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Who Makes Team Canada…and Why!

November 30, 2011 2 comments

Tis the season to start thinking about the world juniors.

For Team Canada’s coaching staff, headed up by Don Hay of the Vancouver Giants, and head scout Kevin Prendergast, a lot of thought has already went into their roster make-up.

Hay

Prendergast

Past track records, summer evaluation camp performances and play to this point in the season were all taken into account in announcing the 41 invites to next month’s selection camp in Calgary, Dec. 10-14 (http://tsn.ca/world_jrs/feature/?id=54015).

Canada always ices a medal contender at this under-20 tournament and, looking at the list of potential players, this year should be exception. Potential is the key word, however, as anything can happen over the course of a couple weeks and nothing is guaranteed once the puck drops on Boxing Day with Canada facing Finland in Edmonton.

First things first, pick the team. Based on the 1992-birthdate or younger criteria, Canada could ice forward lines featuring Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Brett Connolly, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Couturier. Just think about that “potential” dominance for a second . . . OK, now forget about it.

None of those studs will be suiting up for Canada, at least it’s highly unlikely, with all six starring for their respective NHL teams and not expected to be released for this year’s showcase.

Still, Canada won’t be dressing any duds. Of the 41 invites, all are capable of competing at the highest junior level, but only 22 will make the final cut to serve their nation.

Who will be called upon to don the Red and White come Christmastime remains a matter of much debate. Internet message boards, such as HFboards.com, are filled with 40-plus page threads discussing lineup options and even line combinations for Canada.

Nobody in that forum is privy to Prendergast’s crystal ball or Hay’s notepad, but some predictions seem more educated — or at least calculated — than others.

Filtering through the fan-boys — the guys clearly, and conveniently, finding room for their favourite NHL team’s prospects or their local CHL team’s leading scorer — there seems to be rhyme for some of this reasoning.

The names that appear on almost every mock roster include the trio of returnees from last year’s silver-medal winning squad: Forwards Jaden Schwartz and Quinton Howden, and goaltender Mark Visentin, though the latter two aren’t locks.

Here’s who I have making the grade:

Forwards

Schwartz

1) Jaden Schwartz — A scoring winger with a wicked shot and an unmatched will to win. He also has experience from last year, though his tournament was cut short by a broken ankle. His sister, Mandi, lost her battle with cancer last April and Schwartz will also be using that close, and highly publicized, bond as inspiration. Expect him to wear a letter and be a key contributor throughout this year’s tournament.

Gallagher

2) Brendan Gallagher — The next biggest lock, in my opinion. Hay’s golden boy in Vancouver, Gallagher almost made last year’s world-junior team, then almost stuck with the Montreal Canadiens out of training camp this season. He’s small in stature, but plays a big, power game that personifies the old cliché — not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Gallagher’s been a Giant of a man among boys in the WHL this season, so pencil him into the top-six for Canada.

Howden

3) Quinton Howden — Experience helps his cause, as does versatility in Howden’s ability to play a scoring or shutdown role. There’s also some familiarity here, being a WHL guy, although Moose Jaw is in the opposite conference and Howden doesn’t get many chances to leave an impression on Hay. This call may ultimately be made by one of Canada’s assistant coaches, Ryan Huska (WHL, Kelowna Rockets), who was also behind the bench in Buffalo for last year’s world juniors. I have Huska endorsing Howden, thus securing his spot.

Huberdeau

4) Jonathan Huberdeau — He’s a winner, a Memorial Cup MVP last season and arguably the most skilled prospect for this team. He’s scoring at more than two points-per-game this season in the QMJHL and his offence will be a welcomed addition for Canada.

Strome

5) Ryan Strome — Likewise to Huberdeau, his offensive instincts are all-world and should be enough to warrant a spot. Strome will need to show some sort of commitment to playing an all-around game to win over the coaching staff, but I think his scoring prowess is too much to pass up.

Stone

6) Mark Stone — Sticking with that trend, Stone is the WHL’s version of Huberdeau or Strome. A late bloomer, he’s blossomed into a constant threat for the Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring almost at will this season. Stone has more size and sandpaper to his game than the previous two, so should be his rubber stamp.

Scheifele

7) Mark Scheifele — Another somewhat similar player to Stone, but with better speed and more playmaking ability. Scheifele’s NHL experience will serve him well and he should be a big-time player in this tournament.

