Archive for September, 2015

Inaugural Hockeyville USA Game to Honor Slap Shot

For the last ten years, CBC and Kraft Foods Canada have honored the communities that have committed themselves to growing the game with Kraft Hockeyville. For example, in 2007, North Bay, Ontario won Kraft Hockeyville. Since then, North Bay has welcomed back junior hockey when the Battalion relocated from Brampton in 2013. Last season, Kraft Foods, in association with NBC Sports, followed in the footsteps of CBC and launched their own version of Hockeyville in the United States. The two finalists for the inaugural Hockeyville USA contest was Decatur, Illinois and Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In the end, the city, best known as the town that was home to the Great Flood of 1889 and most recently, the home of the fictional Charlestown Chiefs of the Federal League in the 1977 hockey comedy Slap Shot won the $150,000 grand prize in arena upgrades and the right to host a NHL preseason game. Tomorrow Night, NBCSN will honor the movie that made the Cambria County War Memorial Arena famous.

NBC Sports host Bob Costas will host the inaugural Hockeyville USA broadcast at the arena he started his legendary broadcasting career. In 1973, Costas, then a senior at Syracuse University, called his first game for the Syracuse Blazers as they faced off against the hometown Johnstown Jets. NHL on NBC host Liam McHugh will join studio analyst Mike Milbury to talk about the game, a matchup between the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but more importantly, talk about how it was like playing in the era of old-time hockey. NHL on NBC lead play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick will call the game alongside 9-time NHL All-Star Jeremy Roenick and Pierre McGuire will analyze the game from inside the glass. During the game, there will be appearances from all 3 Hanson Brothers: Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson, and Steve Carlson. Also, current NHL players will have a chance to get to talk about the movie. Immediately after the game, NBCSN will air Slap Shot in its glorious entirety.

In order to give you a taste of what’s to happen in Johnstown on Tuesday, here’s a clip from the first intermission of NBC’s coverage of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic, where the topic is…NHL players talking about Slap Shot.

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2015-16 Pacific Division Preview

This is the final part of my NHL season preview. Here’s my preview of the Pacific Division:

Anaheim Ducks

Key Additions: Carl Hagelin, Kevin Bieksa, Anton Khudobin, Shawn Horcoff

Key Losses: Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, Jonas Hiller, Matt Beleskey, Francois Beauchemin

2013: Won Pacific Division, but in First Round vs. Detroit; led series 3-2 only to lose Game 6 on the road and then lose Game 7 on home ice.

2014: Won Pacific Division, but in Second Round vs. Los Angeles, led series 3-2 only to lose Game 6 on the road and then lose Game 7 on home ice.

2015: Won Pacific Division, but in Western Conference Final vs. Chicago, led series 3-2 only to lose Game 6 on the road and then lose Game 7 on home ice.

For the last three seasons, the Anaheim Ducks were prohibitive favorites to potentially go deep in the playoffs. They did just that last season, but I don’t know if it’s the Bruce Boudreau effect or not, but the ending to the Ducks’ season the last three years have been the same: they led series 3-2 headed into Game 6 on the road only to lose the game and then subsequently lose Game 7 on home ice. There’s a lot of pressure for the Ducks to go deep again. My guess is it’s probably going to be “Stanley Cup Final or bust” for this team in 2016.

Prediction: Pacific Division Champions

Arizona Coyotes

Key Additions: Nicklas Grossmann, Boyd Gordon, Brad Richardson, Zbynek Michalek, Antoine Vermette

Key Losses: Sam Gagner, Lauri Korpikoski, John Moore

In a time of uncertainty for the Arizona Coyotes, the only thing you can look forward to is the influx of youth players. But these players have proven themselves in the CHL: Henrik Samuelsson, Max Domi, Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley. They have made a name for themselves in junior hockey, and they’re about to make a big name for themselves in Arizona. It might take some time, but the future looks bright for these players, regardless of where this team will be playing in the future.

Prediction: Seventh

Calgary Flames

Key Additions: Michael Frolik, Dougie Hamilton

Key Losses: None

The biggest surprise last season was the emergence of the Calgary Flames. They turned a season in which they had nothing to lose into a season that exceeded expectations. Thanks to the emergence of 2015 Calder Trophy finalist Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames finished third last season in which they were supposed to finish in the bottom-half of the division. This season, the Flames are a team you should keep an eye on, because even though they haven’t lost any big names, they did gain a premier penalty killer (Michael Frolik) and a top-four defenseman (Dougie Hamilton).

Prediction: Third

Edmonton Oilers

Key Additions: Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski

Key Losses: Martin Marincin, Boyd Gordon

The Edmonton Oilers should be able to take the next step forward. They got Connor McDavid first overall. They got Todd McLellan as their new head coach. They got Cam Talbot as their new number-one goaltender. It’s been six long years since the Oilers rebuild began. After experimentation and collecting numerous number-one draft picks, the time should be now for the Oilers to get everything into motion. And while it may not be a grand farewell to the old Northlands Coliseum AKA Rexall Place, there should be a lot of optimism as they pack up and move downtown into their new home: Rogers Place.

Prediction: Sixth

Los Angeles Kings

Key Additions: Milan Lucic, Christian Ehrhoff

Key Losses: Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Slava Voynov, Mike Richards

Last year, the Los Angeles Kings finished the season with a 40–27–15 record. That record helped them win a Stanley Cup in 2012. That same record hurt them in 2015, as for the first time since 2009, the Kings missed the playoffs, and was the first team since the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes to enter the season as defending Stanley Cup Champions and not defend their title. The news revolving the Kings off the ice was a total distraction. Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge took away one of the Kings’ best defensemen, and the wrongful termination lawsuit brought up by Mike Richards is nothing more of a legal mess. But there is hope. In the offseason, the Kings acquired Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins and signed veteran defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to stabilize the back-end. The Kings should have a bounce-back season, but are they deep enough to contend for a playoff spot this season?

Prediction: Second

San Jose Sharks

Key Additions: Joel Ward, Martin Jones, Paul Martin

Key Losses: Antti Niemi, Matt Irwin

It has been trying times in in San Jose. For the first time since 2003, there was no playoff hockey at the Shark Tank. It may not have been a true “scorched earth” process that was used in Toronto, but the writing on the wall was very clear: the Sharks were going nowhere as long as Todd McLellan was head coach. After mutually agreeing to part ways, the search to find a new head coach was clear: find one that would bring out the best from every player. Enter Peter DeBoer. The writing also said they need to go in a different direction in net.  So after trading Antti Niemi to Dallas, they got their new starting goaltender from Boston via Los Angeles in Martin Jones. Add the addition of Joel Ward from Washington, and the Sharks could have a bounce-back season….only if DeBoer gets the absolute best out of every player.

Prediction: Fifth

Vancouver Canucks

Key Additions: Brandon Sutter, Brandon Prust, Matt Bartkowski

Key Losses: Kevin Bieksa, Nick Bonino, Eddie Lack, Zack Kassian

The Vancouver Canucks indeed had a bounce-back season in Willie Desjardins’ first year as head coach, but now questions loom ahead after a couple of big names were dealt away, such as Kevin Bieksa going to Anaheim or Eddie Lack headed to Carolina. Can a young defenseman, such as Matt Bartkowski or Frank Corrado, find a way to fill as a top 4er? And if Ryan Miller gets dinged up, can Jacob Markstrom — the goaltender that was traded for Roberto Luongo in 2014, and more recently, backstopped Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, to a Calder Cup Final — deliver in net? Only time will tell for a team that isn’t getting any younger.

Prediction: Fourth

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2015-16 Central Division Preview

Here’s my predictions on the Central Division for this season:

Chicago Blackhawks

Key Additions: Artem Anisimov, Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt

Key Losses: Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards

Three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons say a lot if you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, but with a lot of turnover during the offseason, several big names were lost (Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad). But what the Hawks got in return were a second-line center (Artem Anisimov), a second offensive defenseman (Trevor Daley), a bottom-six forward (Ryan Garbutt), and a prospective forward that could end up being better than the player he replaced (Marko Dano). For this team, this is just business as usual. If they do repeat as Stanley Cup Champions this season, this dynasty becomes official, and this team becomes a team for the ages. This is a rare opportunity a select few get to have in their lifetime. Can the Hawks seize this meeting with history with an unprecedented fourth Championship in seven seasons?

Prediction: Central Division Champions

Colorado Avalanche

Key Additions: Blake Comeau, Francois Beauchemin, Carl Soderberg

Key Losses: Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn

The Colorado Avalanche took a step back last season after surprising everyone two seasons ago. And it wasn’t because of lack of talent. The Avs were banged up, and losing Nathan MacKinnon and Semyon Varlamov absolutely hurt their chances last season. Despite losing Ryan O’Reilly in a trade with Buffalo, the Avs got a big name to fill his spot: Carl Soderberg. The Avs should have a bounce-back season, but there are absolutely no guarantees.

