Thursday, October 3, 2013

TVOS at the XHP Blog - Is It October Yet?


NHL training camps are open and pre-season games are underway, which only means one thing – hockey is back!!

After last year’s shortened season, hockey fans are celebrating the start of a full 82-game schedule. With a mid-season break for the Sochi Olympics, the new stadium series, realignment and new divisions thrown in the mix, it is going to be one heck of a ride. While everything can go right for a team, everything can go wrong too, which makes predictions at this time of year an “educated” guess at best, but here goes…

Where does TVOS think your team will be when the playoffs start? Read the full post at the XHockeyProducts blog.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview with Rob Blake

Since entering the NHL in 1967 as part of the league’s very first expansion, from six teams to twelve, the Los Angeles Kings have provided their fans with numerous magical moments to remember and celebrate. The list of stars that have taken to the ice in a Kings uniform is a lengthy one: Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer, Jim Fox, Bernie Nicholls, Luc Robitaille, Marty McSorley, Larry Robinson, Rob Blake and Kelly Hrudey to name just a few.

You may recall that there was also that famous trade that brought one of the game’s greatest players to Los Angeles too. A young man known as The Great One.

There is no doubt that every Kings fan has wanted to take a pass from a legendary defenseman like Rob Blake and break out of the defensive zone to start an offensive attack. Perhaps, you have dreamt of setting up Luc Robitaille for a one-timer in the final minutes of a game to clinch a victory. If either of those scenarios fired up your imagination, then now is your chance to turn your dream into a reality!

From September 25th, through to September 28th, fans of the Los Angeles Kings will have the opportunity to take part in a unique four-day event in Las Vegas - the first annual Frozen Fury Fantasy Camp. Registered participants will play in four games with and against their LA Kings heroes.

To make the event even more memorable, you will receive Frozen Fury jerseys and hockey socks, a Frozen Fury gift bag, VIP tickets to watch the Kings take on the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, as well as entry into the Luc Robitaille Celebrity Poker Tournament. All of this exciting hockey action while enjoying everything that Las Vegas has to offer - talk about creating magical moments to remember and celebrate.

In a recent interview, former Kings Captain and newest addition to the LA front office staff as the Assistant General Manager, Rob Blake, discussed the upcoming event and reminisced about his storied NHL career.

“They have had a fantasy camp in Los Angeles for the past few years,” Rob explained. “But this is the first one that we are going to take on the road to Vegas for four days. We are combining it with a couple of pre-season games between the Kings, the Rangers and the Avalanche.”

“It will be a different type of opportunity for the Alumni guys to mingle with the fans, in a setting that is much more relaxed. Some great names from past will be there and fans get to come and enjoy Vegas and play with the Kings Alumni.”

An event like this fantasy camp not only provides a lot of fun and a tremendous experience for the fans, it is a great way for the Alumni members themselves to reconnect. Schedules get busy with work and family, so having the time to trade stories and catch up, creates a special opportunity for the former players as well.

“A lot of the guys stay in touch, either by email or phone, but they don’t really have time to sit down and chat with each other too often,” he said. “It brings them in for that reason and they also get to enjoy a couple of games between the Avs and the Rangers. It has always been a very good pre-season game with lots of support from the fans from all sides, the Kings, Rangers and Avalanche, so it’s nice to get away and enjoy Vegas, while attending the camp. It should be interesting and a lot of fun for everyone.”

Proceeds from the four-day event go towards the Kings Care Foundation and that adds to the event and adds to the fun too. While camp participants are enjoying their time with some of their favourite LA Kings players, they are lending a helping hand to people in need.

“Kings Care has been around for a long time,” Rob said. “Many of the guys participating in this fantasy camp, the ex-players, have been involved with the Kings Care Foundation for years, throughout their career here in LA. It’s a chance to have fun, play and watch some games, but ultimately, it is to bring money to the charity and help others, and that is great.”

“The Kings have been involved with visits to Children’s Hospitals at Christmas and that kind of thing for years - I remember twenty years ago doing that myself for the first time. It has built up over a number of years and I’m sure it touches a lot of people.”

“That is one of the things the Kings have worked at,” he continued. “Getting out to the fans and being able to give back to different members of the community. Winning the Stanley Cup really put the Kings on the map in this area for good and that has obviously transferred into being able to do more charity events and continuing to help more people down the road in the future.”

After an outstanding career at Bowling Green State University, Rob went on to play 1,270 NHL games with the LA Kings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. A Norris Trophy winner in 1998, he was a six-time All-Star and won the Stanley Cup in 2001 as a member of the Avalanche. Always willing to represent Canada, the Simcoe, Ontario native won gold at the Olympics (2002) and World Championship (1994 and 1997), making him a member of the very exclusive Triple Gold Club.

Drafted 70th overall in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL Draft, Rob explained that his career with the Kings took an interesting turn in the summer of 1988.

“It was an interesting time,” he recalled. “Because I was drafted by the Kings, and then later that summer, the Gretzky trade happened! It has been talked about a lot recently with the 25th anniversary of the trade. That kind of put LA in the spotlight and to be able to join that era and join those great players on the ice at a young age was terrific.”

It was an exciting time for the Kings and their fans, and for a young player like Rob, his rookie season provided a marvellous opportunity to learn from one of the game’s greatest defensemen - Larry Robinson.

“Larry was an idol for me growing up, so to be able to be a teammate of his right away and to watch and learn from him - those were things you cannot learn anywhere else unless you are on the ice with him,” he said of playing with the Montreal Canadiens Legend and Hall of Famer. “I came into the league at 19 and Larry was a 40-year old, 20-year vet of the NHL, with numerous Norris Trophies and Stanley Cup rings. I was very fortunate to have those great players like Larry in the dressing room to help shape me and guide me as a player.”

As fans, we watch the games and see the pressure that players are under as the clock winds down. With three minutes left on the clock and a one-goal lead, we are on the edge of our seat, hoping our team can hang on. Rob was no stranger to those moments, so I asked him, as a Stanley Cup champion, Olympic champion and World champion, what did it take to be on the ice and close out those important games in pressure-packed situations?

“Preparation,” he answered without any hesitation. “I think that when you get into those situations, things just happen because you have prepared yourself to do it. You have gone over those situations a million times on the ice during practise and you have worked on different circumstances and what might happen at the end of a game. Your preparation leads to success because the end result comes from your decision-making.”

Throughout his career, both in the NHL and Internationally, Rob played with several tremendously talented, all-world goaltenders: Kelly Hrudey in Los Angeles, Patrick Roy in Colorado and Martin Brodeur in the 2002 Olympics for example. I asked about the age-old adage that a goal post is a goalie’s best friend - does that make a great goaltender a defenseman’s best friend?

“He is your best friend in the world,” Rob said with a laugh. “When you look at any Stanley Cup champion or Olympic champion, their best player is usually the goaltender. Look at the Kings a couple of years ago with Jonathan Quick, or looking back at my time in Colorado with Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur at the Olympics. When you have that backbone, it allows the other players to relax and play their game. They know they have that guy back there to stop anything or anyone that gets past them. It is a key for all teams that want to be great!”

With his impressive résumé as a player, Rob’s focus now shifts to finding and evaluating the talent of others as the newly appointed Assistant General Manager in Los Angeles. The Kings captain for five of his eleven seasons in LA, in many ways, it is like coming home again for Rob and his family.

“Yeah, I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I started my career here and always maintained a home here, even when I played in different cities. I always wanted to come back and be part of the Kings. Playing with Luc Robitaille and being really tight with him, watching what he has done with the business side of the Los Angeles Kings and where he has taken it, this was a great opportunity. It is something I definitely want to take advantage of.”

“I will be overseeing the Manchester Monarchs, our AHL team, and overseeing the pro scouting department and working alongside Dean Lombardi. For me, learning from Dean, a guy that has been involved with the Kings for a long time and has a Stanley Cup attached to his name is great; he’s definitely someone I can learn from.”

Sharing a locker room, scoring goals and hearing stories from LA Kings legends like Rob Blake, Luc Robitaille and Jim Fox, while spending four days in Las Vegas - what could be better? Dreams do come true!

There is still time to participate in the first annual LA Kings Frozen Fury Fantasy Camp, but space is limited. For more information or to register, visit www.lakings.com/fantastycamp

Thursday, September 12, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview with Bryan Helmer

The journey to the NHL is a remarkable one, and as the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association, I have heard many wonderful stories and met many amazing people. Every player that reaches the world’s greatest league travels a unique path and it is an honour to share their stories here as the NHL Alumni Insider. This particular interview is personally special for me though. For the first time, I am welcoming a close friend into Hockey’s Greatest Family - Bryan Helmer.

An undrafted free agent, Bryan’s invitation to the New Jersey Devils training camp in 1993 would mark the beginning of a 20-season professional career. Going on to play 146 regular season NHL games with the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals during that time, Bryan announced his retirement this summer. In becoming an assistant coach with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes, he leaves the game as a three-time Calder Cup champion and one of the all-time greatest defensemen in the history of the American Hockey League.

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and raised in Winchester (which is about 40 minutes East of Ottawa), I began our conversation by asking Bryan if he ever envisioned that his invite to that 1993 training camp would lead to a 20-season career and numerous accolades.

“I couldn’t even believe I was going to a New Jersey Devils training camp to be honest with you,” Bryan reminisced. “To get sent down to Albany, it was the River Rats back then, and becoming a professional hockey player was a big thrill. I can still picture the day I signed the contract. I was so excited!”

“My signing bonus was $2,500 and I thought it was a million dollars,” he continued. “I didn’t know at the time how much other guys made and I thought that $2,500 to sign your name on a piece of paper was quite a thrill! When I went back to the rink the next day and found out guys were making $50,000 and $100,000, I was pretty surprised. But, I would never change that experience for anything. It was a thrill at the time and it still is when I look back.”

A Montreal Canadiens fans growing up, the 1994 lockout provided Bryan a unique opportunity to meet and work with one of his idols, and a fellow Winchester native, Larry Robinson.

“To have Larry come down to Albany in ‘94 during the lockout and have him work with our team was amazing,” Bryan recalled. “I think I learned more in those two months from him than I had in my whole life up to that point. It was really beneficial for myself and for the team to have him there.”

“Also though, looking back at that first training camp in New Jersey, you walk into the room and there’s Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer. Two more guys that I idolized watching them play for the Canadiens. And there I was in the same dressing room with them. I was a little awestruck and so happy to be there.”

As Bryan’s career and confidence continued to grow, so too did his offensive numbers. Building on his rookie season (93-94), where he scored 4 goals and added 19 assists in 65 games, he scored 14 goals and had 63 points by the time his fifth season ended; his last in Albany.


Signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes organization for the 1998-99 season, he would fulfill the dream of every young hockey player, putting on an NHL jersey and stepping onto the ice for his first regular season NHL game. As was the case with the start of Bryan’s professional career, that came in an unexpected fashion as well.

“It’s hard to explain,” Bryan said of putting on an NHL jersey for the first time. “I had a really good year my last year in Albany and I ended up signing with Phoenix that summer. I got hurt a week into training camp - I sprained my MCL. So, I was hurt for all of camp until the end. They told me to go watch the final exhibition game and said I would be off to Las Vegas where they had their older players in the IHL. It just so happened that during that final game, Deron Quint got hurt and I was told I was going to stay and play that first regular season game. It was in Phoenix against Ottawa, so that was a real thrill.”

“I still remember the morning skate. I was so nervous all day and I don’t think I slept a wink. I remember being at the hotel and Jyrki Lumme picked me up; he was my partner that night. He was an older guy and had been in the NHL for a lot of years and I think I probably talked his ear off the whole way down to the rink. It was a dream come true!”

Part way through his first NHL season with the Coyotes, Bryan was off to St. Louis, where he became the defense partner of a young man that had already established himself as a powerful force to be reckoned with in the NHL, Chris Pronger.

“Chris was a good guy and actually younger than I was,” Bryan said. “But he was really mature and with the experience he had in the NHL, he helped me out a lot. He was an easy guy to play with I can tell you that - and he made me look good too.”

“When you play with Chris, you are playing against the opponent’s top lines. I think every time we were on the ice I was thinking ‘Go down his side of the ice and stay away from mine,’” Bryan said with a laugh.

“Did they?” I asked.

“No, they didn’t,” Bryan answered, still laughing. “They figured it out pretty quick. Let’s go down Helmer’s side of the ice and stay away from Pronger.”

Being a fan of the game and having the shutdown role with Chris in St. Louis, provided Bryan many memorable nights, but one in particular stands out for Bryan. Every hockey fan’s dream, but every defenseman’s nightmare - trying to shut down the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky.

“That was surreal for me,” Bryan explained. “We were up against Gretzky all night long. It’s funny, because I told my wife Pam before the game that if I’m on the ice with Wayne, make sure to get a picture. I was on the ice with him all night!”

“I can still remember one play, where he was behind the net setting up and Chris and I were on each side of the net. I was just moving my stick back and forth, just trying to get him to make a move, but he was so patient back there. He finally came out on my side and I think I got the toe of my blade on it, or my skate and the puck went off into the corner. I just remember sitting there watching him and saying to myself, ‘Wow, how many times have I seen this?’”

Becoming part of the Vancouver Canucks organization in 2001, Bryan split his time between Vancouver and their AHL affiliate in Winnipeg (the Manitoba Moose). It would be Bryan’s only time spent in Canada as a player, so I asked what that experience was like.

“Well, it was amazing actually,” he answered. “The Vancouver fans are really, really good fans. I would be walking down the street and I was the 6th, 7th defenseman at the time and they knew who I was and would yell across the street ‘Good job last night Bryan’. So, it showed a lot about how the fans there appreciate the Canucks players and the organization.”

“I remember one of the highlights was playing against Detroit in the playoffs,” he said of his time in Vancouver. “We were up 2-0 and that first home game in Vancouver, I remember skating out on to the ice for the warm-up. The crowd was just going crazy - it gave me goose bumps. For the whole warm-up, it was just absolutely crazy!”

While that Detroit-Vancouver series would be his only visit to the NHL playoffs, he was no stranger to playoff hockey. When the games meant the most, Bryan had the ability to lead his teams deep into the AHL playoffs. One of his many AHL records is for games played in the playoffs, which reached 159 games by the end of his career. After being part of a Calder Cup championship in Albany during his second year as a pro, he would lift the Cup as the captain of the Hershey Bears in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010.

“You win the Calder Cup in your second year and you think you’re going to get back there every year,” he explained. “But it took 14 years to get back to the Finals. To win back-to-back was probably the biggest highlight in my AHL career. In my first Calder Cup, I didn’t play in all the games, so to be the captain for my next two was pretty special.”

“The two teams that we had there in Hershey were probably the two closest teams I have ever played on. Everyone got along and everyone loved coming to the rink - and that showed on the ice. Not only did we win the Cups, but we had great seasons both years too.”


It was during his time in Hershey that he received a hoped for, but still unexpected phone call. After five years, he was heading back to the NHL as a member of the Washington Capitals. For several years, Bryan’s son Cade, who was too young to really remember his dad playing in the NHL would ask, “When are you going to play in the NHL dad?” - Bryan would respond by saying, “It’s not that easy to do son...”

“It was another thrill - like the first time I ever got called up to the NHL,” Bryan said of that phone call from Washington. “You get that call and next thing you know, you are driving to Washington. I was calling everyone to tell them and I remember I had butterflies. I still thought I could play in the NHL during that time, which was why I did not go over to Europe. But what I was nervous about though in the NHL, was that I had not been in the league since the new obstruction rules came in after the lockout. I had played with those rules in the AHL, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to be in the NHL.”

“Bruce Boudreau (the Capitals coach at that time) started me that night and I was nervous when the national anthem was going on. I was reminding myself that I had done this before and was trying to relax. When the puck dropped, Kovalev got the puck and was coming down towards me and I just kind of poked the puck away from him. I kind of relaxed after that, knowing I could still play in the NHL.”

“I was there for 12 games and had a lot of fun. Cade and my daughter Rylan got to see it and now they can remember me playing in the NHL.”

As a friend, it was strange to say ‘looking back on your career’ to Bryan, but there is little doubt a call from the AHL Hall of Fame will come one day. He is the all-time leader for points scored by a defenseman (564 points), assists (433) and he is third on the all-time list for games played with 1,117. When he broke John Slaney’s point record while with the Oklahoma City Barons, the Hockey Hall of Fame called asking for some of his equipment from the record-breaking game.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Bryan confided. “I’m just proud of what I accomplished and happy with all the players that I met during my career. Plus, the coaches, the people that work for the organizations and the media; I was fortunate to meet a lot of good people and play on a lot of good teams.”

Moving on to life after hockey is difficult for every player in varying degrees, but knowing Bryan, I know that he didn’t leave anything in the tank at any point in his career. He gave it his all for 20 seasons and it was time to move on and start the next chapter in his life and hockey career - for himself and for his family.

“That’s exactly right,” Bryan said of my observation. “It was tough, but it wasn’t tough. Obviously, you want to play forever, but I just felt it was time. We had a good conversation as a family after the season and came to the conclusion that it was time. I have my health and it was kind of a quit while I’m ahead decision. I can’t complain one bit about my career - I put everything into it and had success and I wouldn’t change anything.”

As his playing career ends, a new chapter begins, and in just a few weeks time, Bryan will be behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Peterborough Petes. His experience as a player will enable these young OHL players to work on their game and perhaps fulfill their own NHL dream one day.

“I’m really excited about it and I just can’t wait for training camp and the season to start,” he said of his new coaching career. “Everything happened so fast. I was going to take the summer and relax and then once Fall came closer, I was going to figure out what I was going to do, but then this coaching opportunity popped up. I had another good conversation with Pam and we thought it would be a great thing to do.


