Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rumblings of the Giant

Ohhh there are rumblings of discontent from Giant fans and followers alike. The season has barely started and they have not done well, if I'm reading the statics correctly they got their first power play goals this weekend. Yesterday they lost in a heart breaker to the Coventry Blaze and today in a 2:0 shut out to the Newcastle Vipers. Possibly the one man feeling the pressure the most in Belfast City is Canadian Sean McMorrow. A classic old school enforcer McMorrow has not only had a blank dance card this season but there have been reports of players refusing enter into banter with him. This has to place the man brought over to protect skill players and fulfill a role on the team, all be it partially entertainment, difficult. There were reports of him leaving the box in the second period for a shift, falling forward and leaving the ice promptly, hopefully unhurt. The new sheriff in town must be one frustrated guy by now. However it is early days, if there are chemistry problems disrupting the locker room Coach Thornton needs to get on the stick. As for the PP and the dodgy penalty kill- time for more than a few long captain's practices.

I found a bit of history while researching another matter, the story of Hockey's first professional woman goalie. I'm not going to retell it the story is his and most importantly hers.

The story was simple but it was best told form Leonard "Oakie" Brumm her coaches eyes. The material is from The Marquette Iron Rangers Site:

'How pro hockey's first woman goalie took the world by storm-right here in Marquette-as told by her coach.

With the tremendous growth of girl's hockey, especially here in the far north, I think it would be interesting to the sport's fans and female players to where when and where the first woman hockey player made her debut and how she fared. It happened in October 1969 at the old Palestra Ice Arena in Marquette. It came at opening tryouts for the Marquette Iron Rangers when all comers war invited to show their skills. I was the coach for the Iron Rangers, a very strong senior United States Hockey League team, and the woman player was Karen Koch (pronounced "Cook") from Gibraltar, Michigan.

In those days the first night of Iron Ranger practice was a combination of a happening, a civic event, and a circus with some serious hockey mixed in. Several players from the previous season were signed to contracts and two or three good players were signed or about to sign. Then, there were the usual ten to fifteen guys who either felt they were good enough to make the team, had been goaded into trying out by their friends, or had bragged about their hockey skills all summer. Now it was time to "put up or shut up!"

In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it was every young hockey player’s dream back then to someday get paid for playing hockey. The Iron Rangers, or some other USHL team was usually their only practical chance to get paid for playing. Salaries ranged from $25 per game for marginal rookies to $100 or more per game for top-notch players with a Division I college, minor league experience or occasionally a former NHL player on the way to retirement. The USHL was a good deal for many excellent hockey players because they could hold down full-time jobs and still get some decent money for playing a game they probably would have played for fun.

Besides, in those days there were only eight or nine NHL teams (the first expansion took place the previous Year, 1968). At that time, the USHL had ninety-five percent of the best American hockey players, many Canadian Junior "A" graduates who had recently graduated from U.S. Division I universities and were not quite good enough for the NHL but wanted to continue playing while they started their chosen careers.

The league was strong and the Iron Rangers were the defending champions. Interest in the team for the coming year was extremely high, so fan attendance at the first practice was high as well. By 1969 I had coached for eighteen seasons, so I was used to all kinds of hype and confusion. I had a pretty good idea which players I could count on, which new players should make the team and how to let down gently those who simply were not good enough to play. Consequently the Iron Rangers always had one or two guys coming out of nowhere to become solid team members. The best example was the Carlson/Hanson Brothers, later famous for the movie Slap Shot.

I got a big surprise. Our regular goalie was Brian Lunney, who had been sent to us by the Toronto Maple Leafs via the Canadian Olympic Team. Outnumber One backup was Lonnie Lytaikainen, a local kid who showed great promise. Both were on the ice along with two goalies I had never seen before and hadn't expected. After a brief talk to the entire group (four goalies and about twenty-five players), we did some preliminary skating drills and easy shooting drills so everyone had a chance to show what they had. Of course, our best goalie looked good, our backup looked pretty good, but one of the two newcomers couldn't stop a basketball with a snowshoe. The other one looked surprisingly quick and made some nice saves in spite of being small.

We'd been working for twenty minutes when Barry Cook, our captain, skated up to me and said, "Coach, did you know that little squirt of a goalie is a girl?"

"What!" I said. "How do you know?"

"One of the kids from Northern (Michigan University) told me," he said.

I quickly asked him to take the practice so I could talk to her myself. She had given no indication that she was a woman. All players were required to wear helmets, so with the helmets and goalie pads it was impossible to tell she was a female. I motioned her off to the side where we could talk without being run into or hit by a puck. She was extremely apprehensive and wouldn’t look at me. (I found out later that she had expected me to kick her off the ice).

