Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Newfoundland Growlers

It's another Tuesday, so I'll be back in the heat and sunshine of the ball diamond umpiring once more. Like last week's Tuesday entry, there's another logo to examine as the ECHL welcomed its newest member club in the Newfoundland Growlers! The Growlers, rumoured to be the Toronto Maple Leafs' ECHL affiliate in the coming season, rolled out their logo - seen to the left - as they unveiled the name, logo, and website today for the team. And whenever there's a new logo unveiled, HBIC is there to opine on the new imagery that has been released! The key to remember in all this? My opinion amounts for squat, so if you're happy with what you read here, I will issue full refunds for anyone who wants them!

Let's go to the marketing speak first.

That's a solid description of a Newfoundland dog, but there's already a problem as Newfoundland dogs were naturally found as black or Landseer (black-and-white), not brown or gold as pictured in the logo. The traits describing the dog - strength, intelligence, loyalty - are all trademarks of the breed, though, so kudos to the Growlers for picking a majestic animal to represent their team. Even if the colour of the dog is a product of domestication.

The logo was designed by Idea Factory, a St. John's marketing company, who has worked with companies like Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Suncor Energy, The Salvation Army, Marine Atlantic, and The Paint Shop among the numerous regional, national, and international companies on their portfolio. In other words, these guys know what they're doing, and I personally like the logo that Idea Factory came up with for the Growlers!

It's an understated logo, like the Golden Knights, that uses the shadows on the profile of the dog to really convey the imagery of fierceness and stoicism. Depending on the jersey colours and features on the jersey, this could be one of the ECHL's best-selling jerseys for some time. As stated in the press release,
"The colour palette was inspired by an iconic photo of Private Hazen Frazier with Sable Chief, a Newfoundland dog that served as the mascot of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment during WWI. The vintage tones compliment the dog's dark hues, creating a strong combination with a classic, universal appeal. Paired with a forged-style font, the hard edges and strong weight give it a stone-chiseled feel which lends itself well to the vintage style of the logo."
I like the logo a lot, and the colours chosen by the team could given the Growlers one of the more unique looks in all of hockey.

Here's the video the team used today at the press conference.

Ok, count me in as one of the excited fans of the Growlers! I'm excited to see the uniforms they'll wear, and those will be unveiled later this summer as the first game for the Newfoundland Growlers in their inaugural season will be October 12 when they face off against the Florida Everblades at Mile One Centre. In saying all this, the question must be asked: what are your thoughts on the ECHL's Newfoundland Growlers?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Lou York Islanders?

I was going to write this funny opening bit about Lou Lamoriello calling New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow and basically telling Garth that he was on his way to help save the Islanders by ensuring that John Tavares stayed on Long Island in Brooklyn. It occurred to me as I was writing said bit that perhaps Garth Snow might have actually asked assistant GM and Lou's son Chris Lamoriello for some help in what will surely be a defining negotiation for the Islanders franchise and Garth Snow's legacy. If Tavares leaves via free agency, the Islanders are doomed. If they re-sign him long-term, there's a chance they can really build something with some of the great prospects they have in their system. Lou Lamoriello joining the Islanders certainly is news, but this might be a story of how Garth Snow signed his own termination papers.

It's unknown exactly what role Lou Lamoriello will be assuming in the Islanders' hierarchy at this point, but you'd have to figure that he brings with his a sense of stability for a franchise who simply seems stuck in neutral outside the playoff picture. At this point, I'd expect him to move into a corner office with a title of Savior of Franchise or something grandiose that basically tells everyone - Garth Snow and son Chris included - that he's making the decisions about everything hockey happening at Barclays Center now. Otherwise, why would he make this move?

As an advisor for the Leafs, he could impart wisdom on new general manager Kyle Dubas, but Dubas doesn't have to listen. That's not something that I believe a man who pulled every string with the New Jersey Devils and the vast majority of strings with the Maple Leafs could be happy with, so this move almost became inevitable the moment that Brendan Shanahan removed the "General Manager" placard off Lou's door at the Air Canada Centre. Lou Lamoriello likes being in charge and certainly holding the power of control when it comes to the hockey teams he has worked for, and this move to the Islanders sounds like he's already making waves.

According to reports, Lamoriello has already reached out to John Tavares in an effort to keep him in the Islanders' fold, and that's probably something that Tavares never expected unless the call was coming from downtown Toronto. Where Lou excels in his manipulation of information is that nothing is ever leaked to, told to, implied by, or said explicitly to any member of the media without Lou's authorization. In other words, Lou Lamoriello could have been working for the Islanders for the last two weeks, and no one would have been the wiser. As it stands, his contact with Tavares apparently is kosher with the NHL thanks to his behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the Islanders that started, well, whenever he arrived in Brooklyn.
So what happens now? Lou Lamoriello will most certainly find a way to keep John Tavares. That is the first priority for the Islanders if they have any hope of being relevant in the next decade. After that, expect Lou to institute an impressive scouting department and draft strategy that will put the Islanders in a good position within three-to-five years. From there, it's all about signing quality college-graduated free agents that will fill gaps and provide excellent depth to an organization desperately needing some.

Like he did in Toronto, this won't be an overnight change. Lamoriello will change the culture entirely from within the organization in order to being stability and, more importantly, success to the franchise from the product on the ice at Barclays Center to the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers to the ECHL's Worcester Railers. There may be steps backwards in order to move forward, and this might be a confusing time for Islanders fans who have long wanted to see a winning team on the ice. If you trust in Lou, though, he will change things for a franchise that desperately needs some success in both the regular season and the postseason.

The one person who may not get to experience this? GM Garth Snow. Snow has been guiding this Islanders ship since July 18, 2006 when he took over after Neil Smith was dismissed after just 41 days. Snow has brought in some impressive talent during his time in the big chair - Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle, Shane Prince, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk - but the Islanders have missed the playoffs seven times in his 12 years at the helm and have only advanced past the first round once. That's not the kind of resumé you want to roll out in front of your new boss, and Lou Lamoriello, known for making coaching changes at rather odd times, may dismiss his general manager in the near future in order to change the culture.

A new era in New York Islanders hockey has begun, and the winds of change may already be blowing as Lou settles in to right another ship. If he can make the Islanders as successful as the New Jersey Devils, there might be a very good reason to start calling them the Lou York Islanders.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The End Of The Beginning

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Winnipeg Jets today: the score stood two to one, with but one period more to play. Everything the Jets threw at Marc-Andre Fleury, save for one Josh Morrissey shot, had been turned away. And, in Vegas, fans are cheering, and, in Winnipeg, fans will pout, because there is no joy for the WhiteOut — the mighty Jets are now out.

In a 4-1 series win, the hottest goaltender in these playoffs in Fleury took his team to new heights once more as Vegas joined the Toronto Arenas and the St. Louis Blues as the only expansion teams to reach the Stanley Cup Final in their first seasons. Jonathan Marchessault, a 27 year-old winger who had been cast aside by Columbus, Tampa Bay, and Florida, was outstanding in this series win over the Jets, and linemate Reilly Smith, who was part of the Tyler Seguin-to-Dallas deal and was sent to Florida for Jimmy Hayes, had himself one heckuva series as well.

In the end, those three players were the darkness that swallowed the WhiteOut's enthusiasm as they continually deflated the sails of the Jets who, at times, seemed like the better team for large chunks of games. It didn't matter if the Jets scored, though, as one of Marchessault or Smith would respond moments later with a goal, a turnover to cause a goal, or a pass to setup a goal. On the other end, Fleury continued to come up big for Vegas as he turned away Jets chances time and time again.

Make no mistake that this Vegas Golden Knights team is a collective bundle of energy who bring intense pressure on the forecheck, forces turnovers in the neutral zone, and plays in-your-face in the defensive zone with little regard for their own bodies and safety when it comes to blocking shots and throwing hits. They're fast, aggressive, and they roll four lines as well as anyone as the Jets found out. Having a three-time Stanley Cup champion between the pipes behind this group of players with a singular focus only makes them that much harder to defeat.

