What do hockey players do during the offseason?

21. April 2014 11:00 by Tiffany Parotto in Hockey  //  Tags: , ,   //   Comments ()

The playoffs are underway for professional hockey. The teams vying for the chance to take home Lorde Stanley aren't off the clock yet. But not all teams can compete. Teams that did not qualify for the playoffs, will reconvene in the fall for the 2014-15 season. Until then, the players have the entire offseason to train, vacation and relax.Maybe it is the change of pace that gives players some much-needed R&R. Whatever the reasoning, it remains proven that professional hockey players love to hit the links when they aren't on the rinks. Unfortunately, sometimes this hobby can take a dangerous turn, as players have been known to injure themselves on the fairway.Turns a lot of the pros game a mean game of golf. Perhaps it is the similarities between swinging a hockey stick and swinging a golf club that make golf such an attractive downtime activity for some of hockey's greatest  players.

Enviable handicaps

Many players have found great success on the course, at least as far as their handicaps are concerned. For those of you who aren't up on the game of golf, a "handicap" reflects a golfer's relative skill.  You want to have as low a handicap as possible.

The number is calculated based on the golfer's most recent rounds of play and signifies how far over or under par they generally play. For example, professional golfers have handicaps in the negatives, meaning, they are expected to score under par when they play.

While professional hockey players have yet to reach that pro-circuit level of play, there are a number of retired and current players who have handicaps near zero - quite an impressive feat when you consider these guys are playing on some of the best courses in the country.

The Pros with Golf Game

John-Michael Liles of the Carolina Hurricanes and Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins are probably the two best golfers out of the current crop of pro players, sporting a 0.8 and 0.6 handicap, respectively. Savard won his club championship in 2012. The championship is just the latest addition to the player's wide array of hockey accolades, which include a Stanley Cup win in 2011 and two NHL All-Star appearances. Liles will have time to perfect his game and catch up to Savard this spring, as the Hurricanes aren't in playoff contention.

Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames has found his time spent on the golf green is influential to his play on the ice. With a handicap of 3.6, he finds that the nerves of steel that golfers develop can be very useful on the ice, too. There must be something to the lefty center's approach, as he his currently ranked 7th in the league for game-winning goals.

While the Washington Capital's Alex Ovechkin may be just an average golfer on the whole, he does merit a special shout out for knocking in a hole-in-one during the first round of golf he ever played.

Meanwhile the "Finnish Flash," Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks, clocks in at a very respectable 5.2 handicap. With the announcement that this will be his final season in the NHL, we can only expect that his golf game will improve in his retirement.

Offseason injuries
Just because these players are spending time away from the rink, don't think they are immune to injury. Just this past offseason, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers managed to swing a club with such force that the shaft shattered in his hands, requiring tendon surgery to his index finger.

Fortunately, Giroux has made a full recovery, managing to become one of the top scorers during the second half of the season. His injury came only a few years after Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, sustained a knee ligament injury during the offseason after he got his foot stuck between the pedals of a golf cart. He has since made a full recovery and will be an instrumental part of the Colorado Avalanche's bid for the championship during this year's playoffs.

While golf and hockey may seem like two of the most dissimilar sports out there, more and more professional hockey players are putting down their sticks and skates and picking up some clubs and spikes during the offseason.

If you could play a round of golf with any hockey player, who would it be and why? Tell us in the comments.

Olympic Hockey: The Final Four Faceoff

19. February 2014 15:25 by Tiffany Parotto in Hockey  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

The NHL draws the best hockey talent from around the world. Every four years, during the 2014 Winter Olympics, these international stars return to their home countries to play for the gold. While this means that fans have to take a break from watching their favorite teams play each other, it doesn't mean they have to stop watching their favorite players. This year in Sochi, Russia, of the 100 players in the final four teams in the running for the gold, the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden 89 of them are NHL players.  

Team USA 
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of Team USA hockey's 25 man roster is from the NHL, and this year, they are in it to win it. You may remember Team USA's heartbreaking loss to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. If you don't, here's a recap:

The U.S. was undefeated in Olympic tournament play going into the gold medal match with Canada. Down by one goal at the end of the second period, Team USA was able to tie it up in the last period, sending the game into overtime. After seven minutes of overtime play, Canadian Sidney Crosby scored on U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, winning the game for Canada - it was his only goal during the game.

Naturally, after coming so close four years ago, the United States is determined to bring home the gold this year. To do so, they have assembled a team of top-notch talent from across the NHL, five of whom are among the top 20 goal-scorers in the league (Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski). Team USA has only won two gold medals in Olympic hockey, the last one being the spectacular "Miracle on Ice" game in 1980.

Patrick Kane
As a right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane is not only a current Stanley Cup champion, but also the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. This isn't Kane's first go around with the Stanley Cup, either. In 2010 he scored the winning goal in the finals during overtime to beat the Philadelphia Flyers. With the second-highest scoring record in the NHL, Kane is ready to take home the gold this year after coming so close in 2010.

Phil Kessel
Another high-scoring forward from the NHL, Kessel can be seen playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL season. He spent his formative years training under Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team of amateur and collegiate players who beat the greatest hockey power of their time, the Soviet Union. Kessel has already proved to be the leading scorer in the 2014 Winter Olympics, accumulating four goals and three assists in only three games.

Team Canada
As the current Olympic champions, Canada is back to defend its gold medal. Unfortunately, their history of Olympic play outside of North America is not reassuring - they haven't won a medal outside of North America since 1952. That is a 60-year trend that the team will have to compete with going into Sochi, which, by the way, is not in North America. The team seems confident in its chances, being led by captain Sidney Crosby, who is often hailed as the next Wayne Gretzky, or as we like to call him, Wayne Nextzky. The team is rounded out by a solid defense. In fact, the Canadian defense is so good, they've been outscoring the forwards.

Sidney Crosby
Often referred to as "The Next One" - a spin off of Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's nickname, "The Great One" - Sidney Crosby is determined to lead Team Canada to another gold medal victory. A center for the Pittsburgh Penguins, during the 2008-09 season he became the youngest person to win the Stanley Cup. Along the way, Crosby has picked up many game day superstitions, such as not calling his mother and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
A defensive player for the San Jose Sharks, Vlasic has been making quite a name for himself so far during tournament play. A Montreal native, he is in his eighth season with the NHL, which is quite an accomplishment considering he is only 26 years old. His pairing with teammate Drew Doughty has been getting a lot of attention for the way the two seem as though they have been playing together for years. Doughty is a defense player for the Los Angeles Kings and is currently the leading Olympic scorer on Team Canada with four goals.

Team Finland
After pushing home team Russia out of competition, Finland has risen to become a force to be reckoned with. Its roster features 14 NHL players, including Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild, Lauri Korpikoski of the Phoenix Coyotes and Tuomo Ruutu from the Carolina Hurricanes. Team Captain Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks led the Fins to a 3-1 win over Russia. This could be the beginning of a Cinderella story for the Finnish team as they advance through the ranks to potentially  play Olympic favorites Canada and the USA.

Tuukka Rask
The Boston Bruins goalie made 37 saves during the Olympic men's hockey match, ending Russia's chance of winning gold and closing the game with a 3-1 victory. Rask leads the league with the most shutouts this season and comes in 4th with his save percentage.

Teemu Selanne

Teemu Selanne, nicknamed "The Finnish Flash," proves age is just a number. At 43, the Anaheim Ducks' right winger looks to help push his country's team into the gold medal match. Selanne scored 76 goals in the 1992-93 season, and holds the league record for most goals by a rookie. Now a six-time Olympian, with two bronze medals, and a silver medal under his belt, Selanne is also the all-time leader in scoring at the Olympic ice hockey tournament.

Team Sweden
Sweden looks to become the second repeat champion at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Ranked No. 1 in the world, after their 2013 World Championship win, it's clear the Swedes will be a tough team to beat. Stacked with more than 20 NHL players, including Erik Karlsson, Gabriel Landeskog and Oliver Ekman-Larrsson, Sweden is predicted to take the gold medal.

Daniel Alfredson
The 41-year-old Detroit Red Wings forward and Selanne may be considered the old-timers on the ice, but each holds their own. Alfredson led Sweden in scoring in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games with two goals and three assists in four games.

Henrik Lundqvist
"King Henrick," goaltender for the New York Rangers, is no stranger to the Winter Olympics either, having led Team Sweden to their second Olympic gold medal. Lundqvist is the only goalie in league history to record 30 wins in each of his first seven seasons.

One thing's for certain the final four Olympic men's hockey teams are stacked with serious skill, and a roster of the NHL's best. Who do you think will take home the gold?

NHL Lockout Reflections

12. October 2012 13:05 by Julie Merar in Hockey  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments ()

Posting Graphic Practically every major sport has had a labor dispute in the last decade. Just last year, the NFL had a prolonged lockout that ended just two months before the season was set to begin, and the NBA season was shortened by about 20 games and began a month later than usual. Both leagues are on relatively solid ground right now, but the NHL is currently in the midst of its second lockout since the 2004-2005 season, when the entire season was canceled.

While the situation has yet to reach the critical level the one eight years ago did, things are not looking good for fans of the NHL. The dispute began back in September when the current collective bargaining agreement expired, and since then the owners and players have yet to agree on any terms. So far, the pre-season and first two weeks of the regular season have already been canceled, and unless any progress is made in the near future, more cancelations are sure to come.

So what's causing the stalemate between the two sides? The biggest area of contention rests in proposed changes to the CBA offered by the owners. There are a number of issues, but some of the most significant include a decrease in the amount of hockey related revenue the players get from 57 percent to 46 percent. Owners also want to place a maximum term of five years on all new contracts while also eliminating the existence of signing bonuses. Since the original offers were made there have been several counter offers, neither of which has been accepted by either side.

By early October, the sides had not exchanged offers in several weeks, but there have been hints that they may be closing in on agreement. After meetings held on October 10 and 11, ESPN reported that the players union was working toward a new proposal.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the season, many NHL players have packed up and started playing elsewhere, much like how New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith did last year when he played in China before coming back stateside. Henrik Zetterberg, a forward for Detroit Red Wings is heading to Europe to play for Switzerland's EV Zug while Philadelphia Flyers' centers Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere are playing in Germany.

Will the NHL resolve its labor issues anytime soon? It's hard to say, but given that the owners and players both stand to lose a great deal of money, it would be unwise for them to cancel the season for the second time in 10 years.

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