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October 17, 2018

Soon We Can All Play Like The Sedins

Vancouver fans were treated to some of the most uncanny passing plays between twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin throughout their career. They would blindly throw passes into open spaces when no one else would think to do that. No one except the other brother, who somehow would arrive at that spot at just the right time, much to the amazement of pretty much everyone.

Sedinery we called it.

Coach Alain Vigneault said "Sometimes it like they're sharing the same brain."

Of course they are not. But there may come a day when all members of a hockey team can. And the coach, too.

Earlier this month it was announced that neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people share their thoughts. People were teamed up using electroencephalograms and something called  transcranial magnetic stimulation and then tasked to work together to solve a Tetris-like game.

Okay, so Tetris is different than a complex NHL breakout play in the final minute of play. But the point is people much smarter than me are working on some real neat stuff. The researchers call it BrainNet and tout it as way of getting groups of people to communicate in a whole new way. The people could be on opposite ends of the world even. Or opposite sides of the ice.

Or "multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving" as they say. I don't pretend to understand what they're doing, but you can read about it more here.

I suspect we're a long way from seeing NHL teams - or anyone else really - trying to exploit this technology. But one day, it just might be a thing. And you read about it here, first.

October 15, 2018

Block That Shot: The Bob Chrystal Story

This is Bob Chrystal. Now I know what you're thinking - who the heck is Bob Chrystal? And, why is there a book about him in 2018?

Chrystal, born in Winnipeg in 1930, played two seasons with the New York Rangers. He patrolled the Broadway blue line in 1953-54 and 1954-55, providing a physical presence with his rugged and enthusiastic play. He also added 11 goals and 25 points in 132 total NHL games.

Before turning pro, Chrystal was a key member of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Manitoba Junior League, twice appearing in the Memorial Cup, including in 1949 when they lost a heart-breaker to the Montreal Royals.

After his junior career Chrystal spent a year in the USHL with Denver before spending two seasons with the AHL Cleveland Barons. After his two years with Cleveland he was traded to the NHL Rangers.

After his two year stint in the Big Apple concluded, Chrystal returned to the Canadian prairie and the old Western (professional) Hockey League. After a year with the Saskatoon Quakers he returned to Brandon to play with the Regals. Unfortunately the Regals moved to Saskatchewan and later St. Paul, Minnesota, so Bob's homecoming was short though sweet.

In 1958-59 Chrystal played his final season of serious hockey in his hometown with the Winnipeg Warriors.

Now, all these years later, up and coming author Ty Dilello has helped the 88 year old Chrystal pen his autobiography.

Why do you want to read about a long-ago player you likely never heard of when there are so many other hockey books out every year?

It's because every hockey player has a story to tell. And you may discover that a relative no-name like Chrystal has a more interesting story than some. It's a story that will take you back in time, both in terms of hockey in it's golden age, and life on the Canadian prairies and even in New York City when it was a much simpler time. 

The book also features a fascinating collection of newspaper clippings from the Chrystal family collection as well as first hand memories from Emile Francis and Stan Fischler.

Don't dismiss this book about that guy you never heard of before. It might just be the best read of the season.

Block That Shot: The Bob Chrystal Story is now available.

October 11, 2018

Pavel's Kind Gesture

During the 1994 playoffs, a story leaked that Vancouver Canucks superstar Pavel Bure was going to pull himself out of the Canucks line up before the Stanley Cup final in an attempt to force the Canucks to sign him to a very expensive raise for the subsequent number of seasons. Don Cherry, among others, vilified him for it.

The story, likely leaked by the New York Rangers who wanted any advantage they could find against the seemingly-unstoppable Canucks, was never true. The only man more furious than Pavel about the whole thing was Canucks boss Pat Quinn. If you know anything about Quinn, you know he is not the kind of guy you want to be mad at you.

Despite the fallacy, Bure was tainted by the incident. No one seems to remember the night he gave up his bed for Gino Odjick's father.

Pavel and Gino were the best of friends, as unlikely as that still seems. Gino's father came to watch his son play in New York. Joe Odjick hadn't worked in sometime as winter had passed and he was laid off from his snow removal job that paid all of $13 an hour. Gino arranged for the hockey tickets, but they couldn't find his dad a room. The fancy and overpriced Manhattan hotel was sold out, as was everything else in the area. 

