LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup

LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup

LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup

A pair of very familiar faces are back in prominent positions with the Sabres organization as Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought back in the fold after a massive shake up at First Niagara Center.

LaFontaine takes over as the team’s President of Hockey Operations with Ted Nolan stepping in as the interim head coach. Both Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier were relieved of their duties prior to LaFontaine and Nolan stepping in.

Ousting Rolston seemed like an inevitable choice given Buffalo’s woeful record and the ugly way they went about earning it. Exactly when the axe was to fall on Rolston was left to guesswork due to Buffalo’s current campaign for the first overall pick. The heat was rising fast, however, as Buffalo’s string of first period flops and ugly losses was punctuated by an inability to draw any sort of redemption from the progression of the team’s young players. When a coach lauded for his ability to develop players isn’t even doing that, obviously there is a problem.

Regier’s departure is only shocking when you consider the scope of this shakeup. The construction of the roster left plenty to be desired and his quest to mimic the toughness of the Bruins ended up sacrificing the overall skill level of Buffalo’s forward group. Like Rolston, Regier’s departure was something that was expected at some point in the coming calendar year, the timing is what comes as something of a shock, as were his replacements.

Pat LaFontaine strikes me as a solid, sound choice as the team’s new President of Hockey Operations. His lack of front office experience doesn’t make him a glowing candidate for the position of GM and he said as much during today’s press conference. What LaFontaine brings is a fresh set of eyes to evaluate and hire the general manager who will guide the team through this rebuilding process.

His choice on the new GM will have a trickle-down effect on the team’s current interim head coach, Ted Nolan. The interim tag given to Nolan indicates that the new GM will have the ability to make the final choice on the coach and should the two not see eye-to-eye, the GM will be able to replace him. Given that the chain of command has yet to be completed, this makes a lot of sense.

Nolan’s success could certainly dictate whether or not he drops the interim tag, but there is no doubt that the new GM will have final say on his tenure this time around. Given that LaFontaine is ensuring the new chain of command falls as it should, I’m not reading too much into Nolan’s hiring at this point. In fact, I’m willing to wait to not only see who the new GM will be, but what his choice of head coach will wind up being. At that point it will be slightly easier to pass judgement. Nolan will simply be keeping the seat warm for the time being with the opportunity to earn a full time role should he prove capable.

This decision also allows the Sabres to continue forward with a clean slate. There was a growing trend of negative comments made about the culture in Buffalo – namely from Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and even Jason Pominville. What they were specifically referencing can’t be confirmed as they could just as easily have been referring to the entire hockey department or just the attitudes in the locker room.

No matter where it stemmed from, there certainly seemed as if there was a recruiting problem at First Niagara Center; starting fresh in the hockey department should aid in erasing that stigma. By cleaning house, Terry Pegula and his staff are taking strides to eliminate any sort of negative perception that had become attached to the organization under the Regier’s regime. That may serve as the most important aspect of this decision.

Not only is LaFontaine a familiar face and Sabres legend, he has no connection to Regier’s management team. In fact, there are indications that LaFointaine (and Nolan to an extent) wouldn’t have returned has Regier stuck around. So clearly there was some disconnect between how Regier operated and how it was embraced league-wide. With LaFontaine clearly separated from that modus operandi, there should be some positive results when recruiting a new general manager, coach and perhaps even free agents.

That’s not to say that hiring LaFontaine will magically make every free agent want to play in Buffalo, but I have to think it will give them more confidence than they may have had in a GM who held his post for nearly two decades.

The long term results of this hiring won’t even begin to bear results for some time. But the time for a drastic change at the top of the Sabres hockey department seemed to be long overdue. Today marked a big first step forward with the next step hopefully to come soon in the form of a new GM.

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.

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.

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

As time continues to tick down towards the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympics, hockey fans are gaining more interest in which players will be representing their country at the Sochi Games.

After an impressive and surprising silver medal effort in Vancouver, the United States will come to Sochi with much higher expectations and a much more impressive roster. With an impressive amount of defensive depth and a bevy of talented goaltenders to choose from, the biggest challenge will be determining who will be scoring the goals for the Americans next February.

