!....for 20 games, anyway.

Colin Campbell handed down his ruling today, suspending Steve Downie for 20 games. In addition, the Flyers forward will not be able to play in Philly's remaining pre-season games. But he just may be able to see AHL action. How absolutely stupid would that be...

In case you've been living under a rock, Downie was suspended for his sickening, nasty hit on Dean McAmmond during Philly's pre-season match with the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. You read more about it here.

So, 20 games....that's a lot. It's the fifth longest suspension in NHL history. Bertuzzi was handed a 20-game suspension for his beating on Moore. Many say that this is not right, that what Bertuzzi did was more wrong and that Downie should not have gotten that long a suspension. Bull.

Both hits were disgusting.

Both hits were pre-meditated - though Bertuzzi's hit was, arguably, 'more pre-meditated' since his response was 3 weeks after the fact and Downie's response was about 15 seconds after the fact..

But the results were different: Moore suffered a concussion and a broken neck, which ended his career. McAmmond suffered a concussion (his second in 3 months) and muscle damage, and so far it looks like he'll return to the ice - though you never know with these things.

The NHL has a history of being indecisive and grossly inconsistent when it comes to punishment. One guy will get 10 games, while another will get 1 game for the same incident. I hope that things will change, though I've been known to be a little too optimistic.

Ok, maybe way too optimistic.

I hope that this suspension will get the message across to all players that these nasty head shots are unacceptable and that the hammer will fall if they should go head hunting. Don't get me wrong - I don't want the NHL to become the No Hitting League. I just don't like to see guys get hurt and risk their future well-being. How can you enjoy the game if you know that these guys will develop neurological symptoms after their playing careers are over as a result of concussions?

One thing that the NHL should do is to make headshots illegal, and to be consistent with their punishment. Pronger should get the same punishment as Downie. A hit is a hit is a hit, no matter who delivers it.

Step two is to redesign the gear. Why the heck are these guys wearing body armour out on the ice? "Shoulder pads" my ass. It's more like having a brick strapped to your shoulder. If you're going to have something hard on the shoulders, they should be covered with thick foam at the very least.

For now, we wait. Until the next guy delivers a sickening hit. And then we look to Campbell and see if he has the guts to take a stand.

And we wait to see if Downie will serve his suspension immediately, meaning that he has a spot on Philly's roster. If that's the case, he'll face the Ottawa Senators in his second NHL game.

You can bet that the NHL big-wigs will be at that game.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pre-season PIMs....there's a lot of them.

Anybody paying attention to the NHL pre-season? If so, you would notice a few things.

First, the players are showing off their new threads and look 10 pounds lighter doing it, even if they are carrying an extra 10 pounds of sweat in their gloves and skates.

Second, things have been rough. Really rough. All kinds of fights and brawls. Just take a look at what happened the other night between the Isles and Rangers:

And what accompanies fights and brawls and general horseplay? Injuries. Just ask Andrew Archer how his face is doing after running into Georges Laraque's fists.

Then again, injuries are not just the result of the big bad wolf on the other team. Sometimes they come at the hands of your own teammates - hello, Petr Sykora's nose, meet Brooks Orpik.

And sometimes it's just gravity, except instead of an apple falling on your head, it's a skate falling on your wrist and slicing three tendons. Yes, I'm talking to you Dan Boyle.

Sure, we all know that hockey is a physical sport and people get hurt sometimes. Yadda yadda, this is yesterday's news. But something that should be front and centre is the 'dirty player'. The guys who go out there and lose their marbles. The ones who will intentionally try to hurt another player, and then turn around and call it a 'hockey play'.

You could point out any number of players who would fit this description, but I'm thinking of one incident in particular. Something that happened last night in the second period of a Sens/Flyers pre-season game. Something that was absolutely sickening.

Steve Downie is a player that can be good. He did well on 2 Team Canada squads that went to the World Juniors, but there is something about this guy that is unsettling. He can snap in an instant, and Dean McAmmond was on the receiving end of a devastating blow last night. Sure, you could say that McAmmond had his head down, and I haven't been as critical of other guys who have hit players who had their heads down, but somehow Downie is different. I think that Downie can potentially snap and do something really heinous on the ice. There's just something that doesn't quite sit right.

You have to wonder about a guy who cross checks a rookie (and teammate) in the mouth, knocking out 3 of his teeth, because the rookie wouldn't participate in a hazing stunt.

Sure, Downie said that he was sorry for hurting McAmmond last night, but he also said that he was just trying to make the roster and that he always finishes his checks. Sorry, but it sounds like Downie's trying to justify what he did.

In the meantime, Downie is suspended until further notice (thanks to a match penalty issued after the hit). I expect that the NHL will take action against Downie and that he will be handed a lofty suspension, but how meaningful would that be? The Flyers would have likely assigned Downie to the AHL for part, most, or even all of the season. To me, missing AHL games due to suspension is not nearly as bad as missing NHL games.

There is no doubt that Downie should be suspended (even if it doesn't mean much), but I don't think that it should end there. Downie is a disaster waiting to happen, and what happens if he goes after the League's young stars - the money-makers of the NHL. The League is trying to sell its product to the American public, and the Crosby's and Ovechkins are the ones to do it. Bettman wouldn't be too happy if his money-makers were out with season-ending head injuries. The NHL should be proactive and order Downie to undergo some sort of psychological counseling. He was ordered to do so in the OHL, but I think he should go back and think about what he did.

Something else that is worrisome is the potential for retribution. The next time the Senators play the Flyers will be intense, to say the least. Brian McGratton, the Sens' heavyweight, had a few words to say following the game:

"He'll get what's coming to him," said McGrattan. "He'll do it to the wrong guy and somebody will put him out of hockey. You do that at his level a couple of times, guys in junior won't do it, but guys at this level will.

"He'll get what's coming to him next time we play him, that's for sure."

If I was in Bettman's shoes (though who really wants to be in those shoes?), I'd be a tad concerned. I wouldn't want another Bertuzzi/Moore incident.

As for Dean McAmmond, poor guy. Pronger's elbow did a number to his noodle in June, and now it's another concussion courtesy of Downie. He did catch a break, however, by keeping all of his bones fracture-free (poor Umberger and Upshall can't say the same) and by not getting his face danced on when the guys staged their brawl on top of his unconscious body. Always a silver lining...


3 days until the NHL season officially begins with the Rubber Duckies taking on the Queens in London-town.

9 days until the Pens' season opener against the 2006 Stanley Cup Champions. Staal vs. Staal - I predict a Staal will win this game. And Gary Roberts will set the tone of the season in the only way he knows how - by kicking ass.

Little known Gary Roberts Fact:
Gary Roberts destroyed the periodic table, because Gary Roberts only recognizes the element of surprise.

New Tide ad, courtesy of my lil bro...

Bet my 'Habs-loving' friends will get a kick outta this. The Leafers will be pissed, though.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pens TV: It's good, and then it sucks

Pens TV. It's this great little thing that you can click on and watch Pens-related videos. Like the "Town Hall Meeting." Or videos of the guys delivering tix to the STH. Or training camp footage and player interviews. You know, the good stuff that us fans like to see, and an excuse for me to blow off school work.

So imagine my excitement when I heard that the Pens/Wings game was going to be shown online on Pens TV. I believe my reaction was something like, "Schweeeet something to do on Saturday." Or something.

