Saturday, May 31, 2008

Has Fonzie jumped the shark in Tampa Bay?

If it comes to pass, they'll be trading in one stylish hairdo for another in Tampa Bay.

While he's been perhaps the most recognizable feature of the Tampa Bay Lightning for a number of years now, if some of the reports percolating this weekend prove true, John Tortorella may have already coached his last game with the Bolts.

With new ownership set to take over the franchise in mid June, the stage it seems is set for a new cast of characters to try and guide the Lightning back into the pack and beyond in the NHL. Numerous reports are pointing towards Barry Melrose as the potential new Zeus of Tampa, eager to turn the flashes of sheet lightning of late into those booming bursts of energy.

Tortorella who took over in the 2001-02 season has posted a respectable 251-252-20-41 regular season and a has won more than he's lost with a 24-21 mark in the postseason, though he has only one Stanley Cup ring to show for all of that work, that being the championship won by the Lightning in 2003-04.

Since those highlight reel moments, the Lightning have struggled in the playoffs and this year suffered the fate of being the worst team in the NHL, good enough for a top end draft pick but not something that lends itself to job security for the coaching staff.

There have been lots of denials in the last twenty four hours about any pending Melrose arrival on the West Coast of Florida, though the suggestions are that an announcement is imminent, a move that will once again shuffle the coaching deck chairs across the NHL should it come to pass.

Seattle Post Intelligencer-- Report: Melrose in, Tortorella out in Tampa Bay
Sportsnet-- Melrose To Replace Tortorella As Bolts Coach
CBC Sports-- Barry Melrose says nothing imminent with Lightning
ESPN-- Melrose responds to report on coaching Lightning
The Hockey News-- Tampa's hiring of Melrose makes no sense
Tampa Bay Tribune-- It's Been Quite A Ride With Torts On Bench
Tampa Bay Tribune-- Melrose Place? Drama Surrounds Bolts' Coaching Spot
St. Petersburg Times-- Next Lightning regime needs to pick a coach first
St. Petersburg Times-- Lightning hiring Melrose would be a shocker
Toronto Star-- Will Lightning be scene of new Melrose place?

6 divided into 100 gives you 31 per cent

It's the new math and it's done on the strength of the Canadian Loonie.

An internal report from the NHL that has been leaked to an interested hockey world finds that the six Canadian hockey franchises in the 30 team NHL loop are providing a good portion of the leagues health.

The Toronto Star first reported the amazing numbers that show that Canada accounts for a good portion of the NHL's success (such as it is) and that if you took out those Canadian numbers the NHL would most likely be the Edsel of pro sports franchises.

On gate receipts alone, Canada's teams and hockey barns accounted for 31 percent of revenues of 1.1 billion dollars, doing their best to try and add some black ink to the hue of red that seems to be prevalent south of the border.

In a league driven by ticket revenues and Canadian television ratings, the band of six outposts above the 49th parallel seem to be the glue that holds Mr. Bettman's enterprise together.

It's a financial conundrum that leaves many to wonder why the NHL Commissioner is so adamant to keep such less than hockey mad locations as Phoenix, Nashville and Atlanta, among others chasing dollars that don't seem to be there to chase.

11 of the 24 American based teams lost money or were considered revenue neutral, leaving one would think a large pool of potential relocation subjects facing some troubled fiancial times in their hometowns, eager to inquire about the likes of Hamilton, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Halifax or Tuktyuktuk..

While the NHL isn't particularly inclined to discuss the financial red ink flowing from the southern missions, NHLPA president Mike Kelly seems to be able to read the balance sheets with a bit of clarity calling for more teams to be placed in Canada.

His may be a voice destined to yell into the Northern wilderness with many a Canadian booster, left to ponder what may be, without any form of indication that their efforts are bound to be successful let alone welcome.

In the last number of years Gary Bettman seems to have done all that one man could do to scupper any attempts to move franchises to where there may actually be hockey fans, an unusual strategy of business that might explain the brink of recession that North America faces these days. Perhaps the NHL is but a small example of a larger business malaise,where the customer doesn't know best and it seems that losing money is more acceptable under the big picture, than accessing markets more than ready to support your business offerings.

The NHL these days is providing a concept of supply and demand that seems to have all the factors backwards, they're ignoring their largest base of fans and customers (and would be investors), while trying to build a business model in areas where the demand for their product seems non existent and the potential for profit situation seems bleak if not hopeless.

For a bunch of supposedly business savvy suits, it all seems like a very strange way to run a business.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Take me out to the hockey game, take me out to the crowd....

It'll be a cold wind no doubt that might be blowing across Wrigley field on a January afternoon, but that won't apparently deter the NHL from cashing in again on the prospect of an outdoor game in Chicago.

While nothing has been nailed down yet, indications are that the Red Wings and Black Hawks will reprise the successful outdoor hockey festival put forward this year in Buffalo.

The NHL mindful of a high profile vehicle, will be calling on the ghosts of Wrigley to make Chicgao the latest in success stories for outdoor shinny.

The rumoured move seems to elimate New York's Yankee Stadium, destined to close this year as the favored site for the Winter Classic this January.

