Monday, March 31, 2008

Mr. Hockey is the big Eight Oh!

It's one of the most celebrated birthday's for the NHL today, as Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe celebrates his 80th birthday Monday.

Howe who still captures the attention of NHL fans into his retirement years, has been a legendary fixture in NHL circles through the decades.
From his remarkable early days with the Wings, to playing with his sons in Houston and Hartford first in the WHA and then the NHL, spanning the decades with a farewell appearance with the Detroit Vipers of the old IHL, Howe has been synonymous with hockey and class.

Sunday the Wings celebrated the momentous occasion with a small gathering at Joe Louis Arena, presenting him with his original number (17 for trivia players) and revisiting his original signing gift of a leather jacket. In a nod to our modern times, Mr. Hockey also was presented with a 48 inch Hi Def television set, a far cry from the medium that made him famous in the fifties and sixties.

While today's young guns make their assaults on the record books, we celebrate the years of the finest all around player that the NHL has ever seen.

Detroit Free Press-- Red Wings honor Mr. Hockey before 80th birthday
Detroit News-- Red Wings celebrate Gordie Howe's 80th birthday
CBC Sports--Mr. Hockey gets a new jacket, 62 years later
National Post-- Red Wings give Howe team jacket for 80th birthday
Hartford Courant-- The Day the Howes came to town
Hartford Courant-- Gordie Howe: Mr. Hockey turns 80
Calgary Herald-- Still the NHL's best ever at age 80? That's Howe
London Free Press-- Mr Hockey at 80
Photo from CBC Website

Linden’s leadership leads Canucks back into playoff contention

One of the darker days in Trevor Lindens career, was when Mike Keenan took over as coach of the Vancouver Canucks and began his usual demonization process. Every team in Keenan’s past to that time, had a player which the celebrated Iron Mike would use to enforce his rather autocratic stylings of the day. Keenan’s first salvo was to remove Linden’s captaincy when the Canucks acquired Mark Messier, a move that to this day remains controversial in Vancouver.

Linden escaped the wrath of Iron Mike in 1998 through the then celebrated Bertuzzi trade with the Islanders, which brought the hulking winger to the Canucks and on to subsequent infamy, long after Keenan had moved along.

While leaving the Keenan regime was a relief for Linden, he was destined to always be a Canuck, even if he wasn’t actually wearing the uniform.

Long a crowd favourite, his departure from the only NHL team he knew at the time, was probably the key point of the decline of the Keenan empire, as history would show, Keenan never endeared himself to the Canuck faithful. Who probably will never forgive him for the forced exit of the franchise’s popular former captain.

So, Sunday night must have been a remarkable moment for both Linden and Canuck fans, as the former captain showed much of the same leadership of the old days as he propelled the Canucks on to a desperately needed victory.
Linden accounted for two goals and whole lot of intensity as the Canucks sent Keenan’s Flames off to ponder just how ready they are for a playoff round, providing they survive the next week to make it.

Sunday’s game was one that Canuck fans have been waiting a few weeks for, showcasing the ability to come back from another dispiriting early deficit as the Flames scored within the first two minutes.

The Canucks however, seemed to be a more motivated squad on Sunday, shaking off that early setback, and a second one that would follow to finally take charge of a hard hitting, occasionally nasty match up at GM Place. There was intensity from many quarters, from Captain Markus Naslund’s performance, through the refusal of the Sedins to be intimidated by a physical flames team. And after two worrisome outings for Roberto Luongo, the blue chip goaltender for the Canucks found his game again, shutting down the Flames once his team mates had finally shown the mettle to battle back.

But it was Linden’s two goal performance that seemed to turn the Canuck’s around, giving them back a sense of control in their quest for a playoff spot. The win moved them back into eight place in the West, and more importantly provided the much needed confidence boost that this team sorely needs.

It ironically came from the one player that could have been excused for not particularly caring if this season were to end next Saturday or in June. Linden has been a frequent healthy scratch this year, seemingly out of favour with head coach Alain Vigneault, an infrequent scorer and most likely wondering if perhaps his final year has arrived.

Sunday the farewell skate might have been postponed just a bit, it was the Linden that Canuck fans remember fondly still, the one they will most likely want to see more of if Vancouver is to be a playoff bound club.

Keenan is perhaps best remembered in Vancouver for his treatment of Linden, it may be a lesson that the current coach takes heed to. Leadership was a Linden trait before the Keenan years and as Sunday night delivered its outcome, it was once again back in vogue in a Vancouver uniform.

Vancouver’s very playoff life will hinge on whether his team mates can build from Sunday’s pivotal game and follow Linden’s lead to claim their place with this years version of the Canucks.

A few ghosts were exorcised on Sunday night, the Canucks have three more games to chase the final one out of GM Place.
Vancouver Province--Linden, Naslund lead Canucks

Penguins one win from clinching first in division, conference a possibility as well

A win in the return match Monday with the New York Rangers will be all that the Pittsburgh Penguins need to claim their first division title since 1997-98.

Sunday the Pens exhibited more of the offensive punch that has helped them on their current six game winning streak, coming from behind to claim a 3-1 victory over the Rangers.

Most of the key players for the Pens were involved in the scoring on Sunday, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa and Maxime Talbot had the goals, while Sidney Crosby accounted for two assists on the day.

The Rangers had the early momentum in the game, taking a 1-0 lead but couldn’t seem to find the answer to Marc Andre Fleury, who turned aside 26 of the 27 Ranger shots he faced on Sunday.

The Penguins had fewer opportunities to score on the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist managed to keep the Rangers close through all three periods of play.

However, the Pens with the ability to keep reloading the forward lines, never appeared to be too confined by the Rangers, breaking a scoreless second period to pick up the insurance marker in the last minute of play.

Penalites proved to be the undoing of New York, especially in the first period a situation which seemed to take away their momentum at a key point in the game. From that point on it was a battle of attrition, with the Penguins, finding the right shot at the key time to ensure success.

Marian Hossa who is finally starting to look a bit more comfortable with the Pens, picked up his third goal since coming across to the Pens after the trade deadline dramatic. His goal came from a slap shot that dropped under the bar, with assists going to Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis.

