Great Skate Blog NHL: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh PenguinsUntil proven otherwise, the Penguins boast the world’s best player and another dynamic superstar who is likely in the top-5. Changes behind the bench and along the blueline defined Pittsburgh’s offseason and as the reigning division winner I expect to see much of the same from the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps their biggest question mark but his play was far more stable last year than in 2012-13. The Penguins still sit atop the Metro Division and will be in the President’s Trophy conversation if Fleury plays well.

New York RangersThe Rangers seem to have found a way to improve but stay nearly the exact same team as last year. They unloaded the contract of Brad Richards, re-upped with their key core players and made some interesting signings. They also let a key player walk in Anton Stralman and will not be without Derek Stepan for a number of weeks. They still have the world’s best goaltender and an impressive blue line. The addition of Dan Boyle ought to give their power play a nice jolt and should Stepan return from injury in full form, they’ll be a formidable opponent again this year.

Columbus Blue JacketsA slightly tumultuous offseason followed a very promising 13-14 season for the Jackets. Another serious injury to Nathan Horton is likely to shelve the forward for some time while Ryan Johansen remains unsigned. Sergei Bobrovsky has proven that he wasn’t just a one year wonder and has been dominant at times for Columbus. This is still a team whose parts don’t eclipse the sum of its whole. Johansen is the star in waiting and Horton is perhaps their biggest name and it looks as if they’ll be without each to start the year. However, I still count on the Jackets to improve and finish third in the Metro.

Philadelphia FlyersClaude Giroux could wrap himself in bubble wrap each summer and manage to get injured ahead of camp. This year’s ailment is far less severe than the cut tendon he suffered last year, but he probably won’t be 100% at the start of the year. As is always the case, the Flyers will live and die with their goaltending. Steve Mason, despite his improvement last year, still doesn’t represent a confidence inspiring goaltender and if his play is average the Flyers will be as well. Philadelphia made an interesting decision in parting ways with Scott Hartnell and they could have a little trouble scoring goals in some areas. I still expect to see him in a wild card spot, but they’ll be battling down to the wire for it.

New York IslandersThe stats say that even with average goaltending the Islanders would have been an average team last year. The arrival of Jaroslav Halak should represent the improvement between the pipes that the Isles need to improve in the win column. John Tavares headlines a young, talented forward group who will be able to provide the necessary goal support for their new netminder. There may be a few defensive question marks that remain but the Isles have a lot of youth to be excited about. I’m expecting to see them finish just shy of the wild card.

New Jersey DevilsLike the Islanders, the Devils should have been far better than their record showed last year. However, their inability to win a single shootout cost them a number of wins and a number of precious points in the standings. In fact, those shootout losses accounted for more than enough points to make the playoffs had they found a way to win. Ultimately I think the Devils fall short of a playoff berth this year. Not because they haven’t improved but because they’re in a deep division that will be tough to succeed in.

Washington CapitalsI’m expecting regression for the Capitals this year. They overpaid both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and I’m not sure they represent the defensive improvement the Capitals need. Niskanen will likely rack up power play points as he feeds one timers to Alex Ovechkin but I still think he was able to cash in on a big year on a great team. The Capitals still have a number of holes to fill and I don’t think they plugged each of them last year.

Carolina HurricanesCarolina wasn’t going to be a great team before Jordan Stall was injured. With Staal on the shelf for upwards of four months, the Hurricanes are closer to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes than they are to competing for a playoff spot. Depth and goaltending are among the biggest question marks they will deal with and with rumors of Eric Staal being available via trade doesn’t help those who are worried about the outlook for the Canes.

Atlantic Division

Boston BruinsMuch in the same way the Penguins will likely earn the Metro Crown, the Bruins enter the year as the prohibitive favorite in the Atlantic. No team has demonstrated that they’re better over the course of a season and I don’t expect that to change this year. While Zdeno Chara is beginning to show signs of aging, the Bruins are far too well constructed for that to be a major issue. The Bruins will have the first seed in the east at the end of the year and will likely be the team who is predicted to represent the East in the Cup Final.

Tampa Bay LightningThe Bolts bolstered their lineup this offseason with some very smart moves. Anton Stralman is a possession driving two-way defenseman and Jason Garrison will add another dynamic to the power play. Ryan Callahan will be on board for a full season and should Steven Stamkos stay healthy he’ll likely lead the league in goal scoring. It’s possible that the Bolts would have knocked off the Canadiens in the playoffs had Ben Bishop been healthy and he’ll be a big part of any success Tampa has this season. They probably don’t have enough to get by Boston in the Atlantic, but I won’t be surprised to see them in the conference finals.

Montreal CanadiensPK Subban is under contract, PA Parentau is in the fold (coming over in a great trade for Marc Bergevin) and Carey Price is still Carey Price. I still wonder about their play at center, but the Habs were impressive down the stretch last year and managed to knock off the Bruins on their way to the conference finals. I think Tampa took more steps forward this offseason, so I don’t see Montreal’s spot in the standings changing at all, but they’ll most certainly be a playoff team.

Detroit Red WingsThere’s a strong possibility that the standings in the Atlantic are the exact same this year. The Red Wings are still a strong club but they’re aging. They have a quality goaltender, one of the game’s most dangerous two-way players and a supporting cast that doesn’t have too many holes. They’re still flimsy on the blueline and it seems that their Eastern Conference rivals have done more to improve in the offseason. They’re still a full head better than Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Florida which means they’ll be in the thick of the wild card race.

Toronto Maple LeafsToronto has been funny to watch the last couple seasons. They overachieved and took Boston to seven games two years ago. Then they couldn’t maintain last season and were on the outside looking in. The Leafs will live and die with Jonathan Bernier, Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. I’m waiting to see if Jake Gardiner has a breakout season or if he’s stuck in the dog house again. There is some quality talent in Toronto and if the chips fall right they could certainly leap frog Detroit for a wild card spot.

Ottawa SenatorsI don’t see the Senators being a very good team this year. In fact, they are going to rely heavily on Craig Anderson to win them games based on their offseason work. Not only do I expect to see them miss the playoffs, I have a sneaking suspicion that Bobby Ryan will head out the door in free agency in the summer. Kyle Turris and Ryan should form a nice duo up front and Erik Karlsson remains one of the elite offensive defensemen in the world. However, there isn’t too much depth on the roster and I see this year as a step back for the Sens.

Florida PanthersDale Tallon still has plenty of work to do in Southern Florida. Aaron Ekblad is a very nice addition. He, along with other lottery picks Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov will help drive the club. The Panthers do have some very impressive talent on their roster but it ultimately feels incomplete in some areas. Roberto Luongo’s presence alone should account for a number of wins and while the Panthers may not make any progress moving up in the Atlantic, I can see them beating out at least two teams from the Metro in the conference standings.

Buffalo SabresThe Sabres were woefully short on goal scoring last year. They also happened to be woefully short on defense, the power play and penalty killing. Before and after Ryan Miller’s departure the goaltending was strong, but that was really one of the few silver linings from last year. The Sabres did a lot of work to bring in more veteran support and skill and that will account for a few things. First, a full year of Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will help in the locker room and on the scoreboard. Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart are both in contract years and have looked motivated in the preseason. The defense corps is an interesting group as Ted Nolan is going to have some very difficult decisions to make regarding his lineup. The Sabres lone competition this season will be for last place, although the hockey should be a bit more tolerable this time around.

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

A number of intriguing storylines greet the Sabres as they open training camp and preseason for the 2014-15 season. The Sabres are deep within a rebuilding phase that took a massive step forward at the 2014 NHL Draft. The selection of Sam Reinhart followed by a trio of skilled forwards in the second round continued a trend of building through the draft for the franchise.

Reinhart is going to be a carefully watched and cultivated asset who will be a focal point for much of, if not all of the preseason slate. The expectation is that he’ll see plenty of ice in the team’s tuneup games and perhaps into the first nine games of the regular season. Sending Reinhart back to junior appears to be the preferred path for most fans and pundits as the best course of action for the season. Given that the Sabres aren’t expected to contend this year and allowing Reinhart to improve in a situation where he will not only play big minutes but also at a level where he’ll most certainly dominate.

