No more 30 in Cowtown

Goaltender Mike Vernon will have his number 30 retired by the Calgary Flames on Feburary 6, 2007, in a pre-game ceremony. The announcement is being made at the Saddledome as I write this.

Vernon played 17 years in the NHL, 13 of them with the Flames. He holds Flames goaltending records in career games played and career wins, He set the individual mark for playoff wins in one playoff year (one more than Kiprusoff, natch) when he backstopped the Flames to their one and only Stanley Cup. Vernon also won a Conn Smythe trophy when he won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.

There is no doubt that Vernon was one of the elite goaltenders while in his prime. He may not make the Hall of Fame any time soon but his work was notable and contributed greatly to the benefit of the Flames and the league as a whole.

Vernon's number 30 will go beside Lanny MacDonald's number 9 in the Saddledome rafter. Look for Al MacInnis' number 2 to follow shortly.

(Notice I didn't say "Shorty".)

Congratulations, Mike. You deserved it.

Sign of the times

For all the signs in Edmonton's Skyall Rexplace last night, probably the worst-advised was "Chris: 1985 phoned, they want their hair back."

This from a fan of an organization which employs Ryan Smyth.

The Oilers lost in overtime due to a last second tying goal from the Ducks and a neutral ice giveaway in OT by Smyth.



Facing the music

Big game tonight in Edmonton, for unspecified personal reasons:

[Pronger] said he's prepared for the booing, especially after Calgary gave him a good booing on behalf of Edmonton a few weeks back.

"I'm sure it'll be loud and boisterous," Pronger said.

"I don't think booing bothers you when you're expecting it. The fans are paying the money. They can do what they want."

Bring it on.
Pronger expects and, deep down I believe, he knows he deserves to hear Oilers fans give him their vocal displeasure.

But let's hope they keep it classy and professional.

Pronger was a classy and professional Oiler in his year here.

Yes, he was.


Eagles Soar

Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus are on top of the CIS Men's Hockey ranking.

The last time Moncton was ranked first in CIS men's hockey was January 10, 1989 - Phoff's 3rd, first year of university. The stint lasted a grand total of one week. The team is gearing up to host the national championship later next year.

Question - Why is that the team is listed on the CIS website as The University of Moncton Aigles Bleus? It is either all French or all English, no?


Koivu on Koivu Action

I’m watching the Habs – Wild game and the Koivu brothers are playing against each other for the first time in Montreal. In the first, Mikko (right on photo) hooked Saku (left on photo) and took a penalty. That’s about as much action as I can take from two Finns.

I don’t really have much to say about tonight’s game. I really just wanted to write “Koivu on Koivu Action”.

The Habs controlled the 1st, led 2 - 0, and then they let it slip in the 2nd. The Wild had 21 shots on goal in the middle stanza and tied the game. 21 shots! As the Wild are, essentially, the Habs in uglier uniforms (Head coach, Assistant coach and the President/GM are all former Habs), the 3rd period was tight checking and, honestly, a little boring. At least one of the refs was Mr. Magoo, so I could laugh at all the infractions he ignored and then howl when he decided to pick one at random.

With 7 minutes remaining in regulation, Bonk’s second effort went in. An ugly goal that gave the Habs the lead for good. From the opening puck drop, Huet was the best Hab on the ice. He was left hanging in the second and let in two goals, but he kept them in the game after that.

Methinks “Le cousin” will get the #1 label soon.


Gui, Gui, Gui...part deux

Now, I can already hear Ballzov telling me that I'm obsessed with Guillaume Latendresse, so I will cut him off before he starts mouthing off.

I'm not necessarity obsessed, but, as stated in my previous post, he all over the media here in Montreal. Not one edition of "Sports 30", the RDS equivalent of "SportsCentre", is aired without a quote or a highlight from him.

Only one person commented on my long-winded post (thanks Rob!) and I have to agrre with the sentiment: I really don't envy him him taking his first steps in the NHL with this much pressure and attention. The thing is, though, he seems incredibly level-headed. Not one interview goes by without him giving great props to his linemates and saying how lucky he is to be getting PP time. Sure, he's been trained to say that, but he seems genuine.

In any case, since he broke the goose egg and finally scored, he has added thee more in the last two games. The one last night got me up from my couch and I let out a hearty "nice!" that made my wife look up from whatever she was doing. Here's some grainy fottage of the nice dangle and deadly shot. I think he's for real...


Hard-boiled Iggy

Jean Lefebvre of the Calgary Herald talks about the new and improved Jarome, ten pounds lighter, replaced with vim and vigor:

Now understand that the previous No. 12 model wasn't exactly porky, and it's not like the Flames brass was diverting the dessert cart away from Iginla's table.

Indeed, the shucked pounds were mostly muscle and because of that, some wondered if the rough-and-tumble evening would come when Iginla would miss those 10 pounds of all-star mass.

Well, Iginla Lite has ripped out of the gates and obliterated his recent history of spotty starts by notching points in 13 of the season's first 16 contests.

It's an argument that is being used to justify Iginla's "rebirth" in the league, an argument written well by Lefebvre, as the latter does in most of his articles. My only problem with this is that, while Iginla is certainly faster than he was last year, it doesn't mean he still wasn't effective then. The team still won their division in 2005-06 and Iginla was a big part of this accomplishment, mostly because of his increased focus in developing his defensive game, and working on his presence in all ends of the rink.

Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around player in the league today, one who takes face-offs, works the corners, backchecks, steaks down the wing, battles in front of the net, shoots lasers, takes on tough guys, handles the puck in traffic, and leads the team when they're behind. Save for his firey temper, Iginla has no weaknesses; he is the composite hockey player.

Last season, though his scoring wasn't as plentiful as it could have been, was when he developed this improved facet. It isn't so much as a regenesis for him as much as a continuation from his consistent year-on-year improvement which he has experienced since he came into the league. For instance, while Calgary isn't alone in using star players on the PK, Iginla came into his own last season when Darryl Sutter began to call upon him to front the opposition when they were a man down. With Stephane Yelle, Iginla lead a ferocious checking squad which allowed the fewest goals in the NHL. The Flames won the Jennings Trophy not only because they had the best goalie, but also because they were led by a man who took pride in defensive hockey, and the rest of the team responded in kind.

This year, a new man stands behind the bench and, while Jim Playfair hasn't tinkered with the system too much, it is clear that the team is making more of an effort to put points up on the board. This change has resulted in higher shots against, not to mention an unusually high GAA for the Kipper, but it seems the defensive system has been altered to allow more clear shots on the goalie provided that the defensemen get the rebounds out of the way and up the ice. Their faith in their goaltender allows for a quicker transition to offense, the type of transition which benefits a fast, straight-away skater like Iginla to flourish. In other words, it's not so much that Iginla is playing better, it's that the team changed their system to benefit their star.

Again, this doesn't change the fact that Iginla is much faster than he has been in the past and that he is more consistent in his play. Just don't discount last year because his statistics dropped a bit.

That sound is me puking in my mouth a little

After tonight's 6-3 drubbing at the hands of Les Habitants the Ottawa Senators are now 1-6-1 in their last eight games and 6-11-1 overall. This is getting awful.

I haven't had the chance to watch many games lately so my analysis is weak, but I'm willing to blame this almost entirely on Bryan Murray. So in honour of tomorrow's DVD release of "John Tucker Must Die," let me say that "Bryan Murray Must Be Unemployed."


Gui, Gui, Gui…notes from Québec

Jeff, from Sisu Hockey, pointed his readers to the current battle going on between, arguably, the best goaltender of all time, Patrick Roy, and Habs rookie Guillaume Latendresse. The short mention of the rift in the post did succeed in capturing the ridiculous proportions this story has taken on here in Québec. What the post didn’t quite convey is how Latendresse, who barely made it onto the Habs’ roster, is to what extent the fans and the media, especially the francophones, already adore this guy.

For the last two seasons, Latendresse has been very impressive in the pre-season, outscoring seasoned veteran players on many occasions. I know that this doesn’t mean much from a player/coach point of view, but for the fans, it was clearly love at first sight.

In his first pre-season stint, at the age of 18, the hype was such that the fans began chanting “Gui, Gui, Gui”, almost from his first shift. Many fans voiced their displeasure when he was sent back to his junior club last year. The need for the Habs fans to have a francophone star of their own was, and still is, quite palpable.

This year, the debate over his possible roster spot was more heated that the “ is Québec a nation” debate. Recently, in one of his first salvos aimed at Latendresse, Roy suggested that Habs kept the rookie on the squad simply because he was Québécois.

Outside of the francophone community in Québec, I’m not sure how much people realize how important it is for francophone hockey fans in Québec to have one of theirs as a star on the Habs roster. Not only is Latendresse being hyped beyond belief (luckily, he is being very well advised), but every time a Québécois hockey star (Gagné, Tanguay, St-Louis, Lecavalier) is rumoured to be struggling on unhappy, the hockey writers start foaming at the mouth. There is widespread notion that the Habs don’t have enough players from Québec.

There are less and less players from Québec playing in the NHL and, as result, less of them in Montreal than ever before. Regardless of what hockey writers would have us believe, the number of Québécois players on the Habs roster is not any lower than the league average (it’s actually slightly higher). The only thing missing is a star.

