Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Phoenix Coyotes hope to build on success of franchise record 10 straight home wins

The best possible script through the first half of the 2009-2010 National Hockey League season seems to have been written for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Earlier tonight, Phoenix bounced back from a gut-wrenching 3-2 shootout loss in San Jose with a huge 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Arena.

"The party's on, eh?" Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett chuckled with a smile. "That's the way it goes."

Most importantly, with the win, the Coyotes set a new franchise record by winning their 10th straight home game. It would surpass the previous mark of 9 in a row between December 27, 1992 to January 23, 1993 when the team was the Winnipeg Jets.

Lauri Korpikoski
scored the deciding shootout goal and backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera made 28 saves to propel Phoenix to victory. LaBarbera kept the puck out of his net on all three Vancouver shootout attempts to improve his season record to 3-3 in 7 starts with a .924 save percentage and 2.25 goals-against-average. It was his first career home win in a Coyotes uniform after his previous two were both in Columbus earlier this season.

LaBarbera may not play much as was the case last season when he was with the Canucks, but he doesn't seem to mind with this group of Phoenix Coyotes.

"It's not easy, but to be honest, it's just fun to come to the rink," LaBarbera told Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic. "It's easy to come and be prepared and be focused. If you're losing, it's miserable coming to the rink, and it's easy to lose your focus."

He added, "We have such a great group here, such a close bunch. I like to come to the rink. We like to be around each other. It makes it much easier, doesn't matter if I'm playing or not."

Ed Jovanovski and Petr Prucha also scored for Phoenix, a team that has won 12 of their last 16 games overall since November 27th. Mikael Samuelsson and Kyle Wellwood tallied goals for visiting Vancouver.

There is no doubt under Tippett in his first season behind the bench, the team has bought into his coaching system and as a result, he appears to have a hard-working and fundamentally sound hockey club that is building more confidence from each game.

"I'm just proud of how hard the guys competed," Tippett said during the postgame press conference. "I mean you've got Vancouver on a winning streak, sitting here last night watching our game on TV. We played a hard, hard game in San Jose and we come back here and the guys muster up that kind of effort, it makes our whole coaching staff very proud."

video courtesy: Phoenix Coyotes

Note the word PROUD in that last quote. When you hear your bench boss say that, you know that not only are you getting your job done, but you're performing well at a high level where you believe you can win every single game you play.

That is something you rarely if ever heard from any head coach over the last several years during this playoff drought in the desert.

Following a tumultuous summer and autumn of uncertainty over the immediate future of the franchise, we observers can say that the Coyotes are undoubtedly off to an outstanding start to their season.

Fans across central Arizona and the hockey world are finally starting to take notice in the hockey team.

"It is so awesome. They have been through so much. And they are showing what a strong team they really are. I love our COYOTES!!!"
- Cathy Jean Turley

"They just keep shocking the doubters! And will continue to do so... playoffs baby... They're special alright, in very good way. These folks better wake up! This team's for real."
- Brian Hart

"The 'Yotes and their fans deserve this record breaking event. It's wonderful to get tangible reinforcement that all their hard work is paying off. We're so proud of them and so proud to be fans."
- Monique Reaux

"If I had to sum up how I feel about the record breaking feat last night at Arena, I would have to say that, as a Coyote fan since day one of this organization, there's no better feeling than to have the organization begin to write their own history and records so that the fans of the Jets who seem to have a deep-seeded loathing for the Desert Dogs can stop saying that 'we' have stolen 'their' history."
- Jim Appenauer

"After a 'perfect storm' of horrible problems over the summer, Coyotes fans finally have something wonderful to look forward to! We have an awesome home record this season, the crowds are getting better and the Coyotes organization is doing everything they can to bring the fans back to the arena.

It is great to honor the history of the Jets organization, but breaking the home winning streak is some new Coyotes history I am extremely proud to be a part of! The town is buzzing with talk of the Coyotes - in a GOOD way - for the first time in years!"

- Heather Schroeder
President of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club

"This is a huge accomplishment for the Coyotes and their fans. The Valley is starting to wake up and take notice of our team. I feel this is just the beginning of an era of good things to come for the Phoenix Coyotes!"
- Heather McWhorter
President of the Save The Coyotes Coalition

It may be evident in the number of fans in the seats at the Coyotes' home rink in Glendale, Arizona, just 13 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix. Since 10,030 showed up last Wednesday night to see starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov blank the Anaheim Ducks for a 4-0 victory, the team hosted 16,131 patrons on Saturday night to see a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Tonight's game drew 13,976 fans into the building despite a noticeable contingent rooting for the Canucks.

"Please tell your friends," Coyotes television and radio host Todd Walsh said at the conclusion of last Saturday's pregame ceremony honoring team captain Shane Doan's 1,000th NHL game. "There is something happening out here. And to quote a certain coach in these parts, sorry Dave Tippett. As you said on opening night in Los Angeles, it's something special. These men have proven that thus far this season."

But the biggest question of all as the new calendar year being almost here would be, can Phoenix learn from last season's second half collapse and remain a consistent winning hockey team for the remainder of this campaign?

After he was stopped by LaBarbera in the shootout to end the game, Samuelsson expressed his belief that the Coyotes are a much more competitive team than years past.

"If you think you're coming to Phoenix for an easy two points, that's not the case now," he said.

"You see it time and again, especially since the lockout, you have these teams that people don't expect to play well," Coyotes defenseman Adrian Aucoin said four days ago. "You don't need superstars, you just need everyone to play really well. You don't need anybody to be great, but you need everybody to be good. So I don't think it's that surprising."

Now exactly halfway through the regular season schedule, the Coyotes are 25-16 with 53 points in 41 games. That includes three losses in either overtime or after a shootout. They're one of only eight teams that have reached the 50-point plateau and sit just two points behind the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks and overall league lead.

Now 10 straight home wins and counting, Coyotes general manager Don Maloney likes the team's chances of duplicating the first half success in the second half of the season.

"What pleases me is that we played so many tight games in the first half, so playing in 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 games is not going to faze us in the second half," Maloney said. "I think we're built for the long haul."

In an Arizona Republic poll, 96% of nearly 3,700 votes feel the Coyotes will make the playoffs. It certainly is remarkable how a few extra wins can suddenly boost the confidence of a team and the fans. Only time will tell if that comes true.

For complete highlights from this memorable game, check out the video clip below.

video courtesy: Canucks PPV/NHL Productions

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome to opening night!

I posted this at The Program hockey blog, so I will add it to my own right here. Basically, I was asked to rate each game based on their matchups.

Were you bored stiff from watching Stanley Cup playoff game re-runs on NHL Network? Maybe relied too much on some archived games in your personal collection to keep your hockey fix going during those long summer days?

