Monday, December 17, 2007

Notes from the Russian Super League

As the NHL season approaches the halfway mark, the December break period in the Russian Super League (RSL) has just ended. The RSL is increasingly getting more attention due to the plethora of former NHL players in the league. For example, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has 4 players who played in the NHL in 2006-07 on its roster. That being said, many hockey fans in North America have difficulty following the RSL because of the distance and time difference in Russia. Here are a few standout players (and PuckAgency clients) that are worth noting:

Ak Bars Kazan's Alexei Morozov, who last played in the NHL in 2003-04 in Pittsburgh, is leading the RSL in scoring for the third consecutive season with 19 goals and 23 assists in 36 games. In 2006-07, Alexei set a RSL scoring record with 83 points. Even in a notoriously low-scoring league, Alexei has put up gaudy statistics the past four seasons while leading Kazan to a Championship in 2005-06. Also, over the weekend, Morozov played for Russia in the Channel One Cup, posting 2 goals in 3 games and leading Russia to a tournament victory. Russia won all three games of the tournament, defeating the Czech Republic 5-1 on Sunday, December 16 to clinch the crown. Morozov's 1st period goal on Sunday was the game-winner.

Vityaz's Oleg Kvasha, who last played in the NHL in 2005-06 with Phoenix (after being traded by the New York Islanders) is playing at nearly a point-a-game clip, notching 14 goals and 16 assists in 33 games; he is in the top 10 in scoring in the RSL. NHL GM's could be paying attention to Oleg's stellar play as Kvasha looks to return to the NHL, where he is a 7-year veteran. Kvasha's best NHL season came in 2003-04 when he posted 51 points (15 G, 36 A) in 81 games with the New York Islanders.
Lastly, Avangard Omsk's 6'5" blueliner Anton Babchuk (Chicago's 1st round pick in 2002) is also putting up impressive numbers. Babchuk's 19 points (8 G, 11 A in 36 games) are good for 2nd on the team among defensemen. Anton played 52 games for Carolina in 2006-07, posting 2 goals and adding 12 assists. Omsk's roster also features New York Rangers 2007 1st Round pick Alexei Cherepanov and former Columbus Blue Jacket Alexander Svitov among others.

It has been an exciting season in the RSL to date and Salavat Yulaev Ufa (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) is in first place and is 14 points ahead of SKA St. Petersburg. Ufa features a roster of former 1st round pick Stanislav Chistov (who played for Boston and Anaheim in 2006-07), Igor Grigorenko, who played briefly for Detroit this year and Oleg Tverdovsky, a former NHL All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup Winner.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Zubov leads defensemen in scoring

Last night in Dallas was significant for Stars’ defenseman Sergei Zubov in more ways than one. Not only did he post his 6th career 4-point night, he also passed Dave Gagner for 6th all-time on the Stars' scoring list and took over the lead as the top scoring defenseman in the league this season with 28 points (4 G, 24A) in 31 games.
Sergei is now on pace for his highest scoring season since the New York Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup season, in which he led the Rangers in scoring with 89 points (12 G, 77 A). Zubov is a two-time Stanley Cup winner as he also won with Dallas in 1999 and, of course, led the team’s defensemen in scoring both during the regular season and playoffs.

Zubie’s scoring prowess and consistency has been a trademark of his career. Indeed, he is the only NHL defenseman to register 30 or more assists and 40 or more points over each of the past 11 seasons (he is headed for a 12th consecutive season).

As can be seen here, Zubov stacks up quite favorably against other top offensive defensemen of his era:

Nicklas Lidstrom: 205 G, 689 A, 1206 GP - .74 PPG
Sergei Zubov: 152 G, 608 A, 1043 GP - .73 PPG
Sergei Gonchar: 179 G, 396 A, 852 GP - .67 PPG
Chris Pronger: 123 G, 416 A, 900 GP - .60 PPG
Scott Niedermayer: 140 G, 468 A, 1053 GP - .58 PPG

Zubov’s 760 career points are third among active defensemen behind only Chris Chelios and Lidstrom.

Although much is said about Zubov’s offensive output, there has been great recognition for his increased leadership and mentoring role, as well as defensive play. Zubie has played this season with the up-and-coming Matt Niskanen and Niskanen has flourished under Zubov's tutelage. Head Coach Dave Tippett has gone out of his way to make known his appreciation for Zubov's new found role.

Tippett has also recognized that Zubov should be a future Hall of Famer and that “there are very few people that have had the impact on the game like he has.”

We at PuckAgency have had the good fortune of witnessing firsthand Zubov’s stellar play and rise to becoming an elite level player in the NHL, as Jay Grossman has represented Sergei since he entered the NHL in 1992-93.

December 11, 2007

Time to show more love for veteran Stars defenceman Sergei Zubov
He's never won a Norris Trophy. Actually, he's never even been runner-up. He's third in career points among active defencemen. His passing game is among the very best in the league. He's routinely among the leading offensive defencemen in the league. Right now he actually leads all NHL defencemen in scoring.
So why is it Dallas Stars veteran Sergei Zubov doesn't get the same kind of attention as perennial Norris Trophy candidates Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer?
"That's just the way he wants it," Stars head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh.
Zubov's 760 career points (152-608) are third among active blue-liners behind only Chris Chelios and Lidstrom. The 37-year-old Moscow native leads all NHL defencemen this season with 28 points (4-24) in 31 games, two more than Lidstrom. But he ranks only ninth among defencemen in Western Conference all-star fan balloting.
Is he overlooked?
"No doubt. That's the biggest understatement I've heard in a long time," said Stars goalie Marty Turco. "But he doesn't mind."
Zubov agreed to do a phone interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday. But it's clear early on in the conversation that talking about himself ranks about as high as a trip to the dentist. He tries to re-direct every question about him to an answer about the team.
"He is who he is and he's very comfortable," said Tippett. "You always want to see a player like that recognized because he means so much to our team and how good a player he is for the league. So to not get the recognition that he deserves is certainly something that is wrong, but on the other side he's not a guy that wants to be individually recognized.
"He wants our teams stats to do the talking for him."
Zubov has been lost in the Lidstrom/Pronger/Niedermayer shuffle all decade long. His only Norris Trophy nomination came in 2005-06 and he finished third. The last defenceman not named Lidstrom, Pronger or Niedermayer to win a Norris was Al MacInnis in 1999.
Believe him, Zubov says, he's not hurt by it at all.
"No, not really, honestly," said Zubov. "I'm not the guy who is looking for recognition - trust me, that's the way I am. I'm just trying to do my job. I just want to help my team win games, that's all I'm looking for basically."
But talk to people around the league, and they will tell you unequivocally that he belongs in the same class as Lidstrom, Pronger and Niedermayer.
"He certainly should be. But he doesn't look for it," said Turco.
"His skill and his skating and his shooting, there's no better than I can really think of," added Turco. "When I'm done my career he'll probably be at the top of the list of the best players I've played with. I'm nowhere near done playing but I can say that with confidence."
It's not just about offence with Zubov. He controls the game. He anticipates plays. His passing skills are Lidstrom-like. Other NHL coaches drool over the chance to have a blue-liner kickstart the transition game like Zubov can.
"I've talked to other coaches who ask questions about him all the time because they marvel at his ability to control the game," said Tippett. "We got into Detroit and we talk about Lidstrom the same way, the ability to control, same with Pronger or Niedermayer, the effect that those players have on the game because they play such big minutes and the effect on the tempo of the game for their given team."
Zubov came into the league in 1992-93 with the New York Rangers very much an offensive player, putting up a career-high 89 points (12-77) in 78 games in 1993-94, the year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. He's had to work hard on becoming better defensively, a slow but sure transformation that in the last several years has made him the complete player that he is.
"I'd say that's the biggest improvement for myself and I'm really proud of it, actually," Zubov said of his defensive play.
Two things jump out at Tippett when thinking about Zubov.
"First, the consistency in which he's done it," said Tippett. "His stats and consistency over the last 10 years is phenomenal; and the other thing about him is that I don't think a lot of people know about him as a person - he's a very intelligent man. He's very team-first oriented, everything he does is towards the team and winning.
"That's where his focus is, it's never on himself."
The Hockey Hall of Fame may beckon one day, which surely will surprise many given the lack of notoriety Zubov received during his career.
"He doesn't want it, but he sure deserves it," Tippett said of the attention. "There's very few people that have had the impact on the game like he has."

Monday, December 3, 2007

An original member of the Wild, Minnesota's Wes Walz retires

The hockey community, especially in Minnesota, was dealt a tough blow when Wes Walz officially announced his retirement at a press conference at the XCel Energy Center Saturday afternoon. Walz enjoyed a thirteen-year NHL career, including playing 438 games for the Minnesota Wild.

Wes was originally drafted by the Boston Bruins and played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings before going to Switzerland to play for four seasons. Wes returned from Europe in 2000 to play for Minnesota’s inaugural team and we remember how forging a relationship with Head Coach Jacques Lemaire was so crucial to Wes’s success and redefined him as a player. Wes went on to become the Wild's all-time leader in games played (438) and the 2nd leading goal scorer (82) in franchise history, as well as the Captain of the Wild team.

