Archive for the ‘Hockey’ Category

The Sept. 7 airline crash in Russia that claimed the lives of 44 people, including a professional hockey team, staff, and coaches, rocked the entire hockey world from Europe to North America. The disaster also touched lives here in west Michigan. Three of the crash victims spent time playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate. Former Griffins Pavol Demitra, Karel Rachunek, and Stefan Liv were members of Team Lokomotiv of Russian’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). A fourth Lokomotiv player, Ruslan Salei, was a former Red Wing. Their head coach, Brad McCrimmon, was once a Detroit Red Wings assistant coach.

Travis Richards, who spent 10 seasons with the Griffins, knew players who were travelling on the plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Yaroslavl, Russia on its way to Minsk for the opening game of the hockey season. Now retired, Richards is a co-director for the Michigan Nationals youth hockey program out of Holland (Formerly the Holland Ice Dogs).
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“It was really sad for me,” said Richards. “I played with two of the players. Karl Rachunek was my defense partner for a season, and Pavol Demitra was also a teammate of mine. Both of them were young and still improving at the time, and spent a year with us before moving on to play in the NHL. They were both great kids and hard workers with successful hockey careers.”

A tribute during the regular season is planned for the former players who were killed in the crash, according to a spokesman for the Griffins. Other tributes are sprouting up across Michigan. To honor the memory of Team Lokomotiv, one west Michigan youth hockey program has dedicated their 2011-12 season to those who died. The Michigan Nationals 99 Pee Wee AA team played their first pre-season games in the Cleveland area the weekend after the crash, wearing helmet stickers that read “In Memory of KHL Team Lokomotiv.”

In addition to wearing the special helmet stickers, the team presented their head coach, former NHL, Muskegon Fury, and Russian League player Sergei Kharin with a flag commemorating those who perished. Kharin, who is from Russia, had friends on the plane.

“I knew pretty much all of the coaching staff,” said Kharin. “I knew Ruslan Salei, and a couple of other guys. I’ve played against some of them, too. A lot of them were a younger generation than me, but I still had a lot of good friends there. The whole hockey world is really in shock right now.”

Kharin was touched by his team’s decision to dedicate their season to Team Lokomotiv. “That’s awesome. I take that very personally that our boys and our parents give that kind of support. Our boys recognize that the hockey family is a pretty huge family. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Russia, the United States, or Canada.”

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HOLLAND, Mich. – Michigan is known for having some of the best youth hockey teams in the country, especially at the Tier I, or AAA level. Little Caesars, Honeybaked Ham, Belle Tire, Compuware, and a host of others are known nationwide for producing highly competitive teams. Unfortunately, west Michigan youth hockey players have had to travel to Detroit or other areas of the state in order to roster on one of these teams because the sunset side of the state lacked its own AAA hockey club. A new hockey program launched recently in Grand Rapids and Holland has changed all of that, however.

The Edge, which owns and operates the Edge Ice Arena in Holland, has purchased an additional facility in Byron Center, south of Grand Rapids. This rink, formerly known as Southside, will host teams at every level, from house and travel (Tier III) to Tier I and II. Both rinks will operate under the name Michigan Nationals. This means that Holland’s highly successful hockey club, the Ice Dogs, will be undergoing a name change for the upcoming 2011-2012 season. Their programs at every level will remain the same, however.

The co-directors for the two hockey programs are Travis Richards (Holland) and Mike Slobodnik (Grand Rapids). Richards was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1988 Early Entry Draft and played for University of Minnesota as a defenseman from 1989-1993. He was a member of the 1993 USA National Team and played three games in the NHL for the Dallas Stars. Richards played in both the IHL and in the AHL for the Red Wings affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins for several years. With the Griffins, he set a record for games played at 642, and was the first player to have his jersey retired in the history of that hockey club.

A native of Kentwood, Michigan, Slobodnik played Junior A hockey for the Cleveland Barons and four years for Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He is a former assistant coach at East Kentwood High School, coached various other travel clubs, and was the hockey director at Walker Ice Arena, located south of Grand Rapids. Between the two rinks the Edge now operates in Holland and Byron Center, western Michigan youth hockey players of all ages and skill levels will have the opportunity to play and develop under the supervision of an experienced group of staff and coaches.

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You recently were able to broker deals with both Pavelski and Marleau. Many thought that the organization would only be able to hold on to one or the other. How did you manage to make that work and how important are these deals moving forward?

