Saturday, August 29, 2009

T-Birds... Cool Bird... promos and pre-season

Photo: Mick White/Kent Valley Sports

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done for several months: I set foot inside an ice arena. Photographer Jim Scott and I drove to ShoWare Center for a little promo shoot with the Seattle Thunderbirds' mascot Cool Bird. It was great to see PR guy Ian Henry again and congratulate him in person on becoming a Daddy! (He and his wife have a beautiful little girl) It was also great to see Cool Bird in full regalia, because that means one thing: Hockey season is almost here!!!!

We went out to the rink to block the shots we were going to get for the end of our shoot, while Ian checked to see when the players would be taking the ice for training camp. Jim wanted to get shots of their legs and skates hitting the ice and skating away. Turns out, the guys weren't even dressed yet. They were getting ready to run around the arena, then stretch before doing their drills on the ice. Ian had barely given us the update when they descended up on us in a straggly line. I recognized some faces: Chet Pickard, Erik Fleming, Sena Acolatse, Jonathan Parker. Others, not so much. Some paid us no attention as they jogged by. Others called out, "Hey, Cool Bird!" and exchanged high fives as they passed.

The entire shoot was fun and I can't wait to see how the finished product comes out. But what excited me more was seeing the guys dressed in practice uniforms, finally hitting the ice (got great shots of their feet!). I know they've been conducting camp and holding scrimmages all week, but as I work overnights, I have not been able to get down to Kent to see any of it. I've been relying on my friend Mick White to tell me how things are going and check out his great photos. (You can check out Mick's photos too. Just click here.)

The T-Birds head to Portland for a pre-season game tonight against the Winterhawks. On September 12th, the T-Birds and Everett Silvertips will play a benefit game at ShoWare Center for the Kent School District. Then, the T-Birds face their two most bitter rivals for real a week later, opnening their season at home against the Silvertips on Friday, September 18 and Winterhawks on Saturday the 19th.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Heartbreaking Loss

There's nothing that delivers a harsh wake up call like the death of someone dear. But when the person who passes away is your two month old son, it can rock you to the very core. This is the tragedy that Washington Capitals goalie Jose Theodore is dealing with right now, even as his teammates wrap up vacations and prepare for training camp in advance of the new season.

I scoured the newsfeeds and found very little information about what happened. But the more I searched, the more I realized, I really don't want to know the details. The fact that a two month old baby has died is heartbreaking enough. And the fact that the baby's father has a very high-profile career is just as heartbreaking, in my view.

I've seen people take tragedy and use it to fuel them to greater success. I've seen people collapse under the weight of extreme heartbreak and become shells of their former selves. I've read that Jose and his wife Stephanie also have a 3 year old daughter. Will the fact that they still have a young child to raise, help them keep going? Only they know the answer to that.

The eyes of Caps fans (and other hockey fans) will be on Jose Theodore when he hits training camp in September, especially after the way last season ended for him. Coach Bob Boudreau yanked him out of net during the playoffs and replaced him with Simeon Varlamov from the AHL Hershey Bears. Many fans spent the off season wondering where Jose's head would be when the new season starts.

Sports fans can be extremely loyal and extremely critical at the same time. The question here is-- will Capitals fans continue to show Jose Theodore love and support if he stumbles early in the season? Or will they draw on his stumbles from last season and call for him to be benched?

This question may be moot, if Boudreau decides to begin the season with Varlamov in net. But, it might give some of the more hardcore fans a reason to think twice before heaping on the criticism too quickly. Because this fan likes to think that what drives our passion for hockey is our love of the game. And in order to have love, you have to have a heart.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A couple of hockey things

Abbotsford, BC has a new AHL hockey team. Well, it's not exactly new. The Calgary Flames moved their AHL affiliate from Iowa to Abbotsford and changed its name to the HEAT. Well, Abbotsford residents actually picked the name, but I'm splitting hairs. I wrote something up about that and the good people over at The Hockey Writers website picked it up. It's an amazing website chock-full of all things hockey. Here's the link to the Abbotsford story:

Calvin Pickard/Photo: David Pitcher/Seattle Thunderbirds

Also, congratulations are in order for T-Birds goalie Calvin Pickard, who spend his summer vacation helping Team Canada win the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U-18 Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He helped Canada go undefeated throughout the tournament. Here's a link to the recap:

I'm starting to get excited about the new season. The T-Birds open training camp this coming weekend. I'm sure the Silvertips are ready to get on the ice too! I hope both teams will open some of their training camp to the public-- or at least let me in to watch for a bit, so I can write about it at the KING 5 hockey page, or here at Daily Su.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UAH Chargers: Kick Ice Hockey with a Cloudy Future

I should be in the pool right now, enjoying the Las Vegas heat and my vacation.

