Stanley Cup Final
We are now finally into the month of June, which is hands-down my favorite month of the year. Not only is the Stanley Cup, the hardest trophy to win in all of professional sports, awarded to the team that prevailed over the two-month grind that is required to win it, but June also marks my birthday month. Yes, I said birthday month, because this is not just a one-day celebration, I am taking advantage of the whole month.
Having two of the league's most storied franchises competing for the silver chalice is a great thing for our game. Take it from me -- after growing up in Toronto, attending Michigan State right near Detroit, and playing professionally for New York and Boston, I can tell you personally that hockey in Original Six cities is not just a fad, it is a way of life. Having huge fan bases from two of America's greatest sports cities only adds to the excitement of this evenly matched series.
While the triple-overtime marathon of Game 1 offered a glimpse of how evenly matched these two teams are, both play very differing styles of hockey. Boston plays a stingy, defense-first style of hockey, while Chicago runs a deep, uptempo attack. Here are a few key aspects I will be focused on while watching this series unfold...
Both Crawford and Rask have been outstanding throughout the Playoffs. It is only fitting that it took a shot with two deflections in triple-overtime to beat either of those goalies in Game 1. Pressure is at an all-time high at this point of the postseason, but don't expect either of these goaltenders to falter.
A franchise-changing defenseman, Zdeno Chara is the best of this era. Don't believe me? Give the Ottawa Senators a call and ask them. Chara impacts the game in so many different ways, whether it is using his canon from the point, setting a screen in front on the PP, making the opposition pay in the corners, or using his enormous stick (a.k.a, The Fishing Pole) to disrupt attacking puck carriers. Big Z shut down Nash and Crosby, so look for him to do the same with Chicago's big guns.
They're mobile and they're skilled. The reason why the Blackhawks are able to play so fast is because their defense is quick to get back and retrieve pucks. Instead of waiting around dusting it off, that first outlet pass is right on the forward's tape which starts their transition attack. It's so much fun to watch; in fact it reminds me of my time in Vancouver. Our Canucks defense wasn't allowed to make blind rims around the boards, essentially just giving the forwards their problems. Our coaching staffed forced our defense to hustle back, not coast, to a loose puck and turn and make that first pass on the tape of our forwards who also had to bust their butts to get back to provide an option thus igniting our transition attack. It was clear then why the West Coast Express had so much success and always attacked with speed. Yes I scored 33 goals that year, but it wasn't like I hadn't scored before. I had previously scored 28 goals a few times and even rang up 24 goals in an injury-shortened 55-game schedule in Boston.
Why is that even relevant? Well the following season I signed in Columbus and our system was built around "hard around." If our defense even thought about making a crisp outlet pass they never saw the ice again. Our forwards spent much of the game with our faces up against the glass just fighting to get the puck out of our zone and we never created any speed or had puck position coming through the neutral zone. I scored only 14 goals playing on the 3rd line, which is a good year for a forward playing 3rd line minutes but it clearly wasn't good enough (I took my talents to Lugano Switzerland the following year LOL!). We had trouble scoring goals like all teams do when you force your defense to just rim the pucks in your own zone.This will be a good chess match to watch because the Bruins game is predicated on their aggressive forecheck.
Calder Memorial Trophy
Given the approximately 7 billion people in the world, the odds of becoming one of 700 players to play hockey at its highest level are not in your favour. Stepping in as a rookie is not an easy feat, and making an impact your freshman year is even tougher. These three young players, Jonathan Huberdeau, Brandon Saad, and Brendan Gallagher, all have bright futures ahead of them. Only one will win the Rookie of the Year and that player is Huberdeau. His combo of size and skill makes his future in Florida very bright.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk have already won this award. This year's trophy will go to the best two-way player from the best regular season team: the Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews.
Antti Niemi provided the San Jose Sharks with elite goaltending this season. Their erratic swings of going on a long winning streak, then following up with a long losing streak, knocks him out of contention. Henrik Lundqvist had another strong season for the New York Rangers playing behind a pretty strong defense bolstered by a shot-blocking forward group. My pick to win the Vezina is Sergei Bobrovsky, who played behind a suspect Columbus Blue Jackets defense, and almost single-handedly dragged them into the postseason. I cannot stress this enough for Columbus: PAY THE MAN!
Update from Hockeywood
I remember growing up spending long hours playing baseball or street hockey outside or wrestling with my brother inside. We would always alternate between being Hulk Hogan, Junk Yard Dog, Macho Man, and my man Bret "The Hitman" Hart. It is always fun catching up with Bret to hear his wrestling stories that I always find so fascinating. Bret is a HUGE hockey fan! When not at events supporting The March of Dimes Canada, he has been keeping up to date with the games as he rehabs his knee from replacement surgery.
"The playoffs have really made up for the short season. In fact, it's been one of the best playoffs that I can remember," Bret offered. "I thought L.A. would've beaten Chicago. They looked strong last year and I thought they were just starting to hit their stride."
A close friend of Joe Thornton's, Bret was really hoping the San Jose Sharks advanced. I was curious if Bret thought any hockey players reminded him of any of the wrestlers he competed against. His response?
"Chara is the Andre The Giant of hockey." As for the Stanley Cup Final, "Rask and the Bs are so solid. Even though they lost their first game, I see Boston winning the Cup!" All of you hockey fans who are wrestling fanatics (let's be honest, we all secretly are), don't forget to follow The Hitman @BretHart on Twitter.
That's it for this week. And remember, Sleep is for the Offseason!