Prospect Watch: Ben Blacker stars at World Jr. A Challenge tryout
By: Ryan Kennedy
Oct 31, 2013
The 5-foot-10 goalie from the Ontario Jr. League's Milton Icehawks stood tall in Canada East's tryouts for the world challenge that will take place in November.
The World Jr. A Challenge is coming up on Nov. 4-10 in Nova Scotia and Canada's contingent is broken up into two teams, East and West. I checked out the East's camp in Oakville, Ont., on Wednesday, where the kids vying for spots played off in two games. While the Jr. A Challenge will feature players in their late teens, a couple of 1997 birthdays caught my eye in the first game.
The most obvious was goaltender Ben Blacker, who spent the whole contest matching fellow netminder Darren Smith in the heroics department. Both goalies registered shutouts, despite numerous good chances and Blacker was particularly adept with his glove hand. In the end, the game went to a shootout and even that proved difficult for the shooters. After about a dozen rounds, Matthew Cruickshank finally just blasted a slapshot past Smith to win it for Team White, meaning Blacker went 65 minutes and a dozen shootout attempts without surrendering a single goal. The most impressive stop came in the shootout when Aaron Spivack tried a spin-o-rama, but was denied by a quick leg. So what was the youngster thinking when Spivack began to turn?
“Just flashbacks to all those NHL videos,” Blacker said. “I stuck the pad out and got really lucky there.”
But that's a move most NHL goalies have trouble with and Spivack executed it perfectly (other than the fact it didn't go in). Blacker prides himself on his lateral movement and it was apparent in the game. At a shade under 5-foot-10, he doesn't have ideal size, but he's still young and is hoping for one last growth spurt. Canada East wasn't concerned, as he ended up making the squad, while another team that's not worried about his size is Western Michigan; he's already committed to the NCAA's Broncos and excited to join in a couple years.
“They have a great track record and one of the best coaching staffs with Andy Murray,” Blacker said. “They have a great track record with schooling too, a lot of players are coming out with great educations and either playing professional or going into the business world. I'm really looking forward to playing for them.”
Currently suiting up for the Ontario Jr. League's Milton Icehawks, Blacker may be back there next season too and was quite content with his Canada East camp.
“Playing with the older guys really motivates you,” he said. “You want to push harder and be better. Learning from them has been a huge part of this experience.”
Another 1997 birthday with a bright future is defenseman Kris Myllari. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder is already committed to Penn State and proved to be a studious defender on the day, getting the puck out of trouble with his passing ability and keeping attackers covered. While he already has seven assists in 14 games for the Central Canada League's Kanata Stallions, Myllari played more of a stay-at-home role for Team White and the youngster said that was by design.
“I'm a two-way D-man,” he said. “I was probably more defensive here because I was playing against these great guys and if you make mistakes, it's in the back of your net. I was probably a little overcautious, but you gotta prioritize. You don't win games 8-7.”
Though the Ontario League's Kingston Frontenacs own his rights and are putting together a super squad for both this year and next, Myllari was quite excited about committing to Penn State and joining a program he believes fits his style of play. Getting a chance to develop in a famous conference didn't hurt, either.
“It's the Big Ten, nothing gets bigger,” he said. “You're on the big stage and that's key.”
While Myllari didn't make the final cut, that big stage will be waiting for him in the near future.
NHL further away from Olympic participation, optimism in short supply
By Ryan Kennedy
Sep 28, 2016
But taking a pass on South Korea in 2018 may be the best thing for the sport, given how Canada has mopped up at the World Cup
As the World Cup of Hockey winds down in less-than-dramatic fashion, thoughts are already turning to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. And those thoughts aren’t necessarily that positive. Reporter Chris Johnston tweeted out NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s thoughts on the matter yesterday, with Daly noting that he is more down on the possibility of NHLers going than he was two weeks ago.
There are myriad reasons why the NHL shouldn’t go to Korea, but the one that might spike it for real involves money. Shocker, I know – usually the International Olympic Committee doesn’t care about cash at all, right?
Staying on topic, the issue involves insurance and transportation costs for the NHLers. That can be pricey for the IOC, but it’s the cost of doing business if you want the best hockey players in the world to travel across the world, interrupt their own quests for the Stanley Cup, and entertain the planet for a couple weeks.