“It’s not too far from home, I can get my feet wet to see if I’m going to like coaching and I can stay involved with the game. I have a lot of respect for Mike Oke, Jody Hull and Andrew Verner and I think we will all have a great working relationship. I think its going to be a good fit for myself and Im looking forward to getting started.

The support of Pam, his son Cade and daughter Rylan has meant a lot to Bryan and contributed to his success on the ice. Hockey fans are aware of their favourite player’s hockey life, but real life happens as well. During his career, he has watched his children arrive into the world and grow into amazing kids. He has shared his success on the ice with his family, but more importantly, shared in the love that abounds in the Helmer household.

“If it wasn’t for Pam, I probably would have been done with the game a long time ago, Bryan said. I cant say enough about Pams support because she was there through everything - the highs and lows. Im sure I probably talked her ear off tons of nights, but she was so positive about everything.”

“To let me play for that many years - she sacrificed a lot! She had to leave her friends and family to follow me around. You talk to some people and they will say It must be so great that your husband is a hockey player. Well, you need to be a certain kind of person to be the wife of a hockey player because you have to sacrifice a lot.

“The kids are amazing too, he continued. Cade is at the point where he is old enough now that he really missed his friends at home, so it was getting hard that way. He didnt complain at all and the last few years, hes been coming to the rink with me and being a stick boy. I think when he gets older, he is going to really appreciate that time in his life. He doesn’t realize how proud his dad was to see him hand me my gloves or a stick.

In all honesty, there is only one way I can think of to wrap up this article:

Here’s to a great friend, an awesome dad, an amazing hockey player and a future AHL Hall of Famer - Welcome to the NHL Alumni and Hockey's Greatest Family Bryan!

Friday, August 9, 2013

TVOS Thought of the Day: 25 Years Later - The Gretzky Trade

This one is for you Ed!!

TVOS Thought of the Day:
25 Years Later - The Gretzky Trade

Twenty-five years ago today, the hockey world shook with the news that The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, had been traded from the high-powered Edmonton Oilers to the lowly Los Angeles Kings (sorry Kings fans, but it was true at the time!).

It was called a trade, but there is little doubt that Gretzky was sold to the Kings - If you have read Stephen Brunt’s Gretzky’s Tears, you will know what I am talking about - if you have yet to read it, you should!

The “nuts and bolts” or the “how and why” of the trade is not the intention of today’s thought of the day - it has certainly been analyzed again and again (and again!) over the years. Today’s thought revolves around the reaction to the 25th anniversary...

First off, thank goodness we did not have the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour sports channels, etc, at the time of the trade. We would have been overwhelmed with non-stop coverage for weeks and/or months. Throughout this week though, and especially today, there has been a great amount of complaining about the coverage the 25th anniversary has received. “It is too much” is the common refrain.

Well, if you are a Canadian, and of a certain age (I’m a year away from 40 - yikes!), it is not too much. The Gretzky trade is my generation’s Armstrong on the Moon or the Henderson goal in ‘72. The news of the deal went beyond the hockey world and shook an entire nation to its core. I was about 14-years old at the time and like folks in ‘72, I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing that day.

Just weeks after his wedding to Janet Jones, Canada’s very own Royal Wedding, the news was announced and Wayne was made out to be the villain in the early days of the trade by the Oilers owner. Canadians wondered how a good, kind-hearted young man from Brantford, Ontario could turn his back on not only his team and his fans, but his Country as well. Hockey fans, not just in Edmonton, openly wept at the news. Canadians asked their Members of Parliament to pass a law banning the deal! The exact details would eventually emerge and we would all become aware of the fact that Wayne was just an actor in the drama cooked up by Pocklington. Cold, hard cash was needed for his other business ventures and Wayne was his greatest asset.

It is important to remember the timing of the deal and the year - 1988. It was more than just a hockey transaction for Canadians. In many ways, Canada lost part of its innocence in 1988... The world was changing - the Berlin Wall would soon come down, the USSR would fall too; Canada was searching for its place on the world stage too.

Of importance politically in Canada at the time, was the freshly conceived Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States. While the politicians cried out that it would usher in a new era of business and opportunities for Canadians, many citizens opposed the agreement. The overwhelming sentiment in my part of the country at that time was that the FTA was simply the first step that would lead to Canada becoming the 51st state of the United States. Real or imagined, the fear was there and so, something as basic as a hockey trade became a question of national identity.

“It is our game,” they said and “Wayne is our hero. How can our hero be sold to the United States? If we cannot even keep Wayne here, what chance to do the rest of us have against the mighty dollars to the South of us?”

It was not only the trade that shook the nation; it was the timing of the trade. That is what makes this a memorable day...

So, if you think there is too much coverage of the 25th anniversary, I certainly will not say you are wrong, since we do have the Internet and 24-hour sports channels now. However, keep in mind where this hockey trade hit Canadians the hardest - in their hearts.
 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview with Perry Berezan

Just as the NHL Alumni and its members raise much-need funds throughout Canada, the United States and around the world, individual team alumni associations help their communities at every opportunity as well. On May 30th, the Alumni Masters Golf Tournament, which is organized by members of the Calgary Flames Alumni Association, raised over $110,000 for Hospice Calgary and the Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association.

“In the very early years, it was a little bit smaller,” former Flame and active alumni member Perry Berezan said of the tournament. “We have pretty much maxed out every year though and in some ways, we have had to pull back a little bit. These tournaments can get so big they almost lose their appeal. The neat thing about our tournament is that even though we use 27 holes, we don’t want to jam it full of people, which would make it a six or seven hour round of golf.”

“We want people, once they get there, to just play golf and enjoy each other’s company and not worry about a whole bunch of other distractions. Raising money is very important, but bringing the guys together, as well as bringing together people from the community, is what we keep going back to as far as our mandate is concerned.”

