Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: Having A Special Place In Ottawa's Hockey History

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - Laurie Boschman’s special place in Ottawa hockey history.

Laurie Boschman's Special Place In Ottawa's Hockey History
NHL Alumni member and former Ottawa Senators captain
Laurie Boschman at the 2012 NHL All-Star Fan-Fair
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)
On the eve of the NHL All-Star festivities in the nation’s capital, the city of Ottawa and the Sens Foundation officially unveiled their “Rink of Dreams” - a refrigerated outdoor skating rink that is located next to Ottawa City Hall. As Mayor Jim Watson and the city councillors welcomed the skaters onto the ice, several guests of honour were in attendance. Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray and Head Coach Paul MacLean were on hand, as were two of this year’s All-Stars, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. Also in attendance as an honoured guest was a man with a special place in Ottawa’s hockey history as the first captain of the modern-day Ottawa Senators, NHL Alumni member Laurie Boschman.

Laurie played in 1,009 regular season games during his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators. Perhaps best remembered as a member of the Jets during the 1980’s, Laurie arrived in Ottawa via the expansion draft for the franchise’s inaugural 1992-93 season after two years in New Jersey.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the eager skaters ventured out onto the ice for their first skate on the new rink, Laurie and I chatted about the All-Star game being held in Ottawa for the first time. We also discussed the Senators and the inroads the team has made in the community as they celebrate their 20th anniversary this season.

Our conversation led to the many “firsts” in a hockey player’s career. There are the obvious ones that every hockey player hopes to enjoy - putting on a jersey for their first NHL game and scoring their first goal. If all goes well, there may be a trip to the playoffs for the first time and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. There is one event though that only a select few get to enjoy - being named the first captain of a new franchise.

I have had the chance to get to know Laurie since I began working with the NHL Alumni Association and I am proud to call him a friend. It’s a great feeling as a writer to have someone as respected in the hockey community as Laurie say, “Call me anytime” and he always makes sure to introduce me to his friends and former teammates when we meet at Alumni events. Last September, we spoke about the return of the Winnipeg Jets, his work with Hockey Ministries International and being part of the expansion Senators for an article at the NHL Alumni website and he reminisced about his time in Ottawa.

“It was a challenging first year and it was challenging to be a part of an expansion team, but it was also an interesting experience because I had never done that in my career.” Laurie said in our interview. “Living in Ottawa since then, it is interesting to see the growth of the team because my wife and I brought up three sons that played hockey and grew up as Sens fans. It is really neat to see that younger generation now that totally embraces this team.”

“It was a very unique experience for sure and there was a ton of excitement here at that time,” he continued. “I think what we noticed back then, was that while we had tremendous fan support right from day one, we also recognized that there were lots of Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians fans, which still exist in Ottawa today. There was a lot of allegiance to those two brands and so it has taken twenty years to establish a fan base and a brand here in Ottawa. I think the Senators are solidly entrenched in the community now.”

While the Senators struggled on the ice in their inaugural season, finishing the year with a 10-70-4 record and only one road victory, the organization has grown in the community. Thanks to a lot of hard work by the players that have worn the uniform and the many people behind the scenes, the franchise has a solid reputation throughout the hockey world. Just as Jack Laviolette will always be the first captain of the Montreal Canadiens (1909-1910 season), when the Senators celebrate their centennial anniversary in 80 years, my friend Laurie will still have an honoured place in Ottawa’s hockey history as the first captain of the Ottawa Senators - that’s pretty special!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thanks Dirk!!

(Photo - The Voice of Sport)
In early December, baseball pitcher and best-selling author Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) announced that he would be holding a contest. The mission - bake a Garfoose shaped cookie... a Garfookie. The prize - an advanced copy of his soon to be released second book Out Of My League.

The contest provided a perfect opportunity for "Business Garfoose" to return to The Voice of Sport. While the Garfookie did not turn out as planned (it was delicious though!!), the effort did not go unnoticed...

"Also @ARodgerTVOS is an honorary winner for his costume party Garfookie baking. Awesome costume, hideous Garfookie."

A copy of Out Of My League arrived today, but unfortunately, it looks like I will have to wait my turn before I get a chance to read it!
(Photo - The Voice of Sport)


(Photo - The Voice of Sport)

Thanks Dirk!!

A special thank you to Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Publishing too.

