Avalanche Blackhawks

honda copy

The Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks are going to play in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs – that’s more or less unavoidable at this point. The two and three seeds in every division play in the first round, and the Avalanche are a full seven points behind St. Louis for first in the Central, while Chicago is a full 12 up on Minnesota in the three spot. So yeah, happening.

Avs fans have been pleasantly surprised by their team during Patrick Roy’s first year at the helm, storming out of the gates and taking a major step as a group that wasn’t expected to win this often. That combined with their success against the Blackhawks this season – they’re 4-1 in five games – and you have a recipe for some people to be hopeful about their odds in a seven game series.

But they’re going to get smoked. I’m sorry, Avs fans. No prejudice here – I just can’t see it ending any other way.

When I learned today that Matt Duchene is out with a knee injury that will keep him off the ice for a month, a timeline that takes him past the first round of the playoffs, I tweeted something semi-trolly (but also something I legitimately meant):

Read the rest of this entry »

martin st. louis4

We’re coming up on a full month since the trade deadline that saw the New York Rangers make a big splash and acquire defending Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Callahan. The team has done well for themselves since the move, going 9-4-1 in 14 games, climbing up the standings to second in the Metropolitan division, only…it hasn’t exactly been thanks to their new offensive weapon.

In fact, St. Louis hasn’t really provided the Rangers with much of anything.

He’s still yet to score a single goal for the Blueshirts (stuck on 29), and has only picked up three assists. He put together an eight game stretch where he tallied a mere six shots, never putting up more than one in a single game. For a guy playing 19 minutes a night (including three on the powerplay) with your best players, you’d expect a little more.  Read the rest of this entry »

wg stick al

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It was November 25th, 1989, six months after my Dad had retired from the Los Angeles Kings and moved the family to Kelowna, BC. He decided to make the drive to Vancouver with my brother and I to see a Kings/Canucks game. I was granted the privilege of taping Luc Robataille’s stick before the game (I’m sure he re-taped it) on a night he recorded a hat-trick. After the final buzzer, we popped back into the Kings room for Dad to say his see-ya-laters, and he introduced us to his old Canada Cup teammate Wayne Gretzky. That day is one of my best childhood hockey memories.

Gretzky used the stick you see above that night, took the tape off and signed it. Look at that thing! Pre-made foam grip? Shiny as all get-out? NOT WOOD? How cool is that thing?

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The first time I used an Easton Synergy one-piece hockey stick, I was playing Junior B for the Osoyoos Heat of the KIJHL (Kootney International Junior Hockey League, out of BC). At that level you still paid for your own sticks, so I had to go full puppy dog eyes on Mom and Dad for weeks to finally convince them to drop the dough. There was a cool new toy on the market, and I needed it to succeed.

At $200-plus a pop, it wasn’t a small investment, and I wanted to have it forever. I was terrified to take a slapshot with it for fear it would break, which is sort of ironic – “Mom, Dad, I need this great new tool that will completely minimize my arsenal of shot options, y’know, to get better at hockey.” First generation Synergys were nearly unusable tools, comprised of a substance that I believe was mostly hardened sugar (I mean, they had to have been). Two shifts into my second game with it, there I was, using my old Easton Aluminum Silver Tip (convex) just like I had been a few days before. My Synergy was in two tidy pieces after it failed to withstand a puck battle that involved someone breathing on it (30 day warranty though!).

Eventually, Easton – a former employer of mine, full disclosure – found their stride, in a big way. They make arguably the best sticks in hockey today. But prior to their takeover, there were a ton of companies vying for the “Mommy and Daddy will pay too much for junior’s sporting equipment because they think he’s the next Sidney Crosby” market. And that’s one lucrative market.

I’m going to say the true Easton Synergy matte silver one-piece became truly popular and relevant around 2001-2002, and they changed the game. The one-piece revolution was on. Prior to that and in the transition years, there were some neat twigs, which we’ll reminisce about below. Hell, I once tried a triangular-shafted twig called the “Trilage” at one point; companies were trying everything and anything. Wood sticks took major strides around this time too (they had to), while non-wood sticks got more creative. It really was the glory days for gear fiends.

The 10 Best Pre-Synergy Hockey Sticks

Sherwood PMP 5030 (Coffey curve mandatory) Read the rest of this entry »

Matt Irwin2

He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.

Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.

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Let’s start at the beginning. In 04-05, you got to play three games of Junior A hockey just up the road from your hometown of Brentwood Bay, BC, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. You didn’t record any points, but did skate alongside future NHLer Jason Garisson. In 05-06, you played alongside future NHLer Colin Greening in Nanaimo for 56 games and had 9 points. In 06-07 you exploded for 49 points, was the team’s top scoring d-man, the Clippers won the BCHL, and you were named the BCHL’s best defenceman. 07-08 was more of the same, as you’re again the team’s top scoring d man, and win league’s best defenceman. So explain your rather dynamic development in junior hockey — what did you take away from the guys you played with that went on to play at higher levels of the game, and how did it help influence your junior career to produce what it did? 