Prediction: Seventh

Dallas Stars

Key Additions: Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Antti Niemi

Key Losses: Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, Shawn Horcoff

In order for the Dallas Stars to take “the next step forward”, General Manager Jim Nill made a BIG move, acquiring three-time Stanley Cup Champion Patrick Sharp in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. Another BIG move was made by acquiring Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks and joining these former Hawks in Big D was defenseman Johnny Oduya. With a combined six Stanley Cup rings between these three players, the Stars are looking to make the quote “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” a mantra Stars fans should believe in this season.

Prediction: Third

Minnesota Wild

Key Additions: None

Key Loss: Kyle Brodziak

At one point, it looked like the Minnesota Wild were all but done. It looked like Mike Yeo was going to get fired. Instead, one move absolutely saved the Wild’s season. After spending most of his career as a backup goalie, Devan Dubnyk had a career year as the Wild’s starting netminder. Literally putting the entire team on his back, the Wild made the Playoffs, and upset the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round. The following round was a complete 180. They faced off against the Blackhawks for the third straight season, and what looked to be a long playoff series turned out to be a four-game sweep the Wild were on the wrong end of. But Dubnyk earned himself a six-year contract, and with that, the expectation of “Can he do it again or is he a one-season wonder?” will arise.

Prediction: Fifth

Nashville Predators

Key Additions: Barret Jackman, Cody Franson

Key Losses: Taylor Beck, Viktor Stalberg

In Peter Laviolette’s first year as Nashville Predators head coach, a once defense-first team became an offense-first team and surprisingly finished second in the Central Division. It was literally and figuratively the most successful season in Predators history. Filip Forsberg had an amazing season in which he should’ve been a finalist for the Calder Trophy. But after losing to the Blackhawks in six games in the first round of the playoffs, not much needs to be changed in the offseason. Getting veteran defenseman Barret Jackman from St. Louis would definitely help the back-end. But like the Avalanche headed into last season, can the Preds prove last season was no joke?

Prediction: Fourth

St. Louis Blues

Key Additions: Troy Brouwer, Kyle Brodziak

Key Losses: T.J. Oshie, Barret Jackman, Zbynek Michalek

This season is going to be an absolute gut-check in St. Louis. With all the successes the Blues had over the last three seasons, including another Central Division title last season, they couldn’t find success where it mattered the most. For the third straight year, the Blues were ousted in the first round of the Playoffs in six games. This could be the last chance for head coach Ken Hitchcock to give the Blues a potential deep run at the Stanley Cup. Everything is set for the team that wears the Blue Note. Is Troy Brouwer the final piece to the puzzle, and was it worth trading T.J. Oshie to Washington?

Prediction: Second

Winnipeg Jets

Key Addition: Matt Fraser

Key Loss: Michael Frolik

Not much needed to be changed in Winnipeg, because for the first time in 18 years, the Whiteout returned. The Jets returned to the playoffs as one of the two wild-card teams that qualified for the playoffs last season. Despite being swept by the Anaheim Ducks in four staight games, just making the playoffs exceeded expectations in Winnipeg. Heading into this season, all the Jets need to do is build off of that momentum, and bring in confidence that they can do it again this season. This is definitely not the last you will hear about the Jets this upcoming season.

Prediction: Sixth

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2015-16 Metropolitan Division Preview

Here’s my predictions on the Metropolitan Division this season.

Carolina Hurricanes

Key Additions: Eddie Lack, James Wisniewski, Kris Versteeg

Key Loss: Anton Khudobin

The Carolina Hurricanes are still in rebuilding mode under General Manager Ron Francis. But one of the major storylines to watch is this could potentially be the end of the road for Cam Ward in Carolina. There’s a huge reason the Canes traded two draft picks to Vancouver to get Eddie Lack. Also keep an eye on 2015 first-round pick Noah Hanifin. He and Elias Lindholm are just some of the pieces to make Carolina a contender again, but we’ll save that conversation for later.

Prediction: Eighth

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Additions: Brandon Saad, Gregory Campbell

Key Losses: Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu

The Jackets made a bold move in the offseason, acquiring two-time Stanley Cup champion Brandon Saad from Chicago in a trade, and then signing him to a long-term deal. For Columbus, all the pieces are in place and they should be a perennial contender in the Metro…only if they stay completely healthy. Injuries completely derailed the Jackets’ playoff bid last season, and they don’t want that to happen again this season.

Prediction: Second

New Jersey Devils

Key Additions: Kyle Palmieri, John Moore

Key Losses: None

It’s the first year of the post-Lou Lamoriello era in New Jersey. New Devils General Manager Ray Shero now has a blank slate to pattern what the team should look like for the road ahead. One of the first moves made was signing defenseman Adam Larsson to a long-term contract. Another move was acquiring Kyle Palmieri in a trade from Anaheim. It’s going to be a trying year in New Jersey, but it’s the only way a team can go forward to become successful.

Prediction: Seventh

New York Islanders

Key Additions: Marek Zidlicky, Steve Bernier, Thomas Greiss, Taylor Beck

Key Losses: Michael Grabner, Michal Neuvirth

The New York Islanders now call Brooklyn home, and when they left the Nassau Coliseum, they brought with them history, optimism, and more importantly, expectation. After surprising everyone last season, the Islanders head into Barclays Center this season with one goal in mind: proving that last season wasn’t a joke. After last season, Anders Lee, Tom Hickey, and Brock Nelson each agreed to multi-year contracts to remain New York Islanders. This YES! Movement might be a better movement than the original one that was used in WWE programming.

Prediction: Third

New York Rangers

Key Additions: Emerson Etem, Viktor Stalberg, Jarret Stoll, Antti Raanta

Key Losses: Carl Hagelin, Cam Talbot

The most successful season in New York Rangers history ended with another case of disappointment. The Presidents’ Trophy winners did the unthinkable during the playoffs. After forcing a Game 7 in Tampa, the Rangers, having never lost a Game 7 on Madison Square Garden ice, lost Game 7 on Garden ice. Not a lot has changed, but there’s more pressure on the Rangers after going into deep playoff runs the last two years. With a team like this, they should be a top team in the Metro. However, their season will begin in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks; a team that they want to be and a team they want to beat.

Prediction: Metropolitan Division Champions

Philadelphia Flyers

Key Additions: Sam Gagner, Michal Neuvirth

Key Losses: Nicklas Grossman, Zac Rinaldo

New is the word in Philadelphia. A new head coach in former North Dakota bench boss Dave Hakstol, new as in Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier’s contract extensions, and the influx of youth highlight what the Flyers have. Take a look at their previous first-round draft picks that the Flyers have: forward Scott Laughton, defenseman Sam Morin, defenseman Travis Sanheim, defenseman Ivan Provorov, and forward Travis Konecny. Some of them might need a little seasoning in Allentown playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but you know that there’s some optimism coming ahead for the Flyers.

Prediction: Sixth

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Additions: Phil Kessel, Eric Fehr

Key Losses: Nick Spaling, Brandon Sutter

Historically when you talk about a “Big Three” in hockey, it refers to the trio of legendary Canadiens defensemen Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, and Serge Savard. Those three were the backbone of the Habs winning four straight Stanley Cup Championships in the late 1970s. Never before has a “Big Three” in hockey been talked about three prolific forwards playing for the same team. That’s what the Penguins have when they acquired Phil Kessel from Toronto. After just barely making the playoffs because of injuries throughout the roster, the Pens hope that with the addition of Kessel, they’ll contend in the Metro.

Prediction: Fifth

Washington Capitals

Key Addition: T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams

Key Losses: Troy Brouwer, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward

For the Capitals, last season was pretty much a success. They won the Winter Classic at home, Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Award again, they beat one New York team in the first round, and took the other New York team to the distance in the second round of the playoffs. Expectations are pretty much still high, but with the way this team is built, especially with the addition of both T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, they could easily meet those expectations this season.

Prediction: Fourth

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2015-16 Atlantic Division Preview

Usually, I would do the NHL season preview doing all 4 divisions in the span of 4 weeks. This season, it’s gonna be different. I’m going to preview all 4 divisions in the span of 4 days. Yes: 4 DAYS. I am going to challenge myself by posting back-to-back-to-back-to-back entries within the span of the next 96 hours.

And now, without further ado, this is the 2015-16 preview for the Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins

Key Additions: Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Matt Irwin

Key Losses: Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton

It was a somewhat tumultuous offseason in Boston after the Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. General Manager Pete Chiarelli was fired, and was replaced by Don Sweeney. Milan Lucic was traded to Los Angeles, and Dougie Hamilton was traded to Calgary. I’m not going to say it’s a rebuilding year for the Bruins, but this season’s a litmus test for whether or not Head Coach Claude Julien is a perfect fit for Don Sweeney’s system.

