Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The OHL Goes Outdoors

Photo: Rena Laverty
With the NHL Winter Classic tomorrow in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI, the past few days have provided a perfect opportunity for the state of Michigan to show the world how it celebrates the sport.  With the ice in Comerica Park in Detroit for a couple of events, including the Alumni game between former stars of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, the OHL and AHL got into the act.

Today's focus is on the OHL, as there were two games happening on Sunday, with the Plymouth Whalers taking on the London Knights and the Saginaw Spirit facing the Windsor Spitfires.  The Whalers/Knights matchup didn't do anything special in terms of uniforms, so that won't be mentioned much, other than Plymouth won the game.  As for the Windsor/Saginaw match, both teams broke out special uniforms for the game.  Both teams went with a vintage look, with the Spits reaching back into their history for their look while the Spirit did well despite a brief history in the OHL compared to the Spits.  Both looks were good, and the game was even better, as Windsor would pull out a 6-5 win.

The SKA Report: The Last Weekly

Starting in the new year, the SKA Report will no longer be a weekly report, as there will be a cadre of hockey related events that need attention (i.e. outdoor games and the Olympics).  It will become a monthly report for the remainder of the regular season, at which point, it will turn to the KHL playoffs.

That out of the way, SKA was looking to get back on the winning track after losing three in a row heading into the most recent break.  Wednesday, SKA was in Cherepovets to take on Severstal, and both teams exchanged goals in the first period, with Teemu Laakso scoring for Severstal and Alexander Kucheryavenko for SKA.  Igor Makarov scored in the second period for SKA, and that would be all they needed, as Alexander Salak made the lead stand up and SKA emerged victorious 2-1 to end a three game losing streak.  Saturday was a trip to Ufa to take on Salavat Yulaev, and things didn't quite go as planned.  A scoreless first period gave way to Salavat scoring twice in the second period on goals from Igor Mirnov and Alexei Kaigorodov.  Dmitry Kalinin would cut the lead to one late in the third period, but the rally fell short, as SKA fell 2-1.

SKA begins the new year on the road, as they take on Admiral Vladivostok on Friday and Amur on Sunday.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Momentum Shift

The Portland Winterhawks came off of holiday break on Friday looking to gain some momentum heading into the Tuesday tilt against Kelowna.  To establish that though, they had to beat Tri-City in a home and home over the weekend.

Friday, the Winterhawks traveled to Kennewick, WA for the first half of the home and home against the Americans.  A scoreless first period gave way to an Oliver Bjorkstrand goal in the second period.  However, the Ams would respond with two goals of their own as Connor Rankin and Lucas Nickles would put the Ams up one heading into the final frame.  Midway through the third period, Garrett Haar would tie things up and send the game into overtime, where Anton Cederholm made short work of the period and gave the Winterhawks a 3-2 OT win.  Brendan Burke got the win in a solid outing.

Saturday was the Portland home game, and unlike the previous evening, it was pretty much all Winterhawks, as they dominated from start to finish.  Adam de Champlain scored the only goal in the first period and a Chase de Leo feed to Bjorkstrand would make it 2-0 in the second period.  Tyson Predinchuk would score his first goal in a Winterhawks uniform to make it 3-0 and by the time the second period ended, it was 4-0 after a Dominic Turgeon goal.  That was enough to chase Eric Comrie from the game and only a Brian Williams goal prevented Burke from getting a shutout, as the Winterhawks won 4-1.  The Winterhawks were without Taylor Leier, Derrick Pouliot, and Nic Petan, who are playing for Team Canada in the WJC.  They are also without Brendan Leipsic, whose suspension ends after the Victoria game on Saturday.

The Winterhawks host league leading Kelowna on Tuesday and Thursday in a meeting of the two best teams in the league.  Kelowna will be looking to extend a 14-game winning streak while Portland will be looking to put some distance between themselves and their U.S. Division rivals.  Friday, the Winterhawks head back to Kennewick, WA for a game before heading home to host Victoria on Saturday.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The SKA Report: The Long Vacation

Going into the holiday break, SKA was looking to break a recent two game slide with a game against Metallurg Magnitgorsk on December 11.  Unfortunately Metallurg had other plans.  The game started out scoreless after one period, but a Chris Lee goal in the second period changed that and Metallurg was up 1-0 after two periods.  SKA could not solve Vasily Koshechkin, as SKA went scoreless for the second time in the now three game losing streak, as Tim Brent would add an insurance goal to send SKA to a 2-0 loss and searching for answers during the break.

