Thursday, March 31, 2005
A Giants OT loss with a side of Hame Zlin
Unfortunately for us Vancouverites, Rockets forward Lauris Darzins scored just 2 minutes into overtime to give the Rockets a 2-1 win and tie the series at two. The Giants have lost both OT games in this exciting series, which has rarely had a dull moment.
For the Giants, Marek Schwarz was great for the Giants and was named the game’s second star. Schwarz made 29 saves and had a few adventures in the 3rd period, but he was the main reason why the Rockets didn’t win the game sooner.
The Rockets managed to play almost perfect defence for the entire game this time around, as they limited the Giants to just 17 shots and killed all 4 Giants’ Power Plays. Offensive stars Gilbert Brule, Mitch Bartley, and Andrej Meszaros were not at all effective generating offence last night as they were bottled up like a miniature ship.
Adam Courchaine had the only goal for the Giants, but he was pretty quiet otherwise.
Big Dan, a professed Hitmen bandwagoner, over at The Face Off Circle had a great post about WHL Playoff fever hitting Western Canada.
Still, it was pretty cruel of him to compare the Vancouver Giants to the Edmonton Oilers...blecch!
An even bigger shocker is the Kelowna Rockets and Vancouver Giants. This is like the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers. The Rockets ALWAYS beat the Giants. They are a veteran squad who are just like Dallas used to be- deadly on the power play and like to get the lead and then play boring hockey. Kelowna has a couple Oiler prospects (Tyler Spurgeon and Troy Bodie) and are led by defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Derek Yeomans.
This is pretty much a spot on observation, but I wouldn’t say the Rockets are really led by Derek Yeomans. Like Kelly Guard last season (who has not done well in the ECHL this year), Yeomans has it pretty easy most nights (like last night) and just has to stay awake long enough to make the required 15-20 saves as long as the Rockets play their system to a ‘T’. When the Rockets have broken down defensively in this series, Yeomans has not done much to bail out his forwards and defence.
- - -
Hame Zlin has now tied up their series with HC Vitkovice at 3 thanks to a 4-3 shootout victory yesterday. Slovak forward Peter Barinka scored the winning goal and I really hope no games in the league finals are settled via the shootout. Frankly, there seems to be no need to decide important playoff games with a gimmicky shootout.
Hame Zlin almost handed the game away in the 3rd period when Petr Mokrejs (see below picture) gave a vicious high-stick to the face of Vaclav Varada. Mokrejs was assessed a 5+game misconduct penalty and Vitkovice could only score one goal to tie the game at 3.
"Don’t cry, I’m sure Santa will give you an X-Box next Christmas!"
My boy Jaroslav Balastik had 2 assists and stayed out of the penalty box, while Marek Malik was scratched in favour of 19 year-old Jiri Mocek.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
A Giant Comeback and a Record Crowd
For the first half of the game, the Kelowna Rockets played their typical mechanical defensive style to a ‘T’. The Rockets held the Giants to just 9 shots through the first 30 minutes, and led the game 3-0 thanks to some bad penalties by the Giants and some opportunistic goals. The crowd wanted to get into the game, but it was impossible given the score and the fact the Giants couldn’t establish any sort of forecheck. As coach Don Hay said on the post-game radio show, the Giants were playing too pretty and not gritty.
Once the Giants finally realized what brought them success in the first two games – lots and lots of hitting – the Giants piled up two quick goals and started the amazing comeback during the second half of the game. The Pacific Coliseum went from a graveyard-like atmosphere to that of a Mormon frat house (loud, but clean).
Cam Cunning tied the game during the last minute of the 2nd period and the 2nd intermission had a much different buzz to that of the 1st intermission.
Andrej Meszaros’ Power Play blast half-way through the 3rd period, the Giants tireless penalty killing effort, and Marek Schwarz’s acrobatic saves helped the G-men complete the comeback and now the Giants have the Rockets reeling somewhat.
One thing about that crowd that I noticed was the lack of Kelowna Rockets fans in the crowd. I know it’s a midweek game, but usually there are always a large group of fans from the opposing side. Last year’s series versus the Kamloops Blazers saw at least 100 Blazers fans at the Pacific Coliseum for each game. I counted only 3 noticable Rockets fans in last night’s big crowd. This is probably another reason why we didn’t see any fights.
Scouting Notes and Observations:
The Rockets defence was without the injured Shea Weber once again (And it was vs. the Giants that he suffered his injury a few weeks back).
Without Weber, who is a big and nasty defenseman, the Rockets have a noticibly small and finesse defensive group. The Giants have taken advantage of this all series long with aggressive forechecking and the Rockets D looked a bit worn down during the 3rd period. The Giants have the big forwards like Triston Grant, JD Watt, Mitch Bartley, and Cam Cunning as well as the aggressive Gilbert Brule (Who knocked about 3 different Rockets players on their asses last night and earned the game's 1st Star). Don Hay realizes this advantage and we’ll continue to see the Giants forecheck aggressive and lay down a lot of hits.
Derek Yeomans, G – Rockets
Yeomans didn’t do his team any favours last night as he could not stop the Giants comeback with any big saves. It doesn’t help that he is, quite possibly, the worst stickhandling WHL goaltender that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
He also has the largest set of hockey pants that I’ve ever seen on a player. This picture really doesn’t show it too well, but rest assured that even Rosie O’Donnell would have a lot of extra room wearing Yeoman’s hockey pants. You can add Yeoman’s pants to Garth Snow’s lacrosse pads as prime examples of goaltending equipment gone too far.
Kyle Cumiskey, D – Rockets
A very offensive-minded defenseman for the Rockets, Cumiskey is listed at 5’11” and 164.
Eat a sandwich, would ya!
I was impressed with his puck control and puck poise. He was the one Rockets defenseman who was comfortable with carrying the puck up the ice and weaving through the Giants forecheck. Cumiskey would be draft eligible if there is a 2005 Entry Draft, and I’m sure he would get taken despite his lack of girth. On the other hand, I would be concerned that he doesn’t seem to get much power out of his skating stride. While he was great carrying the puck up the ice, he looked a lot like Larry Murphy in that he was going about 3 miles an hour. Perhaps if he were to add about 10 pounds of muscle to his legs, he would get more bang for his skating buck.
Marek Schwarz, G – Giants
Before the game, Schwarz was presented with the Player of the Month Award for March (For the Giants, not the WHL). I think Marek was hopped up on the ‘sudes’ as he was really jumpy while waiting to be photographed. He kept looking between the photographer and the dude presenting him with the trophy ever 0.03 seconds.
The tweaky Schwarz was definitely at his acrobatic best last night, and his reflexes and flexbility were even more phenominal than usual. I’ve never seen another WHL goalie move as quickly as Schwarz can...it’s just a matter of improving his fundamentals and positioning.
So, that’s the experience from a WHL playoff game. This has been a great series and the ticket prices are still the same they were during the regular season ($16-18 CDN).
AQuietGirl details her experiences from a recent OHL Playoff matchup – The first she has ever attended - on her weblog.
Without the NHL, it’s a great time to get into what the CHL offers.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Eric Cairns gets Stupid in the UK
The Canadian report of the incident doesn’t make it seem like that big of a deal.
Cairns, a six-foot-six defenceman who is playing with the EIHL's London Racers during the NHL lockout, lost his cool when he was called for slashing in the first period of a March 23 game against the Coventry Blaze. According to the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the Oakville, Ont., native chased referee Andy Carson around the ice and was given a match penalty, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension.Is it the Mad Cow disease getting to him? I know Cairns isn't the brightest light in the chandalier...but c'mon!
According to a posting on hockeyrefs.com, the actual incident was more troubling than simply chasing a ref around the ice:
How long would you figure Cairns would be suspended for such lunacy? There hasn’t been anything more formal than the one-game suspension, but various sources suspect it could be a year-long suspension.
While enroute to the penalty box, the enforcer verbally “expressed” his objections to Carson's call. Cairns then lost control and physically attacked Carson - slashing him once in the legs and once on the arms.
After allegedly assaulting Carson, Cairns refused to leave the ice surface - despite pressure from teammates and linesman Tom Darnell - and proceeded to initiate a bench clearing fight that included a tilt with fellow NHLer Wade Belak, who's playing for the Blaze.
Numerous reports - including on the EIHL website forum - have indicated that the NHLer will be suspended for the remainder of this season and all of next. The suspension would have little impact though, as North American leagues tend not to honour bans from their counterparts in Europe.Turnabout is fair play, I guess... Alex Perezhogin was handed a length suspension for a nasty slashing incident last season while with the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Russian Super League didn’t give any credence to that ruling and basically spat in the face of the AHL.
