Monthly Archives: February 2010

Rafalski, Miller Torque Team USA

No one expected Team USA to be at the top of their group, nor be a medal contender, but the Cinderella team are one step closer to the ultimate Vancouver souvenir.  In a shocking upset, Team USA reclaimed some hockey pride by beating the Canadian team on home ice.   Team USA’s youth has sparked the adventurous spirit of what the American team want to showcase. Though the average age of Team USA is 26.6, lack of experience and youth has proven to be a mute argument.  With such amazing performances by Zach Parise who had two goals in the match-up with Switzerland, or the tenacious puck play of Dustin Brown, the sheer mettle of taking on the powerhouse Canada and breaking the bank to top Group A has stunned hockey fans globally.

But the true heart of any hockey team can be found in leadership from between the pipes and on the blue line.  The Canadians knew that a behemoth of a goaltender could revive their team, and it did. Canada has been quick to regroup after the loss to the Americans, replacing goaltender Martin Brodeur with Canucks captain Roberto Luongo.

Not only is Team USA’s goaltender Ryan Miller one of the biggest contributors to the team’s success, but also this is his Olympic debut.  At the age of 29, Miller has the youth, but he brings wisdom and wile to the competition.

Ryan Miller has been stellar and faced quick shots at a furious pace.  Miller faced 45 shots by the Canadians and held 42. Facing 19 shots from the Swiss, Miller took hold and delivered the shutout.  His level headed play was evident at his alma mater, Michigan State, where the Michigan native set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts.  In 2001, Miller’s talent was showcased with the leading winning percentage, save percentage (.950) goal against average and a record 10 shootouts over all other players in the country, thus snagging the coveted college hockey Hobey Baker Award.  Ryan took the Goaltender of the Year for all three seasons at Michigan State and was the CCHA’s overall MVP twice.

Growing up in East Lansing, Michigan, you’d think Ryan would look at exciting options to play away from home, but not the case.  Michiganders love their hockey and Ryan’s family is no exception.  Brother Drew now plays for the Detroit Red Wings, plus ten members of his family, including his grandfather, all played for the Michigan State Spartans.  In 1990 his cousin, Kip Miller also won the Hobey Baker and was the first Spartan to be honored.  Hockey royalty perhaps, but Ryan never lets his prestigious genetics blur his ability to reign supreme in net.

Michigan is also the home to a defenseman who has rallied the troops, Brian Rafalski. At age 36, Rafalski is the oldest player on the team providing leadership yet so much more.  With four goals and four assists, Detroit Red Wings’ Brian Rafalski leads in scoring for Team USA.  In a mesmerizing match-up between Canada and the USA, Rafalski’s blue line demeanor broke through to score two goals and nab an assist.  The unexpected fury came and this American boy was not going to lose.

Rafalski, the veteran Olympian, was on hand during the 2002 games in Salt Lake City winning a silver medal, as well as playing at the 2006 games in Torino.  Vancouver marks his third Olympic appearance.  His presence may have led the charge in Team USA’s success.  Rafalski has always been a quiet player, not ostentatious with his style, but a classic American citizen and family man.  He is also no stranger to fighting for what he wants, as he struggled to find his place in the world of hockey.

Rafalski, born in Dearborn, Michigan, took his hockey talent to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he played for four years.  His senior year, Brian netted 45 points in 43 games.  The WCHA named Rafalski to their First All-Star Team, plus he was named to the NCAA West All-Star Team, as well as the WCHA Defenseman of the Year in 1995.

Though he has come back to his birth state and found a home with the Detroit Red Wings, it wasn’t always that easy for Brian.  He struggled throughout the years being bounced from teams, countries but always playing as a winner.  He won a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008.  Despite a discouraging season this year with the Detroit Red Wings, Rafalski is having a good year with 4 goals and 25 assists.  Look for more firepower from this defenseman when he returns from the Vancouver no matter the outcome.

If Team USA is victorious, then American hockey will gain some respect and prove to be a formidable training ground for future players.  If Team USA can’t clinch the prize, then the players can say they fought the good fight and proved American hockey is for real.   No one can overlook the exceptional effort of goaltender Ryan Miller and defenseman Brian Rafalski leading the charge to battle for Gold.

NHL Talent of Team USA

You’d think because Team USA won the World Junior Championship that the Olympic team would be rated better than they are. Perhaps the hype over hockey south of the border was a passing fancy, and the true champions of the sport reside in the frozen tundra of Canada, Russia and Sweden who are all ranked before us for Gold in Vancouver.

Sure, Canada has Sidney Crosby, Russia has Ovechkin and the Swedes have brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  Team USA has plenty of talent that is apparently being cast in fourth with no medal.  Interesting to watch for international fans, the players from the Home of the Brave are facing lowered expectations that they can accomplish the feat to bring home a medal.

