Monday, November 28, 2016

Curling Canada Club Curler corruption

The 2016 Travellers Curling Club has just commenced with the most recent event hosted by the Kelowna Curling Club. In the Men's division, Ontario's Wesley Forget out of the Cataraqui Golf & Country Club who of note is the host club of next year's Traveller's event and for the ladies, the foursome out of the Fort Rouge Club in Winnipeg skipped by Tracy Andries reigned victorious.  The premise of this article is to vocalize my disdain for the current format, not necessarily the structure for which the bonspiel is set up but more precisely the flawed qualification process that has been implemented to secure a spot in this prestigious club event.

I'm a club curler, and it goes without saying that I give Curling Canada full support for brainstorming an event that has National implications for curlers that otherwise would never even dream of participating in such event. The paramount issue that I have however is the way the event is trending and the types of teams and players that have flocked the fields in recent years. As mentioned in the opening sentence of this paragraph, I am indeed a club curler that has never competed or succeeded in a regional or provincial competition and would rate my chances of ever partaking in the current structure as slim to none and here I thought the event was formulated for curlers just like myself. Case in point, before I go any further with my "grievances", let's analyze the 2016 field to better illustrate my concerns. On the men's side we might as well begin with our champions from Ontario, the Forget rink. The week was certainly unforgettable for the foursome but for a couple curlers the sheer presence is just a tip of the cap in a semi-storied curling career. Skip Wesley is heavily invested in the World Curling Tour throwing second stones for Cody Maus, a former Canadian junior finalist. Being regular contributors on the Ontario World Curling tour circuit the competition he would've faced in Kelowna would be comparable to the a Major Junior hockey franchise taking on their junior A neighbours. Could have I cited a better comparable? Sure, but the point stands. So Forget won the event, but who did he square off against in the final? The answer to that trivia question would Saskatoon's own Kory Kohuch. Kohuch, a 2014 National Travellers champion(we'll touch on that later) was back and had a respectable showing not losing a game until the final. Kohuch on a personal level has competed in a Canadian Mixed championship as an Albertan and has additionally battled in a couple Mixed Provincial finals. What looks more boisterous on a resume....a Canadian Mixed appearance of a club curler national event? Clearly without any hesitation the Mixed takes the cake. Or how about Newfoundland and Labrador where skip Trent Skanes was Matt Blandford's third on the Newfoundland rink that fought their way to the National Junior final in 2004. Needless to say when Trent recollects on his curling achievements twenty years down the road  he won't even remember his week in Kelowna.  Now with the ladies, the list of notable throwers isn't as long but one name sticks out like a sore thumb and that would be Quebec's Nathalie Gagnon. Nathalie represented her province at the 2003 Scotties Tournament of Hearts which featured World Champions Jan Betker and Colleen Jones.  I guarantee I've missed some curlers in this event that have prominently figured in National curling circles(Ontario second Graham Rathwell a Canada Winter games participant) which begs the question, a question that I've posed to those I know in the curling community and that is, what is the intent of this event????

I just asked for an answer as to what is the intent of the event? Is it for curlers that have achieved milestones in this sport so substantiate their resume?  Sadly the answer to that question is yes but I'm here to pitch to the masses reading this that a change is needed to bring this back to the roots? I'm here for the individual that aspires to reach the pinnacle but knows that it's a virtual impossibility with the current eligibility requirements. We as a curling community need to dumb it down to a point where somebody like PEI's Ryan Giddens who I for one supported Curling Canada's decision to uphold the policy of making him ineligible, but somebody of that elk needs to be afforded the chance to not just play in the Travellers but be given a realistic chance to get to Nationals.  What I'm going to do below is quote the current eligibility requirements and  notate what changes I would instill.

The declared teams, through either process, MUST have at least three players that have played together in a sanctioned club league during the current season. A replacement fourth player (i.e. a player who did not play regularly on that team throughout the season) MUST play lead. Players who play exclusively in a major/super league without playing in another sanctioned club league are ineligible to compete.  ** Clubs that only have mixed or open leagues (i.e. no men’s and women’s leagues) must contact their Association for approval to participate. *

                  A good friend of mine, a former participant at the 2015 nationals when we were discussing my thoughts brought up a good point, one I hadn't yet thought about and that's why are you penalizing curlers who may play with a good buddy who just happens to fall under the tree I'm attempting to chop down. To mediate this concern what I'm proposing is open up eligibility to make it where as long as the four curlers are members of the same club they can enter a team in playdowns to offset the difficulty of these very same teams would have in finding a substitute if one or more of their players have played in  a provincial or National event.

Each club team will be allowed only one (1) players who has played in a Junior’s, Men’s, Women’s or Senior’s provincial in the current or previous four (4) years, or participated in a Grand Slam event in the current or previous four (4) years. (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16). No player on the team can have played in a Canadian Junior’s, Men’s, Women’s, or Senior’s Canadian Championship for those years (i.e. national competitors are excluded as regular or replacement players on the team)

                 This is where I have the biggest problem. I apologize to those curlers who have participated in provincial or National competition that don't consider themselves elite but from my vantage point if you fast track that far in the process you're an "elite"curler and for purposes of this competition should be deemed ineligible. What I'm advocating for is the following. You play in any provincial competition in Men's, Women's Seniors or Mixed and I maintain that should nix the Travellers eligibility. I'm a little torn on juniors but after careful consideration I'm willing to accept a ten year junior provincial grace period where ten years after your last junior provincial you've earned  a spot back in the pool. I'm adamantly opposed to having any curler who has dipped in the national waters.  You've made a national? Congratulations, I'm envious but you do NOT belong in a Club Curlers championship. I know in some provinces due to a lack of playdown entrants when determining whether or not you fit within waiting the four years as currently constituted they calculate a certain percentage of entrants within that particular province and if you fall below the X percentage you're still able to compete in that year's Travellers. For these provinces, I don't exactly know what number should be other than to say the percentage should increase.

