The Memorial Cup Champion Halifax Mooseheads
Last time I added anything to this blog, the Moose were getting ready to open their tournament against Portland. That night, Halifax came from 3-1 down to defeat the Winterhawks, 7-4. They would defeat the WHL champs one more time. That would've been eight days later in the Memorial Cup final.
Let's get one thing out of the way right off the top... you always want to see a team that you follow win it all, first and foremost. Therefore, I would be lying if I said I was rooting for the Moose all the way. However, no matter what your thoughts towards Dominique Ducharme's crew were, you would be kidding yourself if you didn't consider them the most worthy club to send out west. There comes a time when you simply have to step back and really consider who the biggest winners are. And these guys were winners in every sense. They knew how to overcome adversity (see Game 4 of the Q finals and the previously mentioned round robin game against Portland), they backed each other up in every way and although they probably could've gone very far on pure skill alone, they seldom forgot to augment that with a solid work ethic and professional attitude. Anyone who follows junior hockey closely realizes this is as much a game of mistakes in that those mistakes come more frequently at this level. The so-called "little things" that the pros do don't usually get done at this level. However, this Mooseheads club was as adept at executing those finer aspects of the game (I'm talking positioning and angling, legally taking the stick out of opponent's hands, knowing when to press and when to back off, etc) as any team I've seen in 18 years of watching junior hockey. They were as close to a professional level team as we may ever see in the Q.
Congrats to the champs... and Robert Irving, take note of that rebuilding plan. Although you disagreed with the sentiment this past season, patience really is a virtue.
2-0 Sox over Detroit, by the way. If it wasn't for Daniel Nava, Jose Iglesias would have to be the most underrated player on the team by a mile.
The Search for a New Head Coach in Moncton
As has been reported, the hunt for a new coach has resulted in the narrowing down to about 325 candidates. I can appreciate the Wildcats exercising patience on this front (again, I hope they carry this theme with them for the next few seasons), but I hope that even at the end of the search, the candidate that's determined to be the best fit (which is to say, not necessarily the biggest name) is the guy who gets the gig.
I'm not going to say who specifically I would like to see behind the bench as I am not familiar enough with all the candidates... in fact, it's not common knowledge at this point who all the candidates are, anyway. Everything is speculation. I do know this much however... I come from the school of thought that there are coaches with certain types of backgrounds that I think would make a more fitting candidate.
For one, I'm not overly struck on the notion of bringing in any longtime university coaches. Junior hockey is a totally different animal than the university level. Coaching young men in the 16-20 age bracket involves a lot more teaching in addition to implementing of systems. University hockey tends to be more of the latter than the former. This is not to say that a coach from the collegiate ranks would be a poor choice. What it does mean however is that a coach coming from that level may have to do some adjusting to their methodology. And frankly, the team they will be taking over in Moncton next year may have a tough enough time grasping the fundamentals as it is.
I'm also not convinced a veteran of the pro coaching ranks would be ideal. The Cats truly lucked out with the rehiring of Danny Flynn back in 2007. Their previous coach (John Torchetti... who had pro coaching experience) had gone back to the NHL after a one year stint following the departure of the previous Cats bench boss (Ted Nolan... who had pro experience... and left to go back to the NHL). Danny Flynn was a rarity in that he had pro experience... and he wanted to come back home! Unless that's the mentality of a guy like Rick Bowness, for example (assuming he'd even want to interview for the job), I can't see most former pros wanting to do anything but use the position to attempt to go pro again. In the world of hockey - much like any business - the majority of people want to move onward and upward and some point... especially if they have been at a higher level before. There are a lot more Ted Nolans out there than Brian Kilreas. That's not a bad thing. But it's also not an entirely good thing as this Wildcats club starts from scratch all over again.
The prime candidate for my money - if one exists - is a guy like Dominique Ducharme. Previous winning history at a lower level. Looking to advance but not looking at the job as a quick fix before getting a pro opportunity. And someone fresh and new in the ranks of the QMJHL coaching fraternity (i.e. someone eager to make a good first impression). That said - although there's been little mentioned of him among other candidates - a guy like Bruce Richardson intrigues me.
Richardson had been a scrappy, two way center in the Q with Sherbrooke and Chicoutimi in the late 90's. My most lasting impression of him in junior was probably the time he ran JF Damphousse during a playoff series in 1998 (so yeah... he did what he thought he had to do). After trolling around the minors and the British Hockey League for a number of years, Richardson settled down in Chateauguay, coaching the Quebec Midget AAA Grenadiers and taking them to within a game of the league finals. He has expressed an interest in advancing in his coaching career and if his will to win is anything near the level it was as a player, he - or someone of his ilk - would make a very intriguing candidate.
At any rate, I hope whoever lands here is willing to stick around for a few years. Also, bring patience. Lots of patience. Because you see, the Cats had to get a little creative at...
The QMJHL Entry Draft
So does this mean the team will be obliged to offer a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner before home games? Because I'm pretty sure Valmond Bourque won't like that one. There could be as many as eight US born players in the Wildcats' lineup this coming season as seven of the eight selected by the team have reportedly agreed to report to camp. Plus there's Connor Garland, looking to translate his early success of last season into a super cute sophomore season.
I understand why they did it. When you're in a rebuild this deep, you use all the tools in the toolbox to get yourself out of the hole as quickly as possible. However, the fact that these kids are so willing to make their way north of the border can't help but make me ask something; are some (or most) of these kids so willing to come here because they aren't being courted by NCAA programs? Because that's kind of a big thing among New England born hockey players. As in, it's almost the only thing. As in, the two biggest American players to wear a Wildcats sweater basically made the move here by reported way of academic ineligibility or a fine combination of that plus insufficient playing time.
I'm not saying these kids are not talented. In fact, the next face of the Wildcats franchise might very well cross the border sometime during the second week of August (and not just because they're named "Will Smith"). I'm just saying that I'm taking the wait and see approach on this one... and will most definitely be taking an even keener interest in training camp this summer.
Tied at 2 in Detroit... dammit.
The Commandos Keep Climbing
Last season, the Commandos did something they hadn't done since their first season in Dieppe - they finished above .500. Plus, with only two 20 year olds on the squad last year, they are turning over very little of their roster. Oh, and that whole dealing their top player last year for future considerations? The best part of that little exercise for Dieppe is coming to fruition. In exchange for Danny Chiasson, the Summerside Western Capitals (give or take a few drafts picks going each way) have sent to the Commandos former Shawinigan Cataractes defenseman Patrick Volpe, as well as impact overage forwards Colton Parsons and Chris Caissy.
Now the bad news... Caissy is coming to Greater Moncton... he's just going a little further west than the Arthur J Leblanc Center. The veteran forward will suit up for the Moncton Wildcats next season. The Wildcats have very little in the way of a veteran presence on their projected roster. Nor do they have many resources to acquire one through more conventional methods. Therefore, they have decided to go the highly unorthodox route of "20 year old major junior rookie". Although the management in Dieppe has been very diplomatic when approaching this situation (after all, getting to the next level is the name of the game when it comes to this age group), I don't particularly think the Cats will be at the very top of the Commandos' Christmas Card list this year.
That's not to say there isn't good news. Last year I told anyone who would listen (and I appreciate those five people very much) that this Commandos team was young, but quite exciting to watch. Very much worth the (surprisingly low) price of admission most nights. Well, this team is now more of a seasoned veteran team. And still exciting. And very hungry to get back on the ice.
The feeling I got following last weekend's MHL draft in New Glasgow was that this franchise can't wait to get back on the ice again. The vibe - not to mention the direction this team is headed in - is extremely positive. And already, some knowledgeable followers of the league are pegging the Commandos as a force to be reckoned with in 2013-14. If I was doing more "advertising" for this team than what may have been acceptable on here last season, it's because they were what I considered to be "surprisingly successful". This year I'll be trying to drum up interest because there should be very few surprises.
3-2 Sox... heading to the bottom of the 8th. And I'm about to get a dose of the entity known as "The Uhehara Experience"
The NHL Finals
Let's end this meandering entry with a comment or two on the NHL finals. Simply put, it's series like this that the NHL needs to keep everyone - diehards as well as casual fans - glued to the action. Obviously, you can't control who will make it to this point in the season. However, this series is giving the world's most powerful hockey force all the advertising and positive PR it could ever hope for. After what took place in the fall and early winter, this series was just what the league - and just what the fans - needed.
Personally, I want the Blackhawks to win. As a follower of the Canadiens, it should be no surprise that the Bruins take second place in this decision for me. However, that has surprisingly little to do with my decision (I actually preferred seeing the B's win in 2011 over a super overhyped Vancouver club). Simply put, in all my years of following the Moncton Wildcats, I cannot think of another player more deserving of this ultimate success than one Corey Crawford.
Simply put, Corey is a nice guy. He's quiet. He's humble. He doesn't go out and steal the show in dramatic fashion. He just goes to work, game in and game out. And he's had to fight very long and very hard to get to the place in the game he's at right now. There are very few players in the history of the Wildcats franchise that would make for a better example of all the qualities you'd hope to see in one of your alumni.
Two things immediately stand out with me when I think of current Chicago netminder during his time in Moncton. One is not actually my own story and can be found here - a submission by my old friend Les Stoodley (who if you are wondering, is probably the biggest reason why this blog exists... it was Les that rekindled a strong interest in all thing sports journalism related with me. He is sorely missed in these parts).
The other is from April 26, 2004. That was the night the Wildcats defeated the Rimouski Oceanic 2-1 in Game five of their league semi-final series at Le Colisee de Rimouski. That win vaulted the Cats into the QMJHL finals for the very first time. Afterwards, a group of us waited outside the visiting team's exit at the rink, cheering on any member of the team - on or off ice - that would make an appearance (ironically, one of the bigger cheers that night was in fact reserved for the aforementioned Mr. Stoodley). The exit door was propped open and therefore a clear view of the hallway leading to the tiny visitors dressing room at Le Colisee was offered. Down that hall, several players could be seen celebrating with each other, hanging out with friends and girlfriends, holding excited conversations on cell phones and what not. Essentially, a group of teenage boys celebrating after winning one of the biggest games of their lives.
Then there was Corey Crawford. And while all of that circus was playing out around him, Crawford did one thing no one else could be seen doing. He was quietly hugging his mother in that hallway. On a team that certainly embraced the misfit moniker at times that season, their starting goaltender certainly was an island of calm - particularly in that moment.
For me, as much as he played a crucial role in the history of the Wildcats' organization, as successful as he was here and in the years beyond and as much as he helped bring a winning attitude to a franchise that badly needed it at times, it's the two stories above that come to mind when I think "vintage Corey Crawford". He's just a flat out good guy. And he's worked for it. And if he ends the series in favor of the Blackhawks with a clutch glove save, I wouldn't be disappointed.
Neither will his mom...she knows she'll at least get a hug out of it.
4-3 Tigers final... Jhonny Peralta with a two run walkoff homer. Where's that refreshing beverage?