A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Guest Column: AHL Preview. Hershey Bears are the main contender.

Are you ready for some hockey?

I have never been sure why a P.A. announcer would ask the question “Are you ready for some hockey?” because obviously every hockey fan is ready for hockey. The months of June-September are the longest three and a half months for any hockey fan. So to answer the question, we have our drinks, our jerseys and our hats (always useful to bring one or two to a game, just in case someone scores three goals and a hat trick breaks out), so yes that makes us ready for some hockey.

The Hershey Bears look to repeat as Calder Cup Champions.

This season, the 75th of the American Hockey League, promises to be a good one. The league welcomes the Barons in Oklahoma City, the Checkers in Charlotte, and the Devils in Albany, to the league. There is youth and talent throughout the league and hopefully those skills can be showcased nationwide, with the possibility of players getting the call up to the NHL.

Once again, the Hershey Bears are stocked and are poised to reach the playoffs again, but this season may not be a complete runaway. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins stocked up on talent and the Norfolk Admirals are under new leadership, and after missing the playoffs by less than one game last season, are ready for to take that extra step into the playoffs. The rest of the East Division (including new comer the Charlotte Checkers, formerly Albany River Rats) all have one more year of experience under their belts and should make the Bears and Penguins route to the playoffs a little more difficult.

The Worcester Sharks, behind the goaltending of Alex Stalock and the veteran presence of Jonathan Cheechoo, have a good shot at winning their division once again, along with the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Chicago Wolves, who are almost guaranteed playoff spots. All three teams will be challenged by opponents day in and day out, as almost every team in the league have made improvements.

Boys, let’s play hockey and to those of you who have always wanted to attend a hockey game but never have, make this year different. Attend one game and there is a pretty good chance that you’ll be back for more.  Remember fans, wait for the stoppage in play before leaving your seats and enjoy the next nine months, because before you know it, summer will be here once again.

Predictions:

East Division—Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins/Hershey Bears

West Division—Texas Stars/Chicago Wolves

North Division—Abbotsford Heat/Hamilton Bulldogs

Atlantic Division—Worcester Sharks

Calder Cup Champion—Hershey Bears (No matter how much I hate to say it)

I’ll be back in throughout the season to update everyone and to update my predictions.

—Nathan

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 79

Quite the Hello! McFly! game for the Sharks as nobody was home, and Dallas beat them handily again 5-1. Adding insult to injury was the mega-terd Steve Ott with a hat trick — yes, a hat trick.

How do you let a goon like that score so much? Oh I know, don’t cover him. Just let him frolic to the front of the net and let him receive passes right in front of Nabokov.

It’s what the defense did all night. Just when you think they turn a corner, whammo! You get hit with this ginormous piece of garbage.

Jason Demers played his worst game as a pro tonight. Pairing him with Niclas Wallin was a dumb decision. They teamed up to show us the worst tandem in NHL history — kudos to you guys.

Every other defenseman was a turnover machine. It was like watching an infinite loop; you’d see a Shark flail his arms around at the blueline trying to turn around while a Star skated in the other direction. Time after time. No Cyndi Lauper here.

If there’s any retired NHL defenseman out there, I’d like to ask how hard is it to mark your man? Is it really that difficult to be between the goal and your man? Actually, don’t bother because I know the answer. It’s about as hard as blinking.

The boneheadedness wasn’t limited to the blueliners either. Patrick Marleau caught the syndrome and boy was it ugly. Twice he tried through-the-legs passes and both times they ended up on a Dallas stick on a breakaway. Once led directly to a goal.

Scott Nichol was kind enough to show us what this game was with one image. (From SJSHARKS.com)

These turnovers weren’t just coming on 5-on-5’s. Shockingly, they came on power plays. I probably shouldn’t even say shockingly because that would be giving the Sharks credit. How they are third in power play percentage is beyond me. I can tell you they are first in “whoops!” percentage.

I wonder what Joe Thornton thought of his teammates — he was sidelined again with his lower body injury. One can only hope he thought to himself, “Ooohhhh so that’s what I look like.”

STEVE FREAKIN’ OTT! Sorry, I just can’t get over this. After the stunt he pulled on Marleau in the last meeting, he was supposed to get payback. Nah, just rewards.

Whatever happened to the away-ice advantage in this series? San Jose always won in Dallas and vice versa. That’s gone down the crapper.

