Workin’ For The Weekend: A Texas New Year “True”

spandau ballet
Is it true? Uh-huh-huh-huh-huuuu. Happy New Year!

There are so many great songs of the 80’s that could either be about love or about crippling drug habits. The double-entendre songwriting mentality worked for so many bands of that decade. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you easily digestible music from 30 years ago. And let’s be honest, we love those songs because they speak to two completely different sides of the brain. It doesn’t make them weird or trashy, but magical and nostalgic.

A recent track that fits this bill perfectly careened across my internet airwaves. I immediately began singing and playing that air sax I’ve had tucked away in the attic all these years. The culprit? Spandau Ballet doing “True”, one of their greatest songs and one of my favorites from the 80’s.

Unrewarded love or a pill popping problem? You be the judge. I choose to take my own escape route when explaining this song. Here goes. The man in this story wants to always speak the truth – good, bad, ugly, mean, hateful, kind, smart – but never really does. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. “I know this much is true”, “Why do I find it hard to write the next line”, “This is the sound of my soul”, all seem like a bandit of truth, stealing only the words and actions needed to get by without revealing too much. Heavy, I know.

And so we watch our hockey team fumble through occasional games only to show us how insanely brave they can be. The “True” nature of this team sometimes gets lodged beyond what it’s willing to reveal. And to that, I say, “Get it together”.

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My Conversion to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)

KHL Map. Courtesy of EliteProspects.com
KHL Map. Courtesy of EliteProspects.com

In case you missed it, the NHL is still in the midst of their lockout – a long, drawn out, rapidly becoming ridiculously crazy, losing fans lockout. However, this could well be changing soon, but for now we are still without NHL hockey. Luckily I live close to AHL hockey and have been a fan of the OKC Barons for a couple of seasons now, but the lockout has even touched upon that, creating an odd hybrid, neither fish nor fowl. In mid-October I ventured forth into new uncharted territory – the KHL – the Kontinental Hockey League. A league spanning from the Czech Republic, Bratislava, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan to the full length of Russia from West to the East, all the way to Khabarovsk. And I confess – I’ve grown very fond of that Russian Machiavellian beast.

The KHL was formed in 2008 out of its precursor the Russian Super League, and the season runs from early September to mid-February followed by playoffs. Today, the KHL consists of 26 teams spanning the length of Eastern Europe and Russia, split into two conferences, East and West with two divisions within each Conference. (By the way, @ChunkletsHockey has a very fine KHL blog over at The Road to Khabarovsk with updates on the KHL goings-on. Check it out!)

Eastern Europe Russia with KHL cities
Eastern Europe and Western Russia with KHL cities marked in Red.

EAST (12 teams)

Kharlamov Division

Chernyshev Division

Ak Bars – Kazan Amur – Khabarovsk
Avtomobilist – Ekaterinburg Avangard – Omsk
Metallurg – Magnitogorsk Barys Astana – Astana, Rep. of Kazakhstan
Neftekhimik – Nizhnekamsk, Rep. of Tartarstan Metallurg – Novokuznetsk
Traktor – Chelyabinsk Salavat Yulayev Ufa – Ufa, Rep. of Bashkortostan
Yugra – Khanty-Mansiysk Sibir – Novosibirsk

WEST (14 teams)

Bobrov Division

Tarasov Division

Dinamo Riga – Riga, Latvia CSKA Moskva – Moscow
Donbass – Donetsk, Ukraine Dynamo Minsk – Minsk, Belarus
Dynamo Moskva – Moscow HK Atlant – Moscow
HC Lev Praha – Prague, Czech Republic Lokomotiv – Yaroslav
HC Slovan Bratislava – Bratislava, Slovak Republic Severstal– Cherepovets
SKA – St. Petersburg Spartak Moskva – Moscow
Vityaz Chekov – Moscow Torpedo – Nizhny Novgorod

As you can see above, many of the KHL team names themselves – Torpedo, Traktor, Lokomotiv, Metallurg – hark back to the Soviet Union, the days of communist idealism and industry, along with authoritarian leadership, which led to Russia’s place in history as one of the two Superpowers of the mid-20th century. Many of today’s KHL teams were founded directly following World War II within the Soviet League which was disbanded in 1992; the Soviet League was followed by the International Ice Hockey League (IIHL) from 1992 to 1996, which was then followed by the Russian Super League from 1999 to 2008.

A few interesting historical tidbits about the teams:

  • Dynamo Moskva – in the early days was sponsored by the KGB;
  • Spartak Moskva – was founded in 1946 and the name refers to the Roman gladiator Spartacus;
  • CSKA Moscow – originally the Soviet Army team founded in 1946;
  • SKA St. Petersburg – formed in 1946, another Soviet Army team;
  • Metallurg Magnitogorsk – known by most as Evgeni Malkin’s team, but also depicted in Dave King’s outstanding book, King of Russia, which describes his year coaching the team in 2005-06;
  • Slovan Bratislava (nicknamed Belasí – Sky Blues) – while Slovan is the newest KHL team it is actually the oldest historically, as it was formed in 1921 – even older than almost all of the NHL teams!

