Fresh back in London after a week of covering the Maple Leafs in Toronto, Murph was thrilled to catch up with fellow Newfoundlander Ryane Clowe of the San Jose Sharks! Check out their chat about other Newfoundlanders in the NHL, and of course the stress of the NHL trade deadline:
Well I’m off to Toronto for a week – or as some may call it – the Center of the Hockey Universe! I lived in this hockey mad city for 10 years, and saw first-hand how badly fans there want to win that elusive Stanley Cup.
It’s been a long time for those fans, and the Leafs haven’t given the faithful much to cheer about for the past five years. I have luckily been in Europe throughout this current horrendous phase in Toronto hockey history. That being said I’m beyond interested to see what awaits me there now – with the Leafs looking like a team that could make the post-season.
This is a city that is blessed with many professional teams – the Blue Jays, Marlies, Raptors, the Rock and Toronto FC have their own rabid support – but make no mistake this is a Leaf town – bleeding blue 365 days a year. I was in the ‘Big Smoke’ for a Jays’ World Series triumph, and was at the first ever game in Raptor history. But I’ve also seen the frenzy that a Leafs’ win brings. A random win over Boston on a Tuesday in November can be huge news for fans and media alike! It can take over the very fabric of the populace.
This is a city that would have to be shut-down for days if the Leafs went deep in the playoffs. I was lucky enough to be at a game-seven decider many moons ago, when Wendel Clark led the ‘Blue and White’ past Curtis Joseph and the Blues – it was like a nuclear reaction that the home-team was advancing! This wasn’t the Cup, it was an opening round series, and the city was electric.
The party and mood that night, after a 6-0 drubbing of St. Louis, was bigger than the Jays’ second World Series that I experienced in person. It was bigger than the Raptors during the Vince Carter years, and it was certainly bigger than any Rock Lacrosse title, or Toronto FC win. It was in a word – incredible! Mark my words – if the Leafs advance to a Stanley Cup, you will want to be there. It will be like nothing imaginable.
So there in lies the excitement about my latest travels. I will be taking in a few Leaf games next week for both business and pleasure. It will be nice to be back in my old haunts with the team actually on the cusp of a playoff berth. And maybe even more appealing to me, the mood of the city will be exciting with it’s beloved club being on that cusp.
Stay tuned – I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories from this trip – some I will repeat, and some that will be left on the road!
You can follow Murph’s Toronto Hockey Road-Trip on Twitter @MurphOnIce
Daniel Alfredsson was the star of the show in many ways at the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa. Here he meets Murph and the media to discuss his Senator teammate Erik Karlsson, and his coaches in Canada’s capital!
Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.
For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the Montreal Canadiens at the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday. Two Original-Six clubs that are battling it out for bragging rights on a special Saturday – Hockey Day In Canada!
Keys to victory for the Canadiens:
–Four on the Floor: The Habs are on a nice little roll coming into this one. They’ve won three straight, and need to forget all the hype of playing on Hockey Day in Canada against their oldest rivals. They need that fourth win in a row, as they sit 11th in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of the final playoff spot.
–Monkey Off the Back: Scott Gomez is the Canadiens highest paid player at $7.5 million annually. He had not scored in a year, and finally got the monkey off his back Thursday with his first tally in 369 days! This was hanging over both the player and the team, with media and fans dredging it up game after game. With Gomez finally breaking the ‘goose-egg’, maybe he can get back to helping the team win some games down the stretch. A few points in Toronto Saturday would be a good start.
–Pac-Man: Max Pacioretty is having a career season despite Montreal’s woes.He had his first career hat-trick Thursday against the Islanders, and has reached the 20 goal plateau for the first time. He has come a long way since he suffered a broken neck last season, after a Zdeno Chara hit. If he’s on his game Saturday, the Habs could rain on the Leafs parade in Toronto.
Keys to victory for the Maple Leafs:
–Two and Out: The Buds have lost two straight coming into Hockey Day in Canada. Despite the mini-slump, the team is 6-3-1 in their past ten games. They have climbed back into the playoff hunt, and sit in eighth place in the East. They will need to tighten up in their own end to win under the pressure Saturday, and stay ahead of Washington for the last post-season spot.
–Air Canada Seat Sale: The Leafs have been loving life on home ice. The Air Canada Centre has been a tough place for visitors to play this season, and Toronto is 16-8-4 there thus far. The ACC will be buzzing Saturday night, especially if the Leafs can score first and get the crowd behind them. A good start against the Habs could be the main ingredient for victory.
–Happy 30th: Phil Kessel is having a great season in blue and white. He has reached the 30-goal plateau for the fourth straight year, and is leading the Leafs with 60 points in 55 games. He’s found incredible chemistry with Joffrey Lupul (58 points), and if these two continue their strong play at home, then the Leafs should beat the Canadiens Saturday.
Enjoy Hockey Day in Canada and this match-up! It should be an intense game, and it’s always entertaining when Original-Six teams collide on a Saturday night. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL weekend.
Back in London after his NHL All-Star Experience in Ottawa, Murph looks at some post-game player reaction. Boston sophomore Tyler Seguin was available to the media following the 59th All-Star Game – here he reflects on playing on a line with Phil Kessel, how good Tim Thomas has been in the last 4 All-Star Games, and of course his personal memories from the Ottawa events!
Well after the Sunday of all Sundays – Super Bowl Sunday – here’s some NHL Monday Musings!
I’m still reeling a bit after the Patriots 21-17 loss to the Giants. I had predicted a New England triumph over the G-Men 27-17, so I’m a little touchy this morning (not too mention the lateness of the UK time-zone)!
But despite the loss and the lack of sleep, here’s a few NHL snippets that have caught my attention this morning.
60 Plus! – Evgeni Malkin is the first player to break the 60 point barrier this season. He’s been on fire as of late, and has put the Penguins on his back in the absence of Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. ‘Geno’ has 15 points in his last ten games, including two game-winning-goals. Pittsburgh is 8-2 in those ten games – and Malkin has really shown his skill and leadership for a team under injury siege.
The Kingof NY – Henrik Lundqvist is having a season for the ages between the Ranger pipes. ‘King Henrik’ is enjoying his best NHL season, and leads the NHL with a .939 save percentage, and is second in GAA with a 1.82. His six shutouts lead all goalies, and his confidence seems to be rubbing off on his Broadway teammates. In his past five games he’s 4-1, with two shutouts, and he’s helped New York to the top of the Eastern Conference with 71 points. If the NHL season ended today, he would win the Vezina trophy without question, and may even garner MVP attention.
Motor City Maniacs– At the start of the NHL season many experts said that the Red Wings were ‘too old’ to go deep this season! Well the team from Detroit hasn’t listened to any talk of age or decline in skill or organizational expectation! As I write this, the Red Wings sit in first overall in the West, and in the entire league with 72 points. They own the NHL’s best home record (20-2-1) which includes a 17-game win streak at Joe Louis Arena. Rumours abound that this is Nicklas Lidstrom’s last season, and you have to believe that the much beloved captain would love to go out with another Stanley Cup ring – scary for the rest of the NHL.
Sam the Man – This time last week the Oilers’ Sam Gagner was being offered as trade bait! Well if he is indeed on ‘the block’ then the asking price has gone way up! Gagner had an eight point game (4 goals, 4 assists) Thursday against Chicago, and followed that up with a three point (2 goals, assist) effort Saturday against the Wings. He was in on 11-straight Oiler tallies – which is a team mark! He passes Wayne Gretzky’s old record of being in on ten straight team goals. Not a bad week for a guy that was seemingly on the way out!
Well that’s just a few of the top story-lines to keep you smiling on a dreary February Monday! Honourable mention goes to Tim Thomas and his 35-save victory in Washington Sunday. He turned in a solid effort in the midst of plenty of booing from the Capitals’ faithful in reaction to skipping out on the White House visit. He tuned it all out and the B’s got a much needed road win.
Well I’m back from Ottawa, and the NHL All-Star game and festivities.
There’s a few things to follow up after what was a great celebration of the NHL, it’s fans and of course the city of Ottawa!
I was fortunate enough to be in Raleigh for last years’ event, and it’s interesting to see the difference between a Canadian and a U.S. city hosting this weekend party. In Raleigh I was thoroughly impressed with just about everything the city and Hurricanes had arranged. In Ottawa, I will say that I was beyond impressed with the entire weekend.
Two great cities – two great events with local flavour and fans that are beyond committed – so full props to Ottawa and the Senators organization for keeping up with Raleigh.
The players and their families were excited to be in Canada’s capital city and it showed throughout my time there.
“This has been incredible here this weekend,” Zdeno Chara said, “the way we’ve been treated, and the reception from the fans has really made it special.”
With his 108.8mph clocking in the Hardest Shot contest, big ‘Z’ brought a lot of excitement to everyone on Saturday night. I’m just glad that I never have to stand in front of that shot ever! Others shared that sentiment…
“Pretty scary that he can shoot the puck like that,” Daniel Alfredsson said Saturday, “he keeps beating his own record every year, and it’s scary to think that we have to try and block that shot out there!”
Indeed, you wouldn’t want to be a goalie when he’s loading up. Despite Chara’s record breaking shot, ‘Alfie’ was the most popular player in Ottawa. He received an ovation Sunday for the 59th All-Star Game that you would expect for rock stars and movie legends. It was deafening when he was introduced beforehand, and his name was chanted throughout.
When he scored two goals in the second period the roof nearly came off Scotiabank Place!
“It was incredible to see how much he’s respected here,” Henrik Lundqvist told me Sunday, “he’s a class act, a great player and obviously the fans love him here. Would have been nice if he got the hat-trick tonight.”
Alfredsson had a few chances to get the hattie, and hit the post late in the third period. If he had buried that one, it would have sent the fans into an uncontrollable frenzy!
When the dust settled, ‘Alfie’ came up just short on victory as captain, and the MVP honours personally. Team Chara would go on to beat Team Alfredsson 12-9, with the Rangers’ Marian Gaborik (3 goals, assist) collecting a new car for his effort.
Despite the outcome, the fans and city were world class here. It was great to catch up with old colleagues and be around hockey people and fans. Ottawa is a beautiful city with great NHL supporters, and their pride in the Senators and the league is overwhelming.
Thanks to all who made my assignment there a fantastic NHL experience! Now it’s on to the NHL’s second half, and the chase for the Stanley Cup. Keep it tuned here as I post many more stories down the stretch and into the post-season, as we seperate the pretenders and contenders!
In the past month I’ve heard many colleagues and contacts give the All-Star weekend a hard time. I’ve heard “the game is meaningless” and of course the obligatory “nobody cares” etc…
I can tell you from personal experience that these detractors are missing the point totally! I guess it comes from being jaded, and seeing the sport as the business that it has unfortunately become in many aspects. But to that end – the All-Star game is more relevant than you think.
Because of this ‘business’ mind that we now have in all professional sport – the NHL All-Star weekend and it’s festivities are geared for the people who support this business – the FANS! And it’s high time that all of us in the media stop begrudging any event that is designed for the people that are the gears keeping the engine of hockey running.
The best way I can explain it is the experience I had in Raleigh last year. The 58th All-Star Game was being held in North Carolina – and I had never seen Raleigh as a good ‘hockey town.’ I can now say with 100% accuracy that Raleigh is indeed a ‘hockey town’ and a very good one at that. The All-Star weekend was a celebration. There were markets dedicated to Hurricanes fans. Outdoor parties, beer gardens, fan-fests, bands playing for free, BBQ’s, booster club street hockey games – should I go on?! All of these events were teeming with hockey fans. In Gary Bettman’s vision of hockey in these different ‘non-traditional’ markets, you’d have to say that the All-Star event is built for success if the fans are served. Job done in Raleigh! There were banners, signs, jersey wearing folk aplenty, and NHL logos everywhere you turned. The city stopped for the event. The taxi drivers, the people in the coffee shops, the hotel staff – everyone knew about the event and were excited and proud to have it in their backyard!
Fast forward to this season. I will be in Ottawa for the 59th All-Star Game in a few days. Ottawa is a proud city. A fantastic city for visitors. It’s the Nation’s capital – a Nation that bleeds for the game. The All-Star event will be a huge focal point for everyone. People will jam the fan-fest, they will play shinny hockey on the Rideau Canal, they will drink and flood the market with incredible enthusiasm. They will live and breathe the All-Star weekend. How can this sort of activity and interest be bad?
I get the fact that the game is merely an exhibition. I get that the players may even rather be on a beach for a three-day break rather than play in that exhibition. I get all of that. But what I also get is how important the event is to the host city and the fans. That’s what’s important here. The FANS. They get to be around a festival of hockey. Many of the events are free to attend, and just be around other like-minded hockey brains. It should be recognized for what it is – a celebration of our game and it’s greatest talents.
Now, if celebrating the game and it’s players isn’t your thing – then I’m sure there’s a beach somewhere in Florida with your name on it!
You can follow Murph and all his ‘behind-the-scenes’ content from Ottawa here on the website, and on twitter:@MurphOnIce
Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.
For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the New York Rangers at the Boston Bruins Saturday. Two Original-Six clubs that are battling it out for the Eastern Conference lead in the 2011-12 campaign.
Keys to victory for the Rangers:
–Don’t Believe the Hype: The Rangers have been on fire as of late, going 7-3 in their last 10 games. The boys in blue will have to ignore the hype of facing the Stanley Cup Champions in Boston for the Eastern Conference lead. It’s the first of four meetings this season between the clubs, so NY will want to keep their heads and get off to a good start in this one.
–Stay the Course: The road has been a successful place for the Rangers so far (15-7-2). They need to treat this as another battle in hostile territory and not measure themselves against Boston as a team or their players individually. They must play ‘their’ game. They also won three out of four against the Bruins last year, including both trips to Beantown, so this also can be used as motivation in this tough challenge.
–Goals from Gabby: Marian Gaborik (23 goals, 14 assists) has been the lightning-rod for the Rangers offense most of the campaign. Unfortunately, he has been quiet as of late with no goals in his past five games, and only three assists during that span. If the Rangers have any hope of a win, they need Gaborik to break out of this mini-slump and lead the way Saturday.
Keys to victory for the Bruins:
–A Twine Mess: The Bruins have been clicking along on a torrid pace in the goal-scoring department. They lead the entire NHL with 160 goals scored, and their team offence is incredibly well balanced, boasting seven players with 10 or more snipes. It’s this kind of varied attack from different lines that makes the B’s dangerous. If they can keep that balance going Saturday it could be a tough 60 minutes for New York.
–Two-of-a-Kind: The team in black and gold has been blessed throughout the season with two goalies having All-Star campaigns. Tim Thomas (19-9, 2.02 GAA, .936 SV%) is the defending Vezina Trophy winner, and Tuukka Rask (11-4, 1.61 GAA, .946 SV%) is leading the NHL in most goalie categories. No matter who gets the call between the pipes Saturday, Boston will have confidence in net.
–Hot-Hands: Nathan Horton (17 goals, 15 assists) got off to a slow start this season. It was definitely the lingering problems from a serious concussion in the Stanley Cup Final last year. The good news for Boston fans is that Horton seems to be feeling like his old-self again recently, and has three goals in his last two games. If the trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Horton are clicking Saturday, the Bruins will win this one.
Enjoy this battle! It should be an intense match-up, and it’s always entertaining when Original-Six teams collide for a Conference lead. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL weekend.
Welcome to the 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice – where we bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds around!
