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Your 2013-14 Season Preview.. Interactive Edition

 

Season Previews are like Assholes: Sports Blogs are full of them (you sure about this? .ed).

Nailing your colours to the mast as to how teams and players are likely to perform over the coming year is a risky business and leaves one open to the mockery of your peers when, inevitably, the Hockey Gods make sure that all your confident predictions go horribly wrong.

Therefore, we here at Cheer the Anthem have decided to skip this potential public shaming and would much rather that you do it instead: here is a comprehensive preview of all the other 29 teams in the League. All you have to do is fill in the blanks and you’re on the Path to Hockey Guru Status/Hiding Under A Rock .

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Euro-Weenies

North American Hockey fans seldom pay much attention to the various European leagues and when they do it’s usually as “The place that all those awesome Finnish goalies come from” or “Jesus God, those jerseys are ugly” or “Somewhere that Don Cherry REALLY hates”.  The events on the larger ice really don’t factor much in the tumult of an NHL season.

This year, however, is slightly different and the eyes of Hawks fans will be turning to Europe more often, for reasons that I’ll get to in a moment.

Being of the European Persuasion myself, I’m going to contribute a weekly wrap-up of events from a selected few Teams and Leagues over this side of the pond that may be of interest to Blackhawks fans (and some just for my own entertainment.. humour me)

SM Liiga / Jokerit (Finland)

This one is pretty obvious: there’s a certain Hawks prospect playing there who has created the sort of giddy anticipation last seen when Patrick Kane was drafted. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how Teuvo Teravanien is developing and hopefully providing more awesome “Highlight Videos With Crazed Finnish Callers” for your titillation. Another subplot is the fact that this is the famous old club’s last year in the SM Liiga before they jump ship to the KHL next season.

Slovak Extraliga /HC Dukla Trencin (Slovakia)

This is, of course, an Olympic year and Slovakia are in the USA’s group for the First Round. While no-one expects the Slovaks to cause an upset against the US or Russia, they are a potential landmine and should not be taken lightly. Their best players (and Tomas Kopecky) are mostly in North America or playing for Bratislava, who moved to the KHL last year, but we’ll keep an eye on any developments coming out of Slovakia. Dukla Trencin is the club that rocked the cradle of the Hossa brothers, the aforementioned Tomokop and the late Pavol Demitra (whom their arena is named for). Trencin is also the hometown of Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik.

Elite Ice Hockey League/Belfast Giants (Britain)

Shameless Homerism here: we’ll take a look at Ireland’s only Pro Hockey team as they compete in the British League. The Giants have had an extremely traumatic time off the ice over the last couple of years (of which more on another day) so we’ll follow them and see how the club is picking itself back up off the floor.

 Championnat De France Div 1/ Mulhouse Scorpions (France)

This one is personal: I have a weird affection for this happy-go-lucky bunch of schmucks who won promotion to the French Top Division, La Ligue Magnus last year, only to get kicked in by all comers, finish second-last and get relegated back down (yes, they have Promotion/Relegation in France.. damn Eurotrash!). Last time they were in this Division they won it, so I’ll be taking a look at their travails and hopefully give you an idea of Hockey in the real backwaters of Europe.

 

We’ll be kicking this off with some quick profiles of the teams, the leagues and the key players to keep an eye on.  If I can find time in between constructing my shrine to Teuvo, that is.

More soon.

 

 

Corey Crawford Re-Signs for 6 Years, $36 Million

Corey Crawford was expected to be the subject of much speculation during the forthcoming Season: his current contract (Cap Hit of $2.6 Million) was due to expire next summer, leaving him a Unrestricted Free Agent. The Hawks fanbase was wondering if he would be traded now that his value is at its peak, re-upped, and if so, for how long and for how much in light of some of the blockbuster and/or boneheaded deals given to goalies lately.

Instead Stan Bowman gave an added fillip to Crawford’s Day withe Cup by re-signing him to a 6-year deal worth $36 Million ($6M per year)

Bowman has thus far shown no willingness to overpay for Goaltending and Crawfords deal is closer to the 6yr/$31.8m extension signed between Jimmy Howard and the Wings or Mike Smith’s 6yr/$34.2 than the Tuuka Rask contract (8yr/$56m) .Obviously this is being made with the anticipation of a considerable rise in the Salary Cap in 2014/15. Crawford is now making some Elite-Money.

I’m sure there are some Crow-Hating Meatballs out there tearing out their hair and howling into their Tapout shirts as their dream of Ryan Miller in the Indianhead fades. Thus far, however, the general mood seems to be one of cautious optimism. There are some concerns over the length of the contract and that Crawford will be 35 at its end however, it would be very un-Bowman-like for the contract to be an untradeable monster and there is always going to be some GM willing to pay whatever it takes to get a Stanley Cup winning Goalie on to their roster.