How naive of me to think that the NHL couldn't disappoint me tonight. At 8:30, I logged on to Pens TV and signed up for the FREE (ooo lovin' that word) Centre Ice pre-season package and then BAM I see two words that made my heart sink: BLACK OUT. What the frig? The game isn't being broadcast at all here in Nova Scotia, so why the hell is it being blacked out?

As it turns out, the NHL big wigs have something against Canada or something. Okay, maybe I'm getting a little carried away (although a number of Canucks wouldn't think so...), but they are stopping the feeds at the border. Not all of the feeds, mind you - we get the pleasure of seeing any Canadian pre-season games, such as the Leafs/Bruins tonight.

But no Pens.


Maybe I should try signing up with a fake American-based address, but they probably have the CIA watching to make sure that doesn't happen.

Go Pens.

Online shopping for Canucks - What a rip off.

So today I was perusing and I decided that I was gonna check out the brand spankin' new jerseys. Heck, I thought that I just may buy one of those suckers - one of the new Pens sweaters, that is.

I made my way to the shop and I took a peek at the jerseys - $115 for the Premiers, $250 for an Authentic, and 80 bucks to customize. Ok, sweet. I clicked and clicked, went to the checkout, and found out that I had to create an account to buy my stuff. Ok, fine, je comprends. I filled in the address part and couldn't find my stinkin' country on the list! They had Bangladesh, Vatican City, and Thailand, but no Canada. Frig.

Then I noticed a little something at the top right hand corner: a little Canadian flag. So I clicked on it.

Yes, back in business...So I redid my clicky clicky thing again, and FRIG, the prices jumped on me! Premier sweaters sold at a price of $136CAD, Authentics a crazy $296CAD, and customization at $84CAD. Besides all that, there's triple the shipping cost and all those hideous taxes and duties and crap.

In past years, this price difference would be understandable. The Canadian dollar was at $0.70US, so a price difference was no biggie. But the stupid economy is different now, and our Loonie is on par with the US Dollar. One Canadian Loonie is roughly equal to one American Dollar. The news people keep saying that this is good for the Canadian consumer because things will be cheaper. I assumed that this would translate to online shopping. Guess not.

What a rip off...but I'll still probably whip out my credit card (or student loan money) to get one of these puppies. Stupid corporate people, taking advantage of us non-corporate people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gary Roberts is my Homeboy

One of the best websites around town is Chuck Norris Facts. As I glanced through these facts about the greatest action star to have ever walked this planet, I noticed the similarities between Norris and Gary Roberts, the kick ass left winger of the Pittsburgh Penguins who is so intense that he doesn't even smile. Ever. Just look at his official pic.

I thought I'd list a bunch of Gary Roberts facts for anyone who gives a damn. (plagiarism from Chuck Norris Facts? maybe...or maybe just cleverly borrowed...)

How does this sound...

- The chief export of Gary Roberts is pain.

- There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Gary Roberts allows to live.

- Gary Roberts is the reason why Waldo is hiding.

- Gary Roberts invented black. In fact, he invented the entire spectrum of visible light. Except pink. Tom Cruise invented pink.

- When Gary Roberts is in a crowded area, he doesn't walk around people. He walks through them.

- If Gary Roberts were a calendar, every month would be named Garytober, and every day he'd kick your ass.

- What's known as UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, doesn't use it's full name, which happens to be "Ultimate Fighting Championship, Non-Gary-Roberts-Division."

Note: the above Gary Roberts facts are, indeed, true. Should you disagree, be prepared for a good ol' fashioned ass-kicking from Mr. Garytober himself. Booyah.

Kids say the darndest things...

So the Isles are in Monkey-Town (duh, this is only the third time I've mentioned it), and the GM of the Isles, Garth Snow, visited a bunch of elementary school kids in Moncton. He did the whole "stay in school" bit, yadda yadda yadda, and then he took questions. Now is when things get good...

Imagine this: New Brunswick is a bilingual province, and Moncton is a bilingual city. I'd say that about half of the people in Moncton are either French, or have French parents/grandparents. The other half are English. It is also a hockey city, so you can imagine how the NHL loyalties're either a Leafer, or a Canadien. The English peeps tend to be Leafers, while the Frenchies side with the Habs.

Snow asked how many of the kids are hockey fans, and about half of the hands went up.

He then asked how many were fans of the Islanders.

Hands went down.

At least they didn't lie, eh?

The kids asked tons of questions about Snow's favourite team, favourite player, etc. - and the answer was always related to the NYI. Soooo...the kids showed their smarts and phrased the question differently: Of all the teams he played for, which was his favourite, other than the Islanders. Hahaha gotcha buddy...

Answer: A Canadian team - the Canucks :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ilya Bryzgalov, like you've never seen him before

Ever wonder what goes on in a goalie's mind? Well, wonder no more. Here's a video to show you exactly what is going through Ilya Bryzgalov's mind during a game.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Elmo used to be a Buffalo Sabres fan...

...before July 1st, that is.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Isles take over Moncton

Yesterday was a great day to be a hockey fan in Moncton, with the New York Islanders in town.
I wrote about the festivities yesterday, so I thought that I'd post a few photos that were in the Times and Transcript.

I can just imagine the atmosphere in Moncton. They closed down Main Street and had a mini-parade of sorts with the Isles, both U de M hockey teams, the Moncton Flyers and the Moncton Gagnon Beavers. The players signed autographs and posed for tons of photos with eager fans (and Bill Guerin stared down photographers all over Monkey-Town - see photo 2). There was even a stage set up in the middle of the street, and the band "Old School" played for the crowd.

It's amazing because Moncton is no itty bitty city. It's the largest city in the province, the second largest east of Québec, and one of the fastest growing places in North America. Main Street reminds me a bit of Old Montréal and even Paris, with restaurants, cafés, and boutiques lining the downtown portion of the road, and they often close it down in the summer for festivals and outdoor mini-concerts.

How I do miss it all...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Isles invade the Hub City

Want to meet a true professional hockey player?

If you’re kicking around Moncton for the next 9 days, then you just may be in luck.

Ted Nolan has brought his New York Islanders to the Hub City for training camp and an exhibition game against (who else?) the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday the 19th.

Nolan is no stranger to Monkey-Town. He was a top-notch coach in the NHL back in the mid-1990s, but was let go from the Sabres in 1997, the same year that he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach. He turned down a couple of offers and then had to wait eight years before the NHL came knocking on his door, but it was Moncton that paved the way for Nolan’s return to the big league.

In April of 2005, Nolan was hired to be the head coach and director of hockey operations for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. It was a big year for the Cats, as they were hosting the Memorial Cup in May 2006. Nolan had quite the task ahead of him, and he passed with flying colours. The people of Moncton fell in love with the new coach of their team, as he brought them the President’s Cup and led them to the Memorial Cup final, where the Cats eventually lost to Patrick Roy and his Québec Remparts. It wasn’t long after that the Isles came and stole Nolan away from Moncton, but Nolan didn’t forget the city.

“That was probably one of the best years of my life, both professionally and personally," Nolan said.

Fast forward to last night. About 100 people associated with the Islanders (including 60 players) arrived at the Greater Moncton International Airport and headed for downtown Moncton.

You would think that they players would lock themselves in their hotel rooms when not practicing with the team, but you would be wrong. Seems as though Ted Nolan told the boys to go out, see the city, and meet some good Maritime people.

