Tag Archives: playoff

Cup Captains rely on Bauer

Stanley Cup Finals 2015
Stanley Cup Finals 2015

Both Bauer athletes, Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos utilize similar pieces of Bauer gear, although they’re hardly uniform in the choices they make.

Jonathan Toews

Bauer 4500 helmetA favorite amongst many NHLers, the 4500 is short on frills but long on comfort. The VN foam liner is the type used by nearly every player in the NHL and the 4500’s classic look means it passes the mirror test 10 out of 10 times.

Bauer Supreme TotalOne NXG glovesAn elite faceoff man and sublime offensive threat, Toews relies on the snug, tapered fit of the TotalOne line. While he hasn’t graduated to the new TotalOne MX3 gloves just yet, the TotalOne NXG isn’t short on features. The anatomically designed fit gives a tight fit on the back of the hand that is reinforced with Bauer’s Poron XRD foam. The three-piece index finger and pro segmented cuff are ideal for mobility and responsiveness and perfect for a player whose puck handling, shooting and passing are the highlights of his skillset.

Bauer Vapor APX2 skatesBauer’s elite skate line, the APX2 is ultra-lightweight and the preferred skate of countless pros and elite players. The X-Rib design stabilizes the boot with additional stiffness and structure while the Curv composite boot construction ensures massive weight savigns. The APX2 also introduced Bauer’s new Lightspeed Edge TUUK that features a quick change trigger for easy steel replacement.

Bauer Nexus 8000The Nexus line is designed for a balanced look and feel compared to the durable, power of the Supreme line and the lightweight agility of the Vapor line. The Nexus remains incredibly light and utilizes a mid-kick profile that is not unlike that of the TotalOne stick. The Pure Shot blade profile promotes a stiffer blade profile to prevent twisting on passes or shots, creating a more accurate release time after time.

Steven Stamkos

Bauer 4500 helmetLike Toews, Stamkos uses the classic 4500 helmet. The classic design is low key and the helmet’s profile is narrow. You can’t go wrong in the looks department with the 4500.

Bauer Supreme TotalOne NXG glovesLike his fellow captain, Stamkos chooses the TotalOne NXG gloves on a nightly basis. One of the league’s elite pure scorers, Stamkos likely favors the snug, responsive fit that the TotalOne’s anatomic design offers. These are a perfect glove for snipers who prefer their glove and hand to move as one while they pick corners on the powerplay.

Bauer Vapor 1X skatesGraduating to the newest release from Bauer, Stamkos certainly sees benefits from the lightest skate that Bauer offers at this time. The Vapor 1X skates utilizes Bauer’s revolutionary new 37.5 material in the liner to assist in moisture absorption and evaporation. Bauer has improved on the X-rib design from the APX line while still utilizing super light Curv composite through the entire boot. The Lightspeed Edge remains as the holder but a new blade provides a better angle of attack than previous offerings.

Bauer Supreme TotalOne MX3 stickAs one of the league’s best scorers, Stamkos often capitalizes on off wing slap shots on the powerplay. His heavy, lethal shot is enhanced by the TotalOne MX3 stick thanks to the mid-kick and double concave construction. The double concave taper is designed to minimize torsion during shots to not only increase accuracy but to create improved power transfer through the shaft.

Great Skate Stanley Cup Preview

Stanley Cup Finals 2015
Stanley Cup Finals 2015

After over 1100 games, we have finally reached the peak of the NHL season. The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning survived seven-game series in their respective Conference Finals in order to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s a tale of two teams as the Blackhawks return to the final for the third time since 2010 while the Lightning return for their second ever Stanley Cup appearance. Chicago has carved out a true dynasty – or as close to a dynasty that you can come to – in the salary cap era. The Blackhawks three Cup appearances include an addition to two Conference Final defeats (2009 & 2014) to pair with seven-straight playoff berths.

Tampa Bay came within one game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, losing out to Boston at the TD Garden but have not seen such success since. Their first round exit last year at the hands of Montreal ended a two-year playoff drought. However, Tampa’s skilled core is similar to that of the Blackhawks as both teams have built through the top and middle of the draft effectively while supplementing their rosters via the trade market.

Why Tampa Will Win

Tampa Bay boasts the most lethal line in this year’s playoffs and Steven Stamkos isn’t even part of the trio. The Triplets – comprised of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat – have driven the Bolts through the first three rounds as Johnson appears to be a strong favorite for the Conn Smythe. Stamkos, along with Alex Killorn and Valteri Flippula gives Tampa an impressive one-two punch that has been very difficult to defend.

Victor Hedman has been a handful in each round as he’s played a 200-foot game and has been in on a number of vital scoring plays thus far. He’s been eating minutes for the Lightning but hasn’t been overloaded thanks to John Cooper’s penchant for dressing seven defensemen.

The seven defensemen, 12 forwards line up has allowed Cooper to limit matchups and stay in control of who his players are on the ice against and when. It has also given the Lightning an extra option on the back end in case of injury or poor play. While the decision is certainly unique, it has paid off in spades for the Bolts thus far.

Ben Bishop would probably be given the edge by most in the goaltending matchup this series and he’ll need to come through in the clutch to push Tampa Bay to their second Cup championship. He has had his struggles this postseason but has also shut things down when necessary. He may be the most important piece for Tampa as they enter the series.

