Monday, December 28, 2009

Hamilton Bulldogs are Contenders in the AHL's North Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season (A few days late due to Christmas break...). The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Hamilton Bulldogs...

The Hamilton Bulldogs (19-8-2-3) find themselves in second place in the Western Conference's North Division and are set to play their Southern Ontario and division rivals, the struggling Toronto Marlies this evening. The Bulldogs are coming off a 4-2 loss to the first place Rochester Americans on December 26th and the Marlies could be what the doctor ordered to start another win streak for the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate.

The Bulldogs have called Hamilton’s 17,383 seat Copps Coliseum home since 1996 and in the hockey-mad market of Southern Ontario, it is unfortunate that the Bulldogs only have an average of 4,305 fans per game; ranking 14th in the AHL in attendance. The Bulldogs have scored 94 goals this season, while allowing only 68 goals - the fewest goals against in the league. Hamilton is 16th in the league on the power play but it is on the penalty kill that they have excelled, ranking 4th in the AHL.

Leading the way for Hamilton this season is Brandon Manitoba native Brock Trotter. The former University of Denver forward is leading the Bulldogs in scoring with 9 goals and 26 points in 31 games. With the University of Denver, Trotter’s best season came during the 2006-2007 season, scoring 16 goals and 40 points. In his third season with Hamilton, Trotter has gained a reputation as a hard working center in the AHL and he will certainly improve upon his 18 goals and 49 points from last season.

Another forward lighting up the opposition is Quebec City native, David Desharnais. After four years with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL, including a 118-point season in 2006, Desharnais spent one season in Cincinnati in the ECHL, scoring 26 goals and accumulating 106 points in 68 games. Cincinnati would go on to win the ECHL Championship in 2008 and Desharnais scored 33 points in 22 playoff games for the Cyclones. Last year, his first full season in Hamilton, the young center scored 28 goals and his strong play earned a call-up to the Canadiens this year for one game. With 11 goals (5 on the power play) and 11 assists in 18 games this year, Desharnais will earn another trip to the NHL before too long. There is also a strong possibility that Desharnais will earn an invitation to the AHL’s all-star game.

The real story this year in Hamilton is the play of goaltender Cedrick Desjardins. The Edmundston New Brunswick native is behind only Brent Krahn of the Texas Stars as the best goaltender in the AHL. His five shutouts lead the league and in 16 games, he is 10-4-1 with a 1.52 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Desjardins was part of the Cincinnati Cyclones team that won the 2008 Kelly Cup and he was the MVP of the playoffs that season.

Desjardins was also a member of the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) that went to the Memorial Cup in 2005 with Sidney Crosby and he won the Memorial Cup in 2006 as a twenty year old with Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts. This young man has accumulated several championships on his resume, very impressive considering he was not selected in the NHL entry draft. He could find himself leading the Bulldogs into the AHL playoffs and adding a Calder Cup to his list of victories, if he is still in Hamilton by season’s end.

With rumours swirling in Montreal that Jaroslav Halak may be traded, Desjardins or Curtis Sanford could become the back up to Carey Price for the Canadiens. However, with the up and down season Price and Halak have had so far, it is unlikely that he will move this year, allowing Desjardins to stay in Hamilton and take a shot at Halak’s franchise record for career shutouts; Desjardins is two shutouts away from the record.

Head Coach Guy Boucher has the Bulldogs working hard and ready for the second half of the season. After tonight’s game against the Toronto Marlies, the Bulldogs will host the division leading Rochester Americans on December 30th and make a quick trip to Grand Rapids (18-14-0-1) for New Year’s Eve. In 2010, the Bulldogs will start an eight game home stand to begin the year and four of the games are against the Lake Erie Monsters, the last place team in the North Division. Sweeping those games will put more distance between the second place Bulldogs and the bottom of the division. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Injuries Hurting Oilers Playoff Chances...

The goal heading into the season for the Edmonton Oilers was to be a top eight team in the NHL's Western Conference and instead of chasing other teams in the Conference for a playoff spot, the Oilers hoped to be in contention throughout the season. As the league hits the Christmas break, they find themselves in fifteenth place, eight points behind Vancouver for the final playoff spot in the West. With their 15-17-4 win/loss record and having dropped there last four games, Edmonton faces a crucial test this evening against the twelfth place Minnesota Wild (17-16-3). A win and the team will keep pace with the Wild, Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues, three teams tied with 37 points, three ahead of Edmonton’s 34 points; a loss could keep the Oil in last place until the New Year.

