Monday, August 31, 2009

Shane Doan on the Phoenix Situation

Shane Doan is one of those individuals who wears his heart on his sleeve. A true ambassador, you can take anything he has to say at face value. At the Team Canada orientation camp in Calgary on August 26, Doan was candid with his opinions on the Phoenix ownership saga. You know the story: Jim Balsillie wants to buy the team and move it to Hamilton and the NHL is trying to do everything in its power to stop him. Jerry Reinsdorf enters the picture as a possible bidder; then the NHL decides it will put in a bid so it can control who the future owner will be. It will all be hashed out in court in a couple weeks’ time.

Here is Doan’s take on the whole situation:

“Nothing would be better than on September 10 it all gets figured out. Until that happens, it’s just going to be more questions. It seems that every time something happens, there are more questions and more uncertainty.

“For us as a player, there’s nothing you can really say, oh this is it, or that’s it. It’s always, well tomorrow I’m going to be in Phoenix and practicing. I’ll be going to the rink and playing there until they tell me otherwise.

“We’re trying to get information from everybody, but it’s hard, because up until two days ago, everyone was kind of thinking that Reinsdorf was the guy that was in the lead. A lot of people, including myself, will talk like you do know stuff. Really, you don’t. Anyone you talk to is saying, this is the way it is. Two days later, it turns out that’s not the way it is.

“The city of Winnipeg went through it, where the team was moving and everyone was gone. We came back – just kidding – for one more year. It was tough on everybody. It was tough on the fans. At the end of the year, there wasn’t a lot of people at the games. We had a pretty good team and made the playoffs. But the playoffs were unbelievable. It was the loudest and most incredible atmosphere I’ve ever been in. In Phoenix, it will be the same thing. If we’re able to win, people will come out and cheer for us. If we’re able to make the playoffs, they’ll come out and support us. It’s really going to come down to the players and the organization.

“The city of Phoenix, the valley, it’s been great if we win. When we won for the first few years, the fans were great. Then in the middle of that, we changed cities because we moved out to Glendale. Obviously that affected our fan base considerable because it’s a fair jaunt from there. And then to top it off, we haven’t won. You can’t blame the fans or the city or the area one bit for the fact that we haven’t won. But if you win in Phoenix, they’ll support you. The Cardinals were notorious for being one of the bottom teams. Now they’re one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

“I’ve been there for 14 years. It becomes more personal for me as a player because I know all the security guards. I know all the trainers, all the people that do the equipment, that do the PR. You get to know everybody, and those people are losing their jobs. It really affects you as a person – your friends. It affects the people around you. Immediately, it affects your kids, your wife. As a player, you understand it, but when it gets personal like that, it makes it tougher. This has been my home for a long time. At the same time, I just play hockey.

“Yea, it is stressful at times. My daughter’s ten and she’s been in the same school for the last five years. All her friends live right around her. She hears things and asks things. Are we moving, are we not? What’s going on, dad? And you don’t know anything. You don’t want to say no we’re not because if you do then you feel like you’re a liar. At the same time, you don’t want to tell her yea we are because she’ll be upset. She doesn’t want to leave her friends. My seven-year-old son is playing hockey. That’s where it affects you. And then on top of that, the other people – our trainers, the PR department, all those guys – those are my friends. It’s going to affect them drastically. I’m sure it’s a lot more stressful for them. The players – we can play hockey pretty much anywhere, but those guys, you feel for them and feel for the people that supported us in the last 14 years. They don’t get any attention. The same group of guys always get asked if it’s stressful.”

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Red and White Scrimmage August 27, 2009

(Calgary, AB) There was a lot of star power in the warm-up. Wonder how much dough it all added up to? Hence the selling of tickets. Good sold-out crowd, too. Just missing Harvey the Hound.

On Team White, both Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal wearing number 12. Ryan Smyth was the last player off the ice during the warm-up, after he scooped some pucks out of the net and threw them into the stands for some fans. Class act.

When showing the players on the Jumbotron and announcing their names while the Zamboni was flooding the ice, Dany Heatley garnered a number of boos.

Fans cheered Jordan Staal as he headed into the penalty box for running over Roberto Luongo. Of course, Luongo showed why he was chosen for this camp. Unbelievable talent. No love lost between him and the locals here.

It was rumored that the first 20 minutes will be a scrimmage, then 20 minutes of drills, 20 of other stuff and a shootout. The full 60 minutes were fortunately a scrimmage, with Ryan Smyth opening the scoring -- unassisted for the white team at 1:35.

Red team tied it up at 6:17 with a goal by Jeff Carter, assisted by Mike Richards and Brendan Morrow.
Fans were booing Dany Heatley every time he touched the puck. The only place he’ll be able to play in the NHL without boos is the team of anonymity: Florida.

