Here is my picks for the top 10 hockey stories of 2010. Starting from 10th. This is part 1.
10TH NHL'ERS TAKING TO TWITTER EN MASS
Ever wanted to know what Bobby Ryan was doing right now? Have you really been wanting to tell Erik Johnson what you think of his play? Well, now you can do that thru twitter.
The fastest growing media/social networking tool on the internet is twitter. Its that place where you can post something, long as it fits into a 140 character frame. While not every NHL'er is on twitter, many of the games rising stars are.
If twitter were a team, they would have some pretty good talent to draw from. Alex Ovechkin, Martin Havlat, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, TJ Oshie, Wojtek Wolski, James Van Riemsdyk, Logan Couture, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Joffrey Lupul, Evander Kane, Maxim Talbot, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan & Matt Duchene on offense. Dan Boyle, Mike Green, Mike Del Zotto, Mike Komisarek, Karl Alzner, Mike Commodore and Brent Sopel on defense. The only thing they are lacking is some goalies. Not 1 notable goaltender seems to be on twitter.....since Dan Ellis closed his up.
While some accounts are now very inactive (Ovechkin hasnt tweeted in over a year), others, such as Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette are very active, and very entertaining, like his post from Christmas day "Going to adrian aucoin's house for dinner tonight. Ganna be tough to top D morris's party last night. Unless aucoin rented a circus midget?". In a business where ANY media is better than none, the raw, uncensored & usually entertaining posts of a fringe player like Bissonnette can make him a more attractive option for a team come free agency than another player of similar talents. With over 30,000 followers, a team could look at him as a free marketing tool & a source of a few more sold jerseys than if they signed the tough guy who doesnt have a twitter account.
Some players use it to just tweet about life, like Michael Rupp, while others use it more to promote business ventures they are a part of like Ryan Kesler, the reality is with close to a 100 NHLers on twitter, and dozens more former NHLers, it has become a place for the regular fans, media & other players, to interact & get an inside look at the lives of the NHLers.
The NHL, perhaps more than any of the other major sports has the most to gain from this free promotional tool. While the NBA, NFL & MLB also have tweeters in large numbers, its the NHL who can gain the most from it. Its free promotion for a sport that still in many sections of society hasnt recovered from the lockout, or had notable exposure at all. Everytime the NHL can squeeze their product into a tweet, especially one that makes the trending topics list, its getting its product out to a massive potential new clientel that they would never reac the conventional way or marketing. Even the AHL, CWHL, WWHL, WHL, OHL & various smaller leagues are using it to promote their leagues as well. Again, while other sports are doing the same, the sport of hockey might have more to gain per tweet than the other sports.
9TH CWHL HAS 1ST EVER DRAFT
The most notable women's hockey league in the world had their first ever draft this past summer.
On August 12th this year, the sport of women's hockey took a big step, they had the first official draft in a major women's league. While the previous NWHL & the current WWHL from out west have never had such an event, the fairly new CWHL did have one.
The league didnt have a full draft open to all teams though, as the league acknowledges some of the hardships a player in the league could face if they were selected by a team far from their home & family. So the draft was only to divide up the talent available to the 3 Greater Toronto region teams, Toronto Aeros, Burlington Barracudas & the Brampton Canadettes-Thunder. The other two teams in the league, Montreal Stars & the Boston Blades, both took to free agent signing to fill their rosters.
Toronto, Burlington & Brampton took part in the draft, that allowed the three teams to select any players from GTA region, or overseas. 22 players between the 5 teams were deemed "protected" & the 3 teams selected a total of 101 names were selected.
Tessa Bonhomme, a member of the 2010 Canadian Gold Medal winning Olympic team was the 1st selection in the draft for Toronto.
Burlington would pick 2nd, taking Ashley Riggs, a highly decorated Canadian College hockey player.
Brampton would pick 5th, taking former Canadian National team star, Delaney Collins.