The mutual respect and admiration between Walz and Lemaire was highlighted in both of their comments surrounding the retirement announcement. Wes explained that Lemaire was “a good man” and that he was grateful that Lemaire “moulded me into a player that I can be proud of". Lemaire was similarly proud of his relationship with Wes and compared Walz’s competitiveness and perfectionist ways to Wayne Gretzky. Lemaire stated that "There are a few guys, the top guys, who retire when they realize they can't be the guy they were," he said. "Gretzky was one of them. There's just handful of guys. Wes is one of them."

Walz's impact and value went well beyond his statistics. Walz excelled in all aspects of the game, most notably serving as one of the team's top penalty killers while still playing on the Wild's top line with Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. Walz also served as a mentor to several of the Wild's up-and-coming players including Mikko Koivu.

For us at PuckAgency, it has truly been an honor to represent a class individual dedicated to his profession. The Minnesota Wild and many, many others involved in the game of hockey will undoubtedly miss Wes’ professionalism, approach and sportsmanship.

A Wild original leaves an impression

Wes Walz held nothing back in his emotional farewell, just as he did night after night, flying up and down the rink at full tilt for the Wild.

By Michael Russo, Star Tribune
Last update: December 01, 2007 – 11:58 PM

So intense, he could pop a blood vessel talking penalty-kill intricacies. So dedicated, he would sprint on the treadmill until he was soaking wet. So passionate, he could resuscitate a dying team merely by opening his mouth. So maniacal, he would do countless 360s to test his skates while most his teammates were long gone.

And so good, he could shut down the NHL's most prolific stars with pure grit and determination.

Wes Walz, one of the NHL's smoothest-skating checkers and the longtime heart-and-soul backbone of the Wild dressing room, officially hung up his skates Saturday.

In front of heavy-hearted teammates, coaches and trainers, the respected 37-year-old center finally emerged after a month of soul searching and said goodbye during an emotional 30-minute news conference packed with laughs and tears.

Walz, always the character, announced his retirement so matter-of-factly, it seemed to even surprise him. With a beam, Walz said: "Wow, it's a full house. I thought press conferences were only for superstars. I guess if you retire halfway through the season, you get your own press conference."

Many believe this is a premature departure, but Walz, the Wild's all-time games-played leader at 438, said: "It's time. There's no use fighting it any more."

After last year's first-round playoff loss to Anaheim, Walz made no secret of his disappointment with his second-half play. But Walz trained "like a dog" last summer because "I had something to prove."But it's been a struggle for me," Walz said. "I have not been able to get back to the level that I expect of myself. And in my heart, I don't believe it's fair ... to play at anything less than what I expect of myself."

Walz continued: "The way I've been playing has really taken a toll on me and it's just worn me down. After many sleepless nights, I believe in my heart that it's time to move on into the next phase of my life."

Highest standards

Teammates, one by one, said there's no doubt Walz could still play at a high level. But as Brian Rolston said, "If you understand how Wes is, and I think a lot of us do, he expects the utmost from his performance."

Marian Gaborik, 18 when he met Walz and now the last original Wild standing, said: "It's so hard to see a guy go that you spent basically eight years with. Great guy, great teammate, great leader. He helped me through the beginnings."

All expansion teams eventually shed their early parts as the franchise matures and draft picks develop. But while player after player left the Wild since its 2000 inception, Walz remained and brilliantly resurrected what had been a fading career.

A star back in junior, Walz fanned out in 1995 after six years of high expectations. But he spent four years rediscovering his love for hockey in Switzerland before getting the call from Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough in 1999.

"As a 20-year-old, I thought I would play forever until I almost played myself out of the league," Walz said. "When I came back as a 30-year-old, I was a different person and way better hockey player. When Doug called me, I knew there was no chance I wasn't making the team."

Walz tried hard to fight back tears, but he became very emotional when talking about coach Jacques Lemaire's impact.

With tears flowing, Walz said, "Jacques' taken basically a slab of clay that was nothing and molded me into a player that I could be proud of."

Lemaire said: "I was really, really touched. I remember his first training camp, the first time I looked at the players, the first thing I said, 'At least we got [one] player.' "

A go-to player

In 2002-03, Walz was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward. He also had a marvelous postseason in which he scored seven goals and shut down such stars as

Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund, as the third-year Wild shocked the NHL and advanced to the Western Conference finals. Walz's 82 goals and 182 points rank second in franchise history.

"The thing I'm most proud of is that I know when Jacques was behind me on the bench that he could look down at me and see my name and my number and feel comfortable throwing me onto the ice," Walz said.