Sid Crosby gets a penalty in the second period and initially goes to the wrong penalty box. Jarome Iginla was doing that at yesterday’s practice. The players are obviously on auto-pilot.

Mike Richards took a puck to the mouth and went off for treatment.

Red scored the next goal: Patrick Marleau, unassisted, or rather assisted by white team’s Brent Seabrook, who muffed clearing the puck and fell to the ice at 18:06.

During the second intermission, some of the sledge hockey team players came out onto the ice to scrimmage. Great way to introduce the sport to more fans.

It doesn’t get better than this. Could watch this 82 times a year.

Big cheers for Iginla – and Steve Yzerman. Not so big for Heatley and Luongo. You’d think Ryan Smyth would get booed for his past service in Edmonton.

A power play goal Cory Perry assisted by Dan Boyle and Smyth – with Lucic in the box – was a sweet wrap around in the third at 10:59.

Joe Thornton was laughing as the fans booed after his goal is called – blatantly kicked in.
Now the players head back to their club teams, where the real evaluation begins.

This is probably the first time an exhibition scrimmage has been sold out: 19289 announced attendance, not counting the 200 media.

Team Canada Coaches Have All-Star Power, Too

We hear all about the all-star cast of players and how Canada could field two Olympic men’s teams. But what about the coaches? Has anyone checked their talent level lately?

Look closely, and you’ll see this year’s coaching staff is equal to the Rick Nash-Sid Crosby-Jarome Iginla line. It kind of makes you froth at the mouth at the thought of it.

Mike Babcock, who made a splash in 2003 when he took a most unlikely team, the Anaheim Ducks, to the Stanley Cup playoffs, has since pocketed a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings (2007-08), a team he head-manned to the final in two consecutive seasons.

Ken Hitchcock also has back-to-back seasons where he took his team to the final – the Dallas Stars – which won a Stanley Cup under his watch in 1998-99.

Given that Jacques Lemaire has 11 Stanley Cup rings, it’s hard to fathom that this is his first invite to Team Canada. He coached the New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup in 1994-95, and the rest are from his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens – nine of them as a player.

Lindy Ruff doesn’t have a Stanley Cup to his name, but he did take the Buffalo Sabres to the final in 1998-99, coincidentally facing Ken Hitchcock’s Dallas Stars.

This is perhaps the greatest collection of hockey minds ever assembled.

The August orientation camp in Calgary is all about team-bonding, getting acclimatized, and that it’s the only time it will have together until February in Vancouver.

“This whole camp is about us getting to know them and them getting to know us,” says Ryan Smyth, “because once you get into the tournament, one practice, and you’re right into it.

And while everyone discusses the players and their connecting with each other on and off the ice, it’s almost more important for the coaches.

According to Hitchcock, “It’s really important from a chemistry standpoint. The players can’t feel any indecisiveness from us. They have to feel like we’re just snapping and going and that we’re really in it together. We’re a little rusty. Our yelling voices aren’t there yet. We’re not as crisp in the first practice. The players have to feel from us that these guys can go from drill to drill or from sequence to sequence or from system to system seamlessly.”

This is the first time Hitchcock has worked with Babcock, who he says is very good at the how and the why. “A lot of coaches are good at the how. He’s really good at the why.”

Babcock’s strong A-type personality is another reason for his success. That and the fact he is very focused and intense. He expects it to get done – period.

“If it’s not done right, he doesn’t care what the name is on the back, what the number is, where you’re from, who you play for – he treats everybody the same,” confirms Hitchcock. “When he says you’ve got to play on 200 feet, you’ve got to play on 200 feet. And when the discussions on the personnel come, he’s going to be very determined that his voice is going to be heard. He wants to trust players.”

One of the first criteria Babcock addressed was that he expected every player to play the full ice surface. But this camp isn’t about making the team. What the players do in regular season is what will determine their spot on the roster. “We’ve got three months in management of watching these guys every day, and we’ll see who’s playing at the top of their game.“

But he is also extremely clear as to how a player might make the team, even the goalies. Pure and simple, outplay the other guy. Outplay the other guy and you’ll be at the top of your game, and probably at the top of the league.

Ryan Smyth understands his coach’s message. “You’ve got to check your egos at the door and adapt to the role that the coach wants you to be in. Whatever is said, that’s the way it’s got to be. You’re going for one prize. It’s an ultimate prize. It benefits everybody.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Team Canada Orientation Camp Day 3

No longer the Crosby, Iginla, and Nash line today but rather the Crosby, Nash, and St. Louis line.

During the scrimmage part of the practice, Iginla kept forgetting what bench he was in. He kept going to the Flames' bench, but the white team was in the visitor's bench.

The players talked about their golf game and bonding moments from the day before. Today, there was a team picture of the three teams around center ice of the Saddledome: men's, women's, and sledge.

