Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dora Strikes again!

Dora the explorer is becoming a bigger pest to NHL teams than even Esa Tikkanen ever was.

The pre school explorer has once again caused scheduling difficulties in the Stanley Cup playoffs, this time offering up a possible Game Six conflict for the Oilers who would have liked to have returned home for the pivotal game if required.

For Dora it's deja vu all over again, the Exploring one bounced the Ottawa Senators out of Scotiabank Place in the first round (the Sens of course were bounced themselves in the second round) and now she threatens to do the same to the Edmonton Oilers.

Dora has sold over 5,000 tickets to the pre school set and their parents so it will be interesting to see what arrangement Rexall Place comes up with to pacifiy all concerned. More than likely the Oilers would prefer not to need a place to play by the mid June period of time, not needing to go to game six and beyond would probably be the pre-ferred route for the Oilers.

Rather than have to play a game six, the Oilers might prefer to bring the Stanley Cup to the show, share it with Dora and her pre-school gang. They might even get a louder cheer than Dora gets when she arrives in town.

Oilers head for the humidity

Looking to leave the fish bowl that Edmonton has become and also to adjust to the rather sticky and warm weather of the east, the Edmonton Oilers are making plans to head out on the road while they await their final opponent in this years Stanley Cup Derby.

Edmonton will relocate their camp to just north of New York City at a practice facility used by the New York Rangers (nice to have those old Oiler connections eh Mr. Lowe, who no doubt put in a call to an old friend named Glen).

The idea is to get the team together and away from the general craziness of Edmonton these days, so they can get back to concentrating on hockey and the battle ahead for the Stanley Cup.

The Oilers also want their players to get used to the heat, humidity and general slushiness of the ice as played in the East with temperatures now hitting over 32 Celsius most days this week.

It's a smart move by the Oilers to get the team out of the city for a bit of time, Edmonton has gone completely Cup Crazy, the demand on the Oiler players for personal appearances, ticket set ups and such was getting quite hard to control, so the best plan is to just get out of the place until games 3 and 4.

By then, they no doubt hope that they are carrying an insurmountable lead in the Stanley Cup finals and then can finish things off, leaving the humidity, heat and hockey behind until September!

Does Quebec want back into the game?

Quietly it seems that a bit of ground work is being laid out in order to possibly return the NHL to the walled city of Quebec. While it sounds more like tire kicking than anything else at the moment, there is a fellow named Mark Charest who is apparently trying to determine the interest level in bringing the NHL back to the city.

He's described as a little known businessman, possibly not the best moniker to be taken seriously, but there he is doing his due diligence and forming a committee to investigate the possibilities. Chraest claims that there have been people working behind the scenes since 2004 in an attempt to find the right plan to bring the game back to the Quebec capital. They plan on launching an internet petition, which they hope will hold 500,000 names by October and show any possible investors that it would be a wise place to bring a team.

The stumbling block in Quebec has always been the Colisee, it's an ancient building which was probably too small back in the late seventies when the Nordiques first appeared on the scene. Charest says for only 25 million dollars he can bring the old dame of hockey up to NHL standards. While he's not taking cheques at the moment, he does say that he's begun exploratory talks with possible investors in the project.

His press conference was greeted with a fair amount of skepticism over his plans, as many in the media feel that the NHL has no intention of returning to any more smaller Canadian markets. But then that's just the cynical media types eh, for true fans of hockey any dream can be a possible dream if the stars all align properly.

Quebec hockey fans will be watching the night skies looking for those stars to show them the way back to the days of the Battles of Quebec.

Of missing persons

Well lets see, I was out of town over the weekend, so I missed the Oilers clinching the Western Conference final, so I won't rehash history there. I also missed a couple of the Sabre/Hurricane games while away as well as the Memorial Cup victory by the Quebec Remparts. Hmmm, sure picked a nice time to have to be out of town, away from a television and nowhere near a computer.

So yesterday, Blogger goes down for me and I can't get things up to date yesterday either.

All of a sudden I'm thinking, hey hockey season must be over or something and I missed it all.

But nope, here we are, Blogger apparently is alive and well and allowing me to access my own blog again, so we'll carry forth from today and hopefully not have any more unscheduled breaks from the blogosphere.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It’s all in the sixes for Patrick

The Quebec Remparts have punched their ticket to the Memorial Cup final, upsetting the host Moncton Wildcats 4-3 on Wednesday night. In a hard hitting and fast paced game the two Quebec league rivals traded leads and occasional punches on the way to the Remparts victory.

With no shortage of bad blood between players, coaches and fans this one was set up to be one of the key games of the tournament, back when the schedule was drawn up and the two teams did not disappoint.

For Patrick Roy, the Remparts head coach there is a sense of destiny to the way his team has taken charge of the tournament the last couple of nights. Roy recounted for the media masses after the game that he had won a Stanley Cup in 86, a Stanley Cup in 96 and now feels that he may be on the verge of taking the Memorial Cup in 2006.

Of course there are a few other teams that might have something to say before they hand him the trophy and check the lotto tickets. Moncton will be looking to regain their planned participation in the final, to do so however, they will have to win the semi final match up on Friday night.

Before they know who their competition will be, there is a little matter of a tie breaker match between Peterborough and Vancouver, that game takes place Thursday at 4 pm (AST), 3 PM (EST) and Noon hour on the West coast. The Giants forced the need for the tie breaker match up with their victory over Peterborough on Tuesday night. Had they lost they would have probably been on a jet west to watch the rest of the competition on television, now they stand but one victory away from a showdown with Ted Nolan’s Wildcats on Friday night.

Most observers however must surely be giving the edge to Nolan’s team; losing to the Remparts Wednesday is going to be burned into the Cats memory for a long time if they don’t force a return match showdown for Sunday’s title game.

They’ll be watching the Petes and Giants do battle on Thursday and no doubt hoping for a hard physical and tiring game. The Cats can take advantage of the day’s rest, focus in on the task at hand and then take the play to whomever it is they face.

The Remparts are but one game away from claiming the Memorial Cup right in the backyard of their biggest rival this season. No wonder Roy is thinking of destiny, the Cats are hoping to interrupt his good karma with a return date on Sunday afternoon!

Sabres take charge of game, take lead in series.

The Sabres took a look at the video of game two and realized that they had to get back onto their game to have success against the Carolina Hurricanes. Wednesday night, they used their speed and puck possession to pace them on to a 4-3 victory over the Canes and a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series.

The big line of Briere, Dumont and Hecht turned their game around from Monday nights effort, taking a challenge from coach Lindy Ruff to heart, the trio were on their jets Wednesday as they blew past Carolina defenders and caused havoc in the Hurricane end of the rink, eventually chasing Cam Ward from the game as they picked up four unanswered goals and held a 4-1 lead as Canes coach Peter Laviolette sent Martin Gerber into the game.

That seemed to spur Carolina on a bit, as Gerber made a number of key saves on short handed breaks by the Sabres, keeping the Sabres close in the process and allowing his team mates to turn the comeback attempt on.

By the end of the night however, the Canes came up a goal short as Ray Miller held the fort after a few flourishes of action. It was a wild last couple of minutes as the Hurricanes built on their momentum and tried to find the equalizer before time ran out.

The most noticeable aspect of this game was the speed from both teams, the Sabres seemed to be flying through the Canes zone in the second period, the pace they kept with their four goals was impressive, they seemed to come in waves towards Ward and the defence couldn’t figure out how to slow them down.

Once Carolina picked up a second goal however, it was their turn to turn up the speed and take the play into the Sabre end of the rink. Setting up the wild finish and sending notice to the Sabres that they aren’t quite ready to blow out to sea just yet.

Game four goes Friday evening, sure to once again be a fast paced match, if either team leaves their skating legs in the dressing room, they may find that they’ll be returning there at the end of the game with a loss to register at the league office.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Nolan's frustrations come out in print

You might have heard Don Cherry refer to a Globe and Mail article from yesterday on Coach's Corner Tuesday night. The article featuring Memorial cup coach Ted Nolan, recounted some of the recent and past history of the former NHL coach of the year.

It examined the themes of racism as it pertains to Nolan's stagnation at the professional levels, a theme that Cherry wasn't particularly fond of, suggesting that Nolan's fate of late had more to do with his troubles with John Muckler from the Buffalo days and a job offer from Tampa Bay a number of years ago refused by Nolan for family reasons.

It's a fairly concise recording of the last nine years of Nolans hockey and personal travels, from his work with aboriginal communities, to his job interviews with NHL teams to his return to Junior hockey and the remarkable run of the Moncton Wildcats.

There's probably little doubt that Nolan has the talent to run an NHL squad, there are any number of floundering NHL teams out there that could use his smarts and motivational skills to bring their franchises back into the NHL mainstream. Any team with a young lineup and needing some steady guidance would surely benefit from Nolan's experiences both on and off the ice.

