Back-UP & Dominate!

September 11, 2008 Ross Vennare… We are about a month away from the start of the hockey season and already teams are participating in early-bird tournaments.  It is easy to prepare yourself when you guaranteed a spot on the roster and you are in the line-up every night.  How do you prepare yourself when you are the back-up goalie and don’t know when you are going to see your next game?

Going into the season as a back-up goalie, at the rep level, is difficult and expensive at the same time.  It is not fun knowing you are not going to get much playing time and you are hoping that the starting goalie plays horrible every game just so you can have your chance to show what you can do.  When I was the assistant coach the West Mall Lightning back in 2004, we had two goalies that split the duties the entire season.  Both goalies saw an even amount of games and both goalies had fun coming to the rink every game and practice.  Not every team is like that and not every goalie is going to play an even amount of games.

What do you do if you are the back-up goalie and not seeing much playing time?

Well, I would suggest talking to the coach prior to signing with a club to make sure that you are not going to be a bench warmer.  With the cost of equipment, ice time, travel and taking time away from your homework to travel to the rink 3-4 nights per week, it is not worth it if you are going go sit on the bench on game nights.  If you are in a situation where you are not playing well and the coach is going with the better goalie, you have a lot of work to do.  At the rep level, coaches are all about winning with whoever is delivering the results.  If you are not producing, you are going to sit.  Good goal tending is the key to a winning hockey club.

Things to work on if you are a back-up:

Recognize your weakness.

A few seasons ago I was training a house league goalie who’s aspirations were to make it to the rep level.  His parents hired me to attend his practices and develop his skills.  I attended his games to see what kind of goalie he was and what kind of style he played.  I noticed that he was letting a lot of shots through because he was going down way too early.  I knew exactly what to work on come practice time.

Break it down.

At the weekly practices, I had a breakdown of all the drills we needed to work on.  I knew I was not going to change his goal tending style over night, but by breaking down big drills into small ones, I would break old habits and create new ones.  With hard work and encouragement, his GAA improved dramatically.  The next couple of games I went to see, his mother was amazed to see how many more pucks he was stopping - she thanked me!

Do it again.

Just because you have a good game and you come out with a win, it doesn’t mean your work is done.  You still have to practice the basic skills and continue to build good habits.  Good habits are a direct result of the actions you take towards your skill development.  If you are determined to get better and make it to the big club, doing the same basic drills over and over again until it becomes second nature will be a huge payoff in the end.

If you are a parent, this is what you can do to help your child.

Don’t criticize.

I know you invested a lot of time and money in your child and want to see results.  It’s easy to criticize your child in the car on the way home and give them heck for not playing well.  Leave that to the coach.  Chances are your child knows he/she had a bad game and has some work to do, but don’t criticize because they will only lose interest in the game.


Encourage your child to get better - take some shots on him/her on the driveway.  Put the fun back into it and they will strive to get better.  It’s the simple things that make all the difference.


Reward your child after a good game!  Take him/her out for an ice cream and let them know you are proud of them.  Not only are you encouraging your child to win, but you are making winning fun and will help them achieve success in later life.

Final word.

Just remember, Domink Hasek was once a back-up.  You too can DOMIMATE!

check out Ross on his blog Ross’ Hockey

Ex-Raptor Fantasy Outlook

September 11, 2008

by James Borbath… We all have those Ex-Raptors we love and those that we hate. Emotion is the enemy of any good fantasy player. You must leave your feelings at the door be they good or bad. You may in fact think “V.C Sucks” but if he is the best player on your draft board you need to pick him regardless. You may have been on the Jose side of Calderon vs Ford debate. But if T.J is on the board and you need a point guard you may need to take him. Same goes in reverse. Most Raptor Fans love Morris Peterson but you can not turn that love into a selection of him to early in the draft. These are just a few examples of choices you may face in your fantasy draft. So let’s break it down and give you some logic to use instead of that nasty emotion.

Vince Carter: Carter is a very interesting fantasy choice. On the one hand Vince Carter is the lone remaining member of the Nets “Big 3″. From a fantasy perspective you would think this should be a good thing. However as Raptor Fan you do know how Vince has dealt with being the man. Vince will have the chance to increase his numbers but will he take advantage of it? Oh and let’s not forget the fact the Nets are a team that is rebuilding. Anyone that knows Vince’s history has to be very careful if you are going to risk a high pick on him. It comes down to the question of do you believe that Vince Carter has changed and matured from his time in Toronto. If you do he might be worth the pick. If you don’t it is buyer beware. One last thing is the fact Phil Jackson threw Vince under the bus. This may provide motivation for Carter to show Jackson was wrong. But even though all signs may lead you to think Carter could have a big year it is taken away by the track record of the player that tells a much different story.

T.J Ford: I am still a fan of T.J Ford. But the fact I see him having a bounce back year this season is not as much about being a fan as coming to grips with the fact T.J had the worst season of his NBA Career in a lot of ways. So you can expect a better year from T.J Ford. Despite all the injury concerns that come with Ford the truth is the risk of taking Ford remains the same. Medically his condition is the same as it has been. But if T.J can remain safe and avoid hard hits he should be fine and have a very productive season. High assist totals and a improved number of points for Ford should be a lock.

Tracy McGrady: McGrady is highly talented but is always an injury concern. His back may never be good enough to have any confidence in him playing through an entire season. He may also need to play peace maker between Yao Ming and Ron Artest. The good news for T-Mac with Artest coming to Houston will mean a easier defensive assignment on most nights. It could mean a little less wear and tear and more chance to do his thing on offense. But a bad back is always a worry. This is why personally I am not someone who wants to take Tracy in my first round. If you do it is a gamble but one that could pay off. But it also could blow-up in your face.

Marcus Camby: A whole new team for Marcus. He was not exactly thrilled about it. But Camby and what he does and who he is from a fantasy perspective remains the same. If healthy he is one of the best fantasy players in the league. He fills a stat sheet like few players in the game. He has been injured plaqued through his entire career. But last season was one of the better ones for Camby from an injury prospective. The older you get the healthier you are? That goes against logic. This is why I always take a pass on Camby. But if you want to go against the logic and take him it is not a bad move. Even with slight injury concerns throughout the year when he is in your line-up you get a lot of blocks points rebounds steals the whole fantasy package.

Morris Peterson: In his second year with the Hornets Morris Peterson should be a bit better. He had a very slow start last year. But this season he should be feeling more at home as a Hornet. The key is how much of a factor can he be on a New Orleans team with a lot of weapons. Morris Peterson should give you a guy that can shot a decent number of 3’s for a good percentage. But there are a lot of those guys in the NBA these days. A late round guy in any case and someone that may even make his way to wavier wire. Moe can be a guy that gets on streaks and picking him up when he is hot can help you get a few wins along the way in head to head leagues.

Mike James: A one year fantasy stud. With the Raptors and that was about all. The same reasons the Raptors didn’t resign him have proven to be true. Mike James has never produced the numbers he did as a Raptor and I don’t think that changes any time soon. If this was an American Idol draft he is a first round pick. We all remember him rocking the Raptor exit interviews with R Kelly tune ” I believe I Can Fly”.

Rafer Alston: The problem child former street ball star. He has had his issues with the Law and is to unpredictable both on and off the floor to expect much of anything from him. Who knows what will happen with Rafer he once announced in Toronto he was giving up the game altoghter and he is a wildcard not worth the risk.

Rasho Nesterovic: How bout some love for Rasho. He is a excellent pick in the late rounds as a big. He should do very well with the Pacers and have the chance to likely start. But everyone sleeps on Rasho. So unless Tim Ducan (Cause he think’s Rasho is Awesome) is in your draft you can expect Rasho to be around late and make a nice pick up for you. We saw first hand what Rasho can do with the Raptors when he got chance to play and I think for the Pacers he will play a lot as Roy Hibbert learns the ropes of the NBA.

Hoffa… um… Actually I read in a blog he may not even be in the Russian League he played in last year. I wonder if anyone ever drafted Hoffa in a fantasy league ever? If you did NEVER ADMIIT THAT. In fact take up a new hobby. That would go for anyone that drafted Yogi Stewart, Michael Bradley, Chris Jefferies and the list goes on. But as Raptor fans these names seem to live on longer than guys that were average players on the Raptors squad.

Check out James at his Dino Nation Blog

College Football Preview: Week Three Features Top 25 Matchups

September 11, 2008

by Hollis Warren…

I’ll start off with a remark about the Jake Locker celebration penalty at the end of Saturday’s BYU-Washington game, because I think everyone else has put in their two cents by now.

You may or may not know that I typically stand up for the officials.  Never one myself, I still realize (unlike a vast majority of fans and the media) how difficult their job truly is, and the percentage of plays they rule correctly on is astounding.  Unfortunately, the few questionable ones get blown out of proportion, and people start calling for their heads.

I’ll stand up for them in this case too.  The college football rule book specifically states that a player cannot throw the ball high in the air as part of a touchdown celebration (or perform any other action that could potentially delay the game).