SKA returns from break this Wednesday with a road game at Severstal and will wrap up the week with a home game against Salavat Yulaev.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Break Time!

In the last game before holiday break, the Portland Winterhawks hosted the Everett Silvertips with the opportunity to expand their lead in the U.S. Division.  However, without some of their best players due to international tournaments or suspension, it was just not to be.  Josh Winquist and Jujhar Khaira would put Everett up 2-0 after one period.  Chase De Leo kept the Winterhawks in it with a goal in the second period to cut the deficit to one heading into the final frame.  Carson Stadnyk would restore the two goal lead for Everett before Paul Bittner cut the deficit to one again.  An empty net goal by Winquist would be all the scoring as Everett would go on to win 4-2 and leave the Winterhawks with only a two point lead in the standings.

The Winterhawks will play again on December 27 at Tri-City and will complete a home and home with the Americans the following evening.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Rivalry Weekend

In the days before the Portland Winterhawks go on holiday break, they had a couple of games with the Seattle Thunderbirds.  Friday was the team's first game shorthanded, as a few of their regular players are participating in international tournaments, including their two leading scorers in Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, as well as captain Taylor Leier, Layne Viveiros, and Derrick Pouliot.  On the road against Seattle, Branden Troock got the scoring started for the Thunderbirds, but a Chase De Leo goal would tie things after one period.  Another De Leo goal made it 2-1 after two periods, but in the third period, it was all Thunderbirds, as Justin Hickman would tie it before Troock scored the game winner with his second of the night to give the Thunderbirds a 3-2 win.  Brendan Burke was solid for most of the game, though he would like to have the third period back.

The momentum of the win carried over for Seattle the following day as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Portland on goals from Adam Henry and Scott Eansor.  A Keoni Texeira goal brought down teddy bears and would leave the Winterhawks within one after two periods.  In the third period, the script was flipped from the previous evening, as it was the Winterhawks dominating the third period at home, as Paul Bittner scored twice to give the Winterhawks a 3-2 lead.  A Keegan Iverson tally made it 4-2, but Henry would keep the Thunderbirds close until the final minutes of the third period, when Bittner netted his third goal of the period, giving Burke and company a 5-3 win at home.

The Winterhawks have a home game Tuesday against Everett before the break, and there is no doubt that the Silvertips would love to get back on the winning track, as they lost all four games they played last week.  For the Winterhawks to expand their division lead, guys like Bittner and Iverson will need to step up, and certainly, Bittner has shown that he can do so when given a chance, as his hat trick Saturday happened almost a year to the day that he scored a hat trick while the likes of Ty Rattie and Seth Jones were participating in the World Juniors.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rebuilding Continues

It didn't take long for Brian Burke to begin making his imprint on the Calgary Flames, as the president of hockey operations canned both General Manager Jay Feaster and assistant General Manager John Weisbrod.  Burke will fill the role of General Manager in the interim until a permanent replacement is found.  Feaster had been with the Flames since 2010, and was the man in charge when they Flames parted ways with Jarome Iginla last season.  Three years of non-improvement, marked this year by the fact that only provincial rival Edmonton is breaking their fall in the standings, plus Burke joining the team prior to this season, spelled doom for Feaster.  Potentially, this could also spell the end for Bob Hartley, as Burke hinted at a style change in the way the team plays.  In short, expect the Flames to be set back even further in their rebuilding process for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: The Light, the Dark, and the Endless Knot

The life of a WHL team is one of cycles: for every good run of years they have, there is bound to be at least a few off years where rebuilding is the name of the game.  Sometimes, there are even instances where a team knows its window is closing and they go all in.  That last instance is where the Portland Winterhawks are in a sense, as you will find out later.

