Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Following the Young Cats, and Mr. Jagr

Following the Young Cats! And Mr. Jagr!

With only a handful of games remaining before the All Star Break, NHL teams are assessing their expectations for the remainder of the regular season. The Break usually comes at a halfway point in the season; however, for a variety of reasons, some teams have played well over that amount. The Black Hawks play their 53rd game tonight, out of an 82 game season.

The Hawks were in Sunrise last Friday on their Florida swing. They had lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending their 12 game winning streak. Former Belleville Bull Richard Panik was in the coach's doghouse for oversleeping the start of the morning skate, and he was relegated to the press box for the evening. They had a total of nine shots on goal in the first two periods. In the game against the Panthers, a real dagger came at the end of the first period when Quinton Howden picked up a loose puck in the Hawks zone, fired a harmless shot at Darling, and watched the puck trickle over the goal line. With 2.1 seconds remaining in the period. Ouch!!

Friday night was a difficult one for the Blackhawks. They trailed the Panthers 4-0 at the end of the second period. Coach Joel Quenneville pulled goalie Scott Darling at the midway point in the third period to try to spark the offense. More than 19 000 fans enjoyed every minute of the game.

                                                         With Coach Quenneville

The Panthers had been on a 12 game winning streak before losing four in a row. The Hawks had duplicated that streak. You could tell that both teams carried a certain winning swagger, but it just wasn't in the cards for the Hawks that evening.

The Panthers rely heavily on the play of Jaromir Jagr, and rightfully so. The question always arises: How does he do it? How does this man who turns 44 in February maintain his level of excellence? Damn hard work, I maintain.

In a chat with local reporter Dave Hyde, Jagr spelled out some of his secrets: “The more I practice, the more I play, the fresher I feel. To have a few days between the games, it's not really helping me. I have to play every day. My body's totally different than anybody else.” His fitness regimen defies logic.

He works out four hours every day. On or off the ice, he wears a 45 pound weighted vest. He also wears ankle weights, either 2 ½ pound or 5 pound weights. He warms up before games with a ten pound weight on his stick. He has always been a fitness freak, starting at age 7 when he did 150 push ups and 1 000 squats every day!

He plays on a line with two of the outstanding young players on the Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They lead the team in scoring. A couple of other products of the OHL also help with the team's effort. Erik Gudbranson, who played for the Kingston Frontenacs, logs plenty of time on the blue line, and keeps the opposition honest. He will drop the gloves when required, and administers stiff body checks. His hit on the Hawks' Teuvo Teravainen was replayed on the screen several times, much to the delight of the rabble.

Of course, much of the credit for the Panthers' success is owed to Roberto Luongo. Enough said.

Aaron Ekblad, last year's rookie of the year, is a product of the Barrie Colts. The team relies on him more than on any other defenceman. He puts up good numbers, 19 points on ten goals in 42 games. But he also leads the team with a remarkable plus 17, the plus/minus stat. A very smooth skater, he sees the ice well, and plays far beyond his age. He will be 20 years old in February.

The Hawks' Andrew Shaw was nicked for stitches in the game, but returned to play. Why is that not a surprise? I continue to be really impressed with rookie Artemi Panarin. What a player! He led all rookies in the league with 45 points in the 48 games they had played up to that point. He is a bit older, at 24, as opposed to the other young rookies. But he was playing, at age 16, in the highest Russian league, the KHL He was signed by the Hawks last May, as a free agent. How in the world did a player of such immense talent go undrafted? I will work on that.

Enjoy all of the All Star festivities. I spent a very late night recently watching Milos Raonic at the Australian Open. Worth every penny!

Keep your stick on the ice! Serve well!

James Hurst

January 26, 2016   

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