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South Side Shuffles Blueline

In DEL, SSR, Transactions, VAN on September 11, 2019 at 11:00 am

The South Side Renegades looked pretty good coming out of the rookie draft, having nabbed winger Brady Tkachuk, goaltender Jordan Binnington, and a quartet of young defensemen in Erik Cernak, Caleb Jones, Maxime Lajoie, and Christian Jaros.

But the rebuilding Renegades weren’t quite content with the makeup of their blueline, and made a pair of trades to change that. First, South Side acquired stay-at-home righty Chris Tanev from the Vancouver Night Train for third and fourth round rookie picks in 2020. Then, they flipped promising offensive rearguard Erik Gustafsson to the Delta Sturgeon for veteran Alec Martinez and Delta’s first rounder in 2020.

For Vancouver, it meant clearing roster space for recent draftee Filip Hronek. For Delta, what it hopes will be a PP superweapon to help get to the promised land. For South Side, it means a facelift of a blueline that, after Seth Jones, has long been in flux and either a step closer to a playoff berth or trade assets at the deadline if they’re out of the race.

Press Release: Delta Training Camp Opens

In DEL on September 10, 2019 at 8:42 pm

9/9/2019 – Central California

With the 2019 Rookie Draft completed, the Delta Sturgeon opened training camp. As happens each year, there are some youngsters attempting to force their way onto the squad, veterans trying to hold their spots, and some younger players trying to push their way into more prominent roles.

With Management spending a lot of draft picks for veteran players, this year’s crop of Rookies is much more likely to be either on the Reserve squad, or getting limited time. That’s a fine place to be as an organization, even though you would like to have impact right away, sometimes it takes some seasons.

The key battles will likely occur on the blueline, where the acquisition of Zdeno Chara, the development of Ryan Pulock and Esa Lindell will make things mighty uncomfortable for veterans like Dan Hamhuis, Alex Goligoski and Alec Martinez.

Said GM Martin, “These are all quality players, and can definitely help clubs…but it’s going to be a numbers game heading into camp. Someone needs to step up and take that #7 spot on the club, and then beyond that we have to see how many spots we will allot for younger players vs. veterans. None of these guys are happy about the situation, but the fact of the matter is that they need to prove they can still be contributors on this club. We have 12 defensemen on the roster, and there’s just no way we’ll be able to go into the season with that many folks on the blue line.”

When asked about Edjsell and Zykov….
“Well, Victor’s agent has informed us that he has signed a contract to play overseas this year. It’s unclear at the moment if we will be retaining his rights, but clearly neither of us has been happy with his progression in North American Hockey. Valentin is a great young man, but at this point, we’re just not seeing enough from him and his agent has asked for a trade. We’re trying to accommodate that request, but it’s slow going. Regardless, we’re willing to give him a chance to earn a spot at camp. “

When asked about his play thus far, Dylan Strome said “Look…it’s tough playing in this league. I was not happy to be relegated to the bench so much last season. I am out to prove this year that I can be a productive and valuable team member. They have made it clear that icetime needs to be earned, and I will do everything I can to prove to the Coaching Staff and Management that I can be a player they can count on. I am looking forward to the upcoming season, and I am confident that my game will make major strides this season.”

GM Martin was asked if he expected any deals leading up to the final roster cuts prior to the start of the season. “Well, I don’t know if expect is the right word to use. I am always looking to upgrade the team, and certainly we will be active if it makes sense. But if there isn’t a deal to be made that makes sense, I am totally comfortable with the players we have.”

– 30 –

Gump Cup Final: Salem Leads 3-2

In DEL, SAL on May 3, 2019 at 10:03 am

The Salem Sabercats now lead the Delta Sturgeon three games to two in their best-of-seven championship series.

Riding high back on home ice, the Sturgeon won both games 3 and 4 7-3. In game 3, after Salem had pulled to within a goal early in the third, Delta pulled away and made it a rout. Nikita Kucherov finished with a pair of goals, including the game-winner, and three assists. Game 4 saw the Sturgeon once again mount a stellar third, breaking a 3-3 tie in style largely on the backs of Eric Staal and Aaron Ekblad.

With the series now tied 2-2, the Sturgeon and Sabercats skated to a tight scoreless tie after one period in game 5. But early in the second, Logan Couture sprung Anze Kopitar on a breakaway to make it 1-0. Kopitar would later tally again on an odd-man rush, faking a pass on a two-on-one and rifling the 2-0 goal past John Gibson.

But it wasn’t over. Late in the third, with Delta pressing hard, Nathan MacKinnon fed the puck back to Ekblad at the point, and the defender blasted one past Freddy Andersen. Then, a mere 21 seconds later, MacKinnon bumped Salem’s Brandon Montour off the puck in the corner and fed Kucherov in front for the tying goal.

In extra time, Salem killed a minor penalty and, feeding off the momentum, started pushing for the winner. The pressure yielded yet another odd-man rush, as Travis Konecny and Patrick Marleau skated in on a lone defenseman. Konecny faked pass and shot, beating Gibson and giving his team a huge 3-2 OT win to take the lead in the series. Salem now has the chance to close out the series at home in game 6.

Gump Cup Final: Salem Takes 2-0 Series Lead

In DEL, SAL on April 27, 2019 at 11:15 am

The Salem Sabercats, defending Gump Cup champs, have taken a 2-0 series lead in their best-of-seven against challenger Delta, but they needed extra time in both games to do it. In game 1, a costly Nathan MacKinnon tripping penalty in overtime led to the 4-3 game-winner by Salem’s Anze Kopitar. In game 2, with the score tied 2-2 thanks to an early third period Zach Hyman marker, Sabercat winger Paul Byron bumped Zdeno Chara off the puck in the corner, skated in uncontested on John Gibson, and beat the Sturgeon starter for the deciding goal.

The series now shifts to Delta for games 3, 4, and possibly 5 if home ice advantage tilts things the Sturgeon’s way.

Playoff Preview: Gump Cup Final

In DEL, SAL on April 25, 2019 at 11:32 am

The Series: Delta Sturgeon vs. Salem Sabercats

Here it is! The championship matchup many were waiting for — Delta vs. Salem, the upstart vs. the dynasty. Two teams with depth to burn and few weaknesses to exploit.

The Delta Sturgeon’s return to the postseason after 10 years of futility has been one for the history books, as the team trounced Farmington and Boston on the way to a berth in the final. The Salem Sabercats, meanwhile, have defied all expectations of a decline and found themselves within four wins of the promised land yet again. It hardly seems like the Gump Cup without Salem in the mix.

Led by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan MacKinnon, and Nikita Kucherov, the Sturgeon are an incredibly dangerous team. Nugent-Hopkins has 14 points in 10 games, plus 3 game-winning goals, while Kucherov leads all postseason skaters in shots by a healthy margin. Delta’s powerplay made short work of its earlier opponents, ticking along at a fine 33.3%.

But if Delta has questions, Salem has answers. It’s penalty kill is tops in the league at a lofty 96.6% and its PP is no slouch either at 17.4%. Most of all, its edge may come in goal — Marc-Andre Fleury has excellent numbers (2.58 and .926 in 8 starts) plus the ‘Cats have a secret weapon up its sleeve in Frederik Anderson, who’s gone 3-0 with a .938 save percentage in 3 starts. If Fleury stumbles even slightly, Andersen should get the call. Delta’s John Gibson has been good in the first two rounds, but he’ll need to be near-perfect now.

Season Series: Tied 1-1

These two teams haven’t played each other in half a season. When they did, they each eked out one-goal wins on the road. If that doesn’t demonstrate how hard it is to predict the outcome of this series, nothing will. It should be a doozy.

2019 Conference Final Previews

In BOS, DEL, PAR, SAL, Special Features on April 14, 2019 at 11:19 am

After one round of play and no upsets, the matchups are set for the conference finals en route to the Gump Cup! The first and second seed in the Plante and Sawchuk conferences will face off against each other. Here’s what those series might hold.

Plante Conference Final
The series: (1) Salem (56-20-6) vs. (2) Parry Sound (52-18-12)

Season scoring leaders:
Salem: Kopitar (82, 46-60-106), Couture (78, 42-34-76), Gourde (82, 17-56-73), Backstrom (81, 21-43-64), Pietrangelo (78, 11-53-64)
Parry Sound: Pastrnak (82, 38-65-103), McDavid (82, 42-54-96), Dadonov (74, 35-51-86), Kuznetsov (79, 30-44-74), Rakell (77, 30-34-64)

Season goalie stats:
Salem: Fleury (44gp, 28-12-3, 2.68, .917, 4so), Andersen (38gp, 28-8-2, 2.09, .925, 4so)
Parry Sound: Rinne (57gp, 39-12-6, 2.38, .928, 6so)

Players to watch:
Salem: With 9 points in 6 games, Alex Pietrangelo leads Salem in points — and is a two-way force who’ll be a big part in trying to contain Parry Sound’s big guns.
Parry Sound: McDavid’s 6 goals and 7 assists in 5 game is huge, but it’s the way he stepped it up on the road — scoring the overtime winner in game 4, then setting up the double-OT series clincher in game 5 — that make him a force to be reckoned with.

This is it. The grudge match we were waiting for. After getting stomped in 5 games by eventual champs Salem last year, the Parry Sound Orrsmen are looking for revenge. They’ve ousted El Dorado in 5 and look to be in true playoff form. Unfortunately for them, Salem is a more than worthy opponent, as shown by Salem’s dominance in the regular season series between these two clubs. The Sabercats got some big performances from Pietrangelo and Anze Kopitar in their first-round victory over Baltimore, although, and all due respect to El Dorado, they haven’t faced anything as potent as the Orrsmen’s top line of McDavid with Evgeni Dadonov and David Pastrnak.

On the other hand, Parry Sound’s offense hasn’t been met with goaltending as strong as Salem’s either. After having its way with Tuukka Rask, the Orrsmen will be in tough against the tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury (4 games, .924) and Frederik Andersen (2 games, .939). It’s a huge question which goalie Salem will run with, but it’s clear that team defense is a big factor, too. Salem didn’t give up a single powerplay goal to Baltimore in its opening series. If any team can slow down Parry Sound’s big line, it’s probably this one.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Salem won 4-1-1, and went undefeated on Parry Sound’s home ice.

Sawchuk Conference Final
The series: (1) Delta (51-23-8) vs. (2) Boston (48-27-7)

Season scoring leaders:
Delta: Kucherov (80, 41-62-103), MacKinnon (74, 42-44-86), Hall (76, 33-47-80), Nugent-Hopkins (62, 29-33-62), Staal (82, 31-28-59)
Boston: Zucker (82, 40-39-79), Couturier (82, 27-47-74), Boeser (62, 35-33-68), Pavelski (82, 15-43-58), Giordano (82, 11-34-45)

Season goalie stats:
Delta: Gibson (43gp, 28-10-4, 2.82, .918, 1so), Raanta (39gp, 22-13-4, 3.12, .907, 2so)
Boston: Murray (23gp, 14-7-2, 3.31, .891, 0so), Miller (25gp, 16-6-3, 2.50, .919, 4so)

Players to watch:
Delta: Nikita Kucherov has 4 goals in 6 games but the scoring winger is also second in playoff shots so far — he has another offensive gear.
Boston: Matt Murray’s playoff save percentage is solid (.915) and a lot better than his regular season stats. But Boston management only trusted him to play 4 of 7 games in round 1. Will he be able to take the job and run with it?

A year ago, the Boston Banshees thought they might be heading for a retool, but here they are in the final four — facing off against the league’s newest powerhouse in Delta. The Farmington Fighting Saints gave the Sturgeon some trouble before falling in 6 — but Boston really got taken to the wire by the Ice Harbor Storm, who pushed their opening series to a seventh game, which Boston narrowly won despite carrying the play.

A huge factor once again for Boston will be goaltending. As mentioned, Murray was pretty good in 4 starts, but Boston management still went with vet Ryan Miller in 3. Teams have been sunk by playing the goalie platoon game in postseasons past, and Delta’s lofty 41.2% PP percentage puts even more pressure on the guy between the pipes. The Sturgeon are built for a run. The Banshees can’t afford any mistakes.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Boston won 3-2-1. Interestingly, neither team managed a home win against the other — all the wins came on the road, making this one especially tough to call.

Sawchuk Playoff Preview: Delta vs. Farmington

In DEL, FFS, Special Features on April 3, 2019 at 9:04 am

The series: (1) Delta (51-23-8) vs. (4) Farmington (40-33-9)

Scoring leaders:
Delta: Kucherov (80, 41-62-103), MacKinnon (74, 42-44-86), Hall (76, 33-47-80), Nugent-Hopkins (62, 29-33-62), Staal (82, 31-28-59)
Farmington: Trocheck (82, 45-49-94), Rantanen (81, 30-54-84), Carlson (82, 25-46-71), Miller (82, 28-38-66), Fiala (80, 25-20-45)

Goalies:
Delta: Gibson (43gp, 28-10-4, 2.82, .918, 1so), Raanta (39gp, 22-13-4, 3.12, .907, 2so)
Farmington: Lehner (34gp, 18-14-2, 3.62, .888, 2so), Crawford (28gp, 11-4-2, 2.65, .930, 2so)

Players to watch:
Delta: Delta’s “Big Three” get all the attention, but Jonathan Toews’ first playoffs with the Sturgeon should give him a chance to shine in ways not always captured on the scoresheet.
Farmington: John Carlson gives Farmington one thing Delta doesn’t have — an explosive weapon on the back end. He led all defensemen in scoring during the regular season.

No one was surprised by the emergence of the Delta Sturgeon. After a decade of playoff absence, Delta loaded up in the offseason and were poised to compete with the top teams in the league — and that they did, coming in third overall and scoring 349 goals, tops in the league. They’re as deep as any team in the GWMHL, and while most of their core is untested in the postseason, veterans Toews and Zdeno Chara are hoping to shepherd this young squad to the finals.

On paper, it’s a mismatch. After Vincent Trocheck and Mikko Rantanen, the Fighting Saints are thin up front, and even worse, word is that top goalie Corey Crawford may only be healthy enough to play a handful of postseason games. That puts the weight on Robin Lehner, whose regular season numbers were, to put it kindly, less than scintillating.

But you can’t count the Saints out. First of all, Gump history is littered with first-round upsets. And while Delta has the shinier toys, Farmington has a couple of big guns on the back end in Carlson and Dustin Byfuglien that could make up for its middling forward ranks. They’ve also seen a lot more playoff action in the last few years. The Sturgeon would be wise to not take this first-round matchup lightly.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Delta won the season series 4-1-1, although Farmington stole a 3-2 win on the road in the second quarter — and a road win is all you need to tilt an entire series.

Salem, Parry Sound, Delta Lead the Charge at the Halfway Mark

In BAL, DEL, News, SAL on December 20, 2018 at 10:01 am

The 2018-19 season is half over, and with 40 games in the bag, defending champ Salem sits atop the league standings with a scintillating 29-8-3 record. On their heels: Parry Sound (26-8-6) and Delta (27-10-3). Salem’s success comes at the expense of its division rivals, all of whom are in the bottom 10.

In the Plante Conference
After a disappoint start, the Baltimore Crab scrabbled back into the race on the back of a stellar 9-1-0 home record in Q2. Salem, Parry Sound, and El Dorado may all be out of reach at this point, but the Crab seem poised for a postseason berth barring a major bounceback from a sub-.500 team.

In the Sawchuck Conference
Delta has the conference all but sewn up, but there the second half should see a lot of jockeying further down the standings, as Boston and Ice Harbor continue to play well, and Farmington (who faded in Q2, going 7-11-2), Adirondack, and West Virginia are all in striking distance for the fourth or even third seed. Hamilton bounced back from a weak Q1 with 11 wins in Q2 so they could be in the mix as well.

The Leaders
Salem’s Anze Kopitar, acquired just before the season, leads all scorers with 59 points (and 24 goals, two behind leader Patrik Laine).

Parry Sound’s Pekka Rinne boasts the league’s best numbers among starting goaltenders (2.08 and .940) but has played just 20 games so far. His GP totals will pick up in the back half of the season as his Orrsmen look to take some momentum into the playoffs.