After setting a franchise record with five straight road victories, the Oilers have dropped four in a row at home; they are 5-5 in their last ten games. Among the teams at the bottom of the West, Edmonton has scored the most goals; their current total is 107 goals for, compared to St. Louis’ 91 goals. In the goals against category, the Oilers are fourth from the bottom in the entire league, allowing 120 goals. Only Columbus, Carolina, Toronto and Florida have allowed more goals - not great company for a team that wanted to be in contention all season. Third period lapses have cost the Oilers in recent games, contributing to their slide in the standings.

Injuries have certainly taken their toll on the Edmonton franchise and the loss of free agent acquisition, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, has severely affected the team. Out indefinitely with what has been called a “bad back”, Edmonton’s number one goaltender does not appear ready to return anytime soon and according to a December 16th Edmonton Journal article by Jim Matheson, it is unknown if Khabibulin will undergo surgery or simply keep waiting. He has yet to begin practising with the team and if things are improving, it will be after the Christmas break before he returns to the net.

With the long-term injury to Khabibulin, the net minding duties fall upon the shoulders of 25-year old Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and 23-year old Devan Dubnyk. Last year’s number one, Dwayne Roloson is now a member of the New York Islanders and so the bulk of the workload falls to Drouin-Deslauriers, a second round pick in the 2002 entry draft. Before this season, he had played ten NHL games - this season he has surpassed that total and he has appeared in 17 games for the Oilers. His numbers are respectable for a young man learning on the job; his win/loss record is 8-7-2 and he has a 2.93 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.

For Dubnyk, in his second stint with the Oilers this season after a recall from Springfield in the AHL, the transition to the NHL has not been as smooth. In his two appearances this year, Dubnyk is 0-1-0 with a 5.36 GAA and a .800 save percentage. If the Oilers cannot move up the standings quickly, this season will be a tremendous opportunity for the Edmonton management team to evaluate their goaltenders moving forward; both are restricted free agents at the end of the season and Drouin-Deslauriers is eligible for arbitration.

The long-term injuries in Edmonton are not limited to Khabibulin. Sheldon Souray missed time with a concussion earlier in the season and has only appeared in 20 games. After an injury plagued season in the 2007-2008 season that limited the power play specialist to 26 games, he returned to form in the 2008-2009 season, appearing in 81 games and accumulating 23 goals and 53 points. Souray is an important factor in the Oilers offence and his absence certainly handcuffed the team. This season, he has 3 goals and 11 assists but he is a minus seven.

While many NHL teams struggle to cope with injuries, the Oilers have been hit hard and several key players on the team find themselves on injured reserve. Another free agent acquisition and a top-six forward for the Oilers, Mike Comrie, has appeared in only 16 games this season and is on the IR with Mononucleosis. After a great start to the season, scoring five goals in his first 16 games since returning to his hometown team, Comrie last played a game on November 16th and his last point came against Colorado on November 8th. Right-winger Fernando Pisani is also on the IR and his situation may be the most concerning of all the injuries. A real heart and soul member of the Oilers, Pisani has battled colitis for several seasons and has been limited to only six games this season.

One injury that has hurt the Oilers line-up and their offensive production is the loss of Ales Hemsky. Placed on IR on November 27th, Hemsky will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. Edmonton’s first round pick in the 2001 entry draft, Hemsky has averaged almost a point per game during the past three seasons and was on a similar pace this year with 22 points in 22 games. His loss will be difficult to overcome on a team that may need goals to overcome occasionally shaky goaltending.

On any NHL team, injuries to key players create the opportunity for others to improve their game and contribute on a regular basis. Dustin Penner and Lubomir Visnovsky are leading the team in scoring (Penner has 38 points and Visnovsky has 25) and Gilbert Brule has emerged as a legitimate NHL forward. After struggling to find his game as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets for three seasons, the former Vancouver Giant (WHL) has already surpassed his career best of 19 points (2006-2007) and has 22 points in 33 games with the Oilers this year. His continued improvement will bolster the Edmonton offence for years to come if he keeps finding the net and the Oilers can lock him up long-term; he is currently signed through to the end of the season.

The season is slipping away from the Oilers, the Western Conference is a powerhouse and gaining ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings will be difficult but the season is not a loss. Head Coach Pat Quinn and associate coach Tom Renney will get a good look at their young talent and General Manager Steve Tambellini has the experience to turn some of Edmonton’s veterans into prospects via the trade route if the team continues to struggle. It is far from their goal of being a playoff contender this season but anything is possible in today’s NHL. Did anyone have Los Angeles or Phoenix in the top eight this season? A quick start to the New Year and the Oilers will be right back in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the West. While they have not started the way they wanted, the future still looks bright in Edmonton. Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Springfield Falcons Having Tough Year in the AHL's Atlantic Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Springfield Falcons...

The AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, the Falcons are having a tough season in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division and a difficult decade. The team has missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and are on the verge of missing the playoffs again with a 10-15-4-2 win/loss record after their first 31 games. Friday night's 2-0 loss to the Portland Pirates continued a slide that has seen the Falcons go 0-8-1-1 in their past ten games. The Falcons have 26 points this season and are well behind the division leading Manchester Monarchs and their 43 points.

Founded in 1994 after the original Springfield Indians moved to Worcester and then to Peoria, the Falcons play their home games in the 6,679 seat MassMutual Center. The losing record has reflected in the attendance numbers, as the Falcons are near the bottom of the league with 3,051 fans per game. Some notable alumni of the Falcons include Danny Briere, Manny Legace and current Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

It is clear the Falcons have some work ahead of them when looking at some of this season‘s numbers. While the team is 6th in the league on the power play, they are 28th on the penalty kill in the 29-team league and 6th in penalties, averaging 23.2 minutes per game. Their home record is 6-5-3-2 but it is on the road where they get into trouble; the Falcons are 4-10-1-0 when playing away from the MassMutual Center. Head Coach, Rob Daum, is in his first full season behind the bench in Springfield after coaching in Houston for two seasons and taking over the Falcons with 30 games left last year. He spent 10 years coaching at the University of Alberta before his time in the AHL.

It is looking like another tough season for Falcons fans but there are several bright spots on this year’s roster. Montreal native, Charles Linglet, is third in the AHL’s scoring race with 7 goals and 25 assists in 31 games and he is only six points behind league leader, Corey Locke of the Hartford Wolf Pack. After three seasons in Peoria with the Rivermen, Linglet is in his first full season in Springfield. He played in 21 games with the Falcons last season after a trade from Peoria for Carl Corazzini. Re-signed to an AHL contract during the summer, Linglet is on his way to matching or surpassing his career best 66 points, which he accomplished with Peoria in the 2007-2008 season.

Another success story in Springfield this season is right-winger and Harrow, Ontario native Colton Fretter. Selected in the eighth round, 230th overall in the 2002 entry draft by the Atlanta Thrashers, Fretter is 14th in the AHL scoring race with 13 goals and 12 assists in 30 games. He is also one of the reasons for the Falcons efficient power play unit; he is currently third in the league with eight power play goals. After four years at Michigan State University, Fretter spent time with the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL and split the 2007-2008 season between the Gladiators and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Last season in Portland, Fretter scored 24 goals and accumulated 40 points for the Pirates and signed an AHL contract with the Falcons during the summer.

With the injury to the Oilers number one goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin, the Falcons have lost their starter from last year, Devan Dubnyk. A native of Calgary, Alberta, Dubnyk was selected 14th overall in the first round of the 2004 entry draft after playing his junior hockey for the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL. In 62 appearances last year for Springfield, Dubnyk had a 2.97 goals against average and a .906 save percentage on a team that went 24-44-8-4. This season he played in 19 games before his call-up to the Oilers and was 9-9-1 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.

Taking over the goaltending duties in Springfield is another Alberta native, Edmonton’s Aaron Sorochan. In nine games this season, Sorochan is 1-5-0-0 with a 3.90 goals against average and a .874 save percentage. He was not selected in the draft after spending four years at the University of Alberta and signed as a free agent with the Falcons on September 30th, 2009. While his numbers are not great with the Falcons, Sorochan has the talent to be an everyday goaltender in the AHL. In his final junior year in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, he was 35-19-8 with a 2.19 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. During his final season at the University of Alberta last year, Sorochan sported a very impressive 1.66 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. With Dubnyk in the NHL for the time being, it will be Sorochan’s time to shine in the Springfield net.

Fighting their way through a tough losing streak, the schedule does not get easier for the Falcons headed into the New Year. The next six games are all against division rivals; Providence (twice), Hartford (twice) and road games in Bridgeport and Worcester. With Providence, Hartford and Worcester directly ahead of them in the standings, it will be an opportunity for the Falcons to salvage the season or sink deeper in the tough Atlantic Division.

Next week’s team, Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by goaliej54 on Flickr

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Spotlight to Shine on Quebec Goaltenders in 2010

This article was first published in the December 18th edition of Main Street Week, page 6, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

The Spotlight to Shine on Quebec Goaltenders in 2010

As the countdown for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver continues the debate rages on as to who will represent Canada on the men's hockey team. On television, radio, newspapers and in the local coffee shops across our great nation, everyone has a different opinion as to who should make the team. While several players have already guaranteed themselves a roster spot, due to their history representing Canada or their strong play in the National Hockey League this season, there are several positions still open to debate.

Detroit Red Wings General Manager and Team Canada Assistant, Ken Holland, stated in a recent radio interview, his list has changed every ten days. With the official announcement coming from Steve Yzerman, Kevin Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Holland at the end of December, one thing is certain, Quebec will be well represented in the goaltending position - all three goalies could come from La Belle Province.