Another highly touted Sabres prospect that has been garnering plenty of attention through the first few practices is Mikhail Grigorenko. A well documented change to his offseason program has yielded a heavier, more defined frame for the former first round pick. WIth it has come an improved work ethic and skating skillset. While Grigorenko was more a victim of poor asset management in the last two years, his skating did need improvement. He had a strong initial showing in Washington and dressed for a second-straight night against Carolina.

The plan for Grigorenko may again be hazy as his improved play has started to garner some attention for NHL minutes to start the year. After finally clearing his junior eligibility it was believed that Grigorenko was destined for a quality season in the AHL. Now, he could potentially be in line for yet another opening weekend in the NHL, which could be a blessing or a curse. At this point it seems that the safe route is the smarter one for Grigorenko as the ability to play important minutes in a more controlled setting is probably best for his development. However, if he’s able to finally break out of his shell at the NHL level, the Sabres will have yet another blue chip prospect in their stable.

My opinion is to at least start Grigorenko in Rochester while Rienhart gets his obligatory nine-game tryout. Once Reinhart is returned, Ted Nolan can determine if Grigorenko is capable of filling a top-nine role for the Sabres. Playing in the top-nine is an important distinction as Grigorenko and the Sabres simply aren’t aided by the young Russian filling a fourth line role.

Beyond the two young prospects, the Sabres forward corps should be fairly easy to fill out. Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson will all have roles in the top-nine for the Sabres. Beyond that sits a large group of players vying for no more than five roster spots. Matt Ellis, Torrey Mitchell, Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Kaleta, Brian Flynn and Cody McCormick are all battling for a fourth line role and it’s more likely the Sabres keep only one extra forward as opposed to two.

Should Reinhart start the season in Buffalo, one of those players will be the odd man out. Upon being returned to Kootenay, that spot could either be filled by a player from Rochester or one of the many forwards the Sabres already boast. Ultimately, at least one player from that latter group will be sent to Rochester to start the season but it isn’t unrealistic to see a pair sent down together.

Ellis may be the most likely to be sent back as his mentoring skills translate well to the minors and his skill set provides the Americans with a quality two-way player. Mitchell, Flynn and McCormick should be safe and Deslauriers debut last season and a strong preseason could cement him in the line up. That leaves Pat Kaleta as a borderline player who I would ultimately keep in Buffalo. He serves a role as a grinder and is a superb penalty killer no matter where he’s playing. He’s in a contract year and will serve a role for the Sabres. If and when Reinhart is sent back, a player like Mitchell or Flynn could easily slide up to a third line role which would clear the log jam on the fourth line.

Defensively the Sabres have plenty of names but few spots. Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Weber are all but assured to be playing in blue and gold this season. It seems likely that Andre Benoit and Weber will split duties as the team’s sixth and seventh defenseman throughout the year. That leaves two or three empty spots for prospects.

Pencil in Rasmus Ristolainen for one of those spots, likely alongside Meszaros. Additionally, Mark Pysyk will probably play the season in Buffalo with Chad Ruhwedel serving as the first recall from Rochester. Nikita Zadorov could also see a nine-game tryout like Reinhart before being sent back to London. Ultimately I don’t see Zadorov (or Reinhart) benefitting from playing a full season in Buffalo, especially if Connor McDavid is to remain in their crosshairs all year.

The roster is fairly well shaped already and there are a host of quality prospects expected to debut in Rochester this season. Grigorenko ought to be a key player for the Americans as should William Carrier (acquired in the Ryan Miller trade). Additionally, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Johan Larsson will all receive big minutes for the Americans on a team that will likely be winning many more games than the Sabres.

Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov and Matt Hackett will split time in the Rochester crease as Jhonas enroth and Michal Neuvirth are set in stone to anchor Buffalo’s crease.

The remainder of the preseason is set to appear on TV locally which will give fans a chance to see the future Sabres in action alongside those players who will play a major role this season. The roster should be trimmed again quite soon, but there will be plenty to keep an eye on even as Ted Nolan gets closer to naming his 23-man roster.

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Buffalo played host to an impressive array of draft eligible prospects last week including a pair of players expected to be picked in the top-five.

Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin headlined the 2014 CCM All-American Top Prospects game as the city of Buffalo and First Niagara Center played host to the event for the second time. The game will remain in Buffalo again next season as well.

A light crowd took in the game as many seats were left empty despite the Sabres distributing tickets to season ticket holders this year. Despite the presence of the draft’s second most sought after player (and the third depending who you ask) marketing for the event was light and the crowd reflected that. However, the hockey didn’t disappoint.

Eichel was dynamic throughout the game and created opportunities from puck drop. He finished the night as the game’s MVP after finishing with a goal and an assist. It was the goaltenders who stole the show to start. Luke Opilka and Mike Lackey were phenomenal through the first 20 minutes as they consistently turned away high-quality chances. As the pair made the first period a goaltending duel, Teams Olczyk and Grier made the final 40 minutes a shootout. Alec Baer finally broke the scoreless tie just five minutes into the second period and Brendan Warren answered for Team Olczyk just over a minute later.

Baer and Warren’s tallies would be the only goals surrendered by Opilka and Lackey as they gave way to Ryan Bednard and Ryan Larkin midway through the second. The cold goaltenders didn’t have much time to settle in as Eichel combined with Jeremy Bracco for a pretty goal midway through the period. Karch Bachman would add another tally for Team Grier while Tom Novak scored for Team Olczyk to bring the score to 3-2 after the second.

Eichel would eventually register the game winning goal as three third period tallies from Team Grier iced the victory. Eichel and Bracco each had two points and Eichel’s game winner and dynamic play helped preserve MVP honors.

Next for this group of players will be an important year with their respective clubs. Many will be positioning themselves for spots on the US World Junior Championship roster as they work through their season in junior or NCAA.

For Buffalo, their relationship with USA Hockey continues to blossom. HARBORCETNER is set to host the NHL Combine and will most certainly hold most, if not all of next year’s All-American Prospects Game participants. The next US bid for the World Junior Championships will likely see Buffalo as the host yet again as the city’s proximity to Canada and love of hockey helped draw record crowds in 2011. Another key will be ensuring next year’s event sees a better turnout.

Unfortunately the Sabres didn’t do too much public outreach for the event as it is truly a USA Hockey property. However, the Sabres had an opportunity to shout from the rooftops that two of the draft’s top three prospects were going to be playing against each other at First Niagara Center. The team’s president often preaches about the hockey IQ in Buffalo and this is the type of game that not only allows the region to show off that supposed IQ, but to grow it as well.

This is also an issue that lies with the game itself. It’s a very new event without the name recognition or prestige of the CHL Top Prospects game. While this year’s game boasted a pair of lottery picks, that isn’t the case each and every year. USA Hockey and their respective hosts need to continue to promote the fact that there are elite players playing each year to ensure that American hockey fans take notice of this very cool event. Perhaps we are still a few years off from seeing arenas with more fans than empty seats, but the process is certainly in motion.

One thing is for sure, the on-ice product in each event has been spectacular and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Bauer Supreme MX3

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

The standard of excellence in stick design and innovation has been Bauer’s exclusive territory for some time. While other manufacturers have established a strong foothold in the market, Bauer’s line often signifies a step forward in terms of innovation.

The Supreme has always been tailor made for players with powerful shots and the new Supreme MX3 carries on that tradition. Whether you’re looking to unleash heavy slapshots or strong one-timers, this is the perfect stick.

One of the newest features on the MX3 is the Power Sense 2 blade. This combines a host of technological features into an all-new blade that promotes feel without compromising durability. The blade is developed by integrating SENSE layer materials with Bauer’s signature TeXtreme carbon wrap. This combination allows for Bauer to trim weight from the blade profile while maintaining normal balance and a soft feel. The new construction allows Bauer to capture the best of both worlds – feel and durability – in the blade. This feature can be found throughout Bauer’s line as the APX2 and Nexus 8000 sticks will also boast the new blade construction.

Bauer has also managed to institute a brand new durability feature throughout the build of the stick. The eLAST resin system keeps the stick from losing its pop over time. This addresses a number of pitfalls as it pertains to the breakdown of composite sticks. First, it keeps the stick from gaining flex after each skate. Especially for powerful shooters, having a stick go from a 110 flex rating to an 85 over a matter of weeks or months (depending on use) can have an enormous effect on your play. BY reducing this breakdown, Bauer is ensuring their sticks will not only stay in use longer but it ensures your performance won’t suffer as a result.

