Holiday Gift Guide for skaters

Bauer Vapor APX Mini Stick

Manufacturers bring top-end sticks to childhood favorite

With the holiday season upon us, hockey players are going to be filling their lists with all sorts of gift ideas. Some may be in need of an upgrade of a certain piece of equipment while others may be hoping to get the newest technology in their hands.

As you prepare to begin your shopping this year, keep some of these ideas in mind for the hockey players on your list:

Sticks: There are some awesome deals on sticks out there currently along with some very cool new technology that has really set a number of manufacturers apart from the others. One very cool idea, especially for the holidays is the MyBauer program. It is a feature that Bauer offers which will allow you to fully customize a stick just like the pros do. From flex and pattern right down to your own name and number, it is a very cool, personal gift idea. The new Easton VSeries is a brand new line from Easton with some incredible features and a lightweight profile across the entire line. The V5E comes at a great price point and offers many of the benefits that the VSeries has introduced. There are also a ton of great deals on Warrior’s full collection, including the Dynasty AX3. The Dynasty line is a tremendous collection with some groundbreaking technology from a company that is making huge strides with their impressive stick technology.

Gloves: Of all the gloves on the shelves nowadays, there isn’t anything cooler than the exclusive Warrior Bonafide Winter Classic gloves. These are a special edition glove designed by Warrior to compliment the uniforms that will be worn by Detroit and Toronto in this year’s Winter Classic. Both gloves come in 13 and 14-inch models and are very basic, but classic in their look. These will be huge favorites this winter. The Warrior Covert DT2 gloves also slot in at a phenomenal price point along with the incredibly comfy CCM CL400 gloves. If you’re looking for more color options than Toronto or Detroit, those two models would be a great place to start.

One last piece to keep in mind is the Youth Hockey Package. If a family member is hoping to, or has already started playing hockey, this is a wonderful gift to give. It features every piece of equipment that you need to get started; including a helmet, pants, shoulder pads, skates, gloves, shin guards and elbow pads. All that’s needed is a stick, a skater and a rink and your new player is good to go.

Stocking Stuffers: Laces, tape and hockey apparel are always welcome presents for hockey players of all ages.

Headshots dominate early NHL headlines

Headshots dominate early NHL headlines

Headshots dominate early NHL headlines

A rash of suspensions handed down from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety in a response to a ridiculous number of illegal checks through the first month of the NHL season has been the primary focus of fans and media members alike.

John Scott’s elbow to Louis Ericsson’s head was the exclamation point on a two-week span that saw a handful of ugly hits and somewhat lengthy suspensions doled out as punishment  joined Pat Kaleta as the sole set of teammates on the list of suspended players and the combined games between the two illustrates the need for more strict policing both on and off the ice.

The worst side effect from these hits – outside of the media circus they often spark – is the long-term effects that players will suffer from repeated head injuries. With all the steps the NHL has taken in an attempt to curb head contact and dangerous concussions, it’s hard to say what type of effect the recent legislation has had.

Companies like Bauer, CCM, Easton and Warrior who each have a major claim in the helmet market have each taken strides to introduce technologically advanced helmets with features designed to help reduce the chances that a concussion will occur. The Bauer RE-AKT is the current trail blazer in this category as the Suspend-Tech liner introduces a padded liner designed to move independently from the helmet shell; thus limiting the chances that a jarring blow to the shell will cause the head and brain to react in a similar manner.

Interestingly enough, one of the most effective helmet designs with concussion prevention in mind was the M11 helmet that was on the market recently. Bauer has taken over the line and is utilizing the Seven technology in their new IMS line.

However, in the NHL at least, these technologically advanced helmets aren’t the norm. Many professionals choose to go the comfortable route with a VN Foam liner in their helmet. That isn’t to say that a player’s choice in helmets has anything to do with keeping them free from concussions, but the use of old technology can’t be helping, either.

Football and hockey have both shown that no matter what type of helmet you’re using that jarring collisions that cause the head to be shaken or rattled in a violent matter will likely lead to some concussion-like symptoms. Even on plays without head contact, violently altering a body’s motion has the ability to cause a concussion due to the whiplash effect.

