NHL must see regular season games


Chicago, IL — I had previously blogged there is a disconnect between NHL fans that watch only playoff games vs regular season games and there are fans that only follow their team and not what is doing on in their own division or conference let alone the entire league. If you fall into these categories you are missing out. There is some incredible talents that you simply must tune in for.

There is no question that there is a big disparity between the Eastern Conference teams and the Western Conference teams. Main stream media caters to the east  because they are located in the east, but if you are in the east you are missing out on some really, really good hockey teams in the west. Chicago, Minnesota & St. Louis may be established hockey markets with some excellent teams but there are some non-traditional hockey markets like Dallas and California that you really need to see as well.

If you are in a fan base that is in the West particularly on the west coast the time difference is a big inhibitor but there are some teams in the east you should try and catch if for no other reason than to see the difference between the conferences. Yes everyone knows about the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins but believe it or not there is a team in Florida you should be looking out for & in Columbus, OH as well.

Between NHL Network, NBCSN and mainstream NBC you should be able to catch these teams in a time that is acceptable with your schedule.

For those who normally follow teams in the east, I would strongly suggest you catch a Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers or Minnesota Wild game if you want to see what skating truly fast means. These teams have young, skilled stars or stars in the making you want to catch.  If you thought the transition game was only in basketball these teams show that in hockey transitioning or in hockey parlance “playing off the rush” is an art that is mastered in the west.

California dreaming, ah who doesn’t love the natural beauty of California, it just so happens that all three of their hockey clubs play really good hockey as well. The San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and the defending Stanley Cup champs LA Kings all play a very balance game. All have solid to spectacular goaltending, solid defenses and big power forwards. These teams can hit as well as they can put the pucks in the net.

Then there is the St. Louis Blues who you will like if you’re a fan of the East as their physical style is more closely akin to the east generally speaking. This team however has arguably one of the best defenses in the league. Sure LA has Drew Doughty and Chicago has Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook but you’ll want to check out the quad defenders of Alex Pietranglo, Jay Bouwmeester,Kevin Shattenkirk & Barret Jackman if for nothing else to see how annoying Jackman is. Sorry that is my Blackhawks bias coming out.

Here are 5 games that are must see to really check out the West:

2/8 – Chicago Blackhawks @ St. Louis Blues which is a national broadcast on NBC at 12:30 EST so even if you don’t have cable you can check this rematch out of round 1 of the 2013-14 playoff Central division rivals. This rivalry is shaping up in the central to be equally as good as any in hockey. Simplified this is a skilled finesse team vs a physically bruising defense first team and these teams and fan bases do not like each other. The Chicago Blackhawks are flat out just fun to watch as there is so much skilled talent you never want to miss a Patrick Kane show or a Jonathan Toews vs David Backes battle in the faceoff circle.

2/22 – Dallas Stars @ Minnesota Wild on NBCSN @ 8pm EST. This game features some really good rising young talent and Minnesota’s Xcel Energy Center is appropriately named. The fans in Minnesota are among one of the best in hockey and they know their hockey. The Dallas Stars have a great young skilled duo in Jaime Benn and Tyler Seguin who can flat out fly with the addition of Jason Spezza and Alec Hemsky this team is a new force in the Central worth checking out. We all know Minnesota has Ryan Suter and Zach Parise from the big free agency coo but do you know Erik Houla, Mikael Granlund & Jonas Brodin?

3/1 – Anaheim Ducks @ Dallas Stars on NBCSB @8pm EST. This is another revisit of a 2013/14 playoff first round match. If Dallas has a great young duo in Seguin/Benn then Anaheim has the original duo in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf is one of the best team captains in the West and the Anahein Ducks as have one of the most potentially brilliant young up and coming goaltenders in America’s own John Gibson worth tuning in for all the hockey talent alone.

3/30 – LA Kings @ Chicago Blackhawks on NBCSN @8:30pm EST. If you missed the hockey masterpiece 7 game series between these two in the 2013/14 Western Conference Finals you definitely need to catch this one. The difference was literally one bounce that separated one team from the Stanley Cup and the other from raising it. These two teams keep getting in each other’s way in the playoffs and are seemingly on a collision course once again. Chicago knocked out LA in 2012-2013 to win the Cup then LA returned the favor this year the Hawks want the Cup back so this will be a great regular season tune up. The added bonus the game is in the Madhouse in Chicago’s United Center with Jim Cornelison’s rousing hair raising bone chilling national anthem that is truly must see.

