It’s Always Hockey Season in Minnesota

With the cold weather and snow fall comes high school and pond hockey for many Minnesotans. Kids from kindergarten to College Division-I athletes celebrate winter with hockey, friends and family.

In the Twin Cities area, you can’t walk across the street without seeing something about the Minnesota Wild hockey nation or a hockey jersey from a local team. Hockey is by far the dominant sport in the MN area. Kids start from a very young age to train and learn how to skate. Kids are out there on the ice with chairs, and old person walkers learning to balance with razor blades tied to their feet.

Minnesota is a state that that has a ton of hockey/ice rinks to use and go to for the kids and families. With the popularity of hockey in the state, the state actually has a few days dedicated to high school hockey during the state tournament. Schools actually let the kids out, forgive assignments and allow them to go watch their school team play for the state cup.

Minnesota has had many professional hockey players for the state go on and show their hometown skill in the NHL. I remember going to drop my nephew off at hockey practice onetime and seeing all kinds of magazines, paper clippings and pictures of all the little kids that played in that exact rink that are now playing on the main stage. There I was staring at pictures looking and thinking about all the money and fame these kids have achieved and then I thought to myself… am I going to make the big bucks helping small businesses rank for terms like seo st. paul?

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Is This Finally the Year of the Capitals?

After a three-game sweep of their western Canada road trip, the Washington Capitals are off to a flying start to begin the 2015-16 NHL season. With a record of 6-1, they sit near the top of the Metropolitan division, one which experts and amateur analysts alike predicted to be among the most competitive in the league. Only the New York Rangers are above them in the standings with 2 more points; however, the Rangers have played 3 games as of the time of this writing.

But numbers are numbers, it takes some actual viewing to see that this Capitals team is different from previous years’ squads, which have experienced consistent regular season success but in one way or another, experienced heartbreak and unfulfilled expectations come playoff time.

As a lifelong Caps fan, I have watched this time since the 80’s. I have no qualms about saying that in that time, this is the best squad the Caps have ever put together that is well suited to make a DEEP run at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Continue reading

Three in Six

Stanley Cup
My precious…

So as the entire sports world knows, the Chicago Blackhawks did indeed close out the series last night against Tampa Bay to take their 3rd Cup in 6 years. I don’t know about you, but my Twitter feed was filled with nothing but Stanley Cup/Blackhawks related tweets last night, and I guess deservedly so. By the way, shout out to the guys that fixed my iPhone on the quick – broken phones SUCK and they took care of it perfectly.

Incredible run by the organization in the modern day era. I’ve talked about the Hawks enough already, I’ll just give them their due and move on. The only thing I’ll have to say is that other teams should look to them as a model for puck possession being a key to long-term success. Actually, look at the LA Kings as well, despite this anomaly of a season.

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Blackhawks on the Brink

Hello my beauts, been a long time. Things have been super busy for the last couple months – dealing with moving, it’s wedding season, planning summer trips, etc. Let’s face it, summer time is just busy for everyone, and it’s easy to get sidetracked with any number of events, concerts, festivals, etc. Most recently, I played in a fun hockey tourney over Memorial Day weekend (5 games in 2 days phew!) and dealing with all the isuses involved in moving: painting, decorating, cleaning the carpets, fixing little broken issues, all that fun stuff – UGH. Not to mention, having to deal with the cable company, internet, all that crap that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy :)

Drunk Patrick Kane
Will drunk Patrick Kane be making another appearance soon? Hopefully!

Getting back to the heart of the matter, the Stanley Cup playoffs are winding down, with Game 6 being played tonight in Chicago. The Blackhawks are on the verge of winning their 3rd Cup in the last 6 years – now that folks, is what one would call a dynasty, especially in the modern era with the salary cap. It’s amazing how consistent the Blackhawks organization has been in developing their players and returning such a deep team year after year.

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Gearing for the Playoffs

Hey all, how ya been? It’s been a minute… I know, I know that’s all on me – I’ve just been so busy these days and before you know it, several months have passed!