Personally I like it, yes, it’s a lot of money and years but when you look at some of the other contracts that have been handed out in recent years, especially to Goalies, it looks perfectly reasonable. I also have an inclination to trust Stan Bowman’s judgement in these things: he’s hardly put a foot wrong in his dealings.

This is going to be a high-pressure year for Crawford: he is now the undisputed #1 (which he was last season, too despite the “WE WANT DAT EMORY GUY” crowd), he won’t be “Playing for a Deal”, instead he will have to justify his considerable price-tag while the well-regarded Antti Raanta hones his game in the AHL.

We all saw plenty of signs of an increasingly confident, aggressive and strong-willed Crawford last season (and not even Pat Kane believes that he didn’t deserve the Conn Smythe). With Chicago looking to repeat and with every team in the league gunning for them, he’s going to need every bit of that strength.

 

 

 

 

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In Praise Of: Sean McIndoe

 

There are very few writers in the Hockey world that need absolutely no introduction, but Sean McIndoe, better known as Down Goes Brown, is certainly one of them. (And if you don’t know who Down Goes Brown is, stop reading this now, go here , start at the start and come back when you’re finished)

He’s unfailingly perceptive and hilarious and I (and anyone else who attempts to make jokes about Hockey) owe him an enormous debt of gratitude and tremendous respect.

What he is also, though, is one hell of a writer.

Recently, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy asked, on Twitter, for advice on websites to read in order to help ease a newbie friend into the game.  Slak, of Hockee Night and Magnificent Beard reknown, suggested Down Goes Brown which, after I thought about it, made perfect sense. Despite all the in-jokes and McIndoe’s encylopaedic knowledge of the game, he writes with utter clarity and provides enough context for the more arcane references to reward anyone who follows up the links and does a little research on their own.

I remember, from when I was, myself, wet behind the ears, tracking down old articles and YouTube clips in order to understand jokes about Toronto 4th Liners from the mid-90s.  Which was a good thing, I guess..

This year has seen McIndoe writing for Grantland (while still maintaining the quality at the  Down Goes Brown site) These articles have been less surreal than the DGB material but have managed to be interesting, informative and downright hilarious, written in the same spirit of gentle mockery and sharp observation that have been his trademark.

The weekly NHL Grab Bag series was worth reading for the “Awesome and/or Horrific Old YouTube Clip of the Week” section alone (now there’s an education for newcomers!) not to mention the usual head shaking over “What Has Done Cherry Gone And Done Now?” and “The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek Page” (how it wasn’t Philly every week I’ll never know)

Sean McIndoe manages to be almost universally adored (Chris Pronger was unavailable for comment) right across the notoriously cantankerous and fractious Hockey fanbase, no mean feat. This is, in my opinion, due entirely to the fact that he writes with genuine warmth and affection for this game and those who play it, watch it and even administrate it (just about). His jokes can be cutting, accurate and merciless but they are never nasty or needless and even when he is sticking it to people like Kerry Fraser or Gary Bettman, there is a smile behind the barbs.

Nowhere was this genuine feel for Hockey more apparent than the Grantland article he published on May 30 this year, entitled Absence of Malice. Don’t look for any jokes, there are none in this article about serious accidental injuries caused on the rink. It is an extraordinary piece of writing and, to my mind, this year’s equivalent of the NY Times series on Derek Boogaard in late 2011 in its unflinching yet empathetic look at the very human frailty and vulnerability behind this most physical and dangerous of sports.

It’s a profoundly affecting and thought-provoking piece and a clear demonstration that, behind the jokes and the fun, there is a serious and clear-eyed observer of the game. It hardly seems fair that one man can excel at both things, but I’m sure there isn’t anyone out there who begrudges him this.  Instead we all look forward to whatever Sean McIndoe , or his crazed alter-ego Down Goes Brown have planned for us next.

 

You can read Down Goes Brown at www.downgoesbrown.com, Sean McIndoe at www.grantland.com and you should absolutely, positively buy his book, The Best Of Down Goes Brown, details here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At the Convention..

 

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Meanwhile, In St Louis..

Ah, the Blackhawks Convention! That wonderful time of the year when Rocky Wirtz notices that he hasn’t received a dumptruck full of money from Hawks fans in, like, months and yells at McDonough to do something about it.

Love it, Loathe it or just find it mildly amusing to watch Q&As degenerate into bickering, rude questions and autograph requests, it remains a firm part of the Blackhawks calendar. What you may not have realised is that our neighbours in Missouri have their own equivalent.

It’s on a much smaller scale, more poorly attended, a lot more pointless and plainly saddled with a crippling inferiority complex, so is therefore completely bound up in St Louis’ very identity.

This year has seen a change of venue, from a vacant lot behind a cheque-cashing store, to a luxury hotel. This has clearly been done in a bid to attract the attention of the Hockey World to this celebration of everything Blues Hockey. They even sent out invites to the Media, one of which made its way to us here at Cheer The Anthem

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Coming Next Season

Well, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted anything here, hasn’t it? Now, you may be thinking that that’s because we’re a bunch of lazy gits who can’t be arsed writing about the very tiny amount that is happening in the Hockey World right now.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

In fact, we have been slaving away on all the cool new features that we are going to implement on Cheer The Anthem next year. After the Jump there’s a sneak preview of what you can look forward to on your favourite they’re ok i guess I don’t completely hate everything they do Blackhawks site in the coming Season.

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Chris Chelios: First Ballot Hall of Famer

This is quick because there’s work to be done, but former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame this afternoon along with Scott Niedermayer and Brendan Shanahan. There was no immediate word on whether or not Craig Janney would attend to honor Shanahan.

There is a good case to be made for Chelios being the best US born hockey player of all-time and a better one for being the best defenseman to ever don the Indian Head sweater. It didn’t end the right way here in Chicago, but he was the heart and soul of a lot of Blackhawks teams that many of us lived and died with.

Sure, he scored numerous big goals (including two consecutive playoff OT winners against Vancouver) as a Blackhawk, but the clip above is probably still my fondest Chelios memory. I was at that game and vividly remember him fighting off the linesman and tearing Adam Burt away from Brian Noonan so he alone could pummel him. Just a spectacular performance. He was assessed 37 PIM during this altercation and subsequently suspended four games for abusing the linesman. The Hawks lost the game 6-2.

Anyway, let the great #7 retirement debate begin so we can get it over with. It’s not coming out of circulation anytime soon.

Bulin The Heather: Hawks Free Agency

if “Khabibulous” doesn’t already exist, I’ma (c) it now

“Free Agency Frenzy” is officially upon us and this year has seen some truly surprising, astounding and bloody stupid signings. I’ll address some of those in another post, once I’m through alternately “Laughing my ass off /Weeping about why, exactly, we had to lose half a Season?”

For now, I’ll confine myself to the moves made by the Hawks once Free Agency started and “What It All Means”

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Godspeed, Dave. A Tribute to #36

 

We knew it was coming. We knew it made sense. Hell, at some point this year we’d probably loudly demanded it. But when it happened it still felt like a well-aimed stick handle in the ribs.

Dave Bolland was traded to the Leafs on Draft day and our lives are a little duller because of it.

Michael Frolik was traded too, and I think that, in a pure Hockey sense,  the loss of him will hurt the Hawks more than losing Bolland. But this is all about Dave, because, whatever else he was or wasn’t while wearing a Hawks jersey, he was nothing short of an inspiration when it came to making up jokes.

My first real attempt at writing a humourous Hockey piece was a FanPost on the old SCH about goal celebrations.. and Bolland was both the inspiration and the cornerstone of the entire bit.  It was just after a game against the Ducks, where having already had a goal waved off, Bolland scored on an absolute laserbeam and celebrated in true Dave Bolland-Style: a quick flip of his arms and then an angry death-stare. I pretty much constructed the rest of the piece around that.

It was well received, hell, even made its way into the Committed Indian. Which gave me the confidence to keep going (for good or ill).  I quickly discovered that including a “David Bolland Is A Psycho” joke was a sure-fire winner, as that meme had been running for quite a while and never got old.  I have an entire folder, in the deep recesses of the Amstrad CPC where I do my photoshops, that’s just called “Bolland”.

When the Trade happened I realised that I’d not done anything on Dave this year, which made me sad. His recent decline and near-invisibility contributed to that, I guess. Because he’s been exactly the same strange, wild-eyed, pale, sweating, monotone-voiced weirdo that he’s always been in interviews. That shaved-head look was horrible (and therefore fitting). The F-Bomb dropped on CBC. And last, but by no means least, the celebration after scoring the Cup-Winning Goal: a classic “Shake off your gloves and look very angry”.

Good luck, Dave. I hope you have fun in Toronto. With you gone and Kaner behaving himself, looks like I’m going to have to find another source of cheap laughs.

And, to end on a Hockey note, this is one of my favourite Blackhawks memories, as Bolland returned from injury with the Hawks staring down the barrel against Vancouver.

 

So long, David Bolland. We’ll not see your like again unless we work on Psych Profiling for the FBI.