Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A breath of fresh air.

The title of the post is appropriate given the amount of time between posts, I apologize. Hope you all enjoyed the NHL All-Star weekend, time to gear up for the stretch run!

Saturday January 15th, 2010 was a day that will go down in Western Hockey League history as the Chiefs & Ice played the league's first ever outdoor game. Following in the line of the NHL's success with the Winter Classic, the WHL decided to host a game of their own.

Scanned from the Outdoor Classic program

However the Winter Classic was the topper of three chances that fans got with the outdoor rink. Thursday the 13th the Chiefs got the only practice that either teams would get on the outdoor surface. It was an open practice that fans were invited to attend. The Chiefs had fun with various team members wearing one of the three jerseys the Chiefs had sported this year. Following in the footsteps of the Washington Capitals outdoor practice, the team had fun with eye black. Which fans could see from the team picture taken post practice that was on the back of the cover of the special edition program that fans could purchase.

As was a concern every day up to the game was the warm temperatures and the possibility of rain. The Chiefs however told the Spokesman Review that the ice wasn't too bad. (source)

Watching the live broadcast of the practice, SWX reported that officials said that the game could be played in temperatures of up to 55 degrees and that rain was more of a concern. The funny thing was that at the beginning of the week about 3 or so inches of snow but the weather had warmed up so much that it had turned into slush all over the city.

The next event that was held at the temporary ice surface was a real treat for fans. Friday fans had the opportunity to skate on the ice that the game would take place on the next night. There were two half-hour sessions that fans were invited ice skate during for a fee of $3 for children under the age of 12 and $5 for anyone else.

The later session that I attended which was from 6-7:30 had a good amount of people. While it made for less than desirable ice conditions (especially for me someone who only ice skates once a year, if that) it was pretty awesome. It was surreal to think that the next day the very ice you were skating on and the benches you sat on, were where the Outdoor Classic was taking place.

My friends & my skates on the center ice dot.

I'm in a glass case of emotion! 
A close up view of one of the goal judge's spot for the game.

Saturday of course was the main event. Festivities started early as gates opened at 10:30 so that fans could have access to the field and welcome both teams to the stadium. I unfortunately didn't arrive until an hour before the scheduled 1 pm start time.

I did get to walk around however and see all the various things that were set up around the concourse of the stadium.

When you walked in the first thing you saw were the ice sculptures.

Wonder if Blackhawks fans are familiar with this one from last season...

There was also a silent auction to benefit the Rypien foundation featuring a lot of hockey memorabilia, including many a signed hockey jersey. Also in the tent housing the silent auction were some of the most important trophies in all of junior hockey.

The Ed Chynoweth Cup awarded to the WHL Champions formerly known as the President's Trophy. 
Essentially the Stanley Cup of the WHL

The famous Memorial Cup trophy awarded to the winner of the CHL (which is made up of the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League & Quebec Major Junior Hockey League).
Currently the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL are defending champions, they won both in 2009 & 2010.

The Chiefs infamously broke the trophy after winning it in 2008.

There were also two cardboard cutouts that fans could place their faces into to pretend they were a member of the 2008 Memorial Cup winning team or Tyler Johnson.

Who wouldn't want to pretend to be Spokane's local hockey hero?

Souvenirs seemed to be flying off the shelves seeing as line was extremely long to the main stand, though thankfully there was a smaller cash only stand that was selling as well. There were t-shirts, pucks, patches, scarves and more. Also for sale were special edition programs while typically at Chiefs games the programs are free Outdoor Classic programs were $5. The program featured pictures and stories from the Chiefs' players various experiences playing hockey outdoors ranging childhood to recent times which was a nice touch along with the typical lineups and game notes.

My seat was in the left field bleachers of Avista Stadium. The above pictures was my view. I really didn't have too many issues seeing any of the play.

During warm ups the weather was extremely nice, it was warm out and the sun was high in the sky which did seem to cause a decent amount of glare off the ice which was concerning. It was warm enough out that I had to remove the winter jacket I was wearing.

