U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2011

USA Hockey has announced the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2011 and the five new inductees are: Chris Chelios, Gary Suter, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Emrick and Ed Snider. The five new members will be formally installed into the US HOF at a ceremony in Chicago, IL. Details on the event will be coming out soon. Congratulations on your respective careers, gentlemen.

The United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum is located in Eveleth, Minnesota. To date, there are 148 enshrined members in the Hall.

USA Hockey’s Press Release

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College hockey coming to Versus? CHL / NCAA Debate

College hockey could be coming to Versus by next season according to numerous reports over the last week. Some have stated in the media that there have already been discussions with members of the NCAA and television executives about getting a number of games nationally televised on Versus, which is reported to soon be re-branded as the NBC Sports Network. There have been reports that it would be televised as a “game of the week” package, with the game being played on Friday nights. Personally, I think this is great news and could be a huge boost to NCAA and hockey overall in the USA. College hockey could use the increased national exposure to help gain the interest of potential top players down the road. In addition, that just means more hockey in general being televised, which is a huge plus for any fan of the sport. More news should be coming out on this in the near future.

Speaking of college hockey, there’s two links below to some interesting articles covering the great debate between CHL and the NCAA. This is coming on the heels of the recent news of both Jamie Oleksiak and J.T. Miller expected to bolt for the Ontario Hockey League. Arguments are routinely made for both sides, but in my opinion both routes provide a player with great opportunities to succeed. It’s up to the player and their family to decide which route works best for them in accomplishing their future goals. However, I do believe that the college hockey route is looked at unfairly sometimes as a lower tier development league. Those that believe that are grossly misinformed. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the list of NCAA alum in the NHL, it is long and impressive.

NCAA hockey has to work on perception problem

Rhetoric shouldn’t dwarf facts in CHL-NCAA conflab, please

Update: Here’s two additional great pieces by Chris Peters over at “The United States of Hockey”:

NCAA/CHL Battle Heating Up

 

The Argument Against CHL Players Retaining NCAA Eligibility

 

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Mark Howe Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame

American defenseman Mark Howe was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Class of 2011, today along with Canadian players Ed Belfour, Doug Gilmore and Joe Nieuwendyk. The four players will be inducted in a ceremony in Toronto on November 14th.

Mark Howe, the son of Red Wing great Gordie Howe, was a three-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy as Best Defenseman and appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals three times in his career. Howe netted 1,246 points over 22 professional seasons split between the World Hockey Association and the NHL. In addition, he was a six-time NHL all-star and was selected to the NHL First All-Star team in 1983, 1986 and 1987.

Howe, already a member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, was also a part of the surprising 1972 United States Olympic Team that won a remarkable silver medal in Sapporo, Japan. At just 16 years old at the time, I believe Howe still holds the record as the youngest hockey player ever to win an Olympic medal.

1972 USA Olympic Team, Howe on the top-left

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Americans shine at the 2011 NHL Awards

This year’s NHL Award show was exciting for all fans of hockey and most of all it was a testament to how far hockey has come in the U.S. over the years. Five American born players and one American born coach took home awards Wednesday night celebrating their success in the 2010-11 NHL season. 

Tim Thomas (Flint, MI) of the Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins must be getting a work out lifting all these trophies, as he collected some hardware for the second time in a week by winning this year’s Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s Best Goaltender. This was his second Vezina Trophy in three years. Thomas not only shined in the playoffs, he turned in a pretty exceptional regular season too. Thomas led the NHL with a 2.00 goals against average and set a record with a .938 save percentage. He also had nine shutouts, second most in the league during the regular season. Interesting side note, for the past three years the Vezina Trophy has gone to an American born goaltender (Tim Thomas-2009, Ryan Miller-2010, Tim Thomas-2011). That is the first Vezina 3-peat for U.S. born players in NHL History.

Ryan Kesler (Livonia, MI) took home the Frank J. Selke trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. It was Kesler’s third straight nomination for this trophy, and by winning it this year Kesler became the first American born player ever to win the Selke Trophy. After seeing the number of votes he received, it was apparent that he was the runaway candidate this year for the award. Kesler scored 41 goals this season while chipping in 32 assists and was a plus-24 as well. As a key offensive contributor for the President Trophy winning Canucks, it was also his play in his own end that really put him above the rest of the pack this season. Kesler is a fast, fluid skater that plays in every situation imaginable for Vancouver. Whether it be power plays, on the penalty kill, or key face-offs, Kesler was counted on to handle it. Here’s a video of a pretty spectacular goal he scored in the Canucks’ playoff series against Nashville, in which he singlehandedly dominated. 

Dan Bylsma (Grand Haven, MI), coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins took home the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. Bylsma led the Penguins to a 49-25-8 record this season despite having to deal with prolonged absences of two of the biggest stars in the NHL due to injuries. The Pens were able to overcome these hurdles and earn the second-most points (106) in the franchise’s history. Also, anyone that watched HBO’s 24/7 shouldn’t be too surprised by him taking home this award. I’ve met him in person in the past and he was a gracious guy, but after watching the 24/7 special I truly respect him more than ever as a NHL coach.   

Dustin Brown (Ithaca, NY) of the Los Angeles Kings was presented with the NHL Foundation Player Award for his dedication to charity and his dealings with the community. This was the third consecutive year he was nominated for the award. A tough player on the ice, but a true beauty off. Here’s a link to learn more about all of Dustin Brown’s countless community-benefiting endeavors.

Doug Weight (Warren, MI) the recently-retired Islanders’ forward was presented with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership qualities on and off the ice. Unfortunately, injuries limited Weight to playing in only 18 games in his final season, but the Islanders’ captain treated his ailment as an opportunity to become an even stronger leader for the Islanders off the ice. While unable to play in games, Weight took on a coaching role with his teammates during practices and maintained his veteran leadership role as captain in the locker room.

Cory Schneider (Marblehead, MA) was part of the Vancouver Canucks tandem in net that captured the William Jennings Trophy, as the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest goals this season. In 25 games played, Schneider went 16-4-2 with a 2.23 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.

With another successful NHL season in the books, it looks like USA Hockey is in great hands moving forward.

Rock, Flag & Eagle

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Dates Announced for Hockey Weekend Across America 2012

USA Hockey announced that the fifth annual Hockey Weekend Across America will be back in full force February 17-19th, 2012. This nationwide initiative began in 2008 to help celebrate the game of hockey and to expose it to potential new audiences. This year’s updated logo is a nice improvement over year’s past and I look forward to USA Hockey releasing additional details in the coming weeks.  In the past, HWAA has scheduled daily themes and developed promotional materials and prizes to help go along with them. One of my favorite things offered during this special weekend, is the “Try Hockey For Free” events that happen around the U.S. What a great way to introduce young kids to the sport for the very first time. I believe in 2012, that event will take place on Saturday, February 18th. Last year, over 6,000 kids tried hockey for free!

Check this link for future announcements and details on the great events surrounding this weekend.

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Tried-and-True, Tim Thomas Steals the Show

Tim Thomas and his journey to get to the NHL has been well documented this season and during the playoffs, but now the legend of Thomas has reached new heights after last night. The Bruins’ 37 year-old goaltender back-stopped the team to their first Stanley Cup victory in 39 years and took home the Conn Smythe, as playoff  MVP, in the process. Thomas became the oldest player ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and he’s only the second American  born player ever to be selected for the Award.

The Flint, Michigan native set NHL records during the long road to the Cup. He stopped 798 shots total, which is now a single post-season record and he also set a record for saves in a Stanley Cup Final by stopping 238 Vancouver shots in the 7 game series. What is even more remarkable, is that he only gave up 8 goals in those 7 games. Which is also a new NHL record for fewest goals allowed in a 7 game Stanley Cup Final. In the Finals, Thomas’ stats are borderline absurd posting a 1.15 GAA and a .967 save %, with 2 shutouts in the series. His game 7 shutout to win the Cup over the Canucks in Vancouver, made him the only goalie ever to post a road shutout in a game 7 final.

