Sunday, May 30, 2004

Mosquitoes win impressive, but not as much as the Flames victory!

Back from the forest after surrendering our flesh to the mosquito hordes, we regret to report that the mosquitoes won the great camping playoff in OT. As we sat and scratched, we immediately parked our butt in front of the television, as the VCR played back another impressive Flames Victory. A game that puts Calgary only two wins away from Stanley success.

Once again it was the big players who made the difference, Jarome Iginla with his Gordie Howe hat trick and Miikka Kiprusoff with his fifth playoff shut out this year showed the Calgary fans that a party may just be around the corner.

Iginla once again took up the leadership challenge, his physical play dominating the night, as his offensive skills led the Flames to success on the score sheet. The more you watch of the young St. Albert star play, the more you realize just how important he is to the Flames, his work ethic alone must have Mama Sutter thinking that son Darryl should bring the lad home for dinner, he’d fit right in with the rest of family.

Iginla did it all on Saturday (tape delayed for me, but still worth watching) as he set the physical pace early as he and Vincent Lecavalier took to scrapping in the first. And full credit to Lecavalier for his physical play of late, willing to take his lumps in aid of his team, he’s filling out his game nicely. Taking on a sizeable force as Iginla shows a lot about his character and will to win. But to be fair on Saturday night, that scrap set the tone for the Flames emphasizing that the game was in their house and they wouldn’t be pushed around.

It was tough night all around for Tampa, as Ruslan Fedetenko was checked into the end boards and left the game with an undisclosed injury, though one must think concussion after watching his head smash into the little riser around the glass at the end of the rink. Fedetenko is listed as day to day, though you would think that if there is any possible way he can play he’ll be in the line up for game four.

You know the stars are aligning nicely when your renowned tough guy is the one who scores the opening goal, after a scoreless first period; Simon put the Flames on the board with a power play goal at 13:53 assisted by Iginla. For Simon it was his fourth power play marker in this playoff run, giving him four of the six Calgary Power goals in the post season.

Shean Donovan scored the second Flame goal at the 17 minute point of the second period, settting Calgary nicely for the third when they could sit back and protect their own end.

Iginla put the game away in the latter stages of the third with his power play goal at 18 minutes of the final period. Tampa did not go easy, out shooting the Flames 21-18 but coming up far too short on the scoring summary. And the reason was simple Miikka Kiprusoff.

Once again the Flames goaltender came up with an amazing game to shut out the Lightning. It was Kiprusoff’s fifth shut out of the playoffs, and his run is quickly elevating up to, if not putting past that Mike Vernon status in Calgary. Known as Kipper at the Saddledome, his fame is spawning a sign making boom in Cowtown, it seems that fan after fan has a home made novena in honour of the latest Saint of Calgary.

The tit for tat nature of these games has been an interesting thing to watch. Calgary wins big one night; Tampa comes right back the next to step up to the challenge. The puck is now back in the Tampa end of the ice, A Calgary win on Monday night gives them a choke hold on this final and may make them unstoppable in the quest.

If Tampa responds to the challenge of Coach John Tortorella, elevating their game on Monday then the whole dynamic changes again. Game four looms large for both teams; expect a physically demanding game with goaltending again proving to be a key. Back to back shutouts would give Kipper the key to the city, there’s a very good chance he’ll be holding on to one, or sharing it with Jarome by the end of this series.

Friday, May 28, 2004

HockeyNation hiatus!

I know it's almost sacrilege to leave the NHL playoffs at the pivotal game three point, but one must do what must be done. HockeyNation is a taking a three day break starting today, testing our outdoor skills in the rainy outback. We'll have our little portable radio with us, so we can at least hear the scores, but there will be no Ron and Don and the crew at Hockey Night for moi. With any luck the bears and such will leave us be and we'll be back to catch up on the world of Hockey on Monday.

Lightning Strike!

Give as good as you get, that could have been the mantra the Tampa Bay Lightning used, as they took on the Calgary Flames Thursday night in game two of their best of seven Stanley Cup Final. Having been outscored 4-1 in game one, the Lightning reversed fortunes with a similar score but a different team on the winning end, as the Bolts tied up the series 1-1 with game three heading to Calgary on Saturday night.

The big players on the Bolts rose to the occasion on Thursday night as they found success against a Calgary squad that got off of its game plan. Vincent Lecavalier took advantage of Wayne Gretzky’s audience to show his skills and plant the seed in Gretzky’s mind about any roster requirements for the World Cup. Lecavalier played a more physical game and scored a showcase goal to help his Lightning team put the bad vibes of game one behind them. Brad Richards followed up Lecavalier’s lead with a goal in the second period to give the Bolts a 2-0 lead. Dan Boyle scored the third goal of the game 1 minute later with a power play marker, the Lightning’s final goal of the game came a minute later when Martin St. Louis put the game away for good. Ville Niemenen scored the lone Flame goal with seven minutes to go in the third, breaking the shut out bid by Nikolai Khabibulin. The Flames were outshot 31-19 in the game, testimony to the tighter checking provided by the Bolts in this game.

The game ended with a few dust ups on the ice, but nothing serious developed and both teams can now prepare for game three in Calgary. Trading off goals and styles in games one and two, it should be interesting to see how the teams react to exuberance of the Calgary crowd. The Flames earned a split on the road, which is what you want to do in the Stanley Cup playoffs, up next is control of flow of the game on the Saddledome ice, if they can recover the defensive approach that got them this far, they should find the Flames ready to reprise their effort from game number one.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Stability? Panthers face a brand new era!

The Florida Panthers have made some news during the Stanley Cup final by bringing together two of the bigger names in the NHL to run their disoriented franchise. The Panthers today announced the return of Mike Keenan to South Florida as GM of the Panthers, working with him as head coach is former Ottawa Senator coach Jacques Martin.

It’s a combination that should cover all sectors of the emotional roller coaster, you have the mercurial Keenan who is best known as a hard nosed disciplinarian who has had more than a few blow outs with NHL talent over the years. Offering the kinder gentler side of hockey, the Panthers will plop Martin down in the dressing room. Martin, who at times exhibits the demeanor of a funeral director, is possibly the quietest spoken man in the NHL, a fine tactical coach his years with the Senators brought him closer and closer to the ultimate NHL prize the Stanley Cup. But as has been documented over the years, Martin could never seem to get his teams over the final hill. Many critics feel that one of his drawbacks was an unwillingness to take his players to task or punish them for their lapses. More Colin Powell than George S. Patton, Martin will be able to sit back and watch Keenan wield power as only he can.

The Keenan/Martin combo will reunite the two long time NHL survivors, who first were involved in hockey at the college level in New York State, they worked together again in Peterborough in the OHL, they shared time in Chicago when Martin was an assistant to Keenan during his reign in the Windy city. Since then the two went off in different directions, Martin coaching in St. Louis and Ottawa and Keenan’s travels have been well documented over the years, usually good for a couple of seasons before all implodes leaving nothing but rubble in many instances. Though to be fair to Keenan he did have his successes as well, four of his teams went to the finals in his first nine years as a coach, most notably in New York where the Rangers managed to win a Stanley Cup while under the Keenan watch.

Owner Alan Cohen has chosen to take the fast track approach, rather than building the team up in a slow and steady basis. So expect many changes in Miami whenever the next season gets underway and expect a few agents to get emergency calls in the next little while as Panther players wonder how they’ll fit into the Keenan universe.

Considering Keenan’s explosive history, it will be an interesting study this Florida experiment. Reportedly good friends Martin and Keenan could put together a solid franchise, or they could end up not talking to each other in a very short period of time. Regardless things are never going to be dull in Miami.

Bettman takes the joy out of Boltville

With the league’s premier event underway in South Florida, Gary Bettman chose his state of the NHL address to suggest/threaten that the players take a long hard look at their negotiating stance. While Hockey fans might wish to compare the styles of the two teams, the flash and dash of the Lightning to the text book abiding play of the Flames, we instead can ponder the idea of locked doors at training camp and many cold winter months without NHL hockey.

Claiming he didn’t want to use the Stanley Cup finals as his bully pulpit, he promptly went ahead and did just that. Stating that progress won’t be made until the players come along on the concept of controlling salaries, Bettman said that he didn’t doubt the players resolve in the issue, but no one should make a mistake in thinking that the owners did not have a similar sense of the moment.

Issuing the ominous warning, he then went on to discuss the rise in attendance in the league and how the league is on track for a record attendance in the playoff rounds this year. With two of the smaller market teams vying for the Cup, it might be suggested that things are going well. But Bettman poured cold water on that idea pointing to the most recent participants in the Stanley Cup final and how only the larger payroll teams can remain consistent. His take on the idea of cost certainty is to level the field for all teams.

Not wishing to conjure more storm clouds over Tampa Bay, Bettman suggested he would be available for a comprehensive debate on the collective bargaining issues prior to the amateur draft in mid June. At least that delay should give hockey fans fourteen more days or so to enjoy hockey as we have known it. Come September it may be a whole new game, or it may be game that doesn't make it to the ice, only time, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow know for sure.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Road Warriors

Martin Gelinas scored early, Jerome Iginla scored when it counted and the Calgary Flames put together an impressive debut in the Stanley Cup Final. Spurred on by the now routine spectacular goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames played a dedicated road game, using their fore check to counter the fancy passing and flourishing skill development that the Bolts showcased, on this night it was hard nosed, stick to the playbook hockey that would tell the story of the game. The win by the Flames quickly took the wind out of the sails of the fans of the Lightning, who had been pounding their thunder sticks from the earliest drop of the puck.