Starting goaltender for the US will be Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller who has had an outstanding year with a record of 29-14-6 including against teams with Crosby, Ovechkin and the Sedins.  Miller has the best GAA rating among all the starting goalies with a 2.01, as well as his save percentage at .936%.  He’s had hit a rough patch recently, but he leads with 27 shutouts.  If he can’t stop a puck then Team USA can start worrying.

Both Los Angeles King Jonathan Quick and Boston Bruin Tim Thomas will back Miller in the net.  Quick has had an outstanding year leading the Kings into a comfortable spot in the Western Conference, which no one anticipated.  Quick holds a 34-17-3 record having won in his last two meetings with the heavily loaded Swedish Detroit Red Wings.

Thomas has had a tough time with the ailing Bruins and a record of 13-15-7.  Controversial goaltender selections brewed over the selection of Quick and Thomas over the hotshot of the Colorado Avalanche, Craig Anderson.

Defending the net will be a chore for the Americans as they face some physical players from Russia and Sweden.  Detroit Red Wing defenseman Brian Rafalski will lead the charge with previous Olympic experience.  Rafalski’s resume is impressive with three Stanley Cups and two Olympics, winning Silver in 2002.  But Rafalski doesn’t wander from the blue line with the intent of scoring except for setting up for the assist so he’ll have pressure to lead the inexperienced players and play more aggressively.

The Johnson boys, St. Louis Blues Erik Johnson and LA King Jack Johnson will debut in Vancouver both displaying a work ethic that impressed the US selection panel.  Nashville Predator Ryan Suter will most likely be in the starting line-up with his strong play. Rounding out the healthy participants is Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik whose youth will be either an energetic positive addition or an inexperienced bad experiment. Orpik has experience playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which could prove to be beneficial against Canada and Russia.

Two of the defensemen, New Jersey Devil Paul Martin and Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Komisarek are reported to be unlikely to play, and will need to be replaced due to injuries.  Martin is still holding out hope he could be ready by February 15th.  Possible replacements rumored have included Carolina Hurricanes’ Tim Gleason; Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks; Pittsburgh Penguins’ Alex Goligoski; and from the Atlanta Thrashers, Ron Hainsey or Zach Bogosian.

Putting pressure on the scoring line, only Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner have Olympic games to back up their insight for their team.  New York Rangers’ Drury won Silver in 2002, while New Jersey’s Langenbrunner played in Nagano in 1998 with no medal.  Drury has been a bust this season and has disappointed in points, but has been able to be a leader.  Langenbrunner’s Devils have held on tight in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference sitting in second behind Washington and Ovi.

The list of forwards consists of what The Hockey News calls, “youth over experience.”

David Backes of the St. Louis Blues has steadily climbed his way into the limelight, for better or for worse.  Critics say he isn’t all that, but Backes has posted 34 points and 77 penalty minutes this season.  His strength is scoring, while his weakness is fighting.

Dustin Brown of the LA Kings has 40 points this season and 22 penalty minutes.  He is one reason the Kings have been able to dazzle the NHL and are holding steady for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Ryan Callahan’s debut on Broadway keeps outdoing each performance for the New York Rangers.  He’s on par to surpass last season’s scoring, and he’s been heating up lately despite the Rangers lack of pizzazz in the playoff hunt.  Expect Callahan to take the charge.

Patrick Kane is out of all the wingers, an anticipated star on the roster for crowds.  Playing for the talented young Chicago Blackhawks, Kane has emerged with 64 points this year and a plus 17 rating.  He’s good and doesn’t make mistakes.

Phil Kessel’s career in the NHL has matured into more scoring and less penalties.  Though his team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, may not be anywhere near a playoff contender Kessel keeps his play as if he were.

Joe Pavelski is as even on goals and assists as ying is to yang.  Pavelski makes his home with the San Jose Sharks and adds additional depth to the point machine of the Western Conference.

Ryan Kesler was a must have last year for fantasy hockey owners, so this year he was scooped up quickly. His presence in Vancouver was the secret ingredient for the Canucks.  Though he won’t be traveling far, this will benefit the US with one less jetlagged player.

Paul Stastny had an opportunity to play for Canada or Slovakia, but good for Team USA to have the commitment from this Colorado Avalanche assistant captain.  Stastny will draw international interest and hopefully draw plays towards the net.

Ryan Malone is a fantasy hockey owner’s dream with 42 points and 57 penalty minutes (if you’re in PIM leagues). The Tampa Bay Lightning knew Malone was something special and he’s proven he can keep up the points.

Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils is one player that was a must to represent the USA, though he sports a Canadian bloodline.  Parise is the second leading scorer for the Devils and synonymous with the new energy of the team.  It shows in their fiery style of play.  Teammate Jamie Langenbrunner will lend some helpful advice.

Bobby Ryan ignites his style with the Anaheim Ducks.  Ryan tallied 45 points and 57 penalty minutes so far this season.  Let’s just hope he scores rather than scraps.

Youth over experience could leave Team USA into overdrive. But beware; the lack of experience could be costly when confronted with players with more skill, more exposure and more scoring.  Mistakes can be costly with these high stakes, but it’s a great opportunity for these young NHL stars to be recognized as our team, Team USA.

Detroit Hockey in Denver

No, this isn’t a story about the Red Wings or the Avalanche, rather the AAA U18 Detroit Showcase games at my local ice arena.  Five Detroit teams came to Colorado to play against other teams in their division.  It was standing room only, meaning I stood the entire time because no bleachers just parents, and grandparents who made the trek from Michigan, LA and Colorado.

I wore my Red Wings shirt to attract as many Michiganders as I could.  The competition between Belle Tire and the Colorado Rampage attracted mostly locals.  Through three periods, the Detroit team won 8-3.  Incidentally, the Belle Tire team’s parents had some killer Red Wings rings from veteran Kris Draper.

Two older men appeared amongst the crowd at the first game, and I guessed they were from Michigan since they were sporting camouflage gear that most Michiganders wear in the winter.  They were from Troy, and there to see their nephew play for the Honeybaked team, who were the most anticipated team in the showcase.   The usual topics of discussion were how bad the economy was in Michigan, yet the Red Wings are getting a new arena.  That will be another story soon, so stay tuned for further developments.  The grandfather came prepared with a few beers in the truck for intermissions between games.  That’s Michigan good ole boys!

I talked to many people and was caught in the crosshairs of some conversations.  Many of the young players from Detroit were considering the OHL, while college teams were scouting others.  I heard one parent comment that most scouts are within 250 miles of Detroit because of the talent and hockey programs.

Sunday morning at Big Bear brought out the parents of the Detroit Red Wings sponsored, Little Caesars’ team against the LA Jr. Kings.  The Kings were impressive and won over the team from Detroit by a few goals, but Little Caesars’ played hard and proud sporting their Red Wings logo on their jerseys.

Five Detroit teams participated as the Eastern Division:  Belle Tire, Honeybaked, Victory Honda, Compuware, and Little Caesars’ who is owned by Red Wings philanthropist family the Ilitches.  Other teams visiting in the Western Division included form northern Colorado, the Colorado Rampage, the LA Selects, LA Jr. Kings, the Colorado Thunderbirds and PF Changs.  Big Bear Ice Arena in Lowry hosted the showcase, and 5280sports.net provided live broadcasts.

Rangers Reroute

One of my New York Rangers fan groups has this ongoing discussion, for over a week, about Chris Drury’s leadership.  The call was to offer Drury for someone better.  That’s not a bad idea.  But recently rumors of trades have not involved the captain, rather performers Ryan Callahan and Ales Kotalik.  Really?  Allegedly. And what the Rangers will get in return is putting a big pile of mess on the ice at the Garden.

Talks with the Calgary Flames turned heads in New York as fans were hoping to get the call for Dion Phaneuf. Suggestions were Drury and Donald Brashear for Phaneuf.  Is that even an equivalent assessment?  I had to remind some of my fellow Rangers fans of the “sloppy seconds” debauchle involving Dion and Sean.  Phaneuf has been dealt out of Calgary, so the two bad boys will eventually have more battle time on the ice when Phaneuf plays the Rangers on March 27th.  Early blogs raised the question of the Ranger’s spark and was it possible to revive with a trade.  Maybe the wrong guy is being traded.  A captain’s job is to ignite the team into the best team they can be.  Drury seems like a nice guy, but a pushover.  Maybe he needs to go to Calgary.

His skills were apparent with his peak in Colorado, when the Avalanche had their dream team. He played against his former team Sunday night with a 3-1 win. Drury has landed his dream job, being a Connecticut native his aspirations as a kid was to play with the Rangers.  Could this mean that even a superstar such as Chris Drury suffers from complacency on the job?   What’s worse is his under par 19 points, then throw in his –11.  Go back two years previous when Drury posted 58 points.  If Drury can’t lead the troops into battle, then someone needs to suggest that another commander lead the call.

So if the Rangers bring in the big prize, Olli Jokinen, who has slumped lately can he become a team leader?   Good player at the start of the season as Calgary was displaying, but it went up in flames. Trade options for the Rangers are limited: Brashear’s a bust; the blue line is badly drawn, and seems to be invisible.  Sean Avery is battling back but frustrations are showing.  Acquiring a Center puts some pressure on Olli to come in, take the lead and prove he’s worthy.  It could happen if the trade happens, but some wheeling and dealing is happening to benefit both sides.  Fans are buzzing over the flurry.

The only saving grace of the Rangers, like last year, is King Henry.  The Swedes are all over the ice in domination, so let’s put goaltender extraordinaire Henrik Lundqvist in as team captain.  Honestly, look at what Roberto Luongo has done in Vancouver.  The goalie seems a natural captain.  The team puts the knuckles in the faces of those who greet Lundqvist brutally.  He’s the reason we were in the playoffs last year, he’s the reason the Rangers still sport some respectability.

Stay tuned for more drama from the New York Rangers.