The win temporarily vaults the Pens ahead of Montreal in the race for first overall in the Eastern Conference, each team has three games remaining in their race for the top spot in the east.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Penguins reclaim Eastern Conference lead

Friday, March 28, 2008

So who ordered the code red?

The plot thickens in the seemingly endless Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi legal proceedings, today's developments find the Bertuzzi camp bringing former Canucks coach Marc Crawford into the big legal tent.

Bertuzzi's legal team filed papers on March 3rd in Ontario Superior Court blaming Marc Crawford for encouraging Canuck players to "make Moore pay the price", following those now infamous words, Bertuzzi struck Moore down from behind, resulting in injuries that have ended Moore's career and left him still suffering the after affects over four years later.

The introduction of Crawford into the mix, according to legal observers is most likely designed to "muddy the legal waters a bit", providing a chance to share a bit of blame around the case.

It also comes after the original statement of claim for 22 million dollars was increased to 38 million dollars earlier this year, after Crawford's testimony in court documents became public knowledge. In that testimony, Crawford claimed he yelled at Bettuzzi to get off the ice, a version of the nights events that was challenged by Bertuzzi's lawyers.

If the move by the Bertuzzi camp proves to be successful, then Crawford could be on the hook for millions of dollars in damages on his own.

Legal observers suggest that it's unlikely to be a successful ploy on the side of Bertuzzi's lawyers, but may result in a claw back of that skyrocketing dollar figure for damages. Perhaps leading to an out of court settlement to finally bring some resolution to the long running episode of hockey's history.

Curiously silent over the years in this has been the NHL, which while reportedly working behind the scenes to get the two sides to a settlement, has had little success and even less of a public comment to make.

Most importantly for the NHL there has been a singular lack of leadership from the league on the issue in effect, seeming to abandon an injured player to the fate of the courts while distancing itself from actions that took place in its theatre of operations.
What you do seem to get from the NHL is just a hope, a wish or a dream that this whole mess might go away, but yet here we are again. Four years later and with the playoffs on the horizon again, a lot of the talk will be focused on a courtroom in Ontario and who is responsible for one of the most disturbing acts of violence on the ice in NHL history.

What may now come out if the Crawford aspect of the proceedings end up in a court room will be the need to define such long cherished hockey terms as; the honour of the game and the always quoted but seldom defined "code" that the players live by.

An even more interesting twist might be if Crawford introduces the then General Manager of the Canucks into the talking points presentation and any eventual courtroom drama.
After all, in every organization there is a chain of command, one wonders if the Canucks had such a line in place. If Crawford feels like he's going to be hung out to dry for the league, he may very well decide to spread some of the pain across the board from the Canucks and their past management right up to the "code of conduct" both official and unofficial that the league seems to operate under.

Should it come to that, it will be interesting to see who eventually plays Colonel Jessup in this long running drama and whether hockey fans are prepared to handle the truth..

Now, considering his stature and larger than life presence in the NHL, Brian Burke (the once and now current GM for Bertuzzi) would be a man worthy of a comparison to Jessup, at least as far as his well documented bluster might go.

Canwest News--Bertuzzi files court action against former coach
Detroit Free Press--Ex-Wing Bertuzzi sues former coach Crawford over Steve Moore incident
Toronto Star--Bertuzzi files suit against former coach Crawford
Globe and Mail--Bertuzzi sues Crawford
CBC--Todd Bertuzzi brings ex-coach Crawford into Moore lawsuit
Denver Post--Now, Bertuzzi blindsides Crawford

And baby makes three…

Ah yes, all over Vancouver today, royalty checks for Paul Anka are flowing across the border.

The most anticipated baby watch for Vancouver since news of a highly touted draft pick came out of Bethlehem is finally over, as Vancouver radio station CKNW offered up the details of the latest addition to the Luongo family on Friday morning's 8:15 sports cast.

Gabriella Luongo entered the world on Thursday or maybe it was Friday morning time flies eh, (uh just don't mention that to Gina there Roberto, words of experience speaking here) , a healthy little gal for Roberto and Gina, 7 lbs six ounce; Mommy is reported as fine, Daddy well who knows when it comes to Dads eh.

The plans to get Papa Luongo to the hospital in time were as guarded as those of the Canadian Army at Juno beach, with an airlift capacity and ground forces in place to make sure Papa made it to the baby front in time.

Now with operation Baby Gabriella at its successful conclusion, the real test begins, can the Canucks bring home their troops in time for tonight’s match up with the Wild in Minnesota.

With the jet fueled and the rental cars in place it’s hoped that Roberto will be in his familiar place between the pipes for tonight’s vital match with the Wild.

Interestingly enough the blessed event happened when the Canucks were in the most suitable geographical location should a back up have been required, Minneapolis/St. Paul as it is, just a hope skip and a jump away from the Canucks farm club in Winnipeg.

However, the need to call up the farm hand for Roberto apparently won’t be required, the coded messages from Canucks HQ is that Luongo is on his way to play.

This will come as a great relief to Canuck fans that seemed to be getting a little antsy at the prospect of Bobby Lou having taken a family day (or two) to be with his wife at the most important moment in the life of a family. The need to chill out for Vancouver fans is rather obvious at the best of times, but none more than in the last week or so. Folks, its only hockey!

As for Papa, he no doubt is ready to distribute those ever popular cigars (though being in Minnesota we’re sure they won’t be Cubans now aren’t we!), in celebration of the family event. Though we wonder how effective a sleep deprived papa is going to be, playing a team that could put you to sleep by the time the anthem is complete.

For the Canuck’s the news is indeed welcome, with one more distraction now taken care of.
However, there’s no truth to the rumour that Dave Nonis offered Gabriela a walk on contract and plans to use her on the Canuck blue line later tonight…

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Rumblin’ Roy’s still resonate across Quebec

The fallout continues from last weekends Q league brawl featuring Jonathon Roy as Rocky and Papa Patrick as Mickey Goldmill.

