Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ricky Bobby, meet Sidney Crosby!




The NHL is anxious to reverse it fortunes in the Deep South, with a number franchises showing more than a red line on the bank books and interest on the wane, there is talk that the league is approaching the grand daddy of all marketing kings of the deep south, NASCAR to lend a hand.

Or to be precise they want to poach from NASCAR, Eddie Gossage said to the be the brains behind the NASCAR explosion of the last ten years is reportedly being wooed by Gary Bettman and his New York suits for a little tender lovin’ care for the game on ice.

While we probably won’t be seeing Dale Earnhardt or Kyle Petty peeling out with the Zambonis between periods, nor will we see the Iceland 500, Gossage would be expected to bring the NHL a higher profile. Having taken the car circuit from the dusty back lots of rural America to one of the lynch pins of television and a marketing man’s dream he could be the one to revise the declining fortunes of the NHL in America.

Sponsorships are the key to NASCAR with the corporate elite of the States lined up waiting for a chance to tie their product to the racing scene, the NHL which at the moment is a little light in the marketing minds of America’s big brands would probably be happy with but one tenth of the power that NASCAR brings to the table these days.

It’s sure to be an interesting move if it should go forward, probably one that will continue to ignore the Canadian backwaters and concentrate on the buying power of the big American cities. What remains to be seen however, is one simple fact, after all the fancy marketing is done and the sideshows have ended, will there yet be hockey fans in some of the more troubled markets of the south.

So far the evidence is against the concept, the Atlanta’s, Miami’s and such haven’t really adopted the game as their own yet, maybe they need some sizzle, but in the end we have to wonder if they will ever want the steak!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In Montreal, destiny always seems to ride between the pipes


They honoured yet another Montreal great on Monday night, as Ken Dryden accepted the accolades of the crowd and listened to the words of friends and competitors alike, many who described him as that of a giant well beyond his considerable height.

If there is a team in pro sports that does these things better we’d like to see the evidence! The Habs must lead the league in ceremonial retirements and celebrations. Through sheer achievement alone, over the years they’ve had more than enough opportunities, whether it be from sweater retirements, Stanley Cup celebrations or recognition of the unique talents of those that have donned a sweater of the rouge, blanc et bleu.

In a perfect hockey bookend, the celebration for Dryden came only two days after Montreal fans had learned of the passing of another great goaltender Lorne “GumpWorsley, who passed away on Saturday.

In a way it’s fitting that the Gump exited just before the Dryden celebrations, Worsley was in the nets during some halcyon days of the Habs of his own. Worsley led the Canadiens to four Stanley Cups in seven seasons, a dominant team of the sixties and one that many Canadians remember fondly. Much like they celebrated the years that would follow through the seventies.

For Dryden the famous quote of McRae on the walls of the old Montreal Forum (and now at the Bell Centre) must have had special meaning, for no one has received a torch to hold high from so many legendary hands as Dryden did.

Playing goal in Montreal is the centre stage of an amazing revue, the crowd perhaps the most passionate, the media the most intrusive. Dryden held his torch as high as any other; a surprising addition to the team in the midst of playoff drive, the lanky graduate of Cornell loomed large on the NHL horizon for years to come. Originally drafted by the Bruins, he refused to report to their camp, his rights eventually traded to Montreal but his appearance not destined until the late stages of the 71 season and through those playoffs and beyond.

His star ascended just as Canada re-emerged into the world of International Hockey, his place on Team Canada of 1972 well documented on the numerous literary and video compilations of that era.

The New Years Eve match up with the Red Army a few years later in 75 is also forever etched in memories of not only Canadian hockey fans but from those from far off locales as well.

One of them was a presenter last night, Vladislav Tretiak, an opposite in goal but a fellow traveller in the fraternity spoke eloquently about his friend “a fantastic goaltender and a great man.”

And that perhaps sums up the man completely, in his eight years in the nets, he collected five Vezina trophies but more importantly led his team to six Stanley Cup victories before his unexpected retirement in 1979. His achievements were indicative of the domination exhibited by Montreal during that era of the NHL.

From there he moved on to many other projects, an author of some Canadian classics, a television commentator, a bureaucrat of sorts serving educational matters and now a politician with a desire to make a difference.

In the midst of all those projects Dryden did return to the game as an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997 a position which became steeped in that always plentiful Maple Leaf back room intrigue, He held on in Leaf land until 2004 when he resigned and began to work on his current career path of a politician.

An astute observer of the fabric of Canadian society, he has always been able to give a thoughtful response to emotional issues, a calming influence today, much as his place in the nets was then. At each turn since he left the game of hockey, he has provided the determination and dedication to the job that he gave on that frozen rink of water and dreams throughout the seventies.

Before the decade of the seventies would end he had left the game on his own terms, last night the fans of "The Game" honoured him on theirs.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The sound of a television clicker passing them by

The ratings are in for last weeks NHL all star game, and for the American footprint it's not a very big step.

Versus, the controversial cable carrier of the NHL in the USA, carried the All Star game last week from Dallas, but it would seem few bothered to try and find the station on their local cable or satellite provider, even if it was provided in their hometowns.

Wednesday's game in Dallas drew a 0.7 Nielsen rating on Versus, viewed by an estimated 672,948 viewers, down significantly from the 1,985,000 households that saw the '04 game on a Sunday afternoon on ABC. That was the last year that the all star game was televised, as the lockout year knocked it out in 2005 and the Olympic break sidelined it in 2006.

To give you an idea of how the numbers translate, at 672,948 viewers for hockey, that puts them roughly 36 million, three hundred and twenty seven thousand and fifty two viewers behind the number one show of the night American Idol. Hockey's 672 thousand viewers probably equals the amount of people that may have made a bathroom break at the same time during the idol show.

In Canada, the CBC could at least trumpet their numbers for the return of the exhibition shinny match. The estimated audience on CBC was up 6 % from last time with 1.238 million viewers parking in front of a television on Wednesday night. The Skills competition on Tuesday however was a different story, facing a 13% drop in attention with only 1.038-million viewers tuned in.

So while the Northern flank is doing well in Mr. Bettman's empire, the southern domain is in serious erosion mode, the startling drop in the numbers is listed as a 76% per cent loss in audience viewership, a good portion of which can be blamed on the delivery service.

Versus in the United States is not a top level provider of content, formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network there, it was once the home of hunting, fishing and BBQ shows, now they've added hockey into the mix and well the folks are buying the soup very much.

Part of the problem is that Versus is not carried in many markets and there's not much in the way of cross promotion available. Unlike the days with ESPN, hockey is supposed to matter more to Versus than it did at ESPN, but despite their efforts to increase the profile they seem to be coming up short. Simply put, the new arrangement doesn't seem to be getting the job done and that will affect the attendance figures for years to come.

