Monday, December 22, 2014

Combining Interests: Knitting and Crochet with Hockey

The obvious tie between hockey and knitting and crochet is that hockey sweaters were originally knit wool sweaters, and instead of buying replica sweaters from a store many mothers knitted them for their children. I saw wool sweaters for every Original 6 team and several more Blackhawks ones at the Blackhawks Convention, and they were clearly wool hockey sweaters.

Another less obvious connection is goalies wearing toques. A recent example of a goalie wearing a toque is Jonathan Bernier at the 2014 Winter Classic, wearing a machine knit team toque over his mask. Goalies wearing toques had a much earlier start, out of practicality. Jacques Plante wore hand knitted toques most of his career, starting from when he was a boy playing pond hockey and continuing until he made the NHL. The then Canadiens head coach banned his toques because they were not official uniform. Plante continued to knit throughout the rest of his life even though he was banned from wearing toques during games and practices.
Québec Citadelles team photo Plante in hand knit toque

Monday, December 8, 2014

Remembering Our History

The Hockey Hall of Fame induction combined with Jean Béliveau's death and Gordie Howe's illness got me thinking about remembering our collective history. Earlier this season, I saw a post on Reddit asking who Chris Chelios was. The poster went on to explain that said poster had read about Dean Chelios's signing with the ECHL's Indy Fuel, heard his dad was a former Blackhawk and wanted to know about him.

If self proclaimed diehard fans do not know about 20 years ago's captain, what other holes in their hockey knowledge are there?

I've gone to several autograph signings, at the Blackhawks Convention, at the Chicago Auto Show and at various other locations.

It is always the same story, players with retired numbers (Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Pierre Pilote and Denis Savard in my personal experience) draw huge crowds, as do any current players. However, other former players attract almost no one. I have met Jack O'Callahan, Murray Bannerman, Darren Pang, Troy Murray, Eddie Olczyk and Steve Konroyd, among others, with little to no line.

It appears that when new Hawks fans join the fandom, they learn the names of current players and the names of players with banners in the rafters. The 1970s-2000s seem to be the eras of Hawks history with the least fan knowledge.

Hopefully, hockey fans, especially fans of teams like the Hawks and the Kings with rapidly expanding fanbases, will take the time to educate new fans. Regarding the question posed on Reddit, fans were quick to educate the self-proclaimed diehard fan that Chris Chelios was a long serving Blackhawks captain and one of the greatest American-born defensemen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pat Foley and Dominik Hašek: Blackhawks in the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2014

Pat Foley has been the voice of the Blackhawks for over 30 years, starting on WBBM 780 and continuing on whatever radio or television station (currently WGNTV and CSN-Chicago) has carried Blackhawks. When Foley graduated from college, he knew he wanted to go into sports broadcasting but did not have a job--he had worked for his school radio station. As it so happened the Wirtz family got their cars serviced at Foley Buick, owned by Pat's father. One day Michael Wirtz brought his car in for service and when he picked it up he found a tape of Pat's play by play left in the tape deck, he was sufficiently impressed and the Blackhawks hired a young, unknown broadcaster by the name of Pat Foley to do their radio play by play.

Foley quickly became a mainstay behind the Blackhawks mic, one of his earliest signature calls was BAAAANERMAN, which got its start in the 1985 Western Conference Finals between the Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers. He was the regular broadcaster until 2006, when Bill Wirtz decided to terminate his contract.

For two seasons, Foley did play by play for the Chicago Wolves, a local AHL team. After Rocky Wirtz became Blackhawks President after his father's passing, he brought back in Pat Foley, to do the television broadcasts alongside former Blackhawk Eddie Olczyk. Since 2008, Pat and Eddie have broadcast Blackhawks games on both WGNTV and CSN-Chicago. Several more signature calls have been added to Foley's repertoire, "Niemi says no" from the 2010 Western Conference Finals and "GREAT SAVE BY CRAWFORD" said on numerous occasions 2010-present are two of the most notable.

Dominik Hašek began his NHL career as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, including action in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After Hašek drew attention for his play in the Stanley Cup Finals, Ed Belfour, the Blackhawks established starting goalie, felt his minutes were in jeopardy and told Blackhawks management, he goes or I go.

Hašek was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where he would spend the majority of his career. In 1998, Hašek met fellow Hall of Fame goalie, Canada's Patrick Roy, in the Olympic semifinals. Hašek's Czechs beat Roy's Canadians in a shootout to advance to the gold medal game, where the Czechs would win their only hockey gold to date.

In 1999, Hašek met his former partner, Ed Belfour, who had since gone to the Dallas Stars, in the Stanley Cup Finals. Like with winning the Blackhawks starting job in 1992, Belfour beat Hašek, who saw his Cup hopes crushed in the Finals once again.

