Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Lovely Readers,

It excites me to announce that I have been recruited to join SBN's Hockey Wilderness.

SBN has some amazing resources that I'm very excited to start utilizing. Joining Buddha and Nathan will make for some excellent coverage and Wild analysis, so get ready. The collection of hockey blogs at SBN is tremendous and I would suggest reading all of them. You can also follow most of the blogs on Twitter (or @sbnhockey). As for your Minnesota news, make sure to follow HW (@hockeywildernes, note the one 's'). And, of course, I'm on Twitter @elisebutler.

Happy reading.

BallHype: hype it up!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome Back, Jacques


Nine minutes of fantastic Lemaire quotes

Jacques Lemaire, one of the men who truly helped shape the Minnesota Wild as a franchise, returns to the Xcel Energy Center tonight, but this time as part of the opposing team. Minnesota faces the New Jersey Devils, a team with Lemaire, ex-assistant coach Mario Tremblay, former Wild captain Brian Rolston, and full of guys with Minnesota ties.

I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for Lemaire and happily welcome him back to Minnesota.

Some Lemaire-related reads...
As always, info from Russo's blog
Lemaire due warm welcome in return to Xcel as a visitor, Star Tribune
Jacques Lemaire gets the warm fuzzies in his return, Pioneer Press
A special return to Minnesota for NJ Devils Jacques Lemaire and Brian Rolston, The Star-Ledger via NJ.com


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anniversaries, Olympics, and Other Fun Stuff

It's Dec. 30 today and for 18,568 Reasons Why that means it's a birthday (blogiversary? blogthday?). Two years ago, this little blog was formed and since then it's turned into a bigger part of my life than I ever thought. Thank you to everyone who has ever read, linked, or commented on the blog. The level of intelligence and wit that exists in the hockey blogosphere amazes me and I'm so glad I can be a part of that.

Let's take a look at how things have changed in the past two years. I'm in college instead of high school; I'm two years older and wiser(?); the Wild is trap free (sort of); Marian Gaborik is healthy...for the Rangers. But people are still using the word "wild" as a pun for the team. Will it ever stop?

Here's a section from my first ever blog post and how things have progressed...

Favorite Team: The Wild, but I'm also very fond of the Sharks.
Partially true. Favorite team is still the Wild (obviously) but not as much about the Sharks. While I still find them amusing, my second team loyalties have definitely jumped to the Blackhawks - fun, young team to watch and very charismatic off the ice as well.
Favorite Player: I tend to basically like, or at least accept, all players on my teams. I do take special likings to random players though. But my top player who I've liked since we drafted him is James Sheppard...with Jonathan Toews and Willie Mitchell (I actually almost cried when he was traded to Dallas) close behind.
True. Despite struggles, I'm still holding out hope that Sheppard will develop into the NHL player everyone hopes he is (and who Doug Risebrough refused to trade away). While it's somewhat more difficult to still like Mitchell since he plays for rival Vancouver now and demolished Toews with a center ice hit, I still break out the Mitchell jersey time to time for games.
Least Favorite Team: Anaheim Ducks. Come on, they've kicked us out of the playoffs twice. And there is a grand total of about 4 players on their team I don't strongly dislike.
Yeah, that one's still true. While they're maybe not the least favorite, they're definitely close to it. For more about Wild rivalries, check out this article from wild.com outlining fans' feelings about other teams. It's spot on.
Least Favorite Players: Chris Pronger, Brad May, and Matt Cooke.
Most definitely. Guys like Mattias Ohlund, Alex Burrows, Todd Bertuzzi and Darcy Tucker can be added to that list too.
Biggest Hockey Guilty Pleasure: I love getting jerseys. I have four and I love all of them.
Current count is up to five Wild jerseys and one Blackhawks jersey.
Least Favorite Hockey Thing: I hate the fans who have really good seats and look bored the entire game, talk/text on their cellphones, and come or leave halfway through the game.
Still true. I text during games sometimes but I try to limit it to TV timeouts. And to clarify, I meant the people who leave for no reason, I get that sometimes people have legit reasons they can't stay for the whole game. Pretty much what I was trying to get at was that I don't like people who don't like hockey. But here's a nice list of 10 Annoying People to Sit Near at a Hockey Game.

So some things have changed, but not too much.

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Wild back-up goalie Josh Harding has garnered attention for his goalie masks quite often. In 2006-2007, he designed a pink mask in honor of his sister, who was fighting breast cancer. He auctioned it, along with a collection of other items from NHLers, to raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. In other memorable masks designs, he's included the country band Rascal Flatts, victims of the 35W bridge collapse, and childhood friends. Continuing with the decade list trend, Sports Illustrated put together a photo gallery of the Top 10 Goalie Masks of the Decade on their website. Harding's rookie mask, honoring goaltending greats of the past and their masks, was honored as number one on that list.

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In other feel good notes, five Wild players have been named to their country's Olympic teams. For the Czech team, Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky were chosen. For the Finns, Mikko Koivu, linemate Antti Miettinen, and goalie Niklas Backstrom were selected. The American roster will be announced following the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (or is it...). But the Wild don't have to worry about that because there are no American players on the Minnesota Wild.

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Speaking of the roster, one of the new additions has the Minnesota fans warming up to him quite nicely thus far in his short career as a Wild. Guillaume Latendresse arrived in Minnesota in exchange for Benoit Pouliot and has exceeded expectations so far. In 23 games with Montreal this season, he had 2 goals, 1 assist, and was a -4. Through 15 games since the trade (stats through the 10/29 game against Anaheim), Latendresse has 6 goals, 1 assist, and is a +2. Not too shabby.

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Wild will play their New Years Eve game tomorrow night against the LA Kings. For the Kings side, I would suggest checking out A Queen Among Kings, The Royal Half, or Battle of California. Game starts at 7:00pm and, for those of us not going, it will be televised on FSN.


BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Meet the New Guy: Clayton Stoner



Vitals
Age: 24
Hometown: Port McNeill, British Columbia, Canada
Position/Shoots: Defense/left
Height/Weight: 6'3''/225 lb
Drafted: 79th overall, 2004, Minnesota Wild
Contract Status: Last year of his contract, worth $665,000 according to NHLnumbers
Former Teams: Tri-City Americans (WHL), Houston Aeros (AHL)

So Far With the Wild...
(as of Dec. 22)
Games: 3 (recalled December 16)
Points: 2 (0 goals, 2 assists)
+/-: 0
Fights: 1
Shots: 2

Clayton Stoner's been a solid prospect for the Wild for some time now, but this is his first chance in the big leagues. Injuries have hindered his rise to the NHL but now Wild fans are getting the chance to see how he plays. Stoner's a big guy and has been solid for the Wild so far. He hasn't made any big defensive gaffes, he has two assists in three games, and has used his size to his advantage. In the Dec. 21 game against Colorado (a 3-4 loss), Stoner fought Chris Durno, helping get the crowd back into a game, and made a beautiful pass to Martin Havlat who scored on the subsequent breakaway. With defenseman John Scott struggling recently, his job could be Stoner's to take if he continues impressing.

For more information on Stoner, check out his interview with Hockey's Future or I Mean, We Got Guys..., a Tri-City blog and Stoner fan.

BallHype: hype it up!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Field Trip: AHL Chicago Wolves Home Opener

As some of you know, I'm right outside of Chicago for school, which means I get to do lots of fun Chicago things. One of those things was going to Allstate Arena on Oct. 3 for the AHL Chicago Wolves home opener against the Milwaukee Admirals.



The Chicago Wolves are the AHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers and have made news this season with their signing of defenseman Chris Chelios. While I'm somewhat knowledgeable about the AHL, most of that information is either about the Wild's affiliate Houston Aeros, what I've read from minor league blogs, or recognition of prospects' names. But I didn't know much about the Wolves and I had never been to an AHL game before this one. However I'd heard about how minor league hockey games can sometimes be over-the-top and seen video of events like the Teddy Bear Toss (which is awesome, by the way), so I was excited.

The game was at 7 p.m. but two women's league teams were playing a game at the arena earlier in the afternoon and I knew someone playing so I went and watched. It was both weird and cool being in an empty arena - the scoreboard was down and they were still doing some work on the rink and we pretty much had choice of seating.


Later, we went to the tailgate the Wolves were hosting in the parking lot outside the arena. There was face painting, games, food and drinks, contests, and an appearance from the team's mascot Skates. They were also promoting Holzy's Hounds, a community program focused around player Riley Holzapfel where fans can adopt dogs right in the concourse of the arena during select games.

Just a thought: If I were in charge of marketing this, I would put a picture where he looked a little bit more enthused about dogs. In all seriousness though, it's a good program. Learn more about it here.

Despite the rain and cold, a fair number of people were there getting ready for the opener and celebrating the Wolves and it was a fun crowd to hang out with. Finally, the gates opened and it was time to re-enter the arena for the opening festivities (and the game, of course).

Once inside, we were given copious amounts of swag, including coupons, Wolves-themed boom sticks, an opening night blade towel, and a Wolves hat. We found our seats, midway up the lower level in the corner behind the Wolves goal, and settled in to watch warm-ups.


After warm-ups and the subsequent time after, it got dark in the arena and the fans prepared for their team to enter. The set-up included the typical pregame intro/excitement video, a giant Wolves head that players skated out of, loud music, and lots of pyrotechnic effects.


Video credit goes to YouTuber wolfkeeper80

The game and season got off to a quick start with Tim Stapleton scoring a minute in. But the Admirals scored three goals in the second period to pull ahead 3-1. The Wolves came closer in the third with a goal from Rylan Kaip but lost 3-2.

As of Sunday, the Wolves are fifth in the West Division (note: the Aeros are sixth in the division).

The combination of weird lighting and a camera phone leads to not the greatest picture in the world

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Benoit Pouliot - A Case Study

All Minnesota Wild fans know who Benoit Pouliot is - the lanky winger from Ontario who never quite reached his potential and whose effort was always questioned. He had his ups and downs within Minnesota's system, sometimes showing promise but never having the break out year everyone hoped he would have.

And now he's moved on, probably for the better. GM Chuck Fletcher traded Pouliot (something ex-GM Doug Risebrough could never manage to do) to the Montreal Canadiens for Guillaume Latendresse.

But Pouliot's story is an interesting one. In his early career, he wasn't tapped as a high draft pick or future NHL star. He was good, but he didn't rise up the rankings until later in his CHL career. Eventually, he was taken fourth overall by the Wild in 2005 and you all know his story since.

After being drafted by the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL in the 11th round in 2002, Pouliot didn't make the team right away. He spent most of the 2003-2004 season playing for the Hawkesbury Hawks of the CJHL. This was also the season that Pouliot's dad grew very sick. Sylvain Pouliot had coached his three sons for years and helped inspire them and get them to become the players, and people, they are. But he had leukemia and the family knew he was not going to recover from it. Pouliot was called up to play some games for Sudbury in mid-February. He scored his first OHL goal on February 13, while his dad, too sick to drive to watch the games in person, listened on the radio. Sylvain passed away later that night. Benoit's mother and Wolves management decided to not tell Pouliot about his father's death, instead letting him play one more game, where he recorded an assist, before sending him back home where he learned the news. He spent a month at home with his family before Sudbury called him back up for their playoff run.
More detailed stories on Sylvain Pouliot from
SLAM! Sports and ESPN the Magazine
.



The next season (2004-2005) Pouliot's hockey career took off. He played in 67 games for the Wolves and racked up the points, scoring 29 goals and recording 38 assists for 67 points. He won the Emms Family Award for top rookie in the OHL and was named the Rookie of the Year for the CHL. His play gained him status as a top draft pick and people started talking. He was taken fourth overall in that summer's 2005 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, only behind Sidney Crosby (1), Bobby Ryan (2), and Jack Johnson (3). He was taken ahead of players like Carey Price (5), Anze Kopitar (11), Marc Staal (12), and Paul Stastny (44).

In 2005-2006, he played another season for the Wolves and also competed in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada. They won gold.



On an early morning in August of 2006, Pouliot was pulled over. Police suspected drunken driving, meanwhile Pouliot reportedly continued eating some chips and drinking his water. He failed a road test and continually hindered the investigation, according to court documents. His first breath sample registered at 140mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, almost two times the legal limit, and he refused to give a second breath sample, according to the Ottawa Citizen. According to reports, Pouliot acted cocky, something which ended up increasing his punishment. Reportedly these included: ignoring a list of available lawyers and instead asking to talk to his uncle, an officer; asking police if there was anything they could do other than taking his license; attempting to bribe the officer; pulling the "do you know who I am?" line. In the ruling this past summer, Pouliot was fined $2,000 and had his license taken away for one year. The Citizen quoted him as saying, when asked if it would affect him this season, “I don’t need a car to play hockey, so I don’t see a problem at all.”