The NHL left ESPN over a dispute earlier last season, a move which has seen hockey reduced to a novelty item on the largest sports networks in the USA. Before, hockey at least factored into the ESPN day, whether it be with promos and updates, but now with it's fate in the hands of Versus it's becoming a mythical sport, one which people say may exist but can't provide actual visual proof of.

The Commissioner plans on sticking with Versus, having recently signed an extension until 2011. He says they treat the league very well, and by all accounts they cover the sport with dedication and professionalism, it's just too bad that apparently nobody can find them or sticks around long enough to watch the games.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Duhatsheck churns the rumour mill

The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatsheck has had his ear pressed to the ice of the various NHL teams and come up with some interesting thoughts on the run up to the February 27th trading deadline.

Putting the names of Ryan Smith, Shane Doan and Peter Forsberg into the wind as possible players up for a move as the playoff drives beckon and the NHL teams try to sort out their salary cap and long term plans for their franchises.

From the trade rumours Duhatsheck goes on to look at some of the other issues the league faces after its break for the all star game, things such as the players thoughts on scheduling, the amazing recovery of the St. Louis Blues on the ice, Mark Messiers long term plans and thoughts of the game today and a look at what former Flame Joe Nieuwendyk is up to these days.

Duhatshecks column is a definite book mark for any NHL fan, as he frequently comes up with some solid reporting on the issues of the day and more often than not has the story before it even breaks elsewhere. Check him out here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Oshawa to celebrate Stephen Colbert day March 20th


With his reputation on the line, the Saginaw Spirit took their game to a top level, defeating the Oshawa Generals Friday night by a score of 5-4. The spirit scored their winning goal early in the third period and then keeping the Generals at bay as well as Stephen Colbert's honour intact.

The game a regular season contest in the OHL, became much more than just a sporting event thanks to the team boosterism of television's Colbert.

The Comedy Central political satirist and host of the Colbert Report, has taken the Spirit as his team, after learning that they had named their team mascot Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle (pictured above) , after him. Since then, he's provided the OHL with more publicity than they could ever hope to buy, as he frequently updates his Colbert Nation with details of the Spirit as they travel the back roads of Ontario taking on the Peterborough Petes, Ottawa 67's, Sarnia Sting and other teams of the OHL.

Earlier this week, Colbert made a wager with Oshawa Mayor John Gray, the wager was if the Generals won, Colbert would wear an Oshawa jersey for a full episode of The Colbert Report. If the Spirit won, Gray would decree Colbert's birthday Stephen Colbert Day in Oshawa, Ont.

With the Spirit on the winning side of the ledger, the scene is now set for Stephen Colbert Day, which will actually take place, at Colbert's request on Mayor Gray's birthday of March 20th.

Expect to see full coverage of the Happy event on the Colbert Report next week and again in late March when Oshawa lays on the big day!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Patrick stays the course

The rock em, sock road trip controversy has ended on a happy note for Patrick Roy. The Quebec Remparts co owner and coach, has decided to stay with the franchise, saying that he was touched by the outpouring of support he received after last weeks incident in the Saguenay.

Roy was involved in a ugly incident in the parking lot of the George Vezina Centre last week, when his Remparts tried to leave the arena after a hotly contested game with the Chicoutimi squad.

At the time, the incident it was alleged that Roy got into a shoving match with the owner of the Chicoutimi team, a bit of physical activity that resulted in a police investigation. That investigation ended today when the complaint was withdrawn by Pierre Cardinal of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Roy never publicly gave his side of the story and now that the issue seems to have been defused, he has no intentions of talking about it again.

The league for its part has pledge to increase security at all rinks, but no doubt will place extra attention on the Chicoutimi rink which has been the scene of more than one controversial event over the last few years. Chicoutimi's reputation is beginning to get tarnished with all the foolishness of the last few years.

The Quebec league is no doubt hoping that they can be on their best behaviour in the Saguenay for the remainder of the season.

Outbreak of NHL fever hits Winnipeg

They’ve taken the casual offhand remarks of Gary Bettman and Ron McLean and let their imaginations run wild in the Peg. With Bettman declaring that under the current CBA hockey very well may work again in Winnipeg, the locals are all but ready to sign up for the season ticket packages.

Hockey fans in Winnipeg have set up websites to bring hockey back, jetsowners, bring back the jets and such all serve to show the passion that Winnipeg has for pro hockey. Though it must seem like they are hitting their heads against a wall, as these bring back the jets campaigns have been going on since the day the team left for the Arizona desert.

Mark Chipman, the current owner of the AHL's Manitoba Moose, issued a press release on the prospects of NHL hockey returning to the city, stating that he and his Moose Management team are regularly in touch with the NHL over potential opportunities for the Manitoba city.

Others are looking to Newspaper and Broadcasting mogul David Asper to kick some tires and make a few cold calls on behalf of his hometown. Asper who at the moment is more interested in securing the Blue Bombers and building a football stadium, did say on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown two days ago, that he was heading down to Dallas for the all star game and who knew what could happen from that gathering.

Suddenly for many Winnipeggers it seems as though the stars have finally aligned again, after the departure of their beloved Jets oh so many years ago.

An article in the Winnipeg Sun by Ken Wiebe seems to give an indication as to the spell for the NHL that Winnipeg is under and despite their heartbreak of last century, just how desperately they want back into the club.


Great Week of Hockey News
By KEN WIEBE

January 26,2007
Winnipeg Sun


Well, at least the silence has finally been broken.

Sort of.

Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman made his first public comments on the prospects of the NHLs potential return to Winnipeg yesterday, albeit in the form of a statement in a press release.

Chipman was cautiously optimistic regarding comments by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that Winnipeg could be a viable market under the new economic framework.

Chipman also re-iterated True North has kept in contact with the NHL to keep the door open should an opportunity to pursue a franchise arise.

What we'd really like to know is if Chipman and/or media mogul David Asper were speaking with Florida Panthers owner Alan Cohen or Nashville Predators owner Craig Leopold about relocation during this recent visit to the NHL All-Star game in Dallas.

Answers to those questions aren't expected to be offered anytime soon, either in the form of a press release or live interview.

But the fact Bettman has changed his tune regarding Winnipeg is nothing short of shocking.
It's also refreshing.

The possibility of expansion has surfaced during the past several days and while it still offers a light at the end of the tunnel, relocation seems to be the preferred method of bringing a team back to Winnipeg.

Starting from scratch would require immense patience from a fan base that has been crushed by the departure of its team.

Look no further than the Minnesota Wild, whose loyal fan base has filled the Xcel Energy Center despite limited success in the wins and losses column.

While there's no guarantee a team that relocates would be a Stanley Cup contender, at least the structure would be in place.

Nonetheless, it's been an eventful week when it comes to hockey in Winnipeg.

First, we find out Hockey Canada is considering moving the 2008 IIHF World Men's Hockey Championship from Quebec City to our fair city.

We are encouraged by this possibility, though we'd be remiss to also say that Hockey Canada dropped the ball by not giving it to Winnipeg in the first place.

With all due respect to Halifax, which is a great sports town, Winnipeg was the natural choice, since the city has done nothing but fly the Canadian flag since hosting the World Junior Hockey Championship in 1999.

Visions of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin gracing the ice in May of 2008 in the 100th anniversary of the men's world championship should make the heart rate of most hockey fans soar.

But regardless of whether that becomes a reality, there will be NHL hockey at the MTS Centre this September.

Thanks to the smashing success of the sold out tilt between the Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers last September, the former Winnipeg Jets franchise is coming home again.

This time the opponent will be the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose legion of Stanley Cup starved fans includes many in the Keystone Province.

We've got nothing against having another NHL pre-season game here, but it does seem curious that one of the combatants isn't the Vancouver Canucks, who happen to serve as the parent club of the Manitoba Moose.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

They were talking hockey in Vancouver today, but not in a good way!

Well the NHL has its wish, fans in Western Canada were talking hockey after the all star break, but nobody was coming up with anything good to say. After a three day break of meetings, skills tests and a glorified practice skate and shoot, the league will soon be sent back to rigors of the regular season schedule.

While the players pick up their game from where they left off, the fans have much more to chew over. And it would seem that in Western Canada at least, there’s a pretty bad case of indigestion.

The Bill Good Show, a talk show on Vancouver’s news and information station CKNW, took on the topic of NHL indifference to the West on Thursday. Good had a number of guests for a one hour examination of how the NHL is treating the hinterlands, coming off the botched scheduling consultations of the last week in Dallas.

Good talked with CKNW sportscaster Neil MacRae, author, journalist and Fan 590 radio personality Stephen Brunt, Montreal Gazette columnist Pat Hickey and Ottawa Citizen Hockey writer Allen Panzeri.

The course of the one hour program went over a number of contentious issues in the West, such as the scheduling bungle this year and apparently now next year as well, the power of the Commissioner or lack of when it comes to the good of the game and rumours of yet another expansion, deemed by all as nothing but a cash grab idea floated by the current owners.

Macrae led the charge for the West, in his own caustic but correct style on this issue he basically said that the eastern teams were leaving their western brothers out to dry; such is their own course of self interest east of the Manitoba border. His point about scheduling explained all you needed to know about the mess the NHL finds itself in, where the Canucks will face the Minnesota Wild at least eight times in a regular season, but will seemingly never see the likes of Sidney Crosby or other rumoured eastern stars any time soon.

Hickey and Panzeri offered up some background on the possible thought process that goes through the Canadiens and Senators management teams, who seem to have turned their backs on their western cousins this time around,

The death knell was sounded for the CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada feature, which most likely will see an American team or two involved in next years production, should they decide to carry on with their tradition. With the same scheduling plan in place for 2007-08 there’s a very good chance at least one of the Canadian teams won’t be suiting up for the triple header of hockey worship. A boneheaded error if ever there was one by the NHL if it comes to pass.

Stephen Brunt gave an informative examination of the issues under Gary Bettman’s leadership, pointing out that while many would like to think Bettman can crack a whip, he really is at the beholden of those who employ him.

When the hockey folk weren’t providing their opinions, the audience took to the lines and were not happy in their comments over the direction of the NHL these days and the apparent dis-regard for what the fans really want.

It was a lively one hour discussion and proves just how passionate that folks in Vancouver and British Columbia can get about their game and the stewardship it is under from the NHL offices in New York City.

It probably will be helpful to Mr. Bettman in one thing at any rate, not that there is any danger of it happening any time soon, but if he was planning on a trip to the western territories, he might wish to take a pass. He won’t be the most popular guy at the rink should he show up in the next little while.

You can listen in to the entire hour program by checking out the CKNW audio vault here, the program aired between 9 and 10 am on Thursday, it will be left on the audio vault for the next two weeks. Giving the Commissioner and the eastern owners lots of time to test the winds coming in from the west!

Ron McLean secures speaking engagements in Winnipeg and Halifax.

He’ll be the toast of Portage and Main and Barrington Street for the next decade, Ron McLean on Wednesday night's Hockey Night in Canada All star game coverage, tried his best to get Gary Bettman to commit to expansion to Canada.

McLean had his traditional all star game interview with the commissioner on Wednesday night, a less combative session than those of the past. Perhaps he was using the sugar because of the cause he was proposing, that of more Canada in the NHL.

Ron even drew up his own little flow chart for the Commissioner, showcasing the new Canadian cities of Winnipeg and Halifax as ready to boost the Canadian content of the NHL to eight.

It’s probably the first time that Halifax has appeared on the Commissioners radar, Winnipeg he’s used to, even going so far on Wednesday as to suggest that under the new CBA, that a franchise at the MTS Centre might just make a go of it. But you have to think that McLean's Halifax idea certainly came from the left side of the rink.

Normally when Canadian expansion or franchise shifts are discussed the usual suspects of Hamilton and Quebec City jump to the top of the list with Winnipeg. Not since the Blues almost ran on off to Saskatoon has a rather unsuspecting northern city been mentioned.

And while we are sure that the hockey fans of the Maritimes would fill the Metro Centre or whatever hockey palace needs to be built for an NHL franchise, we sense it might be a harder sell to the 24 American teams who have a hard enough time dealing with the idea of six Canadian teams right now.

That being said, we would welcome McLean’s dream and expand it by two, Ron should grab a pencil, fill in Quebec City and either Hamilton or Kitchener to his flow chart, bringing the Canadian teams total to ten, Halifax included.

Hell if things fall apart in the US as many suspect they very well may, we’d have a ready made foundation for a league of our own. One which surely would demand that McLean be named a new commissioner.

And maybe if they’re real nice, as a measure of our good faith, we’d let Detroit, Chicago, New York and Boston join in, but only if they were willing to travel west on road trips more than once a year!

Et tu, Eugene?

Not since former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who was mayor of Calgary at the time, proclaimed that the bums and creeps should go back to Ontario, has there been such a backlash towards Central Canada.

But with word leaking out at which cities (hint they’re in the east and north of the border) scuttled the idea of a more equitable schedule and more frequent appearances in the far off territories, the reaction has been rather nasty.

Edmonton, bemoaned the lack of stewardship by the Commissioner who according to reports didn’t exactly smack the table and read the riot act for the good of the game.

The always excitable Vancouver radio shows blasted the self centered decision of the self obsessed of Central Canada, suggesting that they were only in the collective of the NHL for the good of their own franchises and not the game as a whole. (well they used much more descriptive language but we shudder at the cost to national unity if we repeat them verbatim)

They also brought up an interesting point, what will happen to Hockey Day in Canada next year, if lets say the Vancouver Canucks are kept on the coast. Somehow Atlanta and Phoenix as the night cap of the trilogy of hockey schmaltz just isn’t going to wash with the viewers of the Hockey Night in Canada propaganda machine. Another fine tradition laid to waste by the short sighted machinations of the Atlantic Division it seems.

The teams in the Northeast corridor have had a pretty good run of things the last few years; their travel costs are laughable as is the concept of a road trip for teams in the Four State area of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts. In a good month, players on those teams can spend a good portion of each night in their very own beds, while the western teams wonder if they can get one more day out of the underwear before they need to hit a Wal Mart.

The Western teams knew that the vote would be close and that it would be a hard go at the Eastern American teams, but the shock of hearing that Ottawa and Montreal turned their backs on their fellow Canadians and voted for the status quo, was too much to take.

Eventually the ill will probably fades away, but for the immediate period, it’s like a rerun of the seventies, when Central Canada played the villain in Alberta and BC. It’s a good thing that Molson’s no longer owns the Habs because product boycotts have been launched for lesser slights!

The good news for easterners seems to be that Toronto actually cast a vote in favour of a change, which will make it a lot harder to hate the Leafs in Western Canada.

It’s a feeling of goodwill that won’t be extended to the Sens and Habs for the foreseeable future.

Would they rather be super models, instead of super stars?

In a league that reveres the resplendent Don Cherry and his fashion sense, it’s probably not a surprise that NHL players have taken such an interest in fashion over the last few years.

Earlier this week we were treated to the details of how Sidney Crosby had been working through the off season, to help make sure that Reebok got their new uniforms just right. It’s a pretty dedicated young man that will spend hot summer days, testing hockey sweaters but with Reebok poised to become the tailor of choice for the NHL, it’s the least that their head hockey spokesperson could do we guess.

But what’s this, even old hand Brendan Shanahan has taken an interest in NHL Fashions, Shanahan who is on the competition committee as chairman is looking at opening up an old issue of the past year, that of goaltender equipment. Shanahan offered up the following quote to Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail;

"The goalies are going to hate me for saying this, but I think we failed a bit with streamlining their equipment. So much of the focus was on the width of their pads and it's really about their upper bodies. I want to make sure these guys are protected. I just don't understand how a cop can walk down the street in a bullet-proof vest and look normal, yet our goalies have to look like lacrosse goalies or Michelin men in order to stop a puck."

Shanahan’s comments were made as the topic of larger nets came up once again; a prospect that hockey purists are not particularly interested in but still pops up from time to time.

It would be Shanahan’s preference to reduce the bulk of the goaltenders rather than expand the scoring zone behind them, which considering he’s a forward and might make good use of that extra real estate, is a rather far reaching and big picture approach for the chairman.

Time to holster the Young guns?

While he probably isn’t soliciting advice on how he runs his league, Gary Bettman might want to read some of the tea leaves coming out of this years all star break in Dallas.

While the actual all-star game was its typical high scoring, non hitting self, a Harlem Globetrotters like excursion into fancy passing and goal tender abandonment, the real chatter has been about the Young Stars game the night before. And, well Mr. Bettman, cover your ears, because the reaction has not been nice.

The consensus seems to be that the Young Stars showcase should be dumped, the contest which features the young up and coming talent in the NHL was described as a bit of an embarrassment by some, and a debacle by others. You would be hard pressed to find one article or conversation that said it was the event that made the break a success.

It’s not the fault of the youngsters; it’s the format and the concept that is at fault. The four on four thing is ok for a few minutes, but after a while it’s like watching a pre game warm up for sixty minutes, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass oh yeah somebody shoot. It’s as if the writers of the Simpson’s had designed their own form of sporting activity to make sport about.

Compared to the Top Prospects game the week before from Quebec City, Tuesday nights “game” was like pond hockey run amok. You ended up hoping that somebody would shoot the puck into a snow bank and the game would have to be called.

In the end the suggestion was made to increase the All-Star rosters to guarantee a set number of spots for the younger stars of the game, giving them the feeling that their on the main card and not on some wayward sideshow activity.

The skills competition was the highlight of the break, everybody loves to watch the hardest shot, the fastest skater and those pie plate target shooting masters. Perhaps the marketing gang at the NHL can dream up a few more events for that session and holster the Young Guns.

While the All Star game is a bit of a folly at the best of times, it won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Next year its Atlanta’s turn and then it’s back to Montreal to celebrate 100 years of Canadiens hockey.

Some suggest that perhaps the better move might be to invite the Top Prospects to tag along with the All Star traveling show. The problem with that idea though would be that the Prospects game with all of its intensity would probably overshadow the big boys, so we’re not likely to see that anytime soon.

For now, the league needs to look back at what worked and what didn't these last few days, the Edmonton Sun's Jim Matheson , Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison and Sports Illustrated's Kostya Kennedy offer up their advice.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Skils and thrills, or rumours of same.

For those that keep track of these things, Canoe has provided a recap of the Tuesday night skills competition. Which while helpful, isn't exactly the most exciting mode of transmitting the details of the first events of All Star week.

You can also head over to the NHL website, which has some streaming video of the some of the events of All Star week including a red carpet procession and of course the opening address of the Commissioner. (Helpful hint: select the high end versions of the videos, much easier to watch)

We still await some video of the actual skills competion, which has yet to be posted anywhere that we could find.

All of this makes us feel much like the early settlers of North America, waiting patiently for word to come of great events in far off locales.

Quebec City put on notice over 2008 World tournament

With the clock ticking on Hockey Canada's requirement of a strong organizing committee, the Quebec City portion of the 2008 World Hockey Championship tournament could be at risk.

Hockey Canada is expressing a bit of frustration with local authorities in the Quebec capital, and has given them seven days to have a proper committee and some semblance of a business plan in place, or they very well may lose the rights to the games.

The original plan was for Quebec and Halifax to split the tournament, which is venturing out of its normal European base as part of the centennial celebrations of the World Championship. It was also to be used to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City's founding, a year long celebration that Hockey Canada felt would fit in nicely with the IIHF's hopes for the tournament.

Hockey Canada has said that their first preference is still to hold the tournament in Halifax and Quebec City, but that if the city can't get it's act together in the next seven days they'll look at alternative sites, already Winnipeg and Hamilton have been mentioned as possible relocation sites for the recalcitrant Quebecois.

The move is seen by many as a way to make Quebec City's business community step up and rise to the occasion, lest they suffer a black eye over the transfer of hosting duties. Needless to say the threats by Hockey Canada aren't sitting to well with the locals, especially those in the hotel and hospitality industry who stand to gain quite a winfall with the tournament in town.

However, they may have no one but themselves to blame, the mayor had even gone so far as to suggest that she was thinking of reneging on the hosting duties and then turned around and stated that Hockey Canada can't just pull the plug like that, they have a contractual obligation. We believe this is the have our cake and eat it too approach to negotiating eh!

Hockey Canada however is more concerned about expectations, the IIHF by moving their showpiece tournament to Canada for the centennial is hoping for a pretty impressive show. Having questions about organization and funding is not something that they will want to hear about.

While it seems rather tense at the moment, we suspect that as the seven day deadline draws to a close we will find that the tournament will remain in Quebec City, sometimes you need a little incentive to get the wheels moving.

Hockey Canada decided to provide the push, it's up to Quebec City now to decide if they wish to remain on the hockey radar or drop off, perhaps for a good long time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When looking for common sense, don’t cast a glance towards the NHL governors.

Well, my fearless prediction of a bit of sanity to the schedule makers’ routine was a bit off base after all. The NHL Board of Governors sat down in the big boardroom on Tuesday, rolled up t heir sleeves and brought out the elbows. In an 19 to 11 vote, the NHL chose to stick with their current scheduling systems, weighted as it is to divisional and conference play and keeping some of the higher profile teams away from the boondocks outside of their conferences.

The league turned aside the plan, which featured six divisional games and 18 games against the other conference. This at least would provide glimpses of the teams from the far off kingdoms once and a while.

This decision will guarantee at least one more year of endless inter divisional matches and a nice tidy travel package for the north east teams of the Atlantic coast, many of which can go months before they even have to leave their own time zone.

There was the promise that the situation will be addressed once again after the current “cycle” is completed, but for next year it will be much more of the same. A situation that isn’t particularly good for the long term strength of the game.

If you deny a wide swath of your fan base the opportunity to see some of the best stars in the game on a year to year basis, then you shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see the interest in your league drop off.

We tap the CBC sports site for the nasty details from Scott Morrison.

The NHL schedule: better wait 'til next year
Last Updated Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007
by Scott Morrison


DALLAS - It is going to happen, rest assured. One day the schedule format in the NHL is going to change, but that day just wasn't Tuesday.

And the day the change happens won't arrive until after next season.

Indeed, after the league's board of governors Tuesday debated and contemplated two scheduling scenarios (first was a switch to six division games, the second a switch to seven division games), they could not reach a consensus, thus the unbalanced schedule will remain for a third season to complete its cycle.

"After that," predicted Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jimmy Rutherford, "I think there will be change. We just don't know what it will be."

And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For a variety of reasons, the league's deepest thinkers barely resisted the temptation to change now, with one key reason being the current uncertainty over where the Pittsburgh Penguins will be playing next year.

Interestingly, when the governors met in December and first decided not to change the matrix, 23 teams supported the notion of considering proposals. Tuesday, that number was down to the required minimum of 20.

So the discussion ensued. When it came time to vote on the first proposal, of going back to the pre-lockout scenario of six division games, four conference and 18 other, it was rejected by a 19-11 vote. The scenario of reducing to just seven division games, which was supported by commissioner Gary Bettman, was voted down 18-12. One or two votes short.

"One vote," said Rutherford, "or one-third of the league opposed it."

Good point.

What was interesting is that Ottawa did not entirely favour the proposals and it's believed Montreal didn't, either. Ottawa wanted to see a reduction in the number of conference games, not division. They proposed going to seven division and three conference games. There was no vote on that proposal.

"We decided the schedule we are using now is a three-year cycle and we haven't finished the second year of it," said Rutherford. "You can't be changing every one or two years. It makes more sense to take more time and study it."

Since the league's first expansion in 1967 they have used 13 different scheduling formats. So, obviously, finding one for the ages as the league changes and the personnel change is not easy. Or perhaps not even practical. One of the big issues now, of course, is that there are teams that want to see Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin every year. Others want that and for the Canadian teams to play each other every year. That won't happen next year. Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa won't play the western Canadian teams.

As one governor put, though: "We need to sell the game itself, not just games against one or two players."

Of course, they need to market those players to sell the game, which leads to something of a conundrum. How do you fully expose them if they don't play against every team, every year?
A variety of teams, obviously, are not pleased with the results of Tuesday, though, interestingly the 19 that voted for one format and the 18 that voted for the other didn't involve all the same teams. So, in essence, there was an appetite for change but not everyone could agree on the meal.

One team that is not pleased are the Edmonton Oilers, whose governor Cal Nicholls was asked he if wished Bettman had shown more leadership in pushing through change. Nicholls said: "I wish he would have" then alluded to politics interfering with the good of the game.

In the end, there were no shortage of hard feelings, just as they were in Florida two months ago the first time this exercise failed.

"It was decided to finish the cycle and decide what to do after that," said Bettman. "We've started something and we are going to finish it. Our research shows that most fans like it the way it is. That's why I felt if we were going to tweak it, let's have the least amount of change (eight division games to seven)."

That day will come. But it is at least 365 days away.

Meantime, if the league can avoid having teams play five times in 20 days, or three times in 10 days, it might make the existing schedule a little easier to digest.

NOTES: In other business, the league is looking to improve the video review process by upgrading the technology in buildings over the summer, with improved positioning and the addition of high definition cameras. They are also planning on putting a monitor in the penalty boxes so the referees can see the review and be hooked up to the Toronto review room. The Toronto office would still make the calls, but the referees would be able to discuss and understand them ... On the Penguins arena front, discussions continue but the 30-day deadline Mario Lemieux set arrives Feb. 4. The sense is for purposes of potentially relocating and scheduling, a decision will have to be made in the next two weeks ... Montreal was awarded the 2009 NHL all-star game. It coincides with celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the franchise.

Schedule makers to be front and centre at all star break

The theory on scheduling is, that by the end of the all star week festivities the NHL will announce a return to a more equitable scheduling process. One that at least will see each team, play in each market, at least once per season.

It will bring an end to the current foolishness of having some of the league's top talents exiled to the east or west divisions, with only infrequent forays into the other division every few years. That has been one of the biggest complaints by the fans this season, the fact that Vancouver for instance, may not see Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa or Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future, a ludicrous situation that punishes the fan for being a loyal season ticket holder.

If, as the rumours suggest the league will return to its pre lockout scheduling system, (a rumour that may require Lou Lamoriello to be locked in his hotel room until after the vote) then at least the fans will see some of these hot talents that are but rumours to many NHL cities.

Ken Campbell of the Hockey News had the inside stuff on the issues of these meetings, including those plans to at least spread the wealth of talent out across the entire NHL map next season.

NHL's schedule issue to be solved Thursday
KEN CAMPBELL
The Hockey News

January 23, 2007

DALLAS — The NHL will have its much-maligned schedule dealt with once and for all when the board of governors meets Tuesday and the betting is the league will likely go back to the pre-lockout format that saw all 30 teams face each other at least once a season.

And as far as Colorado Avalanche superstar Joe Sakic is concerned, that's the way it should be.

"Every player I've talked to . . . they're sick of it," Sakic said. "For us, it will be more travel, so you get on a plane and it's an extra hour. What's the big deal?"

While there's no guarantee the schedule will change, one source close to the board of governors said Sunday there is an appetite to alter a format that sees teams play their division rivals eight times a season and teams in the other conference just once every three years.

"I think the ones who want change will get a vote their way," the source said. "What will probably happen is that they'll say, 'Hey, this matrix isn't perfect, but it's a lot better than what we have now.' "

Chances are things will go back to the format used pre-lockout, where each teams plays its divisional opponents six times instead of eight, then plays four games against each of the teams in the other divisions in their conference. That would leave 18 games against teams in the other conference. Teams would play against each team in the other conference once, leaving three games for home-and-home series against traditional rivals.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has not taken a stand on the issue so far and has basically allowed teams to make their cases, but one source said it might be time for the league to step in. The feeling is that if there is an appetite for change, Bettman will facilitate it.

But Bettman remains unconvinced there will be the two-thirds majority required to make a change.

"What has happened is we've given this a very thorough examination and nobody as yet has suggested something that everybody likes better, which tells you that there's a great deal of merit in the current schedule," Bettman said. "There are some people . . . not a lot, not a majority, not even close to a majority who are critical of (the current format). When we put this to bed, everyone will be comfortable, one way or another."

One thing is for sure, said deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the league will put this matter to bed once and for all and will move on with its schedule. It is thought that the impetus for change exists with a number of western teams whose fans are not afforded the opportunity to see young eastern stars such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

The teams in the eastern United States are thought to be in favour of the current schedule with New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, who holds an enormous amount of sway over the board, leading the charge.

The league is also expected to discuss the Pittsburgh Penguins situation, but Bettman said Sunday he's content at the moment to allow the process in Pittsburgh to play itself to a conclusion. Daly said the NHL would likely need to know within a month about the Penguins fate.

Contrary to reports, both Bettman and Daly said there will be no discussion at the meeting about future expansion, making nets bigger or increasing the number of teams in the playoffs to 20. There has been talk that the league might allow 10 teams per conference into the post-season, with the seven, eight, nine and 10 seeds playing a mini-tournament in the first round.

"I don't think that has a lot of momentum right now," Bettman said. "If you increase the number of teams making the playoffs by four — and I'm not saying we're considering it — while the ninth and 10th teams get a shot that they didn't have, the seventh and eighth teams are now forced to participate in a wild card without being guaranteed a chance to advance.

And all of a sudden you're thinking, 'Wait a minute, if I'm seventh or eighth, I want a chance to be like Edmonton and have a shot of going the whole way without adding an extra round."

Sidney Crosby, Fashion consultant


Well, Sid the kid, is branching out! Not content to just fashioning up passing plays and scoring attempts, the Pittsburgh kid can add fashion consultant to his impressive resume.

While he wasn't sitting down to the sewing machine each and every night to make the all star break deadline, Crosby was quite involved in the design process for the much ballyhooed new look launched on Monday.

And as would be expected from a guy that gets a fair amount of coin from the folks at Rebok, Sid is pretty impressed with the new duds that he and his fellow NHLers will be wearing next year.

Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail had the details on the latest creation from the House of Crosby.



Crosby a driving force behind new uniforms
ERIC DUHATSCHEK
Globe and Mail Update

January 23, 2007

Sidney Crosby was front-and-centre again Monday as Reebok officially launched its new RBK Edge uniform system. By then, of course, many of the details had already leaked out. USA Today ran a major feature, with accompanying pictorials; the league discussed the pros and cons of the new "system" with the Canadian Press, and Brian Jennings, the NHL vice president of consumer products had, according to Bloomberg News, suggested if players tampered with the design, as they are wont to do, they could face fines, in the same way that NBA, NFL and major-league baseball players do for not adhering to the league mandated dress code.

Jennings denied that that would ever happen and revealed that next year, when the system goes into regular use, players can wear whatever pants or socks they want, no matter who manufactures them.

Crosby, who has an endorsement deal with Reebok, said he worked with the company "pretty much all summer" on the new pants' design.

"I'm pretty picky, so I think I'm a good guy to test things out when it comes to equipment. Sometimes, I'm a trainer's worst nightmare. But I think it's important. I think all the guys respect that. They want to be better out there on the ice."
Crosby gave the new look a thumbs-up and said of the jersey: "It's a lot lighter and it's a bit tighter, but at the same time, it's moving with you instead of going against you. Selfishly, you think too that defencemen aren't going to be able to grab onto your jersey as much as they are now. They say they don't, but sometimes, they do. It's just nice to see the technology going forward.

"We're in a new era in the NHL. Why not do the same thing with the jersey?"

Reebok began experimenting with the uniform changes more than three seasons ago, according to Matthew O'Toole, president and chief executive officer of Reebok-CCM Hockey, to capitalize on the new materials available to them.

They cited innumerable statistics, suggesting the new pants would provide 61 per cent better protection for the hips and that the water-repellent technology would retain 76 per cent less moisture throughout the game.

Naturally, Alexander Ovechkin, Crosby's main foil in the new NHL, probably summed it up best. It may be about comfort and it may be about speed, but mostly, "it's about looking good."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Saint Patrick no more?


Patrick Roy is said to be rethinking his place in Junior hockey, after a weekend incident in which he is alleged to have manhandled a rival Junior hockey executive.

The trouble apparently began when Roy’s Quebec Remparts attempted to leave the home rink of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, but had their path to their team bus blocked by an angry crowd consisting of about fifty local fans and possibly team officials.

The Quebec police are investigating the incident in the Saguenay area of Quebec which took place on Friday night; the incident has become the big story in the overcharged media atmosphere of Quebec, a situation that has the NHL Hall of Famer questioning his place in the junior circuit.

The Quebec icon has stated that he was not involved in any wrongdoing and that he and his team had nothing to apologize for. And the fact that the host team did not provide proper security for the visiting Remparts squad probably does work in Roy’s favour.

Roy is the head coach and co-owner of the Remparts, the defending Memorial cup champions. His tenure in junior hockey has been a rocky one at times, with more than a few feuds heating up between his Remparts and other Q league teams.

Last year there was much made over some potential animosity between Roy and Ted Nolan the coach of the host club Wildcats. And of course Roy is famously known for his public exit from the Montreal Canadiens, when he stared down not only his head coach of the day Mario Tremblay, but owner Ronald Corey as well. It’s a moment that is forever played whenever temperamental hockey players are mentioned.

Ironically, Chicoutimi is the same place that Ted Nolan had his worst moments as a coach in the Q, giving him now something to break the ice with Roy over should their paths ever cross again. If nothing else it seems to show a pattern of less than respectful behvaiour on the behalf of the Northern Quebec community

For the Quebec league it would be rather big hole to fill, should Roy decide to end his affiliation with the team and league. He has been rather generous with his junior squad, making sure that their touring bus is nothing but the best in quality and services, running a top flight franchise in a level of hockey that sometimes likes to scrimp and save at the expense of the players. As well, his name alone is the lure on many a night when the Remparts visit the vast outposts of the Q, many go to the game just to watch one of Quebec’s favourite sons coach behind the bench.

One would think that, depending on the police investigation, the Q will do all that they can to dissuade their fiery lodge member from cashing in his markers and moving on to some other venture.

Saskin and Chelios at the Movies

The internal dispute within the NHLPA may be getting ready to heat up once again. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun has some juicy information about yet more trouble in the house of labour at the NHLPA.

There is talk around the players that perhaps a re-examination is needed into the happenings that led to the appointment of Ted Saskin as director of the NHLPA. Making the rounds of the 700 NHL players' mail boxes in the next week will be competing DVD's which outline the positions of Saskin and those of the players that have never really accepted him as their leader.

That group seems to be using Chris Chelios as the point man, he is reportedly appearing in the renegade video in which his questions voiced last summer regarding Saskin's hiring are used to try and spur the membership onto a review.

That DVD will be followed up by one by Saskin himself where he tells his side of the seemingly never ending controversy.

While it wouldn't count as a groundswell of support yet, there are still enough questions and more than a few disillusioned association members out there that Saskin's hold on his organization may not be as strong as he thinks.

With a week off for all but the elite players of the league, those that don't escape to some sun spot destination with the family can fire up the ole DVD player and pop in some night time viewing.

We'll wait to see what genre the presentations are placed into, comedy, thriller or even murder mystery (well career wise anyways).

Friday, January 19, 2007

The All Star shined and the near star scored!

The Vancouver Canucks brought their traveling eastern road show in Ottawa Thursday night and gave a pretty good visual on why Roberto Luongo has been named to the All Star squad for next week.

The Canuck goaltender held off a continuous Ottawa attack to keep the Canuck’s winning ways on the road in the plus column as the Canucks edged out the Senators 2-1, Thursday night at Scotiabank Place.

Luongo was simply amazing as he knocked down and away 34 of 35 shots directed his way, including a 14 shot avalanche of Senator shots in the third period, a period which saw Vancouver cooped up in their own end unable to cross the Ottawa blue line and test Ray Emery.

Taylor Pyatt put the Canucks ahead with a goal in the second period, breaking a scoreless period of play in the first. That goal was followed up at the thirteen minute mark when Rory Fitzpatrick scored his first goal as a Canuck, a timely show of skill that will haunt all star voters for at least the next two minutes or so. Fitzpatrick’s goal gave the Canucks a cushion that Luongo would parlay into a victory, sending the Senators off to their bench time and time again to shake their heads.

Only Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson could solve the Luongo riddle with the Sens only goal of the night with thirteen minutes to go in the third. His goal brought to an end a remarkable run of shut out hockey for the Canucks goaltender, who had ruled over 154 minutes 42 seconds of shutout hockey.

Despite the close nature of the score, the play was clearly in the control of the Sens who outshot the Canucks 35-14 on the night, an entertaining if somewhat frustrating experience for the sell out crowd in Ottawa.

The Canucks finish off their Eastern swing Friday night in Buffalo, a chance to feed a little further on their Eastern competition which sees Vancouver with a 6-1 record thus far against eastern teams.

They eventually have to give Luongo a rest, but few expect that it will be Friday night as the high octane Sabres will be looking to get back on track against the Canucks. Luongo will probably get the nod for one more night, have a week less a period of play at the upcoming all start game to rest up and then it will be back to doing what many a Canuck fan had prayed to the hockey God’s for, provide solid dependable and winning goaltending.

So far, he’s been everything advertised and much much more. Just ask the players of Toronto, Montreal and now Ottawa.

New duds a dud with Cox and many others


Count Damien Cox of the Toronto Star as unimpressed with the new look unis destined for an NHL dressing room in the fall. Cox takes issue with the uniform change in his blog item for the Star on Thursday, and it's rather hard to argue with him. He suggests that the uniform debate is another example of the league concentrating on things that don't matter while the important issues get left behind things like declining attendance, a too long schedule and poor teams in the largest of markets.

Instead, it's all about a change of the uniforms, and while the Commissioner tries to sell the change as one of comfort for the players, few fans are seemingly buying it. Instead the NHL seems determined to make a change that no one had been calling for and which won't have a huge impact on bringing the game back in the US. In fact it very well may cause more damage as the league alienates its Canadian fans even more. While most will hold their opinions until they actually see the things, tampering with the tradition of the hockey sweater is something that you do at your peril.

For one thing, the hockey uniform is actually one of the more treasured of collectibles of the four pro sports uniforms. Countless kids and adults have through the years purchased the loose fitting uniform as a fashion accessory, the idea of them wanting to move to(let alone spend for) a form fitting wind resistant top doesn't seem probable.

And for the most part hockey uniforms have a style all let alone a history all to their own, while we could do without the new look Sabres unis and those horrid things of the eighties that the Canucks would wear, for many hockey fans and traditionalists the hockey uniform was a sacred cloth, one need look no further than Roch Carrier's short story The Hockey Sweater to understand it's importance in the fabric of Canadian life.
It's that tradition that Gary Bettman risks tampering with, already on thin ice over other moves that have changed the game, the Reebok uniform decision may come back to haunt him quite a bit.

On Prime Time Sports on Thursday, Bob McCown's panel discussed the uniform controversy and for the most part turned thumbs down on the idea, giving hockey fans hope by remembering the days of the Cooperalls, those unibody contraptions that did away with hockey pants and leggings. That didn't last long, hockey purists are hoping that the Reebok uniform plan follows a similar fate.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A galaxy of stars and that was just behind the bench

The Top Prospects game for 2007 took place on Wednesday night at Le Colisee in Quebec City. An annual showcase of young talent available for the NHL entry draft later this year. With the forty top youngsters in Canadian Junior hockey on the ice at Le Colisee, there wasn't a scout worth his weight in hockey pucks that had not booked a ticket to Quebec City for the big event.

However, there were a couple of interesting absences to the annual event, the usual coaches of the showcase game are one Donald S. Cherry and Robert G. Orr, neither were behind the bench on Wednesday, described by the CHL as unavailable for the night. Conspiracy theorists will be busy compiling their essays on why the change was made when the game went to Quebec, with even Cherry himself suggesting that his appearance might have turned the game into a circus, detracting from the showcase that it's supposed to be for the kids.

So with the two regular guns holstered, the QMJHL pulled out a few big guns of their own to stand behind the bench and offer guidance to the looksee kids. Legendary coach Scotty Bowman, joined long time Quebec favourite Jacques Demers and current Quebec Remparts coach Patrick Roy behind the bench of the home white squad, while former Nordique head coach Michel Bergeron, long time NHL coach Pat Burns, who looked pretty good considering his recent health troubles joined Benoit Groulx the coach of the Gatineau Olympics behind the Red team bench.

In the end the final score was 5-3 in favour of Team Red, which got off to a fast start and had to hold off a spirited comeback by the White squad. Of the fourty players that took to the ice, the two on the Red Team that made the most impact and probably increased their draft level significantly were the Remparts Ruslan Bashkirov who picked up two goals in the game and Akim Aliu of the Sudbury Wolves of impressed Burns with his size and his determination on the ice.

Over on the White Team, Jacques Demers was waxing eloquently about Colton Gillies and Brandon Sutter, son of former NHLer Brent Sutter, as players on his team that impressed.

While its only one game, it's a chance to step up your game a bit on a national stage and give the scouts a reason to make hotel reservations in Rimouski, North Bay and Prince Albert during the winter to keep up with their prospects.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'm too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, So sexy it hurts

NHLers may be singing the vibe of Right Said Fred shortly as the new designer cut uniforms are prepared for their unveiling.

Rebok and the NHL will provide a sneak preview Wednesday in New York as the form fitting uniforms are unveiled. A full presentation is planned for the all star break in Dallas.

The new uniforms will be worn in the NHL all star game on January 24th and then go into regular use at the start of next season.

The new uniforms are sleeker, less baggy but apparently not constricting and they are water resistant, which is rather important as we head into the warmer months of the playoffs and games that go into June.

The NHL wanted to avoid the problems that Team Canada had with their new look Nike uniforms at the Turin Olympics, which were considered too tight and met with less than universal acclaim.

The uniforms were designed and refined with consultation of the players, who tested them out in training camps and at regular season practices to help Rebok get the right design for the makeover.

Of course the jury will still be out until that master of style has his say on the new look threads. We anxiously await the verdict of the NHL’s own Mr. Blackstone, Don Cherry, now a fellow that dresses like he does surely will be able to offer up the definitive word on NHL fashion!

Monday, January 15, 2007

You can do it, they can help.

They probably won't come over and water the rink or help shovel off the snow, but for the backyard rink builders of Canada, The Home Depot is on your side.

Once again the home supply chain is joining the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada in a backyard rink building contest, with the winning rink receiving the grand prize of a trip for four to a Stanley Cup final game, including airfare, accommodation and a 1,000 dollar gift card from The Home Depot.

The winning rink will be announced live on Hockey Night in Canada on March 3, 2007.

The closing date for submissions is February 18th and there's a list of rules and regulations to take a look at here. For those new the wonderful joys of building a backyard rink, the contest features a how to do this page on the website.

Last year, northwest BC was the lucky winner of the Backyard rink contest as the JohnTaylor family rink became the talk of not only the town but the entire nation.

This year might be a bit more of a challenge than others for would be rink builders, winter has been off to a late start in many parts of Canada, though the prairies seem to be locked into the deep freeze which should help in the freezing process. The elements will be a little harder to overcome in coastal British Columbia, where the more traditional monsoon like rains are beginning to return.

Perhaps they can create a new category for the coast, underwater hockey, fill up the pool throw in a puck and don't forget to come up for air once and awhile.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Don't forget about the kids

As Hockey Day in Canada 2007 comes to an end, an article featuring some interesting observations on the state of minor hockey in the Great White North. The Hamilton Spectator asked a number of participants, both adult and youth, to take a look at where the game is today and how it can be made better.

It makes for some good reading and offers up some important suggestions for those who may have forgotten what the spirit of Hockey Day in Canada is all about.

Hockey Day in Canada
Those who love the game have plenty of solid suggestions
By John KernaghanThe Hamilton Spectator(Jan 13, 2007)


You're going to see lots of warm and cuddly images today as CBC's Hockey Day in Canada dominates the public network.

And that's OK. The game has plenty of upside at all levels to enjoy and cherish.
But it is flawed, deeply in some cases. We asked people close to hockey what they would do if they could be god of the game for a day.

Dale Hawerchuk, former National Hockey League star:
"Get rid of the nutbar parents."

Hawerchuk, who will play a charity game Feb. 18 at Copps Coliseum with the Legendary Hockey Heroes, says banishing overbearing parents will allow their kids to have more fun and make them better players at the same time.

"Kids enjoy and get better at the game when their parents back off."

In fact, Hawerchuk says many players make it to the NHL because they've had parents who have stepped back and let them grow naturally within the game.

Peter Martin, president of the Hamilton Minor Hockey Council:

Make all rinks in North America Olympic sized, lengthen the season for AAA players eight to 17 years of age and space out games and practices to let them and their parents have a life outside hockey, return entry-level hockey to unstructured play.

"If we're developing high skills, give the players a bigger surface to showcase it," says Martin of the Olympic rink dimensions.

He said a severely compacted AAA season limits the social life of players and means many leave the game after age 14. Also, Martin believes throwing kids into highly structured games early means many rarely touch the puck.

"Our young kids have one game and one half-ice practice a week. That means nine minutes of competition, often with few touches of the puck, and perhaps three minutes handling one in a practice."

He believes in letting children to age 11 play free-form or shinny hockey instead of strictly coached games and learning skills in practice with tactical aspects being introduced from 11 up.
But as Martin points out, parents are highly resistant to unstructured play, no matter that it's more fun.

Sue Clark, president of the Hamilton Hawks Girls Hockey Association:

"More exposure for the girls. The media doesn't offer much about them. Women's hockey is developing quite fast and there is little recognition."

Don Lever, head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs: "Go back to wood sticks. The new ones are way too expensive for kids and families."

Lever says that he'd get rid of the composite hockey sticks, even at the professional hockey level.

"They're always breaking and they're so light pucks just bounce off them."

Rich Cooke, past president of the Hamilton Minor Hockey Council:

"Put an end to parents crapping on minor hockey officials."

Cooke, who also chairs a discipline committee for the council, said abusive and whining parents can drive volunteer coaches and low-paid officials away from the game.

"It seems that at this time in our society parents think their kids are never wrong."

Devin Landry, 10, atom hockey player:

"Make penalties for hitting from behind at least a two-game suspension instead of one."

Adam Brown, 11, Stoney Creek minor peewee hockey player:

"There should be a suspension for hits to the head or hits with the hands up over the shoulders."

Jeffrey Beattie, 10, Hamilton atom hockey player:

"Everybody should wear visors in the NHL and if young players can't afford to play someone should help them."

Jack Beattie, 9, Hamilton atom hockey player:

"No-touch icing in the NHL and skills competitions for atom players so they can get better."

jkernaghan@thespec.com
905-526-3422