Breaking Down The 2010-11 Oilers With Jason Gregor

October 4, 2010 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Interviews

Neil Bristow is back with NHL Digest and this week has a great one on one with Edmonton’s sports guru Jason Gregor from the Team 1260 in Edmonton to talk about the state of the Edmonton Oilers.

Oiler Rookie TrioNeil Bristow – Who do you see making the biggest impact out of all the Oilers rookies this year and why?

Jason Gregor- I’ll go with Magnus Paajarvi. He’s played the last three years in Sweden playing against men and I think he’ll make the jump to the NHL the quickest. He is a phenomenal skater, and he will start the season playing with Ales Hemsky so he should put up some point.

Neil Bristow – Out all the players you have saw this training camp and preseason games, who do you see the biggest improvement from so far?

Jason Gregor – Shawn Horcoff looks reborn so far. He changed his off-season training to focus lots on one-legged workouts and he looks faster than ever. With all the turnover in Edmonton, Horcoff will be called upon to lead the kids. I expect him to be named captain before the season starts, and he will have a bounce back year.

Neil Bristow – Ethan Moreau (9 goals 9 assists 18pts in 76gms ), who is now with the Columbus Blue Jackets was a leader for the Oilers at every angle the time wearing Oilers colors. Who takes over that role in the dressing room now that Moreau has gone elsewhere?

Jason Gregor – Horcoff will be the main guy, but they will need more than just one guy. Ryan Whitney wants to be a leader and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. I also think one of the young “veterans”, like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano or Gilbert Brule need to emerge as leaders.

Neil Bristow – From what I have saw this early preseason the guy that stood out for me the most is Magnus Paajarvi (3 goals – 1 assist ),Who’s game does his style remind you of? Can Oilers fans get excited about this kid?

Jason Gregor – They are already excited about him, and they should be. I think he skates like Mike Modano, but he needs to learn to shoot more. He reminds me a little bit like Daniel Alfredsson. A solid all-around game, but Paajarvi will be an impact player way sooner than Alfredsson was when he came into the league.

Neil Bristow – Did former Oilers front man Pat Quinn get a raw deal? What exactly is his position now with the Oilers?

Jason Gregor – I don’t think he did. Quinn is a great guy, but he wasn’t organized behind the bench last year. I don’t think he was able to communicate with his players very well, on how he wanted them to play. His role is a bit vague right now, but most of his focus will be on helping scouting other teams, and helping out with the coaches in the AHL and even the Oilers. Renney and him are still close, and Renney wants to lean on Quinn when it comes to the tendencies of other coaches around the league.

Neil Bristow – Shawn Horcoff had a rough go last season, have you noticed any changes to his game to make you believe and Oilers fans believe he is coming back to whom he was before he signed the big deal?

Jason Gregor – He looks better than ever so far. He is much faster, and his shoulder is completely healed now. I’m not sure he will get 73 points, but if he can get 65 and help mentor the kids the organization will be happy. I don’t think he will ever produce enough points to live up to his contract.

Neil Bristow – What is your thoughts on the Sheldon Souray story (4 goals – 9 assists and 13 pts, minus –19- last year )? When do you think he will be moved or if you think he will be moved at all?

Jason Gregor – He will be assigned to the minors or traded by Wednesday. The Oilers don’t want him as one of 23 guys on the roster, so Steve Tambellini will make a move before Wednesday. So far Tambellini hasn’t received any offers that he likes, and I’m not sure that will change by Wednesday.

Neil Bristow – Mark Bell in 2007 got busted for a D.U.I. and the NHL suspended him 15 games. With Nik Khabibulin getting caught as well do you see the NHL handing Khabibulin a similar suspension in the future?

Jason Gregor – Bell was charged with hit and run as well, so the cases are a bit different. I don’t see Khabibulin getting a long suspension from the league. Once his appeal process is over, and we see what his punishment is, I think the league should suspend him for a few games. He blew 0.164, so he was clearly intoxicated, but many other players in the league have DUIs and haven’t been suspended. Bell was because of the hit and run. I don’t see the league doing anything, even though I think they should.

Neil Bristow – The Oilers seem to be stock piled in the goaltenders position this year.Khabibulin,Dubnyk,J.D and Former Sens’ Martin Gerber. You would think one would get cut. Do you see that happening? Thoughts on the goalie situation in Edmonton?

Jason Gregor – Gerber is only here as an injury option. He was assigned to the minors last week, and I suspect Jeff Deslauriers will be the odd man out when the Oilers announce their 23-man roster. I think they signed Gerber for the following scenario. When Khabibulin inevitably goes on the IR, even for a few games, the Oilers can recall Gerber to back up Dubnyk. If they recall Deslauriers, he might get claimed on re-entry waivers, but I don’t see anyone taking Gerber. I don’t think Gerber looked that good in the preseason.

Neil Bristow – You are on twitter (http://twitter.com/JasonGregor).What are your thoughts on athletes on twitter? Tampa Bay goalie Dan Ellis recently made some comments on twitter about taking a pay cut and in fact upset a lot of people. The next day Dan Ellis said he was leaving twitter for good. What’s your thoughts on the whole
Dan Ellis twitter story (Puck Daddy on Dan Ellis’ Twitter ) ?

