Sunday, May 11, 2014

WHL final down to one game . . . Dead-puck era coming to end in WHL?

This deer, along with seven of his/her friends, strolled by our deck. When
asked, they said they were on their way to Portland for Game 7.
You don’t have to be a huge hockey fan to understand that analytics are beginning to play a role in the way management looks at the game.
It’s not that long ago when it dawned on those inside the game that faceoffs are of the utmost important, that you are so much better off to win the draw and have possession of the puck, rather than to lose and be chasing it.
These days, things quickly are progressing well past that point.
Analytics now looks at things like dump-ins vs. zone entry, shooting percentage, shot quality, even-strength save percentages, adjusted plus-minus rating and on and on it goes.
Of course, there is one other number that figures into all of this, and that is attendance.
It could be that when Ron Toigo, the majority owner of the Vancouver Giants, told Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province that he wants his team to score 300 goals, he is really drawing a line linking his team’s offence to tickets sold.
According to Ewen, Toigo wants the Giants to change their game. Rather than owning a team whose game plan comprises the big bang theory -- dump and chase, bang and crash -- Toigo wants, as Ewen wrote, a team that will “play a puck-possession, skill game.”
Of course, that can be easier said than done, but Toigo told Ewen that he feels that kind of game matches the talent on the Giants’ roster.
“We want to score 300 goals,” Toigo told Ewen.
You should know that the Giants, in this dead-puck era, have scored fewer than 300 goals in each of the last five seasons. Two seasons ago, they didn’t even score 200 goals.
In 2008-09, the Giants scored 319 goals, with centre Casey Pierro-Zabotel winning the scoring title, with 115 points, and Evander Kane scoring 48 goals. At the gate, the Giants averaged 8,470 fans per game as they went 57-10-2-3 to finish atop the Western Conference. (They lost the conference final to the Kelowna Rockets in six games.)
This season, the Giants scored 234 goals, went 32-29-11 and wound up seventh in the conference. They were swept from a first-round series by the Portland Winterhawks. In the regular season, Vancouver’s average attendance was 6,266, down from 7,205 the previous season and down more than 2,000 per game from 2008-09.
It is no wonder, then, that Toigo says the Giants’ new head coach, whomever that may be, will be a puck-possession guy.
Chances are good, I think, that you will see more teams headed in this direction as more and more owners/operators come to the realization that they are in the entertainment business and that more needs to be done to provide an entertaining product for the fans. With regular-season attendance having fallen in 19 of 22 WHL cities, some people are starting to realize that more offence just might mean more fannies in the seats.
After all, would you rather watch a game like the won in Edmonton on Sunday evening, in which the Portland Winterhawks beat the Oil Kings 6-5 in overtime, or the one in Chicago later that night in which the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild, 2-1?
Yes, this could be the beginning of the end for the dead-puck era, at least in the WHL.

1. For a look at some analytics from Game 6 of the WHL’s championship final, check out Megan’s Twitter account (@butyoucarlotta).

2. There had been speculation that Glen Hanlon could be the next head coach of the Vancouver Giants. However, Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province indicated early Saturday that Hanlon won’t be the man. . . . Hanlon, a former Giants assistant coach under head coach Don Hay, is the head coach of the Belarusian national team, the host team at the IIHF world championship that is ongoing in Minsk. . . . Ewen asked Hanlon about the Giants’ job and received this email: “It would be a great job for me and my family, but I’m under contract for next year.” . . . Ewen also reported: “There have been reports Hanlon, the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender, is taking over the Swiss men’s team.”

3. Congrats to old friend Bruce Enns, who was inducted into the Basketball BC Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Langley Entertainment Centre. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Enns, then the head coach with the U of Winnipeg Wesmen men’s team, taught an eager, young sports reporter about the finer aspects of the game.

4. Did Pittsburgh Penguins F Sidney Crosby look like a frustrated hockey player last night, or what? Does he get fined for throwing a spear at New York Rangers F Brian Boyle? Does Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist get fined for squirting water in Crosby’s face? Do these guys adjourn to a sandbox when the game is over?

5. How big has the NFL draft become? Consider this from Richard Deitsch of “Viewers could not get enough of it. The combined audience on Thursday night for ESPN and NFL Network's first round coverage was 12.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched first round ever. Taken separately, ESPN averaged 9,943,000 viewers during the first round, up 60 percent over 2013. The NFL Network's first-round coverage drew 2.4 million viewers, a 60 percent increase over last year's record (1.5 million viewers). As for the entire draft, ESPN's 15-plus hours on ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 4,121,000 viewers, a 36 percent gain over 2013 (3,035,000), while The NFL Network viewership was up 33 percent over last year. draft coverage of all rounds across ESPN, ESPN2, and NFLN averaged 5.4M viewers, the most-watched draft in history.” . . . Deitsch’s complete media column, which always is an excellent read, is right here.

