September 30, 2013

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5 Things To Watch As The NHL Season Approaches

By: Tyler Vespa

With only days until a new NHL season begins, let’s take a look at what happened this offseason, and look forward to a schedule that includes 6 outdoor games.

The Red Wings and the Leafs outside at the Big House? Check. Dodger Stadium? The Ducks? The Kings? West Coast? Check. A double dip in the Big Apple? Check. The Rangers will play the Devils and Islanders three days apart at Yankee Stadium. It wouldn’t be complete without the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field.

The Big House in Ann Arbor, MI will host the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

Canada’s version of the Winter Classic, the Heritage Classic will continue after a two-year absence. The Ottawa Senators will take on the Vancouver Canucks at BC Place in Vancouver on March 2nd.

With that here’s 5 things we should keep an eye on as the new season begins:

Realignment: Will the Red Wings march through the Eastern Conference? Is Winnipeg out of their league?

Training Camp: Will teams be sharper due to full offseason?

Olympic Year: Who’s going to challenge for the U.S. and Canadian rosters? Will certain players on worse teams focus more on country’s Olympic run?

Best Offseason – Dallas Stars: New GM Jim Nill traded for Tyler Seguin and also brought in Rich Peverly, Shawn Horcoff, and Sergei Gonchar. Combine that with star forward Jamie Benn and goaltender Kari Lehtonen and its great expectations in Dallas.

Worst Offseason: Tie- Buffalo, Calgary, Florida: The Sabres lost leading scorer Thomas Vanek, and star goalie Ryan Miller has been inconsistent. Buffalo failed to make a move to replace Vanek.

The Flames lost franchise star Jarome Iginla and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Youth and inexperience haunts                               Calgary.

Of all the teams in league, the Panthers would probably win for negative effects brought on by the realignment. The competition for the Panthers in the new Atlantic Division is a considerable change as the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings are ready and waiting. Keep in mind, the Panthers finished dead last in the weakest division in the NHL last season.

It’s time to drop the gloves. Let’s play hockey.

February 1, 2013

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3 Keys for Detroit Red Wings to Make Playoffs

By: Tyler Vespa

For the first time in a while, the Detroit Red Wings have some significant questions to answer. With the retirement of 7- time Norris Trophy winner and former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and the trade of Brad Stuart, the biggest void is definitely on defense. The screens and deflections of Tomas Holmstrom will also be missed. The other major problem is that the Wings have a lot of streaky players on their roster, and with a shortened season that can’t happen. The impact of those 3 players on the Wings’ special teams is something that can’t be replaced over night.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to make the postseason, but it’s far from a long shot. Here are 3 keys for the Wings that will help them overcome all of these obstacles:

  1. Depth on the offensive side of the puck: With young guns like Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist, and Jan Mursak, the Wings youth movement has begun. Brunner is already playing on the Wings’ top line. Nyquist and Mursak have been solid in relief of injuries. Both have been called up numerous times to fill holes. Not to mention the fact that the Wings are loaded with talent at the forward position in the minors with names like Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, who have yet see major ice time with the Wings.
  2. Darren Helm and Johan Franzen for Special Teams: Helm’s speed is a killer. The Wings need that on both ends of the ice. Johan Franzen needs to keep scoring goals; He had 27 and 28 the past two seasons. He can’t be streaky this season.
  3. Backup Goaltending: Jimmy Howard can’t play the remaining 42 games and still have some left in the tank for the postseason. We need “The Monster” Jonas Gustavsson to be solid in relief.

Bottom line, the Wings will make the playoffs again if these 3 things happen. By committee, the Wings have a great offense with some young, fresh legs. It’s extremely important we use them to help Datsyuk, Zetterberg and veteran Todd Bertuzzi. With the amount of parity in the NHL today, we can’t win without a penalty kill and a power play. Jimmy Howard needs help. Our defense is very fragile, and not nearly as talented as past seasons. If Gustavsson fails, Joey MacDonald or Thomas McCollum must be ready.

January 9, 2013

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Four Words for Hockey Fans: The NHL Is Back!

By: Matt Bowen

It may have brought up bad memories or left a bad taste in one’s mouth, but the best news for any hockey fan this New Year is that the NHL is back in session.

The NHL is back!

Just when fans were beginning to accept the thought of missing another season due to a labor dispute, the NHL and NHLPA worked out a deal. Hockey enthusiasts everywhere have not forgotten the locked out 2004-05 season and this time the league got a much needed deal done in the eleventh hour.

So, when does the puck drop?

That’s the beauty of this deal, we don’t really know yet.

What we do know is that the season will be 48 games, teams will report to camp no later than Sunday, January 13, and that the regular season will most likely begin within a week from then.

So, as gut wrenching as it was to miss months of NHL hockey already, instant gratification takes place with games beginning seemingly overnight thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA’s biggest perk is certainly the 10-year deal with an opt-out clause after eight years.

This is what the league needed most—to guarantee its fans that the game can gain momentum after its latest hiccup. The NHL has officially done that and the sky is now the limit.

While there may be plenty of jilted fans at the moment, as soon as the lamp is lit smiles will overcome those who currently frown.

What’s not to love about NHL action?

At this point, a 48-game season is perfect. There will be a league-wide competitive (dis)advantage with the lack of preseason play.  The teams that gel together the fastest will find themselves in the playoffs.  Rookies will have a true trial-by-fire. No team can afford a losing streak of more than three games.

So, who are the teams to keep an eye on this season?

The Minnesota Wild and their fans have been waiting for this moment since last summer when they landed free agent stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The passion for hockey runs thick in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and the buzz surrounding the Wild right now has reached a fever pitch.

