Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday grab bag

A few items to mention heading into the weekend...

Earlier this week it looked like Kindersley's Shayne Neigum - traded from Kamloops to Regina on Tuesday - could be joining the Klippers.

Neigum wanted to play the rest of the year in Kindersley instead of reporting to the Pats, but they more or less forced him to report by refusing to release his rights. He had to report or start his post-secondary education.

Shayne would have been a great addition to the Klippers, especially considering he's already friends with most of the guys on the team.

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Don't forget the Truck Lotto draw will be made during Saturday's game. It's not too late to buy your ticket.

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Team Canada's roster for the Spengler Cup has been announced and three players from the region are on the team.

Kindersley's Joel Kwiatkowski, who played parts of seven seasons with Ottawa, Washington, Florida, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, is on the team for the second time. The 33-year-old defenceman is in his third season playing in Europe and is currently with Bern in Switzerland. Joel was kind enough to do an interview with me two years ago when he played for Cherepovets Severstal (KHL) and it was an eye-opener to say the least.

Kerrobert's Curtis Murphy, also a defenceman, is headed to the Spengler for at least the second time (that I know of, anyway). Murphy, 35, only played one NHL game (with Minnesota in 2002-03), but he dominated in the AHL with back-to-back defenceman of the year honours and three all-star nods. Murphy is currently in his fourth season with Langnau in Switzerland.

Finally, most NHL fans will remember Unity's Curtis Brown from his days in Buffalo and San Jose. He was a key cog for the Sabres for years and piled up 736 NHL games before heading to Europe in 2008. The 34-year-old forward is in his second year with Swiss team Biel.

Congrats to all three players. They should have just called it Team West Central Saskatchewan.

I don't always get a chance to watch much of the Spengler Cup, but I love going through the rosters each year and remembering players from 10 years ago. It's like a trip down memory lane for the hardcore hockey fan. Really, how else would you remember names like Micki Dupont, Domenic Pittis and J.P. Vigier?

The other teams this year are HC Davos (the host, as always), Dynamo Moscow, ERC Ingolstadt and Energie Karlovy Vary. I have a friend from Karlovy Vary and he wouldn't shut up when the Czechs won the worlds this year, so I hope someone snuffs them out.

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Here's a story that disgusted me this week. The Ontario Minor Hockey Association suspended a coach for the rest of the season because he pulled his team off the ice after an opponent called a black player on his team a n----r.

So, the moral of the story:
Racial slur = three games
Standing up against the racial slur = five months

The most ridiculous part? The OMHA said it considers the slur and the forfeit as "completely separate infractions."

Cause and effect, people. Or better yet, how about some common sense?

Have a great weekend and see you at the WCEC.

Interviews from the road wins

A little late on getting these up, but as promised, here are the player interviews from the wins in North Battleford and Gull Lake this week.

Justin McDonald was stellar against Notre Dame in his first start since Oct. 22. We did the whole Ottawa Senators bike interview routine, just without a cameraman...

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Johnny Calkins was dominant in the win over the Stars Tuesday. He talks about the play of his line that night and the first game under Rockie Zinger.


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Andrew Dommett talks about his performance in North Battleford and has some harsh words for the Stars and their coach's antics late in the game. He also proves, once again, that he absolutely cannot multi-task during an interview.

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Ryan Benn on his goal Tuesday, the sideshow late in the game and his feeling that this winning streak will "take" compared with past momentum swings for the Klippers.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Klippers win fourth straight in Gull Lake

For the first time this season, the Klippers have won four straight games, including back-to-back road victories.

Sean Flanagan scored the winner on a perfectly placed shot from the top of the left circle with under five minutes to go as the Klippers edged Notre Dame 3-1 in a neutral site game at Gull Lake.

It was a tight game all the way through, with Justin McDonald, making his first start since Oct. 22, going toe to toe with Hounds netminder Russell Abbott.

Notre Dame's Trevor Cameron opened the scoring at 16:29 of the first. After some heavy pressure by the Klippers in the Hounds' zone, Cameron and David Lerner broke out the other way.

