Monday, March 27, 2017

Throwback: Five American players to watch at the 2012 World Junior Championships

Originally written by Erika Schnure for Red Light District, 12/7/2011

On Monday, USA Hockey announced their preliminary roster for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships in Alberta. 29 players are on the preliminary roster, and by December 22, they will be trimmed to a final 22. There are eight players returning from 2011's team, but it's some of the newer players that could be the biggest surprises. Here are five new guys on Team USA to watch in this year's tournament.

1. John Gibson, Goaltender
Last year, Jack Campbell and Andy Iles shared goaltending duties on the roster, but Campbell was the main man in net, as Iles spent just over nine minutes on the ice in total. Campbell's high draft selection (11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2010) could be attributed to his impressive first appearance on the international stage, playing for USA in 2010's tournament. He followed it up with another amazing performance in 2011, hence Iles' limited ice time.

But if there's anyone that could challenge Campbell for the primary spot in the net for the tournament, it's John Gibson. A second round (39th overall) selection by the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, Gibson cut his teeth with the U.S. National Development Team starting in 2009. This fall, he headed to Kitchener, Ontario to become the starting goaltender for the Kitchener Rangers. Through 19 games played with the Rangers, he has 12 wins, a 2.58 goals against average, and .931 save percentage -- better statistics than Campbell.

The Pittsburgh native also has international experience. He was the starting goaltender for Team USA in the 2010 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, and recorded the best GAA and save percentage of any goaltender in the tournament. Though Gibson admits he didn't even know the World Juniors tournament existed until last year, any opportunity to represent the USA is something he takes seriously. "It's important to me," Gibson told The Record (Kitchener). "Any time I can represent my country, I want to do that."

Kitchener coach Steve Spott agrees that Gibson could very well end up the starter come tournament time. "I believe he’ll push Jack Campbell for the starting position," Spott said. "I believe he's going to give USA Hockey's coaching staff a lot to think about. He's just a money goaltender and will be a tremendous asset for them in that tournament."

2. Seth Jones, Defenseman
The youngest player on the preliminary roster (born Oct. 3, 1994), Jones comes from pro athlete stock. His father is "Popeye" Jones, who played in the NBA for 12 years and now serves as the assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets. Seth was born in Texas during Jones' three-season stint with the Dallas Mavericks. Seth definitely takes after his father in terms of size -- at 17 years old, he is 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds.

Jones, a two-way defenseman who spent last season playing with the U.S. National Development Team, caught the eye of Team USA general manager Jim Johannson in the team's summer evaluation camp. At the time, Jones was just 16 years old, and was already drawing comparisons to NHL All-Stars. "He reminds of me of Erik Johnson to a degree," Johannson said. "He is just an all-around solid player. He's the real deal. Good instincts in all areas and he plays the game in all zones."

Jones isn't even eligible for the NHL Draft until 2013, but he could earn himself a spot on the final roster for Team USA. NHL general managers are already champing at the bit to get Jones drafted to their team, and if he survives the cuts, his play in the tournament could catapult him to the top of the rankings for the 2013 draft.

3. Jarred Tinordi, Defenseman
Though two years older, Tinordi is much like Jones in several personal aspects. He is another product of the U.S. National Development Team, and his father too was a professional athlete. But hockey insiders are much more familiar with Tinordi's father -- former NHL tough guy Mark Tinordi. Like his father, Tinordi is a gritty, physical -- and huge (6-foot-7) -- defenseman.

Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2010 draft, Tinordi had originally committed to play at Notre Dame, but opted to go the junior route and signed with the London Knights. Last season with the Knights, he had 14 points and 140 penalty minutes.

Tinordi was part of Team USA in the 2010 Under-18 World Juniors, and won a gold medal in the tournament with the team. In addition to his skill, his leadership qualities are highly-touted. He captained the USA U-18 team, and currently serves as captain of the Knights. His size and work ethic could make him a valuable presence on the blue line.

4. Brandon Saad, Left Wing
Chicago Blackhawks fans are already very familiar with Saad's name -- the 2011 second-round (43rd overall) pick was a pleasant surprise in this fall's training camp, earning him the opportunity to play in two regular season games with the Blackhawks in October. After his two game appearances, he was sent back to his junior team (Saginaw Spirit), but he had already made a big impression on USA general manager Jim Johannson.