Pavel and Gino were roommates on the road, back in the day when everybody had roommates except maybe the starting goaltender and a real long tenured veteran. Pavel gave Joe Odjick his bed, and left to another set of teammates' room where he crashed on the couch.

But Don Cherry never told you that, did he?

Sadly, some still believe the Bure threatened-holdout story was true and he still has some tarnish on him about it. It may even have contributed to Bure's eventual exit from Vancouver a few years later.

October 10, 2018

Elias Pettersson's Fantastic Debut

Wayne Gretzky's greatest advantage on the ice was not his skating, or his size, or his shot. Aside from his superior understanding of the game his greatest attribute was he worked harder than everybody else.

In Vancouver these days, the love-in with rookie Elias Pettersson is reaching near ridiculous levels. Not so ridiculous as to compare him to Gretzky, but there is an interesting parallel with 99. Sure the fans love "Dekey Pete's" creativity, quickness and shot, but what they love most is he is the hardest working player on the ice.

It's only 3 games into his rookie season, but it is fair to say he is their best player and very quickly emerging as their leader. He works especially hard without the puck, showing great defensive acumen especially considering he has not played center for a couple of seasons.

And fans don't need to be reminded about his play with the puck. He is as slippery as an eel, making his lack of size no disadvantage. He has great vision to make plays but his shot is so good that it, too, must be respected. Defending opponents are caught a bit of a standstill while they learn how to deal with this new star.

Hopefully next year the likes of Quinn Hughes, Johnathan Dahlen, Adam Gaudette, Olli Joulevi and Thatcher Demko step up and are difference makers too. Because this Canucks team is still dreadful.

As a group they are completely lost in their own zone and it is a harrowing misadventure at times. And the goaltending remains sub par. What is most frustrating about all this is the Canucks knew all of this based on last season, yet brought back the exact same group of defenders and goaltenders. Surely they did not expect the group to get much better did they?

Pettersson is the badly needed breath of fresh air in Vancouver, but it will still be a long season on the west coast.

October 07, 2018

Wayne Cashman's Phone Call

Following the 1970 Stanley Cup championship, the Boston Bruins players celebrated long and hard. As Don Cherry likes to say, the players had a few "pops." Hey, they are adults and they're allowed to have a few drinks, especially after you win the Stanley Cup.

Perhaps Wayne Cashman, the Bruins big power forward known for his work in the corners, had too much to drink. He decided to do some street corner work, too. With traffic crawling at a busy intersection, Cashman vacated the back seat of the car that he was in and decided to help out and direct traffic.

Well the state police were not impressed however, and took him down to the local detachment to dry up.

That part of the story is all verifiable. But the story either continues or has grown into what may be myth or legend.

Supposedly Cashman took advantage of his right to one phone call. He did not call a family member or a teammate or administrator to come down and help him out. Instead he is said to have ordered Chinese food for dinner!

October 01, 2018

Hartnell, Vrbata Retire

Two long time NHLers announced their retirement on Monday.

Scott Hartnell, 36, played in 17 NHL seasons. In his career, he played with the Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, tallying 707 points (327 goals, 380 assists) in 1,249 games. He was best known for his feistiness, his hairdo and his frequent falls to the ice.

Radim Vrbata was better known as a goal scorer in his 16 NHL season. Five times he reached the 20 goal mark. He scored 284 goals and added 339 assists for 623 points in 1057 career games. He played for seven different NHL franchises, and was a regular with Czech Republic on the international scene. He helped his country win the World Championships in 2005.

It has actually been a relatively quiet off-season for retirement news. Henrik Zetterberg and twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin headline the list. Alex Burrows, Patrick Sharp and Francois Beauchemin are other notables. Marc Savard also made his retirement official though he has not played since 2011 due to concussions.

Greg Terrion, 58, Passes Away

A bit of shocking news this past weekend as former LA King and Toronto Maple Leaf Greg Terrion passed away. He was just 58.

Now Terrion was not the most memorable player in the league, but he was 
one of those unspectacular but consistent role players that every team needs in order to win hockey games. Unfortunately for Greg, his steady and consistent play was always with teams that were neither steady nor consistent as he was.

Drafted by Los Angeles 33rd overall in 1980, Greg played 2 years with the Kings before being traded to Toronto in 1982 for a 4th round draft choice. Greg spent the next 6 years in Toronto, playing his final NHL game in 1988.