Who knows, you just may see Mike Comrie hanging out at Champlain Place, or Rick DiPietro grabbing a bite to eat at Doc Dylan’s on Main Street. Maybe Bill Guerin will be stopping by Tim Horton’s to buy the guys coffee before practice. It shouldn’t be hard to carry 60 cups of coffee, eh?

Even if you don’t get a chance to see the guys around Moncton, there’s plenty to see on the ice. All of the Isles’ practices and scrimmages are open for the public (and free!). All you have to do is snag one of the 1,500 seats at the Tim Horton’s 4-Ice Centre.

The festivities started this morning with breakfast hosted by Bryan Trottier at the Moncton Coliseum, and tonight will be “Hockey Night in Downtown” on Main Street, with a barbecue, music, and autograph signings by the players.

The rookies are also scheduled to play two exhibition games against the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds (Monday) and Les Aigles Bleus of l’Université de Moncton (Thursday).

Thursday is also the day of the Ted Nolan Moncton Classic Golf Tournament at Royal Oaks Golf Club, with all proceeds going to the Magnetic Hill Zoo.

It sounds like the next week will be crazy in Moncton, and I wish I was back home to witness all the fun. They’re not my Pens, but I still think it would be a grand ol’ time in hockey-crazy Monkey-Town.

Numminen needs heart surgery.

Teppo Numminen, a defenceman with the Buffalo Sabres, will undergo heart surgery on Thursday. He previously had two cardiac ablations, one before the lockout and the other last summer, to correct an irregular heartbeat but this third procedure is unrelated to the previous two.

The current heart problem was discovered the other day during a physical examination.

In addition to this, the Sabres have decided to suspend Numminen for failing to show up to camp in good physical condition (sounds like something you'd hand out to a player who had gained 50 pounds over the summer), supposedly so that they don't have to pay him one penny of his $2.6M contract unless and until he returns to the team.

It's a really odd decision on behalf of GM Darcy Regier because the Sabres are not up against the salary cap and can afford to bring in another defenceman if need be. In addition, Numminen could have been placed on long term IR once the season began to free up more cap space.

I know that the Sabres are a small market team and need to be tight with the payroll, but this is ridiculous and it bothers me to no end. To suspend a player for having a serious illness is simply classless, and I suspect that the Sabres will be heavily criticized for it. If Numminen had been diagnosed with cancer, would the Sabres have made the same move? I would hope not, but now I'm not so sure.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wickenheiser to join Swedish men's hockey team.

Hayley Wickenheiser is going to be playing men's hockey again.

Niklas Johansson, the general manager of IFK Arboga, a Division 1 team in Sweden, said that the team is very close to signing Wickenheiser to a contract.

In 2003, Wickenheiser became the first woman skater to play men's professional hockey when she joined the Salamat in Finland. She scored 3 goals and 16 assists in 40 games while in Finland. During this time, Salamat moved up to the first division and she was demoted to the fourth line. This decreased ice time, along with missing her son and her boyfriend back home, led to her decision to leave Europe for Canada.

Hayley Wickenheiser is considered to be one of the best female hockey players in history. She scored 120 goals and 138 assists in 177 games with Team Canada, making her the all-time leading scorer on Canada's national team. She has donned the red and white in three winter Olympic games, where she helped the team win two gold medals and one silver medal. She was the MVP of the Torino Olympics (5-12-17 + broken wrist), as well as at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games and the 2007 World Championships.

I say good on her for venturing into men's pro hockey yet again. It is really nice to see women compete at the same level as men because it shows all the young girls out there that hockey is not just a boy's game.

I hope that she is wildly successful in Sweden and brings home all of the scoring titles and MVP awards. :)

UPDATE (18 Sept 07): TSN is now reporting that Wickenheiser and IFK Arboga are parting ways. Seems as though management was less than impressed with Wickenheiser's performance in a second exhibition game against a top team in the league, and they would prefer to go with the young guys instead of a woman.

As far as I'm concerned, this really sucks. I would really like to see girls play hockey at a higher level. As it currently stands, women's hockey is so far down the totem pole that it's in the ground, out of sight. Even the top women's hockey league in the world, the NWHL, seems to be on the verge of folding. We only seem to hear about women's hockey during the Olympics, or during the World Championships (sometimes). It would be nice to legitimize the sport and put it on somewhat equal ground with men's hockey....but that will never happen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bettman throws the book at Bell

Well, sort of.

The NHL announced today that they have suspended Toronto Maple Leafs' Mark Bell for 15 games without pay for a DUI and hit-and-run accident in September 2006.

"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," said NHL Commish Gary Bettman.

I applaud the NHL for taking a stand and not ignoring the incident. Some may say that it's a 'slap on the wrist', but I don't think that's the case. A 15-game suspension is pretty significant (just think of what you have to do to get that kind of suspension), and he's facing a 6-month jail sentence at the end of the season. Bell seems to have turned his life around and he appears to be truly remorseful, so I think that the NHL's decision is appropriate.

Question is: what will happen with Jay Bouwmeester? Will the NHL hand him a suspension as well? I think that they must do something, even if it's only a 5 game suspension. If Bettman does nothing, then his message will be lost.

Next up for Bettman is to deal with the Rick Tocchet situation. I expect that Tocchet will be suspended for at least a year, in addition to his 'time served', given the current climate in the sports world.

Does Bettman want to appear soft when it comes to dealing with gambling in his league? Absolutely not.

Will his decision end up being 'soft'? Eh, who knows...but I hope not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Random hockey news...

Welcome to the 2007-08 NHL season. The NHL would lead you to believe that the season actually begins in late September when Anaheim takes on LA in London, but who cares. I officially declare today to be the beginning of the season. I am just that important that I can make such a decision. (Okay, so I just arbitrarily decided to make today the day since training camps are kicking off this week)

The onslaught of hockey news is undeniable. Everywhere you look, there are stories about players hoping to bounce back from a poor season, teams dreaming of playoff games, and rookies hoping to show everyone up and earn a spot in the big club. Oooo the excitement is almost unbearable...

Here are some of the hockey headlines today:

Scott Niedermayer has been suspended by the Anaheim Ducks for failing to show up for training camp. This decision is not surprising or unexpected - it is merely a formality. Scotty is still trying to decide whether he should suit up or hang up the skates, so Brian Burke had to suspend him so that Niedermayer's US$6.75M salary won't count against the cap.

I'm a little conflicted over this story. On the one hand, Niedermayer is a phenomenal player, a future Hall of Famer, and he deserves to have time to mull over his future in hockey. That being said, Scotty's indecision is not good for the team, and it ties Burke's hands. He has a huge salary that could be spent on another player if he retired, and should he stay and bring Selanne with him, Burke will have to juggle the roster to make everyone fit under the cap. The longer they hold out, the more difficult it will become.

Carey Price, future superstar Habs goalie, is looking to crack the Canadiens lineup this season, and I think that he just may do it. Sure, it's unlikely, but if anyone can do it, Price is the guy. He was spectacular at the 2007 World Juniors (which included a shiny gold medal and serious MVP honours), had a great season with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL, then started in goal for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL playoffs, leading the team to the Calder Cup and capturing MVP honours.

Guy Carbonneau, head coach of the Canadiens, said that Carey will only make the big team if he proves worthy to be the starting goalie. Should Huet remain the team's starting goaltender, Price will begin the season in Hamilton so that he can play tons of games and develop his skills.