Why Chicago Will Win

The Blackhawks are a well read book at this point. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and company have all walked this path before. Nearly this exact roster was one goal from playing in the Cup Final last year and nothing should be expected to shake this group at this point.

Like Tampa Bay, Chicago’s depth makes them difficult to defend. When you can pick from a group of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, Antoine Vermette and Brad Richards, things are going well. The Hawks sport more than their fair share of 200-foot players and don’t be surprised to see one of Tampa’s two big lines shutout for most of this series.

The only potential hiccup for the Hawks could come on the backend. Keith, Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have seen big minutes through the first three rounds and that isn’t about to change. While the Hawks have rotated others through, they’ve played four defensemen for a majority of their series. Should that fatigue factor catch up to them, it could be a problem. However, Duncan Keith may or may not be a hockey cyborg who does not tire, so don’t bet against that group just yet.

Corey Crawford’s play this postseason has been erratic. He was pulled from the Nashville series only to retake the net and lead a comeback in the first round. He has been solid but not spectacular through the second and third rounds and now faces another strong offensive group. Should he continue his strong play, he’ll tip the scales in Chicago’s favor. If he struggles, there may not be enough runway left for the Blackhawks to recover.

The Verdict

This ought to be an incredibly fun series. The Lightning have shown the ability to adapt to their opponents and play a very entertaining game. Chicago has been here and done that, but their impressive skillset makes them an easy favorite. While many will be quick to point to the goaltending as the biggest showdown, how Tampa handles Chicago’s depth is what will set this series apart for me.

If the Bolts manage to keep The Triplets and the Stamkos line clicking, they might just run away with the Cup. But if Chicago silences even one of those two groups, it will be an easy win for the Windy City. I’m not betting against the Blackhawks depth, Chicago in 7.

CCM Jetspeed Skate

CCM JetSpeed Ice Skates
CCM JetSpeed Ice Skates

CCM is the legendary hockey brand fueled by endless pursuit of
performance. For over a century, CCM has been there for players from the first time they step on ice to the pinnacle of their careers. Today, CCM continues to draw inspiration from its rich history by offering the innovation and performance that will help write the next chapter in the history of the game.

JetSpeed Skate:

The only way to reach JetSpeed is with our new RocketFrame technology. The composite shell was meticulously designed to wrap closely around the foot and greatly improve heel lock. From there, the lightest components were carefully selected to complement the RocketFrame and provide maximum foot speed.  The RocketFrame Composite is a fully shaped composite shell provides advanced
contoured support including improved heel lock for maximum speed. JetSpeed Tongue is designed with the pro in mind, multi layer
construction for enhanced lace bite protection without sacrificing comfort. Heat Moldedale Speedcore 2 Plus Optimized contour shape with heat moldable technology that allows customized support for unique foot shape.

Check out the new Jetspeed Skates exclusively at Greatskate.com. CCM Jetspeed Skates coming in July!

CCM Ultra Tacks Stick

CCM Ultra Tacks Stick
CCM Ultra Tacks Stick

CCM is the legendary hockey brand fueled by endless pursuit of performance. For over a century, CCM has been there for players from the first time they step on ice to the pinnacle of their careers. Today, CCM continues to draw inspiration from its rich history by offering the innovation and performance that will help write the next chapter in the history of the game.

Ultra Tacks Sticks
Ultra Tacks Sticks

The brand new Ultra Tacks is the lightest, best balanced, and most durable stick we have ever created. The new Ultra Attack Frame blade is incredibly light without sacrificing torsional or bending stiffness, so you have a lightweight product with amazing precision and accuracy. The innovative Bumper Technology reinforces the corners of the shaft for outstanding durability and consistency.

CCM Ultra Attack Frame
CCM Ultra Attack Frame

The ULTRA ATTACK FRAME is the lightest blade we have ever made but still provides very high levels of both torsional and bending stiffness. The result is an incredibly light and well balanced product with more accuracy, better precision, and amazing consistency.

Great Skate Blog NHL: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference
Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh PenguinsUntil proven otherwise, the Penguins boast the world’s best player and another dynamic superstar who is likely in the top-5. Changes behind the bench and along the blueline defined Pittsburgh’s offseason and as the reigning division winner I expect to see much of the same from the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps their biggest question mark but his play was far more stable last year than in 2012-13. The Penguins still sit atop the Metro Division and will be in the President’s Trophy conversation if Fleury plays well.

New York RangersThe Rangers seem to have found a way to improve but stay nearly the exact same team as last year. They unloaded the contract of Brad Richards, re-upped with their key core players and made some interesting signings. They also let a key player walk in Anton Stralman and will not be without Derek Stepan for a number of weeks. They still have the world’s best goaltender and an impressive blue line. The addition of Dan Boyle ought to give their power play a nice jolt and should Stepan return from injury in full form, they’ll be a formidable opponent again this year.

Columbus Blue JacketsA slightly tumultuous offseason followed a very promising 13-14 season for the Jackets. Another serious injury to Nathan Horton is likely to shelve the forward for some time while Ryan Johansen remains unsigned. Sergei Bobrovsky has proven that he wasn’t just a one year wonder and has been dominant at times for Columbus. This is still a team whose parts don’t eclipse the sum of its whole. Johansen is the star in waiting and Horton is perhaps their biggest name and it looks as if they’ll be without each to start the year. However, I still count on the Jackets to improve and finish third in the Metro.

Philadelphia FlyersClaude Giroux could wrap himself in bubble wrap each summer and manage to get injured ahead of camp. This year’s ailment is far less severe than the cut tendon he suffered last year, but he probably won’t be 100% at the start of the year. As is always the case, the Flyers will live and die with their goaltending. Steve Mason, despite his improvement last year, still doesn’t represent a confidence inspiring goaltender and if his play is average the Flyers will be as well. Philadelphia made an interesting decision in parting ways with Scott Hartnell and they could have a little trouble scoring goals in some areas. I still expect to see him in a wild card spot, but they’ll be battling down to the wire for it.

New York IslandersThe stats say that even with average goaltending the Islanders would have been an average team last year. The arrival of Jaroslav Halak should represent the improvement between the pipes that the Isles need to improve in the win column. John Tavares headlines a young, talented forward group who will be able to provide the necessary goal support for their new netminder. There may be a few defensive question marks that remain but the Isles have a lot of youth to be excited about. I’m expecting to see them finish just shy of the wild card.

New Jersey DevilsLike the Islanders, the Devils should have been far better than their record showed last year. However, their inability to win a single shootout cost them a number of wins and a number of precious points in the standings. In fact, those shootout losses accounted for more than enough points to make the playoffs had they found a way to win. Ultimately I think the Devils fall short of a playoff berth this year. Not because they haven’t improved but because they’re in a deep division that will be tough to succeed in.

Washington CapitalsI’m expecting regression for the Capitals this year. They overpaid both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and I’m not sure they represent the defensive improvement the Capitals need. Niskanen will likely rack up power play points as he feeds one timers to Alex Ovechkin but I still think he was able to cash in on a big year on a great team. The Capitals still have a number of holes to fill and I don’t think they plugged each of them last year.

Carolina HurricanesCarolina wasn’t going to be a great team before Jordan Stall was injured. With Staal on the shelf for upwards of four months, the Hurricanes are closer to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes than they are to competing for a playoff spot. Depth and goaltending are among the biggest question marks they will deal with and with rumors of Eric Staal being available via trade doesn’t help those who are worried about the outlook for the Canes.

Atlantic Division

Boston BruinsMuch in the same way the Penguins will likely earn the Metro Crown, the Bruins enter the year as the prohibitive favorite in the Atlantic. No team has demonstrated that they’re better over the course of a season and I don’t expect that to change this year. While Zdeno Chara is beginning to show signs of aging, the Bruins are far too well constructed for that to be a major issue. The Bruins will have the first seed in the east at the end of the year and will likely be the team who is predicted to represent the East in the Cup Final.

Tampa Bay LightningThe Bolts bolstered their lineup this offseason with some very smart moves. Anton Stralman is a possession driving two-way defenseman and Jason Garrison will add another dynamic to the power play. Ryan Callahan will be on board for a full season and should Steven Stamkos stay healthy he’ll likely lead the league in goal scoring. It’s possible that the Bolts would have knocked off the Canadiens in the playoffs had Ben Bishop been healthy and he’ll be a big part of any success Tampa has this season. They probably don’t have enough to get by Boston in the Atlantic, but I won’t be surprised to see them in the conference finals.

Montreal CanadiensPK Subban is under contract, PA Parentau is in the fold (coming over in a great trade for Marc Bergevin) and Carey Price is still Carey Price. I still wonder about their play at center, but the Habs were impressive down the stretch last year and managed to knock off the Bruins on their way to the conference finals. I think Tampa took more steps forward this offseason, so I don’t see Montreal’s spot in the standings changing at all, but they’ll most certainly be a playoff team.

Detroit Red WingsThere’s a strong possibility that the standings in the Atlantic are the exact same this year. The Red Wings are still a strong club but they’re aging. They have a quality goaltender, one of the game’s most dangerous two-way players and a supporting cast that doesn’t have too many holes. They’re still flimsy on the blueline and it seems that their Eastern Conference rivals have done more to improve in the offseason. They’re still a full head better than Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Florida which means they’ll be in the thick of the wild card race.

Toronto Maple LeafsToronto has been funny to watch the last couple seasons. They overachieved and took Boston to seven games two years ago. Then they couldn’t maintain last season and were on the outside looking in. The Leafs will live and die with Jonathan Bernier, Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. I’m waiting to see if Jake Gardiner has a breakout season or if he’s stuck in the dog house again. There is some quality talent in Toronto and if the chips fall right they could certainly leap frog Detroit for a wild card spot.

Ottawa SenatorsI don’t see the Senators being a very good team this year. In fact, they are going to rely heavily on Craig Anderson to win them games based on their offseason work. Not only do I expect to see them miss the playoffs, I have a sneaking suspicion that Bobby Ryan will head out the door in free agency in the summer. Kyle Turris and Ryan should form a nice duo up front and Erik Karlsson remains one of the elite offensive defensemen in the world. However, there isn’t too much depth on the roster and I see this year as a step back for the Sens.

