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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Montréal: Surréal and Unréal

Picture if you will a place where hockey is talked about day in and day out.

A place where newly drafted soon-to-be superstars high-five you for being hockey fans going into a bar.

A place where an NHL head coach could charm the pants off of just about any woman he wants to in the bar while he's just as hammered as you are and you're stuck standing around in awe of the whole scenario unfolding in front of you.

A place where 10 year-olds have no fear, ignore their grandparents and approach a group of hockey-centric strangers just to heckle a Bruins fan.

A place where out amongst the late night drunken revelers, loud and animated discussions about John Tavares erupt out of the blue.

A place where an inebriated 4:30 AM trip to McDonalds turns into a mind-blowing experience when you realize said McDonalds is across the street from what used to be the Montréal Forum.

A place where running into everyone you've ever cited or made fun of in the hockey blog world convenes to share a beer or twelve together.

This is what Montréal was during NHL Draft weekend. Part surreal, part unreal, completely incredible.

I'll say this about Montréal:

It's a city I loved before making this trip. I'd been there a few times before and had some incredible times up there and the city has always left an indelible mark on my memory for about a thousand different reasons.

This time will go down as one of the most incredible experiences for me because not only was this about being somewhat immersed in the middle of the madness that is the NHL Draft, but it also helped that it doubled as an end of the year convention for those of us in the "alternative" hockey media.

Oh sure, most of us may not have press passes and we may be playing the role of angry columnist at times (OK all the time over here), but anywhere you went in downtown Montreal this past weekend had hockey going on with it.

If you were out to grab a beer at a local tavern, you might run into some front office guys from an NHL team.

Need to get some dinner in Old Montreal? You might see folks from the Penguins stroll down the street with the Stanley Cup, much the way some of the other NHL Tweet Up folks did on Saturday night.

Going to Peel Pub to soak in the frat boy type of nightlife? Downstairs you might get high-fived by a celebrating Kyle Palmieri or you could head upstairs and see Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski among others.

That's just a sample of how things went down and, even still, there was more going on than all of that. I don't need to break down how the picks went or the backroom nonsense that was going on or any of that, you'll find enough about all of that elsewhere.

What I can say is that I'm glad I'm NOT in Montréal now after the announcement of the Christopher Higgins trade to the Rangers for Scott Gomez that also, seemingly, included the Canadiens top defensive prospect Ryan McDonagh.

The reaction to this deal, for Montréal fans has been, to put it lightly, hysterical. Not the funny kind of hysterical but the manic, crazed and angry kind of hysterical. For a good example of what it's like to be a dyed in the wool fan of Les Habitents, check this thread at Hockey's Future that reads like an Internet car crash turned into rally with pitchforks and torches. As of this writing, the thread based on this deal alone was up to 35 pages.

Now take folks like that and put them all in one city and have them dialed into what goes on with the hometown team 24/7. That's Montréal. Hockey all day, every day.

Heaven... I just don't speak the language in heaven is all. Well, the main language anyhow.

This kind of seemingly moronic deal sets the table quite nicely for the NHLs National Day of Insanity: The start of free agency.

We've already seen one highly-dubious contract handed out to Dave Bolland of the Blackhawks for five years and $3.375 million per year. He's on the young side, but he also notched a mere 47 points last year. The Blackhawks are banking on Bolland improving and making this deal into a bargain in future seasons.

Yeah, good luck on that.

Adding this to the dubious Rangers-Habs trade today you can see why I look forward to this each year, it's just funny that Glen Sather is on the positive end of the spectrum this time around. Perhaps he'll give an asinine contract to Christopher Higgins (a restricted free agent) to make up for it and we can mock him endlessly once again.

Bizarre part about this deal for Montreal is that they had oodles of cap space to work with and instead lock themselves into having Gomez as their top centerman, essentially kiss captain Saku Koivu goodbye and take themselves out of the running for the Sedin twins since Gomez is due over $7 million a year on the cap until forever.

Like I said: Seemingly and most likely a terrible development for the Habs.

For the Rangers, it's an interesting start and one that's rumored to continue into a deal for Senators winger Dany Heatley sooner than later. Should that happen, well, perhaps the Rangers will realize that they dealt the wrong centerman to Montreal as Gomez would work quite well dishing off to Heatley.

Chris Drury? Not so much...

All of this though is just the appetizer for July 1st. I'll be doing a lot of snap judgments through the day tomorrow on Twitter, so follow along with me as idiocy runs wild.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bienvenue à Montréal

The Gross Misconduct Hockey Road Trip extravaganza gets to close out the 2008-2009 season as well as get you prepared for the 2009-2010 season all at once by visiting one of my most favorite cities in the world:

Montréal, Québec, Canada

Those accents are very important.

Tomorrow morning I'll hit the road, the illustrious I-87, to attend the NHL Entry Draft. No, I won't be giving you a mock draft since that would be amateurish of me to do and would likely end up sounding really freaking stupid because, honestly, what am I going to tell you that you're not going to find more well informed elsewhere? Hell, just hit up the links on the sidebar and you'll find something you'll enjoy - it's out there and other folks are busting their ass a lot more on this than yours truly.

That's just how I roll. I guess.

The one bit of insight I'll give you is this, and these are the things I'll be keeping an eye out for.

Thankfully, one of them focuses in on the first two picks. I'm curious to see if Garth Snow and the Islanders have just been jerking all of us around for weeks and he's going to run to the podium and make it official that the Islanders give a crap about the team's future and select John Tavares first.

Not selecting Tavares would be damn near criminal and that's not a slight on Victor Hedman or Matt Duchene but Tavares was virtually NHL-ready last year. Hell, they tried to bend the rules to allow him to be drafted last year.

Tavares is the real deal and he'll be the guy to resurrect the Islanders back into relevancy, which is good since both Hedman and Duchene are pretty fantastic booby prizes for the Lightning and Avalanche who select after the Isles.

Provided the Lightning don't do something thoroughly insane they should take Hedman and have him starting on the blueline for the Lightning come September. He's big, he's Swedish, he plays defense. That's a pretty good pedigree to have coming to the NHL.

Then again, this is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team owned by the wackiest pair of terrible owners in the league, a couple of guys in Oren Koules and Len Barrie who were brought into Little Gary's office this week to get their problems figured out. Of course Gary sided with Oren Koules and hey, why not, he deals in real estate that's a really solid industry lately. No problems there at all.

Oh and Koules wants to pare down the payroll and get rid of Vincent Lecavalier. That ought to go over really well for the fans in Tampa who have already had these two jackals ruin what was once the crown jewel of how to be a non-traditional market and thrive.

This is also the team with the general manager Brian Lawton who said in an e-mail to other teams that if you want to talk about the Lightning that you talk to him and him alone.

"Please be advised that in order to avoid any confusion over the next couple of weeks, as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning Organization I am the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the team with regard to player transactions," the email read.

