The Hockey Dad Survival Guide

*****EDITOR’S NOTES*****
-This is a guest article by Nutz Grubner
-Nutz Grubner is NOT a member of Black’N’Blueline, I cannot stress this enough. He is the proud owner of The Dumbp and showed up on my doorstep about half an hour ago, on what appeared to be the tail end of an acid trip. He handed me this and walked away without a word.
-This piece has not been edited in any way.
-Nutz Grubner may or may not be the reincarnation of Newsy Lalonde, though no one claims he is, and Nutz himself does not believe in reincarnation.
-Nutz Grubner’s Twitter account: “@NutzGrubner” Was hacked. Unfollow him now.
-The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of Black’N’Blueline, its partners, affiliates, ancestors, pets, or music teachers.

"I'm a hockey mom. This is what I do."
“I’m a hockey mom. This is what I do.”

-By Nutz Grubner-
I recently read a blog post giving tips to hockey moms, and offering a free “Hockey Mom Survival Kit” to one lucky reader. Though the blog in question is sponsored by the company that just happens to make all of the products in said Survival Kit, as well as every product mentioned in the article itself I’m not here to take any credibility from the author of the post or the post itself. Frankly, the company in question, does make a lot of great products to be regularly used by hockey moms everywhere. The products mentioned are very good for the purposes mentioned and said Survival Kit, as well as the tips, would surely be helpful to any hockey mom out there. But what is a new hockey dad to do?

"This ice hockey uniform top is acceptable apparel for this afternoon's match, is it not?"
“I believe this ice hockey uniform top is acceptable apparel for this afternoon’s match, is it not?”

With the sport growing at a fast pace, many young fathers are finding themselves feeling much like so many first-time hockey moms. Unsure of the rules, both written and un, they are often forced to either take the position of “when in Rome” and simply hope not to screw up somewhere, or just separate themselves from the whole thing, always watching alone from some dark corner of the rink and relying on other parents to develop their child in the sport. Well, hapless hockey dads, I’m here to help. I may not have a fancy $40 prize for anyone, but I do have some tips for you from my years spent in minor hockey arenas. In fact, I’m certain I can turn you into a great hockey dad with just the following ten easy steps. Consider this your survival guide, or user manual, depending on your relationship with your child.

1: Skates are expensive. Many printers nowadays can create very good, high quality stickers. Use this technology to cover up the “KOHO” with a “CCM” logo or Nike swoosh. Suddenly that $40 pair of skates looks like you broke the bank and, therefore, don’t hate your child.

2: The repeated cost of sharpening skates at around $5-$10 a pop can add up quickly. Most arenas have beat up machines that do it for about $2 or so, but these machines are cheap for a reason as they do a terrible job. Anyone who sees you will make fun of you for using it, so make sure no one sees you. If someone walks in on you while your kid’s skate is inside being “sharpened,” walk away and tell your child his or her skate was stolen by the mafia and you’ll buy a new pair.

3: Bring along something to dry off the blades of your child’s skates after practices and games. An old sock or pair of underwear; anything that used to collect sweat from parts of your body normally hidden from public view will do the trick. If you forget a rag, however, the cuff of your jacket will work too.

Don't use this...with anyone present
Don’t use this…with anyone present

4: Speaking of sweat, your child is going to sweat a lot. Because of this, his or her equipment is going to smell ghastly, and render the vehicle it travels in almost unusable. If you don’t own a pickup truck, try to use your wife or boss’s car and be sure to turn up the stereo as you drive. If any of your passengers complain, shove a couple of drier sheets in vents or just tell them to go to hell.

5: The same smell will permeate whatever area you store your child’s equipment in. An easy way to avoid this is to store your child’s equipment somewhere you don’t generally go, such as the laundry room, linen closet, or neighbour’s shed.

6: You’re going to find yourself in some cold arenas, which means you’re going to get the odd runny nose. If you’re too damn good to use your sleeve like everyone else, there are usually some napkins on the concession counter for people like you. They’re even greasy, somehow, so as to feel smooth against your skin, your highness.

7: Most minor hockey teams have a rotating system for a different parent to wash all of the jerseys each week. When your turn comes around, here is the easiest system I have found for completing this task*:
Step 1 – Put both sets of jerseys in the tub with a little bit of soap from beside the kitchen sink.
Step 2 – Turn on shower. Run for 30 minutes.
Step 3 – Put soaked jerseys in the dryer. Leave there until merely damp.
Step 4 – Put them on hangers and hand them off to the next guy.

*-Note: If you do this properly, you’ll never be asked to do it again.

8: Minor hockey arenas tend not to serve alcohol, but there is usually a terrible bar nearby where you can pass the time during your child’s evening game or early morning practice. These places usually sell hot wings pretty cheap, which also takes care of that “mid-game snack” you were supposed to bring.

Like this, but with cheap beer and swearing.
Like this, but with beer and swearing.

9: Every team has at least one a-hole dad. This man can be recognized by a few determining factors including, but not limited to:
-Yelling at refs
-Yelling at coaches
-Drinking beer from a travel mug at Pee Wee games
-Drinking beer from a travel mug while driving
-Yelling at players
-Yelling at timekeepers
-Buying $500 worth of 50/50 tickets and bragging about it
-Yelling at other parents
-Yelling at concession workers
-Lighting a cigarette 30 steps before exiting the building
-Yelling at arena maintenance workers
-Yelling at small children
-Losing $500 on the 50/50
-Yelling at the cop who pulled him over on the way home
In that order. If you can’t figure out who the a-hole dad on your team is, it’s probably because you’re yelling too loud to hear him, a-hole. Don’t be the a-hole dad on your kid’s team. There’s no need to yell anyway. Most kids don’t go pro, but yours definitely will. It’s fate, and no one can stop it, so relax.

10: Practice at home is important, especially studying tape. I suggest Slap Shot, Youngblood, Miracle, and the entire Mighty Ducks series.

And a Bonus!
11: Learn the phrase “Leafs suck”. You will be instantly accepted by 95% of hockey fans outside Toronto. If you live in Toronto, move.

There you have it. Ten easy steps, plus I snuck in a bonus, so, you’re welcome. Armed with the knowledge you’ve gained here, you can successfully put your kid in hockey knowing you won’t make a total ass of yourself. Take what you have learned here and unleash yourself on an unsuspecting public as you shame them with your knowledge of how to be a hockey dad.

Hockey History: Crossing the BC Boundary

-by Tyson Michie-
Driving through the Boundary region of southern British Columbia, so named for its proximity to the Canada/US border, you can’t help but feel in your gut that there is history in the hills. A quick trip through small town Grand Forks, or even smaller town Greenwood, will tell you your gut is a smart guy. The story of this region is the story of Western expansion; mining, logging, and railroads giving birth to camps and settlements across what is now British Columbia and Washington. As a linking valley between the province and state, the area would come to identify with both Canada and the US. Some of the settlements would survive, others would not, but they would all play their role in the history of the region, province, and nation.

But a quick trip through will not tell the whole story. You will pass by many school and sports fields, but only one actual arena, which is in Grand Forks. You may notice the outdoor rink, the only rink that serves the town, as you drive through Greenwood. You may blink and miss the sign pointing you to Phoenix Ski Hill; a tiny ski lodge next to what used to be the city of Phoenix, BC, whose citizens claimed to have the highest rink in all of Canada. You won’t see much else in the way of hockey, though, as these are the only symbols of what used to be. With nearby longtime hockey towns like Vernon and Penticton in the Okanagan valley to the west, and the Kootenay region with Trail and Nelson to the east, it’s easy to ignore the Boundary’s place in hockey as you pass through wondering when the Vees play the Smoke Eaters next, and no one would blame you. It would, however, be a mistake.

James Donaldson Park

If you stand outside the home of the Grand Forks Border Bruins of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League; a league low on the proverbial totem pole of junior hockey, you’ll find yourself looking at the most prominent sports facility in the region. No, not the Grand Forks Aquatic Centre and Arena you’re standing in front of, but James Donaldson Park, just across the highway that runs through the heart of the small city. Looking at one of the top baseball fields in Canada, host of one of the top amateur tournaments in the world, you might be inclined to believe that baseball is infinitely more popular, and has more history in the small town, but the fact is, as much as baseball is loved in this area, there is arguably as long a hockey history here as anywhere else in British Columbia. In fact, the Boundary region is a birthplace of sorts for hockey in British Columbia, and the story of hockey in the Boundary region, is the story of the region itself, and many areas of BC and northern Washington where ghost towns now sprinkle the landscape.

The history of the area is mining and logging, and it was mining and logging that brought workers from the east. These workers brought with them all the things they already loved, including the game of hockey. At first, games between rival towns and camps were sparse, as winter travel through the mountains often proved prohibitive, and were as rough and vicious as one can imagine barely-organized games between miners and loggers of the time could be. It wasn’t long, though, before order was introduced and teams from Grand Forks, Greenwood, and Phoenix started playing each other fairly regularly. In 1906, Grand Forks and Phoenix fought to claim the first covered rink in the area, and possibly the province, with each city building one that year. The very next year, Greenwood followed suit, building their own enclosed arena. By 1908, teams from the three towns had formed the Boundary Hockey League, said to be the first hockey league in all of British Columbia. The league’s first season, 1908-09, ended with Grand Forks winning the Boundary Hockey Championship Cup, the first hockey trophy awarded in British Columbia. Between 1908 and 1912, the league would grow to include teams from the neighbouring Kootenay region, representing the towns of Rossland, Nelson and Trail. On top of all this, it would be a crime not to mention that Phoenix is claimed by historians to be the home of the world’s first Women’s hockey team, though Queen’s University in Ontario makes the same claim.

In 1911, the Phoenix Hockey Club came closer to the Stanly Cup than any team from the Boundary, before or after. Having won the McBride Cup as provincial champions of BC, the team had won the right to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Their challenge to the Cup holders at the time, the Ottawa Hockey Club, was deemed “too late” however, and they were denied their shot at hockey’s holy grail. Within a couple of years, the Boundary Hockey League found itself positioned as the farm league for the Patrick family’s newly formed Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

When the First World War broke out the need for copper pushed the price through the roof and mining the metal from camps outside Phoenix to be smelted in Greenwood and Grand Forks proved very profitable, and the area boomed even more. Immediately after the war, though, the price of copper fell dramatically. The entire industry was all but destroyed and the once populous cities were suddenly all but ghost towns. Phoenix, having been hit the hardest, did become an actual ghost town, almost overnight. Several decades later, coal was found directly underneath the abandoned city. The entire place was razed, and an open pit mine was replaced it. Today, that pit of a mine is all that is left where Phoenix, BC once stood. One of the early western Canadian hotspots, home of the first women’s hockey team in the world, is now a hole in the ground on top of a mountain. The only evidence of the city that once earned the right to challenge for The Stanley Cup is a WWI Cenotaph and a graveyard.

The region that gave British Columbia its first hockey league and trophy, is now represented by a single Junior B team. Greenwood is a shadow of its early 1900s self, its 676 residents proclaiming it the Smallest City in Canada, while Grand Forks, though survived as the largest city in the area, remains a hard luck town, living and dying on the forestry industry. This is a small area of Canada with very close historical ties neighbouring Washington state, and by extension, the US itself. Its biggest claim to fame in the sports world is the annual Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament (formerly the Labour Day International Baseball Tournament) which draws teams from all over North America and the world. It’s easy to understand why baseball is such a popular sport in the area and has been for years. Just don’t let that distract you from hockey’s place in the Boundary region, and the Boundary’s place in hockey history.

The 1911 McBride Cup Champion Phoenix HC

The Fantastical Fanatic Part 2: At What Cost?