The foundation Walz laid will be everlasting, especially for protégés Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He also has made a financial impact. By retiring, Walz comes off the Wild's salary cap, which is roughly $2.5 million south of the $50.3 million ceiling.

"He strived to be at his best all the time," defenseman Kurtis Foster said. "We all saw that. He's the guy running the treadmill after a game he just played 20 minutes and he's running at 9.5 where other guys are getting iced or in the showers and ready to go."

Added Lemaire: "When I was in New Jersey, I talked about [Scott] Stevens and how intense the guy was and how he prepared himself for games and how he was a great example.

"Wes Walz is exactly the same. He's a player you do not worry if he's going to get ready. If we played 100 [games], he's going to play 100 at his max."

A different playtime

Walz has been chasing a puck around his whole life. He knows retirement won't be easy, but he's looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Kerry-Anne, and his four children.

Asked what's next, Walz said, smiling: "Change a lot of diapers. My 10-month-old is in go-mode right now. I'll chase her around the house and get the kids off to school and hang out at Wal-Mart and Target and department stores and now at least I'll have no excuse getting my Christmas shopping done.

"I do have aspirations to stay in the game. It's what I've done my whole life. It's what I know best. I feel like I have things to give. ... I always hope that the foundation of hard work and what I've done from Day One is always something that will stick with the club."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Radulov's #22 goes to the rafters of the Colisee

Wednesday was a very special evening for the Quebec Remparts and Alexander Radulov as his number 22 was raised to the rafters of the Pepsi Colisee in Quebec City. The entire house was packed with adoring fans chanting “Radu, Radu” all evening as Alex has achieved legendary like status in his adopted home. The Remparts put on an NHL level production which featured speeches by NHL Hall of Fame Remparts coach, Patrick Roy, a spectacular video celebration of Radulov’s scoring highlights as well as outstanding testimonials by his teammates, coaches, and owner Jacques Tanguay.

The ceremony also featured a video board presentation of Radulov putting on his Remparts 22 jersey once more and proceeding from the dressing room on to the ice to a standing ovation followed by special words from Alex thanking the entire Remparts community and fans for two great seasons capped by the 2006 Memorial Cup Championship. In that season, Radulov captured the CHL and QMJHL Player of the Year, Memorial Cup MVP while tallying 61 goals, 91 assists and 152 points in 62 games. Alex's number 22 joins those of Guy Lafleur and Simon Gagne in the Colisee rafters.

Wednesday, 11/28/07

Pred misses practice for good reason

Staff Writer

Predators forward Alexander Radulov was not with his teammates in practice this morning nor was he on the team charter flying to Ottawa this afternoon.

Instead the young Russian was with one of his former teams, the Quebec Remparts, who were to retire his jersey tonight.

“Very few people get to see their jersey go up in the rafters,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. Radulov, who was to rejoin the Predators for Thursday’s game against the Senators, put together two stellar seasons for the Remparts.

In 2005-06 he had one of the most prolific seasons in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history with 61 goals and 152 points in just 62 games.

He was league MVP, Memorial Cup MVP and Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year.Trotz said he couldn’t remember a time in his coaching career when one of his players had his jersey retired.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sarnia's Tomi Karhunen earns OHL Player of the Week Award

Congratulations to Tomi Karhunen for being named this week's OHL Player of the Week! This is Tomi's first year playing Junior and he has not disappointed. Karhunen has started 20 of 23 games this year for Sarnia; his 13 wins (11-2 in his last 13 starts) are third in the league while his .913 save percentage is tied for 7th. Karhunen is eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and has had many NHL scouts buzzing.

In attending November 11th's Sarnia-Kingston game, I spoke to numerous people in the crowd, who were all incredibly happy with Tomi's play. One fan referred to an October 26th game vs. Saginaw, one of his four 40-save games, in which Tomi "stole" the game with 43 saves. Others mentioned to me that Sarnia had been starving for good goaltending for quite some time and that next to Steven Stamkos, Karhunen was largely responsible for Sarnia's recent rise in the standings.

Sarnia's Karhunen named Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week
Created: Nov 19, 2007

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Sarnia Sting goaltender Tomi Karhunen is the Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday November 18 after backing the Sting to three road wins last week with a 1.33 goals against average and .953 save percentage.

Karhunen started the week with 24 saves in a 5-3 win over the Peterborough Petes on Thursday. He followed up with a 35-shutout performance and was named second star in Sarnia’s 6-0 win over the Kingston Frontenacs on Sunday and wrapped up the road trip with 22 saves in a first star performance that gave Sarnia a 3-1 win over the Ottawa 67’s on Sunday.