"No other person is authorized to negotiate player transactions. Any questions, feel free to call."

Oh good.

Of course with the flux in Tampa Bay and not knowing just what they'll do, Lawton has felt it necessary that Tampa will hang on to their pick which would be pretty wise considering a guy like Hedman would help sure up their defense for a good long while.

Then again, if Koules is getting the bigger share of the decisions on what to do, perhaps trading out of the spot will seem more appealing.

Sure it would. Then again, if the Islanders do go against the grain and do something unbelievably foolish like skipping over Tavares in favor Hedman then the power is in Tampa's hands. And if that happens? Hang on to your freakin' pants because Toronto general manager Brian Burke might actually start table dancing like the fine ladies at Club Super Sexe, full-frontal and everything.

Go ahead, go puke. I'll wait.

Feel better? Good.

If Tampa gets themselves into a position where they can use their #2 spot to leverage whatever they want to out of anyone, then perhaps even Burke might feel compelled to give up his BFF defenseman Luke Schenn in order to land John Tavares. Then again, who knows what other teams might want to throw at Tampa in order to get a crack at Tavares.

If, and these are HUGE ifs, the Islanders take Hedman or anyone else not named John Tavares the NHL Draft officially becomes a circus and the time allotted to Tampa at pick #2 becomes the most exciting time of the Draft as the Lightning phones will not stop ringing the whole time and with Lawton having to handle things with Koules and Barrie also calling to get their say in...

Well for chaos purposes alone I pray for this to happen. Then again, for the Islanders to become a relevant franchise again sometime before I'm dead, I hope they take Tavares. The Isles lack a lot but Tavares gives them the guy to build the franchise around and gives Kyle Okposo someone to have fun with out there.

The other things I'll be looking for this weekend come from a sheerly selfish standpoint in being an RPI Engineers hockey watcher and there's as many as four players with RPI connections who may get their names called this Saturday during the 2nd through 7th rounds.

Three of these players haven't suited up for the Engineers yet but two of them will in the 09-10 season in Jerry D'Amigo and Brandon Pirri. D'Amigo is getting a lot of press of late and could find himself getting called late in the second round or early in the third.

Christopher Ralph at HockeySpy has this scouting report on D'Amigo who he lists at #50 on his Top 60 list which includes some pretty high praise:

Scouting Combine Performance: Eug Sorokin observed: “Good looking guy, heard some chatter amongst the GMs and some teams like him a lot.” Sorokin was reminded of Zach Parise with respect to D’Amigo.

If RPI can bring in a guy who is anything like Zach Parise, head coach Seth Appert will do back-flips to celebrate because RPI will improve instantly from his presence.

Brandon Pirri comes into the draft having some questions over his defensive skills, but his offensive talents are unquestionably noticeable. His stats from this season playing for two different junior squads in Streetsville and Georgetown:

44 GP 46 G 48 A 94 PTS

For an RPI team that severely lacked scoring, Pirri will be a God-send for the program and any defensive shortcomings he may have will be picked up by his teammates. After all, when you're showing up as a sniper, worrying about backchecking probably doesn't rank out too high. Pirri also claims to have added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame bringing him up to 180 pounds, he'll need that to deal with some of the bruisers he'll line up against in the NCAA, most notably those at Cornell.

Pirri projects to be potentially anywhere from late third round to early fifth round for the 2009 NHL Draft.

The other players on the potential draft radar are 2010 recruit Jacob Laliberté and current Engineer forward Patrick Cullen. If either or both of them are selected, count on it being in the sixth or seventh round. Laliberté is a small sized forward but worked as a power play maven in the CJHL last year putting up astounding point totals. Cullen was a rookie sensation for the low-scoring Engineers and figures to build strongly on his freshman success getting teammates like D'Amigo and Pirri (among others) to join him in Troy this season.

One other quick note on this weekend. I'll be reaching out from the basement with a host of other tremendous bloggers from across the Internet this weekend at the official NHL Draft Tweet Up.

Yeah, I know, the Twitter name makes it sound sort of lame - deal with it, Twitter has taken over the world.

Nearly 100 folks from across the NHL blogging spectrum are taking part in this in some ways and even some of the big shots (Wyshynski from Puck Daddy, the folks from Pension Plan Puppets, even Eklund) are going to be there. I'd tell folks in Montreal to hide the beer and their daughters but it's too late to hide the beer and, well, who knows who's going to think it's a good idea to hit the "fun" parts of St. Catherine's Street on Saturday.

I kid.

I think.

Either way, this event, something as simple and kind of under the radar like the NHL Entry Draft has evolved into a blogger summit, and even the folks at All Habs have extended a special invitation to everyone's favorite diminutive analyst, Pierre McGuire, to make an appearance and shake hands with some of the folks who enjoy needling him the most.

If he shows up somehow, this turns into an epic gathering of MONSTER proportions.

As if it wasn't going to be already.

Stay tuned to my own page at Twitter
for draft observations, pictures, and other assorted nonsense. Hell, there's even a chance you'll get to see me suited up in my own zebra stripes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Report: NHL Still NBC's Bitch

I talked a few days ago that the NHL was potentially thinking of doing a Winter Classic Doubleheader involving teams that serve both NBC and CBC's best interests to get them the biggest audience they can on New Years Day 2010.

After all, the name of the game is getting the league more well known with a high-profile event regardless of whether or not it waters down the novelty of the whole thing.

Forget about the potential Canadian game here for a second since the American game at the least had a host team selected already in the Boston Bruins but there was much speculation going on about just who they would face. The prevailing rumor was that the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin were going to be the foe allowing the NHL a major media event in which to promote one of the biggest stars in the game, the back-to-back NHL MVP.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir was able to track down Caps general manager George McPhee to find out if the prevailing rumors had any truth to them. McPhee's answer was surprisingly snarky:

"I have not," McPhee said when asked if he had heard anything from the NHL regarding Washington's candidacy for the event. "You think we would know by this point."

McPhee added: "It doesn't sound like we will be part of it. Maybe that's not a bad thing. When you go, you have to play in front of 40,000 or 50,000 of the other team's fans. ...I would just assume if we were in it that we would know by now."

Sounds like there's some sour grapes there, and I don't mean Don Cherry. Perhaps something unseemly was going on and McPhee was all too aware of it and not at liberty to speak about it.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

A funny thing happened on the way through the rumor mill though as stories started to circulate that the Philadelphia Flyers were getting some buzz to be the Bruins opponent on New Years Day, a choice that seems a bit odd as, well, let's face it the Flyers aren't exactly a cuddly and marketable team. They're abrasive, 29 other teams in the NHL generally hate their guts and so do the fans of those teams but they're high profile thanks to that disdain and Flyers fans are generally some of the most psychotic staunchly loyal fans in the league.

The Flyers aren't a team without talent as there's Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Pierre McGuire object of affection Mike Richards as well but let's face it, when NBC picks their same six teams out of a hat for their schedule each year the Flyers are getting more than their fair share of NBC attention and it's pretty obnoxious.