Bauer MX3 Sticks

Bauer MX3 Sticks

The second benefit of the eLAST resin is the reduction of micro-fractures. As the name indicates, these small cracks in the carbon can spread and grow into larger cracks and eventually cost you a stick. By working to reduce that from developing, Bauer is buying a bit more time between stick purchases.

This is an impressive addition from Bauer as it’s rare to see any sort of durability addition advertised with such vigor. While all companies are working to keep their sticks on the ice longer, the introduction of eLAST may represent the most impressive attempt yet.

Bauer’s Supreme MX3 stick is a great step forward for Bauer’s stick line and perhaps stick design as a whole. Any time a quality improvement is made in the name of durability, the stick will be worth purchasing.

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

Buffalo Sabres management has made no mistake about their desire to funnel all of the NHL’s top talent through Western New York.

In the coming weeks and months, Buffalo will play host to the CCM All-American Prospects Game, the NHL Scouting Combine and an Erie Otters home game. Meanwhile, just over the border, St. Catharines will play host to the CHL Top Prospects game this season. That means the top three (if not more) draft prospects for the loaded 2015 draft will be trekking through Buffalo at least twice before next June’s draft. This is a very exciting time for hockey fans in Buffalo.

Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin will be first up as the All-American Prospects game rolls through on September 25. The pair represent two thirds of the Draft’s top three prospects and Eichel will be making a strong push to unseat Connor McDavid as the consensus number one pick. Tickets for the event are on sale now and if the last All-American Prospects game serves as a barometer, good seats will be available.

McDavid is next up on the docket as his Erie Otters come to town on October 22. For those of you who haven’t made the short trip to Erie to se McDavid, this will be your golden opportunity. The Otters are loaded with prospects not named McDavid, but the highly touted “Next One” will obviously be the main attraction.

If October 22 doesn’t happen to work out, you can also catch the Otters in Erie throughout the winter or on any of their visits to face the Niagara Icedogs. In addition to Erie’s regular season visits, McDavid will likely be a hop and skip over the border participating in the BMO Top Prospects game on January 22.

The beauty is that all of these events are happening less than 30 minutes from downtown Buffalo. Expand your hockey radius to Erie and consistent viewings of McDavid can be had in less than a 90 minute drive on a weekly basis.

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

All of this is in addition to what will be happening on the ice at First Niagara Center and Blue Cross Arena. Buffalo boasts the league’s deepest and most intriguing prospect pool and a great deal of those players will be on display nightly between both the Sabres and Rochester Americans. So even if the Sabres’ season quickly deteriorates into a mission to pick first overall, there will be plenty of quality hockey being played around the Queen City.

This will be an exciting year in hockey for fans in Buffalo, NY. With so many different teams and players making cameos, Western New York is strengthening its reputation as a hockey Mecca.

CCM Pre-Season Sale

CCM Pre-Season Sale

CCM Pre-Season Sale

Don’t miss the opportunity to save big on CCM gear while also coming away with some free swag while you’re at it.

Saturday marks the CCM Pre-Season sale at Great Skate featuring 15% off all CCM gear. Early arrivers will get their choice of some excellent free swag like hats, t-shits, wristbands and lanyards. Five lucky people will also win a pair of tickets to this week’s CCM All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center.

Tomorrow’s sale will feature two of the most impressive skates on the market today – the RBZ and the brand new Tacks. Players will also save big on products like the CCM RBZ Superfast stick, the brand new and the more accurate Tacks twig as well. The brand new SuperFast stick will be on sale as well, which will provide an excellent opportunity to get a brand new product at a phenomenal price. (Not valid on MAP items.) See more information on this sale please click here.

The CCM RBZ SuperFast sticks feature CCM’s awesome speed channels that were once again redesigned for the newest stick. While the Stage 2’s Freak Channels added an impressive spring to shots and passes, the SuperFast has improved the performance of its blade 50% over the Stage 2. That is a considerable improvement considering the overarching popularity of the Stage 2.