Let me guess… Interference!

All the refs ever wanted to call was interference. Seven interference penalties were called. Apparently, the “officials” don’t know what finishing your check is.

What’s the point?

Demers dropped the gloves with Mark Fistric in the closing seconds. It was a hugfest.

Hockey is for Everyone ads

I’ve been meaning to mention this, and since I’m already in a bad mood, it’s the perfect timing. Gamecenter and the NHL network really need to stop running these ads. NHLnet already runs the same commercials over and over again, but these ones are so incredibly annoying. It’s hilarious these commercials run on channels and internet software that must be paid for. I think the “everyone” part the NHL is looking for is not going to have enough money to pay to see the ads.

Then we get Wayne Simmonds in the ads who looks completely miserable. If you see the ad again, pay attention. Simmonds looks like he just wants to get the hell out of dodge. Great face for this campaign, huh?

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 31  DAL 40; Douglas Murray led with six.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t play tonight after re-injuring his leg. Ryane Clowe didn’t return after the first period. Thomas Greiss started the third period.

Perhaps it’s a good thing the Sharks play Minnesota on Friday, since they were the team that got the Sharks out of their previous slump.

–Ray

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 3

The Sharks take on the Ducks tonight at Anaheim and it should be a bruising contest. In an interesting roster move, The Sharks sent Jamie McGinn down to Worcester and brought up Frazer McLaren, who is known as a tough guy. After all the things I’ve heard from coaches about playing their own game and not worrying about the other team, this throws it for a loop.

Frazer McLaren giving a Canuck the business

Frazer McLaren giving a Canuck "the business"

So much for playing a speedy, offensive affair as the Sharks are known to do; they plan on adapting to Anaheim’s slower, hit-filled game. I guess it’s worth a shot considering our fast style didn’t work in the playoffs last year. But alas, it’s only one player. We’ll see the effects at 10 p.m. eastern.

Things to look for

1. Saku Koivu’s debut for Anaheim

2. Will Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe line continue their first game performance?

3. Any chemistry from Thornton or Heatley?

4. Who starts in goal for Anaheim? Giguere or Hiller?

5. Nabokov

Slow Starts

Last years division winners in the Western Conference (Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose) are off to a combined 0-5 start. Detroit was swept by St. Louis, while Vancouver dropped a game in Calgary and was shutout by upstart Colorado today.

St. Louis will be dangerous — so long as Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya stay healthy. They already have four goals combined in two games; however, one of them will get injured this year — it never fails.

Detroit’s backup Jimmy Howard played in the second game and looked, to put it lightly, sub-par. He allowed to goals in 13 seconds. I really don’t think he will ever be ready for the NHL; he’s a full-time AHLer.

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 2

Quite the disgraceful performance from the Sharks against the Colorado Avalanche tonight, losing 5-2.

The team looked lost on defense — constant positioning errors by both young players and veterans leading to numerous weak side goals. No communication on offense or defense. Goaltending was absolutely atrocious. Nabokov needs to get his act together very quickly. There was a phrase I heard from Tony Kornheiser saying something like “once is an anomaly, two is a trend, three is a problem.” Nabby has two games to make drastic changes, or the trade rumors will start, as if they hadn’t already.

There were two bright spots I saw. Patrick Marleau looked magnificent in his new C-less sweater netting San Jose’s only two goals. Defenseman Jason Demers was the best d-man of the night for the Sharks. He looked confident moving the puck and with his decision-making with the exception of the goal against he was on the ice for.

Jason Demers handles the puck

Jason Demers handles the puck. (From SJSHARKS.COM)

Other than that, it was disgusting to watch. As I said in Vol. 1, the Avs came out in the first five minutes with a fury and scored first. The Sharks answered in the sixth minute though, cooling off the Sakic emotions. From then on, it was all about effort. The youngsters for the Avs wanted to prove something to themselves, their teammates, and the fans. They were successful.

I wouldn’t say the Sharks didn’t put forth a good effort, but they just weren’t good. The Sharks put 40 shots on goal — something they always do under head coach Todd McClellan; however, the shots are not well-selected. Most are just random slapshots from the point hoping for a deflection. Ryane Clowe is the only legitimate player who will get in front of the net and try for deflections. That strategy needs to be tweaked to find better passing lanes before randomly drilling the puck to the crease. I think most players are shooting just to shoot (because that’s what Todd wants), but if the shot selection isn’t there, you give confidence to the goalie. Avs goalie Craig Anderson is not that good; that’s just the truth. But with every weak shot, he starts believing he is Luongo.

Jody Shelley got into a fight with David Koci and lost. I’m one of the few Shelley supporters; he is a good guy, and chooses fights at the right time. I can’t support him forever, so long as he keeps getting beat. Another loss and I might just call for his head too. We have Frazer McLaren and Brad Staubitz, who are more than capable of beating the hell out of the other team.

As you read in the first volume, I defended the selection of Rob Blake as captain. But Blake came out and took a double minor at the end of the first, forcing the Sharks to start the second on the defensive for the first four minutes. You can’t do that. I’m sure he knows that, so it will be interesting to see what he says in the postgame quotes.

One thing is for sure: the Sharks better get their act together in a hurry because the Ducks are next on the schedule. And it’s in Anaheim on Saturday.

–Ray

October 2, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 1

Here it is.

The season is upon us, and the Sharks are set to take ice against the Colorado Avalanche. What seems to be an easy win for San Jose, could easily turn into an ugly affair. With the bottom half of the Sharks offensive line basically brand new, and the addition of Dany Heatley to the top line, chemistry could be a big problem tonight.

Head coach Todd McClellan told the media the bottom 6 players have more grit than last year’s group. I’m trying to figure out how. Last year, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Grier and company seemed to be quite gritty — at least, that’s why management told us. Those players were supposed to be the gritty players we needed to get over the hump. Now we find out they really weren’t gritty enough. Just how exactly do you determine grit? Do you serve the players with bacon, eggs and toast and gauge their reaction?

I keed. I keed.

I was disappointed when McClellan sent Nick Petrecki and Logan Couture back down to Worcester for development. I believe he said they didn’t quite understand the speed of the NHL game. That’s unfortunate. I think we need younger players like that, because right now, the Sharks prospect pool is just deep enough to submerge a puck.

A couple youngsters are still in the running to make the team, though. Defenseman Jason Demers and forward Benn Ferriero remain. I’ve looked at Ferriero as Torrey Mitchell, Jr. A couple years back, Mitchell came out of nowhere to dominate preseason play and so has Ferriero. Both are short, fast and determined. They aren’t calm and collected like most of our top six forwards. Mithcell and Ferriero actually play like it’s their last shift — what I think is the most admirable quality of a hockey player.

Mitchell has tendinitis in his knee and may not be back for a couple weeks, leaving the door open for Ferriero.

As for the Sharks goaltending, I’ve been Evgeni Nabokov’s number one supporter. But his weak goals and 5-hole have weakened me to the point of “eh.” He will play 70+ games barring injury, though, because our young goalie prospects haven’t proven themselves. Goalie is our deepest prospect pool, but the likes of Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith were sent down to Worcester to continue development. That leaves Thomas Greiss, who I have as much confidence in as Katy Perry kissing a girl and not liking it.

Defenseman Rob Blake was named captain of the team yesterday —  a decision a lot of fans don’t like from what I’ve read. Obviously, the team doesn’t see a long-term captain just yet and they want to go with the sure bet. I have no problem with it, especially since Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton will wear A’s. Blake is more than capable and speaks honestly with the media. Boyle does the same so maybe they should have a second C. Regardless, it’s better than having Patrick Marleau as captain. I love Patty, but he was just to quiet and reserved to be captain of a team.

It’s going to be difficult to not think about the playoffs during the 82-game regular season, but I will certainly try to keep things on a game-by-game basis as so many coaches do. (I think we all know that mentality is BS.)

Hopefully, the Sharks can exploit the Avalanche’s weak goaltending and see some offense. With the retiring of Joe Sakic’s jersey tonight, expect a lot more heart from Avs players — for about the first five minutes. Those kind of ceremonies only affect the very beginning of the game, in my opinion.

It’s a shame DirecTV and Versus are still in their childlike squabble, and I have to find some place on the internet broadcasting the game. I’ll cope. Enjoy the games everyone! Hockey’s back!

–Ray

Who’s OUT from last year?

WhosOut

October 1, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL 2008-2009 Predicted Final Division Standings

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Atlantic Division

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Southeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Central Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northwest Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Pacific Division

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.

Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.

Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.

Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.

The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.

We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.

Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.

Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.

Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.

The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.

The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.

With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment