Announcements- I'm pleased to announce that my book, "Eve of Darkness," is nearly 50,000 words complete and over halfway towards my goal of 90,000. The average commercial novel runs between 80-120,000 words in length. A special preview of my book is posted after this week's ramblings.
Special Note: I am currently in pursuit of a literary agent. If one of you can recommend me to someone or pass along a name of someone to get in touch with, I"d greatly appreciate it.
And now back to this week's column:
It's not too often we see people like Boyd Devereaux, Mike Knuble and Ian Laperriere move to the front of the list when it comes to impact free-agent signings. Of course, as everybody and their dog have been telling you, the hockey world will cease to exist on 12:01 a.m. September 15th and blackness will ensue. Riddle me this: 75% of the league's total $2 billion revenue goes to player salaries. Riddle me that: 78% of Canadian fans think the NHL's players are overpaid, compared to only 43% of U.S. fans.
Only July 21st, the NHL submitted six proposals to the Players Association in a four-hour "dialogue." One of the proposals was that players contracts were to be centrally negotiated by the league, something that would eliminate the role of players agents dealing with individual GMs. Not all of the proposals contained a salary cap, something the owners are willing to go to war to get into the next CBA.
Another interesting development is the lack of a strong response to Arthur Levitt's report on the NHL's finances. In the six months since he made his findings public, the Players Association has yet to define the "flaws" in his report, which stated league-wide losses at $273 million in the 2002-2003 season. Many expected Levitt to somehow spin the numbers to where the NHL could use it as a bargaining chip. Thus far, the NHLPA has only publicly dismissed the findings as "rhetoric".
This could mean that the NHLPA secretly knows Levitt's right and doesn't want to admit it. Levitt claimed 19 NHL teams lost money last year. The NHLPA said 16. Somehow, I fail to see how three fewer teams can make fans shed a tear over the personal finances of their players.
I came up with an idea today regarding a tiered salary format. Granted, it is flawed, but intriguing nonetheless. Basically it would be as follows:
Tier 1: Franchise Player: Earn up to, but not exceeding, $8 million per season.
Tier 2: 2 Superstars: Earn up to, but not exceeding, $6 million per season.
Tier 3: Roster Player: Earn up to, but not exceeding, $4 million per season.
-Salaries would be paid out only on a games-played basis. Players would be paid a fractional amount for excessive leaves of absence due to injury-
Of course, it would be extremely difficult for the NHL's elite to name just one franchise player. Given that, let me provide an example using the Pittsburgh Penguins:
Tier 1: Mario Lemieux
Under this system, you give the league a bona-fide person that they can advertise and a name they can sell whenever that team is featured on television. Also, considering Lemieux's back and hip problems, the Penguins would only pay a fraction of his salary for his time in the infirmary. This is best demonstrated by Dominik Hasek's groin problems this past season. After picking up his $8 million option, should the Wings have to pay $8 million for him to sit on the couch at home? (Hasek did give $3 million back after declaring his season over).
It's just an idea and I'm not expecting any serious discussion on this, but the league and the NHLPA will meet again on August 4th to have another round of "dialogue."
Speaking of August, rumors have been flying around that SEGA and EA Sports have urged the developers of their respective hockey games (ESPN NHL 2K5 and NHL 2005) to release their products as early as possible before the strike "kills all the fun." As of now, SEGA has pushed their release date from September 7th to August 24th. NHL 2005's Sept. 14th date remains the same for consoles, but the PC version ships on August 31st. SEGA has also slashed the price of NHL 2K5 to $19.99, which is also what they did for NFL 2K5.
And now a preview of "Eve of Darkness", Coming January 2005. Note: This is intended to be the second book in a 3-part opening series. When this is finished, I will write the prequel (Prelude to Sunset) and the sequel (Dawn of the Evening Sun). Any comments or questions feel free to e-mail me.
The sun blazed furiously across the treetops in the haze that is early morning. Birds began their serenade to the new day, filling the air with chirps and whistles. As mother nature stretched her invisible arms along the dew-covered grass, something new stirred in the mist. Down the winding gravel road that meandered through the trees, the sound of a vehicle approaching shattered the tranquility of the scene. A large dust cloud rose with the sound of rubber against crushed rock. As the road curved through a small clearing, a dark green Ford F-150 pickup burst out of the shadowed forest and into direct sunlight, the sun glinting off the windshield. The birds squawked angrily at the intrusion and the mysterious vehicle plunged back into the trees. The roar of the truck's exhaust snarled as the driver increased his speed, turning left and right as the road snaked deeper into the unknown. Finally the road ended in a large clearing devoid of trees and the truck stopped in a cloud of dust in a large sand parking lot. A similar green truck was already parked in the lot. No more than 100 yards away on the top of a hill stood a lone, gray, one-story building with an elevated deck. Built in the late 1950s and remodeled within the last decade, the structure had stood vacant for several years...until today.
With the slam of his door, the driver exited the vehicle and pulled a duffel bag from the bed of the pickup. With a sigh and a grunt, he lifted it over his right shoulder and trudged up the well-worn concrete steps toward the building, passing "Keep Out"signs overgrown with weeds. Standing at 6 '2" and a few pounds over 240, the driver could be compared to most football linemen, with the strength to boot. With medium-length brown hair and piercing blue eyes, the driver was known to look menacing, but with a touch of rugged gentleness mixed in. To those who first meet him, he could be categorized as a loner; strictly the speak-when-spoken-to type. Yet his eyes were always watching, analyzing, and ever-prepared for the next challenge in life.
The building, the truck, and the reason for the duffel bag were not the driver's choices. He, like so many misunderstood men of the past, was a victim of circumstance. However, in his unique case he had been in the wrong place, but for the right reason. It has been said that heroes exist in one of three ways: Either they are born into it, have it thrust upon them, or they achieve it over time. The driver's case could be classified as all three.
As a victim, he had to give up the things all men hold most dear: family, career, wealth, way of life, as well as his name. As a hero, he was afforded the chance to start over, the proverbial "clean slate" as it is cliched. However, the one thing he couldn't give up was his memories...and his regrets. It has been those memories and regrets that have haunted him the past three months. Those who say that time heals all wounds do not understand the complexities of the human psyche and its enduring effect on the physical well-being. The mere passage of time can, in no small way, be the greatest enemy that no one will defeat.
While the driver was involved on sheer circumstance, the elements surrounding that circumstance were not. Those elements ultimately turned a sleepy, Kansas town into something that became folklore, legend, and what most journalists would call a "media event." The decisions based on those elements are why such a man is driving such a truck on such a day in northeastern-lower Michigan. While the most perplexing decisions are considered the ones you don't make, the ones you do define life's path of right and wrong. Which leads us back to the wrong place for the right reason.
An artist may have described "the incident" as the roaring of orange and yellow across a violet background with the mixing of flesh and crimson. A poet may have described a great tragedy from which arose utter triumph and sadness. The common man may describe it as something of a disaster, to which no descriptive words come immediately to mind. In truth, these descriptions fall short of the immediacy of the shock and horror that befell the small town of Hope, Kansas (population 327) and the resulting backlash of pain and suffering.
Announcements- Sorry for the lack of updates. Work is progressing on my book, Eve of Darkness, which is nearing 90 pages at this point and over 40,000 words. I've tentatively planned its release for January (crossing my fingers).
And now back to your sort-of-regularly scheduled column:
It's considered very rare that I do a column on video games, but given the snail's pace of UFA signings, I have no choice. The debate between which hockey game is best in the land has usually come down to between SEGA and sports icon EA Sports. In the past, the juggernaut EA (and its Canadian affiliate EA Canada) has produced the best representation of every sports game each year. In 2002, that all changed.
Enter SEGA, with their NHL 2K3. A wide range of critical acclaim enabled the fledgling series to soundly beat the goliath NHL 2003. The key to success was simple: Overall great gameplay. With little or no serious competition, EA had strayed from offering a serious sports simulation to an arcade game that no serious hockey fan would play. Commentators were focusing more on comedy than actually presenting an accurate depiction of the sport.
After being taken to the woodshed, EA woke up last year and got back down to the basics, focusing on a deeper franchise mode and accurate presentation. While the effort brought back a lot of the fans of the series, it didn't win back the hockey crown. The reason was that EA focused more on the violent aspect of the sport rather than the beauty of it (offering "Total Hit Control," where players could use the PS2's right analog stick to inflict a variety of devastating hits). In response, SEGA decided to use the same controls to allow the users to manually control the different dekes players use in the sport. In the end SEGA beat out EA in a close margin. Also SEGA paired Gary Thorne, whether you love him or hate him, with broadcast partner Bill Clement, to offer some of the best commentating in a sports game period.
Welcome this year's crop: NHL 2K5 and NHL 2005.
With the franchise mode being the series' biggest weakness, SEGA has vowed to develop the deepest dynasty mode known to man. Early reports indicate that a full coaching staff will be available this time around with the inclusion of minor league affiliates. Also, users will be able to scout players from all over the world and bring them in to do specific drills and even practice with them to see exactly how good they are. SEGA is also taking on EA in the violence department with "Full Intense Contact Content" controls. This is basically improved checking and defensive tactics that can be very aggressive. In the booth, Thorne and Clement will be back with their usual insightful banter. Other notable improvements will be locker room cut-scenes, more crowd chants and ice girls.
EA, which has decided to go with Vancouver's Markus Naslund as their cover athlete, has decided to improve player AI (artificial intelligence) with what they call "player personalities". EA claims that goons will play more like goons and skilled players will play like their real-life counterparts. Also, certain players will only be able to do certain dekes. In addition, EA is working on "Open-Ice Control" where users will be able to control players both with and without the puck to set up simple plays.
NHL 2005 is set to release September 14th on all systems with ESPN NHL 2K5 unveiling one week earlier on September 7th. Just in time for training camp.
Apologies: I'm sorry for the lack of updates. It has been a busy summer for me and I have a few projects I am working on. The main one deals with my first serious attempt at writing an action-adventure novel. I have about 67 pages completed thus far and I'm churning out about 20 pages every two weeks. I thank you for your patience.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column:
Congrats to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After Calgary advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals and when I was watching the Bolts slugging it out with Philadelphia, I felt that if the Flyers advanced, Calgary would win the Cup. If the Bolts advanced, they would win it.
My first response would be speed. I believed that the speed of the Lightning would create problems with Calgary since they hadnt dealt with good overall team speed in the playoffs like Tampa Bay's. One of the things that makes watching Tampa so entertaining is that they are both simplistic and creative at the same time. Watching the 5'9" Martin St. Louis dance around players with the grace and agility of a gazelle was and still is a sight to behold.
So what went wrong?
In the end, Calgary beat themselves. Granted the amount of effort they put forth makes this series one for the ages and worthy of ESPN Classic fame. There was heart, there was fire. There was a helmet-less Jarome Iginla tipping the world on its ear to get the overtime winner in Game 5. Calgary played with all the fire and passion one could expect from them. Unfortunately, it was that same energy that turned its back on the Flames. Like a gas lamp that slowly runs out of fuel, Calgary was nearing the wall. The fact that Iginla was held shotless for almost two whole games is miraculous and a testament that the needle was touching on empty for the Stampede City. It was evident in Game 7 that Calgary was a tired, tired club. You can't fault Kipprusoff for the goals against on Monday. Deflections were part of both of them. The first one was deflected before it got to Kipprusoff, which was kicked out to the last person he wanted to see. The second one deflected slightly off his shoulder and into the net.
You can't really pull somebody out of this series and say "You are the goat of the Stanley Cup Finals". I have a feeling a lot of experts will go back and point out that Iginla was basically a non-factor for the final two games. On the other hand, you could point out that Vinny Lecavlier didn't score a goal during the entire series. Worse yet you could say the Flames lost because they didn't have a winning record at home during the playoffs. One thing you can take out of this series, is that for the first time in a long time the NHL is headed in the right direction. As Spector has said, there is a changing of the guard.
Now for some final thoughts on the United League playoffs that concluded in May:
In the end, the #4 seed won it all. After defeating SIU 8-5 in the semifinal game, they swept the #3 seed in the best-of-3 series to win the United League Championship. I guess that the fact that you lost to the eventual champions makes the sting of losing a little more bearable, but it still stings. After the #2 seed got upset in the other semifinals, I was confident that we would have a much easier ride in the finals. I was wrong.
We only trailed 2-1 after the first period after I made a topsy-turvy save on Greg Bernas that sparked our lone goal. Bernas was all alone in front of the net and had deked me down to the point where I was sitting on my butt. As he came around to the left side of the net for the shot I managed to stretch over and the shot hit the inside of my blocker.
Both teams scored four goals in the second period. We also lost two of our top scorers in Brandon Van Damme and Joe Saviono to injury in the second period. In the locker room I made the comment that "they're playing more like us than we are," which was an accurate statement.
In the 3rd period, Bernas got a rare powerplay goal on a backhand shot that squeaked through my right armpit for a 7-5 lead. Caleb Wood poked one in during a scramble at the side of the net with less than a minute to go in the game.
Game over, series over, career over. After 103 college games, I'm done. I'm disappointed that after doing so well upon coming back, that I ended up with nothing. I lost out by .05 of a goal for my 4th goaltending title and made it as far as the conference semifinals. I guess the positive aspect of it is that both my knees and my back survived the strain with no ill-fated effects. Also, recording the second-longest undefeated streak of my career (8 games, 10 in the Spring of 2000 is my personal best) gives me comfort as well.
I would like to thank all of you who gave me support during my epic quest to return to action. Your confidence in me will always be remembered.
*Injured, broken leg, out for season.
We lost in the semifinals to the #4 seed 8-5. I finished with 22 saves. In the other semifinal tonight, the #3 seed knocked off the #2 seed 6-5. Therefore it is the #3 and 4 seeds in the league finals starting tomorrow.
Quarterfinals (single elimination)
#5 at #4 Monday 4/26 5:30 p.m.
#3 at #2 Monday 4/26 7:00 p.m.
Semifinals (single elimination)
5/4 at #2 Tuesday 4/27 5:30 p.m.
2/3 at #1 Tuesday 4/27 7:00 p.m.
League Finals (best of 3 series)
Semifinal winner vs Semifinal winner Wed, Thurs, & Fri (if necessary) 5:30 p.m.
Authors Note: Another analyst did these playoff previews to make sure no bias was involved. The comments are his and were in no way altered by me.
#1 SIU Salukis (10-1-1)
Offence: Led by Sniper Award winner Brandon Van Damme, the Salukis boast a formidable offensive tandem that includes Max LaBonte and Joe Saviono. The trio combined for 95 points, including 63 goals. The team as a whole led the league in goals with 105 in 12 games.
Defense: Mike Walsh, who was brought in to replace the injured Ben Gitersonke, leads all defensemen with 15 goals and 27 points. Tom Ogrzewalla, Walshs defense partner has been a point-per-game producer in the back end. The Salukis allowed just 59 goals, ranking second in the league.
Goaltending: Pete Spitler has played in 10 of the 12 games, missing one due to injury and the other to a personal commitment. With a 5.30 GAA and a .814 save percentage, his numbers have been solid but not spectacular.
Intangibles: The Salukis have been guilty of trying to win on talent alone and not putting forth a quality 60-minute effort. It hasnt hurt them thus far, but what happens in the playoffs will determine if SIU sinks or swims.
#2 Seed (10-2):
Offense: Despite having four players in the top ten in scoring (Mike Bergmann, Kyle Janvrin, Aaron Service and Rob Samuels), the team placed 3rd overall on offense. This team can throw a variety of options at you and has a tendency to score in bunches during games.
Defense: Rich Thurau is the mainstay on defense for this team and is a league legend. Beyond him, the team plays a smothering style similar to the trap that limits offensive opportunities.
Goaltending: Drew Dunseth has been good at times and horrible at others. Allowing 13 goals to SIU in the second week of the season has been a glaring weakness. Ranked 5th among the 9 goalies in the league in GAA, Dunseth is a pure example of a Hot/Cold goaltender.
Intangibles: This team has been guilty of allowing leads to slip away from them late in games and has to scramble to finish teams in the third period. If teams are going to have success against this squad, they must weather the early onslaught and pick away at them as the game goes on.
#3 Seed (Team 4, 5-6-1)
Offence: Nick Kaypers and Chris Zahn are the only two scorers in the top 15 for this squad that finished 4th in scoring overall. Theyre a speedy group overall, but none of them are exceptional in any one area.
Defense: Ranked 3rd in defense, this team allowed one more goal than they scored (74-75). They are somewhat top-heavy on offense and their coverage against odd-man rushes is weak.
Goaltending: Josh Weber finished 3rd in goals-against and has been with this club for awhile. He has good skills, but has a tendency to falter under heavy pressure.
Intangibles: If anything, this team is impressively mediocre and gets frustrated easily. Once their speedy is eliminated, they are easy pickings.
#4 Seed (Team 2, 4-6-2)
Offense: Greg Bernas and Luke Sherrill are the names to look out for here, especially Bernas who finished runner-up to Van Damme for the Sniper Award. For a #4 seed, they posted the leagues second-best offense with 97 goals.
Defense: Outside of Caleb Wood, who was second among D-men with 26 points, this team gives up almost as many goals as they score, allowing 89 goals this season.
Goaltending: Ben Brimer hasnt had a great season. Hes allowed 95 goals in 11 games, which places him 5th in the league with a 8.64 GAA.
Intangibles: This is a high-scoring team that puts forth a superior effort each night. If it wasnt for their Swiss-Cheese defense, this team could have been in contention for the #1 slot.
#5 Seed (Team 3, 2-9-1)
Offense: Ryan Virden and Anthony Filipiak are this teams aces, with playmaker Ash Pierce between them. Unfortunately, Filipiak has only played five games this season due to injury but has posted 25 points. Virden finished 6th in the league with 33 points and Pierce ended up in 15th with 22. As a team they ranked second-to-last in scoring with 68 goals.
Defense: There isnt really much to write about here, as this squad gave up a league-worst 99 goals in the regular season.
Intangibles: If they can get Filipiak healthy for this game, these guys may have a chance to make it to the semifinals. Otherwise, it could be looking like a long summer.
#6 Seed (Team 5, 2-9-1)
Offense: After getting Shawn ODonoghue back from playing minor league hockey in Cincinnati, this teams offense improved. Unfortunately it didnt improve the team overall as they post just 56 goals scored. Nobody on this team ranks higher than 17 on the scoring chart.
Defense: Just marginally better than Team 3s, allowing six fewer goals. Another team marked for an early exit if the situation remains as it is.
Intangibles: ODonoghue is this teams heart and soul now. Unfortunately he cant do it alone, and his supporting cast may not be able get it done at all.
Goalies Journal #5
Hey, Hey, Hey folks and thanks for reading this playoff edition of Penalty Shots. The final stats were released yesterday and I finished just .05 behind the league-leader for the Dawg House Award (leagues best GAA). It is the closest margin since I finished .11 behind Brett Pont in the fall of 2001. The team won our last game 11-5 without me, since I had to attend a City Council meeting. We head into the playoffs the #1 seed with 21 points. With that high seed, we get a first round bye in the playoffs. We will await the winner of the quarterfinal match up between the 4 and 5 seeds. The second seed, which also gets a first round bye, will meet the victor of 3 and 6 seeds. Semifinal action begins on Tuesday with our game at 7:00. The early favorite to face us in the semis is the #4 seed, which tied us 11-11 last week.
Brandon VanDamme also was awarded the Sniper Award for the leagues top scoring forward. He posted 69 points (46G 23A) in the 12 games played. The runner-up, Greg Bernas posted 53 points (38G 15A) in 11 games. The goaltender who finished in 3rd place behind me, Josh Weber, had a 7.64 GAA and gave up 84 goals in 11 games.
Thats all for now, I should have a playoff preview posted sometime later this weekend. By the way, is it just me or is the Tampa Bay Lightning looking like a Stanley Cup contender?
*Joe Saviono returned from his knee injury tonight and recorded two goals and two assists, including the games first goal. I have an important Carbondale City Council meeting to attend tomorrow night so I will not travel with the team for the final game of the regular season.
Goalie's Journal #4
Greetings from between the pipes folks! Another exciting week for us last week. Lots of things happened, including moving into first place for us and myself winning my 100th college game. Monday's game started out kinda rough for us, as we trailed 6-3 at one point in the second period. Thankfully the boys cleaned up my mess for me by scoring five unanswered goals to get the win. Tuesday was the big match up for first place overall against the only team that's beaten us this season. The team we faced has a good goaltending tandem in Mike Bergmann and Drew Dunseth. Normally, Dunseth is their ace but he had an off game tonight allowing 13 goals. (he usually averages around a respectable 5 goals against a game). We finished the three-game sweep by edging out the third place team on Thursday 7-4.
I am a humble man. It's easy to get cocky when you're 7-1 and leading the league in goals-against-average. I always make it a point to say something positive to the other team when we shake hands after the game. I usually seek out the other team's goaltender and say things like "good game" and "see you in the playoffs"and stuff like that. Nobody likes to lose and nobody likes a smart ass who rubs it in after the game. I'd expect the same treatment if the roles were reversed and I tend to blame a lot of my saves on luck (although that sometimes isn't true) because it makes it easier for the teams to cope with the loss if they blame bad luck. All in all, people give you more respect if you be a good sport about things and in the end you're all the better for it.
Hockey Fans! The NCRHA (National Collegiate Roller Hockey Association) National Championships are being held from April 14-19 at the Anaheim Hockey Club in Anaheim, California. The address of the club is 1000 N. Edward Ct. and the phone number is 714-632-1500. If you want to see some great action, then be sure to stop by and see some games. More info is available at www.ncrha.org
There's a few things that people don't know about ice hockey's cousin roller hockey. Here's a few tidbits:
It has been tried out as
an Olympic sport in Barcelona in 1992, but it hasn't been given
an official spot yet on the Olympic calendar.
So check it out, I endorse it heavily and become a part of an exciting but underrated sport!
Goalies Journal #3
Howdy, howdy, howdy. Its been a successful week for us, outscoring our opponents 23-7 in the two games last week. I know the score sounds more like football than hockey, but we went through the two weaker teams in the league. With our record 4-1, we will be going into another 3 games in 4 nights stretch this coming week. That also includes a rematch on Tuesday afternoon with the team who handed us our lone loss. My GAA also dropped nearly half a goal last week to a 4.20. Unfortunately my save percentage fell too, even if it was only .002% to .840.
Overall, Im somewhat disappointed with myself. Ive allowed a few soft goals, including one on Thursday from center rink that changed directions on me. I do have some consolation in that I am making the impact saves (saves at critical points in the game). Ive counted two or three times that Ive come up with a big save and weve gone the other way and scored. I should have earned a second assist back on opening day, but the ref refused to give it to me. (I made a save on a shot, the rebound went right to one of my teammates, who passed it to VanDamme, who went the other way and scored. I should have gotten an assist right?)
Anyway, its all about the W, no matter how ugly the game gets. Speaking of ugly, I am currently dealing with a foot injury. It happened last Thursday moving furniture for a friend. Having size 12 feet is a handicap when going up stairs built when people had narrow shoulders and small feet. Nonetheless, I dropped a dresser on my foot. Im not entirely sure Ill play Mondays game for precautionary reasons. I want to play, as I am three games shy of my 100th college game. I have seven games left in the regular season, weather permitting. Its only been through the grace of the man upstairs that Ive been able to play for so long despite four knee dislocations, two concussions and a slipped disc in my lower back.
Thats all for now, see ya again next week!
Goalies Journal #2
Hey folks, its that time again. I cant honestly say Im completely happy with the outcomes of this weeks games. Blown leads, locker room dissent, offensive troubles have been the order of the day for most of our first three games. Opening Day went ok, the win helped stretch my record to 6-3-2 all-time with SIU on the first day of the season. What I wasnt too happy about was the way we won the game (7-4 score for those who havent been keeping track). Granted I made 20 saves in the outing, but our opponents also hit four posts and a toe. They got two goals in the second and two in the third on me, but I did make some decent saves, including one in traffic while shorthanded in the second period. I finished the game with a good glove save on Luke Sherrill (even from a goalies point of view) and did the traditional Patrick Roy Statue of Liberty taunt for effect. Nothing sounds better than plastic hitting leather in my line of work.
The next night, things turned worse. A problem that had been developing was our inability to hit the net on our shots. We were getting chances but most of them were going wide. Another problem was our opponents were aggressively attacking our D-men, which caused them to cough up the ball on a number of occasions, twice accounting for goals. On two shots I managed to get some of the ball, but not enough as they squeezed past me. We were tied 4-all after the second period on a disputed goal that allowed us to tie the game. From there, things turned worse and intense arguing began between our captain Ben Gitersonke and Brandon VanDamme. VanDamme left the game on his own accord and did not return. I was pulled for the extra attacker with less than a minute left, but we lost 7-5.
Heading into Thursdays game, I felt like I needed to address the issues that had come up two days earlier. I called the team together and the first thing I did was point out to the team that I knew I needed to get better and that I am trying to do that. I also made a point out of this team having too many people who want to be the star (much like the old New York Rangers). Gitersonke agreed with me, saying that we had been playing more like individuals instead of a team.
The team seemed to respond. We gave up two quick goals, sandwiched between one of our own, to open the game. Our opponents definitely had the speed factor, especially early. We scored two goals to end the period up 3-2. Our defense was much better this night, resorting to dumping the ball (much safer) rather than risk coughing it up. On the other end we were stringing some nice plays together, a first for us this season. We took a 5-3 lead into the third period as well as some confidence that our opponents were getting both frustrated and tired as the game wore on. I stopped all 13 shots in the final period, netting a total of 31 for the game. The save of the game happened when I stopped Drew Dunseth on a breakaway in the third. His shot actually hit the inside of my left thigh and dropped down. I somehow managed to fall on it without knocking it in. On the offensive side, we scored four unanswered goals to win the game 9-3.
This weeks final stats shouldnt be out until Sunday at least, but I should be near the lead in terms of goals-against-average. In roller hockey, everything is much higher and would seem weird to ice hockey fans. For example, a GAA of 4.69 (mine) is considered a good mark to have as is my save percentage of .842. The scale is as follows:
5-6 (acceptable), 4-5 (excellent), 3-4 (outstanding), 3 and below (very rare)
80-90 (excellent), 70-80 (acceptable), 60-70 (bad)
The reason why these levels are different is because in roller hockey there are fewer players on the rink (4-on-4), fewer rules (no offsides, two-line pass) and no checking. This makes for a wide-open, but exciting game to watch.
Well, thats all for now Thanks for reading and see ya again after week 2.
Goalies Journal #1
Well, I can definitely take some comfort in this seasons roster. We have a good 1-2 punch with VanDamme and LaBonte, with Saviono as a good set up man. Perkins can chip in a goal or two when needed, but the real question marks are Call and Ploegman. Of course Id list myself as a question mark too, especially when considering the high level of talent translates into a high level of expectation. VanDamme finished runner-up to scoring phenom Anthony Filipiak, who posted 99 points to VanDammes 90. When scouting the goalies around the league, I have the experience factor on all of them, but Im not expecting an easy competition at all.
Looking at the schedule, Ill be forced into playing 3 games in 4 nights twice and back-to-backers 3 times. Next weeks first series of games will be tough, as all athletes know the dreaded morning after pains are the best estimate of your bodys condition. After a long layoff such as mine, getting thrown into the thick of things right off the bat may help to re-develop my game, but may also wear me out early on. We shall see. Weather is also going to be a factor, as the league is outdoor and at the whim of Mother Nature. Mondays Opening Day forecast is Partly Cloudy with a low in the lower 30s. Tuesdays and Thursdays games will be warmer with a slight chance of rain on Thursday.
Thats all for now, catch ya later after the first week of games!
Last Call- This will be my final column before my roller hockey season begins. A calendar will be posted on my column that will include my schedule of games. I will also try to post results and my personal thoughts regarding each game once a week. 836 days and counting since my last Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) game.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column
First of all, I would like to give kudos to the Montreal Canadiens for their acquisition of RW Alexei Kovalev. Its a great pick up for a club that has been under a tight budget and a sign that the strengthening exchange rate between Canadian currency and the U.S. dollar is making an impact. Granted Kovalev may be just a playoff rental, but you still have to give credit to a club that wasnt even considered in the bidding for his services. The same goes to Edmonton and Petr Nedved.
Second, like Ive said all along, the Detroit Red Wings solidified their position at center (not at RW) by trading for former Washington Capital Robert Lang. Lang fills the void physically left by Anaheims Sergei Fedorov, who will feel what it is like to miss the playoffs for the first time in over half a decade. Whats surprising is that the Capitals settled with a bunch of draft picks and LW Tomas Fleischmann, rather than someone from the Wings active roster. Fleischmann is considered the Wings fourth-best prospect behind Igor Gorigenko, Jiri Hudler and Niklas Kronwall.
Now that Sergei Gonchar has been dealt to Beantown and Bryan Leetch is headed north of the border, two teams are suspiciously absent (Colorado & Dallas) from the traditional buyers list at the deadline this year. I can almost hear the gears grinding in the mind of the most secretive GM in the league, Colorado Avalanches Pierre Lacroix. One can only wonder what plans he is working on, especially now that the best players are gone from the firesales in Washington and New York. Dallas has finally snapped out of their funk, but much later than everyone predicted. Id expect them to do something, even if its minor, to fortify for the stretch run. Everybody knows that the trade deadline consists of teams one-upping each other in order to gain the best possible lineup for the second season, which is the NHL playoffs. With both the Capitals and the Rangers spreading the love around the league in terms of high-profile trades, we may see the most balanced playoff matchups in quite some time.
The record may be broken this year for the St. Louis Blues, whose streak of 24 straight years of making the playoffs (the longest current streak in professional sports) is in jeopardy. A 1-1 tie against Edmonton on Thursday puts the Blues five points out of the 8th and final playoff spot, currently held by the Los Angeles Kings. Goaltender Brent Johnson, who has worn out his welcome in the Gateway to the West, will get another chance to jar his career out of neutral by backing up Brian Boucher in Phoenix.
The Nashville Predators are drawing comparisons to last years Minnesota Wild team, who advanced through the playoffs on the strength of team defense and superior goaltending. Steve Sullivan has been a dream since coming over from Chicago, and the gritty, pound-on-you-till-you-crumble style of play has been working in the wild Western Conference. No team should take the Pred-heads lightly, as history may indeed repeat itself.
More fuel for the ongoing war between Detroit and Colorado was added after seeing the results of Fridays Test the Nation 2 IQ test television program on Fox. It seems that the smartest city is Detroit, while the smartest state is Colorado. Based on the results, the smartest people are male, bald, have either green or blue eyes (a tie), a Scorpio, married or divorced, live in Detroit or Colorado and are either a Republican or Democrat.
I apologize for the short and somewhat stale column. With hockey season approaching, and the other Spectors Hockey writers already stumbling over themselves commenting on the trades, I have nothing original at this point in time.
Once again, thanks for reading and Ill catch up with everybody in around two weeks.
Sorry for the long delay in this column. Things have been very busy here and unfortunately Ive had to move Penalty Shots to the back burner for awhile. My apologies to all.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column .
THE WAITING GAME: No news yet on our proposed facility. I have (hopefully) one more meeting on Thursday before I get a final decision on the 30,000 sq. foot roller hockey facility we want to build on campus here at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC). Ive already spent two months in negotiation with various university officials (including Chancellor Walter Wendler), and the general sense is that we (SIUs roller hockey club) will get something out of all this just not sure what yet.
SEASON BEGINS: Roller hockey season begins officially on March 15th. Im not exactly sure of my schedule and when Im playing, but I will let everybody know as soon as possible. I have decided to go with a Goalies Journal for Penalty Shots during the time that I will be away.
THE YOUNG, THE RESTLESS AND THE INJURED: Despite officially declaring his season over due to a nagging groin injury and clearing out his locker, goaltender Dominik Hasek has been a constant presence in the Detroit Red Wings locker room. Hasek has been talking to several players and has been signing jerseys for some of their kids. GM Ken Holland has promised that if Haseks presence becomes a distraction, that he would address it accordingly.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOALIES GONE, LONG TIME PASSING: Speaking of Hasek, the day after he announced his retirement Curtis Joseph went down with an ankle injury after a collision with San Joses Jonathan Cheechoo. Backup Manny Legace also nearly suffered an injury in a separate collision in the same game. If Legace was knocked out of the game, it meant forward Darren McCarty would be the next one in line to strap on the pads.
Well, a little over two weeks before the March 9th trade deadline and already things have been heating up. Philadelphia traded for goaltender Sean Burke, Ottawa countered by acquiring Peter Bondra from Washington, Philly fired back by reeling in Alexei Zhamnov. Whos next? Robert Lang? Sergei Gonchar? Bryan Leetch? As we roll towards an uncertain fate with the CBA, this could be the most active trade deadline this year to date.
A lot has been made of Detroits interest in Robert Lang. GM Ken Holland himself even admitted theyd pick up a player who was earning a little too much in another market. Of course, all this was part of Detroits failed quest to wheel and deal Curtis Joseph. The fact remains that Detroit is still seeking a big center. They experimented with utility forward/defenseman Mathieu Dandenault at center between Steve Thomas and Darren McCarty (theres an interesting combo). A back injury to Jason Woolley has rotated Dandenault back to defense for the time being, but coach Dave Lewis has said that doesnt mean the experiment has ended. Dandenault is my pick to be dealt as he is one of the more attractive players with speed who can play both forward and defense. I can see Jason Williams going to Washington too. Williams has great potential, but has not been able to weasel his way into a tough Detroit lineup.
Many doubted it would happen, but Peter Bondra is now in an Ottawa uniform. Considered at one point to be the cornerstone of the Washington franchise, Bondra may never be back as it seems that the Senators are going to exercise his $4.5 million dollar club option for next year. The words he is not a playoff rental by John Muckler keep ringing in my ears. Apparently the trade came as a complete surprise to Bondra, who showed up to the rink for practice with his two kids and saw Capitals GM George McPhee waiting for him. Bondra then told his two kids that they had to move.
