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Things are looking up for hockey in Germany, where the National Team placed fourth at the most recent World Championships under the guidance of Uwe Krupp. The pipeline to the NHL remains strong. After visiting Slovakia, HPT continues its European trip with a more traditional Old Continent destination, Germany. It’s a good moment for hockey in this part of this world. The sport has only grown more popular, especially after the German national team’s performance at the latest World Championships, where hosts surprised with a fourth-place finish. In order to know German hockey better, chatted with Nils Kloppman of “The DEL (Deutsch Elite League) was founded in 1994 as an independent league, replacing the 1.Bundesliga as the top-tier league in Germany,” Kloppman explained. “During the past 16 seasons the number of teams fluctuated between 14 and 18 teams. After the bankruptcy of Frankfurt and Kassel this summer, the DEL currently consists of 14 teams. The first six teams will qualify for the playoffs and seventh to 10th place will play ‘pre play-offs.’ At the moment there is no relegation/promotion from the second tier.” Frankfurt and Kassel’s bankruptcy caused some turbulence. In spite of these teams’ financial troubles, salaries in the league aren’t believed to be exorbitant. “The salaries are not publicly known, so you’ve got to rely on what you hear from here and there,” Kloppman said. “It seems that the range is somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000. Players usually also get an apartment and a car from sponsors on loan. Besides Mannheim, as they are the richest team, I don't think any German team can compete with Switzerland or Sweden, let alone the KHL.” The DEL has been recently dominated by the Berlin-based Eisbären (Polar Bears). Owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, Eisbären Berlin has won four of the last six titles. The Mannheim Eagles are the record holder with five DEL titles. These are considered the top two teams in the league. This season, Kloppman said, “after 22-25 games the best eight teams are separated by seven points, so there is a lot of parity. Besides Berlin and Mannheim, who you always have to mention, Grizzly Adams Wolfburg are expected to reach the struggle for the title this year.” Recently Germany has started producing better prospects. One, Tom Kühnhackl, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round of the June NHL Entry Draft in June. “The best German prospects left for canadian juniors this summer with Tom Kühnhackl: Tobias Rieder (Kitchener Rangers) and Nicholas Latta (Sarnia Sting)," Kloppman said. “Many young players recently stated that it is impossible to get ice time in the DEL and that coaches only play those who get the most money. From those in the DEL, goaltender Mathias Niederberger (Düsseldorf), 6-foot-5 defendseman Pascal Zerressen (Krefeld) and forward Yasin Ehliz (Nuremberg) have good chances of being drafted next year and the skills to compete in the NHL one day. “Of those already being drafted, Jerome Flaake could have the skills to make the NHL one day but he needs to head to North America next summer, because in Hamburg he is not getting the ice time he needs. Goalie Dennis Endras is already signed by Minnesota and will cross the pond next summer. He's probably the DELer who is the closest to the NHL at the moment.” Kloppman also indicated how the junior hockey level has been able to improve: “I think in general hockey got more professional in Germany and therefore the coaches are too. Some DEL teams like Mannheim and Berlin founded hockey academies. They scout throughout the country and try to get the best talent to their academies. This helped a lot to develop players. Mannheim's elite youth team is able to compete in tournaments with Swedish and Finnish teams. The problem in German hockey is the step from youth hockey to pro hockey. If they would find a way to develop players past their 18th year, Germany would be able to produce even more NHL talent.” This helps introduce an important topic in any discussion regarding German hockey. Teams are allowed to dress up to 11 foreign players, however, German laws have allowed a relatively easy naturalization process for foreigners. As a result, even the national team features many Canadian-born players, like goalie Rob Zepp or defenseman Jason Holland. Kloppman said that “the DEL will reduce the limit to eight within the next four years. … Teams will likely search for more Canadians with German backgrounds to get them a German passport. So the homegrown talent will still get no chance to play. The import rule has to change for two reasons. The obvious one is the need to develop more homegrown talent, but the quality of the DEL itself has to improve, too. It would be better to spend the money on five good foreigners instead of eight who are mediocre. Many Fans think the DEL lost a lot of on-ice quality the past years and is filled with third-tier imports.” On a more trivial note, the DEL holds the world record for the longest shootout: On November 21st, Munich and Straubing needed 42 shots combined to find a winner. Who is the best hockey player ever to come from Germany? Said Kloppman: “I think it is impossible to compare different eras of hockey. The game changed a lot the past decades. Erich Kühnhackl, the father of Penguins’ draftee Tom, is Germany's player of the century. He always refused to play in the NHL, he rather stayed at home. He is the best German from the 70s and 80s. Uwe Krupp was the best German in the 90s, being the first player from Germany to clinch a Stanley Cup title. In the recent years Marco Sturm and Christian Ehrhoff should be mentioned.” Krupp brought his legacy full circle by becoming the head coach of the National Team in 2005 and, in 2009, moving back to his native country from Atlanta.