Preventing head injuries is ultimately on the onus of the players. At the youth and professional levels, the responsibility falls on the participants to avoid dangerous hits, slow down when they see their opponents numbers and be smart when lowering a hit.

Not one of the hits that led to a suspension in the NHL this year showed any sort of caution or care for the opponent. In a sport as physical and competitive as hockey this isn’t necessarily a surprise. However, the reckless actions that were taken by John Scott, Cody McLeod and Maxim Lapierre could have been easily prevented had the player processed what they were doing prior to leading with their elbow or throwing their opponent into the boards head first.

Goons, enforcers and grinders aren’t the lone culprits here either. Skill players who get away with taking liberties due to their status is a trend that cannot continue. While the physical force of the game isn’t likely to be drastically changed anytime soon, longer suspensions for violators in these cases will continue to serve as the deterrent for these plays.

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera on the new Covert LT and ST

A while back Keith Perera took some time to chat with us about his job with Warrior and a few cool features of their stick line. With the new Covert ST and LT in stores now, Keith took a few more minutes to give an inside look at what makes these two new sticks so fantastic.

GS: Tell us about the new sticks, what remains the same from last year’s Covert line and what has been added?

KP: The Covert is all about speed and quick release. So we set out to make our sticks lighter, load easier and kick back stronger – improving on an already successful line.

Our new product has the “LT” designation for a reason. We wanted to make each stick the lightest we could possibly make it without sacrificing durability, and in some cases, making them more durable.

We have also added a “ST” model stick at the very high-end DT1 model to give Stronger players low kick with added twist resistance which then helps accuracy.

GS: The Covert was a very popular model last year – particularly with the various price point models. What do you think made the entire line so popular with players?

KP: Covert had a very distinct feel and kick. When a player got to try the product, they immediately felt the Dagger Taper load and release the puck with ease and speed. Covert also featured our newest blade designed with durability and weight in mind. We now have the lowest return rate in our history and it’s all due to those new blade features. They are lighter and stronger.

GS: How do you think the new features will add to the Covert’s popularity?

KP: Making the product lighter and increasing the recoil will really get more players to notice the Covert line. The biggest thing for us is weight – players we poll always tell us they want the stick to feel light and swing light. The very next thing they say is they don’t want the stick to break. It’s has always been a hockey paradox in the past (Light & Durable), but with some of our new strategic R&D partners in the Aerospace and Defense fields, it has become a reality.

GS: I know you don’t work with pros too often but did you get an idea of positive feedback those guys were giving on the Covert line last year?

KP: Great question, our momentum is really turning here. This off-season was our best ever! Players were hearing more from other players that our sticks were not breaking and were performing incredibly well. That R&D partner also allowed us to produce our lightest pro stick and it was really durable. Players were amazed! We added 30 new players to our stable and it was purely based on product. We did sign some big new names (Pacioretty, Clarkson) but we would have never had a chance with those guys if our product was not good. Money is fine, but product is KING

GS: How much of that feedback, if any, went into the design of the LT and ST models?

KP: Features like HiFusedST and new blade construction did come from needs from PRO. Pros bring very acute problems to our engineering team. Requests like “Make the stiffest blade ever” to the challenge of “keeping Chara’s blade from opening up” are things they get all the time from our players or our reps in the dressing rooms trying to dial-in a player’s spec. Sometimes these trickle down to our retail product (ex. TwinSpar, StrongArm, HiFusedST), but some features don’t. There aren’t that many “Charas” out there…imagine?!

GS: Should we expect to see a lot of NHLers using these models this season?

KP: You will see some major additions to our player stable. We’ve added players all over the league. Abdelkader, Franzen, Iginla are just to name a few. The other thing you’ll notice is that most of our players will be using our LT or ST graphic. This will also make the impression of our players larger since they are using one of 3 graphics available. In the past, we would have up to 5 graphics available to our pros and it really diluted our product presence in the NHL.

GS: When was the decision made to offer two different models (ST and LT) for this year?

