The Road To Professional Hockey: Michael Buonincontri

On the eve of his first professional season, Michael Buonincontri has seen quite a bit of the North American junior hockey landscape. Born into the legendary hockey city of Montreal, Quebec, it was a no brainer that Buonincontri’s parents put him in skates at three years old. Like any other Canadian kid, the game of hockey became an obsession and the dream of playing professional became the front runner in Buonicontri’s mind.

Buonicontri in Colorado.
Buonicontri in Colorado.

Working his skill and plying his trade throughout Montreal and a triple A league down in Colorado, Buonicontri looked up the courage of Saku Koivu to earn his place on the ice. Of course it helped that Koivu was captain of his favourite National Hockey League team too; the Montreal Canadiens. Koivu’s attribute of being a leader on and off the ice lead Buonincontri to adopt the number 11 as his own. A number he still wears today.

His play and determination was noticed. After a short stint with the Cornwall Colts of the Central Canada Hockey League, a rival team in the Smith Falls Bears pried him away. It was here, in this small community of 10,000 southwest of Ottawa, where Buonincontri excelled and made himself a name. “Smith Falls is a place where I was welcomed by everyone. Teammates, staff and fans,” Buonincontri said. “I felt at home and being in a comfortable environment I was able to translate the positivity onto the ice.” And translate he did. In his first two years with the Bears,

Bounincontri with Smith Falls. (photo: Jason Code)
Bounincontri with Smith Falls. (photo: Jason Code)

Buonincontri notched 56 points in 60 games. At almost a point a game player, his offensive ability started turning heads. A natural power forward, Buonincontri was starting to be compared to Montreal Canadiens sharpshooter Max Pacioretty. “I thank Mark Grady for giving me the opportunity that he did for me to succeed,” said Buonincontri. “I feel I was put in an important role and I was there to help the team win every night.” That role lead him an invitation to compete for Team Canada East however an injury before training camp put a stop to that. Faced with adversity seems to be his strong suit and he never let the injury bring him down. Good thing because important people were paying attention to his play and the phone started ringing.

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With Sioux Falls

Bounincontri jumped on the chance of gaining more experience with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League; a team that has graduated the likes of T.J. Oshie and Thomas Vanek into the NHL. A more defensive league, Buonincontri gathered not only hockey experience but valuable life experience in being so far from home in South Dakota. Along with it, he committed himself to St. Cloud State University. However, it was that little town in the middle of Ontario that was pulling on his heart strings. “I was kind of “team sick”. I missed my teammates, staff and fans back in Smiths Falls. It’s a place I felt the most at home. So decided to return.” Buonincontri returned with a vengeance and scored 29 points in 26 games. “The CCHL has grown to be in the top leagues in Canada and has graduated some very good players.” said Buonincontri of his time there.

With Prince George (Photo: Christian J Stewart)
With Prince George (Photo: Christian J Stewart)

As a prospect with St. Cloud State, Buonincontri had the chance to finish out his junior career in the British Columbia Hockey League with both the West Kelowna Warriors and the Prince George Spruce Kings. He stayed dominant and got involved with the community off the ice, no doubt a great quality to have on the heels of a University career. The BCHL fit right with the style of Buonicontri’s play. He exploded offensively and was a pivotal role in the Spruce King’s playoff run. “The BCHL is a very professional league. One of the most fun I had playing hockey with two great organizations.” Remembered Buonincontri. “The skill and compete level is as good as the USHL. There are a lot of great players but it’s the depth on every team is what separates those leagues from any other league I’ve played in.”

As his junior career ended, Buonincontri started to feel that the University route just wasn’t for him. He had the skill. He had the determination. He had the compete level. It was time to turn pro.

When Buonincontri de-committed from St. Cloud State, the offers started to pour in from North America. Teams in the East Coast Hockey League were jumping at the chance to land a powerhouse Canadian forward for their squad. The professional North American hockey market is a tough one to crack but Buonincontri would have had no problem. However, teams from across the pond came calling with better deals.

4ikiCHo9“It’s always been my dream to play professional hockey overseas.” laughed Buonincontri. He had a few to pick through but it was Les Corsaires De Dunkerque, a Division 1 team based in Dunkerque, France that became the right move for him. “They’re a great organization and well respected throughout the country of France,” continued Buonincontri. “My agent was in contact with them for a while and they showed the most interest. After talking to several people who played in France and doing my research on the club, I decided it would be a great fit for me to sign there.” No doubt that growing up in french centric Montreal also appealed to the brass in Dunkerque.

The hockey in France in definitely something to pay attention too. France in general is catching up in the IIHF rankings; they currently sit in 12th, just 100 points shy of the top ten.  The style of play in Division 1 will benefit from Buonincontri’s explosive offense. His ability to read the playand be two steps ahead of it is an asset Dunkerque will need to compete hard.