Finally she told me her name was Karen Koch, she was eighteen years old and she had enrolled at Northern Michigan University specifically to try out for the Iron Rangers. She had been playing hockey and lacrosse with the boys in Gibraltar ever since she could remember. She went on to say that none of the senior teams in the Detroit area would give her a tryout. She said she had heard nothing but good things about the Iron Rangers and felt she could make the team. She desperately didn't want to be cut without a fair tryout.

I thought to myself, A girl goalie...what if she gets hurt? Where is she going to change clothes? Just how good is she? For one of the few times in my life I didn't know what to do. She had done nothing to justify cutting her. So I told her we should see how well she did and that she'd be given a fair tryout.

In subsequent practices she showed remarkable ability. Her only drawback was her size. Both of our goalies were big guys. They stopped more pucks by accident than she did on purpose.

Hockey's First Female Pro, Karen Koch

Koch's presence on the squad brought complaints from the veteran players, but even they admitted she was surprisingly good and probably equal to our regular backup goalie. Their griping was far overshadowed by the national publicity she generated after her photo was run in the daily and weekly newspapers. We got calls from the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters and newspapers, radio and TV stations from all over the U.S. and Canada. It was a major news story. And, all the while Karen Koch was stopping pucks and earning her place on the squad. When it came time to cut the team down to eighteen players and two goalies; I changed the number and kept seventeen players and three goalies, including Lunney, Lytaikainen and Koch. Koch signed a contract for $40 per game. As far as I know she was the first female player ever to do so in the world.

She played as well as any of our previous backup goalies when I was able to use her. She wasn't solid enough to start and play regularly because the league simply was too good. Word of her being on the squad preceded our first game of the season in the Canadian Soo. She caused so much interest that Soo officials called and insisted that she be announced as the starting goalie to swell attendance. City staff arranged for the Mayor of Sault St. Marie, Ontario, who had been a pretty good hockey player in years past, to take a pre-game penalty shot at Karen-the Mayor going in all-alone against the world's only female goalie. Her presence, along with the highly anticipated "shootout”, filled the arena and she received a standing ovation when she stopped the Mayor's shot. He received taunting boos as he returned to the stands. She played the first period, giving up tow goals on twelve shots as the Iron Rangers left the ice trailing 2-0. Lunney finished the game with the Iron Rangers winning 5-3.

Later on Koch again filled the Green Bay Arena when the rumor spread that she was going to start against the Bobcats. I hadn't planned to start her, but the sight of more than 5,000 fans in the arena changed my mind. I decided it would be good for hockey and for the Green Bay coffers. She played half of the first period but had to come out when she took one of Paul Coppo's slap shots on the knee above her leg pad and below her thigh pad. The score was 1-1 at the time.

As the season wore on Koch reached a plateau in her ability, partially caused by her small size. She never missed a practice and finally was accepted by all but the most chauvinist guys on the team. Unfortunately, she seemed to have a "death wish" for a facial scar caused by a hockey puck in a USHL game. She simply and consistently defied my orders to wear a mask while playing. After flagrantly removing her mask during all of the games after Christmas, I was forced to let her go with about ten games remaining in the schedule.

Koch left NMU the next semester and went to Canada to play in the Toronto area. She again made headlines throughout North America when she was barred by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association from playing on men's teams.

Today Karen is a legal secretary in Minneapolis. After her hockey days, she earned bachelors degree at Wayne State University and a Master's degree at the University of Dayton, both in the Liberal Arts. She holds a black belt in judo and is training in jujitsu. She also is writing and is illustrating her first children's book."

What I found most interesting is she thought of herself as just someone who wanted to play hockey, to simply be taken for her skills in a mans world. Isn't what we fought for as feminists in the 70's? I also found it curious that ultimately what may ended her career was her refusal to wear protective equipment, to this nurse very hard to understand. Someday I'd like to talk to her about this and other things.

Indiana Ice Melt under Chicago Steel

Friday night the Chicago Steel notched another one in the win column for their pre season warm ups. Both teams came to play but only one, the Steel to win last night at Bensonville's Edge Arena. The Ice dominated early but seemed to run out of legs and became a team of individuals. The Steel after taking 30 minutes to warm up caught their stride on the ice and looked well coached.