Greg wasn't an overly talented finesse player. He was an above average skater, with really good speed. Combined with good defensive anticipation skills, Terrion's speed enabled him to carve out a nice niche for himself as a checking third line winger and regular penalty killer.

Despite his speed and hockey sense, Terrion was unable to translate those abilities to the offensive end of the rink. He seemed to have trouble finding open linemates with crisp passes. In addition his shot was pretty average at best, and he didn't release a shot nearly as often as he probably should have.

Physically Greg was only of average build. He did bump along the boards and was always getting in someone's way, but since he was not exceptionally strong, Terrion's physical game was limited by capability, not enthusiasm.

Terrion's trivia question claim to fame? He shares the NHL record for most penalty shot goals in one season - two, in the 1983-84 season. Both goals came in home games against Chicago. The first goal beat Tony Esposito on Oct. 15, 1983. The second goal beat Murray Bannerman on Jan. 14, 1984.

Exciting Times In Western Canada

As a Vancouver Canucks fan, I must admit I'm dreading this season. As pathetic, dreadful, awful, embarrassing - insert your own derogatory term here, they earned it - as they have been in the last three years, I think it's going to get worse. They are finally going to hit rock bottom in 2018-19.

The retired Sedins are no longer there to mask whatever shortcomings they could mask in the twilight of their brilliant careers. And while I do think Elias Pettersson will be a star in this league, he, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are about the only three players a contending team might actually want from this roster. And I'm going on record right now that Boeser is a prime sophomore slump candidate.

Still, the future looks bright in Vancouver, thanks to a number of prospects emerging in the next year or two. The distant future looks bright.

Until then there is plenty of fantastic hockey to watch in the rest of Western Canada.

The Oilers have the most dynamic player in the game in Connor McDavid. Not only is McDavid unquestionably the best player in the game, he is already incredibly dialed in. He is a man on a mission and ready to carry this team on his back. Can we award him the Hart, Ross and Lindsay trophies right now? Even if he can pull off that trophy hat trick, it might not be enough as the Oilers are poorly built around him. If the Oilers falter again this year (goaltending, as always, will play a big role in that), it's time to rebuild the rebuild.

Down the road in Calgary, the Flames have amassed a nice collection of young talent no doubt. But I'm sorry, I have never been able to get into the Flames. I'm talking about going all the way back to the days of Joe Nieuwendyk and Al MacInnis and the 1989 Stanley Cup team, through to Theo Fleury and Jarome Iginla. For all the greats that have passed through Calgary, I have never been able to watch the Flames. I think it's because I grew up as a Gretzky fan. You can never switch sides in the Battle of Alberta.

But yes, the Flames, too, have a nice collection of young talent up front and on the blue line. Perhaps new coach Bill Peters can find make this unit a truly cohesive team, but I'm not sure anyone can help the goaltending if veteran Mike Smith can't return to form.

I suspect at least one of the two Alberta teams will miss the playoffs, possibly both. Maybe neither team is as far along in their development as they would like to be. That being said, I do think the Flames have a better team even though the Oilers have the ultimate weapon.

The team that I am the the most excited to watch this season is the Winnipeg Jets.

They are everybody's favorite pick to win the west this year. And with good reason. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a star last season. Goaltending was the final piece of the puzzle, as the Jets are stocked with a surplus of emerging talent on both the forward and defense units. They truly are as good as any team in the league, it's just a matter of who can survive/luck out in the West as there are so many good teams.

The Jets have a blue line that is nearly as impressive as San Jose or Nashville. Big Buff Dustin Byfuglien is back and imposing as ever, while Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrisey are really coming into their own. Morrisey in particular impresses me with his fantastic play.

Tyler Myers adds good depth on defense, as does Ben Chiarot. Expect Tucker Poolman and Sami Niku to start the year in the minors though, as they need playing time as this is an important development year for each. They should be Jets regulars next season, and stars in good time.

Up front the Jets are fueled by superstars Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault are veterans on this team. And they have a seemingly endless supply of young talent coming along to support them - Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Nic Petan, Kristian Vesalainen, Nik Ehlers, Brendan Lemieux.....it's almost unfair.

Vancouver and Edmonton should be taking notes on how to rebuild.

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