From politicians to attorneys, sports journalists to depanneur owners, everyone seems to have been discussing the shindy in Chicoutimi.

Now that the suspensions have been levied and the YouTube hits have died down to maybe ten thousand a day or so, there is now the turn towards the legacy of Patrick.

The question has been moved on from the rather ugly vision of a goaltender getting pummeled, to whether this incident may reduce the chances of Patrick Roy to find work as an NHL coach should he one day wish to move on from the frozen battlefields of the Q.

Also an issue now is whether the incident on the weekend will forever tarnish Roy’s image in Quebec as one of the provinces largest of icons.

With the Montreal Canadiens preparing for next years centennial celebrations of the historic Rouge, Blanc et Bleu, there was apparently some consideration being given to another sweater retirement ceremony, featuring a jersey numbered 33.

One which was last worn in Montreal as a very angry and emotional Patrick Roy stormed by his head coach of the day Mario Tremblay and announced that he had played his last game as a Canadien. Less than impressed that his coach had left him in the nets for what he perceived as a humiliating thrashing at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

It was a historic night in Montreal as their emotional goaltender glared at his coach and left behind the city which had tied much of its affection towards their native son.

It appears to be an event that still carries one or more scars, with more than a few in Quebec feeling that he ceased to be a Hab on that infamous night.

The Montreal Gazette’s legendary columnist Red Fisher, outlines the many faces of Patrick Roy, with a gentle nudge towards the idea that celebrating his mercurial emotions might not be in the best interests of the Canadiens historical celebrations.

Somebody's heading for the playoffs and they're not wearing Blue and White!

And in Toronto, it's time for other sporting interests.

The Toronto Maple Leafs officially ended their quest for the final playoff spot in the east on Thursday night, dropping a 4-2 road decision to the Boston Bruins, their second loss to the B's of the week. Now officially eliminated for 2007-08 season, it marks the third year in a row where they'll be working on their golf swing in the first week of April.

Many nailed the coffin shut on Tuesday when the Leafs faced with the pivotal game of their season, threw away a 6-2 loss in front of the home folk. Looking every bit the team that left many shaking their heads over the course of the season, such was their lack of focus to the task at hand.

The Leafs as they are wont to do, tantalized their fans through the end of March, stringing together a number of victories and getting close to the eighth place Bruins, who had begun a rather nasty slide for their part in March.

But with a home and home series to set the stage, the Leafs reverted back to their old ways of sloppy play in their own end and a less than proficient touch on the scoring sheet to bring an end to any more talk of this being a playoff team with any kind of ambition.

Now the rebuilding will begin in earnest, Cliff Fletcher the caretaker GM will prepare for the draft (seeking out a gem from youth, though many suggest that the Leafs may have botched that up with their late season run) and also set to begin the quest for free agents willing to spend some time in Toronto.
One selling point if the last three seasons is a guide, might be that your summer vacations are lengthy and they don't make you work any more extra days than are regularly required.
And they can probably get you a pretty good deal on Raptors playoff tickets...
National Post--End of the line for Maple Leafs
Toronto Star--Leafs officially out of playoff run, lose 4-2 to Bruins
Globe and Mail--From rinks to links Leafs out of playoff race

Crosby set for return on Thursday night

Sidelined since before the all star break (with the exception of an apparently mistimed return) one of the NHL's marquee players will step back onto the ice on Thursday night.

Sidney Crosby who has missed 28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins 31 last games, will finally pull on a game day sweater and see how things go with his troublesome high ankle area.

While he was away from the day to day game action, his team was busy climbing the standings, they currently are but one point away from claiming first overall in the eastern Conference. They were also particularly busy at the trading deadline. moving players around the NHL, including a close friend and roomate in Colby Armstrong. He was part of the deal that brought Marian Hossa to Pennsylvania, one of the NHL's premier scoring threats and now the new linemate for Sid the Kid.

Due to a bit of bad injury karma, Crosby returned for his brief skate in March just as Hossa went down with his own injury, now with both back in game shape, they will finally play together on an offensive line.

A much anticipated set up since the trading deadline day and one which will be under particular scrutiny Thursday when the New York Islanders arrive in town.

Many have been wondering how the two will match up as line mates and Thursday provides the test tube for the Penguins playoff gambit. The Penguins who made those bold moves at the deadline have seemingly decided that this could be their year to make a run for the Stanley Cup, the health of Crosby's ankle and the chemistry that will need to be developed quickly with Hossa will tell the tale as to whether the Pens will be carrying the Stanley Cup sometime in June.

Six minutes that could sink a season!

The Vancouver Canucks, who had their playoff ambitions hanging by a thread as they entered Wednesday nights game with Colorado, watched that thread fray just a little bit more by the time their night with the Avalanche was done on Wednesday night.
Off to another one of their fast starts, the Canucks once again found that their momentum could not sustain itself, as a second period horror show proved to be their undoing on Wednesday night.

A horrendous to watch (if you're a Canuck fan) six and a half minute collapse kick started the Avalanche attack, which responded with four goals, grabbing a 5-2 lead on the Canucks and chasing Roberto Luongo from the game.

Luongo had a couple of un-Luongo like moments in the six minutes, with a couple of odorous goals making their way by him, though he could hardly be held totally responsible. Once again, his defence for the second night in a row, seemed to appear befuddled in their own end, with sloppy clearing attempts, casual attempts at checking and an terrible inability to work in their defensive zone made the Colorado attack that much more easier to implement.

Luongo was pulled from action midway through the second period, perhaps to rest up for an all important match on Friday with Minnesota. But maybe also as a sign to his fellow Canucks, that the time has come for them to make a difference and not to count on their hard done by goaltender all the time.

Wednesday they didn't exactly answer that call, and while Curtis Sanford stemmed the bleeding, the Canucks never really appeared to be on the verge of mounting a comeback.

The win gave Colorado a leg up in the Western Division, as they jumped over the Canucks for seventh spot and set their sights a little higher with four games to go. They were particularly aided by the resurgence of Peter Forsberg, who has been an off and on participant of late to the Avalanche line up. Wednesday, he was definitely on, as he provided three assists on the way to the Avs eventual 6-3 victory.