Lastly, and this is very black and white, I'm also calling for recycling as many teams as possible to fulfill as many curling dreams as humanly possible and while I'm okay with teams able to go back every other year the only slight change I'd make would be if you win an event at any point that ceases any future invitation you may be in line for. Kory Kohuch out of Saskatoon is the aforementioned prime example having won in 2014. For those gentlemen the club curling pinnacle had been reached and I would encourage Curling Canada to stipulate that in that scenario the torch would have to be forever passed. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Team Canada World Junior Hockey Championship 2017

As an avid reader will be well aware of that the World Junior Hockey Championships are one of my biggest passions and with that  being said what I've constructed this evening is a Selection Camp roster for who I suspect we'll see invited to the evaluation camp and furthemore who we'll see crack the twenty two man lineup ultimately. Regarding the junior eligibles playing in the National Hockey League, the ones that aren't even being given consideration are Connor McDavid(this one not worth explaining), Travis Konecny on Philadelphia and Jakob Chychrun. Travis has comfortably squeezed himself into a top nine role and as Ron Hextall has said a plethora of times he's not going to send somebody back who's contributing seamlessly to the common team goal. On a personal basis I feel as if a trip to the World Juniors in front of families and friends would do wonders for Travis' confidence but I'll take his word for the Flyers intentions. The New York Islanders have Anthony Beauvillier in the lineup and very much like the Konecny situation I would lean towards re-assigning him to juniors/U-20's but unlike the Flyers plight I think we stand a superb chance of seeing Anthony play in the tournament. The Arizona Coyotes have three juniors who are polar opposites but at the end of the day for  a re-tooling team I think two are near locks to don the Red and White in Lawson Crouse and Dylan Strome. You're probably thinking to yourself, why would the Coyotes favor sending Crouse and Strome back who have already experienced the World Junior rigors, in Crouse's case twice but decide against Chychrun?  A couple reasons for this, most importantly the role that Chychrun has earned with Arizona is more concrete compared to the fringe ice time both Dylan and Lawson have inherited along with the fact that injuries have decimated the defensive core and even though I was confident that Jakob wouldn't sent be back long before tonight, the injury sustained in tonight's NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes that saw stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson get walloped by Michael Ferland may have sealed his fate in staying with the big club. Sans McDavid I've realized there's a slight possibility that all five could be returned but for the sake of this piece I am choosing to include the three(Crouse,Strome, and Beauvillier) while including three selection camp alternates in the oft chance they're not sent back. Pertaining to the numbers that have been invited to the camp historically I'm aware it does vary each December but I've elected to include twelve defenceman, eighteen forwards and three goaltenders. This is a rough ball park estimate and from there I will pare it down to who I perceive will be named to the final roster. Hope you enjoy!.

*****FYI the Selection Camp roster is alphabetical*****

Callum Booth(Halifax QMJHL)
Carter Hart(Everett WHL)
Conor Ingram(Kamloops WHL)

Frederic Allard(Chicoutimi QMJHL)
Jake Bean(Calgary WHL)
Thomas Chabot(Saint John QMJHL)*
Dante Fabbro(Boston U NCAA)*
Samuel Girard(Shawinigan QMJHL)*
Brendan Guhle(Prince Albert WHL)*
Nicolas Hague(Mississauga OHL)
Noah Juulsen(Everett WHL)*
Jeremy Lauzon(Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL)*
Phillipe Myers(Rouyn-Noranda QMJHL)
Mitchell Vande Sompel(Oshawa OHL)
Parker Wotherspoon(Tri-City WHL)

Replacement #1:Kyle Capobianco(Sudbury OHL)
Replacement #2:Connor Hobbs(Regina WHL)
Replacement #3:Garrett McFadden(Guelph OHL)


Matt Barzal(Seattle WHL)*
Anthony Beauvillier(New York Islanders/Shawinigan)
Anthony Cirelli(Oshawa OHL)
Lawson Crouse(Arizona/Kingston)*
Pierre-Luc Dubois(Cape Breton QMJHL)
Julien Gauthier(Val'dor QMJHL)*
Jansen Harkins(Prince George WHL)
Mathieu Joseph(Saint John QMJHL)*
Tyson Jost(North Dakota NCAA)*
Adam Mascherin(Kitchener OHL)*
Nolan Patrick(Brandon WHL)****Currently hurt, status in doubt)
Nicholas Roy(Chicoutimi QMJHL)
Tyler Soy(Victoria WHL)
Blake Speers(Sault Ste.Marie OHL)*****currently hurt, status in doubt***
Sam Steel(Regina WHL)
Mitchell Stephens(Saginaw OHL)*
Dylan Strome(Arizona/Erie)*
Austin Wagner(Regina WHL)

Replacement #1: Pascal Laberge(Victoriaville QMJHL)
Replacement #2:Michael McLeod(Mississauga OHL)
Replacement #3:Zach Senyshyn(Sault Ste.Marie OHL)
Replacement #4:Nick Merkley(Kelowna WHL)

My Projected Lineup:

LW                                    C                                                     RW

Jost                                Barzal                                             Strome
Gauthier                        Beauvillier                                        Patrick
Crouse                           Stephens                                          Mascherin
Speers                            Dubois                                              Joseph

-If Patrick can't go hense can't fulflll a top six role then Sam Steel will have a place on this team.
-If Speers can't go hense can't fulfill a bottom six role then Austin Wagner slides up to the fourth line and Anthony Cirelli secures a place on this team.

