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:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

That was one hell of a ride...

Well, that was fun.

During the Mike Johnston era we witnessed a lot of goals & a lot of wins.  The last 4 playoff runs featured more wins (59) than the 3 full seasons prior to his arrival in the Rose City (47).  This team posted a .731 winning percentage in the 5 regular seasons that began with MJ behind the bench.  Pretty unheard of for junior hockey, if not anywhere in modern sport.

Most of us are familiar with the meteoric rise of this franchise back to relevance in the WHL, but here's a great piece about MJ turning this ship around.  It shouldn't be forgotten that the Winterhawks were on the verge of either being relocated or simply folding during the dark ages.  My understanding is the previous owner (who I won't even mention his name here), who was a bartender back east somewhere, fired Ken Hodge and was going to play GM himself.  Ron Robison had to step in & force the team to re-hire Hodge in order to have some sort of hockey-man making decisions.  It was that bad.

Some fans feel that MJ is a better GM than coach, and I lean that way - if only because you have to be better at one or the other by definition.  If you look at the talent he's amassed during his Portland career - its pretty staggering.   Guys like Ryan Johansen (7th round bantam pick), Chase de Leo (9th round bantam pick),  Brendan Leipsic (6th round bantam pick) - etc etc etc.   Many WHL teams can't find a decent Euro at all it seems, and we've seen a steady procession of top shelf import talent come through here.

Johnston would argue otherwise - as he's been coaching as a profession for over 30 years.  Much of coaching is managing the players personalities & mannerisms.  It ain't gonna be easy to balance Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin with your 4th line guys, but its all in the approach.

Its apples and oranges, the NHL & major junior, but think about the attitudes he's saddled up here:  Boychuck, Ross, Rattie, Morrow, Leipsic, Pouliot, etc.  You hear the phase "I'd rather try and tame a tiger than paint stripes on a kitty cat" - but that's a whole damn streak of tigers right there.  Remember what he did with Taylor Jordan as an overage?  Made him into a legit hockey player.  He handled both high-profile defencemen who left school for Portland without distraction.

I've heard that there are serious challenges in Pittsburgh right now: salary cap issues, sky high expectations, lack of identity - things like this.  After the mess that Mike cleaned up here, I'm sure the Penguins will be fine.

I have serious concerns about the future of the Portland Winterhawks.  The next time they drop the puck will be my 10th season living in Portland & following this team.  Its not an exaggeration to say that every ounce of success I've witnessed this team have comes directly from Mike Johnston.  To go from worst-to-first is a wonderful story, but the clock is supposed to strike midnight at some point.  Somehow MJ found ways to simply keep this team on top.  The Winterhawks are still stocked full of top shelf players, after 4 years of long playoff runs.  Completely unheard of at this level.

Its inevitable for this team to fall back to earth, but it seemed almost impossible under the leadership of MJ.  The next guy has some shoes to fill, alright.  We may be destined to experience the cycle of winning / losing / wining / losing that every other team is subject to - which is a day I've dreaded for some time.  Its way more fun winning all those games year after year.

Anybody got Travis Green's number?  I hear his contract is up........

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Brendan Leipsic 5 min major spear: you be the judge

In game 5 of the Portland / Kelowna series, Leipsic was given a major penalty for spearing.

Lets look at rule 62:
Rule 62: Spearing

Spearing - Spearing shall mean stabbing an opponent with the point
of the stick blade, whether contact is made or not.

Double-minor Penalty - A double-minor penalty
will be imposed on a
player or goalkeeper who spears an opponent and does not make

Major Penalty - A major penalty shall be imposed on a player or
goalkeeper who spears an opponent (see 62.5).

Match Penalty - A match penalty shall be imposed on a player or
goalkeeper who injures an opponent as a result of a spear.

62.5 Game Misconduct Penalty - Whenever a major penalty is assessed
for spearing, a game misconduct penalty must also be imposed.

They don't take spearing lightly, nor should they.  If you swing & miss, its a double minor.  Any spear that actually contacts another player and its an automatic major.  Again, I'm fine with this, but it should go without saying that not all spears are created equal.

In the above video clip of the incident, I left it long with Kelowna's audio feed to illustrate a point: that no one knew that this major had occurred until the penalties went up on the scoreclock.  I'm right there with them - I watched the replay not seeing the spear until I was looking for it.  I'm not sure how the league will look at this, but my rose-garden colored glasses don't think its a big deal.  We shall see.