Vancouver, which has now lost its third straight game in a row, are one rung above golfing, as they hold a tentative grip on the final playoff spot, with Nashville still in the hunt and gaining ground.

Vancouver's slide has not gone un-noticed by the sports fans of the city, who were quick to the phones on Wednesday night to vent out their concern at their local team's lack of success of late and the worrisome aspects of their game that seem to be getting worse instead of better.

Setting the stage for a week of angst in Vancouver, as a season that came with a few high hopes, slides further and further away from the destination of choice mentioned at the start of the year.
Globe and Mail--Canucks continue to slide
National Post--Canucks on verge of missing playoffs
Reuters--Forsberg helps Avalanche close in on West playoff spot
Vancouver Sun--Mile High Meltdown
Vancouver Province--Luongo needs help and fast
24 Hours Vancouver--Floundering Canucks buried by Avalanche
Denver Post--Avs find a fine line
Rockey Mountain News--Quenneville's switch produces power line
Photo from the National post website

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Flames storm back to stake a claim for third place in the West

The Vancouver Canucks started the game the way they needed to, as they jumped out to a quick 2 goal lead, looking every bit the team that wanted to skate into Calgary and rip two points out of their grasp.
The only problem with the strategy though was that the final forty minutes certainly turned against them. Letting penalties once again be their downfall, the Canucks surrendered to quick goals in less than a minute to give the Flames the momentum they needed to take a victory and jump ahead of the Minnesota Wild for the third place seed overall in the Western Conference.

So tight is the Northwest Division and the Western Conference as a whole, that one game can have a major domino effect on many of the other teams scrambling for a playoff ranking, or spot for this seasons Stanley Cup showdowns.

With the Flames out hitting the Canucks by a remarkable count and continuing to put pressure on them despite the Canucks early advantage, it became clear on Tuesday night that while they may still lose a few games and may very well just claw their way into the playoffs, the Flames it seems never give up.

The Canucks wasted yet another solid performance by Roberto Luongo, who must wonder at times what it will take to have his team control a lead for the duration of a game and hold off a desperation attack. Attacks that more often than not lately, seemsto end up in the opposition teams favour.

The win provided Calgary with 90 points on the season so far, one ahead of Minnesota and four ahead of the Canucks who despite the loss, still cling to a playoff spot, but barely with seventh place now in their possession. Both Nashville and Edmonton are making tracks towards the eighth place team the stumbling Colorado Avalanche who are tied with Vancouver at 86 points.

Vancouver can add some distance between themselves and the Avs with their game on Wednesday in Denver, and then they face the Wild before a pair of games again with the Flames that will round out their season.

Besides the two return matches with Vancouver at the end of season, the Flames have one other game left on the schedule, a Saturday night showdown with their old friends the Edmonton Oilers.

Considering the late season rush of the Oil towards a playoff spot, that game by Saturday could once again be one of those win and you’re in affairs, destined to provide even more emotion than your run of the mill Oilers/Flames match up.

Globe and Mail--Flames move up to third

The family Roy is set to spend time together away from the rink

"The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League finds the events which took place over the course of last weekend's games deplorable and unacceptable," QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau

We’re not sure if Patrick and Jonathon talk much around the kitchen table these days, both busy as they were preparing for their QMJHL playoff duties, but for the next little while the two will have the chance to spend a lot of quality time together, far from the reach of their team and junior hockey.

The Q came down on the Rempart’s Roy family on Tuesday, assessing a seven game suspension to Jonathon for what can only be called his vicious assault on Chicoutimi’s Bobby Nadeau over the weekend.

Roy Jr., skated the length of the ice in a second period brawl on Saturday to lay a smack down on the less inclined Nadeau, who bore the brunt of Roy’s built up anger of the night.

He apologized on Monday for his one finger farewells to the Chicoutimi audience, but offered no apology for his actions, though he did claim that papa had no impact on his decision to have a brain cramp and try to render Nadeau oblivious.

It was a claim that apparently didn’t hold much water with the QMJHL.

In addition to the Rempart’s back up goaltender now listed as persona non grata in the QMJHL playoff series and beyond, his father and coach Patrick, the iconic Quebec sports figure, has also been asked to stay away from the rink for a period of five games.

Coming as it does as just the latest in a number of incidents that have seen one of the most idolized of Quebecois in the hot seat, interestingly enough normally after encounters with Chicoutimi.

With his five game suspension, league commissioner Gilles Courteau must have interpreted Roy Sr.’s actions on the bench as accelerating the on ice mayhem instead of trying to control it.

Richard Martel, received an automatic two-game suspension when one of his players Sébastien Rioux left the penalty box to deal with Roy after his thumping of Nadeau. For his offence, Rioux was suspended six games.

The ugly incident of Saturday has dominated Quebec’s media for the last few days, with the Tuesday papers revving up the pulp and paper mills for product as they covered every conceivable aspect of the incident. The consenus of many is that the Roy boys got off pretty likely, with even the Premier of Quebec taking a side in suggesting that the Quebec league needs to take a better look at the violence issue in their organization.

And in fact, the suspensions may be the least of the worries for Patrick and Jonathon with word that the Quebec justice department has opened a police investigation into the incident.

We’ll provide some links to the various sports sections for the HockeyNation class to work on their French translation abilities…

Somewhere in all that coverage maybe we’ll find a summary of Tuesday’s match the third of the playoffs between the two teams, for those that are still interested in the actual goals in the net and not the punches on the punch clock, the final score Tuesday was Quebec 6, Chicoutimi 1, with only a relatively tame 14 penalties called during the match.

Though the controversial events of Saturday certainly haven’t turned anyone off of their hockey, close to 15,000 were in attendance for the game at Le Colisee in Quebec City.

National Post--Don't blame the game

Quebec Sports pages:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mr. Vigneault the doula is on line one..