4/11 San Jose Sharks @ LA Kings on NBC @3pm EST. This is one of the best battles in the Pacific division. The San Jose Sharks have consistently made the playoffs but can’t get past LA. Both teams are a combination of youth, skill, veteran saavy and being big physically imposing teams. The difference has been goaltending and resilience. The LA Kings know how to win under pressure which is something San Jose has yet to figure out but they have plenty of star power that you want to tune in for. I know in the east you are used to the King Henrik in nets but if you have not checked out your Quickness you have to see the quirky yet brilliant Jonathan Quick in the LA nets.

For those fan bases in the West you need to watch some of the teams in the East who definitely play a different brand of hockey particularly on the defensive side. If you like edgy fight filled brash hockey the east has it with their hate filled rivalries. You thought Pennsylvania was only interesting in the political arena well it’s interesting in the hockey world as well. The best of these in my humble opinion are as follows:

10/16 – Boston Bruins @ Montreal Canadiens on NHLN @ 7:30pm EST. I know this is early for the west coast for a Thursday night but this is a NHL Original Six classic and it is on hallowed ground in Montreal’s Bell Centre. If you have not heard Oh Canada sung among one of the most passionate fan bases you have to check this out. Like the Blackhawks/Blues this is a classic skill finesse vs physical bruising hockey. Ever since Bruins’ big Zdeno Chara knocked out Max Pacioretty the disdain has reached epic proportions between these teams. Montreal star D man and Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban is reason alone to tune into this one couple that with a long standing hatred between these two franchises it is truly must see TV.

10/22 – Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @8pm EST. If there is another rivalry in the east filled with hate you can be sure it is this one but make no mistake there is plenty of skill here as well. The battle between captains Claude Giroux of the Flyers and Penguins Sidney Crosby is worth tuning in for. Both teams are in the process of make- overs and trying to find that winning formula to get them to the next level. Divisional rivals standing in each others way builds contempt and there is plenty here. Both teams have struggled with defense and goaltending inconsistency and are more similar than either care to admit.

12/1 – Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Rangers on NHLN @7pm EST. This is not a conventional matchup but one that features probably one of the most exciting hockey players in the league in Tampa’s Steven Stamkos. Stamkos is a pure goal scorer and delicious to watch him from the top of the face-off circles blast pucks past goalies. The Lightning also has Canadian junior sensation Jonathan Drouin. The Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup and have former Tampa Bay Lightning beloved forward Marty St. Louis who left the Lightning with bruised feelings towards management and that is icing on this contest as he would love nothing better than to beat his old team. And then there is the King – Henik Lundqvist who is must see in the NY goal. Get your neck ready for break neck speed in this one.

1/28 – Washington Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @8pm EST. This rivalry is not what it once was and the Crosby vs Ovechkin battle has become somewhat irrelevant with neither team really being a playoff force yet there is no denying these teams are entertaining to watch. Alex Ovechkin is one of the most enigmatic pure talents in the NHL when he is on. This year Washington has former Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz so the Capitals will be interesting to see if there is any transformation under a primarily defensive coach and how offensive talent Ovechkin responds.

2/19 Columbus Blue Jackets @ Pittsburgh Penguins on NBCSN @ 7pm EST. Ok I know this is the third Penguins game I picked but they have all been divisional match-ups and this Metropolitan division is somewhat a puzzlement in that the teams in this division should be contenders for the Stanley Cup coming out of the East. Columbus is not the same team when it was in the West and was the league’s doormat. The addition of Scott Hartnell from the Philadelphia Flyers brings instant bite and skilled size up front. The Jackets also have one of the best young goalies in the league in Russian born Sergei Bobrovsky or “Bob” as he is know who manned the team Russia nets this past Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

There are also three regular season games that are must see regardless of what team you follow or what conference you like.

The Winter Classic on New Year’s Day that will feature an inter-conference match-up with the Chicago Blackhawks visiting the Washington Capitals which hopefully will have some snow is must see.

The All Star game that will be held in Columbus, OH this year from January 22-26 at Nationwide Arena and is well worth tuning in not for the game put the skills competitions where I guarantee you will be awed.

The battle of California in San Francisco’s new football Levy Stadium featuring the LA Kings @ the San Jose Sharks. The NHL has figures out how to get ice to not melt when outdoor temps are at 70-80 degrees that coupled with a state of the art new NFL stadium and some great NHL teams is reason to tune in.

Try catching some of these games you will be not only entertained but also get a pulse on the league and other teams either outside your conference or divisions. You will understand the rivalries better in the playoffs and also see the differences between the two conferences. Is it October yet?

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NHL-reeling em in the regular season


Chicago,Il — Only the NFL has a fan base that is lock scoped during the regular season, partially because there are only 16 regular season games which makes every game that much more important. It is a smaller time commitment and has buit in demand. The NFL creates demand by diminished supply. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder at least for football.