Regardless when the NHL returns, and they will at some point, and most likely very soon, I will remain a KHL fan. In my boycott of all things NHL this season, I am now the proud owner of two KHL jerseys! I leave you to guess which two teams I now represent here in the U.S.  Someday I even plan to visit Russia to witness some of their teams play – it is on my rapidly expanding Hockey Bucket List already. Yes, I’ve followed my favorites Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Nail Yakupov and Ilya Kovalchuk, among many others, and I’ve now watched all 26 teams play at least once this season.

I’ve also focused on the lower ranked Russian teams with no NHL superstars – teams with heart and soul, but always the underdog. My favorite by far this season is the eastern outpost of the KHL – Amur Khabarovsk – a team full of youth, heart, the toughest travel schedule of any hockey team in the world, and the ever evolving KHL intrigues. Their top tier Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame coach Hannu Jortikka was fired in mid-December only to be replaced by their previously fired coach Alexander Blinov. And meanwhile the team continues to fight their way through to the end of the season. The Vince Lombardi quote “winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything” strikes a chord with me here. These situations always test character, perseverance and strength – and this team has a great deal of all of that which I greatly admire.  I cheer every success, no matter how large or small, and commiserate with every loss.

OKC Barons fans will recall that Yann Danis played for Amur during his 2010-11 season and this season, former OKC Barons’ defenseman Kirill Tulupov has spent part of this KHL season with Amur. Our lives are made of such connections and even through extension, a hockey team in Khabarovsk feels closer even though it is over 6,000 miles away. In past years watching games in Russia would have been impossible – but today’s technology makes it very easy when games are streamed online. Give them a try! The ice is larger, so it is a different style of hockey – more open, more focus on offense, but what amazingly beautiful hockey. Yes, you might have to wake up rather early in the morning to catch one of eastern teams play on home ice, but it is worth it. Grab that steaming large mug of freshly brewed coffee, sit back, relax, and enjoy some Russian hockey!

And, if Russian and NHL legend Viacheslav “Slava” Alexandrovich Fetisov has his way, the future of international hockey will encompass a Global Hockey League, one in which the KHL is expanded dramatically (and this is already underway!) and the winners of both the KHL’s Gagarin Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup will face off for a World Cup. This would bring all hockey cultures much closer than ever before and create an entirely new level of competition! Can you imagine? The mere thought makes me giddy!

Martindale & Cornet Re-Assigned To Stockton

AHL Hockey: Oct 05 Barons vs Aeros Preseason
Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

Yesterday, the Oklahoma City Barons, in accordance with the Edmonton Oilers, re-assigned both Ryan Martindale and Philippe Cornet to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL.

Martindale, plagued by an early season knee injury, apparently is at full strength. Impressive out of camp, he heads back to an ECHL destination where he spent virtually his entire rookie pro season last year. I’m anxious to see how he does. The coaching staff in OKC seemed willing to use him in roles that really played to Ryan’s strengths, mainly in the face off circle. But with a guy like Tanner House doing those things well, it appears that for now they’ll give Martindale some ice time in the ECHL.

Cornet, a dandy of a scorer in the ECHL earlier this season, just can’t find the same scoring touch in the AHL. And with a stacked lineup in OKC, finding ice time to do so has been difficult. His minutes have dwindled, and so has his confidence. More than any other prospect, Cornet seems the most questionable moving forward. Most believe he’s given us enough of a glimpse into his world of skills to render himself potentially done as an Oiler/Baron.

Yet the real head scratcher is that the Barons continue to ice a CHL guy in Erick Lizon, while sending a winger like Cornet down. But if we’ve learned anything during this AHL effected NHL lockout season — weird stuff happens.

Update: Saturday, Cornet scored the opening goal for the Stockton Thunder against the Las Wranglers. Martindale, finished with three shots on net. The Thunder play their next game on New Year’s Eve at home against Utah.

Official Release:

The Edmonton Oilers re-assigned forwards Philippe Cornet and Ryan Martindale to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, Barons General Manager Bill Scott announced today.

Cornet, a 6-0, 196-pounder from Val-Senneville, PQ was assigned to Oklahoma City on November 22. He played in eight games with the Barons. He returns to Stockton where he has 19 points (8-11-19) and is +8. Cornet, the Oilers 5th round draft choice (133rd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has played the previous two seasons with the Barons. In 135 games, he has 60 points (31-29-60). Last season, he led the Barons in goals with 24 and was named to the Western Conference AHL All Star Squad.

