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 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.

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

There’s no easy way to keep up with goalie mask art. If you or your child change teams regularly, a brand new paint job can look out of place after just one season of use. Not to mention, many artists charge an arm and a leg for paintjobs and if you choose the wrong one, you’re more than likely going to lose the factory warranty on your mask. Luckily, Bauer has thought of a solution to this conundrum.

Bauer’s NME3 and NME5 goal masks comes with a number of stock designs that feature a wide range of colors, patters and artwork that provides a custom look that will match a number of team’s uniforms.

These designs range from vintage inspired looks right up to designs that mimic the graphics on Bauer’s equipment line – the Reactor, for example. While the colors available are somewhat limited, most of the designs are generic enough that they will match nearly every team’s uniforms. For example, the flame graphic features a red graphic flame against a basic black background. Whether you’re playing for a team with Blackhawks, Devils or even Red Wings uniforms, you won’t run into any issues.

The center racing stripe and vintage jersey stripe graphics play the best in terms of design, but the more creative designs like the Reactor or USA graphics offer a more unique take on the practice.

Taking advantage of what Bauer offers at the junior or youth models of the NME 5 and NME 3 gives you a chance to pick up a mask with unique artwork (as opposed to the basic white or black) without needing to break the bank on a custom paint job.

CCM Resistance helmet preview

CCM Resistance helmet preview

CCM Resistance helmet preview

More and more attention and focus in equipment design is being devoted to protecting against rotational impact from hits and collisions. The CCM Resistance helmet has been constructed to add protection against linear and rotational impacts.

CCM has made a few aesthetic changes to the Vector shell that became so wildly popular across the NHL over the past number of years along with adding vital pieces of protection to the liner. These changes and alterations were driven by the desire of CCM to create one of the most protective hockey helmets on the market.

Teaming up with the University of Ottawa, CCM made sure the new features and technology protected the most vital areas of a player’s head by placing the addition padding in strategic locations around the shell and liner.

The R.E.D. System is what sets the Resistance apart from the other helmets that CCM has released in recent years as in brings a whole new level of protection into play. In addition to the traditional foam liner you can find in any high-end helmet, CCM has added two new layers of protection that are specifically combined to reduce rotational impact.

The R.E.D. system combines a series of liquid filled bladders with EEP molded shock absorbers called Impact Pods that aid in reducing linear impacts. Both work in a similar method of absorbing the impact and motion of a player’s head when taking impact during a game. The R.E.D. liquid bladders work to slow any rotation of the head while the Impact Pods expand and retract with direct collisions.

The Resistance joins Bauer’s RE-AKT helmet as two of the most protective helmets that specifically target rotational and linear impacts with specific targeted areas for increased protection.

Bauer APX 2 protective line

Bauer APX 2 protective line

Bauer APX 2 protective line

The info on Bauer’s follow up to their incredibly popular APX protective line is out as the APX2 protective equipment will be in stores this spring.

Bauer’s tapered fit line has added a pair of fascinating features across the board – not just to the pro models – that are designed to reduce weight and increase the performance of each piece of the line. The  APX 2 shoulder pads, elbow pads and shin guards all still feature Free Flex sections that target key areas that require additional flexibility and range of motion. For example, the Free Flex knee cap and liner extension at the bottom of the APX 2 shin pad provides an added range of motion in the knee and at the ankle for a more comfortable, natural skating stride.

Similar areas on the shoulder and elbow pads utilize a similar strategy while the APX 2 pants have specific panels with special stretch fabrics designed to lighten and increase the player’s range of motion.

Where things get interesting are inside the gear itself. In a way, it appears that Bauer is starting to pull some of the traits that made the OD1N line so groundbreaking in terms of weight. Overall, Bauer has worked to shed over 25% of the weight from their previous line. That savings, calculated over the course of an entire game equates to massive savings for the player. Think of it as lifting a total of 1000 pounds in 60 minutes of play and then taking 250 pounds off that total thanks to your equipment.

One way Bauer has done this is with Aerolite foam. Bauer has developed a new way to layer the foam in areas like the shoulder cap, chest and back panels on the shoulder pads in a way that not only increases overall protection but also limiting the total weight of the pads themselves. The APX 2 shoulder pads see the most extensive use of the Aerolite padding due to their general construction, but this is something see in vital areas on the shin and elbow guards.

