Yes, that’s right, my week in junior hockey, not weekend.
Last week I grappled with a full slate of Canadian Hockey League madness as I helped cover the Top Prospects game, junior hockey’s annual showcase of the best draft-eligible talent, for the Canadian Press in addition to my regular duties.
It all started on Monday night when I went to the teams’ practices and interviewed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, currently ranked third amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department.
I was really pleased with my finished profile. “Nugent-Hopkins focused on improving his game” illustrated how impressively modest and grounded this young play-making centre is.
“It’s been an eventful week for Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Just six days ago Nugent-Hopkins was ranked third among draft-eligible North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department. Days later, he was named captain of Team Orr for the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game Wednesday night.
The six-foot centre is keeping it all in perspective though and remains humble about the two achievements.” Read the rest at Yahoo! Sports Canada.
On Tuesday morning I went to watch the Next Testing combine where the skaters for the Top Prospects games were put through their paces to measure and compare their skating ability through a series of drills. I didn’t have a piece to work on, I just wanted to see what it was all about and get to take in some of the best young players in the game in person.
I was most impressed with two players during the combine: Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks.
Catenacci blew me away with his speed. I didn’t have a stopwatch or anything with me, but it was clear that he was by far the fastest player on the ice that morning.
Bartschi’s seemingly effortless strides really struck me. He could keep pace with most of his competition, often peeling away from most of them, apparently without breaking a sweat. Incredible.
Wednesday was the main event. I joined my CP colleague Shi Davidi at the Air Canada Centre. He did the game story for wide release while I was responsible for the game’s sidebar and producing the agate file for paginators across Canada.
The morning was spent doing media scrums around head coaches Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour as well as Gilmour’s assistant Wendel Clark.
It was during these free-for-alls that Cherry spoke out about the lack of respect amongst players in the NHL, leading to disastrous head shots like David Steckel’s blindside of Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic. Of course, it was a hot news item for most of the day, with Shi and I at the centre of the maelstrom.
For my sidebar I wound up doing a notebook on four of the smaller stories within the game that was only distributed to print outlets, including this bit on Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s:
“It was the most unheralded player at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game game that made the biggest impact for Team Cherry on Wednesday night
Left-winger Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's was the only member on head coach Don Cherry's squad to score in the 7-1 drubbing handed out by Doug Gilmour's Team Orr.
After Team Orr jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead by the game's midway point, Prince put Team Cherry on the board. Although it was his team's only goal of the game, the 18-year-old from Spencerport, N.Y., was glad to make a difference.
‘It's a good feeling,’ Prince said after the game. ‘It doesn't say everything about a player but it’s definitely nice to get a goal.’
When the two rosters of draft-eligible prospects were originally drawn up, Prince was left out despite being second in the Ontario Hockey League's scoring race with 21 goals and 55 assists, three points behind his 67's linemate Tyler Toffoli, who has 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points.
It took a nagging injury to Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers – currently ranked first amongst North American skaters by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting – to make space for Prince on Team Cherry.
Prince is ranked 35th.
‘I completely believe in fate,’ Prince said. ‘It was definitely fate for me to be here. When I got the news I was very excited.
‘It's an experience I'll never forget.’”
All in all, it was a very busy but productive week. Lots of fun and a great learning experience for me as a journalist. Best of all, I got to see my name in print as I helped break some news, easily the biggest thrill for a reporter.
Friday Jan. 21st 2011
QMJHL: TIGRES NEED SIX ROUNDS TO DOWN HALIFAX IN SHOOTOUT
It took six rounds in the shootout, but the Victoriaville Tigres earned the win on Friday night.
Goaltender David Honzik turned aside three of the six shooters he faced and made 29 saves in regular play as the Tigres out-lasted the Halifax Mooseheads 5-4 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: MRAZEK, 67'S BLANK SPIRIT
Petr Mrazek stopped all 36 shots he faced and rookie Sean Monahan scored one goal and set up another Friday as the Ottawa 67's put an end to a three-game slide with a 3-0 victory over the Saginaw Spirit in Ontario Hockey League action.
The shutout was Mrazek's third of the OHL season and sixth of his career. It came after he gave up six goals in each of Ottawa's season-high three consecutive defeats last weekend.
WHL: SEGAL EARNS FOURTH SHUTOUT OF YEAR, GIANTS BLANK COUGARS
Mark Segal made 30 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year to lead the Vancouver Giants to a 3-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Western Hockey League action Friday night.
Darren Bestland, Matt Bellerive and Nathan Burns scored for the Giants (23-19-5), while Spencer Bennett recorded an assist to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games in a Vancouver uniform.
Saturday Jan. 22nd 2011
QMJHL; TITAN SCORE FIVE UNANSWERED TO BEAT MAINEIACS
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan kept their hot streak alive with some clutch play on Saturday night.
Sebastien Trudeau's game-winning goal was one of five unanswered scores as the Titan rallied to a 6-3 victory against the Lewiston Maineiacs Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ICEDOGS KEEP LEAGUE'S TOP HOME RECORD WITH WIN
The Hamilton brothers and Ryan Strome insured the Niagara IceDogs continued their home-ice domination Saturday.
Niagara maintained the Ontario Hockey League's top home record with a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout victory over the Sudbury Wolves.