Peter Forsberg is not even close to being NHL ready, but that hasn't stopped several teams from inquiring about his services. Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reports that five of the six Canadian teams are hoping to lure Forsberg to their fine cities, but the chance of that materializing is slim to none. I have to concur with Dreger in that Forsberg will most likely land in Colorado or Detroit or Philly - if he returns to North America.

This is non-hockey related, but congrats to Perdita Felicien, who won the GOLD medal at the Intersport Gugl-Meeting today in Austria.

Moncton gets to host another international competition.

It has just been announced that Moncton, New Brunswick (or Monkey-Town, as I like to call my hometown) will host the 2009 Ford World Men's Curling Championship. Competition will take place from the 4th to 12th of April at the Moncton Coliseum, home of the Wildcats. Something tells me that the legendary Russ Howard, a key member of the Olympic Gold Medal-winning curling team and current resident of Moncton, had something to do with this...just a hunch.

Moncton has hosted a number of sporting events as of late. In 2006, the CHL held its annual Memorial Cup tournament in the Hub City. The CIS University Cup was held at the Coliseum in 2007, and will return next year (will the UNB Reds repeat as champions?).

But the biggest event of them all will be the IAAF World Junior Championship in Athletics in 2010. The City of Moncton and l'Université de Moncton have joined forces to host this event, and a brand-spankin' new, 10 000 seat outdoor stadium is being constructed on the U de M campus.

Looks like Monkey-Town will be buzzing with sports people in the coming years. Yay!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Recap: Canada-Russia Super Series

As promised, here is a recap of the Canada-Russia Super Series. I will attempt to determine what went wrong and what went right for each team, though I admit that I spend a little more time talking about Team Canada.


There is a reason why Brent Sutter has a 19-0-1 record as a coach in international competition – he’s damn good at his job. He demands that his players are responsible and that they play hard every shift. He is not above benching a player for a mistake made on the ice, and he also rewards players with ice time. The result is that players compete with each other for ice time, and the on-ice product is world class.

Coach Sutter’s system involves not only defensive responsibility, but also a hard-nosed, physical style of play. Players have to be ready to block shots, take hits to make plays, defend your teammates, and crunch the opposition when necessary. The players in this Super Series bought into Sutter’s system from the very beginning, and they maintained the physical game until the very end.

Sutter also exuded an air of confidence throughout the Series. The Russians wanted to add three additional players to their roster for the Canadian leg of the Series, which was against the rules because rosters were frozen on August 26th, but Sutter allowed them to make the adjustments. Sutter’s attitude was that the Russians could do what they wanted to their team because Canada was still going to win.

I think that Sutter deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team’s collective head on straight during the Super Series. Team Canada could have gotten very cocky after winning so many games, but they always acknowledged that the Russians were good players. In addition, Sutter did not let the score of the game influence how the Canadians played the game – they always had the same level of focus, whether they were down by two goals or up by five.

In short, Brent Sutter, along with Andy Murray, would be on my short list of head coaches to hire for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Sergei Nemchinov, on the other hand, was the antithesis of Brent Sutter. His inexperience behind the bench was obvious, as he often looked dazed and confused, like he didn’t know what to do.

The games in Russia were particularly odd for many reasons. First of all, Nemchinov did nothing to match up his players to the Canadians. In fact, he would send his players out on the ice before the Canadian players, even when he had home ice, so Sutter was in complete control of the match-ups. Second, Nemchinov didn’t put his best players on the power play, which is probably the reason why they scored only one power play goal in the first four games. Third, the thought didn’t seem to enter Nemchinov’s mind to change the lines in order to spark the offence.


One of the downfalls of the Russian team was that they lacked leadership straight across the board. I think that this started with Nemchinov and ran through the entire team. The team would have flashes of great play, but the moment something bad happened, the entire team fell apart. It began in the first game, when Russia was up 2-0 by the 10 minute mark of the first period. They enjoyed a very lengthy 5-on-3 advantage, but failed to capitalize. Stefan Legein got Canada on the board a few minutes later, and Kyle Turris scored on a penalty shot only 45 seconds after that. This absolute, team-wide meltdown was the story of the Russian team for two weeks.

The Canadian team, on the other hand, boasted a number of players with leadership coming out of their ears. They made sure that the team did not panic and lose composure when something went wrong. They also kept the guys focused on the task at hand, no matter what hand they were dealt. The team had a difficult time in Russia, with the travel, hotel and travel issues, heat and humidity, unfamiliar food, and culture shock, and you have to give them credit for succeeding.


All three of Canada’s goaltenders were stellar in this Series. There was not one weak player among the three, and they all deserve the highest of praise. Jonathan Bernier has obviously recovered from the ankle injury that he suffered during the Memorial Cup. Leland Irving was great in his first 3 games as a member of Team Canada (he was on the last World Juniors team as a backup to Carey Price, but did not play in the tournament). And Steve Mason showed us all how calm he is in net, and how great a puckhandler he can be.

I would not want to make the decision regarding goaltenders for the next World Juniors team, because one of these guys is not going to make that trip to the Czech Republic. The consensus in the media is that Mason and Bernier have a slight edge over Irving, but if Bernier ends up with the LA Kings this season (as some suggest he might), then no one will argue Irving’s place on the team.

The Russians believed that their go-to guy in goal was Semen Varlamov, but he flopped…badly. Allowing 3 goals on 4 shots in the first period of the third game does not make a good goalie - he might have done a better job if he had made snow-angels in the crease. He did play considerably better in Saskatoon, but that’s not saying much. His teammates Sergei Bobrovsky and Vadim Zhelobnyuk were better, but even they couldn’t stop the onslaught of the Canadian offence.


The Canadian forwards seemed to do no wrong. They won 90% of their face-offs, which (a) kept them in control of the game and (b) didn’t give their goalies a heart attack when the face-off was deep in their zone. They forced turnovers and created quality scoring opportunities. They passed well, and though they could be cutesy at times with the puck, they also registered tons of shots on goal.

The skill level of these players is simply incredible. It is hard to pick out just 1 or 2 players who played above all others, but I will mention a few of those players that really stuck out to me.

(1) Brandon Sutter. As I’ve said before, this kid is GOOD, and he is my MVP of the tournament. He might not lead the team in scoring (though he did score 3 goals in his last 3 games of the Series), but he plays a spectacular defensive game – I would not be surprised to see him win a Selke or two in his NHL career. Sutter, along with Legein, made a terrific pair in this Series, and they are a big part of the reason why the Russians scored so few goals.

(2) Sam Gagner. Gagner has come a long way since January, when he finished the World Juniors tournament without a single point. He is now the leading scorer of the Super Series (with 15 points, including 6 goals), and the Series MVP. He is now with the Oilers’ camp, and I would not be surprised to see him make the team this year.

(3) Kyle Turris. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Turris in this Series. Though he had scored 60+ goals for the Burnaby Express, he didn’t play in the CHL and I wondered if he could elevate his game. Boy, was I wrong – he elevated his game and the puck…seven times, in fact, as he had the most goals of any player in the Super Series. Even better is the fact that he is a great two-way player who logged a ton of minutes on the PK. I would be surprised if Turris played more than one season of college hockey - I think we’ll see Turris in Phoenix sooner rather than later.