The point that Im making is that there is a price for everything and that includes loyalty. I agree economics plays a large part too but, if you look at the Atomic Playboys (New York Rangers) as an example, an argument can be made about wholesale loyalty. Perhaps what has happened to the Rangers has been an effect based upon what has happened to the Yankees. Maybe Slather realized that he had to continually do something year after year in order to compete with Steinbrenner over a tough N.Y. fan base. Steinbrenner was putting together the best baseball team money could buy and Slather tried to do the same.
Maybe we should stop dwelling on whats wrong with the NHL, and start looking at whats right with it. Small-market clubs like Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Nashville (to name a few) are starting to experience success. The Lightning is showing that last year was not a fluke and is running away with the Southeast Division title. Nashville has rounded out into a very tough club who could make some noise in the playoffs, especially with the acquisition of Steve Sullivan from Chicago. Vancouver is dangerously close to contending for the title, as is San Jose. Rising stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrice Bergeron, Rick Nash, and many others have breathed new life into a league desperate for marketable players. Roberto Luongo may be one of the hardest working goaltenders in the league and could contend for a Vezina Trophy soon.
Ok, those are only a few bright spots of a sport in cardiac arrest. So sue me if I look for the proverbial bright side of the NHL. The fact remains that there are some things to cheer about in todays game. They may be few, they may be small, but in most cases its all weve got.
THEY SAID IT: In a recent interview with the Detroit media, Red Wings RW Darren McCarty tried to avoid questions about his back (which had kept him out of the lineup since November 8th). Finally McCarty uttered I have to figure out where Im at. Across the dressing room Jason Williams replied Youre in Detroit. In a separate article, Wings LW Brendan Shanahan was asked the best strategy for winning a snowball fight. Shanahans answer? Id say peeing on the snowballs. Nobody wants to go near yellow snow, so you dont win.
FROM BAD TO WORSE TO NOWHERE AT ALL: St. Louis Blues fans are screaming about their teams recent woes (winless in seven games). Heading into Tuesdays games, the Nashville Predators had pulled ahead of the Blues for second place in the Central Division (8 points behind Detroit). According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon, this could mean either Keith Tkachuk and/or Doug Weight could be on their way out of the Gateway to the West. Gordon also named Chris Pronger as part of the list, but given that Prongers entering his athletic prime and a cornerstone for the organization, he is not expected to be dealt. Gordon also suggests that since this years Blues team is perilously close to the end of the line, the Blues should consider starting a rebuilding program.
SPECIAL TEAMS NIGHTMARE: The Edmonton Oilers arent happy either with the man advantage or a man shortage. Edmonton boasts the NHLs worst power play (10.3 percent) and the third-worst penalty killing (28th). The Oilers have allowed more than twice as many power play goals (49) as they have scored (24).
HOCKEY NIGHT IN TINSELTOWN: Former Los Angeles Kings goaltender and Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey is the idol of Pacific International Junior Hockey League (PIJHL) goaltender Wyatt Russell. Why does this matter? Russell is the son of actors Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. The elder Russell can be seen in Fridays release of Miracle, a movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Kurt plays legendary U.S. coach Herb Brooks in the film. The 17-year-old Wyatt Russell leads the league in wins (19), goals-against-average (2.76) and has notched three shutouts as a part of the Richmond Sockeyes. Both of Russells parents have been regulars at home and away games. Since I was tiny, they have been the most supportive hockey parents, Russell said. It didnt matter if it was a 3 a.m. practice or whatever. And my dad has become an enormous hockey fan.
THINK TANK: Ok, so I couldnt come up with a good title for news about Southern Illinois University at Carbondales proposed indoor roller hockey facility. I have been designing rough blueprints for the 30,000 square foot structure, tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2014. I have a meeting with the University Chancellor Walter Wendler and Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk next Tuesday to discuss the matter. I have my media contacts (both radio and print) waiting on the results of this meeting. If both officials respond favorable to the idea, you will be notified ASAP. Ive gotten a lot of support thus far and I hope this works out.
-Several of you e-mailed me with your picks as the worst-looking uniforms. Im sorry that I missed the bright yellow L.A. Kings jersey, as that would also make the Hall of Shame list.
-Practice has been progressing. The last two weeks Ive gone out to the rink alone and done a little shadow boxing (making saves on imaginary opponents). Its a technique that Dominik Hasek uses during practices. My main concern is getting my body mechanics down where Im transitioning from one save to the next smoothly. Think of it as one of those puzzle cubes where you have to get the sides all the same color.
-Dany Heatley, recovering from injuries sustained in the car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder, will play his first game of the season tonight (Wednesday) as his Thrashers face off against the Blues.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column .
On the bubble Teams that need to win now:
This is the point of the season is where fates are decided. Right now only 11 points separate the number one slot from the number eight slot in the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference is separated by 12 points heading into Tuesday nights games. The spread is so thin, but yet so dangerous when you consider the teams on the inside looking out, and the outside looking in.
Nashville Predators (6th in the Western Conference, one point behind St. Louis and one point ahead of Dallas and Calgary)
Solely occupying 6th place, Nashville has gotten there on the strength of goaltender Tomas Vokouns All-Star worthy performance. Despite losing their best offensive defenseman, the scrappy Predators are always a tough team to play against and are vying for their first playoff birth in the franchises six-year history. Winners of six of their last 10, Nashville needs to keep the streak alive as only two points separate them from playing golf in April. What this surprising team does as the All-Star break comes and goes will be an important factor come playoff time.
Calgary Flames (7th in the Western Conference, one win ahead of Dallas)
The Flames were one of the unexpected surprises this season following the Chris Drury trade to Buffalo and the rumors of a Flames fire sale involving Jarome Iginla. Picking up netminder Miika Kiprusoff from San Jose for a song has been the steal for Calgary. Kiprusoff is 11-3-2 with a gut-wrenching 1.47 goals-against-average and a .940 save percentage. However, Calgary has been slumping as of late and has a tough road trip to Phoenix and red-hot San Jose, before returning home to face the worst team in the conference in Chicago. With Dallas at their heels, the Flames need to walk out of the new Glendale Arena in Phoenix and the HP Pavilion in San Jose with points.
Dallas Stars (8th in the Western Conference, one win behind Calgary and one point ahead of Los Angeles for 9th place)
I, like most other hockey writers, have debated over the reason for the Dallas Stars inability to not only score goals, but play in a matter resembling only a shadow of their former glory. Many have blamed their funk on the loss of team captain and physical defenseman Derian Hatcher to the Detroit Red Wings this past summer. The acquisition of Teppo Numminen from Phoenix was thought to help fill the void. However, what Numminen couldnt (and cant) fill is the hole in the teams identity. Dallas was known as a Rockm-Sockm club when Hatcher played for them. With that gone, the Stars have had to rely on their skill to convert scoring chances. With fading and overpriced players like Pierre Turgeon and Scott Young, many players have been finding that skill hard to come by. This is especially so when current captain Mike Modano has been unable to bury his chances this season. Now, after eight straight home games scoring two goals or fewer, Dallas has to re-invent themselves. How long it lasts depends on the clubs current resurgence (six wins in their last 10), and how serious the ownership is towards fixing the problem when the trade deadline rolls around in March.
Los Angeles Kings (9th place in the Western Conference, one point behind Dallas for 8th place)
Despite all their usual season injuries, L.A. has been playing .500 hockey both home, away and in their last 10 games. With Ziggy Palffy out for the rest of the season and Marty Straka out with a knee injury, LA has had their share of troubles not only this season but also the last few. Players consistently find their way to the infirmary, which leaves the eventual product on the ice somewhat less than spectacular. Rookies like Dustin Brown and Esa Pirnes have been called in to help a ravaged Kings roster. With the Kings still deep in the hunt for a playoff spot, getting back some of their walking wounded will be the key to earning a bid for the postseason.
Phoenix Coyotes (10th place in the Western Conference, three points behind L.A. for the 9th spot)
The Desert Dogs have been flirting with mediocrity, despite goaltender Brian Bouchers one-man show of five consecutive shutouts. The young club has 15 ties this season, 10 on the road, more than any other team in the NHL. The success of this club hinges on the potential move or moves surrounding its goaltending and star Sean Burke. The Coyotes know that there is interest in Burke and need to wait to the most opportune moment if they choose to deal him. Bouchers career-saving achievement combined with budding star Zac Bierk, has made choosing a #1 goaltender difficult. Many have said that Phoenix will hold on to Burke as long as possible as long as they are within sniffing distance of the playoffs. Im not writing the Coyotes off as playoff contenders, but a lot of their future hinges on the potential return they could get for Burke, their most valuable player.
Montreal Canadiens (7th place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Boston and three points ahead of the New York Islanders)
Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore has rebounded from a subpar 2002-2003 season to post a respectable 2.04 GAA with a .927 save percentage plus six shutouts. What was deemed an underachieving Montreal team last season has returned to form with six wins in the last 10 games. Defenseman Patrice Brisebois, long rumored to be on his way out of Montreal, has 14 points in 43 games and is a surprising +10. The team has changed dramatically since their win over the Edmonton Oilers in the Heritage Classic back in late November and it shows. If the goaltending remains strong and the Canadiens dont waiver down the stretch, this could be a team that could upset a team or two in the playoffs.
New York Islanders (8th place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind Montreal, four points ahead of Atlanta)
It has been a case of night and day for the Islanders. After a prolonged slump earlier this season that saw management threaten significant changes, the Islanders responded with 15 wins in their last 22 games. A key to the turnaround has been 22-year-old netminder Rick DiPietro, who has wins in six of his last seven starts including a 3-0 shutout Saturday night against Atlanta. Despite years of being labeled as playing below his potential, the former first overall pick in the 2000 draft is silencing the critics now. DiPietro hasnt been the only reason, as the Islanders have settled down to a much more gritty style of play in the absence of injured forwards Alexei Yashin and Mark Parrish. The problem for the Islanders has been winning on the road, where they have won only seven of 24 games.
Atlanta Thrashers (9th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Islanders)
For a team who once led the Southeast Division, the Atlanta Thrashers find themselves staring up at the Tampa Bay Lightning who have a six-point edge in the division. Atlanta is also enduring a slump where they have won only two of their last 10 games and have scored two goals or less in eight of their last 11. With the expected return of Dany Heatley tonight, Atlantas suddenly anemic offense will be getting a much-needed boost. Many fans picked Atlanta on my Penalty Shots Awards to make it to the playoffs, but that could change if they dont shake out of it soon.
New York Rangers (10th in the Eastern Conference, tied in points with Atlanta for 9th)
The atomic playboys of the NHL find themselves in a familiar position, fighting for the playoffs. In the past, the Rangers have imploded at the All-Star break ending in a disappointing spiral that ends at the golf tee in April. I, like many other Ranger fans, am waiting with baited breath to see how the team responds to the wholesale acquisition of Jaromir Jagr. Granted, he rebounded with three points (G, 2A) against Florida after a -3 showing against Ottawa. That has been the way his season has gone this year. Great one day, invisible the next. While Jagr will do wonders for the Ranger offense, all the goals in the world wont matter if you cant stop them from going in your own net. The testing point of the Jagr Experiment will be how he (and the team) performs against the better teams in the conference. For example, Florida allows more shots than any other team in the NHL. The defense is thinner than tissue paper and if it wasnt for goaltender Roberto Luongo, Florida would be in MUCH worse shape than they are now. The Rangers are going to have to work harder than ever to change their ways. Especially Glenn Sather, who wont have to worry about calling management at seasons end, because if the Rangers fail no one will answer the phone.
Feb. 3- Stunning Revelations
Feb. 10- TBD
Another Milestone- In 317 days, Penalty Shots has recorded over 31,000 hits. Thanks to all who helped make it possible.
I was looking in my trusty Journalism Stylebook the other day and I found out that the term canuck is a derogatory term for Canadians and should be avoided except when referring to the Vancouver Canucks. Makes you think doesnt it?
And now back to your regularly scheduled column
What were they thinking? The worst jerseys in NHL history:
Given the rich history of the NHL, more than a few fans have scratched their heads at some of the graphic creations to be worn by the leagues players. Some turn out to be real genius, others look like they were drawn by a child at Chuck E. Cheese. Whether it be Nashvilles Grey Poupon 3rd jersey, or the horribly loud Canucks jersey of the 1970s and 80s, or perhaps some teams are just incapable of ever having a really cool jersey. Some jerseys have even drawn comparisons to all things not hockey:
Carolina Hurricanes- jersey reminds people of a puck being flushed down a toilet
mid 1990s New York Islanders Drunk fisherman (Stan Fischler) on the front with green and orange waves (the oceans blue people!), draw your own conclusions (pun intended)
1995-96 Anaheim Mighty Ducks 3rd jersey- The infamous Duck on drugs jersey. In all their infinite wisdom, Disney decided to put an animated character on the front of their in-house creation.
1929-30 Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, hockey)- An orange sweater with diagonal black stripes, a black wedge on the left shoulder and a pirate logo. Arggg! Me thinks Halloween on the Seven Seas!
2003-04 Dallas Stars 3rd jersey- With a logo that has drawn comparisons to a womans uterus and colors that resemble the Calgary Flames of old, the creation has been hated by all.
As everyone knows, all uniform changes are meant to boost sales and to keep things fresh within the organization. Some teams have gotten the mix of style and toughness right like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. The Phoenix Coyotes recently shed their Art Museum nightmare for a simpler logo of a Coyotes head howling at the moon. The change apparently has been much appreciated by the fans. Another Hall of Shame nominee has to be the Boston Bruins 3rd jersey. With ragged stripe lines and a very un-intimidating bear logo, this sweater has been given the thumbs down by the fans. Yet another nominee is the Minnesota Wilds 3rd jersey. With a crest that resembles the Pittsburgh Pirates (baseball) logo of the 1960s and colors more benefiting the Department of Natural Resources, the jersey deserves a much better fate as a Christmas sweater.
I apologize for the short column, but there really is only so much you can say about bad ideas that shouldnt have seen the light of day. Of course peoples tastes are fickle. Case in point regards the Edmonton Oilers. They took some of the Los Angeless Kings jerseys from Wayne Gretzkys era, slapped on a logo that would thrill garage mechanics everywhere and plastered it on the team. The result? The jerseys sold over $300,000 the first week they were introduced.
Jan. 27- On the bubble, What teams need to win games now
Feb. 3- Stunning Revelations
SIU Update- As many of my frequent readers know, Ive been providing updates on my mystical quest to return to action this coming spring. Im proud to report that my equipment has arrived here in Carbondale, and I fully dressed for the first time in a long time. I skated for a little bit on Sunday, just to test things out. I have been working on touching up my goalie masks (I paint my own, nothing fancy but it saves the cost of a $32,000 dollar professional job). Thats it for now, I hope to have further updates as we crawl closer to the March beginning of the Spring season.
Birthday Notes: I celebrated my 25th birthday on Saturday (Jan. 10), happy b-day to me.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column .
Ian in the AM MacDonald and I developed the Point-Counterpoint style of this column over the holidays. We decided to argue our own point of view on four questions. The following is my point of view. Im not expecting everyone to agree or disagree on my opinion, but then again thats the fun of being a columnist.
Who will win the Stanley Cup and why?
This is always one of the toughest questions to consider, especially since weve only reached the halfway point of the season and so many teams are running hot. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, and the usual suspects of the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche apply here. In this era of the goaltender and stifling defensive hockey, no team does it better than the New Jersey Devils. As painful as it is to watch, you cant score if there isnt any room to do anything. This makes for terrible publicity, but you cant argue with results. Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur is one of the best in the business, and is having a career year thus far.
Toronto would be a great choice, but the problem lies in translating their regular-season success into playoff progress. Granted, they went to war with Philadelphia in a series for the ages that no team deserved to lose. Who their first round opponent is will be key this year, as playing two double-overtime games and one triple-overtime game wore them out last year. Both Detroit and Colorado will be focusing on avenging last years early playoff exits at the hands of seemingly inferior teams (Anaheim and Minnesota respectfully). Philadelphia has been mired in a terrible slump as of late, despite center Mike Comrie having seven points in eight games since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers.
My pick: New Jersey Devils
Will there be a work stoppage later this year?
Well, the fact that theres been no serious talks on the issue lately is deeply concerning. The NHLPA (players union) has stood firm on the issue of no salary cap and the owners have refused to talk about luxury taxes and revenue sharing. I believe the most recent discussed proposal revolved around a hard salary cap of $31 million. I find this ridiculous, because you cant buy a hot dog and a bag of chips during the playoffs for $31 million. The Buffalo Sabres payroll stands at $33 million, and theyve already been under financial restraint for several years. Personally, I cant see a salary cap any lower than $45 million. This amount would allow a little wiggle room as far as cost of living and inflation is concerned. It would also force higher-paid and whinier (take note, Mr. Jagr) NHL superstars to restructure their contracts.
As sad as I am to say, I do believe that we will go through a lengthy work stoppage as the owners and players play the blame game over the sorry state of the NHL, and its decrease in appeal to the fans. With the limping American economy and the struggling Canadian dollar, we (as fans) have taken enough excuses from the NHLs upper brass. Congratulations Mr. Gary Bettman (NHL commissioner), for years you have forecasted prosperity in the NHL and now you will see your world come crashing down around your head.
Who is the NHLs breakthrough player this year?
As usual, theres a lot of candidates possible here. Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk and Columbus Right Wing Rick Nash are two, to name a few. I believe the obvious choice is Pavel Datsyuk, who was expected to step up his game after the departure of Sergei Fedorov to Anaheim last summer. Hes cooled off a bit, scoring only five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in his last 10 games after scoring 19 points in nine games. Hes got the total package of great hands, great speed, and the vision to recognize scoring chances. Perhaps the greatest asset to the Datsyuk phenomenon has been his play with future Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull. Hulls mentoring has also given Datsyuk the ability to sense the presence of teammates without even looking at where they are. Hull hasnt scored in 16 games, but he has had 11 assists during that time.
As a result of this cooling-off, Datsyuk has dropped from, at one time, the league-leader in points to 5th, behind Joe Sakic, Ilya Kovalchuk, Robert Lang, and Markus Naslund. He is still averaging at a little over a point a game with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) through 44 games. The level of skill that he has means that he could potentially become at least a 70-75 point player. Columbuss Rick Nash also could get the nod here, but I dont think Nashs overall game is as complete as Datsyuks
My pick: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
What do you think about the NHLs proposed rule changes that are currently being experimented with in the AHL?
A couple of changes are being proposed, including widening the blue lines and even enlarging the net. A couple of people have made a few valid points on widening the net, mostly relating to the larger size of todays goaltenders (including the modern equipment) versus goalies 40 years ago. My personal idea has been the same thing Ive been doing in every hockey video game for the last eight years eliminating the two-line pass. How many times has a player made a great outlet pass to an open man and Tweet! Blown down because the puck crossed two lines. I played in a summer league that had no icing, no two-line pass, and no offsides. Granted, this style of play put an enormous physical load on the goaltenders (as would the removal of the red line, which is the basis for the two-line pass).
Another problem lies in what to do about the neutral zone trap. Its a technique that came out of Europe and has been the absolute death of the NHL. It slows the game down and provides little, if any, excitement. Another thing that needs to happen is to move the nets back 2 feet to where they originally were. Wayne Gretzky isnt playing anymore, so maybe its time someone closed his office? (the area behind the net) The point is that the NHL has tried a number of things, including trying to get the refs to crack down on the clutching and grabbing (to no success), in order to increase scoring. Some have suggested the tag-in rule (where if players crossed the blue line ahead of the puck and the puck was shot in the zone, those players could tag in to the neutral zone without a whistle) as a way to keep the game flowing along. Bottom line is that it will take people a lot smarter than me to figure t
Jan. 20- What were they thinking? The Worst Jerseys in NHL History
Jan. 27- To Be Determined
-The new Penalty Shots logo was designed by myself and consists of free clipart I found on the internet. I hope you like it.
- Ian "in the AM" and I will be doing a joint column together soon. No date or topic has been set, but we're in the planning stages.
- My six-year-old nephew, Joe, has started playing hockey. I've been working with him (he's a center) and his skills have really improved.
-Happy New Year to everyone and best wishes for a joyful 2004.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column.
They said it: On a recent "Family Feud" episode, contestants of the game show were asked the following question: Name a sport with rowdy spectators? The number one answer? (based on a survey of 100 people) Hockey. My answer? You darn right and we're proud of it.
Army of One: Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash's 23 goals account for 32% of the team's total goals scored (65). This mark is tops in the NHL.
The Silent Assassin: While most of the hockey world has been focused on Detroit's goaltending drama and the emergence of phenom center Pavel Datsyuk, checking center Kris Draper has been overlooked. Draper, 32, has posted career-highs in points in each of his last three seasons (25, 30, 35). "Drapes" is on pace to break that mark again this season with 14 goals and 24 points through 38 games thus far. Great return for a player who was originally picked up from the Edmonton Oilers for $1.
The Moose is Loose: How often does a 42-year-old lead a team in goals? Not very. New York Rangers center and future Hall-of-Famer Mark Messier is doing it this year."Moose," who turns 43 on Jan. 17, has potted 11 goals thus far and is the only Ranger with goals in the double-digits.
Will the real Santa please stand up?: At the Philadelphia Flyers/ New York Islanders game on December 23, people dressed in Santa Claus attire received free admission and played a part in the "Santa Parade" during the first intermission. Literally hundreds of Santas were in attendance and it proved to be a mistake as a fight between two Santas with Ranger sweaters and two Islanders Santas erupted. The Ranger Santas were escorted to their sleigh in handcuffs by security. Several Santas held up a sign reading "All I Want For Christmas Is A New GM".
Part of the problem, Not the solution: Edmonton Oilers center Adam Oates has 2 assists through 12 games thus far. He's been great on the faceoff circle (61%) but has done nothing else.
NHL reWIND: "Dead Things" to Red Wings, the Detroit Red Wings from the 1980's to the 1990's.
The Detroit Red Wings, like any other professional organization, goes through a roller coaster of success and failure over the years. The last quarter-century has done nothing more than prove that fact. Entering the 1980's, the Wings had survived a turbulent decade of revolving door coaches that came and went almost every season. The Wings had made the playoffs only once in the 1970's, that being 1978. Finally in 1982, the process of turning Detroit from a weak team into a NHL powerhouse began. Little Caesar's Pizza tycoon Mike Ilitch bought the team for $8 million and appointed then-37-year-old Jimmy Devellano as the general manager. Devellano, who now has 11 Stanley Cup rings with the Wings and Islanders, drafted 18-year-old Steve Yzerman as his number one pick (fourth overall) in 1983. Yzerman was a scoring machine, posting 80+ points his first two seasons and helped boost the Wings from last to third in the division.
