UND HOCKEY: Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington in Third Round

Photo via Sioux Falls Stampede

GRAND FORKS, ND– As a wedding was set-up for Saturday afternoon on the floor of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, another marriage took place hours before, as incoming University of North Dakota defenseman Brent Johnson was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Sitting in a suite with his family, Johnson actually didn’t initially notice his name on the board.

“Actually, I wasn’t even looking,” said Johnson. “I was looking at my phone and then I looked up and it was pretty exciting. My heart kind of dropped for a second. Just a lot of emotions all at once. Unreal experience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now– especially with my family here with me. It’s something that’ll never forget. They’ve all been pulling the same rope that I have, so they know hard I’ve worked and it was special to have them here.”

Coming from Frisco, Texas, Johnson will be the first player to wear a North Dakota uniform from the Lone Star state and should be play for the Capitals, he’ll be the second player of record to hail from Texas, the first being Chris Brown from 2013 until 2016. Developing in the Dallas Stars Elite youth program, Johnson sees a lot of talent coming from the area from his experiences.

“It’s been a lot better and it’s growing fast,” Johnson mentioned of hockey in Texas. The guys are growing up and becoming hockey players and there’s some guys ahead of me that have come up. I think it’s a developing market and I’m really excited to see what the future holds for Dallas hockey.”

With the Draft being virtual again this year, the pomp and circumstance wasn’t at an NHL arena. Luckily for Johnson, North Dakota and The Ralph pulled out all the accommodations as they did last year for the 2020 Draft class that were slated to play for UND.

“It was amazing. Thanks to the staff for helping me put this together and allowing me to have such a special day. It was an unreal experience to see the building I’ll be playing at for the next four years. I can’t wait to get started.”

Johnson looked to be very dedicated to staying at North Dakota for the long haul, saying he had no changes in plans after getting drafted and was focused on a National Championship in the next four years. When talking about his incoming defender, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry was very eager to have him in the line-up.

“Just getting to know Brent over the last few months, it was something he was very excited for an when he name was called, him and his family were very excited. And we’re excited, too. It’s a point in time where he’ll never forget this moment, but not the work begins for him to have a productive season for us at North Dakota,” Berry said.

Berry continued, “He’s a very, very smart player. When you talk about smart players, you always wants those players who anticipate the next play. Even before the puck is on his tape, he knows where it’s going. And to add, he’s also ultra-competitive. He’s a very competitive player with a lot of offensive ability. We have a great, great player; but an even better person in our group.”

Johnson is coming off a solid season on the blueline in the USHL with 21 assists and 32 points in 47 games in his first full year. His offensive side is matched by his ability to keep the play in front of him defensively and protect his blindside well. One thing some scouting reports looked at was his skating style leading needing some work, which should come with time. While Johnson will be in the line-up this season, there is still things that are needed to work on, which Berry honed in on.

“He has very good offensive ability and he defends real well, but you can tell he’s a person who needs to grow his body a little bit,” mentioned Berry. “Him coming from Sioux Falls and coming here to train, which has already with the group; you can tell he’s going to get bigger and stronger with our group. We’re going to let time take place and we know he has the work ethic to do it.”

Fare Thee Well, NHL on NBC

With the Lightning’s 2nd straight Stanley Cup win on Wednesday, the NBC era of NHL TV history has paused with ESPN and Turner Sports coming into the fold next season. What start as an exclusive three-year, $200 Million TV deal with the Outdoor Life Network turned into a deal that will net the NHL over $4 Billion in their incoming deal with the new networks.

It was a joke to start, many fans in the US– already reeling from a season that was cancelled– now had their sport in one of the least attractive channels they could have thought about and one many didn’t know if they had or not on their cable provider. Don’t even get started on hotels having it for people on the road– even to the end of days with NBCSN.

But it progressed for the better. While the production was one that was nothing too different from other productions, the deal with NBC spawned many things like the outdoor games people can’t get enough of and more dedicated coverage to the game, as it was the first major sports property for OLN. Of course, it also gave people the horrid Tuesday All-Star Game and the beta-version of a rail cam for that event. Then it turned to Versus, a little more interesting of a name for a sports network, but it’s something that didn’t make people think it was just hockey, hunting, and (according to my friend and mentor Sean O’Connor) fish racing.