Rattie

8 ) Ty Rattie — Teams can never have enough offence, especially when matching up against the Russians or Americans, and that’s Rattie brings to the table. He’s part playmaker, part finisher, but, most importantly, a proven producer. He’s another WHL player, one that has shone against Huska and Hay on several occasions.

Phillips

9) Zack Phillips — More offence? Why not. Phillips and Huberdeau have chemistry in St. John and will carry that over to Team Canada.

F. Hamilton

10) Freddie Hamilton — Chemistry you say? Hamilton and Strome are quite the tandem in Niagara as well, so keep them together and reap the benefits.

McNeill

11) Mark McNeill — These last three spots are the tough ones. McNeill is the total package with size, scoring and intangibles, plus a history with Hockey Canada at our tournaments where he has taken his game to another level. He’ll need to impress at the camp, but assuming he does, he’s a strong candidate to round out the depth chart.

Bulmer

12) Brett Bulmer — What Gallagher is to Hay, Bulmer is to Huska. He’s known more for offence in Kelowna, but it was his grit and checking ability that allowed him to stick with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to start this season. Bulmer will fall back into that role with Canada and should be able to deliver the goods.

Pearson

13) Tanner Pearson — The extra forward spot is wide open, with 11 players still making a case for themselves. I’ll go out on a limb and pick Pearson for the sake of picking somebody, but I wouldn’t be surprised by anybody. It’s not like past years where there’s an “under-age” forward with a bird-cage knocking at the door that could ride the pine for experience and exposure. This year’s extra will be a contributor in some capacity, it just depends whether Hay wants a big-body presence that can be a power-play specialist like Pearson, or whether he’d rather an on-the-edge antagonist like Brad Ross, who could be this year’s Steve Downie or Jordin Tootoo. Ryan Spooner or Tyler Toffoli could add even more offence, and Michael Bournival is another name that slotted into several projected rosters, so maybe there’s more to him than I know. Time will tell . . .

Defence

D. Hamilton

1) Dougie Hamilton — Yes, he’s Freddie’s brother and another Niagara IceDog. In fact, he’s leading their team in scoring as a defenceman and is a towering presence that can play any role assigned to him.

Gormley

2) Brandon Gormley — He likely would have made the cut for last year’s team had it not been for a knee injury. Gormley’s healthy and contributing at both ends of the ice this season, so providing that holds up, he should have a spot to lose.

Morrow

3) Joe Morrow — Maybe it’s the WHL goggles again, but I think Morrow not only makes the team, but becomes an impact player. He might overshadow some of the bigger names by tournament’s end and could find himself manning the point on Canada’s top power-play unit.

Petrovic

4) Alex Petrovic — Morrow can be a bit of a riverboat gambler at times, though his speed helps him recover from those risks. Still, you need a steadying force on the back end and Petrovic has that presence. He’s not as flashy as the rest of this core, but he’s consistent and responsible. I like that potential pairing and hope it comes to fruition. Edmonton’s Mark Pysyk could also be a fit here, as another primarily stay-at-home, physical defender to offset Morrow’s skill-set and tendencies. I don’t think there’s room for both Pysyk and Petrovic as I see them competing for the same spot. I went with Petrovic because of a recent live viewing when covering a Red Deer game in Kelowna in which he stood out, more so than Rebels teammate Matt Dumba.

Murphy

5) Ryan Murphy — Injuries are again wreaking some havoc ahead of this year’s selection camp, with Murphy still recovering from a concussion. He has a special skill-set that can’t be duplicated by anyone else at camp, so if Murphy’s cleared by doctors I expect him to be on the team. And if he’s completely healthy and not hesitant when the tournament gets going, consider Canada that much more dangerous.

Murray

6) Ryan Murray — Like Murphy, Murray has been sidelined for much of this season with a high ankle sprain. His Everett team has struggled, stuck in the WHL’s basement, but Murray is a difference-maker when in the lineup — for Everett and, hopefully, for Canada.

Beaulieu

7) Nathan Beaulieu — Again, the seventh defence spot is a bit of a crapshoot. There’s a few strong candidates, but I like Beaulieu based on his offensive instincts and ability to fill in for either Murphy or Murray if need be.

Goal

Bunz

1) Tyler Bunz — He’ll enter camp as a favourite for one of the two positions, but emerge as the undisputed starter. He’s extremely athletic, quick and well-positioned, plus he plays the puck like an extra defenceman. That quality is becoming more and more important in today’s game and Bunz is as good as any goalie auditioning for this year’s team. Some might be worried about hitching the wagon to another Edmonton Oilers goaltending prospect after Olivier Roy’s struggles in Buffalo, but I have more confidence in Bunz to get the job done.

