Matt Moulson is the poster boy for STX’s entry into the NHL after he took to the ice with a prototype STX stick early last season. As STX’s line was refined and officially launched, Moulson added another unique piece of equipment to his arsenal, the yet to be released STX gloves. Not much has changed this season as he is still sporting the STX gear as he takes his second turn with the Sabres.
Skates: Bauer Vapor APX2 – Mouslon’s choice in skate is similar to that of many other NHLers. The APX2 is perhaps the most impressive of Bauer’s line and suits the skating and playing style of a wide spectrum of NHLers. A lightweight skate built to promote speed and explosiveness with a stiff, durable boot.
Gloves: STX Stallion – While STX doesn’t have a true flagship for either their stick or glove line, the Stallion is the model Moulson has chosen for each. The STX Stallion glove is built for a power player with a happy medium between the traditional fit of a four-roll glove and the snug anatomical benefits of a tapered glove. A goal scoring winger, Moulson benefits from the traits of the glove that compliments his strengths shooting the puck.
Stick: STX Stallion – A stick formulated for power players who need more control and pop from their shots and passes, the Stallion has been Moulson’s choice for over a calendar year. The stick features a solid construction designed to take a beating at the NHL level while still helping to load up heavy shots each and every night.
Helmet: CCM V08 – Moulson’s choice in helmets is pretty basic. The CCM V08 utilizes traditional VN foam and is a very popular choice amongst NHLers. As it has been described in this space many times, the V08’s good looks and comfortable fit and feel make it a go-to choice for countless NHL players.
Keep your eyes peeled this season. You’re going to start seeing more and more CCM products around the rink and on television.
While they never technically left, CCM’s return to the rink just over five years ago was a notable milestone for the manufacturer. Part of the Reebok family (which also took over Koho, Jofa and Titan in the early 2000s), CCM has a strong presence in today’s equipment landscape. Sticks like the RBZ SuperFast and the return of the Tacks skate have elevated CCM to new heights in equipment design and innovation.
Of course, their line offered, in some ways, a direct competition to the equipment being built and sold by Reebok. Instead of having the two companies fight for attention and players, they altered the landscape they operate on. CCM will maintain their status as a brand leader for elite equipment while Reebok will be entry level to mid-price point in senior, junior and youth equipment.
That means that players who previously used Reebok equipment in the NHL will be wearing more CCM just as products like the Ribcor stick will now be sold with CCM branding as opposed to Reebok. The quality certainly won’t change, just the window dressing.
It’s still a cool development, particularly with the strength Bauer has shown in recent years and the obvious push coming from CCM. The RBZ stick line is beyond revolutionary and both the RBZ and Tacks skates are excellent products which offer a true challenge to Bauer.
There is one other front that could see CCM grow even more and that’s in the crease. The Reebok goal line is still being worn by quite a few netminders and exactly what will come of the Reebok goal collection doesn’t seem as clear as the player line. However, the CCM Extreme Flex goal pads are a monster hit and continue to find their way into more and more locker rooms in the NHL and beyond.
The CCM goal mask line was far superior to that of the models released by Reebok a few years prior and the same can be said for many other aspects of CCM’s goal equipment line. Perhaps the only sector Reebok truly had an edge in was skate design. The Reebok skates – both goalie and player – have been quite popular since their inception and while the RBZ and Tacks are phenomenal skates, models like the Ribcor are still elite in their own right.
While many of CCM’s products may be seen as superior to begin with, the company ought to see a boost thanks to the quality in skate design that Reebok has established.
At the end of the day this transition doesn’t change much in terms of the big picture. In fact, based on equipment that I’ve personally used, much of CCM’s elite level gear is superior to begin with. So while there will be more exposure and equipment choices for CCM, the product quality certainly isn’t going to change. Simply put, this is a wise decision to allow a growing industry leader get that much bigger.
As the changeover continues, players will see more and more Reebok products change over to CCM. In the meantime, have fun scavenger hunting for the CCM logo in places you’re not used to seeing it.
The 2014-15 NHL season is here and as the puck is set to drop at First Niagara Center, a number of questions surround the Buffalo Sabres.
Are they really trying to finish last in order to draft Connor McDavid? Will the goaltending hold up? How long will Sam Reinhart be kept up? Did they improve enough – or maybe too much – in the offseason to move out of the league’s basement?
All of the questions work off of last year’s 30th place finish that eventually led Tim Murray to the selection of Sam Reinhart at the 2014 Draft. The Sabres were historically bad in 2013-14, scoring the fewest goals in the league by a wide margin, trading away the fact of their franchise and even working through an ugly internal divorce only weeks after bringing in a new management team.