One player that disappointed me a bit was John Tavares. I don’t know if it’s because I had unrealistic expectations of Team Canada’s youngest player, but I thought that he would have dominated the game a lot more than he did. He certainly wasn’t used to being a defensively responsible player, and he turned the puck over to the Russians a number of times in the first couple of games, but he did get better as the Series went on. I guess I feel as though he should have been a better player in the Super Series because he and his agent are going on and on about how he should be drafted a year early because of his exceptional play – if he can’t stand out against a Russian team that is playing sub-par, then how can he justify asking the NHL to bend the rules to allow him into the clubhouse?

The Russian forwards were less than impressive. I expected Alexei Cherepanov to really make an impact on this Super Series, but that did not happen. Sure, he was injured and only played two games, but I expected him to show up and be an effective player from the very start of Game 1. He was so angry over being drafted so late in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, and I thought that maybe he would blow away the Canadian competition to prove all of the scouts wrong, but to me, they were proven right. Cherepanov was invisible in the first game and had a few spurts of offence in the second game. Until further notice, he will be an inconsistent player in my mind who doesn’t seem to want to show up and compete night after night, shift after shift.

Artem Anisimov was a fairly good player for the Russian team, but what got me was that he just up and left for New York after Game 6. I know that he has a contract with the Rangers, but I think they would have understood if he stuck around and finished the Super Series. This stunt of his showed me that he doesn’t stick with his teammates through thick and thin.

I actually give a lot of credit to the Russian players who found their heart and showed up to play in the final two games. They generated more scoring chances in this 120-minute interval than in the previous six games combined. They played like the games mattered, and that must have been hard to do since they had already lost the Series and their countrymen were essentially crucifying the team for their performance.


I mean this in the best possible way, but I didn’t always notice Canada’s defencemen. It’s not that they didn’t play well, but rather it’s because they did play well. The majority of the time the D-men made great passes, cleared the puck, forced turnovers and broke up Russian plays. I think that the forwards did such a great job that I only noticed the play of the defencemen when they were either absolutely spectacular or absolutely awful. Luckily, they seemed to be in position most of the time and had very few defensive breakdowns over the course of eight games.

The two defencemen who made the biggest difference, in my opinion, are Karl Alzner and Drew Doughty. These two guys were near perfect each and every game, and they will have great careers in the NHL.

Special Teams

The Canadian power play was off to a slow start, but they got it going and scored often; in total, Canada scored 19 power play goals in 8 games for a success rate of about 25%. Their penalty kill was also fantastic, as they allowed only 5 Russian power play goals in over 70 chances (approx. 93%). In my opinion, Canada’s special teams were probably the main reasons why they were able to win the Series so convincingly.


As I mentioned before, Brent Sutter’s system calls for a physical game, and the Canadian team bought in to this system hook, line, and sinker. They forced the Russians to play the game North American-style, and even though the Russians didn’t always want to get involved, the Series had its moments of intensity and nastiness, especially in the final two games.

Final Note…

This Super Series was basically an extended training camp for Team Canada, and many of these players were auditioning for spots on the World Junior’s roster. I think that most of these guys have earned their places on the World Junior team, but I doubt that the roster will remain the same come December. Who knows which players will be in the NHL this winter, or who will simply be dropped from the team. It will be interesting to see who will be added to the list. Remember, Angelo Esposito and Steve Stamkos were not in this Series…

It will be interesting to see how the Russian Hockey Federation will respond to their team’s performance. Their reaction is basically the same that Canada had in 1998 with the failure of the Men’s Olympic Team in Nagano. They may decide to make sweeping changes to the entire system, but I don’t think that is necessary. I think that their problems lie in the coaching, maybe the scouting, and probably the players themselves – maybe this group is just not a great crop of hockey players. As Bob McKenzie pointed out, this same group didn’t medal in the U-18’s a couple of years ago.

Game 8: Canada-Russia Super Series - Canada unbeaten!

It’s the final game of the Super Series and Canada has long since won the competition. Canada seemed to do everything right, while the Russians seemed to do everything wrong. You have to give the Russians credit for the past 2 games, especially in Red Deer, for actually showing up to compete. I had to wonder if this competitive spirit would remain with Team Russia for Game 8, or would Canada pull off a convincing win in front of 18,000+ fans in Vancouver.

I would have to answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions.

Russia did play hard, and they seemed to have some spirit in their game, but Canada still outscored them 6-1. Ouch.

Leland Irving made his third start in goal for Canada, and he was stellar. Up until about 17 minutes into the third period, it looked as though Irving would earn a shut out, but a goal by Dodonov shattered that goose egg. Nevertheless, Irving made some spectacular saves and robbed the Russians of goals on many occasions. His Russian counterpart, Bobrovsky, was almost as good, despite being beaten six times. If his game had been more shaky (like, say, Varlamov’s), then Canada could have easily scored 10+ goals in this game. Both goalies were the reason why there was no score after the first period.

Canada’s offence came flying out of the gate at the beginning of the game, and they didn’t stop until the final buzzer sounded. They had an incredible 7 shots on goal on their first power play, but Varlamov kept Canada scoreless. However, Canada’s power play was not idle in Game 8: they scored an amazing five power play goals, bringing the series total to 19 (compared to Russia’s five PPG).

So here’s my daily Sutter rant: Brandon Sutter scored his third goal of the Super Series in as many games, but that wasn’t the great part. What was great about it was that it came on the power play about one minute after he was high-sticked in the face (in the eye area, no less). Add that to the fact that he does all the little things perfectly, and you get one special player.

Turris is another player who dominated in Game 8, adding 2 power play goals in the third period in front of his home crowd. He continually shows that he never quits on the play. One year in Minnesota and he’ll be ready to join Gretzky’s team in Phoenix.

Add to this list a highlight-reel goal by Boychuk, who scored from his knees while on the power play. Wow.

Canada’s D-men played a hard game tonight, continuing to block shots all game long, and they also created some offence. Drew Doughty made a great play when he went from behind his own net, darted around Russian traffic, went hard to the net and almost scored. And congrats to Alzner, who finally scored a goal in this Super Series when he put the Canadians on the board in the second period.

As much as the Canadian offence is a big story in this game, the physicality of this game is what really stood out, and no game in this Series has been as nasty as Game 8. Sure, there were huge hits coming from left, right and centre, but it was the absolutely dirty play from the Russians that will be remembered.

I can understand that Team Russia has been humiliated in this Super Series, that the press called their play shameful after the second game in Ufa, and that everyone in Russia is beating their own team upside the head for their performance (or lack thereof). That being said, they put themselves in that position and they did not have the right to attack Team Canada in Game 8. Two Russian players in particular (Voynov and Chudinov, who both wore full face masks due to their age) were running around with their sticks, smacking Canadian players in the face at every chance. Tempers boiled over in the third period when Voynov speared Lucic twice in the midsection and Lucic responded by roughing him up (and picking up the extra penalty, for some reason). Minutes later, after an offside call, Chudinov delivers an elbow to Giroux’s head and causes a melee that got the Vancouver crowd on its feet. I cannot believe the absolute undisciplined play of these two individuals, and they’d both be nailed to the bench if I was their coach.

Overall, Team Canada played a great game with few mistakes. I guess this statement could apply to the Super Series as a whole.