Jason Gregor – I think it is great if athletes go on twitter, but don’t expect every fan to love you. As a talk show host, I get all sorts of emails or twitter responses that disagree with what I say. Dan Ellis’ comment that he worried more about money now than when he was in college, was ignorant. He has made a few million dollars the past few years, why would he expect people to sympathize with him. No one wants to lose 18% of their salary, I get that, but players just need to be smart in how they word things. Ellis sounded like he is a little thin-skinned, and that is too bad. It would have blown over in a week, but he jumped ship. There are lots of other NHLers on twitter, and I’m sure we will see more very soon.

Neil Bristow – Do you think Kurtis Foster can replace Sheldon Souray’s point shot? Is there a replacement on this young Oilers team?

Jason Gregor – Foster shoots the puck hard, but he is one notch below Souray. Foster will probably hit the net more often, and keep his shot lower, which could lead to more deflections, so he’ll be an adequate replacement. He doesn’t bring Souray’s nasty streak though.

Neil Bristow – If you where head coach of the Edmonton Oilers and from what you have seen this far what are your projected pairings heading into opening night?

Jason Gregor – Whitney and Tom Gilbert were a pair at the end of last season, and they played great together. Foster will play with Ladislav Smid and I see Jim Vandermeer being the 5th guy and he’ll play with Jason Strudwick or Theo Peckham or Richard Petiot. Petiot and Peckham are battling for the final spot on the blueline. Petiot has been the biggest surprise in camp so far. The 28-year-old AHL journeyman has played great, and if they picked the team today he might beat out Peckham. The only reason Peckham makes it ahead of Petiot is if the Oilers are worried someone would claim Peckham on waivers.

Neil Bristow – What are your thoughts on the arena project? What is the latest on Katz getting a building done in downtown Edmonton?

Jason Gregor – We need a new rink in Edmonton, plain and simple. Figure out a mixture of public and private funding and make it happen. Rexall Place is the 2nd oldest rink in the league and the city needs a new facility. It is election time in Edmonton, and once the new council is voted in at the end of this month, I’d expect an announcement in early 2011 that a rink is coming.

Neil Bristow – Will the 2010-2011 Edmonton Oilers bring the Oilers faithful out to the “blue mile” this spring? Where do you see them finishing ?

Jason Gregor – Smack yourself Neil. Edmonton doesn’t copy anything Calgary does. We don’t have a Blue Mile…ha. There is lots of hope and optimism in Edmonton right now, but I’m not sure they are playoff ready just yet. The problem is the Oilers aren’t bad enough to be a bottom five team, which would get them another lottery pick. I suspect they will finish 9th, 10th or 11th this year. If Khabibulin can stay healthy they might battle for the final playoff spot, but that is a big if.

Neil Bristow – Do you know if Mike Comrie was offered a contract with the Oilers?

Jason Gregor – No he wasn’t. The Oilers are in a rebuilding mode, and despite Comrie and the city kissing and making up last year, they wanted to give their young kids a chance to play. Comrie won the lottery signing in Pittsburgh, and if he stays healthy I bet he scores 25-30 goals.

Neil Bristow – Can you tell readers what you do and where they can read your writings and hear you on the dial?
Jason Gregor – They can read my stuff at www.oilersnation.com or listen to my show at www.jasongregor.com

Neil Bristow – What is your thoughts on having two Heritage Classics this year? Do you kind of think it spoils it having two this season instead of the regular one?

Jason Gregor
– Not really. It is all about TV money. The winter classic on New Years is becoming more popular every year in the States, so maybe watching another outdoor game in Calgary will generate a bit of interest. But this is all about making money. I don’t think it hurts the game at all to have two of them.

Neil Bristow – who makes the Stanley Cup Finals this year?

Jason Gregor
– Hard to pick without having seen one regular season game, but I will go with Washington and Los Angeles. They are my surprise team, although Detroit looks damn good again.

Neil Bristow – What is your greatest moment hosting your own radio sports show on the Team 1260?

Jason Gregor – Having the ability to talk to so many different people from all walks of life. I don’t know if I have one specific moment that stands out. If I had to pick one it would be our annual radiothon for the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Hearing from the parents and the sick kids and realizing how much strength they have is powerful. We raised over a million dollars in one day last year between our three stations in Edmonton. It was awesome and I look forward to that day every year.

I would like to thank Jason Gregor of the team 1260 in Edmonton for his time once again.
Please check out his show weekdays Monday – Friday 2pm till 6pm on Edmonton’s sports radio the Team 1260 and his sites JasonGregor.com and  The Team 1260.com

Talking With Messier About Fighting In Hockey

September 27, 2009 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns, Hockey Interviews

Mark Messier fights Jason BlakeFighting in hockey is always a hot topic.  However, due to some recent injuries and an unfortunate death last season, attention has been turned to whether or not players should be allowed to remove their helmets during fights.

I have my opinions on fighting in hockey, but rather than ramble on with my thoughts, why not ask one of the legends of the game?

So, I asked Mark Messier about his thoughts on the subject.

Messier fought no less than 19 times over the course of his career in the National Hockey League.  In addition, his son Lyon had a couple of fights last season as professional player in the Central Hockey League. This gives Mark, what I believe is, a unique perspective on the topic – addressing the subject from the view of both a player and a parent.

In addition, Messier also has first hand experience on the topic considering one of the first NHL fights of his career was with Dennis Ververgaert in 1980.  In this fight Messier was wearing a helmet, while Ververgaert was not. Messier landed several hard left hands, taking Ververgaert to the ice.  Fortunately, they were both okay.

However, if you watch the video , you will see that there is not much difference in the way that Ververgert fell compared to how Columbus’  Tommy Sestito hit the ice and was injured following a fight with Jordin Tootoo this pre-season.

Without any further adieu.

Messier On Fighting

NHL Digest: Do you have a position on fighting in the NHL?  In particular, what is your reaction to taking helmets off during fights?

Messier: Fighting in hockey has been debated for many years by team officials, players, experts, and fans. The one constant in all the discussions is that there are no easy answers or solutions. As a former player, fighting was an accepted aspect of the game. Of course when I first started, very few games were televised around the country, and every move the league or teams made was not scrutinized by millions of viewers.

Over the last few decades, fighting in hockey has changed tremendously. In the 70’s fighting really hit its peak, being lead by the Broad Street Bullies in Philadelphia. The Flyers were the Stanley Cup Champions and played a very aggressive in-your-face game, which often lead to fisticuffs on the ice. Bench clearing brawls were the norm, and of course, all this trickled down to the minor leagues and even into the grass roots level.

The 80’s followed with an invasion of highly skilled European players that started to make their way over to play in the NHL. And soon after came the games Greatest player ever in Wayne Gretzky, who possessed a game of skill and awareness that had never been seen before. Led by Wayne, the Edmonton Oilers became the benchmark for success, adopting a highly skilled, fast skating game, which forced the rest of the league to change their philosophy from a grinding up and down your wing, to a skating, interweaving game that resembled a more European style.

The league took tremendous steps to reduce fighting and eliminate bench clearing brawls. Requiring players to return to their benches as soon as a fight broke out and the institution of many other new rules greatly reduced the number of fights that took place in any particular game.

While the focus now is on a more skilled, high tempo game, fighting is still a topic of conversation, particularly when a player is hurt as a result of the fight. Players are bigger and stronger than ever, and have taken the skill of fighting to a new level. Hockey is a great game of passion, skill, discipline, courage and heart. However, in addition to these great attributes, intimidation has always played and will continue to play a part in the game.

One of the latest problems associated with fighting is players taking their helmets off before engaging in a fight. One of the reasons for this was the mandatory visor rule that was implemented in amateur hockey, much like the hockey helmet was back in 1979. Because of the shields and full cages, taking the helmets off became a way of showing respect and bravado.

Hockey, like life, is ever changing and evolving. We as a league must always have the best interests in our minds and hearts for the players, teams and fans. The changes that have taken place over the last 30 years have made our game better than ever. We will continue to make the necessary changes to ensure we not only protect our players, but provide the fans with the best product and entertainment possible.

Fighting has always been a part of hockey, and I personally believe that it will continue to be one aspect of our game. Part of what makes hockey so entertaining is that it requires physical and mental toughness. But as the game continues to evolve, I believe that player safety and better protection need to be our top priority. If that means instituting a rule – like Hockey Canada – that makes it mandatory to keep your helmet on in a fight, I would support it.

Messier On Head Protection

The Messier Project, my new collaboration with Cascade Sports, is committed to elevating head protection in hockey and we are working to change priorities in the sport. A helmet and its protective technology are just as important – if not more important – than the skates you wear or the stick you use.

In developing the M11, I worked very closely with the innovators at Cascade Sports to bring a player’s perspective to the design. One of the features I am most proud of is the ProFit system, which I think ties into this conversation.

During game play and especially if a player engages in a fight, it is extremely important that the helmet m11_Backstays on to prevent potential head injury due to a blow to the head or the more serious threat of a player’s head hitting the ice.

The Pro Fit system creates a 360 degree fit- tapering the entire helmet in around the head for a snug, “toque” feel. When your helmet fits right, it is safer on impact and when adjusted properly, a good fit increases the level of protection the helmet offers. From a performance perspective, the M11 ProFit allows a player to fine-tune the fit and adjust it on the fly based on the situation and environment.

Thank you for your question. It is conversations and questions like these that are so important to the evolution and continued success of our game.

With respect,
Mark Messier

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Mark’s take on fighting in hockey is not simplistic. He is certainly passionate about the game and his venture with the Messier Project really is about protecting players.

He mentions that he would support a rule to keep helmets on during a fight.  This makes sense, but if that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t want to fight anyone with a Dany Heatley sized visor!

Maybe a quick-release visor could be developed?  That would be sure to appease both the “no fighting with a visor crowd” and the “keep your helmet on during a fight” crowd.

Hmmmm…maybe I just gave Mark and Cascade Sports an idea for the next big thing in hockey? I’m sure my check is in the mail!

Washington Capitals Strength Coach Mark Nemish

July 6, 2009 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Interviews

Mark NemishRecently I had the opportunity and privilege to interview the strength and conditioning coach for the Washington Capitals, Mark Nemish.

Mark is renowned by the Capitals players as being one of the reasons that they have had so much success and personal accomplishment over the past few seasons.  Most often, Capitals players cite post-exercise recovery as one particular area where Mark excels above all others.

Now that we are in the off-season, Mark has generously agreed to share a few of his theories on strength and conditioning for hockey players.  If you’re a parent, player, or coach – be prepared to take notes!

