Sunday, May 24, 2015

Thoughts From the Road on The Ride of Hope

Before I begin, I will start with the idea that everything seems to be coming back to:
It is fun to be part of a team because everything is more important than the individuals. On The Ride of Hope, the mission was bigger than even the team.



Saturdays opening ceremonies were amazing. We were so lucky to have so many families of missing children whom were willing to come and take part. Jonnie Carter on behalf of Bethany Markowski, Amy Marchbanks on behalf of Sean Googin, Lisa Buske on behalf of Heidi Alen, Gary Plunket on behalf of his neice Sabrina, Pam Riley on behalf of Laquanta Reily and Mary and Doug Lyall on behalf of Susan Lyall. In addition we had our first team, along with the Sauquoit Valley class of ’99, present our first set of designated riders. Dick Jordan, one of the founders of the ride and only rider to complete all three rides to Washington, introduced us to the story of Lauren Spierer followed by a member of Sarah's class to tell the story of Sarah Ann Wood.  After the emotions of finishing my first full CNY Ride on Friday, my mind was completely preoccupied when we left on the bikes, to the point that not a single thing was bothering me physically. The opening portion of the ride included a police escort from the New Hartford Rec center all the way to Oriskany Falls. Thank you to both the New York State Police and Town of New Hartford police for something that we all certainly appreciated. It was a mix matched day for our team, named by most, Team Hammer. Ryan had to leave early due to a prior engagement and DT broke a spoke and had to head to Binghamton early to avoid having to ride for a couple extra days on a bad tire. I joined on with Jim and Becky and they were kind enough to pull me along for a while. After some miscommunications, we re-grouped a couple miles outside the hotel and were able to roll in with much of the group together. For an 87 mile day, the ride was pretty uneventful, which is definitely a good thing.

Sundays morning meeting opened with a bang. Ahmad Rivazfar gave us all a beautiful reminder of why we were riding and really set the tone for the rest of the ride. The opening presentations were given by the teams to honor Sara Rivazfar, Elizabeth Smart, Trenton Duckett, Ivory Green, Heidi Allen Sean Googin and Tammi McCormick, our designated children of the day. Pennsylvania definitely tested the patience and endurance of all the riders. I dont know if we rode on a well paved road the whole time we spent in that state. Add on to that, the ups and downs of the emotions and landscape and it was truly a test. It was today that the gravity of what we ride for really hit me. As we climbed what I believe was our largest hill of the trip (right before crossing the river) I kept thinking, there is a sag with us you can just pull off and catch a ride up. Then it hit me, my lungs were burning, my legs were screaming, and my back was sore, none of this mattered. We were riding for families whose pain is so much more, no one was going to have a bit of sympathy for me and my “aches and pains,” nor would I be deserving of any of it. I kicked it up a bit and fought to the top of the hill. I will take a moment to enjoy that, as I believe it was the only time I caught DT and Ryan and beat them to the top of one. We got into the Wilkes-Barre hotel, fittingly at the highest point of the city after 88 miles, a bit before the other teams and were able to talk to the media briefly as one of the reporters was in a hurry to get on to another story but wanted to be sure to cover ours. I went back out as each of the other teams came in to cheer them in. Doing this was one of my favorite things as you get to witness the accomplishment on everyones faces as the pull into the destination.

Ah, Monday. This was by far the most physically demanding day of the trip. Top mileage of any day, plus a tight deadline on our two school appearances. Of course, as with Sunday, the terrain didn’t cut us any breaks. From the start we had some logistical issues, the plan was to drop everyone off at a starting point outside the city limits to avoid some rough road and rush hour traffic. However, not everyone had space yet to fit all the people and bikes, which don’t work too well without both parts present I hear. The morning designation was done for Mary Opitz and Bethany Markowski and then we were off.  A group of about 10 of us left a bit ahead on bikes to make room for others in the SAG vehicles. The smaller group was definitely a good idea, we had some of the worst roads we encountered the whole trip on the way down though the city. Once we met up with the rest of the group, we were on our way to our first school of the trip. Our arrival was amazing! The students of Orange St Elementary, many of whom ride their bikes to school, were all outside cheering when we got there. They brought in the band as well to play some pep music to liven things up. After slapping hands and a cheer contest (brought upon by DT and Joe, who’s surprised?) we went into the class rooms to share safety tips, bike tips, and answer some questions. Once we were done, we got our team photo in front of the school and were on our way, a bit later than anticipated but we did ok. Lucky for us, the next school had pushed back our arrival half an hour. We had to cover 20+ miles in an hour and a half to get to the next school on time. We traveled mostly as a group on our way to Danville Elementary and got to ride through almost immediately upon arrival. We broke apart into the classrooms, sharing our messages again. Afterwards the children had to continue with their regular day, we all regrouped again for the presentations of the day’s designated riders. We left the school and stopped for some Burger King, the benefit of riding so much is that even a BK hamburger tasted amazing. Once we took off again we still had about 70 miles to the hotel and the rain cloud could be seen in the distance. Once we hit the highway, with the wind at our backs, we took off. The three of us averaged about 22-23 miles per hour over a close to 30 miles stretch. It took everything I had to keep up with these guys. We were able to keep just ahead of the storm, coming close enough to feel the temps drop and then getting back ahead where it warmed up again. Somehow, we avoided it all. Other groups weren’t so lucky and did get a little wet. We got to the “end” of the day at 101 miles but didn’t see anything prohibiting us from continuing on so we did. Thanks apparently to an alternate route than what the rest of the group took, we rolled our bikes 122 miles in 11 hours and 45 minutes, into the hotel parking lot. I was part of the 2003 Whitesboro hockey state championship hockey team, this day of the ride had me on a more emotional and physical high than I’ve ever been on, including that state championship. It was simply amazing. Cleaning out the vehicle looked like a recycling center with all of our Gatorade and water bottles from the day. We got back and got a nice dinner and followed along with the Comets game only to hear them fall, forcing a game 7 we knew we’d be watching on Wednesday.

Tuesday was a great day to ride. After our morning dedication to Elizabeth Collins, Lyric Cook, and Laquanta Riley as well as a special presentation by Wendy to Tracy King, we were ready to take our time. The temperatures started a little more comfortably and we knew there were was no itinerary for our 38 mile day. It was also the first day that Ana Rivera, our awesome reporter (teamed with her camera woman Christa Calcari) got to get on the bike. She got some quick lessons around the parking lot before we took off and had the luck to ride with Team Hammer to open up. Yes, we even forced her to ride up a hill that she wanted to give up on. With no time restrictions, the groups were much bigger for this ride. We of course got a picture at the infamous guard rail crossing. One of the highlights on this leg, with hardly any convenience stores, was riding by a church and asking for bathrooms. Of course we were welcome in with open arms. Before being allowed to leave we were blessed with a heartwarming prayer. The rest of the ride in was methodical and cheery, it was nice to chat with riders I hadn’t spent time with yet. Upon getting there I made my biggest mistake of the trip. I showered up and prepared for the rest of the day. After resting for a bit, a bike trip (were all crazy, Im aware) was suggested and a dozen of us rolled around Gettysburg led on tour by history buffs Jeff Hudson and Joe DeCola. I of course forgot to re-apply sun screen and in the 2 hours we were out got completely roasted. The history in the area is amazing though, I will be visiting both Gettysburg and Washington again someday, as this was my first time to either place. The family aspect could be seen growing at this small Gettysburg hotel. Many of us sat around that night in the lobby, drinking beer and sharing our stories. A true bonding experience. 

Wednesday morning was our first cooler morning, a good thing too since it was another day with time restrictions. Our team presented our children, Brian Sullivan and Craig Frear, in the morning and Wendy introduced Raymi, Amaru, and Ork'o Frisancho, whose father, Augusto would be meeting us in Gaithersburg that night. She also introduced us to Gabriel and Anastasia Hunkovic, whose father was scheduled to meet us as the hotel but had an emergency which kept him from doing so. A small group left early to insure that everyone got to carry the plaque bag for their portion of the trip and it could be done on time. Once the rest of the group departed we were on our way to another school. We were assured of another hilly day, as we rolled past our first Maryland sign and up a nice steady hill. As we rolled past St Marys University, John Walsh Way was pointed out, dedicated to the co-founder of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It was a touching moment to say the least. We re-grouped outside of the school, did a couple loops around the parking lot then went in to talk to the students in their class rooms. After, it was our teams turn to take the plaque bag. We left a few minutes early knowing we would have a couple extra stops on the way to exchange plus the hills which weren’t looking kind based on the elevation maps. As hard as we pushed, we arrived at the next school stop just 15 minutes before we were supposed to. We waited for the rest of the groups to arrive, then rode in unison into the basketball courts where the children were all waiting, screaming at the top of their lungs. Luckily the school was able to be flexible with their scheduling due to the late arrival. Karen gave an extremely enthusiastic presentation to the entire school which even got the riders excited for the message she was giving. Once she was done, we got to mingle with the students, handing out stickers and pencils, which the students found a variety of uses for but all loved the same. Wendy and crew ordered some pizzas for us to eat before heading for the hotel, I for one was excited for some solid food. At departure we were only 7 miles from the hotel, an exciting idea for all. The welcome to the hotel at Gaithersburg was both unexpected and amazing. The entire crew from the hotel was outside to greet us, as well as a city councilman and Augusto. They had prepared an excellent buffet of hamburgs, pulled pork, salads, and most excitingly they had a huge cooler filled with CHOCOLATE MILK! After getting to meet everyone a big group went down to the train station to help record Anas live shot at 6. From there we went to Dogfish Head Ale House (are we seeing a theme yet), for dinner. The server was great, being a wise ass he fit right in with the group, plus once he heard our story, he wore one of our stickers on this sleeve for the rest of the night. The news crew also met us at the restaurant where we got to tell Anas parents how great she was (not that they didn’t already know). Upon our return, there was a group in the hotel lobby watching the Comets game on a laptop screen, I was cheered upon entering since everyone knew I had brought the TV hookup with me. All the season ticket holders on the trip, plus many more gathered in the lobby and we cheered loudly as we realized he hadn’t missed the last home hockey in the AUD. Another great night of bonding with the group, we all stayed up late knowing it would be our last night together.