Because of the draft and commitments with the Blackhawks, Saad was not able to attend the summer's World Juniors evaluation camp, but Johannson had no issue with including him on the preliminary roster. "The bottom line with him is being able to show us that he wanted to be a part of the program and that his level of play was going to be what we were looking for," Johannson said. "He got off to a great start with Chicago and played a couple games with the 'Hawks. But more importantly for us, when he went (back) to Saginaw, he performed well, he's competing in all aspects of the game that we saw in him as a younger player and what he needed to improve on. He's shown that."

Since returning to Saginaw, Saad has 19 points in 11 games. Though he and Tinordi are rivals in the Ontario Hockey League, they were teammates on the American U-18 team that won gold in 2010.

5. Austin Watson, Center
Watson is one of the rarer players on the preliminary roster that have never been involved in the U.S. National Development Team, but don't count him out based on that. He made a name for himself in his first season in the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the 2009 Memorial Cup-winning Windsor Spitfires. Watson began his sophomore season with the Spitfires, and could have won a second Memorial Cup, but he was traded to the Peterborough Petes to close out the 2009-2010 OHL season.

Watson was drafted in the first round (18th overall) of the 2010 draft by the Nashville Predators. He's praised by scouts for his offensive ability while being able to play a grinder-style role, blocking shots and sacrificing his body to make plays. So far this season with the Petes, Watson has 28 points in 28 games.

In this deep pool of possible players, Watson could be a long shot to make the final roster, but his positive, team-first attitude may be his X factor.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Throwback: Caps power play resurges

Originally written by Erika Schnure for Red Light District, 10/25/2011

In the second half of the 2010-2011 NHL season, the Washington Capitals' power play went from one of the best in the league to practically non-existent. From February 2011 through the end of the regular season, the Capitals' power play went 16-for-88, just 18.1%. In the playoffs, it got even worse, ending in a 14.2% over nine games.

Coach Bruce Boudreau said that once the power play started to tank, it just got worse from there. "Last half of last year was a lot of 'panic-ville.' I think guys were holding their sticks too tight, trying to make the pretty plays all the time," Boudreau said. "When you're an offensive player, and you don't have the numbers that you're accustomed to, and every day people are asking you, 'How come your scoring's down?' Your confidence is down and you're not comfortable, and then you're trying harder. It may not look like you're trying harder, but you're trying to put square pegs into round holes, and you're doing things that you shouldn't be doing."

The poor power play of last season was a true departure from previous years. The Capitals finished second in the NHL in 2008-2009, and first in the league 2009-2010, with both seasons at 25.2% success on the power play. After the substandard success rate of the latter half of the 2010-2011 season, the Capitals finished the year in 16th place with 17.5%.

Now, seven games into the current season, the Capitals' power play is singing another tune. They're current first in the NHL on the power play, going 8-for-27, good for a 29.6% success rate while allowing zero shorthanded goals. That includes a 30.0% success rate at home.

What's so different about this year that is leading to an effective power play? Boudreau says that the players have stopped trying too hard and have returned to simple plays that work. "We're just getting back to what we're doing," Boudreau said. "I think with them seeing some success at doing what they're doing, they're going, 'Wow, let's just continue what we're doing.' Hopefully, it stays the same."

If you ask winger Mike Knuble, he attributes the success to the structure of the power play units. With Mike Green and Dennis Wideman healthy (both struggled with long injuries last season), the two offensive defensemen set up on the point, while fellow first unit components Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer to cycle down low. Troy Brouwer was camped in front of the net while Mike Green scored two power play goals in Saturday's win against the Detroit Red Wings, and Knuble says crashing the net as Brouwer did is the key.

"There's times when we've gotten away from the net and you wonder why the power play is struggling. Then you look at the film, it's because you're not around the net enough," Knuble said. "So it's good to see that we have a net presence, it's the way to do things. It's the way that a power play should be executed. The skilled guys on the outside then you have somebody around the net that can finish and get in the way. It's a part of our success."

Boudreau and Knuble agree that last year's poor power play could have also been attributed to the separate lengthy losses of Mike Green and Dennis Wideman. "I think (Green's injury) had something to do with it," Boudreau said.

Knuble heaped praise on his teammates, saying, "It's great to have healthy Mike (Green), he's very sharp with the puck, and makes a lot of things happen. And Wideman I think, when he arrived last year (at the trade deadline) after Mike went down (hurt), he was tremendous, really was quarterbacking everything. When he went out of our lineup (injured) that was a big hole, too."

While it could be that Green and Wideman are healthy, the renewed power play success is more likely attributed to the fact that that the team isn't trying too hard, staying away from the pretty passes that go nowhere. Aside from a return to simplicity, Knuble also points to a more intangible, psychological reason for the power play progress.

"Guys are hungry right now on the power play," Knuble said. "Everyone who's moving the puck around is hungry and not just killing time and trying to look for the pretty play. Work hard and if you get an open shot, take it."

Throwback: Jose Theodore starts strong in Florida

Originally written by Erika Schnure for Hockey Primetime, 10/21/2011

photo by Getty images
The Florida Panthers made arguably the greatest amount of moves during the 2011 off-season, most notably in goal. After Tomas Vokoun walked to take $1.5 million in Washington, the Panthers brought in former Capital Jose Theodore, who spent the last year backing up Niklas Backstrom in Minnesota.

With a rebuild in full swing, it was difficult to tell how the new hodgepodge team would work together, but five games into the Panthers' season, the team is 3-2-0, largely thanks to the heroics of Jose Theodore. Theodore is standing tall with a .920 save percentage, 2.47 goals against average, and one shutout in four games played.

It hasn't been an easy road for Theodore. During two seasons in Washington, beginning in 2008, he was pushed aside in the playoffs in favor of Semyon Varlamov. Theodore called the  situation "a stinger," as he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He was officially relegated to backup status in 2010-2011 with the Wild, playing 32 games with a record of 15-11-3.

Theodore is turning over a new leaf in Florida, signing a two-year deal with the Panthers over the summer. "You look at where the team's going, especially I'm not 20 anymore, I want some changes now," Theodore told the Miami Herald in July. "I think this was the best fit."

He's been designated as the starter after goaltender Scott Clemmensen underwent minor knee surgery near the end of training camp. He's ready to rise up to that starting role. "Last year was a little step back, but I've got to show my teammates that I still play well at 35," Theodore told the Sun-Sentinel.

He made that impact early, flying out of the gate to begin the season and making 27 saves on the New York Islanders for a 2-0 shutout in the Panthers' season opener. It was the 31st shutout of Theodore's career. "(Theodore is) a competitor,'' C Stephen Weiss told the Sun-Sentinel after the game. "We knew he was going to be there for us."

Even though he's the starting goaltender now, Theodore isn't resting on his laurels - he knows that once Clemmensen returns, the fight for the starting goaltender position continues. After a lackluster training camp and preseason, during which he allowed 12 goals in two exhibition games, Theodore is working hard to show that he should remain the go-to guy in net.

"Let's not forget, Jose Theodore is a good player," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen told reporters after last week's shootout win over Tampa Bay. "He's proven that over the length of a career. We felt that he was a No. 1 goalie, but for me he really had to earn it. He had a pretty stinky training camp, but since then he’s been pretty solid."

Thus far in the regular season, the team has been working well together, particularly with Theodore providing the support in net. In Theodore's eyes, the future looks bright for the Panthers. "I think we're working well together right now," Theodore told reporters Saturday. "We've been working hard in practices and we're starting to figure out what we got to do to win some games."

After a stellar preseason, Jets C Mark Scheifele scored his first NHL regular season goal Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Winnipeg Jets have four more games to decide whether or not to keep Scheifele in Winnipeg or return him to his junior team. ... Jets C Alexander Burmistrov, in his second year in the NHL, has shown a vast improvement from his rookie year. The 19-year-old is turning the heads of his linemates, including C Nik Antropov. "Definitely he's improved from last year," Antropov told the Winnipeg Free Press. "I can see that in reading the game and the patience he has shown on the ice, especially in the last couple of games." ... Florida Panthers G Jacob Markstrom made his first NHL start in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals. Despite the score, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen blamed the defense for the loss. "(Markstrom) had a good solid game for us and gave us a chance to win,'' Dineen told reporters. "He can play in this league and it showed early on when he had that pressure on him. I'm proud of him under tough circumstances." Markstrom made 29 saves. ... The Washington Capitals are 5-0, their strongest start in franchise history. However, coach Bruce Boudreau knows that's no reason to get too excited. "When it comes to April and May I'm not going to be able to sit here and say: 'Hey, we were 5-0 and we got that record. Isn't that great?'" Boudreau told reporters. "It's not really going to hold a lot of weight. It's just the process of getting to where we want to get." ... The Carolina Hurricanes sent D Justin Faulk to AHL Charlotte on Wednesday. Faulk saw action in three regular season games after an impressive preseason. ... Six games into the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a 1-3-2 record. General manager Steve Yzerman says the team has to be better. But he's not panicking quite yet. "The urgency in the guys' play is there," Yzerman said to media. "I like the effort of our team in every game. All teams go through stretches in a season where they struggle. Ours is just right off the bat."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Epic Windsor Hockey Road Trip 2: Electric Boogaloo