Wedgewood

2) Scott Wedgewood — Perhaps a surprise pick. Wedgewood also attended last year’s camp and had the chance to play for his junior coach, Dave Cameron, but ended up getting cut. Cameron probably wishes he had Wedgewood over Visentin in Buffalo, and I think Hay will avoid making the same mistake twice.

Depth Chart

Forwards

Schwartz-Howden-Gallagher

Huberdeau-Phillips-Rattie

F. Hamilton-Strome-Scheifele

Bulmer-McNeill-Stone

Pearson

Defence

D. Hamilton-Murphy

Gormley-Murray

Petrovic-Morrow

Beaulieu

Goal

Bunz

Wedgewood

Overview

Chances are this won’t be the final roster, but that’s my two cents on what the team could look like. My squad would be comprised of 10 WHL players, seven from the OHL and four from the QMJHL, plus Schwartz from the NCAA.

That’s obviously West-heavy, but as Prendergast indicated in my magazine feature for the December 2010 edition of Dubnation.ca, familiarity and chemistry are two key factors in putting the pieces together for a national team. And with two coaches from the WHL, plus two from the OHL in George Burnett (Belleville Bulls) and Scott Walker (Guelph Storm), my roster makes more and more sense.

In a few weeks time, all this speculation will be put to rest and we’ll know exactly who will be out to avenge last year’s gold-medal collapse against Russia with the goal of restoring Canada’s spot atop the podium on the evening of Thursday, January 5th.

Gold, Silver or Bronze?

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Crosby Picks Up Where He Left Off

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Getty Images

Sidney Crosby made his long-awaited, highly-anticipated return to the NHL tonight — and what a return it proved to be.

Fans and media everywhere celebrated the arguably overdue comeback from a concussion that sidelined hockey’s biggest and brightest star for 11 months, since Jan. 5 of last season.

So everybody tuned into CBC’s special Monday broadcast between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders, made marquee and marketable only by Sid the Kid. Some observers had a vested interest, namely Crosby’s fantasy owners. And they had to be rejoicing when No. 87 recorded two goals and two assists for four points in a 5-0 Pittsburgh win.

AP Photo

Crosby’s point total could have been greater, as he set up linemate Chris Kunitz on the game’s opening shift only to have him hit the post, then later teed up Evgeni Malkin for another one-timer off the iron.

But the points that counted were great enough. Crosby opened the scoring on his third shift just five minutes into the game by burning Andrew MacDonald wide then roofing a backhand over rookie goalie Anders Nilsson, making his first NHL start. His second goal, to round out the scoring in the third period, was the product of hard work, winning a board battle and backhanding another puck from the corner past Nilsson. His assists came off quality passes and Crosby did it all, also winning the majority of his faceoffs.

Getty Images

I had that game on TV, but once it was 4-0, I began paying closer attention to an online stream of the Edmonton Oilers-Dallas Stars contest for fantasy reasons — owning the rights to Edmonton’s dynamic young duo of Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in my keeper league, while not owning a single Penguin or Islander.

Even without watching his every move, it was obviously a stellar start for Crosby, who still has 61 games left to catch Toronto’s Phil Kessel in the Art Ross and Rocket Richard races. Kessel is the frontrunner for both trophies, with 29 points and 16 goals to date.

Getty Images

Regardless, Crosby’s presence going forward should provide a big bump in offensive production for those GMs who patiently — but painstakingly — stashed him on their Injured Reserve.

It should also put the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins (12-6-3) over the top, but who cares about real life standings when fantasy fortunes are at stake.

In my keeper, now that Crosby’s back, he’s a bargain with a $56 salary in a $250 cap system. He’s cheaper than other stars such as Alex Ovechkin ($75), Steven Stamkos ($72), Evgeni Malkin ($68), Daniel Sedin ($60), Pavel Datsyuk ($57) and Ryan Getzlaf ($57), and only $1 more than Henrik Sedin and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Crosby’s scored at a higher point-per-game pace than any of those players — or any player period in recent memory — and Monday’s debut assured he hasn’t lost a step. I guess dominating the NHL is just like riding a bike, and serious concussions can be overcome as previously evidenced by Patrice Bergeron and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

If Crosby can stay out of opponent’s crosshairs — as all hockey fans should hope for, rival fantasy GMs or not — he’ll be one of the best long-term keepers in the game.

