Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Prototype Nets

That was quite the show put on by some of the NHL’s best players on Sunday night in Montreal – a 12-11 shootout win for the Eastern all-stars over the West.

As far as the boxscore is concerned, it seems the league wouldn’t mind seeing a few more games with numbers like that.

In his eternal quest to upset Canadian hockey fans, Gary Bettman isn’t quite done with the idea of new, goal-friendly nets. The league apparently tested a new prototype last week at a Maple Leafs practice.

Unlike the last time we heard the term “prototype net,” this one actually looks like what we’ve come to know as a hockey net. The difference is the oval-shaped posts, with the hope that more iron-bound pucks will go post-and-in.

Is the game in desperate need of a scoring boost? No! Leave it alone!

There’s nothing wrong with the number of goals being scored or the number of scoring chances being created…so just stop changing things!

Speaking of scoring chances…what’s with that breakaway challenge in the Skills Competition anyway?

It’s a good idea and I like seeing guys throw out their best dangles, but the one that won wasn’t a sweet move, it was just funny.

Preds buying their own tickets?

The Nashville Predators are taking an interesting approach to making sure they don’t miss out on revenue-sharing funds -- you guessed right, they’re thinking about boosting ticket sales by buying up some unsold seats!

A couple of weeks ago we learned that the Phoenix Coyotes lost out on 25% of their share of the money because they didn’t sell enough tickets to meet the minimum targets.

According to the papers in Tennessee, the Preds are about 250 tickets short of averaging 14,000 fans.

Those unsold tickets could wind up costing the team in the millions of dollars!

If only the nets were bigger and the posts were shaped differently, eh folks?

Air Miles

Travel has long been a big issue for teams on the west coast, but the Vancouver Canucks now actually have proof that all those air miles take their toll.

The team had a Fatigue Management Program crew take a look at their schedule for this season and predict parts of the year that the team would struggle, and wouldn’t you know it – they did.

The league has decided to look into the problem and see what they can do to cut down on Vancouver’s rough schedule, but hopefully they’ll take a closer look at the other teams nearby as well.

Hopefully the Maple Leafs don’t complain too…Bettman will make sure they never leave the ACC ever again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Kerrzy’s Notebook: To Fight, or Not to Fight

It’s a debate that comes up every now and then, and will come up until the day that fighting is no longer a part of hockey: Should fighting be allowed in the game?

The newest side of the debate has people asking should there be rules to a hockey fight?

A lot of the latest talk came in response to the death of a senior men’s AAA player in Ontario this month. Don Sanderson’s helmet came off during a fight and the 21-year-old Whitby Dunlops defenseman hit his head on the ice, sending him into a coma. Three weeks later, on January 2nd, he died.

That tragic event revved up a new dialogue about the need to police hockey fights and perhaps punish players who lose their lids during an altercation.

The Ontario Hockey League was the first league to act – if a player takes off his helmet or removes his chinstrap during a fight, they get an automatic game misconduct and one-game suspension.

If one player does it and the other guy doesn’t, the offender gets an additional two minutes..

The QMJHL penalizes players with a 10-minute misconduct, while the WHL currently doesn’t punish players for removing or losing their helmets.

What happens if a player rips off the lid of the guy he’s fighting? A game misconduct and a one-game suspension!

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, considering how easily helmets seem to come off these days (re: Sweden’s goalie in the gold medal game at the World Juniors).

Trying to govern a thing like fighting seems a bit silly to me. What’s next, will there be rules governing how you can slash or crosscheck a guy?

How about this: if one guy drops his mitts and is fighting another guy that clearly doesn’t want to fight, take action. If two players line up at a draw ready to drop the gloves, and both guys want to fight – let ‘em go.

Or here’s one: if a player wants to be tough and drop the gloves, but then just grabs the other guy and holds on for dear life, give him five for fighting and two for holding.

That’s where the problems happen; when two guys are grappling and swinging around wildly, one guy always ends up falling awkwardly. Why not ref it like a boxing match; if you don’t want to stand there and throw punches, don’t fight.