(Photo: Garrett James)
(Photo: Garrett James)

“I want to play professional hockey for as long as I can,” smiled Buonincontri. “My parents put me on skates at the age of three and I fell in love with the game.” As always with players, it’s family that usually makes the most sacrifices. “My family has been supporting me all my life and I owe all my success to them. I couldn’t be where I am today without their help.”

When the puck drops in this fall, Michael Buonincontri is set to take all of the experience he gained in the various junior leagues in North America to the bright white ice of Dunkerque, France. One thing’s for sure, this player is one to watch for many years to come.

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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

EDIT: Now they’re trying to back track. Come on guys, own up to it. P.S. I’m not “news” but thanks for the compliment.

You’ve got to be joking.

I’m trying really hard to like this team but every decision they make keeps turning me right off. We could talk about the coach, we could talk about signing a guy who’s highest level of hockey is Junior B, we could even talk about trying to sign a player that’s already been signed. I’ll refrain from those because they’re pretty much straight forward answers. Anybody who knows anything about hockey can come up with a smart opinion.

We could talk about the new logo.

Again, I won’t. While I don’t like it, I can get past it considering it’s not a logo that makes a club. It’s the players, wins, and championships that defines a team.

I’ve refrained from writing articles on each subject because quite frankly, I’m sick of being pessimistic about everything. However, every decision being made is keeping me that way.

Just when I think the team is starting to turn around, like being smart about giving Brennan Barker the captaincy this season, something stalls it.

This time is the Cornwall River Kings sad attempt at merchandise.

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What, in the hockey god’s name is this?!?

I get it. The team is strapped for cash so you’re trying to drum up some money by making merchandise. That’s a smart move as it’s worked out for many a team before. But out of the thousands upon thousands of hockey slogans that are out there, you mean to tell me that “HIT ‘EM IN THE WEINER!” is the best you came up with?!

It doesn’t even make sense! (Even for LNAH standards.) Come on, give your head a shake. How are you supposed to even take this team seriously with the words “hit them in the weiner”? You want that to be the first piece of merchandise people in the hockey world will see? Anybody who knows even the slightest bit of marketing knows this is stupid. (Obviously there isn’t because we wouldn’t have had another logo change.)

The response on social media has been quite frankly, utter digust and confusion. The team is supposed to shine a new era and get rid of the shortcomings of years past.

Look, it’s not hard.

Cornwall Colts – “Kick ICE Hockey!”
Ottawa 67s – “Hockey With Bite!”
St. John’s IceCaps – “We Stand Together.”
Coventry Blaze – “Bleed Blue.”
Pittsburgh Penguins – “It’s A Great Day For Hockey!”

And then there’s….

Cornwall River Kings – “Hit ‘Em In The Weiner!”

I rest my case.

By the way. If you can’t take criticism; get out of the hockey rink.

Editorial: Cornwall River Kings 2015 LNAH Draft

lnahHere’s a short editorial style post on Cornwall’s contribution to the 2015 LNAH draft.

Or excuse me, LACK of contribution.

I don’t get it.

I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of drafting players to a hockey team.

I do know that drafting junior triple A players to a league that’s built on former professionals on the ends of their career is a dumb move. How do you expect to compete with other clubs who employ players that ooze experience and have the right skill level necessary to fight for a championship?

Of course, the draft only secures the rights of the players and doesn’t necessarily mean they will play for that team but there are oodles of professional players in the ECHL, EIHL, DEL, Swiss and Austrian leagues that could have been drafted that would make a much bigger impact then kids from junior in St. Jerome, Quebec. How do you not see that?

This isn’t a developmental league. Scouts aren’t coming out in droves to see the next junior hot shot unless they want to see him get his head punched in. The past two drafts have been wasted on junior players that barely show up. Expand your demographic and look past the kids for a change.

I hear an argument of catering to the locals. That’s all fine and dandy but local players aren’t going to put people in the stands. You know what will?

Winning.(And because it’s the LNAH, fights and tough guys will too. Don’t kid yourself, this league isn’t changing it’s rules.)

Everyone loves a winning hockey team and the only way to do that is to be smart with the players you draft and smart with the players you sign.

So far, drafting hasn’t been too smart.

Scott Champagne is a local boy who hasn’t played in North America since 2008 and only played 12 games last year between Denmark and Germany. Cornwall has already tried to sign him in the past but due to budget reasons, it never materialized. Why waste that pick on him?

Cornwall traded a pick to Trois Rivieres in return for Erick Lizon. Hate to break it to you but Lizon just signed a contract with the Nottingham Panthers two weeks ago. Another pick wasted. It’s not hard to do some research! Here’s your proof:

You can disagree with me, that’s perfectly okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

But it’s frustrating to cheer for a team who doesn’t know how to compete for a championship in the league they’re in or hell, what the logo is going to be year in and year out.

One on One with former Cornwall Royal, Jeff Reid

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Sports Energy 

When it comes to the Cornwall Royals, fans always bring up the glory days of winning back to back Memorial Cups in the early 80’s. While that was a significant event in the team’s history, Cornwall had always iced a strong team until the early 90’s when the team was sold and relocated to Newmarket, Ontario.