Pouliot spent the next few seasons bouncing around the Minnesota system, mostly in the AHL with the Houston Aeros. He's gone through good and bad streaks, showing signs of skill and of laziness. He's had fans reminiscing of what could have been of the 2005 draft, but was showing signs of improvement with the Wild this season. This year was seen as a fresh slate for Pouliot under the new administration but also, possibly, a last chance. He had been playing relatively well and seemed to be trying hard most of the time before getting injured.



But now he gets a new start in Montreal. Hopefully for him, this is what he needs to take off and reach his potential. It will be interesting to see how he does for Montreal once healthy again. It's been an interesting track Pouliot's taken to get where he is today. He hasn't failed, but he also hasn't reached the level it's believed he can.


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Friday, November 27, 2009

Observations from a Post Thanksgiving Wild Win

I was able to take advantage of the few days I was home this week for Thanksgiving and get to the Wild's 5-3 victory over division rival Avalanche this afternoon. Having been in a different state since the beginning of training camp, I've only been able to see the Wild play live once this season, and that was in an opposing team's building (the United Center in Chicago, a 3-1 Hawks win). Being back at the X was great, especially watching the game with two five-year-old boys whose comments made the game even more interesting.

Attendance - I've heard bad things about the attendance this season, both with the Wild and NHL in general. While the X didn't seem vastly empty, it was abnormally easy to park. I arrived about 35 minutes before game time, enough time to catch about 10 minutes of warm-ups. The lot I parked in, about a five minute walk from the X, was almost empty. Warm-ups also were oddly tame. Usually, there are swarms of people up close to the glass and in the lower bowl, watching the team warm up and hoping to get a puck thrown to them. It wasn't very crowded down by the glass today, which was a surprise to me.

Pink Jerseys -
I heard a woman intelligently talking about the pros and cons of 6'7'' forward Derek Boogaard and 6'8'' defenseman John Scott. She was wearing one of the Wild's pink jerseys. I'm glad to find more women who understand hockey, but I still think the pink jerseys are ridiculous. They're pink, sparkly, and swirly...if other people want to wear them that's fine, but really NHL? Stereotype much?

On the roster but not dressing - Benoit Pouliot? No, announcer man, I do not believe Benoit Pouliot is currently on the Wild's roster. According to Adrian Dater's twitter, the¥ also announced Brandon Yip, who isn't with the team, as a scratch. Oops.

Guillaume Latendresse - Latendresse made his Wild debut this afternoon after coming to the team in exchange for Pouliot. I thought he played well and added some good energy when he was on the ice. It's got to be hard coming to a new team and not skating then being thrown right into a division game (and starting).

Ice Girls - I had heard from one person that the Wild had started using ice girls this season, but I didn't hear much else so I didn't think about it too much. But I was curious about what I would find for an ice crew today at the game. While I did find ice girls, personally not my favorite marketing idea, I found a somewhat different version of other teams'. While there were women shoveling the ice instead of the normal men (and children who pushed the buckets) like past seasons, they were fully clothed and didn't make me want to puke. Instead of skimpy "outfits", the wore black pants and a women's version of the new alternate green jerseys. And they could skate, and well.

Kobasew's hat trick - With a lack of finishing ability on this team, someone has to step up. This afternoon, it was Chuck Kobasew. After two big goals in the second, he finished off the trick with an empty net goal in the third. Although it was empty net and with under a minute left in the game, there were surprisingly few hats thrown on the ice. Congrats to Kobasew, the first Wild player to record a hat trick since Marian Gaborik's five goal game against the Rangers, according to Russo.

Minnesota's youth - is perfectly fine. The two five-year-olds who I attended the game with both adore hockey. While one of them was somewhat scared of the goal horn, they were both excellent Minnesota boys who love the game. They asked loads of questions, from who was the strongest player on the team to who was the fastest player on the team, along with "why is it called hockey?" The answer to this, according to the other five-year-old, was because they play with hockey sticks and hockey pucks, so obviously it's called hockey. One of the boys, who listens to the State of Hockey anthem every night before he goes to bed, also informed his dad of his future plans: to play for the Gophers and then play for the Wild so he can stay at home. Minnesota's hockey future is looking strong, fans.


BallHype: hype it up!