If a league outlaws fighting, cheap shots will reign supreme. If you leave fighting in the game, there will be occasional injuries, but there are injuries anyways.

What do the fans think? Next time there’s a fight during an NHL game, look around the stands.

Speaking of sweet fights, check out this beauty KO by the Oilers’ Sheldon Souray on Minnesota’s Craig Weller last night:

Overtime: 50% off!

No, we’re not talking happy hour at your local sports pub. There’s an interesting rule that the American Hockey League brought in at the start of this year that was just brought to my attention a few days ago.

While I don’t agree with the OHL’s rule about helmets during fights, this is one I couldn’t agree more with. In AHL games, if a team has a power play going into overtime, they chop it in half.

A Toronto Star report early in 2008 showed that 39% of overtime power plays (4-on-3s) resulted in a winning goal. Shorter period, shorter penalty.

It makes sense when you consider that a minor penalty eats up about 40 percent of the five-minute overtime, while taking up just three percent of a regular period of hockey.

Since the NHL tests a lot of its new rules in the AHL before bringing them in, don’t be surprised if this is one we see in the coming years.

Thought about ankle insurance?

Kobe Bryant’s got a new shoe out, but that’s not news. The way he’s advertising it is what makes this one blog-worthy.

I love it – Kobe made a spoof of any number of insurance ads with his "Not My Broken Ankles"website.

“Ankle Insurance Co. is looking for motivated young ballers to join our team of highly skilled agents. If you've recently broken someone's ankles and think you've got what it takes, fill out a claim form and send it to your victim and the witnesses.”

For those of you not in the know, there’s an informative video on the webpage and it’s a beauty!

AND THIS JUST IN: The San Jose Sharks have recalled veteran Claude Lemieux from their AHL affiliate. This just about completes that comeback attempt we talked about a couple of weeks ago!

That’s all for this week!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Extreme Makeover?

Don’t be surprised if Jarkko Ruutu looks a little different the next time you see him.

The NHL suspended Ruutu for two games after he bit the gloved thumb of Buffalo Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters, as Peters gave the pesky Fin a face wash.

Now, we all know it’s was a tough week for European hockey players and fighting (we’ll get to the Alexander Semin “fight” in a second), but come on Jarkko; a guy puts his hand in your face and you bite him??

Mr. Tyson, rather, Mr. Ruutu denies the whole thing, saying “his fingers were by my mouth, but I didn’t bite him.”

The craziest part is, it was Peters who got a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Ruutu sat on the Senators bench!

Now, I’m not saying Ruutu is going to go out and get his face tattooed and start collecting pigeons right away, but it’s a slippery slope.

Surely Jarkko is embarrassed by this latest biting incident – but there’s another player out there that won’t hear the end of what he did for way longer.

That player is Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals.

On January 3rd, Semin got in his first NHL fight as the Capitals beat the New York Rangers 2-1. Now, to call it a fight…I mean, I guess it was a fight by definition.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal grabs onto Semin and pulls his jersey right over his head, but trips and falls, and that’s when Semin, umm, takes over the tussle.

Watching Semin making it rain on Staal with that flurry of blows is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Poor guy. And to make matters worse, since his jersey wasn’t tied down he was given a game misconduct!

From Russia with…love?

Here’s a new one – have you ever heard of a coach being ‘benched’ by the GM of a hockey team?

It seems that’s exactly what happened last Thursday in the KHL.

Avangard Omsk was down 1-0 to Vityaz Podolsk after two periods, when Canadian Wayne Fleming was told to go home.

Maybe something is lost in translation here – but this is for sure the first time I’ve ever heard of a coach getting benched. The sick thing is, the team rallied in the third and won 2-1 in overtime!

Originally it was reported that the former assistant coach with the Calgary Flames and Team Canada had been fired, but by Saturday Fleming was told he was the head coach again.

What’s next, the coaching staff getting bag skated after an embarrassing loss?

Shanny’s back!

Brendan Shanahan is coming back to the NHL!

Days after Mats Sundin played his first game of the season, the New Jersey Devils announced that they had agreed in principle to a deal with their #2 pick in the 1987 draft.

