SCOC: Khokhlechev Story

29 06 2011

As Published on Stanley Cup of Chowder June 28th

No one is talking about this kid.

On the one hand that’s life when you are the 40th selection in the NHL Draft, on the other sometimes people just can’t figure out how you fell down that far. Alexander Khokhlechev is most certainly one of the latter.

It doesn’t help that his last name has probably been butchered countless times since coming over. It’s Coke (like the soda)-la-chev by the way, can’t you just hear the Jack Edwards puns already? And despite his draft slot we may be hearing them sooner rather than later.

Khokhlechev or “Koko” as he is known in Windsor carried the same stigma that most Russians have in the past few years, teams will assume he’s a flight risk. That’s without even mentioning his size (he stands at a crisp 5’11″ and 174lbs) and his age, he just squeaked into draft eligibility with his late birthday.

Despite the knocks on him Khokhlechev has, so far, shown nothing but the opposite of what scouts fear about young Russian snipers. For starters he came over from his hometown of Moscow at the age of 16 to play for the Windsor Spitfires and went on to be the team’s third leading scorer with 76 (34 goals, 42 assists) behind only established pro prospects Ryan Ellis and Zach Kassian. In the playoffs his 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) led all OHL rookies. For a Spitfire squad fresh from losing Taylor Hall Khokhlechev did a decent job of filling in.

His size Is still an issue but he overcomes it with great skating ability. What he lacks in raw power he makes up for in elusiveness and sheer tenacity for the net. He’s not one that will go through you but he will do his best to get past you anyway he can. He is also not dependent on using his above average shot, doing what he can to get in dirty areas and banging home rebounds.

“The first thing that jumps out about Khokhlachev’s game is his heart,” writes the Scouting Reports Andrew Weiss. “With a grinder-like style, Khokhlachev hustles on both the forecheck and backcheck. He has no problem driving to the net without the puck and banging home a rebound or setting up backdoor for a pass.” 

It’s that tenacity that made him stand out to Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins Scouting staff. While many were wary of his commitment to North American hockey a quick look at his history shows that Khokhlechev has nothing but the NHL on his mind.

At 16 he along with fellow Russian prospects Alexander Avtsin, Alexi Marchenko, and Arseny Kardailsky were made the faces of the KHL’s new junior league. Not long after he bolted to Windsor leaving what may have been a million dollar pay day if he continued on his track to the KHL.

His decision will probably do him no favors when the Russian junior team is selected but Khokhlechev knows what he wants, as he has made major strides in adjusting to the North American game including greatly improving his English by the end of his first year.

“It is my dream to play in the NHL,” Khokhlachev told The Windsor Star, upon his selection by the Bruins. “Coming to Windsor was part of my plan. (Saturday), I was drafted by the Boston Bruins and I am very excited. Now, the next part of my career begins.”

Maybe Bruins fans should start working on that pronunciation.


Unwritten Rules and Unpublished Words

4 11 2010

The first rule of the NBA is you don’t tweet about the NBA. At least that’s what Kevin Garnett would like to believe after the Celtics Tuesday night game.

“KG called me a cancer patient,” Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva tweeted after the game. “I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke.” Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a medical condition that causes rapid hair loss and can apparently, at least to Garnett, make one look like a chemo therapy patient.

The real joke seems to be lost on Villanueva though. His tweet feels akin to the kid running home to tell his mother that the other kids were mean to him. A parting shot in what was a lost night for the Pistons as they were trounced by the Celtics 109 to 86, a game in which Garnett lead the team with 22 points. Perhaps out of pure frustration with his team’s effort Villanueva broke an unwritten rule of the court and turned a bad joke into and even worse debate over trash talking in the NBA.

Garnett was quick to put himself on the defensive, releasing a statement that called the incident a “major miscommunication.”

“I am aware there was a major miscommunication regarding something I said on the court last night,” read the statement. “My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact, ‘You are cancerous to your team and our league.”

Now, to believe that Garnett went through the trouble of thinking up such a nice and well thought out insult is to believe that it was the Celtics PR staff wearing number five that night in Detroit and not the 6’11” man from Farragut Academy. And though his joke was bad, perhaps even inappropriate, he is free to make it.

Basketball was a game that grew out of the playground. It is played by kids some of whom were nice than others and in the heat of competition are willing to say anything to gain an edge. Though people may have a hard time admitting it, when it comes to competition nothing is sacred.

“It’s a good thing they didn’t have tweets when we played,’’ Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe. “Nothing was sacred. Not your mom, your skin color, your religion, your family. You could not print the stuff that was said.”

It’s not limited to the players on the court either. Take in a game in the balcony section of the TD Garden wearing an opposing jersey and you may find yourself hearing foul things about your mother from someone two rows behind you, someone who has never met you or your dear old mom their entire life. Even among friends, particularly males, the profanities that will bombard your ears would make K.G. proud.

Thankfully, these spats rarely move past the exchange of profane words. As human beings we have one big advantage over everything on this planet, we are rational creatures. Incidents like the Pistons-Pacers brawl in 2004 and Mike Milbury’s shoe attack in 1979 are the exception, not the rule when it comes to reaction to trash talking.

But sure enough, a simple tweet will light a powder keg that has everyone questioning themselves as if it was the Spanish Inquisition.

Whether it is calling for the all out banishment of a word, or somehow equating Garnett’s disregard for taste to a disregard of human life, people will shout at the top of their lungs that in rough game played in a country where freedom of speech is guaranteed we should all watch our language.

“I don’t like the whole thing, and the fact that we are talking about it is silly,’’ Doc Rivers told the Globe. “It’s amazing to me that this is news. It’s not sports.”

But in today’s wired world everything is news. This is far from the last time a miniscule thing will explode into an examination of ethics in sports. And for all those involved the words will eventually fade away leaving only their actions to be held accountable for.

Patriots Then and Now: Week 7

1 11 2010

The Patriots are now the owners of the best record in the NFL so clearly they are learning their lessons, so it’s time to hit the books once more in this week’s Then and Now.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis Then: Served a secondary role in the Patriot’s game plan against San Diego running for 24 yards on 11 carries and no touchdowns.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis Now: Serving as proof that New England can have a running game whenever Bill Belichick declares it so Green-Ellis had two touchdowns and 112 yards rushing on 17 carries as he punched holes in Minnesota’s defensive line all day.

Lesson Learned: It’s getting creepy at this point. You can’t help but feel like the Patriots can and will score whenever Belichick orders it. Be it through Tom Brady’s arm of on the ground what Belichick says, goes and he seems to have a gameplan for everyone.

Tom Brady Then: Went 19 for 32 in his passing attempts and completed one touchdown pass in a game that fell on the shoulders of his kicker.

Tom Brady Now: More of the same from number 12 as he went 16 for 27 and another touchdown. His silence was more by design this week though as it was his running corps that got the job down for New England against the Vikings.

Lesson Learned: Brady has had at least one touchdown and has completed more than half of his attempts in every game this season. The Patriots 6-1 record can be attributed to his consistency as much as Belichick’s game plan. The bottom line? If Brady plays like Brady the Pats can almost guarantee a win

Patriots Defense Then: In the face of Phillip Rivers and the Chargers the Patriots defense blinked allowing San Diego to throw for 325 yards and one touchdown. Lucky for them the Chargers were sloppy with the ball, turning it over four times.

Patriots Defense Now: After jumping out of the frying the pan that was Phillip Rivers the Patriots went right into the fire that was Brett Farve, Adrian Peterson, and Randy Moss. Once again the opposition racked up yards on the young defensive corps, gathering up 410 yards of offense. The Patriots stopped them when it counted though as the Vikings only converted two of their four trips to the red zone.

Lesson Learned: Much to the chagrin of NFL head coaches Bill Belichick has managed to squeeze the most out of his young plays with their “bend but don’t break approach”.  Despite allowing 773 total yards of offense in their last two games the Pats have made the stops when it counts holding their opponents to four conversions in eight total trips to the red zone. Maybe Bill really is a genius.

Patriots Then and Now: Week 6

25 10 2010

Another week and another set of lessons learned for the Patriots. Well, more like luck found so let’s go through the list.

Tom Brady Then: Brady threw two interceptions in a game that he had trouble find his rhythm early against the Ravens last week. He kept the Pats in the game but some big drops in the OT period almost cost them the game.

Tom Brady Now: Brady had a similar game Sunday as he was kept to a modest 159 yards and one TD pass but was glad not to be facing Baltimore’s defense as we went without an interception, though the Chargers defensive was not much kinder as they kept Brady in relative check sacking him five times.

Lesson Learned: Through two games Brady has been kept quiet with only two touchdowns despite completing more than half of his pass attempts. It didn’t help that he had to face two tough defenses in Baltimore and San Diego. Chalk it up to good game plans and luck on the Patriots side in California as they only managed six first downs in the first half, half of which were gifts of San Diego penalties.

Aaron Hernandez Then: Picked up 61 yards on four catches but had some big drops in overtime.

Aaron Hernandez Now: His 54 yards on five catches were essential in moving the chains for the Patriots but could not help them get out of their first half slump. This was also his sixth game without a touchdown.

Lesson Learned: While he continues to lead the team in receiving yards with 355 and is quickly becoming one of Brady’s favored targets Hernandez is still without his first NFL score. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Rob Gronkowski has three, his height advantage giving him making him an easy target in the red zone. Hernandez’s half-plight may be evidence that the Patriot’s offense is perhaps too well spread out. Brady has plenty of targets at his disposal in the middle of the field but when it comes to TD strikes suddenly he can’t find anybody downfield. Keep an eye on this one.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis Then: Managed twenty yards on ten carries along with a TD continued to lose carries to Danny Woodhead.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis Now: Gained 24 yards on 11 carries and scored in his fourth consecutive game, but he too was snake bit in the first half as he and Woodhead only managed 27 rushing yards before the break. Green-Ellis was also charged with picking up one yard on a crucial fourth quarter fourth down and came up empty leading to a turnover.

Lesson Learned: Green-Ellis is losing more and more carries to Woodhead as the Patriots do their best to keep their offense from being centered around any one player. Green-Ellis has also worked on a respectable scoring streak though neither he nor Woodhead have proven to be completely dependable for anything other than eating time and moving chains, which may be the most you can ask out of a Patriots running game.

Coming Out of Hibernation

22 10 2010

Up until Thursday the Bruin’s powerplay was in shambles, going one for 15 to start the season. So what did Claude Julien do to fix it? He turned it on its head.

Gone were Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Hunwick, the original point men on the man-advantage, and in were Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi who were previously patrolling down low.

It was the definition of counter-intuitive. Neither Bergeron or Recchi are known for their slap-shots, in fact Recchi has made a career of making simple tip-ins down low and in front of the net.

Sometimes it’s the least likely option that works the best. The new look power play came alive going three for four thanks to the slick puck moving by the new point men.

Bringing back the power to the man-advantage Thursday was the last tweak on a Bruins team is doing all it can to erase the bad memories of last season.

Chief among those bad memories was the team’s inability to score last season. They were dead last in the NHL in goals for last season with 196 and could never find a rhythm.

Now, at this early point of the season, they are sixth in the league and every line has gelled beyond anybody’s expectation.

The team just looks different out on the ice. That is interesting considering that the roster has basically been unchanged for the last three years.

“It’s a good start,’’ Milan Lucic told the Boston Globe. “But we can’t get satisfied. We have to keep the mind-set that it doesn’t just happen. We have to make it happen.”

Lucic said a lot more with that quote than he thought he did. Gone is the sense of entitlement that followed the Bruins last season as they came off their President’s Trophy 2008-09 season.

They appropriately fell on flat on their face that season.

But now everyone seems to be contributing. From the once listless Michael Ryder to the energetic rookies Jordan Caron and Tyler Seguin, the team has been putting in an effort that was nowhere to be found last season.

Bruins hockey is getting exciting again.

They go for five in a row Saturday night against the Rangers and here’s to hoping they keep the good things brewing.

Do you think the Bruins are any better from last year?

Taking Headshots Head On

21 10 2010

So Steelers linebacker James Harrison is contemplating retirement. Good for him, maybe this means he is finally seeing just how dangerous the big hits he and his colleagues dish out on a weekly basis truly are.

Yeah I didn’t think so either, turns out Harrison just doesn’t like getting in trouble.

So as he and fellow players Brandon Meriweather, and Dunta Robinson pay their fines and return to the field Sunday the NFL will be watching with the eyes of a hawk for dangerous tackles in order to possibly start handing down suspensions.

Again, good for them but it can’t help but feel like the damage has already been done a long time ago. It is damage that can’t just be measured in the number of players left injured by headshots or the grand total of fines paid.

No, the damage is in the culture and the idea that hits like head shots are just a part of the game, a byproduct of trying to make the big play. And unfortunately for the NFL it’s going to take a lot more than fines and threats of suspension to change that.

“There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured,” Harrison told the Associated Press. “You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”

And hurt people he did as he left the Cleveland Browns without wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs due to concussions. Ironically enough Harrison did not even draw a penalty on his hit for Cribbs because, running out of a wildcat formation, he was a runner in possession of the ball and thus a legal target leading one to believe the NFL has a hard time protecting anybody.

Even more alarming is that Harrison is nowhere near alone on his opinion on rough hits.

Chicago corner Charles Tillman thinks the NFL is ruining the integrity of the sport. To him it’s “not even football anymore.”

Miami linebacker Channing Crowder is unrepentant and insists that if you want to stop helmet-to-helmet hits you’re going to have to pry his from his cold dead fingers.

“If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me,” he told ESPN. “They give me a helmet, I’m going to use it.”

Even Ray Lewis, arguably one of the best linebackers of his era, is dismissive.

“My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played,” he told ESPN. “and whatever happens happens.”

It’s the kind of ignorance toward others safety that makes you wonder whether they have all been hit in the head one too many times.

And maybe they have, considering how hard it is for them to let go of their dangerous practices must speak to a long history of improper coaching or multiple head injuries.

There is no denying that football is a dangerous and violent sport, but the unnecessary force used by many can be akin to opening a can of soup with a 12-gauge shotgun. There is just a better way.

It will have to start with coaching at all levels, teaching players proper technique and punishing reckless plays early would pay long dividends.

Though that may be a lot to ask for in the NFL.

Quick question: do you think Bill Belichick pulled Meriweather off for his dirty hit or for costing the Patriots 15 yards in a tight game?

Yeah, I thought so.

It is a deep seeded problem in the culture and the NFL must not be afraid to come down harder on for their own sake. To not do so would be nothing short of a travesty and a spit in the face to retired players that now deal with post-concussion symptoms that plague them even after they leave the game and a mockery of the investments the league has made in concussion research.

There is a reason football has evolved past the era of leather caps as protection and unless things change it will be a matter of if rather than when someone doesn’t get up after a hit.

And it’s on that day that these modern day gladiators will have to deal with the consequences of life and death in the arena.

Pats Then and Now

18 10 2010

So how can we tell if this young Pats team is learning anything? Simple, let’s look at the then and now.

Tom Brady Then: Went 19 for 24 in passing attempts and racked up 153 yards against Miami. Though it was the special teams that stole the show and gave Brady his 150th win. Brady only turned in one touchdown in a Pats route.

Tom Brady Now: Brady’s completion went down and his one touchdown was overshadowed by two big interceptions. But Brady brought it together in the 4th quarter on an eight play drive that ended with a catch by old friend Deion Branch that helped send the game into overtime after a late game field goal.

Lesson Learned: Brady still does have that magic 4th quarter touch of old, having old budding Deion Branch helps with that as well but in the end the Pats lucked out and will have to learn that they can’t depend on Brady to carry them every week.

Aaron Hernandez Then: Was left out of the game plan against the Dolphins making only five catches for 29 yards without a TD though the rookie has still been proving himself to be one of the steals of the draft with his 301 yards and 22 catches this season.

Aaron Hernandez Now: He had one less reception than his last game but made the most out of the four he still made, gaining 61 yards. Despite the decent day Hernandez made some key drops in OT that led to punts. Considering that it is sudden death OT those drops could have possibly costs the Patriots the win.

Lesson Learned: Hernandez is still starting to make a strong case for rookie of the year but a rookie is still a rookie and made some key mistakes in key drives. Lucky for him the Ravens couldn’t convert in OT either allowing the Pats to squeak by.

Deion Branch Then: Was rotting away in Seattle gaining only 10 yards on one catch in his last game for the Seahawks.

Deion Branch Now: Branch was resurrected Sunday at Gillette Stadium. His 98 yards on nine catches was his biggest of the season and his one touchdown was a key 4th quarter conversion that helped sent the Pats into extra frames.

Lesson Learned: He may not be Randy Moss but Branch helped spread the field like Moss and his big gains speaks volumes about the value of chemistry between himself and Brady. Look for more good things from this old Friend.