I expect to see a few roster spots turnover for the US team this time around, but the same strong core will return up front:

LW

C

RW

Patrick Kane

Joe Pavelski

Dustin Brown

Zach Parise

James VanRiemsdyk

Phil Kessel

Max Pacioretty

Paul Stastny

Bobby Ryan

David Backes (A)

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Callahan (C)

Derek Stepan

 

The offensive engine for the United States will be powered by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel. Those three bring a different level of electricity to the ice and they should thrive on the big surface where they can escape from the high traffic areas they typically encounter on the NHL pad.

As of now I have Kane skating with Joe Pavelski and Dustin Brown. Brown is riding shotgun for the offensively gifted duo and his muck and grind style should result in a few ugly tallies throughout the tournament. Pavelski is going to play a major role for the United States as they’re woefully thin at center from top to bottom.

The Kane, Pavelski, Brown trio should combine will with Parise, James VanRiemsdyk and Phil Kessel to form a top-six with plenty of scoring acumen. While my penciled in top line has a little bit of two-way responsibility (Brown and Pavelski), my second unit won’t be entering the Selke race any time soon.

I also take a slight stretch by placing VanRiemsdyk at center. This isn’t his natural position but I love the idea of he and Kessel feeding off their preloaded chemistry from the regular season. Parise is the outsider in a sense, but he’s such a great talent that I doubt he will struggle to run up some points with that pair.

My third line is something of a set of sleepers. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Bobby Ryan as all American veterans from various international tournaments and Stastny and Ryan will be returning for their second Olympic games. Stastny was going to be off my list until his stunning play at the Worlds changed my mind. Putting him with two battleships like Pacioretty and Ryan should allow him to serve as playmaker to the two snipers.

Lastly comes the grind line. The Americans succeeded in Vancouver thanks to their goaltending, physical play and plenty of gutty leadership. Veterans like Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner weren’t expected to be major contributors but the pair brought more to the table than was expected. A trio of 2010 vets should bring the same attitude to the table in Sochi.

Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan and David Backes are all first or second line players for their respective NHL squads and they all happen to be world class defensive forwards. Playing an overly physical game on the big ice in Russia is going to be a risk/reward game plan and these three are talented enough to find a healthy balance. When it comes to shutting down the countless superstar lines from Canada and Russia, these three will likely earn the toughest task. I don’t know if I could think of a better set of forwards to handle such a task.

Derek Stepan is my extra forward and he makes my team based on the fact that he can play center. The US is so thin at center that they need all the help they can get. Stepan is a shifty, dangerous forward who can step in as a pivot and produce if necessary. If he makes the team, most of his minutes will come on the wing. But when needed, he can slide inside.

This roster is contingent on a couple of factors. First; the staff needs to feel confident that one of those top three lines is capable of playing a little bit of defense. The Backes, Kesler, Callahan line is a shutdown dream but the rest of the forwards are more of the one-way variety. Second, the health of certain players (Kesler to be precise) will weigh heavily on how the roster comes together. Bearing that in mind, here are a few watch list players to keep an eye on:

TJ Oshie – A dynamic winger who has some strong two-way ability. Oshie is young but has shown great promise in St. Louis’ defensive system. He was may final “cut” but could easily find his way on the roster.

Brandon Dubinsky – Think of Dubinsky as Kesler Light. He’s a solid two-way player who can fill a shut down role. If defensive responsibility is at a premium, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him.

Alex Galchenyuk – A darkhorse, but someone to keep in mind. He’s incredibly talented and there’s no reason to think that he wouldn’t have a place on this roster. I doubt that he’d see time as a center, but if he has a big start to the season, he could be a possibility.

Up next, the defensemen and goalies

As draft passes, focus shifts to free agency

As draft passes, focus shifts to free agency

As draft passes, focus shifts to free agency

It didn’t take long for things to get squirrely at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Pick number two brought the first curveball of the day as the Florida Panthers opted to select Sasha Barkov second overall behind Nathan MacKinnon.

That selected bucked the assumed train of thought of MacKinnon and Seth Jones being the first two players off the board. Jones actually fell all the way to the fourth pick and will land in Nashville thanks to his mini-drop in the first round.

Vancouver finally solved their goaltending issues – although it felt like they may have taken the easy way out – and a handful of other players, picks and prospects changed hands throughout the day.

The 2013 draft was touted as being incredibly deep and upwards of seven of the first round selections are expected to be capable of stepping onto an NHL roster immediately, marking the further evolution of talent being selected in the draft lately.

Now that the draft has passed, many contenders have begun to position themselves for a strong offseason through the trade market and unrestricted free agency. With the free agent market set to open on Friday, there is bound to be some massive contracts offered despite the relatively weak class that is set to hit the market.

The new wrinkle in the CBA that allows teams to meet and speak with players prior to the market opening on Friday should help re-create some of the excitement from the 2007 free agency opening day when so many teams went crazy with big contract signings. Given that teams will be able to negotiate and bargain with players over the next couple of days, it should make for an exciting start to the official free agent period.

The strength of this free agent class is on the wings. David Clarkson, Nathan Horton and Ryane Clowe are just a few of the pending free agents who all effectively patrol the right wing. They all share another similar trait; a physically imposing offensive game.

As the league continues to evolve and the premium on talented power forwards grows, players like Horton will be in high demand. Based on the teams who are looking to add offense and girt, I’d expect all three of those players to sign healthy offers on Friday.

Another player bound to cash in will be Pascal Dupuis. He benefitted greatly from playing on a wing with Sidney Crosby and probably earned a massive raise thanks to an incredibly productive year. I’m guessing someone throws at least $4 million at him on Friday in hopes that he can continue to produce despite being centered by someone other than Crosby.

If there’s any one player to be cautious about, it has to be Dupuis. I’ve been a big fan of his game for a long time. He’s a very effective two-way forward who can chip in well offensively. However, he’s not a scoring winger but is about to be paid as one. While I know he will be a quality contributor no matter where he goes, I’m certain that he will struggle to justify the terms of his contract.

For fans hoping their team will go out an snag a quality center to build around, understand that the market is fairly thin. Vincent Lecavalier will garner plenty of interest along with Mike Ribiero (who had a monster year with Washington). Tyler Bozak is set to cash in on a massive payday as many expect the Leafs to go in a different spending direction once free agency opens.

Bozak is someone on my radar along with Stephen Weiss. They’re both quality top-six forwards who should not only receive hefty raises but will bring improvement to the clubs which sign them this week.

The one position (outside of goaltending) that is really thin is at defense. Andrew Ference and Rob Scuderi are ready to hit the market but there aren’t any flashy names or major contributors going to market this summer. Free agency isn’t going to be an option for teams looking to find an instant upgrade along the blueline.

Even with a relatively light free agent class, it appears as if there will be some fireworks coming on Friday. Either way, I’m going to make sure I have a good seat for the action.

For more great hockey gear visit us online at http://www.greatskate.com 

Industry Q&A: Keith Perera – Warrior Hockey

Warrior Dynasty AX1 Composite Hockey Stick

Warrior Dynasty AX1 Composite Hockey Stick

For this Q&A we have tabbed Keith Perera from Warrior Hockey. Keith handles the stick business for Warrior and can be found on Twitter @warriorstickguy. His Q&A gives some very cool insight to his role with Warrior, some interesting pro requests and where Warrior’s unique graphics and nicknames come from.

Great Skate:  Your Twitter account says you’re the “Warrior Stick Guy”. More or less that sounds like just about every hockey player’s dream job. Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work.

Keith Perera: Stick Guy is a moniker I stole from an old colleague at Mission Hockey.  He actually had “Stick Guy” on his business card!  I was the “young skate guy” at the time, so I always remembered it.  My day-to-day in simple terms is planning out the product line for future global releases, working with the development team on future technology, crafting the story behind every technology and informing the sales and marketing groups on our stick product and direction.  PMs also work closely with our dealer base and players to come up with new products or technologies that are not currently met in the market.  Making better products to make players better is our main objective.

