What to Watch!

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 Chicago Blackhawks at the Detroit Red Wings Saturday. Two Original-Six clubs that are battling it out for the Central Division lead in the 2011-12 campaign.

Keys to victory for the Blackhawks:

High Octane: The Hawks have been very dangerous this season in their opponent’s zone. Very deep and very talented – Chicago are gifted offensively! They rank 4th in the entire NHL with 3.2 goals-per-game. If they can bring that trend to Joe Louis Arena Saturday they should be OK.

Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks have been dangerous all season. Photo Courtesy - chicagonow.com

All Hands on Deck: The Hawks as mentioned above are a very deep team. Whether it’s Jonathan Toews (43 pts), Patrick Kane (38 pts) or Marian Hossa (46 pts) – pick your poison. The Wings will have their hands full trying to keep these guys off the scoreboard. If any of the Chicago stars have a big game, Detroit will be in trouble.

Long Road to Travel: For all the positives for Chicago thus far, their road record is not that flattering (10-8-1). Anytime you’re above .500 on the road you should be happy – unless you’re an elite club. The Hawks are many pundits’ favourites to win the Stanley Cup – so if that prophecy is to come true, they will need to get on a good roll on the road, and start gaining that confidence away from home.

Keys to victory for the Red Wings:

Good times at the Joe: The Wings have been nothing short of amazing at the Joe Louis Arena this season (16-2-1), with 13-straight wins. Their dominance at home has made them an elite team for a decade, and the Hawks will have to be at their best to try and steal two points this Saturday.

Jimmy Howard has been the Wings MVP this season. Photo Courtesy - mlive.com

Jimmy on the Spot: Detroit has to look at their success so far this season and give big credit to goalie Jimmy Howard. Howard got his 100th career win Thursday against Phoenix, and was named to the NHL All-Star team for the Ottawa festivities. His numbers (24-10-1, 2.05 GAA, .924 Save % with 4 shutouts) make him the Wings MVP in my opinion. He likes playing at home, so if he’s on form, the Wings win this one.

Power-Points: Detroit has been pretty good on ‘special-teams’ this season. Their power-play is ticking over at 19.1%, a figure that ranks them 7th overall in the NHL. With the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom dangerous a man up – the Hawks will not want to give the Wings too many chances on the PP. If Detroit does get chances with a man-advantage, it could be a long game for Chicago.

Enjoy this tilt Saturday! It should be an interesting match-up, and it’s always special when Original-Six teams collide. 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.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce


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 goalie, an avid hockey advocate in the UK, and writer for Pucks Across the Pond. Enjoy his interview with Rob McGregor.

Rob McGregor plays in the English National League South Division 1 for Milton Keynes Thunder. This is his first season with Milton Keynes, having previously spent two years with the Peterborough Islanders. @RobMcGregor35

Murph On Ice – Great to talk to you Rob, thanks for taking the time to join me here on the website!

Rob McGregor – My pleasure Murph, thanks for getting in touch!

MOI – Playing in a good developmental league here in the UK like the English National League, what do you think is the toughest thing you face as a goalie with so many guys trying to get noticed and move up to the EPL and EIHL?

Rob McGregor tends goal for the ENL's MK Thunder.

RM – I guess it’s no different in ENL to a lot of goalies in other leagues – there’s always going to be someone else looking for a spot. Most teams will carry 15-18 skaters, give or take, but there are only maybe two or three goaltending slots so competition can be much higher. Plus there are always young guys coming out of junior hockey looking to make the move to senior level, as well as the odd veteran winding down.

MOI – How did you get started playing, any inspirations or heroes when you were younger – and why did you want to be a goalie?

RM – I’m actually a bit of an anomaly in that I did not start playing until quite late – meaning I did not play junior hockey. I learnt the position whilst playing rec hockey and attending some goalie schools run by former Great Britain netminder Joe Watkins. I was also lucky enough to get some tuition from local pros like James Moore and former Great Britain junior goalie Euan King. As for inspirations; as a Colorado Avalanche fan Patrick Roy was naturally something of a hero of mine. I also loved watching Finnish goaltender Pasi Raitenan playing for the Peterborough Pirates in the British National League. I think it was watching Pasi play that inspired me to play in goal, he had such a unique style and an amazing ability to just stop the puck. Even now there are those guys I look to though – Tim Thomas is something of a hero of mine too.

MOI – The Thunder are a proud team, and well supported in Milton Keynes – what are the fans like for your home games, and what could an outsider like me expect on a game night there?

RM – Milton Keynes has really embraced ice hockey. Dating back to the Milton Keynes Kings right up to today with the Thunder and Premier League Milton Keynes Lightning, the town seems to love the sport and our fans are passionate about it. It’s great to have a set of supporters that gets behind the team like that and enjoys their hockey.

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?

RM – I think for most ENL players the next step is probably the Premier League, as the majority of ENL clubs have an EPL club immediately above them, or in close proximity geographically. That’s not to say there are not opportunities however, and you only need to look at a setup like Cardiff where there is an ENL and EIHL team. Players like Ben Davies and Luke Piggott have graduated from the ENL side to play for the Elite League outfit, and I think that’s a major string to the bow for the Devils ENL side when recruiting players. I think some folk look down on the ENL occasionally, but the league has really moved forward over the past couple of seasons and I think that is a trend that will continue. Seeing guys like Piggott and Davies progress to Elite League level, as well as players such as Richard Bentham and Robbie Brown move up to the EPL, should show people that there is some real talent in this league. Netminder Matt Colclough has also made the jump this year, moving from Isle of Wight to Basingstoke in the EPL and it sounds like he has been doing pretty well for the Bison. Clearly there are people with the talent; they just need the opportunity.

MOI – Can you tell us some of the guys you’ve faced this season or played with in Milton Keynes that UK hockey fans should keep an eye out for in the future? Any guys you could see with a future in the EIHL?

RM – As we’ve said, a couple of guys are already in the mix with EPL and EIHL clubs. We mentioned Luke Piggott, who has represented the Cardiff Devils in the Elite League several times this season. Guys like Chris Hart could also be in the frame to move up within the Devils organisation one day.  Andrew Melachrino really impressed me for Slough’s ENL side this season, and his performances have earnt him a shot with the Premier League team which is great to see. The Florey brothers have a bright future as well I think. Jake has played for Thunder all season, and has really impressed me with his composure and consistency this year for a young lad of 16. His brother Josh has also just joined Thunder after Oxford folded. He’s always impressed me as well and I am glad to have him on board! It’s all about that word again – opportunity! Give some of these guys a chance to shine and they’ll take it.

MOI – And finally Rob, how are the Thunder doing this season – and what can MK fans expect the rest of the way from you guys?

RM – We’ve made a solid start to the season. We have beaten defending champions Isle of Wight twice and pushed other top teams like Cardiff and Invicta close – so the ability to compete with the top clubs is there. But we’ve also had a couple of off nights. Consistency will be key now we’re in to the second half of the season. We’re 6th right now, and I’m confident we can remain in the play-off places. If we knuckle down and work hard I think we can hold our place in 6th, then see what the play-offs bring us!

MOI – Thanks again Rob, good luck the rest of the way, and I’ll see you in Milton Keynes for a game soon.

RM – Thanks for having me Murph! Take care.

“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.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Easy Ryder

As it’s a new year, and there’s so much to look forward to in the NHL’s second half, I thought I’d have some fun with this post! It’s always interesting to compare like for like, or see how you’re doing up against the best in your field!

Hockey is no different in that philosophy. Guys look at the standings and statistics and see how former team-mates or teams are doing. They look at rivals and see how they’re performing. It’s what makes stats interesting and fun! No one can deny that when Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were lighting it up back in the day, it made the NHL fun to follow.

Same for a healthy Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin going head-to-head for scoring titles a few years ago. Pick a decade and I’m sure you have memories of a favourite player and his rival. Along that same thought process, there can also be strange horses in a race!

Michael Ryder is a favourite of mine as a fellow Newfoundlander. And everyone loves watching Alex Ovechkin when he’s going good. These guys are not rivals! But it sure is fun to have a look at the little personal race I’m enjoying at the moment between these two totally different players.

Alex Ovechkin has incredible personal stats in his NHL career.

Ryder and Ovechkin are tied as I write this with 17 goals each. I’m not saying that Ryder is in Ovie’s class because of this fact. I’m just saying it’s interesting to see how the two are playing at the moment – and how I’ll follow this neat sidebar as 2012 continues.

Ryder’s career stats are pretty good for a guy who was drafted 216th overall in the eighth round of the 1998 draft. He’s played 587 games, and registered 363 points (179 G, 184 A). On the other end of the scale is Alex ‘The Great’! Ovechkin was the first overall pick in the 2004 entry draft. His career numbers are superior – 513 games played, 647 points – with a remarkable 318 goals.

