Tag Archives: Michigan

New Year, New Deal

This has been a dreary year for hockey lovers. Visiting my family in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area, the absence of hockey was noticeable. Some people don’t realize that entire communities rely on the business and traffic from hockey. Michigan is such a state.

The NHL lockout has sent fans back to their origins of college and junior hockey. That movement has been great for the base of hockey. Just like the holidays, the lockout has given fans a glimpse of what really matters…the game. Unfortunately, the NHL and this lockout nonsense reflects poorly on all those associated with such shenanigans. Benefits of the lockout have freed the players to donate their time for more charity games. Grass roots at its finest.

The University of Michigan Men’s ice hockey team has done well taking third place in the Great Lakes Invitational. Represented by colleges from Western Michigan to Michigan Tech, this college hockey expo draws a crowd at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. Good news for Detroit is that Windsor, Ontario is mere minutes over the bridge and brings NHL fans to town, so now long-term damage is expected. Hockey has survived, yet the identity of the Detroit Metro-Area is securely poised as the most successful sports franchise, the Detroit Red Wings.

Every year I haul Red Wings gear home. This year I hauled Michigan gear home. I even scored a Grand Valley State hoodie for those diehards. While it is great to add some more depth to my athletic collection, the Red Wings are not just shirts and key chains. There was little talk of NHL hockey. Fans in my home state have plenty of other options, because that’s how hockey is lived in the frozen earth that is Michigan.

You haven’t really felt cold unless you’ve stood outside in almost any town in the Wolverine State. Canada has bragging rights to the pain that is the cold, but we’re neighbors and feel their pain. Now living in southern New Jersey, I didn’t realize that 40 degrees is balmy. But when you are standing on ice most of the time, it’s natural to want to skate on it and live your life on it.

Despite the 13 degree temps, my sister and I went out Christmas night and took pictures on the streets of Ann Arbor. Michigan Stadium stood tall and proud ready for 2014 and the Winter Classic featuring the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Standing at the Big House is a monumental feeling. The Winter classic on this grad scale will bring a misty moment for hockey fans.

The Big House Xmas night….the site of the Winter Classic 2014

The New Year should bring a new deal, but let’s start all over again next year.

Advertisements

The Road to the Frozen Four

Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan, North Dakota, and Notre Dame will battle in St. Paul April 7-9 to claim the NCAA college hockey championship title at the Frozen Four.  Michigan will meet North Dakota and UMD will meet Notre Dame to determine the final pair. The defending national champs Boston College were stunned by a sturdy Colorado College team, but that wasn’t the last shock as the No. 1 seed fell short of advancing in what many called the “dog fight.”
The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs took on the top seeded Yale Bulldogs to move on for the first tourney spot. UMD looked like they had it all wrapped, 5-1. Yale took task and came within reach, 5-3, but couldn’t pull it off.  UMD (24–10–6) held on to be the first team to advance to the NCAA championship game. UMD have had 4 tournament appearances, the latest in 2004.

West Regional action took St. Louis by storm with the appearance of two vital St. Louis Blues personalities: Red Berenson and Jaden Schwartz.

Sixth-ranked Michigan (26-10-4) met Nebraska-Omaha (21-15-2) in the first round. UNO joined the WCHA last season and took on such notable tournament teams as Denver and North Dakota. The Wolverines made their 21st consecutive appearance in the West Regional held in St. Louis where Wolverine coach Red Berenson played then coached.  In a controversial call, the Wolverines took the win in overtime, 4-3.

Michigan faced Colorado College for the next slot. And it was tough. Scooter Vaughn scored first the Wolverines and stood with a 2-0 lead. Ryland Schwartz beat Wolverines goaltender Shawn Hunwick to up their chance 2-1 with just over 3 minutes left. With their 43 shots to 19 shots, the Wolverines kept it close but move on to St. Paul for their 24th tournament appearance.

