Friday, December 30, 2005

Climbing to the top in the Alps

Canada's Spengler Cup entry has once again made it to the tournament final, as Team Canada defeated Sparta Prague on Friday by a score of 8-2. Made up mostly of Canadian players who toil away in the European leagues, Team Canada consistently finishes in the top three of the tournament participants. Most recently winning the gold medal in 2002 and 2003.

Last year the Canadian team came up short as the European club teams were stocked with locked out NHLers who came home for the season. This year however, it's back to the top of the heap as coach Marc Habschied continues to get the best out of his gypsy like lineup of players.

Few are household names in Canada anymore, some probably rekindle fond memories of days in junior or college hockey or a cup or two of coffee in the NHL, but for the most part they are guys who still love the game and find that Europe makes a rather comfortable place to play the game and pick up a paycheque.

The final goes Saturday when the Canadians will play HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Elite League for the tournament championship. The games have proven to be a popular feature on Rogers Sportsnet, which has played all of Canada's games on a tape delayed basis across the nation all week long.

Saturdays final will be aired on Sportsnet at 12:30 Pacific, 3:30 Eastern.

The Players should be the show

Thursday nights Canada - Norway match at the World Junior Championships featured one performer who received far too much air time on the world's television sets. That is if anyone was left to watch after the two hour and fourty five minute marathon.

Russian referee Rafail Kadyrov got more exposure than a beleaguered Liberal Party PR guy on Thursday, as he sent a steady parade of players to enjoy the confines of Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum penalty boxes. Kadyrov called 52 penalties on the night, many of them late in the third period as the game seemed to get completely away from his control, mainly due to his inconsistency in the previous two periods.

Kadyrov called fourteen penalties in the first period alone, making the game a long tedious drawn out affair that seemed to never come near its end. Things were so bad on the ice, that the Canadian fans began booing penalty calls against the Norwegians such was the state of play at the hands of the Russian official.

As for the actual play of the game itself, Canada which won the game 4-0, seemed to come out far too tentative in the first period, allowing the Norwegians to control blocks of the play. The Canadians got away from their crashing style, no doubt concerned about the refs constant admonishments and punishments. It proved to be frustrating for the Canadians, who were afraid to even look at a Norwegian lest they be banished from play. Regardless though, when Canada does not play its game, it does not look like a team that would be able to repeat it's Golden achievement of last year. Norway was shellacked by the USA in the tournament opener by a score of 11-2, to hold Canada to only four goals must have seemed like winning the Gold for them.

Canada will need to get their heads back into the proper frame of mind for the New Years Eve showdown with the USA, should they come out with the same tentative play, they will make quick work for an energetic and talented American squad.

Then again the entire play of that game could be dictated by the calls of the officials. It has long been a concern of hockey fans the rather haphazard approach to officiating taken by the IIHF, one game can bring the game to it's best potential the next makes it a most horrendous spectacle to view, one hardly inclined to win over old fans, let alone attract new ones.

Suffice to say, tapes of the Norway -Canada effort won't be used to sell the speed and offensive power of the game to the uninitiated.

The game is supposed to be about the players, young men playing at a high tempo, full of sharp passing, exciting scoring opportunities countered by stellar goaltending, featuring dominant defensive work and physical play. Nowhere has it been a sport designed to showcase the abilities to raise a hand and send a player off the ice over and over and apparently over again. Lets hope the rest of the tournament features a lot less of the officials and a lot more of the players.

Whaling season once again?

There is a move afoot in New England to bring back professional hockey to the Hartford area, a part of the USA that once was the home of the Whalers. Long the thing of die hard fanatics, suddenly the long lost dream doesn't seem quite so far fetched.

The talk has picked up steam in the last few weeks with discussions taking place to determine the fate of the Hartford Civic Centre, a local developer would like to develop land and build a new 16,000 seat arena for the city and with that carrot return NHL hockey to the Connecticutt city.

The Whalers left for Carolina eight years ago, claiming that the fanbase in Hartford was not strong enough to support the NHL. Of course since that time, the fans in Carolina have not exactly been busting the doors down to view the Hurricane, so by comparison Hartford probably is a better long term bet than the southern markets that continue to struggle eight years later.

Hartford is just the latest city to throw its hat into the ring in a bid to bring NHL hockey to town. In the last two months the likes of Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Winnipeg and Hamilton have all expressed a wish to bring the game to their hometown.

Needless to say the flickering light of a return by the NHL has the locals pretty excited about the idea. Many are dusting off their green, blue, silver and white uniforms ready to head out for another Whaling season.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Time for a sale in Buffalo?

It's a few days past Boxing Day, yet the goaltender shelves are still full at Sabres are Us.

Darcy Reiger the lucky holder of a trifecta of goaltending talent, continues to field offers from far and near about the services of one of his three roster goaltenders. Mika Noronen, Martin Biron and Ryan Miller are the three in demand, with one of them eventually bound for parts as to yet unknown.

The early betting is on Biron being the one to shuffle off from Buffalo, with a salary of 2.1 million he makes considerably more than both Miller and Noronen and with his experience would make a fine addition to the likes of a Vancouver Canuck, Edmonton Oiler or Colorado Avalanche roster, to name just a few of the rumoured destinations of the last little while.

Reiger was planning on making a move earlier in the fall, but when Miller became injured all trades were on hold. While Miller has returned to his pre injury form, Reiger is still hesitant to make a deal until he's sure that Miller is both physically and mentally ready to go the distance for the rest of the year. Salary cap issues and free agency status will also play key factors in any decision that Reiger eventually makes, not to mention value of the trade in return for the services of any of his hot goaltenders.

It's not expected that the Sabres will carry the three guardians of the net much longer though, making the New Year a ripe time for a new start and a new destination for somebody.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Canucks retake the Northwest

After having fits against teams from Alberta, the Canucks were probably a little concerned to see the Nashville Predators come into town and immediately take a two goal lead. But with an antsy home crowd waiting to see how they would respond, the Canucks came out flying in the second period and took control of the game and their home crowd.

Things didn't look promising after the first however, as the Canucks let the Predators take the play to them in the first twenty with the Nashville cats taking advantage of Canuck miscues and some nervous moments by Alex Auld. With a goal in the net after thirty eight seconds there were murmurs in the GM Place crowd while Nashville carried the play in the first.

But once the Canucks got untracked it was a pull out the stops second and third periods with the Canucks battling back to tie the game in the second and again in the third before finally taking the lead for good on Richard Park's first goal in seventeen games. After that it was up to Alex Auld to hold down the fort, a job he did well as the Canucks were outshot 35-32 by Nashville.

The key to the Canuck's 4-3 victory in the third was a return to a more physical style of play, something that they had been getting away from in the early going. Led by Ed Jovanovski the Canucks played the man at almost every opportunity, knocking them off the puck and giving them cause to think about those journeys to the front of the net.

With the win the Canucks sneak one point ahead of their rivals in Calgary and Edmonton for first place in the Northwest Division. The Canucks now head out on a lengthy road journey, with 14 of their next 18 games to be played in opposition rinks.

Shootout at the Shark Tank

Wayne Gretzky returned to his spot behind the Phoenix bench on Wednesday, welcomed back to the pack with a 5-4 thriller by his Coyotes. Gretzky who had taken a ten day leave of absence to be with his dying mother, provided the inspiration for a team that came from behind to take the win from the Sharks.

The slumping Sharks have lost five of their last six games, keeping things tight in the Pacific Division. Looking lost for portions of the game the Sharks provided no support for starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov who was chased out of the game early in the third period after giving up four goals on eight shots.

The Coyotes started Brian Boucher in the nets as the slumping Curtis Joseph was relegated to a back up role after struggling in his last two games. Boucher held up his end of the night by facing 30 shots for the Coyote win.

The power play once again played a pivotal role in a game as the coyotes benefited from three consecutive penalty calls against the Sharks, leading to the Coyotes taking the lead for good. The pulled the Coyotes even over the last ten games with five wins and five losses, leaving them nine points out of first in the Pacific Division, 9th overall in the Western Division.

Peter Piper, picked a peck of pickled peppers.....

While watching the Canucks and Predators on TSN tonight I got to thinking about a dream lineup for poetic broadcasters.

Chris Cuthbert at the mike: "And at the end of two, the score is two - two, on a tying goal scored by Cheechoo with assists from Tootoo and Ruutu!"

Spengler Cup 2005

It's a tournament that is getting a bit more attention in North America, due in part to the fact that so many Canadians and Americans make a living out of playing hockey in Europe.

The Spengler Cup is underway and continues until December 31st. Team Canada is in the mix with four other European Club teams with all the Canadian games on Rogers Sportsnet . Paul Romanuk is handling the play by play and keeping a blog on the tournament.

The tournament's official website is here, the results of the competition are listed below, winners in Green!

HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk wins the 2005 edition of the Spengler Cup!

Dec 31 Final HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk 8 vs Team Canada 3 (Gold Medal game)

Dec 30 Semi final EHC Eisbaren Berlin 8 HC Davos 5
Dec 30 Semi final Team Canada 8 HC Praha 2

HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk receives bye into final

Dec 29 HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk 4 HC Praha 3
Dec 29 Team Canada 6 vs EHC Eisbaren Berlin 1
Dec 28 HC Davos 4 HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk 1
Dec 28 EHC Eisbaren Berlin 3 HC Praha 2
Dec 27 Team Canada 4 HC Davos 2
Dec 27 HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk 4 EHC Eisbaren Berlin 3 (shoot out)
Dec 26 HC Davos 5 HC Praha 3
Dec 26 HC Mettallurg Magnitogorsk 2 Team Canada 1 (shoot out)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Canada's Holiday Tradition gets underway

Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna welcome the world. Follow the results of the tournament here on HockeyNation. Winners are highlighted in Green!

Canada wins the World Junior Hockey Championship!

Jan 5 Canada 5 Russia 0 (Gold Medal Game)
Jan 5 Finland 4 USA 2 (Bronze and runner up game)

Jan 4 Latvia 4 Norway 0 (Relegation game)
Jan 4 Switzerland 3 Slovakia 3 (Relegation game)
Jan 4 Sweden 3 Czech Republic 1 (5th place game)

Jan 3 Canada 4 Finland 0 (Semi Final)
Jan 3 Russia 5 USA 1 (Semi Final)
Jan 3 Slovakia 4 Norway 3 (Relegation match)

Jan 2 Switzerland 5 Latvia 2 (Relegation match)
Jan 2 USA 2 Czech Republic 1 (Quarter Final)
Jan 2 Finland 1 Sweden 0 (OT) (Quarter Final)

Dec 31 Canada 3 USA 2
Dec 31 Sweden 6 Slovakia 0
Dec 31 Russia 7 Czech Rep 2
Dec 31 Finland 4 Switzerland 1
Dec 30 USA 2 Switzerland 2
Dec 30 Czech Rep 5 Slovakia 3
Dec 30 Sweden 10 Latvia 2
Dec 30 Finland 9 Norway 1
Dec 29 Canada 4 Norway 0
Dec 29 Russia 3 Latvia 1
Dec 28 Canada 4 Switzerland 3
Dec 28 Sweden 3 Czech Republic 2
Dec 28 Russia 6 Slovakia 2
Dec 28 USA 6 Finland 5
Dec 27 Switzerland 2 Norway 0
Dec 27 Slovakia 7 Latvia 4
Dec 26 Canada 5 Finland 1
Dec 26 USA 11 Norway 2
Dec 26 Russia 5 Sweden 1
Dec 26 Czech Republic 5 Latvia 1

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas!

To all those who drop by our humble little space on the world wide web, we offer our best wishes for this Christmas Day.

May the glad tidings of this season, carry on through the year like a playoff run for the ages.

Merry Christmas and enjoy the days off from the stats pages and the television clicker. Remember game time is back this Boxing Day with both the NHL and the World Junior Championships.

So take these two quiet days, to recharge those batteries, open up some presents, drink a little egg nog and re-introduce yourself to the family.

All the Best from the HockeyNation!

About the artist! Check out John Fewings website for more excellent cartoons by this great Canadian talent!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Flames win shootout thriller in Vancouver.

It was one of those barn burner types of games where you got the feeling that the last shot was going to be the one to win it. And it almost was the last shot, that did win this one for the Calgary Flames.

Tony Amonte potted the clinching goal in the shoot out as he deked out Canuck goaltender Alex Auld to bring the Friday night NHL match up to an end. Steven Reinprecht had scored earlier in the shoot out to put the Canucks on the bubble before Amonte put away the insurance marker. The final game before the Christmas break had everything we’ve come to expect from a Calgary Vancouver match up. Lots of fast paced action, some hard hits, and solid passing and fore checking and despite the high score some great plays in the net at both ends of the rink.

The 6-5 win stopped a Calgary winless skid at two, while the Canucks once again found that visitors from Alberta did not come bearing gifts of the season for the residents of GM Place. The points for Calgary tighten up the race in the Northwest, as Calgary pulls to within one point of second place Vancouver, which trails the first place Oilers by one point as the teams take their two day Christmas break.

The game featured a Calgary team that just wouldn’t stop coming at the Canucks. Every time the Canucks would get a goal it seemed as though it was answered by the Flames shortly after the puck was dropped and the announcement made on the PA system.

The two teams renew acquaintances again on Boxing Day, as the Canucks try to figure out what it will take to reverse their inability to come out ahead on the scoreboard against Alberta teams.

No Doggin' it for Belfour

It was one of the stranger looking special ceremonies in recent times, there was Eddie Belfour with his wife, his son and er, his pet dog at centre ice accepting the accolades of the crowd. Too his credit the dog remained pretty composed with all the excitement as did the guy they call the Eagle.

Belfour was honoured before the Leafs/Bruins game on the achievement of his 448th win as an NHL goaltender. Belfour has moved into second place in all time NHL goaltending, passing the legendary Terry Sawchuk, as he continues to chase down the record held by Patrick Roy.

During the pre game ceremonies video clips were played of Tony Esposito and Vladimir Tretiak, two Chicago goaltenders that Belfour looked up to in his formative years in the Windy City. The good vibrations paid off as Belfour went on to have one of his best performances of the year as the Leafs edged the Bruins 2-1. Both Belfour and Bruins goaltender Hannu Toivonen put on a clinic on how to shut down the opposition. The Finn coming up on the short end of the scoresheet on this night, but not because of anything he did on the night.

Belfour faced 26 shots on the night, the only one to beat him was at the hand of Sergei Samsanov who scored on a two man advantage about four and a half minutes into the second period. After that it was a closed kennel as Belfour put on a performance to make Sunny the dog proud of the old man just before Christmas. Belfour has a fair amount to go to catch Roy's record of 551 wins, but with a little luck, Sunny will get to make one more appearance at centre ice.

With Sunny's newfound exposure as team dog and perhaps the most famous canine in Toronto since the Harold Ballard days, we can see a Fido endorsement just down the road. It should help keep both Sunny and Eddie in Kibbles and bits for the rest of the season.

The tonic for the Sens

Unaccustomed to losing skids this season, the Ottawa Senators probably looked forward to their trip to Long Island before the Christmas break.

The Sens scored four goals against the Islanders Friday night, on the way to a 4-2 victory the third time they've defeated the Islanders so far this season. Bryan Murray credited the Islanders with a tough game as they battled back to try and close the gap between themselves and the Sens.

Ottawa however, proved to be too strong once again and collected another two points, their 51st of the season and head into the two day Christmas break on a positive note. A timely thing for a team that seem to stumble down the last ten days or so. From the time they hit the west coast for a game against the Canucks and on through Calgary, Colorado and Philadelphia they seemed to more mortal than previously thought, having dropped three of their last four games the match up with Islanders gave them a chance to head into the Christmas break with something more than missed opportunities on their minds.

Friday night they split the scoring up as Patrick Eaves, Zdeno Chara, Andrej Meszaros and Dany Heatley counted markers as Ray Emery turned aside 25 shots on the way to the victory.

The Sens will meet the Islanders one more time this season, a return engagement in Ottawa next Friday night. After that the two teams won't see each other until any possible playoff match ups fall into place.

Friday, December 23, 2005

So who's running this team anyways?

The ink had not even dried on Wayne Gretzky's Men's Hockey roster for Team Canada's Turin bound Olympic team and it was caught up in all sorts of intrigue.

The Canadian Olympic Committee had to make sure its messy fingerprints were all over the final decision. For some inexplicable reason, all of Wednesday's feel good announcements were left to the background on Thursday as the bureaucrats at the Olympic Committee decided to hold a cross country conference call to decide if a few of the more controversial selections were truly of Olympic mettle.

What was supposed to be a simple and short press release turned into a day long soap opera as apparently the Olympic handlers wrung their hands over the names of Bertuzzi and Doan and maybe even Heatley.

Word leaked out in BC first that the Olympic Committee was particularly disturbed with the inclusion of Todd Bertuzzi to the 26 man roster, his misdeed in the Steve Moore incident in the NHL of a few years ago, still apparently resonates in the halls of the COC.

The drama played out on the sports talk stations of the country through the day, becoming the thing of farce later in the afternoon. As even more details began to filter out, suggesting that if the Gretzky chosen team was over ruled by the Olympic body, then Gretzky would walk away from the National team. An incident which would have sent a domino theory of happenings that could have ended up with a mess of Olympian proportions and no doubt become the most intriguing story in Canadian hockey history.

By days end it seemed it all ended as it began, the Canadian team roster would proceed as announced, the only change in the situation the embarrassment of a clueless Olympic committee that managed to shoot their own messenger in the foot while at the same time alarming the nation's hockey fans.

The simple question to ask this bureaucratic buffoons is this; why did they not address their concerns to Gretzky and Co. in the weeks leading up to the selection of the team. By handling this situation in such a ham handed manner, they not only cut the legs of their hand picked Hockey manager out from under him, they also could have potentially have sewn the seeds of a hockey rebellion at home that would have had major ramifications for Canada's international hockey reputation.

There are many that don't feel that Todd Bertuzzi should have been included on the Canadian roster, they have valid concerns but in the end one has to decide that if he's been re-instated in the NHL then he should be available to play in International events. And if he's not to be allowed it should not be decided after he's been named to the team.

All we can say is it's a good thing none of the Committee members actually play the game of hockey, a disorganized group such as this would have a hell of a time getting out of their own end of the rink!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Twenty six for Turin

The list has been handed in, the players advised. All that's left now is to head for Italy and go for the gold. Hockey Canada named it's roster for the Turin Olympics today, a list of twenty three names on active duty and three others standing by if needed, a group heavy on experience and featuring few real surprises.

The exclusion of Sidney Crosby has had a few fans chattering all night long, but the backlash against the rapid rise of the Nova Scotian of the last few weeks might have been a hint that he might not get the nod. The impression of the Pittsburgh franchise at the moment is one of a rather divided group, that's something the Olympic team would most definitely wish to stay away from in a short elimination tournament.

Crosby will no doubt get more than enough chances to take part in International hockey over the years to come, with many of the current players in what will surely be their last competition on the international stage, Crosby will be handed a torch just in time for the Vancouver Olympics of 2010.

Todd Bertuzzi and Dany Heatley made the grade and that seems to have a few folks concerned as well, many feel that the different situations the two have been involved in over the last couple of years should have weighed against their participation, the managers of Team Canada obviously saw things a little differently. The inclusion of the two will certainly not detract from the on ice effort, which in the end is pretty well all the folks on Team Canada were probably concerned about.

The goaltending situation looks fairly set, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco will be the last line of defence for the red and white, with Brodeur expected to receive the bulk of the work.

No one could argue with the selection of Joe Sakic to be the captain of Canada's team, Sakic has long been a participant in the International arena, his quiet leadership will be prove to be a solid choice to help bring together a veteran line up.

The joyous nature of the announcement was overshadowed a bit by the sadness at the passing of Wayne Gretzky's mother Phyllis, earlier this week. Gretzky of course could not attend the announcement today as he was tending to family matters in preparation for the funeral, but he did issue a statement thanking Canadians for their kind words in his families time of sorrow. He also congratulated the successful aspirants to the quest for Olympic gold.

With less than two months to go until the puck drops in Turin, there will be lots of debate regarding the names selected today. The Canoe website has a good number of stories on today's development, available from this link!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Those that seek the gold at Turin!

Hockey Canada has released its roster for the 2006 Turin Olympics.

The Team Canada roster includes a few surprises, the exclusion of Sidney Crosby and the placing of Jason Spezza on the replacement squad or taxi squad.

For your browsing pleasure, here's the list.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Canada's Hockey Mom passes away

Sad news out of Brantford, Ontario as Phyllis Gretzky lost her battle with lung cancer on Monday evening. Mrs. Gretzky, 64, had been sick for the last number of years, diagnosed with the disease in 2004. Being the mother of a high profile Canadian, her situation certainly received much more attention than the average family might expect. Such was the importance of her to her family and by extension to the nation.

Wayne Gretzky had flown back to Brantford over the weekend, which became a signal to many that time was short for his mother. Questions of his participation in the Team Canada process were left for a different day, as many hoped for a turn around in her condition. A turn around that sadly never came to pass.

Anyone who has played minor hockey, knows the importance of parents to a young hockey players life. They rise early to get them to practice, drive long distances to make games or tournaments, hold the fundraisers, take second jobs to pay for equipment, it's very much a family comitment in many cases. Phyllis Gretzky was no exception, Wayne has recounted how she would drive him to the early morning practices and while she seemed to stay very much in the background, "she was glue that held it all together".

We offer our condolences to the Gretzky family, while their loss is very much a private matter it's also in a way a national loss. It will bring back for many the sacrifices of parents the nation over to pursue our national sport, losing one of your biggest backers is a hard thing to try to understand.

Lets hope that the Gretzky's feel the support of an entire nation who truly understand as they face their time of sadness.

And then there are those that just don't get it!

Well that was a quick expression of humanity at its best. In a previous posting, I recounted the glad tidings of joy exhibited by a guy named Tom Hedican of North Bay, a fellow that exhibited all that's best in people.

The digital bits had barely been circulated to the Blogger home site before another story made the rounds that makes you realize we still have a long road ahead of us.

Hockey fans in Chicoutimi presented their worst face over the weekend as Ted Nolan coach of the Moncton Wildcats brought his squad into Chicoutimi for a Quebec junior league match. Nolan who is of First Nation's descent was shocked and dismayed by the recpetion that greeted him as he coached his squad through the game.

The Chicoutimi crowd exhibited some reprehensible behaviour by uttering racial ephithets and making obscene gestures and racist gestures to the Moncton coach. Nolan, a former NHL coach of the year with Buffalo has seen a lot in his career, but nothing prepared him for the outright racism that he faced in Chicoutimi.

The folks there have more than embarrased themselves, they've shown a side of their culture that is not a pretty sight and should give them all a cause to ponder exactly their place in a modern society.

The management of the Sagueneens have been quick to get a press release out saying how disgusted they are at the behaviour of a number of their fans, but their disgust seems rather hollow. Nolan reported that the security guards at the rink were laughing at the comments and did nothing to expel those that were the worst offenders.

Management claim Nolan may have misunderstood some of the actions of the fans as racist, when they were apparently doing a tomahawk chop to celebrate a goal by one of their own players, Francois Verreault-Paul who is of aboriginal heriitgae. Now perhaps that is correct, know one really knows for sure but it certainly doesn't excuse the other actions by their fans, Nolan probably knows racism when he comes across it and it seems he feels that he has seen it and didn't like what he saw this weekend. The Sagueneens management may be talking the good talk about ridding sport of racism, but frankly they're nowhere near walking any kind of walk.

Nolan deserves much more than just an apology, but one wonders if the folks of Chicoutimi really get it anyways. They claim that the behaviour of their fans is not indicative of the beliefs of the people of their community, but you would have a hard time persuading Nolan of that at the moment.

The above posting first appeared on my A Town Called Podunk blog, my journal of current affairs, check it out for other items of interest.

Robinson Resigns!

It was Lou Lamoriello leading practice Monday morning, as head coach Larry Robinson took on the title of former head coach of the New Jersey Devils.

Robinson resigned his position with the NHL club Monday, two days after his team suffered it's seventh loss in nine games, this season had been a challenging one for Robinson who took over the reins of the squad when Pat Burns stepped down to once again battle cancer.

Robinson frequently had criticized the character of his underperforming team and did not seem to be able to get his message across to the likes of Alexander Mogilny and Scott Gomez, two player who he benched on Saturday night out of frustration with their play as the Devils suffered a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The play of Gomez thus far has had his name mentioned in frequent trade talks of late as the Devils look to shake things up, however with today's development perhaps Gomez is safe in New Jersey for a while yet.

During the morning workout Lamoriello had no explanation for Robinson's departure, though Fox Sports is reporting that he stepped down due to stress and horrible headaches. The Devils GM hasn't put forward any names for a potential replacement as of yet as he tries to figure out his next move. Whoever gets tapped to take over the Devils will have their work cut out for them, the Devils have been on auto pilot for a number of years now, willing to go through the motions but not returning to the level of play that led them to the Stanley Cup.

With a record of 14-13-5 the season is surely not lost, but somebody has to get them moving. Robinson apparently watching his health suffer with this squad, decided he wasn't that guy!

Someone who gets it!

There's an interesting story out of North Bay, Ontario about a guy that actually gets this helping mankind thing about Christmas.

Tom Hedican, who works as a professional hockey coach in Europe is home in North Bay for Christmas. He came up with what seems like a terrific idea to help out the North Bay Food Bank while at the same time getting the young people of North Bay involved in helping those less fortunate.

Since his arrival back in Canada for the Christmas break, Hedican has been running hockey practices for the youth of North Bay, the only stipulation is that they must bring a donation for the North Bay Food Bank. He's volunteered his knowledge, while the kids bring the goods.

And so far it's been a major success. All of Hedican's planned sessions have been booked solid and his truck has been filled to the top with donations for the Food Bank. Hedican credits his respect for Bruce Springsteen for the idea, Springsteen regularly donates to Food Banks wherever he tours, his donations to the Toronto Food Bank the Daily Bread have been regular and apparently quite generous over the years. For Hedican it seemed a natural fit to combine his love of hockey with his need to help out.

It's something that seems so simple one, wonders if others have attempted it before. It makes everyone a winner in a season when far too many get left behind. You get the feeling that those kids that are learning the skills on the ice are probably taking a heck of a lot more than hockey lessons home with them this Christmas!

The above posting first appeared on my A Town Called Podunk Blog, my journal of current events, check it out for other items of a similar vein.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Decision day for the USA

The United States will name its Olympic Hockey team on Monday, as General Manager Don Waddell announces his selections from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Many expect the Americans to go with a youth movement with the likes of former Olympians Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick, to be replaced by younger legs for the trip to Turin. Having kept a core group together for over ten years now, the Americans are looking to the future and a new crop of young American skaters to carry the colours into the rink.

The big question in the States as in Canada, is who will tend to the nets for the USA. Rick DiPietro, Robert Esche and John Grahame are the professionals being considered as is Ryan Miller of Michigan State.

It's a tough call for Waddell, who will have to tell some long time stars of hockey in the USA that their time has passed them by. With players such as Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight winding down their careers, this could very well be their last shot at a Gold Medal for the USA.

But time marches on and unless the Americans begin to bring some new legs and expose some of their younger guns to the Olympic experience, they may find that their roster depth for Vancouver will be even less experienced.

It's a tough job to be the one responsible for naming the names, even more so considering the pedigree of some of the names Waddell may have to leave off the list. Unless his team comes back with a Gold Medal for their troubles, Waddell really is in a no win situation.

Is it a solid hockey move? Or one of desperation?

The announcement that Sidney Crosby has been named an alternate captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins is raising more than a few eyebrows around the NHL this weekend. With the turmoil in Pittsburgh of the last few days, yet another level of controversy has been reached with Super Sid getting handed an A for his jersey. The one that used to belong to long time veteran John Leclair, who took it all in stride.

The new head coach Michel Therrien made his choice on Friday and since then there has been many different takes on the decision. Some look at it as a way of endearing himself early on to the budding superstar and his equally famous captain and owner. It’s been a rather rocky season thus far, let alone the last seven days in Pittsburgh, with the suggestion the team may be on the move in 2007 and then the firing of head coach Ed Olczyk who could not get much performance from his team of public skating fan dressed up as hockey players.

While one does question Olczyk’s credentials as a head coach in the first place, it became pretty apparent this season that the team assembled by Craig Patrick for him is not exactly giving their all in the early going this year. There are suggestions that the youngest Penguin is already getting a swelled head about his importance to the team and by giving him a higher profile position the Penguins are courting internal strife in the dressing room for the rest of the season.

The situation has become so controversial that it even made it to the hockey pulpit that is Coach’s Corner, where Don Cherry made quick work of the promotion of Crosby to the Alternate captain’s position. Cherry said he didn’t believe that Crosby was ready for the task at hand and more importantly would end up being more divisive to a team already steeped in turmoil. Basically stating that Crosby has not earned the position yet Cherry basically claimed it was just a way for Therrien to get into Mario Lemieux’s good books from the get go. The inference being that it’s still Lemieux calling the shots in Pittsburgh and the coach is but the guy to open the gate regularly for line changes.

There may be a grain of truth in the Cherry argument, even if he has had issues with Crosby in the past. The pressure of all of this on an eighteen year old, may cause him some problems as he tries to get his career off to a solid start. Rather than letting him ease his way into the league and gradually reach the plateau many expect for him, the Penguins seem to want to fast track his every move.

It’s a dangerous thing that they are doing in Pittsburgh; an already underperforming squad now will have a new target for their frustrations. Long time veterans may not take kindly to “advice” from an eighteen year old wunderkind, especially one who has an inordinate amount of time with the boss.

There’s no stopping Crosby’s potential in the NHL, but by putting him on the hot seat so early in his career the Penguins are not making things very easy for their future franchise player!

Oilers in OT!

It’s something that hasn’t happened very much at GM Place this season, a loss by the home side. But if any team was going to make its mark in Vancouver it probably would be the Edmonton Oilers.

Saturday night the Oilers provided an entertaining night of hockey for the second game of the Hockey Night in Canada double header, as they came from behind to take a victory away from GM Place. Mike Peca put away the winning fifth goal with a highlight reel shot to the Canucks net after a controversial play in the neutral zone, in which he pulled away from a sprawling Daniel Sedin.

It didn’t seem like it was going to go the Oilers way early on, as the Canucks scored two quick goals early on and in fast order much to the delight of the Canucks faithful. The Canucks scoring blitz in fact chased the Oilers starting goaltender Mike Morrison from the game before he could even work up a sweat. Morrison was replaced by Jussi Markkanen, who kept a steady hand in the Oiler net for the rest of the game.

Todd Bertuzzi continued to play inspired hockey as he crashed and bashed his way towards two goals on the night, coming close a number of times to picking up a hat trick for his efforts on the night.

Power play opportunities would prove pivotal for the Oilers as they took advantage of a penalty parade of Canucks through the game.

The Canucks started Maxime Ouellette in goal, giving their new starter Alex Auld a night off after his recent string of consecutive games in place of the injured Dan Cloutier. Ouellete played well for the most part and benefited from some solid defensive play from the likes of Jovanovski, Salo and Ohlund.

The 5-4 loss by the Canucks marks only the second time they have lost on GM Place ice this season, a remarkable stretch of winning hockey. It was however the third loss to the Oilers this season, making Edmonton the troublesome date on the Canucks calendar for the rest of the season.

With the victory the Oilers pull to within three points of the Canucks in the North West division standings but more importantly file away another bit of confidence when it comes to playing their rivals in the North West.

Sens return to the winner’s column with a good old fashioned Leaf thumping

It used to be that a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs brought much misery to fans of the Ottawa Senators. It normally meant for a long night and one ending badly for the followers of the red, white and black.

But this year things are decidedly different, a meeting between the Leafs and Sens is more than likely to result in a thumping of the Maple Leaf Nation both on the scoreboard and on the ice.

Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada prime time attraction was no different, as the Senators provided the home town crowd with many enjoyable moments. The Sens were led through the night by Jason Spezza, who continues to try to play his way onto the Olympic team by sheer point’s volume. Spezza contributed a three point night on the way to a convincing 8-2 demolition of the Maple Leafs.

The avalanche of goals did not come until the second and third periods after a stellar performance by Ed Belfour in the first; Belfour held the Sens at bay shot after shot as his defence abandoned him on this Saturday night. Forwards refused to back check and seemed unable to keep up with the Sens skating as the second period passed its midway point, after the Sens picked up their fourth goal one just got the impression the rest of the night would be a long one for the Eagle. Too many Leaf penalties resulted in too many power play opportunities for a skilled Ottawa side, who took advantage of their good fortune most of the night.

Toronto could not put together much of an offensive attack on Saturday, giving Domenic Hasek only infrequent appearances on national television. The first period shots of goal told the tale of how this game would eventually work out, Ottawa had directed 18 shots at Belfour in the first period, the Leafs had tested Hasek only five times in that same period of time.

As is the case with these two teams the play turned chippy as things got out of hand on the scoreboard, numerous fights would break out during the third period and some particularly nasty stick work would flare up from time to time. One incident between Carlo Colaiacovo and Jason Spezza highlighted the frustration of the Leafs on the night. A spear to Spezza at the blue line, resulted in a punch up inside the Leafs goal crease as Spezza tried to provide a little frontier justice for the infraction.

The attempt by the Leafs to intimidate the Sens once again did not work, in previous years the Leafs would dominate a Sens game simply by out hitting them, taking the softer players on and dishing out the heavy hits when the right time would come along.

This year it’s the Sens who are playing the body hard, not allowing the Leafs to take any liberties against their players and more importantly of all not being run out of their own arena any more.

It’s still early yet, but the notices are being posted for April and the playoffs, no one can come into Ottawa anymore and take liberties and points away from these Sens. All attempts to do so will be dealt with in a most unpleasant manner, both on the scoreboard and in the penalty box.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Saskin says his peace at the NHL meetings

It marked a first for the NHL, the leader of the leagues players union was asked to drop in and say a few words as the thirty league governors gathered in the desert of Arizona.

Ted Saskin, head of the NHLPA gave an address to the NHL owners outlining his take on the current collective agreement and bringing some of his memberships concerns to the table for consideration.

The meeting which has been described as precedent setting, was the main event of the
Wednesday meeting, as he explained that for the most part the players were content with the new structure of the NHL (mind you he probably didn't consult with the Trent Klatt collection on that one) and had only a few concerns of note at the moment.

Among them the inconsistent calls of the officials in the new NHL, some games are chock a block full of penalties while the next night the free wheeling goes on uninterrupted, the players would like to see a more reliable base for how the game will be called from night to night.

The other issue that has a few of them concerned is the waiver situation where minor league players end up stuck on farm clubs, only because the parent club is afraid of losing them on waivers on the way up. The poster boy for this problem is Wade Flaherty of the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks who obviously could use a reliable and experienced goaltender to help out Alex Auld with Dan Cloutier now gone for the season, can't afford to take the chance on bringing Flaherty up to the main club. Should they try, he could very well be claimed by some other NHL team in need of a goaltender and the Canucks would be on the hook for a portion of his salary while he plays on a different team. For Flaherty it must be particularly disconcerting, as he may find himself forever left in the AHL merely because he's probably good enough to be in the NHL. Saskin did not get any answers on that dilemma to report back to the membership on.

The appearance of Saskin seems to be setting a new tone for the NHL and its relationship with its players. After the bitterness of the lockout year lost, both sides appear for the most part to be trying to cobble together a more productive relationship. Inviting Saskin to the inner circle if only for a brief period of time, at least gives the players hope that some of their concerns will finally get an honest hearing.

It may also go a long way in settling down the festering problems within the players association, as the Klatt led rebels continue to lobby for another confirmation vote on Saskin's leadership. By showing that he has the ear of the NHL power brokers, Saskin may have been able to quell the problems before they pick up much more steam.

Sabre Rattling!

The Buffalo Sabres continued on their winning ways, as Martin Biron backstopped them to a convincing 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. Biron collected his 11th consecutive start and win as he turned aside 32 shots, 16 of them in the final period on the way to the record books. With the victory Biron tied the mark set by another Martin, a guy named Brodeur who also collected 11 straight wins back in 2001.

Biron has quickly become a crowd favourite in Northern New York as he leads a renaissance of hockey in Sabreland. Winning 12 of 14 games since they lost to Ottawa in November. With 20 wins so far, they are off to their best start since the 1979-80.

The game Wednesday night was a mid term exam of sorts for Lindy Ruff's team, taking the play to a Dallas team that had previously won five stright games and 13 of their last fifteen. Strong defensive play and shutting down the Stars power play were among the keys to victory besides the stellar play of Biron in the nets.

The Sabres had a 3-0 lead in the second before a few mental errors allowed the Stars to quicky get back into the game. But with the score 4-2 the Sabres were able to keep the Stars at bay, though they let things get close when Dallas scored with seven minutes to go. The Dallas goal made for a frantic and entertaining finish that gave former President Bill Clinton full value for his trip to Buffalo and a night at the hockey game.

At the end of the night though, it wasn't Hail to the Chief the crowd was singing. It was hail to the Marty, who quickly is becoming popular enough to consider running for an office of his own!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bert Big on Broadway

Tuesday night was opening night for the new Todd Bertuzzi, or at least the improved Bertuzzi. Vancouver’s power forward found the form that has been missing for most of the season thus far, a crashing more physical game and one that found him to be the key part of the Canucks success in Manhattan.