A handful of Europeans were also selected. Most notably was Daniela Rundqvist from Sweden 13th overall by Burlington. Yekaterina Smolentseva selected 89th by Brampton was the only Russian selected in the draft. Finland had 3 picks, Anna Vanhatalo (Brampton) Marjo Voutilainen (Burlington) & Terhi Mertanen (Toronto). A German born player, Manuela Hebel also was selected, however she has played in North America for a bit. Gizela Blom, the final pick of the draft is another Swedish born pick.
Having a draft, even one that only included 3 teams was a large building block in developing the league into a full fledged league. With more than 20 current & past Olympians scattered around the 5 teams, this league has the best hope for women's hockey right now. If they can ever work out an agreement to merge with the WWHL (another 5 team league located in Western Canada & Minnesota), the start for a large league, with 2 U.S. situated teams can develop.
If the league prospers, having an annual draft will certainly be seen a notable building block down the road. People may look back at that first draft in 2010 as the start of a great ride. It gives women's players a goal now, a place to aim for. no longer is College & a possible Olympic spot the only hopes. Being drafted into a league, and winning a league championship against the best players in your sport is now a real option.
8TH DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN- FUTURE NORRIS TROPHY WINNER?
No, this is not a joke. Dustin Byfuglien, the super pest power forward for the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhaws might win a Norris Trophy for leagues best...defenseman??
Originally a defenseman when drafted, Byfuglien has played Right Wing for the past few seasons with the Blackhawks. A role he did so well, he was considered 1 of the most instrumental pieces on the Hawks 2010 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. However, the era of the salary cap would actually take his career in a different direction, one he was formerly familiar with.
The Hawks, strapped for salary cap room, traded Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers this past off season. With limited offense at the teams disposal, it was expected Buffy would slip in to the teams top 2 forward lines with ease. However, the Thrashers head coach, Craig Ramsay saw a different plan for the 6'5 265 lb Minnesotan. Ramsay, a former Selke winner for best defensive forward thought the defenseman turned elite power forward would be best as a defenseman for his offensively challenged team.
The experiment has been a raging success. Not only do the Thrashers have themselves a top end defenseman now, but even in the more limiting offensive position, Buffy has flourished perhaps even more than if he was a forward. Currently Dustin finds himself tied for 11th in league scoring & tied for 2nd in game winning goals, which is good enough for 1st in defenseman goals, Game winning goals & scoring.
The often dismissed Thrashers, a team who has missed the playoffs every year but once in their short history, find themselves 6th in the conference, only 2 pts out of the division lead, and 9 pts clear of the top non-playoff team. All this, despite not having a single player with more than 24 goals last season on the roster, and only 2 with a 30 goal seasons in their career (neither of which had 20 last season).
Although all of the success cant be given to Byfuglien, his pressence on the point has certainly elevated the play of the team around him & because of this, many are taking him seriously as a Norris Trophy winner, let alone contender. With more than 1/2 a season to go, the jury is still out some on whether Byfuglien will take a Norris, but the early indications, he has as good a chance as anyone else right now.
7TH WINDSOR SPITFIRES- BACK 2 BACK MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS
The Windsor Spitfires became back to back Memorial Cup Champions, after beating the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1 in the final.
It was only 3 seasons ago that the Windsor Spitfires club faces some of its most trying days. The team lost their captain Mickey Renaud to an undetected heart issue late in the OHL season. At the time, the team seemed lost without their leader, and although future NHLers like Michael Neuvirth, Josh Bailey & Taylor Hall gave the team hope, they would fall in the first round without their leader.
In the 2008-09 season, the Spitfires came back & had a mission, to win for Mickey. This team was a much stronger team than the year prior. It had 4 current or future 1st round picks (Hall, Ryan Ellis, Greg Nemisz, Austin Watson) & 12 other NHL draftees on the roster. They went on to win the Memorial Cup that year on an OT goal by Adam Henrique.
In 2009-10, expectations were high for the club, as many of the pieces that got them the teams 1st ever Memorial Cup, were back.
With the loss of 1 1st rounder (Watson) the Spitfires loaded up even more, by adding the likes of 1st rounder Cam Fowler & Zack Kassian to the mix, along with 2 more NHL draft pick to fill in the hole of a couple of the departees.
The club did not disappoint. Finishing 1st in their conference. When the playoffs started, the Spitfires seemed sure of themselves. After a sweep in the first round of the Erie Otters & a 2nd round sweep of the Plymouth Whalers, their confidence seemed warranted. In round 3 however, the Spitfires would open up to a 3-0 series deficit to the Kitchener Rangers. However, they would come back, becoming only the 3rd team in OHL history to win a series after being down 3-0. With that temprary scare firmly implanted in them, they made no more mistakes the rest of the way. Dispensing of the OHL regular season champion, Barrie Colts in 4 straight games, the Spitfires were headed back to the Memorial Cup tournament.
At the Memorial Cup tournament, the lesson of the Rangers series must still have been there, because they didnt take anyone for granted. In game 1 they drubbed the tournament host Brandon WheatKings 9-3. The next game, against the WHL champions from Calgary, they ran over the Hitment 6-2. With 2 wins already under their belt, they knew they would be guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup Finals. They didnt need a win against the Quebec league champion Moncton Wildcats, but they did anyways, with a 4-3 overtime win. Giving them the chance to win the Memorial Cup in a little different fashion than the year prior, where they became the first team to win the Cup after losing their first two games, this time, they had the chance to go indefeated.
In the final, the got the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team they pummeled 9-3 earlier in the tourney. The Spitfires didnt want to leave anything to chance. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. It was 3-0 before the Wheaties got their only goal from Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Matt Calvert. That was the end of the fight for the WheatKings though, as Windosr would pile on SIX more goals, for a dominating 9-1 Memorial Cup Finals win. It gave the Spitfires the most goals in a finals game & most lopsided victory distinctions since the 1973 Toronto Marlboros won by the same 9-1 score. Future Edmonton Oilers 1st overall pick Taylor Hall would win the tournament MVP for his 2nd time, making him the first ever player to do so.
The 2011 season will see the Spitfires start to rebuild. Besides losing Hall to the Oilers, their head coach Bob Boughner left for an NHL assistant coaching job, Cam Fowler has landed in Anaheim, and several other notable pieces have moved up to the minor pro leagues. But with the likes of Kassian & Ellis still on the team, they are not completely void of talent. Add in talented future star Russian rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, German NHL draft pick Tom Kuehnhackl, and Maple Leafs 2nd round pick Kenny Ryan getting a larger role, and their rebuilding stage is still pretty good. Add in NHL 1st round pick Jack Campbell, who opted to play in the OHL this year to the mix, and things look quite decent for the defending 2 time Memorial Cup Champions.
6TH ILYA KOVALCHUK SOAP OPERA
Looking back on how things ended, Los Angeles Kings fans are rejoicing & New Jersey Devils fans are on a constant suicide watch.
This past summer, arguably the largest fish to catch in unrestricted free agency was Ilya Kovalchuk. The Rocket Richard trophy winner in 2004, who in his 8 NHL seasons has passed 40 goals in a season 6 times.
While several teams showed interest, only 2 teams seemed to rise to the top as the serious contenders in the end. The Los Angeles Kings, desperate to get a marquee name to put on their team, and the New Jersey Devils, the team Kovalchuk played for last season.
Anyone following it on sports talk shows, the news or twitter, almost daily was hearing something different, and most of those things as it turned out...were wrong. Kovie seemed destined for the Kings in early rumours, and even on more than 1 occasion tweets & comments in the media suggested he was going to be signed imminently by the Kings. As it turned out, for the Kings sake, this was not true in the end.
The New Jersey Devils would sign the sniper....twice. Their first deal, an insane 102 Million dollar deal over 17 years (YES, 17 years) was denied by the league on the grounds that it was a clear attempt to circumvent the NHL Salary Cap, which is based on the average salary of the contract, NOT the individual season amount. The Devils had front loaded the deal, and added in 7 years at the end of the deal where they would pay Ilya the league minimum, which would bring down the average price down substantially. The league denied the outrageous deal, and in doing so, said they would investigate several other recent long term deals including the likes of Hawks star Marian Hossa and the Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Devils would re-work the deal and get the leagues approval on a 15 year, 100 million dollar deal (YES, 15 years). The Devils had finally got the man they coveted to keep. The saga was over, and the Devils, a team constantly in the mix as Cup contenders, could focus on that task.