So there is no comparison between Ryder and Ovechkin, right? Overall there is no competition – but that’s the point. At this time in the season, Michael Ryder is right there with Ovechkin. It’s what makes sports great – a guy can be playing out of his skin and running neck-and-neck with an athlete who is considered out of his league.

I spoke with Michael Ryder in Boston during the Stanley Cup Final last year. He was relaxed and easy to talk to. He was even happy to speak with a fellow Newfoundlander, and told me “it’s nice to talk to someone from back home.”

The thing that I really remember about that encounter was the fact that Ryder told me he’d do anything to win a championship, “to be here playing for the Stanley Cup is a dream come true,” he said, “I’ll do anything to win this and be able to look back without any regrets.”

Michael Ryder has tasted Stanley Cup success.

Maybe that’s the only category Ryder can look at overall and say he’s ahead of Ovie – championships. At the end of the day, Ovechkin may even trade the lofty personal numbers for that Stanley Cup ring that the Bonavista born Ryder has on his finger – as a result of the Bruins win last season.

In any event – there’s two snipers that I’ll be keeping my eye on for the rest of the campaign. Who knows – maybe Ryder will score more goals than Ovechkin, but maybe the Capitals will win a Stanley Cup – stranger things have happened in hockey!

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

What to Watch!

Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL game to post on the radar for your holiday hockey viewing!

For this festive New Year pick I will have to go with the New York Rangers at the Philadelphia Flyers Monday January 2nd. It’s the game that we all look forward to every season – the NHL’s annual Winter Classic!

Philadelphia is excited to be hosting the 2012 Winter Classic. Photo Courtesy - Vancouversun.com

Keys to victory for the Rangers:

The King will be in the Building: Henrik Lundqvist is the engine that keeps the Rangers rolling. As I write this, Lundqvist is playing out of his skin with a 16-7-4 record, 1.91 GAA, and a .937 Save %. In New York’s final tune-up for the Winter Classic, the ‘King’ was in top form with 27 saves, leading the Blueshirts to a 4-1 win over the Panthers Friday night. If he keeps playing like this, the Rangers will be a frustrating visiting side for the Philly fans come Monday.

Nifty-Fifty: New York are currently 1st overall in the Eastern Conference with 50 points (23-9-4). Their 9 losses ties them with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins for the fewest in the entire league. What does this all mean – in a word – confidence! The Rangers are buying into what coach John Tortorella is selling, and the team believes it can win on any given night. This momentum and belief makes them dangerous outdoors on Monday.

Holiday Visitors: The Rangers will have less pressure on the road for this one. The Flyers are the host for this outdoor extravaganza, which has become one of the key events of the entire NHL season. As the visitors, New York should have less distraction from family and friends, and can concentrate on two big road points.

Keys to victory for the Flyers:

A Whole new Ball-Game: The Flyers will be more than excited to get on the ice at  Citizens Bank Ball Park Monday.  This excitement can be used in their favour to come out hard and physical, and use the vocal Philly crowd of 50,000 strong to overwhelm the Rangers. Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s top job will be to harness this adrenaline and keep the Flyers focused on the job at hand. If he can do this, then the home-team will be fine outdoors.

There have been many great memories over the years at the NHL Winter Classic. Photo Courtesy - news-herald.com

45 and Counting: Claude Giroux has been the best Flyer player on the ice for most of the season. At the moment he leads the NHL in scoring with 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists). He did miss some time with a concussion, but seems to be back on track since his return. If Giroux is on form he can be dominant against any opponent, so if the mood and adrenaline line-up for him, he could be the big story of the Winter Classic.

Which way is the Breeze Blowing: Ilya Bryzgalov was brought to Philadelphia in the offseason for big money. GM Paul Holmgren traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and Bryzgalov was to be the focal point of a new Flyers team. It hasn’t quite worked out for ‘Breeze’ as he’s had an up and down start to his career in orange, and his numbers aren’t blowing anyone away (14-8-3, 3.01 GAA, .890 Save %). That could all change for the colourful Russian if he can blank the Rangers and get the Philly faithful back on his side. He’s been a huge hit on HBO’s 24/7 coverage, all he needs now is a huge effort where it counts Monday.

