Friday, August 30, 2013

Almost Time to Drop the Puck

With the KHL season starting in five days and the WHL training camps and pre-season starting up, that means the NHL season won't be far behind in getting in gear.  With that in mind, that means the 2013-14 season preview will be happening all through September, and despite the regular season beginning on October 1, the preview will happen as it always has, covering the month of September.  With Winterhawks and SKA Saint Petersburg also on the agenda, as well as some new jersey unveilings, that means September will be featuring plenty of hockey talk.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chernyshev Division

Today wraps up the look at the teams in the KHL, as the season will begin next week.  The Chernyshev Division gets the spotlight today.

Admiral Vladivostok is a new team to the KHL and hockey in general, as they were formed this year, and will play in the city of Vladivostok, Russia, located in the eastern most part of the country.  The team president is Alexander Mogilny, and the team will trot out players such as Niclas Bergfors and Enver Lisin.

HC Amur was formed in 1966 and plays in the city of Khabarovsk, Russia, one of two cities on the far eastern coast of Russia (Vladivostok is the other).  They were the runners-up for the Nadezhda Cup, awarded to the best team in the KHL to not qualify for the Gagarian Cup playoffs.  The team features players such as Jan Mursak, Dylan Reese, and Timofei Shishkanov.

Avangard Omsk plays their home games in Omsk, Russia, and has been a team since 1950.  They last won a championship in 2004.  They feature players such as Alexander Frolov, Oleg Kvasha, and Sergei Kostitsyn.

Barys Astana plays in the city of Astana, Kazakhstan, and has been around since 1999.  The "Snow Leopards" will feature players such as Josh Gratton, Nigel Dawes, Mike Lundin, and Nik Antropov on their roster this season.

HC Metallurg Novokuznetsk has been around since 1949, and play in the city of Novokuznetsk, Russia, located in central Russia near the Mongolia-Russia border.  Kurtis McLean and Mikhail Chernov are some of the players on the team's current roster.

HC Salavat Yulaev plays their home games in Ufa, Russia, and has been in existence since 1961.  They were the Gagarian Cup champions in 2011, making them only one of three teams to win the Gagarian Cup in the KHL's brief existence so far.  The team will feature players such as Brent Sopel, Anton Babchuk, and Ivan Vishnevsky.

HC Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast plays in the city of Novosibirsk, Russia, and was founded in 1948.  The "Siberians" feature players such as Kristian Kudroc and Jonas Enlund.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kharlamov Division

In an effort to get on time for the 2013-14 NHL season preview without too many things going on at once, today and tomorrow, I will run down the rest of the KHL by division as opposed to individual teams.  Today is the Kharlamov Division of the Eastern Conference in the KHL.

Ak Bars plays their home games in Kazan, Russia and was the first KHL champion, as they would go on to win the first two Gagarian Cups in the KHL's existence.  The team's origins date back to 1956, and the team has played under the Ak Bars name since 1995.  Their current roster features WHL alumni such as Shaun Heshka and Tomas Vincour, as well as Alexander Burmistrov.

HC Avtomobilist plays their home games in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and is a relatively new franchise, starting play in 2006 and joining the KHL in 2009.  Players such as Eric Belanger and Sami Lepisto are on the current roster.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk plays their home games in the Chelyabinsk Oblast region of Russia and has been a hockey team since 1955.  The team is notable for the fact that former NHL coach Mike Keenan is the current coach of the "Foxes."

HC Neftekhimik plays their home games in the city of Nizhnekamsk, located in the Tatarstan area of Russia, and have been a team since 1968.  The "Petrochemists" feature players such as Martin Cibak and Nikolai Belov on their current roster.

Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod plays their home games in Nizhny Novogorod, Russia, and is one of two franchises in the Eastern Conference to have been founded in the 1940's (they were founded in 1946).  Tim Brent and Wojtek Wolski are among the players on the current roster.

HC Traktor plays in Chelyabinsk, Russia, and is the second oldest franchise in the Eastern Conference, having been formed in 1947.  They were the runners-up in the Gagarian Cup Finals last season, losing to HC Moscow Dynamo.  The current roster is set to include the likes of Andrei Kostitsyn, Stanislav Chistov, and Jan Bulis.