LD                               RD
Juulsen                        Chabot
Lauzon                        Bean
Fabbro                        Girard




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 5)

Keep in mind when perusing through these rankings that the objective of this  article isn't to rank the teams based off of current position which would skew the rankings, it's a ranking where enlies my thoughts on where teams currently situate when assessing the likelihood or lack thereof of said team hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

1.Regina Pats(Last time # 1)

I could go in a million different directions with this one but the avenue I'll explore this evening is the potential draft stock of seventeen year old goaltender Jordan Hollett. On the powerful Regina Pats, say Jordan Hollett finishes the year going 26-4 with a sub 3.00 Goals Against Average, how do the masses perceive his draft stock when some will argue that his numbers will be inflated by the nucleus that plays infront of him. It's a difficult proposition for National Hockey League scouts but at the same time if Tyler Brown continues his inconsistencies he could find himself earning more starts.

2.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time  #2)

The New York Islanders finally came to their senses and returned the services of Matt Barzal  Fans in Kent can rejoice as Barzal,and I'm not attempting to insinuate anything that the hockey world doesn't already know can single handedly change the complexion of the game.  Watching the World Juniors last year, Mitch Marner from the London Knights wowed but I recall mentioning to buddies that Barzal equally impressed with creativity.  With Barzal back in tow and Ryan Gropp now a couple weeks in, the onus is on this group to prove to General Manager Farwell that he should look to add and make another real run. Everyone(those active in the message board community) have advocated that the T-Birds should look for a defenceman but I still maintain scoring is more of an issue beyond Barzal and Gropp. Glenn Gawdin out of Swift Current would be an interesting fit. I have faith that Ethan Bear and Turner Ottenbreit can anchor the defence.

3.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 3)

This quintessential scoring by committee approach isn't slowing down one bit. Entering the campaign I'll be the first to admit that I didn't see where the scoring would come from and probably got roped into the notorious adage that a Kevin Constantine coached team couldn't produce a lick of offence.  That stereotype of previous incarnations cannot be applied to this group as the depth is what's setting them apart. In my pre-season preview I focused in on The Pas,Manitoba product Connor Dewar and he hasn't disappointed.  I'd like to see him have the penchant of shooting a little bit more but the deceptive speed he plays with makes him a dangerous commodity centering the third line on one of the dub's more dangerous teams. I'd also to like to verbalize my impressment towards the play of the defence behind team leader. Noah Juulsen as Bob McKenzie has penned is a virtual guarantee to make Team Canada in a top four role so the Montreal Canadiens prospect will naturally receive the accolades but players such a Lucas Skrumeda and possibly the best name across the league, Wyatte Wiley have quietly silenced any fears on what the defence will look like once Noah goes away to development camp, Over the past couple seasons watching Silvertip hockey Lucas never really stood out but as if often the case when  a player reaches their graduating season, they inherit a leadership role and has been rock steady in the defensive zone. He's very difficult to knock off the puck and you know stud netminder Carter Hart appreciates the shot blocking intangibles Skrumeda provides.

4.Tri-City Americans(Last time  # 5)

Some throughout this league will have you believe the Americans are a year away from being serious contenders in the Western Hockey League. These same individuals will cite that the Americans are built around a seventeen year old Michael Rasmussen and that they project to be championship contenders by 2018-2019 but what these misguided pendants are forgetting is that we live in a society due to advanced development and training that younger players can step in right away and  be the best in their respective sport. Whether it's Connor McDavid in hockey or Ezekiel Elliott in football, the way kids are specialized at an early age allows for immediate results.  Ten years ago, you would've gotten an expression of snorty derision at even contemplating the notion that a rookie could win the NFL M.V.P and may be a reality in 2017. Not just Rasmussen but and I've eluded to this on a couple of different occasions but it's the back end that has drawn rave reviews. Parker Wotherspoon may be on the cusp of making Team Canada the juniors(don't think he'll quite get there) and Juuso Valimaki is an almost certainty to be named to the Finland roster however it's the three to six stalwarts that are making it easy to forget the name Brandon Carlo in Kennewick. Kurtis Rutledge's game has grown leaps and bounds and what's now apparent is his willingness to step up and join the rush offensively, something he had an aversion to last year.

5.Kamloops Blazers(Last time # 4)

Don Hay has went public with the local media and preached discipline. Listen, I think Don Hay is the best tactical coach in the Western Hockey League however when he looks himself in the mirror he has to realize that the game has evolved and the forceful hockey he encouraged back during the Blazers hay day mid nineties dynasty is no longer sustainable. Additionally, when you take a step back and account for the group he's assembled aside from Gatenby and Kneen there isn't a lot of pure toughness on the roster. This is a skill team and Don Hay should embrace it  The reason I bring forth this argument and concern is due to the play of Garrett Pilon. Garrett in many ways is the poster child for what currently is hindering the Blazers. There was  a game a couple of weeks ago that pitted Kamloops against the Lethbridge Hurricanes and on almost virtually every shift Pilon was looking to drive someone in the boards. I can only help but think that was a game plan against a smaller and timid Hurricanes defence but at the end of the day you can't  completely re mold a player, especially one who's now a drafted player courtesy of the Washington Capitals. Points aside I haven't been impressed with Garrett early on and as I referenced in the opening I put large blame on the philosophy of Hay.