Have no fear because that long anticipated day has arrived. The start of the 2009-2010 National Hockey League season is finally here! With four games slated to begin the autumn month of October, there are some good matchups to get your hockey season off to a good start in your viewing pleasure. I will rate each game on a scale of 1 to 5 beer mugs. The more beer, the better the matchup. A pretty straight forward concept to remember, right?


With a season filled with promise a year ago, the Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals were unable to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. Now they have a loftier goal in mind. That would be to get to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals and if it means dethroning the defending champions, so be it. With their superstar sniper Alexander Ovechkin, he will have to once again put up MVP numbers and more importantly have a supporting cast to make that happen. For example, without Semyon Varlamov picking up where he left off after Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals, free agent acquisitions Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison contributing regularly on the offensive side of the ice or Brooks Laich being an important center who netted back-to-back 20-goal seasons, it would be really tough to achieve that goal.

The Boston Bruins finished first in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference last season with 116 points and were expected to go deep into the playoffs. But they failed to advance past the second round. Scott Walker ended any hope the Bruins could see their first Stanley Cup title since 1972. His overtime winning goal lifted the Carolina Hurricanes to an unlikely Game 7 victory in Boston. Another team in search of redemption. There will be no Phil Kessel in their lineup, but the Bruins will still have Marc Savard to make a serious contribution as one of their top forwards. And don't forget that Tim Thomas will be expected to have another solid season between the pipes.

Washington won 3 of the 4 meetings last season with Jose Theodore recording two of those Capitals victories. Savard and Alexander Semin each had 5 points in the season series for their respective teams.

Game matchup BEER RATING: 3½ mugs out of 5


For two teams that failed to make a serious impact on last season, each have something to prove the skeptics wrong about their expectations for the new campaign. The Montréal Canadiens slipped into the playoffs as the #8 seed in the East only to get crushed by the Bruins in the first round. Bob Gainey as general manager had made some major changes to the team roster over the summer by trading Christopher Higgins to the New York Rangers for Scott Gomez as well as some minor leaguers switching allegiances. The Canadiens also added Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri up front in free agent signings while also bringing in Hal Gill and Paul Mara to add size for their blueline. Plenty of high expectations as usual in Montréal.

Adding intrigue to this opening night matchup is defenseman Mike Komisarek trading in the blanc, bleu and rouge for the simple color scheme of the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the offseason free agent signings haven't knocked Leafs fans' socks off, it is still a period for the Leafs in which general manager Brian Burke is simply trying to improve the makeup of their roster. No sniff at the playoffs last season and this hockey hotbed certainly demands a lot more than what they got in the 2008-2009 season. Kessel will be a major contributor on the club, but will he have teammates that can regularly put the puck in the net? Will Toronto be a lot better on special teams than they were a year ago where they were absolutely dreadful?

These two Original Six teams split six meetings last season with each winning 2 out of 3 on the road. Jaroslav Halak won all three of Montréal's victories while Vesa Toskala had one win each home and away. Toronto won't have to worry about Alexei Kovalev being a Leaf killer as he burned them for 9 points in the 6 games. He signed with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent. Alexei Ponikarovsky finish with 7 points against Montréal in the season series.

Had these two teams had been better overall, I just might have given them another beer mug. If you live in either Montréal or Toronto, you'd likely disagree with me anyway. It's always a compelling matchup when you're in Canada and love your hockey.

Game matchup BEER RATING: 2 mugs out of 5

SAN JOSE AT COLORADO, 10:00 PM Eastern Time

For the San Jose Sharks, they have been a team during the last 4 years that achieved great regular season success only to end up with major playoff disappointment. Last season was no exception to that. After finishing with a franchise record and league-best 53 wins and 117 points during the 2008-2009 campaign, the Sharks fell flat on their collective face and lost to their Pacific Division rival Anaheim Ducks in six playoff games. Only defenseman Dan Boyle and former captain Patrick Marleau managed to score more than a single goal in that series.

Tonight, San Jose will face a Colorado Avalanche team that was on the opposite end of the regular season standings from a year ago. The Avalanche finished with an NHL-low 190 goals and earned just 69 points, undisputedly their worst season since moving from Quebec City to Denver in 1995. But they will have their newest sniper in the lineup this evening as forward Dany Heatley will make his Sharks debut. San Jose acquired Heatley during this summer from the Senators for forwards Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek plus a 2010 second round draft pick.

While this stands to possibly be a game heavily favored for the Sharks, this is a night which the Avalanche will be without their long-time captain Joe Sakic on the ice. Sakic retired over the summer after an outstanding career in which recorded 1,641 points with the franchise, good for 8th all-time in NHL history. During his 20 years as a player, Sakic won two Stanley Cup championships as well. Tonight, the team will retire his #19 jersey in a pregame ceremony. Will that be the only highlight of the night for Colorado fans? Or will the Avalanche pull out a surprising opening night victory at the Pepsi Center?

The Sharks won all four meetings against the Avalanche during the 2008-2009 season. Colorado getting a victory tonight will already improve on what they couldn't do back then.

Game matchup BEER RATING: 3 mugs out of 5


Right off the bat, we have two highly competitive teams that have fought for Northwest Division supremacy for at least the last two seasons. The Vancouver Canucks outlasted the Calgary Flames to claim the division crown in the final week by just a two-point margin last season. But each would fall to the Chicago Blackhawks in the postseason. Not exactly what was expected for these two clubs.

Vancouver fared well during the preseason with a 7-2 record in 9 games that actually don't even matter in the grand scheme of things. But it was a good tune-up for what counts for real in the standings. They knocked off Calgary twice in shootout fashion during the preseason, but does that really matter now? Only if the Canucks can rely on those two wins for their own confidence in such close games when Roberto Luongo is between the pipes.

Luongo's matchup against his netminding counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff is plenty enough for even the casual hockey fans to watch. If you tuned in to either The Sports Network (TSN) in Canada or the NHL Network in the United States back on Saturday night, you missed a goaltending duel in which Luongo prevailed in a five-round 2-1 shootout win. If it is anything like five nights ago, this could very well be the game of the night.

The Canucks did make some changes during the offseason as they brought in goaltender Andrew Raycroft to back up Luongo, Mikael Samuelsson and Sergei Shirokov as two new forwards plus Christian Ehrhoff and Aaron Rome on defense. Can they make an immediate impact? Will Kevin Bieksa have another strong year on the blueline after posting 43 points during the 2008-2009 campaign? How will the Sedin twins do after signing identical lucrative new contracts? The pressure will certainly be on them if Vancouver is to go to the Western Conference Finals and beyond in 2010.