Daly (via Johnston’s Twitter feed, again) raised the possibility of NHLers returning to the Olympics in 2022, when the Games will be held in Beijing. I can see the pragmatism there. It’s still going to be super-inconvenient for the NHL, but China is a huge potential market and the KHL already planted a flag in the nation with the Kunlun Red Star franchise. If the NHL could get even a fraction of the market that the NBA has already tapped into, you’d never have a lockout again (ha ha, just kidding – Bettman’s still here).
I know the players love the Olympics and fans do too. My hang-up has always been that it forces the NHL to associate with the loathsome IOC – of course the hockey is good once you get to the medal round. But right now, as we have watched Canada stomp the field at the World Cup, I have to wonder how competitive the 2018 Games would even be. Sure, Team USA doesn’t botch its roster and have John Tortorella behind the bench (you would hope), but the Americans might be the only rival for Canada, which would add Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad to a core featuring a still-excellent Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. Russia’s defense will still be threadbare in two years, while Sweden likely won’t have a dominant scorer (and perhaps no No. 1 goalie, depending on how Henrik Lundqvist ages). Maybe it’s all for the best to skip Korea, money issues or not.
Of course, a lot can change in time. The NHL doesn’t have to make a final decision until January 2017, when the 2017-18 schedule is imposed. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and the IOC will pony up. Otherwise, Korea will basically be the Spengler Cup Part Deux and it won’t even be worth covering.
Devils ink Quincey to one-year deal, shore up blueline ahead of season
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Kyle Quincey was left waiting until the final few weeks before the regular season, but he’s landed himself another NHL deal. The veteran rearguard took a big pay cut to land with the Devils, though.
The Devils had no problem relying on all-world goaltender Cory Schneider in 2015-16, but with higher hopes for the coming season, New Jersey GM Ray Shero has gone out and attempted to shore up his defense by adding free agent Kyle Quincey.
Quincey, 31, signed a one-year, $1.25-million deal with the Devils Wednesday, and the signing allows him to completely forego the pro-tryout process regardless of the fact that he’s landing his contract so late in the off-season. The new deal is a hefty pay cut for Quincey — he’ll see his salary drop by $3 million from this past season — but the one-year deal gives him the chance to come into New Jersey, prove his worth and potentially land a longer-term extension with a higher salary.
This past season in Detroit, Quincey averaged nearly 20 minutes per game, but was plagued by injury. He suffered a concussion early in the campaign that put him on the shelf, but the more serious injury came when Quincey was forced to undergo surgery on his ankle to remove bone spurs. He ended up missing more 35 games while fighting his way back into the lineup, and he finished the year with a respectable four goals and 11 points in 47 games.
It’s almost a given that Quincey will come in and play top-four minutes for the Devils, and that shouldn’t be surprising following the trade that sent Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for Taylor Hall. In fact, it’s the Larsson-for-Hall swap that likely helped facilitate Quincey’s addition to the Devils. Without the hole on the back end, the Devils may not have had much use for the veteran rearguard.
However, with Larsson gone, the Devils don’t have much depth — veteran or otherwise — on the blueline. The off-season acquisition of Ben Lovejoy fills one hole, but veteran Andy Greene is starting to show signs of slowing and the top-four without Quincey would have been rounded out by John Moore and Jon Merrill.
Quincey’s addition means that the Devils can also likely give Damon Severson another year to grow after his promising rookie season and a sophomore campaign that was trying at times. Severson averaged 18 minutes per game, but could be eyeing a part-time spot in the top-four this year.
World Cup showing helps Seidenberg land one-year deal with Islanders
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
Team Europe may be trailing the best-of-three World Cup final, but Dennis Seidenberg will be in good spirits after the Game 1 loss as he has signed a one-year, $1-million deal with the New York Islanders
Dennis Seidenberg had two goals for the World Cup of Hockey. The first was to help Team Europe to a title, and the other was to play well enough to land himself a contract.
“I just have to focus on playing my game,” Seidenberg told the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa of chasing a deal in the tournament. “There’s no magic to it. It’s playing a simple style of hockey. That’s basically it. I don’t have to try and do something I can’t do. That’s going to go the other way if you do that.”
And while falling behind 1-0 in the best-of-three final series to Team Canada isn’t going to help Seidenberg accomplish his first goal, he has done his part — playing his game, and doing so to the best of his ability — to take care of his contract status. The New York Islanders announced Wednesday that they have come to terms on a one-year, $1-million contract with Seidenberg.