This was all rumor on scattered Internet pondering though and harmless for the most part until earlier this evening news came out from, of all places, The Delaware County Daily Times that it was confirmed that the Flyers would be the Bruins opponent in the Winter Classic in Fenway Park and writer Anthony Sanfilippo brought the thunder with how he was able to obtain this knowledge.

Hang on to your asses because this is going to blow it right the hell up:

The NHL was pushing the Washington Capitals. They wanted to market Alex Ovechkin.

NBC, the network broadcasting the game, said no dice.

They were concerned with the poor ratings the Caps' produced in the playoffs in an opening round series against the New York Rangers - the No. 1 U.S. market for the NHL.

So, they told the NHL to skip Washington and give them the Flyers... a more certain brand to market.

The NHL was stubborn for a while... mostly because the Flyers were more interested in a Jan. 1 date with Pittsburgh than Boston.

However, the NHL assured the Flyers that a future Flyers-Penguins outdoor game could still happen in a couple years.

The Flyers were satisfied and agreed to play.

Pardon me for one moment...

deep breaths

deep breaths

Don't lose your cool, Joe. It's not even fucking worth it anymore. Just let it go...

Now, I'm not going to completely blow a gasket here because, hey, who's to say that Anthony Difilippo has his story accurate here. That's not a knock against him, he's dealing with sources that may or may not have everything squared away on their side.

But I believe every friggin' word of it. Why? This is easy. Look how nicely they handled things with the Pittsburgh Penguins and their outdoor screen. The guys at The Pensblog thought very highly of how they handled things:
NBC, the channel that has used the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby in just about every commercial since the network started airing hockey games, is refusing to let the team show game three of the Penguins/Flyers series on the giant screen outside the arena.

Ironically, MSNBC published this article on Wednesday in which they wrote "during the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup finals last season, the outdoor TV routinely drew a couple thousand fans."

And during the Stanley Cup Finals? More of the same as NBC refused to allow fans in Pittsburgh or Detroit to watch their teams road games on big screens at their arenas out of fear it would harm ratings.

And just where's Herr Bettman through all this?

Zdeno Chara looks away while Mike Richards nauseates over Bettman's posturing with NBC. Pierre McGuire salivates wildly.

Yeah, bending over for NBC again and again out of fear upsetting their drunken abusive father of a national broadcast "partner." How many times now has Bettman "fallen down the stairs" for NBC so they can call the shots as to how the NHL operates its own league?


This lack of a spine shown by the NHL sickens me as they had the right idea for what to do with this game but instantly rolled over for NBC because they didn't like the matchup.


Out of all this the Flyers still get what they want by getting an outdoor game with cross-state rivals the Penguins in a few years when, who knows if the game will even be worth doing if they run this trick pony into the ground.

And what's more is... Who the hell do you market to the fans in a game between the Bruins and Flyers? Chara? I guess. Richards? Well, we'll hear enough about him from McGuire. Do they spend the whole game talking about hockey's supposed resurgence in Boston? What if the Bruins get off to a bad start next year and the crowd is swarmed over with people there to boo them or, worse yet, are only there for the spectacle and could give a shit else about the game?

That'll play great on television - silence with mixed jeers from drunken boors.

My stand, and I'm sure the stand the NHL had until NBC President Dick Ebersol took his belt off, was that with the Capitals in the game you are guaranteed a major superstar worth marketing for the league in the game.

The last two versions of this game was teeming over with stars. In Buffalo you had Crosby, Malkin and Staal for the Penguins while Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek played for the Sabres. In Chicago you had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to push for the Blackhawks while the Red Wings came out with their crew of all-stars.

This time around? Marc Savard and maybe Phil Kessel for the Bruins with Richards and Carter and the potential Ray Emery sideshow carnival.

Wow, consider me glued to the set for this one.

With the NHL allowing themselves to be in a position to be abused by NBC like this the fans lose out because you don't get to see the best of the best out there. Instead you get what might turn into a street fight. Hell, don't even bother with Fenway, just play it behind the Green Monster on Lansdowne Street and turn it into a brawl since these two teams can always be counted on for that. I'm sure the NHL will love having these two teams beating each other's face in in a game that's meant to show off the best the league can offer in one of its most magical settings, the outdoor pond where everyone's careers began long ago.

What a joke this "leadership" is. The NHL, instead of getting what it wanted, ended up making concessions not only with NBC but with one if its own teams.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Assist Master Needs One For Himself

The Hockey Hall of Fame announces the new class of inductees on Tuesday and the most stacked selection of first-year eligible candidates in a long time joins the list of players who already should be in. This year sees Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Dave Andreychuk and Alexander Mogilny added to the list of Hall candidates that already includes should-bes like Pavel Bure, Dino Ciccarelli and Doug Gilmour.

I'm not even going to attempt to do something stupid and say that one of the newly eligible guys shouldn't be in the Hall on the first ballot. It would be a farce if I tried, even moreso since Brett Hull already admitted tonight that he knows he's going in.

I know that the Hall of Fame process for hockey is an odd one of sorts, only a maximum of four can be elected any given year and we've entered an era where some of the all-time best are put on the backburner while the supreme elite of the NHL and Russia go to the head of the class. I also know that the Hall won't want to bend their rules to "open the floodgates" and be more akin to say, the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With all these things in place there's one prime and overly-deserving candidate who just might be getting a big assist from a guy he helped become one of the top goal scorers of all time.

I touted Adam Oates' credentials here last year knowing full-well that he likely wasn't going to be voted in then and I bring it back up again this year knowing damn well he's not about to beat the likes of Yzerman, Leetch, Robitaille or Hull. But it's Brett Hull that will be sure to praise the work of Oates and do his share of campaigning for him now that Toronto's Hall awaits him.

Searching For Adam Oates... In The Hockey Hall Of Fame At Least

After all, Hull's work with Oates in St. Louis is the thing legends are made of. Hull's three greatest goal-scoring seasons came with Adam Oates as his centerman. In 1989-1990, Hull potted 72 goals.

The following season saw Hull come perilously close to Wayne Gretzky's single season goal record as he scored 86 goals, just six shy of Gretzky's 92 in 1981-1982.

In 1991-1992, Hull scored 70 goals in a season he played 54 games with Oates before he was traded to Boston for Craig Janney and Stephane Quintal. Nice work on that one St. Louis. Oates would move along to Boston to team up with Hall of Famer Cam Neely to help cement Neely's legacy with the Bruins.

Not a bad career for Oates and while campaigning isn't something that generally goes on with the Hockey Hall's process, it might not hurt to see Neely and Hull now come out and do a little preaching to the voters about a player that helped them directly on the ice piling up 1,079 assists over his NHL career, sixth on the all time list.

He's merely 16th overall in points all time in the NHL, yet some folks think that's not good enough.