Florida PanthersDale Tallon still has plenty of work to do in Southern Florida. Aaron Ekblad is a very nice addition. He, along with other lottery picks Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov will help drive the club. The Panthers do have some very impressive talent on their roster but it ultimately feels incomplete in some areas. Roberto Luongo’s presence alone should account for a number of wins and while the Panthers may not make any progress moving up in the Atlantic, I can see them beating out at least two teams from the Metro in the conference standings.

Buffalo SabresThe Sabres were woefully short on goal scoring last year. They also happened to be woefully short on defense, the power play and penalty killing. Before and after Ryan Miller’s departure the goaltending was strong, but that was really one of the few silver linings from last year. The Sabres did a lot of work to bring in more veteran support and skill and that will account for a few things. First, a full year of Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will help in the locker room and on the scoreboard. Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart are both in contract years and have looked motivated in the preseason. The defense corps is an interesting group as Ted Nolan is going to have some very difficult decisions to make regarding his lineup. The Sabres lone competition this season will be for last place, although the hockey should be a bit more tolerable this time around.

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final
Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

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

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

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

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

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

Cup Final preview and prediction

Cup Final preview and prediction
Cup Final preview and prediction

The NHL couldn’t have planned things any better for the 2014 Stanley Cup Final as the nation’s two biggest media markets will duel against one another for the Cup as the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings start the final series of the year on Wednesday.

Los Angeles managed to squeak by the Chicago Blackhawks after jumping out to a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final while the Rangers dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six games after Carey Price was put on the shelf with an injury.

The early returns on the matchup has many fans and experts pointing to the Kings as the expected champs, giving Los Angeles their second Cup in three years. However, the Rangers have more than enough depth and firepower to not only give the Kings a run but even bring the Cup back to the Big Apple.

Henrik Lundqvist will need to serve as the factor that lifts the Rangers to the Cup as I feel that Los Angeles holds a decided edge in nearly every other facet of the game. Lundqvist has been superb this season while Jonathan Quick has had to work through some struggles and consistency issues over the Kings 21 previous games.

One factor that many are pointing to is that Los Angeles has needed seven games to get through all three of their series while the Rangers are enjoying a bit more rest. However, the Rangers needed seven games against both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while taking six more to get by Montreal. So they’ve only played one game fewer than the Kings while going through more travel in the first two rounds than the Kings did in their first two series.

It is understandable that the mental exhaustion pushing against the Kings has likely grown in each round as they rallied from a 3-0 deficit against San Jose, battled through a back-and-forth affair against their cross-town rivals and then had to endure a marathon against the Blackhawks. The Rangers have had slightly less stress on their plate, although they had to win three-straight to get by Pittsburgh in the second. So, while the Rangers got to relax on their couches for a few more days after taking the Eastern Conference title, I don’t think they have stores of energy that will help them run LA out of the building on Wednesday.

One intriguing matchup will be how LA’s potent power play fares against New York’s stingy shorthanded unit. The Rangers boast one of the most effective penalty kills in the playoffs while the Kings sit at the top of the league with the extra man. Most of the focus will fall on Lundqvist when the Rangers are shorthanded, but if the Kings lose that portion of their attack it could drastically alter the series.

LA otherwise has a deeper attack and blueline than the Rangers entering the series. The emergence of Dominic Moore, Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard has aided the Rangers along the way, but the forward depth LA possesses is almost unmatched. One you’re past the top line of Brown, Kopitar and Gaborik and the equally impressive That 70’s Line of Pearson, Carter and Toffoli, the Kings still have Dwight King, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards and others to their credit. When you consider that three of LA’s lines are equally impressive in their own end as they are in the attacking zone, it makes them that much more daunting of an opponent.

It’s not all that surprising to see such a terrific roster in LA given that they are two years removed from their first Cup victory and they paced the league in terms of possession for the year. When the defensive depth chart includes Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov and Robyn Regehr there’s a good chance that every unit that hits the ice is going to be effective.

Don’t misunderstand the tire pumping that I’ve given the Kings as an indication that they’re going to breeze through the Final, I just see them as the superior team.

Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis form an impressive forward corps, but I don’t see the same quality of depth in the New York lineup. Once you’re past McDonagh, Girardi and Staal on the backend things seem to get a little thin as well. Overall, the Rangers are a very strong team that are about to showdown with a stronger, more effective squad.

Kings in five

Conference Finals preview and prediction

Conference Finals preview and prediction
Conference Finals preview and prediction

Conference Finals preview and prediction

The NHL’s change to divisional seeding for the playoffs has paid off ten-fold for the league as the Conference Finals are set to begin. A thrilling set of first round series led into another entertaining round two that saw three of the four series go to a game seven. With an Original Six matchup in the East and a rematch of last year’s Conference Final in the West, the third round ought to shake out much the same way the first two rounds did.

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

Things could change drastically in this series if Carey Price is unable to play for any length of time. The first game shook out in a way few could have predicted as the Rangers tilted the ice in their favor from the opening faceoff and ran the Habs out of their won building with a 7-2 victory.

It was my expectation that the Canadiens defense could serve as their weak spot but that their depth and speed up front would outperform the Rangers. While New York may have more big guns, it seems as if the Canadiens had depth on their side. Both teams had been largely powered by their third lines and those units will likely be the focal point yet again as each team works to shut down the opponent’s top line.

What could ultimately tip the scales in New York’s favor is their slight defensive advantage. As immensely talented as PK Subban is, the Montreal defensive corps don’t impress me as much as the group New York plays on a nightly basis.

The goaltending matchup is also an interesting one, although game one may alter how the rest of the series plays out. Henrik Lundqvist has shown a Hasek-ian propensity to steal games for his team even when they’re overmatched. He’s been nearly impossible to score on and only flukes and perfect tips have been getting the job done lately. Price, meanwhile, has been just as impressive throughout the playoffs. He’d be Montreal’s conn Smythe candidate should the Habs lift the Cup and he will be a key factor in this series.

While game one makes things look bad for Montreal, I think they will find a way to overpower New York thanks to the overall balance of talent. Both teams are very similar to one another but I feel like the Canadiens come away as the winners here.

Montreal in 6

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings

This is the showdown between the burgeoning dynasty and the plucky underdogs who won’t go away. Chicago was likely the favorite to win the Cup from the start of the postseason for many fans and experts. They have show little, to no drop off from last season’s Cup run and they got things off on the right foot in game one of this series.

Los Angeles has stared down two separate elimination scenarios and came away victorious in their first two rounds. After winning four-straight elimination games against San Jose, they did it again against the Ducks. Between their first two series, the Kings have played a pair of game sevens and faced elimination a total of six times.

While goaltending is a major reason both of these teams have made it to this point, I feel that this series will be decided by the team’s top lines. The Stanley Cup playoffs are always about matchups, shutdown pairs and the ability to stymie a team’s best weapons. The Kings and Blackhawks have the luxury of not only having incredible forward depth, but a top line that can double as a shutdown unit. So, depending on how Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews’ units fare in this series may just dictate who comes out on top. Game one tells a story where Toews and his wingers enjoyed the advantage and the score reflects exactly that.

Another potential factor is the fatigue that LA is dealing with versus that of the Blackhawks. Chicago got out of both the first and second rounds in six games while the Kings played seven games in each series. As brief as the rest may have been for the Blackhawks, the Kings have not been able to enjoy as much time off. While their first two series were both played in California, those extra games will certainly take a toll on the players. If they’re unable to maintain against Chicago, it could make for a quick series.

Chicago in 6

Industry Q&A with Matt Hoppe of STX Hockey

STX Composite Ice Hockey Sticks
STX Composite Ice Hockey Sticks

STX, a long running lacrosse powerhouse, has dove headfirst into the hockey market as they unveiled their two elite level sticks earlier this year. The Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 sticks are on the shelves now and Matt Moulson has been using the Stallion 500 for most of the 2013-14 season.

Matt Hoppe, Senior Brand Manager at STX, took some time out of his day to answer some questions for us about STX’s foray into hockey, the tech behind their new sticks and what else is coming down the pipe in the coming months. Matt offers some incredible insight into the development process and an awesome inside look at the products STX offers to players.

Great Skate: STX jumped headfirst into the hockey market this year, how long of a process has the company gone through from the first discussions of releasing a hockey line to the release of the Stallion and Surgeon sticks?

Matt Hoppe: STX has been eyeing an entry into the hockey category for the better part of a decade and really cranked up the intensity and internal efforts (R&D build out/internal staffing/etc) over the past 3 years.

Up front it was imperative to us that we committed the time and effort to really understand the wants and needs of hockey athletes. Before we made a step toward putting a pen to paper for designing anything we spent considerable time talking to players to ensure we were bringing to market products that would respect and advance the game.

As we spent more and more time in rinks talking to players we found, even in regions where lacrosse happens to still be an emerging sport,  genuine excitement about the prospect of our company bringing a fresh perspective to the game.

GS: STX is probably best known for their lacrosse equipment. Do you have any professional experience with lacrosse or are you strictly a hockey guy?

MH: I am really green when it comes to lacrosse. It wasn’t a sport that was offered at the prep school I attended (Shattuck- St. Mary’s) and it wasn’t really around in Michigan in the late 80’s early 90’s when I was growing up. I really wish it would have been because it’s clear there is a direct connection between the games from a skill set development standpoint. Both games are incredibly fast and demand a really high level of hand eye coordination.

We have a few incredibly skilled lacrosse players in the office and I’ve been badgering them to teach me the game but we haven’t gotten very far in our lessons yet.

GS: Assuming you’ve had the chance to test each of the sticks, which of the two best suits your game?

MH: One of the perks of the job is definitely equipment testing. We skate once a week as a company and I’ve had the luxury of getting to log some serious hours with both sticks. I’m more of a Stallion guy. The constant flex profile is what I’m more used to using.

I tend to swap back and forth between the two (I love the feel of the Surgeon blade) – but given my skill set (or complete lack thereof) no one would ever mistake me for a dangler or an electric playmaker!

GS: One issue that newer companies seem to struggle with is the mental block some players have in using a product that isn’t produced by a big name company. While the tech behind these sticks and STX’s pedigree speaks for itself, have you noticed any sort of trepidation surrounding the release? What would you say differentiates the Stallion and Surgeon from the sticks made by the “big boys”?

