One of the most popular articles at The Hockey Writers is “The Top 10 Sweetest Flows in the NHL.” It listed and ranked the best hairstyles in hockey’s best league. As a connoisseuse of hockey flow myself, I found it to be quite entertaining and agreed with many of the players listed. However, I felt that, if one is to find the best of the best of hockey flow, the spectrum must be broadened.
In many levels of hockey, as well as in many different countries, there are several players who take hockey flow to a whole new level, one that is not even imaginable in the NHL. For some of them, flow is a statement. It is something that sets them apart from their fellow players. It makes them more recognizable on the ice. In the case of many junior hockey players, hockey flow is a competition starter. Some players try to outdo each other’s hairdos, wondering whose is the “sickest” on their teams. That being said, though, many older players (that is, older than junior) grow flow in an effort to find a new look, exploring other possibilities with their appearances, something that, in my opinion, keeps them relevant and makes them all the more appealing.
Before we get started, we must acknowledge our honourable mentions. When I was thinking of how to have on this list, many players with incredible flow came to mind. If this were a top 15 list instead of a top 10 list, then surely these players would have been listed. Each of them have hockey flow that is quite nice but, for some reason or another, they did not find themselves with nice enough flow for my list. I do apologize to each one — it is not that I do not like their hockey flow — it is just that some have better than they do. That being said, however, I do have to congratulate Joey Couture (Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL), Kim Karlsson (Tingsryd AIF, HockeyAllsvenskan), Nicholas Neal (Whitby Fury, OJHL), Philippe Paradis (Rockford IceHogs, AHL) and Przemysław Odrobny (KH Sanok, Polska Liga Hokejowa), each of whom should be proud to be considered for this list.
Now that we have the honourable mentions out of the way, let us get to the actual best non-NHL hockey flow.
10. Alexandre Grand-Maison (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)
Alexandre Grand-Maison’s last name may mean “big house” (in fact, that is also his nickname) but his hockey flow is also quite big. After two years with the St-Eustache Vikings of the Quebec Midget AAA Hockey League, including a 2010-11 season in which he scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games, Grand-Maison was chosen 95th overall in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft by the Shawinigan Cataractes. When he joined the team the next year, he joined a team that was considerably hockey flow-challenged. His only real competition was Anton Zlobin. After an eight-point rookie season, the Cataractes went into the playoffs, that started to change. He started to have other competition from the likes of Mitchell Maynard and others. It got even more intense when the Cataractes went to the Memorial Cup. Many players had a whole month to grow out their own hockey flow, especially since Shawinigan was eliminated in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs by Chicoutimi. The Cataractes eventually won the tournament, with Zlobin scoring the winning goal in overtime against the London Knights. Grand-Maison got the opportunity to win the Memorial Cup as a CHL rookie, something that not many players have been able to do, something that proves that he is worthy of having some of the best non-NHL hockey flow.
9. Tommy Tambourine (Wisconsin Rampage, GLJHL)
Tommy Tambourine is just an awesome name. That being said, however, so is his hockey flow. A native of Lake Forest, Illinois, Tambourine just finished his first season of junior hockey with the Wisconsin Rampage, a team in the Great Lakes Jr. Hockey League. This league also has teams in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. The Rampage employed several other players with superlative hockey flow this year, such as Brenner Blankenship, Jakob Smith and Robert Smythe. So what makes Tambourine so special? Well, the fact that his last name is a musical instrument aside, he managed to be one of the Rampage’s more consistent players. He scored three points (one goal, two assists) in his first GLJHL career game. He got three points on a trio of other occasions and he got at least one point in several lopsided wins that the team had over the course of the campaign. He finished his “rookie” campaign (he is a lot older than some since he was born in 1992) with 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) and 59 penalty minutes in 44 games, finishing eleventh in team scoring. Another reason why his hockey flow is so awesome? It takes up the entire frame of his Pointstreak team photo.
When Nick Czinder played in the USHL before joining the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires (they acquired him in a trade in 2010 with the Kingston Frontenacs), he looked considerably different. The 6’6″, 250-pound winger from West Bloomfield, Michigan, opted to change his appearance once he started playing in the OHL, bidding adieu to the buzz cut he had before and saying hello to the amazing hockey flow he has now. Czinder has been well-known at the WFCU Centre for his cascading long blonde locks, which have overwhelmingly improved over the course of the last two seasons. In addition to the amelioration of his hockey flow, his production on the ice has also found significant development. In his first season in Windsor, Czinder tallied only three points (one goal, two assists) in 50 games, playing mostly on the fourth line, especially since the team still had significant talent up front at their disposal. This past season, Czinder found remarkable chemistry with Boston Bruins draft pick Alexander Khokhlachev and it resulted in a 1000% increase in point production. This past season, Czinder played an entire 68-game schedule, recording 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists). Czinder’s beautiful hockey flow surely helped spark an offensive surge in the Michigander that he probably never knew he had in him and the Spitfires are reaping the benefits. Now that Khokhlachev has left, the task now becomes finding a suitable replacement who can keep Czinder’s budding offensive prowess going.
7. Matt Arnold (Duluth Clydesdales, SIJHL)
It is not just forwards and defencemen who can reap the benefits of hockey flow. Goaltenders can, too. Matt Arnold is one of those goalies. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Arnold, a smaller goalie at 5’10″ and 171 pounds, was never drafted to play major junior hockey but he has found success in other leagues willing to employ his services. In 2010-11, he played only two games with the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack, a team in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, recording a 4.39 goals-against average and an .838% save percentage. He then signed with the Duluth Clydesdales, a team in the Superior International Junior Hockey League. The SIJHL is a six-team league with teams based in northwestern Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin. An expansion team, the Clydesdales employed the services of three goaltenders over the course of the 2011-12 campaign. In 26 games, Arnold had a record of 7-14-0 with a 4.76 goals-against average and an .873% save percentage. Hip injuries, however, hampered Arnold’s chances of taking over the #1 job and he only appeared in two games during the playoffs before being replaced by Jason Dzurik. Arnold will be playing an overage season with the GMHL’s Sturgeon Falls Lumberjacks next season who will be hoping to repeat as Russell Cup champions.
6. Troy Donnay (Erie Otters, OHL)
Troy Donnay is proof that a player can be a member of one of the worst teams in his league but he can still have some of the best hockey flow. Donnay started his OHL career with the London Knights, signing with the team after they also signed his older brother Cody. The tall, yet slender defenceman (6’7″, 183 pounds) from Fenton, Michigan, only played in 25 games during his rookie season with the Knights, recording a single assist on what was a veteran blueline corps including the likes of Jarred Tinordi and Scott Harrington. The 2011-12 season was his draft year and, at the same time, the Knights were looking to make a charge toward the OHL championship which they eventually won. Shortly before the OHL trade deadline, Donnay was traded along with Dane Fox to the lowly Erie Otters, a team in the cellar of the league standings; in exchange, the Otters sent Greg McKegg, Brett Cook and Tyson Teichmann to London. Donnay surely brought more than significant hockey flow to the Otters. He brought size and truculence to an already young defence corps which included Liam Maaskant, Kris Grant and Jimmy McDowell. After recording three assists in 23 games before the trade, Donnay recorded five points in 27 games after it, including his first OHL career goal on January 7, 2012, on Franky Palazzese of the Kitchener Rangers.
5. Joel Enlund (Turnhout White Caps, Eredivisie)
Joel Enlund is another goalie who has reaped the benefits of incredible hockey flow. A native of Upplands Väsby, Sweden, Enlund spent the majority of his early career in the system of Vallentuna BK. After a 2.80 goals-against average and a .909% save percentage in the J20 Elitserien, Enlund spent three seasons in Sweden’s Division 1 league, all with Vallentuna. His three campaigns were all solid, especially his sophomore year in 2005-06 in which he had a 2.73 goals-against average and a .912% save percentage in 15 games as an 18-year-old. After the 2006-07 season, Vallentuna was relegated to Division 2. He played ten games with that team in 2007-08 but he also appeared in 12 games for Väsby IK in Division 1, recording a 2.54 goals-against average and a .903% save percentage. Enlund then played two seasons in Belgium with Olympia Heist op den Berg, winning the league’s top goaltender award in 2008-09 and a league championship in 2009-10. The next year, Enlund returned to Sweden to play for AIK Härnösand, another team in the Division 1 league. He recorded a 3.87 goals-against average and an .888% save percentage in 23 games. The next year, he returned to them, registering a 4.06 goals-against average and a stellar .900% save percentage in 22 games, before he was transferred to the Turnhout White Caps, another Belgian team that plays in the Eredivisie, also known as the North Sea Cup. As well, he had another change in store for the 2011-12 season. After several seasons with short hair, he came in with some of the best hockey flow among any Swedish player, not bad for a goaltender. His shoulder-length blonde mane cascades out of the helmet on his mask, making him the goalie with the best hockey flow… in my opinion, anyway.
4. Chris Atkinson (Curry College, NCAA-III)
Chris Atkinson is well-known for two things: a considerable scar on the side of his neck and his incredible hockey flow. The scar is the result of a freak accident that occurred in February 2006 while he was playing for the U.S. Under-18 team. While playing against the Rochester Institute of Technology, Atkinson was going off the ice on a line change. His teammate, Trent Palm, was forechecking an opponent, who ducked down to avoid him. Palm somersaulted over the RIT player, causing his skate blade to come up, slicing Atkinson’s jugular vein and a nerve in his shoulder. He was taken to the hospital where it eventually took nerve resection surgery (a nerve in his back was put into his shoulder) and 18 months of rehabilitation to come back from the injury but he has done nothing but thrive. The Sparta, New Jersey, native recorded four assists in 26 games in his first season at the University of Vermont, who had honoured his scholarship despite his neck injury. After another 39 games and seven more points with the Catamounts, Atkinson transferred to Curry College, a school in Milton, Massachusetts; they play in the NCAA’s third division. In his first season with the Colonels, in 2010-11, he scored 25 points (ten goals, 15 assists) in 26 games. He also solidified his position as the player with the best hockey flow on the team, something that was not even contested. Atkinson did not play this season but, hopefully, he will come back with a vengeance.
