Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

Bergeron Oduya

“Toughness” in hockey is valued to a borderline comical degree, but amongst the majority of hockey people the concept is often misunderstood. It’s not just fans who associate the trait with knuckle-hucking face-punchers, meaning somehow guys like Brian McGrattan have NHL jobs. True hockey toughness, the kind that really matters, is found in the players who are willing to win races to pucks.

Everyone even loosely affiliated with hockey is aware of the expression “take the hit to make the play.” It’s particularly relevant to wingers: you get the puck on the wall, and either the opposing d-man is pinching or F3 is bearing down on you, and you have roughly a second to do the right thing with the puck, with the “right thing” being “try to find a tape-to-tape play, and if there isn’t one, find a way to get the puck out of the zone.” It takes some mental steel to know you’re about to get hit hard and still hang in there to make the right play instead of the easy one. (Interestingly, this is where I find “tough guys” to be the least tough. They don’t want to get embarrassed, so they bang the puck off the boards into the neutral zone without looking for a better option, then try to hit whoever’s coming to hit them while knowing they made their coach happy by getting it out. Then they regroup and wait for their pseudo-turnover to come right back at them.)

But “take the hit to make the play” doesn’t just apply to the times you have the puck – more than anything it applies to the times you’re racing for it, and somebody’s gotta get there first and get hit. Which do you think Colton Orr wants to do more – throw the hit or make a play on the puck? How about Patrice Bergeron? Jonathan Toews? Read the rest of this entry »

leafs:coyotes

From what I can tell, most hockey fans fall in two camps when it comes to the concept of effort from professional athletes: those who believe that motivation (and the coach’s role in it) makes a huge difference, and those who believe that all players are trying hard, and the differences from one guy to the next are pretty much negligible. The first crowd believe that a guy like John Tortorella can impact a team by making them “want to play for him,” while the latter thinks you don’t make it to The Show without being a guy who gives his all.

As it goes with most things, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle, and I think both sides make good points that are at least worth considering.

The argument plays out near daily on my Twitter feed thanks to Randy Carlyle’s obsession with work ethic and “compete level.” After the Leafs beat the Coyotes yesterday, the Leafs’ head coach had this to say.

“Well we’re playing better. But we’re making individual mistakes like turnovers with the puck and that’s showing a little bit of [struggling with the] pressure and a little bit of [being] lackadaisical between the ears. We’re not bearing down hard enough.

Lackadaisical between the ears, not bearing down hard enough. These things are secondary to the personnel and the system, but if those are both in place and not changing, it’s real easy to highlight effort as the problems. In fact, as a coach, it’s just about your only option. Carlyle is basically saying he’s not changing his system, and until the roster changes, that’s all he can attempt to change. Read the rest of this entry »

ballard deke

I wrote on Blake Comeau and being a healthy scratch over over two years ago, and thought of that post when I heard about Keith Ballard’s woes. If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a healthy scratch consists of, come along for a tour.

********

Keith Ballard is about to be healthy-scratched for the fourth straight game in Minnesota, so as he did in Vancouver, he’s churnin’ out them healthy-scratch quotes:

“I’ve been through this before. It’s up to me to be a good teammate, to be positive, to work and to make sure that I’ve done everything I can on the ice and in the gym — I’ve watched a ton of video — and to make sure that when I do play, I’m ready to go.”

So what’s Keith Ballard doing with his days, you ask? (I don’t care if you didn’t, I’m telling you.) The answer is “nothing all that fun, with a dash of chest-tightening anxiety over your place on the team. Let’s dive in! Read the rest of this entry »

Jake Gardiner 2

As much as we like to pretend that hockey success is predicated entirely on merit, a huge portion of it is based on luck. And when I say luck, I’m not referring the type that gave Boyd Gordon a goal versus the Blackhawks yesterday, I’m talking about being in an organization where you happen to get along well with the coach. That’s true luck. Sometimes your personality meshes well with a coach, sometimes he just happens to be watching you when you make a nice play in practice, and other times…other times you’re not so lucky.

Jake Gardiner is a solid example of a player who may have thrived under a guy like Patrick Roy or Jack Capuano or any of the other half-dozen NHL coaches who like to unchain their dogs and let them run free. Randy Carlyle, on the other hand, has had the guy in the minors, in the press box, and stapled to the bench. That was unlucky. Steve Downie was just healthy scratched in Philly, Nail Yakupov finds himself locked up in Edmonton, and we’re seeing articles about guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane who apparently didn’t “buy in” in Winnipeg, which is apparently part of the reason Claude Noel lost his job this weekend.

Sometimes you’re not trying to be a jerk, but the guy just doesn’t like you. I’ve been there, and I’ve also been “coach’s pet” so to speak on a couple other teams. So, what happens in these situations? How do guys end up in the doghouse, and more importantly, how do they get out?

***

How to end up in the doghouse

This one’s easy (“Sleep with the coach’s wife! Punch his baby!”), but it’s important to note that nobody intentionally ends up in the doghouse. Every player-coach relationship with few exceptions starts out with good intentions, because both parties need each other.

So, the most common reasons are: Read the rest of this entry »

(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

(Image from hockeytutorial.com)

Almost four years ago I was explaining skate sharpening, hollows and rockers to a few people, and felt the need to write a blog explaining it all so I didn’t have to keep rehashing the info – it comes up on Twitter every couple months. When @NHLhistorygirl tweeted this today…

…I responded (implying he must use a shallow cut), and thought it might be good to take another look at skate sharpening and how it’s changing. So, start with my explanation of standard sharpening options, and I’ll meet you at the bottom to explain the rest.