The stat line for Thomas for the playoffs overall is as follows, 25 GP, 16 wins, 9 losses, 1.98 GAA, .940 save %, and 4 shutouts… NHL playoff MVP = well deserved! It’s hard for anybody not to like Tim Thomas at this moment. Seeing the way he shined on the big stage and the way he sincerely talked with media, makes me think they’ll be a few more kids sporting a #30 trying to play net in the USA in the coming years.   

Congratulations, Timmy! Fans of the Boston Bruins and USA Hockey are very proud of you.

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2011 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp Roster

The invite list for the 2011 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp has been announced and out of the 40 names more than a few stick out. Eighteen of the 40 invited skaters participated in last year’s camp and it’s no surprise to see Tyler Biggs, Rocco Grimaldi and Co. on the list. Other names that grabbed my attention were some of the representatives from the non-traditional hockey markets, Emerson Etem (Long Beach, CA) and Jason Zucker (Las Vegas, NV). In all, the Evaluation Camp roster includes five kids from California,  two from Texas, and one from Nevada. Goaltenders were not announced at this time to the camp, but USA Hockey states that they’ll be named later this month.

The 2011 National Junior Evaluation Camp will take place in Lake Placid, N.Y. in August. The players invited will be auditioning for a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team that will take part in the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship. This team will be comprised of the top Under-20 players from across the country. The 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship will be played on, December 26, 2011-Jan. 5, 2012, in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.

As a side note, Dan Bylsma, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Mike Sullivan, assistant coach of the New York Rangers, will also participate in Lake Placid as the camp coaches.

Here’s the complete 40 man invite roster.

For more info on the camp, click here.

**Update 6/17/11**

USA Hockey announced the four goaltenders invited to take part in the National Junior Evaluation Camp. The four invitees are Jack Campbell, John Gibson, Andy Iles and Mac Carruth.

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Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe… and Michigan?

With the Stanley Cup Finals getting underway tonight between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks, I wanted to take a look at two American born players that play vital roles for their respective clubs. Michigan natives, Ryan Kesler (VAN) and Tim Thomas (BOS), have been the backbones for their teams during the long road to the Finals. And deservedly so, they are both leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2011 playoff MVP. Adding to several other storylines, these two opposing players were also teammates on the Silver Medal winning Team USA during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. However, starting tonight in Vancouver, the two will begin the last stretch to hoist the Cup and are sure to see a lot of each other in a different light. You can count on Kesler going hard to the net and causing havoc with his speed and quick release, while Thomas is a guarantee to make more than one jaw-dropping save in this series.

Ryan Kesler (Livonia, MI) has been an absolute super mutant in many instances during these playoffs. In the Canucks series verse the Predators, there was no better player on the ice at any point than Kesler. He was involved in 11 of the 14 goals the Canucks scored in that series and he played a huge role in shutting down whatever offense the Predators could muster in those 6 games. Kesler is currently fourth with 18 points  in the NHL playoffs and is tied for fourth with 7 goals. His first round performance verse the Blackhawks didn’t bring much in terms of offense, but he was key in shutting down the Hawks’ All-Star center Jonathan Toews. He also showed some toughness by coming back from what looked like an apparent leg injury in Game 5 verse the Sharks to score the game tying goal with 14 seconds left in the game, in an eventual Canucks’ double OT victory. Those in the media have mentioned on many occasions, that Kesler is the current favorite for the Conn Smythe (MVP) heading into the final round.

Tim Thomas (Flint, MI) has solid numbers (2.29 GAA, .929 SV%) after 18 games coming into the Finals and possibly the save of the year on Steve Downie (TBL) last round. Thomas has had a few games in the playoffs where he has allowed 4 or more goals along with a couple of weak early game goals. However, he does have two Game 7 wins and two shutouts, one of those shutouts coming in a series clinching Game 7 win over the Lightning. Thomas has been resilient and has bounced back tremendously after sub par performances during these playoffs and without him the Bruins wouldn’t have made it out of the first round.  In the four game series sweep over the Flyers, Thomas allowed only 7 goals in 4 games making 142 saves in the process against that offensively dynamic club. Tim Thomas is a feel good story in the NHL and adored by most of his peers, media and fans. In addition, he’ll likely be taking home his second Vezina Trophy, as best goaltender, at the NHL Awards ceremony at the conclusion of this season. 

