December 5* - History Will be Made, Slap Shots!, Champions League QF Preview
It's a Great Day for Hockey ... From Petropavlovsk to Prince Albert
History Will Be Made
Champions League Quarters
Top Scorers in the Alps Hockey League
Hats Off in the New Arena
Zug on the Rails
“Name the Logo” Answer
The Sunday Quiz
History Will Be Made
By Risto Pakarinen
When Dre Barone takes the ice next Wednesday in Laval, it may be a small step for him but it’s a leap for hockey culture. Barone will be the first openly gay male official in an AHL game.
In fact, he’s the only openly gay male hockey participant in a pro league. For now anyway.
For Barone, Wednesday’s game between the Laval Rocket and the Manitoba Moose marks both a comeback and a step up. After hundreds of games in the ECHL and the Southern Professional Hockey League, he feels he’s now ready for the American Hockey League.
“The ECHL is still a one-ref league, the highest pro level league not to have gone to the two-ref system. Fitness is not a problem and since I live in Canada, I’ve been able to find places to skate. I was also at the NHL Officiating Combine in August so I feel prepared,” Barone says.
Maybe if you’ve had to manage an ECHL game by yourself, you feel ready for anything, and having a partner on the ice makes officiating a little easier. If it’s ever easy.
Barone came out publicly in 2015 when he penned an article for Outsports.com, but even before that, his family and colleagues in the leagues knew about his sexual orientation. How? Barone told them.
“If the subject of a girlfriend came up, I always said I was gay. My approach back then was to truly own it, and when you say it casually, it’s disarming. The hush hush disappears. I’ve made some good friends along the way, and we joked around. It was totally normal, and the linesmen and refs had my back. Even going after the games, everybody was supportive,” he says.
“Some nights, if the linesman wasn’t local, I’d share a room with the linesman, and it wasn’t strange at all. If you own it, there’s nothing to attack and I think a lot of the guys on the ice respected me for that, too,” Barone adds.
After the article was published, Barone got about a thousand messages. There were emails, posts on social media, and others, and every single one was positive. While there have been a couple of incidents where Barone has been the target of homophobic slurs, hockey people have shown to be supportive of Barone.
And yet, hockey culture as a whole doesn’t make it easy for LGBTQ people, or any minorities, for that matter, to flourish.
“They don’t realize the hurdles these people have to jump to get even close to the door, let alone through,” Barone says.
The ones who do persevere and manage to find a way to the top are the exception. They’ve had to suppress their identities, and conform to the majority’s wishes. Not everyone has the energy to do that.
Barone thinks the first gay NHL player will be one who’s already out before he makes the league, like the Nashville Predators’ prospect Luke Prokop.
But now Barone’s focus is on The Game. It’s been a while since he was in action, and it’s a new league and a two-ref system, so he feels some pre-game jitters.
“There’s a little pressure. All my friends are coming to Laval, and my family’s going to be there,” he adds with a smile.
And they all hope the refs won’t be the story after the game.
Even when one of them is the first openly gay male official in the AHL.
Hockey Europe, the organization for European hockey leagues, held a meeting at the new Tampere arena. On the agenda was the state of the art venue, and Finnish Liiga’s work with Wisehocey and their smart puck that collects real-time data. “Finland is a trailblazer in digital development;” DEL CEO Gernot Tripcke said.
The Ottawa Senators waived Swedish winger Pontus Åberg on Sunday for the purpose of terminating his contract. It appears he's heading back to Europe where he developed in the Djurgårdens IF program in his hometown of Stockholm.
Champions League QF Preview
By Rob Simpson
The Champions Hockey League, the high-end season within the seasons, begins its quarterfinal stage this Tuesday. The final eight offers up an eclectic mix of regions and franchises. And yes, two-time defending champion and winners of four of the last five titles, Frölunda HC, factors into contention once again.
Their next challenge involves facing an in-country foe in Leksands IF, a team that has never reached this point in the CHL. The home and home series begins at Tegera Arena in Leksand.
Oddly enough, the two teams will play again in the same venue two nights later in a Swedish Hockey League game. In their only SHL match-up earlier this season, Leksand defeated Frölunda back on September 23 by a score of 4-2.
Frölunda features Ryan Lasch, the first player to reach the CHL’s 100 career point plateau. He’s also the circuit’s leading scorer this campaign with 14 points, while also leading SHL scorers with 35. Leksands biggest threat is Max Veronneau, just behind Lasch with 31 points and the SHL’s leading goal scorer with 18. Veronneau’s teammate Justin Kloos is tied for fourth in CHL scoring with ten points.