The Vancouver Canucks could have one more thing to add to the list for the final week of the season. Besides watching the scoreboards and the standings and computing the different scenarios that could land them anywhere from third to eighth, they are now looking for more than a little help from other teams, they're looking to the stork to provide some helpful timing.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo's wife Gina is nesting in Florida, preparing to give birth to the couples first child, expected sometime over the next few weeks.

A private jet and whatever else is required for the Luongo's and a slap on the back for back up Curtis Sanford to carry them in his absence. Of course, a few wins between now and delivery day would go a long ways in making the birthing process a lot less stressful on everyone, other than the Luongo's we suppose.

At least the Canuck's have their heads screwed on straight when it comes to family responsibilities and conflicting pressures. As it should be, family comes first over hockey.
A signal that at least hockey has come a ways towards modernity from the past, somehow we just couldn't visualize Conn Smythe or Harold Ballard being quite so family friendly!

Sens woes continue

It's bad enough that they let the Toronto Maple Leafs take two points from them on Saturday night, giving the Leafs Nation more reason to think that they're playoff bound, but at least they showed up for that one at the Bank.

Monday in Montreal the Sens didn't really bother to get into the game until it was much, much too late. And even then, it seemed more like Montreal had already chalked up the victory and had shut it down, leaving Corey Price to fend for himself.

The Senators lost 7-5 on the scoreboard, a result that more than flattered them as they were soundly manhandled and for the most part outplayed at the Bell Centre.

A game that finally provided the Habs with a victory over Ottawa breaking a woeful season of frustration for the Habs who have had problems beating the Senators all year.

The Senators efforts however, were more indicative of the trouble this team is in as the season dwindles down. Monday provided more proof that things are nowhere near right for this team with the playoffs looming large on that horizon.

Monday, the Sens managed to leave both their goaltenders out on the ledge, as first Martin Gerber and then Ray Emery found that the puck resembled a pea as opposed to a beach ball.

It's been the continual theme of this annus horribilis for the Senators and their fans, neither Gerber nor Emery seem ready, willing or able to take charge of the goaltending assignment.

A staffing problem which leaves a glaring hole in the Senators plans for a long and profitable ride through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Roy MacGregor examined the Sens troubles with a revealing column in the Globe and Mail.

Globe and Mail--Sens' goalie woes rear their ugly head

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Flyers elevated, Islanders eliminated

Sunday’s match up between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders certainly drew the line dark between winners and losers.

With their win the Flyers moved up into seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, giving hope once again to their legion of fans that but only a week ago were fearful of a post season of television viewing without their Flyers. While the win doesn’t guarantee them a spot in the playoffs, it certainly makes their chances that much better, especially as it came while they eliminated one of their fiercest rivals.

The Islanders had hoped to build on last years late season surge, which saw them move into a playoff spot in 2007, only to lose to the Sabres in the first round. This year, a stumble due to injuries and some new personnel puts them out of the playoffs, with a need to reassess the latest line up of the Islanders.

It’s a disappointing end to the season for Ted Nolan, who had been bringing his team along nicely, despite the defections of last season’s trade deadline showpiece Ryan Smyth who left for Colorado. Still, Smyth’s departure did highlight the lack of depth in the Islander line up, a shortcoming that became rather exacerbated when the injuries began to pile up on the Islanders.
For Philadelphia, the reversal of their slide is a welcome change, keeping their hopes alive heading into the final two weeks of the season.
With the win the Flyers moved ahead of the Boston Bruins by two points and are just two away from the New York Rangers in sixth, making for a most exciting conclusion to come for the 2007-2008 regular season.

Long Island Newsday--Islanders lose to Flyers, 4-1
Philadelphia Inquirer--Biron and Flyers sink Isles, 4-1
Photo from CBC website.

The apple, the tree and the falling

Patrick Roy’s temper was a most famous part of his legacy as a goaltender in the NHL, from the occasional dust up outside of his goal crease to the now legendary burst of temper in Montreal that marked his last game as a member of Les Canadiens, emotion has been a part of his game.

Now he and his team are in hot water again, after another incident featuring his Quebec Remparts, another in what seems to be a series of incidents with Chicoutimi, this time featuring his own son as one of the main participants. The famous Roy temper and emotion is once again on the front pages and is the topic of the Quebec radio sports shows after the Saturday night follies of Chicoutimi came to an end.

Saturday night during the second period of a rather testy affair in Chicoutimi, which saw the Remparts who were being handled quite easily by Chicoutimi on the scoreboard, showcase some of the Slapshot side of the game as well.

Of particular interest to league officials will be how they interpret the behaviour of Jonathon Roy, son of Patrick and Remparts goaltender and apparent would be enforcer. During the midst of a rather strident bit of fighting in the second period, Jonathon skated to centre ice and appeared to challenge the Chicoutimi goaltender Bobby Nadeau to fight.

Nadeu chose not to accept the invitation, so once the referee was occupied tending to the other fights on the ice, Roy is reported to have skated the length of the ice and jumped the Chicoutimi goaltender, he then made what are said to be obscene gestures to the crowd, he then had to answer a challenge from another Chicoutimi player to a fight, before finally finding himself removed from the game.

What isn’t clear is whether he was spurred on to his actions by his coach (and father) or chose to take the situation into his own hands. His penalty totals went a fair ways towards filling the 120 minutes of penalties assessed for the incidents on the ice. Roy was assessed 2 fighting majors, a minor and two game misconducts before his game was done for the night.

The game ended with Quebec finishing off with a 10-1 loss at the hands of Chicoutimi and an escort from the city police out of town, just in case some of the fans felt that more pleasantries needed to be exchanged. It’s not the first time that the Remparts have required a little help from the constabulary to leave town and judging by the animosity that seems to build up between the teams, it might not be the last. Especially when you consider that the QMJHL playoff series is tied at one game apiece, with game three set for Quebec City on Tuesday.

Judging by the numerous video presentations from Quebec television it would seem that the younger Roy will be looking at some serious suspension time, an non-combative Nadeau suffered a rather nasty looking pummelling at the hands of the Jonathon. It doesn't appear to have been one of hockey's better moments.

Of course Pere Roy is not stranger to on ice combativeness, as any YouTube search can pull up similar examples of the temper of papa such as this.

The Roy’s will find out the verdict from the league on Monday, which could be an interesting session. The last time Patrick Roy found himself in a controversial situation he threatened to leave the game for good.

Now that it’s become a sense of family honour, one wonders if the same refrain won’t be heard again?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Kovalev takes the Habs towards the finish line

It's been a most remarkable season for the Montreal Canadiens, a team that many didn't even think would have a shot at making the playoffs this year, let alone lead the Eastern Division and return a sense of expectation to Montreal.

Playing in what is perhaps the hockey worlds most pressurized environment, Alexei Kovalev has managed to let last years jeers and recommendations that the Montreal unload their aging veteran, to simply become the key cog in the remaking of the Habs.

Now, with the team firing on its cylinders and showing nothing but confidence in themselves, Kovalev has stepped into the leadership role with a lot of style and maybe a bit of satisfaction. Not to mention enough self confidence of his own, to release his very own skills video, providing a pretty impressive bit of stick handling and shooting.

Roy MacGregor, weaves an interesting tale on how this season has unfolded for the Russian, for those wondering how Montreal has climbed so high and done it so fast an so surprisingly, your answers can be found in the MacGregor piece which was posted to the Globe and Mail website on Saturday morning.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Canucks set sights on first, Oilers prepare for the worst

It was a divisional game that had been anticipated in Edmonton for the last couple of days, the suddenly resilient Oilers had been making a bit of a run towards the playoffs, while the Canucks were struggling and hearing the anxious commentaries from the Vancouver hockey chorus.

An Oiler win would move them ever closer to a playoff spot, while a Canuck loss would set off a new round of speculation in Vancouver as to how the wheels fell off the cart this time.

Thursday night, the Canuck fans could put thoughts of failure behind them for one night as the Vancouver squad went into Edmonton and took charge of the hard hitting showdown.

In a first period that seemed to increase the tension shift by shift, the two teams showed no hesitation to try and get their message across that it would be a physical match. The Oilers buoyed by their 10 wins over 12 games record of late, put on a solid effort, but were stymied by the usual Luongo shutdown, frustrated on the power play the Oilers couldn’t come up with the points necessary to reverse the Canucks 4-1 victory.

The loss, will be viewed as a costly one, prior to the game the Oilers were five points out of a playoff spot and looking ready to make things interesting, with the loss the Oilers lost an opportunity to close the gap with the Avalanche and with but seven games to play time is running out on a remarkable reversal of fortune on the year.

For Vancouver the win, besides rewarding Luongo for his stellar play, will propel them to within striking distance of first place in the Northwest, a goal they can grab back on Friday night with a victory over the visiting Minnesota Wild.

With the season down to the last few games now, each one takes on more importance than the last, and in the very crowded Western division one or two mis steps can prove to be very costly.

National Post--Canucks deal blow to Oilers' playoff hopes
Vancouver Sun--Race for top spot resurrected
Vancouver Province--This win never in doubt
Edmonton Journal--Crucial loss
Edmonton Sun--Golden goose gone

Photo from National Post website

Habs have another successful bear hunt

The Montreal Canadiens all but ensured that the Boston Bruins will remain nervous for the rest of the playoff stretch run, as they methodically built up a lead and took eventual victory on Thursday night, marking the tenth time in a row that the Bruins have been on the wrong end of a final score with Montreal.

Thursday night it was the scoring punch of Alex Kovalev who had two goals and an assist, combined with yet another impressive performance by Carey Price that led the Canadiens to their 4-2 victory, a record setting victory that was last set back in 1944-48.

The Bruins, who are holding onto their seventh place spot by their fingertips, are casting an anxious eye at the bottom rung of the Eastern division, as Buffalo, Washington and Florida all do the math to see if they might take advantage of a stumbling bear. (Philadelphia also must fear a freefall in the final weeks, currently in eighth but just).

Montreal’s mastery over the Bruins has become almost a collar around the Bruins neck, as tight as one time coach Don Cherry’s are. Whatever it is, whether at home or away, the Bruins just can’t seem to get past the Habs.

They have one more shot at putting a notch in the win column with a Saturday night game at the Bell Centre in Montreal, they’ll be heading into that one with more than just an unlucky streak on their minds, their playoff future very well may hinge on turning around their bad karma at the hands of the Habs. If ever they were to break a bad streak, Saturday would be the timely night to do it.
Globe and Mail--Rising in the East

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Time flies, just like Bobby did

The picture is still one of the most famous in hockey history, spread out like Superman flying through the air, celebrating the goal that won a Stanley Cup!

He was the player many of us wanted to be as we grew up on the rinks, or in the streets playing the game we love. The sale of jersey's with number 4, probably could have stopped a recession in its tracks. Such was the presence of the boy from Parry Sound.

Robert Gordon Orr, known to all forever as Bobby, turns 60 today, a quiet celebration for him at his Florida winter home, but what surely will be a boisterous exhibition of joy for the folks of Boston as they flash that famous smile, the Bruins B and the forever immortalized number four on that huge screen at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Bobby Orr is 60, where has the time gone.

And while those of us who watched our black and white televisions and then the colour ones, grow older and look the part, Orr still looks the image of a youngish man. True he's not the fresh faced youngster who set the hockey world on its ear in the mid sixties, but surely he's not a man who if he had remained in Canada, would be five years away from a Canada Pension Plan cheque.

Still a public figure in some demand, he's there nightly on our television sets, the quiet spokesman who never actually mentions the product he's endorsing, but instead just that touchstone of the past for the nation of his birth.

He's busy taking the kids to the rink, picking shaving cream out of skate boot, or giving advice to a nervous mill worker from Saskatchewan ready to shoot a puck for a million dollars, it's all in the name of teamwork, Bobby. Still the leader, still the icon.

