Top 5

Devin Setoguchi

Of the seven active professional hockey arenas in California (NHL and ECHL), Minnesota Wild right wing Devin Setoguchi has played in six. He ranks his Top 5:


  1. HP Pavilion (San Jose)

  2. Staples Center (Los Angeles)

  3. Citizens Business Bank Arena (Ontario)

  4. Cow Palace (Daly City)

  5. Honda Center (Anaheim)

NHL Confidential

James NealTravis Mathew Apparel specializes in casual menswear for on and off the golf course. It’s a favorite of Wayne Gretzky as well as current NHL stars James Neal, Dustin Penner, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Getzlaf. “That laid-back, SoCal athletic vibe resonates with a lot of guys who want to look good during an off-day on the golf course,” said Leif Sunderland, the marketing director for the Seal Beach, Calif.-based retailer. travismathew.com.

JP

Order is restored: A 2014-15 college hockey preview.

Boston College hockey

Boston College lost the most talented contributor to its 2014 NCAA championship team. (Dave Arnold | New England Hockey Journal)

The 2014 college hockey season was interesting, to say the least.

The Big Ten Conference began play, which led some teams to willingly leave an old conference or grudgingly move to a new one. The teams in the NCHC couldn’t wait to get out, while the remaining CCHA teams were forced to say goodbye.

The preseason rankings were a little off. Miami University began as the number-two team in the country and the consensus pick to win the NCHC. They finished last in the conference and missed the NCAA tournament. Michigan was also predicted to make the tourney again, then finished a distant third in the Big Ten. After a 22-year run, the Wolverines have missed the tournament the last two seasons. Things have been a little rough lately in Ann Arbor; at least the hockey team is doing better than the football team.

Finally, there were some surprises in the national tournament.

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NHL Expansion: Ranking the nine cities most likely to get a team.

Secret Season rink

The NHL expansion rumor mill has been heating up in recent weeks with a pair of reports connecting the NHL to Las Vegas as a done deal (Tony Gallagher’s column in the Vancouver Province and Howard Bloom’s Sports Business News tweet:

The NHL was quick to shoot down these reports, but perhaps this is a situation where when there is smoke, there is fire, as the NHL has a least looked a few places for future teams in the past calendar year.

Maybe the NHL doesn’t really need expansion and 30 teams are enough, but considering the potential windfall to the league’s ownership by adding teams, and you can almost bet on the NHL expanding in the not-so distant future. Thirty-two or 34 teams would make sense as the next logical step, and if you believe the reports that are out there, it might happen as soon as 2016-2017, the NHL’s centennial season.

Here is a quick evaluation of nine potential NHL expansion or relocation cities in order from most likely to get a team by 2025 to least likely:

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Ten years later, awakening the lost NHL season: Part II

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two pieces hypothesizing what might have happened if the 2004-05 season hadn’t been cancelled.

It is September 2004. NHL training camps have opened for business. The surprising Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending champions. Hope springs eternal across Canada, where the national Stanley Cup drought has reached a seemingly interminable ten seasons. Across the Detroit river, the Red Wings are looking strong. That’s been the case most years of late — every year from 1996 to 2000 the Wings either won the Cup or were eliminated by the Avalanche — but no, this season is special.

A miraculous 11th-hour bargaining session allowed the NHL to avoid a work stoppage, ensuring a full 82-game season. The miracle was in the details. The players’ union agreed to an unprecedented salary-cap structure, taking a small step toward achieving competitive balance among markets large and small. The owners agreed to tweak the rules to improve the style and speed of the game. The era of so-called “clutch and grab” hockey is dead. Speedy skaters can speed without fear of mutilation at the hands of gargantuan defenders. The game is faster and more exciting. More scoring could be in store.

What transpires is only partly predictable.
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Ten years later, awakening the lost NHL season.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two pieces hypothesizing what might have happened if the 2004-05 season hadn’t been cancelled.

What if I told you that the 2004-05 lockout was just a nightmare and didn’t actually happen?

No, I’m not making an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, although it’s tempting. At this point, there’s a new documentary about anything remotely significant.

This NHL season will mark the 10th anniversary of the 2004-05 lockout, and I figured it would be fun to imagine what might have occurred if the NHL had the common sense not to cancel an entire season by virtue of labor strife. In case you all forgot, in 2005 the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded for the first time since 1919. A Spanish Flu epidemic swept across the globe in 1919 and forced the cancellation of the playoffs. That’s a more valid premise than a ridiculous labor dispute.

Anyway, my point isn’t to force anyone to remember the pain of a lost season. It’s to wonder who would have hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2005.
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The Rangers and Kings return to the Finals, and this time it’s different.

2014SCchampionsTwenty years is a long time. It didn’t hit me until this weekend that’s how long it’s been since the Rangers went to the Stanley Cup Finals. I was 10 years old when that happened and although I was somewhat pulling for Vancouver (I liked their logo, and we all did dumb things when we were younger), I remember being happy for New Yorkers when the Rangers won. The celebration was massive. ESPN — ESPN! — showed the victory parade. I’ve only rarely seen a city so grateful to win a title.

That 1994 squad was led by center Mark Messier, defenseman Brian Leetch and goalie Mike Richter and its top-to-bottom depth was impressive. New York ended up winning the President’s Trophy that season and set a team record for points in a season. After easily dismissing the Islanders and Capitals, the Rangers had to gut out a memorable seven-game series against the Devils. Once the Finals rolled around, New York was in control before teasing the Canucks with the possibility of a Game 7 upset at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won the game 3-2 and the series 4-3.
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The birth of hockey in California is the death of ‘hockey in California’ as you know it.

Greetings from Anaheim. It’s a new day here.

Literally, it just turned midnight. Figuratively, there was an important shift in the hockey-in-California narrative just now.

For the seventh time in the last nine years, a team from California will play in the Western Conference finals. The Kings are in for the third straight year, a streak that began with their 2012 run to the Cup. The Sharks came up on the short end of the conference finals in 2010 and 2011. The Ducks lost to Edmonton in five games in 2006, then beat the Detroit Red Wings in six games in 2007 en route to their first and only Cup.

Seven out of nine ain’t bad for a state that can never claim to be home to an Original Six franchise. Consider this: The last time a team from California wasn’t in the conference final, Rob Ford was a city councillor from Etobicoke and “The Hangover” was a few weeks away from its big-screen release.1

So, back to the shifting narratives.

In case you missed it, the Kings eliminated the Ducks in a 6-2 Game 7 victory. Here’s how the final seconds of that game played out:
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How would the NHL react to a Donald Sterling-type incident?

Would a traditionally “white league” like the NH be quick to ostracize a racist owner?

You’ve probably heard the story by now. An old man with a history of controversy is recorded in the middle of a racist rant. The tape is distributed to media outlets. As it turns out, this old man owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the league is in a tough position. A couple of days after the tape is released, the NBA bans the old man for life and begins the process of taking over his franchise.

The first thought when I heard the tape of Donald Sterling’s rant was “I’m not surprised.” My second was to ask how would people react if an NHL owner was the person being taped?
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Stanley Cup playoffs preview: Defense and goaltending will get the job done.

Zdeno Chara

Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara | photo by Dan Hickling

Boston and St. Louis finished second and third in the NHL in goals against per game this season, respectively. Their goaltending is proven, their defensemen unyielding. Now, thanks to a favorable and static bracket (no reseeding!), the Bruins and Blues have the inside track on meeting in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. But the road will not be easy.

Here is how both conferences break down, series-by-series, ending with B’s on top of the hockey world.
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On mascots, nicknames, and why something is better than nothing.

I was talking to a former NHL executive Wednesday afternoon about mascots. We tossed around the question of where to draw the line between a mascot and a character. What separates the woman dressed up as Snow White at Disneyworld from the Leprechaun at Notre Dame? Are they mascots or characters? What about the Atlanta Braves’ Chief Noc-A-Homa?

Somehow the Spanish word for “pets,” mascotas, entered the discussion, and that rekindled my gut feeling about what a mascot should be: Furry and non-human. But that’s just my opinion. A team doesn’t need a mascot, though they are always popular with the kids. I once covered a minor-league hockey team that had three mascots, turning each game into a Disneyland-type experience and proving that a team can have too many. In the NHL, the Stars, Oilers, Rangers and Flyers have zero mascots. That might be too few.

UND logo

At the bare minimum a team could use a nickname, which brings us to the curious case of the University of North Dakota. Officially, UND is just UND. No nickname. Its logo is an interlocking ND, similar to the more famous University of Notre Dame logo. In 2005 the NCAA decided the nickname in use at UND since 1930 — the Sioux (since the 1960s, the “Fighting Sioux”) — was “hostile and abusive.” In June 2012, state voters collectively banned the nickname, and the accompanying mascot and logo, at the polls. A few days later, the state’s Board of Higher Education officially banished the Sioux nickname to the history books. The university is prohibited from adopting a new team name until 2015.

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And then there were four: How Boston College will win its sixth NCAA title.

Boston College hockey

The Boston College hockey team, lead by Johnny Gaudreau (13), is aiming for its sixth national title. (Dave Arnold | New England Hockey Journal)

There’s been quite a bit going on over the past two weeks since the NCAA Regionals, most of the big stories being players leaving school early for the NHL.

Two stories stand out above the rest.

The first is that longtime Colorado College head coach Scott Owens resigned. Owens has been at the helm since taking over for Don Lucia in 1999. During that span, the Tigers made the Frozen Four in 2005 on top of six other NCAA appearances. No reason was given for his resignation, but my theory is that maybe the powers that be wanted to move in a different direction, like Denver was last year with George Gwozdecky. The Tigers haven’t made the NCAA tournament in three years and just went through their worst season in 20 years. Whatever the reason, it’s a sad day because Owens is a talented coach who kept a small school competitive on a national stage. I’m sure he’ll be missed by the Tiger faithful.

The other is that NCAA seems willing to reconsider its idea to stage the Regionals at neutral sites. On paper it seemed like a sound plan; it isn’t fair for one team to have a distinct home-ice advantage over the other teams in the region. The plan backfired because attendance at the Regionals has been terrible. Attendance turned around a little this year, but it’s still bad. A total of 8,893 fans for a regional championship between Minnesota and St. Cloud State sounds fine — except that the game was in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center, which holds more than twice that number (18,568).

If the NCAA is smart, they will return the games to campus sites. Yes, it gives one team an advantage, but a good team overcomes that. I’ve seen it happen. Miami beat Minnesota-Duluth in 2009 in front of a loud, very partisan crowd at Mariucci Arena. (How partisan was the crowd? I was cheering for both teams and when the Redhawks scored first, I cheered and pumped my fist. I was the only one in the arena to do so outside of the Miami pep band. It was weird).

Both of those stories pale in comparison to the Frozen Four, which starts Thursday. This year features three powerhouse progams and one on the rise. I got three out of the four teams correct with my predictions two weeks ago, which was my best performance in the Regionals so far. Let’s see if I can keep my luck going.
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