This brings me, in a roundabout way, to the issue of Québec icing a team in the 2008 IIHF World Hockey Championships to be held in both Québec City and Halifax. The idea, which is actually 30 years old, is the brainchild of Québec City lawyer (and former Parti Québécois leadership hopeful), Guy Bertrand. The idea was originally hatched in 1976, when the separatist PQ took power in Québec for the first time and it’s been on the back burner for quite some time. The approaching World Championships has brought the issue back to the fore.

What do I think of this initiative? One word: ridiculous. I won’t even get into the politics behind this suggestion and will limit my comments only to the hockey related aspects.

What gets me is that, every time Bertrand talks about his idea of Team Québec, there is absolutely no mention of the players that would be involved and where their loyalties lie. Even if the IIHF would agree to Bertrand’s laughable proposal of having the winner of a best-of-three series between Team Canada and Team Québec represent the country at the tournament, I’m not sure many players would even agree to play for Team Québec.

Given that the players would most likely get to choose which team they would like to try out and play for (all QC players are, after all, Canadians), I am pretty confident that most of them would prefer not playing for a team that would have little chance of winning. Elite players would, naturally, like to play for the best possible team.

Sure, back in 1976, a Team Québec would have given any team (including Team Canada) a serious run for their money. Thirty years later, as was made clear on Spector’s Hockey, that team would have serious issues on the back end and would have a hard time competing with a team made up of players from the rest of Canada. Plus, if the better Québec players choose to play for Team Canada, Team Québec would then be mostly comprised of second tier players and players in the autumn of their careers.

I’m really not sure, then, how anyone could consider that this would be good for Québec.


Tony Toni Tone

The Tony Amonte show was out in full force last night at the Saddledome when the veteran winger sniped 2 and nearly snagged a few more in Calgary's convincing 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. It's always good to see the guy bag a goal as he is the hardest worker on his team and celebrates his small victories with genuine enthusiasm and energy. The stats of this performance, unfortunately, says nothing about the tremendous defensive efforts made on his part either. The man was a force all over the ice surface, killing penalties, streaking down the right side, and wreaked havoc on the Dallas squad.

The Flames as a whole seem to have found their old style form, 14 games into the season, and could very well go on a tear if they continue. The first 10 minutes of the game were not televised and so I missed the first goal, the first big Kipper save, and Andrew Ference standing up to Matthew Barnaby in a solid welter-weight tilt. However, the details of these events coupled with the speed and action in the rest of the first period told me everything I needed to know: the boys got their passion back.

Generally, it was a fast-paced game. The Flames did a heck of a lot of banging and kept Zubov on his toes as much as humanly possible. The Stars didn't play awful but they had a difficult time gaining momentum. The officiating was a bit suspect but nothing to initiate a fundraiser over. The Flames did a wonderful job on their PK, though they did let one sneak by Kipper (from a fantastic snipe by Antti Miettinen which could have gone through a mail slot, given the opportunity). Overall, it was Flames hockey at its best.

Dion Phaneuf and Roman Hamrlik were the top d-men on the night, making confident, dominant plays, one after the other. The Hammer is the type of player who needs plenty of ice time to get into the rhythm and playing with the General on the top unit will finally get the man all the action he needs. The rest of the defense corps were fairly solid. Mike Giordano made a few rookie mistakes but the kid can skate and he's not afraid of screwing up, and that's what you want out of your rookies. Playing with Robyn Regehr, who laid out Eric Lindros in a beautifully-timed hip check, certainly gave Giordano this opportunity.

Though they only had 18 shots counted on the Stars net, the forward units were pumping out opportunities the likes they haven't seen since Phoenix came to town last month. The Iginla-Langkow-Huselius unit seem like they know what they're doing on the ice. Huselius especially was a threat every time he touched the puck. If he could only get his one-timers on net, he might have snagged more than his empty-netter at the end. Iggy was his old usual self--making plays out of his ass and being the whirling dervish he is.

The second unit played a bit better, though I noticed a few sloppy plays from Tanguay. Having said that, the former 'lanche did do some banging and got a little dirty. He hurt is shoulder from laying out a body check, which is a much better way to do it than throwing off your gloves before a fight. Lombardi and Kobasew both had decent scoring chances and kept Turco on his toes.

The only problem with the forwards I could see was getting their shots on goal. There were far too many missed opportunities when a player decided to pass than shoot, and too many shots were going wide. With the excellent form in the faceoff circle, the Flames could have gotten shots on Turco and force a draw in the Stars' end. But that is an easy problem to fix. What isn't easy is Jamie Lundmark, who was called for a stupid penalty and doesn't seem to be taking the game seriously. He's got so much talent and can make great plays now and then but he's so frustrating to watch. Sutter needs to get Dustin Boyd fast-tracked so they don't need Lundmark any more.

Or else get Jeff Friesen some flu medication, stat.

