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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Neely Cup: 2014-15 training camp

Day 1

First off, I like Brendon De Jong.  He's big: 6'4", and like most folks I fall in love with a D man built like that.  Looks like he's got good wheels, and keeps his head up in his own end reading the play.  Looked impressive to me, in a position of need.

Oliver Bjorkstrand is good at hockey.  Scored, toyed with people.

Was watching Nick Heid closely.  He's not as big as I'd like, but looked to be a smooth skater.

Blake Heinrich was also smaller than I'd hoped for.  Didn't notice him much.  5th round Capitals pick a year ago.

Schoenborn was flying around, and scored a goal.  There was a sequence where someone hit him hard, he got up and took a number, and gave it right back same shift.

Bittner was getting up and down the ice in a hurry.  Scored two goals:  a backhander and a snipe going in all alone.  There's first round NHL draft talk for him this year, and I'm with 'em.

Brendan Burke remembered to bring his glove hand back to town.

Predinchuk looked pretty good.  Several times I had to look up who "15 in grey" was.  Good wheels.

Trent Lofthouse looked like he's been around the block.  Trying to make his case for an overage spot.

Jack Flaman: he'd be a 17 this year.  He was making sure to hit people, and hit them hard.  He was extra noticeable, with red breezers & gloves.

Zach Patterson didn't look out of place.  If he doesn't make this team, and I don't think he does, I'd like to see him get a chance elsewhere.  He'll be an 18 this year, so its now or never.

Alex Overhardt started out rough: getting hit, missing passes, etc.  You could see him get more comfortable shift by shift by shift.  Looked to me to be strictly a set-up man, but ended up with a goal and an assist on the day.

Cody Glass is a guy that I was looking for, and didn't notice at first.  He's on the smaller side, but he's also a 15 this year.  He's the first fruit the opening round of the bantam draft bore for Portland since Nic Petan, so there's some expectations there.  He had some nice driving the net sequences.

Cole Guttman had a good day: 2 goals, and added a shootout goal to boot.  He's a 15 from Los Angles who was an 8th round bantam pick.  Little guy, good hands.

Evan Cusmano is an interesting player.  He's a 17 this year, and has one hell of a beard.  He's good and thick like you'd like a D man to be, which is nice.  I happened to overhear his life story while standing by his family, and he sounds to be a late bloomer of sorts: got stuck as a 4th line forward when he's a D man by trade - once they straightened that out he's playing "30 min a night" according to Mr Cusmano.  Could be a player.

Skyler McKenzie looked bigger to me, and a few people have said the same.  There was a sequence where he got hit hard, got up and hit the first 3 guys he could find.  Ended up with a real nice snipe from the slot and an assist.

It was nice to see the 16 year old version of Carter Czaikowski.  He was the 1st player the 'Hawks drafted that year, even if it was in the 6th round.   Smaller D man, seemed comfortable with the puck.  Looks like he's gonna wear #36 with the 'Hawks this year.

de Champlain had a pretty goal.  Fighting for an overage spot.

Chantz Petruic finished a nice tic-tac-toe sequence with a goal.  He's a 15 from Moose Jaw.

Cederholm looked kind of mean - decked some dude in the slot.  You can always use more of that.  He's also AHL eligible this year.

Josh Hanson was shooting the puck a little bit - could be a good sign of improved puckhandling.  he hit some kid pretty hard, too.

We've got a "Nasty" Mirasty in camp: Donovan Mirasty.  Been playing in Moose Jaw, scored a goal.  Didn't go crazy or anything.  No idea if he's related to Jon "Nasty" Mirasty.

Trace Elson scored on a 2 on 1 - as an overage candidate who Portland drafted in the bantam draft last time around.

Day 2

 Evan Weinger blocked a tough shot - look like it stung him a bit.  He's a 17 from LA playing with the JR Kings.

Blake Heinrich had a goal.  He didn't really stick out for me much, which probably isn't a big deal.  The season probably hinges on his play as much as anyone outside of Burke.  He was the captain of Sioux City in the USHL last year, so he's legit & a veteran.  This league is a step up, but not as big a difference as you might think.

Colton Veloso had a goal on a penalty shot early, and then scored to tie the game in the last minute.  Not bad.

Nick Heid looked more comfortable in day 2, which is good.  He got beat as the man back on a 2 on 1, in which the other guys scored.  We need a quality season out of him on the D corps to be successful as they want to be.  17 year old rookie.

Tyler Thompson is a big kid, been playing for Omaha.  You always notice the Omaha kids, as their gear is bright orange.  He was banging bodies, mostly in an attempt to get someone to fight him.  No luck there, but that's a role that needs filled.  He's a 17, who the 'Hawks listed.  Minnesota native.

Cole Guttman had another goal.  Makes you wonder what his 15 year is gonna look like - and beyond.

Shane Roulette scored a petty goal.  Could be a gamble betting on this kid.  Fortunately he's not a Russian.

Texeira was flying all weekend - he finished a 2 on 1 goal.  Sky's the limit with him.  This is his draft year.

Bittner was skating well all weekend, and answered a tying goal late with an even later winning goal.  We should see him for 2 more years (I think) - and he might wear out the twine on the nets here in town.

Bjorkstrand looked like he was at 50% effort, and still was toying with guys.  He even played defense, which I wouldn't bother if I was him in this format.  Kid is good.