You can pre-order a copy of Out Of My League or drop by your local bookstore on February 28th.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Wayne Gretzky's 77th Goal

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - Wayne Gretzky and the 30th Anniversary of his record breaking 77th goal on February 24, 1982.

Celebrating a Great Moment in Hockey History:
The 30th Anniversary of #99's 77th Goal

Whether watching a game at home or live at the arena, nothing brings hockey fans out of their seats faster than a goal. With stars like Steve Stamkos, Corey Perry and Phil Kessel finding the back of the net on a regular basis in today’s NHL, we wait and hope that one or all of them will reach the 50-goal milestone in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. While a 50-goal season has become common in recent decades with stars like Bossy, Selanne, Lemieux, Bure and Ovechkin lighting the lamp on a regular basis, in the early days of the NHL it was a magical milestone - a seemingly unreachable number.

Wayne Gretzky statue outside of
Rexall Place in Edmonton
(Photo - Wikipedia)
Well, if you are the type of hockey fan that jumps out of your seat when your favourite player scores a goal, can you imagine doing it 77 times in one season? How about 92 times in one season? February 24th, 1982 is a special day in hockey history, as that is the day that Wayne Gretzky soared past Phil Esposito’s single-season record of 76 goals.

Esposito set the single-season record during the 1970-71 season as a member of the Boston Bruins, breaking the previous mark of 58, which was set by Bobby Hull during the 1968-69 season. Esposito’s 76 goals and 152 points earned him the second of his five Art Ross Trophies as the NHL’s top point scorer. The only players to reach the 50-goal plateau before Hull and Esposito surpassed that magical number were Maurice Richard (1944-45), Bernie Geoffrion (1960-61) and Hull himself (1965-66). Esposito’s 76 goals would remain the number to beat for decades, right? It could have been, if not for a young man from Brantford, Ontario.

To say that Wayne Gretzky exploded onto the NHL scene would be an understatement! In his rookie season, he scored 51 goals and added 86 assists to finish the year with 137 points. How did The Great One handle the “sophomore slump” in his second season? Well, he scored 55 goals and finished the year with an astounding 164 points. What hockey fans may not have realized at the time though, was that Gretzky was just getting warmed up...

On December 30th, 1981, in his 39th game of the season, Gretzky was five goals away from reaching the 50-goal mark for the third year in a row. He would score all five that night against Philadelphia to set one of his many NHL records (50 goals in 39 games). As he was on his way to finishing the 1981-82 season with 92 goals, 212 points and a plus/minus rating of +81, the stage was set for a record breaking evening on the night of February 24th.

With Esposito in attendance at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium to watch Gretzky’s Oilers take on the Buffalo Sabres, the pressure to break the record weighed heavily on the young hockey phenom. Buffalo goaltender Don Edwards held Gretzky off the score sheet for most of the night, but a turnover with just over six minutes remaining in the game opened the goal scoring floodgates - the Great One skated in on Edwards and scored his 77th of the season to break the record. He would add two more goals on that night, his 78th and 79th, as the Oilers went on to a 6-3 victory.



As I worked on this week’s XHockey article, I discovered an interesting news story in the CBC archives about Gretzky’s popularity on the night he broke the single-season goal scoring record. The young journalist ended her report by asking this question, “How long can this Gretzky fever last?”

There have been many “Greats” in the game of hockey, but there is only one Great One.

Wayne Gretzky would retire in 1999 with 40 regular season NHL records, 15 playoff records and 6 All-Star records (some are shared records). He took to the ice for 1,487 regular season games with the Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers, scoring 894 goals and adding 1,963 assists for 2,857 career points. In 208 playoff games, he added 382 points to his overall total.

A four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Oilers, Gretzky won every major NHL Award multiple times. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP nine times, the Art Ross Trophy (scoring champion) ten times, the Lester B. Pearson (now the Ted Lindsay Award - MVP as voted on by the players) five times - and the list goes on and on. If he had spent a season playing as a defenseman for some reason, it is not hard to imagine he would have a Norris Trophy on his shelf as well!