Hašek finally won the Stanley Cup as a member of the 2002 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings, alongside former Blackhawks teammate Chris Chelios, who had been traded to the rival Red Wings after a falling out with Blackhawks management. Hašek became the first European-trained starting goalie to win the Stanley Cup and second European starting goalie to win the Stanley Cup (after Blackhawks' 1934 goalie--Charlie Gardiner).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

You are not a NHL GM

In 2010, one of the many decisions Stan Bowman made when faced with a cap crunch was to trade goaltender Antti Niemi to San Jose, allowing him to match San Jose's offer sheet on RFA defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Fans hated that decision, Niemi had just won the Stanley Cup and was a large factor in the Blackhawks sweep of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while Hjalmarsson was young and unproven. Also, the Blackhawks then needed to call up the unproven Corey Crawford from Rockford to take Niemi's roster spot.

Fast forward to 2014, the Sharks are struggling and Alex Stalock might have stolen Niemi's roster spot. Hjalmarsson added a second Stanley Cup in 2013 and an Olympic Silver in 2014 and ranks 30th in franchise points by a defenseman (as of 11/11/14). The unproven Crawford now ranks 5th in franchise wins, behind Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Ed Belfour and Jocelyn Thibault. Crawford won the Jennings Trophy and Stanley Cup in 2013, Conn Smythe Winner Patrick Kane said Crawford deserved the award more than he did and Crawford was invited to Team Canada's Olympic training camp (he was cut from the final roster).

If Stan Bowman had done what the fans had wanted in 2010, the Stanley Cup and Jennings Trophy would not have made their way to West Madison in 2013. Hjalmarsson-Oduya would not exist, and therefore Sweden's Olympic Silver would have been far less likely. Crawford would have been sent somewhere else or still be in Rockford and therefore the Blackhawks would not have someone rapidly ascending the franchise wins list.

Stan Bowman clearly knew what he was doing and the armchair GMs were wrong. You are not an NHL GM, you do not know better than them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Look at Goaltending Statistics

With Corey Crawford passing Murray Bannerman for 5th all time in Franchise Wins, there has been a lot of talk on where he ranks among goaltending greats. As of 10/16/2014, the Blackhawks leaders in various statistical categories (100+ GP) are as follows:

1. Tony Esposito 418
2. Glenn Hall 275
3. Ed Belfour 201
4. Jocelyn Thibault 137
5. Corey Crawford 117
6. Murray Bannerman 116
7. Mike Karakas 114
8. Charlie Gardiner 112

Win Percentage:
1. Corey Crawford 54.7%
2. Ed Belfour 48.4%
3. Tony Esposito 47.9%
4. Denis DeJordy 45.5%
5. Glenn Hall 44.5%
6. Nikolai Khabibulin 44.2%

1. Charlie Gardiner 2.02
2. Corey Crawford 2.35
3. Jeff Hackett 2.45
4. Glenn Hall 2.60
5. Jocelyn Thibault 2.63
6. Ed Belfour 2.65

Corey Crawford is a relatively young goalie, only in his 5th season and to be ranked in all statistical categories as one of the leaders is quite an accomplishment. Glenn Hall, Charlie Gardiner and Mike Karakas all won the Stanley Cup as Blackhawks (as did Crawford), Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour lost in the Stanley Cup Finals and Murray Bannerman lost in the Western Conference Finals to the dynasty Edmonton Oilers. I would not be surprised if we eventually see #50 join #1 and #35 in the United Center rafters and/or Corey Crawford join Esposito, Hall, Belfour and Gardiner in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hockey: not just for able-bodied white men

In 2013, we saw PK Subban win the Norris Trophy for best defenseman and the Chicago Blackhawks, with a roster including Johnny Oduya, Jamal Mayers, Ray Emery and Brandon Saad, win the Stanley Cup. In 2014, we learned that both Olympic Gold Medalist goalies, Carey Price (men's) and Shannon Szabados (women's) were teammates on the Tri-Cities Americans. Also in 2014, the Olympic Men's Hockey medalists were the most diverse ever, with Carey Price and PK Subban winning gold and Johnny Oduya silver. Another 2014 milestone is NBC broadcasting all three gold medal games, men's, women's and sledge.

Those 2013 and 2014 milestones were a long time coming, in 1958 Willie O'Ree broke the NHL color barrier, in 1984 Grant Fuhr won the first of his five Stanely Cups, and in doing so, became the first black Cup winner. When Jarome Iginla was on Canada's 2002 Gold Medal team, he became the first black Winter Olympic Gold Medalist.

As for women's hockey, Isobel Stanley, Lord Stanley's daughter, was playing hockey when he donated the Stanley Cup in 1893, Manon Rhéaume went pro in the early 1990s and it has been an Olympic sport since 1998.