As it turns out, so far, this deal has been a near nightmare for the Devils. Because of the Salary Cap, the Devils have had to adjust constantly their team to balance the cap issues that Kovalchuk's mosterous deal brings. On more than 1 occasion, the team has even iced an incomplete roster because they financially had to. Kovalchuk himself has been a near disaster, with only 8 goals, and 18 points in 33 games, and a team worst -25... make that a LEAGUE worst -25.
The Devils are the worst team in the league currently, with a 9-23-2 record. They are so brutal offensively, that they could win their next game with 11 goals, and still have the least goals in the league. Kovalchuk doesnt even lead his team in goals or points & is tied for 142 in league scoring, a spot that would barely keep him in the top 10 in rookie scoring.
Its official, Ilya Kovalchuk has indeed signed.
The highly sought after super sniper unrestricted free agent has teams who can afford him, and some that cant, hanging onto every word his agent Jay Grossman says to them in person, or his twitter account. Fans and reporters even moreso.
No one has been able to get the Russian star to sign for them. Yet, I managed to get him to earlier this season, and it didnt even cost me a penny... and whenever I find a buyer for this item, he'll have even paid ME to sign. I even managed to get the sniper to sign more than once this year. Basically, if I show up where Ilya is, he seems to be a willing signer.
This is why I am offering my services to any GM who really wants Kovalchuk to sign to hire me. I dont know what an Assistant G.M. makes these days, but I will take the minimum. You will be getting someone that has managed to get Ilya Kovalchuk to sign...several times..... and for a lot less than 10 million dollars a year.
With teams like his former squad the New Jersey Devils, along with New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings being heavily rumoured in the mix, there is a lot of demand for this former 2 time 50 goal scorer & 2004 Rocket Richard trophy winner. One thing its fair to say is... his original team, the Atlanta Thrashers arent even an after thought for their former franchise player. But who knows. With me there, maybe their GM can get him to sign?
General Managers... feel free to contact me. I will listen to reasonable offers.... Unlike the man you are trying to sign.
This week, the class of the 2010 Hockey Hall Of Fame will be announced. On June 22nd, anywhere between 3 and 6 players will feel the thrill of having their names added to the elite list of hockeys best.
For the first time ever, women's players should be included, as the likes of Angela James, Cammi Granato, Cassie Campbell, Manon Rheaume, Dawn Mcguire, Riikka Niemenen, Katie King & France St. Louis might garner some attention. They will compete for 2 spaces alotted to womens players, with the 4 spaces allowed for NHL stars Joe Nieuwendyk, Phil Housley, Adam Oates, Eric Lindros, Pierre Turgeon, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Andy Moog, Doug Gilmour, Pavel Bure, Tom Barrasso & others.
So who will get in?
Who should get in?
Who really doesnt have a lot of hope?
Will get in
In my opinion, theres really 3 pieces to this puzzle that should be a lock. First would be 2 womens players. I dont see just 1 getting in because frankly, it would seem cheesy to only bring 1 in, as well, there is little to split between the two top womens players that are eligible.
American Cammi Granato, the Captain of the 1998 Inagural Olympic gold medal winning squad is first up. This superstar of the womens game will get in.
She is already a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame, The IIHF HOF, the HHOF seems like a reasonable step. If by some injust fluke they only take 1 female this year, she will probably be the one based on being more well known to fans & likely the committee as she still played till only a few years ago, being American, and having an Olympic Gold Medal.
Canadian Angela James, the first major superstar of modern women's hockey is next up. At one time, the highest scoring women's hockey player of all time, James was one of the biggest names in women's hockey thru the late 80s & early 90s. She has 4 World Championships, 12 National Championships, 8 National Championship MVP titles. A member of the IIHF Hall Of Fame with Granato, a member of the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame & has the unique honour of having the championship trophy of the most notable womens hockey league the CWHL named after her. Before there was Hayley Wickenheiser, there was Angela James.
NHL star Joe Niewuendyk, will more than likely join the HHOF this year. With 3 Stanley Cups on 3 different teams, in 3 different decades. Joe shows that he had endurance & skill. Add in the Calder Trophy for leagues top Rookie that he won, an Olympic Gold medal, 4 NHL all-star appearances & the amazing NHL stats of 563 Goals & 1126 points & its hard to figure any way this Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1999 could be ignored. This top 20 all time career goals scorer is as close to a lock as there is this year for the men.
Should get it??
This is a murkier pond to wade thru. Legitimately, a dozen or so names from the list above belong. But realistically, only at most 3 more names can go in, as there is a cap of 4 male members annually (2 female)
Phil Housley- Although the all time points leader amongst U.S. born defensemen has no major awards or championships, it is hard to imagine the former career top scoring American (still 2nd to Mike Modano) not getting in... Especially when you realize he put these amazing numbers up during his 7 time All-star ladened career as a defenseman mostly. He is already a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame. It would be a sizable surprise if he doesnt add the HHOF to his amazing resume.
Adam Oates- If 16th on the career NHL points list doesnt wow you. How about 4 100 pt seasons, and 6th in career assists? Like Housley, Oates has no major awards or championships. What he ahs though is, consistancy over a 19 year career. With 12 seasons as a point per game or higher player, few have that level of regular production on their resumes. He also had 7 post-seasons where he was a PtPG or more player. In a word, amazing. This former 5 time NHL all-star should get in.
Might get in??
Eric Lindros- Once believed to be the next big thing in hockey, The Big E enjoyed a decent, but not amazing career as some had hoped. Injuries plagued the former Hart Trophy winner. But in the time he did play, he was a force. Going to 7 NHL all-star games, winning an Olympic Gold & Silver medal, as well as a Canada Cup and 2 World Junior Championships, he has lots of championships on his limited resume. Statistically, he doesnt register a lot of awe. Not in the top 100 in career goals or points, its hard to think of him as a dominant player. But he was. His first 9 seasons in the NHL, he registered over a point per game, also doing the feat 3 times in the playoffs. His shortened career may hinder his decision in this years voting. But for the next couple seasons, his name will get consideration almost every time, as the stats he put up whe he was playing...were impressive.
Pavel Bure- It seems silly to assume that a 3 time NHL top goal scorer wouldnt get into the HHOF. Yet, Bure is a bubble name to most. Once the most lethal scorer in the game, Pavel suffered continual injuries like Lindros. Forced to retire after 12 seasons, the last 2 only a combined 51 games, the Russian Rocket was cheated out of the chance to vault himself up into the career stats elites. Even with his shortened career, he still made it to 63rd in career goals. He has a World Championship, a World Junior Championship, 2 Russians Championships, 3 European Championships. A 6 time NHL all-star & the winner of the Calder Trophy, his resume certainly is full of success. Just not longevity.
Doug Gilmour- Just behind Adam Oates on the career points list by 6 pts & 1 spot is the man known as Killer. Gilmour is 55th in career goals, and 17th in career points. The former Stanley Cup winner has an impressive resume to throw into the ring. A Selke trophy for top defensive forward is something you rarely expect to see from one of the top 20 career points leaders, yet he has 1. Once nominated for the Hart Trophy, Gilmour played a tough gritty game that helped him to 9 seasons of a ptPG or higher rate. His playoff career stats are just as amazing. 188 career playoff points, puts him 7th all time. More amazingly, he did it in only 182 games. A career playoff PtPG player, Gilmour tallied 4, 20+ pt playoffs, including a 35 pt campaign in 1993. What might hold him back is his off ice life has been clouded with controversies.
Pierre Turgeon- A 500 goal scorer, and 30th on the all time points list. Turgeon has a decent resume statistically. Unfortunately, he doesnt have major awards or championships to pad the numbers. With 12 season of a ptPG or more, he will be considered. But the lack of major hardware will likely keep him watching the ceremonies at home.
Alex Mogilny- A member of the Triple Gold Club (World Championship, Stanley Cup & Olympic Gold) also has a World Junior Championship to pad the trophy case with. Best known for his 76 goal, 132 pt campaign with Buffalo in 92-93, Mogilny finished 65th in career points, after an injury shortened career. His 473 career goals gets him into 49th on the all time goals list. Much like his former linemate Bure, injuries prevented him from placing higher in the career marks. His trophy case however gives him a lot of consideration & maybe, if the HHOF is looking to add some european flavour, he might get in.
NO HOPE... this year
Dave Andreychuk- 640 career goals, 13th all time. all time leader in PP goals. 28th in career points & has a Stanley Cup. But never really was at the level of "great" for too long. Spent most of his 23 year career as a "very good" player.
Andy Moog- 4 time NHL all-star. With a Jennigs trophy. His 3 Stanley Cups with Edmonton gives him major championships. His 372 career wins puts him 14th all time in that stat, as well as his 68 career playoff wins puts him 10th on the all time list for that. Only thing missing from his resume that may hold him back, is major individual stats. Not in the top 20 in career GAVE, SPCT or SO will hinder his chances.
Tom Barrasso- 2 Stanley Cups, 1 Vezina, 1 Calder, 1 Jennings, 3X All-star, member of U.S. Hockey HOF. 15th career wins. 13th career playoff wins. Not in the top 20 in GAVE, SPCT or SO though.
Geraldine Heaney- The maximum 2 womens player quota is filled. But Heaney can start writing a speech for 2011 most likely. She was elected to the IIHF HOF along with James & Granato & is 1 of only 4 women in the IIHF hall to date.
Riikka Niemenen- Regarded the top felame hockey player not from North America will get some consideration in the near future, but with James & Granato on the list for this year, she will have to wait it out. The only non North American female in the IIHF Hockey Hall Of Fame
Cassie Campbell- the limit of 2 female players is reached with James & Granato. But Campbell will get her day someday...just not this time.
Manon Rheaume- Maybe the most well known female hockey player to NHL fans because of her 1 exhibition appearance, she too will have to wait till Angela James & Cammi Granato have been chosen to see her chance.
Dawn McGuire, Katie King, France St. Louis- they have to hope to get in very soon....before the next batch of names start coming thru like Danielle Goyette, Vicky Sunohara, Karen Bye or Katja Riipi.
When the 2009-10 NHL season started, I can say with fair confidence, 1 of the teams in the finals was NOT on my radar. The Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Chicago Blackhawks were my strongest consideration for my Western Conference finalist, the Flyers to me were nothing more than a playoff spot filler. To me, the East ran thru Washington or Pittsburgh. With outside chances to Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
That is all you really need to know of the Philadelphia Flyers right there. They have proven a lot of people wrong. Including me... 4 times now this season.
They made the playoffs on the last chance they could this season. They got in with a shootout win to eek into a playoff spot that I boldly told my friends in March there was no way they could win. Down the stretch this team, which seemed destined to a solid top 5 or 6 placing in the conference just weeks earlier, had plummeted & on some days, was out of the playoff race as teams like the New York rangers & Atlanta Thrashers kept poking their head into the final playoff spot momentarily. Yet, in the final week they fought back & dragged themselves to a do or die, winner take all affair with the NY Rangers on the very final day of the season. To the loser, a long frustrating off season of what could have been. To the winners, a date with the Atlantic division champs, New Jersey Devils. Hardly a great reward for such a triumph. The Flyers & Rangers played to a shootout. With Claude Giroux scoring on the 3rd shooter for Philly, it was up to unlikely hero Brian Boucher, an after thought to most analysts this season, and probably even that week, to make 1 more save. With the Rangers picking top end scorer Olli Jokinen, the challenge was going to be big. But Boucher did it & the Flyers would be moving on to the playoffs, proving me wrong once.
Playing against the Devils, after narrowly making it. I was confident the Flyers season would end here. They had to have emptied their gas tanks to get here. But the Flyers found a way to not just get by the Devils, they handled them quickly in 5 games. If anything, it seemed Martin Brodeur, and the Devils forwards were the ones who had run the gas tank to empty in the regular season. For a 2nd time, the Flyers proved me wrong.
