Sunday, February 5, 2017

What a weekend that was in the WHL . . . hits, a line brawl and, yes, a Heidi moment!


Sheesh! A guy takes a night off from blogging — it was Super Bowl Eve and an annual non-football social engagement beckoned — and everything was going on in the WHL.
There were two crumpling checks in a game in Saskatoon. The WHL had its very own Heidi moment in Portland. There was a line brawl in Lethbridge where they were honouring the 1996-97 Hurricanes. And a whole lot more . . . 
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First, let’s take a look at the two hits that occurred in the third period of the Blades’ 4-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels.
The first occurred at 9:19 when F Cam Hausinger of the Rebels drilled Saskatoon D Jake Kustra into the end boards, which had absolutely no give to them, something that only exacerbated the situation.


CAMERON HAUSINGER
JAKE KUSTRA
Kustra, who missed time earlier this season with a concussion, ended up on a stretcher and was taken to hospital. After taking some stitches to his head, he was released. When I inquired Sunday as to whether Kustra was OK, or as OK as might be expected, a Blades spokesperson responded: “Yes.” Obviously, he has a concussion.
Watching the video, as Kustra gets the puck and turns, he looks up. In that split second, he looks like a deer in the headlights as he realizes Hausinger’s intent, which is to put him into the cheap seats. Kustra stumbles and is almost horizontal when contact is made with his head. Because of the stumble, it would have been all but impossible for Hausinger not to make contact with the head.
Hausinger, who was acquired from the Blades on Nov. 25, was given a checking-to-the-head major and game misconduct. I would suggest that a charging major and game misconduct would have been more indicative of what happened.
Still, Hausinger’s body language as he skates hard and directly at Kustra leaves no doubt as to his intent. When I see hits like these, I always wonder why another player has the desire to hit an opponent as hard as is humanly possible. Is it because for his entire hockey career he has been coached to finish his check? Is this what finishing a check looks like? If it is, is this what we want in the game? If the No. 1 objective is to gain possession of the puck, what is wrong with angle/pin, man, puck?


After the game, Brent Sutter, Red Deer’s owner, general manager and head coach, pointed a finger at Kustra.
“You feel terrible if the kid got hurt,” Sutter told Greg Meachem of reddeerrebels.com, “but he put himself in that position to allow himself to be injured. He had control of the puck, went to pass it out and fell forward. Hausinger glided towards him, he never took a stride.
“Those are the types of calls that are frustrating from a coach’s standpoint. A major penalty shouldn’t be called because someone was hurt on the play.”
Sutter referenced a play from the Rebels’ 6-3 victory over the Raiders in Prince Albert on Friday. That one involved Rebels D Carson Sass.
“Sass got knocked out of the game with a check that was much, much worse that than and it was a two-minute minor penalty,” Sutter said. “I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt, but how do you blame a player for finishing a check when the other player stumbles.”
Sass was in Red Deer’s lineup on Saturday in Saskatoon.
While I am all for free speech, especially in these times when blandness rules, I’m thinking that had Sutter had more time to distance himself from what obviously was an emotional situation — there was plenty of conversation between the two benches and some vitriol directed towards the on-ice officials — he may have chosen fewer and different words to express himself.


That brings us to Red Deer D Colton Bobyk’s thundering hit on Saskatoon F Braylon Shmyr, who had a goal and an assist in the Blades victory. This hit came with 30 seconds left in the third period of a 4-2 game.


Shmyr, who leads the Blades in goals (27) and assists (22), has the puck as he drives to his right and then cuts towards the centre line. As he looks down to find the puck, Bobyk steps up and drills him. It truly is a Scott Stevens-Eric Lindros type of moment.
Is it a clean check? Does Bobyk’s right elbow come up and make contact with Shmyr’s chin/jaw area? If it is a clean hit, are these the kinds of hits we want in the game, hits that leave an unsuspecting player in a heap on the ice? How much onus is on the puck carrier as he cuts through the neutral zone? This is a debate that will rage on and on.
Bobyk wasn’t penalized for the hit and, as I understand it, the Blades aren’t likely to ask for supplemental discipline.
You have to understand, too, that the Blades just might be a little sensitive to damaging hits.
On Friday, with 1:33 left in a 5-2 loss to the visiting Regina Pats, Saskatoon D Mark Rubinchik was hit from behind by F Jeff de Wit.


On Saturday, the WHL handed de Wit one of those TBD suspensions. Fortunately, Rubinchik wasn’t injured — in fact, he had two assists in Saturday’s loss — so I wouldn’t expect de Wit to get a lengthy suspension. But, sooner or later, the WHL is going to have stop handing out charitable suspensions because hits like these really are creeping back into the game.
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Perhaps lost in all of this is the impact these injuries could have on the Blades drive to make the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2013.
It’s safe to assume that D Jake Kustra and F Braylon Shmyr both are concussed, with no timetable set for their returns.
F Lukus MacKenzie was injured during a second-period fight with Red Deer F Evan Polei. MacKenzie won’t be back anytime soon.
F Cam Hebig, a 69-point man last season, has yet to play this season.
F Mason McCarty, who has 23 points, including 14 goals, in 26 games, has been out for 11 weeks.
F Markson Bechtold, who was acquired from the Spokane Chiefs in December, was injured in his third game with the Blades and hasn’t played since.
Hebig, McCarty and Bechtold all are listed as being out week-to-week. There are only six weeks left in the WHL’s regular season.
The Blades (21-26-6) have 19 games left in their regular season. They are in possession of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, but are just one point ahead of the Calgary Hitmen.
The Blades next are scheduled to play Friday when they entertain the Moose Jaw Warriors with the Brandon Wheat Kings coming to town on Saturday.
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Darren Steinke, who now lives in Saskatoon after covering the Tigers for the Medicine Hat News for a few winters, was at the game between the Red Deer Rebels and Blades. Later, he blogged about it. His piece is right here.
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That brings us to the WHL’s very own Heidi moment.
On Nov 17, 1968, the host Oakland Raiders were up against the New York Jets in an NFL game. The Raiders struck for a pair of touchdowns in the last minute of the fourth quarter to escape with a 43-32 victory.
However, NBC-TV ended its coverage on the East Coast, choosing to show the movie Heidi, instead. That meant a large portion of its audience didn’t see the comeback.
On Saturday, the WHL game that had the Seattle Thunderbirds in Portland to play the Winterhawks was shown on TV in both markets.
One viewer emailed with this explanation:
“The game goes into OT and two minutes into OT the announcer says ‘we have to be off the air at 10 p.m., and the telecast just drops off . . . goes to the scheduled programming at 10 p.m., leaving fans like myself to rush to the computer to listen to the end of the game.
“Yes . . . this really did happen in the year 2017 . . . LOL!”
Jess Rubenstein, the prospect editor for Blueshirt Bulletin, was working the game and posted this on Facebook:
“Congrats to the CW 32 for having hockey's version of the Heidi Bowl tonight. They left the broadcast of the Winterhawks game at 10 PM while the GAME WAS STILL GOING ON.
“Don't they have engineers watching their broadcasts to avoid screw ups like this? One of the most exciting games the Winterhawks played this season and their viewers missed out on the ending.
“They owe their viewers a major apology.”
Oh well, at least the TV station didn’t go to Heidi. Instead, it was time for the news.
BTW, the Winterhawks won the game when F Alex Overhardt scored the only goal of a seven-round shootout. Portland has won seven in a row; Seattle had a seven-game winning streak end.
In fairness to the TV station involved, the game was 15 minutes late in starting, due to a glass problem. There also was a promotion involving mascots that ran long. In the end, the game didn’t end until 10:14 p.m.
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In Lethbridge, the Hurricanes spent the weekend honouring the team that won the WHL championship in the spring of 1997.
The Hurricanes put a cap on the celebration with a 3-0 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday. F Tyler Wong gave the home boys a 1-0 lead with his 38th goal at 10:02 of the first period. The Hurricanes, with G Stuart Skinner making 31 stops, nursed that until wrapping it up with two empty-net goals.
The Warriors took 52 of the game’s 92 penalty minutes, with 74 of those coming in the last 19 seconds of the third period. Referees Clayton Hall and Derek Zalaski doled out 10 fighting majors at 19:41, then added two more when Moose Jaw D Jett Wood and Lethbridge F Jordy Bellerive scrapped at the final buzzer. 
Even if there aren’t any suspensions out of this mess, you can bet there will be some ch-ch-ching going into the WHL’s coffers.
Lost in all the commotion is that the Hurricanes have points in 13 straight games (11-0-2).
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A FEW OTHER WEEKEND NOTES: 