No official announcement has been made as of yet, but it's another move out of Chicago that seems to be announcing that things are going to be done differently now that the day to day running of the Hawks has passed on down the generations of the Wirtz family.

Only recently re-introduced to television in the Chicago market, playing an outdoor game will no doubt help to boost the teams image in the very crowded Chicago sports scene. Chicago fans are notorious for their loyalty to their teams despite the elements (witness at Bears game in late December or early January for evidence), but this may test that endurance mightily should it come to pass.

If the Wrigley plan fails to come together, the alternate option is Soldier Field, home of the Bears and another location with thermal underwear is a decided option...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sadness from coast to coast over the passing of Luc Bourdon

The people of Shippagan, New Brunswick are distraught with grief, the sadness overwhelms the faithful of the Manitoba Moose where young Luc Bourdon played the bulk of his still young career last year and in Vancouver where the popular defenceman was destined to shine for years, the empty feeling of loss is still being digested.

Across Canada today, shock greeted the news of Bourdon’s passing, the tragic victim of a traffic accident just miles from his hometown. The news crossed the country rapidly on Thursday of the horrific accident that took place on the outskirts of town, when his motorcycle collided with tractor trailer late at night.

In many burgs across the nation, those that had played with Bourdon whether in junior, on national teams or in the pros, spoke of an intense competitor and a good friend, one who offered much potential for the Vancouver Canucks, potential that now something that will remain unfulfilled.

Shippagin in particular will be hit hard by the tragedy, Bourdon was a popular resident in his hometown, a polite young man who many held in high regard, a community now anxious to protect his family in their hour of grief.

Hockey fans from Vancouver, thru Winnipeg and all the way to New Brunswick share in their sadness, the always hard to understand tragedy of a life taken far too young.
Vancouver Sun-- Too Soon, Too Young
Vancouver Province-- Luc Bourdon, 1987-2008
Winnipeg Free Press-- Luc Bourdon dies in crash
Cape Breton Post-- Luc Bourdon remembered

Sid steps up

The reports of the Penguin demise were slightly premature, Wednesday night Sidney Crosby broke out in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final to pace his Penguins on to a 3-2 victory, putting aside thoughts of a Detroit sweep and puling the Penguins to within on win of tying the series at 2-2.

Crosby erased any doubt about his ability to lead at an early age, as he played with a determination destined to rank him favourably over time as one of those players that can rise to the occasion.

Crosby accounted for two of the Pens three goals and logged a full period of hockey in the sixty minute contest, he took more hits than he made, but still managed to create enough space and find enough time to propel the puck into the Detroit end.

While team mate Evgeni Malkin had gone into a bit of a drought since the Flyer series, Crosby continued to plug away creating opportunities and finding frustration at times by a goal post, or last second deflection wide. Wednesday night he cemented his value to this team with a timely performance that should settle the Penguins down and perhaps give the NHL the marquee series that they had anticipated.

Also escaping his shell on Wednesday was Malkin, who may not have gained any points on the night, but certainly had one of his better games in recent weeks. He was once again skating effortlessly, without too much in the way of an impediment and that served to create more than enough opportunities for the Pens to have had a chance to put away the Wings early on in the game.

Most of the success on Wednesday seemed to come from a shift in the officiating, whether by design or an unconscious decision to forgo some of the smaller fouls that have routinely bogged down the games so far. Instead, there were stretches of almost pond hockey theatrics, with the two teams flying down the ice to each end rebuffed and then heading back the other way to counter another attack.

It made for some of the more enjoyable moments of hockey in the last month, as the two offensively skilled teams were allowed to showcase their speed, a trait that at times has gotten lost in the zeal to crackdown on some of the minor penalties.

It’s a fine line that the officials have to tread on in the playoffs, too much interest can bog a game down leaving the fans bored and waiting for the end, too much freedom can result in an ill tempered game that more often than not tends to swing out of control.

Wednesday they pretty well had the balance right, hopefully that will be the template for the rest of the series whether it be five games or all the way to a game seven showdown.

Globe and Mail--Penguins not satisfied with just one win
Globe and Mail--Hockey Night snubs Crosby, and viewers
Globe and Mail--Malkin's upgraded play lifts Penguins
National Post-- Crosby clutch in Penguins' Game 3 win
National Post-- Penguins find their legs
Montreal Gazette-- Desperate Pens get back in series
Canoe-- Silence is golden
CBC Sports-- Penguins hope for encore performance
Detroit News-- Babcock watches as Wings grow up
Detroit News-- Wings getting big bang for their buck with Osgood
Detroit News-- Holmstrom is not up to par, says Babcock
Detroit Free Press-- Babcock leans on Bowman for advice
Detroit Free Press-- The NHL blows it -- again
Detroit Free Press-- Good sign: Johan Franzen dominant for Wings
Detroit Free Press-- A loss: So what? Wings will still take series
Detroit Free Press-- Wings beats Pistons in Motor City ratings 18.2 to 15.9
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Crosby leads like idol Yzerman
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- O Captain
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Roberts, Pens dig deep
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Penguins' next goal: Build on Game 3 win
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Ovechkin: Wish I were in Sid's skates
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Crosby scores twice to carry Penguins back into series, win at home
. Stats Pack

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Peek a boo Penguins need to get on the same page

Pittsburgh's dreams of a Stanley Cup for 2008 are starting to look a little further away, that after a second consecutive shut out at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

While the Penguins continue to profess that they aren't out of this series by any means, their struggles have become well documented over the first two games of what they now must hope will be a best of seven series.

