Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Open Letter to Kieffer Bellows


First off, congratulations on winning the Clark Cup!  Earning a championship seems like a great way to cap off a "rookie of the year" caliber season.  Putting up 33G / 19A / 52PTS in 58 games is one hell of a season for anyone - let alone a 16 year old forward.  Playoff runs producing 9G / 3A / 12PTS in 12 games played will get a guy noticed - as well as potential nicknames like "Cy Young".  It takes 9 wins to hoist the Clark Cup - 4 game winning goals coming off of your stick.

It must have been pretty special to win it all last season as well, contributing for Edina High School as they won State (again).  Many of us out west haven't experienced "the road to the X" - but we know its serious business

Committing to Boston University was a very mature decision to make as a young hockey player.  The NCAA route is the right move for many players, and the combination of a 30 game schedule & 1st class education seems attractive indeed.   College hockey is especially suited towards smaller players & late bloomers.

Hockey players are competitive sons-a-bitches by nature, and I'm sure that you're no different.  What you really want to do is end up a better player than your father, who had loads of success:  485 NHL goals, 1993 Stanley Cup Champion, a case for the Hall of Fame.  Some have questioned his toughness, but not his heart.  Brian Bellows starred in the 1982 Memorial Cup: winning it for Kitchner

It had to be a difficult decision to leave Edina, and all their success, for the USHL - but I'm sure you're glad you did.  Paul Bittner had a similar crossroads up in Crookston, and the tougher road to take looks like the right one.  Keegan Iverson left St Louis Park to play major junior, and there's an ongoing documentary being produced about his hockey career.  Blake Heinrich left Cambridge to play for Sioux City, and ended up wearing the "C" for a team with some playoff success.  Playing for Minnesota-Duluth was his initial plan, but ultimately headed out west to Portland - playing a key role.  My suggestion to you would be to ask these Minnesotans about what playing in the WHL is like.

The goal scoring tear you went on during the 2nd half + playoffs this year was pretty impressive.  Players developing at similar rates generally don't stay in college long: one year, maybe two.  Many observers feel that a development path involving major junior makes more sense for a guy like yourself.  Playing 30 games in college is great, but guys in Portland have played 20+ games on average over the last 5 seasons - in the playoffs alone - in addition to a 72 game regular season. 

It had to be frustrating to see how things went with Coach Eades just days after winning the war that was the Clark Cup playoffs.  He'll be fine in Fargo, but do you really want to go up against him all season?  Sioux Falls new coach Scott Owens has a long track record, and I'm sure he'll bounce back from that 7 win campaign he's coming off of.

The ultimate goal is the NHL, correct?  How many chances do you get to play for a coach with a couple of recent Stanley Cups on his resume?  Coach Kompon is simply trying to carry on the winning tradition established by the guy who's currently coaching Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin, by the way.

Keep playing like you did this season & the scouts would find you anywhere.  Of course, playing in a league with 56 guys ranked by NHL Central Scouting seems like it would help get one noticed.  In fact, 9 of the top 30 North American skaters played in the 'Dub this year.  Scouts watching Portland's games picked up on guys like Ryan Johansen, Nino Neiderreiter, Sven Baertchi, Derrick Pouliot, Joe Morrow, & Seth Jones - all guys who went in the 1st round since 2011.

Its pretty easy to conclude that you made the right decision playing in Sioux Falls this year - championships are always the goal.  Its hard to say what kind of opportunity you would have had in Portland as a 16 year old forward on that team - they had a ton of talent up front, and won a bunch of games.  However, it looks like Portland needs to replace 4 of their top 5 scorers from last season.  At the same time, they will bring back 4 NHL-drafted forwards to start the year (plus 3 defenseman & a goalie who've been drafted, too).  Factor all that in, and there's a top 6 spot open, and guys that can get you the puck.  In front of scouts, too.

You're pretty much playing with house money here:  the pro scouts will notice you in South Dakota, Oregon, Massachusetts, or wherever you play.  Picking up a year or two of school along the lines is great - as life after hockey is a 100% certainty.  Of course, players in the WHL earn scholarships for each year they play, in 1/2 year increments - in addition to taking classes during the season.  Its fully within the realm of possibility that playing 3 years of WHL hockey would leave you with more completed college credits than one or two years of Boston University - even if they don't have the clout of a school like BC - and if hockey doesn't work out, that WHL scholarship program would come in real handy.