"Can't stop. Dude in Rhode Island needs 5 more points to take first in his work pool"
“Can’t stop. Dude in Rhode Island needs 5 more points to take first in his work pool”

-By Richard Caron-
So at the height of fantasy sports with everyone filling out their March Madness brackets, it seems like a good time to revisit how fantasy sports affects your, my and the athletes’ take on sports themselves. In our first go around on the subject, we didn’t really delve too much into the psyche of the athlete when it comes to fantasy sports. You might think, “Athletes are beyond the petty game I play every week with my buddies online.” To a degree, you may be right. But to think that they don’t know, understand, and follow their own fantasy stats and value is to be quite ignorant.

Oh, they know
Oh, they know

For proof of this, look no further than the recent retirement from the NFL of Arizona Cardinals starting Running Back Rashard Mendenhall. At the age of 26, on the surface, his retirement might seem a bit shocking to the casual fan, but to an avid sports fan, it is easily brushed off with no more of a thought than, “He must be stepping away because of all the concussion controversies,” or, if you follow football and know Mendenhall’s career a bit, you might think his 3.3 Yards Per Carry last season, when compared to backup RB Andre Ellington’s 5.5 YPC, wasn’t gonna cut it in Cardinals training camp; a perceived “end of the line” for most running backs in their career. But with a closer look, courtesy of Mendenhall himself, (insert link to huffington post article), and a bit of insight, you see there are cracks in the foundation of sport, that we as fans and athletes are just starting to see. Team sports have become about the individual. Contracts and awards trump team wins. Sponsorships trump championships. Mendenhall explains an article written for the Huffington Post:

What was more difficult for me to grasp was the way that the business of entertainment had really shifted the game and the sport of football in the NFL. The culture of football now is very different from the one I grew up with. When I came up, teammates fought together for wins and got respect for the fight…Today, game-day cameras follow the most popular players on teams; guys who dance after touchdowns are extolled on Dancing With the Starters; games are analyzed and brought to fans without any use of coaches tape; practice non-participants are reported throughout the week for predicted fantasy value; and success and failure for skill players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points.”

If you think he’s the only athlete that feels this way, you better give your head a shake because odds are, for all the Chad “Ochocinco” Johnsons and Terrell Owens out there that there are trying to get TD’s for your fantasy teams so you’ll tell your mom to vote for them on Dancing With the Stars, there are the Rashard Mendenhall’s and Barry Sanders of this world, that played for the love and not the stat line. This isn’t to say that the superstars play only for money and fame, or that superstars are not valuable members of the team. Obviously they are. But with the culture of off field fame trumping on field play, ar some point, something’s going to give.

"Sure they won, but I have more Twitter followers!"
“Sure they won, but I have more Twitter followers!”

Is it difficult to relate this to fantasy hockey? It shouldn’t be. Do you think Alex Ovechkin is unaware of his fantasy value, or Dale Weise his lack thereof? If the fantasy game can be played, money can be made off it. It becomes another avenue of advertising and sponsorship, and suddenly the team sport begins fading away. The game that was once about putting it all on the line for your team becomes “who can look the best”. Better to have a Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, or Rick Nash scoring for a losing team than Keith Ballard, Paul Ranger, or Chris Tanev blocking shots for a winner.

Hasn’t it always been this way though? Haven’t there always been stars and unsung heroes? Yes, there has. The difference today is that the true fan of any given sport is changing. It used to appreciate the hard working defensive player as much as the flashy offensive dynamo. It used to consider the grinder and hitters as much as the scorers and set up men. It is very slowly, but very surely changing the nature of the game itself, as players grow and develop in this culture of individualism. It used to be, if you wanted to be an individual, you played an individual sport; tennis, boxing, track. Now, there are more individuals in football, hockey and other team sports than ever before, and teams are disappearing in favour of these collections of individuals. Social media has completely taken over sport without us noticing, and fantasy sports kind of started the entire thing way back when.

Lost style points for not tucking his pinkie.
Lost style points for not tucking his pinkie.

In the end though, the ultimate “devils advocate” is these athletes have been herded like cattle for so many years, that the ultimate goal is to “Get Paid”. And you get paid based on performance. If you look at college athletes in North America, the only way to get paid is to stand out, and to make that jump to the pro level and to keep putting up those “fantasy type” stats. All these companies, sponsoring all these websites brackets, and the kids/athletes don’t make a dime. When you teach greediness, it’s hard to expect any other outcome.

So folks, the endless cycle of fantasy greed will continue to roll and spoil a few great athlete along the way. Sure concussions are more important to talk about, because human health is a major issue. But if we are talking the health of sports, instead of talking rule changes or more games to a schedule or expansion.
Maybe the big wigs should start curbing the money pot.

………….and maybe the Canucks will win the Stanley Cup right after…

Educating a Sport

-By Tyson Michie
Take a trip through the many different hockey related message boards, chat areas, and blogs, and you’re likely to find the purveying attitude that NHL players participating in the Olympics is the best thing since someone first put blade to ice. Sure, there are detractors, but in the end they eventually capitulate to the point that, while they may not like it, the Olympics is for the best so the best should go. It’s a valid point, but it belies the true reason so many want and need the NHL at the Olympics.

The Olympics is the biggest international stage. A competitive American team will whip up excitement among the American people and they will become hockey fans. It’s not a bad theory. It’s worked before, in fact, so it’s easy to see why it’s the conventional wisdom now. While hockey has existed in the US for almost as long as in Canada, it has, until relatively recently, been relegated to the status of “northern” sport and locked away in the American attic spaces of Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts. Sure, most of the NHL’s oldest franchises are American, but their placement fits the bill pretty closely; Detroit, Boston, Chicago, New York. All northern cities, all with winters naturally conducive to winter sport. It wasn’t until the NHL’s first expansion that hockey truly moved anywhere outside the northern states. Suddenly pro teams based in California and Missouri were trying to prove this northern sport was for everyone. Still though, the other expansion teams were based in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and the majority of Americans continued to ignore hockey as a “northern” sport until the 1980 Miracle on Ice.

