Friday, March 18, 2011

Some folks are cut out for coaching, others perhaps should find other interests

Much attention has been provided to the happenings of the NHL these last few weeks, high profile incidents like the Chara/Pancioretty hit and the Bruins/Islanders Brawl for it all of a few weeks back, the lightning rods for some as to the nature of the game these days.

But far beyond the NHL and its million dollar paydays, attempted bond sales, franchise troubles and rather disjointed sense of justice the game continues on at the grass roots level, a place where one might think that the fun of a great sport can be played without intrusion of the code of vengeance.

In Nova Scotia however if you're a seven or eight year old kid, that seemingly isn't so.

The CBC first reported on the situation of a Minor Hockey coach at the Novice level (ages seven and eight), who apparently believes in the "code", having allegedly instructed  one of his players to "get an opponent" during a recent game.

The executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia needless to say is a little discouraged at the apparent lack of composure and or intelligence of one of his associations coaches, people that at one time were supposed to be leaders and role models.

“The fact a coach had to be removed from a game by an official, that’s enough at a novice level to have all the red flags up,” he told the CBC. “I’ve been involved in hockey for 40-plus years and I can say that I’ve never seen an incident where a coach at the novice level had to be removed like this.”

For the moment the coach has been given an indefinite suspension for his alleged actions, with the prospect of a lifetime coaching ban if that investigation determines that he did order the retaliation.

If the evidence points to the instruction to his player as true, a lifetime coaching ban would be on the lower end of the discipline ladder.

The idea that any adult would instruct any child (these were seven and eight year olds remember) under his charge to attack another child, leaves one to wonder if we can perhaps revoke his status as a responsible adult as well.

The Chronicle Herald-- TASA hockey coach suspended

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Blues on the block

“I can no longer be a buyer ... for I have to tell the world ‘Folks, it’s for sale.’ And they ought to come in and look at it, because it is a respectable and healthy NHL team and in a great city. What I want to do now, what I have to do, is to make sure to find someone with the same passion and commitment that I do.” -- St. Louis Blues minority owner Dave Checketts announcing he has put the Blues up for sale.

Somewhere in an office at the NHL's headquarters in New York is an overworked employee,  tasked with tracking bond sale negotiations, arena lease provisions and failed partnerships, file upon file piling up on a desk awaiting some kind of closure.

Index markers identifying such NHL outposts as Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Long Island, all locales that have current troubles on the boil and offer up a need for some form of intervention it would seem. They are but the most prominent of teams that have provided for concerns at the moment, though there are suspicions that there are other teams that as they say could be a "motivated seller" if the right offer comes along.

Our employee, is no doubt one who for the most part spends the better part of the day typing up ads for business journals, items of note that read:  For Sale, stable turnkey operation in continental wide sports operation, seeking motivated buyer to take over assets and liabilities, relocation a possibility but not preferred..

One file is probably so far on the bottom it will never get another glance, the move by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund to divest themselves of the assets of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the most storied of franchises in the NHL, its fate is most likely destined to a large and motivated buyer in Ontario.  No alarm bells will be ringing there, the Leafs for the most part represent the best  in stability in today's NHL.

But yesterday's surprise announcement that the St. Louis Blues have the For Sale sign hanging at the front of the Scott Trade Centre is certainly an unwelcome intrusion into the day to day operations of the league.

St. Louis has history with the NHL, first back in the thirties when the Ottawa Senators relocated to the Midwest for a short, depression era stay, short lived as it was in the wake of that era's financial collapse. Then with the first wave of NHL expansion in 1967, a charter member of the second six, the Blues have long provided for a hockey footprint in the region and for many years were a model franchise.

Some troublesome years came along and if not for the intervention of the Board of Governors the Blues could very well have been calling Saskatoon home, that near transplant is now a foggy memory for many in Missouri and before the folks in Saskatoon begin to dust off their seats, the chances of a replay seem slim.

It's anticipated that with the Blues once again a popular sports fixture in St. Louis, that eventually a buyer dedicated to the region will come forward and pick up the puck, sticks and books.

Mainly it seems that it's been an internal battle that finally bubbled up, Dave Checketts the one time Madison Square Gardens executive who moved west to rebuild the Blues has seemingly had one or two disputes too many with his current partners, who have apparently tired of being involved with their stake in the Blues.

Unsuccessful in his quest to gain access to all the shares of the Blues, or to find investors for the shares held by TowerBrook Capital partners, he has decided the time to sell is nigh, and put the Blues and Scott Trade Centre up for bid.

