Thursday, May 31, 2007

A game for friends and family

The US television ratings for Game Number one of the Stanley Cup playoffs were released today. And it would seem despite the amazing success of the Ducks, not many folks were inclined to watch.

Versus which carried games one and two, has a potential audience of 72 million American eyeballs to attract. However, Monday night’s game came up some 71 million 500 thousand short of a full house.

Versus registered less than 1 per cent of the television viewing public on Monday night, attracting only 523,000 households in the entire United States. Down 22% from last year.

Wednesday night wasn't much better, in fact it actually got worse. Anaheim's 1-0 victory over Ottawa in Game 2 recieved a 0.6 cable rating on Versus and was watched in 446,000 homes in the United States.
In Canada, the news was a little brighter as the CBC's presentation of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final averaged 2,608,000 viewers on CBC, down from last year's opening night totals of 3 million, but still light years ahead of what is happening below the 49th.

Versus surrenders the rights now to NBC which picks up the broadcast schedule at game three Saturday night in Ottawa. With numbers like those above, Versus is probably just as glad to be moving on to to the regular diet of xtreme cage fighting, Australian pro rodeo and fly fishing competitions.

Is the Cat migration on to Hamilton?

Interesting developments on the Predators front on Thursday, as would be Predators owner Jim Balsillie reached an exclusive agreement to negotiate a lease option for Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, with the city council.

An agreement that has added Hamilton the list of would be homes for wayward kitties, once the Nashville situation clears up.

Balsillie who has put an offer of 220 million out there for purchase of the Predators has said very little as to his plans, leaving vivid imaginations and those with road almanacs to try and determine where he may wish to place his team in the near future.

Hamilton, which has been taken down the NHL road a few times now would make for a centrally located home for a new Southern Ontario franchise, about an hours west of Toronto and south of Kitchener-Waterloo and just east of London, Ontario it has about 8 million potential fans in its area, most of whom probably cheer for a team in Blue and White.

With commuter rail service to and from Toronto and an extensive highway system in Southern Ontario, it’s thought that a team placed in Hamilton would probably have a fair amount of success.

Balsillie’s arrangement of today is an interesting turn as Gary Bettman had said as late as this week, that the Predators were staying in Nashville, which if true makes the movements of today rather strange.

The suspicion is that Balsillie very well plans on moving the Predators to Ontario, with Kitchener-Waterloo considered the eventual destination, though with no rink to speak of at NHL standards, the need to park the Preds grows with each passing press release.

Which is where Hamilton comes in perhaps to provide temporary shelter or maybe as the long term home for the soon to be vagabond Preds, the preference in Hamilton seems to be that the team should put down its roots in the Steel city.

Even better for the people of Hamilton, if Balsillie follows through on his interest they could actually save money on their taxes, hell if he brings hockey to Hamilton and reduces their taxes he could probably become mayor any day he wished.

Time will tell if that might be in the blackberries notes of Mr. Balsillie.

What does seem to be on the horizon however is a potential dispute between Balsillie with the NHL board of Governors and Gary Bettman. If his purchase is approved and they attempt to force him to remain in Nashville, which seems to be a bit of a graveyard for the NHL, how long would it be, before his lawyers begin to rattle some cages about open markets and the need to locate where the best opportunity leads.

Balsillie has already done the NHL owners a huge favour by inflating the expected cost of an NHL franchise. If Nashville is worth 220 mil, what may some of the other troubled franchises command once the bidding is opened.

Gary Bettman may say that the Predators aren’t going anywhere, but somehow you have the feeling that if the guy writing the cheques wishes to find a better home, then he’s going to go ahead and find a better home. After all, there don't seem to be too many billionaires lining up to spend their money on the NHL these days.

If Balsillie continues to hear the "can't do's" from the NHL, he could very well become the NHL’s version of Al Davis, the long time Oakland Raiders owner who regularly challenged the NFL’s power structure, moving between North and south California as he pleased, all while building entertaining and winning football teams.

He developed a penchant for doing what he wants to do with his team, regardless of the wishes of his lodge brothers in the NFL, even if legal means might be required.

At a 220 million dollar purchase price for money losing hockey team, Balsillie might be ready to follow the script that Davis has perfected for years.

Sens dig a deep hole

Two games in and two games down. That sums up the Senators and their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup in this 2007 playoff season.

For the second game in a row, the Senators could offer up no answers to the domination that the Anaheim Ducks provided through three periods of play.

While not as error prone as they were in game one, the Senators still managed to give away the puck at key times in the game, allowing the Ducks to once again spend a fair amount of the game down by their new close friend Ray Emery.

At the end of Wednesday’s game the Sens should have apologized to their hard working goaltender, for he was the only thing standing between Ottawa and a rather humiliating night.

Emery made spectacular save after save, at one point in the first period he had faced down 10 Anaheim shots to the one lonely shot that J S Giguere had to handle. It didn’t change much during the night, though at points the Sens did manage to fire off two or three shots within the same minute of play, not often mind you, but on occasion.

Once again, Anaheim played puck control perfectly, able to clear their zone with remarkable ease, not allowing the Senators to initiate any kind of offensive attack, they controlled the neutral zone as well all the while turning the puck around and hemming in Ottawa deep in their end for lengthy stretches of each period.

There’s been a disconnect with Ottawa in these first two games, they say all the right things before the game and in those between period interviews, but as soon as they hit the ice they’re like a deer caught in the headlights of the oncoming truck, they just aren’t sure which way to go, frequently waiting until it’s too late to get moving.

This was not the way the pre series prognosticating went, before game one the question was how would the Ducks handle the free wheeling Senators and their fancy pass making and sniper like shooting. As things have turned out in two games, they are handling it all quite well thank you very much. There's more speed flying down the Ottawa wings into the Ottawa corners from Anaheim than returning up the ice the other way.

While there has been much made about the Sens top line not getting untracked in the two games, in game two it was the Duck’s checking line that wreaked the havoc and scored the winning and only goal of the game.

Samuel Pahlsson took advantage of a Senator turnover in the neutral zone near the Duck blue line and turned it into a scoring play by slipping the puck through Joe Corvo’s legs and off the right post behind Ray Emery late in the third period. It was a momentary lapse by the Sens, one of a few in this game, but this one cost them not only a game but has made their job that much harder as they head for home and Saturday’s game three.

Monday night’s win by the Ducks was considered one of those things that could have gone either way, that despite a domination of that game and especially its third period that only served as a warning of what may be to come. But on Wednesday, the Ducks were full value for their win.

They simply outplayed the Senators in all facets of the game, with the exception of goaltending and even then, when called upon (and it wasn’t that frequently) JS Giguere was more than up for the challenge.

From the boards, to the face offs, through the defensive play and to the control in the Ottawa end of the rink. It was a pretty solid effort from a hard working team that can surely be starting to smell champagne.

If the Sens don’t want to see the Ducks drinking the bubbly, they had best get their act together fast and turn things around on Saturday night. It's not enough to say that the best review of the second game was that they weren't manhandled as they were on Monday, they still couldn't keep up with the Ducks and that is something that is going to need to be addressed quickly.

It’s not time to panic if you’re an Ottawa fan, but it is time to be a little concerned, the Senators that we’ve seen from California bear no resemblance to the ones that waltzed through three Eastern conference playoff series.