First, the week that was, and the Winterhawks had their first chance to take back the U.S. Division lead from Everett on Tuesday, as they took on the Silvertips.  The teams exchanged goals in the first period, as Josh Winquist and Garrett Haar opened the scoring for their respective teams.  Taylor Leier would put the Winterhawks up 2-1 to end the second period, and that's when things opened up for the Winterhawks.  Alex Schoenborn, Chase De Leo, and Oliver Bjorkstrand made it 5-1 Winterhawks before the halfway point of the third period, which caused the Silvertips to switch goalies, as Austin Lotz was benched for Daniel Cotton.  Everett would get within two on goals from Ivan Nikolishin and Winquist, but a Derrick Pouliot goal would end the Silvertips' chances and ensure that Portland would be entering the Alberta road trip with the U.S. Division lead in a 6-3 win for Brendan Burke and company.

Friday was the rematch of the last two WHL championship series, as the Winterhawks and the Edmonton Oil Kings met in the latest chapter of a budding rivalry.  Nic Petan would open the scoring for the Winterhawks, but Dysin Mayo would tie things up at one after one period.  Cody Corbett would score the lone goal in the second period to put the Oil Kings up 2-1, and like the last game the Winterhawks played, things erupted in the third period.  Curtis Lazar would put the Oil Kings up 3-1 to open the third period, but Derrick Pouliot would put the Winterhawks within one soon thereafter.  An Edgars Kulda goal would put the Oil Kings up two again, but Leier would score the next two goals, including a goal with under a minute to go in the game to force overtime.  The game would need a shootout, where Reid Petryk would score the winner for the Oil Kings and send the Winterhawks to a 5-4 loss.  Because the Silvertips also lost that evening, that assured the Winterhawks of ending the week with at least a share of first in the division, as they earned a point in the shootout loss.

The Winterhawks went to Red Deer on Saturday to take on the Rebels, who would be a key figure in the Winterhawks' immediate future plans (more on that later).  The Winterhawks started out hot, as De Leo and Paul Bittner would put the Winterhawks up 2-0 to start the game.  Adam Musil would put Red Deer on the board to close the gap at one, but Brendan Leipsic would give the Winterhawks a two goal lead once again heading into the second period.  Schoenborn would put Portland up 4-1 to begin the second period, but a Vukie Mpofu goal would make it 4-2.  Connor Bleackley would put the Rebels within one, but a Leipsic goal would make it 5-3 heading into the third period.  Dominik Volek would score the only goal of the third period, but it wasn't enough, as Portland escaped Red Deer with a 5-4 win and Jarrod Schamerhorn got the victory.

Sunday was a day the Winterhawks would like to forget, as their third game in as many days wasn't kind to them.  They concluded the Alberta road trip with a game at Calgary, and for the first period, things didn't look so bad, as Bjorkstrand would put the Winterhawks up 1-0 after one period.  However, the fatigue of the road trip caught up to them, as the Hitmen would put up four unanswered goals, with Greg Chase and Kenton Helgesen scoring in the second period and Pavel Padakin scoring twice in the third period to give the Winterhawks a 4-1 loss.

The Winterhawks will have a home and home this weekend with Seattle, with a road game Friday and a home game Saturday.  And now, for the news of the week: the Winterhawks made a trade with the Rebels yesterday, acquiring the rights to Matthew Dumba and a conditional pick in exchange for Presten Kopeck and a couple of conditional picks.  Currently, Dumba is still with the Minnesota Wild and his entry level contract started this year, as he has played 13 games this season.  However, he has not played since November 23 and was released to try out with the Canadian national team in the World Junior Championships.  The Wild can still send Dumba down to juniors, but now instead of a Red Deer team that is trying to reload, it will be a Portland team that is looking to repeat as WHL champions.  Dumba's addition, if he does get sent back to juniors, would shore up a Winterhawks defense that hasn't played as well as in recent years.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The SKA Report: Holiday Blues

This past week wasn't particularly kind to SKA, as they could only muster four out of a possible 12 points on the road trip against division foes.  The trip started out well enough on Monday, as they went to Prague to take on Lev Praha.  Artemy Panarin opened the scoring for SKA, as the goal put them up 1-0 after one period.  However, things turned rough in the second period, as Lev scored three goals from Justin Azevedo, Michal Birner (on a penalty shot), and Michal Repik.  SKA would get a goal in the period on a Vadim Shipachyov shot to briefly tie the game at two, but the Repik goal would see SKA trail by one after two periods.  A Viktor Tikhonov goal early in the third period would be all the scoring in the period, and overtime was needed.  That was not enough, and the game went into a shootout, where Ilya Kovalchuk scored the deciding goal to give Alexander Salak and SKA a 4-3 victory in a shootout to give SKA two points in the standings.

