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.

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.

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.

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Great Skate will be hosting a Bauer Days event on Saturday, August 16 from 12pm until 4pm. The event will give players a chance to get an up-close and personal look at all of Bauer’s gear for the upcoming season with some great deals on hockey’s most cutting edge equipment.

A 15% off sale on both hockey gear and goalie equipment during the #BauerDays event gives you a chance to restock your bag with the best from Bauer’s trio of equipment lines or the pair of groundbreaking goaltender lines. Whether you’re looking for the impressive anatomic fit of the Supreme TotalOne NXG gloves, the classic look and feel of the Nexus skates or the new-and-improved APX2 protective line, Bauer Days will not only allow you to check out the latest and greatest, but the discount ensures you’ll get your new gear at a great price.

Bauer events have always been a can’t miss for hockey players. The ability to get a peek at some of Bauer’s newest gear while also having the opportunity to test out others is a highlight of the offseason. Then, there’s the swag.

The first 200 players to arrive at the event will receive a free Bauer swag bag and the first 200 parents will receive a free Bauer coffee mug. There are few things cooler than branded merchandise from an equipment manufacturer. Of course, you can’t beat free either.

Be sure to get to Great Skate early on Saturday morning to lock up your swag bag or coffee mug and be the first to experience Bauer’s impressive line of gear.

What They’re Wearing: Jason Spezza

What They’re Wearing: Jason Spezza

What They’re Wearing: Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza headlined the biggest trade of the offseason to this point. His transition to Dallas certainly sets the Stars up for another playoff run and perhaps a berth into the later rounds in a very difficult Western Conference.

While the What They’re Wearing feature has been gone for a little while, Spezza’s trade from Ottawa to Dallas sets the table to take a closer look at the gear worn by the offseason’s biggest trade pice.

Stick: Easton Synergy HTX – Easton’s newest stick is a throwback, of sorts, to the composite stick that started hockey’s arms race. The HTX is ultra lightweight and boasts Easton’s Hypertuned technology that matches the stiffness of the shaft to the stiffness of the blade.

Gloves: Warrior Covert – A terrific glove that offers a slightly more anatomically inspired fit than the classic design and fit of the Dyansty (formerly Franchise) gloves. The retail model of the Covert DT1 uses Warrior’s Bone System to provide more backhand protection and I’d be interested to see if Spezza wears a model with the Bone system or if he chose to remove it from his gloves.

Helmet: Easton S9 – Spezza appears to still be using an older model Easton helmet with a more basic foam liner than the EPP and comfort foams seen in the higher end helmets on the market today. The S9 was quite popular throughout the league when Easton first ventured into the helmet market and it’s not too surprising to see Spezza sticking with this model.

Skates: Reebok Ribcor – Spezza’s interesting gear selection is capped with Reebok’s newest skate, the Ribcor. A responsive skate that promotes agility and change of direction, the Ribcor is the flagship of Reebok’s skate line as we move through the summer and into 2015.

Reebok combines popular design features with 30K KFS gloves

Reebok combines popular design features with 30K KFS gloves

Reebok combines popular design features with 30K KFS gloves

Reebok isn’t pulling any punches with their Kinetic Fit System. The new Reebok 30K KFS gloves provide a true anatomic fit and bring the Reebok glove line to a new level thanks to the new features introduced this year.

The 30K KFS is a two-piece glove that combines the freedom of mobility that’s so popular in four-roll gloves while still offering the snug, responsive fit of an anatomically designed glove. Reebok’s prime focus on the fit moves from the fingers up into the cuff, ensuring a true anatomic fit for each player. This glove-in-glove design allows the KFS to promote both flexibility and fit.

Reebok’s decision to include a new design feature on the back of the hand could potentially make or break the glove for those who put a heavy opinion on the mirror test. The vented portion of the backhand almost looks to have a shell over it, which makes for a unique look that other manufacturers haven’t yet taken on. On a darker based glove you can’t even notice this feature. However, if the base color contrasts the cover, it can offer an odd appearance. This won’t matter for those who aren’t bothered by the overall look, but I could see where some may be turned off.

Despite the potential hurdle in terms of looks, the performance of the glove is truly top notch. In addition to the glove-in-glove fit and mobility, the AX suede palm is reinforced through the middle to ensure a pro feel and high level of durability.

The 30K KFS gloves absolutely provide an upgrade over the previous KFS model, the 11K. With added reinforcements on the back of the hand and thumb, the 30K offers pro-level protection with a unique fit that draws on the greatest traits of a traditional four-roll glove and that of anatomically design gloves.

The new Reebok 30K KFS gloves are in stores now and can be picked up in four different colorways. Get your hands in these now to feel the difference the kinetic fit provides.

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final as the equipment giant can claim it is getting the most usage in each major gear category at the Final.

The only close category is sticks, which is the only category in which Bauer doesn’t hold over 50% of the usage. Their 42% share still towers over the next closest manufacturer (Easton) who slots in at 17%. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the stick category as the most diverse in terms of usage as every manufacturer offers a number of similar, elite products. In fact, Bauer’s dominance in the category is based on their three different lines as opposed to one singular product as is seen by the overwhelming number of players wearing Vapor skates.

One other category that isn’t illustrated above is goaltender equipment. With David LeNeveu currently serving as the Ragners’ backup, there is a 50-50 split between Vaughn and Bauer users. If and when Cam Talbot returns, Vaughn will hold the majority (Quick and Jones) with Bauer and Reebok each having one goaltender wearing their equipment.

To further break down the goaltending category, Lundqvist and Talbot each wear Bauer helmets, Jones wears Pro’s Choice and Quick uses Sportmask.

These are always fun graphics to look at just to see the vast diversity of equipment used by each player. Try to figure out who is wearing what over the rest of the series so you can line up individuals with the graphic above.