As for the Flames, they will need their captain Jarome Iginla to play big this season. Against a team such as the Canucks, he will have to fight his way for more room on valuable ice, create scoring chances and when possible, score a goal or two. If he does tonight, Calgary stands a solid chance in winning their season opener. Their defense undoubtedly gets a boost with the pre-draft trade acquistion defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to help out the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich.

Vancouver won 4 of 6 meetings last season and it is not expected to be much different in terms of highly competitive close games through this campaign.

Game matchup BEER RATING: 4 mugs out of 5

It may be just four games and only eight of the thirty teams playing on this October 1st, but these matchups certainly will be worth your time and interest. That said, LET'S PLAY HOCKEY!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Barclays Center officials want Islanders to consider Brooklyn as future home

Remember any talk in the recent past about the idea of the New York Islanders heading west to Brooklyn? It may not be a pipe dream for some fans.

According to Chris Botta of New York Islanders Point Blank, a National Hockey League source has told him that the team was approached by officials in charge of the Barclays Center project to consider their proposed arena as a future place to play. The state did approve the revised plans of the $800 million Atlantic Yards facility on Thursday (three days ago), but whether or not it will ultimately be built still is a question mark.

Here is something to keep in mind. As it stands right now, the Islanders are not allowed to play any home games within New York City's boundaries. The New York Rangers hold territorial rights to the five boroughs of the city.

As of now regardless of whether or not the Islanders would even be entertaining such an option to remain in the nation's largest metropolitan area, the Barclays Center's sporting events have been designed only to accommodate basketball games. It would need additional modifications to allow hockey games to be played there.

The primary focus for owner Charles Wang is to have the Lighthouse at Long Island project approved by Town of Hempstead and Nassau County officials. The most recent hearing was held at Hofstra University on August 4th (click here for WLNY-TV's report). A zoning hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 22nd. If this major project is approved, then the massive Nassau Coliseum transformation can begin. But until then, the Islanders' long-term future on Long Island remains uncertain.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Had the Coyotes still been playing in downtown Phoenix, would it have made a difference?

This might be an age-old debate. It might not. But with the future of the Phoenix Coyotes at stake, it has been a question that has been constantly weighing on my mind for a minimum of six years now.

Many Phoenix sports fans know the location of major league sports facilities across the region. Throw in the major college venues if you like, too. My question is... Had the Coyotes still been playing in downtown Phoenix, would it have made a difference? Would that have had an effect in possibly avoiding Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

I don't hear this discussed much if at all by the media and the fans these days. So I bring up some background to this.

I know, I live in the New York City metropolitan area and some might wonder how I know about this stuff. It does help I have family connections to Phoenix and it is the out-of-town place I have been to the most in my life. Therefore, I began rooting for the Phoenix Suns and later of course the Phoenix Coyotes as out-of-town teams of mine.

Anyway, so before the Coyotes ever arrived in Arizona, US Airways Center (originally America West Arena) was built in downtown Phoenix to be the Suns' new home. It replaced the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum (which still stands, by the way) in 1992. Here was the biggest mistake of all when the plans were drawn up. Hockey was never figured into the design plans. It was just built for the Suns as a basketball venue. Four years later, that's when the Winnipeg Jets were relocated to Phoenix and the only major league facility that could financially host them was US Airways Center.

But the problem was as many Coyotes fans know, about 2,000 to 3,000 obstructed seats in the upper levels of the north end of the arena. The highest level seating sections only could see the opposite end of the ice.

At the same time, another problem for the Coyotes was a reason for why they wanted to build their own home. They were a tenant for then-Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and didn't make money on the luxury suites and I believe the parking fees surrounding the arena. In other words, the Coyotes were treated like a second class citizen.

So the team looked for a new place in the Greater Phoenix Area to play. First it was the Los Arcos Mall site in Scottsdale, about 10 miles east of downtown Phoenix. Nearly all the major hurdles to get approval for the arena project where cleared, but in the end, Scottsdale residents did not pass the final referendum to give it the green light. So then it turned to Glendale and the rest is history leading to today.

Another question I have is...

Had the city of Phoenix, the Suns and the Coyotes come together to either do extensive renovations to US Airways Center to retrofit it properly for NHL hockey or rebuild a new arena altogether on the site, would this have made a serious impact on the viability of the present-day Coyotes?

The problem is, it's all a moot point about arena location because the Coyotes play at Arena in Glendale and that won't change anytime soon should the team get to stay put.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Penguins' 1991 Stanley Cup clincher re-created with NHL '91 video game

If you haven't checked out today's entry in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Empty Netters blog, this is worth taking a look.

Remember when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Minnesota North Stars in 1991 to win their first Stanley Cup championship?

Seth Rorabaugh hooked up Penguins fans to a cool web page. It features a video clip where someone re-created that Game 6 clincher at Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Minnesota by ways of NHL Hockey (also known as NHL '91), the original Electronic Arts game.

The video game cover to NHL Hockey by Electronic Arts.

First, here is the blog entry...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Empty Netters blog (August 15):
Empty Netter Assists - 8/15/09

And then the link to the video game page... NHL's Game 6

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Blue Jackets to soon place bid on future All-Star Game

If you did not read this entire article in today's edition of the Columbus Dispatch, you would not have caught this little scoop from Aaron Portzline.

The Blue Jackets and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission expect to make a bid in the coming months to host an NHL All-Star Game, GCSC executive director Linda Logan said. The league will begin accepting applications in the fall for the 2012 and '13 games. The 2011 game is set for Glendale, Ariz., but that could be a problem if the Phoenix Coyotes relocate.

Despite no official announcement yet, it appears that the Phoenix Coyotes will host the next NHL All-Star Game in 2011 (since there is not one this upcoming season due to the 2010 Olympic break in February). Will the Columbus Blue Jackets get the nod in 2012 or 2013? Time will tell, but we will see.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How much does your favorite NHL team travel?

If you are a National Hockey League fan and follow a specific team, do you every wonder if the amount of travel can effect the team's performance? Perhaps if you find out the total mileage your team will make this upcoming 2009-2010 season, you could draw your own conclusion for debate.

Dirk Hoag of SB Nation's On The Forecheck blog provides a great breakdown of all 30 teams where you can see the numbers yourself.

On The Forecheck (July 16):
How much does your favorite team travel? Check the NHL Super Schedule

Quick summary here...

Highest projected mileage:
Calgary Flames (55,331)

Largest increase from 2008-2009 season:
Montréal Canadiens (+5,901)

Lowest projected mileage:
Buffalo Sabres (25,911)

Largest decrease from 2008-2009 season:
San Jose Sharks (-9,696)

Most back-to-back games:
Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils (19)

Least back-to-back games:
Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators (11)

Also, if you like to see a complete master schedule for the 2009-2010 season, see Mr. Hoag's Google spreadsheet document. It's worth the look as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NHL releases 2009-2010 regular season schedule‏

The 2009-2010 National Hockey League regular season schedule was just released.

Here are some quick highlights...

Season begins on October 1st
With a three-week break to accommodate Olympic participants, the season starts roughly a week earlier than usual and has a more compact schedule before and after that time off.

NHL Premiere series on October 2nd and October 3rd
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Florida Panthers in Helsinki, Finland
Detroit Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues in Stockholm, Sweden

Stanley Cup championship defense
The Pittsburgh Penguins open their new season on October 2nd when they face the visiting New York Rangers. Prior to the game, the team will raise their 2009 Stanley Cup championship banner to the roof in the final season of Penguins hockey at Mellon Arena.

John Tavares' NHL debut with Islanders
Highly-touted 2009 #1 overall draft pick John Tavares will play his first regular season game when the New York Islanders host the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum on October 3rd. Just four years ago, 21-year-old Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby made a similar entrance into the league.

November 28th indoor stadium game
Mentioned in Monday night's online edition of The Globe and Mail, the NHL approved a plan to have the Montréal Canadiens host the Washington Capitals at Olympic Stadium.

3rd edition of Winter Classic game (4th overall in NHL history)
The game is on January 1, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston. In an old-time hockey matchup, the Boston Bruins host the Philadelphia Flyers.

National television contract with NBC extended 2 years
During the Winter Classic announcement today, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that the league's national television contract with NBC has been extended 2 years, effective January 1, 2010 and through the 2010-2011 season.

"Hockey Day in Canada"
It is a day in the regular season schedule that has a tripleheader of games with just Canadian team participants. It will take place on January 30, 2010.

The national television schedules will be released at a later date.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Interesting idea for future outdoor game...

On the eve of the official announcement of the third edition of the Winter Classic, Miami Herald hockey writer George Richards proposed an interesting idea for a future sequel to this quickly evolving New Year's tradition.

He wrote in his On Frozen Pond blog earlier today:

And they'll be announcing that Fenway Park will play host to this year's winter classic, and I have no problem with that at all. Fenway is a classic location for a hockey game.

But I still say the NHL needs to seriously look at Camden Yards in Baltimore for a future game. Think about it: Put the Flyers and the Caps (both cities are about an hour drive in either direction) in Charm City and the NHL can bask in the glory of putting 40,000-plus fans into a beautiful ballpark in a non-NHL city. I don't see how this one can lose.

Of course, now the Flyers will have been involved in one. I don't like the Bruins/Flyers matchup, but hey, that's me.

Unfortunately it is too late for the Philadelphia Flyers to be a participant in such a game there since it will be made official tomorrow they'll be playing the Boston Bruins for the upcoming game at Fenway Park.

It's certainly a nice compromise to have a neutral site for two teams based roughly two hours driving distance apart such as at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, but I won't be shocked if the Washington Capitals are strongly considered for another Winter Classic game real soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kris Letang and Tyler Kennedy visit KDKA-TV studios

Unless you see visit the Pittsburgh Penguins official web site or one of the local television web sites, you may or may not have known about this from earlier today.

Two of the Penguins heroes in the team's successful 2009 Stanley Cup run paid a visit to the KDKA-TV studios in Pittsburgh this morning. Tyler Kennedy and Kris Letang discussed what their journey to the franchise's third championship meant to them, talked about the just-released DVD and even tried to deliver a weather forecast with the help of weather anchor Jon Burnett.

Let's just say with a bit of a playful laugh that Letang and Kennedy should just stick to playing hockey. There are two video clips that accompany the web page below.

KDKA-TV (Pittsburgh) (July 7):
Pens' Letang, Kennedy deliver the forecast on KDKA

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2009 free agent season is finally here

The day is finally here. With the 2008-2009 season, the annual NHL Awards and 2009 NHL Entry Draft all done, the one main event left before a quiet two months of summer is of course the first day of the free agent season.

Many fans (including me) will eagerly be monitoring the transaction wires, the National Hockey League web site and team web sites, plus the reliable sports news pages. At noon today, that starting gun will sound (figuratively) and stressed out, sleep-deprived team general managers will scramble to grab the player or players they want by spending millions of dollars to do so.

No one knows for sure who will go where as speculation has been running high with some high profile players eligible to test the market.

You can certainly tune in to TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, The Score or even the NHL Network for the latest signings and possibly trades as this first day of the free agent season has arrived. For American viewers, NHL Network will show a 4-hour simulcast of TSN's extensive coverage starting at 2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time following NHL Live.

Before then, you can always pay attention to a handful sources that I expect will be constantly bringing us up to speed as the signings are announced and they include:

Spector's Hockey
The Fourth Period
Kukla's Korner
James Mirtle's From The Rink hockey blog
Inside Hockey
Max Hockey

As I said at the trade deadline, Lyle Richardson (who is a very reputable journalist that runs the Spector's Hockey site) is someone I highly recommend to bringing you instant analysis on his blog that is also accessible at FOX Sports' NHL page.

Meantime, three notes to report since late last night...

*The Ottawa Senators had in place a major trade in which they would have sent disgruntled forward Dany Heatley to the Edmonton Oilers for Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid. However, Heatley did not waive his no-trade clause, so it has not gone through. Stories circulated throughout the evening that it was done, then he flat out rejected it and then before my head hit the pillow, it was just on hold. We shall see if Heatley goes anywhere.

*The Anaheim Ducks have re-signed forward Erik Christensen to a one-year contract extension.

*And within the last 40 minutes, TSN reports that the Vancouver Canucks have re-signed both Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin to 5-year, $30.5 million contracts.

Enjoy the long anticipated July 1st day and may your favorite team not disappoint you. Happy Canada Day to everyone north of the United States border.

Minnesota designates hockey as state's official sport

The state of Minnesota has its 12,000 lakes and plenty of them where their residents can fish. But here's a news flash for you. They love their hockey. From the grassroots level to the professional ranks, they most certainly embrace it.

Star Tribune writer Bob Von Sternberg posted this morning this article to tell us Minnesota is a hockey state. I wink my right eye when I say this, but I think Minnesota Wild fans already know.

A lot of Minnesotans consider hockey the state's official sport, but didn't become official until today.

Under a new state law, hockey has been given that official designation, joining such diverse items as milk, blueberry muffins and ladyslippers.

A little-noticed line was tucked into this year's omnibus jobs and economic development bill, passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a well-known hockey fanatic.

It's simple: "Ice hockey is adopted as the official sport of the state of Minnesota."

The designation was the brainchild of two hockey fans in the Legislature, Sens. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, and David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

Fifth-graders from Groveland Elementary School in Minnetonka originated the idea two years ago when they visited the Capitol, telling senators Minnesota needs a state sport -- specifically, hockey.