Last December, I took advantage of a long weekend to drive up to the illustrious Windsor, Ontario to see my Windsor Spitfires play at home for the first time. I only attended one game, but it was such a great weekend that I decided to make it an annual event.

I planned the most strategic weekend: two days off work, and a weekend schedule that included a bit of a doubleheader. On Thursday night, it was Plymouth at Windsor. On Saturday night, it was Windsor at Plymouth (just a quick 30 minute drive across the border in Michigan).

Crossing the Ambassador Bridge
So on November 7, I got in the car and began the less-than-five-hour drive to Windsor, Spitfires jersey tucked away in my suitcase. It was an uneventful drive, but once again, for the second time, I caught heat at the Canadian border after crossing the Ambassador Bridge. The border patrol agents, as they confusedly searched my car, told me "we're just trying to understand how you're from Chicago and a Spits fan." My thoughts: "I just am, let me in!"

But let's rewind and go back to why I'm a Spitfires fan, just as I explained to the Canadian customs agent that day at the border crossing. As we know, I became an NHL fan in February 2008, which was the time of the first NHL game I ever attended. I soaked up a lot of knowledge in that first year of fandom, and by May 2009, I was discovering and watching junior hockey for the first time in my life on the NHL Network: the Memorial Cup. It was then that I saw the Windsor Spitfires for the very first time.

Of course, that year, they were the dominant team in the tournament and eventually won it all, but I was attracted to them immediately. Their jersey colors were the same as the Capitals, and in fact, they reminded me a little bit of the Capitals' playing style. Consider Taylor Hall the Spitfires' Alex Ovechkin; Adam Henrique was Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Ellis was Mike Green, Zack Kassian was Matt Bradley -- if Matt Bradley scored a whole lot more goals than he did as a Capital.

I did manage to get across the Canadian border after they deemed that I was really only bringing clothes with me into Canada and I found my dumpy motel on the west side of town. There are several restaurants and bars in the area that offer free shuttles to the Spitfires' games, so after settling in at the hotel, I made my way to one of them that I had not tried on my previous journey: Johnny Shotz, in Tecumseh.

I had dinner and a few beers there, and when my waitress asked me if I wanted gravy with the fries that came with my sandwich, I said, "um, YES." O, Canada indeed.

Sitting directly behind the penalty box was fun
I took the shuttle to the game, and took my seat in the row directly behind the visitors' penalty box (which was very well-attended that night).

The first period was... not pretty. The defense was still asleep, and goaltender Dalen Kuchmey was the casualty. At the end of the first period, the Plymouth Whalers were leading the Spitfires 4-1. It wasn't looking so promising.

Then, in the second period, the Spits apparently woke up. I'm not sure what Coach Bob Boughner said to them in the locker room, but it worked. By the end of the second period, the Whalers were only leading by one, with a 4-3 score.

In the third period, Plymouth scored fairly early on to take a 5-3 lead, but things really got kicked off nearly halfway through when Slater Koekkek scored a gorgeous shorthanded goal to make it 5-4. Then, with less than five minutes left, Cristiano DiGiacinto scored to tie it up. It was starting to get interesting.

It was a tense final five minutes. Particularly when Kerby Rychel scored to take a 6-5 lead with barely a minute left. The last goal, by the way, netted Rychel a hat trick. A few hats floated onto the ice, but moods were too tense to really overcelebrate. The Spitfires managed to hold onto the lead and notched a 6-5 win over the Whalers.

On the shuttle back to Johnny Shotz is when my entire weekend changed. Throughout the game and on my drive, I'd been tweeting about the Spitfires and the official Spitfires Twitter account had been retweeting my comments about driving from Chicago for some games. On the way back, I was talking with a few patrons on the Johnny Shotz shuttle, mentioning that I drove from Chicago for the weekend. One of the men I was talking to turned to the couple in front of him and told them "this girl drove all the way from Chicago to see the Spitfires!"

The couple turned around and said, "Wait, I saw you on Twitter!" Turns out that the couple had seen what the Spitfires had retweeted and were shocked that I was an actual person who actually was from Chicago for the games, and I was sitting there on the shuttle with them.

Then, the plot thickens. I introduced myself, and they did the same. They also told me that they were the billet family of one of the Spitfires players. That player was recent acquisition Eric Diodati.

And then my brain exploded. They invited me to dinner before the game in Plymouth on Saturday with them, the player's mother, and his grandfather. I accepted.

Friday was spent touring several southern Ontario wineries (seriously, there are like 15 vineyards along the coast of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, who knew? -- I went to about five) and had a nice dinner at a hip restaurant in downtown Windsor. On Saturday morning, I went for a lovely run in the park near my motel.

I then got ready to head to Plymouth very early. Though it was an evening, 7:05 game, I was totally unsure of how busy/strict customs would be, and I was to meet Diodati's billets, mother and grandfather for dinner at 4:30, so I left Windsor around 3:00. The customs line was long at border patrol, but I blew through customs once I finally reached them, and so I arrived very early at the Plymouth arena.

I met up with my group at the restaurant in the Plymouth arena, and despite being among strangers, I had a great dinner. Diodati's billet parents are great, and I absolutely adored his mother and grandfather. I was so grateful for the dinner we had together, not only because I met new friends, but also because (as a giant prospect nerd) I got fantastic insight into the life of a junior hockey player. As Diodati was traded to Windsor only in October, there was a fair amount of talk about his fitting in with the new team, including direct comments from coaches and how he behaves at home. For reference, all very good.

According to Diodati's mother, Coach Boughner thinks Diodati has clicked immediately with defensive pair Trevor Murphy (which, watching the games, is completely true) and I also heard about scouts checking out Diodati at Spitfires games, so I got a little inside information there. Being as Diodati is an overager who wasn't drafted, seems a few teams are interested in picking him up as a free agent. I heard a little bit about the inside process of scouting, and I found the conversation very interesting.

Adam Bateman and other scratches
We then watched warmups and posited ourselves over the Spitfires tunnel. Diodati came out as we were standing there, and I nudged his mother and she shouted out to him, and he looked up and smiled (probably wondering who this woman in a Spitfires jersey was with his mother, grandfather and billet parents).

The game in Plymouth was no less exciting than the one in Windsor. Teams traded goals, and at the end of two periods, Plymouth led 3-2. In the third period, with barely five minutes left, Josh Ho-Sang scored basically the most disgustingly beautiful dangle goal I have ever seen and tied it up at 3 (I wish I could find it online).

Kuchmey in the tunnel before the game Saturday
That put them into overtime, which produced no goals, and so they progressed to a shootout. Plymouth's first shooter didn't score. Windsor's first shooter, rookie Nick Foss, scored. Kuchmey staved off two more Plymouth shots, and the Spitfires won the shootout with Foss' goal standing alone.

During the game, I'd gone from my third row seat to hang out with the Windsor section, which was essentially all players' parents (Ty Bilcke, by the way, looks just like his dad). I met the Spitfires' arena PA announcer, and he invited me to attend the Sunday matinee game. I was further persuaded by Diodati's billet parents, who had an extra ticket to the 2:00 game on Sunday in Windsor. Against London. I hopelessly relented. How could I resist?

During the Sunday game against London
So I delayed my departure from Windsor. I'd been planning to leave Windsor in the morning and arrive back home in Chicago in the early afternoon. But with the PA announcer, billet parents, and actual parents pressuring me, plus the prospect of seeing Dale Hunter and an elite team like London, I gave in, essentially said, "screw it, why not" and accepted the ticket. I planned to leave immediately after the game, putting me home in Chicago around 9pm.

