The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/16/14 at 02:20 AM ET
If you're a Red Wings fan, this is a good weekend in terms of hockey entertainment. If Game 7 between the Ducks and Kings this evening (9 PM EDT on NBCSN), the start of the Rangers-Habs series on Saturday (1 PM on NBC and the CBC) or Game 1 of the Western Conference Final (Chicago vs. ???) on Sunday don't interest you...
1. The World Championships' Friday-and-weekend-games include Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser and Team USA playing Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan at 9:45 AM EDT (on NBCSN), as well as Tomas Tatar and Slovakia battling Sweden at 1:45 PM (via alternate means). Jakub Kindl's Czechs and Tatar's Slovaks also play on Saturday, and the Americans, Swedes and Czechs play games on Sunday, too.
The round robin portion of the tournament will wrap up on Tuesday, with the playoff rounds taking place from Wednesday the 21st until Sunday the 25th,
2. The Grand Rapids Griffins will attempt to break their 2-games-to-2 deadlock with the Texas Stars this evening at Van Andel Arena (7 PM on WOOD Radio and AHLLive.com), and then the series will shift back to Austin, Texas for Games 6 and 7 on Sunday and Monday, respectively;
3. And the complex cultural dance that is the Mastercard Memorial Cup takes place from tonight until Sunday the 25th.
Tonight, Anthony Mantha's Val-d'Or Foreurs will battle the host London Knights (at 7 PM EDT, on Sportsnet and the NHL Network, and as George does not have either network, I will be asking you to help me find "alternate means" of viewing the game); on Saturday, Tyler Bertuzzi's Guelph Storm will battle the Edmonton Oil Kings (4 PM EDT on Sportsnet and the NHL Network), and on Monday (the round robin portion of the tournament ends on Wednesday, May 21st), Mantha and Bertuzzi's teams will face off (at 7 PM EDT, etc. etc.).
I'm not exaggerating when I suggest that the Memorial Cup is something that's kind of hard for Americans to understand. I was born 3 miles north of Windsor, I grew up watching the CBC and taking weekend trips to Windsor, Kingston, Leamington and Point Pelee with my mom and dad, and I nearly married a gal from Winnipeg, but...
You know how Don Cherry goes on and on about the sanctity of the good-young-man-making nature of the Canadian Hockey League, and how the Memorial Cup is the nexus of all that is good and well with the Major Junior Hockey world?
That's what's going on in London over the next week, leading up to--of course--Memorial Day (Mantha may or may not be named the CHL's Top Scorer and/or Player of the Year on May 24th, too)
The Memorial Cup tournament's been taking place since 1919, and if you take a look at the London Free Press's photo gallery from Thursday, the "Mem Cup" (Cherry hates it when the trophy's called that) was flown into London by a Canadian Forces chopper, and then paraded through the city's War Memorial and into the center of town.
During the evening, Brendan Shanahan took part in a pre-tournament gala, and while the trophy's been known to get the hell dinged out of it by the teams who win it, the Memorial Cup really is up there with the Stanley Cup in terms of its prestige and importance to Canadian hockey tradition.
The Memorial Cup's website explains said context:
The 2014 season marks the 96th anniversary of the Memorial Cup. The Memorial Cup, one of the most prestigious and coveted trophies in North American sport, has a rich tradition that has shaped the way junior hockey is played in North America. The trophy was originally known as the OHA Memorial Cup and was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association in March, 1919, in remembrance of the many soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for Canada in The First World War. In 2010 the Memorial Cup was rededicated to the memory of all fallen Canadian Military Personnel.
Initially the Cup was awarded to the national junior hockey champions of Canada. Later on it came to signify Junior "A" hockey supremacy when in 1934, junior hockey in Canada was divided into "A" and "B" classes. In 1971, when junior "A" hockey was divided into major junior and Tier 11 junior A, the Memorial Cup was awarded to the higher category and was given to the major junior hockey champions of Canada. In 1972, a round-robin tournament format replaced the old playdown system to determine the champions. Since then, the champions of the Western Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League, have met each spring in a round-robin series with the two top teams playing off in a sudden-death game to determine the Cup champions.
The Memorial Cup became an international trophy in 1983 as the tournament was held outside Canada for the first time, when the Portland Memorial Coliseum was the host arena. The hometown Winter Hawks took home the title that year to become the first non-Canadian based team to win the Memorial Cup. Portland again hosted the tournament in 1986 and Seattle played host in 1992. In 1991, the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League became the second U.S. based team to claim the title. The Chiefs won the title again in 2008 in Kitchener, ON.
In the last 42 tournaments since the round-robin format was established, Western Hockey League teams have won the title 18 times, Ontario Hockey League teams have claimed 14 titles and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams have won the title 10 times.
The London Free Press's Ryan Pyette also explains why you won't see the London Knights wearing their own jerseys tonight:
WHAT'S WITH THE JERSEY?
- Military-themed; host team wears for opening game.
- Salutes Cup’s origin as a wartime memorial.
- Crest on this year’s edition a replica of 1883 infantry helmet plate.
- An original helmet plate is on display at Royal Canadian Regiment Museum at Wolseley Barracks.
- Jerseys auctioned online at auction.chl.ca; bids close May 26 at 7 p.m.; proceeds go to Legion programs.
As this is a Red Wings blog, not a "Canadiana" blog, I promise that I'm not going to spend the next two weeks trying to wrap your or my head around the tournament's status as something of a tribute to both a hundred-year-long junior hockey tradition and the sacrifices made by the Canadian militiary...
And I'm not going to give you wall-to-wall coverage of everything that takes place in London. I'm guessing that you're not interested in the tales of the London Knights or Edmonton Oil Kings, and neither you nor I have the Val-d'Or Foreurs' or Guelph Storm's rosters memorized by heart, so I'm going to try to keep my coverage on-topic.
Mantha's stolen the spotlight over the past two days, and understandably so given his pedigree. His Foreurs have to attempt to make a very quick turnaround after winning the QMJHL championship on Wednesday.
On Thursday, coach Mario Durocher discussed the team's decision to quickly fly back from Baie-Comeau to Val-d'Or to share the President's Cup on Wednesday morning--before getting back on the plane and flyingto London--as well as managing his team's energy levels with the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones and Sportsnet.
Thursday, Mantha discussed his team's turnaround with the Canadian Press's Donna Spencer...
“For sure we’ve been on a high for two days,” Foreurs forward Anthony Mantha said. “We need to manage our emotions. The tournament is starting tomorrow. We need to be ready.”
Friday’s game pits the least-rested team against a club that will play its first real game in over a month. The Foreurs went the full seven games to win both their QMJHL semifinal and final series. Mantha, a 57-goal man in the regular season, scored the winner with less than a minute remaining Tuesday against the Drakkar.
The Knights were eliminated April 11 in the second round of playoffs by the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm. So it’s the fresh legs of London versus the battle-hardened, confident Foreurs to kick off the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
“For sure in the first period or two being game-sharp is an advantage,” Mantha said. “Maybe later in the game it’s going to become their advantage. For us, it’s (important) to start strong. Once you have the lead, it’s a little bit easier playing with the lead than being back one or two goals.”
London’s starting goaltender Anthony Stolarz will play his first game since March 25 because of a post-season suspension.
“I think there’s going to be a lot traffic in front of the net.” Mantha said. “He’s maybe not going to be sharp, I don’t know. I’ve never seen him play. For us, it’s going to be shoot the puck and go for rebounds.”
And after noting that the Foreurs will be able to rest during the weekend, coach Durocher gave Mantha a helluva compliment:
The six-foot-five, 204-pound winger led this year’s Canadian junior team in scoring with five goals and six assists in six games. Mantha also averaged a goal a game in 24 playoff games for Val-d’Or.
“When he came from Detroit’s training camp, he was a different player, an awesome player,” Durocher said.
