Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Winner On And Of The Ice

He’s a born and raised Alberta boy, drafted at the age of 17 by the Calgary Flames. He minded the net for 2 seasons with the Abbotsford Heat (from 2009-2011) before making his NHL debut this past December with the Flames. Though it resulted in an eventual loss to the Florida Panthers, the young goalie stood tall, making 39 saves (quite a few of which were Kiprusoff-worthy) and was tested 4 times in the shootout. His second NHL game came a week later, against an age-old Flames rival, the Vancouver Canucks. He made 29 saves and only allowed one goal against, leading his team to the 3-1 victory.

But those big-league battles on the ice are hardly the toughest challenges Leland Irving has faced in his lifetime.

When he was 7 years old, Irving was just like any other Canadian boy his age, playing minor hockey and dedicated to a dream of making it to the NHL. But unlike other boys who spent their time off the ice in the playground, Irving spent his enduring rounds of chemotherapy, in a fight to overcome rhabdomyosarcoma.

If you’ve never heard of rhabdomyosarcoma before, it’s because it’s an extremely rare form of cancer that often presents itself in children under the age of 19.

The cancer was discovered in Irving after a biopsy revealed that what appeared to be an insect bite above his ear was indeed a cancerous tumor. After removing the tumor, Irving endured 13 months of chemotherapy before doctors could successfully say he was cancer free.

While chemotherapy is the most commonly used treatment for various types of cancer, it is a grueling ordeal, especially for children.
To sum up the treatment as simply as possible, the chemotherapy agents act by killing cells in the body that divide unusually rapidly. While this does target the cancerous cells, it also tends to affect other parts of the body, like bone marrow cells, the digestive tract and hair follicles.
So you can imagine that, even though the treatment is aiming to cure the cancer, it also leaves the patient feeling really, really crappy.

And all the while Leland Irving was going through this painful process, he continued to play hockey and managed to miss only one practice and one game.

16 years later, Irving has been healthy and enjoying the payoffs of such a struggle, saying “it’s helped me work that much harder for everything I’ve got.”

And at the age of 23, Irving does have a lot under his belt, now the official backup goalie for the Flames as Henrik Karlsson is out with an injury. And his teammates have nothing but praises to sing for Irving, calling him confident, solid and a great player all around.

But as he rises through the ranks of the NHL, you can count on Irving to remain humbled by the experience he went through as a child.

“I feel like I hold a special place in my heart for any kids —-or anybody—- who had to go through cancer or is affected by this terrible disease,” says Irving. “I hope to give anyone who’s had to go through their own battles a little bit of hope and realize that things can work out, and as you can see I am still able to live my dreams.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Comeback Kid

It was a Pittsburgh Perfect night tonight for the Penguins.
Not since Mario Lemieux came back from retirement has Steel City been so emotional about the return of a hockey player. But keep in mind, this is no ordinary hockey player. This is Sidney Crosby, the Golden Boy of hockey.

Out for 11 months after suffering a Grade II concussion, the topic of Crosby's absence, though glaring and apparent, was starting to fade away. But when the Penguins announced that Crosby’s doctors cleared him to return to the ice on Monday against the New York Islanders, the NHL radar almost blew up. His return was so hyped that I was brought back to 1995, when at the tender age of 9 I witnessed Michael Jordan’s monumental return to the NBA.

The immense hype over his comeback overshadowed everything else, mainly the concern that there would be too much pressure placed on the Kid. After all, he’d just come back from a serious concussion. No mere human being can be expected to do superhuman things after going through an ordeal like that.

Well, apparently, Sidney Crosby is no mere human being. He was welcomed into the Consol Energy Center with so much jubilation that you’d think it was the Stanley Cup Final and he was lifting the Cup.

Tonight’s game also marked the first time in the last 103 regular season games that Crosby, Malkin and Staal were all in the lineup.
With that being said, it's pretty safe to say that the Penguins just took over as the top team in the NHL.

Sid picked up right where he left off on December 28th, 2010 (the last time he scored a goal) with a sharp backhand that sent the puck flying right over Anders Nilsson’s shoulder.

And the points just kept rolling in for Pittsburgh’s star of the night. 10 minutes after opening up the scoresheet, Sid nabbed the assist on Brooks Orpik’s slapshot.
In the second period, Kris Letang took a beauty of a feed from Crosby, passed it on to Evgeni Malkin, and once again Nilsson was undressed.
Surprisingly, the next Pittsburgh goal, courtesy of Steve Sullivan, did not involve Crosby at all. But no matter, he’d make up for it in the final frame.

Sid started the game, and he ended it with another sweet backhand, just two minutes into the third.
Two points and two assists in his first game back since January 5th. He’s already surpassed 10 other players on the roster on the stats sheet. The kid just insists on creating a spectacle.

Anyone who decided to tune in to Crosby’s first game back was certainly not disappointed with his debut performance. Hype or no hype, Crosby played a solid game at both ends of the ice. He even took a couple of hard hits and bounced back quickly, showing that he’s not exempt from the fast-paced physicality of the game.

In the span of 60 minutes, the National Hockey League was reminded of why Crosby is the ultimate representation of the game. Regardless of how big the stage is, he shows up and manages to fill the entire space with his larger-than-life presence, skill, and all-around greatness as a player.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Next, Next One?

Keep an eye out for Nathan MacKinnon. The 16-year old forward from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia has been dubbed “the next Sidney Crosby.” Sure, people in the hockey world have said this before of other young players, but none have yet achieved even half of what Crosby has so far (John Tavares, anyone?). And while at 16, it’s impossible to tell whether MacKinnon will actually live up to this prestigious comparison, the current similarities are definitely there.

MacKinnon began his career playing minor hockey in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, (Sid Similarity #1) where he quickly made his mark, recording 200 points in 50 games. At the bantam level he played for the Cole Harbour Red Wings for two years, ending each season with 110 and 145 points respectively. From there, MacKinnon was enrolled at the prestigious hockey school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s (Sid Similarity #2). He averaged more than 2 points a game with Shattuck-St. Mary’s under-16 program, and though he was the second youngest player on the team, ranked second in scoring midway through the season.

Now playing for the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, MacKinnon is favorited to be the number one selection for his draft year (Sid Similarity #3).

Now if MacKinnon’s past career’s similarities to Crosby’s aren’t enough to sway you in his favor, check out his stats for the QMJHL season to date: In 19 games played, MacKinnon has 10 goals and 20 assists for an overall 30 points. You have to admit, that’s pretty impressive.

And there’s one last thing that MacKinnon shares with his big-league counterpart: humility. Last year, MacKinnon told a Canadian newspaper “I know I’ll never be Sidney Crosby. I just want to play my own game and not his. I don’t like to compare myself to him too much, because you can’t. He’s too good.”

With another year left before he's eligible for the NHL Entry Draft, MacKinnon, who is known by his coaches and peers as the "undersized forward with the heart the size of an elephant," just needs to focus on improving his play and not let the Crosby comparisons get to his head.

Who knows, in time he may very well be The Next Next One.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Roman Holiday

Can you imagine if the Calgary Flames were playing this season with defenceman Tim Erixon instead of center Roman Horak?

The Flames selected young Erixon 23rd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, hoping to benefit from his well-roundedness and good vision on the ice. But somewhere in between then and earlier this year, something went awry and GM Jay Feaster traded him to the New York Rangers. It was generally perceived that Erixon was traded because he refused to sign with the club.

This news came as a slap in the face to Flames fans. Sure, the team hadn't made the playoffs in a couple of years, and the team's rebuilding phase was a slow-going one, but for a rookie to snub the team that drafted him into the NHL was an abomination.

In the process of trading the traitor (as Erixon is now inevitably known as in the city of Calgary) the Flames acquired 20-year old Roman Horak.
As fate would have it, Horak has remained one of the few prospects who survived the Flames training camp and went on to play a few NHL games in the regular season, edging out such promising players as Lance Bouma and TJ Brodie. And in those few games, Horak has managed to notch 2 goals and 3 assists. Erixon, on the other hand, was demoted to the juniors early on in the season, without a point to his name.

Perhaps Horak isn't as highly touted a rookie as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nazem Kadri, but his presence on the ice has definitely been felt and much appreciated. He's injected a jolt of youthful energy and enthusiasm into the Flames roster (which is much needed, especially right now as 22-year old center Mikael Backlund is out recovering from a broken finger). His excitement on the ice is clear during each and every game, as demonstrated by the impatient rocking back and forth on the bench and liveliness of his stride as he gets off it.

If Horak can keep it up he could very well become an integral part of the Flames roster, and his teammates have no doubt he can do it.
"It's great to see a young guy that wants to learn and works hard every day," Ollie Jokinen had said of Horak on Wednesday, following the game that saw the youngster score his very first NHL goal. "He's only going to get better."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mighty Miikka

October 18, 2011

Calgary Flames vs Edmonton Oilers

The first Battle of Alberta game was made even more special when the Calgary Flames honoured starting goalie Miikka Kiprusoff on reaching a milestone: surpassing Mike Vernon as the franchise's all-time leader with 263 wins. And though throughout the majority of the game it looked like his number would stay at 263 for the time being, the Flames rallied from a 1-0 deficit and Kiprusoff made an unbelievable toe-pad save in the final seconds, leading the home team to a 2-1 victory.

Click HERE to see the video

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Center, New York Islanders

In the last 5 games:
5 Goals
3 Assists
8 Pts

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Knockout And A Beatdown

It was a busy night in the NHL and there was certainly a lot to talk about when all 10 games wrapped up. But the games that had the most tongues wagging were the Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals and the Calgary Flames vs Montreal Canadiens.

The Pens-Caps game got of to a quick start when James Neal drew first blood for the home team and got the Consol Energy Center roaring. But the crowd was silenced in the second when Mike Knuble evened up the scoreboard, and early in the third Pittsburgh's Public Enemy No. 1 Alex Ovechkin scored the go-ahead goal to bring the tally to 2-1 Washington.
The highlight of the game, which was more of a lowlight in actuality, was the FIGHT between Arron Asham and Jay Beagle. After roughing up Kris Letang hard enough to send Letang’s helmet flying, Beagle found himself squaring off in a fight with Asham. It was a fairly good tilt until Asham KO’d Beagle, then skated off to the box while making a ‘sleeper’ motion as if to taunt Beagle for passing out. The incident caused an uproar; later Asham admitted that the gesture was classless and apologized for it.
After 16 scoreless minutes, Neal got himself a tying powerplay goal to prevent the game from ending in regulation. The extra frame saw Dennis Wideman shoot a wrister to beat Brent Johnson. But it wasn't all bad for the Penguins; the extra point they earned kept them atop the Eastern Conference in standings, and today it was officially announced that captain Sidney Crosby has finally been cleared for contact.

In their home opener, the Montreal Canadiens hosted the Calgary Flames, and in the first 5 minutes of the game the Habs’ Andrei Kostitsyn threw a goal past Miikka Kiprusoff. Considering how the Flames had been playing of late, this early goal was almost unanimously thought of as an indication of how the rest of the game was going to play out.
But something sparked the Flames and there was an offensive explosion shortly after, with 2 powerplay goals by Rene Bourque and Niklas Hagman, and a pretty wristshot from David Moss.
The Flames padded their lead in the following period, thanks to Bourque’s second of the night, and despite a flurry of chances, the Habs could not beat Kiprusoff, who made several amazing saves in the third, particularly one complete robbery of a shot by Habs captain Brian Gionta.
At the sound of the buzzer, the final score was 4-1 for the Flames. With their first win of the season, the Flames hope to gain momentum and start climbing the ranks of the Western Conference, where they are currently second-last, just above the Columbus Blue Jackets.

There were 2 potential milestones to be reached in tonight’s game, involving both teams' goalies. If the Habs had won, Carey Price would have earned his 100th career win. But instead it was Miikka Kiprusoff who made his mark, surpassing Mike Vernon for the franchise record with 263 wins.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals, October 13th, 2011