Saturday, October 18, 2008

Faceoff Follies

Leafs Faceoff Follies

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made it no secret that they are in rebuilding mode, or more accurately for long time followers, building mode. That is no excuse for poor performance in the faceoff circle. A centre snagging the puck doesn't guarantee a goal right off the draw but it certainly makes it harder for the opposition to pot the puck into the twine.

With faceoff specialists in the form of Joe Nieuwendyk as Special Assistant to the General Manager and Keith Acton as Assistant Coach this is one area where the Leafs have an excellent opportunity for improvement. Nieuwendyk no doubt has a lot of paper work to deal with in his day job, but surely Acton could spend more time on faceoffs with his pivots. Dealing with draws is done but these days the stats show it needs more practice.

Pittsburgh beat Toronto 4-1 last night but looking at the faceoff stats that's no surprise:

Mayers - 3/5 - 60%
Grabovski - 5/10 - 50%
Stajan - 2/4 - 50%
Antropov - 2/5 - 40%
Mitchell - 5/14 - 36%
Moore - 4/16 - 25%

Compare that to Pittsburgh's pivots:

Crosby - 16/22 - 73%
Talbot - 5/8 - 63%
Staal - 7/12 - 58%
Zigomanis - 5/11 -45%

Head-to-head versus Crosby no Leafs centre could win more than 50% of the draws against him.

9-out-of-12 games played tonight were won by the team with the better faceoff stats. In the age of the salary cap, puck possession off the draw is as cost effective as it gets.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Seeing Green

My son's hockey season recently started. His skating and puck handling improved tremendously after only one week of sports camp. It dawned on me that he might move up a level in house league. It was not to be. His league only has enough players for a blue team or a green team, and white seems to be a touch above his skill level. With so many first time players and skaters, it looks as though the team will stay in the green level.

At first I was a bit disappointed but quickly came to my senses. The first time I laced up my son's skates I vowed to never, ever become one of "those parents" - the ones who shove instead of support, who guilt instead of guide, who pounce instead of praise. For a few minutes, upset that my spawn had gone down a level instead of up, I became one of "those parents" and was disgusted with myself.

House league is about the sheer fun and joy of hockey, at least it should be. The kids on the team who had never skated until tryouts deserve to play Canada's game as much as the ones who were seemingly born into blades. House league should never be about what colour level our kids are in; it has to be about learning the basics and enjoying the game.

This season I'll be seeing green and loving every minute of it.