MH: There will always be a bit of a barrier to entry with new products from a new company. This is definitely something we are aware of from a consumer standpoint. We know the best way to get someone comfortable with the products is to have them try it first-hand. To that end we’ll be out in the market offering demo days and we’ve worked with our retail partners (like Great Skate) to provide them demo stock for their shooting areas in their stores.

Probably the biggest advantage our sticks have going for them is overall feel and playability. Our sticks have an incredibly high balance point giving them a very good off the rack “feel”). The stick blades have also been specifically tuned to the sticks to give players that extra edge when shooting or receiving passes etc.).

We’ve been making elite level game changing equipment for 40+ years at STX. So while we might be new to hockey we wouldn’t have put our hockey sticks into the market if we didn’t believe in them.

GS: Something that I really like about the line, in addition to the performance benefits, is that the graphics aren’t overdone and the stick isn’t weighed down with extra paint like you see with certain companies. Was there any consideration to dress the sticks up more or was the clear focus to ensure elite performance?

MH: This was a clear choice for a couple of reasons. Luckily we have some really strong brand pillars from our lacrosse and field hockey lines that we were able to bring over to ice hockey (the Surgeon and Stallion product names). So in some respects the color palette, design aesthetics, and player archetypes were already in place.

However, even with that base to work from, I’ve got 30 years in and around the game of hockey and we have several other folks here (for example – Rocco Amonte our NHL rep) who have been around the game even longer and that experience provides a nice base to work from when thinking about providing elite level players what they need.

A LOT of care and thought went into the stick designs. We wanted to balance making them pop on ice, appeal to the up close inspection you often get when kids are picking them up at retail stores, and probably most importantly was ensuring the top down view of the stick wasn’t busy. We know how fast the game moves and any distraction to a player’s peripheral vision can be the difference between making a play and getting run over.

GS: The Power and Precision Flex Profiles are very interesting features for each of the sticks. Could you shed a little more light on the technology that went into each stick and the benefits a player will get from using each?

MH: Absolutely, both sticks benefit from a very high balance point (which naturally extends the taper of the stick). This longer taper allows players to load the stick with less effort.

Speaking specifically about the two sticks The POWER FLEX profile of the Stallion is set up for players who are used to using a constant flex profile stick. The Stallion is going to load with a more traditional feel and will really respond well to players we take a lot of one timers or heavy snap shots etc. This is a stick that is going to give players who like to lean into their shots a little extra boost.

The PRECISION FLEX of the Surgeon line is going to provide players that dual kick point that has become a little more popular over the past few years.  With the Surgeon 500 players are going to notice that elongated taper even more as the lower kick point will load incredibly fast when taking quick wristers or making quick passing plays in tight.

GS: Each stick has its own unique blade construction as well. This is a feature that seems to be the next big thing in stick design and STX is out ahead of the pack in pairing blade stiffness to the type of stick you’re buying. What’s the thought process behind this development and what are the benefits?

MH: Balancing the demand for a stick that really has pop with the desire to offer players that elusive wood blade “puck feel” is the most difficult part of stick design.

We know that certain players really want a stick that enhances their shot speed. While other players really value feel and being able to know where that puck is on their stick at all times. That means offering them options – gone are the days where you can just crank out a composite stick, put a graphic on it, and call it a day. Players are far too savvy to accept that. They want finely tuned performance and we believe that our sticks offer players just that. From the blade, to the flex profile, to the balance point we’ve tried to put together two distinct stick lines that provide players options and performance.

GS: With both sticks catering to the elite player, are there any plans to begin developing price point models for the player who may not be looking for the elite performance offered by these two models?

MH: Yes, we have great price point sticks (for both the Surgeon and the Stallion stick lines) that will be available this fall.

GS: I’m not sure if I’m the only one to pick up on this, but it’s slightly ironic to see a player who was selected in the National Lacrosse League draft as the poster boy for your line. Are you able to talk a little bit about the process of bringing Matt Moulson on to use the sticks and how involved he’s been in developing the line?

MH: Matt is obviously a very talented athlete. His NHL success speaks for itself and yes (great catch) he is/was a very talented lacrosse player. He actually is still very interested in lacrosse and is very knowledgeable about the game itself.

Matt was a guy we identified very early on in the process as someone we really wanted to try to partner with. He’s a guy that has, until very recently, flown under the radar. Which for the amount of points he has produced over the past 5 years is astounding.

We approached Matt early in the season and he was aware of our brand right away (from his lacrosse background) and once we determined there was some interest in working together we immediately had him jump into the product development/testing process with us.

I’ll give you a great example of how his insight has translated over to our product development process. In an early stick sample we sent him he was having difficulties with blade torsion when taking one timers. So we went back in and tweaked the stiffness of the hosel on his sticks until we met the feel he was after. This change was something ultimately migrated over to our Stallion sticks line now at retail. His input had a direct impact on our product development – which speaks to the invaluable nature of our partnership with Matt.

GS: Moulson uses the Stallion and I noticed Cody Hodgson with a handful of Stallions when he was cleaning out his locker a few weeks ago. Should we expect to see more NHLers using the Stallion and Surgeon next year?

MH: Yes absolutely. We knew we wanted to spend a year working with Matt and getting the product right and launched into market. You should expect to see us expand our player relationships in the NHL next season.

