Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ron Toigo: man of character

For some reason, Ron Toigo rubs me the wrong way.  I suppose its no new tale to tell - just another rich dude that feels he can say & do whatever he wants - and they are usually right.

Milan Lucic is from Vancouver, and played for the Giants.  His story is a good one - the Giants stumbled upon him, when no one else would give him a chance.  His junior career took off after that, with a strong performance in two Memorial Cups.

Lucic has had success in the NHL as well: a Stanley Cup championship as well as another finals appearance.  You'd think that Vancouver would be happy for their native son, but instead the locals want to fight him, and do nasty things to his family's church

Here's a Ron Toigo quote about the incident from the Province:

Ron Toigo, owner of the Giants, has been texting back and forth with Lucic and said the incident has hurt the player deeply.
“Milan has always been a great representative of our city,” said Toigo, who encouraged Lucic to take legal action. “He certainly doesn’t deserve this.

“This is absolute nonsense. He should be able to walk the streets of Vancouver.

“Things like this give the entire city a bad rap.”

Seems legit:  He feels that if you're enjoying the nightlife in downtown Vancouver, you shouldn't have to get punched in the face.  Got it.

Apparently this August, two current Giants got into an altercation at a house party, with two players being charged with assault.
Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo released a statement regarding Houck and Kulak:

"Due to an incident that took place on August 18 at a Tsawwassen house party, both players will be in court on November 20th to have these matters dealt with.

We cannot comment on the charges or the likely outcome at this time, and hopefully this will all be behind us after that court date.

What we can say is that our players are held to a higher standard and, for the most part, live up to that.

This is the first instance that we have had a player have to go to court and that is unfortunate.

Both Jackson and Brett have been, and are, exceptional people.

They have been good students, and have put in many hours of community service hours through school visits and the Read to Succeed program, Odd Squad with Chris Graham of the Vancouver Police, and hospital visits with the Giants' Christmas program.

Both these players have been, and are, very good citizens and have been good members of our community.

It is unfortunate that one negative incident gets the attention instead of all the good things that have been done.

They are both prepared to deal with whatever the court decides.

Please appreciate and understand that the players and anyone from the Vancouver Giants organization cannot comment on any of these legal matters. Thank You."

Seems legit:  He feels that if you're enjoying the nightlife in Tsawwassen, and you get punched in the face, its cool: those guys do a lot for charity and stuff.  Got it.

Toigo has a big heart - he loves to take care of his players at Christmas time:

In lieu of all the ruckus about the Winterhawks and their penalties for player benefit violations (PBVs), stories are coming out about what other teams might do for players, including one of about buying I-Pads as Christmas gifts. 
Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo admits that his club did exactly that a year ago. He said one of the corporate sponsors approached the club, offering up a deal for buying in bulk. He said that the Giants reported the purchase to the league and the league subsequently came up with a dollar limit on gifts. Toigo would only say that it’s a “couple hundred dollars.” 
He says multiple clubs did the same thing, although he wouldn’t name the other teams.
That situation differs from the Winterhawks’ snafu, in that Portland didn’t report specific actions and then quarrelled about them when they were questioned. 
“The league knew about what we did,” Toigo said.

Like everyone else, Toigo demands a level playing field in this league:

“I think it's a sad day for both the league and Portland Winterhawks when it gets to this point,” Toigo commented Thursday during a media gathering to promote Saturday's Trevor Linden Night at Pacific Coliseum. “There are rules we all live by and operate by and when you don't, there are consequences for it. Everybody abides by them for the mostpart and when it doesn't happen, consequences are levied by the league. This probably, definitely, tops them all.”
“This was not something that was done in a vacuum,” Toigo said. “It isn't something Ron Robison did half-heartedly. The process was very sound. It was done by professional agencies and the data was there for Ron to make his call. It was very significant in his opinion and, as a result, he levied what he felt was just.”
“The league has to be set up in such a way that Moose Jaw and Swift Current have just as much a chance as Vancouver, Portland and Calgary,” Toigo said. “The group in Portland did a good job bringing that franchise back to life and it's unfortunate it has come to this. I imagine they are going to go through the appeal process (to the Board of Governors) so I don't think this story is over now by any means.”
Toigo conceded he is anxious for the day it will be over.
“I know the sooner this is behind everybody, and the league gets back to business-as-usual, the better it is for everybody,” he concluded.

