Monthly Archives: February 2010

Olympic Hockey Final Four

It wasn’t easy for the United States but they advanced to the medal round with a 2-0 win over Switzerland.  Devils forward Zach Parise scored both goals (including one empty netter) and Ryan Miller was stellar in net, shutting the Swiss offense down.  Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller played great, but the offense did not give him support in the bid for an upset.  The Americans remain the only undefeated team in the tournament after the results of the quarterfinal games.

In the second quarterfinal, Russia took on Canada in a match that many projected to be a gold medal game at the beginning of the tournament.  It was expected to be an epic battle between two powerhouses but was nothing close to that.  The Canadians, apparently fired up over their loss to the US, came out storming, scoring three goals in the first 13 minutes of the game.  They took a 4-1 lead into the intermission, before going up 6-1 early in the second.  The sixth Canadian goal finally chased Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov, whose play should not encourage San Jose Shark fans.  The Russians really never got anything going, as they were down the whole game and it seemed like they did not want to focus on playing defense from the get-go.  Both Mike Richards and Chris Pronger finished with an assist each.

The US’s opponent was determined in the third game of the night, between Finland and the Czech Republic.  The game was a defensive struggle, going 0-0 into the third period.  However, with less than 7 minutes to play in the game, and on the powerplay, Finnish defenseman (and former Flyer property) Janne Niskala shot the puck towards the net, which was redirected by Niklas Hagman to score the eventual game winner.  Valtteri Filppula added an empty netter to seal the game for the Finns. 

The final match of the night pitted medal favorite Sweden against Slovakia.  With nothing to lose, Slovakia gave it their all against the powerful Swedes, and they prevailed in a stunner, 4-3.  After a scoreless first period, the Slovaks scored two quick goals less than a minute apart by Marian Gaborik and Andrej Sekera.  Sweden answered back a couple minutes with a pair of their own quick goals by Patric Hornqvist & Henrik Zetterberg.  Pavol Demitra scored a powerplay goal with less than a minute to go in the period to put the Slovaks up heading into the final frame.  Tomas Kopecky scored halfway through the third for the Slovaks, which was followed by a Swedish goal by Daniel Alfredsson, but Slovak goalie Jaroslav Halak held down the fort and secured the upset win for Slovakia.  Former Flyer Peter Forsberg recorded an assist in what is likely his final Olympic game.

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The way the semifinals shapes up guarantees a Flyer will come back from Vancouver with a medal.  Kimmo Timonen’s Finnish squad takes on the U.S. at 3:00 tommorow, and Mike Richards and Chris Pronger’s Canadians play the upstart Slovaks in the second half of the doubleheader. 

If you can’t wait for Olympic hockey, the U.S. women’s team and the Canadian women’s team square off for gold this afternoon.

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The Flyers started practicing again today at the SkateZone. Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret are due back after the break, but just in case, the Flyers have recalled defenseman Joey Mormina from the Phantoms.

There has been no update on goaltender Ray Emery, which is leading some speculators to believe he is going to be shut down for the year.

Introducing Mike Patota

Hey everybody, my name is Mike Patota. I’m a big Flyers guru and the majority of all of my posts will be about the Flyers. I will be giving prospect updates on our top prospects and even guys you may have heard about briefly but are well on their way.

I don’t try to sugar coat things and I try to be fair. As a fan of the NHL, my opinions are unbiased and fair, meaning you will not always agree with me. I will also chip in a little bit about the Phillies and Eagles, even though my area is mainly in Hockey.

 I currently live in San Diego California and i have been away from the Philadelphia area for almost 5 years. I move back in June when my service in the Military is up. That is when my posts will be coming much more frequently.

Mike Patota

Division III > Division I

I believe Division III sports are better all-around than Division I sports.

Now I am aware that the talent of a D-I athlete far outweighs the talents of that of a D-III player. But the character of the person, the respect and the overall personality is what makes the sport and the meaning greater. They don’t take what they have for granted.