At the top of almost every list is Montreal, Quebec native and New Jersey Devil, Martin Brodeur. A gold medal winner at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, Brodeur brings a veteran presence to the team and a resume that includes almost every goaltending record in the NHL. After missing most of last season due to an elbow injury, many wondered how Brodeur would fare this season with the pressure of the Olympics on the horizon. Not expected to compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference or the Stanley Cup this season, thanks to Brodeur, the Devils find themselves in the hunt for the top spot in their division, conference and the league. The three-time Stanley Cup Champion and four-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goaltender has a 20-8-1 win/loss record this season with a 2.14 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

Another name on everyone’s wish list and a sentimental favourite because the Olympics are in Vancouver, is Canucks net minder and another Montreal native, Roberto Luongo. His reputation as one of the best goaltenders in the world is well earned and he has represented Canada at the junior level and at the World Championships. While the Canucks have struggled this season, Luongo's numbers are as impressive as ever. His win/loss record is 14-10-0 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He will see some action at the Olympics but do not be surprised to see the Team Canada coaching staff name Brodeur their number one goaltender when the medal rounds begin.

The third goaltender on the depth chart is open to some debate but it will almost certainly be Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender and Sorel, Quebec native Marc-Andre Fleury. At 25-years of age, Fleury is already a Stanley Cup Champion and a two-time silver medal winner with Canada’s Junior team in 2003 and 2004. With two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in his young career, Fleury can handle the pressures of International play but this trip to the Olympics will be a learning experience, preparing him for the job of number one goaltender for Team Canada at future tournaments. His numbers with Pittsburgh this season are impressive as always; 18-8-1 win/loss record with a 2.44 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

With 2009 coming to a close and 2010 right around the corner, I would like to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It has been an exciting year at The Voice of Sport, especially with the launch of Main Street Week in April and more great sports news is on the way. Look for more interviews in the New Year and starting January 4th, I am pleased to be joining Team Sports on Sirius channel 98 as a regular contributor - drop by my website for details. Have a great sports day everyone and a safe and happy holiday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Look Out Eastern Conference - Here Come the Maple Leafs!

Winners of four in a row at home and sporting a 7-3 record in their last ten games, the Toronto Maple Leafs are back in the hunt in the Eastern Conference. As the Christmas break approaches, the Eastern Conference has become a logjam of teams all searching for that elusive eighth and final playoff spot. While it is far too early to be predicting playoff placement, being in the top eight would make for a merrier Christmas then being on the outside looking in.

As of this morning, the Montreal Canadiens sit in the eighth spot in the standings with 33 points and the 14th place New York Islanders are only two points behind the Habs with 31 points. Remarkably, the only team out of the playoff hunt are the Carolina Hurricanes and the 20 points they have accumulated this season. If the NHL wanted parody, they have it - if fans want trades involving teams out of the hunt - they will not be seeing roster moves anytime soon.

While the cream is rising to the top in the East, with the usual suspects leading their divisions and the conference - Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and a resurgent Buffalo Sabres squad in the top four, the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers are finding a home in the middle of the conference. If these teams keep rolling the way they have been that will leave two playoff spots for eight teams. Who will move up and who will keep sliding down the standings?

The shine is coming off the surprising New York Islanders after a tremendous start. My dark horse pick for the playoffs have come back to earth and some would say they are back where they belong; near the bottom. Playing way over their heads to be in the hunt, this hard working team is starting to slow down, posting a 4-6 record in their last ten games. The trouble for the Islanders appears to be on the road, where they have an abysmal 5-10-5 win/loss record. More bad news could be on the way in Long Island, as Rick DiPietro appears to have suffered a setback in his rehab assignment in the AHL. Expected back soon from a knee injury that required surgery, the Islanders franchise goalie left his second game with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after two periods with tightness in his knee. If the Islanders were to stay in the playoff hunt, they needed a healthy DiPietro back in the nets and some reinforcements for the roster by trading either Dwayne Roloson or Marty Biron. Much to my disappointment, the Islanders appear set to miss the playoffs again this season.

One team no one expected to be in tenth place on the outside looking in is the Philadelphia Flyers. Once again, goaltending is the Achilles heel for the Flyers. Former Senator, Ray Emery, had respectable numbers after a year in the KHL but his recent abdominal injury, leaves Brian Boucher, Johan Backlund and now Michael Leighton (picked up off waivers today) as the goaltenders in Philly. The Flyers were the first team to make a coaching change this year - are they on the way back up or will they continue the slide down the standings? Unless one of their goalies starts stealing some games, they will continue to struggle.

The Ottawa Senators were dealt a bad hand last night as Jason Spezza suffered a knee injury in the game against the Leafs. Headed for an MRI later today, Spezza was just finding his scoring touch this season and the Sens may fall in the standings if the injury is long-term. While this may be the incentive Alex Kovalev needs to play every game, it may be a case of too little too late for the Sens. Pascal Leclaire will have to return from his injury and reclaim his place as one of the best goaltenders in the league for the Senators to make the playoffs.

The other teams in the mix, the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers are all capable of getting hot and making a move in the standings by the time the Olympic break starts. All three teams have played terribly in their last ten games but New York and Tampa have some all-star players on the roster and could make a move or two to improve their rosters. If Florida can play as a team and David Booth can return this season, the Panthers could make a push; especially with Tomas Vokoun in nets.

An interesting note - any of the teams in the East from Montreal in eighth, all the way down to the Islanders, would be at the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference. Once again, the powerhouse teams are in the West and many good teams in that conference will miss the playoffs while the teams in the East limp into the playoffs. With 30-35 games in the rear-view mirror, things will only get tighter in the East after the Christmas break. Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Worcester Sharks Battle in Tough Atlantic Division

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Worcester Sharks...

The Worcester Sharks (15-11-0-2), currently second in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division, missed an excellent opportunity to catch up with the first place Manchester Monarchs (19-7-1-2) on Friday, losing by a score of 6-3. Despite losing ground in the division to the Monarchs, the San Jose Sharks affiliate in Worcester is 7-2-0-1 in their last ten games. The Atlantic Division has become one of the tightest races in the AHL, as Worcester, Bridgeport, Providence, Lowell and Portland are all within one point of each other.

The Sharks are towards the bottom of the league statistically on the power play and penalty kill, 20th and 22nd respectively but the team has played well and earned every victory while providing San Jose with some of their best talent. The team’s leading scorer, Logan Couture, has split the season between the AHL and NHL. The Sharks first round draft pick in 2007, Couture has played 16 games in Worcester, scoring 9 goals and adding 13 assists. In the NHL, Couture has hit the ice in 11 games, scoring one goal and one assist on the high-powered San Jose team.

Tied with Couture for the team scoring lead with 22 points this season is Utica New York native Steve Zalewski. A former Clarkson University player in the NCAA, Zalewski is in his second full season in Worcester. Selected in the fifth round of the 2004 entry draft, he is well on his way to surpassing last year’s 39-point season; in 27 games this season; he has 8 goals and 14 assists.

Third in team scoring, with 19 points is LaSalle Quebec’s Danny Groulx. In his first year with the Sharks after several seasons on various teams in the AHL (Grand Rapids, Manitoba, Hamilton and Rockford), Groulx has 3 goals and 19 points in 28 games. In 2007, he was a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs squad that won the Calder Cup with Carey Price in nets and his playoff experience will help the Sharks through the lengthy AHL season.

While Worcester has given up 87 goals and scored 78 after last night’s action on the ice, they have relied on several call-ups themselves to replace the players currently in San Jose. A bright spot for Worcester is a rookie goaltender from St. Paul Minnesota, Alex Stalock. A fourth round pick by San Jose in 2005, Stalock is in his first season of pro hockey after three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In his final year in the NCAA, he played in 42 games, with a 2.13 goals against average and .924 save percentage. In Worcester, Stalock is continuing to improve his play; in 21 games, he has a 13-7-1 win/loss record with a 2.41 GAA and .910 save percentage.

For hockey fans in Canada, there is an interesting connection between the Sharks organization and the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s. San Jose General Manager Doug Wilson was a member of the 67’s during his junior career and played under Hall of Fame coach, Brian Kilrea. Wilson knows from personal experience that Kilrea gets the most out of his young squads and has produced many NHL calibre players during his three decades behind the bench in Ottawa.

Besides Couture, a member of the 67’s for four seasons, there are several other prospects in the Sharks organization that honed their skills in Ottawa. Julien Demers, a fifth round pick in 2008, is back in Ottawa this season playing defence for the 67’s but should find himself in Worcester next season. Once there, he will join Arnprior Ontario’s Will Colbert on the Worcester blue line. Colbert started the year in Kalamazoo in the ECHL after four years at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia but played his way onto the Worcester roster; scoring two goals in six games with the Kalamazoo Wings. Colbert has played in 12 games in his rookie season with Worcester and has one assist. (*Look for my interview with Will Colbert in early 2010*)

Other former 67’s that have spent time in Worcester this season but are now in San Jose, Derek Joslin (10 games in Worcester, 19 games in San Jose) and Jamie McGinn (5 games in Worcester, 27 games in San Jose).

The Sharks are idle until Friday, December 18th, when they take on the Manchester squad they are chasing in the division. Their next five games will be at home in the 14,800 seat DCU Center, starting with Manchester and then the Adirondack Phantoms (10-12-2-0) come to town on the 19th. After the Christmas break, the Springfield Falcons (10-12-4-2) will be the visitors on the 26th, the first of three consecutive games against division rivals. They wrap-up the home stand against the Lowell Devils (14-11-3-0) on the 27th and Manchester is back in town on the 29th. Victories against Springfield, Lowell and Manchester will go a long way in helping the Sharks gain ground on first place in the Atlantic Division.

Next week’s team, Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Dinur on Flickr

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bob FM's Stuntman Stu visits with Main Street

This article is in the December 2009 edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with the permission of the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper. A very special thank you to Stuntman Stu for taking time from a very busy schedule to speak with The Voice of Sport and Main Street. Thanks Stu!!

Stuntman Stu visits with Main Street

My guest this month at The Voice of Sport was born in Montreal and now calls Ottawa home. A graduate of the Algonquin College Radio Broadcasting program, you may have heard him introducing songs, joking with his co-host or talking sports on your radio dial. Perhaps you have watched him on CTV news or heard his voice in the background announcing the goals, assists and penalties while watching the Ottawa Senators. He is actively involved with many charitable organizations and has been an inspiration to me personally. Our special guest this month is Stu Schwartz, better known to his listeners as Stuntman Stu.

As one of his regular listeners for several years, it has become clear to me that Stuntman Stu is one of the busiest people in Ottawa. With several high profile jobs, lending his support to numerous charitable organizations and having two young children at home, the support of his family is an important element in Stu’s success and his ability to help those in need.

"My wife is the rock for sure," Stu revealed. "It is a constant balance but I love what I do so we make it work."

Working with CHEO, the Sens Foundation and numerous other charities comes naturally to Stuntman Stu. While many members of the media give freely of their time to local charities, it was also part of Stu’s upbringing. He recently launched the Stuntman Stu Red Line Merlot by Huff Estates, which is available at several Ottawa area restaurants and online at Stu's website. Two dollars from every bottle is donated to the Sens Foundation.

"It's part of the job and many in the media give back to various charities. I was surrounded by it as a kid and it comes natural to me. Kids charities are close to my heart."

As the Senators PA announcer at Scotiabank Place, Stuntman Stu has been on hand for some tremendous NHL hockey games, a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 and the 2009 World Junior Tournament. In February, Stu will take his voice on the road to Vancouver and take part in the 2010 Olympics.

"I'll always remember announcing my first NHL game, which was a dream come true," recalled Stu. "The Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals my first season and it was an experience I'll always remember. I hope the Sens can win one on home ice so I can announce the commissioner presenting the Cup to Daniel Alfredsson. As for the Olympics, I'll be there as the PA announcer for Women's Hockey and Men's Sledge Hockey for the Paralympics."

Working in the radio business, Stuntman Stu has become a large part of his listeners' daily lives. He has heard many stories about his positive impact on their lives, including mine.

"When someone turns on the radio and makes our show part of their lives, that's the best compliment you could ever ask for in this business," said Stu.

After several years as a co-host on the Team 1200's morning show, Three Guys on the Radio (TGOR), Stu returned to his rock and roll roots in September, joining 93.9 Bob FM and launching the Stuntman and the Shark morning show.

"One of the perks of working for a company that has four radio stations under one roof is the opportunity to move from within," said Stu. "Working at the Team was like hanging out with your buddies and I had a lot of fun on that station. Going across the hall to work with Sandy (co-host, Sandy Sharkey) has been amazing. We've known each other for years and she's a passionate broadcaster who wants to have fun every morning."

There is no doubt, during his fifteen years in Ottawa Stuntman Stu has become an integral part of the community. Next time you are watching the Canadiens in Ottawa, listen for a familiar voice in the background. For more information on the Stuntman Stu Red Line Merlot, visit Stu’s website at Happy Holidays to all Main Street readers, stay safe and have a great sports day everyone.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Texas Stars on the Rise in the AHL

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season (I'm late this week - sorry). The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Texas Stars.

Texas Stars on the Rise in AHL

Hockey fans that do not follow the American Hockey League on a regular basis may be surprised to learn that one of the hottest teams in the league is the Texas Stars. Currently on a 3 game win streak and 7-3 record in their last ten games, the Stars are 18-5-2-2 (W/L/OTL/SOL) on the season. They are first in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Rochester Americans and they lead the West Division, nine points ahead of the second place Rockford IceHogs.

There is no doubt the NHL has struggled to gain a foothold in the southern United States but the one success story has to be in Texas. The Dallas Stars have a strong following in the state and hockey fans are turning out to see their AHL affiliate as well. Through 12 home dates, an average of 5,132 fans has attended the Stars games in the 6,800 seat Cedar Park Center in the suburb of Austin Texas.