In 1980, the American Olympic Men’s hockey team was made up of a bunch of college kids from a few northern states. This rag-tag group went on to win Gold, defeating the hated Russians along the way. It’s a great story, but the part people like to focus on now is the crop of American players who hit the NHL about a decade later; Mike Modano, Mike Richter, Kevin Stevens, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, the list goes on. The sport which was used to living and dying in Canada, was finally looking at a getting place a little warmer, a little further south. Today, the NHL is a $3billion a year business across North America. 23 of 30 teams are American based. Teams in cities such as Phoenix, Nashville, Miami, and Los Angeles beg the question, “Is hockey still a winter sport?” It’s sometimes difficult to imagine hockey needing to grow at all in the USA. So why does it need to be grown? Well because $3billion each year is nice, but more would be nicer. If you’re trying to grow national interest in a sport, growing the sport in your country on the international stage is a good way to do it, especially if it has worked before. The thing about stuff that has worked before, though, is that it doesn’t work forever. Regardless of the outcome, the USA iced a team in Sochi that was, on paper, as able to win the Gold as anyone. The USA took silver in men’s hockey in 2002 and 2010. In 30 years, American international hockey has come a long, long way. Can it carry the game any farther into the US collective consciousness, though? Hockey may have hit the southern states, and may be actually accepted in cities like Tampa Bay and Anaheim, but it’s stuck in those cities and it can’t get out.

A funny thing about the United States is they have a huge population that is anything but confined to those major cities. The people of rural American are as spread out as the big, wide country itself, and although they don’t mind watching pro sports, they’d much rather cheer for a local team. A team they can relate to. A college team. It’s no secret that, in football, a player has made tons of money for his school before he ever makes a dime for himself (illegal payment of the athlete by schools aside). Fans line up and buy tickets and merchandise. Alumni will spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to keep a successful program, or replace an unsuccessful one, and college conferences make tons of money from TV contracts. College football isn’t popular because of the future stars the people are watching. College football (and basketball) is as popular as it is because rural Americans have an easier time relating to college sports. Football was born in college, basketball raised there. College sports predates pro sports, and the schools have become as much a part of America as the franchises of Major League Baseball. Whether you attended college or not, if you’re a rural American, there’s likely a college or university you relate to better than any pro sports team or city. And why not? There are an endless number of colleges spread out across the country, so they’re more geographically convenient. There are more former college players than former pros by a long shot, and more people went to college than will ever play pro sports. College sports are simply easier to relate to.

Face it, the American sports fan is almost always a college sports fan. Every Hollywood movie set in college has two groups battling each other, Nerds and Jocks, for a reason. In the US athletics and academics live together on the nation’s college campuses. College sports in the 1800s was the preamble to the professional sports we’ve enjoyed for over 100 years now, and many, many Americans continue the tradition of cheering for a local school, alma mater, or “family” college. American hockey has always been growing. In 1980 it took a leap and the rewards were seen over the next two decades. Those players, in turn, inspired another generation of young kids, who have brought the USA into the “elite” group of hockey nations. The US international game has done all it can to grow the sport within US borders. It can now only grow respect for the American game worldwide. It’s time to now grow the game inside US borders, and the way to do that is not an Olympic tournament in Russia or South Korea. You can’t expect Americans who aren’t already die-hard hockey fans to wake up in the middle of the night to watch hockey. No, the answer is to push the college game. Grow the college game. Sell the college game.

The NCAA has historically been mostly ignored by the NHL in favour of the Canadian Hockey League. One need only look at the list of recognizable Hobey Baker Award winners to find that out. Things have already started to change, though, and college is starting to take up some of those draft picks traditionally scooped up by the CHL and Europe. According to collegehockeyinc.com, at the beginning of the 1990s around 20% of NHL players had gone through the NCAA. That has grown to a little over 30%  continues to grow today. Not only that, players of every caliber are coming to the NHL through school. From tough guys like Jay Rosehill (UMD), George Parros (Princeton) and John Scott (MTU), to slick skating All-Stars like Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, TJ Oshie (all North Dakota), Tomas Vanek (Minnesota), and Max Pacioretty (Michigan) to half the Vancouver Canucks defense core (Kevin Bieksa-BGSU, Jason Garrison-UMD, Chris Tanev-RIT, Andrew Alberts-BC). Even a generous portion of the league’s new crop of hotshot goalies are college grads; Ben Scrivens went to Cornell, Jimmy Howard to Maine, Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick played against each other a lot for Boston College and UMass respectively. Justin Schultz went the college route, attending the University of Wisconsin and playing for the Badgers, despite already being drafted by the Anaheim Ducks. After three years of development that came with an education to boot, Schultz signed with the Edmonton Oilers and finished the American Hockey League’s 2012-13 season with 18 goals and 48 points, putting him 6th among rookies and 1st among defensemen, despite only playing roughly half the season for the Oklahoma City Barons before spending the rest of the season in the NHL with the Oilers.

At the end of the day, the college sports which are popular are so because people are slow to change, and our likes and dislikes for life are greatly, though not completely, determined around age 20. More Americans who go through the college system and make the NHL will grow fandom of the game through friends and family who, if history is any indication, will continue to cheer that college team long after their son/brother/friend has made the NHL or not. More Canadian kids moving down to play in the US will help to grow the game as well. Players from the best nation in the sport coming to help a team is always welcomed. In the US, football is the sport because that was the college weekend event for so, so long. Hockey in unpopular in the south, not because it was invented in Canada or is played on ice, but because drunken frat boys don’t grow up, and haven’t for generations. It’s not just frat boys, men really, but understanding this gives us the next question we need to answer in order to grow the sport in the US: How do we get drunken frat boys to care about hockey?

What’s in a Number?

 

Now, THAT'S how you retire a jersey
Now THAT’S how you retire a jersey

-By Richard Caron-
In hockey the number worn on a player’s back can mean almost as much as the name above it. For some, it’s a luck thing; their superstitions have led to whatever ends up on the back of their jersey. To others, it honours something; a family member, friend, or favourite player. For most, it’s been with them for years. The jersey number is as iconic as the jersey itself all on its own, but when it comes to the NHL there is a different level of distinction when it comes to the Crème de la Crème of the game.

Getting your number retired is the ultimate honour once your career is done, with exception to getting the nod to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Is there enough emphasis put into the retirement of a number these days, though? Was there ever? What’s the actual, tangible honour behind it? The player is awarded for all his years of hard work, dedication, and entertainment, with a ceremony where the number is hung, and he’s given a trip somewhere by team management, Sure, it’s recognized from then on, but by whom? It’s on display in the arena rafters. Anyone who isn’t at the game, or is but decides not to look up, is left to forget. These players and their historic numbers should be brought into light by teams more often. If we truly want to honour these players with the highest distinction a team can give, why are we putting them “in the attic” so to speak. Get them out there, at the very least it would be a good way to sell more jerseys.

I didn't know Bourque wore #11
I didn’t know Bourque wore #11

Now I know the Toronto Maple Leafs employ this theory to an extent with their “Honoured Numbers” but to me, because there are so many numbers on that list, it somewhat diminishes when the number is actually chosen by a current player. The Vancouver Canucks have their “Ring of Honour” but can anyone name 3 members of that Ring? To me that an “Honoured Number” can be worn all season also diminishes that honour. It’s black and white to me with this issue. Either you were good enough to have a retired number or you weren’t. Why have a bastardized version?

Whatever your feelings on that, I feel that retired jersey numbers need to be brought out of the old tickle trunk to remember the great franchise players of the past as well as honouring achievements of current greatness. And when I talk current greatness, I’m not talking flash in the pan Jonathan Cheechoo 50+ goal seasons. I’m talking grizzled vets that have put up great numbers over their career and dedicated their service to one maybe two franchises. Guys like Henrik Sedin, Jarome Iginla, and Ryan Smyth. All three are in slightly different scenarios in their careers but all have put in their time, blood, sweat, and tears for their respective teams.

Let’s start off with Ryan Smyth. Sure he took a “Trevor Linden” tour through several teams in Long Island, Colorado and L.A., but he started as an Oiler, is an Oiler now, and will always be remembered as an Oiler, and it’s obvious that one day his #94 will be raised to the Edmonton rafters. It’s also obvious that any player would want to go out in their last game at home with their number on their jersey, but in my books, you know what would be the ultimate honour? To one night this season (assuming this is most likely Smyth’s last) honour his years of leadership with Messier coming into the building and lowering that jersey for one night. To allow Smyth to wear the #11 and show team solidarity through years and generations. Who knows, it may build a tradition of sorts whereby a longtime Oilers leader gets to wear Smyth’s #94 for one night, and someone else wears that guy’s number 30 years later.

"Great seats, man!"
“Great seats, man!”

In Jarome’s case, when he became all time leader for the Calgary Flames in games played or goals scored, instead of giving him the traditional gold stick or what-have-you, what about pulling out old Lanny MacDonald and letting Jarome wiz around in the #9 for one night? Or, sticking with the Flames, how about Miikka Kiprusoff wearing Mike Vernon’s old #30 for a home game after his 263rd win? As for Henrik Sedin, his case is the most recent. After 629 consecutive games played he went down with a rib injury. Why not honour an accomplishment like by letting him play in one of two Canuck greats numbers for a night. Given the workmanlike nature of such an accomplishment, either Stan Smyl’s #12 or Trevor Linden’s #16 would be fitting. Not only would it honour 2 greats at once, it might just sell 2 jerseys instead of one.

To honour the past is one thing, to give gratitude to the present is another. To combine the two and honour two of your team’s greats at once only makes sense.

"Look, Kevin, all I'm saying is goalies shouldn't wear #36. It's just wrong!"
“Look, Kevin, all I’m saying is goalies shouldn’t wear #36. It’s just wrong!”

Singing the St Louis Blues

Yzerman / St Louis fallout doesn’t just hurt Lightning

"Back off, he's talking about me."
“Back off, they’re talking about me.”

-By Tyson Michie-
These past Olympic Games have proven something beyond a shadow of a doubt: The NHL should not be involved. Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider lost his crap when Flyers star forward Claude Giroux wasn’t selected to team Canada, then managed to find just enough of it to lose again when John Tavares of the New York Islanders was injured, out for the remainder of the season, in a game against Latvia. That injury officially obliterated the Islanders’ entire season, making GM Garth Snow slightly irate as well.

"Can I play too?"
“Can I play too?”

Before the games even started there was turmoil among USA Hockey regarding not just Bobby Ryan’s being left off the team, but the public humiliation that came along with it from USA Hockey GM Brian Burke. When Team Canada was announced, many were surprised the reigning Art Ross champion, Martin St Louis, was left off the team in favour of players such as Chris Kunitz and Rick Nash when most of Canada had considered him a shoe-in. It wasn’t until Lightning teammate Steven Stamkos announced he wouldn’t recover from a broken leg in time for the games that St Louis was selected to the team. Finally all was right with the world. Until immediately after the gold medal game, when Canadian GM Steve Yzerman announced he was stepping down.

A few days later, news came out that St Louis had asked Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman for a trade.

In case you didn’t catch that, Steve Yzerman is the GM for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Team Canada. When Lightning Captain Martin St Louis asked for a trade out of Tampa Bay, everybody put two and two together, and decided it was because of the initial Olympic snub. Yzerman defended himself, after trading St Louis to New York for Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and two draft picks, by pointing to the dictionary definition of the word “snub”:

Does everyone know the definition of the word snub? Snub is to ignore. We didn’t ignore any of these players. None of them. We spent hours upon hours scouting, watching, discussing every single player, so we didn’t snub anyone.” – Steve Yzerman

"Yes, I do also know the definition of semantics. Why?"
“Yes, I do also know the definition of semantics. Why do you ask?”