So, how long will Gretzky fever last? Well, it has been thirty years and it is still going strong. On February 24th, 1982, one of the NHL’s unbreakable records was broken.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NHL Alumni Interview with St. Louis Blues Goaltending Coach Corey Hirsch

Working with NHL Alumni member Corey Hirsch,
St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott
has become an All-Star
(Photo Andrew Rodger TVOS)
In today’s NHL, every point gained or lost can have a major impact on a team’s position in the standings. A lengthy winning streak can elevate a team to the top of the conference, while a slow start or losing streak can leave a good team on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive. The strength of the Western Conference and the Central Division makes the goaltending position an essential element to having a successful season and the St. Louis Blues rank near the top of the league in all of the goaltending categories. In his first season in St. Louis as their goaltending coach, NHL Alumni member Corey Hirsch has the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott firing on all cylinders.

Read my interview with NHL Alumni member Corey Hirsch

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

NHL Alumni Interview - Peter Ing Celebrates the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills Finale and All-Star Fan Fair

NHL Alumni member Peter Ing at the
Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills Championship
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)
After stops in 15 cities during their cross Canada tour, Peter Ing and the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills competition returned to Ottawa during the recent All-Star festivities to crown their champions. The journey to find some of Canada’s best young hockey players began in Vancouver on October 7th and ended on December 15th in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with stops everywhere in between. Testing their skills in shooting accuracy, passing accuracy, timed skating and puck control, the top qualifiers from each city were invited to Ottawa for the grand finale on the historic Rideau Canal on January 28th.

It took a tremendous amount of effort and planning to complete their cross Canada tour, but there was one final hurdle waiting for Peter when the Junior Skills National Championship arrived in Ottawa - the weather! The day before the final event, the nation’s capital was inundated with freezing rain and unusually warm temperatures, which left the canal temporarily closed to skaters. Despite the previous day’s weather, when the competitors awoke on the big day, the sun was shining and the ice on the canal was ready for the innovative XHockey products provided by Peter’s company; the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills competition began as planned at the historic venue.

“I was really happy that we were able to have it out on the canal,” Peter said in a recent interview. “That was the plan from day one, but with the weather we had a few days before, it was touch and go. The decision came down at 2am and the official word that we would be able to go out on the canal came at 6am. They worked really hard to make it the best ice that they possibly could.”

“The day of the event though was amazing. The wind was calm, it was not too cold, the sun came out for a while and to have the backdrop of the Parliament Buildings - it was spectacular!”

The weather preceding the event and the fact that it was outdoors made the ice conditions a little more challenging when compared to the indoor facilities used in the qualifying rounds, but as Peter explained, it was the same for all of the participants. The young hockey players were not competing against their own past scores; it was an entirely new competition, so the playing field was identical for all of the participants.

The Junior Skills competition was open to boys and girls, ages 7 to 12, in three different categories - peewee, novice and atom. In the novice category, Katie Chan, Angela Huo and Zachary Dean skated, passed and shot their way to victory. In the atom category, Sydney Kennedy and Tommy Bouchard earned the top scores, while Maggie Connors and Stevon Hlusiak won the peewee category. Along with their trophies and All-Star status, the winners were introduced on the ice at Scotiabank Place during a break in the action at the NHL’s Skills Competition.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for those that do not go on to play in the NHL,” Peter said. “It was a feel-good event from the beginning in Vancouver, all the way through to Newfoundland. There were lots of smiles and I think that’s what it is all about - promoting the game of hockey at the grassroots level and providing an experience, whether it was a qualifier or the finale, where a player could experience what it is like to be an All-Star.”

“To feel like an All-Star,” he continued. “That was our goal - to make every player feel special and give them a unique opportunity to compete.”

As we spoke about the successful conclusion to the Junior Skills competition, I asked Peter if he had a favourite moment on the tour.

“I think honestly, the favourite part for me was the finale,” he answered. “Having it outside brought back memories for me of playing on the outdoor rinks; that doesn’t happen at all for me any more. Just how the air feels against your face when you’re outside - the ice isn’t perfect but the game is still great. What I really enjoyed too, was seeing kids from coast to coast participating in the game and enjoying what they were doing.”

While the focus of the event was not promoting the XHockey products, being involved in an event like the Junior Skills competition provided a great way for Fan-tastic Sports, which is co-owned by Peter and New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador, to showcase the portable products in the XHockey division.

“We certainly didn’t talk about the products that much, but it certainly helps to create an awareness about what we do as a company and what services we offer,” Peter acknowledged. “It would be nice to get the message out about our portable products, but it’s good to have our company known as being involved in the game and helping at that grassroots level.”