(Photo: March Hockey collection.)
(Photo: March Hockey collection.)

Jeff Reid was a part of Cornwall’s last 3 seasons. Hailing from far away Owen Sound, Ontario, Reid started his hockey career like every other young lad in the country, following in his father’s footsteps. His days with the Junior B squad of the Owen Sound Greys led him to be drafted by Gord Woods and the Cornwall Royals in the 11th round.

Jumping at the chance to start his minor hockey career, Reid made the seven hour trek to the Seaway City and was placed with a passionate billet family, the Alexanders. “I had the same billet family the whole time I was there,” Reid recalls. “Mrs. Alexander really welcomed me and my roommates and made the transition of being away from home very easy.”

His first two years with the squad saw him play under the likes of Marc Crawford and John Lovell. Crawford taught them what it took to play professional hockey. “He participated in lots of the drills and would actually compete with us.”  Crawford, having just retired from professional hockey himself, was not afraid to compete with the team he was in charge of. “Many times he would finish his checks on us.” Reid remembers, “He actually bag-skated himself after a bad loss. He said he couldn’t play for us but he could skate for us. That was pretty powerful.” Lovell came in during the Royals last season in town. “Outstanding coach. I learned a great deal about hockey and how to be a good person from him.”

cornwall_royals_1991-92_front Reid remembers the incredible talent the team had. “Being able to watch and play with Owen Nolan was awesome. Score goals, hit and fight at the drop of the hat. He was an all-around hockey player.” Other names coming to mind were the great John Slaney, the late Guy Levesque, one of his roommate’s Ryan Vandenbussche and of course, his linemate Chris Clancy. “He was my big brother out there. He made me be able to play like I was 6’2”.”

The tandem of Reid and Clancy didn’t stop with the Royals. After his junior career, Reid turned professional and played with various minor pro teams across the United States. Teams such as the Las Vegas Thunder, Orlando Solar Bears and Raleigh IceCaps. Upon retiring from playing, an opportunity arose to headman the men’s hockey team at the University of Guelph. His assistants? Two aforementioned Royals alumni, Chris Clancy and John Lovell. “I was a young head coach and stayed with Guelph for nine years.” Reid says, “It took me a few years to figure out that hockey was a high priority, but the big picture was getting a degree and possibly having a pro opportunity after school. School was paramount.”

“Major junior isn’t for everyone and lots of players are late bloomers. The main difference between the OHL and collegiate is understanding what the players’ goals are.” Reid offers a bit of advice for future players. “I’m biased but Major Junior is the best of both worlds. Work to get your dream of playing professional hockey and if it doesn’t work out, school is there and paid for.”

As he reminisces about his time in Cornwall, Reid says the fans are the some of the memories that stick out the most. “The fans were very passionate about the Royals. The hockey was incredible.” In the same breath, he remembers the great Orval Tessier giving him his chance to excel. As Reid was a late draft pick, he got his chance after Winnipeg Jets prospect Jason Cirone was away at their camp and blew out his shoulder. “Orval signed me to a roster card. I was very grateful for the opportunity and went on to say I needed a new pair of skates.” Tessier didn’t say much and a couple of weeks later called Reid back into his office. “On his desk were a new pair of skates. He ordered them with two inch steel blades. He told me he was going to get me to 5”10 somehow.”

Reid has just finished up the hockey season as an assistant coach with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Here’s to seeing him behind the bench for a few more years to come.

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WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR: Dundee’s case to remain relevant

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Let’s be honest.

Unless you’re a Dundee fan, the Stars are never really prominent on your EIHL radar. Aside from what was a shocking turn around in the 2013-2014 campaign (finishing 3rd in the league and were Gardiner Conference champions), the Stars can usually be found chipping away at the bottom of the field. Is that their fault? The majority of it is no, it’s not.

You can only do so much when you’re handed a budget that is probably half of what teams like Nottingham, Belfast, Sheffield and Coventry are dealt. You’re limited to a few imports and can’t ice an entire roster of Canadians and Europeans like certain clubs. Some fans might get frustrated year after year of this but in my opinion, this makes your club that much better to not only watch but to cheer for.

The players on the Stars realize the reputation they have and that’s going to make them work harder than ever to eventually erase that. They need to be seen and they need to be heard in the mainstream EIHL world.

(Left: MCClusky. Right: Swindlehurst.)
(Left: MCClusky. Right: Swindlehurst.)

One thing that Dundee does for not only their team, but for the good of UK hockey in general is their use of locally and nationally developed players. The budget constraints forces them to work with what they have in front of them. Case in point locally developed defenseman Sam McClusky and national team phenom Paul Swindlehurst have cracked their own dents into the EIHL foreground.

This upcoming season poses to look a bit different.

Throwing away the prominent player/coach role that has seemed to serve the Stars well in the past and going with one permanent man behind the bench seems to intertwine a new era of sorts. To me, that sounds like the club has a bit more money to dish out.