But I’m not.

Instead, I’m sitting at my sister’s kitchen table, fuming as I read about the CCHA’s decision to turn down UAH’s request to join. In our current economic climate, this pretty much sounds the death knell on the University of Alabama–Huntsville’s hockey program. Why is it so upsetting that a school I haven’t set foot in since I left Huntsville in 1995, could lose its hockey program? The answer has many layers. But, let’s begin with the history of ice hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

The Chargers began as a club team in 1979 and joined the Southern Collegiate Hockey Association. Under Head Coach Joe Ritch, they won the SCHA championship in their inaugural year and went on to more success over the next few seasons. Doug Ross came on board as Head Coach in the 1982-83 season, bringing a history of stellar play, including a stint on the 1976 US Olympic Hockey team. UAH joined the Central States Hockey League for several years, before becoming an Independent program. The Chargers made national headlines in 1992, capturing the attention of “NBC Nightly News” after thrashing Providence College up in Rhode Island. Reporter Bob Dotson visited Huntsville attended a UAH practice. Sports Illustrated also covered the Chargers in 1993. Here’s the link:

At the start of the 1992-93 season, UAH moved to Division II, still as an Independent and continued to rock the ice, capturing the NCAA Division II Championship 3 times in 5 years. A move back into the Division I ranks as part of College Hockey America (CHA) conference, brought even more accolades. The Chargers finished as either CHA Champions or runners up for six seasons and made the NCAA Tournament in 2006-2007 (they fell to Notre Dame in the first round). Coach Ross retired after that stellar season, following 25 years behind the bench. Danton Cole took over, and the team looked ahead to a bright future, after nailing down the right to host the 2012 “Frozen Four” tournament in Tampa.

Now, to my history with UAH.

I saw my first hockey game in 1986. Rangers vs. Islanders at Madison Square Garden. It was exciting, but didn’t really hook me. I started watching the Pittsburgh Penguins in the late 80’s because I enjoyed watching Mario Lemieux play. But I didn’t become a TRUE hockey fan until I enrolled at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in 1990. At first, I attended games because I considered ice hockey in Alabama a kind of novelty. Then, my friend Jay McCain became the Charger’s announcer and tried to copy some of his idol Mike Lange’s calls for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pretty soon, the phrase, “It’s a hockey night in Huntsville!” bellowed in Jay’s baritone, became as much a part of game night as the opening strains of the Chargers’ longtime theme song, “Sweet Home, Alabama.” (To this day, I can’t hear that song without being transported back to the Von Braun Civic Center, where icy air mixed with the swish of skates and the sound of sticks slapping pucks into the wall or clanging off crossbars).

At the time, I produced a UAH coach’s show for the local NBC TV station. Every Sunday evening, Coach Doug Ross showed up at the station with a player in tow, along with coaches and players from other UAH sports teams. Sports anchor Barry Hiett would sit across from them and chat about that week’s matchups and look ahead to the next weekend’s games. Around the same time, I also became the school’s official National Anthem singer, which meant I had to attend every home game. Jay taught me about the basics of hockey. The players I met while producing the coaches’ show filled in more details.

When I was there, the players came from everywhere BUT Alabama. There was Jean-Marc Plante ("Frenchy") from Quebec. Howie McEachern from Massachusetts. Shane Prestegard from Calgary. Graham Fair, Logan Lampert, Dennis Skapski, Don Burke, Byran Moller and Lance West from British Columbia. Stu Vitue from Washington State. Sean Kelly, Randy Resek and Derek Puppa from Ontario. Don Rugg from Michigan. Kelly Krawchuk from Saskatchewan. Curt Krolak from Illinois. Ryan Wood from Manitoba. Jim Goonan from New York. Don Erbach from Iowa. I could go on, but you get the picture. These guys played their youth hockey in a myriad of places, including the BCHL and USHL. Many already knew each other when they got to school, from playing against each other at as kids and juniors.