The only question is has Nolan further harmed his chances by speaking out as he has and will his ruminations on race get blown up further. He's been dealing with racism through his time in hockey, including an ugly situation in the Quebec league this year. By speaking his mind perhaps he confronts those issues upfront and lays it all out on the table.

By Sunday there's a very good chance his Wildcats will be the Memorial Cup champions, the second squad that Nolan would have guided to a national championship in his coaching career. Pretty good stats for any GM to consider, in the NHL it's all about winning, Nolan seems to be pretty good at achieving that goal, somewhere in the NHL there's a team looking for that kind of success. Many of those teams could do a lot worse (and many do) than hiring a guy that knows where he's come from and where he wants to go!

The Globe and Mail article is here, it's well worth a look to try and figure out one of the great coaching mysteries of the NHL in the last ten years. It helps explain why he's gone from the ranks and how he can get back to where he belongs.

Giants keep their hotel reservations

It was win or go home time for the Vancouver Giants at the Memorial Cup, with a 0-2 record going into the Tuesday night game against Peterborough the Giants faced the possibility of being eliminated from the tournament by the time the night was done.

With that in their mind, they came out fast and hard to set the Petes back a bit as they once again took the lead for the first part of a hockey game. And true to form they once again found themselves in penalty trouble as the game went into the last twenty minutes, a chippy and rough affair which carried through past the final whistle of the game.

Vancouver found goals from the ever present Gilbert Brule, who netted two goals in the 3-2 victory, Brett Parker scored the first Giant goal in the first period. Jamie Tardif and Daniel Ryder got two back before the game came to an end.

The win forces both teams into a tie breaker showdown on Thursday night, the winner of which will move on to Friday night’s semi final, the loser finally able to check out of the their hotel rooms and make the long journey home.

Wednesday night it will be a replay of the QMJHL final as the host and league champion Wildcats take on their rivals the Quebec Remparts, a win by Moncton will send them on to Sunday’s Memorial Cup final with a perfect 3-0 record and put the Remparts into the semi final. Should Quebec take the win, they would have the bye to the final, while the Wildcats would appear in Friday’s semi final.

It will be a wild one in Moncton Wednesday night, these two teams play some pretty fast paced action and aren’t afraid to play the body as well. Add to the mix a hometown crowd that is not shy about showing its feelings for Patrick Roy and his Remparts and you have the ingredients of a pretty good CHL showdown.

While getting tickets might be a stretch for the Giants, they now can at least breathe a sigh of relief and realize that they’ll at least still be in the city for the game. And if they can replay their effort on Thursday, they may go even further along the Memorial trail.

Oilers are one win away from the Dance

It was an ending that was a little closer than anyone thought, but in the end it’s the score on the scoreboard that separates the winner from the loser. Tuesday night, despite an Anaheim comeback that had even the hardiest Oiler fan gnawing their nails, the Oilers held on for a 5-4 victory and a commanding 3 game to none lead in their best of seven series. The win leaves the Oilers with but one game to win in four to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, Edmontonians are hoping to be celebrating by Thursday night!

The game featured an Oiler team that was battling the flu and fatigue, a fact that wasn’t lost on the Ducks who came out hitting and hitting hard in the first period. There were fights galore in the first five minutes of play before things tended to settle down a bit. Though penalties would rule the night as the hits kept coming all night long. It seemed that the Ducks strategy was to wear down the Oilers, taking advantage of the health crisis in the Oiler dressing room. The Ducks outshot the Oilers and battled hard in the Oiler end of the rink to get shots on Dwayne Roloson. The Oiler goaltender had a pretty good game going until the third period, when the Ducks poured on the comeback and snuck a couple of goals past the Oiler standout. He had previously held them scoreless for over 120 minutes until the floodgates seemed to open in the third. He certainly wasn’t responsible for the sudden flurry of Ducks in his end, it was a tired looking Oiler squad that had to hold on in the third, trying to slow down a suddenly frantic flock of Ducks streaming over the blue line.

The amazing thing about that Anaheim burst was that it came hot on the heels of four consecutive Oiler goals, many would have thought that having so many goals scored so fast would be a deflating experience, but it seemed in some strange way to motivate the Ducks to get their game back in gear.

Mis-plays by their goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and by defenceman Ruslan Salei led to two of the Oiler goals, take those two poor judgment calls and a few near misses going the other way and the Ducks would be looking at tying the series on Thursday not wondering if this is it for them this year.

After the game they were saying all the right things, about how this is a team that can come back from a 3-0 deficit, how they feel they had their game back on track in the third, but one wonders how much of whistling by the graveyard that is as opposed to true belief.

As it is, they have their backs to the wall; they’ve lost 21 straight games in Edmonton since 1999, a record that does not bode well for a game four victory and an extension of the series. The Oilers who seem to find the goals they need to win at just the right time are looking back to the last Oiler squad to claim a Stanley Cup, the 1990 vintage Oilers were of a similar bent as the 2006 version, they work hard, they work as a team and they find the way to win.

One more win and they’ll find their way to the Stanley Cup finals, flu ridden or not, nothing it seems is going to stall the Oiler drive for another championship.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

California Crow

The rumour became the fact on Monday, as the Los Angeles Kings introduced Marc Crawford as the next head coach of the team that tinseltown follows (Suburban fans have their Ducks, but from Hollywood to San Bernadino it's the Kings who count).

Crawford joins the management team being assembled by new General Manager Dean Lombardi, who has already met with each and everyone of the Kings from last year, all in a bid to find out what went wrong and how to turn around one of California's original franchises.

With eleven free agents on the Kings roster it probably will be a bit of a different looking Kings team that takes to the ice next September, injuries and infighting took its toll on the team as the wheels began to fall off by the Olympic break and never really got back on afterwards.

Andy Murray ended up carrying the can for the free falling Kings as he was dismissed with 12 games to go in the season, his replacement John Torchetti didn't provide enough of a shock to put them into the playoffs and GM Dave Taylor was relieved of his duties as the playoffs began and the Kings watched on TV.

Hiring the former Canuck coach was Lombardi's first major move since taking over the team and it sends a message that the players will now have to be accountable for their performance on the ice and possibly off it as well. The backbiting and other shenanigans off ice will be dealt with by the new GM and his coach.

Which is an interesting study for hockey fans as one of the problems in Vancouver at the end of the Crawford era were the reports of too many cliques being formed, working against each other instead of for the team's common good.

Lombardi at his press conference said one of the reasons he hired Crawford was his readiness to admit that he had made mistakes and would learn from them. Perhaps that is one of the mistakes he referred to, keeping a tighter rein on the Kings dressing room might go a long way to improving the overall success of the team.

It's a good move for LA, they are picking up a coach who has had his successful years, who seems capable of making teams better but perhaps has a certain shelf life. The key will be for the Kings to either achieve their goals before the Crawford system runs out of steam or they will have to replenish the squad through the years to ensure that the message by Crawford remains accessible by willing participants.

Either way, the next few years will be pretty exciting ones for LA hockey fans, they finally seem to have a management structure in place that will be pro-active instead of reactive. Could make all the difference in the amount of time between Kings appearances deep into the months of May and June in the future.

Moncton makes a few more fans

7,085 Wildcat fans cheered as loud as they could, leading their favourite local sons on to victory on Monday night, the hometown Wildcats doubled up the Peterborough Petes 4-2, improving their record to 2-0 and setting themselves up just fine for at least a semi-final berth on Friday.

But if the Cats and their fans were happy with the outcome, imagine the joy felt by the Vancouver Giants, who knew that had Peterborough won on Monday, the Giant’s visit to the East Coast was going to be an unsuccessful one. With the Petes losing, the Giants now can gear up for their match with that same Petes team on Tuesday night, a must win for both teams, but more so for the Giants if they hold any hope of climbing back into the thick of things at the Memorial Cup.

The Giants who have dropped both of their games so far in the tourney, could only sit, watch and hope that Ted Nolan’s Widlcats would take the game to the Petes, and they wouldn’t be disappointed. Stpehane Goulet, returned to the Wildcat lineup after having had to sit out the QMJHL playoffs due to a bad knee, it was a part of his body that didn’t seem to be bothering him too much as he tallied up two goals on the way to the Wildcat victory Monday night.

The Cats were leading 3-1 heading into the third period and just kept taking the play to the Petes for the final frame, setting up shop in front of the Peterborough net and taking the play on the boards, controlling the flow of the game and making the best of their opportunities.

Moncton can secure a spot in Sunday’s Memorial Cup final by defeating their rivals from Quebec City on Wednesday, the Wildcat-Rempart match up will be a fairly hot affair as the two teams have been facing off against each other for the better part of two weeks now as the battled it out for the QMJHL title, Moncton went into the Memorial Cup as the winners of the Q, they are now but one win away from having a chance to complete their goal of a Memorial Cup as host city.

Another loud throng of 7,085 will greet those two teams on Wednesday night, it’s a safe bet that there won’t be very many of them cheering on the Remparts, perhaps a few Giants or Petes hoping to see things tighten up as they head for semi-final Friday. It’s a sentiment that won’t be shared by the bulk of the crowd though, they’re ready to watch their Wildcats grab that spot in the final, it will be up to Patrick Roy’s Remparts’ to derail the plan and add another level of tension to the simmering pot on low boil in Moncton this week.

Sabres caught in the Storm

Tuesday was a completely different night from Saturday’s Eastern Final debut for the Carolina Hurricanes, built on fast skating and powerful hitting the Hurricanes took the play to Buffalo for the first time in the best of seven series, and for their hard work were rewarded with a 4-3 victory as they brought their series to even terms with the Sabres.

And while the score seems to reflect a rather close game, it actually was one dominated by the Canes for the most part of the night. Spurred on by two goals by Ray Whitney, the Canes were leading 4-1 going into the third period, before the Sabres mounted a slight comeback.

The key for Carolina this night was solving Ryan Miller, the Sabres goaltender let in a soft goal that eluded him after Justin Williams flipped a shot at the Sabre net from just inside the blue line. It was one of those goals you probably would wish you could have back and for Miller the hurt is doubled by the fact that it ended up being the winning goal on the night.

Carolina dodged a few bullets in their own end as well, Cam Ward doing his best to keep the Sabres off the scoreboard and Glen Wesley made an amazing save when he swept a Buffalo shot out of the goal area just before it crossed the goal line, a fraction of a second later and the Sabres would have had one more goal to count and who knows how the game would have turned out.

The Sabres described their night as sub par performance, with not much of an effort for the most part. Despite the close score on the board at the end of the game, the idea of a close fought game did not register too much in the Buffalo dressing room. Head coach Lindy Ruff suggested that a lot of his players did not have their heads on for the bulk of the game, such were the little mental mistakes that helped the Hurricanes along towards their first win of the series.

They have two days to get their game back on track and regain some of the momentum that they had taken from game one. Wednesday night, the Sabres return home to pick up the scent of the Stanley Cup with game number three in this best of seven Eastern final, with a fairly successful year at home, they will be eager to show their fans that Monday night was just a blip on the way to the Stanley Cup final.

They learned a pretty valuable lesson on Monday, the Hurricanes when on their game can out muscle and out skate a team for pretty close to sixty minutes, playing smart and taking advantage of opportunity when it comes your way is a major ingredient in taking a victory away from Carolina. Buffalo can’t afford to squander too many opportunities to take control of the series back, Wednesday night offers them the chance to get things back on track.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sweden secures double domination for 2006

They made it look easy as the lads from Tre Kronor collected their second gold medal of the last three months. Sweden completely dominated a lumbering Czech Republic squad, making quick work of them early on and shutting them down quite effectively on their way to a 4-0 victory and yet more gold medals to hang on the mantle.

The Czechs never seemed to get into the game as the Swedish team just kept moving the puck and breezing by the Czech defenders. It was almost a perfect game plan for Sweden who put the Czechs deep into a hole from about the midway part of the first period on, the Czechs who don’t do well when playing from behind never got a chance to try and pick up the pace as the Swedes controlled both ends of the rink quite effectively.

It marks the eighth time that Sweden has claimed a World Championship and in a bit of World Hockey history it’s the first time that a nation has won both the Olympic Gold Medal and the World Championships Gold in the same year.

For the Czech’s the silver medal was their for the claiming, but having been so handily taken to task by the Swedes there probably wasn’t much of a celebration in their dressing room later on.

If the Czech’s were disappointed by their performance, one wonders what the Canadians must be thinking as they head for home. As the tournament began they seemed poised to challenge for the Gold, but as the tournament came to a close on Sunday they hadn’t even qualified for a bronze medal. The Finns totally took charge of the bronze medal game, handing the Canadians a 5-0 loss. Normally bronze medal games don’t mean much to Canada in the first place, but it wasn’t through a lack of effort that Canada lost; it was more of a lack of energy. That and a lot of time spent in the penalty box as marginal calls took their toll on a Canadian team that eventually tired of working the penalty kill.

Canada had 32 minutes of penalties in the bronze medal game, compared to 84 minutes for all previous games in the tournament. That in a nutshell describes their play and the final outcome. With all the power play opportunities provided to Finland, the Canadians seemed to lose their focus as the game progressed and the Finns built their lead, ending with the Finns taking home the bronze.

For Canadian forward Sindey Crosby the tournament was a huge success, as the Pittsburgh Penguin was named top forward at the tournament, an honour indicative of his domination for the most part of the play throughout the competition. He also found himself named to the tournament all star team, a successful debut in his first appearance in a Canadian International uniform as a professional.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Two games done, Two games down.

The Vancouver Giants find themselves in a rather dire situation, in a tournament where wins count for everything, they’ve played two games already and have nothing to show for them.

For the second day in a row the Giants let a lead get away from them and then found a third period collapse to be their undoing. Sunday the Giants found themselves watching a remarkable comeback by the Quebec Remparts; who down 2-0 midway throught the second period roared back to take the victory 6-3.

Vancouver controlled the play for the first thirty minutes of the play but then seemed to be unable to control the duo of Alexander Radulov and Jordan LaVallee who came alive in the third period to put away the Giants in what became a chippy and hard hitting final thrity minutes of hockey.

Radulov who lead the CHL in scoring this year had been frustrated in the Remparts debut game against Peterborough on Friday, but found his form return Sunday against the Giants. His goal seemed to energize the Quebec bench as they quickly capitalized on their opportunities. Vancouver once again found themselves in penalty trouble and that sapped a lot of their energy and denied them a chance to mount any kind of counter attack against the Remparts.

Vancouver’s loss also nullified another strong game from Gilbert Brule who collected points on all three of Vancouver’s goals, Brule who sets the pace for the Giants when he’s on the ice picked up a goal and two assists in the losing cause.

It was a rough schedule to face to begin with, as the Giants faced back to back games in less than 24 hours one of the quirks of the round robin scheduling to begin the tournament. They however, did not do themselves any favours by two consecutive third period collapses, games that they seemed to have under control, suddenly got away from them and that’s something that they can’t bring back.

With the loss the Giants are now in a must win situation for Tuesday’s game against the Peterborough Petes, should they lose then they will effectively be eliminated from the final rounds of the Memorial Cup.

Monday’s action features Peterborough and the host Moncton Wildcats, both of whom have won their openers and now stand poised to take control of the drive towards Friday’s semi final or Sunday’s Championship game.

They look Marvelous!

Fernando Pisani like another famous Fernando, put on a marvelous display Sunday night as he scored a key goal at just the right time to move the Edmonton Oilers on to a second straight victory over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Pisani scored the second goal of the game, one more than needed to give the Oil the win he also picked up an assist on his two point night as Edmonton put away the Ducks 3-1 and suddenly have taken charge of he best of seven series and sit poised to put the Ducks away and gain some much needed rest.

Another marvelous performance came from Oiler goaltender Dwayne Roloson who stopped 33 Duck shots, many of them in flurries as he once again kept his Oiler team mates in the game, until they could regroup and regain control of a game that at times the Ducks looked ready to take charge of. But everytime they would apply the pressure, Roloson stood his ground and denied them a come back. He was aided by a stingy Oiler defence that did a marvelous job of clearing the puck and controlling the rebounds denying the Ducks much in the way of secondary opportunities.

Chris Pronger opened the scoring for Edmonton in the first period with a wire of a shot from the point, that goal was answered in the second period by the Duck’s Jeff Freisen who scored Anaheim’s only goal of the game. Pisani also went to work in the second period and Michael Peca put the insurance marker into an empty net in the last minute of play.

The Oilers picked up their second win despite down a few players suffering from the flu, but the remaining group more than held their own against a desperate looking Anaheim club. That desperation probably comes from the realization that the road ahead just became a lot tougher for the Ducks, since 1999 Anaheim has not won a game in Edmonton is twelve regular season matches, they also face an Edmonton team that has gone undefeated in the playoffs for the last four games.

Game three goes Tuesday night at Rexall Place, as Fernando might say, it’s shaping up to be a marvelous night, for the Oilers are looking marvelous darling, simply marvelous!

Keeping those home fans happy

Ted Nolan had to tell his young charges to settle down between the first and second periods, his Moncton Wildcats had found themselves taking too many penalties and playing into the hands of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. But once they got Nolan’s message, the Wildcats began the trek back towards a debut win in the Memorial Cup, edging the Giants 3-2.