My stars of the game:
* Kyle Turris
** Brandon Sutter and Leland Irving – two-way tie
*** Zac Boychuk

I will be writing a ‘post-Super Series’ wrap-up of sorts in the next couple of days. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Young hockey player must choose between hockey and religion

Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Rubin has a dream of playing in the NHL, but it might be harder for him to realize his dream because of his religion. Rubin is an Orthodox Jew and does not play hockey or practice with his team on the Sabbath - which is from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.

Last year, he had a chance to play for Patrick Roy on the Québec Remparts, but he missed almost half of the games because they were played on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Roy told him at the end of the 2006-07 season that he could return and play on the 2nd or 3rd line, but that he would have to play every game. Rubin chose to not accept Roy's deal, and so he was traded to the Gatineau Olympiques.

Rubin will not miss as many games in Gatineau (8, compared to 35 in Québec), but he must still choose between hockey and religion. Gatineau wants to respect his religious beliefs, as did Québec, but they need to keep their team together.

So Rubin now faces the most difficult decision of his life: does he keep his religious beliefs, or does he play the game that he loves and hope to make the NHL. It certainly doesn't look as though he can have both.

Update (09/13/07): Rubin and the Olympiques have come to an agreement. Rubin will travel with the team and play hockey on the Sabbath, but he will miss three games for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

I don't envy the position that he was put in, having to choose between your faith and hockey, and I can't say whether he made a good decision or a bad one, but my guess is that it will make him happy. At least I hope it does, and I hope that he doesn't feel guilty (or that others make him feel guilty) for making this choice. I wish him all the luck in the world.

Game 7: Canada-Russia Super Series

Friday night (and Saturday morning back east), Team Canada and Team Russia resumed the Super Series in Red Deer, Alberta. I was unable to watch the game live because I was virtually comatose from an early alarm clock and a long day of classes, but I did catch the game on TSN’s Broadband Network. So here’s my recap…

Before watching the game, I wondered whether fatigue would be an issue, and if Russia would completely roll over and die. I would say “no” to each of those questions. It was a hard-played, nasty game that resulted in a 4-4 tie.

Brent Sutter decided to allow Mason to play the first 30 minutes, and Bernier to play the second 30 minutes. Each goalie made spectacular saves, but they also each gave up a soft goal. Mason charged out of his net to challenge the Russian forward, but he miscalculated his speed and the Russian went around him and scored on the empty net to give Russia a 2-0 lead in the first period. Bernier, on the other hand, went down too early on a shot and Russia was able to score is fourth goal on the power play in the second period. These goals could have been prevented, but you still have to give credit to these guys for not mentally breaking down after letting in a softie.

At the beginning of the game, Canada was passing the puck too much and not shooting enough to take advantage of Russian goalie Zhelobnyuk’s shaky saves. Fortunately, they turned things around and held a 38-18 SOG advantage in the second half of the third period.

I don’t think that you can say enough about Gagner. He was a member of last year’s World Junior team, yet he didn’t have a single point in that tournament. Fast forward 7 months and he is the leading scorer of the Super Series. He scored his sixth goal of the Series in Game 7, and he also scored goals in the last 5 games. He will head to Yellowknife on Monday to join the Edmonton Oilers’ training camp, and he just may make that team this year. If he is sent back to London for another year, then he will certainly be a star in the upcoming World Juniors in the Czech Republic.

Sutter is another player that you can’t say enough good things about (and one that I keep writing about). In Game 7, this Red Deer Rebel had a spectacular shift on the PK in the second period that left his home crowd standing and cheering. This energy spread to his teammates and they put forth a number of great shifts where they created a lot of chances and put a lot of pressure on the Russians. Sutter also scored his second goal of the Series in Game 7, which gave Canada the lead for the first time in the game.

The Canadian defence has been largely solid for this Super Series, but they had a bad shift immediately after Sutter’s goal. Their absolute lack of effort allowed Russia to score the equalizer goal just 17 seconds after Canada took the lead.

From a physical point of view, this game was intense and nasty. The Russians came out swinging, and the Canadians matched their play. It was the most entertaining game to watch thus far, but at the same time I thought the officiating sucked. Yes, the Russian referees sucked. They called penalties on Canadians that should have not been called, they called penalties on the wrong players, and they didn’t call the Russians on a cross check to Legein and a high stick on Ellerby (and other infractions as well). Thankfully, they did give Kablukov a 2 and 10 for cross checking Pyett in the throat. I just thought that things got a little out of control at times because the Russian officials let it happen.

Canada did well in Game 7 when it came to offence and intensity, but they have to be more solid defensively and in goal because the Russians have proven that they can take advantage of a Canadian meltdown. Team Canada would have easily won the game 4-1 if the team had put forth an effort in the shift after Sutter's goal and if Bernier and Mason had not suffered from momentary brain cramps.

GM Place, home of the Canucks, will be loud on Sunday night for the 8th and final game of the Super Series. You can bet that the Russians will continue to play an intense game, as they don’t want to go home without a win. Canada must play their best game of the Series if they hope to remain unbeaten. They will have to maintain pressure in the offensive zone, and they must put forth an effort each and every shift. The team must not break down defensively, and the goaltenders must be sharp at all times. The people of Vancouver will be cheering for their Canadian boys, and the team should find their energy from the crowd if they find themselves fatigued.

My stars of the game:
* Brandon Sutter
** Sam Gagner
*** Kyle Turris

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Game 6: Canada-Russia Super Series

Team Canada rocked the arena last night in Winnipeg, clinching the Super Series’ victory in front of a home crowd. Tonight, the teams will face off in Saskatoon, which will be a homecoming of sorts for Logan Pyett and Luke Schenn. No one expects Team Canada to let up on the Russians – the Canadians have their sights set on sweeping the series. The question is whether they have enough gas in the tank after the heavy travel schedules. Also, how will the Russians respond? Will they completely fold now that they have officially lost the Super Series, or will they fight to avoid the 8-game sweep the Canadians are so desperate to attain?

If you only see the final score, 4-1 Canada, you would think, “Wow, Russia got pounded again.” Well, the game was much closer than the final score suggests.

As I’ve done before, I’ll start by talking about goaltending. The Russians started Varlamov tonight, which surprised me since his last two starts were disasters. I have to give him credit, though, because he kept his team in the game in the first two periods, when Canada had almost double the shots on goal as the Russians, but kept the score tied at one coming into the third. There were times when he got really lucky, because he was a little out of position and the Canadian skaters had a lot of net to shoot at.

Leland Irving turned in another fine performance tonight, giving up only one power play goal in a game that saw the Russians play their best hockey of the Super Series. Team Russia really began to turn it on in the second period, and it was Irving who kept them at bay. I truly believe that Irving was the difference maker tonight.

Canada’s offence started out good. They maintained pressure in the offensive zone, forced turnovers in the neutral zone and attacked whenever possible. I found that they kept up their great defensive positioning, which led to good offensive chances, but they were only able to capitalize once in the first 40 minutes, on a Gagner power play goal in the last minute of the first period. I also have to give props to my boy Brandon Sutter, who scored his first goal of the Series tonight – and it was a shortie at that. He won’t be a goal-scorer in the NHL, but he’ll have a long career and will win Selke Trophies a plenty.

The second period saw Canada play probably their sloppiest hockey of the entire Series, at least from an offensive point of view. They enjoyed an extensive 2-man advantage as the Russians kept taking penalty after penalty, but they couldn’t get it together. No one was in the slot, and they had a hard time handling the puck. That, combined with the fact that the Russians showed up and competed in the first two periods, meant that Canada couldn’t capitalize on their second period power plays.

