Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NHL 2008-2009 Season: Western Conference Preview

Okydoke... it's time. Let's start our pronosticating (with Cup winning odds) at the top...

Playoff Teams

1. Detroit Red Wings (4-1) - Start with a base recipe of the Stanley Cup Champion. Add one of the game's better forwards in Marion Hossa. Throw in a dash of depth in the form of defenseman Brad Stuart and goalie Ty Conklin. There ya' go...

Someone's got to step up to beat the champ (or knock them out of the favorites spot).

2A. San Jose Sharks (8-1) - A good team, probably a very good one. The Sharks have had the talent to compete for the Cup for a couple years now, but have actually done a few different things to try to get different playoff results. The addition of veteran blueliners Dan Boyle and Rob Blake along with former Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan behind the bench may not win the Sharks the Cup, but it may (and it's worth a shot).

2B. Dallas Stars (8-1) - Sorta like the Sharks, but a little different. They were a good team last year and should be improved offensively with an entire season of Brad Richards. Additionally, a solid group of young defensemen will be a year older and wiser. The Sharks likely have more talent than the Stars, but I view each team's potential as being on the same plane... high.

4. Anaheim Ducks (10-1) - Always tough, always... well, tough. The Ducks will benefit from the absence of questions about Teemu Selanne and Scott Neidermayer because... they're not absent, but losing Matthieu Schneider to salary cap considerations should hurt. Scoring will come from both the aforementioned Sellane as well as the improving Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and... the much ballyhooed Bobby Ryan.

5. Chicago Black Hawks (20-1) - The bandwagon is already getting pretty full, but I tend to agree with the opinion out there that something interesting is brewing in the Windy City. The addition of solid goaltending in the form of Cristobal Huet and flashy (maybe even really really good) defense from Brian Campbell should combine nicely with the excellent youth provided by Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook. I'd be surprised if the Hawks don't make the playoffs... especially in a weak Central Division.

6A. Calgary Flames (30-1) - Well, someone's got to win the Northwest Division, right?

6B. Edmonton Oilers (30-1) - See above.

8. Phoenix Coyotes (30-1) - It's not an easy call to predict the 'Yotes will make the playoffs, but I think they're moving in a good direction. Ilya Bryzgalov will see lots and lots of shots, though, given the loss of young defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton in the Olli Jokinen trade.

Teams That Might Slide In

Minnesota Wild (40-1) - Could make the playoffs out of the very peculiar Northwest Division.

Vancouver Canucks (40-1) - See above.

Colorado Avalanche (30-1) - See above.

Teams Looking to Next Season (The One Some 380 Days Away)

LA Kings (uhh...)

Columbus Blue Jackets - See above.

Nashville Predators - See above.

St Louis Blues - See above.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hockey Night in Canada Radio Back on Sirius

It's getting close... I can both feel the season in the air and listen to that feeling on Sirius Satellite Radio. So very cool...

From www.sirius.com:

Hockey Night in Canada Radio On Hiatus until Sept. 29, 2008After a very successful first season, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Sirius is taking a short summer break.The show will return on September 29th with all the hockey voices you love - host Jeff Marek, and his special guests Ron MacLean, Kelly Hrudey, Cassie Campbell, Craig Simpson, Scott Morrison, and of course, Don Cherry. CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio will bring you all the news from NHL training camps and explore all the intrigue of the pre-season, as we gear up for the 08-09 quest for the Stanley Cup. You'll hear more superb interviews with players, coaches, GMs, reporters, and anyone else making news in the world of hockey. That's CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Radio, every weekday from 4-7pm Eastern, on Sirius 122 & 97, beginning September 29th!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Departure from Hockey: Nebraska Football Trip

Straying very far from blog general topic, this post is about my trip to Lincoln, NE to watch some Hokie (Virginia Tech)-Husker college football.

Granted, I haven't made the trip to an enormous number of college football destinations, but this may have been my favorite. Let's take a look at them (in no particular order)...

University of Oregon - Having gone to grad school in Eugene and being a Duck fan, I'm extremely biased, but I'd say it's an excellent venue and city to visit for college football simply because it's so incredibly loud there. Additionally, it's a very cool stadium in an incredibly picturesque setting.

UCLA - It gets credit as a place to visit simply due to the 100,000+ the Rose Bowl (stadium, not the game) in Pasadena holds, but beyond that... it's just ok (not that much of a college atmosphere).

Pittsburgh - My least favorite college location visited. It's no fault of the Pitt Panthers, but it's just not the same experience going to see a college game in a pro stadium (and pro town for that matter). I wouldn't recommend it.

Virginia Tech - Another excellent place to go see a game. Huge stadium with a very impassioned and knowledgeable fan base. Only drawback is if the town of Blacksburg isn't in the middle of nowhere, it can at least see it from there. Probably the best travel route to take is to fly into DC and play tourist for a few days and then drive the 4 1/2 hours into town.

Fresno State - Like one of those wine descriptions you sometimes come across... "Surprisingly vibrant with ...". I certainly didn't expect a lot from the trip since you know... its Fresno, but the stadium is nice and packed full of fans that are way into their team, and were not unfriendly to the opposition fans. If in driving distance, I'd recommend a visit.

Texas A&M - Very very good. College Station is one of those quintessential college towns and it features a gynormous on-campus stadium filled with dedicated fans who cheer in unison (I don't just mean everyone cheers when the Aggies do something good, I mean large portions of the stadium do the same group cheers and songs year after year. The best part of a trip to College Station, though, is the fans... some of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

And, now...

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - We arrived into town on a Friday night, went out for food and a few drinks, and then rested up for gameday... and what a gameday it was. We had previously been told about Sidetracks as THE bar to visit and the need to arrive early. So... bright-eyed and bushy-tailed we rolled in at around 11:45AM and spent the next 5 or so hours cavorting with an amazingly friendly group of Nebraska fans who kept (A) asking if we were having fun, (B) entertaining us songs about Husker football and (C) plying us with free beer.

At this point, we had a few hours left until game time so we headed off in search of that mythical and magnificent creature, the tailgate. It was as if the Nebraska fans metaphorically said to us "rolling into our parking lot with no supplies of your own, no problem! Here's a beer". Suffice to say, we did not lack for good food, good drink or good conversation with some very good people.

From there, we went to the stadium and while it would be next to impossible to measure up to the fans outside the stadium, the venue itself came close with seats for some 85-odd thousand Big Red supporters.

Just a great place to see a game and the fans were so nice, it's almost reason enough to visit Blacksberg for the game next year to return the favor.

Monday, September 22, 2008

2008-2009 NHL Season: Sharks Training Camp

Training Camp has now been open for 4 days and it's never too early to make some bold predictions... you know, if you make enough of them, one's bound to come true.

For the time being though, I'm simply offer up a description of things of note from two of the three Sharks Training Camp open to the public scrimmages...

1. Bad: Torrey Mitchell breaking his leg. With half the players in camp being guys that won't make the roster, why couldn't it have been one of them? Well, I suppose you never want to wish harm on anyone and it wasn't one of the expected big guns. Time frame for Mitchell's expected return is mid-November.

2. Good: Patrick Marleau certainly showed some blazing speed. Adding to that, he also drives what has to be a blazing fast car.

3. Good: Jeff Friesen looked very solid out there (with an extremely nice assist in the Monday scrimmage.

4. Good: New style of play. Prior to hitting the ice for Camp, new coach (formerly of the Stanley Cup holding Detroit Red Wings) Todd McLellan preached the virtues of (A) getting the puck to the net and crashing it hard and (B) in a related story... having the D firing from the blueline.

5. Interesting: New star defenseman Dan Boyle is short (5-11 very generously) and other new star (albeit older) defenseman Rob Blake is tall (6-4).

6. Fear Inspiring: Alexei Semenov and Kyle McLaren were both on the ice. Very up in the air what their roles could be, though (which is much better than if it was known they'll both be on the team and play major minutes).

7. Funny: No rookie scuffles to witness, but several cases of veteran players (Ryane Clowe and Jeremy Roenick as examples) taking exception to rookie feistiness and subsequently dumping them on the ice... with no subsequent rookie aggression.

All this said... very glad hockey is back.