I’m a journalism major at Rowan University, write for the school’s student paper titled The Whit and am currently an intern with the Gloucester County Times in New Jersey. While writing for The Whit, I got my first beats. In the fall I covered women’s soccer and in the winter I covered men’s basketball. Both were excellent personal experiences to me for two reasons: I got to learn about making a relationship with a team I followed and I learned how human these college athletes really are.

Now I don’t want to stereotype D-I athletes as I know plenty out there are nice people but as I see on TV and as I’ve seen with former players I’ve played high school football with, it’s almost easy to make this statement.

I was never good enough to play college football. I didn’t play much in high school because I was small compared to my team. But I never took that for granted and neither have the guys I’ve known to go on and play D-III football and the players I met in my writing playing D-III sports at Rowan.

This realization recently struck me at the end of the men’s first-round early exit in the playoffs this past Saturday (Feb. 20, 2010). After the game I was waiting to interview the head coach and while standing there, Rowan’s star forward who led the team in scoring and rebounding stopped and chatted with me for a little. He thanked me for all the articles I wrote and that he saved them all and will continue to do so.

This is what I got from that two-minute exchange. This player will never play organized basketball again. Like most student athletes, he will have to get a job out of college. People won’t know that he was the star of a D-III college. But for the two-years he was at Rowan after transferring over, he was somebody. People wanted to know him. Student journalists like me wanted to interview him because he was “the guy.” He will be able to show his children and grand children one day the articles about his excellent play and be proud of them.

D-I athletes have that BMOC (big man on campus) attitude about them. They’re cocky and take advantage of their skills and popularity. They rarely have time for anyone. With a bigger attitude comes bigger problems. One of the players I went to high school with went on to play football at Virginia Tech. In fact he didn’t play much because he thought he was a BMOC. He got a pair of DUI’s and went from being the starting wide receiver this past season to barely playing special teams when his punishment was up. He took what was given to him for granted.

My goal is to make the most of what I do with my time here at Rowan. One thing I learned from that one athlete is to not take anything for granted. I appreciate everything I have received in life and I appreciate the humility I have. My passion is writing and that won’t be done for another 50 years or so. The same can’t be said for the thousands of D-III college athletes every year.

Olympic style Grudge Matches

While the main goal of tonight’s USA-Canada hockey game is better seeding for the medal round, national pride is at stake.  The last time the Americans have defeated the Canadians in Olympic play was 1960, when the United States took home the gold in Squaw Valley.  The Canadians defeated the Americans in their last Olympic match in the 2002 Gold Medal game.  The winner of the game will win their group, but if USA loses, they still have a chance to get the 4th seed.

Are Flyers Mike Richards & Chris Pronger making it hard for Philadelphia fans to choose sides?  Last time I checked a map, Philadelphia was located in the United States.  Of course, it’s fine to hope Richards and Pronger do well, but as long as the scoreboard has the Americans up at the end of the night.  And it’s odd (for a Flyer fan) to be rooting for Devils forwards Zach Parise & Jamie Langenbrunner, Rangers forwards Chris Drury & Ryan Callahan and Penguin defenseman Brooks Orpik. 

Along with that, Mike Richards is now playing on a line with Penguins center Sidney Crosby.  Just having those two on the same line makes for an interesting topic since the two rival captains do not like each other at all.  But I’m sure they have put personal feelings aside for the good of the country.  How must Rick Nash feel?  In a word from a DGB/Bloge Salming video, I’d say “awkwaaaaaard”.

Russia also has a grudge match with the Czech Republic this afternoon, as do Sweden and Finland.  Both games should be excellent as they are longtime rivals.  All four are still in the hunt for the first round byes in the knockout stage of the tournament, and have medal hopes.  Philadelphia’s eyes will be on Finland’s Kimmo Timonen, going against former (and not future) Flyer Peter Forsberg.

Which comes down to the final grudge of the day.  ESPN calls itself the worldwide leader, but I (with alot of hockey fans) have a problem with the television channel.  Watching the channel, the hockey game is a mid-show feature, after college basketball, NBA and Nascar.  However, viewers, when told to choose, say they most want to watch the USA-Canada game.

