This week in hockey: tragedy and death. They’re just like us.

Bob_Probert_-_Darren_LangdonThey say bad things come in threes. That sentiment could not have been more true this week in the hockey world. Between the WHL’s Tim Bozon contracting meningitis and put into a coma, Matt Stajan and his wife losing their week old child, Rich Peverley collapsing mid way through the first period of a game and the tragedy of Terry Trafford, it’s times like these where you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. That bigger picture being these men that we look up to are just like us.

Behind the fame, notoriety, money and everything else that comes with being a professional hockey player, there’s something that we always fail to see. They are human beings with private lives and deal with problems and issues very similar to ours. We’re not much different when it comes down to the thick of things.

I remember when I was about 7 or 8, my Dad took me to see the Cornwall Aces play. The St. John’s Maple Leafs were in town and Brent Gretzky just happened to be suiting up for them that day. In the second intermission my Dad noticed that Walter Gretzky was sitting a few rows above us. He tried to coax me into going up and getting an autograph. “No, Dad! He’s a celebrity.” I replied. My father laughed and shook his head. “He’s not going to bite you. He’s just like us.”

He’s just like us.

snowIt’s hard to differentiate between hockey player/celebrity and human being at times. My Dad ended up going over and chatting with Walter Gretzky for the whole third period, he seemed happy to oblige; maybe even shocked that somebody actually picked him out of the crowd in little old Cornwall, Ontario.

I’ve read a countless number of hockey player autobiographies over the years and I don’t know how many times I’ve related to certain issues these hard driven characters have went through. They struggle with adversity in the same kind. Some more than others. Just remember to when you’re hearing all of these unfortunate stories that come out in the hockey world that they’re dealing with the same issues we all are. We’re all just trying to be accepted in this crazy society and world. They just happen to have the spotlight shine brighter on them with some not even wanting it.

It’s a thankless job to be a role model in today’s world. The world is flying by too fast and the next person to become said role model is just waiting around the corner. Hold on to these players you idolize as they won’t be around forever.

They’re just like us.

50 years of Saskatoon Blades hockey

whl-saskatoon_blades_2006-07The 2013-2014 season in a monumental one for the Saskatoon Blades hockey club. Ushering in 50 years of hockey and being the last remaining Western Hockey League club still playing hockey out of their original city, you can see why. While the team doesn’t boast a WHL Championship, nor a Memorial Cup, (and currently have the longest championship drought streak going in the CHL), there are plenty of things to be proud of in this team’s storied 50 year history.

Take a look at their NHL alumni for example. The Blades have molded and spit out legends such as Mike Babcock, the greatest Leaf of all time Wendel Clark (I’m biased), Richard Matvichuk, Darcy Hordichuk, Brad McCrimmon, the late Wade Belak, Brain Skrudland, hell I could go all day. How about tough guys Tony Twist and Joey Kocur? Legends in their own special fist fighting way.

There’s also plenty who are making their names in the show right now. Devin Setoguchi, Brayden Schenn and Braden Holtby just to name a few. There are also plenty playing overseas.

This year is no exception.

Nikita Scherbak. (Photo: Steve Hiscock)
Nikita Scherbak. (Photo: Steve Hiscock)

Currently leading the team in points with 36, first year player and right winger Nikita Scherbak is bound to make a name for himself. 26 games in, the Moscow, Russia native has already bagged 16 goals and 20 helpers. As of the latest NHL “Players to Watch” list ahead of next year’s entry draft, they have Scherbak listed as an ‘A’ skater. Second to him is Nathan Burns out of Edmonton, Alberta. Burns himself is a centreman who has a strong skating ability to go along with his veteran presence. His second season with Saskaton and 5th overall in the WHL, Burns is over a point a game with 33 in 27 games.

The community of Saskatoon have the upmost support for their junior franchise and have continued to do so throughout the years. This is a dominating feature as to why the Blades have stayed in one spot for 50 years. The fans are die hards and passionate and well, they bleed blue. A solid support system can only come from the top and the Blades ownership is an exceptional one at that. Mike Preistner has shown tremendous support and ability in building up the already storied Saskatoon Blades brand since taking over.

Here’s to another 50 years of Saskatoon Blades hockey. Bleed blue.

Kavan’s Crease: 2014 NHL Prospect Profile: Sam Reinhart

So lately I haven’t really posted anything, and the reason for that (besides having a 60-hour work week) is because I have been working on preliminary rankings for next year’s draft. Yes, I know that’s a bit ahead of schedule, but few people realize the importance of the draft and what these kids mean to the future of our sport. I want to profile certain players; some for their ridiculous talent level and hype, and some who are lesser known who I believe will jump up the standings pretty quickly.

The first player I chose to profile, is the current standout for No. 1 overall in 2014: Sam Reinhart.

sam-reinhartBackground

Reinhart was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia and was raised there with his 2 brothers, Max and Griffin, who are also NHL draft picks (Max: 3rd rd, 64th overall in 2010. Griffin: 1st rd, 4th overall in 2012). His father Paul also played over 600 games with the Flames and Canucks.

Sam started playing youth hockey at a at a young age and would eventually play with the Hollyburn Huskies, from the Hollyburn Minor Hockey Association. From there, he would suit up for the Vancouver NW Giants of the BCMML, posting 80 points in 39 games before being drafted by the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.

Awards are something Reinhart is probably already used to receiving. In 2011-12, he won the Jim Piggott awars as WHL rookie of the year,
Skills

Having bloodlines in the NHL isn’t the only reason Reinhart is a highly touted player; in two seasons with Kootenay, he put up a staggering 147 points in 139 games scoring 63 goals. What makes him such a special player is his ability to play both sides of the puck. Offensively, he has great vision and can shoot or pass, as well as draw defenders to him. He knows when and where to shoot and if he gets open in front of the net, chances are the puck is going in. Defensively, he’s a hard backchecker and can strip the puck from you just as quick as he can fire it off.

