Friday, August 15, 2014

The PIPE-ies: Top Story

After a week of collecting nominations from our audience and media colleagues, Tuesday night on TPS we made it official. The nominees in all 10 categories were announced and the voting for the winners has begun.

This is a category with a wide range in scope as some are feel good, uplifting moments while others are downright scary and much more serious.
After the jump, the names of the nominees in the category of Top Story from 2013-14.

These are the 5 candidates for Top Story from 2013-14...

"David Glen's Ultimate Assist"

Photo: Penn State
I've never met a hockey player who didn't mind being a healthy scratch. Obviously every player wants to dress as often as possible and get as much ice time every game as the can get. Certainly players don't volunteer to come out of the line up. Ever. 

Sometimes real life reminds us that hockey is after all, just a game. But not to professionals or those trying to reach that level of the sport which makes what David Glen did this past January that much more impressive. 

Recently I had Glen join me in studio for an hour long interview with a couple of other players. During that hour he recounted how and why he took a few weeks off in the middle of Penn State's inaugural Divison I season.

The story made such an impact that even Hockey Night in Canada went to Happy Valley for the story and Elliot Friedman put together this feature:  

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As Glen told TPS listeners in the interview linked above, the lady who his donation went to help has improved and is no longer in hospital. Although he hasn't met her and still wants to, it must be an amazing feeling to know that you saved someone's life. 

On the ice Glen's season wasn't his best; his point production was much lower than he's used to. There's no question though that when it comes to big plays, Glen recorded the biggest assist of his life.    

"Indiana Ice; From Champions to Dormant"

Photo: USHL
There had been rumors for months that the future of the USHL's Indiana Ice was very uncertain at end of the season. The concern was in the lack of a suitable building for the team to play in around Indianapolis. Talk was that the club might move or just fold completely. 

You can imagine that that uncertainty must have been very difficult for the organization to contend with both on the ice and at the gate. Often keeping the fans you have at times like that are tough; who wants to support a team on the way out?

But the Ice had a very strong team and ended up winning the Eastern Conference with a 17-point cushion over Cedar Rapids. Indiana eventually met Waterloo in the USHL final and outlasted the Black Hawks in a lengthy series to claim the Clark Cup. 

Before the series began the news broke. In hindsight, how amazing is it that the Ice were able to beat Waterloo, a club every bit their equal, with that news hitting them just as the series was about to begin? Players who were returning to the league in 2014-15 had no idea where they would be moving to. Friends on and off the ice, pulled away as the team went dark. 

For his job through such trying circumstances, GM Jeff Brown was named USHL General Manager of the Year. The club retains its status as a member of the league although they will not take part in the coming season and potentially not in 2015-16 either as they await construction of a new building.         

"Play For Pelssy"

Photo: Andy Devlin
The news last summer that Kristians Pelss had accidentally died while swimming in a river in Latvia was a devastating blow to those that knew him. More so for the few that were able to call him a teammate and a friend. Pelss had just completed his rookie professional year inside the Edmonton Oilers minor league system. Prior to that he'd been a member of the Edmonton Oil Kings for two years and several of his WHL teammates were still with the junior team this year. 

Before the 2013-14 campaign began, the team decided to dedicate the season to their lost teammate and "Play For Pelssy" was born. During the season home opener the team shared tribute videos. There are four of them, all fairly short. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Those who covered the team all season long knew that the memory of Pelss was always around. The team has his jersey hanging in their dressing room and having the chance to help the training staff set up in Portland during the finals, I saw it first hand that even on the road, Pelss was with the team. 

Of course everyone learned that when the club won the WHL Championship and the familiar #26 was brought out for the on ice celebration. The scene was repeated a couple of weeks later in London after the Oil Kings won the Memorial Cup. When the club returned home and celebrated their victories with the City of Edmonton, you knew it was only a matter of time before a "Pelssy" chant broke out. 

Just this week OilersTV produced a fantastic season retrospective called The Power of 26. The video is dedicated to Kristians and the Pelss family who remain close with the organization. Last summer Kevin Lowe flew to Latvia to personally deliver his condolences to the Pelss family as well as his 2012 WHL Championship ring. This year, after the Oil Kings had claimed the Memorial Cup, Mr. Pelss texted fellow Latvian Edgars Kulda and asked him to thank the team for keeping the memory of his son alive.

It's the stuff movies are made of.      

"Bozon Battles Meningitis... and Wins"

The WHL is well known for it's grueling travel schedule and physically taxing style of play. But this year Tim Bozon's toughest opponent didn't wearing shoulder pads.
 Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs. Meningitis can be life-threatening because of the inflammation's proximity to the brain and spinal cord; therefore, the condition is classified as a medical emergency.
Montreal Canadiens prospect was with his club, the Kootenay Ice, on a road trip through Saskatchewan when he was admitted to hospital in Saskatoon, his situation listed as critical.

Details were far and few between early on but the world soon learned that Bozon was put in a medically induced coma to give his body the best chance possible to conquer the disease.

While their friend lay fighting for his life in a hospital bed, the rest of the Kootenay Ice were expected to somehow focus on winning hockey and secure a playoff position. Amazingly the team managed to do more than that and advanced to the second round knocking off the favourited Calgary Hitmen in the process. The club received a massive boost when Bozon, released from hospital, was able to attend a home game and take part in the opening ceremonies. 

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It's also worth noting the tremendous display of sportsmanship and camaraderie of the Hitmen in that video. One by one they circled through and shook Bozon's hand, a gesture showing how much of an impact Bozon's plight had on the hockey community at large. 

Also a part of the story is the rallying of support from hockey fans everywhere who donated money through a WHL trust fund to help Bozon's family cover medical costs. As non residents, the Bozon's are not part of the Canadian Health Care system and the standard insurance covered by teams did not cover the extensive care needed in this rare case.   

Depression Awareness in Hockey


Photo: OHL IMages
Mental illness can affect anyone living any kind of lifestyle and hockey is not immune. We've even seen high profile instances in recent years where professional players have taken their own lives.

Unfortunately this year the same thing happened in the Ontario Hockey League with Saginaw Spirit forward Terry Trafford. After being suspended by the team for a violation of team rules, the 20-year-old disappeared and it was days before he was located. Unfortunately the story doesn't have a happy ending for Trafford who was found to have committed suicide.  

It's hard to find a silver lining to such a tragic story but if there is one it's that Trafford's death has spurned discussion towards prevention of the same happening again. 

In an outstanding column from Yahoo! Sports writer Neate Sager, he points out the need for the hockey world to do more. While this specific event happened in the OHL, it's not limited to that league or to the CHL, NHL or even to hockey.

While hockey leagues and teams can't address mental health awareness or care in all walks of life, they can make changes to assist their players and employees who may be quietly struggling. It's a difficult subject, an awkward one to discuss publicly but the conversation has to happen. Those in need of help have to feel like that help is available to them.  

I don't know what the solution is. Do teams need to have independent counselors? Someone separate from the club that a player or employee can consult without fear of exposure or repercussion? That might be a start but I don't know if it's enough or if it's feasible in all areas of the sport where it needs to be. 

At the very least, the discussion and awareness on how to face mental illness has begun but much more is still needed.           

We are collecting votes for the next week until Tuesday August 19th when we announce the winners of the 2014 PIPE-ies. If you want to cast your vote, let us hear it. Tweet us at @TPS_Guy and @DuckMillard and include the hashtag #TPSAwards in your vote.    

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