Category Archives: Pro Hockey
Having completed a significant portion of this season, it seems like a good time to take a look at how the introduction of the coach’s challenge has been unveiling so far in the NHL. As of March 18th, there have been 226 coach’s challenges. Of those 226, 169 have been upheld while 57 have been overturned. This brings the success rate of a coach’s challenge to 25.2%. Of the 57 overturned calls, 54 were goals which were then switched to no goals. There were three “no goals” which were overturned to goals after being reviewed.
Although this may seem like a low success rate, the reality is that the coach’s challenge is serving its purpose. The point of the challenge is to not get the call overturned each time, but to make sure and validate that the goal in question is in fact legitimate. We have seen the usefulness of the coach’s challenge and how effective it can be in other sports, with the most noteworthy example being football. Tennis has the player’s challenge, but the principle is still the same – to reduce the margin of error in the sport as much as possible.
There were also concerns that the implementation of the coach’s challenge would result in a lot of goals being overturned, leading to even fewer goals in a league that is already witnessing a drop in offensive productivity each year (a drop from 6.05 goals per game to 5.2 between 2005 and now). The coach’s challenge is definitely not the biggest threat to goal scoring. A lot of other other parts of the game, such as goalie equipment sizing, goal sizes and so on, should be addressed to increase scoring in the NHL instead of the coach’s challenge. Getting rid of the coach’s challenge to allow “illegal” goals to count is by no means a solution to the drop in goals in the league.
I for one have no problem with goals being disallowed if they are illegal goals. The coach’s challenge helps ensure that there is redemption for any missed calls. Hockey is an incredibly fast game with a lot going on at all times, and often times plays can be missed by referees and linesmen. They are only human, after all. The coach’s challenge helps take human error out of the equation, which only improves the validity of the game.
The coach’s challenge, in my opinion, should definitely stick around. It’s purpose and effectiveness has been clear throughout this season, and it only helps in making the game as consistent as possible. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Last month, the NHL released their sustainability report, the first of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America. The report showcases NHL Green, an environmental sustainability initiative made public at the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic by Commissioner Gary Bettman. NHL Green was established to promote green practices across the league, and its goals include reducing the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport, and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.
Although the NHL has been criticized heavily for being slow to “get with the times”, most recently with their failure to acknowledge the severity of brain injuries due to contact to the head, this is a clear example of the league being proactive. It’s not the first time; last year, the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to associate themselves with an anti-homophobic group by partnering with You Can Play, an organization focused on promoting acceptance in the often homophobic world of sports.
The NHL is breaking barriers by being proactive to real world events, rather than being reactive when it’s too late. The environment has been a hot button topic for the last decade, yet the NHL is the first league to announce any real plans for change. This isn’t a marketing ploy to make themselves look good for the environmentalists; there is research and plans for the future to back up what they preach.
Having joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the NHL is doing their part to change the way we go about life.
“The 2014 report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” said Hershkowitz. “The report’s focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emission is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”
The report states that the league’s carbon footprint is currently 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This includes league and team business activities and travel for over 182 game days and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season. By way of comparison, the annual emission from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.
The league hopes to use NHL Green to reduce that with measures such as sharing between clubs and venues as well as audits of individual venues to identify needs and prioritize environmentally beneficial projects. They also plan on offsetting their environmental impacts, by both reducing their emissions and by purchasing “green power” — electricity from renewable, clean energy sources.
The report also looks into the league’s water usage (over 300 million gallons per season), the amount of waste going to landfill (25.5 tons), and the average amount of air travel for each team (65,000 air miles, emitting 3,136 metric tons of CO2). All of these are numbers the league hopes to bring down significantly in the future.
Change comes slowly to professional sports. If the NHL succeeds on following through with its initiatives, it could set the example needed to bring the rest of the sports world into the 21st century. It’s long overdue.
For most hockey fans, summer is a chance to take a break from hockey and focus on other parts of life. Excluding the NHL draft and Free Agent Frenzy on July 1, the summer can seem pretty dull from a hockey fan standpoint.
For Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish, this summer has been anything but dull.