It was a highly entertaining game, indicative of the level of play when two league champions collide in a steamy rink, crammed full of excitable fans of the host squad. The Giants kept the crowd under control until the mid way point of the second period as they held on to a 1-0 lead over Moncton, however two goals in the final ten minutes of the second frame ramped up the noise level in the Coliseum as the Wildcats fans began to cheer their squad on to what would eventually be their twelfth consecutive playoff victory on home ice.

The hitting was fierce and the tempers rather short once Moncton got into the lead, as the Giants began to play the body more to make some space for their key scorers such as Gilbert Brule and Michal Repik.

The Giants don’t have much time to digest their loss; they have drawn kind of the short end of the scheduling stick in the tournament, playing once again on Sunday as they take on Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts.

The only thing they’ll have to look forward to on Sunday, is that any hard feelings from the Moncton crowd over Saturday’s game will be eliminated with the arrival of the Remparts in the rink, the largely pro Wildcat crowd has shown no sense of loyalty to their fellow QMJHL team and will probably be cheering on the Giants for a victory in their second tournament appearance.

The Wildcats next see action on Monday afternoon when they tangle with OHL’s Peterborough Petes. They no doubt will approach Monday's game with hopes of increasing their stats to a 2-0 record and keeping the hometown crowd in a joyous mood over the long weekend.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sabres ride out the Hurricane

Buffalo once again took the first game of a playoff series, a good omen for those that follow the Sabres through the NHL wars. In a fast paced game, which featured a lot of end to end rushes and both Cam Ward and Ryan Miller got a full workout for their first ever Eastern final game.

Henrik Tallender scored early in the first to send the Sabres on their way to a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes, though the result wasn’t a done deal until that horn sounded to end the game.

The Sabres led 3-1 at one point before the Hurricanes added a second goal to make things interesting at the RBC centre as the clock ticked down to bring game one to an end.

Besides Tallender, Daniel Briere and Jay McKee scored for the Sabres, while Rod Brind’amour and Mike Commodore picked up the Hurricanes markers. The Cane’s had more than enough chances to take control of the game in the first period but the puck just would not bounce their way in the Saturday afternoon contest. The Sabres regained control of the game in the second, but found themselves under siege in the first half of the third as the Hurricanes outshot them 11-1, leaving Ryan Miller to step up and shut down the Carolina attack.

The two teams traded goals in the third, but that still left the Canes one short by games end and the Sabres with a one game to none lead in the Conference final. The win is a continuation of the Sabres kind of luck this playoff season, they face down their opposition weather more than a few storms and still come up with a win at the end of the day.

It makes game two a suddenly pivotal game for the Hurricanes who only have to look at recent playoff contenders Philadelphia and Ottawa for examples of what happens when the Sabres get on a roll. If they wish to keep in the hunt for Stanley, a win for Carolina is a must on Monday night. Going down two games to these Sabres is a hole you don’t want to dig for yourself if you can at all help it!

Tre Kronor Triumphant

They’ll be going for the double at the World Championships on Sunday, Sweden advanced to the final of the tournament with a wild 5-4 victory over Canada in a nasty bit of hockey at Riga, Latvia.

Canada got off to a sloppy start in the semi final match up with the defending Olympic champions and never could make that final comeback, though not through a lack of effort from their star wunderkind Sidney Crosby.

Canada trailed at one point by three goals, which is a tall order to ask to be filled when playing a team such as the Swedes who can change from a full offense to a mind numbing trap in the course of a shift change.

The second period got off to a rather crummy start for Canada, as the Swedes scored two goals on their first two shots to dig a deep hole for the Canadians leading 3-1. Canada however, true to the spirit never gave up, battling back through the rest of the second and third periods to make it close and almost derail the Swedish celebration.

The game took a nasty turn at the end of the second period, when Sidney Crosby was viciously cross checked to the face after celebrating a goal, helped to the dressing room in a rather groggy state, the inevitable scrum formed on the ice as Canadian players sought out justice on Mika Hannula. When the fireworks were done, Hannula was gone from the game and a five minute penalty was effectively reduced to three.

With the buzz still in the building from the ugly hit, Crosby returned to the ice in the third and tried single handedly to bring his team back to even terms with the Swedes. Crosby set up Patrice Bergeron for another goal as Canada clawed their way back to within one goal of Sweden, but it would be a goal too far as the Swedes held on to claim victory 5-4 and a placing in the Gold medal game against the Czech Republic on Sunday. The Czechs defeated Finland 3-1 in the other semi final, which will now pit them against the Swedes. It's a game that Sweden will have to play without Hannula, who was suspended from further play in the tournament for his blatant cheap shot at Crosby.

The loss left the Canadian squad bitterly disappointed, having felt that they had come together quite well over the last two weeks and were in a good position to take home Gold. With a poor first period those dreams were quashed and they now try to refocus on the Bronze medal match with Finland.

While they’ll no doubt be less than happy with the final outcome of the tournament, there were some solid positives for Canadians to ponder as the Championships wind down. A very youthful Canadian team more than handled themselves like a veteran squad for the most part, and the trio of Crosby, Bergeron and Boyes mad a pretty solid entrance to the International stage. For Crosby the tournament showcased a new level of maturity and leadership for the young Nova Scotian, his playmaking skills, shooting prowess and ability to absorb some punishing hits and cheap shots bode well for Canada for the years to come.

As for Sunday’s gold medal game, judging by the attitude of the boys from Tre Kronor, Canada will be chanting Go Czechs Go, deny the Swedes their double, do Sidney proud!

The Crow flies south!

The stories making the rounds of the NHL today, have Marc Crawford about to end his short lived time on the (well compensated) unemployment lines. The former Canuck coach is apparently bound for Hollywood, having been given the nickel tour of the Staples Centre yesterday and a sit down with Kings Management to discuss salary and philosophy.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi, himself relatively new to the Kings executive offices is scheduled to introduce the newest motivational guru in Los Angeles at a press conference on Monday. It’s at that time that Crawford is expected to sign up and prepare to lead the Kings back into the NHL west playoff battles for 2006-07.

Earlier this week it was reported that Crawford was negotiating with the Boston Bruins, who like many NHL teams are in the hunt for a new coach and GM to run their faltering program. But there’s a world of problems in the Boston operation at the moment and it would take a lot of incentive for someone to willingly want to take on that operation and its myriad of challenges.

The better fit for Crawford is Los Angeles, he knows the division and conference quite well, will offer a natural rivalry with Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks and of course will now be able to haunt his old team the Canucks, much like Burke will be able to do for the next number of years. It has all the elements needed to guarantee that Ducks, Kings and Canuck games will now receive more than a passing glance at the recaps on a nightly basis.

While Dave Nonis seemed genuinely upset about his duty when he announced the firing of his close friend Crawford from Vancouver, he comes out ahead with Crawford finding gainful employment so quickly. The Canucks were on the hook for Crawford’s salary for the next year if he didn’t find work or chose to take a lengthy sabbatical from the hockey wars. Should he jump up in that saddle again so quickly, the Canucks will be much for the better on the profit and loss statement.

For Crawford it was only a matter of time before he was back in charge of an NHL program, he’s still a very good coach and will now be able to start anew, with a clean slate and a roster of anxious young players looking to learn and to win.

He’s the perfect fit for Hollywood, his style and attitude will fit in quite nicely with the California casual crowd. He’ll bring some emotion to a team that ended the season on a losing note and let down And Murray causing him to lose his job. You sense that the Lombardi and Crawford connection will be quick to change any attitudinal problems very fast.

A new coach, means a new start and new way of doing things, Crawford will recharge his batteries and then return to the battle lines ahead for 2006-07.

Memorial Cup Results 2006

Recaps of the Memorial Cup from Moncton.

Quebec Remparts win the Memorial Cup

May 26 MONCTON 3, Vancouver 1
Moncton Wildcats advance to Memorial Cup Final

May 25 VANCOUVER 6, Peterborough 0
May 24 QUEBEC 4, Moncton 3
May 23 VANCOUVER 3, Peterborough 2
May 22 MONCTON 4 , Peterborough 2
May 21 QUEBEC 6, Vancouver 3
May 20 MONCTON 3, Vancouver 2
May 19 PETERBOROUGH 3, Quebec 2

Petes take opener at 2006 Memorial Cup

It’s probably the hardest game to play in besides the final of course, the opening game to the Memorial Cup. The players must stand on the ice while the opening ceremonies continue on, the nerves are a little on edge to get things under way and in the case of Moncton on a May Long weekend, a large, noisy, hot and sweaty crowd adds to a swampy feeling that makes you just want to get on with it.

And so once the how do you do’s and thank you’s were done, the Quebec Remparts and the Peterborough Petes got down to the business of trying to earn a berth in next Sunday’s final game.

It was a hard hitting see saw battle for most of the game, as both teams battled back and forth for the lead and to control the momentum of as the game moved along. Peterborough found success and the eventual 3-2 verdict on opening night, and now can relax until Monday night’s match up with the host Wildcats, they can be assured that the warm reception they received tonight won’t be replayed when Ted Nolan’s squad takes to the Moncton ice on Monday night.

The Remparts next play the Vancouver Giants on Sunday, back to back games for the Giants who face the Wildcats on Saturday night. Quebec needs a win to try and stay in the hunt for one of the final three positions, either a bye into the final or a spot in Friday night’s semi final. It’s the kind of tournament where if you lose a couple in a row it’s all but over for you in the short seven days of the round robin phase.

One game into the tournament and the Petes find themselves in a good position able to breath a bit while they await their next competitor, while there is now a bit of desperation to be seen in the Remparts game on Sunday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Road to Stanley The Third Round

Following the path of the Conference finals, one step away from a Stanley Cup showdown.

Game Four ANAHEIM 6, Edmonton 3
Game Three EDMONTON 5, Anaheim 4
Game Two EDMONTON 3, Anaheim 1
Game One EDMONTON 3, Anaheim 1
Oilers clinch the Western Final 4-1

Game Three BUFFALO 4, Carolina 3
Game Two CAROLINA 4, Buffalo 3
Game One BUFFALO 3, Carolina 2
Carolina wins Best of Seven Eastern Final 4-3

No rest? No problem!

They didn’t have as much downtime as the Ducks, but with less than 48 hours to prepare for game one, the Edmonton Oilers managed to pick up where they left off with the San Jose Sharks.

Edmonton took game one of their best of seven series 3-1 on Friday night, taking a 1-0 lead in Western Final. The Ducks who had been idle for ten days finally began to pour on the pressure in the third period, but the Oilers were more than up to the challenge as Dwayne Roloson continued on with his stellar play in the Edmonton net.

The Oil took the lead in the first period off of a Mike Peca goal, but the celebration was short lived as the Ducks battled back to tie things up fourty five seconds later, on Andy McDonald’s power play marker as the first period was winding down.

Coming out of the dressing room for period two, the Oilers continued to press well in the Anaheim end of the rink, with Ales Hemsky regaining the lead for the Oil with a power play goal midway through the second period. That score would stand until the nineteen minute mark of the third period when Todd Harvey put the insurance goal into an empty Anaheim net.

It was a huge win for Edmonton, who now take control of home ice advantage, the momentum that they’ve carried with them through two series now, seems to want to carry them along just a little bit further. For the first two periods of play the Edmonton attack seemed hard for the Ducks to counteract, both teams had chances to score, but the Oilers seemed to be the more dangerous of the two teams.

By the third the Ducks had finally recaptures some of the form that took them past the Flames and then the Avalanche. They took more of the play to Edmonton and buzzed around the net frequently giving Roloson a bit of a workout to finish off the first game at the Pond.

Game Two goes Sunday night in Anaheim, it provides a chance for the Oilers to take control of the series and bring things back to Edmonton on a winning note. They’ve already accomplished one mission in the Conference final, that of taking a win on the opposition’s ice. Take two and the idea of an Oiler march to the Stanley Cup will gain even more steam than that which fuels the team so far.

It could be that the guys behind the bench, are better known than the guys on the ice!

Their names are like a who’s who of Canadian hockey, Don Hay, Dick Todd, Ted Nolan and Patrick Roy. The four are spending the next week seeking to guide their young junior players to the Holy Grail of Junior hockey, the Memorial Cup.

The four are well known in their own right for past success in hockey, Don Hay as a successful junior coach who had a shot at NHL glory before returning to the WHL and Vancouver. A former Memorial Cup winner he brings a wealth of experience and desire to his Vancouver Giant team.

There is Ted Nolan, who is of course best known for his time in Buffalo, named coach of the year and then promptly dismissed in a nasty bit of acrimony with then GM John Muckler. He has bounced around the world of hockey for the last few years, occasionally having his name associated with an NHL opening, this year he took over the Moncton Wildcats franchise and transformed them into a QMJHL powerhouse.

Dick Todd is long thought of as one of the deans of junior hockey, he is a bit of a legend in the OHL for his well thought out game designs and his success in sending many a youngster off to NHL success. His Petes were a middle of the pack kind of team for most of the season, but once the playoffs began they turned their play up a notch and surprised more than a few teams across Ontario.

And then there is St. Patrick, an icon in Quebec, the former Hab and Avalanche goaltender brings many years of Stanley Cup battles back to his Quebec City home and his stewardship of the Remparts franchise. All four bring a larger than life kind of presence to this tournament, which is always a first class event and full of high octane hockey year in and year out...

The tournament gets underway in Moncton, New Brunswick tonight as Roy’s Quebec Remparts takes on the Todd’s OHL champion Peterborough Petes. Tonight offers up the first of a week of nightly action that leads up to the final game next Sunday afternoon.

It’s the final stop on the long grueling path that is Junior Hockey in Canada, a season of lengthy bus trips to far flung locations in all parts of Canada and the USA, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, BC. Prince Albert, to Portland the CHL through its three national leagues provides a jumping start for a possible NHL career and high grade local entertainment for hockey fans everywhere.

All four of the teams competing this week have proven to be worthy champions of their respective leagues. Moncton as host received a bye into the tournament, but went ahead and collected the QMJHL title for good measure, the Remparts who had an equally impressive regular season record are worthy of inclusion as well as the representative of the Q.

Peterborough worked their way through the OHL playoffs, finishing off the defending Memorial Cup champs the London Knights. That OHL final, was a hard fought battle worthy of the OHL”s greatest rivalries. Todd’s team played his system to perfection to cast aside any thoughts that the Knight’s may have thought about claiming dynasty in the OHL. Pegged as the tournament underdog, it’s a spot that Todd will probably accept gladly, few gave his club a chance to win the OHL title, so bring on the Remparts and we’ll see what develops.

The Vancouver Giants were a rolling machine throughout the playoffs, led by Hay they rarely seemed to have to worry about any series they were in; when it was required they turned up the power and took control of the flow of the play, cruising past Moose Jaw for the Western League title.

Four teams with different personalities, four teams with very different coaches. They all are playing at the top of their game, heading into one of the most exciting tournaments in Canada. Sportsnet will be covering it all from the drop of the puck on Friday to trophy presentation on May 28th. While you keep one eye on the NHL playoffs, keep your options open for a night of fast paced junior action, you may not know many of the names of the players right now, but in a few years many will be household names in the NHL. Come watch a preview through the week.

Friday, May 19 Peterborough vs. Quebec (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Saturday, May 20 Vancouver vs. Moncton (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Sunday, May 21 Quebec vs. Vancouver (5 AT, 4 AT, 1 PT)
Monday, May 22 Moncton vs. Peterborough (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Tuesday, May 23 Vancouver vs. Peterborough (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Wednesday, May 24 Quebec vs. Moncton (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Thursday, May 25 Tie Breaker if necessary (8AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Friday, May 26 Memorial Cup Semi-finals (8AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Sunday, May 28 Memorial Cup Final (5 AT, 4 ET, 1 PT)

All Games live on all Rogers Sportsnets!

Some Sightseeing, Some Skating and something called the Semi Finals!

Team Canada’s young standard bearers (and a few old warhorses showing them the way) continue to enjoy the sights of Riga, as they prepare for Saturday’s semi final match up with Sweden at the World Hockey Championships.

Friday is a day off for all teams at the World Championships, those that have fallen from the tournament can make their travel arrangements home, those that battle on in the semi finals make their final preparations for what they hope will be two games of importance to come over the weekend.

Canada advanced to the final four on Wednesday when they defeated Slovakia 4-1, a match that left the Slovak team wondering what hit them by the end of the 60 minutes. The Slovaks had held pretty close to the Canadians for a good portion of the game, despite being outplayed for the most of it, they refused to die at least until the Canadians put back to back goals together in less than 90 seconds. It was at that point that they immediately seemed to deflate their opponents and set their course for Saturday’s semi final showdown (1:15 pm, 10:15 am TSN) with the Swedes.

Canada with its rather youngish line up, has been finding success with a number of players. None more so than Sidney Crosby, Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron, who continue to impress all who watch with their offensive tools. The three Canadian forwards seem to be puck magnets when they are on the ice, a clinic in real time for many of those that have had to play against them through this tournament.

Saturday’s game will pit the rising young Canadian squad, against the 2005 World and 2006 Olympic Champions. The Swedes are aiming for a milestone that hasn’t been reached since the World Cup and Olympics were played in the same year, that of winning both tournaments in the same year. It’s a bit of history that the Canadians hope to derail at the Arena Riga.

The other semi final game takes place prior to the Canada/Sweden showdown, that one will pit the Czech Republic up against the Finns. The Czechs advanced to the final four on the strength of a 4-3 victory over the Russians. In what seems to have the same intensity of a Canada/USA blood feud, the two teams did battle for sixty regulation minutes and then another eight minutes of over time before the Czechs sent the Russians packing for home. What remains to be seen is if the Czechs have anything left when they face the Finns, such was the speed and passion of the overtime win for the Czech Republic.

The winners of the two semi finals will meet on Sunday in the Gold Medal game, the losers will play prior to that for the Bronze. Canada is hoping that by the end of play Saturday, they’re making plans for the second game on Sunday and a chance to bring the Gold Medal back home with them.

If they keep to the game plan they’ve used thus far, there’s a very good chance of that coming to pass. It’s a pretty impressive result for a team of youngsters, who for the most part last saw their international battles back in the junior ranks.

Whatever it is that Marc Habscheid is telling them it’s working, only two more games to make it a successful European Vacation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sens post mortem continues

They don't let go of their dreams easily in the nation's capital, with the Sabres at home in Buffalo resting up for their Eastern final with Carolina, the fans in Ottawa are busy reading the entrails of the Senators early exit.

The media in particular have been busy exploring the Muckler you mucked up angle of all things Senatorial. The following links all point the finger of responsibility and accountability squarely at the General Manager of Canada's best little team that can't win to deeply into the playoffs.

Reign of error costly for Sens
GM really mucks things up for Sens
Battler Muck goes on defence
Sens to fans keep the faith
Time for Sens to run a Muck
The mourning after
Going Going Gone
Sens were (are) doomed to fail
Alfie's the right man
Faster, Higher, stronger? Bah, Muckler says
No major changes for Sens: Muckler

San Jose sleeps with the fishies!

It was like the good old days at the place they used to call the Coliseum. The Edmonton Oilers spurred on by a rabid bunch of crazies starved for a playoff run for 14 years, completely finished off the San Jose Sharks by a score of 2-0, taking their six game series 4 games to 2.

The Oilers now move on to the Conference final against Anaheim, with game one scheduled for Friday night. It’s interesting to note that of the four teams remaining in the 2006 playoff hunt, not one of them made the playoffs when the NHL last awarded Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Things didn’t look good for the Oilers back when games one and two had come to a conclusion, trailing the Sharks 2 games to none, it looked as if the Oilers were going to have to live off of their amazing rout of the Detroit Red Wings, but as we’ve come to learn about this Oilers squad, the series is never over until the handshakes are finished.

The Oilers battled back one game at a time, improving with each period, by the end dominating a Shark team that couldn’t figure out what they had done wrong and how the Oilers had turned around their fortunes.

Game six was a hard hitting affair as the Oilers came out of the gate flying and crashing, sometimes too much. The Oilers gave the Sharks more than enough power play opportunities in the first period to put away game six and force a game seven; however, Dwayne Roloson was more than up to the challenge of taking on the Shark attack.

Roloson made key save after key save to preserve his shut out and the Oiler victory, what shots he didn’t stop his defencemen did as the Oilers once again played without fear in their own end, diving to block shots and crashing wayward Sharks into the boards.

The essence of the Oiler attack was to keep the Sharks off balance for most of the game and for the most part they were quite successful at it. They held onto a one goal lead going into the third period and then with time running down at eight minutes to go, Shawn Horcoff put away the insurance marker, adding his point to Mike Peca’s go ahead goal of the first period.

The Sharks launched one last power play flourish with Ryan Smyth in the penalty box, but the Oilers held tough and denied them a goal let alone the chance to get back into the game and the series.

The game ended just about as opposite as things could get for a Sharks team that seemed to have no trouble in game one, but now find themselves done for the year after game six. Shocked by their four straight losses and an inability to regain that swagger they had going into the third game, a swagger they would slowly watch fade away with each successive Oiler victory.

It was a very entertaining series as the pace of the play was high octane for most of the six games played. For the Sharks it must be a terribly disappointing end to what had been an amazing run that started after the Olympic Break. There’s good things happening in San Jose again, the addition of Joe Thornton, the play of Jonathon Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau bodes well for the Sharks in the next few years. They’ll learn from the setback against Edmonton and move on from there, another chance for Stanley comes up in less than a year, expect the teal clad Sharks to be in the thick of things again.

As for Edmonton, its one day’s rest and the Oilers are back at it and probably that’s just as well, they seem to perform at their best when they are challenged by a short recovery time. The Ducks who have been cooled off and rested for a week now may find that they have to keep a high pace to their game to keep up with the suddenly surging Oilers.

It wasn’t the safest bet at the start of the playoffs, but right now perhaps outside of the Buffalo Sabres, there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that has the momentum swing going so much in their favour. Sixteen years is a long time between Stanley Cup parades, the way the Oilers are playing right now, there’s a very good chance that Jasper Avenue may be closed in a months time!

Down to the final eight at the World Championships

They've rattled through the preliminaries at the World Hockey Championships. Bade their farewells to the teams that didn't quite measure up this year and now the seeds are set for the quarterfinal matches which get underway on Wednesday.

May 17th sees the Canadian team taking on Slovakia, while the American team will face Sweden.

The May 18th games will showcase a showdown between the Russians and the Czech Reupblic, while the surprising Belarus squad will challenge the Finns for the chance to advance in this years tournament.

Canada will take to the ice with Marc Denis tending to the goal, he comes into the game with a pretty good resume in International hockey, Denis has never lost a game while playing for the Maple Leaf and has collected gold medals in his days in the World Junior championships of 1996 and 97. He will face an underperforming Slovakian squad, which has had troubles getting untracked at this tournament.

Canada is no doubt hoping that their troubles continue for just one more game and that Denis continues on his winning ways while dressed in the Canadian colours.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Last Rites of the Sens season

General Manager John Muckler held the autopsy on Tuesday, as he examined the carnage of Saturday’s disappointing loss to and elimination by the Buffalo Sabres. For Muckler it was a cautious approach to what should come next, refusing to “blow up” the team, he suggested that running an NHL team is not quite the same as running your beer league fantasy team.

Muckler instead tentatively put forward the theory that the Senators are still a very good hockey team and that a broad brush expulsion isn’t in the cards, rather adding some components and keeping some key elements was his first concern.

The status of Captain Daniel Alfredsson seems to be secure, it’s expected that he will remain in a Sens uniform; his coach expressed full confidence in his abilities to lead the room and to remain as the on ice leader as well.

Alfredsson has been roasted by the rabid Sens fan base the last few days, the lightning rod for all that frustration of an early exit. Some of the criticism has been rather harsh and probably not warranted however Alfredsson probably more than anyone else on the roster knows the passion of the Sens fans and accepts the burden of being the face to the team’s early exit.

The easy way out would perhaps be to ask for a trade, but Alfredsson has never backed down from a challenge in the past, so one doubts if he’d bail out now with work still to be done.

One of the key elements in Muckler’s mind may be Domenic Hasek, despite the absence of the Dominator down the stretch and into the playoffs; Muckler still feels he made the right move by bringing in Hasek last year.

It’s a point he may wish to go over with his head coach, Bryan Murray in his press conference on Monday, more or less suggested that the days of the Dom in Ottawa should most likely be done. It would be interesting to hear these two guys planning strategy for next year if they aren’t even on the same page as far as the goaltender goes.

You might wonder if the two will still be on the same page when September rolls around, or even in the same organization, if they’re that far apart on some of the key issues of the franchise.

Muckler may also wish to consult with the guy that is cutting the big cheques (one of which goes to a Czech) Eugene Melnyk had fully expected to see a Stanley Cup parade in Ottawa at the end of June, that obviously is something that they can drop from the planning stages for this year.

Instead, they can begin to put together the financial packages to keep a few of the key ingredients on this team, both Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara are up for free agency and the riches that it could bring. Tough decisions will have to be made to fit everyone into a financial plan that makes sense for the team and its owner.

President Roy Mlakar and Muckler will be meeting with Melnyk shortly to discuss the season just ended and what beckons for next year. They’ll be asking him to bring out his pen and sign some cheques to keep the team on a path towards one day playing in the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Something tells me that those meetings would probably have gone a lot smoother with a Stanley Cup sitting on the boardroom table.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Advantage Edmonton

Momentum is a funny thing, it builds and builds over a period of time and suddenly becomes an unstoppable force that tends to run over anything in its way. Sunday night, momentum wore an Oiler uniform and the victims were the San Jose Sharks.

It wasn’t always so, the Sharks had the momentum for the first two games of this series, looking to all the world as though this would be a quick four game series, a mere bump in the road on the way to a battle of California.

But the Oilers rebounded at home taking two from the Sharks, heading into San Jose having gotten better and better with each passing period. Sunday night, it at times looked as though the Sharks were going to take the series back, the Thornton/Cheechoo combination suddenly finding their game again.

The Oilers however kept their calm when things were crazy in the third period , a period that saw four goals scored by both teams in less than two minute from there they took advantage of their own chances, to take game five in convincing fashion on the scoreboard 6-3. The Oilers pick up the win, despite being outshot 24-18 by a Sharks squad that poured on the pressure in that final frame.

