News and Notes – February 13 2014

We’re headed towards the weekend, which means there’s a fair amount of hockey to be discussed. Here’s what you need to know for the next few days of action!

Both Calgary Flames players at the Olympics dressed for their national team’s first game. That’s the good news. Switzerland’s Reto Berra was the back-up as Switzerland eked out a 1-0 win over Latvia via a Simon Moser goal with 7.9 seconds left. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller posted the shutout. Czech Republic blueliner Ladislav Smid dressed, but did not play a single second in their 4-2 loss against Sweden. The Czechs looked downright bad, so I’m unsure as to why they didn’t trot Smid out for a different look. Then again, this is a team that repeatedly overlooked Jiri Hudler, so whatever.

The Swiss have announced that Berra will get the start against Sweden early tomorrow morning. It’s a tall order for Berra, and is a hugely important game for Group C. Whoever wins the group is guaranteed a spot in the quarters, while the second-place team will have to finish ahead of the other second-place teams to get the bye. This game, between the two teams that have already won a game, is massively important now. Berra has stolen games at the international level before, and he’s played very well for Calgary in the last 10 days or so, but the Swedes are incredibly dangerous – even without the services of Henrik Zetterberg.’s Aaron Vickers passed along via Twitter that the Czech coach is gonna use Smid in the first pairing tomorrow, because why not, right? They are playing Latvia, who are the least-dangerous of Group C’s teams.

Anyone else really impressed with Norway’s effort in their loss to Canada? I was quite taken with their very structured forecheck, and really liked their goaltender Lars Haugen. I imagine he’ll get a few calls from NHL clubs looking for depth and/or a diamond-in-the-rough, but the 26-year-old has a contract with the KHL’s Dynamo Minsk that runs through next season.

Abbotsford’s Friday game in Raleigh against the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s farm team) has been postponed to Saturday, as nobody can get into the east coast today due to a snow storm. The Heat have played really well of late, and took it to the Checkers back in Abby last week, winning both games by a country mile. They’ll now play Saturday and Sunday in Raleigh, the Hurricanes’ home rink, before continuing on their road trip.

College Hockey News joins the chorus in heralding Johnny Gaudreau as the lord and master of collegiate hockey and the presumptive favourite for the Hobey Baker Award in April. The Boston College Eagles play against Vermont on Friday and Saturday, and will have just three regular-season games left after this weekend.

The Flames website has an interview (through an interpreter) with Flames 7th rounder Rushan Rafikov. Long story short, he’s probably coming to North America next year to play in the Canadian Hockey League. I imagine the Flames will have their fingers crossed that he gets nabbed by a WHL club in the Import Draft, which would have to happen before he can suit up over here. Rafikov has been a beast for the MHL’s Loko Yaroslavl, but it’s hard to tell what he is without seeing him regularly and/or seeing him on the NHL-sized ice.

For the curious, the general Canada or Flames-related game schedule over the weekend shakes down like this:

  • Friday: Czechs (Smid) vs. Latvia [1am MT], Swiss (Berra) vs. Sweden [5:30am MT], Canada vs. Austria [10am MT]
  • Saturday: Swiss (Berra?) vs. Czechs (Smid) [10am MT], Heat at Charlotte [3pm MT]
  • Sunday: Canada vs. Finland [10am MT], Heat at Charlotte [11:30am MT]

Finally, Friday is Valentine’s Day and an oddly heavy schedule for hockey, both junior and collegiate. I get that Fridays are great nights for hockey, but crowds on V-Day are always sparse, as it’s hard to convince your partner to spend a romantic night at the rink. Believe me, I’ve tried.

  • piscera.infada

    The Rafikov thing is very intriguing to me. A player like that generally wouldn’t have slipped as far as he did if it wasn’t believed he would just stay in Russia. There’s definitely tools to work with there.

    From Pronman: “Rafikov is a prototypical sleeper. He was a late round pick in 2013, with low notoriety playing overseas, but he has significant upside. Rafikov is a mobile, skilled defenseman, with two-way potential” [sic].

    Good to hear.

  • BurningSensation

    I recall reading somewhere (likely Corey Pronman) that Rafikov is a ‘warrior’ type blueliner, all meat-potatoes, clearing of creases, and two handers to the back of the knee.

    If we can get an actual hard-ass NHL defenseman with a 7th rnd pick, well, that would be just EXCELLENT.