Every two years, the tournament changes the charities involved, which provides the Flames Alumni members the opportunity to contribute to a greater number of Calgarians on a regular basis. With almost $2.5 million raised in the 19 years the tournament has taken place, the event has touched and enriched many lives. This year’s charities not only helped the community, but assisting one charity in particular, the Calgary Cerebral Palsy Association, enabled the former Flames to salute a former coach - Terry Crisp.

“Terry Crisp’s grandson lives here in Calgary and has Cerebral Palsy,” Perry explained. “There was a connection there and we thought that this was a chance where we can actually do something nice for Crispy’s grandson. We spent some time with the organization and saw that they are such great people; we just love the people there.”

“They have a program where they convert bicycles to allow these kids to ride bikes. Their muscles just don’t work and for these kids to be able to ride a bike, it is a thrill of their life! So, we really wanted to help their bike program.”

“Everyone knows what a hospice is for,” Perry said of also contributing to Hospice Calgary. “However, what I didn’t realize was just how much counselling they do there. They really help by counselling people after a death or during someone’s stay at the hospice.”

“If a 10-year old girl has lost her mother, well, she needs counselling. The hospice is prepared to deal with that and is so aware of how traumatic it can be. Maybe someone has lost a sibling, a parent, a grandparent -it could be anyone. So, the focus for the money we raised this year was to help fund this program to make sure that they can continue the counselling for the kids that are out there and are in need.”

With a rich and storied history in Calgary, the Flames are very much a part of the community. For their former players, this event has become a family within the Flames family, as members take part year after year. After playing in 378 NHL games, 152 as a member of the Flames, Perry explained in our conversation that there are approximately 110 former NHLers that call the Stampede City home - these NHL Alumni members are included in events as often as possible as well.

“We have Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, Joel Otto and Colin Patterson - that group of guys that were part of the Stanley Cup team that are around and still very involved in the community,” he said. “Then there are other guys that were here as a Flame for a shorter period of time and maybe didn’t make as big of an impact, but they are back here living in Calgary and they want to play a big role. Then there are the former players that never played a game for the Flames and want to be involved in helping out.”

“You are part of something right away,” Perry said of living in Calgary after playing in the NHL. “A guy like Russ Romaniuk just moved here. Russ had a good career in the NHL and he never really had any affiliation with the Flames, but he moved to Calgary for a job and you know that when we have alumni skates, heck, Russ is probably going to be there. He’s a good example of someone that has decided to make Calgary his home.”

It can be difficult to juggle family, work and an active alumni schedule, but Calgary is known as a very community-oriented city and the Flames are very much a part of the fabric that makes up the city. For former Flames and NHL Alumni members wishing to give back, their employers are very understanding. Staying involved in the community also continues the legacy of giving back that has been a part of the NHL for decades.

In a past NHL Alumni interview, Laurie Boschman explained that as he entered the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs, players like Ron Ellis and Darryl Sittler taught him the importance of giving back. When he became a veteran player himself, Laurie taught the same lesson to the young players. The same scenario played out for Perry during his time in the NHL and has continued on with an active alumni association in Calgary.

“When you put that Flames jersey on, you realize that maybe in other cities you were not as in demand for doing charity events, but when you arrive here it is mandatory. When you settle here, it is something you can continue on with because the alumni are doing it, so you realize you can stay involved if you want.”

“You always hope that some of the younger guys that just retired stay involved,” Perry continued. “Here, we have Rene Corbet, Jeff Shantz, and Martin Gelinas to name a few, and they are all great! Martin is coaching with the Flames and he is on the golf tournament committee - he wants to help out. You see him at appearances all the time. There is a new crop of guys here that are recently retired that want to be involved, which is great.”

“There is another side of it, which I think is really important for the guys,” he said. “I have been retired since 1993; this is my 20th year of retirement and people still care to see me - that feels pretty good. You still want to come watch me play if I’m on the ice or if I make an appearance somewhere? Wow, that’s pretty special!”

Having an active alumni association enables the friendships that formed during a playing career to remain strong. Likewise, if you played in different eras or on opposing teams, new friendships can take root and flourish. Perry recalled a recent trip that illustrated that point perfectly.

“We actually just came back from an alumni trip to Hong Kong. Seven former Flames and our wives, plus two Oilers Alumni and Yvon Cournoyer. We took part in some hockey clinics and attended a gala event. While we were there I was thinking I have known these guys - Lanny Murzyn, Patterson, Macoun, Peplinski and Otto, for thirty years of my life; that’s a long time!”

“These friendships are the same 30 years later as they were when I arrived as a Flame when I was 20-years old. That is pretty cool! We are still travelling together with our families and having a great time because of those bonds. They don’t change and it is like you are still playing together.”

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Flames Alumni Masters Golf Tournament and the team will also be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Calgary’s 1989 Stanley Cup victory. With their family-first attitude, there is no doubt that it will be a very special day on the calendar for Calgarians and alumni members alike.

To participate, sponsor or contribute to next year’s Flames Alumni tournament, keep an eye on the “News” section at the Calgary Flames website.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Senators' MacLean Channels The Great One in Round 1


Time for another TVOS "Thought of the Day"...

Senators' MacLean Channels The Great One in Round 1

In 2002, at the Salt Lake Olympics, an emotional Wayne Gretzky addressed the media about his underperforming squad. A non-call on a Roman Hamrlik crosscheck to Theo Fleury had the Great One saying there would be a price to pay when the NHL season resumed...

“Everybody loves to see us lose,” Gretzky said, which immediately deflected the media attention away from his team and directed the focus to himself.“If a Canadian player had done that, he’d have been suspended. If a Canadian or American player had done that, we’d be called hooligans. But, if a Czech player does it, it's not a big deal.”
The hockey world was very surprised by it all. Can you believe Gretzky was so animated? One of the game’s true ambassadors and gentlemen talking about payback? The media talked about the Team Canada GM and not about Team Canada - it was one of Gretzky’s greatest plays!

Which brings us to Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean.