Sledge hockey was is the newest variety of hockey, it was invented in the 1960s by two Swedish men with disabilities who wanted to play hockey and has been a paralympic sport since 1994.

I, personally, enjoy all aspects of the game of hockey and love seeing it grow and diversify. If I had to pick a favorite Team Canada goalie, the decision between Carey Price, Shannon Szabados and Corbin Watson, all three are young, talented goalies I will enjoy watching for years to come.

Appreciating our Past

I've been at least actively lurking in the hockey fan community for a while. Countless times I've seen people who seem to have no knowledge of hockey's past.

Suggesting that Martin Brodeur is the greatest goalie of all time when even greatest of his era (Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, etc) is up for debate. Let alone greatest of all time where he'd be going head to head with the likes of Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Georges Vézina, and many others.

Additionally, I've seen people who appear to believe that women's hockey did not exist before Manon Rhéaume's NHL debut in 1993 or women's hockey being added to the Olympics in 1998. Most hockey fans know who Lord Stanley was, however, far fewer realize that his daughter, Isobel, was a hockey player and played alongside her brothers.

The documented history of hockey goes back to the 1890s, please, hockey fans, take the time to learn some of it, at least an overview of the almost 100 year history of the NHL.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looking at Stats: Goalie Career Wins for Franchise

Corey Crawford, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist all rank in the top 6 for franchise wins. Corey Crawford made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks in the 2005-06 season (and has been full time in the NHL since 2010-11), he currently ranks 6th in Blackhawks wins with 115, behind Tony Esposito (418), Glenn Hall (275), Ed Belfour (201), Jocelyn Thibault (137) and Murray Bannerman (116). Carey Price (NHL debut 2007-08) ranks 5th in Canadiens wins with 179, behind Jacques Plante (314), Patrick Roy (289) (franchise wins, 1985-86 to 1995-96), Ken Dryden (258) and Bill Durnan (208). Henrik Lundqvist ranks first in Rangers wins with 309, ahead of Mike Richter (301).

Henrik Lundqvist is the oldest of the three goalies and secured first in franchise wins during the 2013-14 season, Additionally he has a Vézina (2012), an Olympic Gold (2006) and an Olympic Silver (2014). The farthest he has been in the NHL playoffs is the Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers first trip to the Finals since the 1994 Stanley Cup.

Carey Price is just coming into his prime and is 5th in franchise wins, behind some of the greatest goalies ever to play the game. While he has yet to advance past the Eastern Conference Finals, Carey Price won gold in both World Juniors (2007) and the Olympics (2014).

Like Carey Price, Corey Crawford is a young goalie entering his prime. He won the Stanley Cup in his 3rd full season (2013) and currently ranks 6th in franchise wins, also like Price, he is behind some of the greatest goalies ever to play the game.

While I don't expect Corey Crawford and Carey Price to pass Tony Esposito and Jacques Plante in franchise wins, I wouldn't be surprised if 50 and 31 eventually hang in the rafters at the United Center and Bell Centre given the starts to their young careers. I hope that Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price will eventually win the Stanley Cup and that Corey Crawford will eventually play for Team Canada, however even if they don't, they have still had great careers to this point, and will continue to do so, barring injury.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't Blame the Goalie (a piece I wrote back in February but didn't have my blog yet)

I am going to start off by saying that I am an amature goalie and a huge hockey fan. Watching NHL and Olympics, or even AHL and NCAA you see some outstanding goaltending. My general opinion is not to blame the goalie for a loss.

Sometimes it seems as though, unless a goalie has the game of their career, such as Ben Scrivens’s 59 save shutout or Carey Price’s two consecutive shutouts en route to an Olympic Gold, the goalie gets all of the blame and none of the credit.

I really started noticing this during last season’s NHL playoffs, coming from all different sides. Montréal fans saying that Carey Price couldn’t perform under pressure and lost that series. Carey Price had many highlight roll saves in that series, about half of the Canadiens were injured in the series, including Carey Price in the third period of the decisive game 5, which Ottawa won in overtime. The very next season, when you put the solid lineup of Team Canada in front of him, Carey Price shuts out the United States in the semifinals and Sweden in the gold medal game to win an Olympic Gold and the Best Goaltender award.

Also in the 2013 playoffs, in the finals, there was a game where Corey Crawford allowed five goals, all glove side, and the talk everywhere I turned was that Corey Crawford’s glove was horrible. Tuukka Rask allowed six. Corey Crawford would go on to win the Jennings Trophy and the Stanley Cup and be invited to train with Team Canada. Tuukka Rask would go on to win a bronze medal with Finland, including shutting out Team USA in the bronze medal game. It is safe to say, neither goalie is at fault for that game where a total of 11 goals were scored.