  • beloch

    One thing that was very clear from the Sochii games I’ve seen so far is that bruising, physical play is taking a back-seat to speed. Teams are really relying on speed in the neutral zone a lot more than physical checking. The Canadian team prioritized speed and even they looked a little slow in the early going against Norway (If Norway had enough depth to rest their first line more, they might be a threat.) Smid is just not built for speed. My bet is that he’ll look pretty awful tomorrow.

    Although his sv% might not reflect it, I think Berra has improved a lot under Malarchuk. He’s over-committing less and making fewer gaffs when playing the puck. His big issue is still the lapses in concentration he suffers from, especially when he’s not busy. The stakes are high and Sweden will keep him busy. Berra just might turn in a splendid performance! Burke had better be ready to answer his telephone and make a deal!

    • beloch

      One thing that was very clear from the Sochii games I’ve seen so far is that bruising, physical play is taking a back-seat to speed.

      Unless your name is Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, apparently.

  • beloch

    Swedes beat the Swiss 1-0, Berra only gives up one. I wonder if he thinks he is still in Calgary; play well but get no goal support.(reminds me or our team in December)

    It will be interesting to see if the Swiss can advance.

  • piscera.infada

    Berra played pretty well today against Sweden. 30 saves on 31 shots… Of course, his achilles-heel reared it’s head – he let in one bad goal. I don’t know, but if he could put an end to that he could be something – not likely for the Flames though.

    • piscera.infada

      I remember back to when the Flames won the Stanley cup and the years both before and after. Vernon frequently let in bad goals(this in my mind cost them a couple of playoff series)but the difference being on many nights the team had enough offence to negate the bad goal. At this point the flames are not in this position, maybe s the young skilled guys evolve into NHL skilled guys the team will be able to absorb a bad goal but not now. I’m not saying that Berra is as good as Vernon but I think the bad goal concept is comparable.

      • Michael

        Please please do not compare Mike Vernon to Reto Berra and there concepts of bad goals. Your being disrespectful to a 2 time Stanley Cup Champion!!

        Reto Berra is a soon to be 27 yr old goalie playing like an average fumbling rookie. He is barely a capable fill in for a young rebuilding team. Thank goodness Emile Piorier is likely going to turn out to be a top talent giving us the only return for a world class defenseman JBo! Berra and Cundari lifelong AHL’ers at best!

        • Michael

          Primo: I was not really trying to compare Berra to Vernon other than to state that a team with more offensive talent are more capable of overcoming bad goals than the current flames team. Also that the fans are more forgiving of the bad goals from a guy like Vernon or Fuhr for that manner because their teams won. If the flames were winning for Berra I suspect we might be more forgiving of his bad goals.

      • piscera.infada

        It’s comparable. But that’s how razor thin the NHL is most nights now. One bad goal can destroy you, and it seems to be entirely habitual these days. Obviously even the best goalies in the league let in bad goals more frequently than their respective teams would like, but that’s hockey. It’s the simple fact that it seems Berra lets one or two of those in a night…

        I won’t go as far as to say he’s a complete disaster (as many on this site would espouse), but I don’t see him being on the Flames much longer. Maybe he gets a one year – two way contract next year, but eventually he’ll either be traded or let walk to make room for someone else. Yes, he could be a decent goalie in the future. At this point though, Ramo is without a doubt the better play. Down the road you have to account for playing time for both Ortio and Gilles, and to a lesser extent Roy if he can continue his play when Ortio was up here. I just don’t see where Berra fits, and that’s really not a knock on the guy (I’d like to have a beer with him one day), he’s just not the “best” option.

  • Michael

    The Flames have some interesting goalies down the road, but it typically takes a long time to develope an NHL goalie. It will be interesting to see if Burke goes shopping for a veterean number one to anchor the club for the next two or three years, allowing the young guys the develop time they need.

  • Michael

    Oh Berra. I missed the game, but heard the score on the radio this morning while heading to work. Assuming he must have played great, I opened a CBC article on the game. Only a couple paragraphs in I couldn’t help but laugh as I read this:

    “Defenceman Erik Karlsson sent a harmless looking shot toward Reto Berra, but the Swiss goalie allowed a bad rebound right to Daniel Alfredsson, who buried his easy chance.”

    Classic. Not surprising in the least. But good for him, sounds like he played well otherwise. If he ever wants to succeed at the NHL level he really needs to get that rebound control under wraps.