Josh Hanson still looks better with the puck, but I might just really want that to be the case.  He takes a lot of heat locally, but I think he does everything well except when the puck is on his stick.  I'd like to think that's correctable, and I'm hoping he spent the summer in Alaska shooting pucks at the barn.  Or studying for the 4 or 5 years of school he's got coming post WHL.  Either one.

Connor Beebe had a pretty goal - he's a 15.  That's all I know.

Cody Glass had a decent weekend.  He picked up a goal on a rebound, and was in the slot quite often - which is a good sign.

Speaking of good sign:

Alex Overhardt continued to get better.  Had a snipe of a goal, drove the net a few times, and changed my mind about him being a pass-first guy.  I like it.  Recently signed 17 from Denver.  Natural center - which you can never have too many good centermen.

Speaking of Denver centerman - Turgeon seemed to be pretty physical, which is always good.

Schoenborn was flying all weekend - he picked Czaikowski's pocket and went all alone, only to be stopped on the shot.

Trent Lofthouse scored a nifty backhand goal on a penalty shot.  He wants to stay in the 'dub, and his play this weekend backed that up.

JJ Virtanen had a nice goal off a scramble.  I'm surprised a 17 with "Virtanen" on his sweater is still available. 

The real McKenzie scored a scramble goal, as well as hitting guys.  Building up for the 3rd day of camp.....

Lane Veviros scored the late game winning goal.  I'm not sold on him as a 19, but then again if he's one of the top 6 Austrian defenseman, he's about gotta be good enough for your WHL team, right?

Day 3

Back to Skyler McKenzie - took a hit from Cusmano, who broke his visor on the play.  From standing by the Cusmano's, I take it that he broke some sort of equipment every damn day, and they suspected that Peaches was getting sick of it.  They also felt that Peaches was really good & quick, and made it sound like the player was on the hook for things such as a new visor - which I found interesting.   I'd like to think that money is no object to the Portland Winterhawks, but I suppose everyone has a limit.

While "the beard" was between visors, it sure seemed like Heid was out there every other shift, which is great.  See what he's made of.

When Cusmano made it back on the ice, he made a nice home-run pass springing a guy, then blocked a shot in the same shift.  There might be bigger things in store for this guy.

In the quest for an overage spot, Trace Elson had a glorious chance in the slot, in which he shanked the shot.  Turgeon set him up perfectly.  Didn't help his chances there.

Tyson Predinchuk was making plenty of nice plays in his own zone.  Not sure where he fits in, but he needs a regular shift this year.

Shane Roulette had a great sequence where he blocked the defensemans shot just inside the blue line, and turned that into a breakaway goal.  This was late in the game, where it counts......

...Until the real McKenzie ties it up real late, which is exactly what you want your clutch players to do.  Score when it counts.

Next game: Czaikowski scored a nice goal from the blue line.  Gotta love it.

Evan Weinger drove the net hard, and later scored a goal.  He's a 17 from LA.  Keep him in mind.

I think Nick Heid scored a goal, but I never got confirmation.  He's the future of the back end.

McKenzie took a nasty stick to the face.  Stay tuned: it gets good.

"Nasty" Mirasty rode a dude out against the boards, and finished his check.  Just like its supposed to be done.

Reed Morrison, also a 16 - looks somewhat awkard for a kid his size (6'2") at that age.  Not unusual at this level, but you hope he finds himself soon.  Played some games at Christmas last season.

....When the real McKenzie got back on the ice, he was a wrecking ball.......

Jesse Nelson scored a nice scramble goal.

McKenzie finally found the dude that got his stick up:

When the real McKenzie got a hold of the other kid, he stood right in there and took a few punches in order to deliver a bunch of rights, over the top, in what was apparently his first fight.  Dude looked like he knew what he was doing.  For those who saw it live, you've gotta think that McKenzie is crossing into hero status right there.  Fans were really into it.

De Jong continued to look good, as a 16 D man.  Had a good first pass out of the zone, which is not measured by any fancy stat.

Lofthouse threw some nice hits, and set up a goal off the rush.  He wants an overage spot.  Later he buried a backhand goal off the rush.

Veloso threw a big hit on Overhardt, and kept hitting & hitting & hitting.  He wants a regular shift as an undersized 16.

Ollie Bjorkstrand is real good at hockey.

Keegan Iverson had a nasty snipe.  Good wheels all weekend, but didn't have results to show until now. 

Texeira continued to fly, and get rough with guys.   I love it.

Overhardt had a nice chance in front, and couldn't finish.  They'll start going in for him.

Zach Patterson can play.  He's an undersized D man in height, but he's broad like you'd like a D man to be.  He'll be an 18 this year - a signed player for Portland.  He had a fan club in camp: a couple of cute girls, of drinking age.  If he doesn't get a shot here, I'd hope he gets a shot somewhere.

De Jong took a guy into the boards - a 16 from Dallas - in a fairly innocent play.  The other kid had a real hard time getting off the ice, which sucks.   I watched to see how De Jong reacted - he scored a goal.

There was a sequence where Cederholm drove the net, and Veloso stayed back and covered - which is nice.

Ethan Price got stuffed on a penalty shot.  He's from Lincoln.  He's gonna destroy this league this year.  He laid a huge hit right infront of me later - cause that's what they do in the Star City.

Texeira continued to fly - set up an Iverson goal.  Keep it coming.....

Anyday seems like a good time to sign a good 15 goalie: