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Remember Steve Bernier?

Longtime followers of Pucked in the Head might remember that we started out as a podcast called Bernier is a Turd. That was back when Steve Bernier was an overpaid roster spot holder for the Vancouver Canucks. We frequently complained that Mr Turd was a sorry excuse for a hockey forward, and accused him of being a garbage goalmonger of the very worst sort. “He can only score if he’s standing in the crease,” we lamented, “and only then, with no goaltender between him and the goal line.”

Theory: Steve Bernier can only score from here, just not when that guy with the pads is there.
Theory: Steve Bernier can only score from here, just not when that guy with the pads is there.

Turns out we were half wrong.

Bernier now plies his trade in the American Hockey League, for the New York Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. As the Hartford Wolf Pack pressed to tie a 3-2 game late in the third period, our man Steve lay down, angling his shin pads just so, to block a point shot from Ryan Graves. The puck bounced, ricocheted, rebounded, even caromed the length of the ice into the Hartford net. There was indeed no goaltender, as the Pack had opted for an extra attacker. But we admit — Bernier can, indeed, hit the net from outside the crease.

You can’t say he didn’t do it on purpose.

If you liked this, check out our Weird Goals post. Oh, and its sequel, Weird Goals II.

 

At last, the Cubs win

anchorman-007

“I am a glass case of emotions right now.”

No, this is not a story about Anchorman. But you gotta love that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was no doubt feeling all the pressure one would expect in Game Seven of the World Series, while playing for a team that had not won in 108 years, picked that quote to describe his mental state of affairs last night. And that David Ross, the veteran catcher who was playing his last game in the majors, had just previously told him “Well, it’s only going to get worse. Just continue to breathe. That’s all you can do, buddy. It’s only gonna get worse.” Wiser words…

Game Seven in the World Series. By default this is a situation that comes with some pressure, right? Each team has won 3 games. Whoever wins this one gets champagne showers, so you know there’s pressure. This is the situation that every kid playing baseball dreams about, being at the plate or on the mound at the end of Game Seven, winning the game for your team and your town and your fans. Joe Biden would probably think of it as a pretty big deal.

Joe Biden, ice cream and a fist full of tens.
Who are we kidding? Biden is too busy living the freaking life.

But this was no ordinary Game Seven, last night in Cleveland. No, this was Game Seven featuring the two teams in baseball with the longest Series droughts – the Cubs’ infamous 108 years, Billy Goat Curse and all, but the Indians sporting a not-too-shabby 78 years of their own. For perspective, the last time the Cubs had won the World Series, American women did not have the right to vote, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, and there was no major league baseball on the West Coast. It was an awfully long time ago. And even the Indians’ last win came as African-Americans were finally in the Majors – Larry Doby and Satchel Paige both played for the 1948 Indians – and Harry Truman was President. Generations of Cubs and Indians fans have never seen their team win the Series.

The 1908 Chicago Cubs
But seriously, guys, can I get a smile here? YOU’RE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.

The Cubs dominated the regular season but had gone down 3-1 in the Series, then come back to make it 3-3. For the deciding game, the Cubs started Kyle Hendricks, he of the best ERA in the regular season, while the Indians countered with Corey Kluber, who had already won two Series games and was pitching on short rest.

Continue reading At last, the Cubs win

Weird Goals II

We at Pucked in the Head appreciate weirdness. Odd scoring plays, in particular, bring us equal parts unbridled joy and unsolicited hate mail. Consequently, we are happily wary to present this, the second installment of Weird Goals. (The inaugural Weird Goals post can be found here.)

Loui Eriksson starts off his Canucks tenure with a bang
From horrible trades and season-long injuries to embarrassing contracts and mysterious coaching changes, the Vancouver Canucks have had a rough go of things since gifting the Boston Bruins the 2011 Stanley Cup final. The latest bit of bizarre came on the opening night of 2016-17 against the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Calgary Flames.

After signing a big off-season free agent contract, Loui Eriksson was making his Canucks debut. Less than ten minutes into the first period, Troy Brouwer drew a penalty; Ryan Miller skated to the bench for an extra attacker, as the Canucks had possession. Eriksson found himself hounded by four — count ’em, four! — Flames, and despite having the delayed penalty on his side, panicked. He threw the puck back to his defenseman, but WAIT! The D were thinking line change and/or attack, so the puck slid the length of the ice and directly into the Vancouver net. Brouwer got credit for the snipe before heading to the box for an ineffective Canucks power play.

Interesting point: after this game, Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had a perfect 1.000 save percentage, and courtesy of a Vancouver shootout win, a 1-0 record. However, he was not credited with a shutout because of Eriksson’s blunder.

Twitter just it up, as you can imagine. BTW, after nine games in Canuck blue and green, this remains Eriksson’s lone goal of the season.

Flames score as Dumba goal as you’ll ever see
What the hell, Calgary? You get all these bizarro goals and you’re still a Pacific Division stinker? I mean, sure, you’ve got that one win for Lanny back in ’89, but jeez Louise, you’ve gotta turn all of these awful gimmes into more than one lousy Cup.

Devan Dubnyk has no chance at all when a shot by David Jones goes off Mike Reilly’s stick, then caroms off Matt Dumba’s head into the net.

Marc Bergevin throws the puck into his own net
Who says the San Jose Sharks only have bad luck? Early in this game against the St Louis Blues, Marc Bergevin decides to gift some karma to Mike Ricci et al with a shortstop-worthy flip into the back of his own goal. Gary Suter dumps the puck in; Bergevin gloves it and tries to fling it away from the onrushing Sharks forwards. Instead, it flies past a stunned Roman Turek into the Blues net. Tie game.

Ed Belfour gifts Mike Gartner, 1993 All-Star Game
Mike Gartner isn’t supposed to play. An allegedly hungover Ed Belfour probably shouldn’t. Together, they make magic in the first period of the 1993 All-Star Game.

Belfour comes well out of the net to prevent the fastest skater in the league from catching up to an Adam Oates clearing play, and lets the puck through the wickets with hilariously bad form. Gartner, added to the lineup to replace injured Rangers teammate Mark Messier, scores his second goal in 22 seconds to put the Wales Conference up 2-0 early. (He goes on to score two more and earn MVP honours before the game is out; Belfour allows six goals in his 20 minutes of duty.)

Bonus: the 1993 All-Star Game in its entirety.
Watch Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine, Pavel Bure, Alexander Mogilny and Adam Oates, among others, as the Wales Conference beats the Campbell Conference 16–6. Twenty years ago, the ASG was actually watchable.

 

2016-17 NHL Fantasy Draft, part one

It’s been four years since I last joined a hockey pool. I’ve enjoyed the game far more in years that I don’t have a horse in the race, you know? This season, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the manure-flavoured wind and join a workmate’s keeper fantasy league. Here’s how my draft went (part one):

Round One – Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), 8th overall pick
Even if he plays for the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ St Louis Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko is bloody exciting to watch. He’s an explosive player whose speed and agility recall a young Pavel Bure, and I loved watching Pavel play. This guy can score from just about anywhere, and last year he did — 40 goals was good for fourth overall in the NHL in 2015-16. Tarasenko is on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17, and ranked at #6 overall by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy.
Picked 8th overall, just after Steven Stamkos — how the hell does Stammer go 7th?!?!? — and one before Joe Pavelski.

Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.
Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues is the EA Sports NHL 17 cover dude, and my first round pick. Photo cribbed from the St Louis Blues website.

Round Two – Erik Karlsson (D), 17th overall pick
Karlsson’s 82 points was good for fifth in the league last year (well, tied for fourth but Joe Thornton had three more goals than Karlsson). Buddy had 66 assists despite playing on the woeful Ottawa Senators. Again, a joy to watch this guy play the game. It’s easy to cheer for someone who makes plays like this.
Picked 17th overall, just after Carey Price and one before Ben Bishop.

Round Three- Artemi Panarin (LW), 32nd overall pick
Artemi Panarin was lightning with Patrick Kane last season. Sure, there are rumours the Blackhawks might split them up to start the year, but he’ll still be on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. How , oh how will he ever score 77 points again with those losers on his line; huge loss for the plucky sophomore. Yes, I just wrote ‘plucky sophomore’ — mainly because of this:

Picked 32nd overall, just after Dustin Byfuglien and one before Cory Schneider.