Tragedy struck again when the Wings went through a scoring slump in the mid-80's that found them back in the basement of the NHL. New coach Jacque Demers came on board during the 1986-87 season and turned the Wings around again. Demers was named Coach of the Year for two straight seasons, netting two Norris Division titles. Demers removed four-year captain Danny Gare and promoted Yzerman as captain, at the tender age of 21. Demers also united the "Bruise Brothers" of Joey Kocur, now an assistant coach with the Wings, and Bob Probert to intimidate opponents.
Things turned sour in the late 80's when the Wings once again found themselves in last place. Yzerman was coming off a 1988-89 season where he posted 155 points, including 65 goals. Demers was fired and Bryan Murray stepped in. Murray was responsible for acquiring defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, center Sergei Fedorov and hard-hitting defenseman Vladamir Konstantinov in the 1989 draft. Murray also added Dino Ciccarelli and Paul Coffey to the mix as the 1990's began. Unfortunately the transition resulted in only more heartbreak for the fans as season after season resulted in early playoff exits.
In 1993, Scotty Bowman took over as coach of the Wings. With six Stanley Cups already under his belt, Bowman knew what it took to make a winner. Goaltender Tim Cheveldae was traded for goalie Bob Essensa and forward Dallas Drake. Bowman also put 21-year-old netminder Chris Osgood in net, and won the Central Division. Unfortunately, due to a bad clearing pass by Osgood in Game 7, Detroit lost to the 8th ranked San Jose Sharks in 1994. The lockout-shortened 1994-95 season saw Detroit reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1966. The heavily favored Wings were swept in four games by New Jersey (largely because of the Devils neutral zone trap).
By the time 1996 rolled around, Detroit had amassed a group of former Soviet Union hockey players referred to as the "Russian Five". Fedorov, Slava Kozlov, Konstantinov, Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov made up the new line. The new line plus a more defense-orientated approach to hockey saw the Wings win a NHL-record 62 games. Yzerman also recorded his 500th career goal and Paul Coffey notched his 1,000th assist. Unfortunately the Wings could not translate that success into a Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche eliminated the Wings in six games in the Western Conference Final. During the series, Claude Lemieux checked Wings center Kris Draper into the boards from behind, breaking his jaw. That single incident started what many consider to be one of the bloodiest rivalries in all of sports.
Bowman in 1996-1997 decided to make a crucial trade to bring in scoring depth. On October 6, 1996, Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey and a 1st-round pick were sent to Hartford (now the Carolina Hurricanes) in exchange for forward Brendan Shanahan and Brian Glynn. Bowman also started playing Darren McCarty more on a line with Draper and Kirk Maltby. The trio would go on to form the renowned"Grind Line". The bitter rivalry with Colorado continued and on March 26, 1997, no less than four fights broke out at once in a game Detroit eventually won 6-5. Even goaltenders Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy fought at center ice during what became referred to as "Fight Night at the Joe".
Finally after 42 years of frustration, Detroit won the Stanley Cup on June 13, 1997 in a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers. Captain Steve Yzerman finally answered his critics who argued whether or not he had what it took to win it all. The following summer Konstantinov and Masseur Sergei Mnatsakonov were severely injured in a limo accident in suburban Detroit. 1997 Conn Smythe winner Vernon was also traded to San Jose, despite his request that another year be added to his contract at $2 million. With Osgood as the number one goalie, the Wings had enough strength for another Cup win in 1998, beating the Washington Capitals in four games. It would be their last Stanley Cup title of the 20th century.
NHL Prospect Column: Sidney Crosby, Team Canada, WJC
With the 2004 NHL Entry Draft six months away in June, talk has already started about potential number one picks in the draft. Even 2005 draft picks are getting mentions. With the World Junior Championship ongoing, where the top prospects duke it out for their country' s bragging rights, a lot of noise has been made regarding 16-year-old Canadian phenom Sidney Crosby.
Great finesse with the puck, tremendous speed, win-at-all-costs type of player. Tremendous love for the game and spends hours improving a skill. Is seen as a bit of a combination of Marcel Dionne and Pat LaFontaine. Last year in the U.S. high school ranks at Shattuck-St. Maryâ?Ts in Minnesota, he notched 72 goals and 162 points in only 57 games. He is also leading the QMJHL with 76 points, including 33 goals, in 33 games.
Potential NHL development: Superstar
Pete's Two Cents: How would you feel if Wayne Gretzky called you one day and told you that you could probably break some of his records? It's happened to Crosby, who has been referred to as "The Next One." Considered a hands-down first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Crosby thrives on competition and is equipped with so much natural talent that it borders on frightening. Blessed with hands able to stickhandle through a picket fence and great veteran savvy at only 16, Crosby lives up to the hype. He recently got a chance to face off against last year's top NHL pick in 18-year-old goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, at the Team Canada camp. Crosby scored on two of his three shootout shots after practice on Fleury and won a soda from the richer netminder as a prize.
Top Ten Surprises of 2003:
Just as an afterthought, I've decided to include my thoughts on the Dec. 22nd Detroit Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues game at Joe Louis Arena. Those thoughts are as follows:
After finding a parking spot near Cobo Arena, we walked the two blocks or so to Joe Louis Arena, passing two homeless people in the process (including one asking everybody if they had any "extra chicken"). We got in and sat down in our seats in Row 16 of Section 117 (in the corner to the left of Blues goaltender Chris Osgood) about 15 minutes prior to gametime. The National Anthem was song by the Wings Karen Newman, in addition to the hoots & hollers of several Wings fans.
The first period began with a surge by the Red Wings, but that gradually melted away as the Blues controlled the period, outshooting Detroit 9-4. The period ended 0-0, with Wings goaltender Curtis Joseph having stopped some quality Blues scoring chances. Detroit really didn't test Osgood until midway through the second period after Dallas Drake scored on the powerplay to give St. Louis the 1-0 lead. Osgood stopped a number of good offensive chances, but a lot more were wasted as Detroit opted to make the "one extra pass" rather than take the shot. Pavel Datsyuk scored on a shorthanded breakaway to tie the score at 1. Datsyuk slowed down considerably to figure out what move to use on Osgood, which allowed a St. Louis defender to catch up and hook him. Datsyuk still managed to get off a backhand shot that deflected up and over a prone Osgood. Groans turned to cheers from the Detroit crowd.
During most of the third period, Detroit contained St. Louis. Shots midway through the third were only 15 apiece and the game had gone relatively fast. Osgood stopped a pretty give-and-go, gloving the eventual shot. Finally with about four minutes left, Ray Whitney scored the game winner off a centering pass by Brett Hull. St. Louis pulled Osgood for the extra attacker but couldn't get the equalizer. Final score 2-1 Detroit. The game's three stars were: 3. Dallas Drake (Goal) 2. Curtis Joseph (24 saves) 1. Pavel Datsyuk (Goal, Assist)
Overall, both goalies performed beautifully. Osgood wasn't at fault for either goal, and Dallas Drake's goal was a rebound that beat Joseph top corner on the short side. A few Os-good chants after the second Detroit goal, but the crowd gave him a loud ovation after he got up from being run over late in the third. As the game ended, people started throwing snowcones (they sell them at the Joe). I'm not kidding folks, I don't know if it's a new Detroit tradition or not since they can't throw Octopi anymore, but I counted at least four flying frozen missiles.
After struggling through the escaping Joe Louis mob, I made it past no less than five homeless people on my way back to my car. As my buddy Rob Gilders and I headed away from the arena, he said what I think to be a great quote: "It is easier to analyze and criticize then to visualize."
Jan. 6- Traveling back to Illinois, no column
Jan. 13- To Be Determined
-Just as a reminder, the Penalty Shots one-year anniversary will be New Year's Eve. To celebrate, I have decided to put three of my most popular features (Stunning Revelations,NHL rewind,and a prospect analysis together into that column. My webtracker on my column shows me that I could hit 30,000 visitors by the time my fiscal year (March 10) ends. As I've said many, many times, thanks to all of you who have read, debated, argued, agreed with, or just plain thought about this column.
-I will be attending the upcoming December 22nd Detroit Red Wings V. St. Louis Blues game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. I was lucky enough to secure tickets in the 16th row.
-It seems ever so apparent that I will indeed play once again this Spring. For someone who hasn't worn any hockey uniform in 2 ½ years, I'm both nervous and excited. I've lost 17 pounds within the last half-year (down to 225 now) to take some of the pressure off my knees in preparation for the coming season.
-Ian in the AM has been wanting to get a online chat going with the fellow columnists of Spector's Hockey. Apparently it's been a rough go so far, so if all of you would nudge your favorite columnist into participating, I'm sure fun will be had by all.
The results of my mid-season awards are as follows:
Titanic Award- To the team that has held the most promise this season, but headed nowhere but the bottom.
2002-2003 winner (as voted by fans): Carolina Hurricanes
2003 mid-season winner: Dallas Stars- on a 3-game unbeaten streak after scoring only 5 goals in seven games.
Popeye Award- Strongest presence on the ice (either physically or a scoring threat)
2002-2003 winner: Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver Canucks
2003 mid-season winner: Ilya Kovalchuk, minus his scoring buddy Dany Heatley, Kovalchuk has helped keep the Thrashers in the playoff hunt.
Mouthpiece Award: League's most outspoken forward
2002-2003 winner: Brett Hull, Detroit Red Wings
2003 mid-season winner: Brett Hull, narrowly beats out Mr. "Play-Me-Or-Trade-Me" Jaromir Jagr.
Burglar Award: Team most likely to sneak into the playoffs
2002-2003 winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
Atlanta Thrashers: 70%
2003 mid-season winner: Atlanta Thrashers, not too much faith in the Blueshirts is there?
Jimney Cricket Award- Player who most benefited from a change in scenery
2002-2003 winner: Ed Belfour, Toronto Maple Leafs
Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles
2003 mid-season winner: Mariusz Czerkawski, the Polish Prince has re-discovered his throne on the Island.
Elmer Fudd Award- Most controversial referee
2002-2003 winner: Mick McGeough
Dave Jackson: 20%
2003 mid-season winner: Kerry Frasier, I think the Plaster of Paris that he uses in his hair has spread to his brain.
Thanks to all who voted! The awards return for a regular season final vote in April!
December 31- New Year's Eve Penalty Shots Anniversary Specia
Here is the mid-season Penalty Shots Awards Ballot. To vote, simply send me an e-mail (my address is on the bottom of this page) with your choices. Choices for the categories were selected by both myself and the other columnists on Spectors Hockey. Voting will end on December 18, with the results posted on Tuesday, December 23.
Titanic Award- Team that began the season with a lot of promise, but sank into nothingness
2002-2003 winner (as voted by the fans): Carolina Hurricanes
The nominees are:
1. Washington Capitals (choice of, Penalty Shots Pete Spitler, Along the Boards John Saquella)
Why theyre nominated- Despite having one of the leagues highest-paid players in Jaromir Jagr, the Capitals are tied with the Penguins for a league-low 11 points. The offense has been bad (averaging 1.94 goals a game in all but 2 games) and the defense has been worse (3.00 goals-against average).