If the NHL starts up, I would like to see them show a little class and actually uphold any suspension handed to a player like Cairns. Of course, given the level of class shown by the NHL in their negotiating tactics, I wouldn’t expect Cairns to have trouble finding employment somewhere in North America next season...NHL or no NHL.
One last quote kind of irked me:
Racers owner Roger Black explained the incident to the Ottawa Sun by blaming
(the referee) Carson.
Ahh yes, the old ‘blame the victim’ defence. I’m sure it Carson’s fault that Cairns assaulted him, just like it was Nicole Simpson’s fault that O.J. sliced her up like roast lamb.
“Unfortunately, the refs are not of a sufficient standard over here,” he said. “Basically they lose control of games.”
If I throw a pie in the face of Roger Black, it’s simply his fault for being such a moron. Am I right or what?
Hame Zlin avoided the knock-out punch yesterday and defeated hungry Vitkovice 5-2 on home ice. Vitkovice scored the first two goals, but then Zlin fought back with 5 straight goals as the aggressive Vitkovice squad just couldn’t’ stay out of the damn penalty box. The series now returns to Ostrava with Vitkovice ahead 3-2.
Crazy Jaroslav Balastik made his pool owners happy with a goal and 18 penalty minutes while Marek Malik channeled the powers of Andy Delmore and finished with a game-worst -3 rating.
Over in Slovakia, Slovan Bratislava took a 3-2 series lead over Dukla Trencin with a 4-3 victory today. Zdeno “Crybaby” Ciger had 1 goal and 2 assists and Miroslav Satan had 2 assists in a winning cause while Marian Hossa had to leave the game for 10 minutes as his ankle is seemingly acting up once again.
Yesterday also saw HKm Zvolen win the fourth and deciding game by a 4-2 score. The Handzus-Orszagh-Zednik line was rather quiet (again) with just 1 of Zvolen’s 4 goals. Maybe they are just saving all of their offence for the final series against either Dukla or Slovan.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Marek Schwarz Interview
My pal Robert Neuhauser, a budding scout and writer for McKeen's Hockey (and THE expert on Czech prospects), was kind enough to translate the entire interview for me.
I'm just glad to see that Schwarz knows he flops too much ;)
What was the arrival in Vancouver like after the return from the U20 WJC? Any special celebrations for you?
When I arrived in Vancouver, the team was just on a road trip. So at first I celebrated with my billet family. They had a celebrational
dinner for me and we sat together for the evening. On the next day I flew to Prince George to join the team. I was happy that I didn't have to play, I was still pretty tired. Everybody was congratulating me. Another beautiful moment came before the first home game. Team staff members congratulated me, people in the stands gave me a standing ovation. Just beautiful!
Had you time to relax?
At first it looked really grueling. But our schedule for the next week was good and the team sent me and Andrej Meszaros for four days to California. We made the trip to Palm Springs for a vacation. I was very happy about that and we had a nice rest. And we collected strength for the upcoming games.
Were you happy with your play in January and February?
I think it got a bit better. I began to feel better after the U20 WJC. But everything can still be improved in my play.
Do you get enough playing chances from the coaches? Are you already adapted to the Canadian style of play?
I can't complain about ice time, the coaches play me a lot and I'm often between the pipes. We have just a few games left in the regular season schedule, so I get a rest from time to time. I lay back a bit and prepare for the top of the season. If it were up to me, I would like to start all games, but the coach wants it the way it is. And Canadian style? I'm still flopping around too much, I need to calm down. Sometimes I get myself into trouble!
Did the U20 WJC help you get more respect in Vancouver?
Sure. Lots of people keep asking me about the tournament. Everybody here followed this event, especially our game against Canada. Our play received lots of feedback.
What are Vancouver's ambitions for the rest of the season?
We want to defeat as many opponents as possible in the playoffs. I'm not sure about it, but I think that Vancouver has never made it past the second round. We want to do better this time.
Can it be felt that Vancouver is getting ready for the next U20 WJC?
Our owner is engaged in the preparations, lots of people are talking about it. Me and AndreJ Meszaros took part in a little bit of the opening ceremony of the preparations. Every country which will be participating had one member there. It was a social event where the sponsors, which will be taking care of each country, were introduced.
How do you rest in your free time? Do you spend time together with Slovak national player Andrej Meszaros?
I prefer being home and relaxing. I like to play videogames on the Playstation and read a lot. I like crime stories most - I always take a book into the bus when we head for a trip. Then I have lots of time to read because the trips are really long. Sometimes I spend time together with Andrej, we grew fond of golf recently. But to be honest, we are not good at it...else we take care of the hockey duties. We don't have much spare time actually, we keep working.
Will your girlfriend arrive (In Vancouver)?
No, she won't be here any more. She was here before Christmas for the last time. We have to live with it. We are looking forward to be with one another once the season will be over. One week ago I was visited by my mother and sister and now is my father getting ready for a trip to Vancouver.
In Vancouver you are coached by respected coach Bill Ranford? Does he still force you to work hard?
Yeah, still. But it isn't so difficult as it was in the beginning. We try to keep me in the best shape for the playoffs. We keep working hard.
Did the NHL lockout help to a bigger crowd at Giants games?
We can't complain. There are lots of people in the stands, we average about 8,000 people a game. I think that our record stands at 13,000.
How do you get along with the exhausting trips to road games?
I already got used to it. But in the beginning, it was terrible! These trips are really long. Anyone who hasn’t gone though it will never realize how long these trips are. The whole body hurts and time passes so slowly. I battle it in different ways. I read books, listen to music, play videogames.
I feel the best when I can fall asleep.
Do you get any salary from the team? What is the regime in the billet family?
Yeah, I get some pocket money. I am allowed a lot of freedom within the billet family. I get along with all members of the billet family well. Nobody gave me any restrictions, just the team set an exact time when we have to arrive to our homes.
Do you already know what is going to happen with you in the next season?
I don't know, really. I will talk to the St.Louis staff, who drafted me. We will discuss my situation also with my agents Mr. Jaromir Henys and Rich Evans. But there is still time left for these talks, I'll start being interested not earlier than in a few months.
Is it true that one of the possibilities could be your return to Trinec, where you were heading already last summer?
Yeah, I was talking to Mr.Marek (ex-coach and still a member of the front office), but I can't say anything past that. It is really too early, but I have a perfect relationship to Trinec. I was provided there with a chance to play in the senior Extraleague. I played my first senior Extraleague game there.
Do you get any information from St.Louis? Will you be signed to a contract?
Get signed and make the minors - that would be great. But I realize well how difficult it will be. I don't know yet what is going to happen. I didn't talk about a contract with the members of the St.Louis staff.
Do you already know where you will go for your summer vacation?
Me and my girlfriend have booked a trip to Croatia. I would also like to make a trip through the Czech Republic. For example to the mountains, where I haven't been yet to.
Where is your medal from the U20 WJC placed?
On the table next to my bed. I look at it every day. I have terrific memories from the U20 WJC, it was an unbelievable experience.
- - -
Dukla Trencin tied up their series at 2 with a 5-3 win over Slovan Bratislava. Marian Hossa was on fire again with 2 goals and an assist, while Marian Gaborik has gone cold after being seperated from Demitra-Hossa and put onto a line with two Extraleague veterans.
Over in Czechia, evil Pardubice beat Liberec by a 4-0 score and now lead that series 3-1. Jan Lasak made 35 saves for the 'Clean Sheet' while Milan Hnilicka was pulled after letting in 4 goals in the first 44 minutes.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Weekend Update: I will Rocket 2 U
Last night, the Giants were *almost* able to steal a second game from the Rockets as Marc Fistric's 3rd period blast sent the game into at OT tied at 3.
Now, sometimes I'll watch some hockey game on TV and watch two teams slug through the trap and wonder, "What ever happened to exciting hockey?"
Answer: It was in Kelowna in Saturday night.
The game was on local (free) TV here in Vancouver, and it was one of the best games I've seen in ages. The entire game was played at a high pace, there was lots of hitting, and the overtime was one of the more exciting I've witnessed in sometime.
After trading numerous chances back and forth (and these were no cheapies), it was Kelowna's Brent Howarth that gave the Rockets the ultimate 4-3 overtime win.
It was a game like this that made me think: "Now, that why I love hockey."
I have tickets for Tuesday night's Game Three at the Pacific Coliseum, and the place will be rockin' (so don't come a-knockin')
Marek Schwarz made 35 saves in Game 2 and looked like the more calm and steady version of himself. Kelowna was without Shea Weber (pictured) for both home games, which was great news for the Giants. No word yet on when Weber will be back for the Rockets.