The women's and sledge teams skated before the men's team took the ice.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day Two -- Canadian National Men's Team Evaluation Camp

Simon Gagne went home on Tuesday after his groin started pulling on him. He went to get things checked out by his Philadelphia doctor. If he is able to start the season and play for the first three regular season months, he can still make the team.

It was made clear by Assistant Coach Ken Hitchcock, however, that this year, they would choose healthy players -- something he admits was their mistake in 2006.

If the regular season is what bases the decision as to who makes the cut, then Dany Heatley ought to start becoming a team player with the Sens. While it's still a mystery for some that he was chosen over Marc Savard, perhaps an argument can be made for many. As Martin St. Louis commented, Canada could very well field two teams in the Olympics.

Mike Babcock says everybody has to earn their spot, even Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur. If Cam Ward, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Steve Mason outplays them during the regular season, that will help them get the nod. Babcock says it's simple: outplay your competition if you want a shot at this team.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Day One -- Canadian National Men's Team Evaluation Camp

Day one at the Team Canada Evaluation Camp in Calgary. Lots of media, lots of talent. Ryan Getzlaf is still injured and watching the camp from the stands.

Some of today's line combos include:

Rick Nash - Sidney Crosby - Jarome Iginla
Simon Gagne - Jonathan Toews - Martin St. Louis
Milan Lucic - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Carter
Eric Staal - Joe Thornton - Cory Perry

Interesting scenario -- there could possibly be three Calgary Flames defencemen making this lineup: Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, and Dion Phaneuf.

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Canadian National Women's Hockey Team prepares for 2010 Olympic Winter Games

Five – that’s how many tough decisions Mel Davidson will have to make before the end of December.

As the National Women’s Hockey Team gathers in Calgary for a centralized camp to precede the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the competition for spots is even stronger this time around.

“We were young in 2006,” admits Davidson. “The spotlight was on our older players because they were veterans and such forces on our team that I think our young players flew under the radar. Nobody paid a lot of attention to them. Now those young players are in the prime of their career – and they’re still young.”

Veteran Jayna Hefford admits those younger players will be pushing the veterans to earn their spots.
“The young players are so good now, and they’ve had so much experience. We get players in their first year on the senior team and they’ve already played internationally for Team Canada. It doesn’t take them long to adjust.”

Even Hayley Wickenheiser isn’t resting on her experience. “As a veteran player, if you don’t do all the right things in the off-season, someone is going to take your place. You have to find ways to get better and improve. What we have is great internal competition in Canada.”

Given the strength of the national team program, having a centralized camp does have its advantages. This year, there are 30 games scheduled against the 18 boys’ teams from the Alberta Midget Hockey League between September and the end of January. The women’s team has had a partnership with Midget AAA since 2000, but this is the first time the games will officially count in the standings for the AMHL.

“It will up the competition level for us,” says Davidson.

Wickenheiser adds that it’s always tough to find competition that matches the national team. “The size of the guys in Midget AAA seems to fit the size and speed of play. For us, puck moving and game-thinking skills, we’re generally ahead in that area, but they give us good games because they can physically match us. They don’t want to lose too much to girls. It makes for a lot of fun games. They’re intense. They don’t back down once they figure out the line about hitting. We go out there every game to win.”

One might expect that this Olympic team’s identity will be built around speed and skill, but Davidson says that it will actually evolve as the camp progresses. The team itself will determine what its identity is, but it will certainly be hard working, passionate, and skilled.

The final roster will be announced some time in December. In the meantime, Davidson has developed a check list to determine who will make the cut.

“Performance on demand and consistency; the ability that they can play any time, any place…tired, fresh, and they can perform at the same level and then elevate their game when they need it, in terms of down a goal, up a goal – when you need an energy switch.”

With a strong mix of fresh faces and veterans – all with international experience – there is no doubt choosing who gets the call will be a difficult task.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bob Boughner and the Under 18s

Bob Boughner hasn’t had a lot of time to prepare for the Under 18 evaluation camp this August. Besides playing the absolute latest date possible in the Canadian Hockey League, having led his Windsor team to a Memorial Cup, he was only tapped a few weeks in advance of the camp. Initially, Dave Lowry was to headman the Under 18s to the 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. That changed when the Calgary Flames announced Brent Sutter as its head coach, who in turn, named Lowry as the team’s new assistant.

As are most Hockey Canada camps, there was no shortage of talent on the ice. After putting the team through its paces, there weren’t too many surprises on the final roster. With lots of high-end talent up front, the team is deep in scoring, physical, and with solid goaltending.

In order to save time, in the last couple of days of the camp, the coaches (assistants are Chris DePiero of OHL Oshawa and Mark Holick of WHL Kootenay) introduced the system they want to use in the tournament.

