Minor Hockey In Ontario Is Suffering

by Mike Ries

It has been a month since my last article, being honest being in the midst of another lockdown has taken the wind out of my sails. Watching NHL arenas in the U.S. with full crowds and then the NFL playoffs on the weekend playing in front of 70, 000 plus fans has made me more than envious. But, as with all situations there is always someone doing worse than you and the state of minor hockey in Ontario is suffering everytime we as Ontarians endure another lockdown.

Minor hockey in Ontario encompasses more than 100,000 children of all ages and to have it shuttered once again by the Ontario Government is irresponsible and harmful to the development socially of the children involved. Most kids who play minor hockey, play for the enjoyment and the interaction of their peers. Most will never play beyond organized minor hockey and that is just fine. Everyone should experience playing the game we as hockey fans love no matter the level. Young children and teenagers can go to a packed Costco 7 days a week, but can not play organized minor hockey makes little to no sense.

The OHL has made the decision to go forward with their season, albeit with no fans which is good for the players involved as they can further their aspirations to play pro hockey. As a gate driven league, most teams will struggle to survive and only recieve money at this stage from their television deal with TSN and local sponsors. Last season the Ontario government pledged $2.35 million in post secondary scholarships as the season was cut short. The players last season that were draft eligible and overage players suffered the most with the season being shut down early. This season the World Junior Championships were cancelled before they were a few days old. A showcase of the top talent from across the globe.

The NHL first and foremost is a business and they have moved most home games from the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs to later on the schedule to coincide with the reopening of Ontario. That is a smart business decision by Gary Bettman and the NHL braintrust, what it hurts is the average fan who has planned on a certain game to attend. A minor inconvenience to most, but to the family that has planned a vacation to attend an NHL game in Ontario during these trying times it is harmful to the psyche of the family unit and hockey fans young and old. Considering a family of four would most likely spend north of a thousand dollars for tickets, hotel, food, souvenirs and time off work.

As far as organized sports go Ontario is lagging far behind the rest of the world and who is suffering the most are the young boys and girls that have had their season shut down by a government that appears to lack a distinct direction in the midst of what we are going through. One can only hope that we are coming to an end to all of this and we can return to some semblance of our previous lives.

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Team Canada and the World Junior Championships are Just Around the Corner

by Mike Ries

Hockey Canada announced the 2021 Team Canada roster on December 12th and once again Team canada will ice a strong roster from top to bottom. Canada will be under the leadership of head coach Dave Cameron of the Ottawa 67’s this time around and will be at the front of the pack hunting for a gold medal. Team Canada will have only three players returning from last year’s tournament in goaltender Dylan Garand and Kaiden Guhle along with sniper Cole Perfetti. The team will head to Banff Alberta for a short five day training camp and begin with pre-tournament play against the Swiss and Sweden and complete the warm up to the actual tournament against Team Russia and this will be a barometer as to where Team Canada is in their development as a Team.

Canada will begin the quest for gold on Boxing day(Dec26th) against the pesky Czech Republic . Team Canada is in the easier of the two pools for this tournament as they will face their toughest test on New Years eve against Team Finland who will be the toughest test for the Canadians in the preliminary round. Canada will also take on Austria and Germany before the onset of the medal round. The B Pool or the Pool of death includes Russia, USA and Sweden and lesser lights in Slovakia and Switzerland.

Team Canada will be led by consensus first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft forward Shane Wright . He will lead a solid group of forwards that include Mavrik Bourque, Mason McTavish, Xavier Bourgault, Dylan Guenther, Perfetti and Bedard who will see the majority of the ice during the tournament. Not to say that Elliot Desnoyers, Logan Stankoven, Jake Neighbours, Ridly Greig, Justin Sourdif and Will Cuylle won’t have an impact. This team is strong on all four lines and most forwards can be pugged in from the top line down through the checking line. The forward to keep an eye on this Tournament is Dallas Stars first round pick in 2020 Mavrik Bourque. This is the type of situation that Bourque will shine and show the Dallas Stars fans what they can expect when he makes the leap to the NH club.

Canada will be solid on defence with last year’s NHL Entry Draft first overall pick Owen Power, the aforementioned Kaiden Guhle, Olen Zellweger, Lukas Cormier. Those players will be the top pairing defencemen on this year’s squad. Donovan Sebrango, Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke and Ronan Seeley will make up the bottom pairing defencemen this year. Look for Ryan O’Rourke of the Soo Greyhounds to have a solid tournament and turn a few heads. The Minnesota Wild second pick is vastly underrated and will have an opportunity to showcase his skills at this years World Junior Championship.

In goal the Canadian’s will lean on returnee Dylan Garand to lead them to gold. The New York Rangers fourth round pick in 2020 started seven games in last year’s tournament and there is no indication at this juncture that either Sebastian Cossa or Brent Brochu will see much action other than possibly against the Swiss. Brochu is eligible for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and has had the benefit of playing with the powerhouse London Knights and will be the third goaltender on the team. Cossa may be the dark horse with Team Canada. He was drafted fifteenth overall in 2021 by the Detroit Red Wings and is their goaltender of the future. His stats over his time with Edmonton Oil Kings are nothing short of amazing with a save percentage over .920 in three seasons. If any one could supply a needed spark for Team Canada it will be Sebastian Cossa. Arguably Sebastian should be the starter for Team Canada over Garand. But rarely if ever, do returning starting goaltenders to Team Canada and the World Junior Championships become back ups the following year.

All we can hope for is that this Tournament goes forward this year and that Team Canada can bring home the Gold after a disappointing loss in the previous Tournament. Team Canada once again has a strong and solid roster from top to bottom and anything less than the Gold Medal will be considered a failure. The tournament will have high and lows for every team and after all this is the most wonderful time of the year.

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Hey Leaf Fans Your Team is Going Nowhere

by Mike Ries

It seems at the start of every NHL season it is the year that the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally become Stanley Cup Champions. This year is no exception with Matthews, Marner and Reilly, the Leafs diehard fans are once again poised to plan the parade route for Lord Stanley. Unfortunately this will not be your year and the parade will be cancelled.

The Leafs have solid top four forwards and a capable defence that can sustain them through the regular season. Beyond that, the Leafs are behind any other contending team with depth. They lack a true number one goaltender, aside from Jack Campbell being a nice story. He has never played more than 32 games in an NHL season and with the oft injured Petr Mrazek as the back up the bulk of the games will fall to Campbell, who will like his predecessor Frederik Andersen fade down the stretch with the heavy workload. Toronto needs a true 1A and 1B goaltending rotation with the lack of team defence and abundance of scoring opportunities that they allow.

The Leafs are sorely lacking with the bottom end of their roster at the forward position. Spezza, Kampf, Clifford and Simmons are not the answer to the lack of a colour photograph of the Buds with the Stanley Cup. They let Nick Foligno, Nick Petan, Scott Sabourin, Jimmy Vessey and Riley Nash all walk from last season and are certainly an upgrade from what the Leafs can ice on any given night this season. Nick Ritchie has been given every chance to excel with the top line and has failed miserably. Realistically his true value would be down with the bottom six, not the top six.

Knowledgeable Maple Leaf fans realize that the current regime of Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and Sheldon Keefe are not the answer to the Leafs Stanley Cup woes. They have been given ample time to prove their model for success is a winner and have proven year after year it is not. The Leafs jettisoned the only two true hockey minds that could have brought them a winner in Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter. Dubas has been grasping at straws the past two seasons bringing aboard a plethora of former Soo Greyhounds that he had in the OHL. Short of Campbell and Michael Bunting they have been less than spectacular.

The thinking from Shanahan and Dubas that they could build a team around Marner, Matthews, Nylander has been flawed from its inception. Those three are great players in today’s game. But what they all lack is a team first attitude and it will derail this team from achieving success in the playoffs. Along with those three your top players in Tavares and Reilly and Brodie there is very little to work with and yes Jason Spezza is a nice story, prolonging his career playing for the league minimum. Reality is that he is woefully slow for today’s game and is taking a roster spot away from a drafted player in the organization. That can be said for most of the veterans that have been brought in on the Leafs bottom six.

The Leafs are tied to Matthews and Marner for two more seasons beyond this year and maybe, just maybe a new regime would consider blowing this team up and starting fresh from top to bottom. Realistically the current Dubas and Shanahan dog and pony show has brought Toronto nothing in the way of playoff success and after all is that not what the end goal is in raising the Stanley Cup? The Leafs could certainly retool on the fly and rebuild their nucleus or they could stay the course with the current philosophy that the team is powered by its top four and a myriad of spare parts and continue to fail.

The time for change in Toronto is now and not tomorrow, unfortunately it will be tomorrow if in fact there is a change. The Leaf fans deserve a winner and a team that they can get behind and cheer on throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. sorry to say Leaf fans, but this isn’t that team.

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The 2021 NHL Season is Past the Quarter Pole

by Mike Ries

American Thanksgiving has come and gone and the U.S. Holiday is the benchmark that most agree is the barometer for a team’s chance to advance to the postseason. That being said, it is quite evident that there are new contenders on the horizon this season for Lord Stanley. The Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers in the East and the Minnesota Wild and the Edmonton Oilers in the West. Florida is, for the first time in a long time, the best NHL team in the state of Florida and for the first time ever the best team in Hockey. The Panthers are followed closely by the Carolina Hurricanes who have been quietly building a franchise that is deep from top to bottom.

Carolina has been climbing up the standings for the past few seasons and finally have all the pieces they need to be serious contenders for the Cup. The addition of goaltender Fredrik Andersson is pure genius on the part of owner Tom Dundon and general manager Don Waddell and the Canes have not missed defenceman Dougie Hamilton and his hefty free agent price tag. The addition of Ethan Bear and Tony DeAngelo have more than made for the loss of Hamilton.

The Panthers have benefitted from the previous regime under Dale Tallon who set the foundation through strong drafting and scouting. Current general manager Bill Zito has fine tuned what he was left with from Tallon and has the Panthers on top of the mountain at the quarter mark of the season. The loss of coach Joel Quenneville through the BlackHawks scandal has not hurt the Panthers at this point. They may miss his leadership and coaching in the end, but time will tell. This is a talented and hardworking group from the top line through to the bottom. Strong goaltending and arguably the second best player in the NHL in Sasha Barkov lead the way.

In the West everyone is wondering…. is it Connor McDavid’s time to shine along with his Edmonton Oilers? The Oilers are the strongest team in the West at this point in the season. Although the goaltending situation is far from stable and will need to be addressed before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The Oilers have depth on defence for the first time in the McDavid era. Coach Dave Tippett is finally having the success he should have had in previous seasons with the Oilers.

The Minnesota Wild have come together quickly under General Manager Bill Guerin and head coach Dean Evason. The mix of young talent, notably Kirill Kaprizov and veterans has catapulted the Wild to the top in the West this season. The goaltending of Cam Talbot has been nothing short of spectacular, as he has resurrected his career. Journeyman right winger Ryan Hartman has finally found his game it seems, as he is on pace to have his best offensive season to date. His leadership cannot be overlooked as well. The Wild quietly go about their business and will be heard from this year before it is all said and done.

The new contenders will have to deal with the perennial favorites in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals in the East and the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues in the West. With new aforementioned powerhouse teams emerging there is the flipside with teams on the downward slide. Those teams include the Chicago BlackHawks, Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks in the West and the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils in the East. The Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders have suffered from the effects of Covid-19 protocol and in the case of the Islanders, it may hamper their ability to advance to the postseason.

The NHL is back playing an 82 game season for the first time in two years and it is a long and arduous journey to seasons end. Who will end up hoisting the Stanley Cup this season will be an interesting watch and has fans from around the globe excited for a full schedule in the NHL and all that it brings with it.

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Zach Fucale: The Long Road to the NHL

by Mike Ries

The Zach Fucale story has taken many long and winding turns through the backroads of minor pro hockey to arrive at the Pizza Box better known as Little Caesars Arena on Thursday evening. Fucale made his first NHL start in a 2-0 win over the Red Wings and it looked effortless and that he belonged in the NHL, which was the thought of many NHL General Managers and scouts in 2013. The Montreal Canadiens took him in the second round 36th overall and the first goaltender selected in that particular NHL Entry Draft. He had the pedigree that had not been seen in a goaltender in a long time and the hope was that he would be the heir apparent to one Carey Price. After all he was a Memorial Cup winner and gold medal winning World Junior Championship goaltender for Team Canada. He also set the QMJHL record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 32 and became the youngest goaltender to record 100 wins in only 145 starts.

It appeared that Fucale was on the fast track to the NHL as he excelled at every level and the back up position in Montreal would be his within a year or two of pro experience. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work out the way that we had planned. Having spent the better part of two seasons observing Zach play in both Laval in the AHL and Brampton in the ECHL it was apparent he had the talent and ability to play at the NHL level. What was also apparent was that he lacked the focus and drive to elevate his game and to another level. He certainly possessed the physical tools to excel and advance his career. He would look unbeatable one night and then look uninterested the next night. He started his career in the AHL with St. John’s splitting time with veteran Eddie Pasquale. His numbers and performance were less than spectacular and the following season he spent the bulk of the season in the ECHL with Brampton being handed the starting job. Once again his numbers and performance were pedestrian and it was apparent that he was not a fit with the Canadiens organization. The following season he slid down the depth charts as the Habs had two free agent goaltenders that they had become enamored with in Michael McNiven and Charlie Lindgren. To make matters worse the Brampton Beast were dressing players from both Montreal and Ottawa including goaltenders Chris Driedger and Marcus Hogberg, both of whom would spend time in the NHL.

Zach would not be re-signed by Montreal in the off season and he would find a home with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights starting the season with the Fort Wayne Komets in the ECHL and a cup of coffee in the AHL with Chicago Wolves. His career would take on the look of a journeyman goaltender as he would have stops in Orlando, Syracuse and South Carolina. He would finally find a home it seemed, in Hershey with the Bears and signed a two way contract with the Washington Capitals. Fucale is still the fourth goaltender in the organization behind Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov and Pheonix Copley.

The Zach Fucale story is certainly full of ups and downs and hopefully it plays out well for Zach in the end. He is only 26 and has time to prove his ability at the NHL level and the fact that he earned a shutout, should afford him a start or two before he is returned to Hershey. Washington may be the perfect situation with their goaltending for Zach at this stage of his career to advance to the NHL. Only time will tell if he will finally live up to the expectations that preceded his journey into professional hockey.

The Montreal Canadiens are in a Better place than the Toronto Maple Leafs

by Mike Ries

There I said it, the Leafs are in a worse place than the Habs and the reason why is that the Leafs to even the casual fan are a team that could/ should win with the talent that has been assembled by General Manager Kyle Dubas. The Montreal Canadiens who reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season as the sacrificial lamb for the machine that is the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Habs have been the doormat of the NHL this season and the fanbase is sounding the proverbial panic cry and for a complete overhaul of the team. What we do know is that the SCF appearance for Montreal was a mirage on a team that has been in constant rebuild for a decade. The Habs are missing the only two players that matter on their roster and it shows. Years and years of poor drafting limit the potential of this team and the expectations this season were at best a wildcard playoff berth.

The Toronto Maple leafs have a significant chunk of their 2021/ 22 salary cap in only three players Matthews, Marner and Tavares. The press in the meat grinder atmosphere of Toronto projects the Leafs as top contenders year after year with Dubas at the helm. Unfortunately the Leafs have not won a single playoff series with this combination in place. One would wonder when the bottom will drop out of the so-called Dubas/ Shanahan marriage and when the Buds will head in another direction with the roster. Having the likes of Marner who is a liability on most nights in his own end and is more concerned with the pretty play than actually winning a game the Leafs will never have to be concerned with planning a Stanley Cup parade route.

Mitch Marner is not the only glaring problem on this team, John Tavares has started to show his age and is not the dynamic player he once was and while he is a serviceable captain. He is not the captain this team needs, they need someone who will lead the team and hold players accountable at all times. The bright spot on this team are the defencemen that are on this team. From Reilly to Muzzin they have a solid mix of offence and defence on the backend. Younger players like Holl and Sandin have found their place with this core. The internal friction and absolute necessity to have a scapegoat, led Fredick Andersson escaping to the Carolina Hurricanes and help them ascend to the top of the standings early in this season. While Mrazek and Campbell are serviceable goaltenders, neither are 1A goalies at this stage of their careers and will be the ultimate undoing of this group.

Montreal will climb up the standings throughout the season, but not make postseason and again have the opportunity to add to a solid young nucleus around Caufield, Suzuki and Romanov. The Leafs again will falter in the postseason and be left with a top heavy salary cap and little to no room to improve without jettisoning some heavy baggage. It is evident that both teams need new management teams and that Montreal has some young talent to work with for a bright future and the Leafs are in need of a total overhaul.

THE BOYS OF WINTER ARE BACK

by Mike Ries

Always late to the party, this year I chose not to prognosticate and to let the season begin before I took a look into the crystal ball. This will be the first time in forever it seems that the game we all love, will be played in front of full arenas of fans on both sides of the border. Albeit the fans on the northside of the border are still restricted on travelling to the good old USA. But that is a political rant for another day.

What is clearly evident through the beginning of the 2021/22 NHL regular season that there are new contenders that will be in the forefront sooner, rather than later namely the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers . The contenders of old namely Pittsburgh, Nashville and Vegas are starting to show signs of age and are paying for years of trading away top flight talent in a win now mode. It is refreshing to say the least to see young teams like the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings show signs of life and will be once again in the hunt.

In the case of the Canadian teams it appears to be the same old song and dance with the two most storied Canadian franchises. The Toronto Maple Leafs and general manager Kyle Dubas are once again grasping at straws and will see a quick exit from the postseason with the team that he has constructed. The team lacks and has for years a true number one goaltender and the fact that the malaise of this very team was hung on the head of departing goaltender Freddie Andersen is quite frankly a joke. They have in fact overpaid for their top six forwards and are quite handcuffed with salary cap restraints and will never ascend to greater heights with a player of the ilk of Mitch Marner who is more intent on watching his fancy plays than focusing on his 200 foot game. The other storied franchise the Montreal Canadiens are still smirking over their Stanley Cup final appearance last season and hats off to them. But second place in pro sports is the first loser and sorry all you Nancy’s out there the name of game is winning ….period. The Habs will suffer the same fate as the Dallas Stars who preceded them to the final dance the previous year and to be sacrificed to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They will not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. I have said it over and over for years, the lack of an abundance of quality draft picks in the last ten plus years has this team heading nowhere fast. The remaining Canadian teams on the other hand have all headed in the right direction and do not be surprised that Connor McDavid and his Oilers go deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.

The two time defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay will have something to say before Lord Stanley is hoisted once again. In the West the Minnesota Wild, Oilers and perennial favorites the Colorado Avalanche will rise to the top this season. In the East the aforementioned Lightning will battle with cross state rivals the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals to make it to the final dance.

The Seattle Kraken Get Crackin

by Mike Ries

The 2021 NHL Expansion Draft was anticlimactic to say the least, with most of the expansion picks by the Kraken leaked and reported on by the media long before the 8pm show scheduled to air on ESPN. The leaked expansion picks to the media, was no surprise in this day and age of Social Media. Absolutely everything finds it’s way into Social Media sooner more often than later. The Carey Price saga quickly evaporated as Seattle took defenceman Cale Fleury from the Canadiens instead of saddling themselves with a ten plus million dollar contract. Price would have been the perfect face of the franchise and would have generated millions in jersey sales and made the Kraken immediately recognizable in the hockey world. Price after all is a West Coast boy and his wife is from the Seattle area.

General Manager Ron Francis took a completely different route than the previous new entry into the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights and their management team drafted players and made side deals with teams to not draft certain players . They became instantly successful and made a Stanley Cup Final’s appearance and have been successful since their inception. The Kraken will not be successful out of the gate with the roster that they now assembled. Their strength will come from their defence as they signed ex Oiler Adam Larsson and drafted former Flames Captain Mark Giordano, who will become the immediate face of the franchise and no doubt their first ever captain. Along with Vince Dunn from St. Louis and Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas, they have a strong top four on the backend.

General Manager Ron Francis has a history from his days with the Carolina Hurricanes of building from the draft. The Kraken will be hard pressed to put the biscuit in the basket on a regular basis. They will rely heavily on Yanni Gourde( Tampa Bay) and Jordan Eberle(NYI) to be the go to scorers. With those two as your top forwards, one would be concerned that they will be on the losing end of the scoreboard most nights in the NHL. Francis still may have a few moves left up his sleeve to add to his lack of scoring upfront. The Kraken have a ton of room in the salary cap and do not be surprised if they bring in a a high priced free agent forward.

Seattle passed on Carey Price and instead will put heir faith in Vitek Vanecek(Washington), Joey Daccord(Ottawa) and Chris Driedger(Florida). They have a solid trio in those goaltenders, some would argue better than a few established teams. Vanecek is the wild card for me, he may come out of the scrum as the starter in this group. All three have a small sample size at the NHL level and it is anyone,s guess how it will play out. One thing is for certain, Driedger will battle hard for the starting job. He has battled his whole career and having spent time with him in the Ottawa organization there is no one who works harder at his craft than he does.

One thing is for certain, Ron Francis and his management team will have the good ship Kraken righted sooner than later. There will not be immediate success, but there will be long term success for this franchise going forward. Seattle will stick to the plan in place and with a solid management core and stable ownership they will be one of the up and coming teams in the near future, along with Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.

Back to Back…Baby!!!

by Mike Ries

The Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned 2021 Stanley Cup Champions on Wednesday Night and the celebration has not stopped. The Lightning were far and away the best team and the best team always wins the championship. Not to take anything away from the Montreal Canadiens, who through true grit and determination made their way to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993 and gave hope to a nation that Lord Stanley could possibly return home north of the border. Unfortunately their magic ran out in the final round and were dominated from the drop of the puck in game one. The Habs were thin offensively to start the playoffs and the concealed injuries to Tyler Toffoli and Brendan Gallagher made scoring goals for les Canadiens damn near impossible and painful to watch at times.

The Montreal Canadiens to their credit defied the odds by upsetting Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas. Nothing to be ashamed of there at all as every so called expert predicted they would fold like a cheap tent in every series. Head coach Dom Ducharme had every player to a man believing in the system that he installed and they played their hearts out. Despite not having much in the way of offensive talent, they relied on the big four horses they had on defence to derail the opposition and of course Carey Price. Who was Carey Price and did what he could to propel this team forward. Unfortunately for the Canadiens faithful the divisions will go back to normal next season. That will mean even a larger hill to climb for Montreal and a playoff berth is even a longshot with the team that they have at the moment. There is no mistaking the fact that they have some top end young talent in Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki and Phillip Danault who emerged as a top tier forward. General manager Marc Bergevin may have escaped the chopping block at the end of this season with the Habs Cinderella run. He and his staff may not be so lucky after next season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are still enjoying the genius that is former General Manager Steve Yzerman. This is still for the most part his blueprint that current General Manager Julien BriseBois has had the fortune of inheriting. The Lightning some argue won the Cup with a roster that was almost 20% over the cap. But they did not do anything any other team would not have done in the Kucherov case. The NHL has changed the no cap rule in the playoffs for next season as a result of the Tampa situation. Tampa will look quite a bit different next season as they will need to trim quite a few current players from the roster to maintain the core talent they have. The upside for the Lightning is that they have a deep pool of talent to draw from in Syracuse and still in Junior and College. The Bolts are as deep on defence as any team in the NHL and are led by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman and he shows no signs of wear and tear.

To repeat as champion in any league is a major feat and should not be over looked. The Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions playing in a bubble with little outside world interaction and an experience no one had ever had been through in history. This season they for the most part iced the same team, save for a couple of players. All the while improving as team game by game it appeared. Tampa had the ability to play and adapt to what the opposition’s style of play was. In this years final Tampa dominated at both ends of the ice and made a statement that they were deserving of hoisting Lord Stanley.

Les Canadiens Need the Energy of Their Rabid Fans

by Mike Ries

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have been nothing short of spectacular in this day and age of NHL hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning have proven once again that they are still the best team on the planet. They are able to play any style of hockey and adapt to the team that is put in front of them. Regardless of the rule bending they applied to circumvent the salary cap that is nonexistent in the playoffs. Speaking of course to the surgery that kept top winger Nikita Kucherov out of the lineup all season. The Lightning are four lines deep and have one of, if not the best core of defencemen in the league. General Manager Julien Brisebois has learned well from his predecessor Steve Yzerman and built a team that can play the run and gun style and beat you 7-6 or they can play a tight defensive style and win 2-1. The Lightning have in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy the top goalie in the league by a long shot and he is proving it in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Tampa honestly does not have a glaring weakness and Montreal is finding that out the hard way to date in the Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens by all accounts should long be exited from the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Unfortunately for the Toronto Maple Leafs they started to believe their own hype and were more concerned about making the pretty play instead of winning hockey games. Les Canadiens beileve to a man in the system that Dom Ducharme has inserted and they make up for the lack talent and skill throughout their lineup, with heart and desire. They made fast work of the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights. Until the final series the Habs have been able to stymie the opposition and the fast pace that most teams use in transition. Montreal first and foremost needs to score the games first goal and defend off the rush from that point forward. They are adept at keeping the play to the outside and with the size on defence that they have, it makes it almost impossible for the opposition to drive the net.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team that Montreal has faced that plays as tight defensively as they do. That creates a whole new set of problems for the Habs as they are undermanned at the forward position and it is showing on the scoreboard and in the series, with Tampa holding a commanding 2-0 lead. The first game of the series the Habs looked and were tired and it was a write off as far as the game went. Game two was a different story as the Canadiens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Vasilevskiy to no avail. The out played Tampa, but with the lack of scoring depth on this team they could again only muster one goal against the Lightning.

The series returns to La Belle Province for games three and four and it is an outrage that the government will not allow the team to have the arena at half capacity. No where on this planet is hockey more revered and followed than the Province of Quebec. There is no doubt it will be a crazy scene outside the Bell Centre, but the team needs the vocal support of it’s fans IN the arena for these games and to prolong the series and to give Montreal a punchers chance to bring the Cup home North of the border