The 19-year-old native of Joensuu, Finland improved his season record to 13-7-0-0 with a 2.85 goals against average and .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 20 games. He is the first goaltender to win the OHL Boston Pizza Player of the Week award this season.

2007-08 Boston Pizza OHL Players of the Week

September 23 - John Tavares, Oshawa Generals

September 30 - Alex Pietrangelo, Niagara IceDogs

October 7 - Dustin Jeffrey, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

October 14 - John Tavares, Oshawa Generals

October 21 - Nick Spaling, Kitchener Rangers

October 28 - Yannick Weber, Kitchener Rangers

November 5 - Brett MacLean, Oshawa Generals

November 12 – Bobby Sanguinetti, Brampton Battalion

November 19 – Tomi Karhunen, Sarnia Sting

Ottawa prospect Kaspars Daugavins' hat trick propels Mississauga to victory

Ottawa Senators 2006 Draft pick Kaspars Daugavins has really hit his stride for Mississauga in recent weeks. Kaspars, a native of Riga, Latvia, has tallied 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) over the past 3 games and now has 14 goals and 14 assists in 21 games for the Majors. Daugavins is coming off a solid 2006-07 campaign with the Majors in which he averaged nearly one point per game. Kaspars was the third overall pick by the Majors in the 2006 CHL Import Draft. Following the end of the Majors' 2006-07 season, Kaspars was rewarded by Binghamton with an AHL tryout contract, during which he scored 2 goals in 11 games. At just 19 years of age, Kaspars already has a strong amount of experience playing at the international level as he played for the Latvian National Team at the 2006 World Championships when he was 17. Kaspars is the Ottawa organization's 8th-rated prospect, according to Hockey's Future, but Ottawa will be patient with Daugavins' development given the plethora talent in their organization already.

Fri Nov 16, 10:50 PM ET

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Kaspars Daugavins scored three times and added an assist to give the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Saginaw Spirit in Ontario Hockey League action Friday night.

Daugavins went to work after the Spirit built up a 2-0 first-period lead, by scoring a pair of power-play goals in the second and then netted the winner late in the third on a breakaway while the Majors (8-11-1-0) were killing a penalty.

The three goals raised Daugavins' total to 14 on the season.

Captain Jesse Messier had the other goal for the Majors, with Daugavins drawing an assist. The goal had originally been credited to Daugavins but was later changed to Messier.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Leetch among 4 winners of Lester Patrick Award

On Wednesday, Brian Leetch added yet another trophy to his mantel. In addition, to previously receiving the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year (’89), two Norris Trophies (’92, ’97), Conn Smythe Trophy (’94), World Cup (’96), and the Stanley Cup (’94), Leetch was honored as a 2007 recipient of the Lester Patrick Award, which recognizes outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Brian was honored along with broadcaster and writer Stan Fischler, Rangers and NHL PR director, John Halligan, and US Olympian Cammi Granato.

Growing up in the shadow of the Miracle on Ice in 1980, Brian spoke about that team’s inspiration to him as a young player; he also recalled his opportunity to play under visionary American coaches Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson as being instrumental in his career.

Reaching the pinnacle of success in international competition as well as the NHL, Leetch has served as a role model for virtually every American player who has succeeded him; it is indeed a rare breed to have his fierce competitiveness on the ice and modesty off the ice. These traits make him quite simply the greatest American player in hockey history.

The emcee of the event was former Patrick winner Mike Emrick and also in attendance were fellow previous winners Gary Bettman, Lou Lamoriello, John Davidson, Lou Vairo, Rod Gilbert, Art Berglund, Walter Bush, Ron DiGregorio, Lou Nanne and former New York Rangers Adam Graves and Mark Messier.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Kovalchuk nets consecutive hat tricks

Ilya Kovalchuk made headlines this week by scoring three goals in consecutive games against Ottawa and Tampa Bay. Ilya holds the Trashers' franchise record for hat tricks with 9. Ilya is doing what all top snipers do, scoring goals in bunches. Ilya is now tied for the NHL lead in goals (12) with Henrik Zetterberg and today was named the NHL's first star of the week. However, Kovalchuk is not only being praised for his recent scoring streak, but he is also being recognized as Atlanta's leader in all facets of the game, according to's Darren Eliot.

Kovalchuk unleashed
Maturity and a new coach spark a goal barrage

Monday November 5, 2007 1:36PM; Updated: Monday November 5, 2007 1:36PM

Many people are going to jump to the conclusion that Ilya Kovalchuk's amazing run of goal-scoring -- nine in seven games -- is a direct result of the Atlanta Thrashers removing head coach Bob Hartley after the team's 0-6 start. Well, that assessment might be right for the wrong reasons.

You see, the coach and the prodigy co-existed for four-and-a-half seasons. Hartley brought needed structure and consistency to both a young franchise and a young player with star potential. But once it was clear that Kovalchuk had absorbed the lessons of accountability, his offensive verve wasn't quite the same. His kinetic dashes down the left wing -- once filled with the promise of brilliance -- became tempered, or even worse, predictable.

And that is the biggest difference with Kovalchuk's play right now. He has always competed and cared. Giving all he has each shift has always been part of his game. But as the former coach continued to layer structure and static plays upon Kovalchuk, Hartley unwittingly eroded his best player's greatest gift -- an artist's ability to create something out of nothing.

To do so, Kovalchuk must have the puck on his stick, forcing others to react to his freelance vision. That isn't straight-forward because every offensive foray is a unique experience as Kovy dangles and baits would-be defenders, either to get in position to rip a rising rocket of a wrist shot or, as is often the case, zip a perfectly placed laser pass to a wide open teammate. Being ready is tricky, with the puck coming at off-beat times, from angles not too often seen, and always in situations that are difficult to foresee -- for defenders and linemates. After all, there are very few artists. Even among the artistically inclined, there are differences in approach and execution.

For Kovalchuk, understanding the imporance of teammates and how all the different parts fit together came from having Scott Mellanby as captain as well as during the short time that Keith Tkachuk was a Thrasher last spring. Those two veterans seemed to have a profound effect on Kovalchuk's outlook in terms of remembering what he does well as a player and embracing it as it relates to the team. There are always things one can do to be a good teammate without losing one's sense of self.

As a result, Kovalchuk has been the Thrashers' best player from the first puck drop of the season. He's stood up for teammates in scrums, never talked about himself in interviews -- only giving the team perspective -- and cited the physical contributions of Eric Boulton and Chris Thorburn as catalysts when asked about the team's third period comeback from a 5-0 deficit in Ottawa last Thrusday when Kovalchuk scored his first hat trick in Atlanta's 6-4 defeat. Two nights later, he smoked the Lightning for three more in a 6-4 win. Oh, and by the way,

Kovalchuk has willed his team back from the 0-6 abyss that could have gotten much worse as the Thrashers headed out on the road for seven straight, a trip that began Oct. 20. They won four of the seven.

All of this signals the next step in Kovalchuk's maturity and is independent of who happenes to be behind the bench. To that end, there is no correlation between Hartley's exit and Kovalchuk's heroics. What is different is that GM and interim head coach Don Waddell met with Kovalchuk and told him that he'd get minutes in situations where he could be a difference-maker. In other words, Waddell challenged Kovalchuk to be himself. That's not an approach that had been taken before.

Kovalchuk isn't the Thrashers' captain, but make no mistake, this is his team now. And the artist's signature stroke is back.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Opening night at "The Rock"

On a busy sports weekend which featured a World Series game between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, college football Saturday, and two other games/events in close proximity, the Breeders’ Cup and the New York Rangers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, the New Jersey Devils played their home opener in the brand new $375M Prudential Center (the Rock).

We drove in to downtown Newark for the first time to catch this game. As you entered the area, a certain vibrancy surrounded the arena. Though nearby, remnants of Newark long ago exist causing initial skepticism about building the arena there, it seems the area may be ripe to continue in its development.

Entering the arena, most of the crowd came through a huge glass enclosed entry way which extends from top to bottom of the building. Moving up long escalators, you arrive on the wide open concourse level featuring local New Jersey youth hockey jerseys hanging throughout, similar to the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Center. It is clear the large building has all the modern amenities (suites, club seating, restaurants) of the new arenas which have been built by many NHL teams over the last decade.

At the start of the game, the capacity crowd, along with the state of the art sound system and video board, started to literally “rock” the house. The pre-game ceremonies included an introduction of the Devils’ players followed by the ceremonial drop of the puck by Devils’ owner Jeff Vanderbeek, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Mayor Cory Booker, and former Devils’ Ken Daneyko and NHL Hall of Fame inductee, Scott Stevens along with the respective captains Patrik Elias and the Ottawa Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson.

Bettman commented that the Meadowlands lacked soul. Any sense of that existing in the Prudential Center was eliminated from the start. Though it was an excellent fan experience, the Devils lost the game 4-1. They will have to play well to establish interest and draw the largely suburban community to downtown Newark as the building’s anchor tenant with only a small number of lower priced tickets. The only other complaint heard was from some of the players about poor ice quality after a Bon Jovi concert the prior evening. Devils’s ownership has built a first class arena in an urban city trying to rid itself of crime and establishment of its growth potential which will be an interesting story to follow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kovalchuk gets Atlanta back in the right direction

Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a goal and two assists last night, scored the game-winning goal in the shootout against Toronto. This was a heated battle between two struggling teams, both looking to find their identities early on in the season. Toronto tied the game up at 4 with only ten seconds to go in regulation. Kovalchuk ended the affair in the shootout by beating Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala high to his glove side.


