Our Lord and Savior, Christopher Kunitz

The Ottawa Senators/Pittsburgh Penguins had to push things to the limit and so the series went to game seven THEN double overtime. The lord and savior of Pittsburgh, Chris Kunitz, fired home a shot to end the game 3-2 to the Penguins who stand victorious as the Eastern Conference Champions.

It’s nice to be able to contribute,” Kunitz said, “but we all know it’s a team game, and we’re all going to have to pull our own weight at some point.”

Incredibly, Kunitz hadn’t scored AT ALL in the playoffs this year until last night’s game where he scored the first and third goals.

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The Penguins will face the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final. This is the first time the defending champions have made it to the final since the Detroit Red Wings in 2009 – and the cup hasn’t been won twice in a row since 1998 which is also held by the Red Wings. Big shoes to fill, Pittsburgh!

Whilst the Predators going all the way would be a fairy tale, the Penguins have plenty of their own.

  • Ron Hainsey, 36 years old, played 906 NHL games without EVER going to the playoffs. With his trade to Pittsburgh, he has experienced the playoffs and has gone all the way to the final.
  • Mark Streit, another veteran at 39, has never won a Stanley Cup either and how sweet would it be to win one with the Flyers’ biggest rivals after spending four years in Philly?
  • Matt Cullen is likely to retire at the end of the year, aged 40. He has already won cups in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, and last year with the Penguins – but wouldn’t it be nice to end your career with a hat-trick of Stanleys?
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Credit where it’s due… the Senators played a hell of a series. Karlsson was outstanding, as was goalie, Craig Anderson. Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with cancer in October last year so Craig took around three months off to care for her and their children whilst she underwent treatment. To miss such a big chunk of the season, go through hell with his wife’s health, and to get back and perform at the level he has is commendable – many times throughout the series Anderson kept the Sens in it. Congratulations to the team for making it so far – and best of luck to the Anderson’s in Nicholle’s fight with cancer. You can follow it here: http://www.stickbynik.com/

 

Getzlaf’s Apology

Transcript of Getzlaf’s ‘apology’ after Game 5 of the Western Conference Final: (Thanks to Queeraspuck)

Getzlaf: You know, obviously, a situation like that where I’m on the bench by myself, frustration set in there was obviously some words said, not necessarily directed at anyone in particular, but just kind of a comment. I gotta be a little bit more responsible with the words I choose. Definitely as a father, as somebody that takes a lot of pride in this game and the respect for it, um it’s tough to see somebody refer to it as what TSN did. I didn’t mean it in that manner in any way and, you know, for that to got that route was very disappointing for me.

I did accept responsibility and I accepted the fine. We talked to the league – I understand that it’s my responsibility not to use vulgar language period. Whether it’s a swear word or whatever it is, we gotta be a little bit more respectful of the game and that’s up to me. I expect- accept that responsibility and we’ll move forward.

Reporter: Is that something you regret, looking back? I understand your meaning and what you meant by it, but is it something you regret though?

Getzlaf: Well again, of course, that’s my responsibility is to understand that there’s eyes and ears on us all the time. Um, fortunately enough no one heard it, if you can read lips it’s a little bit harder and I apologize for that. That’s a thing that you know, you won’t hear from me again. I hope I didn’t offend anybody outside the circle that we trust, so.

To translate for y’all: I said something homophobic and can’t believe it’s being called homophobic. I’ll continue to say this crap away from cameras so nobody can call me out on it. I’m not apologizing to the LGBT community, but rather to the league. 

NHL update…

We’re almost at the halfway mark of round two of the playoffs and here’s a quick update of how things are shaping up.

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Preds/Blues
I predicted Blues would win in seven – still possible.

Ducks/Oilers
Ducks in six was the prediction and I am prepared to change that to Oilers…

Penguins/Caps
So far the Pens have looked better but don’t rule the Capitals out yet.

Rangers/Senators
Wakey wakey New York, you’re in the damn playoffs!!

Also… Congrats to the New Jersey Devils who will have the first round pick in the 2017 Draft (and Nolan Patrick will likely be heading their way). Hard luck to the Colorado Avalanche who were absolutely atrocious for the entire duration of the season, had an 18% chance of winning the first pick and still did not manage that, so will take the fourth overall pick. 

