Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Hockey Night At The Ballpark

For those that are unaware, the move Slap Shot is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. While we've lost Paul Newman in that time, there are still a number of stars who are enjoying the fruits of their work since filming the movie. Tonight, the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball's Winnipeg Goldeyes decided to honour the movie and a few of its stars by donning the above uniforms in the style of the Charlestown Chiefs!

As you may know, I'm usually against cross-sport promotions, but the connection between a minor-league "AA" baseball team and a minor-league fictional hockey team are about as far apart as one can get. In essence, this was like any Star Wars night or any other movie-themed night at the ballpark to me. The fact that it had to do with a hockey-themed movie made sit up and take notice.

In town for the Slap Shot 40th Anniversary Golf Tournament at St. Boniface Golf Club to raise funds and awareness for concussion research, prevention, and treatment were Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson, and Denis Lemieux who all had prominent roles in the movie. The three men were in the concourse at Shaw Park to meet fans and sign autographs, but the issue of concussions was a topic at the forefront all week and at tonight's game.

"I can look back and tell you know that I had concussions," Hanson told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

"The treatment then was sit on the bench, see how you feel later and if you're alert and you don't puke all night long, you're playing the next day."

While the treatment and recognition of symptoms of concussions has changed dramatically over the last forty years, the fact that Hanson and Carlson are in town to talk about concussions despite depicting the most violent hockey captured on film seems a little ironic. Knowing that Hanson and Carlson most likely suffered from concussions, however, is why both men are here to try to raise funds for the reasearch, prevention, and treatement of the injury.

"Forty years ago when the movie came out you weren't aware of concussions and the life-changing effects they can have," Hanson said. "Fortunately 40 years later we're all still together, we're alive and in good health. Some of us in this group have concussion symptoms to this day so it's great for us to have an opportunity to come out and be a part of this type of event and be involved."

The golf tournament happened earlier in the day, and it seems that everyone enjoyed the atmosphere while helping out a couple of great initiatives that deal in concussion research. All proceeds from the tournament went to support the StopConcussions Foundation and Shoot for a Cure (SFAC) campaign. The StopConcussions Foundation is a concussion/neurotrauma educational and awareness platform for all sports, to address the growing trend of concussions in sports. It is an educational portal that players, parents, coaches and officials can visit to seek information regarding concussions, with the goal of becoming more aware and ultimately safer individuals in their respective sports. SFAC is a fundraising campaign that aims to reduce the incidence of concussions as well as to fund research to find a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries.

Personally, this great event should happen more often as we see kids and teenagers diagnosed more often with concussions and concussion-like symptoms.

"We want kids to play sports," Kerry Goulet, a StopConcussions co-founder, told Wyman. "Hockey is so much more than the actual game itself and we want kids to experience that. However, there's a caveat to that. We've got to make sure that if you are playing sports, get educated. If you're a parent putting your kid in sport, just understand that cause, effect and consequences. If there are injuries, follow proper protocols to allow your young son or daughter or even yourself to come back and play and play safe. We want to mitigate the risk, we're not going to eliminate it."

In the end, raising money for research, treatment, and prevention of concussions is just makes sense. Brain injuries are often hidden, and the symptoms sometimes don't appear for hours. By learning more about the causes and treatment of these injuries and by investing in research for better protocols to identify concussions or concussion-like symptoms is a wise investment for everybody involved in sport.

As for the ballgame, the Winnipeg Goldeyes were hosting the Sioux City Explorers and found themselves down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning when Wes Darvill drove in Shawn Pleffner on his double and the Explorers walked in a run on four pitches to pinch-hitter Casey Turgeon with the bases loaded to score David Bergin to make it a 3-3 game after seven innings. The next inning would see Pleffner drive in Reggie Ambercrombie with a single to right-field after Ambercrombie had singled and stole second base to put the Fish up 4-3 in their come-from-behind rally!

With closer Ryan Chaffee on the hill in the ninth inning, things got a little tense with the Explorers advancing a runner to third base with two outs, but Chaffee induced a ground ball off hitter LeVon Washington for the game's final out and his 19th save of the year on Hockey Night at the Ballpark!

Even in baseball, we're seeing more concussions, so I'm 100% behind having hockey stars - even fictional ones - speak out in support of concussion research. All sports have seen an uptick in concussion reporting as science gets better at diagnosing concussions, so more money for research and prevention is needed. Having members of Slap Shot speak candidly about concussions is one thing, but having them help raise money for research is entirely a good thing.