-X-Factors: A lot of people are going to go over and over the ice conditions and weather forecast for Monday. As of this moment, the weather looks to be calling for some flurries and cool temperatures. The NHL’s ice-guru Dan Craig will have the standard of the playing surface at the highest level possible. Neither weather or ice conditions should be examined too much as both teams have to contend with both factors once the puck is dropped.

Enjoy this tilt Monday! It should be an interesting match-up between two Atlantic Division foes, and it’s always special when the Winter Classic rolls around. 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 New Year!

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce


Happy Hockey Holidays!

It’s a great time of year to be an NHL fan in many ways! We have the Winter Classic on January 2nd to look forward to in Philadelphia, HBO is in the middle of 24/7 action, and of course it’s Christmas!

Happy Holidays to all NHL fans and their favourite teams!

Unfortunately it’s also a tough time for reasons off the ice! At this point of the season, it’s always the reaction to look back and think about the 1st half of the campaign. The top moments sadly for me have been the insane amounts of injuries – more specifically concussions.

Crosby, Pronger, Giroux, Skinner, Michalek, Miller – basically an All-Star Team of top flight players, have all spent time on the sidelines thus far with concussion. It’s not the thing you want as the lasting memory from any portion of the year.

As this is a festive time, when people make wishes and hope for miracles, I guess my Christmas wish is that this epidemic is brought under control in 2012. I wish that the main point of NHL conversation in the new year will be about hockey – not medical opinions and doctor rhetoric.

Starting with the Winter Classic I hope that this wish is heard and granted by the hockey gods. There is so much more to the game than concussions and suspensions and this is what we as fans need – great plays and games. And our favourite stars back on the ice where they belong!

NHL fans will be hoping for a special team gift under the tree.

So let’s put our collective brain power to work. Let’s send good vibes to Sid The Kid and all the others who are not feeling so well this Christmas. Let’s look forward to a better 2012 – where hockey is the focal point and the results are the headlines.

On a positive note, I will be in Ottawa January 26th-30th to cover the NHL All-Star Game and Festivities. Any questions you have for your favourite stars please drop them in the mailbag section and I’ll pick a few to ask in Ottawa.

Happy Holidays to all NHL fans – and all the best for your team in 2012!

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce



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 a Police Inspector, an avid hockey advocate in Northern Ireland, and Team Captain of the NI Tridents for the World Police and Fire Games. Enjoy his interview with Kyle Gordon.

In August 2013, Belfast will become the first city in the UK or Ireland to host the much coveted World Police and Fire Games.

Murph On Ice – Great to talk to you Kyle, thanks for taking the time from Belfast to join me here on the website!

Kyle Gordon – My pleasure Murph, thanks for having me on!

MOI– When it was announced that the World Police and Fire Games would be held in Belfast in August 2013 – did you even think it possible that you’d be involved and on the ice representing Northern Ireland in hockey?!

Kyle Gordon is the Captain of the NI Tridents, who will play in the 2013 WPFG.

KG – In short, I didn’t, no.  The reason for that is that Hockey is not one of the more common sports in Northern Ireland, as we are a nation of football and rugby lovers.  In addition, I was aware that neither the Police Service, nor any of the other Services within Northern Ireland, had an ice-hockey team despite having proud and successful sporting histories within the local community. Any move towards forming a team to represent Northern Ireland at the Games was going to take a considerable effort from the members, and support from senior representatives and sponsors.

MOI – What’s the mood around the NI Tridents camp as you guys prepare for what will be a pretty tough battle with more experienced teams from Canada and the USA?

KG – I think there are two distinct ‘moods’ in the camp; one is obviously of sheer excitement at the prospect of raising the profile of hockey in Northern Ireland through the Games and having an opportunity to experience playing much more experienced teams and gaining from that exposure.  The other mood is one of realism, and a realisation that as you say, we have a tough battle ahead against the other teams who have more experience as individuals, and also as a team playing regularly at a higher level than we are fortunate enough to have access to here in Northern Ireland.  All that being said I think the spirit and energy of The Tridents will help raise our game during the competition.

MOI– Mark Morrison is a local Belfast guy that had a good career in the Elite League with the Belfast Giants – how important is it to have a head coach with his pedigree to help the team get ready for 2013 in front of the home crowd?

Tridents Coach Mark Morrison is a former Belfast Giant.

