Tag Archives: NHL

How David Volek became synonymous with playoff hockey

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Andrew McGilligan | One Volek In Time

At the age of 12 years old, I became aware of David Volek.

In fact, he’s become somewhat of a folk hero to me. If it weren’t for Volek, my greatest hockey memory may not have happened.

On June 9, 1993, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Volek was nowhere near the ice of the Montreal Forum when this happened. No Volek’s contribution to this moment, the greatest one for me as a life-long Habs fans, happened almost a month earlier on May 14. With a well-placed one-timer, Volek and the New York Islanders eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins – correction, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Volek’s goal paved the way for the Habs to win the Stanley Cup with a series of amazing overtime wins. Had Volek not scored that goal, I truly believe the Habs would have been overmatched against the Pittsburgh and not captured their 24th title in franchise history.

Just look at the Penguins roster from that season which included four 100-point scorers – including 160 from Mario Lemieux. Of note, Jaromir Jagr was not among the four 100-point getters, he finished with 94.

Compare that to the Habs to scorers which included zero 100-point players (Vincent Damphousse and Kirk Muller were three and six points away, respectively).

The goal was jaw-dropping at the time and has come to symbolize what I love about playoff hockey. There’s really no way the Islanders should have won that series and that goal resulted in one of the truly amazing playoff upsets. However, Volek’s marker has been somewhat marginalized due to the unlikely overtime heroics of the Canadiens during their Cup run (10 OT wins in the playoffs)and the fact it was the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.

Despite all that, Volek’s goal epitomizes playoff hockey. It was the shocking moment, the embodiment of the ‘anything can happen in the postseason’ cliché that gets thrown around too often.

All this to say, I’m always reminded of Volek every time I sit down to watch playoff hockey. I revert to being a 12-year-old kid watching the playoffs hoping to witness a miracle.

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Dreaming of Wrigley

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Kevin Barrett | Out of WriteField

For many Canadian boys, early days on the ice led to dreams of making it into the NHL, scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the home team and basking on the championship glory.

But along the way, many also dreamed of ‘The Wrigley’.

No, not the baseball field, or the chewing gum.

‘The Wrigley,’ as it was known in rinks across Canada for many teenagers, was the national midget hockey championship, the stepping stone to greatness for some who still held those long coveted big league aspirations.

The tournament carried big time cache, especially in small towns, like Dieppe, St. Stephen and Summerside, Prince Edward Island and many points between the coasts of British Columbia and Newfoundland.

In contrast to regular events for minor skaters in their early career path, this was the first Canadian tournament for hockey, an event for the 15- or 16-year-old puck dreamers that today, could be best compared to the Brier. That’s because every province was represented, every province had a chance to play at the national level and every player could impress scouts looking to uncover a hidden gem.

The added distinguishing characteristic was the gear.

When you hit the Wrigley, you got a free helmet, gloves, pants, socks and of course, your province’s jersey.

Star or scrub, you were taking gear home. Your own game-worn swag was a big deal.

However, my diminished skills did not get me on or even close to a squad that ever made it to the Wrigley, or the Air Canada Cup that followed or the Telus Cup, which it is known as now.

But in the day, when it was an event featuring provincial instead of regional championship, there were more opportunities for Maritime players to shine.

While I did not make it, I knew of some who did.

Any many hockey fans heard of those elite midget stars – such as Rollie (the Goalie) Melanson of Shediac, defencemen Don Sweeney of St. Stephen and Randy Jones of Quispamsis, forwards Andrew McKim of Saint John and Scott Pellerin of Shediac as well as former Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant, and current superstar Sidney Crosby of Cole Harbour.

None of their teams’ won gold but the ‘Wrigley’ or its later incarnations opened the doors to continued development to the big leagues.

That’s why a current Telus top-40 of all-time list is intriguing in advance of this year’s 40th anniversary celebration of the national event in Sault Ste. Marie in late April.

(Check put the link to the list here: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/National-Championships/Men/National-Midget/2013/40-for-40/40-36.aspx)

On the list of potential top-40 alumni, including the NBers listed above are: Three overall first round NHL picks – Wendel Clark, Crosby and Gord Kluzak.