It stayed that way until nearly 12 minutes into the second when Johnny Calkins again scored a power play goal on a quick, accurate shot from the half-boards.

Both teams failed to convert on golden opportunities to take the lead, with the Klippers whiffing on a two-minute 5-on-3 in the second, and Notre Dame not converting on back-to-back power plays early in the third.

Finally, Flanagan finished off a play that began with hard work from Andrew Dommett. He busted his chops to get through a pair of Hounds inside the blueline, then dished it over to the slot for a wide open Calkins... who fanned on it. The puck went into the corner and Braeden Adamyk made a great pass out to Flanagan, who had at least five steamboats to get the shot off.

Adsy didn't hesitate to remind us after the game that he got robbed of the apple on the scoresheet... but he did add the empty-netter with four seconds left.

Time to get to bed, but I will give major kudos to Justin McDonald. He has not started in nearly two months, never complained, kept working hard and preparing for that eventual next shot. It paid off tonight. He may have only made 19 stops, but several were big ones that held his team in the game at critical times. Mac got the green helmet tonight and he deserved it.

Tomorrow, I'll put up an interview with Justin about tonight's game as well as several from the Battlefords game Tuesday.

One last thing, our broadcast setup was....err, interesting to say the least. I am thankful we didn't get dinged by a puck or two. And Keith, if yer reading this (and I know you are) thanks for the gloves, they saved my hands from frostbite.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Off to Gull Lake!

Not enough time here for a full preview of tonight's game, but I'm excited for it. This will be my first trip to Gull Lake. I'm wondering what the rink will be like.

The Klippers defeated Notre Dame 5-2 last week with pink jerseys. Let's see if they can do it again without the pink.

It may have gotten lost in everything that has transpired the last few days, but the Klippers are on a three-game winning streak. From talking to a few players last night, it seems the guys are confident about their direction and they're putting the coaching change behind them. As Rockie mentioned after we got back to Kindersley, the guys would love nothing more than to reel off a few wins going into the Christmas break.

Tonight's game will feature perhaps the two most underrated defencemen in the SJHL, in my opinion. James Howden and Johnathan Sonntag do not get nearly the attention they deserve. Both guys are big, strong vets who can wipe you out with a big hit, play well positionally and be an impact player in the offensive zone. Sonntag had a big game in North Battleford (aside from a goal that was scored when he was in the box) and I look for more of the same from him tonight.

Justin McDonald has not started a game since Oct. 22. Do not be surprised if he gets the call tonight. I have no info at this time as to who will start, but he really needs to get a game in before Christmas and with a big two-game set against Flin Flon this weekend, this could be the night.

It looks like Gull Lake is on Sasktel's 3G network, so I should be able to send out updates via twitter tonight.

Dommett, Calkins lead Klippers over Stars

Well, this one sure was entertaining but maybe not for the reasons you'd expect.

First, to address the officiating tonight. It was all over the arena and it's all over the web, how lopsided the penalties were tonight. Al Smith handed out 10 power plays to the Klippers and two to the North Stars.

Were there a couple calls missed on Kindersley? Yes. Not many. When the penalties are that one-sided, normally you see a make-up call or two, and that didn't happen tonight. As for the Stars' penalties, each one that I saw was legit.

And here's the thing. The Battlefords North Stars were very much in this game late in the third period. They lost their composure as a result of the penalties and their coach's behaviour. The penalties they took in the last few minutes were no one's fault but their own.

What set off the powderkeg with four minutes left was Blake Tatchell failing to score on a breakaway with Jesse Mysiorek coming at him from behind. Let's make one thing clear, Tatchell was NOT hauled down as some are claiming. Did Mysiorek interfere with him? You could make an argument. He was poking around his legs trying to knock the puck off his stick from behind. Did it slow him up? Maybe, but he still got a good scoring chance. Maybe it should have been a penalty, but it was not a blatant case of interference.

After the breakaway, the puck came down the other end of the ice.

And then Ken Pearson lost his mind.