- - -
NHL Labour Stuffing
According to Los Angeles Kings president Tim Leiweke, the NHL will return this fall no matter what, TSN REPORTS:
"We're back playing hockey in September. We will have a King season," Leiweke said at a news conference on Friday. "And there's an enormous amount of conviction and planning toward the fan. The fan has become a high priority for us and we can't abuse that trust."Since Gary Bettman hasn't been laying down fines to executives lately (although their quotes don't mention replacements directly most of the time), it is obvious that the NHL is now using these types of press announcements as a 'negotiating' tactic.
"Fans want to see guys who are hard-working and grounded and decent. Fans want to see a competitive team that works hard. We've got a moment in time here to maybe get sports back on track, and I'd certainly like to do that. I'm excited about it. It's time to get on with it."
Tom Benjamin of Canucks Corner thinks that the NHL is greatly miscalculating the thoughts and resolve of the 'grunts':
The big losers in this dispute are the more influential, higher paid players. As Matt Cooke said in an interview (I'm paraphrasing) several months ago: "I'm not stupid. Markus Naslund and Ed Jovanovski are going to get their money no matter what. Under a salary cap, how much is left for me?"
Anybody who looks at either the NBA or NFL salary structures can see that it is not the stars who pay under a capped system. It is the grunts and the middle class. Why on earth would the NHL believe the lower paid players would vote for a system that hurts them?
Yet, the NHL's break-the-union campaign has been directed mainly at the grunts and lower-paid players.
Another point I would consider is that the fact the grunts and middle-class don't have the large Swiss savings accounts that the Markus Naslund's have. Players like Juraj Kolnik and Jarkko Ruutu- Lower paid players with mortgages and such - can't quite afford to sit out as long as some of their richer counterparts. While the grunts *may* lose out more percentage wise under a cap system, they sure as hell do need the money more right now.
It will be interesting to see which group, if any, breaks rank in the NHLPA. We're in uncharted waters, after all.
- - -
Czech/Slovak Playoff Update
Dukla Trencin 5 - Slovan Bratislava 4 (Slovan leads series 2-1)
Marian Hossa *finally* returned from his ankle injury and not a moment too soon. Hossa had 1 goal and 2 assists and Pavol Demitra had 2 assists as Dukla put themselves back into the series.
I don't who designed these new Slovan uniforms, but they are pretty f'ugly! Martin Kul'ha (pictured), looks rather ashamed to be wearing such a thing.
Liberec 4 - Pardubice 1 (Pardubice leads series 2-1)
Ex-Canuck Lubomir Vaic was the superstar with a goal and two assists, while Radim Vrbata was (un)noticably quiet.
Vaclav Nedorost will miss the rest of the playoffs with an injury (Damn, is this guy brittle) while Pardubice's top scorer, Michal Mikeska, missed the game with back pains.
Ceske Budejovice 4 - Jihlava 2 (Ceske Budejovice wins promotion series 4-1)
There are two very sad people in the world today: The Hockey Rodent, and my bud 'Sebesta' from Ceske Budejovice (a Jihlava fan caught in enemy territory)
Jihlava's 'cinderella' season in the Extraleague is over and the NHL-powered Budejovice squad overcame a Game One loss and swept Jihlava back into obscurity.
Vaclav Prospal gets a lot of flack for his rather 'passive' play on this side of the pond (if not his big mouth), but he was clearly the star for the Budweiser frogs this season.
Regular Season: 39GP 28-60-88 +57 82PIM
1st Div. Playoffs: 11GP 11-8-19 +8 24PIM
Baraz Series: 5GP 4-7-11 +3 8PIM
To the Rodent and Sebesta, this Buds for you ;)
Friday, March 25, 2005
A Somewhat OK Friday
(What the hell is so good about today, anyway?)
First, I have a couple of sick goal highlights for you to watch - Gifts from the Easter Puck Bunny (mmmmm...)
My pal David(ada) pointed me to this video clip of Jaromir Jagr scoring an OT winner for Omsk in their recent 4-3 playoff win over Magnitogorsk. Ol' Jags goes end to end and makes a deposit in the old net bank.
If you thought that was impressive, then check out THIS clip of Rob Hisey during the Barrie Colts Skills Competition.
I don't want to ruin it for you, so just go watch it. Trust me, it'll leave you speechless.
- - -
In their effort to improve the partnership between the warring factions, the NHL has launched an official complaint against the NHLPA, TSN Reports:
TSN has learned the NHL has formally filed an "unfair labor practice" complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in the United States over the NHLPA's apparent policy that any NHLPA member who were to become a replacement player next season would have to re-pay the lockout "stipend" he is currently receiving from the union.I'm sure the NHL has altruistic motives here...riiiight.
- - -
Czech League Playoffs
OK, so the clock hasn't struck midnight yet for Vitkovice. No Malik, No Hubacek, No problem! The Cinderlla boys beat Zlin yesterday with a 3-2 OT win, and then took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 3-1 win today.
Marek Pinc, the midget goaltender who covers about 1/5 of the net, made 36 saves for the win. I don't know how the guy makes so many saves - Almost every picture I ever see of him shows him with his eye closed. Maybe it's his special Keebler Elf powers?
"Oh no! I locked the keys in my car!"
Over in in the Slovak Playoffs, Zvolen couldn't wrap up their series with a sweep as Kosice took Game 4 by a 4-2 score.
Jiri Bicek, who is a good candidate to make the Slovak World Championships team, had a goal and two assists to stave off elimination for one more game.
The frustrating line of Zednik-Handzus-Orszagh was held pointless.
GET A HAIRCUT, YOU HIPPIE!
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Roundup: Cooler Heads, WHL Award Nominees, and More...
Let's start in Europe, where IIHF head honcho Rene Fasel is calling for cooler heads to prevail in light of recent violence in playoff matches.
The atmosphere around the playoffs is starting to resemble the one at a wild-west saloon where unshaved men are exercising frontier justice. Instead of going to their best players to make them score or execute the perfect play, many coaches give unwarranted ice time to the so called 'character guys' whose only objective is to take out the skilful player.Now, I know many European fans can't fathom the fact that North American teams often give out roster spots to 'enforcers' or 'goons' who do nothing more than hit and beat people like a congo drum. Still, most European teams don't waste roster spots on such players because they would likely be a detriment on the International ice surface and in the European style of game. I take this statement to be a jab at the large amount of North American players taking up spots on European rosters these days.
More from Fasel...
Just like in U.S. sports, we too have 'March Madness', but there is nothing positive with this version.Poor Bertuzzi...now he is being used as the prime example of a Player Gone Wild. As much as I respect the fact that Rene is trying to curb violence in the European leagues, he really shouldn't overstate his case and get his facts wrong. Steve Moore is not 'crippled', and there have been violent incidents in European games before.
The whole rhetoric of vengeance and vigilante environment that surrounds the playoffs in Europe could lead to someone losing control just like Todd Bertuzzi did when he crippled Steve Moore one year ago. Do we need another Bertuzzi-incident for people to come back to their senses? Or does anyone need to be killed before everyone realizes that this has gone too far?
Methinks Rene should also cool down just a little.
Speaking of violence, Marek Malik of Vitkovice was handed a TWO-game suspension for his smashing of Zlin's Miroslav Okal. His teammate, ex-Flyer Petr Hubacek was handed a FIVE-game suspension for a foul he committed in the brawl-filled 3rd period. Zlin got away without any suspensions, and they are now in prime position to take command of the series as they head to Ostrava for Game 3 today.
- - -
Shifting back on over to this continent, it appears that the NHL is ready to cancel the 2005 Entry Draft within a week.
Be prepared to hear 1,000,000 stories about where Sidney "Nextzky" Crosby will be headed next year. The 'leading' rumours suggest that Crosby would go to Toronto to play with the AHL Marlies. Big market, better league. Hmmm...
I just wonder...if the NHL draft is cancelled, will Gilbert Brule be back with the Giants next year? That would totally rock the house.
- - -
The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced its award nominees/finalists yesterday.
Dion Phaneuf will be the heavy favourite to take home the Best Defenseman (Shea Weber is the other finalist) and Most Outstanding Player awards, while Eric Fehr walked home with the scoring crown.
For the Giants, it appears that Andrej Meszaros (and Red Deer's Roman Wick) were not eligible for the Rookie of the Year award... I'm not sure, but how else can you explain the fact that they weren't even nominated? Is this a new rule where Europeans aren't eligible? I wish someone would tell me these things :(
Meszaros did walk home with a Western Conference 2nd Team All-Star award, while Gilbert Brule was named to the 1st All-Star team and is a finalist for the Scholastic Award.
Aaron Sorochan, the goalie here for the Giants last season, is a finalist for Goaltender of the Year. A year ago, Giants fans weren't all too sad to see him go...what a difference a year can make.
- - -
Back to Slovakia, where evil Slovan Bratislava took a 2-0 series lead thanks to a convincing 5-3 win over Dukla Trencin.