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Sunday, 05 December 2010 17:48 | Print | PDF
Latvia and Belarus are vying for promotion into the World Junior Championships. NHL prospects will be on display in this tournament, even though it enjoys a lower profile on the international scene. Every hockey fan knows that December is World Junior Championship time. It’s also the period of another kind of WJC, the one reserved to hockey's less powerful countries. Most of the elite under-20 prospects play in the “regular” WJC, while the WJC First Division offers a platform for prospects from non-traditional countries. The Kings’ Anze Kopitar played there, as well as the Sabres’ Thomas Vanek. The WJC Division 1 is split in two groups, and the winner of each group is promoted to the Elite Level for the next year. Group A will compete in Bobruisk, Belarus, and will see Belarus, England, Latvia, Italy, Ukraine and Japan fight for the promotion. Group B will be hosted by Slovenia, in Bled. Kopitar’s motherland will compete with Austria, Croatia, Lithuania, Denmark and Kazakhstan. talked with past guest Didzis Rudmanis about Team Latvia. “Without major upsets, it's either Latvia or Belarus for the promotion,” Rudmanis said. “However, I’d say that Belarus has slightly better chances. The majority of the Belarusian players already play pro – there are only a few MHL players on their roster and they also have a slightly older roster – not a single 1993-born or younger. Team Latvia has those 15 MHL candidates plus a couple of decent Metalurgs Liepaja prospects playing in Belarus, with 2012 eligible Zemgus Girgensons, (Edmonton) Oilers draftee Kristians Pelss and some rather good players from Europe.” Those last two names are most interesting for North American hockey fans. “Most likely, the HK Riga lines won't be disjoined, so we'll see how good Pelss will look like together with the likes of Kenins, Vigners, etc. I believe that Pelss will be in one of the top lines, however, there's almost no chance that he will be elected for any captaincy, as he was (born in) 1992 and not from HK Riga. During the past few months it seemed that Pelss struggled more. Recently he has been already doing better points-wise, indicating that he has adjusted to the North American game. Anyhow, I do believe that Pelss is capable of making it to the AHL in the upcoming seasons.” Regarding Girgensons, Rudmanis said that “no one really knows what to expect from Girgensons. He is after all three years younger than the core of the team and the camp currently held in Jelgava is the first time ever when Girgensons is with the U20 team. Although he’s having a tremendous season in the USHL currently, we can’t be 100 percent sure that he is capable of making the roster.” Rudmanis said there are other players to watch on team Latvia’s roster: “Goalkeeper Kristers Gudlevskis has a great season in the MHL. He has a GAA under 2.00, which is among the very best in the whole league. I expect a solid tournament also from Rolands Kenins (Swiss NLB) and Rolands Vigners (French Division 1), who have been performing better than the core of the HK Riga players during the two preparatory tournaments.” For the hosts, Belarus, the players to watch are Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kirill Gotovets, big defenseman Oleg Yevenko (who know plays for the Fargo Forces) and skilled forward Nikolai Suslo. The Slovenia-based group should be well-tested. The team to beat is definitely Austria, after last year’s relegation from the Elite division, but the Kazakhs might be competitive on home ice. Team Austria will feature Indiana Ice’s Peter Schneider, who skated in last year’s WJC. Lithuania also features a player who skates in one of the North American junior leagues: Pijus Rulevicius of the NAH’L’s Janesville Jets. Group A will be play from Dec. 13-19, while Group B will be play from Dec. 12-18. The winner of both groups will play at the 2012 WJC in Edmonton and Calgary.