If it’s in the rule book, and it’s a clear violation, it will likely be called by the official, regardless of if the penalty happens in the first quarter or with two seconds left in a 28-27 ballgame.

Now I will agree that this is an incredibly stupid rule, and generally the attempts by the NCAA to curtail celebration this year have been laughable.

I can understand flagging players for prolonged displays that have served the sole purpose of drawing attention to themselves, but in one game on opening weekend, I saw a player penalized for making a fist pump or something along those lines.

The guy just sacked the quarterback.  What do you want him to do?  Walk back to the huddle like nothing ever happened?

The NCAA must feel like that is better than the extreme alternative of the player standing there doing Ray Lewis’ dance routines for 30 seconds.

I feel sorry for the Pac-10 officiating office.  Those poor guys cannot avoid controversial finishes to games (remember Oklahoma-Oregon?).

It doesn’t help that the commentators at ESPN, most of whom have been involved in the game their whole lives yet haven’t bothered to learn the rules, blast them continuously on air.  Of course, their sentiment gets passed on to the fan listening to their blabbering at home.

Anyway, it’s time to move onto Week Three, which of course is being headlined by Ohio State’s visit to the Los Angeles Coliseum.  But there are a couple of other matchups between Top 25 teams to keep an eye on as well.  It should be the best weekend to date for college pigskin fanatics across the United States.

First, the weekend television schedule.


North Carolina at Rutgers, 7:30 (ESPN)


Kansas at South Florida, 8 (ESPN 2)


California at Maryland, 12 (ESPN)
Florida Atlantic at Michigan State, 12 (ESPN 2)
Navy at Duke, 12 (ESPN U)
Iowa State at Iowa, 12 (BTN)
Louisiana-Lafayette at Illinois, 12 (BTN)
Montana State at Minnesota, 12 (BTN)
Southern Illinois at Northwestern, 12 (BTN)
Washington State at Baylor, 12:30 (FSN)
Michigan at Notre Dame, 3:30 (NBC)
Georgia at South Carolina, 3:30 (CBS)
Penn State at Syracuse, 3:30 (ABC)
Arkansas at Texas, 3:30 (ABC)
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
Oregon at Purdue, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN 2)
UCLA at BYU, 3:30 (Versus)
Air Force at Houston, 3:30 (CBS College Sports)
Chattanooga at Florida State, 3:45 (ESPN U)
Auburn at Mississippi State, 7 (ESPN 2)
Virginia at Connecticut, 7:30 (ESPN U)
Oklahoma at Washington, 7:45 (ESPN)
Ohio State at USC, 8 (ABC)
Arizona at New Mexico, 8 (CBS College Sports)
Wisconsin at Fresno State, 10:30 (ESPN 2)

Games of the week

Ohio State at USC

Here’s the game everyone has been talking about all offseason.  It’s now or never for Ohio State if they want to prove they are more than a big fish in a little pond in the Big Ten, because LSU and Florida made them look like minnows in the sea in the past two national championship games.

The Buckeyes weren’t impressive without Beanie Wells against Ohio, at least from the parts of the game that I did not miss due to a nap.  They probably were just not pulling out all of their stops in anticipation of this contest, or they flatly overlooked the Bobcats.

I have a hard time believing this team is that average without Wells, because Todd Boeckman, for the most part, performed admirably a year ago, and the team has a solid corps of backup running backs.

The Men of Troy were impressive over Virginia in Week One and have had a week to prepare for the Buckeyes.

I think the speed and athleticism of Pete Carroll’s team are too much for Jim Tressel’s squad, but the Buckeyes will be able to make this a great game.  Like I said above, they want to prove they are one of the big boys on the national stage and not just a Big Ten bully.

Wisconsin at Fresno State

Pat Hill’s mantra has always been “anybody, anytime, anywhere.”  Well, he scored a big coup getting Big Ten power Wisconsin to come out to the Central Valley, and the Badgers will be the first Big Ten team (and just the second squad in the top 10) to visit the Bulldogs.

This should be a dandy, and both teams are going to need a victory if they want to make a push at a BCS at-large berth (in Wisconsin’s case, I don’t see them beating Ohio State or Penn State for the conference crown).

Wisconsin has been known to schedule lightly in non-conference play in the past, but they will have to be on their toes in this one.  Expect a heavy dose of P.J. Hill to keep the pressure off of Allen Evridge.

Fresno State is treating this as the biggest game in school history, as they should, and I like them to take the win in a minor upset.