The NHL has 82 regular season games that takes place from October thru April that’s a long time to commit for the casual fan which is why there are some fans that only tune into post season games. The NHL attendance and broadcast numbers are improving but there is still a disconnect between the regular season tv viewership and the playoffs in some markets.

Now the NHL is not the only league that has this problem The NBA & MLB also share in this issue. In fact MLB has double the amount of games that the NHL & NBA do and the average baseball game is now running 3 1/2 to 4 hours which is way too long and could explain why young people are not interested in baseball the way they used to be couple with the slower pace of the game. Now hockey does not have that problem and the length of the games and pace is good.  Since I am a hockey fan I will only be addressing what the NHL can do.

Now the NHL does have some incredibly passionate fans that just love hockey and can never get enough of it. For those of us we are probably the only people on the planet that dread summers.  Those are not the fans I’m referring to. I’m talking the casual fan or the fans that only watch their own teams and don’t follow other teams in their own division let alone conference or league.

Ideally you first want fans to like a team then you want them to watch and pay attention to other teams in their own division and conference. The last step is to have these fans then simply want to watch hockey and show interest in the entire league.

So what can the NHL do & why don’t certain fans only tune in during the post season?

There are multiple reasons why people watch playoffs vs regular season hockey. One is that the intensity of games is heightened due to the games in themselves mean more.  The level of competition is better. Now every league has bad teams and there really is nothing that can be done about that but maybe there is something that can be done about amping up the intensity in regular season and having those games mean more in the end.

One way to get more people to tune into the regular season is the games have to have more bearing on the playoffs. This will also get not only more fans buy in but players as well if there was some pay off for them in the playoffs. As the NHL is now, the regular season performance has very little to do with the post season.

The President trophy winner rarely end up winning the Stanley Cup. In recent history only the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have won both.  The Hawks in 2013 which mind you, was shortened by the lock out and the Wings in both 2002 & 2008.

So inherently there is no added advantage for teams to do well in the regular season just play well enough to get to the playoffs. An eighth seed has just as much opportunity as a division leader. Now something seems wrong with that especially since out of all the major sports hockey already has built-in variables with puck luck.

In theory the LA Kings won both of their Stanley Cups and probably were not the best team in the league the years they won the Cup. They just got hot at the right time or it could be argued since they didn’t play that well in the regular season they were more rested. Now I’m not saying the Kings are not a good hockey team and that they might not have won anyway, they are, but with the way the current system is it is unfair to division leaders and conference leaders.

In the regular season last year the Boston Bruins were the Presidents Trophy winners and the best team in the NHL. In the West it was the Anaheim Ducks yet when the playoffs rolled around they really got no distinct advantages other than they got to play the supposedly weaker wild card teams but this advantage was only in the 1st round.

And that crazy divisional thing in the playoffs that the league went to,  I’m just not so sure makes sense in post season but that’s another subject and there needs to be more than a 1 year sampling to give full judgement on this format.

The league needs to expand especially in the west where they are two teams shorter than the east. This way they could have two more teams per conference make playoffs and have the wild cards and teams other than divisional leaders play each other while the  division leaders get a bye to the next round and some additional rest.

If the players got an extra weeks rest & automatic bye to the next round that would be incentive to try to win their divisions. Each game during the regular season would have more meaning especially against one’s own division and conference which the NHL and NBC are promoting anyway with their Wednesday Night Rivalry Night which is geared to divisional match ups supposedly.

The other thing I’m not sure makes sense is the whole OT and shoot out point system. I’m not sure professionals should get treated like little leaguers where you get a point for losing. If there was more of a separation of points like if you win you get points if you don’t you get nothing I guarantee that you would be seeing some pretty intense last 10 minutes of the 3rd periods of games and some battle royales to get those points.

I understand that the league is trying to sell parity to keep fan bases of bad teams stay interested. I’m just not so sure that it isn’t also diluting the product as well in the regular season. To get me wrong the NHL product is great I just want to help make it even better.  I’m also not sure it makes any difference. The Buffalo Sabres are not a good team and have not been for a while but that doesn’t stop Sabres fans from watching their team or other teams.

The regular season games would gain both more meaning because of the games increased impact on the post season and would gain intensity in more games if the point system was revisited.  It will be interesting to see how the AHL does with scrapping the dreaded shootout and what impact it has. Is this a guarantee of converting those fans that only tune in to the post season to make them want to tune in or go to regular season games – no but it should be looked at by the league.

Admittedly I don’t really understand fans that only tune into the playoffs, isn’t that like coming in 2/3rds of the way through a good book or movie? Then again maybe not since the regular season has little to do with the post season. I do understand time commitments but tune in on a Wednesday. The regular season does set up divisional enemies and with how the league is set up now you will understand certain carry over dislikes that were fostered if you tune in to the regular season.