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two

It’s with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to half of our teams until next season. See ya in October: San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, St Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and the Montreal Canadiens. But to the remaining eight… welcome to round two – four wins down, twelve to go.

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Preds/Blues

For the first time in NHL history, an 8th seed swept a first seed and I think we all became fans of the Nashville Predators for the way they took out the trash. When Shea Weber was traded for PK Subban, a lot of people thought it was a crazy move. Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews, certainly was relieved, but too bad… the lmao.pngPreds are more than one man! Elite goal tender, Pekka Rinne saved 123 of 126 shots he faced giving him a tasty .976sv%, but rival goalie Jake Allen has also been incredible with a .956sv%, and since Mike Yeo took over the Blues _ months ago, the team have allowed less than two goals a game average. Yet before players can get to the goal, they have to get past Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban, who have been defending spectacularly. Firing from the offense, Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, who has tumblr_oorr91sO9T1wngza3o1_500returned from three years in the KHL, and Paul Stasyny, back from injury. The Preds have Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Scorsberg Forsberg, and should hopefully have Colin Wilson back from injury after missing round one. This will be the tightest series in the Western Conference because the teams are so evenly matched.
Prediction: Blues win in seven (I’d really love it to be Nashville though…) 

 

Ducks/Oilers

The Oilers will be feeling pretty proud that they knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games as the Sharks were last year’s runners up, and the Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs for a decade. That being said, the pressure from fans is high, but they have captain Connor (McJesus) McDavid who has won the Art Ross trophy this year for most points – in only his second season. (Let us not forget that he spent a few months out in his rookie year following a dirty hit into the boards that broke his collar bone). The Ducks always surprise me when they consistently make the playoffs… I forget they exist because I never come across their fans (should have stayed as the Mighty Ducks). In their 22 year history they’ve made the playoffs 12 times, and of those twelve times, they have been the division champion a staggering six times, and won one Stanley Cup. They swept Calgary, so they’re doing something right. Talbot was outstanding in goal against the Sharks, and the Oilers have no significant injuries in the team, but they’re inexperienced – particularly in the playoffs – and up against a very physical, (sometimes dirty) experienced team with the likes of Kesler, Bieksa, Getzlaf, and Perry.
Prediction: Ducks win in six. 

Rangers/Senators

I’m not sure if anybody expected the forgotten Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, to make it past the first round but the Bruins were sluggish this season and niggled by injuries, so they had an easier opponent. Last time the New York Rangers faced the Canadiens, the Habs were without Carey Price and were beat in six. They declared that if they had their brickwall of a goaltender they’d have beaten the Rangers; well they had him this time and they still got whooped by the Rangers. The Sens are carried more often than not by Erik Karlsson, but so far Bobby Ryan and ex-Ranger, Derick Brassard, are leading in goals and assists in the post-season. The Rangers are favourites to win here. In their last fifteen matches, NYR have taken ten of them. Rangers have good depth; Zuccarello led the team in points, but hot on his tail were Miller, Stepan, and Kreider then they also have the King of Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
Prediction: Rangers to win in five. 

Penguins/Capitals

This is gonna be the best match up – without a doubt. I am biased as HELL but I’ll be cheering for Pittsburgh – but they have the players to back it up. They’re without Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin who are on injured reserve, as well as

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The End of Crochkin? Say it ain’t so!

Matt Murray who is unable to skate. Their fourth highest point scorer was Sheary with 53 points in his first full season… to put that into perspective Zuccarello, the point leader for rangers, had 59. Kessel notched up 70, Malkin had 72, and Crosby leads the league with an 89 point season. However, hot on his tail was all star Nicklas Backstrom with 86 points. Ovi scores 33 goals and 36 assists – don’t accuse him of not passing again. Big scorers all round in these battles. It’s not just about the points; both teams are notoriously close in terms of cohesion and play like well oiled machines. Whilst Holtby has a .925sv%, Fleury has the edge at .933sv% for the playoffs. However, the Pens are without Murray to back him up, and Fleury can be shaky at times during playoffs in previous years. The big worry for the Caps – besides the two headed monster and the other penguins – is that they tend to fall apart during the playoffs despite being a regular season juggernaut. Still, the Caps ended Toronto’s playoff dreams in game seven whilst Justin Bieber was in attendance in his Maple Leafs shirt, shame.
Prediction: Penguins take it in seven (I really hope)

 

 

 

Bettman vs the Olympics

What’s greater than representing your country in the Olympics? Skipping it and competing in the same league as per usual, according to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Negotiations between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are fraught with tension. On the 21st March, the commissioner had this to say, in regards to the 2018 Winter Olympics:

Assume we are not going

We, being the NHL players who would be representing their countries in PyeongChang. The main issue is that because it falls in January/February, the NHL season must shut down for almost three weeks in the final push for the playoffs. The added weeks cause the season to lengthen… the final game of the Stanley Cup in 2014 was played on June 13th and the pre-season then began three months later on the 21st September. But it’s less than three weeks, once every four years… IT’S THE OLYMPICS. If they want to shorten the season then cut down on the number of games, collapse teams, remove the all-star game or the recently introduced bye week.

There is also a thinly veiled concern for “player injuries” – this is coming from a league that sparsely enforces its player safety, shows little consistency, displays favouritism, and has lawsuits against it from former players due to the effects of repeated concussions. I say their concern is not genuine because they do not show much concern for fourth liners, but because their star players are at the Olympics – the ones who draw in viewers and the cash – they worry about the size of their wallet.

This is terribly disruptive to our business

For big bosses like Bettman, hockey is just that, a business.

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Candid photo of Bettman guarding his gold

However, to players who have given their entire lives to this sport, the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage and win a gold medal means everything. IT IS THE DAMN OLYMPICS. Bettman is complaining about the costs involved in sending the players (around $15-20  million due to accommodation, charter costs, and insurance),but as the majority of these players are on contracts worth millions of dollars per year, I’m sure they’re capable of producing the money as individuals to have the chance to play for their country.

Take the Russian Machine, Alexander Ovechkin, for an example. He’s said that if the NHL refuses to send players then he doesn’t care and is going anyway. Ovi is the face of the Washington Capitals franchise and if he says “nope, I’m out” then others might follow suit. Caps owner, Ted Leonsis, has even given Ovi his blessing to go to the Olympics.

He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.

And if Ovi goes, what if his team mate Backström decides he wants to play for Sweden? And if Crosby says he wants to win his third gold and leave the Penguins for three weeks? And if McDavid and Matthews want the opportunity to represent their country for the first time? Who will stand in their way?
Another of Bettman’s issues is that participating in the previous Olympics has had no benefits to the NHL. Olympic games would be broadcast in the morning in North America due to the time difference and in February, only hockey and basketball are the major sports on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. People will still tune into the Olympics no matter what time of day it is hosted.

We don’t get content for the NHL Network, we don’t get content for our social media platforms and NHL.com

GET OVER IT

Bettman pushed the World Cup of Hockey enough – a poor man’s replica of the Olympics – but hockey exists outside the NHL of course. Canada and the USA would most likely send teams made of AHLers, college athletes, or ex-NHLers. Russia could come with a very strong KHL team (and Ovi leading the way as an abdicator). But here is the real kicker… Bettman is keen to line his pockets with as much money as possible, or so it seems: With the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has ANOTHER team in the desert. He also would like to penetrate the Chinese sports market because there is lots of cash to be had there. Guess who is hosting the Olympics in 2022… Cha-ching, China! The NHL planned to hold games every year there in the lead up to generate interest* in ice hockey, but Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF has declared:

If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China.

Yikes! The greedy heads of the NHL could potentially shoot themselves in the foot and lose this lucrative Chinese market if they do not participate in the Korean Olympics.

That being said, the NHL didn’t agree to the Sochi Olympics until June 2013, so it is still up in the air… at least until Bettman stops throwing his dummy out of the pram.

*cash, you know it’s for cash. These new “fans” would have to watch games first thing in the morning… oh wait wasn’t that an argument against going to Korea?

 

Concussions Part II – Hockey & Concussions

Elite hockey players are fast and physical athletes therefore it is one of the sports with an inflated risk of concussion due to collisions and checks, despite players wearing helmets. Whilst the majority of concussions will resolve themselves in 7 – 10 days, some players experience post-concussion syndrome – most notably Sidney Crosby.

During the Winter Classic game in 2011, Crosby took a headshot from David Steckel then five days later, Victor Hedman ran him hard into the boards. After his concussion diagnosis, Crosby missed a staggering 68 games. However, only eight games into his comeback, Crosby collided with liney Chris Kunitz and was out for another 43 games. The player himself admits he questioned whether he would ever recover enough to play professionally again. Since that first bout of head injuries, he has gone on to win an Olympic gold in Sochi, a gold world championship medal, the world cup of hockey, the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe, and the Hart trophy, as well as various MVP awards. Yet, in 2016 Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion again following an incident in practice.

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The cursed jersey

Coach Sullivan said at the time “Injuries are a part of our game. Part of the challenge for us is to try help Sid get healthy as quickly as possible”. It’s understandable that the Penguins wanted their captain and star player back quickly, but hurrying him back from a concussion could do more harm than good – particularly given his prior history. As it happens, Crosby missed six games but that was all.

Whilst Crosby is the most well known NHLer to suffer drastically from the effects of concussion, there are several others. Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder in his rookie year, hasn’t been able to hit the heights expected of him and injuries have likely played a role in this. During his second season, Skinner missed sixteen games following a concussion then suffered another head injury in the lockout-shortened season. A relatively productive season occurred in 2013-14 with Skinner scoring 33 goals, but again last season he suffered his third concussion in four years – and he’s only 24. It’s worrying.

Not every player is the face of the franchise, Sidney Crosby, who perhaps is allowed more time to recover to ensure he’s in pristine condition. For other players, there is an underlying need to get back in the team quickly, especially for a 3rd or 4th liner – professional sports are tough, and you’ve gotta fight for your position to show that you deserve to be on the team. As concussions are diagnosed by a symptom checklist, I question whether some players have omitted details because they’re eager to be back in the line up  – putting themselves at further risk. Likewise, once you’ve received an injury, you don’t want it to happen again and in a physical game like hockey, you can end up playing scared – not making hits, not rushing to the net etc. It’s also interesting to note that video analyses of concussions during a five year period in the NHL showed that at the time of contact the player was often not in possession of the puck and often penalties were not called on the play. Checks to the head are too frequently being dismissed by officials or are being played off as accidental; one of Skinner’s concussions arose from his face hitting Matt Niskanen’s elbow – or so Niskanen said. Whilst many occurrences are clean hits, there are some players who play dirty and go for the head or take cheap shots which is something the NHL needs to tighten up on.

The most frequent cause of concussions were collisions with another player and nearly half occurred in the first period. This could be due to the higher energy/adrenaline levels in the beginning, easing into the game and adjusting spatially, or setting the tone for how physical the game will be.

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The Jets’ Patrik Laine – who leads all rookies in scoring – suffered a concussion on the 7th. It was a hard hit, but not a dirty one. He was spotted watching the team train on Sunday (8th) in good spirits, but did not feel 100% to play. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery. That being said, at the beginning of this season, the NHL introduced “spotters” to games. Teams still have a responsibility to identify and report players who ought to be removed from play and evaluated for concussion, but additional support is now provided following an agreement between the NHL/NHLPA. Central league spotters will monitor games from the player safety room in New York where they can authorise a player’s removal from play if they exhibit certain visible signs. Teams who violate this ruling will receive punishments, likewise a player may not be re-admitted to the game until he is cleared to. More can be found here.

Whilst this should be seen as a good move, some players are already mad. McDavid was taken out the line up for a concussion check just as his team was on the verge of a 5-on-3 against the Wild. The captain said of the incident “obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling”. Whilst McDavid’s frustration is understandable, over 100 ex-NHLers are suing the league due to the treatment of their concussions and the concealment of information regarding later issues, including dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And it’s not just in the NHL,  similar law suits have been brought against the NFL.

To sum up, concussions – whilst considered minor – can actually have prolonged and worrying implications that affects players’ careers and later life. The newly implemented spotters will be able to react and remove those players believed to have suffered a concussion, but do nothing to actually reduce a concussion occurring. As a parting note, hockey is a sport where players are expected to drop the gloves and fight; an enforcer can fight once or twice a month, so should fighting – which increases the risk of head injuries – be banned?

Can I just make a final confession, though? I don’t care what people remember about me as a hockey player, but please remember this one thing: I didn’t love to fight. The actual 30 seconds of fighting was fine. Your adrenaline takes over and the competition of battling at such a high level is actually enjoyable. The problem is all the anticipation of having to drop the gloves with another very skilled individual who can hurt you. The waiting is what drives you crazy. It’s not very easy on your psyche, especially once you have a family. – John Scott for The Players Tribune