The contract comes three months after Seidenberg was bought out by the Boston Bruins and amidst speculation that several teams were interested in bringing him aboard. It’s a good signing, too, especially for an Islanders team that was in need of some fresh faces to help on the back end after watching Brian Strait head to the Winnipeg Jets as a free agent. The best part about Seidenberg’s signing, though, is that it’s low risk and high reward for both parties.
For Seidenberg, the new role will likely be a bottom-pairing position with a team that already has enough top-end blueliners to fill out the roster. Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey are all more than capable, and the same goes for young blueliners Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. However, it can never hurt to have some added insurance, and the 35-year-old Seidenberg has the experience and ability to still chip in on the back end.
Though he’s coming off of a tough season, one in which he had a sub-20 minute average ice time for the first time since 2007-08, Seidenberg can still be a decent blueliner in his own end. The issue is mobility, but if he’s paired with someone who allows him to be a stay at home defender, Seidenberg could benefit. And as for his ice time, it’s not likely he’ll be asked to take on a much larger role than he did this past season.
The biggest concern about Seidenberg may be his health, though. He played in 61 games this past season and dealt with back and knee ailments, and he has been forced to miss significant amounts of time in two of the past three seasons. That said, on a one-year deal, there’s no risk for the Islanders. If Seidenberg goes down, they can bring up a fresh face to fill his place.
So, win or lose at the World Cup, Seidenberg’s tournament was a success.
Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky celebrate the Game 2 overtime winner at the 1987 Canada Cup.
Author: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Down Goes Brown: What was the best Game 2 in World Cup history?
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 28, 2016
Five out of seven World/Canada Cups have been best-of-three finals, so let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
Tuesday night's Game 1 of the World Cup final, which saw Team Canada earn a 3-1 win over Team Europe, sets up a do-or-die Game 2 Thursday night. A Canada win would end the tournament, and the trophy will be in the building, unless the league has come to its senses and thrown that ugly thing into a raging bonfire instead.
There have been seven World and Canada Cups in international hockey history, but we didn't get to see a Game 2 in all of those. Twice, in 1981 and 2004, the format called for a one-game final. But it's been best-of-three in the other tournaments, which gives us five Game 2 to work with. So today, let's take a look back at those five games, and rank them from worst to best.
As always, this is opinion only, and if you disagree, then you're wrong.
No. 5 – 1984: Canada 6, Sweden 5
The road there: Canada stumbled through the 1984 tournament, going 2-2-1 through the round robin and barely making the playoff round as the fourth seed. But Team Canada earned a trip to the final thanks to an overtime win over the Soviets in the semi-final, and they were facing an upstart Swedish team that had beaten them in their round robin meeting and had just embarrassed the Americans with a 9-2 blowout. The Canadians took the opener by a 5-2 final, but the second game proved closer.
Game 2: The game looked like a laugher early on, with Canada scoring four times in the first seven minutes and adding a fifth before the first period was over. A Paul Coffey goal early in the second made it 6-1, setting the stage for a furious Team Sweden comeback. They scored three unanswered goals to close out the second period, and draw to within 6-5 early in the third. But that was as close as they came, as Canada held on for the win and the series sweep.
The aftermath: This turned out to be the first of three straight Canada Cup wins for Team Canada, and remains the only finals appearance by Team Sweden.
The bottom line: What looked like a laugher wound up being a reasonably entertaining contest. But the game everyone remembers from the 1984 Canada Cup will always be that semi-final thriller with the Soviets.
No. 4 – 1991: Canada 4, USA 2
The road there: Coming on the heels of the 1987 tournament, fans were probably hoping for yet another final between Canada and the Soviets. But with the team in turmoil, partly due to the political situation back home, the Soviets failed to even make the playoff round. That left Canada looking for a new challenger, and the Americans were happy to step in for their first ever Canada Cup final appearance. The two teams met in the round robin, with Canada winning 6-3 to hand the Americans their only loss of the stage, and Canada followed that up with a 4-1 win in the opening game of the final.
Game 2: This game may best be remembered for who wasn't playing. Team Canada captain Wayne Gretzky was knocked out of action in Game 1 on an ugly hit from behind by Gary Suter. The check left Gretzky unable to suit up for Game 2, and contributed to the back problems that slowed him down for much of the early 1990s.
Looking for the sweep, Canada jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Americans clawed back with a pair of second-period goals. But Steve Larmer earned some revenge on Suter by stripping him of the puck during an American powerplay and then scoring on a breakaway for the winning goal.
The bottom line: This game, much like the 1991 tournament itself, was an entertaining one that for some reason isn't all that well remembered by many fans.
No. 3 – 1996: USA 5, Canada 2
The road there: The Americans swept through the round robin with a perfect 3-0-0 record, including an impressive 5-3 win over Canada that featured a wild early brawl. That win earned them a quarter-final bye, and after knocking off the Russians 5-3 in the semis, Team USA came into the final looking like they had a real shot to wrestle the international crown away from Canada. But Steve Yzerman's overtime winner in Game 1 in Philadelphia handed the Americans their first loss of the tournament, and left them needing a pair of wins in Montreal to take the tournament.
Game 2: Team USA jumped out to an early lead, but Canada came back to tie the game before the first intermission. Goals by John Leclair and Brett Hull gave the Americans a 3-1 lead, and Mike Richter stood on his head to keep it that way until a late powerplay goal by Joe Sakic made it 3-2 with five minutes to play. That was as close as they came, and a pair of Team USA empty net goals padded the final score to 5-2.
The aftermath: Team USA completed the comeback in Game 3, winning by another 5-2 score to capture their first (and so far only) best-on-best championship.
The bottom line: Despite the two empty netters making the score more lopsided than the game was, this was a fun matchup that featured lots of star power, some bad blood, and a raucous Montreal crowd. You can watch the highlights here.
No. 2 – 1976: Canada 5, Czechoslovakia 4 (OT)
The road there: Four years after the legendary Summit Series, the Canada Cup was born in an effort to create the first true international best-on-best tournament. There was no semi-final back then, with the top two teams heading directly to the finals. Canada grabbed one of those spots, finishing first in the round robin with a 4-1-0 record. But while many had expected a Summit Series rematch in the final, the Soviets were edged out of a spot by Czechoslovakia.
The opening game of the final was a blowout, with Canada earning a relatively easy 6-0 win. Game 2 ended up proving to be a bigger challenge.
Game 2: Canada grabbed a 2-0 lead just two minutes in, but Czechoslovakia fought back to tie the game early in the third. A Bobby Clarke goal restored the Canadian lead, but two quick Czechoslovakian goals gave them a 4-3 lead with four minutes to play. Bill Barber tied it with two minutes left, and that set the stage for Darryl Sittler to deliver the first ever Canada Cup with what still stands as one of the most famous goals in the tournament's history.
The aftermath: To this day, Sittler and Team Canada assistant coach Don Cherry are still arguing over who's idea that move was.
The bottom line: You could make a great case for this game being No. 1 on the list. I think it’s a coin flip, but I'll take the game that directly led to one of the greatest moments in hockey history.
1987: Canada 6, Soviet Union 5 (2OT)
The road there: Canada and the Soviets finished in the top two spots in the round robin, then knocked off Czechoslovakia and Sweden, respectively, in the semi-finals to set up the first best-on-best multi-game series between the two rivals since the 1972 Summit Series.
Game 2: With the Soviets looking to clinch their second Canada Cup in three tournaments, the series shifted to Hamilton for the second game. The two teams resumed the all-out offensive pace, with Canada leading 2-1 before the game was even four minutes old. Then it got better.
Canada took a 3-1 lead to the first intermission, but the Soviets tied it in the second before Mario Lemieux quickly restored the lead. The Soviets tied it again early in the third, but Lemieux scored again midway through. That set the stage for a frantic end to regulation that saw Valeri Kamensky score with a minute left to send the game to overtime.
With the trophy on the line, the two teams went back and forth through one scoreless extra period. But midway through the second overtime, Canada finally ended it. Guess who.
The aftermath: This game was so good that the hockey gods decided to re-use the same script for Game 3: A back-and-forth thriller that ends with a 6-5 Canada victory on a Mario Lemieux winner.
The bottom line: The series finale was quite possibly the greatest international game ever played. And it was made possible by this one, which was almost as good. That's enough to earn it the top spot on our list, narrowly ahead of Sittler's fakeout.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.