09 April 2018

Squire Report, Vol 8: Ontario


The Vegas Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their inaugural season. I cannot believe I just typed that sentence. Rather than dwell on my amazement, I’ll instead use this report to focus on some of the future Knights that I was recently able to see in-person.

As part of my “quest” to see a game in every NHL arena, I found myself in Toronto last month to check the Maple Leafs off the remaining list. I timed out the vacation with the start of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, which provided the opportunity to witness many of the NHL’s future stars, including those drafted by Vegas.

SUZUKI IS GOLDEN AGAINST THE KNIGHTS

I started with the highest-profile Vegas prospect in Ontario, first-round pick Nick Suzuki. He had just completed an amazing regular season with the Owen Sound Attack, finishing fourth in league scoring with 100 points (42 goals, 58 assists). He and his teammates would square off in the opening round against the London Knights, a perennial OHL powerhouse who was in the middle of a slight rebuild after having won the Memorial Cup two years prior. We arrived in Toronto in the early afternoon, then made the two-and-a-half hour drive to Owen Sound to see the league’s smallest arena.

This was Game 2, with the Attack having prevailed two night earlier in the opening game. Right from the opening faceoff, Suzuki stood out - he played with patience, controlling possession for his line and creating several scoring chances with deft touch from his impressive hands. He finished the game with 3 assists, including the primary setup on the game-winning goal in overtime.

Two nights later, we would be in London for Game 3. While he didn’t have as much success on the road that he had in front of his home crowd, Suzuki was still dangerous every time he touched the puck. Owen Sound would go on to win again in overtime, then close out the sweep later that week - he was impressive throughout the series and while he lined up at center in the OHL, I think Nick Suzuki could be a dynamic playmaker on the wing in the NHL.

London's Evan Bouchard (in the penalty box) will be a 1st round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft

09 March 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 2)


During Part 1 of this massive trip, my travel companion Chad and I found ourselves driving from Buffalo to Ottawa to Montreal to Vermont, before finally returning to the state of New York.  The Empire State Excursion would continue at one of the most famous venues in hockey history.


WEDNESDAY: 23 MARCH 2016

We awakened in our hotel room to see that a sheet of snow had fallen onto the sleepy village of Lake Placid, which only seemed fitting for its popularity among skiers.  We wasted no time in heading to the Olympic Center for a morning tour of the famed locale.  As an added bonus, our tour guide was a member of the organizing committee for the 1980 Winter Olympics, and told incredibly detailed stories with vivid imagery.  We listened quietly as we were led through the facility for about an hour - the guide even showed us a video of the final moments of the famed "Miracle on Ice" game between the United States and the Soviet Union, as we sat in the fabled arena.



Once the tour was completed, we walked over to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, which was also located inside the Olympic Center.  A perfect compliment to the stories told by our tour guide, the Museum had a great display of artifacts to commemorate the two Olympic games hosted in the city (1932 and 1980), which also included a video of the "Miracle on Ice" game playing on a loop.  


American goalie Jim Craig protected this net in the "Miracle on Ice" game
I definitely enjoyed my brief time in this quaint town, but it was time to hit the road once again - we had a 3-hour drive to Utica for our next game, stopping for dinner in Remsen at a charming little 50's-style diner called The Soda Fountain (check out their special "Garbage Plates").  We arrived at the historic Utica Memorial Auditorium with some time to spare, which would end up coming in handy.

01 March 2018

Squire Report, Vol 7: Trades


The Golden Knights continue to roll, as their lead in the Pacific Division has stretched to 10 points.  But this month was all about re-shaping the roster, as Vegas took part in the NHL's annual trade deadline activity...

TOMAS TATAR COMES OVER FROM THE MOTOR CITY

Making their biggest splash of the day, Vegas traded three draft picks to Detroit to get dynamic winger Tomas Tatar.  It seemed like a bit of an overpayment (2018 1st rounder, 2019 2nd rounder, 2021 3rd rounder), but I can definitely get behind this deal based on what Tatar brings to the team - he's a relentless forechecker with great hands, and should fit very well into the quick-strike transition offense favored by coach Gerard Gallant.  He just turned 27 years old, and is in the first year of a four-year contract that carries a $5.3M cap hit.  After paying his dues with Detroit's AHL club in Grand Rapids, he's been a consistent performer at the NHL level, averaging about 20 goals and 40 points per season.

With the top two lines virtually set in stone, it would appear that Tatar will slot into the Knights' third line playing with Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin, which seems like an embarrassment of riches for the team as they begin their first playoff run.  Adding some scoring touch to this line also allows the team to keep Tomas Nosek and Ryan Carpenter on the fourth line, where they can add the occasional goal to their strong defensive play.  Tatar also becomes a great insurance policy next season, as he could slide into the Top 6 if Vegas chooses not to re-sign one or both of David Perron and James Neal.

But was it worth it to part with those picks?  That's the tough pill to swallow for me.  GM George McPhee did a great job to stockpile draft picks coming out of the Expansion Draft, but I find it hard to believe that an expansion team will go to the Entry Draft after its first season without a 1st round pick, especially when all of the hockey pundits have claimed that this will be a very strong draft.  But these are the tough decisions that McPhee gets paid for, although I'm wondering if owner Bill Foley may have told him to throw caution to the wind and do what it takes to add to this magical season.  On the plus side, Vegas still kept all three of the players they selected in the 1st round last year, especially when you consider that they were one of the teams in the running for Erik Karlsson and that would have most likely required moving at least one of those key prospects:

16 February 2018

Hockey Road Trip: Empire State Excursion (Part 1)


My original intent with the quest to see all 30 NHL arenas was to use this as a way to see portions of North America that I might not otherwise visit. It would be a travelogue of sorts, and I would take every opportunity to see as many historical landmarks and tourist attractions as I could along the way. A quick glance at the list of NHL markets reveals a wide assortment of some of the most popular destinations around.

And then there’s Buffalo.

Everything I had heard about Buffalo said that it was a terrific place to live, with loads of young professionals choosing to relocate and start families there - but it wasn’t known for great tourist attractions, other than nearby Niagara Falls. As a result, I always planned to use my Buffalo trip as a chance to see as much of upstate and western New York as possible, with one extra wrinkle: Canada was close as well.

Considering their proximity, I figured I would visit Toronto and Buffalo on the same trip in order to knock two markets off my list. But there were so many other teams in the area that I wanted to see in person (specifically those in the OHL and AHL), and I found that I could go one step further by going the other direction around Lake Erie to see Montreal and Ottawa instead - thereby knocking out THREE teams along the way! What ensued was my most ambitious trip yet: the Empire State Excursion, which would see my travel companion Chad and I take in EIGHT hockey games in NINE days!

In order to maximize our vacation days in the spring of 2016, I used the Good Friday/Easter holiday as the bookend for the trip. We would fly out of Los Angeles on St. Patrick’s Day, and arrive in Buffalo just before midnight. The massive journey would commence the following morning…

FRIDAY: 18 MARCH 2016

Since the itinerary would have us driving hundreds of miles across two different countries - and also due to the previously-mentioned lack of tourist attractions - I knew my time in Buffalo would be limited. However, I made sure to begin the trip at the one local landmark that I had to visit: the Teddy Roosevelt Inauguration Site. A modest house on the outskirts of the downtown area, the museum houses a terrific display of artifacts relating to the 1901 World’s Fair, notoriously remembered as the site of President William McKinley’s assassination.

01 February 2018

Squire Report, Vol 6: Midseason


We've reached the halfway point of the season and the Vegas Golden Knights hold the best record in the Western Conference - just like we all predicted, right?

HANDING OUT SOME CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

A new calendar year also brought forth contract extensions for a trio of players, most notably Jonathan Marchessault.  Perhaps GM George McPhee must be reading my blog - how else to explain the fact that Marchessault received his 6-year, $30 million contract extension on the day AFTER I posted my last Squire Report, in which I mentioned how the Knights' leading scorer needed to be locked up immediately.  As you can imagine, I'm quite happy with the deal: Marchessault just turned 27 a month ago, and has helped to solidify one of the best scoring lines in the NHL.  Theoretically, his production should continue to remain in line with the money he's set to make, and it sets a good example to the fanbase that not every pending free agent will be traded, no matter how valuable.

It was also nice to see Deryk Engelland receive a one-year extension this past month.  A questionable selection in the Expansion Draft since he could have been signed as an unrestricted free agent a week later, "Captain Concierge" has proved his importance both on and off the ice - his heartfelt speech during the emotional home opener will cement his status as a beloved fan favorite for years to come.  But he's still got something left in the tank, and I can easily see him inking one-year deals every year until he's done playing, at which point I definitely picture him taking a job within the organization.

The last extension was a bit of a head-scratcher, mostly because Jon Merrill has spent more than half of the season as a healthy scratch.  I honestly thought that management would want to see him in action a little bit more, but they were impressed enough during his limited time to award him with a two-year extension.  Here's hoping this translates to improved play when he returns from the injured reserve, where he's spent the last three weeks.  From there, maybe we can work on finally getting his picture corrected on the Hockey News website!

26 January 2018

Hockeywood!


There are a handful of events that every hockey fan should make their best effort to see: an outdoor game (did that), a Stanley Cup Final game (I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant ticket price), and the NHL All-Star Game. The midseason exhibition game has become quite the spectacle, as the league has taken great strides to present several special events throughout the entire weekend. I had planned on going for many years, but it seemed like all of the recent All-Star games were being hosted on the other side of the continent. In addition, the NHL did not hold an All-Star Game during the years in which their players would compete in the Olympics. As a result, Dallas had been the only city west of the Mississippi to play host since the 2005 lockout.

Neither Anaheim nor Arizona has hosted the All-Star Game, and the Los Angeles Kings were the hosts for the 2002 game, so I feared that it might not be near me again anytime soon. But 2017 was a special year - the 100th anniversary of the NHL - and the league was going to honor the 100 best players in its history during the All-Star break, so they needed an ideal venue.  During the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, the league announced Los Angeles would host the following year - we were in luck!

I had every intention of going to an All-Star Game even if I had to travel, so this was perfect. I wouldn’t need to book a hotel or buy a plane ticket, so I could use the money I had saved to pay the seemingly inflated prices for tickets to the various events surrounding All-Star weekend. And were they ever inflated: once the tickets had sold out due to Kings season-ticket holders and assorted brokers/scalpers buying them all up, we were expected to pay around $500 to see it all.

But when the final weekend of January 2017 rolled around, I didn’t think about the money. No, I was only concerned with seeing the fabulous events. I would be a giddy hockey fan for a couple of days and I couldn’t wait!

12 January 2018

Hockey Road Trip: From Missouri to Music City


As a longtime NFL fan living in Southern Illinois, I vividly remember the Rams moving from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1994. After missing out on an expansion team, the Gateway City would now have a football team to call their own - unfortunately, this would be at the expense of the Rams fans in Los Angeles, who undoubtedly felt the same as the football fans in St. Louis did when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988 (as you can see, it’s a vicious cycle).

I followed the St. Louis Rams closely during those initial seasons, and I continued to keep an eye on them when I went off to college. I was ecstatic when they won the Super Bowl in 2000, and continued to watch them often when I moved to Los Angeles three years later. But I never actually made it to a game in St. Louis, even though I often considered going to see them during my various trips back home over the Christmas holiday.

But now it appeared the Rams time in St. Louis was coming to a close. By 2015, relocation rumors were swirling and it seemed like only a matter of time before they were headed back to their previous home in Southern California. Fearing that I couldn’t wait any longer, my travel companion Chad and I decided to attend the Rams final home game of that season - a Thursday night contest to be played a week before Christmas. But could we also include a hockey game during this trip?

We’d already seen games in St. Louis and Chicago, but Nashville wasn’t too far away. We’d yet to see a game in Tennessee and a trip in December would also allow us to see the Grand Ole Opry show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The trip was perfectly set up, and I couldn’t wait to go!

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