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Saturday, 11 December 2010 07:42 | Print | PDF
Why did the goalie leave SKA St. Petersburg?"Family reasons" could mean a lot of things. This much is certain: By leaving, he becomes the biggest disappointment of the KHL season. Only four months into the regular season, Evgeni Nabokov surprisingly decided to leave SKA St. Petersburg and Russia this week. SKA’s general manager, Andrei Tochitsky, said Nabokov's contract was canceled “due to family reasons,” but many suspect that mostly it’s due to his poor play and difficulty adapting to the Russian game. “I think that those family reasons were a mere word replacement,” said Sergei Litvak, the chef editor of the popular Russian portal “For example, maybe his wife couldn’t adapt to the Russian culture, and this led to his inability to play at such level that he showed in the NHL.” Nabokov’s season has gone poorly. At the time he left, Nabokov was 8-8 with a goals-against average of 3.02, an .882 save percentage and two shutouts in 22 games – not what one would expect from a NHL superstar. “The season isn’t over yet, but so far he has been the biggest disappointment of the year,” explained Evgeny Belousov from “At least as he was the most loud and pricy summer acquisition.” Belousov also believes that Nabokov was simply too used to the different North American game. “I think that Nabokov would have needed a couple of seasons to adapt again playing at a good level here in Europe. The game is very different.” With respect to “family reasons,” Belousov said that “every family moving to a new country should be ready to face problems; maybe the Nabokovs weren’t completely ready for the move.” In any case, the decision to leave Russia was very surprising. Nabokov was expected to play for Team Russia in the upcoming Channel 1 Cup in Moscow, but that won’t happen now. Team Russia head coach Vyacheslav Bykov said it was his decision not to play Nabokov, as he did not want to play a goalie that didn’t have a contract. Nabokov does not want to retire, and since he’s getting back to America there is only one league in which he could play: the NHL. “If the reasons of [Nabokov’s] failure are the aforementioned ones, then Nabokov is certainly able to play at the NHL level. He didn’t have a bad season in 2009-10,” Litvak said. Another goalie has emerged as a top KHL puck-stopper, while substituting Nabokov between SKA’s Gazprom-sponsored pipes: Czech Jakub Stepanek. The 24-year-old rookie, a 2010 Olympian, has outplayed Nabokov and most of the KHL goalies so far with his .921 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. His play has led to whispers about his chances to jump to the NHL. “Stepanek is a loudly discussed name in European hockey after his great performances in the Czech Elite League and on the World Championship stage,” Belousov said. “It wasn’t surprising that such an ambitious team as SKA signed him during the off-season. I think he has all it takes to play at the NHL level, but he’s a very good goalie and the KHL team can throw a lot of money at him to retain him as a star in the league.” The native of Vsetin, Czech Republic, adapted very quickly to Russian hockey, just like most of his Czech and Slovak colleagues in the KHL. “[Stepanek] didn’t have any problem adapting to Russia, in both life and hockey. But in the end, when you’re young everything is easier,” Litvak said. The Russian press is speculating that Nabokov could end up in Tampa Bay or in Washington. These rumors were confirmed by his Russian agent, Sergei Isakov. It will be interesting to see what contract can he get in the NHL. It won’t be the same as his last – $21 million over four years with the San Jose Sharks.
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Saturday, 18 December 2010 16:31 | Print | PDF
As congratulations poured in from the Kremlin, the World Junior tournament showed that Russia is still producing elite-level talent, Sweden was overrated and it's hard to know what's up with Germany. As Team Russia managed to leave the United States –with a gold medal, though not without problems – this year’s IIHF World Junior Championships can be deemed as a successful one for the European countries. The gold medal returned to the Old Continent after seven years of North American supremacy, including five triumphs by Team Canada. It’s interesting to note that each gold medal-game win for Canada came against a European nation (three against Russia, two against Sweden), while Team USA defeated Team Canada both times it won gold. Team Russia’s win has been applauded a lot in the Motherland, especially due to the national team’s failure at both the Olympics and World Championships. While this huge WJC triumph can’t be considered revenge for Canada’s triumph in Vancouver, it’s definitely a good way to start the new year. Even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated with the team via Twitter. If Russia is still celebrating, Sweden certainly isn’t. The 2010 WJC silver medalists started with huge expectations that were only raised by beating Canada in round-robin play, a 6-5 shootout win led by Phoenix Coyotes prospect Oscar Lindberg. Tre Kronor might be the perfect example of an overrated squad, which is not that uncommon on the other side of the pond. In spite of their success on the Olympic stage, winning golds in 1994 and 2006, Sweden hasn’t won gold at the World Junior Championships since 1981 – a tournament hosted by West Germany, in which the Soviet Union won bronze. Looking at individual prospects, the WJC confirmed that Russia – a nation that only 23 of this season’s NHL players call home – still has elite-level talent. Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov were among the best players at the tournament, the former unjustly snubbed in the awards selection. Other team Russia players like Maxim Kitsyn and Dmitry Orlov have been very, very good, as were some of Sweden’s top guns like Patrick Cehlin and Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok. Blueliner Adam Larsson, one of the frontrunners for the top overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, had an up and down tournament, but played very well in the semifinals against the Russians, which Team Sweden lost in a shootout. Toni Rajala of Finland, was among the biggest European disappointments. The Oilers’ recent fourth-round draft pick finished the WJC with zero goals and never looked to be an impact player for his team, which finished the tournament with an unexpected sixth-place after losing to Russia in the quarterfinals and Switzerland in the fifth-place game. Norway and Germany were relegated to the WJC’s Division 1 for 2012, while Latvia and Denmark will replace them in the Elite pool. In spite of the recent breakthrough of German-raised prospects in the NHL Entry Draft, the Germans haven’t been producing good WJC teams. Is the national program really that bad in selecting players, or are there more hidden (economic?) reasons for the recent German drought during selection days? Fans in Alberta next winter will enjoy watching 1994-born Latvian prospect Zemgus Girgensons, who has all the tools to be a first-round draft pick in 2012. The Riga native had a very good Division 1 tournament, with four goals and seven points in five games. Team Latvia will also feature Kristians Pelss, a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL and a seventh-round pick by Edmonton. Pells scored four points in five games. Denmark will be led on ice by Oshawa Generals forward Nicklas Jensen, who most likely will hear his name called at the Xcel Energy Center in June. Photos by Getty Images
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Saturday, 08 January 2011 22:15 | Print | PDF
There's a reason Marek Svatos left the KHL for North America – beyond the Blues' lack of scoring. In Europe, playoffs and transfer deadlines are approaching, creating chaos this time of year. Every January a flow of hockey players heads across the Atlantic Ocean, seeking glory in Europe – or getting back home without much glory. There’s a reason for that. It’s not by chance that Marek Svatos just returned to the NHL after a short stint with Avangard Omsk, or that Kyle Wellwood might be the St. Louis’ Blues next signing. The reason lies with the European leagues’ different systems. As hockey followers know, most of the leagues in the Old Continent have a foreign player quota. Teams can dress, or have on their rosters, a maximum number of players from foreign countries. KHL teams, for example, can dress no more than six foreigners – called “legionaries.” This number will go down to five next year. Most European leagues are less strict; a Swedish team can dress as many imports they want, but only two from outside the European Union. This means that if a player doesn’t perform, he’s out. This is what happened to the two aforementioned players who were released from their KHL contracts. Marek Svatos’ biggest highlight was his participation in the umpteenth brawl between Avangard and Vityaz. Wellwood has been noticed only for being a relatively exotic name for a fourth-liner. Hence why these players are back (or will be back) in America. Their place won’t be filled with local players – other “imports” will leave North America for Europe to substitute their disappointing predecessors. There’s another reason for this turnover. The playoffs are approaching and so is the transfer deadline, which is triggered in most of Europe on Jan. 31. Some moves might seem a bit odd if we don’t take this into consideration. For example, why would Ak Bars Kazan spend $1.5 million over a fringe NHL player (Jonas Andersson) if they wouldn’t be trying to get into the best position possible for the upcoming playoffs? When these kind of players sign in Europe, usually there are other players who have to go, too. This won’t be the case for Andersson, as Ak Bars still owns an import slot for this year, But when former NHL defenseman Ric Jackman, for example, left the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies to sign with Slovak powerhouse Slovan Bratislava not more than a couple of days later, defenseman Mikko Turunen was on a plane headed to Finland. To sum it up, January is the month where we can expect more shuffling and turnover of players from Europe to America and vice versa. It happens even more at the minor-league level —NHL veteran Kyle Calder recently left the ECHL to sign with Barys Astana of the KHL, former Tampa Bay Lightning prospect P.J. Atherton went to the second-tier league in Sweden, and goalie Kellen Briggs decided to earn his Euros in Germany. Expect to see more similar moves. Most of the European Leagues allow two additional weeks for transfers. Photos by Getty Images
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Saturday, 15 January 2011 09:05 | Print | PDF