Since an actual Zamboni didn't or couldn't make it's way to Avista Stadium so mini-Zambonis were used. There were actually three at the stadium but only two were used.

A cannon was fired each time the Chiefs scored. Before I knew that I was confused as to what the blue tent beneath the scoreboard was. Needless to say I jumped when it was fired the first time.

WHL Comissioner Rob Robison (on the ice below) and Bobby Brett, the owner of the Chiefs both spoke during the pregame ceremonies to thank fans and everyone that helped put the game together.

Both the Chiefs and the Ice walked from their respective dugouts to the ice surface. The Chiefs' Tyler Johnson carried in an American flag and the Ice's Brayden McNabb carried in an Canadian flag.

 The goal judge had a prime seat and his own nice personal clear plastic box.

Opening faceoff! By that time the sun was behind the clouds and it started to get chilly which in my opinion only made the atmosphere that much better, it felt a bit weird to be warm at a hockey game when we arrived.

The Chiefs' Darren Kramer & the Ice's Max Reinhart engaged in the games first fisticuffs. The two teams had played the night before, a game which the Ice won 6-2 in Kootenay. The game the night before had 8 fights. Neither teams had a short term memory as by the end of the game 4 fights took place.

I took a picture of the score after two thinking it was pretty ridiculous, it was only a sign of things to come. The cannon was getting a good workout. Even better for fans at the game as per usual, Chiefs fans get a free Chalupa coupon for Taco Bell when the Chiefs score 5 or more games. Chalupas were secured well before the game was over on Blake Gal's second goal of the game not even two minutes into the 2nd period.

While the attendance isn't mind blowing and the Chiefs' home rink actually holds more fans, it was a sellout of the stadium.

The final score was an ugly one for the Ice but one that had Chiefs' fans leaving as happy campers. Good thing the Chiefs didn't score more than 11 goals, the National Guard only brought 11 shells I learned when watching the rebroadcast on TV. I doubt they had planned to be using them all.

The traditional handshake. It may not have been the greatest game by the Ice but both teams kept it classy by shaking hands after playing two emotionally charged blowouts in two days against each other. The two teams also took a photo together to commemorate the game.

Fans didn't leave the game empty handed either. Commemorative tickets, posters featuring a picture of the ceremonial faceoff and of course free Chalupa coupons because the Chiefs scored 5+ goals were all given to fans at the game. There was also a fireworks display for fans following the game but I was unable to stay for it.

The commemorative ticket featuring a nice sketch of the outdoor setup.

Overall, the Outdoor Classic was a fantastic experience. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of WHL history. It was a great atmosphere even with the blowout. I can only imagine the experience of going to a NHL outdoor game. With all the questions about the weather and the game, it turned out great. I have no major complaints about my experience.

I think it was a great event for the WHL, the Ice and the Chiefs. If I had a chance to do it all again I'd do it in a heartbeat. 

This is a great sign for when the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen play another game outdoors February 21, 2011 at McMahon Stadium. It'll be the the first WHL outdoor game in Canada following the NHL's Heritage Classic with the Calgary Flames hosting the Montreal Canadiens.

I'm sure it'll be nothing less than another great event for the WHL.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jump Ropes, Cha Cha & T-Birds. Oh my!

Ran across a tweet a couple days ago from the Seattle Thunderbirds mentioning they were trying to get fans to tweet at Jeff Marek in order to get a mention on Hockey Night in Canada. That peaked my interest so I thought I would check out the page.

This led to the discovery of two YouTube videos in the T-Birds suggested tweet to Jeff Marek about Burke Gallimore and if you haven't notice from my previous blog posts, I quite enjoy hockey players doing silly things & these videos are just that.

First is a showing of Gallimore showing off his jump rope skills, showing off moves I'm sure members of my elementary school's jump rope team would have been jealous of.

In another edition of hockey player dance moves, Charles Wells joins Gallimore in doing the ever popular Cha Cha Slide (the Barrie Colts have a video of their own Cha Cha), the dance I thought I left in middle school but has yet to die.