Though the CC Tigers lost to Michigan, they played a phenomenal game against the defending champs. Colorado College faced Boston College with a 4-1 lead in the second, then leapt into an 8-4 victory knocking off the defending champs and No. 1 seed in the West. Boston’s star forward Cam Atkinson, a Hobey Baker finalist, met his match in Colorado College’s freshman, Jaden Schwartz, who is the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues.

Green Bay hosted the Midwest regional action. WCHA super teams, North Dakota and Denver graced the rink for a chance to move on.  For North Dakota, it was no contest as they denied Rensselaer 6-0.

Denver faced a tough Western Michigan team to advance. The Broncos, who have never won a championship and was last in the tourney in 1996, had control through the second period with a 2-0 lead, but Denver roared back to tie the game in the third pushing the challenge to OT. Then, another OT. Until Jason Zucker scored his 22nd goal of the year, for a 3-2 win. Zucker is a draft pick of the Minnesota Wild. Denver moved on for a rematch of the WCHA championship game with North Dakota, who won 3-2 in double overtime. North Dakota wanted another run at the title with a 6-1 victory over the Pioneers to advance to St. Paul. Both Denver and North Dakota have each won 7 national titles.

Notre Dame (23-13-5) beat New Hampshire, 2-1, to take the final slot in the Frozen Four for their second appearance. The last Frozen Four for both Notre Dame and Michigan was in Denver in 2008, and advanced beating Michigan but lost to Boston College. There is a possibility that Notre Dame and Michigan could face off for the NCAA title- awesome rivalry in college football, so the Frozen Four battle would be amazing.

It’s been a good showing for Colorado this season with Air Force, Colorado College and Denver competing in the ultimate college hockey experience. The Midwest will be abuzz with fans traveling to St. Paul, which means the Xcel Energy Center will be electrified with plenty of hockey loyal. Watch for Frozen Four updates April 7-9. Notre Dame will play Minnesota-Duluth  on Thursday, April 7 at 5pm EST in the early semifinal, followed by the Michigan-North Dakota semifinal.  Tune to ESPN  for Frozen Four games and coverage.

March Madness

Former Wisconsin Badger Blake Geoffrion scored his first NHL goal with the Nashville Predators this week.  Geoffrion’s Wisconsin Badgers lost 5-0 to the Eagles of Boston College last season in the Frozen Four. But it wasn’t all bad.  Geoffrion became the first Badgers player to win the Hobey Baker and only the 10th Wisconsin player to be named a finalist. In his college career, Blake led the WCHA in goals with 19, and was named to the All-WCHA First Team. He was the 56th pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft, selected by the Nashville Predators.

The Badgers had two Hobey Baker candidates last year, Blake Geoffrion and defenseman Brendan Smith, who has been playing for Detroit’s AHL affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins. The road from college hockey to the NHL can be tough, and some never get the chance. Geoffrion’s goal reminded me that now is the season for March Madness- hockey, that is.

Tournaments are happening this weekend to determine who will play towards the Frozen Four April 7-9 in the Twin Cities. Minnesota puts more effort into hockey than any other state with an abundance of media coverage in high-school to NHL hockey. What else is there to do in Minnesota besides playing hockey?

Next to the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is the best time of the year to be a hockey fan. Both Michigan and Denver are tied in rank at No. 5, so I’ve  got two chances to get to the Frozen Four.

Since Red Berenson’s mighty Michigan Wolverines are one of my teams, notable players to look out for include Carl Hagelin who finished fourth in the CCHA scoring race (15-22-37. Rookie John Merrill became the first defensman to reach the 20-goal mark  since, now NHL Kings defenseman, Jack Johnson in 2005-06. Goaltender Shawn Hunwick ranked first in the CCHA in goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.931). Michigan’s energetic season, inlcuding the “Big Chill in the Big House” has prepared the team for the big stage heading into the divisional tournaments.