KG – I think it is clear that we know the scale of the challenge that faces us in the run-up to the Games, and any help we can avail of in the next 18 months will be vital, and utilised to the maximum by the team.  Coach Morrison is an outstanding individual who brings to our team the know-how and experience of the professionals.  His guidance, and that of Assistant Coach Beni McAllister, in the formation of the team to date has been invaluable, especially considering we only formed in 2010.  He has us running regular pro-hockey line drills and on-ice conditioning every session which has been tough but essential training for the guys and girls.  However, this is only the beginning. We have approximately 18 months to bring our team up to the level required to ensure we put on a good show for the visitors, and don’t disappoint our local fans.  Coach Morrison may have worked hard as a professional player, but I have a feeling that he will have to work harder than ever before in his career to ready the team for the games!

MOI – What do you see as areas of strength for the Tridents at the big event? Conversely areas that you’ll be looking to improve before the opening game?

KG – I think one of our big advantages is the fact that we are a ‘services’ ice hockey team. The guys and girls who play for us are used to working in high pressure situations as a team, and all have the determination and fortitude you would expect from emergency services personnel.  So when the going gets tough, and I sense from your questions that we are not alone in thinking it will during the competition, we will be relying on the professional focus and resilience our team members display in their day jobs.  One area we will be looking to improve before the Games are the systems that Coach Morrison has been working on with us throughout this first season as a team. These systems have allowed us to put up a decent fight against some of the more experienced local teams even when our individual skill-set has been lacking in some areas. I think that these systems are going to be integral to the team’s chances of success when the visitors come to town.

MOI – How has the local interest and reception been for the club since you officially launched on June 30th with your team uniforms and details?

KG – Local interest in the team has been building steadily since the official launch.  This is due to the support from the wider ‘services’ family within Northern Ireland, from high profile local personalities such as Dame Mary Peters (Patron of the NI WPFG) and Mr Drew Harris (our club president and Assistant Chief Constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland). As well as local businesses who have sponsored us in our first year.  A local school has also carried out interviews with the team under the ‘WPFG School’s Programme’ and has printed an article about the team in the school magazine, raising the profile of the sport and team further still with local kids.  Now that the team is into its first proper season, interest is really starting to take off, with fans from around the world starting to follow us on our Facebook page. It has been very exciting to see the level of interest rise from where we were 18 months ago when we weren’t even sure we could get the funding and backing to form an official team, through to the exposure being enjoyed by the team today! And I believe it will rise steadily right up until and through the Games.

MOI– I’ve played in Belfast, and know the home crowd are great, and they really get behind their teams! Do you think the knowledgeable Belfast hockey fans will be just the extra factor in supplying a lift for the Tridents at the WPFG?

Aaron Cuskeran scores for the Tridents.

KG – I think there is a definite advantage to being the home team. There’s nothing like the sound of supporters cheering you on to make you hustle harder for the puck in any zone, so I am hoping that the local supporters will be the added lift the team needs throughout the Games. Northern Ireland fans have a long history of unwavering support for their local teams even against what appears to be insurmountable odds. You only have to look at the loyalty and passion for the local Northern Ireland Football Team at every World or European Cup match.  Local hockey also enjoys massive support for the Belfast Giants, with many fans making personal sacrifices to attend the many away games on the mainland. So I really do think the same loyalty and passion will supply that extra lift for the Tridents throughout the competition.

MOI – With the tournament still being a good ways away, what are the most important things on your radar as the Team Captain?

KG – As you can imagine there is a long list of things on the team’s radar that need to be addressed in the next 18 months.  For me personally I see there are real challenges around gaining sufficient ice-time for the team to prepare properly with only one ice rink in Northern Ireland available for training. We know our competitors will be on the ice several times a week in the run up to the Games.  There is also a real challenge around gaining exposure to much needed ‘game’ experience within Northern Ireland and wider afield. We have had offers from hockey teams within the UK emergency services, the armed forces, and are looking to exploit these opportunities – but this all costs money for the team members. I suppose finally, one of the things that is most on my radar in this regard is continuing to build and expand the profile of the team in an effort to obtain the much needed sponsorship and support to allow the members of the team to gain this needed exposure.

MOI– And finally Kyle, what can UK hockey fans look forward to and expect from the Tridents when the puck drops on opening night of what will be a hugely important  event for the entire area?

The NI Tridents will play in the biggest event Belfast has ever hosted.