6.Calgary Hitmen(Last time  # 6)

If I would've penned this edition a couple of days earlier I'd have no qualms about scribing that I thought that Cody Porter was my pick for the league's best goaltender but then the Portland happening and this blogger is left with his jaw dropped to what could've happened to send Cody in such a tail spin. The 8-1 drubbing notwithstanding, Porter's statistical line of boasting a .914 Save Percentage with  a 2.71 Goals Against Average is noteworthy and what is helping Porter(sans the Winterhawk game) is the fact that Matteo Gennaro is beginning to heat up. The Winnipeg Jet pick from 2015(203rd overall) has an important task in front of him in that he's playing for a contract and his early start to the season is making it difficult on Kevin Cheveldayoff. Not to beat a dead horse as I've questioned at nauseum some of the transactions that the Prince Albert Raiders have consummated in recent years but to the day don't understand the logic of getting rid of Matteo.  He's just an all around player and the only thing Scouts would've thrown a red flag over would be his lack of offensive output but he's slowly putting those concerns to ease. Another honourable mention in this edition at the expense of a remiss oversight would be Tristen Nielsen. A 2015 first round Bantam pick hasn't set the world on fire offensively however is starting to receive some top nine minutes on work ethic alone. The trait that stands out with Tristen is his shot. He has an elite shot at sixteen already but the problem has been he seems tentative to engage in the dirty areas to find the captivating scoring areas. Confidence will grow with the number of games played but no doubt that the Hitmen have a keeper on their hands.

7.Prince George Cougars(Last time # 7)

Penalty minutes are up across the board but particularly with the Prince George Cougars this has been a particular distress as the Penalty killing has been exceeding expectations early but will come back down to reality progresses. If they continue to parade to the penalty box this frequently the consequences will become severe and converting at a 87.2% clip frankly isn't sustainable  To touch on some positives from Northern B.C as I generally like to focus on the good more then the bad and that's one Brad Morrison. Jansen Harkins by name only will steal most headlines but it's Morrison that mostly steers the ship. Aggressiveness can at times be mistaken for running around wildly but in Morrison's case he seems to tip-toe that line perfectly and is a nuisance to play against. When you poll the masses pertaining to the league's fastest skater most will opine Austin Wagner or Jack Walker however Morrison should consistently be in the conversation. What a story for fans in Prince George, the local boy turned star Brett Connolly was tried once before with little team success but Morrison is going to make sure he out does what Connolly desperately tried to achieve and that is a third round appearance. If you notice my pecking order, the Cougars are the fifth Western Conference team to be ranked but with the first three residing in the U.S Division, expect a marathon battle against the 'loops in round two. Could potentially be the series of the playoffs very much how Kelowna-Kamloops was last year.

8.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 12)

The Wheaties find themselves as one of the biggest movers in this edition. Complaints were aplenty earlier in the season that some of the younger players they should be developing were being stunted but with a couple significant injuries, most notably Nolan Patrick, some of the younger players have stepped up keeping this team afloat. Sparingly used through Brandon's championship run Connor Gutenburg has earned the gratitude of coach David Anning and has temporarily found himself in the top six. As a foot note I probably only saw Gutenburg play once last season if it all so I went into this campaign with a fresh perspective and what is unmistakable are his wheels. Brandon actually has a deceptively speedy unit and Gutenburg fits in what that, What I'd like to see Gutenburg work on is his board positioning. He's a slimmer fellow listed on at 5'9 160 and plays smaller then his listing. He can usually gain an advantage with his skating but I find doesn't know how to create advantages on the wall. A regular sequence is him coming down hard on a 2 on 2, attempts to fly past the defender and when the d-man gets close tries to poke his stick in the puck battle without moving his entire body. This is more of a technical flaw that will  correct itself over time. Let's now get to the hot button topic everybody in Brandon is discussing, the status of Nolan Patrick. The severity of the injury is unknown so I won't speculate on  that  BUT if rumours are true that he's been advised by his agent to hold out until World Junior selection camp then I'll go on record by saying he's receiving terrible advice. How can Hockey Canada even possibly including Nolan on the junior team when he'll be coming into camp rusty and not much in the way of game action. An anonymous NHL scout was interviewed regarding Patrick and said and I'm paraphrasing that at what point is too much because NHL scouts need to see him play. You just hope that an agents advisement won't hamper what should've been a pinnacle season for Nolan.

9.Victoria Royals(Last time #13)

Ever since the pre-season the Royals have continued to rise in these rankings. When I researched the intracicies of this team prior to writing this section I was very interested to learn that Dante Hannoun went undrafted, Hannoun is a diminutive winger, kind of reminds me of former Regina Pat Jordan Weal. Hannoun fits in admirably with the rest of the Royals forwards as with the aforementioned Walker, Tyler Soy and Regan Nagy. Ironically, it's their most skilled forward in Matthew Phillips who's skating needs some improvement.I'm very hot and cold towards my thoughts on the Flame prospect Phillips. On one hand he's clearly an upper echelon goal scorer as evidenced by his fifty career goals in ninety three games but sometimes I feel he's been the benefactor of all the speed that Victoria possesses.  I don't see a lot of personally manufactured offence. A definition of a game changer who can get the puck on his stick and alarm bells immediately go off for the opposition, Jordan Eberle and former Tri-City American Brendan Shinnimin had this ability. It's time for Phillips and show the Flames he has NHL potential and he can carry the Royals on his back without needing his linemates to put in all the grunt work.