Pittsburgh has had a bad case of the nerves as they took their spot in the spotlight of the NHL's final series, once reliable scorers like Malkin and Hossa suddenly are finding it difficult to push a puck behind Chris Osgood. While at the other end of the rink, when the big save has been required, Marc Andre Fleury hasn't been as successful as is required in a big series.

It's not that he's playing poorly, but more that the Red Wings seem to have a sense of the key moment to put the Pens away for good.

Sidney Crosby has shown flashes of making a break out in this hard checking series, but just as quick as the momentum builds up, something seems to go awry in the Detroit end and the puck is heading back down towards Fleury.

Michael Therrien, tried shifting the lineups around in game two and found little in the way of offensive skills, instead the Red Wings answered most every challenge provided and have taken a fairly hefty hold on the championship as they head for games three and four in Pittsburgh.

The game was much like that of game one with the Red Wings taking charge of the play and scoring early, shutting down the Penguin attack and holding down their own end of the rink quite nicely in the third period.

Game three is now the pivotal one in this series, a win for Pittsburgh will energize the crowd for game four and more importantly provide the Penguins with a dose of resolve that may carry them further into the final series.

A loss and all that may be left to do is decide what time the parade starts on Woodward Avenue and whether it arrives at the Joe Louis Arena or at a larger venue to let the Motor City celebrate another championship.

How that scenario will play out will be all but determined upon the outcome of Wednesday night's game...

Globe and Mail-- The new Motor City hit man
Globe and Mail-- Youthful Penguins need to find their legs
Canadian Press-- Detroit's Fab 4 steal spotlight
Ottawa Citizen-- Hey, Pens, the Wings the ones to fear
Montreal Gazette-- Penguins haven't shown up
CBC Sports-- Shell-shocked Penguins giving off air of desperation
Detroit Free Press-- Michel Therrien: Wings' obstruction pays off
Detroit Free Press-- Penguins look for goals, answers in desperate times
Detroit Free Press-- Wings historically burned with big leads in playoffs
Detroit Free Press-- In Pittsburgh, fans brace for worst
Detroit News-- Wings' commitment to defense is cornerstone of success
Detroit News-- Motor City meets Steel City
Detroit News-- Pistons beat the Red Wings in local TV ratings game
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Penguins look for goals, answers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Tables turned, Penguins in panic mode
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Penguins face huge odds in trying to overcome 2-0 deficit
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Detroit's domination has Penguins dazed, confused
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Pens plan changes to combat Red Wings
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Pens' Kennedy still without a playoff goal
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Pittsburgh Trib fans compose odes to Pens
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Pens bring desperation home
. Stats Pack

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spokane picks up the pieces to a Memorial Cup victory

As things turned out it’s a replica trophy that they handed out at the centre ice ceremonies of the 2008 Mastercard Memorial Cup in Kitchener, a little known but now relief filled fact. as the Spokane Chiefs almost had portions of a treasured trophy to share with the entire line up.

The Chiefs broke the Memorial Cup on Sunday afternoon, a fumbled hand off from Captain Chris Bruton leaving the trophy tumbling to the ice and the bowl portion flailing in mid air, as the excited Chiefs had a brief brush with terror before returning to their celebratory skate.

The Cup faux pas, was perhaps the only bad move on the Chiefs part in the whole game and tournament, as they finished the tournament undefeated and now undisputed champions of Junior hockey in the Canadian Hockey League.

Chiefs goaltender Dustin Tokarski provided for a fifty three save performance to lead his Chief team mates to junior hockey’s most cherished trophy, a display of goaltending that will surely move his stock up in the NHL amateur draft in a few weeks. Tokarski frustrated the Kitchener Rangers time and time again, refusing to yield but once to the Ranger attack and giving Spokane growing confidence as the periods rolled along.

The Chiefs victory marked only the fourth time in the 90 year history of the Memorial Cup that the trophy will be awarded to a team from below the 49th parallel, Spokane last won the Cup in 1991, while Portland has been winners twice as well in the nineties.

The result provided a disappointing final score and turn of events for the hometown Ranger fans, some of whom had paid over 200 dollars in scalper fees for tickets to what they had hoped would be a hometown celebration.

The Rangers provided those fans with what they had hoped to see as they took charge of the first ten minutes of play, scoring the games first goal in the first five minutes of play, however the Chiefs were patient and regained their balance and moved forward from there.

Spokane was not to feel the pressure, as they effectively rebuffed the fast paced Ranger attack, the Chiefs owned the neutral zone for the bulk of the game and while allowing the Rangers time to work with the puck, the home side couldn't put the goals in behind Tokarski .

The Chiefs took advantage of a string of Ranger penalties and made the best of turnovers to punish Kitchener for the lapses of judgment that can be costly in a championship game.

Kitchener paid the price for the turnovers and ran into a hot goaltender that seemed at the peak of his game in the most important game of the season. For Spokane at the end of the day, all that was left was to pack for home and maybe stop in at a Home Depot for some Crazy glue..

