Thursday, March 25, 2010

National Lacrosse League's Reaction to Hit on Kelusky

On behalf of Doug Fritts, National Lacrosse League
March 25, 2010

The National Lacrosse League has completed its review of the incident involving contact made by Orlando Titans’ defenseman Rory Smith upon Calgary Roughnecks forward Tracey Kelusky at the 5:42 mark of the third quarter in the Calgary at Orlando game on March 20th.
Upon review of the incident, the league has determined that Smith engaged in an avoidable body check to Kelusky above the shoulders after Kelusky had already shot the ball at the net. The check is in violation of NLL Rule 70 (Illegal Bodychecking). The league also found that Smith had taken more than two steps after Kelusky shot the ball, which is in violation of Rule 70.3. The league's review of the incident included review of the game video as well as consideration of any statements submitted by the participants. As per Rule 70.8, the league has assessed Smith a game misconduct.

Smith has now accrued four game misconducts during the 2010 season and thus must be assessed an automatic one game suspension. As per Rule 40.2, a player that accrues three game misconducts in a season receives an automatic one-game suspension. For each additional game misconduct beyond three in a season, an additional one-game suspension is handed down. The suspension is subject to the player filing an appeal to a neutral arbitrator under the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NLL and the players association.

Doug Fritts
Vice President of Communications
National Lacrosse League

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Kelusky Out With Concussion for Next Divisional Match-Up

March 25, 2010 CALGARY, AB

The National Hockey League isn't the only league crying fowl over shots to the head these days. The National Lacrosse League seems to have its issues, too -- a least with respect to a controversial hit on the Calgary Roughneck's star captain.

In a 13-6 win over the Orlando Titans last weekend, a hit by Rory Smith will keep Tracey Kelusky out of the lineup for Friday's game against the Minnesota Swarm.

Kelusky believed the hit was high -- delivered just as he flung a backhand shot after picking up a loose ball. He said he felt helmet-to-helmet contact. Smith did receive five minutes for checking from behind. He took another identical penalty earlier in the game. The Roughnecks are still waiting for the league to come down with something more.

While the team is still in contention, not having its star player going into a divisional match-up is not an ideal situation.

Head Coach Dave Pym thinks Kelusky is one of the best in the game.

"He can take a team on his back. And when we're down and we need those big goals, he's the kind of guy you can go to and look to to bring us back in a game that maybe we didn't really deserve to be in. He's that kind of guy. That's why he's such an inspirational leader in our room."

Kelusky leads the NLL in goals with 26 and is 10th in scoring (26 goals, 25 assists, 51 points). Meanwhile, teammate Josh Sanderson leads the league scoring with 23 goals, 49 assists, and 72 points.

Calgary is tied for second place with Edmonton (both 6-4), behind first-place Washington (7-3). Minnesota is two games back of the Alberta teams, hoping to make the standings even tighter.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Scrappy Lappy

Anyone who has seen Ian Laperriere play knows he’s not known for his prolific goal scoring. Although he has occasionally posted some decent numbers, especially when he played in Colorado.

If you don’t cheer for his team, you respect him, even though you can see he can be one of the most annoying players to play against.

What endears him to hockey fans is his scrappiness. You can see his nose has been broken a few times – something like six or seven times. He gave up on surgery after two. He’s had his teeth stolen and never a day goes by without a scar or scratch.

Getting into fights is something he is famous for. But even Lappy will tell you he does not fight for the sake of fighting.

“Sometimes it’s not the right time.”

It might be the right time for the other team, but not his own. If that’s the case, you don’t want to give the other team any momentum, so you don’t participate, now matter how hard they try to get you to.

It’s no secret Lappy is one of my favorite people. I got to know him better each season after a sit-down with him for my Positive Sports book when he played in Los Angeles. He just has that way of brightening up a room, and I love that he skates and waves at me when he is out for a pre-game skate.

He is very much a family man, but before the kids, he and his wife Magali (who he started dating at age 15) used to watch movies a lot.

“With the kids, you just can’t go out every night. It was a great time in LA with no kids, but it’s way more fun having kids than going to the movies.”

Kids don’t always understand when dad has travel for work, and leaving them gets more difficult for him with each road trip.

“They know I’m leaving. It’s tough. You talk to them on the phone. They miss you. For sure, that’s the biggest adjustment when dad is on the road quite a bit. It’s a sacrifice everyone has to make. On the other hand, they’re spoiled because of my job. They get everything they need because of my job. My wife understands that. I’m sure the kids, in the future, will understand that, too.”

A few seasons ago, he planned on taking his then five and three year old out for Halloween.

“They love Star Wars. I’ll be Chewbacka. I just need the mask. Maybe I don’t need the mask, I’m hairy enough. (As a kid) Star Wars was my thing. I was into Luke Skywalker. It’s funny my kids love the same thing I loved as a kid.”

Lappy is always the go-to guy in the locker room. It’s doubtful anyone in the NHL can dislike him. He’s always positive and has a way of making everyone else’s day better – even when they fight.

In the meantime, check out this website dedicated to him:

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's Not Easy Being on the Playoff Bubble

Have you noticed in the past few seasons that the race for the playoffs has been getting tighter and tighter? Friday night (March 19) was a good example.

Calgary faced off against San Jose, which pretty much has a lock on the playoffs, although the Flames handed the team its fifth consecutive loss. It won't take the Sharks out of the playoffs, but it doesn't do much for morale coming into the final stretch, unless things turn around.

Going into Friday's NHL games, there were seven points separating the Western Conference's ninth place team (Calgary) from the fifth place team (Colorado). Sixth and seventh were Los Angeles and Nashville. The Wings -- one point ahead of the Flames in the eight spot -- played the lowly Oilers, a team that could only act as spoilers (no rhyme intended) sitting dead last in the league's overall standings.

The Flames took care of business at their end. Many of the players were watching with interest at the score in Edmonton. The Oilers were up 2-1 at this point, and Mark Giordano uttered what would be some profound words.

"No lead is safe in this league. You see it every night. Definitely cheering for the Oilers."

The Oilers led the Wings through much of the game. Until two seconds remaining and Brian Rafalski tied the game, sucking the wind out of Rexall Place and Devan Dubnyk's first win of the season. That meant overtime and a point for Detroit. So much for Calgary sneaking ahead into that eighth spot.

At this time, Flames coach Brent Sutter came into the media lounge to address the reporters.

"You can't control anything outside of what we've got to do. There's no point in getting upset about it. We just have to worry about ourselves."

The Oilers won in a shootout, Devan Dubnyk received is first W, and going into Hockey Night Saturday, not much had changed in the Conference.

The standings will yo yo a bit until it comes down to the 82nd game. And regardless of the teams each has yet to play left in the schedule, no game can be considered a lock.

It's hard not to like. It's never the same teams that get in, and when a team does get in, anything can happen. 

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

That Elusive Eight Place in the NHL Conference Standings

It’s crunch time. April is looming and there are a number of National Hockey League teams teetering on the edge of a playoff spot. On any given night, one team gets in, another gets knocked out.

The conference races have been extremely tight the last couple of seasons – so tight, that the final lineup will come down to the last game.

In Alberta, there is the tale of two teams. The Edmonton Oilers couldn’t have had a worse season and is dead last in the league’s standings.

Enter defenseman Steve Staios. In a history-making trade between Edmonton and Calgary (these teams have never entered a direct transaction with each other before), Staios found himself looking down a very long and dark tunnel and is now right up to the edge of the opening with the light beaming in.

“Just a feeling of waking up, knowing you have a chance to play in the playoffs, it feels great. It’s been a long time since I felt that.”

Staios was surprised at how many familiar faces he saw in the Flames’ locker room – players he played with in World Championships and other teams. He observes the playing system is similar to Edmonton’s and feels like his comfort level is on the fast track – much needed for this time of year.

“It’s a great situation. I know from the outside, it’s unique. As a player, you don’t have control over a lot of things, but I can control the way I prepare and the way I play.”

Because every game counts at this point, it’s a difficult balance for the players to maneuver.

Eric Nystrom: “We obviously have to be confident. There’s no time to be tense. No fighting the puck. We’ve got to play like we’ve just won 10 in a row, when we’re feeling confident and the pucks are going in. When you’re playing like that, that’s when you feel great with the puck and you’re confident and making the right plays, as opposed to just getting rid of the puck.”

Staios adds: “They’re all like playoff games for us. If you start looking too far ahead, you can wear yourself out. You can’t look past the game in hand.”

Jarome Iginla reads and hears that a lot of people have already written his team off.

“Lots of teams are further out and don’t have a chance. Sometimes you get frustrated as a group when it doesn’t go in. You put your hands up. You have broken sticks with good chances. There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. If we’re getting five scoring chances, or seven in a period – we need eight.”

