Month: December 2017

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Part 1: Getting there)

The Team: (left to right)
Top row: Ryan, Leo, Josh, Eric, Albert
Bottom Row: Cory, Pete, Alan, Brian, Nick N, Nick G

Most of the crew lives in Northern Jersey.  I do not.  I live about an hour south of everyone.  So, my day on the road began at about 5 am.  My first two stops were two towns off Interstate 80 to pick up two teammates(Nick N and Leo) and Nick’s girlfriend.  The four of us along with my fiance then set out on the trek to Buffalo.  Our vehicle of choice was a 2000 GMC Yukon XL.  It seats 8 comfortably, with ample room for gear.  Since we only had 5 of us, Leo got the back bench seat to himself for the car ride.  I’m pretty sure he slept most of it.  Nick started out as a sub for us, but was quickly on full time.  He’s one of the few guys I trust to play forward and defense because he has a pretty good understanding of the positions.  Leo is usually the first guy to fill in when somebody can’t make it to a game.  He lives close to the rink so he’s able to get there on short notice.  If I’m honest, Leo might be the best actual skater that suits up for us.  He’s incredible fluid and has some real speed to him.

The drive is a lengthy one, but nothing crazy.  From where we were in Jersey, the recommended route was I-80, to I-380, to I-81, to I-90.  Sometimes you get on I-681 around Syracuse and sometimes you don’t it depends on traffic.  We made a gas and provision stop at the TA Truckstop in Columbia NJ off Exit 4 on 80.  It’s one of the final exits in NJ.  The breakfast taquitos I crammed into my maw weren’t terrible, and I was able to stock up on energy drinks.  From there it was around 5 hours with a coffee stop on I90 once I cleared Syracuse.  At some point I wished for CB radios like they have in Top Gear so we can talk to one another on the trip.  Remembering the invention of the cell phone, I dialed Albert for the express purpose of mocking Josh’s driving.

Josh, Albert and Ryan weren’t far behind us.  They had come up in Josh’s 4 door Wrangler.  Albert and Ryan are club hockey teammates in college.  Albert has been a goaltender all his life, but for us he skates out.  It shows that he’s spent most his life as a goalie, but he’s a tenacious one.  Josh is consistently one of our top scoring forwards.  He didn’t do college and prior to joining this team, he hadn’t played organized hockey for a few years since high school.  He plays all positions along the forward line, but I like to keep him at right wing if I can.  Ryan is an unknown to me.  He’s joining the team for this trip and I’ve only ever seen him play once.  I assume he’s going to be a help to the team and I’m glad to have him.

We’re unable to check in until Pete arrives, but they’re willing to valet the car for us.  Having dropped the car at the hotel I decided I was hungry.  The Anchor Bar in Buffalo is a few blocks from our hotel, so we walk down to get Buffalo wings and start drinking.  Soon after arriving at the bar, Josh and company also arrived.  Since they had to wait on Pete also, I had them come to the bar to get food.

From here it gets chaotic.  I was in the middle of eating as everyone else started to arrive so I walked back to the hotel and worked out room assignments.  Erica (my fiance) and I had requested our own room, rather than sharing.  The hotel was gracious enough to allow us to upgrade this booking to a suite.  If you ever have to stay in Buffalo, the DoubleTree Downtown is excellent.  Our first game was at 6pm, so after getting everyone checked in we went to our respective rooms and set down.  Some people sought food, some sought naps but the door to my suite remained open at all times.  It became the team lounge in those early hours and never really stopped being that.  The entire team had made it to the hotel (except Cory) and we got ready to go play our first outdoor game as a squad.

Weenerz go to Buffalo (Prelude)

Up to this point I haven’t injected myself into this blog a lot.  For a few updates, that’s going to change.

I coach a men’s rec hockey team.  It’s odd for a team to have a coach, but as they say, “those who cannot do; teach.”  For me this is the case, my ankles are shot worse than Ryan Whitney’s.  15+ years in the construction industry does bad things to your body kids.

Anyway, the team I coach is based out of Northern New Jersey and is called, “The Weenerz.”  It started as a joke, but has grown well beyond that.  I’ll give a backstory on that in a future update and I’ll probably start chronicling my experiences with the team here a bit more.

Last weekend, 11 players and I went to Buffalo to play in the TCS Winter classic.  I documented the trip and intended to live update, but that just wasn’t feasible at the time.  I’ll be using mostly first names of players when describing the events.  It was a fun odyssey and one I hope to do again soon.

A Deal with the Devil

A Deal with the Devil

At approximately 10am today, my phone started going ballistic.  The New Jersey Devils had made a trade.  General Manager Ray Shero had, once again, made the NHL world grind to a stop for a moment to marvel at his handiwork.  This is not the first time he has done it, and it is unlikely to be the last.  This time around, his partner in crime was the familiar Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks.


So to recap, the Devils send former 30 goal scorer, Center Adam Henrique and prospect Joseph Blandisi to the Ducks for Sami Vatanen and then there’s also a pick swap.  So who won the deal?  Well truthfully, this is one of those rare deals where everyone wins.

