VS. CALGARY

by Ron Spence

In their defense, the Canucks had a five day layoff and were facing one of the NHL’s best defenses.

But still, they looked really bad for most of the game.

I wanted to note a few points based on the past two contests.

Kevin Bieksa has been terrible.

Aaron Rome didn’t have the game that he wanted – was -3 – mainly because he wasn’t moving fast enough. In a game of time and space, he was playing at an AHL level. But, I know that he has a 6th Dman’s skills and speed and just has to uptempo his game. He doesn’t concern me.

Alex Edler – -2 – improves and then levels off. That’s his learning curve and his game against Calgary wasn’t a move upwards.

Willie Mitchell was playing his usual game, but was better against Dallas than Calgary.

Christian Ehrhoff is playing better than I thought he would – based on comments from San Jose after he was traded.

Shane O’Brien hasn’t improved his game from last season to this campaign. However, in a rough game he didn’t retaliate, which is a positive sign.

Vancouver misses my man Mattias, and Sami Salo.

And Henrik, who had 2 points last night – and was plus 2 – misses Daniel. It would have been a different game had both the twins been playing.

Alex Burrows has to give his head a shake. He had mental lapses in both the Dallas and Calgary games.

Both Steve Bernier and Mason Raymond had moments when they were playing well, but didn’t sustain.

Kyle Wellwood has really impressed me in his own end. He will get his offense going soon.

I liked what I saw of Michael Grabner. He was tentative but didn’t look out of place.

Is Ryan Kesler injured?

Mikael Samuelsson has played like a pro – even, game in and game out.

Roberto disturbs me, based on the occasional lapses that I have seen over the past three or four seasons.

He has had two so so games in this young season. He can forget about a spot in the Olympics.

I think that Mike Gillis has to re-evaluate his fourth line.

In two games against Calgary – this season – they were soundly beaten by their opponents. Hordichuk and Tanner Glass were -2 last night.

It’s my hope that Matt Pettinger plays well in Manitoba and can be signed for the minimum and replace Glass who is clearly an AHL player.

To me, the plus from the Calgary game was that Andrew Raycroft had his second outing as a Canuck and I thought that he played well. Confidence is what he needs, and Roberto’s play has given him some ice time.

NUCKS’ “KRANK” ZONE

by Ron Spence

Take soccer’s better behaved hooligans – not the burn them down and bag their ashes ones – and you’ll have baseball’s kranks from 125 years ago.

They got drunk during games, threw their containers at – and ran onto the fields and assaulted – rivals, plus the umps.

And, of course they always had a lot to say.

The press wrote that: “kranks in the bleaching boards think they know more about the sport than do its participants.”

Bleaching boards was the precursor of today’s bleachers, and referred  to people bleaching in the sun.

The first baseball book was called The Kranks: His Language and What It Means and was written by Thomas Lawson.

Photographer

In 1562, a krank was an “inaccessible hole or crevice.”

By 1594 the word had been elevated to “a twist or fanciful turn of speech.”

Then, two centuries plus later – in 1821 – a krank was “cross-tempered, irritable.”

And a decade after that – 1833 – a crank was an irrationally fixated person, who like a barrel organ, kept playing the same tune over and over again.

Kranking it out so to speak….

Then the November 8, 1906 edition of Nature magazine wrote that: “A crank is defined as a man who cannot be turned.”

By this time, kranks were being called fans, and the phrase “turning a crank” was being applied to turning a motor over until it started (1908).

Kranks had been called “fans” since the mid-1880s and continued to think that they knew more about the sport than its participants.

*****

krankstopkranksmiddlekranksbottom

*****

Summation of The Kranks: His Language and What It Means, courtesy of  American Baseball: From Gentleman’s Sport to the Commissioner System, by David Quentin Voigt.


REVAMPING THE NHLPA

by Ron Spence

Alexander Ovechkin is earning $9,000,000 this season.

This is in contrast to a number of NHLers who are earning the league’s minimum salary – $500,000.

All of the 715 players listed by nhlnumbers.com can afford a cell phone.

And yet, the NHLPA has difficulty electronically assembling their membership to vote – or discuss problems.

This is just one of the numerous difficulties that the players currently face.

The following is my summary included in The Fischler Report:

FISCH.ER

A thorough review – plus a new constitution and infrastructure – should assure the players that their organization represents them in a competent manner.

B.C. ROOKIE JAMIE BENN

Many who watched the Stars vs. Canucks game last sunday were impressed by the play of 20-year-old Victoria rookie Jamie Benn.

*****

“Benn, who grew up playing hockey and baseball on the Saanich Peninsula,” wrote Cleve Dheensaw, “was just a fifth-round draft selection taken 129th overall in 2007 out of the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League. Now only 20 years old and not far removed from the Junior ‘B’ Peninsula Panthers, his ascension has been as meteoric as it has been surprising.

In a Canadian junior hockey system simply not designed for the burgeoning number of undrafted or lower-rounds late bloomers now signing pro contracts, Benn went from five-foot-seven in Junior ‘B’ with the Panthers to his current six-foot-two.

“My dad told me to keep working hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Benn said recently.

“I wasn’t the tallest guy back in the day. But I kept going with it and it paid off.”

*****

When Dallas Stars rookie Jamie Benn of Victoria scored his dramatic first NHL goal Sunday night at GM Place, with one minute and 33 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the Vancouver Canucks 3-3, mother Heather Benn admitted the family contingent in the stands “forgot where we were.”

After jumping, clapping and hollering, the Benn supporters sat down to find the rest of the building silent and those around them staring.

“But we could hear and see patches of Jamie’s supporters — old high school buddies [from Stelly’s Secondary] — in other sections of the arena,” beamed Heather Benn.

About the only time Island hockey fans turn against the Canucks is when one of their own comes into GM Place. That’s when the enemy becomes the home side.

“We were talking before the game about how incredible it would be if Jamie could score his first NHL goal in his home province in front of his family and friends,” said Heather Benn.

“He was coming close and you could see it building. And when it happened, it was simply unbelievable.”

Some of Benn’s nearly 100 family and friends from the Island pressed up to the glass during warm-ups holding signs welcoming the Stars’ prize rookie discovery to his home province.

The six-foot-two left-winger, who has a goal and two assists in his first four NHL games, couldn’t help but notice.

“During the warm-up, they were banging on the end glass,” Benn told reporters, after the game won 4-3 by the Canucks in a shoot-out.

“I tried not to look up so I wouldn’t start laughing but it’s great that I have the support like that. It means a lot. I had a lot of friends and family here so it was a good time to get the goal, too. It meant a lot to me. It took me four games to get it but hopefully I’ll start rolling from here.”

Many of those buddies were the ones Benn played street hockey with in no-holds-barred games that would last deep into the evenings on a Central Saanich neighbour’s tennis court.

It may be in the genes. Dad Randy Benn of Victoria was an outstanding softball player who represented Canada, winning gold medals at the 1976 world championships in New Zealand and 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico. Jamie’s older brother and blueliner Jordie Benn is also a pro hockey player in the Stars system with the Allen, Texas, Americans of the Central League after skating his rookie campaign last season with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL under AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose.

“Jamie has always had natural ability in any sport he tried,” said Heather Benn. “But he’s never had any big jumps. It’s always been step by step.”

Only after proving himself with the Junior ‘A’ Grizzlies did get Benn get an offer from the Kelowna Rockets of the major-junior WHL, which led to 2009 world junior gold with Canada and now the NHL.

“Those progressive steps were why we thought a year in the AHL would be good for Jamie and better in the long term,” noted mom Heather.

“But, of course, Jamie wanted to make it right from the start.”

So far, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

THE 66-67 LEAFS: DID THEY KNOW?

by Ron Spence

Any player that I’ve ever met has been happy to win the Stanley Cup.

I understate, of course.

leafsring

Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby won his first Cup at the age of 21 years. And while forgetting to shake hands, he knew how to celebrate the great honour.

politicslam.comcourtesy of politicslam.com

Dallas Drake won his first Cup at 38-years-of-age, after a decade and a half as an NHL player.

yoopersteez.comcourtesy of yoopersteez.com

Ray Bourque was 40 when he won his first Cup – with the Avs – and had been playing in the NHL since he was 19-years-of-age. He was certainly as happy as Crosby and Dallas Drake.

pakpassion.netcourtesy of pakpassion.net

Rod Brind’Amour won his Cup at 35-years-of-age in 2005-06.

caltechgirlsworld.mu.nucourtesy of caltechgirlsworld.mu.nu

Denis Potvin and the Islanders won the Cup four years in a row from 1980-83.

sportsillustratedcourtesy of sportsillustrated.net

The Oilers won Cups in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988 – and in 1990 after Gretz had been traded. Gary Coleman isn’t in this picture.

sportsillustrtatedcourtesy of sportsillustrated.net

And these guys?

They’re the 1966-67 Maple Leafs. Toronto had previously won the Stanley Cup in 1962, 1963, and 1964.

And there’s not a smile to be found.

toronto,maple_leafs_stanley_cup_1967

courtesy of barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu

They look like they’re ready to line up as pallbearers.

And, I was wondering if they had some sort of collective psychic ability – and knew that the Leafs would never win another Stanley Cup?

1981-82: THE SEASON OF THE AXE

by Ron Spence

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” Winston Churchill wrote.

Seven of the thirty coaches – who started the 2008-09 season – were ousted from their NHL teams – and are enthusiastically looking for another failure to start.

They were:

firings

courtesy of sports.espn.go.com

Two others were dismissed at the end of the season:

fired2

This might seem to be a record number of flashing axes, but during the 1981-82 campaign ten coaches were fired by – or retired from – just 21 teams  (The NBA fired 9 coaches over the past season, which equalled their 2004-05 record.).

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The Colorado Rockies fired Bert Marshall (3-17-4), and replaced him with his assistant, Marshall Johnston (15-32-9). The following – 1982-83 – season, Johnston was replaced by Billy MacMillan (17-49-14) when the Rockies became the New Jersey Devils.

Detroit’s Wayne Maxner (18-39-12), was replaced by Billy Dea (3-8-0). Dea, in turn was replaced by Nick Polano (21-44-15) at the following summer.

Hartford’s Larry Kish (12-32-5) was replaced by Larry Pleau (21-41-18).

L.A.’s Parker MacDonald  (13-24-5) retired, and was replaced by Don Perry (11-17-10), who coached the Kings again following campaign (27-41-12).

The Washington Capitals replaced Gary Green  (1-12-0), with Roger Crozier (0-1-0) for one game, and then with Bryan Murray who went (25-28-13). Murray turned the Caps around during the 1982-83 season (39-25-16).

The Blackhawks fired Keith Magnuson (18-24-10), and G.M. Bob Pulford (12-14-2) replaced him. The following season Orval Tessier became the Chicago coach (47-23-10).

St. Louis fired Red Berenson (28-34-6), and hired Emile Francis (4-6-2).  The Cat went  (10-19-3), and was replaced by Barclay Plager (15-21-12) in 1982-83.

Harry Neale (26-33-16), was suspended and replaced by Roger Neilson (4-0-1). Neale continued as Vancouver’s GM in 82-83 and Neilson stayed on as the nucks’ coach (30-35-15).

fired82

The teams noted above were playing below .500 when their coaches were terminated.

Two teams were playing above .500 when they fired their coaches – because of their higher expectations.

Philadelphia dumped Pat Quinn (34-29-9), and Bob McCammon took over (4-2-2). McCammon remained during 1982-83 (49-23-8), and turned the Flyers around.

Jimmy Roberts (21-16-8), was given the Sabre by Scotty Bowman (18-10-7), who continued to coach Buffalo the following season (38-29-13). Bowman relinquished his coaching position on four occasions and later took it back. Then, during the 1986-87 season, he was relieved of all responsibilities by the Buffalo owners.

One coach was released at the end of the season. Calgary’s Al MacNeil (29-34-17) was replaced by “Badger Bob” Johnson (32-34-14).

Toronto’s Mike Nykoluk had a brutal season (20-44-16) in 1981-82, but wasn’t fired – by Harold Ballard – and continued to coach in 1982-83 (28-40-12).

Pittsburgh’s Eddie Johnston (31-36-13) stayed on and the Pens went  (18-53-9) in 1982-83. He was replaced by Lou Angotti whose Pens fell further (16-58-6).

THEIR DRAFT PICK THAT YEAR – 1984? MARIO LEMIEUX.

The Islanders’ Al Arbour, of course, kept his job and went (42-26-12) in 82-83. Glen Sather was just starting to build the Oilers and went (47-21-12) and Montreal’s Bob Berry went (42-24-14) in 1982-83.

Gerry Cheevers kept his job in Boston, Glen Sonmor his position in Minnesota, and Herb Brooks his job in New York. Michel Bergeron stayed in Quebec and Tom Watt in Winnipeg.

Watt was axed part way through the 1983-84 season (6-13-2) and came to the Canucks a year and a half later. He would last two seasons and be instrumental in the trading away of Cam Neely.

THE DIMINISHED FINNISH MACINNIS

by Ron Spence

“It was kind of a freak thing,” coach Jacques Martin said. “It wasn’t on a hit or anything.”

“He was just skating up the ice.”

The Ottawa coach was talking about his young Finnish Dman who had just injured himself during a 2001 exhibition game.

Eight years later, Sami Salo is still having freak injuries.

Vancouver was playing in the 2nd game of the 2nd round of the 2008-09 playoffs, and Salo unleashed a slapshot which lasered past Nikolai Khabibulin’s glove hand.

It was Salo’s 3rd goal and 6th point in five playoff games, and Salo had injured himself once again. This time, he had pulled buttocks muscles and had to leave the game only 5:35 minutes into the contest.

Sami Salo has reportedly had “thirty-seven significant injuries in a 10-year career.”

The Fin has missed 216 regular season games over the past decade.

Salo missed 22 games during 2008-09, and coincidentally, his average NHL games lost per season has been 21.6.

That’s more than 26.3% of Ottawa’s/Vancouver’s regular season games each year – with more in the playoffs.

Sami Salo had some pretty serious shoulder injuries from his 1st until his 8th season, and recurring groin injuries from his 1st until his 10th seasons.

There were also injuries to his: ankle, foot, knee and leg, and his wrist and elbow. And, there were injures to his ribs, back and nose.

salotopsalobottom

stats courtesy of tsn.ca

Another facial injury was delivered by Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who was then playing for Philly.

“Early in the first period [March 27, 2001]  Salo was cross-checked in the face…” wrote CBC.

“For his part, Salo received cracked teeth and a concussion, described by Senators coach Jacques Martin as mild that will force him to miss at least Wednesday night’s game….”

Salo’s inventory of injuries doesn’t include the cracked teeth and concussion – and Salo often played injured, which means that some injuries were never recorded – except in the ‘nucks’ records.

Sami isn’t known as a wuss.

“Obviously they have put some hardware into my face and you don’t want to start too early or work out too hard because they might shift,” Salo said. “I have to give it a little time to heal and hopefully by the end of the week we’ll know more and hopefully I can start increasing my workouts.”

He had a metal plate installed in his nose and another helping to hold together his cheekbone after an Alex Edler clearing attempt on November 1st, 2007.

Through it all, Salo has maintained a sense of humour.

During last spring’s playoffs, Sami was being cross-examined by a Chicago writer, about the nature of his injury.

“Maybe it’s just a burning sensation when you pee. You never know,” Salo responded.

That didn’t make the list, either.

*****

It was the recently retired Curtis Joseph who named Sami Salo “the Finnish MacInnis.”

HOME PAGES: WINDOWS TO THE TEAMS

by Ron Spence

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then NHL Home Pages are the windows to the teams.

We can gain insights into many teams’ attitudes – and wallet thicknesses – by viewing their Home Pages.

The nucks’ Home Page uses the NHL’s generic format: game info, profiles, articles, and ads.

The look that’s aimed for is traditional: “We’ve been around for a long time.”

“And, there’s no need to advertise tickets because we’re sold out – recession/depression or no recession….”

canucks

The Nashville Predators also use the NHL’s generic format for their Home Page – and the new catchy phrase: WELCOME TO SMASHVILLE.

Not only is the team’s name agressive – PREDATORS – but so’s their new moniker.

They need to sell tickets, but don’t want to seem desperate. They are selling Fantasy Hockey ’09 plus NHL 2K10.

They have a beautiful fringe that’s inconsistent with their team’s name and new moniker.

nashville

Now, Detroit’s so desperate to sell tickets that they advertised their home playoff games – against the Blue Jackets – with Columbus fan groups.

That was last spring during the post-season, and now they have to sell tickets so that they can afford to re-sign Nick Lidstrom.

Their tact this year is to go after the families: hard hat Detroit with an Octopus on the top. They are also giving away toys for the kids at many games – and membership cards, pizza and pop….

detroit

Is that the Coyote’s logo or the wolf at their door?

Phoenix is marketing their tickets for really cheap – and throwing in t-shirts.

They aren’t trying to sell season’s tickets, because no one knows if the team will be in town next week.

phoenix

The Blue Jackets’ marketing people know what they’re doing.

It’s tough times in Columbus and they are using the red, white and blue of the team’s logo, and hosting a flag carrying march on opening night.

Patriotism always sells.

Fans get to see Steve Mason’s Calder Trophy – on display – receive magnetic schedules, plus a Steve Mason poster.

Their Home Page is very well-designed by someone who understands both art and hockey.

columbus

The Florida Panther’s marketing people are brilliant – but confused.

They think that they’re designing a movie poster for MIAMI VICE 2.

“Purchase Tickets” is barely visible and they have a game countdown over a soft picture.

This Home Page is about as unhockey as you can get.

fdlorida

Now, this is a Home Page.

The designers know their market. They’re selling tickets.

Their man on the cover is a traditional Bruin: a fighting grinder.

He’s wearing an old style jersey and the Home page looks like an old Bruins poster – traditional looking like the Canucks, but better.

boston

The Boston Home Page makes me want to buy tickets – if I know what’s good for me.

GAME 4: PRE-GAME

by Bill Heintz

The urge to point fingers can be overwhelming. Especially when off season signings and pre-season hype were so overwhelmingly positive. The defense looks terrible. Edler is confused. Bieksa can’t skate. Who is this Ehrhoff character? Can Salo hit the net? Ever?

Remember the picture of Cloutier with a beach ball behind him? How about Roberto’s performance last game!!! Kristian Huselius beats him…with an unscreened wrist shot? Ah, jeeze Louise.

And where’s the offense? Anyone who said we were a one line team before the season was roundly thrashed on the chatboards. Kesler, in a contract year, was about to take the next step. Shirokov was being mentioned in Calder Cup previews. Newly slimmed Wellwood and Bernier would team with newly bulked Mason Raynmond and suddenly we had a first line and two second lines, all of whom could be counted on to score. In bunches.

Talk about a WTF moment three games in!

Now before we get too deep into hysteria (from the Greek, wandering uteris) take a quick glance at the current standings and see who the last place suckers are in the three Western Conference divisions. Yep, Detroit and Anaheim also are undergoing early season struggles so we ain’t alone in the pity pit.

Of course the pundits tell you that a win will clear all the fog away and we will once again resume our journey to our assured destiny. Well, I’d like to make a small point here. What I’m looking for tonight is not a win. What I’m looking for tonight is a total team effort where the Canuck automobile runs on all cylinders. A team in synch where everyone does there own jobs and trusts that everyone of their teammates does the same. A game where no one is hung out to dry.

Because I’ve watched the game long enough to get a sick feeling in my stomach when I don’t see that team effort…and trust me it takes all of about three minutes to see whether it’s there or not. When it’s not, we see players struggling to get out of their own zone, passes that end up in skates, slap shots that are “just wide” and sure goals bouncing off posts. And a group of players that deflates at the first sign of adversity.
We’ve seen the other side of this coin as well. And when that happens the sun shines in Canuckville. But that kind of magic is, by definition, ephemeral.

We know it comes out of work, of couse, but we’ve seen hard work produce horrid results. It’s simple really: true team work results in wins. And team is what’s missing. That’s what I need to see tonight, win or lose.

I need to see a team.

HOW TO BECOME A CUP WINNING COACH….

by Ron Spence

You want to be an NHL head coach.

And you’d really like to have that Stanley Cup resting in your living room – at least for a while.

Even though there’s a stranger sitting – in your favourite reclining chair – guarding it, while you’re entertaining that brother-in-law – and his friends – you can’t stand.

So, what’s the secret?

Is there a template for success?

Well, if you’ve been an NHL player, and management believes that you have promise, you might be named an Assistant Coach. That could be step number one.

Of those who have won the Cup since 1997, two have followed that route.

Larry Robinson was hired as an assistant by the New Jersey Devils in 1993. And Randy Carlyle advanced in the Winnipeg Jets’ organization, becoming an assistant coach before the 1995–96 season.

Larry stayed with the Devils, was named head coach and won the Cup in 2000, and Carlyle raised the Trophy seven years later, with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Some career minor leaguers have started their coaching careers in the bottom professional leagues – mostly where they have played, because that’s where they’re known.

And two of them went on to win Stanley Cups.

Peter Laviolette was first a head coach of the Wheeling Nailers, in the East Coast Hockey League. He had played ten years in the minors, including a 12 game cup of coffee with the Rangers during the 1988–89 campaign.

John Tortorella played for Salem State College, the University of Maine, and in Sweden, before finishing in the lowly Atlantic Coast Hockey League.

With his third ACHL team, the Virginia Lancers, Torts was promoted to both the GM and head coach from 1986 until 1988.

Tortorella had his name engraved on Lord Stanley in 2004, with the rest of his Tampa Bay Lightning, and Laviolette with his Carolina Hurricanes two years later.

Dan Blysma was a variation on Robinson/Carlyle and Laviolette/Tortorella.

Dan-Bylsmacourtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

He played nine NHL seasons, and began his coaching career as an assistant with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL. After one season, he became an NHL assistant with the New York Islanders. He joined the Penguins organization as an assistant to Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and when Richards became an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, Blysma became Pittsburgh’s AHL head coach. He was Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s head coach for less than one season when he was promoted to the Penguins, and won the Stanley Cup.

Five of the last eleven Cup winners (There was no Cup awarded in 2005 because the season was canceled.), started their significant part of their coaching careers in Canadian junior hockey.

Scotty Bowman, who won two (1998 and 2002) of his nine Cups over the past decade, started coaching with the Ottawa Junior Canadians in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, and later the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association (This of course was during the days when most junior clubs were NHL farm teams – the Petes belonged to Montreal.).

And, Bowman might have joined Robinson and Carlyle at the top of this list, but his playing career ended after a head injury.

Pat Burns coached the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Bob Hartley the Junior ‘A’ Hawkesbury Hawks, before the Laval Titans of the QMJHL. Neither had much playing experience, Burns appearing in three games with the OHL’s London Knights.

Hartley won the Cup in 2001, and Burns followed in Robinson’s footsteps with the Devils, two years later.

Out in western Canada, Ken Hitchcock started coaching Midget Triple ‘A’ in Edmonton, before moving to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.

And, Mike Babcock coached the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, after three seasons of leading Red Deer College in Alberta.

Hitchcock had never played to any degree, but Babcock starred for Saskatoon and Kelowna in the WHL, and later the universities of Saskatoon and McGill (1983-87).

Hitchcock led the Dallas Stars to the Cup in 1999, and Babcock the Red Wings in 2008.

So, there is a path to follow.

You can start coaching midget, like Ken Hitchcock, or Junior A like Bob Hartley, and work your way up to Major Junior.

From there, maybe the East Coast Hockey League, or the American Hockey League, and then the Big Tent.

Of course, you have to be the very best there is, at every level that you coach.

Those guys, who have briefly rested the Stanley Cup on their mantles, have had to create room.

They have other trophies there as well.