Murph had the pleasure of chatting with an English National League Captain, an avid Bristol hockey promoter, and a blogger for Pucks Across the Pond. Enjoy his interview with JanneVirtanen.
Janne Virtanen is the Captain of Bristol Pitbulls ENL2 team and has been playing hockey since an early age. During his career, Virtanen has played on various levels in his native Finland, and made his senior hockey debut for IJCU Utrech in the Netherlands after his family moved to Amsterdam in 1998.
Murph On Ice – Great to finally talk to you Janne, thanks for taking the time to join me here on the website!
JanneVirtanen– My pleasure Murph, thanks for having me on!
MOI – You’ve played hockey at various levels in the Netherlands and Finland, so what’s the biggest difference for you playing in UK and the English National League?
JV – The game is definitely more physical in the UK and in ENL than any other league I’ve played in. I guess it comes from playing games on different sized ice pads, where you can go from something like Basingstoke with ample space to something like Gosport or Isle of Wight where it is more like bumper car hockey at times. So for sure the physical aspect of the game was one thing that I had to get used to. I took my wife to watch a top flight Finnish league game at Christmas and she wasn’t too impressed with the lack of hitting and said that there are more hits in my games than in the game we went to see. I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that the Finnish brand of hockey is more creative and ‘open’ where in the UK it is definitely more physical. But I enjoy it regardless.
MOI – How did you get started playing hockey as a kid in Finland, any inspirations or heroes when you were younger?
JV – I started playing outdoors, like most kids do back in Finland or in North America. The first ever league I played in was an outdoor league. It definitely gives you an appreciation for rinks and playing ‘indoors’ when it’s -15c not to mention the wind chill. The ‘temperature’ limit for ‘unsafe’ conditions was -25c if I remember right. The parents would leave the cars running so that we could go and warm up between shifts in some games. Obviously a bit weird if you’re into the greener things in life. Where I lived for the first six years in Finland (Espoo) we had an ice rink less than a minutes’ walk from our flat. It’s where my dad taught me how to skate. I also went to the old Espoo arena to skating school and public skating. I guess I had my first sign of the injuries involved when I got a skate to the chin when I fell trying to dodge someone who had fallen. I went down as well and while the other person was getting up they accidentally kicked me in the chin. My biggest influence was and still is Jari Kurri. He was the player that all Finnish kids looked up to as he was the first one to make it big in the NHL and I think he sort of made NHL ‘big’ in Finland. My parents were another influence growing up and they encouraged me with the sport, though I think they are tired of me calling them and saying “Hi mom, Hi dad! I’m injured again.” Obviously there are others that I look up to nowadays, like Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Martin St.Louis and some of the new kids like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Mikael Granlund and so on. I wish I had some of the skills and creativity of some of those guys. It’s just amazing what these kids can do with the puck at times.
MOI – The Pitbulls were founded in 2009, and are well supported in Bristol – what are the fans like for your home games, and what could an outsider like me expect on a game night there?
JV – The fans are really loud and have embraced the team from day one. We get a mix of people coming to the game, some who are going to a hockey game for the first time and those who have been following the game for a long time, but haven’t been able to watch live games as the closest team has been either Swindon or Cardiff. Rich Hargreaves, who set up the team and runs things, has ensured that the product on the ice looks and acts professional and has ensured that there’s some form of entertainment for the fans in between periods. Additionally our supporters’ club, The Pack, do great things for the team. I remember when I first turned up in Bristol there were only a handful of members, but it has grown in a season, so the sport is popular in Bristol and it’s good to see that people enjoy the games. It’s definitely a fun night out, despite what the facilities are like.
MOI – The Elite League is the top flight here in the UK – how’s the feeling amongst the players in the ENL that a good season there could have them on the radar for the big clubs?