Matt McCallum at Fox Sports crafted an objective formula to come up with a mathematical way to figure out who is more deserving than the next guy and while he qualifies that Oates is worthy of getting in eventually, he appears eighth on the list behind most everyone mentioned previously as well as John Tonelli of 1980s Islanders dynasty fame.

My problem with Oates' lack of attention here is that he played in the same era as guys who are head and shoulders above all the greatest to ever play the game, players that changed the landscape and even the rules of the NHL with their play and Oates' numbers are in the same stratosphere with the likes of these guys.

On top of all that, Oates had the marketability thing down cold while with the Bruins:

OK so we'll leave that off of his résumé for now unless we're factoring in unintentional comedy.

I know... It's not going to be 2009 that lets it happen for Oates, but can we make it so that 2010 becomes the greatest year of his hockey life? After all, it marks the 25th anniversary of his college team's National Championship and adding a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame to join the rest of his wingmen through his career would make the perfect cap to a career spent feeding them everything needed to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Now if only he can just get a little bit of help from them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

NHL: Where Ruining A Good Thing Happens

The last two New Years Days the NHL has taken the holiday to seize the day and make sure to do something that allows them to get airtime on a day when they know everyone is going to be home nursing a hangover or at the very least laying about on the couch.

The NHL to their credit came up with the idea to play an outdoor regular season game on that day during the afternoon. After all, it's January 1st and most of the northern US and southern Canada is in a deep freeze or at least winter-like conditions that lend themselves perfect to playing a game outside in a huge venue.

Two years ago, the Penguins and Sabres played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY and last year the Red Wings and Blackhawks played at Wrigley Field in Chicago. January 1, 2010 will see a game featuring the Boston Bruins played at Fenway Park and the opponent to be announced later on this summer (rumors abound that either the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals will be involved).

Again, this is a great thing and a perfect setting for a game given the rejuvinated hockey fan base in Boston and getting a game with either the Rangers or Capitals is ideal because you're either getting your biggest media market involved or the team with one of the biggest stars in the world. You can't lose here...

...Unless you get the bright idea to do an outdoor game doubleheader on New Years Day with a second game set to take place in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Coming soon to the back of trucks all across Canada.

From the National Post in Canada:

Sources say the NHL is looking at building on the success of the Winter Classic by hosting two outdoor games on New Year's Day. The first is rumoured for Fenway Park with the Boston Bruins hosting the Washington Capitals. The second is pencilled in for Calgary between the Flames and another Canadian team - likely the Toronto Maple Leafs.

CBC TV is a major push behind the Calgary proposal.

"I can't see anything that jumps out to me that would be a roadblock logistically," Haverstock said.

Now, I understand that he's talking about logistics of doing a game in Calgary. Obviously its going to be cold as hell there and having conditions able to sustain the ice outdoors won't be an issue.

The sort of logistics I'm thinking of here are those involved in wearing out the NHL fans and the wonderful novelty of the whole thing. Obviously Canada is bothered that they've, again, been left out of the NHL's reindeer games in regard to doing an outdoor game. After all, it's Canada that got the ball rolling with this thing back in November 2003 with the Oilers and Canadiens playing an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Now with NBC and the NHL teaming up to make sure all the US marquee teams get taken care of with mid-season showcase event, Canada wants back in and for that I can't blame them. Problem here is that a second game will get no attention in America.

The Heritage Classic in Edmonton nearly six years ago was an event that ESPN and ABC should've gone bonkers over to cover considering how much went into it with the legends game featuring the all-time greats for both franchises playing an exhibition game and then the real game itself. Instead, the event was largely ignored in the United States and video and highlights of then Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore playing with a toque over his helmet in the frigid Edmonton air were about all we were left with to soak in.

When Buffalo and Pittsburgh played on January 1, 2008 the event was heralded as incredible and amazing a magical and all that with very little credit in the way given to what had happened five years previous but now this event was going to take over as a yearly staple - and hey, why not? It generates attention, looks great on the air and manages to steal airtime away from putrid college football bowl games.

Should the NHL decide to double its pleasure in 2010 to throw viewers a bone in both countries, because God knows Americans won't watch Canadian teams on TV and Canadians are ruthlessly nationalistic and wanting some attention from Herr Bettman for all the financial propping up they do - sure, why not - let's just slaughter the novelty of the whole thing and cave into everyones television demands.

Bettman has already shown that he's got very little backbone to stand up for any sort of principles for the NHL and is now on the brink of selling out to both countries national broadcast partners at NBC and the CBC. This does come with a catch, however:

No one bothered to clue in the NHL Players Association.


From TSNs Darren Dreger:

''This is all news to me. We are breaking news, this is an insider moment that Calgary is potentially going to get an outdoor game and this is the first I've heard of it,'' Glenn Healy, the NHLPA's director of player affairs told TSN.

The NHL confirms the outdoor twin-bill will be discussed on June 25th at the competition committee meeting, however based on Healy's reaction; there is reason to believe the event may be in jeopardy.

''We have never been approached by the league about a second outdoor game ever in Calgary and if they want to approach us, then our numbers are in the book.''

Then again, why would the NHL ever communicate something with the group of people they dislike more than NHL fans when its so much simpler to have someone at CBC let something slip out and get the buzz started instantly.

I can't really top that because this is all it boils down to.

A man sits in his lonely board room cooking up ideas with his media pals... You know, the ones that he's trying to win over so that they'll give him some kind of money to turn a profit after he's already given them carte blanche to boss him around and make a joke of the league by bumping off playoff games from their air in favor of horse races.

He cuts his deals, he makes his promises, and gives no regard for how things will work in the future when he's trying to figure out a way to do an outdoor game in Tampa, Florida. You know he'll have to do that because he'll running out of ideas on where to do the next game or two on New Years Day all the while the fans have gotten over the novelty of it all and the idea just gets stale.

True Bettman style:
Get a hold of a truly great thing and abuse people with it simply because it "works" and then be forced to ride the negative tide that sweeps in when things get out of control.

Take a guess what tide rolled in today with this rumor of a New Years Day doubleheader.

Don't get lost in what I'm ranting about here.

The Winter Classic as a singular game and big-time event yearly on January 1st is a great thing. Turning it into an annual circus having to look for new locations at all times to the benefit all the teams looking to cash in on a sideshow-like spectacle is a BAD idea.

The novelty is killed, the interest is nullified and pretty soon people stop noticing and giving a crap altogether. Doubling up sets a terrible precedent for this event in the future because you're not only continuing a bizarro hockey xenophobia that exists with American and Canadian audiences, the simple greatness of a great spectacle event is worn out twice as fast as it would otherwise.

Leave it to Herr Bettman to continue his version of Sherman's march to the sea to make sure anything good that happens with the NHL is soon burned to the ground.