We've seen some nasty spearing incidents in the last week or so:

Different leagues for sure, but many of us remember Lucic with the Giants.  Played hard as well as partied hard.   Dude just cruises up behind a dude, all nonchalant, and sticks him in the balls.  That's a calculated move - about the worst thing you can do on an ice sheet.  He got slapped with a $5,000 fine, no suspension.  (Lucic made 4.5 million this year, BTW).

Suspend Leipsic?  Time will tell.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Corey Graham shares his thoughts on Victoria VS Portland

What we've done here is dub the Pipeline show over highlights of the game they are discussing.  Corey Graham is the voice of the Oil Kings, and is featured in this clip.

Some of - actually, most of - the things that Graham said kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  Like they said on the first Snoop Dogg record, "Get your pooper scooper, 'cause the [dudes] talkin' shit..."

I suppose that's just 'fan' being sort for 'fanatic', but I thought it would be fun to set the "celebrated like they won the Stanley Cup" line to the actual celebration. 

I am a hockey fan with a lot invested.  I am not, however, a Breitbart: meaning I don't believe in deceptive editing.   Here's my work:

The full segment of the Pipeline Show I used is right here

The Stanley Cup celebration by the Portland Winterhawks is here

You be the judge.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Brendan Burke's numbers in 2014

I finally got around to the show prep I meant to do two episodes ago for Pucklandia: our new podcast (subscribe button here).  While you're at it, follow on Twitter & befriend on Facebook to stay current.

We all know that Burke's been great in 2014, at least post trade deadline.  Some feel its the addition of Corbin Boes, others feel that Mathew Dumba has been the difference.  I feel that its a "tastes great / less filling" kind of debate - and a nice one to have.

What do Burke's numbers look like, you ask?  On January 4th of this year, he was sitting on a 3.22 goals against, and a .900% save percentage.  There's been worse in major junior for sure, but that's not exactly Memorial Cup kind of numbers.

According to the WHL website, his January totals were 1.83 / 0.934 in 8 games - which ain't bad.  February saw him go 2.33 / .912 & March looked like 1.33 / .950 - which you can live with.

If you start with the games after that January 4th point referenced earlier, his totals through the end of the season finished at 1.42 / .950 over a 12 game span, assuming my math is correct.  While not the biggest sample size, it sure seems like Burke's trending in the right direction, and the 4 games in round one demonstrated a 1.75 / .924 - which is fantastic considering how rough his game 1 was.

There's been talk about Portland's goaltending being a question mark.  Looks like its been answered to me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It's never as bad as it seems

These kids are disciplined.  They are driven.  They are focused.  Major junior is an elite level of hockey - the players are the best in the world, at the earliest age to identify that kind of talent & skill. They are asked to behave like professionals, and do so, almost without exception.

They are also teenagers.  Being a teen is tough, and this day and age might be tougher than ever.  I'm not sure if you were ever 17 years old, but I was being a world class shithead, and so was everyone I knew at the time.

It amazes me that we don't hear stories of adolescence gone wrong on a weekly basis.  Sure, you have things like fighting at house parties on occasion.  These are things that kids that age do.  When I was 17 often I drove too fast.  A few times I did some drinking.  Sometimes my girlfriend was involved.  Unfortunately, we've seen this combination turn deadly in WHL country.

The newest tragedy to hit junior hockey is Terry Trafford's death.  He was 20 years old, playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.  By all accounts he was a great kid, and loved as a teammate.  He had been sent home by the team for a rules violation, reportedly for smoking weed.  Do I need to point out that dudes that age smoke weed sometimes?  Five miles north of me its 100% legal to do so (I wonder how legalization has effected the 4 Washington based WHL teams approach to marijuana?).

As a good Ontario boy, he probably played hockey for 85% of his life.  The prospect of the game leaving you would be crushing.  At this elite level, they are players 12 months of the year.  This is what they live for.

I had a friend who became a teenage parent, which is obviously difficult.  During a rough patch with his girlfriend, he hung himself.  One of the saddest parts of this story was that she was about to approach him with the idea of marriage, but his perception was that the relationship was over, and his life was as well.

One positive of his death was that seeing how it changed the folks close to him.  I too, struggled with similar demons of suicidal tendencies in my formative years.  Witnessing the aftermath of this tragedy made me realize what suicide does to your loved ones, and they don't deserve to deal with that.  

His body was found the day after my NHL team was eliminated from the playoffs, which helped me understand that there is hockey, and there is life.  Fans like ourselves can reverse the order of those two things from time to time.