Whatever the series outcome, it should be a terrific Cup Final for the fans of this sport. But it would be nice to see one of these gentlemen skate away with a little something extra, in the form of the Conn Smythe. If one of them does so, he would only be the second American born player ever to win that award. N.Y. Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch was the other in 1994. Odds are one of them will.

Rock, Flag and Eagle.

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The American Way, Brian Rafalski Hangs Them Up

Yesterday, the three-time U.S. Olympian Brian Rafalski (Dearborn, Mich.) announced his retirement from the National Hockey League. Rafalski played 11 seasons in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings. The 37 year-old American defenseman netted 79 goals and 515 points in 833 regular-season games, while adding 29 goals and 100 points in 165 playoff games. He won three Stanley Cups over the course of his successful career, including two with the New Jersey Devils (2000, 2003) and his last with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

In addition to his participation in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Rafalksi also represented USA Hockey twice at the IIHF World Junior Championships (1992, 1993), was a member of two U.S. Men’s National Teams in 1995 and 1998, and skated for Team USA at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.

Rafalski’s route to the NHL was far from the norm. He played for 4 years at the University of Wisconsin and he also spent some time in the USHL before heading to the college game. However, prior to entering the NHL, Rafalski played 4 seasons in European Pro Leagues struggling to make it to the big stage. While playing overseas in his last year over there, he was awarded the SM-liiga (Finland) trophy for best player as voted by his fellow players. Thus becoming the first non-Finnish player to win the award. Though he took the road less traveled to become a pro, his career should give future players hope that they too can make the big league, even if it takes an alternate route to do so. Two Olympic Silver Medals and three Stanley Cups later, I would say he did alright.

Best of wishes to Brian and his family in his post NHL life.

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Czech-mate, USA ousted by Czechs in a 4-0 loss at Worlds

The Czech Republic defeated USA 4-0 to knock the American men from the 2011 World Championship in Slovakia. The U.S. team played a very inspired first period, but ended up on the short end of the stick off of a Czech goal scored by Jaromir Jagr. Three minutes in the Czech’s caught a big break, when a U.S. shot bounced off of a skate and past Ondrej Pavelec, but found the post instead of the back of the net. American forward, Craig Smith, was also robbed by Pavelec on a glorious chance on the power play, that could have been a 1-0 US lead as well.

The second period was played closely between the two teams as well. The Czech’s outshot the U.S. 13 to 11 in the period, but the only puck to find the back of the net came from the one and only Jagr on the power play to put the Czechs up 2-0. That seemed to be a pretty big blow to the U.S., especially the way Czech goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has been playing in this tournament.

The Czech’s took control of the third period and the American men had a difficult time generating scoring chances. Jack Johnson absolutely leveled Patrik Elias behind the U.S. net in the third period and the hit was so hard I think Elias’ stick ended up in the upper deck of the arena (I’m serious). Elias remained down on the ice for a couple of minutes, but he was able to skate of the ice on his own accord. The Czech’s scored two more goals to ice the game, the last one gave the 39 year-old Jagr a hat trick. U.S. goaltender, Ty Conklin made 35 saves on 39 shots, the first goal of the game was a little weak, but Conklin had to make a number of difficult saves throughout the game to give USA a chance.

Derek Stepan (NY Rangers) finished with 7 points in 7 games leading all U.S. players in points. USA finished 8th in the tournament this year, 5 spots better than the previous. Though it is a marked improvement over last year, it’s still below what I would expect of the country that supplies the second highest number of players in the NHL, only behind Canada. I hope some of the bigger named U.S. players decide to represent their country next year at the tournament.

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