Ever since the Champions Hockey League folded after its only season two years ago, the Continental Cup has stood the test of time as the only competition among European clubs for supremacy on the Old Continent. The Continental Cup was founded during the European Hockey League heyday of the mid-1990s, with the purpose of giving teams from lesser hockey leagues a chance to play in international competitions. Back then, the league champions from roughly 15 nations clashed annually to get a spot in the finals. The EHL couldn’t survive some years of good competition, different formats, and different names, and the Continental Cup remains the only official European trophy in hockey. Two teams must play their way in to the four-team “Super Finals.” Two others – notably the hosts of the Finals round, and other franchises based anywhere from Russia to Finland, depending on the season – are guaranteed their berth. The 2011 edition was organized in traditional fashion: Five groups competed in three group stages, all leading up to the Super Finals, which were held this year in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Super Finals byes were granted to Yunost Minsk, the host club, and Red Bulls Salzburg, the 2010 champion. The other two finalists at the brand-new Minsk Arena were SønderjyskE from Denmark and the Rouen (France) Dragons. Both teams started their competition in the last group stage – Rouen hosted games against teams representing Poland, Latvia and Great Britain, while SønderjyskE managed to defeat the organizers of their group, Asiago from Italian Serie A. They also defeated Sokol Kiev (Ukraine) and Miercurea Ciuc (Romania). Salzburg was the obvious favorite; the Austrian team was the healthiest of the four and one of the healthiest in Europe – mostly due, evidently, to their sponsorship deal. Yunost, however, wanted revenge from last year’s silver medal. Salzburg and Yunost were unbeatable for two days to set up a championship rematch. In front of a full arena, Yunost skated past the Austrian champions, who had a very bad first period, losing the game and the gold. It was the second win in three years for Yunost. Finnish goalie Mike Oksa got top goalie awards, SønderjyskE’s Dustin Vanballegooie was named top blue liner, former Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Duncan was awarded the MVP and top scorer titles. Yunost Minsk joined Swiss Ambri-Piotta and ZSC Lions as two-time champions.
Alessandro Seren Rosso | News/Features | Saturday, 22 January 2011 05:50 | Print | PDF
Canucks defenseman Sami Salo wouldn't have reached the NHL without the tutelage and example of his father, Toivo, who died of cancer in 1995. VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Along with the pressure of playing for hockey’s ultimate prize, many participants in the Stanley Cup finals had to arrange complicated travel itineraries and purchase expensive tickets for their parents to watch them compete. The Sedin Twins attended to their parents’ arrival from Sweden weeks in advance. Local Kamloops, B.C. boy Mark Recchi said he hoped his Bruins could conclude the series before his mother’s foot surgery, scheduled for between games 6 and 7, as his parents traveled between Vancouver and Boston. For Canucks defensman Sami Salo and his father Toivo, this would be a welcome problem. Toivo was a steel worker who endured long, grueling work days that were often sandwiched between practices and games for Sami. He dedicated his free moments to Sami’s hockey career during the long winters in Turku, Finland. Not only did he tutor Sami individually, Toivo trained Sami’s junior club before sending him onto the local pro team, TPS Turku. “Once I had a chance to play pro hockey, he was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away in two months,” Salo said. “He didn’t even have a chance to see me play in any pro games. We ended up winning that year [1995] too, in the finals, so it was awfully disappointing.” Toivo’s diagnosis, his death, Sami’s professional debut and his SM-Liiga championship run all came within about six months of each other. Sami would later capture a Swedish Elite League championship with Frolunda HC during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Otherwise, Salo’s career to this point has been fraught with near-misses. In 2001, Finland advanced to the gold-medal game of the World Championships, only to lose 3-2 to the Czech Republic. They lost a narrow 2-1 game to eventual champion Canada in 2004. During this deep run with Vancouver, Finland captured the gold medal at the World Championships in Slovakia – without Salo, naturally. His luck in the Olympics has been similar. Finland captured bronze in 2010 and lost the gold-medal game 3-2 to neighboring Sweden in 2006. Salo’s tenure in hockey has also been riddled with injuries, ranging from the severe (this year’s Achilles tendon tear) to the bizarre (a venomous snake bite) to the wince-inducing (last year’s deep testicular bruising). All told, Salo has sustained at least 40 significant injuries in his career. Still, the 36-year-old Swede has not placed any contingency on his team’s success or failure this season that might lead to his retirement. "It’s 100% sure I’ll be playing next year still,” he said. Salo credits his father – through tutelage and the example he set – for his own perseverance. “I think that’s where I got my work ethic from," he said. "I think that was built into me growing up with him." Now it’s Sami’s turn to play the role of hockey dad. He has two daughters and a hockey-playing son, Oliver. “His team had a big tournament last weekend. They