My most recent experience with suicide was a friend from Seattle hanging himself, in the spring of 2012.  This was during the opening round of the playoffs, and the funeral was scheduled for the same day as game 5 of the opening round.  Of course, there was no game 5, as Portland swept Kelowna that series.  This guy was in his late 30's, and his reasoning was over a bump in the road with his longtime girlfriend, which ultimately didn't threaten their relationship in her eyes.

What we should learn from these stories is that its never as bad as it seems.  In a worst case scenario,  perhaps it is over with you and your lover.  There are lots of people in this world, and you'll most likely find someone again.  I've been fired 9 times in the 9 years I've lived in Portland, but somehow I continue to find work.  Gordie Howe had to hang up the skates at age 51, meaning that everyone has to retire from hockey at some point.  Life doesn't end with any of these types of setbacks.

Perhaps the reason that Terry's death is so hard to deal with is that it could happen to anyone close to us.  Junior hockey is a tight knit community, and tragedies like this one & Tim Bozon's are good at bringing us together to support those who need it.  

I don't follow the OHL, and I'd never heard of Terry prior to his disappearance, yet he represents "every man" to me.  I watched Taylor Jordan get cut from his team 3 times, but he fought through it.   What are these two Silvertips dealing with after being suspended for rules violations?  When Jared Schamerhorn was sent down from Lethbridge, what went through his mind?  Terry's passing scares me thinking it could happen to any of these players, as well as countless others facing setbacks in their everyday lives.

Fortunately these issues are rare in the hockey world.  That doesn't make them any easier to deal with.  If you're struggling, there's folks who will be there for you. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

In defense of the shootout

First off, I don't like the shootout anymore than anyone else.

I do, however, believe its a necessary evil.

I watched 11 years of hockey which included ties.  Ties are terrible, and I don't think that people remember how empty it feels investing 3 hours of your life in a game only to walk away with as if it never happened - there is no winner.  You wanna go back to ties?  No thank you.  The "kissing your sister" quote always stuck with me.

One of the main criticisms of the shootout is that it is a one on one format in the context of a team game, and that's a valid point.  Breakaways are part of the game, but they don't occur in alternating instances of 6+ in the course of a night.

I don't like how we drop down to 4 on 4 for overtime - we just spent 60 minutes of 5 on 5.  If we are so exited about goals, and the 5th player is a detriment to scoring, why do we have him out there for regulation?  Some say the shootout is a gimmick, but what about changing the number of players who are eligible to take the ice, just 'cause its sudden death?  Seems gimmicky to me.

Sure, you see 4 on 4 most nights, but its usually brief and in the context of overlapping penalties, or is the result of coincidental minors.  What percentage of the season is played 4 on 4?  If you play 3 minutes of 4 on 4 per night, that's 5% of the game.  Seems about as far from regular gameplay as a series of penalty shots, if you ask me.

In life, as in outside hockey, I'm big into the concept that if you are critical of X, and argue that it needs to go away, then you have to present an alternative in order to do so.  I don't like paying taxes:  no one does.  The alternative to all of us paying no taxes means no roads to drive on, firemen to do their thing, or law enforcement to prevent us from being robbed.  That's not a realistic alternative.

So we've established that ties aren't acceptable, but we don't like the shootout.  Lets look at the alternatives.  You see 3 on 3 thrown out there - often in an unlimited format.  Again, I don't like ditching one player for minutes 60 through 65 - then you really wanna blow the horn and leave another guy on the bench for an additional 5 minutes?  The 3 on 3 advocates among us don't feel that its gimmicky, yet in the 20 years I've been watching the game I've never seen 3 on 3 play, yet I've seen quite a few penalty shots.

What would football look like if you took 40% of the players off the field in an effort to induce a score?  In the 10th inning of a ball game you take the shortstop, 3rd baseman, and left fielder off - in an effort to keep it a team game: would we accept that?  We're already benching the shortstop, which I think is bad enough.

What are you gonna do if no one scores when its 3 on 3?  Aren't you getting dangerously close to 1 on 1 there?  I've heard one staunch shootout critic throw out an idea of a series of alternating 2-on-1's, which satisfies my criteria of having an alternative to suggest.  I'm not sure if I like that idea, but its at least something to think about.

As an American voter, I've learned to live with a lesser of two evils approach, which is why I back virtually anything that gets us away from ties.  Now, if you want to be critical of the "loser point" - you'll get more traction with that argument, in my opinion.  Gregg Drinnan will point out that 17 out of the 22 WHL teams have a .500 or better record right now, which seems statistically impossible.

