Kukla's Korner

Tasca's Take

Sign of the Times

Some fodder for those of you who believe in karma:

Meet 11-year-old Keila Penner. She’s a Senators fan, living in Montreal in a family of Senators fans. Her dad, Cary, used to live in Vanier.

Last Thursday, to celebrate the opening of the Montreal-Ottawa playoff series, students at Maple Grove Elementary School, just outside Montreal, were told they could ditch their uniforms and wear a Canadiens jersey. Penner wore her Senators jersey — with pride.

There was some taunting, the typical “Senators suck” verbal jabs ... then the kid was called into the principal’s office and given three options: Call her dad and go home, take the jersey off and put a white shirt on or put on a Canadiens jersey.

On the surface, the decision by Grove Elementary School officials to issue this ultimatum to young Keila Penner seems ludicrous. To force a child to ditch her favorite team's jersey on a day when other kids are wearing theirs strikes us as wrong on so many levels. But the fact of the matter is the school administrators did the right thing.

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Now or Never

Tom Rock offers some much-needed consolation to Marc-Andre Fleury:

Fleury can take solace that this first-round performance is not as abysmal as last year's when he melted down against the Flyers and allowed 26 goals in six games. But it's close. Take away his shutout in Game 1 and he's allowed 14 goals in three games, more than the pace as last year's skid.

That performance was one of the reasons the Penguins traded for Tomas Vokoun to be Fleury's backup this season. Vokoun played well in the regular season, winning 13 of his 20 starts, but has yet to see the ice in the playoffs.

That's going to change on Thursday.  Dan Bylsma simply doesn't have a choice.  Pittsburgh is built for a Stanley Cup run, and Bylsma simply can't take the risk of Fleury laying another egg in Game 5.  The coach gave his goaltender an opportunity to get off the mat with a strong performance tonight, but that didn't happen.  Unfortunately for the Flower, the clock has struck twelve. 

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Disaster Prevention

The QMJHL semi-final series between Baie-Comeau and Blainville-Boisbriand has taken yet another bizarre turn, and it's one that could impact professional hockey in some capacity going forward. 

In essence, Russian import Valentin Zykov scored the winning goal in overtime for Baie-Comeau in last night's pivotal Game 5.  The only problem is that he was clearly offside on the play:

“It’s so ridiculous. He's offside by two feet,” Blainville owner Joel Bouchard said after a heated, but fruitless, discussion with the referee on Friday. “The referee said his linesman has no doubts, that he made his call. (But) it wasn’t even close.”

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League agreed with Bouchard--the former NHL Player who filled in for (suspended) coach Jean-François Houle--saying it would institute video reviews for goals starting next season.

“The QMJHL has a very competent and passionate group of officials; because of the fast-paced nature of hockey sometimes things go unnoticed on the ice,” QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said on Saturday. “It is for this reason that a technological aid will allow officials, during this type of situation, to make adjustments, if necessary, in order to make the right decision.”

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As the Dust Settles

All credit to Paul for posting video of last night's bench-clearing brawl between QMJHL rivals Baie Comeau and Blainville-Boisbriand.  I happened to be at the game, and as you can imagine, it was a wild scene.  The melee featured all four goaltenders duking it out, and resulted in suspensions to 12 players and both coaches.  Game 5 of this tightly-contested series will be a hot ticket, indeed.

I'll offer a few thoughts on what happened.  Firstly, the playoff atmosphere in Boisbriand is incredible.  I've had the pleasure of watching playoff junior hockey all across Quebec, and as you can tell from the television feed, the in-game experience is second-to-none.  The French Canadian fans are loud and raucous from start to finish, and it makes for a terrific environment for any hockey fan. 

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Spano Remembered

The darkest era in Islander history is re-lived today, as a documentary about the team's notorious former owner John Spano premiers at the Tribeca Firm Festival in New York.  It was directed by actor and long-time Islander fan Kevin Connolly.  The film is scheduled to make its television debut in October, and is an absolute must-see for all hockey fans.

For those of you not familiar with the Spano debacle, here's the brief, but painful lowdown courtesy of Lighthouse Hockey.  It's not exactly Gary Bettman's finest moment.

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Spitting Image

As the Plymouth Whalers prepare to square off with the top-seeded London Knights in the OHL's Western Conference final, Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci is playing the underdog card to a tee:

"They're the New York Yankees of the OHL," Vellucci said of the Knights during Tuesday's conference call ahead of the hotly anticipated series. "They're the top team, they're going to be very competitive, they have a tough building to go into with 9,100 people every night. There's skill on both teams. It's going to be entertaining for the fans to watch. We expect nothing but a great series.