On Wednesday, SKA traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia to take on a Slovan team that hasn't had a great deal of luck this season.  Both teams exchanged goals in the first and second periods, with Panarin and Andrej Stastny scoring in the first period and Mario Bliznak and Igor Makarov scoring in the second.  This game also needed overtime and a shootout, with SKA coming out victorious 3-2 on a winner from Roman Cervenka.  Ilya Ezhov was solid in the win.

Friday, SKA went to Moscow to take on rival CSKA, and things were not quite as well as the first meeting earlier in the season, as SKA was kept off the score sheet.  Alexei Morozov scored in the first period and Alexander Radulov scored in the third, and that was all CSKA needed, as SKA could not solve Ilya Proskuryakov in a 2-0 defeat.  Salak was solid in goal for SKA and deserved better.

Sunday was a game in Riga against Dinamo Riga, and it was an offensive show.  Marcel Hossa scored the lone goal in the first period to give Dinamo Riga a 1-0 lead after one period.  Riga would put up three more goals in the second period before SKA's offense began to come to life.  Juris Upitis, Georgijs Pujacs, and Miks Indrasis would score for Dinamo Riga, but SKA countered with goals from Evgeny Ketov and Anton Burdasov to make it 4-2 after two periods.  SKA would get to within one on a Dmitry Kalinin goal, but that would be as close as they would get, as Mat Robinson would put the game out of reach.  A Kovalchuk goal would close the gap by one again, but an Indrasis goal on an empty net was all the scoring, as Dinamo Riga pulled out a 6-4 win.

SKA has one game this week before break, as they welcome Metallurg Magnitorsk on Wednesday.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Spits Exchange

It's been a wild week for the Windsor Spitfires, as they made two major trades.  Earlier this week, the Spitfires made a major trade with the Guelph Storm, as both Kerby Rychel and Nick Ebert were sent to Guelph while Windsor got Brody Milne and several draft picks, which include Guelph's 2nd round picks from 2014 until 2018.  For perspective on how this impacts both teams, consider that Guelph is trying to match offense with Midwest Division leader Erie, and certainly, Rychel's addition to go along with Jason Dickinson and Tyler Bertuzzi is a step towards countering Erie's group of Dane Fox, Connor Brown, Andre Burakovsky, and Connor McDavid.  I'll get to how it impacts Windsor after I get to the other trade the team made this week, this time with the Kingston Frontenacs, as Ryan Verbeek was sent out and in exchange, the Spitfires will get Sam Povorozniouk and a fourth round pick in 2016.  The Frontenacs are a youthful group, with Sam Bennett, Henri Ikonen, and Roland McKeown all NHL draft eligible in 2014.  The addition of Verbeek only makes the Frontenacs younger, and given that the Frontenacs are still trying to figure out the bottom portion of their roster, Povorozniouk's departure wasn't much of a surprise, as the Fronts needed character guys, and that is where Verbeek is likely to get his chance.

As for the Spits, on the surface, it can be said that they are packing it in for the season.  However, they are only five points behind Sault Ste. Marie in the Western Division and are on a three game winning streak.  Milne gets an immediate chance to prove his worth, as he is likely lining up with 2014 NHL Draft eligible Josh Ho-Sang.  Povorozniouk will also get considerable ice time with the Spitfires, something that would be less likely with the Frontenacs squad that remains young.  The draft picks are obviously important for the Spits, as they can rebuild through the draft for years to come.  Moving Rychel was difficult, as he is the son of Spits GM Warren Rychel, but the Spits still have Ho-Sang, and with the influx of players coming in from the class, it is clear that the Spitfires are looking to keep a tradition of winning going for a while.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Day in the Spotlight

For the annual Hockey Day in Canada festivities, which will be held on January 18, 2014, all seven NHL Canadian teams will be in action and there will be three cities that will have the spotlight shined on them.  The three?  Sydney, NS, Barry's Bay, ON, and Prince George, BC.  That last city, as you may know, is home to the WHL's Prince George Cougars, who are currently five points out of the last playoff spot as of this writing.

