Canada’s Biggest Test Yet..the USA

Without question Team Canada will face their biggest challenge on New Year’s Eve when they put their undefeated record on the line against their number one rivals the United States.

Canada, who are gunning for their fifth straight Junior World Championships gold medal, have started out 3-0 but needs this win to win Pool A and thus advancing automatically to the semifinals on Saturday.

Heading towards the medal round, Canada’s head coach Pat Quinn still wasn’t sure who his number one goaltender would be for those crucial games.

“In this tournament, certainly neither one has been tested,” Quinn said. “In the opening game, I think young (Dustin) Tokarski didn’t concentrate all the way through it, so I don’t know what to expect at this point.”  “We’re going to have to go off our scouting reports and say ‘you’ve got this game’ and let’s see where it goes.” “That’s probably what we’ll do.”

More than likely a stellar goaltending performance against the States will clinch the number one goaltending position.

“I know me and Dustin would be lying if we said we didn’t want to play,” said Canada’s other goalie Chet Pickard who in round robin play, has faced a total of 23 shots and surrendered a power play goal. “We want to play every game of we can.”

So far Canada, who in the three games have outscored their opponents 28-2, have been led by their potent power play which is operating at a high rate of 60 per cent. Enjoying a spectacular tournament is the much talked about John Tavares who has five goals. 

Still, questions are being asked about how Canada will react when playing against an opponent such as the States who anything but an inferior opponent.

“Gear-wise, I think we’re probably on in third right now,” Canada defensceman Ryan Ellis said. “If we’re going to beat the Americans, we have to kick it into a couple more gears and we’re going to have to come out a lot hungrier and a lot stronger.”

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Canadiens Reach 3000 Wins

Last Monday night was anything but an ordinary late December victory for the Montreal Canadiens against the Florida Panthers.

Coming into Sunrise Florida for this game, Montreal who are 4-0-1 in their last five games were led by checking forward Maxim Lapierre who scored a hat trick as the Canadiens won 5-2 for what was their 3,000 regular season win in franchise history.

“For a defensive player, for a guy that brings energy to the game, it’s always fun to contribute in other ways,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said about Lapierre who came into play with only four goals in 31 games. “At the start of the year, he was getting rid of the puck a little too much and he didn’t want to make mistakes.” “Now he’s playing with more confidence.”

On hand for this- milestone- win were plenty of Montreal fans who continuously chanted “Go Habs Go and chanted specifically for Canadiens goalie Carey Price who made 26 saves for the win.

“I thought the crowd was great,” Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. “It was a great atmosphere, outstanding.” “If we can have crowds like that every weekend, I don’t who they’re cheering for.”

Lapierre who is in his third year with Montreal scored the last three goals for Montreal including his second which chased Panthers starting goalie Craig Anderson.

“We need a spark,” said DeBoer who put in Tomas Vokoun. “We need a save.” “It’s not a great goal to give up at that point in the game.” “I think Andy knows that.”

The third goal came when Lapierre took the puck away from Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe and shot it into an open net with only seconds left.

“I thought, I don’t think I’m going to have too many chances to do that in my career (score a hat trick),” Lapierre said. “I told myself, I have to catch him.” “I have to take it away from him, and it worked out.”

Also scoring for Montreal were forwards Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec who scored short handed for what was his first goal in 10 games.

“We expect a lot more from certain players,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “Tomas is one of them.”

Boston Bruins Lucky 8

Without question the Boston Bruins have been an inspiring story thus far in the NHL season that is quickly approaching the half way mark.

Coming into the season no one really knew what to expect from the Bruins who last year snuck into the playoffs before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round.

Heading into the season question marks hung over such players as forward Michael Ryder who was coming off a disappointing 14-goal season with the Canadiens. Questions were also being pointed at third year forward Phil Kessel who some believed wasn’t developing at a quick enough rate.

Both these players along with the goaltending tandem of Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas have risen to the challenge and beyond as they tied a record last Sunday when they beat the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 and thus extending their winning streak to eight games.

Boston, who last accomplished this feat back in 1992/93, got a stellar performance from goalie Manny Fernandez who came into the season with questions to answer after missing part of the season last year with a knee injury.

“He was outstanding,” Bruins coach Claude Julien commented about his goalies play. “He had a couple of saves late in the game that definitely made the difference.”

Scoring the winning goal late in the third was Ryder who ripped a pass from Dave Krejci into the net. With the win, Boston who started the season 2-2-3, jumped into a tie with the San Jose Sharks for first place overall.

Also scoring was Kessel who earlier strung together an impressive 18 game point streak that has him on pace for a breakout 50 goal season.

“They worked hard out there,” Kessel said of the Thrashers who lost all three games to Boston in the season series while being outscored 18-10.

Boston has now had Atlanta’s number dating back to December 29, 2007 as Boston has gone 5-0 since that time.

With an eight game winning streak, Boston knows that teams will now be gunning hard for them every chance they get.

“We have to understand that we’re no longer under the radar,” said veteran Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody.”

Alexei Cherepanov Doping Scandal!

Some shocking news came out of Russia on Monday afternoon regarding the tragedy of former New York Rangers 2008 highly touted prospect Alexei Cherepanov.

The Russian Federal Investigative Committee concluded after studying his urine and blood tests that this dynamic scorer who tragically died last October 13 while playing in the Russian Continental Hockey League had performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

“A row of gross violations were committed by the medical brigade helping Alexei Cherepanov,” said a statement from the Committee which also concluded that he had a heart condition called myocarditis. The Committee also believed strongly that with this condition, which limits blood supply to the heart, Cherepanov shouldn’t have been allowed to play professional hockey. Also according to the Committee, Cherepanov’s former Russian team might be facing some legal trouble for this tragedy.

“Doctors arrived on the scene a full 12 minutes after Cherepanov collapsed, and the battery on the defibrillator used to attempt to shock Cherepanov’s heart back to life was drained,” the Committee said.  

More details will be given out in the coming weeks.

Oilers on a Roll

The Edmonton Oilers recent surge couldn’t have come at a better time for their veteran coach Craig MacTavish.

After struggling for the first couple of months, rumors were circulating that MacTavish was on the verge of losing his job. Those rumors have suddenly stopped as the Oilers have slowly began to turn things around.

In extending their winning streak to three games after their 5-2 home win on Sunday night against the Nashville Predators, the Oilers got a huge performance from a couple of key players who have struggled this year.

 One of those was forward Erik Cole who scored a goal and added two assists in what has been a disappointing season for the former Carolina Hurricane.

Cole who came to Edmonton over the summer to add some secondary scoring now has 12 on the year but is feeling confident with the way things have been going for him lately.

“As long as the opportunities are there you are doing the right things to give yourself a chance to be successful,” he said. “Even when you are not scoring you can give a lift to the team.” “But it feels good to contribute the way I did tonight and finish a couple of those opportunities off.”

Playing his best game of the season for Edmonton was sophomore Sam Gagner who scored two points including his third goal of the season. Oilers brass hopes that this is a sign for good things to come from both Cole and Gagner.

MacTavish is not the least bit surprised at how well his team played on Sunday as they are now a game over .500 at home. (6-5-3).

“There were a lot of things about tonight that were the things we anticipated seeing at the beginning of the year,” MacTavish said. “There was lots of skill, lots of puck movement.” “It was one of our better efforts of the year.

Scoring for the Oilers who have now gained points in four straight games was Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano and Gagner.

“There have been times throughout the year that we have struggled with our consistency,” said Gagner in pin- pointing why the Oilers have underachieved this year.

“We’ll have a few good games and then falter in the next.” “We really wanted to get off to a good start tonight.” “Nashville has proven to be a tough test for us in the past.” “It’s a good feeling in here and we have to make sure we build off of it.”

Jonathan Quick Gets Another Shutout

After only eight career starts Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is quickly making a name for himself around the National Hockey League.

Selected third round of the 2005 draft, Quick was stellar last Saturday night as he shutout the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 in earning his second shutout in three games.

“I just stop the puck,” said the modest rookie who turned aside 30 shots. “It’s all I really have to do.”

Playing in Phoenix, Quick who was coming off a 3-0-shutout performance on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, got all the support he would need late in the first period when the Kings tallied for three goals in the final 5:54 before intermission.

“Tonight we were flat and there really is no excuse for it,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said about his club who have now lost three of their past four games.

“You need to be ready to go every night and tonight we didn’t have the jump that we needed.”

Leading the way for the Kings was their young superstar Alexander Frolov who scored twice to give him 11 in his past 18 games with singles going to Jarret Stoll and Raitis Ivanas.

“You always want to get the first goal in this game,” said Kings’ coach Terry Murray whose team has won twice in the past three games.

“We tried to come out hard, we got pucks on the net and at least gave ourselves the opportunity for the first goal.”

You can bet that Quick who has only started six of his eight NHL appearances will get plenty of opportunity in the future to grab that number one goaltending position in Los Angeles.

Paul Kariya under the Knife

As it turns out forward Paul Kariya will not be coming off the injury reserve list for quite some time.

 On Saturday night, a day after an MRI showed quite a bit of damage in Kariya’s hip, the team decided that this veteran who has 15 points in 11 games this season should in fact go under the knife and repair it once and for all.

What makes this so hard for Kariya to take is that the 34 year old was set to make a return in the very near future after rehabbing and believing to be close to playing after initially hurting the hip back on November 5 in Anaheim.

The MRI was taken after Kariya suffered a major setback on Friday when he left the ice only ten minutes into his workout.

“He knows the sooner he gets it done, the sooner he’s going to be able to play,” said St. Louis president John Davidson who signed the scoring forward a year ago to a three year contract worth 18 million.

“Whether that’s six weeks from now or toward the end of the season or toward the fall, it doesn’t matter.”

Kariya who was trying to bounce back from a sub- par campaign that saw him score only 65 points with the Blues was initially diagnosed with torn muscle fibers near the top of his thigh.

Even though the Blues are in the mist of a terrible slump that has seen them drop seven of their last eight games and are last in the Western Conference with a 13-18-3 record, Davidson does not want to panic by rushing Kariya back into action.

“Doing it right, rehabbing it properly and getting the right person to do it, that’s more important than saying, ‘Come on, let’s get back in a month,” said Davidson.

Even though Kariya isn’t exactly a young man anymore, Davidson insists that the forward who builds his game on speed will come back as good as new and as a result play his best hockey.

“He’ll be better, better than what he’s been,” Davidson said. “Everybody feels if he gets it repaired and does his rehab properly, he’ll be 110 per cent ready to go.”

Meanwhile Davidson knows that with all the injuries, there is nothing that his team can do but play hard and hope for the best until the troops come back.

“We deal with what we have to deal with,” said Davidson. “We have to play with purpose and intelligence, and we’ll compete, that’s what the mandate is.”