Kansas at South Florida

Ten years ago, people at Kansas probably didn’t even know the school had a football program.  At the same time, I don’t think USF even had one yet.  But in the changing landscape of college football where the 85-scholarship limit has increased parity, these non-traditional powers are able to compete.

Both the Jayhawks and Bulls had breakout seasons last year and are off to good starts against less than stellar competition.  If I had any concern, it would be in the fact USF struggled to knock off UCF and Kansas’ high-flying offense only put up 29 on Louisiana Tech.  Of course, they could have been looking forward to this game.

I like Kansas by a small margin.


If BYU is going to crash the BCS party, they will have to earn it.  UCLA was an afterthought to many people entering this season, but with the way the defense and QB Kevin Craft played against Tennessee, this will be a tough team to take down.

I think it’s safe to say that if the Cougars get through this one with a W and can escape a trip to TCU, they should enter the Utah rivalry game at 11-0.  What a dandy that would be, although let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Oregon at Purdue

As an appetizer for the night’s big Big Ten-Pac-10 showdown, how about this Big Ten-Pac-10 tilt?  Both teams like to utilize a spread offense to get up and down the field, so there should be plenty of points, although the Ducks will offer more of a run-based threat, while the Boilermakers allow Curtis Painter to chuck it around.

Oregon has scored 110 points in their first two games (against Washington and Utah State, I remind you) and should be able to move the ball against Purdue’s suspect defense, but I like Purdue to use the home field advantage and win by less than a touchdown.

Other games of interest

California at Maryland

Granted, Maryland struggled with Delaware, lost to Middle Tennessee, and cannot generate a consistent offensive attack.  But this is the type of interconference game that we need to see on a yearly basis with the addition of the 12th game: two schools, with no obvious connections or previous history, meeting on the gridiron for conference bragging rights.

Arkansas at Texas

The Hogs struggled with Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe, so they’ll probably just be a candle in the wind to Texas in this matchup of former Southwest Conference rivals, who in my opinion should play every year.

However, Arkansas is resuming a yearly series with A&M next year, and judging by the fact that the rivalry was held off from resuming this year because they didn’t want to play both A&M and Texas in ‘08 (pansies), I presume it will never happen.

Georgia at South Carolina

This is Georgia’s first serious test in what is going to be one of the nation’s most difficult schedules.  Just because SC lost to Vandy last week doesn’t mean the Dawgs can take the Gamecocks lightly.  As we all know, nothing is a given in the SEC.  This game marks the 2008 debut of Gary Danielson in the broadcast booth.  Mute buttons ready!

Oklahoma at Washington

First, the Locker celebration penalty that cost his team a shot at upsetting BYU—now hosting a likely shellacking at the hands of OU on national television.  At least Ty Willingham can take solace in the fact that everyone will probably be watching Ohio State-USC as this one gets out of hand.

Then again, the Huskies did compete with a top 25 team in the Cougars for four quarters, so you never know.

North Carolina at Rutgers

Greg Schiano is credited with turning around a program at a school not really known for football (outside of being involved in the first ever game of the sport), and Butch Davis is trying to do the same in Chapel Hill.  Rutgers lost to Fresno State in their opener, and UNC struggled to beat McNeese State, so both squads obviously will be looking to improve those performances.

Michigan at Notre Dame

During the offseason, Charlie Weis said something along the lines of “To hell with Michigan,” trying to emulate Bo Schembechler’s similar comment about the Irish many years ago.  Someone should tell Charlie Ate the Chocolate Factory that it probably is not a great idea to talk trash about other teams when you are coming off a 3-9 season and struggled to beat San Diego State.

Florida Atlantic at Michigan State

The wins against BCS schools are starting to come in for the fledgling Sun Belt.  ULM beat Alabama last year and nearly took out Arkansas on Saturday.  Middle Tennessee downed Maryland.  Conference champion FAU goes up to East Lansing this Saturday and will be trying to pick up the biggest upset yet.

Are Leafs Fans a Factor in the Team’s Demise?

September 11, 2008

by Shane House…

I will admit that I am part of this growing problem amongst Leafs fans. The problem of over-analyzing.

Year by year, Leafs fans over-analyze more and more before the season starts and alter their opinions game after game.

Nik Antropov is the perfect example.

For years, people said that he was a waste of a roster spot and didn’t deserve to be a Maple Leaf until last year when he won over the hearts of most fans.

The thing that’s sad about it is this year, if he falters out of the gate, he will be right back in that doghouse where so many Leafs have been and where so many haven’t been able to dig themselves out.

Bryan McCabe is a perfect example. Everybody used to love this guy until he signed a big contract. Since that day, he was stuck fighting a losing battle to win back the support of Leafs fans until his recent demise.

Jonas Hoglund, Robert Reichel, Jeff O’Neill, and even the recent Jason Blake is feeling the pressure to perform.

I believe if Jason Blake doesn’t have a good year this year, he will be gone and will never be the same. And all of this is caused by too much pressure.

All it takes is one good year or one big contract and we expect the world of them.

It’s not fair, but we can’t help it. We’re passionate.

Sadly, and I honestly believe this, if there were less pressure on our players to perform, we would be in a much better position then we are in currently.

This is why I feel so bad for players like Jeff Finger and Jason Blake. In our eyes unless they play ridiculously well they will always be in the dog house. It’s a sad fact.

But the worst part about this whole thing is that if it weren’t for this constant pressure to perform, they would be much better players, and we would be much better rewarded.

Top 10 Jeff Finger Headlines We Can Look Forward to in 2008-09

September 11, 2008

by Pete Toth… Since Mats Sundin has decided to extend his summer vacation, and with little else going on in the House That Fletch Pimped, Leafs-beat reporters have most certainly begun wringing their grubby little hands at the prospect of coming up with the catchiest Jeff Finger headline.

Hoping to beat them to the Imlach, I give you my newest Top 10 list (with sub-headlines added for those who need them):

No. 10  Referee Flips Finger in Mishap

Jeff Finger suffers mild concussion after being upended in a mid-ice collision with referee.

No. 9  Finger Pointed in Wrong Direction

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jeff Finger scores goal on own net.

No. 8  Jeff Fingers Suspect in Lineup

Maple Leafs’ defenceman struggling to play up to expectations.

No. 7  Teammates Fish Finger Out of Trouble

Buds’ offence overcomes defenceman’s costly mistakes with late three-goal outburst.

No. 6  Finger Painted into Corner

Leafs’ Jeff Finger has few options remaining regarding his future with club.

No. 5  Finger Food for Thought after Strong Game

New Leafs’ addition, Jeff Finger, is turning heads with yet another strong showing.

No. 4  Finger’s Prints Found in Leafs’ Dressing Room

Boost in team morale is result of Jeff Finger’s off-ice leadership.

No. 3  Leafs Squad Wraps around Finger

Jeff Finger assumes team captain responsibilities.

No. 2  Fletcher Butters Up Finger for All-Star Game

Leafs General Manager, Cliff Fletcher, pushes for Jeff Finger’s All-Star selection.

No. 1  Fans Ask Fletcher to Pull Finger

Maple Leafs fans shocked by Cliff Fletcher’s move of Jeff Finger to top-line center.

32 Burning Questions

September 11, 2008

by Mike De Marco… New England: Can the team recover after losing Brady for the year?
New York Jets: Will Favre lead the Jets to a division title now that Brady is out?
Buffalo: Can the Bills continue to play solid defense and special teams?
Miami: Can Miami carry over the little bit of momentum they had in their loss against the Jets?

Indianapolis: How long will it take for Manning to regain his groove?
Jacksonville: Is the loss of two starting O-lineman too much for the running game to lose?
Tennessee: How long will Young be out?
Houston: Does Gary Kubiak have any answers after the thrashing in Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh: Will the Steelers continue power football or will we see some of that spread?
Cleveland: Will the Browns stop anyone on defense? Bueller?… Bueller?
Baltimore: Can Joe Flacco become the next Ben Rothlisberger?
Cincinnati: Who will we see wearing number 85? Chad Johnson or Ocho Cinco?

Denver: Can Mike Shanahan once again become the “Mastermind”?
San Diego: Will someone step up to replace Shaun Merriman?
Oakland: Will Lane Kiffin make it through to the half way point?
Kansas City? How long before we get to see another Herm Edwards rant?

Dallas: Can the Cowboys play that well in their own division?
Philadelphia: Can McNabb play that well in his own division?
NY Giants: How many times will they sack Marc Bulger this week?
Washington: Is Jim Zorn in over his head?

Green Bay: Can Rodgers continue his success on the road?
Minnesota: Will Tavaris Jackson learn to be a quarterback?
Chicago: Is Forte the real deal?
Detroit: Who will you be selecting with the first overall pick?

New Orleans: Can it be that Reggie Bush is just a better receiver than runner?
Tampa Bay: Which of their 19 quarterbacks play if Garcia can’t go?
Carolina: Can they continue to play that bruising style of football?
Atlanta: Just how good can Ryan be?

Arizona: Are we witnessing an identity change in the desert?
San Francisco: Have we seen the last of Alex Smith in Red and Gold?
Seattle: Who is going to catch passes?
St. Louis: Will they be allowed a sixth offensive lineman to help protect Bulger?