So, to clarify, nobody was snubbed. It was genuinely decided Chris Kunitz would better represent Canada than Martin St Louis. No reason for the face of your franchise to be mad about that. A star player would never take being snubbed passed over by his own GM for a team he deserves to be on, and on which he has wanted to play on his entire life, poorly and ask for a trade.

Unless he already kind of wants to leave.

What’s getting forgotten in a lot of this is that St Louis has long hinted at wanting out of Tampa Bay. Not only that, he’s long hinted at wanting to be a Ranger, so as to be closer to his off-season home, and family in Connecticut. The fact that his list of teams he would accept a trade to was all of “the Rangers” long tells us this entire debacle was not about Steve Yzerman and Martin St Louis. This was all about Martin St Louis.

That’s not a bad thing. As fans of the game, we love to romanticize about the players and their relationships with our favourite teams, but really, it’s a business and these players are employees like the rest of us. They may have a much more fun job, they may make scads more money than you or I, but it’s still a job and all the same principles still apply as with any job. With that in mind, who among us doesn’t have the dream of controlling our own professional destiny? So Martin St Louis got to that point. He put everything he had into one team for 12+ seasons. He became the captain, the face of the franchise. He kept the team relevant through terrible seasons, just with his “mighty mouse” backstory inspiring a generation of kids told they’re too small to play hockey. He brought the Stanley Cup to Tampa Bay. Now he’s a Ranger, one of the best on an Original Six team, playing close to home with 1 season left on a $5.6million/year contract. This wasn’t about not being picked for one tournament. This was a life plan come to fruition.

"We get about this much more player in Callahan"
“We get about this much more player in Callahan”

Frankly, we should all be praising Martin St Louis not just for playing at a the highest competitive level after a lifetime of being told his size would never allow him to do so. We should be praising him not just for winning a Stanley Cup, a Hart trophy, an Art Ross trophy, a Plus/Minus award, a Lester B. Pearson award and 3 Lady Byng trophies. We should be praising him not just for his 6 All-Star appearances, his World Cup championship and his Olympic gold medal. No, we should be praising him for all of this AND managing to work his way into the most coveted position in any profession, not just hockey: complete control of his own destiny.

Admit it, we all envy Martin St Louis for the control he has over his professional life at the moment, Steve Yzerman most of all. While I wouldn’t say he’s in danger of losing his job, or anything even close to that, he is in a rough spot at the moment. For any other general manager in the same position, we the people would probably see this for what it probably is, St Louis winding his career down as he sees fit. Yzerman having left St Louis off the National team simply sped things up. If St Louis gets selected in the first place, maybe he stays for the season. Maybe he stays next season and plays out his contract before signing in New York as a free agent. Who knows? The point is it was going to happen. Sochi just made it happen faster. Given that Yzerman was able to get Ryan Callahan and 2 decent draft picks should leave Lightning fans with nothing to worry about.

Which is why I’m worried. In case you missed it earlier, Steve Yzerman, the man who orchestrated Canada’s 2 straight Olympic gold medals, stepped down from Hockey Canada. No, if I’m a lightning fan, I’m happy. Martin St Louis, as much as I love him, is winding down his career. If he doesn’t want to be there, it’s far better to get something now, than nothing later. Yzerman is a good GM, so draft picks in hand plus a former NHL captain leaves the Lightning sitting in a decent spot. I’m a Canadian hockey fan, though. What happens to Team Canada?

Yzerman filling in for Waldorf on the Muppets
Steve Yzerman with Waldorf from the Muppets

 

The thing that brought down Steve Yzerman was his ability to avoid the thing that brought down Bob Clarke (1998) and Wayne Gretzky (2002, 2006).Both teams were collections of great Canadian players who got along really well on and off the ice, but played like an NHL All-Star team. They were mostly teams of “Good ol’ Boys”. In 2002, 2010 and these past games, we brought our best team. There were no selections based on who management got along best with, and players didn’t get special treatment because their club GM was in the selection process, obviously. Yzerman is the best GM Canada has had in the past 16 years, and he won’t be back. Why are we focusing on Martin St Louis and the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Oh, right, because the Olympics are done for another 4 years, so 90% of fans will go back to not caring about international hockey, save for maybe the World Juniors. We should be worried about our national team if we, as fans, are to be taken seriously. Every four years it’s the same story. If we win, “We’re the best! We are winter!” (Editor’s note: Is that such a good thing? I don’t hear California saying “We are forest fires and earthquakes!“). If we lose, Canadian hockey is in shambles. We don’t seem to care for the four years in between though. We don’t care because, when professional level international hockey does happen, it’s during the playoffs, featuring the best of the worst. I’m sick of only caring every four years, and I’m sick of NHL media and goings-on affecting our national teams. That’s why I’m quite intrigued at the idea of the NHL skipping the 2018 Olympics in favour of a World Cup of Hockey.

The NHL and NHLPA are seriously considering not going to Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018. It’s not hard to see why. In Sochi, one of the league’s premier players was injured and will sell that many less shirts, hats, and absolutely zero tickets until at least next season. TV ratings for the Sochi games were less than stellar due to time zones, and Pyeongchang offers the same problematic issue. A World Cup could help raise awareness of the NHL in the US and abroad, and simultaneously raise the status of international hockey in the eyes of NHL fans as only an NHL level, international tournament can. It’s worth a serious thought anyway.

