Press Boxes are Awesome

Generally-speaking, if you want a good idea how bloody FAST the game of hockey is, you should sit up close. It’s immediately evident that these are BIG DUDES and they’re moving REALLY REALLY FAST.

If you want to see plays develop and evaluate how good guys are in certain situations? Sitting high up in the corners or in the press box is usually the best. I love sitting in the upper areas of the 200-level of the Saddledome usually. Heck, the Press Level Seating is really good if you can deal with being so far up.

This week I got the opportunity to take in a couple games in the press box of the Saddledome. It’s always a ton of fun, both as a fan of the game and as someone who’s aspiring to cover it on a professional basis. Having sat in both, the Press Level of the Saddledome (e.g., the 300s) is slightly worse seating than the press box, but not by much. Both given you a really good perspective of how plays are developing and how players are moving positionally on the ice.

But yeah, press boxes are awesome.

 

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My Top 10 Films of 2011

Well, it took me this long to finally see the movies I wanted to see before I ranked 2011′s films. Now that has been done, I can make with the list. This is, simply, the movies I thought were the best of the year. If you have a different list, good for you.

  1. The Descendants
    George Clooney was excellent and the script was razor-sharp. A superb follow-up to Sideways for Alexander Payne.
  2. The Artist
    I liked this so much more than I thought it was. Very expertly written, paced and edited. Great (mostly wordless) performances, too.
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    This film put me through the emotional wringer, but it was very good. Great direction from David Fincher and Rooney Mara was fantastic.
  4. Moneyball
    I’m a mark for baseball and economics, and this film got deep down into both of them and explained why they matter.
  5. The Ides of March
    A second Clooney entry, one that he wrote and directed. Very good performances all around.
  6. J. Edgar
    A tour de force for Leonardo DiCaprio.
  7. The Help
    Somewhat emotionally manipulative, but very good nonetheless.
  8. The Tree of Life
    Easily the most messed up film of the year, but also one of the most thought-provoking.
  9. Thor
    A very fun two hours. Chris Hemsworth is excellent.
  10. Hugo
    Another great, fun film from Martin Scorsese.

Honorable mentions to Contagion, Beginners and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

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I love February

I don’t know why, but I kind of wish it was possible to just skip over January. I was never really a fan of it as a month, and I always seem to have more fun in February.

February is going to be a pretty packed month for me, but I think it’ll be a pretty amazing experience. I’ve got coursework to do in my two graduate classes, as well as putting together my survey for my thesis work. Once the survey’s complete, it’ll be ethics approval time. I imagine it will be painful, but it’s a necessary part of the process.

In addition to school, I’m credentialed for Hitmen games for the rest of the season beginning this month (to scout players for THW’s draft coverage and Flames prospect bios) and the Abbotsford Heat AHL game next week. I rarely get to sit in the press box, so I’m pretty excited for the experience.

Oh yeah, and I’m going to Vegas for a week for reading break. Yes, I do plan on bringing reading along with me. I have what’s been called incapable of taking a vacation in the past, so I’ll try to keep the work I do to a minimum.

But that said, I’ve already found a place to watch the Flames/Oilers game that’ll be happening while we’re in Vegas. I just can’t help it.

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My Tough Talk MMA columns

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A Family Affair: Reinhart follows fathers footsteps into the NHL, Flames organization

Originally published in the 6th 2010-11 edition of BLAZE.

For many hockey fans, allegiance to a team is cemented at birth. It would be expected that most people born in Vancouver, for example, would forever be tied to the fortunes of their beloved Canucks. Max Reinhart, however, isn’t most people.

A third-round draft choice of the Calgary Flames in 2010 – the Flames first pick in the draft – Reinhart’s allegiances were strained. Though born in Vancouver, his father is Paul Reinhart, who played 517 games with the Flames before concluding his career with the Canucks. The younger Reinhart says that while it was good to be drafted, becoming a Flame made it even better.

“It was a little extra special there just because (my dad) played for that exact organization,” says Reinhart. “I grew up kind of around the alumni, more around the Canucks though. I’ve seen a lot of their history, a lot of their games. It was special to be drafted, especially by an organization he was a part of.”

After a respectable showing in his WHL rookie year, earning 27 points, Reinhart made a sizable leap forward in his draft year, scoring 51 points and playing with Team Canada at the Under-18 World Championships. His performance this season has made that leap look miniscule; Reinhart matched last season’s point total in a mere 50 games, and he’s keeping company in the WHL scoring race with players years older than him. Not bad for someone barely removed from his 19th birthday.

“I think this year I’m allowed to be a little more offensive than in past years, when I was a younger guy and not looked at to score,” says Reinhart. “This year I’m being counted on to score more. We’re missing [Dustin] Sylvester and guys have to step up. I’m trying to do that as much as possible.”

Reinhart has also enjoyed some unique experiences this season. For four games, Max was joined in Kootenay’s line-up by his younger brother Sam, who filled in for injured players on a call-up. A first-round choice in last year’s bantam draft, Sam will join Max full-time in the WHL next year where the brothers will likely be pitted against another Reinhart, Griffin, who plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

While the current NHL season has hosted two outdoor games, likely considered a career highlight for those involved, the Western Hockey League also provided a pair of outdoor tilts. A month prior to the Calgary Hitmen playing the Regina Pats in McMahon Stadium, Reinhart’s squad received the opportunity to visit the Spokane Chiefs in the open air at Avista Stadium.

“It was very different,” reflects Reinhart. “It’s hard to get used to the ice, the play is a lot slower and the boards are different. The atmosphere was incredible. I don’t think anything will measure up to that. It’s just so different to play in a baseball stadium.”

Still too young to entertain notions of playing professional hockey, the next year will see Reinhart further developing his skills and biding his time before he can make the jump. In the event of any future Flames match-ups with the Canucks, Max Reinhart wants to be perfectly clear about his allegiances.

“I’m not really a Canucks fan anymore,” chuckles Reinhart. “I would definitely be cheering for the Flames.”

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Building on Success: No sophomore slump for Badgers defenceman John Ramage

Originally published in the 5th 2010-11 edition of BLAZE.

It most of life, it never hurts to be prepared. In hockey, preparation begins early, from the moment you first lace up the skates. It’s a process that continues through the minor and junior leagues, with the success of the early years often carried over to a player’s entire career.

Defenceman John Ramage knows about success. Calgary’s fourth round pick (103rd overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is the son of former Flame Rob Ramage, who played over 1,000 NHL games in 15 seasons and won Stanley Cups with the Flames and Montreal Canadiens.

The younger Ramage notes that his father gave him a lot of the tools to succeed in hockey. “I was really young when he was still playing,” he recalls. “But as I got older and started playing, he was able to teach me things. A lot of people weren’t able to get that type of coaching that I did when I was growing up, so I look at it as a great advantage.”

Now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Ramage was drafted by the OHL’s Sault Saint Marie Greyhounds in 2007 but elected to stay in the United States to play hockey. In 2007-08, he skated in the North American Hockey League for his hometown St. Louis Bandits, who won the Robertson Cup as 2008 USA Hockey Tier II Junior A National Champions. Then, playing with the USA Hockey National Development Team, he earned a goal medal at the 2008 IIHF World Under-18 Championships.

Last season Ramage joined the NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers and went to the finals of the Frozen Four in his freshman year, sandwiching in a gold medal performance at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships during his Christmas break. This year he was named the captain of the host American squad, leading the team to a bronze medal after their semi-final loss to Canada.

“I think it was tough for us, losing out to Canada. The guys were really devastated,” recalls Ramage. “A lot of them didn’t realize what we were still playing for. We won back-to-back medals for the first time in USA Hockey history. It was a big deal for us to win that bronze medal.”

After racking up a bevy of hardware in his past few seasons, Ramage isn’t about to rest on his laurels. With two seasons left at Wisconsin while he completes his Consumer Affairs degree, he’s looking to build upon his prior success.

While he admits it’s difficult to catch NHL games while balancing his hockey and scholastic commitments, Ramage catches Flames highlights when he can as a way of familiarizing himself with the team. He aims to spend the rest of his college career preparing for the jump to the next level.

“Winning a national championship is always your focus in college,” says Ramage. “[But it's also about] becoming a better player, always developing, and then making the next step into pro hockey.”

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Battling Back: Veteran Defenceman Pelech Perserves Through Injuries

Originally published in 4th 2010-11 edition of BLAZE.

Hockey, like life, sometimes is all about getting the bounces. Abbotsford Heat defenseman Matt Pelech
knows all about bounces. Drafted 26th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2005, Pelech faced injuries
throughout the rest of his junior career, even breaking his jaw twice.

Pelech battled back, and in April 2009, he got his big break. Due to a slew of injuries in Calgary, he was
summoned to help fill the void. Pelech delivered, contributing three assists in five games. The 6-foot-
4, 220-pound blueliner seemed poised to cement a full-time gig, but the bounces went the other way
as a blood clot kept him on the sidelines for much of last season.

“Last year was a tough year for me,” says Pelech. “I missed a couple months with a blood clot issue
there, and this year I’ve only played 10 games with the shoulder, but I’m healthy now and I think even
with the injury problems, I’ve taken some strides from a couple years ago when I got called up.”

Despite missing time, Pelech continues to play the same physical style that earned him comparisons to
Flames veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr in term of making life miserable for opposition players. Even in his first games back from injury, he’s not shying away from the rough stuff. Pelech delivered big hits, a fight
and a goal in his first two games back in action, both of them Heat victories.

“I don’t think my injuries were a result of me playing physically,” says Pelech. “It’s unfortunate that I’ve
been injured and, obviously it has set my development back a bit. It’s not going to make me stop playing
physical. That’s the only way I can be successful.”

An elder statesman on the AHL’s youngest team, the 23-year-old presently serves as an alternate
captain in Abbotsford. Pelech prefers to lead by example, noting that hard work and continual
improvement is the key to individual and team success. He points to his improving plus-minus rating as
a sign that he’s adjusting to the big minutes and developing good habits.

“Being a minus player my first couple years in the league was just learning to play defence against
skilled players,” says Pelech. “In the OHL, there was only a couple players that could really eat you up
offensively. Now, almost every player in pro has the ability to do something special with the puck.”

Being part of the organization for as long as he has, Pelech is well-aware of the contractual quagmire
facing the Calgary Flames. With only four defensemen signed for next season and available cap space
dwindling, opportunities could soon emerge for Matt Pelech at the NHL level.

“I don’t think it’s about contracts,” says Pelech. “I think it’s more of me making sure I’m improving
and taking the steps I need to take to get to the next level. Every year, if you play well enough, they’re
going to keep you and they’re going to keep the best players.”

In the meantime, Pelech aims to help the Abbotsford Heat be the best team they can be.

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On the Radar: Two-week Stint with Flames a Positive Experience for Brodie

Originally published in the 3rd 2010-11 edition of BLAZE.

Six months ago, T.J. Brodie was under the radar, known mostly to ardent Ontario Hockey League fans
and hardcore prospect pundits. Many were caught by surprise when the rookie made Calgary’s roster
out of training camp. After two weeks in the National Hockey League, Brodie traded in his Flames
silks in for an Abbotsford Heat jersey. The transition had a few hiccups.

“The first week that I was in Abbotsford I didn’t have any clothes because I had packed for the road
trip that Calgary was on,” jokes Brodie. “It took a week before we had a break in the schedule so that I
could fly back to Calgary and get my truck and all my clothes from my hotel room.”

Brodie arrived at an opportune time for the Heat; already missing defensemen John Negrin and Staffan
Kronwall and soon to lose Matt Pelech, the AHL’s youngest team got even younger. But the Heat
continued to rack up the points, perhaps aided by the experience Brodie had gained with his teammates in junior and Flames prospect camps, going 9-4-0-1 in his first 14 games with Brodie on the roster.

“It’s good to have guys that you know and feel comfortable around, especially when you don’t know
too many guys,” notes Brodie, who knew Bryan Cameron and Greg Nemisz from junior. “Being here
for the last couple years, I’ve trained with them and gotten to know most of the guys, so coming in I
realized I knew all the guys and had a good time.”

Brodie’s scoring touch earned him a roster spot, but Calgary’s crowded blue line and a -3 rating earned him the trip to Abbotsford. He also received instructions to add to his physical strength while tweaking some elements of his game.

“They told me to work on my defensive play, especially away from the puck,” says Brodie. “The game
is changing; it’s a lot faster and more skilled now. You still need to be good defensively and, obviously,
my size will help with that.”

The renewed commitment to defensive play has already paid dividends. Brodie racked up a +7 rating through 14 games, while also contributing a goal and eight assists. More important to Brodie were the positive results in the AHL standings, with Abbotsford sitting near the top.

“The team, obviously, we want to win. All the guys here have something to prove and something to
work towards, and the more we win, the better it is for everyone on the team and the organization,”
says Brodie.

Brodie remains upbeat about his hockey future and committed to returning to the big leagues. Until then, he’ll continue to savour his two weeks playing in the NHL.

“I didn’t really expect it going into camp, but the experience was great. It was sort of a dream come true
for a little bit there,” reflects Brodie. “There’s a lot of kids who dream to be there one day and just to
be there… There’s a time where it hits you that you’re actually there and you’ve actually accomplished
a little bit of your goal (obviously the next step is sticking there), but it’s a good time knowing that
you’ve got something that you set out to do and that you’re close to it.”

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One Step Closer: Strong NHL Training Camp Boosts Rheault’s Confidence

Originally published in the 2nd 2010-11 edition of BLAZE.

The journey to professional hockey stardom can sometimes be a long grind. For Abbotsford Heat
winger Jon Rheault, that journey has seen him criss-cross the continent many times in just a couple of
years.

Drafted in 2006 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Rheault completed four years at Providence College –
earning a degree while playing for the Friars. He turned pro as a free agent. After spending the
2008-09 season on try-outs with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs and the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, he
had an even busier 2009-10 campaign.

“Last year I played for four different teams and was up and down and all around, living in hotels,”
shares Rheault. “Even though I was all over the place, I had a ton of fun and met a lot of cool people.
I’m further along now than I was then, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, with
the NHL being right around the corner.”

Rheault split time between Manchester, Ontario, and the Providence Bruins before landing a spot with
the injury-plagued Heat. He made the most of it, scoring five points in five regular season games and leading
the team in playoff goal-scoring. That was enough for the Heat to sign him to an AHL contract and
for the Calgary Flames to invite him to his first training camp. Previously unable to attend camp due
to NCAA regulations, Rheault believes development camps prepared him to hit the ground running at
main camp.

“I kind of knew what to expect. I just knew that if I obviously came in good shape, had been on the ice
a good amount before I got here that I’d be in a good position,” says Rheault. “Coming in, there’s not a
chance I should make the team or anything like that, but I came in with the mentality that I’m going to
do everything I can to put pressure on them to make the team.”

Now assured a roster spot in Abbotsford, Rheault isn’t resting on his laurels. He began this season with
three assists in three games and sees his AHL stint as an opportunity to prove to Flames brass that he’s
worth keeping in the organization long-term.

“I want to really force their hand, make them have to make a decision on me,” says Rheault. “The
situation I’m in, I am just on an American League contract. My goal is to have an NHL contract.”

Rheault’s tenacity earned him two full seasons of professional hockey as well as a long look at Flames
main camp. One of the last players cut by the club after appearing in several pre-season contests, he’s
not at all shy about his goal of playing in the big leagues.

“I know I can play in the NHL,” says Rheault. “Just playing in those exhibition games, I know I can.
I’m just waiting for that opportunity to come along… I’m going to do everything I can to work hard
down here and be ready for it when it comes.”

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My Top 10 Films of 2010

Now that I’ve seen all the films from the past year that I had really hoped to, here is my Top 10 of 2010. There is no fancy scientific process behind this. I simply rank the films I liked the best.

  1. The Social Network
    Factually accurate? Hells no. A stunning dissection of how people communicate now and how the world’s changed? Hells yes.
  2. The King’s Speech
    I’m a mark for British royal history and totally dug this. Great performances by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.
  3. Inception
    The most visually-stunning, mind-boggling movie of the year. Very, very ambitious filmmaking.
  4. True Grit
    A brilliant adaptation of the book and a tremendous Western.
  5. The Fighter
    The story is fairly by-the-numbers sports, but the account of Micky Ward’s life is gripping.
  6. Toy Story 3
    A cartoon made people cry. Because it was Pixar and the story was great.
  7. Winter’s Bone
    It didn’t get the attention it deserved, but Jennifer Lawrence’s performance was fantastic.
  8. Love and Other Drugs
    Likely the most underrated film of 2010. Underneath the sex jokes and nudity lay a wonderfully heart-felt core.
  9. The Town
    Ben Affleck is suddenly a big-time director.
  10. Shutter Island
    Scorsese screwing around for the fun of it results in a cool thriller.

Honorable Mentions: The Kids Are All Right, How To Train Your Dragon, Scott Pilgrim Versus The World

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