Another team to expect big things from is the Edmonton Oilers. After having the No. 1 overall draft pick three-straight seasons, the shortened season could be a blessing to the franchise looking for prominence. The trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will look to get off to a fast start and reach the playoffs. With so much young talent on the Oilers it’s only a matter of time before the team is the most feared in the entire NHL.

One NHL team to fear right now is the New York Rangers. They are built to win now and the addition of superstar Rick Nash in the offseason only bolsters their chances for a Stanley Cup.  With Henrik Lunqvist between the pipes, captain Ryan Callahan, sharp shooter Marian Hossa, and all-world talent Brad Richards to accompany Nash, anything short of a Cup in 2013 will be considered a failure.

Hockey fans get ready—the season will be here in the blink of an eye.  True NHL action is what we’ve been waiting for and the league will definitely deliver.

January 8, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NHL labor agreement in sight: The NHL lockout wasn’t officially over as of this weekend, but it’s looking like it could be soon. A tentative agreement has been reached by the players and owners and barring anything crazy, we should have hockey this year. The good news is that assuming this is finalized, the tentative deal is for a reported ten years, according to ESPN. That should mean several years of peace between the two sides without any interruption. Lockouts always hurt any sport and hockey surely has many disgruntled fans as a result of the recent work stoppage. But with the NFL winding down, the NBA will be the only major professional league in season. For non-basketball fans, that leaves few options.

RGIII was more heralded coming into the playoffs, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were the ones advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Russell Wilson outlasts Andrew Luck and RGIII: Russell Wilson was one of three rookie quarterbacks to reach the NFL playoffs this season. But of the trio, he was clearly the least heralded. The ColtsAndrew Luck and the RedskinsRobert Griffin III were the league’s two top picks in last year’s draft and Wilson was a bit of an afterthought. But after the Colts were soundly defeated by the Baltimore Ravens and RGIII’s Redskins went down at the hands of the Seahawks, Wilson is the only one still standing. What’s more is that many will give Seattle a chance to knock off the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons next week. Wilson’s magical season might not be ending right away and the rookie could find himself in the NFC Championship game with another good game.

Timberwolves’ injury woes continue with Kevin Love hand injury: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been crushed with injuries this season. Josh Howard suffered a season-ending injury and was subsequently waived. Star guard Ricky Rubio has missed 20 games. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee are all currently out with various injuries. And now, the team’s best player, forward Kevin Love, is out with a hand injury. Love was out for several weeks earlier this year with a broken hand and the injury appears to have resurfaced. Timberwolves’ fans have to be frustrated particularly because it’s easy to see a world of potential with this team. Even with all of the players missing time, Minnesota is still .500 on the year with a 15-15 record. The team is only a ½ game out of a playoff spot and without the injuries, they would arguably be among the conference’s top eight teams.

Syracuse’s Doug Marrone reportedly leaving to coach NFL’s Bills: The Syracuse Orange were dealt a bit of a blow when it was announced over the weekend that their head coach Doug Marrone was likely on his way out to coach the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse’s football program had been struggling mightily since the 1990s, but Marrone seemed to have helped them turn the corner. The team won eight games this season, tied for the most victories they’ve had in the past decade. It was also only the second time during that span when the team has finished over .500. The program can and will go on without Marrone, but heading into the ACC next season having to find a new coach isn’t an ideal situation.

Dontrelle Willis trying to make comeback with Cubs: When a young Dontrelle Willis burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in 2003, he was heralded as one of the league’s brightest stars. But after a few successful seasons with the Marlins, Willis’ flame quickly went out. He was named the National League Rookie of the year and won 44 games over the next three years. But since then, it’s been all downhill for the pitcher. After an ERA of over 5.00 in 2007, Willis was dealt to the Detroit Tigers where he was even worse over the next three seasons. He struggled with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and 2011 and has been out of the majors ever since. The deal with the Cubs is reportedly a minor league one and Willis will have to earn a spot if he wants to end up back in the major leagues. At only 31, he could still have some productive seasons if he’s able to turn it around. But having struggled through several seasons, the odds are probably against him.

January 7, 2013

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What IIHF Gold Medal Means For American Hockey

By: Tyler Vespa

After a year without reaching the medal stand at the IIHF World Junior Championships, the United States came back with a convincing gold medal run in 2013. They beat Czech Republic in the quarterfinal 7-0, and then dominated Canada 5-1 in the semifinal. That placed the Americans in the gold medal game for the first time since 2010. On Saturday, January 5th they had to defeat defending champion Sweden. Led by tournament MVP goaltender John Gibson and a stout penalty kill, the Americans beat Sweden 3-1.

With the NHL not yet back on the ice, many tuned into the IIHL where the Americans won gold.

Along with their gold in 2010, they finished with a bronze medal in 2011. In 17 years since 1997 the United States has made the medal stand only 6 times, while Canada has earned a medal 15 times.

Just as Canada’s numbers speak for themselves, the United States has been more consistent in recent years at the tournament. With the victory that put the U.S. on the medal stand at the IIHF World Juniors for 3 of the past 4 years.

With that here are 3 reasons American hockey is on the rise:

  1. More consistent performance: No it’s not about a gold medal every year, it’s about earning a medal in the first place.
  2. Juniors include those playing in the NCAA and High School: That means the NHL hasn’t necessarily drafted some of the best players yet, including incoming recruits.
  3. Huge increase in number of American players drafted: the 60 American skaters drafted in 2011 were the highest since 2007 when there were 62 selected. After having just 42 Americans selected in 2008, there have been 50 or more Americans selected the past 4 years.

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It’s no “Miracle on Ice”, but this victory is significant considering the current situation with the NHL. Because of the lockout, the NHL has not yet committed to participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. That means the U.S. may be considered more of a threat to win the gold medal. With no NHL hockey being played it’s nice to know there continues to be an abundance of youth and talent in the States.