A return to the Tacks line has allowed CCM to diversify their offering in skates and sticks alike. The Tacks skate and stick both utilize a feature called the Attack Frame. While it differs greatly between the two products, the feature sets them apart from the other gear. The Tacks stick is stiffened throughout to offer a more responsive and accurate performance as the blade has been strengthened to reduce twisting and torsion during shooting. Similarly, the Attack Frame on the Tacks skate provides a stiffer, more responsive boot to add explosiveness for all skaters. The stiffer frame allows for a better first step, allowing players to accelerate that much faster.

Another product that will be featured in tomorrow’s sale is the groundbreaking CCM Resistance helmet. Specially designed to decrease and protect against lateral and torsional impacts, the Resistance helmet is perhaps the most technologically advanced product on the market today. CCM’s terrific RBZ protective line will be available as will the ultra-comfortable CL gloves.

The added incentive to win tickets to Wednesday’s game should draw fans and players alike as the annual prospect showcase is expected to feature a number of elite NHL prospects. Among the players expected to play in this year’s game are Noah Hanifin and Jack Eichel. Both have been projected as top-three prospects in the 2015 Draft with Eichel being mentioned in the same breath as phenom Connor McDavid as a potential first overall pick.

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

With the NHL season creeping up and team training camps set to begin shortly, the league’s best will be outfitting themselves in some of the newest offerings from hockey’s equipment manufacturers. Sidney Crosby has been Reebok’s poster boy for nearly his entire career and the world’s best will likely continue to sport nothing but Reebok equipment heading into yet another year.  Here’s a look back on what he closed the 2014-15 season with:

Helmet: Reebok 11K – The 11K has been Crosby’s helmet of choice since he entered the league. It’s an incredibly comfortable helmet that features EPP padding with memory foam placed in strategic places for additional comfort and protection. The exterior can be hard to adjust to, but if it’s a design that grows on you, there are few superior helmets on the market.

Gloves: Reebok custom – Crosby wears a specially made pair of Reebok gloves that feature the 11K graphics package but a completely different construction in every other way. They’re long-cuffed and interesting but something is obviously working for the defending Hart Trophy winner.

Stick: Reebok RIBCOR – Reebok’s newest stick with specially tuned ribs is designed to help load up the puck for heavier shots. For a long time Crosby actually used a two-piece stick with wood blades but he finally made the switch to a one-piece a few years ago. Crosby uses a fairly straight blade to aid with faceoffs and his backhand – which happens to be one of the best in the league.

Skates: Reebok RIBCOR – Reebok’s newest skate is designed for explosiveness with strategically reinforced and stiffened areas that respond to a player’s every move whether they’re taking three quick strides to get up to full speed or deftly maneuvering in traffic. As a 200-foot player, Crosby’s needs are certainly addressed with the features of the RIBCOR skate.

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM is all about explosiveness these days. The new SuperFast stick, the Tacks skate and now the Tacks stick.

With a focus on adding power and explosiveness to a player’s game, CCM has built a lightweight stick with a mid kick point that should allow heavy shooters to get even more behind their shots. Meanwhile, CCM added a new feature to the blade to ensure the additional torque and power created by the shaft is channeled through to the puck.

The Tacks stick’s mid kick point is geared towards players who like to load up shots and really let them rip. Unlike sticks with lower kick points that promote a quicker release, the Tacks stick allows a player to really lean in and load up powerful shots. While this development favors players who like to blast slap shots it doesn’t mean that forwards who play with a bit more finesse won’t see terrific results either.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the stick is the upgrades made to the blade. CCM has reinforced and strengthened the blade on this stick with a feature they refer to as the AttackFrame. This provides an extra stiff construction that features reinforcements that run throughout the interior of the blade. This addition means the blade with twist and flex far less than other sticks on the market. That means increased accuracy for sharpshooters and additional durability for players whose sticks take a beating on offense and defense.

CCM Tacks Stick now available at Greatskate.com

CCM Tacks Stick now available at Greatskate.com

Eliminating blade torsion will be a welcome improvement for every player as the stiffer blade ought to stay true in terms of accuracy for a longer period of time. However, adding this much to the blade creates the risk of losing feel for the puck. CCM had to be very careful with how they positioned the reinforcements – much like what Warrior executed so well with the Dynasty AX1 – as to not create a dead blade that didn’t translate any feel or responsiveness to the player’s hands.

One terrific feature of the AttackFrame is that it will be part of the entire Tacks stick line. So even if you’re shopping at a lower pricepoint, you’re sure to reap the benefits of CCM’s new feature without having to stretch for the pro model stick.

As someone who prefers a durable stick to one that is ultra-light, the Tacks stick provides a little bit of both as it weighs in well below 500 grams while sporting design features that should not just translate to your stick handling and shooting game but also be able to last through the rigors of a season.

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

The three families of equipment feature by Bauer encompasses every fit and style a player could need. While the Vapor APX2 and Supreme NXG equipment caters to a tighter, more anatomical fit, the Nexus line provides a more traditional, loose fit from the shoulder pads down through the shin guards.

Of the three collections, the Nexus not only fits more players – thanks to its wider design – but it is also the most protective of the three. The three major pieces – shoulder pads, elbow pads and shin guards – each prominently feature EPP foam in strategic areas for maximum protection with additional HD foam inserts throughout.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

The Nexus 8000 shoulder pads feature a nearly full EPP construction with poly inserts in the sternum and spinal areas. Bauer has placed additional HD foams down the spine for extra protection. There is ample protection featured throughout and the unit even features a removable belly pad extension. These shoulder pads offer a comfortable fit with free-floating bicep guards that move independent of the rest of the unit.

Moving down to the elbow pads, Bauer has produced a product with three individual anchor points. The EPP construction is shared with the shoulder pads and the asymmetrical design promotes the overall protection of the gear. The Nexus elbow pad also features a very mobile bicep guard that increases mobility and comfort.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

With the Nexus shin guard, the majority of the EPP protection is on the back portion as the thermoformed shin and knee caps are made of durable, injected plastic. The EPP calf wrap provides full wrap-around protection while the knee sling is of a fully anatomical design to ensure a snug fit.

Each piece has a classic look and feel and that translates into the fit no matter what size you wear. While it may lack the flash of the APX2, the Nexus protective equipment features a clean design and the most quality protection of the three lines Bauer produces. Even for those players who prefer the Vapor skates or the Supreme stick, the Nexus protective line certainly serves as the flagship for Bauer’s protective equipment.

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

Among the numerous moves Tim Murray made on July 1, signing Brian Gionta as a free agent was one of the biggest. Gionta, who hails from Rochester, NY is making as close to a homecoming as he possibly could by signing with the Sabres. After five seasons in Montreal, Gionta is back home where he played his junior hockey with the Niagara Scenic hockey club (now the Buffalo Junior Sabres).

Gionta wore an interesting mix of equipment this season and managed to pull from every major manufacturer aside from CCM. Although his Reebok stick technically qualifies as the two companies are virtually one in the same.

Skates: Bauer Vapor APX2 – A skilled, shifty player, Gionta opts for the massively popular Vapor line for his skates and even finishes them off with foot guards in case he catches a shot from the point in the wrong way. The stiff boot construction of the APX2 maximizes acceleration and allows for quick, tight turns. Exactly the type of traits a player of Gionta’s ilk is looking for.

Gloves: Warrior Dynasty AX1 – The next generation of Warrior’s Franchise glove, the AX1 is a traditional four-roll glove with a slightly updated appearance from the original Franchise. These offer a traditional fit that allows for maximum movement and rotation in the wrists. These are a favorite of highly skilled players who need to be able to stickhandle and pass in tight areas. Gionta had previously worn the Easton Pro gloves before making the transition to Warrior.

Stick: Reebok Ribcor – Reebok’s Ribcor is all about giving players the ability to launch heavier shots with a quicker release. The Ribcor’s shaft is “pre-loaded” to allow players to get the puck off their sticks faster with far more force.

Helmet: Easton S9 – Like our last “What They’re Wearing” subject, Gionta is partial to the older Easton S9 helmet. The S9 uses a VN foam liner that is typically considered to be a bit more comfortable than the newer, technologically advanced helmets that utilize EPP foams or even more advanced materials.