Wake Up With Jamie Chung

September 11, 2008

Jamie Chung first gained national exposure as a cast member on MTV’s, The Real World: San Diego. However, since then she’s become one of only a small handful of reality TV veterans who have forged a successful acting career far removed from that first claim to fame, with roles in Days of Our Lives and Greek.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of Chung in the months to come – First, she’s played the title role in Samurai Girl. This ABC Family’s miniseries event, aired September 5th through the 7th. I love it when girls swing their sword, a lot better than their tongue! Then next year, Chung will be seen in Dragonball, the movie adaptation of the anime hit.

An Impossible Situation

September 11, 2008 Jamie Uyeyama… There are only a few athletes walking the Earth who will forever be known as legends in their respective cities. Tom Brady is one of those athletes. He’s already a legend in Boston and even more than that. He dates one of the most beautiful women in the world, he’s hosted Saturday Night Live, and he’s been on the cover of GQ. You could almost put him into another category all together. There is no other athlete who is in his same class.

A guy like that, he must be invincible, right? All evidence suggested so prior to this season. It took less than one quarter for that notion to be completely debunked. The three letters that no fan ever wants to hear about their star player in any sport:


ACL means it’s over. Your season and possibly your career. Even for those that come back, not everyone comes back the same as they were before. Those are a crushing three letters.

A torn ACL for Tom Brady means that Matt Cassel has to take on the Clarice Starling role in Hannibal. He’s basically in a no win situation just like Julianne Moore was. Jodie Foster won an Academy Award for Silence of the Lambs and the film also won for Best Picture. There was no way that Julianne Moore was ever going to sniff that kind of success with Hannibal. This is like that situation except instead of Julianne Moore, imagine that the producers cast an unknown actress whose last starring role was in her high school’s production of Grease. That is pretty much the situation that Matt Cassel is in.

Matt Cassel hasn’t started a significant football game since 1999 when he was in high school! He never even threw a single touchdown in college. This is the guy that is replacing Tom Brady?

(On a related noted, who could have ever predicted that Matt Cassel would be starting for the Patriots while the two guys he backed up at USC, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, are in way worse football situations. This must make Pete Carroll’s head want to explode. Leinart is riding the pine in Arizona and Palmer went 10 0f 25 for 99 yards and an interception in week one. Everbody plugged these guys in as future top ten quarterbacks in the league, which makes this whole scenario even more bizarre. Palmer looked like a perennial Pro Bowler until he….tore his ACL. Uh oh Tom.)

A lot is riding on Matt Cassel’s performance this season. There are a lot of veterans on New England who have a short window left in their careers to win a Super Bowl. He has to deal every day with that kind of pressure. He also has Bill Belichek’s and Scott Pioli’s reputation as a football geniuses riding on his shoulders.

When they picked Cassel four years ago in the draft, it was basically a big “F-you, we’re smarter than you” pick. How else is there to interpret it when they drafted a guy who never even started a college football game? Has there ever even been another player in the history of the modern era that has been drafted without ever starting in college? When you take a chance like that it is a statement that you think you know more than everyone else.

I know all Patriots fans are wishing that they could just cancel this season like they should have done with Hannibal. In the NFL, the show has to go on though. So Matt Cassel has no choice but to move ahead and just do as good of a job as possible replacing Tom Brady. Hopefully it goes better for him than it did for Julianne Moore.

For more you can check out his blog Top Cheddar at

BT’s 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Carolina Hurricanes

September 11, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Preface: Alright…I get it. I messed up in regards to the Thrashers.

After openly, and unfairly ripping them over things mistook in my own research, I think I bashed them way too much, and I went a little overboard. I also missed out on three players that moved themselves to Europe, and Slava Kozlov (Although I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that he was a waste of money last season).

Hear me Atlanta? I’m sorry. We all make mistakes, and I won’t do it again…here’s hoping the Thrash are more competitive than I ridiculously predicted.

Just don’t hate me like the city of Baltimore.

Hopefully, we’re back on track. With the ugliness of Atlanta (the situation at least) behind us, and Tampa Bay’s random assortment of forwards still trying to find living accommodations in South Florida, we break away from Florida (mostly because I haven’t gotten to the Panthers yet) and today, we’re going to be looking at the Carolina Hurricanes—you know, the team that crashed last season, or at least succumbed to a hot-headed Washington team?

Despite some minor tinkerings over the offseason, the ‘Canes look to be as close to the Capitals as anyone in the division is. The only thing standing in Carolina’s way is whether or not Washington gels like they did last year or not.