Irwin: “Those three games were as an affiliate player. I played Junior B with Saanich in Victoria, and got an opportunity to play in three games [with Nanaimo] and see what it was all about. It was a big step for me. From there, I got the opportunity to sign and play [the following season] with them for the whole year where I got to play on a consistent basis. Not a lot of power play time, more five-on-five minutes. The following year when everything picked up, Bill [Bestwick] gave me a great opportunity to play on the power play. The first five games of that year I had five or six goals. It was all happening really fast, I wasn’t expecting it. I was working on my shot, Bill had me working on it all the time. That’s where the offensive side of it started to come together.”

After you completed your junior career, you moved on to play NCAA hockey with UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2010. Instead of playing four seasons you only played two, joining the AHL’s Worchester Sharks at the end of the 09-10 season, and did not return to the NCAA. Why did you choose not to stay for all four years after taking the BCHL scholarship route rather than major junior? Talk about making the choice to abandon a fully funded education. Read the rest of this entry »

Players only

There was an interesting article from Pittsburgh Penguins’ beat writer Rob Rossi yesterday, in which he alluded to the Penguins having a “players-only” meeting after the team’s most recent loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Pens can apparently feel things sliding in the wrong direction.

From TribLive:

Rob Scuderi said the Penguins lack “passion.”

Matt Niskanen said they are short on “pride.”

Brooks Orpik said some words will remain part of his private address to teammates after the Penguins lost 3-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins are troubled, and with only 10 games remaining before the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a sense that a once-inspiring season is headed for another early postseason exit.

And so, the players meeting. That’s where words like passion and pride are bandied about.

In my experience there are two types of “players only” meetings. You have them because when the head coach is talking, everybody is just listening. It’s not a two-way conversation. You’re being told things by the general, and you are the subordinate, whether you’re older than him or not.

That leads to a lot of discontent, particularly if the players don’t care for the coach, so sometimes it’s good to air out the issues. Only…there’s a right time, and a relatively pointless time. Read the rest of this entry »

patrick kane 3

I often write about “systems” in hockey, and in doing so, imply that every team uses them. I do that, because, well, they do. Sort of.

Not all teams use systems in the same way. Some teams have a roster that offers them the luxury of using “guidelines” for certain players and certain lines.

Systems confine players to set paths on the ice, which means that while you might be moving a player not smart enough to move himself into the right position, you may also be limiting your more talented players from being able to make reads and plays that can turn the tide of a game in your favor.

What makes sense then, is being open to a little deviation from the plan by allowing your talent to use their instincts. Not everyone, mind you – just your true talent.

I’m actually a big fan of varying the systems throughout your lineup based on the tools you have to work with, because it doesn’t allow your opponent to figure out what you’re doing and beat the same pattern consistently. If you have a crazy fast checking line you may want them to forecheck in a 2-1-2, where a slower line might be best sagging in a 1-2-2. As long as you keep the same foundation in the d-zone, particularly with breakouts, pairing talent with proper direction can be a killer combo. Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Cooper

We are getting down to awards-picking time when everyone picks who they think will and should win awards. Among the awards people will talk about at this time is the Jack Adams, which is given annually to the best coach in the National Hockey League.

Now, it should be noted that it stands to reason that the coach whose team is the best in the NHL might be the best coach, or at least be in the running. Ken Hitchcock and Claude Julien have both, for example, done pretty well this season by any measure. However, this is not the way in which the award is traditionally given out; instead, it’s usually granted to the coach that made the biggest surprise surge in the standings, and less often to the one whose team was hit with the most significant injuries.

Given the latter consideration, it is not at all surprising to see Mike Babcock’s name bandied about — mainly by people in the greater Detroit metropolitan area, but also Steve Simmons — as being a Jack Adams candidate. Perfectly legitimate to think so. Given how hard injuries have hit everyone of basically any importance on the team (they’re second in the league in man-games lost to injury, in fact), that the ship has remained anything resembling steady is kind of incredible. Among the Red Wings who have missed at least semi-significant time due to injury include: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Danny DeKeyser, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, and the list goes on like that. Basically, only Drew Miller, Kyle Quincey, and Niklas Kronwall have been consistently healthy from front to back.

But the problem with this is that through it all, the Red Wings have remained right where everyone basically thought they’d be at the beginning of the season: Firmly in the middle one-third of the league. That is to say, prior to last night’s games they were 14th in the NHL, having finished 13th in the lockout-shortened season, and that’s probably about what everyone foresaw. This doesn’t take into account, obviously, that by all rights based on injuries they should be lower, or that even with a team that was half-comprised of AHLers, they haven’t really slipped underwater in terms of possession for more than a dozen or so games here and there this season. It’s pretty remarkable and certainly praiseworthy. Read the rest of this entry »