I met Diodati's billet parents, his mother and grandfather at Johnny Shotz on Sunday morning to have breakfast before the game. We took the shuttle over and I found my (free) seat, five rows behind the net, after helping Diodati's mother purchase Spitfires player t-shirts with her son's (and her) name on the back (did I mention I absolutely love her?)

I'll be honest, for this game against London, I did not have high hopes. After all it is London, with Dale Hunter furiously chewing gum behind the bench, and I knew the game would be a battle. However, I highly respected how well the Spitfires played against them. The Knights won, yes, but Kuchmey saved the defense's butts a lot, and once the defense warmed up a bit, it was a big battle.

After a very tense game and the first two periods being scoreless, London unfortunately ended up victorious with a 3-1 win (though I must mention that one of those goals was an empty netter, but Kuchmey came out with 33 saves -- quite respectable for basically a rookie).

I was two for three on the weekend, but being in the Windsor area, my personal attendance record is three for four. I met some fantastic new people, including some billet parents who are fantastic, and I got some real insight on junior hockey players, directly from the player's mother and grandfather.

I got home around, as predicted, 9pm on Sunday night, but it was worth every second. Even though the game against London was lost, it was a very good and exciting game that I'm glad I stayed for.

All in all, this was basically the best weekend ever. Yes, it ended on a bit of a low note with the loss to the Knights and an unfortunate discovery of bedbugs in my motel, but I am so grateful to have met Eric Diodati's billet family, mother, and grandfather and gotten their insight on the whole "CHL experience," not to mention I liked all of them so much I basically spent the entire weekend with them.

I went into Windsor expecting to see two games and remain largely on my own. I ended up attending three games and spending basically an entire weekend with a player's billet and blood families.

I'm so grateful for my experiences over the weekend and all the crazy happenstance that led up to all of it. I absolutely cannot wait until next year's trip to Windsor, especially since I have friends there now that will ease border patrol questions! I feel that WFCU Centre is now my home, and I'm so glad that I have friends who populate it.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Focus on Prospects: Andre Burakovsky

It's draft time again! This is like Christmas in June to me personally.

photo by

Name: Andre Burakovsky
Position: LW
Shoots: Left
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 179 lbs
Birthdate: 1995-02-09
Hometown: Klagenfurt, Austria

With the Washington Capitals' first pick of the 2013 draft (23rd overall), the Capitals followed a trend of recent years and again went Swedish. Well, sort of. Andre Burakovsky, though Austrian-born, plays for Malmö of the Allsvenskan league (the Swedish Hockey League's minor league).

Dedicated NHL fans may remember Andre's father, Robert Burakovsky, who played 23 games with the Ottawa Senators in the 1993-1994 season. Though that short time was the only NHL ice Robert Burakovsky ever saw, he spent a total of 27 seasons in professional hockey, mostly in the Swedish Elite League. Andre was born during Robert's season with Klagenfurt AC in Austria.

Something that was discussed a lot by commentators during the draft was the recent influx of Swedish players coming to North America to play in the CHL and in the NCAA, due to many 16- and 17-year-old Swedish players being "too good for junior but don't play any minutes in the big league."

Burakovsky has been a casualty of precisely that situation, and as a result, his statistics last season are very underwhelming. In 43 games with Malmö's "big" club last season, Burakovsky had just 11 points (4g, 7a). He also played 13 games with Malmö's junior teams, and fared a little better there, scoring seven points (3g, 4a).

However, Burakovsky has had international tournament success, playing in the 2013 U18 World Junior Championships for Sweden in April (he did not make the U20 club, but had five points in five games at U18) and the Five Nations tournament this past February. The Five Nations tournament was really his coming out party, as he scored one goal and two assists in four games.

He's known as a very talented skater, with good agility and speed. But his real strength is his nose for the puck. He's a guy that always wants the puck, shoots often, and shoots to score. His shot and his shot placement are major positives that scouts have seen. Even though he seems to prefer to have the puck himself (which may be just fine considering his great puck possession skills), he's still a great playmaker, has excellent vision, and skilled hands. He is the kind of player who has the ability to be a total gamechanger.

Major criticisms of his game involve his play when he doesn't have the puck, namely, in his own end. Scouts point out that his defensive skills are lacking, and need work. However, being that he still does not have a lot of weight on his 6'2" frame, the defensive side of the game may come once he puts a bit of weight on his frame. Once that happens, he may be a little more willing to throw the body and muscle his way into puck battles. Being 6'2", one can only hope that he'll use his size appropriately once he gains that extra strength.