The Edmonton Journal's John MacKinnon also penned a Mantha profile:
Mantha was asked how he was feeling less than two days after the dramatic league championship-clinching game.
“I feel great right now. I mean, we just finished playing but except for being tired, I do feel great, no injuries or anything. So, for me, it’s all good. For the team, I think we’re in shape right now.”
Mantha, a 50-goal scorer the last two seasons, figures to be ready. The game is truly in his DNA, what with his being the grandson of Andre Pronovost, who played for the Montreal Canadiens teams, led by Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey and Jacques Plante, a team that won five straight Stanley Cups in the 1950s. Pronovost, now 77, lives in Shawinigan, about a 90-minute drive from Val d’Or, but he gets to as many of Mantha’s games that are within a three- to four-hour drive from there. He chats with his grandson after every game he attends.
"We do talk a lot,” Mantha said.
Asked what the best feature of these chats is, Mantha did not hesitate.
“His tips — great tips. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes down to hockey and it’s just great. For sure, he has talked to me a lot about winning Stanley Cups, what it took and things like that. For me, personally, it doesn’t really affect me because it’s a different level of (hockey). But hockey is still hockey and the tips he gives me are just great.”
Coach Durocher told the London Free Press's Pyette that the Foreurs are aware that they can set the foundation for a strong tournament by winning their first game--and the Knights know that, too...
“Once you win one, you have a sigh of relief,” London Knights captain Chris Tierney said. “You know you're not going home automatically (before the playoff round). It's also a statement game for us to show we deserve to be here and that we're not just a team that got here because we're hosting – that we can actually win games here and win this tournament.”
Their opening night opponents – the Val d'Or Foreurs – are trying to grab a quick win before they catch their breath.
They won in the final minute Tuesday night in Baie-Comeau, boarded a plane back to Val d'Or and arrived at 3 a.m. They had to be back at the airport to fly to London at 11:30 a.m.
“The first game is the key thing,” head coach Mario Durocher said. “We know London hasn't played in such a long time. We need to bring that energy right away. We have two days rest after that, and those two days will be important to get that energy back for the rest of the tournament.”
The Foreurs have an idea what they're in for Friday. Top defenceman Guillaume Gelinas, who had 92 points this season, said Budweiser Gardens reminded him of the Halifax Metro Centre.
“The Mooseheads had 10,000 fans and it was a great atmosphere,” he said. “I can't wait to play here.”
And Pyette penned a game preview:
The matchup: It's the well-rested vs. the weary. The Knights haven't played in 34 days. The Foreurs won Game 7 of the Quebec league final Tuesday night. The Cup hosts will have to shake off the rust while Val d'Or has to keep riding the high of their big win over Baie-Comeau. London, 4-0 at the 2005 Cup at home, puts that undefeated Budweiser Gardens streak on the line with a big chunk of those famous champs paying close attention.
Who to watch (London): Everybody, really. The Knights expect to have a strong first period, even after their long layoff. They've had good news in recent days with the return of Zach Bell (broken leg), Brady Austin (mono) and Christian Dvorak (knee). Head coach Dale Hunter said Max Domi, who injured his shoulder in the second-round series loss to Guelph, is “ready to rock 'n roll.” Then, he should be able to soar to the top of scoring charts this week; Val d'Or: Goalie Antoine Bibeau, the Maple Leafs prospect, was a rock in the Foreurs net down the stretch. They brought in the 20-year-old Victoriaville native from Charlottetown before the trade deadline for three draft picks, including a first rounder. He turned out worth that price.
Canadien ties: Val d'Or star scorer Anthony Mantha, who has 81 goals in 81 games, is the grandson of Andre Pronovost, who joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1956 en route to four straight Stanley Cups. “He lives in Shawinigan now but we do talk a lot and he always waits for me after games (when the Foreurs play games near his home),” Mantha, the Detroit first-rounder and Canadian world junior standout, said. “His tips are great and he knows what he's talking about. He's passionate about it. You're a hockey player one day, you're a hockey player forever.”
Cup of four: The Knights have eight players about to take part in their third straight Memorial Cup. They have one – Gemel Smith – who played in the one before that streak. The veteran forward was a speedy rookie in 2011 when the Owen Sound Attack took part in a bitter tournament at Mississauga. Star Joey Hishon, who played his first NHL game for Colorado in the playoffs this spring, was knocked out early with a concussion and the Attack were the first team out. “We've got lots of experience in our room,” Ryan Rupert said. “You look at (Smith). A lot of us are getting another chance. We know what to expect and the rest of the guys can watch and feed off what we do.”
Warm welcome: The Foreurs returned as Quebec league champs from Baie-Comeau at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. There were 1,000 people – in a city of 30,000 – waiting for them at the airport. “Everyone was screaming and cheering for us and that was a great feeling,” Val d'Or defenceman Guillaume Gelinas said. “There wasn't a lot of sleep that night. But we have to focus on this tournament. We don't want to come here and just be happy to be here. We came to win.”
Gelinas said he fell asleep Wednesday night in London around 9 p.m. “I think we have to forget about (sleep) and think about the end,” head coach Mario Durocher said, “and get some sleep then.”
The Guelph Storm, on the other hand, had a much more casual practice on Thursday...Though I'm not sure whether this Tweet from the Guelph Mercury's Tony Saxon reflects the levity of the situation, or the fact that Tyler Bertuzzi is himself:
Saxon reported the following regarding the Storm's practice...
[Coach] Scott Walker gets the microphones warmed up by saying he thinks the London Knights are the favourite of the tournament. That no one has seen the full Knights squad in some time and that because of that, and home ice advantage, they are flying under the radar a little bit.
What did you think he was going to say? "We are" ?
All part of the off-ice games folks. Personally, I think if Vegas had odds on the Memorial Cup, the Storm would be the slight favourite heading in.
* * * *
Storm held an up-tempo, spirited hour and 15 minute practice at Budweiser Gardens on Thursday. Lots of laughing and joking as the players seemed very loose.
Lots of media interviews after practice as players and coaches are requested then brought into the media tent adjacent to Budweiser Gardens. Then it was off to the official opening banquet.
* * * *
Friday the team will practice at at Western Fair as teams don't use Budweiser Gardens for practice on game days.
And he penned a context-setting article as well, noting that the Memorial Cup's host happens to have lost to the OHL's champion team:
When Guelph eliminated London in five games in the second round of the playoffs, the Knights were missing key personnel. Zach Bell had a broken leg, Brady Austin had mononucleosis and starting goaltender Anthony Stolarz was suspended.
"They had about 13 feet and 400 pounds of top defencemen out of the lineup, and their top goalie. To me that's pretty good, and I think some of their top players were hurt," Walker continued, likely referring to Max Domi who played part of the series with a bad shoulder.
Nobody expected Walker to announce his team as the favourite in the four-team tournament, which kicks off Friday night when the Knights play the Quebec league champion Val-d'Or Foreurs, but any comment about another team that has a bit of sizzle is interesting in what is a very politically correct media environment.
"That's not taking anything away from the other teams, I just haven't seen them," Walker said. "To me London is going to be a hard, hard team to play against, and I'm assuming they're walking in here not really happy that we beat them out."
The Storm opens play Saturday at 4 p.m. against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
And this is where I come in with a necessary disclaimer: please keep in mind that we're talking about a tournament involving 4 of the best Major Junior teams in Canada--emphasis on "major junior."
The players range from 16 to 21 years of age, and both the players and the coaches who spend their time trying to motivate teenagers tend to make comments that might be eyebrow-raising in terms of their arrogance, bluntness or sometimes their silliness at the professional level. This is Major Junior Hockey, and it's a different world.
We'll wrap this part of the entry up with the second conversation a beat writer's conducted with Jiri Fischer in three days. On Wednesday, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose spoke with the Wings' director of player development regarding Mantha's promise; on Thursday, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa penned a superb Mantha profile; this morning, MLive's Ansar Khan penned an article in which he spoke with Fischer regarding the Memorial Cup as a whole and the team's desire to watch Mantha perform at Major Junior Hockey's highest level--prior to turning pro:
"It's the first time we've had two guys on two different teams (at the Memorial Cup)," Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings director of player development, said. "It's an honor and a privilege to play in it. It's a very hard trophy to win. This is going to be high-end hockey, fun to watch for everybody."
"He absolutely dominated the Quebec league," Fischer said. "He's a special player. We're very excited to have him."
Mantha, 19, has a tremendous combination of size (6-foot-5, 204) and scoring ability.
"He's a big guy, hard to handle for any junior," Fischer said. "He has very deceptive speed. He's a smooth skater for his 6-foot-5 frame. He has high-end hockey sense to know where to go, where pucks are going to bounce. He knows how to protect the puck. When he's on the ice, wherever he's at in the offensive zone he's dangerous. He either has the puck or the puck gets to him."
As for Bertuzzi, whose scoring playoff exploits surprised more than a few pundits and fans?
"He's all about winning; he really cares about his team, his teammates," Fischer said. "His compete level is very high, has good hockey sense. He has more skill than he showed in Traverse City in the prospects tournament."
Bertuzzi (6-1, 187) missed much of the season due to a concussion suffered in a fight on Dec. 8. He had nine goals, 34 points and 49 penalty minutes in 29 regular season games. He has 10 goals, 18 points and 24 penalty minutes in 18 playoff games.
"It took him a while to get over post-concussion symptoms," Fischer said. "He got back into the lineup around playoff time. He's produced, he's played great. He knows he has to work on speed and leg strength."
In terms of the World Championships, as noted on Thursday, Nyquist's Swedes barely eked out a 2-1 win over France, and Expressen's Mattias Ek and Jens Dahlqvist report that Swedish coach Par Marts had quite the comment regarding his team's performance...
"I don't know if we've got a bunch of Neanderthals or that we're just so *#$%@& stupid-headed," said the coach.
Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser weren't alone in having "rough games" as Team USA dropped a 6-5 decision to Latvia, and highlight clips are hard to come by, but Pro Hockey Talk's Jason Brough posted a 1:40 clip of the US-Latvia...mess...
Again: today, Team USA plays Kazakhstan at 9:45 AM on NBCSN, and Tatar and Slovakia battle Nyquist and Sweden
Back over on this side of the pond, the Free Press's Helene St. James brings our focus back to the Griffins via a profile of Teemu Pulkkinen, whose 5'11," 185-pound frame belies Tomas Tatar-like fearlessness and a goal-scorer's knack:
Pulkkinen is having a solid playoff run with the Grand Rapids Griffins, emerging as their leading scorer with nine points after eight games. The Griffins have won two straight to tie their second-round series with the Texas Stars, 2-2, entering today’s Game 5 at Van Andel Arena.
It's Pulkkinen's second go-around at the AHL playoffs, as he came over from his native Finland and played in 14 games during last season's run to the Calder Cup championship.
Pulkkinen, 22, finished up his first full season with the Griffins having produced 31 goals among 59 points in 71 regular-season games. His prowess with the puck prompted the Wings to give him a look during a three-game stretch in mid-March.
He has a powerful right-handed shot, the kind that, like Daniel Alfredsson, makes Pulkkinen a valuable right point on power plays. Two of Pulkkinen's three playoff goals have come during man advantages.
He's also the type who, like Henrik Zetterberg, loves to shoot the puck. That makes Pulkkinen a bit of a rarity among European forwards, as they tend to display pass-first mentalities. Pulkkinen, incidentally, shares a hometown (Vantaa, Finland) and a European league team (Jokerit Helsinki) with former Wings forward Valtteri Filppula.
St. James believes that Pulkkinen's chances of making the roster would improve dramatically if Alfredsson doesnt' return.