Versus allowed the NHL to have multiple games per week on the network, plenty of coverage around the game times, and possibly a new voice for things to come. NBC Universal saw the potential and bought up the Versus property, turning it to NBC Sports Network while signing the NHL to a 10-year, $2 Billion exclusive deal. Not without its hiccups, the NBCSN was still something the normal layperson had trouble finding, playoff coverage got bumped for horse racing on the main NBC network, and while some new personalities were able to shine– familiar voices, both good and bad, were around for the duration of it. Not to mention, more features happening like more mic’d up players and commentators between the benches. NBC did all they could to make some more entertainment for folks watching the games.

If nothing else, the NBC/NHL partnership allowed the league to have a dedicated spot for a long amount of time. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to dislike NBC and what fans wanted out of it– but when a media company as big as NBC Universal invests that much into the league, in the grand scheme; it helped with revenues for the league and was a hub for hockey in its tenure.

Fans are a fickle bunch when it comes to the presentation they want to have on their screens. Everyone is sick of the same teams over and over– but in the TV business, that’s the way to get ratings and advertising dollars. Will we see a change for ESPN and Turner?? Maybe not at the start of things. But that’s why ESPN+ exists for whatever their Center Ice parallel will be on that platform; all the games will exist from the local markets doing them.

The NHL on NBC didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, they just had to keep the vehicle of the NHL going. It put trust in the league with their long-term deal and in-turn, the league didn’t need to worry every other year where their national games were being held. People shouldn’t expect the wheel to be reinvented with ESPN or Turner either. Just keep the vehicle moving, be entertaining, and be informative– people are going to shout their hate for something into the social media void regardless of what’s put out there. Just keep things rolling and see what happens in seven years’ time.

Ottawa Senators Mirroring Their ’92-93 Pace

When the Ottawa Senators changed their jersey and logo to their (kind of) original one with the motto, “Back to Our Roots,” I don’t think they envisioned going THAT far back.

The 1992-93 Ottawa Senators won their first game 5-3 and then dropped their next nine games, including one in overtime. The 2020-21 Ottawa Senators won their first game 5-3 and have dropped their last seven, including one in overtime. The goal differential in the first nine games for the ’92-93 Sens was minus-22. For the ’20-21 Sens, minus-22.

I’m not saying…I’m just saying.

Coming into the season, the bar was quite low for the Ottawa Senators. Obviously in the midst of a rebuild, the team probably wasn’t going to see much of the top of the standings. However, the bar probably wasn’t as low as being better than their first year in the league, but the trends have them going in that direction. Even acquiring Matt Murray, Evgenii Dadonov, and Derek Stepan didn’t tip the needle of this team not being as horrendous as we’re seeing right now.

There’s always the thought of this being part of whatever “process” that the Senators are trying to build. There’s a good pipeline of prospects starting from Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Tim Stuetzle (can’t find the umlaut on this keyboard), who are already on the team, to plenty of drafted talent on the University of North Dakota roster– like Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, and Tyler Kleven, as well as former North Dakota defenseman Jonny Tychonick, who has found some solid footing since transferring to Nebraska-Omaha.

Yet, you have to wonder– will they be able to turn it around on their own as a rag-tag bunch of prospects taking the world by storm. It’s almost setting themselves up to be that way, as Ottawa seems to be quite the undesirable spot for free agents and trade candidates, alike. While it’s one thing to grow the team from the studs up and find success in lower leagues, it’s a whole other thing to do it on the pro level. It’s not impossible, just look at what the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals have done with their prospects; but they also had some helping veterans come along the way to guide those young teams to success. Can Ottawa get that same luck??

Pierre Dorian is doing what he can with what he’s given. Eugene Melnyk has been known to put his hand in the pot a little too much when it comes to decision making, but if you’re writing the checks; my guess is that they can get away with that– even if it can be detrimental to the team in the long-run.

However, I don’t know if it’s a good look for a team trying to get back on the upswing when they’re trending to be as bad as they were as an expansion team. As broadcasters like to remind fans, this team was one goal away from the 2017 Stanley Cup Final…and within 18 months, totally dismantled that team to make it almost recognizable.

Will the fans put up with much more before going completely apathetic?? Personally, my money is that they’re already at that apathetic stage and they’ll sit there catatonic on their TVs watching this team struggle and then have to fend off any rumors– fabricated or otherwise– about their longevity in the area, as Melnyk plays cat-and-mouse with moving the team closer to where people live in the downtown area…but those seems to be dashed.

At the end of the day, you have to do the cliche thing and take it game-by-game. Also, hope that your don’t do as bad as the first ever team. For reference, the ’92-93 Sens didn’t get their second win until game 23. Something for this team to shoot for…and maybe even get before that mark.

Is North Dakota Betting on Black a Little Too Much??

They say clothes make the man. If that’s the case, the University of North Dakota may want to invest in more black uniform sets because they have relied heavy on their “business” attire the past two weekends to help pull them through games. Whether it’s a mentality or some sorcery, the Fighting Hawks seem to play a bit different coming out in that all-black everything uniform set.

Yet, when does it become a crutch?? When does that mantra slowly fade and the ideal of a uniform changing everything not work anymore??

Maybe this is the season that gets put to the test, as UND does sport a solid 10-3-1 record to lead the NCHC standings, but still– the performances have left a bit to be desired after their exit from the bubble in Omaha. Granted, Adam Scheel’s nine wins and Jordan Kawaguchi’s 16 points lead the conference; something doesn’t seem quite right since the bubble and maybe clothing isn’t the best way to mask it.

Or maybe it is, as UND has worn the black uniform twice in the 2021 calendar year and won both games. In the bubble, they had a win and a tie in the all-black– putting their record this season to 3-0-1. Last season, they went 5-1-0 in the business attire, There is a method to the madness, but at the same time– there has to be something more there for the Hawks to get them motivated outside of a jersey color, right?? Why not just wear the black uniform the rest of the season and go on a run if the success is proven and there.

Personally, it does seem a bit alarming that it takes a jersey change as the carrot on a stick to get these players going. Especially after the solid bubble performance, especially since a lot of these players had last season taken away from them due to the pandemic. You’d think that there would been a little more hunger with the lack of games this season and they wouldn’t need a jersey gimmick to wake them up after a subpar performance.

I understand, this is a helluva thing to throw out there for a top-five ranked school, but it’s also something that shouldn’t be ignored. Though Scheel has nine wins, there has been holes to his game and he hasn’t really gotten the clean-up around his net from the team in front of him, leaving him out in the open after making the first save, while a tailing player comes to pick up the garbage in a wide open net. While it is a small sample size outside to bubble, going from 4.0 goals-per-game in the bubble to 2.75 outside of it is quite the drop and a little bit of an eyebrow raising circumstance when you see that the five-goal output month accounted for almost half of the goals combined in the last four games.

As I stated, if the black jerseys work as a carrot on the stick to get the guys hungry, wear them until they’re tattered if it gets results. However, there’s times it’s not always going to work and the underlying issue will need to be addressed when it comes to how a team adapts and how they persevere from that adaptation.

Could the IceRays Suspension Start a Lower Division Trend??

On Monday, the Corpus Christi IceRays suspended operations for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic and the concern for their team, fans, families, and the like. The positive cases in Nueces County is probably a cause of this, with 18,000 positive cases and 303 deaths; while also having severe outbreaks at living facilities and even the Houston Astros’ alternate site.

While this might usually go to my Clutch And Crab Hockey blog since it’s about the NAHL, this is something that could be the first of several teams making the tough decision to shutter down for the 2020-21 hockey season. Not just because of the ramifications of COVID, but also the uncertainty of the border opening for some leagues and differing regulations from state-to-state in regards to people needing to quarantine before being able to move about the area freely.

For the vast majority of minor league and junior teams, the box office is the biggest contributor for survival. Depending upon the regulations for the area, I would not be shocked to see more of these announcements coming out and leading to a big shuffle for teams and leagues to change schedules and for parent team– finding a spot for their prospective players. You see some NHL teams loaning out prospects to European clubs.

Could there be an off-chance that league make some kind of bubble season?? It’s an outside chance, sure. You have to think that they’d need to find a locale that could handle that sort of thing and then figure out logistics for it. Whether it looks like the NHL bubble or the MLS’ round-robin type tournament, a kind of season or tournament could be had for players and leagues to stay up and running; though it wouldn’t bring in as much money for the team or leagues that they would have hoped…it’d be at least something so they wouldn’t need to shut down for another season and have to deal with being without an end to two seasons of play.

Even with these measures, you never know what teams could still opt out because it’s not in the best interest of the team or community or anyone involved. That’s always a fear for some teams to get into a bubble and then have issues arise that set them back a little more than just opting out. We’re headed for a very odd time for lower division hockey, mostly because they are community based and provide a service to their area and should have a civil duty to help protect their community. Because of that duty, you’d have to think we’ll hear more suspension of operations due to playing not being in the best interest of the team and the area due to this pandemic.

On the Topic Of Networking

I’m not good at networking.

Maybe that’s not the right thing to say, because I can network– but I think I’m not good at forcing myself to network. I’m sure that shows in where I might be in my career with all of this thing.