While Hershey has the best attendance in the league, with an average of 8,949 fans per game, the Stars are well above the league average of 4,483. In the hockey mad Toronto market, the Marlies find themselves 28th in the 29-team league with 3,046 fans watching the Maple Leaf affiliate.

With a very real chance of competing for the Calder Cup in the spring, the Stars are getting it done at both ends of the ice. They are 12th in the league on the power play, 3rd in the league on the penalty kill and they have allowed the fewest goals of any team in the AHL.

Leading the way in nets are goaltenders Brent Krahn and Matt Climie. A former member of the Calgary Hitmen and Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, Krahn was selected ninth overall in the 2000 entry draft by the Flames. The native of Winnipeg Manitoba is in his seventh season of pro hockey in the ECHL and AHL and made his NHL debut last season, playing in one period for the Dallas Stars against the Chicago Blackhawks. In his 12 appearances this season for Texas, he is 10-2-0 and leads the league with a 1.41 goals against average and a .958 save percentage.

Climie’s numbers are equally impressive; he is 7-5-2 with a 1.97 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. The Leduc Alberta native is in his second full season in the AHL and played four years in the NCAA with Bemidji State. Last season, he made three starts in Dallas with the big club, going 2-1 with a 2.92 goals against average. Combined, the Texas goaltending duo of Climie and Krahn has five shutouts this season.

Helping the goaltenders is a good group of defensemen, led by hockey veteran Brad Lukowich and his 640 games of experience in the NHL. In 21 games this season, Lukowich has 1 goal and 11 assists and is a +4. Helping out on defence is Stars prospect and recent call-up Ivan Vishnevskiy, a first round pick, 27th overall in the 2006 entry draft. From Barnaul Russia, Vishnevskiy spent three seasons in the QMJHL playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before entering the AHL. Another Dallas prospect having a great start to the season with the Texas Stars is La Prairie Quebec native Maxime Fortunus. After four seasons playing for the Manitoba Moose, Fortunus is in his first year in the Lone Star state and he has 4 goals and 4 assists in 26 games.

The Stars have no forwards in the top 20 in AHL scoring and yet they are 10th in the league in goals scored with 77 this season. Aaron Gagnon and Perrtu Lindgren are tied for the team lead with 17 points each and Greg Rallo leads the team with 10 goals. The Stars are also getting help from two AHL rookies - Colton Sceviour and Sergei Korostin. Sceviour, a 4th round pick in the 2007 entry draft has taken a regular shift in his first 27 games and has 4 goals and 10 assists to rank 21st in rookie scoring; he is also a +14. Lindgren is right behind his teammate in the scoring department with 9 goals and 4 assists and is a +9 in 26 games.

Head Coach Glen Gulutzan and GM Scott White have their team firing on all cylinders as the Texas Stars play their inaugural season. Landon Wilson, a first round draft pick of the Maple Leafs in 1993, is providing tremendous veteran leadership as team captain and the Stars should continue to shine in the American Hockey League and be in the hunt for first in the Western Conference when the season ends. It may be hard to believe for Canadian hockey fans but the residents of Texas love their hockey teams and they are proving it at the gate, unlike the Marlies in hockey-mad Toronto.

Next week's team - the Worcester Sharks... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by winkydo on Flickr

Friday, December 4, 2009

Montreal Alouettes - the Best in the CFL Since 2000

This article was first published in the December 4th edition of Main Street Week, page 6, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Montreal Alouettes - the Best in the CFL Since 2000

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat - choose any sports cliché you like and it can be applied to the Montreal Alouettes come from behind win in the 97th annual Grey Cup. Once again, the Canadian Football League season ended in dramatic fashion as the Montreal Alouettes defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 28-27 at Calgary's McMahon Stadium on November 29th.

A field goal by Montreal’s Damon Duval with no time left on the game clock sealed the fate of Rider Nation and sent the loud and proud Saskatchewan fans home with an empty feeling in their hearts and tears in their eyes. Despite the dramatic turn of events that led to Montreal’s victory, the Roughriders can hold their heads high regardless of the outcome. While the focus is on the Saskatchewan penalty for too many men on the field that led to Duval’s winning 33-yard field goal after he had missed on his first attempt from 43-yards, there were several plays in the fourth quarter that led to the loss.

Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo is considered the CFL’s version of The Great One and many believe that Saskatchewan’s Darian Durant is The Next One; however, it was a miscommunication between Durant and Rider’s receiver Andy Fantuz with the score 27-19 that led to a key interception by Montreal’s Jerald Brown. Fantuz cut his receiving route short, resulting in a pass into the waiting arms of Brown and setting up Montreal’s next scoring drive. It was Durant’s second interception on the day but it was clearly the more costly of the two.