Slovan did a masterful job in shutting down Marian Gaborik (just 1 goal) and Pavol Demitra (0 points) while frustrating Trencin into taking 11 penalties in all.
Marian Hossa missed yet another game with his damn ankle injury, and one has to wonder just how 'minor' this injury really is.
Over in Czechia, Pardubice took a commanding 2-0 series lead over Liberec with a 3-1 win. Radim Vrbata, Vaclav Nedorost, and Ales Kotalik have done little and really need to get their asses into gear if they want to launch a comeback.
...or at least punch someone out :) ...
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
NHL: Paranoid about Steroids?
Still, the topic has crept up recently in the world of hockey, so I’d thought I’d rant a little and say what’s on my mind about the issue.
For the most part, the NHL and hockey itself has really escaped the drug use spotlight. While baseball is facing a barrage of attacks from steroid witchhunters, two-faced media shills, and politicians with alterior motives, very few people have questioned drug use in the media.
Stephen Farber wrote about Sudafed (Hockey’s Dirty Little Secret) for Sports Illustrated, and this was a topic I further touched upon earlier this year.
There are the tragic alcohol and hard drug users such as John Kordic, Steve Chiasson, Grant Fuhr (who overcame his problems), Bob Probert, Link Gaetz, and Theoren Fleury.
Even so, drug and supplement usage/abuse has been, for the most part, well hidden from the prying eyes of the public.
Is steroid use rampant in the NHL? Is it useful to NHLers? Why don’t we hear more about it?
1. What are they good for?
Commissioner Gary Bettman, ex-Canadien David Morissette, and other hockey people have commented that steroids are only good for enforcers and for bulking up. Since hockey is a game that requires speed and endurance, gaining too much bulk can detract from one's game.
The best real-life example that I can think of (and I am speculating, since I have NO REAL PROOF) is the Canucks’ Brent Sopel.
Two seasons ago, he came into training camp at 230 pounds…he had gained an incredible 25-30 pounds over the course of a summer. There was some talk about his back acne (a symptom of steroid use) and even the best ‘natural’ bodybuilders know it’s very very hard to add 25-30 pounds of legitimate muscle mass in a span of 4 months.
Sopel’s play early that season was extremely piss poor. Sopel was brutally slow and it was obvious that the extra bulk had a very negative effect on his game. Sopel looked out of breath by the 3rd period most nights. It was only until mid-way through the season, when he shed most of that excess weight, that his game returned to ‘normal’ levels and he didn’t look like a slug.
2. “They won’t help hockey players”
To the uneducated layman, steroids are taken by big muscleheads for the pure purpose of gaining bulk. One might think popping a few pills or injecting some liquid into one’s ass would just turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
That simply is not true.
The 4 main benefits from steroid use:
- To increase muscle size and strength.
- To speed recovery time.
- To increase energy levels during workouts.
- To increase the oxidation rise of fat.
Items 2 and 3 on the list above would be of great importance to hockey players.
Over the course of a season, an NHL player has to slog through 82 games, countless practices, and a handful of meaningless exhibition games before they even get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs marathon.
From personal experience, I know that leg injuries and fatigued legs, especially, can take an enormous long time to heal and recover. Since hockey players are pretty much screwed if they can’t generate power from their legs, using steroids to speed recovery time would be an obvious benefit to them.
While an NHL player may not need to bulk up considerably, there would be the temptation to use whatever means necessary in order to recover from injuries and get a real energy boost.
3. “Just look at these guys!”
From first glance, it can be very hard to get an idea of a player’s physiche when they are wearing full hockey gear. Rod Brind’Amour is one of the buffest dudes in the NHL, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him play.
It’s also quite easy to laugh at the notion of ‘steroid junkie’ hockey players when many of these guys have rather lean upper bodies and small arms.
I know Wayne Gretzky had nothing more than a ‘swimmers’ build, and Jason Allison’s arms are about as thick as dry spaghetti.
The idea that only big enforcers take steroids can be easy to swallow when most NHLers don’t look very big and bulky. While Donald Brashear and Tony Twist look like they hit the heavy weights often, guys like Sergei Samsonov and Brett Hull appear as if they don’t touch a bench press more than once a week.
4. It’s not hard to hide steroids – Steroid abuse is rampant in the NFL, Track and Field, and other sports…but why don’t you hear more about it?
Because, it’s usually only the dumb ones get caught.
While Bob MacKenzie seems to think the NHL and NHLPA’s ‘new’ policy will weed out any users, why is it that the NFL rarely ever catches and punishes abusers?
Want to know how to cheat on a steroids test? Here’s a good sampling of the techniques used to avoid various tests.
There are so many different types of steroids and enhancing products out in the world, and it’s very hard to test for all of them. Even with a strict drug testing plan in place doesn’t guarantee any users will get caught.
Honestly, I’m rather more concerned with many other issues more in hockey than steroid usage. PED’s (Speed and Sudafed), Caffeine, and Alcohol abuse are, in my opinion, much more previlant and worth concerning myself about than steroids...not to mention the economic issues we know far too much about.
Extraleague Playoffs Update
Life was much more peaceful in Europe yesterday (no Roid Rage, perhaps?).
Miroslav Satan had all 3 goals in Slovan Bratislava’s 3-1 victory over Dukla Trencin. Contrary to previous reports, Marian Hossa was not healthy enough to dress and his ankle continues to give him problems.
The Liberec White Tigers fell 3-2 in overtime to the deep squad from Pardubice, while Ceske Budejovice took a 2-1 series league in the ‘Baraz’ series over Dukla Jihlava.
The Hockey Rodent, who is a big fan of Dukla Jihlava, covers those 2 games more in detail in his rant.
Honestly, I can’t wait until Jihlava is demoted again! Czech hockey fans will be thankful when this crappy franchise pollutes the Extraleague no more. While Jihlava used to be a legendary army club, the current version is rather shameful.
Their uniforms are also too damn tacky!
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
EuroUpdate: Playoffs Getting Violent!
Jeff Shantz gave Eric Landry (pictured) a nice Easter gift in the final game of the relegation playoffs in Switzerland.
According to Joeri of Eurohockey.net,
After a Shantz check, Landry's head hit the metal piece that is there
to hold the glass...
...(A) spicy detail is that opposition coach had warned in press his
team would go after Landry (a bit like theBertuzzi/Moore-case),
however this was not a clear attack as the Bertuzzi-case.
Over in Czechia, the sparks were flying as Zlin managed to tie up their series at one apiece (after losing Game 1 in a stupid shootout) with a 4-2 win over pesky Vitkovice.
The tension started midway through the 3rd period when Marek Malik, still fuming from an earlier cross-checking penalty he took, turned green and decided to !MALIK SMASH! Zlin’s Miroslav Okal into the board railing (under the plexiglass). Malik was kicked out of the game and will face a suspension.
After Jaroslav Balastik scored a late insurance goal, the tension overflowed and there were 3 separate fights. A pissed-off Miroslav Okal took on Nashville prospect Zbynek Irgl while...
...Petr Hubacek (ex-Flyer) undressed poor David Nosek...
...ex-Penguins forward Roman Simicek pounded on Pavel Zubicek...
There will be plenty of suspensions handed out to players on both teams and it will likely hurt the Vitkovice squad more as Simicek and Irgl are two of their more important players.
Over in Slovakia, the action was more peaceful as Zvolen took a very easy 2-0 series lead thanks to a Game 2 3-0 win over Kosice.
Liberec/Pardubice and Slovan/Trencin start their series today.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Vancouver Giants Wrap-Up
Before the season, there was some talk that theGiants could compete for the Memorial Cup. Marek Schwarz and Andrej Meszaros, two of the best European prospects in the 2004 Entry Draft, committed to come over to play on the Giants. Combine these two with 2005 uber-prospect Gilbert Brule, 20 year-old Wild prospect Adam Courchaine, and Stars 1st rounder Mark Fistric, and the Giants had 5 of the top talents available in the CHL.
Injuries, poor play by the depth players, and other factors saw the Giants wallow in medicrity for most of the season and now they have to face the very tough Kelowna Rockets (oh no, not again!) in the first round of the WHL Playoffs.
Here’s my look at what went right and what went wrong:
Andrej Meszaros, D (59GP 11-30-41 +7 94PIM) – Definitely the most positive surprise for the G-men this season! Meszaros showed the offense and skill set that we knew he had, but also showed a physical side that most never expected. Meszaros showed no fear in laying the body and was/is more physically mature than most WHL players. Meszaros also displayed a gung-ho attitude when it came to shooting the puck, which is in stark contrast to most European defensemen (think Tomas Kaberle). If the NHL starts up next season, Meszaros could very well be with the Senators and not back with the Giants.
Missing time to injury could cost Meszaros the WHL Rookie of the Year award to Red Deer’s Roman Wick.