Maybe they can use their Mastercard, we hear when it comes to hockey memories it's priceless!

Associated Press-- Chiefs win Memorial Cup
Spokane Spokesman Review-- Chiefs win Memorial Cup
Kitchener Waterloo Record-- Chiefs bringing it home to Spokane

Red Wings begin Cup quest on the right skate

The game didn’t seem quite won until Daniel Cleary’s short handed goal with three minutes to go in the third period polished off the Pittsburgh Penguins, the punctuation mark to a workman like performance by the Wings.

Though for the most part of the debut of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals the veteran Red Wing squad looked perfectly if not comfortably in control of the proceedings.

Detroit took game one of the best of seven Stanley Cup final with a solid performance and a 4-0 victory, thanks largely to the efforts of Mikael Samuelsson who picked up two unassisted markers to pace the Wings on to victory.

The Wings penalty kill was in top shape as they killed off four first period opportunities for the Penguins, a frustrating situation for the high Flying Pens who couldn’t seem to get their offence untracked on Saturday night.

The Wings had opened up the scoring in the first only to have the call overturned on an inside the crease call combined with goaltender interference; it had no effect on the final score as the Wings effectively shut down the Penguins and their many high profile scorers.

What the Wing defenders and back checkers didn’t control, Chris Osgood did, as the Red Wing goaltender once again provided solid work in the Red Wing net, a most reliable last line of defence for the winged wheelers.

Detroit’s experienced line up took game one from the energetic but perhaps just a little nervous Penguins, who never seemed to recover from the early chances in the first that did not quite finish as planned.

Detroit patient as always just waited until the flow of the game settled down and then took charge, slowing down the Penguin attack while creating opportunities of their own through all three periods of play.

It was described by Penguins head coach Michael Therrien as possibly the Pens worst performance so far in the playoffs, a bad game that they will be hoping is out of their system.

We find out what adjustments the Pens make for game two later on Monday, when they try to even up the series at the Joe Louis arena before heading to Pittsburgh for games three and four.

Globe and Mail-- Red Wings win opener
National Post-- Red Wings storm past Penguins to win Game 1
National Post-- Samuelsson terrorizes former team
CBC Sports-- Detroit beats Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup opener
ESPN-- Will sudden line changes rekindle Malkin's game?
Pittsburgh Post Gazette-- Moving forward: Therrien shuffles lines hoping to make a difference
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Can Malkin get back into overdrive?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Red Wings decisively won first battle over center ice
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Pens' Malkin looks for boost heading into Game 2
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Red Wings GM's faith in Osgood pays off
Detroit Free Press-- Here's how good the Wings' Mikael Samuelsson was
Detroit Free Press-- Sam Slam! Red Wings prove Pens aren't mightier
Detroit Free Press-- Forever red: Sticking around has its privileges in Hockeytown
Detroit News-- Osgood finding his way home
Detroit News-- Wings legends still close
Detroit News-- Streaky Sammy feeling better
Detroit News-- Franzen practices, awaits decision on playing status
. Stats Pack

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Quest for Stanley: Final round results

The conference battles have been won and now all that remain are two, we archive the results from the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Wednesday, June 4-- DETROIT 3, Pittsburgh 2
Monday, June 2-- PITTSBURGH 4, Detroit 3, 3 OT
Saturday, May 31-- DETROIT 2, Pittsburgh 1
Wednesday, May 28-- PITTSBURGH 3, Detroit 2
Monday, May 26-- DETROIT 3, Pittsburgh 0
Saturday, May 24-- DETROIT 4, Pittsburgh 0

Friday, May 23, 2008

Avlanche go back to Granato

The Colorado Avalanche continued on along their theme of bring em all home, as the NHL West division team signed on Tony Granato for a second tour of duty as the Avs head coach.

Granato coached the Avlanche for a couple of years until the 2004-05 season will succeed the man who replaced him that year, as Joel Quenville chose to move on last month apparently finding philosophical differences with the Avs management team.

Granato's second chance comes as the Avs prepare to make a few more steps along the NHL path built on youth, with some of the Av veterans closing in on their final years, he will inherit a team that will be growing together with their new but familar head coach.

What remains to be seen is if Captain Joe Sakic will help with the transition back by sticking around for another NHL season, his presence would no doubt be a bonus for Granato as he tries to design an offence to take advantage of the Avalanche speed and scoring potential.

General Manager Francois Giguere, didn't seem to have a very deep list of potential employees, preferring instead it seems to focus primarily on bringing Granato back to the Mile High city.

His main point of focus will be to improve the Avs woeful power play record, which was a league worst 30th place on the road and not much better in front of the home town crowds. Just improving their goal scoring with a man advantage could help lift the Avs further up the standings next year and help provide some positive developments as Granato takes on his duties.

Rocky Mountain News-- Tony II
Colorado Springs Gazette-- Confused by Avs' move? You're not alone.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

European league set for September face off

"We are planning to draft players from around the world, including the NHL," -- Continental Hockey League President Alexander Medvedev, outlining how his 24 team mostly Russian based league will stock up on its rosters for its debut season.

There's now one more bargaining chip for hockey players world wide as the much discussed and promised Continental Hockey League skates a little closer to its September debut.