G Carter Hart put up his WHL-leading seventh shutout in a 1-0 victory over the visiting Vancouver Giants.
TURNER OTTENBREIT
That is a single-season high for Hart, who now has 17 career shutouts. Jesse Geleynse of the Everett Herald pointed out that Silvertips F Connor Dewar missed the first game of his WHL career. He had played in 132 straight regular-season and playoff games. . . . In Portland, D Turner Ottenbreit of the Seattle Thunderbirds played in his 200th regular-season game. Ottenbreit was selected by the Saskatoon Blades with the second-last player selected in the 2012 bantam draft; in fact, he was the last 1997-born player taken in that draft. . . . The Winterhawks took D Blake Heinrich, a 1995-born player, with the draft’s final selection. He played 132 games with Portland over two seasons. . . . The host Winterhawks beat the Thunderbirds, 4-3 in a shootout. That was Portland’s fourth game in five nights — the Winterhawks won them all. . . . Portland F Alex Overhardt, who scored the shootout winner on Saturday, was taken five selections before Ottenbreit. Overhardt was playing in his 184th game. . . .   
The Kelowna Rockets beat the host Prince George Cougars, 5-1, giving them a weekend sweep. The Rockets had won, 3-2, on Friday. The Rockets are healthy for about the first time this season. They got two goals from each of Nick Merkley and Reid Gardiner, as they proved that they definitely are a contender for at least a B.C. Division title. . . . Gardiner has 12 points, including six goals, in nine games since joining the Rockets from the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. . . . In Regina, the Pats ran their winning streak to eight games with a 7-1 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings. The visitors may have known they were in for a tough night when F Colton Kehler took an unsportsmanlike conduct minor before the game started. Yes, the Pats scored on the PP. . . .
The Kamloops Blazers escaped from Spokane with a 3-2 victory over the Chiefs. Kamloops G Connor
CONNOR INGRAM
Ingram made 30 saves as the Blazers went 3-2-2 in a stretch of seven straight away from home. Spokane F Kailer Yamamoto wasn’t able to score on a penalty shot at 15:39 of the third period with his guys down a goal. . . . At game’s end, Kamloops head coach Don Hay had 710 regular-season victories, with Spokane’s Don Nachbaur at 686. . . . F Tyler Steenbergen of the Swift Current Broncos continued his terrific season with two goals in a 4-1 victory over the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s got 39 goals, one off the league lead held by Moose Jaw F Jayden Halbgewachs. . . . 
In Kennewick, Wash., F Matt Bradley had two goals and two assists as the Medicine Hat Tigers snuck past the Tri-City Americans, 6-5. Bradley’s 25th goal gave the visitors a 6-4 lead at 19:29 of the third period. That goal turned into the winner when Tri-City F Vladislav Lukin got No. 24 at 19:56. . . . On their way home from the Spokane, the Tigers had to stop in Cranbrook and wait for the Crowsnest Pass to open after it, like a lot of B.C. and southern Alberta, was hit by a huge snowfall. The Tigers are hoping to leave Cranbrook today (Monday) around noon. . . . The host Victoria Royals beat the Calgary Hitmen, 4-1, as G Griffen Outhouse stopped 30 shots in winning for a WHL-leading 29th time. Outhouse is 47-19-7 in 75 appearances over two seasons. The Royals have won four in a row.
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Back in the day, when I was in my second go-round at the Brandon Sun and covering the Wheat Kings, one of the players I most enjoyed watching and chatting with was Kelly Glowa, who once enjoyed a 10-point game. . . . These days, he’s a husband with three beautiful daughters. He’s 53 and still playing hockey, now with the Boissevain Border Kings of the Tigers Hills Hockey League. . . . Perry Bergson of the Brandon Sun has more on Glowa right here.
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Duncan Krier was living a life of virtual anonymity as an account manager with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks until his name surfaced at the Super Bowl in Houston. When Atlanta Falcons centre Alex Mack, who is a great offensive lineman, was asked to name the greatest high school football player he has seen, he came up with “Duncan Krier.” . . . Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times then came up with this piece right here. Yes, it’s well worth your time.
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Meanwhile, in Victoria, the WHL team there changed head coaches for the FOURTH time this season. Oh wait! That was in 1990.
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SUNDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

No Games Scheduled.
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MONDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

No Games Scheduled.
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TUESDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

Vancouver at Prince George, 7 p.m.
Seattle at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.

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