Farewell to a friend

- September 7th, 2012

Day 7
Sept. 8, 2:30 a.m., Yaroslavl
I’m not sure whether it was the busy schedule or the lack of somebody to actually go for a drink with, but until now I haven’t had any vodka in Russia.
And that’s despite being in the country since Sunday.
For some reason, it seems the time is right.
After a day covering the one-year anniversary of the Yaroslavl Lokmotiv disaster, it feels like the right thing to do — enjoy a shot of a drink synonymous with Russia.
It’s not because of the emotional gamut which comes with talking to widows and children of those lost.
It’s not from having witnessed memorial events with so much sadness. (Although, after this much time away, I always REALLY miss my beautiful wife, Michelle, and our suddenly older-than-they-should-be children.)
No, it’s time because it’s one way I know to say goodbye and farewell to Brad.
Brad McCrimmon was an assistant coach of the Calgary Flames for the first two-and-a-half seasons I covered the team.
I was told his nickname was Beast. It should be Teddy Bear.
Underneath that big exterior was a heart of gold, with a quick wit and an quicker laugh.
I can’t recall a conversation without Brad that I didn’t walk away with at least a smile, usually a laugh.
It seems right to give him a toast right now.
Cheers Brad.
I’m sorry. But I don’t know it in Russian.

You know that’s Wayne Gretzky, right?

- September 4th, 2012

Day 4
Sept. 4, 10 p.m. in Moscow
The applause was muted. It makes you wonder whether the fans at the KHL’s season opening game between Dynamo Moscow and Avangard Omsk really understood who had stepped on the ice.
Before the puck dropped on the clash between last year’s champions (Dynamo) and Omsk at the Megasport Arena, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Brett Hull, Ken Dryden and Mike Keenan stepped onto the ice, along with a handful of Russian greats.
The reaction from the crowd was at first subdued, almost in disbelief those players were indeed real.
It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. It was not well advertised those famous players and coach from the NHL were in town, let alone going to be at the first game of the KHL season, now known as the Lokomotiv Cup, in honour of those who died in the plane crash nearly one year ago.
Prior to the game, photos of all those who perished in the disaster were shown on the big screen, and those in the crowd were urged to hold their cell phones aloft with the light to serve as candles.
Now, it’s off to St. Petersburg for the first of the two games players on this tour are partaking.
To get there, yours truly will discover a truly Russian experience. I’ll be getting there from Moscow on an overnight train, departing at 1 a.m. local time and arriving around 8:30 a.m.
Wish me luck.

Moss to the Phoenix Coyotes

- July 1st, 2012

For a few moments, it appeared yet another Flames player would return to the team.

Reports circulated David Moss signed a two-year deal with the only NHL team he’s known, but Moss has officially left the club after inking a two-year pact with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Moss scored 20 goals in the 2008-09 season, but has struggled with injuries in each of the last three seasons, which limited him to 154 games in those years and 17 goals.

The Flames did make “serious offers” according to Moss’s agent, Howard Gourwitz.

Flames do the expected with qualifying offers

- June 25th, 2012

What, were you expecting something wild and crazy, such as offering every draft pick you own just to move up two spots in the first round?

(The Islanders apparently did that in the hopes of moving from No. 4 to No. 2 this weekend, but were rebuffed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. I’m still not sure what’s crazier, making such an offer or not taking it, but that’s another tale.)

The Flames announced Monday they’ve made qualifying offers to pending restricted free agents Mikael Backlund, Leland Irving, Akim Aliu, Paul Byron and Blair Jones.

In turn, Blake Comeau, Ryley Grantham and Logan MacMillan weren’t given offers, therefore will become unrestricted free agents.

All those moves are obvious. Backlund is coming off a disappointing, injury-filled season and it’s coming time to prove he’s a legitimate top-six player, but we’re talking about a 2007 pick who just completed his entry level contract and has so much growing to do in his game.

Irving took some big strides last season and showed quite well during his NHL stints, but also lost the starter’s job in Abbotsford at playoff time. However, he and Henrik Karlsson are pegged to battle for the No. 2 job in Calgary, and don’t be shocked if the loser in that battle ends up playing in Europe.

Jones, who was a solid player after coming over via trade in early January before suffering a broken foot, is in the plans as a third- or fourth-line centre.

Aliu and Byron will be given solid looks to making the Flames this season, but both have to earn it. Aliu has all kinds of size and talent, but has had trouble keeping his head together in years past. As for Byron, the small but skilled forward, has to mature his game.

As for the trio allowed to walk. I’m guessing the Flames would like to re-sign Comeau at a lower price, but a player who collected just five goals and 15 points on year after scoring 24 goals must prove he still has game.That kind of season isn’t worth a US$2.5 million ticket.

Comeau has plenty of tools to be a good NHLer, especially speed, but was far too inconsistent last season, as well as lost his scoring touch. He would be a good third-line winger. Whether he has to take a big cut – say half of what he received last season – or receives a similar contract elsewhere remains to be seen.

As for MacMillan and Grantham, they’re both a case of showing nothing more than being career minor leaguers. MacMillan was a first-round draft choice of the Anaheim Ducks a few years ago, and appears to have fallen off the map. Grantham doesn’t appear to have the potential to be a NHLer, so it’s the right move by the Flames to not have him signed to a NHL contract.

Flames fill out their draft sheet

- June 23rd, 2012

Calgary Sun
The need for defencemen was the focus of the Calgary Flames in Day 2 of the NHL draft.
The Flames, who selected lanky centre Mark Jankowski in the first round the 2012 affair, opened Day 2 by nabbing physical blueliner Patrick Sieloff with the 42nd pick.
Sieloff, a 6-foot, 192-lb. defenceman who skated for the U.S. Under-18 squad last season and is pegged to play for the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires next season, isn’t the biggest skater you’ll see, but loves to play with an edge.
“I like to get under peoples’ skin but be clean about it. That might come with a big open-ice hit,” said the Ann Arbor, Mich., product. “I like playing against top two lines and shutting them down.”
The Flames kept the focus on the blueline by grabbing Brett Kulak of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants in the fourth round, 105th, and Ryan Culkin of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts in the fifth round, 124th.
The Flames drafted 6-foot-4 goalie Jon Gillies in the third round.
Gillies, who hails from Maine, spent last season with USHL Indiana and is expecting to play for Providence College of the NCAA next season.
In the sixth round, the Flames went to local product, Cochrane’s Coda Gordon of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. Gordon scored 30 goals in his WHL rookie season.
Their final pick was used to grab Matthew DeBlouw, a 6-foot centre from USHL Muskegon.
DeBlouw, who scored 11 goals and 34 points in 54 points, intends to go to Michigan State University next season.
As for other local products, the Edmonton Oilers drafted Mitch Moroz 32nd overall, Mike Winther of Trochu, who plays for Prince Albert of the WHL was chosen 54th by the Dallas Stars and Rhett Holland, who played for AJHL Okotoks, was taken 102nd by Phoenix.
The WHL Calgary Hitmen had three players drafted. Goalie Chris Driedger was selected by Ottawa in the third round, 76th, defenceman Kenton Helgesen was taken 187 by Anaheim and defenceman Jaynen Rissling was chosen 197th by Washington
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak