Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
As 2013 closes here's an offering of observations and musings;
1. Caught the annual free offering of WHLTV on the internet with the Ice in Spokane last night. The broadcast was decent enough but the audio was pretty weak. Was able to turn it down and listen to Hollick on the home broadcast. Decent thing about Neulion, the company that does the internet broadcast, is that you're able to sinc (pause and fast-forward) the picture so that it hooks up with the other broadcast. Just one criticism though, not enough East-West angle picture wise (the traditional hockey angle) and too much of the end-zone or ice-level play-by-play camera action.
2. Got to hand it to the Ice though, after a less-than-stellar outing the previous night in Cranbrook against the Chiefs, they managed to rope-a-dope enough to hang on for a 2-1 win. The Chiefs dominated for most of the night from a puck possession and offensive zone time perspective but couldn't finish like they did Friday in a 6-4 win.
3. Kootenay brought in F Austin Wellsby, 16, and D Dylan Overdyk, 16, to relieve the pressure of injuries to the blueline and the absence of Reinhart. Both played well in limited roles and Wellsby looks like he has an offensive flair to him. The 4th round pick in 2012 is 22nd in BC Major Midget scoring with Fraser Valley with 28 points in 24 games. Was hoping at some point this season to see first and second round picks from the 2013 draft - F Jared Legien (Moose Jaw AAA Midget - 5g 7a - 12 pts in 24 games) and F Vince Loschiavo (2g 2a - 4 pts in 8 games with the Winnipeg Thrashers AAA Midget) - get into the lineup. The latter was really good in training camp this season but has battled injuries this season.
4. With last night's win the Ice sit tied for 7th in the Eastern Conference with a 19-17-2-1; 41 pts on the season. The race for the top 8 spots is tight but is really turning into a 9-horse race. Barring a massive turnaround, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Lethbridge are going to be on the outside looking in with Red Deer, Kootenay, Prince Albert, Brandon, Regina and Medicine Hat jockeying for the last five spots.
5. That brings up the annual silly season of deadline deals as the WHL trade deadline approaches January 10. The dealing has already started as the Calgary Hitmen picked up F Mike Winther from Prince Albert for F Calder Brooks and a 2nd round pick in the 2014 Draft. Winther is a former 6th overall pick in 2009 and the goal scoring forward and 2nd round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2012 looks like he needed a new start to reboot his career after an off-season with Cory Clouston's Raiders. The Raiders weren't done there, acquiring F Collin Valcourt, 20, and D Ryan Coghlan, 18 from the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for D Dylan Busenius, 20, and a 2nd and 4th round pick in the 2014 Draft. The Raiders are clearly trying to shake up a roster that was expected to do much more than the 8th place showing they're in right now.
6. That being said, the Ice made their splash a couple of months ago with the deal that acquired Bozon and Cross. With the long-term injury to D Tanner Faith - who still is expected back this season but I'm thinking the shoulder won't hold up - will Ice GM Jeff Chynoweth try and fill the hole on the blueline? There still is a 20-yr-old spot to be filled (Dirk, MacPhee) and a 20-year-old, stay-at-home blueliner could be a good addition.
7. So, that being said, do you fill the spot just for the sake of filling the spot? It's been awhile since the Ice had a full compliment of 20's (Antilla, Ismond and Lieuwen - two seasons ago) and the depth would help. I know the importance of developing the likes of D Troy Murray - who will be a top D-man in this league in two years; he reminds me of a poor man's Kris Russell, real poise for a 16-year-old - but if the goal is to go as far as you can in the playoffs every year, older depth dictates or improving the roster by addition without much subtraction (no real trade other than the loss of ice-time for younger players) says it should be done barring some extravagant price.
8. The roster also begs the question of where the team is in the junior hockey cycle. Ideally, next year is where the club will be at its peak. However the emergence of Sam Reinhart as the likely 1st or 2nd overall NHL Draft pick in June means it's almost a sucker bet to expect him back next year as a 19-year-old. That'll be the million dollar question this fall. I say million dollars because that's what Reinhart will be signed to (rookie maximum under the salary cap of $1.1 million per season for the first three years). He won't be able to play in the AHL/minors due to the CHL/NHL agreement so it'll be NHL or Kootenay. If he's back (as junior hockey fans, you're allowed to wish) the club is loaded with the likes of Descheneau, Philp, Martin, Skaspki etc they'll be a squad expected to make a push. F Tim Bozon likely won't be back but there's an off chance. Realistically, the Montreal Canadiens have to sign him by June 1 this year or he goes back into the draft. If he's signed, he's gone and will probably play in the AHL as a 20-year-old. If he's not signed, I'd bet he'll be back. So, what does all this mean this year? The club and its fans are looking at likely the last year of junior for both Reinhart and Bozon, so if there's an appetite to strengthen the roster prior to the deadline it has to be explored. Two first round exits at the hands of the Edmonton Oil Kings the past two seasons needs to be improved upon.
9. Was great to see a thicker crowd Friday night at the Plex for Scott Niedermayer night. The city and team honored him with a plaque for all his accomplishments in the sport and arguably the reason why the city has a facility and team at the level we do here in Cranbrook. Would be nice to see a bronze statue at the entrance of WFP of that famous picture of Scott holding the Stanley Cup atop Fisher Peak or the two brothers, beards and all, following their cup win in Anaheim. The largest crowd of the season at 2945 showed up.
10. Radio mentioned in Spokane they don't have a problem attracting the younger 20-40 crowd in Spokane whereas rinks in Canada - Cranbrook among them - has a much tougher time getting that demographic in on a regular basis. I'm curious how they do it. Many of you have heard about the struggles at the BCHL/Junior A level and those franchises. Attendance - though it's really magnified in Cranbrook - is down all over the WHL. Costs are going up and the market is saturated. Junior A/BCHL is talking about pay-to-play model, much like Junior B. Hockey in this country, from a grass roots level, is undergoing a massive shift. In a Have or Have-not model, not only is the Junior model experience a leveling off in popularity, at least live, and at the rink, but associations are reporting a drop in overall membership and the numbers playing the game across the country has also leveled off and is not growing. Expense to play the game is climbing and experience, including the culture the game draws from isn't growing. Even locally the game is shrinking and minor hockey is expecting a loss this year.
WJC Chatter - You really get to see how good a player Reinhart will become watching him at the World Junior level. In a tournament usually set for 19-year-olds, Reinhart is in the upper echelon of world class players for that age group. Someone commented on his skating ability on the big rink. Sure, he doesn't have the explosive skating style of a Drouin but he's a different player. When they use the word cerebral, it simply means smarter. He's reads the play better and makes up for the lack of explosive speed on the big ice. And no, the comment doesn't mean Reinhart's slow either..... Got to relax after the WJC loss to the Czech Republic in the shootout yesterday. Beat the Americans and the Slovaks in regulation and first in the pool is still up for grabs. Though there's no bye to the semis this year as all teams will be play in the quarter-finals. Finishing higher simply means you'll get a weaker opponent from the other pool.... Super phenom Connor McDavid, who is not 17 yet, is taking a beating due to the two ill-advised penalties he took that resulted in power play goals for the Czechs. Will be interesting to see how his confidence is affected after the benching by Sutter following the two penalties. The shootout clearly showed the kid was shaken-up.... I'm thinking he'll bounce back.... Goalies - stay with Patterson; who was beaten high on two goals Saturday - or go with Fucale? Fucale will get the start against the Slovak's Monday... Still on the international scene, if you're looking for some more hockey, the Spengler Cup is on TSN throughout the holidays. The Rochester Americans of the AHL (Buffalo - NHL Affiliate) are participating in the tournament along with a Team Canada entry made up primarily of Canadians playing in Europe. Playing for the Amerks is D Brayden McNabb and G Nathan Lieuwen. Lieuwen didn't play in the Amerks 5-0 loss to Geneva but started against Canada Sunday.