The appointing of Marc Lefebvre as coach seemed a fair bit scary to me. Hear me out! This story has a happy ending, I promise!

Lefebvre had a decent playing career, there’s no doubt about that. Prior to the EIHL, Lefebvre’s only coaching jobs however came in the form of the Federal Hockey League, a league I’m fairly acquainted with unfortunately (I got to lift the championship with the Akwesasne Warriors, but I digress.). The skill level of that league at that time well, was terrible. It was pretty much a free for all.  Locker rooms were very rarely kept and I heard a few behind the scenes rumors that would make your skin crawl.

I mean, when your whole play is “keep Pierre Dagenais cherry picking the blue line so we can get the puck to him better”, you’ve got problems. (That wasn’t Lefebvre’s team by the way.)

(Awwww. To be young again.)
(Awwww. To be young again.)

I wrote a piece last season praising Coventry for appointing Lefebvre as their head coach. Looking at his past with the FHL, I cringed but after spending a year assisting with the Sheffield Steelers, (which is whether you like it or not, a very successful hockey organization), I figured he may have learned a thing or two and this would turn out great.

Obviously it didn’t.

I won’t get into how much a travesty that season was for Coventry, but a lot of the blame was put on both Lefebvre and the players. As it usually does. I got to thinking and in my thoughts I came along the notion that Coventry was too big of a club for Lefebvre to man without any major head coaching experience.

Which is why he’s going to be a great fit and will do great things for Dundee.

F0alwEjPThe Dundee Stars are the perfect mix of low key media presence, reasonable expectations and players for Marc Lefebvre to commandeer. He can learn from the mistakes made in Coventry and grow on successes he built in Hungary from last season. Now that Dundee has a guy that can focus 100% of his time on coaching, you might just see a bit of difference in the Stars this season. Not saying that nobody exceled in the player/coach role but that can’t be easy, especially mentally.

Lefebvre has also taken on the role of the “UK Don Cherry” apparently, so I for one am excited to see what suits he’ll be decked out in. Ha.

So far so good for Dundee this offseason. Keep it up.

(And hurry up with your website! I still feel like I’m stuck in 1998. #geocities)

(Photo: Derek Black)
(Photo: Derek Black)

The Devil Went Down To Cardiff: How the Cardiff Devils earned back your trust

“Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” – The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.

5jmehRiiThe opening line of the The Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic Sympathy for the Devil could very well be written for Todd Kelman, a man who – with the help of a few key players and staff – has turned the Cardiff Devils into a position of power from a probable laughing stock of the Elite Ice Hockey League.

Kelman, who was a late round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, headed overseas for his hockey career after a solid performance with Bowling Green State University. Apart of the original Belfast Giants lineup that started the EIHL, Kelman retired from the game in 2007 and accepted a GM role with the Giants. Kelman thrived in his new role behind the scenes having managed the teal squad to numerous championships – six trophies including the 2014 EIHL championship. With that much success, one has to wonder what it was that made Kelman go from teal-green to red.

Devil red.

The 2013-2014 campaign of the Cardiff Devils was devastating. Shady owners are not surprising in the hockey world. Most players will see one or two in the course of their career. Some will leave the game unscathed, others will leave battered and bruised from the head games and financial turmoil.

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Todd Kelman. (Photo: Kelvin Boyes, The Globe and Mail)

I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what was going on behind the scenes at the Cardiff Bay Arena but I’ve been around the hockey block a few times to get a bit of a grasp of what was transpiring.

Canadian goaltender Dan LaCosta could have been a part of a great and long era with the Devils. After suiting for a few games in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL and even apart of the CIS with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, LaCosta was well versed in the ups and downs of professional hockey. However, nothing could have braced him for being refused pay of almost 4500 pounds after being injured in play.

The man being accused, (and it’s never been proven it was him for the record) of refusing payment was former Owner and GM Paul Ragan.

After countless PR screw-ups and if I remember correctly, fans staging protests, the bright light in Cardiff was slowly diming. Attribute that to the play on the ice with the Devils finishing a distant 9th, thus not entering the playoffs, something big needed to change to win back the fans that had no doubt turned their backs on what was now a disgraced name. Out of nowhere, Ragan sold the team.

To a bunch of Canadians.

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Brian, Craig and Steve. Proud new owners. (Photo: Terry Phillips, walesonline.co.uk)

Four Calgarian businessmen, Steven King, Brian Parker, Kelly Hughes and Craig Shostak saw a valuable investment in the Devils and fellow brass Neil Francis brought the aforementioned Todd Kelman into the mix. It would have been a no-brainer for Kelman to jump ship. Have a stake in a franchise and be able to run it and make the decisions exactly how you want it.

With four solid business oriented men and one solid hockey head at the helms, the Cardiff Devils were now looking to put honor back in the name. After many solid seasons with Belfast, fans could trust Kelman right away without having to earn it. His resume speaks for itself.

“Yes, I’m living at a pace that kills.” – Van Halen, Runnin’ With the Devil

No other line in David Lee Roth’s 1978 opus could describe the 2014-2015 Cardiff season. With promise, a sense of pride and trust in the brass in charge of the squad, it was time for the players to hit the ice with pedal to the floor. They did just what Roth said.

Skating with a pace that kills.

A much younger pace.

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Joey Martin. (Photo: Terry Philips, walesonline.co.uk)

A 26 year old, Joey Martin, from Thorold, Ontario, quite shockingly flew under everybody’s radar in mainland UK media and over here in Canada. The former captain of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers connected for 83 points in 62 games. Leading the league in assists got him a spot on the EIHL First All-Star team and a contract extension.

Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Jake Morrissette, a small forward from British Columbia was awarded the “A” on his jersey for the last and upcoming campaigns and he filled into his role swimmingly. In 64 games, he only took a total of 16 minutes in penalties and combined that with 73 points. It’s his best EIHL season yet and at 32 years old, it’s his best since his Junior A days in the BCHL.

The biggest part of the roster no doubt comes in the form of goaltender Ben Bowns. In the best and most exciting campaign of his career, Bowns backstopped the Devils in 62 games and ended the season with a 2.56 goals against average. That’s insane.

Did I mention he’s British?

Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Bowns picked up some big accolations to add to his resume including British Netminder of the Year and for his performance at the Worlds representing Great Britain, he earned himself a silver medal and best goals against average of the tournament. This kid is going to be a key part of the Cardiff Devils in the Kelman era and should not be ignored.

With these components and a couple of other talented players and maybe tough guys, (David Clarkson’s, yes THAT David Clarkson, brother Doug racked up 209 penalty minutes), the Devils combined an incredible mix of talent which led themselves to third place in the EIHL standings and took home the Challenge Cup. Not a bad change from the depression of last year.

Success comes in the form of good leadership as well. Kelman giving Andrew Lord double duty as player-coach proved to be a smart and cheaper decision. Lord excels at his post to invigorate his fellow players and it shows. Another key piece of the Devils puzzle for next season.

So after all of this, what’s next?

It’s an exciting time to be a Cardiff Devils fan. A brand new, city-funded arena is being the built for the Devils to call home. It also comes rent free which is a huge quality to have in the finance department. The fact that the city is on board and is giving the team major support is a big deal; the city sees growth and that the Devils are a profitable organization.

And they are. They could be a huge destination for Wales in general and showing the EIHL that they won’t back down. Cardiff will come for that number one spot.

Now that the puck, if you will, is in the proper hands, there’s nowhere to go but up for the boys in red. In just one year, Todd Kelman turned this team into a contender. So Cardiff fans, there’s only one thing left for you to do.

                “Shout at the Devil!” – Motley Crue, Shout at the Devil 

(Photo: Richard Murray)
(Photo: Richard Murray)

The Price of your Entertainment is Their Bodies

Two heart wrenching tales from players, one still active and another retired, show the stark contrast of what is taking place on the other side of hockey; the dark side.

The first was a story that pulled at your heart strings and something that the average public could relate to; the untimely death of a friend or loved one. Dan Carcillo lost his best friend and former teammate Steve Montador back in January. He described the pain and emotional turmoil he went through in the days following Monty’s fate. Monty’s death made him take a long, hard look at how and why the life of a professional hockey player can spiral out of control and so quickly into the world of depression. From reading his words it seems like there is many players in the National Hockey League that are suffering in silence.

The second tale was about the life of an enforcer after the knuckles and blood have been thrown. Mike Peluso opened up his life and described how he has inherited a seizure disorder after suffering through years of concussions from punches to the head. Like in my first “Dark Side of Hockey”, Peluso describes how he would be misdiagnosed – most likely on purpose – to get him back out onto the ice to finish game after game. He never mentioned anything about his mental health but I can imagine it has taken a beating at some point in his days following his retirement.

“When the game is over, the enforcer’s suffering has only just begun.” – Mike Peluso, The Globe and Mail, April 24th, 2015

You could take that quote and apply it to almost every player once the game is gone. It can apply to every player in any league around the globe. However, let’s face it.

You can leave the game but the game never leaves you.

There are many different scenarios to why a player leaves the game. The worst ones are the ones that are out of your control. An injury, family circumstances, a death, team folding. Many things can cause early retirement. When things are out of control though, you’re usually not prepared for it and that’s where things can get frightening in your head. The thoughts that swirl through your mind, like anybody else, can haunt you. Thoughts of wondering if you could have did things differently to still be playing. The anger of wondering why these things happened to you can be soul crushing. All your dreams taken away in an instant.

montador

This is where we need something in place to help before things get out of our hands because this is a major problem. Be it a group of former players and sports psychologists teamed together to battle the depression facing newly retired players. The military has an action called debriefing whenever soldiers return from their tour overseas. In it they meet with at least a psychologist to talk about everything they witnessed over there and to make sure things are okay up there. It may be quite the comparison to make but why can’t teams have something like when a player retires? It’s just an idea and just a step.