For those fans though that only watch the playoffs, I would encourage you to tune in sometimes during the regular season. This year NBC and NBCSN will feature 31 games that will highlight rematches of teams that were in the 2013-14 playoffs so you might want to check that out. Who doesn’t want to see the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Kings or Boston take on Detroit?

Whatever market you are in there is also probably a game or two that your team will play against an opponent that you will want to catch as well. The regular season is not as intense as the playoffs but that doesn’t mean that there is not some great hockey that is being played or do you think the battle between Jonathan Toews and David Backes is only worth watching in playoffs?  Who doesn’t want to see P.K. Subban go toe to toe Milan Lucic? How can you not appreciate the skills of Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk or Steven Stamkos? Give it a whirl I’m betting you will be entertained.

Next up  — must see games for the casual fan in the regular season

 

 

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Chicago Blackhawks’ riches– Prospects making the grade at NJEC


redprospect bench Chicago, IL – This past week or so USA hockey held it’s annual evaluation camp in Lake Placid, NY. Every August approximately 45 or so prospects from around the country are invited to attend and compete. The purpose is it is part of a process that selects US National Junior Team to represent Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championships that takes place in December. Not only does it aide coaches in their selection of the final team that will represent Team USA it also exposes and prepares the prospects to international competition.

This year Teams from Finland, Sweden & the Czech Republic were also at the camp. It is practice scrimmages along with games to get these young prospects ready. The prospects invited represent most of the NHL teams or will be NHL draft eligible in 2015 draft.

The Chicago Blackhawks had six prospects in attendance this year. Four of whom were on Team USA and two were on Team Sweden. Sorry team Sweden I did not get a chance to take in one of your games to check out the Hawks prospects on team Sweden.

The Hawks prospects in attendance for Team USA were 2014 1st round pick forward Nick Schmaltz, who also is a local kid from Verona, WI. Another local boy was 2013 6th round pick forward Anthony Louis from Winfield, IL. Another Midwest boy Tyler Motte from St. Clair, MI, who had an outstanding tournament, was also there. Tyler is the Blackhawks’ 2013 4th round draft selection and is a forward as well. The lone Hawk prospect not from the Midwest was John Hayden who was selected by the Blackhawks in 2013 in the 3rd round.

The Hawks prospects from Team Sweden were Robin Norell and Carl Dahlstrom. If you were recently in attendance at the Blackhawks own prospect camp all of these players were there with the exception of Tyler Motte so you got a glimpse at the talent waiting in the wings in the Hawks prospect system. Tyler Motte and John Hayden had a very good showing at the NJEC.

Motte eventually was on top Team USA line and his production showed with 5G, 3A for a total of 8 points in six games. Motte had a hat trick in Team USA’s game against Finland in a 9-1 romp. Credit must also be given to his line mates Jack Eichel (top draft prospect for 2015) & Alex Tuch ( 2014 1st rounder for Minnesota Wild).

Hawks fans will be very happy with big physical forward John Hayden who knows how to get to the front a net and make his presence felt. Hayden ended the tourney with 3G, 1A for 4 points in 5 games. In the last game against the Czech Republic it was his big imposing body that deflected a shot from the point past the Czech goalie on a power play. Hayden scored another power play goal against Finland in that 9-1 game and another power play goal against Sweden with a helper from Nick Schmaltz.

Local Boys Nick Schmaltz and Anthony Louis for most of the tournament were linemates. Nick Schmaltz only played in 4 games but managed to tally 3 assists while Louis played in 6 games with 1G & 1A. The chemistry is there between the two as they have played together back on the Chicago Mission.

Anthony Louis’ goal came on the power play against a Team White game against Sweden. Who got one of the assists his buddy Schmaltzie. Louis’ assist was on power play goal by Will Butcher in the Team White vs Finland game.

The good news is, it looks like all these Hawks prospects know what to do with a puck on the power play something that the Blackhawks could use on the big club.

I did not attend the games in Lake Placid but I did watch the intra team scrimmage between team blue which had Motte & Hayden on them and team white which had Schmaltz and Louis and the final game of Team USA vs Czech Republic. Schmaltz did not play in the last game vs Czechs.

The one thing that is very apparent is these kids all have solid offensive games and know how to score and make plays. Work on the defensive side of the puck and putting together a solid two-way game, get bigger and faster and these kids will be making the leap soon.

Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs fans will be very happy when these kids get there. For the time being though they are all are heading off to college. If you get the chance to see them go catch them, Nick Schmaltz will be heading to the Univ of North Dakota, you know that school where a Mr. Jonathan Toews attended. Anthony Louis will be attending Miami University, John Hayden will be at Yale University and Tyler Motte will be at big 10 school – University of Michigan.

If you can’t get out to the games then maybe catch them on the College sports channels if you have a sports tv package. Otherwise you will have to wait to catch them at Blackhawks prospect camps. The pipeline the Hawks have going is impressive indeed or as one of the announcers said in a recent game when speaking of the Blackhawks prospects “the rich are only getting richer”.

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NFL – a League of their own


Chicago, IL — Now normally this blog does not talk NFL football but after last week here are some rants. The NFL underwent a rough week last week from a PR standpoint. They managed in one week to insult two minorities the LGBT community and women. Good going NFL. The rather alarming thing is that those inside the NFL or closely associated with the NFL see absolutely nothing wrong with either of these incidents and their overall stance as a league.

Why this is alarming is it is beginning to signal that the NFL along with their players and coaches are beginning to think they are above laws and are reverting to 1950’s thinking which should now be antiquated and more enlightened one would think.

I will go in the order of how the events happened as to not indicate one topic is more important than the other. Early in the week highly respected coach Tony Dungy made the statement that he would not want openly gay football player Michael Sam on his team because of “distractions” that would surround Sam with media attention. Luckily for the NFL there are still some enlightened and smart individuals in their couching fraternity and St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher does not share Tony Dungy’s tunnel vision.

What was particularly ironic about Dungy’s comments was he was the first one to forgive Michael Vick’s indiscretions and welcome him back and offer to help Vick with open arms. I’m sure when Vick returned to the NFL it was a media circus but that was alright in Dungy’s book. Correct me too if I’m not wrong but Vick spent time in jail for his attention getting story whereas Sam’s is not only not criminal it is who he was born to be. It is part of Michael Sam as is his ethnicity.

So what is the difference other than one coming to the conclusion Tony Dungy does not like LGBT persons. This is fine not everyone has to like everyone. But of all people Dungy should know prejudice is prejudice and someone who I’m sure had many doors closed to him due to the color of his skin should see how wrong prejudices can be and how permanently damaging it can be.

I know people who have certain religious beliefs think this type of prejudice is valid and even justified like to use the bible as their shield. Well are we not supposed to separate church and state or there is no place for an individual’s church or religious beliefs in the workplace either.

Last I looked none of us were absolved of sins. Not that being gay is a sin but those people believe that it is. No one is free of brining “distractions” into the locker room, boardroom or wherever. Sorry Tony anyway you cut it your statements are prejudice, antiquated and quite frankly anything but religious. But I’m not here to change your opinion. Your entitled to it, I’m just happy to know in your own beliefs you’ll have to answer for this when meeting your maker in the meantime however please keep your short sighted thoughts to yourself.

What is sad this is a league that was founded and run by some truly visionary men. Vince Lombardi must be turning over in coach heaven with this. Lombardi stood for what coaching is all about if you can play football better than the next guy then you suit up and play regardless of skin color, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

Now if that was not bad enough the NFL went on to really damage themselves when they handed out only a two game suspension for Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice for beating his then girlfriend which was caught on video unconscious.

What makes this really damming for the league is it is an affront to women who comprise a large portion of their fan base and have a significant amount of purchasing power. Unlike the Michael Sam/Tony Dungy incident which was a comment by a former coach this was a action that was handed down by the league itself.

The league by handing out such a light penalty infers that it condones the beating of women. I don’t care what the girlfriend did or didn’t do there is no way to justify the hitting and abuse of women. Even if she hit Rice I’m sure there was a way either he could have gotten away from her or restrained her without knocking her unconscious.

Also for those justifying the actions because she has subsequently married Rice is lame. Obviously she has some issues herself but that is really not the issue the issue is Rice’s behavior and lack of control. What is even more disturbing and frankly very disappointing was Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh’s dismissal of the entire situation. I’m sure he just wants the situation to go away and meant that when he said it was no big deal rather than hitting women was not big deal but Coach Harbaugh you really should clarify this.

The league can try and sweep this away as quickly as possible but what all of this has opened is time and time again the NFL whether it is with Vick, Lewis, Burris or now Rice that some of the NFL quote unquote superstars think they are above the laws of this country and seem to think they can get away with almost everything and that is acceptable.

The League is beginning to have the same line of thinking but some of us fans do not find this acceptable, Mr. Goodell you are responsible for the image the league projects. When a less severe punishment is handed down for the beating of women than for smoking pot which by the way is legal in some states and only a matter of time til the majority of states follow suit one has to wonder if this is not a league that has become so bloated on it’s own arrogance and power that it can no longer self-adjudicate itself.

NFL maybe king for now but that may not always be the case. Remember when boxing & baseball were king? Yeah most people don’t. One day that may become the case with football. I am a fan of football and the NFL which is why these events are so disappointing and distressing. NFL clean it up or you may find people moving on.