HC Yugra plays their home games in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, and has been in existence since 2006.  Their KHL debut happened in the 2010-11 season, and their current roster features the likes of Jonas Andersson and Mikhail Yakubov.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

HC Vityaz

HC Vityaz Podolsk plays their home games in the city of Podolsk, Russia, and is a member of the Tarasov Division.  Formed in 1996, the team started out in Podolsk before moving to Chekhov for the 2000 season.  Under the Vityaz Chekhov name from 2004 (the time in which the official name change happened) to this season, the team gained notoriety for employing a goon mentality, featuring former NHL enforcers such as Darcy Verot and Trevor Gillies at some point in their existence.  Currently, the team features on its roster Maxim Afinogenov, Josh Hennessy, and Alexander Korolyuk.

HC Spartak Moscow

HC Spartak is a member of the Tarasov Division and is one of five teams to play in the Moscow area.  Their roots trace back to 1946 and their last championship was in 1976.  Also known as the "Gladiators" and the "Red and Whites," the team currently consists of players such as Deron Quint, Slava Kozlov, and Tom Wandell.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Severstal Cherepovets

HC Severstal is a member of the Tarasov Division and play their home games in the city of Cherepovets, Russia.  The team originally started play in 1956 and have undergone two different name changes, but have played under the Severstal name since 1994.  Niclas Anderssen and Teemu Laakso are among the players that are on the current roster.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

HC Lokomotiv is a member of the Tarasov Division and plays their home games in the city of Yaroslavl, Russia.  The origins of the team date back to 1959, and they have gone through five different names, all of which incorporate the city of Yaroslavl into the name.  They have been HC Lokomotiv since 2000 after changing from Torpedo Yaroslavl.  More recently, Lokomotiv was in the news for a 2011 plane crash prior to their season opener against Dinamo Minsk, killing all on board except for a flight crew member.  That tragedy forced Lokomotiv to sit out the 2011-12 season.  Their current roster includes Vitaly Vishnevsky, Staffan Kronwall, and Curtis Sanford, and is coached by Tom Rowe.

Friday, August 23, 2013

HC Dynamo Moscow

HC Dynamo Moscow is a member of the Tarasov Division and along with SKA Saint Petersburg, CSKA, and HC Spartak Moscow, one of the oldest franchises in the KHL, as all four were founded in 1946.  As the current two-time defending Gagarian Cup champions, Dynamo Moscow will have a target on their backs all season, but with players such as Filip Novak and Leo Komarov on their roster, they will be ready as they go for three in a row in the relatively young league.

HC Donbass

HC Donbass is a member of the Tarasov Division and plays their home games in Donetsk, Ukraine.  They have been in existence since 2005 and joined the KHL in 2012.  They are coached by former San Jose Sharks enforcer Andrei Nazarov, who has notoriety in the KHL as he had some issues with fans (read: he wanted to fight them during one game) while coaching HC Vityaz Chekov (now HC Vityaz Podolsk).  Vaclav Nedorost, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Michael Leighton call this team their home for the season.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Island Improvement


2012-13 record: 35-30-2-5 (lost to Kamloops in Conference quarterfinals)

After a not-so sterling start to their existence in 2012, the Victoria Royals improved by 22 points in the standings and were a dark horse to win the Western Conference in 2013.  However, Kamloops put an end to those hopes in six games in the opening round.  Don't let the 223 goals for and 252 goals against fool you, the Royals were competitive for many of those games and gave Kamloops all they could handle in the opening round.  Alex Goglev and Jamie Crooks are gone due to graduation, and that means two of the team's top scorers will need to be replaced.  However, Brandon Magee does return, as does Austin Carroll and Brett Cote.  However, the Royals do need to improve their defense, as both Patrik Polivka and Coleman Vollrath posted 3.24 and 3.54 GAA, respectively.  Those numbers should improve because the defense was young and should be a year wiser after playing in some meaningful games down the stretch.  Offensively, it will have to be a scoring by committee approach again, as no one player stands out.

Prediction: 5th in the West

While there are no true superstars on the Royals, they play better when they stick to the system employed by coach Dave Lowry, and with another year in his system, the Royals should see the goals against totals drop, which should be enough for another appearance in the playoffs.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nowhere to Go Except Up


2012-13 record: 21-49-2-0 (missed the playoffs)

The 2012-13 season was a miserable one for the Vancouver Giants, as they finished last in the league.  An alarming 299 goals were given up, and that ended up costing Glen Hanlon his job as head coach.  Don Hay takes over as coach, and this season, the growing pains the Giants endured (they were the youngest team in the league last year) should begin to bear some fruit, as their top two scorers Cain Franson and Jackson Houck are expected to return.  Leaving the Giants will be Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, Jason Trott, and Brendan Rouse, as all three were overagers last season.  Ales Kilnar and Marek Tvrdon are also leaving, as Dmitry Osipov and Andreas Eder were taken in the CHL Import Draft.  Payton Lee will likely be the starter next season, and he got a rude introduction to WHL hockey, as he posted a 3.51 GAA in 36 games, and that led the team.

Prediction: 7th in the West

For all of the troubles the Giants had last season, this season should see them return to the playoffs, as the younger players had a chance to gain meaningful minutes in games.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stability Needed in Net


2012-13 record: 40-27-2-3 (lost to Spokane in Conference quarterfinals)

Fresh off of a Conference Finals appearance in 2012, the Tri-City Americans were hoping to build off of that run.  Unfortunately, injuries to the goaltending led to no less than five players starting in net and a quick first round ouster at the hands of rival Spokane.  The offense wasn't as plentiful, and now, it will have to deal with leading scorer and Four Broncos Memorial Trophy finalist Justin Feser heading to the pros.  Drydn Dow and Jesse Mychan are also out due to graduation, but having a healthy Eric Comrie should help solidify a goaltending position that was in flux last year.  Connor Rankin is the most likely leading scorer to return, and he will be joined by the likes of Jakub Illes (who is likely replacing Malte Stromwall) and Parker Bowles.  Replacing Feser won't be an easy task, but the Ams are quite balanced on offense, as five players broke the 20 goal mark last season, and that figures to be the case again this season.

Prediction: 3rd in the West

Injuries kept the Ams from fulfilling their full potential last season.  A healthy Comrie and a possible breakout season from either Rankin or Bowles should have the Ams in the thick of another playoff run.

Monday, August 19, 2013

HC Atlant

HC Atlant is a member of the Tarasov Division and play their home games in Mytischi, located in the Moscow Oblast Region. They came to be in their current incarnation in 2005 after over 50 years of playing as Khimik Voskresensk (incidentally, there is a team that took that name after the original team became HC Atlant).  Among the players to have played in the NHL on the Atlant roster include Bobby Sanguinetti, Igor Radulov, and Evgeny Artyukhin.

"We Will Outwork You"


2012-13 record: 36-29-3-4 (lost to Calgary in Conference quarterfinals)

For a team that scored a meager 206 goals in the 2012-13 season (only Kootenay fared worse of the Eastern Conference playoff teams), the Swift Current Broncos found an identity through hard work and a defense that was second best in the conference behind only Edmonton.  However, their first playoff appearance in three years was brief, as the Calgary Hitmen eliminated them in five games.  This season, they will be without Ryon Moser, Chance Lund, and Dalton Reum, who will be moving on due to graduation, and are likely going to start the season without Eetu Laurikainen (the Broncos used both CHL Import draft picks this year) and the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy winner Adam Lowry, who is likely to break camp with the Winnipeg Jets' affiliate in the AHL.  Coda Gordon is the one leading scorer that is the surest option to return, and certainly, Dillon Heatherington is also a sure bet to return, which should help the defense in the event that the leading scorer from the blue line Reece Scarlett does not return.  Replacing Laurikainen could be either Steven Myland or Landon Bow, and while Bow played fairly well in limited action, Myland could emerge as the starter, as he impressed in an eight game audition with the Broncos last season.  Julius Honka and Igor Leonenko are new arrivals via the Import Draft.

Prediction: 6th in the East

The Broncos are not the most talented team, but they do play better than the sum of the parts.  They do need to replace the leadership void that Lowry is leaving behind, but as long as they stick to their identity as a defensive minded team, they should make the playoffs with room to spare.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

HC Slovan Bratislava

HC Slovan Bratislava is a member of the Bobrov Division of the KHL and began play in the league in 2012.  Their roots date back to 1921, a couple of years after the football counterpart of the same name was formed, and was the sole team from the Slovakian side to play in the premier Czechoslovak league.  They became a member of the Slovak Extraliga when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were separated in 1993.  Players such as Milan Bartovic, Martin Skoula, and Marko Dano are on the team known as the Sky Blues.