Kovalchuk scores winner in shootout
Overtime win Thrashers' first on the road this season

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 10/23/07

Toronto -- Lost in the miserable start this season for the Thrashers has been an interesting development. Ilya Kovalchuk is emerging as the leader of the team. The player chastised in the past for defensive lapses, for selfish play, is refusing to let this season slip away.

Against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, the Thrashers overcame a goal scored 13 seconds into the game and one scored with only 9.3 seconds left to earn their first road win of the season, a 5-4 shootout victory.

And Kovalchuk was the reason why. He left a perfect pass for Tobias Enstrom for the Thrashers' first goal of the game, and Enstrom's first of his NHL career. He scored the Thrashers second goal of the game, his fifth of the season. His line was by far the team's most productive.

And when the Thrashers needed a game-winner in the shootout, Kovalchuk delivered. In the past, the shootout wasn't his strength. On Tuesday night, that didn't matter.
He slid a shot underneath Vesa Toskala and was mobbed by teammates on the Thrashers' bench.

"Ilya is a huge competitor," said general manager and interim coach Don Waddell. "Everybody talks about how he scores goals and that ... but he's been a tremendous leader for us this year, on and off the ice. He's taken charge of this hockey club, and tonight it was evident from the very first shift that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with."

The patience the team has shown allowing center Todd White to remain on Kovalchuk's line is paying off. There's some chemistry developing between the two, and forward Eric Perrin got several chances as the third member of that line.

Perrin scored his first goal of the season, and his first as a member of the Thrashers.

White scored his second goal of the year, and said he's witnessing how much teams back off Kovalchuk as he enters the zone because of his speed. White is starting to capitalize on it.

"Kovalchuk's played well; he has. It was a lot of fun skating with him tonight," said White. "I thought even at 0-6, he was our best player. He's battled hard; he's played well defensively. Tonight was a game where things were working, we have to ride him in those games."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wirtanen's first NHL goal is a game-winner

Congratulations to PuckAgency client Petteri Wirtanen on his first NHL goal! Petteri was called up on Monday from Portland and scored the game-winning goal in Anaheim's 3-1 win over Nashville, which was his first NHL game, on Wednesday night.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wirtanen's first NHL goal sparks Ducks to victory
The rookie center scores the winner in the Ducks' 3-1 triumph over Nashville.

The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM -- Missing three key players from their lineup because of injuries, the Ducks need contributions from even unexpected sources, and that is exactly what they received Wednesday night in a 3-1 triumph over the Nashville Predators at Honda Center.

Third-period goals by rookies Petteri Wirtanen and Drew Miller, the first in the NHL for each, capped a tenacious effort that gave the Ducks their first winning streak of the season and enabled them to take a 4-4-1 record to Dallas for the beginning of a two-game road swing Saturday.

Wirtanen, recalled from American League affiliate Portland, Maine, on Monday and playing in his first NHL game, capped a two-on-one rush led by George Parros to snap a 1-1 tie 4:47 into the final session, and Miller added an insurance goal when he converted a breakaway at 12:23.

“It’s nice to see young players score their first goal,” Coach Randy Carlyle said. “It’s a tribute to the scouting staff and our management that were able to find these young players to come in and make a contribution. The contribution is greater tonight than what would be normally expected of them.”

With right wing Todd Bertuzzi and center Todd Marchant having been lost to a concussion and a bruised right ankle, respectively, in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to Minnesota, and defenseman Mathieu Schneider out with a broken ankle, the Ducks turned to two players who had previously combined to play in only one regular-season game.

Miller, whose previous NHL resume consisted of limited duty in three Stanley Cup playoff games last spring, dressed for a 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 6 but was a healthy scratch in the ensuing two games.

“Right now because of the injuries and guys we have out of the lineup, who are big players for us, we need those young guys to come in and do a good job, and they’ve been doing that,” goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “Quite frankly, there are a lot of guys in Portland who could be called up, too. We’ve drafted pretty well here in the last few years, and made some good trades, so we’re pretty deep. It’s a good sign for our organization.”

Giguere did his part, too, registering 28 saves in his second appearance of the season after having missed the opening six games while recovering from sports-hernia surgery. The lone blemish was a goal 2:24 into the third period by Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, who scored from the low slot after a nice pass from winger Alexander Radulov.