In conclusion, we'll keep the light on for you in Portland.  Pro-style league, pro scouts, & plenty of opportunity.  If you want to match your dads Memorial Cup, Portland is your only shot.  You'll be drafted either way, but there's more chances to shine out west.  Winterhawks fans are pretty dedicated - you're not gonna see that from the Herd, or the Terriers.  Its always fun playing in front of big crowds, which we have.

I trust you'll make the right decision.

Sincerly,

Chad Balcom
Cell Phones & Plane Tickets




Monday, February 16, 2015



 Annie Fowler, of the Tri-City Herald is kind enough to put together a WHL Best of the West poll each year, and hot off the presses its here:

2015 Best of the West


For fun, here's the last one, with some background on how this is put together.  Its a lot of work, and we are lucky that she puts it together for us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Elvis Grbac & playing goal in Portland



Elvis Grbac sucks.

I lived in Kansas City when I learned to love the NFL, after moving there in 1999.  Elvis was the quarterback for the Chiefs at that time.  His story is fascinating - being the child of Croatian immigrants.  During his time in KC he lived in a neighborhood with a strong Slavic history.

He was part of a long line of 49'ers backups to play for Kansas City (Bono, Montana, & Alex Smith).   Elvis wasn't all that popular in KC.  They went through a period of quaterback controversy where they had to decide between Grbac and Rich Gannon.  They stuck with Elvis, with little success.  Gannon went on to lead the Raiders to their last few winning seasons including a Super Bowl appearance. 

Grbac was our guy, and I was backing him.  Everywhere you went in that town, someone was on him, "Elvis sucks.....shoulda went with the other guy....."  Didn't really matter, did it?  The Chiefs went with Grbac regardless of what you heard at dinner or over beers.  Sure, he sucked but he was the starter.  He was my guy.

Where this ties into Junior Hockey is this:  there are no shortage of Portland fans who are all over Brendan Burke right now.

Doesn't matter.  He's my guy.  He's struggled, sure.  Could have stopped a few more pucks so far this season.  There's been no shortage of defensive breakdowns, but does every screened shot have to go in?  Deflections from the slot?  Breakaways?  I'd argue the majority of goals against have been plays like these - extremely  difficult on a goaltender - yet plays that do occur in the course of a season.

It seems like I have to bring this up daily, but Team USA feels that Burke is among the top 4 US born goalies with junior eligibility this season.  If your average Winterhawks fan understands the game better than those in charge of building this country's World Junior team, then as Americans we're in trouble come Christmas time.

Allow me to make the same point about the Arizona Coyotes & their belief in Burke - its pretty damn hard to make main camp for an NHL team.  I see over and over again about how they only gave him a shot because his dad works for the team - because that's what folks do: risk throwing away a 24+ year NHL career as a favor to your kid.  Happens all the time.

So yeah, the dude who sits next to you at the games who "wants to see more of Adin Hill" knows the game better than a guy who played goal in 800+ NHL games.  Checks out.

Of course Adin Hill might turn out to be really good, but right now he's an 18 year old goalie with 8 career WHL games.

This is nothing new about this phenomenon amongst Winterhawks fans.  Remember when we fell in love with Cam Lanigan?  He had a good 3 games, in front of a good team, and we thought he was a rookie Ken Dryden.  We were expecting back a guy with 114 wins in the WHL, but this guy HAD to be better: I mean, did you SEE how well Lanigan played in those 3 games?

Speaking of the WHL's playoff winningest goalie of all time, all I heard for 4 years was how he was a bum.  This team won in spite of him, rather than because of his contributions.  Hell, one time I thought I was gonna end up in a fist fight with this asshole who made up a fake twitter for strict purposes of heckling Carruth.  I figured he was just talking shit on the internet and that was it.  Gave him my seat number & told him to swing by.  He did, although he was a game late.  Turns out he was not actually a hockey fan but just wanted to cameraphone a confrontation for youtube for some reason.  I fell right into his trap, before he tried to get at Carruth on the way off the ice after the second period.  Mac wasn't even playing that game.  It was a day game in the Glass Palace, if your wondering.

I suppose that story really drives home the point of backing our guy, doesn't it?

If Brendan Burke goes on to have success in hockey beyond the WHL I'm going to be temped to retweet every win, every award, every positive development in his career.   Shouldn't be much work, since he is terrible and all.