NHL Awards Summary: Epic Failure

I'll keep this short for you. The NHL had their awards show in Las Vegas to try and sleaze things up a little more for everyone and while this event is generally really awkward to watch, the NHL outdid themselves this year.

Want to stay in touch with the fans of the NHL and try and generate positive buzz? Yeah, go to Las Vegas - great. Everyone loves Vegas, after all it's a city that has zero ties to the NHL aside from crazy Jerry Bruckheimer who someday wants to own a team.

Say, I hear there's a team that is nearby that's in some sort of financial tangle. What's that Jerry?


Right, right. Boom. I get it. Explosions sell. I know.

Oh, hey, let's book Chaka Khan and Robin Thicke to perform. Yeah great, cause that makes fucking sense - about as much sense as getting Def Leppard to play your kickoff event. Old, washed up and NHL fans and players couldn't give a shit about them.

Then we'll get comedian Gerry Dee to do sarcastic interviews with NHL players and legends and it'll be a laugh riot!

Who the hell is Gerry Dee?!

To top it off, we'll have guys like Jeremy Roenick and Glenn Anderson make asses out of themselves!


Well thought out Gary, you aimed as high as you could and hit yourself in the nuts.

I can't wait to see Hootie and The Blowfish headline next years awards with Jim Belushi hosting.

Fuckin' stupid.

Only the NHL would find a way to take their most awkward event and make it somehow worse while adding "laughably bad" as a good adjective.

There's only one way to describe how this came off tonight:

...of epic proportions.

As for your award winners, here you go:

Hart Trophy: Alex Ovechkin
Norris Trophy: Zdeno Chara
Vezina Trophy: Tim Thomas
Selke Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk
Calder Trophy: Steve Mason
Lady Byng Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk
King Clancy Trophy: Ethan Moreau
Jack Adams Trophy: Claude Julien
Jennings Trophy: Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez
Masterton Trophy: Steve Sullivan
Pearson Award: Alex Ovechkin

The only one I really take issue with is the Masterton Trophy. Never mind that Chris Chelios was a nominee solely for being an old guy but the other finalist was Richard Zednik who overcame getting his throat cut open last year to come back and have a stellar season for the Panthers.

Don't get me wrong here, Steve Sullivan is a deserving winner and he too has come back from a terrible injury, but after this scene:

What the hell does a guy have to do to get an award for perseverance these days?


Hopefully the NHL Draft will be able to put the pieces together and give the league something to hold up as a great post-season event.

No pressure there Montreal, just try to keep Chaka Khan away.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Court to Balsillie: GTFO

Everything's coming up Bettman, but this isn't a surprise:

The Coyotes are staying in Phoenix.

A bankruptcy judge has rejected the proposed sale of the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who would have moved the team to Hamilton, Ontario.

Judge Redfield T. Baum issued a 21-page ruling late Monday afternoon, concluding that the June 29 deadline imposed by Balsillie did not allow enough time to resolve the complex case.

"Simply put, the court does not think there is sufficient time (14 days) for all of these issues to be fairly presented to the court given that deadline," the judge wrote.

If this shocks you that the court didn't approve the sale to an owner looking to supersede the rules of the NHL, then you need to go back to school.

I've said from the get-go of this drama party that there's no way the courts would see things Balsillie's way, especially after he put a deadline on getting a sale done when it was clearly out of his, Jerry Moyes and even the NHLs hands.

Not coming to a Jobing.Com Arena near Glendale.

Of course, this is all just window dressing on the larger problem at hand for the NHL in that they have a franchise that is bleeding money yearly and something needs to be done to rectify that situation sooner than later. In this situation, however, it appears that Jim Balsillie and his moving van won't be coming to Phoenix to take them away.

What happens with the Coyotes next will be very important to see how dedicated Herr Bettman is to actually keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix or if all of his talk about keeping the team there was just that.

NCAA: Failing At Sports, Academics, and Life

I try not to assume too much about the readers here but I'm going to go out on a limb that you're all more knowledgeable about sports than you let on. I'm assuming that you're all more than just hockey-centric sports fans and that you're familiar with the NCAA.

I'm also guessing that you'll be aware of how they've "handled" themselves and member schools over certain academic faux pas in the past, especially those having to do with the eligibility of athletes that play football and basketball.

All of those assumptions and suppositions aside, it's time I introduce you to Air Force Academy defenseman Kevin Wright.

One is a well-respected American institution, the other just hates student athletes trying to learn.

Kevin Wright just completed his sophomore year at Air Force, a United States Academy and one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the nation. The Air Force Academy mission statement reads as such:

...To educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.

Serious business and the kind of place that instantly gets respect from anyone that comes into contact with them, much like how the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy does. These guys are the best and the brightest and choose to give part of, if not all of, their lives to their country.

For Kevin Wright, however, the NCAA thinks differently of him. They think that he's the kind of guy who would backdoor his own academics to get into the Air Force by taking too many classes before enrolling at Air Force.

Get ready to be disgusted:

He wanted to play Division I college hockey but had no offers from D-I programs or from junior hockey clubs - from which collegiate programs recruit players. Because he was 17, however, he had a year of midget hockey eligibility. He decided to play that final year to attract junior teams.

His parents were OK with the decision but wanted him to take classes, so he enrolled at West Valley Community College in Saratoga, Calif.

This is not uncommon. According to Air Force coach Frank Serratore, virtually all of Wright's teammates took some classes at community colleges while playing junior hockey. It shows a commitment to academics.

Wright's error was taking too many classes.


So, the NCAA who often enjoys shrugging off coaches wantonly breaking rules by supplying prized recruits with gifts, money, what-have-you now has a problem with a kid who busted his ass to keep up academically so he could even qualify to enroll at the Air Force Academy.

What the hell is wrong with this picture? You would think that the NCAA would go nuts over having a kid who wanted the opportunity to play and compete so badly that he made sure he took classes to ensure his application to the Academy would go through.

Then again, perhaps the NCAA just doesn't give a damn about hockey players since that's not a sport that helps make them a lot of money. After all, when Myron Rolle was going for a Rhodes Scholarship while playing football for Florida State (one of those sneaky, shady institutions that likes to run afoul of the rules) they couldn't do anything but gush and praise the man.

But what about Kevin Wright?

Nope, screw him because he took a few too many classes before entering the Air Force Academy. At least that's what the NCAA tells him:

According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.1 - the five-year rule - once someone takes enough classes to be considered a "full-time" student, he has five calendar years in which to complete his four seasons of participation. By taking enough classes to be considered full time at West Valley, Wright started his NCAA eligibility clock.

That means, according to the NCAA, time's up. Year one was spent playing midget hockey for the San Jose Jr. Sharks (2004-05), two and three were spent playing junior hockey for the Southern Minnesota Express of the North American Hockey League (2005-07) and his fourth and fifth years were his freshman and sophomore years at the academy (2007-09).

"He could have sloughed off and not gone to school at all and not had any of this happen," Serratore said. "But he and his parents wanted to do the right thing. He's punished for being academically motivated."

Academically motivated student-athlete. Isn't that what the NCAA is ideally all about?

Oh right, it is:

Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

Quite the conundrum we've got here, isn't it?

What makes this entire thing all the more painful is that Wright received bad advice about what to do about his academics if he wanted to retain his full eligibility. Kevin and his family of course wanted to do right by the rules and the NCAA has enough loopholes around their rules that they could look the other way and allow him to go through.

As is obvious by his story as told by Jake Schaller of the Colorado Springs Gazette, he's not trying to fool anyone and he's trying to do right by the rules and regulations, something the folks running the Air Force Academy would be proud of.

Instead, the NCAA feels the need to flex their muscles and show how much of a stickler they can be for their own rules:

But the NCAA turned down Wright's waiver, and the committee on student-athlete reinstatement denied Wright's appeal because it "was unable to identify compelling extenuating circumstances to meet the requirements for extending the five-year period of eligibility or for waiving the start of the student-athlete's five-year clock."

In such cases, according to Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations, the committee and staff also weigh that a student-athlete like Wright made the decision to delay enrollment at an NCAA school for athletic reasons (not for personal or academic motives).

The five-year rule attempts "to ensure a fair and level playing field for all student-athletes, including those that compete against the student-athletes applying for waivers," Osburn said.

"I thought that once they saw that I wasn't trying to cheat the system and that I was just trying to take care of my education that there was no harm or any negative side effects from my actions as far as athletics go," Wright said.

But in the letter confirming the denial of Wright's appeal, Jennifer Henderson, the NCAA's director of membership services/student-athlete reinstatement, wrote that "no additional appeal opportunity" exists.

But he hasn't given up. His family has begun a campaign to draw attention to the matter in the hopes that someone, anyone will intervene.

Ahh yes, the campaign to draw attention to the NCAA ruling like a pack of iron-fisted dictators and having no idea on when to use common sense when judging the case of some kid who, by all understanding is just a regular guy looking to play hockey and keep throwing up a 3.4 GPA.

Count me in on this battle because the NCAA seems to want to play like they're standing hard by their rules, and that's a good example to set for other sports that are continually finding ways to get around or outright break the NCAAs rules. Hockey, generally, isn't one of those sports that looks to flout their ability to stick it to the NCAA and playing hard-ass with a hockey player, and one at a United States Academy at that, seems shortsighted and foolish on their part.

This opinion seems to be shared amongst other members in the NCAA Hockey community as is shown in this special correspondence sent to Jack Schaller courtesy of Air Force coach Frank Serratore:

Frank: Very, very sorry to hear about the Kevin Wright/NCAA issue. I am of the opinion that Kevin has a legitimate case and it should be pursued. The NCAA objective regarding eligibility, should be a fair and honest effort to insure that every athlete has an opportunity to compete. Opportunity, opportunity it should always be about opportunity for young adults to participate. Seems to be very clear that Kevin was given incorrect advice by an academic counselor in whom Kevin trusted. For this reason alone he should have his eligibility restored. There was no attempt on Kevin’s part to circumvent the NCAA rules. The key words are TRUST and INTENT. Kevin delayed his entry into DI athletics in order to better prepare himself to compete. At least 95% of all hockey players contemplating D-I hockey competition, play junior or some other level of hockey in order match the experience level of their contemporaries. Football and basketball players don’t have to go the same route as hockey players in order to be on the same competitive level as their contemporaries. Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background. The end result is that Kevin becomes an innocent victim.

That was sent to Coach Serratore from former Bemidji State Athletic Director and newly retired commissioner of College Hockey America, Bob Peters. One of the last lines from Peters really sticks out to me: "Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background."

Why doesn't the NCAA have some folks on their staff that know more about hockey? How is it possible that this organization that governs most of the collegiate sports in America doesn't have someone with a lick of common sense or detailed hockey knowledge? And if there aren't any folks at the NCAA that know better about these things, why are they even making a ruling on this situation without understanding it?

I know why. They're the NCAA that's why. They're like Alec Baldwin's character Blake in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and if you ask them what their name is you get, "Fuck YOU, that's my name!"

No one around to check them, no one there to balance them and certainly no one there to listen to the story of Kevin Wright and put things into the proper perspective for them.

But that's why we're here on the Internet, to bring stories like this into the light.

We're here to help a kid who's getting the short end of the stick courtesy of an organization that would rather play hard with the rules than gain any insight or understanding into someone's situation.

Spread the word.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Game 7: Epic Series Goes To Pittsburgh - Penguins Win 2-1

Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.

Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.

The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn't allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.

Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit's did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh's third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.

This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh's blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.

Evgeni Malkin is the superstar you should get forced down your throat.
(Photo - AP)

In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko - a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven't been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.

Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit's defense.

No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski - those guys you can't exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however...

To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart's efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot's goals.

Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it's a Finals he'd like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it's tough to say.

For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn't help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he's solid, but there's enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.

I hammered on a lot of this after Game 3 of this series and his +/- rating didn't change after Game 3. In Games 4 and 5 he pulled in a +1 rating and in Game 6 he was even.

Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.

For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.

Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win - I'm done with that. Good for him for winning but it's not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He's the guy you're going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it's got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he's not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.

This was Malkin's baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren't going to hear enough about him because he's Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can't wrap their head around marketing players that don't come from North America.

Amazing, isn't it? I've got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can't do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo's Puck Daddy.

He's Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren't the robots you see elsewhere around the league.

Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.

It's so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it's even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.

I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman's wet dream finally came true here, and it did let's not think differently, but what we've got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.

Sets the stage pretty nicely for Vancouver in 2010 now, doesn't it?

Don't worry, training camps open in three months and the NHL Draft is two weeks away with the Free Agency window opening soon after that.

The off-season begins now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How (Not) To Prepare For A Game 7

A lot of you may be stressing the hell out today because your team is playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight.

Others of you may have hitched a ride with a team for the Finals after having yours bumped off along the way either before or during the playoffs. It's OK, I'm not here to rat you out or tell the others in your fanbase that you may have given up the team colors in favor of the "prettier" horse that came along.

That's not my job to rat you out and besides, you've got to live with yourself anyhow. Enjoy the anguish of living a lie should that be your course of action.

What I'm here to do is try to share with you what it is to live in the hell of having the next game be your last, when you're that close to taking home the prize that your team is dying to reach. I'm here to tell you that if you want to live life as a hockey fan in a brilliant kind of tortured hell there's one thing you have to do:

Become a college hockey fan.

I'm not joking and hell, if you want examples of that already, take a look at the stories from my Back To School tour of excellence back in March and April.

OK so you don't want to check it out, fine. Here's what the teams in tonight's final have to look forward to (click to enlarge):

Thrill of Victory:

Agony of Defeat:

Those are shots from the conclusion of this year's National Championship game that saw Boston University defeat Miami University in overtime. Yeah, ouch.

