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Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Kraft Hockeyville (TM) USA 2017 award is coming back to Western PA!

Congratulations to the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, which was named today as the winner in the Kraft Hockeyville (TM) USA 2017 competition!

The facility will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades and have the opportunity to host an NHL 2017-2018 preseason game in their facility.

The runner-up, the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minnesota, will receive $75,000 for upgrades to their facility. Kraft will also give money to the facilities who made it to the top 10 in earlier voting including two prizes of $25,000 and six of $10,000.

The Rostraver Ice Garden has faced adversity in the past several years because of facility issues. In 2010, part of the roof collapsed due to heavy snow, but 8 months later the rink reopened with a new roof to continue to serve their community.

During the 1970's the rink was used as a training camp facility for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Many other professional sports franchises have come and gone through the years, including the Mon Valley Thunder of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, the Pittsburgh RiverRats of the American Indoor Football Association, and the Steel City Warriors of the Federal Hockey League. Currently the Ice Garden is home to the California University of Pennsylvania's men's and women's ACHA hockey teams, as well as a second men's club team playing in the NCHA. The Mon Valley Thunder youth hockey program calls the Ice Garden home, as well as many local high school programs such as Elizabeth Forward, Serra Catholic, Baldwin, Bethel Park, and Belle Vernon.

Rostraver was one of over 1,300 communities from across the country to submit entries this year, and this is the 2nd time in the 3 years of the USA competition that a community ice rink from Western Pennsylvania has come out on top in the online voting. The 2015 winner was the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, PA (the facility where the movie "Slapshot" was filmed) and the 2016 winner was Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan.

In related news, the NHL also announced today that the preseason game to be played at the winning facility is set to be between the St. Louis Blues and the Pittsburgh Penguins and will be broadcast on NBCSN. Kudos to Kraft, the NHL, and the NHL Players Association for supporting this program to support community rinks and grow the sport of hockey!!!


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Oilers Sink the Sharks in Round 1

     The Edmonton Oilers have been having their best season in over a decade and have worked hard for all the success they have achieved in this 2016-17 season. Their last appearance in the post season before this year was in the 2005-06 playoffs, where they eventually lost in the final round to the Carolina Hurricanes in an exciting 7 game series. For anyone who does not remember this long ago playoff season, I want to point out that in the conference finals the Oilers became the first team in NHL history to go into the playoffs in a number 8 seed to win a conference championship and move on to play for the cup!

THE GOOD:

     The Oilers had a great series, they only completely fell apart in one game, game 4. Otherwise they played with the consistency that we have seen from them all year. The Surprising hero of the series was Zack Kassian, he had the game winning goal in both game 2 and game 3, one of them being a short handed goal! This is surprising because in several of his past season in the NHL he has not scored more than 7 goals all season and his highest number of goals in a season is 14. That being said, 2 in 6 games is a surprising and outstanding performance for the 26 year old winger. For the Sharks there are only a couple of things I can say that fall under the good section of the series.  One is Martin Jones, even though the team struggled and in the end did not prevail on the whole Jones played a very strong six games.  He never had fewer than 18 saves and in game 5 he made an amazing 44 saves.  For the playoffs this year he had a save percentage of .935 which was a significant improvement over his 0.912 percentage of the regular season. The Sharks only played 1 truly good game in this series, game 4 where they had a shocking 7-0 blowout win.  The whole team played up to their potential with 3 of their 4 offensive lines contributing to the score.  This game 4 Sharks team was the team that we watched surprise everyone last year as they made an amazing push to their first ever Stanley Cup final match!

THE BAD:

     The San Jose Sharks played most of this 2016-17 season fighting for the top spot in the Pacific Division with the Oilers and the Ducks. Up until the last month of play they held that top spot the majority of the time. Unfortunately in that last month of the season, as they have many times before, they started to fall apart. They dropped into 3rd and as a result started the Playoffs against the Oilers.  The Sharks fought all season long with consistency of play and as such I do not believe they would have made it through to the final no matter who their early opponent was, but I do believe that if they had been able to hold onto 1st in the division they could have at least taken out Calgary and made it to round 2. It is embarrassing as the defending Western Conference Champions to be eliminated in the 1st round. The Sharks were definitely not playing at their best in this first round, they were shutout in 2 of the 6 games and one of the 2 games they did manage to win was forced into OT.  As there was very little good to say about the Sharks in this series, there is also very little bad that can be said for the Oilers. Two things come to mind, the first is Cam Talbot having to be pulled from game 4 part way through the 2nd period after having let in 5 goals. In that game he had a horrifying 0.792 save percentage in 35 minutes of play bringing his playoff save percentage so far this year down to 0.927 which is certainly still a strong showing, but imagine what it could have been with out that bad game 4. The other thing I can say about the Oilers performance that could be categorized as bad is Connor McDavid's showing.  He was held to only 4 points total in the series, 2 goals and 2 assists.  This is not what anyone expected for a player who had 100 points during the regular season and was the 3rd youngest player in history to win the Art Ross trophy. The competition only gets harder from here and McDavid will need to get on the scoreboard more often if the Oilers want to make it to the final round.

THE UGLY:

     The ugly for the Oilers comes in the person of Leon Draisaitl in game 4. At 13 minuets 44 seconds into the 2nd period Draisaitl speared Chris Tierney in the groin. This is a dirty play no mater how it happens, but in this case it was particularly ugly since the indecent took play well away from the puck and with absolutely no provocation. Tierney had not made any underhanded or dirty plays against the Oilers at all in the game or even the series and the two were not involved in any sort of altercation at the time of the strike. It simply appeared that Draisaitl just lost his temper, probably regarding the very lopsided contest, at the time the Oilers were down 5-0. Draisaitl received a game misconduct and a 5 minute penalty served by Patrick Maroon in addition to his ejection form the game. He was not suspended for the incident, probably because Tierney did not sustain any lasting injury, Draisaitl had no history of this type of dirty play, and he did already miss almost half of a playoff game with the game misconduct ejection. While it was definitely and ugly and very dirty play, I believe that the department of player safety made the right decision, and he did have to pay the maximum fine for the incident. For the San Jose Sharks the ugly in this series had to be the injuries.  Joe Pavelski suffered a facial fracture late in the season and missed several games. He did return before the post season, but was not playing up to his normal standards of excellence. Then we have Patrick Marleau who was playing with a broken thumb during this series, and Tomas Hertl who was skating on a broken foot. Finally we have Joe Thornton who took a bad fall on his knee just before the end of the regular season and missed the first 2 playoff games. He returned in game 3 and played well for someone just coming off a knee injury, he was not quite as fast as he might have been, but was not showing the extent of his injury in any way. We found out the morning after the Sharks were eliminated in game 6 that he was playing with tears in his ACL and MCL on his left knee! Given all of these injuries that the Sharks were recovering from and playing through they did remarkably well.  It makes me wonder if they could have won the series against the Oilers if Hertl, Marleau and Thorton were not all playing with broken bones or damaged joints. I still don't believe they would have been able to beat the Ducks in round 2, but it would have been a less embarrassing exit to the playoffs not to have been eliminated in the first round. Still the most shocking and dramatic first round exit still belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks this year.

ONWARD TO ROUND 2!

     This season the Oilers came into the playoffs as the number 2 seed in the Pacific Division and number 4 in the Western Conference.  A much stronger position than their last post season entrance, and they are making a strong push to make it back to the finals but they still have a long road ahead with a number of strong teams still in the running.  The, Nashville Predators, for example had that number 8 spot in the conference this season and are making a strong play to repeat the Oilers 2005-06 conference championship feat. They are up against the St. Louis Blues who are also battling hard to make the finals. The Blues have a strong history of making the playoffs but have not played in a Stanley Cup match since 1970. In this 2nd round the Oilers are now up against the Ducks. The Ducks had a slow start this season but finished strong to take the number 1 slot in the Pacific division from both the Sharks and the Oilers. The Ducks have not won a cup since 2007, but have only missed the playoffs in 2 of the last 10 years.  They are coming off of a sweep of the Calgary Flames in round 1, and their goalie Gibson has been playing strong with a playoff save percentage of 0.926 having allowed only 9 goals in 122 shots faced in round 1. Congratulations to the Oilers for a well deserved victory in round 1 and excellent play all around by the team. Now however they face a stronger challenge in their opening game against the Ducks which starts tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Good Luck to the Oilers and all of the other teams who are moving on to round 2 this week. Here's to another series of exciting playoff hockey!

#Satire

Google has some pretty crazy ideas sometimes...


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Senators send the Bruins home after a hard-fought battle

When I picked the Bruins to win in round 1 against the Senators, I failed to consider how many injuries they had at the time, and that is what ultimately broke them. It wasn't the coaching, as interim coach Bruce Cassidy did a fine job (18-8-1) after taking over from the longtime Bruins coach, Claude Julien, who was fired in February. It wasn't goaltending, either. Tukka Rask finished with a .920 Sv% in the playoffs - not too shabby. Sure, there were some bad penalties, but ultimately the Bruins were missing some key players.

Most notably, forward David Krejci missed the first two games in the series with an upper body injury. Krejci returned to the ice for games 3 and 4, only to get taken down by a knee hit from Senators defenseman Chris Wideman near the end of the first period in game 5. Adding insult to injury, reports say that chirping, directed at Krejci, was heard from the Ottowa bench as Krejci was helped off the ice. Interestingly enough, this might have been just what the Bruins needed to rally, and they ended up winning game 5 in double overtime.

Of course, Krejci sat out game 6 with a lower body injury, and that's the way the cookie crumbles. The Bruins lost in overtime - the 4th OT of the series. It was a valiant effort, though. Tukka Rask had 26 saves. Drew Stafford and Patrice Bergeron each scored a goal.

The Senators move on to face the New York Rangers in round 2.

The Good:


At just 19 years, Charlie McAvoy made his NHL debut with the Bruins in game 1, and made quite an impression with 3 assists and 5 shots in six games. He was called up to fill in for the Bruin's critically depleted defense, and joins the ranks of outstanding young American-born players like Auston Mathews and Zach Werenski who are making a profound impact this season. He is one to watch next season.

The Bad:


Injuries. So many injuries. There was starting second-line center Krejci, and on defense: Kruge, Carlo, and McQuaid - all in their starting six. Drawing bad penalties didn't help them either, considering that their best penalty killers (Carlo and McQuaid) were on that injury list.

The Ugly:


So this one was controversial. In game 3, the Bruins came back from a 3-0 deficit to force an OT, and then the Senators Bobby Ryan scored on a power play due to this call. It looks like both players should have received matching penalties, but in this case, they only tapped Bruins Riley Nash for roughing.

Blue Jackets vs Penguins round 1 recap

I think this series was all about expectations. The Blue Jackets had a great run in the regular season with 16 wins in a row. This is the third time in franchise history they made the playoffs. The first time they were swept by the Red Wings. 0 wins and 4 losses. So this brings us to the fact that now they have 3 post season appearances with a total of 3 wins. I can think of at least one Penguin with that many Stanley cup rings. Chris Kunitz. 

So this is where the expectations come in. The Blue Jackets had such a great regular season, you would think that should translate to the post season. Not so much. The pens win the first 3 games.  The Blue Jackets stay alive by winning a home game. Then, the Penguins close out the series with a pretty solid home win 5 to 2 over the Blue Jackets.
   
In the regular season, the Blue Jackets had one breakout star: Cam Atkinson, with an impressive 35 goals. In the post season he had 2 goals, both in game 3. With the Penguins, it's much harder to pick the best part. There are so many things that can be said about the super stars. We all know the crazy goal Crosby got in at an almost impossible angle. Etc.

THE GOOD:

Its easy to focus on the super stars. So lets take a look at two guys that aren't named Atkinson and Crosby. Both did something notable.

I really liked Boone Jenner in this series. I think he was the unsung hero for the Blue Jackets. He had 2 goals and 1 assist. I think the more notable goal was the one he batted in. It was on the power play.  It was also batted out of the air and in. After a review, it was deemed not by a high stick. I also really like his physical style of play.

So lets take a quick look into Bryan Rust. He had 4 goals in 5 games. In the 5th game, he had two goals! The second goal was of his own rebound. Bryan Rust is a rising star. He has almost a cult following on tweeter.  is the hash tag to follow.

 THE BAD:

Sergei "Bob" Bobrovsky, in the regular season, had the best save percentage at .931 sv%. He is also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this season. So he is looking at the possibility of getting the second of his career. Then what happened? In the post season, Bob had an overall .882 sv%. Yes you read that right. Let that sink in. 


.882 sv%
  

THE UGLY:

This is an easy one. There is only one seriously ugly incident: Matt Calvert's "episode" with Tom Kuhnhackl. This can almost be described as a drive-by shooting. Tom Kuhnhackl is caught almost completely flat footed by Matt Calvert. The cross check is addressed by the refs with a 2 minute penalty. What bothers me most is two things about this. The first is that Kuhnhackl is nowhere near the puck. He has nothing to do with the play that is moving away from them. The second is after the cross check. Matt Calvert skates back around and wrecks Tom Kuhnhackl with a check that drops him to the ice. Hence why I call this a drive-by. Did not kill him with the fist shot (cross check) so skates back to finish him off.

Matt Calvert, not cool, man. I get this is a playoff game and all. Maybe next time try to at least go after the guy with the puck. Since there was no real injury and the cross check itself was addressed during the game, I agree that the one-game suspension was the right call.

https://www.nhl.com/video/calvert-suspended-one-game/t-277440360/c-51462503 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chicago Blackhawks Eliminated in the 1st Round!?!

     With the first round of the playoffs over there have been a few surprises, but none more shocking than seeing the Chicago Blackhawks, who were 1st in the Western Conference, eliminated by the Nashville Predators, who came into the playoffs in the 2nd wildcard slot for the west.  I would like to say congratulations to the Nashville Predators team up front, they played a very good series of games and definitely deserve to be moving forward to the next round!  The outcome of this match -up has made me re-evaluate my predictions for how the rest of the playoffs are going to go, since I had the Blackhawks picked to become the Western Conference Champions, and I doubt that I was alone in that thought.

THE GOOD:

    First I want to look at what was good about the series between the Predators and the Blackhawks.  For that I have to start  with Pekka Rinne he played an amazing 4 games!  Rinne who has proven himself to be a world class goalie throughout his career really re-enforced that well earned reputation during the surprisingly abbreviated contest with Chicago.  For his career in the NHL he has played 508 games, of those he started in 497 and tallied 269 wins and 155 losses.  His Career goals against average is 2.38 and save percentage is 0.917.  All of these are very respectable stats for an elite level goal tender, but nothing compared to the numbers he managed to put up in this first series.  In the playoffs so far Rinne ended the first round with a  goals against average of 0.70 and a save percentage of 0.976!  Rinne was not solely responsible for the Predators outstanding performance, the offense was strong and the defense was solid through out, the team as a whole played very well.  Just as important as skill is the psychological componant of playing in the post season and the Predators aced that as well.  Nashville did not let the fact that Chicago had clearly outplayed them by a large margin during the regular season intimidate them or get into their heads.  They were the clear underdogs going in, but proved they had earned the right to be there and were not to be underestimated by shutting out the Blackhawks in both of the first 2 games.  This was the first time in franchise history that the Predators eliminated an opponent in the playoffs in a 4 game sweep!

THE BAD:

     For the Blackhawks this is the second year in a row that they have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  Going into the playoffs the Blackhawks had won approximately 62% of all of their regular season games.  They had a record of 50-23-9 for a total of 109 points by the close of the regular season.  Their opponent the Predators had won exactly 50% of their games ending the regular season at 41-29-12 with a total of only 94 points.  On paper Chicago should have won this series and easily.  In fact my personal prediction was that they would take the series in 5 games.  Nashville proved that other than having enough points to make it into the playoffs these stats don't really matter.   They gave all of us a reality check when Rinne and his team prevented Chicago from winning a single game in the series and limited them to only 3 goals total in the 2017 playoffs.


THE UGLY:

     Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was quoted as saying that, "the offense was completely shut down by the Nashville Predators, scoring just 3 goals in the 4 game series."  While the fact that they scored fewer goals than games played in the entire series is ugly enough it gets worse when you consider that the Predators goalie Pekka Rinne had an assist in each of the first two games of the series.  This means that the Predators goalie scored almost as many points in the series as the Blackhawks as a team made goals.  The other stat that is distinctly ugly, from the Blackhawks perspective at least, is that going into the playoffs they were placed first in the Western Conference and the Predators were the 2nd wild card slot in their conference.  That means that this match up was between the best team in the conference, at least on paper, and the 8th place team in the conference.  I missed seeing the first game of this series, but in watching games 2 through 4 I can say that the Blackhawks team that I watched during the regular season did not show up at all during the post season.  Their offense was totally ineffective, and the defense did little better in stopping the Nashville offense.  If I didn't know better I would swear that Chicago found a group of amazing look a likes for all of their players, who just happened to know how to skate decently and put them on the ice while the real team went of vacation!  I don't know if it was simply a matter of over confidence on Chicago's part, or if they were just mentally getting ready to play whom ever won the St. Louis Minnisota series, or if they were just burned out from a long hard fought and won regular season.... but the Blakhawks that I genuinely had a lot of fun watching throughout the 2016-17 regular season was just no where to be found in the 4 games that they played in the playoffs.

ONWARD TO ROUND 2!

     Now having said all of this I want to stress that Nashville played hard and well in all 4 games of this series and genuinely deserved to win and move forward!  I don't know what the outcome would have been if Chicago had played up to their potential, and our expectations.  It might have ended with the Predators moving on to round 2 anyway, or it might not, but it definitely would have been a more exciting series to watch and a more satisfying victory to whomever the series winner might have been.   Congratulations to the Nashville Predators on a surprising, but well deserved victory in Round 1 and best of luck to them as they prepare to meet the St. Louis Blues for the start of Round 2 on Wednesday 4/26!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Vezina finalists announced!

The three finalists for the Vezina Trophy were announced on Saturday.
The award is presented to "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs."
Carey Price of the Montréal Canadiens,  Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals were named finalists for the award, and all three have won the trophy within the last 4 years. It will be exciting to see who walks away with a second trophy this year and exciting also that all 3 finalists belong to the Eastern Conference, 2 from the Metropolitan Division!
It is interesting to note that in the first half of the season, Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild had also been considered a front runner for the award, but his second half performance faltered and was likely a factor in the voting even though his final stats were comparable to those of Price, who statistically was ranked 3rd after Bobrovsky and Holtby.
The Vezina will be handed out at the NHL Awards on June 21 in Las Vegas.

Vezina Trophy
By Horge (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Urban Dictionary: Hockey Edition

Have you heard of lettuce? Do you know what breezers are? How about a clapper? Here’s the lowdown on some common hockey lingo.

Bender: A player who is terrible at skating and whose ankles bend inward.

Puck Bunny: A woman that attends hockey games only for the purpose of picking up players.

Gongshow: A crazy, out of control hockey game, often involving lots of fights, penalties or goals.

Breezers: Hockey pants.

Deke: A feigned move used to trick the opposing player into moving out of position.

Celly: A celebration after a goal is scored.

Duster: A player who sits on the bench collecting dust. They are bad at hockey, get little ice time and are only played when their team is up by many goals.

Chiclets: Teeth, usually used when describing missing teeth.

Buzzer Beater: A goal scored just as the period ends.

Lettuce/Flow/Salad: Long, flowing hair.

Free Agent: A single hockey player. They often attract the attention of puck bunnies.

Twig: A hockey stick.

Bucket: A helmet.

Babysitter: A player put on a line with two lesser skilled players. He is said to be babysitting the line.

Hoser: A loser. It originates from the pre-zamboni days when the losing team had to hose down the ice.

Breadbasket: The goalie’s chest. It is typically used when describing a shot that hit the logo on the goalie’s sweater.

Chirp: Mocking another player or trash talk.

Biscuit: The puck.

Apple: An assist.

Barn: The arena or rink.

Barn Burner: An exciting game that is fast paced or high scoring.

Dangle: A move used to fake out an opposing player or goalie. It is similar to a deke.

Clapper: A slapshot.

Gordie Howe Hat Trick: When a player has a goal, an assist and a fight in one game.

Bar Down/Bar South: When the puck hits the crossbar and goes in the net.

Howitzer: A very fast slapshot.

Pillows: The goaltender’s leg pads.


Sin Bin: The penalty box.


Phil Kessel: Stanley Cup Champion.

Phil Kessel 2016-04-07 1
By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Storybook Ending for Women's USA Hockey Team

Team USA did it 3-2, with Hilary Knight's game-winning goal in the overtime period. This gives Team USA their first Worlds win on home soil, and their eighth overall.

Game highlights from USA Hockey

Considering everything that the team has been through in recent months, this is a poignant victory, and there should be no doubt that the WNT is best in the world. Congratulations, Team USA!

Post game commentary

In the overall rankings, Kendall Coyne was the scoring leader, with 5 goals. 
Brianna Decker had the most assists with 9, and she was also the +/- leader. 
Hannah Brandt won the most face-offs with a 70.21%. 
Goalkeeper with the highest SVS% was Nicole Hensley with 96.43. 
Monique Lamoureux was the lead scoring defenseman with 6 points. 
Hilary Knight ranked third in points, and Amanda Kessel ranked fifth. 

These are the people you want to watch. 

Amanda Kessel is in the NWHL New York Riveters.
Hilary Knight is in the NWHL Boston Pride.
Monique Lamoureux is in the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Hannah Brandt is in the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Brianna Decker is in the NWHL Boston Pride.
Kendall Coyne is in the Minnesota Whitecaps.

AND they lived happily ever after.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Women's Worlds: USA vs Canada

Imagine if all the players in the NHL were lightweight and fast, and had great flow (see, Carl Hagelin). That's what I was thinking as I watched the opening game of the Women's Worlds, USA vs Canada. Strip away some of the more brutal aspects of the sport, and you get a game of skill and finesse. You get women's hockey.

There are only two differences in the rules for  women's hockey: they must wear full cages or face masks, and full-body checking can be assessed at the discretion of the referee for a 2' penalty. So, you don't see fighting or a lot of heavy hitting, and you won't miss it that much. They can still get physical, and at the world level, the women are playing a very dynamic and exciting game.

Don't get me wrong. I like a hockey fight as much as the next guy, and the NHL can keep their tradition of fisticuffs, and Rule 56. But when you take away that option, and you don't have any goons or instigators on the ice, a more refined game of skating, passing, and stick handling emerges.



At 1:20 in the above video, Team USA Brianna Decker scores off a feed from Megan Bozek, in such an epic fashion that you would think it was a Malkin & Crosby play. They had to be creative because it's not easy getting one past Team Canada Goaltender Szabados.

Marvin scores early in the third period, making it 2-0 for the win, and an 18-save shutout for Goaltender Nicole Hensley.

This is a great win for Team USA, considering that they did not have a training camp, and Team Canada did. They must be riding high on emotion after finally reaching a deal with USA Hockey this week. I look forward to watching the rest of the tournament. Games are being broadcast on the NHL Network, and also live streaming at NHL.com. You can also get news and stats by downloading the IIHF app from your app store.