COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It wasn't necessarily easy or pretty, but Shaker Heights found a way to get it done. And there are no awards for style points in hockey.
A dozen years ago, the Red Raiders boys hockey program won its last state title when several of its current players were barely old enough to walk and talk. Their last appearance in the state final was eight years ago and head coach Mike Bartley's team made sure its next trip to Columbus would be worthwhile.
The Red Raiders won their fourth state title in school history with a 3-1 win over Sylvania Northview in front of 2,348 at Nationwide Arena, and it was a game that hung in the balance until the final horn.
Not only did Shaker Heights have to earn its way to the OHSAA state championship game by battling out a semifinal win over Rocky River on Friday afternoon, but they gutted out an impressive victory in the final over a very strong Sylvania Northview team that had stunned Columbus' entry (Olentangy Liberty) the day before.
Senior goaltender Eric Sterin kept the Red Raiders afloat as the Wildcats kept coming in the third period, trying to put a dent in a two-goal load that Shaker Heights obtained early in the final period -- on a goal that almost didn't count. Sterin stood tall as the Wildcats got a late 5-on-3 opportunity and essentially tossed the kitchen sink his way, but the netminder was rock solid for the Red Raiders.
His biggest moment might have been a clutch stop on Sylvania's Caleb Rau, who pounced on a turnover at the offensive blueline and had a breakaway with 2:50 remaining in regulation. Sterin stayed patient and square, kicking out Rau's wrister that would have pulled the Wildcats within a goal with plenty of time left.
Sterin finished with 25 saves on the evening.
Shaker Heights got the championship-deciding goal late in the first period from senior forward John Longman, who was excellent for the Red Raiders throughout the final weekend.
While this was not the end result that defending champion Northview was looking for, the Wildcats made their 15th appearance in the state semifinal tournament and played for their third championship in the last seven years. A team that replaced 10 players from last year's championship club, Northview played solid hockey and came together at the right time, coming up one win shy of repeating.
Looking through the stats, I was almost stunned to discover that today's 3-0 win was the first shutout of Sergei Bobrovsky's career.
In his 99th NHL start, the 24-year-old Russian goaltender earned his first "donut," making 29 saves against the Detroit Red Wings and acting as the foundation behind the Blue Jackets' four-game winning streak. Not only has he given the Blue Jackets a chance to win every night, the team in front of him has played a sturdy brand of hockey that's translating to points in the standings -- and once again, Columbus is within four points of the playoff bar.
And with today's 3-0 win, the Blue Jackets won the season series against Detroit for the first time in the franchise's 12-year history. Through four games of five (one to go tomorrow afternoon at Joe Louis Arena), Columbus holds a 3-0-1 record and has a chance to go without a regulation loss to the Red Wings with a win in the finale.
The Red Wings made a ton of mistakes - and uncharacteristically so given their strong play of late entering the game - and fed right into the Blue Jackets' speed and forechecking game. Case and point: Matt Calvert swooping in and stealing the puck from Niklas Kronwall, which led to Cam Atkinson's game-winner in the first period. That's not a play that Kronwall usually makes, and it was a blatant giveaway - credit to the Blue Jackets for making Detroit pay for its recklessness with the puck.Get complete post-game analysis of today's 3-0 win inside this blog post.
No matter how far a team has come and how many wins it has accumulated along the way, the last one is always the most difficult.
All that remains is one game for the Ohio High School Athletic Association's 66th boys hockey tournament championship, and it will take place Saturday evening at Nationwide Arena. Shaker Heights and Sylvania Northview advanced to the championship game after an day of exciting semifinal action that featured several lead changes, momentum swings and a thrilling comeback in the second match-up.
For both sides, it was a difficult day that included several obstacles on their way to the final dance. Shaker Heights rallied from two one-goal deficits (1-0 and 2-1) before taking over the game early in the third period, obtaining its first lead of the day at 6:30 of the third period on a clutch goal from Jacob Shick.
John Longman added an insurance tally with 1:01 remaining in regulation for the 4-2 final.
In the second semifinal, local club Olentangy Liberty was bidding to become the first Columbus-area school to ever play in the championship game, and they got off on the right foot.
The Patriots scored the first two goals of the hockey game and looked to be in good stead, but Sylvania Northview put its collective rally caps on. From 2-0 down, Northview completed the comeback five minutes into the third period and scored an empty-netter with less than a second to play, sealing a 4-2 victory and a berth in the final.
Saturday's championship game will take place after the Blue Jackets play the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena, and face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game will air tape delayed on SportsTime Ohio on Sunday, Mar. 10 at 4 p.m.
Blue Jackets broadcaster Bob McElligott will have the play-by-call game for the contest with John Mowat providing color analysis.
All of a sudden, here we are at the midway point of the NHL season.
The Blue Jackets, scuffling a bit and frustrated with a lack of results just a fortnight ago, have found some confidence and are playing a determined brand of hockey. They've won three straight after tonight's 2-1 overtime defeat of the Vancouver Canucks, and have picked up at least one point in five consecutive games.
Of course, things may change between now and the time you actually read this, but as I type, the Blue Jackets sit four points back of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Seems crazy to think, given where they were not too long ago, but in talking with players after the game, they feel like they've turned a corner.
And it's not purely results-driven, either; Matt Calvert (tonight's overtime hero) talked at length about what it takes for a young team to win consistently, and to do the necessary things on a nightly basis so they learn how to close games out. The best teams in the NHL are both hard-working and opportunistic, and often times one can be a by-product of the other.
The Blue Jackets have shown an opportunistic nature lately, and it's been fun to watch. Given chances to put games away, they've done so. Think back to Sunday afternoon against the Avalanche; Colorado turns the puck over in neutral ice, the Blue Jackets draw a penalty and then win the game on that power play.Get the full breakdown of tonight's OT win inside this blog post!
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The National Hockey League today moved one step closer to implementing a new realignment plan for its 30 member clubs.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr announced that the players' union has given its consent for the NHL to proceed with its proposed realignment plan. According to reports, the plan calls for two eight-team divisions and two seven-team divisions, would send the Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference beginning with the 2013-14 NHL season if approved by the league's Board of Governors.
As part of the realignment plan, the Blue Jackets would compete in an eight-team division along with the following teams: the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the Players' Association's consent in a statement issued this evening.
"The NHL Players' Association confirmed to us today that it has consented to a revised Plan for Realignment, effective for the 2013-14 season," Daly said. "Our next step will be to bring the proposed Plan for Realignment to the NHL Board of Governors for its consideration. We will update the status of the process as future developments warrant."
The Stanley Cup Playoffs format would reportedly still consist of 16 teams (eight in each conference) but the NHL is proposing a wild card system in which the top three teams in each division make the playoffs and the remaining spots filled by the two teams in each conference with the next best record.
Here are the divisional breakdowns for the entire NHL under the new plan, as first reported by Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada:
1) Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
2) Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
1) Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Toronto
2) Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington
More details on on the proposed realignment plan can be found here. Stay tuned to BlueJackets.com for further updates on this story as it develops.
9:45 A.M. -- LET'S DO THIS: We're back! Just 48 hours after we got the last blog up and running, the Blue Jackets morning skate is about 10 minutes away on Nationwide Arena ice. The Vancouver Canucks are in town and I suspect they'll be an angry lot tonight, having dropped five straight games (0-4-1) and losing their firm grasp on top spot in the Northwest Division.
The Minnesota Wild are just three points back and closing fast, while the Canucks are desperate to pick up some points. They'll start Roberto Luongo tonight against the Blue Jackets, and I pointed out in today's preview that it's a little surprising given Cory Schneider's track record of success against Columbus in his career.
I'm headed downstairs to catch the skate, so make sure you stay tuned right here for the latest news, lineup and injury updates, photos, contests and more as we roll along on game day.
This may be the first meeting of the season between the Blue Jackets and Canucks, but the two clubs are certainly familiar foes.
Even though they face each other just four times per season (and three times in 2013 due to the shortened schedule), there always seems to be an element of anticipation when they get together. Call it bad blood, call it general rivalry-ish behavior, but the Blue Jackets and Canucks don't seem to like each other very much, and both sides are okay with that.
As we get set for Thursday's game at Nationwide Arena, we're looking at two teams headed in completely different directions. The Blue Jackets, so often on the wrong end of one-goal games, have strung together a four-game points streak and have won back-to-back games after a 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday over the Edmonton Oilers. On the flip side, Vancouver has hit a rough patch and can't separate itself from the Minnesota Wild just three points back in the standings.
The Canucks are 0-4-1 in their last five games, and the Blue Jackets are suddenly 3-2-2 in their past seven contests. Hard to tell which way this one will go (most likely because I have no bearing on the result), but my gut tells me we'll watch an entertaining hockey game between two very competitive teams tonight at Nationwide Arena.Get tonight's "three keys" to success for the Jackets inside this blog post.
Brandon Dubinsky, sitting in his locker stall after an afternoon practice at Nationwide Arena, was troubled to hear of former teammate Marc Staal's frightening injury last night at Madison Square Garden.
It's something that players, coaches and fans dread and hate to see: a player who is seriously hurt and possibly has his long-term health put at risk by a freak accident in a hockey game. Staal, a star defenseman for the New York Rangers, took a deflected shot to his right eye in the third period of last night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The scene was hard to watch with Staal writhing in pain on the ice as medical staff rushed to assist him, and elsewhere in the NHL, it sparked conversation of visors in the NHL.
This generation of hockey players coming into the professional ranks is required to wear visors, and in some cases, full cages if playing in the U.S. college hockey system. Canadian major junior hockey governing bodies require the use of visors and they are now mandatory in the American Hockey League, but in the NHL, it still remains a player's decision.
Dubinsky, who wore a visor while playing for the ECHL's Alaska Aces during the lockout, went back to his visor-less preference when the NHL season began in mid-January. He's now in his seventh NHL season and, though he doesn't have a particular reason for not wearing one, admitted that he's entertained the idea of adding a shield.
"I can't tell you why I don't wear one, to be honest with you," Dubinsky said after practice today. "To me, as stupid as it sounds and there's not really an explanation for it...growing up watching the NHL, nobody wore visors and it was cool. That's just sort of the way it was."Read today's full story on visors & player safety inside this blog post.
Sergei Bobrovsky was solid upon entering tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers, but he waited until the most critical juncture to make one the most important saves of the year for the Blue Jackets.
It was an unfortunate penalty on Nick Foligno, and one that the NHL and its referees are watching closely this season: Foligno went down behind the net in overtime and closed his hand on the puck in an attempt to move it forward, but referee Marc Joannette spotted the violation from the side of the net, and it gave the Oilers a 4-on-3 power play with the hockey game in the balance.
Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu and Fedor Tyutin were the three penalty killers for the Blue Jackets, who had to deal with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle on the man advantage -- not exactly a cakewalk two minutes, one might say.
Bobrovsky, who made 18 saves in regulation, added a game-changer on Eberle in overtime: Nugent-Hopkins slid a pass through the box to Eberle at the back post, and though it looked like he had an open net, Bobrovsky got across and made a save that got his teammates fired up on the ice and on the bench.
"It was huge for momentum...huge," Anisimov told BlueJackets.com. "It's not easy to play 4-on-3, and it's not easy to defend. The first save...that was nice, big for us. It's a tough play for me because it's back-door and there's a guy up high, too. I couldn't catch him with my stick.
"Bob made that save and I'm like 'yes, we're still in this.' It was great."Read the full story on Bobrovsky's big night inside this blog post.
A coach has a small number of cards to play, and one of them is changing the goaltender. Sometimes it works, and others it doesn't -- and it's definitely not a guarantee.
Todd Richards didn't like the pair of goals allowed by Steve Mason late in the first period and early in the second period, but he also acknowledged that his team was rather sloppy in its own end, leading to several chances for the Edmonton Oilers. When facing a skilled, aggressive team like the Oilers, those small mistakes are exponentially magnified.
When the Blue Jackets fell behind 3-2, it was a major turning point: Richards installed Sergei Bobrovsky in the net and despite coming in cold, he steadied the ship and made some game-saving stops along the way. Teams need that on occasion, and Bobrovsky was very sharp in relief tonight.
He did not allow a goal in regulation, overtime or the shootout -- and it was a catalyst for the Blue Jackets' second consecutive win.
Vinny Prospal was very good tonight, with a goal and an assist to along with energy throughout the contest. In his first game back from an upper body injury, Jack Johnson scored the tying goal in the third period and played nearly 27 minutes in all situations -- not bad for a guy getting back on the ice for the first time since a loss in St. Louis a couple of weeks ago.Get full analysis of tonight's shootout win inside this blog post!