On a day when the Canucks learned that their number one goaltender was gone for the season, they pulled together on the east coast and took a win away from Madison Square Garden. Alex Auld, who now suddenly finds himself Marc Crawford’s go to guy, had a decent night in the nets as his defence helped keep the Ranger snipers at bay for most of the night.

In the Ranger end of the rink, the Canucks had quite a few chances to increase on the 3-2 final score. As they controlled a fair amount of play Tuesday night with many contributors to the attack, the Sedins continued to find more opportunities to get on the board, with Daniel once again scoring with the Canucks second goal of the game.

Bertuzzi got the Canucks on the board in the first on a dandy pass from Ed Jovanovski, taking the puck across the blue line Bertuzzi wired a shot past Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. From there he spent the end of the second and better part of the third period in the penalty box, after coming to the aid of Marcus Naslund, Bertuzzi found himself penalized for 17 minutes after a melee with Ryan Hollweg.

From that point the night belonged to Matt Cooke, who was returning to action for the first time since suffering a broken jaw seventeen games ago. Cooke put the game away with a tie breaking goal with four and a half minutes left in the game.

Cooke had put on a fairly gritty performance for most of the game, unafraid to take the body and consistent on the attack.

For Coach Marc Crawford the night must have been one that gave him a feeling of success. His new number one goaltender stood the test of fire in the Garden, his power forward had probably his best game of the year despite spending a good portion of the game as an observer, his play Tuesday should help to quiet down any rumours of his imminent trade from the Canucks. Just as rewarding for Crawford on Tuesday was the inspired play of the player with the most heart on the night, as Matt Cooke returned to the lineup and had an immediate effect on the Canucks fortunes.

His team has slain two of the East’s power squads in less than one week! Perhaps playing the elite squads is something that the Canucks need more of, as they seem to bring their best game to the rink when the competition is cruising the top of their divisions. And the good news for Crawford is the big teams keep on coming on, from Broadway it’s on to Broad Street and a Thursday night match with the Flyers. Then it's back home to GM Place and the always tough Edmonton Oilers.

It’s another couple of tests for a team that seems to enjoy taking the exams all of a sudden.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

From the penthouse, to the doghouse, to the outhouse!

It’s been a rather long road for Patrick Lalime and with Tuesday’s demotion to the AHL, its a road that now leads out of the NHL for the time being.

Lalime was released yesterday by the Blues and put on waivers, with a salary at over 2 million dollars there wasn’t much in the way of interest and now he finds himself waived out of the league and onto the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL.

Lalime was the starting goaltender for the Ottawa Senators the last time they played in a playoff game, as he and his Sens bowed out to the New Jersey Devils. It would be his final appearance in a Sens uniform, as the house cleaning in Ottawa began under John Muckler in the off season before the strike. As history records, Domenic Hasek eventually would be the man between the pipes in Ottawa and Lalime was off to St. Louis.

His arrival in the city with the arch, has coincided with a free fall of the Blues franchise which continues on unchecked and resembles a train wreck happening in slow motion. With the owners hoping to unload the team soon, the aura of success is hard to come by in St. Louis these days, Lalime got caught up in all of that and had a very rough start in the St. Louis net.

Playing behind the league’s worst team, Lalime has acquired the leagues worst record with 3 wins, 11 losses and four ties prior to his departure from the NHL. His Goals Against is a rather high 3.97, which is part testimony to the disorganization of the Blues defence and his poor play through the early season.

His last game for St. Louis came Saturday night, when he gave up a horrible goal late in the game, giving the Rangers a 5-4 victory. Blues coach Mike Kitchen, felt that not only was the last goal a bad one, but the three previous to it were rather soft as well. Deciding that Lalimes work ethic had cost the team a win Kitchen decided it should also cost him his job.

Curtis Sanford will take over the duties in the St. Louis net, untested but financially frugal; he will carry the load while the Blues sort out their immediate future. Sanford takes home a salary of about 500,000 dollars a year, quite a bit less than Lalimes. A cynic might observe that the departure of Lalime may have had more to do with a salary dump, than a position improvement. That 2.4 million however, may be more of an anchor on him in the short haul as each NHL team tries to figure out its place in the world of the salary cap. Though Kitchen and GM Larry Pleau, insist that it was purely a hockey decision to be made to try and wake his team up and take care of a problem position.

Lalime is hoping to stay positive, refusing to comment on the troubles of St Louis, instead he plans on reporting to the minors and working his way back up to the NHL. It’s a safe bet he may yet get another shot at NHL glory; after all it wasn’t too long ago that he was only a few short games away from the Stanley Cup finals. It’s going to take a bit of time no doubt, but he’s hoping to get back into a spot where that can happen one more time.

As for Sanford, the new era of goaltending in St. Louis got off to a pretty good start as the new number one faced 20 shots and backstopped his team to a 3 -0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Penguins, making Sanford a favoured Son for one night anyways !

Monday, December 12, 2005

Who to pick, who to pick?

While Canada’s junior team goes through its selection camp and the coaches work on their short list for a final line up, there’s one person glad for the change of spotlight for a few days.

Wayne Gretzky who is responsible for Canada’s Olympic team is probably thankful that the Juniors are taking some of the public’s heat for this week. Gretzky has to name his roster on December 21st and there’s no shortage of arm chair GM’s ready to share an opinion or two.

The folks at Canoe have solicited the wisdom of a current NHL GM, who remained nameless in order to offer up his selections for Turin. The Canoe GM offers up a few surprise selections for Canada’s Olympic squad. Starting with a starting goaltender named Marty. The unknown would pencil in Marty Turco as the guy to take the load when the Canadians arrive in Italy. With Martin Brodeur having an up and down year so far, the mystery GM feels that Turco would be a more than fitting number one selection. This would leave Brodeur to be the number two guy with Roberto Luongo along for insurance purposes.

On the blue line the GM recommends that Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ed Jovanovski, Wade Redden and Robyn Regehr set up shop in the Team Canada defensive end. To help them out he suggest adding Rob Blake and Dion Phaneuf the Calgary phenom who has had an amazing debut year in Calgary. It would be a courageous Gretzky if he would take a gamble on a rookie on the blue line, but you really can’t argue with the way Phaneuf has played so far, add on his International experience with the Junior program and you can see the wisdom of the idea.

On the front lines Joe Sakic, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Simon Gagne, Jarome Iginla and Dany Heatley are all pretty well sure bets for inclusion on the Canadian roster. This leaves the Team with five spots to fill. The Unknown GM has a short list of five that he feels will make the difference when in the Red and White. Kris Draper, Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby all were given the nod to go over the boards for the country. The three young guns have been attracting a lot of attention of late, and most observers figure that two of the three are most likely ready to make the jump. Our unknown GM decides that all three will make an impact.

By skipping over such players as Shane Doan with Phoenix and Bryan McCabe with Toronto, the unknown GM avoids a problem that Gretzky and Quinn will have. Both play on the coaches respective teams, it’s going to be a very hard decision to have to tell a current player on the league team that he’s not up to the standard for the Olympics.

That’s why they took on the jobs they did, to take on the responsibility to make the big decisions when the time comes. But unlike our Unknown GM, they have nowhere to hide once they put that list up on the dressing room wall!

Big Bert on the Block?

Vancouver Canuck fans woke this morning to a heartfelt conversation between their lumbering hulk Todd Bertuzzi and the Canucks’ host broadcaster John Shorthouse. It seems that Bertuzzi was concerned about an Ed Willes column in Sunday’s Vancouver Province, which basically claimed that Bertuzzi had demanded a trade and no longer got along with head coach Marc Crawford.

The on air interview which aired repeatedly (listen here) on both CKNW and MOJO through most of the day’s sports casts, had a soft spoken Bertuzzi claiming nothing but love for Vancouver, for his team mates and for his coach. No demands for a trade said Bert; he has work to finish in Vancouver.

As the heart strings were being tugged in Vancouver, over on the other side of the country the FAN 590 was fanning the rumors of trade. Bob McCown’s show Prime Time Sports spent a bit of time on the Bertuzzi rumor, suggesting that he might be New York Ranger bound. This week’s co-host Jim Kelly observed that the Canuck’s power forward hasn’t exactly been setting the hockey world on fire these days and could very well be on the block.

The most unlikely name floated for a possible trade, was that of Zdeno Chara of the Ottawa Senators, perhaps based on his performance in Vancouver on Friday night. Though one wonders why the Senators would be interested in trading a key component of their team such as Chara. More likely to be used as trade bait on the Sens might be Chris Phillips, who tends to be overshadowed these days on the blue line by both Chara and Wade Redden. Though even he is pretty important to the Senators line up and it would have to be a solid improvement for the Sens to let Phillips go. Considering Bertuzzi’s inconsistency so far this year, that’s not a trade John Muckler, is likely to make.

Bertuzzi has had Vancouver fans scratching their heads all season long; many a talk show has had phone calls wondering when Big Bert is going to turn it up a notch for good this year. He’s had good games and bad ones this year, which gives him a lot in common with his team mates. In some he's coasted at times through the games, a presence on the ice but not necessarily on the scoreboard. Like Clark Gilles of the old Islander days, he seems to only become dangerous when he’s banged around a bit. So far most teams playing the Canucks have been content to let the giant sleep. It's that inability to put his game in gear on a nightly basis that has his name on the trade rumor list now.

It’s indicative of the passion for hockey in Vancouver these days that the rumors even get started. Every little word or expression from a Canuck is subject to investigation and commentary. The Province regularly stirs the pot and gets the Canuck dressing room excited about some issue of the day. This time it was a suggestion that the Canuck’s winger is causing more problems than he’s solving in Vancouver. A suggestion that has had the sports talk shows of Vancouver busy all day long. To get a sample of the buzz on this story check out the CKNW website and it's audio vault , the Dan Russell sportstalk show from 9-12 pm, covered the situation fully.

How the team bands together in aid of their fellow Canuck will be interesting to watch, coaches and GM’s always hope to build up an Us against them relationship between their team and the outside world. It was something that former GM Brian Burke cultivated with great success. The Willes article in the Province on Sunday may have done current GM Dave Nonis a great favor, in one column the underperforming Bertuzzi may have been stirred to action.

Tuesday night the Rangers face the Canucks; it could be a night that sees Bertuzzi begin to reclaim that form that made him a crowd favorite a few seasons ago. If not, the trade rumors will not only continue they’ll become louder and louder with each passing game.

Players of the Week for December

Here's the group of players signled out for their achievement in the month of December, click on the link for a bio and some stats on the players.

Dec 25 Forward, Marian Hossa, Atlanta
Dec 25 Goal, Ryan Miller, Buffalo
Dec 19, Forward, Brendan Shanahan, Detroit
Dec 19, Goal, Roberto Luongo, Florida
Dec 12, Centre, Joe Thornton, San Jose
Dec 12, Goal, Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary
Dec 5, Centre, Patrick Marleau, San Jose
Dec 5, Goal, Tomas Vokoun, Nashville

Penguins on thin ice?

With losses projected to be around 7 million dollars and some serious foot dragging by civic and state officials in Pittsburgh, if could be that the Penguins could actually take flight by the end of 2007.

Mario Lemieux, issued the warning today by describing things as doutbful that the Pens would remain in Pittsburgh after the 2007 season.

The 7 million dollar loss projection is even more disturbing when Lemieux explained that the total was reached with the idea of near capacity crowds all year long and going at least as far as the second round of the playoffs. With the oldest arena in the league and no prospect of a new one coming down the line, Lemieux may finally have tired of his Super Mario status as savior of the franchise.

It poses an interesting situation for the NHL, the team while having problems in Pittsburgh offers up the future in a pretty grand style with Sidney Crosby the new building brick of the Penguins stock. With the likes of Crosby and the other young guns coming up the line, this is a team that will be attracting more than a fair share of attention as the situation evolves in Pittsburgh.

Already there are whispers that there is money in Kansas City looking to bring a franchise back to the Missouri city which once was home to the Scouts. A new arena there is looking to lure either an NHL or an NBA team to be it's marquee tennant. Houston and Las Vegas of all places also are apparently investigating the idea of bringing hockey to town. Of course any talk of a franchise relocation always perks up the ears in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Qubec City. All three of which would probably be a solid place for Mario to move his investment.

Imagine Sidney Crosby playing down the road from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Copps Coliseum. It would be Mario for Mayor if he moved the team to Winnipeg and well there would surely be a statue to be built in Quebec City, if the native son of Quebec was to bring back NHL hockey to the provincial capital.

Then again, perhaps the frank statement of fact by Lemieux, will light a fire under the folks in Pittsburgh and secure their Penguins for the long term. Lemieux has been trying for four years to get a new rink built in Pittsburgh, the latest plan was for the Penguins to gain control of a slots licence to fund a new arena, with the government yet to award the licences and the losses mounting Mario may have finally had enough.

In the end, Mario is going to come out of this a winner as always! Whether it's in Pittsburgh or elsewhere, his team is going to be much in demand over the next few years. That seven million dollar loss this year could very well be just seed money, venture capital if you will over the next few years!

As they say at the gambling tables, place you bet and Let it Ride.

Trim Time!

Canada’s junior hockey gladiators report to their four day selection camp today, for the first of what promise to be spirited workouts under the watchful eye of Brent Sutter. But before they grab their blades and sticks they had best find themselves a barber.

Sutter’s first bit of business at the camp is making sure those with the flowing locks get a trim. Portraying the idea as a bonding experience for his young players, Sutter is going to make a few barbers rather happy today.

Once the players have their hair to Sutter specs the real work will begin. Sutter hopes to take a very youthful and untested group of juniors onto greater hockey glory starting on Boxing Day. With only Cam Barker returning from last year’s team, this will be a team full of new names for Canadians to keep their eyes on over the two week tournament.

Thirty four were invited to the selection camp, with only 22 spots on the roster for the cut down day of Friday. Some of the players to be watching include Angelo Esposito from the Quebec Remaprts, the youngest player at the camp. At 16 it may be a hard bit of skating for him to crack this line up of 18 and 19 year olds, but from all accounts he’s got as good a chance as anyone to be there on Friday.

Calgary Hitman Justin Pogge could do something that hasn’t been done in awhile take away the net minding duties from someone from the Quebec league, Pogge is one of three westerners vying for the all important goaltending job, Julien Ellis of Shawinigan is the only one from Quebec playing between the pipes this time around.

Jonathon Toews represents a new talent pool for the junior team; Toews is one of five college players to be invited to camp. Marking the most university based players to attend a junior camp in its history.

One player who won’t be making a return visit is Sidney Crosby, while still eligible for the competition his parent club, the Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t inclined to let their leading scorer take time off for the tournament.

Today gets underway with two practices; from there it’s a three day intensive workout to whittle down the list, all leading up to an exhibition game against the University of British Columbia on Thursday night.

By then coach Sutter will have a good idea which players will begin the process to be ready to go to work for Canada at the Boxing Day opener. The rest will be allowed to grow their hair again, for the lucky 22 it’s going to be short and neat with lots of ear showing for a few weeks anyways.

It sure gives a whole new meaning to the term making the cut!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Scrub the new schedule ideas

It wasn't a masterpiece, the flow seemed to get interrupted too much, but still it was still some of the best entertainment of the year so far. The Senators and Canucks met at GM Place on Friday night for the first and only time this year (barring a playoff match for Lord Stanley's Cup) and the hometown fans went home rather happy.

Daniel Sedin scored the winner in the shootout to pace the Canucks to a 3-2 victory over the Sens and bragging rights for this week of NHL play, only the fourth team to beat the Sens this year.

In a game that gave the two referee system its most stringent workout, both Vancouver and Ottawa found that the slightest dent on the NHL rule book usually resulted in a two minute penalty. Brad Watson and Chris Rooney spent far too much time at centre ice, sharing with the tv audience the latest infraction of the night. An exasperated Bryan Murray seemed to accept his fate on this night, as the thirteenth penalty call of the night on the Sens put his team on the wrong end of a 5 on 3 situation going into Overtime.

Power plays were the nature of this game with the Sens spending 26 of the 60 minutes sitting out the the play in the box. Yet the Canucks could only capitalize on one of their 13 extra man opportunities and that was early on in the first period. After that it was the Ottawa defence and some stellar work from Domenic Hasek that held them at bay.

Ottawa played an uncharacteristically sloppy game early on before they settled down to the job at hand, far too many giveaways and bad penalties should have buried them early in the game, yet they hung on to tie things up in the third and forced Overtime, a period which they survived a 5 on 3 situation. From there it was on to the night's grand finale of the shootout.

The 100th consecutive sell out at GM place roared with approval as Auld made his saves and Sedin scored the winner to cap off the highly anticipated night complete with the points.

The flow of the game could have been less interrupted by the referees, who seemed to call far more than the usual number of infractions on the night. Though in some cases the fouls were so blatant as to be inexcusable, dumb infractions by Mike Fisher, a lazy hook by Captain Daniel Alfredsson and a mishandled puck by Zdeno Chara were just some of the silly mental errors that put the Sens behind the eight ball for most of the game. Without Hasek's heroics in the net the Sens could have faced a much worse fate on the scoreboard at GM Place.

Vancouver outshot the Sens 37-21 by the end of regulation and if not for Hasek a fair number of those 37 shots would have counted for goals. The Sens can thank their goaltender for the one point souvenir of their trip to the Pacific.

The Canucks did something that very few teams have been able to do this year they held the Sens big line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley pointless on the night, only the second time this year that the Sens performers have been off the sheet.

The quality of the game left many hoping that it was a preview of the Stanley Cup final, two teams at the top of their game and with seven possible games to prove their points. If we can be guaranteed the same gritty effort this spring, then we can't wait until May!

The game had been hyped for a week in Vancouver, almost reaching that frenzy one sees at the start of the playoffs. Which leads one to wonder about the NHL's scheduling template for the next few years. As things stand now, with the unbalanced and inter conference rivalries in place, the Sens will not be back for a regular season visit in Vancouver for three years. Which seems like a complete waste of entertainment and box office potential.

Here's some math for the NHL to ponder for next year, earlier this week the Sens played Florida before an announced crowd of 10,000 people (widely reported as much less) and no television audience. Friday night the Sens and Canucks played before a sold out crowd of 18,360 at GM place and a Sportsnet audience that will surely report in as huge.

The question for Gary Bettman and the owners is this. Which would bring in more money and more interest to the new NHL, eight games of the Panthers and Sens or even four games of the Sens and Canucks? Unless the NHL calculators are broken they'll realize that it not only makes good hockey sense to feature the Canadian teams against each other more often, it makes good business sense.

Money talks, lets hope that this new scheduling idea takes a long walk.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Memories, of the way they were!

Brad and Jenny A, Ben and J Lo, Britney and Kev, all we've heard lately is couple after couple splitting up. And now Pat Quinn has put another couple on the outs, with two consecutive losses to contemplate the Leafs on ice boss has split up his defensive stalwarts Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. Alert the tabloids, call the papparazi, there should be film by eleven!

Quinn moved the two onto different pairings during practice on Thursday, giving Maple Leaf boardflys reason to gossip and swap theories. With Kaberle skating with Ken Klee and McCabe partnering with Alexander Khavanov, many observers were trying to factor in if the new pairings would help or hinder the Leaf defensive schemes.

Quinn for his part was suggesting it was just a practice move trying out a few experiments here and there, he's not sure if the new Leaf look will make it to the starting lineup against Dallas on Saturday night. The biggest issue may be how any change may affect McCabe who is off to a terrific start in the scoring department for the Leafs. With McCabe holding at 36 points and Kaberle pulling in at 22 points, perhaps Quinn is thinking that moving them apart will help spur on the rest of the defensive types to increase their output.

Of course for Toronto media types any little move in the Leafs camp is akin to preparing for the D Day invasion, so every single practice shift has some hidden meaning. It's all part of the nature of being a Leaf in Leafland.

It will be interesting to see what the good scientist Quinn comes up with when he leaves the lab Saturday afternoon and takes his place behind the bench. Unlike Ben and J Lo, or Brad and Jenny A, Cabby and Bryan may yet be re-united.

A most anticipated match up

The high flying Ottawa Senators begin their western swing tonight in Vancouver with a highly anticipated game against the Canucks. Bringing their firewagon style of play to GM Place and a sold out crowd.

With Vancouver having had pretty well a week off to prepare, the media has been pumping this one since Monday morning. Every sports cast seems to have focused on the game between to top Canadian teams. As the Canucks slip behind the Flames in the Northwest Division the concern over the Canucks grew day by day.

The talk shows airwaves are filled with countless Bob's from Coquitlam and Sam from Chemanius with their thoughts on how the Canucks can match up against the Beast of the East. Even the television gurus of Toronto have noticed that this is a game everyone is talking about, originally scheduled as a Sportsnet Pacific only game, the Toronto based network has added Sportsnet East/Ottawa to the party for Friday night, with the game to be aired in both markets and will include the Hockey Central panel live at GM place as a pre-game and intermission bonus.

The Senators bring hockey's best line into town Friday on a roll, the Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson the Senators trio has been burning up the scoring stats so far this season and they bring their exciting play to the rink for the fans in BC.

Some of those fans may actually be sitting on the Canuck's bench, the Canucks have been unusually high in praise about their opposition on Friday, saying they keep an eye on their eastern cousins and enjoy what they see coming out of the Nation's capital on a nightly basis.

For their part the Sens are not taking an inconsistent Canucks team lightly, realizing that despite the on again, off again nature of the Vancouver offence, rising to an occasion is something that the Canucks are capable of.

Marc Crawford is looking forward to the match up as well, suggesting its a good test for his team to recapture some of their expected form this year. Crawford also makes a solid observation about the success of the Sens so far and he places a good portion of the credit with his counterpart Bryan Murray. As Crawford correctly points out, it's been a complete change of style in Ottawa this year, as Murray brings a much more offensive minded approach to the game than his predecessor Jacques Martin. Aided by a goaltender in Domenik Hasek who has the confidence of his teammates, the Sens are no longer afraid to take off up the ice and take advantage of their many chances.

It's Crawford's hope that his team can reduce those chances tonight, while at the same time capitalizing on their own in the Ottawa end of the rink. Regardless it should be a most entertaining night for the GM Place faithful and hockey fans British Columbian and Eastern Canadian (except you Torontonian area folks, nah, nah, nah, nah!)

Puck drops at 7 pm in Vancouver, 10 pm in Ottawa. It's late night hockey for the Easterners and expect the eyes to be droopy on Saturday morning, this one could be a barn burner from start to finish, making sleep hard to come by in Ottawa by 1 am!