 

GS: As a guy born in Montreal, raised in LA and now working in Michigan, what type of hockey background do you have?

 

KP: I have a very unique hockey background.  I was born in Montreal where my passion for hockey developed.  I moved to LA at a young age, a couple years after the Gretzky trade, and experienced the hyper-growth of our game through ice and roller hockey.  I started working in a hockey shop at 16yrs old, managed it through college, and got a job at Mission Hockey’s Warranty Department after college.  Worked my way up the ranks to Skate Product Manager (PureFly) and had a short stint in the golf business before landing at Warrior where I began as PM for Sticks/Protective/Goalie.  It’s been a wild ride, but I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing mentors along the way.  Our industry is a great one.

GS: Lefty or righty?

KP: Right Handed but I shoot Lefty.

GS: Pattern?

KP: I’m using an old Toews Pro pattern…like if E28 and W03-Kopitar had a baby.  When using retail pattern, I float between Kopitar and Kovalev…I’m not very good, so I always blame my sticks :)

GS: Flex?

KP: 85

GS: Velvet Grip, Nipple Grip or basic finish?

KP: I’ve always been an Innovative guy, from the beginning when we used to sell them in our store …so I love the old Polarfibre grip feel.  But these days I use a Matte clear finish with diamond texture (have I mentioned yet that I love my job?).

GS: Do you work with NHL professionals too? If so, what are some of the crazier requests you’ve gotten from the pros you work with.

KP: I do work with Pros sometimes.  Warrior has an amazing team of Pro Reps that have the relationships and are very skilled at figuring out what a pro player needs for their sticks.  Most of my work is done from the standpoint of guiding the Pro Sales Team on direction for what we showcase in pro to help promote our new retail sticks at any given time during the season.  Craziest request: Without a doubt – Ryan Smyth asking us to make a graphite blade “look like wood”…I call it “flesh blade”- it’s kinda gross.

GS: Who is/was your favorite NHLer to work with? Who was the toughest?

KP: It’s a tie: Best two guys ever… Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne for skates.  Selanne is probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met and Lidstrom is purest form of class.  Toughest…no comment.

GS: What struggles, if any, have you dealt with working for a company that – when Warrior first jumped into hockey – may not be considered a “traditional” hockey manufacturer?

KP: Great question.  The biggest challenge for Warrior, is what I call, the “post-launch hangover”.  We blew out the doors with an amazing marketing buzz and on-ice product recognition (bright colors/crazy graphics) and it really helped us become the fastest growing hockey brand in this industry’s history.  After that, Dealers and Consumers wanted more from us and needed a reason to buy Warrior for performance and less for standing out in a crowd.  In the last two years, we have been working very hard to give that reason to the consumer.  Our product line has become very focused, very simple, and very high in performance.  Gone are the Dragons and Kroniks.  I can honestly say that Covert and Dynasty lines of product are the very best Warrior/Innovative have made in relation to performance, game-improvement and durability – ever.

GS: Warrior has two very cool sticks on the market, the Covert and the Dynasty. Which suits your game best, and why?

KP: I know this is a total bail-out move, but I like both for very specific reasons:  The Covert’s low kick is ideal for me since I take mostly wrist shots in my beer league.  I love the feel of the True1 construction.  I like the Dynasty’s AxySym since I can really feel the recoil power on slap shots during our company morning skate.  In a more relaxed environment, I have the time to wind up for a slap shot and it feels amazing.  Again, I’m not a very skilled player, so I need all the time I can get!

GS: Both stick lines are full of groundbreaking features, which stood out to you the most during the development process and now that it has hit the market?