It was a classic match-up between the top two 'tenders in the West, and Kipper came out on top. The Finnish flopper was spectacular when he needed to be. Having said that, there were only a few occasions when he had to scramble in his crease, and this was due to his defense clearing the rebounds and closing the passing lanes as much as possible. You know the Flames are playing well when they just let Kiprusoff stop the puck. They have the upmost confidence in him and aren't afraid to let him do his job. It is a positive sign.

As for Marty Turco, he was the best player on the Stars' end last night. Though he didn't have plenty of pepper on the pads, he made key saves when he needed to and kept his team in the game. The first goal against was a bit weak and the second goal, while difficult to stop as it was a deflection, did change the momentum of the game and boosted the Flames' morale. But he was decent and deserves recognition.

What does this mean for the Flames then? They are riding a two-game winning streak, not something to brag about but it's momentum all the same. They managed to neutralize one of the top defensemen in the game in Sergei Zubov with their high-energy forecheck and no-nonsense attitude. They'll have to do twice as much to do the same to two of the other top d-men in the league when they take on Anaheim at home on Friday night. The Ducks are the best team in the West so far this season and that has everything to do with the monster Niederpronger tandem on the blueline. But the Flames see themselves as underdogs again and are more than capable of taking on the OC juggernaut if they stick to their game plan.

Good stuff, all around.


Am I worried?

The record of the 2005-06 Calgary Flames, after 13 games: 4-7-2

The record of the 2006-07 Calgary Flames, after 13 games: 4-7-2

(via BoA)

Beyond parody

Maybe it is a result of withdrawal due to the lack of playoff action at Commonwealth Stadium this fall but, honestly, there is no suitable way to satirize this:

Craig MacTavish was fined $10, 000 today for his criticism of referee Mick McGeough following last night's debacle against the Stars. As I noted late last night, I think it would be a nice symbolic gesture for the hockey blogosphere, and in particular the Oilogosphere, to help pay the cost of MacT's fine. I think enough of us in hockey land have had enough of Mr. Magoo's antics, and this is a good way to show it. As Tyler noted in the comments last night, we can send whatever we raise to MacT. If he doesn't want it, we'll request that he give the cheque to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, or another suitable charity of his choice.

I know, I know. I have a weakness for making fun of the idiot greaseball lovers over at Battle of Alberta, but their stupidity has reached new depths. When a ref blows a key call, there are a number of courses of action a fan can take: throwing empty OV cans at the telly is one; writing a letter to the editor of the local paper is another; contacting your representative in parliament is a third. Heck, I'd even go so far as to suggest that loading a pile of manure in the driveway of a neighbour of the referee could be considered reasonable.

But offering to help pay a fine for a coach who makes, whatever, half a million dollars a year, is almost as retarded as an NHL coach who calls a ref "retarded" in front of a a set of press microphones. This isn't the first time MacTavish has been fined by the NHL and it won't be the last. He knew the consequences of his actions before he mouthed off and he knows he'll have to pay for it.

More to the point, if those goofballs at BoA want to throw their money away, the least they could do is give it to someone who needs it plenty more than a millionaire NHL coach, like, say, a homeless shelter or to the CNIB, as they put it so wonderfully, "if he doesn't want it". Their over-inflated egos could use a little humility in their lives to realize how selfish and downright ugly their gesture truly is.

Get over yourselves, losers.


Is it too early to panic?

I wouldn't call it a panic at the Saddledome, but GM Darryl Sutter has called up the kids in order to provide some spark to the lineup.

Centre Dustin Boyd and winger Brandon Prust have been asked to to join their passionless parent club on the upcoming road trip with the hope that their presence this early in the season might shake things up a bit.

Is this a good idea? Methinks it could very well be. The Flames are not an old club, by any means, but there is nothing like a rookie in the dressing room and on the bench to make a veteran look at the game from a slightly different angle. For evidence of this, remember last year's squad talking about Dion Phaneuf signing on. His being there allowed for something to get themselves excited about during the course of the season. True, the team already has Mike Giordano as its requistion newbee this season, but he's a seventh defenseman and won't get much playing time behind the established veterans. A skill player like Boyd might turn a few heads and add a bit of excitement, while Brandon Prust, being more of a mucker than a goal scorer, might piss off an opposing player or two in any given evening.

Of course, these additions to the roster won't be leading a resurgence in the Flames's fortunes, but the club needs a shake-up, now or later.

CODA: As an aside, calling up some of the young prospects might also show the rest of the league how stacked the organizational depth chart has become since Sutter took over the reigns. If there is some team out there in a rebuilding year who might, oh, I don't know, have a star Swedish centre who's getting on in years and who might look good with Iginla, seeing some of these hotshot prospects strut their stuff in The Show might intice a big trade within the next month or so.

I'm just saying.