The senators agreed, citing the extensive boys' and girls' hockey programs, to the state's five NCAA Division I college teams to its NHL team the Minnesota Wild.

The new designation is old news to the Wild, which has since its inception branded Minnesota the "State of Hockey."

Great to see the state government in St. Paul "officially" recognize it, but now let's see the Wild bring the first Stanley Cup championship to Minnesota sometime soon.

Player signings on eve of free agent season

While the hockey media and fans focus more on the clock like school children waiting for the final bell to ring, there have been some notable player signings over the last 48 hours with the free agent season beginning tomorrow.


Among those who came into their own on a very resurgent Chicago Blackhawks team that reached the Western Conference Finals last season has agreed to remain with the club for the next five years. Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland signed a new 5-year, $16.875 million contract.

Bolland scored 19 goals and had 28 assists for a career-high 47 points in 81 regular season games for Chicago. He would then record 12 points in 17 playoff games this year.

The Blackhawks also re-signed forward Jacob Dowell to a two-year deal and goaltender Antti Niemi for the 2009-2010 season.


After an impressive showing in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs where he scored 7 goals and dished out 4 assists for 11 points in all 18 games the Carolina Hurricanes played, the team announced yesterday they have re-signed forward Jussi Jokinen to a 2-year, $3.4 million contract. According to general manager Jim Rutherford, he said:

"Jussi was a good addition to our team last season and he really stepped into his role in the playoffs. His ability to contribute on the power play and penalty kill, and his versatility at different forward positions makes him a valuable player."


The 2009 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have kept two forwards around following a successive run at their third title in franchise history. The team re-signed forward Craig Adams to a 2-year contract and Bill Guerin for the 2009-2010 season at $2 million.

Guerin's decision to return to Pittsburgh was easy to make when you have general manager Ray Shero to negotiate a new contract with.

"It doesn't always happen like this," Guerin said. "It was awesome dealing with Ray. He made everything really easy and smooth. He was up front and honest and made it a great situation."

Guerin was very productive on his way to a second Stanley Cup title in his 17-year National Hockey League career with 15 points (7 goals and 8 assists) in 24 playoff games.


TSN reports that the San Jose Sharks re-signed defenseman Rob Blake for the 2009-2010 season. He will be paid $3.5 million plus bonus incentives.

Blake scored 10 goals and had 35 assists in 75 regular season games. Spanning 20 NHL seasons, the 39-year-old veteran has accumulated 233 goals over exactly 1200 career contests.


Hours before completing a trade in which they acquired forward Ben Walter from the New York Islanders for the rights to forward Tony Romano, the New Jersey Devils have re-signed defenseman Johnny Oduya to a multiyear contract.

The Score reports it is a 3-year, $10.5 million deal.

Oduya had a career-high 29 points in playing all 82 regular season games.

"We are delighted to have Johnny Oduya stay with the organization," Devils president, CEO and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "He has developed into one of the more talented young defensemen in the National Hockey League."


Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk retained a former teammate in signing forward Jere Lehtinen for the upcoming 2009-2010 season. Lehtinen agreed to a $1.5 million base salary with up to another $1 million in bonus incentives.

The 36-year-old forward was limited to 48 games due to injury and had just 8 goals and 16 assists for 24 points. Despite those modest numbers, Nieuwendyk believes Lehtinen is still an important part of the team.

"We are extremely pleased to welcome Jere Lehtinen back with our club next season," Nieuwendyk said. "He has been one of the cornerstones of this franchise for many years and we feel he will continue to be a significant contributor going forward. Jere is a consummate professional on and off the ice, and we look forward to his healthy return next season."

Nieuwendyk and Lehtinen together won the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup championship.


Three days after acquiring exclusive negotiation rights that cost the Calgary Flames a roster player in defenseman Jordan Leopold plus the 2009 #67 overall draft pick (Josh Birkholz), they were able to get defenseman Jay Bouwmeester under contract earlier tonight.

The Sports Network (TSN) reports it is a 5-year, $33 million deal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rangers trade Scott Gomez to Canadiens in six-player deal

Just 19 hours before the free agent season begins, the New York Rangers made a significant move likely to free up more money under the salary cap.

First was the retirement of forward Markus Naslund on May 4th, just 5 days after the team's season came to an end with their opening round collapse at the hands of the Washington Capitals.

Next, the we heard that the Rangers elected not to qualify an offer to impending free agent Nikolai Antropov, whose agent was asking for $5.25 million per season to return to New York.

There is uncertainty as to whether or not the enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev will be back on Broadway as well. Therefore, potentially more cap room for the team should neither re-sign.

Then three hours ago, Rangers general manager Glen Sather made a surprise trade that caught many off guard. Two years after signing a 7-year, $51.5 million contract and not living up to the expectations of that deal, forward Scott Gomez was sent packing to Montréal in a six-player trade.

The Rangers received Long Island native Christopher Higgins and defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko. In addition to Gomez, the Canadiens also received forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mike Busto.

Even though he did not live up to expectations in New York, Gomez is embracing the challenge that awaits him in Montréal.

"I'm happy to be going to the Mecca of hockey," Gomez told the Montréal Gazette. "I know there'll be some pressure, but that's what it's all about. I got some taste of the Montréal tradition playing for Larry Robinson."

Is this major trade a precursor to major moves to come leading through the opening gun of the free agent frenzy? Time will tell, but if New York wasn't a serious player before today, they are now.

For more on the trade, see the Rangers' news release below.

New York Rangers official news release (June 30):
Rangers send Gomez to Habs in 6-player deal

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer to return for 2009-2010 season

Despite their major trade of Chris Pronger to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, the Anaheim Ducks announced that both of two other veteran star players are coming back for another encore season.

Who would they be, you ask? They would be two key members of their 2007 Stanley Cup championship team in defenseman Scott Niedermayer and forward Teemu Selanne. Certainly it is great news for Ducks fans.

First, it was within less than one hour before the start of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft last night where Niedermayer confirmed he was coming back. Then USA Today's Kevin Allen reported on his Twitter page that Selanne would return to play an 18th National Hockey League season.

Selanne who is set to turn 39 on July 3rd, became the Ducks' all-time leader in assists (370) and games played (617) last season. He may not score as many as he did in his record-breaking 1992-1993 rookie campaign where he scored 76 goals, but he's looking forward to competing hard again for another championship.

"I'm very happy to play another season in Anaheim," Selanne said. "The way we played toward the end of last season, I'm excited about our chances. We definitely have what it takes to win."

Ducks general manager Bob Murray added, "This is obviously great news for the Ducks. Teemu is still playing at a high level, brings passion and energy to the locker room and is a loyal member of this franchise. It's fantastic he's chosen to continue his playing career."