KP: Dagger Taper for me is probably the tech that stands out the most.  It’s a very simple visual and tangible concept that takes advantage of our manufacturing ability to achieve the very best performance gains for a player.  True1 allows Dagger Taper to really flex down in the area where, in the past, fuse joints used to be.  We took that “dead flex area” and made it active and lively which most players need.  Dagger allows flex with very little effort; a true game-improvement feature that we were fortunate enough to get a patented.  The feature that is the most “under the radar” is probably TwinSpar.  Adding those two carbon structures to our blades has made huge improvements on our blade durability and pop-life…it’s a great under the hood feature that most people enjoy the benefits of but rarely actually see.

GS: I personally love my Dynasty AX1, what has been the type of feedback you’ve been getting on both the Covert and Dynasty?

KP: The Covert has been a joy.  The performance benefits to players and the quick-release has been awesome to see, especially for players using DT4 and DT5.  The Dynasty was a huge surprise for me.  I honestly didn’t expect so many people to love the feel of the mid-kick and how smooth the stick is to load and release.  It’s really a great time at Warrior.

GS: I noticed Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres using a white Covert. Will more colors be available to the retail market, or is that a custom option only?

KP: More colors will be available in our retail line with the intro of our New Covert later this year (more info to come later).  Right now, an all-white stick similar to Grigo is available on the customizer.

GS: Going back to the Dolomite and some of Warrior’s earlier stick models, you guys have always had some cool nicknames and artwork for the features you develop. Who comes up with the taglines and logos for these?

KP: It’s a collaboration between myself and our stick designer, Isaac.  He has been with Innovative/Warrior since the beginning of both companies and has been amazing to work with…he’s a technically and aesthetically creative force.  We are both a little quirky and it certainly shows in some of the graphics we worked on in the past.  Our graphics now have become a little more simplified from far, but if you still look closely we always sneak some unique details in there (mid kick logo is a great example).  We are Warrior, always will be…so we embrace being different and having fun all the while building legitimately high performing product and technology.

GS: Both the Dynasty and Covert unveiled some very cool features to the stick world. What can we expect from Warrior in the coming months and years?

KP: I was just saying this to one of our sales guys…it’s a very very exciting time at Warrior.  We have built an amazing product foundation with Covert and Dynasty.  We have learned a lot along the way for what our consumer expects from us and how we can deliver product that will always challenge that.  Our company was started in a Princeton University dorm room, by a kid from Michigan who thought that the Lacrosse industry was too old and “too set in their ways”.  He made a Titanium shaft that shook the industry and changed the game…that spirit lives in everything we do.

Industry Q&A with Mike Mountain about the new Easton VSeries sticks

Easton V - Series Composite Hockey Sticks

The Easton V – Series Composite Hockey Sticks. coming soon to Greatskate.com

A new feature for the blog, we will be sitting down with professional hockey players and industry professionals for a series of Q&As. For our first Q&A we were granted an exclusive opportunity to as Mike Mountain of Easton Hockey a few questions about their newest stick line, the VSeries.

Great Skate: Easton has always managed to raise the bar with each stick they release. What about the new stick line, that you can share, will raise the bar again?

Mike Mountain: The VSeries is really a product of a couple years working with premier shooting instructors and getting a better understanding of shooting mechanics.  We wanted to understand what makes the best goal scorers and then build a product that works with that technique better than anything out there.  We learned that the best players are loading the blade and shooting the puck off the toe.  Our engineers then created the patent pending Hypertoe construction.  It is a series of tapered ribs in the toe of the blade to create additional stiffness and response.

 GS: The Art of Speed is the tagline Easton has been using on the new gear coming out, including the new Mako Skates. Is it safe to say the new stick line will build on the Art of Speed legacy?

MM: Speed is at the core of everything we do.  In sticks we are focused on velocity.  How you achieve it is to create load and release in both the shaft and blade.  Everything that went into the line from patterns and flex’s to coatings and stick lengths are done to create load and release for a maximum velocity.

 GS: Is it correct that the V9E will be the flagship of the new stick line or will there be another model to accompany it?

MM: The V9E and V9 will headline the VSeries.  Both sticks will have the Hypertoe construction in the blade while the V9E will have the elliptical profile and the V9 will have a tapered profile.