Pretty simple, I know, but seeing it is another thing entirely and let's face it, Penguins fans have tasted defeat in the Finals once, just last year. Detroit fans, at least the more modern variety, got a piece of it back in 1995 at the hands of Jacques Lemaire's ruiners of 1990s hockey, the New Jersey Devils.

I can tell you first hand, however, that living and dying by your team is mentally and physically exhausting and having a hand in it with the college team of your upbringing or graduation can make even the most even-keeled of folks become raving lunatics.

For me, my roots are based in Division III college hockey, graduating from Oswego State in 2002. Working games from the press box while in college doesn't allow you to fully give into your fandom, after all, there's no cheerleading in the press box.

In 2003, Oswego State reached the Frozen Four for Division III and you better believe I was there with friends to witness this in Northfield, Vermont. Oswego was the newcomer to the party in dealing with local favorites Norwich and Middlebury (both in Vermont) as well as St. Norbert's College from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Oswego drew Middlebury in the semifinals and trounced them "surprisingly" 6-0 and met the hosts from Norwich in the Finals.

There's no more nervewracking of a setting than being there in person, on hostile ground no-less, hoping to see your team win the big prize. That afternoon we would leave Kreitzberg Arena to the sounds of the place going bonkers as the Cadets would beat the Lakers 2-1. A long, humbled and quiet car ride would follow as we headed back to the Albany area.

Four years later, Oswego would be back in the NCAA tournament and would open up at home against Norwich and exact a revenge of sorts for the 2003 loss beating the Cadets 3-0, this time on Oswego's home ice. A date in the Frozen Four was set again, this time in Superior, Wisconsin.

There would be no road trip, there would be only reliance on the Internet broadcast of the semifinals against St. Norbert's and then praying they win that so I could watch them on CSTV in the Finals.

This is where I leave things off to our media successors at Oswego State campus TV WTOP-10 to show you how this played out. I can tell you this right now, every time I watch this my adrenaline races and I break out into a cold sweat.

(ed. note: YouTube is being a bit buggy lately so be patient and come on back again to see the video.)

Full disclosure:

After Garren Reisweber scored that OVERTIME GAME-WINNING GOAL, I leapt out of the chair, did a lap around the house, then ran outside leaping into the snowbanks via backflip.

I've never done a backflip before, and I've never dared try one since but it's true, adrenaline can make you do super-human things.

That said, your team is on the road looking for their first championship and the road to get there goes through overtime in the semifinals and in the finals, it's a wonder myself or any other Oswego State hockey alum survived.

But I did and I'm alive to pass this on to those of you who will be locked down into Game 7 tonight to let you know that win or lose, you're still going to be there to fight again.

Neither Detroit nor Pittsburgh are going anywhere bad after this season. Folks want to write the Red Wings off and say that their demise is imminent.

It's not.

Pittsburgh has already proven that they'll be able to stick around by making it back again this year, especially after dropping their dead-weight of an albatross named Michel Therrien.

If your team loses, yeah it's going to sting like a son of a bitch and it's going to eat you up for a while. You probably won't want to look at anything hockey for some time after that and you can't be blamed for it.

But if you come back from it and you hunger for more and you develop that war wound with your team, and believe me losing in a game where it's all or nothing is a cannon blast to the midsection in the Civil War, the reward is worth the wait.

Game 7 wins and losses weed out who belongs and who doesn't and if for some sick psychotic reason you want to give yourself a better chance at experiencing this sensation of living on the brink with a team you know and love and adore... Sign up for college hockey. Pick a team and go along for the ride.

If you went to college that has a team, even better, you're already in the family. All you have to do then is start caring about them. Don't have a team yet? Snoop around, adopt one, adopt a local team if you've got one. Remember though, you're adopting them not to half-ass your attention to them you want to accept them into your life because you're a maniacal hockey fan and you seek more and you have wanton disregard for your sanity.

Detroit fans I probably don't have to tell about college hockey given that Michigan alone has University of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Lake Superior State all contained within their borders.

Joe Louis Arena plays host to the annual Great Lakes Invitational pitting Michigan, MSU and Michigan Tech against a fourth team to be named later. RPI joins them this upcoming season. Yes, consider that foreshadowing for what may come in December.

For Pittsburgh fans and those of you actually in the Iron City or close by, you've got a couple of teams within reach of you: Robert Morris University and Mercyhurst College. Robert Morris plays in Pittsburgh itself while Mercyhurst is located to the north in Erie. There is a bonus to becoming a Mercyhurst supporter though:

Mercyhurst Lakers goalie Matt Lundin shows off Whalers-colored glory.

Your team wears the colors of the Hartford Whalers. I can see no other reason than that to want to become a fan of Mercyhurst. If you're into the women's college hockey scene, Mercyhurst's squad is one of the better ones in the country. Double your pleasure Pennsylvania.

I know that this post offers in no way any kind of comfort or solace for those looking to find a way to get through tonight's game and I'm only serving to be more of an enabler of further stress, hair loss, anxiety and short fuses but I just want you all to be able to join me in that club.

Some say "misery loves company" but in this case it's more like the asylum seeks more patients.

You're hockey fans after all, be proud of your insanity.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Going Retread Is Retarded

What makes analyzing the foibles of the power players in the NHL so amusing is that they very often continue to make the same mistakes repeatedly thus dooming franchises to continued failure.

It began a couple weeks ago when the Montreal Canadiens announced that their new head coach would be former Florida Panthers coach and general manager Jacques Martin. Martin, of course, is one of the many contributors to driving the Panthers into the ground over the years before stepping out from behind the bench and hiring former Canadian juniors coach Pete DeBoer.

Of all the bad moves Martin made over the years in Florida, his best move was hiring the very green DeBoer to try and make something out of the deck chairs on his version of the Titanic in Florida. The results? Florida just barely missed the playoffs only losing out in the number of wins compared to the Canadiens who they finished tied with for points in the Eastern Conference.

The way the Panthers were arranged, well, let's just say that some writers out there didn't have a lot of faith for how they were going to do given the apparent lack of talent and throwing a new coach to the wolves with such a rag-tag bunch.


So DeBoer does well enough for Bob Gainey to think that hiring Jacques Martin must be a good idea, right? Well, OK some (Four to be exact) Habs fans are at least warming up to it sarcastically. That's not a good sign.

So of course that leads some stupid owners to think, "Well shoot, we've got to get in on this before we lose out on our opportunity to give some failed reject yet another chance to prove why they've lost their job over and over again."

Is it any shock that Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks is that stupid owner?

In spite of the fanatical drama created last year thanks to the Sean Avery fiasco and Marty Turco's abysmal start to the season, the Dallas Stars rallied to be mostly respectable in a very difficult Western Conference. All of that was petty drama for Stars owner Tom Hicks and new general manager Joe Nieuwendyk as they first fired head coach Dave Tippett and then hired Marc Crawford to replace him behind the bench.