We just witnessed an Olympic tournament where a regulation win was worth 3 points, an OT win 2, and an extra time loss earned a single point.  Personally, I could get behind a points system like this, as it incentivizes winning in regulation, yet doesn't strip you of a potential tie point.  This system seems to work well in MLS, which is prone to ties.

Like I said, I don't like the current system any more than you do - but I'll take it over one with ties.  I'd take a coin flip VS a tie.  I would prefer that both captains engage in a duel at center ice before I see another tie.

If you have any better ideas, I'd love to hear 'em.  In the meantime, I'm fine with a series of penalty shots and someone walking out of the rink with a "W".

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Mike Johnston: good coach?

This is a developmental league.  That goes for players as well as coaches, officials, equipment managers, etc.  I believe this is Mike Johnston's first head coaching gig - at least at a significant level of hockey.  From time to time you hear some criticisms of his work:

On a related note, here's an exchange between myself and Guy Flaming (regarding the 2014 WJC):

Here's an article by Daniel Nugent-Bowman about Pouliot playing on the top paring for Team Canada at the World Juniors:
Ekblad quietly watches how Pouliot approaches drills in practices or how he refocuses between shifts.
“You have to remember, there’s mentorship going on, but it’s going on in subtle ways,” said McGill, who works with Canada’s defencemen. “It’s not always verbal communication.” 
The guidance is paying off.
Hockeys future has a video interview with  Pouliot during the WJC tournament, which partially consists of asking him about some of the other talented kids we've been fortunate enough to see play here over the last several years.

Point being is that #51 looks to be erasing some of the criticisms of his play in the D zone, as well as the rap they don't coach that way in this town.  I'm writing this the day after Brendan Burke had a 174 minute shutout streak come to an end - and he's not doing that on his own, now is he?

Sometimes you hear things about star forwards, such as Nino Niederreiter & Ryan Johansen:

Then, on the same day, ran stories about Johansen rounding into form, as well as Nino scoring a nasty OT goal.  With those two high draft picks, you could argue that MJ did too good of a job.  

The Islanders & Blue Jackets thought both players were NHL ready for their 19 year old seasons, yet didn't play them in significant roles, which is about the worst thing you can do to a young hockey player.  There's reasons that both those teams have struggled for a long time, and these examples demonstrate two reasons why.

Mike Johnston has posted winning percentages of .632, .715, .708 in his first 3 full seasons.  He's followed that up with an .820 in his partial season (suspension) - the team finished with an .812 & a league championship.  So far this season they're putting up .731.  MJ can build & coach teams that win games.

In his first full season they got out of the first round - which hadn't happened much in the last few years here.  The next 2 seasons they lost in the finals before hoisting the Ed cup.  In a developmental league, he's been getting better every year to this point.  There may have been issues developing the right culture in his 2nd year of coaching teenagers at an elite level - that's entirely possible.  

Most of the players that work with him at this point he's had for their entire junior careers,  which you'd think would allow him to instill the values he wants them to live by.  He's presumably developed a better balance of letting the kids run, yet keeping them under the team's umbrella.  Being a peer, friend, and authority figure.  When to crack the whip, when to build the player back up.  Coaching these high end players at such a tricky stage of their lives has to be more complicated than you or I could ever understand.

If we judge WHL coaches by how their players fare in the NHL, that would make Jim Hiller or Don Nachbar look pretty poor , when I think most regard them as quality coaches.  

I'm buying what MJ is selling.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Kozun Thinks Seattle Can Win Memorial Cup

Hey, you gotta believe in yourself, especially if your an athlete at an elite level.  Taran Kozon does.

Kozun, though, thinks his new team is the one to beat.

“I think we have a really good contender for the Memorial Cup,” Kozun said. “I think we can go far. If a team has to play us seven games, I don’t think they can keep up with us. We have just the size and the grit and the offensive ability.

“It’s really ours to lose, I think.”

Seems reasonable - especially coming from a goalie with all the playoff experience that Kozon has, which is 0 games played, 0 minutes and a 0.00 GAA.  His backup has similar numbers.  Kozon is currently 24-25 for his carer, and you only gotta be 4 games over .500 in the playoffs to hoist the cup.

They have strong leadership behind the bench, as Steve Konowalchuk has earned a 81-99-17 record behind the Thunderbirds bench, as well as a 3-4 playoff record.  He's also known for putting up 92 points for the Winterhawks in 1991, and taking the Avalanche to the second round in 2004.