Not an unusual situation when there are multiple partners involved in the running of a franchise, but still, in an era where Gary Bettman and his cadre of financial and legal advisers are running around America trying to put out franchise fires, the announcement that the Blues are on the block isn't exactly the message of stability that they might wish to proclaim.

The latest reports on the Blues arrival in the For Sale section can be followed below.

Globe and Mail-- St. Louis Blues go up for sale
Ottawa Citizen-- St. Louis Blues now up for bidding
msnbc-- Checketts announces the Blues are for sale
CBC-- St. Louis Blues for sale
St. Louis Post Dispatch-- Checketts puts next owner in position to succeed
St. Louis Post Dispatch-- Checketts puts Blues, Scottrade Centre up for sale
St. Louis Dispatch-- Regretful Checketts steps aside
St. Louis Dispatch-- News of sale 'non factor' in loss 
St. Louis Post Dispatch-- Who will save the Blues?
Belleville New Democrat.-- Checketts selling his shares; Blues, arena are up for sale
Yahoo Sports-- What St. Louis Blues 'for sale' sign means for next season

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Down to ten for Kraft Hockeyville

After a week of farce (hello Phoenix) and near tragedy (Bonjour Montreal), we're glad to take a shift in focus from the travails of the professional game and cast our gaze at the grass roots of the game we call our own.

The Kraft Hockeyville competition is moving further along in its elimination phase, with ten cities still in the running to claim the 2011 title.

Voting is set for this weekend to bring the list further down to five potential Hockeyvilles, with Canadians prepared to cast their ballots for their favourite spot.

The ten communities are Mackenzie, BC, Fort Nelson, BC, Bentley, Alberta, Brandon, Manitoba, Wolfe Island, Ontario, Navan, Ontario, Chateauguay, Quebec, Saint Raymond, Quebec, Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Full reviews of the competing bids can be found on the Kraft Hockeyville website as well as on a Hockeyville Facebook page  and Twitter feed dedicated to the competition.

Other snapshots of the competing cities can be found on the competitions You Tube feed.

Hockey Night in Canada will provide the next rounds contestants, as the successful towns will be announced on March 19th.

Should five of the ten listed above hear their names called out on Saturday, they'll be one step closer to the entire Hockeyville prize package of 100,000 in arena upgrades from Kraft, the chance to host an NHL pre-season game in their arena and have CBC's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast from their community.

The five communities to be named on Saturday will hope to be the one for 2011 to join the list of communities that have made the most impact on Canadians who cast their votes.

Past Hockeyville communities include

2006 Salmon River, Nova Scotia
2007 North Bay, Ontario
2008 Roberval, Quebec
2009 Terrace, British Columbia
2010 Dundas, Ontario

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Move along people, nothing to see here, nothing to see...

After further review, the NHL has decided that Zdeno Chara's hit while uncomfortable to watch, in the end was simply a hockey play, one which as things turned out have left Max Pacioretty in a Montreal hospital with a broken vertebra and concussion.

No further punishment will follow from the now much reviewed play, which saw Pacioretty smash into a board side stanchion, leaving many in the crowd and viewing at home fearful that perhaps they were about to bear witness to a death from the play on the ice.

At the time of the on ice incident, Chara received a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit, further disciplinary investigation resulted in the announcement that no other action from the league was required, no further penalty would be assessed.

 That was the opinion of incident reviewer and  fill in adjudicator Mike Murphy, the league's senior vice-president of hockey operations who apparently is in charge of incidents that feature players from the Boston Bruins.

It would appear that Mr. Murphy grabs the gavel from Colin Campbell, who normally handles such discipline matters, but it would seem recuses himself when games featuring the team that his son Gregory plays for are the subject of discussion.

With the B's up on the discipline roll call list on Wednesday, Mr. Murphy ruled that after a thorough review  that it was a "hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player coliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface"

And that's that, right?  Case closed, an unfortunate incident that left yet another hockey player rendered unconscious, destined for an ambulance and what appears to be a lengthy period of convalescence. Business as usual in the NHL of today it seems.

However, much as Gary Bettman and the Grand Council of NHL owners may wish (perhaps with empty seats at the table where Montreal and Pittsburgh might sit) the backlash on this particular incident isn't going to fade from view quite as fast at they might have preferred.

In the wake of the incident, with the visual of Mr. Pacioretty's head smashing into a post on the side of the boards still fresh in the memory banks, the call for some kind of accountability for on ice action continues to echo.

And while no one can argue the point that for the most part Zdeno Chara is not a dirty player, the lack of follow up punishment for his involvement in Tuesday night's incident has left many beyond frustrated at the place where the NHL is apparently comfortable at, compared to the fans who view their product.

Some commentators have echoed the Murphy ruling that it was just a hockey play, part of the game, but that's an argument that is seemingly leaving many wondering if that's true, then is this the game that they remember, that they once played and enjoyed.

More and more this season, with incident after incident, hockey seems to be moving beyond the cartoonish movie violence of the Slapshot days and trending more ominously to that of the worst of Rollerball, where seemingly no uncomfortable incident is enough to warrant a call to stop and think of where the game is going.

The NHL's interpretation that having a player steered, even if accidentally (though only Mr. Chara knows for sure if he knew where he was on the ice at the moment) into a post, resulting in potentially life threatening injuries is just part of the game, should leave many fans fearful for what the game is becoming.

Hockey of course has always been one of the more dangerous of professional sports. A game that features an increasingly larger body mass, faster speeds, non forgiving boards and danger zones on the surface of play  that continue to provide for the potential for injury, in some cases career ending ones.

Add on a lack of respect for each other that seems to be an increasing component of play this year and the need for disciplinary actions and some form of accountability for on ice behaviour seems to be  required.

As we mentioned, Mr. Chara is not considered a dirty player, he is rarely found in the midst of a brawl, has no particular record of ugly behaviour, yet he has now been a participant in a play that will resonate around the league.

If nothing else in those nano seconds of play, he should have been aware of where he was on the ice, the particular dangers of where he was about administer his hit and either let up or waited a step or two before he made the play he did.

It's up to the players on the ice to be aware of these things, to provide for the respect of their opponent and not offer up any form of reckless behaviour that brought us to this point.  Mr. Chara is not the first person to be involved in horrific incidents, and by the NHL's take on things, we imagine now he won't be the last.

Some incidents on the ice, a puck to a face, an injury from legal check will happen, beyond the control of the league.  Others however, the mayhem of the brawling, the reckless behaviour, the behaviour of the repeat offenders who never seem to learn, those are all issues of concern that are well within the domain of league management.

The NHL had a chance to try and change the culture of the game yesterday, not so much by making Chara an example of, but by addressing the need to reinforce to their players that respect for those on the ice should be the cornerstone policy of the league today.

They failed at that on Wednesday, leaving not only a cadre of sports writers to continue to make that call, but providing for the fans of the game to question whether they recognize the sport anymore.

Globe and Mail-- Another opportunity for the NHL to do the right thing
Globe and Mail-- Chara responsible for reading situation
Globe and Mail-- Chara's penalty should be automatic
National Post-The 'hockey play' defence is getting old
National Post-- Chara's hit on Pacioretty casts long shadow
National Post-- The NHL prepares for another round of mind-reading
Vancouver Sun-- That's Hockey?!
Toronto Star-- Outrage grows after NHL sees no evil in Chara's violent hit
Toronto Star-- As Bad as it gets
Sun Media-- Chara ruling absurd
Sun Media-- Price unforgiving after Chara's vicious hit
Montreal Gazette-- How did Chara escape ban?
Montreal Gazette-- League's inaction after vicious hit on Pacioretty leaves teammates stunned
Montreal Gazette-- Pacioretty a few millimetres from potential paralysis
Montreal Gazette-- Every hockey mom's worst nightmare
Montreal Gazette-- NHL needs to show it has a spine
Montreal Gazette-- Shot heard around hockey world

Beyond the concern of the fan base and the correspondents, the NHL now may face further scrutiny from both the judicial system and the political class.

Now putting aside the obvious, that being that politicians are frequently quick to latch onto cultural issues to better further their own ambitions and self perceived importance. The bottom line for the NHL still, is that having your sport examined in both the judicial and political arena is never a particularly winning moment.

The NHL seemingly remains deaf and blind to the concerns issued thus far, but there is apparently one quarter yet to be heard from, those that provide the league with it's blood stream, the league's advertisers.

Reports out of Montreal have it that Air Canada, is perhaps of a mindset to review its participation with the league in a sponsorship role.  A move that would hurt the NHL where it sadly is apparently most vulnerable, in its pocketbook, a place that seemingly trumps its conscience.

The league may not hear the fans, may disregard the courts and the politicians, but advertisers, ah yes, Mr. Bettman, can you hear them now?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Out of the den not so much with a growl, but a whimper

The long tortured saga of the Phoenix Coyotes continues on in the desert, with the latest installment featuring the always entertaining bastion of the desperate, a scolding, scowling press conference, one which offered little in the way of clarification of the situation and more of a finger wagging session at the new protagonist on the Coyote trail.

Commissioner Gary Bettman arrived in the desert on Tuesday to survey the burning landscape of his Phoenix dreams, taking to the podium to offer up some half hearted throw down to the Goldwater Institute.

A strange little press conference, where the Commish offered up that at sometime in the future the league may have to pursue other alternatives, if Charlie Sheen had been in the audience he might have offered up some succinct commentary on the whole Coyote situation for Mr. Bettman, something along the lines of "duh, so Not Winning".


The tone and timbre of the Commissioners address has been the topic of much dis-section over the last twelve hours or so, described in some quarters as offering up a presence that was weak and beaten.

And when you view the conference from the podium, it does seem that the Commissioner arrived with little to do other than perhaps pick up some good competitive quotes from moving companies.

Much of the latest drama has caught the attention of fans back in the old stomping ground of the Coyote franchise, up in still chilly Manitoba fans apparently were watching the Internet stream with great interest, at least until the picture and audio crashed, symbolic it would seem of the many times in the past that Winnipeg fans have had their hopes raised, only to be vanquished just as quickly.

We're not sure if that stream crashed before the Commissioner gave his shout out to the Peg, advising that he didn't want to discuss potential franchise moves at this time (though he did suggest that the league had other options, plural that would be, though he wouldn't discuss them at this time).

Then he delved into the aspect of the "obstructionist" Goldwater Institute and their agenda as he sees things. Where just the threat of a lawsuit has brought down the latest financial plan to keep the Coyotes comfortable in their Arizona den.

As is the case whenever the Commissioner faces a posse from the press, things get a little testy pretty quick, leaving one wonder if he really means it when he says "I'm ready to take questions".

There is perhaps no better example of this than at the 13 minute mark of the video above, where Mr. Bettman seems to show his frustration with the current state of the situation, and again it's a reporter asking a question which always seems to bring out the smirk.

Things get a little uncomfortable on the podium as the Commissioner snaps a snarky response to a reporter asking about any potential future conversations with the Goldwater Institute, an evolution of discussion which it would seem Mr. Bettman would rather do in private than in a public setting.

It's most likely a good move for self preservation that, as a public session would be something that the Goldwater Institute would no doubt relish.  Offering up even more attention to its goals of fiscal purity, though for the NHL the seismic shockwaves of full disclosure of the Phoenix situation would probably rattle clear across the southern footprint that the league has tried to establish over the last twenty years or so.

Earlier in the press conference, Mr. Bettman was asked why he was in Phoenix, his reply "to provide an update as to where things stand".

We're not sure that he fully accomplished that goal, we seem no further informed as to the future of the Coyotes and it certainly doesn't appear that the NHL has any real blue print for a way out of the current stalemate, other than stamping its foot and snapping at anyone who dares to ask a few important questions.

As always the Globe and Mail's Stephen Brunt provides a worthy review of the current situation, his final line of the article perhaps the best epitaph for what has been going on in Phoenix for the last few years.

But the whole thing, the whole process just doesn't seem very big league, does it?

His article and a few others outlining these dog days of the desert dogs can be found below.

Globe and Mail-- Bettman has no Plan B for Phoenix
Globe and Mail-- Bettman accuses think tank of 'game-playing'
Globe and Mail-- Matthew Hulsizer running out of patience with Coyotes
National Post-- Bettman stands firm as Coyote saga nears conclusion
Arizona Republic-- NHL Chief berates Goldwater Institute over Phoenix Coyotes deal
Arizona Republic-- Goldwater assails lawsuit threat over Phoenix Coyote probe
MSNBC-- Gary Bettman blames threat of lawsuit for lack of Coyotes sale, admits time is running out
Vancouver Sun-- Futility is in the eye of the beholder
Yahoo Sports-- Gary Bettman talks (and talks and talks) about Coyotes' fate
Winnipeg Free Press-- Bettman admits Coyotes deal out of his hands
Winnipeg Free Press-- Coyotes deal at a stalemate
Winnipeg Free Press-- Death watch
Winnipeg Sun-- Coyotes last stand

Monday, March 07, 2011

A memo missed for Mike Liambis

At some point we imagine the options will run out for Mike Liambis, the travelling hockey player who seems to leave in controversy after stints with every team he finds employment or participation with.

The latest team to part ways with Mr. Liambis were the UBC Thunderbirds, a CIS team which recently was involved in a rather physical and at times violent game with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, an unusual thing for Canadian University hockey considering the rather stringent rules against fighting and such in their constitution.

The most recent incident featuring Mr. Liambis took place in February, when the T-Birds and Golden Bears met in Vancouver, after a second period incident report outlines how Mr. Liambis punched Eric Hunter in the head from behind, driving the Alberta captain to the ice suffering what turned out to be a concussion.