Enjoy.

Thank you very much for the interview. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your training business and position with the Capitals?

I am originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada.  I left Winnipeg in ’93 to complete my Masters Degree work at the University of North Dakota while working as a strength coach for the Athletic department.

After completing my degree, I left North Dakota and had stints as a strength coach at the University of Richmond, Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt.

In 1998 I was hired by the Nashville Predators as their first strength coach and held that position for 6 years before moving to Northern Virginia to open my own training business known as Dynamic Sports Performance.  A couple years ago I became the Washington Capitals strength & conditioning coach and hold that position today along with still owning and running my training business.

When players come to you for training, what’s the first thing you do with them?

The first thing we do is test them whether with my business or with the Caps.  We hold testing with the Caps at our summer conditioning camp in July held for draft picks and prospects and then again at the main training camp in September where we test all of our players, including veterans.

Could you list the 3 top tips you could give to a hockey player that is just beginning an off-ice conditioning program?

1.      Make sure that you are being coached in performing the exercises in the program correctly…

2.      Make the clear distinction between activity and accomplishment…too many athletes perform the activity of training but don’t progress at the rate they should because they don’t train hard or smart enough.

3.      Nutrition plays a huge role in training gains or adaptations…your composition and timing of nutrition is very important.

What are the most common mistakes that you see hockey players make with regard to strength and conditioning?

Players don’t train hard enough at times and also don’t know when to listen to their bodies and back off at the right times.  Also, many players do not pay enough attention to some very important, but overlooked, training variables such as length of rest periods, speed of the repetition, and restoration techniques.

What tips and tricks can you share that will improve a hockey player’s off-season conditioning program?

I don’t know if there are any tricks, but one very important variable for improving power is to intend to move loads as quickly as possible especially with regards to training the legs.  Speed kills in this sport and taking advantage of sound training principles to enhance leg power is important.  In addition to intending to move loads quickly, regardless of whether they are light or very heavy loads, improving one’s off-ice sprint speed is important as well.  Sprinting for 10-30 yards while pulling loads on a sled will help accomplish that.  Finally, don’t do too much on-ice training or conditioning too soon in the summer.  I don’t like to see players get on the ice much sooner than the beginning of August.

What are the most glaring weaknesses you find when training hockey players?

Abdominal strength and balance about the core and hips (ie flexibility and strength).  This leads to trouble down the road in the form of lower abdominal tears and frequent groin tears.

Are there any exercises that you feel every athlete, regardless of sport, should do?

All athletes need to be doing sound abdominal training that is functional in nature.  Too many athletes of all sports seem to think that performing crunches and sit ups at nauseum will help build their core strength & endurance.  What they need to do is learn to recruit or fire their abs and glutes together and then perform many different exercises that groove the motor patterns of abdominal recruitment.  This will help stabilize their spine and keep their pelvis correct position so other larger muscles can work together to perform the gross motors skills such as running, skating, etc. efficiently.

How do you explain your system/program to your athletes so that they understand why they are following your program?

My system is not too complex.  Everything is written down on workout cards along with the speed to perform each repetition and rest periods.  It’s all in how you coach the program.  For the summer conditioning manual, I accompany the training book with a couple DVD’s that shows every exercise so the players can see what they are supposed to do.

Can you give us some insight on nutrition advice for the typical hockey player (pre-game/post game meals etc.)?

Pre game meal should not be too large…some lean protein like chicken, fish or steak (fillet or very lean strip) that is grilled or broiled, some carbohydrates (brown rice, pasta, baked potatoes) and vegetables (greens or other colorful veggies).  If you eat too much at pre-game, your legs may feel heavy in the first period because you are still digesting a big meal.  Eat enough to satisfy but not feel full.  For post game you want to get in about 0.7 – 1.0 grams of carbs/kg bodyweight along with some protein within 30 minutes of your last shift.  This will help build up the glycogen (muscle fuel) that you burned during the game.  About 1-1.5 hours later have a good sit down meal with a lean protein and more carbohydrates.  Drink plenty of water as well.

What post game recovery techniques are most important for hockey players?

See above for post-game shake or meal.  In addition, players need to sit in a cold tub for 10-15 minutes after a game, especially if they played a lot of minutes.  This does several things with the main goal of starting the recovery process going by slowing down the player’s metabolism and reducing the heat that was built up in the body during the game.

How do you monitor training intensity – specifically with regard to in-season vs. off-season training?

Training intensity is correctly defined as the % of 1 rep max lifted for a particular exercise.  Since I test bench press, I express their training loads as percentages of their 1RM be it in season or off…of course they are lifting much bigger %’s of their 1RM’s in the off-season.  I also have devices which measure the power produced with any given load so I can see what sort of power they are producing on a particular exercise.

What is the biggest obstacle you have to face as a strength coach or trainer?

At the professional level it is the control I don’t have during the off season when the players are on their own to lift, especially those who are overseas.  The other one would be striking the balance between the right amount of training and rest during the in-season.

How do you deal with hesitant and/or stubborn players/coaches that don’t agree with your program?

At the NHL level, you must approach each player as if you are working with him, not against him.  You first need to listen to what the player is complaining about and properly explain your rationale for doing things.  Allowing the player direct feedback and perceived control can do wonders in reaching compromises regarding training obstacles.  Trust is a big thing…they need to feel as though they can trust you…results is the biggest motivator…if others on the team are getting great results, then you hope some of the other stubborn players will jump on the band wagon.

News was released at the end of the season making accusations that some Capitals players have used performance enhancing substances – what’s your take on that?

Since we were tested 3 times this year and 4 times the previous year (random), I can say with 100% confidence that the Washington Capitals are 100% drug free.  Also, with the type of weights our guys lift, the zero signs of side effects that accompany illegal performance drugs, no one on our team is on anything.

Is there somewhere that readers can learn more about your theories and programs?

On my business website www.dspashburn.com, I have numerous articles posted that they can read in addition to my training philosophies.

Getting Behind NHL on VERSUS

April 19, 2009 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Interviews

nhl-versus-smallThe National Hockey League is a staple of Canadian Television both on CBC and on TSN.  However, in the United States VERSUS continues to build its presence as network to be reckoned with and currently enjoys a strong relationship with the NHL.

Within this interview, we have asked some tough questions of VERSUS Director of Marketing Meier Raivich.  Many of the questions were responded to by Katie Bradshaw who is the Senior Publicist at VERSUS.  You will notice that they were not able to comment on some parts of certain questions.

Enjoy!

There has been some concern as to the availability of VERSUS in certain markets and from certain providers. For example, with Dish Network a premium subscription is required to have access to Versus. Of course, options vary from provider to provider, but does Versus have any leverage over providers with regard to how the channel is offered?

Availability of VERSUS is continuing to grow. The network is now in more than 75 million U.S. homes and is available on every major cable and satellite provider in the U.S., making VERSUS accessible to anyone and everyone in the country.

With respect to High Definition hockey broadcasts, can fans expect to see more HD broadcasts from VERSUS next season? And, are their any plans to implement a nightly NHL highlights/recap show?

VERSUS launched its dedicated HD channel in December 2008 and each and every one of VERSUS’ NHL telecasts are produced and presented in HD. VERSUS’ HD channel is rapidly gaining distribution and is currently in more than 16 million U.S. homes.
While there aren’t currently any plans for the network to air a nightly NHL show, VERSUS airs its dedicated NHL studio show, Hockey Central, each night the network televises a game throughout the regular season and playoffs.

Is there a possibility that we might see some growth in the number of VERSUS broadcasts picked up by other networks (ie. TSN) during the 2009-2010 season?

We do not have any plans in place for Canadian networks to pick up VERSUS’ NHL telecasts in the 2009-10 season. However, throughout the 2009 postseason, as in past playoffs, VERSUS will simulcast several games from Canadian networks to give viewers bonus NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs action to ensure the hockey fans in this country get as much postseason coverage as possible.

Has VERSUS entertained any plans to incorporate flexibility into the coverage and television schedule for next year, especially late in the season with consideration for games with playoff implications etc.?

VERSUS has the option to take advantage of flexible scheduling following the All-Star break which allows the network to replace a select number of games from the ones originally scheduled. The network has exercised this option the last couple seasons and will continue to explore ways to present viewers with the best match-ups featuring the most nationally appealing games throughout the regular season.

What has been the reaction of Coaches to having VERSUS reporters visit the players bench during play?

VERSUS strives to give viewers the most in-depth live game coverage; whether it is putting microphones on players during key games or having reporters visit the bench during game action. VERSUS institutes these type of production features to bring viewers as close to the action as possible so that they feel like they’re part of the game and the reaction from coaches and players has been extremely positive and well-received by everyone involved with the NHL.

Could you provide comparative growth numbers from last year to this year with regard to average viewership of NHL games broadcast on VERSUS?

VERSUS is entering the 2009 postseason with double-digit viewership growth for the 2008/09 regular season as compared to last season. Total viewership showed an increase of 21 percent and household impressions were up 23 percent, while viewership for all key male demographics also showed substantial increases: Men 18-34 (up 51%), Men 18-49 (up 43%) and Men 25-54 (up 41%). The network’s coverage of the 2008/09 NHL regular season reached 32.9 million total viewers, the most ever for an NHL on VERSUS regular season (up 13% from last season).

When the re-branding/re-organization from OLN occurred, what were the major goals of the marketing team with regard to positioning Versus in the marketplace? And, how does that strategy relate to Versus’ partnership with the National hockey League?

Two and half years ago the network was OLN, a mid-sized network focusing on hunting/fishing and other outdoor related programming. Today, VERSUS is in more than 75 million homes and is the fastest growing cable sports network in the country. All of VERSUS’ marketing campaigns surrounding the re-brand were conceptualized and executed with the ultimate goal of establishing credibility and awareness for the VERSUS brand.
Employing this type of creative thought, the network created marketing and ad campaigns that sought to establish VERSUS as the home of hockey in the U.S. among both casual and hardcore fans and did this by giving a voice to the athlete and making them the central piece of each and every campaign.

We’d like to thank VERSUS for the opportunity to learn more about the VERSUS channel and the relationship with the National Hockey League.

Also, thank you to the NHL Digest Twitter followers for sumitting some great questions!