“We have always tried to make San Jose a place that players want to come and play but at the same time, much of the credit goes to Patty and Pavs. I think they recognized what we have going here as a team and as an organization. History has shown that had these players gone to free agency, the marketplace would have been very friendly and kind to them. I can’t say enough how much we truly appreciate them making this statement. This is where they want to be, and they believe in where we’re going.

“Under a salary cap system, you can’t always keep everyone so with these players agreeing to deals that are not only fair to them but stay within the ‘team’ system we have built, it provides us a much better chance to keep the core of our team intact.”

How do you feel about the results of the recent draft?

“First off, I think we have the best scouting department in the game. These guys work their tails off year-round, watching players all over the world and it all comes down to those two days at the draft. We entered the draft this year with only four selections but by the end of it, we left with eight players. We think many of these kids have a real chance to be NHL players so we’re pretty happy with it. It’s always challenging when you’re drafting 18-year old kids and trying to project where they will be in three to four years but I have a lot of faith in the work our scouts do.”

What are you looking for out of this year’s training camp? Which players should fans be watching as future stars or big contributors?

“Although our season ended a little too early last season, we still feel that our team and players took a huge step forward last season. And none of that will matter if we don’t build on that success this season. As always, our training camp will be competitive from Day 1. There are a few roster spots available and those will be earned on merit, not just handed to anyone.

“We are also excited about some of the young players that are coming through our system and may be ready to make an impact at the NHL level. Last year, we saw a good example of that with players like Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, Jason Demers, Thomas Griess, Benn Ferriero, Frazer McLaren and John McCarthy helping the team at the NHL level. Those players are in the mix but you also have another layer of players fighting for those spots, like Alex Stalock, Cam MacIntyre, Tommy Wingels, Nick Petrecki, James Marcou, to name just a few. It should be an exciting camp.

“We also, for the first time in 10 seasons, will have a new goalie in camp in Antero Niittymaki. We think his style will fit well with our team and we like his history of playing big in big games, like playing for Finland at the 2006 Winter Olympics.”

What is your philosophy or set of goals for the team this season?

“Again, we want to build on the team’s successes from last season. We want to be able to go into any building play any style of hockey we need to in order to win games.”

How important is it for a team like the Sharks to open the season in Europe? How important is it for the NHL as a whole to schedule games in countries such as Sweden?

“Our trip to Sweden will be exciting for the organization. Hockey is the greatest game in the world and it truly is a global game. Many of the players in the NHL come from Europe so it’s important for the NHL to not only increase its global footprint but also to allow the great fans in Europe the opportunity to see their native players compete at the game’s highest level. We are really looking forward to it.”

Describe Sharks fans for me.

“Anyone who has ever been to a game at HP Pavilion knows that we have the greatest fans in the country. Within the past year, our building was selected as the having the “Ultimate Seat” of any sport franchise in the country by ESPN and NHL players voted HP Pavilion the toughest opponent building to play in. There can be no bigger tribute to our fans than that and it is because of the passion, noise and energy that they bring every single night. Our fans know and respect the game and our players. We’re very lucky to get to play for people who care so much about the franchise.”

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You recently were able to broker deals with both Pavelski and Marleau. Many thought that the organization would only be able to hold on to one or the other. How did you manage to make that work and how important are these deals moving forward?

“We have always tried to make San Jose a place that players want to come and play but at the same time, much of the credit goes to Patty and Pavs. I think they recognized what we have going here as a team and as an organization. History has shown that had these players gone to free agency, the marketplace would have been very friendly and kind to them. I can’t say enough how much we truly appreciate them making this statement. This is where they want to be, and they believe in where we’re going.

“Under a salary cap system, you can’t always keep everyone so with these players agreeing to deals that are not only fair to them but stay within the ‘team’ system we have built, it provides us a much better chance to keep the core of our team intact.”

How do you feel about the results of the recent draft?

“First off, I think we have the best scouting department in the game. These guys work their tails off year-round, watching players all over the world and it all comes down to those two days at the draft. We entered the draft this year with only four selections but by the end of it, we left with eight players. We think many of these kids have a real chance to be NHL players so we’re pretty happy with it. It’s always challenging when you’re drafting 18-year old kids and trying to project where they will be in three to four years but I have a lot of faith in the work our scouts do.”

What are you looking for out of this year’s training camp? Which players should fans be watching as future stars or big contributors?

“Although our season ended a little too early last season, we still feel that our team and players took a huge step forward last season. And none of that will matter if we don’t build on that success this season. As always, our training camp will be competitive from Day 1. There are a few roster spots available and those will be earned on merit, not just handed to anyone.

“We are also excited about some of the young players that are coming through our system and may be ready to make an impact at the NHL level. Last year, we saw a good example of that with players like Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, Jason Demers, Thomas Griess, Benn Ferriero, Frazer McLaren and John McCarthy helping the team at the NHL level. Those players are in the mix but you also have another layer of players fighting for those spots, like Alex Stalock, Cam MacIntyre, Tommy Wingels, Nick Petrecki, James Marcou, to name just a few. It should be an exciting camp.

“We also, for the first time in 10 seasons, will have a new goalie in camp in Antero Niittymaki. We think his style will fit well with our team and we like his history of playing big in big games, like playing for Finland at the 2006 Winter Olympics.”

What is your philosophy or set of goals for the team this season?

“Again, we want to build on the team’s successes from last season. We want to be able to go into any building play any style of hockey we need to in order to win games.”

How important is it for a team like the Sharks to open the season in Europe? How important is it for the NHL as a whole to schedule games in countries such as Sweden?

“Our trip to Sweden will be exciting for the organization. Hockey is the greatest game in the world and it truly is a global game. Many of the players in the NHL come from Europe so it’s important for the NHL to not only increase its global footprint but also to allow the great fans in Europe the opportunity to see their native players compete at the game’s highest level. We are really looking forward to it.”

Describe Sharks fans for me.

“Anyone who has ever been to a game at HP Pavilion knows that we have the greatest fans in the country. Within the past year, our building was selected as the having the “Ultimate Seat” of any sport franchise in the country by ESPN and NHL players voted HP Pavilion the toughest opponent building to play in. There can be no bigger tribute to our fans than that and it is because of the passion, noise and energy that they bring every single night. Our fans know and respect the game and our players. We’re very lucky to get to play for people who care so much about the franchise.”

>Social Media and hockey a good match

Posted: November 19, 2009 in Hockey

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Parental Guidance
By CEAN BURGESON
(For California Rubber magazine)

It’s hard to open a newspaper or turn on the television these days without reading or hearing about Twitter, Facebook, or some other form of social media. The phenomenon continues to grow in popularity and many or our youth hockey players – as well as their parents – are becoming part of this ever growing community.

In the last few years, email has allowed team managers, coaches, and parents to disseminate information about team events, fundraisers, tournaments, or schedule changes in a flash and keep everyone on the same page. The Internet took the whole concept of quick information exchange for youth hockey teams and leagues to the next level, allowing each team or club to have their own website complete with rosters, photos, and statistics for their youth players.

With the advent of web 2.0, even more is possible. There are blogs where people can report on their team’s latest activities and forums where scores can be posted. Forum members can also communicate with people from other teams or other leagues and share information. So Cal and Nor Cal can network with each other, and California hockey folks can meet East Coast or Midwest hockey parents.

I’ve seen some very productive forum topics on the hockey boards with some insightful questions and answers posted. Topics cover everything from coaching styles, advice about off-ice training and camps, as well as all of the latest (and sometimes very entertaining) gossip about local teams and leagues. It’s mostly in good fun and folks tend to stay respectful of each other. Once an interesting topic gets started, the comments begin to fly and you’ll find yourself being drawn to check on the forum every day to catch all of the latest postings. Who will be an A or a B team this year? What tournaments will teams attend? Which kids are playing where? All of this information eventually makes it to the forums.

Facebook is another fantastic social media tool for parents of youth hockey players. We’ve been able to keep up with our friends playing for teams back in Michigan, as well as friends at other clubs in California. On game days, we text each other with scores and share our success stories. We also share video files on web sites like You Tube. My son and I even have our own You Tube show called “Hecka Hockey.”

Social media has allowed the hockey community to become an even tighter knit group in California, and has proven helpful for both parents and coaches. I encourage all of you to explore the web and to see what’s out there. If you’re on a social networking site like Facebook already, see if there are any hockey related pages you can become a fan of like Rubber Magazine. You could even ask your association if you can start a page for your team. The more we can network with each other and share, the more we can help to grow the sport of hockey on the west coast.

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Parental Guidance
By Cean Burgeson
for California Rubber Magazine

As hockey parents with a son entering his sixth year of playing, I can safely say my wife and I have evolved from “greenhorns” into fairly educated hockey folk with experience in four hockey associations covering two different states. As such, there are opinions we hold now that are very different from when my son was in learn to play hockey, mini-mites, mites, and squirts. Now that those days are behind us, we have the benefit of time and experience. Each year we learn a few new things and change our perception of what hockey means to us and our son, as well as how we approach the sport. That’s one of the exciting aspects of youth hockey – it always seems to present something new for the families who become involved with the sport.

With the benefit of this hockey hindsight, there are two topics I wrote about last year that I’d like to re-address, as my opinions and insights have sharpened a bit over the course of the last year. The first topic is changing hockey programs. At the younger levels of hockey, it seemed to me that changing programs didn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you can keep the same group of players together year after year, hockey associations and programs benefit, and the development of each individual player and their team performance overall increases. This opinion has not changed.

That being said, I feel the need to add one small addendum. Every hockey program has their own distinct offerings which differentiate them. Some programs are run by rinks, while others are run by associations. Some field teams at every level, while others do not. Because of these types of differences, you may find yourself changing teams more than once during the course of your player’s hockey career. There are also factors such as program cost, rink distance, the ability to play up a level, and whether or not the player actually makes a given team. All of these affect where your player laces up for the season.

The second topic is the ability to play up a level. I said in my previous column that I don’t think kids should play up unless it’s an exceptional case. I still believe that is true. However, I’ve modified my opinion a little. I’ve found there are times when it just makes good sense to move a player up if they are performing well enough to do so or if a team is having trouble fielding the required number of players without moving someone up. I must add that this determination should not be made by parents, but by the coaches.

I think it’s valuable to reassess the hockey experience each year. One of the great things about youth hockey is that not only are the kids constantly learning new things, but so are the parents. I encourage all of you to look for ways to improve your own “hockey IQs” this season along with your player.

>The many hats of a hockey parent

Posted: September 14, 2009 in Hockey

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Parental Guidance
By CEAN BURGESON
for California Rubber Magazine

Hockey parents fulfill many roles for their youth athlete. First and foremost, we are parents; nurturing our children and making decisions that are in their best interests. These decisions include which teams our kids should play on, how we’ll get them to practices and games, and how we’ll pay for their season, equipment, tournaments, and other hockey related expenses. At times, it seems like chauffer and financier are the only roles we play in our hockey players’ lives. But don’t underestimate your influence.

Some parents are also coaches or assistant coaches. With this comes the added responsibility of the welfare and development of not only our own player, but an entire team full of other players. But even if you don’t coach your son or daughter’s team, there’s a good chance you’re coaching your child at home, by playing street or inline hockey and going to sticks and pucks sessions. This type of involvement has an incredibly large impact on your child’s growth and abilities as a hockey player.

Another hat we wear as hockey parents is that of trainer. We have to make sure our athletes get enough sleep, eat the right foods, and stay healthy. Part of this may involve helping a child recover from an injury by taking them to doctor’s appointments and supervising rehab exercises. And after the healing process is over, taking the proper steps to prevent further injuries.

An additional role that all hockey parents fulfill but may not think about is that of sports psychologist, especially with younger athletes. We have to keep them mentally prepared and prop them up a bit when they get cut from a team, take a tough loss, or perhaps don’t perform on the ice as well as they had hoped. Goalie parents are probably the best amateur sports psychologists on the planet.

We are also agents, managers, and public relations staff. I’m not saying we should be grooming our kids for the NHL. I’m talking about being an advocate for your young athlete. This means being involved with their development in an active and constructive way by maintaining a good relationship with the coaching staff.

This doesn’t mean arguing ice time or telling the coaches how much better your kid is than the rest of the team. Instead, carefully watch their development and pursue a healthy dialogue with the coaches as to what your player needs to work on in order to develop most effectively. And lastly, we are public relations specialists, sending out relentless emails, Facebook postings and pictures to grandparents, friends and family members, probably to the point that they think we’re mad for spending so much time on hockey. It’s great, isn’t it?

So, as we set out on yet another hockey season, I’d like each one of you to pat yourselves on the backs for successfully wearing all of these hats during the course of this season. You deserve it, and probably don’t get praised enough for all that you do.

>Planning for next hockey season

Posted: May 4, 2009 in Hockey

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Parental Guidance with CEAN BURGESON
for California Rubber Magazine

Whether you’re involved in a summer hockey program or you’re done playing until next season, the thought still looms above our collective hockey parent heads: What will we do next fall? Every year, players migrate into other sports, drop out, or move from one hockey program to another. There are a number of different reasons these things happen.

What if your rink only has an “A” team and your son or daughter doesn’t make the cut? Or transversely, what if your association only fields a “B” team and you want your player to skate on an “A” team? These are the kinds of dilemmas that give hockey parents critical levels of heartburn. Kids face the possibility of leaving the friends they’ve made, facing the hurt of missing a cut, or possibly moving out of hockey altogether. Or parents are left with the decision between playing their child down or up a level. Each avenue carries its own set of additional issues. It can be enough to drive a hockey parent mad.

These decisions should be solely dependant on one factor: Skill Based Hockey. What I mean by this is doing the best we can as hockey associations, coaches, and parents to place our youth athletes on teams that properly fit their playing style, ability, and skill level, while offering the greatest chance for player growth. This means putting “A” players on “A” teams and “B” players on “B” teams, or keeping a house player on a house team for another year to give them a little more seasoning before going on to play travel hockey.

Using and reinforcing the skill based hockey model in every association in the state of California is the best way for youth players to get the most out of their hockey experience and creates the least amount of grief for both the parent — and most importantly — the player. Please keep this in mind when making plans for tryouts this July to assure that all of our players have the most fun and fruitful season possible next year.

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By CEAN BURGESON
for California Rubber Magazine

VACAVILLE, Calif. – The Vacaville Jets Squirt B squad did everything they were asked to do and more this season. For starters, they lost only a single game during league play and finished with a record of 17-1. They also went on to win four California tournaments including the Pacific Regional of the International Silver Stick competition, which earned them a spot in the championship tournament in Pelham, Ontario, Canada. Despite playing against more experienced teams with deeper rosters in that Canadian contest (the Jets have only 12 players including their goalie), they still managed to finish within the top four. And to win their own home tournament, the MLK I-80 Classic in February, they had to tie or beat two Squirt A teams to earn the first place trophy.

The Jets also finished in first place in NorCal, winning all of the games in the playoff tournament, earning them the right to travel to Escondido and play the best Squirt B teams in the state. There, they finished third in California behind the Anaheim Jr. Kings and Bakersfield Dragons. This was the second season in a row the team has made the trip to the state finals.

Overall, during the regular season they put up some amazing statistics: 160 goals for with only 25 goals against, and a winning percentage of .944, leading the league in all categories. These figures don’t include any of the totals they racked up from the six tournaments they played in, either.

“All in all, this was an incredible season for the Squirt B’s,” said Assistant Coach Cean Burgeson. “Whether these players are moving on to play Pee Wee or staying at the Squirt level, we can’t wait to see how they all do next year.”

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Parental Guidance
For California Rubber Magazine
By CEAN BURGESON

From October until March hockey dominates the households of thousands of families across California — but what about the other six months out of the year?

There are a number of ways to spend the off season. Some players take the entire time off. For skaters who need to work on their skills, though, this can be detrimental. On the flip side, for those experiencing “hockey burnout,” it can be a beneficial experience to take a break from hockey and return in the fall fresh.

After all, there are other sports to participate in that can help to improve hockey athleticism, endurance, flexibility, and stamina such as baseball, soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, biking, running, or swimming. The benefit of cross training in other sports has been scientifically proven and the model of engaging in a variety of sporting activities in the off season has been used by European hockey clubs for years.

For those die hard players who aren’t interested in any sport but hockey, there are also inline teams which allow kids to continue working on their strength, skating, shooting and stick handling, and of course summer ice hockey teams, which practice less frequently and travel to just a handful of tournaments over the course of the summer. The value of these teams is that they are generally more competitive, have stricter tryouts, and can expose players to a high level of play, all the way up to AA or AAA.

Many of these tournaments are international in nature, allowing youngsters a chance to play teams outside of their region, state, or country. And, as in the case of my family, you can build your summer vacation around a tournament in a fun location such as Vancouver to get more for your hockey buck and infuse a little more fun into the trip.

Another popular way to keep the hockey fires burning in the off season is of course the hockey camp. California and the surrounding states have a number of good ones focusing on different skill sets. Evaluate your player or ask for an evaluation from your coach about which type of camp would best benefit your child.

We all have our own reasons for choosing how we want to spend our summers and whether hockey is a part of it. The most important factors to take into account when making the decision depend on the skill level of the player, their desire to play, and what their goals are for the coming season. No matter how your youth hockey player chooses to spend the summer, though, keep them working in some way to help get them to the next level.