Anyways, my men’s league team is getting ready for our playoffs, and incidentally the NHL regular season is winding down and the Stanley Cup playoffs are fast approaching (how’s that for a clever segue 😉 The Capitals have maintained their sizable gap on the rest of the Eastern Conference and with a win the other day vs Columbus, they’ve officially locked up the President’s Trophy as the best regular season team.

This would be the second time in the organization’s history that they’ve won the President’s Trophy, the first being back in 2009-10 under Bruce Boudreau. Unfortunately, that season was also marred by a first-round exit in the playoffs (albeit in 7 games) after suffering an upset defeat at the hands of the 8th-seeded Montreal Canadians and in particular, a red-hot Jaroslav Halak.

Caps fans have long been tormented by playoff failures of the past. Despite a wealth of talent the team has had (and yes, props to former GM George McPhee as well as Ross Mahoney and the rest of the scouting department) during the new millenium, there has always seemed to be something missing and this resulted in a lack of substantial success during the playoffs.

The 2009-10 squad was an offensive juggernaut in the regular season that seemingly set scoring records all over the place. But once the playoffs started, the flash and dash style was stymied by the tighter checking, and let’s not completely ignore the fact that referees ABSOLUTELY do have the tendency to swallow their whistles and let the players play. This is not a complaint or cop-out, it’s just a reality of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and teams have to be able to adjust if they want to achieve sustained success. That Caps team were clearly not tough enough and couldn’t withstand the consistent physical play imposed by the Habs, resulting in their early elimination.

Personally, even the 1999 Caps team that made the Stanley Cup Finals didn’t have that undetermined “IT” factor that is the hallmark of a champion. Despite the fact that they reached the Finals for the first and still-only time in team history, I never really thought they had a chance. The Red Wings team that they faced had guys like Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom (IMO the greatest defenseman of all time), Brendan Shanahan (the prototypical power forward of that era), Slava Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov, etc and a host of other character players that filled their roles perfectly.

On the other hand, the Caps fielded a lineup of Peter Bondra, Adam Oates, … and that’s pretty much it. Not to insult their other players (of whom I was a huge fan) but they just didn’t have the same level of talent: Michal Pivonka, Joe Juneau, Richard Zednik, Calle Johannson, etc. Players I loved, but weren’t exactly the brightest of stars. Despite their playoff success, in that series vs Detroit, it just felt like the Caps were pretenders, not real contenders. Sad as it was, I wasn’t really all that shocked when they were swept in 4 games. I mean, for God’s sakes we were relying on Esa Tikkanen to provide some scoring punch!

So fast forward to today. Does Caps Nation have any reason to believe that this year is any different? I say yes.

Unlike some other years, this year’s team can roll line after line at you and the style of play, one of puck possession, is conducive to playoff success in today’s game. Of course they always have the threat of Ovechkin, but along with the criminally underrated Nicklas Backstrom, they have strong offensive contributors in the form of TJ Oshie, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, not to mention their top scorer and top-5 in the league, Evgeny Kuznetsov. I actually do think he’s their best offensive player and he’s just scratching the surface of his talent. I still don’t think fans in general realize how good he is and will become in the near future. If he progresses the way he has in his two short seasons in the NHL, he is destined for superstardom.

Along with steady if not unspectacular defensive play (Orlov aside), the X-Factor is Braden Holtby. He’s basically a cinch for the Vezina, and has a track record or performing well in the playoffs. That’s a workhorse that I’d gladly take into battle for the Cup…

Bishop vs Crawford

Since I mentioned in earlier in my last post, I figured I’d go ahead and talk about the two goalies facing off in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals: Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning vs Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ben Bishop vs Corey Crawford
Consider me…unimpressed

Now, I’m no goalie whisperer, but i know enough to know when a goalie is carrying their team, and conversely, when they’re just floundering back there. Both are capable enough, and have certainly had their moments, maybe even longer than moments, when they’ve carried the play for their respective teams. But more than not, using the eyeball test, both Bishop and Crawford have been unspectacular during this year’s playoff run. I understand that there are some (goalies would maybe argue a lot?) situations that are not the fault of the goalies. Crazy deflections, tips from the high slot, and odd man situations where the tender is left out to dry by their D. I get all that. I’m talking more about the mental mistakes both have been making throughout the playoffs.