The hockey game is the yellow color, covering 49 states, DC and the world, with 57% of the total vote over college basketball (17%), NBA (17%) and Nascar (9%).  The only dissenter was Kentucky, who had both the hockey game and college basketball at about 40%.  Kentucky’s proud of its highly ranked college basketball team (although they don’t play today). 

Obviously this shows that ESPN has its priorities backwards.  Then again by their logic, if you can’t slam dunk or dance around like a fool, you’re not important enough to feature on the show.

Hello, Mr. Halladay

As the beginning of spring training has begun, we’ve seen the sight we’ve been waiting all winter to see: Roy Halladay throwing in Phillies red.  Last week he posed for Sporting News, and did an interview with the magazine, but now he’s finally working in pinstripes. 

In the Sporting News article, Halladay was asked who the best pitcher in the NL East was, and he replied that he would “never vote for myself” and that “Johan Santana has always been fun to watch”.  Although he said former Toronto teammate Chris Carpenter was the best in the NL.  Now, according to Brian Costa of the Star-Ledger, Santana was asked the same question and with a one word reply said: Santana.  When asked earlier this week for a reply of Santana, Halladay avoided starting a war of words with the Mets pitcher and said,

I steer clear of that.  I think it was a Lou Holtz quote: ‘Well done is always more important than well-said.’ I’ve always tried to take that philosophy. I stay out of the papers and news. Not that those people don’t know what they’re talking about. It just doesn’t have a lot to do with how I appraoch the game. It’s not going to effect the way I prepare, the way I pitch.

He also told reporters that what he was looking forward to most with a new team was being in the postseason.  Halladay knows he has a better shot of making the playoffs (and going to the World Series) with the Phillies than he ever did playing second fiddle to the Red Sox and Yankees.

In the same interview he descibed his workout routine, which consists of him getting to the ballpark at 5:45…..in the morning.  He said that a couple of pitchers, including Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, and Chad Durbin, plan to beat him to the park.  Not only is he a stud pitcher for the team, but it seems like he’s going to be a good role model on the younger guys. Although in the SN article, he doesn’t want to act like their “mentor”, but talk to the other guys “pitcher to pitcher”.  Even if the young guys learn a little from how Halladay conducts himself, it should help them become better pitchers themselves.

Halladay is projected to start the season opener April 5th in Washington, DC against the Nationals.  It seems like the Phillies might outnumber Nationals fans 2 to 1 (at the very least) with the amount of people who say they are heading down to the nation’s capital.

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As John wrote on his blog today, a sculptor is working on a Harry Kalas statue for outside Citizens Bank Park.  However he is waiting to get $80,000 (in donations from fans) to bronze the statue. 

In my opinion, a statue for Harry should have been done a long time ago, possibly when the stadium was first opened, but definitely while Harry was still alive.  Now the Phillies could never have predicted his death, but it would have been nice to honor him while he was alive (along with renaming the broadcasting booth posthumously).

Olympic Hockey Day 1

Team USA kicked things pool play off yesterday with a game against the Swiss, winning 3-1.  Cherry Hill native Bobby Ryan started the scoring.  St. Louis Blue David Backes and Lightning forward Ryan Malone each had a goal in the win.  Former Flyer Luca Sbisa, playing for the Swiss team, finished even with one shot on goal.

In the second game of the night, Mike Richards and Canada took on Team Norway.  Canada streamrolled Norway, 8-0.  Richards took advantage of the playing time he got, by following his own rebound and scoring the third goal for Canada.  Richards finished with the goal, +2 and 3 shots on goal.  Other Flyer representative Chris Pronger had an assist on Dany Heatley’s second period goal and finished +3.  Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla was the star of the show, with a hattrick.  Former Flyer Patrick Thoresen, a Norway representative, finished -3 with one shot on goal. 

The nightcap saw Russia take on Latvia.  Latvia appeared nervous early, leading to a couple of quick goals by Russia.  Latvia settled down and played better, but Russia was just too powerful, earning a 8-2 win.  Alex Ovechkin and Danis Zaripov lead Russia with two goals apiece.  Flyers defenseman Oskars Bartulis, playing for Latvia, finished the game a -1, but took a bad cross checking penalty in the first period.  In any consolation, the brutal cross check was on Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

Today’s action features Kimmo Timonen & Finland taking on Belarus, Sweden taking on Germany and Slovakia facing rival Czech Republic.  Sweden features former Flyer Peter Forsberg, who is looking to return to the NHL, once again.  The Czech Republic’s drawing card is former NHLer Jaromir Jagr, who also may be interested in an NHL return next season.  Talk about all the hockey games here.

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Anyone else think the IOC is ridiculous in its ruling that forces US goaltenders Ryan Miller and Jon Quick to cover ‘slogans’ on their masks?  Miller’s “Miller Time”, I can see because it is a beer slogan, but not a tribute to his deceased cousin. 

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In a very good article by Phantoms beat writer Tim McManus, Phantoms assistant coach tells readers that he believes defensemen Kevin Marshall, Joonas Lehtivouri & Marc-Andre Bourdon could use another year in the AHL for seasoning.  Right now, the Flyers have four defensemen under contract for next season, and if these three aren’t ready, they will have to fill the holes elsewhere.  Although, this can all change if any of the three play strong down the stretch, and have a nice training camp in the fall.

Keep an eye out, Mike will be doing a Flyers prospect update during the Olympic break.

The Olympics are a time for reflection…

With things as tight as they are in the lower half of the Eastern Conference, the 2 week Olympic break could be a be a blessing or a burden. Which one it is will be decided later once the Flyers get back on the ice. Several players are off to Vancouver, battling for national pride and glory while the others are using their vacation for personal matters.

So, now that we have this lull in Flyers hockey, let’s take a look back at the first 60 games (not individually mind you) and see what we can derive from the season that was and eventually will be again. In other words…

What Have We Learned?

We’ve learned that Paul Holmgren can make moves that will help this hockey club.

  1. The John Stevens firing has put this team in a place they needed to be. That is under a coach that won’t take any half-stepping from anyone. He doesn’t want to be your buddy, he wants you to work. While the line shuffling may rub people the wrong way, Coach Laviolette is learning where he can put players to get the most out of them.
  2. At first, noone could understand the Michael Leighton signing. It took the top 2 goaltenders getting hurt to reveal this diamond in the rough and who can honestly say the Flyers wouldn’t be where they are right now if it wasn’t for him?
  3. Dan wrapped up the Ville Leino trade pretty well, so there’s no real need to revisit that one.

We’ve learned that we may have put the hopes of this season on the shoulders of the wrong man. The Ray Emery signing came with mixed reviews and while some were optimistic, most refused to believe that Emery could take the team to the next level. An abdominal injury and possibly torn labrum later, the pessimists could be right after all. While Ray did have a great season in the KHL last year, they have a system in place where a #1 can only play a certain percentage of games with no more than so many in a row. With the Flyers, his most recent run was 8 straight and another in the early season that ran into the teens. Expectations ran high. But when expectations run higher than physical limitations, bad things will happen (something I know far too well).

We’ve learned that the Flyers of this season are not the Sharks of last season. If they were, Brian Boucher wouldn’t even be close to the sickly 4-11-1 record he’s touting so far this year. If any of the rumors are true about the Flyers picking up another goaltender because of Emery’s injury woes, Boucher should be involved in that trade. He’s the low man on a 3 man pole and can’t handle the weight of Leighton’s unexpected success.

We’ve learned that it’s not how badly you lose or who you lose to, it’s what you do after those losses that defines you as a team. In 2010, the Flyers have not lost more than 2 games in a row and other than the 5 game slide from Nov/Dec have not gone more than 2 without at least getting a point. Coming off those, they average 3 wins and have had a 5 and three 4 game win steaks this season, including the one they rode into the break.

We’ve learned that Toronto hates us. Okay, maybe hate is a little strong to use in this instance. They just don’t like the Flyers very much. How’s that? If it was one instance, then it would be different. But the fact that, on two different occasions, goals being called off that were so obvious, it makes me wonder who trained the monkeys that are working the instant replay in Toronto.

