In the desert, Coyotes young core shines bright, as Canadiens aging vets look paralyzed in Arizona’s 5-2 victory

The Canadiens (22-27-7) may have outshot the Arizona Coyotes (16-32-10) by a margin of 36-21 on Thursday night in Glendale, AZ, but this stat is hardly indicative of the effort put forth by a Montreal group that failed to show up in a humiliating 5-2 loss to the league’s lowest ranked team.

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Arizona Coyotes Tobias Rieder celebrates his eighth goal of the season in 5-2 victory over Montreal on Thursday night, (Image courtesy of the Arizona Coyotes)

In short, the rebuilding Coyotes looked like a group that is committed to growing together, and focused on progressing toward the future. Montreal, on the other hand, resembled a squad with an undefined core and is waiting for management to reassemble some of the roster’s core pieces that have proven all year it is past its expiration date and in need of a new direction.

The game got off to a sloppy start, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that both clubs rank in the league’s bottom five in terms of goals allowed this season. But Habs goalie Carey Price, and Coyotes netminder Antti Raanta both bailed out their teammates defensive lapses early on in the contest. Raanta, in particular, got away with “grand larceny” so to speak, when he exhibited an elite ability to move laterally and catch a one-timer off the stick of Canadiens rookie Nikita Scherbak. As the period progressed, it became clear that this deflated a Montreal offense that already lacked confidence entering the game, especially on the heals of a 2-0 shutout loss to Colorado less than 24 ago. Conversely, this remarkable stop by Raanta appeared to give the guys in front of him some momentum.

The young Coyotes took this momentum, and parlayed into the game’s opening goal. Arizona’s Clayton Keller, and one of the top rookie’s in the league this year, scored the icebreaker during a power play, on a heavy slap shot that whizzed by Carey Price. Tobias Rieder, who did not pick up an assist on the goal, contributed immensely with his ability to screen Montreal’s goalie on the play.

For Keller, the goal was his 17th, and part of a performance that saw him register four points, as the rookie sensation augmented his totals atop the team’s scoring leaderboard. Keller even managed to score without the use of his own hockey stick.

The game’s next turning point took place at the start of the second period, when another member of the Yotes young blossoming core managed to break open the game in a span of 19 seconds. At 57 seconds and again at a minute and 16 seconds into the period, Brandon Perlini notched his 15th and 16th goals of the season, surpassing his career high of 14 set last year.

For the remaining 18 minutes and 44 seconds of the second period, Montreal’s response was underwhelming to say the most. As rumors continue to swirl about most of the Habs roster in advance of the NHL’s upcoming trade-deadline on Feb. 26, and having played the night before with travel included, the Canadiens hardly looked inspired or unified.

5-2 W!!

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Finally, one of Montreal’s only bright-spots this season, Brendan Gallagher, got his team on the scoreboard with a gritty power play goal 5:46 into the game’s third period when he banked in a rebound from behind the goal line off of Raanta’s left pad for his team leading 21st of the campaign.

“Les glorieux”  would feed off of Gallagher’s goal, and follow it up when forward Daniel Carr buried his fourth at 7:38 of the period. This sudden dose of inspiration was short lived, however, as the Coyotes made Habs captain Max Pacioretty pay for an untimely holding penalty.

With 3:59 to play in the game, and down by a score of 4-2, Montreal’s Carey Price surrendered a soft goal to Josh Archibald of the Coyotes. Price, who appeared disinterested following the Perlini’s two goals early in the second period, looked particularly weak on a backhand from Archibald that was taken from at least 20 feet out and without anyone blocking his line of a vision.

For the Arizona Coyotes, a team building around youngsters like Clayton Keller, Tobias Rieder, Brandon Perlini, and netminder Antti Raanta, this game offered a glimpse into a desirable future for this organization. The Yotes brain trust must continue to build around this young and talented core, but this game showed a group that is progressing from their horrendous start to the regular season, and beginning to play with pride.

On the losing side, the Canadiens looked nonchalant and essentially went through the motions. Unlike the Coyotes, they do not have a group that is defined. They are not yet in the growing phase. General manager Marc Bergevin will undoubtedly be a seller prior to the trade deadline on Feb. 26, and in the summer. For now, as witnessed in yet another crushing loss, the players are waiting to see where they stand with the organization.

Blue Demons guard Brandon Cyrus credits Toronto Raptors for his love of basketball, as seen during and despite emotional 76-75 loss to Creighton

Blue Demons guard Brandon Cyrus was just one piece of an assembled puzzle that almost defeated the Creighton Bluejays (17-6, 7-4) in a spirited Big East conference showdown on Wednesday evening at Wintrust Arena.

The contest, which saw DePaul (9-13, 2-8) loose in the final second of regulation by a final score of 76-75, was as impressive as it was dejecting; at least for Blue Demon supporters leaving the game who hoped to witness a massive upset against their longtime rival. Especially after leading for more than 25 of the game’s 40 minutes.

But Cyrus, who grew up in Oakville, Ontario, tried to remain upbeat following the tough loss. “Obviously it’s a bad feeling right now, but it’s important to look at the positive things we were doing. We’ll come back tomorrow and look at the film. Go over some of the negative things, but know that we can correct it easily,” said Cyrus.

His head coach, Dave Leitao echoed the sentiment that tomorrow is always a new day, regardless of today’s outcome.

“Every day that we live, we have a challenge. And that challenge is tomorrow. Each one of us has an obligation to take it as a step by step process by the way we compete, by the way we do everything. So that’s my message to these guys. This game kind of gets us back to reset ourselves mentally, so that physically we can be in position to win these kinds of [close] games,” coach Leitao said.

Cyrus, who was on the floor for 29 minutes against Creighton, only put up a modest seven points. However, as I watched him up-close, it was his intensity and competitiveness that was his most pronounced feature in a game where not all of his shots seemed to be going in the basket. He looked engaged on every play, and after the game he acknowledged that his love for basketball, and his desire to improve every day is the reason why he plays with so much passion.

Growing up in a country that lives and breathes hockey, Cyrus fell in love with basketball instead, and he believes the NBA’s Toronto Raptors had a profound influence on him as a fan. He even sports the number four for DePaul, as a tribute to ex Raptor, Chris Bosh.

Chris Bosh
Photo courtesy of NY Daily News


“Definitely growing up they were a big part of my life. I loved Vince Carter first, and then Chris Bosh,” he said. “Now it’s more about guys like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowrie, and even Drake,” Cryus said with a chuckle.

Photo of Drake, sitting courtside at Air Canada Center during Toronto Raptors game. Courtesy of Yahoo Sports


Who knows if Cyrus would have pursued basketball if he hadn’t been exposed to the Raptors as a young kid. Perhaps he might have fallen in love with something else completely.

Fortunately for DePaul, and fans of the Blue Demons, Cyrus has a passion so deep that his will to get better each day compliments his strong desire to win. He’s just a sophomore, and he’ll face Creighton again, as well as many other good teams. Hopefully his friends and family watching back home in Canada will see Cyrus on the winning end next time.

Zac Leslie trade: a measuring stick acquisition for Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Wolves

When the Vegas Golden Knights announced its acquisition of 24-year-old defenseman Zachary Leslie on Monday from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for future considerations, he was immediately assigned to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves by Knights general manager George McPhee.

This transaction, which might seem highly insignificant to hockey fans in Las Vegas, will be an interesting one to monitor if you follow the Wolves. As I wrote about previously, an organization’s ability to develop young talent at the AHL level is a monumental part of cultivating a successful operation that is as sustainable as it is prolific.

For a defenseman, 24-years of age is still considered quite young, and Zac Leslie’s development under new head coach Rocky Thompson will serve as an opportunity to evaluate Vegas’ professional scouting and development divisions. Moreover, usually when a trade involves just a single AHL player, it means that the team receiving him is hopeful he could help and grow in their organization, even if he never reaches the NHL level.

For right now, Leslie will undoubtedly provide the Wolves with a steady defensive presence on the back end, as he aims to implement some more offense back into his game now after focusing on becoming more reliable without the puck over the last couple of seasons under Ontario’s coach Mike Stothers.

Prior to being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings at 178th overall in 2013, the Ottawa, Ontario native Leslie registered an impressive 155 points in 250 combined games as a junior player for the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm.

This is a part of his game that hasn’t been a top priority for him lately, but as a third pairing rearguard and a quick set of wheels, Leslie will certainly be given a regular shift and opportunity to develop as a two-way threat at the professional level.

Interestingly, aside from Chris Cato who shoots right, the Wolves only possess left-handed shooters. Leslie, who is traveling to Iowa and will be available for Chicago’s crucial divisional matchup on Friday against the Wild, is yet another lefty.

It remains to be seen whether coach Rocky Thompson elects to use Leslie on the right side, where he has played from time to time with the Ontario Reign when needed, or if he’ll suit up on his natural side.

With his arrival to the Wolves, the six-foot tall rearguard brings with him 121 games of professional experience with the Ontario Reign. He also arrives with a fresh start, as he looks to move up the ranks on Vegas’ depth chart.

Leslie Zac
Photo of Zac Leslie from

As a pending restricted free agent come July 1. he will want to prove his worth to the Wolves, especially down the stretch. And that’s good news for the Wolves blue line, especially as the playoff race really begins to heat up.

Leslie will suit up sporting the number 37 on the back of his jersey, as his previous number eight belongs to forward Tyler Wong.