As usual, he's 100% correct:  Ipads for the whole team is simply the Christmas spirit (and a case discount), but an Iphone for one guy is worthy of losing 5 first round draft picks.  Hit the nail on the head with that one.

You wanna know what's definitely not a player benefit violation?  Armani suits:

Give the man two minutes for looking so good. 
Vancouver Giants star centre Gilbert Brule was resplendent in his new Armani suit Wednesday as he and his mates departed for Moncton , N.B., and the Memorial Cup junior hockey championships.
The suits were a gift from majority owner Ron Toigo, who likes to plow his profits back into the team. 
"Ron's a great guy and he always does nice things for us," said Brule. "For winning our league, he gave us all these suits. And they're nice suits. They're great. We got shirts and ties and everything, too."

You always hear rumblings about CHL teams paying players under the table - even though the WHL never alleged that against Portland.  Its hard to find anything to link to about direct accusations of this practice, but there are a few out there:

Toigo has also been a target of speculation during his time in the league for sweetening the pot for players, starting with skilled forward Brent Ascroft when Toigo owned Tri-Cities, to the 2004/2005 Vancouver Giants when the perk cupboard was full for the likes of Czech goaltender Marek Schwarz, Slovakian defenceman Andrei Meszaros and Canadian phenom Gilbert Brule.
Then there were the days when perks were commonplace in the league.
Brian Shaw, the late owner of the Portland Winter Hawks, was demanding in the 1980s, but renown for his generosity, offering players extra cash and trips to Hawaii based on performance during the heyday of the Hawks.
He probably wouldn't think much of today's WHL landscape, but then again, he would probably find a way around it.
Now, it's a matter of not getting caught.
Rick Wile is sports director at Radio 'NL

Another 2004 first rounder from the former Czechoslovakia will be joining Schwarz in Vancouver this fall. Ottawa pick (23rd overall) Andrej Meszaros is leaving Dukla Trencin, despite the chance to play for the Slovak senior national team.

So, it looks like the Czech agent for Schwarz, Jaromir Henys, is twisting his client's arm to play for the Giants? Why?

$$$$$$ Money, of course.
From the comments of Henys, he states that Vancouver is a lovely city with a good hockey team, yada yada yada...but it's also obvious that he believes coming to the WHL will get Schwarz him an NHL contract faster...and that, folks, equals 'bling bling'

Henys and his agency will not make that much money from Schwarz playing in Europe, but once Schwarz and Meszaros (who also falls under the same agency) sign their first NHL contracts, the commission from that contract is all the incentive that they need to push their kids into the CHL.

What role do the Giants have in all of this? I can't say for sure, but I speculate if the Giants weren't making some 'side' payments to Schwarz's agent to get him to push their clients towards Vancouver. If Schwarz and Meszaros were openly willing to come to the CHL, you'd better believe they would have been drafted (CHL IMPORT DRAFT) much higher than they were.

With the two faced approach that Toigo takes to every other example, are we to think for one second that he wouldn't cut a check to a junior player, particularly in the 90's or 00's when it was more common?  Seems to me the more he squawks about a subject, the more likely he's guilty of the same offense.

The Houck and Kulak incident is current, and unresolved.  It always amazes me that we don't see this sort of thing every week:  we are talking about a 22 team league made up of teenage boys.  I was a teenage boy for a few years, and I couldn't cross the damn street without doing something stupid and getting arrested.

I don't want to cast these two players as villains, but I do ask one thing:  who is paying their lawyer bills?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

We are all just fans of the game

You love hockey.  You are more than a casual fan, or else you wouldn't be reading this.  I'm right there with you:  I'm just a fan like yourself, but I've got a big mouth.  I've been trying to write about my favorite team, as well as how they relate to the rest of the 'Dub.

Jared is also a WHL fan, primarily a Kelowna Rockets fan.  He gives a damn about the game, just like you and me.  That's a beautiful thing.

We've all seen those studies about how some of our worst tendencies come out when we comment online - its often anonymous, and even when our names are attached, we are still somewhat disconnected.  Sometimes the game threads on the WHL's facebook page can go sideways, especially when US Division teams are involved.  We've seen entire posts get deleted when the Americans play the Chiefs, for example.  Again, those posters are fans, like me & you.  

Almost without exception, those threads make the case that the ref for that game is incredibly biased against every team - which has influenced how I look at officiating, being how they cannot possibly give 22 teams the short end of the stick.