GS: Based on the NHL players you’ve dealt with to this point have you noticed that the Stallion is the more popular model amongst them? Or has it been a fairly even split?

MH: It has actually been split pretty evenly the Surgeon has been a stick that has gotten rave reviews from players and the Stallion, with its constant flex profile, is one that is very common among NHL’ers.

GS: Speaking of seeing the sticks in the NHL, it’s my understanding that companies need to pay a fee in order for their logos to be shown on equipment used by players. Was there any consideration to not pay the fee to the league or does the exposure garnered outweigh those costs? (I realize that some of these questions may be off limits, so if you’re unable to answer them or provide detailed descriptions I understand)

MH: The NHL does charge a fee to allow companies to put their products on ice. There was never a consideration to not pay the fee.  We fully respect and value the exposure the NHL brings to the table from a sports marketing and product visibility perspective. The athletes playing in the NHL are at the pinnacle of the sport – garnering their input and approval is something we know is a must for long term success.

GS: Should we expect to see STX gloves gracing the hands ofNHLers next year? If yes, can you drop any hints as to what we might expect?

MH: Matt Moulson is actually wearing our new Stallion glove now. He started wearing it in the last few weeks of the regular season. It was incredible for us to deliver him a glove a few games before the playoffs started and watch him swap right into it without missing a beat.

STX has a long history of designing and developing gloves and protective – so we are very confident what we are working on it going to really impress the broader hockey community.

Looking forward you can expect to see gloves and protective equipment that offer players enhanced mobility, targeted protection, and the usage of materials not super common to the game.

Being new to ice hockey we have the ability to pave our way into the sport in whatever manner we see best. That means you’ll see us doing some things over the next 12-24 months which might feel a bit different (and we view that as a good thing) but first and foremost you’ll always see us respecting the game and only providing products that we believe give players a measurable performance advantage on the ice.

The Surgeon 500 and Stallion 500 sticks are just the tip of iceberg. We have a lot of really amazing, and in some cases game changing, products we are putting the final touches on. It is going to be an exciting 12 months in the hockey department here at STX!

Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction

Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction
Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction

I managed to pull together a very respectable record in picking the first round series. Colorado’s late collapse on Wednesday kept me from a perfect record but I’m quite pleased going 7-1 over those eight series. I even managed to peg the length of a number of those series as well, a nice bonus to accompany the prognostication.

The East kicks things off tonight and the full second round will be up and running by this weekend. The NHL must be pleased once again as the divisional format produced an eventful first round and a few very enticing second round matchups.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Yet another storied rivalry that will grow thanks to the NHL’s new format. There’s a different type of hate between the fans in Boston and Montreal and there’s even a few rivalries on the ice.

This sets up as an interesting series that sees the Bruins pit the deep, physical lineup against the speedy, skilled group in Montreal. The Canadiens have some beef in their lineup, but from top to bottom their roster reflects differently than that of their opponents.

Both teams made quick work of their opponents in the first round as Montreal was the first team to advance with the Bruins not far behind. Boston’s series against Detroit was the last one to begin which shortened their break between series a bit. But Montreal’s sweep and Boston’s five-game series win will allow both squads to lick any lingering wounds before the next round.

They’re going to need their health, as well, as the Bruins can expect to drive to the paint in both ends and push their opponents around. Montreal will need to gear up to get knocked around during the series and will benefit from producing on the counterattack.

What to watch for

Montreal ousted Tampa in systematic fashion, benefitting from weak goaltending and a team with limited depth. Now they head to a series with arguably the league’s best goaltender a team with four terrific defensemen and at least three sound lines. Montreal will not only need to adjust to the level of competition but also  finding the proper match for Boston’s lines as the series progresses.

Boston should win this series. While the Canadiens have a great goaltender and some impressive talent atop their roster, there are holes that Boston can exploit along the way. First, I expect Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty to see a lot of Patrice Bergeron this series. While you could argue the Canadiens have other scorers, none function on the level of Vanek or Paciortetty.

Between the pipes

BOS: Tuukka Rask

MTL: Carey Parice

Edge: Boston. Only ever so slightly do I give Rask the nod over Price. This is primarily motivated by Rask’s postseason experience the last few years vs. that of Price. Both had strong showings at the Olympics and both have been strong thus far in the playoffs. I’ll take Rask ever so slightly above Price this time around.

Boston in six

Pittsburgh Penguins  vs. New York Rangers

The Penguins have the opportunity to take advantage of New York’s lengthy first round series with the Flyers. Scheduling constraints not only set the Rangers up with a back-to-back set for games six and seven but also puts them in a situation to see them play six games in eight days.

New York is going to be a darkhorse favorite for plenty of fans and pundits as the Rangers showed the ability to score in bunches (at times) while receiving timely goaltending. Meanwhile, the Penguins enter the second round this year much in the way they did in 2013. They clawed their way past a pesky lower seed in six games despite the better efforts of their goaltender to secure early tee times for the summer.

Marc Andre Fleury’s struggles continue to be amplified as the goaltender is looking at a third-straight postseason of a bloated goals against average and a sinking save percentage. He looked to have found his game in the deciding game six against Columbus before the Blue Jackets barrage almost tied the contest. Now, it’s likely that the fans and possibly his teammates are gripping their sticks a little tighter with concern over the play of the guy behind them.