Farmington’s John Carlson has a healthy lead for points by defensemen, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with 39 in 40.

Vancouver’s Mat Barzal still leads all freshmen with 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists), just 3 ahead of unheralded Salem rookie Yanni Gourde (8 goals, 29 assists).

[Press Release] Delta Looks Ahead to 2018-19

In DEL on October 21, 2018 at 11:32 am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Delta Sturgeon have finalized their playing roster for the 2018-2019 Gump Worsley Memorial Hockey League season. As always, there were some surprises when the final cuts came in.

Final cuts for the Sturgeon included Tyler Motte, Jordan Schmaltz, Kris Versteeg, and in a suprise Scott Hartnell.

“I really thought I added enough grit to this club that I would be playing another season for the Sturgeon. Unfortunately, Management seems to have moved in a different direction here. I am going to keep working out and hope that I get picked up by another team during the season”.

Scott Hartnell was a pivotal member of the club’s 3rd line the last two seasons, but it seems like the club is trying to get faster on the wings, and there simply was no room for both him and Kyle Okposo as the ‘slower more physical players’. On top of that, the offseason acquisition of superb 2-way forward Jonathan Toews was bound to make one of the veterans expendable. One surprise is that the Sturgeon will enter the season with 10 defensemen on the active roster. That will require some juggling by the coaching staff to get everyone some ice time.

Speaking with Coach Martin after the pre-season camp on lineups.

“We have a lot of interesting combinations we can deploy thanks to the acquisition of Chara and Toews. Chara can play against the top offensive players in the league, and we’ll start off with him and Ekblad in a shutdown role. However, his defensive ability will allow us to pair him with anyone to create a solid defensive pair. As they gelled well defensively, it’s looking like Jake Muzzin and Colton Parayko will be a good puck moving pair who are also solid defensively. Everyone else, including long time Sturgeon Alex Goligoski will be fighting for icetime and they need to prove that they should be in the lineup.

For forwards, the addition of Jonathan Toews really adds some options, and we tried some combos in practice. We’ll start off with Toews on a line with Evander Kane and Nikita Kucherov. Thier blended skills should work well together. While this means that Nathan Mackinnon will not be playing with Kucherov at even strength, they still will be on the top PP unit. Hopefully this works out as we stretch more scoring through the lineup versus being top heavy on the first two lines. Derek Stepan, will anchor the 4th line. He’s not happy about the ice time reduction he is going to see, but the fact of the matter is that he has been outplayed in camp, and the trio of Toews, Staal, Mackinnon deserve that ice time. Hopefully he is up for the challenge of providing some pop with limited ice time and helping kill penalties.”

Projected lines for the Sturgeon

Forwards
======================
E.Kane – Toews – Kucherov
T. Hall – Staal – Okposo
Nugent-Hopkins – Mackinnon – Gallagher
Jarnkrok – Stepan – Rick Nash

Defense
=======================
Chara   – Ekblad
Muzzin  – Parayko
Hamhuis – Martinez

Read the rest of this entry »

Season Preview: Sawchuk West

In DEL, HAM, IHS, PWH, Special Features, VAN on October 11, 2018 at 8:48 am

In our fourth and final season preview, it’s time to look at the Sawchuk West, where big changes are afoot.

Check out the other previews:
Plante East
Plante West
Sawchuk East


Delta Sturgeon
Last Season’s Finish: 38-34-10 (6th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Jonathan Toews, D Jake Muzzin, D Zdeno Chara
Notable Departures: F Scott Hartnell, F Kris Versteeg, F J.T. Compher, D Cody Ceci

Wow! Sensing that its core — Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Taylor Hall, and veteran Eric Staal — was on the cusp of becoming something truly special, the Sturgeon threw caution to the wind, dealing draft picks for the second straight season and acquiring the pieces it needed most: a faceoff guy (Toews), a puck-mover (Muzzin), and a stay-at-home beast (Chara). Mission accomplished. With a deep, if a bit workmanlike, blueline and the makings of a truly great goalie tandem in John Gibson and Antti Raanta, Delta has found itself in long-forgotten territory: contending not just for a playoff berth but for a championship. This is a roster with very few weaknesses. After missing the playoffs last year, the Sturgeon is about to become the league’s most improved team.