The thing is though, we can talk until we’re blue in the face and have teams and leagues implement procedures for retiring players and have systems in place for former players to reach to but that’s just it.

We can’t do anything to help unless THEY want it.

We can’t help unless the players talk. More players need to come out and just like anybody else, show that it’s okay to have depression. It’s okay to have anxiety. You’re not any less of a man or a player for having it. The more players that come out, the more younger players can go “Okay, he went through what I’m going through. He’s like me.” One of the biggest misconceptions is that players think they’re the only ones going through this when it’s likely a teammate is going through the exact same thing.

Rising star Terry Trafford took his young life during a battle with mental illness.
Rising star Terry Trafford took his young life during a battle with mental illness.

You’d be shocked at the amount of former players that messaged me from all over the world when I first wrote “The Dark Side of Hockey”. NHLers, and former NHLers explained the things they went through over the course of their career and the ramifications since they’ve packed up their skates. Mental illness is just the tip of the iceberg to what these guys face now. Problems including financial, drug abuse, living arrangements, international predicaments involving countries are just some and you know what? There’s no one there to help them with anything once the jersey is hung up for good.

You might be saying to yourself, “What the hell do you care Ashley, you’re just some woman who’s never played pro hockey.” Well, I may not have played pro hockey. Hell, I haven’t been on the ice in 10 years but my love for the game hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s grown. I now have many friends that are involved in pro hockey in some aspect and they deserve the help they need from the teams and leagues they busted their ass for years for. I don’t claim to be an expert on sports psychology but I know a problem when I see one.

The other reason is to bring awareness. The more people that read and realize the need for something to be done will only put pressure on the powers that be. Once the NHL does something it will trickle down to the other leagues but why should it take the NHL to do something? Because they have the money and power? No, screw that. The time is now and it doesn’t matter who starts it first. Hell, if the LNAH wanted to start something for players and be the lead then so be it. People will be helped.

Professional athletes are just like you and me. They’re people too. For years they give us entertainment in exchange for the price they pay of their bodies. Their entertainment might actually help some people with their mental health. Enough is enough, it’s time to give back.

li-boogaard-rypien-belak

Captain Heart: Steve Simoes

250x250-Steve_SimoesAs another LNAH season wraps up for the Cornwall River Kings, everyone can take a step back from all the dramatics that unfolded this year and take a breath of relaxation. The ups and downs of the craziness took its toll on the mighty Lion King that blazes the crest on the white, red and blue sweaters. From fans, players, and those close to the team itself, the frustration was hard. The hardest hit could have possibly been the captain, Steve Simoes.

For the past three years, Simoes has dedicated everything he’s got to supporting professional hockey in Cornwall. He knows it can strive with the right people. From leading the team onto the ice night in and night out, to becoming a bench boss while nursing an injured shoulder the second year, he lived and breathed the game of hockey.

Standing at a solid 6’2, the leftie started off with a stint of 55 games over two years in Major Junior. Split between the Beauport Harfangs and the Quebec Remparts. Despite the short tenure, valuable lessons were learned in Beaufort under head coach Alain Vingeault and then with Atlanta/Calgary Flames legend Guy Chouinard.

I suppose playing with Simon Gagne didn’t hurt either.

After collecting 193 penalty minutes down in Junior A with the Antigonish Bulldogs, Simoes enrolled at the University of Ottawa and managed to become a point a game player. Now here’s where the fun starts. It’s time to turn professional.

The modern version of the Central Hockey League was founded in 1992 by Ray Miron. If that name sounds familiar to you it’s because he was born and raised in Cornwall. Miron spent some time as an executive for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was General Manager for the Colorado Rockies. Before his foray into professional hockey, Miron managed the Cornwall Community Arena for 10 years while coaching and managing several Cornwall teams.

The CHL started with six teams all located in the southern United States. As other leagues began folding, Miron welcomed them into the mix. Just like any start up league, things could get a little bit feisty. In order to sell the game to southern fans, fighting became an integral part of the play.

Laredo, Texas, a city of close to 240,000 people lies on the on the border of Texas and Mexico. Not exactly what you would call a hockey hot bed but the league had saw success in Southern Texas before. It was no brainer when Laredo was awarded its first professional franchise.

(They really loved him in Laredo.)
(They really loved him in Laredo.)

Simoes picked up his first professional contract during the second season of the Laredo Bucks franchise. What a time to join them too. Simoes played an integral part of that important season having 34 points in 58 games and coming second in terms of penalty minutes with 116. The fans of Laredo loved the gritty style of hockey and would come close to selling out almost every night, especially in the playoffs. The arena held 8,000 and a little more than 6,500 people would show up. Oh, and I forgot. Simoes hoisted the Ray Miron President’s Cup as the Laredo Bucks, in just their second year of existence, won the CHL championship.

After five solid seasons in Laredo, two President’s Cups under his belt and a quick stint with the Nottingham Panthers in England, Simoes brought his play closer to home. With the self-proclaimed “toughest league in the world”, Simoes would leave his mark on an unsuspecting town desperate for hockey.

 

(Photo: Alison Papineau)
(Photo: Alison Papineau)

Simoes captained the Cornwall River Kings since its existence. During his tenure, he’s taken on many roles that most captains or hell, even players wouldn’t do. A shoulder injury didn’t stop him from joining the coaching staff in the River Kings sophomore year and when money went the way of the do-do bird, he rallied the troops and convinced them to play through the second half of the season without a dime to their name. Let’s not forget about that fateful night when Dannick Lessard was shot outside a Quebec nightclub; Simoes went around and collected donations for him.

He always took time out for the fans and was always straight up honest about what was going on behind the scenes during this past rollercoaster of a season. He let us know how both he and the players felt in a long tirade of a blog post. While ownership was up in the air and talk of the team being sold and moved out of town arose Simoes night in and night out gave the fans hope. Hell, have you ever seen a captain take the mic at the beginning of the game and apologize for having a horrible team? Well, that happened.

 

(Photo: Alison Papineau)
(Photo: Alison Papineau)

Out of the few games I went to this year, Simoes was the only guy on the ice that you could tell played with his heart on his sleeve. He wasn’t afraid to get dirty, deliver checks, or get into a fight or two to help out the crest on the front on his jersey. He was never lazy and you could tell he worked hard just by some of the pictures that floated through social media on game night. If we had more players like him on our roster, Cornwall would be unstoppable.

Steve Simoes is just as passionate about hockey as you and I. I could go on to list the things that we have all seen or heard him do. Nothing but a class act in and out, the River Kings are going to miss his presence tremendously; not only on the ice, but in the locker room as well.

Here is to a great career Simmer; thanks for the memories.

The best nickname we can come up with for a professional women’s hockey team is Beauts?

94iPN5mBWomen from collegiate hockey programs can now rejoice as there’s a brand new four team professional league popping up that will actually fork out the money they deserve and pay them for their play. The inaugural season is set to take shape this coming fall with four teams shaping up the National Women’s Hockey League.

This is an amazing step in the evolution that is women’s hockey. It’s counterpart, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, has been around for quite some time now but it’s downfall is that it doesn’t pay their players. With the NWHL forking out the cash, I don’t really see a good future for the CWHL. Who knows, maybe they’ll merge but that’s the furthest thing from my mind right now.

The four teams are situated in New York, Connecticut, Boston and Buffalo. Every team sounds like a crusher, like they’re not one to mess with.

The New York Riveters emblaze the iconic image of “Rosie The Riveter” from World War 2 in front of the old New York Rangers liberty logo as their crest. Looks amazing and brilliant. Great job to the team’s brass for coming up with this. Marketing and merchandise will soar.

82eb94e0-d3c6-11e4-b380-830183b2f12d_fsadfasdfsdafdfs.0.0As will the Connecticut Whale. The Whale already have a minor spot in hockey history when the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack decided to change the team name to the Connecticut Whale between 2010-2013. Adopting the blue and green of the Hartford Whalers, the women’s Whale takes that same logo and flips it on its side to sport a “C”. Attachment to the Whalers franchise should adorn pride amongst the players.

Speaking of pride, the Boston Pride will become little sisters to the CWHL’s championship winning Boston Blades. There isn’t too much of a logo yet but the name does instill confidence and glory to whoever takes the ice.

And then there’s Buffalo.

Who, in this day and age, decided to call a professional women’s hockey team, the Beauts? Last time I checked this isn’t the 1950s anymore. Hockey isn’t figure skating. This is a rough and intimidating sport. Who is going to be afraid of the Beauts?

In a way, it comes across as patronizing to me. Everyone remembers the movie A League Of Their Own right? (There ain’t no crying in hockey either Mr. Dugan.) That movie was based on the actual All American Girls Professional Baseball League. (These are grown women and they didn’t even have the audacity to put “women’s” in the league name.) They were a supposed replacement for Major League Baseball during the war. Those girls were looked downed upon and made fun of even if they were star athletes.

Good thing we don't have to play hockey in skirts. Christ.
Good thing we don’t have to play hockey in skirts. Christ.

Let’s take a look at some of their team names: Milwaukee Chicks, Fort Wayne Daisies, Chicago Colleens, Springfield Sallies, Rockford Peaches, Kalamazoo Lassies, Racine Belles. How do those names garner any respect? Granted there have been some doozies in professional men’s hockey (Macon Whoopee anyone?) but there’s always been a double standard I guess.

The only pro women’s ball league, National Pro Fastpitch or NPF, actually learned from their baseball ancestors mistakes. Today, the five team league employs such names as Racers, Charge, Rebellion, Bandits and Pride. They all sound great, intimidating and not patronizing at all.