Now to see if this gets them a mention on HNiC.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Home sweet song...?

Need a midweek laugh?
I give you Coming Home (The Brayden Schenn Remix). Wired 93.6 a local Saskatoon radio station put this together in honor of Schenn being traded back to his hometown.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Does this look ridiculous to anyone else?

This is a screen cap from the WHL Transactions page of the Cody Eakin to Kootenay & Brayden Schenn to Saskatoon Trades. Along with Ryan Button to Seattle in there too since it happened between the two.

I like to call it, 'Trading Away Your Future For Years To Come For A Rental Player'

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A bit delayed, just like the Russian's flight home.

Sorry for the delay everyone, winter break has been filled with travel and now it's already over as I'm heading back to school already! I hope you all had a fantastic holidays.

January 5th was the final day of the 2011 edition of the World Juniors and man was the conclusion ever a dandy.

In shocking fashion(understatement of the year so far?), Canada blew a 3-0 lead going into the third to lose the gold medal 5-3 to Russia. It's the second time in two years that Canada has reached the gold medal game only to lose. Last year on John Carlson's overtime goal and this year by giving up five goals in the third period. Two years and two heartbreaking results though the second time the Canadians had the gold in their grasp only to let it slip away.

It has become an expectation for the Canadians to not only be in the gold medal game but to win the gold medal. The feeling is the Canadians own the gold medal until you rip it from their hands. And in the past two years that has happened. Even as a USA fan, I'm shocked at the result of the gold medal game this year. This only adds to the intrigue of next years tournament.

On a brighter note, Brayden Schenn tied the Canadian record for most points in the tournament and was named MVP, and played through a hurt (separated) shoulder sustained in the semi-finals (source). LA Kings fan must be excited about that. Now the waiting game starts in the WHL to see whether or not the Wheat Kings trade him or hold on to him.

Even better though for hockey fans is the fact that Canada's silver and USA's bronze puts them back in the same pool next year at the 2010 World Juniors which is being held in Edmonton and Calgary. What this means is that the USA-Canada game on New Years Eve which has become somewhat of a big event. To me the tournament felt weird without it this year. Being in the same pool also means that a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game could happen. The American-Canadian rivalry always seems to add another page to the book each year regardless of when they meet. All signs point to another fantastic tournament next year, just as it is every year.

I am one of those people who loves World Juniors and will choose to watch World Junior games over NHL games. I guess you could say I have the level of enthusiasm of a Canadian, just for the American team. To me USA hockey beats out the Blackhawks and that is saying a lot. I think the games are that fantastic, plus the tournament is once a year. If you haven't watched you should start next year. The tournament is filled with top NHL prospects, who you may not get to normally see, and great games.

Unlike Canada the USA ended World Juniors on a high note by making history. The USA bounced back from their crushing 4-1 loss at the hands of Canada in the semi-final to win the bronze medal with a 4-2 win over Sweden.

While this may seem like a disappointment to many to fall from the gold medal game to the bronze, the positives for USA Hockey are plentiful. Also it was the first time ever that the USA has won a medal on home ice. The first time that USA had earned a medal in back to back tournaments, the bronze medal effort was their fifth try. These accomplishment only further highlight the improvements in the USA Hockey program.

The USA won their first ever World Juniors gold in 2004 & repeated that feat in 2010 while the Canadians won the five gold medals in between. Since then USA Hockey has made great strides seen beyond the Olympic and World Junior level. At the U-17 level in the past five times the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, the USA has medalled every single time winning gold in 2010 and silver this year.  At the World U-18 Championships, the USA has medalled in every tournament since 2002 winning gold five times, back to back twice in 2005 & 2006 and again in 2009 & 2010. In addition at the Ivan Hlinka tournament (U-18s) the USA earned silver in 2010 after not medalling since 2006.

Of course the silver earning efforts of the Olympic team and last year's gold medal win of the World Juniors were the most publicized accomplishments which are not to be overlooked in their impact.

The bottom line is that despite not playing for the medal they wanted the USA finally earning a medal in back to back tournaments is another great step for USA hockey. The USA didn't even get eligible returner defensemen Cam Fowler (Ducks) since he's doing so well in the NHL. It's not a hope to make it to the medal rounds or the gold medal game, it's an expectation.

USA Hockey is only improving with the success of the National Team Development Program and developing elite hockey players. You can already see it in the number of USA born players being drafted & making an impact. It's truly exciting to think about the progress that USA Hockey is making and the NHL stars coming out of the program.

So if you happen to see some love for some USA Hockey players on this blog, don't be surprised. Donning the red, white and blue trump NHL ties any day, in my eyes.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It's that time again, when all of the hockey community gathers to see the new up and coming talent play in one of the greatest hockey tournaments, the World Junior Hockey Championships or as I call it the WJCs. The site of this year's tournament is none other than the hometown of USA Hockey & Chicago Blackhawks star, Patrick Kane & where American goalie Ryan Miller plays in the NHL: Buffalo, New York.

What makes this year so different though is that for the first time in five years and only the second time in the history of the tournament the United States are defending champions.

If you didn't know last year the USA ended Canada's run of five straight gold medals last year on no less than Canadian ice in OT. Current Washington Capitals defensemen, John Carlson scored the gold medal winning goal.

What you most likely don't know is that the USA had been performing well in international tournaments beyond last year's gold medal. Jack Campbell who came into replace Mike Lee in the gold medal game, had won U-18 gold medal for the United States in April of 2009. He then later on won another U-18 gold medal for the USA in April of 2010. Making three trips to international tournaments and taking home three gold medals for the Dallas Stars prospect & current Windsor Spitfires goalie. However he wasn't the only one that accomplished this trifecta of gold medals Jason Zucker, a native of Las Vegas, NV, also a Minnesota Wild prospect & University of Denver Pioneer, was on those teams with Campbell as well. Not only that but Zucker is currently the leading scorer for University of Denver as a freshman.

Though the United States are defending champions and the term "favorite" has been thrown around, I have a hard time thinking the Canadians can be defined as a blue collar team. The Canadians boast a roster of 15 NHL first round picks. The Americans are no slouch though either with a roster of nine NHL first round picks and six second round picks, along with eight returners from last year's gold medal winning team.

With Canadian defeating Russia in their first game 6-3 and the Americans squeaking by with a 3-2 overtime win over the Finns, the tournament has all the components necessary for some interesting drama. Even if Jordan Eberle is no longer eligible to play. This year however unlike years past the USA and Canada are in separate pools meaning there will be no New Years Eve round robin match-up like there has been in the past. The first time the USA-Canada will meet, if they do, will be in the elimination rounds.

While most Americans don't pay much attention to WJCs, in Canada this tournament is like a yearly Olympics in which they expect nothing less than gold medal.

Personally for me WJCs is my favorite hockey tournament and seeing the change from the USA barely beating the Czechs in 09 for 5th place in overtime to winning the gold medal in overtime over five time champion Canada. Between last years' gold medal games in the WJCs and the Olympics, the USA-Canada rivalry seems to intensify even more.

And I can't lie I'm loving the view from the top as the Canadians grumble that the United States got lucky last year. Unfortunately for me I'll be on vacation from the 27th to the 3rd and it really does make me sad to miss these games.

The bottom line is that you're able to watch some future NHL stars playing on a big stage with the name of their country emblazoned on their jerseys. Their performances might just leave you frothing at the mouth imagining what they can one day do in the NHL.

So enjoy it, because it only comes around once a year.

And remember USA Hockey is do or die! GO USA!

Monday, December 20, 2010

KO Murdersaurus

Caught these gems while watching the Hawks/Kings game on my DVR.

A+ plus to you sir!

And for your enjoyment, Scott/Westgarth Round 1. (Caution, if you don't like blood don't watch)

Scott/Westgarth Round 2. You go Kevin Westgarth! Claps for not ending the fight as a blood donor this time.