2. Dallas Stars (choice by Jonesing for Pucks! Monte Walls Burris)
Why theyre nominated- Dallas hasnt played up to their full potential this season, and its led to changes on the blueline.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (choice by Between the Lines Alan Campbell)
Why theyre nominated- Last seasons Stanley Cup hangover has apparently not shaken the Canes loose as theyve settled into mediocrity this season
2003-2004 mid-season winner: Voted by fans
Popeye Award- Strongest presence on the ice (either physically or with goal-scoring ability)
2002-2003 winner: Todd Bertuzzi
The nominees are:
Todd Bertuzzi, Vancouver
Canucks (choice by Monte Walls Burris)
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers
(choice by John Saquella, Face Wash Ian in the AM)
Alex Tanguay, Colorado Avalanche
(choice by Pete Spitler)
4. Jordin Tootoo, Nashville Predators (choice by Alan Campbell)
Why hes nominated- Tootoos not big (59) and doesnt score a lot, but the Preds rookie has the potential to be a 20 goal guy
2003-2004 mid-season winner: Voted by fans
Mouthpiece Award: Leagues most outspoken player
2002-2003 winner: Brett Hull
The nominees are:
Brett Hull (choice by Spector,
Pete Spitler, John Saquella)
Jaromir Jagr (choice by Alan
Jeremy Roenick (choice by
Burglar Award- Team nobody predicted could sneak into the playoffs
2002-2003 winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
Atlanta Thrashers (choice
by Alan Campbell, Monte Walls Burris, Spector, Ian in the AM)
New York Rangers (choice
by John Saquella)
Buffalo Sabres (choice by
2003-2004 mid-season winner: Voted by fans
Jimny Cricket Award- Player that most benefited from a change in scenery
2002-2003 winner: Ed Belfour
The nominees are:
Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles
Kings (choice by Monte Walls Burris)
Todd Marchant, Columbus Blue
Jackets (choice by Spector)
Mariusz Czerkawski, New York
Islanders (choice by Alan Campbell)
Tony Amonte, Philadelphia
Flyers (choice by John Saquella)
Ray Whitney, Detroit Red
Wings (choice by Pete Spitler)
Elmer Fudd Award- Most controversial referee
2002-2003 winner: Mick McGeough
The nominees are:
Dave Jackson (choice by Alan
Don Van Massenhoven (choice
by John Saquella, Pete Spitler)
Kerry Frasier (choice by
Spector, Ian in the AM)
Thanks for voting!
-A big thank you to Alan Campbell for his effort in making the first joint column in the five-year history of Spectors Hockey a success. There are currently no plans to do another one, but the idea went over really well.
-Voting of the Penalty Shots Awards begins Thursday, Nov. 20. The ballot will be posted then and you can e-mail me with your choices. Voting will end on Thursday, Dec. 18, with the results posted Tuesday, Dec. 23.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column .
NHL reWIND: Terry Sawchuck
The NHL record books show goaltender Terry Sawchuck as one of best to ever put on the pads. His records of 103 career shutouts in 971 games and a stunning 0.82 playoff goals-against average may never be broken. His career spanned 21 seasons from 1949-1970, during which he played for the Detroit Red Wings (1949-55, 68-69), Boston Bruins (55-57), Toronto Maple Leafs (64-67), L.A. Kings (67-68) and N.Y. Rangers (69-70).
Called Ukey for his Ukrainian heritage, Sawchuck burst onto the scene as a prospect for the Red Wings in 1951. Sawchuck played all 70 games for Detroit that season, compiling 11 shutouts and a 1.98 GAA. He also earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors as well. The next four years saw Sawchuck capture three Vezinas for the NHLs best goaltender and three Stanley Cups (including back-to-back wins in 1954 and 55). In his first five years, Sawchuck had posted 199 wins and 57 shutouts with Detroit. Sawchuck would win one more Cup with the Maple Leafs in 1967.
Following the Cup win in 55, Detroit manager Jack Adams rocked the hockey world by trading Sawchuck to the Boston Bruins to make room for minor leaguer Glenn Hall. Adams thought that Hall was ready for the NHL, which prompted the trade. This move jolted Sawchuck badly and began a tailspin for the legendary netminder. Worse yet, Sawchuck began to question his ability to play the game, which caused him to lose his focus easily and led to bad play.
Things began to get worse for Sawchuck as his mental ability continued to slip and he began to draw harsh criticism from both the Boston newspapers and his coach (who apparently called him a quitter). He threatened to sue four Boston newspapers, but the taunting didnt stop. Finally, Sawchuck snapped and walked out on the Bruins, citing emotional strain as the cause. Stability had grown the farthest thing from Terry Sawchucks life.
Part of Sawchucks fragile mental state may have come from his childhood, where two of his brothers died very young. His brother, Mike, died of heart failure when Terry was 10 years old. At age 14, Terry was forced to take a job installing canopies over the giant ovens in bakeries in order to support the family. The biggest problem may have been the incredible amount of pain he endured during his career. In the days before goalie masks (Sawchuck didnt wear one until 1962), Sawchuck had 400 stitches in his face and head, including three in his right eye. A shoulder injury prevented him from lifting his stick higher than his chest and a spinal condition prevented him from sleeping more than two hours a night. In 1966, two herniated disks in his back caused his left side to go numb. He even checked himself out of a hospital once because he heard that the Red Wings were losing in a playoff series.
Hockey was the one stable thing in Sawchucks life and even after he was reacquired by Detroit in 1968, his condition had been forever changed. His teammates knew what Sawchuck was going through, but there was little they could do. His mental state continued to deteriorate and it ultimately cost him his wife and children as well. Ukeys a stange bird, a former teammate once said. You can be joking with him one minute in the dressing room and youll see him on the street later and hell just walk right by you.
After his wife and children left him, Sawchuck moved in with teammate and close friend Ron Stewart. On April 29, 1970, the two had some drinks and got into a fight about cleaning up their apartment. Sawchuck somehow landed awkwardly on Stewarts knee and ended up in the hospital with severe internal injuries. He died on May 31, 1970, at the age of 41, after complications during surgery. Stewart was later cleared of any wrongdoing. A year later, Sawchuck was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame.
Of the many feats of Sawchucks career was his famous Gorilla Crouch. This position required the knees and torso to be severely bent, almost to the point where the shoulders touched the knees and the face is only a few inches above the ice. This position allowed Sawchuck to see through traffic extremely well and stop shots other goaltenders couldnt touch. At 60 and 198-pounds, Sawchuck was a reflex goaltender much like Dominik Hasek in that he relied on his explosiveness and his bizarre style to stop shots.
Petes Two Cents: How many players have walked out on the Bruins over emotional trauma? Bryan Berard, Kyle McLaren and Jason Allison are the ones that immediately come to mind. While some argue that the nature of those players contract talks played a bigger part, those who live in Beantown know how hard it is for someone to play there.
Sawchucks story is a case where hockey consumes a player both physically and mentally. The fact that he endured enough pain to cripple a normal man for life and give up everything else he ever cared for, all in the name of hockey, spells more than just love for a sport. Hockey was Sawchucks life, it was his release for the extreme mental fatigue he suffered through the years. A bright, young prospect turned into a bitter aching man in only a few years. I will admit that as a goaltender myself, I was married to the sport for six years. Hockey was all I ever did or thought about. When I hurt my back 2 ½ years ago, I realized that hockey was the only thing that defined both me and my personality. I felt I needed some time off to rethink my purpose and direction in life. I wanted and still want to be known for more than what Ive done on the rink. I want to be known not only as Pete Spitler the GOALTENDER, but more so as Pete Spitler the MAN.
-Jim Iovino, LCS Hockey
Nov. 20- Penalty Shots Awards Ballot
Dec. 23- Results posted
Congratulations to Detroit Red Wing Brett Hull for scoring career goal number 718 on Wednesday night. Hull passes Phil Esposito for 4th all-time on the list. Congrats also out to Mario Lemieux, who became just the sixth player in NHL history to amass 1,700 points in a 4-4 tie with the New York Islanders on Wednesday.
And now back to your regularly scheduled column .
28 Days- Stunning Revelations on the first month of the season:
Ducks fly together?- Jean-Sebastien Gigueres free-fall in Anaheim has been a source of much debate, especially now that backup Martin Gerber is getting the starts. Jiggy has been anything but himself, with a 3.14 Goals-Against-Average and a horrible .893 save percentage. Add those statistics to a 1-5 record. Normally Id dismiss this as the Stanley Cup hangover, but keep in mind that the Carolina Hurricanes had that same hangover and it lasted the entire 2002-2003 season.
Youre only as old as you feel- Since recovering from radical knee surgery, 38-year-old Steve Yzerman has 5 goals and 7 points in 8 games this season for the Detroit Red Wings. Curtis Joseph, the usual hot topic of trade rumors, will make his first start of the season today (10/30) against Nashville. A number of Red Wings have said that they feel more confident when Dominik Hasek is in goal. The Red Wings also have 5 shorthanded goals this season, tops in the NHL.
Capital Punishment- The 1-7-1 Washington Capitals are in the running for my Penalty Shots Titanic Award for the team that floundered and sank during the season. As ESPN Analyst Darren Pang has pointed out Washington is playing like a team that is trying to get their coach fired.
Look for the Curtis Joseph for Robert Lang rumors to start up again as Washington may get desperate (if they arent desperate enough already) to shake up their roster.
Blue-Who?- The St. Louis Blues, after losing Al MacInnis to perhaps a career-ending eye injury and 2002-03 rookie-of-the-year Barrett Jackman to a dislocated shoulder, have turned to former captain Chris Pronger for support. As a result, the Blues have surprisingly thrived. Part of it is due to the resurrection of Chris Osgood. Heading into Wednesdays 6-5 win against Detroit, former Red Wing Osgood boasted a 1.85 GAA and a .928 save percentage. Whats surprising about those numbers is that Osgoods record is only 5-3, but he stopped 45 of 50 shots on Wednesday.
Waiting by the phone- Other than Marian Gaborik, the most important name sitting at home waiting for a contract with a big smile on his face, is former Bruins defenseman Bryan Berard. With Detroit, LA, and St. Louis all dealing with blueline injuries, its only a matter of time before Berard finds a new home. Hes not a bank-breaker, and can be a game-changer in the right situation.
Angry Texans- Has anyone seen the Dallas Stars 3rd jersey? Its downright awful and the logo resembles a breeding of the Houston Texans and the University of Texass logos. Fans hate it, with some comparing it to a womans uterus.
Joining Forces- My next column will be a joint column with Alan Campbell, writer of Between the Lines The column will be related to his rookie watch segment and will be published under his column. As a writer, I have been looking forward to working with Alan (as well as with my other fellow columnists on Spectors Hockey) and I am sure that the column will be a big success.
Nov. 8th- Joint column with Alan Campbell
In an era where the order of the NHL was fight first and play hockey later, many teams had as many as three enforcers to flash the fists. Few were more devastating than Flyers left wing Dave The Hammer Schultz. In his second year with Philadelphia in 1973-74, Schultz posted an astonishing 348 penalty minutes, 20 goals, 36 points and a + 26 in 73 games. The following season, during which the Flyers won the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups, he upped his total to an NHL-record 472 penalty minutes.
The 61, 195-pound Schultz was only one of a stable of Bullies that included players with jailhouse-like nicknames: Don Big Bird Saleski, Andre Moose Dupont and Bob Hound Dog Kelly. Together they made up one of the most penalized and most despised teams in the history of the NHL.
The Bullies were named partly due to their aggressive physical style and partly because of the teams former Spectrum Center address on Broad Street. The Spectrum was considered the most intimidating arena in the league during the 70s and created the Philly Flu among players reluctant to play the highly-physical Flyers.
The coach of the Bullies was Fred Shero, a devoted follower of Russian hockey who even braved the Iron Curtain to study the Soviet style of play. His method of coaching was using both North American and Soviet tactics brought together under his own set of rules. No forward was allowed to turn his back on the puck at any time and blind passes were outlawed. Skating the puck backward in the defensive end was also forbidden. Sheros tactic of if you cant beat em in an alley, you cant beat em on the ice opened up room for the Flyers skill players and as a result, made them almost unbeatable for most of the mid 1970s. Even Scotty Bowman, renowned for his Soviet expertise, fails in comparison to Sheros knowledge of Red Army hockey.
Hockey is where you meet and overcome pain and wrong and death, life is just something you do between games- Fred Shero, Philadelphia Flyers coach during the Broad Street Bullies era.
The Stanley Cup: Legends & Lore
It is the only trophy in professional sports where the name of every member of the winning team is inscribed, It is 111 years old, and it holds 23 ½ cans of beer. Im talking about the Stanley Cup, hockeys silver grail. The 34 ½-pound monument to greatness is a testament to hard work, insurmountable courage, and the occasional spelling mistakes.
No greater evidence of bad grammar comes in regards to Jacques Plante, who won the Stanley Cup with Montreal five straight years and had his name misspelled each and every time. The 1983-84 Champion Edmonton Oilers once had Basil Pocklington, father of infamous Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, engraved on the Cup. Basil was not at all affiliated with the team and the NHL ordered his name removed. As a result, 16 Xs cover his name on the Cup.
Beyond misspellings, the Cup has been used in ways not originally intended. Here are some of the misadventures and social indignations it has endured:
1905- The Cup is kicked (dropkick-style) into Ottawas Rideau Canal on a dare by a member of the Ottawa Silver Seven, who were the champions that year. The Cup was rescued the next day.
1924- The Montreal Canadiens, on their way to a victory celebration, had a flat and left the Stanley Cup on the side of the road. When it came time to drink from the Cup, the team realized they didnt have it with them and drove back to the area where the Cup was still sitting.
1962- The Cup is stolen out of a display case at Chicago Stadium by a Canadiens fan who wanted to take it back to Montreal where it belongs.
1996- Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre christens his child in the bowl of the Cup
1999- A research study by Steven T. McCaw, Ph.D and John Walker, M.D. finds that Winning the Stanley Cup Final Series is related to incurring fewer penalties for violent behavior. The study, published in the April issue of Texas Medicine, found that teams who play with more violence are less likely to win.
There is a temptation experienced by all players and coaches when in a game situation to rely on the crutch of cheating (both violent and nonviolent) to make up for inadequate preparation and practice. And while the players and coaches who develop a habit of leaning on this crutch may have short-term success from time to time, in the long run, there is no short-cut to success. John Walker, M.D.
-As a final note, that study only examined the Stanley Cup winners from 1980-1997.
-Texas Youth Commission, Office of Prevention
Oct. 28- 28 Days: Stunning Revelations on the first month of 2003-2004
2 Fast 2 Furious-
Dany Heatley will never be the same again. A player that held so much promise in the NHL peaked at 22. Heatley now bares the unspeakable burden of knowing that a man died by his hands. That kind of knowledge can cripple a man, especially when that man considers his decisions leading up to the accident. One of those decisions may have involved a bottle or two of snakebite medicine, but Heatleys blood-alcohol test results wont be available for several weeks. Atlanta Police have not ruled out alcohol as a factor, though. My sincere condolences to Dan Snyders parents, who faithfully remained by his bedside throughout the whole ordeal. As for Dany Heatley, the impact of this tragedy will affect him for the rest of his life. I hope the proper punishment is brought to bear and that justice will be served in the due process of the law.
What is it with Ferarris? Heatleys crash marks the second NHL star crash this year involving that same type of vehicle. Earlier this summer in a much less publicized event, Mighty Ducks center Sergei Fedorov totaled his $55,000 dollar Ferrari when he crashed into a tree in suburban Detroit. Fedorov walked away unscathed and paid his fine for reckless driving. The vehicle of doom has also caused ripples in the Hollywood world as well. In 2001 pop star Britney Spears, driving a Ferarri 360 Modena (similar to the car Heatley was driving), blew up the gear box when she attempted to switch into 2nd gear at 85 mph. Spears paid $25,000 dollars to repair the Modena, which she had rented and then destroyed just two hours later. Can we say Oops, I did it again?
It is human nature to tempt the fates, to push ourselves and our creations to and beyond the breaking point. The rush of adrenaline that is created by this habit does nothing but fuel our addiction to speed. Now the wondrous people at Cadillac have spawned a new creation that could possibly bring both possibility and pitfall. Im talking about the V-16 a.k.a Cadillac Sixteen, the 1,000 horsepower engine introduced at the Detroit Auto Show a few years back. The engine is set to debut next year on some 2005 GM models. For those of you who wish to view the Batmobile-like sports car of the future can go to: www.rsportscars.com/eng/cars/cadillac_sixteen.asp
Of course, like Spector, I also pushed the limits of my 1998 Ford Ranger. I twice ran the speedometer to 99 mph in a 55 zone. I havent had a ticket in 5 years (doing 40 mph in a 35 zone of all things). The turning point for me came as a result of both a horrible mistake and divine intervention. I had develop the idiotic yet exhilarating practice of flooring the accelerator in the middle of a turn, swinging the back end of my truck around violently. Well one night I pulled this trick and I hit a patch of gravel and immediately lost control. My truck fishtailed down the road when I noticed a set of headlights approaching from the other lane. As the headlights approached and lit up the cab of my truck, I swerved sideways across both lanes with the drivers side facing the oncoming vehicle. Then, with the car less than a hundred yards away, the truck swerved back into my lane and came to a stop off the road in a haze of smoke and burned tire rubber. I looked out the passenger window and the oncoming car was gone. Nothing but a deserted road greeted my eyes.
Needless to say, the event changed my life and since then Ive been hesitant to drive more than 10 mph over the posted limit. I agree with Spector, speed kills and if the Almighty hadnt stepped in, it might have claimed me too.
And the Cat came back the very next day-
Given the recent news of Boston trading goaltender Steve Shields to Florida on Sunday, it seems that Felix Potvin wont have to worry about being shopped for awhile as Potvin and Andrew Raycroft will carry the Bruins hopes into the regular season on Wednesday against New Jersey. Both netminders are new to the Boston scene and are led by rookie coach Mike Sullivan. Questions over Potvins early play mounted and some suggested a trade for Sean Burke. Despite being outscored 27-13 in preseason, Potvin looks to be getting more comfortable with every start.
Is Potvin really to be blamed? Much has been said about a hurting Bruins blueline in more ways than one. The 9-0 loss to Detroit pointed out that very fact. Granted, your goaltender is your last (and supposedly best) line of defense, but it shouldnt be the ONLY line of defense. Many others have also voiced their opinions on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Therien not getting picked up by Boston. So it seems that the Bruins will once again hurtle towards uncertainty like a drunk Paul Revere.
Coyotes packing bags-
The Phoenix Coyotes will play their last game in America West Arena on December 15th against Minnesota before opening their new $180 million Glendale Arena home on December 27th against Nashville. Its been well known that the AWA was designed more for the NBAs Phoenix Suns and 4,200 seats have constricted views during hockey games. AWA, which did give birth to the White Out during the 1997 playoff run, hasnt been kind to the Coyotes lately as theyve been outscored 11-2 at home thus far. I am glad to see that Phoenix shed their Cubism-type artistic logo on September 3rd for a more traditional one.
$10 Dollar Question: What would you like to see more of in this column?
-Feuding with fellow columnists on this site
E-mail me with your choice! My e-mail address is on the bottom of this page
October 14- College midterms, no column
October 21- The Stanley Cup: Myths, Legends and Lore
-Penalty Shots passes the 20,000 hit mark: My extreme thanks go out to the people in 31 countries on six continents who have brought my column both into their homes and into their minds.
-Just FYI, but Penalty Shots one-year anniversary will be December 31, 2003
And now back to your regularly scheduled column
The results of last weeks $10 Dollar Question of who would win in a one-on-one with Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik are as follows (out of 10 votes):
Fans Choice: Ryan Kesler
Born: 8/31/84 in Detroit, Michigan
Parents: Mike and Linda Kesler
Siblings: Todd (26) and Jenny (26)
College: Ohio State University
Hometown: Livonia, Michigan
Drafted: 1st round (23rd overall) by Vancouver in the 2003 Entry Draft
Points last season (OSU): 31 (11 goals, 20 assists in 40 games)
Interesting Fact: Father played hockey at Colorado College
A solid two-way forward with a limited offensive upside. A physical player with great defensive awareness who can go from end-to-end with speed. Ranked 16th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Not very flashy, but his hard work will make him stick in the NHL. Projected to be a solid 3rd liner.
Canucks GM Brian Burke on Kesler: He can skate, hes big, he finishes, he finishes checks. Hes not a sniper, but he has natural scoring ability.
OSU Head Coach John Markell on Kesler: Kesler combines passion, speed, skill and grit to be the consistent two-way hockey player he is.
Petes Two Cents: Kesler signed a contract with Vancouver on Aug. 18th, leaving OSU after only one season. Personally, Im not a big fan of players who leave school early for the big time. College goes so far to help a player prove himself not only to the parent organization who drafted him, but also to iron out some of the kinks in their game. Kesler also joins OSU-alum R.J. Umberger. Umberger, a defenseman, was chosen by the Canucks in the 2001 draft.
Kesler is a safe choice by Burke, especially at the 23rd slot. Kesler will be one of the hardest workers on the Canucks and a guy Burke and Vancouver fans can trust to earn his paycheck every night. He may be a poor mans Trevor Linden, but his finish ability is worth more than his offensive contribution.
One thing that many NHL fans, myself included, believe is that Vancouver is dangerously close to breaking out and turning heads in the playoffs. Each year they seem to get a little bit closer. With the addition of Magnus Arvedson and Johan Hedberg, this year may finally be the year for Vancouver to make the Stanley Cup finals for only the third time in franchise history (1994 vs New York Rangers, 1982 vs New York Islanders)
-Ohio State Buckeyes
Examining the Cujo rumor between Colorado, Washington and Detroit:
The only way I see this working (keep in mind Im no trade expert) is if the following occurs:
G Curtis Joseph (from Washington via Detroit)
2004 3rd round pick (from Washington)
C Robert Lang (from Washington)
LW Alex Tanguay (from Colorado)
D Tomas Slovak (from Colorado)
Why this works: The Avalanche have a lot of good defensive prospects in their system. The emergence of undrafted Prince George defenseman Tim Wedderburn in training camp has Colorados scouting staff talking. Slovak is a budding offensive defenseman who was acquired by Colorado from Nashville for Sergei Soin in June. The Capitals dump salary and get blueline help in the process. Forget Jaromir Jagr, a straight-up Lang for Cujo trade is what Detroit is seeking.
Why this wont work: The 61, 203-pound Slovak is developing into a great defenseman, but its questionable whether he is ready to step into a full-time role in the NHL. At age 20, Slovak is also a little bit raw as a defenseman. He spent 2002-2003 with the WHL Kelowna Rockets and led all league defensemen with 18 goals, 71 points and a +29 rating in 65 games. Given that, Washington will most likely want someone who could step in and contribute now.
Oct. 7- Prelude to Uncertainty: Stunning Revelations on the months ahead
Oct. 14- College midterms, no column
Pete Spitler works at Southern Illinois University's radio station (WSIU-FM 91.9) as a sportsbroadcaster. He is part of a half-hour Saturday sports show called 'Sunrise Sports' highlighting SIU and local high school sports action.