We’ve learned that no matter what some players do, they will always be jeered because of their contracts or their past. Danny Briere is usually first on the hate list while a true underachiever like Scott Hartnell slides under the radar and into opposing goaltenders. Ray Emery is doomed to crucifiction with his 16-11-1 record as Brian Boucher cruises on by on Emery and Leighton’s coat tails because he’s “Boosh”. Philadelphia fans are called the most passionate sports fans on the planet. It’s just a shame they’re also the most fickle. When you’re scoring or winning fights, you’re a God. When you’re not, we look for the first bus to ship you out of town. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Finally, we’ve learned that it’s not just leadership that will lead a team to greatness. Heart, passion and the will to win trump all when it’s focused and honed into a winning attitude. Guys like Darroll Powe, Arron Asham, Dan Carcillo and Ian Laperierre who go out and give every last ounce of drive and energy every shift for a common goal will motivate everyone around him. It’s like a virus. It’s infectious, taking root in everyone around them. They may never score as many goals as Jeff Carter or get as many assists as Chris Pronger, but these “role players” as they’re called, play far beyond the role that was written for them.

Olympic ice hockey starts today for the men and even though I’m against NHL players participating in the Olympics, I’m going to watch and cheer for our boys playing for their respective countries. But twice as much for Team USA. I hope you will all be watching too.

Never forget, keep your head up, eye on the puck and you can never go wrong with high to the stick side. 😉

Hats off to the Flyers

Heading into the Olympic Break, the Flyers looked to finish strong.  Led by Danny Briere and his hattrick, they finished with a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.  With the win, they swept the home and home with the Canadiens, giving them two home and home sweeps in the week (New Jersey earlier this week).  Briere opened the scoring in the first period, followed by Mike Richards finding a wide open net on the power play.  Jeff Carter notched his team leading 27th goal a few minutes later to give the Flyers a 3-0 heading into the first. 

The Canadiens answered back when Brian Gionta scored on the power play to the cut the lead to 3-1, but Flyers center Blair Betts scored a short handed breakaway goal a couple minutes later.  Danny Briere added his second goal of the game with a few seconds left in the second period.  Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak allowed five goals on 17 Flyer shots, and was replaced by Carey Price to start the third period.

Another power play goal by the Canadiens, this time by Scott Gomez, cut the lead to 5-2.  Later in the third, Danny Briere had a breakaway but was knocked down by Ryan O’Byrne.  Jeff Carter almost scored on the rebound before a penalty shot was awarded.  Briere deked out Price on the penalty shot to give him his second career Flyers hattrick (fourth career).  The boos rained down from the fans of the Bell Centre, as he was also named first star.

Canadien fans continue to boo Briere because he spurned their offer while he was a free agent.  Briere now has 6 goals, 5 assists in 13 games (including playoffs) against the Canadiens since signing with the Flyers.

Carter is now 11th in the league in goals, after scoring 11 goals in the Flyers’ last 14 games.  Carter is now on pace for 37 goals, down from his 46 goals last year, but still an impressive number considering the scoring slump by the team in December.

The Flyers now sit in sixth place, with two points between them and 7th place Boston.  Montreal dropped to 8th with the two losses to the Flyers.  The Flyers are 10 points behind division leading New Jersey (in 2nd) with 22 games to go.

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The bad blood from Friday night only took four seconds to spill over as Ian Laperriere took on Canadiens defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.  However, anyone expecting anything else to happen was surely disappointed as that was the only major fireworks of the night.  Laperriere took care of O’Byrne and set the tone for the Flyers for the night.

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The men’s hockey portion of the Olympics start Tuesday, and it should be an exciting tournament.  We still don’t know if Jeff Carter will participate; we should find that out tomorrow when the rosters are turned in.  Team USA kicks their schedule off against Switzerland; Team Canada (with Mike Richards and Chris Pronger) take on former Flyer Ole-Kristian Tollefsen’s Norway team.  The final match of the day pits Team Russia against Oskar Bartulis’ Latvia team.