The partnership between Fan-tastic Sports, the NHL and Canadian Tire provided the participants in the Junior Skills competition with that once in a lifetime experience Peter previously mentioned. Having attended the November 25th qualifier in Nepean, Ontario and the finale on the Rideau Canal, I can say from firsthand experience, that all the hard work that went into planning the events provided the participants with memories that will last a lifetime.

“Our partners are fabulous,” Peter said. “Obviously, the NHL believes in the game and believes in growing the game at that grassroots level, but Canadian Tire also did a spectacular job of putting the players first and targeting the age groups that are just developing in hockey.”

“Every single event was first-rate - from hanging the jerseys up for all the different players, to their accommodations at the rink, the process of checking in and having the scoring system up for everyone to see - right from the beginning, all the way to the end, it was first-rate!”

“It’s a huge compliment to have both the NHL and Canadian Tire believe in the service we provide and the equipment we can provide to put on this great show from coast to coast.”

The Junior Skills finale was not the sole reason for Peter’s visit to Ottawa, as Fan-tastic Sports also provided the interactive equipment for the NHL All-Star Fan-Fair at the downtown Convention Centre. While the thousands of hockey fans that visited the Fan-Fair posed for pictures with the Stanley Cup or met with NHL Alumni members and this year’s All-Stars in autograph sessions, they could also test their hockey skills on the 14 interactive lanes set up by Fan-tastic Sports for the event.

“There was an electricity around Ottawa,” explained Peter. “I didn’t hear one single complaint during the entire three-day weekend; there was nothing but great comments and great reviews. We had zero downtime on any of the equipment and everything went flawlessly. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it all turned out - the comments and the smiles. The fans really seemed to enjoy that interactive experience.”

An added bonus to being involved in the All-Star festivities in a Canadian city was that there was no shortage of media coverage for the Fan-Fair and the Junior Skills events. Whether you picked up the local newspaper or turned on the television, Peter and the Fan-tastic Sports equipment were prominently featured. Media members from all of the various news outlets were eager to test their hockey skills and as Peter told me during our conversation, he did not have to twist any arms to get them to try the interactive equipment.

“I think that is one of the neat things that we are able to bring to the game - equipment that is fun and engaging. Every level of participant can have a level of success, while it is still challenging if you are a pro. That has been our goal since the beginning and it helps promote the brand of hockey. That’s what we are tying to do; bring positive awareness to the game and grow it from the fan level.”

After back-to-back years at the NHL All-Star Fan-Fair, the completion of the Junior Skills competition, as well as taking part in the Red Wings Hockeyfest and the Washington Capitals Fanfest in the fall, I asked Peter, what’s next for Fan-tastic Sports?

“We have a number of different events coming in the next year and we are looking at doing a lot of the events we did this year with some of the NHL clubs we have worked with,” he said. “Our next big show will be the Let’s Play Hockey Expo in Minnesota, where we will be unveiling some new XHockey products.”

“That division (the XHockey products) has really started to gain traction and that’s one we really enjoy because you don’t have to have tens of thousands of dollars to buy the big interactive equipment we have - it’s the equipment priced at under $200 that you can practise with at home. In the basement, in the driveway and out on the rinks - improving your skills with affordable items. That is the ultimate grassroots right? ”

To stay up to date on next year’s Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills competition, young hockey players and their parents can visit the Canadian Tire Hockey School website (www.canadiantirehockeyschool.ca) and register for updates.

To learn more about Fan-tastic Sports and all of their innovative products, as well as news on any upcoming events, visit their website www.fan-tasticsports.com and follow them on Twitter (@XHockeyPoducts)

NHL and Ottawa Senators Alumni members Patrick Lalime and Brad Marsh
watch the action during the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills Finale in Ottawa
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports - NHL Celebrates their Stars in Ottawa

Members of Team Alfredsson and Team Chara
at the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition
(Photo Andrew Rodger TVOS)
Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today's NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador's Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week - taking a look back at the 2012 NHL All-Star celebrations in Ottawa.

The 2012 All-Star weekend proved without a doubt that as far as elite level, world-class talent goes – there is no shortage of stars in the NHL. When you go down the list of the players that were in attendance – Malkin, Kane, Stamkos, Tavares, Kessel, Neal and Giroux to name just a few, it is clear that the NHL will have an abundance of star power for years to come.

Read the entire article at the XHockey blog.