The league, which is the main focus these days of the deputy chairman of Russia's most powerful corporation, energy giant OAO Gazprom will basically resemble the current Russian Super league, though with considerably more cash and led by the colourful and very wealthy Medvedev.

His eventual goal is to see the league expand to Sweden, Finland and other key European markets, though he has run into a bit of resistance from the locals there in his bid to redraw the European hockey map.

For the moment it will be primarily a Russian league, with two divisions eventually playing for the Gagarin Cup named after the famed Russian cosmonaut. The two finalists in that competition will then compete in a European Super League Champions final.

It indicates a growing sense of power from the Russian hockey world, which is determined to battle back against the NHL which has for the last number of years been siphoning off the cream of Russian hockey to come and play in North America. Medvedev hopes to begin repatriating those that have travelled afar and maybe lure one or two of the North American names over to their side of the ocean.

So far the flow of ex NHL talent is but a mere drop, with reports that Chris Simon and John Grahame are the first of the North Americans to sign up with the new league.

With a salary cap conscious NHL now having to keep an eye on the bottom lines, there is a potential for some high profile defections, though truth be told North Americans aren't particularly as adventurous internationally as the European wave on our shores has shown. Most of the top paid NHLers will most likely use the new league as a bargaining statement more than anything else, extract a bit more money from their NHL team and remain in the NHL.

There will no doubt be some growing pains for the new league, but once they have a few seasons out of the way and the buzz begins to spread about their venture, there very well may be a major change to the way your favourite NHL teams roster looks over the next few years...

Globe and Mail-- New Russian-based league flexes its muscles
Canadian Press-- New Russian hockey league aims to develop, improve hockey worldwide
Sportsnet-- Russian league to launch in September
CBC Sports-- New Russian hockey league set to launch
Russia Today-- Russia to set up new Euro-league

Alain Vigneault gets an extra year, his (now former) assistants get a kick in the rear..

The Vancouver Canucks have clearly set their eyes on a goal for the off season, that of a potential rival to the Toronto Maple Leafs for title to the world of dysfunction.

With the Canuck's off season now more than a few weeks on, the Canucks finally got around to some housecleaning, as new GM Mike Gillis finally took head coach Alain Vigneault off the rack and ponied up for a one year contract extension.

A move that at least takes one bit of uncertainty out of the spotlight in Vancouver, unless of course your Barry Smith or Mike Kelly, Vigneault's two former assistants who were thrown under the bus on Wednesday, perhaps part of the quid pro quo for Vigneault's extension.

With the Canucks bunkered down in Vegas this past week, Vigneault seems to have come up lucky at the poker table, gaining an extra year while his former assitants crapped out and now will seek out new opportunities. Rick Bowness, Vigneaults other assistant is just holding his cards, waiting to see how the rest of the game shakes out, though it seems that he may survive the latest round of downsizing at GM Place.

While Gillis has decided that he and Vigneault might be able to turn around the Canucks woeful 2007-08 season, there are still many unanswered questions out of the Vancouver camp to be answered.

Will Markus Naslund be returning to the Canucks, staking one more year on the coast under the watchful eye of his former agent? With Gillis now starting to put more of his stamp on the team one wonders if Trevor Linden is finished as the heart, soul and face of the Canucks, he and Gillis reportedly didn't get along particularly well at times during the last lock out season and Gillis let a golden opportunity to move Linden into the front office (if he would want to work with the new GM) when he picked up former NHLer Scott Mellanby as his special consultant on player personnel, a position many though would be a natural fit for Linden.

Settling the head coaching position at least shows that a sense of normalcy is starting to creep back into GM Place these days, which has been rumour central over the last number of weeks since Vancouver missed out on the last playoff spot.

Canuck fans were getting anxious about rumblings that the latest participant in the Canucks goaltending carousel, Roberto Lunongo might be getting anxious to get out of Vancouver such was the concern over the pending changes under Gillis.

With Vigneault at least a little more secure (as secure as coach can be we guess) the next move will be to reassure Luongo that these Canucks are closer to a playoff round than his former team the Panthers...

For all his stellar play in the regular seasons over the years, Luongo has been busy but once in a playoff round, last years Canuck spring. Some were whispering that he was getting worried that the Canucks were going in the wrong direction and he might be better served with an exit strategy despite the status of his current contract.

That would be a move that might make Gillis' years in Vancouver a rather unpleasant experience, needless to say we're pretty sure he'll be working to reassure his franchise goaltender that he'll be working hard to make sure that Canuck's the future is going to be a bright one.

Hopefully for Canuck fans some of that same sentiment can be directed their way, fearful as they are of a major step backwards from where they were a few short years ago and getting a little worried after Gillis' first month on the job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Detroit delivers their knock out punch

It will be the old hands versus the new guns for Lord Stanley’s Cup this year. The Detroit Red Wings perhaps one of the most successful franchises in the last twenty years will take on the new kids on the block the Pittsburgh Penguins this Saturday for game one of their best of seven series.

Detroit advanced on Monday night on the strength of a very convincing 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars, giving them that elusive fourth win of the best of seven series. The Wings who stumbled in games four and five, made no mistakes in game six as they completely dominated the Stars in the first period of play.