Why the Ducks Win:
The Ducks have been and will continue to be without centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler for a large chunk of the season.  They’ve been playing around with other players at top line center but they haven’t had a true top 6 center on their roster.  Adam Henrique comes in and immediately seizes the top line center role alongside Corey Perry.  Henrique has proven to be very successful when he is put alongside a dominant player like Perry.  His time as a center in New Jersey has been shaky at times, but he’s capable of delivering center depth to the Ducks in the short-term, and then center/wing depth once their star players return.  His contract is manageable, and with it expiring at the end of 2019, he’s a really strong candidate to move at the 2019 trade deadline if things take a downward turn in Anaheim.
Also acquired was Joseph Blandisi.  Blandisi was an offensive dynamo during his overage OHL season and has seen some time in New Jersey.  He’s developed a reputation for playing on the edge, but has good speed and tenacity.  It’s very possible that he could carve a spot for himself in the depleted Duck forward corps.
The emerging play of Brandon Montour and Josh Manson had made Sami Vatanen effectively expendable for Anaheim in this case.  Losing Vatanen does little to shake the top 4 of the Ducks.  Lindholm, Fowler, Montour and Manson are more than up to the task of shouldering the bulk of the minutes.  The Ducks dealt from a position of strength to shore up a weakness.
ducks lineups

Why Adam Henrique Wins:
The emergence of Nico Hischier and the return of Travis Zajac saw Henrique moved out of top 6.  His utilization in special teams situations seemed to be gradually growing lesser also.  The Devils have become a team with a logjam of young talent clamoring away for spots on the roster.  Henrique had, unfortunately pretty much played himself out of a job for the Devils.  In Anaheim he gets his first real fresh NHL start.  Henrique has been a good soldier through the last 5 seasons in NJ, but it’s possible it has taken it’s toll on him.  He will come into Anaheim with a pile of expectations on his shoulders, but a real opportunity to rise to the occasion and reassert himself as the scoring threat he once was perceived to be.

Why Joseph Blandisi Wins:
Blandisi had an exceptional training camp and was a surprise final cut from the roster.  Simply put, he was cut because Brian Gibbons, and Blake Coleman were better.  Coleman and Gibbons have cemented their bottom 6 roles by being key penalty killers for the Devils.  Blandisi did not protest his assignment to the AHL but was obviously disappointed.  The emergence of Nico Hischier and Jasper Bratt, along with a fresh crop of rookies to the AHL had pushed Blandisi to a point where no matter what he did, he was unlikely to crack the Devils’ roster.  Anaheim is a team that needs forward depth, and Joseph brings some NHL experience and speed along with a hunger to that system.

Why the Devils win:
Media and blogs regarding the NJ Devils have zeroed in on the defense as a position of weakness.  They have played better than initially expected.  Will Butcher has been everything he was billed to be and more, while Steven Santini continues to grow into taking big minutes.  Offseason acquisition Mirco Mueller seemed to be catching on as well until he was sidelined with injury.  All that aside, the narrative was still; if the Devils had machinations of trying to take this team on a deep playoff run, they would have to make some kind of major upgrade to their defense.  Sami Vatanen is a right-handed, defender capable of being in that top pairing role for the Devils.  They might not use him there right away, but he certainly slots into the top 4.  At 5’10 he’s not particularly big, but he has a big shot.  His ice time average of 21:06 for the season was 3rd on Anaheim, and he’s averaged over 21 minutes per game for the last 4 seasons.  He is the exact type of player NJ has been seeking to obtain since missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Devils, like the Ducks, dealt from a position of strength here.  The bottom line is that Henrique’s contract would be wasted playing depth minutes for the Devils.  For the past 5 years, Henrique has been a top 6 player on the Devils because there was no one better.  This is no longer the case and he has not been able to assert himself as a top 6 player in NJ this season.
Vatanen lineups

Why Sami Vatanen won:
Much like Henrique, Vatanen had seen himself made redundant.  After returning from injury his production numbers have been a bit off pace to start the season.  The Ducks started the season with Vatanen and Cam Fowler on IR.  Brandon Montour and Josh Manson rose to the occasion, giving Anaheim a lot of flexibility and depth once Vatanen and Fowler returned from injury.  It also meant that Anaheim had 5 top guys for 4 top spots.  There’s nothing wrong with having that kind of depth available to a team, but with Montour due a new deal at the end of this season, and Manson and Fowler’s extensions kicking in next season, Vatanen or Lindholm were likely to have to go from a contract standpoint.  Vatanen will be entering the New Jersey Devils with a chance to really seize a top pairing job and likely be given a longer leash to use his offensive tools.  Vatanen’s skating ability and big shot are likely to be featured by the Devils and he stands to possible produce bigger numbers than he ever has on a team that generates a lot of its offense from the point of attack.

So there you have it.  Time will tell, but this appears to be that rare trade where everybody wins.