Look out Nelson, Crawford will send Krys Barch after you for laughing at Tom Hicks.

Uh... what? Why Marc Crawford?

He's a guy who was a terrible fit in Los Angeles, wore out his welcome in Vancouver (not to mention his fingerprints being all over the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi situation) and saw his only real success with a team full of superstars in Colorado ten years ago.

Then again, he spent the last year or two working on Canadian television as an analyst so hey, he's got to be good right?!


Given how soon this decision came down after Joe Nieuwendyk's hiring, there's little doubt here that he's got a plan on how he wants to set the team up and for that, I guess, Nieuwendyk deserves the benefit of the doubt but some of his quotes at the press conference raise some questions for me:

"We went through an extensive process of evaluation, talking through many areas of the organization and evaluating where we were as a club and we believe that Marc has the qualities that we need moving forward. I talked to several former players of Marc's, such as Joe Sakic, Mike Keane and Trevor Linden and they all spoke very highly of Marc."

Well that sounds peachy, but how about the guys in the locker room that you're going to be managing?

"I did not speak to any current Stars players because I don't think any of them have ever played for Marc before."


Well there it is, Joe Nieuwendyk rules with an iron fist.

Perhaps this is his subtle way of telling the guys that the sort of rampant semi-mutiny that appeared to roll through the locker room last year (in particular with regard to Avery) won't be tolerated. For that, bringing in a fiery personality like Crawford may actually be a good thing.

After all, given the brand of hockey that Crawford is going to want to play, expect an even bigger role to be played by Steve Ott, someone that Crawford may view as Bertuzzi-esque in his size and physical play. I don't want to do the obvious tie-in with questionable physical play, but Steve Ott makes it kind of easy to do that.

As for some of the other things Nieuwendyk and Crawford will have to contend with, Stars Scene takes a nice peek at the list for them to contend with and one thing in particular gave me pause:

3 – Get a capable backup goalie for Turco

Oooh, I know how to handle this one and I think Marc Crawford will be a really easy sale for it too considering his love of this goaltender is like that of a fat kid and cake.

Dan Cloutier at his best in Vancouver.

Yeah, come on, you know we all want to see Dan Cloutier back in the NHL to serve up some of the most embarrassing goals you've ever seen.

Perhaps Tobias Stephan isn't such a bad idea after all.

After all of that, what does Crawford have to say about the current outlay of the Stars?

"I think that what impresses me so much about the Stars is the tremendous core values that team already has in place. They have a great foundation of habits that I will continue to build upon. You don't lose the strengths of previous coaches and previous regimes, there's still a part of Bob Gainey, still a big part of Ken Hitchcock and huge part of Dave Tippett still with this team and my job will be to add to that moving forward. I'm confident that the strengths I'm going to bring to the team are going to help the Dallas Stars."

There's Bob Gainey's name again. And Ken Hitchcock. I'm sure we'll hear about Dave Tippett landing somewhere else soon enough (New Jersey, perhaps?). I don't know quite what the "core values" of the Dallas Stars are but given how the roster is set up, they apparently value either beating you up (Ott, Krys Barch) or employing diving sissies (Mike Ribeiro) to drive Mike Modano crazy.

The key components of the Stars from this point on should be James Neal, Brad Richards, Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco. The team needs a lot of blueline help and were ravaged by injuries last year along those lines. They lack some serious forward depth while Joel Lundqvist and Loui Eriksson are nice pieces, they need a lot more here.

Rebuilding this team is going to be a tough job and I surely hope that Nieuwendyk is capable of handling it with a crazy overlord of an owner in Hicks watching him and a gamble retread of a coach in Crawford trying to make his pieces work.

A hire like this I'm sure makes the Stars brass feel like they're going to recapture some of the magic but I can't help but think that recycling old blood like Crawford is only going to make things worse.

It's up to Nieuwendyk in the off-season to make sure things don't get out of hand further in Dallas because things could go south fast for Dallas in the meantime, their division isn't exactly a cakewalk anymore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Break For Reality: Good-Bye to Nathan Marsters

I know this is the day when I should be wrapping up Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals and getting psyched along with everyone else about a Game 7, but during last night's game news came down that probably doesn't hit on most of your radars about the passing of someone who I had the pleasure to watch quite a bit here at home and monitor his career from afar.

In the heights of Game 6, I broke the news on Twitter that former RPI goalie standout and 2000 Los Angeles Kings 5th Round pick Nathan Marsters was killed in a car accident. This morning, the details of the accident became available to me and it's an even bigger gut-punch to read the information.

Nathan Marsters at RPI (courtesy of rpihockey.net)

I can't say that I knew Nathan personally and I only know him as someone on the ice who always impressed me with his playing ability for teams that sometimes failed to support him with the goals needed to win. A good friend of mine blogging for the St. Cloud Times offers a a better and more personalized view of Nathan Marsters.

It pained me to try to reach him as best as I could while he's on the move supporting our country in Iraq and proved why sometimes technology while helpful doesn't offer the personal touch necessary to pass along terrible news.

Marsters was a four-year starter during his time in Troy, NY with the RPI Engineers, a credit to his game. At 6'4" 200 he was a big, lanky goaltender and presented an intimidating figure on which opposing shooters had to deal with.

His tenure in Troy saw him put up stellar numbers three out of his four seasons (his junior year being the lone hiccup) and his senior season he saved the best for last finishing with a 21-13-1 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against, earning career marks in wins and goals against that year.

After college, Nathan became one of the many uncredited unknowns that move on to journeyman careers in the minor leagues hoping to hone his game and catch on in the AHL and eventually the NHL.

Round about 2006, Marsters got the call while playing for the Portland Pirates, then a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim affiliate. It would be a brief moment and there wouldn't be any time seen on the ice, but the Ducks thought enough of him to call him up while Jean-Sebastien Giguere was out with an injury and Marsters dressed as the backup goalie for Game 1 of Anaheim's Western Quarterfinal game against Calgary.

One cup of coffee had and in playoff time no-less, not a bad credit for the résumé. That 2005-2006 season in Portland for the Pirates, he went 23-9-2 with a 3.10 GAA and .900 save percentage. Marsters would get one more turn with Portland the follow season but for only a few games. From there, he moved on to the ECHL and this past season saw some work in the German Professional League playing in nine games for the Krefeld Penguins.

That's the rough road of being a professional hockey player and the part of Nathan's story that really brings this all home for me. He was a guy just about my age trying to do whatever it is that he can to make it stick and to make it count and maybe catch lightning in a bottle and in one, horrible instant it's done and over with.

For Nathan, he was trying to be one of those guys that I hope to someday write about on the big scene and going anywhere he could just to keep playing.

To keep trying.

Hearing of this loss has really thrown me for a loop for a handful of reasons which would be immensely disrespectful to bring up here. For now though, it's time to remember one of hockey's fallen and honor him.