And maybe it’s because I see people who force their way into things and try too hard to network while looking super desperate in doing so. After seeing that, I’d rather not network than appear to be a disingenuous ass. Those people might get a spot here and there, but in my eyes– I don’t know if giving up whatever moral convictions I might have when it comes to this journalism career to be a boot-licker is the right route for me. I’d rather the work I put in be the determining factor in that.

Of course, maybe the work is the reason I’m in the spot I’m in– so it’s very much up for debate.

I’ve always been convinced that you do the work and you’ll get rewarded for it. If it’s one of those “eventual” things, then I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting after almost two decades. Stuff I think is great never gets traction while the dumb stuff is what blows up and makes me wonder what the fuck the algorithm is for any of this.

Back to the networking side of things, there’s a lot of people in the media that I consider friends or acquaintances and I think because of that, I don’t want to endanger that relationship to be an overzealous person in angling for a higher standing in order to make gains for my end-goal. There’s no space for that in a friendship that uses each other. It’s got to be symbiotic, baby.

Granted, at this point in time, probably the best I’m not in a bigger journalism job as a career since there’s little to talk about. Still, thinking in the bigger picture, I just wish I could have “networked” better when I had clout and popularity in order to actually have made something more out of this freelancing situation I’m in right now.

And that’s what’s up.

Now Hear Me Out, Practice Rinks

With the idea of the NHL coming back around July or whatever and so many weird scenarios being thrown out there, the location(s) of the events are going to be crucial. Of course, the idea of a big, vacant arena is a trippy situation that’ll border on the absurd to open up the venue when getting no revenue out of it.

But what about practice facilities?? This is something Captain Chaos Jonny P thought of during the April 29th edition of Face Off Hockey Show.

Sure, there’s going to be some players weary of it because the training facilities aren’t going to be up to snuff with the exception of the main weight room area, but why not think about going to the practice rinks in order to play these games?? It seems like something that’ll won’t really cost that much in comparison to the actual giant arena.

There’s not going to be fans in attendance, thus not going to be need for much arena staff, outside of bare bones security; the big time presentation on ice isn’t needed– just speakers. A temporary set-up for the media could be put up if need be, because most practice rinks don’t have the control center for big money productions. The rinks are all the same in dimensions and really the only thing that may not be up to snuff could be the system that holds the nets on– but you’d hope that’s been addressed when they built the facility knowing that a NHL team would be doing their training there and you want the game-experience there to not really mess up a rhythm.

Looking at all angles, it only makes sense because it’ll be low overhead when you look at going practice rink versus the big arena. It’ll already be unique in the situation we’re in right now, so why not double and triple down on the situations, while saving a few bucks for not having to open the big stage when not making any income from it at all. Just a thought to save some kind of money– which could really help everyone in the end going forward.

Clutch N’ Crab Hockey Weekend Preview 021

MARYLAND BLACK BEARS at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights

Every weekend is pretty much a playoff weekend for the Black Bears as they continue to fight for the last playoff spot in the East Division. This weekend, they head to WBS and maybe try to close the gap on the Knights, who are four points ahead of the Black Bears going into the weekend. After a split against Maine last weekend, the Black Bears are looking to get some kind of offense going, as they haven’t scored more than two goals per game in their last three games. With Brayden Stannard being out the last couple of weekends, the Black Bears will need others to step up should he be out again this weekend coming up. On the upside, Jackson Sterrett has been getting some puck luck recently, while Aaron Swanson has jump into a more prominent role as his tenure has gone on.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 MEN vs. Elmira, Lebanon Valley

In the last weekend of the regular season, the Mustangs try to improve their spot in the UCHC and perhaps get as high as second in the UCHC, but will have to battle against Elmira– who is right behind the Mustangs in the standings. If nothing else, the Mustangs will use this as a dress rehearsal going forward, though their second half of the season has been a little rougher down the line, as they are 6-5-2 since the semester resumed in 2020. The upside that their conference record is strong and they beat both Elmira and Lebanon Valley on the road just one month ago.

STEVENSON UNIVERSITY MUSTANGS D3 WOMEN at Alvernia, Wilkes

With a 4-1-3 record in their last eight, the Mustangs head into their last weekend of the regular season and sit second in the UCHC South Division. Facing off against two teams lower in the table and two teams they’ve beaten already this year, the Mustangs have their own destiny in their hands if they want to stay in second spot. The only down side if that they are below .500 on the road this season, which could make it a little more difficult for them to get points, but this team has faced adversity this season and come out the other end fine. Here’s hoping going into playoffs, they’ll be able to use this tune-up weekend as a jumping off point for a bigger run.

Now Hear Me Out: Beer League Ducks

Disney-Plus is going to put together a series called “The Mighty Ducks” with news breaking yesterday that Emilio Estevez is playing Gordon Bombay. The plot is a 13-year-old getting booted of a Junior Mighty Ducks team and his mother helping form another team– almost akin to the first movie. That’s all well and good, but it’s be done.

So…now…hear me out: The Mighty Ducks are back, but as beer leaguers and it’s on the FX Network since Disney owns FX.

Sure, the story of Shaun “Goldberg” Weiss being busted for burglary while possibly under the influence of meth; it’s something I think would be fantastic for the fans of the Mighty Ducks who have now grown up and moved on with their lives.

Just think of it– Charlie Conway trying to still relive his glory of the Junior Goodwill Games and not being able to commit to a relationship; Adam Banks coming back to play, but thanks to where he moves– he has to go to a different team; Russ Tyler going off to Hollywood, but coming back to hang out in cameos every now and again. It’s something that could blend “It’s Always Sunny…” with original tropes of the movies. It does what “The Beer League” never got a chance to do– air on TV.

Plus, the nostalgia is real. People are hyped about this, some of the cast got together last year for a reunion, it’s something that’d be great to see how they grew up– rather than hashing out another thing like the movie. I mean, it’s not like Disney would have a bad ending for it; so why not go the opposite route and make it appeal to the generation that grew up on it?? Yes, Disney-Plus could still have their version, but why not throw a bone to the old-timers in this.

Also, let’s not kid ourselves– outside of Kenan Thompson and Josh Jackson; I’m sure those actors would love to have a prominent role like this again and have people geeked up to see it. Sadly, I doubt it’d ever happen (much like my idea of a dark comedy seeing Charlie Conway in the Coach Bombay role), but maybe one day…in another timeline.

Coming June 2021– 3ICE

From 3ice.com

It was announced that a Canadian 3-on-3 summer hockey league, 3ICE, is going to be starting in June 2021 and will have a solid TV deal. TSN and RDS picked up the rights for it on the Canadian side, while CBS Sports Network will be broadcasting the championship game.

Now, this is not unique to summer hockey, as the 3HL is a thing and we all know about Da Beauty League (and my thoughts on that thing). The difference here, is that it’ll be a traveling show and it’ll be on TV. With nine stops and a tournament every stop– that’s a nice cure for people who don’t own a calendar and don’t know when it’s October.

It’s a smart move by TSN, who don’t have much coverage of things in the summer time, as it’ll help draw people to watch 3-on-3 hockey. The interesting play is CBS Sports Network getting in on it, but only doing the championship game– whatever that might entail. Of course, CBSSN is known for broadcasting college hockey, so they have the talent to call and analyze games, but why not go through the whole summer?? I don’t know how many pressing shows that CBSSN actually has that they couldn’t go through with it, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose– it’s getting on US TV, so huzzah for that.

What’s going to be interesting is to see who comes out for these teams in terms of name recognition. You’d have to think that 3ICE would want to go ahead and get some recognizable names to move tickets and get people excited about watching it– which would mean trying to pluck from the Da Beauty League, as the 3HL runs in the fall through spring. Can it make some noise?? Sure, it’s hockey in Canada on Canadian TV– people will watch out of curiousity. The big thing is that if it was regularly broadcasted on US TV, what impact to the fans would it have?? Again, hockey people will watch if the timing is right, but who knows what kind of staying power it’ll produce.

Luckily, the rules are simple, there’s tournaments every tour stop, and it could produce a new folk hero or let people relive their days playing pond hockey…but in the summer. It’s going to be a faster game, a quicker game, and something that’ll keep the most short-attention spanned interesting…or that’s the hope.

One of the more interesting things is the timing of it, which could help its cause. The fact we’re still 18-months away allows the league to actually build hype for it, plot it out effectively so that it will have a model that works in terms of profitability for the league, players, and such; as well as not rushing to the ice like some other places would have when it comes to a new idea and hurrying it to market before it’s fully developed. Though people may forget about it because of time, it’s now up to the marketing team at 3ICE to show their moxie and make sure that people keep it in the back of their mind. With a place like TSN behind them, it’ll be easy above the 49th Parallel; it’ll be attracting US hockey fans to it that might be a little harder without a constant TV presence.