Ask anyone who’s laced up the skates for UAH and they’ll tell you, they came to school to PLAY and to WIN. The only thing different between UAH and Division I rivals like Providence College, or RPI, or even University of Alaska-Anchorage was their location. If you doubt that, take another look at the Chargers’ record a few paragraphs up.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you re-read that paragraph? Then you don’t need me to tell you again that these guys DO hit the ice at the Von Braun Civic Center ready to WIN. And don’t even think about writing these guys off as having no chance to crack the pros. As a matter of fact, the first UAH alum to make it to the NHL level was actually born and raised in HUNTSVILLE. Coach Ross’ son Jared wrapped up a pretty impressive season split between the Philadelphia Flyers and their AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms. He was also named the AHL All Star Game’s Most Valuable Player. Jared played all four years at UAH under his dad, graduating in 2005. Charger teammate, goalie Scott Munroe also spent the last 4 seasons backstopping the Phantoms, and played one game last season with the Flyers. Munroe, by the way, is from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Which brings us back to the CCHA’s decision to turn down UAH’s request to join its conference. The CCHA didn’t officially give a reason for denying the request, but the stuff I’ve heard behind the scenes is about as far-fetched as the excuses my son gives for not brushing his teeth or doing his homework.

It sickens me to think that after more than two decades, the University of Alabama faces a future without ice hockey. Some people have said to me, “What’s the big deal? They can just go back to being an Independent, right?” This time, I don’t think that it’s an option. I’m not 100% sure, because I have not spoken with the Athletic Director or the school’s President, but the general feeling is that unless another conference steps up to invite the Chargers into its fold, the team will cease to exist, at least at a competitive level. That will mean no scholarships to recruit the diverse array of players who have converged on Huntsville for the past two decades. No championship cups to raise or national stories to boast about. No chants of, “It’s a hockey night in Huntsville!” And no more “Sweet Home, Alabama” echoing off the walls of the VBCC.

There’s another reason that the thought of hockey leaving UAH for good causes me so much pain and anger. When I served as the school’s National Anthem singer and produced the UAH Coaches’ show, I became friends with a Center named Stu Vitue. Stu and I got married in 1995 and just celebrated our 14th anniversary. I’m sure other former Chargers will tell you the same story about meeting their future wives at UAH.

Like many hockey programs around the world, UAH developed more than players. The school turned out some amazing guys who have gone on to have amazing careers. And even though their work may not involve hockey, it’s still part of their lives. Some players remained after they graduated, to help behind the bench; guys like Howie McEachern, Kelly Krawchuk and Lance West. Dino Ferrante helped out while attending medical school. Jean-Marc Plante (“Frenchy”) returned to UAH following stints with a number of minor league hockey teams. He joined the athletic staff and helped coach youth hockey until he passed away suddenly in 2001 at the age of 31. Nearly all of his teammates returned to Huntsville to pay their respects. The family and the school teamed up to offer a memorial scholarship in his name and stage a yearly golf tournament fundraiser.

The UAH Chargers will enter their 25th season this fall, uncertain of what the future holds. But when you walk into the Von Braun Civic Center on a Friday or Saturday night and hear Ronnie van Zant’s voice say, “Turn it up,” followed by that famous guitar lick, you can bet on one thing: the Chargers will hit the ice, ready to play, and ready to win.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

T-Birds hire Bechanic as Assistant Coach

It was the big announcement teased all day on the Seattle Thunderbirds' Facebook page, through Twitter updates and online at the KING 5 Hockey page. And judging by the number of hits my article received, many T-Birds fans tuned in to "NorthWest Sports Tonight with Paul Silvi" on NWCN at 9:30 last night.

Some fans who contacted me yesterday afternoon had some idea just what was going to come down. But others were taken completely by surprise, when the opening shot showed Paul sitting with T-Birds Head Coach Rob Sumner and former Everett Silvertips Head Coach John Bechanic. John, you may recall, was fired at the end of the season, and replaced by former NHL player and coach Craig Hartsburg.

John Bechanic is joining the T-Birds immediately as Assistant Coach.

If you missed the interview, just click here to watch it.
To see the behind-the-scenes video shot by the T-Birds, click here.

I've also posted the official Seattle Thunderbirds news release below. I'm interested to hear what you think about the hiring.

Official Seattle Thunderbirds News Release:
KENT -- Seattle Thunderbirds general manager Russ Farwell this evening announced the team has hired John Becanic as an assistant coach. The announcement was made on Northwest Sports Tonight with Paul Silvi on NWCN.