In terms of the Babcock coaching rumors, which seem to be coming fast and furious these days, again, he is not a free agent. The Red Wings do not have to make Babcock available to speak to anyone unless the ownership and Babcock agree that the coach is allowed to pursue employment elsewhere.
Former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Richard Peddie replied to the Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk's "Babcock to Toronto!" article by stating that the Leafs did inquire about Babcock's services some years ago, but they were given a stern rebuff by the ownership.
If teams were to continue to pursue the coach after an ownership "no," and the coach were to continue to pursue negotiating with another team, there's a word for that under the new CBA: circumvention.
There's a reason that the Wings let it be known, through the Free Press's Helene St. James, that they were making assistant coaches Tom Renney and Bill Peters available to speak with other teams regarding possible head coaching positions.
Just as importantly:
1. Babcock's repeatedly stated that he wants to remain in Detroit--he has a year remaining on his present contract--and if he's lied to the media, he's lied half a dozen times now;
2. And if you recall Ken Holland's locker room clean-out day comments, the general manager DOES plan on discussing an extension with Babcock this summer.
So this kind of stuff, stated by Pittsburgh Penguins and City of Champions blogger Matt Gatjka, is simply incorrect:
Why would Babcock leave a place that has treated him so well? It’s anyone’s guess if a move to Pittsburgh is feasible, but it’s instructive to know that he and Red Wings general manager Ken Holland both agreed to put off any talks of a contract extension after Detroit was eliminated from the playoffs last month.
No, no they did not. Holland said he wanted to speak to Babcock and Babcock's spent several radio interviews stating that he's going to speak with Holland.
I don't know if Babcock plans on remaining with the Red Wings over the long haul, but he's not some sort of coaching unrestricted free agent, and these suggestions that neither coach nor general manager are interested in any sort of extension are incorrect.
We're going to continue hearing all sorts of rumors about Babcock going to U of M, Babcock going to Toronto (it turns out that the Randy Carlyle extension is 1 year plus a team option for a second year), Babcock going to Vancouver, Babcock going to the Ak Bars Kazan for all I know, it's gonna go on all spring and summer long and the Feschuk's of the world are going to continue dreaming up "likely" scenarios as fewer NHL games are played and especially as the draft and free agency sneak up on us (it's already the middle of May)...
But the truth of the matter is that we won't find out what Mike Babcock's long-term future involves until he's either re-signed or he chooses to go elsewhere.
All I'm going to do is stick to my guns regarding his public comments. As far as I'm concerned, if a coach goes on the radio and TV in five cities and speaks to the print media (as it were) and says that he's happy in his present situation, that he's excited about the present and future roster-wise, ownership-wise, and relationship-with-the-GM-wise, and then he goes and bolts, that speaks very poorly of the coach.
The press keeps insisting that Babcock's comments don't mean a hill of beans, but if the coach is to be taken as a man of his word, he's got to back 'em up.
Now do I take this a little personally? You bet, I'm more than willing to admit that. The last Wings player or coach to say that he loved Detroit, that he loved the Red Wings, that he was very happy in his present situation, and then bolted, was Sergei Fedorov.
I was born in Detroit, raised in a blue-collar suburb, and while I've traveled a decent amount, I've very consciously chosen to remain in this state despite the "grass being greener" in previous residence and employment situations. I am damn proud of my crappy birthplace, my mediocre state and my up-and-down hockey team, and the concept of someone stating they're committed to my crappy birthplace, my mediocre state and my up-and-down hockey team and then bolting does not sit well with me.
Otherwise...According to the Detroit Free Press, Mickey Redmond will appear on WTKA's radiothon for the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan from 1-2 PM EDT, and he'll talk golf with Bob Krause;
And if you were wondering how much you pay to watch Fox Sports Detroit on your cable system or from your satellite provider, Forbes' Michael Ozanian posted an infographic regarding "The Most Expensive Regional Sports Networks," and Fox Sports Detroit finished seventh with a subscriber fee of $3.51 per subscriber per month.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.