“It was a very busy offseason. For [the Oilers] and other teams that don’t make the playoffs, once the season ends your focus is really on the amateur draft. For Scott Howson, Bill Scott and me, we’ll spend our time looking at eligible players. We’ll meet with our amateur scouts in early June and continue to chip away at our rankings, so we get our draft order down with all of our amateur scouts.”
Even during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, teams that have been eliminated begin looking towards the amateur draft and free agency, hoping to get a solid plan established come draft day.
“Early on in June, we will start to focus on what our objectives are from a pro scouting standpoint, and we will start looking at pending free agents develop a strategy on who we’re going to go after. Generally that gets us to the week before the draft.”
A crucial period of the summer for a general manager is the week before the amateur draft, held in Philadelphia this year on June 27, and free agency on July 1, when pending unrestricted free agents become available for any team to scoop up.
“It’s a really busy time coming out of the draft for all general managers, but it is may also be the most entertaining time. The season is over, you’re not beat up from the losing anymore, and your focus has turned to really building and improving your team through the amateur draft and the UFA season, and you try and develop and work a strategy.
“We really targeted three people during free agency; Nikita Nikiten, Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot. We ended up getting all three, so that was good.”
Once free agency dies down, management focuses on their development camp, which brings all of the team’s prospects together for about a week.
“We’re there for a week with all our prospects and all our staff, trying to inundate our players and trying to communicate to our prospects what we’re all about, what our expectations are from a cultural standpoint for our organization as well as the conditioning standpoint. After that it dies down again, until preparations for training camps start to ramp up in September. That gives you a little bit of a timeline as to what managers are up to during the summer.”
As for the upcoming season, MacTavish feels the off-season has been productive.
“I’m an optimist. I’m always thinking better times are around the corner. Eventually I’ll be right, but I haven’t been so far in the last few years. I think we have some elements and realistic expectations for improvement, but I’m always cautious. We also changed some of the coaching staff, so there was a lot done.”
Having won four Stanley Cups in his playing years, MacTavish knows a thing or two about what it takes to win.
“Talent wins championships, and we haven’t been in the mix. But we have developing talent, and we firmly believe that there are players there that are going to help us improve greatly. My experience tells me we need patience when developing young players, but our players are getting to a point now that they’re going start having a significant impact on the outcome of a game.”
“Hopefully it’s all moves that will make a positive impact, but you just don’t know until the puck drops in October. It’s all a calculated gamble and calculated risks, and hopefully we made some moves. I think everybody feels they’re improving their team. This time of year, everybody is optimistic, and some are going to be wrong come October 8.”
The term ‘hockey specific training’ gets thrown around a lot in the hockey world, and parents are all too eager to sign their kids up for summer camps and weekly hockey lessons to help shape their budding child into the best player they can be. Is making kids play exclusively hockey, and spend hours on the rink per week the right method to develop an athlete?
A lot of professionals don’t think so.
It’s been made very public that National Hockey League coaches and scouts can tell when a prospect played multiple sports as a kid, and a prospect who only played hockey. Players who only play hockey while growing up tend not to develop properly as a hockey player, and although the skill is there, the athleticism and core strength is below average. On the other hand, prospects who played football, basketball or other sports while growing up develop into all-around better athletes, which in turn makes becoming an elite athlete easier.
Where is the balance between simply playing sports and focusing on hockey, and when should young athletes focus specifically on a single sport?
I spoke with Adam Nugent-Hopkins, a strength and conditioning coach for elite athletes in British Columbia. Adam has started his own company, ANH Strength Performance, and he is recognized as one of the top young sports performance coaches for hockey Canada. He studied Execise Sciences at Concordia University last year, and he played for the Varsity team, the Concordia Stingers. His brother is also Edmonton Oilers superstar center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Adam believes that parents and kids are being sucked in to the fad known as hockey specific training.
“The term hockey specific is thrown around very loosely these days for more reasons than one, but I find the biggest reason is that it’s a good market tool to sucker and lure kids and parents into spending money and taking part in the services offered.”
Adam does not deny that practicing hockey is important to developing skill, but it isn’t the only aspect which needs to be focused on.
“Being someone who does only off-ice training, I do believe that there are things we can do to transfer over to hockey specifically, but my philosophy is more about improving overall athletics.”
Hockey is a sport that requires a lot of skill, be it skating, stickhandling, checking or shooting. However, Adam truly believes that training the body and mind into one of an athlete is the building blocks for success in any sports.
“I do believe that kids need to develop hockey specific skills, but not at the rate they do today. I’ve heard of some kids being on the ice for 10-15 hours per week. That’s ridiculous, and what’s not being understood is how to train the athlete’s central nervous system, and allow for essential growth and development.”
If you need living proof, look no further than his brother Ryan, who is already leaving a mark in the National Hockey League as a super star.
“Both Ryan and I spend time away from the rinks for much of the summer, playing other sports such as basketball, track & field and the casual game of football. Ryan didn’t even play his second year of Peewee hockey. He spent time in the weight room and skated maybe once a week.”
He said parents who want their children’s dreams of becoming a hockey star to come true must realize that playing one sport is not the way to develop an athlete. Focus on becoming an elite athlete before deciding what sport to play. Just playing hockey day-in and day-out won’t turn someone into an elite athlete.
“Everyone wants their kid to play in the NHL, but there’s a lot of trends out there that just won’t be effective in the long run.”
If you want your kid to develop into the best athlete that they can, make sure they don’t play one single sport. Play summer sports in the summer, winter sports in the winter, and develop into an all-around athlete. Playing hockey year round may make them the best player on the local rink, but in the long run it will hinder their chances of developing into elite athletes.
When the Bruins visited the Canadiens on December 4th 2013, a friend of mine was attacked on the subway. He was on his way home from the game when he was confronted by two clearly inebriated Habs “fans” wearing Canadiens jerseys. They began verbally assaulting him before pushing, shoving, and eventually punching him. Thankfully, a bystander came to his defense and threw the two instigators out of the subway cart. He went home with a couple of bumps and bruises, the worst being a swollen left eye.
The reason for the attack? My friend was wearing a Bruins jersey.
There are far too many stories of fans attacking one another, based only on the colours on their backs (although alcohol consumption may be a contributing factor). This by no means isolated to hockey; both baseball and football have had recent incidents which will forever leave marks on the sport. The most extreme cases, such as soccer in Europe, unfortunately lead to many people getting injured or even killed, all because people support different teams.
Since when does being a fan of sports involve violence? Is it not enough to respect each other’s allegiances with sports teams, or is it now the duty of fans to belittle opponents with violence and intimidation? I find it extremely alarming that the lifestyle of some fans now resemble that of street gangs when it comes to rivalries. I know you cannot compare the violence between the Bloods and the Crips in L.A. to the violence between sports fans, but the hostility is still there. It’s sad that one person can end up hating another over the knowledge that the other person supports a rival team.
I don’t consider people who disrespect opponent’s supporters as fans. It goes completely against what sports is supposed to represent, which to bring people together and enjoy a display of skill and entertainment. There is no need to include violence or abuse for any reason. The fact that some cities have developed reputations for being some of the most hostile venues for visiting fans is a cause for concern. Buffalo and Philadelphia, from what I’ve heard in the news and through word of mouth, are two of the scariest places to be as a visiting fan. A friend of mine went to a Buffalo Bills game to watch them play against his team, the Miami Dolphins. He was told by his friend not to wear his Dolphins jersey, or even cheer when Miami makes a good play or scores a touchdown. That’s sad. Something is terribly wrong with the fan mentality if one fan can’t wear his team’s jersey without fearing a backlash from the opposition’s fans.
What is encouraging is that it is a very small minority of people who use fandom as an excuse to be violent. Many professional sports teams and leagues try denounce and discourage all forms of fan abuse, whether it be verbal or physical. I recall a few years back during a Canadiens-Bruins playoff series when a surprisingly large group of Canadiens fans booed the American National anthem (video HERE). The following game, the announcer introduced the Anthem singer and named all the Canadiens players that were American. That incident is more an example of mob mentality than anything else, but the team’s response demonstrates an effort to try and eliminate the lack of respect among sports fans.
Fans should not have to live in fear when they support their team. Everyone has the right to be a fan, and people need to learn that. Even though the Habs and Bruins have been fierce rivals for decades, there is no reason a Bruins fan and a Habs fan can’t sit on the same bus, in the same restaurant or in the same arena without throwing slurs or punches. Hockey is about respect, and it’s about time fans started showing some to one another.
What happened in Pittsburgh last Saturday has left yet another black mark on the great game of hockey. Both Shawn Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik and James Neal’s knee to Brad Marchand’s head were dirty plays which crossed the clear lines of respect all hockey players are supposed to follow, the “unwritten code” we all so often speaks of. (In case you haven’t seen it, click HERE for a video including both incidents)
It is very easy for the anti-fighting fans of hockey to twist Saturday night’s Thornton-Oprik incident into another example of fighting not having a place in the NHL. The problem is that the incident was not a fight: it was an assault. It is unrealistic to imply that this would not have happened if fighting was banned in the NHL. You can ban fights, but you can’t ban the thirst for revenge . Thornton was on a mission to avenge the concussed Loui Eriksson after he was hit by Orpik in the opening minute of the game. One could counter-argue that if Orpik had fought Thornton when he first challenged him, the incident could have just as easily been avoided. But the reality is that Orpik had no obligation to fight, and that’s where it should have ended. Thornton’s actions of slew-footing and punching a defenseless Orpik were unnecessary and uncalled for, and it’s very likely that the NHL department of player safety throws the book at him. He crossed a moral line, and there is no room for that in hockey. However, this should not be come a hill for anti-fighting groups to plant their flag. This was more about a player crossing the line than fighting.
What is being lost in all of this, most likely due to the images of Orpik being stretched off the ice, is the incredibly vicious knee to Marchand’s head, only second’s before Thornton’s attack. Neal, who has been under fire for dirty hits a few times in recent memory (such as these two incidents in the same game), had more than enough time to get out of the way and avoid hitting Marchand. No such attempt was made, and it’s clear in the replay that he angled his leg ever so slightly towards Marchand. The more I look at the video, the harder it is for me to come up with any defense for his heinous acts. A 5-game suspension for such an act I feel is getting off easy. For Neal to have such a lack of respect for a fellow player is far more disturbing than and fight I’ve seen this year.
We hope that what happened in that game will never happen again, but this won’t be aided simply by banning fighting in the NHL. Both of these incidents relate more to a lack of respect between players, something that rules simply can’t change. In a season that has been plagued by blatant head shots and other incidents which involved an intent to injure, it is the culture of the NHL players that needs to change, not the rule book. Respect for one another is the key to improving the poisoned and tainted culture of the NHL.
A few weeks ago, I was offered a very unique and exciting opportunity.
As a student at Concordia University, I write for the university’s paper, The Concordian. I went to interview the men’s hockey team and their coach, Kevin Figsby, for an upcoming article I was working on. Coach Figsby was extremely accommodating, and he ended up inviting me to join the team on their away game in Trois-Rivières the following day. It was an offer I was not expecting, and I could not turn it down.
I got to the Verdun auditorium at 1:30, where the Concordia Stingers have been calling home while the university’s arena is under renovation. The team had ordered food from a local catering service, and we all enjoyed a nice meal of penne with meat sauce and garlic bread, a perfect pre-game meal. There were no tables, so we all just ate standing up. As coach Figsby walked by, he laughed and said “welcome to a road trip!”
Just to give you an example of the atmosphere and sense of humour these guys have, not five minutes had gone by after getting on the bus before the on-board entertainment had begun with “Mighty Ducks: D2”, the perfect hockey road trip movie. At one point during the movie, one of the players in the back of the bus said “EMILIOOOOO” when Coach Bombay (played by Emilio Estevez) was on screen. A bunch of players got a good laugh from the Night at the Roxbury reference, with someone even replying with “The Mighty Duckman, I swear to God!” At this point, I realized that this was going to be a fun road trip.
We arrived at the Trois-Rivières arena at about 4:45. The players all helped unload the bus, working as a team to get everything set up. The equipment manager, Stewart Wilson, has a great setup for away games, including a portable skate sharpener, a box full of extra tools, pieces of equipment etc., and even a machine to dry gloves and skates. As soon as everything is set up, the players start their pregame preparations. Some tape and re-tape sticks, some sit on the bench listening to music, and some head to see the athletic therapist, Robin Hunter. The coaches begin talking strategies right away, even though the game was not for another two hours.
It was a little surreal at the arena. The team is playing at a very high level, and preparation is important. While a few players sat on the bench (some likely visualizing, others staying focused while listening to music), the local figure skating association was finishing their lessons for the day. It makes you realize that these players are not professionals, but students. They do not have the Bell Centre free for them to prepare in peace, as you see in a show like CH24. Although the preparations are very similar, the venue and atmosphere is very different.
Just before the pre-game skate, I noticed Coach Figsby speaking with a man who was wearing a Los Angeles Kings jacket. Coach Figsby introduced me to him. His name is Denis Fugere, and he is a scout for the Kings. He was at the game to check the talent at the University level. This is his 21st season with the Kings organization, and he scouts Quebec and the Maritimes for major junior and university players.
I asked him about what it is like being a scout, and he gave me some invaluable insight. “I went and asked Kevin [Figsby] for players to look out for, so he have me three names. As for UQTR (Université de Quebec à Trois-Rivières), I am looking at one player in particular.” He mentioned that being a scout involves making judgement calls about the future. “With a player, you’re not looking for what he is going to be next year, but in 3 to 5 years. That’s not easy.” He told me that you have to look at so many different factors (family, schooling, friends, alcohol, drugs, skill, future goals, and so on) that it can be very difficult to make predictions about players. It was very interesting to speak with a scout, because it is a part of hockey so many know so little about (myself included).
Finally, the game was under way. The first thing that struck me was how good these players really are. I believe that a lot of people fail to realize many of these players have come from the Canadian Hockey League, the pool of talent the NHL dips its hand into more than any other league. A lot of these young men have played with or against future NHL stars, which says a lot about the calibre of play. If my research is correct, 4 of the current Stingers are former Memorial Cup winners, the Holy Grail of the CHL. It’s fast, hard-hitting hockey. I believe that Concordia’s assistant coach Peter Bender put it best when he referred to university hockey as hockey’s best-kept secret. This was entertaining hockey, and you could tell that both teams wanted to win.
Between periods, the players have 15 minutes to re-energize and refocus. Some hit the athletic therapist’s bench again, getting the bruised muscles and tight ligaments all loosened up. Meanwhile in the other room, the coaches go over game strategies. Much of what they say is gibberish to me, with something about F2 covering here when F3 does this. It really made me realize how little I knew about the structure of the game, especially from a coaching perspective.
Coach Figsby made a small speech between each period, successfully getting the team refocused and ready to hit the ice. Although the players joke around a lot, when it’s time to hit they ice they’re all business.
The Stingers lost in overtime, with a final score of 4-3. Although it is sometimes difficult to find positives in a losing effort, the team did play very well. Stingers forward Olivier Hinse finished the night with two goals and assist, giving him 9 points in four games. At the time, he was the overall points leader for the entire Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) men’s hockey league.
In the end, this experience showed me a lot. One thing that stuck out to me was that sports teams are a family, and everyone is treated in a way that makes them feel valued and important. Whenever there is a problem, everyone jumps up to help. Throughout the day, head coach Kevin, assistant coach Peter and equipment manager Stewart kept making sure I was good and taken care of. I mentioned many times, “I’m fine, don’t worry about me.” I always received the same answer. “We’re a family; we take care of each other.”
Another thing I learnt is that being a Student-Athlete is incredible demanding. On the way to and from the game, many of the players were reading textbooks, going over class notes, quizzing each other for upcoming midterms, and so on. A lot of the practices are during school hours, and many of the games require two days of travel. A couple of weeks before, the team was gone from Wednesday to Sunday on a three-game road trip. Coach Figsby informed me that he had spent the week writing to teachers to get rescheduled dates for midterms. The team got home at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and many students had exams at 2:00 that afternoon, eight hours later. I have trouble staying focused and prepared for midterms as a regular student. I cannot imagine having to keep a high GPA while focusing a lot of my energy and time to hockey practices, road trips, and missed classes. I have gained a lot of respect and admiration for these students, because what they do is not in any way easy.
I feel very lucky to have had a chance to see a regular game-day through the eyes of the players. The Stingers are a great group of young men, and they are very gifted at what they do. Although many of them will probably not call hockey their profession in the future, they are still getting the most out of hockey while they can. They are very skilled individuals, and I wish them luck with the rest of the season.
If you are a university student, go support your school’s sports teams. Support your fellow students as they represent your school, something that they do for no financial or academic gains. Whatever sport you enjoy to watch, go show some school spirit and cheer on your school. As for this university student, I will leave you with this. “Go Stingers Go!”
I’ve added a small gallery of pictures from the road trip. I apologize for the quality for some of the photos, it wasn’t my camera and I was fidgeting with all of the settings throughout the entire game.
Here is a link to another article I wrote for my University’s newspaper, The Concordian. Feel free to comment with your take on the question: does showboating break the unwritten code of hockey?
Here’s a link to an article I wrote for my University’s paper, The Concordian. Feel free to comment!
A lot has been made of the recent Leafs-Sabres line brawl. It had it all, from John Scott jumping Phil Kessel, to a goalie fight between Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier, to David Clarkson’s automatic 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to fight. When all the dust had settled, Kessel was suspended for the last three pre-season games for his battle axe attack on John Scott’s legs.
When 6’8″ tough guy Scott jumped 6’0″ sniper Kessel, the much smaller Maple Leaf made a relatively sane decision not to drop the gloves and try to fight. Instead, he made the controversial decision to use his stick as an axe, swinging wildly at Scott’s leg pads. He took several good swings, even after Scott had started fighting another Leaf coming to Kessel’s aid. On top of all this, when tempers began to cool back down, Kessel took the time to pick up his gloves and stick to then purposely antagonize Scott by spearing him.
The NHL’s decision to suspend Kessel for pre-season games goes against a couple of things that the NHL is trying to fix. First of all, Kessel does not miss any “meaningful” games. He does not lose any pay, nor does his team lose having him in important regular season games. A pre-season suspension has very little impact on the player or the team, both of whom should be disciplined for a player’s infractions. It doesn’t financially or otherwise penalize the player, nor does it send a strong message to either parties. Instead, the NHL should suspend the player for regular season games, however not as many as if it were pre-season games. In Kessel’s case, a 1 to 2 game suspension would have been adequate. By him missing regular season games, he is leaving his team mates without his services, something that would make the offending player feel like he is letting his team down due to his actions and suspension. What lesson is Kessel learning by missing meaningless games, some of which he would not have been in the line up in the first place? If the NHL wants to punish a player, PUNISH them. Don’t give out pre-season suspensions that mean nothing to the team or the player.
Second of all, the NHL is working very hard to promote attendance to pre-season games. Suspending superstars for pre-season games can only hurt attendance statistics, especially since roughly half the players in those games are not going to start the season in the NHL. Everybody saw the picture of the Florida Panthers’ pre-season game, where there more players than fans. If the NHL is trying to get people to go to pre-season games, having the “main attractions” suspended and out of the line up only hinders these attempts. It is very clear that there are several teams that are struggling to fill their arenas, and having superstars out of the line up won’t get any more butts in those seats. Pre-season games are even more difficult to sell to on-the-fence fans, given that they mean nothing in the standings. These games hold no real value except for getting players into game shape, so “robbing” a player of pre_season games through suspension is not worth the sacrifice of losing the fans that would come out to watch them play.
There is no doubt that Kessel’s second slash was excessive and warranted discipline. Regardless of the circumstances, using a stick like an axe is unacceptable. By being suspended for pre-season games, the NHL is basically giving both Kessel and the Maple Leafs a slap on the wrist. They may as well not have suspended him at all, since it would of had a similar impact. The NHL should focus on making better disciplinary decisions, starting with getting rid of pre-season suspensions. They are irrelevant and they can only hurt attendance records, something that several teams need to improve drastically.