I look forward to monitoring Leslie’s play on Friday night and his development beyond that with the Wolves. Stay tuned for more Wolves updates from yours truly!

Chicago Wolves Prepare for Crucial Weekend Games

In this blog, I introduce my voice to the readers of this blog. I try to provide insight into what’s to come for the Wolves, and the keys will be for them in the second half of the season.

I also speak briefly about Read to Succeed, an initiative I wrote about in a previous post, and one that I feel is more important than you may think at first glance.

Getting out in the community, part of being a good professional

A Chicago Wolves initiative that began 23 years ago, Read to Succeed has become a tradition that touches Chicago youths every year in libraries throughout the city.

Chicago Wolves players during Read to Succeed initiative. Photo courtesy of

Since the program began in 1995, the Wolves have visited more than 100 different libraries in Chicago, and have had interactions with more than 500,000 kids. Read to Succeed‘s primary objective is to encourage reading and to highlight the importance of education.

Throughout each hockey season, members of the Chicago Wolves actually visit libraries and speak to children about the important role that education has played in the lives of even a professional athlete. With players coming to visit them live and in person, the hope is that this initiative will show kids that if some of their favorite hockey players are reading, than perhaps they should as well.

With a lull in the Wolves schedule this week, it was a perfect opportunity for the team to kick off this program.

Yesterday, 23 year old defenseman Jake Bischoff visited the skokie public library, and spoke to kids there about the value of education and reading.

Bischoff was greeted by many enthusiastic youngsters, and it is expected that there will only be more hype surrounding the program as it continues.

The library visits continued today, as Tyler Wong visited the Crystal Lake Public Library district at 4pm, and will head to the Cary Area Public Library afterwards, for a 7pm appearance with more kids.

Wolves forward Tyler Wong during a game against the Ontario Reign. Photo is courtesy of

Wong’s teammate Jake Walman also had a 4pm visit at the Westchester Public Library today.

To the average person, an initiative like Read to Succeed might seem insignificant to a professional hockey player’s path to the NHL. However, part of being a professional athlete, involves getting out in the community. Hockey players, as well as athletes from other sports, are seen as huge role models by young children who might also aspire to make it to the highest level one day.

This program is not just inspiring kids to develop good habits, but it’s also preparing members of the Chicago Wolves for life as a professional hockey player, by highlighting the importance of using their reach to influence positive changes in communities.


Wolves Playing Part In Golden Knights Early Success

At its core, the American Hockey League is where raw professionals develop and fine-tune their craft. In many ways, the league is essentially a place where guys discover how to excel against grown men. This is why the AHL affiliate of any National Hockey League organization is such an integral part of a winning model.

If you are an expansion team in your first season, like the Vegas Golden Knights happen to be, the AHL is especially important in terms of establishing a strong foundation and culture across the organization.

While it is far too early to evaluate the success of their prospects from last summer’s draft, the AHL’s Chicago Wolves are already proving to be a reliable feeder system for the Golden Knights.

Early this season, when Vegas needed to trim its roster, GM George McPhee sent budding youngsters Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore to Chicago for a few games, in order to buy the Knights some more time. While both are proving they belong in the NHL, their demotion to the Wolves following training camp was only exercised because both men are waiver ineligible.

Although their time with the Wolves was short-lived, Tuch and Theodore made their presence felt in Chicago, and they’ve parlayed their AHL success into impressive seasons since being recalled by Vegas.

Jesse Granger, who covers the Golden Knights for the Vegas Sun, says both players haven’t looked back since returning from the Wolves.

“Those guys didn’t belong in the AHL. They were clearly NHL caliber players. The problem was that general manager George McPhee during the expansion draft, he just got too many players. So because those guys were waiver exempt, he sent them down to Chicago for a few weeks while he kind of settled everything out and figured out what they were going to do. So once he made room on the NHL roster for them, those two guys have been absolute studs,” said Granger, who offered heavy praise for the two former Chicago Wolves.

“Theodore and Tuch are two of the building blocks that the Golden Knights are going to build on going forward. Theodore is one of the most offensively skilled defensemen I’ve seen in the league, especially for his age. He can lead the rush, he can score goals, he has great stretch passes to help the breakout. Tuch has been one of the more important pieces on the power play, which admittedly has struggled. Tuch is just so good at being a big body, parking himself in front of the net, screening the goalie, deflecting pucks that come in, and he’s great on the fore-check. He’s the best fore-checker on the team,” he said.

Granger says that the Wolves play a similar system as the Golden Knights, which makes it easier for players to assimilate when they are called up.

“Rocky Thompson has told us that he will be running a similar system in Chicago, to what the Golden Knights are running, to make guys better prepared for when they do come up to Vegas. There’s definitely good communication between the two teams.”