3. Blair Falotico (Plattsburgh State University, NCAA-III)
Blair Falotico will be the first to admit that he has some of the best hockey flow. Call it a cocky assertion but he is right. A native of Pickering, Ontario, Falotico initially let the flow fly with the Woodstock Renegades of the NJCHL in 2007-08, a campaign in which he scored 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games. He returned to the Renegades the next season, recording 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 33 games; in addition, during the 2008-09 season, Falotico was allowed to play seven games with his hometown tier II junior A team, the OJHL’s Pickering Panthers, scoring four points (one goal, three assists) during that stretch. In 2009-10, Falotico truly showed how he had the best hockey flow in tier II junior hockey, playing a full season with the Panthers, who were in the newly formed (and later dissolved) Central Canadian Hockey League. He scored 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists) in 50 games. Remarkably, no teams in the OHL came courting for Falotico but that did not bother him. He committed to Plattsburgh State University, one of the best teams in the SUNYAC (State University of New York Athletic Conference) of the NCAA’s Division III league. He did show that he had the best hockey flow on the team, Falotico only played three games during the 2010-11 season before he decided to focus more on his studies. He took the 2011-12 season off to make some money to pay for his tuition but he is planning a comeback for the 2012-13 campaign.
2. Lars Erik Spets (Lørenskog IK, Get Ligaen)
Lars Erik Spets is one of the most well-decorated players in recent Norwegian hockey history. He also has some of the best hockey flow in all of Scandinavia. One of three superlatively talented brothers, Spets has represented Norway at two World Under-18s, three World Juniors, eight World Championships and one Olympic tournament. To add, Spets is only 27 years old. Spets played his first full season of professional hockey in 2002-03, playing his first pro game at the age of 17; in 33 games that season with Lillehammer IK, he scored 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists). He bounced around several teams in different countries over the next few years, playing with Trondheim IK (Norway), Brynäs IF (Sweden) and EV Duisburg (Germany). By the end of the 2007-08 season, Spets, whose point production had been on a significant decline, returned home to Norway, signing with Vålerenga IF. During the 2008-09 season, he scored 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 38 games; in 17 playoff games, he scored 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) en route to helping them win the Get Ligaen championship. He was also named playoff MVP. He played one more season with Vålerenga before signing with Lørenskog in 2010. Last season, he served as an alternate captain and he scored 53 points (17 goals, 36 assists) in 43 games, his best offensive season since 2004-05 when he scored 54 points (29 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games with Trondheim. To make it even sweeter, both of Spets’ brothers will once again return to the Get Ligaen next year; his older brother, Knut Henrik, is a teammate of his in Lørenskog and their younger brother, Vegard, plays for Rosenborg IHK Elite.
1. Aleksandrs Ņiživijs (Dinamo Riga, KHL)
Aleksandrs Ņiživijs may be the oldest player on this list at 35 years old (he will be 36 in September) and he also has the best hockey flow in the non-NHL hockey world. Ņiživijs is one of the most decorated players in the history of the sport in Latvia, especially since the country became independent in 1991. He played in three under-18 tournaments and two World Juniors when he was younger, all on the fast track toward a considerable professional career in the Russian Super League, HockeyAllsvenskan and Kontinental Hockey League. After two seasons with Pardaugava Riga in his hometown, Ņiživijs joined Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’ at the age of 19, spending six years with them between 1995 and 2001, scoring 98 points (42 goals, 56 assists) in 241 career games with Lokomotiv before transferring to Dynamo Moscow the following season. After stints with Molot-Prikamie Perm and HK Riga 2000, Ņiživijs traveled to Sweden to play for Björklöven in the HockeyAllsvenskan. He may have spent only one season there, 2004-05, but it was a considerably successful one. He scored 44 points (21 goals, 23 assists) in 46 games that season. Upon the completion of that campaign, he returned to Russia to play for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod; in his second year with them, he won a league championship. In 2008, the Kontinental Hockey League was formed and Ņiživijs returned home to Latvia to play for Dinamo Riga. He actually scored the first goal in the league’s history on September 2, 2008 in a game Dinamo won 4-2 over Amur Khabarovsk. He has been an alternate captain every year since 2008. So far in his KHL career, he has amassed 108 points (36 goals, 72 assists) in 189 games. Ņiživijs has also become quite renowned on the international scene, too. He has played in all but three World Championships for Latvia between 1995 and 2012, missing the tournaments in 1997, 2001 and 2012, the latter he missed due to injury. Additionally, he has participated in three Olympics: 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Torino and 2010 in Vancouver. With two of Latvia’s best loved hockey players dying in the last eight years, Sergei Zholtok in 2004 and Karlis Skrastiņš in 2011, the leadership that Ņiživijs has given has been immeasurable. To add, he has shown that it does not matter how old a player gets, he can still have some of the best hockey flow there is.
So there is my list of the top 10 best non-NHL hockey flow. You may disagree with some of the selections made or with the order in which these were presented but that is one great thing about a list such as this and that there is always room for disagreement.
I leave you with five wise words: Always go with the flow.