Verdict: Contender


Hamilton Ti-Cats
Last Season’s Finish: 42-35-5 (4th in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Mark Jankowski, F Blake Coleman, F Alex Iafallo
Notable Departures: D Mark Streit, D Toby Enstrom

The sign on the front door says ‘Under New Management’ and that may be the biggest difference for a team that’s contended for years without ever quite having enough for a championship. The team has stagnated badly over recent seasons as stars like Daniel Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg have aged. With those two nearing retirement, the Ti-Cats have two big factors keeping them in the playoff mix: a trio of star scorers in Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, and Jakub Voracek, and one of the finest and most dangerous top-fours in the league in P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Tyson Barrie, and T.J. Brodie. They weren’t able to add much besides bottom-sixers over the offseason, though, and if one of Corey Schneider or Keith Kinkaid can’t come through big, they may struggle. But a playoff spot is a safe bet for now.

Verdict: Playoffs


Ice Harbor Storm
Last Season’s Finish: 30-47-5 (8th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Alex DeBrincat, D Nick Leddy
Notable Departures: none

One of last season’s biggest mysteries was why the Storm were underperforming. On paper, they should have been vying for a playoff spot. In practice, they limped along to a terrible record, scored the second fewest goals in the league, and came up with another high draft pick. So is this the year they turn it all around? Once again, on paper, it’s hard to find glaring weaknesses in Ice Harbor’s lineup. And with just-drafted Alex DeBrincat, they addressed one of them: the need for a scorer who’d be hungry for goals. The Storm have, bar none, some of the best forward depth in the league, especially up the middle, where Kyle Turris and Mikael Backlund will be competing just for 4th line minutes. Blake Wheeler, Aleksander Barkov, Kris Letang, Rasmus Ristolainen… This team should be scoring plenty to support a still-solid Henrik Lundqvist. But that’s just on paper.

Verdict: Playoffs


Portland Winterhawks
Last Season’s Finish: 22-50-10 (9th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Pierre-Luc Dubois, F Jesper Bratt, F Riley Nash, F Mattias Janmark, G Michal Neuvirth
Notable Departures: F Luke Glendening, F Mark Letestu, F Dale Weise, D Radko Gudas, D Brandon Montour

The very definition of a bubble team, the Winterhawks followed up a surprisingly good ’16-’17 campaign with a disappointing one in ’17-’18 but have yet to throw in the towel and call rebuild. Last year’s acquisition of Phil Kessel, combined with the emergence of Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin as top left-wingers, is a good base to build around. They parlayed the second overall pick into Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has a good shot at some top six time this season, and also drafted Jesper Bratt who will also be seeing GWMHL action. Still, the Hawks aren’t an especially deep team — David Krejci will be asked to do an awful lot as their top centre, and beyond Matt Niskanen the defense is a huge question mark, especially after the team flipped Brandon Montour for more forward help just prior to the season. They could sneak in, but will most likely find themselves out of the playoffs.

Verdict: Bubble


Vancouver Night Train
Last Season’s Finish: 42-30-10 (2nd in conference); lost in 2nd round
Notable Arrivals: F Denis Malgin, D Matt Grzelcyk, G David Rittich
Notable Departures: F Jonathan Toews, F Tomas Plekanec, F Johan Larsson, F Zack Kassian, D Alex Edler, D Kevan Miller, G Pekka Rinne

After making the postseason and taking the Boston Banshees to seven games in the Sawchuk Final, the Night Train made the surprising decision to commit to a rebuild. But did they go far enough? Vancouver brass has seemed reluctant to part ways with Mark Stone, Anders Lee, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, they’ll probably win a few. But with big gains coming from division rivals Delta and Ice Harbor, the Night Train chose to part ways with Rinne, Toews, Plekanec, and Edler. It’s a huge burden to put on the shoulders of young players Mathew BarzalThomas Chabot, and Shea Theodore, and the majority of the Train’s 2018 draftees are a season or three away. The loss of glue guys Shea Weber (to injury) and Toews will make them a lot easier to play against than in years past.

Verdict: Rebuilding