Detroit took charge from the opening face off; crashing the play deep into the Dallas end and making the Stars make far too many errors to come back from. Detroit’s offensive push was so successful that they were ahead 3-0 before the Stars even seemed to find their skates.

The Detroit approach was simply to fire puck after puck at Stars Goaltender Marty Turco, who coming off one of his best efforts on Saturday found that Monday’s game wouldn’t be one for the family room video library.

While he can’t be faulted for the Stars anemic offense or less than enthusiastic defensive play, there were a few moments when a timely save might have given the Stars a chance to catch their breath and begin the process of clawing their way back into the game.

As it was, the Stars didn’t really seem to show the intensity needed to challenge the Wings until the third period, at which point it was just a little late. The Dallas approach in the third, was much the same as the Red Wing one for the bulk of the game, fast moving action and lots of shots at Chris Osgood who was more than up to the challenge after what appeared to be a first period vacation such was Dallas’ anemic offensive play early on. In the third, Detroit bent a little, but they didn’t break, and on the way finally put aside the growing concern that they couldn’t finish off the pesky Stars.

The game was perhaps the perfect tune up for the Stanley Cup final, as it brought the Red Wings back into the groove we have become accustomed to, with all of their lines providing the offensive push while the defensive corps more than did their job in shutting down the Stars attack.

The win sets up a most anticipated Stanley Cup final, one which heralds the rise of the Penguins youthful stars as they come along and rattle the cage of the traditionalists of Detroit, with their many Stanley Cup appearances and more than a few veterans who have been there before.

If the NHL had been hoping for a storyline to showcase the game it probably wouldn’t get much better than this one (unless of course you live above the 49th parallel and would like to one day see Stanley come home again!), with its promise of the high flying Penguin offense going up against one of the toughest checking teams in hockey, who as we have seen can put the puck in the net as much as the next guys.

The only drawback is that the series won’t be starting until Saturday, leaving the NHL to face four days of absence from the sports news cycle, expect to learn a lot more about Sidney, Evgeni, Marc Andre, Niklas, Pavel and Chris before they get around to dropping a puck on Saturday night…

. Stats Pack

Monday, May 19, 2008

Penguins leave no doubts

It was as dominating a performance as you might see and it only portends for better things to come for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sunday afternoon the Penguins pushed on the gas and ran over the Philadelphia Flyers, leaving no one to wonder which team was on its way to a Stanley Cup final berth and which team was heading for the golf courses. By the time they had collected their fourth win of the best of seven series by the convincing margin of 6-0, you had to know that they are more than a serious contender for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

From the opening period to the final whistle it was all Pittsburgh, as they controlled the flow of the play, the boards, the neutral zone and most importantly much of the space between the Philadelphia blue line and goaltender Martin Biron.

Whatever Michel Therrien is telling is young Pens is sinking in, the Pens provided as complete a game as you might watch, back checking their way out of trouble and turning the puck around for key scoring chances that made for a very long afternoon for flyer fans.

There was no better example of their dedication to the game plan than Sidney Crosby’s remarkable play in the second period, not only did he take away a scoring chance from the Flyers with his back check, but upon taking the puck back down the ice he assisted on the Marian Hossa goal, the third one of the game and the point at which the Flyers must have realized that their season was about to end. If it were possible to pick up two assists on the same goal, that would have been Crosby’s fate, so dominant was he on that sequence of events.

The Pens are looking more and more like an elite NHL squad these days, despite their relatively young age and lack of experience, a group that has meshed nicely and are being tutored in just the right manner by Therrien.

Most importantly this is a team that is having fun on the ice, a job made easier when you have the offensive power, solid defensive ingredients and astounding goaltending to accomplish much of the goals that the organization outlined for itself at training camp.

Now some nine months later, they’re but four wins away from the ultimate success in the NHL. More and more they are looking like Destiny’s choice this year, all that’s left it seems is to pull on the skates and hit the ice and let fate unfold on whatever path it seems to want to.

Globe and Mail-- Penguins soar into finals
Philadelphia Daily News-- Flyers have foundation to build on
Philadelphia Daily News-- Beneath Flyers' bruising, seeds of hope
Philadelphia Inquirer-- Flyers eliminated by Penguins
Philadelphia Inquirer-- Briere once again falls short
Pittsburgh Post Gazette-- The Penguins were just that much better
Pittsburgh Post Gazette-- Penguins fly into finals
. Stats Pack

Победа: A Russian revival and a Russian celebration in Quebec City…

The ending wasn’t quite what the home side might have wished for, both in the Le Colisee and tuned across the nation on TSN, but from the start to the finish, Sunday’s World Hockey Championship delivered as promised.

The always intriguing rivalry of Canada vs Russia played itself out on the ice at Quebec City’s Le Colisee, beginning with a furious pace for the first ten minutes of the game and then providing much the same for the final ten minutes of regulation, with much of the middle highly entertaining as well.

For a good portion of the second period it appeared that Canada was on the verge of breaking the curse of the home side losing in the championship game, the Russians ran into serious penalty troubles in the first period at one point giving up a two man advantage to Canada which the host nation gladly turned into a scoring opportunity staking a 3-1 lead at one point, which became a 4-2 lead as the third period got underway.