The Thunderbirds have traditionally been a successful franchise - over the last 10 seasons they've appeared in 9 playoff series - with 3 series victories.  Juggernaut.

Kono is confident as well:
A confident Thunderbirds team could be in the the right position — playing its best hockey potentially heading into the tournament just weeks away.

“I know the guys are excited, we’re putting ourselves in position. We definitely want to battle for that home ice (advantage) in the first round and Portland isn’t out of our sights,” said Konowalchuk. “We have a goal and we believe we can do it.”
 Shouldn't be a big deal.  Seattle is 3-5 against Portland this year, which is pretty good considering they have lost something like 40 of those games over the last 4 seasons. (Portland is 5-1-2 vs SEA this year).  All Seattle needs to to is sweep the last 4 games vs Portland, and they should have a shot at that division title.

All that's left is to tie up a couple loose ends, like getting through the 'Hawks (0.726 winning %), the Rockets (0.837) and then either the Oil Kings (0.735) or Hitmen (0.673).  Kind of reminds me of when Brashear would wipe his hands after taking care of business.  The bigger they come, the harder they fall, right?

Sounds like Seattle fans should be shopping for tickets to London, if you ask me.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When is losing your best player to suspension a good thing?

Many of us were pretty frustrated when Brendan Leipsic got suspended.  I was one of them:

Its one thing for the highest scoring team in the WHL to lose a guy off of the top line - the key to this was the timing of it, with 3 other top players overseas at the time.  The Winterhawks went 2-5 over the 7 games that Leipsic was suspended.  Of course, they were short other players simultaneously, but I would argue that only magnifies the importance of #28 in the lineup.

Its unclear if the 'Hawks could have caught Kelowna anyway, but those two head to head games really hurt - those are generally referred to as "4 point games" - so it was an 8 point weekend.  You could look at it like this suspension + WJC may have cost home ice advantage, should the 'Hawks face the Rockets.

I haven't seen this expressed elsewhere, but its my opinion that Leipsic not getting the call from Team Canada contributed directly to his suspension.  For a guy who led the WHL in scoring last year, and had a good playoff run - you had to expect his 19 year to be a big one.  The Predators were high on him in camp this year.  It seemed to me when the WJC lists came out with no #28 - that his game changed, and we saw more of the Leipsic who's more interested in putting guys through the glass than pucks in the net.

The game in Red Deer, in front of Canada coach Brent Sutter, Leipsic was particularly ornery.  Scored 2 goals, 1 assist, +1, #1st star - but the play that sticks out is he threw a serious hit right at the buzzer.  One of those unnecessary plays that reeked like frustration to me.

Dylan Bumbarger has been known to throw truth bricks:
To say something obvious: 28 has to cut that out if he wants a career beyond the Central Hockey League. That was rumored to be a reason he wasn't picked to go to camp with Team Canada, as well.

So we're watching the 'Hawks during this stretch, and they're getting shelled.  The players are frustrated, the fans are frustrated, and I've gotta think that Leipsic is frustrated.

If the purpose of punishment is to alter behavioral patterns, than lets hope this discipline was successful.  Those 24 days between games presented a lengthy opportunity for self reflection, as well as influence from the 'Hawks & Predators brass.

The results have been impressive: in 8 games post suspension he's potted 8 goals, 10 assists, and is +13.  Sure, he's picked up 14 PIM in that stretch, but nothing too serious.  He's the kind of guy who needs to play "on the edge" to be successful, and he appears to have rediscovered where that edge is.

Often times I make the point that there are penalties worth taking, regardless of the result.  If your goalie gets ran, and you take a penalty roughing the guy up, thats fine.  Even if they score on the powerplay, that's still fine.  Even if it costs you the game (once in a while), you can live with it.  You can't just let guys take liberties.

We may look at this 2-5 stretch as the best thing that could have happened to this 'Hawks team.  It sure looks like that time out of the lineup has refocused Leipsic for the stretch run.  He just may have a little extra gas in the tank for a long playoff run, too.

Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some play outside the rules, and some Playfair

 Things have been interesting for Jackson Playfair recently.  First, he gets traded from the Spokane Chiefs to their mortal enemies the Tri-City Americans.  Somewhere in the midst of this he found himself with some Washington companionship, drawing the ire of his Girlfriend of 6 months:  Tieja MacLaughlin.  The story is that she got pissed off and traveled 500 miles to confront him about things, and apparently death threats were involved.