The Denver Pioneers have completely revamped this season losing many player to graduation or the NHL track. Despite being in the top-ten most of the season, the Pioneers have been under the radar. Expect the usual quiet analytical play by Denver. Denver’s top two scorers are sophomore Drew Shore and freshman Jason Zucker. George Gwozdecky can’t look at the year and expect to foretell the future. In previous years, the Pioneers have learned that once in the NCAA tournament, the regular season and conference tournaments mean nothing. Last year, the Pioneers won the MacNaughton Cup, stumbled a bit in the WCHA Final Five and lost in the first round of the NCAAs for third consecutive season as a No. 1 seed.

Many fans don’t take the time to watch college hockey, but it’s exciting if you are a hockey fan to realize you are watching the next great NHL stars.

Praise the Porter and other Avalanche tales

Broadway bullets weren’t enough to stop Kevin Porter, who has five goals on the year. This is great. As a Michigan Wolverine fan, Michigan hockey fandom is awesome. It’s the same love of the game at DU Pioneer games without the rebellion. Michigan has claimed more NCAA hockey titles, 9, than any other team. Denver sits right behind Michigan with 7 titles. There’s nothing to do in the winter but partake in Palin winter sports. That’s why the pairing of former Michigan captain and Hobey Baker winner, Kevin Porter, makes a great addition to the young Avalanche corral. Porter has experience in the minors, not only with the Avalanche, but also with the Phoenix Coyotes. Porter has five game winning goals in seven games.

Matt Duchene has become as solid as a Crosby-esque mirage. No one is sure if he’s for real, but then the scoring says it all. Matt carried a goal and two assists when the New York Rangers graced the Pepsi Center. In other young gun news, Kevin Shattenkirk, former captain of Boston U has 5 points in 9 games. He sported two assists in Dallas. Though he looked shaky in training camp, the defenseman has taken his place in the NHL.

And then there’s David Jones, who has had great expectations met this season hitting all the fantasy columnists recommendations. Five points in the last four games suggests a talent unleashing. Last year’s frustrations reap this year’s rewards- “grab now or regret later,” the pundits preach.

Peter Budaj

Budaj fills in for Anderson

Craig Anderson is back, but Peter Budaj is staying close. The story of the back-up stint had a happy ending, with Budaj carrying a load all the way to the bank with an 8-3-1 record. Budaj stood ground in Dallas netting up a win. Best-case scenario is that the Avalanche have cemented a goaltender duo for a winning season. If you look at the standings, this week the Avs sit in the third seat in the Western Conference.

For the Love of Hockey

American’s love of hockey is growing; nowhere near the sparkling thunder of Canada’s devotion to the game.  Russia and Sweden have great fanfare over the sport, yet the NHL has placed its roots in the States.

Every hockey fan can pinpoint the moment they fell in love with the sport.  Growing up in Michigan was close to living in Canada, literally a drive over the bridge or a car ride over a border of forest.  Michigan boasts seven college hockey teams, equivalent to rival hockey state Minnesota.  Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Wayne State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State create a vortex of goons on ice that is impossible to avoid.  Not to mention minor leagues spanning from Grand Rapids to Saginaw to Calumet in the Upper Peninsula.

I always had a pair of skates.  Never remember not skating on a frozen pond, at Yost Arena or in my best friend’s backyard where her father built us a rink to practice every day after school.  I loved making figure eight tracks in the ice and the whoosh and scrape sounds my skates sang.  I was in training to be a professional ice skater because in my day, girls playing hockey wasn’t the norm.  Today, I know many women who strap on the gear for some non-contact ice time.  The big ice arena where I took lessons was in Muskegon where my dad would take us for Mohawk games.  The thrill of watching the pros move the puck on the very same ice I loop to looped was exhilarating.  I felt a kinship.

Years passed, college came and the Detroit Red Wings drafted Steve Yzerman.  To say that most girls in Michigan had a super crush on Stevie Y is an understatement.  His presence in Detroit hockey rivaled the previous generation’s love of Gordie Howe, who was a household name for most in the Great Lakes region.  Some of us may not have known all of Howe’s triumphs but we knew he stood for something great in our state and one of our greatest ambassadors for the sport and the state.   Howe still lives in Michigan.  We love him.

The Detroit Red Wings defined hockey for me beyond what I knew.  Super bad boy Darren McCarty defended the pride of the Motor City with his spunk and fists.  His scraps enlightened my view of fighting’s purpose in the game.  When some player rushed Chris Osgood or Dominic Hasek I awaited a brawl.  Defending your friends and your teammates seemed a viable reason to cause some stink.  I know obsess over penalty minutes for roughing and fighting drafting the toughest defenders for my fantasy teams.  I cheer when my guys rack up the PIMs, and devote my blog to the blue line.

So as I’m writing this in response to a recent posting of the 5 Reasons You Love Hockey, for Puck Daddy’s blog I’m reminded of another great influence of my fascination, Wayne Gretzky.  He may not have started my love affair with the sport but his dominance was eye opening.  Honestly, I never followed his career in Edmonton. I took notice when he went to the Los Angles Kings mostly because I couldn’t believe anyone would put a team near the beach.  Stats and news trickled in on my radar for the Great One yet my interest wouldn’t peak until after the Kings.  I recall a co-worker who was a St. Louis Blues fan thus the debate over our rival team’s greatness. He crashed into my office boasting of the acquisition of Gretzky.  I assured him it wouldn’t help his team.

Off to the bright lights of the big city, Wayne Gretzky landed with the New York Rangers. Comparable to the Stevie Y worship, Gretzky and NYC were irresistible.  My boss gave me tickets to a New Year’s Eve game when the Rangers came to Denver to play the young Colorado Avalanche in 1999.  My love for hockey infiltrated that job with a Boston Bruins fan and a San Jose Sharks fan all under one department.  If we had to stay late during the playoffs, we had a radio broadcasting the games.  Our boss, a Denver Broncos fan, couldn’t believe he had three voracious hockey girls in his office.

Gretzky’s retirement is held in high tribute in my home with a framed print plate from the actual New York Daily News front page announcing Gretzky’s departure.  My husband somehow acquired this for me, along with giving me his vintage Rangers jacket.  The New York Rangers are my Eastern Conference team.

I landed in Denver, Colorado before any NHL franchise planted its roots.  In 1996, I found a new hockey hero in Joe Sakic.  Walking downtown one day, the meager crowds were ambushed by numerous fire engines carrying men waving, and sitting atop one was Sakic hoisting the Stanley Cup.  Shining in the sunlight, my heart raced.  Hockey was finally in the Rocky Mountains in grand style.  I followed Sakic’s career, was an Avalanche season ticket holder in 1998 and wore my Avs gear with pride.  My Colorado hockey experience was born.

In 2002, I looked at graduate schools.  My interest fell on Cornell or the University of Denver based on their academics but a must was their hockey traditions.  DU was down the street from my house, so the choice was clear and what an amazing opportunity to see the DU Pioneers ravage the college hockey scene.  I watched NHL stars Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak play in front of my third row season ticket seats.

Sometimes, the best time out is cozying up on the sofa with a beer and a hockey game.  I watch hockey every night.  I can’t live without knowing the scores and who’s kicked it on my fantasy hockey teams.  What the players do on their ice time is their concern, as I just want to experience the joy of their triumphs. My fantasy hockey team drives what keeps me watching hockey where stats and percentages finally make sense.  Few players on my team have been notified of their status, yet it’s always fun to tell them this fact.

Five reasons why I love hockey seem too few.   Mentally and spiritually the greatest game on ice fills a place like no other. Hockey has always been a large part of my life.  I never realized how influential the sport has been to who I am and how I approach people and situations.  Tell people you’re from Detroit may invoke a mixed response of sympathy and fear, but tell them you’re a Red Wings fan be prepared to defend your turf.