10.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 8)

Writing a Tigers synopsis and not including observations towards Mason Shaw is an oxymoron but it's only right that I discuss others that have shared the responsibility of overturning this Tigers program. It's refreshing to see someone like Steven Owre, a twenty year old American who to call a spade a spade has had  an up and down career up until this point really hunker down and become an entrusted overager. At twenty points already he's well on his way to smashing his previous career mark of fifty two. No idea on what his personal desires are after this campaign concludes but with the way he's playing he could stumble into an American Hockey League contract. These are the stories that I fascinate over because it's a rag to riches story.  Too many times players leisurely ride out their junior tenures but in Owre's case he's become the solution and not the problem as the Tigers have reached respectability.

11.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 10)

Brayden Burke is kaput, now gone to Moose Jaw and conceivably that would lead to a sudden decrease in the rankings right? Not so fast as full marks go out to General Manager Peter Anholt on how he's promoting the team culture aspect and ridding themselves of any bad apples even if it means the on ice product suffers.Could Anholt have handled his parting remarks better which led to a fine, yes but in the grand scheme when you flood your locker room with teenagers who sacrifice for each other, that's a hockey team that is guaranteed to have success more so then a locker room infected with self-driven character. Ryan Bowen was the piece that was sent back in exchange for Burke and although like mentioned the offence will take a hit as it's near impossible to off set one hundred and nine points from a year ago, a scoring by committee approach will bring the organization closer together.Defense issue persist but this club still has enough weapons to compete in the Central and look for a rookie like Josh Tarzwell to seize the lineup advancement and run with it. It's still befuddling that he slipped to the second round. In summary, yes they sit at 7-9-1 but Anholt isn't done tinkering with this group and won't sit around and waste a year built around Giorgio Estephan and Tyler Wong.

12.Moose Jaw Warriors(Last time # 16)

Continuing the tale of the ramifications involving the Brayden Burke trade, as illustrated in a previous edition I have been very complimentary of Burke the player. Burke the person is irrelevant to me but more to the point I'm beginning to question the necessity of this move from a Warrior perspective. Oakbank,Manitoba native Brett Howden is currently sidelined with an injury so Alan Millar's thought process was imaginably to plug the hole but in the Jaw their is a pressing need, preventing goals,aka defence. In all honesty though the group was playing reasonably well prior to the last couple games until things have suddenly fallen off a cliff so I repeat, why wasn't acquiring a d-man a priority? I'm not naive enough to fail to realize that their's a league wide shortage on quality available defenceman but from a longevic perspective this team would've been just peachy had it rode with Howden, Gregor, Halbegwachs etc etc. A more natural fit for Brayden would have been Kamloops.

13.Kelowna Rockets(Last time # 19)

A + Mark to first year bench boss Jason Smith. The Rockets skated off to an abysmal start but where I give Jason full credit he stuck to sticking to some of the younger players and accepting mistakes. Losing is foreign territory in Kelowna and I'm sure most of the fan base was becoming restless but look what's materialized in lieu of it. Cal Foote has blossomed into a legitimate number one defenceman after rocky beginnings, and the play of Jonathan Smart has erupted in a positive manner. Cal Foote will be talked about by scouts and media year round but the progression of Smart has been stunning. In the games that I've seen of the Rockets this season and a contest taking on November 4th against the Vancouver Giants he seemingly was always positionally sound and displayed puck skills that would make former Rocket defenceman Alex Edler jealous. Cal Foote isn't prone to the same type of mistakes in the defensive zone as Smart may be but I watch Jonathan and I envision a higher ceiling. At only seventeen he's so strong on the puck and has confidence for ages.The only critique Jason Smith has is he can become too erratic and make a face palm turnover. Last ranking I had them pegged at nineteen who the majority cried was too low but as much as they ARE a playoff are still a year or two away from competing. It's scary when pondering how good this defence will be in a couple years. Johansen and Foote with Brayden Chizen and lest us not forget the Yorkton, Saskatchewan product Kaedan Korczak who they nabbed in the first round this past May. They've battled through their lumps but the future is very bright in Kelowna.

14.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 15)

The Winterhawks eight game skid is puzzling on a couple of different fronts. To begin with, their power play and penalty killing efficiency rank in the top ten. If the specialty teams have been so exemplary then you're probably wondering what the issue has been, well actually you're not asking that because anyone that follows the league knows the Hawks are receiving shoddy play between the pipes and it's very un Mike Johnston-like to allow status quo to continue. Both Cole Kehler picked up from the Kamloops Blazers and Mjchael Bullion are not getting the job done and the hold both have on the net is very tenuous. The other thing complicating matters it that they're both nineteen and not suitable options to being brought back as twenty year olds so the question I'm attempting to pose is where do the Winterhawks turn from here, who's next in line? That question is very unanswerable because with the draft infractions put in place by the league that have now expired, Portland doesn't appear to have that young goaltender in the stable. St.Albert's Evan Fradette was picked in the fifth round of this past years draft but can't be expected to contribute for at least a couple years. A trade will most definitely have to be consummated and as I'm a fan of divulging in the odd prognostication I'll say Brock Hamm from Saskatoon could be who's targeted. Also, a while back  I was thinking to myself that because they project to be a fringe playoff team(I do expect them to make it) that some of the veterans such as Caleb Jones and Alex Overhardt could be on the move but from everything I'm reading I'm sensing Johnston will hold on to the vets to provide mentors for the young crop he looks to build around as he constructs the next Winterhawks dynasty.

15.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 9)

After a so-so October, Finnish forward Alexi Heponiemi is beginning to heat up in November. What defines Heponiemi's  game is his work ethic. Alexi has naturally soft hands the nifty puck skills aren't going anywhere however where he gets caught at certain junctures is his propensity to coast. If the NHL draft was based on skill set alone he'd be a shoe in first round selection however when you stare at the bigger picture the compete level can be very lacklustre at times. I'm curious how he'll fare at the best on best WJHC in December presuming he makes the team. Speaking of playing for a draft position Tyler Steenbergen is doing just that after getting passed over in his first go around. Tyler has only been held off the scoresheet once in his last six games and what is becoming paramount in his tool box is that shot! At 5'10, he's not physically imposing but unquestionably has the best wrist shot in the team, has some serious zip to it. To finish off this preview with a slight negative connotation and that's with the fact that they seem to not to be giving youngsters Riley Stotts and Dom Schmiemann the proper amount of ice time to properly grow. Speedy Creek has been a pleasant surprise however with Logan Barlage already being coined the steal of last year's draft who's having a superb season in Midget, the mandate from ownership to coach Manny Viveiros should be to build around these three. It's conceivable a playoff round could be had but more realisitcally if the chips fall where they should the Broncos are legitimate championship contenders as early as next year. Stotts rotting away on the fourth line and Schiemann on the third pairing is not jolting this movement, This is a very exciting team to tune into, a welcome change after a few dud years but it's imperative that the future isn't ignored.

16.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 14)

I was reading reports on player performances from the recently held under seventeen International event and the consensus was that Ty Smith was a standout.  Great news for Chiefs fan as what it illustrates is that Smith can hold his own against his peers however in my viewings against those older and more physically matured he's struggled to handle the rigors. Perhaps I had unfair expectations headed in s everything you heard about this player was that he was miles ahead of his companions and could step up and contribute immediately at the Western Hockey League level. Bumps and bruises have occurred along the way as 5'10 he plays much smaller. Looking at the prospective depth chart it would be shrewd to pair him with veteran Tyson Helgesen who if anything else is a premier defensive defenceman in the league and could teach the young lad a thing or two about battling against stronger forwards in the corner.  The other comment I had about Smith is with Coach Don Nachbaur rewarding  him with power play time, the message from the coaching staff has to be to shoot more. I've never in my life( over exaggeration) been privy to such a complex power play. Too much passing and east west weaving. It's honestly reminiscent of, to reference a sorry chapter from Regina Pats lore, the way Bob Lowes used to construct the PP unit as a coach of the Regina Pats. More shots and more traffic, it's a simple principle.

17.Saskatoon Blades(Last time #17)

The Blades ranking has remained stationery at seventeen. As a long time Pat fan, I'm no stranger to an organization filling it's twenty year old slots with local "scrubs" as under the Parker ownership group this was a constant procedure but unfortunately since the Parkers have exited the Western Hockey League game it's as if their philosophies were carried forward to the Blades. I'm basically channeling in on Kolten Olynek and Jesse Shynkaruk. Two players that I feel are fortunate to still have jobs in the Western Hockey League and this  speaks to a larger perception problem of the Blades franchise that it makes it difficult to recruit. Endorsing the local talent sends positive vibes to the fan base but you know what else does......winning. Commitment to winning does not correlate to acknowledging the wonderful alumni of the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.  I don't want to give off the opinion that the two twenties I mentioned are complete slags as Shynkaruk prior to his injury was putting forth consistent results but sometimes if it wants to be taken seriously it has to move past this  local aversion., Kirby Dach is a cornerstone piece, everyone I've talked to on this feel he's the second most ready prospect behind Swift Current's Barlage and the administration should be looking to make moves to bolster the 99-01 age groups. Mason McCarty has broken out this year and there will be a plethora of teams lining up for his services at the deadline. Prediction is he is sent to Seattle. Let's hope that the Blades don't look at this season as an opportunity to claw in the playoffs whilst not capitalizing on coveted assets.

18.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 11)

My yo-yo opinion on the Raiders has finally reached the floor with no chance of coming back up. The Reid Gardiner loss to the American Hockey League has been a devastating loss that many thought would've had trouble scoring even with Reid. There's been a lot of dissension in and around the Prince Albert fan base but to focus in on a bright spot for a change how about the emergence of Sean Montgomery? Like I just implied, the question was who was going to step up in Reid's absence and Sean has unequivocally answered the call.Word around Sean is he looks a lot more competent in the offensive zone doing a lot better job utilizing his linemates getting some time beside Dallas Stars prospect Simon Stransky lately. The combination of Stransky and Montgomery is an interesting one as both are pass first players but Sean in particular has altered his mindset somewhat and is more inclined to fire more rubber on goal. Defensively, Brendan Guhle is a household name in the league but isn't exactly playing like one at the moment. This is a classic case of a player in Brendan who got an extended look with the Buffalo Sabres who has yet  to adapt back to the junior game. He's trying to wear too many hats and once he realizes that reverting back to his strengths, phenomenal skating and a great breakout pass will be the moment P.A is better off.