KG – The one thing that the fans can expect is that the team will give 100% in every period we play, from the first face-off until the last second of the final period, we will be out there to show the hockey world what the Tridents are made of.  The 2013 World Police and Fire Games is quite simply the biggest sporting event ever to hit these shores with 10,000 competitors and 15,000 family, friends and supporters expected. And because of the huge following for hockey in North America and Europe, the Tridents can expect to be right at the centre of attention in the local Games.  Hockey fans can expect a fully loaded competition with many teams from across the world planning on attending the local Games, so for those hockey fans who don’t normally get as much hockey as they would like, the 10 days of the Games should be a highlight for their calendars.  We cannot guarantee what the placing will be against the more experienced nations, but we can guarantee that the Tridents will display all of the passion and spirit associated with hockey, and that hockey won’t be the same in Northern Ireland after 2013!

MOI – Sounds good! Thanks again Kyle, this has been a pleasure. Good luck to the Tridents with all the preparations and of course the Games!.

KG – Thanks Murph, my pleasure! Hopefully we’ll see you over here for the event!

“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.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

What to Watch!

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 Vancouver Canucks at the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. Two Canadian clubs that are both sitting in second place in their respective divisions in the 2011-12 campaign.

Keys to victory for the Canucks:

Find the Twine: The Canucks are one of only four NHL teams to have scored 100 goals so far this season. They have dented the ‘twine’ 101 times as I write this, and rank fourth out of 30 teams. If they can continue to light the lamp with their current success rate, they will have a great chance to win in Toronto.

If either Sedin twin has a big night, the Canucks will be on their way in Toronto.

Double Down: The Sedin twins have garnered plenty of attention throughout their NHL careers! This is of course for their point production and almost sixth sense of knowing where each other will be at the right time on the ice. If Daniel and Henrik are firing on all cylinders Saturday night, the Leafs will be having fits in their own end.

Hockey Night Hoopla: The Canucks are used to playing at home on Saturday nights. So, this will be a pre-Christmas treat for many of the guys on their roster, as five Canuck players are from Ontario. There will be some pressure and nerves playing in front of family and friends in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada! If the team can just tune out the off-ice distractions that will accompany this trip, then the Canucks will be fine at the Air Canada Centre.

Keys to victory for the Leafs:

Different Strokes: The Leafs got off to a blistering start and scoring was not a problem. Unfortunately a disturbing trend has started for the club recently – being outscored in bunches! The ‘Blue and White’ have scored 93 times this year, while giving up 95 tallies. Their -2 goal differential puts them in the middle of the pack and in dangerous territory, as the top teams in the NHL are in the +15 and above range. The Leafs need a big offensive explosion Saturday night to get back on track in this regard.

Sin Bin: The Leafs desperately need to stay out of the penalty box in this match-up. They rank 29th in the league on the penalty-kill. If they take stupid penalties Saturday, the Sedin twins will have a field day on the power-play. If the Leafs are disciplined they will increase their chances of two points.

The Leafs will need to be disciplined Saturday night and stay out of the box. Photo Courtesy - cbc.ca

Back-to-Back Breather: The Leafs will be in tough on the road Friday night in Buffalo, before returning home for Saturday’s game against Vancouver. The team needs to be able to re-focus for the Canucks no matter what happens with the Sabres Friday. Back-to-Back games are always a tough ask! The ‘Buds’ will need their leaders to set the tone back at home at the ACC.

Enjoy this tilt Saturday! It should be an interesting match-up, and it’s always special when Canadian teams collide. 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.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

‘Tis the Season

Can you remember a time in hockey when so much was being made of who was ‘not‘ playing in the NHL. I guess it’s the season of the injury bug to the extreme!

With big names like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, Zdeno Chara, Ryan Miller, Marc Staal, Martin St. Louis, and Milan Michalek just to name an elite few – all spending time on the sidelines with various ailments this season, how are teams to cope?

Rangers All-Star Marc Staal has struggled this year with a serious concussion.

Depth is the name of the game in today’s NHL. With it you have a fighting chance – just ask Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma how to cope minus two elite players – without this depth you’re an also ran.

So who has the ability to counter losing their best players at this time of the year? It appears that the Penguins have the most experience with just getting on with business, as they have had extended periods without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and even Jordan Staal. There’s not many teams at any level of hockey that could lose their top three Centers and still be a regular force in their division or conference.