Selanne is signed through the upcoming 2009-2010 season and intends to play for Finland in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Niedermayer still needs to negotiate a new contract to finalize his spot on the Anaheim roster.

2009 NHL Entry Draft weekend trade summary

In addition to the Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester trades that were finalized, here are the other transactions that took place during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft today. They do not include trades that only involved draft picks from last night.

*The Calgary Flames traded defenseman James Vandermeer to the Phoenix Coyotes for forward Brandon Prust.

*The Los Angeles Kings traded forward Brian Boyle to the New York Rangers for a 2010 third round draft pick.

*The Minnesota Wild acquired forward Kyle Brodziak and the 2009 #161 overall draft pick (Darcy Kuemper) from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 2009 #99 (Kyle Bigos) and #133 (Olivier Roy) overall draft picks.

*The Coyotes then acquired defenseman Sami Lepisto from the Washington Capitals for a 2010 fifth round draft pick and defenseman Shaun Heshka from the Vancouver Canucks for the 2009 #187 overall draft pick (Steven Anthony).

*The Pittsburgh Penguins traded goaltender Chad Johnson to the Rangers for the 2009 #123 overall draft pick (Alex Velischek).

Panthers trade Jay Bouwmeester's rights to Flames

As the remainder of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft got underway at the Bell Centre in Montréal, Darren Dreger announced during TSN's (The Sports Network) broadcast that the long-awaited departure of Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester finally happened.

The Panthers sent Bouwmeester's rights to the Calgary Flames for defenseman Jordan Leopold and this year's #67 overall draft pick.

Florida later selected 18-year-old forward Josh Birkholz, who scored 21 goals and recorded 15 assists for 36 points in 55 games for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League. Birkholz plans to attend the University of Minnesota next season.

Both Bouwmeester and Leopold are each expected to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. But their new teams have until then to exclusively negotiate new contracts. Potentially, the Panthers could be the only team to gain from this transaction in a worst case scenario with their draft selection from Calgary.

See the video clip below to hear what Flames general manager Darryl Sutter had to say on acquiring Bouwmeester this morning.

video courtesy: NHL Productions

Florida Panthers official news release (June 27):
Cats acquire Leopold, pick for Bouwmeester

2009 NHL Entry Draft first round selections

To no surprise whatsoever, the New York Islanders selected forward John Tavares as the first overall draft pick hours ago at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montréal.

Here are all thirty first round draft picks:

1. New York Islanders - John Tavares, C; London (OHL)
2. Tampa Bay - Victor Hedman, D; MoDo (Sweden)
3. Colorado - Matt Duchene, C; Brampton (OHL)
4. Atlanta - Evander Kane, C; Vancouver (WHL)
5. Los Angeles - Brayden Schenn, C; Brandon (WHL)
6. Phoenix - Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D; Leksand (Sweden)
7. Toronto - Nazem Kadri, C; London (OHL)
8. Dallas - Scott Glennie, RW; Brandon (WHL)
9. Ottawa - Jared Cowen, D; Spokane (WHL)
10. Edmonton - Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, LW; Timra (Sweden)
11. Nashville - Ryan Ellis, D; Windsor (OHL)
12. New York Islanders (from Minnesota) - Calvin de Haan, D; Oshawa (OHL)
13. Buffalo - Zack Kassian, RW; Peterborough (OHL)
14. Florida - Dmitry Kulikov, D; Drummondville (QMJHL)
15. Anaheim - Peter Holland, C; Guelph (OHL)
16. Minnesota (from New York Islanders via Columbus) - Nick Leddy, D; Eden Prairie, MN H.S.
17. St. Louis - David Rundblad, D; Skelleftea (Sweden)
18. Montréal - Louis Leblanc, C; Omaha (USHL)
19. New York Rangers - Chris Kreider, C; Andover, MA H.S.
20. New Jersey - Jacob Josefson, C; Djurgarden (Sweden)
21. Columbus (from Anaheim via Philadelphia) - John Moore, D; Chicago (USHL)
22. Vancouver - Jordan Schroeder, C; Minnesota (WCHA)
23. Calgary (from New Jersey) - Tim Erixon, D; Skelleftea (Sweden)
24. Washington - Marcus Johansson, C; Farjestad (Sweden)
25. Boston - Jordan Caron, RW; Rimouski (QMJHL)
26. Anaheim (from Columbus via New York Islanders) - Kyle Palmieri, F; USA-18 (USDP)
27. Carolina - Philippe Paradis, C; Shawinigan (QMJHL)
28. Chicago - Dylan Olsen, D; Camrose (AJHL)
29. Tampa Bay (from Detroit) - Carter Ashton, RW; Lethbridge (WHL
30. Pittsburgh - Simon Despres, D; Saint John (QMJHL)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flyers acquire Chris Pronger before draft begins

Most observers tuning into the 2009 NHL Entry Draft on Versus or The Sports Network (TSN) were likely anticipating a trade involving either Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester or Ottawa Senators forward Dany Heatley.

But instead, a player who has been rumored to be on the trading block stole the spotlight as the Anaheim Ducks traded defenseman Chris Pronger to the Philadelphia Flyers. In the deal, forward Joffrey Lupul returns to Anaheim while defenseman Luca Sbisa joins him. The Flyers' #21st overall draft pick (later traded to Columbus where they selected John Moore), their 2010 first round draft pick and a conditional third round draft pick were also sent to the Ducks. Also coming to Philadelphia is forward Ryan Dingle, a player who accumulated just 18 points in 70 games for the American Hockey League's Iowa Chops last season.

The Flyers later announced on their official Twitter page that Pronger will wear #25 on his orange and black jersey next season. Fellow defenseman Matt Carle will switch to #20.

Philadelphia Flyers official news release
(June 26):
Flyers acquire Chris Pronger

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will the Bruins host the Flyers in the next Winter Classic?

For quite a while now, reliable sources have indicated that the next Winter Classic is likely to be held at Fenway Park in Boston on January 1, 2010.

But here is another twist. Rumors are flying as to whom the Boston Bruins would host in the third such outdoor game in the United States in as many years and the fourth overall in league history.

Here are two sources that are giving us a firm indication that it will be the Philadelphia Flyers.

Anthony J. SanFilippo of the Delaware County Daily Times reported yesterday:

I made a couple phone calls and exchanged a couple emails and I can now confirm that speculation is true.

The Flyers will square off with the Bruins on January 1, 2010 at Fenway Park.

It's an interesting story how it came to be that the Flyers were picked for this event.

The NHL was pushing the Washington Capitals. They wanted to market Alex Ovechkin.

NBC, the network broadcasting the game, said no dice.