The Globe and Mail provided this account of that night's incident, which highlighted the rather violent retribution to a trip earlier in the play: “Liambis goes right after Hunter and drops his gloves and hits him from the side and behind then plants him into the ice,” Thurston said Saturday. “(Hunter) had cuts under his (right eye) and stitches and he’s had headaches and dizziness. Our trainers were with him all night and the doctor will be examining him today.

“He didn’t play the rest of the game and won’t be playing (in Saturday’s second game at UBC).”

As the Globe also outlines, this was not the first time that Mr. Liambis has found himself afoul of not only the rules but of sportsmanship in any form.

Liambis was the feature story for a while last year during the OHL season when he was suspended the balance of the 2009-2010 OHL season an incident with the Kitchener Ranger's Ben Fanelli, running the 16 year old player into the boards. Fanelli suffered a fractured skull.

From that incident Liambis moved  to a try out with the Toronto Maple Leafs, released from that opportunity he then went on to the sideshow world of the International Hockey League and some time with the Bloomington Prairie Thunder, where he received a five game suspension from the IHL for a vicious hit that ruptured the spleen of a player from Muskegon, Jason Lawmaster.

How he ended up on the roster of the Thunder Birds after providing a resume such as this is something only the UBC staff can answer, but surely considering the style of play that the CIS tries to sell itself as providing, it's hard to see how that style could match up with someone  providing that talents which Mr. Liambis seems to specializes in.

For the Thunder Birds however the post mortem will go on with Liambis, as the Ottawa Citizen website outlines he has chosen to leave his studies at UBC for the ECHL, rejoining his former coach in Bloomington of the IHL, the record of achievement from those days some 115 minutes of penalties in 17 games played, funny no mentioning of goals and assists.

With a least three high profile injuries listed (and who knows  how many more that flew under the radar) it would seem that for the moment Mr. Liambis is the poster child for those that just don't get it. (Though Trevor Gillies with the New York Islanders is surely a candidate one imagines).

The careless disregard for those in the game is proving to be the main item of attention for hockey this year, whether it's in amateur hockey or the pro ranks, Sidney Crosby is perhaps the most famous of the fallen thus far this season, reduced to the status of observer since the New Year began owing to a couple of vicious on ice hits.

Of equal concern however should be the names of Fanelli, Lawmaster and Hunter, nowhere near the fame of Crosby but also victims of behaviour far beyond what the game should accept.

We opened up this piece with the suggestion that eventually Mr. Liambis might run out of teams to play for, but as we have learned through to the completion of the item, that may not be true. A punctuation mark as to the problems in the game today.

It seems that for the moment, there will always be a place for the style of play in question and players more than willing to fill the role no matter what the consequences for those players that end up hurt and out of the game, or to the image of the sport.  

Hockey at every level, has to act on these incidents and remove those repeat offenders who refuse to accept that their behaviour is not only unacceptable, but clearly far too dangerous for the good of the game and the players that want to play it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

HockeyNation Headlines March 2011

March 31-- Crosby happy to be skating with teammates
March 30-- Ray Emery's sudden return to stardom
March 29-- Leafs stay alive with crucial win vs. Sabres
March 28-- Senators' players not concerned about draft lottery
March 27-- Montreal hopes Clarkson Cup win promotes women's hockey league
March 26-- Malhotra's horrible eye injury re-ignites debate over visors
March 25-- Injury prone Leclaire believes he'll be back in NHL
March 24-- Canucks continue to sizzle on road
March 23-- Time to bring hockey home
March 22-- Fans don't think the NHL is doing enough to stop headshots
March 21-- Throw the book at Penguins' Matt Cooke
March 20-- UNB earns top seed at CIS men's tournament
March 19-- Dominik Hasek to play one more season
March 18-- Are the Canadiens the NHL's most hated team?
March 17-- Malhotra undergoes eye surgery
March 16-- Canucks clinch Northwest Division title with come from behind win over Colorado
March 15-- Taxpayer group will sue over Coyotes
March 14-- Crosby calls for ban on head shots
March 13-- Change is on tap at MLSE
March 12-- Don Cherry calls out Habs owner on Pacioretty hit
March 11-- How could we be so stupid?
March 10-- NHL needs to show it has a spine
March 9-- The 'hockey play' defence is getting old
March 8-- Canadiens stifle Bruins, but brutal hit mars game
March 7-- Seven years later, Steve Moore still haunted by hit
March 6-- Are Winnipeg's NHL prayers about to be answered?
March 5-- Report: City of Glendale inches towards hockey lawsuit
March 4-- Wilson's persistence paying off for Leafs
March 3-- It's time NHL showed some guts
March 2-- CTE found in Probert's brain tissue
March 1-- Four groups interested in buying Dallas Stars