The venue at the Edge has been significantly upgraded since my first visit years ago. It now boasts an bar and sky boxes which can be rented for parties. Tickets on game day can be reserved for five dollars until 1:00 pm, parking is free, yes, even in this recession you can afford to take the family to to a Steel game. However one thing hasn't changed, one of the best things about seeing a game at the Edge is it's intimacy. Where ever you sit you are right on top of the ice, the sight lines are great. But the price is that the arena is often cold, so if you attend a game bring your favorite sweater or fleece even on a 80 degree day and you will be glad you did.

For those who have never seen the Steel they are members of the United States Hockey League or the American equivalent to the Canadian Major Junior Leagues. It is composed of young men under the age of twenty, has 14 teams divided into two divisions. All teams are based in the Midwest making for a “bus league” where games are only a few hours apart. The members of this league are funneled into the college system after “graduation” from the USHL.

Still it's pre season all these games are shake down cruses and are just a glimpse of what is to come for the season. If this is first snap shot of a team still finding it's legs things look good for the regular season. The kids in the USHL can skate, oh man can they hit and they even dig for the puck in corners. The regular season opens October 3rd against the USA Hockey team they will have all the bells and whistles for the fans out for opening night you can be sure. For a $7.00 ticket what's not to love?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blackhawks Training Camp

Sit Down And Shut UP
We are knee deep in Blackhawks camp this week, a poster on my favorite Hawks site, Second City Hockey posted this on youtube. To my friends in Belfast watching for Davy Phillips enjoy the coverage.

Sadly my day job is keeping me home from camp this year however this site is giving fine coverage to the event.

Friday night the Chicago Steel will be playing Indiana Ice at the Edge in Bensonville. With luck it will be a chance to see Blackhawk prospect 17 year old Cab Morris in goal for for Indiana. He looked great at rookie camp against the big boys in July he should be really strutting his stuff before a home town crowd against the Steel. Game time is 7:30, be there or be square!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Belfast Giants Drop Home Opener To Sheffield 3:2 in Shoot Out!

The boys of Belfast worked HARD last night putting 30 shots at Sheffield nettie Kevin Rieter to Sheffield's 22 drilled at Belfast's Nathan Craze but it would not be enough for a win. Both teams would hit the net for goals during the first period, Sheffield taking advantage of George Awada's second penalty of the night to gain that all important first goal advantage. Then with moments to go in the period Pierre-Luc Faubert found the back of Sheffield's net to tie the score, new game.

Second period as described by the Belfast Giants was an "revolving door" of penalties. The league statics show a game total a balanced 18minutes for 9 infractions for Belfast and 20 minutes for 10 infractions for the Steelers. What will show every time is the ability to capitalize on the power play and a rock solid penalty kill. Teams can talk about power play but the plain fact is they have to also have a deadly penalty kill in their pocket too. The first month of the season is often a "shake down" period of assessment of team needs, this is obviously something shaking down for the Giants.

Third period action started fast and furious with Scott Basiuk putting the Steelers a head with a PP goal at 4:10 into the period . Not to be denied the home crowd went crazy when Tim Cook evened the score for Belfast at 8:14. The game would end in a tie in regulation and ultimately with a Sheffield victory in a shoot out.

Today at 13:00 hours Central(Chicago) time the Giants and Steelers will face off again, this time in Sheffield. There will be no webcast of the game, updates are available from the league or the

There is good news to share! As was reported earlier in the season Giants mascot Gordy was hospitalized with the H!N! virus. He has been released and is now recovering at home. Everyone at Powderhornhockey wishes him a full and speedy recovery, lots of chicken soup for you!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Signs of the Times, Chitowndailynews turns out the lights.

It was announced today the the has ceased publication. As the vast majority of my blog entries are posted under both Powderhornhockey and the Dailynews this changes nothing for us here.

The editorial team of Patrick Kissane, Kris Gray and Jane Rickard will soon be announcing the new home of " Sit Down and Shut Up" . Meanwhile, life and hockey goes on unchanged, at your "View From the Rail" our batteries are charged, the lights are on and we are good to go.

There is hockey to cover, games to shoot and Powderhornhockey will be there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Belfast Giants Squish Hull Stingrays 3:2!

It was a good night for the boys of Belfast learning a lesson from last night scoring early and often. First goal came at 2:55 in the first frame,shortly after a kneeing penalty by Hull's Sylivan Couliter had expired. Belfast enforcer Sean McMorrow returned the favor with a 2:00 penalty for roughing in retaliation . That's the Sean we know and love from the American Hockey league, the new sheriff in town, keeping order. The rest of the game featured 15 shots on goal for Belfast and 21 for Hull, Belfast's Welsh nettie Nathan Craze was the starter for the night. Penalty minutes were not evenly divided between the teams with 8 minutes for the Giants and 20 for the Rays.

All in all not a bad weekend for the Giants. Both goalies got a start to work out the kinks away from the home crowd, by tweeted reports from Giants supporters attending the match the defence was reported as improved. The next game for the Giants is a home and home series against the Sheffield Steelers starting in Belfast on Saturday. Plenty of time for Coach Thornton to work on the power play and penalty kill.

Now if I could only find a way to get a plane ticket to Belfast...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Nottingham defeats Belfast in home opener 4-1

That pretty much says it all Nottingham dominated the entire game scoring within the first two minutes, the final score 4:1. There was no web cast for the game and the only transmission was via the "Cats Whiskers" of the Nottingham Panthers. Thank you to the kind folks in the Kingdom of the Giants chat room for the color commentary along the way.

Stats courtesy of the Belfast Giants Game Report.

Period Scores: 2-0, 1-1, 1-0
Penalty Mins: Not 21 - Bel 29
Powerplay: Not 3/11 - Bel 0/7
Shots On: Kevin St Pierre 32 - Stephen Murphy 35
Referee: Matt Thompson

Looking at the stats it brings three questions. First the goalie question, Stephen Murphy the Giants nettie turned away 31 shots. It begs the question whether he had proper defensive support? Not having had a visual of the game I can't comment beyond this is a coaching problem. A goalie should not be left all alone flapping in the breeze like laundry left out overnight. However this is something Coach Steve Thornton can best answer by proper coverage in today's game.

The second issue is the number of penalties, no team can win if they hand a man advantage to the opposition every shift change. Ugly goals may win games but stupid penalties loose them. While thinking of penalties Sean McMorrow gained his first time in the box for the season for "taking on the Panthers bench" according to the "Cats Whiskers" feed in the closing minutes of the game. McMorrow was given two minutes for roughing according to the feed, something has to be missing, that doesn't sound like a bench brawl by the time given.

Power play, needs work, the Giants were handed seven and did not capitalize on any of them.

Still it is early days and an away opener. These are the games where kinks are worked out. This game might have been kinkier than most but hockey unlike American football is a marathon not a sprint. Should the Giants finish the weekend with 2 points in their pocket and no injuries it will be well done. Tomorrow is another day and there will be yet another chance for the Giants they will be playing in Hull against the Stingrays 17:30 London time. That's 12:30 pm Central, grab a s sandwich and follow on Twitter.

For as Scarlett O'Hara says"Tomorrow, is another day."

Hockey Time in Belfast!

Ok, hockey fans in North America this is the day to get your errands done early for it is the season opener for the Belfast Giants today at 19:00 hours Belfast time or 14:00 hours Chicago time. (2:00 pm for those not on military time) . The Giants will be taking on the Nottingham Panthers in Nottingham.

There are new reasons for local interest in the Giants this season first is the Phillips brothers. David Phillips late of the Giants has inked a contract with the American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks the Rockford Icehogs. His brother Kevin Phillips has taken his place on the Belfast roster. Second Sean McMorrow long time AHL enforcer and member of last years Icehog line up is now a Giant. Obviously there is a bit of a Rockford and Belfast connection brewing, something this writer and photographer is very happy to see.

For those not lucky enough to have caught the flight last night at O'Hare the game will be Web Cast link at right just like last year. Unlike last season there is a nominal fee, to the hockey starved, McMorrow fans or just plain Giants fans it is well worth the price.

Giants roster for tonight's game is as follows:

4 Shane Johnson
31 Stephen Murphy
72 Pierre-Luc Faubert
41 George Awada
8 Tim Cook
71 Craig Peacock
32 Robbie Brown
16 Steve Thornton
7 Kevin Phillips
9 Evan Cheverie
26 Brandon Benedict
20 Mark Morrison
6 Tom Walsh
19 Colin Shields
23 Sean McMorrow
18 Graeme Walton
5 Michael Jacobsen
1 Nathan Craze
15 Pat Bateman

Notice something? 19 names, one of things that first caught my eye about this league was that like the old United Hockey League team rosters were small. Simply put these players skate their hearts out. With a small team and the big ice they play on conditioning and skating skill becomes a key factor in the game from the start of the season, the way it should be. It will be interesting to see how the addition of Sean McMorrow fits into a league where each player has to be flexible in his role. McMorrow when playing in the AHL filled the role of enforcer beautifully, but not as a goal scorer. I am looking forward to seeing how player coach Steve Thornton uses McMorrow's on ice skills to the Giant's advantage.

On a personal note, there are reports that beloved Giants mascot Gordie is in hospital possibly with H1N1, get well soon, Powderhornhockey's thoughts are with you.

Here we go, GAME ON!