If there’s a downside to Sam Reinhart, it is his size. Standing at 5’11” and weighing in at 165 lbs, he is not the biggest guy on the ice and will need to put on around 20 pounds before making any NHL team.

Teams

At this point in the offseason, predicting which teams will end up where in the standings is tough, but if we’re judging by the current rosters and team outlooks, expect Calgary, Colorado and Buffalo to have a real chance at Reinhart.

That concludes the first prospect profile! Check back real soon for a sneak peek at Barrie Colts blueliner Aaron Ekblad. As always, thanks for reading, cheers!

Vancouver Giants Season Preview

With the new WHL season not too far off, I figured I would step out of my comfort zone of NHL-only writing and do a preview for the local WHL team here in Vancouver, the Giants.

VancouverGiantsLogo250.jpg-797190Perpetual winners, the Giants had a rare off-year last season, finishing last in not only the BC division, but the WHL as a whole with just 44 points in 72 games; 6 behind their next closest competitor, the Prince George Cougars.

Despite the dismal team performance, there were certain individual bright spots that could be seen.

17-year-old Jackson Houck lead the team in scoring with 23 goals and 34 assists for 57 points in 69 games played. The sophomore winger scored 15 more goals and put up more than twice as many points than his rookie season, while adding 68 PIMs. Next season should be a breakout season for Houck after being drafted in the fourth round, 94th overall by the Edmonton Oilers. He will have something to prove if he one day hopes to crack the Oilers’ young lineup.

Another positive for the Giants is D Brett Kulak. Despite being a -34, the 2012 4th round pick of the Calgary Flames scored 12 goals and 46 points in 72 games played; good enough to earn him a call-up to the AHL’s Abbottsford Heat.

Being a minus player on last year’s Vancouver Giants isn’t a fair reflection of most players on the squad. All 4 goalies who suites up for the Giants this season seemed to have trouble stopping pucks, as Peyton Lee, the team’s leader in just about every category, still let in an average of 3.51 goals a game and only stopped 87.9% of the shots he faced. His backup(s) were no better and often the team was left high and dry coming back from 2-3 goal deficits.

Having one off year and finishing last in the league is never what you strive for, but it does have its positive. For example, coming in last means picking first at the bantam draft, which is exactly what the Giants did and selected LW Tyler Benson from the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.

Benson was unreal in the AMBHL, breaking the league record for points by putting up 57 goals and 89 assists for 146 points in only 33 games played. The 15-year-old plays hard along the boards and will provide a huge offensive boost. He should be a key part of the Giants offense for the next few years.

The Giants open next season at home on Friday, September 20th, against the Victoria Royals. Fans are sure to pack the Pacific Coliseum that night in hopes of seeing their team start their bounce-back season with a vengeance.

Some dates to look out for are as follows:

Friday, October 18th:Giants play the Kamloops Blazers. The Blazers had the Giants’ number last season, beating them 7 out of 8 times. The worst was a 6-0 beatdown which saw 4 fights throught the course of the game. The Giants will be poised to avenge that one.

Wednesday, January 14th: CHL Top Prospects game. Giants players Peyton Lee and Jackson Houck have a chance at making it, so watch their development throughout the season.

Saturday, March 15th: Final game of the regular season against none other than the Kelowna Rockets. Depending on standings, this could be a barn burner.

So, as I said before, junior hockey is not my area of expertise, but I will continue to do my homework and provide more in-depth coverage as I go along! As always, thanks for reading, leave me some comments and come back soon!

Cheers!

Canadian Hockey League’s Banning Of European Goaltenders.

Well here’s a touchy subject. For lack of a better reason and for a few years of failed World Junior Championship gold, the Canadian Hockey League has put in a ban of drafting European goaltenders. Apparently ours suck and need a wee bit of conditioning.

I’m gonna look at this from both sides of the table though.

Justin Pogge. (Photo - Sylvain Nadeau, flickr.)
Justin Pogge. (Photo – Sylvain Nadeau, flickr.)

First off, tell me something. Let’s say you were General Manager of oh…I don’t know…let’s say the Erie Otters. And let’s say you formed one hell of a team, you had the next Sidney Crosby, the next Pavel Datsyuk, the next Al McInnis (How come everyone’s forgotten about Al?!), hell, even the next Wayne Gretzky. All you’re missing from your piece of the Memorial Cup puzzle is one hot goaltender. Are you really going to care where this guy is from??? Who would you rather, Mika Samsoniteov  with a GAA of 0.02 from Russia or Johnny Canuck with a GAA of 10.93? I don’t know, but I’d be a little peeved.

Another question. Are they still allowed to draft American goaltenders?? Why sure they are! How is that really fair?

Sigh. But, as a patriotic Canadian I can see their point. Kinda. Our efforts at the World Juniors when it comes to goaltending the past few years have been dismal at most. While I won’t mention any names, (I’m sure you all know who they are), Team Canada has a HUGE reputation to uphold as the best hockey nation on the planet. They see that they are losing the goaltending battle and figure this is a way to save face.

Relax Bobby Lu. You're fine.
Relax Bobby Lu. You’re fine.

Last point though….no one’s saying these young Canadian goaltenders can’t go get signed over in the European leagues and get conditioned there. Hell, a bunch of the coaches are Canadian.

Second last point…..I hate to sound like a Don Cherry but, all you youngsters out there, STOP IT WITH THE BUTTERFLY. Stand up more, you’ll save more shots. But what do I know…..I’m just a woman, right?

Third last point. Kudos if you caught the Dumb and Dumber reference.