Marek Schwarz, G (56GP 26-24-4 2.67GAA .900SV%) – While Meszaros was a positive surprise, Schwarz turned out to be quite the opposite. While the raw athleticism is hard to miss, Schwarz looks like he needs a few months with legendary goaltending coach Francois Allaire. There were periods when Schwarz was brilliant (like his WJC stint with the Czech Republic,), but then many nights where he’d let in 5-6 goals because he was 10 feet out of his net. Schwarz finished 22nd in Save Percentage and has a lot of work to do on his fundamentals.
Gilbert Brule, C (70GP 39-48-87 +4 169PIM) – While Brule may have dropped from the #2 spot in various rankings, Brule did everything as expected and was the brightest star for the Giants most nights. Brule capped off a great season with MVP honours at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Brule carried the Giants and had very little support on his wings. Shawn Vey, Tim Kraus, and other wingers he was paired with did very little to help out offensively. Once Brule learns to use his linemates a bit better, he’ll be even more of a star.
Adam Courchaine, C (71GP 28-50-78 +8 32PIM) – Courchaine led the Giants with 50 assists, but he was expected to challenge for the overall WHL scoring crown in his age-20 season. Courchaine failed to progress at all this season, and all often was not factor he was last season. If you don’t progress at this stage of the game, then it doesn’t look good for your NHL chances. Courchaine will probably have a tough time in his AHL debut next year unless he learns to be more assertive.
Mitch Bartley, W (70GP 30-25-53 +9 99PIM) – The industrious Bartley hit the 30-goal mark and floated in between Courchaine’s line and Brule’s line. Like Courchaine, Bartley didn’t progress offensively this season and was expected to do more. One thing I noticed is how Bartley seems a lot bigger this season than he used to be. Since Bartley’s speed his been his main drawback, I don’t think the extra size will benefit him in the long run. I expect Bartley to get a free agent contract from some organization after he (likely) goes undrafted again.
Mark Fistric, D (15GP 1-5-6 +7 32PIM) – The two jaw injuries to Fistric really threw the Giants plans into chaos. With his absence so profound, the Giants were forced into making trades for other defensemen (like Max Gordichuk and Brad Festerling). Fistric has been getting his wheels back and looks in good shape heading into the playoffs. It was a lost season for Fistric, but his future looks bright.
Shawn Vey, C/W (74GP 7-16-23 -12 36PIM) – The big 6’3” C/W came into the season as a potential 2nd round draft pick in 2005. After being selected in the 2nd round of a previous Bantam draft by the Giants, Vey looked like the perfect player to match up with either Brule or Courchaine. Vey was a complete distaster with the giants as he totalled 1 whopping goal in 38 games with the G-men. Frustrated at his own lack of progress,Vey asked for, and was granted, a trade. Vey was dealt to the Tri-City Americans and didn’t exactly flourish there, either.
I don’t think Vey would even be drafted if the 2005 Entry Draft was held. Vey showed absolutely no offensive creativity, and he didn’t seem to use his size well enough down low in the offensive zone. Vey’s stock crash certainly was a big factor in why the Giants didn’t meet expectations.
Tim Kraus, RW (63GP 16-19-35 +8 34PIM) – The speedster from Garden Grove, California, was just like most things from that region: All hype and no substance. Kraus showed very little away from the puck and floated around most nights. Like Vey, Kraus pretty much buried his draft chances with putrid production. It looks like many Californian-bred products (Jason Reese and Ray Kraus are just two examples) fare poorly in the WHL. While they have the speed and raw skills, the level of competition in California must make them look a lot better than they really are. When these Californian kids get to the WHL, they are over their heads and they don’t seem to have the ‘brains’ for the game.
So, going into the series against the Rockets, I don’t have any faith that the Giants can pull off a stunning upset. The Rockets have owned the Giants this year (Giants went 1-5-2 against them) and play the most stifling of defensive systems.
I predict the Rockets will prevail in 6 but hope the opposite happens.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
EuroUpdate: More March Madness
1. Markus Naslund will join Mats Sundin and Peter Forsberg in NOT playing to Team Sweden at the upcoming World Championships. All I can say is, "Who's next"? If the Sedinbots, Mattias Ohlund, and Daniel Alfredsson want to join them on the sidelines, why wait? :) Team Sweden's loss is Team Slovakia's gain, after all.
2. SC Bern of the Swiss League set a European attendance record and was the top club for the 4th straight year in figures released by the Euro-centric IIHF recently.
With 15,360 average attendance per game, it's strange that they were the ONLY Swiss club to make the Top 20. No love for the other teams, Swiss people?
4 Czech clubs made the Top 20: Pardubice, Slavia, Sparta, and Plzen. The Germans and Swedes had 5 clubs each in the Top 20. It's no surprise that no Slovak clubs made the top list, as many of the stadiums don't hold more than 2,000-3,000 people.
Czech Extraleague Semi-Final Matchups
#1 Hamé Zlin vs. #7 Vitkovice
I made the dumb mistake of totally writing off the well-coached Vitkovice squad prior to their demolition of the tinmen of Sparta Prague. It would be foolish to discount Vitkovice totally, but the on-paper matchup looks just as unbalanced for Vitkovice as it did in the first round.
Unfortunately for Vitkovice, Zlin doesn't suffer from heart problems (aka New York Rangers disease). The best defensive squad of the regular season and last year's champions, Hame Zlin have the incredible depth that Sparta have, only with much more balance and actual forwards who know how to backcheck!!
Instead of floaters like Jan Hlavac and an uninspired Martin Havlat, Zlin has gritty 2-way players like Radek Bonk and Petr Cajanek.
Key Players: Pavel Kubina - The MVP of the first round, Kubina did a great job to help shut down the potent Sparta offense while piling up 2 goals and 5 assists in 5 games.
Marek "Cinderella" Pinc - The Vitkovice goaltender hasn't yet turned into a pumpkin and may yet steal another series for the Ostravans.
Petr Cajanek/Radek Bonk - The C/LWers have been splitting each others ice time and their first round production wasn't anything to jump around about (3 and 2 points in 6 games, respectively). While the balanced Zlin attack had no problems scoring, it would help immensly if these two could join in on the parade.
Predicition: Zlin in 6 - Vitkovice could steal 2 at home, but the clock is about to strike 12
#3 Pardubice vs. #5 Liberec
Both teams are coming off of tough 7-game first round series. While the heavily favoured Pardubice squad almost fell to Kladno, Liberec managed to fight off a 3-2 deficit to overcome the favoured Slavia Prague.
(break it down!)
Goaltending: Jan Lasak (PAR) vs Milan Hnilicka (LIB).
Both teams have goalies with shaky NHL resumes and a tendancy to run HOT/COLD. Right now, both goalies are red-hot and makes this a fairly even matchup. Lasak has the proven 'winning' experience that Hnilicka does not, which could come in handy.
Defense: With the addition of Jaroslav Modry from the injury ranks, Liberec boasts a rather deep defense. Modry, Jiri Fischer, and Tomas Kloucek join Ducks uber-prospect Ladislav Smid and Gölbez favourite Valdemar Jirus to give the White Tigers a big, tough defense corps to protect Hnilicka from 90-foot blasts.
Pardubice counters with a very good Extraleague-based group of its own, but Michal Rozzival is the only NHLer on their D-corps. A nice edge to Liberec here.
Forwards: Liberec has the spunky duo of Radim Vrbata and Ales Kotalik plus the never-seems-to-develop Vaclav Nedorost. Compare this to Pardubice who has Milan Hejduk, Jan Bulis, and Ales Hemsky. Pardubice also has great Extraleague stars like Michal Mikeska (leading regular season scorer), Jiri Dopita (the Oilers fan favourite), and waterbug Petr Prucha.
While Pardubice's forwards can let their defense slip somewhat, they are still much deeper and skilled up front than Liberec. It's quite a big advantage.
Prediction: Liberec in 7 - I like to pick one upset every round and this has the best potential. Pardubice had far too many problems defensively against Kladno, and Liberec has the defense to stop many of the weapons in Pardubice's arsenal...plus the fact that Pardubice has a 'choker' label around its neck for the past many years.
Slovak Extraleague Playoff Matchups
#1 Zvolen vs. #4 Kosice
The most lopsided matchup of the semi-finals, Zvolen boasts more depth, quality, and star power than the underdogs from Kosice.
Goaltending: Krazy Karol Krizan was the Extraleague's best goaltender this past season, and it will up to Kosice to steal his medication if they want to score any goals. Kosice's Jan Laco is red-hot himself, but he doesn't have the proven resume of success that Krizan has.
Offense: Both teams feature rosters full of Extraleague stars that nobody outside of myself and most Slovaks would recognize. Even so, Zvolen has the edge with their depth and experience.
The 'X-Factor' will be the performance of the NHLers for each respective squad.
Zvolen has featured the Orszagh-Handzus-Zednik line for most of the season. This unit has been asked to play a more defensive role (Given how many offensive-minded forwards Zvolen already has), and has done a great job in this respect. The problem is that their offensive abilities haven't truly shown themselves this season. You get the feeling that this line could tear a whole in the Extraleague if they ever 'clicked'.
Kosice has Jiri Bicek (who has played well) and Martin Cibak (who has played poorly). That's an obvious mismatch, and the Zvolen squad has the absolute advantage on the Offense department.
Zvolen also boasts a much more robust defensive corps.
Kosice's advantage? The home crowd! Kosice went 20-5-2 in their home rink this season (which has a maximum capacity of 2,000 fans). Until they get new and improved digs, their home stadium packs a whole lot of heat with a rabid and hardcore group of fans.
Prediction: Zvolen in 6 (Kosice gets 2 at home and that's it)
#2 Slovan Bratislava vs #3. Dukla Trencin
The evil Slovan team versus the 'Factory' in the best looking semi-final matchup since Anna Kournikova played anyone in such a match.
Defense: Slovan has the best Goals-Against-Average during the regular season, but can't decided which goalie to play! Just like the Minnesota Wild, Slovan has been rotating their goaltending duo (Libor Barta and Pavol Rybar). Both played 3 games in the first round, and you'd have to think that could backfire on them at any time. Dukla, on the other hand, relies more on a team-based defensive effort rather than the exploits of their goalie Miroslav Hála.
Defensively, Lubomir Visnovsky has been, by far, the most valuable defenseman in the Slovak Extraleague this year (just like old times). The defensive advantage goes to Slovan, and they will need it against the Three Musketeers.
Offense: Every Extraleague goalie has nightmares of facing the trio of Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa, and Marian Gaborik. Now that Hossa has recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of Round One, it will be open season on poor Barta/Rybar once again.
Since Martin Hanzal is still suspended for smoking a doobie, Slovan could have a shot if they can somehow slow down or stop the Big 3. Still, Dukla has a potent second line of Extraleague stars (Jan Pardavy, Peter Fabus, and Anton Lezo).
Slovan features a more 'balanced' attack consisting of Miroslav Satan and his Extraleague minions. Slovan does have the advantage of more depth up front (4 lines of good players), so they can hold their own in any shootout.
Which Dukla team will show up? When Hossa and Gaborik left for a vacation in Sweden, Dukla couldn't buy a win most nights. Now that those 2 are back, Dukla seems unbeatable again.
If Slovan can't keep out of the penalty box and/or do a great job on the penalty kill, they will overwhelmed.
Prediction: Dukla Trencin in 6
Friday, March 18, 2005
Two Steps Back for NHL while Gabo is Gold
The NHL's definition of forward is obviously backward as they made 2 separate proposals that were for even less $$ than the previous offers the PA rejected.
Per Jamie Fitzpatrick:
In hockey labor jargon, they are classified as the "linked" and "de-linked" proposal:
Linked: Salaries are linked to a fixed percentage of annual NHL revenues. According to TSN.ca, today's proposal would give the players 54 percent of league-wide revenues.
De-Linked: A team-by-team salary cap of $37.5 million per year, with no link to revenues.
In both cases, the offer is a step back from previous proposals. Earlier this year, the league offered the players 55 per cent of revenue. In its final "de-linked" proposal a few weeks ago, the salary cap offer was $42 million per team.
The NHL is sticking to its guns when it proclaims that the $42.5mil 'unlinked' cap offer it made before the season collapsed would be its higher offer.
Still, I get the idea that the NHL isn't negotiating in good faith and is certainly looking more like they are in a 'union breaking' mode.
If the $42.5mil 'unlinked' cap offer was the best the NHL could made, then leave it on the table until June 1st or whenever. Retracting the dollar figures to lower levels is just going to piss the PA membership off even more and certainly will not help solve these negotiations in a healthy way.
Adding to the speculation that the NHL is gung-ho on using replacement players is scuttlebutt like this from the Ottawa Sun:
NHL owners aren't likely to wait for the outcome of new talks with the players before proceeding with their own plans for 2005-06. Though the second meeting in less than a week with the players' association is scheduled today, likely in New York, executives such as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. president Richard Peddie says his team has begun gearing up for a new season, no matter who ends up wearing blue and white in October.
"Naturally, I'd like to tell you we have a deal (with the union) and we'd like to start playing now," Peddie said yesterday. "But we have to begin the job of marketing and selling our Leafs.
''We're working on the premise that there will be Leaf hockey and players with Leafs' sweaters on."
While the NHL is avoiding using the term 'replacement players' at all costs, it pretty clear that they are headed down that road with 2 lesser offers (With an expiry date), or at least using that as another pressure tactic against the PA.
Going googoo for Gaborik
Eurohockey.net has named Marian Gaborik (Dukla Trencin) as European Player of the Month for February.
Now, I know many have in their minds the image of Marian Gaborik as a greedy shill. After his hurtful (to all parties) holdout last season, Gaborik has been lumped into the same pile as Alexei "Kashin" Yashin, Mike Peca, Keith Primeau, and Paul Kariya as a money-grubbing shill.
After reading about the "Gaborik Project", however, you'll likely see the light and see Gaborik in a whole new light.
"Recently, Gaborik has been involved in a prestigious project. He funded an ice rink in Trencin that will open this summer. The ice rink will be part of a large sports complex and Gaborik will cover all costs: 400 million Slovak Crowns (equals EUR 10 million). His father, Pavol, will be supervising the complex that will be mainly used by youth and is located near a school area that has around 200 students. The land is offered by the local Trencin government and will be used for a large sports and recreation area."
For all of the talent Dukla Trencin has given to the NHL, it's nice that the NHL players are giving back to the city that helped them achieve their goals and dreams.
Robert Svehla - Demanded that part of his contract with the Leafs be given to Dukla Trencin to develop the junior squad. Svehla is now the (very heavy) assistant coach of the senior team and part-owner.
Pavol Demitra - After the army gave up ownership of the team, Pavol stepped in and purchased part of the team.
Marian Gaborik - The 'Gaborik Project' is the biggest thing to hit Trencin...ever!
I was looking over the old scouting report I wrote up for Gaborik prior to the 2000 Entry Draft.
One throwaway phrase really sticks out now:
(Gabo's late season) hot streak soon came to an abrupt end in the playoffs, when league champions Slovan Bratislava swept Trencin in 3 straight games, and Gaborik was held pointless. To be fair to Gaborik, he was being shadowed by L'ubomir Visnovsky, the fastest defenseman in Europe.
Now I may have been overhyping Lubomir Visnovsky's speed a little, but he pretty much was the best non-NHL defenseman in Europe that season.
When I wrote that profile, I had no idea that the LA Kings would choose Visnovsky, then 23 years old, in the 4th round of the Entry Draft that year. As you know, Visnovsky has become a great 2-way defenseman with the LA Kings in that time.
When Lubomir was playing with Slovan Bratislava years ago, I never thought an NHL team would take a second look at him. He was passed over for the 4 previous drafts and smaller defenseman usually don't get the chance to prove themselves at the NHL level. For all of his exceptional talent, I figured Visnovsky was doomed to a long career in Europe. I also never expected the Minnesota Wild to pick Lubomir Sekeras and bring him to the NHL.
Czech Extraleague Update
the Semi-final matches are set to start Saturday as Liberec pulled off the 7 game upset over Slavia and Kladno finally succumed to the depth of Pardubice.
I didn't call the Liberec upset, but I was on the right track...
If Jaroslav Modry weren’t out for the rest of the season with a
hand injury, I’d take them easily as the upset special of Round One. As it
is, these teams are almost even in all areas and this should be a great series.
Well, Modry came back during the series and his defense helped the White Tigers get
over the hump in their first ever Extraleague playoff series. Of course, the
betting firms wouldn't give me credit for such a half-right predicition ;)
Pardubice 3 - Kladno 1 (Pardubice wins series 4-3)
Milan Hejduk had 2 goals and Jan Lasak made 21 saves as Pardubice finally shot down the rabid Bulldogs. While Hejduk had 4 goals in the series, he and his linemates were absolutely awful defensively.
Tomas Kaberle, who led all defensemen in scoring during the regular season, finished the series with just 1 goal (but was +4, to his credit).
Liberec 5 - Slavia Prague 1 (Liberec wins series 4-3)
After 5 goals in the first 3 games of the series, Palffy was shut out the remainder of the series and that is a big reason why Slavia is joining their cross-town brothers on the golf courses and tennis courts.
The NHLers carried the White Tigers to victory in Game 7
Milan Hnilicka - 38 saves (Palffy will have nightmares of this guy for awhile)
Radim Vrbata - 2 goals, +3
Ales Kotalik - 2 assists, +3
Jiri Fischer - 3 assists, +4
Jaroslav Modry - 1 assist, +1
Tomas Kloucek - 0 points, +4
I'll have semi-final predictions over the weekend. Some great looking matchups are shaping up and we won't have any champion from Prague this year ;)
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
The Many Faces of Evil
"Alot of people only think I'm this tall on TV..."
"Responsible Fiscal Management? Duuurrrrrrrrrrrr....."
"Larry Brooks... I'm about to bitch slap you 'mofo!!"
"Hmm... expansion into Shreveport, eh?...."
"Hey! TV ratings were up 3.5% in Bangor, Maine on Thursday nights!"
"Would I look good with a Hitler mustache??"
Bob: So, is Mario an owner of a player now?
Gary: Beats the hell out of me!!
"YOU!! OUT OF MY FANDOM!!"
"Icing?? What's that? ooooohhhh..."
"Look! I have no frickin' idea why the Rangers signed Holik for $8mil a season!"
"Yeah this franchise is sad *Sniff*...it's making me cry"
"God damn F*****G union!! Why can't they just succumb to my powers?"
"I DON'T KNOW WHY WE'RE SCREAMING!"
Ruh-roh! Did Gary forget his 'Depends' undergarments?
"Yeah...I care about*this* much for our fans..."
(Thanks to 'Krispy' for the help)
A Hull of a Tournament Lined Up
While I don't have much faith that the WHA could succeed as a viable 2nd option to the NHL, this short term option sounds great! If they have a game in Vancouver, I would definitely try and get out to see it.
It also appears that the WHA learned from the OSHL's mistakes (Wow, it's been awhile since the OSHL was around, eh?).
The OSHL games suffered from a lack of intensity because the players had no incentive to break a sweat or throw a bodycheck.
WHA president/owner Ricky Smith confirmed yesterday each player will be paid $20,000 US and that a $2-million prize will be awarded to the winning team.
Excellent! We know the way to a hockey players heart is through the wallet. Dangle a nice carrot in front of them and hopefully they will take the bait.
In addition to the prize money, the WHA also needs to worry about insurance. Players won't risk their NHL contracts for this type of prize money unless they are get coverage. I hope they are able to arrange this before the whole
The new World Hockey Association website is also about 500% better than the previous incarnation. At least the WHA's site has a 'legit' look to it.
The WHA is also trying to get the fans involved. For any wannabe bloggers, the WHA is looking for 'Franchise' blogs. You could run a blog for your 'favourite' WHA franchise. Although some would scoff at why anyone would blog about the WHA, you should give the WHA credit for reaching out to the fans.
While the NHL and NHLPA would like to manipulate our opinions into their vision of financial utopia, the WHA seems to be treating the fans with some respect. The WHA knows that it has to provide an entertaining product in order to entice and keep fans. Why not asking the people what they want? If the NHL ever really listened to the fans (and I'm not talking just looking at attendance figures), they would probably clue in to the fact that their product needs tweaking.
The best example of this fan-based input comes in the 'Rule Changes Proposal' the WHA has published on their website. Fans can vote on the following...
- NO redline
- Tagging up allowed
- NO icing during penalties
- Player sits out whole penalty regardless if opponent scores
- We will rid the game of obstruction and clutching and grabbing by strictly - Enforcing hooking and holding rules
- Players can curve the stick as they wish
- Potentially eliminate 3rd man in game misconduct?
I'd bet $5 that the 2nd-to-last rule suggestion was Brett Hull's :).
I'll take a wait-and-see approach as usual, but I'm actually pulling for the WHA this time...at least for this 6-team tournament. In the end, I'm hoping that the NHL can learn a thing or two from the WHA like it did during the first incarnation back in the 70s.
Czech Extraleague Playoffs Update:
Sevens are wild in Czechia as underdogs Liberec and Kladno forced their series to Game 7.
Kladno 2 - Pardubice 1 (Series tied at 3)
The "Kladno Twins" - Pavel Patera and Martin Prochazka - produced both goals to help the Bulldogs take the heavily favoured Stallions to the brink. While Pardubice definitely has the heart and grit than Sparta Prague does not, this team often suffers the same downfall of having too many star players on a roster and not enough ice time for them all. Normally, you'd want a stacked roster...right? Well, the past champions in the Extraleague all seem to have more 'role' players on the 3rd and 4th lines as supposed to the big scoring stars.
(Photo courtesy: http://www.hcbilitygri.cz/index.asp)
Liberec 3 - Slavia 1 (Series tied at 3)
9 NHLers in total played in this game and Jaroslav Spacek (1 assist) was the only one to get an offensive point.
Give props to the much derided and mispronounced Milan Hnilicka. Milo made 37 saves and made sure Josef Stumpel didn't get another hat trick and cause the universe to consume itself to restore balance.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Corey Perry and the Knight Riders
In a recent 9-1 thrashing of the Erie Otters, Perry set the team record for most career points by a London Knight with 380. This puts the young Ducks prospect ahead of such notable NHL stars such as Brian Bradley, Dino Ciccarelli, and Jason Allison.
Currently, Corey Perry leads the OHL with 130 points (47+83) in 59 games. He'll have a few more games to pad his record. As a 20 year-old next season, Perry will most surely be in the AHL with the Ducks affiliate (or possibly the NHL).
Despite the record-breaking OHL career, I know Corey Perry is not without his critics. Reading some of the juvenile comments over at hfboards.com, you would think Perry will turn out to be the next Scott Kelman. (Remember him?)
If I were a Ducks fan, I'd be happy to have him as a prospect. He's an offensive dynamo and has a rare sense of offensive flair from a prospect.
The Hockey News Top Prospects Issue ranked Perry as the 18th best prospect in hockey and 3rd on the surprisingly deep Ducks prospect roster (Behind Getzlaf at #8 and Smid at #17). From THN's report:
"Uncertain to make Canada's junior team when the season began, Perry wound up playing on the top line and impressed everyone with his scoring prowess.Of course, you shouldn't mention Perry's record breaking season without mentioning the same of his London Knights team.
While the knock on the projected OHL scoring champ has been his skating, Perry has improved to the point it's no longer a big issue. He still needs to gain strength, but his magical ability to score and make plays gives him potential to reach NHL stardom."
As of today, the London Knights are a deadly-sick 58-5-2-0!!! That's the kind of record you get from one of my video game Dream Teams...yikes!! This season also includes a 31-game unbeaten streak from the Knights and a .908 winning percentage.
Who else makes the Knights so good?
1. Defense - Coach Dale Hunter, one of the nastiest 2-way centers in NHL history, has the Knights playing a choking defensive system the way his old Washington Capitals used to do regularily (How else did a weak Jim Carey win a Vezina?). The Knights have let in just 115 goals in 65 games. The next best OHL team defensively is Mississauga with 166 - A difference of 41 goals in 15 games!
2. The Supporting Cast: The London Knights' roster doesn't strike me with the same awe as some of those old Kamloops Blazers teams, but they still have quite a few legit NHL prospects.
a. Dan Fritsche - former NHLer (feels weird to say that), USA WJC member, and Columbus BlueJackets 2nd rounder.
b. Danny Syvret - The undrafted defenseman was a solid 2-way presence for Canada's WJC team and will definitely find himself a hot commodity the next time the NHL holds an entry draft.
c. Robbie Schremp - The maligned Edmonton Oilers 1st rounder and USA WJC player is the Knights 2nd line center. Like Perry, Schremp is often panned by critics for what he can't do, rather than for the monster offensively potential that he does have.
d. David Bolland - Blackhawks 2nd rounder from 2004 is the Knights 4th leading scoring and has 84 points in 64 games! Most teams would like one player to get those totals these days.
e. Brandon Prust - Flames 3rd rounder from 2004 is more of a checking player on this deep team and still has 30 points and 166 PIM's in 45 games.
With Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic on their own unbeaten tear (25 games), we may be seeing a potential Memorial Cup showdown in the works.
That, of course, is no foregone conclusion as the OHL and QMJHL playoffs may prove to show us a few surprises.
Extraleague Playoffs Update:
Just one game in Czechia yesterday, with Hame Zlin advancing in 6 games thanks to 4-3 overtime win over Litvinov.
Jan Caloun, after 26 goals in 24 regular season games, was held to just 1 goal in this 6 game series. Zlin's elite goaltending and defense showed a few cracks, but did manage to stop Litvinov's biggest weapon.
Zlin got a balanced effort from its stars, with non NHLer Ondrej Vesely as the unlikely hero with 5 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. My boy Jaroslav Balastik had 2 goals and 3 assists and 22 PIM in the series while Martin Erat led the NHL charge with 3 goals and 2 assists in the series.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Saturday Night with Don Cherry
Saturday Night magazine, a publication up here in Canada, has a good feature on Don Cherry that delves more into a character that not many people really know a lot about.
Sure, people know or deride him as the hockey dinosaur with the loud suits and the loud mouth. Despite the fact that he’s made millions selling hockey videos, doing radio shows, and his weekly gig on Hockey Night in Canada, far too many people don’t take him seriously or don’t give him a lot of intellectual credit.
I would suggest you go read the piece, since it will be well worth your time.
Two interesting morsels I want to highlight:
1. With all of the fighting over money these days, here is how Don Cherry, a rookie coach, made himself an instant hero with his players.
Players then, as now, were given meal money when the team was away from home. But Cherry was in the habit, every morning at breakfast in the hotel, of...well, let him tell it:We often forget that the coaches are really caught in the middle in this dispute. On one hand, the coaches are hired and paid by management and work directly for management. However, the coaches need to maintain the respect of their players, they need to make sure they aren’t seen as management tools. If a certain were seen as too cozy with management, you can imagine how hard it would be for that coach to do his job and inspire his troops.
"I'd go around and pick up their bills. In other words, they could save their per diems. One thing about hockey players you should realize, they're pretty cheap. And they thought it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen. It wasn't that much, but I'd pay for it personally, I wouldn't charge it to my room.…
"So one day [Bruins general manager] Harry Sinden was down at breakfast and saw what I was doing. And in front of the players, right there, he gave me shit. He said they could afford to pay for their own breakfast."
And after that?
"After that I made sure I kept paying their bills."
Which made him a hero?
"No, I was already a hero. After that I was a real hero." He laughs happily at the memory.
2. Don, on his knowledge of the game:
You know, I have to laugh," he says now, "when the pseudo-intellectual writers try to say what belongs in hockey and what doesn't — fighting, what have you — as though they know something that I don't know. Not that I'm saying there aren't people who don't know more about hockey than I do. A lot of people know a lot more about hockey than I do. I don't know the stats, I can't pronounce the names right, and other people can explain the technical aspects better than I can. But no one knows hockey better than me."
"What I see,"he says,"is what the people are feeling. The players, the coaches, the guy who runs the parking lot, everyone. That's why I notice things that sometimes other people don't.
The article goes further in explaining how Don ‘feels’ and ‘sees’ the game different than most people. As an armchair scout, I know I see things that many people don’t when at a game. Don just seems to be on another level than us when it comes to ‘feeling’ the game. For all of his ranting and raving, hockey people generally respect Cherry because he really ‘tells it like it is’. Don Cherry will often hit the nail on the head and it’s hard to disagree with his reasoning on many of the hockey-related rants he goes on. (Apart from the Anti-European stuff).
The Saturday Night piece also looks into Don’s love of history, books, and some of the political opinions that have caused so much controversy.
Kladno 6 – Pardubice 3 (Pardubice leads series 3-2)
It’s been a really tough year for Jan Hrdina. First, he missed half the season thanks to a knee injury caused when a teammate ‘playfully’ tripped him during practice. When he was in the lineup, Hrdina wasn’t having any luck offensively – He finished with 4 goals and 3 assists in 23 games.
It must feel good for him that he was able to have a career night with a goal and two assists as Kladno avoided the golf course for another day. Jan now has 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 playoff games.
Slavia 7 – Liberec 2 (Slavia leads series 3-2)
Someone better call Greenpeace, because the White Tigers are now endangered thanks to a rather nasty spanking from Slavia. Josef Stumpel had a hat-trick and an assist, and his new linemate, Josef Vasicek, had 3 assists as 10,363 spectators went home happy.
That’s right...Josef Stumpel had a hat-trick. It’s amazing he even had 3 shots in a single game, much less 3 goals.
(Welcome to the Hades Weather Network! Today’s Forecast: Snow!)
The semi-final matchups are now set as the Top 4 favourites cruised through the first round as expected. It’s too bad the games don’t start for another 6 days…way to kill momentum!
Trencin 7 – Zilina 1
Zilina won the first game of the series, but that just seemed to spark Trencin and piss them off. Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik each had 1 goal and 2 assists as Dukla swept aside Zilina like the financial section of yesterday’s newspaper.
(Josef Stumpel had a hat-trick??!?!)
Kosice 7 – Nitra 4
Over in Kosice, it was 80s Night as the teams decided to engage in an end-to-end-to-end shootout. Jiri Bicek had 2 assists while the dissappointing Martin Cibak went pointless.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Sparta Falls: History Repeats Itself
In 401 B.C., the great Greek military superpower known as Sparta was as the height of its' power and was the most powerful empire in Greek history.
The Spartan infantry soldiers, 'Similars' were exceeding confident, skilled, and elitist. The Sparta empire plundered and took advantage of weaker neighbouring empires, and, from the outside, they looked invincible.
Then, in 371 B.C., the cracks began to show and the armed forces of Thebes took advantage of Sparta's overconfidence.
While Sparta was very proud of its elite infantry units, it did very little to train its calvary to the same degree. The Spartans believed their infantry soldiers were 'superior specimens' amongst the human race, and they didn't need the help of animals or 'inferiors' (which were lower on the social ladder and fought in different units).
The Thebians took advantage of this rigidity within the Spartan structure and overwhelmed the Spartans with a clear advantage in trained calvary units. It wasn't long before the Sparta empire was defeated once and for all.
Fast forward to 2005, and the Sparta Prague hockey team (one of many clubs named after the ancient empire).
Like the ancient empire, Sparta Prague plunders and takes advantage of the weaker and poorer teams around the Czech Extraleague. With it's large piles of $$$, $parta will often sign good players away from poor teams (Like Jan Marek and Libor Prochazka from Trinec, or the bevy of NHLers on the team this year).
Just like the ancient empire, there is definitely an elitist mentality within the Spartan hockey organization. For years and years and years, Sparta has composed its roster full with offensive-minded finesse forwards and players with 'Star' power. Finding a heart-and-soul type of guy on Sparta is very rare indeed. It's almost as if they see any players of lesser offensive skill as 'inferiors', no matter if these players are good defensively, good in the corners, or in the trenches.
This disease has served to prevent Sparta from winning many league titles despite the fact that they usually have the deepest and most powerful looking roster. Why?
Because, as we saw with the Spartan empire, you can't win a war with just one type of fighting unit.
Sparta has a very bad habit of loading up 4 forward lines with offensive-stars and no checking forwards or gritty 'role players'. As we've seen in recent history with the Dallas Stars, playing an offensive star such as Pierre Turgeon 10-12 minutes a night on the 3rd line, without Power Play time, is a poor use of resources. Turgeon can't possibly produce the kind of offense that is expected of him, and he's not fit for the role of a checking center.
With too many stars and not enough ice time, the Spartans often suffer froma lack of good chemistry. Each of the players wants more ice time, and most of them won't get it. When the going gets tough, Sparta doesn't have the personnel to shut down opposing offensive stars nor win the wars in the trenches.
Full congratulations to Vitkovice for their surprisingly easy victory. Before the series, I was guilty of the same overconfidence that the Spartans are known for:
"This is the most lopsided mismatch of the entire first round. How could
Vitkovice compete with a Sparta team that has 8 NHLers and other top European
stars like Jan Marek, Petr Ton, and Martin Chabada"
How indeed? :) I hope coach Spartan coach Slavomir Lener is polishing his resume.
Vladimir Vujtek - 5GP 4-3-7 +6
Martin Havlat - 5GP 0-0-0 -8 20PIM
The other game yesterday featured Hame Zlin taking it to Litvinov with a 5-0 whitewash.
This was a penalty-frought game with 98 minutes dished out in total. There were no fights in the game, but a hell of a lot of hacking and whacking. It's almost as if the players were possessed by the demon spirit of Derian Hatcher.
Martin Erat was the star of the game with a goal and two assists, while Jaroslav Balastik went pointless and spent 16 minutes getting to know the penalty box a little better.
Zvolen 6 - Liptovsky Mikulas 2 (Zvolen wins series 4-1)
As predicted (yay, I got one right!), Zvolen disposed of LM in 5 games and did so rather easily in Game 5. Once again, the NHL line wasn't the one doing the bulk of the scoring - Vlado Orszagh had 1 goal and Richard Zednik added 2 assists.
Slovan Bratislava 3 - Poprad 2 (Slovan wins series 4-1)
I had predicted a 4-game sweep for Slovan, but a shootout victory for Poprad gave them a little something to be proud of.
Miroslav Satan assisted on Zdeno Ciger's 1st period goal and Slovan never looked back. Radoslav Suchy finished the series with no points and -7 rating in the 5 game series (sucks to be the guy assigned to check Satan) and will now go home to rest in preparation for the World Championships.