19.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 20)

I recall watching an under eighteen year old event a couple of years back and Slovakian Radovan Bondra was a standout. Watching the tournament where the majority fail to distinguish themselves but Bondra did which is why when I read the import draft results from 2015 I figured Vancouver hit a home run. His first year with the Giants was more like an infield fly however as he speed which wasn't as alarming at the international event was increasingly becoming more problematic so I don't know if he worked with a skating coach in the off-season or what but the pace is more powerful.  He may match his fifteen goal output of last year before we hit December! Whether it was by design or not but the Giants have stocked their cupboard full of proverbial Giants(see what I did there), not just with Bondra, Tyler Popowich and Tyler Benson offensively but also with Bailey Dhaliwal and Darian Skeoch on the backend.  I don't think the Giants have the most skillful squad, no where close but finding an identity is important for a hockey franchise and full props go out to newly minted Head Coach Jason McKee as he's implemented a system that is predominantly advantageous for the larger group. Playoffs or not, a playoff round win possibility not withstanding the supporters in the new Langley entertainment complex should be praising Hanlon and McKee for the sake of having a real plan. I'd also be remiss if I didn't shout out the strong play of net minder Ryan Kubic. His last poor outing was six games ago against Tri-City and when you're backstopping a team that the shot clock will be tilted against most nights you have to be better then most just to keep the G-men in the games.

20.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 18)

The 10-9-2-1 record is not vindictive of the struggles the Rebs have endured. Frankly, the goaltending and defence have not been up to snuff. The defence was a liability last season and has been worse thus far throughout 2016-2017. Pertaining to the puck moving capacity the Rebels have been more serviceable in that area but what is evident is the lack of structure in their own zone. Two names that I must regrettably single out are Josh Mahura and Austin Strand.  As far as Austin is concerned it wouldn't surprise me one iota if at some point during the winter he's reassigned to Junior A because he's missing a step out on the ice and gets beat to every loose puck. At nineteen years of age Brent Sutter won't accept mediocrity from someone who's inserted in the lineup on a nightly basis. Mahura on the other hand is a highly touted defenceman who's twenty one points are commendable but Sutter needs more consistency clearing the puck from his own end. In research I was surprised to read that he's 6'1 as he plays much smaller than that. The comparable, albeit a far fetched one would be to Kale Clague  but to me where the sizable difference is Clague is much stronger on the puck and isn't prone to the multiple turnovers at least not to the frequency of Josh. I knew the back end was going to present challenges in lieu of the now graduated Haydn Fleury but could've never guessed it being this seismic. The schedule makers have done no favors though already handing Red Deer three games in three nights twice.

21.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time #22)

With Edmonton, it's difficult to prognosticate whether or not it's an indictment on the Oil Kings organization that defenceman Aaron Irving is leading the team in scoring or whether I'm to give Aaron full praise. No qualms in classifying Aaron as one of the league's premier defenceman because he simply is just that, premier.  Guy Flaming from TSN radio is a trusted source when it comes to everything Oil King country and he remarked in a recent appearance with Dean Millard that the way Aaron is playing now is reminiscent to the way he conducted himself when he first broke into the WHL. He's shooting from everywhere, proactive in all areas and for whatever reason Aaron lost that mojo the last couple years. The ironic part of this whole discussion and I'm sure Aaron will explain to you himself that he prides himself on being a defensive defenceman so this latest splurge is gravy. Another overager Lane Bauer is one of my favourite players league wide. A lot of his points(seventeen as of this writing) are him being a beneficiary of crashing the net, a lot of mucky ones but he and Edmonton will take it. That's the area where Lane has grown exponentially, he's steadily grown a pair of mits because in his first two campaigns, a typical Bauer shift consisted of showcasing brazen speed, dumping off the puck to one of his linemates and shying away from any offensive creativity. The water cooler conversation revolves around whether Hansch will have the stomach to trade any of his twenties, particularly the aforementioned two. Trading overagers can be murky waters and for the reason of instilling some veteran presence to coddle the future betting money dictates that they'll stay the entire season.

22.Kootenay Ice(Last time #21)

The name of Kaedan must be synonymous with Yorkton when it comes to producing players to the Western Hockey League. As mentioned in the Kelowna Rockets snip-it, the Rockets will have sought after Kaedan Korczak in their lineup next year while in Cranbrook Kaedan Taphorn along with his brother Keegan are part of the core that looks to help the Kootenay Ice climb out of this tunnel. The part that I'm having trouble with is why with the record the way it currently stands are the twin brothers not receiving more coveted assignments. Zak Zborosky whether he stays the entire year or not is an elite sniper, that's no secret but it's playing Zbrosky twenty five minutes a night that has nullified the production that the twins are capable of. Take the Seattle Thunderbirds for instance, three years ago they found themselves in a similar position to where Kootenay is now and part of the reason Seattle is now thriving is due to the fact they allowed Matt Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar to commit mistakes at the expense of knowing how to deal with  adversity. An inevitable losing season is adversity in itself but they may as well embrace the grind that this year promises to be and start rewarding the twins with special team assignments.  There twentieth ranked power play can't get much worse so I'm failing to understand why Head Coach Luke Pierce isn't divulging the playing time more appropriately.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Schmall Ball Small Ball?