Up Close and Personal With Dan Rosen of NHL.com

December 27, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Interviews

This week NHL Digest was honored to have interviewed hockey journalist, Dan Rosen, from NHL.com.  Dan grew up in Northern New Jersey and studied journalism at the University of Arizona.  He worked at various papers as journalist for 7 years prior to joining the NHL last October.  Please enjoy getting to know the man behind the keyboard at NHL.com!

Do you think Sundin has a shot at winning a Stanley Cup with the Canucks? And, how do you think the Canucks feel about being Sundin’s second choice to the Rangers?

I’ll actually answer the second part first. I don’t think the Canucks feel much, if anything in regards to that because it has never been stated as a fact that Sundin did in fact favor the Rangers over them. I know it can be construed that way because Sundin didn’t immediately take a huge sum of money from Vancouver on July 1 and that he waited and waited and waited to find out what the Rangers plans were going to be to acquire him. Believe me, I see that side of the argument. However, why would the players on the Canucks care? They have him now and they know Sundin wouldn’t be there if his heart wasn’t in it.

In a way, he has a lot to prove, which leads to the first part of your question. Yes, I think he has a shot at winning the Cup with the Canucks. You always have a shot if Roberto Luongo is your goalie. That being said, I can’t sit here today and tell you that he will win the Cup with Vancouver. I still think the Red Wings are the favorite. I mean, how can they not be? I do think Vancouver is better off with Sundin than without him, which of course means he has a shot.

Did the Dallas Stars do the right thing by ridding themselves of Sean Avery? And, do you think Sean Avery will ever play in the National Hockey League again?

The answer to both questions is yes. For one, I think it was pretty obvious that Avery had a negative influence on the players in that dressing room. You have some established vets in there like Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas, Brad Richards, Sergei Zubov, Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen and Mike Ribiero. They didn’t need or want the sideshow that Avery brings wherever he goes. So, by taking Avery out of the mix, the Stars can now become a close knit group again. It’s showing. They beat Toronto, 8-2, in their last game before Christmas. Prior to the holiday, they had gone four straight without losing in regulation. I see it turning around there.

And, secondly, yes I do think Avery will find his way back into the League, probably next year provided the Stars can figure out what to do with his contract. I do not think he will play in Dallas and it will have to be a team in need of a jolt or a spark. I’m thinking Columbus, Atlanta, the New York Islanders, if you can believe that, or perhaps the Colorado Avalanche. I can’t say for sure this will happen. I do wonder if and when he comes back if he will put on the good boy behavior or will he be the same Sean. If he toes the line, I’m fine with that. Bad boys can be good for the game, too. If he jumps over the line, he needs to be disciplined. There’s no place in the sport for that.

What is your opinion of Sidney Crosby’s “low blows” on Boris Valabik of the Atlanta Thrashers? Do you think he should be punished by the league?

Tough question. Is it heat of the moment, wailing away with no disregard? Or, was it pre-meditated? I’m going to have to say it was heat of the moment and Crosby was wailing away with no disregard, but that doesn’t make it any better. There are certain body parts that should be, um, off limits. I think we know that is one of them. Every guy can attest to that. Every girl should attest to that or guys should run away from them. I don’t think Crosby should be punished by the League for the infraction, but I do agree with the roughing penalty. He was the third guy in to the melee. I don’t like it. It hurts to watch it. But, is it finable or suspendable? I’m not too sure about that.

Who do you think is the favorite to win the Calder trophy in 2008-2009?

Derick Brassard was at or near the top of my list for most of the season until now. Poor guy dislocated his shoulder in a fight with James Neal of Dallas and will be out for the year. Why was he fighting? I don’t know. However, I don’t see how you can overlook Drew Doughty in Los Angeles. Aren’t defenseman supposed to be late bloomers? Aren’t they supposed to take a while to develop? Doughty looks like he’s been in the League for five years already. He’s the Kings’ ice time leader by more than a minute. I mean, that’s unbelievable. It’s incredible. He’s been excellent despite being thrown right into the fire. I think Doughty is the guy to watch from here on out, but of course don’t take your eyes off of Columbus goalie Steve Mason either. He may struggle because of the Jackets’ defense, but Mason is the real deal.

Growing up in Northern New Jersey, have you always been a hockey fan?

Absolutely. My first hockey game I ever went to was on Feb. 28, 1988, the day before my 10th birthday, at what was then called Brendan Byrne Arena and later re-named Continental Airlines Arena. The New Jersey Devils beat the Minnesota North Stars, 8-6. It was my birthday party and it was awesome. I was already a Devils fan at the time, but after going to that game I was hooked. I went to Game 6 of the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals at the Byrne Arena with my dad to see the Devils win the series over the Islanders with a 6-5 victory. Again, it was amazing. I remember seeing Wayne Gretzky come to town with the Los Angeles Kings. I also remember screaming a profanity his way – I was maybe 12 or 13 years old – and my mom told me to sit down and shut up. Of course, she said it in a motherly, very nice way. I grew up a Devils fan and I still root for them, but it’s a little different working in this field now. The good thing is that in my office we have a great group of hockey guys, some of which are Flyers’ fans. That sparks up a good rivalry between the Devils fans and the Flyers fans. It brings the passion for my team back. It’s great stuff.

Of all of the hockey articles you have written, which one(s) has been your favorite?