What to watch for

This series is going to be all about goaltending for me. Can Fleury shake the cobwebs enough to string together a few  more wins? Can Henrik Lundqvist steal a game or two in order to put the heat on the Pens stars? Which goalie will take control of the series? It’s fun to think about because Lundqvist has been playing so well while Fleury’s play remains right around average.

The similarities between last year’s win over the Islanders and this year’s win over Columbus are unrelated when you consider the series that is upon these two teams. However, the same storyline now haunts the Penguins. While they dispatched a lesser opponent with a game to go, it never looked easy for the Pens. For a team with so much fire power that’s not necessarily something you want following you around.

Meanwhile, the Rangers simply need to find their offense. They exploded at times against the Flyers but were stymied just as much. This is a team that lives and dies with it’s top six and if Rick Nash, Brad Richards and friends aren’t firing on all cylinders it will be a quick series.

Between the pipes

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

Edge: Rangers. Lundqvist was a rock throughout the first round. His game six hiccup came thanks to a number of odd-man chances for the Flyers and not so much weak or soft goals. While Lundqvist has a decided edge over Fleury in this series the jury is out on the Rangers ability to give him proper goal support.

New York in seven

Western Conference second round preview and prediction

There’s little doubt that the Western Conference boasted the better of the first round series now that the dust has settled. The Blues and Blackhawks lived up to expectations and the Kings-Sharks epic was must-see-TV. The Wild and Avalanche didn’t disappoint in their seven-game swing and the Ducks and Stars made things interesting despite not having much of a q-rating at the outset.

Now the challenge is to see if these two second round series can do the same. The Kings and Ducks certainly have the rival fan bases to make for an interesting series, but will it play out on the ice. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Wild rekindle their pleasantries from last year’s first round.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

The Blackhawks have had a little more time to rest after their battle against St. Louis and they certainly needed the time off. They played a very physical six-game set and with a couple stars already nagged up entering the playoffs. They’ll have the edge in terms of depth and in net and while this won’t likely be the five-game cake walk that last year’s series was, I expect them to advance past the Wild.

Minnesota enters this series after going the distance with Colorado. They probably should have gotten out of that series sooner than they did but the Avs managed to steal a couple games early on. While I don’t think fatigue will be a major factor for the Wild, it won’t help them in terms of the grand scheme of matching up with the Chicago juggernaut.

What to watch for

The Blackhawks just have to keep playing their game. They have a consistent three-line attack and a fourth line that is serviceable enough to keep the ice time relatively balance across the board. Corey Crawford was terrific in the latter half of their first series and should be able to carry over that momentum to this series. If the Blackhawks carry a 2-0 lead to Minnesota this could be a very short series.

Minnesota needs to find a way to check Chicago’s big guns. The Blues weren’t able to contain them as Kane, Toews and Sharp ran roughshod over them in the first round and can do the same if the Wild can’t keep them on a short leash. Depth scoring will be vital as the Wild’s top line will more than likely be neutralized for a good portion of the series.

Between the pipes

CHI: Corey Crawford

MIN: Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov

Edge: Chicago. This is an easy one. Crawford was the better of the two goalies between he and Ryan Miller in the first round and will be the same against Minnesota’s third and fourth string goalies (technically). Kuemper’s assumed head injury will likely push Bryzgalov in net to start the series and after dropping the first two games to Colorado I’m not sure what he will muster against the Blackhawks.

Blackhawks in five

Anahem Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Freeway Faceoff finally gets to take place in the postseason. The fan bases of these two teams simply don’t get along and while the rivalry may not be as heated on the ice, the arenas will be packed and loud for the entire series.

The Ducks, like the Blackhaws, have had a few days of while the Kings wrapped up their reverse sweep of San Jose. Anaheim played a heated series with Dallas and having the ability to unwind a bit from such a tense series should serve them well. While they aren’t laden with grizzled vets, the Ducks will certainly benefit from the time off.

Los Angeles could potentially enter the series mentally zapped. They just strung together four-straight wins while facing elimination to knock off their neighbors from NorCal in the first round. Erasing San Jose’s 3-0 lead wasn’t going to be an easy task and hopefully the Kings didn’t empty their tanks just getting out of the first round.

What to watch for

Anaheim hasn’t been a sterling puck possession team this year. They’ve had struggles in that neighborhood and are now about to face one of the league’s best possessions squads. The Ducks also stumbled upon some goaltending questions after the first round and it’s looking likely that Jonas Hiller may retake his crease. Of course, it’s also possible that John Gibson gets a call to take over against the Kings.

LA simply needs to do what they’ve done all year. They carry possession and dictate the pace better than nearly every other team. They can rely on their goaltender and so long as their offense remains hot they’ll be a very difficult out for the Ducks.

Between the Pipes

ANA: Jonas Hiller

LA: Jonathan Quick

Edge: Los Angeles. Quick was spectacular once game four began. While Hiller has stolen series in the past he also lost his crease to two rookies this year. Bruce Boudreau seemed hesitant to go back to him against the Stars and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Boudreau go in another direction. Quick is the winner here no matter who plays for the Ducks.

Los Angeles in six