Mark Shapiro will engineer a critical juncture in the progression of the Toronto Blue Jays as we begin  to dip our feet into the 2016 off season. I'm a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, I won't hide behind that bias however any impartial observer would explain to you that the Blue Jays had major flaws throughout this last campaign and it reared it's ugly head when squared up against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series. The adage that defence wins championship had stood the test of time however what has become more prevalent is that Small Ball wins championships. The Cleveland Indians who conquered the Jays in the aforementioned championship series mastered the art of manufacturing runs. Yes, the bullpen spearheaded by the virtually unhittable Andrew Miller didn't help matters any for the boys North of the border however opportunities were staring them in the face especially in game one of the series as I believe something to the effect of seven runners in scoring position were stranded in the first three innings. As good as the pen was for the Tribe, and it was exemplary if the Jays would've capitalized on these possible momentum changers then the extravagant successes of the bullpen would've all been neutralized. Naturally some will opine that the team that ultimately prevailed over Cleveland, the no longer lovable loser Chicago Cubs certainly did possess more pop in the bat but it was the at the plate philosophy and the completeness of the lineup that gave them advantages in the series and throughout the playoffs. Kris Bryant is expected to be named the National League Most Valuable Player and while some will laud him for the Home Run threat, it's the at bat approach that separates him from most. Look at the Cubbies lineup, filled with the commodities who think the game the right way. Recollect to some of the pinnacle moments Anthony Rizzo created in the World Series and the bottom line is he sacrificed power to slap the ball the other way. Hitting .360 is one thing but five runs batted in will write the narrative that he bought into the greater goal of the team and didn't swing for the fences like a certain someone. Back to those Blue Jays, Shapiro has been in baseball a long time and is no doubt aware that this small ball approach is the winning formula. A small sample size such as the Cleveland Indians wouldn't be enough to prove my hypothesis, so if we venture further back to the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants. Good pitching? Yes, just like the Jays but all three examples are teams that aren't built around sluggers and have to manufacture runs in different ray something that Shapiro and Toronto will look to address this off-season.

The "heat' from the media is in full force for the Blue Jays administration to find a way to re-up Edwin Encarncation but with Edwin's agent coming out a couple of days ago and questioning the legitimacy of the offer the harsh realization is that they may end up having to move and resort to secondary options., How can they handle the pending loss of the Parrot? Well let me be clear and I think this is an opinion shared by most Jays supporters in that re-signing Jose Bautista is not the answer. The Joey Bats page has been turned and the lack of intangibles at his age make him an undesirable option going forward.  When on the Fan 590's Prime Time Sports a couple weeks back both Shapiro and General Manager Ross Atkins were adament that at the top of the shopping list was a left handed bat and more speed which I agree with but interestingly enough, a bullpen upgrade wasn't vocalized which left my jaw dropped.  The bullpen was near impossible to assess due to a myriad of overachievers(Biagini and Grilli for his age) and disappointing underachievers in Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup but at the end of the day if the rumoured plan of transitioning Biagini to the rotation comes to fruition then it become neccesatative that a trusted reliever is brought on. Let's begin to discuss the long term goal of moving the aforementioned Redwood City California twenty six year old to the rotation. Strengthening a strength whilst severely weakening a perceived weakness is not generally viewed as a wise endeavour especially when questions hover around who'll be called upon in 2017 behind Grilli and Roberto Osuna.  Particularly a left handed reliever would be a welcome addition and with Fox Sports Jon Morosi indicating the Mariners have shown heavy interest in Brett Cecil after scouring the free agent list, south paw fireballer Boone Logan presents himself as an intriguing option. Professional sports is a copy cat society and with fellow fireballer lefty Andrew Miller being the unquestionable playoff M.V.P, it's possible that Shapiro and Atkins are eager to get there hands on Boone. Admittedly I don't think I saw Boone pitch once this year but from 2015 outwards I never left a Logan appearance feeling good if I was rooting for the opposition. I'm not saying Logan to the Jays is an inevitability but with the ownership operating under a small window one would think they'll target a veteran with the Biagini intentions known. For what  it's worth and I hinted at this earlier, if we don't land a Boone Logan type then why on god's earth is Joe even being considered for the rotation? To decimate the pen that much at the cost of Biagini becoming the fifth starter is asanine unless...........................

A rotation consisting of Aaron Sanchez headlining followed by J.A Happ, Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman goes unrivalled across Major League Baseball. You potentially add Biagini in the mix could be argued overkill as that particular five man unit  could be the best in baseball. If this blogger was overseeing the operations he'd look to move one of the starters to address some of the more prevalent holes. Nelson Cruz is a name out there that doesn't bat left no, doesn't run the base paths well but at te end of the day it's important to bring forth the best baseball players into your organization as humanly possible and address the intricacies with depth moves. What I'm proposing is dangling a piece that although young fought through inconsistencies in Marcus Stroman in exchange for Nelson Cruz. I consider Marcus as part of the core but with four other starters I've already touched upon, replacing Bautista's power is a mandate of mine. Have four jobs in the rotation secured and either sign a stop gap as the fifth or engage in healthy spring training competition to determine the final spot. You're probably wondering, I just stressed the importance of acquiring more speed and yet am endorsing a Cruz acquisition, well the reason for that is and feel free to disagree but Cruz is more versatile then Joey Bats and perhaps even look at moving him to a first baseman once his legs completely give out. If Cruz is acquired and keep in mind this is nothing more than a opinion piece, the fourth outfielder I'd like to see signed is Coco Crisp. Unlike Cruz, Crisp can run and plays exceptional defence and could comfortably platoon with Ezequiel Carrera. Dalton Pompey hasn't shown enough even at the Minor League level and it wouldn't shock to see him moved in the off-season. Bottom line is the window is small and Shapiro is well aware. Inking all of Logan, Cruz and Crisp with Kendrys Morales already signed may seem like a daunting task but he owes it to a fan base who was incredibly patient through the trying early 2000 years and have continually filled the rafters at the Rogers Center whilst smashing television records on Sportsnet, it's owed to the fans.

The lineup how I see playing out based on my  proposed moves would be this:

1.Travis 2B
2.Donaldson 3B
3.Cruz RF
4.Tulowitzki SS
5.Morales DH
6.Martin C
7.Carrera/Crisp LF
8.Smoak 1B
9.Pillar CF