However, the Russians refused to yield the ice to Canadians, battling back and taking advantage of a change in Canada’s game plan which saw more and more of the play gravitate to the Canadian end of the ice.

After spending two periods taking the play to the Russians, Canada suddenly decided to protect its lead, a natural reaction we guess but one which seemed to play into the Russian attack. Rather that take the play to the Russians, Team Canada quickly found themselves playing chase the puck, with disastrous results.

As the play progressed in the third, so did the Russian tempo, as they added to goals to tie the game and start Canadian fans to squirming in their seats, wherever those seats may have been.

With the final buzzer at the sixty minute mark, the game was forced into overtime at which point the hockey gods no longer gazed on the True North Strong and Free. A clearing pass off of Rick Nash’s stick proved to be a costly error as it sailed into the crowd and resulted in a two minute penalty to Nash for delay of game, an ominous twist for Canadian hopes.
With the two teams already playing four aside as part of the overtime rules, the Russians now had a four on three to work with and made quick work of that advantage when Ilya Kovalchuk fired his shot from just outside the face off circle past Cam Ward to secure the Gold medal for Russia, the first for Canada's long time rival since 1993.

It’s unfortunate that Nash’s penalty will be one of the memories of this series, for the most part he and many of his Team Canada team mates had a very impressive series. To lose the game on an honest mistake is a hard thing to swallow, but the puck bounces in mysterious ways in sudden death hockey and this time Canada was on the wrong side of the bounce.
The way that another Canada Russia classic came to an end however, will stir debate for months. The clearing of the puck rule has been a contentious issue since it first appeared, with a series or championship decided by the call this way, seems to be cheating the fans of the tempo of the game, but those were the rules of the game on this day and Canada found itself the guilty party on the penalty call. Though in the end, it was more the comeback by the Russians in the third that secured their victory than the eventual circumstances of the winning goal.

Full credit must be given to the Russian side, which never seemed to falter even as Canada built up the two goal bulges during the play. Evgeni Nabokov while shaky at times, did provide the key saves at the right time to keep the distance close and once the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk et al started motoring, there was a sense of passion and emotion that only recently seems to have become a part of Russian hockey.

Ovechkin in particular once again provided some of the most energetic and enthusiastic play of the game, there’s simply nothing that he does that is at half speed it seems, whether it’s flying down the ice, taking or giving a hit or celebrating a goal and a gold medal the kid is simply 100 per cent energy.

It’s hard for Canadians to accept sometimes, especially as we have become accustomed to the winning ways of late, but watching the Russians celebrate what for them is a reaffirmation that their program is back was a chance to realize that the game we share provides great moments beyond our borders.

The game was just another installment of one of sports great rivalries, one which at times has been more of a war than a sport. But now just seems to bring out great hockey and a sense of mutual respect for hard work and achievement.

Canada lost a game that possibly they should have had secured, but hockey is built on momentum and the Russians recovered enough of it to mount their comeback and grab their victory.

There should be no griping about the officials (both teams benefited from questionable calls), nor complaints about the late period lapses or the final penalty call that secured the victory for the Russians.

It was a game that once again provided all the competitive elements that these two teams for the most part bring to the rink whenever they meet up. More than an ending, it’s just a continuation of regular tests between the two nations.

Another benchmark which will be bested time and again over the next few years, Russia won this round and with it the bragging rights and the chance for their celebration. We’re looking forward to the next time the rivalry resumes and the best that hockey can provide us arrives again.

Globe and Mail-- Russian rhapsody
Globe and Mail-- Russia strikes gold
Edmonton Sun-- A Russian Revolution
Ottawa Sun-- Woe Canada on ice
Winnipeg Sun-- Overtime heartbreak
The Hockey News-- The Russians have returned

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Turco Terrifico!

Are the Detroit Red Wings moving from would sweepers, to potential showdown losers?

For the second game in a row, Detroit failed to eliminate the Dallas Stars from the Western Conference final, taking their best of seven series from a potential four game sweep, to the point where with a win on Monday night, the Dallas Stars could tie things up and force a game seven showdown in the Motor City.

It wasn’t expected that this was the path this series was going to take once the Wings had that commanding three game lead, but the Stars who always seem to keep battling back never let the pressure of a win or go home scenario affect their play.

Saturday they were once again taking the play to the Red Wings, led by goaltender Marty Turco who was simply magnificent in the nets; as he secured his first ever win at the Joe Louis arena, and one that couldn’t have come at a more beneficial time for his Dallas Stars.

The win was the first Turco victory in Detroit in twelve games, a curse that spanned seven seasons in the NHL. He faced 39 shots during the course of the game, allowing but one single goal from Jiri Hudler to elude him in the first period. Turco even assisted his own cause setting up the eventual game winner in the second with a long pass to Joel Lundqvist who scored the Stars second goal of the game at the six minute point of period two, giving Turco his first win with game number thirteen at the Joe.

Staring down elimination once again, the Stars held on for 2-1 victory and added another notch to their growing legend as a team that won’t give up. The win, gave them cause to be happy to be moving things back to Dallas and a chance to even up the series on Monday.