Its easy to spout out in the heat of the moment - we all do it.  Our friend Jared has thought about this as well, and his comment above pushes the conversation in a positive direction - a direction about junior hockey.  I love conversations about junior hockey, don't you?

I've been there, too.  I'm not above getting worked up about this game.  I clearly remember my first trip into the Cable Box to see the 'Hawks play the Silvertips.  This is a division rival -  I hate the damn Silvertips - right?  I was wound pretty tight pulling off of I-5 into downtown Everett.  We stopped at that gator themed restaurant that's closed down now.  Well, strangely enough there were 'Tips fans in there having a good time, and I made friends with them.  Turns out, they were fans just like me, only they have that stupid bear on their sweaters.  Seems so obvious, but I had to have a beer with them to realize that.

The next night we saw the 'Hawks play the Thunderbirds in the Key.  It was a sparsely attended game, and we had some rowdy T-birds fans a few rows behind us give us some shit.  Nothing major, just a lot of heckling and some throwing of trash our way.  We moved over a section, and our new neighbors were falling all over themselves to be nice to us:  they had noticed what happened, and wanted us to know not to paint all T-birds fans with that brush.  Those fans are passionate, even if a little out of line.  Its fine - that sort of thing happens sometimes

I learned a lot from those first two WHL road games.  Then again, I might have only learned one thing, and its that we're all just fans of the same game, the same kids, & the same league.  Except Kyle Beach.  No one likes Kyle Beach.

 I don't make it to many road games, but I have been to every barn in the US Division.  Aside from that one minor incident described above, EVERYONE is nice to me.  Other hockey fans are genuinely happy that you came out to watch the game with them - at least that's been my experience.

If you want to see how I behave at a road game, you're in luck.  I happened to sit in front of the camera for Game 4 of the Everett series last year, and in the second period you can see me celebrate the 'Hawks goals.  

The time before that when I was in that barn, we made friends with some locals on the front steps post-game, and walked a few blocks to their keg party.  They rolled out the red carpet for us.  It was fun.

We could go into things like spray painting a church, or calling 911 to report an event in a hockey game,  throwing bananas at black players, or rioting, for example.  Lots of fans can take things too far.

Sometime you should ask me about starting a mini-riot at a USHL game, or wearing road colors to Game 4 of the 2001 NHL Western Conference Finals.  Again, I've been wound tight before, but its important to keep things in perspective.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brendan Leipsic hit: you be the judge

Well, what's your take?  This is one of the occurrences in life where 10 of us can watch the same video, and come to 10 different conclusions.

I have Rose Garden colored glasses.  You probably do as well.

I saw this hit clearly in real time - if you were at the game you did as well.  The way Leipsic was getting knocked around all night, you knew he was gonna lose it - particularly on the shift that we are discussing.  Exactly 24 hours later, I still go back and forth on weather its more acceptable for a hockey play gone wrong to grow out of a split second decision, or for it to build over half a game, and at the end of a tough shift - "Oh yeah?  Watch this hit, you sons-a-bitches!" - kind of play.  At the same time that you can put yourself in the offenders skates, it makes hir actions premeditated:  #1st degree.

We have heroes & villains in hockey - that's pretty much the whole point.  Veteran hockey fans look past who is wearing the white cowboy hats VS who is wearing the black hats - and look at the bigger picture.

I would hate to have to stick up for Shinnimin in this league, or Kyle Beach causing a ruckus in Lethbridge.  On a personal note, I'm permanently scarred by the Bertuzzi vs Moore incident.  I've seen 'nucks fans ever since throw out stuff like, "broken neck is so harsh, when cracked vertebrae is much more accurate...." - I think they should have thrown out Bertuzzi for life - but I'm also a guy with an Avalanche tattoo.

If memory serves, Leipsic's been suspended for about 5 games, every year he's played.  They seem to be for similar hits:  big, open ice hits that send guys flying - and out of commission for a while.  I get that this guy is a pest, and opposition fans don't like him.  That's hockey - the most valuable guys are hated by every other team & fan base.

What happened this game is that Leipsic was getting knocked around like a goddamned pinball all night.  His last shift was particularly bad, with several incidences.  Anyone in our barn who's familiar with #28 saw this hit:  we all knew that he was gonna fly off of the handle and hit the first SOB he could line up - which was exactly what happened.  All of us passed up on who had the puck, and instead watched who Leipsic was gonna drill.  Is 15 seconds of intent more understandable than 1.5 seconds?