Going Younger


2012-13 record: 44-26-2-0 (lost to Portland in Conference semi-finals)

The Spokane Chiefs were a veteran team last year, and certainly, they had a chance to make some noise in the WHL playoffs.  However, after beating a depleted Tri-City team in the opening round, they ran into a determined Portland team and were swept out of the semis.  Now, they will be minus Blake Gal, Dylan Walchuk, and leading scorer and Bill Hunter Trophy winner Brenden Kichton, as all three graduated after the season.  It is possible that their returning leading scorer from last season will be Reid Gow, but either Mitch Holmberg or Mike Aviani could return as one of three overagers.  Todd Fiddler will not be back, as he was traded in the offseason.  The blue line should return all except Kichton and possibly Tanner Mort, as the relatively youthful group will be one year wiser, and that should help a goaltending duo of Eric Williams and Garret Hughson, both of whom posted GAA numbers north of the 3.00 mark.  Adam Hascic and Dominic Swerger are the new Imports coming in, as both Alessio Bertaggia and Mikulas Rimmel are not likely to return.

Prediction: 4th in the West

A year wiser, the Chiefs blue line will need to step up and perform, as the forwards will be in transition.  Goaltending kept them in some games last year, but without consistency, they will likely be nothing more than just a playoff team.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Trying to Save Face


2012-13 record: 24-38-7-3 (lost to Kelowna in Conference quarterfinals)

After three years of missing the playoffs, the Seattle Thunderbirds made a return to the playoffs in 2013, and were on the verge of upsetting Kelowna in the opening round.  Unfortunately, the series doesn't end after three wins, and Kelowna made a comeback, ultimately eliminating Seattle in seven games.  The Thunderbirds do return their top three scorers in Roberts Lipsbergs, Connor Honey, and Shea Theodore, though that total was only 54 points (Lipsbergs).  210 goals for is a respectable number, but where Seattle has gotten into trouble the last few seasons has been in giving up the goals, as in they've given up 285 or worse the last three seasons, and that is simply not going to cut it.  Luke Lockhart, Adam Kambeitz, and Brandon Glover are all gone due to graduation, and Connor Sanvdio, Andrew Johnson, and Taylor Green were all traded away this off-season.  The major question mark that remains is in goal, and neither Justin Myles nor Danny Mumaugh played particularly well in their limited time.  Alexander Delnov and Lipsbergs both return, meaning that the Thunderbirds will not have to break in a new Import this season, and both can score, and Seattle will need to do a lot of that to cover for a still weak defense.  At least newcomer Matthew Barzal will give the team more offense, if nothing else.

Prediction: 8th in the West

The Thunderbirds will have a tough time making the playoffs because their defense is still bad, but they also have some offense, and that may be enough to sneak in, though Everett will have a say in the matter.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

SKA Saint Petersburg

HC SKA Saint Petersburg is a member of the Bobrov Division in the KHL and utilizes the nickname "Soldiers," as the SKA stands for Sportivnyi Klub Armii, or "Sports Club of the Army."  Along with HC CSKA Moscow, SKA is one of the oldest franchises in the league, as their roots trace back to 1946, when they were originally called Kirov LDO.  For a while, the team was known as SKA Leningrad until 1991, when the city name was changed to Saint Petersburg.  SKA will be seeing more of Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Poonikarovsky, as both signed with the team this offseason, and they will join the likes of Kevin Dallman, Viktor Tikhonov, and Dmitri Kalinin, all of whom are established players in the KHL.

A Team in Transition


2012-13 record: 44-22-2-4 (lost to Medicine Hat in Conference quarterfinals; lost to London in Memorial Cup tie-breaker round)

The Saskatoon Blades were the host team of the Memorial Cup tournament last year, and thanks to an 18-game winning streak, had the momentum going into the WHL playoffs as they won the East Division.  Unfortunately, the Medicine Hat Tigers had other plans and the Blades were swept, meaning that they had to wait 51 days until the Memorial Cup tournament.  Their showing in the Memorial Cup tournament wasn't particularly great, but they were the only team to beat eventual Memorial Cup champion Halifax in tournament play.  This season, the Blades will be experiencing a lot of roster turnover, as well as a new head coach.  Josh Nicholls, Brenden Walker, and Michael Ferland all are gone due to graduation, and Jessey Astles, Lukas Sutter, Dalton Thrower, and Shane McColgan were all traded in the offseason.  David Nemecek and Nikita Sherbak are the new Import players, as both Matej Stransky and Andrey Makarov are likely not returning, with the latter providing a hole that needs to be filled in goal.  Patrick Johnson played well, but that was only four games, and Alex Moodie posted a 4.72 GAA.  That has the potential to spell disaster.  Nick Zajac is the surest option to return, as everyone else ahead of him in the scoring department is either gone, or has the possibility to be gone, as the Blades only have nine players that will be certain to return for next season.

Prediction: 9th in the East

A large part of the team from the Memorial Cup tournament is not coming back, with more than half either moving on or traded away.  It would not be surprising if the Blades didn't make the playoffs this year.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Going Nowhere


2012-13 record: 25-38-4-5 (missed the playoffs)

The often overmatched Regina Pats floundered their way to a miserable 2012-13 season and things don't figure to get better this season.  Despite returning Morgan Klimchuk and Kyle Burroughs, the Pats are woefully thin at both ends of the ice.  Leading scorer Lane Scheidl takes 41 goals with him to the next level, which leaves significant questions on offense beyond Klimchuk.  Colton Jobke and Matt Hewitt also leave due to their eligibility being up.  Max Kammerer and Dmitry Sinistyn are new arrivals via the Import Draft, and while both will shore up some issues, it will take more than that to shore up the second worst defense in the Conference, as they gave up 269 goals last season, and there's no clear solution in goal.

Prediction: 12th in the East

Morgan Klimchuk will make the Pats worth watching, but unless the Pats find some secondary scoring and someone that can stop the puck at a rate better than 3.44 GAA (Matt Hewitt's numbers last season), it will be a long season in the Queen City.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tightening Up


2012-13 record: 39-26-5-2 (lost to Calgary in Conference semi-finals)

The Red Deer Rebels started to find an identity as a team that places heavy emphasis on defense last year, and it showed, as they were tied for third in the Conference in goals against (tied with Calgary with 204).  Offensively, they could stand to score more, and it won't help that the second leading scorer on the team, Turner Elson, will not be back this season.  Jordan DePape and Brandon Underwood are also leaving, and it is possible that either or both Rhyse Dieno and Matt Dumba could be elsewhere next season.  Both Dominik Volek and Patrik Bartosak return, as the Rebels did not take anyone in the Import Draft, with Bartosak a likely candidate to take one of three overager spots on the roster.  He will be an important player in the Rebels' continued success on defense, as he took home the Del Wilson Trophy as top goaltender in the WHL.

Prediction: Sixth in the East

While offense remains a big question for the Rebels, it will up to the defense to carry the day, and reigning goaltender of the year Bartosak figures to be a prominent part of that puzzle.

KHL Medvescak Zagreb

The KHL Medvescak Zagreb hockey club has its origins dating back to 1961, and will begin their first season in the Kontinental Hockey League this coming season as a member of the Bobrov Division.  They are the first team in the KHL to play their home games in Croatia and are sometimes known as "The Bears."  The Bears are coached by Mark French and will feature players such as Steve Montador, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Patrick Bjorkstrand (brother of current Portland Winterhawks forward Oliver Bjorkstrand).

Monday, August 12, 2013

HC Lev Praha

HC Lev Praha plays their home games in Prague, Czech Republic, and is a member of the Bobrov Division.  They began play last season, after the current owners bought what was HC Lev Poprad, who themselves played just one season in the KHL.  The team is currently on their second head coach in Vaclav Sykora, and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by CSKA Moscow.  Jiri Novotny is the captain, and features on their roster Nikolay Zherdev, Michal Repik, and ex-Calgary Hitmen member Spencer Humphries.

From Bad to Worse...


2012-13 record: 21-43-2-6 (missed the playoffs)

In a year where Prince George changed coaches mid-season and had a squabble with star player Alex Forsberg (the short of it being Forsberg wants to be traded), the Cougars somehow didn't finish last in the league, thanks to the six points from shootout losses (the exact number of points they bested Vancouver by).  This year does not figure to be better, as the Cougars did little to improve the second worst offense in the league, ahead of only Everett, who made the playoffs.  While leading scorer Colin Jacobs isn't expected back, along with Brock Hirsche, Daniel Gibb, and Dallas Ehrhardt, the next two leading scorers are expected back in Troy Bourke and Zach Pochiro.  Unfortunately, neither scored above 20 goals, and only Jacobs managed to crack the 20-goal barrier.  Goaltending wasn't much better, allowing the third worst total in goals allowed in the Western Conference, ahead of only Seattle and Vancouver.  David Soltes and Martin Bobos are the new players coming in via the Import Draft.

Prediction: 10th in the West

The lack of offense is still a glaring issue for the Cougars, as is the defense, and as long as the Alex Forsberg cloud still looms over the franchise, the Cougars will be going nowhere for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dinamo Riga

Dinamo Riga of the KHL is actually the second incarnation of the team, as the original Dinamo Riga existed from 1946 until 1995.  The current incarnation was founded in April of 2008 and is a member of the Bobrov Division.  While they have made the playoffs every year, they have never made the Conference Finals in any of those years, and because of the lack of success in the playoffs, they have gone through three coaches in five years.  Currently, Dinamo Riga features Sandis Ozolinsh, Marcel Hossa, and Mikael Tellqvist as their featured players.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dinamo Minsk

HC Dinamo Minsk plays their home games in Minsk, Belarus and has been in existence since 2003.  This incarnation is actually the second team to use the Dinamo Minsk name, after the team that played from 1966 until 2000, with that team being called Tivali Minsk after the 1992-93 season.  Dinamo Minsk is better known in recent history as the team that was supposed to face Lokomotiv in the 2011 season opener.  However, the plane carrying the Lokomotiv team crashed shortly after takeoff, claiming the lives of all on board except for a flight crew member.  Days later, the Dinamo Minsk paid tribute to the Lokomotiv squad in Minsk in a memorial ceremony that remains one of the most moving tributes to the team.

A member of the Bobrov Division, Dinamo Minsk is looking to return to the playoffs after missing out last year, and are led by Jere Karalahti, Lukas Krajicek, and Tim Stapleton.

Friday, August 9, 2013

New Look, New Possibilities


2012-13 record: 37-28-3-4 (lost to Red Deer in conference quarterfinals)

The Prince Albert Raiders were at the top of the East Division halfway through the season.  Unfortunately, they took a major nosedive and combined with a major winning streak by arch-rival Saskatoon, the Raiders lost their grip on the Division and while they made the playoffs, they were soundly swept at the hands of the Red Deer Rebels in the opening round.  That embarrassment led to sweeping changes, beginning with the head coach, as Cory Clouston steps in to replace Steve Young.  That change happened as the Raiders underwent a rebranding, kicking the pirate to the curb and bringing in a simpler look that emphasizes more green.  Anthony Bardaro, Davis Vandane, and Luke Siemens will be moving on, as will Mark McNeill, but Cole Cheveldae is coming in from Kamloops to take one of the overager spots, and he will be an upgrade on Siemens, who struggled down the stretch.  Jonas Knutsen was let go to make room for Tomas Andrlik, who will be joining top returning player Leon Draisaitl as one of two Import players.  Josh Morrissey is also returning, and he will be a leader on the blue line.

Prediction: Second in the East

The collapse at the end of the regular season and the playoffs may very well serve as a game changer for Prince Albert moving forward.  Clouston had success in the WHL, as has Cheveldae, and both Morrissey and Draisaitl are top players who the team will be counting on for continued production.  With most of the teams in the East Division in transition, this could be Prince Albert's year to win the division and with a little luck, perhaps the Eastern Conference.

Red Army

The HC CSKA Moscow is one of the sports teams to bear the CSKA Moscow name, and is perhaps better known as the "Central Red Army," due to its past affiliation with the Soviet Army.  It's history dates back to 1946 and they have won several championships prior to the formation of the KHL in 2008.  They play in the Bobrov Division, and feature players such as Alexander Radulov, Viktor Kozlov, Aleksey Morozov, and captain Sergei Shirokov.  CSKA is best known for having featured prominent lines such as the KLM (Krutov, Larionov, and Makarov) line in the early 1980's and the Bure-Mogilny-Fedorov line of the late 1980's.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nostalgia: It's a Powerful Thing

For as much as I've been into movies released by the Criterion Collection lately, I have never found the time to delve into movies made by Ingmar Bergman (mostly due to my leaning towards the Japanese titles)...until now.  I finally broke down and put on Wild Strawberries, a 1957 movie that centers around Isak Borg, a doctor who is about to receive his honorary degree from a college in Lund.  However, certain events on the way there force him to assess his life and confront his relations with people in his life, which to put it kindly, is not on good terms.  Driving out to Lund with his daughter-in-law, they encounter a trio of people trying to get to Italy, a bickering couple, and make a few stops at points of interest in Isak's life, namely a summer home and the house where his mother lives.

The performances in the movie are powerful, with Victor Sjostrom playing the role of Isak Borg to a tee while Bergman regulars Bibi Andersson and Ingrid Thulin provide equally strong performances in the primary supporting roles.  The dream sequences that Borg has are generally tough to figure out, particularly the first sequence, but by the end of the movie, it will all make sense.  The younger generation isn't likely to appreciate this movie as much as the older generation, but it will tell a story that many, if not all, can relate to and perhaps even inspire to strive for the better.

Quest for More


2012-13 record: 57-12-1-2 (Won championship; lost to Halifax in Memorial Cup Final)

After two years of coming up a game short and a regular season that saw them dominate like few others before them, the Portland Winterhawks finally cashed in on their third try, winning the Ed Chynoweth Trophy by beating Edmonton in the Finals and made the Memorial Cup Tournament, coming up a few goals short in the Final against Halifax.  Mac Carruth, Troy Rutkowski, and Taylor Peters will be moving on, with the Peters departure posing the biggest question of who the face-off specialist will be for this season.  Carruth was a major player in goal once he came back from the AHL early last season, not only solidifying the goaltender spot last year, but also helping out this year's starter Brendan Burke with his confidence.  The Winterhawks led the league in goals (334) and were second behind Edmonton in goals given up (169).  Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan, the leading scorers in the league last year, are expected to return, but the third leading scorer in the league Ty Rattie is expected to move on, as there's not much left for him to prove on the WHL level.  Shane McColgan and Garrett Harr will occupy two of the overager spots and on whether Tyler Wotherspoon returns will determine if all of the overager spots are spoken for.  Oliver Bjorkstrand will return as one of two Import players, but Anton Cederholm will take the other spot formerly occupied by Kiril Vorobev.  Seth Jones was a sure-fire one and done, but since he was taken by Nashville, that could change as to whether he returns (optimistic homer alert).

Prediction: First in the West

Except for Kelowna, every team in the West is likely heading into a rebuilding year on some level.  While Portland will lose some key pieces, they also return some key players, as well, as Petan, Leipsic, Bjorkstrand, Burke, and possibly Derrick Pouliot are close to sure-fire returns.  The quest for four straight Western Conference titles will be a little more difficult, but until Portland can no longer defend that title...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

More Growing Pains


2012-13 record: 25-36-4-7 (missed the playoffs)

The Moose Jaw Warriors simply were not a good team last year.  They scored the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (182) to go with 249 goals given up.  The good news is that the goaltending duo of Justin Paulic and Daniel Wapple are expected to return a year wiser.  The bad news is that both will have to do better than post a GAA above 3.00, as there isn't much offense to speak of, and help isn't on its way.  Brayden Point put up good numbers in his first year of junior, and is expected to be better, and Sam Fioretti, the team's leading scorer, may be back as an overager this season.  However, Morgan Rielly could be sticking with the Toronto Maple Leafs next season, which leaves a big hole on the blue line.  Justin Kirsch, Jordan Messier, and Kendall McFaull are gone due to graduation.

Prediction: 10th in the East

The goaltending is expected to improve with a year of experience, as well as the offense.  However, the potential loss of Rielly, combined with no real viable options on offense outside of Point and Fioretti means the Warriors are likely on the outside looking in once again.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Getting Kontinental

With the hockey season right around the corner (training camp, really), there's no better time than now to try something new in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).  Last year, I went full on into the WHL and the Portland Winterhawks (the weekly piece will return for this coming season), and took on an OHL team in Peterborough (up in the air as to if that weekly piece will return) and even took a brief look into the United States Hockey League (I still have not declared a team at this point, so no weekly segment this season).  This year, I will add the KHL to the list, and I have in fact, declared a team for a weekly segment in the HC SKA Saint Petersburg.

Now, as for what the KHL is about, it is a league that is predominantly based out of Russia and its former republics such as Ukraine and Belarus.  However, expansion has seen it reach the likes of Slovakia, Germany, and this year, Croatia.  The regular season champions are given the Continental Cup while the Yuri Gagarian Cup is given to the champions in the playoffs.  HC Moscow Dynamo is the current two-time defending Gagarian Cup champion and will be looking for three in a row this coming season.  The 28-team league is divided into four division and two conferences: the West comprising of the (Vsevolod) Bobrov and (Anatoli) Tarasov divisions while the East has the (Valeri) Kharlamov and (Arkady) Chernyshev divisions.  As you can see, the divisions are named after people who were influential on hockey in the Soviet-era.  Name players are not lacking in the KHL, as the likes of Alexander Radulov (CSKA), Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA Saint Petersburg), and Alexander Burmistrov (AK Bars Kazan) will call the KHL home for this coming season.

I will get through the teams that make up the KHL and the divisions they play in, as well as who to watch for and odds of success this coming season.

Defense Wanted


2012-13 record: 36-33-2-1 (Lost to Edmonton in Conference semifinals)

For a team that boasted one of the more prolific one-two punches on offense in Curtis Valk and Hunter Shinkaruk, the Tigers had some trouble keeping the puck out of the net, as they scored almost as many goals as they gave up (243 Goals for to 244 goals against).  Had the Tigers not picked up Cam Lanigan early in the season, it would have been likely that the Tigers would have missed the playoffs, as he was the difference maker in the opening round against Saskatoon.  Now that he has moved on (along with Elgin Pearce and Derek Ryckman), the Tigers need to figure out who will be the starting goaltender, as neither of last year's possible returning players Marek Langhammer or Dawson McAuley were particularly good when they got to play.  At least their offense will return, as leading scorer Valk may very well occupy one of the three overage spots on the roster this season while Shinkaruk isn't expected to break with the Vancouver Canucks on Opening Day.  Secondary scoring is a concern, however.

Prediction: 8th in the East

The Tigers will once again be struggling to make the playoffs for as long as they are unable to solve their goaltending issues.  Their offense should be enough to assure them of another playoff berth, but they must have both Valk and Shinkaruk healthy, something that wasn't always the case with Shinkaruk, as he missed a little time due to injuries.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Extreme Makeover: Lethbridge Edition


2012-13 record: 28-34-3-7 (missed the playoffs)

In the midst of a flap concerning their looking too similar to the Washington Capitals as far as uniform design, the Lethbridge Hurricanes did very little in the stretch run that led them to being the only Alberta team to miss the playoffs, and as a result, sweeping changes were made.  From the logo (which is quite underwhelming) to the coaching staff, which will now see Drake Berehowsky behind the bench as head coach, the Hurricanes will look different, but there's reason to believe that they won't be that much better.  While their top three scorers are expected to return (Russell Maxwell, Jamien Yakubowski, and Sam Mckechnie), the leading point total was 55, and that is not going to be enough when only the top four scorers break 40 points in a season.  212 goals isn't bad, but giving up 253 goals in the notoriously defensive Eastern Conference is a no-no, and without Ty Rimmer manning the pipes (he graduated along with Graham Hood and Daniel Johnston), there is no proven goaltender for the Hurricanes.

Prediction: 11th in the East

While the Hurricanes' offense isn't too bad, their defense is not so good, and with a Brandon team that was beset by injuries last year and a bounce back candidate this season, there is no way that the Hurricanes will make the playoffs if they can't find any defense.  It's going to be a long season for first time head coach Berehowsky.