Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Surging Birds

The Portland Winterhawks are atop the U.S. Division at this point in time, but can you guess who is in second place in the division?  The Seattle Thunderbirds only trail the Winterhawks by four points and are coming off a huge win against Western Conference leading Kelowna on Sunday.  For a while, it seemed that the Thunderbirds would be fighting for one of the last playoff spots this season.  What's changed?  Stability in goal, and a big reason for that has been trade deadline acquisition Taran Kozun from Kamloops.  Long considered the sore point of the Thunderbirds teams of recent years, the defense was a major problem even with solid goaltending from Calvin Pickard (2008-2012).  Kozun's arrival has helped out a blue line that features Shea Theodore, who leads the team in scoring with 60 points, so you know the Thunderbirds can start from their own end.  Up front, Alexander Delnov, Roberts Lipsbergs, and Branden Troock are leading the way with rookie sensation Matthew Barzal adjusting nicely to the WHL game.  Kozun wasn't the only guy the Thunderbirds picked up in a trade, as they made a few trades with Lethbridge this season, getting Adam Henry, Jaimen Yakubowski, Sam McKechnie, and Russell Maxwell in three separate trades.  Henry is the only one of the group that is producing offense with any consistency, but Yakubowski provides a toughness that certainly helps out the scoring trio of Delnov, Barzal, and Lipsbergs.  Maxwell should provide scoring in time, as he came to Seattle recently.

Seattle has a big game ahead this week at rival Portland on Saturday, and it may very well determine playoff seeding come March.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: A Super Week Ahead

Another week, another successful week for the Portland Winterhawks.  Heading into Super Bowl week, where this scribe has a rooting interest (you'll notice a change in color scheme for the week), the Winterhawks just keep winning.  This time, they took both games against I-5 rival Everett with one more game on Wednesday.

Friday was the first half of the home and home, with the Winterhawks playing unkind host to the Silvertips.  Brendan Leipsic scored the lone goal in the first period to give the Winterhawks the lead.  Jujhar Khaira would tie things up for Everett early in the second period, but that was all the good news Everett would get for the game, as it was all Portland after that.  Nic Petan would score late in the period to give the Winterhawks a 2-1 lead heading into the third period.  Derrick Pouliot would open the scoring for the Winterhawks in the period, making it 3-1.  Petan and Matt Dumba would also score to give the Winterhawks a 5-1 win at home to extend their winning streak to six and their point streak to eight.  Brendan Burke was great in goal, as he stopped 30 shots for the win.

Sunday, the Winterhawks traveled to Everett, and in similar fashion, a big period was what Portland got in a victory.  Josh Winquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand would exchange goals to make it even at one after 20 minutes.  A Leipsic goal in the second period was sandwiched between two Bjorkstrand goals, giving Bjorkstrand a hat trick and the Winterhawks a 4-1 lead heading into the final frame.  Chase De Leo and Keegan Iverson would make it academic with goals to make it 6-1.  A Kohl Bauml goal would put the Silvertips within four, but that was all, as Burke stopped 27 shots in the Winterhawks' 6-2 win.

The Winterhawks will now look to extend their seven game winning streak with games at home against Everett on Wednesday, Spokane on Friday, and Seattle on Saturday.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hitting a New Low

It's been no surprise that the Lethbridge Hurricanes are terrible this season.  However, this weekend only served to underline that fact, as they rolled over in a 10-0 loss to Vancouver on Friday and lost to Kelowna by a mere 5-0 score.  The loss to Vancouver is especially telling of a team that has quit on the season, as the Hurricanes gave up five goals in the third period alone.