Thursday morning rolled in and the weather wanted to be sure it made in impact on the whole group at least once. I was mocked for excessive layers early but after our morning dedication to Suzanne Lyall and Colin Gillis as well as Wendys dedication to Jackson Miller and Joanne Seaquist, most people joined me in an extra layer and rain clothing. We also got to hear a special message from Gary Plunkett about how this ride has gotten him that much closer to his niece Sabrina. We got a late start to the day again, but only due to the amazing stories being told. We hit the road with an amazing, and completely needed, escort from the Gaithersburg police. They took us out to the city limits where we were on our own again. The rain was intermittent early, eventually becoming steady as the temperatures dropped. It became eerily similar to my first CNY Ride for Missing Children just a year before. Luckily the rain never got that heavy. We hit the trailhead where we gained some tree cover which helped a bit as well. Once we got near the city, the trail changed and we missed a couple turns. In good weather this would have been fine as we got to see some different things. Luckily we had some riders who were light hearted to remind us that getting lost and being cold had no impact on our mission, which helped to keep everything in line. Eventually we arrived in the streets of Alexandria, VA and everything started to build. Every worker lined the road outside of headquarters, in the rain to cheer us in. You couldn’t help but be excited for what we had just achieved (even if we still had 15 miles to go to officially finish the ride. Once we entered, we got dry towels (who would have guessed that would be most exciting), drinks, food, and a goodie bag with NCMEC stuff in it. We also received pins with the new “forget me not” stamps on them. The group from headquarters presented to us everything that they do and are working on. A great way to celebrate the 20 year anniversary. We weren’t done yet, it was finally time for Skip to turn over the plaque to the center. Along with the plaque, there was a signed jersey for them as well as one for Ed Suk. Even without standing next to him, it felt so great to be a part of the presentation which summarized what it was all about. Once we wrapped up with some pictures, we took back to the trail to finish our journey (mainly because we didn’t have vehicles to get us back). It was a nice relaxing ride, except the gravel road, knowing that our journey was over and every single one of us played a role in it.

My favorite parts of the trip was the bonding between us all and naturally the kids. Every kid that we are in front of gives us a chance to make a difference in their life. There is nothing more important than that.

I only have two regrets from this trip, the first is not bringing all of my pins with me for Thursdays ride into the center. While our team was dedicated to Brian and Craig, every time I pull the jersey over my head, Im riding for each and every child that Ive represented (and will going forward). The other was not having my jersey signed by each person in our family. It was an honor and privilege to be part of it with you. I hope we can organize a picnic this summer to ensure that we all keep in touch.

Just to wrap up a few thank yous. First to Doc, Joe, Chip and Bob for being the driving force behind this ride. Second, to the sag drivers, we couldn’t have done it without you guys. Dave Hogan for his magical morning prayers. Also, to the Ana, Christa, and WUTR/CNY Homepage in general for helping us get our message out there. To my team, DT, Ryan, Daryl, and Ting. You guys were awesome to spend a week straight with. Finally, to anyone who doesn’t fit one of these categories, thank you. Great things like this dont just appear out of thin air. It take a lot of time and effort by everyone involved to get them done, even if it doesn’t go perfect. This was truly more than a team, it was a family with a mission;


To make our children safer…”

For pictures, videos, and stories from the trip please visit:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheRideOfHope/

Monday, February 2, 2015

#ThruwayPuck Season 3, Episode 1

We're back! In the first episode of the season, Dan and Otto catch up on the season for far, All Star Games, The World Cup of Hockey, AHL re-location and more. Check it out here or download it on Itunes, Just search #thruwaypuck. Find the guys on twitter at @oisen25 and @dpron1.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thoughts about the Frozen Dome Classic



I start this first and foremost by thanking Howard Dolgon and the Syracuse Crunch for choosing to put on this event. It was an event of a lifetime and while I do have some issues with it, none of it could have happened without their efforts.
The first missed opportunity for the game was the marketing of merchandise. I understand this wasn’t an AHL event so they were able to do whatever they wanted. However, as a Comets fan, I had no interest in any of the t-shirts which all had the Crunch logo on them. Even using both logos would have at least made me consider buying something related to the game.
I had seats in section 303, which fell right behind the net. For the price, the tickets were a good value, I can’t complain in the least about our view of the game. I did notice that after the first period that on the bench side, the ice level seats were empty for about the first 15. I wasn't sure why until a couple days later when I talked to someone who had seats there. Apparently the seats were below ice level, so once players were on the bench, there was no view from those seats. Fans in those areas had to be moved to locations where they could see. You would imagine that this would be one of the first things to be considered before setting up seating arrangements. However, the need to sell tickets at the higher price was the priority.
There was no re-entry policy for the event. This was probably the biggest complaint I had about the event. If you wanted to see all of the games, it would have been about an eleven hour day. Eight dollar beers and food prices in the same range made it a ridiculous day out if you were to have brought a whole family had had to feed them one meal, if not two. As a rebellion, not that those in charge care about 5 people, my family and I avoided buying anything from the concessions. Another issue I had was that there was the time taken to plan out the Utica Strong get together as well as one for Syracuse fans. Those who wanted to see the college game were unable to get out to take part in any of them. There is no doubt that there could have been a much larger crowd for the Pioneers versus Lakers game had people been able to leave for the three hour layover between games. I have a hard time believing that a hand stamp and retaining the ticket is that hard of a policy to enforce to allow re-entry into the game.
The ice was a major issue in terms of the actual game play. It appeared to be very soft ice and was definitely slow; the water from the Zamboni took until halfway through the period to set up. Holes were constantly being patched, I’m sure the head referee would have appreciated it, as he found himself on the ice multiple times during the course of the game. I’m not sure I've been a puck bounce around as much as I have in both of the games on the big day. A big part of this I associate with the timeline of the event, which was mostly out of the control of the organizing committee. Another couple days to monitor the conditions would have allowed them to set the temperatures to the idea levels. I just hope the soft ice wasn't an intentional result of knowing it needed to be broken up right after the game. Another good idea would have been to keep the Crunch off the ice on Thursday before the game. They held a skate, even though they had to have cones on the ice to keep players away from problem areas. Getting the ice to idea conditions should have been the priority. Overall, there were 5 games in about 24 hours, while this will take its toll on any ice surface, I do believe that there was an opportunity to have better conditions.
As for the game lineup, it was a very pleasant day of hockey. Both games that I watched were great games considering the circumstances listed above. There was a solid contingent of both UC and Comets fans which helped make the games more fun since we weren't outnumbered as bad as it could have been.
This was my first time at a major event at the Dome. I had attended the Iowa-Syracuse football game years ago, but to say the environment for that was underwhelming would be kind. This event had a buzz from the beginning, even if it did take Comets fans starting chants to get the Syracuse fans going during the AHL game (all but once as far as I could tell). This wasn't all that surprising though given the similar situation at the War Memorial for the one game I attended last year. It was nice though to not experience any disrespectful fans. I’m sure there are situations contrary to mine, but when the biggest insult that I heard from a noisy Syracuse fan near us was “you’re from Utica” I can deal with that. It also made me realize that I need to attend an Oswego hockey game in Oswego. While I couldn't always understand what they were saying, The couple hundred Oswego fan were constantly chanting things, which is exactly how a student section should be. Overall the fan experience was the best part of the day, 30,000+ people watching a local hockey game was awesome!
For the entertainment that the hockey products provided, the rest was lacking a bit. The honorary puck drop was ok, I’m glad they honored the hockey players and the military member as well. However, this was not a Syracuse University event, the basketball and football was irrelevant to anything happening that day. I would have rather seen the owners of the Comets and Crunch if they insisted on filling all of the carpet that they rolled out. I would assume I am in the minority on this given my lack of caring about anything Syracuse sports but that’s the way I see it. Intermission entertainment was pretty weak as well. The Steve-O bit had potential but should have been planned out before the game. Syracuse has plenty of ice rinks around, figuring out the logistics of getting someone past centre ice on a sled (should have been a saucer) wouldn't be that difficult. The Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit was beneficial; it allowed me to kill a few minutes between games and gave me the desire to return to Toronto so that I can actually visit the hall again. I didn't have the patience to push through the lines of people to get to read all of the available information.
This list may seem that it wasn't enjoyable, but I want to clarify that it was a great time and I would certainly do it again. I just feel that there were many things that could have been modified slightly to increase the experience for all involved. A Comets win certainly would have been among those things, but redemption on Wednesday took care of that for me. I’m looking forward now to see how the Comets staff and the AUD do hosting the All-Star game in the near future.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dan's 2014-15 Picks

I will preface this post by saying that I have not had much time to put a lot of thought into my preview so this will be short and sweet.  Though now that I think about it, my past picks have been terrible so maybe a change will help?

Western Conference
This conference is by far the superior conference and is loaded with good teams.  I am willing to bet that teams 9-11 in the West would be in the top 8 in the East.  Based on the fact that there are usually a couple of changes of playoff teams I break it down like this....  Anaheim and St. Louis win their divisions, the Ducks behind a younger line up (sorry Teemu and Saku) and a legitimate 2nd line center in Kesler.  My gut says that John Gibson takes over the #1 job in net.  The Blues added a #1 center in Paul Stastny who deepens their lineup and takes some pressure off David Backes who was being asked to be a shut down center and top scorer.  Jake Allen is ready to be a #1 goalie and will prove it.  In the west, San Jose and LA are too talented to not make the dance.  The Kings seem to take the first couple months in cruise control and then kick it in to gear around February.  Despite all the nonsense that went on in SJ, they still have a lot of talent on the roster.  I then will pick Arizona to be the new girl at the dance.  Injuries really hurt them last year especially the one to goaltender Mike Smith.  If he stays healthy, they make it.  The Canucks will be better because they fired Torterella and finally moved all the guys who didn't want to be there (Kesler, Lou) and brought in Ryan Miller.  He will solidify that spot and the Sedins return to being a dynamic pair.  Not sure where else they get goals from which keeps them out.  The teams in Alberta will again miss the playoffs but they will be better.  Edmonton still has too many questions on D and Calgary can't score.  The rest of the Central will break down like so.  The Blackhawks have one more kick at this thing before the salary cap punishes them for having too many good players.  The darlings of a lot of people are the Stars.  Adding Spezza is huge as long as he stays healthy.  Still worried about their D but coach Lindy Ruff has made a career of making poor talent serviceable on D.  The Avalanche will make a drop from winning the division last year but they again have a lot of talent and a good goaltender.  Just missing the playoffs, is the Wild who will suffer from no goaltender and streaky scoring.  Nashville will be better because their coach is a very good one, and Winnipeg will be in the McEichel sweepstakes.
Pacific                
Anaheim*
San Jose*
LA*
Arizona*
Vancouver
Calgary
Edmonton
Central
St. Louis*
Chicago*
Dallas*
Colorado*
Minnesota
Nashville
Winnipeg

Eastern Conference
As I stated earlier, the East is the least.  In the metro (who named these divisions?)  Pittsburgh will be improved with a new coach, and a fresh outlook.  Their problem is in the playoffs, not making them.  The Rangers lost a couple pieces but are still a solid core, and have King Henry.  The Devils make a big jump.  I really think Broduer was a distraction last season and now Corey Schneider will show off his talent and carry my fantasy team to victory!  In Philly, they seemed to have figured some things out with their new coach.  Giroux loses his pal Hartnell but I think Simmonds steps in to be a top line winger.  Just missing the playoffs are the CBJ's and Islanders.  The Jackets miss because they have a couple key injuries to top 6 guys and they have to play a hard game nigh in and night out.  I just don't see them doing it again this year.  The Islanders will also be right there and could make the dance.  There are some question marks in the line up still but I do like the additions they made in goal and on D.  At the bottom of the division will be the Caps and Canes.  The caps live and die on the power play and Ovie carrying the load.  The Canes aren't sure who their goalie is and have a couple of big injuries they will get a top 3 pick in June. 
In the Atlantic, the Bruins will once again be the top dog in the group.  They have one maybe two kicks left before Chara gets too old and the cap hurts them.  The Lightning continue to improve and will challenge for the division title.  I really like the addition of Jason Garrison to their D and PP.  The Canadians made some interesting changes by letting Gionta and Gorges go to Buffalo and will rely on their younger kids to be their go to guys.  They still have Subban and Price to anchor the team.  The Leafs get back in the dance behind a Rocket Richard season from Phil Kessel and a Vezina season from Jonathan Bernier.  If those guys are their best players then they have a shot.  Just missing the playoffs are the Panthers.  They should be much improved from last year but I just don't think their kids are ready to lead.  I'm thinking that Detroit misses because it's just time for them to miss.  I'm probably wrong but why not.  Ottawa is a little bit of mess in my opinion.  I do not like making Karlsson captain.  Just because he is your best player does not mean he should be your captain.  Anyhow, they were a mess last year and lost their number 1 center.  They did make the playoffs 2 years ago so they could bounce back.  Then there's Buffalo.  The suffering is almost over, one more season and then they can get McEichel.  They could win 10 more games than last season and still be in last place.  Just let that sink in.
Metro
Pittsburgh*
New York Rangers*
New Jersey*
Philadelphia*
Columbus
New York Islanders
Washington
Carolina

Atlantic
Boston*
Tampa Bay*
Montreal*
Toronto*
Florida
Detroit
Ottawa
Buffalo

East Winner:  Tampa Bay
West Winner:  St. Louis
Stanley Cup:  St. Louis




Saturday, October 4, 2014

2014-15 Season Predictions

Otto's Picks:
AtlanticMetropolitanCentralPacific
Boston*Pittsburgh*Chicago*LA*
Montreal*Washington*St Louis*San Jose*
Tampa Bay*NY Rangers*Minnesota*Vancouver*
TorontoColumbus*Colorado*Anaheim
DetroitPhiladelphia*Dallas*Edmonton
BuffaloNJ DevilsNashvilleArizona
OttawaNY IslandersWinnipegCalgary
FloridaCarolina
* Denotes playoff team

East Comments:
In the Atlantic, I don't see much changing at the top of the division. I don't see Toronto having a change in philosophy that allows their goalies to become less of a responsibility. However, if the goaltenders play as they did midway through last year, they could grab a wild card spot. Detroit made the playoffs last year, however I think they took advantage of an extremely weak east in doing so. This year a few teams have improved to keep them out. I'm one of the few that doesn't see Buffalo being a lock for the last spot in the league. They made some moves this off season that actually improve their roster. The biggest question in Buffalo is goal tending, if they don't get competent help, they will be the favorites in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. I don't know what Ottawa has this year, they did lock up Bobby Ryan, however they still lack overwhelming power in any particular spot. Florida has no questions in goal with the addition of Bobby Lou, however they don't have any top scorers and the defense lacks power unless Aaron Ekblad makes a major difference,

In the Metro, I couldn't find a way to knock Pittsburgh out of the top spot. Despite their playoff issues they have been one of the strongest regular season teams in the league. I think Washington make a jump this year after their off-season make over. The Rangers maintain course taking the third playoff spot. Columbus builds on last years success and again gets the top wild card spot. Philadelphia came on strong last week, and while slipping a bit this year, will still claim a playoff spot. The Devils added names to this year, however most of them are far past their prime. A non playoff team needs to improve their roster and I don't know if they did enough. I'm not sold on the Islanders roster either. Their goalie is an upgrade and having Tavares back will help but not enough to jump into the playoffs. Carolina is my pick for the last place team in the league. An aging goalie and a shallow roster spells trouble for the Canes.

West Comments:
Full disclosure, I have no idea how to differentiate between most of these teams. In the Central, I don't see the Avs repeating their start from last season, which played a crucial roll in their top seeding for the playoffs. This year they finish lower, but still in the playoffs. In their place, the Blackhawks claim the top seed in the division. They just have too much talent on their roster. The Blues also carry on this season, Young talent up front and in back but another team that is relying on not so proven goaltending. The Wild also lack goaltending experience, however their top 6 will compete with any team in the league. A developing D will continue to improve and the Wild will take the top wild card in the West. The Stars will also continue on from last year. They have a ton of talent and good goaltending, A higher finish wouldn't surprise me in the least. Nashville hasn't improved quite enough yet, however a good goalie can take a team over the top with a few stolen wins here and there. Winnipeg lacks in just about all areas, resulting in last place in the Central.

In the Pacific LA and San Jose remain among the top in the league, both have great talent remaining from last year and no reason to see them drop (even if the Kings don't seem to care where the enter the playoffs). The Canucks jump up into third in the division with consistent goaltending in Ryan Miller. Somehow, the Ducks fall out, despite their offensive talent, their goalies are now unproven in the NHL. While Edmonton will be better this year, they play in a division that their jump would need to be astronomical to get them into the playoffs, which it wont be. Arizona will be another solid team in the west, however not good enough to make the playoffs. Calgary's struggles will continue, however they wont be competing for last in the league, that award will go to someone in the west.

Picks for the cup:
East Representative:
Otto - Montreal

West Representative:
Otto - San Jose

2014-15 Stanley Cup Champions:
Otto - San Jose

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions -Dan

Seeing that I am supposed to be doing Graduate School work and watching my 8 month old son, I will keep this brief.

I'll also be honest and tell you all that I have not been able to watch much hockey since the Olympics so my picks will probably reflect that.

Boston-Detroit
Boston is healthy and playing very well to end the year.  They have the goaltender and the team D to keep Detroit in check.  The miles are starting to pile up on Chara who has looked slow at times this season. 
BOSTON IN 5

Tampa Bay - Montreal 
This might be the most evenly matched series in the East.  The addition of Vanek seems to be working quite well for the Habs.  But Stamkos + Callahan > Vanek and Pacioretty = BOLTS IN 7

Pittsburgh - Columbus
This is a interesting match up for the Pens.  I see the Jackets giving the Pens a lot of trouble keeping games close but overall the Pens are just a better team and they have #87
PENS IN 6

Philadelphia - New York 
This looks to be an interesting match up also.  The Flyers turned things around from a terrible start to the season and have played good if not great hockey ever since they changed head coaches.  The Rangers have some firepower on paper but just haven't seemed to put it all together.  They are just kind of there.  Not great, not bad just average.
FLYERS IN 6  I refuse to root for Marty St. Louis after the move he pulled to leave TB and I think another Philly-Pitt series would be awesome.  This pick could backfire if Mason reverts to his days in Columbus and they don't get enough PP opportunities.

Anaheim - Dallas
The Stars getting in is a good story but I don't see them taking down the Ducks.  Perry and Getzlaf are too much for the Stars to handle.  DUCKS IN 5

Colorado - Minnesota
Finally we reach the series that will split the Isenberg home for at least a week!  I'll take A'nna's young and speedy Avs over Otto's old philosophers (Bryz) from Minnesota.  AVS IN 5

San Jose - Los Angeles
This should be a great series.  I have no real insight into it at all so I will flip a coin and say... 

SHARKS IN 7

St. Louis -Chicago
It's too bad that both of these team were hit with an injury bug and struggled down the stretch.  I really don't have a clue who will win so since I live in Buffalo and it is beneficial to the Sabres for the Blues to make the conference final, I will take BLUES IN 7

 

2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions - Otto

West:
Anaheim vs Dallas: (Season series: Stars 2-1)
The Ducks wrapped up the top spot in the West a few days before the end of the season. Their opponent was still up in the air until Dallas was able to overtake the final wildcard spot from the Mike Smithless Phoenix Coyotes.
Anaheim has been among the trio of California teams batting for the top spot in the Pacific Division all season. The Ducks have been one of the league’s best home teams this season, their 29 home wins are good for second best. They do not struggle to score, however they do not have the scoring depth of some of the teams in this year’s playoffs. They will need to get good goaltending from Jonas Hiller if they are to make a deep run this year.
The stars quietly made their way back into the playoffs for the first time since the 07-08 season despite a loss to the Coyotes in the final game of the season. A balanced scoring attack led by Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is what helped the Stars back to the playoffs.  Steady goaltending provided by Kari Lehtonen didn't hurt their chances either. They will need the same performance that they got in his 33 wins to get past the Ducks in the first round.
While I like to think that the Stars have the ability to grind it out with Anaheim’s top two lines, I think that in the end the Ducks will be able to overpower the Stars.  I’ll take the Ducks in 6.

Colorado vs Minnesota (Season Series: Avs 4-0-1)
Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were near the bottom of the league in virtually every category. Their only major win was the draft lottery, which provided them with the first overall pick. This season has been a complete change in fortune. The Avs were competing for the top seed in the west up until the last game of the season. While that bid came up short, they were able to pass both the Blues and Blackhawks to claim the Central Division title, landing them a date with the Minnesota Wild in the first round. They keys to success for the Avs were outstanding goaltending from Semyon Varlamov  (a team record 41 wins in 63 games played) and unbelievable play from the young stars. They Avs are a threat to score at any point of the game while not sacrificing defense to do so. They speed that the Avs possess doesn't compare to any team I have watched this season.
The Wild put together a nice push at the end of the season to walk away with the top wild card spot. After a quick scare that they might falter like they did to close out the 2012-13 campaign, not counting a lopsided loss to the Predators on the final day of the season, the Wild won their last 4 meaningful games. In that stretch, the wins came against Pittsburgh, Boston, St Louis, and Winnipeg. Healthy goaltenders have been an issue for the Wild this season. 4 goalies have made 10 or more starts, all 4 of them registering at least 5 wins. It appears Ilya Bryzgalov will be the starter for the Wild, though youngster Darcy Kuemper will be ready to go if called upon.
Although I will be rooting for the Wild to win, I have a feeling they have one more year to go before making a playoff run. Qualifying for a second straight year is definitely something to build upon. Overall it’s the speed and goaltending that will allow the Avs to win this series in 5.

San Jose vs Los Angeles (Season Series: Kings 3-1-1)
This battle of California is the series that I am looking forward to watching the most. They Sharks have been sharp all season while battling for the Pacific division title. However, they have struggled this decade (and some of the last) to get their wins when it matters. On paper their team game should be successful, they have a great combination of leadership and youth. They have consistent goaltending which is all that they need when everyone buys in to the system.
The Kings are one of those teams that don’t play their best hockey in the regular season. As long as they are in position to make the playoffs they re content. Their grind it out style game is exactly what is needed for the second season. A healthy Jonathan Quick may be the difference in this series, unless trade deadline Marian Gaborik can shake of his playoff struggles and provide some offensive firepower. If the Kings can start scoring some goals to go along with their team defense, they may become the team to beat in 2014.
Seeing San Jose win this series at home wouldn't surprise me in the least. However, since they have been there before and have proved that they can win, I’ll take the Kings in 6.

St Louis vs Chicago (Season Series: Blues 3-2)
Just two weeks ago, the Blues were looking to knock off the Pacific powerhouses and claim the top spot in the west. Six games, and six losses later, not only did they not get the top spot in the west, they didn't even finish with the top spot in the Central. Ryan Miler has looked average at best, possibly the result of few to many pucks in Buffalo. They Blues haven’t been able to score lately either. They will need both to get back on track to make a run at the Blackhawks, even though the Blues are the higher ranked team.
Chicago might have gotten an odd form of benefit from the injuries to Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane. Both players are keys to the success of the Blackhawks and were important to their Olympic teams as well. So, given that both return above 90% healthy, the rest could rejuvenate the defending champions. Cory Crawford has been reliable again this season, registering 32 wins.
I don’t know if the Blues can snap out of their slump in time to beat a very talented and experienced Blackhawks team. Chicago in 6 is my pick.

East:

Boston vs Detroit (Season Series: Wings 3-1)
Boston is the most balanced team in the East by a long shot. They can score goals, they have great defense, and their goalie is in the running for the Vezina trophy. The Bruins have been able to take it easy down the stretch, resting a few key players without the threat of being caught by anyone else in the East. The idea that it might have been a bad thing that most of season was played without much competition is concerning for those outside of the Boston locker room. Whether or not they are able to flip the switch to playoff competition will be interested, especially against an opponent like the Wings
The Red Wings simply don’t know how to miss the playoffs. Only a few weeks ago, the possibility of a Detroitless playoffs seemed to be real. As the weeks wound down, the young players took over and the Wings started to get healthy. Datsyuk and Zetterberg returned to the lineup, providing the leadership and experience that was needed to make the playoff push that always seems to happen. They Wings have to like their chances against the Bruins as well given their regular season success against them. They play of Jimmy Howard will be the key to this series. If he can steal a game early, especially on the road, it may swing the momentum enough to change the series.
Of all the wild card teams, I think Detroit has the best chance to move on. However, I think that Boston might just be too good to lose this one. I’ll take the Bruins in 7,

Pittsburgh vs Columbus (Season Series: Penguins 5-0)
Baring another collapse by Marc-Andre Fleury, I believe that this series will be the most lopsided for the first round. The Pens can score with anyone in the league, as long as they are able to stay healthy. While that wasn't the case for most of the year, they are getting most of their key guys back as the playoffs start.
Columbus cannot match the offensive output of the Pens so they will be relying heavily on the services of the Bob. Sergei Bobrovski led the Jacket to 32 wins this year, 5 by shutout, while posting a .923 save percentage.  He will need to keep up those numbers just to keep the Blue Jackets in the series.
I think Bobrovski steals one at home but it will be just that. The Jackets get overpowered and the Pens take the series in 5.

Tampa Bay vs Montreal (Season Series: Lightning 3-0-1)
This match-up pairs 2 of the hottest teams in the league headed into the playoffs. Both have registered 7 wins in their last 10. While the season series looks like the Lightning dominated, 3 of the 4 games were decided in a shootout.
Tampa Bay has continued to succeed despite the departure of Marty St Louis. The team play of Ryan Callahan has allowed Steven Stamkos to excel as one as the league’s best players upon his return from injury. Ben Bishop, another potential Vezina candidate, has been important too. An X factor to start the year, his 37 wins kept the Lightning near the top of the division all season.
Montreal has quietly had a good season as well. Olympic goal medalist Carey Price led the Habs to second place in the division. Trade deadline acquisition Thomas Vanek helped solidify a solid offensive group. 
I think Carey Price’s career year continues and he leads the Canadians on to the second round in 6 games.

New York vs Philadelphia (Season Series: Tied 2-2)
This match up is arguably the biggest rivalry of the first round on the eastern side, though Detroit and Boston might not be too far behind for long.
The Rangers battled most of this year with the transition between the old and new style that comes with the hiring of a new coach. Now that they have settled in and added experience in Marty St. Louis, the Rangers have become a formidable opponent for anyone in the East. Brad Richards returned to being a 20 goal scorer, along with Rick Nash, while 5 other players got within 3 of the 20 goal mark. If Henrik Lundqvist can find playoff consistency to match his 2.36 regular season goals against average, this team looks mighty dangerous.
Philadelphia is surprise team in these playoffs given their terrible start to the season. A quick pull of the plug and changing of the coach allowed the Flyers to turn their season around and climb back into the playoff hunt. Another surprise this season for the Flyers is the play of Steve Mason. Written off by many, he returned this season and posted 33 wins. Seven, twenty goal scorers is the key for the Flyers. The Rangers might be able to shut down a line or two but if they can get secondary scoring, the Flyers have a chance to make a run.

I feel that the Rangers are going to have a good post season this year. They have the weapons to score goals and Lundqvist is due for a big playoff performance. In what should be a very intense series, I’ll take the Rangers in 6.