This is certainly a great honor for the city of Prince George, as the entire country will get to see what the city and the team are about.  The northernmost team in the WHL, the Cougars haven't exactly been successful, with their best season coming in 2006-07, where they made the Conference Finals, but they have turned out some good NHL players such as Zdeno Chara, Dan Hamhuis, Dustin Byfuglien, and Eric Brewer.  Currently, Chase Witala and Troy Bourke lead the team in scoring with 29 points, with mid-season acquisition Todd Fiddler not far behind with 27.  Ty Edmonds is the starting goaltender and has a 3.51 GAA.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: Keeping Pace

The Portland Winterhawks had a chance to close in on the Everett Silvertips, if not take back the U.S. Division lead this week, as the Winterhawks had two games to the Silvertips' one.  The Winterhawks' quest will have to wait one more game, as both teams won out this week, with the Winterhawks taking a harder than expected route.  Friday, the Winterhawks looked to continue their dominance over the Spokane Chiefs as they went into their arena and proved to be rude guests.  Dominic Turgeon and Mitch Holmberg exchanged goals in the first period, but it would be Oliver Bjorkstrand who gave the Winterhawks the lead heading into the second period.  Brendan Leipsic and Keegan Iverson scored for the Winterhawks in what ended up being alternating goals between the teams, as Holmberg scored both Chiefs goals to get the hat trick and send the game to 4-3 going into the third.  Holmberg's hat trick ended up being matched by the Winterhawks, as Bjorkstrand netted two of his own goals in the third period to complete his own hat trick and giving the Winterhawks yet another win against Spokane, this time being a 6-3 final.  Brendan Burke got the win and Paul Bittner came away with three assists.

Sunday was a rematch from last year's Memorial Cup tournament, as the Saskatoon Blades came calling.  Bjorkstrand and Matt Revel exchanged goals to make it even at one after one period.  Saskatoon dominated most of the second period, with Revel and Nathan Burns scoring for the Blades, to make it 4-1, with Burns accounting for two of the three goals in the period for the Blades.  However, the Winterhawks cut the lead to one at the end of the period on two Nic Petan goals.  Petan would tie the game with his third goal of the evening to open the third period, but Collin Valcourt would put the Blades back up one.  However, Portland had some magic left, as Petan and Bjorkstrand closed out the scoring in the game and the Winterhawks escaped with a 6-5 win.  Burke got the win in relief of Jarrod Schamerhorn.

The Winterhawks will be on the road this week, as they will get a chance to reclaim first place in the U.S. Division as they look to avenge an earlier loss to Everett on Tuesday.  The weekend will be spent in Alberta, as the Winterhawks get reacquainted with their WHL Finals foe from the last two years in Edmonton on Friday.  Saturday, the Winterhawks face a formidable foe in Red Deer and on Sunday, the Calgary Hitmen open their doors to the Winterhawks.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The SKA Report: The Calm Before the Storm

Before SKA hits the road this coming week, they had a game on Friday against Atlant at home.  The result was one that SKA wanted and needed in getting that momentum heading into a tough four game road trip through the division rivals, as SKA jumped to a 3-0 lead after one period on goals from Alexei Semenov, Evgeny Ketov, and Maxim Chudinov.  Ilya Kovalchuk padded the lead in the second period, and except for a Roman Rukavishnikov goal late in the third period, SKA prevented Atlant from getting anything past Alexander Salak as SKA cruised to a 4-1 win and in the process, has some momentum going into next week.

SKA hits the road this week and they will have a chance to pad their lead in the Bobrov Division, as they take on Lev Praha on Monday, Slovan Bratislava on Wednesday, CSKA on Friday, and Dinamo Riga on Sunday.