The most telling thing about the Hurricanes squad that currently occupies the cellar?  13 players that started the season with the Hurricanes are either on other teams or left the team and 11 players who are currently on the team started on other teams to begin the season.  Of those players who left, four of them are on the Seattle Thunderbirds thanks to three separate trades.  The team's leading scorer is Riley Sheen, who actually started the season in Seattle and came over in the deal that sent Jaimen Yakubowski and Sam McKechnie (two of the team's leading scorers last season) to Seattle.  Ironically, neither player is in the top ten in scoring for the Thunderbirds.  As for the Hurricanes' leading scorer that has been with the team for the entire season?  That is Brady Ramsay, who only trails Sheen by two points, with Ramsay having 30 on the season.  If you're looking for a player who is on the right side of the +/- number, good luck, as no one on the team has made it above the zero mark in a Hurricanes uniform.  The best player in that category in a Hurricanes uniform?  Carter Folk, who is a mere -1, which goes nicely with his -5 with the Thunderbirds.

If you're a Lethbridge Hurricanes fan, it is a rough year that has capped off a few years of playoff-free hockey for the franchise.  Many people panned the hiring of Drake Berehowsky as head coach prior to the season, and it is clear that he has been in way over his head on most nights.  Changes are going to be coming in Lethbridge, but until someone has a clue as to what to do (building around Giorgio Estephan and Tyler Wong would be a good start), the Hurricanes are just going to be blowing around aimlessly for some time.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Crossing the Line

On the heels of finishing the Bobby Orr autobiography Orr: My Story, it seemingly only makes sense that the Derek Sanderson autobiography Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original should have been the next read.  Well, I did get to reading the book, but not before reading two books before then.  It should be no surprise that Sanderson's book has more details than what Orr provided in his book, as Sanderson was the outspoken, fast living yin to Bobby Orr's soft-spoken yang.  Where Sanderson takes you in the book is what happened when he allowed a reputation of his own building to spiral out of control, and he lets it all out here.  From drugs to living as a homeless man in Central Park for a short time to squandering a fortune, he goes to every corner of his life to provide the reader with a view of life from someone who has pretty much seen it all.  Towards the end of the book, he also provides some life lessons and how he has used them to propel him into ventures such as public speaking and money management for future clients (the latter, undoubtedly something that he takes pride in, as he himself did not do great when he was playing in the NHL).  The writing style, particularly some of the short antecdotes he provides, is somewhat disjointed, as it goes into one thing and then suddenly shifts to another part.  Of course, perfect writing style isn't something one would expect of a self-described "third line center."

Crossing the Line is a definite must read for any hockey fan, and is a highly recommended that works best in tandem with Orr's autobiography.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Now with 100% More Dumba

The Portland Winterhawks are on a roll and heading into last week, the news just got better, as Matthew Dumba was going to be joining them beginning with the Friday game against Moose Jaw.  In Dumba's debut, the Winterhawks made it easy for him, as they never let the Warriors out of the gate.  Four first period goals from the Winterhawks, courtesy of Keegan Iverson, Paul Bittner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Brendan Leipsic, put the Winterhawks up 4-0 after one period.  That was enough to chase Zach Sawchenko from the game, but Justin Paulic would not have much better luck against the Winterhawks this night.  Taylor Leier would score the only goal in the second period, and things were basically sewn up for the Winterhawks at that point.  Sam Fioretti would put the Warriors on the board early in the third period, but that was quickly answered by Winterhawks goals from Derrick Pouliot and Dominic Turgeon, with Dumba registering assists on both goals.  Brayden Point would score for the Warriors to make it 7-2, but Leier would add another goal to make it a 8-2 final and a win for Brendan Burke.

Sunday, the Winterhawks looked to continue their season-long dominance of the Spokane Chiefs as they welcomed them with a Daylight Game, as the curtains of Veterans Memorial Coliseum were opened for the game.  Leipsic would put the Winterhawks up 1-0 after one period on a goal early in the period.  Chase De Leo, Iverson, and Leipsic would add goals in the second period to make it 4-0 after two periods.  Bjorkstrand would add the exclamation mark on the game with a goal in the third period as Burke earned the team's first shutout of the season in a 5-0 win.  Dumba added two more assists in the game, making it four points in his first two games, but he was not finished for the week.