The almost 40-year-old three-time Stanley Cup champ hasn’t played since the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated his New York Rangers from the playoffs last season.

According to reports, Shanahan grew tired of waiting for an offer from the Rangers after becoming a UFA and started talking to the Devils in September.

In 1,490 career games, Shanny has 650 goals and 1,340 points. I can’t wait to see him back in the lineup!

I’d take Shanahan over Mats Sundin any day of the week, and I guarantee he’s not making near as much as the newest Canuck.

Goin' to Winnipeg?

The poor Phoenix Coyotes…these “tough economic times” have hit that club hard.

They’re borrowing money from the league, they’ve laid-off ten percent of their non-hockey staff and their debt is said to be $80-million and counting.

Are the Coyotes that bad of a team? Far from it.

They are 7th place in the Western Conference after 43 games with a 21-17-5 record, they’ve got a solid mix of youth and experience on their roster and the most well known hockey player ever behind the bench.

In most, or any hockey town, that would be enough to keep a team afloat. In a non-hockey market like Glendale, Arizona, I guess not. How do you think the people of Winnipeg feel about this whole scenario?

When the Winnipeg Jets ran into financial trouble, the fans, the city and the province did literally everything they could to keep the team. If the Phoenix Coyotes end up folding, will the people of Glendale/Phoenix really care? In two or three years, will they miss hockey?

I’m just guessing, but probably not. Also, a 1-0 shootout win at home probably doesn’t help matters. I’d enjoy a game like that, but you’re not trying to sell the game to me!

Wouldn’t that be something if they wound up back in the ‘Peg?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Kerrzy's Notebook: Canada does it again!

Another year, another gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships!

Oh, how I would have loved to be in the crowd when Canada took on Sweden in the gold medal game, a 5-1 win for the good guys.

In a rematch of last year’s finals, Canada cranked it up a notch, obviously learning after the Russia game that there is no time to be mediocre in a tournament like this. The way they came out on Monday, there was no doubt what the outcome would be.

And it was fitting too that Angelo Esposito, a guy who made the team after being cut the previous three years, scored the game-winning goal -- and what a goal it was!

Canada started the tournie with three easy games (outscoring the opposition 28-2), but after that we were treated to three instant classics.

It started with the 7-4 come-from-behind win against the USA, Canada’s first true test. The boys were down 3-0 almost right away, but they battled hard and battled back, led by John Tavares who scored two of his three goals in under a minute to get his team going.

Then there was that back-and-forth game with Russia where Canada didn't look great and gave up a late goal in 4-4 tie. It looked like it was all over. With less than two minutes to go, hockey fans across the country sat there in front of TV's, radios and computers thinking "this can't be how it ends..."

With almost no time left, John Tavares floated a harmless looking backhander towards the net -- this is it, I thought. One last shot, and it's a fluttery backhander. But the puck ended up on the stick of Edmonton Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle, who slotted it home with 5.4 seconds on the clock, tying the game.

Overtime decided nothing, and Eberle and Tavares scored in the shootout, while Dustin Tokarski stopped both Russian shots, and that was that -- another Canadian triumph.

When it mattered most, Team Canada rose to whatever challenge they faced and as a team, came out on top. Grab a tissue – this is what it’s all about:

I love this tournament. Win or lose, I live and die by it every year.

When I think back to all the years I've watched the World Juniors, I see the now-primitive TSN graphics, I hear Paul Romanuk’s call of the games and I remember being a little guy that dreamed of suiting up for my country.

Congratulations to Team Canada, and let the countdown begin to next year's tournament!

A "Coast to Coast Christmas" for the Pickard family

Over the holidays, on one end of the country Chet Pickard was stopping shots for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships; on the other end, his younger brother Calvin was doing the same for Canada West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

The Winnipeg brothers both play their hockey in the US Division of the WHL – 19-year-old Chet in his fourth season with the Tri-City Americans and 16-year-old Calvin in his first with the Seattle Thunderbirds – but both got to wear the Maple Leaf this winter.