WHL: BRAES SCORES OVERTIME WINNER AS HURRICANES TOP PATS
Cam Braes scored a goal, an assist and the overtime winner to lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League Saturday night.
Landon Oslanski also had a three point night for the Hurricanes (16-22-9) with a goal and two assists.
Sunday Jan. 23rd 2011
QMJHL: SEA DOGS DOUBLE UP RIVAL REMPARTS
The Saint John Sea Dogs dealt a blow to their closest Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival on Sunday afternoon.
Zack Phillips' power-play goal with seven seconds left in the second period stood as the winner in Saint John's 4-2 triumph over the Quebec Remparts.
OHL: STORM RALLY LATE IN THIRD TO STUN 67'S
Taylor Beck and Cody McNaughton scored 20 seconds apart in the final minute of the third period to lift the Guelph Storm to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa 67's in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday.
The Storm (21-19-5) trailed 3-1 heading into the third period before Beck scored during a 5-on-3 power play to cut the lead to one.
The former captain of Canada’s world junior team has now been charged with assault causing injury months after he knocked Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts to the ice with an elbow to the head.
Cormier was suspended by the QMJHL for the rest of the season, a punishment that was supported by the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, preventing the New Jersey Devils’ prospect from playing out the rest of the season as a professional.
Criminal charges, however, take things to a whole new level.
There is going to be a huge outcry over this – both positive and negative – and then gas will be poured on the issue during the first intermission of tonight’s broadcast of the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks game when the CBC’s Don Cherry is given some airtime on Coach’s Corner.
Hits to the head, French-Canadian players and the law weighing-in to judge hockey? Oh man. This is like the perfect storm of Cherry Pet Peeves.
In any event, a ton of ink is going to be spilled in over the possibility of a hockey player doing time for an act on the ice.
Of course, the big question is – should Cormier even be charged in the first place? It pains me to say it but, yes, he should.
As evidenced by the strong reaction of the Canadian Hockey League, the QMJHL and the NHL that play was definitely outside the normal parameters of safe play. Further, there’s an argument to be made that Cormier did it on purpose. The video evidence certainly makes it look like Cormier purposely targeted Tam.
Despite the protests of some fans, there is precedent for the law getting involved in overly-physical hockey disputes. In fact, it’s happened on 14 different occasions since 1900.
If that happened on the street it would undoubtedly result in the victim pressing charges, so why shouldn’t it on a rink?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but for justice to be completely done, Cormier must go through a criminal trial.
A week ago I tweeted about the movement to have Pat Burns inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I had wanted to expand on that 140-character missive, but the Easter holidays got in the way. However, now I’ve got the chance.
As TSN later reported, the Facebook group Let's Get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame - NOW! has the support of tens of thousands of hockey fans - over 49,000 as I write this – to put the former National Hockey League coach into the Hall of Fame before he succumbs to terminal cancer.
Other media outlets have picked up on the page, including Hockey Night in Canada, Coast to Coast with Don Cherry, the Montreal Gazette, the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and several radio stations.
Burns has a wealth of accomplishments that should earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
In his 14 straight seasons as a head coach he won 501 games with four teams, making it to the playoffs 11 times, the final twice and winning the Stanley Cup once.
To put that in a historical perspective, Burns is 11th in NHL history for number of games coached, nine behind Brian Sutter.
Burns is also 11th on the list for coaching wins, just one behind Hall of Fame member Glen Sather.
Even his losses stack up well, with Burns dropping 353 decisions in regulation and 14 in overtime (OTL was only counted in his last four seasons). That’s significantly less than Jacques Demers (468) and Brian Sutter (437), both of whom also coached for 14 years.
Granted, Burns doesn’t come anywhere close to the top 10 in terms of Stanley Cup wins, but he does at least have that one Stanley Cup ring from the 2002-03 New Jersey Devil’s championship, which is better than many other members of the Hall of Fame.
One could speculate that had it not been for Burns’ premature retirement, he’d have moved even further up these lists. Certainly, he could have moved up on the lists for games coached, and presumably climbed further up in terms of wins.
However, the Hall of Fame shouldn’t rely upon conjecture or presumptions. The man’s record speaks for itself. Even within the constraints of his shortened career he put together an exceptional coaching record.
The only question is whether or not Burns will be alive by the time he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Burns was present at the groundbreaking ceremony of a hockey arena that will be named in his honour two weeks ago. During the press conference, Burns was not optimistic about his chances of seeing the rink completed.
"I probably won't see the project to the end," said Burns. "But let's hope I'm looking down on it and see a young Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux."
Normally, there is a three-year waiting period after retirement to gain admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
However, there is precedent for the Hockey Hall of Fame speeding the process up: Roger Neilson was fast-tracked as he was terminally ill, as was Mario Lemieux, whose Hodgkin's lymphoma appeared to be fatal.
Burns has everything going for him. He has a high-calibre resume, the support of many hockey insiders and the Hall of Fame has done this kind of promotion before.
All that’s left is for the selection committee to take note of his accomplishments and the groundswell of support for his induction. It would be a fitting cap to a stellar career and an inspiring life.
If you’d like to throw your support behind the Let's Get Pat Burns into the Hockey Hall of Fame - NOW! Facebook group, you can join by clicking on this link.