6. The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are meeting in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 34th time. And one only needs to mention ‘Too Many Men’ for hockey fans to know . . . right here is Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated with a great read.
In Val-d’Or, two goals from Pierre-Maxime Poudrier helped the Foreurs to a 6-3 victory over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar on Sunday. . . . The series is 3-3 with the championship to be decided Tuesday night in Baie-Comeau.
The OHL’s Ottawa 67’s announced late Sunday night that they are in the market for a head coach. Chris Byrne, who had been their general manager and head coach, has stepped aside as head coach in order to focus on the GM’s duties. . . . The 67’s didn’t qualify for the playoffs this season.
Jamie Fiesel, the general manager and head coach of the Melville Millionaires, has signed an extension with the SJHL team that will take him through the 2015-16 season. Fiesel was named the SJHL’s coach of the year this season after the Millionaires finished 34-16-2-4.

THE FOURTH ROUND (best-of-seven; all times local):
WHL final, for the Ed Chynoweth Cup
(All games televised live by Shaw)
(All games televised on delayed basis by Root Sports)
PORTLAND (2, West) vs. Edmonton (1, East)
(Series tied, 3-3)
Season series: Portland, 0-0-1; Edmonton, 1-0-0.
Saturday: Edmonton 2 at Portland 5 (10,947)
Sunday: Edmonton 1 at Portland 3 (10,645)
Tuesday: Portland 2 at Edmonton 3 (6,799)
Wednesday: Portland 0 at Edmonton 2 (7,859)
Friday: Edmonton 3 at Portland 2 (10,947)
Sunday: Portland 6 at Edmonton 5 (OT) (11,902)
Monday: Edmonton at Portland, 7 p.m. (Veterans Memorial Coliseum)

In Edmonton,  F Keegan Iverson scored at 7:23 of OT as the Portland Winterhawks beat the Oil Kings 6-5 to force a seventh game in the WHL’s championship final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. . . . Game 7 is scheduled for tonight in Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum. . . . The teams shared a charter flight back to Portland following last night’s game. . . . Each of these teams has played on back-to-back nights in these playoffs. But neither team has played back-to-back in different cities. . . . The Winterhawks overcame 3-0 and 5-2 deficits to force extra time. . . . Iverson won it with his fourth goal of the playoffs, tipping in a shot by F Dominic Turgeon. . . . Portland D Derrick Pouliot, who had a goal and two assists, forced OT with his fifth goal at 11:14 of the third period. . . . The Oil Kings led 3-0 after one period, thanks to two goals from F Henrik Samuelsson, who has eight goals, six of them in the final, and one from F Edgars Kulda. . . . The Winterhawks cut into that lead in the second period, getting goals from D Mathew Dumba, on the PP, and D Anton Cederholm. . . . Edmonton got both those goals back before the period ended, with F Curtis Lazar scoring at 13:57 and Kulda getting his 10th at 14:46. . . . Dumba got the Portland comeback started with his eighth goal, via the PP, at 2:57 of the third. . . . D Keoni Texeira added his second goal at 6:09, setting the stage for Pouliot’s tying goal. . . . If you’re counting, Portland got its first five goals from defencemen. . . . Pouliot has 32 points, tying him for the playoff scoring lead with teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand leads in goals (15); Pouliot is tops in assists (27). . . . A defenceman has never won a WHL playoff scoring title. . . . F Mitch Moroz and D Dysin Mayo each had two assists for Edmonton. . . . Portland G Corbin Boes surrendered three goals on 10 shots and left after the first period. Brendan Burke came on to stop 28 of 30 shots. . . . Edmonton G Tristan Jarry stopped 35 shots. . . . Portland was 2-for-5 on the PP; Edmonton was 1-for-4. . . . The last time the WHL’s championship series went seven games was two seasons ago. The Oil Kings beat the visiting Winter hawks 4-1 in Game 7. . . .
Here’s Mike Johnston, Portland’s GM/head coach, to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal: “We’ve had some sickness in this series and (Boes) was a little under the weather. . . . I thought his fatigue was showing in the first period with some of his rebounds. (It was) one of those gut things. You make a decision. Sometimes it works out. We did it in the Kelowna series, too.”
So who does Johnston start tonight? Perhaps a flu bug will make the decision for him.
A game story from Brian Swane of the Edmonton Sun is right here.
The game story filed by Chris O’Leary of the Edmonton Journal is right here.

From WHL Facts (@WHLFacts): “May 11 - Since 1999, 14 WHL Championships have been decided between May 7th and the 14th... But none on May 11th.” . . . That was tweeted before Sunday's game, so you now can make it 15.
From Edmonton Sun sports columnist Terry Jones (@sunterryjones): “In WHL final history no visiting team has managed to win Game 7. Oil Kings in Portland on Monday night. Winner to Memorial Cup.”
From Portland freelancer Scott Sepich (@SSepich): “Portland's never hosted a Game 7 of the WHL final. Also hasn't won WHL title in Portland since 1982.”

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