Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The First Month of the WHL Season

The first full month of the WHL season is in the books, and to say there are a few surprises would be an understatement.  The most recent trades have involved a Calgary Hitmen team that has struggled to score and are currently sitting in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack.  Leaving the Hitmen are Chase Lang and Ben Thomas, and incoming from Vancouver are Jackson Houck, Cody Porter, and Jakob Stukel.  Houck's arrival also spells the end for Elliot Peterson, who was placed on waivers, since Houck is a 20-year old and the Hitmen had to get within the three overage players limit.  Also leaving is Terrell Darude, who is heading to Saskatoon.  As for who the Hitmen hope to overtake, there's the Prince Albert Raiders, who lead the conference this early in the season thanks to goaltending from Rylan Parenteau and Ian Scott.  The Raiders were widely expected to struggle this season, so this early season surge comes a bit of a surprise.  The Red Deer Rebels are next in line, and they figure to be in contention all season long, particularly since they are hosting the Memorial Cup tournament.  The Brandon Wheat Kings are fourth and were surprised by Portland on Sunday in a 5-0 loss.  Other surprises include Saskatoon doing fairly well and Medicine Hat stumbling out of the block.

On the Western Conference side, there are few surprises, though Vancouver getting Thomas and Lang indicates that they're going to give Tyler Benson some better players to work with, particularly since Houck wasn't likely to come back.  Portland's early struggles appear to be behind them after a strong weekend in which they won all three games, including the 5-0 game against Brandon on Sunday.  The Western Conference, as expected, is pretty much a bottleneck in the middle, with only Seattle, Victoria, and Kelowna pulling ahead of the pack.  With tournaments such as the Canada/Russia Subway Series and the World Junior Championship coming up, how the teams adapt will help clear the pictures.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Going Up in Lethbridge

As of today, the Lethbridge Hurricanes stand 6-2-0-0 and are riding a four-game winning streak after beating Swift Current this weekend.  That matches the team's best start in the 2001-02 season and for the first time in a few seasons, something truly positive for a team that has experienced nothing but pain.  So, what changed?  Besides the obvious, namely the coaching staff and the front office, player attitude, which was greatly helped by the changes in the first two, as Peter Anholt, who filled in as both head coach and General Manager, is now a full-time General Manager, giving the head coaching job to Brent Kisio.  Kisio is the son of ex-NHLer and current Calgary Hitmen president of hockey operations Kelly Kisio and prior to coming to Lethbridge, held various coaching roles in Calgary, gaining experience along the way in both how to run things and winning, as the Hitmen had won a WHL championship while the younger Kisio was there.  As for the core of the Hurricanes roster, it includes holdovers Tyler Wong and Giorgio Estephan, as well as youth such as Stuart Skinner and Jordy Bellerive.

Yes, the season hasn't gotten out of October yet, but for the Hurricanes, this start is exactly what the team has needed after stumbling out of the blocks the last two seasons, both times including key players asking out of Lethbridge.  It's safe to say there won't be players asking out of Lethbridge this early in the season this time around, and given their recent problems, it's the little victories such as those, as well as those on the ice, that have Hurricanes fans filled with a hope they haven't had since 2010.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Straighten Up and Fly Right or Else...

When the Vancouver Canucks traded away Zack Kassian this Summer, I thought this was a now or never situation for him.  Unfortunately, given what happened to him last weekend, that potential that led him to being a first round pick out of Peterborough in 2009 may never be fully realized.

Rather than explain the entire situation, I'll let Canucks Army do the explaining.

The short of it is that Kassian was involved in an accident in a truck that he was a passenger of and suffered a fractured foot and broken nose.  Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin was not exactly sympathetic of Kassian, as the accident happened around 6:30 AM, and one of the things Bergevin called out was the character.  Kassian entered in stage 2 of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse program and will be out of action until cleared by doctors.

As for what to make of Kassian's latest mishap, here is a player that when he was drafted, was pegged to be a power forward in the vein of Milan Lucic, a player that can fight and score.  However, he never fulfilled his potential with Vancouver despite being given multiple chances, most notably on a line with both Sedins.  Last season, he was benched for a number of games and finally, was shipped out to Montreal in a move that can be best described as the Canucks "eating their hat" and admitting that the trade for him in 2012 didn't pan out.  As for Kassian's short time in Montreal, he didn't inspire confidence in the coaches, and now, he is facing a personal crossroads, as he could find himself out of the NHL if he doesn't get his off-ice problems sorted out.  Here's hoping he gets the help he needs and wherever he ends up playing next (for all we know, Montreal could cut their losses), he can find his way again.