Getty Images

As for my keeper team, it was another whirlwind week full of frustration, then elation and lastly suspense that saw Period 6 end in a 5-3-2 win. It was technically tied 4-4-2, but I prevailed when Roberto Luongo was ruled out for Sunday’s start against Ottawa thus forcing my opponent to forfeit the save-percentage category after not meeting our league’s minimum goalie requirement of two starts per Period.

Either result seemed unimaginable after an atrocious start that had my 15 active forwards combining for one goal and three points heading into Saturday’s full slate.

At first, I feared the Hockey Gods had turned on me for calling them out in last week’s column. My top player, based on salary and career statistics, Alex Ovechkin, disappeared from the face of the planet, finishing Period 6 with zero — yes ZERO — points and an equally disturbing minus-5 rating.

Things went from bad to worse mid-week, when Nashville’s rookie sensation Craig Smith did his best Patrick Stefan impression by failing to score into an empty net.

But, as is the case every Period, all was not lost with Saturday still to come and my opponent also struggling to some extent.

Saturdays, with their 10-plus games, always shake things up and this was no exception for my team, which went from trailing 7-2-1 to leading 5-4-1 in a matter of hours.

The catalyst for my comeback was those aforementioned Edmonton kids, with Hall netting his second career hat-trick and Nugent-Hopkins setting a personal best with five assists in a 9-2 shelling of Chicago.

All total, my forwards racked up six goals and 10 assists that night, then Carolina’s Jeff Skinner helped me hang on with one of each on Sunday.

Skinner made up for only having one other assist last week, but overall my team slumped statistically — up front with Tyler Seguin (one assist), James van Riemsdyk (one goal, minus-4 on Philadelphia) and Valtteri Filppula (one assist, minus-4 on Detroit), and on the back end with Victor Hedman, Zach Bogosian and Ryan McDonagh all pointless.

Luckily others picked up the slack, with Jonathan Quick maintaining his consistent, winning ways in goal for the most part, Scott Hartnell also enjoying a big Saturday with two special-teams goals and Jeff Petry picking up three defence helpers in that lopsided beating of the Blackhawks.

Another less-heralded contribution was Matt Frattin’s first career NHL goal in his 17th game for Toronto, as the Leafs lit up Ovechkin’s Capitals 7-1. Most would have dropped Frattin after his early drought, but I still have hope for the former Fort Saskatchewan Trader (AJHL).

Just like I still have hope that former Burnaby Express (BCHL) star Kyle Turris will be traded — or signed — by Phoenix before the Dec. 1st deadline that rules him ineligible to play in the NHL this season.

Turris, though, aside from AHL and junior prospects, is my only player on the shelf. Shockingly — and knock on wood here — I’ve yet to miss many games due to injuries and my two available IR spots have remained empty to this point in the season. Not many fantasy GMs can say that, so I’ll take the good with the bad and keep on keepin’ on as I currently sit alone in second place, albeit a distant 15 points back of our leader.

That leader, also last season’s playoff champ, should have his work cut out for him in Period 7. He’s facing our reigning regular-season champ who enters this week tied for third and also happens to be his cousin, making their matchup all the more intriguing. Here’s hoping for a hard-fought tie or an upset based on this season’s standings, anything to allow the rest of the pack, myself included, to gain ground.

Meanwhile, the DailyCourier draft at Officepools.com has become somewhat of a lost cause for me. As a rotisserie box pool with no transactions, all I can do is idly watch as my hand-picked 20-player team plummets toward last place in the 160-team league — and sadly I don’t even have Crosby to dig me out of that hole.

Entering Monday’s games, I was tied for 155th with 247 points, a slim 13 points from the bottom and a massive 99 points from the top. Leader Puck Nucks had 246 points, followed by Schwarzeneger (344), JAM15 (342), Cathy’s Rockets (340) and Parksbranch.08 (339) to round out the top five.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier with a keen interest in fantasy hockey. Follow him on Twitter @LarryFisher_KDC or email larry.fisher@ok.bc.ca for fantasy-related feedback.

Categories: Uncategorized

Turning 27…the big 2-7!