Sometime very soon, that team had best report for action or the tour of duty will be a very short one.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hard hits, hacks and attitude all the talk after game one

The tone of the coverage of Monday night’s game one of the Stanley Cup finals seems to be focusing on the image of the Ducks as a bruising and battering squad.

Many of the articles reviewing the events of Monday have been focusing on Burke’s Bruisers, a collection of hulking troglodytes that many seem to think are the reincarnation of the Philadelphia Flyers of the Broad Street Bullies days.

With the Ducks laying on a licking on the Sens through the third period, there are more than a few following the Stanley Cup trail that are wondering if the rules have once again been modified on the fly, gone are the obstruction fouls, the late hit calls and the attack on the crease calls of the regular season.

Perhaps it’s all a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Ottawa to get the refs to follow the play more closely, but there is a bit of truth to the idea that the rules did seem to change dramatically as the game progressed, most noticeably in that third period, an twenty minute period of play that would have brought a smile to the face of Gary Dornhoffer.

If the refs do crack down on the rough stuff for game two it could very well mean the end of the Ducks style of play, even in Monday’s game they found themselves in the penalty box frequently, leaving Ottawa to a power play that occasionally showed signs of life but far too often just as often sputtered.

Perhaps the best way for Ottawa to make the Ducks gentler, might be to score a few more times on the power play and make them pay for their misdeeds often.

We highlight some of the roll call of the shocked, who found Monday night to be an unusually violent night.

Montreal Gazette-Ducks swarming Sens' end
Sports Illustrated-Living dangerously

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sens look for a renewed approach for game two

In the old and even not so old days the top line of a high flying club would be given a fancy name, the production line, the GAG line, the KLM line or Legion of Doom, things of that nature.

They made for a moniker that summarized the skill and ability of that line to change the direction of a game and keep fans talking about their exploits for hours and hours.

You can almost hear your grandfather telling you, “oh I remember when Howe and Abel on that Production line, turned a series around…..”

Monday night the Ottawa Senators big line probably hoped nobody noticed their play (fat chance), since only the turnover line might come to mind. In what Sens fans hope will be a one game aberration, the Senators most productive line in the last three series had the most atrocious time of it as the Anaheim Ducks pounded them into the boards, rattled them off their game and gobbled up more errant passes and fumbles than had been seen in a couple of month’s worth of Senators appearances.

The Globe and Mail’s Roy McGregor appeared on the Bob McCown program Prime Time Sports late Tuesday afternoon (thoughts he expaned on in the Globe) and his description of the play of all the Senators, especially in that frightening third period, appeared to nail the night’s performance accurately. Macgregor who is perhaps one of the most astute observers of the game today, suggested that Ottawa played as if they were in fear for their lives, such was the nature of the physical play of the Ducks and the resulting effect it had not only on the Sens big line but the team as whole.

This is not a team that is unable to cope with the hardest of hits, they have after all taken on the Penguins, Devils and Sabres, three teams that have been known to throw a check or two, but Monday it was like a whole new world for them, as wave after wave of Ducks took the body, on the boards, at centre ice or in the Senators crease, it was ten pin bowling night in Anaheim and the Sens were the pins. Clearly the Sens were not prepared for a sample of hockey from the 1970's as delivered by Brian Burke's bruising Ducks.

The ability to shake off the effects of Monday’s disappointing loss is of key importance for Ottawa, they need to score goals and make hits, out skate the Ducks at every opportunity and make sure that they no longer have an open invitation to set up camp in Ray Emery’s crease.

The message needs to be sent from the opening face off and for Ottawa to find success they need a highlight type night from the Big line, after a terrible Monday, they are no doubt anxious to return to the ice and regain the touch that helped bring the Sens this far, a successful journey rests on their ability to bounce back.

The Globe’s David Naylor explored the impact that game one had on the Sens prime offensive grouping, and what may be the scenario for game two.

Ottawa's top line gets a wake-up call
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

ANAHEIM, Calif. — They make up the most productive line in the National Hockey League playoffs and they've led the way most nights during the Ottawa Senators' drive to the Stanley Cup final.

But during Ottawa's opening-game 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley barely registered at all.

Spezza and Alfredsson picked up assists on Wade Redden's power-play goal in the second period. But overall, the trio was a combined minus-3 on the night, thanks to being on the ice against Anaheim's checking line when winger Travis Moen scored the winning goal late in the third period.

Moen and his fellow checkers, Sami Pahlsson and Rob Niedermayer, had 12 shots on goal, compared with just five for Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, including none in the third period.
All of which raises two questions: Has Ottawa's top line finally met its match and will head coach Bryan Murray break up the line that carried Ottawa through the first three rounds of the playoffs?

"It's a panic move if you do it right away," Murray said yesterday as the Senators prepared for tonight's second game of the best-of-seven series. "The guys play and play and play and then we have a game where it's 2-2 with three minutes to go in the third period and so we break them up? I just have to play it by ear and do what I have to do."

Murray's criticism of his top line was considerably more pointed immediately after Monday's game when he fingered it for failing to get the puck deep into Anaheim's zone and chasing it. Instead, the trio most times attempted to carry or pass the puck into the Ducks' zone, resulting in multiple turnovers.

"At the end of the day, it's [Murray's] decision," Ottawa's Dany Heatley said of whether the line stays intact. "We turned the puck over and tried to do too much. We've played too well in these playoffs and I'd hate to see us not together.

"What's made us successful is that ability to play a simpler game and for whatever reason we got into trouble trying to make plays down the middle. We've got to stick with getting the puck in and playing a simple game and then let your skill take over."

While Murray is holding firm, there is some reason to think a shakeup might not be too far away. For one, Murray is known as a coach with a quick trigger for line switches, having gone far longer during these playoffs without a shakeup than at any point during the regular season.

And factoring the final two games of Ottawa's Eastern Conference final series against the Buffalo Sabres, the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line has now been held without a goal in two of Ottawa's past three games, both of which were losses.

The Senators have talent throughout the roster, but it's hard not to notice that Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson have accounted for 23 of Ottawa's 50 goals during the playoffs. And among forwards, they have accounted for 56 per cent of the scoring.

So far during these playoffs, the pattern has been simple. The Senators don't win when their top line isn't clicking.

"We acknowledged it after the game, we talked about it, the three of us," Alfredsson said.
"And I'm sure we'll play smarter and better tomorrow. … We hurt ourselves more than what they did to us."

Complicating matters for Ottawa in the first game was Anaheim head coach Randy Carlyle's decision to play his two top defencemen, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, as a pair against the Spezza line.

While that might seem like more impetus to break up Ottawa's top line, Spezza sees it another way.

"If they'll put their five best defensive players against us, it should give our other lines opportunities to score goals," he said.

Quest for Stanley: Stanley Cup final results

We archive the results from the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.


Wed June 6 Game Five Anaheim 6 - Ottawa 2
Mon June 4 Game Four Anaheim 3 - Ottawa 2
Sat June 2 Game Three Ottawa 5 - Anaheim 3
Wed May 30 Game Two Anaheim 1 - Ottawa 0
Mon May 28 Game One Anaheim 3 - Ottawa 2


Monday, May 28, 2007

Advantage Anaheim

Game one was one for the birds; the Anaheim Ducks recovered from an early Ottawa start and wore down their dance partners during Monday nights opening game of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Senators came out early and played the kind of style that brought them through three successive series, a fast paced and hard hitting brand of hockey that set them up nicely in the early going. So fast and furious was the Ottawa attack in that early going, that it generated a power play in the first minute of the game, that on a high sticking call to Scott Niedermayer. It was a mistake which Mike Fisher converted on, as his fluttering shot found its way into the Anaheim net in a most fluke like fashion, leaving the crowd at the Honda Centre in quiet contemplation at the two minute mark mulling over the 1-0 Ottawa lead.