That's not to say that once he gains weight, he should suddenly become Chris Pronger, but if Burakovsky can round out his game by adding the defensive element, he'll be a very dangerous player that will cause major problems for opponents.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Explaining the 2005 CBA and the 2012 Lockout

Being a grad student means that I have to write my fair share of papers. Being a grad student in a Sports Administration program means that I sometimes get to write my papers on hockey.

Such was the case last quarter, when I had to write a final paper for my Sports Finance and Accounting class. The assignment our professor gave us was ridiculously broad. Basically, the assignment was "write a 6-8 page paper on a subject having some small relation to sports finance and accounting." As this was mid-December, I of course opted to write an assessment of the NHL lockout, what each side was asking for, and how the lockout might be resolved.

With the topic, I bit off way more than I could chew. I realized that in order to write the paper, I had to read several portions of the actual CBA, which is like reading a very complicated book of laws and statutes in terms of ridiculously mind-numbing jargon.

Even though the lockout is now over, I figured my paper might make a nice post for the blog for people who are still confused over what the whole fight was actually about.

Full text appears after the jump. It's not Shakespeare, as I was panicking and majorly scrambling to finish this on time. I should hope this would go without saying, but this is my own work and research and you cannot reproduce or use it for your own purposes without my express permission. Bibliography is available but too much of a pain to reproduce on Blogger.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Caps Year in Columbus

I'd previously blogged about my other hockey trips, so I thought I'd do the same for my little trip to Columbus for New Year's Eve.

I moved away from DC on November 2, 2011, the day after an overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks, a win that was almost a singlehanded effort from Nicklas Backstrom (scoring the game-tying goal in the last 30 seconds, and then the overtime winner). It was also the beginning of the end for Bruce Boudreau -- the game that stirred controversy when he did not put Alex Ovechkin out on the ice in the last minute of the third period to try to tie the game.

It was my last Capitals game at Verizon Center, at least for the foreseeable future. I went to every single game of the season until my move, preseason included, and the Capitals were still undefeated at home at that time.

After I left is when the team spiraled downhill, and it was difficult to watch from so far away. And I thought the next time I would see the team is when they come to Chicago to play the Blackhawks in March. After attending about 30 games in 2010-2011 and every game until November 1 in 2011-2012, four months without seeing my team in person was going to be tough.

On Friday night, I still didn't have any plans for New Year's Eve. Sam (Caps fans may know him as The Horn Guy) mentioned to me the Caps Road Crew trip to Columbus, but I thought the Road Crew seats were sold out. But another friend, Karen, also had a group going, and had a last-minute cancellation, and thus a ticket.

So I made the decision. Just 8 hours before I got in the car, I paid for a ticket, got a hotel in Columbus, and packed up my Nicklas Backstrom jersey to be worn to a game for the first time in two months.

It's only about six hours from Chicago to Columbus, and it was smooth sailing through Indiana and Ohio. My hotel was about four blocks from the Arena, and after a quick change, I went to meet up with the Road Crew near the arena. At the bar, I met Caps fans from London (Ontario), Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and obviously DC. Caps fans really came from all over.

After getting into the arena, it was almost like being at a Verizon Center game -- Caps fans were absolutely everywhere. Nationwide Arena is beautiful. Being one of the newer arenas in the NHL, I enjoyed the design and features. The concourses are wide, and the seating arrangement is unique and also functional.

We headed down to rinkside for warm-ups, and I practically started crying when the Caps hit the ice. It was so great to see them, and it just made me incredibly happy. Dmitri Orlov was called up after I'd left DC, and as I was at his first-ever AHL game, I was so proud to see him in an NHL jersey in person for the first time.

As for the game, it wasn't looking so good after the first two periods. But thankfully, the Caps picked it up in the third period and scored four goals in less than seven minutes, including two Ovechkin markers. After a New Year's Eve fireworks display on the ice, we left the arena happy and went back to a nearby bar to watch the ball drop.

It was no Verizon Center, but it was absolutely worth the trip and there's no other way I would rather have spent New Year's Eve. And the experience will at least hold me over until two months from now, when the Caps come into my hometown of Chicago.

Pictures from the trip (including a bunch of warm-up photos) are here.