Detroit seems to be letting their destiny start to slip out of their fingers, giving renewed confidence and momentum to the Stars, who have suddenly found that the puck is bouncing their way and that the Red Wing colossus may have a few weak spots in it after all.

Globe and Mail-- Turco breaks Joe Louis curse
Vancouver Sun-- Red Wings seeing Stars after Dallas extends series
Detroit Free Press-- 13th start at Joe is the lucky one for ex-Wolverine Marty Turco
Detroit Free Press-- Wings make uncharacteristic mistakes in Game 5 loss
Detroit Free Press-- Yes, there's reason to worry
M Chelios' mistake proves costly to Red Wings
Detroit News-- Tension mounts, and so do Wings' worries
Detroit News-- Turco, Stars stop Red Wings, force Game 6
Detroit News-- It's time for Lidstrom to take charge
Dallas Morning News-- Dallas Stars giving North Texas post-season thrills
Dallas Morning News-- Rising Dallas Stars break through in Detroit, 2-1
Fort Worth Star Telegram-- Stars are satying alive
Fort Worth Star Telegram-- Bad start, bad mistakes sink Red Wings
Fort Worth Star Telegram-- Young line comes through for Stars
. Stats Pack

Saturday, May 17, 2008

After a close call, a familiar rival beckons

There were a few nervous moments in Le Colisee on Friday afternoon, as Canada seemed to struggle to find its bearings in the early going of their semi final match with Sweden.

For the first period and a portion of the second, Canada played far too tentative and allowed Sweden too much in the way of freedom, falling behind (granted it was for less than a minute and half) at one point before finally breaking things open with a flurry of goals.

Canada benefited from a careless use of the stick from the Swedes, as Jason Spezza was cut on the face, good enough for a four minute power play which helped to push Canada to a 5-3 lead heading into the third period.

It set the stage for an exciting final twenty minutes, as the Swedes refused to call it a day and battled back to within a goal, showing a resolve that impressed if not worried the faithful in Quebec City.

The Swedes began the third with an unusual roster move, replacing Henrik Lundquvist in the nets with Michael Tellqvist, a move that seemed to pay off dividends immediately as Tellqvist closed the door on a number of Canadian scoring chances including a one on one breakaway by Rick Nash, which Tellqvist denied.

Pascal Leclaire had another strong game for Team Canada, though a rebound in the third set up the Swedes fourth goal and resulted in some white knuckle hockey for the remainder of the third period. However, Canada was able to withstand the Swedish pressure and still were skating forward towards the final, at the last whistle of the game, clinging as they were to their 5-4 victory but still the ones that move on to the Gold medal game.

They meet up with an old foe, but one they’ve not met before in a gold medal game at the World Championships.

The Russians who earlier in the day had dispatched of the Finns quite effectively will be the only thing that stands between Canada and its third consecutive gold medal and the first ever won on Canadian soil.

The Gold medal game goes Sunday afternoon at 1 pm, 10 am Pacific on TSN, it was probably the dream match up of the organizers, the fans, the folks at TSN and the players as well.

In measuring sticks in the game of hockey, there’s no better test than the two powers of the game matching up. Sunday once again adds to the historic nature of the Canada/Russia kinship, a new chapter for an old story, one that Canadians hope once again has an enjoyable finish.

Globe and Mail-- Canada to face Russia for gold
Vancouver Sun-- Canada holds off Sweden, faces Russia for gold
Vancouver Sun-- Canada vs. Russia a dream date
Edmonton Sun-- Sheer willpower
CBC Sports-- Canada to play for World Championship
Toronto Star-- Dream showdown

Canada's Junior hockey showcase underway

The 90th edition of the Memorial Cup is underway in Kitchener, Ontario as the host Rangers try to win the coveted trophy on home ice. Kitchener was the OHL champion this year, so Belleville receives the fourth spot in the Canadian hockey final four, thanks to their championship runner up status in the OHL.

Rounding out the Cup contenders this year are Gatineau and Spokane.

All games are being broadcast on Sportsnet across the country.

We’ll track all the developments, scores and features of the tournament from this spot.

Memorial Cup Official site including schedule

Memorial Cup Scoreboard
Sunday, May 25--SPOKANE 4-Kitchener 1, Spokane wins the Memorial Cup
Friday, May 23-- Kitchener 9, Belleville 0
Thursday, May 22-- Day off
Wednesday, May 21-- BELLEVILLE 4, Kitchener 3
Tuesday, May 20-- SPOKANE 3 vs Gatineau 1
Monday, May 19-- BELLEVILLE 6 vs Gatineau 3
Sunday, May 18-- SPOKANE 2, Kitchener 1
Saturday, May 17-- SPOKANE 5, Belleville 4 (1st overtime)
Friday, May 16-- KITCHENER 6, Gatineau 5 (1st overtime)

News items on the tournament

May 17--Toronto Star-- Teen thrilled by big chance
May 16--Globe and Mail-- Azevedo rescues Rangers
May 16--Globe and Mail-- Kitchener enjoying a dream season
May 16--Ottawa Citizen--Memorial Cup teams at a glance
May 16--Waterloo Record-- Why it is a Memorial Cup?
May 16--Ottawa Citizen-- Olympiques take tough stance
May 15--Calgary Herald-- Chiefs head East to take title shot
Hockey Nation items