Thursday, July 29, 2010

Caught Between Laraque And A Hard Place

Big Georges Laraque. There was a time when the name sent shivers down any NHL players back, the prospect of dropping the gloves on the ice against the 6'3 forward being a terrifying one. Known as BGL or The Enforcer, Laraque forged a formidable career for himself as muscle for any team he played for.
Well, currrently, he's not playing for any team.
Earlier on in the year, the Montreal Canadiens, for whom Laraque wore the number 17, announced their plans to buy out the final season of his contract, with the added note for Laraque to stay away from the team.
Though a specific reason was not cited by either the team or Laraque, it was clear that there was bad blood between BGL and his latest club.
In 2008, the Habs signed Laraque in order to add an element of toughness to their perceived "soft" team. It was a good acquisition; Laraque had just recently been named Enforcer of the Year by Sports Illustrated.
But maybe something was missing between the easygoing Big George and his fellow Canadiens. Maybe it was chemistry, or maybe it was just a plain lack of respect between Laraque and the management.
But both statements released by Laraque and Habs general manager Bob Gainey following the announcement were scathing. Gainey said that Laraques was "unproductive, a distraction," and that the team could better pursue its goals without him.
In turn, Laraque called the team's actions "classless," which many BGL fans agreed with, given the timing of all the controversy. Laraque's native Haiti had just been devastated by one of the worst earthquakes of the century, and he was in the midst of making arrangements to fly to his home country to lend support when the announcement was officially made.
It was a risky move for the Canadiens, who were constantly being outplayed physically by their more aggressive opponents, and though Laraque wasn't making big differences offensively with the team, his on-ice presence was still a fearsome one.
Since he and the Canadiens have severed their ties, Laraque has been busy trying to make a difference in Haiti. On June 8th, Laraque traveled with World Vision to Haiti to visit some of the sites and raise money to help rebuild the country. Aside from his charitable endeavors, Laraque runs a vegan restaurant in Montreal called Crudessence, and owns two gyms in Edmonton, the city that he began his hockey career in.
Laraque has not specified whether he will be returning to the NHL after his bought-out season with the Canadiens comes to an end, and there is no speculation as to what team he might end up with.
As a free agent, Laraque shouldn't have a hard time finding a team who looking to add a bit of grit to their game, among them being the Toronto Maple Leafs and the team that first drafted him, back in 1995, the Edmonton Oilers.

Laraque is known around the league for his fun-loving attitude and his tendency to fight on the ice.

Click HERE to see a YouTube compilation of Laraque's hardest-hitting fights.

***On July 31, 2010 Laraque was elected deputy leader of Canada's Green Party, of which he was an active member for the last few years***

Keeping The Fire Alive: A Look Back At Calgary's Love Affair With Jarome Iginla

Calgary is Jarome Iginla's city.

The Flames captain, who has played his entire NHL career with the team, has become Calgary's unofficial hero since he made his debut as an 18-year old right-winger, thrust into the spotlight in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. As the youngest player to skate for the Flames since 1983, Iginla made a shining impression on the city of Calgary, and 14 years later, he continues to shine in the eyes of Calgarians. Iginla is a homegrown Albertan boy, born to a Nigerian father and an American mother. It was the success of his hometown team,the Edmonton Oilers, that drove the youngster to pursue his dreams of becoming an NHL superstar. He began playing hockey as a goaltender, inspired by the Oilers' black goalie Grant Fuhr. But for the emerging leader in the young Iginla, minding the net was simply not exciting enough. He switched to the forward position after 2 years. In 1992, Iginla began his organized hockey career in the small town of St. Albert, Alberta, where he led the Alberta Midget Hockey League in scoring. As a 15-year old, he wowed scouts with an impressive 87-point season.

After 3 years with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, Iginla was drafted first round, 11th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. In one quick trade, the Calgary Flames acquired their future most prized posession, and in the years to come, the Dallas Stars were left to wonder what their franchise could have been with Iginla on their side. The first couple of years as a Flame came with many ups and downs for Iginla. Among the highs were a spot on the NHL All-Star Rookie team, as well as becoming the runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The lows came in the form of contract complications. The Flames had not anticipated such success to come with the acquisition of the young player. Iginla had to make some sacrifices in order to remain on the roster, attending training camp without a contract and purchasing his own insurance to relieve the team of financial responsibility for any injuries that might occur. His sacrifices paid off. The following year, Iginla signed a contract with the Flames worth $4.9 million US, and reached his career high with 29 goals and 63 points. Iginla's reputation was on the rise in Calgary. The following 2 seasons saw him top each previous career high . By 2002 he nearly doubled his goal output and was awarded both the Lester B. Pearson Award and the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. It was also the year Iginla truly wielded the Midas touch, winning gold as a part of Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Following this outstanding year, the club decided to bestow upon Iginla the team captaincy. And he didn't disappoint. Almost 6 years before, he had donned a Flames jersey for the first time and skated with the team during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Now with the prestigious "C" stitched over his heart, Iginla took it a little further, leading the Flames all the way to the finals. The 2004 cup run engulfed the city in a Flames frenzy that hadn't been seen since 1989. Calgary's 17th Avenue became the famous "Red Mile", the street filled from end to end with swaying, screaming bodies clad in red. Though the Flames lost the Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a nail-biting Game 7, their fans didn't relinquish their adoration for their brand new captain. In fact, 2004 was the year the people of Calgary began to see Jarome Iginla as their king; their saviour on skates.

Iginla and his Flames weren't able to match the success they enjoyed in 2004. The years ahead saw the team get eliminated either in the second or first round of the playoffs. Each season noticeably lacked the passion and intensity that was present in the earlier part of the decade. Despite this, Iginla remained loved. In 2009, his value to the city of Calgary was expressed melodically by a fan, who wrote a tribute to the Flames captain to the tune of the Plain White T's "Hey There Delilah." The VIDEO, which featured a bobblehead Iginla performing various acts of heroism around Calgary, went viral on YouTube. Unfortunately, the 2009-2010 season was not a good one for the Flames. They struggled throughout the season and went through many drastic changes within the roster. Flames fans began to worry that Iginla had lost his love for the game. He wasn't demonstrating the type of leadership he ought to as captain, and his goal production was decreasing every year. It was every Calgarian hockey lover's biggest fear: was the fire in Iginla's heart burning out?

In February 2010, Vancouver, British Columbia became the setting for the Olympic Winter Games. It came as no surprise that Iginla was named one of Team Canada's assistant captains, along with Chris Pronger and the NHL's poster child Sidney Crosby. From the very beginning, Iginla was explosive on the ice. During their first game against Norway, he contributed to the 8-0 win with a hat trick. And it was his ASSIST, delivered from the seat of his pants against the boards, that gave Crosby the opportunity to sweep the puck between Team USA's goalie Ryan Miller, winning the gold for the host country. Undoubtedly, Iginla shone at the Olympics. But his return to the NHL was less impressive. For the first time in 5 years, the Flames failed to place in the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As the hockey season came to an end, panic began to ensue among Flames fans. There were rumours that Iginla was unhappy with his tenure with the team, or that he was to be traded, as the club's management was in desperate need of some change in order to strengthen the team. The rumour lingered for several months, and the inevitable question began to creep into Calgarians' minds: who could possibly replace Jarome Iginla as the Flames' beloved leader? The dreaded question was answered on May 26th bu the man himself. In a televised interview, Iginla assured his loyal fanbase that he intended to stay in Calgary for as long as the city would have him. Darryl Sutter seconded that by saying that he had never had any plans to trade off Calgary's favorite leading man.

At the age of 33, Jarome Iginla has lived his entire adult life as a Flame, a veritable hockey god to the city. He was born in the city of Edmonton, Calgary's greatest rival, whose team has so often faced off against the Flames in what has come to be called "The Battle of Alberta", but Iginla has shown that he is truly a Calgarian at heart. He has come oh-so-close to raising Lord Stanley but has never felt the satisfaction of bringing home hockey's most coveted trophy.

But, resilient as ever, Iginla expresses his optimism for the season ahead, and so do his devoted fans.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Flames Are A'changin'

The Calgary Flames may not have made any exciting picks during this year’s NHL Entry Draft (in fact, they made no picks at all until the third round), but that doesn’t mean that the club’s roster hasn’t been going through a makeover of its own. From the management at the top of the ladder to the team’s foot soldiers, the Flames are slowly revamping themselves in hopes of making the 2010-2011 season much better than the last.
The biggest splash made so far: Darryl Sutter’s decision to re-sign two former Flames, Ollie Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. Jokinen was traded off to the New York Rangers in exchange for right-winger Ales Kotalik in February and became a UFA at the end of the season. Flames fans were (and still are) skeptical of the decision, as both Tanguay and Jokinen’s goal production and play were unimpressive in the past year. But Sutter and the rest of the team stand by the decision, stating that their return will strengthen the team.
Other new additions to the roster are defensemen Gord Baldwin and Matt Pelech, forwards Tim Jackman, Raitis Ivanan, Gaelen Patterson, Ryan Stone and Kris Chucko, as well as goaltender Matt Keetley. The Flames’ former backup goalie Vesa Toskala gained UFA status at the beginning of the summer and is not returning to the Flames roster for the 2010-2011 season.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Jay Feaster, who oversaw the team when they beat the Flames in 2004 for the Stanley Cup Championship, has also signed on to lend his managerial expertise to the Flames. He has been named assistant general manager.