The series-winning goal came off the stick of one-time Manitoba Moose defender Luca Sbisa - a defender who was roundly considered one of the worst defenders fans had seen in his time with the Moose - and was deflected past Connor Hellebuyck by Winnipeg-born Ryan Reaves - a physical specimen traded for by the Penguins to defend their stars only to be traded to Vegas when a salary cap crunch was presented upon the Penguins' acquisition of Derrick Brassard. The Winnipeg connection on the series-winning goal was not lost on me, and I want to give credit to Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant who found the positives in the games of two players who were thought to be nothing more than bottom-of-the-lineup players.

Look, it wasn't all Vegas in this series either. Connor Hellebuyck lost the battle between the two goaltenders, but I'm pretty sure that Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones - two goalies who had outstanding seasons and playoff series - lost that battle too. Hellebuyck was good enough to win at least two of the games that Winnipeg lost, but the problem was that Marc-Andre Fleury was just that much better in keeping the Jets from providing their netminder the goals he needed.

The duo of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler was outstanding for the entire playoffs, and they needed just a little more from rookie Kyle Connor to take their play to the next level. Connor was great at times, but not consistently great throughout the playoffs. The maturity, experience, and knowledge Connor gained throughout these playoffs will benefit him for the remainder of his career.

Paul Stastny, as has been said on many sites, was the absolute gem of the trade deadline as he made the Laine-Ehlers combo that much better. His 13 points came at vital times, but, like the rest of the Jets, he found himself against a very stout Golden Knights defence that wouldn't allow him to set up shop in front of Fleury as easily as he had in previous series. Stastny should be in-line for a solid pay day as his performance in these playoffs was the most inspired I had seen him play in several seasons.

While people lamented on the lack of goal-scoring between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers - five goals combined, all off the stick of Laine - these are two young players experiencing their first NHL playoffs. Defences tighten up, room to maneuver is less, and there aren't a lot of openings one can take without being hit or defended. They'll learn how to score goals in these spots, but their 14 combined assists show that they're weren't AWOL in the Jets' lineup. They made good plays and found players who were in prime scoring spots, and that's a huge positive for these two young players.

Trouba, Morrissey, Byfuglien, Tanev, Copp, Lowry, and Perreault all showed their worth in the Jets' lineup as well while players like Joe Morrow, Ben Chiarot, and Jack Roslovic should all be given shots at cracking the roster full-time next season. This Jets team is deep and talented, and that bodes well for the future.

If there's a silver lining on today's dark cloud over Winnipeg, there should be some review of history. The Chicago Blackhawks, whose model which upon these Jets were built, lost in five games to Detroit in 2009 before starting their three-Cups-in-six-years run in 2010. There is absolutely zero guarantee that Winnipeg will do the same thing, but the youth and experience that this Jets team possesses would make it seem like they're an automatic favorite for next season already.

It was one heckuva run for a team that most figured would just make the playoffs this season, let alone be second-overall in the NHL and a Western Conference finalist. Take nothing away from what the Jets accomplished - they played their tails off and deserve a pile of credit for the efforts given and results attained. The success of this team made the WhiteOut and the street parties a ton of fun, and there's real hope and confidence this will be an annual event now.

In the end, a well-coached team with an incredible system and an amazing goaltender ended the season for the Jets. There's a line in hockey that one must first learn how to lose before one learns how to win. The Jets will learn from this series loss, and they'll hopefully be able to take steps forward from it. If they do, next season could prove even bigger for the fans in Winnipeg!

For now, the summer is for making improvements, adjustments, and fixes that the Jets need to take that next step. There will be difficult decisions to make, but that's why GM Kevin Cheveldayoff makes the big bucks. It all starts again in October, Jets fans. Today marks the end of the beginning of the era of the Winnipeg Jets. Reset this summer, and let's get ready for another incredible season of Jets hockey!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Social Media Day Off

There are many people breaking free from social media sites for a variety of reasons. Facebook has its many problems that have recently been exposed. Twitter can often be a rather bleak place due to a number of factors. And, for a number of people, all social media just eats up time that people are now using towards other things. The last reason is my reason for going social media-free for at least one day per week, and I have to say that it's actually pretty incredible how much I haven't missed it on days where I put my phone down and forget about it. For as being as digital as I am, going old-school has been nothing short of tech vacation that I'm finding I was missing.