Martin Gelinas began the quieting with his goal at 3:02 of the first period, a shot that Nickolai Khabibulan had problems handling and inadvertently steered into his own net. That set the fans and Lightning back as they scrambled to counter the Flame game plan.
Jerome Iginla once again rose to the occasion of a big game, his shorthanded goal in the second period was a pivotal point in the game, giving the Flames a two goal lead and frustrating the Lightning’s power play attack. Stephane Yelle made it three to nothing with two minutes to go in the second and the Flames seemed to be in control for the night. Tampa was getting its scoring chances, but Kiprusoff was equal to the task, by the end of the second period the Bolts were leading on the shot clock 18-15 but trailing on the score board 3-0.

The third period saw former Flame Martin St. Louis break the shut out bid with a goal at four minutes. But it was a case of a Flames team that couldn’t’ be moved off of their plan. They only managed four shots in the third, but shut down the Lightning quite well, Tampa only getting six shots on Kiprusoff by the game end. Full value for the win Kiprusoff was named the game’s second star, a fitting award for the guy that night after night keeps the Flames rolling along.

Calgary continued their amazing streak on the road winning their fifth consecutive road game and the ninth road win in this playoff season. The win in game number one is the best confidence builder a team could ask for. They aren’t getting fitted for Stanley Cup rings or anything, but with game one successfully under their belt, the goal of winning the Cup suddenly seems a very tangible endeavour. For Tampa it’s time to regroup, losing game one is bad luck, dropping game two would put them in a deep hole. Calgary knows that the quickest way to hoisting Stanley is to come out flying and bury the Bolts in game two. Darryl Sutter should have no problem getting their attention prior to the drop of the puck in game two, this team is in a zone right now, focused on doing what ever it takes to win. Their hard work was rewarded in game one, the work ethic will on display again on Thursday, with the same attitude in 48 hours the Flames could be heading home up 2 games to none.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Stanley Cup Pressroom: May 25 edition

Game one of the Stanley Cup final is a few short hours away and the writers and observers are putting the finishing touches on their opening night correspondences.

Eric Duhatschek of the Globe looks back at the last time that a Flames team challenged for the Stanley Cup and how the pressure on that team, was completely different than that which faces the current line up.

We also learn how Martin St. Louis looks at returning to the team that cast him aside four years ago. Given his break by the Flames, St. Louis has gone on to stardom with the Bolts and finds fond remembrances of his time in Cowtown.

Alan Maki takes us into the mind and heart of the Gelinator, one of the key team leaders on the Flames Martin Gelinas has been the steadying influence in this remarkable run. He’s also been the guy that has put this team into the position of being near to a Stanley Cup victory, something that his team mates have marveled about through this playoff season.

Gelinas finds himself in high demand as Todd Saelhof of the Calgary Sun declares him to be a Canadian hero. Saelhof traces Gelinas' remarkable path through hockey and to the stage he's set for himself this year.

Eric Francis looks at superstition and how the Flames are doing their best to avoid touching, seeing or hearing of the fabled trophy until the time comes to claim it.

The Tampa Tribune explores the transformation of Dave Andreychuk as the 22 year veteran prepares for his first Stanley Cup final. A chance to savor the feeling of accomplishment that just has one more step to go.

The St. Pete Times has a number of items to ponder as game one gets close, how will the team's Canadian players feel about playing in the homeland again and where the hell and what is so special about Calgary anyways?

Al Strachan will find friends in Calgary on Tuesday, he says that the Cup deserves to be in Canada, and there is no better place for it to rest than in Hockey country. His final line in the column will sum it all up for all Canadians.

Holy Don Cherry: Where's the Red Line?

The off side pass will be no more! From the smallest tyke to the near professional, Hockey Canada has eliminated the red line from all levels of amateur hockey for the 2004-05 season. The governing body of hockey in Canada wrapped up its annual meetings Monday in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The red line was one of three pressing issues that they had to deal with, but in the end was the only one they could reach a decision on.

The two others in true Canadian style will be held over for further discussion. Limiting each Junior team in the country to just one 16 year old player will be studied just a little bit more, a decision will be made on it at next years gathering in St. John, New Brunswick. Also put aside for further study was the status of foreign born players on Canadian junior teams, a cause close to the heart of Don Cherry. Concerns have been raised in the last few years about the number of Canadian kids pushed out of the junior developmental leagues with the influx of American and European teenagers streaming into the country to be molded into draftable material in the pressure cooker junior leagues.

It’s expected that some kind of quota system will eventually have to be put in place so as to ensure that Canadian hockey players are benefiting from the monies provided by Hockey Canada. With the current number of non-Canadian players arriving the concern is that eventually Canadian hockey will be funded by Canadian taxpayers but with less and less Canadians actually playing the game. Before that happens though, changes will no doubt be made, a situation that will bring a smile to the face of Donald S.

Sunset at Sunrise: Dudley turned into Cat Chow!

Rick Dudley’s tenure as GM of the Florida Panther is done, the former Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning GM, who ran the show in Miami the last few years is now on the extinct list. Having missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, the Panthers decided Monday to begin the search for then next Ice General. And apparently the search won’t take too long; a press conference is planned for Wednesday when a new Coach and GM will be announced.

Rumours out of Sunrise, Florida the Panther’s home base have Jacques Martin as a likely candidate for the coaching job, having been interviewed since his dismissal from the Senators. It’s not known if his will be a dual position or if the two posts will be split up.

Dudley has been offered another position in the organization, though it has not been announced just what that position might be.

The Panthers have chewed through coaches like a cat through cat chow, with nine coaches in their twelve seasons, three last year alone. Stability apparently is not a working concept with the team that was a Stanley Cup finalist not too many years ago. 1996 saw them challenging the Colorado Avalanche for Lord Stanley’s mug, the plucky little team which had astounded the experts in the playoffs, bowed out four straight to the powerhouse Avalanche of the day.

After that successful season the Panthers gutted their team, starting all over again basically with draft picks some of which have finally started to pay off. Disappointing veterans however would frustrate the team over the next few years. Now with Roberto Luongo almost in his prime in the nets, it’s time for the Swampland Cats to start to get it together, Wednesday’s announcement will tell which direction they are going in Florida.

Kelowna Rockets defeat Gatineau to claim Memorial Cup

The home side proved too much to handle for the veteran Gatineau side, as the Kelowna Rockets took a 2-1 lead in the third period and rode it all the way to the Memorial Cup. Kelowna played a disciplined defensive game to keep the high octane Oylmpique squad off the scoresheet, thrilling the sold out Kelowna crowd and bringing the National Junior Championship to the Okanagan city.

In a match up between defensive specialists and fast paced offensive workers, the defense ruled the day. Kelowna was quick to build up a lead as they took 2 goals into the dressing room for the third period. Proving that Marc Habscheids defensive schemes were well designed, the Rockets choked off any Gatineau attack. Kelowna goaltender Kelly Guard did his usual stellar work keeping the Gatineau chances to a minimum. He found his performances in this playoff season to be providing the will to win for his Rocket team mates. Named the most valuable player of the series, Guard made the key saves when required and more than likely proved to the Ottawa Senators organization that they made the right choice on draft day. Guard only a few short days ago signed a contract with the Sens. He’ll report to training camp in September to give some hope to the frustrated Senator fan base.

For Gatineau it’s another year of frustration, the second year in a row that they’ve made it to the final game, only to find their competition up to the challenge. The highest scoring team in the Quebec Junior league, found the best defensive squad in the Western League. The result was low shot totals, heavy checking and not much in the way of scoring. The Rockets become the first team since Ottawa in 1999 to win the Memorial Cup on home ice. Building up through the tournament they responded to coach March Habscheids instructions and played some solid hockey in front of the home town crowd.

With the awarding of the Memorial Cup another season of Junior Hockey comes to an end, for some of these players this is the last competitive hockey they will ever play. Others will arrive in North Carolina on June 26th for the NHL amateur draft. Dreams of a pro career will carry on just a little bit longer. A chance to pull on an NHL sweater, head for camp and make the team. But for now, for Kelowna it’s a championship to savor, a young team buying into the coach’s system, holding up a storied Canadian trophy. Hockey doesn’t get any better than that!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Flyers laid low, as Bolts advance to Final!

Ok, so if you picked the Flames and the Lightning to meet in the 2004 Stanley Cup it’s time for you to get a new job. There are 28 other NHL franchises looking for your services, for if you could honestly say that you saw these two teams meeting for Lord Stanley’s drinking mug then you are a hockey genius!

In what probably will be an American television nightmare the unheralded Lightning will take on the Calgary Flames starting Tuesday night in game one of the best of seven series.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Frederik Modin scored the only two Bolt goals as Tampa edged the Flyers 2-1 to clinch the Eastern division championship in seven games, thrilling the over 22,000 fans that filled up the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night. Kim Johnnson replied with the solitary Flyer goal as Philadelphia could not repeat their heroics of game six. Nikolai Khabibulin stepping up and keeping them off the score sheet in a frantic third when the Flyers had chance after chance but to no avail.

Power play opportunites once again proved to be the downfall of the Flyers as they went 1-26 in this series with a man advantage, that more than anything else was the determining factor in the end of the season for the Orange and Black.

Tampa shut down Keith Primeau on Saturday night as he was denied any space in front of Khabibulin kept on the peripheral of the Lightning net. John Leclair was also held pointless by Khabibulin in game seven despite a number of chances, a telling stat in this game as he has been held to only four points through the entire playoffs, the same total as Donald Brashear. Jeremy Roenick was held off the score sheet and sent to the ice a number of times by crushing checks as the Bolts shut down the blue line and turned back line after line of Flyers. Try as they might, there would be no miracles left in the Flyer line up, once again they come up short on advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

For the Lightning making the Stanley Cup final is the ultimate reward for belief in their own line up, even if most observers never took them seriously. Having made the playoffs only three times in their twelve year history the Lightning stuck together on those nights when all seemed lost, when even their own fans may have given up on their chances. Those fans are believers now and they will have the chance to carry on with their faith on Tuesday night, when Tampa hosts the first game of the Stanley Cup Final.

HockeyNation never suspected that Florida would be hosting the last bit of hockey this season, nor did Calgary factor into our deliberations. But through hard work and good coaching both teams have outlasted all the other contenders and pretenders. It’s far removed from the days of the original six, but hockey is hockey. Hard work will win out most times and if nothing else these are two very hard working squads. Hockey fans are in the home stretch now; two thoroughbreds are rushing to the finish line even if they sometimes act like plow horses. Young, fast and entertaining, if we can put aside the idea of Tampa surviving and Calgary surprising us all the way to the finals, we may find we enjoy this Stanley Cup contest.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Spinning silk out of a sows ear? Or Just plain spinning?

The NHL has a new American television agreement in place, leaving the folks (or more likely being told to leave) at ABC and moving on over to NBC, the network that inflicted the XFL on us and is now the home of Arena Football and other second tier sporting activities.

The deal announced earlier this week has the financing in place to benefit NBC, which won't have to pay a dime to the NHL until the network breaks even on it's televised productions. Despite many attempts to get a foothold on the US networks, hockey just doesn't seem to have any staying power. Fox came and went taking the blue tail on the puck with them, CBS at one time tried hockey but quickly shuffled it out of the line up, ABC the most recent rights holder will follow the puck for the remainder of these playoffs, insisting on noon hour starts despite the fact that apparently no one is watching. So with ESPN 2 now the only sports network offering hockey it's back to NBC, which way back when once gave us Peter Puck, Brian McFarlane would set up the fables and foibles of an animated puck that explained the rules and built up fan interest. Judging by the lack of success over the years on American Network TV, we can only assume that Petey was a failure, which may explain why he's not coming back.

Dick Ebersol is saying all the right things about hockey returning to his network, how he respects the game and won't attach any gimmicks to bring in an audience, but the simple fact is that the NHL is almost providing filler programming for the Saturday or blocks, once again hockey will be ignored until the all star game and for Seven Saturdays in the regular season. Viewers stumbling across the good ole hockey game cause the good ole boys in the Nascar vehicles had taken the week off. Building an audience seems almost an impossible idea if the game is not featured on a steady basis. With ratings lower than bowling, poker, dog shows and Arena Football it's hard to argue that Hockey is still one of the Big Four sports on TV.

In Canada Hockey rules the ratings, two sports networks, the CBC and various local television stations build their programming and station image on the game, ratings peak when the game is on. In the States it’s the filler between questionable sporting activities and block programming.

Gary Bettman can claim that the future of hockey has never been better on US network TV, but the fact is it barely registers. No amount of spin can change that. The much ballyhooled footprint in the US has yet to show any tangible results, viewers outside of the main hockey cities of Boston, Chicago, Detroit and New York for all intents and purposes still haven't fully adopted hockey as their sport. As long as they choose to not watch, then the NHL will have to give itself away and hope for the best.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Hitchcock should have taken Tortorella's advice

Ah, Hitch you keep yappin' and now tongues are flappin’. Ken Hitchcock has learned that shooting from the lip has its drawbacks. Hitchcock has offered up a public apology to any and all Italians offended by his flippant remarks of a few nights back.

Hitchcock while continuing on with his verbal jousting about Tampa coach John Tortorella got himself in a bit more hot water in his own home town. Hitchcock gave an interview to a Philly radio station, claiming that the Tampa coach “already had three strikes against him, one of them being he’s Italian”. While it now is understood he spoke with tongue firmly in cheek, it didn’t shall we say, translate that way. Italians have been flooding the Flyers offices with e mails, phone calls and letters of complaint about Hitchcock’s slur.

He has since then explained that he was expressing himself in a jocular way, in no way intending to slight the hard working Italian American culture. Short of winning a Stanley Cup Hitch has put his foot in his mouth big time in this instance. Philly’s notoriously verbose crowds are made up of many fine sons and daughters of south Philly, a long time Italian enclave in the city. We get the feeling that Hitch is not going to be finding a welcome reception there for a while.

The folks in south Philly may not like the Bolts, but that coach of theirs speaks the language they understand and probably agree with. Hitchcock should just shut his yap! Expect him to take some of that advice for the next little while, and God help him if the Flyers blow game seven. He’ll be learning quite a few new Italian words if he returns from Tampa on Sunday without a Stanley cup berth.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Flyers send series to Seventh Game

These Flyers aren’t dead yet! Simon Gagne gave his team mates a reason to be thinking about hockey for at least two more days, as his overtime goal at 18:18 sent the Flyers off to Tampa for a seventh and deciding game on Saturday. Gagne’s goal put the Flyers on the positive end of a 5-4 victory and sets the scene for Saturday’s showdown.

Keith Primeau continued his leadership role as he scored with less than two minutes to go in the third period to send the two teams on to Overtime, indicating that the Flyers won’t go easily. It was two goals for Primeau and two goals for Gagne, with Sami Kapanen rounding out the Flyer scoring on Thursday.

Tampa Bay countered with two goals each from Vincent Lecavalier and Ruslan Fedetenko. Lecavalier did his best to take the noisy Flyer crowd out of the game scoring early in the first period with only 1:28 gone, after that the Lightning were hard pressed to find Robert Esche in the first managing only five more shots on net in the first. Coach John Tortella must have read the riot act in between periods as the Bolts came crashing out of the gate in the second to dominate play; managing thirteen shots the Bolts more than doubled their chances in the second, taking advantage of the increased offence to take the lead into the third 4-3. They then basically sat on their lead for the remainder of the third, playing a conservative defensive shell with only 5 shots on net in the third. Keith Primeau benefited eventually from all that play in the Tampa end with his tying goal late in the third.

Nickolai Khabibulan did his best to hold the Bolts in the game but the Flyers doubled the Lightning in the shots in OT at 10-5, shot number ten the lucky one from Gagne that secured the win and sent the two teams off to a game 7.

The Calgary Flames can sit back on the weekend, rest up, head for the BBQ and watch some hockey on Saturday as the Bolts and Flyers take it to the one game winner takes all thrill called game 7. Already the Bolts are trying to put their best face forward on a game seven date with the Flyers; centre Tim Taylor advised his team that “if we win game 7, this game has no bearing.” “We can’t get on the plane and mope around."

Wise words from Taylor who is trying to keep his team mates focused on the job at hand. With less than 48 hours between games, there’s not much time to rehash what may have been, better to just get to the job at hand and win it in seven. If they don’t want the championship the Flyers would be more than happy to take it from them, no questions asked.

Toss the final Shark on the Barbie!

10 years is a long time to wait for a Canadian team to have a chance to sip from Lord Stanley’s mug. But with Calgary’s 3-1 victory over San Jose on Wednesday night, Hockey in Canada has something to celebrate.

Darryl Sutter’s young team has gone much farther than anyone ever expected this playoff year as they add San Jose to the notches on their belt, Vancouver and Detroit already marked off they just wait for one more opponent. Marking a remarkable turnaround season Calgary advances to the Stanley Cup final in its first appearance in the playoffs in seven years, fifteen years since their last dance in the final. And this Flame team is getting there purely on work ethic, never quitting and seemingly of one mind to make this run last as long as possible. Sutter’s Flames continued to out work, out skate, out hit, out score and out play it’s competition. As Jarmoe Iginla and Martin Gelinas once again rose to the occasion to score when it was most needed, leading their team to a 4 game to 2 series victory in front of a jubilant Saddledome crowd.

In a series where home ice seemed to be a curse rather than a blessing the Flames took the lead and never looked back. Iginla opened the scoring in the first period and most certainly solidifies his credentials for Conn Smythe consideration should the Flames prevail in the next and final round of the playoffs with a Stanley Cup victory, he may even qualify if they don’t win the mug, though one suspects this guy wouldn’t want the trophy unless his team had captured the big hardware! His only competition may be Miikka Kiprusoff in nets, who continued to shine when needed by his Calgary team mates with yet another outstanding night in the Calgary goal. Martin Gelinas continued his amazing streak of scoring game winning goals and Robin Reghyr was credited with the final Flames goal, when Alexander Koryluk tried to pass the puck from behind the Flames net, it passed through the zone all the way into the empty Sharks net as time expired. The flames benefited from another strong game from Craig Conroy, who won an amazing 17 of 26 face-offs in the game to emphasize Calgary’s dominance in puck control. The checking line earned a standing ovation from the crowd, simply for shutting down the Sharks with a strong fore checking game. In short it was a total team effort for a coach who seems to specialize in having teams work together as a unit, all on the same page for the same goals.

The quality of Sutter’s coaching was easily spotted by the respect shown by the Shark players as they exited the Saddledome after the traditional series ending handshakes, to a man they lined up as Darryl Sutter stood by their bench to shake their hands on a hard fought series. Sutter who was the architect of this Shark’s team over his years in San Jose, had words for each player as he left the ice. It’s hard not to like a guy that shows this much respect for the game. And by the results shown it’s obvious that respect is a two way street.

The Flames carry on, carrying the hopes of a HockeyNation with them. The last Canadian team to have a shot at Stanley was the 1994 Vancouver Canucks who came within a goal of history in a thrilling seven game series with the Rangers. The last Canadian team to win the Cup, the Montreal Canadiens of 1993 who defeated a star studded LA Kings line up. Six days rest beckons the Flames now, as they await the winner of the Tampa Bay/Philadelphia series, with Tampa one victory away from joining the Flames.

The Flames captain said it best when he advised, “we’ll celebrate this, but we still have some work to do, we have four more wins to go.” Whether it be Philly or Tampa Bay it probably doesn’t matter to these Flames, this season has taken on a whole new feel to them, one of confidence. You get the feeling that they believe now, no longer just going along for the ride of a great season, there’s a sense of history awaiting them. Not wishing in any way to jinx these guys but you can’t help but feel that something good is coming Calgary’s way. After 11 years, Canada's Stanley Cup drought may soon be about to end. With everyone making a contribution to the effort, don’t be terribly surprised to see Jarome Iginla hoisting a few more trophies by the middle of June.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Flyers one game from elimination

Brad Richards set the pace and the Bolts managed to hang on in the end, as Tampa Bay survived a late third period rush by the Flyers, winning the all important game 5 by a score of 4-2. The Bolts now hold the hammer in the Eastern Division final and need only to win once more to move on to the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

The pride and joy of PEI, Richards scored twice on the power play to lead the Lightning on to victory. Ruslan Fedetenko scored a power play marker as well as the Bolts took a 3-0 lead over the Flyers before Philadelphia decided to battle back, closing to within one goal as the third period wound down. The Flyer comeback bid was quashed by a Tim Taylor empty netter in the final minute of play.

Nickolai Kahbibulan had a shaky few minutes, as Michal Handzus and Patrick Sharp scored within 40 seconds of each other midway through the second to breathe life into a Flyer squad that was held in check for the first half of the game. Flyer captain Keith Primeau was given special attention, limiting him to only one assist in the game Tampa used the boards well to box in the big Flyer, not giving him as much room to set up as he had been used to in games 3 and 4. Khabibulan regained his form in the final frame, holding off 15 Flyer shots turning all away.

Game six goes Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Flyers already have begun to regroup and focus in on the do or die nature of the contest. Captain Primeau advising that this group won’t go down without a fight. One thing is certain the rabid Flyer fans won’t let the Bolts come into their rink and take charge. But if the Lightning can replay the effort of game five (short of their 40 second giveaway phase) then the Flyer fans won’t be able to do much more than sit and watch.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Heat's Back On!

It’s getting very hard to handicap this Western Final, just when one team seems to be gaining the momentum, developing its killer instinct, they fall flat on their face. Monday night it was San Jose’s turn to stumble around the rink and make Calgary look like would be Stanley contenders. All we at HockeyNation can say is: “somebody win this thing please!”

Monday night the Flames were led once again by Jarome Iginla, who took control early in game five with a determined sense of play. The Flames scored two quick goals in the first period, on their way to an eventual 3-0 win of Game number five. Turnovers would be the death knell for the Sharks in game five, as the Flames took advantage of sloppy play by San Jose. Iginla scored on a breakaway to break the ice, Marcus Nillson followed up shortly after to put the Flames two ahead, followed by Craig Conroy who iced the game in the second. Once ahead the Flames shut down the Sharks, hemming them in their own end, controlling the blue lines and spending an awful lot of time visiting, or at least waving at Evgani Nabokov’s doorstep.

Calgary took more shots in the first period than they could muster in the final two frames, as they outshot the Sharks 21-19 in a game that featured a choking defensive style once the two goal lead had been secured. Miikka Kirprusoff redeemed himself from yesterday’s abundance of San Jose goals by closing the door on the infrequent Shark attack. Neither team could get shots on net, let alone score on the power play as both teams continued their unenviable tradition of fumbling the extra man advantage. The Flames while concentrating on shutting down the Sharks in the second, also shut their own attack off at the same time. It wasn’t until the ten minute mark of the second that Nabokov had to look at a shot from someone in white.

The key to the Flame victory was a solid forecheck, some heavy hitting and the desire of Iginla to get this team through this third round. The Flames now take a 3-2 lead back to the comforts of the Saddledome, which is not necessarily a guarantee of a good result. Neither San Jose or Calgary has shown any inclination to win in front of the home crowd, indeed the prospect of playing in front of the paying customers seems to cause each home team to fall on it’s butt.

Calgary can break this horrid streak of non performance on Wednesday, a Calgary victory will send the Flames on to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1989. A loss sends them back to San Jose, which may work out in their favor anyways, but do they really wish to keep tempting fate. Better to take these fish off the market as soon as possible, before they can take one more bite.

Thursday night would be a fine night to start a party in Calgary, for that to happen these Flames had best remember how they played on Monday as opposed to the effort from Sunday. Another performance such as they gave on Monday night, will serve them well in their bid to move on to the final round.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Cowtown Collapse

It was a second period from hell for the Calgary Flames, as that usually dependable rock in the nets named Kiprusoff, floundered terribly in the middle frame of game four. The hard hitting, beat the Sharks to the puck style of games one and two seemingly disappeared, defensively the Flames left far too many Sharks in front of the net un-attended to, resulting in four goals more than enough on this day to defeat the Flames and tie the series. It was all San Jose in a 4-2 victory over the Flames, the second loss in a row that they've suffered at the Saddledome.

Calgary simply got off their game plan, forwards, defence and goal none appeared to be on the same page in this game, and following the disappointing effort of Thursday night these Flames are starting to die down, still warm embers but no roaring fire, suddenly the Sharks are the team with the momentum, the team that seems to have the will to win. It wasn’t like that going into game three, the Flames had a chance to deliver the knock out blow and twice at home have come up flat, worse they come up out worked, a major sin for any Darryl Sutter team.

Jonathon CheeChoo and Mike Rathje scored early in the second as the Sharks dominated the period, seemingly scoring at will and eventually chasing Miikaa Kirprusoff from the nets for the first time in the playoffs. Jarome Iginla scored in the second to give Flame fans hope only to watch the Sharks regroup and pour it on once again. Sharks captain Patrick Marleau and Vincent Damphousse combined to lead the Sharks on the scoring parade, taking advantage of Calgary penalties to each score a goal on the power play. Roman Turek would be thrown to the Sharks in the third as his defence continued to neglect its end of the bargain, but Turek would at least keep the Sharks at bay in period three. By then however, the Sharks had also retreated into a defensive shell to protect Evgani Nabokov’s stellar goaltending, Nabokov who has had his share of bad games in this series out duelled his former Shark team mate on the night, stopping 27 of the 29 shots fired his way. San Jose who only managed 19 shots on net got their four goals on sixteen shots before Kiprusoff was replaced, a testimony to just how bad the Flames played in their own end.

The Sharks for the most part have managed to limit the effectiveness of Jarome Iginla in this series, as shown by his frustration late in both games at home. Tying him up in the Sharks end it takes a huge extra effort for him to get clear and get a chance on net, his one goal on Sunday the result of sheer determination to break from behind the net. For the most part, for the first time Iginla is feeling the heat from the Shark defenders. The Flames who only two games ago were celebrating the success of lines two and three to break free have now seen both lines held in check for games three and four, the key to a Calgary revival will be for those two lines to help take some of the pressure off of Iginla and Gelinas on the first line.

Game five goes Monday night as the two teams catch a flight to San Jose and play with less than 28 hours rest, yet another bizarre twist in this NHL Playoff schedule that seems designed to make things as difficult for the player and fan alike. Though for coach Darryl Sutter the quick turnaround, at least means his team won't have time to dwell on the egg they laid. The one positive that the Flames can take into game five is that like the Sharks, they have a much better record on the road than at the Saddledome, so for a seven game series the obvious nod would have to go to Calgary. But this is fast becoming a series where the obvious isn’t quite what it would seem. It’s a best of three series now; momentum is going to play a large roll. Heading back to San Jose the Sharks have it right now, it’s up to Sutter to find a way to have his team recapture that spirit of games 1 and 2, if they can’t this remarkable Flame run will end up as a Flame Out…

Primeau shows his worth!

Skipped over by Wayne Gretzky on Saturday morning, Philadelphia Flyer Captain Keith Primeau continued to prove his value in a Flyer uniform during the afternoon. Primeau once again dominated the hockey game much as he did back in Game 2. He continues to have a successful run on the ice in the playoffs, with seven goals and four assists over eleven playoff games thus far. His team leadership the deciding factor on whether the Flyers will attempt to now claim this series.

Primeau scored a short handed goal and set up another in the Flyers 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flyers were back to hitting, controlling the play and rising to the occasion of a back check from time tom time. Robert Esche made some key saves but continues to look fragile in the Flyer net, his last period of play in the game a nightmare for any goaltender. With time winding down Esche found himself in the cross hairs of a Tampa Bay attack, only to surrender a sloppy goal with less than 40 seconds to go, his shot drifting high and away from Esches’ catching glove and into the back of the net, brining the Lightning to within one goal, but time was the enemy and Primeau wrapped up the game with one final effort, ensuring the Bolts didn’t get past their blue line as he tightly checked and worked the puck as the clock ticked down.

Game five goes Tuesday bay in Tampa the teams tied at two a piece this series now becomes a sudden death best two out of three affair. The Lightning need to revisit their strategy of game three, where they were able to jump into the play and control the Philly attack. Getting the puck back down to the Flyer end and peppering Esche with shots, should they get enough chances there’s a very good possibility they’ll be scoring goals. It only takes one lucky break to move along in a series, the Flyer’s will be looking for a few things to go their way on Tuesday, hard work and luck could be a winning combination for Philly in a pivotal game five.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

9 Days in May

The Hometown Kelowna Rockets kick off the 2004 Memorial cup on Saturday afternoon as they take on the Guelph Storm from the OHL. The Canadian Junior Championship regularly features some high octane hockey and this year, it's 86th event should not be any different.

Four teams have survived their respective leagues to make it to the finals in addition to the Rockets and the Storm, familiar teams from Gatineau (formerly Hull) Olympiques and the Medicine Hat Tigers all are ready to hunker down and make this final push for a championship.

Kelowna qualified as the home site team this year after being eliminated in the regular WHL playoffs, for Kelowna there has not been a shot fired in anger since April 27th. It will be how that layoff affected them, that will go a long way to showing if they can be there for the final game. Kelowna’s main problem in the playoffs was an inability to score, if Marc Habscheid has found a way to solve that dilemma then the Rockets may be the team to watch this week.

The Olympiques seem to be a constant participant of post season play in Quebec. A solid franchise that has sent a few of the stars of the NHL on their way, they frequently bring a hard hitting game combined with a lethal scoring attack, always a team to watch this tournament will be no different.

Medicine Hat worked their way through the always tough Western Hockey League playoff spiel, an event which can involve many hours of travel just for the right to carry on for another series. Will all that travel of the last three months finally wear them down, or can they rebound from that and keep up the frantic pace they’ve become known for.

No stranger to Memorial Cups the Storm once again makes the journey to Canada’s junior championship. Most recently the host team two years ago the Storm count on veterans Martin St. Pierre and Daniel Paille to help show the way to victory.

Sportsnet has won the rights to broadcast all games of the Memorial cup, they kick off their coverage on Saturday a 7 pm (EST) 4 pm (PST) and carry on through till the final game May 23rd at 4pm (EST) 1 pm in Kelowna. A sold out rink and national television every night, nothing more need be said about the health of Canadian Junior hockey, the evidence is on display all week in Kelowna.

Naming the Names

Team Canada unveils its World Cup of Hockey roster on Saturday morning with an 9 am (MST), 11 am (EST), 8 am (PST) press conference from the Pengrowth Saddledome. Wayne Gretzky will pull his names out of the hat and 26 Canadian hockey players will be sent to defend Canada’s honour.

Gretzky and his team face a dilemma that many GM’s can only wish they had, a plethora of talent and only 26 spots to fit it all in. Do they go with youth on the rise, or stick with the old wily vets that rise to the challenge every couple of years. How many of the recent Team Canada vagabonds deserve a chance to once again don the maple leaf sweater to go into battle. Dany Heatley would appear to be a lock from that group, as well as Ryan Smyth and Roberto Luongo.

Do they bring back Steve Yzerman, Paul Kariya and Joe Nieuwendyk who last wore the Leaf while at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Observers feel that Gretzky and Co. could end up turning over from one third to one half of that Gold Medal Roster, as the new class of NHL stars like Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester all have shown that they are the next wave of Canadian stars ready to serve.

The big question is what to do about Bert. Todd Bertuzzi would have been an instant lock for this team prior to March, but after his on ice incident with Steve Moore the question looms large, should he be named? And if he is named, will Gary Bettman allow him to play. His suspension is an apparent grey area regarding this upcoming tournament. Since the team is a joint venture of the NHLPA and the NHL, Bettman has a say in who can play. If Bertuzzi finds himself on the shelf for the start of the upcoming season then his participation in the World Cup of Hockey will be moot, no suspended player can take part.

The tournament that runs through late August into September may very well be the last high calibre hockey that we see for a long time. It takes place just before the NHL season would normally get under way, but with the storm clouds gathering between the League and the NHLPA there’s no guarantee that there will be a season. The World Cup of Hockey may be the last of the game for a while.

The tournament which gets underway August 30th will wrap up on the 14th of September. Games are to be played both in Europe and in North America, the championship games on Canadian soil at the Air Canada Centre.

Canada is in the North American pool with the USA, Russia and Slovakia. The European pool consists of Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Germany. There is a lot riding on this tournament for Canadian hockey which has enjoyed a renaissance of late in the hockey world. Once again the Maple Leaf is the symbol of excellence, two concurrent World Championship wins, an Olympic Gold Medal and a myriad of European tournament wins have all contributed to a new respect for our game, played our way.
Gretzky and crew will have that and a lot more riding on their decisions Saturday, each name to be analyzed for strength and weakness. Regardless of whom he names, the Canadian public will debate the roster right up until the drop of the first puck, each armchair GM ready to provide his list of 26 that would be the perfect mix.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Sharks take a bite out of Kiprusoff

San Jose wandered into the Saddledome on Thursday night and helped to bring to an end the pre-mature celebration of a Flames victory. Hockey fans and paid opinion makers alike had sat in awe of the performance last Tuesday night as the Flames so totally dominated the Sharks in their own home. For many observers (HockeyNation included) that one game held us spellbound, with glowing reviews and raised expectations it was all about the Flames and nothing about the Sharks. San Jose just took the time to remind us all that there are two teams in this series, and the one from California isn’t quite ready to hang up the skates just yet.

Evgani Nabokov held off a frantic Flame attack at times to secure his third shut out of this playoff year with a 3-0 victory, bringing the Sharks to one game away from tying this series with the Flames. Facing 34 shots in the Shark net, Nabobkov set the stage for his team mates to take charge of the score sheet, which they did thanks to the efforts of Vinnie Damphousse, who scored the first goal of the game and Alex Koryluk with two goals one into an empty net as the game was playing out.

Calgary was constantly in the Shark end of the ice, firing shot after shot at him only to see each and every one struck down by the goaltender or one of his defencemen. The Sharks would reel from time to time as Jarome Iginla tried to single handedly tie the game, never giving up the puck and fighting for it in the corners. Iginla despite his best efforts would finally see his playoff points streak come to an end in this game. But in this game they would bend but not break, holding the fort they scored a well deserved first win in this Western final.

The long suffering Flames fans were taken aback a bit by the end of the game as the upstart Sharks dared to challenge the local heroes. For Darryl Sutter the ability of San Jose to come back shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, one of the hallmarks of his tenure in San Jose was a team that never quit. A trait his new charges have taken to heart as well. With San Jose pulling themselves up by their skate laces, this series could now settle in for the duration.

Both teams play a similar style and feature a mirror image in some areas. With Nabokov back into a bit of a zone for his team, they can concentrate on scoring goals and not worry about giving them up. Thursday night’s goaltender advantage goes to the Sharks, in a series that is going to depend on goaltending there is little to choose from between Kiprusoff and Nabokov. Kirpusoff set the tone for games one and two, Nabokov has answered the challenge for game three. His team mates picking up the torch and getting themselves back into this series.

Sunday brings us more of the same, a very key game in this series, it will set the stage for either the Flames going up by three games, or everyone going back San Jose all tied up. Game four could very well be the turning point in this series, the direction taken on Sunday will go a long way to telling us which team is ready to make the next step in the quest for Stanley.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Boucning Back Bolts

The Tampa Bay Lightning apparently is not a team that dwells on their last game. After suffering a shellacking at the hands of the Flyers 6-2 on Monday night, the Bolts bounced back with another complete team effort giving them a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia Thursday night.

Facing the usual band of zanies known as Flyer fans the Lightning managed to ignore the noise and make a little of their own. Two goals in two minutes and twenty four seconds set the pace for the game as Tampa used its speed and benefited from some rather shaky first period goaltending from Robert Esche, who struggled with shots through the first.

Cory Stillman and Ruslan Fedetenko got the Lightning off to a successful start, with their two goals fifteen minutes into the period, the goals quickly knocking Philly back on their heels for a bit. Tampa taking the 2-0 lead into the dressing room. The two teams played it tight in the second, though Philadelphia had chances to catch up, taking 13 shots on Nikolai Khabibulan only to have him return to the form that has carried the Bolts so far in this playoff season. Khabibulan credited his team mates for the successful outing as they cleared the crease for him and directed what few rebounds were given up harmlessly away.

Keith Primeau gave the Flyer faithful some hope right off the bat in the third, scoring at the 36 second mark, getting the fans up on their feet and making the thunderous noise that is becoming a trade mark at the Wachovia Centre. But where there’s thunder you’ll usually find Lightning and the Bolts quickly made strides to quiet down the throng, Vincent Lecavalier scored less than a minute later to once again give the Lightning a two goal lead. If ever there was a time for a big save, one to send your team a message this would have been the spot, but Lecavalier proved to be too much for Esche on this night. By games end Esche would give up four goals on only 20 shots, by far his worst appearance in the playoffs thus far.

Brad Richards put the game on ice seven minutes later as he picked up Tampa’s fourth and final goal of the night. Silencing the Philadelphia crowd for the night and reminding the Flyers that one good game does not a series make. The ability to turn in an impressive rebuttal to the last game is a good sign for Tampa. Many observers had dismissed them after the thrashing of game two, suggesting that finally they had run into a team that punishes you for your mistakes and is not afraid to take the body. Walking into the Flyers home rink, amidst all the noise of the last couple of days between the two coaches, Tampa redirected its efforts back to the ice. Coming up with an impressive victory for Game three and setting the table for game four on Saturday afternoon.

Philadelphia was returned a favour Thursday, showing that the Bolts can take charge in the Philly building if the need arises. The amount of off ice chatter set the scene for game three, as Tampa coach John Tortorella tore a strip off of Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock. The Lightning players seemed to react well to their coach’s verbal defence, expect the Flyers to keep things low key prior to game four, no need to give the Bolts any more incentive than they seem to have found so far.

Something to hold on to!

They don’t have to award the thing for over four months yet, but at least they’ll have something to hand over when the time comes. Officials of the World Cup of Hockey, taking place this September revealed the first edition of the championship trophy, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The Trophy which features a pillar motif was greeted by silence by the gathered crowd who tried to make sense out of something that is not a traditional trophy design by any means.

Looking kind of like a flower vase encased in plastic tubes the trophy doesn’t look anything like a Stanley, Grey or Memorial cup, trophies that ring of tradition. Gehry described his trophy as representing ice and hockey, the ice apparently the plastic tubes which apparently catches the light the same way that ice does. The bowl apparently the hockey portion of the trophy, though it wasn’t particularly clear what the connection was.

The names of the winning players will be engraved on the top which can be removed and taken on tour. The trophy has been described as an engineering feat, and will be on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto until it’s awarded at the tournament.

Gehry who normally designs buildings is a huge hockey fan, formerly from Canada he lives in California now and is considered one of the top architects in the world. His trophy is his first attempt at designing sports hardware, an unorthodox piece it none the less will certainly garner its fair share of attention. And like any piece of art, beauty will be in the eye of the holder. Whichever team wins the trophy at the end of the World Cup will probably find many fine points about the tumbler.

And with a bowl at top it will fulfill that one major requirement of any fine trophy, the ability to sip champagne, a few sips and it should all come into perspective for the winning team.

Miss Manners would be shocked!

Shut Your Yap! John Tortorella has gone into the corners with his elbows high as he verbally advised Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock to keep his opinions to himself. With tensions running a little high after the Bolts were run out of their own building on Monday night, the Lightning head coach decided to fire a few verbal shots over the good ship Flyer’s bow.

Tortorella was annoyed with Hitchcock’s verbal badgering of the Lightning players as game two wound down in the third period Monday, reminding Hitchcock that since he’s not on the ice to face the repercussions he should work on his shushing. As Tortorella pointed out both he and Hitchcock are wearing suits and standing behind a bench, there’s no need for him to get in the face of the Bolt players. “Park your ego, and put it in your pocket” the parting shots from the Tamp Bay coach. Hitchcock had but a simple line for his coaching counterpart, “Tell him to mind his own business.”

After he corrected Hitchcock’s incivility, he turned his attention towards Flyer GM Bob Clarke. Tortorella said the Bolts knew how the Flyers worked things, Clarke constantly chirping trying to get an edge with the refs, talking, talking, and talking. Whining about this, that and the other thing. Tortorella vowed not to let the verbal onslaught affect his team’s preparation, which is a good thing. His team needs to re-focus on the job at hand, after being supremely outplayed in Game 2. Their goaltender Nabakov sent to the bench midway through the second period after giving up four goals. The Lightning has found that their scoring attack has suddenly been stalled by a tight checking and heavy hitting Flyer line up.

Tampa who have played well on the road in the playoffs (4-0), takes to the ice Thursday as the Wachovia Centre where the Flyers haven’t lost yet (6-0). The Philly crowd will no doubt let Tortorella know that he’s been heard. What remains to be seen is whether the Bolts can do a little talking of their own, on the ice!

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Boiled Shark meat on the menu

Calgary was on fire from the opening face off and never really looked back. Scoring in the first twenty seconds of the game on a pinball style of shot that eluded Evgeni Nabakov, the Sharks were on their heels from the very beginning. The Flames took the play to the Sharks and were relentless in their attack, controlling the flow and exposing a weakness of Nabakov’s glove side for the majority of the game.

Shean Donovan had a particularly effective night for the Flaming C’s as he picked up three points on the way to the 4-1 Vancouver victory over the seemingly shocked San Jose Sharks. His line of Ville Niemenin and Marcus Nilson combined for six points and three of the four Flame goals as they totally dominated the Sharks whenever they were on the ice. For the Flames the game showcased the disciplined and fast moving style that head Coach Darryl Sutter has put in place for this hard working Flames club.

There were no passengers as they say on this team tonight, everyone made a contribution, whether on the score sheet, on the hit list or in the team speed category. Miikka Kiprusoff had what must have seemed like a night off as he only faced 17 shots from a San Jose team that looked totally lost in the first period and never really recovered from the fast start of the Flames.

The Sharks have quickly been given a lesson that the Canucks and Red Wings previously learned, this is one determined Flames hockey club. One which sticks to its game plan makes few mistakes and recovers quickly from any errors made.

The faithful of the Sharks were decidedly faithless as the game wound down; they booed their heroes off the ice as the first period ended and much the same reaction was given to the Sharks as they quickly exited the ice at the end of the game. Down 2-0 already in this series and showing no signs of life in this game they are in a bit of trouble now. The Flames on the other hand are playing with the kind of confidence you see when a team has come together to know what it takes to win. They take the series back to Calgary on Thursday night; a loud raucous crowd awaits them for Thursday night’s third leg of the Western final. San Jose is in the unenviable position of already being in a must win situation, another effort like that of tonight and the Flames will be on cruise control.

Sharks coach Ron Wilson put it all in perspective when he exclaimed that his team was whipped Tuesday night, giving the Flames far too much time with the puck, enough time to find a place to deposit it, four times as it turned out. Six of Wilson’s leading players never even got a shot on net, an ominous sign which has Wilson thinking of changes to his line up. And that tells the story of this series so far, Wilson now has to shuffle players in a bid to light a fire. The Flames just need to roll the lines their team burning hot towards a Stanley Cup final berth.

We've been haaaaaad!

Turns out the Governator was an impersonator. A story that quickly made the rounds today (including right here on the HockeyNation) had Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Premier Ralph Klein making one of those political bets, without any need for physical effort at the behest of Klein.

The story had it that the Gov and Premier had agreed to give 1,000 dollars to the charity of the winners choice upon completion of the best of seven series. Klein had even gone so far as to identify the Special Olympics as his charity of choice, one probably that would have met with the approval of Schwarzenegger had he won or even existed as it turns out.

The radio crew at the Bear in Edmonton came clean this afternoon, admitting that they had created and pulled off the hoax, the second time that the station has used a Schwarzenegger connection to pull of a hoax. They pretended to be Jean Chretien last year when they phoned the Governor elect to offer best wishes on his new job. Schwarzenegger chatted for a few minutes before realizing that he'd been had and hung up. Ralph lasted much longer and apparently never knew that he'd been had. Which may be bad news for the folks at the Bear, the Premier is a guy that probably can carry a grudge for a while, the Bear should be thankful that radio is controlled federally in Canada, but one guesses there won't be a lot of Alberta government ads on the air for a while.

Feeling contrite they have cut a cheque for the Special Olympics. Maybe in the spirit of good humour and good sportsmanship the Premier and the Governor might even match the funds.

They'll be baaaachk

One can imagine a cigar chomping Arnie issuing his Knute Rockne speech to Ralphie yesterday, as the two leaders got together on the phone to talk a little puck.

California Governor Schwarzenegger challenged Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to a friendly wager as the Sharks and Flames prepared to take to the ice in game two of their best of seven series.

Despite already being behind the 8 ball by one game, the Governator stood by his lads, advising Klein to be ready to forward a cheque for 1,000 dollars for the charity of Arnolds choice. Klein not to be intimidated suggested that the Special Olympics may soon get a surprise donation from a Southern benefactor.

The two leaders chatted for five minutes about the Sharks and Flames and a few other items before they got down to the heart of the wagering. For Klein the monetary wager is just about right, he had earlier mentioned that he wasn't against a friendly wager as long as the net result did not involve physical activity.

A wise decision considering the hmm, shall we respectfully say, difference in exercise regimens the two leaders seem to follow.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Tearing down the Bulin wall

The Philadelphia Flyers came out with something to prove on Monday night and by the end of 60 minutes they had made their point, with a huge exclamation point. Scoring early and scoring often the Flyers totally dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 6-2 victory, in the second game of their best of seven series. Philadelphia had said prior to the game that they considered game two to be a must win, and then went out and took control of the game bringing the Lightning’s undefeated string of playoff games to an end at 8.

Robert Esche outperformed Nikolai Khabibulan in this game allowing only 1 goal of 31 shots, while Khabibulan faced 12 shots gave up 4 goals and was chased from the net in the second period, John Grahame took over at 6 minutes of the second, faced17 shots and allowed 2 goals before his night was done.

John Leclair finally got back on the scoring sheet with his goal at 1:53 of the first period, 10 minutes later Mark Recchi had the Flyers up by 2, Sami Kapanen following up with goal number three at the fifteen minute mark. It would prove to be a deep hole for Tampa from which they never managed to get out of.

Vladimir Malakhov started up the second period with goal number 4 at 6:02, Michael Handzus tallying up number 5 with ten seconds to go in the second period. After fourty minutes the Flyers were in cruise control with a 5-0 lead and dominating every aspect of the game. They outplayed Tampa Bay in the corners, took possession in the neutral zone and out hit the Lightning at every instance.

As the third period began the Flyers picked up where they left off with Mattias Timmander scoring the sixth and final Flyers goal at 3:34. Tampa managed to get on the scoreboard after ten minutes when Ruslan Fedetenko finally put a puck behind Esche, seven minutes later Martin St. Louis scored on the power play, the final chance for the Lightning on this night. The third period became a chippy and physical exercise with Tampa trying to answer the bell in front of the home crowd. At the seven minute mark most of the extra curricular activity took place with fighting majors and misconducts coming almost as fast as the Flyer goals did in the first.

Tampa was due for a loss, though even they probably had not imagined such a solid thumping as this one, but at least now they can take note that this won’t be a cake walk. Game three looms large in Philadelphia on Thursday night, a pivotal game at the best of times it will be interesting to watch how Tampa Bay responds to the total domination of game number 2.

For the Flyers the game served to get them back to doing what they do best, create their space and take advantage of the turnover game. They also were able to take care of an unwanted streak of losses to the Bolts. Having lost the four regular season matches and the first playoff game, this win finally takes the heat off of the Flyers line up. With two games to come at home, the Flyers must be feeling a little better about things than they did late Saturday afternoon. With a wild Flyer crowd ready to welcome Tampa to Philly, this may be the first time the Lightning have had to deal with a rabid opposition, how they respond to the challenge will tell quite a bit about how ready they are to make the next step.

Flames heat up the tank

The Lime green hard hat went to a most deserving workman on Sunday afternoon. Miikka Kiprusoff held off a relentless Shark attack, giving his Calgary Flame team mates an opportunity to cash in on their hard work Sunday afternoon. Kiprusoff faced 52 shots, 12 of them in the overtime period as the Flames took game one of the highly anticipated Divisional final. The flames winning game one 4-3 in a thrilling overtime period.

Kirprusoff faced fifteen shots in the first period alone, yet after 20 minutes it was his Flames on top 2-0, spurred on by goals from Krzysztof Oliwa and Craig Conroy. San Jose bounced back in the second period tying the game up on markers from Mike Ricci and Todd Harvey. Conroy scored again in the third giving the Flames yet another lead, only to have the Sharks tie the game up With 3 and half minutes to go on a Steve Korolyuk goal, sending Game 1 into overtime.

Steve Montador scored the winning goal off of a perfect Jarome Iginla pass, to send the Flames up 1-0 with less than two minutes left in the first overtime period. Taking advantage of a terrible line change by the Sharks the Flames rushed into the San Jose end of the rink, Iginla taking the puck down the left wing, Montador trailing the play was busy banging his stick, finally attracting the attention of Iginla, taking the pass and sending the puck behind the stick side of Evgeni Nabakov. The Montador goal is yet another indication of the resilient nature of this Flame team, marking his first playoff goal in the NHL. On this Calgary team anyone could be a hero, a rookie defenceman, the team enforcer or a sure handed goaltender.

Overtime doesn’t scare this Flames squad; it was the fourth consecutive overtime victory for Calgary in the playoffs this year. Instead of getting tight and trying to hold on waiting for a break, the Flames take the play into the other teams end. Darryl Sutters game plan is a formula that has been successful thus far and is building confidence on this young team with every game.

While they aren’t over confident yet and there’s a lot of hockey left to play, Sutter must like what he’s been seeing so far. If you give this club a break, they’ll make you pay for it. San Jose has to make sure they don’t give the Flames three more golden gifts. This hard working team makes enough of their own luck; a freebie is something they can use to put you away.

Back on top of the Worlds

History repeated itself in the World Championships in a number of ways on Sunday afternoon, as Canada stormed back in dramatic fashion to claim the World Hockey Championship for the second year in a row, with a 5-3 victory over Sweden. Once again Canada stumbled at the start only to charge to the finish line. Ancient teams of Canadian lore were remembered as Canada won back to back championships for the first time in 50 years. And the Lucky Loonie factor, Canada’s secret weapon in the Championship once again was called into service. In what has become a Canadian tradition two Loonies were placed in the webbing of each net for good luck, the Loonies the same ones used in the Women’s Championship earlier in the year in Halifax,

At the start of the game it seemed that the Loonie effect was going to be counter productive, as Canada was knocked on its heels in the first ten minutes of the game, when the Swedes came flying out of the dressing room to take an early 2-0 lead, similar to the way they had taken charge in past championship match ups. Slowly Canada began to battle back late in the first period, chipping away at the Swedish lead on a goal by Ryan Smyth at the thirteen minute mark. The goal provided Canada with a measure of hope heading into the dressing room.

In the second period the Swedes regained a bit of their momentum with a quick goal, putting them two goals up with a goal that Roberto Luongo probably wished he had back, the Canadian bench slumped in frustration for a bit after that one, only to rejuvenate itself and begin what would become a four goal comeback on the road to the Championship. Not surprisingly it was Dany Heatley who spurred the Canadians on to the comeback in the second period, scoring his eighth goal in the tournament; good enough to lead all scorers and a timely goal which brought Canada back to within one. By games end Heatley would be named as the tournament MVP, a fitting title for a guy that dominated this tournament.

Rob Niedermayer tallied one 50 seconds later and suddenly Canada was tied and seemingly back in control of the game. Sweden became flustered with the sudden domination of the Canadians, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist appeared to feel the pressure with the quick scoring Canadian attack. It served as a baptism by fire for the 22 year old Swede who is a New York Ranger prospect.

Jay Bouwmeester kept up the attack in the third period scoring the go ahead and eventual winning goal shortly after the puck dropped. Canada then picked up another gear and shut down the Swedish attack completely, Matt Cooke added an insurance goal at the mid point of the third and that was all she wrote. The Swedes by the end of the game looked shell shocked, unsure as to how their game plan got side tracked and how Canada once again had clawed its way back into a game.

For Canadian Hockey the win represents another message that the game may not be as critically flawed as our critics like to pronounce. The final game provided many of the key intangibles of Canadian hockey lore, strong goaltending when the chips were down, an ability to fight back from adversity and regain the attack and of course the Lucky Loonie, which surely must now be a pre requisite for every travelling squad the country sends out.

Not since the Whitby Dunlops in 1958 and the Belleville McFarlands won back to back has a Canadian team pulled off the double. The Championship win must seem particularly sweet to this crew of Canadians, considering the bizarre start to this series. With a head coach returning to Canada, lacklustre performances in the early round and solid thrashing by the Czech Republic, many may have started to write off this teams chance to repeat.

But all fears were unfounded as it turned out, after a hard fought and controversial game yesterday against the Slovaks and a terrible start to this one, Canada finally found its cruise control. By the mid part of the game you could tell that determination and heart would not be denied yet again.

They may not do it the easy way, but as the world knows by now, you can never count Canada out. No matter how bad a score gets, they will chip away and slowly come back. Confidence building with every goal scored, success measured in heartbeats not clicks on a clock. If you have any doubts contact the Swedish Hockey Federation they’ll be able to provide some first hand information.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Lightning Strike!

So much bunk is the theory that a lengthy wait for the Flyers and Leafs to sort things out would be detrimental to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Taking less that a period to shake off any rust, the Bolts announced on Saturday that they plan on continuing the march for Stanley.

Tampa took a one game lead in the best of seven series with a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon in Tampa. The win marks the fifth time that the Bolts have defeated the Flyers this season. It’s the kind of record that must be making the folks in the City of Brotherly Love feeling just a tad nervous about.

Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman scored goals for the Lightning as Nickolai Kahbibulan had a rather uneventful day in the nets, handling all but one of the 20 shots from the Flyers with relative ease.

The Flyers had their chances early on as they seemed the sharper of the two teams, but Khabibulan held the fort allowing his team mates to come back in the final two periods. Philadelphia felt a bit cheated after a Sami Kapenan goal was waived off due to goaltender interference, the Flyers however bounced back from that disappointment to score on a Michal Handzus shot, the goal marking only the 10th goal scored on Tampa in ten playoff games.

The Flyers who played a decent game will have to hope to scale the Khabibulan wall should they hope to advance to the finals. He seems to be in one of those Goaltender zones where every shot is easily found, his goaltending helping to get his team on the go in the offensive end. The curse of any Stanley Cup contender is to run into a hot goaltender and with a goal against of under one, Khabibulan is one such hot goaltender.

With game one under their belts, Tampa now moves on to Game two on Tuesday night, just another stop on their way to a chance to grab hold of the Stanley Cup.

Luongo Shuts the door

Canada will defend its gold medal status in the final game of the World Hockey Championships Sunday in Prague. Battling back from 1-0 deficit, the Canadians advance to the Gold Medal game on the strength of a controversial third period goal by Shawn Horcoff.

The game itself featured a hard effort from the Slovaks who took the lead in the middle of the second period on a goal from Miroslav Satan. That goal seemed to wake the Canadian team up a bit, as they began to control the fore check and box the Slovaks in for the period. Daniel Briere scored on the power play 2 minutes later. And that would be the scoring until Horcoffs game winning tally in the third.

The heavily pro Slovak crowd whistled disapprovingly and littered the ice with debris after Canada went ahead on a shot from Horcoff, the result of an incident behind the Slovak net, as Scott Niedermayer’s stick caught the goal pad of Slovak goaltender Jan Lasak who tumbled to the ice, scrambled to get back into the net but did not make it in time to stop the Horcoff shot.

Feeling the wrath of the pro Slovakia crowd, American referee Rick Looker then began his campaign to even up the game, calling three consecutive penalties giving the Slovaks ample opportunity to tie the game once again. However, Luongo would have none of that plan, making save after to save to secure the Canadian victory. Luongo made 16 of his 29 saves in that final frame alone.

The 2-1 result was not one that met with the approval of the crowd who whistled throughout the post game awards and continued to display their displeasure during the playing of O Canada. The example of which proves that not all the hockey boors live in Montreal.

Canada will now meet an old nemesis the Swedes who disposed of the American team on Saturday as well. The game offering Canada the chance to repeat at the World Championships for the first time since 1958-59. The USA and the Slovaks will play for the bronze earlier on Sunday morning. The win today also guarantees Canada the top seed of the Olympic pool in 2006. Game time for Team Canada is 2pm EST and 11 am Pacific, two hours and a bit later we should know if Canada has once again claimed gold in the World Championships.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Canucks name replacement for Brian Burke

The Vancouver Canucks didn’t take long and didn’t look too far, to replace the recently fired Brian Burke as General Manager. Stan McCammon held his second press conference in less than a week, announcing the promotion of vice president and director of player Personnel Dave Nonis to the pivotal GM’s job.

Nonis who was very much a protégé of the fired Burke, was near tears at times when recounting the advice from Burke on this decision and his friendship with Burke through the years, a friendship that goes back to Burke’s time in the NHL head office. Well versed in matters of the collective agreement and the architect of the teams salary structure the last few years, Nonis’ promotion will bring a sense of continuity to a team that has been rocked by its early exit from the playoffs and Burke’s sudden and unexplained dismissal.

McCammon once again chose not to explain why Burke was let go, while his understudy was promoted into the job. A situation that many Vancouver observers (possibly unfairly) call Burke lite. Nonis said that some changes will have to be made to the team that disappointed its fans for the second year in a row. But the coaching staff won’t be where the moves are made, McCammon took advantage of the gathering to announce that Marc Crawford’s staff had been kept on for the upcoming season, as had the bulk of the off ice vice presidents. That includes long time Canuck favourite Steve Tambellini, who finds himself a newly named vice president and assistant general manager. While the players may not get paycheques next year, the off ice Canuck payroll is knee deep in vice presidential pay envelopes.

The Canuck’s are hoping that the promotion of such favourite sons as Nonis and Tambellini will help to cushion the backlash against the dismissal of the popular Burke. Though if sweeping change was the idea behind the Burke firing it seems curious they would turn to his right hand man to fill the vacancy. It’s doubtful that there would be much change in strategy between the Burke era and the Nonis one, feeding the rumour mill that Burke’s dismissal was purely one revolving a clash of egos between Burke, McCammon and McCaw.

In his press conference Nonis mentioned how he would not have taken the position without the blessing of Burke, whom he spent a number of days with discussing the opportunity. It’s a situation that harkens one back to a similar discussion between Burke and Pat Quinn, when Burke first interviewed for the Canuck job. At the time the topic of McCammon was high on the conversation list between Quinn and his friend and student. At the time it’s been said that Quinn warned Burke to watch McCammon carefully, which if true would make for a very prescient comment.

Nonis would not need that advice having watched first hand the relationship between his former friend and boss and his corporate overseer. It would however explain why he agonized over his decision to accept the high profile position in hockey mad Vancouver. Born and raised in the city Nonis always had dreams of working for the Canucks, now Nonis has finally received his wish. It will be interesting to see if all that glitters turns to gold.

Dany Heatley's FINNISHing touch

It’s a familiar script for Team Canada at the World Championships, as once again Canada used Overtime in a quarterfinal game to move on in the tournament.

Dany Heatley scored his second goal of the game five minutes into overtime to lead the Canadians to a 5-4 victory over a hard working Finnish team. Trailing at three separate times in the game the Canadians battled back from an early 2-0 deficit to send the game to over time in the middle stages of the third period. Steve Staois tying the game at 6:02, setting the stage for Heatley’s tournament leading goal in over time. Heatley has had a great tournament in Prague with seven goals thus far to lead all players in Prague.

The Canadians had a dismal start to this game as the Finns out shot and out played them through the first period with 12 shots compared to Canada’s 7 and quick off the mark lead of 2-0. Mike Babcock took his team into the dressing room and quickly refocused them on the task at hand, as a totally different team came out for period number two. Back to their intense fore checking Canada picked up the pace and went into the third period tied at 3. Each time the Finns took the lead, Canada would battle back leading up to Heatley’s dramatic finish in OT.

Canada can thank Roberto Luongo for the advance, as he shut the door in the final stages of the third and into the overtime to keep Finland off the score sheet, a frustrating thing for the Finns who gave Canada all they could handle in the early going. Luongo was particularly effective on a two man advantage in the second that last almost a minute and half as he denied the Finns time and time again.

In last years tournament Canada used a quarterfinal victory over Germany to propel it on towards its Gold medal performance. With Thursday’s defeat of the Finns Canada moves on to the semi finals with a game Saturday against either the Swiss or the Slovaks. The defence of the World title follows the same path as years gone by, Canada hoping that at the end of the run they once again can claim the World Championship as theirs

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Tee time in Toronto

Many aren’t surprised, but the end of the Toronto Maple Leaf season once again is bringing out the same old songs. Every year at this time we get the same old ageless hits from Toronto. For every season turn, turn, there is a reason and if the refrain from the Big Smoke is heard correctly, that reason is age. The consensus after bowing out to the Flyers is that the golden oldies in Blue and White will soon be making way for the rappers and the new country rockers, for the Times they are a changin’.

As Rosie DiManno recounted the final disappointing moments from the dressing room for 2004, others looked ahead to where the Leafs must go and how they have to get there.

The guy with all the pressure on his shoulders is John Ferguson Jr. installed in August as General Manager of the Buds, he gave the senior citizens one last chance to recreate the magic of 67. Financial decisions abound (something close to the heart no doubt to the pension fund that lives off the fortunes of the Leafs, and the faceless investors in MLSE who check the stock tables before the scoring summaries) should he try and sign Eddie Belfour to over 7 million a year, or thank him for his hard work and wish him well. Belfour recently passed on a six million dollar extension, his value increasing with each game saved during the playoffs. But do the Leafs want to tie up that much cash if they choose to go in a different direction?

Restricted free agents are piling up in the dressing room of the ACC like discarded hockey equipment, Bryan McCabe, D’Arcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle, Aki Berg, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky all will be looking for new and rewarding deals, McCabe and Tucker will probably be the only ones to really feel truly wanted around the negotiating table.

The farm club is thin and the first round draft picks are gone, so Ferguson will have a hard time building this team up through the draft and call up design. The trade route may be his best weapon, bundling up some of his middle talent players and bringing in some players in the middle or start of their careers.

His biggest decision though will be how to approach Pat Quinn; if he’s to keep the core of this team around and make another run at things then Quinn will coach through his final year, but will most likely want an extension. If Ferguson feels it’s time to rebuild from scratch with a massive exodus, then he’ll have to buy out the last year of the Big guy’s contract and his dismiss his assistants. The task then will be to find himself a new coach and staff and re-design this thing from the beginning.

A phone call or two to Gary Bettman might come in handy, if the league is to shut down for the year or two predicted by the Hockey Armageddon follower’s, then he can just let things sit tight for the interim and approach things when the dust settles.

With the Leafs packing their bags, the Toronto scribes are getting their final kicks at the 2004 edition of the team that everyone has an opinion about. Stephen Brunt examines the fork in the road for the storied franchise; he wonders aloud who exactly is in charge and who has control of the wallet. Damien Cox suggests they go young and get their fast, nodding to the success of Pat Quinn, but calling for a new face with new ideas to be behind the bench whenever the next season begins.

In true tabloid style, Mike Ulmer pulls out an axe and names his victims, its two columns worth for slashing. And finally, Steve Simmons delivers a stinging rebuke of the play of the Buds, stating that they just weren’t good enough. Simmons Calls for changes to a team that needs major reconstruction. With 37 years gone by between Stanley Cups he may find a lot of support in his thesis. That is once everyone stops singing that one last farewell song, “Who’s Crying now.”