May he enjoy his day surrounded by his friends and family in that Florida sun and more than aware that the old snowbound homeland still ranks him as one of their favourites, a symbol of a different time. Hero for a generation of hockey fans that saw magic on the ice in a Bruins uniform, flying down the ice ready for another score, another great rush for number four.

to say there's a few things of note on the Internet today about such a grand occasion, here's a sample.
Globe and Mail--Tim Wharnsby-- The years fly by
Globe and Mail--Stephen Brunt--An icon turns 60

Hartsburg hangs up his national team whistle

Things are going to look a little different next year behind the bench of Canada’s national junior squad. When Team Canada takes to the ice in Ottawa next Christmas, the familiar face and voice of Craig Hartsburg won’t be there.

Nor will assistant coaches Clement Jodoin and Curtis Hunt be in their normal locations either, as Team Canada prepares for a whole new cast of on ice supervisors.

The three bench strategists for Canada’s Junior program declined to have their names left in consideration for the next Canadian quest for gold. Feeling that the time had come for some new faces and new ideas behind the Canadian bench, Hartsburg and his assistants felt the time was right to step aside.

Hartsburg leaves the program with a fairly impressive record of three straight gold medals, starting his stint as Brent Sutter’s assistant at the 2006 championship in Vancouver and wrapping up this past Christmas season in the Czech Republic, his second gold medal as the head man.

He’ll return to devoting his full attention to the Sault Ste, Marie Greyhounds, his OHL team, which every year for the last three he has left behind in order to retain Canadian supremacy in world hockey.

Hockey Canada is already busy whittling down its list of potential candidates, with Peter DeBoer the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers mentioned most often as the leading possibility for the Junior squad.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ovechkin hits 100 with weeks to go

The first 100 point player of the season has checked in, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had a three point night on Tuesday night as he led the Caps to a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators.

Ovechkin's three points pushed him over the 100 point mark on the season, the first Capital in the franchise's history to climb that plateau twice. But with the Caps still gamely fighting on to claim a playoff spot, he wasn't much in the mood for personal goals and instead wanted to talk about his team's bid to grab a spot for some post season action.

The Capitals who registered their fourth straight win, are becoming the crowd favourite of the underdog lovers to climb above either Philly for eighth overall or division leading Carolina for the automatic launch into the playoffs. A scenario that might have seemed unlikely a few months ago but now seems almost pre-ordained.

The Caps with their all offence style of play of late are turning heads with their speed and play making and would certainly add a dash of excitement should they topple the slumping Flyers or surprise the division leading Canes.

If they're going to make the jump, it will no doubt be thanks to Ovechkin who has been a scoring and play making master this season, with the rest of his team finally catching up, it would be a wise hockey fan that pencils in the Caps as a possible first round upset winner.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pronger punishment proving to be controversial

The eight game suspension handed out to Chris Pronger over his stomp of Ryan Kesler, isn’t being hailed as the work of an enlightened judiciary.

While Brian Burke is probably content with the number of games that Pronger will have to sit out, other than Pronger himself, Burke would be the only one who thinks justice has been served.

For the most part, the commentators, editorialists, reporters and even one or two players (especially one particular player) all seem to think that the punishment was a good number of games short of a full and proper sentence.

The nature of the decision making has also raised an eyebrow or two, as the NHL had originally decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a suspension, only to reverse themselves a day later when another angle of view popped up.

This has been referred to as the NHL’s version of the Zapruder film by Scott Burnside of ESPN, which gives you an indication as to the bit of scorn that the NHL’s justice system is beginning to attract.

Burnside was just one of many who has found a bit of a disconnect in the NHL’s interpretations of justice, below some of the others, none of whom are particularly enthused about the prospects of the NHL getting it right...

Globe and Mail--Pronger case proves the NHL has an odd sense of justice
Toronto Star--Pronger proving there's rest for wicked before start of the Stanley Cup playoffs
National Post--Time doesn’t do justice to crime in Pronger incident
Edmonton Journal--NHL shouldn't coddle Pronger any longer
CBC Sports--Pronger stomp part of NHL culture: Stewart
Hockey News Blog--League should have banned Pronger for season
Detroit Free Press--Chris Pronger's stomping incident: Is eight games enough?
USA Today--Harsh suspension warranted in Pronger stomp case

Monday, March 17, 2008

ECHL player may face assault charges over on ice incident

An on ice incident in the ECHL earlier this month, has a Victoria Salmon Kings player waiting to see if he'll be facing assault charges.

On March 1st, Robin Gomez who has since been suspended from the Salmon Kings line up, was involved in an altercation with the Las Vegas Wranglers Chris Ferraro.

According to the Victoria Times Colonist, at the time of the second period incident, Gomez had surprised Ferraro with a punch to the face, reportedly with enough force to send Ferraro to the ice where he hit his head.

Ferraro suffered injuries serious enough to require a number of stitches to stop the bleeding and at the end of the game he filed a formal complaint with the police.

The Victoria police then investigated the incident and determined that the severity of the injuries warranted charges of assault, a decision which now rests in the hands of the Crown Prosecutor, who will decided whether the case should go ahead or not.

The ECHL issued their maximum fine and suspended Gomez for the rest of the season and the playoffs on March 6th . The Salmon Kings also have publicly gone on the record as not condoning his behaviour.

The Police intend to officially hand the file over to the Crown within the next couple of weeks.
The CBC has a story and video report on the incident on their webiste.
While the Times Colonist described the night in question with a complete wrap up in their sports section.

On-ice punch merits charge,
police say Investigators recommend Salmon Kings forward Robin Gomez be charged with assault for March 1 fight
Rob Shaw Times Colonist
Monday, March 17, 2008
Left-winger Robin Gomez has already been suspended by ECHL officials after he punched Las Vegas Wranglers star forward Chris Ferraro in the face during a game March 1 in Victoria. Police are recommending a charge of assault against a Victoria Salmon Kings hockey player who punched a member of the opposing team during a game March 1.

Left-winger Robin Gomez has already been suspended by ECHL officials after he surprised Las Vegas Wranglers star forward Chris Ferraro with a hard punch to the face during the second period of a game at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. Ferraro hit his head on the ice and required eight stitches to close a cut. He later filed a formal complaint with police.

A subsequent investigation, including interviews with numerous players and league personnel, has determined there is enough evidence to send an assault charge to provincial Crown prosecutors, said Sgt. Grant Hamilton, Victoria police spokesman.

Crown counsel will then weigh the strength of the police case, the likelihood of a conviction, and whether it is in the public interest to proceed with taking Gomez to court.

The police report contains interviews with Gomez, Ferraro, witnesses, referees, and league officials, said Hamilton.

"Based on the interviews we will recommend a charge, but it is up to them to decide whether it meets the charge approval threshold," he said.

"I know it is one of those situations which happened within a sporting environment, and I guess it is for Crown to determine whether it is excessive or not, or out of the normal scope of the game," Hamilton added.

The Salmon Kings have said publicly they do not condone Gomez's behaviour. Ferraro, meanwhile, told media the punch "was the most cowardly thing I've ever seen in my entire hockey career."

Police say the file will be officially handed to prosecutors in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sid to sit for seven days

The Pittsburgh Penguins will once again have to do without the services of Sidney Crosby, as the Pens young captain will take another week off to try and rest up and recuperate from his ankle sprain.

Crosby appears to have returned to the ice to soon, when he rejoined his team mates after having missed 21 games dating back to January when he suffered his ankle troubles.

Crosby was back in action last week but only lasted three games before he determined that something was still wrong and decided to give things another rest.

The setback to Crosby also will delay the much anticipated pairing up with the recently acquired Marian Hossa. Since Hossa was picked up in a trade with Atlanta at the trading deadline he and Crosby have both been injured, meaning that we’re no closer to knowing if they will make become a key part of the Penguin attack or if Michel Therrien will have to go to a plan B.

Hossa is expected back on the ice for the Pens on Sunday when they play the Flyers; the hockey world will have to wait until April 5th to see whether the Pens gamble will have paid off.

Penguins website--Crosby Out Three More Games
Pittsburgh Tribune Review--Ankle soreness shelves Penguins' Crosby
Picture from the CBC website

Sabres setting their sights on a playoff spot

The Buffalo Sabres were fighting and scraping for a playoff spot on Friday night, with the emphasis on fighting.

In what was a laugher on the scoreboard, the Sabres improved their possibilities for post season action with a 7-1 thumping of the Carolina Hurricanes. And in this game the thumping wasn’t just confined to the scoreboard.

Carolina more or less self destructed on Friday night, making careless plays and were of no noticeable assistance to goaltender Cam Ward, who was left alone far too often to deal with the Sabre attack. The Hurricanes’ relieved him of his burden when he was pulled in before the first period was over, a point at which the Sabres were already ahead by 4 goals.

When the Hurricane’s couldn’t seem to compete on the ice, they became distracted it seemed and began to pile up the penalties, ending the game having been recorded for 20 infractions a 81 minutes of penalty box time.

The game featured a number of fights as things progressed, as the Sabres not inclined to be pushed around in their own home rink returned the favour for each invitation.

Ryan Miller’s shut out bid came to an end midway through the third when Scott Walker scored the only goal for the Hurricanes; Miller had faced 28 shots before the game was over, returning to the kind of form that the Sabres will need to move forward in the final stages of the season.

Buffalo needed the win in the worst possible way, already short a number of defenceman and still outside of the final cut of eight teams, they pulled to within two points of eighth placed Philadelphia with the win.

They can continue to put pressure on the Flyers on Saturday night when the Sabres travel to Toronto to play the Leafs. A win at the Air Canada Centre and the playoff picture begins to look bright, a loss and they’re back to where they were two nights ago, on the outside looking in.

CBC Sports--Roy, Sabres have way with Hurricanes
National Post--Roy, Mair come up big as Sabres pound Hurricanes
Buffalo News--Sabres snap out of slump with 7-1 win
London Free Press--Sabres blow out Hurricanes

Pronger’s two step may force him to sit out the dance

The pressure is on NHL enforcement guardian Colin Campbell now, with word that Chris Pronger has been summoned to explain his recent actions in Wednesday night’s game with the Vancouver Canucks.

Originally, Pronger had been told on Thursday that he was in the clear on the incident, however as they say under further review....

With the NHL having set the standard of punishment for dangerous use of a skate with Chris Simon earlier this year, when he was suspended for thirty games it will be interesting to see what Colin Campbell comes up with after his secondary review. With that as the new benchmark, the math count has already begun as to how many games Pronger will be forced to miss, for what many view as his attempted stomp of Ryan Kesler.

The radio and television talk shows are already dividing into two camps, with some suggesting that Pronger was merely trying to dis-entangle himself from Kesler, while others point to his past nasty works and suggest that there was nothing but malice in that shuffling of his feet.

On Friday, the debate over the incident seemed to be centered on the topic of the double standard. A number of contributors weighed in and using Simon’s punishment of twenty games as their example, suggested that Pronger gets special status because of his star status in the league.

It’s a thought that has crossed the mind of the oft suspended Chris Simon, who was wondering aloud today why he was targeted at thirty games for his attempt to injure, while Pronger wasn’t even under review until today, two days after the event took place.

Simon was referring to the fact that the NHL had previously not been provided with a clear picture of the event and was hesitant to make a judgment based on what video they had. That apparently changed when a clearer version of the incident was made available which focused on the play behind the net and Pronger’s foot work.

The deciding factor in all of this may be whether Kesler had deliberately tried to tie up Pronger by closing his legs scissor like and whether Pronger is perceived as having stumbled and whether his stomp was by design or the result of Kesler’s leg wrap.

At least we suspect that will be the defence launched by the loquacious Brian Burke whenever he and Pronger get together with Colin Campbell.

For the NHL once again the issue and problem of consistency is raising its head, a procedure that the NHL seems to be having problems with it seems.

National Post--NHL taking another look at Pronger stomping incident
Globe and Mail Blog--Maki: Pronger stomp gets re-reviewed
Vancouver Sun--Pronger stomp on Kesler gets second look
Los Angeles Times--Ducks' Pronger still could be suspended
CBC Sports HNIC--Pronger could be punished for skate incident