Where the entire line benefits is the new 37.5 liner. This is a space age technology that wicks moisture but then uses body heat to evaporate the moisture away. The name is derived from the ideal humidity level and temperature for the body (37.5 degrees celsius).

The trick behind 37.5 is to not only pull moisture away from a player’s skin and out of their equipment, but to use the body heat generated in the game to evaporate that moisture. Therefore, the harder you skate and the more you sweat, the better that 37.5 liner works. When working at its peak, 37.5 works five times better than traditional performance liners and material.

Bauer’s APX 2 line isn’t their only product that utilized 37.5. It can also be found in Bauer base layer apparel as well.

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

In the end, the deepest, most talented team prevailed. Canada repeated their 2010 ice hockey sweep by capturing gold on both the men’s and women’s side in Sochi.

While the women’s result was always going to come down to the United States and Canada, the men’s tournament represented a much different picture with five squads with strong chances for a medal with that number ballooning to six or even seven depending how the rosters were analyzed.

The women’s tournament was one filled with many firsts. Not only did a new format take over, but a first time medalist prevailed in the bronze medal game as Switzerland came out ahead after a wild third period. While the rest of the field is still well behind the sport’s two superpowers, the rest of the world is slowly catching up. No longer is the wide gap between the Americans and Canadians bridged by just the Swedes and the Finns. Russia is making strides and the Swiss officially established themselves on the international stage.

It will still take some time for teams like the Swiss to get close to the US and Canadians – and the Finns may suffer a setback with Nora Raty’s retirement – but the fact that there are signs of parity is encouraging.

On the men’s side an entertaining group play round turned into a somewhat stunning  elimination playoff as the Latvians knocked off a trendy darkhorse in the Swiss before putting a scare into Canada – despite the Canadians dominance throughout the game. Slovenia also surprised many in wining not one but two games to find themselves in the quarterfinals as well.

The rest of the tournament played out as many expected. The US victory over Russia was perhaps a slight surprise as was the virtual no-show by the Slovakians. The end result was certainly easy to predict as the Canadians didn’t just have the most talented roster, but their gameplan shutdown their opponents when it mattered most. The Finns, US and Swedes could barely muster any offense against Canada and the result was a second-straight gold medal for a nation whose dominance at the World Juniors in the early 2000s is showing on the Olympic stage now with talents like Crosby, Price and Toews leading the way.

While my prediction of the final four was accurate, I ultimately missed on the medal order. However, I’m quite pleased that I not only foresaw Finland’s run to the medal round, but accurately predicted the bronze and gold medal matchups.

Whether or not the NHL decides to send players to the 2018 Games is yet to be determined. The 14-hour time difference will make games nearly impossible to watch live and there will certainly be other reasons (owners) that will make the decision a tough one. However, the game took center stage once again and it would be a shame to not see the NHL represented once again.

While an NHL filled Canadian roster will be an early favorite in 2018, there is plenty of impressive talent working up on the American side and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the US playing for gold in Korea.

Most Outstanding Player

Men – Teemu Selanne: Teemu Forever. He was named the tournament MVP and proved that he is still an ageless wonder. This has been a terrific farewell tour for him and earning another Olympic medal is a nice way to start his home stretch.

Women – Maire-Philip Poulin: She was the hero in 2010 and was again the hero in 2014, scoring the tying and winning goals for the Canadian women.

Most Outstanding Goaltender

Men – Tuukka Rask: Had Rask not fallen ill prior to their game against Sweden perhaps the Finns would have played for gold. Regardless, Rask was dominant throughout the tournament and although Carey Price is wearing gold, Rask’s play was more valuable to his team than Price’s.

Women – Florence Schelling: She carried her team to bronze and was phenomenal in doing so. Her skills in net will make the Swiss a threat to medal in 2018.

Biggest Surprise

Slovenia’s success in their first Olympics was not only a surprise but a breath of fresh air. They hung with the Russians in their first game and then dispatched the Slovaks on their way to the top seed in the first qualification round. Their win over Austria put them another upset away from the medal round. While they were easily dispatched by Sweden, Slovenia proved that they weren’t just going to lay down in their first Olympic games.

Looking Ahead

I’m willing to bet that the NHL ends up sending their stars to the 2018 Olympics despite the challenges of the massive time change, owners apprehension and the chance that the World Cup of Hockey will be back on the table prior to the 2018 Olympics. It just seems foolish to not put the NHL’s stars on an international stage like this when the opportunity presents itself. It’s almost like free marketing in that way.