Reid Duke no longer plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings or the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, and it’s pretty obvious that the 23-year old will need to regain his confidence if he’s going to be a difference maker at the professional level.
“There’ve been a couple ups and downs, but it’s nice to finally be playing. It was a long break off of hockey last year, so I’m very happy with just playing. You kind of take that for granted sometimes,” said the Calgary, Alberta native.
In 44 games this season in the American Hockey League, Duke has only managed to register seven goals and nine assists, along with 33 penalty minutes; a far cry from the 37 goals and 71 points he contributed when he starred during his final year of junior hockey.
“[I just need to] use my speed. You look at the team that Vegas has, and they play so fast. Every one of their guys knows how to play with pace, and keeping things a little bit simpler,” said Duke.
While it’s not uncommon for a first year pro to take a step back in their development before taking two steps forward, Duke still has a ways to go if he wants to get to the next level. When he was drafted in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft by the Minnesota Wild back in 2014, many scouts saw him as a good two-way center who could play a strong 200-foot game.
“When you get to that next level, there’s not too much time and space, so you gotta take advantage of your opportunities and you want to help out in any way you can, whether that scoring or blocking shots on the penalty kill. They’ve been in contact with me lots, and they’ve been very supportive. It’s a really good organization to be a part of,” said Duke.
For Duke to make more of an impact, he will need to trust his instincts a lot more in the latter portion of the Wolves season, and next year. He exhibits a great shot, and overwhelming speed. If he can simplify his game, and not worry too much about meeting expectations, his ability to produce at the pro level may finally take shape.
Tonight in Montreal, the Canadiens missed out on a golden opportunity to give themselves some breathing room in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, when they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1.
Following a 4-2 road win on Friday against the #NYR@TheGarden, the Montreal Canadiens dropped a pivotal home contest on Saturday night, by a score of 5-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
During the first period, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby made some history of his own, when he passed Jaromir Jagr and moved into second place for points by a Penguins.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby recorded four points (1G, 3A) and moved into second place the team’s history (surpassing Jaromir Jagr) for points.
As has been a common theme all season, the Canadiens power play was unable to convert on all three of its chances Saturday. If the team wants to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, they will need to deploy a more efficient attack on the man-advantage.
The Canadiens No. 30 ranked power play let them down again last night, as the #Habs went 0-3 with the man advantage dropping their success rate to 12.8%
If Montreal wants to earn a playoff spot this year, this stat will need to improve.
Montreal now heads to the west coast, for three crucial games against the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks, before returning home to take on the Red Wings. Historically, the Habs have struggled in California, but in order to keep pace with the Penguins, Blue Jackets, and Hurricanes, the team will need to earn some points on this road trip.
Montreal now heads to the west coast, where they will play three difficult road contests in California against Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim.
At the time, Macek was only 21-years-old and he and his girlfriend viewed the opportunity to play in Germany as an chance for them to travel and experience a new lifestyle together overseas. But his decision wasn’t only about a romantic adventure with his partner, who is now his wife.
Macek’s father, Ralf, was born and raised in the German town of Geldern, making Brooks a Canadian-German dual citizen. And this factor undoubtedly inspired him to target the DEL for on-ice employment.
Furthermore, the chance to play with a couple of former NHL players in Iserlohn was a major incentive for Macek at that time.
“Mike York was there my first couple years, so I got to play with him for a while,” the Winnpeg, Manitoba native recalled. “Another guy was Deron Quint who actually played for the original Winnipeg Jets,” added Macek.
And those were just a couple of the “pretty cool players” Macek got an opportunity to play with and learn from on the other side of the pond, during his time with the Roosters.
“All the guys were great. When I went over I was only 21, so I was like a really young guy in that league. Most of the guys who go over there, they’ve already had their time here in North America playing in the AHL, and then they make the move over that way. Not usually right after junior, but all the guys were great.”
In 2016, Macek joined the Munich EHC Red Bulls of the DEL as a free-agent, and that’s where he put forth his most productive season in professional hockey. During the 2017-18 campaign, he led his team with 26 goals and registered 44 points through 51 games to finish second on the roster in overall scoring.
Macek didn’t just light up the scoresheet in 2018, though. He also captured his second consecutive league championship with the Red Bulls, and won a silver medal for Germany at the winter olympics in Pyeongchang.
Following his fifth season playing in Germany, Macek finally received the offer that never came after his final year of junior hockey, when the Vegas Golden Knights came calling last summer.
“I never had a chance with an NHL team, and I think every hockey player around the world’s dream is to play in the NHL one day. So I think when Vegas presented an opportunity, I was more than happy and more than excited to take it,” Macek revealed.
But even though Macek and the Golden Knights came to a contractual agreement, the deal was not of the one-way variety, meaning that he would likely need to prove his worth to the organization via their American Hockey League affiliate; the Chicago Wolves.
Going into his first AHL season, the five-foot-10 Macek was acutely aware of certain adjustments he would need to make to his game in order to sustain the same level of success that he had in Europe over the last couple of years. He knew that a return to North America would mean a smaller ice surface than he had grown accustomed to in the DEL.
“I think with the smaller ice, you just have to make your plays a little quicker, keep your head on a swivel, and know what you’re going to do with the puck before you even get it. I find because of that there’s a lot more mistakes, a lot more scoring chances,” he explained.
So far, it has been a successful year for the Wolves, who sit atop the central division standings with 70 points. And to his credit, Macek has assimilated more than seamlessly.
“He’s been great obviously. It’s been a pretty terrific first year for him,” said Wolves teammate Reid Duke.
As one of the team’s elder statesmen at age 27, Macek’s contribution has not only been felt on the ice, but as a mentor off of it as well.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy, but y’know, when he does speak up, y’know it’s important. And he’s a really good guy in the dressing room, just his nature, he’s kinda calming and a bit of an older guy so he’s really looking out for the younger players,” added Duke.
On the ice, Macek exhibits several high-grade attributes that have helped him compile 23 goals and 30 assists through the first 55 regular season contests. Only his line mate, Daniel Carr has outproduced those totals, and Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson points to the veteran having a quick release on his shot as a prime reason for his success offensively.
Thompson also believes that Macek has a high hockey IQ, which allows him to elude opposing defenders and put himself in scoring positions more frequently.
Even in practice, his Wolves teammates are often baffled by how difficult it is to defend against Macek, “He’s got an amazing shot, and he’s a pretty opportunistic player, so whenever he’s making plays or shooting the puck they seem to go in,” said forward Stefan Matteau.
Although it’s typically a difficult task to get hockey players to praise themselves, Macek is aware that he is producing at a high level for the Wolves. But like most hockey players, he is also quick to deflect questions about himself, and move the spotlight in the direction of his teammates.
“Obviously it’s been a pretty good season for a lot of the guys on the team. We’re scoring a lot of goals this year, and I think we might be first in the league in goals for,” he admitted.
With the Wolves approaching the final quarter of their season, and sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, Macek and his teammates have their sights set on achieving even more. And personally, Chicago’s sniper remains focused on getting better each and every day.
“I think I can work on everything in my game. I think you have to keep working on every aspect of your game to get better. I mean if you’re not getting better, then chances are you’re getting worse,” he said.
This philosophy might also help Macek achieve his dream of playing in the NHL.
Every hockey player’s goal is to play in the NHL, even those who do not play professionally. But those like Brandon Pirri, who suited up with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves 86 times since the start of the 2017-18 season, are especially eager to get a shot in the world’s best league.
Pirri has registered 10 goals and 15 points through 20 games thus far with the Vegas Golden Knights, since he was recalled from the Wolves in mid-December.
But while Pirri would obviously prefer to be wearing the newly famous gold and black uniforms that feature a knight’s shining armor as its crest, that doesn’t mean his time playing in the AHL for Chicago wasn’t a cherished experience for the 27-year old Toronto, Ontario native.
In fact, if Pirri’s game hadn’t developed as much as it did on “the farm,” he would still be riding buses and eating fast food in lieu of traveling on a private jet and staying in five-star hotels.
And while his Wolves teammates and coaches would love to have him in their lineup like they’ve grown accustomed to during the past couple of seasons, they’re equally pleased to see that he’s being rewarded for his hard work and perseverance.
“I think everyone in this locker room is happy about the success he’s having right now with Vegas,” said Wolves forward Reid Duke.
“He’s been a big part of this team for a while, and he’s very deserving of the opportunity he’s getting from the Golden Knights right now. I’m not surprised that he’s scoring key goals up there,” echoed Stefan Matteau.
Not only has Pirri scored some important goals since his call up, Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson said he’s been impressed with his 200-foot game, and his ability to respond as well.
“He had a little bit of a drought there, but I thought he’s responded really well in the last couple of games. He’s played some really good games, and he’s helped Vegas particularly in their last game get back in the win column. He’s a big piece of their puzzle now,” Chicago’s coach said.
“I watch every game that Vegas plays, and we’re very happy for Brandon. We’re very proud of him too, because he was here for quite a while with us. And to see one of your players that you’ve grown close with have success is special. He’s got a great family, and he’s got a little boy here, who I think might even be with him over in Vegas,” Thompson added.
Whether or not Pirri can sustain this level of success indefinitely with the Golden Knights is still an unknown, but those in the Wolves organization hope his next visit to Chicago is for a game against the Blackhawks.
Carr, who spent parts of three seasons playing for the Montreal Canadiens from 2015-2018, has dominated the AHL ranks this season with the Wolves, and he’s proving he can consistently be a difference maker.
With his previous organization, the Sherwood Park, Alberta native was seen as somewhat of a spark plug who got his nose dirty and played the game with tenacity. But the 27-year-old also displayed a certain degree of skill, that exceeded what most NHL fourth liners typically have to offer. This made it possible for Carr to play up and down the lineup during his tenure in the Canadiens organization.
His skills have been on full display for Wolves fans to see since the regular season began in October, and once again last Thursday in Cleveland when he undressed Monsters goaltender Jean-Francois Berube and put a backhander top-shelf, in the third period of the hockey game.
While Carr is obviously enjoying his success with the Wolves this season, his ultimate goal is to get back to National Hockey League as a regular. Just like his teammate Brandon Pirri, who is finally being rewarded with an extended call up with the Vegas Golden Knights, Carr is hoping that his play in the AHL won’t go unnoticed. And this involves staying patient, but very focused.
“I think it’s one of those things where you’re a pro, and you kind of just [need to] be a pro every day is probably the best way to put it,” said Carr.
“[You gotta} trust in yourself, and remind yourself that each year is a marathon. Last year I started in the minors, and ended the year at almost half a point per game in the NHL. It’s one of those things that’s a marathon,” he added.
The left winger not only leads his team in scoring, he also leads the entire league with 53 points this season, and he’s only played in 38 games with the Wolves. With an ‘A’ now stitched onto his jersey, Carr is looked at as one of the team’s leaders, and he stresses the importance of taking young players under his wing the way guys like ex Habs teammate Tomas Plekanec once did for him.
“That’s a pretty easy one. Plekanec. He takes a lot of heat in the media there, but honestly he’s the man. He’s so awesome. Especially when I was first coming up and there were some games where I played with [Lars Eller], or him, I learned more in those games than I ever have. Like him and Markov, those guys are total pros,” said Carr.
According to Ryan Quigley, who pens the blog Knights On Ice, Carr was extremely noticeable during his brief stint with the Golden Knights earlier this season, and he’d be curious to see the undrafted Carr earn another shot this year.
“If there’s one area of Carr’s game that stood out to me during his stint in Vegas, it’s definitely his nose for the puck. Carr only managed to score once in six games for the Knights, but he had a hand in a number of high-danger chances in those six appearances,” said Quigley.
However, Quigley does admit that with the depth Vegas has, opportunities might be scarce.
“It’ll be pretty difficult for Carr to make an impact in the NHL right now. The Golden Knights were plagued by injuries early in the season, which is what led to his earlier opportunity,” Quigley explained.
“If the injury bug strikes again, it’s possible he could get another shot with the big club, but considering the emergence of Brandon Pirri, the eventual return of Reilly Smith and the signing of Valentin Zykov, Carr would have an uphill battle earning ice time in the season’s home stretch,” he added.
The Chicago Wolves will play their first game following the AHL’s all-star classic, which Carr was a part of, on Friday in Rockford when they battle the IceHogs.
Even at the professional level, it has become a common practice for teams to host themed home games for the purpose of attracting spectators and increasing ticket sales. Themed nights are a great way for teams to poach fans of various brands and subcultures that may have little to no correlation with the actual main event.
Tonight at Credit Union 1 Arena, this made for a rather retro in-game experience for fans who braved the cold weather and came out to watch the UIC Flames take on the Detroit Mercy Titans, who are now lead by former Indiana head coach Mike Davis.
Just like Cyndi Lauper’s iconic track Girls Just Want to Have Fun, or Michael Jackson’s Beat It, the 80s night theme at UIC was a major hit.
“As far as I know, this is the first time we did 80s night. You see guys walking around tonight with the ghost busters outfits, it’s pretty cool,” said Denny Wills, who oversaw UIC’s basketball program for over 30 years until he retired in august of 2017.
“What we usually do is we meet in the fall. And we kind of look at different things, and we think of things we might be able to do to attract a crowd. And Detroit is a team that’s been in the league the longest. They started in the league in 1985, so tonight’s theme kind of fits in well for a game against them,” added the UIC hall of famer.
Among those sitting in the student section, there wasn’t a single individual who would have been able to say that they lived through the 1980s, but that didn’t get in the way of them embracing the theme.
“Well, I love all of the 80s movies because my parents made me watch them when I was growing up. And I’m also a sucker for a good costume. I love to dress up for events and stuff, so that was one of my big motivations for being here tonight,” said Samantha Lammert, a freshman at UIC.
“I really love Pretty in Pink, as well as 16 Candles,” added the 18 year old, who majors in acting as part of the school’s BFA program. “This is my first time at a UIC Flames game actually,” she confessed. “But I totally plan on coming back. I’m really glad the theme of tonight’s game caught my attention.”
Although Lammert is only just beginning to assimilate into the UIC community, she admitted that the atmosphere at a Flames home game actually surpassed her expectations.
“I think it’s a really good atmosphere at the game here tonight. There’s a good amount of people, and I love all of the neat things they’ve been doing during timeouts like throwing bubble gum into the crowd and giving away CDs from the 1980s bands.”
Stephanie Reichard, another 2000 baby and a close friend of Lammert, is also a freshman at UIC. She studies disabilities and human development, and explained how the two girls came up with their uniforms for 80s night.
“I have a lot of different odd pieces from different outfits, so today when I was in class, I looked up 80s workout outfits and I knew I had the body suit so I just took little bits and pieces from random things that I had and put it together,” offered Reichard.
In terms of the actual basketball game that took place on Thursday evening, the raucous 1980s themed crowd at UIC was treated to a convincing 79-67 victory over Detroit Mercy. The Flames next play on Saturday when they host the Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
It’s been nearly ten years since Brandon Pirri heard his name called by the Chicago Blackhawks, in the second round of NHL entry draft in June of 2009, and he’s played nearly 600 games at the pro level since then. However, more than half of those have been at the American Hockey League level in recent years.
After breaking in with the Blackhawks in 2013, Pirri had a steady run of NHL success playing for the Panthers, where he managed a 22-goal-season in 2014-15, as well as the Rangers and Ducks.
Despite a productive season last year for the Chicago Wolves, Pirri only managed a three game call up with the NHL’s Golden Knights. But while some people in his shoes might be discouraged by the lack of opportunities received by Vegas, Pirri has kept his nose to the grindstone, and may finally be on the precipice of earning his way back to the world’s best hockey league.
Following an exceptional start to the regular season with the Wolves in Chicago, in which Pirri registered 42 points in 29 games played, the Toronto native has finally been rewarded with a couple of recent call ups since the end of November. Of course, these opportunities have also come as a result of injuries to the Golden Knights forward group.
Nevertheless, Pirri is making the most of his NHL chances, having posted eight goals and 13 points in just 14 games for Vegas this year. In fact, Pirri has scored 11 goals and 16 points in his 16 total games at the NHL level as part of this organization.
According to Ryan Quigley, who covers Vegas and authors the blog Knights on Ice, it is Pirri’s defensive play without the puck that has ultimately kept Pirri from being a full-time NHLer for Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
“If anything is holding Pirri back from a more permanent spot on the Vegas roster (and the NHL as a whole), it’s his skills on defense… or lack thereof. Both the forward and Gerard Gallant have admitted that defense isn’t his strong suit. Scoring goals is meaningful, obviously, but in a season that’s seen a lot of defensive struggles, the Golden Knights may want players who can play the full 200 feet.”
While Pirri’s defensive play may still be a work in progress, his offensive production is becoming difficult to ignore.
“At this rate, Pirri’s productivity on offense goes above and beyond to the point where it doesn’t matter. Not to mention, Pirri is improving. Against the Los Angeles Kings, the only game that he didn’t earn a point [since his most recent call up], he forced a turnover that directly led to a Golden Knights goal,” acknowledged Quigley.
The Brandon Pirri saga has been a long term news story for the Golden Knights, for a while, but perhaps things might be resolved if Vegas decides to keep him on their roster full time. If not, he very well could be used as a trading piece by the Golden Knights in advance of the NHL’s Feb. 5th trade deadline.
If Vegas refuses to make a long term gamble on Pirri soon, my bet is that another NHL organization will. Stay tuned following the All-Star break, as this story continues to unfold.