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The NHL announced its’ top 20 selling jerseys for the season, and four Flyers made the list.  The list includes all home, away, alternate and Winter Classic jerseys, which is shown with three Boston Bruins also making the list.  Mike Richards is at #5, Chris Pronger comes in at #15 and Jeff Carter has the #18 best selling jersey.  Claude Giroux rounded out the top 20, but he is the only guy on the list who needs to have his jersey custom ordered, which makes his inclusion that much more impressive.

Emery Shut Down

GM Paul Holmgren announced today that goaltender Ray Emery would be “shut down” for three weeks to strengthen his hip.  Three weeks from today would be March 4th, a day after the trading deadline.  Between now and then, the Flyers have four games, including two against Montreal this weekend.  Having Emery miss the time now is better than when the Flyers are playing every other night in March. 

Surely Paul Holmgren will have an idea how healthy Emery is by the time the Olympic freeze is over.  If he is not improving, has a couple days to make a trade for a goalie, if he chooses to.  If Holmgren stands pat, which he likely will do, the Flyers will ride Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. 

Hopefully this rest does Emery good and he comes back 100% and ready for the stretch run.  Undoubtably this will have an effect on Emery getting an extension, as his agent and Holmgren were going to discuss one after the trade deadline.  If Leighton continues to play well, will he make Emery earn back the starter’s job for the playoffs?  I’d be willing to bet Peter Laviolette gives Emery a chance to regain the job but still has confidence in Leighton.

We’ll continue to monitor Emery’s progress over the next couple weeks.

Gagne snaps drought to win game

After going twelve games without a goal, in overtime Simon Gagne looked like a man on a mission.  He was determined to score the game winner against the Devils last night.  Hopefully this goal is able to jumpstart him and remind us of the Simon Gagne who scored 34 goals last year and not the one who trails Dan Carcillo and Darroll Powe on the scoresheet. 

Jeff Carter also lit up Devils goalie Marty Brodeur with a wicked wrister in the second period to tie the game, making it the second time in two games he had tied the game against New Jersey.  Carter made his case to be Ryan Getzlaf’s replacement for Team Canada, and will fly to Vancouver on Sunday in case Getzlaf can not participate.

The Flyers also had another apparent goal waived off last night.  Scott Hartnell thought he had a goal before Marty Brodeur reached over and covered the puck with his glove.  Replays show the puck partially crossing the line before Brodeur’s glove covered it.  This brought some anger from the Philadelphia fans, thinking they had been “screwed” again.  NHL Rules state that during a replay the officials have to see the puck fully cross the line, which they deemed they hadn’t.  Common sense would say “it’s a goal”, but to the rulebooks, it’s not.  Maybe it’s time we add common sense to the rulebooks?

The next two games against Montreal are huge, considering they are the final games before the Olympic Break, and the Canadiens are sitting in 6th place, one point better than the Flyers (although the Flyers have three games in hand).  According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers now have about an 88% chance to make the playoffs.  Sweeping the Habs would definitely put them ahead of the pack and create some distance between them and other teams.

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Marty Turco was the subject of a lot of internet rumors Tuesday night, after Dallas acquired Kari Lehtonen.  TSN’s Bob McKenzie said the only teams who might consider Turco (with a $5.7 million cap hit) are the Flyers and Blackhawks.  Both teams would need to clear considerable salary before doing so though.  It makes no sense for the Flyers because we already have three goalies (depending on Emery), and we’d need to trade a forward (Hartnell & Briere were rumored) to make the space.  With our scorers struggling, this doesn’t seem like the best idea.  After the rumors circulated for a bit, Hartnell’s agent denied any deal to Dallas, thus quashing those rumors.  Dallas wants to shed salary and by dealing even money doesn’t work for them.

With the Olympic trade freeze tommorow at 3:00, don’t expect the Flyers to do anything major. 

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News on the Ray Emery MRI is expected today (haven’t we heard that before?).  Is there any way that the diagnosis, three days later, could be good?  Hopefully it’s nothing that rest during the Olympic Break can’t fix.