It was a shock for the Ducks who suddenly were down a goal and had given the Sens that emotional boost that can change a series. By the ten minute mark however, the Ducks had recovered from that setback and gained the tying goal thanks to Andy McDonald who put one past Ray Emery, giving life to the faithful in the rink.

The first period ended with the two teams tied, but Anaheim showing some signs that they were ready to push Ottawa in game one. The Ducks were playing a more physical style of play by the end of the third, taking the boards, winning the face offs and consuming time at an alarming fashion.

Period two provided the Sens with another gift, yet another power play advantage as the Sens enjoyed a two man advantage early on in the second frame, one that the Ducks killed off with surgeon like skill, cutting off the Sens attack before it could launch and sending the Sens back into their own end time and time again to retrieve the puck. It was a golden opportunity to put the pressure on the Ducks and yet the Sens couldn’t mount much of an attack due to the Ducks ability to knock them off the puck.

The theme of courting disaster continued for the Ducks as they collected another penalty at the four minute mark of the second as Ryan Getzlaf was called on a cross check on Mike Comrie. Wade Redden would make the Ducks pay for that one thirty seconds later, leaving the Sens up by a goal heading into the third. Yet as the second period was winding down you sensed that the Ducks were gaining strength while the Sens were starting to shy away from the puck, refrain from taking the body and providing far too many scoring opportunities in front of Ray Emery.

As the third period began the rising tide of the Duck attack became a full force tsunami, the Ducks were everywhere. They were bashing the Sens on the boards, taking away the neutral zone and turning them back every time they ventured towards JS Giguere. Most importantly they were creating havoc in front of the Ottawa net, crashing to the crease, blocking Emery’s vision and man handling the Senators in their very own end of the rink.

It proved to be a strategy that paid off for Randy Carlyle as the Ducks picked up an early goal in the third from Ryan Getzlaf, who was flying all night long and seemed to control the play to the side of the Sens net.

The two teams played the tie for the bulk of the third but the Ducks were by far the more aggressive and in control of the two teams, they completely dominated the play sending the Sens reeling in their own end, watching Anaheim cycle the puck and shoot at will. The Sens big line of Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza not only couldn’t get untracked all night long, but made far too many uncharacteristic giveaways, killing their scoring chances before they even had a chance to form.

A third Anaheim goal from Travis Moen in the last three minutes, gave the Ducks the lead and finally seemed to spur the Sens to a cohesive attack, the last two minutes of play in the third provided the most consistent offence from Ottawa since the first five minutes of play, yet despite their opportunities and near misses they couldn’t find that third goal to send the game into overtime, instead they ceded game one to the Ducks and now must regroup and tweak their attack for a more positive result on Wednesday.

The flow of the play in the third was all Anaheim could have hoped for, they dictated the terms for the period and Ottawa seemed content to play the role of spectator far too much.
Considering Anaheim’s insistence on taking bad penalties, a process that haunted them in the previous series, Ottawa must make sure that its power play takes full advantage of the gifts when they arrive.

The Sens had their chances in the early going, but for a post here, a backside there or a cross bar at the top they could very well have been ahead by a couple or three goals by the first ten minutes, instead they allowed the Ducks to reclaim the game and then take it over, leaving the ice with 1 – 0 lead in the quest for Stanley. A much different and game long effort is needed Wednesday, the Sens need to get back to their game plan and make it work, Monday found them off track and sidetracked from their mission.

Below is some of the coverage from Monday night.

National Post-Ducks take first game
Ottawa Citizen-Ducks Win
Orange County Register-Ducks beat Senators 3-2
Orange County Register-Rob Niedermayer makes a name

Sens and Ducks finally ready to drop the puck

Well the fancy skating show at the Pond is finally over, hockey will at last be allowed to showcase it’s Stanley Cup finals, though judging by some of the comments of late, one wonders if anyone will be watching when the puck drops just after 8pm (ET) 5pm (PT).

A seven day break has dropped hockey even further off the American radar than it could possibly have fallen, not that it seems there was far to fall.

The only possible silver lining for the NHL with a Memorial Monday start is that maybe, just maybe the traffic won’t be so bad around the Honda Centre that some folks may actually make it to the 5 o’clock start.

Reports have it that most of the major newspapers in the USA are taking a pass on the finals, Ottawa seemingly to far away from the main line and Anaheim seemingly not enough of a marquee attraction for the editors to send the ink stained lads and lasses off to work. It's just another sign of a number of troubling issues that have popped up in the last waning days of this hockey post season.

Hockey Night in Canada stands ready to broadcast the games across Canada, perhaps as background at a patio party or while the BBQ sizzles. Maybe those on the golf courses will use their fancy XM satellite radio to keep abreast of the drama of the Sens and Ducks, but then again maybe not.

In the USA, Versus gets the first couple of games which means at least the games will be played until the game is actually finished, NBC with it’s three hour window takes over for the final four games, Gary Bettman had best hope that all horses near and far, are kept in the barn for that four game window .

It will be interesting to see the ratings results after Lord Stanley’s Cup has been presented after the seven day break. Hockey unfortunately can’t provide something that the NFL can, fill in with two weeks worth of endless filler before the big game. For Hockey they need is to seamlessly move from semi’s to finals with the least amount of time to find other diversions, testimony that maybe the season is running a little too long.

Ideally, the Stanley Cup should be awarded before Canada’s Victoria Day weekend, one week ago. Summer arrives fast in Canada (and leaves just as rapidly), unless you’re living and breathing the Sens, there’s a very good chance you’re thinking of the sun as the teams prepare for game one.

The hockey should be fine; the two teams have survived a grueling path towards the ultimate showdown in the NHL. It’s too bad that the NHL seems to time and time again try to find ways to make sure that fewer and fewer people will be there to see the end of the trail.

Giants rule their universe

Sunday’s Memorial Cup provided some fast paced and hard hitting action and a determination from the hosts that once the Cup was in their building it wasn’t going to go anywhere for the next year.

The Vancouver Giants won the venerable trophy of junior hockey supremacy in Canada on Sunday, based on a strong game plan from coach Don Hay, that saw them take the play to the Medicine Hat Tiger through the first two periods of the game.

The Giants were peppering shows at the Tigers goaltender time and time again, bashing the boards and controlling play as though possessed. The Tigers managed to keep themselves within striking range, thanks mainly to Matt Keetley who stood on his head at times to ensure that his team mates at least had a shot at taking the championship back to the Hat.

But this one seemed to be the Giants to lose from the very opening face off; Vancouver was flying from the first shift and by rights probably should have put the game away in the first period.

By the time the Tigers managed to get their feet the Giants were bouncing back with key goals to put the game away with the final score of 3-1 in front of a sold out, standing room only hometown, Pacific Coliseum.

It provided for a dramatic game and finish from two teams that became rather familiar with each other over the last three weeks of the junior hockey year, the Giants lost to the Tigers in the WHL final, only to recover and deliver when the moment for the ultimate Junior championship was at hand.

It’s a major win for one of the top franchises in junior hockey, Ron Toigo’s team that run the Giants, not only provide for top quality entertainment on the ice, they make sure that their players stay focused on life past junior hockey.
For Hay it's his third Memorial Cup as a head coach, his fourth as a coach and a most deserved bit of recognition for one of the best prepared and motiviational coaches in the game.

The Giants are a modern franchise for the CHL, which has had more than its fair share of horror stories in the years gone by. The Giants have provided the template for many of today’s junior franchises to emulate, today they also have the trophy that all aspire to claim at the start of the year.

One deserves each other in this instance.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tavares tapped as CHL's player of the year

It was recognition night in Vancouver as the CHL handed out its trophies and awards for 2006-07, highlighting another successful year of Junior hockey across the country.

And when it comes to names to watch, the name on your depth chart this year will be John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals, the sixteen year old phenom from Oakville, Ontario who already has the scouts salivating at his potential, suggesting that he's "the next one". A second year player in the OHL, because at fifteen he was already considere ready for prime time.

As if to prove his supporters right, Tavares had a remarkable year this year claiming the Ontario leagues record for goals in a season by a 16-year-old with 72, something that used to belong to some guy named Wayne Gretzky.

Tavares is considered the real deal and even at the age of 16, it's expected that he'll be a most in demand hockey player when his turn comes up in the NHL draft in 2009.

The Globe and Mail profiled the latest player of the year and provided details on all of the award winners at this years Memorial Cup festivities.
Tavares named CHL's top player
Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — John Tavares keeps living up to his "special player" billing.
The Oshawa Generals forward was named the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year Saturday.
Tavares, from Oakville, Ont., broke Wayne Gretzky's record for goals in a season by a 16-year-old with 72.

"I didn't really realize how special that was until I broke the record in Ottawa and got a standing ovation," Tavares said. "It's pretty amazing to do something like and break the record the greatest player in the game broke.

"I still don't believe it. It's hard to believe because I just go out and play."
Tavares also had 62 assists in 67 games for the Generals.
He was also the youngest player to win the Red Tillson Trophy as the Ontario Hockey League's most valuable player.

The CHL is the umbrella organization for the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior hockey leagues.

Tavares was the CHL's rookie of the year last season.

The OHL allowed him to play in the league at 15 because he met the requirements to be a "special player."

Tavares has amassed 117 goals and 94 assists in 132 career OHL games.

The six-foot, 183-pound forward isn't eligible for the NHL draft until 2009.

Tavares was chosen the CHL's MVP ahead of finalists Kris Russell, a defenceman with the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers and forward Mathieu Perrault of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

Previous winners of the award include Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards, Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux.

"To see my name on an award with such great players and guys with such great careers and great success, not only in junior, but in the NHL is an amazing achievement and something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Tavares said.

Other award winners were the London Knights' Patrick Kane for CHL top scorer, best rookie and NHL prospect; Kris Russell of the Medicine Hat Tigers for top defenceman; Carey Price of the Tri-City Americans for top goalie; Lewiston Maineiacs head coach Clement Jodoin for coach of the year;Alexandre Picard-Hooper of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar for scholastic player of the year; David Desharnais of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens for most sportsmanlike player; and, Swift Current Broncos goaltender Kyle Moir for the humanitarian honour.

Tavares is also a talented lacrosse player and the nephew of National Lacrosse League player John Tavares.

But the younger Tavares is scaling back on his second love to focus on hockey.

"It's really time to give it up," he said. "I had a lot of offers even to come out west and play.

"I talked to my uncle about it, but I needed to rest and get stronger this off-season in the weight room to get stronger, faster and bigger."

Tavares finished second in OHL scoring to Kane.

The 18-year-old forward from Buffalo, N.Y., had 62 goals and 83 assists in 58 games.

"Coming into the season, I wasn't sure I made the right decision coming to London, but right now I've got to be happy coming home with three awards today and having a good year," Kane said.

Medicine Hat's Russell didn't go home empty-handed. The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect from Caroline, Alta., took the honours for top defenceman.

He was the only defenceman to lead his team in scoring in the WHL with 32 goals and 37 assists in 59 games. Russell has won back-to-back gold medals for Canada at the world junior hockey championship.

Russell and the Tigers meet the Vancouver Giants in the final of the Memorial Cup on Sunday.
"The big one is still up for grabs and that's what I'm thinking about," Russell said. "This award is a credit to me and my team, but there's one more we really want to go after."

Price of the Tri-City Americans was named goaltender of the year.

Price, a first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, finished the regular season with a 30-13-1 record, including three shutouts, a 2.45 goals-against average and a save percentage of .917.

He also backstopped the Canada to a gold medal at the world junior hockey championship in January.

Jodoin of the Lewiston Maineiacs was chosen the league's top coach.

In his third season behind the Maineiacs bench, Jodoin navigated the team to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship and their best record in franchise history with 50 win and 106 points in 70 games.

Picard-Hooper of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar was selected scholastic player of the year. Picard-Hooper scored 93 points in 67 games for the Drakkar, while completing a CEGEP program in Human and Social Sciences at Baie-Comeau College.

Desharnais of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens had 108 points in 62 games, but only 32 penalty minutes, thus earning him the most sportsmanlike award. Desharnais was the QMJHL's sportsmanship award three straight years.

Swift Current Broncos goaltender Kyle Moir was recognized for his humanitarian work in the community as he made weekly visits to schools and was also involved with Special Olympics Saskatchewan and the Prairie Post Broncos Reading Program.

The WHL, OHL and QMJHL nominated a candidate for each award and NHL Central Scouting chose the winners.

Rematch of the Rivals

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Vancouver Giants and Medicine Hat Tigers finished off a hard fought seven game battle for the Western Hockey League championship, and even that game seven wasn’t decided until the two teams had played into two periods of Overtime hockey.

So to say that they’re familiar with each other might be an understatement. In fact you could down right say that this long running Western League rivalry is becoming the clash of the legends.

The two will face off one more time this season, this time with the ultimate prize in Canadian Junior hockey up for grabs. At 1 pm on Sunday, in front of a packed house at the Pacific coliseum in Vancouver, the two will battle one more time for the chance to claim Memorial Cup.

They know each others strengths and weaknesses, their key players, the special plays, when they tend to fade and when they can pour it on, maybe even what ever deodorant each player uses.

The two head coaches of each team have become the closest of friends in the Junior hockey world, frequently calling each other up to exchange pleasantries and ideas, though we suspect they’ve been pre-occupied this week to do much in the way of socializing.

The games their two teams have provided in the Western league have been showcases of hockey at it’s fast paced best, hard hitting, smart and strategic. Two evenly matched and well coached squads where only a subtle miscue can stand between victory and loss. For the most part the advantage has been to the Tigers who have been able to capitalize at the key time in most matches, but on Sunday it's a one game showdown for it all, a fifty fifty chance of success or failure.

When the two teams take to the national stage and in front of what should be a huge national television audience in Canada they will show the rest of Canada the best of what the WHL has to offer. Hockey played at its fastest pace, combined with the kind of physical play that is making the WHL famous.

With the NHL having taken its bizarre week off from public attention, the CHL championship has never had the kind of media attention that it has received in the last seven days, the stage is it and its alone on Sunday.