Of course this is just one female athlete’s opinion. It’s not like anybody is going to boycott playing for the team because of the name. I mean hey, I’d play for them too if I was getting paid for playing a sport I love. I’d have to learn to love that name I guess and hell, it might not ever happen. In closing, it’s time to smarten up around women and sports. We’re not dainty little toothpicks. This is hockey, not a tea party.

Could have been worse I guess.

J0934Buffalo Barbies.

Pat Haramis and the 1980 Memorial Cup Champions: The Cornwall Royals

First published in the April 2014 edition of Cornwall, SD&G, Akwesasne’s Sports Energy News

When one takes the time to sit back and think of all the great sports teams to come out of this area, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Cornwall Royals will be one of the first teams mentioned. The early 1980’s saw the team take two Memorial Cup championships with the first one taking the hockey world by surprise. The Royals were not lacking in depth during the 1979-1980 campaign. Four solid lines anchored the ice and cruised Cornwall to a QMJHL President’s Cup championship by unexpectedly defeating the first place ranked Sherbrooke Castors four games to two.

Pat Haramis
For Pat Haramis, a look back during his time with the Royals as they headed out for the Memorial Cup tournament seems to tire him out. “It’s all a blur. There was so much going on that we didn’t have time to think. We didn’t have time to be nervous.” Haramis grew up in nearby Maxville, Ontario before his parents moved to Cornwall in 1973. Playing peewee hockey in the Cornwall system is what bumped him up to the Royals ranks. Always supportive in his children’s endeavors, Nick Haramis Sr. urged Pat to find a way to get to and from games. Being busy working to support his 10 kids, he found that his time was scarce. Luckily Pat found aid in a teammate. “I can’t thank Dan O’Reilly and his father enough. If it wasn’t for them driving me back and forth from practice, I never would’ve had a hockey career.”

The 1980 Memorial Cup was staged out west switching from the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Manitoba and the Regina Agridome in Regina, Saskatchewan. For some of the boys, it was there first time on a plane. “I know it was my first time,” recalls Haramis. “The team bought us all cowboy hats and Dan Daoust even wrote a song about us bringing home the championship. It was a number one hit in Cornwall that spring.” Laughter aside, on the ice is where things got serious. “I don’t know what it was but every single player on that team contributed in one way or another. Yes, we had our all stars like Dale Hawerchuk but guys like Newell Brown and Pat O’Kane really made it a team effort.”

Dale Hawerchuk in model form with his 1980 Cornwall Royals uniforms.
Dale Hawerchuk in model form with his 1980 Cornwall Royals uniforms.

When Robert Savard scored and clinched the victory with his overtime goal over the Peterborough Petes, the fun was just about to begin. “I remember coming back to the Montreal airport and there was about 38 buses waiting for us. We needed a police escort just to come down the 401!” Haramis could not believe the support the fans and community gave the team. “Cornwall really knew how to do it. As we got into Ontario and closer to Cornwall, there were people upon people lined up with signs on the overpass just screaming and waving at us. It was when we rolled into the Water Street Arena that I knew how much this meant to the city.” Waiting for them in the parking lot were thousands upon thousands of screaming fans. So many that it made getting into the arena difficult. “We were hanging out of the windows of the bus trying to high five as many people as we could.”

With a whirlwind trip home, the Royals were treated to a parade around Cornwall complete with sitting in the backseat of brand new Corvettes. “The work that must have went into making this celebration, I just can’t fathom it. I hope that all the volunteers with this and throughout the season know that their work did not go unnoticed. Every one of us noticed and appreciated everything anybody ever did with the team.”

The Royals and their second straight Memorial Cup in 1981.
The Royals and their second straight Memorial Cup in 1981.

After a monumental celebration, Haramis turned his attention down the collegiate road. Getting offers from a few U.S. universities including Yale and Bowling Green, he decided on nearby Clarkson University to start his college career. “Clarkson had the number one ranked hockey program and is still one of the best today. It was a big reason why I choose it. That and it’s close to home.” Juggling schooling with his hockey prowess seemed to bolt Haramis to a higher level. In his four years as a Golden Knight, Haramis notched 140 points in 134 games. He was also a recipient of the Paul J. Pilon Memorial award which is given out to the hockey program’s top scholar-athlete and team MVP. “I loved every minute of my time at Clarkson. We were always ranked first or second in the country,” Haramis recalls fondly. “Funny thing is we lost every game in the Eastern championships but were still awarded home ice in the next tournament because that’s how good of a team we were.”

2013-2014 Clarkson University Hockey Media guide.
2013-2014 Clarkson University Hockey Media guide.

Haramis lives in the Kitchener-Waterloo area now as an engineer with his family. His daughter excels in dance and his son is carving out his own hockey legacy albeit on a much smaller scale. “I’d love to give back. You don’t realize while you’re playing how much people volunteer their time, energy, money to supporting your dreams. I’m going to see if my son will want to turn into coaching with me some day; I feel the need to give back to the game that gave me so much.”