***

My summer job for three years during my college career was at a hockey shop sharpening skates.  We were one of those destination skate sharpening places – the best equipment, pride in the job we did, the whole package.  So I know this stuff pretty thoroughly.

Here’s what you need to know:

Standard sharpening wheels

Standard sharpening wheels

Basically, your skate “hollow” is how deep the groove is between the edges of your blade.

If you hand your skates to someone for sharpening, and they don’t ask what hollow you get them done to, they’re probably doing them at “a half inch” (which refers to the wheel they use to sharpen your blades).  And hey, don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you get yours sharpened to - Jarome Iginla came in one summer and said “I dunno, my trainer just does ‘em”.

The sharper your edges are (which comes from the deeper grooves), the deeper you sink into the ice.  So you can get more push and accelerate faster, but also, during coasting, you slow down quicker because of the increased friction/drag of your blades in the ice.

And of course, the heavier you are, the deeper you sink as well.  Thus, being heavy with sharp skates is a bad idea. Read the rest of this entry »

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves continue to have the best jerseys in hockey.

The University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves continue to have the best jerseys in hockey.

The picture above is taken in Marriuci Arena in Minneapolis, home of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team. Between the amazing crowds, live band and great teams they consistently ice it’s damn near my favourite arena on earth. The only real downfall is that the ice sheet itself was roughed in to be just smaller than the actual state of Minnesota, which encompasses over 10,000 lakes, as you may have heard.

That makes for a unique brand of hockey, as we’ve seen from past Olympic hockey tournaments.

My college hockey was played in the WCHA, a division packed with Olympic-sized sheets like Marriuci. Of the 10 teams in that conference at the time, our home rink (Sullivan Arena) was Olympic, as was Wisconsin’s (Kohl Center), St. Cloud’s (National Hockey Center), Colorado College’s (World Arena), and Minnesota State @ Mankato’s (Verizon Wireless Center). That left North Dakota (Ralph Engelstad Arena), Denver (Magness Arena), Michigan Tech (MacInnes Student Arena) and Minnesota-Duluth (The DECC) as the only NHL-sized rinks.

A few of those Olympic sheets managed to combine the massive ice with square-ish corners, so again: it felt like you were chasing the puck around an entire state. And when the ice wasn’t hard and fast (the ice in Anchorage was like skating on pure diamond, so that was rare for our team), or you were playing at altitude (Colorado), it was damn near impossible to play an up-tempo hockey game.

There was an undeniable difference in the type of hockey game that was played when we were on the big ice versus the NHL-sized rinks, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a country to select their Olympic roster with this in mind. Plenty of people are okay with the concept of “take the best NHL all-star team you can” – they wouldn’t be terrible, but I think you can do better.

So what’s different on the big ice:

First off, the hockey is a lot more possession-based.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brooks Orpik

The Bruins and Penguins weren’t 30 seconds into their game on Saturday night when the first domino fell: Brooks Orpik stepped up on Loui Eriksson who was vulnerable and sans-puck, and gave him his second concussion of the season with a thundering bodycheck. As it goes in hockey, the Bruins were displeased with this.

Whether you thought the hit was clean or not – I personally saw a player who was locked in on throwing a tone-setting hit at the start of the game, a pass that caromed at an angle neither player predicted, an unsafe snap decision to follow-through on a check to avoid getting burned (with a splash of “f*** it I’ve come this far“), and an unfortunate result – the Bruins were going to go after Orpik. A talented teammate was injured on a sorta-borderline play in Boston, and the Penguins are a team the Bruins need to give a damn about going forward. They’ll likely see each other in the post-season, so hello Punk Test, hello war zone.

The dominoes continued to fall. James Neal’s knee to Brad Marchand’s head was inexcusably dirty, so he’ll sit out the next five games (and forfeit $128,205.15) as a result. It’s pretty easy to see Neal’s thought process unfold on his “oops sorry” play – I’m guessing there’s a 10% chance he does that if it’s anyone bigger/tougher/less-ratty than Marchand on the ice. I believe hockey players of a slightly older generation would refer to Neal’s play as “chicken s**t,” and they wouldn’t be wrong.

Later came Shawn Thornton on Brooks Orpik, followed by Brooks Orpik on a stretcher. “Chicken s**t” might not work as well here given the events that led up to the bad moment (Thornton trying to square up and fight Orpik), but the word “inexcusable” does apply to both incidents. There’s obviously no justification for a mini slewfoot and two sucker-punches (sucker-forearms?) on an opponent. Thornton should and will get suspended for his garbage play, and hopefully his victim makes a quick recovery. (As for “should Orpik have fought him?” Well, that’s his call. He knows he’s gonna get chased around until he does, so maybe he was just hoping to draw some penalties in the process. Maybe he simply didn’t want to – after all, he doesn’t have to, though it certainly would’ve at least quelled the Bruins thirst for blood.) I’m guessing Thornton’s suspension is somewhere in the 8-13 game range, as a player without much of a suspension history.

And finally, Pascal Dupuis gave Chris Kelly a solid whack, for which he received one in return. The chop broke Kelly’s ankle though (I say casually, like someone breaking a bone in your leg with a stick is a shrug-off), while the one he received did nothing. Kelly’s now been placed on long-term IR, and while I don’t think Dupuis meant to do that kind of damage, it’s the risk you run when you swing your stick at people.

So…phew. That was a lot of BS for one game, and it’s been a lot of BS since, whether you’re reading about it, writing about it or watching it on TV. Read the rest of this entry »