Well done to all involved on this night and at the golf tournament, and those Goldeyes jerseys are incredible!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 21 August 2017

The Boys Are Back In Town

It's only August. I say that because it feels odd to be writing about serious hockey on August 21, but the KHL kicked off its regular season today and kicked off its tenth anniversary. I was actually surprised that the KHL is only celebrating ten years since it feels like they've been around forever, but ten years ago the KHL started up its operations. While I haven't been keeping a close on the KHL as they prepare for this season and today's game between CSKA and SKA St. Petersburg, there are a few things that people should note about the upcoming tenth-anniversary season.

While we didn't see any major names defect to the KHL for the opportunity to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics, there were a few players who opted for the Russian circuit as opposed to playing in North America under an NHL team. Justin Fontaine, Ryan Garbutt, Dwight King, Quinton Howden, Chris Lee, Andrei Markov, Alexei Marchenko, Mikhail Grigorenko, Ben Scrivens, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jhonas Enroth, and Stanislav Galiev all opted for KHL contracts rather than trying to fight their way onto an NHL roster. All these men probably would have been good depth signings for a number of NHL teams, but they'll take their efforts over to the KHL with the hopes of making the Olympic rosters of their respective teams.

Markov is an interesting case of the above names, though, as he literally only wanted to play in Montreal. When it was clear that Montreal was moving on from the 38 year-old defender, he didn't hesitate at turning to the KHL when it came to his next contract. Markov signed with Ak Bars Kazan after Danis Zaripov's suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. The move reunites Markov with his former coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov whom he played under with Dynamo Moscow. Markov made it clear that this connection was part of the reason he chose Ak Bars Kazan over other clubs.

"The fact that I played for Zinetula Bilyaletdinov at Dynamo, before I even went to the NHL, played a significant part," Markov told khl.ru. "I know what he expects of his players, and I'm really glad that we'll be working together again. You could say that it's thank to him that I became the player I am."

I suspect that Markov will have a good year with Kazan under Bilyaletdinov as their top defender. Markov has played the most NHL games by any Russian player at 990, and those 990 games have given him experience against the best players in the world. The transition to the larger ice will take some adjustments, but I'm going on record to say that Markov will have a great year statistically in the KHL.

"Iron" Mike Keenan will step back behind a bench after last helping Metallurg Magnitogorsk to a Gagarin Cup parade, only this time he will be running the bench for Kunlun Red Star. The 1984-85 Jack Adams Award winner and 1994 Stanley Cup winner will direct the KHL's youngest team which features a nearly brand new roster from last season where the squad made the playoffs. Keenan, who is in charge of the Chinese national hockey program, will get a first-hand experience with a lot of the players he's hoping will restore glory to the Chinese program as the Red Star roster is loaded with a number of players with Chinese heritage.

"We can call our players talented, but they are not superstars like Mozyakin, Zaripov or Kovar," Keenan said at a press conference over the summer. "Plus, there's a layer of Chinese prospects who will hope to be part of the Beijing Olympics in 2022. It's going to be interesting to see how everything plays out during the season."

There is a new wrinkle to the KHL this season. The KHL will move from a best-of-three shootout format to a best-of-five shootout format. Adding two additional shooters to the mandatory list of shooters will give the KHL teams with a pile of talent a chance to showcase that talent even more. Will this be a burden to the teams with less talent? We'll see how this plays out during the season.

Of players who have yet to sign or retired this summer, Kazakhstani netminder Vitaly Kolesnik hasn't signed with a club as of yet, but the 37 year-old should be a depth signing in the KHL somewhere if he decides he wants to play. The 2006 Olympian and four-time World Championship participant still plays at a high level, but he's being pushed by the youth in the KHL.

Former Maurice Richard Award winner Jonathan Cheechoo is also sitting on the sidelines at the time of writing. He will hold a special place in the KHL as he scored Zagreb Medvescak's first-ever KHL goal before also playing with Dinamo Minsk and Slovan Bratislava. He'll be 38 this season, so finding a roster might be tough for the former San Jose Sharks sniper.