There are nine Hockey Hall of Famers on the list of alumni – Glenn Anderson, Ron Francis, Mike Gartner, Al MacInnis, Larry Murphy, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman.

They have already started to countdown – with Chris Mason at No. 40, Manny Fernandez at No. 39, Joffrey Lupul at No. 38 and Ryane Clowe at No. 37.

It is interesting to see where Crosby will end up and if he jumps Yzerman, Sakic, or Patrick Roy – an early indicator of where he could rank in the greatest of all time discussion when his career eventually ends.

It will also be interesting to see if any NBers make the grade.

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The Blackhawks are Justified

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of Writefield

Two of the best things to happen to television and hockey have collided this year. The Chicago Blackhawks are the best and most fun team to watch in the National Hockey League. Same goes for the show Justified. Both have been unbelievable this season and are eerily similar.

Here’s an unscientific look at how the Blackhawks and the show set in rural Kentucky have been mirroring each other for the past few years.

Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks = Raylan Givens and the cast of Justified

With each passing episode Justified just keeps getting better. Same goes for the Blackhawks with each passing game.

Both Justified and the Blackhawks seemed to peak in 2010 as the show – specifically Margo Martindale won an Emmy – and the Hawks won the Stanley Cup. At the time, it was hard to think either would surpass those lofty heights.

The fourth season of Justified keeps getting better with every episode and could – so long as the final episodes continue this trend – replace Season 2 as the best in the series.

How do you top winning a Stanley Cup? How about setting a streak for the best start in NHL history by not losing a game in regulation for 24-straight to open the season. If they win the Cup, it will cap off one of the most remarkable runs in NHL history.

Interesting Comparison: The protagonist of Justified is US Marshal Raylan Givens, a throwback type of lawman to the old West days who has a clear vision of good and bad. He’s a no-nonsense kind of man.

To describe Jonathan Toews as no-nonsense would be an understatement. The young captain of the Hawks’ nickname is ‘Captain Serious.’ He goes about his business with a workman-like approach but has unbelievable skills with a hockey stick (coincidentally, Raylan is the quickest draw in all of Kentucky).

Toews is what you would envision when creating an old-school type player: tough, plays both ends of the ice and leads by example.

Second  in Command: The second lead in Justified is Boyd Crowder. Just as confident and skilled as Raylan; but on the other side of the law. Patrick Kane is just as talented as Toews, but possesses a great wild streak (just google Kane and Cinco de Mayo) and a flare for the dramatic. Both Crowder and Kane manage to keep their cool in tense situations (see Kane scoring in final minute to tie a game in Detroit then notching the shootout winner during the streak; Boyd has himself in countless perilous situations, but never seems to sweat). When Boyd and Raylan are in a scene together, its TV gold as both know how to push the others buttons. Kane and Toews have a similar dynamic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCMaOKr7bPs).

So let’s enjoy some good TV while it lasts. Justified only has two more episodes left this season. As for the Hawks, watching them play in late May would be the best way to cap off the hockey season.

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NHL needs to change rules for hits from behind

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

We should thank Patrick Kaleta for bringing a serious topic back to light in hockey.

The Sabres forward was suspended five games for checking Brad Richards head first into the boards in a game against the Rangers. The hit was vicious, unnecessary and could have ended Richard’s career. Consider that for a moment.

A Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion was almost taken from the game by a guy who…well I can’t think of any of Kaleta’s accomplishments. Hockey is so focused on hits to the head and the subsequent concussions – and rightly so, it’s a big problem for the health of those playing the game – that potentially life-altering hits from behind that can leave a person paralyzed is merely a two-minute minor for boarding in many leagues. It seems like the standard is if the guy gets up and is OK, then its two minutes. If he’s injured, just like Richards was from the Kaleta hit, it seems the harsher standard is applied.

A few years ago, hits from behind were talked about the way concussions are discussed now. It was a constant source of debate on sports television and rules, penalties and education strategies were being discussed and brought forward to try and alleviate the problem. The talk eventually faded as another problem became the hot topic. For some reason, in hockey circles only one problem can be discussed at a time.

There’s still far too many hits from behind – which can cause concussions – but it has been pushed to the backburner. While the efforts to stem the tide of the dangerous hits have helped, it needs to be taken more seriously by all levels of hockey including the NHL. The premier league in the world can set the standard in these matters and have everyone else react.

The league should look at only assessing five-minute major penalties to hits from behind as a standard with an automatic review by the league for possible suspension. Boarding calls should not even be considered on hits from behind thus no two-minute minors being called for the infraction. Let analysts and coaches gripe about how a guy turned or if the hit was more from the side. In the end, players will adjust and a new talking point will emerge.

While hockey should continue to try and stem the flow of dangerous hits to the head, let’s not let other safety issues fall by the way side. Hits that cause concussions and paralysis are dangerous; and those who commit the act deserve more than a two-minute break in the box.

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Reggie Ain’t Right: An Argument Against the Asterisk

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

“It doesn’t prove nothing.”

“That was a lockout season.”

Those were the comments of Brooklyn Nets forward Reggie Evans when asked by the Daily News what it would mean to defeat the defending champion Miami Heat in an NBA regular season game earlier this year.

Evans is putting forward the asterisk argument, one that has gotten very popular in the past few years.  The asterisk argument means an accomplishment – be it an individual one or team – is made less because of varying circumstances. In the Evans case, he regards the Heat’s championship as devalued because it occurred during a shortened season due to a lockout.

The National Hockey League is facing the same question as its season progresses. Should the team that wins a Stanley Cup have an asterisk besides its name in the record books? This should not take place under any circumstance. Just like the Heats’ epic playoff run last season, the hockey world should embrace its postseason heroes and transcendent moments because – until someone proves otherwise – they’re not tainted in any way.

It’s often said that winning the Stanley Cup is perhaps the hardest championship to capture in all of sports. The four-round grind is grueling and will not be made any easier because of the lockout. Players will be a bit fresher heading into the playoffs compared with seasons past, but that should be a selling point not a negative. A shortened season should mean an even higher level of play during the postseason. A great example of this was LeBron James performance during last year’s NBA’s playoffs. James was unbelievable in leading the Heat to the championship and had a game for the ages against the Celtics in Game 6 in Boston.

Perhaps the NHL is hoping for a similar performance from one of its stars, be it Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews or Steven Stamkos.

The NHL knows its best showcase is the playoffs as the intensity increases and the players go all out to win the Cup, that’s why it’s the one part of the season that is not affected by the lockout. The playoffs and schedule will be going ahead as it has in years past.

So no asterisk is needed when it comes to this season’s stats or championship.

Reggie Evans was wrong; a shortened season resulted in one of the best playoffs in NBA history. The NHL will be hoping for a similar outcome when the puck drops on the 2013 postseason.

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It’s time for random NHL predictions

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

Reading all of the NHL predictions can leave you wondering what to believe. Some predictions are conservative, others completely off the wall. What it comes down to is no one has a magic 8-ball, it’s basically educated guess work – some more educated than others.

With that in mind, here are some predictions for the 2013 NHL season, both conservative and going out on a limb.

Stanley Cup Champion:

Who I think will win – Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ve got arguably the two best players in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, another top 10 scorer in James Neal and a potential Norris candidate with Kris Letang. The Penguins were ousted in the first-round of last season’s playoffs by the Flyers, thanks, in large part, to horrendous goaltending.

Marc Andre Fleury cannot be that bad again, a full season of Crosby and Malkin, and a strong supporting cast including new addition Brandon Sutter will be too much for any team to handle.

Dark Horse – St. Louis Blues. On paper the Blues might be the most balanced team in the league. A strong core of forwards will be bolstered with the addition of Vladamir Tarasenko. The rookie Russian winger was averaging a point-per-game in the KHL before coming to Blues training camp.

The biggest question for the Blues is if the goaltending duo of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak can repeat last year’s brilliance in the crease. There’s got to be some regression, but if one of them gets hot heading into the playoffs, the Blues could be in the Cup final.

Hart Trophy:

Who I Think Will Win – Evgeni Malkin. The Russian sniper will make it back-to-back MVP campaigns. He’s in game shape having played in the KHL and will reunite with Neal on Pittsburgh’s top line. The duo had great chemistry last year and that should continue.

Dark Horse – Jordan Eberle. Of all the players in the NHL, Eberle strikes me as the one ready to breakout and advance to the superstar level with the likes of Crosby, Malkin and Claude Giroux. Eberle will be the captain of the Oilers in a few seasons and the undisputed leader of the team. I think he has a legitimate chance to win the scoring race this season. He’s been playing in the AHL alongside linemates Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the trio will start the season together. I think the Oilers ascendance back to NHL relevancy will coincide with Eberle’s rise to dominance.

Norris Trophy:

Who I Think Will Win – Shea Weber. A season like Erik Karlsson’s in 2011-12 doesn’t happen very often, which is the reason he won’t be repeating as the Norris Trophy winner. Instead, Nashville’s Weber will take the honour as the league’s top D-man. Playing without Ryan Suter, Weber will take on an even bigger role in Nashville and prove the Predators were right in matching the offer sheet Philadephia signed him to in the offseason.

Dark Horse – Alex Pietrangelo. The St. Louis blue-liner had an excellent season in 2011-12 and had some pundits talking about a Norris nomination. He will continue his emergence as a top tier d-man and cement himself as a franchise cornerstone for the Blues. A shiny new trophy would help in contract negotiations.

Other predictions:

  • Despite having heard Roberto Luongo’s name pronounced correctly, Don Cherry will continue to call him La-Longo.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs fans will continue a decade’s long tradition of believing this is the year their team wins the Stanley Cup – it most certainly is not.
  • Pierre McGuire’s head will explode on air after getting too excited about a big Dion Phaneuf hit. NBC will get him put back together for the second period.
  • TSN’s Gord Miller will continue to talk about goaltenders being in the midst of a shut out during games, bucking the hockey tradition of not mentioning a goalies shut out while the game is happening. Several old men will threaten to never watch TSN because of Miller’s antics, then realize they’re in a room by themselves and no one is listening.
  • The smile on Rick Nash’s face will remain for an entire season as he keeps looking at his jersey and realizing it has no Blue Jackets.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers will continue to pursue ginger-haired players via trade to compliment Giroux and Scott Hartnell. It’s all part of GM Paul Holmgren’s plans to weird everyone out with a team of Epic Gingers.
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Consider this before you draft

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

With a little more than a week to puck drop, there’s no shortage of interesting story lines for the shortened NHL season. Poolies are busy cramming in advance of their hockey pool drafts, so here are a few things to keep in mind as your draft date rolls around.

Young Guns in Edmonton

Two factors to consider when drafting players in a shortened season is age and conditioning. Age is obvious as there won’t be as many off days in a condensed schedule and younger legs should be able to handle the wear and tear better than those of a 10-year veteran.

Conditioning really means have they been playing during the lockout either in the KHL, other European leagues, junior hockey or AHL. Three Edmonton Oilers meet these criteria perfectly: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The trio have been skating together this season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL and Nugent-Hopkins also played for Canada at the World Juniors.

The trio is in game shape and should have a leg up on a lot their competition – even the ones who have been playing during the lockout – as they’re skating, often times, on the same line in Oklahoma City. Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov also meet the criteria, but being rookies lends a bit of uncertainty to their game, however, they could be good players to gamble on in your draft.

The key player for Edmonton is Eberle, he’s coming off a great year and looks poised to be the top star on this young, exciting Edmonton team.

Staal to the top six

The numbers Jordan Staal can potentially put up as a top six forward with the Carolina Hurricanes should be enough to make poolies drool. As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past few seasons, he was behind all-world centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

In Carolina he will get a chance to be a top six forward and benefit from first-line power play duties and increased ice time. The opportunity gets even better when you realize he could be flanked by the likes of his brother Eric, Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin. Jordan Staal has the chance to have a breakout season even in an abbreviated 49-game schedule. He could be the steal of the draft if you can score him after the second round.

Rookie to Watch

While most of the eyes will be trained on the Edmonton duo of Yakupov and Schultz, one guy to gamble on having a solid rookie campaign is Mikael Granlund. When it looked like the lock out was coming to an end, the Wild pulled him from the lineup of the AHL’s Houston Aeros to ensure he’d be healthy and ready for camp.

Granlund has adapted well to the North American pro game registering a point-per-game pace with 21 points in as many games this season with Houston. He’s well versed in playing against older competition as he’s competed against much older players the past few seasons in the top pro league in Finland. The forward should find a home in Minnesota’s top six.

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