Canada seemed to fix their mistakes in the third period and scored three goals. My guess is that Brent Sutter had a couple of words with the guys during the second intermission. If they had failed to fix this blip in their game, I think that the Russians would have won. They were flying high after the second period and that huge PK, but their balloons were deflated when Canada started scoring.

Overall, Team Canada played well defensively. Big thumbs up to Alzner and Doughty, both of whom have continued to be star defencemen on this team. Their names might not be on the score sheet that much in this Series, but their value has been unreal. And Doughty is yet to be drafted into the NHL – are D-men this young supposed to play so well?

From a physicality point of view, there were some big hits in this game, but it wasn’t a really physical game. I got the feeling at times that Team Russia didn’t want to engage in physical play, though they upped this part of their game as they found their spunk in the second period.

I suspect that fatigue has started to set in for these players, and it was evident tonight. They just came back from halfway around the world, played one game in Winnipeg, turned around and played another game the following night in Saskatoon. Thankfully they get a day off, and I hope that Sutter lets them rest in Red Deer. I don’t really see the point in having that much of a practice because there isn’t that much to fix in their game.

The one thing that probably gave Canada the win tonight was goaltending because Leland Irving made a number of saves when the Russians started to apply boatloads of pressure.

Canada needs to be able to avoid those offensive meltdowns that we saw in the second period. They’ve already won the Series, so now they need to find that extra motivation to drive their play and get them through the fatigue. They have to remain in control of the play at all times and avoid sitting on their heels.

My stars of the game:
* Leland Irving
** Brandon Sutter
*** Drew Doughty - Karl Alzner tandem

Friday night’s game in Red Deer is a late-nighter here in Atlantic Canada (11PM AT on Sportsnet), but it should be good. It will be Brent Sutter’s last game in Red Deer before moving to Jersey to coach the Devils. The arena should be a lot louder there than at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, and hopefully the boys will be ready to go.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Canadiens to retire Big Bird's #19 and Bo's # 23

The Montreal Canadiens, one of the most storied franchises in the NHL, will retire the numbers of two more players this coming season.

The rafters of the Bell Centre are currently occupied by Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Jean Beliveau, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Dickie Moore, Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Serge Savard and Ken Dryden. On November 19th, when the Ottawa Senators visit the Canadiens, the Habs will retire Larry Robinson's #19. Three months later, on February 23rd, the Canadiens will retire Bob Gainey's #23 when the Habs play the Blue Jackets.

Larry Robinson (aka 'Big Bird') was a defenceman for the Habs for 17 seasons and is considered to be one of the best blueliners in NHL history. He holds many team records for defencemen, including games played (1202), career goals (197), assists (686), points (882) and points in a season (85).

Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, Robinson went on to have a successful coaching career. He has been the assistant coach of the New Jersey Devils, as well as the head coach of the LA Kings and the Devils. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000, after he was named the interim head coach at the end of the season. He is currently an assistant coach in Jersey under Brent Sutter.

Bob Gainey, who played for the Habs for 16 seasons, is considered to be one of the best complete players in NHL history. He played a defensive-style of hockey, and was awarded four consecutive Selke Trophies as a result. He was also an important player on the Montreal teams that won 4 consecutive Stanley Cups in the late 70s, and again in 1986. He retired from the game in 1989 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995.

Gainey has also been very active in the hockey community after retirement. He has been a head coach with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars, as well as the interim head coach for the Canadiens. In addition, Gainey has been a General Manager since 1992, first with the Stars (where he won the Cup in 1999) and now with the Habs.

Game 5: Canada-Russia Super Series

The Canada-Russia Super Series resumes tonight in Winnipeg. After sweeping all four games in Russia, Team Canada has the chance to clinch the series tonight. Sergei Nemchinov has added three new Russian players to his roster, and he hopes to give the Canadians a run for their money. Will Team Russia be successful in their bid to tie the Series, or will they lose it all tonight? Will Canada overcome jet lag and play a hard hitting game in front of a home crowd? And can Bernier keep his shutout streak going for another three periods of hockey?

Given the atmosphere created by the fans, one would have sworn that the home team had just won the Stanley Cup. With 5 minutes to go in the third, only thing the Winnipeg fans were cheering was 'Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!' - and with good reason, since their hockey youngsters just won the Super Series with an 8-1 victory over the Russians.

The physical tone was established in the first minute of play, with Boychuk laying a huge hit on Russia (and taking a penalty). At first, the Russians were hesitant to play a physical game, but they began to return the favour later on in the opening period. I was actually surprised that things didn’t get really nasty towards the end of the game, but I expect that it will tomorrow night in Saskatoon.

For the fifth straight game, the Canadian goaltending has been solid. Bernier gave up just one power play goal in the second period, primarily due to the defence’s inability to clear the puck. Bernier made some incredible saves and really showed his skills and athleticism as a goalie, but what stuck out for me was his mental game. He was involved in a nasty collision with Russian defender Vishnevsky late in the first period that left Bernier on the ice for a few minutes, but he bounced right back and turned in a stellar performance.

During the first intermission, I doubt that any person watching this game would have thought that Canada would win the game by such a large margin, since all that was up on the scoreboard were a couple of big, fat goose eggs. It wasn’t that either team didn’t have any chances, because there were 9 shots on goal for each team; the difference makers in the period were the goalies (especially Bobrovsky, as the Canadians had many more scoring chances than the Russians). The second frame was a little more of an offensive show, with the Russians scoring their lone goal on the power play, and Canada netting five goals: three power play tallies, one shortie, and one at even strength. The third period saw another three goals (one being a power play goal) added to the score sheet for Team Canada.

This Super Series has been a coming out party for so many of these young players. Gagner is one of the four players returning from last year’s World Junior’s squad and he is proving that he is a much better player now than he was in January. He is the leading scorer of the tournament, has his second consecutive three point game, and is a player who is defensively responsible. I would not be surprised to see Gagner suit up for the Oilers this year, as they are in desperate need of scoring and it was just announced that Pisani is out indefinitely with illness.

Giroux had a slow start to the Super Series, but he has definitely been on the upswing since his first goal in Game 3. First, he scored from his knees, a la Sidney Crosby, then assisted on a goal by spinning around on his backside, and now he has a two-goal, three-point game. Not too shabby.

As for Turris, one word: wow. I bet Gretzky is itching to have him in a Coyotes’ uniform, because they’re definitely going to need some scoring.

The Canadians struggled a bit on defence tonight, and this was especially evident on the penalty kill. In the past four games, the defenders were able to clear the zone, but tonight they had a hard time getting the puck out and it led to Russia’s second power play goal of the Super Series. That being said, they still made it hard for the Russians to set up their power play because the Canadians got in their faces, took away the shooting lanes, and blocked the shots.

You really have to give Alzner a lot of credit because he has played so well thus far. He is another player who just may crack his NHL team this season. He, along with Doughty, has played a solid game with very few struggles. Alzner made an amazing play on the PK tonight when he stopped a puck at the goal line – it was thisclose to going into the net.

I was very disappointed with the officiating tonight. There were so many phantom calls on Team Canada. Legein, in particular, was on the referees’ radar; he was called for a trip when he was the one who was tripped, and then he was called for a roughing call that was bogus. On top of things, there were instances when Russia should have gotten a penalty but didn’t. Maybe the referees were trying to help their countrymen out by giving them power plays, but that obviously didn’t work – it only made the Canadians angry.