They were concerned with the poor ratings the Caps' produced in the playoffs in an opening round series against the New York Rangers - the #1 U.S. market for the NHL.

So, they told the NHL to skip Washington and give them the Flyers... a more certain brand to market.

The NHL was stubborn for a while... mostly because the Flyers were more interested in a January 1 date with Pittsburgh than Boston.

However, the NHL assured the Flyers that a future Flyers-Penguins outdoor game could still happen in a couple years.

The Flyers were satisfied and agreed to play.

The NHL then confirmed for NBC that the Flyers would in fact play.

No official announcement has come from the league or the Flyers, but sources have confirmed to me that this is the case.

Jeff Howe of Metro reported hours ago:

The other game will feature the Boston College men's hockey team, but final details are still being worked out regarding the timing of the game. A separate source, who also requested anonymity because an official announcement has not yet been made, indicated Boston University is talking with Fenway Sports Group about the possibility of playing at Fenway.

BU coach Jack Parker told Metro during the Frozen Four in April he was hoping the Terriers would be invited to play in the Winter Classic when rumors first started swirling about Boston hosting the event. Boston College and Boston University have been trying to schedule a game at Fenway Park for a few years.

BU, BC and Fenway Sports Group all declined comment for this story. Official word regarding the Winter Classic is expected to come from the NHL next month.

The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the inaugural Winter Classic in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The 2009 edition was held at Wrigley Field with the Detroit Red Wings defeating the Chicago Blackhawks.

So until the game and the two participating teams are confirmed by the National Hockey League with the upcoming official announcement, let the chatter begin as to whether it will definitely be the Flyers playing the Bruins. If it holds true, than this would be a good matchup to watch.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fans rally in Hamilton to voice their message

Just over a month ago, Phoenix Coyotes fans held a rally at the Native New Yorker restaurant in Glendale, Arizona on just five days notice to voice their desire to keep their team right where it is.

Fast forward to earlier today. The Make It Seven campaign held a rally of its own called "Make It Seven Day" in downtown Hamilton, Ontario. Here, hockey fans gathered at Jackson Square, located behind Copps Coliseum to deliver their own message that they want a National Hockey League team as the seventh in Canada.

Led by BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie's efforts to bring a team to the southwestern Ontario region, Make It Seven put together a rally with more time to prepare than their Save The Coyotes counterparts did.

Prior to the recent Make It Seven launch, another such organization has been doing its part to rally fans together to support the same cause. Some in attendance at today's rally brought printed signs for the Bring the NHL to Hamilton campaign.

"At this point in the campaign, we need those men in the NHL Board (of Governors) to know that we're are not going to be denied that it's time to sit down and talk with Mr. Balsillie because we want an NHL team here and we want to bring it home where it belongs," Bring the NHL to Hamilton rally co-chairperson Michelle Febers told CBC News: Today host Nancy Wilson.

The Bring the NHL to Hamilton campaign launched its web site on October 1, 2008 and has grown into an online destination where you can learn about the history of hockey in Hamilton as well as find news items in relation to the cause. While it is not directly linked to Make It Seven that is backed by Balsillie, they have the same message for league headquarters in New York City.

Outgoing Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5th and in turn agreed to sell the franchise to Balsillie on the condition he is able to move it to Hamilton. The NHL has contested that Moyes was not in the authority to make such a transaction since they have been providing financial assistance to keep the Coyotes in operation. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Moyes immediately went to United States Bankruptcy Court to find a resolution to the matter. However, after a ruling by District of Arizona judge Redfield T. Baum stated that there was not enough time to resolve all issues in this case before an aggressively imposed Balsillie deadline of June 29th to close the sale, it would not be allowed to go through. Balsillie's offer had resembled the current franchise debt of $212.5 million, obviously what Moyes needs to pay off creditors in full what is owed.

As a result, this bides more time for the league to find a buyer who is committed to keeping the team in Phoenix's neighboring city of Glendale. The Coyotes will for at the very least be playing their 2009-2010 season home games at Arena with or without the NHL's financial backing. At this point, they're aiming to hold an auction in September and Balsillie will still be allowed to place a bid. If no buyer is found, at a later time relocation would be explored.

"Definitely we still want the Coyotes," Febers also said in her interview. "That's not gonna change. The basic line of the story is, we want the NHL to come home."

Whether the Coyotes stay in Arizona or if Hamilton gets a team remains to be seen. Either way, both locations have expressed their desire to have NHL hockey. One wants to keep it while the other wants to get it.

In the meantime, are you looking for some coverage on the rally? The Hamilton Spectator has a video clip while Hamilton radio station CMHL-AM provided interview audio soundbytes of key supporters plus the YouTube video below.

video courtesy: CMHL-AM

Dallas Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup title - June 19, 1999

When the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas on June 9, 1993 following 26 seasons in the State of Hockey, the franchise headed into uncharted territory. The National Hockey League would set foot in a place where it was unknown if the sport would be embraced. Re-named as simply the Stars, they would have to compete with one of the most high profile franchises in professional sports with the Dallas Cowboys. It was viewed as a tough task in itself at the time.

But with some initial on-ice success and established young stars such as the only remaining link left to the North Stars in assistant captain Mike Modano, fans in Dallas and across North Texas got behind the team and its fan base would grow. Hockey at the grassroots level would bloom and minor league teams would set up shop across the Lone Star State such as the Houston Aeros and San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League to name two examples. A third one would be the Dallas Stars' new AHL affiliate. The Texas Stars will begin play this fall at the new Cedar Park Center, located 17 miles northwest of Austin, Texas. More importantly, high school hockey programs across the Metroplex would be established and kids would play the sport. The Stars would be active in the community with the Dallas Stars Foundation and provide access for fans to use the Dr. Pepper StarCenter ice rinks across the region. The Frisco location is the Stars' official corporate and practice home, 25 miles north of Dallas.

With the building of its fan base and on-ice success in which the Stars made the playoffs in four of their first five seasons in Texas, we focus on the spring of 1999. With a Western Conference Finals loss to the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in mind, the Stars were on a mission to better that previous postseason campaign. They sure did.

Dallas would sweep away the Edmonton Oilers in four straight games, defeated the St. Louis Blues in six contests and then survived a hard-fought seven-game series to knock out the Colorado Avalanche to be the best in the West. So the Stars were in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1991.

Having stopped all 23 shots he faced to break a series deadlock with a 2-0 shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 5 at Reunion Arena, goaltender Ed Belfour would have to take his game to the next level in order to secure the annual ultimate victory in Game 6 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

Ten years ago tonight, the Stars took the ice and battled the Sabres for nearly six full periods of hockey. Game 6 did not finish until past 1:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time on June 20, 1999 when before Brett Hull scored with 5:09 left in the third overtime to clinch Dallas' first-ever Stanley Cup championship. Belfour was remarkable in net as he outdueled Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek with a 53-save performance. Hasek stopped 50 shots, but one too few.