Elvis Grbac?  He sucks.  I'd love to see him in person to tell him so much.  Once we got rid of him in KC I got real busy making up for lost time throwing him under the bus.  When Elvis went to Baltimore - following a Super Bowl win - he said, "This is a great team. I can make it better."  He did, when he left after one year.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fighting, 2014, and what it means to you

In the last week we saw this play:




as well as this one:




It's probably just a coincidence that we saw both incidences 6 days apart, but its worth noting that Portland isn't really icing a "heavyweight" or a "goon" at the moment.  I'm making the argument that those things are related.

The game, like most aspects of our society continues to evolve.  The arc of the Moral Universe Is long, but It bends toward Justice - which applies to hockey as well.  There are some who feel that fighting has ran its course, and shouldn't have a place in the game - and these voices often know what its like when the shoe is on the other foot.

I get the argument that fighting is barbaric.  Concussions are a huge issue in hockey, and need to be dealt with.  Fighting results in less than 10% of the concussions in the game, so even if you eliminated it you'd still have the other 90% to deal with.  There is an argument that having a deterrent on the bench prevents even more concussions, which I believe history has proven.

When Gretzky was traded to L.A., he insisted that he bring his enforcer with him. Arguably the best player the game has ever known couldn't do it without protection.

The decade prior was marked by a team known as the "Broad Street Bullies" - who simply muscled their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

In the WHL, the 70's were known for rough stuff - primarily from the New Westminster Bruins.  I've heard stories about the New West players stealing all the pucks in warmups, planting them in their own end, and challenging the other players to come and get them.  They won the Memorial Cup in 1978 & 1979.  It was an effective strategy. I can only hope that there's video of Portland's part in this dance.

Organized hockey emerged in the 1880's, and it's been rough since the beginning:

  Early hockey, however, was also plagued by excessive violence. In two cases, one in 1905 and another in 1907, hockey players were put on trial after blows that killed other hockey players. Both times the players were found innocent, but the press and many in the country (including the juries) called on legislation to be enacted that would curb the violence.
  
To come back to modern(ish) times, the Bertuzzi incident comes to mind.   Full disclosure:  I am an Avalanche fan.  If you're not familiar with "the code" - you probably should be, and there's a chapter in this book about this incident.  What went down was a series of events starting with Steve Moore laying a borderline check on Canucks' captain Markus Naslund:





Say what you want to about this hit, but the Canucks weren't having it.

Threats were made. “There’s definitely a bounty on his head,” Canucks winger Brad May said, as quoted by The Vancouver Sun. “It’s going to be fun when we get him.”
The next game between the two teams was in Denver, and it quietly ended in a tie.  After that was a matchup in Vancouver:



The "code" says that it should be over, Moore answered the bell.  He fought one of Vancouver's tough guys.  Cooke had the opportunity to exact revenge.  A pound of flesh.  But it wasn't over:




I was watching that game.  I somewhat expected fireworks.  When that broke out, I was into it - I thought we would see a goalie fight, which most of us love.  Once the gravity of the situation settled in, I was sick to my stomach.  As Jim Hughston said in the above clip, "The score settling has gone to far"

The aftermath resulted in one NHL career ended, and another suspended for 20 games.  Everyone loses.

Why would I present the Bertuzzi incident in the context of calling for more muscle on the Portland Winterhawks?  Hockey, like the rest of life, is complicated.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 The idea of enforcers in hockey is not unlike the doctrine of Mutual Ensured Destruction: you don't take liberties with their top guys, as the other team will take cheap shots on your skilled guys.  I've heard stories where the Kypreos' of the world say that star players on their own teams tell guys to knock it off, lest the other teams goons come after them.

Its been that arms race / balance of power for about a hundred years.  We want to think we're beyond that, but we ain't there yet.  There remains a place for enforcers, and I'm of the opinion that Portland needs one, and soon.






Monday, October 6, 2014

Austin Carroll elbows Alex Schoenborn in the head



We've seen some ticky-tack shit called majors against Bittner & Texeria so far this young season, each with an accompanying 1 game suspension.  The above play went unpenalized.

Good work, WHL.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014-15 Winterhawks preivew

For starters, here's the posted roster as of 9/15/14:



Here's the same roster minus guys away at NHL camp (and a dude in a cast):


Who makes main camp?  Who comes back early?  Who the hell knows?


I had the idea of a fancy graphic for line combos, but you know - too much time.


Here's my current guess as to regular season forward lines:


Bittner - Petan - Iverson

Schoenborn - de Leo - Bjorkstrand

Weinger - Turgeon - Price

Flaman - Overhardt - Predinchuk
 

Defense corps:

Cederholm - Texeria

Heid - Heinrich

De Jong - Hanson

I've been hearing Bjorkstand & Petan on a line, but I like it spread around.  Dylan has mentioned it will be delicate balancing 7 drafted forwards: someone has to be a 3rd liner. 

Who sticks around long term, and in what type of rotation is open for debate.  During training camp I thought for sure we'd see Veloso, McKenzie, & Reed Morison as 16 year old rookies.  The signings of Jack Flaman & Evan Weinger have led me to believe that they'd rather go with those two 17's in those spots - which should make an incredible forward group even better.  Much like the 'Hawks sending Taylor Leier down as a 16 was an investment in his 17, 18, & 19 years - those two should benefit from tons of ice time & leadership roles this season and come back hungry as 17's.

Word on the street is that de Champlain is no longer with the team, opening up an overage spot.  Predinchuk really impressed me in training camp, but that doesn't mean his spot is secure.  The 'Hawks have too many quality centermen, so it should be interesting to see who moves to the wing - Turgeon is only a 3rd line center for this club: he's top 2 on every other WHL team.

Its only a matter of time before Ethan Price is on the top line:  He's from Nebraska.




The defense core is interesting.  Big skates to fill.

Cederholm was a little underwhelming for some last year, myself included.  He's a 19 with a pro deal in his pocket.  Dude should be pretty good, you'd think.

Hanson?  He's been a little underwhelming for 4 years now for some, myself included.  I feel that he does most things well, he just doesn't' have the hands with the puck.  Sometimes you see the Rob Klinkhammers / Taylor Jordans / Darren Kramers of the world that really make something out of their overage year.  I'll be hoping for the same here. (I'd drop a Myles Bell reference here, but Hanson would never kill anyone).

Zach Patterson will be an 18 this year.  I think he can play, and hasn't got a shot here.  I say let him get a chance elsewhere - he's signed, so NCAA is out the window.

Josh Smith is a total wildcard.  Was a 1st round bantam pick for Prince George, only got into 93 games for them in 4 years.  Would seem like he's not good enough for this 'Hawks team, but I said the same thing about Rosignol last season and was pleasantly proven wrong.  He's an overage this year.

Nick Heid is a 17 with a ton of upside.  Was looking at NCAA, until he came over to the darkside.  Bright future.  Minneapolis kid.  Should step right into a regular shift.

Blake Heinrich.  Remember Garrett Haar?  This dude is also a Capitals pick, who they are pretty high on.  Grades are also a factor in the decision to go major junior (school ain't for everybody).  Heinrich is a 19 this year, and if I know what I'm talking about the Capitals don't have to sign him for another year, making him a ripe overage candidate next season.  He wore the "C" for his USHL club last year, which is great.

Brandon De Jong is big.  6'4" 175.  Victoria native.  Look,  I'm just like anyone else and fall in love with a players size - which is the case here - but this kid looks like the real deal.  It might be that I just really want him to be awesome, but I'm optimistic.  You don't see 16's on the back end take a regular shift very often, but if you are Pouliot, Wotherspoon, Rutkowski, Morrow, or Texeira you do.  De Jong could be next on that list.

Justin Greer is another wild card.  He's a 17 this year, and missed his opportunity to impress in camp with an illness.  I get the impression that the 'Hawks are high on him, but I have nothing to go off of really.

Carter Czaikowski is 16.  He's also 5'8" & from Calgary.  He was the 1st player drafted by the 'Hawks in his draft year (kicked out of the first 5 rounds and all that).  He's got a shot, but a year in midget would do him good.

Layne Viveiros is yet another wild card.  He's struggled to impress in Portland, yet he's one of the 6 best Austrian eligible defenseman of world junior age.  He's a 19 this year, so he's either gonna be pretty good here or with another WHL team.


Keoni Texeira is awesome.  Pretty sure I've never been so exited to see how a player follows up on a 2 goal season before.  I love the way this kid plays - just a well rounded game from the back end.  I haven't noticed any pre-season draft hype so far, but I predict a significant rise as each ranking comes out.  You know the scouts will be out to see Bittner, which can only compliment the other 17's on this team.




Goaltending should be good.  Brendan Burke as a 19 will most likely be dominant.  Folks like Adin Hill, albeit in a small sample size.  I like it.