Martindale, a 6-3, 207-pounder from Oshawa, Ontario has played in seven games this season with the Barons, registering three assists. The Oilers 3rd round draft choice (61st overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has played in 57 games as a pro between Oklahoma City and Stockton. In those games, he has 20 points (6-14-20).

Erick Lizon Does The “Chicken Wing”

Erick Lizon, brought in by the Oklahoma City Barons to strike fear into the hearts of AHL teams from Texas, has yet to engage in a fight. But he still manages to do his thang without ever removing his gloves. In his pre-game comments last night, Barons Coach Todd Nelson, discussed the role of Lizon with the current Barons:

His presence changes the dynamic. Having him skate in warmups and occasionally stand up on the bench is enough.

Okay then. Last night, he got a little angsty and gave us a glorious chicken wing unlike the Cox Center has seen since the mid-90’s. It’s hard to tell (because the AHL Live quality and camera work isn’t fabulous), but as he skates to the penalty box he gives a quick arm flap. I love it and hate it all at the same time. Hat tip to you, Sir Lizon.

Erick Lizon Chicken Wing

Oklahoma City Barons Beat San Antonio Rampage In Shootout

AHL Hockey: Dec 28 Barons vs Rampage
Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

It was inevitable that the Oklahoma City Barons would win a shootout this season. I just never dreamed it would be in a game prior to 2013, against the San Antonio Rampage, with Olivier Roy in net. But after losing all three shootouts this year (and all to the Houston Aeros), the Barons finally earn one as well as that coveted extra point. It would take 45 shots in regulation and in overtime to get just two goals around Jacob Markstrom. But eventually the Barons would win a shootout game in OKC with a 3-2 final.

The early goings of the first period were all San Antonio, with Oklahoma City slightly awkward both offensively and defensively. So it was pertinent for Olivier Roy to be good. In only his ninth start of the season, he seemed prepared for the Rampage despite a few major hiccups that nearly cost his team dearly. Nonetheless, he was swift to the puck in the first period, and it was his solid play that allowed the Barons to motor through the back half of the opening period in dynamic form. After one, the score would be 0-0, but both teams had double-digit shots, and only one penalty a piece. The real excitement began in the second.

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Chris VandeVelde Gets Three Game Suspension

AHL Hockey: Dec 15 Barons vs Rampage
Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved .

Announced today, Oklahoma City Barons centerman, Chris VandeVelde, has been suspended three games for a check to the head of a Texas Stars players in a game Friday night. What’s interesting about the suspension is that it’s three games. The AHL offices must have seen something that I didn’t, but it indeed was a shot to the head, and it’s hard to argue a three game suspension as a result. The other interesting piece to the puzzle is that no penalty was called on the ice following the play. Not unusual for that to happen, but it does typically tip the scales towards more games suspended when a penalty is called on the ice. Nonetheless, his suspension begins tonight against the San Antonio Rampage.

Official Release:

The American Hockey League today announced that Oklahoma City Barons center Chris VandeVelde has been suspended for three (3) games as a consequence of an illegal check to the head of an opponent in a game at Texas on Dec. 27.

VandeVelde will miss Oklahoma City’s games tonight (Dec. 28) vs. San Antonio, Monday (Dec. 31) vs. Texas and Tuesday (Jan. 1) at Houston.

Taylor Hall Gets The Hat Trick & Barons Win

Quick recap tonight. Taylor Hall was dialed in tonight, and scored three goals (two of which were carbon copies of one another) as the Barons defeated the Texas Stars in Cedar Park with a final of 5-4.

Again this was a game that featured some wobbly defense by the Barons. But they were able to outscore their opponent so we are able to momentarily look past any defensive problems for the time being. Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall scored a pair of first period power play goals after the Stars took some ill advised penalties early.

In the second period, the Stars would score a pair of back to back’s of their own including one from Dallas Stars prospect Jamie Oleksiak on the power play. But late in the second, Teemu Hartikainen would put his team back on top, and the second 20 would end with a 3-2 score.

The third period was where the ping-pong game began. Antoine Roussel on the power play for Texas, and then Taylor Hall on the power play for Oklahoma City. Then Hall again for the hat trick, followed by Colton Sceviour in the under five minute moments of the third period. But the game would end with Yann Danis coming up big and the Barons sealing the deal with a 5-4 victory.

Although the game was wild, as most Stars/Barons games have been, the early penalties and the sometimes careless play of Jack Campbell bit Texas often. That’s not a good combination especially when you’re playing a team like OKC.

Oklahoma City returns home tonight for a game against San Antonio. Puck happens at 7:00pm

Oklahoma City Signs A Familiar Enforcer In Erick Lizon

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Blazer enforcer, Erick Lizon, now a Baron. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy. All rights reserved.

I did a quick double take this morning when good friend, Patricia Teter, retweeted a bit of news from the Wichita Thunder. The news, now confirmed by the Oklahoma City Barons, is that Erick Lizon of the Wichita Thunder has been called upon to suit up tonight against the Texas Stars. Let’s not dance around the reason for this signing — Lizon is a fighter. With only 8 games of AHL play under his belt, his paychecks have been mostly coming from ECHL and CHL teams. This, of course, includes a brief stint with the Oklahoma City Blazers in 2007-2008 where he played 23 games, earned 5 points and 67 penalty minutes. Last season with Wichita he played 65 games and earned 159 penalty minutes. This season, with the same team, he’s on track to even or better those PIM totals. Simply put, he does one thing, and some find him useful.

I remember Lizon in his days with the Blazers. What I recall of those games was that Erick was a big bodied, minor minor league enforcer, who simply wasn’t really good in that role. He had moments where he was sturdy in featuerd fights, and he was always willing to drop the gloves in a heartbeat. He just didn’t seem to be entirely perfect for the job.

The Oklahoman did an interesting piece on him that season, and a quick dig through the archives gives us a glimpse into the life of Lizon the first time around in OKC:

Erick Lizon , one of the Blazers’ new forwards, stands 6-foot-4, weighs 205 pounds and punches people for a living – and for the Blazers.

“It’s good being the enforcer,” Lizon said. “They needed one here last year and they’ve got one this year. They have someone to look up to now when there’s somebody running around with their head cut off. It’s good to have that feeling in the dressing room that they’re looking up to you.”

“He brings a new element,” Blazers captain and defenseman Tyler Fleck said. “We’ve got one guy you don’t want to mess with too much.

“It’ll give some of our guys room out there to do their thing without having to worry about guys taking liberties on them. If they do, there’s going to be a price to pay.”

The price: Lizon .

“Retribution’s part of hockey,” said Fleck, the hardest checker in the CHL. “He gives us a little bit of a rock ‘n’ roll side, too.”

Blazers coach Doug Sauter said Lizon has a lot of work to do to improve as a hockey player. But one thing’s a given.

“We know,” Sauter said, “that he’s very, very tough.”

The season prior to becoming an OKC Blazer, Lizon had a pretty epic minor league battle with a familiar face in recent Oilers history, Steve MacIntyre. Here’s that fight:

I’m not a big fan of these types of signings. Lizon will ride a PTO, and will be on hand in Cedar Park to face the Texas Stars. Why, you ask? With an already crowded lineup with prospects that are seemingly buried nightly. this steals one game from somebody who can actually play hockey and needs the ice time. That’s not Lizon’s fault, that’s the fault of the Oilers/Barons.

Simply put, the Barons and Stars got a little heated in the last game they played prior to Christmas. It also was a tad rough on a guy named Taylor Hall who was wrestled to the ice by Antoine Roussel. And the Barons, whom never did this prior to this season, seem hell-bent on protecting the NHL guys. Okay then. Look for Lizon to get a single game, take a few punches, steal a game away from a prospect that probably needs a game, and then ride off into the sunset.

Workin’ For The Weekend: More & More Texas “Sharp Dressed Man”

ZZ Top Sharp Dressed Man
Coz’ every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man

As the dust settles from the carefree unwrapping of packages in every corner of the world, the time has come for normalcy to return. Good people return to their work routines, families attempt to begin regularly scheduled life programming, and mobility through a single day becomes a little less chaotic. From October 1 to December 25, our worlds become militantly wild and crazy for those of us whom choose to celebrate Christmas. The culture of the North American holiday season dictates that we do things so completely south of the norm that it takes us another 3 months to recover. Or perhaps that’s just me. So as this globe we are all riding continues to spin, let’s begin to embrace a bit of normal behavior, of routine, of things less egg nog laced, and with fewer fat grams.

So the Oklahoma City Barons will try to do the same.

A ZZ Top classic like “Sharp Dressed Man” needs no introduction. A song about looking good, getting the goods, and being anything but good is memorable from the first crunch of the electric guitar. It’s a song that only ZZ Top could pull off without looking icky or self important. Because these guys were always about straight forward rock and the image that played such a vital role in their success. For all practical purposes (to which the video elluded to in the days of early MTV), this band was the epitome of dressing sharp.

So I’ll plead with my Barons to look sharp. Don’t come to play in your overalls and Crocs because winners dress sharp. They play sharp too. And if ZZ Top doesn’t inspire you to do just that, play sharp, then I have only a pair of black shades and white gloves to urge you along.

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Things You Don’t Want Taylor Hall Doing – “Fighting”

Between NOT wearing a helmet in warmups and posing with ugly people in twitpics lies something you really don’t want Taylor Hall doing…fighting the guy that kneed Jordan Eberle (Antoine Roussel of the Texas Stars) early in the season. It just doesn’t ever, I repeat ever, go well. Gif below:

Taylor Hall Fight