Saturday, January 30, 2010

Binghamton Senators Searching for a Playoff Spot


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 Binghamton Senators...

The season has not gone as planned for the Eastern Conference’s Binghamton Senators. After 43 games, they have a 19-20-3-1 record and 42 points, which leaves them in 6th place in the AHL’s East Division, 30 points behind the first place Hershey Bears. However, they are only five points behind the third place Adirondack Phantoms and the playoffs are still a reality for the Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate. Much like their parent club, the squad in Bingo are in need of a lengthy winning streak to gain some ground in the standings. Losing 2-1 to the Phantoms last night, the Senators must regroup for tonight’s game against the Syracuse Crunch or risk having sole possession of last place in the East.

Calling Binghamton home since 2002, the Senators play at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, a 4,727-seat arena. While they are 22nd in attendance in the league, they are close to filling their arena on most nights, averaging 3,746 fans per game. The power play ranks 17th in the league, with an efficiency rating of 17.3%, it is on the penalty kill that they have excelled, ranking 5th in the league at 86.5 %. General Manager Tim Murray has worked hard to provide the team with quality players and Head Coach Don Nachbaur, a former NHL player that spent time on three NHL clubs, the Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, brings a tremendous amount of coaching experience to the team. Before moving to Binghamton, Nachbaur spent several years in the Western Hockey League coaching the Seattle Thunderbirds and the Tri-City Americans. He was the Coach of the Year twice in the WHL, once with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 1995 and again with the Americans in 2006.

Leading the way this season for the Senators is Saskatoon Saskatchewan native, Ryan Keller. He played six games with Ottawa this season but has spent most of the year in Bingo. In 36 games, he leads the team with 21 goals and has accumulated 38 points; he is also a +12, second on the team in the plus/minus category. An interesting part of Keller’s hockey career was the time he spent in Finland playing for the Espoo Blues.

After an outstanding junior career with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL and some time in the AHL and UHL, he travelled to Finland for the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons. During his time with the Blues, he was one of the team’s leading scorers, with 44 points in his first year and 55 points in his second, which led to his return to the AHL with the Senators. As part of Team Canada at this year’s AHL all-star game, Keller scored two goals and added one assist in Team Canada’s shootout victory over the Planet/USA team.

Third in team scoring for Binghamton is AHL veteran and a fellow native of Lachute Quebec (my hometown), Denis Hamel. Oddly enough, although we have never met (I am working on getting an interview), our parents farms are within a minute of each other - but that is a story for another day... Hamel was a sixth round pick of the St. Louis Blues in the 1995 entry draft but his rights were traded to the Buffalo Sabres before his NHL career began.

He played 192 NHL games with Buffalo, Ottawa, Atlanta and Philadelphia. While with Ottawa in the 2007 season, he was sent to Binghamton but had to clear waivers. He was claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers, played three games and found himself on waivers again; this time, he was claimed by the Flyers. After moving so much that season and searching for stability in his hockey career, Hamel signed an AHL contract with the Binghamton Senators and has been an essential part of the team ever since. This year, in 43 games, Hamel has 17 goals and 20 assists. He has also been a factor on the power play, scoring 9 goals for the Senators. He is the career leader in goals (124) and points (236) for Binghamton and he has the single-season record for goals scored with 56 during the 2005-2006 season.

Binghamton finishes the month of January on the road with a game tonight against the Syracuse Crunch and on Sunday they travel to Hershey to take on the league leading Bears. February 20th is an important date to remember for Binghamton fans, the team heads outdoors to take on the Crunch in the Mirabito Outdoor Classic, held at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. This will be the first outdoor game in the history of the AHL.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile looks at the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. It is the first season for the franchise in the AHL...

Photo by PaulMiles on Flickr

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trade Deadline Looms as Canadiens Battle for Playoff Positioning


This article was first published in the January 29th edition of Main Street Week - page 7, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Trade Deadline Looms as Canadiens Battle for Playoff Positioning

Heading into the current NHL season, there was great debate as to how the changes made in Montreal during the off-season would improve the team. Most analysts expected Montreal to be in a tough battle this year for one of the final playoff spots in an ever-tightening Eastern Conference, which is exactly where the Canadiens find themselves in the standings; hovering between tenth and seventh on any given day. With almost two-thirds of the season behind them, there is not much room for error in Montreal.

It has been a season of discontent for the Canadiens, with their goaltenders and defencemen struggling for consistency and the forwards having difficulty finding the net in the offensive zone. While their power play is at the top of the league with the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, at even strength, the Habs are near the bottom of the league in scoring with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes; two teams that will certainly miss the playoffs. Opponents have clued in to this statistic and the key to defeating Montreal this year is to stay out of the penalty box.

The NHL schedule is condensed this season with the two-week Olympic break in February, so any momentum built up before the stoppage will be lost as players not participating in the Vancouver Games head home for some rest and relaxation. Right on the heels of the Olympics is the annual NHL trade deadline (moved back a week this year due to the Olympics - the deadline is March 3rd), so roster decisions will be made in the next few weeks by General Manager Bob Gainey.

Perhaps the most important decision facing Gainey is what to do with his young goaltenders. Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak are both restricted free agents at season’s end and with neither goaltender stepping up to claim the job of starter, what does Gainey offer them in contract talks? While both have looked like legitimate number one goaltenders at times this season, Halak has shown more consistency between the pipes and he is looking for more playing time, whether it is Montreal or elsewhere.

Halak's trade value has never been higher but with his recent play, he has become equally valuable to the Canadiens. Does Gainey risk trading him and possibly dashing any hopes of reaching the playoffs or keep Halak and risk losing one or both goaltenders this summer? Montreal would be awarded compensatory draft picks if they lose either goalie to another team because they are in the restricted free agent category. Perhaps complicating the situation is the play of goaltending prospect Cedrick Desjardins. Currently a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League, Desjardins is one of the best goaltenders in the AHL this season and he appears ready to move up to the NHL level.

After taking on the large contract of Scott Gomez in a trade with the New York Rangers and signing free agents Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Jaroslav Spacek to big money deals during the summer, the Canadiens have very little salary cap space with which to manoeuvre. Finding room under the cap to satisfy both Price and Halak will be difficult, especially when one of Montreal’s best players, Tomas Plekanec, is also a free agent at the end of the season. Stay tuned folks; this year’s trade deadline could provide more drama then an episode of Days of Our Lives. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Big Swede Guy on Flickr

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dawson Wanted a Different Hat in the Hall


“I’m disappointed. I can proudly say that because Chicago was my preference.”

- Andre Dawson on Chicago radio station WMVP-AM

After waiting and wondering, retired MLB player Andre Dawson finally got the call he was hoping to receive, the call to enter the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York. As the only player voted in this year by the Baseball Writers of America, the spotlight will shine brightly on the outfielder known to his legions of fans as The Hawk.

When the news was announced, reports began to surface that Dawson and the HOF committee were in discussions as to which team's cap he would enter the Hall wearing. Perhaps a trivial mater in real life but it is a question of utmost importance in the world of baseball. Many believed that the dilemma facing Dawson was that he wanted to enter as an Expo; the Hall wanted him in as a Chicago Cub. As it turns out, the opposite was true, Dawson is joining Gary Carter as the only Expos ever enshrined in the hallowed hall and apparently, he is "disappointed" about their decision.

It is true, Dawson's best season came in Chicago during the 1987 season, his first year with the Cubs and most American fans will picture him in Wrigley Field as a Cub; an entire generation of fans in Montreal and all of Canada have always held a special place in their heart for Dawson. They will forever see him in their mind's eye, patrolling the outfield in the cavernous Olympic Stadium.

Dawson came to La Belle Province in 1975 as an eleventh round selection of the Montreal Expos in the amateur draft. He made his debut with Montreal on September 11th, 1976, appearing in 24 games that season. By 1977, he was a regular in the outfield and would spend 11 seasons in Montreal before numerous knee injuries and the horrendous artificial turf in the Olympic Stadium forced him to leave via free agency. During his time in Montreal, he was the National League’s Rookie of the Year, a six-time Gold Glove winner and a three-time all-star. Eleven of his twenty-one seasons in professional baseball was as a member of the Expos.

His career stats in Montreal: 1443 games played, 1575 hits, 225 home runs, 838 runs batted in and 253 stolen bases.

Looking at his career in Chicago, it is important to remember Dawson entered free agency at a time when the owners in major league baseball were trying to control their own outrageous spending habits; it is also known as the era of collusion. Having said that, many General mangers believed Dawson’s career was almost done due to his numerous knee injuries. When spring training arrived, he remained unsigned until the Chicago Cubs and GM Dallas Green signed him to a contract at the league minimum.

He went on to win the MVP Award, hitting a career high 49 home runs and adding 137 RBI’s to his totals. Astounding numbers on a team that lost 85 games, while winning only 76 and finishing last in their division. The Hawk would play six seasons in Chicago, never matching his MVP season. He finished his career with two years in Boston with the Red Sox and the final two years in Florida with the Marlins. An amazing 21-year career, worthy of his Hall of Fame invite.

The saga of the Montreal Expos is certainly well documented, almost eliminated by the MLB in contraction, along with the Minnesota Twins; the Expos would eventually become the sad-sack Washington Nationals. While the fan support disappeared in Montreal after the numerous “fire-sales”, trading away every rising young star, in the 1980’s the Expos were almost on even footing with the Montreal Canadiens in the hearts of Quebecers.

Seeing Dawson enter the Hall of Fame as an Expo would have been a glorious opportunity to tip his cap to the province and the city where his career began. Unfortunately for Montreal fans, Dawson would prefer to wear a Cubs cap into the Hall. He is certainly entitled to his opinion, he is a Hall of Famer - but - now that he has spoken out about his preference, one has to wonder how sincere any praise for Montreal will be when he takes the podium this summer.

In a world with much bigger problems, it is easy to say, “Who cares?”, but in a sport that embraces its roots and has such a storied history, it would be wonderful to see the Expos accepted as part of that history. The Hall of Fame committee attempted to welcome in another Expo, it is too bad he wants to be a Cub. One more blemish on the tarnished history of the Expos.

Photo by permanently scatterbrained on Flickr

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Manitoba Moose Looking to end three game losing streak...


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 Manitoba Moose...

Coming off an 8-3 loss to the defending Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears on Friday evening, last season's Western Conference Champions will try to regroup in time for tonight's contest, against the very same Bears squad in a back-to-back battle at the Giant Center in Hershey Pennsylvania. Currently in third place in the AHL's North Division, the Moose are ten points behind the division leaders, the Hamilton Bulldogs.

With a 23-18-4-1 win/loss record, the Moose have lost three games in a row and former Winnipeg Jet and current Head Coach, Scott Arneil, must rally his players to stay in contention for a playoff spot. The Rochester Americans are one point ahead of the Moose for second in the division but the Americans have three games in hand and could widen the gap between second and third if the Moose continue to slide. At home in the 15,000 seat MTS Centre in Winnipeg, their offence disappears on the road, scoring only 45 goals while allowing 62 against - not the recommended formula for success.

Second in the league in attendance, averaging 7,560 fans per game, Manitoba has struggled on the power play - 24th in the AHL with a 13.6% success rate, and they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league with 111 total goals this season. On the penalty kill, the Moose are a respectable 14th in the league, killing off 83.5% of their penalties, but with a lack of offence, they will need to improve this statistic moving forward.

Leading the team in scoring this season is AHL rookie Sergei Shirokov. Selected 163rd overall in the sixth round of the 2006 entry draft, the native of Moscow spent last season in the KHL, accumulating 41 points in 56 games with CSKA Moscow. This year in Manitoba, Shirokov has 14 goals and 17 assists in 43 games, tying him for the team lead with AHL veteran Marco Rosa. After an impressive showing at the Vancouver Canucks training camp, Shirokov started the season in Vancouver, playing in six games but failing to score during his time in the NHL. With some improvement and experience in North America, he should find himself on the Canucks roster next season. Shirokov delighted the Manitoba fans with two goals for the PlanetUSA team in the AHL all-star game, held on January 19th (Team Canada won this year’s all-star game 10-9 in a shootout).

Rosa, a native of Scarborough Ontario, is in his sixth season of pro hockey in the AHL and ECHL. A draft pick of the Dallas Stars in the 2001 entry draft (8th round, 255th overall), Rosa spent four years at Merrimack College in the NCAA before joining the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the ECHL for the 2004-2005 season. Last year, Rosa accumulated 40 points in 69 games with the Houston Aeros and in his first season with Manitoba, he has continued to impress, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists in 46 games. While he is yet to play in the NHL, he is a dependable center. He could get the call from Vancouver as a reward for his perseverance and leadership if a roster spot opens up due to injury.

Speaking of leadership, what can be said of the Captain of the Moose, Mike Keane? A veteran of 1,161 NHL games and a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, Keane returned to his native Winnipeg in 2005 to continue his playing career and has captained the Moose ever since. Not selected in the NHL entry draft, Keane joined the Montreal Canadiens organization in 1985 as a free agent and made his debut in the hallowed Montreal Forum in 1988; he was also part of the surprising 1993 Stanley Cup championship squad. He would become Captain of the Habs before being included in the famous Patrick Roy to Colorado trade, which brought him another Stanley Cup in 1996. After a move to Dallas to start the 1997-98 season, Keane added a third Stanley Cup to his resume in 1999.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Keane’s time in Manitoba with the Moose is the fact that at 42 years of age, he is fourth in team scoring with eight goals and ten assists in 45 games. In each of the last four seasons, he has scored eight goals while playing in almost every game, averaging 73 games per season. A true leader on and off the ice, Keane is the perfect example of what is good about the game of hockey. Much like Hershey Captain, Bryan Helmer, his desire to play has kept him in the game, helping to guide and teach the younger players what it takes to be an NHL regular.

In the week ahead, the Moose stay on the road for games against the Worcester Sharks on the 27th and 29th of January and finish the month with two games against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on the 30th and 31st. They finally return home for back-to-back games with the San Antonio Rampage the first week of February. With the Abbotsford Heat only three points behind them in the division, the Moose must continue to work hard and hope the Hamilton Bulldogs cool off if they hope to repeat as the Division Champions.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile looks at the Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Jezz on Flickr

Friday, January 22, 2010

Main Street Week - More with Kevin Lowe...

This article was first published in the January 22nd edition of Main Street Week, page 7, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

More with Kevin Lowe - A New Arena in Edmonton and Concussions in Hockey

Except for his time in New York with the Rangers, Lachute's Kevin Lowe has been a member of the Edmonton Oilers throughout his storied hockey career. While this year’s squad struggles in the standings, it is still an exciting time for Lowe and the city of Edmonton. With several young prospects about to join the Oilers in the next few seasons and a new arena in the planning stages, the future looks bright for the organization.

On December 3rd, the Oilers and team owner Daryl Katz announced they would begin working with AEG Development, one of the world’s leaders in developing sports facilities. The plan is to create a new entertainment and sports district, which will include a new arena for the hockey franchise and help revitalize the downtown core in Edmonton.

“The building (Rexall Place, formerly known as the Northlands Coliseum) is OK but relative to all the new facilities in professional sports now, it’s way behind,” said Lowe on the telephone from Edmonton. “That’s from the hockey perspective, from my relationship with the Oilers, but as a citizen of the city for almost thirty-one years, the city really needs it.”

While there is no timetable as of yet for the completion of the new facilities according to Lowe, the planning is underway and the team’s President of Business Operations, Patrick LaForge, is actively working on the project.

“I am excited for the impact that it will have on the hockey club,” said Lowe. “Although our revenue streams are pretty good, our building is a little under-sized and with our demands for suites - we could have more of those, which will mean more revenue and better amenities for the fans; they are paying top dollar for what they are going to see.”

Another important topic in Edmonton and throughout the NHL is the rise in hits to the head and the effects of multiple concussions. Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the injury and there is a growing awareness in the sports world regarding the long-term health ramifications, which has led the NHL to work towards better protection for their players. Like many teams in the league, the Oilers have lost several key players at various points during the past few seasons to the injury.

“You know when we were kids growing up, if I was running playing ball hockey and hit my head on the pavement, I’d get up saying I was seeing stars,” recalled Lowe. “Well, the reality is, I probably had a concussion. That was a sign of the times; you just kept going. There just wasn’t as much information as there is today.”

“We have a better understanding overall in sports of what is happening and there is no question that the players are bigger, stronger and faster, the game is completely different. Every shift from the opening puck drop is almost a war of attrition. You hear of puck battles, of winning the puck battles; that did not exist even twenty years ago, the game had less contact.”

The General Managers in the NHL will continue meeting to discuss the issue in the coming months. Besides the well-being of their players, the teams must also deal with the monetary ramifications of players that are sidelined indefinitely.

“Being a member of management, maybe it was six years ago, we did not have many of them (concussions). If a player felt he could not play because he was a little bit woozy, you always sort of gave them two or three days,” said Lowe. “Once it led into a week or two weeks you sort of raised your eyebrow, but all that is eliminated now with the protocols that the NHL has for head injuries. It is a simple process that requires if it is a major concussion or a second head injury they are out a minimum of seven days with no activity at all and then there are the steps and a process to get them back in the games.”

While changes are coming next season in terms of the equipment worn by the players, softer shoulder and elbow pads for example, hockey is a high impact sport and contact has always been a part of the game.

“I don’t think we will ever eliminate them (the hits) because there is always going to be a player skating with his head down through the neutral zone,” said Lowe. “We don’t ever want to eliminate that, it’s been around since the days of Butch Bouchard and Toe Blake.”

That is the fine line that the NHL and their managers must walk; finding ways to protect their players while staying true to the game we all love.

As we wrap up this week’s Voice of Sport, I must say thank you to Kevin Lowe for taking the time to speak with Main Street. As the owner of a well-worn copy of Lowe’s 1988 book Champions, the opportunity to speak with him is certainly a career highlight. Look for more conversations with Kevin Lowe and updates on the Edmonton Oilers in future editions of Main Street and Main Street Week. Have a great sports day everyone.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Team Canada Roster - Thoughts on the players that did not make the list...


After Steve Yzerman announced the roster for Canada's men's hockey team at the Vancouver Olympic Games, the debate quickly began as to who was left off the squad. While it is a valuable part of the discussion, one thing that was very clear from watching the management team make their decision and speaking with Kevin Lowe in December for Main Street, many, many hours of scouting, travelling and conversations led to the team that we have before us today.

In announcing their choices for Team Canada, one thing is clear, there is a tremendous group of talented hockey players in our country and the argument could be made for two Team Canada’s at the Games. It will never happen but it is an interesting thought nonetheless...

For example, look at some of the eligible players not on this year’s Canadian roster for the World Junior Championship because they are already in the NHL:

Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay, 48 points), Matt Duchene (Colorado, 33 points), John Tavares (N.Y. Islanders, 31 points), Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 24 points), Evander Kane (Atlanta, 17 points).

Some remarkable Canadian players, all under twenty years of age and they are already making an impact in the NHL this season. When we look at some of the players left off Team Canada for the Olympics, there are several reasons for the decisions in my opinion.

The first item that stands out is the fact that unlike other Olympic Games, this year’s tournament will happen on a NHL ice surface. The miles of open ice on the International rinks is not a factor in 2010. In the past, Canada has brought in some hard checking forwards that could not do their job because when they lined up an opposing player for a hit, the boards were still ten feet away.

Another factor to consider is the amount of ice time allotted to these players in the tournament. A player may be a super star in the NHL, averaging 23 minutes per game, but what happens when he becomes a fourth line checker, limited to only six or seven minutes on the ice? Tampa Bay’s Steve Stamkos is a good example here... While he has racked up the points in his sophomore season with the Lightning, how would he fare in the Olympics as a fourth line checker? After a slow start in his rookie campaign, he finished the season with 46 points, -13 in the plus/minus category and he averaged 14:56 minutes of ice time after being used sparingly at the start of the year. This season, he has already surpassed his point totals, scoring 25 goals and adding 23 assists in 49 games. He is still a minus player at -6 but his ice time is now averaging 19:43 minutes per game. A small increase in ice time, some valuable experience in his rookie year and were are seeing what this young man is capable of; there is no doubt he will join Team Canada at future tournaments but who would he replace from the 2010 squad?

A key to Canada’s chances in Vancouver will be the third and fourth lines and Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews will be a major factor in the tournament. Both have experience in International competitions and their prowess in the face-off circle is essential. Besides having 40 points this season with Chicago, Toews has a 58.6 winning percentage in the face-off circle. Bergeron has accumulated 31 points on a low scoring Bruins team and he has won 57.9% of his face-offs. As I mentioned on Team Sports with Cesco Lepanto (Hardcore Sports Radio), when Canada is on the penalty kill in the tournament, especially against a high-powered Russian power play, Bergeron, Toews, Crosby and Marleau are among the best in the league on the draw; puck possession will be an integral factor in pursuit of a gold medal.

Two notable veterans left off Team Canada are Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lecavalier’s face-off percentage is 53.5% and St. Louis’ is 45.4%. To be included on the team and be effective, they would require first or second line ice time. With that in mind, who comes off the team? Crosby, Getzlaf, Heatley, Thornton, Nash or Marleau? Not an easy choice to make is it...

Going into the NHL season, many analysts expected as many as three Calgary Flames defencemen to be included on the Olympic roster. Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf were all considered for the squad but were not selected for the final roster. As Calgary struggles for consistency this season, many experts are looking at these three as a factor. The highly sought-after Bouwmeester has only 18 points in his first season with the Flames, Regehr has 13 points and is a minus two, and Phaneuf has 19 points but appears to have taken a step back from his impressive rookie year a few seasons ago. Some could argue that Calgary’s best defenceman this season is Mark Giordano.

The one name that is noticeably absent from Team Canada is Washington Capitals D-man Mike Green. He leads the NHL’s defencemen in scoring with 50 points but he is considered a defensive liability by some analysts. Keep in mind, there are many NHL games to be played between now and the Olympics, so I would imagine Green is at the top of the list for injury replacements.

To add a player like Green or one of the Flames D-men, who comes off the team? Here is a look at the players on the team right now and their NHL totals:

Dan Boyle - San Jose: 10 goals, 43 points, 90 blocked shots
Drew Doughty - Los Angeles: 9 goals, 36 points
Duncan Keith - Chicago: 10 goals, 45 points, 92 blocked shots
Scott Neidermayer - Anaheim: 4 goals, 28 points - the key here: Stanley Cup and Olympic experience
Chris Pronger - Philadelphia: 7 goals, 27 points, third among Canadian D-men with 112 blocked shots
Brent Seabrook - Chicago: 3 goals, 21 points, third among Canadian D-men with 130 hits and he has 100 blocked shots
Shea Weber - Nashville: 9 goals, 29 points

As for goaltending on Team Canada, this is the one area with no debate coming from the fans or the media. Brodeur, Luongo and Fleury are three of the top goaltenders in the league and in Brodeur’s case, perhaps the best goaltender ever. Carolina’s Cam Ward certainly warranted some consideration, but he seems to excel one year, only to take a step back the next. Steve Mason and Carey Price, two other names in the mix during the summer, played themselves out of contention.

While it is fun to think about who would make your Team Canada, Steve Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Kevin Lowe and Ken Holland brought an abundance of experience to the job and clearly focused on a team concept, as opposed to taking the best statistical players. We would all like to see our favourites make the squad and it is easy to say this player should be included or that player should be included but that leaves us with the question - who comes off the roster? Not as easy is it?

To borrow from Stephen Colbert, I for one give a “tip of the hat” to Yzerman and his staff. Difficult decisions were necessary in reaching a final roster and it is always a tremendous undertaking when assembling a Canadian team. It is certainly nice though to have too many good players to choose from... Have a great sports day everyone.

A special thank you to Sandy, a regular TVOS reader that asked the question - What about the guys left off Team Canada's roster... Have a question for The Voice of Sport? Send me a note on Twitter...

Photo by tyfn on Flickr

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Daniel Alfredsson - My Kind of Captain!


Ottawa's Stuntman Stu is thinking of running for mayor in the nation's capital but judging from the recent Senators games, he may face some stiff competition from Daniel Alfredsson. No, the Senators Captain has not decided to run for mayor too, but if he did, all the candidates would be in trouble.

After missing 11 games due to a separated shoulder, Alfredsson returned to the line up weeks ahead of schedule and helped rally the Sens past the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins on the weekend. Losers of five games in a row, the Senators won a 2-0 game over the New York Rangers on the strength of Mike Brodeur's play to start their current three game winning streak, but it was Alfredsson's return that has really sparked the club.

Against Montreal, Alfredsson set up Zack Smith for his first NHL goal, shorthanded against the league's number one power play and added a goal of his own and another assist in the 4-2 win. Against Boston Monday afternoon, the Senators Captain scored the natural hat trick, lifting the Sens to a 5-1 victory and bringing the two teams into a tie in the standings with 54 points each. Proving once again, he is the heart and soul of the Senators and the importance of having a Captain on your team - I'm looking at you Montreal and Toronto.

A native of Gothenburg Sweden, the 37-year-old Alfredsson was a sixth round pick (133 overall) by the Senators in the 1994 entry draft. After honing his skills playing for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League, Alfredsson came to North America in the 1995-96 season. In his rookie year, he demonstrated his talents and versatility, picking up 61 points while playing in all 82 games and earning the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year in the NHL.

This season, barring another injury, Alfredsson will play his 1,000th game in the NHL. In 971 career games, he has 368 goals, including 112 goals on the power play and he has added 590 assists for 958 career points. Incredible numbers for a sixth round pick. Besides his impressive offensive numbers, Alfredsson is always on the ice for important penalty kills and as Captain, he is the face of the franchise. Whether it is dealing with the media during losing streaks or discussing uncomfortable situations, like Dany Heatley’s trade request during the summer, he has never avoided his role as leader of the Senators.

With a gold medal on his resume from the 2008 Olympics Games, Alfredsson still has one main goal - to bring a Stanley Cup to Ottawa. The Senators will have to battle through a tough Eastern Conference if they hope to qualify for the playoffs this season, but if one man in the NHL can carry his team on his shoulders, it is the man known in Ottawa as Alfie. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo from Senators.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Open Letter to Sports Fans from The Voice about Concussions...

All hockey fans love a good, clean body check. There is nothing like a great hip-check or a bone crunching collision in the neutral zone - if it is delivered within the rules. We have all stood and cheered when someone is stopped in their tracks. However, somewhere along the way, players lost sight of the difference between a good hit and racing at 100 miles per hour to devastate an opponent that is unaware of what is about to happen to him.

I am fortunate in my line of work, besides sharing my opinions as a sports columnist; I sometimes get to interview some pretty big names from the world of sports. The issue of concussions came to my attention when the Chris Benoit tragedy occurred (for the first time, I will admit in public I grew up watching wrestling and loved Benoit’s mastery of the technical holds), and the Team 1200 in Ottawa brought Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) co-founder Chris Nowinski on air to discuss the possibility that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (a build up of a protein called Tau that is released in the brain when a concussion occurs) led to the Benoit tragedy. Nowinski, a former Harvard graduate, University football player and WWE wrestler whose career was ended due to multiple concussions, is part of the leading edge of research, along with Boston University, into the effects of repeated head trauma. In Benoit’s case, he had the dementia of an 80 or 90-year-old Alzheimer patient when he attacked his family and committed suicide.

As I ventured into this career (for numerous reasons, not the high rate of pay that’s for sure), I had the pleasure of interviewing Nowinski myself. After speaking with him in June of 2009, it led to a follow up conversation with retired NHL player Keith Primeau. After his career was cut short by multiple concussions, Primeau began working with the SLI to further the research into the effects of head trauma in hockey. I realize not everyone can call Primeau or Nowinski to chat, so that is why I share my thoughts today... When I asked both men in the interviews how there health was now, both let out a long exhale and said, “Better now, thanks...”

Their answers brought me out of “reporter mode” and into the human side of sports. These men suffered through headaches, memory loss, dizziness, depression and numerous other issues for four or five years. It is only now that they are returning to a normal way of life. I was momentarily shaken when I heard their answers, I cannot explain why, but their answers reached right into the core of my being. Here were two men that we all cheered for over the years and hearing the relief in their voices when they said they were doing better was clearly evident. I am certain that both men and their families have lived through a health nightmare, as have many others.

As a sports fan, as well as being a columnist, I told Nowinski and Primeau I would do all that I can through The Voice of Sport to help raise awareness... And here we are today, on the heels of yet another absolutely uncalled for hit to the head of Quebec Remparts player Mikael Tam. When will this all end? When someone dies on the ice? Well folks, we have almost witnessed that several times this season in the OHL, NHL and now in the QMJHL. It is time as sports fans to stop and think for a moment, let it sink in - a concussion is a brain injury! It is not something to shrug off or think nothing of; it is your brain being rattled so hard within your skull that your brain swells.

It is beyond time to send a message to the sports leagues of the world, as sports fans - we do not want to witness this carnage any more. Later in the week, I will delve further into the topic of why players feel the need to deliver these careless hits, but for today, I only wanted to share my thoughts and perhaps plead with you all - help do something, say something, anything... I do not have all the answers but I implore you to reflect on these head injuries. Many athletes afflicted with CTE have committed suicide because they have become paranoid and cannot decipher right from wrong, their minds clouded by injury. I must ask the question, who is there for these players after they are forced out of the games they love to play because a reckless young man tried to make a name for himself or get on the highlight reel?

Sometimes I love the world of sports; sometimes I am saddened by it... today I am saddened to see a young man lying on the ice, convulsing, because someone else was not thinking. What do you think folks? Drop me a line or send me a message on Twitter... Have a great sports day everyone.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Manchester Monarchs Face Tough Opposition 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 Manchester Monarchs...

Despite a 5-2 loss to the Lowell Devils on Friday night, the Manchester Monarchs remain in first place in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. The AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings has remained at the top of the division for most of the season but the Devils have climbed within two points of the division lead. With the Worcester Sharks only four points back, the tide is turning against the Atlantic Division leaders and the race for first is heating up as the AHL all-star game approaches.

General Manager Ron Hextall and Head Coach Mark Morris have the Monarchs playing well in all facets of the game. They have a 25-12-1-4 win/loss record and their 95 goals against is second best in the league; behind the league leading Hershey Bears (92 goals against). Fans at the 10,092 seat Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester have witnessed a tremendous penalty kill, currently third in the league at 87.6% and an equally impressive power play (19.4%, fifth in the league). The city of Manchester has supported the Monarchs and there is growing interest as the team continues to win. Averaging 4,811 fans per game (10th in the AHL), over 5,000 fans attended the game on Friday evening.

Cliché time: The best offence is often a good defence - and good defence starts in nets... and goaltending is where the Monarchs have excelled. Led by the LA Kings first round pick (11th overall) in the 2006 entry draft, Laval Quebec native Jonathan Bernier, the Monarchs know they can take a few chances offensively and Bernier will be there to bail them out if necessary. The back up goaltender to current Columbus Blue Jacket net minder Steve Mason at the 2008 World Junior Championship, Bernier won a gold medal with Team Canada. He also started the 2007-2008 NHL season with the Kings in London England against the Anaheim Ducks. After winning the game 4-1, Bernier was named the second star; not too many players have begun their NHL career overseas as Bernier did. This season with the Monarchs, he has a 17-10-4 record with a 2.05 goals against average and a remarkable .938 save percentage.

The leading scorer on the Monarchs is AHL rookie, Cory Elkins. A native of West Bloomfield Michigan, Elkins signed as a free agent with the Kings March 31, 2009 after spending three years at Ohio State University. He earned a trip to Los Angeles in December, playing in three games and scoring his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. Elkins is eighth in rookie scoring with 11 goals and 15 assists. He has two short-handed goals, five goals on the power play and he is a plus nine. Last season, in his final year at Ohio State, he led the team in scoring with 41 points in 42 games and the team earned a spot in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament but lost in the first round.

Another valuable member of the Monarchs is defenseman, Viatcheslav Voynov. The 5’11, 200 pound D-man from Chelyabinsk Russia was a second round pick of the Kings (32nd overall) in the 2008 entry draft. Signed to a three-year entry-level contract by Los Angeles, Voynov is playing his second season in the AHL with the Monarchs. After accumulating 23 points as a rookie last year, Voynov has 7 goals and 14 assists this season and is the leading scorer on the blue line. A bronze medalist with Team Russia at the World Junior Championship in 2007 and 2008, he wore the “A” as an assistant captain for the Russian squad.

The week ahead for the Monarchs is not a busy one but a very important one nonetheless. Today they are on the road, taking on the third place Worcester Sharks and on Sunday they host another division rival that is chasing them down, the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hartford currently sits in fourth place in the division with 47 points and will play the Monarchs again in Hartford on January 22. To finish the month of January, the Monarchs play four of their next eight games against Hartford and the division lead could hang in the balance during this important stretch of games.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile heads back up to Canada, looking at the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Dinur on Flickr

Friday, January 15, 2010

Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears - A Winning Combination...


Over the past few years, the Washington Capitals organization has experienced a tremendous resurgence on the ice and at the turnstile. A team that was once in trouble, with low attendance figures (14,720 fans per game in 2004) and finishing 28th in the overall standings during the 2003-2004 season, has now captured the hearts of sports fans in the US Capital. The recent success reaches farther then Washington, all the way to their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey Pennsylvania.

While it is easy to say, “They have Ovechkin now, of course they have become a good team,” there is more at work then drafting one phenomenal athlete. The turnaround in Washington goes all the way to the top. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is very involved with the team and is extremely interactive with their fans, General Manager George McPhee has made the most of his draft choices and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has found a permanent home in the NHL and has his young team firing on all cylinders.

Bears GM Doug Yingst, along with Head Coach Mark French, have prepared their players for promotion to the Capitals when needed. The play of last year’s Calder Cup MVP Michal Neuvirth in Washington this season is a perfect example. Called up to the NHL when injuries struck the Capitals net minders, Neuvirth has a 5-4-0 record in 11 appearances and his play has earned him more playing time, ahead of NHL veteran Jose Theodore.

Heading into Friday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Capitals sit third in the Eastern Conference, with a 28-12-6 win/loss record. Their 62 points is four more then they had for the entire 2003-2004 season. Already considered a lock for the playoffs, their fans “rock the red” every home game at the Verizon Center and they are 11th in NHL attendance this season, averaging 18,277 fans per game.

The Hershey Bears, one of the most successful AHL teams in history with 10 Calder Cup victories, recently set a franchise record with a 12 game winning streak. The Bears are at the top of the AHL in attendance, averaging 8,863 fans per game and their 29-9-0-2 win/loss record has them two points ahead of the Hamilton Bulldogs for the top spot in the AHL standings.

In his 11 years as general manager in Washington, George McPhee has focused on drafting quality players and the Capitals fans are starting to witness the results on the ice. Besides Ovechkin, selected first overall in the 2004 draft, McPhee’s roster includes Alexander Semin (selected 13th overall in 2002), Nicklas Backstrom (selected 4th overall in 2006), Eric Fehr (18th overall in 2003), Mike Green (29th overall in 2004) and Seymon Varlamov (23rd overall in 2006).

In the AHL, the Bears fans are witnessing the emergence of Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon. Aucoin, second in AHL scoring with 46 points was a free agent signing in 2008 after being part of the Carolina Hurricanes organization. He joined the Bears with a championship ring from Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup Championship (he was a member of their “black aces”), and has played 21 games with the Capitals during the past two seasons. Giroux was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the seventh round of the 2001 entry draft and after spending time in the New York Rangers organization, he joined the Capitals as a free agent in 2006. This season in the AHL, his 42 points is third overall in league scoring. Gordon, selected in the seventh round of the 2004 entry draft, is seventh in AHL scoring with 39 points. All three players have joined the Capitals as call-ups this season and filled in admirably when needed.

While the spotlight shines on the big name players in Washington, Ovechkin, Green and Backstrom, the entire organization has a winning attitude. Management expects maximum effort from all their players and the players have responded. With smart selections in the draft and timely free agent acquisitions, the Capitals and Bears will be at or near the top of their leagues for many seasons. In the challenging salary cap era, if the Capitals lose a player to free agency or injury, there are several candidates in Hershey ready, willing and able to step in and get the job done. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by clydeorama on Flickr.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Catching Up with Kevin Lowe - January Main Street


In the spring of 1979, the telephone rang in the Lowe household informing a rising young hockey star that the Edmonton Oilers had selected him as their first ever National Hockey League draft pick. As Kevin Lowe would later write in his book Champions, he looked at his Mother and said, “Edmonton? I'm going to Edmonton? That's even colder then Quebec!”

Lowe was about to join a team that would soon become one of the greatest franchises in NHL history. With Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson, and Kurri to name a few, the Oilers changed the face of hockey, becoming the next great dynasty in the league. After playing 1,254 NHL games with Edmonton and the New York Rangers, winning six Stanley Cups and making numerous all-star appearances, Lowe would become Head Coach of the Oilers for one season, General Manager for eight seasons, leading him to his current role as President of Hockey Operations for the franchise in 2008.

He would also begin working with Hockey Canada, helping to build the teams that represent Canada at the Olympics; including the 2010 squad that will compete in Vancouver. A remarkable athlete and person, Kevin Lowe recently took time from a very busy schedule to speak with The Voice of Sport and Main Street to reminisce about growing up in Lachute, his life in Edmonton and the upcoming Olympic Games.

Throughout their storied history, the Edmonton Oilers organization has always been very active in the community; often going above and beyond to help those in need and that has continued with Lowe at the helm. Growing up in Lachute and working as a teenager at Lowe’s Dairy with his family has stayed with Kevin and helped guide him in his role as team president.

“That was a great upbringing for me,” recalled Lowe on the telephone from Edmonton. “The sense of community that my Dad, his brothers and family had for Lachute, the responsibility of sponsoring sports teams and eventually opening up the public skating rink in conjunction with the Lions Club, those kinds of experiences were a great upbringing for me.”

“Even though my Dad or my uncles were presidents or the owners of the business, they always pitched in and did what they had to do. I think they always treated their employees with a great deal of respect and as a consequence, I think the employees always felt that they were as much owners of the business as the actual owners. As for the Oilers, right from day one there was always a sense of giving back to the community, being a part of the community. It has evolved into now, where we have our Foundation (Oilers Community Foundation) and we generate $2 million dollars a year that we give out to charitable organizations. We are in the process of this legacy project called Inner-City High, which will be an incredible undertaking once it is done; trying to give back to under-privileged people.”

With six Stanley Cups, a victory at the 1984 Canada Cup and being a member of the management team with Hockey Canada (including a gold medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake), one victory holds a special place in Lowe’s heart.

“The first Stanley Cup is always the most special and the most impactful,” said Lowe fondly. “As a kid and the reality is, we didn't grow up dreaming of winning a gold medal. Maybe there is a little more of that in young boys and girls playing hockey today, but it wasn't an option when we were kids. So, hoisting the Stanley Cup and of course, growing up just down the road from the Canadiens, seeing the parades on TV and envisioning all that as a possibility someday and then when it actually comes to fruition, you can't really compare it.”

As Lachute prepares for their 32nd annual hockey tournament at the Kevin Lowe/Pierre Page Arena and considering the support the Lowe family has given to youth hockey, I asked Lowe if having his name on the arena was a source of pride for the family.

“You know, I never thought of it in those terms but after I looked at your questions, I thought yeah, I am sure the Lowe family does feel that way,” said Lowe thoughtfully. “I know that we are a very proud family, proud of our heritage and even though a lot of them have moved on to other places in Canada, the memories of the dairy and the rink and what the Lowe’s meant to hockey in Lachute is still with us. To have the Lowe name, regardless of whose name is attached to the arena does make everybody proud.”

Married in 1990 to Karen Percy (two-time bronze medalist at the 1988 Calgary Games), Lowe is the proud father of four children. His son Keegan may one day follow in Kevin’s footsteps; at 16 years old, Keegan has started his first season as a defenseman with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL (Western Hockey League).

“Keegan spent the last two years at a school in Minnesota, at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. He was in that program and we had him enrolled to go back for the third year but he was drafted by the Oil Kings. He impressed them enough at camp that they wanted to keep him, so he made the team,” said Lowe. “It’s nice that he’s actually back, it’s nice to have him back in Edmonton.”

As a seven-time all-star in the NHL, Lowe can certainly offer an abundance of advice to his son and has on occasion, but it is also equally important to let Keegan find his own way and discover his own style of play.

“I try not to inundate him with information, but I certainly try (to offer advice) whenever I can give him one little thing for his game,” said Lowe. “He’s at an age now where he is starting to learn the game more and he is passionate about it and he is very coachable, so he’s got the right pedigree there. Like a lot of young players, he has a long way to go but he’s headed in the right direction.”

On December 30th, Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman, along with Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Ken Holland announced their selections for the men's Olympic hockey team that will compete in Vancouver. The pressure on Team Canada to win gold at home is intense and Lowe knows how to manage the challenge of being in the spotlight, finding the balance between the experience and remaining focused on the ultimate goal. The players will once again stay in the Athletes Village with other Team Canada members and take in as many events as possible, sharing in the Olympic experience with their fellow Canadians.

“I know Wayne Gretzky was really adamant about that at Salt Lake City and it carried on to Torino,” recalled Lowe. “It will definitely be a bit of a focus with the players in Vancouver. We try to give them the right kind of balance. Hockey Canada does an incredible job of making the whole experience; in terms of the logistics, they are just phenomenal. They are so experienced at it. They leave no stone unturned, making sure the players and their families are taken care of and get from point A to point B. It is a tight competition, there is not a lot of time, so in order to balance the two, to try and win and enjoy the experience takes a lot of work and they do a great job at that.”

“It is probably similar to being in the Stanley Cup Finals, you take a moment, you relish the moment and the opportunity,” said Lowe. “You recognize that it doesn't happen every day so you enjoy the experience but you also know that it is tough to win so you have to be focused. The level of players that we will have on the team have a lot of experience at various levels of Stanley Cup playoffs and Internationals, either at the World Junior Championships or the World Championships.”

Many years have passed since Kevin Lowe ventured from Lachute into a life in the NHL, but it is clear when speaking with him that the memories of growing up in Lachute are still with him today. His achievements are something all of Lachute can take pride in, a hometown boy that skated onto the world stage and inspired us all to follow our dreams - whatever they may be.

The conversation continues in the January 22nd edition of Main Street Week with Kevin Lowe’s thoughts on a new arena in Edmonton for the Oilers and the topic of headshots in the NHL. Have a great sports day everyone.

This article first appeared in the January 2010 print edition of Main Street and is reprinted here with permission from the editors - thanks Jack and Sue! For a look at a great community newspaper, drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com

Photo by mastermaq on Flickr.com

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's -10 degrees in Toronto, Let's talk about the Blue Jays


Sometimes it is good to be wrong...

As regular readers will know, I gave up on baseball after the Montreal Expos left for Washington to become the bumbling Nationals. As I began to watch and write about the Can-Am baseball league two years ago, my love for the game returned. When I moved to Toronto last February, I begrudgingly began to follow the Toronto Blue Jays. Their fast start last season got me hooked and I became a fan again for the first time in years. As the team began to talk about rebuilding and trading away Roy Halladay, I began to wonder here at The Voice of Sport, would Toronto become the 2000's version of the Expos - a team about to disappear...

When the work stoppage of 1994 hit the Montreal market, the end was near for the franchise. A city accustomed to winning thanks to years of Stanley Cup Championships by the Canadiens, could not comprehend why their team was denied a trip to the post season. Fans began to walk away from the game and the famous Expos Fire Sale had begun, eventually leading to years of struggles on the field and at the gate. A tremendous roster of talented young players would find new homes in the baseball world due to Montreal's inability to re-sign their players.

Maple Ridge BC native Larry Walker played 674 games in an Expos uniform, hitting 99 home runs and driving in 384 runs. He would move on to Colorado as a free agent in 1995, playing in 1,170 games for the Rockies and hitting 258 home runs, while driving in 848 RBI's. His time in Colorado included an MVP Award in 1997. Great numbers for a player signed as an amateur free agent by the Expos in 1984.

Other players in the Expos organization that would become stars and move on to other franchises includes, Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Geurrero. By the time the Expos franchise was on its last legs in the early 2000's, fans were haunted by what could have been if all or some of these players were able to finish their careers in an Expos uniform.

A few nights ago, unable to sleep, I had a vision... I see the blueprint for the plan that new General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has put in place and I have changed my mind about the Toronto organization. The Jays are not about to disappear; in fact, they could be on the verge of challenging for the East Division title. Call me crazy but unlike the situation in Montreal, where every young star was traded away due to lack of funds, the Jays are in the enviable position of grooming some great young talent and actually re-signing them as they mature into a winning team.

With the emergence last season of Aaron Hill and the American League’s Designated Hitter of the Year, Adam Lind, along with a tremendous crop of young pitchers with experience at various levels of professional baseball, the Blue Jays could surprise a few analysts next season. If Travis Snider and Randy Ruiz continue to improve at the major league level and Vernon Wells returns to form, this young squad could shake up the baseball world.

Along with some talented hitters, the Blue Jays are blessed with a tremendous crop of young pitchers; any one of them could be on the verge of a breakout season. Jesse Litsch, Dustin McGowan or Shaun Marcum could join Brandon Morrow, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero and Marc Rzepcynski in the starting rotation. The bullpen will be strengthened by the return of Brian Tallet, along with Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor and my personal favourite, Dirk Hayhurst (aka - The Garfoose).

The Yankees and Red Sox can spend, spend, spend and challenge for the World Series every year, but throwing money around does not buy the most important factor in baseball - heart. The 2010 Blue Jays will be a heart and soul team, fighting for and earning every victory. When teams struggle or are expected to struggle, the fans disappear, only to return when things are good again. Well, my challenge to Jay’s fans in 2010 is this - show up to the ball games, watch on television, and listen to the games on the radio. Who knows what this team can do with some support from their city? They will certainly show up every day, it is up to us as Jays fans to do the same... Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.com

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rick Wamsley Takes the Helm in Peoria


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 Peoria Rivermen...

When a coaching change happens in professional sports, it is usually because a team has struggled during the season and the management is looking for a fresh start. For teams in the AHL, sometimes the team struggling is their NHL affiliate, as is the case with the Rivermen. With the firing of Andy Murray in St. Louis, Peoria Head Coach Davis Payne found himself the new interim coach with the Blues, leaving the Rivermen in search of a new bench boss. Taking over the helm in Peoria is former NHL goaltender, Rick Wamsley.

A native of Simcoe Ontario, Wamsley played 12 seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. This is his first time as a Head Coach but he has worked as a goaltending coach in Columbus and as an assistant in St. Louis. He takes over a team that sits third in the Western Conference's West Division, with a 20-13-1-3 win/loss record, four points behind the first place Texas Stars. Playing in the 9,524 seat Carver Arena in Peoria Illinois, the Rivermen are 19th in the AHL on the penalty kill but have excelled on the power play, rolling along at 22%, second in the league.

Every goaltender will tell you, a good defence is extremely important and a good defenceman can be your best friend. The Rivermen have a great D-man in Jonas Junland. Selected in the third round of the 2006 draft (64th overall), the 22 year old from Linkoping Sweden leads the team in scoring with 9 goals and 19 assists. He is also a plus 11 through 37 games this season. Junland played in 70 games for the Rivermen last season, accumulating 31 points in his first year of hockey in North America.

Among the forwards, the Rivermen’s top scorer is 20-year-old Lars Eller. Born in Rodovre Denmark, the Blues selected Eller in the first round of the 2007 entry draft, 13th overall. The strong skating center has played in 29 games this season and is tied with Junland for the team scoring lead with 28 points (6 goals and 22 assists). Eller has suited up for the Blues in five games this season, scoring his only NHL goal on the power play against Calgary on November 5th, 2009.

Ben Bishop and Hannu Toivonen have shared the goaltending duties in Peoria this season; Bishop has played in 20 games, Toivonen in 17. Bishop is a towering presence in net; at 6’7, the former University of Maine star from Denver Colorado was a third round pick of the Blues in 2005. In his twenty games this season, Bishop is 12-6-2 with a 2.60 goals against average and .906 save percentage. He also spent time with the Blues last season, playing in six games and posting a 1-1-1 record.

Toivonen, a native of Kalvola Finland, was a first round pick in the 2002 entry draft, selected 29th overall by the Boston Bruins. During the 2005-06 season with the Bruins, he played in 20 games for Boston and had a respectable 2.63 goals against average. In his career, he has appeared in 61 games at the NHL level with Boston and St. Louis; he became expendable in Boston with their acquisition of Tukka Rask from Toronto in the Andrew Raycroft trade. This season with the Rivermen, Toivonen has an 8-8-1 record with a 2.69 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

Coming off a 5-1 victory over the struggling Toronto Marlies on Friday evening, the Rivermen travel to Chicago on Saturday to battle the sixth place Wolves. Sunday, they return home to take on another division rival the Milwaukee Admirals, a team they are only two points behind in the standings. Seven of their next eight games are against teams within their division, so winning is paramount and the first place Texas Stars have struggled of late, leaving the West Division lead up for grabs.

Unlike most coaching changes, the pressure on Wamsley is not to improve a struggling team, but to keep a good team on the right track and into the playoffs for a second year in a row. With his first win under his belt Friday evening and seeing his team score four power play goals against Toronto, things are looking good in Peoria for the Rivermen.

Next week’s team, the L.A. Kings affiliate - the Manchester Monarchs. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by jim.cassady on Flickr.com

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Spengler Cup - A Holiday Tradtion Since 1923


This article was first published in the January 8th edition of Main Street Week, page 6, and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com 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 Spengler Cup - A Holiday Tradition Since 1923

The eyes of Canadian hockey fans and media members were on Saskatoon and Regina during the holidays as Saskatchewan hosted the World Junior Tournament and the announcement of Canada's roster for the Vancouver Olympics. While the tournament is a tremendous opportunity to see NHL prospects and draft eligible players compete against one another as they represent their countries, 7,000 kilometres away in Davos, Switzerland, another Team Canada was competing in the Spengler Cup.

The Spengler Cup is an invitational hockey tournament, created in 1923 by Dr. Carl Spengler of Davos, Switzerland. After World War 1, Germany and Austria were banned from International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) competitions and Dr. Spengler wished to create a tournament that would allow these two countries to compete against the best teams in the world. Five teams from different countries compete every year for the Spengler Cup, held between December 26th and December 31st, and since 1984, a National team consisting of Canadians playing on European clubs has represented our country and won the tournament eleven times.

The early years of the Spengler Cup have a very historic and significant connection to Canada. The Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, four-time winners of the Spengler Cup (1923, 1925, 1931 and 1933), included such notable names as: future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the designer of the current Canadian Flag, George F.G. Stanley and Clarence Campbell, the President of the NHL from 1946-1977.

This year’s tournament included host team, HC Davos (Switzerland), Team Canada, Dynamo Minsk (from Belarus, they play in Russia’s KHL), Adler Mannheim (German Elite League), and HC Energie Karlovy Vary (Czech Elite League). An interesting note, Canadian players on a European team included in the tournament will play against Team Canada. For example, Dynamo Minsk was coached by former NHL player and Washington Capitals coach, Glen Hanlon (Brandon, Manitoba), and the goaltender for Adler Manheim was Ottawa native Fred Brathwaite.

Coached by former Edmonton Oilers bench boss Craig MacTavish, Canada finished this year’s tournament with a 2-2 win/loss record, finishing third but failing to qualify for the Championship game, which Dynamo Minsk won over their hosts, HC Davos by a 3-1 score. After opening the tournament with victories over the Czech club (7-6 in a shootout) and the host squad from Davos (6-2), back-to-back losses to the German club (5-2) and the eventual winners from Belarus (4-3) left Canada on the outside looking in when it came time for the Finals.

Leading the way in scoring during the tournament for Team Canada with five points was Jean-Pierre Vigier. A native of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, Manitoba, Vigier currently plays for Bern in the Swiss League and played in 213 NHL games with Atlanta and 201 games in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves before heading to Switzerland for the 2007-2008 season. Other notable names on Canada’s roster included, former first round draft pick Alexandre Daigle, Randy Robitaille, Yannick Tremblay, Serge Aubin and goaltender Wade Dubielewicz.

While the goal in any tournament is to win the Championship, the Spengler Cup offers Canadians abroad the opportunity to join together with their families and celebrate the holiday season, while hitting the ice in an historic tournament. Next December, while looking for some great hockey and a chance to wear your Team Canada sweater, remember that the national colours are worn with pride every year in Switzerland at the Spengler Cup. Have a great sports day everyone and all the best in 2010.

Photo by: hockey_and_more on Flickr

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Halak to the Future Part 2...


Everyone loves a goaltending controversy, especially in Montreal, where it has become its own sport. Who will start the next game as goaltender for the Canadiens? Who is the number one and does he deserve the playing time? What does it mean when the "number one" does not start?

With two young goaltenders in Montreal and restricted free agency on the horizon for both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, GM Bob Gainey has some decisions to make as to who will be his number one goalie next season. Perhaps complicating the situation is the fact that Halak is apparently contemplating a trip to the KHL next year and the Canadiens have a top goaltending prospect in Hamilton, the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month in December, Cedrick Desjardins.

While the debate rages on, allow me to offer a suggestion to Montreal management and the Canadiens fans - How about a scenario that involves both goaltenders, a 1A and 1B situation where both goaltenders get almost equal time between the pipes. Halak and Price could become one of the best duos in the NHL if egos can be checked at the door and everyone works towards the ultimate goal, qualifying for the playoffs and taking a run at the Stanley Cup.

To examine the current situation in Montreal, let us look back to the eighties, where a future Hall of Fame member and eventual 4-time Stanley Cup Champion named St. Patrick, shared the net with Brian Hayward. Lost in the shuffle of Roy’s stellar career, is the fact he did not start playing more then 60 games a season until the 1991-1992 season. During the earlier part of his career, Roy was the number one starter but no one expected him to play 70 games a year. Hayward was a dependable backup, a few years older then Roy and he was ready to take to the ice and carry the load when needed. The duo of Roy and Hayward won three consecutive Jennings Trophies, allowing the fewest goals against in the league.

Here are their numbers during their award winning three years together:

1986-87: Roy - 46 GP, 22-16-6 win/loss record, 2.93 GAA, .891 save percentage
Hayward - 37 GP, 19-13-4 win/loss record, 2.81 GAA, .893 save percentage

1987-88: Roy - 45 GP, 23-12-9, 2.90 GAA, .900%
Hayward - 39 GP, 22-10-4, 2.86 GAA, .896%

1988-89: Roy - 48GP, 33-5-6, 2.47 GAA, .908%
Hayward - 36GP, 20-13-3, 2.90 GAA, .887%

Halak has started six of the past ten games for the Canadiens, making him extremely valuable on the trade market, but even more valuable to the Canadiens. Perhaps Gainey could turn Halak, a ninth round pick in the 2003 draft, into a second round pick as he did with Cristobal Huet a few years ago. However, does anyone in Montreal have faith in Carey Price to carry the load between the pipes at the Bell Centre? The Habs fans I have spoken with have concerns about Price’s ability to be the go-to guy at 22 years old. More time is needed in their opinion, before Price can be an everyday goaltender.

Here are their numbers over the past two seasons:

2008-2009: Price - 52 GP, 23-16-10, 2.83 GAA, .905%
Halak - 34 GP, 18-14-1, 2.86 GAA, .915%

2009-2010: Price - 28 GP, 10-14-3, 2.62 GAA, .916%
Halak - 18 GP, 11-6-0, 2.64 GAA, .922%

Where does this leave us? Trading away Halak leaves the Canadiens even younger in the goaltending department if Desjardins moves up to the NHL. What would be better for Desjardins’ career - a long playoff run in the AHL with the Bulldogs or serving as a backup in the NHL? Should Halak be moved at the trade deadline, Gainey would be better off bringing in a reliable veteran to push Price for playing time and perhaps serve as an unofficial goalie coach. If Rick DiPietro returns to New York before the trade deadline, Marty Biron or Dwayne Roloson would become available. Mathieu Garon is another long-serving backup, currently in Columbus. Considering the struggles Steve Mason has had in his second year, it is possible Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson would move a second round pick and Garon to Montreal for Halak but that is merely speculation on my part.

The best move for Gainey could be making no moves. Depending on the contract Tomas Plekanec signs, there would be room under the salary cap to fit in Price and Halak on multi-year deals in the $2.5-3 million range, allowing Head Coach Jacques Martin and Gainey to groom both goalies into a Roy/Hayward type combination. When the contracts end, both goalies would become extremely valuable on the trade market in 2012 or 2013 and by then, either Halak or Price would have emerged as a 60-70 game starter.

As the season hits the halfway point, Montreal sits eighth in the Eastern Conference with five teams within four points of the final playoff spot. Gainey has already completed one extreme home makeover last summer; can he do it again? Only time will tell... and the contract clock is ticking... Have a great sports day everyone.

For Halak to the Future Part 1, check the March 2009 Archives...