Becanic was the head coach of the Everett Silvertips for the last two seasons. He compiled a 69-66-7-5 record in his two years behind the Tips bench. Becanic was the associate head coach with Everett for four years prior to being promoted to head coach position.

"It is not often that you get to add a coach of Becanic's caliber," said T-Birds head coach Rob Sumner. "From the many games we have gone up against each other in the last few years, I have always appreciated his abilities behind the bench. I know his experience will benefit our team."

"I am looking forward to working with the entire T-Birds coaching staff and front office," said Becanic. "This is a great opportunity to work with one of the top organizations in the Western Hockey League."

The T-Birds coaching staff now consists of head coach Rob Sumner, assistant coaches Turner Stevenson, Jim McTaggart and Becanic and goalie coach Paul Fricker. Becanic, who lives in Snohomish, will join the T-Birds immediately.

The T-Birds open the 2009-10 season on Friday, September 18, against the Silvertips at 7:35 p.m. at ShoWare Center. They're also set to face off in a charity game at 7:05pm on Saturday, September 12 at ShoWare. Money raised at that game will benefit the Kent School District.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mitch Love interview with Aeros' Joe O'Donnell (Video)

(Photo Courtesy the Fabulous Fred Trask. Find his work over at The Third Intermission)

I was browsing the Houston Aeros' website because I couldn't remember their Twitter ID and I was too lazy to scrolling through my Twitter followers to follow it... and I found a season wrap-up interview with our favorite pugilistic wordsmith, Mitch Love.

Because my mom always told me to share what I like, here's the link for you fellow Mitch Love fans. I hate that he won't be in an Aeros uniform when the new season starts, but I'm looking forward to learning more about his new team, the Peoria Rivermen.

Here's the link to the interview Mitch did with Aeros' radio guy Joe O'Donnell:

'Tips Ass't Coach LeRose Joins Houston Aeros Coaching Staff

Everett Silvertips' Assistant Coach Mark LeRose is headed to the AHL. He's been hired as an Assistant Coach for the Houston Aeros, the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliate. The Aeros are no strangers to Silvertips fans, who followed Houston's amazing season through the words of former 'Tip captain Mitch Love, who, along with former Everett teammate John Lammers, helped the Aeros advance to the third round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

LeRose spent two years in Everett, and goes to Houston with an extensive resume. He served as Assistant Coach for the Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) in 2004-2005, and in the same capacity for the University of Wisconsin Badgers in 2003-2004. Many of the players he helped recruit for Wisconsin played on the Badgers' 2006 Championship team. As a coaching assistant for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999-2000, LeRose was responsible for helping players develop on-ice skills, and also for breaking down pre-game videos. Before joining the Silvertips' staff in 2007, he worked for the company Next Testing, where he helped develop the testing protocol for the NHL Combine.

In a news release, Everett Silvertips' Vice President & General Manager Doug Soetaert said, "We really appreciate everything Mark has done for our young players over the last two years. We wish him the best of success in his new position."

Our friends at "The Third Intermission" have confirmed through Head Coach Kevin Constantine that LeRose was joining his staff. The two last worked together when Constantine coached the Penguins in 1999-2000.

T-Birds, 'Tips release tentative schedules for 2009-2010 season

Photo Courtesy: Seattle Thunderbirds

The Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds have released their tentative schedules for the 2009-2010 Season. The T-Birds will host their home opener on Friday, September 18th against the 'Tips. The very next night, they’ll welcome their other I-5 rival, the Portland Winter Hawks, to ShoWare Center. The Silvertips’ home opener is set to take place Saturday, September 26th at Comcast Arena against the Vancouver Giants.

According to a news release, the Silvertips are set to play 36 home games. 25 of those games take place on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The T-Birds are set to play 31 games on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. They’re also scheduled to play 8 of their first 12 games at ShoWare Center.

For those of you who like watching the ‘Tips and T-Birds face off against each other, mark your calendars.

Everett is scheduled to host Seattle at Comcast Arena:
Friday, October 10
Saturday, November 11
Saturday, December 12
Sunday, January 17
Friday, March 12.

The T-Birds are set to host the Silvertips at ShoWare Center:
Friday, September 18
Saturday, November 21
Saturday, December 5
Friday, January 8
Saturday, February 20.

For the Silvertips’ complete tentative schedule, click here.
For the T-Birds’ complete tentative schedule, click here.
The schedules will be finalized on August 10.

I'll update any changes that take place.