GS: It has been cool to see various NHLers using prototype sticks this season without any logos. What can we expect with the V9E color and logo scheme?

MM: You will see those same players transition to the new look in the first round of the playoffs.  We wanted them to truly feel the difference of the new construction and not be swayed by graphics.  The response we got was great in terms of a noticeable performance advantage.

GS: Will the VSeries carry the matte look that the Stealth line has popularized?

MM: They will, we have also added a textured shaft coating that goes along with it.

 GS: In addition to the elliptical profile on the V9E will there also be a model with a traditional taper too?

MM: The VSeries will include a V9E, V5E and V1E with an elliptical profile as well as a V9, V7 and V3 with a tapered profile.

GS: What’s your favorite feature or addition about the new line?

MM: We have added a new pattern to our line, the E36.  It is a lie 5 mid curve with a dual lie and slightly open face.  Like the E28, this pattern forces your hands in the correct position in front of the puck while positioning the heel slightly off the ice in order to load the blade.  The junior version has been engineered specifically for younger players with the curve slightly towards the toe to provide better control.  So far the reception to this pattern has been phenomenal with players.

Round Two Predictions

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators

As round two begins I’d like to offer my prognosticating skills up to you all once again for the four series that will set the stage for the Conference Finals. After missing only two series in the first round (ignore that I lost both of my Cup predicted teams) I fully expect to go 0-for-4 with my second round predictions.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators

The Penguins sudden issues in goal have made them quite vulnerable. Their six-game triumph over the Islanders only lasted that long thanks to the stumbling play of Marc-Andre Fleury. While Tomas Vokoun provided enough stability to close out the series, he can’t be instill all that much confidence in Penguins fans.

Ottawa rolls in off a five game drubbing of the Canadiens in which they received brilliant goaltending and timely scoring from all over their lineup. They face a scary, deep, talented Penguins team which creates matchup nightmares on both sides of the puck. I don’t expect the Alfredsson line to be nearly as effective as they were against Montreal, nor do I expect the Senators to be able to effectively shutdown Pittsburgh’s scorers. However, Craig Anderson provides a decided advantage in net. Penguins in 6

Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers

Fresh off a pair of grueling six-game series, both of these teams will be fighting some major fatigue in the second round. One interesting thing to watch will be the durability of each team’s top defensemen. Zdeno Chara was run well over 60 minutes over the past two games out of necessity while the Rangers trot Dan Girardi (and Ryan McDonagh) out for a million minutes by choice.

This series will be all about who is conditioned better and who is capable of surviving beyond another physically grueling series. Goaltending will play a major role here and I like Henrik Lundqvist better than Tuukka Rask. However, I think the Bruins have more firepower than the Rangers and that might just give them the edge. Bruins in 7

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings

The second Original Six showdown of the second round pits a pair of heated rivals against one another. This is a nice treat for hockey purists as the Wings will be heading east next season and severing many of their former divisional rivalries.

To be Frank, the Blackhawks are nearly impossible to matchup against and they’ve been getting steady goaltending along the way. While the Wings have been riding a nice wave of positive momentum, the Blackhawks are a much different beast than the Ducks were. While Jimmy Howard has been sensational, I’m not sure the Wings will be able to insulate him the way they did against Anaheim. Blackhawks in 6

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks

A nice little regional matchup that pits a perennial playoff disappointment against last year’s Cup champs. The Sharks have flown under the radar this year but have opened plenty of eyes after sweeping the Canucks. While they have plenty of question marks around them, San Jose has two solid scoring lines and have gotten great goaltending from Antti Niemi.

The Kings scrapped their way through the first round and will need to find some more offense if they hope to get back to the Conference Finals. Jonathan Quick has been stellar yet again and Los Angeles did a great job stifling the Blues. I wonder how they’ll deal with an impressive offensive lineup like the Sharks boast, however. Sharks in seven

Composite Mini Sticks

Bauer Vapor APX Mini Stick

Manufacturers bring top-end sticks to childhood favorite

 

Manufacturers bring top-end sticks to childhood favorite

Knee hockey is one of the numerous things that makes hockey what it is. Not many sports have a portable, miniature version that can be played just about anywhere.

Just think back to travel tournaments and the countless hotel hallways you were expelled from when playing knee hockey. Knee hockey just happens to be a portion of hockey culture that makes our sport so incredibly unique.

Not unlike the full size version of the sport, knee hockey has seen a number of advances in recent years. Manufacturers now make miniature nets (not necessarily a new development) which inevitably saves desks, tables, chairs and hallway radiators from the beating that comes along with the game. In addition, the days of dipping your straight-blade plastic stick in boiling water to create a curve are over. Now you can choose a mini stick from a plethora of choices that are near mirror images to the full size sticks made by hockey’s biggest manufacturers.

Warrior, Bauer, CCM, Reebok and Sher-Wood all have created their own composite mini sticks complete with curves and identical design patterns to that of the full size retail sticks you use on the ice. What these sticks do is add a little style and extra performance to a rec-room or travel tournament classic.

Reebok not only has a mini composite version of their new 20K stick, they also introduced a composite goal stick that is patterned after the 11K composite goal stick that is being used throughout the NHL – this follows previous miniature versions of the O-Stick and A.I.9. CCM also produced a mini composite of their premier stick with a mini RBZ. Like the 20K, the mini RBZ also sports the same markings and art that the top model does – although it doesn’t provide some of the technological advances that the full size stick does.

Both CCM and Reebok have their own net models as well which can be set up in your basement or rec room to add even more of an ice element to each knee game.

Bauer actually has a Vapor APX and TotalOne NXG for you to choose from while Sher-Wood’s collection spans the entire NHL. So, for those of you who are nostalgic for the straight plastic, team-branded sticks of the past, perhaps the Sher-Wood team models would provide a nice transition.

While I can’t attest if the composite mini sticks can add performance to your knee hockey game as their full-size cousins do for ice hockey, I can say they bring a cool wrinkle to a game that you should never need an excuse to play.

I, for one, am seriously considering setting up a knee hockey rink as part of my man cave in the very near future.

Late flurry defines 2013 deadline

Late flurry defines 2013 deadline

Late flurry defines 2013 deadline

If you were one of many hockey fans across North America glued to a TV set or phone waiting for trades
to break, today might have dragged. A flurry of action over the past five days dried up a significant
amount of the presumed trade targets entering the deadline. However, a few GMs managed to not
disappoint.

A handful of minor trades in the early afternoon did little to set the market before Tampa Bay sent Cory
Conacher and a draft pick to Ottawa in exchange for Ben Bishop. While this wouldn’t end up as one of
the day’s biggest trades it was significant enough to get the ball rolling.

The flurry of trades that came down prior to the 3:00 deadline were punctuated by deals that saw
established scorers Marian Gaborik and Jason Pominville moved along with a list of role and depth
acquisitions. What was most surprising was seeing the surging Columbus Blue Jackets come away as the
day’s most active team.

Columbus made four separate moves that included the day’s biggest blockbuster in which they acquired
sniper Marian Gaborik. The Jackets sent a handful of pieces to the Rangers in exchange for Gaborik in a
move that gives them a lethal weapon on the wing less than a year removed from trading Rick Nash to
the Rangers.

Columbus’ deal is the most earth shattering for a few reasons. First, Gaborik had been mentioned here
and there in rumors but wasn’t truly expected to move, especially compared to a player like Ryane
Clowe (who also ended up in New York). The second reason this is so surprising is that the Blue Jackets
entered the year with a new makeup after trading Nash and with every expectation to continue their
rebuild, their recent success turned them to a buyer and they went out and bought one of the most
expensive options on the market.

What shouldn’t be ignored with this deal is what the Rangers got in return. After not re-signing Brandon
Prust and trading two key depth forwards to Columbus in the Nash deal (Dubinsky and Anisimov) the
Blueshirts managed to gain a skilled depth forward (Derick Brassard) and a gritty winger (Derek Dorsett)
to go along with a late draft pick and a highly touted defensive prospect (John Moore). Add those three
to Clowe and the Rangers managed to get a little tougher despite losing a major offensive weapon.
While they gave up the most talent, they may not have lost the trade.

The next biggest deal of the day came out of Minnesota, where the Wild brought in a skilled scoring
winger in Jason Pominville. A solid two-way player, Pominville is effective in all situations (including the
PK) and is signed through next season at a relatively affordable $5.3M cap hit. Going back to Buffalo was
a plethora of pieces that includes two draft picks and two prospects.

The Wild get a lot more skill for their top six and Pominville should offer plenty of support to at roster
that already boasts Parise, Heatley, Koivu and PM Bouchard. The added bonus that Pominville doesn’t
hit free agency until next summer means that they can hopefully stretch this talent beyond this year’s

playoff push. Despite mortgaging quite a bit of talent, this was a strong move for the Wild as they look
to win now.

Buffalo is going all-in with their rebuilding mode, acquiring Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett with
Minnesota’s first round pick this year and a second round pick next year. The picks will be extremely
valuable for Darcy Regier as he holds 11 total picks in the first two rounds of the 2013, 2014 and 2015
drafts combined. Whether or not he uses those picks remains to be seen, but that is plenty of currency
for a GM who will most certainly be looking to wheel and deal in the offseason.

One interesting trade was the Bishop for Conacher deal. The Lightning spent a few assets to acquire
Anders Lindback over the summer before realizing that he may not be the answer long-term. All the
while, they went and gave the Senators an even better return for Bishop than what Ottawa paid for
him at least year’s deadline. While Steve Yzerman did good work to address his troubled goaltending
situation, he gave up quite a bit for two different pieces at the same position.

Meanwhile, Bryan Murray is probably laughing his way to the bank as he effectively traded a second
round pick for Cory Conacher and an additional fourth round pick. Conacher is going to have an impact
on the Senators roster for the foreseeable future (unless he regresses from this hot rookie year) all while
not costing Murray much of anything – as he still has Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner to protect the
net.

The majority of the major moves at this deadline came in the days prior to April 3. The acquistions of
Iginla, Morrow and Murray makes the Penguins the immediate winners based on their return and the
fact that they sacrificed very little to acquire those three players. Of course, if the Pens don’t hoist the
Cup, they won’t be the long-term winners of this deadline.

Still, Ray Shero put his team in the best position to succeed by acquiring the three players he did. While
his top defensive prospect and a first round pick went out the door, not all that much went along with it.
Credit is due to Shero for the way he maneuvered prior to the deadline and for the roster the Penguins
will enter the playoffs with.

Overall I’d have to say the Penguins come away as the big winner while the Rangers (surprised?) aren’t
far behind. If New York can get Clowe re-signed with the money they saved from Gaborik they will have
a bevvy of talented players to fill out the lines below the Nash-Richards power line.

I’m not sure if I can count the Bruins as winners for snagging Jaromir Jagr, but 68 should give Boston
a nice boost entering the playoffs. That type of savvy veteran can’t be overlooked on a team that is
already so incredibly talented.

If there are any losers at this deadline I’d be so bold to say that it is the Blues. While St. Louis did a great
job bringing in two solid veteran defensemen, they didn’t address their questionable goaltending (even
though they only allow 20 shots per game). While Leopold and Bouwmeester are great talents, the Blues
already boasted an impressive defensive corps. I wonder if these two trades will be enough to vault the
Blues into a playoff spot.

The one thing that does need to be remembered with the deadline is that you can’t truly declare a
winner until the Stanley Cup has been raised. In addition, many of these trades full value won’t be
realized until the draft picks have been used. When you take that into account, some of these moves
won’t have full value for at least two years. However, the Kings made some waves last year and went on
to win the Cup, with that in mind be sure to look back at what moves this year’s Cup winner made at the
deadline.