Both WHL representatives are familiar with the pressure of the Memorial Cup, the Tigers last appeared in 2004 with a loss, while the Giants were eliminated as well from last years Memorial tournament in Moncton.

One team will be celebrating sometime Sunday night, while the other will have to settle for coming up second best. When that celebration/resignation will take place though is anyone’s guess, these two teams like to play hockey, past history has shown that they may play all night if they have to. And don’t bet against that being just what happens when the Tigers and Giants renew acquaintances.

For a sample of the show to come, here are some of the reports filed for the preview of Sunday’s showdown. Vancouver Giants, Medicine Hat Tigers a toss-up in Memorial Cup final Tigers savour spot at cup final
Winnipeg Sun-Giants roll into Memorial Cup final
Winnipeg Sun- Surprising goalie shines
Vancouver Sun- One final battle
Globe and Mail- Final to feature familiar West rivals Public enemy number one West will be best
Calgary Sun- One more time
Toronto Metro News-Memorial Cup primer
Vancouver Province- Giants on last chance power drive
Vancouver Province- Dorsett good at getting under the skin
Ottawa Sun- Giants seek redemption in final

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Waiting for an arena of dreams

They’re dreaming the dream in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge areas today, as local Billionaire (and really, how many communities in Canada have one of those hanging around town) David Balsillie works to finish off the details of his purchase of the Nashville Predators.

Ever since the deal was announced by current Preds owner Craig Leipold earlier this week, Balsillie has been keeping a rather low profile. Perhaps having learned a lesson or two from the public dramatics of the eventually discarded Penguins sale, Balsillie is allowing the discussion on the Preds to remain mainly in the Nashville area.

That however hasn’t stopped the locals from his hometown from looking over the local roadmaps, calling up the past local land acquisitions on their Blackberries and coming up with one plus one really might make two.

The Kitchener Waterloo Record did a bit of legwork for the locals over the weekend with an article that highlighted a recent land purchase by Research in Motion (Balsillies' daytime job when he isn’t out there spending millions on hockey clubs), which saw the computer giant pick up some industrial land in nearby Cambridge, nearby the busiest highway in the nation (some say the world) the 401, and right close to what’s described as the region’s International airport.

Some 26 acres which cost the computer company 3.8 million, relative coffee money when you consider the 220 million which Balsillie personally paid for the under supported predators franchise.

Most importantly of all for the land package, it’s measured out as 82 kilometers away from Toronto, 2 klicks past their territorial veto. (You can bet Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will be out there with odometers and tape measures as soon as possible, just to make sure.)

With Toronto growing out to the North and West and a growing London, Woodstock and Stratford just down that highway to the West, they’re thinking big in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Thinking that that they’re soon to be the centre (or in deference to Toronto, the sub centre we guess) of southern Ontario’s hockey universe.

The NHL needs to begin to retrench its product in those locations where a knowledge and love of the game will provide for a stable and receptive fan base. They could do a lot worse than letting the Kitchener-Waterloo billionaire take his soon to be Cats north, in fact, some would say that there’s more than a few more teams ready for a northward migration.

An NHL team for Cambridge? Well, we can dream, can't we?
(May 25, 2007)

An NHL team in Cambridge? Please, say it will be so.

"I would love to see that happen," said city councillor Karl Kiefer yesterday. "That would be the cat's meow."

Actually, it'd be more like the growl of the Nashville Predators, who are to be sold to local billionaire Jim Balsillie and could be moved to Cambridge.

Yesterday, such wild speculation raced through the city that straddles the 401 on a hot day in May.

Let's start with Mr. Balsillie. You remember him, don't you?

Research In Motion dude.

Co-chief executive of the merry BlackBerry makers from Waterloo.

Loves pucks. Lots of bucks.

Backed out of buying the Pittsburgh Penguins for $175 million US last December. Didn't like the conditions the NHL slapped on the purchase.

The NHL wanted the Pens to stay put.

Speculation is Balsillie dreamed of moving them north to Waterloo Region. That all fell through. Now, he's got the Preds.

Balsillie was a no-show at yesterday's presser announcing the sale of the Preds for $220 million. His absence was not a good sign for the true fans of NHL slash-and-dash in Nash, where attendance dipped below 14,000 per game this past season. According to outgoing owner Craig Leipold, the club lost $15 million in Tennessee last year. Surely, Balsillie will move the team north, perhaps as early as the season after next, Right?

How about Cambridge?

Think it can't happen?

Think about this.

In February, RIM purchased a large plot of land -- 26 acres, Kiefer said -- in Cambridge off Can-Amera Parkway, between Lingard and Townline roads.

Picked it up from a home builder.

Paid about $3.8 million.

Might be a simple plot on which to build grand new digs for bursting-at-the-seams RIM, now occupying 21 buildings in Waterloo.

Or the site could land in Balsillie's hands and become a perfect place to erect a big rink for a big-time team.

Close to the 401.

Close to the Breslau airport, where international flights are welcome.

Most importantly, it appears to sit about 82 km from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. You see, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a veto power over any plans to drop another NHL club within 80 km of their ice palace.

The Leafs seem out of the picture.

Cambridge looks to be in frame. Balsillie was not responding to Record requests for an interview.

So how do the locals feel?

Let's ask NHL forward Scott Walker, a 33-year-old ex-Predator who lives about a minute from the potential arena site. We're talking an NHL team in his hometown. We're talking an NHL team just beyond his backyard.

"Wow," said Walker, when informed Cambridge was a wild possibility.

"That'd be amazing. That would be unbelievable. That would be a shocker to everybody, wouldn't it?"

Not just a shocker.

It would be a wonderful jolt of big-time energy in the city of the Sutherland Cup champion Winter Hawks.

The NHL is a big jump from the Jr. B outfit Walker once played for.
But why not dream big?

So what if it's all just speculation, as Kiefer and Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig admit. It's a good day to dream.

"It could be the Cambridge Predators -- sounds great," Craig said. "We certainly have land down here in Cambridge for such an enterprise. Then again, it's up to Mr. Balsillie and his group."

If attendance continues to sag below 14,000, the Preds could become a free-agent team as early as next spring.

Walker could be one on July 1.

He made $1.5-million with the Carolina Hurricanes this past season and is talking contract with the Canes right now. But, come Canada Day, he could sign with any team he wants too.

Walker, who was the poster boy for the Preds franchise during his seven seasons in Nashville, wouldn't mind becoming a Predator again. After all, he was on the first Predators team after Nashville claimed him in the 1998 expansion draft. When Walker was traded to Carolina last summer, he was Nashville's franchise leader in goals with 96, points with 247 and penalty minutes with 465.

"We were talking about Nashville and that was before Jim got the team," Walker said. "It'll be interesting to see what they're plans are, if they're going to stay or move or what. It definitely piques my interest a lot more."

But what about Nashville as a hockey town? Why, after a decade of Predators hockey, hasn't the capital city of country music reserved a place in its hokey heart for hockey, alongside Minnie Pearl and the Grand Ole Opry?

"Our first year, it was new and a lot of people and the music industry caught onto it," Walker recalled.

"It was kind of the place to be the first few years. It was the hip place to be. It seemed to die out after that. You still always had your diehard fans."

Walkers figures the fan base wasn't the true problem in Nashville.

He blames the business side.

"I think it was the corporate sponsors that really kind of hurt -- they didn't get them," Walker said.

"The football team did."

Hockey is no match for the Tennessee Titans of the mighty NFL.

"Right at the beginning, they played in a little stadium," Walker said of the Titans. "Now they have a brand new big one right down the street from ours. It's just a different animal. It's a southern state. They love the hockey but football is kind of what they grew up with. It was a tough thing to try and battle."

Should Balsillie move the Predators north -- perhaps to Cambridge or somewhere else in Waterloo Region where a plot of land stands in need of an arena -- hockey's battle to hold Nashville high ground will be lost.

But Waterloo Region may win big.

"I think it's great for the region if it comes somewhere in the region," Craig said.
Even if Walker doesn't end up playing NHL hockey in his hometown, he would enjoy taking his family -- wife Julie and kids Cooper, 5, and Anna, 3 -- to see a big-time game in the area.
He's never met Balsillie.

But the dream of bringing an NHL team to the Region can work in reality.

Walker is convinced of that.

"It'd be great for the community," Walker said. "I really do think that Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener are booming enough and Toronto is growing outside enough that it'd be exciting. I definitely think they could do it. I don't know all the legal aspects of it but I definitely think you could support a team here. Plus, you've got all the people coming from smaller towns outside -- Woodstock, Stratford and London."

Now, it's up to Balsillie.

The Preds are his.

Maybe, they'll soon be ours.

Memorial Cup plays big in the big city!

Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province has put together a pretty interesting piece on the impact that hosting the Memorial Cup in a large Canadian centre is having not only on the profit and loss statement for Junior hockey, but on the mindset of the junior hockey executives.

With the championship of the CHL an alternating affair, with each of Canada’s three junior leagues hosting it on a rotating basis, the once small and medium sized markets may eventually find themselves squeezed out of the hosting duties as the Junior show becomes the Big Show in the final weeks of May.

That may be a conventional thought, but somehow we suspect that this most respected of national trophies will always have time for the smaller centers to shine as well.

Vancouver has done an excellent job of presenting the Memorial Cup this week, attendance is the largest that it has ever been, with average crowds topping 13,000 each night (rush hour traffic permitting!), the fact that the Vancouver Canucks aren’t in the run up for the Stanley Cup surely helped the organizers, but still the presence of the hometown Giants has served to stoke the passions of the hockey fans of the lower mainland.

But the Moncton’s, Kitcheners and Red Deer’s will always have a chance to step up and show that a championship such as the Memorial Cup will be a huge success regardless of the size of the market, sometimes the heart of the community adds as much to the value of a tradition as all the money in a cheque.

It would be a mistake for the CHL to limit itself to the prospect of only holding the Memorial Cup in larger markets, sure the exposure is large as is the cash payout, but we suspect that holding the game in let’s say St. John’s, Newfoundland, Windsor, Ontario or Saskatoon, Saskatchewan will prove that hockey’s heart beats fast across the land and the residents there are equal if not more suitable to the task that the big city folks might think they have domain over.

Vancouver a fork in CHL's road
Can Cup afford to return to mid-size markets?
Ed Willes
The Province
Friday, May 25, 2007

It seems comical now -- like worrying how the Beatles would go over in North America -- but prior to the '07 Memorial Cup there were genuine concerns about how the event would be received in Vancouver.

The Canadian Hockey League, for starters, has suffered numerous failures in NHL markets. In moving into Vancouver, the juniors were also moving away from their core audience. As for the cost of doing business, let's just say the overhead in places like Guelph is a tad lower than it is along Georgia Street.

But, as the tournament heads into today's semifinal game, the only question remaining about Vancouver's suitability as a host city concerns the size of the cheque it will turn over to the Western Hockey League in net profit.

The average attendance of 13,300 for the six round-robin games, highlighted by a gate of 14,091 for Wednesday's finale between Medicine Hat and Vancouver, is a new Memorial Cup record. The total attendance, 79,800 and counting, will become a new record. In five of the six round-robin games, the crowd at the Coliseum broke the previous Memorial Cup record of 12,699 for the largest individual round-robin gate.

Add it up and not only will Vancouver shatter the existing attendance marks, it will put them in a place which won't be reached any time soon.

So all this raises an interesting point, namely has this year's tournament re-invented the Memorial Cup? More to the point, can the CHL afford to keep going back to mid-size markets -- "Our bread-and-butter," according to WHL commissioner Ron Robison -- when they can tap into the riches of a Vancouver?

"It's certainly the highest-revenue event in the history of the Memorial Cup," said Robison.
"It was a test for us to come to a major market and it's proven to be very successful.

"Having said that, we're not fooling ourselves. We're all about the mid-size markets. That's where we belong."

But they're not about to rule out another trip to the big city.

Following Sunday's championship final, the host committee will also turn over a cheque in the $2-million range to the WHL and that figure represents a significant windfall to the league's 22 member clubs. Throw in all the other considerations -- the increased media coverage, the association with a big-league market -- and it would seem the benefits of holding the event in Vancouver far outweigh any disadvantages, even if the prices at Starbucks scare the bejeebers out of the gentle Prairie folk.

But Robison and CHL president David Branch will tell you there are other considerations. For starters, there's the tournament's rich tradition and the notion that the Memorial Cup just belongs in Red Deer and Shawinigan. The CHL is also realistic about its place in the food chain. As Robison notes, this tournament would look a lot different if the Canucks were still alive.

"We like to be in a centre where we capture the entire marketplace," Robison said. "That's something you have to take into account when we enter a market of [Vancouver's] size."

That won't be a problem next year when the tournament is held in Kitchener at the 5,750-seat Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. The Kitchener committee, in fact, is projecting similar net revenues to those generated by this year's tournament which means Vancouver hotel costs must really be taking a bite out of the bottom line.

But the CHL has also seen what is offered by a market this size --the crowds, the exposure, the big-league feel, the five-dollar lattes. True, it has to balance those things with the Memorial Cup's history but that trade-off is a little easier when a big pay-day is coming.

"I think from time to time it's nice to be able to come to a Vancouver," said Branch. "It's a great way to position our product and the financial model is important.

"But it's not the only thing."

No, but it is a pretty big thing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Simulation says Sens in six

The NHL has taken such a long break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup final, that the folks at EA Sports (it's in the Game!) have found all sorts of time to set up a simulation of the showdown between the Sens and the Ducks. And taking the puck into their own hands, EA has declared a winner.

If the EA game players got it right, Ottawa had best make the preparations for the parade, as the simulation played out the series, Dany Heatley scored the series-winning goal late in Game 6 by finishing off a 2-on-1 with Jason Spezza. A scenario that isn't all that far fetched considering the success that the Sens big line had in real time.

In the artificial world, the Sens didn't get off to a good start in the series dropping the opener 2-0, but then shutting down the Ducks and taking the next three in a row, the Sens slipped in game five but clinched in game Six.

EA's game console warriors found that Ray Emery was destined to have a monster of a series, shutting down the Ducks in games two, three, four and six.

Gary Bettman can only hope that the real time series which is not set to run until Monday evening, can match up with the excitement that the game playing generation provided. There was one bit of good news for the NHL however from the EA simulation, at no time did a horse race jump up and interupt the coverage of the Stanley Cup final.

Tocchet admits his participation in gambling ring

More image problems for Gary Bettman’s new NHL this morning, as former (well we assume he’s now a former) Phoenix assistant coach Rick Tocchet entered a guilty plea to two counts in the Operation slapshot case.

Tocchet appearing in a New Jersey court room admitted his guilt in conspiring to promote and promoting gambling in New Jersey, the final shoe to drop in the case that first came to our attention in February of 2006. The other two principles in the investigation a New Jersey state trooper and a resident of the state, have both entered their own guilty pleas in earlier sessions and now await sentencing.

At the time Tocchet also faced charges of money laundering and a potential span of ten years in jail, in the developments today it would appear that the money laundering charges have been set aside, perhaps part of the plea arrangement. It’s expected that as he is a first time offender, Tocchet will not face any jail time as part of his involvement in the gambling operation.

At the time of the investigation, the police said that they had tracked some 1.7 million dollars in bets over a forty day period, outlining allegations that a few high profile people involved in hockey had taken part in the gambling. Janet Jones Gretzky and Jeremy Roenick were two names that popped up during the course of the investigation as those with ties to the NHL that had allegedly participated by placing bets.

Jones and Tocchet subsequently filed claims of notice in New Jersey to sue a number of agencies in New Jersey, for allegedly defaming them by illegally releasing evidence from confidential wiretaps. That will be a case that will have to begin before February of 2008, two years from the date that Tocchet was first accused of his involvement in the operation.

Tocchet’s plea will apparently bring an end to his involvement with the New Jersey justice system on this case and if the reports hold true he will be spared a relationship with the corrections department.
Up next will no doubt be an announcement from the NHL explaining what they plan to do about his situation. A future which we suspect is going to be rather limited, if even viable at all from here on.
A sample of some of the media reports on the story is provided below:

Brian Leetch retires

One of the best to ever play Broadway has called it a day. Brian Leetch the on ice leader and captain of the New York Rangers, and one of the best defensemen to ever pull on the Blue shirt announced his retirement on Thursday, bringing an end to his 18 year NHL career.

Leetch sat out the 2006-07 season, holding back the urge to join back in mid way when a few teams came calling. But as the season came to an end, he realized that he had "no comeback in him", leading him to today's announcement.

He was perhaps the greatest American born player to take to the game, an 11 time all star and two time Norris trophy winner who no doubt counts as his proudest moment the 1994 Stanley Cup run for New York a playoff year which saw him win the Conn Smyth Trophy.

He first appeared on the hockey scene as part of the 1988 US Olympic team, joining the Rangers right after the Winter games, going on to win the Calder trophy for rookie of the year.

He was the ultimate Ranger it seemed, the steady rock of which they would build their high profile teams of the early nineties. Culminating in that long awaited Stanley Cup victory of 94.

But as the years wound down Leetch would leave the Rangers, something that seemed utterly impossible in those early days, but became part of the game in 2003-04 when he went to Toronto at the trade deadline. It's a move that still leaves him with a tinge of bitterness towards Rangers GM Glen Sather and perhaps sits as one of the more dramatic moments in Rangers history.

A subsequent shift over to the hated Bruins, would find him in Black and gold for 2005-06 and while the uniform didn't look right on him there, his appearances in New York were still a celebration of what once was.

He took the last season off, spending time at his Boston home and never felt the urge to don the blades again, announcing his retirement once the Rangers playoff run had come to an end.

In an era where hockey is suffering a slump in many markets in the USA, another Brian Leetch might come in handy right about now. But, players like him don't come along very often, someone else down the line will have to pick up that torch for American born players. It's a hard standard to be held to, but the foundation is a solid one.

The accolades pour in for one of the Rangers best.

New York Post-Happy Trails 2U
New York Daily News-Leetch hangs up his skates

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hey, won’t you play, another somebody done somebody wrong song!

It's called Music City so fans of the Nashville Predators may be forgiven if they head for the juke box and start picking out their favourite achy breaky heart songs today.

Thursday brought confirmation of the news, that Canadian billionaire and RIM King, Jim Balsillie had purchased their Preds, and that development has sent everyone going into overtime predicting a franchise shift is in the wind. If you are a Nashville based moving company, today might be a good day to print up a new batch of business cards, quoting rates north to the Canadian border.

Craig Leipold, the soon to be former owner gave his address to the faithful today, confirming that the Predators were soon to be sold and title transferred to Balsillie and while he may the requisite noises that Balsillie understands that he should give Nashville a chance to show they want their Preds, he all but confirmed that it may be a lost cause in Tennessee.

Leipold reported that while he owned the team he had lost some seventy million dollars in nine years, turning a profit only once and that for only 600,000 dollars. Over the years the Preds had become the top receiver of transfer funds from the NHL and attendance while on the upswing, is still a fair amount below the NHL average of 15,000.

Balsillie, who went through a bit of an inquisition over his attempt to buy the Penguins, has kept a low profile during the negotiations and now the announcement phase of the transaction.

His only comment today was that until all the paper work and such is done, the Preds were still Leipold’s and that there would be no further comment until all the procedural items were taken care of.

Many observers suggest that the fact that Balsillie has paid such an exorbitant price (220 million US) for the franchise, that surely there must be an agreement in place to allow him to take the team wherever he wishes, as long as all the required financial matters are resolved.

Leipold urged Balsillie to give Nashville a chance to respond. But it’s been a long haul in the land of the Opry and it’s doubtful that Balsillie would want to carry yearly losses in the millions for any length of time.

In a city known for it’s songs of heart break, there may be at least one more hurtin’ song for the Music city to get ready for.

We provide some of the press reaction to the Balsillie bombshell, below.

Canadian Press-Predators owner confirms sale to Balsillie
Globe and Mail-Balsillie's latest move is very different
Globe and Mail-Franchise could be headed to Ontario
CBC Sports-Balsillie has agreement to buy Predators
CBC Sports-Waterloo Predators not a done deal
CTV/TSN-Leipold selling Predators to Balsillie
National Post-RIM exec to buy NHL Predators
Kitchener-Waterloo Record-Balsillie back in the game
USA Today-Nashville might keep Predators if ...
Nashville Tennesean-Leipold: 'I cannot make it work here'
Nashville Post-Predators deal could close June 30
Nashville Post-Preds owner Leipold tires of losing money; confirms sale

Tocchet to the docket!

The story had all but faded from the headlines by the second week of the regular season in October, the bombshell of last year but a footnote to the "New" NHL's rebirth and a promise of good times are back stories.

But, justice has finally travelled her winding road it seems and Rick Tocchet will finally get a day in court to answer questions about Operation Slapshot, a New Jersey investigation into an illegal gambling ring, a story that when it broke shook the establishment of the NHL, dragging the Gretkzy family ring into the headlines and sending would be Elliot Ness's off in search of more names, more money and maybe a smoking betting slip.

The expectation for tomorrow seems to boil down to one of two things happening in Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith's court room on Friday. Tocchet will plead guilty having reached a plea agreement with the state's Attorney General department, or the courts will throw out all charges, removing the cloud over Tocchet's life and allowing him to find a way to return to hockey.

Fifteen months have gone by since the hockey scandal broke out, a few of the principles in it have already gone to jail, but the biggest name on the accused side has yet to speak. Friday perhaps that will change and Operation slapshot will be examined in depth, providing some details as to whether the Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach and friend of the Gretzky family is now in the clear, in further trouble or set to atone for his sins.

Tocchet getting his day in court
From Friday's Globe and Mail
May 24, 2007

Fifteen months after he was charged with promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy, National Hockey League assistant coach Rick Tocchet will finally appear in a New Jersey courtroom.

The question is: What will happen to him?

The state Attorney General's Office announced Thursday that Tocchet is due in court Friday on charges stemming from Operation Slapshot, the code name for the police investigation into an illegal gambling ring in which two of its principals, including a New Jersey police officer, pleaded guilty.

But beyond saying Tocchet was scheduled to appear before Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office had nothing to add. Neither did Tocchet's lawyer, Kevin Marino.

That left the door open to speculation, which has been rampant since Tocchet was charged and Janet Gretzky's name surfaced for allegedly betting $500,000 (all currency U.S.) during the course of the investigation.

The strongest suggestion Thursday was that Tocchet's unexpected court appearance meant he would either be entering a guilty plea or else the charges against would be dropped. These possibilities were confirmed by a source who said that whatever happened in court would "be over quick." That could indicate an agreement has been reached with New Jersey prosecutors.

The other men charged in the gambling ring, former state trooper James Harney and businessman James Ulmer, pleaded guilty last year and agreed to help prosecutors in their case against Tocchet. Harney provided a full account of how the gambling ring worked and said he and Tocchet were equal partners.

According to Harney, Tocchet brought in six bettors and shared revenue with him. Sometimes Tocchet would cover losses, Harney said. The gambling ring operated for roughly five years and handled $1.7-million in football wagering during a 40-day span from 2005 to 2006.
Harney, who would occasionally take bets while patrolling the New Jersey Turnpike, has yet to be sentenced. He could face seven years in prison. Prosecutors are asking Ulmer be jailed for less than a year.

Tocchet, 42, has been on leave from his job as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. When the leave was granted at Tocchet's request, the NHL implemented several conditions, one of which stated Tocchet could not return to work until commissioner Gary Bettman gave his consent.

The NHL also hired a lawyer, Robert Cleary, best known for prosecuting Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, to determine if any there was any betting on hockey games. Cleary's investigation did not produce any evidence the gambling ring bet on NHL games.

NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly was contacted Thursday but declined to comment. Tocchet has said nothing publicly since February of 2006 when he told reporters, "It's not a hockey-related issue; it's a football thing. And at this time I can't comment any further."

Four months after making that statement, attorneys for Tocchet and Gretzky filed notices in New Jersey that they intend to sue the state for $50-million each for defamation. The parties named in the suit included the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, the state police and the head of the state police public information office, which allegedly leaked information gleaned from wiretaps to the media.

In this month's edition of Chatelaine magazine, Gretzky said the media coverage of the allegations were unfair to her and her husband, Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes head coach.

"That was a little hurtful because it was like, 'Why? What have we ever done to you?' " Janet said.

Initially, Marino called the allegations against his client as "categorically false and irresponsible." He promised that "Mr. Tocchet will fight the false charges with the same grit and resolve he displayed during his illustrious career."

Tocchet spent 19 seasons in the NHL with six teams. He scored 440 goals and had 2,972 minutes in penalties.

NBC Bail out not easily forgiven

The decision last weekend of NBC to bump the overtime period between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres off to the wilds of pay television still is making waves across Canada.

Not bad for a program that little impact on the Canadian viewer, most of whom were probably busy watching Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC anyways, but it’s more the principle of the matter that has Canadians upset.

The NBC decision was like a slap in the face, telling hockey fans across the continent that no your game really isn’t all that important to big media. Which while probably is quite true, none the less has left a number of people shaken by the blatant disregard for the game.

Jack Todd, who writes for the Montreal Gazette and, provides the therapy session for a battered Canadian psyche, complete with a warning that the NHL is playing with Canadian’s emotions a little too much and that the league had better best get back rededicating itself to hockey’s true home in the north.

NHL taking Canadians for granted
Jack Todd
CanWest News Service; Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MONTREAL - All in all, Americans would rather watch Heidi.

That's the only conclusion we can draw from the Saturday afternoon fiasco that saw NBC abandon their telecast of the overtime between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators in favour of the hour of natural gas leading up to the Preakness, the second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

On Nov. 17, 1968, the same network left an American Football League game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders, with the Jets leading 32-29 and 65 seconds left in the game and cut to a made-for-TV version of Heidi.

While broadcasters Curt Gowdy and Kyle Rote were off the air, the Raiders scored 14 quick points and won 43-32. Millions of viewers were left in the dark, thousands of calls were made and NBC learned its lesson: You don't spit into the wind, you don't draw on the Lone Ranger, you don't step on Superman's cape and you don't mess with football.
The NHL? Mess with it all you like.

Matter of fact, when you do, the league will genuflect politely and beg for another kick in the teeth from its U.S. network of choice - while delivering the same to Canadian viewers from Newfoundland to Nanaimo, B.C. It's enough to make you believe the rumour NBA commissioner David Stern sent Gary Bettman to wreck the NHL. If the bad boys who ran Enron were the "smartest guys in the room," suggests my friend Kevin Vahey in Boston, then Bettman and George W. Bush are the dumbest guys in the room.

This one is frustrating from so many angles that it's enough to leave a columnist spluttering with inarticulate rage. On a sunny Saturday on the holiday weekend when Canadians put in their gardens and fire up their barbecues, the NHL chose to show the game involving the Stanley Cup finalist Ottawa Senators at 2 p.m. ET because NBC wanted it that way.

The contempt the NHL has displayed for Canadian fans knows no bounds. The league plainly takes Canada for granted: Bettman and his cronies believe Canadians will put up with anything and watch anything at whatever hour of the day or night U.S. networks want to show it.
Granted, Canadians have given the NHL some reason to believe that nothing can drive us away. Three-quarters of the hockey fans in Canada vowed never to watch another game in person or on television, but no sooner was the lockout settled than we came storming back in unprecedented numbers.

Nothing matters but that elusive network contract - even if the NHL has to give away its product to land a couple of hours on NBC, even if a decisive semifinal game between two of the league's most exciting teams is abandoned as overtime is about to begin.

League mouthpiece Brian Walker could say only that NBC was obligated to provide its traditional coverage of the Preakness and that the league "protected the game in Buffalo and alerted viewers ... that overtime would be shown on Versus."

Versus. Show me an American who even knows whether he has Versus as part of his cable package and I'll show you a man without a life.

Sunday, NBC decided to stay with the Anaheim-Detroit overtime rather than cutting away, then had the gall to claim that the decision had something to do with the network's undying commitment to hockey.

Right. That's like my undying commitment to American Idol.

One rule of business, I believe, is that you never take your customers for granted. Ask the Detroit Red Wings, who had 2,500 season-ticket buyers bail on playoff tickets after prices for the cheap seats doubled to $110 a pop.

While the NHL was doing the 50-yard bow-and-scrape for NBC, Canadian customers were getting stomped. Again.

How long will we keep taking it? For a while. Then there will come the season when the rules are too silly, the tickets too expensive, the games shown at 3 a.m. to accommodate The Poker Network.

Here's something Bettman clearly doesn't understand: Canada is the bedrock of the NHL. Even with the European influx, we provide the bodies and the heart and the people who will pay through the nose and battle their way through a blizzard to watch the game.

Perhaps for a change, Bettman should try to make the U.S. networks want the NHL, rather than the other way around. Perhaps he should act as though he actually believes hockey is worth paying for.

And maybe he should pretend that he can find Canada on a map. We're right up here, Gary - due north.

Now try to imagine what your league would be like without us