Suter’s first goal of the season erased a Ducks lead built on Corey Perry’s team-high fifth goal, which came 20 seconds before the end of the first period. A breakout pass by defenseman Kent Huskins, who scored his first NHL goal in Monday’s 6-3 victory over Detroit, sent Parros up the right wing with speed. Parros delivered a nice feed for Wirtanen, who poked the puck past Predators defenseman Greg de Vries and waited patiently for Chris Mason to commit before tapping a shot past the Nashville goalie’s outstretched right skate.

“It was a moment I couldn’t even imagine,” Wirtanen said. “Waking up this morning, I just wanted to take this as a normal game, but of course you’re a little bit nervous. The chance came and I put it in -- and it just felt awesome.” Miller took a cross-ice pass from center Andy McDonald, eluded Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis near the Ducks’ blue line, outraced de Vries and beat Mason between his pads with a quick shot from the slot. “It was a big goal for our team, so it was nice to get that first one out of the way,” Miller said.

GOOD CHEMISTRY Wirtanen and Parros skated on the fourth line with left wing Brad May, reuniting a trio that shone at times during the exhibition campaign, including a game at Vancouver in which Wirtanen scored two goals. “We were psyched to have him up because we did have a couple of great games in the pre-season,” Parros said. “It worked again tonight. We’re happy to have him.”

NOTES Wirtanen became the ninth player in Ducks history to score a goal in his NHL debut, following Bobby Ryan, who did so in this season’s opener against the Kings in London. … Marchant skated briefly Wednesday morning and said he would try to practice today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tim Taylor has begun the long road back

PuckAgency client and Tampa Bay Lightning captain Tim Taylor is over a month into his rehabilitation from hip resurfacing surgery. Tim is trying to become the first player in a contact sport to play following the procedure. Tim will be sharing his experiences with Tampa Tribune writer Erik Erlendsson over the course of the year.

Lightning Captain Taylor On Long Road Back

By ERIK ERLENDSSON, The Tampa Tribune
Published: October 16, 2007

Lightning captain and two-time Stanley Cup champion Tim Taylor underwent hip resurfacing surgery on his right hip Sept. 6 to repair a degenerative condition that plagued him for much of last season. The surgery was performed by Stephen Raterman at University Community Hospital, and Taylor has begun the rehabilitation process as he attempts to become the first player in a contact sport to play after the procedure.

In the weeks leading up to his surgery, the 13-year NHL veteran, who hopes to be back on the ice and in uniform in February, was told by the surgeon he'd be ready to get back on the golf course within a month of the procedure. That's something Taylor quickly found out might have been a stretch of the truth as far as he was concerned.

In his first discussion, Taylor talks about why he didn't feel like walking to the bathroom, let alone picking up a golf club, that his entire right leg was sore after the surgery, and what it was like trying to do normal things around the house.

It's so tight in my right leg that, as I put my legs and feet together, the left leg is longer than the other one where they did the surgery. But it's just because that hip is down lower on the right side and it's just offset.

When Dr. Raterman did the surgery, and this is how he explained it to me after the fact: I was lying on the bed on my left hip, so that they can pull back the right leg and pull it up to my butt. As they pull it up to my butt he calls four guys in, he calls them his moving team, they come in and grab my leg and as hard as they can, they pop it over. The leg is already cut and the bone pops out and that's the only way they can do it.

When they showed it on a clip on News Channel 8, you could only see one leg because my other leg was way over by my head. He asked me later if I was sore and I said, 'Yeah, my whole leg, not just the one area.' He told me that when he does it, it's a procedure where they basically have to break my leg to pull the bone out, so the leg is basically somewhere else. They started it out at my rear, but they put it up near my head, pop it out and then it just lies there because there is no bone in it. It just lies there. The NHL Network was in there and they videotaped it and they asked me if I wanted a copy of it and I said, 'No, no.' I want to wait until I'm completely better before I see any of that.

Dr. Raterman was very positive and very encouraging to start moving and get going after the surgery. When he told me about the surgery and what was going to happen, he almost led me to believe that I would be out there wanting to golf and everything, and I almost felt like I was way behind because I had no desire whatsoever. I had a really hard time moving around and I thought when he did tell me that, that I would feel good after three or four days, and I didn't feel very good at all.

I was petrified to get up and go to the bathroom. I was pretty sore. It was a long two weeks.

Moving around the house was a chore. To sit down on the toilet was torture to get down. And then it's real embarrassing that you go to the bathroom or take a shower and you can't put your own clothes on. My wife, Jodi, was gone and I had to ask my daughter to come and help me pull up my shorts because I couldn't get them up. To lose that, I can't imagine older people going through this because you lose a lot of your independence. That was the hardest thing for me was losing that.