American Brandon Bochenski decided at the conclusion of last season to call it quits. The 35 year-old forward had a number of excellent seasons with Barys Astana, recording 397 points in 399 KHL games. He even claimed Kazakhstani citizenship to represent the team on the international stage after serving for so long in the Kazakhstan capital. His loss is a big loss for the American Olympic squad, and he will be hard to replace for Barys Astana as well.

Aside from the three players suspended for doping this summer, it has been a pretty solid off-season for the KHL as they embark on their tenth anniversary season. Who will win the Gagarin Cup in this anniversary season? We'll know in a few short months!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Biggest Draft Class Yet

The CWHL Draft happened today. If you happen not to follow any hockey people on social media, you may have missed it, but I'm pretty certain if you're reading this blog you follow at least one person, right? Regardless, the CWHL Draft welcomed a brand-new class of players today to its seven teams as the two Chinese teams - Kunlun Red Star and Vanke Rays - made their first selections ever in a CWHL Draft, and the Thunder selected its first players under its new Markham locale. In short, today was a pretty special day for the decade-old women's hockey league, and there's a lot of reason for optimism as the CWHL embarks on its eleventh season of play!

We'll start with the Boston Blades who held the first-overall pick. Newly-announced GM Jessica Martino selected Union College forward Courtney Turner with the first pick, and the Milton, Massachusetts-born Turner might have raised a few eyebrows as the top selection.

During her four years at Union College, Turner amassed 11 goals and 17 assists in 83 NCAA games, but missed the entire 2014-15 season due to a torn ACL. She did lead Union in scoring in her freshman year, but her two points last season was more due to the knee injury she suffered midway through the season. I could probably write a whole entry on Union's women's program and the many flaws in it, but know that when she did play for Union she was an effective scoring threat and made the players around her better. That's why Martino drafted her, in this writer's opinion, with the Blades' first pick.

The Toronto Furies were up next, and they chose Boston College forward Kristyn Capizzano with their first selection. There's no real mystery why Capizzano was an easy selection for Toronto. In her four seasons with Boston College, Capizzano scored 45 goals and 57 assists in 155 games, and she was an assistant captain for the Eagles in her senior year. The Oakville, Ontario native played in all situations with the Eagles, and she was a valued two-way player in all four years. Toronto nabbed a great player in Capizzano who will help them at both ends of the ice.

The first pick made by the Thunder as the Markham Thunder was Quinnipiac University defender Nicole Kosta. I'm not sure how or why Kosta is listed as a defender when she was a forward at Quinnipiac, but I just report these things. Kosta scored 39 goals and 84 assists in 137 games with the Bobcats over her five-year NCAA career, and that includes the 2013-14 season where she didn't play due to injury. Nicole suited up with the NWHL's Connecticut Whale last season where she notched six goals and eleven assists in 21 games as a forward. If they are going to use Kosta as a defender, she will give them a major boost on the offensive production from the back-end. If they use her as a forward, she's a proven scorer as well. Either way, the Thunder got a good player in the Mississauga-born Kosta.

In what might have been the first no-brainer pick of the draft, les Canadiennes de Montreal selected McGill University forward Mélodie Daoust with their first selection. Besides being an outstanding scorer at the U Sports level in Canada, she was part of the 2014 Canadian Winter Olympic team that won gold at the Sochi Olympics. She was named as the CIS Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, and became the first player to be named as CIS Player of the Year the season following her rookie campaign. In 79 U Sports games, Daoust scored 71 goals and 96 assists - and that includes missing a season for the Olympics and part of the 2014-15 season with a knee injury! She might be the best pure scorer in the draft, and she's now part of les Canadiennes.

The second Quinnipiac Bobcat had her name called next as the Calgary Inferno opted to select defender Taryn Baumgardt fifth-overall. The Innisfail, Alberta native scored 12 goals and 31 assists in 150 NCAA games, and was one of Quinnipiac's most reliable defenders. She was in second in blocked shots last season with 57, and she was used in all situations for the Bobcats. While her point totals won't wow anyone, her versatility in all three zones will play nicely into the Inferno's systems. Baumgardt will be an excellent, steadying player for the Inferno this season.

Kunlun Red Star selected next, and they chose a player who we had already known would be heading to China. With their first selection in CWHL history, Kunlun Red Star selected Finnish goaltender Noora Räty. The 28 year-old's name should be fairly well known thanks to her long career with the Finnish national team and with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. She holds six NCAA records including winning percentage at 1.000, wins in a season with 38, and most wins all-time with 114. She's a two-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist, a two-time NCAA champion, and an Olympic bronze medalist. Raty's reputation proceeds her in almost all situations, and she'll now try to help Kunlun Red Star capture the Clarkson Cup this season.