In round 2 they got the Boston Bruins, a team I was less sure of, but still liked their chances over the Flyers. Where the Devils seemed to be struggling down the stretch behind the suddenly average goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Bruins had young stud Tuukka Rask in net & he wasnt faltering. The Bruins rushed out to a 3 games ot 0 lead over the hapless Flyers. This series was over. So much for the cinderella Flyers. Then it happened. Something changed. The Flyers came into game 4 with a "we have nothing to lose" attitude, and guess what?? they didnt lose. With an OT winner from Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from clinically dead, to on life support. But it was impossible to believe they were going to become the 3rd team in NHL history to return from a 3-0 deficit, right??? Game 5, they won as well, 4-0. In that game, their band aid solution starting goalie Brian Boucher (who took the role as #1 when Ray Emery went down 1/2 way thru the yr with a season ending injury) himself went down with an injury, meaning barely known Michael Leighton was thrust into the spotlight. From there on, it was the Leighton show. He would backstop games 6 &7 wins & the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Eastern Conference finals somehow. Proving me wrong for a 3rd time.
In the Eastern Conference Finals they faced another cinderella team, the Montreal Canadiens. While Michael Leighton was becoming a notable name in Philly, and really in tune hockey experts, the Habs had their own goalie of the moment backstopping them. Slovakian Olympian, Jaroslav Halak. With championship knowledge in his resume (he was on the Hamilton Bulldogs Calder Cup championship team a few yrs ago) & already having carried 1 underdog team to near greatness this year (Slovakia finished 4th at the Olympics, despite being on few if anyones radar going into the tourney, as a medal contender)Although the Flyers came in as the statistical "favorites", most people seemed to give Montreal the edge, myself included. With the exception of the game 3 in the series, the first game in Montreal, the Habs seemed dead in the water. Their gas tanks emptied like the Devils in round 1 & the Bruins in the last 1/2 of their series, and the Flyers just ran them over, finishing the series off in 5 games. Proving me wrong for a 4th time.
So here we find the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who driving down the stretch of the playoffs race lost 9 of 11 games thru March & early April, in the Stanley Cup Finals. More amazing is, with the exception of the 3-0 Bruins series lead, this team has won 12 of 14 games to get to this spot. Now, the Flyers face a team from the West that was expected to possibly be in this position, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once again, goaltending for the visitor is expected to be strong. The Devils had Brodeur, the Bruins had Rask, the Habs had Halak. All have fallen to this sudden power house team. Will the Haws Antti Niemi falter too?
The Flyers are getting great performances from their top guys. The team is offensively being lead by Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne & Chris Pronger. The guys you expect to lead, are. With the addition of Jeff Carter, this looks more like a cup contending team than the 1 that limped into the post-season without Gagne or Carter. The Flyers have been getting good support offense from defenders Kimmo Timonen & Matt Carle, as well as forwards Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Tough as nails checking specialist Ian Laperriere is back in the fold, giving other hard nosed players like Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham some back up on the defensive side of the forward unit.
This team really should be proud of everything they accomplish, wiin or lose. This is a team who realistically wasnt on many experts radar for a Cup berth, and certainly werent expected after losing notable names like Gagne, Carter, Emery & Boucher thru the journey. Yet somehow, they are here. They SHOULD be proud, regardless of the outcome. But you look down that roster, with guys like Pronger, Laperriere, Richards and Carter & you realize that this team is full of guys who wont be happy losing. This team will fight right to the bitter end, even if they are down 10-0 in game 4 of a series they are already down 3 games to 0 in. Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy isnt even a consolation prize to this group. With the higly competitive league the NHL has created, where teams rarely have chances to develop a dynasty, this very well could be the 1 and only shot for many of these guys. They wont want to waste it.
I dont think the Philadelphia Flyers will win. I think Chicago is the better team and they want this just as badly. I am picking Chicago in 6 games. But if the Flyers do win, after all they have done this year in proving me wrong...it shouldnt shock anyone, most of all...me.
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.