I saw the first water bottle and thought it had come from the stands. Then another one, and I look down and Pearson is livid. Next came an entire rack of sticks. Then a medicine cabinet, which shattered and left pills all over the ice. Then fans began to throw various objects on the ice.

On the one hand, it's hard to blame Pearson because of the penalty situation and the pressure his team is under to win. On the other hand, you can't expect your team to keep their cool if you don't do the same, especially late in a game that they absolutely still had a chance to win.

In any event, it was Rockie Zinger's first win as the Klippers' interim head coach. He started the game with the same lines that Larry had been going with lately, but switched back to the regular lines early in the game and each of them clicked again, most notably the Calkins unit.

Andrew Dommett scored a hat trick, his first of the year, and Johnny Calkins was unbelievable with a goal and three assists, controlling the tempo of the game, leading the rush and doing a bang-up job in his own end as well. As impressive as Dommer was, you easily could have handed the first star to Johnny as well. These boys were motivated tonight, no question.

Ryan Benn scored the other goal, a one-timer off a pass from D. Jay McGrath early in the third.

It started badly for the Klippers when Tim Rollins squeezed the puck between Sean Cahill's pads at the side of the net just 14 seconds in. But Dommett responded at 11:51 when he took a pass in the high slot and buried it low glove side.

Kyle Hall scored twice in the first 16 minutes of the second to put the Stars up 3-1, but Dommett fired back again on a play that started with hard work and ended with a fluke. The captain somehow held in a booming clearing attempt, beat his man along the boards and sent a quick pass across the front, looking for Braeden Adamyk. It went off a Battlefords skate and past Graham Hildebrand.

Hildebrand was nailed for unsportsmanlike at the end of the second period and Calkins scored on the PP, 34 seconds into the third. It was the same play he scored on against Notre Dame Thursday as he set up along the right half-boards, took a pass from the point and wired it short side. Less than two minutes later, Benn tied the game on a great shot.

Dommett rounded out the hatty and made it 5-3 at the 8:54 mark on yet another power play. Then all the madness started. With the way the Stars were running around late in the game, I figured they were done, but Tatchell did score a shorty with under two minutes left to make sure it went down to the buzzer.

The shots were 39-35 for the Klippers.

I watched the game with some of John Sonntag's family, and he had a heck of a game.

Here is what Rockie Zinger had to say about his first SJHL victory as a head coach. I talked to a few of the boys after the game... but it's late, and I'm really tired. I'll try to get the other interviews (Dommett, Calkins, Benn) up tomorrow, but I'm heading to Gull Lake too so there may not be time.


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A little more clarity

I still have not heard back from Larry, and this story definitely isn't over yet, but after speaking with Terry Shea and a few other people this morning, it has become clear to me that this decision was based entirely on players being unhappy.

"It had nothing to do with the record. I want to make that clear," Terry told me this morning.

All kinds of rumours are flying around, but I've heard one from a pretty solid source about action taken by a few discontented players. I will expand on that if and when I can get it confirmed.


This is the story running in The Clarion tomorrow.

Wintoneak gets the axe
Assistant Zinger named interim coach

The Kindersley Klippers’ board of directors dropped a bombshell on local fans and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League on Sunday night.

Fifth-year head coach and director of hockey operations Larry Wintoneak was asked to resign and assistant Rockie Zinger was handed the interim tag for both roles.

The Klippers have not met expectations during the first half of the regular season, but team governor Terry Shea hinted that the board’s decision was related to discontent in the locker room.

“It had nothing to do with the record. I want to make that clear,” Shea said Tuesday.

Several players gave indications on Monday that all was not well in the Klipper room and that many were not having fun under Wintoneak and his old-school, sometimes abrasive style of coaching.

Asked if some players had tuned out their coach, forward D. Jay McGrath said some of his teammates weren’t enjoying the game anymore.

“I can see that. People quitting and people not having fun on the road trips. In general, people not having fun and not showing up to the rink with a smile on their face, people afraid to make a mistake.

“I respected him, I didn’t have anything against him, but some guys didn’t fit with him and didn’t like playing for him,” said McGrath, who added that some players would not accept Wintoneak’s “rules.”

Winger Braeden Adamyk said that while he had no issues with his coach, the situation had gone downhill.

“Maybe the respect level wasn’t there anymore,” he commented. “I think everybody was somewhat in shock because I don’t think anybody thought it would happen. A few guys had a little bit of relief on their faces (at practice Monday). Spirits are definitely up today.”

Forward Justin Gerwing was one of several who said they had heard rumblings of a change behind the bench, but he expected that assessment to wait until after Christmas, at least.

“I didn’t see it coming this quick. I heard talk about it, but I thought it wasn’t going to happen.”

Several players had left the team during this season, the latest being winger Tanner Exner in early December, and that was believed to be one of the board’s concerns.

Klippers president Rod Perkins declined to comment on the matter.

Wintoneak had signed a two-year contract extension over the off-season, and the team, already coming off a poor fiscal year, is now on the hook for the remaining year and a half on that deal.

“The financial thing was one of the issues ... but it was time for him to move on and seek other things,” said Shea. “As a board, we felt it was best for the club.”

Zinger, who now takes over the reins at age 29, said he always aspired to become a Junior A head coach, but never like this.

“I was blindsided,” said the Dodsland native. “You sign a coach to a two-year contract and I never would have thought in a million years that this would be.

“It’s been a roller coaster 24 hours for myself, and I imagine for the boys, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s been like for Larry.”

Wintoneak could not be reached for comment on Monday or on Tuesday morning.

The coach was cut loose shortly after the team’s Christmas party on Sunday and Zinger was taking in the Red Lions game later that night when he was offered the interim job for the rest of the season.

Zinger said he doesn’t believe Wintoneak lost control of his team.

“I don’t think that he lost the room. That’s his team in there. Those are guys that he recruited, he brought in.

“I think where it comes from is the expectations were so high right off the start of the year and whoever placed those expectations and developed those, it’s a little bit unfair. We’re one game above .500. We’re not in a bad situation.”

Adamyk said with the Klippers expected to do so well this year, some players got complacent.

“At the beginning of the year, we thought it would come too easy for us. Me and a lot of guys in that room thought you didn’t have to work. That’s not the case in this league,” he commented.

“I feel bad because we should have been a better team for him. It just sucks how things worked out.”

The new bench boss said he will put a priority on making the game enjoyable for the players.

“If they’re not having fun coming to the rink, you’re not going to get much out of them. Every one of them has my respect until they do something to lose it,” said Zinger. “I’m going to work them hard and try to push buttons and make them better hockey players and hopefully get the most out of them.

“All I know is it’s my job now to maximize the potential of the talent we have in that dressing room.”

He added that the team’s system and style of play will not change, but “maybe it’s just a little different tone and different delivery of that message to get through and be a fresh start for those guys.”

Zinger said his immediate focus is on getting through the team’s four games this week and then taking the Christmas break to reflect, assess his team and decide whether anything needs to be done before the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

“There was no preparation for this. It kind of caught me off guard and now you’re doing what you can to get through,” he commented.

McGrath said he and his teammates will play hard for their new coach and they believe in what he’s selling.

“Rockie’s a good guy, a good coach, good with the community. I’m comfortable around him because I’ve known him since I was a little kid.

“We’re all going to listen to him and we’ll respect him, and if we do that, we could go a long way this year.”

Despite the parting of the ways, many expressed their respect and appreciation for what Wintoneak did in his time in Kindersley.

“I do know what Larry Wintoneak did for this community and for this team,” said Zinger. “People might forget that when he came in here, there was a big mess to clean up. He did a fantastic job with that. His legacy that will be left here is something he can be proud of.”

Gerwing, who cracked the team ahead of several other rookies this season, added: “I respect him completely. He taught me a lot. I thought he was a good coach, but what can I say, it’s not my decision.”

“I consider him a friend of mine,” said Adamyk. “You never want to see a friend get fired or lose a job they care about and love, but I guess it is a business.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Zinger, Gerwing audio & my reaction

As promised earlier, here are the interviews with Rockie Zinger and Justin Gerwing from this afternoon. The other interviews (with Adamyk and McGrath) were done over the phone, but you can read some of their comments in the posts below.

Would have had this up earlier tonight, but I had curling. The world doesn't stop when crazy stuff goes down. The good news, we won 9-2.

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Also, here is the interview I did with Dan O'Connor on the Sports Fix tonight.

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It has been a long, somewhat emotional day and now I have a little time to relax and give my own thoughts on this whole thing.

When Rod Perkins called me this morning and said he had a "news scoop" I certainly did not expect it to be Larry Wintoneak getting the axe. You can say what you want about Larry's coaching style and the team's fortunes this year, but the news caught me completely off guard.

I felt Larry had mellowed a bit in recent times, but at his core, as a coach, he has not changed. There have always been players who could not handle the way he runs his team. There has always been the odd player leaving, and that happens with other Junior A teams too. Larry Wintoneak can be a polarizing figure to his players. Some guys love playing for him, and others can't stand it.

In the time I have been here, Rod Perkins and the rest of the board have expressed nothing but support and admiration for Larry and the way he runs his ship.

But in past years, Larry has gotten results with this team, despite the odd off-ice spat. This year, the team has not lived up to very high expectations so far, and perhaps that combined with the departure of a few players was enough for the board.

Did he lose the room? I've gotten a few no's from players, but also some interesting comments that seem to back up the suggestion that everything wasn't rosy in the room. Players have told me about the sense of relief, even some happiness at practice today. That maybe the respect factor was no longer there. That some players just weren't having fun and felt like Larry was on their case all the time.

It seems so odd to think that only a few months ago, Larry had just signed an extension and been named head coach for Canada West at the WJAC. There was so much optimism, and now he is out the door before Christmas.

On to my personal experience with Larry.

It took a while for us to warm up to each other. Larry can be intimidating for anyone meeting him for the first time, let alone a 22-year-old rookie reporter who had just moved across the country. Once we got to know each other a little better, I can honestly say that dealing with Larry Wintoneak was a pleasure. Sure, he is gruff at times and we had moments when we didn't see eye to eye, but he always made time for me and he was always frank during our interviews.

Dealing with the media didn't seem like it was just a chore for him. We always chatted before and after an interview talking about what was new, the weather, him asking how things were back home in PEI, about my parents. We had many a great conversation about the Island after he was there for the 2009 WJAC. He took an interest in how I was doing in Kindersley and I appreciated that. We would often talk about Walker and the rest of his children, and how they were doing.

Each time they came back from a road trip, I'd interview him over a coffee at Tim's, which of course made it better.

I had the odd parent ask me what it was like dealing with Larry, and tell me they didn't envy me for it. To be honest, it was never that tough. You treat him with respect and you get it back. Sure, sometimes I didn't look forward to interviewing him after a bad game, but he never refused to talk, even after being ousted from the playoffs, and I was grateful for that.

Larry taught me a lot over the past two-plus years and helped me to grow as a sports reporter. I wish him all the best wherever he winds up next, and I'm sure he will land on his feet somewhere.

McGrath chimes in on Wintoneak's dismissal

Had a chance to talk with D. Jay McGrath not long ago about the Klippers relieving Larry Wintoneak of his duties.

I will expand on all of the reaction as well as audio later today when I have a chance, but for now I'll pass on snippets of what I've been told.

D. Jay said he respected Larry and had no problem with him, but that some players didn't get along with him and "didn't like playing for him."

When I asked him if some players had tuned out the coach, he replied:

"Yeah, I can see that, (with) people quitting and people not having fun on the road trips. In general, people not having fun and not showing up to the rink with a smile on their face, people afraid to make a mistake."

He added that some players wouldn't accept his "rules" and that he'd heard some talk, but did not expect Wintoneak to be cut loose.

McGrath also said that a coach can only do so much and the players have to pick it up.

"It's us. We have to start playing better. Some guys will probably get more comfortable in the room and not have to worry about someone being on their case all the time. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. We'll have to wait and see."

Meanwhile, I've gotten calls from several newsy-type folks around the province regarding today's developments. I think this decision by the Klipper board has caught a lot of people off guard.

Larry Wintoneak out as head coach

Larry Wintoneak is no longer the head coach of the Kindersley Klippers.

Rockie Zinger has been named interim coach.

Update

Klippers president Rod Perkins had no comment on the reasoning for the move this morning, but from what I've pieced together, Larry was asked by the board to resign last night. Rockie said he thought it was strange that board members were not at the dinner yesterday at the curling club, but didn't think anything of it. Later, a few minutes into the Red Lions game last night (Rockie and a few Klippers were there), he was called into the office and offered the interim head coach/DHO role.

I will have interviews with Rockie, Braeden Adamyk and Justin Gerwing up later today. For now, here is some of what I've found out.

- players were informed when they showed up for practice today
- Zinger and Adamyk both say they don't think Larry lost the room
- Adamyk did make some interesting comments, such as "Maybe the respect level wasn't there, but he definitely didn't lose it" and "A few guys had a little bit of relief on their faces. Spirits are definitely up today."
-Gerwing said he "heard talk about it, but I thought it wasn't going to happen ... this quick"
-Zinger said it's a bittersweet time for him. He wanted to be a Jr A head coach at some point, but "I didn't want it to happen this way"
-Adamyk said he counts Wintoneak as a friend, thought he gave players opportunities they might not have gotten elsewhere, and said "I feel bad because we should have been a better team for him"

If I'm able to reach Larry today, I will let you guys know ASAP what he has to say.

I will be on the Sports Fix with Dan O'Connor tonight to discuss the coaching change and what it means for the Klippers. It starts at 8 and you can listen here.

At some point when this all dies down, I'll post my personal thoughts on Wintoneak being cut loose.

For now, I will say I'm shocked that the board chose to do this half a season after he signed a two-year extension, especially considering they were already in debt due to the fire.

Another BCHL addition, this time up front

As expected, the Klippers have added another forward to bring their number up to 14 after the departure of Tanner Exner.

Ryan Elliot is an 18-year-old forward who last played with the Powell River Kings of the BCHL, where he had one goal in 21 games so far this season.

Elliot arrived in town yesterday, just in time for the annual Christmas party. The Stonewall, Man., native should give the Klippers some added depth should injuries strike, although I would not bet on him getting into many games while everyone is healthy.

Elliot had been dealt to the Winnipeg South Blues about two weeks ago after Powell River brought in Justin Bardarson from Melfort.

I was planning to get this up last night, but after the Christmas party I headed to a Red Lions game and was pretty tired out afterward.

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Speaking of the Christmas party, it was a pretty good time. My bowling team got saddled with Wasden, Benn and Rogers but we tried to make the most of it. We had a great meal at the curling club after bowling.

A few tidbits...

  • D Jay McGrath is a quitter
  • Taylor Wasden is surprisingly good at bowling
  • Casey Rogers proved that Americans have to do everything by force (I am surprised he didn't do any actual damage)
  • D Jay McGrath is a quitter
  • Ryan Benn and Jesse Mysiorek, like me, are big Michael Vick fans
  • Bowling was pretty good to stickboy Ryley Kennedy. He did pretty well on our team, and then he took home a turkey when he won the turkey bowling contest at the Red Lions game
  • D Jay McGrath is a quitter
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On the topic of Michael Vick, he and the Eagles put me in great position in my playoff match-up this week. I was down 12 points heading into last night, but thanks mostly to Vick and David Akers (and despite Jeremy Maclin doing absolutely nothing), I'm up 32 now heading into the Monday nighter.

I have Adrian Peterson tonight and the other guy has Joe Flacco, so I'm pretty sure I can hang on and move into the semis.

And speaking of football, did you hear about the roof collapse at the Metrodome? Fox left a camera inside trained on the roof overnight, in case this happened. Just spectacular footage. The Vikings and Giants are now playing tonight at Ford Field in Detroit.