Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Draft Prospects on Parade

And now, for a programming alert.

The Canadian Hockey League/NHL Top Prospects game will be Wednesday night in Kelowna, B.C., and it will be broadcast by the NHL Network in the United States and by Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada. The game, which begins at 10 pm Eastern, features many of the top 2012 NHL draft eligible players currently working on their skills in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, all of which compose the CHL.

The contest, coming after the World Junior Championships and nearly four months before the Memorial Cup tournament, is a rare chance for many Americans to view these prospects in action before the draft this summer. So do a little homework before the game tomorrow night, taking a look at the ISS rankings from January, the TSN Craig's List (Craig Button) rankings from January and the NHL Central Scouting January rankings for skaters and goaltenders in North America.

Below are the rosters, along with links to the individual CHL statistics of each player.

Team Cherry (Red)
Tim Bozon, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Dane Fox, Erie Otters (OHL)
Martin Frk, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Brendan Gaunce, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Coda Gordon, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Scott Laughton, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Andrew Ryan, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Gemel Smith, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Dominik Volek, Regina Pats (WHL)
Tom Wilson, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Mike Winther, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Daniil Zharkov, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Mathew Dumba, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Nick Ebert, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Dillon Fournier, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Brett Kulak, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Ryan Murray, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Damon Severson, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Matt Murray, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Brandon Whitney, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)

Team Orr (White)
Andreas Athanasiou, London Knights (OHL)
Francis Beauvillier, Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
Raphaël Bussières, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Radek Faksa, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Mikhail Grigorenko, Québec Remparts (QMJHL)
Tomas Hyka, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Scott Kosmachuk, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Tanner Pearson, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Colton Sissons, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Chandler Stephenson, Regina Pats (WHL)
Lukas Sutter, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Branden Troock, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Gianluca Curcuruto, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Matt Finn, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Adam Pelech, Erie Otters (OHL)
Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Dalton Thrower, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Chris Driedger, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
François Tremblay, Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Wheels Are Turning

Ah, a little Velvet Underground through the wide-ranging interpretive scope of Elvis Costello. A great way to start the quiet period known as the NHL's all-star break.

This is when the hockey season starts to get interesting, in a young schoolboy approaching the annual Valentine's Day disappointment kind of way. You probably know your team is going to break your heart again, much like sweet Liz, Gail or Sandy did in elementary school as they danced by with no Smarties or cheap card for you.

But we are not quite to the point were both victory and disappointment are in sight, at least for much of the league. Columbus, you can proceed to the checkout aisle now. No love for you this year. I'll throw in Edmonton, Anaheim, Carolina, Buffalo, N.Y. Islanders, Tampa Bay and Montreal. And yes I did see the Canadiens' scoreapalooza against Detroit on Wednesday night. Still not impressed.

But Montreal, a recent example of mine, remains a franchise that is not worried about being No. 37 in Femme Fatale's book. Optimism and the hope of spring clings to life. Too bad Pierre Gauthier's supply of Smarties ran out a long time ago.

ESPN's power meter, at last check, indicated that Boston and Vancouver were the two teams best suited to claim the Stanley Cup this season, based on a number of reasonable sounding metrics. The Canadiens are 17th, and the Rangers, who lead the Eastern Conference at the break, were 7th overall in the ranking of the Original 30® (Kevin Paul Dupont of The Boston Globe).

Ottawa and Florida, sitting sixth and seventh in the Eastern race, were way down on the leader board, in better position to look for a lottery pick than pick up some box office green that goes with a third-round or Cup final berth.

And this is where my focus is the rest of the way. I am counting down toward the playoffs. Starting today, all the good teams the top 10 teams in each conference get my attention on the main screens in the Lounge. Some of them will lose their way. Some will make large moves before the trade deadline. Some will stand pat at that time and be the better for it.

I am watching, all the while hoping that my team wins the Cup. But I am all in, win or lose. Hockey's femme fatale has my number, but I have her address. She is going to have to navigate around me when she steps out her front door each morning. One day she'll trip, and the Cup will fall into the hands of my team.

At least, I am hopeful.

More later. Have a cold one on me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Toe Tag Mode

This is the funny thing about hockey. As a fan, writer, player, coach or team executive, you are either witnessing a team making good progress or getting an all too real glimpse of a total meltdown. There is no middle ground or grace period. The team needs to be winning, needs to be in collection mode when it comes to points in the standings. Those are my points. No? Pay up. POW. Thank you.

Instead, everyone sees the team through bloodshot eyes. It hurts to see a struggle. Losses pile up and and suddenly it's hard for the eyes to close at night. Put together a few victories and sleep is fast and deep.

Bubble teams (Los Angeles, Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto and Winnipeg) have limited room to dream. The Wild appears to be in a death spiral. The Kings have picked up a lot of points in overtime and the shootout, which means they are skilled in sessions that will not exist during the playoffs. Toronto needs Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul to stay healthy amid the added physical play the two seem to be drawing lately. Winnipeg needs to win on the road. But like I said, teams like these still have some hope for hockey in the spring.

The above Mayer Hawthorne song appears written just for the Sabres and Canadiens. We'll be playing it again every time you two hit the ice for the rest of the season. I've seen enough of you. I've heard all the whining and rationalizations. You two are done.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lost in Montreal

There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder
I thought I heard you mention my name, can't you talk any louder?
Don't come any closer, don't come any nearer
My vision of you can't get any clearer

The Montreal Canadiens, how you once used to dazzle. Now, you are one that inspires talk, some awkward moments and an upset stomach. Nice footage of Dave Edmunds and the Rockpile in New York City circa 1979. The Canadiens would come to New York to face the Rangers that spring and take the Stanley Cup, the last of four in a row, to close the decade.

Those twentysomethings prancing and dancing about in that video? They are in their late 50s now and they probably look a heck of a lot better across the Lounge now than the Canadiens do. Yes, it's that sad.

Talking with reporters on Wednesday, the Habs' Michael Cammalleri said that the team has developed a losing mentality, a comment that is a surprise to me only because somebody inside the organization is finally telling the truth. No more centennial to celebrate, the Canadiens have no fresh makeu to cover this hideous team that has many Scott Gomez-sized warts.

"I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year," Cammalleri told reporters. "We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."

And it's not only on the ice. On the management level, they've made questionable deals and compounded them with Franco-Anglo language spinoramas that have everyone wondering what spill the team will take next.

Jay Baruchel, an actor-director-writer, who is a Montreal native and dedicated Canadiens fan, went on the Marek vs. Wyshynski radio show on SportsNet/Puck Daddy a few weeks ago and decried the sad state of affairs of his squad. Comparing his team to a house inhabited by hoarders, he described perfectly a team that is up to its ears in memorabilia, souvenirs and yellowed newspaper clippings of a team that hasn't won a Cup since 1993. Le message, dans anglais ou français, is that this team has its head so far up its past that it cannot escape this tunnel vision. The franchise needs help, and no one is rushing to the scene.

Tonight, the Canadiens are in Boston to face the Bruins, and I am certain there still is a certain sizzle to the game (7 Eastern on the NHL Network). But take a step back and you can see Montreal sitting alone, hoping that someone will pick up the check. Thanks for the memories.

You may not be an old-fashioned girl
But you're gonna get dated

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Passion Is Starting to Build

Late April and the start of the playoffs are a long way down the road, but like Miles Kane sings, I just want that moment to get closer. For now, we have a few tilts like the Penguins at Capitals tonight; Senators-Rangers, Canucks-Blues and Stars-Kings on Thursday; and Penguins-Panthers on Friday to get me in the mood for the next warm snap, when the mind turns to passion ... on the ice.

Those are my main viewing picks for the next three nights as we work our way to the weekend, which at midweek in the office can seem as far away as late April. Let's drop the puck already.

Wait Til This Year

What, it's 2012 already?

Nothing like getting bogged down in recorded hockey games, some housekeeping matters, a few holidays and a World Juniors tournament. Yes, the time went rather quickly, and we have progressed from mid-December to mid-January with hardly a look at the Lounge, which is looking rather dark and thirsty these days.

For those of you who grew tired of coming to the door to find only a darkened space and no glasses on the bar, well, thanks for coming back one more time.

I've got Spotify serving as the new Lounge jukebox, and I am glad to see that "Dizzy Gillespie: The Verve and Philips Small Group sessions" is now available for listening. A seven-disk set ready for me to listen, all for free. Is this country great or what? And because I was an early adopter of Spotify, I didn't have to join Facebook to listen.

So, the first cut on the first disc, "Sugar Hips," (this is a short clip from allmusic.com; to listen, click on button by the name of the song) goes out to Brad Marchand of the Bruins. He thought his low-bridge hit on Sami Salo last Saturday afternoon was legal. And should I or anyone in the league care to disagree? He doesn't care. Well good for him. It's not my stack of money that is growing shorter.

And with that, I am ready to cue up another Dizzy tune (another short clip from allmusic.com) from that collection, "I Think That Maybe I Should Go Away." And I am out of here for the moment.