“When you have a talented group of kids, it doesn’t take them long to adapt,” adds Boughner. “We don’t have a lot of time to prepare. We have two exhibition games. When you have a talented group of kids, it doesn’t take them long to adapt.”

When it came to making decisions as to who would fit the roster: “One of the things we wanted on our team identity was speed. We wanted a quick team. That’s what we looked for at the end, obviously skating and tempo and making the quick plays. We did some off-ice things with the kids. You find a little bit about their character and leadership. That’s another identity we want to have.

“I told a lot of them, ‘This is my first impression of you. I don’t know a lot of you kids from the west and I don’t know a lot of you from the Quebec league; make sure you take advantage of that first impression.’”

As the tournament gets underway, it’s expected the Canadian team will be a strong medal contender, and not just because of the strength of its roster. In looking at Boughner’s young coaching career thus far, he’s made a significant impact.

He started coaching the Windsor Spitfires in 2006-07 and by 2007-08, the team improved by 51 points. He was the Ontario Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League coach of the year in both 2007-08 and 2008-09 and his Spitfires won the 2009 Memorial Cup. His future looks very bright indeed.

“I try, as part of my coaching career, to pull some of the things I liked best as a player from all of the coaches that I had. Hopefully, that’s had something to do with my success.”

Ode to J.R.

Jeremy Roenick had just signed as a free agent with the Sharks when I sat down with him in September 2007. San Jose was the fifth National Hockey League team he had suited up for (having played for Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles before that).

He had just come off a less than stellar season in Phoenix, where his loyalty and effectiveness were questioned and it appeared it might be the sad end to a great career. We all remember the incident where he enjoyed a beer and a plate of wings at a local establishment rather than stay at the arena as a healthy scratch to watch his teammates. But unbeknownst to most, he still had two more seasons in him.

Over the years, he has had a few controversies and conditioning issues, but one thing Jeremy Roenick could never be accused of being: boring. Known as “the mouth that roared,” the popular center agreed to as many talk show and media interviews as he could. He was always approachable, always quotable, and agree with him or not, always likeable.

As he sported his new jersey with the Sharks, I asked him how much of a challenge was it to try and fit in with a new team.

“It’s definitely an adjustment, but when you’re around for 19/20 years, you kind of get used to this kind of situation. The different systems and stuff is not that tough. A lot of the systems are the same. It’s getting to know the guys, and getting to know them on a personal level is more important, and you have to take your time.”

A couple of years away from age 40, one might wonder if Roenick could keep up with the younger guys after 19 seasons or so.

“I have to work much harder than they do, actually. I have to be in early. I have to be on the bike more often, be at the gym more often. I have to pay attention to detail more often. I have to take care of my body better. The body deteriorates as you get older. It gets more tired, and you don’t have as much of the pep that some of these young guys have. Mentally, I’m still as excited at being here. That’s a big part of it.

“If you’re tired mentally, you’re physically going to be tired. If you’re continually physically tired, you’re going to get mentally tired. It’s really a hard ball to juggle. When you’ve been around as long as I have and you have the chance to do something that you’ve never done – win a Stanley Cup – like I have this year, the juices start to flow more rampant.”

Roenick did not hide the fact he was happy in San Jose.

“I don’t know if you call it rejuvenation. My energy is very high…my excitedness to be on this team is very high. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity.”

It was a sad day for media and talk show hosts all around North America when he hung up the skates for good on August 5, 2009. We may never be able to see him play again, except maybe Oldtimer hockey, but it would be no surprise if J.R. reappears as the media.

The J.R. Quote Vault

October 22, 2007: Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr delivered a hit that left Roenick momentarily stunned before he groggily skated to the bench amidst a chorus of boos from Calgary Flames fans. About the crowd, he remarks, “Well they were cheering for me, weren’t they?”

He said he was hit hard, that his head rattled against the glass, he thought he was Batman for a minute, and he needed to get his bearings. “I don’t know if they should have stopped the play or not. I was just going to stand there until my sight came back.”

January 30, 2008: on then Calgary Flames’ Owen Nolan’s first hat trick since 1999. “He's a tremendous leader, a tremendous competitor, and he can do everything on the ice. He killed us tonight, too, the sonofabitch.”

Here is a blog that shows some classic J.R. moments:


Regarding New York Islanders’ Garth Snow: "It's not my fault (Snow) didn't have any other options coming out of high school. If going to college gets you a career backup goaltender job, and my route gets you a thousand points and a thousand games, and compare the two contracts, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out whose decision was better."

About Edmonton Oilers’ coach Craig MacTavish ripping the tongue from Calgary Flames’ mascot Harvey the Hound: "I was surprised by how easy it came out. It was one of those tear-away tongues. Kevin [Lowe, Edmonton GM] said he should have tucked it into the breast pocket of his jacket. Like an ascot."