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve never been overly big on holidays of any kind, including birthdays. At about the age of 10 I stopped getting annual cakes and shortly thereafter I started asking for only money as gifts, so I could spend freely whenever and on whatever I wanted. That changed this year when, turning the ripe old age of 27 and nine months into my first-ever relationship, my lovely girlfriend Sarah went to extreme lengths and spared no expense in restoring my childhood love for getting older.

Her first gift was more my style, in that she told me weeks in advance of my birthday, Nov. 8th, what she wanted to get and actually let me pick it out at the store. The gift was a much-needed new goalie bag. I was thrilled with that present as presented and didn’t expect anything more. But Sarah, a shopaholic with a huge heart and affection for every holiday event, wasn’t done . . . not even close!

On the morning of Nov. 8th, Sarah, who was battling a nasty cold at the time, ventured out to “run some errands.” I knew picking up a cake was one of them, but turns out she also pitstopped at the mall. Colour me curious . . .

First things first, get this card out of the way…just kidding, inside was an adorable message that was fitting for our love. But what’s in the rest of these boxes . . . ?

The suspense was too much . . . upon opening my eyes, I discovered two new Oilers hats as Sarah discovered a 2-for-1 sale at Lids. These were also much-needed as my old collection of Oilers hats, and there were a handful of them, were showing severe signs of sweat stains, plus the wear and tear of being several years old.

Next up a small, solid, rectangular box of which its contents couldn’t be determined with this shake test. After peeling off the NHL wrapping paper, I found a 2012 NHL trivia calendar that promised to stump even the most hardcore fans. We couldn’t wait for 2012, as Sarah flipped through some random dates and indeed stumped me a few times, though I was batting above .500 with my guesses. Now I can’t wait for 2012 and the rest this gift has to offer . . .

Saving the best for last, I opened the big box to find a retro white Oilers jersey, a real one. Last fall, I purchased a fake blue Oilers retro with Taylor Hall’s name and number on it. This fall, well starting in June when the Oilers drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall, I wanted the white version and often detoured through Jersey City to admire them but I couldn’t justify spending the difference for a legit, authentic one. Luckily for me, Sarah could and soon I will add Nugent-Hopkins’ name and number to this awesome gift. The best part is now we can both wear Oiler jerseys when watching their games on TV . . . expect for one minor problem, Sarah is still a Canucks fan!

Now for the main event, the cake. FYI, it’s easier said than done when it comes to lighting 27 candles on an ice-cream cake. After burning myself a couple times, it was showtime!

I huffed and puffed and . . . blew out ALL the candles. You know what that means: No girlfriends. That was the story of my life every Nov. 8th for the previous 26 years, but, fortunately for me, my long-winded prowess hasn’t scared Sarah off yet!

Categories: Uncategorized

Back to my roots!

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

My girlfriend Sarah and I recently flew to Saskatchewan for my little sister’s wedding. Sarah had never been east of Edmonton, let alone in November, so needless to say this trip was a learning experience for her as much as it was a homecoming for me. See for yourself . . .

Sarah looking a little lost and more than a little cold!

Sarah wondering “where am I?” and “what the eff am I doing here?”

Then there’s me, looking right at home, in a field less than a kilometre from the homestead where I was raised!

Sarah thinks my tractor’s sexy…and I’m reminded of many long, tiresome days behind this very wheel!

After touring the family farm, we hit the dusty trail in search of some sightseeing. One of the first sights was a wildlife encounter with Sarah’s first ever moose about 200 yards into a canola stubble field.

It wouldn’t be the prairies and Central Saskatchewan without stopping to observe an oilfield pumpjack in action…what you see is what you get. Sarah is not overly impressed!

Little house on the prairie…Sarah was mildly fascinated with the old farmhouses still standing here, there and everywhere!

Meet Sam Luse, the namesake of the small town Luseland where I grew up and graduated high school!

About 40 minutes down the road, we arrived in Macklin, home of the World’s Largest Bunnock. Ever played Bones? It’s like bowling with much smaller bunnocks and it’s a big hit in this small town on August Long weekend every summer.

Next stop: Chauvin, Alberta, another bustling little community with this claim to fame: Suzie, the World’s Largest Softball…also known as an old septic tank or something of that sort.

And last but not least, as mentioned, there was a wedding to highlight this trip. Sarah and I pose together to commemorate our appearance at my sister’s special night, also held in Macklin. Sarah, a B.C. girl born-and-raised and a city girl through and through, was still smiling at the end of the week…what a trooper!

Categories: Uncategorized