ended up winning the bronze medal and that was kind of their Stanley Cup,” Sami Salo said. “(Oliver) is obviously really excited that we have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and he has a chance to come and watch us.” Will Oliver follow in the footsteps of his father and become the same sort of fearless, two-way rearguard? Not likely, dad said: “He’s got more skill than I, so he’s a forward." Salo has dedicated his career to his family and his father in particular. He reflected on what his father might feel if he were alive to see the fruits of all his labor as he reared a world-class competitor such as Sami. “He would be proud, for sure, that all the hard work that he put in taking me to practices, all the ups and downs and the instruction he gave me would have paid off,” Salo said. “I know for sure that he’ll be watching upstairs somewhere.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Features | Thursday, 02 June 2011 06:12 | Print | PDF
'A lot of sacrifices go on' in the Finals, Shawn Thornton said, and players policing themselves is one. How will the NHL enforce discipline under Brendan Shanahan? BOSTON – In Monday’s game 3, Nathan Horton was carted off the ice on a stretcher, while Aaron Rome skated to the dressing room after receiving a game misconduct for the late hit that immobilized Horton. Tuesday morning, the league suspended Rome for four games, a length unprecedented in the Stanley Cup Finals. The debate over the validity and severity of the suspension has obfuscated a critical question: Does the power to police the game belong in the hands of the league or the fists of the players? “If that’s game 31, he probably doesn’t get off the ice without at least being confronted,” Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton said. “The greater goal is to win the Stanley Cup right now, so there’s a lot of sacrifices that go on and, unfortunately, that has to be one of them.” While the NHL said its abrupt escalation of the punishment for a major penalty on a hit that did not apply to its Rule 48 – which prohibits blindside, east/west hits to the head – the longest playoff suspension in Stanley Cup Finals history was linked closely to the severity of Horton’s injury. In a way, the league took the rough eye-for-an-eye equation of the enforcer system and made it a mathematical formula. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s incoming Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, said that appropriate balance in all disciplinary matters would be a major focus of his work. “Intent has always played a factor in the amount of games and so has the injury that has occurred,” Shanahan said. Shanahan said that while the speed of today’s game and the size of its players may amplify some issues in the NHL, the potential for danger and disrespect has always existed. “I don’t look back fondly on the ‘80s and ‘90s and say we had this super-clean sport where you never had to worry about stick-swinging and boarding and cross-checking,” he said. “We tend to do that, ‘Oh, we used to respect each other so much.’ Then why are all my teeth fake?” Shanahan is part of a committee that will concentrate on discipline that also includes recently retired defenseman Rob Blake and Joe Nieuwendyk, now the general manager of the Dallas Stars. All three men played in the “New NHL,” in which velocity and power have increased. They have been assigned the daunting tasks of not only determining the rules and enforcing a written code but also of educating players, coaches and executives as to the specifics of the those changes. “With the expansion of the rule (48) that we’ve made, it will incorporate more hits into this funnel and they’ll be stiffer penalties for it,” Nieuwendyk said. “It’s like anything, like obstruction, the players take a little time to get used to it but eventually they figure it out.” The NHL’s movement toward broader, stiffer, more complex policies mirrors those of the NBA and NFL to some degree. In the NFL, the similar language of hits on “defenseless” players has opened up a whole new level of penalties, both during games from referees and after games from the league in the forms of fines and suspensions. In the NBA, the tiered flagrant-foul system has also created incremental, progressive and, ultimately, harsher penalties for technical and flagrant fouls, the rough equivalents of major and match penalties in the NHL. “I think there’s lots of communications with the other leagues and understanding what their policies are,” Blake said. “I never took into consideration how much goes into the wording of a rule until I got on this side and I have to put it in place. Those open communications with the other leagues definitely help.” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, who played 42 NHLgames from 1981-83, recalls a time when there was much less dialogue, not only from the league office but on the ice. “Back then you didn't have a lot of scrums after the whistle. If something was going to happen, it was going to be a fight,” Vigneault said. His opposing head coach, the Bruins’ Claude Julien, played in the same era, in which he said gouging, biting and vigilante justice were all commonplace. He said he respected the evolution of discipline from the lead blows of enforcers to the firm touch of the league office. “Well, that's the way the game has gone now,” Julien said. “They've kind of taken that policing out of the game for reasons that they feel are right. They've taken control of that. I think it's important that they stay with it.” Julien played a gritty game and the teams he has coached have exemplified his attitude. Although he has rugged players like Thornton on his roster and the leviathan Zdeno Chara as his captain, his teams have been on the end of hits that have sidelined top-six forwards like Horton, Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron for extended periods of time with concussions. “You’ve got to remember in the days where players were policing themselves, I'm not sure the players were as strong, as big and as quick as they are today,"Julien said. "Somehow we’ve got to make some changes to the rules, adapt to what it has become and understand that the hits today are a lot harder than they were 30, 40 years ago.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Features | Thursday, 09 June 2011 14:42 | Print | PDF
Few are more qualified to answer that question than Cam Neely, Milan Lucic or Mark Recchi. The three Bruins all honed their hockey chops in British Columbia. VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Whether they are career Canucks like the Sedin twins, or first-year additions such as Manny Malhotra, Vancouver’s players readily grasped the heft of their Stanley Cup opportunity when the Finals began. “When you come to Vancouver, to say that the fans here are passionate would be a gross understatement,” Malhotra said. Few players could have greater appreciation for what a Stanley Cup might mean to the city of Vancouver than three B.C. boys who have skated with the Boston Bruins. Comox native Cam Neely has transitioned from top scorer to top brass with the Bruins. He was reared in Maple Ridge, just northeast of Vancouver, where much of his family still resides. “I got to Maple Ridge in 1976 and became a huge Canuck fan,” Neely said. “I think I've said this numerous times. I was a huge Stan Smyl fan and had an opportunity to play with him for years.” Now the Bruins' team president, Neely began his career with the Canucks where he sat low on their depth chart. After three seasons he was dealt to Boston, where he quickly developed into a franchise-caliber forward. “Unfortunately it didn't work out well for me here. Things worked well in Boston,” Neely said. “I certainly kept tabs on what happened to the Canucks over the years, of course except when they played us.” Though he did not capture a Stanley Cup in two Finals appearances with the Bruins, the team considers Neely’s leadership as integral to its deep playoff run this season. Neely also began the ceremonial passing of the Bruins banner before an 8-1 rout of the Canucks Monday in Boston. That game was played on his 46th birthday – the same date on which he was dealt from Vancouver to Boston 25 years ago. A prototypical power forward in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Neely has mentored bruising Bruin Milan Lucic, who was born in Vancouver 23 years and one day after Neely. “To have two teams like this meet in the finals, from Milan's perspective, I don't think he could ask for anything better,” Neely said. Lucic has fielded no shortage of ticket requests, although he has not spent much time at home while the Bruins have been sequestered in their hotel during road games. Still, Lucic’s ties run deep in Vancouver. He spent his youth watching Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, a player that profoundly influenced Lucic’s style of play. He played for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League before heading to Boston as a pro. “It's definitely special to be able to play here in the NHL Stanley Cup Final. The fact that it is at home against a team that I grew up cheering for makes it extra special,” Lucic said.“You see all the car flags and all the flags hanging off the buildings, all the ‘Go Canucks Go’ signs. I know growing up here they’ve been waiting for a long time and here they are.” Although he admits he knew Neely primarily from his role as "Sea Bass" in the film Dumb & Dumber, Lucic said his father regaled him of tales of Neely’s career as a Canuck. “When he first immigrated to Canada (from Serbia), he went to a Canucks game with his buddy. He remembered seeing this No. 21 skating around,” Lucic said. “He went out there and he got in a fight and then all of a sudden he scored and did what he did. He was like, Oh, my God, who is this guy? It ended up being Cam.” With a potential Game 7 in Vancouver on the horizon, these Finals could provide either the moment of a lifetime for Canucks fans or the latest in a series of major accomplishments for Lucic in his hometown. He captured a Memorial Cup championship with the Giants when they hosted the tournament in Vancouver, then became a second-round pick of the Bruins the year the NHL Entry Draft was held in Vancouver. “The Memorial Cup is definitely a big thing, for sure. That probably stands out the most. Especially winning it at home for the hometown team and playing in the (Pacific) Coliseum,” said Lucic, who practiced in the adjacent Agrodome as a youth. “One below that was the NHL Draft here in 2006. That was also a special thing that happened and I’m definitely grateful that it was the Boston Bruins (who)picked me in that draft.” An embattled junior player who was cut repeatedly, Lucic was finally recruited out of the Junior A level by the Giants. A month before he began playing in the WHL, he and a friend attended a game where they were selected to be part of the second-intermission entertainment. After 40 minutes of play, there was the gangly, teenage Lucic dressed in a full chicken suit, winning a race around the ice. “There’s no evidence,” Lucic said with a laugh. “ I guess all the good karma in Vancouver since then is kind of payback for that moment.” The third Bruin with local ties is forward Mark Recchi. The WHL’s Blazers play on Mark Recchi Way in Kamloops, B.C. “B.C. still feels like home," the 43-year-old forward said. "Obviously Kamloops, that is my home. My family is still there. It's a wonderful place to grow up. It's pretty neat getting back there when I can. "We all grew up Canuck fans. I grew up watching Stan Smyl, that group of guys there, when they went to the (1982) Final, King Richard (Brodeur), all that. I was a big fan growing up. Fun times, for sure.