Yes, there are times where goaltending can make or break a team, that is why things like Latvia advancing as far as they did (they had an AHL goaltender in net who performed beyond expectations, the day after the Olympics he was called up) and Ben Scrivens having a 59 save shutout are amazing. However, teams like the Blackhawks, the Canadiens, the Penguins and the Canucks, where I have seen goalies be blamed for losses, are not countries with one active NHL player on their roster or last place in their division. All four teams made the playoffs last year, three of them have finished at the top of their conference within the past two complete NHL seasons.

Being primarily a Blackhawks and Canadiens fan, I have seen many games where Corey Crawford or Carey Price has played his heart out and made many highlight reel saves. When those games are wins, they are celebrated, when they are losses, they are blamed. Corey Crawford spent years in Norfolk then Rockford proving himself. When he made it to the NHL he became a starter that season. He has won the Stanley Cup, won the Jennings Trophy and trained with Team Canada. It is clear the Montréal Canadiens are still rebuilding, so Carey Price has yet to find postseason success in the NHL. However, competing for Team Canada, where he has a solid team in front of him, he is 11-0-0 (combining 2007 World Juniors and 2014 Olympics). Both competitions, he helped Canada win Gold and Received the Best Goaltender award, in 2007 he was also MVP.

Before you blame the goalie, such as Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Marc-André Fleury or Tuukka Rask, look what they have. A President’s Trophy, a Stanley Cup and a Jennings Trophy. An Olympic Gold and Olympic Best Goaltender. Two Olympic Golds, a Western Conference Championship and a President’s Trophy. A Stanley Cup and an Olympic Gold. A Stanley Cup and an Olympic Bronze. Chances are, if a goalie is that decorated, and (as in all those cases) the decoration is recent (within the past 5 calendar years for them) they must be doing something right.

non-mainstream sports

I recently started to play quidditch, muggle quidditch that is. I'm a keeper, like in every other sport I play. When I talk about being a (not very good) soccer keeper or hockey goalie it's respected as a sport. When I mention quidditch, the reaction is a mix of people thinking it's really cool and people laughing it off as not a real sport. The positions are pretty much the same as any other sport, a chaser is a forward, a beater is a d-man, a seeker is a specialized forward and a keeper is a keeper/goalie. Even though I've only done a 2 on 1 scrimmage so far (a beater and I playing against a chaser), I know it's about as hard to keep a quaffle out of a hoop as it is to keep a soccer ball out of a net or a puck out of a net.

I understand that being a fairly new sport and one based on a fictional book, some people will laugh off quidditch, but it is a real sport. Hockey has the Stanley Cup and other competitions such as the Olympic and Worlds, soccer has the World Cup, the Olympics and numerous other competitions. Quidditch has the World Cup and is gaining in popularity.

When Isobel Stanley first put on a pair of skates and picked up a stick, hockey was a new sport. When the first group of school boys started kicking a ball around, soccer was a new sport. Now they are popular worldwide. Hopefully quidditch will get there. I know I'll get people laughing it off, but to me quidditch is a fun sport and isn't just the sport on broomsticks as written by JK Rowling.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Impossibility of Choosing a "Best Goalie Ever"

I've seen many threads online asking who the best NHL goalie is, either current or all time, and have come to the conclusion that it's impossible to answer that question. I am a goalie (not very good, but you have to start somewhere) and I have certain goalies I enjoy watching (either active goalies or highlight reels) but I can't say those are the best, only my favorites.

A goalie like Georges Vézina, Charlie Gardiner or Jacques Plante is an all time great, there's no denying that, but put him in a modern game (even in modern gear) and he gets destroyed by all the skaters used to butterfly goalies noticing he left the low corners completely open.

Conversely, if you put Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek or any other goalie who tends to play a more butterfly style in the 1910s-50s people would look at him as if he were crazy. Martin Brodeur is probably the only current goalie who wouldn't be looked at like he had two heads in that era.

My personal favorites are Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Tony Esposito (all time favorite), Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy (in part because he's the first goalie I really heard about, living in CO in the 90s). I also like what I've seen of Antti Raanta and Dustin Tokarski. Yes, this list is biased, because I'm human. You may also notice the complete lack of goalies from eras where I cannot find footage of them playing. I know Georges Vézina and Charlie Gardiner brought my two favorite teams their first championships, I know they kept playing hockey until they were literally on their deathbeds, but I don't feel I can include them in my list of favorite goalies due to having only seen photos and articles, no actual footage of them playing.

Looking at the rafters in the United Center, you'd think that Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito are the two greatest Hawks goalies to play the game because their numbers are in the rafters. However, the 1934 Cup banner is also in the rafters, and you can't say the last goalie-captain to win a Cup, doing so while on his deathbed, wasn't great too. So, even for one team, I see three standouts for greatest ever, and that's not even accounting for the 90s, which saw both Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek in the Indian Head, or what Corey Crawford might do in a young career that already includes a Stanley Cup and a Jennings Trophy.