JV – The guys obviously work hard in training and in games to progress their hockey careers. From the Pitbulls organisation we’ve seen guys like Henrik Sahlin transfer to English Premier League (EPL) to play for Telford Tigers and we’ve had a couple of guys like Steve Osman and Jamie Newton to name a few guest at the EPL (the second highest league in the UK) level as well. Obviously big seasons put you in the frame for other clubs and I think it is important for the bigger clubs to give the British guys a chance at the higher levels. I think the great thing about the Pitbulls is that they take pride in the fact that someone like Henrik has been recognised as a good player through the Pitbulls and there’s a real sense of pride when ‘one of your own’ makes it to a higher level. I think it speaks volumes of the teams’ emphasis on player development.
MOI – What’s been your personal highlight of your time playing hockey in the UK?
JV – My personal highlight is yet to come and that is to hoist some silverware at the end of a season. There have been a lot of good memories and friendships I’ve gained through playing here so that’s one highlight.
MOI – We’ve chatted off-line about the injuries faced by hockey players Janne. You’ve had concussion issues in your playing days, so what are the biggest factors you think with the concussion epidemic that is plaguing all levels of competitive hockey at the moment? What can be done to curb this horrible injury?
JV – I think I’ve had more injuries than I care to remember. I’m trying to think if there is actually a body part I HAVEN’T injured, but can’t come up with any. I was hoping to have an injury free season this year, but I had to undergo ankle surgery in October, so I’m hoping that my injury streak remains at that. With concussions, I’ve suffered a fair few of them in hockey. With the concussion epidemic, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the actual effects and what concussion actually is. It winds me up when people talk about ‘concussion-like’ injuries. Either you have one or you don’t, so I think that sort of gives the issue and I think it confuses people. As for the issue itself, definitely take all the ugly headshots or any headshots out of the game, but unfortunately, as with any contact sport, concussions will happen from even clean hits. I sustained my last one, which was severe, from a clean hit. So I guess the way you can limit is to either take the hitting out, which would dilute part of the reason why people are drawn to hockey, because it is a collision sport. I think that with the current concussion management system the NHL has in place is working, though I think players should be evaluated more intensively. We’ve all seen what happened to Crosby from the Winter Classic and the subsequent Tampa Bay Lightning game. If you ask me, he should have sat out and he’d be back playing now instead of sitting on the sidelines. I think the NHL and hockey has woken up to it far too late. Back in the old days, guys would play through concussions as they were difficult to diagnose and guys would just write it off as ‘I just had my bell rung’. Now we understand concussions more and with an all-star line up of people sidelined with concussions this year, people are noticing it more. It’s not an injury that the grinders get, but it is something that every player can get even if it is just a funny fall or something as unfortunate as what happened with Claude Giroux. From personal experience with concussions, it was the most difficult thing to explain to people that despite you looking like you’re fine, you’re really unwell. The other difficult thing with concussions is that they are as different as the individuals. With my one, I found that I was OK if I was staying still, but something minor, like walking up the stairs would wipe me out. The other major thing was also the constant memory lapses and forgetting what you did five minutes ago. I still suffer with some after effects, for example I can’t cope with flashing lights and I get frequent, intense headaches. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from the experience it is to listen to my body and really rest if I don’t feel 100%. I would recommend any player, regardless of the level does the same, no matter how bad the desire to get back out on the ice is.
MOI – And finally Janne, how are the Pitbulls doing this season – and what can Bristol fans expect the rest of the way from you guys?
JV – We started the season really well, but for us we’ve seen a bit of a dip in our form of late. We are playing maybe a good 20-40 minutes of hockey, but that’s not really enough to bring home the W’s. I don’t mean to sound negative as we’ve got great potential in the team and I think that once we get everything back on track we can look for a strong mid table and maybe even push towards the top places in the league. As for the ENL1 team, I think they’ve got a great team together this year and they’ve got a goal to get to the play-offs this year and looking at the way things are going, I’d say there’s a strong chance we’ll see some play-off hockey in Bristol this summer.
MOI – Thanks again Janne, good luck the rest of the way, and I’ll see you in Bristol for a game sometime.
JV – Anytime Murph, my pleasure!
“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he continues to bring insight from the greatest hockey minds around.