At this point in the season, even a single point from an overtime game can make or break a team’s chances for the post-season. And if any two players know about the anything-can-happen scenario once you make the playoffs, it’s Steve Staios and Jarome Iginla. In 2004, the Flames were a sixth place team that went to seven games in the Stanley Cup final. In 2006, the Oilers were the only eighth seeded team to ever play in a Cup final, and they, too, went to a seventh game.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Steak, Mutton, or Filet Mignon? – the NHL Trade Deadline

It was the 2002-03 season – March 11 – game day – and there were three teams located in Calgary: the Flames, of course, the Edmonton Oilers (who were playing that night), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (in town early for their game against the Flames).

Before the morning skate, Oilers fan favorite Anson Carter had learned he was traded to the New York Rangers. He had an idea before it was official but how he learned about it was quintessential NHL.

“What happened is one of my friends from a sports radio show in Toronto called me and gave me the heads-up. It hadn’t been announced yet. He was pretty sure a deal went down. I contacted my agent and he hadn’t heard anything yet. Next thing you know, I got a call from the guys with the TV shows who wanted to know my reaction to the trade.”

The irony was, after talking to Carter, Janne Niinimaa offered his reaction to his teammate leaving the Oilers, standing in front of a large television screen that featured TSN and the latest news of the day. “It’s tough to see a good friend go. It hurts. He was a big part of our club. It’s hard to comment. It happened and we have to move on.”

It wasn’t even a minute after the media left the Oilers’ room when Niinimaa learned he was traded to the Islanders – via that same TV.

The teams’ general managers never seem to pick up a phone to inform the players.

Late in the day, Rob Niedermayer learned he was traded to Anaheim. Because the Flames were in the midst of their eight-season playoff drought, his reaction was a positive one.

“I’ve been smiling ever since the trade went down. There’s nothing worse than not playing for a playoff spot in the last 10 or 15 games. I had a chance to play with Paul (Kariya) with the World Junior team over in Sweden. He’s a great guy and you all know what he can do out on the ice (smiling). I’m really looking forward to playing with a guy like him.”

Lo and behold, the Ducks made a run to the Stanley Cup final.

Trade Deadline shows that professional sports comes all down to business. Regardless of how signing announcements might be launched as sugar and spice, the players are just commodities, and it’s about the bottom line. The human side of it doesn’t count. And yes, it’s what you sign up for when you want to be a professional athlete. Even so, it’s an emotional day for both the players that are traded and the ones left behind.

“It’s always so abrupt,” says Jarome Iginla. “Buddies leave and buddies come the other way. There are rumors. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t control that.

You hear things that were close that weren’t done. People run with rumors. And you don’t know. I imagine there’s some truth to them and some not. Fans enjoy saying, what if we put this guy here and there and another team has no intention of moving a guy but people run with it.”

Iginla also admits a player is last to know. “It may happen that way. I guess it’s easier to get a hold of guys now with cell phones. I remember guys saying they were reading the Ticker (Sportsticker) and the trade deadline was over. The trade went through a couple hours later, and they read the Ticker and see they’re gone when they already thought they were staying.”

One player that knows how that feels is Olli Jokinen. The rumors ran amuck and all but seemed certain. He dressed for a game in Calgary, and the trade came through before he left the rink. It still shocked him.

“I wasn’t expecting to get moved. It’s tough. This business is about winning. You’ve got to play hard every time you go on the ice, no matter what kind of distractions you have. You play for that sweater, that logo on the front of you as long as they tell you you’re part of the team. I just got the news I’m not part of the team anymore. It’s a cruel business. It comes with the salary. It’s definitely a slap in the face to get traded.”

The players do understand it’s a business. They know all about no-move clauses, unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, salary dumping, and all the aspects that impact how a team wheels and deals with their lives.

“You learn early on in this game that you are a piece of meat,” adds Chris Pronger. “You don’t really have a say unless you’re an unrestricted free agent, but then you have to be wanted as well. It is what it is.”

Players have no time to think about logistics. Once they’re traded, it’s get to B from A in the quickest time possible. Jokinen, who initially thought he was just going home from a game to spend time with his family, ended up packing a bag and heading to the airport for the next possible flight.

A lot of the details are passed off to the wives, girlfriends, or friends. If there is a family, chances are the wife and kids will stay behind until the end of the school year, and the player will move into a hotel at his new destination.

If the family does decide to join the player, Pronger says, “You’ve got 20 extra friends and they’re stuck moving your family, cleaning up the household, and moving it all, trying to figure out where the kids are going to go to school, babysitters – all the little things that get taken for granted when you’ve been in a city for a number of years. For the most part, it’s a lot easier at the rink then at home.”

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