Down 27-25 after a touchdown pass from Calvillo to Mr. Clutch, Ben Cahoon, Montreal once again went for a two-point conversion. The game could have been tied but Saskatchewan’s Donovan Alexander interfered with Montreal receiver Jamal Richardson on the play. Unfortunately, the referees missed the call, which lead to the dramatic ending and the field goal scenario.

With the win, Montreal can definitively state they are the team of the decade in the Canadian Football League. Although they only have two wins in their seven Grey Cup appearances since 2000, unlike other sports with a 7-game series playoff format, anything can happen in a single game when a championship is on the line.

Years from now, football fans will refer to the “Calvillo Era” in Montreal as one of the best teams assembled in the history of the league. Since 2000, the Alouettes have a league best 115-65 win/loss record and 7 Grey Cup appearances. The Edmonton Eskimos, BC Lions and Calgary Stampeders have each won two Grey Cups since 2000 but no team has dominated the league with the consistency that Montreal has demonstrated.

Here are the other win/loss records since 2000 in the CFL: BC (108-71-1), Edmonton (96-83-1), Saskatchewan (91-87-2), Winnipeg (90-88-2), Calgary (86-91-3), Toronto (80-98-2), Hamilton (61-118-1) and Ottawa - in the league for four seasons (23-49)

While the players celebrate their Grey Cup win, one thing is certain; Montreal General Manager Jim Popp and Head Coach Marc Trestman are already looking ahead to next season. Congratulations to the Alouettes and everyone involved with the organization. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by IcE Man Photo on Flickr

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It is Time for the Canadiens and Maple Leafs to Name a Captain...

The new ownership group in Montreal, led by the Molson brothers, officially took control of the Canadiens yesterday after the NHL's Board of Governors approved the sale of the franchise. At a reported price tag of $575 million, one has to wonder if they will want part of their deposit back after last night's lacklustre effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As the Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary this week, (well, it has been going on all year but the official birthday is this Friday) and the Habs look back on their history, a major component to their legacy is the long list of great players that have captained the team and lifted the Stanley Cup. The fact that the Maple Leafs, an equally storied franchise, and the Canadiens do not have a captain is a shame and an insult to their history.

The list of captains on the two teams could be a guidebook on a tour of the Hall of Fame: Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin to name a few Toronto legends. In Montreal the list is even more impressive: Toe Blake, Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Bob Gainey and Saku Koivu and many other greats that have worn the bleu, blanc et rouge. How can these two teams be at the quarter point of the current season and yet, both teams have players wearing the “A” but no one is wearing a “C”?

Some hockey analysts believe the era of the captain has passed; it is an unnecessary tradition that teams no longer need. As hockey teams try to downplay the importance of a captain, other leagues are embracing the concept and copying the NHL with players wearing the “C” on their uniforms. The Boston Red Sox in the MLB proudly proclaim that Jason Varitek is their captain and it is hard not to notice a “C” on Peyton Manning’s uniform as he takes the snaps for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The NHL continues to question, tweak and discuss the little things, while doing nothing about staged fights, a perceived lack of respect among the players and the growing concussion crisis in the league.

While it is great for the General Managers in Toronto and Montreal to say we have a great group of leaders, we do not need a true “captain”, what does that really say about the current group of players on their rosters? Does no one stand out as a true leader? Montreal lives by the expression of “passing the torch”... so I must ask the question, who is ready to receive the torch passed down so many times in 100 years? Would Montreal’s great Stanley Cup wins be as impressive if several players rotated the “A” and a random assistant received the Cup from the commissioner? Heck no! It is part of the legacy to see Jean Beliveau poised next to the Cup in photographs with a “C” on his sweater.

The 28 other teams in the NHL decided a captain was important to their franchise, a reward for time with the team, being a great playmaker or a heart and soul fourth line guy. Atlanta chose Ilya Kovulchuk to wear the “C” and be the face of the franchise, a reward for his exciting plays and a gesture that says, “This is your team, make us great!” The Washington Capitals went with Chris Clark as their captain, a reward for demonstrating that hard work gets the job done, night after night. Ovechkin is their best player but Chris Clark is their captain and everyone respects his role on the team.

Regardless of how many quality guys are in the room, a franchise needs a captain; a face for the franchise both on and off the ice; someone that is accountable to the fans and media, someone that is willing to say, this is my team and I will make it better. Watching the endless parade of ceremonies in Toronto and Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday evening, it is surprising and disappointing to see a parade of different players wearing the “A” taking ceremonial face-offs, standing next to the legends that wore the “C” with pride and humility. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Stephen DesRo on Flickr