© Associated Press photo
New York Rangers’ Brad Richards
Oh, what a difference a year makes and a new head coach for the New York Rangers.
Last year, former Stanley Cup MVP Brad Richards sat in the stands for a number of playoff games and his tenure in Gotham appeared to be over.
This year, under new head coach Alain Vigneault, Richards has regained most of the form that made him one of the most dangerous forwards in post-season play. Granted, Brad is not the player he once was, and he’s on the downside of what has been a terrific career, but he’s still the most dangerous Ranger as they open their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final in Montreal this afternoon.
Regardless of what the Rangers do with the Canadiens, Richards will certainly remain in New York for the foreseeable future.
Vigneault deserves much of the credit for Brad’s rebound year and for the Rangers’ post-season play. Vigneault doesn’t have Brad blocking shots or other such foolishness; he uses the veteran wisely and in the right spots. The Rangers played like dogs in a few of their quarter-final games with the Flyers and looked terrible in three of the Pittsburgh games. Nevertheless, the Blueshirts found a way to win.
When general manager Mike Gillis opted not to retain Vigneault as the Vancouver head coach last summer that was the start of the Canucks downfall and the end of Gillis in British Columbia. When Vigneault was here coaching the P.E.I. Rocket, I wrote and said many, many times he was the best coach not in the NHL. Now, he may be the best coach in the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien and his staff, including assistant coach Gerard Gallant, have done a remarkable job with the Habs. The Canadiens hold Canada’s hopes for a possible Stanley Cup, and after their stunning upset of the Boston Bruins – the top seed in the Eastern Conference – they have a legitimate shot.
The Canadiens played four lines and bumped and outhustled the Bruins in each of the last two games getting big goals from unknown Dale Weise and veteran Daniel Briere en route to the win.
There’s nothing worse than playing a rival who thinks they can win and right now both Montreal and New York believe in themselves. Should be a great series.
The Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins can blame nobody but themselves for what happened in this year’s playoffs.
The Bruins couldn’t wait to get rid of young superstar Tyler Seguin last summer and don’t tell me he wouldn’t have made the difference in the Montreal series. Instead of guiding Seguin like a great teacher might do, Bruins management traded him to Minnesota. Right now, Seguin is among the top five forwards in the league, the type of player the Beanies are now chasing.
The Penguins allowed opposing teams to clobber Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all season and did nothing about it. In the playoffs, Columbus hammered both stars every game and in the Rangers series most notably defenceman Mark Staal cross-checked Crosby in the back of the head, the neck and back but nothing was done. Crosby was not close to 100 per cent in the series and it was obvious the Pens had no grit up front, no ruffian on the blue-line and nobody protecting their two biggest stars.
Owner Mario Lemieux deserves much of the blame and it’s likely GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma are gone.
The Penguins need a couple of forwards like a Mike Kennedy clone or a Brett Gallant from the New York Islanders, players who provide grit and heart and know what the word team means.
The Charlottetown Gaudet’s Auto Body Islanders open New Brunswick Senior Baseball League play on the road today in Saint John.
The Islanders will be will be without Andrew Macdonald, who could miss the entire year after knee surgery. In addition power hitting Dillon Doucette will be here for the opener next weekend with the Chatham Ironmen but will not be available until first of July. The Islanders have lots of young talent so this season should be interesting. Young Dylan McKenna, who impressed last summer, could move into the shortstop spot and I just love this guy as a player. I never saw him play the middle infield, but he has talent and replacing a player like MacDonald is a big test for the youngster.
The pitching staff is in great shape with hurlers Jacob Beck and Jordan Stevenson returning. The team has added hard-throwing lefty Brodie MacDonald and there’s also the possibility that national junior team southpaw J.P. Stevenson could be available for part of the season.
Offensively, Doucette is a big load in the lumber department and he should get plenty of help from outfielder Sean Corcoran and catcher Morgan MacLean, who led the team in hitting last year. Infielders Jordan Duffy and Alex Abbott as well as outfielders Jeremy MacKinnon and Josh Kelly will be expected to drive in runs. And let’s not forget McKenna, who is a year stronger and older and has a quick bat. There are a number of other solid players in camp.
The Islanders will stage their major fundraiser in July at the Avondale Golf Course. For more information, contact Corcoran at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or pick up a registration form at next Saturday’s game.
Live harness racing continues this evening at the city track and post time is 6 p.m.
The $2,200 feature goes in Race 12 with Van Zant (Ron Matheson), Blue Star Outlaw (Jason Hughes), Tempo Seelster (Vince Poulton), Sterling Seelster (Marc Campbell), Nobestbfor (Walter Cheverie), General Lucky Percy (Gilles Barrieau) and Machinthesand (Brodie MacPhee).
Sterling Seelster was claimed last week by Summerside restaurant owner Marie (Perry) Cameron and is now trained by Doug MacGregor. Marie is the daughter of Andy Perry and Doug the son of Roach MacGregor and, of course, Andy and Roach were responsible for the great pacer Bay State Pat, track record holder at Quebec City in the 1950s. Best of luck to Marie and Dougie with the new purchase.
There is lots of simulcast action available from up country. Harness racing shifts next week from Woodbine to Mohawk for the remainder of the summer.
Tonight at Woodbine, State Treasurer, who won last week, heads the $34,000 field, but it’s a lot tougher this week with Apprentice Hanover in the mix as well as Lucan Hanover, In Commando, Dapper Dude and Captive Audience.
At The Meadowlands tonight, European invader Sebastien K, who beat the best North American bred trotters with a sensational 1:50.1 score at the New Jersey track last Saturday, will attempt to break the 1:50 mark. No trotter has ever broken that barrier, so that race is a must see.
At Pocono tonight, since Bolt the Duer is off a week, Mark MacDonald drives Bob MacIntosh’s top colt Somewhere in LA in a $66,000 PA sire stake.
A quick look at the Canadian leaderboard shows James MacDonald third in the nation in money earned at $984,000, trailing Jody Jamieson ($1.1 million) and Sylvan Filion ($1 million).
James is also third in wins at 114 behind Trevor Henry (164) and Alf Carroll (124).
The Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, goes today in Baltimore and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome will attempt to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive. The race can be seen via simulcast at the city track this afternoon.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. He can reached at email@example.com.