In the long term, none of the mess that was the 2014 Sochi Olympic Men’s Hockey Tournament will hurt the individuals. Bobby Ryan will make a team USA, whether it takes a change in management or not, the Senators weren’t touched by that debacle and Brian Burke came off looking like Brian Burke. Martin St Louis is better off, Yzerman’s job is safe because he’s good at it, and Tampa fans get to look forward to a bright future, instead of watching St Louis potentially turn into 2012-Jarome Iginla. John Tavares will be back next season, and the Islanders probably weren’t making the playoffs anyway, plus they won’t have to pay Tavares’s salary until he’s back. All in all, there is only one group who really could potentially be hurt by this whole thing. A group who are fairly used to being on top.

Canadian hockey fans

Don’t be mad at Gilly

Canucks GM Mike Gillis is just getting his shot

Would someone please just tell me what the hell you people want?
“Will someone please tell me what the hell you people want?”

-By Tyson Michie-
Following Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, a lot of people are angry. I call these people “Canucks fans” and I’m here to tell you they’re right to be angry, but I think their anger is somewhat misplaced. I’ll explain.

As a Canucks fan myself, I’m hearing a lot of anger (oh hell, downright hatred) towards the team’s General Manager, Mike Gillis. On Tuesday he acquired goaltender Jakob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias. This is not a problem for blue and green (this decade anyway) faithful. No, in fact, those could both turn into solid acquisitions for this team. Many have wondered how both Matthias, a 26 year old, 6’4″ centre from Mississauga, ON, and Markstrom, who went 31st overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft, would look on better teams than the Panthers, and now we’ll find out. That doesn’t bother Canucks too much. What bothers them is the cost.

Going the other way and becoming a Panther again was the best goaltender in the history of the Canucks franchise, Roberto Luongo.

Now that I've left Vancouver, I can stop doing this.
“Now that I’ve left Vancouver, I can stop standing like this”

This drew an uproar from fans, especially when the blockbuster Ryan Kesler deal it looked like Luongo’s departure was setting up didn’t happen. As far as the trade deadline itself goes, I like to look at things in terms of simple fact on occasion, so let’s look at what Gillis really did.

-Was able to unload an unhappy goalie with a terrible contract.
-What he got for that goalie was return on the future, not the now. He didn’t trade for a goalie with a 1-6-3 record, he traded for a guy who’s about a year from being a starter. He didn’t trade for a guy with no goals, 1 point and a -2 rating. He traded for a big bodied centre who can skate with decent wingers.
-This did set up a Kesler deal, but the deal wasn’t there. All day Wednesday it was reported that Mike Gillis was on the phone with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, hashing out a major deal for Ryan Kesler. The deadline came and went and no deal involving Ryan Kesler was made. Immediately the calls to fire Mike Gillis came flying out of every corner of Canucksland.
-Thursday the actual “blockbuster” deal that never happened was announced: Ryan Kesler for Brandon Sutter and 2 draft picks.
-Canucks fans are, by and large, idiots.

I realize that last one includes myself, and I accept that. I include myself because, like most Canucks fans, that was my first reaction. I kind of came to my senses though, and realized that was the worst reaction possible. In fact, I realized Canucks fans are terrible at reacting. This is something I’ve realized before, mind you, but I now see why bad reactions are a part of the Canucks’ identity and how we, the team’s fans, are a large part of why this team has won very, very little over the years.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when our poor reactions were seen as a good thing. I mean, you can call Roger Neilson’s white-towel surrender a lot of things; iconic, timeless, classic, but can you call it sportsmanlike? Not really, but that was okay. Imagine Neilson had never done that, and John Tortorella decided one night to perform the exact same act, or even Alain Vigneault last year. What do you think the headlines would be? Would it be seen as the iconic, team-rallying statement it has since become, or would it be seen as the whining that it likely would be? There’s a reason you want to answer “the former” but have to answer “the latter” and it has to do with a lot of things that have happened in between, and are continuing now.

We are a fan base that has come within 1 game of the Stanley Cup and reacted by tearing the city apart, twice. We are a fan base was so hard on the media’s favourite whipping boy, Roberto Luongo, that they did a complete 180 and started praising him, saying he needs to leave Vancouver. We’re the fan base who listened and agreed. We’re the fan base who can’t figure out why he’s so happy to be back in Miami. We’re the fan base who has now turned around and focused those exact same efforts on our current best player, Ryan Kesler. We listened to a rumour about a conversation in a bar after a bad loss and decided he needs to go. We’re mad at Mike Gillis because Ryan Kesler is still here. Once Ryan Kesler gets traded, and it’s a “when” not an “if” at this point, are we going to be confused that he’s happy to leave? Are we really so daft?

And it doesn’t even end there. With focus on Kesler, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa are on everyone’s tongues as well. Funny side note, if you mention Dan Hamhuis getting traded, Canucks fans will shoot that down immediately. With the team set down the stretch, and most Canucks fans still under the delusion that not only playoffs, but late round playoffs, are seriously in contention for this season, is this really the best approach to take with your stars? You’ve already had one member of the core leadership sent away, do you want more to leave now, if instant gratification is your wish?

Seems weirdly prophetic now.
Seems weirdly prophetic now.

By the way, let’s take a look at that core leadership. Certainly Roberto Luongo, who was acquired by Dave Nonis, was a member of that group until he was traded. Alexander Edler was also acquired by Nonis, and Kesler and Bieksa, both leaders on this team, were acquired by Brian Burke. Speaking of Burke, he was also the mastermind behind drafting the Sedins 2nd and 3rd overall in 1999. In fact, of the core leadership group of this team, only Dan Hamhuis was actually acquired by Mike Gillis. One may argue that a good core leadership was already in place when he showed up, but it’s tough to truly call it Mike Gillis’s team having only acquired 1/8 of the core leadership group everyone is so fond of (but wants traded).

