Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

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 »

sestito orr

I know, I know, the fighting “debate” sucks, so I’m sparing you that. Instead of engaging in that cesspool I just want to lay out a reality so you have more information: fighters often fight for selfish reasons, not for the good of the team. GASP. It may sound like common sense to those from within the game, but I don’t think your average fan believes that’s true. I think the majority believe the Selfless Warrior stuff – to serve, protect and defend and all that.

The common conception seems to be that heavies do it because it sparks a team, that it keeps stars safe, that the adrenaline overtook them, or that they do it to defend teammates. In many cases, those are legitimate reasons for fighting, and I’ve got no issue with them. In fact, I took them up whole-heartedly as a player (who was sh**ty at fighting).

One of my two fights that was on YouTube (apparently stricken to save people from losing their lunch while watching me dish out such savage beatings) shows one of our best defenseman getting kneed while cutting across the blueline, and I come from out of the shot with gloves already off, because damned if we were going to be a team that let people take liberties on us. That was our “identity” of sorts. You hope that by establishing the clear message that this group sticks together - mess with him and mess with us - that people are less inclined to take a passing shot at someone because they know it won’t end there. There’s something to this, no doubt about it, but even if the message isn’t sent to other teams it’s sent within your own locker room that I got your back, and your team gets (and stays) close and gets better together. Success comes easier when everyone is out for the team, like at any workplace. (By the way, slow motion replay revealed that, nope, guy didn’t even come close to kneeing our guy. My b.)

Gillies never eclipsed the 100 PIM mark.

Gillies never eclipsed the 100 PIM mark.

And so, cut back to the “glory days” of fighting. I think a lot of the love for tough guys came from the era when players like Clark Gillies scored a crapload of points, but was also so feared that opposing players genuinely gave more room to his linemates, Bossy and Trottier. It’s such a clean, easy to understand picture. And around that time, the Boston Bruins were tough…but they could play too. Dave Semenko played with Wayne freaking’ Gretzky, which sent a pretty clear “Don’t f***ing touch that guy” message, but also meant he played a regular shift.

From those heroes of yore, things started to drift.

Junior hockey coaches watched that “protect the stars” model work, and started grooming tough guys in their teen years. Goals became secondary to punches. To go back to Clark Gillies, the dude had 112 points one year with the Regina Pats. He was hockey first. The guys who admired him and his ilk from their living rooms growing up didn’t have the same focus, nor were the coaches who were so enamored with the punchy-punchy part. Somewhere we came to believe that teams need an assigned protector, so some teams began wasting roster spots on them, and so the arms race began.

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Steven Stamkos3

There are many more-pacifistic people out there who don’t support the biblical “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” belief, but I assure you that in professional sports, hockey in particular, those folks are few and far between. Sometimes you’re in a vulnerable position and you’re banking on your opponent to recognize that and be human. Usually, people are – peace, love and happiness, bro. When they’re not…

When they’re not you tend to get a little upset. You can forgive some accidents, and you can excuse guys playing hard, but you can’t excuse a guy recognizing you’re exposed and still trying to hurt you, legal play or not. This even applies to rec hockey, because for lack of a better way of putting it, “f*** that guy.” Nobody needs to get unnecessarily hurt. Even if it’s legal you don’t really want to establish yourself as someone who takes abuse well, so you may feel the need to get back at him. It’s not fun getting smoked in any situation, and when you get hurt in the process, double-f*** that guy. Hockey can be pretty, but it can also be pretty ugly if you don’t stand up for yourself occasionally.

Along a similar vein, a small digression: Steven Stamkos is back walking. Without crutches, without a boot, two weeks later, just…walking. It’s pretty incredible. He gave a press conference about it today, and said something fairly innocuous: “It was kind of a routine play, just a backcheck, I knew I had to catch a guy who was skating pretty fast, and…I think it was Hamilton in front of the net there, and…I think there probably wasn’t any intentional contact, but there was a little contact there, and I lost my footing, and those are the areas that as soon as you go down it’s an “uh-oh” moment.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alexander Sulzer watches as the Red Wings take a 2-1 lead with eight minutes to go in the third.