Let’s start here - if you live in Ottawa and have heard MacLean’s post game press conferences, you will know that he is always candid and honest in his assessment of his team. At times though, he is foggy on the details. When asked about a certain play or a certain penalty, he doesn’t always remember the exact details of the play. So, from my vantage point, when he referred to Raphael Diaz as “player 61” it was not an intentional slight on Diaz or a calculated move to disrespect his opponents.

What came afterwards though was a classic Gretzky-like move.

His Ottawa team had been badly outplayed in Game 1 and if not for goaltender Craig Anderson, Montreal would have won the game by a large margin. When he saw the reaction to his comments, he went with it. By continuing his “player 61” type comments, the media turned their focus to the coaches - what would MacLean say next? How would Therrien and the Habs react?

When Montreal forward Brandon Prust called MacLean a “bug-eyed, fat walrus” to which MacLean replied he was not fat, he was “husky”, the media ran with the stories and the Ottawa fans loved it! Already a fan-favourite in Ottawa, he instantly reached iconic status in the nation’s capital. Let’s win it for the husky walrus fans exclaimed!

Although this series was MacLean’s first win as a head coach, make no mistake, this is a man that has paid his dues in hockey and seen it all before. In eight of his NHL seasons as a player, he scored 30 or more goals. As a member of the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980’s, he battled through one of the toughest divisions in hockey - the Smythe Division. As an assistant coach in Detroit, he helped bring the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory. Before coaching in the NHL with Anaheim, Detroit and now Ottawa, he coached in the IHL and UHL. He is a hockey-lifer and as I said, he has seen it all before...

By the time the Montreal Canadiens attempted to teach the Senators some respect with their fists in Game 3, unsuccessfully I might add, MacLean’s work was done. His young team had found their legs and the NHL’s 27th ranked offence began to find the net on a regular basis. Heading into game 2, 3 and 4, no one was talking about what the Senators needed to do to win, they were talking about what the Canadiens were going to do...

Sure, there was far more to this series than MacLean’s war of words with the Canadiens. Injuries and inconsistent goaltending did more damage to Montreal’s chances than MacLean’s verbal jousts with Therrien, but by channelling his inner-Gretzky, he bought his players some time to find their game and helped propel his team to the Round 2 of the NHL Playoffs.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Let's Honour Stompin' Tom Connors on the $5





Stompin' Tom Connors
(Wikipedia)
After his passing on March 6th, 2013, there was a tremendous outpouring of love for Tom Charles Connors, the man known throughout Canada (and around the world) as Stompin' Tom. Fond memories were recalled, of either meeting Tom in person, or about how his music touched our lives.

Whether it was Bud the Spud, Sudbury Saturday Night, The Hockey Song, or my personal favourite Margo's Got the Cargo, we all have an "I remember when" moment attached to Tom's music.

Shortly after his passing, there was much discussion online about a state funeral for Tom. For decades, he proudly wore the Maple Leaf close to his heart and did much to support Canadian musicians and promote our country around the world. I stumbled into a conversation on Twitter about this topic, which is what led to this post.

Was Stompin' Tom Connors deserving of a state funeral? You bet he was!! My question to his fans I was conversing with was, "Would Tom have wanted a state funeral? Would he have wanted to be placed above the average citizen and be honoured in such a way?"

The overwhelming response was - you're right - he deserved one but would not have wanted it. So, as a musician and a hockey writer, I began to ponder what would, or could be an appropriate way to honour a man that did so much for our country and famously captured our love of hockey in song.

My suggestion - a special run of the Canadian $5 that includes Tom in some way. It already depicts children playing hockey on the back... adding this Canadian hero to the image in some way would be a nice tip of the cap to Tom. I was a busker for many years and I can only imagine my delight if I was still out on the streets performing and someone dropped a crisp $5 into my case and looking up at me was a smiling Stompin' Tom Connors!

Spread the word - share this post on Facebook, Twitter, anywhere at all, and maybe this idea will actually get off the ground and become a reality. You can also tweet the link for this article to the Bank of Canada if you'd like: @bankofcanada

Or send them an email @ info@bankofcanada.ca

Started a Facebook page too: Stompin' Tom on the $5

We miss ya Tom - Rest well my friend!



Monday, March 11, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview: Washington Capitals Legend Dennis Maruk

On February 9th, 1982, many of the game’s greatest players gathered in Washington, DC, for the 34th NHL All-Star game. One by one, the Prince of Wales and Campbell Conference players were introduced on their respective bluelines - Gretzky, Bossy, Stastny, Coffey, Bourque and Robinson. However, the crowd only rose to their feet in unison when the final player was introduced; the greatest cheers that day rang out for #20, Dennis Maruk.

Raised in Rexdale, Ontario, Dennis was a scoring sensation during his Junior career with the London Knights in the early 1970’s, recording 112, 113 and 145 points in his three seasons with the team. Despite his success on the ice, the 5’8 center/winger was overlooked in the opening round of the 1975 NHL Draft. It was not until the second round began that his name was called, not by his hometown Maple Leafs, but by the California Golden Seals.

Read my NHL Alumni interview with former 60-goal scorer Dennis Maruk at the NHL Alumni website.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview: Hockey Helps Founder Gary Scullion, Sens' Boschman & Leafs' Reid

“From humble beginnings come great things.” - Unknown author

Whether it is through the NHL Alumni Association, or as is in this case, their team alumni associations, hockey players are always there to lend a helping hand whenever and wherever someone is in need. Having already successfully taken place in three other Canadian cities last Fall, the annual Hockey Helps the Homeless tournaments are about to arrive in Ottawa (March 1st, 2013) and Montreal (March 22nd, 2013).

As governments make drastic cutbacks to social spending, the economy continues to experience drastic highs and lows, and we begin to address the need for a better understanding of mental health issues, the Hockey Helps the Homeless fundraising efforts take on a greater importance with each passing year. In recent interviews, Hockey Helps the Homeless founder Gary Scullion, Ottawa Senators Alumni member Laurie Boschman and Toronto Maple Leafs Alumni member Dave Reid explained their passion for this cause.

From its humble beginnings in Toronto in 1996, when a group of colleagues led by Gary Scullion created an opportunity to give back to their community, the Hockey Helps the Homeless program has expanded to include tournaments in Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa; contributing much-needed local funding for frontline and reintegration programs in those cities.

Read my NHL Alumni interview with Hockey Helps the Homeless founder Gary Scullion, Sens Alumni Laurie Boschman and Leafs Alumni member Dave Reid.

Monday, February 18, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview With Todd Ewen

It is an exciting time for the St. Louis University Billikens and their coach, former NHLer Todd Ewen, as they are prepare to host fifteen other teams from the American Collegiate Hockey Association for the 2012-13 Division II National Championship Tournament for the first time.
 
With a place assured for themselves in the tournament as the host club, the stage is set for some great hockey action at the Hardee’s Ice Complex from March 15th-19th.

Founded in 1991, the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) currently consists of three men’s divisions and two women’s divisions, with 446 teams competing across the United States. Their mission is to grow the sport at the collegiate level, while providing structure and governance for the member schools.

“It is going to be great,” Todd said on the phone from St. Louis. “The way I look at, 98% of the kids in the United States will end up playing in the ACHA because there are not enough jobs in the Major Junior leagues or the NCAA for players. That’s why I fought for the Division II Championship Tournament to come here - the amount of national champions we have had out of St. Louis is absolutely staggering. I put a lot of that success on my Alumni brothers here who have worked with the Junior Blues; they have really developed some great players.”

Read my interview with Todd Ewen at the NHL Alumni website

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hockey Builds Friendships That Last A Lifetime - TVOS Interview with Will Colbert & Sam Roberts


Hockey Builds Friendships That Last A Lifetime:
TVOS Interview with Belfast Giants Defensemen
Will Colbert & Sam Roberts

Regardless of your age or musical preference, there’s no doubt that you have probably heard the Beatles classic With A Little Help From My Friends. In one of his rare appearances behind the microphone, Ringo reminds us that life is a lot more fun and we can take on any challenge with our friends at our side. One of the wonderful aspects of the great game of hockey I have witnessed firsthand, thanks to my work with the NHL Alumni Association and here at The Voice of Sport, is how hockey builds friendships that last a lifetime.


Belfast Giants Defenseman
Will Colbert
(Photo - Michael Cooper)
For Will Colbert and Sam Roberts, their journey and eventual friendship through hockey began almost three thousand kilometres apart; Will was born in Arnprior, Ontario, while Sam was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. By the 2004-05 season, Will was the Captain of the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League and Sam was wearing the ‘C’ across the Ottawa River with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Gatineau Olympiques. While only minutes apart as captains of their respective teams, they did not know each other during that point in their careers.

Once their time in the OHL and QMJHL was over, both players made the decision to continue their education and they were off to St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX) in Nova Scotia. It was at university, enrolled in the same Human Kinetics program, where they met and became teammates for the first time.

“The coach told me before even getting there that Sam and I were going to be good buddies,” Will recalled as I interviewed the two defensemen via Skype.

“We were the only two living in residence that year, so right off the bat we were kind of forced to hang out with each other,” he said with a laugh. “It was definitely a blessing and I think we knew right away that we had similar personalities - we were in the same program and we were both first year guys sharing this new experience. Coming from Major Junior, we did not know that we had been so close to each other that whole time.”

“You look at all the guys that go on to play university hockey,” Sam said of becoming friends once they arrived at St. FX. “The majority of them are ex-Major Junior players, so you are going to have stuff in common with the guys you meet and the guys you play with in university. Not everyone decides to go to school, so you are meeting guys that have made some very similar decisions about life and their hockey careers. In our situation, it seemed we had a lot in common personality wise, and somewhere along the way, we started getting asked if we were brothers - it has actually gotten quite comical over the years!”

The two would go their separate ways after university. As a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks, Will split the 2009-10 season between their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Worcester, Massachusetts and their East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After his time at St. FX, Sam split his season between the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL), Syracuse Crunch (AHL) and the Gwinnett Gladiators (ECHL). It was in Gwinnett, Georgia, that the two friends would become teammates again in 2010.

Belfast Giants Defenseman
Sam Roberts
(Photo - Michael Cooper)
“The chance for me to get to Gwinnett initially,” Sam explained. “Was that our coach at St. FX had played for the Gladiators’ coach a number of years before, so they had a connection and he had sent players down there. Obviously, being in the South and playing hockey, I loved it! Over the year, I would tell Will he had to get down there. We would joke about it and after our first year of pro, towards the end of that summer, it started to look like it would actually happen.”

“We were both looking to find different opportunities in the AHL,” Will continued. “Over that summer after our first year, nothing was coming along for me. Obviously, I trust what Sam says about a team, a coach, an organization and a city, so to go there instead of somewhere else, where I wouldn’t know what to expect was a no-brainer for me.”

“The reality is,” Sam said of looking for a team to join. “Is that you don’t know what you are getting into until you actually get there, so if you can go to a situation where you can fully trust what you are getting into, it takes a lot more off your shoulders.”

Which brings us to this season and their current team, the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). With the work stoppage in the NHL at the start of the 2012-13 season, most teams in the AHL and ECHL were expecting an influx of players sent down from the NHL. There was great uncertainty too, as to how long the lockout would last, which provided Sam and Will with the opportunity to explore all of their options. The hockey world is a small world, so once again, connections and friendships from their past teams ultimately brought the two Canadian defensemen to Northern Ireland.

“We were both kind of looking around at the different opportunities,” Will said. “This league tends to be a little more like the North American style of play, but on a bigger ice surface, so it is less of an adjustment. We had a few buddies from Gwinnett that are in this league now, so we were able to talk with them about it. We heard that Belfast was a great place to play.”

“I spoke to Jason Walters,” he continued. “Jason grew up in Renfrew (*near Will’s hometown of Arnprior) and I was hanging out with him in the summer. He knows our coach here, Doug Christiansen, and was able to connect me with Doug. We talked a bit and it seemed like this would be a really good fit for me. At the same time, Sammy didn’t have anything yet. When we learned there was a chance we could both be here, it made the option more attractive.”