KP: The decision was a tough one but came out of utility. We were finding our AAA testers loving the LT quick release Dagger construction but they were complaining that it was too “whippy or active” down low. We got that from pros too and we tested the HiFusedST construction with the same AAA players and they loved the quick release + Accuracy. We found that some players did not need all the Dagger Taper extra flex since they generated enough power and force themselves. What those stronger players needed was added twist resistance. That’s exactly what HiFusedST does, since the fuse point of the stick is near the player’s lower hand. It resists twist, thus giving the player low kick with more accuracy. Many players told us it felt like the old Easton SE16, which was very popular with better players a few years ago.

GS: Can you talk about a few more benefits of the LT?

KP: LT is all about making our sticks LighT. Since we were building “smarter sticks” (better engineered, more durable) we found new ways to pull excess weight out without affecting durability. It was an amazing discovery. Our lower priced models are incredibly light for the price. As a quick example, our $99 DT4LT weighed 40g lighter than a major competitors’ $110 stick… and is lighter than everyone’s $99 stick, by quite a bit.

GS: Can you give a more detailed breakdown of the Dagger technology and specifically the upgrades made with the Dagger T2?

KP: Dagger Taper is a wonderfully simple and effective technology for a hockey stick. The stick tapers to a point down very low in the stick and, in turn, that’s where the stick flexes. Pretty simple. This simple notion has resonated with players and they are feeling the benefits of this super low kick point. With this new line, we wanted to improve on the RECOIL of Dagger. Dagger loads and flexes very easily, but we wanted it to recoil back and return energy back to the puck. So we placed Uni-Directional fibers in the taper to help promote that kick-back effect. We also extended the internal structures from our blades into the taper area to help provide a more “connected” feel for the blade and taper to work together. Those two enhancements helped push Dagger Taper to the next level.

GS: A number of NHLers were using custom colored Coverts throughout the year last season. Is there an opportunity that various colors will be made available to the public with the new models or even the former Covert line?

KP: We are playing with the idea of offering these “Pro Graphic” build ability on our customizer, but nothing has been finalized as yet. Sorry!

GS: Should we expect to see a similar evolution to the Dynasty AX1 line? If so, can you provide any hints?

KP: I can’t speak to the Dynasty line as yet, but I can in a couple months. We just presented all the info on the new line to our sales force and after all our dealers have had a chance to see it and write orders for it we can talk about it.

GS: The Covert gloves were finally released and feel phenomenal (I’m a fan of a more snug fit glove). What has the reaction been to them – both from pros and amatuers?

KP: I’m not really close to our glove product (Chris J is our PM for protective) but from 3rd hand I know that people love the feel of them. I’m also a fan of the Covert…

GS: Last time you couldn’t offer much in terms of what we can expect next from Warrior. Are you able to offer any hints as to what we may see in the coming months?

KP: I wish I could, but I can’t get in to too much detail. All I can say is – 2014 is going to blow the doors off. We consciously took a step back 2yrs ago, refocused, reorganized and made our product better performing with durability. Now it’s time for us to really fly our brand flag…and if you saw how we did it when we started, you get the idea. So I’ll leave it at that.

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres

There is going to be a big spotlight on Ryan Miller for most of the 2013-14 season. As he enters the final year of his contract with the Sabres many are wondering whether he will be convinced to re-sign, if he will be traded at the deadline or if he’ll simply play out the deal and sign with a new team in free agency.

While there will be plenty of talk about his play in Buffalo, one thing you may or may not have noticed is that he has completely switched his gear. After a number of years using Reebok equipment, Miller has gone to a Vaughn set up for the 2013-14 season.

Perhaps he is thinking of switching things up after a couple of playoff-less seasons in Buffalo. Maybe Vaughn was able to better construct the type of pad he wanted to wear moving forward. It’s anyone’s guess and here’s a look at what Miller is wearing this season.

Mask: Warwick custom – Dating back to his time at Michigan State (and probably earlier), Miller has worn a custom Warwick mask. It’s a small custom mask shop that primarily builds for pros and college players. But they have recently started doing work for Vaughn. Look for some of their design features in the new Vaughn mask line.

Blocker: CCM EFlex (blocker) and Vaughn T5500 (glove) – Ryan Miller broke his thumb during the 2005-06 season and subsequently switched to a Reebok (then RBK) blocker. The Lefevre design has a one-piece cuff that offers  comfortable, full-coverage protection that many other models don’t feature. Miller may actually be wearing the Vintage version of the EFlex, but the lack of graphics makes it hard to tell. I feel like it has become something of a comfort level with Miller as he’s worn a different model blocker (don’t be fooled by graphics) than his catch glove and pads since that 05-06 season. Miller’s new glove appears to be a T5500 model from Vaughn. Miller is known to be particular about his gear and it’s certainly possible that this is more of a custom build than what you’d find with a stock 5500. What’s for sure is the two-piece cuff and T-pocket appears to have all the qualities of the 5500.

Pads: Vaughn Velocity V5 – The most obvious change for Miller comes with his leg pads. Not only the manufacturer but that fact that his new Vaughn pads appear to be relatively stock. One thing many people didn’t know is that Miller’s Reebok Larceny’s were a fully custom pad that was built with the Larceny graphic. His previous pads were actually a custom build with traits from different Vaughn and CCM pads from previous years. These new pads have a flat face (as opposed to having shin rolls) and a more modern build than the traditional construction of his previous pads.

Stick: Reebok Pro – Miller has stuck with his sticks from previous seasons. The sturdy Reebok Pro wood stick. This is a solid stick that is popular throughout the league. I doubt he switches things up this year from a model that he’s been using for so long.

Let the kids play

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

The youth movement is on at First Niagara Center. Bolstered by two-straight drafts with a pair of first round selections, the Buffalo Sabres boast one of the NHL’s deepest and most talented prospect pools. And there’s a chance many will see time with the big club right away.

Mikhail Grigorenko, who already played a portion of an NHL season, leads the group as a former lottery candidate and perhaps the most impressive offensive weapon the Sabres own in the entire organization (outside of Thomas Vanek). Girgorenko’s development is a big part of where he ends up in the grand plans of the Sabres, however. He struggled through his first campaign with the team and will need more ice time with skilled linemates in order to progress as a player this year.

Along with Girgorenko’s fellow 2012 first rounder Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia (2011 first round) represents two more significant pieces to the offensive future of the organization. A big, talented winger, Armia will look awfully good patrolling the wing with Grigorenko or another top center to his side. Girgensons has proven to be a do-anything center who has also spent time on the wing. He’s a tenacious talent who serves equally well on the power play as on the penalty kill. He seems to have some Chris Drury or Michael Peca intangibles as an effective two-way forward with leadership potential.

In addition to Armia, Girgensons and Grigorenko, the Sabres also have the likes of Johan Larsson, Daniel Catenacci and a handful of other promising prospects set to begin the year in Rochester.

The 2013 first round yielded Darcy Regier a pair of cornerstone defenders to go along with another top talent in Mark Pysyk (2010 first round). Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov have both earned positive reviews throughout camp and the preseason and with Ristolainen already under contract, there seems to be a good chance at least one starts the year in Buffalo.

Based on the direction that Regier seems to be thinking about taking, it might be worthwhile to roll out a majority of Buffalo’s top prospects to start the 2013-14 season. One challenge is finding the space.

On the backend players like Henrik Talliner, Mike Weber and Jamie McBain will all command playing time and finding a way to fit Ristolainen into that mix could be difficult.

Pysyk will almost certainly be amongst Buffalo’s top six when the puck drops on opening night. He showed well last season and seems to have secured a position on the right side of one of Buffalo’s top pairs. Should Ristolainen find a spot, he’d join Pysyk and Tyler Myers as three of Buffalo’s top youthful defenders. Although Myers’ struggles have been an issue in recent seasons, adding that trio with Christian Ehrhoff creates a significant, solid core.

There is a little more wiggle room up front with Buffalo’s four big guns. While Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek and other veterans obviously get written into the lineup with pen, there is space for the likes of Larsson and Girgensons to fit in.

I personally like both Larsson and Girgensons together in a third line, two-way role. They both excel at both ends of the ice, they play physically and could eventually grow into a shutdown scoring line. Think of something in the mold of Patrice Bergeron.  While sticking Steve Ott with them would provide more than enough sandpaper, finding an adequate right winger may make more sense. Exactly who fills that role, however may be tough to pinpoint.

While it would be doubtful to see Grigorenko and Armia sitck together for the duration of the year, giving them an opportunity right off the bat would almost be like seeing your future unfold directly before your eyes. Splitting the pair may provide more wiggle room for each to make the roster.

Ultimately, Armia will likely land in the AHL in order to further adjust to the North American game, although don’t be surprised when you see him called up by midseason.  Even with Armia sent to Rochester, here’s a set of lines which I’d like to see the Sabres open the year with should youth be a primary concern (bear in mind that some of these sets my not make the most sense):

Vanek – Hodgson – Stafford

Ennis – Grigorenko – Leino

Ott – Larsson – Girgensons

Foligno – Porter – Kaleta

Scott (extra forward)

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

Part two of our NHL preview takes you out West to the newly minted Central and Pacific divisions. The recycled names with plenty of new faces ought to produce some very interesting playoff races as many perennial powers are now grouped together.

The Central is led by the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks who will be joined by a pair of former Northwest Division foes (Colorado and Minnesota) and a newcomer from the East (Winnipeg).

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – The Cup champs remain relatively unchanged, although their goaltender has a brand new contract to go along with his Cup ring. There’s no reason the Hawks shouldn’t win this division running away. While there are some quality teams, the Hawks are in a class of their own by comparison.
  2. St. Louis Blues – Perhaps this seems high for the Blues but I have a great deal of faith in their system and their talent. While they don’t light up the scoreboard, they have a handful of players who I’d want on my team any day of the week. So long as they receive quality goaltending, this will be a playoff team.
  3. Minnesota Wild – The Wild enjoyed a nice run last season before injuries aided in their first round dispatch at the hands of the Blackhawks. I have faith that the Wild will build on their success last season and make yet another playoff run. If nothing else, they certainly can boast the best uniform set in the league.
  4. Nashville Predators – I’m hoping to see the Preds bounce back this season. Pekka Rinne is the real deal and with some increased scoring depth up front, there is no reason that Smashville shouldn’t see more playoff hockey come springtime.
  5. Dallas Stars – For the second straight season the Stars were wheeling and dealing during the offseason. A new coach, phenom and uniforms will debut in Dallas this year, but I’m unsure if they have enough to roll to a playoff berth. They’re getting there, just not this season.
  6. Winnipeg Jets – There are some nice pieces on the Jets roster. However I think they will ultimately fall short again this year. While the Central isn’t brimming with top teams like the Metro Division, I doubt that the Jets can sneak by enough clubs to find the postseason.
  7. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs are building an impressive core. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are three elite talents who need time to grow. This will be a contender sooner rather than later if their youth can be cultivated.

The Pacific Division might be the most intriguing of the four this season. The 2012 Cup Champions, 2011 Finalists and three more playoff seasoned squads make up this division. This will be a fun division to track during the year.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – Things weren’t the same for the Kings last spring, but that doesn’t mean they’re suffering a major regression. A great deal of the Cup team remains intact with only role players and replaceable parts finding their way to greener pastures. I expect the likes of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar to again lead this deep squad on a playoff run.
  2. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks were a fine hockey club in 2012-13. Their veteran core still remains but the transition to their young stars is well underway. Further increasing the role of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will do nothing more than to galvanize the talent that is all over this roster.
  3. Vancouver Canucks – I found it odd that the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault because Vancouver’s offense was expiring only to hire a defense-first thinker as his replacement. While the Canucks may not employ the same defensive shell tactics used by the Rangers, the relationship between John Tortorella and some of Vancouver’s offensive weapons will be an interesting dynamic.
  4. Anaheim Ducks – Not only is this the final flight for the Finnish Flash but the Ducks will be bringing back their eggplant uniforms once more. The Ducks made major strides last season and I can only expect them to build upon last season’s success in 13-14.
  5. Phoenix Coyotes – I don’t expect this to be as close as the place in the standings may indicate. While the Coytoes are finally on firm financial ground, I think the talent above them in this division will be far too much to overcome. Perhaps they unseat the Ducks for a playoff spot, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
  6. Edmonton Oilers – The talent in Edmonton is beyond enviable. However, they seem to keep finding different ways to squander the royal flush they continue to be dealt. While there are plenty of things to be happy about with the improvement of the Oilers, I still think they’re a couple of years away from being a contender.

Calgary Flames – The Flames probably won’t be very good this season. They have major question marks in goal, at forward and on defense. They appear to be in phase one of a major rebuilding project and I’m not sure where the end of the line may be.

2013-14 NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Bufalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller

Even with a summer altered by last season’s lockout, it seems like it has been an eternity since the NHL has been in action. At long last, hockey has returned and the start of the NHL season is right around the corner.

The new divisional alignment that the league adopted for this season will probably be an awkward transition for most fans. Particularly those who were used to equating the Atlantic Division with teams like New York, Philadelphia or New Jersey. Now the Atlantic spans through Canada and all the way to the Gulf Coast. Then, of course, there is the oddly named Metropolitan Division which manages to incorporate the Tri-State Area with Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Carolina. Perhaps it is time to abandon the geographical division names, no?

As for the 2013-14 season, the new playoff structure will bring old fans back to the days of the Norris and Patrick Divisions, while younger fans will have to adjust on the fly to the new playoff breakdown.

The Metro Division is choc-full of deep, talented teams who are likely to cannibalize each other on their way to battling for one of the four available playoff spots. Teams like the Islanders and Blue Jackets – who in a conference playoff structure would likely be clawing their way towards a 6-8 berth, are likely to be on the outside looking in once the season wraps. The Penguins, Rangers and Flyers have been perennial playoff teams and are now joined by the Capitals as the likely top four teams in the division.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with Marc-Andre Fleury’s second-straight season of playoff struggles the Penguins still managed to roll into the conference finals before being dispatched by the Bruins last spring. Sidney Crosby and company won’t be much different entering this season and I expect them to snag the top seed in the Metro.
  2. Washington Capitals – George McPhee, aside from trading away one of his top assets in Filip Forsberg, has done a fine job building his club. While the Caps could get some pressure from the Rangers or Flyers, I expect Washington to own the second best record in the Metro.
  3. New York Rangers – While Glen Stather is still battling out with Derek Stepan over his contract, the Rangers have a new coach who should hopefully breathe life into their dormant goal scorers. Henrik Lundqvist is capable of carrying any team to the playoffs, and the Rangers top-six forwards make them a very strong club.
  4. New York Islanders – The Isles are my darkhorse playoff team in the East. They have some great talent up front and have matured nicely over the last few years. The new alignment will make things tricky but I have a feeling that they will beat out the Flyers for the final playoff spot.
  5. Philadelphia Flyers – I question the Flyers in two areas: defense and goaltending. Should Ray Emery and Steve Mason platoon effectively, I think the Flyers will be a tough out on an nightly basis. While the blueline has some holes that need to be plugged, this is still a team loaded with firepower. Ultimately I think the Isles sneak by for the division’s final spot.
  6. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets have a nice roster make up with some quality talent in key areas. Whether or not Sergei Bobrovsky continues his Vezina form will say a lot for Columbus’ success this year. In such a talented division, I fear they’ll be on the outside looking in.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes are a good team, no doubt about it. They also happen to be playing in what is likely to be the league’s toughest division. It will be an uphill battle for the Hurricanes this season and I just don’t think they have the horses to run with this division’s elite teams.
  8. New Jersey Devils – The Devils need some help. They’re missing a handful of key cogs despite having an embarrassment of riches in goal. Despite their strength between the pipes, I wonder if they have the talent to compete on a nightly basis.

The Atlantic Division, while not as rich in top-end talent as the Metro, there is the potential for a nasty battle for playoff positioning in this division. While the Metro’s hallmark is it’s talent, the Atlantic’s might just be it’s depth.

  1. Boston Bruins – This is a very good hockey team. It’s my opinion that the Tyler Seguin trade aids the Bruins far more than it will aid the Stars. While Seguin has the potential to be a superstar, Louis Eriksson is going to be a phenomenal addition to an already very talented team.
  2. Detroit Red Wings – The top two in this division will probably be interchangeable for most of the year. The popular opinion last season was the Detroit was heading towards a decline, they proved the opposite of that with yet another impressive run. They should have plenty of success in their new division, helping to elevate them to an easy playoff position.
  3. Montreal Canadiens – After the Bruins and Wings, there is a bit of a drop off with this division. Depending on team-to-team goaltending, injuries and other extenuating circumstances, any one of five teams could find themselves in the final two playoff spots. I think the Habs are the most talented of the remaining clubs and will find themselves in the postseason yet again.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning – At some point the Lightning will figure out this goaltending thing, I’m sure of it. Whether or not Ben Bishop is their guy is yet to be seen, but I think that he gives them the best chance for success. Assuming he’s steady this year, I have little doubt that the Lightning have enough firepower to earn a playoff berth.
  5. Ottawa Senators – The Sens made a ton of changes this season and are coming off an impressive playoff run led, in large part, by Craig Anderson. The loss of Daniel Alfredsson shouldn’t hurt them much but I think the firepower of the Lightning will bump the Sens back a spot this year.
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs – A slight regression for the Maple Leafs should be expected this season. Acquiring Bernier was an interesting choice and I’m interested to see how he and James Reimer work as a platoon. While the new alignment shouldn’t hurt the Leafs, I expect them to be watching the playoffs from their couches.
  7. Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres have some nice pieces. They also have a ton of youth. While Ryan Miller in an Olympic year might be one of hockey’s greatest commodities, Buffalo’s rebuilding process will most likely keep them out of the playoffs.

Florida Panthers – Too many holes in South Florida, in my opinion. They have a number of impressive pieces but I’m willing to bet on another down campaign like they suffered through in 2012-13.

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

For this month’s edition of What They’re Wearing, we take a look at one of the newest members of the St. Louis Blues, Derek Roy. Roy, who spent the bulk of his career in Buffalo, bounced to Dallas and Vancouver last year and signed a new deal in St. Louis this summer.

Roy has been an Easton guy for a number of years and he has become one of their most successful on-ice talents in recent seasons. It’s never a surprise to see him using their newest gear and last season was no exception.

Skates: Easton Mako

Roy was one of many players using Easton’s new, groundbreaking skate last year. A good number of Easton regulars were using the Mako and Roy was wearing it all year. Here’s a solid shot of Roy sporting the footwear.

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Gloves: Easton EQ Pro

Roy’s a playmaker who favors the open mobility of a four-roll glove. The EQ Pro is built with a very traditional construction that doesn’t restrict movement and provides plenty of wrist mobility. While it may not be the best looking glove – very low without any graphics or extra trim – this is a full-nylon glove with quality protection and fit. You can expect to see Roy transition to the new Easton Pro next season like many Easton players did for the end of the year and postseason.

Helmet: Easton E400

This is the more basic VN foam liner model that Easton produces which is appealing to many pros as they often side with the VN built helmets as opposed to some of the more technologically advanced models.

Stick: Easton Stealth RS

It was hard to tell if Roy was using a V9 series prototypes during last season. All photos I found of him had him sporting a Stealth RS model. I think it’s a good bet that Roy will be using a V9E next season as he follows the progression of the Easton product line. The V9 and V9E are now available in stores if you’ve yet to get a look at the newest models.

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.

Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.

Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.

In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.

In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen.

Traverse City Tournament provides in live action for an organization’s prospects prior to the start of preseason action. For those players who aren’t expected to see time in the preseason – mostly newly drafted junior players – it serves as a way for coaches and scouts to see their new players live.

Even though the tournament serves more as an evaluation tool, it is still a nice point of pride for the winning club. It almost serves as verification that one team owns a better prospect pool than the others in some ways. For Sabres fans, this should offer a nice barometer for seeing how Darcy Regier’s recent investments are developing.

One benefit from the tournament is putting brand new prospects in a team setting with some of the older members of the group. This not only allows players like Nick Baptiste to see how Pysyk carries himself, it gives Pysyk a leadership opportunity that would otherwise be missed in the regular season.

That type of locker room and off-ice growth is a valuable fringe benefit that goes along with the on-ice play each of the prospects get over the course of the tournament. Although it didn’t seem to do too much for guys like Adam or Kassian in 2011, perhaps the inclusion of an established talent like Pysyk indicates the Sabres are hoping for him to take the reins.

Like the Sabres, the other participating clubs don’t shy away from using their big guns. The Stars will have Jack Campbell, Radek Faksa and Valeri Nichushkin among others on their roster, proving that each team is indeed out to impress during the event.

Buffalo’s participants include a handful of very intriguing names who will be very interesting to watch. Seeing Johan Larsson in a Sabres jersey for the first time will be cool and having the chance to see him skate with someone like Girgensons will be particularly exciting.

Fans are likely hoping to see Armia and Grigorenko skate on a line together – Kris Baker from Sabres prospects points to Dan Catenacci as their linemate, which I fully endorse – and having the chance to see Ristolainen playing in North America is also encouraging. Obviously those five are the marquee names wearing blue and gold but they’re not the player’s I’m most interested in seeing during that weekend.

Catenacci is one of my favorite Sabres prospects and I’m very hopeful that the 2013-14 season serves as a major stepping stone for him moving forward. An NHL callup isn’t what I’m hoping for, so much as a great growth year that prepares him for a solid NHL career. Colin Jacobs found his footing as a shootout specialist in his Rochester debut and I’m hopeful that he can evolve his game now that the Sabres invested a contract in him. Logan Nelson could also push for a professional deal if he has a strong showing, and the Coon Rapids, MN native has an offensive side that would be great to see flourish.

In addition to Jacobs and Nelson, I’m waiting to see if Brady Austin grows into a late-round sleeper and I’m also hoping to see Justin Kea explore the physical side of his game.

A few of those names are boring, long-term prospects who don’t carry the pedigree of the big names who will likely grace Traverse City and First Niagara Center during this season. But they’re also prospects who appear to have solid value given their draft status.

Depth in the prospect pool is something each and every team at the Traverse City Tournament shares. I’ll be keeping my eye on the depth players while waiting to see if Buffalo’s big guns earn another title.

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

The wait is finally over. A few weeks after CCM introduced the RBZ Stage 2 stick, Reebok has introduced their newest twig for the upcoming season. The revolutionary Ribcor is now available in stores and offers a groundbreaking feature in stick development.

For the most part, the Ribcor is a pretty basic stick. The black on black finish gives it a sleek, stealthy look with fewer frills than other, more complicated sticks on the market. Nothing more than the neon green Ribcor logo stands out when looking at the stick from a distance.

Reebok offers a full host of flex and curve options with the Ribcor and when it comes down to blade technology, there isn’t too much different from that of the other sticks in the Reebok line. Where the difference is with the Ribcor is the kick point.

Reebok developed a ribbed (hence the name) design that keeps the carbon at full tension at all times. This differs from other stick technology in which the carbon is only at full tension when shooting or passing. Because of this change, the Ribcor is always loaded and ready to fire. This translates to less effort for the player when shooting.

The technology is all about power transfer. Much like other features in sticks like the Dynasty or RBZ that harness the power behind each player’s shot, the Ribcor’s technology almost enhances that power because of the way the stick is constructed.

What’s even better about the Ribcor line is that the technology doesn’t waver in the price point models. While many equipment lines only offer the top technology in the pro stick, gloves, skates etc.; the ribbed shaft is a hallmark of the entire line. That means you get the benefit of the new technology no matter what model you purchase.

For those players hoping for the lightest and highest performing model, the pro is the only way to go. During the demo day for the Ribcor I was surprised to feel the balance of the stick despite the new addition. My expectation was a drastically heavier stick than models like the 20K or A.I.Nine, but it wasn’t any heavier than the RBZ I was trying out. That, combined with the pop you get on your shots makes for a dangerous scoring weapon.

From the short time I had with the stick on the ice, I noticed a nice response and a stiffer shaft. Comparing the 100 flex Ribcor to a 100 flex RBZ, for example, there seemed to be more whip to the RBZ due to the construction. Even though the Ribcor felt stiffer, it didn’t react as if it was stiffer. In fact, the pop on a slap shot was equivalent, if not improved as compared to the RBZ when I used both on the ice.

You don’t have to wait any longer to snag the Ribcor and Great Skate has a full line of the new twigs for you to check out.