Whether you’re talking about the on-ice product, the hockey department or even the Twitter account, the 13-14 season was one to forget for the Sabres.
Things started turning around once Ted Nolan and Tim Murray were brought on. Nolan brought about a noticeable change in attitude from the players while Murray was the hard lining general manager that fans had pined for. Murray didn’t take long to make his presence felt, shipping off Ryan Miller, Steve Ott and Matt Moulson at the trade deadline and bringing back an extra 2015 first round pick along with a host of additional assets.
The next stage of the rebuild is now on his doorstep as Moulson is back on a five-year deal, Brian Gionta is back in Western New York for three seasons and Josh Gorges spurned a move to Toronto and waived his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo. Chris Stewart is healthy and Reinhart will play at least nine games in Buffalo before returning to junior. Murray also signed Andrej Meszaros to give his blueline even more depth this season.
But where does this leave the mission to draft a generational talent in this year’s draft? It might not have made as big of an impact as some think.
The Sabres are no doubt a better team on paper than they were last season. That improvement will be reflected on the ice as well. However, they are now without a goaltender in Ryan Miller who anchored the team with goaltending that was five percentage points above league average. That’s nothing to scoff at, and while Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are more than capable NHL goaltenders, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a slight decrease in the department.
Another factor to consider is the sheer amount of ground the Sabres need to make up compared with the rest of the league. They were a full 14 points worse than the 29th place Florida Panthers and scored 39 fewer goals than those same Panthers. While the offseason moves Murray made were strong, I’m not sure if they’ll account for seven more wins and 40 goals.
What is undoubtedly true is the improvement the Sabres have undergone on the blueline. Tyler Myers will likely pair with Gorges to start the year while Meszaros will pair up with Buffalo’s blue chip prospect, Rasmus Ristolainen. The bottom pair will likely be some combination of a possession savvy Mark Pysyk, Andre Benoit and Mike Weber. Compared to last year’s top six which prominently featured Weber, Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder, the Sabres should see a great deal of improvement from this unit.
Gorges isn’t truly a top pairing defenseman, but he should maintain the steady veteran presence that has allowed Myers to thrive in certain situations. Putting Myers in a situation to succeed is an important factor for the season as there are still a few steps left before he can be considered and elite defenseman. Ristolainen will be an interesting case as he’ll get a full dose of NHL action this season. He showed well in his professional debut last year but didn’t come out of his shell until he spent a lengthy stint in Rochester. Now he’ll be playing a top-four role alongside another NHL veteran who should provide some stability as he continues to blossom.
The rest of the defensive corps is going to be interchangeable. Pysyk is a victim of circumstance in some ways as his skill set certainly lends itself well to a more prominent role. However, continuing to give the former first round pick minutes is the true key for the young defenseman. Weber and Benoit will likely be the primary pair of rotational players depending on the lineup Ted Nolan is looking for on a night-to-night basis. Keep an eye out for Jake McCabe and Tyson Strachan to work in as well depending on injuries or even merit-based promotions. Nikita Zadorov is in Buffalo for the start of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to London after nine games.
Up front the Sabres boast some promising forward lines. Moulson has shown tremendous chemistry with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford and that trio will be expected to carry the load offensively. Reinhart is starting the year between Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta but once his nine-game audition is over any number of players could step into that role; including Mikhail Grigorenko.
Zemgus Girgensons could also fill in for Reinhart once he’s set back but he’ll start the year on a very heavy line, centering Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart. That line has the potential to play a strong role in Buffalo’s offensive attack and Girgensons offensive progression playing in a slightly more beneficial role is worth tracking.
Buffalo’s fourth line will be a combination of a number of names that’s likely to change on a near weekly basis. Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers are the four most likely to battle for playing time but once Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson are healthy, things could change quite quickly.
Without doubt, the Sabres are a better team today than they were at any point last season. But is a full year of Moulson coupled with the addition of Stewart and Gionta enough to make up that 40-goal deficit from last year? In turn, is the duo of Enroth and Neuvirth enough to at least keep the team’s goals against and save percentage at the same level or better? Or perhaps will the two factors negate one another?
I expect Sabres fans will have a pretty good idea of where their team stands once the calendar hits November. The team is certainly going to be better. But will they be good enough to climb out of the basement
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.
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.
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.
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.
Change is coming to the NHL. Recent reports indicate that expansion could grace the league as early as the 2016-17 season. Depending on which report you’ve read, as many as four teams could be added to the mix.
Bringing the league’s numbers to 34 teams would result in a terrific financial windfall for the owners but would likely result in a watered down product for a period of time. While it may not take the league (and sport as a whole) nearly ten years to bounce back in terms of on-ice quality, adding four more teams would almost certainly result in a significantly watered down product.
Considering the last round of expansion came in the midst of the dead puck era, the NHL struggle with an inferior product up through the second most recent lockout. While the game has certainly enjoyed a nice surge in popularity recently, I wonder what the addition of that many jobs would do to the talent pool. It stands to reason that lesser skilled players could result in a surge in goal scoring should the rules be enforced properly, but I’m not overly interested in seeing the league try and fill upwards of 130 more jobs with AHL-level players for the next few years. It seems far more feasible to add a pair of teams to not only limit the impact on the player pool but to also ensure the league isn’t spreading itself too thin.
As of now cities like Toronto, Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City have been floated as potential homes for an NHL franchise. Many reports say that Seattle is atop the league’s wish list and Toronto’s size and corporate presence all but ensures financial stability. Further, Quebec City’s new NHL arena will be done soon and there are some deep pocketed owners ready to bring a team back. Vegas has received a ton of press in recent rumors and it appears Sin City will be the next city to host a club while Kansas City sits well apart from the rest of the candidates.
I, for one, don’t see Las Vegas as a horrible option. Their minor league team saw fair support during their existence and if marketed properly I’m willing to be they would receive fair local support. Selling tickets won’t be an issue there as the casinos will be sure to gobble up most, if not all, of the suites along with plenty of normal seats as well. So long as a decent local following can be cultivated I could see Las Vegas as a viable option.
What works in Sin City’s favor is the lack of another big four franchise to pull eyes and interest from a potential hockey club. While it’s about as non-traditional as you can get, I think hockey could take hold in Vegas if the marketing is done right.
Seattle seems like a no brainer at this point. Their football and soccer fans follow their respective teams with rabid intensity and I wouldn’t be surprised to see hockey receive similar support as the on-ice product improves. The lack of a viable building makes things awfully complicated and may set Seattle up better for a relocated franchise as opposed to a new expansion club. Should the arena issue get solved soon, then perhaps the league will work to fast track Seattle and Las Vegas in an effort to balance the conference alignment.
Quebec is another option and a safe one, at that. Media giant Quebecor is backing the new arena and it seems like just a matter of time before the league is bringing back the Nordiques. Like Seattle, I could see Quebec as a strong candidate for a relocated franchise as well as expansion. However, I think Quebec makes more sense for relocation simply because expanding by two teams out west (Seattle and Vegas) would ensure the conferences are balanced.
I think the most ideal scenario for the league would be to relocate one of their struggling franchises while awarding expansion to two owners in each of the cities described above. This way Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City each get a team in some combination of expansion and relocation. It matters little who ends up with the relocated team so long as the ownership and conference balance is worked out properly.
Without much more to go on other than reports from anonymous sources, it’s hard to say how legitimate all of this is. Perhaps the league is going to stand fast and wait for Seattle’s arena. Perhaps they’ll make Seattle sit out until their building can be completed while other cities like Vegas and Quebec win new clubs.
Either way, the game is almost certainly set to grow in the next few seasons which marks an exciting time for hockey fans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As part of the Warrior VIP program, I’ve had the opportunity to get a look at the new Covert QR1 stick ahead of its full release. It’s a very cool opportunity and I have to say the stick has surpassed any of the expectations I had for it.
Out of the Box
The QR1’s graphic package hearkens back to Warrior’s earlier days with bright, aggressive colors that are very similar to what adorned the Dolomite in the mid 2000s. It just so happens that particular version of the Dolomite – with the orange and electric blue graphics – stands as the best stick I’ve ever used.
This is a very attractive stick and the feel prior to being cut down is just what you’d expect. It’s feather-light and well balanced. I chose to go with an 85 flex with a Zetterberg curve and my stick has the grip option as well.
On the Ice
My first impression of the stick was the weight and balance and that didn’t change once I cut it down and got it taped up. Thinking back to the last Warrior stick I had (Dynasty AX1), the blade has a more firm feel to it when stickhandling and passing.
The profile of the stick is great as the dagger tip is both visually appealing and effective in practice. Warrior’s goal with the QR1 was to provide a stick with a quick release and they certainly succeeded in doing so.
Through a handful of icetimes, I’ve noticed an appreciable improvement in the crispness and velocity on my passes. I’ve been able to make hard cross-ice passes in the neutral zone and needle threading saucer passes from the corner when on the attack.
Interestingly, my slap shot is also heavier with the QR1, likely due to the well placed kick point on the stick. Since I’ve been playing on the blueline for the duration of my summer season, I haven’t had too many chances to get a feel for the quick release on a wrist shot, but given the feel the stick has when making passes, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have the same feel when shooting in a game situation.
Keep an eye out for the Covert QR1 to be hitting the shelves soon, you’re not going to want to miss out on this stick.