Rounds 4-15 to come.

Thanks a lot, Ovi

I was all kinds of cynical coming into the World Cup of Hockey. “Who cares about Gary Bettman fellating Toronto for two weeks?” I asked. “It’s just a glorified pre-season cash grab.”

It’s easy to stand by those remarks. Many of the world’s best hockey players — Phil Kessel among them — aren’t spending these couple of weeks in Hogtown wearing their national flags. In the case of Team Europe and Team North America, even the players who are there are wearing shirts with meaningless, made-up logos.

It’s easy to laugh at the States — Tortorella, Kesler & Co. just take themselves so seriously — so Kessel’s jibe on Twitter is too joyfully snarky to shake off. But let’s admit it: the Yanks weren’t that bad. They outshot the Czechs by a wide margin, and put a pretty good scare into Canada for ten to fifteen minutes of the first period. Even when that elimination game was a foregone conclusion, the good guys up by three goals in the third period, America the beautiful hit three posts and even scored one to make it interesting. Face facts, and it was a lucky bounce off of Corey Perry’s gut that proved the turning point in Canada’a game two romp.

I’m not upset at the U.S. getting knocked out, especially after the clusterbleep of Americentric propaganda coming out of the Rio Olympics. What kills me is the elimination of Team North America. That entire team played with jump and grit nearly every shift. Their breakneck speed and puppy-like enthusiasm brought fans out of their seats, coaching systems bedamned. Mistakeswwre made multiple times per shift! It’s what makes the World Juniors such a blast every year — even goals against are spectacular.

Coach Todd McLellan saw the speed and skill of the kids and decided to play — gasp — a fun style of hockey. After all, if you peer through the bluster of hockey media and clear away the vast sums of money that lather up those precious athletic egos, fun is what the game is supposed to be about, isn’t it?

But back to Mother Russia. Tarasenko and his comrades issued a 4-3 comeback against  the younguns featured a colossal second-period meltdown that must have felt pretty familiar to the Maple Leaf fans in the building; the only difference here was that Team North America very nearly scored their way out of the problem. Russia was merely lucky not to let these kids into overtime.

Mans so we have a Saturday night loser-go-home tilt between Canada and Russia. And somehow it feels like meh.

It’s hard to believe that Sid the Not-A-Kid-Anymore versus the Great Eight is a letdown, but damn it all, that Team North America was just so bloody entertaining, it’s a shame to see them sit after just three games. We may never see Connor McDavid set up Auston Matthews for another goal again. Ever. And that’s hard to swallow.

Damn it, even Team North America’s goal song was fun.

The good news is that the Toronto Star says the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry still exists. You know, except that one of them has won multiple Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals and a long-running Tim Hortons contract. The other? Sure, he’s got a Rocket Richard trophy or two — Ovechkin can snipe all the live long day — and some World Championship titles, but you only win those when your team is out of the playoffs early. Fact: Alex Ovechkin will forever be judged by the hardware he hasn’t won. Right now he’s in the mix for the Best Player Who’s Never Won a Cup award with the Sedins, Marcel Dionne and Darryl Sittler.

Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin' bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.
Alex Ovechkin is the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ bastard who robbed us of a Canada-Team North America semi at the World Cup of Hockey.

Even if he does manage a miracle, and gets Russia past Canada this Saturday, even if he then helps win the best-of-three final against either Sweden or Team Europe, a pre-season, cash grabbing World Cup of Hockey trophy won’t bring him up to Crosby’s level.

The Need For Consistent “C”

Building a team within the confines of MLS isn’t a particularly easy task. By and large, the player pool is generally limited to in-betweeners (those who can’t quite make the cut in other leagues) and to players either in the dawn or twilight of their careers.  It’s also limited to players who are willing to work and play on our vast continent and put up with the turf and the travel – there is minimal contrast between most when it comes to talent in a league driven by parity such as MLS.

Erik Hurtado fell down. It was Scott Dann's fault. The Vancouver Whitecaps drew at two with Crystal Palace FC of the British Premier League at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Erik Hurtado busts his balls every game. But he isn’t often a difference maker, like the vast majority of MLS’ers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Designated Player rule is a means by which teams can bolster their roster – it is the most immediate mechanism clubs have to separate themselves from the pack. And when you’re hamstrung by the budget limitations enforced by the Whitecaps front office, it makes the necessity to utilize that mechanism all the more difficult – and crucial.

It is also a process that the Whitecaps have seemingly overlooked and/or underestimated repeatedly.

Continue reading The Need For Consistent “C”

Slideshow: Salmonbellies vs Adanacs lacrosse

As a photographer, I’ve had the pleasure of capturing images of ATP Challenger tennis, football at MLS and FIFA international events, as well as puck from Timbits hockey and the beer leagues al the way up to the bigs. Somehow, though, I’d never shot Canada’s other national sport, lacrosse. Until last week, that is. Thanks to Jen and Erin at Tenth to the Fraser for encouraging me to try it out.

Here are my best pics from a nailbiter, a dramatic 10-9 win for the first-place New Westminster Salmonbellies on their home floor at Queen’s Park Arena.

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Vancouver’d

Dudes. You're missing an A. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Dudes. You’re missing an A. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

For nearly half an hour on Wednesday night it looked as though the Whitecaps would become back-to-back Canadian champions.  Vancouver took advantage of a Bradley-less, Irwin-less Toronto FC squad to stake out to a 2-0 lead (2-1 on aggregate) and carried that lead well into stoppage time.  A disinterested and detached Giovinco, seen moping around the pitch at BC Place for 90 minutes, didn’t help TFC’s cause much either.

Pedro Morales and Will Johnson battle for a ball near the Toronto touch line in first half action of the Canadian Championship final. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pedro Morales and Will Johnson battle for a ball near the Toronto touch line in first half action of the Canadian Championship final. It was the latter who would eventually play hero. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Everything was seemingly coming up Whitecaps.  After a rather pedestrian first 45, Carl Robinson subbed in firecracker Nicolás Mezquida at half-time in place of Russell Teibert. The move paid immediate dividends when the Uruguayan scored just two minutes later.  Tim Parker pushed the Caps into the pole position after a nifty chest-to-foot volley in the 68th minute found the netting in behind replacement keeper Alex Bono.

Continue reading Vancouver’d

Morneau gives back

Our man John Stewart has given Pucked in the Head some much-appreciated content of late, so I thought I’d keep that ball rollin’. BASEBALL, Y’ALL.

The pride of New Westminster, four-time All-Star infielder Justin Morneau, has recently signed a one-year contract with the Chicago White Soxs. He’s hoping for a return to the bigs sometime next month — probably after the All-Star Game — but will probably see some action with the AAA Charlotte Knights quite soon to shake off the rust. With concussion problems and a wonky elbow, Morneau was limited to just 49 games last season for the Colorado Rockies, who declined the contract option for another year. Enter the ChiSox, who currently sit in the bottom third of the league in just about every hitting category you can imagine. This is a team that desperately needs Morneau to bring even half of his batting title form to the plate if they hope to make a run at a Wild Card spot.

Justin Morneau in a Team Canada jersey.
Justin Morneau suited up for Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, hitting .308 over three games, including two doubles and three RBIs.

During the off-season, Morneau kept busy on a number of fronts. He had surgery to repair a tendon in that troublesome elbow, and focussed on continued recuperation from multiple concussions. Off the field, Morneau donated nearly $35,000 to KidSport in his hometown of New Westminster. KidSport is an organization that assists children of all backgrounds take part in registered sport. Morneau’s donation puts nearly 150 kids who might not otherwise be able to afford sign-up fees and equipment onto New Westminster fields, rinks and courts .

“Justin’s donation came at a time when we really needed it,” says Jen Arbo, KidSport New West Registrar. “KidSport New West has seen a significant rise in number of families applying for funding. In 2015, for example, we saw a 33% increase in total value of grants given out compared to 2014. So far this year, we are on track to see a similar increase. In January 2016 alone we gave out just under $6,000,” says Arbo.

KidSport New West Chair Sandon Fraser says the money is used for a variety of team and individual sports. “The only real limitations [for recipients] are that the sport be a full season, and that registration be with a provincial sport organization.”

For his part, Morneau downplays his donation, “I didn’t do this to receive attention,” he says, “but if it can inspire others to donate or help out with charitable causes then I guess it’s worth the media attention.”


Pucked in the Head was fortunate enough to trade email with the 2014 National League batting champion. Here is our chat with the man Vin Scully calls Big Butter Egg Man, Justin Morneau.

Pucked in the Head: We all know about your success on the baseball field, and hereabouts it’s quite well known that you were a pretty good goalie back in the day. What other sports had a role in your development, personally and professionally?
Justin Morneau: We played almost any sport we could growing up. We played a lot of wiffle ball in my back yard, a lot of street hockey, pick up basketball and whatever else we could make up in our minds. The games we played were not usually organized by parents. We usually just got together and figured out our own teams and what rules we would play by. I think this is something that really helped my development as an athlete because it wasn’t forced by parents. I was getting better athletically without even knowing I was doing it. I feel like this isn’t something that is done as much by kids today.
PITH: At the highest competitive levels, how similar are the roles of catcher and goaltender?
JM: I’ve been asked this question many times in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to come up with a solid answer. I don’t think there are too many similarities.
PITH: According to Wikipedia, your favourite players growing up included Ray Bourque — who is also my favourite hockey player of all time, by the way — and Cam Neely, as well as John Olerud and Larry Walker. Travelling in pro athlete circles, have you met them at all? Does a pro athlete get the same thrill meeting those childhood idols that we mere mortals do?
I haven’t had the chance to meet Ray Bourque or Cam Neeley yet. I played against Olerud quite a few times and had some short conversations with him at first base. I was also able to get him to sign a bat for me, which was very cool. I have gotten to know Larry Walker quite well. I played my first game in the big leagues against him and before the game he sent over a signed bat that said “to Justin, make Canada proud”. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.
rockies-bobblehead
Two accolades Jason forgot while introducing his email question: Justin Morneau’s 2014 NL Batting Title and being immortalized as a bobblehead. I mean, how cool is THAT?
They tell me winning isn’t everything, but you’ve won quite a few things in your career. MVP awards, Silver Sluggers, a Home Run Derby, a division title and even a Memorial Cup. What is your fondest sports memory outside of the formal accolades?
I think my favourite memories of sports are the relationships that I’ve built along the way. All the way back to when I was playing tyke hockey in New West, to my minor league roommates and then people like Larry Walker. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome. Not only are they two of the greatest baseball players of all time, but more importantly two of the most humble and genuinely nice people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. 
We all know that team sports, and athletics in general, are amazing tools for developing responsible, healthy, able youth. However, the recent discussion around concussions has some parents thinking twice about just how active their kids should be. Obviously, you have a very personal experience with the issue. What’s your take?
While the risk of concussion is real, I still feel the odds of getting one are low. I think the most important thing is that kids aren’t afraid to let someone know when they’ve experienced concussion symptoms, but even more importantly the parents are able to make the right decisions for the health of the child including taking them to a doctor and not pushing them back on the field or the ice for whatever reason. I think we have come a long way in educating parents that true toughness isn’t playing through a concussion like the olden days of “getting your bell rung, and getting back out there”, but of doing what is right in terms of long term health of the child and their brain. 

How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?

At Fenway Park last week, the Mariners took the first game of three from the Red Sox. In doing so, they got a win against the best hitting team in the American League — and in fact in all of baseball. The Mariners are currently ranked second in the AL behind Boston, and fifth in the Major Leagues.

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be able to write that paragraph this season, I would have laughed out loud. Now, in the Mariners’ 40th season in the Major Leagues, I have the pleasure of doing so.

My editor, who continuously nags at me on Facebook about my lack of baseball writing, wondered… why. Why is this Mariners team hitting so well? How did Franklin Gutierrez hit two home runs and drive in six runs in that game? Why is Robinson Cano, recovered from offseason surgery, having such a great season? How has this team hit 101 home runs — and how is it that they’re the only team in the Majors to have five players with double digits in the Home Run column? The answer, my friends: Edgar Martinez.

Continue reading How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?