With a 24-7-5 record and 59 points after 39 games, the Giants are within striking range of the first place Nottingham Panthers and their 61 points. The Giants have tremendous support from their fans and they are quite knowledgeable about the game too, which has allowed Will and Sam to feel right at home with their new team in Belfast.

“I always joke with people over here,” Sam said. “They say, ‘Oh, you’re from Canada but you are over here playing ice hockey?’ which does seem kind of backwards, but there is quite a following here and the facilities are great - very, very professional!”

“We are looked after really well and have great crowds at our games,” he continued. “It’s kind of funny, it doesn’t seem like you are in a place that is known for European football and rugby when you see how they get behind the hockey. And for me, a lot of the accents here aren’t that different from the ones I encounter when I’m back home in Newfoundland. So, I’m kind of like the unofficial translator here when we try to get a cab somewhere.”

“There are a lot of hockey fans here and the ones that like it are real die-hard fans,” Will added. “The travel is good too. The ferry to Scotland is about two hours when we go to play the Scottish teams and we fly over to play the teams in England. We have been able to see parts of Scotland, Wales and England, which is nice. We were also over to Germany too for the Continental Cup and that was a really neat experience.”

“Belfast is a great city,” he said of their new home-away-from-home. “We have had a lot of fun here so far. We are pretty much right downtown and we can walk anywhere we want. It has been a good experience and hasn’t been a culture shock - and the Guinness tastes better here than it does at home.”

Many North American hockey fans that are unfamiliar with the EIHL might be surprised by the level and style of play in the league. A larger ice surface allows for more room to manoeuvre, but with many North Americans in the league, there is a familiar element to the game - with more physicality than you would see in other European leagues.

“That is one of the neat things too about playing here this year,” Sam said. “It’s the quality of the guys from around here. Just to think what hockey is back home, you might not expect to see the level of play that you see over here. A lot of the guys, whether they are local, Scottish, or from the London area, they are really, really good players! I think it is fairly underrated in terms of European hockey. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves, but it is only a matter of time before it does because the quality of play is above and beyond what you might expect coming from North America.”

In the world of professional hockey, it is difficult to know when, or how long you will be teammates with someone; trades and free agency opportunities arise - sometimes when you least expect it. However, friendships that last a lifetime extend beyond the rink, beyond the uniform. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be seeing this dynamic duo, these hockey brothers, having fun for years to come.

Good luck the rest of the way Will and Sam - Thanks for the chat and we’ll see you when you are back home at season’s end!

You can follow Will and Sam on Twitter (@willycolbert and @SammyNL) and you will see their friendship in action (the Christmas sweater picture being a great example!).

 

Monday, February 4, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview: Ottawa 67's Honour Bill Kitchen

On July 30th, 2012, Hockey’s Greatest Family lost a brother far too soon when former Ottawa 67’s defenseman and NHL Alumni member Bill Kitchen passed away suddenly at 51 years of age.

Bill helped countless individuals in the Ottawa area and beyond as an active member of the 67’s and Ottawa Senators Alumni, as well as through his involvement with Tim Horton’s as a franchise owner. To honour his memory and work in the community, Bill’s former OHL team recently announced that his legacy of helping others would live on with the creation of a new annual award - the Bill Kitchen Community Builder Award.

Read my interview with Ottawa 67's owner Jeff Hunt, NHL and Sens Alumni member Brad Marsh and CTV Ottawa Sports Director Terry Marcotte.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NHL Alumni Interview: The Journeyman - Sean Pronger

Sean Pronger as a Mighty Duck
Living in a soon-to-be demolished farmhouse in Knoxville, Tennessee, the East Coast League was vastly different from wearing the ‘C’ at Bowling Green State University. Sean Pronger’s first trip to the NHL was still a year away, but life in professional hockey had begun.
 

“We had a barn, a horseshoe pit, and, of course, the farmhouse,” Sean writes in Journeyman. “When we moved in, our to-do list read something like this - buy horseshoes and throw a party in the barn. It should have included checking for cable, heat and signs of rodents. What’s that old saying? ‘If it’s too good to be true...’ Anyway, free is free, and he didn’t charge extra for the mice. A couple hundred dollars in mousetraps later, we had only a cable and heat problem.”


Selected in the third round (51st overall) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1991 NHL Draft, Sean would go on to play for sixteen teams in five leagues during his eleven year pro career. In the NHL, he took to the ice in 260 regular season games with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Vancouver Canucks.


Growing up in the Northern Ontario town of Dryden, with a population of 7,000 at the time, Sean explained in our interview that his passion for hockey began at a young age.


“Hockey was a big part of everybody’s life up there,” he reminisced. “Growing up with Hockey Night in Canada and long winters was conducive to outdoor rinks and playing street hockey. My friends, my brother Chris and myself, played a lot of hockey! You don’t start out playing the game to make it to the NHL, you just start out because you love doing it - you’re not really thinking that far ahead. When you are a kid, you think ‘That would be awesome’ but I just liked to play, I wanted to play as much as I could.”

Read my interview with Sean Pronger at the NHL Alumni website

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Voice of Sport is Back!

It has been a few months since any new articles appeared here at The Voice of Sport and you are probably wondering where I have been... Well, I became a dad!!

On October 19th, 2012, my wife Dianne and I welcomed Eliza Lillian Rodger into the world :)

Dad and Eliza in the delivery room
(Photo TVOS)

The past few months have been a blur, but it's a new year and it's time to get back to work! Lots of exciting articles and interviews are on the way - the weekly Wednesday post at the XHockeyProducts blog returns next week, I'll have an interview with Belfast Giants defensemen Will Colbert and Sam Roberts posted in the coming weeks, and I'm hoping to connect with my friend Bryan Helmer - the newest member of the Springfield Falcons. There will be plenty of NHL Alumni interviews in 2013 as well.

Stay tuned!