"It's fun to play against them," Vellucci added. "They're the Yankees. They get 9,100 people. [London coach] Dale [Hunter] has coached in the NHL before [with the Washington Capitals]. They get more national TV, more media. It's great to be the spotlight. We're kind of always here in Plymouth off the radar. We have our one reporter who asks questions. For our kids it's cool to be in that atmosphere and be in that position."

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All the Marbles

As a Quinnipiac graduate, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the most important hockey game on tonight's schedule:

Yale and Quinnipiac typically meet on the ice with little more than local bragging rights and the upper hand in the ECAC at stake.

Not so much the next time around.

The two schools separated by all of 10 miles of central Connecticut highway cruised to the NCAA hockey championship on Thursday. Yale edged UMass Lowell 3-2 in overtime in one semifinal, and top-seeded Quinnipiac followed by crushing St. Cloud State 4-1.

The victories set up the fourth showdown between the Bobcats and the Bulldogs since Groundhog Day. Quinnipiac is 3-0 against Yale this season, though it will hardly matter if the Bobcats (30-7-5) can't make it four straight.

It's the first time two-instate rivals have met in the NCAA championship game since 1978.  On paper, this game is a huge mismatch.  Quinnipiac is the top-ranked team in the country, while 15th-seeded Yale was considered an also-ran going into the tournament.  The fact that Quinnipiac owned Yale in the season series further makes this game seem like a mere formality.

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Paradigm Shift

In response to the concussion epidemic, NHL officials have placed an increasing focus on improving player safety in recent years.  The league has taken specific steps to address the problem, including the introduction of soft cap shoulder pads and a complete ban on head shots. 

The problem is, it's debatable whether such measures have been effective.  Players are still being concussed on a weekly basis, and there's seemingly no end in sight.  The game is incredibly fast nowadays and the players are bigger than ever.  It almost seems like a lost cause.

Nathan Horton isn't sure there's any way to reduce the number of concussions in today's game:

“They are doing lots of good research with equipment. That’s not going to stop. And that’s a good thing. But there are always going to be mishaps out on the ice, no matter how much you try to cut down on them.”

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Bad Hosts

The disturbing trend continues:

For the fifth straight year, the MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts will enter the tournament through the back door.

Not since the 2008 Kitchener Rangers has the host team of the national championship won their league prior to the tournament’s commencement. What felt like a long, 31-day wait for last year’s hosts, the Shawinigan Cataractes (who became just the second team in tournament history to win it all after going through the tiebreaker), pales in comparison to the 51 days off for this year’s hosts, the Saskatoon Blades.

The Blades were unceremoniously swept in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, marking the first time since the 2001 Regina Pats (whose head coach, ironically, was also Lorne Molleken) the tournament hosts failed to make it out of the first round.

There's absolutely no excuse for a Memorial Cup host to lose in the first round, nevermind be swept.  Saskatoon's defeat is particularly shocking considering the team had peaked going into the playoffs, having won 18 consecutive games late in the season.  To boot, Medicine Hat pulled off the upset despite losing all four regular season matchups with the Blades.

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No Pain, No Gain

While Guy Boucher was the sacrificial lamb, Ken Campbell thinks the woes of the Tampa Bay Lightning should be placed squarely on the shoulders of general manager Steve Yzerman:

Aside from getting lucky on a gamble with 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson two years ago, Yzerman was never able to solve the Lightning’s goaltending woes. Mike Smith became one of the best goaltenders in the NHL after the Lightning put him on the scrap heap and, as it turns out, Anders Lindback was not ready to take the responsibility of being a No. 1 goalie. The Lightning defense corps, meanwhile, is slow and mistake-prone, and after all his years in Detroit, you’d think Yzerman would have placed more of an emphasis on building from the blueline out.

The fact of the matter is that Yzerman placed a strong emphasis on improving his blueline in the off-season.  He signed Sami Salo to a two-year, $7.5 million deal, then inked Matt Carle for six years at $33 million.  With veteran Eric Brewer and young stud Victor Hedman already under contract, Tampa Bay had what appeared to be a pretty formidable top two pairings on defense.  Keith Aulie and Brian Lee, both acquired by Yzerman late last season, rounded out the team's backend. 

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.

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