Category Archives: TEAM PROFILES

KAMLOOPS: HOCKEYTOWN

by Ron Spence

A number of B.C. teams have excelled in hockey.

The Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915, and the Victoria Cougars repeated ten years later. The Kimberly Dynamiters won the World Championships in 1937, and the Penticton Vees in 1955. The Trail Smoke Eaters won the Worlds both in 1939 and 1961. And the Vernon Lakers/Vipers topped Canadian Junior A hockey, when they won the Centennial/Royal Cups in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 1999.

B.C.’s consistent success story has been the Kamloops Blasers. They have achieved eight 50 win seasons, and eleven WHL championships, during their twenty-six year history. The Blasers have made six Memorial Cup appearances, and have the most tournament wins – nineteen.

Kamloops also won the Memorial Cup three times in four years, from 1991-92 to 1994-95, which is a record. During these years, three Blasers were named Cup MVPs: Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Scott Niedermayer. Sixty-eight Blaser grads have moved on to play in the NHL.

Also, five Kamloops coaches have graduated to the NHL. Ken Hitchcock (Columbus), Tom Renney (New York) and Don Hay have been head coaches, and Dean Evason (Washington) and Marc Habscheid have been NHL Assistants.

Why has this small B.C. city repeatedly beaten higher budgeted teams, in larger centres across Canada, and the U.S.?

First of all, the Blasers have the community support of eighty-four thousand fans.

Tom Renney states: “There is a tremendous sense of pride in the community that collectively supports the tradition of the team.”

The Kamloops tradition started nearly seventy-five years ago, when they first registered a team with the B.C.A.H.A. during the 1927-28 season. Their teams played on natural ice until Kamloops built a 2200 seat Memorial Arena during the 1948-49 season. The first championship Kamloops team, the Elks played the following year in the new Mainland Okanagan Amateur Hockey League. The champs had three of the league’s top five scorers (in a five team league), and went on to win the Savage Cup. A few years later the Kamloops Loggers, a Senior AA team, won the Coy Cup.

Another Kamloops team, the Chiefs played in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League during the late 1950s. The Chiefs won the Coy Cup in 1963 and 1964, while the Kamloops Rockets, a Junior A team, won the Mowat Cup in 1962, 1964 and 1971.

In 1973, the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League’s Vancouver Nats relocated to Kamloops. They adopted the Chiefs’ name, and featured future NHLers Ryan Walter and Reg Kerr. Unfortunately, the twenty-five year old Memorial Arena was too small, and the Chiefs moved to Seattle in 1977.

Kamloops’ next team was the B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Braves, who were a development team for Major Junior. Future NHLers Andy Moog and Tim Watters started their careers with the Braves, who also folded. Following the Braves came the Tier 11 Rockets, who also left Kamloops, but to Revelstoke this time.

Then Kamloops’ big break came in 1981, when the New Westminster Bruins moved north. The Kamloops Junior Oilers – as they were next called – were owned by the Edmonton Oilers, who soon considered relocating to the prairies. That was when the Kamloops community pride stepped in and raised, and borrowed, enough money to buy their own team.

Another reason for the Blasers’ success has been their management. Don Hay stated: “The strength of the Organization starts at the top with guys like Colin Day, Bob Brown, Stu McGregor and the scouts. As a result, we all believed in the same philosophy and what it took to be successful.”

Blasers’ new management was smart enough to hire the best minor league coach in Canada. Ken Hitchcock, from Edmonton, led the Blasers from their inception in 1984, until 1990. He established the Blasers’ philosophy, before moving on to the International League, and a Stanley Cup in Dallas in 1999.

Hitchcock’s first W.H.L. season, the Blasers placed third, and the second year they won the championship, and finished third at the Memorial Cup. Kamloops roared to first place in 1987 and 1988, and went to the Division Finals in 1989. The 1989-90 season, the Blazers again won the WHL Championship, and played for the Memorial Cup for the third time in their seven year history.

Hitchcock left Kamloops with a .693 winning percentage (291-125-15), and had been named the league’s Coach – of – the – Year in 1986-87 and again in 1989-90. Hitch was also voted Canadian Major Junior Hockey’s top coach that same season.

Tom Renney, from Cranbrook, followed in Hitchcock’s footsteps. His first season, the Blasers finished in first place, with a 50-20-2 record, but injuries kept them from the Memorial Cup. In 1991-92 they compiled a 51-17-4 season (Their third consecutive 50 win season, a C.H.L. record.), won the WHL Championship, and went to their fourth Memorial Cup in nine seasons. The Blazers won their first Cup, defeating the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds.

Renney was named the Coach-of-the-Year his rookie season, and earned a .731 win percentage over two seasons, the highest in W.H.L. history.

It was also in 1992, that the new Riverside Coliseum – renamed the Interior Savings Centre – was built.

Kamloops homeboy Don Hay succeeded Renney, and won two Memorial Cups over the next four years, and achieved a .699 winning percentage.

Since Kamloops’ golden years, the Blasers have had their ups and downs. However, one thing has remained the same.

“…hard work has been the common denominator,” Don Hay summarized, “with each successful Blazer team over the years.”

It’s this common denominator, that many believe will lead the Blasers to a Memorial Cup championship once again.

*****

The preceding blog was written for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame:

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2008-09 STANLEY CUP RINGS – PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

 

by Ron Spence

 

Intergold Ltd. have helped design and manufacture Cup rings for the past decade and a half.

The Pens’ ring was designed in consultation with owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – 1991 – 1ST STANLEY CUP RING

1991

 

When Mario received his first Stanley Cup ring – in 1991- the designs were fairly simple.

Intergold uses computer aided designs and this year’s Pittsburgh ring required 23 separate dies.

 

MARIO LEMIEUX – CAPTAIN

 

MARIO

 

The Pens Stanley Cup rings were made for 52 players, coaches, staff and executives

There are 167 diamonds on the ring and the top is crowned with a custom-cut black onyx imbedded with a 1.3 carat pear-shaped diamond to create the Penguins logo.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – 2009 – 3RD STANLEY CUP RING

Picture 2

 

The title “Stanley Cup Champions” is written along the ring’s left and right outer rim/bezel.

On the left side is a player’s name and number, and a list of the four playoff victories: Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina and Detroit (Actually, it shows the teams’ icons.).

MARIO LEMIEUX – OWNER

lemieux-456

The right side of the ring has the year 2009 split by the second of the three Stanley Cups – adorned in diamonds.

The two outer Stanley Cups are inscribed on top with 91 and 92.

 

DOUG WILSON: THE CONSTANT HORSETRADER

by Ron Spence

There’s been talk of a Sens/Sharks swap – Dany Heatley for unnamed parties.

Doug Wilson has a history of big trades (He was named the Sharks’ GM on May 13, 2003, replacing his former boss, Dean Lombardi.).

Wilson wasn’t that active – in the trade market – during his first three years as top dog, and didn’t acquire a free agent until 2006.

His first move was to toughen up the Sharks, and he grabbed Scott Parker from Colorado for a 5th round pick – a month after his hire.

Then, he had an extra pick from Toronto – 21st overall – from Lombardi’s Owen Nolan trade and swapped that – plus his 66th and 107th selections in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft – for the 16th overall pick – Steve Bernier.

After trading the Kipper, Wilson swapped Jeff Jillison and the Sharks’ 2005 7th round pick for Curtis Brown and Andy Delmore – and traded the latter to Boston for future considerations that same day – March 9th, 2004.

Wilson made few trades until the 2006 post-season, when he swapped a 2nd round pick – 53rd overall – and a 1st round pick – 20th overall – to acquire Montreal’s 16th overall pick – Ty Wishart.

He also traded two players for Mark Bell and two more for Carolina’s 2nd round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft.

Wilson had players to spare with his free agent signings: Mike Grier, Graham Mink, Scott Ferguson, Matthieu Darche, Patrick Travers, Matthieu Biron,  and re-signing Curtis Brown.

For the next while, Wilson could do no wrong.

The Devils were having cap problems with Vladimir Malakhov’s $3.6 million salary, so Wilson took him off of Lou Lamoriello’s hands for a 1st round pick and a couple of throwins.

That was on October 1st, 2006, and on November 30th, he acquired Joe Thornton for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau.

The Thornton swap energized the Sharks and San Jose became a top echelon team.

On a roll, Doug Wilson made the first of his many deadline deals.

On February 25th, 2007 he traded Josh Gorges and his 1st round choice – in 2007 – for Craig Rivet and Montreal’s 5th round choice in 2008.

And two days later, he acquired Bill Guerin from St. Louis for Ville Nieminen, Jay Barriball  and that 1st round pick that New Jersey had given him.

Guerin didn’t stay with the Sharks, but this didn’t stop Wilson from continuing to roll the dice.

On June 22, 2007, he traded the 2nd of his Euro goalies – Vesa Toskala – and the troubled Mark Bell to Toronto for three draft picks.

The top Toronto picks – the 13th and 44th overall – were traded – along with San Jose’s 3rd round pick in 2008 – for St. Louis’ 9th overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft (San Jose retained Toronto’s 2009 4th round pick from the Toskala trade.).

Then, late in the same 1st round, Wilson traded two 2nd round picks to Buffalo – the 41st pick in 2007 and the a 2008 2nd round pick – to move up to the 29th spot – and he selected defenseman Nick Petrecki.

The following 2008 deadline, Wilson gave up another of his 1st round picks – and Steve Bernier – to acquire Brian Campbell and Buffalo’s 2nd round choice in 2008.

Campbell, like Guerin, left for greener pastures, and Wilson made two significant trades during the 2008 post-season. He swapped Ty Wishart, Matt Carle, San Jose’s 1st round selection in 2009, and a 4th round selection in 2010, for Dmen Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich.

Wilson next dipped into the 2008 free agent market and signed Dman Rob Blake, and was able to trade Craig Rivet and his 7th round choice in 2010, for Buffalo’s 2nd round choices in 2009 and 2010.

Wilson recently swapped two players – Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich – with Vancouver, to create some salary cap space.

sjcourtesy of hockeydb.com

What are the results of Doug Wilson’s constant horsetrading?

The Sharks finished first overall – last season – and won the President’s Trophy, but were defeated during the first round of the playoffs.

Doug Wilson twice gave up 1st round picks for rental players – Guerin and Campbell – and swapped up for two draft picks – Ty Wishart and Steve Bernier – and then traded them away

With all of this trading, the Sharks had few draft selections in the 2009 Entry Draft.

This has resulted in San Jose having a weak farm system – Hockey’s Future ranks San Jose 21st of the 30 NHL teams.

prospectscourtesy of hockey’sfuture.com

Could Dany Heatley improve the Sharks?

In the short term – depending on who they would have to give up.

But, Doug Wilson can’t trade away any more of San Jose’s future, because there isn’t much to give.

*****

Doug Wilson learned something early in his GM career that Bryan Murray should take note of – you don’t always get what you want for a player who needs to be moved.

Six months into his tenureship, on November 16, 2003, Wilson had to trade one of his three very talented goalies. He had to swap Miikka Kiprussoff for only a second round pick in the 2005 Entry Draft.

Fortunately, San Jose’s compensation, Dman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been one of the Sharks’ best picks.


NEW JERSEY’S THREE RINGS

by Ron Spence

The New Jersey Devils have won three Stanley Cups and each in a unique fashion.

In the 1995 playoffs, they established an NHL record by posting 11 road victories in one playoff season.

During the 2000 post-season, they trailed the Philadelphia Flyers three games to one, but rebounded to win three straight games and the series. This was the first time  in an NHL Conference Finals that a 3-1 deficit was overcome.

During the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs, neither the Devils nor the Anaheim Mighty Ducks lost a home game during the finals. Fortunately, New Jersey had the home ice advantage and won Game 7 at home. This was the first time since 1965 that every finals game went to the home team.

*****

New Jersey’s first Stanley Cup followed the 1995 lockout-shortened regular season. New Jersey defeated Philly 4 games to 2, and then swept Detroit. This was the first championship trophy to be won by a New Jersey team, and Claude Lemieux was voted the Conn Smythe winner. 

1995

The 2000 Cup was preceded by a coaching change – Robbie Ftorek was replaced by his assistant Larry Robinson.

The Devils beat the Panthers, Leafs and then Flyers – and it was during the latter series that the infamous/ famous Scott Stevens hit on Eric Lindros took place.

New Jersey then beat the incumbent Dallas Stars in six games to win their 2nd Cup, and Scott Stevens won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

2000aa

2000b

2000ca

The New Jersey Devils finished 2nd in the East during the 2002-03 season, only behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Ottawa Senators. 

The Devils beat the Sens in seven and then played another seven game series against Anaheim. Although the Ducks lost, their goalie – Jean-Sebastien Giguere – was awarded the Conn Smythe. This was the first time since Philly’s Ron Hextall had won the Smythe against the powerhouse Oilers.

2003

THE CAPS: A WEALTH OF TALENT

by Ron Spence

How could the Washington Capitals have two farm teams – at the top of their leagues – and the franchise be ranked only 11th overall by Hockey’s Future?

The Hershey Bears beat the Moose to win the Calder Cup, while Washington’s ECHL squad, the South Carolina Stingrays beat Anchorage to take the Kelly Cup. Hershey won their 10th Calder Cup – the AHL’s record – earlier this month. South Carolina became the first three-time winner of the Kelly Cup (The Stingrays have qualified for the postseason a record 15 times in 16 seasons.).

To answer this question, I posed a second question. Were these two championship teams made up of players from other NHL franchises?

The chart below shows the Caps’ prospects in red, and Hershey’s character veterans in turquoise.

The Hershey Bears were thus predominantly under contract to the Washington Capitals:

THE HERSHEY BEARS

HERSHEY

If these players weren’t that talented, I reasoned, perhaps they were well coached and had lots of character.

“The sports graveyard is filled with promising teams that wilted amid title pressure,” wrote Tim Leone of tleone@patriot-news.com. “Hershey avoided that fate by combining character and chemistry with talent.”

“At the start of training camp, before anybody even got here, we thought we had an opportunity to do it,” said Bears head coach Bob Woods. “Sometimes you worry when you have so much talent. Can you keep them all together and on the same page and keep all the egos in check? The guys were such a great character group and they got along so well and pushed each other. And the sky was the limit for them. They just had to believe that they were as good as everybody thought they were.”

THE SOUTH CAROLINA STINGRAYS

CAROLINA

As above, the Washington prospects are shown in red, and the South Carolina personnel in turquoise. This mix is somewhat typical of ECHL teams – there are fewer NHL prospects.

Like the Bears, the Stingrays had a lot of character.

“The thing that I’m most proud of is that we did it by committee,” Stingray coach Bednar said. “We had a dozen guys that could legitimately have been the MVPs during the playoffs. You could have picked between seven, eight or nine guys for the MVP and no one would have argued with you. They bought into the team concept and what we were trying to do with our program from the outset and this is their reward.”

“There are a lot of guys with a lot of character in our locker room,” added defenseman Nate Kiser. “I think that’s the thing that gets us through the adversity and tough times.”

*****

My initial question was answered some three weeks ago when Hockey’s Future’s re-ranked the Capitals to 5th overall in the NHL.

So the Caps have lots of talent, plus character.

Washington is a very good franchise.

The Caps have four very good goaltending prospects and numerous offensive Dmen. They also have size – none of their six top prospects are shorter than 6’2″.

To move to the top prospect rating, the Caps need to bring along more defensive rearguards and add depth at the forward position.

George McPhee has this well under control. The Caps have been drafting for speed rather than bulk (Only one of the Caps’ picks – this year – is above 6′.) . This is the third time in four years that the Cap’s 1st round pick has been a Swedish centre.

The big problem the Caps are facing is not their Hockey’s Future ranking.

It’s where can they warehouse all of their talent?

TRADING UP FOR MARC-ANDRE FLEURY

by Ron Spence

Brian Burke gets most of the press about trading up – switching his pick with additional player(s) or selection(s), for a higher pick. 

His most famous trade was for Chris Pronger when the was the GM in Hartford. Burke traded Sergei Makarov, a 1st round pick in 1993 (Viktor Kozlov) and a 3rd round pick in 1993 (Ville Peltonen).

In return, San Jose gave the Whalers, the Leafs’ 2nd round pick in 1993 (Vlastimil Kroupa, prev. acquired), and the Sharks’ 1st round pick in 1993 (Chris Pronger).

 

Prongergifcourtesy of hockeydb.com

Burke’s second celebrated trade up was the acquisition of Henrik Sedin – to go with his brother – who he had previously acquired.

Vancouver traded Bryan McCabe and a 1st round pick in 2000 – Pavel Vorobiev to Chicago for a 1st round pick in 1999. 

 

sedins

Neither of these switches resulted in Stanley Cups for Burke – in Hartford/Carolina or Vancouver.

Pittsburgh’s trade up in 2003, on the other hand, did result in a Stanley Cup in 2009. 

“We had the No. 3 pick in the draft,” said Pens goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, “and we knew we were going to get a great prospect anywhere in the top 12-15 players, but we were looking to build a championship team from goal on out and it was important for us to get a goalie somewhere along the line — and not too many goalies like Marc-Andre come along. We felt we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get that goaltender for the present and the future in Marc-Andre Fleury.”

So, Pittsburgh traded their 3rd overall pick – Nathan Horton – their 55th pick – Stefan Meyer – and Mikael Samuelsson.

fleury

courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

In return, the Pens acquired the draft’s 1st overall selection – Marc-Andre Fleury and the 73rd pick – Daniel Carcillo – who they later traded for Georges Laraque. 

It was a good trade for Florida because they already had Roberto Luongo in net, and acquired the 3rd overall pick, a player and a 2nd rounder for a 3rd rounder.

The tricky team for Pittsburgh, was Carolina, who had the 2nd overall pick.

They had Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes in goal, and would they go for Fleury or Eric Staal – who was ranked the best North American skater?

Staal had been compared with Carolina icon Ron Francis, had a cousin Jeff Heerema who had been a Carolina 1st rounder, and was ranked the best North American skater.

staal

Still, Pittsburgh didn’t take any chances and acquired the 1st overall pick. 

Carolina, of course, was very happy with Staal who was crucial in their Cup win in 2006.

As it was, Florida didn’t make that good a selection anyways. They took Nathan Horton with their 3rd pick, even though he had been ranked 4th amongst North American skaters. 

And, “Some scouts question his consistency, although others consider him an above-average all-around talent.”

draft5courtesy of hockeydb.com

Marc-Andre Fleury struggled when he was first thrown to the wolves circling around the Penguins’ nets, but he recovered and helped Pittsburgh win the Cup two weeks ago.

His was a trade up that resulted in a Stanley Cup.

THE BRONFMANS, THE MOLSONS AND THE HABS

by Ron Spence

The Bronfmans have had hockey on their minds.

They are renewing their search for a pair of Canadiens Stanley Cup – 1973-74 and 1975-76 – rings and other valuables stolen from their Toronto mansion last November 8, 2008 (Peter and Edward Bronfman owned the Habs during the 1970s.).

habs74-75

The family has hired a private investigator to help track down the valuables, and have opened their own website.

Mark Mendelson says the Bronfmans are still offering a substantial reward for the items – or any information leading to their recovery. Other precious stones and metals – handed down through generations – include a flawless six-carat diamond.

The Bronftmans have said that they only really want the championship rings back, as they are the most important items that were stolen. Both of the rings bear the Bronfman name on the side.

When the Bronfmans sold the Habs to the Moson breweries on August 4, 1978, they said that they had done all that they could for the team.

After seven profitable years, they collected some $20 million for their franchise.

The deal came just two days after the public learned that the Canadiens had also been talking to a rival brewery, Labatt.

*****

Flash forward three decades and you have three of the same players – the Habs, the Bronfmans and the Molsons – in the mix.

Le Journal de Montréal reported that Stephen Bronfman and Joey Saputo, members of two of Montreal’s wealthiest families, together made a bid of $450 million to purchase the Canadiens and the Bell Centre, and a concert-production business.

But, they were done in once again.

Quebec’s Molson family and cable and television company Quebecor Media Inc. signed an agreement yesterday – in principle – for the purchase of the Gillett family’s interests in the Canadiens Hockey Club, the Bell Centre and Gillett Entertainment Group.

The Molson family has owned the Montreal Canadiens in different capacities four times since the 1950s.

The Molson’s Habs legacy has thus gone full circle, and the Bronfman’s hasn’t.

Which means that they really want those rings back.