In particular, their decision making is certainly open to scrutiny and criticism. Game 5, especially, was atrocious. To be fair, Bishop is obviously fighting through some sort of injury, despite what his coach Jon Cooper is denying, and maybe that’s affecting his play. But the goal he gave up to Patrick Sharp when he came out to play it the puck in the faceoff circle when Victor Hedman was CLEARLY intending to corral it was absolutely unforgivable. I have no idea what he was thinking in that situation. His D clearly had control of the situation, and what should’ve been a routine play turned into a pivotal moment in favor of Chicago, perhaps for the series and ultimately for the Cup.

Not that his counterpart, Crawford, has been stellar either. He’s had plenty of “interesting” moments out there throughout the playoffs, mostly when he comes out to play the puck himself.

Maybe it’s unfair to criticize these guys too much. After all, I don’t think either was widely heralded was elite prospects coming up. They are what they seem: capable NHL goalies, fringe starters (depending on who you ask). It’s just that I like the excitement of seeing top-tier goalie play – the 7 game battle between Lundquist and Holtby was incredible to witness, and was worth of holding your breath throughout each games. Is that too much to ask for? I guess so.

Suter Overrated?

One thing I forgot to mention in my last post: is it just me, or is Ryan Suter overrated?

Maybe I’m just crazy, but I don’t see him as the stud that he was made out to be. Yes, he’s still a very good player, but for the money AND term they gave him, he should be a cornerstone pillar of the team for the remainder of the contract.

It was HUGE news in the hockey world when both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter agreed to sign with the Wild in the same offseason. Even bigger was the announcement that they signed twinsies style with identical 13-year deals. Yes, 13 years. 13. Thirteen. That’s an enormous commitment by Minnesota to two players, who will each make $98 million.  Continue reading

Wild vs Blackhawks, Game 3

So the Blackhawks just wrapped up a 1-0 shutout against the poor Wild to take Game 3 of the Western Conference 2nd round playoffs. It’s sad to say, but the Wild have not yet led ONCE during this entire series and find themselves in a huge 3-0 hole in the series. I wouldn’t be shocked if they managed to win Game 4 at home, but frankly they’re pretty much on life support and I’m kind of expecting a sweep at this point.

I had high hopes for the Wild coming into this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and they definitely showed up vs the St. Louis Blues. But man, Chicago has just manhandled them the last 2 years on the playoffs. I don’t know what it is about the Blackhawks, but the Wild has a tough time containing CHI, even with all their team speed. In particular, the D has looked less than stellar to me.

The one thing that’s obvious is the Patty Kane runs roughshod on the Wild. He must salivate and his eyes get wide as saucers when he plays Minnesota. Probably because for whatever reason, the Wild refuse to practice any sort of decent gap control vs him. All I see is Kane building up speed behind the puck, then taking over in the neutral zone and just walking in over the blueline uncontested. Then it’s just a matter of him dangling his defender to sleep, and either walking around him on a net drive or going outside and throwing a delayed pass to the trailing forward.

The Wild defenseman really needed to do a better job closing the gap and taking away his time and space once he gets to the offensive blueline. I know it’s easier said than done, but with a D-corps of Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, et al they should have the mobility to execute. But for some reason, it’s just not working and they look so passive.

Mike Yeo has done a good job with the club (except for that pesky losing streak earlier this year and the ensuing nuclear meltdown hahaha), but they don’t seem to be playing with the same heart/grit/truculence/whatever you want to call it that they did vs the Blues. Zach Parise always brings it (not sure anyone plays harder or with more determination than that guy), but the rest of the forwards don’t see to be able to fit through any checks haven’t been able to sustain any real board play down low in Chicago’s zone.

Put those things together, and it makes for a bad result. Namely a 0-3 hole in the playoffs! Oh well, at least the Caps are still leading the Rangers in their series!