I may think I have written a lot, but then I look at guys like John Dellapina, who used to cover the Rangers for the New York Daily News and now works for the NHL as the media relations director, and Tom Gulitti of The Record (Hackensack, NJ) and I think I have a long way to go. I’ve gotten to know guys like Pierre Lebrun, Scott Burnside, Jim Matheson, Mark Spector, Dave Stubbs, etc. Those guys have done way more than me. I’m only 30 years old. I’ve got a long way to go.

However, to answer your question, I’d have to say I have a few favorites. The first article I ever wrote relating to the NHL was back in the 2002-03 season when I was still at The Record and I filled in for Tom Gulitti on a Devils’ practice. I wrote about Scott Gomez and the sports editor at the time liked it enough to give me a few more shots filling in for Tom. I ended up covering the Devils’ entire run to the 2003 Stanley Cup championship alongside Tom, traveling to Boston, Tampa, Ottawa and Anaheim. It was an incredible experience. Two more of my favorites came last season when I wrote about Alex Ovechkin, who is presently my favorite professional athlete. I wrote about Ovechkin using his late brother, Sergei, as his inspiration to get to the NHL. I also wrote about Ovechkin the day before he made his playoff debut. I was at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex for practice that Thursday morning and Alex was the first guy on the ice, taking a twirl and shooting the puck into the boards because the goals weren’t even out yet. The Zamboni was still on the ice. He was so restless. He was so ready. Those are some of my favorites, but of course covering the Winter Classic and Stanley Cup Final last year was amazing, too.

As a journalist, what are your thoughts on Bloggers being awarded press credentials?

It’s a really tough call because sometimes bloggers can do everything they do from their own couch. Sometimes there is simply no need for them to be in the locker room. It’s a muddy area, though. If a blogger is reporting the news and has established a business for himself or herself in doing so, then I think he or she has the right to be there. They have to show proof of that, though. They have to show that they aren’t just there to slam on the coach or a few players, or they aren’t just there to play favorites. That’s just not journalism, at least not good journalism, and it ruins it for us real journalists.
The Rangers credential Dubi Silverstein of Blueshirt Bulletin. I know Dubi well and he’s a great guy. What’s great about Dubi is he’s objective even though the Rangers are clearly his favorite team, and he also puts out a newsletter for fans every month. So, while he may just be blogging off the games, he is contributing in another way, too.

If a blogger is going to enhance the coverage of the team and the sport like Dubi, I’m all for it. However, that blogger has to show proof of legitimate journalism.

Do you use social media to interact with hockey fans and/or get ideas for columns?

I get e-mails all the time and I always make it a point to respond unless the e-mailer has some nasty things to say about me. That has happened on more than one occasion, believe me. So, I talk to fans via e-mail and we also have a social interacting web-site on NHL.com called NHL Connect. It’s a place for fans to talk via their own blogs. I have a blog on NHL Connect as well. Hey, I’m a fan, right? I’m not on Connect all the time, but I certainly check it out and can get pertinent information or story ideas from it. Nobody knows more about their team than the fans. They are the ones that are intimately involved with their favorite club. I need to be listening to them considering I write for them. They are my audience.

Who is your favorite hockey player of all time and why?

The guys I work with would say it’s Ovechkin, but he’s not quite there yet. He’s  close, but I’d still have to say it’s Scott Stevens for how he played the game and respected the game. If you know the story of Stevens, you know that he was a hot shot youngster with the Washington Capitals who liked to pile up the points without caring too much about how many penalty minutes came with them.

He learned over time that is not the way he was going to last a long time in this League, so when he got to New Jersey he changed with the system and became arguably the best, if not one of the best, shutdown, physical blue-liners in the history of the game. I loved his tenacity. I loved his physicality. I will always remember him crushing Slava Kozlov and then warning Dino Ciccarelli, “You’re next.” People will say his hits weren’t legal. They were. They were just really hard and really good. Eric Lindros knows.

If you could sit down for dinner and talk hockey with anyone, who would it be and why?

It wouldn’t be a player, a coach, or a manager. I would want to sit down with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and talk puck over a good meal. To me, there is nobody in the game with a better knowledge of its history. He’s basically an encyclopedia for names, dates, goals, games, championships, etc. I have talked hockey with Doc before, but not to the extent I would like to. He is one of the nicest men in the business and always willing to share stories. He’s seen so much from the broadcaster’s booth so to me there is no better brain to pick than his. Of course, if I wanted to talk strategy I would have said Gretzky or Scotty Bowman or Bobby Orr. I don’t want to talk strategy. I want to talk about the game, the stories within the game, the history of the game, the current state of the game, etc. Doc’s my man, plus I get to listen to his voice and that’s pretty darn cool, too.

I would personally like to thank Dan Rosen and NHL.com for thier cooperation in with this interview.  Please check out Dan’s blog on NHL Connect and his feature columns on NHL.com.

From Player to Coach With Scott Arniel

December 23, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Interviews

This week Neil Bristow sits down with former NHL player and Manitoba Moose Head Coach Scott Arniel.

Neil Bristow – You are now in your third season as Head Coach of the Manitoba Moose. You spent 4 seasons as an assistant coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Do you see yourself going after vacant NHL coaching positions in the near future or would you like some more time in the AHL?

Scott Arniel – I still think I have lots to learn and experience as a Head Coach and I’m in no rush to get back. In saying that I will certainly look at any and all opportunities that are out there. I think it is very important that you align yourself with a G.M. that you have a history with and someone that has a lot of the same beliefs on the type of team and style of play that you want to play. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were a great example of that in Buffalo.

Neil Bristow – What are some of your greatest memories from your time as assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres?

Scott Arniel – The biggest highlight for me was coming out of the lock-out year and being ahead of the curve compared to a lot of teams in the N.H.L. We as an organization prepared for the salary cap that we thought was coming and also all the new rule changes that were going to be in effect. We built our team into a high tempo, skating team with some good veterans plus a good mix of youth. It’s great to watch them play today and still see a competitive, youthful, exciting team. Also, the opportunity to coach some great players that helped me to improve on my Coaching abilities.

Neil Bristow – Being from Winnipeg myself, I was quite surprised when Winnipeg built the MTS Centre at such a small seating capacity even under NHL seating capacity standards. Do you feel the city could support a NHL franchise? Do you think Winnipeg will see NHL Hockey again?

Scott Arniel- Actually I think the MTS Center does fit the size standards for venues in the NHL, and yes if given another opportunity like Minnesota and Colorado I think the fans and the corporate community would do everything they could to make it work here. In saying all that I don’t think it could work right now under the current salary cap, I feel that number would have to drastically be reduced for it to be feasible, but yes one day I do see the NHL back in Winnipeg.

Neil Bristow- What have been your highlights of being a head coach for the Manitoba Moose and what have been the low lights of the position?

Scott Arniel – Every day coming to work and the challenges that are brought forth from each day makes doing this job a highlight in itself. Winning games and seeing players improve on a daily basis is very gratifying, but I get big thrill when watching players get called up to the NHL and have success and see them fulfill there dreams. Certainly losing in the play-offs is a huge disappointment, but it’s what drives you to improve as a coach to be better the following year.

Neil Bristow – You have had the opportunity to coach some world class players in your time in the NHL and the AHL. Who do you say is the most talented player you have had the chance to coach and why?

Scott Arniel – Chris Drury, I’m not sure if he was the most talented of all the players I’ve coached but he was the most determined and driven player that I’ve had the pleasure of being around. His leadership qualities are second to none and a large reason why the teams he’s been associated with have had great success.

Neil Bristow – You played in 730 NHL games in your career with the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins. What would be the “greatest moment” from your playing days?

Scott Arniel – I’m sure like a lot of players it’s playing that 1st. NHL game, of finally having all the sacrifice and hard work pay-off and to have the opportunity to play with great players and friends along the way.

Neil Bristow – Out of all the players on your current roster on the Moose, who do you see making the biggest impact in the near future with the parent club the Vancouver Canucks?
And what should fans expect from this player?

Scott Arniel – It’s tough to pick one, but to have Edler, Hansen, Brown, Raymond, Schneider and Jaffray all play roles with the Canucks and help them have success is great to see.

Neil Bristow -With every job there is always mistakes on the job when you go into something new. Becoming the Head Coach of the Manitoba Moose do you have any stories you can share with our readers of any learning mistakes you made as you adjusted to the role of Head Coach of an AHL Franchise?

Scott Arniel- The first couple of months on the job with the Moose was a real eye opener as a coach. You come into the job thinking you have all the right tactics and strategy to instantly have success, but I soon realized certain things wouldn’t work with that team or I didn’t have the type of team needed to play the way I envisioned. I learned very quickly that I had to make adjustments and figure out what worked best with group of players that I had at that particular time.

Neil Bristow – The Dallas Stars have a partial affiliation with the Manitoba Moose. What are your thoughts on Sean Avery ever possibly playing for your club? How would you as a head coach handle a player like Sean Avery in the dressing room if it was ever to happen?

Scott Arniel – I don’t see Sean Avery ever playing for the Moose. He is a good NHL player that has a problem that he is going to have to rectify and, until he does, will have a hard time finding a team to play for. In saying that I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Sean in the NHL. As a coach you can never allow one individual to become larger than the group, and if the individual doesn’t buy into the team concept then he loses his right to be on the team. Good teams make good people, good people make good teams.

Neil Bristow – You played on the Gold medal winning Canadian Junior Hockey team in 1982.
What are some of your best memories from that tournament that you can share?

Scott Arniel – It was the first year that Hockey Canada put in the National Program bringing players in from all over Canada, so it was special to part of something new. Winning the first gold medal ever for Canada was a tremendous experience but my fondest memory was singing the National Anthem after we won because some-one had forgotten to have it available. It is great to see that tradition continue today when ever Canada wins.

Neil Bristow – Every kid grows up thinking of scoring a goal in the NHL. Can you tell us about scoring your first NHL goal and how you did it and against whom?

Scott Arniel – My 1st. goal was against the Detroit Red Wings, a Dave Christian shot that I deflected by Eddie Mio.

Neil Bristow – Goal or No Goal in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final?

Scott Arniel – “No Goal” foot in the crease.
(Re: Brett Hull)

NHL Digest would like to say thanks to Scott and wish him and the Manitoba Moose nothing but success this season and beyond.

http://www.moosehockey.com/

If you are in or around Winnipeg, we encourage you to take in a Moose game at the new MTS Centre.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach Neil at theneilshow (at) shaw (dot) ca

I encourage feedback on interviews in the comments section as well.

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