A few people who I've told about this plan have expressed some worry about not carrying a phone for obvious reasons. If there is an emergency, what would I do? If one of my friends or family members has an emergency, how would he or she reach me? What if there's an important phone call that I miss?

All of these are valid reasons not to carry my phone, so I have made a couple of adjustments to my pledge of having a social media-free day. I will carry my phone, but I will not look at it unless a phone call is coming in or I need to make a phone call. There are no exceptions to this rule - no social media, emails, texts, etc. My smartphone becomes simply a telephone on days where I step away.

Instead, today was a day of work around HBIC Headquarters. I planted both my vegetable and flower gardens. I applied more sand to my interlocking sidewalk and parking area, and it looks amazing! I moved the lawn, I pulled weeds, and I barbecued on a gorgeous, sunny day. In other words, I used my day productively while ignoring the buzzing of my phone!

In what might be more of a surprise, I actually feel way more happy and accomplished than when I'm a slave to my phone. I haven't made this public, but I've been doing this now for a few months. It's actually a huge relief and a sense of freedom that I've never felt before. Yes, those are first-world problems that I shouldn't be exalting, but less time on social media means more time for important things. And apparently it's not just me who feels this freedom.

I realize that as a blogger and a radio host that I can't entirely walk away from social media. I use it for networking and booking interviews, so it plays a vital role in my hobbies that I simply can't abandon. I'll still use it and I'll still be active on it, but I'm finding out as I get older that the adage of "less is more" holds true to hundreds, if not thousands, of things in life - social media included.

Please don't think this is a plea or cry fro help to ask you to do the same. It's not, and I'd never ask that of anyone. To each their own, and your usage and activities on them are yours and yours alone. Do what makes you happy, and if that requires any number of social media interactions, have at it.

In the end, I'll be doing less social media interaction, specifically on the weekends. As I sat watching sports highlights into this evening, it occurred to me that I missed Canada lose to Switzerland, the US lose to Sweden, the Capitals lose to Tampa Bay, and a number of other sports results. It also occurred to me that I didn't miss the commentary and hyperbolic outrage and severely-dramatic reactions to any of this found on social media.

For an entire Saturday, I felt free of all of that nonsense, and I pledged I'll do it again next weekend.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 18 May 2018

IIHF Brings The Technology

It's always impressive to me when sports introduces new technology that could potentially change how the game is played and broadcast. Soccer has been using GPS tracking to show how fast players run, their field coverage, and, with the assistance of tracking chips, their fitness levels and heart rates during the game. It's rather amazing to see these statistics tracked and posted in real-time, and it seems that the IIHF is getting in on the technology wave as they introduced new technology at this year's IIHF World Championships in Denmark!

Now the video that the IIHF posted between Latvia and Sweden offers no audio, so it's a little difficult to pick up exactly what is being tracked at any point in the video below. According to the IIHF, though, they're measuring "puck speed, player position, shots on goal," and any other relevant stat they can pull off the video. Watch below as Sweden spends a lot of time in Latvia's zone.

Again, it's hard to actually see any of these stats in action when there isn't a screen showing you what is being tracked. I like that there's a potential for isolation so one can see one player's immediate statistics, but there needs to be some more elaboration to see exactly what is being tracked. Nevertheless, this new technology could potentially give coaches and management new tools that they can use to improve systems and the play of their teams on the ice.

They tagged this video with "The future is coming", but it looks a lot closer than they make it sound. If soccer is doing it, hockey may not be far behind. While hockey is far more violent in terms of physical play compared to soccer, the idea of tracking players on the ice is one that people have been manually doing for a while. Having chips and GPS units tracking this rather than players with pens and paper will certainly move the game forward.

How long does it take for the NHL to adopt this? I would say it might be part of the on-ice technology within a few years if it works at the IIHF level!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!