Would you like to see full game highlights of the greatest game in Stars history? You sure can right here. One problem. You won't get to hear Gary Thorne's livecall of Hull's Cup-clinching goal on ESPN, but instead you'll have to settle with Bob Cole's on CBC.

video courtesy: NHL Productions

And if you loved the theme of the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup championship video, you can see the opening montage featuring one of Metallica's hit songs "Nothing Else Matters". You can hear Thorne's livecall there where he says: "SCORE! SCORE! SCORE! They've won the Stanley Cup! Deep in the heart of Texas, the Stars are shining!".

video courtesy: NHL Productions

During the 2007 NHL All-Star festivities, the Stars held a reunion of the players from that championship team in front of a large crowd gathered in the AT&T Plaza outside American Airlines Center. This was the last time all the players were together at the same time.

video courtesy: Dallas Stars

All in all, it is certainly a wonderful memory to reflect back to for Dallas Stars fans as 10 years ago tonight was the greatest night in their team's history.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New York Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup title - June 14, 1994

While it has been barely over 24 hours since the Pittsburgh Penguins secured their third Stanley Cup championship in franchise history and first since 1992, very disheartened and envious New York Rangers fans can at least hang their hat on what happened exactly 15 years ago today.

The moment was June 14, 1994 at 10:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time. The site was Madison Square Garden in New York City. The final second had ticked off the game clock after Craig MacTavish had warded off Pavel Bure in the last faceoff to set off a massive celebration of ultimate victory.

The Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals in one of the most watched hockey games on television in the modern broadcasting era. Whether you saw it locally on MSG Network or nationally on ESPN or CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, it would be the team's crowning moment of a long six-month journey. The quest was complete. The 54-year curse was no more. Mark Messier as captain led the charge in slaying that dragon which haunted the franchise for more than a half century.

The four members of that championship team who have their numbers retired were the four most important reasons why the mission was a success. In addition to Messier, Adam Graves scored a then team record-breaking 52 goals during the regular season, Mike Richter made a penalty shot save against Bure in Game 4 and Brian Leetch was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable playoff player, the first American to receive the honor. Their teammates also played vital roles in an historic trimuph where its memory will live forever.

As the Rangers players each hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads, there was a sign a fan held up that night. It stood out among the capacity crowd of 18,200 fans (and God knows how many more actually in the building) which read "now I can die in peace". Enough said.

The sweep of the hated archrival New York Islanders began their playoff campaign. Next, it was the Washington Capitals. Then, the epic series in which their other hated archrival in the New Jersey Devils took them to the absolute limit before Stephane Matteau would score one of the greatest goals in franchise history just to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. And finally, foiling the Canucks' Cinderella run and denying them the chance to make this night the complete opposite of what it was. Had Vancouver won instead, it would've been one of the darkest days ever.

Thankfully, the night the Rangers won it all, it would go down as one of the greatest in New York City sports history. Fifteen years have passed since then, but at least it is always worth looking back and remembering the very best of times, something seldom seen with this franchise.

Rangers fans can tune into MSG Network tonight at 7:00 PM Eastern Time for a special edition of Hockey Night Live! for a special look back at the 1994 season. They can also read this article from the official team web site called "Stanley Cup Finals Flashback: June 14, 1994".

Here are two video clips to enjoy. First, the MSG SportsDesk pregame segment. Remember Bob Page and his commentating style?

video courtesy: MSG Network

And of course, THE moment...

video courtesy: NHL Productions

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

American Airlines Center to get "true HD" upgrade

As a Dallas Stars fan, you got to be excited about what is coming next season when you attend a National Hockey League game at the American Airlines Center.

No, it is not in reference to the team on the ice, but it is what you will also appreciate when watching them play. In a joint announcement by the Center Operating Company, an entity that runs the arena in a joint partnership between Stars owner Thomas Hicks and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:

American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks, today announced plans to install the first and largest 1080 high-definition video replay system in an NHL and NBA venue in the country. Digital video throughout the arena bowl will be increased by over 300 percent with the addition of a new high-definition center scoreboard and two stadium-sized video displays that will dominate the upper end walls. The new video displays will be manufactured and installed this summer and ready for the 2009-2010 hockey and basketball seasons."

As presented in the Stars' news release, this is what the American Airlines Center's new HD scoreboard will look like. (image courtesy of Center Operating Company)

In addition to the new video displays, a "new generation" audio system will be installed. It will have the ability to create custom audio effects. So when you watch a Stars or Mavericks game in the future, it will be a large-scale version of a home theater system. You're certainly paying the big bucks to attend a game, why not have that money well spent by the arena company to have the best sights and sounds to offer?

The American Airlines Center opened on July 27, 2001 at the construction cost of at the time a staggering $420 million.

"When we opened the doors of American Airlines Center in 2001, we told the fans that we would remain on the forefront of technology," Mark Cuban Companies vice president Martin Woodall said. "We've gone beyond that commitment, with the highest resolution and largest video screens ever installed in an arena and we're combining this with a new custom digital sound system to greatly enhance the fan experience."

video courtesy: Dallas Stars

What does this mean for the Dallas sports fan experience? Center Operating Company president Brad Mayne explains on behalf of Cuban and Hicks about the arena's new video and audio system.

"Mark and Tom continue their commitment to make improvements to the American Airlines Center. These improvements will maintain American Airlines Center's position in hosting the 'best of the best' in the NBA, NHL and concert events for many years to come. I applaud our owners, staff, Mavericks & Stars, along with our vendors for delivering the very best live experience available to the sports and entertainment industry."

These arena upgrades come six months before Dallas will host the 2010 NBA All-Star Game on February 14, 2010. This mid-winter event will have the majority of its activities at the American Airlines Center while the game itself will be played at the brand-new 80,000-seat Cowboys Stadium in nearby Arlington, Texas.

Among the other NHL arenas that now have high definition video screen displays on their overhead scoreboards include:

*TD Banknorth Garden in Boston
*HSBC Arena in Buffalo
*Bell Centre in Montréal
*Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey
*Wachovia Center in Philadelphia
*HP Pavillion in San Jose
*St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa
*Air Canada Centre in Toronto
*Verizon Center in Washington

General Motors Place in Vancouver has their Daktronics ProStar LED scoreboard screens as HD ready. The RBC Center in Raleigh is currently in the process of installing their new HD scoreboard.

It is really hard to believe it has already been eight years since American Airlines Center opened. It feels like it was only a real short time ago that the Stars were playing at the Reunion Arena on the southwest side of downtown Dallas.