Monthly Archives: February 2012

Instant Cup Classic: Red Wings vs. NY Rangers

Stanley Cup predictions are streaming in now, right? If it’s too early, oh well, but this blog is predicting and hoping in an instant Cup Classic between the best team in the West and the best in the East: Wings vs. Rangers.

Each team could fall from their top standing, but with the records and winning streaks, the chances are looking pretty good right now. The Red Wings just acquired another defensive dude in Kyle Quincey who is happy to return to the Wings after a stint in Colorado. The Avalanche have had so many delays in their success that talented players get lost in a sea of mediocracy.  Paul Stastny is a great player, but where’s the Cup for him?

Armed with Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, newer additions in Ian White, Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader have the Wings on a home-winning streak. In net, Jimmy Howard has returned after a broken finger after Joey MacDonald filled in. Despite the injury, the Wings were able to maintain an excellent record- a sure sign of a Cup team. The question is whether or not the goaltending tandem is really Stanly Cup material, because the rest of the team can hold its own. MacDonald let plenty of goals in; it was the defensive line and offensive scoring keeping the Wings in the game.

The New York Rangers are the best they have ever been. Torts and the crew have a system in place that has fans happy and the standings in their favor. Weathering a few losses, and trade rumors, New York is finally creating a team they have wanted to build based on a similar system the Wings use. When all the pieces fit, the entire puzzle falls into place and it works. Henrik Lundqvist is stellar in net and occasionally needs a break, but backup Biron holds it together.

Both teams have a great traveling fan base, both are Original 6, and both would draw ratings. There are enough high-profiled players who would make this year’s Stanley Cup run a media frenzy and great storytelling material.

On March 21st, the Detroit Red Wings will visit Madison Square Garden for a glimpse into what the playoff run could look like. This season, the defending Champions Bruins are still in the race, but as March approaches the time is narrowing on opportunities. Florida has rebuilt and looks promising. Whether the Panthers can keep the momentum going is another factor no one is certain of.

In the West, Vancouver could make it a close race. After last year’s mishap in Vancouver, the Canucks must repair that gap if they hope to beat the Wings. While St. Louis has come back strong, Nashville is closing in.

A dark horse may appear as a Penguins or perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks will regain their energy and make it a race. Whomever gets the opportunity will be making the case in the next few weeks, so hold on for the fury of the playoffs.

Hometown, Hockeytown

It’s taken a few days for it all to sink in. The town I grew up in will be the host of the Winter Classic 2013 between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The high school I attended sat kitty-corner from Michigan Stadium. Every Friday afternoon, tailgaters would descend upon Pioneer High School’s  parking lot to set up for the Saturday Michigan games. I remember my uncle Rich sneaking us in at the start of the 4th quarter at his gate where he volunteered for 35 years. He also volunteered with Michigan hockey, and gave me a set of Michigan hockey cards I still have. That was the year Kevin Porter won the Hobey Baker.

Ann Arbor is a hockey town. The University of Michigan Wolverines have been a cornerstone in Big Ten hockey and NCAA hockey for decades. Michigan boasts coach Red Berenson who has produced some of the best talent int he NHL today:  Carl Hagelin, Brendan Morrison, Mike Cammalleri, Mike Komisarek, Mike Knuble, Jack Johnson  and Kevin Porter to name a few.  The Wolverines have nine NCAA men’s ice hockey titles.

Hockey tradition represents Ann Arbor, but also training as the home of the USA Hockey Team Development Program.  NHL participants have included Ryan Kesler, Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson and Cam Fowler.

Not too far down the road is Hockeytown, home to the Detroit Red Wings and the bright spot for the Detroit sports scene. Just across the Detroit River is Windsor, Ontario, home of the two-time Calder Cup champions Windsor Spitfires and MVP Taylor Hall.  The matchup between the Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs is fitting not only because of the close proximity, but both are each country’s respective hockey epicenters.  The line coming in and out of Detroit and Windsor after Wings games displays the regions affinity for hockey.

The perfect platform, the picturesque scenery of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus, plus the craziness of hockey fans in A2 will create an atmosphere that could cost the Winter Classic in topping it the following year.   I read somewhere that this Classic could break attendance records….it will! Michigan Stadium holds up to 113,000. The Big Chill at the Big House broke an outdoor hockey game record, and so shall the Winter Classic 2013.

 

Breaking the Ice: Brawlers with Brains

The blue line is what this blog is about. The brawler is also what this blog is about, so I will not give up on the enforcers in the NHL. The goon has almost disappeared and the hockey culture has been reborn in a kinder, gentler, business-like approach. The passion of the sport is purely in scoring. Fans don’t seem as eager to jump at the sight of a fight. Fans do however, still appreciate the posturing and the dropping of the gloves, but no further. Like any good business, bad PR and negative campaign ads can diminish the return on your investment.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) nears, and this is just the right time for players to behave and play to collect their piece of the pie. Just as any ruckus on the ice can put the power-play in motion, the ruckus from players must be substantiated by profitability they bring to the table. Popularity of players through Twitter lends the credible case for players to reap some rewards, but also gives personality to the cause.

Some enforcers have curbed their thirst for blood as they know their days could be few. Instead, these smart players circumvented their talents into a positive approach, especially as younger players enter the arena with little history of brawling in junior leagues. The unfortunate tragedies of Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien only reminded the crowds that the limits on the game went too far in many ways. Fighting cannot be blamed for every pitfall in the NHL. Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke, expressed remorse on the changing culture in the NHL for enforcers. Burke sent tough guy Colton Orr to minors for his diminishing role on the ice, despite having a key role in the team’s chemistry.

New York’s Carl Hagelin is an example of a player who has exemplified the meaning of defending with smart play. With his speed and ability to be a two-way player, Hagelin wins the race to the puck often and floats on by without incident.

New Jersey Devils star David Clarkson was good for a weekly fight the prior two seasons. After some cycling training with Lance Armstrong, Clarkson’s focus is maturing into more than just a brawler. Don’t get me wrong, Clarkson has racked up 88 penalty minutes thus far this season, including misconduct calls, but he’s not just all about the fighting. When you’re job is in danger because you are not changing for the times and the job description, re-training is in order. Clarkson was smart to recognize he’s not just a fisticuffs kind of guy.

Dropping the gloves creates a certain feel to the game of hockey that other sports don’t possess. This topic has divided the hockey world for the past few years, and the culture has changed quite a bit this season. Brendan Shanahan’s tight watch has players like Daniel “car bomb” Carcillo in trouble for his hits. The recent suspension of Alex Ovechkin has us wondering if his skill can overcome his physical play that leads him into troubled waters. Ovie’s physical thwarts are entertaining and just his make; the tragedy would be for him to tone down his fingerprint on the hockey world.

Sidney Crosby, arguably the greatest hockey player right now in the NHL, is suffering from a hit, not a brawl. Sid the Kid riled a few fights that were highlighted as an additional benefit to his talents.

Ex-Raners agitator Sean Avery’s skills are not needed in New York, but he’s moving on to other things. Avery was a guest judge on Project Runway’s All-Stars this past week. His input was minimal, but he’s rebounding with his fashion involvement.  It actually was a good opportunity for him, but kind of  sad moment to see his almost extinction from the NHL.

When will the hockey world really embrace a fight? When is it okay to let it rip? Obligatory violence is stupid, but fighting can be smarter.