This is a heavy incident.  As we've discussed, its only a game - Ilya Bryzgalov agrees.  Off the ice there is life, and these players deal with things that we all have to go through, and incidents like this happen sometimes.  While I was digesting this story today, I listened to this piece about domestic violence, and it seems to be a related issue in my book.

I'm with Playfair on this one.  Every relationship is complicated, and no one is 100% right/wrong, but whatever his shortcomings are don't warrant threats of any kind - particularly death threats.  There's a place for violence, and then there is real life.

Another related issue is the form of domestic violence where the man is the victim.  We have nothing to lead us to believe this was a part of this story, but it is part of many men's lives - which is an issue.  A online resource for these men had this to say:

While the majority of domestic violence victims are women, abuse of men happens far more often than you'd probably expect. Typically, men are physically stronger than women but that doesn't necessarily make it easier to escape the violence or the relationship. An abused man faces a shortage of resources, skepticism from police, and major legal obstacles, especially when it comes to gaining custody of his children from an abusive mother. No matter your age, occupation, or sexual orientation, though, you can overcome these challenges and escape the abuse.

Again, the vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, which generally forms our views of how to approach this societal cancer.  However many men are subject to similar violence.  More often than not females can carry out abuse without repercussions: they can hit the man all they want, as any physical retaliation generally lands the man in jail.  He-say-she-say in a fistfight leaves the man the guilty party.

During my early 20's I lived in Kansas City, MO: which is where I discovered hockey outside of the NHL.  The KC Blades  taught me the joy of attending games.  There weren't a whole hell of a lot of highlights from those seasons of the Blades, but I was fortunate enough to be in the barn for this:

I was accompanied to many games during that period of my life by a pretty blonde from Raytown, MO (the setting of Mama's Family).  This woman had a drinking problem.  Addictions of any type are difficult to live with, and this one tended to morph into violence on occasion.  In cases like this, the offender is also a victim, but they hold the keys to both of the issues at hand.  The 4 years I spent with this woman were the best of times & the worst of times - you could say it was "day to day".

Many domestic abuse victims have dealt with much more than I have, but I lived that way for too damn long.  Hopefully I learned from those experiences, and have been fortunate enough to not have those issues pop back up in my life.  I do have those memories still, and I have a soft spot for men with similar stories.  

My advice to Playfair would be to do just what he did, and get the law involved.  I assume he went to his team as well, and I hope they did what they could to support him.  We ask so much out of these teenagers:  we hold them up on a pedestal, ask them to entertain us, to bleed for us. They have a lot on their plate as is - guys like this don't need distractions like this to deal with, but sometimes they do.

My advice to you is to take these things seriously.  Stalking, violence, victims male & female - they all need our support.  If you find yourself in one of these situations, get some help.  Life is too short to live in those conditions.  There are resources out there for you, and those of us who are fortunate to avoid those situations should be a resource for the less fortunate among us.  Together we can fight back - in the right way.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Matt Dumba, Anton Cederholm, and fighting


That sequence is why there is fighting in hockey.  This is a contact sport, played at 35 MPH, with a weapon.  There has to be a release valve, or else things will completely boil over.  I think we all understand that you cannot always count on the officials to administer justice properly - often times the game has to self police.

This was Mathew Dumba's debut in a Portland sweater.   As the video clearly shows, Eberle comes in high on Dumba, as is demonstrated by the assessment of a 2 minute minor.  Cederholm stands in for his newest teamate - he holds Eberle accountable for his actions.

Some would argue that simply taking the powerplay is the right move, but do you really want to leave these things in the hands of the referees?   There are players better suited for fisticuffs than Cederholm, but when you're on the ice & the first man there sometimes you've gotta get in there.

In this instance, Eberle got 2 for the initial hit, and Cederholm picked up an extra 2 + 10 for instating, negating the powerplay & leaving the 'Hawks short a defenseman for a 17 minute stretch of the game.  There were real consequences for Cederholm's actions there, and I'm just fine with that.  There are plenty of times that you will "invest" a 2 minute minor (or worse) to send a message - in this case the message is not to take cheap shots at our new star defenseman.

Even in instances where you give up a powerplay goal - that's still a better price to pay than allowing some goons to take runs at your guys.  

Another piece of this puzzle is these two defencemen probably don't even know each others names yet - and in Dumba's 1st game in Portland he sees his new family going to bat for him.  These occurrences often times go a long way in team building - helping to jell as a group.  That's pretty important this time of year.