I still say that if Kolesar gets up, its either a 2 min charge, or no penalty at all.  Since he laid there in a heap, and didn't return, its automatic 5 + game.  Hopefully, he's good to go for Seattle's next game.

In this league, they tend to discipline to the result, rather than the intent / actions of the play.  Murder has to be dealt with differently than attempted murder - but I don't think that applies to hockey. 

The other aspect of this situation is how does the league react?  We know they work bankers hours, and with the 'Hawks scheduled for a Tuesday night game, we shouldn't expect any word from them until just prior 'till puck drop.  There's a cutoff to length of suspensions, to where they have to explain themselves - and they don't care to cross that line.  As much as Robinson wants to make an example out of one of the 'Hawks, they still love to work under the cloak of secrecy, and if a shorter suspension means staying under the radar, they'll do just that.  Otherwise, they'll grab the biggest hammer they can find.

Therefore, I believe it will be either 5 games, or 10 - nothing in between.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mathew Dumba trade

Official press release
We feel acquiring the rights to Mathew Dumba is a risk worth taking. He’s an impact player who can dominate both ends of the ice. He would also bring terrific character and leadership, as he’s a very highly-regarded player around the league,” said Portland Winterhawks General Manager & Head Coach Mike Johnston. “It was a difficult decision to trade Presten Kopeck as he has been an integral part of our championship team the last two seasons. His character and ability will certainly help the Rebels move forward with their young group.”

Scott Sepich / Oregonian
A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Dumba was chosen seventh overall in the 2012 NHL draft. In 199 WHL games, he has scored 51 goals
Johnston is already familiar with Dumba because the Hawks considered selecting him with the first overall pick in the 2009 WHL bantam draft. The Hawks eventually settled on defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who will join Dumba on Canada’s world junior team.
“It was either him or Pouliot,” Johnston said of the 2009 decision. “I always liked him.”
Dylan Bumbarger / Oregonian
 1. Trading Presten Kopeck may have been a necessary move by itself;
2. leveraging that into a chance to get Mathew Dumba relatively cheap is brilliant;
3. Red Deer could have waited and gotten more if they new Minnesota was inclined to send him back;
4. but they presumably know that, so the chances he gets sent back might not be as big as people think.

Nick Patterson / Everett Hearld
So Portland is going for broke. That's no surprise, as the Winterhawks have been to the league finals three straight years and have the team to make it four straight. The question I have is: What dominoes fall next?

Andrew Eide /
It may sound silly at first to suggest that the Portland Winterhawks need an upgrade of any kind. After all, we are talking about a team that has the best record in the WHL, is leading its conference and is far and away the top goal scoring club in the league.
But they do need an upgrade.
What the need is some help on the blue line and that’s why this move is such a good one for them.
Allan Caldwell
I say potential blockbuster because of the small detail that Dumba is currently in the NHL, on the roster of the Minnesota Wild. But he hasn't suited up for a game for them in over two weeks and has only played in 13 of 32 games overall, averaging 12 and a half minutes of ice time per game. Which is not a lot of ice time for a defenceman so all these factors put together - plus the fact that they've already decided to loan him to the Canadian team for the World Juniors - would seem to indicate that the Wild are coming to the conclusion that Dumba is not in their plans for the remainder of this season. If I were a betting man I would be laying down a wager that we'll see Dumba in Winterhawks colours by the 2nd week of January.

Dumba in his draft year:

Dumba at the draft:

Scoring his first NHL goal:

I agree with Dylan in that loosing Kopeck is actually a positive.  Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a backer of Kopeck as the next guy: he's a heart and soul guy, 200 foot player, etc.  The 'Hawks brought him up as a black ace during their first WHL finals run, which says a lot.  His teammates here were  vocal on twitter about what he meant to them individually, as well as a team.

The other side of where Kopeck fits in with this team is he's an undrafted 18, with 29 career points.  Ice time looked to be hard to come by on this 'Hawks team:  Kopeck probably wasn't going to crack the top line with Petan & Leipsic, the Leier-De Leo-Bjorkstrand line is pretty much set, and the Schoenborn - Turgeon - Iverson line has been playing well, and are close to being dominate most nights.  The 'Hawks have been fortunate to have so many quality forwards, as they've had injuries to this point, and are loosing guys to the World Juniors, but at some point they will have really good players in street clothes during games.

Sometimes it seems like every western hockey scout lives in Edmonton or Calgary - and now Kopeck will be playing right between those cities.  He's also playing for a Sutter - and he plays like a Sutter, too.  You've got to think this trade is the best thing for his career, even if it greatly reduces the chances of championships at this level.

Two concepts that apply at all levels of hockey are that if you win the cup, then it doesn't matter what assets it cost you to do so, and whoever gets the best player in a deal wins that trade.  Currently Preston Kopeck is the best player in this trade, unless the Wild send down Dumba.

We've seen some heavy prices paid over the last few years stocking up for a playoff run.  Dylan pointed out that compared to the Craig Cunningham, Marcel Nobels, or even the Luca Sbisa trade - they actually gave up less for Dumba, and he's potentially the most valuable of the lot.

The obvious risk here is those picks - 3 second rounders. (By not getting this written until the next day, the value of those picks has come out - which paints a fuller picture).  If I'm reading that correctly, the 2nd in 2014 was Everett's pick, which would lead me to believe that Portland still has their own 2nd, (I hope), which further lessens the blow of spending the limited resource of good draft picks.

Upon the end of last years championship season, we looked at how the 'Hawks were built.  Players drafted in the 1st round lately include Ty Rattie, Derrick Pouliot, and Nic Petan.  Key contributors from the 2nd round have names like Wotherspoon, Leier, Morrow, Ponich, Mucha, and Texeira.  Not picking until the 3rd round can fetch you players such as Kopeck, Turgeon, and Brendan Burke - which ain't bad - but there is a drop off from the guys from the 1st & 2nd rounds.

 Of course, the 'Hawks have had success signing listed players.  Guys like Keegan Iverson, Paul Bittner, & Alex Schoenborn were undrafted, but are comparable to what you would hope to find in the first two rounds of the bantam draft.  If you can find one of those guys each year,  it greatly diminishes the impact of not having those draft picks.  Time will tell.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Teddy Bear Toss

Its that time of year again:  teddy bear toss!

It took me a while to get the hang of it, so for this exercise we'll look at my personal experiences for all of us to build upon.

I'll never forgive myself for not going to the 2006 game.  I bought a bear and everything, but that was the year where there was no radio coverage, but almost all the home games were on local cable for some reason.  Games that I didn't have someone to go with, I stayed home and watched on TV - this was one of those games.  I ended up giving that bear to a girl that I had just started dating, then she dumped me via myspace blog.  You ever get dumped via myspace blog?  I have.  It sucks.

This was the first year of  "the dark ages" - and Vancouver was on the road to the Memorial Cup.  Well, this game turned out to be pretty good:

In 2007, this goal was actually waved off - the net came off of the marsh pegs.  But, you know, the horn went off and folks just started throwing bears.  I think this was the first time it occurred to me that you could bring more than one bear - I had one, and saw dudes walking in with garbage bags full - it was like I saw nuclear fusion.    Looks like 20,372 bears:

2008 was the first teddy bear game that the woman I love attended, and she was all excited about getting tickets close to the ice, in order to make sure we could reach the ice.  The main thing there was we got pelted with fur the whole time.  These folks probably shared a similar fate:

For the 2009 game, we were in the first games of the Mike Johnston era.  Back in the Rose Garden, full of hope, even if we still didn't see 20 wins that year:

2010 rolls around and the 'Hawks are back in business.  Chris Francis is scoring last second goals, and we'd see a return to the playoffs.  Let the bears fly:

2011 turned out to be quite the party.  As the bears were being collected, a happy couple were legally married on the ice surface:

It looks like last season our friends The Timbers Army were there.  I like it when those guys come to games - the chanting, standing the whole game, scarves, signs, all of it.  Its a nice change of pace for a hockey game:

This year's game is this Saturday: 12/14/13.  My understanding is the game is sold out, but checking with the office or craigslist may bear fruit.  Plan ahead:  its a full house, and it appears as though there is Duck Basketball in the Garden - and its a 6:00 start.  Its bugs me that the events calander for that facility doesn't feel that the Winterhawks are worth listing - even the New Years game.

The gold standard?  Calgary.  25,000+ bears just last week.

I went to the dollar store this weekend.  The woman I love is always critical of how many bears I get for these games, even if I get a small amount its too much.  So this year I'm going with what you see here - whatever quantity fills a shopping cart at the dollar store. She also tells me she reads this blog, but I doubt it.   I'll see you there.