The Vanke Rays would make their first selection in CWHL history next as the final pick of Round One, and they selected Clarkson Golden Knights forward Cayley Mercer with the seventh-overall selection. Mercer's four-year career at Clarkson saw her crack the 20-goal plateau three times, and she finished her NCAA career with 80 goals and 98 assists in 160 games. She's a two-time NCAA champion, was a Patty Kazmaier nominee in her senior year, and is particularly skilled in winning face-offs. If Vanke wanted scoring, they'll get it in bunches with Cayley Mercer.

There were some other notable players who were selected in later rounds. These choices include:
  • Lindsay Grigg - Markham Thunder (R2, 10th-overall). Grigg is a skilled defender who played one season in the NWHL before moving to HV71 in Sweden. She served as an alternate captain with HV71 and recorded eight goals and ten assists.
  • Kelly Murray - Calgary Inferno (R2, 12th-overall). Murray led all defenders in scoring in Canada West last season as a member of the UBC Thunderbirds, and helped UBC win the Canada West title and the bronze medal at the U Sports National Women's Hockey Championship.
  • Alex Carpenter - Kunlun Red Star (R2, 13th-overall). Carpenter is the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner, a silver medalist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a multiple gold-medal winner with Team USA at the IIHF World Championships. She played with the NWHL's Boston Pride last season and played in the NWHL All-Star Game.
  • Elaine Chuli - Vanke Rays (R2, 14th-overall). The Rays got their goalie in UConn's Chuli. Chuli holds all sorts of records at UConn, and she'll be expected to bring her strong goaltending to China to help the Rays in their first year.
  • Bulbul Kartanbayeva - Boston Blades (R3, 15th-overall). The Kazakhstani-born Kartanbayeva dreamed of playing hockey in the US, and she'll get that opportunity after the Blades selected her. Her videos on Twitter show a ton of raw talent, so there's hope she can make the squad.
  • Shiann Darkangelo - Kunlun Red Star (R3, 20th-overall). Darkangelo was a marketable star with the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts, and she'll join the Red Star team in China. She recorded 17 goals and eight assists in 29 NWHL games.
  • Devon Skeats - Markham Thunder (R4, 24th-overall). Skeats is another former NWHL player who made the jump to the CWHL. In 31 NWHL games with the Buffalo Beauts, Skeats recorded 13 goals and seven assists. She'll be counted on to play solid defence for the Thunder.
  • Lindsey Post - Calgary Inferno (R4, 26th-overall). Post was named the U Sports National Championship MVP last season after backstopping the Alberta Pandas to the national title. She was constantly one of the top goalies in the nation in U Sports hockey.
  • Zoe Hickel - Kunlun Red Star (R5, 34th-overall). Hickel was another player rumoured to be heading to China. She played two seasons with the NWHL's Boston Pride and last season with the Connecticut Whale where she posted seven goals and nine assists in 31 total games.
  • Emily Janiga - Vanke Rays (R5, 35th-overall). Janiga graduated from Mercyhurst University with 72 goals and 79 assists in 141 games before joining the NWHL's Buffalo Beauts last season where she scored six goals and five assists in 17 games.
  • Ashleigh Brykaliuk - Vanke Rays (R6, 42nd-overall). The former captain of the UMD Bulldogs graduated with 62 goals and 83 assists in 146 NCAA games, and she was a dynamic scorer for Team Canada at the World U18 Championship. The Brandon, Manitoba native will certainly add scoring and depth for the Rays.
  • Mariya Sorokina - Markham Thunder (R10, 66th-overall). The Russian-born goalie won't supplant Knox or Howe immediately, but Sorokina has options. She won a bronze medal at the 2016 Women's World Championship, and her stock should rise if she gets to play against the best competition on the planet.
The full list of drafted players can be found here, but those players are the ones that caught my attention. There are still others who could be difference-makers on their new teams - Brooke Webster, Hanna Bunton, Sydney Kidd - so we'll see how next season breaks down as the players look to capture roster spots. For now, there were 113 players who will be welcomed into the league at some point in their careers, and the CWHL is better with all these players involved!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Red Star Has Landed

As we had discussed with Tyler Fines on The Hockey Show on Thursday, there were rumours that the Kunlun squad was looking to send some of its younger players over to North America to participate in leagues here and in the United States. As you can see to the left, Kunlun Red Star's logo is now prominently featured on the doors to Rink 2. The question is where are these doors and which Kunlun teams are playing behind them? Those answers can be found below, but it should be noted that the Kunlun teams in question will be playing in one city and not touring the country on a cross-continent exhibition series.

The rink pictured above can be found at Chesswood Arena in North York, Ontario. According to reports, Kunlun Red Star is basing their U20 and U18 teams at this rink for play in leagues at the arena. There were no mentions whether this meant there would be four teams playing out of the rink - one men's team and one women's team for each age group - but one would hope that the Red Star management group would see the value of sending both the men and women over to play.

While the Red Star have officially moved in after getting some window dressings installed, I'm curious as to who they will be playing. There are midget teams based out of the Chesswood Arena in the Toronto Aeros and the Toronto Red Wings so there will be competition on-hand if the KRS U20 men's team needs some opposition, but I didn't see any women's leagues listed. There may indeed be a woman's league that plays there, but they aren't listed on the Chesswood Arena site. Nonetheless, we do know that the Red Star have landed in North America, and they're getting themselves ready for hockey action this winter!

China certainly is going all-in for 2022 with these developments, and they will officially add more players to the fold when the CWHL Draft goes tomorrow. I can't say whether this plan will work on such a short timetable, but China seems to be going for broke in an attempt to win a medal on home ice in Beijing. They're certainly doing all they can to prepare for their Winter Olympics, but is there enough time?

Getting their younger players into North American leagues with four years to go before the puck is dropped in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is a smart move for exposing their younger players to some of the best minor-league hockey North America has to offer. You just hope they won't be overwhelmed by this experience.

Big stick-tap to Hockeytoronto.com for the photos!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 18 August 2017

The New Hawks

I'll put this notice upfront: I'm not happy writing about the University of North Dakota's hockey program. As you may recall, they only have a men's program to speak of after they cut the women's program and set twenty-five women adrift. However, today's article is all about what the Fighting Hawks will wear this season as the school decided to update the uniforms to reflect their newer name.

Unveiled on Thursday afternoon, the new Fighting Hawks jerseys will be what you see above. There are a few differences from last season's jerseys that should be noted. UND opted for a new font for "North Dakota" on the front of the jersey that matches what was unveiled last season with the new logo. Also changed is the Fighting Hawks logo on the shoulder, replacing the interlocking "ND" that once called the shoulder home. From the image above, those are the noticeable changes.

Among the changes not shown in the image above, the font for the names and numbers on both the front and back will not follow suit with the new font. They will remain as block lettering on these new uniforms. I suspect this will make either the "North Dakota" or the names and numbers look off since there are now two fonts being used in close quarters. I don't understand this thinking, but people who are smarter than me approved it. Let them deal with it.

I have always liked the green uniforms, but this kelly green jersey looks phenomenal. As I have always maintained on this blog, green might be the most under-utilized colour in the hockey world, so seeing the green road jerseys pop as nicely as they do is a huge plus. On the opposite side of the spectrum is that black jersey which is both unnecessary and awful. I will never understand why a team that has an amazing road jersey opts for a black uniform, especially when white is worn at home. If the black uniforms are only worn on the road, don't sacrifice your best look for black. That kind of thinking gets people committed.

I commend both UND and CCM for using an actual hockey sweater template for this new look. Great arm and hem stripes and a solid shoulder yoke give this uniform a very traditional look. I'm not a fan of the lace-up collar, and I don't really like the idea of the "collegiate look" with the name of the school surrounding the number, but I suppose the latter is appropriate on an actual collegiate team. I'd love to see the Fighting Hawks logo on the road jersey, but it seems people smarter than I approved this design.

The cool thing about these uniforms? They'll first see the ice on September 30 when the University of Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team visits Ralph Engelstad Arena for an exhibition game. The Bisons have yet to win in Grand Forks, so this might be the best time to spoil the party with the Fighting Hawks in new threads. It will take some serious work as UND always has a solid team, but Manitoba should be ready to go after their brief European tour this fall.

What do you think of the new UND jerseys? Leave your thoughts below!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!