Alexander Sulzer watches as the Red Wings take a 2-1 lead with eight minutes to go in the third.

As things currently stand, the Buffalo Sabres have lost four straight games and sit a full five points behind the second-worst team in the league. They are in the basement, and the door to the main floor appears be padlocked and guarded by a Cerberus with the heads of John Scott, Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott. Their goal differential is -35, with the league’s next worst total being -20. We are 25 games in. They are bad.

The team’s star Thomas Vanek has been dealt, the GM and head coach have been fired, and they’ve made no bones about the fact that they’re looking to make more changes, which drastically changes the daily tone in the dressing room. Things are tense from daily arrival to departure, both at practice and in games, and each loss only makes things worse. They say winning heals all, and Buffalo isn’t doing much of that.

All of which is to say, when I was watching the Red Wings and Sabres do battle on Sunday and the camera panned to the Sabres bench after a beleaguered Ryan Miller (31 saves on 33 shots) had been yanked in favor of a sixth attacker with 90 seconds to go in a 2-1 game, I was a little surprised to see to a couple Sabres on the bench looking up at the jumbotron and having a giggle with the trainer, while Miller and his .919 save percentage (with 3.11 goals-against and four wins in 18 starts) contemplated faking his own death to escape the misery that has become his hockey life.

I tweeted this: Read the rest of this entry »

Flames timeout

We were losing badly, and the sound wouldn’t stop.

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

It was a home game in playoffs, and it wasn’t supposed to be going like this. Somehow the opposing team’s mascot had acquired a ticket directly behind our bench, and though he wasn’t in full garb, Chief Wannawin had managed to get his drum in the building. Our coach was about to boil over.

I’m not gonna say if he ordered the Code Red or not because it’s now a legal issue and the police were involved, but he called timeout to get the boys to regroup. As the man with the drum stood up to make hearing hard for our team during the break, he was promptly grabbed by our stocky equipment manager, who ended up on the other side of the glass on top of him going Ralphie from A Christmas Story on his face. Meanwhile we’re all in the timeout half-trying to listen to our coach, who is somehow not looking at the commotion directly behind him. Cool guys don’t look at explosions.

Needless to say, if the purpose of the timeout was to get the boys to settle down, this did not get the job done. That’s not how timeouts are supposed to go.

***

Of course, they don’t usually go like that (though maybe more should, it was pretty entertaining).

Timeouts are usually called for one of a handful of reasons: a team is getting shelled and needs to regroup, a coach wants to draw up a specific play late in the game because the team is behind, or a group of players is stuck on the ice after an icing asnd need some rest. There are a couple other reasons, but those are the most common.

What takes place inside those timeouts varies, so for our purposes today I thought I’d highlight a typical play that coaches draw up at the end of the game in the offensive zone to try to get that one big shot off.

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Claude Giroux

I’ve written about slumps in the past, so I thought I’d update one of those given the mess Claude Giroux is in. (Originally ran in The Hockey News in 2009, reprinted here with permission.)

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Slumps are a bitch.

During the NHL’s last full season Claude Giroux tallied 93 points. He got the better of Sidney Crosby in a playoff series that made his coach call him “The best player in the world.” He’s on my pre-season Team Canada roster under a category called “The Definitely, Yeps.” The Flyers made him captain.

He now hasn’t scored in 20 games dating back to last season. Seven points in 14 games.

Did I mention slumps are a bitch?

It’s amazing how recognizing you’re in a goal drought makes the problem feed on itself. And unfortunately, no matter who you talk to, there’s no easy solution to your problem.

I went through stretches of legitimate success in college and pro hockey, tying together point streaks of double digit games on multiple occasions. As you may have guessed, I also went through prolonged stretches of great misery, tying together streaks of punching walls and pulling my hair out at the root for double-digit games…on multiple occasions.

The standard song and dance about slump breaking is, in my opinion, what prolongs them.

“Keep it simple. Shoot from everywhere.”

No.

Garbage. Read the rest of this entry »