“The real clincher here is the beer vending machine inside the room! Beers for a buck, it just rules.”
I spent last weekend in the Pacific Northwest and in particular, I caught a long storied franchise of a tourney called The Northwest Classic, an adult open tournament that has all the bells and whistles and has been running for over 30 years. My best friend Hammer had been telling me for years about this Easter Tourney and just how fun it was, so I was stoked for my tour to land in Spokane at the same time as the games. First off they have the beer garden outside in the sun before you enter the barn and this is a special barn, Eagles Ice Arena, a place where I played a few Thanksgiving Tourneys growing up. The rink used to have a chain link fence for glass instead of Plexi! They have made a nice makeover since my days of playing there and its just one of those rinks that you get brought right back to your youth the second you walk through the doors. The Spokane Grinders, a local beer league team with some high caliber players, have their own locker room with a legendary trainer named Wally, who will give NHL-style wraps and rubs to the boys like they’re gearing up for game seven which is impressive in itself. The real clincher here is the beer vending machine inside the room! Beers for a buck, it just rules. So my hats off to The Northwest Classic and everyone involved in putting together that tourney, I gotta put a team together with my Lumberjack brothers up in Alaska and make the trip down one of these years.
Side note: If you’re ever in the Spokane area, I have three places for you to visit. For starters, head over to the Red Lion Pub and watch any game your heart desires on the big screens and order up the beef bites. Holy smokes, those things are good and the nachos rule too. Then head over to get a slice at Pacific Pizza, and then finally get yourself a delicious hand crafted cocktail at The Whisk! Tell Darren and Tony I sent ya!
Let’s drop the puck…
1) HOLY SH*# !!!! The Playoff Races. Sorry for that little outburst, but can you believe how these races (in each Conference) are shaping up to come down to the very last game? Hockey analysts are even looking at the potential “tie-breaker” scenarios that could occur if teams finish with equal point totals. So in the Eastern Conference, it is all coming down to the Ottawa Senators, and if they can win their final 3 games while hoping one of Boston, Detroit or Pittsburgh slips up (or in Pittsburgh and Detroit’s case…keep slipping). Believe it or not, the Sens fate may lie in the critical shootout loss they dropped to Ontario rival the Maple Leafs on Sunday night. In a game the Sens needed 2 points (they got 1), the Leafs actually showed up (and looked darn good!) and gave the Sens all they could handle. It took 8 rounds in the shootout to settle it, and you could feel the tension rise with each shooter which made for great entertainment. I think THIS is what the NHL envisioned for the shootout. Crazy to think the Leafs could have such influence on the Sens playoff hopes. That’s “hockey karma” for ya! On Tuesday night, the Sens tied the Pens in points with a regulation win. It was insane!
Meanwhile, the Bruins, Wings and Penguins need to win…period. They each have 3 games left with Boston being on an upward trajectory and both Pittsburgh and Detroit on decidedly downward trajectories. It would not surprise me at all to see Ottawa win out and knock one of these three teams out. There are going to be a few nervous fan-bases this week for sure! At the top of the Conference the Rangers, Canadiens & Lightning are going to battle it out for the top spots. It sure looks like the Rangers are going to claim the top spot in the East..and deservedly so. They are going to be a tough, tough out for any team in a seven game series. Keep an eye on the Capitals and Islanders too! The Caps are a very fast, tough team with some bonafide studs in the lineup. Not only are they loaded at both forward and defense, Braden Holtby is playing some spectacular goal for them…this will be another tough team for someone to deal with. Ditto with the Islanders.
Oh boy….in the Western Conference we have another total toss-up!! This involves no less than five teams scrambling for four spots. As of this morning the Winnipeg Jets are on the outside looking in, but that can change in one game. The Minnesota Wild currently occupy the “1st” wild card spot, and look to stay there as I doubt they can catch the Black Hawks in the Central Division. The Wild need to split their remaining four games (at least) to feel solid in their position. This leaves Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles and the aforementioned Jets fighting it out for the final spots. Winnipeg is in the most unsafe position as they need to either catch the Wild (not likely…but could happen) or finish with more points than the Kings, Flames or Canucks to get the final wild card position. Seems simple but all five of these teams “just need to win”…which as we know is much easier said than done. This final week of regular season games is going to be a real treat to hockey fans everywhere!! Its as if the playoffs have started early. So tune in to ANY games featuring these teams and be prepared for BATTLE !!!
At the top of the Western Conference there is also an intense battle for the top spots!! There are 4 teams that have serious Stanley Cup aspirations, and it would not shock me to see any of the 4 get to the Finals. With a quartet featuring the likes of Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago and of course Anaheim, the Western Conference is going to be one of the best (and hard fought) playoff runs ever. Each team has its strengths and weaknesses (I use that term lightly!) which can be debated, but overall each team certainly has the ability and talent to reach the Cup Finals. For St. Louis & Anaheim the only question is in goal (as in which guy is gonna play..each has 2 capable tenders), while in Nashville its asking can they generate enough offense in critical games, and lastly in Chicago its asking when is Patrick Kane going to be back?? Speaking of the Hawks…anyone see the performance of their Captain Towes this past week or so? Talk about lifting your team!!! In the words of Billy Madison “he’s good”. This week is gonna be awesome…so GAME ON !!!!
2) NHL Draft Positioning! This will also be decided this week….finally. It looks like the top pick is going to boil down to either Buffalo, Arizona or Edmonton. Hopefully the Sabres get it, so the brutal season they put forth does not go to waste…ha-ha. With 2 “generational” talents in this draft in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel as well as a slew of other great players, this draft is easily shaping up to be one of the deepest in recent memory. The actual draft will be on June 26 & 27 in Florida. Should make for some good drama this year.
3) NCAA Frozen Four Tourney. It has all come down to the Final Four: North Dakota vs Boston University and Providence vs Nebraska-Omaha. These semi-final games will be this Thursday, April 9 from TD Garden in Boston. The first game is Providence vs Nebraska-Omaha at 5:00 EST, while the EPIC battle between UND and BU is scheduled for an 8:30 EST start. The lucky 2 teams that will battle for the National Championship will play on Saturday, April 11 at 7:30 EST. All of these games will be broadcast on ESPN2, so be sure and tune in.
The fight of the week goes to the knuckle fest that both Dallas Stars Antoine Rousell and San Jose’s Mike Brown got tangled up in. A beauty set up right at the face off with a couple slashes delivered equally and as soon as the puck dropped, a yard sale of gloves went flying into the air. Winner goes to Brown, especially because Rousell tried the cheap pant leg grab to try and flip Brown but couldn’t out muscle him and got dumped instead. Great tilt boys!!!!!
Matt Marini from PUCK HCKY weekly Top 5 Power Ranking:
1) New York Rangers Yep…back to the top for you Rangers! With King Henrik looking like himself (had to shake the rust off) and Rick Nash surpassing the 40-goal plateau, this team is scary good. They have lots and lots of offensive depth and a defense corp that is second to none. Have fun with these guys in the playoffs !!
2) Anaheim Ducks Not much to argue with here. When I say the above Rangers have a “second-to-none” defense…well the team just below the Rangers (and I mean just below) is Anaheim. They also have 4 good lines of offense that feature lots of guys with speed and size…perfect for the playoffs. Andersen and Gibson have both got back in the groove again in net, so that seems to have resolved itself. Which goalie will start the playoffs? No idea, but both are capable of winning.
3) St. Louis Blues Could this be the year? I’m not going to say one way or another (I don’t want to be blamed for anything that may happen..ha-ha) but this is looking like a fun spring in St. Louis!! DO NOT underestimate the return of Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues blue-line, as he has 43 points and is a +20 in only 54 games. Big addition. Vlad Tarasenko went down with a “lower-body” injury, but it does not sound as if he will miss much time, and will certainly be back to 100% by the time the playoffs begin.
4) Montreal Canadiens This team can flat out fly….and with potential Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price in goal, this is going to be an interesting team to watch in the playoffs. The expectations are mounting in hockey-mad Montreal, as the fan-base senses this could be long spring for the Habs. One potential issue though: Leading goal and point-scorer Max Pacioretty was injured on Sunday night when he crashed into the boards. If this turns out to be a serious injury, I’m not sure the Canadiens can overcome that kind of loss. Cross your fingers Habs nation!
5) Nashville Predators Still sticking with this team to make a run this year! The defense and goaltending are top-notch, almost at NYR level…the difference is the level of offensive depth. The Preds can be shut down, although they have more offensive oomph this year which should prevent that from happening. Time to get fired up Preds nation !!
Honorable Mention: Ottawa Senators While the Sens are not anywhere near the Top 5, I felt it was important to give them some credit. This team is going to be very, very good for a long time. What has impressed me the most is the fine collection of right-handed shooting forwards this team has. All of them (Turris, Chiasson, Ryan, Zibanejad, Lazar & Stone !!!!) are over 6 feet tall and weight 200+ lbs. Watch Mark Stone play sometime and tell me he doesn’t remind you of a Ryan Getzlaf type guy.
Keep your eyes peeled for our press release and launch of the 36CF x PUCK HCKY merch collection!! Watch a ton of games this week..gonna be great.
Well here we go Playoff ready and here is where the NHL proves it’s the greatest game on earth, can’t wait to watch these series. Been great seeing you all at the shows and talkin puck with me.
And as always kids,
Keep your head up,
Brock & Matt
Snipe City is a weekly hockey column by 36 Crazyfists vocalist Brock Lindow and PUCKHCKY founder Matt Marini.