We are just under a month into 2015 and already my “resolutions” have dissolved into merely good intentions and I’m left trying to choose between either a more focused attack toward the same personal goals or simply some readjusted, more attainable resolutions. I don’t think I’m alone in this dilemma as certainly there are some others who lasted less than month with their 2015 self-betterment plans and I’m also certain that it’s probably not the first time this has happened to us. The key is all in the “paradigm” – as I often like to tell my players – and how you’re able to adjust your point of view in different situations as they pertain to different times of the day, of the week and of your life. It’s no different for a hockey team and most definitely no different for our Knoxville Ice Bears, especially given the peaks and valleys we’ve witnessed thus far in our season throughout shifts, games and weeks.

     Take our home record for example; there is no way in heck that an 8-7-1 record through our first 16 home games would have been something deemed “okay” in our pre-season goal setting. Not for a franchise that prides itself on dominant home play and hang our hats on having one of the best all-time home winning percentages in all of professional hockey. (think I’m just using that because it sounds good – check the stats, the Ice Bears have banged out home wins at a ridiculous pace over the past 13 years.) But for the sake of a paradigm adjustment, let’s have a look at our road record during our first 17 games of the travel schedule. 12-4-1 and a .676 winning percentage away from home is a series of numbers that myself and the guys are very proud of. It’s hard to win on the road, especially given the travel between games and other challenges associated with leaving the arena you practice in every day. Our ROAD record is better than anyone else’s HOME record and the main reason we’re fortunate enough to be sitting in 1st place right now. Are we happy with our play at home? No. Do we wish that we’d given our home fans a better showing so far this season at the Civic Coliseum? Of course. But instead of looking at things through the viewpoint of “I wish we had’ve” the guys and I are surely using the “good thing we did” attitude moving forward for the next 23 games of our SPHL schedule.

     I wish we had’ve won just a few more home games or games against Peoria, but we brought home 25 out of a possible 34 points on the road and it’s good thing we did!

     Every off-season the NHL coordinates a camp called their “Research & Development Camp” at which they try out new ideas to help better the game, make it more fan friendly, etc. I usually cringe at some of the ideas and thoughts that come out of it because I like to – biasedly - consider myself a hockey traditionalist. I like 2-1 games, I enjoy a bit of obstruction hooking in the neutral zone, I like seeing contact with the goalies when they’re out of the crease and I like races for loose pucks during touch-icing situations.

     But every once in a while the sharpest minds in the hockey business churn out a few things that I can get behind. I like the new offensive zone faceoff rules that keep the draw in-zone if a puck goes out of play off the crossbar/post or glass and I’m a big fan of the more lenient rulings in regard to a player “directing” a puck into the net as long as he doesn’t kick it. I also think there are other areas and adjustments that we – the SPHL – should talk about to try and make our game at this level more enjoyable and fan friendly.

     First of all, our 3 on 3 overtime is great. I hate it. 3 on 3 is for hockey on a frozen pond, not professional hockey. Oh but I love it. I think the SPHL’s 3 on 3 overtime model will make its way up to the NHL very soon and when it does, get ready for some amazing displays of skill and creativity. Imagine Crosby, Malkin and Letang against Towes, Kane and Keith 3 on 3……. That is entertainment.

     So here’s my creative pitch to make SPHL overtime even greater; this is conjured up from way back in my tyke days when I was playing for the Haliburton Huskies and using oversized winter mittens as my gloves because no one made any real hockey gloves small enough for me. When the original 5 minute 3 on 3 is over, before we go to a shootout… throw in what I call “Sudden Death Elimination.” Put 3 minutes on the clock and for the 1st minute, teams resume 3 on 3. Then the horn goes at the 2:00 mark and the teams drop down to 2 vs 2 for another minute. Then at the 1:00 mark, each team sends 1 skater out for a 1 on 1 finale for the final minute. If no one has scored, then the shootout will begin as usual. Exciting right? Maybe not…. But I remember it being a pretty great viewing spectacle back in the day when it was 7 year old kids doing it, let alone grown professionals. Worth a try? Maybe.

     I would also love to see a dry scrape or flood done between overtime and our shootout format here in the SPHL, just down the middle lanes of the ice where the players handle the puck for the shootout. I think shootouts are designed for goals and fans want to see players score lots of goals, so why not give them the foundation to do that with a few fresh lanes of ice to work with? Most nights by the time you get to a shootout, the ice is so chopped up that most of the “moves” players have practiced leading up to that aren’t even an option.

     Another area I believe the SPHL can take steps forward are our shot clocks. Shot clock totals are highly visible in all arenas for both players and fans and shots on goal are a primary variable in a goaltender’s save percentage statistic. I believe they need to be measured on a more consistent basis in each arena. Some places consider a shot on goal to be anything directed in the vicinity of the net while some consider a shot on goal something completely different.  I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular, trust me – the struggle is real in our building too! But it has been quite evident on many nights that the SOG stat is not accurate one way or the other. Understanding that the off-ice officials who keep these stats are all volunteers (and likely fans of the team playing in the city they live) and the addition of the Pointstreak “Game Live” element also adds a degree of challenge to the situation, but I still think we can get better and more accountable here.

     Lastly, I’d like the rulebook to eliminate the broken stick slashing penalty and the player losing his stick during a battle penalty. Too many good, hard 1 on 1 stick battles that result in one player’s stick breaking or being dropped are ending up with one team a man short. These sticks are light as a feather and it has been hockey stick manufacturer’s goal every year to make them lighter and more precision, so obviously the durability is going to suffer from that. If a player deliberately takes a hack and breaks his opponents stick or slashes it out of his hands, sure… it’s a slash. But just two players going at it for a puck resulting in one guy losing or breaking his stick, I think that needs to be a judgment call from the official.
     I’ll segway from 1 on 1 battles into the next section of this blog because the person I’m going to devote the next 1000 words to could possibly exemplify a “battler” above and beyond anyone else I’ve ever encountered in my career, on or off the ice.

     I met David Segal unofficially during a recruiting call in the summer of 2006 when our coach Jim Bermingham gave me his number and asked me to call and sell him on the Ice Bears organization. I will never forget the conversation as even back then David’s reputation as a scrappy, hotheaded kid preceded him. His tone on the phone call was anything but hothead or scrappy….. he was polite, very genuine with his questions and statements and yet he had a firm air of confidence that was unmistakable. I knew right away that he would be a character guy, but I had no way of knowing when I was speaking to this 20 year old from Vancouver that he’d end up pouring his professional career into our organization.

     Seags’ showed up at camp with baggy pants, a straight brimmed hat, tattoos all over his body and earrings in both ears – not exactly the prototypical rookie showing up for his first pro camp – but his work ethic and attitude on the ice was also impactful immediately. I will never forget a moment during one of our first workouts when we were doing 1 on 1 battle drills in the corner and Bermy tossed a puck to Terry Dunbar’s right and said “Craigen”, “Segal”…… that meant the two of us were to battle for that puck one on one until someone either put it in the net or the whistle blew. It was 9 years ago, but I won’t soon forget the level of intensity that followed. He just wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t give me an inch, wouldn’t stay down. He was all of 160 lbs soaking wet and I pounded on him with everything I had, trying to show this rookie who was the resident toughest little guy in Knoxville. It finally ended when Berm’ blew his whistle and everyone on the ice banged their sticks on the ice in appreciation for what they had seen. I would have never told him at the time, but David Segal was a tougher hockey player than I’d ever imagine being.

     His toughness was displayed almost nightly on the ice during his career. From fights, to bodychecks, to injuries that he played through…. He became known – and you’ll hear him described his way likely forever – as “pound for pound the toughest kid I’ve ever seen.” But it wasn’t just his willingness to drop the gloves with literally anyone of any size (remember Anthony Pisano, 6’6/250…. Jason Hamilton 6’3/240… to name a few) it was his toughness and genuine good-natured kindness to people off the ice that drew folks to him. David played here for 6 ½ seasons and made Knoxville his home back in 2011 and touched the lives of literally thousands of people during that time. He reached out to anyone interested in the game of hockey and made you an instant fan, he gave you the time of day no matter what his schedule looked like and when you spoke to David Segal you truly believed that he was listening. He was tough as nails when the doors closed and the puck dropped, but he was passionate and caring everywhere else. He was the first guy to stand up for a teammate who he thought needed him in a scrum in the corner and the last guy to judge someone in need off the ice. As great a competitor as he was and that amazing warrior’s spirit that all our fans grew to love, he was and still is twice as good a friend as he was a hockey player.

     The time came for me this season to make an agonizingly tough decision for this organization in regard to David’s future with us on the ice. It was my professional opinion that his injuries from playing 1000X bigger than he was for 6 years had finally taken enough of a toll on his body that he was unable to contribute the way he wanted to and the way we needed him to. And trust me…… David wanted to. There was nothing he wouldn’t try to do for this hockey team and he will go down as one of the most popular and no doubt hardest working Ice Bears of all time. I hated seeing David reduced to a minimized role and in the end decided that, given my honest opinion on the situation, it was my responsibility to the organization to move forward with it. My relationship with Seags’ as an old friend and teammate and the admiration and respect I had for him could not play a factor in the decision that I felt needed to be made for the Ice Bears. Hockey is an amazing game and this business will give you everything you want from it most of the time if you work hard enough and stay honest, but it also has the capacity to break your heart at anytime, and this was definitely one of this times.

     So to David Segal and his 314 professional hockey games and his 92 goals. To his unmistakable laugh and his uncanny ability to crawl around undetected beneath restaurant tables. To his 185 fighting majors and 1,917 penalty minutes. To his leadership by example and always unselfish play ……. Thank you for being a great teammate, thank you for being an even better friend and thank you for being a Knoxville Ice Bear.

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