Monday, the Winterhawks welcomed the Vancouver Giants for a game at the Moda Center.  Cain Franson and Pouliot (who was named player of the week in the WHL) exchanged goals in the first period.  However, it would be Dumba that sent the Winterhawks into the first intermission with the 2-1 lead, as he scored his first goal as a Winterhawk late in the period.  A scoreless second period gave way to a Bittner goal to kick off the third period.  Dalton Sward would keep Vancouver in it with a goal to cut the deficit to one.  However, that would be as close as the Giants would get, as Nic Petan would score, with Leipsic adding an empty netter to give the Winterhawks a 5-2 win.  Corbin Boes earned his first home win in the game, making 36 saves.

The Winterhawks will square off with the Everett Silvertips three straight times, with two of those coming this weekend, a home game on Friday and a road game on Sunday.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Team Orr Takes It

Photo by Brad Watson
Last night, 40 of the Canadian Hockey League's players took part in the Top Prospects Game and given that there would be people in the NHL watching this game, expectations were certainly high for the potential first round picks.  Team Orr took home the 4-3 win over Team Cherry and Jared McCann of Sault Ste. Marie took home player of the game honors, as he scored the game winner for Team Orr.

The top ranked player in the NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking amongst North American skaters Sam Bennett of Kingston did not participate in the game due to injury.  However, his teammates Roland McKeown and Spencer Watson did participate, with each player on opposite teams.  Chase De Leo (ranked 26th) hopes to make it five straight years in which a Portland Winterhawks player has been drafted in the first round, and his lone contribution to the game was two penalty minutes.  Peterborough's Nicholas Ritchie also played in the Top Prospects Game, and he ranks seventh in the most recent NHL Central Scouting rankings amongst North American skaters.  He hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jordan Staal (2006), Zach Bogosian (2008), Zack Kassian (2009), Austin Watson (2010), Matt Puepmel (2011), and Slater Koekkoek (2012) as recent first round picks to have come from Peterborough.  The QMJHL breaks into that category at number 12 with Moncton's Ivan Barbashev, who also participated in the game.  As for North American goalies, Alex Nedeljkovic of Plymouth is the top ranked of the Canadian Hockey League at this point in the season.

Clearly, at this point in the season, it looks like it will be neck and neck between the OHL and the WHL as to who will be best represented at the NHL Draft in June, and don't be surprised if it also happens for the first overall pick.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reshuffling the Deck

The Edmonton Oilers are mired in yet another lost season in which there was so much potential, yet that potential remains unfulfilled.  From ghastly -30 that Nail Yakupov has to the goaltending that has been pretty much been a revolving door, the Oilers fans are getting restless...that is, if they haven't already.

Well, the revolving door that is the team's goaltender position is at it again, as the Oilers made two trades, sending Devan Dubnyk to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Matt Hendricks.  Later in the day, the Oilers gave up a third round pick in this year's Draft to get Ben Scrivens from the Los Angeles Kings.

For Dubnyk, the trade ends an often up and down tenure in Edmonton that saw last season become his best in an Oilers uniform.  However, he did not live up to the higher expectations placed upon him this season, and as a result, he often split time with Jason Labarbera, Richard Bachman, and Ilya Bryzgalov.  That meant he could not beat out player since traded (Labarbera), a likely career backup (Bachman), and a player that was starting this season in Las Vegas of the ECHL (Bryzgalov).  While it may be argued that the Oilers could have gotten more than just Hendricks for Dubnyk, it was clear that the former first round pick in 2004 just wouldn't be able to fulfill his potential on an Oilers team that simply never had the defense.