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Features | Saturday, 11 June 2011 19:54 | Print | PDF
The Bruins have never been to a Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 before Wednesday. The moment is not lost on the current players. BOSTON — Legendary Bruins like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and, most recently, the 93-year-old Milt Schmidt have passed the ceremonial Bruins banner around the lower bowl before each home game. All of those players also played for hockey’s ultimate prize, but the current Bruins team will do something none of them have: compete in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. “It just means so much to everyone to be going through this together,” rookie forward Brad Marchand said. “You see the support everywhere you go. It's a huge game for everyone, we're all very excited about it and I can't wait to get it under way.” The decisive game brings to an impasse what has been a clash between two geographically distant, but similarly passionate, hockey cities. “Everyone here wants it just as bad as we do, everyone around the city, and everyone in Vancouver wants it just as bad as their team does,” Marchand said. This is the Bruins’ 18th Finals appearance. Their 5-12 record is the worst of any Original Six team. Their last Cup came nearly 40 years ago, when Orr led them to victory in 1972, two years after his legendary “Flying V” goal secured their first championship in nearly three decades. Vancouver made the Finals for the third time in its history this season and, in 40 years, they have never captured the Cup. “It's been a long time since there's been a Cup here but Vancouver's never won one so we're both in a very difficult situation and we both want it really bad,” Marchand said. “We can't let that stuff get in our minds, we just have to make sure we're focused on our jobs and preparing for a win.” If the rookie Marchand understands the significance of the moment, the two-time Stanley Cup champion and 43-year-old veteran Mark Recchi embodies it. He said his message to the team will not be any rah-rah speech or age-old wisdom, but rather to stay loose. “There is no pressure, go play, go out and have fun with this,” Recchi said. “It's what you play for and what we've worked hard for all year. We're going to have a blast doing it. "Obviously it's tremendous for the city and the organization and not too many people counted on us being at this point right now.” If there is another legend in the making for whom the Bruins want to win most, it's Tim Thomas. The 37-year-old goaltender has allowed a lean eight goals in six games and provided saves that were both timely and spectacular. Thomas, who toiled abroad into his thirties before reaching the NHL, said the only time he has felt as locked in as he has been during these playoffs was during a spectacular championship run with HIFK of Finland’s SM-Liiga. “You know, I'm very happy to be here and very happy to have this opportunity,” Thomas said. “Like Mark said, I'm going to try to embrace that opportunity and take the same attitude that I've taken throughout the whole playoffs.” Thomas and the Bruins have often been at their best in front of their home crowd, which provides an energy that they would love to have follow their team charter to Vancouver. “Our crowd has been phenomenal, especially in these playoffs,” Thomas said. “During the regular season, sometimes I'm not sure how much energy home crowds really add to games. But I know playing at home in these playoffs has been a big advantage for us and it's helped us.” The Bruins' roster consists of players from Canada, the United States, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. Their top-line center and the playoffs’ leading scorer, David Krejci, hails from the Czech Republic and pointed to the team's popularity around the globe. “We try to use that energy, to bring it to our game,” Krejci said. Wednesday's Game 7 connects to a local lineage in Boston, too. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years beginning in 2002. In the middle of that decade, the Red Sox broke “The Curse of the Bambino” by winning the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007. Most recently, the storied Celtics returned to prominence with a victory over their arch nemeses, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the 2008 NBA Finals. “We know the significance, '72 the last time this town got to see a Stanley Cup,” Recchi said. “Great sports town, great hockey town and it would be remarkable.” Photos by Getty Images
Andrew Knoll | News/Features | Tuesday, 14 June 2011 13:02 | Print | PDF

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