Chet played Canada’s first two games at the World Juniors, an 8-1 win over the Czech Republic and a 15-0 win over Kazakhstan, before Dustin Tokarski took over between the pipes.

While the elder Pickard only faced 33 shots in two blowouts, his younger brother saw a lot more action in a rollercoaster ride with Canada West.

Calvin’s tournament started with a 3-0 record and with first place on the line, he watched from the bench as his team closed out the preliminary round with a 7-0 loss to Team USA.

Pickard was yanked after two periods in a 7-4 semi final loss to Ontario, the eventual winners of the tournament.

Things went from bad to worse when Canada West failed to repeat as bronze medal winners, losing 4-2 in a rematch with the Americans despite a 33-save performance by Pickard.

But you win some and you lose some, right? Good on both of these boys for living the dream!

As for bragging rights, Chet’s Tri-City Americans are 4-0 against Calvin’s Seattle Thunderbirds so far this season, but the brothers have only gone head-to-head once – a 5-4 overtime win for Tri-City on November 1st.

This is a rivalry that might be worth watching this season, and they play five more times before the season's out!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Winter Classic a classic indeed

What a way to round out 2008 and begin 2009.

First up, we had Canada’s 7-4 triumph over the USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships, and a day later – the 2009 Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field.

Canada showed a lot of heart and a ton of skill in that come-from-behind win and the Red Wings had to battle from behind too on a perfect day at the home of the Chicago Cubs.

The Hawks jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but over the course of the game it was Detroit grinding out the win in another “classic” outdoor game.

The Wings clawed back with a pair of Jiri Hudler tallies before Pavel Datsyuk broke through the defensive line of Cam Barker and Brian Campbell and went forehand-backhand MESH on Cristobal Huet to put Detroit ahead.

All I can say is that I wish I was there! If you didn’t get a chance to see the game, here’s a really good highlight package:

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”

On May 5th, 2003, the Minnesota Wild embarrassed the Vancouver Canucks 7-2, the Senators disposed of the Flyers and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks advanced to the Western Final with a 4-3 win over Claude Lemieux and the Dallas Stars, Lemieux’s last NHL game.

It’s now five years later, the Mighty Ducks are just the Ducks and the 43-year-old Lemieux is attempting a return to pro hockey with the San Jose Sharks.

Claude Lemieux’s journey back to the NHL started in a pretty unusual place – Shanghai, China – home of the China Sharks, San Jose’s Asia League affiliate.

On November 25th, after five games in China, Lemieux signed an American Hockey League Contract with the Worcester Sharks, bringing him back to North America and a step closer to his ultimate goal.

That dream became all the more real when San Jose signed the four-time Stanley Cup winner to a two-way contract on December 29th. His comeback is really now just an injury and a phone call away from completion.

With the Sharks battling for first overall in the NHL, I don’t see them calling Lemieux up any time soon, but you never know. They’ve got their wily veteran in Jeremy Roenick, but maybe there’s room for two.

For the record, Lemieux has three goals and five assists in 18 AHL games this season.
I wonder who the next guy to stage a comeback attempt will be…

Conspiracy Theories

On December 6th, 2008, the Washington Capitals skated into the confines of the Air Canada Centre and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1, with Canadian blueliner Karl Alzner scoring his first career NHL goal and assisting on Milan Jurcina’s game-winner.

But according to the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, that’s not all that happened that fateful night.

Viktor Kozlov did an interview shortly thereafter accusing referees of favoring the Maple Leafs in games at the ACC!

The interview wasn’t published until a few days before Christmas, but in it, Kozlov says players noticed the “slanted” and “very often biased” officiating in T.O.

Here’s a part of the Citizen article:

“It's not really biased, but helpful," Kozlov told Yahoo. "I don't even know why. Maybe because the NHL has an office in Toronto? They have all video reviews done there. Maybe it is somehow connected."

Cue the “X-Files” music!

Although it would be impossible to prove, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this were true! And it’s not like Kozlov said that after a loss, either.

If it is true, we can all learn a valuable lesson from this:

Even with alleged biased officiating – cheaters clearly never win (ahem…like the 1967 Stanley Cup champions).