Sunday's win is the second game in a row the Oilers have doubled the score on the Sharks, a two game total of 12-6. It's a stat that suddenly brings Vesa Toskala down to the status of ordinary human following his remarkable run through the first round and first few games of this second round.

The Oilers take a three game to two lead back to Edmonton for game six on Wednesday night. It was a four point night for Ryan Smyth who scored two goals and picked up two assists on the way to the Oiler victory. Dwayne Roloson made some big saves when needed most, but also had some tense moments as the Sharks came close a number of times to turning the tide around again.

Edmonton has an opportunity to move forward in the playoff race for the first time since 1992, a prospect that must have the long suffering Oiler fans giddy with what may soon be.

One win and two games left to achieve it. Better to grasp the chance now than to tempt the fates with a game seven back in San Jose on Friday night. The momentum swing is definitely flying back with the Oilers, who having survived the Shark attack now find themselves exactly where they wanted to be, at home with a chance to close off a series.

San Jose had a number of chances in the last three games to put the Oilers away, but Edmonton found the way to turn it all around. By taking the Sunday game away from San Jose and claiming the home advantage, the Oilers have edged ever so close to knocking them off.

Wednesday night they’ll step out on the ice at Rexall Place and wait for that breeze, momentum is in the air and right now it’s at the Oilers back!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

For the Devils the Lights finally went out for good!

It was a combination of power plays and power failures in Raleigh Sunday night, the New Jersey Devils who were facing a do or die situation, took the latter route finding themselves eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs four games to one, as the Carolina Hurricanes turned up the offence to the tune of a 4-1 victory.

In an ominous prediction of their fate, the power at the RBC centre went out at the eighteen minute mark of the third period, it was a like a two minute warning for the Devils who saw their season come to an end some 120 seconds later.

The power failure was a symbolic metaphor for their power play endeavors in this series, the Devils were provided with 22 man advantage situations over the five games, and could only muster two goals when all was said and done. As if to put an exclamation point on their ineptitude on the power play, the Devils could not convert five consecutive man advantage situations in the first period of what would eventually be their final game of the year.

The Hurricanes made better opportunity of their chances, as they converted 9 of their 24 opportunities during the series, 9 goals that went a long way to securing their place in the final four and the Eastern Division showdown against the Buffalo Sabres.

Cam Ward returned to the style he had become accustomed to prior to Saturday afternoons disappointment, as he resumed his amazing playoff run by stonewalling the Devil attack through the game. Though he didn’t see as much traffic as one would have thought in a desperation situation, the Hurricanes played their system to perfection, turning back the Devil attack in the neutral zone time and time again. Working their fore check to it’s top level, they frustrated the Devils in their own end for a good portion of the game and the series.

Ward met his idol Martin Brodeur at centre ice for the customary post game handshakes, Brodeur offering the youngster his best wishes to go all the way. It must have been an exciting moment for a kid who probably never thought he’d be in the heat of an NHL playoff battle this early in his career. Like everything else in this series, he handled the meeting with a sense of calm and respect. Those are just some of the traits that are carrying he and his team well so far in this playoff year.

Since the early scare against the Montreal Canadiens in round one, the Hurricanes have been able to get back on their game. As they progress through the playoffs, they are looking more and more like the team that battled for first place in the east throughout the year.

As the seconds ticked down and the lighting powered up the Hurricanes and their fans celebrated the move on to the next level, a match up with the equally fast and hard hitting Buffalo Sabres. The two teams have quite a few similarities in style and make up, which should make for an exciting Eastern final.

The dream never quite dies out!

There's an interesting story from the Canoe website, about one of Team Canada's unheralded forwards.

Glen Metropolit sits on the Team Canada roster at the World Hockey Championships, seeing spot duty from time to time as the 13th forward. He most recently saw duty on the penalty kill and managed to gain two assists in Canada's 11-0 rout of Latvia last week.

He's had a few cups of coffee in the NHL and left North America for the European experience a few years ago, however, he's hoping to make the return trip to the NHL for next year.

The story of how he got to Europe, his frustrations with the NHL of a few years ago and his hopes that at age 31 he will get one more shot at the big show makes for interesting reading.

You can check the entire feature here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Disappearing Act, Disappointing Act!

So once again, the Ottawa Senators find themselves mere observers to the NHL Playoffs after two rounds of play. This years version of the best team that can’t win the big games, found itself outworked most nights for the right to move on. The Sabres led by the unbelievable Ryan Miller took the best of seven series four games to one, winning the clinching game 3-2 right in the Senators home.

Far too many of the Sens stars went missing in this series, the offensive output of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson a mere shadow of the series against Tampa Bay. They and many others on this team on any given night could have qualified for status in the witness protection program, for they were witnesses to a Sabre team with a strong team work ethic that in the end just seemed to want the wins more than Ottawa did.

On defence, far too many of the normally reliable Senator blue liners went missing at key times in this series, whether it was the poorly thought out blind passes that went to Sabre sticks, to poor clearing attempts that were turned over to Sabre forwards, the defence simply were out of the play far too much in the series. The most glaring example and perhaps the one play most indicative of the Senators collective brain cramps, was Chris Drury’s goal in the second period, while on the power play he was allowed to walk in from the right dasher board, three Senators making no attempt to impede his path, nor offering support to a bewildered Ray Emery who surely couldn’t believe that not one of his defenders realized that Drury was on the move and has a habit of scoring key goals.

Three goals Saturday killed the Sens, three goals that really never should have happened. From the first Sabre marker by Henrik Tallinder at the .30 second mark the Sens continually put themselves into a hole, which they eventually could not pull themselves out of. From that first goal through to Dumont’s goal described above, it was mental miscues and poor positional play that ended their chase for Stanley. The final goal by Pominville at 2:36 of the OT was in a similar vein, short handed the Sabres turned the play out of their end with Pominville finding himself alone one on one with Daniel Alfredsson deep in the Ottawa end, taking advantage of a forward playing defence he went to the net and tucked the puck in past Emery to end the game and the series.

The fact none of the remaining Sens were in the final frame of the game tells you more about their play than you need to know. Not one of the “power play” specialists bothered to make the pilgrimage back to the Sens end of the rink to break up the Sabres counter punch, as what became usual in this series they seemed to think somebody else would take charge and move the play. No back checking, no turning back to help, once again leaving their goaltender at the mercy of a Sabre team that knew when to slam a door shut and move on.

To be fair to the Sens, they had more than enough chances to win this and most of the other four games lost in this series, missed opportunities come back to haunt you, ask the Dallas Stars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Calgary Flames and now the Ottawa Senators.

It was a series that with a few bounces the right way would have been tied by now or even had the Senators in the lead, but Miller held the fort and the Sabres knew when to finish off the game. When the opportunity to win came to a Buffalo stick, the puck was in the net.

The key to the Sabres survival in each series is a simple commitment to team work; on any given night somebody is going to be a hero. They don’t rely on one line, they don’t rely on one guy (with the exception of maybe Miller), and it’s a total commitment to the team. And in two series now against what was supposed to be tough competition the Sabres have excelled.

For the Senator faithful it’s another year of what could have beens and if only’s. The fans will have a long summer to exhume the season, offering up suggestions as to what to do with a team that refuses to move past a certain point. Blow it up, or refine the pieces; that will be task of management.

What remains to be seen is if John Muckler and Roy Mlakar remain on the reconstruction committee. They were the architects of this edition of the Sens, they kept the unit as a whole even at the trading deadline, as in years past their regular season stats meant nothing in the post season. The one stat that tells all about the Senators, 5 years of 100 plus seasons, but only four playoff series victories in seven years!

Last time around they fired the coach and canned the goaltender; perhaps a more thorough revival is now necessary. From top executives, to the guys that open the gates at Scotiabank Place, nobody should probably feel that a job is safe anymore.

The Devil takes his due!

Don’t count Martin Brodeur and his New Jersey Devils out just yet! Saturday afternoon Brodeur and the Devils rocked the Carolina Hurricanes with a 5-1 pounding, a much relished event for the fans at the Meadowlands. It was the kind of game many had anticipated from the New Jersey boys, but not with a do or die staring them in the face. It took the Devils four games to finally play the fast paced and punishing type of style that has kept them in the hunt for the Stanley Cup the last number of seasons.

New Jersey played Carolina hard, taking possession frequently turning turnovers into goal scoring opportunities and then capitalizing with goals when the time came. More importantly the Devils finally got into the head of Canes goaltender Cam Ward, chasing him from the game in the second period, bringing his seven game winning streak to a screeching halt.

Scott Gomez carried much of the freight on Saturday afternoon as he paced the Devils with two key goals on the power play in the first period. The Devils controlled most of the play and the net result was that by the one minute mark of the second period they already had a 4-1 lead, good enough to secure a much needed win and send the series back to Carolina for game five Sunday night.

For Carolina it was just one of those games where nothing seemed to neither go right nor offer them up much in the way of luck. All they can do is regroup for Sunday and try to snuff out the Devils rebirth as quickly as possible. Allowing the Devils to feed off of their momentum from Saturday should be the key to the Carolina attack in game five, slow them down, take the play into their end of the rink and then get back on track with their shots on Brodeur.

Letting the Devils gain a victory in game five would not be a beneficial move, when you have the Devil on the run, you have to run him right out of town. For the Hurricanes they need to point to the Raleigh city limits and show the Devils the way back home for the summer!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Leafs finally name their coach

In typical Maple Leaf fashion, they left their preferred candidate seemingly dangling for a couple of weeks, while they went through what John Ferguson Jr. called “process”. I’m not sure what exactly process is, but I assume it means answering the phone and telling successive NHL teams that Paul Maurice is not available for interviews.

Finally today, the Leafs announced the name everyone expected to hear on April 20th the day that Ferguson fired Pat Quinn, that of Paul Maurice. Maurice the now past coach of the Leafs farm club the Marlies and a former head coach of a team currently fighting it’s way towards the final four playoff showdown the Carolina Hurricanes, was introduced to the anxious media throng that is Toronto and handled himself quite well in the vipers den..

It’s been said that Maurice was destined to be the Leafs coach the day he signed on to be the Marlies steward, and towards that it does make sense; or at least as much sense as anything the Leafs seem to do these days. Maurice will have had a season long view of just what’s available in the farm system, if players chose not to perform for him in the AHL; they can pretty well kiss their NHL dreams goodbye. He also comes back to the NHL with some unfinished business to attend to, leading a team to a Stanley Cup final.

His former team the Hurricanes are playing a strong style of hockey right now, and it wasn’t that long ago that he was the architect of that teams on ice persona, a good omen for long suffering Leafs fans, desperate for a return to the Stanley Cup dance they last saw in 1967.

Even more promising for Leaf fans, is the style of play Maurice hopes to bring to the Air Canada Centre, pointing to the likes of Buffalo, San Jose and Anaheim as teams that have adjusted well to the new NHL, the new head coach would like to have his team produce a similar effort and perhaps reap the same kind of rewards as well.

The “process” that Ferguson followed apparently included interviews with Marc Crawford and Andy Murray, but in reality that must have been just courtesy calls, it was apparent to most that Maurice was the guy destined to take his place behind the leafs bench, the 26th coach of the storied NHL franchise.

It’s a good thing that Ferguson finally brought his process to a close; there are no shortage of coaching openings in the NHL now and probably a few more to come in the next few weeks. Maurice was a much in demand commodity and with a clause that would have allowed him an exit if the Leafs took a pass on him, he probably wouldn’t have been on the bench for long.

Compared to the way the Leafs handled the Quinn and Ley firings, (the press conference turning into an inquisition and John Ferguson left standing at the podium like a deer in the headlights), today’s hiring announcement was the thing of a Revival meeting, all that was missing was a circle of hand holding scribes and TV guys and a few choruses of Kumbaya.

As for the hockey team on the ice, there will be a new direction in Toronto now, old veterans and players heading towards their last contracts probably won’t be finding the Leafs as a receptive place for their agents’ calls anymore. Youth will be served for the next phase of the Leafs quest for Stanley. And if the words between the lines are correct Mats Sundin will be finding more ice time and can refrain from pondering retirement for at least a few more years.

Maybe this time for Leafs fans, the right guy, is in the right place, at just the right time!

A Gusher of Goals

Normally when you hear the name Smith in an Oiler summary, you think of Ryan Smyth, parked in front of a net picking off passes or deflecting shots. But on Friday night, in an amazing display of offensive power, it was Jason Smith who was the hero. The Oilers captain best known for his steady stay at home defensive skills, made a highlight reel goal and picked up two assists in what has got to be a career night, all on the way to the Oilers 6-3 crushing of the San Jose Sharks.

The Oil who gave up the first goal of the game and looked to be in a bit of trouble in the first period, turned things around in decisive fashion. Edmonton brought their playoff series to a two all tie with the win, scoring five unanswered goals to put the punctuation mark on a night of huge hits, amazing speed and spectacular play.

The usually rock solid Vesa Toskala was chased from the game by the midway point of the third period. Evgeni Nabokov was handed the task of stemming the Oiler gusher and he succeeded to a degree, but also was victimized by the relentless Oiler attack.

The Oilers, who have been improving steadily in each game, put it all together from the second period on, seizing the momentum and winning every battle that presented itself at the Rexall Place. On the boards, on the lines and deep in the Shark end of the rink, Edmonton was at their bashing, crashing best. They won the draws, took the play to the Sharks and set them back on their fins by the end of the third period.

The turning point of Friday’s game was a San Jose Power play that threw everything but a goal at Oiler goaltender Dwayne Roloson, he was simply overpowering in the Oiler net, redirecting shots, making key saves and frustrating the Sharks as they worked the power play. The crushing finale to a terrific penalty kill was a redirected shot off Roloson blocker, it traveled down the ice into the San Jose end of the rink, Toskala came out to handle the puck and inadvertently bounced it off of Sergei Samsanov who took the puck down the ice and deposited it in the empty San Jose net. That tied the game at 3-3 and with that momentum the Oilers never looked back. They poured on the offence and left the Sharks reeling.

Both teams now head for San Jose and game five at the Shark Tank. Edmonton leaves feeling like their game is only going to get better and better, the Sharks head home wondering what the heck has hit them and how the wheels fell off what seemed like another game they had under control.

Now that the Oilers have gotten a taste of success against Toskala, the remaining three games should be barn burners. It’s anybody’s series and if momentum has anything to do with things anybody is dressed in Oiler blue tonight!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

“I just try to stop the puck”

It could be his personal mantra, but it’s also something he’s pretty good at doing. Ilya Bryzgalov continued his mastery over NHL competition as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks shut down the Colorado Avalanche by making 40 saves on the way to the Ducks 4-1 victory over the Avalanche.

With the win, the Ducks swept aside the Avs 4 games to 0, crushing the Avs in four straight games and setting themselves up nicely for a Western Division show down in the next round. The sweep was the first for the Avs since they arrived from Quebec City back in 1996. It’s not a situation they tend to find themselves in at the Pepsi Centre, watching the opposition shaking hands and claiming the series in such a short period of time.

Even more confusing for the Avalanche fans, will be the examination of the lack of offence generated by the Avs big guns. After they handily defeated the Dallas Stars many felt that the Avs were back, kicking butt and ready to take some names. Instead, now the question may be not how good was Anaheim, but really how bad were the Stars.

If Colorado could have so easily dismissed the Stars from the Stanley Cup Hunt and now have come up so flat in their second round, it’s not hard to think that changes will now be coming to both the Mile High City and Big D.

The Avs came out fast in game four, a sense of mission seemed to dominate their game in the early stages, but again as they seem to have been able to do throughout the playoffs the Ducks, adjusted to the flow and countered effectively. By the end of the game they had shut down the Avs and taken control of not only the game but the series.

Anaheim is full value for their playoff domination thus far, this is a team that hasn’t had an extended break since the playoffs began, they have played every other day since April 21st and logged more than their fair share of frequent flyer miles. They can now rest up in the Southern California sunshine while they await the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton series.

The Ducks have been solid in every performance they taken part in, the work ethic as introduced by Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle has taken root for those in the Duck uniform. They simply went out and took their two playoff series away from both Calgary and Colorado. They out hit, out play, out hustle and most importantly out score the competition.

Whatever it is that Carlyle and Burke have been telling this group, they’re buying it! From an unflappable goaltender who is definitely in his own zone right now, to a group of players who play loose and fearless they Ducks are most deserving for their victories so far.

They make for a most dangerous team heading into the final four combatants for Lord Stanley’s Mug, playing with confidence, momentum and a sense of fun on the ice; they will provide a serious challenge for whichever team comes out of the San Jose/Edmonton series.

A match up with the Sharks would be a Gary Bettman dream, a battle for California and two exciting squads that play a similar style of hockey and have two of the hottest goaltenders on the ice at the moment.

The other possible match up provides the mystique of the Oiler brand and a Canadian team that would be desperate to try and keep the option of Stanley returning to his homeland as a going concern.

Regardless, whichever match up should come to pass, the way to success is going to be through a hard working hockey team with little to no weaknesses and through a goal tender named Brygalov that shows no fear and can single handedly turn a series with his play.

The season of the dark horse playoff teams continues, none darker than the Ducks who are quickly finding the bandwagon starting to fill up. Nobody may know many of the names of the players, but the style of the teams play should spur on the search engines as hockey fans quickly get a crash course on Duckology 101.