Scrivens posted sterling numbers as a backup to Jonathan Quick and later, splitting time with Martin Jones.  Prior to that, he posted decent numbers splitting time with James Reimer in Toronto.  The numbers game in Los Angeles made Scrivens expendable, as Quick is the established number one goalie while Jones made his case to be on the Kings with his play while Quick was out.  Scrivens will likely start out splitting time with Bryzgalov, but could very well be the starter by season's end.  Scrivens will probably not post the ridiculous numbers that he has had this season, but at the very least, he provides steady play on an Oilers team that has been anything but the last few years.  Both Dubnyk and Scrivens are free agents after the season, and while Scrivens has a chance to make a case to be a starter somewhere next season, Dubnyk will be out to prove that he can fulfill his potential before it is too late.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Top Prospects Game

Photo by Brad Watson
Tomorrow is a big day for 40 players from the Western, Ontario, and Quebec leagues, as they will get a chance to show scouts what they can do as they prepare for the 2014 NHL Draft.  The players are divided into two teams of 20, with one side representing Team Cherry and the other representing Team Orr.  For Team Cherry, the team will be led by Kootenay Ice captain Sam Reinhart, who is the youngest of three Reinhart (Max and Griffin) brothers and the son of ex-NHLer Paul Reinhart.  He won't be the only player on Team Cherry to have had a father play in the NHL, as Sherbrooke's Daniel Audette (son of Donald Audette) and Kitchener's Ryan MacInnis (son of ex-Flame and Blue Al MacInnis) will also be on the squad.  Portland will be represented by Chase De Leo this year.

As for Team Orr, they will be captained by Barrie's Aaron Ekblad, the top defensive prospect in this year's Draft.  Players to watch include Prince Albert's Leon Draisaitl, Calgary's Jake Virtanen, and Swift Current's Julius Honka.

The Top Prospects game will take place in Calgary, AB tomorrow and it promises to be a great game and an opportunity for the players to make their case for the first overall selection in June.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: We are Whole Again

After a week in which the Portland Winterhawks didn't perform so well, the following week was the exact opposite.  This week saw the Winterhawks gain back Nic Petan, Derrick Pouliot, and Taylor Leier from the World Juniors, Brendan Leipsic return from suspension, and they even got Matthew Dumba, as the Minnesota Wild sent him down to Portland.  Yes, sir, this week was going to be way better than the last.

It began on Wendesday, as the Portland Winterhawks hit the road for the week.  The Everett Silvertips were the first stop on the trip, and Pouliot showed no rust as he scored to make it 1-0 after one period.  Carson Stadnyk tied it for the Tips as both teams would need that third period to decide things.  Leipsic also showed no rust, as he would put the Winterhawks up for good midway through the third period.  Adam de Champlain would add an insurance goal, and Keegan Iverson would add an empty net goal to give Adin Hill his first win in his first WHL appearance as the Winterhawks got back on the winning track with a 4-1 decision.

Friday and Saturday, the Winterhawks were on Vancouver Island to take on the Victoria Royals.  The Friday tilt began with Petan and Ben Walker scoring for their respective teams to make it even at one after a period.  Leipsic would put the Hawks up 2-1 heading into the third period, but Steven Hodges would foce overtime with a third period goal.  Overtime settled nothing, and a shootout was needed, where Victoria would pull out a victory on a Jack Walker goal, spoiling the Winterhawks debut of Corbin Boes, who was acquired from Lethbridge on Thursday.

Saturday, the Winterhawks had a chance for revenge, as Leipsic would open the scoring for the Winterhawks to make it 1-0.  It would remain that way until the third period, when Jordan Fransoo would tie the game for the Royals.  However, an Oliver Bjorkstrand goal late in the period would be all the Winterhawks needed, as they made a 2-1 winner out of a returning Brendan Burke, who had been sidelined with injury.

Sunday, the Winterhawks traveled to Vancouver to take on a rising Giants team.  The Winterhawks would jump out to a 2-1 lead on goals by Alex Schoenborn and Chase de Leo sandwiching a Giants goal by recently acquired Dominik Volek.  However, Dalton Thrower and Brett Kulak would give the Giants a 3-2 lead heading into the second period.  Paul Bittner and Dalton Sward would exchange goals in the second period to make it 4-3 Giants heading into the final frame.  De Champlain would force overtime with a goal in the third period, and like the Friday game, this one required a shootout.  This time, the Winterhawks would be on the right side of the result, as Leier would score the winner, giving Boes his first win as a Winterhawk.

The Winterhawks return home for the week, as they take on Moose Jaw on Friday, Spokane on Sunday, and because there is a game after that on Monday, the Giants on that day, so the Winterhawks Weekly report will be delayed a day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Season of Loss, A Lifetime of Forgiveness

A little more than ten years ago, the life of Dany Heatley was forever changed, and it had major consequences for not only him, but also the lives of Graham and LuAnn Snyder, parents of the deceased Dan Snyder, their friends and family, and the Atlanta Thrashers organization.  John Manasso documents the events pertaining to the crash in an Atlanta neighborhood on the evening of September 29, 2003 and how it has affected those who knew Snyder the best.

A Season of Loss, A Lifetime of Forgiveness focuses mainly on Snyder and how his family has found the ability to forgive Heatley all the while finding a way to hold him accountable in ways that the justice system couldn't do.  For the book, Manasso takes the time to talk to the Snyders, mainly Graham, LuAnn, and brother Jake, Dan Snyder's former teammates with the Orlando Solar Bears (Snyder won a championship with them in 2000) and the Chicago Wolves (the Thrashers' affiliate at the time), and those whose lives he had touched.  Manasso also makes note that while Heatley did not have a say in the book, it was not for trying, as he is careful to note that he did ask for an interview with both Dany and Murray Heatley, only to have the request never answered.  The book is not just about the struggles that the Snyders had in coping with the loss of a son, it's also about their ability to forgive, with a fair portion of it being due to their Mennonite upbringing, something that is mentioned in detail.  Towards the end, the trial of Heatley was also mentioned, and Manasso does a good job of recounting some of the events of the trial, as well as the evidence that may or may not have figured into the decision.  The lone flaw that I saw with the book was that there wasn't much mention of the Snyders' reaction to when Heatley requested and got a trade in 2005.

In all, A Season of Loss, a Lifetime of Forgiveness is a book that while it is hockey related, it is also one that I believe sends a positive message of forgiveness in the face of tragedy and is a fairly easy read for a 260 page book.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

He's Coming!

Remember when I said that the Portland Winterhawks would be closer to full strength and potentially more?  Well, that potentially more is now a reality, as the Minnesota Wild sent Matthew Dumba down to juniors, which means he will be suiting up for the Portland Winterhawks for the remainder of the season.  Acquired prior to the holiday break from the Red Deer Rebels, the trade was seen as a gamble, as it was unknown whether Dumba would be sent down.  However, being inactive for the Wild games since November 23 and getting released for WJC duty were some signs that this trade would work out for the Winterhawks.

What does Dumba bring?  He brings an offensive element from the blue line that only fellow 2012 first round pick Derrick Pouliot can match.  He's also got the ability to play physical, something that seemed to be missing from the group since Seth Jones left for Nashville after being taken in the 2013 NHL Draft.  He does have a tendency to be overaggressive at times, something that will have to be curbed, but on the ice, he could be a difference maker on a team that could use one on the blue line.  His addition also takes some of the pressure off the younger players such as Layne Viveiros, Anton Cederholm, and Keoni Texeira.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: A Week to Forget

This past week wasn't very kind to the Portland Winterhawks, as they were given dominated by Kelowna and Tuesday and Thursday, losing 9-3 and 7-2, respectively.  Friday wasn't much better, as Tri-City found their offense in a 5-1 loss, and Saturday, while in a losing effort to Victoria, was considerably better, only losing by one.

All four games were without the services of Taylor Leier, Derrick Pouliot, and Nic Petan, who finished their WJC tournament out of the medal podium after losing to Russia in the bronze medal game, and Brendan Leipsic, who served a seven game suspension.  All four are expected back this week in what promises to be a tough road trip.

Wednesday, they travel to Everett for a tilt against the Silvertips before heading to the island for two games at Victoria on Friday and Saturday before concluding the road trip at Vancouver on Sunday.  The return of those four, plus potentially gaining Matthew Dumba if Minnesota does decide to send him down, will likely make a big difference for the Winterhawks for the rest of the season.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The US Olympian Squad

At the conclusion of the NHL Winter Classic (Toronto won in a shootout 3-2), the U.S. Men's Hockey team was announced.  With that in mind, I will run down the roster by position and talk about those that were left off the roster, with the idea that the roster can change due to injury up until the Olympics start in Sochi, Russia.


Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings; Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Had the roster been announced prior to the season, only Miller would have been seen as questionable due to his not-so sterling play in recent seasons.  However, both Quick and Howard are coming off of recent injuries and while Miller did indeed struggle early in the season, his play recently may have saved him a spot.  Currently, the starting goaltender's job is Quick's to lose, but don't discount Miller here, especially if he keeps playing well heading into Olympic break.


David Backes, St. Louis Blues; Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings; Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks; Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks; Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs; T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues; Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens; Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild; Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks; Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche; Derek Stepan, New York Rangers; James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs; Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

No surprise that the "leadership group" of Backes, Brown, Callahan, and Parise were all named to the team.  Kane and Kessel are the surest options for scoring on the wings, and solid two-way play is the order of the day for the likes of Oshie, Kesler, van Riemsdyk, and Pacioretty.  Pavelski is a player to watch, as he has put up solid offensive numbers despite being the third line center for San Jose.  I wouldn't be surprised if he emerges as a top option after Kane and Kessel.  Stepan is the youth option here, and Stastny's career revival this season proved to be enough to make the team.  Wheeler is a bit of a head scratcher, as he is a streaky player that doesn't always go for the dirty goals.


John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes; Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks; Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers; Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins; Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues; Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

Other than Suter, there is no true sure thing on the blue line.  Both Martin and Orpik could be paired together, since they are teammates and coach Dan Bylsma is familiar with both, having seen them on a daily basis.  That's the potential shutdown pair, with McDonagh and Carlson providing the best two-way options outside of Suter.  Shattenkirk, Faulk, and Fowler are offensive options who are also new to the Olympic experience.


Goaltending, Ben Bishop provided decidedly better numbers this season, but was left off due to the numbers game and the U.S. squad going with experience in pressure games in that category.  Craig Anderson's injury and splitting of time with Robin Lehner likely doomed his chances of making the team.

Forwards, Bobby Ryan is the most notable name left off the roster.  Despite being on the team in 2010 and the ability to provide offense, his speed and defense were seen as liabilities.  Jason Pominville and Kyle Okposo are two way solid players, but neither are known for speed, something that will matter on the larger ice surface in Sochi.  Also, they provide a similar skill set to the "leadership group," and having both would lessen the team's ability to play different styles as needed.

Defensively, the biggest snub was Jack Johnson.  Somewhat of a defensive liability, he played well in the 2010 Olympics and would have provided an element of offense and speed from the blue line.  He was most likely a victim of the team's commitment to go younger on the blue line.  Seth Jones, while he would have fit the youth profile, also hasn't had the rookie season he would have liked.  Dustin Byfuglien would have provided size and offense, but he also happens to be a liability in his own zone.  Ditto for Keith Yandle, minus the size.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Orr: My Story

It's been a long time coming, but Bobby Orr finally put out an autobiography that was one of the more hyped in recent memory.  Most folks know the Bobby Orr that scored the Cup winning goal in 1970, and certainly, the photo that immortalizes that is evidence of that.  However, Orr makes it clear that his life story is more than just that moment in time, and in the close to 300 pages that the book takes up, he takes the time to acknowledge those who helped him along the way and even the points in which he admittedly went astray.

In every chapter, Orr tells of how hockey, in some way, shape, or form, helped him out in life, yet he does not go out of his way to say that it was his life, only a part of it.  He even addresses two people who one way or another affected his life, whether it was good (Don Cherry) or bad (Alan Eagleson).  He pulls no punches on any subject that gets talked about, and after reading the book, it becomes clear that Orr is trying to get people to be more vigilant in their lives, and he sums that up with the two Rs: respect and responsibility.

Overall, while the bio may be a little on the short side, and certainly, there were other things that he could have talked about, Orr: My Story is worth a read.