SPEAKING OF MONDAYS TUESDAY MORNING:
“I only need coffee on days ending in -Y.”
The countdown is on: 95 days until opening night at XFINITY Arena. This is filed on a Tuesday – a rarity – because we had sudden news hit the desk regarding four Silvertips and the door opening to Hockey Canada. So, a day late but not a buck short, here we go:
- DRAFT DAY: T-minus three days and counting for Carter Hart. The latest, from the Edmonton Oilers (who’ve been doing a lot of profiling on the Sherwood Park native and Tips goaltender lately). I’ll have a conversation ready with Carter Hart later this week, the final one he’ll provide the Silvertips website before NHL Draft Day (keep in mind, we’ll have more with him as he prepares for the 2016-17 season here in Everett … but it’s our last before a career-defining seminal moment).
- A GIANT OPENER: Last week, the Silvertips announced the home opener on Sept. 24 against the Vancouver Giants at XFINITY Arena, completing a “home-and-home” series with Vancouver and featuring back-to-back home openers (the Giants will open their new digs in Langley, the night prior against the Tips). While this is totally not uncommon, the announcement delivers a new dynamic in the Silvertips home schedule: opening fresh out of the starting blocks – something that hasn’t happened this early since the start of the 2013-14 season. Tips fans won’t have to wait two weeks to see the evolved squad, in living color, in the home digs. On top of it, Langley is roughly a two hour drive north, providing an accessible outlet for Tips fans on the road.
- RULE CHANGES: Important to note – you’ll be subject to rule changes that mimic the evolution of the NHL next season, and no joke – they’re outstanding.
– I love the introduction of hybrid icing (bottom line, the concept of “icing” only comes into play when a player for one team is first to the face-off dot – nearby his defending goal line – when chasing a cleared puck by the opposing team. The whistle would then blow as normal. If the team who cleared the puck has a player first to the face-off dot, then icing is waved off and play continues). This is all done in respect to safety, and eliminating dangerous and potentially violent and career-threatening injuries that result from collisions at the end boards from “foot races” for pucks – that was at least the NHL’s case when they used to have full blown foot races determine icing. Here, it prepares players for NHL-like conditions.
- A kicked-in puck? That’s now OK (on one condition) … I realize Silvertips fans have sore spots after Josh Uhrich’s goal in Game 4 of the second round last season (as a reminder: the goal – admittedly much to some chagrin – was legal). Now, the interpretation is supposed to be as clear as crystal. If you’re in the crease, no skates allowed. Period. If you’re not in the crease, using skates to deflect pucks in: totally fine. Maybe it’s a tactic to be more clear in defining the legality of a goal (because, previously you’d have two human beings in stripes using subjective argument to decide if a puck was kicked in or not). Now, it’s a rule intended to be more clear. Not to mention, intended to increase scoring.
Note: this is a rule currently nonexistent in the NHL, AHL, ECHL and NCAA. This is potentially a trendsetter.
- Let’s have a review upstairs (with more bells and whistles) … this one will fly right over the heads of fans night after night, simply because they won’t be able to see “behind the curtain.” But believe me, this is a big one, with Hawk-Eye Innovations (manufacturer of the video replay system used in the NHL and MLB) now providing enhanced video replay to all WHL teams in time for the upcoming season. “Improved capabilities” for all video replay will be available, to which, if you’re aligning your forces and resources with the NHL, that’s a good thing.
- HOCKEY CANADA GETS A SHADE OF GREEN: Four Silvertips were named to the Hockey Canada “Summer Showcase”, which launched last year and splits into three different age groups: the U-20 main World Junior Camp, the U-18 camp, and the U17 development camp. Importantly, Hart and Noah Juulsen return to no one’s surprise at the U-20 camp. Both came within smelling distance of nailing a roster spot at the World Junior Championships, and coincidentally avoided the experience of the much-documented shortfall in Finland. There’s a new head coach in Dominique Ducharme who wants to change the current narrative.
For those who are confused on how this works: the WJC roster selection process works now in “stages.”
- We’re at “stage 1”: the Summer Showcase with games against other countries. Rosters will then be narrowed.
- Stage 2 is the “Canada-Russia Series,” where both Hart and Juulsen played last year. Rosters will then be narrowed.
- Stage 3 is the final camp in December, whereupon the team will be picked.
For Brett Kemp and Gianni Fairbrother, it’s not just a landmark day in their careers to be selected among the elite to participate in camp for the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, but a testifying moment for the Silvertips program. They pick the good ones, the good ones stand out above the rest, and playing in the Silvertips program opens the door to magnificent country-representing opportunities. Incredible to consider, the leadership that’s involved in this: assistant coach Mitch Love was tabbed for the second straight year to serve as a coach for Hockey Canada in this section of the development corridor.
- ON VEGAS: Hockey is pretty much good-to-go when it comes to Las Vegas, and its another terrific moment for the sport’s growth where it hasn’t reached as far as other cold-weather associated regions. Worth mentioning here, since this is a WHL blog, and there is a WHL connection. Props to Kelowna Rockets voice Regan Bartel for this fascinating chat with Tyler Mosienko, a former Rocket who forged several productive years in the ECHL and Europe (I had the pleasure of working with him in Alaska three seasons ago – he’s a gentleman).
HOT TAKE ALERT: Vegas and the NHL will work, but on one condition – assuming it’s marketed heavily to tourism consumers, not just the loyal residents. Las Vegas is recovering from a housing market crash and receives strong visitor volume, most recently with over 41 million tourists (a new record) in 2014. I had the pleasure of visiting Las Vegas on the road trip stop for the first nine years of my career when the ECHL’s Wranglers played at Orleans Arena, a venue seating a little under 9,000. Some nights: the place was packed (they even had a traditional “Midnight Game” there, which sold well and wrecked the sleeping pattern of yours truly for three days after, in 2011-12). Other nights, there would be crickets and an announced crowd of 3,000+, but no more than 1,500 in the building. It has the foundation of loyal die-hards who want to see major league entertainment, now the challenge will be to fill in the blanks with people “just passing through for a good time.” I think based on the right people they hire to sell the game, it will be fine.
- FREE STROMBO: Disappointed to see George Stroumboulopoulos out as host of Hockey Night in Canada. This is in no way intended to be critical of the decision makers tied to Rogers, or even Ron MacLean (who is remarkable and synonymous with hockey on TV across the world as Bob Costas with baseball, Jim Nantz with college basketball, and syrup on ice cream), who will reportedly come back to the host position – a spot where he is proven, respected, and decorated. I live in the U.S. but, since moving to the Pacific Northwest, have gratefully gained access to Hockey Night in Canada thanks to my sweet Xfinity cable package. This is me as a TV viewer explaining this.
What is this tied to is a fresh personality who delivered the game in a unique way. I didn’t mind it. And now it’s gone. He had massive shoes to fill when he took the role, and stick tap to him for his dedication to do his best. True, that “Strombo” had a different sense of fashion than the status quo. True, that Strombo wasn’t a big network or NHL team hockey host by origin (his VJ ties would be like Carson Daly chosen to host your *fill in the blank* sport on TV).
Yes, he was different. But Strombo has a passion for the sport that translates to a host’s necessary duties. More importantly, his delivery and personality communicated authenticity. I like that. His interview skills were exceptional (note: disarming and comfortable). I appreciated that. Sometimes people don’t like “different.” Nothing wrong with that. But I embraced the approach of “fresh,” and hope to see Strombo pop up on another well deserving place soon.
On a necessary extended note, I like MacLean and admire his style on TV. It’ll be great to see his return to the main host chair. His familiar and reverent approach engages countless viewers on television and has become interlaced with the game’s rich tapestry. Had the pleasure of shaking his hand at the NHL All-Star Game 15 years ago in Los Angeles. He’s as genuine and friendly in real life as through a TV screen. So here’s to wishing the viewer wins, George wins, and Ron wins, in the long run.
Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips. Tweet at him here.