Tag Archives: Edmonton Oilers

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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GAME 5: HALF OF THIS GAME IS 90% MENTAL

by desert dawg

I think it was Casey Stengel, the great New York Yankees Manager who uttered those famous words. Okay, you say it was Yogi Berra? Take a number and sue me.

And even though it boggles the mind to read it in cold print, the point Casey was making was true about all sports. The mental aspect of the game is what separates the winners from the losers.

Tonight the boys came out fresh off the comeback over the big red machine and for the first couple of seconds looked like they had their legs. Then Willie Mitchell over handles the puck, the fire drill starts and we end up with a penalty.

Okay let’s get settled in here for a penalty kill and then we can use our speed to take it to the Sabres. Surely they have heard about our speed by now. And…whoops, the puck is in our net.

It’s like the fighter who takes the early left hook. Shakes his head to clear it and gets ready to wade back in, when whoops, a right cross wobbles the legs, Yep, that’s right folks, puck is in the net again. Okay Sabres, maybe you didn’t get the memo about how great we are, and we understand that living in the permafrost next to the Falls you might not have access to state-of-the-art communications. So let us repeat, we are faster, we hit harder, we take no prisoners and…whoops that one went in too? Are you sure? Wasn’t there interference on that play…come one ref! But no we don’t want to go there either. Blaming everything on the refs is the domain of Dwayne Roloson and the Edmonton Oiler Fan base.

So the first period ends three nothing. Yikes, another spanking. We were out hit, out chanced and lost the majority of the face offs. The only good thing about the three Buffalo goals is that they came in the first period. We have time to come back.

The second period justifies that, because we score on an unreal shot from Kesler and YES! It’s a game again and let’s just start…whoops the Sabres pop another behind Sanford. And now the finger pointing starts as we all pick out our favourite whipping boy. Pyatt’s doing nothing. Ohlund is too slow, Big Lou would have stopped those, so Sanford is garbage blah, blah, blah

But wait folks, this is a team sport. No sense pointing fingers in a loss like this. And at this point, no sense analyzing the second half of the game. Oh, we held our own from there on in. Face-offs evened out. We started skating and hitting. But it was too little to late.

Much of the game at the elite level is mental attitude, mental toughness. The cliché in hockey is that the team playing the second night of back to back games does not get their skating legs until the second period. And that was apparent tonight. But when you leave the ice down three nothing, it’s more than just skating legs.

So how do you prepare a team for that second game.

Well, hockey is a pretty simple game played by enormously talented athletes. And the Canuck heads just weren’t in it for the first period. No sense laying individual blame here. The players as a team weren’t ready. But let’s not leave it there. The coaches job is to prepare them. Of course, the argument is that these are multi-million dollar athletes and they shouldn’t need to have the coaches prepare them. They simply must be prepared because that is what they are paid to do. But I submit that this team is not a team yet. But they are establishing a team, that much I trust. This group of individuals known as the Vancouver Canucks played like…well, like a group of individuals.

But preparing them is what the team of coaches are supposed to do, si, si si?

Of course.

But then do I blame the head coach? The assistants, the video guy? The GM? Taylor Pyatt? Willie Mitchell?

For god’s sake, blame someone!!!

Well, that’s just the attitude that prevents a team from emerging. Scapegoating doesn’t produce a winning hockey team. It’s a fools game to pick individuals out in a team loss. Yes, they weren’t ready. Every person in the Canucks organization must accept some level of responsibility for that. Of course it is the GM’s job to hold them all responsible. And the owner’s job to hold the GM responsible. We already know that.

And the fan’s job? Well, in many ways, the fan’s attitude should mirror the organization.

There is no excuse for a game like tonight.
And if the slogan “We are all Canucks” has any meaning at all, then we are compelled to
enforce one, and only one rule.

Losing is not acceptable.

Pre-Season Records, Guys on the Bubble and Sarah Palin

by desertdawg
So I have a guilty secret. I really get a kick out of Edmonton Oilers Fans.

Yep. No irony, no mocking tone here. I love those guys. I read Oiler chat boards constantly and have not found a more passionate, knowledgeable group of fans anywhere in the league. Sure Toronto and Montreal Fans are passionate, but they are like Sarah Palin and her evil minions…the “my country right or wrong crowd.” Idiotic groupthink at the centre of their own little universe. Other teams don’t rate…or even exist.

But Edmonton fans think nothing of ripping into their own team, or each other for that matter. But at the heart of it, they love their Oil and they hate everyone else. Especially the Flames and the Canucks and their respective fan bases. The Oil fans mock, despise and may even practice some northern form of Santeria in order to place bad joss on their NW opposition. And nothing proves the point more than the Oil base reaction to the Canucks’ pre-season record. Sure they’re undefeated…but it’s only pre-season. Most other fans could care less about the Canucks’ record. But not the Oil base. They simply can’t stand the fact that the Canucks have done exceedingly well and the Oil base spew vitriol and contempt at every turn. Canucks undefeated? They hate it! The Oil base is consumed with passion and I tip my hat to them.

And the undefeated pre-season? Well, it’s nice I suppose. But the coach is more concerned with checking players out and installing systems. Winning is a bonus… but not the point. But for long suffering Canucks fans, it is a boost, and after last year’s disaster, any boost is most welcome.

And the bubble guys?. They have about eight players going for one roster spot (the 12th forward) and two or three spare positions (two extra forwards and one 7th D-man).

So who gets over the hump?

At this point, I really don’t think it matters that much. The big decisions have been made and are clear. BTW, Hansen is not a bubble player, he has made the team. The forward lines have settled 11 of the 12 positions (Johnson and Hordichuk as 2/3 of the fourth line). So they have a choice of Brown, Krog, Wellwood, Pettinger and Cowan. Everyone has their favourites, but if I had to chose, I’d say Wellwood makes the team as the number 12 forward and Brown and Pettinger hit the Black Aces squad along with Rob Davidson as the 7th D. But these are small matters. The Canucks have three lines that can score and a fourth line that can win face offs, take spot duty on the PK or PP, and a heavyweight who can drop ‘em and throw ‘em.

No wonder they are six and oh.

The Final Prediction Blog

by desertdawg

A few years ago, back in the mid-eighties the Edmonton Oilers were heading into playoff overtime. Jim Robson began to speculate with the coverage crew, who might be the overtime hero when Howie Meeker interrupted with a shout of “I think Gretzky will score.”
Robson couldn’t contain his snort. “Yeah, you and 50 million others, Howie.”
The point was obvious, but worth exploring. Yes, Howie made a wise choice in Gretzky (I think it was Peter Klima that scored, by the way) but that’s no fun. Predictions aren’t supposed to be so obvious. The tradition holds that the overtime scorer will be some hard working fourth line plugger whom the hockey Gods reward with a brief moment of glory.
Okay, so Klima wasn’t a fourth line plugger. But later, the pundits crowed that Slats had made another brilliant move in his long line of brilliant moves (like saying “Wayne, get out there…”) by holding Klima off until everyone else was dog tired before throwing the enigmatic sniper out on the ice. A quick snap shot from the slot and it was over. Boston was done.

The truth is, Slather hated the way Klima dogged it and he could not trust his defensive responsibility in a close checking Stanley Cup match. He threw Klima out there because he had no choice. His young Oilers were all bent over on the bench. Klima for forty seconds might give someone else time to recover.
No one had predicted Klima…but every pundit tried to take a little credit in the post game analysis.
So now, everyone is predicting the Wings will win the Cup.
What a cheesy choice. Yeah, I know they have added Hossa so if anything they are stronger. And they have the best coach, the best management, blah, blah blah. The truth is, a lot of the same people picking the Wings, picked the Ducks at the beginning of the season. Some backed away when Neids and Selanne played their coy little game for half a season, but again, most stayed with heir selection when the guys returned to the fold for the playoff run.
But the Ducks got knocked off by a suddenly competent Dallas squad.
The truth is, picking a Stanley Cup winner before the season even starts doesn’t take into consideration the ebbs and flows of the regular season that leads to the marathon that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Injuries to key players, especially at the end of the season, the hot goaltender syndrome (or lack of a hot goaltender), the right matchups at every stage… and everyone knows the first rounds are the hardest to get past when all 16 teams are fresh and motivated to fever pitch. Just ask those same Wings who had so many other early exits over the years, very powerful Red Wing teams by the way, what can happen in the first couple of rounds. And goaltending? If Osgood falters, the stampede of the “I told you so” crowd will indeed be life threatening.
“Never liked that guy…always knew he was a dog…”
So will the Wings repeat they way the experts tell us? Or will Sid the Kid lead the charge and take the Cup back east? The truth is, there’s a one in sixteen chance. And a lot can happen in two months, not to mention the nearly seven months leading up to the playoffs.
So stick with your home team, mates. Anything can happen when the Hockey Gods start to smile.
But here are some predictions you can count on.

Number One: Fans in almost hald the NHL cities will be clammering for their coach or GM to be fired by Xmas. The exception to this is Edmonton where the lynch mob will form in early November.
Number Two:
There will be a breakout player that almost all of us missed in picking our pool team(s). The lucky suckers who do manage to select this player will claim to have mysterious inside information.
Number Three
: For half of the pool players, their pool team will be a bitter substitute for their failing home team, who for some reason, are just once again falling apart. Of course, we will still lose to to the poolies who got luckier than us.
Number Four
: Canadian Fans will spend much of the year arguing with other team fans why their Defenceman, Winger, Centre or Goalie should be given great consideration for the 2010 Winter Olympics. American fans will scratch their heads and exclaim “there’s a Winter Olympics in 2010?”
Number Five: A number of teams will trade their immediate future for help in the Cup run. All will be bitterly disappointed when the rental player (a) does not help them win the Cup and (b) departs for greener pastures in the off season.
Like I said, some predictions you can count on.