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Chicago Blackhawks – Renewable Energy source from Rockford


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Chicago, Il – Amateur Scouting has always been a key for the Blackhawks and never has it been more important in the current salary cap era to have a plethora of young talent waiting in the wings. The Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate has never been more center stage than in the upcoming years.

The next wave of Blackhawks is currently sitting on the IceHogs’ roster. It will be a year for the IceHogs coaching staff to get the next wave ready not only for the Blackhawks but for the rigors of the NHL. If there is a criticism of the IceHogs it maybe they have not reached their playoffs for the past 4 years. This is something they should look to right this year.

Young players can never learn to early the pressures and rigors of playoff hockey and how to cope. The sooner they experience this in the minors the better prepped they will be in the NHL. As we all know there is nothing quite like playoff hockey at any level.

Look at the LA Kings AHL affiliate the Manchester Monarchs or the Dallas Stars affiliate the Texas Stars both of these AHL teams have steadily made the playoffs the last four years. This past playoff series we saw the Kings’ players that came up through their farm team were NHL playoff ready. Players like Tyler Tofoli, Jake Muzzin & Tanner Pearson had their AHL playoff experience to help them deal with this year’s NHL playoffs.

I’m pointing this out only with the aim to make both the Rockford IceHogs better and the Blackhawks better. Plus the Rockford fan base deserves a winner. The IceHogs were just given an award for having the most increased ticket sales. It’s time to give back to the fans and get these young men ready for playoff hockey, as we all know the Chicago Blackhawks will be in the playoff hunt for years to come.

Blackhawks fans there are plenty of reasons for making the trip to Rockford. This year there will be a virtual buffet of talents there on the ice. The next wave of Blackhawks like Teuvo Teravainen, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Garrett Ross, Ryan Hartman and Dennis Rasmussen up front and on the blue line, Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck & Victor Svedberg all waiting to take the next step to the big city.

Personally I can’t wait to see a line of Phillip Danault, Ryan Hartman and Andrew Shaw at the UC. That is a whole lot of speed, grit, work ethic and skill all together and Danault and Hartman already have chemistry. I make myself dizzy with the thought of Teuvo Teravainen centering Patrick Kane. Oh the spin-o-rama delights and slick passing is endless or Teuvo on a line with Marian Hossa who just does everything well. I’d love to see Mark McNeill opposite either Ben Smith or Bryan Bickell with a whole lot of Mac truck crash, bang, boom deliveries along the boards but hey that’s just me.

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Danaultonethemove

This year at most there will be two, yes only two spots, as I see it open on the Blackhawks if that and one of them will be a defenseman. That leaves only one open possible spot or these players who must otherwise battle a current NHL player for a spot which in order to do that you have to really impress the coaches. I’m not saying that can’t be done but its tough.

These kids are going to have to work their, you know what off, but it is possible even on a talented team like the Hawks. Preparing these kids is imperative. Most of those players will stay in Rockford for now so get out and see them folks these kids are good really really good.

As for the players don’t get frustrated or discouraged which is easy to do. Bid your time, improve, listen to your coaches and keep working you will make the Hawks when you are ready. The Hawks saw something in you otherwise you would not have been drafted. Hint mind your defensive responsibilities first that is the surest way to get to the next level.

Centers become flawless faceoff masters, Wingers become board battlers, All forwards hone that two way game, Defenseman play the body as well as the stick and learn to block shots and close gaps, goalies watch your rebound control and positioning. Get these things down and you’ll be in the NHL soon.

On the horizon, there are so many talents. For those that went to the prospect camp this year you know what I mean. The line of 1st rounder Nick Schmaltz, Anthony Louis and John Hayden was just sick and these are still college kids wait until they get more experience. The skill in the hands of these three players is unreal and they already click. Hayden is just a physical beast. That kid has some serious size and skill. Louis and Schmaltz have history with playing with each other on the Chicago Mission and both have great hands and on ice vision.

John Hayden bench

Schmaltz- Hinostroza

Local boy Vincent Hinostroza who has been to previous camps has so much speed and battle in the corners and knows how to score and get to the net. He may not be big but boy this kid never gives up.

On the defensive side Nick Mattson & Michael Paliotta stood out and are returners to the Blackhawks prospect camps. Their defensive positioning and puck movement was very good. All of these kids can skate.

All of these players will be returning to school for the most part. The Hawks now have a healthy pipeline of prospects so look to them in the future to draft more college prospects and possibly more young Europeans. The Hawks have the luxury of letting them have time to grow and develop which makes both of these options ideal for the Hawks.

Whether you’re an IceHogs fan or a Blackhawks fan the future for both of these organizations is very bright indeed and for the fans get out and see some incredibly fast, skilled players either at the UC or in Rockford I guarantee you will like what you see.

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Chicago Blackhawks- 2014 Prospect camp opens tomorrow


Chicago, IL — This is my favorite time of the off season. Yes even more than NHL free agency. This is the time when dreams and hopes are transcended into NHL realities and destinies are forged. All that sacrifice and dedication is on the brink of paying dividends for these young men and their families.

Never has it been more imperative for the Chicago Blackhawks to have a strong amateur pipeline as it is now in the cap era and to develop young players into NHLers who one day maybe have their names engraved on a Stanley Cup. There is plenty of work to be done though first.

There are some coming in undrafted and unsigned, some currently on the Hawks’ AHL affiliated Rockford IceHogs, some still in college and some coming from overseas. Wherever their origins, they all have one common goal, that their destination will ultimately be the same-the NHL.

on the knee

Returning are 2011 prospects, Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill, Adam Clendening, Garrett Ross, Alex Broadhurst, Kent Simpson & 2010 draft goalie Mac Carruth along with a prospect that needs no introduction 2012 first round pick Teuvo Teravainen.

All have made the jump to the professional level whether at the AHL level or abroad which would lead one to the logical conclusion that they are the next to make the jump to the big club if not this year than very soon but they are all young with some learning yet to do which is the point of these camps. Lets take a look at the Hawks near future.

Phillip Danault – Forward – There is no question about his leadership and work ethic it is way up the charts if not off the charts. He is also flexible in that he can play either wing or center. Danault’s defensive play and penalty kill abilities may very well be NHL ready right now where Danault needs work is in the offensive zone. This year the IceHogs coaching staff needs to put Danault in all situations to get him ready including power plays. Danault needs to learn to get to the net and shoot from any angle if passes are not available. I mean it works for someone wearing 88 and if it’s good enough for him. This year in Rockford will be crucial for Danault who could project to be either a 2nd or 3rd line center.

Danault&McNeill

Mark McNeill – Forward – no question McNeill is physically ready for the NHL and projects to be a power forward that can crush you along the boards. Like Danault, McNeill can play both wing and center. Where McNeill needs work is in his on ice focus which will be important in making the Hawks as coach Quenneville is always looking for his club to skate with a purpose. When in the offensive zone McNeill just needs to open up ice for himself and teammates in the defensive zone put the body on someone and close gaps. McNeill could very well make the Hawks this year.

Adam Clendening – Defensman – Clendening is an offensive defenseman that is a great skater and puck mover and we all know how much the Hawks value those attributes. He also is very good at quarterbacking power plays. The weakness of Clendening is in the defensive zone he can sometimes get knocked off the puck which if he is to make the Hawks needs to be addressed. It will be interesting to see him battle it out with Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns for a spot on the Hawks blue line and which one will get the call first.

Teuvo Teravainen – forward – It has been well documented all of Teuvo’s talents and skills of which there are many. Teuvo has a maturity beyond his years and skills wise is NHL ready the only thing holding him back is getting used to the North American hockey game and his physical stamina. Most do however expect that Teuvo will be on the Hawks roster by the end of the regular season and I’m in that camp as well. Like Danault and McNeill he can play either wing or center. I still can’t even fathom a line with him, Kane and Saad on it but if Teuvo develops the way he is projected that is a definite possible reality.

Mac Carruth – goalie – Carruth physically reminds one of Corey Crawford. He is a big athletic goalie. Carruth also has some bite to his game and is not opposed to moving out forwards. He is feisty which should endear him to the IceHog faithful. I will be keeping an eye on him to see about his positioning and angles. Carruth could be a hidden diamond in the rough.

Carruth

Eyes ON

Who I’m going to keep eyes on as well in camp are first round forward picks from 2013 & 2014 Illinois native Ryan Hartman and Wisconsin native Nick Schmaltz. Stephen Johns, Vinny Hinostroza, Trevor Van Riemsdyk & Dillion Fournier.

Vinny Hinstroza like Teravainen will surely wow the crowd with his offensive playmaking skills. He is a hard worker and battles hard. Ryan Hartman came on last year in Rockford and seemed to click with Phillip Danault late in the season. Hartman has bite to his game ala Andrew Shaw.

Stephen Johns is a defensive defenseman ala Brent Seabrook, complete with the size and physical game. He like Seabrook also has a great outlet pass to his teammates and does not mind delivering big time hits to the opposition. He also has a wicked shot from the point. Since the Hawks lack size it will be interesting to see if Johns in fact makes the Hawks this year. His weakness is sometimes he gets out of defensive positioning in trying to deliver big hits so I will be focusing on this in camp.

Trevor Van Riemsdyk is an interesting case. Yes he is one of those Van Riemsdyks, brother to JVR he was picked up by the Hawks and signed. Van Riemsdyk only played in 26 games with the Univ of NH due to an ankle injury but tallied 23 points and was a +13. This kid could be a steal for the Hawks. His skating like JVR’s is very good.

How Swede it is

We wouldn’t be at a Blackhawks camp if we did not have a great skating compliment of Swedes and this year is no different. I’m keeping a look out for Dennis Rasmussen, Carl Dahlstom, Robin Norell, Fredrik Olofsson.

I mainly though will be looking at Dennis Rasmussen who the Hawks signed as a free agent from the Sweden pro team Växjö of the Swedish Hockey League. He is 24 years old and should be NHL ready. He just needs to get used to the North American style hockey game. He is a big center at 6’3” and has good skating skills.

Youth is the hope of us seeing a better humanity reflected. The Blackhawks are hoping that they have talents waiting to explode and hidden gems waiting to be polished by the right instruction. The Blackhawks are looking to these youths as their future. These prospects are looking to make their futures now.

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Chicago Blackhawks’ Monument men – Toews and Kane


Chicago, IL – Well for eight more years Chicago gets to eat it’s steak and crème brulee too when the Chicago Blackhawks inked Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to long term contracts that will keep the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup contenders for years to come and Hawks fans are very happy.

There is no question that both of them deserved their contracts after turning the franchise around and bringing multiple championships to Chicago. Stan Bowman had probably one of the simplest decisions he will ever have to make. Both are beloved in Chicago and the face of the franchise and sports legends in this city.

They fill the seats at the United Center. One could argue that the Hawks actually got off cheap. It’s not to hard to sell even non-hockey fans when you have fresh young skilled talent that play a brand of hockey that is exciting and competitive. The Hawks did what they had to do yesterday.
NHL network analyst Kevin Weekes tweeted what best sums up the situation:

Kevin Weekes @KevinWeekes • Jul 9
@NHLBlackhawks Reward their players.No moving the ‘Goal Line’ the way some other teams have.Draft,develop,perform,win and Reward players.

That formula is how it should be for all NHL teams but it is not and that is what separates the Blackhawks from other organizations and why Kane & Toews remain in the red, black & white.

It’s hard to believe that both Toews and Kane are just coming into their prime and probably already qualify for the Hall of Fame. There is no question there will one day be statues of these two players along with the current ones of Hull and Mikita outside the United Center.

Now normally you don’t want to hand out bouquets to 25/26 year olds even after all of the achievements that they have made to date for risking them resting on their laurels. There is no such fear with these two.

Kane

They are cut slightly different but from the same cloth and that cloth is named – competitive. I know everyone thinks Jonathan Toews is the serious one but make no mistake Kane is equally competitive and they have a healthy rivalry with each other that pushes them and probably the team to succeed. If one of them scores a goal then the other one scores a goal ect.

You can tell also that both of them love the game of hockey and really enjoy playing. You can also tell that they also enjoy playing with each other and respect each other’s games and skill sets even if they do occasionally get on each others nerves. Neither of them lose focus on what is most important – winning.

On the subject of seriousness, Toews is not quite as serious as everyone thinks except maybe about hockey and that is a good thing. I say own your seriousness Jonny Chicago loves you for it and how can anyone not love Patrick Kane who is dipped in charm.

We here in Chicago have literally seen these two grow up before our eyes and we are fortunate enough to get to see them continue on here in Chicago as they do enter their primes.

Their temperaments give the team balance. You can have two highly skilled players but the chemistry and balance isn’t always there. Yes they are also surrounded by other skilled players on the core but it is these two that drive the bus just in different ways.

toews

Does anyone think that either of these players likes to lose? They both realize they have a rare opportunity to do something here that maybe cannot be done in the salary cap era. Speaking of the salary cap there is no question that the Hawks future was also set in stone with the signings.

Managing the cap has never become more imperative and prospecting both on the amateur and professional side for years to come. Stan Bowman and his staff are up to the task. Will it be easy? No but nothing worth having or doing is.

Here is where the Blackhawks fans can help want to make the cap go up, want to see exciting hockey at the UC then get out there and go to the games, buy Blackhawks items tune into the games if you can’t afford a ticket as it will increase rating which increase sponsorship and advertisers.

Will the core be able to stay together after the 2014-15 season? That is the only question that remains. So far Stan Bowman has treated his players fairly and honestly so we have to assume that will continue. Will all of the core be here after next season? Who knows, but there are two players on that core that we all know are irreplaceable and Bowman now has them signed til 2022-23.

Captain Everything and Showtime will be gracing the ice on Madison for years to come which makes this Hawks fan very happy.

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