Sunday, March 27, 2011

Canada Trip Leg Two: Montreal

Hello from Montreal! After arriving on the train, host, Habs fan, and awesome blogger Amanda picked me up to head to her place. After dropping off my luggage and picking up our gamewear, we wandered down Ste-Catherine for a while, checking out the shops and battling the pedestrian traffic. We then stopped to have a nice Thai dinner and brought our own wine, but were expecting three people, not just the two of us (the famous Julie had a previous engagement go long) and so we had two bottles of wine with us. We had to bite the bullet and down the both of them ourselves. So, needless to say, we were more inebriated than we'd planned before the game.

The restaurant was only about two blocks from Centre Bell, so we walked over for the game. I had plenty of fans cajoling me on my choice of attire (a Mike Knuble Winter Classic jersey), but none in a harmful or personal way. Most of the comments were a good-natured "hey, you're wearing the wrong jersey" which of course wasn't too much of an issue for me.

Centre Bell is lovely, however the concourses are quite narrow, which is only a problem during intermissions when it feels like a human cattle drive. We were seated in the very last row, but at center ice. The press box is suspended over the upper sections so there was sometimes an issue seeing the top of the jumbotron from our seats, but again, as we were in the last row, there was no one to complain about us leaning forward. Or standing up and dancing to the arena DJ like idiots.

As to the game, it was like seeing a different team from the previous night. I was happy to see Marco Sturm get his first goal as a Cap, and I'm probably one of the few fans who can say they've seen Braden Holtby's first and second NHL shutouts in person. Holtby was outstanding. He still makes some rookie mistakes, but he's gotten a lot better about minimizing his mistakes and absolutely robbed some Canadiens. Oh, and, Bell Centre Holtby Shuffle.

the menu at the Habs tweetup, with each special named after a player

After the great game, we went to the Habs tweetup, where people had been gathered to watch the game. I met some tweeps I know, and some I didn't, and then we ventured off to another nearby bar. Lo and behold, Kirk Muller was at the bar in a back room. I got to shake his hand, and then later on I was standing talking to someone, and Muller rubbed my shoulders to get by me. I about died.

So, in general, Saturday was much better than Friday. But I've had a great time on my trip, and I'm sad to be leaving Montreal tomorrow to head back Stateside. But I'm glad that the Caps were able to redeem themselves for my trip!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canada Trip Leg One: Ottawa

I'm sitting on the train from Ottawa to Montreal, traveling through the Canadian countryside, Elliot in the Morning sitting right behind me, and I have some time to blog.

Ottawa is odd, but pretty. It's odd because it can go from houses to downtown in a matter of two blocks. Plus when I went through customs, the Border Agent was baffled when I explained I was in the country to watch hockey. Aren't you supposed to be Canadian?

When I arrived Thursday, beat writer Steve Whyno and myself went to get a few drinks and watch Habs/Bruins at McLaren's, a place I highly recommend if you're looking to watch hockey. Or any sport really.

Friday, gameday, I went up to Parliament Hill, which is beautiful. Of course I was there on the day that Stephen Harper got taken down, but that's besides the point at the moment. I then went to meet up with some tweeps near the campus of uOttawa, and we had poutine served to us by a waiter who looked suspiciously like DJ Pauly D. Of course, we asked him to Beat Dat Beat Up.
photo by Ashley/@SensCaps

I met up with Sens fan, Ottawa native, and game accompaniment Lewy, and we headed on the bus over to Scotiabank Place, which is maybe 20 minutes outside of Ottawa.

It's a beautiful arena. You enter in a soaring atrium, with steps leading up to the upper levels. There are three seating levels, but both the 200 and 300 levels are accessible from the second floor concourse. 

One thing I did notice that I liked was that the Senators do not have their own version of the Red Rockers, but rather several mixed-gender groups of 20-somethings wearing white Senators t-shirts and carrying giveaways like t-shirts and small tambourine noisemakers to throw to children in all sections of the arena. They also pumped up the crowd by leading chants and cheering. I much preferred that to the Red Rockers.

I don't have too much to say about the game, because, well, it sucked. Caps didn't seem to show up at all, and Varlamov looked like he was never quite comfortable in the net. Anderson was solid in his own end, as evidenced by his subsequent shutout. He really has settled into Ottawa's system well.

Scotiabank Place is not only very nice, but is a great place to watch hockey. Sightlines are good from pretty much anywhere in the arena, and it has a very grand feel to it. My only gripes is that obviously it's quite far from downtown Ottawa, but also the seats have no cupholders (!) and the jumbotron needs an upgrade to the point where it made me realize how spoiled we are at Verizon with our gorgeous HD jumbotron.

Crappy game aside, I enjoyed my time in Ottawa, and I can't wait to get to Montreal and Bell Centre, as I've heard so much about the experience there.

You can see my photos from Ottawa on Flickr. I'll caption and tag once I have some more time.

Au revoir, and Let's Go Caps!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Countdown to Canada

In case you haven't heard me squealing about it forever, I'm headed to Canada in just two days to visit my first non-Verizon NHL arenas, and watch the Caps while they're away in Ottawa and Montreal this weekend. The trip is courtesy of American Airlines frequent flyer miles and some generous tweeps who are hosting me, as well as showing me the sights and accompanying me, the enemy, to games.

It will be my first visit to Ottawa and Montreal, and my first time at an NHL game not taking place at Verizon Center. I will be attending games at not one, but two legendary arenas, Scotiabank Place and Centre Bell. I've never before been in "away team" territory, but I will have a Sens fan and a Habs fan, respectively, with me at the games.

I'll be blogging and posting photos of my adventure as I go behind enemy lines as a Caps fan and see the game from another side. Plus, you know, plugging how gorgeous Ottawa and Montreal are.

I'm looking forward to meeting so many people that I've talked to for ages but never seen in person. And I hope you'll all bear with me and maybe live vicariously through me this weekend. I'll also of course be constantly posting to Twitter during my vacation.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Andy Miele on the Frozen Four, the Hobey Baker, and His Future in the NHL

 photo by Cathy White/

It's been a while since I blogged about Andy Miele. With the awarding of the Hobey Baker coming up during the Frozen Four in just a few weeks, I set up an interview to chat with Miele, who is first in the nation in college hockey scoring (65 points) this season.

Saturday night, the Miami RedHawks completed their CCHA two-game quarterfinal sweep of University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and move on to the semifinals in Detroit, facing Notre Dame on Friday. In Saturday's game, Miele had a goal and two assists to lift the RedHawks to a 4-1 final. 

The team has high hopes for this year's Frozen Four in the Twin Cities, after a disappointing 7-1 semifinal exit last year to eventual champions Boston College.

I spoke to Miele on Tuesday, three days after the last win over Alaska.

Rink Rebel: Congratulations on your season so far and on the quarterfinal wins over Alaska. What's the team's mentality heading into Friday's semifinal against Notre Dame?

Andy Miele: We know it's going to be a tough battle, it always is against Notre Dame. They're a good, skilled team that works hard, but they're young, and we're pretty experienced, so we're hoping that we can get the outcome that we want.

RR: Obviously last year's outcome at the Frozen Four was disappointing for you, but are you guys using that as motivation to make it even farther this year?

AM: Yeah, definitely. Everything that happens in the past you learn from, you move on from, and you get better from. Last year was obviously very disappointing, and so was the year before that, but it's something that we have in the back of our minds and will definitely motivate us come Frozen Four time.

RR: You've consistently improved each year with Miami, so looking at this season in particular, in what areas do you think you've improved the most?

AM: I'd say I'm more consistent, I'm bringing it every shift, instead of maybe one or two periods a game. I'm trying to go a full 60 minutes and staying focused, and that starts in practice. The consistency in practice is much better this year, and the time is showing in my statistics.

RR: How important was your time with the Capitals during the summer's development camp for your own development this past year?

AM: It was huge. Going there and doing pretty well definitely boosted my confidence. I had a great time there, I met a lot of guys. But the biggest thing was going there and succeeding, and that instilled so much confidence for me this year, on and off the ice.

RR: What does it mean for you to have your name floating around the top of the list for the Hobey Baker?

AM: You know, it's still hard to believe. I'd never really thought of myself as being a top contender for the Hobey Baker, so it hasn't really hit me how big of a deal it is. It's hard for me to still believe. I'm excited about it, and I look forward to what comes with it.

RR: Are you just looking to beat out [Carter] Camper (Ed. Note: Camper, Miami's Captain, is also a nominee) for it?

AM: No, no, my main goal this year is to win a national championship so that's my main focus, and if I can win a Hobey Baker, that would be awesome too.

RR: You've been getting a lot of attention with all the Hobey Baker talk, are you glad now that you weren't drafted? Because now after you graduate you're pretty much going to have your pick of teams.

AM: Absolutely. When you've had a successful season like I have, being a free agent is huge. You're not stuck in a place where you maybe don't want to be, I get to choose. Hopefully I'll have enough good options where I'll be happy with my decision.

RR: I've seen some New York Rangers blogs lobbying for [Glen] Sather to sign you. Do you think that the smaller, feisty players like [Mats] Zuccarello with the Rangers are helping your case to play in the NHL?

AM: Absolutely. Any little feisty guy that can succeed will open up scouts' eyes toward other players like that. It's just more recently that they've been looking at smaller players like myself. I think me and Carter [Camper] (Ed. Note: Camper is listed at 5'9", Miele at 5'8") are very excited about that, and hopefully our dream to play in the NHL someday will come true.

RR: After your experience with the Capitals organization this summer, all the fans want to know if you would sign with the Caps if they offered you a contract. 

AM: [laughs] I'll answer that question when it comes my way. It's a great organization there, it's a great city, great coaching staff, the guys seem great, so that'll be a question to answer when it comes my way.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Knuble and the Caps Catch the Hawks in OT

photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

I don't usually do game notes, but it was too exciting a game to stay silent. A couple of notes on the overtime win over the Blackhawks:

  • This was by far Jason Chimera's best game of the season. He was showing off his speed and he had more chances than usual. It wasn't just Chimera though; the Chimera-Laich-Fehr line was the best of the day, generating a ton of scoring chances, and scoring the third Capitals goal. Eric Fehr fed Brooks Laich a great pass in front, and Corey Crawford had no chance to save it.
  • Mike Knuble's overtime goal was beautiful; dirty, but beautiful. Knuble's forehand-backhand-forehand dance around Crawford's crease was the best his hands have looked in a long time. Marcus Johansson's pass to Knuble was picture-perfect.
  • Speaking of Johansson, he was a force on the ice today. He led the team in shots on net with seven. The penalty he took late in the third period was dumb, as it led to the tying Blackhawks goal, but his pass to Knuble in overtime seemed to make up for it.
  • Braden Holtby looked a bit shaky in net today. The Blackhawks' first goal was a soft one through Holtby's five hole, and their second was a bad angle shot that squeaked through seven hole, and bounced off his back into the goal. You can bet that Arturs Irbe will be working with him on situations like the second goal in practice.
  • NBC seemed to be crediting everyone but Jason Arnott for Alexander Semin's reawakening. Semin also had a good, hardworking game today. His work ethic for the past seven games since Arnott entered the lineup has been consistently strong. I was in the locker room yesterday after practice, and when Arnott and Semin came in, they were chatting away. It was funny to see Arnott trying to figure out what the heck Semin was saying, but he was talking. Of all the times I've ever previously been in the locker room, I've never heard Semin say a single word. There's no doubt in my mind that Arnott is responsible for Semin's inspired play.
  • Who knew that Boyd Gordon had such a cannon on him? I definitely wasn't expecting him to bomb a shot from so far away - and have it go through Crawford's pads. This is why the Caps keep Gordon around; he is essential to the penalty kill.

Overall, the game had all the intensity of a playoff game. Both teams were running on all cylinders and playing their best hockey. Considering that the Caps came away with the win, it speaks favorably to their playoff hopes. With Montreal, Detroit, New Jersey, and Philadelphia coming up, hopefully the Caps can keep up the excitement.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Dmitri Orlov's North American Debut

    Me, my sign, and Dmitri Orlov (photo by Ian Oland, thank you)

    Being a Spitfires fan for the past few seasons, I tend to follow former Spitfires in their careers. Adam Henrique, one of my favorite Spitfires, as well as former Spitfires captain Harry Young, were drafted by the New Jersey Devils during their time in the OHL. Both players aged out of the CHL this past season, and were assigned to the Albany Devils out of training camp.

    When I saw that the Hershey Bears were playing the Devils on a Saturday at Giant Center, I bought second row tickets several months in advance.

    Imagine my surprise when a week before the game, the news broke that the Capitals' 2009 second-round draft pick Dmitri Orlov was on his way to Hershey, and was expected to make his debut on the day the Bears played the Albany Devils.

    Being an Orlov fan, I set about making a sign in Russian to welcome him to Hershey. He saw the sign during warmups and smiled and nodded to me, and as the game began, I put on my proverbial blogger hat and watched Orlov very closely as he made his entrance into the AHL.

    It definitely was like watching a superstar in the making. Despite spending his entire career to date on Russian ice, which is larger than North American ice, Orlov didn't miss a beat and seemed completely at ease. Paired with veteran defenseman Patrick Wellar, the two were very aware of each other despite speaking different languages.

    Orlov was remarkably composed and didn't many mistakes. He spent time on the power play, on the second unit, where he showed off his booming shot from the blue line. One of those attempted shots led to a Steve Pinizzotto goal -- Orlov got the secondary assist on the PPG for his first AHL point in his first game (the next day, he'd follow it up with a primary assist on a Dmitri Kugryshev goal).

    Coach Mark French was also impressed with Orlov's ability to seamlessly mesh into the Bears lineup. Though obviously concerned with Orlov's shaky grasp of the English language, French insinuated that in the short-term, it wouldn't get in the way of his play, as he "seems to have a decent hockey sense" and French said he was "impressed" with how Orlov played.

    Capitals General Manager George McPhee agreed, telling reporters, "We got a report from someone that was at the game who said Orlov's first period the other night was the best first period he's ever seen from a 19-year-old in the American Hockey League... We're pretty high on this player."

    Today, Orlov made the switch from PTO to ELC, signing his first contract with the Capitals. Given his work ethic and performance thus far, he's well on his way to a successful North American career.

    Video highlights of Orlov's debut are here.
    Video of Mark French's postgame remarks is here.