If the Caps struggle, the division is the ‘Canes for the taking.

Roster Additions: Darcy Hordichuk-F (Trade), Joni Pitkanen-D (Trade), Josef Melichar-D (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Erik Cole-F (Trade), David Tanabe-D (F.A), Bret Hedican-D (F.A.), Wade Brookbank-F (F.A.), Glen Wesley-D (Retirement), Trevor Letowski-F (Europe)

How did 2007/08 go? 43-33-6, 92 points, ninth in conference, second in Southeast division

2008/09 Goal:
First in division

Let’s break’er down…

The Carolina Hurricanes surprised everyone in 2006 by winning the Stanley Cup. That and they crushed the hopes and dreams of everyone in Edmonton, and I guess you could say that by beating the Oilers, they played a part in Prongers’ deal to Anaheim.

So to be honest, I was caught completely off-guard by the Erik Cole deal—I had heard rumblings of moves coming out of Raleigh, but Erik was one of the last people I expected to see moved.

And then they invited Jeff O’Neill to training camp, and I wasn’t sure what to think…

Don’t expect Michael Leighton to be weight’in Cam Ward down…

At this point in his career, Cam Ward is what Carey Price wants to be.

Although the 20 year-old Canadiens’ goalie is highly touted and expected to rise to the upper echelon of goalies in the NHL fairly soon, Ward has accomplished a few feats early in his career, that Price may look to as inspiration for his young career.

For one, Ward already has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy to his credit—both of which were achieved two seasons ago in ‘05/06. More recently though, Ward is coming off of back-to-back 30 win seasons, including a career-high 37 last season, despite Carolina finishing out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Although Ward sports a fairly high goals-against average for a starting goalie (2.75 last season and 2.94 the year before) and a save percentage hovering around .900 (both statistics probably keep him out of the “top goalies” conversations), Ward wins games, which at the end of the day is what gets you to the playoffs, not those other statistics.

After a few seasons of bouncing around the NHL, Michael Leighton seems to have found himself a home as Cam Ward’s backup in Carolina—at least for the next two years—and so long as he can perform admirably in 10-15 games the goalie tandem in Raleigh should be fine.

Brind’amour beer to the Staal’s bachelor party!

Alright, I’ll admit, that was terrible. With a last name featuring “amour”, I could have made a joke about how the ladies “love Rod’s bod” (Remember, he’s ‘Rod the Bod’ Brind’amour), or “I’m feeling some ‘Amour’  for Rod’s faceoff game”, but I didn’t, so deal with it.

Down the middle though, the Hurricanes are set. Brindy is the perfect veteran compliment to this team, as he brings a Gary Roberts-esque worth ethic with him to practice, games, and off-ice workouts. The only problem, is how Rod recovers from a torn ACL suffered late last season.

For being 38, Rod’s 51 points in 59 games were great, and the fact he’s been able to produce at a 70-80 point level for the past few seasons has been inspiring. However, whether this is the year that Rod’s age catches up to him because of his knee or not remains to be seen; but for his sake, I hope Rod rebounds. If not? Well he’s still one of the toughest S.O.B’s to lace up a pair in the modern era.

But even before Brindy hits the ice this season, the ‘Canes already have one of their most lethal weapons ready to go.

Think about this: Eric Staal is twenty-three and he’s already had three-straight 70 point seasons (70 points in 2005/06, bookended by a 100 and an 82 point season), he’s missed one game in his NHL career, has a Stanley Cup to his credit along with a point-per-game average in the playoffs (28 points in 25 games), and has been named an All-Star twice.

Needless to say, I wish there was a Maple Leaf who had two-thirds of Staal’s talent or success. Then again there’s fans of teams without players named Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Toews, or Kane that wish they had this guy. And even then I’m sure the Washington’s and Pittsburgh’s wouldn’t complain about adding him to the roster.

The depth down the middle is a little questionable for the ‘Canes, as Matt Cullen is the only other established NHL veteran, but his best years seem to come in a ‘Canes uniform—just ask Rangers’ fans—so Carolina will probably get a little bit of production out of Cullen.

Meanwhile, if any of Brandon Sutter, Drayson Bowman, Brandon Nolan, or Joe Jensen can bring a third and fourth line two-way presence with some added scoring touch, then the ‘Canes will be fine.

Down the wings, the ‘Canes will have a bit more scoring depth. It’s fair to say that Sergei Samsonov surprised the world (Probably including the Hurricanes as well) by actually producing last year. In the 38 games after his trade from Chicago, Samsonov provided the ‘Canes with 32 points, including 14 goals. Hoping to capitalize on Samsonov’s resurgence, the ‘Canes quickly inked Samsonov for the next three seasons, so here’s hoping he doesn’t disappoint once again.

Justin Williams meanwhile, is in the same boat as ‘Rod the Bod’ as he’ll be recovering from a torn ACL as well. If he can come back and be the 30-goal, 60-70 point player he once was, then the ‘Canes should be set. If not…well…how do you say “buyout” come June?

Both Patrick Eaves and Tuomo Ruutu came from situations in Ottawa and Chicago where their highly-touted offensive skills didn’t flourish, and the teams’ respective impatience was at a high. If the Hurricanes can somehow get 40 or more points out of both or either of them, then—like the Sergei Samsonov project—the ‘Canes can claim success on two more reclamation projects (It also may help that Ruutu had 11 points in 17 games for Carolina while Eaves had 5 points in 11 games before shoulder surgery).

Other than that, Scott Walker will be providing some grit and a scoring presence along with Ryan Bayda, while Chad LaRose and Wade Brookbank can handle the rough stuff.

We’ve got a great big corvo truckin’ through the night….I mean Conboy….I mean Convoy…

If you were going to say something about the Carolina Hurricanes defense, then it might be that they’re fairly large. Of the nine options for defense listed on the roster, none of them are under 6′0, while Frantisek Kaberle is the lightest of the buch, being the only one to weigh in under 200 lbs (190).

Starting with the other Kaberle brother, Frantisek had a fairly productive year following a 2006/07 season cut short by shoulder surgery. Kaberle posted 22 assists in 80 games, and if he can get back to his average of 3.5 goals per season, then his point production will be pretty close to his average for his career (Based on his age and track record, Kaberle’s 44-point 2005/06 season is starting to look like an enigma).

Joe Corvo and Nik Wallin are the other two elder statesmen on this roster, as both ring in on the older side of 30. Corvo really started to find his stroke last season, posting a 47-point season split between Ottawa and Carolina, but even a slight fall-off from that (somewhere in the 40-point vacinity) would fit the ‘Canes system perfectly, while Wallin has to pick up his defensive responsibilities this season (He was a minus-18 last season), because a 33-year old defenseman who barely scores and can’t play defense? I don’t think anyone can make use of that in today’s NHL, and those 18 minutes could be placed elsewhere.

With the recent retirment of Glenn Wesley though, all three of these ‘greybeards’ will have to step it up in the leadership department aswell, and help the kids along.

Offensively, both Dennis Seidenberg and Joni Pitkanen need to up their game. After a great year in Philly in 2006/07, Edmonton had high hopes that Pitkanen would post his fourth-straight 40 point season. It wasn’t to be however, as a disappointing 26-point and injury-plagued season later, the offensive-minded Pitkanen was turned into Erik Cole. Back in the East though, Pitkanen could easily overcome last year’s problems to consistently put puck to mesh (and tape) once again.

Seidenberg will be expected to eclipse the 20-point barrier, or even inch towards 30 given his success last year (15 assists in 47 games), and there’s no doubt that he can, so long as he stays healthy this season.

Josef Melichar was added over the course of the offseason to help Carolina shore up their play in their own end, following a season spent over in Europe playing for the Swedish and Czech Elite leagues. Joining him on the return flight to North America will be Anton Babchuk, another defenseman who owns all the right tools to be a strong defensive presence, but just doesn’t utilize them—mainly his size.

Then we have the Tims: Conboy and Gleason. Gleason is a chippy young defenseman, who the ‘Canes have some stake in, as he was part of the return in the Jack Johnson deal last season. If Gleason can tap into some of his OHL offensive numbers (between 30-50 points a season) and start to play defensively-responsible hockey, then the ‘Canes have a dual threat. Conboy won’t be paid to put up big offensive numbers, but if he can prove that he has the ability to keep up with the larger power forwards at the NHL level, then the ‘Canes should be set with a lot of variety on the blueline.

So what does it all mean?

The Carolina Hurricanes will be fine this season, mostly thanks to the fact that they can get years out of players that no one thought possible.

Sergei Samsonov? Fixed. Tuomo Ruutu? He’s getting there. Jeff O’Neill? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him score 20 goals now.

The Hurricanes just fix players.

If they can still tap into that miracle water throughout the season, then they’ll be fine—they’ll be even better if Washington struggles—and with the ever-solid ‘tending of Cam Ward, the ‘Canes should be set for a long string of division battles with the Caps for years to come.

2nd in the Division