But hey, let’s take a look at what Mike Gillis has brought to this team. A quick look at the roster brings up:

David Booth
Zac Dalpe
Chris Higgins
Zack Kassian
Brad Richardson
Jason Garrison
Mike Santorelli
Dan Hamhuis
Ryan Stanton
Chris Tanev
Yannick Weber
Tom Sestito
Eddie Lack

…and of course Matthias and Markstrom. Not including players he re-signed, he’s put 15 roster players in place. With Zack Kassian set to start a 3 game suspension tonight, Nicklas Jensen, another Gillis acquisition, has been called up from the Utica Comets to take his place. So he’s replaced well over half of this team, while Hamhuis has been his only real contribution to the core of this team. Take a look at that list again. Young solid defense in Garrison, Hamhuis, Tanev, Stanton and Weber. Heck one more and you’ve got a starting defensive line up in three years. Booth and Kassian; two players who have disappointed thus far, but shown that in the right circumstance, and given the right time, they can play well. This is not to mention, they’ll do it on the same line. A small, playmaking centre like Jordan Schroeder (another Gillis acquisition) or a big bodied guy like Matthias creating his own room between them could turn out, given enough time. Chris Higgins has been one of the hardest working, consistently present Canucks since he joined the team, and Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli have been hailed as two of the best signings this past off-season. Sestito, Dalpe, and other guys like Jeremy Welsh and Darren Archibald – Both Gillis acquisitions – are solid 4th liners who add grit and toughness to the line up, without giving up too much skating ability.

Can someone remind me again what Mike Gillis has done wrong? Oh yes, he hasn’t traded away the team’s core. He took over this team in 2008, after a season that saw the Canucks finish dead last in the Northwest division. In one season, the Canucks were back in the playoffs, finishing 1st in the division. He would go on to build a team that would come within 1 game of the Stanley Cup, and do it without changing the core group whom fans and ownership alike adored. From there he continued to tinker with his line up as things came up. He turned Cory Schneider into a top 10 draft pick, and this is where things get dicey with fans again. You see, for some reason, fans think the unproven (really, when you think about it) though very good goaltender was worth more than a top 10 pick, but the completely proven, unquestioned star of the team / should have been captain is worth Brandon Sutter and two draft picks. This is not to mention the fact that “he can’t draft” is another cry heard from many Canucks fans.

But going back to Mike Gillis at the draft, let’s take a look at some of his drafting history:

2008: Cody Hodgson (10th) / Yann Sauve (41st)
2009: Jordan Schroeder (22nd) / Joe Cannata (173rd)
2010:
2011: Nicklas Jensen (29th) / Frank Corrado (150th)
2012: Brendan Gaunce (26th)
2013: Bo Horvat (9th) / Hunter Shinkaruk (24th)

"I just want people to like me!"
“I just want people to like me!”

Now, I will grant you that I’ve not included even close to all the picks if you’ll concede that most draft picks go nowhere. What I want you to notice, though, is the draft positions, and remember that the Canucks had all of 0 picks in the first 3 rounds of 2010. Very few Canucks fans were arguing Cody Hodgson as a bad pick when it happened. Even fewer are now. Until the Cory Schneider trade and the selection of Bo Horvat at 9th overall, that was the highest draft pick Gillis had to work with. Sure, he passed up names like Jordan Eberle and Tyler Myers, but no one was worried about that at the time. Hodgson was a good pick. Now he’s gone because he didn’t like playing third banana behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler at centre. Instead of trading away a fan favourite, core leader, Gillis tradied one promising young player for another promising young player, Zack Kassian. Since then, everyone is calling that a bad trade, and at the same time wondering why Zack Kassian is always seems to be trying way too hard. We did our best to tear apart the best goalie we’ve ever had, and got confused when Edler’s play suffered after he heard Canucks fans and media calling him a new Nicklas Lidstrom. It doesn’t matter how good Bo Horvat will ever be, he’ll never be good enough if Canucks fans don’t change their tune.Every time someone says Mike Gillis can’t draft or trade, Horvat will have to hear it, knowing they’re talking about the guy who traded for the pick to draft him. That’s going to be a confidence booster. Remember the “outdoor” game? That debacle turned into a clownfest when Roberto Luongo was sat in favour of backup Eddie Lack. I won’t argue against that. The fans, however well intentioned though, turned it into a full ring circus when they hailed cries of “We Want Lu!” down on Eddie Lack which were intended for John Tortorella. While I understand the sentiment, there was no thought in the message. We tend to react without thinking.

When I see a team with so much change around the fringes and none in the core over 5-6 years, I see a General Manager handcuffed. Maybe he’s handcuffed by having good players. That certainly was the case when he entered the job. Maybe he’s handcuffed by a fan base who wants everyone traded but no one to leave. That’s certainly the case now. Maybe he’s handcuffed by ownership that wants to win, but just can’t stand to lose Luongo, Kesler and Sedin jersey sales. That’s certainly the case if you ask Ray Shero. Maybe he’s handcuffed by a league full of General Managers convinced he absolutely must trade all the players now, because that’s what we, the fans, are saying. That would certainly drive the price on Kesler down to Brandon Sutter and 2 draft picks. Gillis was able to get Shawn Matthias and Jakob Markstrom for Roberto Luongo (and Steven Anthony) only after it looked like he didn’t absolutely have to get Luongo out of Vancouver. We forced that. We forced the Schneider trade that was necessary to convince everyone Luongo was staying. We forced 2 fan favourite goalies out of town. Congratulations us.

Good luck, boys.
Good luck, boys.

Let’s not do the same thing with Markstrom and Matthias. Let’s not do the same thing to Horvat and Shinkaruk. Let’s not insult the players by trying to insult the General Manager. Let’s not insult a General Manager who has only, to date, been able to put his stamp on the fringes of a team built by Brian Burke and Dave Nonis. A lot of fans are saying they miss Burke and Nonis. Well I miss Pat Quinn and the 1994 Canucks. In fact, I miss all the players and coaches and GMs who helped this team take each “next step” on the long, painful stairway to the Stanley Cup, and I guess that includes both Burke and Nonis. But do I really miss either one that much? No. How could I? This is still their team.

Although with Luongo now moved out, it’s becoming less so. Let’s see what happens.