The one thing that led Canada to certain victory tonight: Special Teams! They accounted for 5 of 8 Team Canada goals.

The one thing that Canada needs to fix for tomorrow night: sloppy defence. They can do better.

My stars of the game:
* Claude Giroux
** Sam Gagner
*** Jonathan Bernier

The Canadians may have won the Series, but they are looking to improve to 8-0 so that Brent Sutter can leave for New Jersey with a 20-0 record in international competition. If the ‘wave’, standing ovation, and incessant cheering in Winnipeg were any indications, Saskatoon, Red Deer, and Vancouver should have amazing atmospheres to energize our boys.

Next face-off is in Saskatoon on Wednesday night at 9PM AT on TSN.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Al-kee-hawl and hockey

It has been a summer of controversy in the world of sports, and the NHL was in the mix. Sure, we didn't have referees gambling, but we had one assistant coach plead guilty to being involved with a gambling operation. We didn't have players killing dogs, but we had players getting into trouble because of alcohol.

As Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt said tonight on Prime Time Sports, it is alcohol that is the drug of choice for hockey players.

Alcohol has been a part of hockey since the beginning of the game, and a number of players have gotten into serious trouble because of it. I applaud the NHL's decision of placing Mark Bell in the substance abuse program and suspending him indefinitely because it shows that they will not take this issue lightly.

Driving drunk is not acceptable, and I wonder if the NHL will take action with Jay Bouwmeester, who pleaded guilty to impaired driving today in Edmonton. Bouwmeester's case is not the same as Bell's, since he did not get into an accident and hurt someone, so I'm not sure if they can suspend him like they did Bell. I suspect that he will get a stern talking-to by the League and the Panthers, but I'm not convinced that he will suffer the same fate as Bell.

In any case, I think the NHL should develop a policy of sorts as it pertains to alcohol - "If you drink and drive, you get such and such punishment" and so forth. It wouldn't prevent all incidents and accidents, but who knows, maybe it would prevent one and maybe someone's life would be saved.

Holy shitake mushrooms! JR's coming back!

Jeremy Roenick has delayed his retirement and has signed a one-year, $500K contract with the San Jose Sharks. I didn't take the retirement rumours seriously, since he is only 5 goals shy of the 500 mark and is also within striking distance of the 700 assist mark. Why retire when you're thisclose to two milestones?

I don't think that this signing is that bad. Sure, JR is on the decline - he only scored 11 goals and 17 assists in 70 games last season - but you have to give him credit because he signed for next to nothing, perhaps indicating that he just wants to play hockey. Who knows, maybe playing on a much more talented team will inflate his points this year...

I only wish that he had signed with the Leafs. With all of the media coverage in Toronto, he'd be the star of SportsCentre every single night.

Please TSN, give JR a job as a full-time hockey analyst once he retires from the NHL.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Game 4: Canada-Russia Super Series

Yesterday, Team Canada faced a Russian team that was rallying over the loss of their superstar player, Cherepanov. Team Russia played a strong 40 minutes, but fizzled in the third period as Canada took the game and increased their series lead to 3 games to none. Will Team Russia be able to rebound and avoid being swept in their home country, despite losing several key players? And can Canada keep their collective foot on the gas, while staying out of the box?

First off, Brent Sutter allowed Russian head coach Sergei Nemchinov to bend the rules to allow three more players to his roster to replace guys who are out with injury. Sutter’s message to Nemchinov is simple: do what you want, add whomever you want - we’ll still beat you.

You can’t say that the Russians didn’t try in Game 4. This game was certainly their best, as they showed a lot of spunk and finally adjusted their offensive and defensive game for the better. That being said, Canada was able to match the Russian team and win the game 4-2; they take the series lead 4 games to none after battling intense heat and humidity, poor arena conditions, time zone changes and culture shock.

Mason was, once again, one of the best players in the game. He demonstrated excellent rebound control and didn’t lose focus. He was solid in net in the first period as he stopped 18 shots. He again shut down Russia in the second period. Mason did allow 2 goals in 30 seconds in the third frame, but that was primarily due to a defensive breakdown in front of him and not entirely his fault. I expect that he will play one of the last two games, likely Red Deer, to show his stuff on Canadian soil – he has certainly earned it.

From an offensive point of view, Canada wasn’t as dominant as in previous games simply because the Russians played a better game than in the past week. That being said, it is hard to find fault with Canada’s offence. They were able to force turnovers and counterattack on numerous occasions.

Marchand learned his lesson and managed to avoid a third 10-minute misconduct. He was rewarded with ice time and he capitalized today, with two goals and one assist. He has proven himself to be an agitator, a physical force, and a skilled player as well. Good to see from this Maritime kid!

Tavares is finally starting to get used to the big ice and the level of competition. As a result, Brent Sutter rewarded Tavares with more ice time today and a key role on the point of the power play – and Tavares scores his first goal of the tournament on the power play in the second period. I agree with Pierre McGuire in that Tavares should be a huge force to be reckoned with next week, when the Super Series resumes on small ice in Canada.

Claude Giroux is used to scoring goals in the Q, and yesterday he scored a highlight-reel goal from his knees. Well, today he made another play worthy of the SportsCentre highlight-reel as he lost his footing and kept the play alive by spinning around on his backside and assisting on a goal.

Canada’s defence was strong at times, and then not-so-strong at other times. Alzner and Doughty once again played a great game, Ellerby was solid, and Hickey probably had his best game of the series so far. However, I did find that Canada gave up a few too many shorthanded chances to a team that has already scored a shorthanded goal. The defensive breakdown in the third period gave the Russians two goals, but Canada demonstrated their ability to focus and bounce back. From this point on, Team Canada managed to cover the defensive zone and keep Russia from adding a third goal.

The physical tone of the Super Series continued today, and it wasn’t a one-sided affair. The Russians delivered a number of huge hits on Canadian players, one which upended Gagner and one on Perron which resulted in a 5-minute major and a game for Voinov. Perron struck back and delivered 2 huge, clean hits minutes later. I still think that Canada will up their physical game on home turf when they get the support of the home crowd.

I’ve mentioned the last number of days that Canada needs to stay out of the penalty box, and it looks like they listened to me today. Okay, so they didn’t exactly stay out of the box, but they only had 8 penalties. Russia also had 8 penalties, but they found themselves in two situations where they were down 2 players. By and large, this game seemed to be called fairly well, with the penalties called actually being penalties – unlike yesterday’s game with the phantom calls.

As the series shifts to Winnipeg, Team Canada needs to make sure their defence remains solid because the Russians can capitalize when given the chance. Canada also needs to continue doing the little things: blocking shots, taking hits to make plays, delivering clean hits, forcing turnovers and so on. They also have to stay out of the box because it’s only a matter of time before they give up a second power play goal.

My stars of the game:
* Brad Marchand
** Steve Mason
*** John Tavares

Even though we’re only halfway through this series, I have a feeling that, the one thing that has made the difference in this series has been the coaching. My guess is that the Russian Hockey Federation is not happy with Sergei Nemchinov’s attempt at coaching this national team.

The Canadian leg of the Super Series begins Tuesday in Winnipeg at 9PM AT on TSN.