Like with the rest of the QF’s the teams will switch venues and play their next match-up one week later.
Red Bull Munich from the German DEL hopes to eventually take one more step than their best ever CHL effort back in 2018-’19 when they lost to Frölunda in the Final. They’ll first have to get past the challenge of Rauma Lukko from the Finnish Liiga. The two have a brief history, although the rosters were much different when the two met during the 2015-’16 season. Lukko took both games by scores of 5-3 and 3-0 in the round of 32.
That season also marked Lukko’s furthest ever progress in the CHL. They reached the semi-finals and lost to fellow-Finnish franchise Kärpät in a very close aggregate battle, 5 goals to 4.
For perspective, Lukko presently sits 12th in the Liiga standings with a very modest record of eight wins and eleven losses. They’ve added two overtime wins and six ties. Munich meanwhile sits on the top of the German DEL tables, with the best winning percentage having played the fewest games. They are 13-and-4 in regulation.
Frederik Tiffels of Munich is second in CHL scoring with 12 points. Scott Pooley of Lukko is two slots behind him on the leaderboard with 10 points.
In another quarter-final, representatives from Sweden and the Czech Republic get together when Rögle Ängelholm and Sparta Prague first meet on the latter’s home ice. Rogle BK presently has 16 SHL wins and sits second in those standings, while Sparta operates in sixth place in Extraliga.
Statistically, Sparta has the best team defence in CHL competition, giving up just 1.63 goals-per-game, while Rögle offers potent, balanced scoring.
That said, in Extraliga play, Sparta offers up the league’s top two scorers in Filip Chlapik and Swedish-born Erik Thorell.
Rögle counters with Adam Tambellini, with 25 points in 24 SHL games, while Anton Bengtsson has added 21. In CHL play, Ludvig Larsson of Rögle is third in scoring with 11 points.
The fourth quarterfinal features Tappara Tampere of Liiga taking on the Rouen Dragons from the French Ligue Magnus. For fans of underdog stories, this would be the QF to watch just given the history and the general calibre of play when comparing the two circuits.
The Dragons advanced here by edging out Red Bull Salzburg of the Central European League while Tappara defeated Växjö of the SHL.
Kristian Kuusela of Tappara has ten points in CHL competition this season while Frenchman Loïc Lampérier is tied for 12th in scoring with eight points.
Within their leagues, Jiri Smejkal and Anton Levtchi reside near the top of the Liiga scoring board, while Rouen’s best regular season scorer is David Gilbert, 18th in the Ligue Magnus with 18 points.
A Rouen advancement would be a major upset, but you never know, that’s why we don’t play the games on paper.
Game on (!) Tuesday.
1. Top Scorers in the Alps Hockey League
A tier below the main European leagues, the Alps League is back after a two-year Covid-19 hiatus, and features 17 teams across Austria, Italy, and Slovenia.
🇸🇮 Eric Pance - Jesenice - 41 points in 22 games with 14 goals.
🇫🇮 Ville Korhonen - HC Gherdeina - Tied with four others with 34 points. 22 games.
🇦🇹 Luca Auer - Red Bull Salzburg - 15 goals and 34 points in 25 games played.
🇦🇹 Maximilian Wilfan - Lustenau EHC - 15 goals and 19 assists in 22 games.
🇨🇦 Brad McGowan - HC Gherdeina - 16 goals and 18 assists in 22 games played.
2. Hats Off in New Arena
It took Antti Saarela only ten minutes to score the new Nokia Arena’s first hat trick. Ilves won the first post-Hakametsä arena Tampere derby against Tappara, 6-3.
3. Zug on the Rails
EV Zug is chasing the top spot in the Swiss National League. They’re three points back of HC Fribourg-Gottéron, with a game in hand.
4. “Name the Logo” Answer
This was the logo for Espoo United of the Finnish lower-tier Mestis league. The team played for two seasons from 2016 to 2018 with a slightly better than .500 record before going bankrupt.
From the looks of the emblem, maybe they coulda, shoulda, woulda been better off as a basketball team.
Next logo stumper coming on Thursday.
5. Sunday Trivia
The Question: Who was the first European referee to sign with the NHL?
Answer coming Thursday.
Enjoy the hockey action!