The Flyers have been hot as of late – and Claude Giroux was a big part of that. His 39 points was leading the NHL at the time of his recent concussion. He’s listed as ‘out indefinitely’ which is never a good sign with head trauma. The Flyers will now begin an unknown phase without their most gifted player. Other teams in the Eastern Conference will be interested to see how they cope without Giroux and Chris Pronger who’s also out with ‘concussion-like’ symptoms.

Claude Giroux was leading the NHL with 39 Points before his concussion. Photo Courtesy - nhlsnipers.com

This could be a bonding and reinforcing period for Philly – or it could be a horrible turn as they forge on without two big components of their team. Can they still be a force like the Penguins are without Crosby? Time will tell – I guess ‘Tis the Season for holiday miracles!

The biggest gift for all hockey fans would be a return to the ice for all these players and more – it has been tough seeing so many greats fall with concussions and other injuries in 2011. Let’s all hope that 2012 will bring health and prosperity for all our favourite stars.

The NHL is a better place with Crosby, Pronger, Giroux and all the other guys we’re missing on the ice. Come on Santa – my fantasy team is really hurting!

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce


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 in the business!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with a huge driving force for UK hockey, an accomplished coach, and National Team leader for this feature. Enjoy his interview with Paul Thompson.

Paul Thompson has been the Head Coach of the Coventry Blaze since the clubs’ inception. He became a co-owner of the team in 2004. Thompson is also the National Head Coach of Team GB.

Murph On Ice – Great to talk to you coach, thanks for taking the time from Coventry to join me here on the website!

Paul Thompson– My pleasure Murph, thanks for having me on!

Paul Thompson is the Head Coach of the Coventry Blaze and the GB Men's Senior squad. Photo Courtesy - news.bbc.co.uk

MOI – As a Head Coach in the Elite League, what are the biggest challenges you face in keeping the product on the ice in Coventry at the highest level possible year in year out?

PT – We have big challenges here as we at times are a victim of our success. We have won the Elite League title in four of the last seven years but are coming off a poor season last year. The big challenges are we have to compete against teams with way bigger arenas, and the expectancy here is rightly very high, but we work very hard both on and off the ice to maintain a good quality team with the same expectations. Because of our overall success, last years’ results have not helped this season’s gates even though we have a very competitive team that will challenge for trophies. We need to maintain our fan and sponsor base to keep up with the bigger clubs. Over the last 12 years or so we have had a winning programme that players want to be part of, and that is a big help with recruitment and keeping core guys.

MOI – You are also the Head Coach of the GB Men’s team – what are the biggest obstacles you have to compete with some of the other Nations at the World level? Any favourite rivalry?

PT – We do not stop for IIHF breaks here in the UK, so I only get to work with the team for 3-5 days prior to heading out for the World Championships at the end of our regular season. We are up against teams that have up to a month camp prior to the Worlds and meet up for games and tournaments three times a year during the regular season. So you can see there what we are up against. Over the last four years we have been competing for a medal, prior to that the team was playing relegation games. The programme has come a long way, but to take it to the next level we need more funding and commitment from the set up over here. Clubs and the governing body need to put more resources in to the National programme. We were seven minutes away from a Gold Medal in the Ukraine last spring and won a Silver medal just missing out on pool ‘A’ promotion. In recent years ourselves and Poland have built up a great rivalry.

MOI– When you look back on your storied time in hockey in the UK what would be your top three moments?

The Blaze have had much success under Coach Thompson in the UK Elite League. Photo Courtesy - news.bbc.co.uk

PT – I’d have to say that the Grand Slam in 2004-2005 is right up there! Also being appointed GB Head Coach, and the Silver in Ukraine last year. Lastly I’d say  being League Champions in 2009-2010 was special.

MOI – Of all the guys you coached or coached against in the Elite league who are the top three to ever play hockey on UK ice? Why?

PT – Tough one there, Dan Carlson played for me for six years, he was our engine room, never took a night off. Neal Martin, most committed D-man, played for me for six years, and had passion and fire every night. And of course Theo Fleury, for a guy to come here with what he won in the NHL, and play like his life depended on it every night, that was why he did what he did overall in hockey.

MOI – You are one of the longest serving coaches of any sport in Europe! What do you credit your longevity to in your success in Coventry?

PT – Winning! Simple as that, I totally understand why I’m still here. Also I have a big part of building a club from the bottom level of hockey here to the top. But make no mistake, coaches only stay in jobs if they’re successful. My passion to win now is still as great as it was when I started 18 years ago.

MOI– When you look ahead to future World Championships, how far can the GB Men’s senior team progress up the world rankings?

Team GB in action against Poland. Photo Courtesy - morethanthegames.co.uk

PT – All depends on how far we are backed. We have the players here now, and coming up through to get in the top tier of World hockey. We need support in getting there, then of course staying there.

MOI – The fans in Coventry are a passionate bunch! What’s the hockey community like overall there?

PT – Our fans are fantastic as are all of the fans here in the UK. They support their teams through thick and thin but it’s a close knit hockey community, and we are lucky to have these quality people who follow us all.

MOI – And finally, how has the season been thus far, and what can Blaze fans expect the rest of way in this campaign?

PT – We have been a little inconsistent, but we are young and rebuilding a new core for the future. On our day we are the best team in the league, but being a champion is about finding ways to win on a nightly basis, something we are learning to do. I have a committed bunch who I push hard and I really enjoy working with this group. We will
develop over the season and I really do feel we have a good chance of Silverware.

MOI – Thanks again Thommo, this has been a pleasure! Good luck the rest of the way this season.

PT – No problem Murph, my pleasure! Speak to you soon.

“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.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce


Devil of a Time

It has to be said that nowadays it’s pretty tough to find anything that’s truly ‘value for money.’ This certainly rings true in the professional sports realm where many teams and big-budget league’s have priced the average fan out of the overall picture.

I’ve been to many sporting events where the atmosphere and game experience is not really world class – but the price is truly ridiculous. Fans can get disenchanted paying a days wages to watch a game that’s not at all entertaining, and the gulf between these fans and the millionaire athletes they pay to see is huge.

If you’re tired of hearing about the marriage issues of today’s Premiere League stars, or the legal battles faced by the heroes of Major League Baseball or American football, then I have a solution for you. Travel to Coventry, Belfast or Cardiff and treat yourself to three hours in a friendly rink that you will walk away from feeling better for it!

In all these cities and many more in the UK Elite Ice Hockey League – spectators are getting real value for money – and are being treated to a brand of game that is fan friendly, and the athletes they support are accessible and down to earth.

I’m not saying that you can compare the EIHL to the NFL or EPL in budget or scope, not even close, but if you want to see a great game, and pay less than £15 for a ticket then the EIHL is simply a fantastic product.

I was in Cardiff recently with some colleagues to cover the Belfast Giants at the Devils. The Giants were in first place with the Devils sitting in fifth – so a good game was on the agenda. The Cardiff Bay Arena is a 2,000 seat facility affectionately know as the ‘Big Blue Tent.’ It was a Sunday afternoon in December and the place was packed! The atmosphere electric, the beer prices unbelievably low, and the fans are beyond knowledgeable. What do you think you get with these ingredients? You get three hours entertainment for less than £20…that my friends is ‘Value for Money!’

Of course you’ll say that the NHL is where it’s at, and you’d be right. But if you live in the UK then it’s a long way to Vancouver or Boston. It isn’t however that big a deal to get to Cardiff or the other stops in the league. Three hours on the train from London, and you’re in an atmosphere that rivals and betters many Canadian Major Junior or University hockey games, and is far better than many North American minor pro setups.

These UK clubs work hard in their communities and the athletes and coaches are readily available for a quote or interview. The players realize it’s not the NHL – but work just as hard at their craft as their NHL brothers do. They are professional hockey players – and they are the real deal.

I was going to give a regular game report from that Sunday in Cardiff – but it would seem silly now to discuss stats and breakdowns – no, the pleasure was all mine looking back on the smile I got from being on hand. The Giants won 4-2, the Devils played hard but ran into penalty trouble, with maybe a few questionable calls from an unpopular zebra…but everyone in attendance saw a great game. Big hits, beauty goals and a heavyweight tilt that had everyone standing. It was what hockey is all about. There were families and children, there was a 50/50 draw and affordable merchandise. It was simply put – a fantastic day of sport for my colleagues and myself.

If you haven’t been to a game in the UK Elite League – do yourself a favour – bundle up the family and take a few hours out of your weekend for a truly great sporting experience…an experience that may make you feel like sport is accessible to real fans again.

Thanks to Brent Pope and Gerad Adams of the Devils, and the supporters club that made us feel more than welcome in Cardiff. Also thanks to Todd Kelman and Doug Christiansen of the Giants.

Don’t just take my word for it sports fans – get out and support the hockey teams in your area – you won’t be sorry.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce