Post Game with Kris Abbott

"QMJHL PLAYOFFS - ROUND 2"

 

 

Kris Abbott
April 6th, 2017

 

 

 

With 8 teams left in the chase for the 2017 President Cup, half of those being Maritime Division teams, let’s take a look at how I did with my first round predictions and what to expect in Round 2:

(1) Saint John vs (16) Rimouski
Prediction: Saint John in 4
Result: Saint John in 4
This is the proverbial low hanging fruit. It would have been a major upset for Rimouski to even win one game in this series.

(2) Rouyn-Noranda vs (15) Halifax
Prediction: Rouyn-Noranda in 5
Result: Rouyn-Noranda in 6
The scrappy, youthful, and talented Halifax Mooseheads had their chances to not only push this series to 7 games but to have actually won it in 4 or 5. If not for some luck on the part of the Huskies, we could have been talking about one of the biggest upsets in QMJHL history. Instead, I was one game off in my prediction. Mooseheads 16 year old goaltender Alex Gravel proved he is the real deal.

(3) Shawinigan vs (14) Val d’Or
Prediction: Shawinigan in 6
Result: Val d’Or in 6
I got the number of games in this series correct, but it was the 14th seeded Foreurs who upset the East Division Champions from Shawinigan. Excellent goaltending from Etienne Montpetit and inspired play from Mario Durocher’s squad proved too much for the Cataractes who were dealing with some injury troubles to top players plus a Game 6 suspension to Samuel Girard. 

(4) Charlottetown vs (13) Baie-Comeau
Prediction: Charlottetown in 5
Result: Charlottetown in 4
I had given the Drakkar a chance of pulling off at least one win on home ice. They might have had a chance to do this if not for excessively undisciplined play. The Islanders dominated and got out relatively unscathed.

(5) Blainville-Boisbriand vs (12) Drummondville
Prediction: Blainville-Boisbriand in 5
Result: Blainville-Boisbriand in 4
The Armada were too much for Dominique Ducharme’s youthful Voltigeurs. Rookie Drummondville goaltender Olivier Rodrigue, who sparkled in the regular season, struggled out of the gate and spent half of this series on the bench.  

(6) Acadie-Bathurst vs (11) Quebec
Prediction: Acadie-Bathurst in 6
Result: Acadie-Bathurst in 4
The Titan continue to impress and roll right along. They faced adversity in the form of having to claw back in a couple of games and proved they are playoff ready and mentally tough. Look out for this team.

(7) Cape Breton vs (10) Gatineau
Prediction: Cape Breton in 7
Result: Cape Breton in 7
I correctly predicted this one but nobody could have predicted the way it played out. The Eagles won the first three games of the series and had four chances to close it out. They needed all four chances and more as the Olympiques won three in a row of their own and forced overtime in Game 7. Jordan Ty Fournier was the OT hero and propelled the Eagles to the 2nd round for the 2nd straight year.

(8) Chicoutimi vs (9) Victoriaville
Prediction: Chicoutimi in 6
Result: Chicoutimi in 4
One of five first round sweeps, the Sagueneens dispatched of the 9th ranked Tigres using their unique combination of size and firepower. Nicolas Roy was the hero again in this series for Chicoutimi and he appears to be a man on a mission. Don’t be surprised if they make life very difficult on the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in round 2.



2nd Round Match-Ups

(1) Saint John vs (14) Val d’Or
Two legendary coaches square off in this David vs Goliath matchup. The script has been written and acted before. A top seed with aspirations of the Memorial Cup vs an underdog with a renewed confidence after knocking off a favourite in the first round. The Sea Dogs, however, are much deeper than the Cataractes and will provide a formidable challenge for the Foreurs.  


Top Playoff Scorers:

Saint John                    G  A  P           Val d’Or                      G  A  P
Thomas Chabot          3  7  10          Mathieu Nadeau         4  6  10
Mathieu Joseph          3  5  8            Charley Graaskamp    4  4  8
Matthew Highmore     2  5  7            David Noel                  1  6  7
Bokondji Imama          3  2  5            Alexis Pepin                4  1  5
Spencer Smallman     3  2  5           Maxim Mizyurin          3  1  4

Goaltenders:

                                              W-L  GAA  SV%
Callum Booth (SNB)           4-0   2.00   .886
Etienne Montpetit (VDO)    4-2   2.35   .937
Prediction: Saint John in 5


(2) Rouyn-Noranda vs (8) Chicoutimi
This series will be a fun one for fans in both cities as well as fans around the league. There are superstars on both sides lost to season ending injuries: Antoine Waked (ROU) and German Rubstov (CHI). Both teams have elite level talent at forward and defence and goaltenders that can put a team on their back. The question in this series will be of team depth and goaltending consistency. I’m predicting an upset by Chicoutimi in this series.


Top Playoff Scorers:

Rouyn-Noranda                    G  A  P        Chicoutimi                 G  A  P
Alexandre Fortin                   3  5  8         Dmitry Zhukenov       2  6  8
Jean-Christophe Beaudin    2  6  8         Nicolas Roy                4  3  7
Gabriel Fontaine                   3  4  7         Joey Ratelle                3  4  7
Jeremy Lauzon                      3  4  7        Frederic Allard           0  6  6
Philippe Myers                      2  5  7        Olivier Galipeau         1  2  3

Goaltenders:

                                             W-L   GAA    SV%
Samuel Harvey (ROU)       1-1     3.15    .867
Olivier Tremblay (ROU)      3-1     1.94    .922
Julio Billia (CHI)                   4-0     2.25    .910
Prediction: Chicoutimi in 6


(4) Charlottetown vs (7) Cape Breton
One of these maritime teams will get to the 3rd round. A major accomplishment for either franchise. The Eagles have been there twice, the Islanders have never made it that far.  Charlottetown have really put it together and they should be well rested after an opening round sweep of Baie-Comeau. Conversely, the Screaming Eagles have less than 48 hours to get over a gruelling 7 game series with Gatineau before opening this round on Thursday night. It’s my estimation that the Cape Breton defence isn’t deep enough to handle the high powered Charlottetown offence. However, you can’t quantify heart and determination; something the Screaming Eagles have in spades.


Top Playoff Scorers:

Charlottetown       G  A  P         Cape Breton               G  A  P
Daniel Sprong      2  6  8          Drake Batherson        7  3  10
Alex Dostie           5  2  7          Giovanni Fiore            4  4  8
Keith Getson         3  1  4          Massimo Carozza       3  5  8
Kameron Kielly    2  2  4          Jordan Ty Fournier      4  2  6
Pascal Aquin        1  3  4           Ross MacDougall       1  4  5

Goaltenders:

                                                   W-L   GAA   SV%
Mark Grametbauer (CHA)     4-0     1.50   .939
Kyle Jessiman (CAP)             4-3     2.95   .891
Kevin Mandolese (CAP)        0-0   11.51   .750
Prediction: Charlottetown in 6


(5) Blainville-Boisbriand vs (6) Acadie-Bathurst
Hyphenated havoc. The Armada and Titan have contrasting styles and strengths. While the youthful Blainville team play a stifling defensive style that relies on defence first and goaltending, the Titan have explosive offensive players and a rugged veteran-laden roster. This will be a tough series and whoever comes out of it will be sporting their fair share of bruises


Top Playoff Scorers:

Blainville-Boisbriand      G  A  P        Acadie-Bathurst            G  A  P
Alex Barre-Boulet           3  3  6          Vladimir Kuznetsov      5  2  7
Alexandre Allain             3  2  5          Christophe Boivin         3  4  7
Pascal Corbeil                 2  3  5          Antoine Morand           1  5  6
TJ Melancon                    0  4  4          Rodrigo Abols              3  2  5
Pierre-Luc Dubois           1  2  3          Jeffrey Viel                   3  2  5

Goaltenders:

                                                              W-L    GAA   SV%
Samuel Montembault (BLB)               4-0     1.00    .945
Anthony Dumont-Bouchard (BAT)     4-0     2.00    .901
Prediction: Acadie-Bathurst in 7

 

 

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris






"QMJHL PLAYOFF PRIMER"

 

 

Kris Abbott
March 19th, 2017

 

 

 

 

New to the QMJHL? Maybe you don’t follow the regular season all that closely but enjoy the playoffs. You’re in the right place! Below you will find a recap of the key points from the regular season and first round playoff predictions.

 

#1 Seed: Saint John Sea Dogs (48-14-5-1, 102 Points), Head Coach: Danny Flynn

The Saint John Sea Dogs are the regular season champions in the QMJHL. They lost just twice in regulation time over their last 28 games and are the odds on favourite to capture the QMJHL President Cup as league champions. The Sea Dogs have eleven players either drafted or signed to the National Hockey League, the most of any team in the Q. Thomas Chabot (OTT) was the MVP of the IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto/Montreal this year. Team Canada teammates Julien Gauthier (CAR) and Mathieu Joseph (TB) are also on the Sea Dogs roster. Defenceman Jakub Zboril (BOS) played for the Czech Republic at the WJC.

NHL drafted or signed players: Thomas Chabot (OTT), Julien Gauthier (CAR), Mathieu Joseph (TB), Jakub Zboril (BOS), Nathan Noel (CHI), Matt Highmore (CHI), Spencer Smallman (CAR), Callum Booth (CAR), Bokondji Imama (TB), Simon Bourque (MON), and Samuel Dove-McFalls (PHI). 16 year old forward Joe Veleno is the first player in the history of the QMJHL to ever receive exceptional status and is having a good sophomore year after suffering an early season leg injury.

Top Scorers:

Matthew Highmore (34-55-89)

Mathieu Joseph (36-44-80)

Spencer Smallman (30-49-79)

Simon Bourque (15-41-56)

Bokondji Imama (41-14-55)

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Rimouski Oceanic

Prediction: Sea Dogs in 4

 

 

#2 Seed: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (43-18-2-5, 93 Points), Head Coach: Gilles Bouchard

 

Last year’s President Cup Champions are right in the mix to be the first repeat winners since Saint John in 2011 & 2012. The Huskies have 13 returning players from last year’s championship team including team leading scorer Antoine Waked. The Huskies finished the season on a 3 game losing streak after winning 10 straight previous.

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Martins Dzierkals (TOR), Gabriel Fontaine (NYR), Philippe Myers (PHI), Alexandre Fortin (CHI), Jean-Christophe Beaudin (COL), Manuel Wiederer (SJ), and Jeremy Lauzon (BOS). Lauzon and Myers were members of Team Canada at the WJC while Dzierkals played for Latvia. Myers was a force for Team Canada before suffering a tournament ending concussion that kept him out for the majority of the second half of the season.

 

Top Scorers:

 

Antoine Waked (39-41-80)

Jean-Christophe Beaudin (30-50-80)

Peter Abbandonato (19-37-56)

Manuel Wiederer (29-24-53)

Gabriel Fontaine (23-29-52)

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Halifax Mooseheads

Prediction: Rouyn – Noranda in 5

 

 

#3 Seed: Shawinigan Cataractes (42-20-4-2, 90 Points), Head Coach: Claude Bouchard

 

Shawinigan have finished in the Top 5 of the QMJHL overall standings for the 3rd straight year, even after losing Captain Anthony Beauvillier to the New York Islanders out of training camp. The East Division Champions made it all the way to the league finals last season before losing to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 5 games. The Cataractes went 11-1 to open the season but have cooled off since then, playing .500 hockey in the second half of the season and limping into the playoffs losing 6 of 9. The Cataractes are led by smooth skating defenseman Samuel Girard (NSH) and sniper Dennis Yan (TB). Girard was a late cut from Canada’s World Junior Team while Yan was passed over by Team USA as they continued their trend of snubbing CHL players. Goaltender Mikhail Denisov has carried the mail for Shawinigan this year, playing over 50 games. He is among QMJHL leaders in all major statistical categories: Wins (31 – T-1st), Minutes (3009 – 2nd), GAA (2.45 - 3rd), Save Percentage(.909 – 2nd), Shutouts(4 – T-2nd), and saves(1233 – 4th). The native of Moscow, Russia turns 19 on March 24.

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Samuel Girard (NSH), Dennis Yan (TB), Manuel Wiederer (SJ), Brandon Gignac (NJ), and Cavan Fitzgerald (SJ). Other players to watch on this team are dynamic 20 year old forward Alexis D’Aoust and former Moncton Wildcats Captain, Cameron Askew.

 

Top Scorers

 

Dennis Yan (46-29-75)

Samuel Girard (9-66-75)

Brandon Gignac (23-39-62)

Alexis D'Aoust (29-31-60)

Cameron Askew (27-29-56)

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Val d’Or Foreurs

Prediction: Shawinigan in 6

 

 

 

#4 SeedCharlottetown Islanders (46-18-4-0, 96 Points), Head Coach: Jim Hulton

 

Charlottetown have a long history of underachievement and heartache since the team moved to Prince Edward Island in 2003. Finally in 2016-2017 the fans in the Birthplace of Confederation have a contender to get behind. The Islanders have set multiple franchise records this season including Wins (46) and Goals Scored (303). Head Coach Jim Hulton, also the team’s General Manager, made waves in Charlottetown and around the entire QMJHL during the trade period completing 8 trades involving 19 players and 13 draft picks; completely overhauling the roster of a team that was already in 4th place in the league. The Islanders also received a boost from the return of Pittsburgh Penguins 2nd rounder Daniel Sprong who underwent major shoulder surgery in the offseason to heal an injury he suffered as a “Black Ace” during the Penguins Stanley Cup run last year. In 31 games since his return, Sprong has 32 goals and 27 assists for 59 points. Since Jan 6, the Islanders are 22-5-3-0

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Daniel Sprong (PIT), Nicolas Meloche (COL), Alex Dostie (ANA), Guillaume Brisebois (VAN), Carl Neill (VAN), Filip Chlapik (OTT), Adam Marsh (DET). Chlapik was a top player for the Czech Republic at the 2017 World Junior Championship.

 

 

Top Scorer

Francois Beauchemin (45-52-97)

Filip Chlapik (34-57-91)

Kameron Kielly (34-40-74)

Alex Dostie (30-41-71)

Carl Neill (13-56-69)

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Baie Comeau Drakkar

Prediction: Charlottetown in 5

 

 

#5 Seed: Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (43-19-4-2, 92 Points), Head Coach: Joel Bouchard

 

The top defensive team in the league allowing just 171 goals over the 68 game season; an average of just 2.51 goals allowed per game. The Armada play a stifling game all over the ice and may be the top team at taking away time and space from opposing players. If teams manage to get through the skaters, the QMJHL’s top goaltenders Samuel Montembault (FLA) and Francis Leclerc are waiting in the blue paint. Needing some scoring prowess, the Armada acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois (CLB) and Alex Barre-Boulet at the trade deadline. Dubois was the 3rd Overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft while Barre-Boulet led the Drummondville Voltigeurs in scoring at the time of the trade. The Armada battled with Rouyn-Noranda for first place in the West Division all season long but eventually finished one point behind the Huskies. As dangerous a #5 seed as there’s been in recent years, the Armada cannot be counted out of the discussion of contending teams. Talented ‘99 Joel Teasdale has found his game in the 2nd half of the season and their big, veteran blue line is built for playoff hockey.

 

Jeremy Roy (SJ) is the third NHL drafted/signed player on this team but suffered a season ending knee injury after just 10 games this season. There have been rumours of a potential playoff return but Bouchard has dispelled these rumours, saying he 100% will not be back.

 

Top Scorers

 

Alex Barre-Boulet (29-52-81)

Pierre-Luc Dubois (21-34-55)

Alexandre Allain (29-23-52)

Joel Teasdale (18-29-47)

Connor Bramwell (22-22-44)

 

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Drummondville Voltigeurs

Prediction: Blainville-Boisbriand in 5

 

 

#6 Seed: Acadie-Bathurst Titan (39-23-4-2, 84 Points), Head Coach: Mario Pouliot

 

It has been a turn-around season for New Brunswick’s northern-most franchise. Led by NHL draft eligible forwards Antoine Morand (’99) and Vladimir Kuznetsov (’98) as well as overage sniper Christophe Boivin, the Titan have had their best season since 2010-2011. The Titan began the season with a nice mix of skill and work ethic and added defensive depth at the trade period acquiring both Adam Holwell (‘97) and Zach Malatesta (’96) from the Moncton Wildcats. Holwell and Malatesta are playoff tested having advanced to the league semi-finals in each of the past two seasons. A quiet addition from Drummondville may prove to be the most essential as GM Sylvain Couturier added goaltender Anthony Dumont-Bouchard who has gone 13-6-1-1 with a GAA of 2.86 and save percentage of .904 with the Titan.

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Rodrigo Abols (VAN)

 

Top Scorers:

Christophe Boivin (43-47-90)

Antoine Morand (28-46-74)

Vladimir Kuznetsov (30-38-68)

Danil Miromanov (22-40-62)

Jeffrey Truchon-Viel (35-25-60)

 

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Quebec Remparts

Prediction: Acadie-Bathurst in 6

 

 

 

#7 Seed: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (39-25-2-2, 82 Points), Head Coach: Marc-Andre Dumont

 

This year’s version of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles are unlike any that the Q’s Far East has seen in a while. Led by Olivier LeBlanc (CLB) and Phelix Martineau, this team has developed a blue collar mentality to match the city they call home: Sydney, Nova Scotia. Lacking big names and star power, the Screaming Eagles embarked on a workmanlike mentality that has earned them home ice advantage in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. Rookie goaltenders Kyle Jessiman (’99) and Kevin Mandolese (’00) have been nothing short of excellent on most nights. Laval, Quebec’s Giovanni Fiore (’96, undrafted) is just the second player in the 20 year history of the Screaming Eagles to crack the 50 goal plateau and is sure to garner pro interest. This is a team to keep an eye on during the playoffs as they will not give an inch no matter who they play. None of the top teams want to see the Eagles on their schedule in April.

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Vasily Glotov (BUF), Olivier Leblanc (CLB)

 

Top 5 Scorers:

 

Giovanni Fiore (52-38-90)

Massimo Carozza (27-42-69)

Drake Batherson (22-36-58)

Vasily Glotov (15-35-50)

Phelix Martineau (28-19-47)

 

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Gatineau Olympiques

Prediction: Cape Breton in 7

 

#8 Seed: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (38-25-3-2, 81 Points), Head Coach: Yanick Jean

 

The Sags had a dreadful start to their 2016-2017 campaign going 1-6 to start the season and losing #1 goaltender Julio Billia for two months. They then went on to win 14 of their next 18 games led by Nicolas Roy (CAR) who starred for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Roy had a very pedestrian draft year in 2014-2015 and slid all the way to the 4th round of the NHL Entry Draft. Since then he has scored 170 points in 116 games for Chicoutimi and now looks to be the most NHL ready player in the entire QMJHL. Chicoutimi were very active at the QMJHL trade period and added six players to their lineup via trade (including Petr Klima’s twin sons Kelly & Kevin) plus signed Russian forward German Rubstov (PHI) after the WJC. Rubstov has paid immediate dividends and added 22 points in his first 16 games. Chicoutimi has one of the most potent power play units in the league and that will be key for them come playoff time.

 

NHL drafted or signed players: Nicolas Roy (CAR), German Rubstov (PHI), Dmitry Zhukenov (VAN), Frederic Allard (NSH)

 

Top Scorers:

 

Nicolas Roy (36-44-80)

Joey Ratelle (41-36-77)

Dmitry Zhukenov (18-47-65)

Frederic Allard (14-51-65)

Kelly Klima (22-27-49)

 

First Round Playoff Opponent: Victoriaville Tigres

Prediction: Chicoutimi in 6

 

 

 

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris






"Hurricanes Start Season 9-0"

 

 

Kris Abbott
January 23rd, 2017

 

 

 

The defending NBL Canada champions, the Halifax Hurricanes, are looking like strong candidates to defend their league championship in 2017. Through nine games, the Hurricanes are 9-0 and are approaching the league record 11-0 start set by the London Lightning a few years back. They will have a chance to tie and surpass that mark with a three game home stand this weekend at the Scotiabank Centre.

First up on Thursday night, January 26th, is a meeting with the second place Saint John Riptide (8-3), who have rebranded from the “Mill Rats”. This game also marks the first of six regular season Hurricanes broadcasts on Eastlink TV. Mavs Gillis and Cecil Wright return with the courtside action for our viewers. 

The Hurricanes have a brand new head coach, but he’s not brand new to the league. Mike Leslie, the former assistant coach with the Island Storm, moves home to Nova Scotia to take the reins of Halifax’s professional basketball team. Leslie will be in studio for this week`s episode of Sports Talk (8PM Monday, 5:30PM Friday, 1PM Saturday). Returning players from the 2016 championship team are captain Cliff Clinkscales, Toronto native Renaldo Dixon, and big man Billy White. Former Halifax players and fan favourites Joey Haywood and Tyrone Watson have returned to the fold this season after playing outside the NBL last year.

Through nine games the team leading scorer is CJ Washington; a 6’8”, 24 year-old native of Augusta, Georgia. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while playing just over 23 minutes. Hot on his heels are two players from the Empire State: Rosedale, New York’s Mike Poole and Queens’ Antoine Mason with 15.7 and 15.4 points per game respectively. Mason played his final year of college eligibility with the Auburn Tigers after beginning his career at Niagara University in upstate New York.

Thursday’s game vs Saint John will be the first of seven meetings between the two teams this season. Halifax lost the season series with Saint John last year (5-6) before sweeping the Mill Rats in the Atlantic Division Final.

Here is the complete Eastlink TV Hurricanes broadcast schedule:

Thursday, Jan 26 vs. Saint John 7 PM

Wednesday, Feb. 22 vs. Moncton Miracles 7 PM

Thursday, Feb. 23 vs London Lightning 7 PM

Thursday, March 16 vs Saint John 7 PM

Wednesday, March 22 vs Island Storm 7 PM

Wednesday, April 19 vs. Cape Breton Highlanders 7 PM

 

 

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris




 

"QMJHL Next Step for St. John's?"

 

 

Kris Abbott
December 6th, 2016

 

 

 

 

The old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

 

If that’s the case regarding a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League return to St. John’s, then current teams in the Q better brush up on their Newfoundland dialect and culture. Word around QMJHL rinks has the league leading Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the oft maligned Acadie-Bathurst Titan among the leading candidates to call St. John’s home as soon as next season.

 

It is a certainty that one of the best hockey facilities in Eastern Canada, Mile One Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland, will be losing its main tenant at the end of this hockey season. The American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps will move to Laval, Quebec in September to be closer to the parent Montreal Canadiens. IceCaps CEO Danny Williams and COO Glenn Stanford are actively pursuing teams and leagues to fill the void and are on record as saying the QMJHL along with the AHL and ECHL are all on their radar. The QMJHL makes the most sense and is likely the most realistic option.

 

The Titan are perennial relocation candidates given their league worst attendance. Officially, Titan attendance is 1600 per game, however visiting players, coaches, and media report the real number as low as 300 on a given night, including ushers and concessions staff. A Titan move would allow the league to keep its current structure of three divisions of six teams, with St. John’s slotting into the current Maritimes Division (likely to be renamed Atlantic). By the way - The Titan have a very exciting young roster that could contend for a league title next season. 17 year old forward Antoine Morand will be a superstar for the next 2-3 years in the QMJHL. Also on the roster is Gander’s Jordan Maher who would be a candidate for Captain.

 

The Armada rumour is intriguing as this is the original Fog Devils franchise from 2005 that has since moved to Montreal and now Blainville-Boisbriand. The Armada’s facility is among the nicest in the QMJHL, but is also 15 minutes from the new rink in Laval where the current St. John’s AHL team will begin play in 2017-2018.  QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau is on record as saying all current 18 teams will be back next season and expansion and relocation are not on the radar. But, really, what else would he say?

 

While the Titan are potentially bleeding money, that’s not the case for the Armada which is 60-70% owned by Quebecor, a telecommunications giant, who also have ownership stakes in the Quebec Remparts and the Videotron Centre in Quebec City.  The league wants Quebecor to divest ownership from one of the teams and selling the Armada to Danny Williams & Co. would be one way to do that. The remaining shares in the Armada are held by former NHLers Daniel Briere, JS Giguere, Ian Lapierriere, and current Head Coach and GM Joel Bouchard.  You can be sure that Quebecor are also keeping an eye on the eventual NHL team coming to their building.  There are a lot of moving parts here and nothing is certain except St. John’s are keeping a close watch on opportunities.

 

St. John’s has been a fixture in the AHL for a total of 20 years. The St. John’s Maple Leafs called the Oldest City in North America “home” for 14 seasons from 1991-1992 to 2004-2005 and the St. John’s Ice Caps for another six years from 2009-2017.  While the city has been wonderful to the AHL, and vice versa, the changing climate of professional hockey leagues, cost considerations, and the obvious travel logistics mean it is all but a certainty that this will be the final professional team (AHL or otherwise) to call The Rock home. 

 

Each of the three NHL teams to affiliate with St. John’s (Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal) have all moved their primary developmental team close to home. Many other teams in the NHL have a) already done this, or b) have an eye to doing this in the near future, ensuring certain and considerable change to the top hockey league available to fans in North America’s easternmost city.

 

Newfoundlanders by their nature are stubborn, steadfast, and resistant to change. St. John’s likes to tout itself as a “professional hockey town” and fans and pundits cite the failure of the St. John’s Fog Devils (2005-2008) as to why the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League “won’t work” in Newfoundland. I tend to disagree with the latter.

 

Having spent the majority of my life in St. John’s, I know it’s not a “professional hockey town” any more than Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Sydney, or Charlottetown were “professional hockey towns.” Each of those cities lost their AHL franchise many, many years ago. They have all embraced and have had success (albeit varying degrees) with major junior hockey.  St. John’s can do the same given the right atmosphere and circumstances.

 

“But it didn’t work then, why will it work now?”

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Shakespearean tragedy of the St. John’s Fog Devils, let me give you the Coles Notes version:

 

After the Leafs left town, there was a void in the entertainment market, not to mention an albatross of a brand new downtown arena with no major tenant. Two local groups bid on a QMJHL expansion franchise: The deep pocketed Dobbin family versus the owner of the building, the City of St. John’s. It was an ugly back and forth and it’s rumoured that the Dobbins made some ‘financial contributions’ to ensure that their bid was the winner. After an ugly battle, the City and the Dobbins had to then try and work together. Let’s say it wasn’t a harmonious marriage as the tenant just back doored the landlord. The team actually almost ceased operations before their first draft as the two sides could not reach a deal on building rental, revenues, etc.

 

The team name. Remember what I said earlier about being stubborn and resistant to change?  Add in traditionalists. Those traits plus the “Fog Devils” moniker put the team behind the 8-ball to start. Gimmicky team names generally don’t fly with traditionalists. If a new team isn’t still the “IceCaps” look for something more traditional to Newfoundland sports like Capitals, Caps, Shamrocks, Rock, etc.

 

Personnel. St. John’s hired Real Paiement as its first ever coach and GM. Paiement certainly had league experience as a coach but was a rookie GM with an expansion team. Paiement saw his first ever European draft pick not report, setting the franchise back almost immediately. He pandered to the local fan base by signing too many local players (including his son) to drum up interest. Many of these players were not major junior calibre. Paiement’s career is (maybe unfairly) defined by coaching Canada’s worst ever entry at the World Junior Championship (8th place in 1998) and as the Head Coach of the men’s team at the University of Ottawa when the entire program was handed a one year suspension for sexual misconduct. 

 

The Front Office. At the time, with Williams’ focus on provincial politics and Stanford having left the province, the previous brain trust of the wildly successful St. John’s Maple Leafs was unavailable.  The Fog Devils management team consisted of the owners Craig, Derm, and Brad Dobbin. Lots of money, yes, but absolutely zero experience in running a hockey team, let alone familiarity with the nuances of major junior.  Compared to the dream team 2.0 that Danny Williams and Glenn Stanford currently have in place for the Ice Caps (annual AHL front office award winners), the difference is night and day. 

 

Looking back on this almost ten years later, the team was destined to fail from the very beginning. No wonder it didn’t work. It wouldn’t work in ANY market.

 

“But what about the travel?”

 

Teams have to fly into St. John’s. Full Stop. That hasn’t changed since the Barrie Flyers played the St. John’s Caps in the Allan Cup in 1975. Williams and Stanford know that they have to pony up for this. It’s not as big of a stumbling block as everyone wants to make it out to be. QMJHL teams travel lighter than pro teams so this would likely be a smaller budget item than they’re currently dealing with!

 

“Will they need to sell out to be profitable?”

 

To ensure a satisfied fan base, in any market, producing a winning on-ice product is a key ingredient. Any potential reincarnation of the QMJHL in St. John’s needs to employ people who are familiar with the league and have had a track record of success. That means management, coaches, scouts, media/PR, etc.  Fans need to be educated to the cycles of major junior hockey. No team in the CHL (except maybe the OHL’s London Knights) are perennial contenders.

 

Take this year’s Halifax Mooseheads for example: They recognize they aren’t favourites to win a championship this year, but they have built a buzz around a promising young team that will make a title run in each of the next 2-3 years. It makes for some long nights at the rink, but it also makes for some real exciting ones too and their average crowd of 6,243 agree.  By the way, that number is just 45 seats shy of Mile One’s capacity.

 

I am a firm believer that the QMJHL can flourish in St. John’s. Here’s hoping they soon need to rename the Maritimes Division to the Atlantic Division.

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris

 

 

 

 

"Small Towns: The Heartbeat of Local Sports"

 

 

Kris Abbott
November 29th, 2016

 

 

 

October and November have been busy months for the sports crew here at Eastlink TV. We have spent it in many smaller towns around Nova Scotia & PEI and away from big city Halifax. It’s been enjoyable and filled with experiences that I will remember for a long time.

We have long been trying to broadcast some home games of the Valley Wildcats, and finally we set up a midget/junior doubleheader dubbed “Hockey Day in Berwick” at the gorgeous Kings Mutual Century Centre. Nick Greenough, Andre Lefebvre, Jeff O’Flaherty and the entire Wildcats organization were awesome to work with. It went great for the Wildcats in the midget game as they snarled their teeth at the visiting South Shore Mustangs and skated away with the win. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different plan for the MHL game against Truro as the electricity went out all around Nova Scotia due to high winds, forcing the cancellation of the evening game. We will be back!

On October 29th we were in New Glasgow at the Pictou County Wellness Centre for a midget game between Kensington Wild (PEI) and the Pictou County Weeks Major Midgets. Every time we go to Pictou County the staff and management at the Wellness Centre go over and above to make sure we have everything we need. I always look forward to the chats that we have with the fans there. The sponsors of these buildings and teams do not just write a cheque for advertising – they are in the building supporting the local teams and might even ask our camera operators for a little extra air time for their rink board ad! Hey, it’s worth an ask!

The following weekend we did get a look at the MHL Valley Wildcats as they travelled to Summerside to play the Western Capitals at Eastlink Arena inside the beautiful Credit Union Place.  I’m on board as saying this is the nicest junior hockey rink in the region and since it’s been built, Truro and Pictou County have followed Summerside’s lead with grandiose complexes.  Summerside is an event city and the people always come out. This game was no different as over 1000 fans flocked to the rink on Saturday night.  Selfishly I love going to Summerside because we eat at Five Eleven West restaurant at the arena. They treat us so well there and the food is always perfect! In Summerside we also discovered the Starlite Diner. A 50’s era throwback with modern day selections like the Red Bull Milkshake. The food was awesome and the service was second to none. We are back in Summerside on December 17th for their game against the Miramichi Timberwolves. Can’t wait!

The topper though was the 8 days we spent in Yarmouth for the 2017 Canadian Mixed Curling Championships. Just…wow! I can’t say enough about the host committee lead by Rick Allwright and his team that put on a spectacular event. When we walked into the Mariner Centre in Yarmouth it could have been any major stadium in the country. Curling Canada had their “A” setup and ice crew there to make sure this event was just like the Brier and the Scotties. The teams who came from across the country were all excellent to work with as curlers are the most approachable and accessible athletes in sports. Of course my cohorts for the event, Aaron Sweeney and Penny LaRocque, were naturals on the mic and provided invaluable insight.

All that is well and good but without the people of Yarmouth and the surrounding area getting involved like they did, nothing would have happened. Upwards of 150 volunteers were there to take care of your every want. We also had amazing local volunteers from NSCC and MC Media help out with our television productions all week. I have to give special mention to Craig Roze who was the camera operator set up next to our broadcast location. Craig was there for every draw from Day 1 right until the championship. Craig was mainly responsible for getting update footage from the four adjacent sheets to our broadcast ice and he filmed EVERYTHING we needed. I still don’t know how he managed to watch four curling games at once. On top of that he kept me in Coca Cola and snacks from his personal stash….that’s enough for brownie points alone! Thanks Craig!

A special thanks to the management and staff of both Boston Pizza in Yarmouth and the Rodd Grand Yarmouth. It was my first time in your town, but it won’t be my last. The hospitality you’ve shown is a dying breed in today’s world. It’s great to know that there’s still somewhere to go where customer service is top of mind.

Lastly, we finally made it to “The Jungle”, also known as Amherst Stadium. Thanks to Corey Crocker and the Town for welcoming us with open arms. The Ramblers have been members of the MHL for 49 of its 50 years and have a strong team there this year along with some of the nicest jerseys in any hockey league anywhere. Because of the age of the stadium, there’s no real press box area for TV broadcast so we were set up literally in the middle of the bleachers. Some season ticket holders who have been in those seats for 49 years actually moved back a row to accommodate us. What an experience getting to chat with them between whistles and hear about the history of the building and their own personal stories and connections with the team.  They said that we could use their seats any time we wanted to broadcast there because they liked having the replays on our monitors. We were warned about the raucous fans in Amherst, and they are passionate, but very respectful. Thanks Rambler fans! See you in the playoffs!

You’ll notice that the title of this article was “The Heartbeat of Local Sports” but I didn’t really talk about the actual on-ice competition.  That is because the games become secondary when you’re surrounded by passionate fans, hard-working volunteers, selfless sponsors, and a positive atmosphere.  Thank you to everyone who has made this Fall a memorable one. The good news is, we are just getting started on this sports season. See you at the rink!

 

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris

Check out all these events, Free on Demand, with your Eastlink cable subscription.

 

 

 

"The Pierre Luc Dubois Conundrum"

 

 

Kris Abbott
October 17th, 2016

 

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets are bolstering the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, but not in the way that you think.

Last week, Pierre-Luc Dubois was deemed “not ready” to play in the NHL by John Torterella and Jarmo Kekalainen, the Head Coach and General Manager of the NHL team that drafted him 3rd overall in June’s NHL Entry Draft. For a team and a market like Columbus who made Dubois their third highest draft pick in franchise history, this is big news in Ohio and around the NHL. The only players taken higher than Dubois since the inception of the Blue Jackets were Ryan Murray (2nd overall, 2012) and Rick Nash (1st overall, 2002).

Of course, Pierre-Luc Dubois is not the first player drafted near the top of the NHL draft to be sent back to the CHL. NHL clubs are more than confident in CHL programs to further develop their prospects for another year. Of course, the most recent example of this is Jonathan Drouin being sent back to the Halifax Mooseheads for an extra year of seasoning in 2013-2014. The Mooseheads that year ran away with the Maritimes Division and went all the way to the QMJHL semi finals before being eliminated in seven games by eventual league champions Val D’or. That season, the Mooseheads’ roster featured the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers, Timo Meier, Darcy Ashley, Matt Murphy, and Zachary Fucale.  Drouin was a big boost to an already stacked roster.

So that’s where the comparisons to the situations stop. This year’s version of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, while blue collar and hard working, are not favourites to finish near the top of the division or league. A rebuilding forward group along with two rookie goaltenders does not normally a contender make.

Most pundits and likely Marc-Andre Dumont himself had written off the possibility of Dubois, one of the top young forwards in the county and a lock for this year’s Canadian World Junior team, returning to the Screaming Eagles. So to turn a phrase, this is “found money” for the team from the Cape. Now what do you do with this found money?

If you find money in the pocket of an old coat, and let’s be real, Dubois equates to more than an old $5 bill, there’s two options:  spend it and get whatever you can out of it, or invest it – save it for a rainy day. In hockey terms, you can get whatever points Dubois brings to the team this year while surely losing him after this season, or you can turn this player into currency for the team in the future.

The smart play, and maybe the only play here, is to move Dubois during the QMJHL trading period in December.

 Let’s take a look at exactly how much the Eagles can expect to actually see of Dubois between now and January 6th: 21 games between his return Sunday in Bathurst until December 10th , when he will be departing to join Team Canada for pre-tournament camp. He will likely miss one or two of those games as a member of Team QMJHL at the annual Canada/Russia Super Series. He will then miss up to 12 games while away with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in his home province.

By this time, the Eagles will have 70% of their regular schedule completed. And remember, they’re still a middle of the pack team. That’s not a slight at them; it’s just the reality of the cycles of junior hockey.

But the bar has been set for the potential gains of trading the hottest commodity in the entire QMJHL, maybe the CHL.  Last year, the Mooseheads got a 1st, 2nd, and 4th round pick back for Timo Meier, who was a 9th overall NHL pick. Nathan Mackinnon, a 1st overall NHL pick, fetched three QMJHL 1st round picks plus two roster players back in 2011 when he was a 16 year old. Therefore, it’s not unlikely at all to think that the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles could deal the 18 year old power forward for a minimum of two high 1st round picks, whether they are future picks or guys that were already drafted high in the 1st round.

For a re-tooling team like the Eagles, this could propel them to the top of the heap for a two or three year period and get them back to the status of their teams from the early 2000s – something the fan base in Cape Breton is desperate for. The same fans that should be thanking the Columbus Blue Jackets for adding value to the future of their franchise.

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott

Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris


 

"Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: The Jordan Boyd Celebrity Hockey Challenge"

 

 

Kris Abbott
July 29, 2016

 

Early August.

For a hockey player it should be a time of relaxation combined with some off-season training. A chance to hang out with friends for the last time before heading off to whichever city or town they call home for 8 months of the year. In a fair world, there would be no need to give up one of your last Saturdays off in order to gather in a hockey rink when it is 30 degrees outside.

But the world isn’t fair. In fact it can be downright cruel and heartbreaking - and in the case of 16 year old Jordan Boyd, it was his heart that broke and couldn’t be fixed. On August 12, 2013, while at training camp for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL, Jordan passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition called Arythmogenic Right-Ventricle Cardiomiopathy (ARVC). Jordan Boyd should be entering his 19 year-old season in junior hockey, but unfortunately we will never know the type of career he would have had. It is an unspeakable tragedy for family members and friends to have to endure – the loss of a loved one at such a young age. In life, there are two ways you can approach a situation like this: you can let the darkness win or you can kick at the darkness until it becomes light. And the family and friends are kicking. In an effort to ensure that Jordan’s memory can help prevent another family from having to endure such a tragedy, the Jordan Boyd Celebrity Hockey Challenge was created.

On August 6th, just 6 days shy of the 3rd anniversary of Jordan’s death, hockey players from across the region and across the continent will gather to celebrate Jordan’s life and to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the QEII’s Inherited Heart Disease Clinic at the 3rd Annual Jordan Boyd Celebrity Hockey Challenge. In the first two years, the event has raised over $250,000 to support inherited heart disease research and has featured prominent celebrities such as Sidney Crosby, Nathan Mackinnon, and Gerry Dee.

Brad Marchand, a champion for the event and former summer training partner of Jordan, headlines a list of professional hockey players who will dot the rosters and compete in this year’s All-Star Game. Other pros announced to date are: Zach Sill, Liam O’Brien, and Riley Barber (Washington Capitals), Shawn O’Donnell (New York Rangers), Logan Shaw (Florida Panthers), Ryan Penney (Ottawa Senators), and Josh Anderson (Columbus Blue Jackets). Fans can also expect to see a number of current and former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players on the ice including: Bronson Beaton, Mitchell Balmas, Derek Gentile, Keenan MacIsaac, Matthew Welsh, Jake Brennan, Will Thompson, Ross MacDougall, and more. Halifax Mooseheads assistant coaches Jon Greenwood and Jim Midgley will serve as celebrity coaches in the All-Star Game.

Six teams will battle it out for the prestigious Boyd’s Cup to be handed out at the culmination of this one day event at the BMO Centre in Bedford. The fan-friendly event consists of one-hour games beginning at 9 am. The Celebrity Game is at 1:30 pm, followed by the Boyd’s Cup Final at 3 pm.

As an added bonus this year, for the first time the Celebrity Game and Boyd’s Cup Final will air Live on Eastlink TV. Our hockey crew will be giving this the full treatment including on-bench interviews with Leighanne Evans, mic’d up players and coaches, and special guest colour commentators throughout the day.

So grab the family, come out and make a day of it. There will be silent auction items, including some signed memorabilia from Sidney Crosby, and a chance to get up close to some of your favourite Maritime hockey superstars. For more information on the Jordan Boyd Celebrity Hockey Challenge, including how YOU can donate and be part of the cause, head to http://qe2f.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1060&pg=entry

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott – Follow me on Twitter @EastlinkKris

 

 

 

 

 

"Why You Should Have Halifax Mooseheads Season Tickets for the Next Three Years"

 

 

Kris Abbott
10 June, 2016

 

 

2015-2016 was a painful year for Halifax Mooseheads fans.  The team missed the playoffs for just the fourth time in franchise history and the first (and only) time during the Dominique Ducharme era, winning just 21 of 68 games. An already offensively thin team was stripped to the studs at the trade period as NHL prospects Timo Meier (San Jose), Cavan Fitzgerald (San Jose), and Cody Donaghey (Ottawa) along with trigger man Danny Moynihan were shipped out for draft picks and prospects.  The Mooseheads finished the year with only two players (Maxime Fortier & Otto Somppi) above the 30 point mark.

The positive to that scenario was realized June 4th in Charlottetown during the 2016 QMJHL draft. Through a series of keen moves by Mooseheads GM Cam Russell, Halifax landed the top two prospects in the draft (Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIsaac) in addition to a goaltender they coveted (Alexis Gravel). All three were members of Canada’s Under 16 National Team that lost to the United States in the final of the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway this past winter. The team has also introduced a new Head Coach in long-time Rouyn-Noranda bench boss Andre Tourigny, who spent the last three seasons in the NHL with Colorado and Ottawa. Assistants Jim Midgley and Jon Greenwood return under coach Tourigny.

Does this sound familiar? In fact, Cam Russell did this once before.

After winning just 20 games in 2010-2011, the Halifax Mooseheads ended up with the top two draft picks and a coveted goaltender: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Zachary Fucale. A new coach was also hired in Dom Ducharme. Those names are now enshrined in a Memorial Cup victory and will forever be legendary in Halifax sports history.

Will Groulx, McIsaac, Gravel, and Tourigny be as good as those four were for the Herd? Only time will tell. The exciting part about major junior hockey is that fans get to watch players grow from rookie 16 year olds to NHL draft candidates, and hopefully, President and Memorial Cup champions.

Of course, these three players can’t do it alone. Just like there was a strong supporting cast for the 2013 Halifax Mooseheads team, there is an already exciting supporting cast in place with more help to come.

Halifax has the 6th overall pick in this year’s CHL Import Draft.  Traditionally, Halifax has hit a homerun when recruiting European prospects. The last time Halifax held the 6th overall pick was in 2013 when they selected Nikolaj Ehlers; arguably the most dynamic offensive player to ever pull on the Green and Red sweater and eventually a first round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. If history has taught us anything, much like Ehlers and Meier, Otto Somppi should be poised to have a breakout season in 2016-2017, his second in North America. Last year was certainly an adjustment period for the Finnish forward but he looked more comfortable every game.  He went on to star for his homeland in the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, claiming player of the game honours against Team Canada along the way.   If not for a mid-season shoulder injury, Somppi would have certainly been in the running for QMJHL rookie of the year.

So far we have touched on five players and a new Head Coach. The rest of the roster will shake out during training camp in August. There is going to be an intense battle for roster spots and look for guys who were on the team last year to potentially lose their jobs if they aren’t ready to go. Below is my ghost roster for the 2016-2017 Halifax Mooseheads, age in parentheses:

Arnaud Durandeau (17)                 Otto Somppi (18)             Maxime Fortier (19)

European Pick                               B.O. Groulx (16)              Bradley Kennedy (20)

Barrett Dachyshyn (18)                  Joel Bishop (17)              Connor Moynihan (19)

Anthony Sorrentino (20)                Andrew Shewfelt (20)        Ben Higgins (17)

Ilya Putintsev (18)                         Brett Crossley (18)           Raphael Lavoie (16)

Vince Watt (20)                             Dominik Blain (18)                           

 

Jocktan Chainey (17)        Walter Flower (17)

Jared McIsaac (16)           Taylor Ford (19)

JS Taillefer (19)               Mathieu Charlebois (17) / Jordan Lepage (17)

Morgan Nauss (18)          Cooper Jones (18)

 

Kevin Resop (19)

Alexis Gravel (16)

 

Keep in mind, more twenty year olds become available throughout the summer around the QMJHL and from the OHL/WHL. Most teams do not have a large appetite for keeping too many of their three allotted 20s in the bottom six or as extra defencemen, so look for a potential upgrade in that department going forward. Shewfelt, Sorrentino, and Watt all offer different skill sets, so it will likely be a decision on those guys based on what is needed most for the team. For Brett Crossley, Dominik Blain, and Ilya Putintsev it will be time to fish or cut bait, while a glut of defencemen could see potential trades of JS Taillefer, Cooper Jones, or Morgan Nauss. However it shakes out, these next few years will be very exciting in Moose Country!

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 

 



"The Halifax Hurricanes Are For Real"

 

 

Kris Abbott
25 May, 2016

 

April 30, 2015. A date that lives in infamy.....

Ok well maybe it isn’t quite that dramatic but it did seal the fate of the former Halifax Professional Basketball team, the Halifax Rainmen. It was on that date the Rainmen brawled with the Windsor Express in a made for Hollywood series of events that resulted in the Rainmen forfeiting Game 7 of the National Basketball League of Canada championship. Yes, you read that right. Game 7 – where most kids grow up dreaming to have the opportunity to hit the winning shot at the buzzer; forfeited over “safety concerns.”

What did or did not occur that day at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario and later in the lobby of the Rainmen hotel and on their bus on the side of Highway 401 may never truly be known. This latest string of “Semi-Pro” mishaps would make Jackie Moon cringe. It had shaken what was left of a skeptical fan base in Halifax, even after an impressive run to the finals.

The ensuing silence and eventual “us vs them” rhetoric that played out in the local and national media would make a statue roll its eyes. Players were sent home, fines in hand, while coaches were handed lifetime bans. No more jumping on the scorer’s table for Coach Pep.

It is said though, that things are always darkest before the dawn, and seemingly this is the case for both the NBL and pro basketball in Halifax.  Twenty-five local investors, who believed in the NBL, dug into their pockets and ponied up a reported $25,000 each to get the team out of the smouldering ashes. Maybe they should have called this team the Phoenix, but the moniker of Hurricanes was chosen and the new team was introduced in October 2015, slated to begin play on Boxing Day. And play they did. The Halifax Hurricanes stormed to a regular season title, going 29-11 over 40 games. The playoffs have been no different. The Hurricanes are 7-0 and it’s looking like it will take a formidable opponent to stop them. The Island Storm of PEI and the Saint John Mill Rats couldn’t hold a candle to the Halifax squad – both swept away in the first and second round, respectively.

Halifax’s opponent in the league finals is yet to be determined but it will be last year’s foe, the Windsor Express, or the perennial powerhouse London Lightning.  Currently, London leads that semi-final series 3 games to 2. Whomever the opponent, Halifax will begin play at home before the end of the month, hosting games 1 and 2, and 6 and 7 if necessary.

Look, I’m on the record as not really being a basketball fan. At least, I wasn’t. My job brought me in contact with the NBL, but my interest in seeing a group of young, hardworking men succeed keeps me coming back. These guys aren’t making big money. Not by a long shot. The league salary cap is $150,000. That’s an average salary of three or four people combined in your office, spread amongst twelve 6-foot something men who surely have a bigger grocery budget than the average human. These guys are professional athletes by designation, not paycheque. But you wouldn’t say that by taking in an NBL game. These young men are the first to shake the hands of the fans, volunteers, and most importantly the kids who show up to support them.

I have seen so many kids stare in amazement at these basketball players who must seem like real life giants to someone just over two feet tall. There are no local players on the Hurricanes. This year there were no locals on the Island Storm. But these guys live and work in these communities all the while doing whatever they can to give back. School visits, hospital visits, playing with the mascots’ little kid during shoot around. These aren’t things they HAVE to do. They do it because they are genuinely good people.

In a smart move by the NBL, the season started later this year, hence finishing later. Considering the majority of NBL teams share buildings with major junior hockey teams, they are the only game in town at this time of year.  This is Canada after all; even with the success of the Raptors, if you force fans to choose between spending their entertainment dollar on hockey or basketball, the frozen ballet will generally win out.

But how about when the ice is long melted and the country is caught up in a fever pitch over the Toronto Raptors playoff run? Their little cousins in the NBL (many NBL guys will play in the NBA D-League this summer) are putting forth an impressive effort on the court as well. And the good news? A Canadian team is guaranteed to win this title. Even better for Halifax fans? There’s a chance to stick it to Upper Canada and celebrate a championship on the East Coast. There will be no forfeiting this year. These Hurricanes are legit. They deserve the community’s support.

I urge everyone to get out and take in Game 1 of the NBL Finals. If you don’t enjoy it or you’re not impressed, don’t come back. But give it a chance. I guarantee you will see a team that is playing hard and giving an honest effort. We are Atlantic Canadians; we value being known as hard working and honest. You have a professional team in your back yard that embodies this spirit. Do yourself a favour and feel the #HurricaneForce. Follow the team on Twitter @hfxhurricanes or on their website halifaxhurricanes.ca. For those who cannot make it to the Scotiabank Centre, the games will be live on Eastlink TV.

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 

 

 

 

 

"Eastlink & NSSAF - One Year Later"

 

Kris Abbott
17 May, 2016

 

In May 2015, Eastlink TV Vice President Michael Smith and NSSAF Executive Director Darrell Dempster announced a new three-year partnership between Eastlink and the NSSAF.  Since that time our cameras have been present for NSSAF student athletes participating in:

Track & Field

Football

Basketball

Hockey

Volleyball

Table Tennis

Cheerleading

Rugby

Snowboarding

Skiing

Soccer

Baseball

Cross Country Running

NSSAF Celebration Luncheon

Over the last 12 months, Eastlink TV viewers have been introduced to hundreds of local student athletes excelling in their chosen sport while representing their schools.  Thanks to some exciting new technology, we have been able to broadcast everywhere in Nova Scotia from Yarmouth to Amherst to New Waterford to Bridgewater and all places in between. Having the capability to branch out from large stadiums into smaller school gymnasiums and community arenas has been exciting for people on both sides of the camera.

Some of my best memories from the first year of our broadcasts come from County Arena in Coxheath, Cape Breton.  Let it never be said that the students and staff (and yes, alumni) at Riverview High School don’t know how to put on an event – Hospitality Room included.

Our first broadcast was on opening night of the 2016 Red Cup. It was like nothing we’ve seen before. Fans packed the building and were singing and dancing more than a half hour before warm-up.

 

I never thought that building could be louder than Red Cup. I was wrong. In April, the Eastlink crew returned for the 2016 NSSAF Cheerleading Provincial Championship. The cheering and dancing had moved from the stands to centre ice where teams from Riverview, Sydney Academy, Glace Bay High, Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High, Amherst High School, Horton High School, Bridgewater Junior Senior High, and Avon View wowed spectators with high energy routines. These aren’t your grandparent’s cheerleaders!  It was our first time televising cheerleading and we can’t wait to get back next year. Special thanks to colour commentator Jessica MacPherson for her technical know-how!

Another memorable event was the NSSAF Snowboarding Championship from Ski Martock. Again we were blessed with a top notch colour commentator in Andy MacLean whose knowledge of the sport and many of the participating athletes made the broadcast enjoyable for viewers. It was a beautiful day on the mountain and we saw some impressive displays and rides.

Now that I think more about it, there’s a lasting memory from each and every event we have covered.  Most of them involve teammates supporting each other, volunteer coaches who truly care about the student athletes, and smiling faces. So many smiling faces. Even players who lost the game. Smiles.

And really, isn’t that what sport is about? It’s a chance to get away from day to day life. Whether it’s school, work, family, relationships – and have FUN. It all boils down to enjoyment. Now, don’t get me wrong; enjoyment for many athletes peaks when they win. Why shouldn’t it be? They train, focus, and sacrifice for an unknown outcome.

But what if you’re a tiny school whose entire female high school population plays on the volleyball team?  That’s the case for Ecole Acadienne de Truro. If you’re a female in the high school grades of this school, you’re on the volleyball team. There’s no tryout. No big selection process. You’re basically conscripted by your mere presence – and that’s a good thing.

 After playing in (and dominating) Division 3 for a number of years, Head Coach Roger Bastarache petitioned the NSSAF to let his school play Division 1. Despite their apparent population disadvantage, Ecole Acadienne de Truro narrowly lost out in the semis to the eventual champions (and largest school in Nova Scotia) Citadel High. Eventually the team won bronze against Dr. JH Gillis of Antigonish. So they didn’t win gold, but they had achieved way above where numbers dictated they should be. There’s an underdog story anyone can get behind. Again: Smiles.

How about the Sir John A Flames Football Team? Just days after tragically losing all star offensive lineman Jadon Robinson in a car accident, the Flames took to the field at Huskies Stadium to play for Division 1 Gold.

They didn’t win the game; however they won just by showing up and giving a mighty effort for their fallen teammate. The life lessons that these young athletes learned will last with them a lot longer than this school year. Head Coach Paul Moore and his coaching staff along with the entire teaching staff at Sir John A should be commended for going above and beyond the call of duty in helping the young students cope and heal.

So what have I learned over the first 12 months of NSSAF coverage? There will be good games. There will be bad games. There will be highlights. There will be lowlights. But the memories come in the form of the stories, the individuals, and the personalities that make up this first rate organization. 

By the way, all of these events are available any time, On Demand, to experience again!

On to year two.


 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 

 

 

 

"NSSAF Division 1 Basketball Live from Horton & Auburn "



Kris Abbott
1 March, 2016

For the first time in the history of the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF), the D1 Provincial Boys and Girls Basketball Championships will receive baseline to baseline coverage on Eastlink TV.  For over 20 years, Eastlink has worked to craft its championship basketball coverage, most recently at the Under 17 & Under 15 Basketball Canada Nationals in 2015, where the Nova Scotia Under 17 team made history by capturing the province’s first championship since 1987. You can re-live this moment anytime, on demand, on your Eastlink set top box.

Known primarily around the region for coverage of the Halifax Mooseheads and the QMJHL, this year Eastlink TV made its first foray into high school sports coverage with resounding success. As the NSSAF enters its 2016 spring championship season, the D1 Basketball Championships are the first of a number of events coming up in March, April, May, and June on Eastlink.

The top 8 high school boys’ basketball teams in the province will converge on the Annapolis Valley to battle it out for Provincial hoops supremacy. Competing teams (with seeding in brackets) are:

(1)    Horton High School Griffins (Wolfville)

(2)    CP Allen Cheetahs (Bedford)

(3)    Halifax Grammar School (Halifax)

(4)    Auburn Drive High School Eagles (Cole Harbour)

(5)    Citadel High School Phoenix (Halifax)

(6)    Cobequid Education Centre Cougars (Truro)

(7)    Sackville High School Kingfishers (Lower Sackville)

(8)    Memorial Composite High School Marauders (Sydney Mines)

 

Fans who tuned in to the National tournament in August will see many familiar names from the championship roster. In fact, the high school rosters are littered with national champions.  Alex Muise (CP Allen), Tristan Hyde (CP Allen), Campbell Colpitts (Grammar), Will Colpitts (Grammar), Vernelle Johnson (Grammar), Chase Tynes (Auburn), Eli Krausher (Auburn), Keevan Veinot (Horton), Jack Campbell (Citadel), Alex Carson (Sackville), Jarrod Timmons (Coach, Sackville), Stephen Morris (Coach, Sackville).

Live from Horton High School in Wolfville, here is the schedule of Live TV games:

Thursday, March 3rd

6PM       (#2) CP Allen Cheetahs vs (#7) Sackville High Kingfishers (Quarter Final #3)

8PM       (#3) Halifax Grammar School vs (#6) Cobequid Education Centre Cougars (Quarter Final #4)

Friday, March 4th

6PM       Semi Final #1

8PM       Semi Final #2

Saturday, March 5th

1PM       Bronze Medal Game

3PM       Championship Final

 

In addition to the full game live broadcasts, Katie Lohnes will be live from Auburn Drive High School providing in-game updates from the Girls D1 Championships. The teams and seedings are below:

(1)    Horton High School Griffins (Wolfville)

(2)    Cole Harbour High School Cavaliers (Cole Harbour)

(3)    Auburn Drive High School Eagles (Cole Harbour)

(4)    Citadel Phoenix (Halifax)

(5)    Cobequid Education Centre Cougars (Truro)

(6)    Riverview Rural High School Redmen (Coxheath)

(7)    Dartmouth High School Spartans (Dartmouth)

(8)    CP Allen High School Cheetahs (Bedford)

Citadel is the two time defending champion and will be led into their three-peat attempt by Daejiah Johnson and Jasmine Cain. Seeded in the middle of the pack, it will be a tough road for the Citadel girls who lost to Cole Harbour in the regional qualifying event. Cole Harbour also holds a win over Auburn. Can the Cavaliers continue their Cinderella run? Stay tuned to Eastlink TV or make your way to Auburn Drive to find out!

For complete schedules and information on all NSSAF Provincial Championships, head to www.nssaf.ca

To stay up to date on all things Eastlink TV Sports related, follow Kris on Twitter @eastlinkKris and visit our website

http://my.eastlink.ca/eastlinktv/home.aspx

 

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 

 

"Grappling with Fighting"

Kris Abbott
22 January, 2015
 

A Twitter follower asked me for my stance on fighting the other day and I had to stop and think about it.  For the 30 years I’ve been around this simplistically complex game played on a sheet of silky smooth ice that’s harder than concrete, fighting has been as much a part of the game as scoring goals or Gary Glitter’s “Rock N Roll Part II”. So when I was asked to give my personal feelings on the hot button issue that is “fighting in hockey” I was surprised when I didn’t immediately say “it’s a part of the game and it always will be.”

 Instead, my initial answer was: “I like a good hockey fight. I don’t even mind a staged fight. I don’t like seeing guys get hurt.”

 Maybe I’ve softened with age. Maybe I’ve seen one too many nasty incidents on the ice.

 Personally, I played junior hockey in St. John’s in a time where there was generally at least one fight per game. I got into my fair share and did not suffer any serious injuries. Frankly, I wasn’t that good at it, so I consider myself lucky.

 Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld said it best in his 1998 HBO Special “I’m Telling You for the Last Time”

 “The Helmet is my personal favourite. The fact that we had to invent the helmet. Now why did we invent the helmet? Well because we were participating in many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats, so that we can continue our head cracking lifestyles.”

 Now this isn’t meant to be a concussion-centric answer. It’s more of a look at who we are as human beings. For generations we have evolved as a species that is comfortable with mano a mano competition. And it’s not just us. A quick look at Natural Geographic or the Discovery Channel will show that it’s a sociologically accepted form of dispute resolution across species. We were just advanced enough to add helmets.

 There is a primal thirst for combat. It dates back to the days of the Coliseum in Rome. In modern times, UFC and the mixed martial arts movement has a fan base that stretches across age, gender, and race. The fictional “Game of Thrones” depicts an entire city thrown into disarray when the “fighting pits” were closed.  Hand to hand fighting has long been used as the accepted “let’s end this disagreement” protocol. Sometimes words don’t do the trick.

 When a fight breaks out at a hockey game - everyone watches. It’s an act of bravery. It’s something not all players can do. It’s entertaining for fans and players alike.

 However in 2016, the game has gotten to a point where teams can no longer afford to waste a roster spot on a traditional “goon” who can’t stickhandle or offer any hockey talent to a team.  With this role dwindling, fighting in hockey has taken a step back from a time where pugilists were squaring off every night and that was their only ice time.  Today’s hockey player has the ability to make a decision about whether they want to fight or not and I think that’s exactly where it should be.  If both guys agree to it, it’s an added feature to an already entertaining sport.

 Let’s look at how leagues have helped curb injuries as a result of fighting:

 -          The CHL, AHL and NHL all have rules against players removing their helmets before a fight; ranging from a 2 minute penalty to a game misconduct at the referee’s discretion. If during a fight a helmet comes off, the linesmen are instructed to get in and break things up as soon as possible.

 -          Most leagues have a rule that if a player is in a 2nd fight in a game, that player is ejected from the contest. Recurring instances will result in suspensions.

 -          “Staged Fights” or pre-agreed upon fights are illegal and can garner you an automatic game misconduct, as can a second fight during the same stoppage of play (these penalties vary from league to league).

With these rules in place, I think fighting is currently where it should be in both junior and professional hockey.  So with that said, I stand by my statement: “I like a good hockey fight. I don’t even mind a staged fight. I don’t like seeing guys get hurt.”

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 




"They Are Who We Thought They Were"

Kris Abbott
29 September, 2015
 

To quote former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green, the teams in the QMJHL Maritimes Division ‘are who we thought they were’.  Through three weeks of the 2015-2016 season, the pre-season prediction that this year’s edition of the Maritimes Division would be one of the best in recent memory is proving true.

Without getting too excited, the teams have only played six games after all, it’s fun to surmise how things will play out over the course of next 62 games.

The early surprise would have to be the Moncton Wildcats and the emergence of the Klima Twins, Kelly and Kevin. Yes, they are the twin sons of NHL Legend Petr Klima. Their hot start and the strong play of guys like Will Bower and Adam Holwell helped the Wildcats to a 3-1 record before reigning QMJHL MVP Conor Garland showed up this past weekend to chip in six points and push the Wildcats’ division leading record to 5-1. Overage goaltender Zachary Fortin and the development of their core group since last season makes this Moncton team a threat in every game.

Charlottetown and Cape Breton have been as advertised and are finally getting their top players back after NHL training camps. Mason McDonald should make his debut for the Islanders this weekend as they kick off a 3 game Quebec road trip in Victoriaville, Thursday night, against Les Tigres. As of the writing of this article, Daniel Sprong remains in training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the last Charlottetown player at NHL camp. Speaking of Islanders at NHL training camps, both Alexander Goulet and Filip Chlapik found themselves in Jim Hulton’s dog house on Sunday, after returning from New Jersey and Ottawa respectively, being benched for the entire third period. Coach Hulton is undoubtedly sending a message that it’s a “team first” concept on the Island.

The Halifax Mooseheads head out on the road this weekend as well. Newly-minted Captain Timo Meier will make his season debut after a stellar showing at the San Jose Sharks training camp. Coaches, players, and fans alike are looking forward to getting the Swiss Sensation back into the lineup. The Mooseheads have played well defensively and Eric Brassard has been himself in the crease, routinely making 35+ saves a night. They have, however, been missing a scoring punch and Meier will certainly raise the level of the entire forward group. It will be interesting to see who Timo’s line-mates are. One would have to think he will be reunited with Danny Moynihan while at the same time it’s hard to see Otto Somppi and Max Fortier being broken up.  Look for some wingers to get auditions this weekend for the other two top 6 roles. Ilya Putintsev is still finding his way in the QMJHL and the diminutive winger found himself on the 4th line for a spell last weekend. Expect rookies Arnaud Durandeau, Joel Bishop, and Barrett Dachyshyn to earn a look after their continued early season development.  The Mooseheads are coming off a 3-2 OT loss to the Screaming Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Centre. It was a hotly contested game and just an FYI....these two teams still don’t like each other.

Cape Breton trotted out its full lineup for the first time this season and it didn’t take long for them to impress. Captain Clark Bishop looks like a man possessed – skating and hitting with the strength of a pro. Evgeny Svechnikov and Max Lazarev continue to improve and both should get a long look from the Russian World Junior Team. Loik Leveille, fresh off Edmonton Oilers camp, scored the game winner on a wicked shot over the glove of Kevin Resop.

(Kind of off topic here.....but man, I love watching Dillon Boucher play the game. He hits like a truck and works his tail off. He’s not afraid to mix it up and he gets free for offensive opportunities. Definitely one of my favourites in the league.)

While two Maritime teams head to La Belle Province this weekend, the other four will host teams from Quebec. Saint John will be bolstered by the return of Jakub Zboril from Boston Bruins training camp as they host Gatineau and Shawinigan, two of the best teams in the league early on. It will be a good test for the upstart Sea Dogs who are loaded with young talent and backstopped by the previously unknown and untested Marc -Antoine Turcotte. Turcotte has proved to be the real deal and is yet another awesome find by Darrell Young who continues to make shrewd and brilliant moves as the Sea Dogs GM. The Olympiques and Cataractes will also play in Bathurst against the young and improved Titan. All in all, it will be a good measuring stick of just how powerful the Maritimes Division actually is as the teams crossover for the first time this season.

Our next Friday Night Hockey broadcast on Eastlink TV comes October 9th from the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown as the Islanders host the Sea Dogs.

Keep an eye on theqmjhl.ca and follow the Q on Twitter @QMJHL for updates all season long.

 

For Eastlink TV Sports,

Kris Abbott (@EastlinkKris) 

 

 

 

"Basketball Nova Scotia U17 Team Could Inspire A Generation"

Kris Abbott
10 August, 2015
 
Most of us who fall in love with sports can point to a significant moment or event that got us hooked on the intrigue, the mystery, the unknown of the outcome. For me it’s a combination of the ‘92 & ‘93 Blue Jays World Series victories and the World Junior Hockey Championships of the same era. It was a time before the internet and advanced statistics. A time before we knew the background of the opposition. They were just the enemy, standing in the way of glory.

Saturday, August 8th, 2015, it happened again at the Canada Basketball U17 Boys Nationals hosted by Basketball Nova Scotia. Sure, I’m 20+ years older than I was back then and I’m supposed to be impartial, but you couldn’t help pull for the home team against a powerhouse from Ontario featuring sure fire future Division 1 NCAA players. The script read like a movie and played out in front of viewers on Eastlink TV.

RJ Barrett, the underage phenom from Mississauga, shredded the entire tournament with his dazzling array of skills. He was backed up by the forgotten Barrett, Shakwon, who just can’t miss. Grant Adu and Jordan Lyons get lost in the shuffle and these guys would have been the superstar on any other team. This Ontario squad was stacked.

As the movie script would certainly go, the teams met in the tournament opener. Nova Scotia’s superstar Nate Darling would put on a highlight display, but Ontario won handily by 22 points, seemingly just dispatching the first of many teams on their way to a pre-ordained National Championship.

Darling, the 6’5” guard from Lower Sackville, came home from his Dematha High School squad in Hyattsville, Maryland to give Nova Scotia a fighting chance at a medal in the event. After this game, silver or bronze seemed the likely color. In game 2, Nova Scotia squeaks by New Brunswick in overtime, and then defeats Newfoundland & Labrador 70-63 in game 3, setting up a Friday night semi final vs. British Columbia.

In the semi final, Nova Scotia played in front of a standing room only Homburg Centre and got a 27 point performance from Darling, a Mutumbo-esque defensive performance from Alex Carson, and the entire team chipped in to get a 58-55 win in a defensive struggle. Their reward?

A rematch with the team that mopped them by 22 on Monday. We could stop the movie right there and it would be a good ending. Fade to black and have words on the screen saying “Team Nova Scotia would lose the Championship to Ontario the next day but these players made history, blah blah blah.” But this group of young men, led by Head Coach Jarrod Timmons, decided there would be one more act in this screenplay. Nate Darling got things started on the opening play in the final, hitting a fade away baseline jumper which made me think, “This guy is here to play.”

In what Timmons describes as a “boxing match”, the teams traded blows back and forth for the entire game. After one quarter, Nova Scotia led by five. Ok, we thought, “the crowd is into it, Ontario will surely shake off the nerves and start dominating in the 2nd second quarter.” And Ontario did shake off any nerves; they played great! But you know what? Nova Scotia played with them every step of the way and took a one point lead to the halftime break. I asked Cecil Wright, who is my trusted source for all things local sports, especially basketball, if he thought this was sustainable. “I don’t know,” he said, “but with one half to go, this is a marvellous spot for them to be in.” And so it continued into the 3rd round of the boxing match, the teams going back and forth, Darling and Barrett trading highlight reel plays. After the 3rd quarter the score was 79-77 for the host team. Ten minutes left. They might actually do this. 4th Quarter starts. Keyshaun Saunders: deep 3. Huge block by Jordan Lyons. RJ Barrett fade away for two, Darling miss, RJ Barrett HUGE jam, Alex Carson misses, Anthony McNish hoop and harm. All of a sudden it’s 86-79 for Ontario and things got very quiet in the gymnasium.

With the score 88-81, Lower Sackville’s Alex Carson drove the lane and was fouled while shooting. Carson steps up and hits both free throws under unimaginable pressure. 88-83. After Grant Adu hit one free throw at the other end, things got exciting. Darling rolls off a screen from Andrew Milner and hits a deep three. RJ Barrett misses a three. Chase Tynes, from Lake Loon, shoots a deep three that misses but Tristan Hyde got dirty under the boards and cleaned it up for two. With the score 89-88 for Ontario, Nate Darling anticipates an Ontario pass, picks up a huge steal, runs the floor, hits an unbelievable layup and finishes the three point play after the foul. Nova Scotia up by two. The teams continue to trade twos and threes back and forth for the rest of the 4th quarter and it’s a tie game with 47 seconds remaining. The whistle sounds and the gym goes quiet. One of the emotional leaders of Team Nova Scotia, Chase Tynes, goes down hard and is writhing in pain on the ground underneath his basket. He has to be carried off the floor by teammates in the final minute of the National Championship. Another blow to the underdogs.

Then, with time expiring, Alex Carson gets free for a potential buzzer beater. Perfect end to the movie. He missed.

OVERTIME.

And overtime was ALL Nova Scotia. Darling and Carson were not letting this pass them by. Both had huge baskets and both made huge blocks defensively. Bedford’s Tristan Hyde dominated the boards. When the dust settled, Darling had 50 points, Carson had 28, and Nova Scotia was National Champions.

It all happened in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The unattainable was attained. The team that stressed family were successful because they acted like a family. The big brothers Darling and Carson led by example. Andrew Milner from Antigonish stepped up, coming off the bench with an inspiring effort. Chase Tynes gave the future NBA star RJ Barrett fits with his defence and had a big three pointer of his own late in the game. Rowan Power was a force at both ends of the floor. Tristan Hyde did the dirty work against guys who were insanely bigger than him. Jack Campbell and Eli Krausher gave important minutes in relief. Campbell Colpitts started the game and worked his tail off when he was out there. Alexander Muise, Keevan Veinot, Vernelle Johnson, and Will Colpitts never got on the floor, but they were the first to congratulate the guys who did. And you know what? The stars like Darling and Tynes were the first to give credit to the bench guys. Because when you’re a real family, there’s no distinction, you do it as one.

I want to thank this group of young athletes for providing inspiration to the entire basketball community in Nova Scotia and the greater population as well. There were many people who are not necessarily basketball fans that followed this team. These young men made it bigger than basketball, they made it bigger than themselves, and they will go down in history as one of the greatest teams in Nova Scotia.

Sports bring communities together. This National Championship brought the entire province closer together. 28 Years after they won in 1987, Nova Scotia has the right to be called National Under 17 Basketball Champions. If that’s not the plot of a great sports movie, I don’t know what is.

 

 

"Country's Top Youth Basketball Players Coming to Halifax"

Kris Abbott
28 July, 2015
 
While most fans see basketball as a fall and winter sport, the elite, young players from Basketball Nova Scotia compete all year long. Their seasons culminate with events in the summer months and BNS teams have been excelling this month. From July 10-12 Basketball Nova Scotia hosted the Bluenose Classic at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax featuring 91 games over 6 divisions with participating teams from across Atlantic Canada. Basketball Nova Scotia’s Provincial Teams captured gold in 4 of the 6 divisions with the girls and boys competitive divisions both featuring the Basketball Nova Scotia 15 & Under teams vs 16 & Under teams in the finals (Available now on Eastlink TV On Demand!).

This week in Edmonton the 15U and 17U Girls teams are competing in the National Championships. Last year, also in Edmonton, the 15U team finished 5th, while the 17U team finished 7th. Both are looking to improve on last year’s placing. You can follow their progress at www.basketball.ca.

This year’s 15 & Under and 17 & Under Basketball Canada Boys National Championships are taking place in Halifax from August 3-8 at Saint Mary’s University, hosted by Basketball Nova Scotia. Play begins with preliminary round games on Monday and Tuesday, and then the Playoff round starts Wednesday night. Eastlink TV will show 8 games from the tournament with a full HD production: Wednesday, August 5, 6:00 PM & 8:15 PM
 -Thursday, August 6, 6:00 PM & 8:15 PM
 -Friday, August 7, 6:00 PM & 8:15 PM
 -Saturday, August 8, 3:30 PM & 6:00 PM (Championship Games)

Because of the format of the tournament, it is impossible at this time to determine the matchups for these broadcasts, however Eastlink TV, Basketball Nova Scotia, and Basketball Canada will work together to ensure that there is a Nova Scotia, PEI or Newfoundland & Labrador team featured each evening. Of course the Championship Games will feature the top two remaining teams in the nation on Saturday, August 8.

This is an exciting time for basketball fans in Halifax. Many of these players have already been recruited by colleges and prep schools in the United States and it may be the last time fans in their home country get a chance to see them play. Halifax has a long history of hosting big time national events and this is another notch in the belt for the city. More importantly, the fans in Nova Scotia have a long history of supporting these events, whether that support is buying tickets to games or volunteering to make our visitors feel more at home.  If you’re interested in doing either, head over to BasketballNovaScotia.com for information on ticket packages and becoming a tournament volunteer.  See you at the Homburg Centre August 3rd to the 8th!

 

NSSAF Track and Field Championships a Leaping Success

 Kris Abbott
12 June, 2015

In May, Eastlink and The Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation entered into a partnership that saw Eastlink become the presenting sponsor of the NSSAF for the next three years.  While the agreement does not officially launch until the start of the 2015-2016 season in September, Eastlink TV gave viewers a sneak peak of what they could expect last weekend by televising 17 hours of the NSSAF Provincial Track and Field Championships live from Wolfville.

The track and field coverage was the first foray into high school athletics for the crew at Eastlink TV and, by all accounts, was a resounding success. I’m not referring to the television production side of things (although our crew all worked incredibly hard and I am unbelievably proud to be a part of this group); rather, the event was a success because of the athletes, the volunteers, the coaches, and the fans.

There was female intermediate speedster Taylor Mattinson from Oxford Regional Education Centre who calmly ran her races, won a double gold medal, and gave post race interviews like she had taken IAAF media training. She is only 15.

How about Grace Layes of Riverside Education Centre who won both the 100m and 200m for Junior Girls? A junior high school student, she was composed enough after gruelling races to give Mavs Gillis a detailed interview about her strategy and track conditions.

We then watched Michael Van Der Poel dominate the Senior Boys 3000M race. Instead of celebrating at the finish line, he waited and shook the hand of all others who finished the challenging 3 kilometres behind him.

Class, sportsmanship, and smiles were the order of the weekend. It is hard to put into words the feeling that was present around Raymond Field for this event. There was an aura of positivity that permeated the entire two days. Fittingly, the positivity carried from the beautiful, sunny Friday into the soggy, cold, Saturday. Not even the torrential downpours could dampen the spirit of the athletes.

While the athletes’ spirits were high, they were matched by the enthusiasm of the 1000+ spectators in attendance. Many of the fans were there from the time the gates opened until the time they closed, while others streamed through the turnstiles throughout the day. My favourite part was when they cheered on the runners at the back of the field as they came down the final 100M stretch. It’s easy to cheer for the winners, but it’s special when the crowd gets behind the effort rather than the time on the clock.

Ah, yes, the clock. And the measuring tapes. And the clipboards. And the squeegees. All manned by volunteers who gave their time and effort to make sure that this event went off without a hitch. A special thank you to track meet volunteers Steve Wohlmuth and Richard Foot who also helped out on our broadcast crew and offered fantastic insight into the technical aspects of track and field.

Finally, I have to mention the inspiring work of the coaches and the teachers of these student athletes.  Not once, over two full days with over 1000 athletes, did I see an example of poor sportsmanship, an example of disrespect to officials, nor an example of anything but exemplary conduct by the athletes. Too often we see negative stories about today’s youth. This shining example of positivity needs to be applauded and lauded. Congratulations to all involved on leaving a great impression by your actions.

Truly, it was a pleasure to be a part of this event and we are already looking forward to next year’s meet in Stellarton.

 

 

Is it Finally The Screaming Eagles' Time?

 

Kris Abbott
21 May, 2015

In the sports world, it is said that you must first lose as a team to learn how to win as a team. 

The 2014-2015 edition of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles did their fair share of losing as a team but went into the playoffs on a roll and with inspiring promise.  As the 13th seed, they pushed the Memorial Cup host and league finalist Quebec Remparts to a seventh and deciding game before bowing out of the first round.  With that taste in their mouths and thoughts of what might have been in their heads, the Eagles go into the offseason showing a lot of early signs of being a contender in 2015-2016.

The struggles of the team out of the gate this past season have been well documented. The puzzling case of Cameron Darcy, the struggles of Francois Brassard, and the record number of one goal losses prompted wholesale changes during the trading period. The Eagles made TWELVE trades during the season that drastically altered the makeup of the roster. 

Marc-Andre Dumont did well to find Marcus Hinds and Stephen Anderson as overagers who contributed to the team’s scoring depth. Defencemen Alexandre Gosselin and Olivier LeBlanc added leadership and unparalleled depth to an already strong blue line. Most importantly, the culture was changed in an admittedly toxic dressing room.

It would be remiss to not speak of the goaltending carousel on the Cape. Four net minders saw time in the blue paint, with three of them basically carving out a third of the year each. Francois Brassard, Alexander Belanger, and Miguel Sullivan all showed flashes at times, but neither was able to really grab the starter’s role and run with it. Look for this issue to be addressed through drafting and trades again this offseason.

The Screaming Eagles traded the first overall pick in the upcoming draft, but they still have the 4th, 6th, 19th, 36th, and 40th overall picks. At least 3 of those 5 are likely to step right into the lineup in the fall.

 So what will the Screaming Eagles roster look like in 2015-2016 as they compete in a strong Maritimes Division? Let’s take a look:

 Gone:  

 #9 Kyle Farrell, #16 Stephen Anderson, #19 Marcus Hinds.

 At or near the top of Dumont’s off season checklist will be replacing the points and leadership of these departed twenty year olds.  This is no easy task. While Farrell was a 5-year fixture and face of the franchise, the roles of Hinds and Anderson in turning around this team cannot go underappreciated. Hinds was an instant fan favourite and the likeable veteran Anderson acted like a glue with the group inside the room. Breakout seasons from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Evgeny Svetchnikov give hope that the numbers put up by the graduating players will be maintained going forward.

  20 Year-Old Situation:

 #1 Miguel Sullivan, #2 Matthew Nosella, #7 Francis Brunelle, #15 Alexandre Gosselin, #22 Jacob Smith, #30 Alexandre Belanger

QMJHL teams are allowed to dress a maximum of three 20 year-old players so the Screaming Eagles will have to make some alterations to this group.

At first glance it would appear that scrappy goaltender Miguel Sullivan, Matthew Nosella, and Francis Brunelle will be the odd men out from this group at the start of the season. There’s no guarantee for any of the other three that someone else won’t be brought in before the season starts, but based on the players listed, it would seem that steady defenceman Gosselin, opportunistic sniper Smith, and NHL drafted Belanger will be penciled in to the overage slots.

Goaltending:

With Belanger likely to return, look for his backup to be a goaltender taken at the 4th or 6th position in the upcoming draft.  Dereck Baribeau a 6’4” goaltender from Seminaire St-Francois Blizzard in Quebec Midget AAA played for Quebec in both the Canada Winter Games and the QMJHL Gatorade Excellence Challenge. Baribeau split his time at the Canada Games with Alex D’Orio, 6’2”, from the Magog Cantonniers. D’Orio was the winning goaltender in the shootout final versus Nova Scotia at the Gatorade Excellence Challenge just two weeks ago. Interestingly, both goaltenders are southpaws and are ranked to go in the first round of the draft.

Defence:

The strength of championship teams comes from the back and things are looking good on the Screaming Eagles blue line. Look for 7 of the 8 defencemen to return, surmising that Nosella will not be offered an overage spot.  That leaves Gosselin as a 20 year-old with Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Olivier LeBlanc, Jonathan Deschamps, Duncan Macintyre, and Loik Leveille as 19 year-olds. Rounding out the D corps is 18 year-old Bradley Lalonde and 17-year old swingman Jeremie Beaudin. This might be the best collection of defencemen in the entire Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Forwards:

The teams with the best collection of 19 year-old forwards are usually the strongest offensively in the league. Cape Breton is eligible to return captain and Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Clark Bishop, exciting Russians Max Lazarev and Evgeny Svetchnikov, and rugged Saint John native Colin MacSween as 19 year-olds.

Expect 18 year-olds Dillon Boucher and Phelix Martineau to both have breakout seasons. These guys are considered depth players but both have some offensive ability. If Boucher can stay healthy he will be a physical force that will have defencemen around the league looking over their shoulders.

Pierre-Luc Dubois will be entering his 17 year-old season but the only thing that says he’s 17 is his birth certificate. Dubois was widely considered the top 16 year-old in the QMJHL in 2014-2015 and recently played with the Canadian under-18 team at the World Championships as an underage player. He will be much heralded and garnering a lot of attention over the next couple of seasons.

If Halifax Macs forward Shane Bowers is available at the 4th spot in the upcoming draft, expect the Eagles to snatch him up and then use the 6th pick on a goaltender. Rumblings around the league have Saint John and Bathurst both very interested in Bowers as well, so it would be a bonus for Cape Breton if he slides to 4th.

Potential Training Camp Depth Chart:

Goaltenders: Alexander Belanger, Draft Pick (Baribeau/D’Orio), Francis Lavallee, Colby Muise, Matthew O’Rielly, Bobby Dugan,

Defencemen: Loik Leveille, Olivier LeBlanc, Alexandre Gosselin, Jonathan Deschamps, Bradley Lalonde, Duncan Macintyre, Jeremie Beaudin

Forwards: Evgeny Svetchnikov, Clark Bishop, Maxim Lazarev, Pierre Luc Dubois, Jacob Smith, Dillon Boucher, Colin MacSween, Phelix Martineau, Colby Tower, Declan Smith, Alex Bonaparte, David Caza, Alex MacDonald, Emmanuel Proulx, Grant Janes, plus 1 or 2 first round picks.

It would appear that the top three lines and all defence spots are filled by veterans at this point. Belanger will get the opportunity to be the starting goaltender but should be looking in the rear-view mirror if there is a high draft pick coming in. Cape Breton has the makings of a top tiered team in the QMJHL and should have a great chance at winning the Maritimes Division and making a deep playoff run.  Fans at the Eagle’s Nest should be chomping at the bit to get this season going. Only 3 months until training camp opens!

 


What Will The Mooseheads Look Like Next Season?

The first in a three-part series looking at our QMJHL Partners

 

Kris Abbott
7 May, 2015 

A couple of weeks removed from their fourteen game playoff run and it’s time to reflect on the season that was, and what the next season may hold, for the Halifax Mooseheads.

2014-2015 was not supposed to be a championship season for the Halifax Mooseheads. In fact, most pundits didn’t have them advancing past the first round of the QMJHL President Cup Playoffs – and that’s when they had veterans Zach Fucale, Matt Murphy, and Jesse Lussier in the lineup. 

In December the team moved out those three veteran pieces, replacing Fucale with journeyman / virtual unknown Eric Brassard and staying in house to fill out the D corps plus adding Junior "A" free agent Sam Hunter. Of course, there were multiple draft picks and future considerations in the deal, but fans are often more interested in the now and not the future; and the now was looking fairly bleak.

A middle of the pack team throughout the season, the Mooseheads ended up finishing 12th overall in the 18 team QMJHL, eliminating 5th overall Shawinigan in 7 games and eventually falling in 7 games to the 2nd overall Moncton Wildcats, who escaped that series by the skin of their collective teeth.  

So, what now?

GM Cam Russell and Owner Bobby Smith are on record saying they will always ice a competitive team in Halifax as a reward to the loyal fan base, so a “tanking” season in 2015-2016 does not seem likely. While not likely, it IS an interesting possibility, as the Mooseheads hold Quebec’s 2016 1st round pick, which is expected to be high, plus their own. Two picks in the top 5 would certainly set the franchise up for a few years. Additionally, the Mooseheads will be without head coach Dom Ducharme for a month or more as he attends to his duties as an Assistant Coach with the Canadian entry at the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Jim Midgley and Jon Greenwood are more than capable of running the bench, however this will undoubtedly be a disruption to the team. We saw the effect that it had on Gatineau this year.

 The Maritimes Division will be a lot of fun to watch in 2015-2016. Cape Breton is returning the majority of their team that was a force in the second half of the season. Charlottetown is not losing many core pieces and has one of the league’s best goaltenders in Mason MacDonald. Saint John is building a powerhouse and will only get better with the 1st, 8th, and 9th overall picks in this year’s draft. Moncton will be strong again, and Bathurst, much like Saint John, has an impressive young team with a top notch goaltending prospect in Halifax native Reilly Pickard.

 So let’s take a look at the Mooseheads’ roster as it stands right now and see how it may look next season.

 Gone:

 20 year olds Philippe Gadoury and Austyn Hardie are ineligible to return and are moving on in their careers.

 Question Marks:

 Nikolaj Ehlers has very little, if anything, left to prove at the Major Junior level. The Winnipeg Jets 2014 1st rounder will be looking to stick with the NHL squad out of training camp.  However, Winnipeg has been known not to rush junior aged players to the NHL and Ehlers would be ineligible for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. While he is an offensive marvel, Ehlers still has much to learn about the pro game and still needs to develop physically to be a factor at the next level.  That leaves him two options if he doesn’t make the Jets next season: Halifax or Europe.  Realistically, there’s about a 10-15% chance we see #24 back with the Mooseheads.

Goaltender Eric Brassard is eligible to return to the Mooseheads as a 20 year old next season and fans should expect to see him back. The only reason he is in the “question mark” section is because the Mooseheads may be able to move him for assets before the season starts. Brassard’s stock has never been higher and there may be teams looking to contend next season that are willing to (over)pay to get him. Cam Russell will have a decision to make here.

Captain Ryan Falkenham is eligible to return as one of three permitted 20 year olds on the Halifax roster. After dealing with a debilitating hip injury for most of the season, Falkenham returned to play a primarily bottom 6 role for the Mooseheads in the later part of the regular schedule and playoffs.  Falkenham is widely known to be one of the real “good guys” in hockey but it is unclear if he will be physically up to the challenge of another QMJHL season or if the Mooseheads are willing to risk a 20 year old spot on a player who isn’t 100%.  Just two seasons ago we saw the same situation with then captain Trey Lewis. It was unclear what he would be able to offer and the Mooseheads decided to move on.

Kelly Bent, Brandon Vuic, and Samuel Leblanc are all heading into their 20 year old seasons in the QMJHL. It is highly unlikely we will see Vuic back in the Red and Green again. 20 year old spots are generally reserved for impact players and not guys who play a limited role. If he’s not back, Vuic left the Halifax fans with a doozy of a game, scoring two goals in his last appearance at Scotiabank Centre.

LeBlanc is a 50/50 kind of guy. If there is a 20 year old spot there and nobody to fill it, he’s not going to hurt the team. Leblanc is a reliable penalty killer and faceoff man. He has played anywhere from the 1st to 4th line over the past couple of seasons but he is not a dynamic offensive player. Look for him to return if there is an open spot.

Kelly Bent is an interesting case. If I’m making the decisions I bring him back for sure. Bent plays the agitator role to a tee and is liked amongst his teammates. He has settled into his role and seems to enjoy playing it. He even went on a point streak in the playoffs! Every team needs a Kelly Bent type guy, so why not keep him?

Halifax MacDonald’s forward Barrett Dachyshyn left camp last year in order to keep his NCAA eligibility open. The Mooseheads believe Dachyshyn is ready to play at the QMJHL level and would have a spot for the 17 year old should he decide he wants to play in the CHL.

Returning:

Looking at the list of returning players, Mooseheads fans should be encouraged by what they see. Cavan Fitzgerald, Morgan Nauss, JS Taillefer, Taylor Ford, Josh Fitzgerald, Sam Hunter, and Dom Argento are all eligible to return in 2015-2016 AND 2016-2017. That doesn’t count past and future draft picks or anyone that will be added through the summer like nineteen year old Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Cody Donaghey. He is a future consideration from the Fucale trade and is expected to join the Mooseheads in the fall after Maple Leafs camp. Goaltender Kevin Resop will be entering his 18 year old season and will be looking to build off a moderately successful rookie campaign where he was in and out of the starter’s role.

Danny Moynihan and Timo Meier will be back to lead the offensive attack next season. Meier will be drafted in the 1st round of this year’s NHL Draft but it is unlikely that he would make an NHL team in his draft year. One more year of being a dominant Major Junior player will be good for his development.  Danny Moynihan had a fantastic season riding shotgun with Ehlers and Meier but he also stepped up and was “the man” when those guys were out of the lineup for a month around Christmas.

Maxime Fortier, now with a full season under his belt, needs to be a big cog for Halifax in the fall. It will be interesting to see how Fortier responds from a concussion that knocked him out of the playoffs this season. This is an important summer for him in terms of getting bigger and stronger and it is unknown how he will respond to training after the injury. We have seen flashes of his offensive ability and he could be a very exciting player this coming season.

Vincent Watt, Connor Moynihan, Jordan King, Andrew Shewfelt and Brett Crossley are all eligible and expected to return in the fall. The Mooseheads will also add a European import to their roster to replace Ehlers, if he indeed does not return.  Cam Russell has already made two trips to Europe this year, most recently at the World Under 18 Tournament. The Mooseheads pick 19th in the CHL Import Draft and generally have been able to hit a home run with their import selections.

Training Camp Depth Chart:

 Forwards (12): Timo Meier, Danny Moynihan, Euro Import, Maxime Fortier, Vincent Watt, Samuel LeBlanc, Connor Moynihan, Ryan Falkenham, Brett Crossley, Andrew Shewfelt, Kelly Bent, Makail Parker

Defence (8): Cavan Fitzgerald, Cody Donaghey, Taylor Ford, Morgan Nauss, JS Taillefer, Sam Hunter, Josh Fitzgerald, Domenico Argento,

Goal (4): Eric Brassard, Kevin Resop, Christopher Langlais, Kevin Martin

With plenty of returning players, training camp should be a very interesting time in Halifax. Up front, outside of Meier, the Moynihans, and Fortier, everyone else will be looking over their shoulder. This should make for some very entertaining and hard played intra squad and exhibition games.

The blue line is even more crowded with the Top 4 solidified and maybe even the fifth spot if you include Taillefer. The bold strategy of throwing these guys out of the frying pan and into the fire in December will pay dividends for the next two to three seasons.

It’s only early May and plenty will change between now and puck drop in September, but it sure is exciting to look at the potential of an even tighter QMJHL next season than we had this year.

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