Prediction: Sixth

Buffalo Sabres

Key Additions: Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Cody Franson, Robin Lehner

Key Losses: Cody Hodgson, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov

The rebuilding continues in Buffalo, but there are cornerstones now laid in the foundation. The Sabres drafted Jack Eichel second overall in the draft. Tim Murray traded for a couple of veterans in Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. They even got a new head coach with a lot of experience in Dan Bylsma. There’s still a long ways to go to be a playoff contender, but the Sabres have taken the next step forward.

Prediction: Seventh

Detroit Red Wings

Key Additions: Mike Green, Brad Richards

Key Losses: None

This ain’t the same Detroit Red Wings you knew last season. After Mike Babcock went up to Toronto, The Red Wings promoted Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill to become the new head coach in Detroit. Most of the pieces are in place for Blashill because most of the players now playing in Detroit, he coached them in Grand Rapids, and was a part of the Griffins’ 2013 Calder Cup Championship team. Add veterans like Mike Green (who will ease some of the workload off of Nicklas Kronwall), and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Brad Richards, and the Red Wings might just extend their playoff streak to 25 consecutive seasons.

Prediction: Fourth

Florida Panthers

Key Addition: Reilly Smith

Key Losses: None

The Panthers made a surprise bid to try to make the playoffs last year. Thanks to the emergence of 2015 Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and forward Nick Bjugstad, and the acquisition of 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers had a +25 points improvement. Now can they build upon that improvement? Not much has changed, but can the Panthers take the next step forward, or are they going go take that step back?

Prediction: Fifth

Montréal Canadiens

Key Additions: Alex Semin, Zack Kassian

Key Losses: P.A. Parenteau, Brandon Prust

Under a career season from Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award winner Carey Price, the Montréal Canadiens won their second division title in the last three seasons. However, finding offense from Habs forwards turned out to be problematic when they faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Habs should have the same regular-season success this season, but come playoff-time, can the forwards step it up and not let Carey Price become THE story?

Prediction: Second

Ottawa Senators

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Erik Condra, Robin Lehner

Thanks to the emergence of Mike Hoffman and Andrew Hammond, Ottawa surprised everybody and finished third in the Atlantic Division last season when it looked like they were all but done! For head coach Dave Cameron, can he keep momentum rolling into this season in Canada’s national capital?.

Prediction: Third

Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Addition: Erik Condra

Key Losses: None

The Tampa Bay Lightning proved last season that the 2013-14 season was no fluke. They became the first NHL team to eliminate three Original Six teams in the playoffs dispatching the Red Wings in 7, the Canadiens in 6, and the New York Rangers in 7 with Game 7 played on Madison Square Garden ice! There wasn’t a lot of turnover for Tampa, but out of all the teams in the Atlantic, the Lightning is a team that should be feared.

Prediction: Atlantic Division Champions

Toronto Maple Leafs

Key Additions: Michael Grabner, Matt Hunwick, Nick Spaling, Shawn Matthias, P.A. Parenteau

Key Loss: Phil Kessel

Toronto’s got 99 problems…and thankfully Phil Kessel’s not one of them anymore. As a part of trying to move the Maple Leafs back into positive relevancy, Brendan Shanahan fired General Manager Dave Nonis, and interim head coach Peter Horachek and his entire staff.Then h did the unthinkable: first, luring Mike Babcock away from Detroit and make him Leafs Head Coach. Then, he lured away the architect of New Jersey’s successes by naming Lou Lamoriello as General Manager. And then Kessel was traded to Pittsburgh for Nick Spaling, Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixon. Boy, did Shanny scorch the earth, and I do hope something grows out of it, but for now, like Mike Babcock said in his opening presser as Leafs head coach, there’s going to be a lot of pain.

Prediction: Eighth

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First Alert: What You Need To Know Before Entering a NHL Game

If you haven’t known by now, the NHL now mandates that everyone who enters any of the 30 arenas must pass through a metal detector before entering.

It used to be that you would get screened with a hand metal detector by security before entering the arena. Now, you are asked to enter through a magnetometer (similar to what you would go through at an airport checkpoint) before entering the arena. You will need to remove your phones, cameras, car keys, tablets, and bags to get through before entering the arena.

“It’s the trend of the industry,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a phone interview. “For better or for worse, we live in an uncertain world, and it has to be of paramount importance to us, the health and safety of our fans, and an extra precaution that might take an extra 30 seconds for each fan I think is more than worth it if it means you’re creating a safer environment for your fanbase. Overwhelmingly, the other leagues who have taken this step are pleased that they took it. It’s not without some frustrations from fans for delays and for lines. But I think at the end of the day the leagues are very satisfied and felt like they made the right decisions.”

In short, if you are headed to a game, go earlier than expected to accommodate time to get through the security checkpoint.

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